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

Posted by grahamfirchlis on February 27, 2010

Or words to that effect.

[Crossposted at Whenceforth Progress. Please leave comments there.]

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.


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