Seeing Bill Clinton

Went to see Bill Clinton speak today. The J-School sponsored the event, but it was held in Zellerbach Hall. Cool to see Gray Davis, Orville Schell, and Bubba all onstage at once. Very inspiring. Listening to him really made me aware of how quickly we synopsize our feelings about leaders into a few summary thoughts. “Democrat. Two terms. Mixed track record. Kinda liked him, kinda not. Reputation tarnished by scandal.” It also made me aware of how our impressions of leaders are almost entirely governed by the sound bites and snippets the media choose to publish. But listening to him speak in complete thoughts, and without having to be on the campaign trail and sell himself, was fascinating. Lives of politicians are so complex, the issues so huge, the problems so multidimensional. The country was left with the impression of a kind of bumbler, and many people forgot just how intelligent he is. But his wit is so quick, his grasp of the big picture so vast.

His main talking point was globalization, and he had a lot to say on that. One of the most interesting things he pointed out was how we took the long view towards Japan and Germany, and poured resources into those countries to help shape the world for the future. If we had just won WWII and left it at that, our relationship to Germany and Japan today would be very different than it is. So what about Afghanistan? It’s not enough to bomb it further into oblivion, and it’s not enough to eliminate Al Qaeda (efforts he supports completely). Taking the long view, we have to pour resources into the Middle East to foster freedom of thought, education, etc. That kind of thing costs us peanuts, and has a huge pay-off for the future. But how much are we talking about that now?

He also made an unusual point about exhaustion. All of our senators and congresspeople, and in fact all the leaders of the world, live under such heavy workloads and under so much continual stress that the world is basically run by walking zombies. Scary thought.

I had felt non-committal about going to this thing, but was really glad I did.

Also got to hang out before the event with the founder and editor of Wired Digital. Had a very interesting conversation about what kind of media is successful today. Now that everything is so specialized – people have 100 TV channels and infinite web sites to choose from – the really successful publications are super specialized and all about lifestyle. Yoga magazine has a huge circ and is fat with ads. U.S. News and World Report is sinking out of view. Slashdot (tech specialized) is doing great, but Plastic (general topics) is struggling. Etc. etc. Interesting.

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