Clinton returns to North DakotaGRAND FORKS — Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday that the 2012 election boils down to a simple issue — “some version of how bad is government, after all.”
By: Ryan Johnson, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday that the 2012 election boils down to a simple issue — “some version of how bad is government, after all.”
He told a crowd of about 6,000 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks that Democrats have dealt with that question from Republicans for 30 years.
But during his keynote address at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL state convention, he said there is no successful society in the world without both a “vibrant private economy” and “an effective government” working toward a better future.
“If anybody doubts it, they should come to Grand Forks and hear the story and see what was done,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Clinton spoke to about 2,000 residents and city officials at a downtown Grand Forks event thanking him for his role in federal aid to the city after the devastating 1997 flood.
Former Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said Clinton’s 1997 visit to the communities put him in the midst of evacuated residents who were “desperate,” “dirty” and reduced to “refugees” as they sought shelter at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
But his commitment to help the cities rebuild, and his leadership in securing hundreds of millions of federal dollars for the recovery effort, gave residents the strength they needed, she said.
“He was the heart and soul that brought these cities back,” Owens said.
Clinton called Grand Forks a model for overcoming problems.
“If you look around the world, what works on a daily basis is what worked here after the flood — when people work together, when they cooperate, when they put aside rhetoric and decide they’re going to do one specific thing,” he said during the event along the Red River.
Later, he told Democrats that Grand Forks has rebounded in the past 15 years and has once again become a vibrant community only through the cooperation of the federal, state and local governments in partnership with the private sector.
And that combined effort also could help address North Dakota’s issues today, including infrastructure needs in the booming Oil Patch and a growing need for affordable rental housing.
“The point I want to make is that the premise on which the 2010 election turned was wrong,” he said. “Government is not always the problem.”
Clinton said the 2010 election, which saw the downfall of several longtime Democratic incumbents and ushered in a large group of newly elected Republicans to Congress, was driven by anger and people “calling names and lashing out.”
But people “don’t think very well” when they get mad, he said, and Democrats need to ensure that 2012 is “a thinking election” without the ideological focus of two years ago.
Clinton said his years of public service, as well as his non-profit and international aid work since his second presidential term ended in 2000, have taught him basic truths of how the world works.
“Big beats little; tomorrow beats yesterday; renewal beats resentment,” he said.
“We’ve got to put America back in the future business, which means we have to figure out exactly what we want the government to do and how we’re going to pay for it.”
Democrats need to figure out how to talk with “people who have now been sort of programmed to be viscerally anti-government,” Clinton said, and pitch their practical solutions to address the issues in a responsible way.
He said the party also needs to do a better job of debunking Republican attacks that skew the truth.
Clinton said Republicans “got away” with claiming the 2010 health care reform legislation slashed Medicare funding. But he said the reform actually shifted funding from a Medicare program that was overly profitable for companies in order to add life to the Medicare trust fund and pay for the prescription drug program.
“You’ve got to be able to find concrete, specific, understandable ways to advocate for Heidi (Heitkamp) and your other candidates,” he said.
The country faces “serious” challenges, Clinton said, including dealing with rising health care costs, creating more jobs and ensuring the education system can adequately prepare future workers.
But despite it all, he said the country still has “amazing things” that could be further improved with the right leadership.
“We’ve just got to get the show on the road again, and I believe practical people who have the understanding that we need both fiscal discipline and investment in our future, that we need both an effective government and an effective economy, are the most likely people to bring that change,” he said. “People like the Democrats in North Dakota. We need you, and we need your candidates.”
Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.