Former President Bill Clinton covered a range of topics Thursday at the 149th annual meeting of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce from the localized economic boon of his Presidential Library to unrest caused by a slew of high profile police stops resulting in the deaths of unarmed black people. Clinton also touched on the much different frustrations of rural white Americans.
“There are so many people in America today that feel that somebody is dissing them. Working class white voters in small towns, in rural areas, think nobody gives a riff about them because you can talk about all the technology in the world and they can’t imagine that any of the benefits will ever flow to them. And all those young unemployed back men in the streets in Ferguson and Cleveland, New York, they think they’re a disposable commodity in America whether anybody ever jails them or shoots them or not,” said Clinton.
The former President said the solution to disillusionment is creating an inclusive economy “we need everybody and if we do this right we can create an economy where everybody feels valuable.”
Speaking to a roomful of some of the most affluent people in Arkansas, Clinton said the country has shown tremendous economic progress since the recession, in part because of their vision and work, but that prosperity has not been equitably shared.
“We need to grow together more,” said Clinton. "It used to be an article of fact in America that we would and we can’t, in my opinion, take advantage of these next few years unless we figure out how to do that.”
Clinton continued, “Americans don’t resent success. We know it requires you reward people who take risk and run things and have skills and know things. That’s what a free enterprise economy is but everybody wants to be taken along for the ride if they’re willing to go to work every day. Everybody wants to be able to raise their kids in dignity and have a good shot.”
However, Clinton’s prevailing message was unambiguously upbeat, particularly about the work of Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Clinton said it has been an instrumental tool for growth and he expects it will continue, especially if investments in education do.
As he did in November, Clinton reflected on the economic and cultural impact of the Clinton Presidential Library, Clinton School of Public Service, and his various other projects with Little Rock roots. The former President has visited his home state frequently in recent months both to campaign for Arkansas Democrats in the midterm election and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Clinton Library.