At his silvery presidential library in Little Rock, Clinton addressed the 2014 President Sites and Libraries Conference, a national conference held every four years for historians and archivists who work in institutions such as National Archives libraries and National Park Service historic sites. It was the first time a president – former or current – has ever addressed the association.
But these days, it’s really less what Bill Clinton says in a speech and more about the clues he drops about a possible Hillary presidential run. And she is running, right?
Clinton arrived in the Great Hall of his presidential library to a standing ovation. Clinton threaded his speech with the importance of presidential libraries and how these repositories reflect the “politics, policy and personality” of presidents along with issues currently facing the country.
For nearly 40 minutes the rock star politician talked policy in true Clinton style. He said it was important that the United States have an active citizenship especially when it comes to voting. (Clue: A GOTV effort for Hillary in 2016 is critical.) He lambasted sporadic citizenship, those people who don’t vote in mid-terms and who may only vote in presidential years. That, he says, creates “two different Americas” and avoids any kind of “national consensus.”
Clinton also focused on climate change and said he endorsed President Obama’s new carbon emissions caps.
“I endorsed it because climate change is real,” he said.
Possible Hillary Clue: Climate change will be a leading campaign topic in 2016. In fact, Clinton has already figured out the perfect way to introduce the controversial topic to voters especially in states where coal is still king. He strongly said that leaders in states that refuse to get on the climate change bus could likely end up losers. Why? Because it’s about the economy, stupid.
He cited how the tobacco industry in key states like Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia had to adapt in the 1990s with new regulations if tobacco farmers wanted to make money. If there is a distribution of power in solar and wind, there should be a distribution in employment, Clinton said.
Hillary Clinton was mentioned vaguely once by her husband and never by her name.
“I suppose one of the reasons my presidency has remained relevant to critics from both parties is I have a spouse who seems to remain relevant,” Clinton said.
The crowd applauded loudly.
Another possible 2016 campaign issue could be immigration, which Clinton briefly mentioned. “It will happen when both sides want it to happen,” he said.
While he focused on his successes in the 1990s including welfare reform, Clinton also mentioned the Bush family – three times. An interesting name drop considering that Jeb Bush could be Hillary’s main rival in a presidential match-up. Talking about presidents in general, Clinton said that most presidents are honest and “do their best to do what is right.”
Clinton said that President George W. Bush probably did what he thought was best after Sept. 11 as all president react to the situation they are in at the time. Still, he said he didn’t agree with Bush’s actions following Sept. 11. Clinton also mentioned how he had developed a close relationship with President H.W. Bush and a good friendship with George W. (Watch out, Jeb.)
In true Bill Clinton fashion, he veered into myriad topics near the end of his speech mentioning Lebanon, Jordan and the best political book that he had read in years. But it wasn’t exactly a political book. He recommended the crowd read, “A Social Conquest of Earth” written by Edward O. Wilson when he was 87. He’s now 90.
As Clinton said, “He’s still got it. His mind is firing on all cylinders.”
So is Clinton’s even if the crowd appeared to tune out as Clinton talked about the extinction of bees. Of course, it doesn’t really matter how Clinton ends a speech. People love him. He triggers nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the 1990s.
For Hillary, that might be the best political weapon in the Clinton arsenal.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.