Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bill Clinton preaches politics of "common good"

Bill Clinton preaches politics of "common good"
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton urged Democrats on Wednesday to strive for an inclusive politics of "common good" and fight back against the divisive approach of Republican leaders.

Less than three weeks before November 7 elections to decide control of Congress, Clinton said U.S. political debate had been degraded by "ideological, right-wing" Republicans who demonized opponents and concentrated power in the hands of a privileged few.

Clinton said he longed for a politics that celebrated differences and disagreements without condemnation, and worked toward equal opportunity, shared responsibility and a sense of community.

"Ideological, divisive, demonizing, distracting politics, they may be very good for an election, particularly when people feel unsettled and insecure, but they don't do much to advance the common good," he said at Georgetown University, on the same stage where 15 years ago he called for a "New Covenant" in politics.

"This sort of politics, striving for the common good, for me stands in stark contrast to both the political and governing philosophy of the leadership in Washington today and for the last six years," he said.

Clinton, whose presidency from 1993 to 2001 was marked by pitched battles with Republican congressional leaders, including his impeachment, said there was nothing wrong with a hard-nosed fight over philosophy or issues.

"It's not that we want a bland, mushy meaningless politics. We like our debate," Clinton said. "But we want it to be connected somehow to the real lives of real people."

Clinton has teamed recently with former Republican President George Bush, the current president's father, on relief efforts for victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Clinton's wife, former first lady and New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a likely contender for the White House in 2008 and is running for re-election to the Senate this year.

Clinton said the growing strength in recent decades of the "ideological, right-wing" elements of the Republican Party had been realized in President George W. Bush's administration and the Republican-led Congress.

"This is the first time when on a consistent basis the most conservative and ideological wing of the Republican Party had both the executive and the legislative branch," Clinton said.

"They believe the country is best served by the maximum concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the right people -- right in both senses," he said.

"They favor unilateralism whenever possible and cooperation when it's unavoidable," he added.

He said the philosophy did not serve the country well.

"If you've got an ideology, you've already got your mind made up. You know all the answers and that makes evidence irrelevant and arguments a waste of time," he said.