09/05/2012 03:44 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST

Clinton, Obama join forces at Democratic convention in public rapprochement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had a gloriously public love-in on Wednesday after the 42nd president of the United States fiercely defended the 44th, urging Americans to cast their ballots in November for the "man who is cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside."

President Obama strode onto the stage at the downtown venue after Clinton's speech to embrace the politician with whom he's had a famously chilly relationship. The crowd roared its approval.

Clinton enthralled Democrats as he systematically set about ripping apart and ridiculing almost all of the proposed policies of Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on everything from education to job creation and kickstarting a tepid economic recovery.

Clinton started his lengthy speech off by arguing Obama also deserved re-election for having "the good sense to marry Michelle Obama." The first lady smiled from the VIP box at the Democratic National Convention as he spoke.

But for the most part, the former president's hard-hitting address took dead aim at Republican policies he described as posing real dangers to average Americans.

Clinton mocked Romney for threatening to repeal so-called Obamacare when it's all but modelled after the public health-care system he implemented himself as governor of Massachusetts.

"It takes some brass for attacking a guy for doing what you did," Clinton said in a quip that prompted more laughter as he officially nominated the president for a second term in the White House.

Clinton also painted Obama as a man who engenders irrational, unseemly hatred from his political foes on the other side of the aisle despite his generous attempts to reach out to them.

"Heck, he even appointed Hillary!" a typically folksy Clinton said of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Obama's one-time bitter rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At one point, Clinton's teleprompter malfunctioned, but he continued to trot out zinger after zinger. But he also suggested the Republican argument for Romney's election on Nov. 6 is ludicrous.

"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: 'We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in,'" Clinton said as Obama waited in the wings to join him on stage.

The argument in favour of Obama's re-election makes far more sense, Clinton argued.

"He inherited a deeply damaged economy, he put a floor under the crash, he began the long hard road to recovery, he laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators."

When he asked the crowd if they were better off now than when Obama was elected in the midst of a near-depression four years ago, they leapt to their feet to respond: "Yes!"

Americans now need to ask themselves what kind of country they want to live in, the former commander-in-chief added.

"If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we're-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."

It's not the first time Clinton has shaken off prior hurt feelings and taken centre stage at the Democratic National Convention to make a pitch for Obama.

But delegates were abuzz once again on Wednesday, speculating anew about how the avuncular, loquacious 42nd president of the United States intended to sell the insular, professorial 44th in yet another plug to Americans.

Relations have been frosty between Obama and Clinton for years, with the president never sold on the notion that the one-time Arkansas governor was the bold, transformative Democratic leader he believes himself to be.

When Obama became a Democratic star after his address to the 2004 convention, Clinton was said to be wounded that the junior senator from Illinois was part of the "anti-Clintonian" faction of the party.

The chill morphed into full-fledged animosity during Obama's bruising primary battle in 2008 with Hillary Clinton. Her husband — once jokingly dubbed "America's first black president" for his commitment to African-American issues — was even accused of injecting a racial element into the contest.

The stunning charge arose after Bill Clinton called Obama's candidacy a "fairy tale," and was dismissive of his primary win in South Carolina since the Rev. Jesse Jackson had won the state twice previously in his own presidential runs in the 1980s.

A recent New Yorker magazine article also alleges Clinton once told the late Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been "carrying our bags" a few years ago.

Nonetheless, Obama apparently let it slide while Clinton licked his wounds to take to the stage in Denver in 2008 for a 25-minute address. His remarks, however, focused more on George W. Bush's eight years in office than they did on Obama's message of hope and change.

"The American dream is under siege at home, and America's leadership in the world has been weakened," he said before running down a long list of Americans badly hurt by Bush's eight years in office.

Clinton couldn't really do that this time around — Bush has been out of office for almost four years. In his latest at-bat, Clinton instead made the case that Obama deserves a second term following a first bogged down by a devastating recession brought on largely by Bush policies, a glacially slow economic recovery and obstructionist congressional Republicans.

Clinton was reportedly stung once again after the 2008 convention, when Obama failed to reach out to him for counsel after winning the election. While delighted Obama tapped Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Bill Clinton reportedly still believed the president should be turning to him for advice and guidance.

Obama apparently came to agree with him a year ago, after his people approached Clinton's people for a round of golf. Since then, Clinton has been serving as a close adviser to the president as well as fundraising and stumping for him.

Is it real? Or just a bit of political artifice that's mutually beneficial to both men? Obama wants to get re-elected; Clinton reportedly has his eye on his wife's rumoured bid for the White House in 2016, though he said earlier Wednesday that his wife says she's not running.

Perhaps a bit of both, says one longtime political observer.

"Both of them understand their importance to the Democratic party. Whether they would be close personal friends under different circumstances is inconsequential to both of them," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor and author at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"Both of them see the party as the foundation of their role and their importance in American public life, so Clinton is going to do everything he can to ensure Obama is re-elected, thereby possibly ensuring Hillary's in good stead to go for the nomination in 2016 if she wants it."

Both men are also looking out for their legacies, he added.

"For every president, there is no greater horror than being a one-term president. Two terms allow you to see your vision for the country locked in, and Obama desperately wants that."

Clinton, on the other hand, will believe his legacy partly lives on in Obama if the president wins a second term on Nov. 6.

"That continuation of Democratic ideals is important to Clinton's legacy too, to locking in his own vision for the country over decades."

Clinton was in the spotlight after a boisterous series of speakers on the second night of the convention.

Women and immigrants were a chief focus, with several female Democratic senators taking to the stage en masse to laud Obama's record.

So did Sandra Fluke, the law student notoriously called a slut by conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh when she argued that the cost of birth control should be covered by health insurance plans. She described Obama as a man "who thinks of his daughters, not his delegates or his donors."

Fluke, U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren and pro-Obamacare nun Simone Campbell got some of the night's biggest cheers. Campbell derided the budget proposals of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate, as immoral.

"Don't boo, vote," Cuban-American Cristina Saralegui said as she maligned Romney's far-right proposals on cracking down on illegal immigration.

Obama polls far better than Romney among women and Hispanics. But he needs them to turn out en masse on election day since Romney has the support of far more working-class white men.

Three former Bain Capital employees also appeared at the convention to malign Romney for his stewardship of the company, described as little more than a corporate raider that fired workers in order to reap profits.

"It is wrong when working folks feel the pain, while people like Mitt Romney make profits," one of them said to roars of approval.