Former President Bill Clinton urged the United States to invest in health care, education and economic development in the Third World as an antidote to terrorism during his speech before a packed house of 2,000 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall Tuesday afternoon.
“We could do America’s fair share of economic empowerment of poor people,” Clinton said, “for more or less what we would spend in a year on the conflict in Afghanistan.”
Clinton’s speech came amid a campaign-style swing through California that included fund raisers for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl provided introductory remarks before Clinton spoke, and California luminaries from San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin were present.
Clinton, who spoke only hours before President George W. Bush gave his first State of the Union address, emphasized that he is in favor of the war on terrorism.
“We need more of it,” he said.
But, the former president warned that poverty and disease fuel terrorism, and he argued that America must work to help the billions of people worldwide who have not benefited from the economic boom of the post-Cold War era.
“Half the world was left out of the economic expansion,” Clinton said, noting that 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, 1 billion “go to bed hungry every night,” and 1.5 billion don’t drink clean water.
The former president urged the United States to increase debt relief for poor nations, provide microloans to entrepreneurs in the Third World, play a major role in the worldwide war on AIDS, and buy more products from struggling countries.
“It will create a world with more partners and fewer terrorists,” he argued.
Clinton said that, ultimately, a world view which emphasizes everyone’s common humanity must prevail over the “extreme, exclusive” view of figures like Osama bin Laden who believe they possess the “whole truth,” and target those who do not subscribe to that truth.
After Clinton’s speech, which was warmly received by the audience, Orville Schell, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, engaged the former president in an on-stage, question-and-answer session.
During the session, Clinton argued that most Americans are surprised to learn about how little the nation spends on foreign aid, and how effective foreign aid dollars can be. He said a sustained campaign to educate the American public could make his proposals a reality, particularly in the wake of Sep. 11.
The former president also discussed global warming at length. He said that many in the industrialized world believe they cannot create wealth unless they are allowed to emit heavy doses of greenhouse gases. Clinton said environmentalists face an uphill battle in overturning such a “deeply imbedded” notion.
The former president also spoke at length about the media, praising journalists for informing the American public about the Muslim world in the wake of Sep. 11, but warning that a saturation of media outlets has led journalists to produce stories quickly, and stretch for their own spin on a story.
“I think that...it is difficult for the media to do a fair and balanced and accurate and even truthful job,” Clinton said.
Audience members gave Clinton good marks after the speech and interview session. “He was able to address complex social and global problems in language...that was immediately accessible to people,” said Genaro Padilla, a Berkeley resident who attended the speech.
“He seems so relaxed, and he was funny and knowledgeable, and it was great to see him that way,” said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, adding that the former president made a compelling argument for more foreign aid.
Clinton was the eighth president to speak at UC Berkeley, and the first since John F. Kennedy, who addressed 90,000 people at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium in 1962.
The event was recorded by a San Francisco organization called City Arts & Lectures, and will be re-broadcast on National Public Radio. KQED, a Bay Area NPR affiliate, will air the event April 19 at 1 p.m. and April 21 at 8 p.m.