Bill Clinton stumps for Haiti at Martha Coakley rally

Roger Leo Contributor
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What was supposed to be a rally for Democratic candidate Martha Coakley turned into a talk by Bill Clinton about Haiti and the danger of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.

“Forgive me if I’m a little creaky and rusty,” the former president began. “I’ve been up for three days worrying about Haiti.” Clinton is U.N. special envoy for Haiti.

Clinton said he saw a sign outside one rally: “Shouldn’t you be in Haiti?”

“I said to the young man: ‘I’ll answer that if you tell me why you ask.’ The young man said he was asking on behalf of a conservative group. I said to him, ‘You’re here because you don’t want her [Coakley] to win. That’s why I’m here. I do want her to win.’

“You’ve seen the polls. They’re all right. They’re measuring who they think will vote. They’re looking at the independents, who don’t like politics, who are just waiting to be disappointed by the last person they voted for. The health-care bill isn’t perfect, but it’s so much better than what we’ve got. We’ve seen this movie before, folks. Our worst nightmare was fulfilled by our own inaction,” Clinton said.

Massachusetts has not sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Edward M. Brooke lost his third-term re-election race in 1978 to U.S. Rep. Paul E. Tsongas (D-Lowell). What seemed like a shoe-in for a Democrat — any Democrat — to replace Ted Kennedy, has become something of a horse race that has many worried.

Clinton said he saw four key areas of difference between Coakley and her Republican opponent, Scott Brown: on financial regulation of Wall Street — she’s in favor, he’s not; on the economy, tax cuts and job creation — she wants change, he wants Bush-era policies; on health care — she favors the proposed legislation, he opposes it; and the make-up of the Senate in an era of constant filibuster — her election would give Democrats 60 seats, his election would give Republicans 41 seats.

“I want you to go and tell everybody you know: Not voting is voting. Not voting is voting for the other guy. Using cynicism and disappointment as an excuse for inaction is just a way to get what you don’t want,” he said.

Some of that worry fueled the outpouring of support for Coakley from powerful Democrats who turned out on Friday for rallies in Boston and Worcester. Chief among them was Clinton, who spoke at both events. U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and Gov. Deval Patrick were in Boston. U.S. Reps. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield were in Worcester, along with Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.

More than 600 packed into Alden Hall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, on Friday evening. About 750 heard Clinton, Kerry and Coakley in the Copley Square Hotel in Boston earlier in the day.

One long-time state politician who declined to speak on the record said, “It doesn’t look good. She’s run a terrible campaign. She should have run as if she was behind, with passion. She let herself be defined by the opponent, when she should have defined herself. Her opponent ran a skillful campaign.”

On Haiti, Clinton said that over the last two years, the country has had the best chance in 200 years to escape its history. Economic programs were in place, 10,000 non-government organizations were at work in the country, 600 potential investors were lined up to fund development and other projects, with more than half coming from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Then, he said, disaster struck, leaving Port-au-Prince in ruins and perhaps 50,000 dead, including the most United Nations personnel ever lost in a single day.

“When we find the dead and care for the living and manage the emergency situation … we’ll amend the plan and go back to work,” Clinton said.

“The bad news is almost nothing is happening there. Unless you are part of a coherent medical team or search and rescue team, don’t go there,” he said. “They need food, water, medical supplies and protection at night. Imagine if you were there, in the third day without shelter, food or water. It is very difficult.”

Clinton urged his audiences to help people stay alive by donating money to help Haitians, even small amounts.

“They’re good people, and now they have a shot at a good life for the first time since they led the first successful slave revolt in history,” he said.

President Obama plans to campaign for Coakley Sunday in Massachusetts.