by COLIN MANGAN
Last week, I had the amazing experience of getting to watch former President Bill Clinton speak at the Tilles Center, LIU Post. President Clinton presented himself very humbly and gentleman-like. In his speech, the President emphasized the importance of democracy and detailed how his own life experiences shaped him into who he is today. While he did take several jabs at the events of the 2016 Presidential Election, his overall message was not based in anger or resentment. His message was non-partisan and unifying: we humans aren’t that different from one another.
The President went into great detail about the Human Genome Project, a project which he himself provided $3 Billion in funding to during his presidency. The project, which was in effect from 1990-2003, sought to map the nucleotides in human DNA. What the project found was that all humans, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion, shared 99.5% of their DNA with one another. President Clinton also emphasized the importance of education. He specifically referred to a bipartisan piece of legislation that was passed during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. This legislation ensured that all profits made from a product designed by researchers at any university or college would not go to the college for profits, but would go back into the grants of the researchers for future projects. President Clinton emphasized the importance of making college more affordable by lowering interest rates and providing more federally-backed grants to researchers.
Because his father died three months before he was born, President Clinton spoke about how his uncle and his grandfather influenced his worldview. While he was on the campaign trail with his wife Hillary in 2016, President Clinton met a black pastor who introduced himself. During the Great Depression, President Clinton’a grandfather, William Blythe I, owned a food store near the part of town which was heavily populated by African-Americans. One day, a black man, with whom William Blythe I was familiar, came into the store. William Blythe I correctly guessed that the man had no food to feed his family. So he let the man take what he needed to feed his family, asked him to write down what he took, and told him to take as long as he needed to one day pay it back. As it turned out, the pastor from Ohio was the grandson of that man, who the President’s grandfather once helped. President Clinton also spoke about how his uncle taught him that “cooperation is better than conflict” after he had escaped some bullies one day. From his uncle, President Clinton also learned to control his anger because “we can’t think when we’re angry”.
President Clinton also emphasized the importance of working together. He stated that in a diverse group of 100 people, even if one person in the group had an IQ of 180, the other 99 individuals will always solve the problem first because they work together. President Clinton spoke about the North Korean crisis. He did not criticize the current administration’s actions or say what he would do differently. Instead, he acknowledged the complexity of the situation and spoke about his own experiences with the crisis. In the late 1990s, President Clinton negotiated with President Kim Jong-il of North Korea on a deal to prevent North Korea from obtaining ballistic missiles. However, before the negotiations could be finalized, President Yassir Arafat of Palestine contacted Clinton and stated that he was ready to finalize negotiations in the Middle East, but it had to be done immediately. President Clinton was forced to choose between negotiating peace in North Korea or negotiating peace in the Middle East; he chose to pursue the Middle East peace deal. While it may be easy to criticize President Clinton in this situation, one must ask themselves: What would you have done?
In this time of such political tension, President Clinton’s speech was a rare hour of unity. While it may be easy to dislike Bill Clinton based on his previous conduct during his presidency, in this speech, I didn’t see a bad person at all. Instead I saw someone who has seen the world and was forced to make difficult decisions in times of crisis. In these intense times of such political polarization, President Clinton’s message was one of hope, unity, and freedom.