Students, faculty and community members, packed in a crowded Kirby Ballroom Tuesday afternoon, exploded with applause at two words: Bill Clinton. Introduced by 8th Congressional District Candidate, Rick Nolan, the 42nd president spoke for about 40 minutes on taxpayers, what it takes to be a successful president, arithmetic, laws that affect student loans, and why President Barack Obama is the best choice for America.
“Thank you for bringing me back to Duluth,” said Clinton, who last visited Duluth in 1994.
To start things out, Clinton spoke on his own good fortune, and how his experience as president made him realize that in public service there are three things that really matter.
“Are people better off, do children have a brighter future, and are things falling apart or are they together?” asked Clinton. “We have to decide. Do we believe in a winner-take-all society, or do we need to stick together?”
Throughout his speech, Clinton came back to this idea again and again: who does America want to choose to better this country.
“Who’s more likely to restore middle class prosperity and give poor people an honorable way to work into it?” Clinton asked the crowd. “Who’s more likely to build a 21st-century economy with the jobs of tomorrow that bring back the American dream? Who’s more likely to do the things that should matter in every election?”
The crowd chanted “Obama” in response to these questions.
He frequently contrasted President Obama’s policies with Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s proposed policies. However he said the choice between the two on all aspects of the election was clear.
“Romney says he has created the perfect plan,” Clinton said. “Obama’s plan is better.”
Clinton rallied more cheers from listeners when he turned his topic to students and student loans. He pointed mostly to the student loan reform passed by Congress and signed by Obama that is scheduled to take effect next year.
This Student Loan Reform Act of 2010 ends payments to private companies and allows students to make a smaller payment based on their income and living expenses. If they keep up to date with their payments, student loans can be forgiven in 20 years instead of 25. This grant also provides more funding for Pell Grants that competes with increasing inflation.
“I guarantee half of the students in this room don’t know the details of the student loan reform,” Clinton said. “If every student knew this fact, the election would be over, done, cooked, in the history books. The student loan reform that the Congress passed and the president has signed has potential to end drastic slide in graduation rate.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who spoke before Nolan took the stage, also talked about higher education and the middle class.
“We have to be a country where we bring down our debt, we all know that, and as students you especially know that,” Klobuchar said. “And we have to do it in a balanced way. We cannot do it on the backs of our students, our veterans and our seniors. That is not what we do in America.”
Nolan echoed Klobuchar when he talked about tax breaks being given to millionaires and billionaires, and brought up his own concerns about Romney and running mate Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare.
“Do they think we’re stupid, or what?” asked Nolan, in regard to his opponents’ Medicare views.
More than 1,000 students and community members crammed into UMD’s Kirby Ballroom as well as four more overflow rooms to see Clinton speak, even though it wasn’t confirmed he was coming until Monday night.
“We found out Sunday night that someone big was coming, but didn’t know who,” said Ben Dufault, president of UMD College Democrats. “We spammed as much as we could to bring publicity, but we didn’t know it was Clinton until later Monday.”
“This is wonderful, wonderful, I just wish I was up front,” said Bob Anttila, a Duluthian who attended the event. “This is great. And I’m glad that all the young people are here, because they can carry on.”
After the speech some were able to shake Clinton’s hand as he left the stage through the crowd.
“I wish I could have given him my fraternity handshake,” said Sean Flinck, a senior at UMD. “But we didn’t have enough room for it.”
With election week only one week away, Clinton’s visit aimed to gather voters together in support of the “Gotta Vote” campaign, a DFL attempt to get more people out to vote.
“A more perfect union is not just morally good, it’s good economics, and it’s another reason to elect President Barack Obama,” Clinton said. “If you want to rebuild the middle class, raise income, create jobs, then you gotta vote for Obama.”
BY: TOM OLSEN and ANNE KUNKEL CHRISTIANSON firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com