Former President Bill Clinton avoided weighing in on this year’s presidential election Friday night in favor of a speech vaguely centered on “embracing our common humanity.” But he got a few laughs along the way at the sold-out Bushnell theater.
Clinton, a guest of the Connecticut Forum, took a moment early during his light-hearted, 40-minute speech to remark on how contentious politics have become since the last time he was on the stage when he debated Bob Dole during the 1996 elections. That division and anger makes it difficult for elected officials to get things done, he said.
Clinton’s speech contained just one reference a current Republican presidential candidate: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He said he received an email from Dole asking how Clinton could say something nice about Gingrich.
“‘He polarized us. Why, he made it impossible for me to beat you,’” he said Dole wrote. “I said, ‘Well, Bob, that’s why I said something nice about him.’ I was hoping for a reply.”
But for the most part, the former president’s talk was decidedly unpolitical. He embarked on a broad lecture incorporating countless, seemingly unrelated topics and at moments had the crowd laughing — like during an anecdote about the Human Genome Project.
He said that after he read a newspaper article reporting that between one and four percent of human genomes come from Neanderthals, he clipped it and showed his family.
“It didn’t surprise them that I was part Neanderthal. They claimed to have known that for a very long time. It did, however, astonish them that they, too, were part Neanderthal,” he said to the crowd’s amusement.
Clinton also got a few laughs when he touched on an experiment last year at a Swiss super collider, where scientists seemed to have demonstrated that subatomic particles can travel slightly faster than the speed of light. Traditional physics says that’s impossible.
Clinton said he asked a friend of his daughter’s, who had interned at the super collider, for possible explanations. He was told it’s possible the particles “took a short cut” by slipping into a different dimension of reality.
“Since often times when I read the paper it seems a lot of people are living in a different dimension of reality, I was encouraged to know that there was some explanation for this,” he said.
After the speech, Clinton took pre-screened questions from Connecticut Forum President Richard Sugarman. The questions were free of any reference to the scandal that saw him impeached and later acquitted of lying under oath about extramarital activities.
But Sugarman asked what was most surprising about being president. Clinton said it’s the huge variety of issues the office deals with on a daily basis. He said people don’t realize that the president’s time isn’t just spent on the issues the media reports on.
He said one visitor to the White House early in his presidency could not accept that.
“This guy stands up and says, ‘You know I voted for you because you promised to focus on the economy like a laser. And you’ve been here six months and all you’ve done is work on gays in the military.’ And he says, ‘I don’t give a damn about that,’” he said.
Clinton, whose staff had recently put together a precise breakdown of how the president had spent his first six months, was ready with an answer. Turns out he’d spent a total of an hour and a half on gays in the military since taking office, he said. An hour of that was at the insistence of military leaders.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘I’m sorry but I just don’t believe you.’ He said, ‘That is inconceivable as much as I’ve had to look at it on television,’” Clinton said.