September 12, 2019
Episode #8: Finding Common Ground: A Conversation with President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and Presidential Leadership Scholars
In this special episode, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush share their perspectives on leadership and finding common ground throughout their lives in public service.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, this episode features a prerecorded conversation with President Clinton and President Bush at the 2019 graduation ceremony, moderated by the George W. Bush Institute’s Executive Director Holly Kuzmich. They are joined by two scholars—Lisa Hallett, CEO of wear blue: run to remember, and Jay Bhatt, SVP and CMO of the American Hospital Association—who are applying lessons learned from the program to enhance their own work to improve their communities.
With an introduction from 2019 Presidential Leadership Scholar Dilafruz Khonikboyeva, the conversation celebrates the network of doctors, veterans, corporate professionals, attorneys, public servants, educators, and more from across the country who have come together to collaborate and make a difference in the world, strengthened by lessons in leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
More from Dilafruz in her own words here:
In 1995, my parents won the green card lottery and we left war in Tajikistan because of President Clinton.
President Clinton: (00:10)
It is a commonplace of American life that immigrants have made our country great and continue to make a very important contribution to the fabric of American life.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (00:18)
In 2001, President Bush reinforce Muslims are also Americans.
President Bush: (00:23)
America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shop keepers-
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (00:31)
In 2019, I am part of the Presidential Leadership Scholar Program and grateful for the opportunity to serve and lead in a country built on diversity and freedom.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (00:42)
Hello. My name is Dilafruz Khonikboyeva and welcome to a special episode of Why Am I Telling You This, the Clinton Foundation podcast.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (00:50)
I’m speaking to you today as a recent graduate of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, a first of its kind joint initiative between the Presidential Centers of Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s two Republicans and two Democrats.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (01:07)
For the past five years, the PLS program has brought together a wide range of leaders from across the nonprofit, military, public and private sectors and from all corners of this country, who share a commitment to solving the greatest challenges of the 21st century across America and around the world.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (01:24)
Long before I joined the PLS program, I came to the United States as a child from the Pamir mountains in the newly formed nation of Tajikistan. When I was born, these mountains were part of the Soviet union and the Cold War was raging. When the USSR fell a few years later, the civil war that followed led to millions being displaced or killed.
Speaker 1: (01:42)
Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet States teachings on a knife edge.
Speaker 2: (01:47)
More people have died in the Tajikistan conflicts than all of the other conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union combined.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (01:54)
Luckily, my parents, brother and I received a way out. We won the green card lottery to immigrate to the United States in the fall of 1995. When we arrived, my family and I were embraced with open arms in our new country.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (02:08)
However, in recent years, I like many Americans have felt discouraged by the increasingly hostile political discourse. For the first time I began to question whether the definition of a real American was shrinking in ways that did not include people like me, a young, Muslim, immigrant woman.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (02:27)
So why am I telling you this? Because the PLS program is proof that in this country we are more alike than we are different. Sure, we come from different backgrounds, identify with different political parties and worship, live and love differently. But as Americans, we all share a common goal. We strive to make our country in the world a better place.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (02:46)
The PLS program reaffirms that America is for everyone and that both the strength and success of our nation comes from our diversity. The challenge that America and PLS gives each one of us is to see diversity as a strength and work together as Americans to catalyze change. This special episode of, Why Am I Telling You This features a conversation with President Clinton, President George W. Bush and two of my fellow Presidential Leadership scholars from the graduation and fifth anniversary celebration earlier this summer.
Dilafruz Khonikboyeva: (03:16)
You’ll get a chance to hear for yourself what makes the PLS program so unique. I hope you’ll leave with the same sense of optimism and inspiration that the program gave to me.
Holly Kuzmich: (03:30)
Welcome everybody to the 2019 graduation of our Presidential Leadership Scholars Program. This year we celebrate the fifth anniversary of this program and over the past six months, scholars have heard from leaders who’ve shared their own experiences. They’ve honed their own leadership skills, they’ve worked on their personal leadership projects, and they’ve become a strong network together.
Holly Kuzmich: (03:53)
But who knew what this program would become after five years? We had hoped to build a transformational leadership program, but what we hadn’t envisioned was this sense of family that these scholars have with each other.
Holly Kuzmich: (04:06)
So I want to start with Presidents Bush and President Clinton about this program and five years ago when we launched it and what we thought it would be then and where it’s come now. And so President Bush, at the time we launched this, you talked about how you wanted people in this program to be from all walks of life, different political persuasions, people who work hard and work with others. Why was that important to you then as a piece of this program before we had ever met any of these people who we’ve just seen today?
