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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Clinton: 'I'm Exhibit A'

Thursday, January 3, 2008

For the first time in his political life, Bill Clinton doesn't have to be "against" anybody.

The 2008 campaign, he says, is filled with good choices. "I like these people - I like them all."

His longstanding friendships with past allies Biden and Dodd have survived the current campaign; he's campaigned on behalf of Edwards and Obama in their home states; Richardson is a trusted former member of his own cabinet. Huckabee was born in the same little town he hails from, and "is the only Republican who can tell a joke," Clinton grins.

Nonetheless, the former president told a crowd of around 200 at Storm Lake Middle School for an impromptu appearance Sunday night, "I don't think it is even close as to who would be the best president."

His wife, he said, is the most capable political leader he has known at seeking solutions - from spearheading his effort to reform Arkansas schools in his early days as governor, to pursuing bold answers to the health care crisis during his White House years, to demanding care for New York firefighters exposed to cancer-causing dust in the air as they responded to the 9/11 tragedies.

For President Clinton, it was his first appearance in Storm Lake - strategies of the time had not brought him to the area during his own two bids for election. Heavy fog advisories forced his pilot to reroute to the airport in Omaha for a long drive into Iowa. He was well over an hour late arriving in Storm Lake - but no one in the audience left.

"No one works a room like he does," one viewer said. "I don't know who I'm voting for - I just wanted to see him."

Introduced by former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, Clinton was informal and unhurried, deftly mixing in stories with his concerns over the image of America in other counties, a lack of job creation, rising costs of college education and a lack of universal health care coverage.

While he said he gets along well with President George W. Bush, he accused the current president of coming into office with the singular mindset of erasing all that had been achieved by the Clinton Administration.

After his speech, Clinton ignored the rope lines and waded into the crowd, trying to share a few personal words with everyone in the building and flashing his signature thumbs-up, as Secret Service officers scrambled to keep up in the throng pushing forward for a photo, autograph or handshake.

Clinton praised the former governor, saying that Tom Vilsack was one of the best governors he had ever worked with, and noting that he had always taken a piece of advice the Vilsacks had given him: "Just trust the people of Iowa."

He encouraged local precinct leaders to ramp up their caucus efforts. "No pressure," he joked, "It's just the future of the whole free world riding on your shoulders."

As the first state to speak, Iowans carry a heavy responsibility to participate and make wise choices, he said.

"It would be a big mistake to take democracy for granted," Clinton told the crowd, mentioning the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto a few days earlier.

"What we take for granted, other people are willing to die for," he said. "We should remember that."

While voters should listen carefully to the plans of the various candidates this season, Clinton noted that they should also judge based on how they feel the person will respond when something disrupts the plan.

"Every president has had something totally unanticipated happen early in their presidency. For Bush, it was Osama bin Laden and Katrina. It will happen to the next president, too," Clinton said.

He painted the results of the current administration as disasterous.

More than 90 percent of the tax cut gains as promised by Bush went to the wealthy in the highest income tax bracket, he said. Health insurance costs have risen by up to 90 percent, college tuition "has gone through the roof" even as grant programs have been cut.

"More than half the world is mad at us," Clinton added - not only for the Iraq war, but for walking out on nuclear weapons ban efforts and climate change talks, and violating the Geneva Code in treatment of prisoners.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she plans to end the war "as soon as it is possible without making the situation worse," he said, and pursue Al-Qaeda, which Clinton said was the only real cause of 9/11.

"There is nearly no problem we can solve on our own," he said, stressing the need for global diplomacy as a first option. The crowd cheered as he added, "Military force should be the last resort, not the other way around."

The former president showed a flash of anger as he accused current politicians of "rewriting science" on issues from stem cell research to climate change.

He also earned applause with a promise that his wife would end "cronyinsm" in the White House - a clear jab at Bush.

Clinton also said waste needs to be trimmed. Taxpayers have been paying $135,000 for every Blackwater private soldier put into Iraq, which the U.S. Army produces trained soldiers for $65,000 each.

To finance the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the U.S. has been borrowing money from even poor counties like Mexico, he said.

"If you are worried about illegal immigration, maybe they should keep their money at home and develop better jobs in Mexico, and many many of these people would not have to cross the border illegally."

Clinton said that he was proud to have the lowest net worth of any serving president in memory. "I was broker when I left than when I came," he smiled.

The tax system hated him when he was in office, but "as soon as I got rich, they couldn't stop throwing the tax cuts at me... but it just isn't right."

Instead, the Clinton campaign proposes breaks for those choosing public service careers like teaching and social work, universal pre-kindergarten to give children a better start in life, and a complete re-writing of the No Child Left Behind legislation - the latter laden with provisions that are "some of the craziest things I've seen in my life," the former president said.

Mrs. Clinton instead proposes to find the best schools in the country at each age level, and replicate what they are doing best, nationwide.

Her husband has a personal goal to enhance energy efficiency, starting by retrofitting all of the local, state and national government buildings, schools and hospitals. "This is what I'm doing in my life now," he said. "Think of the millions of jobs we would create."

While he admits to failure on a comprehensive health plan during his administration, he said lessons have been learned from that effort that can be applied now. It's "immoral" that all citizens cannot access health care coverage, he said.

Electronic universal record-keeping would be a start that he said would save $80 billion and countless hours of repetitive questioning and paperwork by medical professionals.

"As a governor and a president for 20 years, I have had some of the best medical care on the planet, but yet when I went to a dentist recently, I couldn't access my own records from that period," Clinton explained.

As a survivor of quadruple bypass surgery three years ago, he describes himself as "Exhibit A" on the national's medical excellence. It is much less proficient at preventing health problems, he claims.

Clinton said Safeway groceries recently showed a positive example, offering to cover the cost of all of their employee's preventative health programs and their co-pays on things like routine physicals - for all employees who promised not to smoke. The company saved money in the process.

Clinton spoke proudly of his wife's achievements - as a young graduate, doing work against child abuse that is still being used 30 years later, pioneering work toward what is now the Americans with disabilities laws, helping lay the groundwork for insurance programs for needy families that can now be seen in Iowa's HAWK-I program, and more recently, working toward peace between Catholics and protestants in Ireland.

He recalls what she said when he asked her to head up his effort to reform health care during his presidency:

"You really don't love me any more, do you?"

His advice for anyone who aspires to the presidency?

"The real measure of anyone who serves the public is whether more people were better off when you are done than they were when you started."

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