I had the extraordinary good fortune tonight of attending a blogger meeting with President Bill Clinton, whose Clinton Global Initiative conference kicks off tomorrow at the Sheraton Manhattan. As Clinton was even more charming, conversant, and breathtakingly well-informed in person than I had been led to expect, I had a hard time remembering I was in the same room with the person who brought about welfare reform and signed the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Clinton spent much of the hour discussing the current economic crisis, encouraging the progressive blogosphere to force questions about the way in which an economic recovery plan will bolster "not only Wall Street but Main Street." He acknowledged that the crisis may compromise "soft power spending" on programs like PEPFAR, but argued that PEPFAR and other foreign aid bills need even greater spending at a time of economic downturn.
The President sketched out his explanation for the mess we are in, noting that while the open economy allowed Alan Greenspan to add liquidity to the economy in 2001 without rampant inflation, those very same open markets allowed "jobs to leak out the back door." Investment money became concentrated in housing and real estate, some of the only sectors in the American economy making money. New investment opportunities in clean energy, wind and solar, were squandered, leaving investors little choice about where to concentrate and innovate. Greed, argued Clinton, is not to blame — the "absense of a sensible economic policy developing clean energy for our country" is.
Clinton acknowledged that the $700 billion bailout was necessary, but that in return, Main Street should demand economic assistance as well. Specifically, Clinton called for a moratorium on foreclosures and an effort to convert at-risk homeowners to traditional mortgage-holders, and suggested that a more modest interest rate on loans to flailing private companies could be paired with taxpayers’ entitlement to a share of later profits. "We have to define what helping Main Street means," Clinton emphasized.
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When Rewire writer Dana Goldstein asked Clinton
whether he regrets any of the deregulation he pursued as President,
he said he wished he had at least sounded the alarm on risky derivatives, and been more open about problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Clinton’s thoughts on the fundamental reality driving this presidential election? Economically, "Most people feel like they’re drowning."
For an in-depth look at how the economy affects working families and family planning, check out our new feature, Anna Clark’s Home Economics: Planning for Parenting, up today.