Video: President Bill Clinton, on Jon Stewart: “the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence.”
President Clinton: “If I come to you and I say we have this terrible national debt and here’s my opening gambit. First thing I want to do is increase it by $5 trillion over a decade by doing another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit the people we benefited in the last decade, even thought it didn’t produce jobs. Now we’re in a really deep hole, much bigger than this clock I just showed you. Now let me tell you how we’re going to get out of it. Well, what about the details? See me about that after the election.So I wanted to try to explain that in very simple terms. No one else would do that; no one . Unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence. This is a practical country. We have ideals. We have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy; rebuilding an economy is hard, practical nuts and bolts work.”
Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight: the 42nd President of the United States. His Annual Clinton Global Initiative Meeting kicks off this Sunday, September 23rd, please welcome back to the program, President Bill Clinton.
Thunderous applause as President Clinton walks on stage and shakes hands with Jon Stewart.
Jon Stewart: Take a seat.
President Clinton: Thank you.
Jon Stewart: Let me ask you, so give any good speeches lately (laughter)? How did that feel at the convention? Could you tell that you were crushing it as you were doing it? Could ya; did you feel that?
President Clinton: Yes and no, but I, you know, what I mean by that is I worked so hard on that, for weeks and weeks and weeks. And then the White House designated Bruce Reed, who works for Vice President Biden now, and worked with me for me eight years, and worked with Erskine Bowles on that budget project; to help me. And then Gene Sperling the National Economic Advisor, who also was with me for eight years, came in and we worked the last day and a half after doing all this other work. And I was just determined to get the facts right; and to simplify the argument, without being simplistic. I didn’t want to talk down to people. I wanted to explain what I thought was going on.
Jon Stewart: That’s what was so stunning, I think. That’s why it was such a bracing speech. The phrase you mentioned earlier about getting the facts right. (laughter) The idea that you would use (thunderous applause and laughter) you would use in your argument; I know, this is interesting; that you thought that you would utilize in your argument … facts (laughter). And they would have; you would attach numbers to them that were real (laughter). I thought it was a bold choice on your part.
President Clinton: Well, you know, we were talking before the show started. I would think; just forget about politics. Just think about any time in your life you’ve been confused or angry or frightened or resentful or any thing and you didn’t know what was going on. In those moments, explanation is way more important than eloquence. And rhetoric falls on deaf ears, so the only chance I had to get anybody to really listen was to say, look here’s what I think happened … boom, boom, boom, boom. And one of my favorite responses came from a guy who said I’m a conservative Republican, and I never voted for Clinton, I never even thought he was eloquent, but he treated me like a grown-up and I appreciated that. I feel like we can sit down and have a conversation now. It’s people need to be told. The American people are plenty smart enough to figure this out. But, you know, I have a wife with a traveling job, so I’m home alone a lot (laughter).
Jon Stewart: What does she do? What kind of work is she in? That’s interesting (laughter).
President Clinton: It just depends on what day it is.
Jon Stewart: (giggles)
President Clinton: But seriously, and I was president, and I was a governor for 12 years, and I’ve grappled with all kinds of economic challenges, and I have the time now to spend an hour or two a day to try and work this out, and yeah, you can get all kinds of information off the Internet, but you can’t be sure if it’s right or not, and there’s all these disparate facts out there. So what I tried to do is to organize the information in a way I thought would be most helpful to people, and make the arguments that I believe that persuade me that the course that the President is taking is better than the one advocated by Governor Romney. I just tried to do it in a calm way without calling anybody any names, or getting anybody mad. I thought they’d been a little rough on him about that welfare and Medicare riff they’re on so I had a little fun with that but otherwise … (laughter).
Jon Stewart: But that’s what was so … were you surprised because people took to it in a manner as though you had brought high rhetoric from the mountain. It was in its simplicity, I think that is what; it’s almost as though you brought something to people and they were eating and they were like, oh my God, this is unreal, I’ve never had. And you’re like, It’s pizza. (laughter). Like it was …
President Clinton: Well …
Jon Stewart: The simplicity of it. The ability to bring it in that manner, I think is what people found refreshing about it.
