22 September 2006

Clinton's Show in New York Tackles "Big Problems"

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Part of the deal at the Clinton Global Initiative currently taking place in midtown Manhattan is that when someone agrees to commit money to a project, they get to come up on stage with President Clinton, sign a document, and get a picture.

So they all file up on stage, looking a little bit embarrassed and a little bit proud. (Ayn Rand would have a field day.) No one besides Clinton speaks - the exception was a young woman who said, "Thank you, President Clinton" into the microphone. In the audience, here was a definite rustle of surprise at her temerity.

A few of us in the press were trying to decide what the spectacle most resembled. Is it kindergarten show and tell? (And little Jimmy gets a gold star!) Is it "The Price is Right?" (This commitment is worth $80 million! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, $80 million!) Or is it a guy hawking time-shares? (Look who's vacationing in lovely Bemidji, Minnesota! You could be just like them and spend some money, too!)

Like all things Clinton, CGI is plenty of pomp and circumstance. There seemed to be an awful lot of perfectly coiffed blond hair in the audience, which consisted of a lot of important people. (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, President Pervez Musharraf, King Abdullah and Queen Rania, Richard Branson, to name but a few.) The press was treated as a nuisance - there was a large army of people whose job was to tell reporters "You can't go in there!" and "You can't sit here!" - which I suppose we are.

And I shouldn't be hard on my handlers, because my peers were even more ruthless. As I tried to take a seat, a cameraman shoved me so hard I almost tipped over. (OK, I am wearing heels.) "You can't sit here," he shrieked.

But there's also a lot of substance at CGI. Yesterday, Bill Gates, along with Clinton, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Hernando de Soto, the president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, participated in a panel called "Effective Action, Lasting Results."

Read Bethany McLean's full article: Clinton

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