President Bush: (04:42)
Five years ago, like today there’s a … I give Michelle Obama piece of candy and the whole world says, “Wow, we need more of that.” I was stunned, you know? Clinton and I go to the Presidents Cup and they take a picture of us and my buddies back here went, “Man, it’s good that you all can get along.” I said, “Yeah, we’re Southern governors and great BS artists.”
President Bush: (05:10)
Anyway, there’s a need for bipartisanship, which is kind of an overused word, but there is a need for it. This is a program that is absolutely not political and yet it achieves a common objective, which seems to me to be a spirit that ought to be taking place more around the country and so it’s awesome, it’s really good and it’s made really good because of the people who’ve joined the program.
Holly Kuzmich: (05:42)
President Clinton, when you said five years ago, you talked about how you hoped that people had vigorous debate and disagreement in this program, but that they ultimately found ways to come to a resolution. So say a little bit more about that in terms of your vision.
President Clinton: (05:59)
First of all, I’ve been concerned for a long time, for at least 25 years about how we keep drifting apart. We all say we want people to work together, but at least in politics we often don’t vote for what we say we want. Or once we get what we say we want, we don’t do what’s necessary to bring it to reality.
President Clinton: (06:22)
I got to thinking about this and I formed an unusual friendship with President Bush when he was president. I’ve really come to not only like him, but to respect him and to believe that if he says something, he’s on the level. You can really have a fight with anybody as long as they’re on the level. There’s just too much in life is not on the level now.
President Clinton: (06:51)
What I had in mind when we started this was, two little lessons that I’ve learned in life and one is, no matter how much distance you have with somebody else, if you can agree on an objective you both want to achieve, then you can have your arguments on the way to a destination, but if it’s enough for you just to keep showing how pure you are and you never have to produce anything, then it’s hard for people to get anything done.
President Clinton: (07:15)
We tried to get goal-oriented people in this program. I also believe in an interdependent world. That’s why I disagree with so much of what’s happening today. I think diversity is a godsend. I think it’s one of American’s great blessings. I think that diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones.
President Clinton: (07:34)
The closest we’ve come to passing, for example, Immigration reform bill, I believe was when he was president. I strongly supported that, and most Democrats I knew didn’t, not because they weren’t for immigration reform because they found something they didn’t like about it. I thought, well, “This is not like crafting a bill, you just show up and you work on your project and talk to other people about it.”
President Clinton: (07:59)
The final thing is you become people to each other. If you’re just a two dimensional cartoon, it’s a lot easier to dismiss you than it is if you’re a three dimensional person. I thought if we got really extraordinary people together that you might become people to each other and do even more extraordinary things.
President Bush: (08:17)
Yeah. I got one other point I forgot. A little unfair to our other panelists, I know, but you know, J was the president.
President Bush: (08:26)
Anyway, the real challenge for these presidential libraries is to be contributors. I can’t think of a better way to invigorate our library, Bill’s library, Dad’s library, and Lyndon Johnson’s library then to have a program that utilizes our respective resources to train people to be leaders in the future.
Holly Kuzmich: (08:50)
Great. Jay and Lisa, I want to bring you in. Jay, tell us first, you’re in health care. Tell us how you ended up there, what drives you and what you’re doing now?
Jay Bhatt: (09:01)
Thank you Holly. Good evening everyone. My name is Jay Bhatt and I’m the son of a pharmacist who worked in the South side of Chicago for most of his life and a mom who was a factory worker.
Jay Bhatt: (09:11)
I spent a lot of my time growing up with my dad, going to people’s homes on the South side who couldn’t make it to clinic because they didn’t have bus fare or had other things going on that were priorities or when they’d walk outside the door, the wind would hit him so hard in their face that they had to go right back in.
Jay Bhatt: (09:24)
When I went to college, I went over to a barbershop to get my haircut and I met a guy, James, who was wearing a Cubs hat. I started talking to him because I’m a Cubs fan. Then learning about him and what the barber were talking about, that it was so difficult for them to access care that they couldn’t meet the challenges of HIV or cancer or chronic disease. I left that day, not with a great haircut but with incredible conversation.
