Clinton Comes to Campus

By Norman Boucher / July / August 2005
April 28th, 2007

Ten-year-old Kurt Deion wasn't first in line to get a copy of My Life autographed by Bill Clinton on the morning of April 29. But he was close. First were Will Perez '08, Johanna Marmolejos '08, and Savonya McAllister '08, who'd staked out their place by arriving outside the Brown Bookstore just after 7:30 the evening before. Standing not far behind Perez and his classmates - who headed a queue that started on the bookstore's second floor and snaked through aisles of leftover class books before dropping down the stairs and out the door to trail along Thayer Street on the sidewalk outside - was the oldest person waiting for Clinton, ninety-eight-year-old Frank DiPaolo, whose enthusiasm for the former president was exceeded only by his stamina for standing in line.

Deion was noncommittal about his political allegiances, but having visited the grave sites of eighteen presidents, he was thrilled to be meeting his first live one. More unabashedly partisan was Marmolejos, who said of Clinton, "If I could, I'd re-elect him every term. I really would."

So went the prevailing sentiment on campus that day. Invited to Brown by Seth Magaziner '06, who heads the campus chapter of the College Democrats, and his father, longtime Clinton friend and aide Ira Magaziner '69, the forty-second president autographed copies of his memoir at the bookstore under the watchful eye of Secret Service agents before moving in the afternoon to deliver a speech to almost 4,500 fans at Meehan Auditorium.

The talk was vintage Clinton: high principles, partisan digs, and well-told stories, all leavened with considerable charm and without his having to consult a single note. "We need a way," he began, "to put the blinding array of facts and assertions and arguments coming at us from all sides all the time in some recognizable pattern."

The dominant pattern for the new century, he proposed, is not globalization but "interdependence": "We are growing more diverse and more interdependent on one another," he said. The terrorists of 9/11 used our interdependence against us, he noted, but our response must be to "build forces of positive interdependence and shrink the forces of negative interdependence."

As examples of negative interdependence, Clinton cited the United States' reluctance to sign agreements with the rest of the world to reduce its production of greenhouse gases and its refusal to join the international criminal court. He seemed particularly irritated by the Bush Administration's policy of asking for tax cuts while the country is at war. Since leaving the White House, Clinton said, he'd been "making money hand over fist" and "I've gotten four tax cuts in four years while we have gone to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think that's immoral."

Why, he asked, should a millionaire like him receive a tax cut when the government is reluctant to spend what's needed to inspect more of the cargo that comes into U.S. ports? "Is it more important for me to get $5,000 than to make Americans safe?"

Clinton urged putting aside differences over whether invading Iraq was the right thing to do. "You should want it to work now," he said. "What we should ask now is: is it worth it to keep trying to give them a government that will fairly represent all the elements of Iraqi societyÉ? My answer to that question is yes."

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July / August 2005