Sunday, November 16, 2008

Professor President by Sam Goldman - | Times Newsweekly

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Bill Clinton Talks To Large Crowd At Queens College

Former President Bill Clinton speaks to a packed crowd at Queens College, as Rep. Anthony Weiner looks on.

Queens College's student union became a classroom for
the 42nd President of the United States, as Bill Clinton spoke to students at a Democratic Party rally sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Hundreds of students waited outside in the chilly Flushing air for a chance to meet Clinton, who, along with Weiner and several local politicians, would speak to a crowd of over 750.

Weiner's aide Lydon Sleeper functioned as the event's emcee, calling Assembly members Rory Lancman, Nettie Mayersohn and Mark Weprin, City Council Members David Weprin and James Gennaro, and Queens College President James L. Muyskens up to speak.

"For some students, a president may seem something like only slightly more than a medieval king or queen," Muyskens stated, adding that the event demonstrates that "presidents are definitely flesh and blood."

The featured attraction, however, was Clinton, who told the crowd that it was "my great honor to be supported by the people of Queens."

"This is, I think, the most ethnically, racially and religiously diverse county in the United States and we should be proud of that," he stated.

The borough has a special place in his heart, he said, noting that when he was still the Arkansas governor beginning his presidental run in 1992, former Queens Democratic Party Chairman Thomas Manton invited him to speak before the committee, which ended up giving Clinton his first-ever endorsement for president.

He also claimed Weiner as a friend; "I wish every American could be represented by someone in Congress as intelligent and as tough and as committed" as Weiner, Clinton told the crowd.

What the election means

Residents packed the Queens College student union auditorium to hear Clinton and several local officials, including Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (shown with mic at left).

Clinton told the Queens college crowd that the next president has three important issues to tackle.

The first one is to "fix this financial mess." Clinton noted that over two million homes were foreclosed on so far in 2008; there were 1.5 million foreclosures in all of 2007.

This is a problem, he said, that Congress must tackle: "If you want this economy to come back quicker, you cannot have another 2.5 million people lose their homes."

Each foreclosure costs taxpayers $250,000; in Queens, this number can reach as high as $350,000, said Clinton. In addition, he stated, foreclosures hurt the values of adjoining properties, "and for most Americans, the only savings they have anymore is in their homes."

The second issue is growing the economy. According to the ex-president, the economy's growth between 2000 and 2005 left many with a surplus of money and no place to spend it except the housing market.

"No matter how mad you are at Wall Street, think about this: what would you have done if you had been a 30-year-old employee at one of these investment banks, and Anthony (Weiner) and I said, 'We want to open an account. We'll give you $50,000 each, and you invest it and earn good money for us,'" he asked. "And you looked around and you saw nothing was growing in the American economy but housing. You might have tried to find some funny way to keep putting it into housing too."

"America has had no job strategy," Clinton argued, claiming that presidents should come up with platforms that create a source of new jobs approximately every five years.

Clinton also noted that 16 percent of the average household income is spent on healthcare costs, more than any other country.

One of every eight cancer patients are unable to afford their medication, he claimed; before the recent financial collapse, healthcare costs was the leading cause of bankruptcy.

The third issue is America's standing in the world, which he claimed has been damaged.

"We have a staggering unmet set of obligations to our veterans," he said. "There are thousands of them with injuries that will require longterm care."

When finding solutions to these issues, Clinton emphasized cooperation.

"There is still plenty of room for a conservative-liberal debate among options," Clinton stated, "as long as we're going forward together."

"This country needs a two-party system," he added. "We need the right debate."

Clinton refused to give a prediction for the future. "I wish I could tell you exactly what's going to happen," he said. But he would note that the United Stated has gone through some low points in its history.

"You ought to read the history: 'This George Washington couldn't win a military battle if his life depended on it. He can't give a speech that will inspire the troops. His false teeth are wooden and he looks awkward and he just loses,'" Clinton joked. "Then in 1814: 'Oh, we burned the White House today; they're toast.''"

"'Abraham Lincoln is a baboon', an editor in Springfield said. 'Somebody will get rid of him before he can do too much damage,'" he continued.

Finally, according to Clinton, in World War II, Winston Churchill told the British press, "'The United States always does the right thing, after exhausting every other alternative.'"

"In 232 years, everyone who bet against the United States lost money," the ex-president reminded the crowd.

Weiner, in his introduction, emphasized the historic nature of this election.

"Every so often, we enter this period in American civic life when all eyes are on the future," he said. "Every so often we have this moment when all of our neighbors are not talking about themselves and their families but they're talking about their community and their country."