The ability to understand political differences and make compromises are the keys for America to "form a more perfect union" within its own borders and with the rest of the world, former President Bill Clinton said today at Kansas University.
"The whole story of humanity is a story of forming a more perfect union," Clinton told a gathering of about 12,000 in KU's Allen Fieldhouse who came to listen to the former president deliver the first Dole lecture for the Robert J.Dole Institute of Politics.
The major theme of Clinton's lecture was about the need for those with political, ideological and cultural differences to learn to find common ground to accomplish goals -- an art that both he and Dole used during their political careers.
"If you believe, to go back to the founders, that our job is to form a more perfect union and nobody's got the whole truth, then everybody's got a contribution to make," Clinton said.
Clinton started on a light note and credited Lawrence, a heavily Democratic town, with providing 90 percent of his votes in Kansas during the 1992 and 1996 election years. Clinton's speech quickly turned more serious, however, and spoke about strategies for the United States to deal with globalization and the war on terror.
Clinton related these topics to the high number of students by saying the most important thing to gain from a university education is not a specific set of knowledge.
"It is the ability to think, to reason, and then you need to do what Bob Dole and I did, and spend the rest of your life being frustrated by it," Clinton said.
"You should have disagreements with your leaders and your colleagues, but if it becomes immediately a questioning people's motives... we are not going to get very far in forming a more perfect union," Clinton said.
Clinton said the United States should have a strategy against terror, a strategy for gaining more allies and friends, and a preference to be part of networks that bring people together across the world.
"It builds the habit of working with other people," Clinton said.
He also said the United States should focus on becoming a better country itself and part of the war on terror includes "just continuing to prove that America works."
"How are we going to relate to globalization? How are we going to relate to the global war on terror?" Clinton asked the crowd.
"It's important for you to understand that both parties are trying to ... build a consensus that responds to the challenges of the 21st Century world," though the sides are respective left and right of being politically centrist, Clinton said.
Clinton encouraged the crowd to think about how the United States should fit into the 21st Century world, and economic and political globalization. "It's obvious what we ought to be doing, if you agree with me. We need a strategy that [increases] the positive and downs the negative."
In his closing statement, Clinton said to remember that all humans are genetically 99.9 percent alike. "There has been a lot of blood shed over that 0.1 percent," he said.
Following his 40-minute speech, Clinton took questions submitted in advance by KU students.
Former Senator Bob Dole spoke for approximately 10 minutes after brief introductory remarks by the Dole Institute of Politics Interim Director Steven McCallister.
"Mr. President, welcome to the land of the Jayhawks and the home of one of the great sports programs," Dole said in his opening remarks.
"It is always a pleasure to return to Lawrence, a great university where I get more compliments and fewer votes than anywhere in Kansas," Dole said, getting laughs.
Dole said that he and Clinton have worked together on a number of issues, including raising scholarship funds for 9-11 orphans. And Dole made jokes at his own expense about the institute that bears his name.
"It's not a presidential library, but it'll have to do. Come to think of it, if not for President Clinton, there might not be a Dole Institute of Politics."
People were still filing into Allen Fieldhouse less than 15 minutes before the start of Clinton's speech. Those who are already inside are fanning themselves with programs in the unairconditioned fieldhouse. Temperatures today are in the mid-80s, and visitors were not allowed to bring in their own water. University officials handed out paper fans and programs.
By 11 a.m. this morning, several hundred people had lined up to get the best general admission seats to hear Clinton speak this afternoon.
Hillary Pilkens and Tom Nixon, both KU freshmen, sat playing a card game at the head of the line. They said they took their spots at 6:30 a.m.
"We found out there is general admission and we wanted really good seats," Pilkens said. "I really like Clinton. I wasn't old enough to vote for him, but I really liked his presidency."
Clinton is scheduled to give the inaugural lecture for the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at 2:15 p.m. University officials have distributed thousands of tickets for the event, which was originally housed at the much smaller Lied Center. About 12,000 attendees are expected.
Some people were using the occassion for political activism. One woman was wanding through the lines outside Allen Fieldhouse offering people the chance to register to vote.
KU officials have doled out advice to attendees, including recommendations to wear light clothing and arrive early. The fieldhouse is not air-conditioned, and temperatures today will be in the mid-80s.
Security agents were reportedly doing a security sweep of the fieldhouse at 11:30 a.m. A university spokesman said the security sweep was expected to be completed by noon.
"We're not going to discuss security measures. Period," said a KU public safety official.
Lawrence Police Lt. David Cobb said the city's police department has brought in about 10 extra officers to help take care the traffic around Allen Fieldhouse.
"In this area, it's the same amount of traffic, the same amount of problems we'd expect to have with KU basketball games, so hopefully, we'll handle it the same way," Cobb said.
With all the hoopla, it was easy to forget it was the last day of finals on KU's campus. Students were dealing with the situation.
"All the finals were scheduled in the morning, so I don't think it was that big a deal, " said Ashley Truong, a law student.
But there was some fallout.
"They canceled our picnic," Truong said of the law school's annual end-of-year ritual. "There wasn't going to be any parking available because of Clinton."
Most students took the disruptions in stride. John Benjamin, a freshman from Lawrence, was sitting in front of Snow Hall this afternoon and waiting for the the excitement to die down so he could move out of the dorms.
"Bill Clinton is getting paid so much to speak, he can't possibly have anything interesting to say," Benjamin said.
The following is advice from university officials, seating information and more.
- As of 1 p.m., parking was still available in lot 90 on KU's campus. Parking officials are on hand to direct traffic.
- Don't plan on bringing anything big and bulky to former President Clinton's lecture Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. You won't get in. "You can bring a camera, but not a camera bag," said Todd Cohen, a spokesman for Kansas University. The same goes for backpacks, oversize purses, umbrellas, Thermoses and coolers.
- Video cameras and hand-held tape recorders will be allowed, but not their cases.
- Currently, plans do not include steering the crowd through metal detectors. But everyone will be subject to search.
- Clinton is scheduled to begin speaking at 2:15 p.m. Allen Fieldhouse doors will open at 12:30 p.m.
- Parking will be in short supply. "There are finals going on that day, the residence halls are closing and there's a baseball game that night," Cohen said.
- To accommodate those with finals, on-campus parking restrictions will be enforced Friday until 10:30 a.m. After 10:30 a.m. most on-campus parking spots will be fair game.
- "You can't park in handicapped parking without a permit. You'll still have to put money in the meter, and don't park in front of a fire hydrant," Cohen said. "But the red-, yellow- and blue-zone parking permit restrictions will not be enforced." He added, "The earlier you get here, the better your chance to find a parking space."
- Traffic on Jayhawk Boulevard will be limited, Cohen said.
- First-level parking at Allen Fieldhouse parking garage will be reserved for people with disabilities.
- Also, eat lunch beforehand, and dress lightly. "It's supposed to be warm Friday," Cohen said. "Allen Fieldhouse is not air-conditioned. Water and other beverages will be for sale, but there won't be food. You won't be able to buy a hot dog."
-- Journal-World reporters Joel Mathis and Eric Weslander also contributed to this report.