1.) Clinton has a uniquely commanding presence. Yes, Barack Obama is eloquent. But that's the easy part. The harder part is what Clinton has: an in-your-face but inviting air of authority. Clinton can stand in front of an audience of millions, point his finger, and say, "Now, listen to me," or "Now, pay attention to this," and not sound arrogant or bossy. At his best, Clinton seems so possessed by his message that he comes across as compelled to fiercely order his audience to listen. (The strongest preachers carry this same presence.) Obama, regardless of his intellectual acumen and whatever his moral intent, simply comes across as a less authoritative personality. Obama will spin a gorgeous narrative to try to persuade us of something, but at the end of the day he is not going to rock the podium and fiercely demand that we as citizens follow the dictates of justice and conscience. I have argued, and still do, that part of what hampers Obama is his conciliatory "good Negro" persona as a response to the virulent racism that faces his presidency in a nation that still deeply fears the "Bad Nigger."
2.) Clinton has a spectacular gift for down-to-earth policy talk. No modern politician can stand up and talk policy like Bill Clinton. Like Noam Chomsky, Clinton has the ability to run down the densest details of policy while also blowing his audience away with the raw power of what the numbers and the political machinations actually mean. He is part accountant and part preacher. In Clinton's DNC speech, his slicing and dicing of the Republican Lie Platform, in which he deftly rattled off strings of numbers and details with the moral ferocity of an evangelist, was a work of art. Neither Obama nor any other current politician or recent president could pull this off. Immediately after Clinton's speech, when Obama came onstage to embrace him, I actually felt sorry for Obama. He looked small. It was an unintended "Mr. President, you're no Bill Clinton" moment. The best we will get from an Obama speech, as we saw the following night, is beautifully soaring generalities peppered with a few careful examples. In the bloody arena of today's pitched battle for the public interest, we need more than that from a president occupying the bully pulpit.
Remember, though, that I am talking about Clinton as a speaker and campaigner. As president, Clinton arguably made more concessions to the anti-progressive agenda than Obama has. (Think welfare reform, NAFTA, and Don't Ask Don't Tell.) It's not for nothing that President Clinton was known as the king of triangulation.
But as a man who can demolish the opposition's arguments on the stump, Clinton is in a league far beyond Obama. There is simply no contest. Which is why if Obama wins in November, Clinton, while not necessarily the decisive force, will have shown the influence of his persuasive powers yet again.