I was forcefully reminded of just what makes America a great nation while watching Bill Clinton's final state of the nation address on CNN in January. Clinton is entering his final year as President of the United States and Americans are once again embarking on the long process of electing a new leader.
There may have been private vulnerabilities attached to Clinton during his presidency and he may not be one of the greatest presidents that America has ever had, but he is certainly a good example of just how well, for all its faults, the American system of elected responsibility is. It encourages men with ideals and vision who want to change their society for the good to seek public office. This was reflected in Clinton’s speech. It was a long speech, running to one hour twenty-nine minutes. In it he first reviewed what had been achieved by his administration, then went on to state his policy agenda for his final year.
He has a lot to be proud of. During his presidency the US economy has boomed, turning record budget deficits into record budget surpluses. It has experienced the fastest economic growth in thirty years, twenty million new jobs have been created and it has experienced the longest period of growth in American history.
On the social front he can also claim that his administration has doubled government investment in education, has seen the lowest unemployment rates in thirty years and the lowest unemployment rates of Black Americans and Hispanics ever recorded. It has overseen a twenty per cent decline in crime and a thirty per cent cut in welfare rolls.
But what was so striking about Clinton’s speech was the powerful way that through his words, delivered with tremendous relaxed forcefulness, he was able to paint a picture of an amazing economic future ahead for America. It is this great sense of optimism by the American people and their leaders that is the driving force behind the US economy. It is truly a ‘can-do’ society with ideals and vision. They do no talk if they can act. Clinton may not be a great President, but he is a great political orator. Throughout his poignant, policy packed speech he was given enthusiastic rounds of applause by members of his own party and silences and grudging applause by his opponents. Nevertheless he held them all; along with all those that watched the live television broadcast, spellbound.
Watching the live broadcast I was deeply impressed by Clinton’s ability to convey his ideas and ambitions for the American people through his words. It showed that a good orator with the fire of conviction can still hold our attention in this, the dot-com era with its sound bites and short attention spans. We should be grateful to speakers like President Clinton who can appeal to our better natures and inspire us with their sense of purpose and vision of society’s future.