FAIRFAX, Va.—Bill Clinton’s address at George Mason University last night was preceded by a booming broadcast of Bon Jovi’s "Livin’ on a Prayer," and virtually the first words out of the former President’s mouth were, "What a way to end this campaign, this is great!"
Presumably he was referring to the campaign in Virginia, which holds its primary today.
Clinton has been relatively muted on the campaign trail ever since his more aggressive tactics in South Carolina were seen to have helped Barack Obama to a big victory. He did, however, raise the subject of Barack Obama, albeit without naming him.
"Some people in this campaign seem to think there is no difference between the 90’s and this decade," he said at one point. "I think the 90’s were pretty good myself."
Later, voice rising, he said, "This is not the time for the Democratic Party to walk away from its commitment to universal healthcare," a remark which echoed Hillary’s criticisms of Obama’s healthcare proposals.
In relation to his wife, Clinton also alluded toward the speech’s end to "all the stuff she has endured in this campaign," though he did not offer specifics.
Overall, the event was classic Bill Clinton–at once compelling, impressive, and slightly strange.
He spoke on the ground floor of a student center here, with parts of an audience of several hundred being forced onto upper stories, where they peered down over balconies.
Early on, a small hubbub erupted when students holding an Obama sign popped up in the crowd immediately in front of the former President. "It’s fine that you’re here," he said, the rest of his remarks drowned out by cheers. Later, he told the students they "have to choose" who they believed would make the best president. A distant shout of "Obama!" came back but, if Clinton heard it, he showed no response.
The crowd remained rapt for most of Clinton’s lengthy address despite the less than ideal conditions. There was barely even any restiveness when, having already spoken for 25 minutes, he announced he would turn his attention to "the second thing I want to say."
His speech was also policy-heavy, as he dealt in turn with healthcare, education, the economy and, briefly, foreign affairs. Clinton railed against the "national disgrace" of the amount of wasteful paperwork in the healthcare system–a declaration that was greeted with what might be termed respectful silence–and talked about making college more affordable, to cheers.
Clinton also talked abou pure politics, noting, as part of what he called "making my case for Hillary," that his wife had carried 110 of Missouri’s 115 counties in the primary.
And he urged his listeners to choose a nominee on the basis of capability to govern. What voters want from a president, he said, is someone "who can stop big bad things from happening and make big good things happen.”.
One of the more intriguing moments on a human level came late in the speech when Mr. Clinton, his voice markedly quieter than before, said, "It’s easy to get isolated when you’re president." He added that when such isolation takes hold, "you can find yourself in a world of hurt."
By way of example, he cited the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.