Bill Clinton getting a kick out of being Bill Clinton. Photo’s from the 2012 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Unfortunately, whoever’s responsible on Clinton Foundation’s social media team hasn’t posted a similar photo from this year’s meeting. But trust me. Bill was having just as much fun being Bill. Photo courtesy of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Still working my notes from last week’s trip to the Clinton Global Initiative up into posts. When I’m finished I’ll go back and rearrange things chronologically, but for today, here’s my report from Tuesday’s, September 23rd, afternoon plenary session.
Yes, I know. I remember! NAFTA. Welfare “reformed” out of existence. Triangulation. Goodbye Glass-Steagall. “The era of big government is over.” Bill Clinton did not have the Presidency we wanted. He did not have the Presidency he wanted. And for the same reason Barack Obama isn’t having the Presidency he wanted and for the same reason Franklin Roosevelt didn’t have the Presidency he wanted, especially after 1938, and for the same reason Theodore Roosevelt didn’t have the Presidency he wanted! Congresses considerably more conservative than they were and are.
That’s not making excuses. That’s simply doing a head count and noting what’s going on inside the heads you’re counting. If you are still making the argument that Obama could get all the things you want him to get done if he really wanted to, then, well, among other things, you didn’t watch The Roosevelts.
There is and has been for well over a hundred years a powerful political alliance between Southern racists and Northeastern corporatists united by the belief that “The Federal Government doesn’t get to tell us what to do especially when what we want to do is treat other people as things to be used for our own material advantage!”
They have a large base made of suckers and toadies who vote in ways that allow themselves to be used as things because they have been duped or have duped themselves into believing that the only people who are going to get used as things are those Others.
At any rate, there was more to Clinton’s Presidency than disappointing us liberals and surviving the Impeachment Crisis. By the way, remind me that sometime I should write about how surviving impeachment was a liberal political achievement and something he can count as more than a personal victory. But short version, that was the Right’s first out and out attempt to declare the United States their country and theirs alone. Still, there’s much for him and us to regret and wish he’d handled differently or not handled at all.
But however disappointing his Presidency might have been, there’s no denying he’s having a great post-Presidency. And he seems to be having a wonderful time. That’s always obvious but it’s even more so at meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative. Clearly, he’s proud of the success the Clinton Foundation has had parting billionaires and corporations from their money and the good work being done around the world with that money. But he’s just as clearly having fun, both as an instigator of the parting and as host of the party where the parting’s being done.
One of the fun things about the Clinton Global Initiative is watching Bill having fun being Bill.
And this isn’t a trivial thing.
It’s a big part of his success.
His sense of fun is infectious.
People want to join in on the fun of Bill being Bill and that means joining in on the work the Clinton Foundation is doing.
If you watched The Roosevelts, you probably noticed how often the movie cameras caught Franklin Roosevelt having fun being Franklin Roosevelt.
He’d deliver a line in a speech, making a quite serious point, but then, almost the second he’d finished, he’d break out in a smile that mixed great self-satisfaction with a tinge of embarrassment, even apology, as if he was the first to recognize and applaud the political and rhetorical effectiveness of what he’d just said but also that he knew he shouldn’t be so pleased with himself or that he shouldn’t show how pleased he was. He was like a good little kid, mother’s little angel, teacher’s favorite, who’d been taught never to show off but then couldn’t help himself, it was just so much fun to be so smart and right.
And there was a mischief in it.
He knew he was not only going to get away with it, he was going to be praised for it and by the very people who told him he shouldn’t do it.
Even when he was at his prematurely oldest and sickest, it would still happen. His face would light up, fifty and more years would fall away, and you could see the little boy who knew he was delighting the grownups with his precocity and charm and good nature.
FDR got a kick out of being FDR.
Bill gets a kick out of being Bill.
This is a quality shared by many charismatic people. It’s a key to their charisma.
It’s also a quality that incites jealousy, envy, anger, and resentment---especially in vain, self-important, and decidedly less charismatic people (cf. The National Political Press Corps), but also in many decent, normally good-natured and not usually or unusually prone to jealousy, envy, anger, and resentment, particularly if they suspect it’s being used as a trick to get out of trouble or to avoid doing something difficult that needs to be done. Millions of regular folks adored FDR and got a kick out of his getting a kick out of being himself, but they didn’t have to work with him.
And they weren’t married to him.
At Tuesday’s plenary session, after Greek Ambassador at Large Gianna Angelopoulos took the podium to announce that next June Greece will be hosting the first European meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton had a few words to add about the economic problems in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
For those of you who don’t keep up with the events in Greece as closely as some of us, I think it’s important to point out that the quality of their government and their budgeting process has dramatically improved. They did have to make some painful adjustments. The problem is if you live in a currency union like the E.U. without control of your own destiny, even when interest rates are lower than inflation, you can’t float bonds to build infrastructure, which is what you would normally do, but you can’t because you don’t have your own currency. So we all have to be really creative in thinking about how to do something.
I’d like to think he was taking a shot at the austerity scolds, deficit fetishists, and other members of the Pain Caucus in Europe and the United States with that line about how when interest rates are lower than inflation the thing for governments to do during economic hard times is spend, a point Paul Krugman has been battering at for going on six years. Maybe he was. But maybe he was just acknowledging what he regards as a hard truth: this is why what was done, the apparent punishment of Greece by the German banks for the sin of not being able to afford to pay its debts, had to be done. He was speaking to a ballroom full of rich people, many of them Wall Street types, but polls have shown that the rich here in the United States aren’t all members of the Pain Caucus. Plenty of them know that the best way to deal with our own hard times is for the government to spend and build and they’re willing to have their taxes raised if that’s what it takes. The whole point of the Clinton Global Initiative is find creative ways to spend and build everywhere. But whatever Clinton was thinking when he said that, it was what he said next that gave the game away. Bill was having fun being Bill.
But I’ll just give you a little factoid that should make you think this is worth doing.
The average Greek citizen works twenty-five percent more hours a week than the average German.
It tickled him to know that about the Greeks versus their economic overseers, the Germans. It tickled him to be able to pass it along. It tickled him to be the one passing it along. It tickled him that it mattered that he was the one passing it along.
It tickled him to be…him.
Of course an important part of the fun is that the work is serious and therefore so is the point of passing along that factoid.
Do not presume you know what caused all these problems in Greece.
Fun doesn’t go away when things get serious though.
Former Prime Minister Papandreou is there nodding his head. He has the battle scars to prove it.
Tickled him to get off that line too.