Jay Bhatt: (09:52)
I kept going back and over time we ended up working together with a team that put a clinic in the back end of that barbershop and said, “If you want to get your haircut for free, then you got to be seen by the doctor.” Over the course of five years, the rates of chronic disease started declining. They started helping each other in the community. They started helping each other get jobs because economic development and mobility was important.
Jay Bhatt: (10:13)
That told me two things. One, I wanted to doctor in underserved communities as a vehicle for social change, and so I’m a primary care doctor and a geriatrician. I wanted to partner with communities to change their future because I saw it happen.
Jay Bhatt: (10:23)
I think we have an incredible opportunity as leaders in this program to do that. Currently I’m the Senior Vice-president, Chief Medical Officer for the American Hospital Association. We represent nearly 5,000 hospitals, 2 million nurses, 285,000 clinicians all working together to drive towards a society of healthy communities, where all individuals have their highest potential for health.
President Bush: (10:44)
[inaudible 00:10:44] you go.
Holly Kuzmich: (10:45)
Thank you, Jay. Okay, Jay, we’re going to get it in a little bit more about you in a minute, but I want Lisa to tell us about herself and her story because she’s got a pretty compelling story for the work that she does.
Lisa Hallett: (11:03)
Thanks. I’m a proud army spouse and my husband, John and I traveled the world being a part of the military family.
Lisa Hallett: (11:12)
John deployed to Southern Afghanistan in August of 2009 and like we do in the military, three weeks after John deployed our youngest, our daughter, Heidi, was born. Three weeks later with a three year old, a one-year-old and this little bitty baby who my husband hadn’t met, I was notified that John had been killed on his way home from a goodwill mission.
Lisa Hallett: (11:36)
I was terrified, overwhelmed and heartbroken, but I wasn’t alone. For our unit that year we lost 41 service members and we were all looking for a way to heal, to grieve, to remember these men and women who are our military family.
Lisa Hallett: (11:57)
We began to run together. We met in the burger King parking lot the first time and we ran around the airfield, but we evolved. Weekly runs became how we spoke the names of our fallen service members, how we supported each other and how we moved forward. When the unit came home, we realized that they needed the very same things that we needed and that really words weren’t big enough to capture everything we felt and wanted to say. But with running we didn’t need to have right words and that’s how, wear blue: run to remember was born.
Lisa Hallett: (12:29)
Wear blue is a running community around the world, that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. Thank you.
Holly Kuzmich: (12:37)
Thank you for the work that you do. Thanks.
Holly Kuzmich: (12:45)
Jay, I want to go back to you. One of the things that you have talked about when we talked about vigorous disagreement and debate, one of the things that you talked about that happened within your class was you had some tough conversations with your class. Say more about that.
Jay Bhatt: (12:59)
Yep, thank you. It was a moment which crystallizes why this program’s so important. It started in module two at College Station and one night when the Aggie Wranglers were dancing as a performance, we really appreciated it and watch that performance in awe.
Jay Bhatt: (13:20)
Then there was a question answer session right after it. The young buck who’s a captain there started answering these questions and we were just totally enthralled with the conversation. Right in the middle, one of our classmates, a scholar, Katherine says, “I got a question, are you up for a challenge? A dance off?” So then the young buck looks at Fred McClure at the time, looks back at us, looks back at, Fred, says, “I don’t think we can,” pauses, “Turn down a challenge.”
Jay Bhatt: (13:54)
What ensued happening was proud Texan tradition of dance combined with a dance from the Northern part of India from the other side of the world.
Jay Bhatt: (14:03)
… combined with a dance from the northern part of India, from the other side of the world, where me and Scott, who, in my class, whose wife had served in New Delhi. He had learned dancing Bhangra, North Indian folk dance. So we ended up coming out on stage and together, started dancing with the Aggie Wranglers. And literally, five minutes later, the seats started emptying, and others in our class started coming up and dancing. And then it was the whole stage of our classmates together in one, dancing to a common vision of being together, of being vulnerable, of being open. And we even got the whoop, Aggie Wrangler sound in there too.
Jay Bhatt: (14:39)
And that opened up this opportunity for us to have a conversation. Because the next day, we did an exercise in which well-intentioned … you know, we construct systems sometimes that have good intention that may leave people out. And so, we had three teams, and two of the teams wanted to, in an honest and transparent way, create a partnership. But in doing that, left a third team out.
