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Bill Clinton on our ‘one remaining bigotry’

REUTERS/John Sommers II
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton saluting a Louisville crowd during an October campaign event.

The New Republic is 100 years old this year and managed to get former President Bill Clinton to speak at an event in honor of that anniversary. The magazine published the full transcript, which rambles a fair bit, as the ex-POTUS seems to do frequently.

But I particularly liked the passage below, which picks up on a favorite theme of mine, the importance of continuing to seek out civil, substantive political dialogue with people with whom you know you disagree on politics. Here’s Clinton along those lines:

You know, Americans have come so far since, let’s say, the era of Joe McCarthy. I mean, think about it. We’re less racist. We’re less sexist. We’re less homophobic than we used to be. We only have one remaining bigotry. We don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us. And if you look, actually residential patterns in America are changing. I mean, not just on by Congressional Districts. I mean fixed-line borders, like counties, the internal, social and political complexion of them are changing, and we also are siloing our information sources. 

I read the other day that 47 percent of self-identified conservatives will only watch Fox News on television. That’s good for Fox News. I mean, it’s a good business model. My mother-in-law, who died a couple years ago at 91, and whom I love dearly and who lived with Hillary in our Washington home while she was secretary of state and senator, was the most liberal member of our family. She watched Fox News every day. I asked her if she was trying to give herself a heart attack. She said, “No, I’m just trying to keep my blood pumping.”

But then my—but then she seriously said—she said, “first of all, Bill, I need to know what they’re saying so I have an answer and I need to know what they’re saying in case they’re right.” She said, “nobody’s wrong all the time. It’s like almost biologically impossible.”

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/25/2014 - 09:28 am.

    “I need to know what they’re saying so I have an answer and I need to know what they’re saying in case they’re right.”

    I read leftist media for much the same reasons. Haven’t had any reason to doubt any conclusion I’ve come to through observation and discussion, but you never know.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 11/25/2014 - 10:25 am.

    Limits of Acceptable Opinion

    I think he’s right but if all you take from his comments is a dig at Fox News, then you’ve missed out on a good lesson. If you’re not reading pros and cons of ‘hot’ issues, then you’re probably missing out on the full argument. And if you’re only reading snarky descriptions of the opposing side, then that’s worse than avoiding them all together.
    Look for the good faith arguers from the other side. Look for the people that don’t fit neatly into the right/left spectrum. (Ann Althouse http://althouse.blogspot.com/ is a great example of this.) Read some libertarians. Put them on your daily list and give them a read.
    You’ll be a better person for it.

  3. Submitted by Carolyn Jackson on 11/25/2014 - 02:04 pm.

    And I thought our remaining bigotry was ageism.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/25/2014 - 05:47 pm.

    Bill Clinton

    is wrong. There is no bigotry in America.

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/25/2014 - 07:54 pm.

    Conservatives and liberals

    In general Mr. Clinton is right here (he should have mentioned MSNBC viewers though) and Mr. Black once mentioned that it is good to have friends with opposite political views. I do and I read liberal media, the same as Mr. Swift. But if you read what many commenters here are writing, it is hard to see how Mr. Clinton’s words apply to many liberals. You see, if a conservative doesn’t want to know the opposite point of view, he or she is acting like a conservative. But if a liberal doesn’t want to know the opposite point of view, he or she is acting like an anti-liberal considering that liberals are supposed to be tolerant and open to new ideas..

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/25/2014 - 09:05 pm.

    Yes, We Liberals Are Supposed to Be Tolerant of New Ideas

    BUT when the facts are in, the evidence is clear, the science is settled,…

    we are QUITE CAPABLE of drawing a conclusion,…

    at least until previously unknown or unknowable facts are brought to light,…

    or new evidence comes into play,…

    or science discovers that, in long-established areas, it was drawing the wrong conclusions from that data,…

    and a different set of theoretical principles and interpretations far better summarizes and explains the available data,…

    at which point, we liberals are quite likely to change our perspectives and our points of view.

    To be liberal does NOT mean being “wishy-washy” like Charlie Brown.

    Sadly, in my experience of my “conservative” friends, the vast majority of them will leave a conversation or tune away from a news source if it threatens to provide them with information that might create ANY change in their previously-held “true beliefs.”

    It’s not that they consider conflicting information and reject it, they are simply unable to allow it to enter their awareness (and generally unable to realize that they have this disability).

    They do NOT seek new information in order to draw more accurate conclusions about the world and their place in it (as liberals do),…

    they only seek CONFIRMATION of what they already believe to be true.

