I had to watch Clinton's talk on Saturday on the big screen in the simulcast room because, well, I was a little hung over and had to run out to buy some Pringles to keep from passing out, and by the time I came back the main hall was full. (Nice to know I'm basically still behaving like a college student, even though I'm at Davos.)
When they first projected Clinton's face up on the screen, I had a strange moment where I thought: man, he has really aged a lot -- he looks like he's aged twenty years since I first saw him. And then I thought: it's actually been about seventeen years since I first saw him. (And then I started to think about the fact that my twentieth high school reunion was this year. But that's a whole other thread.)
Clinton seemed a little down at first, almost like he'd just received some bad news backstage, but his mood seemed to improve as picked up some of the energy from the crowd. WEF founder Klaus Schwab began by asking him for his three greatest worries about the future. Number one: climate change, an issue he returned to throughout the session. He peppered the talk with a number of literary references -- Ken Wilber's Theory Of Everything; Max Weber's Politics as Vocation. (For some odd reason, he studiously avoided mentioning any of my books -- go figure.) He offered up six separate shout-outs to Bill Gates, who was beaming in the front row. He was equally generous to John McCain, also in the house. He talked about how Richard Branson was opening up a Virgin Music store in Gaza, saying something along the lines of: "It's not going to make Richard any money, but some kids there are going to get jobs; they're going to feel like they're doing something with their lives; and so the next time someone asks them to strap a bomb to their body they're going to think twice about it."
He talked a little about the Tsunami relief efforts. He had a great line about US approval rates in Indonesia, which went from around 30% before the disaster to 60% after the relief efforts kicked in. And then he noted that Bin Laden's numbers did the reverse: dropped from 58% to around 30% over the same period -- "and Bin Laden wasn't noticeably involved in bringing on the tsunami. He just didn't do anything to help afterwards."
Typically, he went out of his way to avoid sounding partisan -- to a fault, I would say. Every single line that could be construed as a criticism of the Bush Administration was qualified in some fashion: "I'm not being critical of the current administration -- we had the same problems," etc. Even when Schwab asked him about Iraq, he played nice, saying that whatever we think about how we got into the war, we're all united now in seeing that it turn out okay. It made me wish that he and Gore would agree to split the difference on the partisan/non-partisan speechmaking: Gore should tone down some of his Bush-should-be-arrested rhetoric, and Clinton should take off the statesman's kid gloves every now and then.
The best line of the event came near then end, after Schwab asked him to give advice to the next president, "who may be sitting in this room, or who may be your wife." Clinton smiled and say: "First of all, in this age of culturally changed circumstances, I should make it clear for the record that Senator McCain and I are not married."