Bill Clinton confession: “I had no clue what I was doing”

Or words to that effect.

President Clinton came to UC Berkeley last Wednesday, February 24, to give an afternoon address at Zellerbach Hall. His appearance was part of a continuing series sponsored by Cal’s Blum Center for Developing Economies, founded by UC Regent Richard Blum who is best known as Mr. Diane Feinstein.

(Zellerbach wasn’t Clinton’s only West Coast stop. He was in LA early Wednesday for a symposium on obesity, and Wednesday evening he joined Blum at a fundraiser in SF for the Himalayan Society.)

The crowd of a little over 2,000 was treated to a free-flowing speech by one of the world’s most charismatic speakers, who did have notes but rarely referred to them. Clinton’s major topic was the work of his Clinton Foundation, specifically the myriad programs he sponsers to deliver medical, economic and infrastructure development programs to third-world countries.

But he wandered off-script throughout, touching on the rising cost of higher education – “unconscionable” – “I would never have had a chance to become president if I hadn’t had a chance to go to college and law school, and gotten a government-backed loan” and offering a plea for active advocacy in support of health care reform and other liberal goals – “The future is in your hands, you have to be willing to put yourselves on the line.”

I’m not a Clinton-worshiper, neither Bill nor Hillary. They both had tremendous opportunities and instead allowed their egos to get in the way, then fell back on compromise with Evil in order to survive politically, but I cannot deny that the Big Dog has an amazing ability to charm and entertain. Having had some time to reflect, he has also begun to engage in a little self-examination and that is a good thing.

The most interesting of his comments, for me anyway, came as he discussed the shortcomings of his strategizing while in the White House:

    “Most of the time I was in politics, we debated three things:

    What are you going to do?
    Who is going to do it? (public or private sector?)
    How much money are you going to spend on it?

    The most important question is the one that wasn’t asked: How ever much money you have, what ever it is you propose to do,

    How are you going to do it? –

    so that you turn your good intentions into positive changes.”

That might read like excuse-making, but the tone was emphatically cautionary. Goals and aspirations and justification and delegation are all neccessary, but without a solid plan for the mechanics of accomplishment it is easy to underestimate the effort required. Only after a plan is formalized, with the nuts and bolts of how defined, do the obstacles become apparent and with them the magnitude of difficulty to be overcome and the range of possible consequences.

As we on the Left continue to criticize the efforts of Obama and Reid and Pelosi to govern, we should keep Clinton’s cautionary words in mind. It is fine to propose alternatives, what should be done and why and by whom, but unless we can show how something will get done all we have are hopes and dreams – dreams that could, like Clinton’s presidency, easily turn into nightmares.

Advertisements

3 responses to “Bill Clinton confession: “I had no clue what I was doing”

  1. Pingback: Bill Clinton confession: “I had no clue what I was doing” « Graham Firchlis has a blog

  2. hipparchia

    As we on the Left continue to criticize the efforts of Obama and Reid and Pelosi to govern, we should keep Clinton’s cautionary words in mind. It is fine to propose alternatives, what should be done and why and by whom, but unless we can show how something will get done all we have are hopes and dreams – dreams that could, like Clinton’s presidency, easily turn into nightmares.

    meh, not buying it.

    this is akin to all the public option advocates telling the single payer advocates that they have to come up with a legislative strategy to get single payer passed. no we don’t, that’s what legislators get paid to do: come up with strategies to get legislation passed.

    the voters’ job is to tell the legislators what they want done, like free health care for everybody.

    the message from the voters in the 2006 and 2008 elections was as clear as day: don’t do anything a republican would do.

    the message from the clintoncare failure was: keep it simple, stupid.

    i’d be willing to bet that fdr didn’t have a detailed roadmap of how he planned to end the depression. i don’t know if lbj had a roadmap to his great society or not.

    obama, pelosi, reid, clinton, et al probably do all want to help the rest of us, but unlike lbj and fdr, our latter-day progressives do not appear to have the willingness to betray their own class [the plutocracy] to achieve their desire of being nicer to the little people.

  3. grahamfirchlis

    “the voters’ job is to tell the legislators what they want done, like free health care for everybody”
    And there you go; an unworkable plan. There is no “free” healthcare, not anywhere, and there never will be. If what you want is, for instance, a system like Canada, then say so, but “free” isn’t possible and that kind of demand just shuts down legislators who mught otherwise be sympathetic to single-payer.

    “this is akin to all the public option advocates telling the single payer advocates that they have to come up with a legislative strategy to get single payer passed.”
    Sure is; I’ve said so many times and done my share of trying to cobble one together.

    “no we don’t, that’s what legislators get paid to do: come up with strategies to get legislation passed”
    And if they can’t? Or won’t? Seems to me the responsibility in a democracy, even one so marginal as ours, rests with the people. If they are unwilling to sieze it, well then, they will get less than they want. Long before Obama took office I was on the horn and writting letters and sending emails touting Medicare for all. What I learned, as did we all, is that there were never more than 30 votes in the House and maybe 10 in the Senate. How is that the fault of Reid or Pelosi or even less so Obama? I blame the people, who elected the 90% of Congress who won’t support it.

    “obama, pelosi, reid, clinton, et al probably do all want to help the rest of us, but unlike lbj and fdr, our latter-day progressives…”
    Of those, only Pelosi could be fully described as a Progressive, while LBJ was domestically but not internationally and FDR was not much of a Progressive but rather determined to do what needed doing to prevent an armed revolution and preserve oligarchic rule. He didn’t betray his class, he saved it.

    “… do not appear to have the willingness to betray their own class [the plutocracy] to achieve their desire of being nicer to the little people.”
    The living people you list would all be very pleased to do as you and I want; all of them favor single-payer. The problem is elsewhere and it is the locus of the problem that needs attacking, not our potential allies. We Progressives are no more than 25% of the population, if that. We can’t get our way without allies. We won’t get allies by attacking them. We have to learn how to do a better job of persuasion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s