Bill Clinton: The Common Good

BillClinton.jpg President Clinton gave a speech today being hosted by The Center for American Progress at Georgetown University. He's calling it the "Common Good" which articulates the alternative to "compassionate conservative. "In both the civic and faith realms, a commitment to the common good means pursuing policies and community actions that benefit all individuals and balance self-interest with the needs of the entire society."

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(Transcript below the fold, courtesy of C&Ler citrus)

Bill Clinton Speech at Georgetown University, transcript:

Clinton: "... And by the end of the year, he was beautiful to me. I say that to remind you it is very hard to succeed in politics when you're telling people they're ugly all the time.

You have to oppose people who do things that are wrong. But, it is very hard to say there's gonna be one set of rules for me, and another set for everyone else.

I think the 'Common Good' approach on national security worked. It was a combination of carrots and sticks. We did have military encounters. We didn't succeed at everything we tried to do, but I think on balance the world was safer when we stopped than when we started.

Now, the same thing works in politics. I think the central challenge to American politics today is that, what I would call the ‘Uncommon Good' approach has been so successful. It may not be in three weeks, but it has been.

We believe in a politics as 'Common Good,' folks, dominated by evidence and argument. There is a big difference between a philosophy and an ideology, on the right or the left.

If you have a philosophy, it generally pushes you in a certain direction or another; but, like all philosophers, you want to engage in discussion, and argument. You are open to evidence, to new learning. And, you are certainly open to debate the practical applications of your philosophy. Therefore, you might wind up making a principled agreement with someone with a different philosophy.


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If you look at the welfare reform legislation which passed, for example, when I was president I vetoed the first two bills because they took away the guarantee of food and medicine for poor people. When those things were put back in, I signed it. Some people who shared my philosophy did disagree with my decision because they said that we shouldn't have a hard and fast requirement for people on welfare who are able bodied to work. I disagreed. I thought work was the best social program, and I thought it would help to overcome a lot of the pathologies in the families of poor people. And, I also think you should never patronize the poor, they're basically as smart as the rest of us without the same breaks.

So, I thought that...so, we had a conservative idea in welfare reform. If you can work, you gotta go to work. But, in addition to that, we had - one of the reasons that it worked - is that there was a huge increase in support for people to go to work: a huge increase in child care, a huge increase in transportation assistance - a lot of these people didn't have cars, a huge increase in worker training and support, and other things that were essential.

In other words, because we had a philosophical debate, with plenty of politics and two vetoes, we had a creative tension which led us to a dynamic center -- not a mushy center -- a dynamic center that worked.

The problem with ideology is, if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up; you know all the answers. And, that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time.

So, you tend to govern by assertion and attack.

The problem with that is that discourages thinking and gives you bad results. This new Bob Woodward book, ‘State of Denial' is interes... well-named, but I think it's important to point out that if you are an ideologue, denial is an essential part of your political being. Whichever side. Listen to me. You got to - 'cause, if you are an ideologue, you got your mind made up. So when an inconvenient fact crops up, you have to be in denial. It has to be a less significant fact.

Ron Susskind wrote a book, a related book, called the ‘One Percent Solution', I don't know if any of you read that. He also co-wrote former Bush Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill's memoirs. But, the most interesting thing to me in this ‘One Percent Solution', is not the part that people have talked about, about 9/11, that - no one - I don't know whether that's true or not, but Mr. Susskind says in the ‘One Percent Solution' that the ideologues, within the current government refer to people, not just like me, although I am included, but even moderate Republicans like Colin Powell and Admiral Scowcroft, as somehow lesser political mortals, because we are trapped in, quote ‘The Reality-Based World.'"

(LAUGHTER FROM AUDIENCE)

"And, and, what they mean by that, in fairness to them, what they mean by that is that we are an empire; we're the world's only military superpower, and that you can use power to change reality. And if you don't see that, then you'll always be condemning your country to a lesser status. I, uh, when I was a kid, I grew up in an alcoholic home, I spent half my childhood trying to get into the ‘reality-based world' and I like it here."

(HUGE APPLAUSE AND LAUGHTER FROM AUDIENCE.)

Announcer cuts in at this point. Speech ends.

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