Sunday, June 18, 2006

Live From Little Rock: Bill Clinton

Posted By on Sun, Jun 18, 2006 at 8:14 AM

There's something weird about a convention of a bunch of people from alternative newsweeklies making national news. I guess it helps to have the former president—and husband of the potential next president—show up.

Bill Clinton's speech was by far the highlight of the now-concluded Association of Alternative Newsweeklies annual convention. His speech started around 1:15 p.m. local time. It was well past 3 p.m. when he finally concluded the Q&A, and stayed for a while to chat, have his picture taken, shake hands and sign autographs. (I shook his hand and exchanged a word or two. It was, to use the vernacular of kids these days, "cool"). The remainder of the convention was thrown into chaos by the length of Clinton's appearance (and for some reason, the hotel didn't serve lunch until well after he was finished, meaning many of us didn't eat), but we didn't mind.

While the above linked-to AP dispatch hits some of the high points, two things stood out from the amazingly charismatic speech and Q&A:

1. At one point, during the Q&A, the subject of immigration—a subject Tucson knows all too well (and yet knows stunningly little about, in some ways)—and George W. Bush's feelings on immigration came up. While cynics (myself included) express the belief that Bush is more moderate on the topic than he is on most other topics because he's trying to protect the cheap labor pool for big business, Clinton had a different take. He said that immigration is the one issue Texas Republicans are less conservative on, because they get it. He also said that he feels Bush "believes in what he says, most of the time." While I am not sure I agree wholeheartedly on Bush's motivations, Clinton would know better than I would, and his perspective is fascinating.

2. The AP story touched on this, too, but I have to mention it: When Clinton bemoaned the fact that the media these days tends to turn public figures and issues into two-dimensional cartoons, I could not have agreed more. He chided the media for depicting his wife as a "left-wing nut," when she's not; for painting Democratic positions on the Iraq war with too broad of a brush; for making Sen. John McCain out to be a moderate when he's actually quite conservative on many issues (something Arizonans have been reminded of by his support of the heinous Center for Arizona Policy anti-partnership ballot measure); and for mocking Al Gore and Hillary Clinton for being wonks. ("We need wonks. We need to know what the heck we're gonna do," he said to laughter.) He implored us to go beyond the two-dimensional cartoon, because these depictions obscure and hurt the ability to debate.

It was an amazing speech. I am impressed that he came and spoke to us (and we didn't have to pay his huge speaker fee) and took the time to answer our questions and talk with us. Given the government's propensity these days to try to keep as much information from the media as possible, it was a reminder of the good old days—a mere six years ago.

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