Clinton, Bush Exhilarate CSP Outlook Conference

Former U.S. presidents reflect on policy, today's political environment

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

SALT LAKE CITY -- One spoke with the folksiness and malapropisms that brought humor and a casualness during his eight years in the White House. The other conversed with the seriousness and erudition of a policy maven that highlighted the intellectual depth of his two terms in the same house.

And having George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on stage together harkened to a not-so-distant-time that yet seems eons ago; an era capped less than four years ago but which was not measured in today's social media drumbeat, where every move and every decision reverberates with a tweet, a blog and a Facebook post.

That is not to say that either Bush or Clinton was immune to a dramatically evolving world of mass media and political consumption. Blogs like The Drudge Report and constant cable coverage were already ringing their impact on the ears of Congress.

Still, something, they agreed, has changed--and for the worse. "Politics," said Bush, "has always been tough, but it seems a lot less civil."

So, perhaps there was more than a hint of nostalgia that canvassed a packed room of nearly 700 retailers and suppliers at the annual CSP 2012 Outlook Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City earlier this week.

Clinton and Bush were both quick to underscore their similarities, rather than the differences one might expect from a centrist Democrat and conservative Republican.

The two men, now in their 60s and the parents of children married only within the past two years, shared their desire to become grandparents, to see today's political dissonance revert to a debate with civility; to see more flexibility and less extremes within both major political parties; and for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to seek common ground on issues of true national import, from immigration reform to stimulating economic growth, rather than immerse themselves in the daily distraction of trivialities.

Much like watching a classic television program, waiting for the familiar punch lines to yield a reassuring smile, President Bush did not disappoint with his now famous abuse of the English language or lack of clarity.

Asked about his biggest surprise in office, he replied, "What shouldn't be a surprise but was a surprise were the surprises." And then when asked how to inject more civility in the political culture, he offered, "If you expect discourse to be better, look at the discoursers [sic]."

Clinton agreed, albeit with a bit more traditional articulation. "We live in a constant state between bloggers and cable [whose seeming role] is to give us a constant state of anxiety and attention deficit disorder."

He shared how during a recent interview on CNN, he backed President Obama for reelection but complimented GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney. For that, he was chided by liberal bloggers and media for saying anything positive about "the other party."

The past presidents talked about nuclear war, the national deficit, immigration, adjusting to a post-presidential life, leadership and much more. For a complete exclusive report, look for the October issue of CSP magazine.

Mitch Morrison Winsight CSP By Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations
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