‘Campaigns, the best of them, fire idealism and spark intensity,’ Clinton says. | AP Photo
Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday offered emotionally charged encouragement to a gala gathering of a prominent gay rights group while noting his wife Hillary Clinton’s support for gay rights when she served as secretary of State.
The fired-up crowd attending the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner at Washington D.C.’s cavernous convention center was particularly enthusiastic whenever he mentioned Hillary Clinton, a likely 2016 Democratic candidate. The former president noted her support for gay rights during her time at State, when she said that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
“I love the HRC. The initials are great,” Clinton said as the crowd embraced the dual reference to the rights organization and his wife’s middle name, Rodham. Early on, the former president also mentioned Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who is thought to be a candidate to run Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential campaign.
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While Hillary Clinton had a testy exchange with a National Public Radio host earlier this year over when she came to publicly back gay marriage — something she did not support in her 2008 presidential bid (nor did then-candidate Barack Obama) — her name received a warm welcome at the event, where the theme of the night was “evolve.”
Bill Clinton noted several times how much has changed on the gay rights front — including court-sanctioned gay marriage in many places — since he addressed the organization in 1997.
“One thing we have learned is no human heart is immune to an honest outreach,” he said. “No one can forever ignore their personal experience. If you ask somebody who the most conservative member of the Bush administration was, most people say Dick Cheney. But Dick Cheney was for gay marriage [and] gay rights because of his daughter [one of whom is gay], because of his personal human experience.”
The mood at the gala dinner was celebratory. Couples who had gotten married in the last year were asked to stand up, and a sizable number of people in the room rose. But Clinton told the audience to stay focused on notching more wins through concerted campaigns, both legally and in the court of public opinion. He quoted former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who said one should campaign in poetry and govern in prose, and Clinton said the organization needs to do both at the same time.
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“Campaigns, the best of them, fire idealism and spark intensity,” he said.”They exhaust and exhilarate in equal measure, and they count on the fire of inspired determination to keep them going.”
Clinton has been a highly visible presence on the 2014 campaign trail, and lamented the focus of many midterms races.
“Our political season is a wash and a blizzard of ads that don’t have a thing to do with the way people will live beginning the day after the election,” he said.”We’ve got a lot of things we could be complaining about. We should be troubled about all these problems. But they all are manageable. There is no place better suited than we are here for the opportunities of the 21st century.”
He went on to detail the path forward in language many Democrats see as elements of his own legacy — broad-based prosperity; equal opportunities for children; and tolerance.
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Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea Clinton just had her first child, said that “sometimes the biggest threat to the future of our children and grandchildren is the poison of identity politics that preaches that our differences are far more important than our common humanity.”
He urged attendees to remember that shared “humanity” as the HRC takes its campaign to the heart of America’s deep south —and to keep it in mind, “when you go to Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and the first person cusses you out.”
“Do we need national security? Absolutely,” he said. “Do we need border protection? Of course. Do we have to take prudent steps against terrorists? Yes. But we will prevail in a dangerous world if we have the best model of freedom and justice, equality and opportunity, the kind of things people want to be a part of, where everybody can be who they are.”