Jay Bhatt: (15:08)
And so in the debrief, we recognized this. And that awareness of what had happened led to an important conversation. And it helped us realize that systems can be constructed unintentionally to leave people out, and as leaders, it’s important for us to recognize that, be aware of it, and rewrite and redesign the rules so that we don’t leave people out. And if we can’t, then at least recognize what’s happening. And so that led to a culmination at the end of the program in which nearly the whole class sat on a hotel lobby room floor eating pizza and being as vulnerable as you can be about the struggles they had from being stopped by police as a black man. Or struggling with their identity. Or having challenges with even their issues that they were struggling with at home. And so that really created a sense of common purpose.
Jay Bhatt: (16:04)
So when I think about leadership, it’s accepting responsibility for a shared purpose in the face of uncertainty, and I think we did that really inspired by the legacies of President Bush and President Clinton, Lyndon B. Johnson, and President George H.W. Bush. So we’re grateful for that.
President Bush: (16:20)
I hope they didn’t film you dancing with the Wranglerettes.
Holly Kuzmich: (16:26)
Lisa, one of the things we hear so often from the scholars in the program is the sense of inspiration that this program brings to you. Does that ring true for you?
Lisa Hallett: (16:37)
Absolutely. I think so often leadership can be very lonely, and I think quite often we operate in silos as leaders, but I remember walking in to the second module, and we’re at your dad’s library in College Station, and I read that last letter that he wrote as he was leaving office to you. And he says, “Your success now is our country’s success. I’m rooting hard for you.” And it was such a message, not just for President Clinton, but for all of us.
Lisa Hallett: (17:09)
And being a part of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program changed how I view myself as an American, and really what my role is in achieving that success. And I had thought honestly, being a military spouse who had sacrificed my husband, that was it. I dropped the mic, “I’ve served my country.” But I realized through this program looking at all of the work, the passion, the effort, the dreams of the leaders in this program, that John’s sacrifice is worth a country realized. And America is worth each of us stepping up to the plate, entering the arena, and owning our piece of the fight so that we can build the communities in the future that our country deserves.
President Bush: (17:51)
Holly Kuzmich: (17:58)
So President Clinton and President Bush, I’d love to hear from you both. You’ve now gotten to meet almost 300 scholars over the past five years. What have you taken from meeting them? What have you learned from them, versus what have they learned from you? Do you have any particular memories of any of them?
President Clinton: (18:17)
First, I have learned that there is this hunger people have to make a difference, not by getting another title or making another book, but by making somebody else’s life better. Lifting somebody up who’s broken. Helping somebody to do something that makes things work better. And you know, I’m not young anymore. And the longer I live, the more that’s how I measure my life.
President Clinton: (18:50)
You know, are people better off in your curriculum than when you started? Do the children have a brighter future? Are things coming together instead of being torn apart? That’s what I saw in the life of Dr. [Coy 00:19:02] the Cambodian refugee who was a member of this class, and I think now is in Louisiana working. She really inspired me. We had a class member who was a member of the small Pamiris sect in Tajikistan, and family was in danger of losing their lives, and America saved a lot of those people’s lives by letting them come here. And we had a scholar who was determined to prove that we made the right decision by giving back to this country.
President Clinton: (19:34)
And my personal favorite of all time was when we were in Little Rock for a graduation ceremony, a guy who had lost both his legs in military service named Carter, as I remember, came through here, took a picture with me, and he said, “I want to thank you and President Bush for getting us together with people who we didn’t know existed.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “You see her?” And he pointed to this very formidable, physically imposing woman, Kendra [Reynolds 00:20:06], who was … I don’t know, she’s almost six feet tall, and she looked like she could bench press me on a cold day.
President Clinton: (20:15)
And she was an African American lesbian liberal Democrat, head of the Human Rights Campaign in Arkansas. Everything the opposite of this guy. And he said, “You know, I’m dedicated to helping veterans. People like me not be disempowered to do things.” And he says, “I have learned so much from her, and I hope she’s learned something from me. And if it hadn’t been for you and President Bush, we’d have never met each other. We wouldn’t even know people like each other existed.”
President Clinton: (20:45)
She looked at me wearily, I looked at her wearily, he said, “I’d be glad to fight for her now.” And that, to me, is the enduring thing. The details, even the specifics of the project, are not as important for all of you who have more tomorrows than yesterdays, to have your mind and your heart in the right place. You’re smart. You know more about whatever it is you’re doing than we do, but you’ll make good decisions if you believe that we should go forward together.
