Former President Bill Clinton was in his element Wednesday, shaking hands with more than 300 residents at the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring and urging them to vote for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“You live in the highest voting precinct in the entire state of Maryland,” he said. “The first thing I want to ask you to do is not to break your record down but break it up.”
During his 35-minute speech, Clinton spoke about his wife’s work in politics and in other capacities, such as her work with the Children’s Defense Fund in the 1970s. He called her “the best change maker I’ve ever known.”
Clinton also praised his wife for bringing the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngster (HIPPY) literacy program to Arkansas, where he was governor, and ultimately to 26 states in the 1980s.
“She said, ‘I’ve heard about this program in Israel for immigrants whose parents don’t speak Hebrew or English, who can’t read, write or count, and they teach the parents right with the kids… And the kids are doing great, they caught up almost overnight,’” he recounted.
“I said, ‘That’s great. How are we going to build on it, that’s Israel?’ She said, ‘Oh I did it. I called the woman who founded the program in Israel. She’ll be here in 10 days. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged around to all these little preschool graduations.”
Clinton said HIPPY has helped “thousands” of people become literate since its implementation 30 years ago.
Clinton’s appearance came two weeks before Maryland’s April 26 Democratic primary and after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won the last seven Democratic primaries.
On Wednesday, Clinton did not mention any candidates by name, but took a shot at Sanders’ proposal of implementing a single-payer healthcare system. The former president acknowledged that the Affordable Care Act “isn’t perfect,” but that it would be a mistake to “go from zero to 100 with a single-payer system, rather than to go from 90 to 100 with the law we’ve got.”
Clinton said among the elements of the ACA his wife hopes to improve is the high cost of insurance for small businesses and the lack of regulation of drug prices.
He also indirectly criticized businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s suggestion of temporarily barring Muslims from immigrating to the United States. Clinton noted that the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shooting last year became radicalized online while living in the United States.
“We can put up all the walls you want. You can put up great sea walls on both oceans. You could stop letting planes land here, [but] you couldn’t keep out the social media,” he said.
Throughout the speech, Clinton emphasized that his wife’s experience — she is a former U.S. secretary of state and senator — makes her the best qualified person to be president, and someone who can unite the two parties.
“We need a president who understands that the only economy that works in a free society is one where there is shared prosperity. Where there is a shared sense of community. Where we share political responsibilities instead of fighting with each other all the time.”