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Bill Clinton: 'Policy Matters' Despite Being Misunderstood, Distrusted

April 30, 2014 – Policymaking today tends to be “dimly understood, often distrusted and disconnected from the consequences of the policy being implemented,” President Bill Clinton (SFS’68) said today in a speech at Georgetown.

The 42nd president of the United States, who delivered the second of his Clinton Lectures at Georgetown talks, said he observed this “most intensely” in regard to the Affordable Care Act.

When a policymaker is a political leader being followed by the press, he said there is a “craving that borders on [addiction] to have a story line,” and once that’s settled, “a craving which borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, everything that happens into the story line, even if that’s not the story.”

Too Much Cynicism

Clinton, who first welcomed his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to her seat in the university’s historic Gaston Hall to cheers and thunderous applause, also noted he has spent a lifetime “really believing that policy matters.”

“The disagreements are important, but it’s not very helpful to overlay them with too much cynicism and pretend it doesn’t matter, and it’s all just a roll of the dice,” he said.

The Four Ps

Though some made fun of him while he was president for his attention to details, Clinton said that focus often resulted in sound policies and economic stability.

The Clinton Lectures at Georgetown are designed to explore the people, events, lessons and principles that shaped the Georgetown alumnus’ career in public service.

During the first lecture last April, he said that young people interested in public service should focus on four areas – “people, purpose, policies and politics.”

At the second lecture today, Clinton defended the economic policies he employed that resulted in a balanced budget, a middle-class tax cut and noted the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other initiatives.

Personal Commitment

The lecture was webcast live with students at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas watching.

Diondra Hicks (C’15) a psychology major in Georgetown College, presented Clinton with questions submitted by students at both universities.

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia introduced the former president.

“All of his accomplishments demonstrate President Clinton’s deep and personal commitment to the power of cooperation…of working together for the betterment of society,” DeGioia said, “a similar commitment that is at the core of the tradition that animates our Georgetown community. Ours is a tradition that asks of us to use our skills and our talents to make an impact in the world.”

America’s Happiest Protestant

Clinton thanked his wife for coming and joked that she hadn’t “had to sit through one of these for ages.”

He also noted that his former Georgetown professor, Rev. Otto Hentz, S.J., was in the audience, and thanked him for reminding him “that if I had been a Catholic I could have been a Jesuit.”

Hentz famously asked a young Bill Clinton in his undergraduate years if he had considered becoming a Jesuit.

Clinton also called himself “America’s happiest Protestant when the new pope took his holy office."

"I’ve been thrilled by that," he said, "and I think all the Jesuits in the world should be proud of him.”

Second Series

This is the second time Clinton has given a series of talks at Georgetown.

In 1991, as the governor of Arkansas and a Democratic candidate for president, he presented three “New Covenant” speeches to students on Responsibility and Rebuilding the American Community, Economic Change and American Security.

“This is an historic day on our campus,” DeGioia said at last year’s Clinton lecture. “We celebrate the inaugural lecture in a series that we believe will have a deep and meaningful impact not just within our university community but throughout the academy and the world of policy, politics and global affairs.”