Holly Kuzmich: (21:15)
President Bush: (21:16)
Yeah. So, there are some people discouraged about the future of the country, and I strongly suggest they get to meet people in the PLS classes, and all of a sudden, what may seem to be a dim future might be a bright future, and that’s what I’ve learned. That the country is full of decent, caring, compassionate citizens willing to serve.
Holly Kuzmich: (21:45)
Lisa and Jay, talk a little bit about where your organizations are now, and some of the work that you’re doing because of being in PLS, and how it impacted your work.
Jay Bhatt: (21:56)
So for me, I came into the program at a time where I was losing faith in some aspects of this country, and seeing pain and suffering and not seeing it actually, in some places, get better was something that was hard. And what I saw in the program was 60 sources of hope. Sources of hope that could change a nation, and with little acts of leadership and large acts of courage, could make a difference.
Jay Bhatt: (22:25)
And so as a result, one of the areas I worked on was training 30 community health workers across Africa to reach nearly 100 thousand people. And part of that work was built on the notion that we’ve got to meet people where we’re at. So Esther, whose daughter couldn’t get malaria treatment, became a community health worker to serve those in her community, to change the trajectory of the course of someone with HIV or chronic disease.
Jay Bhatt: (22:55)
But abroad and at home, those issues are seen as well. And so, we were able to partner with Unidos and the National Urban League to create strategic alliances. Unlikely partners that I wouldn’t have dreamt necessarily that we could partner with, but we were able to, because of this notion that I learned in the program, that it’s important not only to dance at the edge of discomfort and comfort, but at times to push into that area of discomfort. And to enable others to be in that space, so that together, you can challenge the status quo. And as a result, one of the most lasting issues I’ve worked on is this disconnect between non-clinical leaders and clinical leaders, because we’re trained differently.
Jay Bhatt: (23:44)
And so even though we’re going for the same thing, we want better communities, we want healthier communities, it requires a kind of conversation that’s hard. And so, led a leadership development program that has trained 100 teams, that has then led to impacting a network of 1,600 hospitals in 34 states, or Hospital Improvement Innovation Network, that has saved nearly a billion dollars, avoided 130 thousand patient safety incidents, and saved 13 thousand lives. So that is the impact that this program has had, and we’re so grateful for it.
Jay Bhatt: (24:20)
And you know the other thing, my side PLP was creating opportunity for the collective energy of the class of 2016 to help the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
Holly Kuzmich: (24:33)
Lisa, tell us about where you are now, what you took from the program, and how you have put it into action.
Lisa Hallett: (24:39)
So in the summer before I applied to this program, I had this moment with my children. And we’re going through baby books, we have them all out, and the boys and I are laughing because they were chubby and cute. But my daughter, Heidi, who’s my youngest, she’s not laughing. And she’s feisty. But she actually gets so mad she puts her hands on her hips and she says, “Where are my pictures with my daddy?” I don’t have any words for her.
Lisa Hallett: (25:05)
And the reality is that our Gold Star Youth are walking a very uncommon path. Our children whose parents volunteered to serve, well aware of the risks that it carried, their parents service has really become their sacrifice. So in the year leading up to the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, out of those simple Saturday runs with wear blue: run to remember, we created a youth mentorship program, pairing children of fallen military with currently serving members of our armed forces in a run-focused mentorship to build resilience, healthy coping mechanisms, and for kids like Heidi, which are so often the story, a sense of identity.
Lisa Hallett: (25:42)
We launched at Joint Base Lewis-McChord a flagship community, and I was overwhelmed by these really incredible kids. These kids who have sacrificed everything, are smart, they’re kind, they’re resilient, they’re fast. They have so much potential, but we needed to create a foundation.
Lisa Hallett: (26:01)
So we launched a very successful program at JBLM. There’s over 10 thousand youth in America who have lost a parent in military service, and we recognize a larger need beyond Joint Base Lewis-McChord. So under the tutelage, the mentorship, and honestly, just this raw belief in one another, the Presidential Leadership Scholars program gave me the structure and the foundation to scale the program through the support of my mentors. I mean, we’ve had countless calls talking about strategy. Isabelle gave me a platform to tell the story across the country. Chris talked me through fundraising. And the number of times my fellow leadership scholars have said, “You can do this, let’s talk through this,” gave me just the bones to take a program that’s across the country. So we’re at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas, almost 10% of our children who have lost a parent in military service live in Texas. And we’re growing going forward.
