TWO HOURS WITH FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON
By E. Nora Amrani
© 2006, E. Nora Amrani. All Rights Reserved. LUMINARIES
Tonight (April 6, 2006) my 16-year old son and I went to the Music Center (Los Angeles) to see former President William Jefferson Clinton speak. We lucked out and had good seats, close to the stage. We were surprised to see our Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, coming out first to say it is a pleasure and an honor to introduce Clinton. Villaraigosa was great! He spoke of a time when Clinton was in office, and we can still remember those days when a president believed in science; when kids went to war for the reasons we gave them. He gave many examples that had the audience cheering and applauding and laughing. He said that maybe Clinton will be back in the White House soon - but that might be fulfilling a very different role. When Clinton came out the audience gave him a standing ovation. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is a huge theatre, by the way, and every seat was filled.
Clinton was his usual self. Dressed in a nice suit with delicate black socks and cool black dress loafers, a slim and healthy-looking Clinton cracked some jokes, such as how his critics behave towards him (several examples of that came out and were funny), and Clinton said that's okay, and then quoted Benjamin Franklin, "Our critics are our friends because they show us our faults." He also talked about the founding fathers of America. I have always felt that Clinton was one of them - Jefferson, most likely (which is why he is his name-sake and family).
Clinton spoke about how the only time being a former politician from Arkansas is good is when he can accompany Hillary to the state fair. And that pleases him just fine. He talked about a woman who worked one of the game booths at the fair who ran up to him and handed him $50 cash and apologized that it wasn't donated online, but she wanted the money to help the tsunami victims.
Clinton quickly got down to the business of why he was there. He joked about how some people think there's usually nothing more pathetic than a former president. He told about Roosevelt, who gave a speech and was shot during the speech. But his speech was written out and very thick, and that caught the bullet and saved his life. Clinton said he doesn't write out his speeches, "So fire away." I have never seen Clinton read a speech. He always speaks to people from his experience, ideas, feelings, carefully thought out with personal stories to add spice to them.
He said that since he's not been the president he's been busy with many projects, and he spoke about his foundation, library, his important work with tsunami relief, getting A.I.D.S. medication to the masses inexpensively (because governments charge tons more for the medication than his foundation can get it to the people; like comparing Clinton's $139 or so to a country's $70 million.) People just have to decide that no little child has to die and we can close the gap in funding in no time.
Clinton wanted people to think about what he means to be a citizen, and all thoughts are great but what have people done lately to really help the planet? He spoke about my favorite themes: the value of the Internet; not just globalization, but interdependence; personal responsibility; shared opportunities; belonging as a community. His big overall theme was our shared humanity. He doesn't believe in divorce - we are stuck with each other - and interdependence can be good or bad, or both, and it goes beyond globalization. He gave examples of the positive and negative sides to interdependence on 9/11, when terrorists learned on the Internet about how the Twin Towers were built, and then made planes into chemical weapons of mass destruction when they flew them into the WTC. Negative interdependence.
An example of positive interdependence was how people helped out during the hurricanes and the tsunami. How private citizens, such as Bono and Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gates, contribute to help entire countries survive. He said that in 1993, when he was in office, Russia had NO private organizations. Everything was government-controlled and run. But now there are 63,000 private agencies in Russia.
Clinton said what we need to focus on now are security strategies, disease spreading, global warming, and how the economy can thrive with alternative energy businesses, and he gave examples of countries such as Great Britain who are doing exactly that successfully. He said there are people in our government who want you to think they can't do it, and that's just not true. Examples were given on how we can conserve energy in our daily lives. We also need partnership strategies; more partners and less terrorists.
His speech was riveting, as all of his speeches are. He has so much charisma, and is still strong, yet soft-spoken, centered, peaceful, to the point, and appeared humble. In the 1990s, when Clinton was running for his second term, I saw him and Al Gore real close-up. I was standing right next to them while they addressed students at a college. That was the second time I had seen them in person. Back then I felt and saw Clinton's charisma, and now it's even better that he's tempered it with more experience and absolutely NO cockiness. I think Bill Clinton is the living example of Theodore Roosevelt's famous saying: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Unfortunately, he could be trying to talk you into anything and you'd probably believe him because of his great delivery.
Many times during his talk, and during questions and answers later with the Editor of Los Angeles Magazine on the stage with him, he gave history lessons and talked about what's really happened with nuclear weapons in Iraq, and that our military get injured not in combat, but because they're walking around in places they don't belong, where they are prone to attacks. The military needs to have safe places and keep the military in those places.
He talked about Iran, how bombs are made, and how having a nuclear weapon is a status symbol for many countries. I think he surprised many of us with his talk about why we SHOULD allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. Why should we be allowed to have them, and not Iran? Let Iran have them, but contain them (yeah, good luck with that). He reminded us of what happened with Russia, when we each had weapons but no one dared use them because we'd all be toast. I am very worried about what he said because I know he will push for Iran to have nuclear power and this is very risky to Israel, us, and the entire world. We cannot trust Iran. And I just know this deal will somehow get through and it's not good.
Clinton's greatest regret was about Rwanda and he wished he could have done much more to help there; Darfur; the United Nations; the Middle East; Columbia and the drug cartels (and a very personal, touching story about his late friend, Consuela who was murdered by the drug lords, and the bracelet he wears given him by the Columbian children, who are so brave, and that we are winning the drug war). On the new immigration bill, he said just try to get 12 million illegals kicked out of the country! Then he proceeded to explain the entire bill and his views about it, and how it's a complex issue that has no easy answer. But there is real need to be concerned about our open borders and terrorism, as well has helping people become legal citizens. He spoke on so many topics and with clarity and depth for concise responses. He concluded his speech about our shared humanity. I hope someone will type out a transcript of his speech.
He was asked if he knows if Mrs. Clinton will run for president and he said the same thing he's always said - he doesn't know. They'll see how it goes and what she decides, but with her outstanding record and being a fantastic Senator, and with her experience (and he gave us examples), she is the best person he knows to be the president. And he thinks we're ready for a female president, but we won't know for sure until a woman actually runs for office.
Clinton, I think, is one of the best presidents this nation has ever had (not including his philandering). But, he's brilliant, sees a panoramic view of the world, and knows how to combine things holistically. I've used to feel he would be the best person to head the U.N., but Clinton says no to that (so far) as he can do more in the private sector. I can't say I agreed 100% with everything he did, but I respected him a lot and thought he meant well and did the best he could. Maybe I was just idealistic in my ideas of him? However, I still can't completely trust the Clintons after the sex scandals and some other events that remain unresolved, unsolved and fishy.
When I ordered tickets for this speaking event with Clinton my son wasn't sure why I wanted him to see Clinton in person. I told him this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a former president and an amazing man and speaker. I could listen to Clinton for hours. Afterwards, my son said he was grateful to have been there. He was so impressed with Clinton and it got him thinking about his own life some more. He worried that he wasn't doing enough for the planet. Hell, the kid is only 16, and he's doing plenty so far and has a long life ahead of him to do more good, so we discussed that on the way home. I wish these speeches would be televised for everyone to see. We wish Clinton would have talked more on other topics such as the Patriot Act. But, he had to catch a plane and we drove next to his motorcade for a while after the event as they made their way to the airport.
By E. Nora Amrani
© 2006, E. Nora Amrani. All Rights Reserved. LUMINARIES
© 2006, E. Nora Amrani. All Rights Reserved.