Bill Clinton has fought criticisms that his wife and the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is part of the “establishment” following opponents’ claims that she has ties with Wall Street, has accepted speech money from various banks and has worked for most of her life within politics.
“The only thing I really dislike about this campaign is whenever somebody endorses Hillary, they get blasted on the email, on the internet, for being part of the establishment,” Mr Clinton said to a small crowd in New York. “It’s a pretty big establishment now.
“I mean it includes the Congressional Black Caucus, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, the League of Conservation Voters, several Hispanic organisations – most of the Irish – and I could go on and on.”
Mr Clinton was making the point that his wife is working for the people. He highlighted her work to unify Ireland and other countries, her policies on healthcare and her wish to expand voting rights in southern states.
Rival Bernie Sanders has repeatedly brought up the $675,000 that Ms Clinton earned for speechmaking from Goldman Sachs and her “ties” to the big banks. Both candidates are battling for the state of New York in the run up to the primary on 19 April.
Mr Clinton, 69, came under fire on the campaign trail last week for his heated exchange with Black Lives Matter activists, when he claimed they were “defending” drug dealers and murderers.
He said at an event the next day that he “almost wanted to apologise” as he admitted he had talked over the protesters, like they had talked over him.
On Tuesday, talking about the improving economy and falling employment under president Obama, he said:
“But a lot of people are caught in a vacuum so they don’t know [they are asking themselves], ‘should I protest?’” he said. “Is it more important for me to pin the tail on the donkey, or on the elephant, as the case may be, and figure out who to blame, or do we need to just get the show on the road here and figure out what we want to do? If you want to get the show on the road, you should support Hillary.”
Dr Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told The Independent that Mr Clinton has improved the way he interacts with people on the campaign trail for his wife.
“In the last round he got into arguments and he was angry, like the fact that the African Americans had defected to Barack Obama, he felt this was a slap as much to him as to his wife. He was burning bridges,” he said.
In 2008, Mr Clinton was accused by the Barack Obama campaign as being a “racist” after he said Mr Obama got a “free pass” from the press and was not asked how he had “changed his mind” on the Iraq war since 2004.
“Give me a break,” he said. “This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”
Mr Sabato said Mr Clinton was, this round, playing to his wife's strengths.
“If you look at voter breakdown, she almost always wins the 45 and overs, and she almost always loses the 45s and under,” said Mr Sabato. “It’s the same group that remember him as president and her as first lady.”
Mr Clinton was certainly playing to his own strengths when he spoke at the American Irish Historical Society in New York on Tuesday, where he is known as the man who brought about peace in Northern Ireland after he issued a 48-hour travel visa to Gerry Adams, leader of the pro-independence Sinn Fein party, in 1994. This led to the end of the isolationist policies around Sinn Fein and to the Good Friday Agreement.
Niall O’Dowd, founder of the Irish Voice newspaper, told the audience: “There would not be peace in Northern Ireland if it were not for that beloved man.”
Mr Clinton credited his wife for stopping UK and Irish leaders from abandoning peace talks in the 1990s - an example of how she would lead the country so all Americans could "live together as citizens".
“As to the debate whether the UK should leave the European Union, the first thing Hillary said was ‘I bet that would be awful for her [the UK], and pretty tough for Northern Ireland. I’m really worried about that’. That was the first thing she said when I asked her about it. Her instincts of how things should be put together instead of blowing things apart are good," Mr Clinton said.
Mr Clinton, mentioning the tensions around the migrant crisis in Europe and the fighting in Ukraine, added: “We want what has happened in Northern Ireland and the involvement of both the Irish and British government to become a metaphor of how Europe works itself out of the [knot] it’s in. This [tension] could undermine our recovery in America.”
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