Last night was the sixth speaker in the St. Louis Speaker Series. Bill Clinton was taking his turn after some tough acts to follow, such as David Cameron, the former British prime minister, who, though great, was outdone by Jeffrey Toobin who is a supreme court analyst and historian.
Bill Clinton’s speech was surprisingly non political. He did not speak directly about Donald Trump other than to say “I have said fewer bad things about Donald Trump than most people in public life”, and to make a one sentence, passionate complaint about the unfair character assassination done on his wife. His points sounded much like David Brooks of the New York Times, who writes most of his essays about American life, core values and fears. His speech was rather slow and thoughtful. It was also a bit rambling as he is sometimes prone to do. He does not give short answers, which is bad for ‘beat your opponent down sound bites’ but refreshing.
One of his main points, which he dealt with from many angles, was the trend and nature of today’s methods of information. He explained the very recent trend in American media and newspapers. Their subscriptions are down, their old business model is dying. Their key to survival is getting themselves placed in internet stories with the greatest number of clicks. He then explained the strategies for getting best placement. This new model changes the focus and emphasis of their reporting. The media outlets need to generate “heat”, you need to generate fear. Negative sells quickly.
He explained the similarities between republicans and democrats in everyday life. Mr. Clinton tells of how he grew up in much the same way as that of many of his conservative counterparts. Bill Clinton grew up with guns, owning them himself and being, as he puts it “a very good shot”. The schools in his small town would shut down on the first day of Deer Season because nobody was going to show up anyway. He talked about his support for gun rights as they relate to hunting, sport and self protection. He compared the damage done by stoking the heat and fear that people like him are coming to take your guns away to the “domino theory” argument used to justify all we did in Vietnam by making the argument that if one small country goes communist the whole world will soon follow. He made the point that the government, inevitably, must regulate weapons to some extent. We, as individual citizens don’t have the right to bear nuclear warheads. We can’t keep an M1 tank in our driveway. Bill Clinton feels that it is the job of the moderate democrats to convince the conservatives of this country that we are not coming to take away your guns. Another point he made on this issue is that, while the vast majority of Americans support some amount of increase in background checks, etc., that majority of people won’t change their vote based on that one item. The far right gun rights people, on the other hand, will definitely change their vote based on that one issue. Therefore, any gun restrictions is a loosing proposition for politicians, and it will stay that way unless that majority is willing to make it a voting issue.
He stressed to each of us, as individuals, to try to take emotion out of your politics. On one of his more thoughtful and stressed points, he urged us to “Think hard about what you really believe, what you really think, and the feelings will then follow. Don’t use your emotions first”.