Hours before yesterday’s Liberty Medal ceremony, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair sat on a pair of stools in the National Constitution Center’s Kimmel Theater for an unfiltered conversation billed as an event hinged to Blair’s new memoirs.
With about 300 invitees looking on, they addressed topics like international conflict resolution (namely Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine), progressivism vs. conservatism (both here and there), the pressures of political life (many) and where they see the world itself heading in the 21st century. On the latter, both agreed that the balance of power shifting to the East, and deeply rooted extremism makes the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain more important than ever.
“It’s relevant today. It will be relevant tomorrow, as emerging powers change the whole course of the 21st century,” said Blair, who came to the city from the Middle East. “I’m afraid [extremism] is not going away.”
On Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush:
Clinton said there were “factual inaccuracies” in the HBO film “The Special Relationship,” which focused on the two men, the biggest of which was portraying Clinton as not wanting Bush and Blair to get along. “Agree with their policies or not, the fact that they held it together during some rough times, that’s worth something.”
On conflict resolution:
“You’ve got to create a basic framework with principles on which both sides can agree. Frankly, you can’t give up. If you can’t solve it, manage it.” – Blair
“There are outside forces that can have a positive impact,” – Clinton
“I haven’t said this much, but without your intervention, we couldn’t have achieved it,” – Blair to Clinton on the Good Friday Agreement.
“You put the interest of the country, the interest of the Irish ahead of any short-term political gain. That’s profoundly important,” – Clinton to Blair
“If an agreement was made [in the Middle East] tomorrow, we’d have two to three years of pretty rough sailing,” – Clinton
On progressivism and conservatism:
“Technologically, my son is growing up in a world so different than ours. The nature of society will change with that. People will be more individualistic in that people will lead lives expecting a relationship with government that’s active, not passive. It can be empowering, a partnership, but then people can say government stands in their way, so get it off my back. That’s where the right wing comes in,” Blair said. “Progressive people always win when they’re at the cutting edge of technology.”
“Especially in these economic times, you can’t say you don’t need a state. The most successful states are those which have a strong public sector.” – Clinton
“The political debate can get rather harsh. I look over here, and there’s some pretty tough language being bandied about.” – Blair
On politics’ personal toll:
“Most are honest, hard-working people, yet they’ve all been called some variation of dishonest and lazy at some point.” – Clinton
On the Democrats losing the House in 1994:
“We lost the ability to connect with the American people.” -- Clinton
On the future:
“Every country has to decide what its place in the world will be. The 21st Century could likely become an era of religious or cultural conflict.” – Blair
“There’s too much inequality, but we’re moving more people out of poverty than ever before. There’s too much instability, but more opportunity. Back and forth. When you see something in the news, ask yourself ‘Is this a manifestation of the positive or negative forces out there?’” - Clinton