Monday, December 1, 2014

Bill Clinton on "our one remaining bigotry"

Here's former President Clinton giving the keynote address at a gala for the 100th anniversary of The New Republic:

So we need inclusive economics. We need inclusive governance. And we have to give back to systems of cooperation which minimize the happening of big, bad things and maximize the chances that good things will flow. And we have to do it through networks. That is the business of the 21st century. We can do it. But . . . you can't do it if you refuse to talk to people that disagree with you and to work with them.

You know, Americans have come so far since, let's say, the era of Joe McCarthy. I mean, think about it. We're less racist. We're less sexist. We're less homophobic than we used to be. We only have one remaining bigotry. We don't want to be around anybody who disagrees with us. And if you look, actually residential patterns in America are changing. I mean, not just on by Congressional Districts. I mean fixed-line borders, like counties, the internal, social and political complexion of them are changing, and we also are siloing our information sources.

I read the other day that 47 percent of self-identified conservatives will only watch Fox News on television. That's good for Fox News. I mean, it's a good business model. My mother-in-law, who died a couple years ago at 91, and whom I love dearly and who lived with Hillary in our Washington home while she was secretary of state and senator, was the most liberal member of our family. She watched Fox News every day. I asked her if she was trying to give herself a heart attack. She said, "No, I'm just trying to keep my blood pumping."

But then my—but then she seriously said—she said, first of all, Bill, I need to know what they're saying so I have an answer and I need to know what they're saying in case they're right. She said, nobody's wrong all the time. It's like almost biologically impossible.

So it was really interesting to see for me—as I had time to study this in the last few years—how much we are disaggregating ourselves from people who disagree with us.

So one of the things that I hope The New Republic will do in the coming century of its life and innovation is to actually make people debate an issue instead of labeling each other. I was shocked—you know, campaigns I used to be a part of, you'd see these negative ads or positive ads. But they were usually like reasonable ads subject to fact-checking, like, "My opponent wants to vaccinate cows against mad cow disease, and I think it's a terrible waste of money." And the other one said, "No, we really should do this, because just one mad cow can make a lot of people sick."

In other words, they would hit each other over something real. This was, "My opponent voted with the president 93 percent of the time." Well, what did they vote on? Would that include all the budgets? What is it? There's all this sort of dark labeling business going on. And I think the differences are healthy, but not if they're meaningless designed to shut people's brains down instead of fire them up, because unfortunately if you want to return to the kind of broad-based prosperity we had in the 1990s, it will require some really clever thought.

For example, I was blessed because the information technology revolution moved out of Silicon Valley, and the exchange companies here in northern Virginia, and the videogame companies in Texas, and Route 28, and it went into every aspect of the American economy. So all I had to do was put the pedal to the metal and try to figure out how to get it to places and people that would otherwise be left out and left behind. And it was 8 percent of our employment, 20 percent of our job growth, 33 percent of our wage growth, guaranteeing broad-based prosperity. The bottom 20 percent of our workforce's income grew as much as the top 5 percent, the only time in more than 40 years. A hundred times as many people moved out of poverty into the middle class as during the Reagan presidency, which was the high point of trickle-down economics.

Now there are people who say, if you look at Uber, Airbnb, all the fun stuff, that now we're on the 100 percent downside of that and all these technological innovations are by definition using less labor and not starting enough economic activity in some other place to generate more jobs. I don't believe that, by the way, because we're still a couple million jobs or more we could be generating in America on the energy revolution, which would in turn create a lot of other jobs, and because the biotechnology revolution is just getting underway, and because there are four or five categories in which there will be more jobs created in health care, even if we continue to implement the law and we continue to lower the price of it relative to our competitors.

But this is the first thing we have to do. We have got to focus on having an economy where prosperity is more broadly shared. And we have to think about it for the rest of the world, too, because a lot of the appeal of a lot of these groups comes to young, angry people who don't have anything to do when they get up in the morning and don't have anything to look forward to and think, unless they go pick up a rifle or a bomb, every tomorrow will be just like yesterday.

When I was born at the end of World War II, more than half The New Republic's life ago—alas, way more than half—my native state's income was 56 percent, I think, of the national average, the second poorest state in the country. But if you could put clothes on your back and food on the table and feed a neighbor who walked up unannounced, nobody really thought they were poor. And it was relatively rare to see somebody who had nothing to do and no way to earn any money.

When I was in law school, I had six jobs, never more than three at once. I never felt burdened or put upon, because I always knew that I could do something. I became a lawyer because I wanted a job where nobody could ever force me to retire. I wanted to die with my boots on. . . .

But the point is there was this sense of possibility in our country. So we had to do the civil rights revolution, because we were cutting too many people out of it, but once we did that, there was a sense of possibility. We have got to recover that. And we have to understand, in my opinion, that immigration reform is a part of that.

Having lost it, I can tell you: Youth matters. The youth of a workforce matters. One of the problems is, according to Fareed Zakaria's show last Sunday, Americans think 31 percent of our population are immigrants. And in fact, it's about 12 percent or 13 percent.

But I really was almost physically ill at the—what some people say when all those Central American immigrants showed up at the border. I don't even know if everybody here knows this, but there had been zero net in-migration from Mexico in the last four years. Zero net in-migration from Mexico, partly because the previous president, Mr. Calderon, established 140 tuition-free universities. And last year, Mexico, barely a third our population, graduated 113,000 engineers, the United States 120,000. They're in the innovation business. All you got to do is go to Mexico City now and look around. . . .

George W. Bush signed a bipartisan bill saying that if somebody showed up on our border and they felt they were at risk, they had a right to a hearing. It was a good and decent thing. It's fine if the administration is trying to protect people where they live so they can process there and they're not all lined up on the border, but to think that this means, oh, the border's out of control, the world's coming to an end, we don't need immigration reform, it's wrong. Those people will make America's future.

Do we have to have fair rules? Do we have to make people wait in line, do you not want people jumping? Yeah, all of that's true. But the more prosperous our neighbors get, the less illegal immigration we'll have and the more we'll want people to come here and, if they get an education, to stay here, particularly, and contribute to us. So I'm looking forward to what will be said tomorrow. . . .

The New Republic can affect that, not by pretending there's only one side of the story, but making sure people at least know what's going on. We've got—if you want to have inclusive governance, there has to be a conversation that has some rough relationship to the facts. And I don't mean just the facts that are useful in a political debate. Everybody in a busy life has to be careful not to become vulnerable to the storyline and have it then turn out to be inconsistent with the story.

But I'm just telling you, you should not be pessimistic about America. And you should not be pessimistic about the world. These guys are not going to win over the long run in the Middle East with the strategy of decapitating everybody that disagrees with them. The local people (inaudible) now, the Kurds are fighting back. It may be a long, hard fight, so nobody wants to live that way. They are recruiting by and large who are looking for a quick trip to Heaven because they think all those tomorrows on Earth are going to be just like yesterday.


Jim in St Louis said...

I think this was supposed to be a joke line.