(Green Bay, WI - October 19, 2012) - In late October, long shadows come early and the winds blow cold in northeast Wisconsin. Sometimes, as it did last Friday night, a layer of drizzling rain falls on top of that cold wind, casting ominous reminders of a harsh northern winter to come. Add layers and layers of wet swirling leaves to the mix and you have a recipe for an evening in, a nice supper of comfort food and several hours in the living room engaged in the study of burning wood.
Those are the things I would have preferred to be doing on the evening of October 19. Instead, I found myself driven from my home and out into the cold dark and windy night by a powerful force of nature named Bill Clinton. Clinton was scheduled to speak on behalf of the Obama campaign at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Like most major political figures, Clinton’s appearance had been announced only two days in advance. About 2000 free tickets to the event had been handed out in less than 24 hours the day before.
Janice and I were admitted to the Press section without tickets, as reporters for the WKJ. We could not help but be struck by the glaring contrast between the press credentials we were issued by the Romney campaign at a Paul Ryan event in Ashwaubenon about a month earlier and those issued by the Obama campaign.
The Republicans’ press credentials were plastic laminate with logo graphics and pictures of the candidates, complete with a groovy snap-lanyard to complete your neckwear. The Obama campaign’s press credentials consisted of a 3 x 4 inch slip of white paper with a hole at the top that read “Obama for America. PRESS.” There was no lanyard, only a large safety pin, the purpose of the hole at the top. The naked truth of the haves and the have nots, laid bare by their press passes.
The audience was younger than those I have seen at Republican rallies, predictable since the venue was a college campus. There were people of all colors present, unlike the Romney supporters, who as a group, are uncharacteristically pale.
Although the Green Bay Police and Brown County Sheriffs were obviously present, if the Secret Service was there, they were not visible. We were not “wanded” in order to enter the building.
Unlike the Ryan rally, we did not have to sit through any speeches by the likes of the Mayor of Ashwaubenon, or every local party hack running down (way down) the ticket. We did hear from State Senator Dave Hansen, who battled with Governor Walker over public unions, and who is a very popular local politician.
We also heard brief remarks for U.S. Senatorial Candidate, Tammy Baldwin, who is running neck-and-neck with former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. “Our work ethic has not changed,” she assured the crowd. “The rules have changed.” She introduced Bill Clinton straight away and the crowd absolutely erupted with cheers.
Clinton was relaxed and professorial, carrying a few notes with him and donning a pair of reading glasses as he began. He took his audience for what he called a “walk down fact lane” in which he reminded us that Obama’s first job as President was to prevent the country from doing what it was poised to do at the end of the Bush the Younger’s reign: fall into a depression and complete financial collapse. He pointed to Obama’s record of private job creation that eclipses’ Bush’s record by double, as well as a four-year high in car sales and home sales, and saving the jobs of 250,000 auto workers.
On the issue of taxation, Clinton gave a short lesson on the “Economics of Arithmetic v. Economics of Illusions.” Romney’s plan, he told us, depends on your not understanding addition, subtraction and multiplication. It’s simply impossible to give a 20% across-the-board tax cut, simultaneously increase military spending and end up with a surplus. You can’t pay out more with less money. The First Grade level arithmetic does not work. There have been five balanced federal budgets in the past 50 years, Clinton told the crowd. Four of the balanced budgets occurred during the Clinton administration; the other, during the Johnson administration. How is it that the Republicans crow about their record of “fiscal responsibility”?
You cannot fill jobs, no matter how many you create, if you destroy the higher education system, the former President said. He pointed to student loan reform that Obama ushered in back in 2009, although it will not be fully operational until 2013. It offers student borrowers the option to repay their debt obligation as a percentage of their income for 20 years after graduation. This, he said, will reverse the trend of college dropouts caused by the burden of non-affordable student loans.
Clinton forcefully defended the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid. He said that it is immoral to give tax cuts to the rich and take Medicaid away from kids in need. He is right. It is rather ironic that Bill Clinton has to tell the Republicans about morality. We should not be surprised, however, as Republicans seem to only care about children in utero. According to them, once you are birthed, you are on your own.
President Clinton closed his remarks by telling his listeners that “we are all in this together” is better than “you are on your own.”
Then he did something I have never seen a national-level politician do after making a campaign speech: he came down from the stage and began shaking hands with the crowd. The man from Hope is a fearless leader.