WASHINGTON – Former President Clinton bemoaned ideologues who describe opponents as "running for office on his or her way to hell" and urged Democrats not to shy from fighting back.
Clinton, criticizing Republicans weeks before the midterm elections, told an audience at Georgetown University on Wednesday that intellectual debate should trump partisan rancor and either-or choices are false.
"Most of us long for politics where we have genuine arguments, vigorous disagreements but we don't claim to have the whole truth and we don't demonize our opponents and we work for what's best for the American people," he said.
Clinton, whose wife Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is eyeing a 2008 White House run, spoke at his alma mater to mark the 15th anniversary of his series of speeches there as a then-fledgling presidential candidate. The former president gave notice that Democrats would not be passive victims of attacks.
"This is a contact sport, politics," he said. "You can't complain about being attacked. It's like Yao Ming complaining about being fouled playing basketball."
Clinton said he doesn't see Democrats shying from the debate.
"It's not that we want a bland, mushy, meaningless politics," he said. "We like our debate. ... We understand that campaigns will be heated and only one side can win. But we want it to be connected somehow to real lives and real people, to aspirations of ordinary Americans to the future of our children and our grandchildren."
Recently, the former president engaged in a testy exchange with FOX News over his administration's record on terrorism.
During remarks that were framed as a discussion of the common good, Clinton decried personal attacks against candidates for perceived lack of faith.
"It's not about who represents the religious truth and who is basically running for office on his or her way to hell," Clinton said.
Clinton also argued that the GOP has allowed its conservative element to drown out moderate voices.
"The ideological, right-wing element of the Republican Party has been building strength, partly in reaction to things that happened 40 years ago — Barry Goldwater's defeat, the excess of the '60s, Ronald Reagan's election" he said. "But this is the first time on a consistent basis, the most conservative, the most ideological wing of the Republican Party has had both the executive and legislative branches with a very distinct governing philosophy and very distinct political philosophy."
He said the United States' effort to develop new weapons and cut taxes undercut the moral arguments.
"They favor unilateralism whenever possible and cooperation when it is inevitable," Clinton said without specifically mentioning members of the Bush administration.
"The problem with ideology is, if you've got an ideology, you've already got your mind made up. You know all the answers and that makes evidence irrelevant and arguments a waste of time. You tend to govern by assertion and attacks."