By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Former president Bill Clinton said yesterday that the governing Republican majority has abandoned the common good in favor of ideologically driven politics that demonize its opponents, has forced ordinary Americans to fend for themselves and has too often left the United States isolated internationally.
Speaking three weeks before the midterm elections, Clinton used a lengthy speech looking back at his own administration to offer sharp contrasts between the approach of Democrats in the 1990s and that of Republicans since President Bush took office more than five years ago.
"They believe the country is best served by the maximum concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the right people," he told a mostly student audience at Georgetown University. "Right in both senses."
Clinton went on to say that while Democrats "believe in mutual responsibility, they believe that in large measure people make or break their own lives and you're on your own." He continued: "We believe in striving, at least, to cooperate with others because we think there are very few problems in the world we can solve on our own. They favor unilateralism whenever possible and cooperation when it's unavoidable."
Clinton was critical of various Bush administration policies. Noting that there are no easy solutions, he said the administration has undermined its efforts to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons by seeking funds for two new nuclear weapons for the U.S. arsenal.
The pretext for yesterday's address was to reprise a series of speeches Clinton gave at Georgetown 15 years ago as he was launching his first campaign for the White House. Those speeches set out Clinton's centrist New Democrat philosophy with what he then called a "New Covenant" of opportunity, responsibility and community. That framed the campaign message he used to win the White House in 1992 and the blueprint he used through much of his presidency.
Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that has become home to many of his former aides and advisers, Clinton also decried the state of political discourse, arguing that it has become far more rancorous and destructive than when he ran a decade ago.
"It's not that we want a bland, mushy, meaningless politics," he said. "We like our debates. . . . We understand that campaigns will be heated and only one side can win. But we want it to be connected somehow to the real lives of real people, to the aspirations of ordinary Americans, to the future of our children and grandchildren."
Clinton tried to square his sharp criticism of Republicans with his call for a different tone in political debate by stressing that there is a difference between engaging in debates about issues and philosophies and launching personal attacks.
"I long for the day when we will return to a debate that is not about who's a good person and who's a slug, not about who represents the religious truth and who is basically running for office on his or her way to hell," he said. "I long for the day when Republicans and Democrats will sit around and have these raucous, exciting arguments and actually love learning from one another and we create the common good out of the dynamic center."
Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, responded by saying: "It's not surprising to hear these attacks from a man widely recognized for repeatedly playing the blame game to cover his own mistakes.''