Bill Clinton campaigns with Barrett at Pere Marquette Park
Clinton comes to speak, stays to talk, greeting hundreds after his 18-minute speech at a downtown campaign rally with Tom Barrett. Photo gallery by Lacy Landre.
With his eighteen-minute speech followed by an hour’s worth of talk, Bill Clinton wowed a crowd of more than 1,000 Tom Barrett supporters Friday, June 1, at Pere Marquette Park in downtown Milwaukee.
Clinton’s visit had been hurriedly arranged by the Barrett campaign staff just the day before. The former president flew in from New York, he said, and visited a coffee shop along the way, where, he added, “Tom is winning.”
The president’s formal remarks began with his observation that “the great thing about not being president is you can say whatever you want.
“It doesn’t matter any more, but you can say what you want.”
What Bill Clinton wants is something he calls “creative cooperation – not constant conflict.”
The constant conflict, he said, is a tactic of the “Tea Party politics of the far right that dominates Wisconsin.”
“For 100 years people have looked to Wisconsin [for its] vigorous political debates. … Now they see America’s battleground.”
The former president cited the Founding Fathers, exhorted the audience to read the Federalist Papers in which great issues that led to the ratification of the Constitution were debated.
Wouldn’t have happened today with the “divide and conquer, no compromise crowd,” he said. “If they had existed then there never would have been a constitution. We would not even be here today if they had had their way.”
“Join me in song,” said Moore, introducing her tune that she called, “Scott Walker We Don’t Want You No More.”
“Hit the road, Scott,” she bellowed, to the amusement of the crowd.
Mike Tate, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin asked the attendees to hold up their cellphones, and then to call a friend that they feared might not vote without a prompt. “We might turn the election on the people here. Seriously, the election could come down to one vote.”
Mayor Barrett, dressed in a Brewers jacket and khaki pants, was the penultimate speaker, and he was kept cooling his heels awaiting Clinton’s arrival while portentous music rumbled through the loudspeakers.
This is a gloves-off campaign, with none of the usual references to a “worthy opponent,” “the honorable gentleman” or other such circumlocutions.
“Scott Walker makes the middle class the enemy of the state,” said Barrett.
“Scott Walker made the largest cuts to our city in history.” … “Scott Walker wants Wisconsin to be a laboratory for the far right.” … “Scott Walker has divided this state like it has never been divided before,” he said.
As the City Hall bell tolled noon, two hours after the rally’s start, only about 50 people remained in the park. Yet one of them was Bill Clinton, still shaking hands and talking.
After the mayor and the president had finished their speeches, Clinton plunged into the rope line where hundreds massed to shake his hand and utter a few words. Some brought Hillary Clinton for President signs, while a number of folks brought copies of the president’s books to be autographed. Clinton would ask the person’s name, grab the book and pass it on to an aide. After a while this amounted to quite an inventory piled on a table near the motorcade. After a few hundred hands had been shaken, Clinton withdrew to the table and signed the books and other artifacts.
Then, time to go?
Clinton worked the crowds, which had by then dwindled to merely a clutch. He spoke in the candid person-to-person style at which excels.
Toward the end of the visit, he told one individual that “I am very angry about voter suppression. We certify elections around the world and now we make it harder for people to vote.”
Bill Clinton’s visit to Pere Marquette Park was not his first; he appeared there in 1996 with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and told the audience he remembered being serenaded in German by Milwaukee Public School students then. He has also been to Milwaukee as ex-president, including a visit in 2002 on behalf of the VH1 “Save the Music” program.
The first former president to visit Milwaukee was Martin Van Buren in 1842, before the establishment of City or State government here. (We had to wait until Rutherford B. Hayes until we got a sitting president.) Former President George H. W. Bush was in Milwaukee in September 2001 when his son grounded all air traffic after the World Trade Center attack, while the unintended highlight of President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 visit was his being shot just across the street from Pere Marquette Park.
After Clinton and Barrett departed, one politician remained on the rope line shaking hands. It was Sen. Herb Kohl, who will retire at the end of this term.