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Clinton: After 'ideological' 2010 contests, 2012 must be 'thinking election'

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."...

Bill Clinton delivers his keynote address Saturday. Herald photo by John Stennes.

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.

2010 lessons


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 following the devastating 1997 flood.

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 nonprofit 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."

2012 narrative

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, pay for the prescription drug program and close the so-called "doughnut hole."

"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 reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .


Clinton visit to downtown Grand Forks near Red River - March 17, 2012

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