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Save the World: Elect My Wife

Bill Clinton, pictured earlier this year, warned of a dangerous world in N.H. yesterday.

By Alec MacGillis
HOLDERNESS, N.H. -- Bill Clinton, who drew criticism last week for suggesting that the country would be taking a chance by electing Barack Obama, sounded another warning here Thursday night in support of his wife's candidacy, saying that if the country doesn't respond right to its current challenges, the world as we know it -- or at least American democracy -- may cease to exist within a few decades.

"How we meet those challenges will determine whether our grandchildren will even be here fifty years from now at a meeting like this listening to the next generation's presidential candidates," Clinton told several hundred voters gathered in the gym of the Holderness School here.

The three "very, very profound challenges" facing the country, Clinton said, were growing inequality between rich and poor, terrorism and other sectarian violence, and global warming. And only Hillary Clinton, he said, had the vision, the plans and the record of getting results to respond the right way. He urged his audience to vote for her for the sake of themselves and their children. "This is your life," he said. "This is about you."

As the Clinton campaign heads into the final two weeks before the first votes of the primary season, it is stressing above all else what it says is her advantage in experience over her leading rival, Obama. And to help make that case, it is underscoring the extent of the threats faced by the country and world, to argue that this is not a time when the country can take a chance on a younger candidate with less time spent in Washington.

It is a type of election strategy most often adopted by incumbent candidates. In President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, Dick Cheney invoked a particularly bold form of it, warning of the consequences of a John Kerry election for the nation's security against terrorism: "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again -- that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."

In his hour-long speech last night, Clinton did not elaborate on what he meant by the prospect of the audience's grandchildren not being there in 50 years. But the address was filled with a drumbeat of warnings about the gravity of the country's "very sobering challenges." "These are important things," he said of leading the nation's military. "This is very important, this running the government," he said of the nation's debt and trade imbalance. For these reasons, he said, the country needed to depend on his wife, who "has never touched anything that wasn't better when she put it down than when she picked it up."

Clinton did not mention Obama or other Democratic rivals by name, saying at one point, "I say this not to denigrate the other people...I like them." But some comparisons were implied. Talking about his wife's proposals on the issues, he said, "You don't have to wonder with her," that she offered "not just words, but details."

His pitch appeared to go over well with the audience of nearly 300, an impressive turnout in a sparsely populated part of north-central New Hampshire on a day when the state got another 10 inches of snow. Malcolm Taylor, a retired journalist and photographer and lifelong resident of the town, said it was, as he could recall, the first visit by a president since Dwight Eisenhower stopped by in 1955 on his way to fly-fishing in the White Mountains.

Taylor also said there was something to the Clintons' argument about the daunting tasks ahead. "Where else do you have a $3 billion-a-year business with 3 million employees and pull someone off the street to run it? This is a huge enterprise, running this government," he said. Hillary Clinton was best prepared for it, he said, because "she's been around the halls of power, and I'm assuming she sat in a lot of [Bill Clinton's] meetings, and that there was a lot of pillow talk...She's been exposed to a lot of what Bill was, and she inherits his infrastructure." With some of the less experienced candidates, he said, the first question on arriving at the White House would be "Where's the washroom?"

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 21, 2007; 12:55 PM ET
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