Lisa Hallett: (26:54)
But these kids are amazing, and they deserve a nation who stands with them. Not taking pity, but taking care of them. And this growth and this gift to these kids is because of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program.
Holly Kuzmich: (27:06)
President Bush, can I ask you to say a little more about your deep care of this issue too? Of veterans? It’s something you feel passionately about, and that you’re still active in.
President Bush: (27:14)
Yeah, I do. And yeah, so the question is, back to what I was talking about, about a sense of despondency. Think about the fact that a nation who has had millions volunteer, and have learned the characteristics necessary to be good leaders. Teamwork, courage, sacrifice. Some of them go to college, but all of them got a PhD in life. And they’re going to help lead the country, and to the extent that they need help, this society of ours needs to provide help.
President Bush: (27:42)
And one of the things we do here is, we’re dealing with the invisible wounds of war. And talking about a template forward. And yeah, I mean, look, Vietnam-era, Clinton and I are aging Baby Boomers, and during the Vietnam War when the troops came back, many soldiers were told to take off their uniforms so that they-
President Bush: (28:03)
Or when the troops came back, many soldiers were told to take off their uniform, so that the populace wouldn’t identify them as military and therefore wouldn’t treat him like hell. The attitude is totally different now. Whether you agreed with my decisions or not, the American people agree that serving in the military is a awesome experience and they welcome them with open arms. The question is, are the programs that have started around veterans effective? One of the things at the Bush Center is we want to make sure they’re effective and going to help these vets.
Holly Kuzmich: (28:34)
President Clinton, you similarly still have such a passion on healthcare, so Jay’s work is something you’ve long been tackling and still spend time on today.
President Clinton: (28:45)
We still do in many ways. I was thinking listening to all of you talk, this is a pure moment of personal privilege, but President Bush has lost both his parents since the last time we had this graduation ceremony. I spent a lot of time thinking about them both. I want you to know something since we’re talking about healthcare. 30 years ago this year, your father asked all the governors to meet at the University of Virginia to develop national education goals based on a report done 35 years ago, 36 years ago when President Reagan was in office by his Education Secretary [inaudible 00:29:24] Bill.
President Bush: (29:25)
President Clinton: (29:25)
From Utah. A guy I liked a lot. He was very good at it. He said, “Now, I want you to do this.” I represented the Democrats and I was then the longest serving governor in the country. We were having dinner with President and Mrs. Bush in Thomas Jefferson’s shadow. The president, as Hillary said, “I know you’re interested in education,” but he said, “Do you know anything on healthcare?” She said, “Oh yeah, Mr President. That’s mostly what I work on in my private capacity, and I’m really trying to drive down the infant mortality rate because America has terrible infant mortality rate given our income. We’re about 15th in the world,” or whatever it was at the time. He looked at her and they said, “I just can’t believe that when our healthcare system is too good.” She said to him, “This is an example in leadership.” She said to him, “Well, would you like me to get you the information?” He said, “No, I’ll get it myself and I’ll be back in touch with you.”
President Clinton: (30:20)
The next night, George Bush, the President of the United States, and I’m the governor of a little state, right, comes up to me and gives me a note which said, “Hillary, I checked the figures. You were right. I was wrong. What can we do about this?” You should never forget that. These were children and he lost a child. W lost a sibling when she was very young. At some point, we can’t scream fake news and alternative facts with each other. That the infant mortality rate is what it is. A number of the people who are here at the border who were legal, or not legal, or whatever, they are what they are. But here was the man who, he didn’t even have us there. There was no headline in this. We were there to do something on education, but he cared about children and children’s health. He sent Hillary letter. She said, “You were right. I was wrong. What can we do about this?” I will never forget that as long as I live.
Holly Kuzmich: (31:20)
Jay and Lisa, what did you, speaking of president George H.W. Bush, what did you learn by being able to study him and his presidency and the way he conducted himself in life?
Jay Bhatt: (31:32)
I think for me, what resonated, there are two things that resonated. One, what Lisa talked about earlier about this letter to President Clinton and that was a reflection of empathy and empathy in a really meaningful deep way. And that was reflected in the area of German reunification. The fact that President George H.W. Bush did not want to go to Germany and he knew what would happen. It came from a place of empathy. I think it comes also from the place that’s consistent across all four presidents of when things are tough, that it’s the moral compass and the values that always anchor you and you come back to that. I think that that’s what I’m so grateful for learning about across these four presidents.