    Some liberals do, indeed, delve into sources which challenge and contradict what they believe, but they do so because they are seeking more information and hoping that they might, indeed, find additional facts, evidence, science, or logic to take into account in order to form a more adequate, accurate, and all-encompassing perspective on the world.

    The “conservatives” I know do NOT do the same. They watch the weasel precisely because they know they will NEVER find, there, anything that might disagree with what they already “truly believe.”

    They watch the weasel in order to feel Like “The Onceler” in “The Lorax,” at the height of his wealth,…

    all these people on TV agree with me so “How wrong can I be?”

    but the question lingers in the depths of their beings.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/26/2014 - 08:30 am.

      Well

      said.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 11/26/2014 - 04:23 pm.

      Confirmation Bias

      Interestingly enough, I run into this phenomenon too, but mostly from my liberal friends. (Especially those that think it’s the height of humor to somehow twist the name of Fox News somehow.) I wonder what could possibly account such a thing?

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/26/2014 - 07:19 am.

    Rush

    I always thought it would be fun, when Rush Limbaugh took a day off from his radio show, to have a liberal guest host. Jesse Jackson. Ted Kennedy. Al Gore. Some good-nature digs and back and forth between the liberal host and regular listeners, I think it would be highly entertaining. And, horror of horrors, it might even lead to finding some common ground.

    But of course that doesn’t work when your model is “I’m 100% right and you’re 100% wrong.”

  8. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 11/26/2014 - 03:53 pm.

    Thanks Obama!

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/26/2014 - 08:00 pm.

    Mr. Kapphahn, you may want to read this piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeremy-frimer/liberals-conservatives-conformity_b_5697849.html.

    My experience taught me that liberals do not want to get into discussions about their beliefs.. For example, the proof of discrimination is always statistics which shows that minorities are behind. But re reason for that statistics is always racism. Do you see circular reasoning here? Climate change may be real but predictions of Armageddon in a hundred years cannot be (imagine someone in 1850 trying to count how many New York will need in 1950 and insisting that new barns should be built well in advance?) And Al Gore’s connection between global warming and hurricanes looks silly now considering that we have had two years of minimal activity. History shows that socialist countries fail but liberals still push for more government control. Should I come up with more examples?

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/28/2014 - 08:51 am.

      There are, of course, Lazy Liberals

      Who do not want to go into their beliefs because they don’t know why they believe what they believe,…

      and they certainly don’t want to argue with someone in an official position at their college or university,…

      a discussion which might have a less than desirable impact on their future.

      The difference is, however, that when those liberals do go to the trouble of doing the research to discover whether what they believe to be true actually IS true,…

      it tends to undergird and strengthen their beliefs,…

      whereas when today’s “conservatives” do the same, they generally find that their “true beliefs” crumble into dust,…

      unless, of course, their “research” is limited to listening to Rush or watching the weasel.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/30/2014 - 08:47 am.

      Excellent Article

      Ilya, Thank you for that excellent link. It confirms what I have learned while blogging. People from both sides have an equally hard time questioning what they have been told to believe.

      This is likely why folks are sensitive when we bring up the gray areas between the Left and Right.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/29/2014 - 09:38 am.

    Seriously?

    “One” remaining bigotry? And the solution is Fox News? For a smart guy Clinton can be such idiot sometimes.

    It’s not about who you talk to, it’s about your capacity for critical thinking and the ability to make reliable observations.

    One remaining bigotry… what planet does this guy live on? This is even worse than his Ted Talk about the wonders of the Haitian health care system.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/29/2014 - 11:02 pm.

      Clinton Rocks

      Definition of Bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

      Though I agree that Clinton is simplifying the situation, I think he is on the correct track. People from both the LEFT and Right seem to fear acknowledging that the other side has a point. And it seems the further from center one resides, the harder it is to see the other perspective or to even acknowledge that it is a possibility. Instead they accuse each other of lying, manipulating, being foolish, not thinking critical, being selfish, etc.

      It happens here almost every day. Maybe someday people will learn to truly appreciate both sides of the debate.

  11. Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/30/2014 - 05:09 pm.

    Mr Clinton was the best president

    that the establishment ever had. And the chief aim of the establishment with respect to the political discourse is to imprint that the range of possible discourse is from liberal to conservative, and that we have to pick a side and battle it out. This keeps the discussion within boundaries that can’t threaten power.

    Every commenter above has fallen into this trap, where there are two “sides,” and if the other “side” is wrong, yours must be right. Not only does this weaken the critical faculty – it relieves you of the need to actually argue for your position, to others and to yourself – but it excludes from discussion the possibility that the most sound approach to achieving our fundamental goals as a society – self-determination and collective well-being – may lie wholly outside of the narrow liberal-conservative part of the spectrum of social/political thought.

