The manager of Bill Clinton's 1992 successful run for president, David Wilhelm, said Friday that he is very proud of that campaign, which he described as having just as much hope and optimism as the one that led to President Barack Obama's first election in 2008.
"I don't know quite what to say to you guys about the state of our national political life today," Wilhelm told about 170 people at the Political Animals Club meeting at Union Station in Little Rock.
"I'm embarrassed by it. I am sorry you have to live through it," he said to his sons Luke and Logan Wilhelm, Ohio State University students who were at the club's meeting.
Wilhelm said Clinton's 1992 campaign that "brought all of us together was different" and occurred before the widespread use of the Internet. It was a time when the sons and daughters of Democrats and Republicans would marry without regard for party affiliation, he said.
"But campaigns have never been for the faint of heart, and we were tough," said Wilhelm, who later served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The Ohio native is now a global renewable-energy developer.
"My wish for you is that in our lifetime that things get better and that politics can regain its footing and the smidgen of civility is returned," Wilhelm said.
At one point, he paused and said, "We never had a single meeting with any representative of the Russian government."
It was an apparent reference to meetings between representatives of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and of Russia. Trump, who defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Wilhelm's remarks to the Political Animals Club were made the day before the celebration in Little Rock of the 25th anniversary of Bill Clinton's election. Among those celebrating will be Bill and Hillary Clinton and veterans of the 1992 campaign. Bill Clinton is an Arkansas native who is a former governor and state attorney general.
Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, told the group that "it was during that campaign that I saw [Wilhelm's] grace under pressure time and time again.
"David called everybody 'chief' or you were a 'great American,' particularly if you came in and told him good news or the latest poll result," said Rutherford. "But in fairness, as you all know, that campaign was like a roller coaster.
"Every ship needs a captain and in 1992 for Bill Clinton, David Wilhelm was that captain: humble, thoughtful, principled, funny, effective, smart, strategic and hard-working," he said. "Without him, there would be no 25-year reunion."
Wilhelm said Little Rock was home for him and his wife for a year and a half, and Rutherford served as "my official guide to Arkansas politics, culture and history."
He said he is very proud of the 1992 campaign "not just because we won, but because we won for a reason.
"After three consecutive losses at the presidential level [by Democrats], new ideas were needed. A broad coalition was needed. Fresh faces were needed. We needed a party that could appeal to moderates, to Southerners [and] to working-class whites without abandoning the Democratic base," Wilhelm said. Clinton in 1992 defeated President George H.W. Bush, who had also served as President Ronald Reagan's vice president from 1981 to 1989.
"After a decade of trickle-down economics, it was time for a new theory of how economies grow," he said.
The campaign ran ads in New Hampshire with a toll-free number to get a copy of Clinton's plans and put out a book called Putting People First, Wilhelm said.
"We never stopped competing in rural America, never," he said. "We worked hard for the votes for working-class people. We woke up every day wondering how we could win one more white working-class vote. ... We wanted people to know that the very same message that spoke to suburban whites, or exurban whites or rural whites also spoke to inner-city blacks."
The 1992 campaign tried to appeal to the best of people, pull them together, and offer hope and fight for the people who couldn't always fight for themselves, Wilhelm said.
"It was a rocky ride, but it was a ride of a lifetime," he said.
Wilhelm said there might be something for today's Democrats to learn from Clinton's 1992 campaign.
"It may be time to travel back to 1992 to get a taste of what the political future may require," with a focus on working-class economics, competing for votes of struggling families in both small and large towns, and an understanding that doesn't contradict the party's commitment to civil rights, he said.
Metro on 11/18/2017
Print Headline: Clinton ramrod proud of '92 work; Campaign chief notes civility sag