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One-on-one with Bill Clinton: How have Arkansas politics changed?

Former president Bill Clinton sat down with THV11's Craig O'Neill to chat about Arkansas politics, the conflict in Ukraine, and the Clinton School of Public Service.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It's May and the the 42nd president is back in Arkansas. Former president Bill Clinton will be speaking to the graduating class of the Clinton School of Public Service on Saturday night. He'll be speaking to not only those that graduated this year, but in 2020 and 2021. 

Before President Clinton prepares to give the big commencement to the graduates, he agreed to sit down with THV11's Craig O'Neill in the Clinton Center to chat about Arkansas politics, along with other topics.

The start of the conversation began with President Clinton sharing his thoughts on reestablishing a competitive democratic party in this state. 

What was his solution exactly? Well, a return to grass roots politics.

"I just went everywhere, and I met somebody, and talked to them and my so called 'political organization' were just people I met, that I kept in touch with, and we kept working together and it made a big difference," Clinton said.

It was noted that politics in today's age is based on 'divisive identity,'-- highlighting that politics are based on 'divisive tribalism' rather than 'inclusive tribalism.'

With this in mind, we questioned if the former president would feel confident running in a political climate in today's world.

"Oh no, well yeah, I don't think there's a way in the world I could be elected, you know, in some places today that I always thought I could be," Clinton said.

It's known that Arkansas politics have changed since Clinton was in office. 

Along with politics, the world has changed and many events have taken place on a national stage-- most recently the Ukrainian and Russian conflict. 

While wearing a Ukrainian lapel pin, President Clinton was questioned about his previous meetings with Vladimir Putin.

"I met Putin twice when he was prime minister to Yelstin and I think we were together three other times while I was still president," Clinton said.

But, it wasn't until after Clinton had left office that Putin began to worry him.

"When people decide to stay for life anywhere then their number one goal becomes weakening the opposition and keeping popular support by whatever is available at the time. They also break rules and Putin kills people who are in other countries. That's a very bad thing in a world where the rule of law needs to count for something," he said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is something that worries the former president, who shared his support for Ukraine. 

"I think he thinks of himself as a Russian patriot but the truth is he has been reduced to, you know, illegal and inhumane tactics and I hope the Ukrainians win," he said.

Aside from the political climate and national conflicts, Clinton also wanted to make a point as Arkansans start to make vacation plans--include his center.

He also touched on his time as president, and what his role as leader hoped to inspire.

"I wanted people to come in here [Clinton Center] and go through it and say 'okay whether I like Clinton or not, whether I voted for him or not, I do understand that what presidents do have a real impact on our lives and what happens in politics, makes a difference,"' Clinton said.

And of course the interview couldn't end without a hopeful word that he'll share with the Clinton school graduates on Saturday night.

"I would say we're still the best positioned country in the world in the 21st century. We just can't major in the minors, we can't make our differences more important than our common humanity and I think down deep inside we know better, and we just need to get our heads screwed on straight and get back to work," he said.   

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