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Bill Clinton: ‘We have to be on the field and playing’

From left: President Bill Clinton, Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif, Sen. John McCain, 2011 Google Science Fair winner Shree Bose and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, participate in a session Saturday night at the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University in Tempe. (Reuters/Samantha Sais)

TEMPE, Ariz. – He made no mention of his wife, but former president Bill Clinton on Saturday offered what some might consider a succinct rationale for her to run for president.

The country faces long-term debt problems that threaten its global competitiveness, Clinton said, and the solutions are not mind-numbingly difficult. But, he told a crowd of roughly 1,200 college students, addressing them will require political will.

“Who will stand up and say, ‘Send me, I’ll fight for that?’” Clinton said. “There’s no place for any of us in the peanut gallery. We have to be on the field and playing.”

Clinton spoke here at Arizona State University, where he is convening the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, about motivating young leaders to become more involved in politics and policy. But as with everything the Clintons say these days, his comments will be interpreted vis-a-vis Hillary Rodham Clinton’s deliberations about whether to run for president in 2016.

Bill Clinton’s remarks came during an extemporaneous riff about deficit issues, which he delivered after receiving a glowing introduction by Michael A. Peterson, president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which promotes fiscal responsibility.

Clinton blamed the nation's current debt problems on Republicans, who he said have campaigned irresponsibly since the 1980s on promises never to raise taxes. Republicans, he said, were “just like a child who likes to eat candy every day and never go to the dentist.”

He noted that after Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently proposed a series of tax reforms, “he got killed by his own crowd.”

Clinton also condemned the state of U.S. politics and the growing power of super PACs to negatively define candidates.

“It has not always been this way,” Clinton said. “You couldn’t always depend on a billionaire spending a fortune to run television ads against you to tell everybody how un-American you are… This is a new thing in American history.”

“On a bipartisan basis,” Clinton added, “we need to reject it.”

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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