OWENSBORO, Ky. (3/6/13) – The current approach to politics in Washington is a failing one, but something America can overcome if people work together to change it. That was the message of former President Bill Clinton at a fundraising speech tonight.
The event, held to raise money for the Wendell H. Ford Education Center, hosted President Clinton as the keynote speaker. Clinton, who was invited by Ford to speak, said what the country needs right now are more leaders who are willing to discuss their differences and work to find the middle ground. Throughout his speech, he hailed Ford as the sort of person who did that when he worked in Washington in the 90’s, the same time Clinton was president.
“I thought a lot about coming up here and making you laugh,” Clinton said before adding that he decided it would be better to talk about the positive impact Ford had during his years of service in the federal government.
“One of the things he did in the Congress that meant a lot to me was… Wendell Ford was the first member of Congress to vote to put federal records on line,” Clinton said. “We now take it for granted.
“There are parts of our government still kept secret which have nothing to do with national security,” he added.
Clinton continued by saying he believes “debates are healthy,” and encouraged the audience to “trust people enough to really tell them what’s going on.”
“One of the things that really bothers me about modern politics is polling,”he said as he explained the process. Essentially, a poll is designed to help a candidate know what the most important topics are for voters, so the candidate can focus on those specific issues.
“That’s the dumbest advice you’ll ever get,” he said of the process.
Clinton said he also hopes to see the country return to a time when candidates found middle ground among their voters on important topics, rather than catering to a specific constituency. He said the change in the way media works over the last decade is partly to blame for the shift in political philosophy.
“The breakdown of stable, reliable advertising… has put people in the position of blurring the lines between news and politics,” he said, noting that sound bites from politicians have continually shrunk in length over the last 50 years. Where a comment from President John F. Kennedy was closer to 45 seconds in length, he said, a quote from President Barack Obama today runs about 10 seconds.
“Everything gets distilled in whatever the conflict is,” Clinton said. “Never mind the details.”
Clinton said the change in the way media operates isn’t the only factor.
“The American people have to own up to some of this,” Clinton said. “It’s not just a conspiracy.”
“We just have one bigotry left,” he said as he noted that many of the prejudices of the twentieth century have been left behind. “We don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.”
Clinton continued his speech by referencing the current budget deficit challenges that led to sequestration of federal funds for many government programs, include defense and education spending.
“If it was up to me, we’d be out of debt in three years,” Clinton said, pointing out the fact that interest rates are below inflation rates right now. “You have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Ultimately, he said, the issues in Washington will resolve themselves when people come together to solve the problems the country now faces.
“It’s a complicated time, but there’s nothing wrong with this country we can’t fix,” he said. “There are too many people who think it is preferable to hunker down. It is preferable to think like (President Abraham) Lincoln, to think like (Wendell) Ford. It’s alright if we don’t get 100 percent of what we want as long as we move ahead.”
Clinton spoke before a sizeable crowd at the River Park Center in Owensboro. Other speakers at the event included Ford and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear.
Photos by Dennis Beard
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