Bill Clinton Defends Stance On Obama

President Bill Clinton hosts the inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University, a new project to engage college students to make commitments to address global issues, at Tulane University, New Orleans, Saturday, March 15, 2008. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber)
AP
This story was written by Mike Allen.


Former President Bill Clinton told college journalists assembled Sunday by mtvU that the push for change in this election has caused experience to look like a liability instead of an asset.

"This is the first election in history that I can remember where experience - and having, actually, experience as a changemaker - should be a disability for being elected," Clinton told four undergraduate journalists from around the country at the inaugural "Editorial Board" of the College Media Network started by mtvU, a college-oriented channel of MTV.

Clinton's frustration with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), flashed at several points during the mostly cordial 45-minute conversation in Tulane University's student activities center.

"If you were part of making good things happen in the '90s and stopping bad things from happening in this decade," he said. "Then you were part of a culture of conflict and you are so yesterday. So the only way we can have a good president is to make a completely new beginning."

Clinton also declared that he has been inaccurately portrayed as attacking Obama during the South Carolina primary. The issue is sensitive because Clinton's aggressive campaigning has threatened his overwhelming popularity in the African American community.

"Contrary to the myth, I went through South Carolina and never said a bad word about Senator Obama - not one," Clinton said.

The former president took a lower profile role in his wife's campaign after he compared Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary to the wins there by Jesse Jackson, another black candidate. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) told black newspaper executives last week that she was "sorry if anyone was offended."

Asked why Obama is consistently receiving 90 percent of the black vote, Clinton replied: "Iowa happened. The minute it became possible that he could be the nominee, he was going to win the lion's share of the African-American vote. … And I never begrudged it."

"You can't blame the African-American community for being proud of having a candidate who's immensely impressive, who has had a lot of support in the North among non-African Americans and has generated all this excitement among young people," the former president continued. "I don't think it's rocket science. … The fact that people are excited about Senator Obama's candidacy in the African-American community is entirely understandable."

Clinton was at Tulane for the three-day inaugural meeting of CGI U, a new project of Clinton Global Initiative, which is part of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The non-partisan CGI, started in 2005, brings together 1,000 world leaders in New York every year. The university version will challenge college students and universities to tackle global problems with practical solutions. CGI U's four main focus areas are energy and climate change, global health, human rights and peace, and poverty alleviation.

"We have the problems that are also present on global scale," Clinton told the students. "There's been an increase in inequality in incomes and availability of jobs and access to health care and education around the world - and within many wealthy countries, including ours."

The "Editorial Board" participants were senior Drew Dickson of Tulane University's "Hullabaloo"; junior Joshua Sharp of the University of Southern California's "Daily Trojan"; junior Vanessa Rozier of Howard University's "Hilltop"; and sophomore Lily Lamboy of Smith College's "Sophian."

The students were aggressive and Clinton got a bit heated at a few points. "Wait a minute - you asked the question, so yo have to let me answer," he said when asked a pointed question about his own role in the campaign. "You don't get to slant it, and ask me the question, and then" interrupt.

Another time, he said when discussing Obama's position on money from lobbyists: "Let me finish. I'm going to answer this. But I have a right to answer this. You can't let him posit a choice that doesn't exist."

Clinton responded hotly when asked: "How is that the guy that the guy from Hope is the insider from Washington"?

"I think that every election should be about hope, and every election should be about the future," he said. "I have no problem with that. But how anybody could I'm the Washington insider when I live in New York and I have not gotten - I'm not in politics anymore. And if you look at it, I think that all I have done is keep pushing America into the future in what I do in my post-presidential life."

On other issues, Clinton:

--Showed detailed knowledge of the campaign's nuts and bolts, including throwing out precise figures while complaining about Obama's use of political action committee money early in his campaign: "He spends 40 percent of the PAC money - 43 percent, to be exact - on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina politicians. … Those states constitute 3.7 percent of America's population. … So therefore it's not true that he has run a campaign without any special-interest money influencing the presidential campaign."

-- Said he believes Congress next year may "get rid of' the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy allowing gays to serve as long as they do not discuss their sexual orientation.

"It would have been a better policy if it had been implemented the way General [Colin] Powell and I agreed to implement it. … I think we may have the support now in Congress to get rid of it all together," Clinton said. "That's what we should do. We should do what every other major country has done and allow gay to honorably in the military. … I'm not defending 'don't ask, don't tell' on the merits. … Our guys came to us and said, 'Look. If you don't agree to this, they're going to bury you. You will have nothing.' "

--Told how he came to support legalization of gay in the military: "What flipped me on this - what made me strongly in favor of allowing gays to serve in the military--was the first Gulf War. … In the first Gulf War, the military knowingly shelved plans to replace more than a hundred people in critical military positions who were gay. They let them serve and as soon as the war was over--these people had risked their lives for our country, and they served honorably--then they … kicked them out. So that plus [then-senators] Bob Kerrey, John Kerry and … one or two other Vietnam veterans coming to me and saying, 'We'll stick with you on this, because we think it's ridiculous."

mtvU, a unit of Viacom and part of MTV Networks, is a channel for college students - airing on 750 campuses nationwide - that features music videos from emerging artists, coverage of student-led activism, and other programming.

An edited version of the meeting, "mtvU Editorial Board: President Bill Clinton" will premiere on mtvU and mtvU.com March 26 at noon Eastern and Pacific.

Editor's Note: As part of a Politico partnership with MTV, Mike Allen worked as a mentor with the editorial board participants on Saturday.

By Mike Allen