Wow – I just heard Bill Clinton speak at Microsoft. I have never seen so many people trying to see one person speak at here – the room was totally packed with MSPAC members (photo by Becky Pezely – thanks!) and there were lines outside of hundreds of non-members trying to get in. There were multiple overflow rooms, a live Internet broadcast, and other broadcast sites in cafes throughout the company. It was one of those experiences where I realized how special it is to work here (I’ve had a few of those recently).
I didn’t have my laptop or my camera so I can only relate some memorable moments, not a virtual transcript like I did with Hillary last week.
Steve Ballmer introduced him (photo by R. Scott Randall – thanks!) and even stumbled over a few words – he was nervous! It was pretty wild seeing Steve introduce another speaker – usually he is the main attraction. Steve announced that in our annual giving campaign this year we raised $73 million dollars which is a new record. Clinton started by marveling at that number.
Clinton’s talk centered on the changing climate of giving (ex: the US has doubled our non-governmental organizations since 2000) and the impact that non-billionaires can have on the world; 30% of Americans gave to Tsunami relief efforts, half of those gifts were over the Internet. The average gift was over $600 and the median was $60 which proved his second point. He talked a lot about his foundations and the work of other people like former Microsoftie John Wood who founded Room to Read and Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of the micro-lending movement and Nobel Prize winner.
He also said he was glad Al Gore won the Nobel Prize "after 20 years of ridicule," which was more strongly worded than Hillary’s comment about it. Overall, Bill quoted a lot of the same statistics as Hillary and talked about how doing the work to address the environmental issues we have will create jobs and improve the economy overall and used Britain as an example. He also said that most of the countries that signed the Koyoto agreement aren’t going to meet their commitments because they lack the operational know-how to make do it and we need to share that knowledge.
He said that when he left office the US approval rating in Turkey was 50% and now it’s 9%. But in countries that see us through the prism of our giving our approval has skyrocketed (Sri Lanka from 30% to 90%, Soviet Union is glad we helped them achieve democracy, other African nations similar numbers due to our work on AIDS and Malaria). Nice quote: "Their view of us changed because we didn’t want their children to die. It’s not rocket science."
He took four questions and seemed to really want to take more. One of the coolest moments was when an audience member asked if a spouse of a president could be Secretary of State. And he said no, there was a law inspired by JFK’s nomination of his brother Robert to Attorney General, that limited the President from appointing a family member to the Cabinet. He said that was because anyone who holds a cabinet seat should be able to be fired which got a big laugh. Then he said, "Even though Hillary and I know she could easily fire me, and I might be easier to do that to me than to others, the American people wouldn’t know that," which got a huge laugh. He then went on to talk about how when he was President he wished he had someone he could send places who was not encumbered by having a political office when he wanted to send the message that he would like to have been there himself but couldn’t. That’s the kind of stuff he could do and it would be better if he didn’t have an official office.
A woman asked, "What are the qualities that make a great leader?" He said most politicians are better than their reputation makes them out to be. He’s met some smart people in politics and not too often he meets a dumb person. Even more infrequently he meets someone who’s lazy, and even more rarely he meets someone crooked. In general, people in politics are smart, hardworking, and do what they think is right. I really liked this point – he also referenced another confusing question some guy asked about the taint of money in political campaigns and reiterated that most people are honest and it’s not just a system of crooked people out to get you.
In all, I left even more excited for the Clinton presidency than I was when I saw Hillary last week. Yes, she is awesome but man, Bill is just in another league. The idea of the two of them trying to fix the country and the world together just blew me away. I can’t wait.
Holy crap – I am blogging this in my car waiting for traffic to die down and just saw a tank drive by. Not one of those old style ones, but a newer more ominous looking one that was black. It was followed by a large non-descript blue armored truck full of special ops guys in camouflage who I saw earlier perched on top of parking garages. Surreal.