Former president stumps for wife’s campaign

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
As North Carolina looks increasingly like a pivotal state in deciding who Democrats will nominate for president, former President Bill Clinton laid out his wife’s economic plans for the country during an hour-long stop Friday in Salisbury.
It was the first visit to Rowan County by a president or ex-president since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush attended the Faith Fourth of July.
Clinton has become a key figure in U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination as she battles for state and super delegates with fellow Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
Without referring to notes, the ex-president spoke for almost 50 minutes at his stop next to the historic Salisbury Station.
A crowd estimated at more than 500 ó standing in front of his podium or spread out in bleachers and folding chairs ó listened to Clinton describe Hillary’s views on health care, the budget deficit, gas prices, energy independence, trade, foreclosures, education, Iraq and more.
Clinton took up the lunch hour. He emerged and walked to the podium at 12:06 p.m. and stayed until 1:10 p.m.
The white-maned former president appeared in a dark suit, blue shirt and blue tie. He employed all of his familiar hand gestures, included some humor and, before his departure, waded through the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs.
The state’s primary is May 6. North Carolina has 115 Democratic delegates at stake.
President Clinton said this year’s election, of course, will be about change, as the country closes the book on the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush.
But Clinton said his wife will be “the best change agent.”
“All of her life, she has been good at this,” President Clinton said, describing how his wife worked for change as a young lawyer, in Arkansas, in the White House as first lady and as a U.S. senator from New York.
“This woman is a changer and what you need in the next president,” President Clinton said.
The tireless Clinton also made stops Friday in High Point, Kannapolis, Gastonia, Hickory and Asheville.
“He was dead on with the message,” Rowan County Democrat Larry Brown of Landis said.
The Rev. Bob Freeman, president of senior Democrats in Rowan County, said Clinton had been a good president. As for the continuing campaign fight between Hillary Clinton and Obama, Freeman said he hopes the two candidates can emerge from the process without tearing apart the party.
“They have got to make peace between them,” the retired Presbyterian minister said. “We can’t make it for them.”
Meanwhile, Obama opened 13 campaign offices statewide and launched a television campaign focusing on a plan to help middle-class families.
In introducing Clinton, Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Genoal Russell said he had led the country through eight years of the greatest prosperity it had ever known ó a theme Clinton himself picked up on when comparing the 1990s of his Democratic presidency to the eight years of President Bush.
Russell reminded the crowd of the differences then and now between the housing market, stock market, gas prices, jobs, veterans care and war.
“We need another Clinton in the White House,” she said.
Clinton said he didn’t come Friday “to say anything against anybody.” He referred once to probable Republican nominee John McCain and how he would have the United States in Iraq for 100 more years.
He did not refer to Obama by name.
Clinton said three “extraordinary candidates” remain and whoever is elected will make history.
Not long after his wife embarked on her presidential campaign, Clinton said he asked her at dinner one night how she would know, if she were elected, that she had done a good job once her presidency was finished.
Hillary Clinton said she would have been faithful to Americans if she could say three things: first, that Americans were better off; second, that children and grandchildren faced a brighter future; and third, the nation and world were coming together instead of being torn apart.
“I believe she ought to be president,” Clinton said, “because I think she is the most likely person to be able to say ‘Yes, yes, yes’ to those questions when it’s all said and done.”
Clinton said the country is in the fix it’s in because the Bush administration returned to trickle-down economics, “and it doesn’t work.”
Hillary Clinton believes in shared prosperity, shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, the former president said.
The former president said a million to 2 million people are facing foreclosures on their homes, even though 90 percent have never missed a monthly payment.
Hillary Clinton’s answer on the country’s subprime foreclosure problem, he said, is to freeze foreclosures for 90 days, look at the circumstances behind each foreclosure and, if people are making their payments, let them continue to pay the rate they were originally given for five more years.
Clinton said the U.S. economy loses $250,000 every time a house is foreclosed on. Hillary Clinton wants to spend $30 billion now to keep the country from spending $300 billion later and seeing a million families on the street, he said.
“That’s what you need a president for,” Clinton said. “First of all, when you get in a hole, quit digging. She will quit digging. She gets this.”
A move toward energy independence would create jobs for architects, engineers and dropouts, Clinton predicted. “And you can’t outsource these jobs,” he added.
He spoke for wind, solar, geothermal, biomass energy strategies and how every landfill in America could be closed and garbage could be used to generate electricity. Production plants for biofuels could create jobs every 150 miles, he said.
Hillary Clinton, her husband said, will give the country a 100-miles-per-gallon car as soon as lithium batteries for cars become affordable.
“Her position is very simple,” Clinton said. “If this country can beat the world to the moon, surely we can beat the world to a car battery.”
Clinton asked the people in his crowd to raise their hands if they knew someone not covered by health-care insurance. Many hands went up.
The United States is the only wealthy country where that question would be asked and in which hands would be raised, he said. Hillary Clinton, he added is the only candidate who has offered a health-care plan that would cover everybody.
Hillary Clinton has pushed for a withdrawal of most of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. President Clinton said, “We have just about broken our military.” Acknowledging he was trying to be light on a serious subject, Clinton compared the five-year U.S. involvement in Iraq to a neighbor’s house burning down.
For a month, even six months, most Americans would have it in their hearts for the neighbor to live with them or use their couch, Clinton said.
“But if your neighbor is still on that couch after five years, what do you know?” Clinton asked. “It’s not about that fire any more. It’s about not having to get off your couch. That’s where we are in Iraq.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or