April 4, 2011 -- Continuing outcry by "birthers" -- a small but vocal movement which questions whether President Barack Obama was actually born on U.S. soil -- could possibly end up hurting the Republican party, former President Bill Clinton said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.
A recent poll indicates that 51 percent of Republicans who will vote in the 2012 presidential elections don't believe Obama was born in the United States. Obama -- who is expected to announce his re-election campaign today -- so far has done little to fight back against the erroneous claims, but Clinton thinks that will change.
"I think he will fight back," the former president said, "but I think one of the elementary rules of combat is you don't want to get in your opponent's way if he's shooting himself in the foot ...."
Clinton on Birther Claim: 'Everyone Knows It's Ludicrous'
He pointed out that "a very different America" tended to show up to a presidential election than to a Congressional one.
"The economy will be better," he said, speaking of the next presidential election. "If I were them, I'd be really careful riding that birther horse too much. Everyone knows it's ludicrous."
The former president was speaking in an exclusive interview to Weekend "Good Morning America" anchor Bianna Golodryga Sunday in San Diego. The interview touched on the U.S. economy, obesity and the civil war in Libya.
Clinton said he believed the U.S. should consider arming the rebels who were fighting against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
"I think that for the United States to be on the side of this freedom movement without implying that we have either interest or the capacity to send armed forces on the ground and to do everything is a good thing," Clinton said.
Speaking about what the scope of the U.S.'s role should be regarding intervention in Libya -- given that it gets relatively little oil from that country compared with some European nations which get far more, Clinton said he took "a broader view" of America's national interests.
"I think we're trying to build a world in which people resolve their differences in non-violent ways," he said. "And we're trying to build a world where no ruler can cavalierly kill its unarmed civilians."
The uprising in Libya started in February during a wave of social and political unrest in the Middle East. Fighting has escalated in key cities all across the country, but the rebels have found themselves outgunned by Gadhafi's forces, which are better equipped. Gadhafi's troops have been brutal.
'I'm Just Speaking for Myself,' Clinton Stresses
Last month the United Nations authorized no-fly zone over the North African nation to prevent further attacks on civilians from Gadhafi's troops in the air.
The U.S. backed the no-fly zone and also offered the rebels support, but key U.S. lawmakers and top officials in the Obama government are not comfortable with arming the rebels apparently because not enough is known about them.
Clinton, whose wife, Hillary, the U.S. Secretary of State, stressed the he was speaking without "any official sanction" whatsoever.
Former presidents can get security briefings, but since his wife took office, he said he now goes out of his way not to get them.
"I'm just speaking from myself. But I certainly wouldn't take that off the table too," he said, speaking of the idea of arming the rebels.
Clinton Global Initiative Takes on World's Pressing Problems
Clinton was San Diego for his annual Clinton Global Initiative University Summit Meeting. The CGI unites government officials, nonprofit directors and business leaders to address some of the world's most pressing problems, including hunger, poverty and lack of access to education.
"GMA" talked with the former president at the San Diego Food Bank, where college students came to participate in service projects at part of the CGI's annual meeting.
Clinton said students were taking up the challenge. He mentioned two students from Brown University who had come up with an idea to set up a website that would allow people to pay tuition for the 100 million children around the world who aren't able to afford education.
He also mentioned Charlotte Crone, a student who developed a nutritious, affordable diet to combat childhood obesity. Her meal plan would feed a family of four for one week for about $50, Clinton said.
Clinton said low-income families tend to make ends meet by feeding their children food that is high in calories but low in nutritional value. Those children also tend to get less exercise. That lifestyle has dire consequences.
Clinton: America Needs to Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs
"We already know that we spend $115 billion in our healthcare system, more than we would otherwise, because of the consequences of diabetes ...more and more young people are getting it because of the way we changed our diet and our exercise patterns," Clinton said.
Clinton isn't the only high profile person to draw attention to the problem. First lady Michelle Obama has brought the issue to the forefront of the nation's consciousness with her "Let's Move!" awareness campaign that seeks to end childhood obesity within a generation.
But the first lady's initiative has found detractors. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other conservatives have said the government should have no role in people's nutritional choices. The first lady has said her campaign educates and empowers parents.
Clinton also spoke about his daughter Chelsea's moderation of a panel on college affordability. He said the topic was of interest to his daughter and noted that college costs had gone up 75 percent, after inflation, in the wake of the financial meltdown.
The former president also talked about the U.S. economy, job creation and training, and the stimulation of lending.
"The capacity of the economy is grossly underutilized," Clinton said. "We have a lot of opportunities now because of this crisis and what it's done to the American (dollar) and interest rates being low, for example, to bring back manufacturing in America at a high skill level. And we need to look at this."
Employment in the construction industry is down and people can't afford to build offices now, Clinton said, but he noted that existing structures could be retrofitted for energy efficiency in "every state, county and local government building. Every school building. Every college and university building. Every museum. Every hospital ... ."
Regarding the potential government shutdown that's looming, Clinton said the effects would likely not be traumatic should it go into effect.
Basic services would be allowed to continue, he said, adding: "And I think that ... it can hurt the Republicans if it looks like the Democrats have a reasonable offer."