Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clinton's Initiative

Bill Clinton's been on the news recently. Just this morning he was on "Morning Joe." (Yes, I'm back to watching Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski - especially when I wake up at 4 a.m.!). He is in the midst of the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual event that he created a few years ago in which he gathers people with money - buy-in - and gets them organized to not only talk about economic problems here and around the world but to propose and then implement plans to fix those problems - or at least improve upon them.

I've seen Clinton now on a couple of news programs - which is nearly a miracle, since I've hardly been able to tolerate the news at all, and so basically have not been watching it. And here's my conclusion: he's good. He's really good. He's clear, he's got practical ideas, and - beyond that - he's working towards implementing those ideas by bringing people together and moving them forward.

One thing this a.m. that was particularly interesting is how he described the "gap." There is what private business does, and there is what government does. Regardless of who you think should do more, there necessarily ends up being a gap between business and government, where things - people - can fall through the cracks. So his Global Initiative targets that gap, with an idea towards implementing experiments on fixing problems that, if successful, can then be adopted and implemented in the future by either government or private business with either government or business taking the risk of failure. As Clinton explained it - if you aren't risking the investment of taxpayers or shareholders, you have a lot more freedom to try innovative things.

What also was fascinating was the relief - felt by Joe (the former Republican congressman who used to fight with Clinton back in the 1990s), by Mika (Joe's co-host, who is always fighting with Joe), and by me - the viewer. Listening to Bill Clinton was like a breath of fresh air - a moment of no fighting, no malicious soundbites - just ideas that answer current-day problems.

Scarborough did say how much everyone listening in today would like Clinton to run for president in 2012 (an impossibility, given our constitutional limitations on presidential terms). And well, it is nice to have Clinton speak of solutions so elegantly. But there's a reason for that, in my opinion, beyond the fact that he is articulate - it is that he is playing the role of Elder Statesman. He is playing it effectively, and he is, as always, really smart. But it's a role. The tone and conversation, from Joe et al, would be completely different if Clinton were currently president. And the games people are playing today would be played on him, if he were president. And the games people did play, back in the 1990s, when he was newly president (in the middle of his first term, when the Dems lost midterm elections...) And it's funny that Joe said how the Obama administration should have been using Clinton before now - given how freaked out the pundits were, back when Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, by the idea that Bill Clinton might meddle (oh my!). So, you gotta love the pundits for their ADHD qualities, and inability to remember what they said a year ago - or yesterday, for that matter. (Though Joe and Mika are better than most.)

But my gosh, Joe's right. It's great to listen to Clinton now. The morass is less, when he speaks - and when his interviewers allow him to speak with concise solutions, and talking points, from which a true and rich debate is begun. I've seen Clinton on a few interviews these past couple of days, so I know.

But even as Joe laments with our former president the tone of politics today - and even as they discuss the impact the Internet has had, to change how messages get relayed - the ticker tape below the talking heads reads how Bob Woodward's new book "exposes" the White House's internal arguments over how to handle Afghanistan. "Exposes?" Not "discusses?" Doesn't the media yet understand that sensationalizing the headline - even by the use of one editorial word versus one more neutralized one - plays right into the hands of those who would prefer that political tones today be taken to extremes? Thanks Joe, for speaking about the need for moderate tones in politics. Now fix your ticker tape so it doesn't say "expose." It's not more descriptive. It's just more inflammatory.

I do think it says something that I'm turning off television news because of extreme tones. I'm not alone. There's a reason Jon Stewart is having the "Million Moderate March" (officially the "Rally to Restore Sanity") in Washington on October 30. There are a lot of us out here who just can't take the extreme rhetoric anymore. You exhaust us. And that goes for sing-songy tones too, by the way. I'm really tired of being treated like a child, whether it be through extreme rhetoric soundbites or reassuring political voices that take on sweet tones but tell me nothing.

This is why I appreciated President Obama's town hall meeting a couple days ago - he was real and spoke in paragraphs, with lots of information (though I wish he'd spoken more about the things that they are doing in the future). And this is why I appreciated Bill Clinton this a.m. - things are being said that I can chew on, digest, understand, use.

I will say this for Bill Clinton - he energized me. He made me imagine possibilities. He spoke of the trillions of dollars that banks and businesses have on reserve, that they could spend if they chose. He spoke of proposals that the president has on the table - small business incentive programs, technological research tax credits, education and training ideas that would allow us to fill the too-many job openings that require more skills than our workers currently have... He pointed out that all these issues have a liberal and conservative point of view - that both are worth hearing - and that it's time to address them, one by one.

I've been so worried about people in this economy. I've had a dream that, if I did have extra money (some day, I will!), I'd want to hire people to do community improvement jobs - a day's wage for a day's work. I've wondered why we haven't done that, as a nation - gone back to the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, that gave jobs to unskilled labor to improve national parks, etc., back in the Great Depression. The CCC provided a public service in two ways - it gave people work that had concrete results. The stimulus - for road construction - does that a bit, I suppose. And the grander scale likely touched more people's lives than person-to-job, one person at a time. But there would be a bigger sense of movement, I think - and more people would be employed - if we went to a one-person-one-job model, even if we had to modernize it for today's times, and even if that work was not permanent. And yes, I understand that if you pay unemployment instead, that frees people up to go out and find a job that lasts. But what about self esteem? It's exhausting to worry about having no job. There's got to be a way that the CCC model can be helpful today, as the economy remains in the midst of its own recovery.

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