Private Bill Clinton Speech: Being ‘First Gentleman’ ‘My Own Personal Civil Rights Struggle’

WASHINGTON, : US First Lady Hillary Clinton and US President Bill Clinton listen to testimonials from a wide range of individuals about half way through the four-hour 'White House Conference on Philanthropy: Gifts to the Future' 22 October 1999 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. …
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images, File

In a speech at a private fundraiser last year, former president Bill Clinton joked that returning to the White House in the capacity of “First Gentleman” would be “my own personal civil rights struggle,” referring to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as a “walking nongovernmental organization.” He also argued that Abraham Lincoln was a good president because he could indulge his depression in war.

Bill Clinton’s speech, given at the home of Ambassador Carl Spielvogel and Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel in November 2015, was published by the organization WikiLeaks as an attachment among thousands of emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

The speech employs many of the same political arguments and rhetorical quips seen in previously released private Bill Clinton speeches. He describes himself as useless to Hillary Clinton because “I’m not mad at anybody… And after watching the Republican debates I realized that I really had nothing to contribute to the national debate. There was no one I wanted to insult, no one I wanted to smear, nobody’s life I wanted to distort.”

To this levity, he adds a new remark: “I do want to break the iron grip women have had the role of presidential spouse. It’s my own personal civil rights struggle.”

Clinton describes his wife as having a positive record on effecting change in education and health care and laments that he could not push a version of what eventually became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because he “didn’t have the votes” in Congress.

He then goes on to describe Hillary as “a walking nongovernmental organization, just trying to figure out what’s wrong and figure out how to fix it” in her career, and he suggests that her tenure as president will be great because “it’s important to get the right person, but the right person at the right time.”

“Many presidents we think weren’t so good might have been wildly successful at another time. Abraham Lincoln, our greatest, might not have been so successful had he served in normal times because he was subject to terrible bouts of depression, and he buried his propensity to depression in the blood of the Civil War,” he contends.

Elsewhere in the speech, Clinton suggests that the decreased life expectancy among white Americans may be a product of insufficient religious discipline, among other factors.

“The life expectancy for middle-aged, non-college-educated white Americans is going down,” he notes. “It’s still slightly lower than for African Americans but already higher now than for Latinos. Why? Because in spite of the health risk that African Americans and Hispanics face, even they are more closely connected to their churches and their communities than millions of our fellow countrymen.”


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