    And that’s just how Mr Clinton and those for whom he always has spoken like it best.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/01/2014 - 08:34 am.

    Roosevelt was better than Clinton, and by the way…

    Actually the more I think about Clinton’s “last remaining remaining bigotry” the more convinced I am that it’s pure tripe.

    Listen, REAL bigotry is oppressive, harmful, and even fatal on occassion. REAL bigotry destroys lives, hope, and opportunities. In last Sunday’s Strib we had at least two stories of REAL bigotry in America; one is the ongoing assault on Native American’s in the form of dilapidated Tribal Schools all over the country, that’s institutional bigotry. ( http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/283514491.html ) The other tale of bigotry comes from Northern MN where a young black man tried to to attend public school and was told he couldn’t use the “white” drinking fountain, and would be lynched like his “ancestors” if he didn’t behave. THAT young black man ended up committing suicide. ( http://www.startribune.com/local/284220711.html )

    Clinton’s claim that REAL bigotry has been replaced by closed mindedness masquerading as Bigotry is simply a familiar ploy that privileged white guys use to manufacture dubious claims victimhood. While lives are ruined and tortured by REAL bigotry all over America we’re told that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Bill Maher are the last remaining victims of Bigotry because there are some people in America who won’t listen to them. This isn’t just nonsense, it’s offensive.

    Meanwhile, when Clinton and his DLC buddies decided that the republicans had some good ideas they jumped into Neo-Liberal Free Market economics with gusto. The result: Stagnated wages for 80% of American households, multiple bubbles and consequent bursts, privatization of public infrastructure, and the repeal of financial regulations that laid the groundwork for the Great Recession. These are just some of the reasons Clinton doesn’t qualify as the “best”.

    This is nothing more than classic Clintonian triangulating.

    Look, if you want ME to listen to you, you need to have a requisite level of intellectual integrity and you need to be knowledgeable. I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum. The Fox News organization isn’t a victim of bigotry, they’re a collection of intellectual hacks. The idea that we should listen to them simply because they “are” is typical white entitlement thinking… the kind of thinking that promotes bigotry, not remedies it.

  13. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/01/2014 - 08:56 pm.

    The mass media tend to set up two sides,

    as if the public can’t be trusted to process more than two points of view.

    My favorite example is the interventions in Central America in 1980s. The Reagan administration’s position could be summarized as “We ought to come down hard on the leftist guerrillas in Central America and on the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and send their opponents military aid and advisors.” That position was well represented in the print and broadcast media.

    The purported “opposite” position was usually represented by some hawkish member of the Democratic Leadership Council (the most conservative branch of the Democratic Party), who would say something like, “Yes, the leftists in Central America are a problem, but we ought to come down soft on them with sanctions and diplomatic pressure.”

    One would never know from the mass media that there was a third position, one with a large following in Minnesota, namely that the leftists in Central America not only posed no threat to the United States but were fighting against brutal opponents who were prone to “disappear” their opponents, massacre entire villages, and sabotage humanitarian projects. I heard this view in person from missionaries and returned Peace Corps workers, but the only media that covered it were non-mainstream outlets like KFAI.

    In 1988, while attending a summer session at the University of Michigan, I heard a former NPR reporter–and for the life of me, I can’t remember her name–give a talk about how the mainstream media, including NPR (Fox News didn’t exist yet), carefully narrow the range of acceptable opinions.

    She ran a videotape of a news story that I remembered, one about an election in El Salvador a few years before, with pictures showing people lined up for blocks to vote, and a U.S. anchorman talking about how this demonstrated the Salvadoran people’s dedication to democracy and defiance of the guerrillas.

    Then she presented the same news story as covered by British, Canadian, and Australian television stations. They showed exactly the same video footage as the U.S. news program, but the narration was entirely different, stating that voting is compulsory in El Salvador, that there were only eight polling places in all of San Salvador, a city of 200,000; that the government had declared that anyone who didn’t vote would be suspected of being a guerrilla sympathizer, and that the candidates ranged from quite right wing to extremely right wing.

    I have not trusted the U.S. media for a long time. The idea that the mainstream media are “liberal” is true only when we are talking about behavioral issues. When it comes to political and economic issues, the bias is not so much “liberal” as pro-Establishment, which makes sense when you consider that almost all the news media in the U.S. are owned by six corporate conglomerates.

    This is why the Internet is such a delight. There is no reason to limit one’s self to U.S. news sources, not when Americans can easily read news from Canada, Britain, Australia, Ireland, and other English-speaking countries as well as the English-language press directed at the international communities of countries such as Japan and Korea.

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