Clinton's chief of staff relays White House experiences

By Tressa Versteeg

President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, John Podesta, visited a political science class and discussed solutions to America’s international problems in Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel on Thursday, Oct. 18. Podesta appeared on behalf of Center for American Progress, a think-tank he now heads, which focuses on creating a long-term vision for the United States through discussion and policy proposals.
Podesta first spoke in political science professor Serena Laws’ public policy class about his experience in Clinton’s White House.He emphasized the administration’s successes in pushing a family healthcare bill forward, as well as reducing the national deficit and lowering the unemployment rate.

“Clinton’s a pretty good jail-house economist,” Podesta said. “He was very convinced that if you brought the deficit down, you would bring interest rates down and that if you accompany that with the right kind of governmental investments in science and technology in a business atmosphere.you have a powerful tool to increase productivity.”

He also commented on Clinton’s ability to keep promises, especially those made in the State of the Union address, and how his honesty led to success as a popular president.

“Clinton felt the State of the Union was the one time to have an unadulterated chance to explain what you want to do,” Podesta said. “Clinton felt like he had had a job interview with the American people.the capacity to have the discipline to execute polices and promises is what makes a mayor or governor or President successful.”

He also responded to what he called the hardest decision of the Clinton administration, the bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

“When you make the decision about going to war, you know you are going to kill a lot of people,” he said. “The recommendations of the military are taken at a very high level. But it’s not just military combatants on each side, you are going to kill a lot of people. Those are tough decisions. I don’t envy the people who make those decisions today.”

Laws said her class received Podesta’s speech with enthusiasm, and that speaking with someone who has practical political experience, rather than theoretical knowledge, was an invaluable experience.

During his lecture in Weyerhaeuser Chapel, Podesta spoke from a financial standpoint, focusing on the stark contrasts between the Clinton and Bush administrations’ approaches to economics.

“[Clinton] made the economy work for working people. Bush’s economic policy has made it difficult for people to get ahead,” Podesta said.

The current administration, he said, has made the “government doesn’t work” statement a reality.

“They’ve built a government that doesn’t work for Katrina, for miners.for you and me. It only works for themselves,” he said.

Podesta also touched on major domestic issues the Bush administration and Congress are presently facing, such as healthcare and global warming.

“Rich, poor, middle-class-poverty affects us all economically and morally,” he said, adding that raising the minimum wage and expanding the earned income and child tax credits would cut poverty significantly.

“We can’t bury our heads in the sand on these issues but the optimism that has characterized America is in danger,” Podesta said.

The nation’s overall greatest challenge, Podesta said, is confronting oil dependence. The people who have contributed least to global warming often feel its worst effects, he said, and the United States should be a leader in spearheading environmentally aware efforts.

“Our nation has always thrived on its creativity.and can-do spirit,” he said. “It’s ability to move when problems occur.”

Podesta’s speech was sponsored by the think-tank Minnesota 2020, founded in June by John Van Hecke ’85 and Matt Entenza ’83, the former Minnesota House Minority Leader. According to Van Hecke, Minnesota 2020 and the Center for American Progress have much in common. Minnesota 2020 founders worked with Podesta to create their think-tank and helped bring him to speak, as the first of many talks about “issues that matter.”

“The goal of the talk was the same goal instated in our mission statement,” Van Hecke said. “The organization focuses on investment and the economy, health care and education.