Okay, so it wasn't exactly earth shattering, but it sure was informative. Bill Clinton invited a group of bloggers (including yours truly, in the blue jacket) to meet with him this past Monday at the Clinton Foundation offices in Harlem.
First of all, he was late. (Since Bill Clinton is always late, this was not exactly a surprise.) So we all sat there in his conference room, plotting to turn the whole thing into an impassioned plea for health care reform. Well, that didn't work out because we didn't have enough time - because he was running late. (Did I mention Bill Clinton is always late?)
When he walked into the room, he went around the table and shook everyone's hand. When he sat down, he mentioned the main reason we were there: to talk about the Clinton Foundation.
He said their large corporate donations had fallen off after the market crash, and he was hoping to reach out to small donors through blogs. He talked about what a difference they'd made with worldwide AIDS: "Almost no one will die from lack of medicine for AIDS." But, as he pointed out, there's simply no formalized health care system in much of the world, and some AIDS victims are still dying because of that. That's one of the things the Foundation is doing: building networks of clinics in remote villages.
They also work on climate change and honest to God, he sounded more passionate than Al Gore (which I didn't expect). He was really enthusiastic about the just-announced energy retrofit of the Empire State building and the projected 40% energy reduction from putting in new windows.
"I know solar and wind energy sounds sexy," he began, but quickly made his case for concentrating on retrofits not just to save energy, but as global economic stimulus.
"For one billion dollars, you can get 870 jobs at a coal plant. For one billion dollars spent on solar, you get 1850-2000 jobs. For one billion on wind energy, 3300 jobs. But for a billion spent on retrofitting, 6000 jobs," he said.
"The low-hanging fruit is in fixing the buildings."
You probably already know how smart the guy is, but even knowing that going in, it was hard to keep up. He went from talking about decoupling electric rates from usage, how to change bank financing on energy projects, how loans to the right projects could improve other parts of the world, and last but not least, how "it may already be too late to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change."
He cited the recent MIT study that says climate change is much worse than we thought. "We'll be moving 80 million people away from coastal regions in your lifetime," he said, and promised he'd "try to hammer this home" in meetings at Copenhagen later this year.
Once we got started talking about health care reform, the politician in him came out to play. He said Congress was still worried about what happened during his administration. "Once a cat sits on a hot stove, it'll never sit on a cold one, either," he said, chuckling. (I noticed that, asked directly about how Obama was handling health care, Clinton listed a lot of other things on which he thought Obama was doing a good job... and never answered the question. I thought that was telling.)
He said the political and psychological landscape for health care was a lot better this time. "They don't have the budget restraints I did," he said. He noted the fury of the GOP opposition during that time: "Bill Kristol knew that Bob Dole said he was going to support my plan, and told him, 'The Democrats will be a majority for a generation if you don't beat it off.' So Dole pulled back."
Clinton said a few things about single-payer I didn't know. One is that France, which has the best health care results, isn't strictly single-payer, but a mixed system. "They have better primary care," he said. He also said the challenge was to look at outcome-based care like that in France and Germany.
Nyceve from Daily Kos said, "If they can't pass a public plan without a filibuster, why not with 51 votes?"
He said no, Obama needs 60 votes "if possible" if he wants the Republicans to work with him on everything else, "but he shouldn't give away the store."
Although his aides wanted him to leave, he answered two more questions: One on reproductive rights around the world ("In all cultures, all religions, birth rates go down in countries where there is universal education for girls and access for them to an open labor market") and No Child Left Behind ("The bottom 10%, it helped them but took attention away from other things.")
Then he posed for a picture and his aides hustled him out of there, off to the next appointment - and I'm sure he was already late. But that's Bill Clinton. He loves to talk, and people want to listen.