Former President Bill Clinton spoke to a capacity crowd in Bovard Auditorium Friday evening on a variety of topics ranging from U.S. foreign policy to the experience of being a grandfather.
Attendees included California Senator Barbara Boxer and Texas Governor-Elect Greg Abbott.
The event began with opening remarks from USC President C.L. Max Nikias before moving into an address from Clinton himself. Following Clinton’s remarks, James Ellis, dean of the Marshall School of Business, moderated a discussion with the 42nd president.
“It is clear that, throughout his extraordinary life, President Clinton has sought to understand -— and even befriend — the changes of our time,” Nikias said in his opening statement.
Nikias said that “national borders were giving way to an increasingly globalized world,” and Clinton began by stressing the importance of having a framework in order to evaluate global news in context.
“It’s very easy to confuse the headlines [with] the trend lines, and whether they are really representative of what’s going in the world,” Clinton said.
One of the trend lines, according to Clinton, was the issue of interdependence. The former president’s discussion was framed with an emphasis on issues facing communities and cooperation.
“The fundamental reality of the world we live in and the world we’re moving towards is interdependence, and it will only increase,” he said. “Interdependence can be good or bad or — human nature being what it is — it can be both, but divorce is not an option.”
Clinton discussed the two-edged nature of technology and its role in the new, interdependent world.
“The Internet has done a great deal of good. It’s made it possible for an 8-year-old to get on the Internet and find out in 30 seconds what I had to go to college for,” Clinton said. “It’s also made it possible for social networking sites to not only do great good but also recruit new members for ISIS.”
Clinton emphasized the need for “networks of creative cooperation,” citing several examples of regions in the United States, such as San Diego and Orlando, Florida, where collaboration between industry and universities had created economic growth in the biotechnology and computer simulation fields, respectively.
He spoke to the importance of systems and how, in many poor nations, the lack of adequate systems made it difficult to respond to crises such as disease outbreaks. He said that even wealthy nations such as the U.S. need to constantly upgrade and improve systems, and that the United States needs to reform its immigration, corporate tax and infrastructure systems in order to remain globally competitive. He cited an example of developing wind power and other renewable energy sources.
“By and large in America, even when the politicians aren’t talking, the wind blows,” he said.
Still, Clinton remained optimistic about the future of the United States over the next 20 years, arguing that the United States was in the best position among developed nations.
“There will be bad headlines, but you can keep the trend lines positive,” he said in his closing lines.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Ellis began by asking how interdependence can apply to “political hotspots” such as Russia, Syria, Ukraine and Hong Kong. Clinton said that it was important to evaluate things in context and that it was not always possible for the U.S. to intervene.
He talked about the democratic uprisings in Hong Kong and said the United States should “pull for democracy” while understanding the limitations due to the relationship between the United States and China. Clinton underlined the importance of using discretion before intervening.
“In international affairs, when you see a problem, you have to ask yourself if the problem is a toothache, a scab or a bad knee,” Clinton said. “If it’s a scab you have to leave it alone because it’ll work itself out; you scratch, it’ll make it worse.”
The conversation then shifted to the domestic front, and Ellis asked Clinton what the next two years would like look with a Democratic president and Republican-controlled legislature, a structure which characterized much of Clinton’s presidency.
Clinton said that there would be a “Kabuki dance” between the Republicans and Obama during the next few months as they tried to determine what the other side would do. He said a telling decision would be whether the Republicans attempt to repeal sections of the Affordable Care Act that are demonstrably working. He cited the examples of Arkansas and Kentucky, Republican states where the Democratic governors have high approval ratings due to successful implementation of the act.
Clinton said he expects to see a deal on corporate tax rates and hopes that the reforms will lead to a repatriation of overseas funds that can be used for infrastructure development following a European model of public-private investment. He also stressed the need for immigration reform to ensure that the workforce remains young and diverse in the United States.
“Having lost it, I can tell you, youth matters,” he said.
The conversation ended on a lighter note with Ellis asking how Clinton felt about being a grandfather. Clinton said he remains active in his granddaughter’s life since she lives very close to him in New York.
“The most thrilling thing is being reacquainted with what it’s like for an infant to wake up to the world,” he said. “You can almost see the neural networks forming.”
Students were grateful for the opportunity to see the human side of Clinton.
“It’s weird when you look up to someone and you see them as a portrait, you don’t know what they’re actually like,” said Alexander Coco, a junior majoring in astronautical engineering. “It’s great to be able to put a personality to such a famous figure, and see that sense of humor and how he reacts to questions and people.”
Others said that they enjoyed his theme of cooperation.
“I liked what he said about looking at the opposite point of view and expanding your worldview that way,” said Dylan Eirinberg, a junior majoring in computer science.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on Sunday 11/09 to correct the spelling of student Dylan Eirinberg’s name.