Former President Bill Clinton told an enthusiastic and attentive crowd at Virginia Commonwealth University Sunday night that in the last eight years, America has seen the largest increase in economic inequality since the 1920s.
The cost of college education has gone up 75 percent, Clinton said. The cost of health care has more than doubled, the cost of gasoline has exploded. Ninety percent of the benefits of the last decade have gone to the top 10 percent and over 40 percent to the top 1 percent.
Clinton spoke for 25 minutes in front of about 3,500 mostly college-aged people. He was there to support Sen. Barack Obamas presidential campaign, mainly discussing the turbulent economy and the underlying causes of last weeks financial meltdown.
Last week alone, America lost over a trillion dollars in wealth, he said.
Clinton blamed the radical fluctuation in the market on the Bush administration and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsons decision to allow short-selling.
When the crisis first surfaced, Paulson suspended short-selling, a practice that allows investors to invest by betting that a stocks value will decline. During the Clinton administration, a regulation called the uptick rule was in place, which prevented short-sellers from driving the value of a stock down if that stock was already in sharp decline.
Clinton, who has been criticized for giving Obama what appears to be a half-hearted endorsement, said that Obama had a presidential moment when the financial crisis hit.
Clinton said that he was impressed with Obama when the financial crisis hit: He did not immediately make a statement, but made sure he understood the problem and talked to the people who knew the most about it.
Obamas willingness to support the $700 billion bail out packageeven though it was unpopularalso impressed Clinton, he said.
In other words, he said, If you trust me to do what is right, Ill trust you to judge me accordingly, and Im prepared to live with the consequences, Clinton said of Obama. Thats what a president should do in an emergency. He passed that test with flying colors.
Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, are battling for Virginias 13 electoral votes, which havent gone to a Democrat in the general election since 1964. Polls averages show Obama has a slight lead over McCain in Virginia, but many pundits consider the race still too close just weeks before the Nov. 4 contest. McCains vice presidential nominee, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, is slated to speak Monday at the Richmond International Speedway.
Several major elections have gone to the Democrats in recent years, including the election of Tim Kaine as Virginias governor and Jim Webb to U.S. Senate.
Clinton also endorsed Obamas energy proposal, saying that investing in energy independence would create jobs and strengthen national security. Securing the economy and creating energy independence were interrelated, he said.
Obama says his energy plan will create 5 million jobs, he said. Hillary said the same thing when she was running for president. Im not running for anything. I dont have theincentive to not exaggerate. I think his plan will create far more than 5 million jobs if we make a commitment to maximum efficiency and maximum renewable energy.
We had no job strategy because we got away from what we should have donewhat [Obama] will doand that is make a serious commitment to energy independence.
Clinton said that he watched the second presidential debate and said the main difference he saw in the candidates was their approach to health care.
I listened to his opponent speak, and I hought he meant well, he said. But when I heard Barack Obama talk, I said to myself, This guy understands the problem. He understands health care and hes got a proposal that will actually help Americans get coverage, keep coverage and break the back of this cost spiral.
The loudest applause from the crowd came when he said that Obama would help restore Americas position in the world.
He understands the limits of military force and that it should be used as a last resort and not a first, Clinton said.
Clinton closed his speech by demonstrating his famous ability to verbally attack Republicans.
For six of the last eight years, he said, we now know what happens when [Republicans] can actually do everything they promised to do because they had the White House and Congress. This is not about good people and bad people, this is about good ideas and bad ideas, and they have got us on the wrong course.
Several University of Richmond students who heard Clinton speak said that they came because they agreed with Clintons policies during his presidency.
I thought his health care initiative was really good, and he was great economically, sophomore Greg Wells said. Even though he raised taxes, we still had a surplus when he left office.
Sophomore Haddis Tujuba said he agreed with Clintons handling of the Bosnian crisis. In 1995, Clinton commanded NATO forces to air-strike the Bosnian Serb Armyled by president Slobodan Miloeviafter word spread of vast ethnic cleansing in the region.
I liked how he cleanly handled the Bosnia situation, he said. Not like Iraq.