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JONESBORO -- Former President Bill Clinton says storytelling can help heal the deep divisions found in contemporary politics.

In a discursive speech at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on Monday, the former Arkansas governor who went on to become the 42nd president urged an audience of a few hundred people to listen to stories about other people's lives, especially people they disagree with.

Those stories can help Americans see "people first," rather than political leanings or demographic characteristics, he said, and will help Americans come to grips with a time of "stunning opportunities" and "deeply troubling challenges."

"We have to decide when we're going to confront these big challenges and take on all these opportunities that America has, in a way that preserves our democracy. And the only way we can do it is to believe that people with whom you disagree are people ... [and that] you're going to play by certain rules," he said.

In remarks lasting more than 50 minutes, Clinton told his own stories, touching on his early childhood in Hope, his first speech at ASU as Arkansas' attorney general, his grandfather's grocery store, the life of poet and activist Maya Angelou and more. He wove each anecdote into a broader assessment of the social and political landscape, in which he said partisanship, technology and other features of modern life have fed "one really deep remaining bigotry."

"We do not want to be around anyone who disagrees with us, and it is paralyzing," he said.

But overcoming this tendency is critical, Clinton said, using an example of a talk he'd had with George W. Bush early in the 43rd president's first term. In that conversation, he explained that he understood some of the reasons why Bush might not like him, including the fact that Clinton had beaten his father -- President George H.W. Bush -- in the 1992 election.

Bush laughed, Clinton said, and they began speaking frequently.

"Once he became a person to me, and I became a person to him ... we began to be able to do things that helped other people," he said.

Wearing a navy tie that almost perfectly matched his suit, Clinton took the stage inside ASU's Fowler Center to a standing ovation from a crowded room. Tickets to the event were offered at no charge as part of the Riceland Distinguished Presentation Series and were snapped up in less than a minute, ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said.

"Events like this are an opportunity for our students to touch history," he said.

Before the lecture, many in attendance said they had seen Clinton before, but were looking forward to seeing him again. They included Rosemary Freer, 63, who said she had campaigned for Clinton in Batesville during his first presidential run, and Rejoice Addae, an ASU social work professor who first saw Clinton during an appearance at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1980s.

"I don't remember exactly what he said back then, but it was amazing," she said.

Rodney Hannah and Barry Clayton, both of Jonesboro, waited for Clinton holding a baseball and a hardback copy of Clinton's recent novel with James Patterson, The President Is Missing, which they hoped to have signed. (Clayton did not offer a review of the book, for he had not yet had a chance to read it, he said.)

In his speech, Clinton -- a Democrat -- did not make any explicitly partisan comments, refer to the 2016 election or President Donald Trump, other than to relate a few incidents from his work on the campaign trail during wife Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

He acknowledged that he'd observed something changing in U.S. discourse around the time of the 2014 election cycle, when he began seeing people "seething with resentment," he said, often because they felt "stuck."

"What are we going to do about all this economic and other inequality?" he said, adding that new tools such as robotics might make young people part of the first technological shift that kills more jobs than it creates. "We have to think about empowering and unsticking people, not putting them down, making them feel bad, or pointing a finger at them."

Resentment is one challenge among many Americans face as they try to answer the "detailed granular questions" of the 21st century, he said. But he felt that groups working together, especially groups comprising people from diverse backgrounds, could solve these problems.

He said there was a "bright path that lies before us, if only we can walk it together."

"Just remember this: addition works better than subtraction, multiplication works better than division. Creative cooperation is better than homogenous groups and lone geniuses," he said. "All the rest is background noise."

Metro on 02/12/2019

Print Headline: See people, not politics, Bill Clinton urges Jonesboro audience


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  • drs01
    February 12, 2019 at 10:26 a.m.

    When I see Clinton, I see a liar who did everything he could to avoid serving his country in the military, who lied about his sexual predator condition, who lied to his wife, his family and his nation under oath to a federal judge, who was the poster boy for sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • RBear
    February 12, 2019 at 11:06 a.m.

    When I see Trump, I see a liar who did everything he could to avoid serving his country in the military, who lied about his sexual predator condition, who lied to his wife, his family, and his nation and who is the poster boy for sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Seitan
    February 12, 2019 at 11:26 a.m.

    DRS01. Let me support Trump who is guilty of all you said and so much more: insulting veterans, gold-star families, disabled people, women, minorities, etc. But you are go with that, right?

  • reading1
    February 12, 2019 at 11:29 a.m.

    Regardless of how you feel about Clinton, his comments make a lot of sense. America, for sure, needs some "creative cooperation" among people different backgrounds to solve the polarization we are experiencing in America. Also, there is a great need to decide how we deal with the inequality in America that causes people to feel "stuck."

  • RBear
    February 12, 2019 at 11:32 a.m.

    Great comment, Reading1. Agree with your points on what's needed.

  • MaxCady
    February 12, 2019 at 11:58 a.m.

    Once a Slickster, always a Slickster.

  • drs01
    February 12, 2019 at 12:24 p.m.

    I failed to see Trump's name mentioned in this article. This was Bill Clinton saying, "see people" and my comments were to that point. Whom else you want to include is your opinion.
    I voted AGAINST the *itch in favor of the blowhard. Her name was Clinton too! Seitan - go back and check; you might have left out something you can blame the president for doing. Maybe it was all this damn rain?

  • RBear
    February 12, 2019 at 12:55 p.m.

    Clinton suggested to see people first. You saw Clinton in a particular way. I saw Trump in that same way. Sorry, but in a public forum you don't dictate the thread of discussion. BTW, what that I saw was a lie? Are you saying you accept it from Trump, but not from Clinton? Hmmm. Sounds kind of hypocritical.

  • Seitan
    February 12, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    DRS. Denial is not a river in Egypt. You can pretend Trump did not do all those things, but that does not undo the facts.

  • LRCrookAtty
    February 12, 2019 at 2:13 p.m.

    Seitan..."...insulting veterans, gold-star families, disabled people, women, minorities, etc."
    Let's take these one at a time, because I am tired of the lies. I do believe that Trump is a blow hard, but to lie just to be lying (as you did here) is unacceptable:

    1. Insulting veterans? FALSE!
    * Totally and completely unfounded. He has supported the troops in many ways, one specifically was when he had the fund raiser instead of attending another organization. He did not like John McCain and did insult him (about his service) but not veterans as a whole.
    2.Gold star familie? FALSE!
    * I believe there was one instance that he may have made slight remarks towards one in particular. However, overall, he has supported and donated to gold star families. He has had several to the white house and done fund raisers for several others.
    3. Insult disabled people? FALSE!
    * Trump was talking a a rally and made some hand jesters when he was discussing a specific reporter who happened to be disabled. However, if you looked at several of his rallies he made the same exact jesters when referring to statements made by Rubio, Fauxahontist and several others. He was not making fun of the person's disability but the statements the person had written.
    4.Women and minorities? False
    * Trump has never made a blanket insult about women in general or minorities in general. He will insult anyone, but it is always an insult directly at the individual and not the group. Just because the person that is the recipient of his insult happens to be a member of a group does not mean he is insulting the entire group. I have said fairly bad things about my first wife, but my present wife (of 28 years) does not believe I am insulting all women.

    There are plenty of things that Trump embellishes on, Popmom has pointed out a couple, (pay raise for military by him only or something along those lines). However, the lies and disingenuous statements made by the left, liberals and the MSM is pushing more people to want to vote for Trump because they know that most of this crap is not true.