Bill Clinton Cuts Through the Fog to Shine a Light on the Wisdom of a Second Obama Term
I just spent the evening with Former President Bill Clinton, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and hundreds of other engaged citizens in Denver. The setting was a high school gym in one of the Mile High City’s lowest-income neighborhoods, with the locals turned out in their Sunday best, eager to hear a proven past president’s take on the last four years and the next. After several passionate speeches from the Governor, the Mayor, and other local leaders, the most popular politician in the US today took the stage to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and enthusiastic applause. It was an extraordinarily warm vibe, and a new friend i’d met waiting in the long line to get in (a New Yorker stranded in Denver by Superstorm Sandy) and i both remarked at once that it was surprising that there was no visible security presence in the building at all. A strong sense of trust in both directions, here.
President Clinton makes the case for responsible government (and for President Obama’s priorities) in a way that no one else does, and i wish more people were hearing his message. The issues he’s focusing on are far more consequential than most of the arguments one hears rehashed relentlessly in the news, and of course he famously has a way of explaining the complexities of politics and economics in ways that the lay person can understand. Clinton cuts through that fog that prevents some people from seeing this election as a clear and stark choice between the two candidates.
He covered fiscal responsibility, tax policy, health care, and women’s issues, of course, but he also pleasantly surprised me by spending the most time talking about how critical investment in education is for the present and the future, and especially in the current political and economic climate. He delivered a deep and powerful aside specifically about the major differences between Obama and Romney on student loans, which he characterized as so important for the future of the country that this single difference alone would be reason enough to vote for Obama if we really understand the implications of student loan policy for the future of US society. Of course, as both an educator and a caring citizen, i agree completely, and i was tremendously grateful that he gave the issue so much airtime.
The two-term president who engineered the strongest economy the US has seen in several decades also spoke (in his eminently authoritative yet supremely relatable way) about the how and why of the “change takes time” argument in a situation such as the nation found itself in in 2008 after eight years of political, economic, and military catastrophe. Lending credence to the idea that one characteristic of US culture is a very short collective memory for facts, the President had to remind everyone that, like the current President, he (Clinton) had also inherited an unprecedented deficit and debt generated during the twelve years of Republican tax cuts and war spending before him. When he reminded the crowd that it also took him all four years of his first term just to right the ship and balance the books, and it was only in his second term that the economy started to rise above the water, the click of understanding was almost audible, palpable.
The good people of this neighborhood had been so enthusiastic about Barack Obama in 2008, only to fall into despair as change proved slow to come. But now one could see it sinking in: By the power of truth spoken plainly and clearly with trust in the intelligence of the audience, at once the spell of unrealistic expectations was broken and a more grounded sense of appreciation for the present and real potential for the future was born. The conversations i overheard as the crowd dispersed revolved around the same theme: yes, change takes time.
I, too, have serious grievances with some of President Obama’s choices (from indiscriminately murderous drone strikes across the Middle East to the unconscionably irresponsible deregulation of Monsanto, and more) but, nonetheless, a close look at the issues, and at the priorities of both candidates, reveals clearly that Obama’s approach to leadership and governance is vastly and incomparably more compassionate, sensible, and constructive (not to mention honest) than that of his opponent in this election. I voted for Obama in 2008 and again last week, not because i ever thought he could wave his wand to manifest an instant utopia, but because i believe he understands three of the most critical realities that will shape the future of this country (and, to some extent, the world):
- There is an urgent need to reform government spending to make it far more effective and efficient, but to make draconian cuts in spending during a massive recession is societal suicide, and therefore there’s simply no way around raising taxes right now in order to save the country. (Don’t take my word for it: listen to a Nobel laureate economist.)
- There is no route to a prosperous future and a thriving society without making aggressive and intelligent investments in education. Without a strong and healthy system of public schools, community colleges, and universities, there is simply no way to avert future decline. Who would build a prosperous future if few are trained and empowered by a well-rounded education?
- Climate change is a reality that, if not acknowledged as an emergency and responded to with great skill and determination, all too probably will lead to accelerated destruction of property and infrastructure, declines in public health, and other grave consequences of mass scale (all of which are also impossibly expensive problems, by the way). Yet, despite all the evidence of this, there’s little extra money lying around just now and little political will to spend it wisely on environmental prudence. This means the only way forward is exactly the strategy President Obama began implementing in his first few months: green jobs. Put the need to create jobs together with the need to address the climate change emergency, and with some ingenuity we can feed two birds with one seed by creating a healthy economy and a healthy environment in one stroke. That’s good, smart, efficient government.
President Obama is clearly and strongly on the right side of all three of these issues, and Governor Romney is clearly and strongly on the wrong side of all three (according to his own statements of policies and priorities). No matter how one feels about all the other important issues on which the two candidates differ, the stark contrast on the three issues above — and the dire consequences we’ll all be forced to face if the country moves the wrong way — are reason enough that everyone would be wise to vote to give the President another term.
In such a high-stakes election season, it deeply inspired me to see hundreds of people in Denver who care enough about the welfare of others that they will set aside a lot of their time to volunteer to help register voters and make sure they get to vote, in an effort to make life for the disadvantaged people of society a little less difficult, and to ensure that everyone (regardless of home team allegiance) is protected by the policies and practices of a President who has the best interests of all people in mind.
Many of those around me were struck, as i was, by the strength of Clinton’s endorsement of Obama, especially compared with the lukewarm endorsements of 2008. The past president held nothing back in praising the current one, convincingly, credibly, and compellingly. He made of point of saying that he was skeptical and critical of Candidate Obama in 2008, but now that he’s seen President Obama in action for four years, his opinion has changed fundamentally and he is absolutely certain that Obama knows exactly what needs to be done, and simply needs another four years to do it.
I have to agree.
To my US friends: I hope you’ll vote in this election, and while i respect your ethical obligation to vote for whomever you believe to be best, i hope you will consider the three issues i mentioned above very carefully, because i believe that President Obama is clearly the wiser choice, not for ideological or partisan reasons (of which i have neither), but because of the real consequences for all of us — for the entire 100% of US society, and for the world — now, and for a long time to come.
I agree with you and believe there are even a few more critical issues than the three you listed. The Supreme Court and our way of governing, fundamental citizen rights, work rights, and the separation of church and state. I could go on. I have never been more anxious about an election, especially while holding the belief that President Obama ranks up there with Clinton & Kennedy.
Why he never provided his own more compelling case rather than the negative attacks is beyond me. But that is yesterday. Today we’ll have to wait, see and hope that this country does not turn back the clocks. The consequences will be long term and huge.
Thanks for sharing this post.
I couldn’t agree more, Mark. Well said.