- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Tony Blair and the two U.S. presidents he worked with as Britain’s prime minister said Thursday they’re worried about the growing divisiveness that is making it harder for people to work together to find solutions.

Blair swapped stories with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as the three former world leaders addressed graduates of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program. Sixty-one people graduated from the program, which is a partnership among the two former presidents’ libraries along with George H.W. Bush’s and Lyndon B. Johnson’s.

During a question-and-answer session moderated by former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Blair said he worried that technology is making it easier for people to remain fragmented.

“One of the first things you learn as a leader in politics is those who shout loudest don’t necessarily deserve to be heard most,” Blair said at the forum at Little Rock Central High School. “But the way our debate goes at the moment is there’s a lot of loud mouthing in the way the debate takes place.”

The three avoided commenting directly on the presidential race, which pits presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Bush’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, ran unsuccessfully against the billionaire for the GOP nomination and the former president has been critical of Trump.

And Blair, who planned another speech in Little Rock on Friday, didn’t mention a British inquiry that sharply criticized him for his role in leading the country into the Iraq war advocated by Bush.

Clinton, who planned to headline a fundraiser for Arkansas Democrats on Friday night, complained about the way he said people are being demeaned by others if they don’t agree on certain issues.

“You can never run a successful society based on the de-legitimization of people as people just because they disagree with you,” Clinton said.

Bush said he believed it was important to strengthen institutions, citing the presidency as an example.

“One of the things I admire about the presidency is the presidency is more important than the occupant because, believe it or not, both of us have got strengths and weaknesses,” Bush said. “And yet the institutional protections against the weaknesses are important for our country.”

Blair praised the former U.S. presidents, citing Clinton’s leadership during the war in Kosovo and Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“One thing I observed about both of them is at the supreme moments of test they put the interests of their country and the broader interest of the world above anything else,” Blair said.

The former world leaders also swapped jokes, including when Bush warned about letting presidential libraries get dull.

“I mean, have you ever been to the Franklin Pierce Library?” Bush asked.

When Clinton raised his hand, Bush quipped: “No wonder you carried New Hampshire.”


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