News & Politics

“If I Have the Opportunity to Serve as President”: Obama at CGI


Appearing via video feed at the Clinton Global Initiative, Barack Obama had a chance to follow John McCain’s speech with one of his own. Owing to format, his address was more low key his predecessor’s (though Obama was flanked by two American flags), but like McCain’s it did not lack for political content relevant to the U.S. election.

First Obama told the attendees that “CGI brings pople together to take on tough global challenges” and make “concrete commitments that have affected over 200 million people,” which he applauded.

Like McCain he addressed the economic crisis, saying it is “as serious as any we’ve faced since the Great Depression.” He said it was “outrageous” that “taxpayers must bear the burden and the risk for the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and Washington.”

Obama reminded auditors that he had been in “close contact with Secretary Paulson and our leaders in Congress,” and had taken an “opportunity to speak directly to the American people” on the issue. Much like McCain, he called for an “independent board” of Democrats and Republicans to provide “oversight and aoccuntability” of the program, and said that as taxpayers were called upon to “finance the solution, they have to be treated as investors” — though, unlike traditional Wall Street investors, they should be also assured that they would receive “every penny” of their money back. And he said the government should “not be spending one dime on the same Wall Streets CEOs” who had caused the crisis.

Obama portrayed these principles as his own and said he was “pleased that Senator McCain has decided to embrace them as well.”

He reiterated his intention to go to Oxford, Mississippi for the planned debate tomorrow. “The election is in 40 days,” he reminded the audience, and though “our economy is in crisis… the American people deserve to hear from myself and Senator McCain” on “the full range of issues” which he said were “too serious to ignore.”

“Since CGI is about deeds, not just words,” Obama offered “four specific commitments” addressing Clinton Global Initiative concerns, which he would implement “if I have the opportunity to serve as President.”

In a lengthy bridging section Obama said, “We live in a time where all our destinies are shared” and “in a world more intertwined than in any time in our history… In America we have seen no dividing line between the dream on Main Street and the bottom line on Wall Street… Growth cannot just come from the top down, it must also come from the bottom up,” with “new jobs with good wages.”

Obama said this interconnection also meant that a student inflamed in a “radical madrassa” in northern Africa “can endanger my daughters in Chicago,” and a “deadly flu” originating in Asia could be spread worldwide. “None of these problems can be dealt with in isolation,” he said, “and that’s why you came to CGI.”

He said American dependence on foreign oil had become “an economic albatross and a moral challenge of our time,” and that it was “time finally for America to lead” on the issue. Therefore, his first commitment was to “setting a goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Obama also committed to invest “$50 billion a year” in development of “alternative energy” (mentioning, among other sources, “technologies that can make coal clean,” which we doubt Al Gore would endorse); to “increase our foreign assistance” and “cut poverty in half by 2015”; to “erase the global primary education gap by 2015,” in part through a “$2 billion global education fund”; and to “ending all deaths from malaria by 2015.” Funding sources were little mentioned, outside of a reference to “public-private partnerships.”

Obama closed: “The scale of our challenges may be great… but we know it need not be feared… We see the potential for progress… every time a girl walks through the doors of a new school, or a boy gets to live another day because of a simple net around his bed… Now it falls to all of us to get busy… and create the kind of world that we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.”


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