Former President Bill Clinton on Monday stood in front of a raucous, appreciative, standing-room-only crowd at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union and immediately did a little reminiscing, looking back to 1992 and his own quest for the nation’s highest office.
Headed into the final presidential primaries – in California and five other states – Clinton recalled that he did not yet have enough delegates to claim the Democratic presidential nomination on the first ballot at the party’s national convention. In fact, now-California Gov. Jerry Brown was his chief Democratic competitor at the time.
It was California, Clinton said, that put him over the top.
When California voted for me, it sent me into the convention with the wind at my back.
Former President Bill Clinton on his 1992 victory
“When California voted for me, it sent me into the convention with the wind at my back,” he said. “It began to unify our party after a long and tough primary, and it enabled us to go forward to win.”
Clinton’s message was clear. Now it’s time for California to do it again, only this time for his wife, Hillary. She is the Democratic presidential front-runner, but like her husband 24 years ago, does not yet have enough delegates to claim her party’s nomination. California Democrats already are voting, with the primary election day on June 7 pitting Clinton against Sen. Bernie Sanders.
It’s why Bill Clinton was in Fresno on Monday, speaking to a capacity crowd of 857. It’s why he is barnstorming the state, looking to help Hillary Clinton secure the nomination and not just head into the party’s national convention this summer in Philadelphia “with the wind at her back,” but to get started as soon as possible on mounting a general election campaign to beat the Republican Party and its almost certain nominee, billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
Clinton’s speech was full of nods to progressive causes – an acknowledgment of the San Joaquin Valley’s leftward Democratic Party lean, his speech location on a college campus, or just as likely a pitch for Hillary Clinton over Sanders, who has sparked interest among the party’s far left.
Boosted by United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, who spoke before him, Clinton hit Wall Street, called for not just a higher minimum wage, but an increased standard of living for everyone through increased wages, eliminating student loan debt, immigration reform and family leave. About the only things he didn’t touch on were water, drought and agriculture – three major central San Joaquin Valley areas of concern. His lone nod to farming was a Long Island anecdote.
She’s got the best ability to get things done in a divided climate in Washington.
Former President Bill Clinton on what he thinks is a key presidential quality of his wife, Hillary Clinton
But the big-picture themes he did address were straight out of the core Democratic Party playbook.
For instance, Clinton went hard at Wall Street, even as Hillary Clinton has come under fire at times for being too cozy with that sector.
“The biggest problem with inequality is no longer the big banks, it’s big corporations and active shareholders,” Clinton said, pitching for the retention of the Dodd-Frank bill, which Trump recently proposed scrapping, calling it too onerous. The banking regulation bill was enacted following the 2007-09 financial crisis.
“It will stop Wall Street from wrecking Main Street ever again,” Clinton said of the law. “I don’t care what anybody tells you. It’s the best law we’ve had in 50, 60, 70 years.”
In fact, Clinton said, it doesn’t go far enough.
Publicly owned companies, he said, “are under constant pressure from these activist super-wealthy shareholders to make more money every year so they can dump the stock.”
The better strategy, he said, is long-term vision, which in the end adds to the overall prosperity of the country.
On minimum wage, he said his wife “loves what California did” in enacting a law that will ramp up the minimum wage over the coming years to $15 an hour. It shouldn’t stop there, he said. The goal should be “a globally competitive, good living standard” for everyone.
“If you want more jobs, higher income, less unemployment and upward mobility, (Hillary is) your candidate,” Clinton said. “She’s your candidate not only because she’s got the best ideas, but because she’s got the best ability to get things done in a divided climate in Washington and is by far the most likely to keep trouble around the world from wrecking our progress at home.”
Time and again during his approximately 30-minute speech, Clinton outlined the coming election in stark terms, though he rarely uttered Trump’s name. Clinton mostly told the audience why voting for Hillary is important, and often used his own time in the White House as a template for another Clinton administration.
Clinton also acknowledged the changing nature of the world, as he did to great effect in the 1992 presidential race.
There’s never been a time when borders have looked more like nets than walls.
Former President Bill Clinton
“This has been – how can I say this? – an unusual election year,” he said.
Globally, he said, “we are in the most interdependent period in the history of the world. There’s never been a time when borders have looked more like nets than walls. When diversity is growing everywhere.”
But coming after the Great Recession, he said, most people have seen wage stagnation and have gone years without raises. At the same time, the cost of living is rising.
“There’s a lot of anxiety and anger out there,” Clinton said.
You can’t make it the way it used to be.
Former President Bill Clinton’s analysis of what he says is Donald Trump’s strategy for America
The presumptive Republican nominee, Clinton said, is speaking to the “white working class who’ve been left out, left behind,” who “think nobody in either party cares about you.” To them, Trump’s message is, “I’ll make it like it used to be.”
Clinton’s reaction to that?
“Well, first of all, it wasn’t so great the way it used to be if you were a Latino or African American or a first-generation immigrant or if you were an LGBT person. Secondly, you can’t make it the way it used to be.”
He told the crowd – a diverse gathering that reflects the core constituency of today’s Democratic Party in California – that Hillary Clinton is the best person to take the multicultural America of 2016 forward.
The alternative is not a pretty thought, he suggested, noting people wearing “love trumps hate” stickers.
“For your sake – and the future – you’d better be right,” he said. “And I believe you are. But that’s what elections are all about.”