Leadership Competencies

The Great ‘Communitarian’: Bill Clinton on the Election, Global Economics, (and Don’t Write the U.S. Epitaph Quite Yet…)

LOS ANGELES – And there we were: After a conference filled with doubts about U.S. growth, many years of economic mess in Europe and even speculation about a dip in China – and then former President Bill Clinton takes the mic.

The 42nd presidentbillclinton of the United States was extremely hoarse from a plane flight but make no mistake – he still dazzled the crowd.

Clinton said that dating back to his years in office, only two questions were ever asked of U.S. politicians and leaders:

“What are you gonna do? And, how much are you gonna spend on it?”

Clinton said what gets less serious attention and much less press coverage is: No matter what you propose and how much money you’re going to spend on it: “How do you propose to do it?” he asked.

“All of these ‘how’ questions are the biggest of the 21st century,” Clinton said.

Clinton on Europe’s Economic Woes

Discussing the enormous economic problems faced by Greece, Clinton said that the “prescription of austerity” wouldn’t work and that part of the problem is that there was no plan in place so it had to be “jury rigged as it went along.”

“You know, I hate all of this debt, all this public debt, I think it stunts. I think all of these decades where people who greatly ran big deficits while they had growth were wrong,” Clinton said. “You can only do it with growth, you cannot reduce the public debt without the proper budget restraints, proper revenue stream and adequate growth.”

Clinton added that if you think there is an arithmetic solution to the financial mess that didn’t account for the need for growth – those answers never work. He added that leaders involved should revisit the problems in Greece to see how they can create jobs.

“What our friends in Europe have to work out and what those of us in America should be encouraging,” Clinton said, “is a strategy that will work over a five-year period, and then will work over a ten-year period — not one that will make everyone happy in three months and six months. Because there simply is not enough growth.”

Perhaps sensing the cloud of uncertainty in the room, Clinton broke up the tension with a little bit of humor:

“Most of my life is a long way from politics now, but I do have a wife who has a traveling job,” he quipped. “So I have more time to read and think about these things.”

To help pull a troubled world out of the financial hole that it finds itself in, Clinton pointed to what he called the “rising countries.”

“How are we going to help the rising countries: Brazil, India and China, to lead the way?” he asked. “No American should want China, or Brazil or India to fail. We should build a common future.”

Addressing Problems at Home and the Upcoming Election

Clinton hammered on the message that we’re now living in a world with highly interconnected problems — and as such common solutions and looking toward a common future are the only answer.

“I think the biggest problem in America and the world is not this political divide between right and left. It is the psychological, political and philosophical divide between those of us who are communitarians,” Clinton said, “and those of us who are essentially separatists, and see any effort to forge common solutions as some sort of secret drive for the government to take more away from us.”

“If we live in an interconnected world, we ought to be striving for shared prosperity and shared responsibility. To do it, we will have to find common solutions,” he added. “In almost every area, there’s a more conservative and a more liberal approach to that, but you have to be communitarian.”

Clinton urged those closely following the ongoing presidential election to tune out the noise and rhetoric – and listen to the conversations that involve what the United States can do moving forward.

“We’re about to go into a presidential election in which it is quite conceivable that 70 percent of what we hear won’t make a lick of sense,” he said, pausing for laughter, “as it relates to what we can actually do to meet these challenges for the future – because we’ve confused liberal and conservative with communitarian and separatist.”

Don’t Write the U.S. Obit Quite Yet …

Clinton ended on a note to buoy those in the U.S. who have been riding out these tough years filled with dark speculation about the nation’s future.

“America’s still younger than everybody else (than Europe, than Japan), still more diverse, still more open to everything, still the best place to start a small business, still the best place for R&D – it’s a great mistake to write the epitaph of this country,” he said. “We just have to get out of denial and back in the future business.”

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