President Clinton: First, I think the American people take this election seriously. They know they have to make choices that will affect their lives. And it’s not very helpful if you take up there time and you don’t explain what those choices are; at least from your point of view. So that’s what I tried to do.
Jon Stewart: Are you surprised, though? It has struck me that the Romney campaign has been very clear that they don’t want to give the specifics of that choice. They’ve been given a chance time and time again. Well, what loopholes would you close? Well, I’m going to work that out after I’m elected …
President Clinton: See me about that afterwards.
Jon Stewart: … with Congress. Right, see me about it after the election. Surprising a guy of that kind of business experience that you’re dealing in, numbers and you would think specifics.
President Clinton: Well, part of the problem that he has is that ..
Jon Stewart: Part of? (laughter)
President Clinton: Yeah, is that he made all these commitments in the primary campaign.
Jon Stewart: Sure.
President Clinton: And you remember, and they just kept pushing everybody to the right. And so it seemed like every other week there was a new challenger coming up and he was playing Whac-a-mole. He had to knock them down. You know. And …
Jon Stewart: Right. It’s very kind of you to even Mole I think is actually … (laughter)
President Clinton: But, in the course of that he wound up with a lot of commitments, and so, I mean, just think about it. This debt is a terrible problem. He said that. You know they ran that little debt clock up. Well, it will be a problem when interest rates go up if we don’t, as I said, if we don’t deal with it, it will deal with us, and we won’t like it. None of us without regard to party. But if I come to you and I say we have this terrible national debt and here’s my opening gambit. First thing I want to do is increase it by $5 trillion over a decade by doing another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit the people we benefited in the last decade, even thought it didn’t produce jobs. Now we’re in a really deep hole, much bigger than this clock I just showed you. Now let me tell you how we’re going to get out of it. Well, what about the details? See me about that after the election.
Jon Stewart: Right.
President Clinton: So I wanted to try to explain that in very simple terms. No one else would do that; no one. Unless you were being driven by ideology instead of by evidence. This is a practical country. We have ideals. We have philosophies. But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way. Building an economy; rebuilding an economy is hard, practical nuts and bolts work.
(This is where the first half of the interview about the election was cut during the broadcast. From this point on is what was shown on the web only.)
President Clinton: You have to look at what the competition is doing. You have to look at what the factors resisting growth are. You have to look at the strengths of the country. I tried to talk about that. This country has enormous assets that most of our competitors in the future don’t have. We are younger than Europe; we are younger than Japan. And we will be younger than China in 20 years, if we keep …
Jon Stewart: Is that true?
President Clinton: Absolutely because of their one child policy and because they don’t take a lot of immigrants. So if we keep opening the door for young immigrants who want to come here and get an education and work and do things, we’re going to be okay. We’ve got a retirement problem with Social Security and with Medicare.
Jon Stewart: Right.
President Clinton: Because the baby-boomer generation is bigger than our children. But if we get; once you get all of us out of the way (laughter), the population balance is restored and we’ll have a much more normal distribution of age and we’ll be booming. It’s going to be fine.
Jon Stewart: But you continue to make the argument though that we have to do things. That I think has been the whole thing (laughter) that I’ve been stunned about the Republicans is, you’re saying, what we have to do is; there’s a plan and we must make a thing, and their whole, seems to be their plan is get government out of the way, and the growth fairies come in (laughter) and they take care of everything and poor people will be magically fed and the market fairy will put something under your pillow and all will be right with the world.
President Clinton: Look, here’s the problem with their argument. First of all, the free market is a great economic system. It’s moved more people out of poverty in the world in the last 25 years than any 25 year period in history. It’s great. All markets, as wel saw; you can go all the way back to the tulip bubble in Holland in the 1600s
Jon Stewart: Don’t think I don’t.
