Bill Clinton on being the first black president, and aliens too

Once again, Bill Clinton proved that being an ex-president, surrounded by the rosy glow of the past, beats being the current pilloried resident of the White House.

A Wednesday night guest on comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night ABC show, Clinton was tight-lipped about his family’s future political plans, leaving that to Hillary Rodham Clinton to eventually divulge, but embraced his 1992 moniker as the nation’s “first black president” — and the actual first black president.

“I loved being called the first black president, but Barack Obama really is,” Clinton told Kimmel, to laughs.

Clinton’s historic support among and affinity with African Americans became strained in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Obama battled to become the Democratic party’s presidential nominee.


Clinton pointed to that divide when he said that any differences between his family and Obama were resolved along with that primary fight.

“You know, I’ve done what I could — since Hillary lost the primary, we’ve done everything we could to support him,” Clinton said. Then he turned to Obamacare, and pointed out that more than 7 million people signed up for healthcare coverage by Monday’s deadline. Clinton, of course, had battled for his own healthcare proposal when he took office, to no avail.

“This is going to have huge positive economic benefits, if we just stay with it and keep working with it,” he said.

The appearance on Kimmel’s show came during a multiday Southern California swing. On Thursday morning Clinton joins Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and others at City Hall to discuss infrastructure at an event organized by the Clinton Global Initiative.


Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of State and a potential 2016 White House contender, will be in California in coming days for a series of paid speaking events, and their daughter, Chelsea, has taken a greater role in the family’s charitable efforts, leading to questions about her future political pursuits.

Clinton didn’t directly address either, but may have offered a clue as to where his desires lie.

“I’d never discourage anybody from running from office,” Clinton said.

He pointed to the difficulties young people in Egypt and Ukraine have in achieving their goals, and argued that political participation was mandatory.


“No matter how distasteful they find politics, if you don’t play it somebody will, and you will lose if you sit it out, and it always happens,” Clinton said. “You gotta suit up and play the game.”

But he acknowledged the polarization in Washington, D.C., and compared the current state of gridlock unfavorably with his time in office, even as he faced impeachment over his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

“I think it was easier for me to get cooperation in my second term and — you don’t remember — they were trying to run me out of town,” Clinton said. “And I just showed up every day like nothing was changed and I just kept knocking on the door and I just kept trying to work with them because that’s what people hire you to do, get something done.”

But he acknowledged that such an effort is easier in stronger economic times.


Clinton also turned to a common theme for Democrats — the need to get less-committed voters to the polls for the upcoming midterm elections. Clinton said he was increasingly concerned about voter turnout in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision that struck part of the Voting Rights Act, and said that he had repeatedly discussed his concerns — about the young and the poor only voting in presidential elections — with Obama.

“The No. 1 thing we have to do is get voting up in nonpresidential years,” Clinton said.

This being late-night television, Clinton faced his share of unusual questions, from his vegan diet to the existence of aliens. Under prompting from Kimmel, the former president said that he missed eating hard cheese under his new diet regimen, and that as president he did not find proof of extraterrestrial life in Roswell, N.M., or Area 51. But, he added, he believed there could be other life forms in the universe.

“I don’t know, but if we were visited someday, I wouldn’t be surprised. I just hope it’s not like ‘Independence Day,’ ” Clinton said, referring to the 1996 Will Smith blockbuster about an alien invasion. Then he grew wistful about the prospect that such an invasion would prompt unity around the globe. “Everyone gets together and makes nice.”


Twitter: @latseema