Newsweek Editor Claims It's a 'Longtime Clinton Principle' to Forego Today's Pleasures for Tomorrow

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham’s shoeshine of an interview with Bill Clinton in the year-end issue (complete with Meacham making sure his use of the word "Sir" is included in the magazine’s transcript) ran three pages and had only three questions or statements from Meacham. Clinton was allowed to talk at extreme length, befitting his status at Newsweek as a global statesman. But this question from Meacham was the most likely to spur giggles:

What you're describing is the end of "future preference" [the idea that each person has an obligation to sacrifice today for the benefit of tomorrow, a longtime Clinton principle].

Earth to Jon: Did Clinton actually demonstrate his "obligation" to sacrifice today for the benefit of tomorrow? Or was he too busy getting intern sex today and foregoing the sacrifice? Did he live by his own "longtime Clinton principle" over his long time in office?

For rebuttal of this interview, perhaps Newsweek should run an equal three pages of the Starr Report, preferrably the ones where our Global Statesman finishes his intern "date" in the bathroom sink. What a role model for the world.

Meacham arrived at the "future preference" reference as Clinton described how Americans have troubling "cultural resistances" to socialism, that we expect the best in health care and that we expect freedom in our use of energy. It came from the "Sir" question:

Sir, you've now been at several different levels of both public power and political and philanthropic influence. What are the obstacles that you see to the kind of change that you argue we need. Is it cultural?

Sometimes. For example, if you look at the health-care challenge, it's part cultural. We are preconditioned to believe that we have the best in everything that matters. And in some sense our health-care system is the best. We're great at cancer detection and treatment; we're great at managing crises and heart care—otherwise somebody else would be giving you this interview. [Clinton underwent a quadruple bypass in 2004.] We're really good at that, but a lot of the basic things we don't do very well, yet we don't know it.

Then there's the economic problem, which is our employer-based system that made a lot of sense for the industrial era, but it also means that 50 percent or so of America's people get their health care through employee-based systems and only pay about a fourth of the real cost of it. So it's hard for them to focus on the fact that the reason they haven't gotten a pay raise in the last seven years is that their employers are having to take money that they earned that they wanted to give them as pay raises and put it into their health care.

So I think we have imperfect knowledge on the part of otherwise rational voters, and I think we have cultural resistances in health care. The same thing is true in energy. You have imperfect knowledge. A lot of people believe that the only way for a country to get rich, stay rich, and get richer is to burn more carbon fuel. If that's factually accurate, some people think, then even if global warming is a problem, we won't address it before there's a calamity because people are not going to agree to make themselves poorer.

It's easy for me to say that. If you cut my income 10 percent I'd still be in great shape, and my daughter would be all right, and everything would be fine. But you can't ask people who can't pay their grocery bills to, in effect, [take a] pay cut to solve this problem.

The "future preference" question draws Clinton to explain that he believes, unlike Bush, that we need to "celebrate" our differences with our enemies, make "vibrant markets" out of our hostilities:

If you live in an interdependent world, you have to believe as a starting premise—it doesn't mean you'll never go to war, doesn't mean you'll never fight, you can't be naive or stupid, doesn't mean we shouldn't be out there trying to get the leaders of Al Qaeda—but you have to believe that in an interdependent world, what we have in common is more important than our interesting differences. And the only way to celebrate and make the most of our differences is to get rich out of our differences, create vibrant markets out of our differences.

It enables people to have fevered debate in politics without stealing elections or shooting the opposition. For me, if you ask how do you live with inequality, instability, and unsustainability, my answer is you've got to build the capacity of the poor people of the world and build the flexibility of the rich countries and move away from rigidity.

Clinton hardly celebrated the vibrant differences he had with the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Clearly, Newsweek must  have been having some fun with this interview. Under a full-body photo of Clinton came this suggestive-of-Hillary pull quote from his Meacham massage/interview:

"This is the most interdependent age in human history. We're linked in so many different ways. We can't get a divorce."

Tim Graham's picture