President Clinton: They all tend to self-destruct. So after the depression, we figured out at least how to stop that. And in the last four months of President Bush’s term, and the first four or five months of President Obama’s term, everybody was all hands on deck and they did a lot of things, including the unpopular TARP bill to keep us from falling into a depression. By the way, you have gotten the TARP money back plus a profit. Taxpayers have actually been repaid plus a profit. And then, the question is, all this damage has been done to the economy. You got all these hard working people, millions of them, at one time more than 15 million, who never missed a mortgage payment, didn’t take out a bogus mortgage, and their house is still worth less than their mortgage. What are they going to do? How are you going to do this? You have all these financial institutions that are wondering if they should start loaning money again. And where’s the money? How do you get it back into investment? How do you create jobs?
Jon Stewart: And government is the only power that can fill that vacuum to some extent.
President Clinton: And that’s why the … when things are normal, you can have this anti-government rant and it has no practical, or the practical consequences are not as great.
Jon Stewart: Right.
President Clinton: You know, one party cuts taxes more and spends less on education. It’s, you know, you can argue who’s right. When people are flat on their back, and there’s zero inflation and zero interest rates. We can borrow money right now for less than the rate of inflation. You can actually borrow; the U.S. Government could borrow a trillion dollars for a year at a quarter of one percent interest because people trust us. They think our economy’s strong and they will pay us almost to keep their money. When interest rates start up again, it’s a different story. You’ve got to have that debt coming down. But here’s the point I want to make. There’s no example on our planet of a successful country if you define successful as high per capita income, low unemployment, rising incomes, and good social mobility. That means if you work hard and you do better, you’ve got a chance to get a raise. And you got a chance to do better than your parents did. Every country’s that doing that has a strong private sector, and a strong government and they work together to grow the economy and create opportunity; each doing what they do best. There is no example of this picture that is being painted on the other side of the aisle. And Republicans didn’t use to paint that picture. I mean, you know …
Jon Stewart: Nixon would be considered a communist today.
President Clinton: Yeah, he would.
Jon Stewart: It used to be, it wasn’t about freedom vs. socialism. But we’ve got to go commercial.
President Clinton: Dangerous lefty.
Jon Stewart: When we come back, we’re going to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative.
President Clinton: Good.
Jon Stewart: We’re going to see what’s going on with that.
President Clinton Interview – Part II (Clinton Global Initiative)
Jon Stewart: Welcome back. We’re here with former President Bill Clinton (thunderous applause). Now you are starting up, it’s the Clinton Global Initiative. This is; how many years is this now?
President Clinton: Eight.
Jon Stewart: Eight years. here’s what’s going to be … you’re going to be there. President Obama’s going to be there. Mitt Romney’s going to be there. Condoleezza Rice is going to be there. Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi is going to be there. How do you get these people? What kind of food do you serve? (laughter) How do you get a group like this together in cooperation to move forward? What’s the pitch?
President Clinton: One other thing. The leader of Libya is going to be there and the American people will hear from him that he really liked the American Ambassador who was killed. And that they tried to save his life, and that he wants America to stay there. So there are a lot of interesting things. But, we started doing this; they come because it’s at the opening of the U.N. A lot of them are going to be in New York. We invite them all to come. We invite many of them to participate. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Prize winning President of Liberia is a good friend of mine. She’s been to a lot of our programs. A lot of these people come year in, year out. The Secretary General of the U.N., and the president of the World Bank Dr. Jim [Yong] Kim, and the president of Wal-Mart is going to be there at the opening (laughter) to talk about; here’s why it’s important …
Jon Stewart: Does he greet people as they walk in? (laughter)
President Clinton: No, he hires unemployed senior citizens like me to do that. (laughter)
Jon Stewart: All right. Fair enough. (laughter) That’ll work. I knew it was something like that.
