Bill Clinton urges Americans to control their anger as ugly campaign enters last leg

Bill Clinton has delivered a stark warning to Americans to control their anger as the ugliest election campaign in memory enters its final ten days.

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Published: 6:12PM BST 22 Oct 2010

Bill Clinton has been hitting the campaign trail hard Photo: EPA

With voters set to deliver a resounding rejection of Barack Obama's presidency, the former president pleaded for patience and time for the ruling party to continue rebuilding the economy.

"They're banking on you not thinking," the former president said of Republicans, who are poised to recapture the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate in midterm polls on Nov 2. "They're banking on some people being so mad [angry] that facts don't matter," he said.

The public's anger has demonstrated itself in numerous hot-tempered campaigns, many involving novice candidates from the insurgent Tea Party. The stinging rhetoric and personal insults of some races has reflected the increasingly bitter and rigid divide between Left and Right.

"Americans are worked up and angry," said Matt Bennett, a vice-president of the Third Way think tank. "In addition to the economic pain there is a sense that we will not come out of this slump the same country we were before. There is a profound fear we have begun to see the end of American domination [of the world] and that is a profoundly scary proposition."

In the most bitter high profile contest, Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed Senate candidate in Nevada, told her opponent Sen Harry Reid on live television to "man up" and face the country's realities.

It was one of several indecorous challenges to manhood that have brought dismay about declining standards of political discourse, Christine O'Donnell, a much derided Tea Party favourite who secured the Republican nomination to run for the Senate in Delaware, told her party rival Mike Castle: "This is not a bake-off, get your man-pants on."

Negative advertising in the US is as old as politics itself, but even seasoned observers regard this year as sinking to new lows of crass abuse. Rand Paul, a Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky, has expressed his fury over an advertisement by his Democratic opponent that dredged up thinly sourced claims about elaborate pranks from his student days.

Alan Grayson, a Democratic Florida congressman cast his foe as a religious extremist, "Taliban Dan". An advertisement for a challenger in West Virginia meanwhile stressed the sitting Congressman's Arab-American ancestry as shadowy and foreign.

"Alexi Giannoulias, he'd make Tony Soprano proud," was the catch line of one ad run against the Illinois Democrat, whose family bank lent money to a mobster.

According to Mr Bennett, who witnessed bitter partisanship taking hold in Washington as a White House official in the Clinton era, the nastiness reflects how political opinions have continued to harden over the past decade.

"People are not in agreement about big things any more. A while ago, some Republicans would vote for Jimmy Carter and some Democrats for Ronald Reagan. That just doesn't happen now.

"There are warring camps that people don't leave. Despite Obama's vision of unity, the red states are redder and the blue states are bluer," he said.

Mr Clinton has become one of the Democrats' hardest campaigners but he has a tough job convincing the electorate that the country is on the right path after two years of the Obama presidency. Unemployment is stuck at nearly ten per cent, savings have yet to recover from the stock market's declines in late 2008 and a crisis over housing foreclosures grinds on.

The Republicans did most of the damage to the economy under George W Bush, Mr Clinton argued, but their "only hope" was that on election-day "tomorrow's America, the America that showed up in 2008, will stay home, and yesterday's America will show up".

In various surveys, 60 per cent of voters have said that the country is on the wrong track and that the economy would get worse or stay the same within the next 12 months. Some 63 per cent of Americans have said they did not think they would be able to maintain their current standard of living, a statistic that underlines a profound lack of confidence about the country's future. As the commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote: "The can-do country is convinced that it can't."