Bill Clinton's speech tonight is the biggest speech of either convention. Why? Because of the power he holds in his hands. An immensely popular ex-president with more credibility on the economy than any other political figure in America, with lots of Bubba cred to boot, is a pretty heavy validator.
Exactly the kind of validator Obama needs. Everything Clinton has, uncannily enough, is something Obama kinda lacks. Clinton, great economy, Obama, tepid economy. Clinton, Bubba cred, Obama, Bubba suspicion (or worse). Clinton, towering authority among swing voters, Obama, in trouble right now with swing voters.
That gives Clinton incredible power. And he can wield it or withhold it tonight. With his adjectives, his body language, and so on, he can signal to people, well, I don't really care about this all that much. Or he can signal that he cares deeply about Obama being reelected. If he somehow does the former, even if he superficially gives a positive speech and says most of the right things, everyone will smell it, and it will hurt Obama.
But my guess is that he does the latter, for three reasons:
1. He genuinely does think that a President Romney would be terrible for the country. Seems little doubt about that.
2. To the extent that he's thinking of the spousal angle, I think there's no doubt that Hillary is better off if Obama wins. If Romney wins, then she has to try to unseat an incumbent in 2016. That's damn hard under any circumstances. And to the extent that we can make any guesses about the economy in 2016, we have to guess it'll be better than it is now (unless President Romney and Vice President Ryan f&%@ it up beyond any known human parameters, which is entirely possible). So that's a tall order in 2016. And by 2020, she's too old. No, I don't get this Doug band theory in Ryan Lizza's piece at all (Band has subsequently pooh-poohed the idea that he's voting for Romney). Whereas if Obama wins, the first-black-followed-by-first-woman scenario will just be too tempting for Democrats to pass up. And if the economy is in halfway decent shape, she'll win.
3. He knows that he can save the day, and so it becomes partly an ego thing. He'd love to read stories the week after the election saying that Clinton played a huge and maybe decisive role. Which, by the way, would also help Hillary and strengthen her 2016 position.
It's a huge speech. I expect a roof-raiser. We'll see.