President Clinton: But look, here’s why he’s coming. And I got him to change his schedule to come for this reason. Wal-Mart has deployed more photovoltaics on their buildings than any other company in America. They’re the number one solar company in America now. And they also run some of their buildings with wind energy. And they have also cut their packaging; they’re great on it. And I want him to describe what I’m trying to get people to think about, which is, most people make money and then decide, I want to do something good. That’s a noble and good thing. They have decided instead to go back to square one and say, what good to we want? We want to avoid the worse consequences of global warming. We want to cut our energy bill. We want to make it more predicable over the long rung. How should we design our stores? How should we design our truck routes? How should we design the way we package our products from the beginning to get where we want to do in the end? We’re trying to get people to think about instead of fixing things when we get comfortable, how can we all at every income level; we’re also flying non-governmental groups in from some of the poorest countries in the world to be a part of this debate. How do you have the maximum impact by thinking more about it in the beginning how you’re going to do something in the first place? That’s what we’re focusing on this year. And it’s really quite exciting.
Jon Stewart: But it’s even; it is at the nexus of what the future of the partnership between government and NGOs and private industry will be and it’s what we were talking about earlier. This idea that these are not antagonistic forces; then can sometimes be countervailing forces but they must at some level be symbiotic. They must at some level work together.
President Clinton: Yeah, let me give you an example of the places in America doing well. Anybody from San Diego? San Diego is viewed as you know (laughter) … oh, there you are … of one of our, you know, our great naval city. And it still is. But it is also the center of human genome research in America. Private sector Craig Venter was in a race in effect with international government consortium to sequence the genome in 2000; started with a bipartisan commitment to federal research at the end of President Bush’s term. Then I put three billion dollars of your money in it.
Jon Stewart: Mine? (laughter)
President Clinton: Your … (inaudible because laughter drowned out word). And it’s already; I was at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis just about three weeks ago looking a children whose lives have been saved because we now can see how their difference in; the genetic differences require different medicines to cure the same kind of cancer. It was unbelievable. Okay, so you’ve got Venter’s Foundation. It’s an NGO. Then you’ve got the University of California at San Diego putting out all these scientists. You have the Republican mayor of San Diego inviting people in and the biggest computer company, Qualcomm, headed by a Democrat Irwin Jacobs; he’s a friend of mine. And they have spawned 700 more computer companies in San Diego. Why? Because you have the government, the non-profit sector, and the business sector working together to do this. Orlando has 100 computer simulation companies. Why? Disney World. Universal Theme Park. They need those computer simulators. The Global Entertainment Arts Video Game division; anybody that’s ever been like me hooked on a video game knows that you have to have good simulation to keep yourself in a constant state of anxiety. Like (gestures with hands like playing video game; laughter). And … wait a minute (laughter) … and the defense department and NASA, and they all put money in there together, and the University of Central Florida has 53,000 students … they feed them in. Why are they doing that? Because when they work together, they are so much more powerful than when they sit around and fight all the time. What’s the result? A hundred new computer simulation companies. That’s what’s working in America today. That’s what we have to do on a national level.
Jon Stewart: It’s … you’re like the world’s central schmoozer. (laughter) What you do is you go to those guys; you go oh you’re doing that? You know, I happen to have a country over hear that’s actually working … Oh, Kenya. You want to come here for a second? I want you to meet somebody and you bring them together and they all realize, oh this is common purpose and we can move towards a certain goal. And it makes it seem simple and it drives you crazy when …
President Clinton: Look, one of the companies involved in the biggest solar project in America now on the Nevada/California border also helped to finance the biggest solar building in the Caribbean, a teaching hospital at Mirebalais, Haiti, The poorest country in the Caribbean. Built by Dr. Paul Farmer, whom you know is Partner in Health. They have 1800 solar panels. They generate so much power, they run the hospital and they feed extra power into the grid in a country where 85% of the people don’t have electricity, that’s a very big deal. We did that by getting every body to work together. What do you know? What are your resources? What can you do? Look. This economics is not ideology. It’s hard work. And it’s seeing what the competition’s doing, and it’s analyzing alternatives,
Jon Stewart: Results oriented. Merit …
President Clinton: and keeping score.
Jon Stewart: It’s amazing.
President Clinton: That’s what America needs. We need to get the show on the road here and stop all this kind of mindless fact free fighting. (Thunderous applause)
Jon Stewart: Ladies and gentlemen, President Bill Clinton. We’ll be right back.