Presidential Perspective

Presidents Clinton, Bush weigh in on national debt, political civility.

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For almost 700 retailers and suppliers, the main event at CSP’s Outlook Leader­ship conference was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Being in the same room with two former U.S. presidents? Doesn’t happen every day. But if you weren’t with us in Salt Lake City to experience Paul Reuter’s Q&A with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, never fear—check out our recap and photos right here.

The rest of the agenda didn’t disappoint. In the following pages you’ll hear from CEOs of two of the most recognizable countries in the world; get a state of the industry update from the outgoing NACS chairman; read a forecast from one of the most respected economists we know; and much more. Don’t forget to check out our Outlook photo album, too.

With a vitriolic presiden­tial campaign hanging in the background, the comity between two former two-term presidents—one a Democrat, the other a Republican— proved striking, if not refreshing.

The men, both in their 60s and intent on continuing their involvement in charity both at home and abroad, offered their views on a variety of issues.

Yet there was a common bond that transcended their differences: a shared link of being among only 43 men to have served as president of the United States, an understanding of being the parent of married daughters, and both hopeful of becoming grandparents in the not-too-distant future.

And there was a perspective that only one who had served in the Oval Office amid the glow of constant media scrutiny, of partisan attacks, of victories and mistakes, of surprises and missed opportunities, could appreciate.

On the stage at Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel at CSP’s 2012 Outlook Leadership conference, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spoke about policy and their lives, and the challenges our country faces. They shared the stage with Paul Reuter, chair­man emeritus of CSP Business Media and CSP’s longtime owner, who earlier this year sold the company to Redwood Acquisitions.

Presidents Clinton and Bush shared their personal insights into a life in which every form of media is centered on the president.

President Clinton also shared how the media’s handling of news events— and non-events—stood out among the biggest surprises during his two terms.

“There was always a difference in the story line on the news and what the real story was. ... Sometimes literally some story would take off and run and there wouldn’t be anything to it, but there was no way to deal with it, and the real questions would often not be reported. That was frustrating.

“The other thing that surprised me,” President Clinton continued, “was when you’re dealing with so many things and you’ve got so many decisions to make, I think I underestimated—until I saw it working—how important the decision-making process was.

“I think to get to a good decision you have to have a good process.” Under both the presidents’ administra­tions, important bipartisan legislation was passed. Under President Clinton, welfare was reformed and NAFTA passed, largely thanks to enough Republicans offsetting Democratic dissenters. President Bush saw both his signature education initiative, No Child Left Behind, and proposal for Medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors earn support of key Democrats.

The political toxicity has strained to such a point that it’s virtually crimi­nal to compliment someone from the other party. President Clinton shared how he was lambasted this year for praising GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney during an interview with CNN, in which he also made clear why he considered President Obama the better candidate.

On the topic of redistricting, President Clinton said, “I think the redistricting pushes you more and more into a cocoon. And I think it’s a real problem.”

Both Presidents Clinton and Bush shared their observations, beyond redis­tricting, into some remedies—subtle and not—that could improve dialogue.

President Clinton offered several points, from the presidency to Congress.

  • Sleep on This: “There is no tell­ing what percentage of the House and Senate are chronically sleep-deprived.” Between constant fundraisers, increas­ingly complex legislating and two-year terms, Congress has little down time.
  • Extremism: “This whole elec­tion system we’ve got, beginning with the redistricting, is pushing us to extremes.” President Clinton cited the GOP primary defeats of traditional conservatives, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Sen. Robert Bennett (Utah), both of whom worked with Democrats on either domestic or foreign-policy matters.

“So,” President Clinton summarized to applause, “we’ve got to create the conditions under which a person can be nominated, in both parties, who will not give up his principles, or her principles, but whose goal will be to get something done.”

The Presidents’ Best Exchanges

Grandfather Bush? Grandfather Clinton?

Reuter: How can you make the world safe for this generation and generations to come, including our grandchildren, from nuclear arms?

President Bush: I’d like to try out the grandfather deal. Wouldn’t you? We’re having a little trouble getting to be grandfathers.

President Clinton: I’m glad you said that instead of me.

President Bush: Well, the passive approach isn’t working. I’m actively lobbying for a grandchild. I admit it.

High Points of Being POTUS

Reuter: So what was the coolest thing about being president?

President Bush: For me it was saluting men and women who had volunteered to serve our country.

President Clinton: The coolest thing about being commander in chief is realizing that these young people are willing to put their lives on the line for the country, and you are respon­sible for them and responsible to them.

The other cool thing is they always play a song when you walk in the room. I mean, I was lost for the first three months after I left the White House. Nobody played a song anymore. I didn’t know where I was half the time.

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