President Bush: (32:16)
Damn! I thought you were going to say he raised wonderful children.
Jay Bhatt: (32:22)
That’s true, 100%. We’d say, he helped them get into good trouble too.
Holly Kuzmich: (32:36)
Lisa, do you have anything you want to add from your time?
Lisa Hallett: (32:41)
I spoke about it before, but I remember one message from that second module with President George H.W. Bush. But he said, “Before you call someone and ask for something, you call and ask about the weather.” It was such a beautiful reminder of how important it is for us to re insert humanity into the relationships. And so we’re trying to negotiate leadership and pass forward all important work, we got to take a step back and remember that these are people with whom we’re working and that there is an opportunity to develop something deeper, more meaningful before we work, move into the work that we’re designing to do.
President Bush: (33:16)
Here’s the challenge. People communicate by email, or whatever, Twitter, or whatever they call it. How can you be empathetic if the way you communicate with somebody is via short texts? How could you possibly understand how somebody else thinks? You can get their opinion, but you can’t answer the question why. What is it? And so PLS really is an antidote to people who are willing to communicate just via machine. It’s going to be a real challenge for our society, I think, the inability of people to be able to talk face-to-face and to listen carefully. PLS runs counter to that. What were you going to ask?
Holly Kuzmich: (34:06)
I was going to ask you about your dad.
President Bush: (34:07)
Oh, my dad. What about him?
Holly Kuzmich: (34:11)
Is there anything they haven’t hit already that you really want to make sure-
President Bush: (34:14)
Yes. Their last words on earth were, “I love you.”
Holly Kuzmich: (34:19)
That says a lot.
President Bush: (34:20)
Yeah, it does say a lot. He gave me the greatest gift, unconditional love. For those of you men out there who ended up having children, just remember the greatest gift you can give your child is unconditional love, which means your family has to be a priority. Your career can’t be a priority. Winning votes can’t be a priority. Making money can’t be a priority. The number one priority, if you’re a father, is to give your children unconditional love. That’s what he taught me.
Holly Kuzmich: (34:48)
President Bush: (34:55)
I’ve tested it.
Holly Kuzmich: (35:05)
We’ve got a group of 58 scholars here today who are graduating. Lisa and Jay, I want to hear from you. Jay, you’ve been out for three years. Lisa, you’ve been out for one. What’s your advice to them? What have you learned since being in the program? What do you want them to know about life after, it’s not after PLS, the continuation of PLS into the future?
Lisa Hallett: (35:32)
You’re putting us on the spot, Holly. Thanks.
President Bush: (35:34)
Stay in touch.
Lisa Hallett: (35:36)
Jay Bhatt: (35:37)
That’s it. We’re good.
Lisa Hallett: (35:39)
There is something magical about taking space outside of the chaos of our lives to join like minded individuals who believe in a realized America. I think it’s so important as we return to the busyness and the demands of our day-to-day lives, which of course are pressing, that we continue, that you continue to take a step back and stay engaged in those relationships, the space and the reflection that you need to remain motivated and in tune with why you do the work that you do.
Jay Bhatt: (36:14)
I would say for me, the work that we’ve been able to do on the opioid epidemic would not have been possible to be scaled if it wasn’t for the work with Kevin [Cossey 00:36:26] from my class, with the work of the Clinton Foundation in bringing together a constellation of individuals across the PLS classes from attorney general, to in terms of law enforcement, to police, to health care, to nonprofit education. That’s the power of this. That at any moment, you can convene a community that can help you imagine the impossible to be possible, but you’ve got to be open to that opportunity.
Jay Bhatt: (36:54)
I think it’s relationships. The relationships have helped me when I’ve been down and out, when I’ve needed a different perspective wanting to challenge me. We’ve cultivated a group of board of advisors that are very different to help us continue to move these forward. I think President Bush was talking about love. Love is the oldest medicine we have. Leadership can be lonely. Leadership can be tough. To have this incredible community of 300 people that are now sources of hope and a family, they help you be centered and help you dream in a way that can change the lives of people in this country, and so I’m so grateful for that.
President Bush: (37:37)
Yeah, I think it’s the most surprising, one of the most surprising, successes of the program is the fact that people stay in touch and they want to help each other. I ride mountain bikes with one of her pals who was in the class. She’s always talking about Lisa. Lisa is doing this. Lisa is doing that. Lisa runs 50 miles, Lisa that. But, it shows the kinship and friendship that exist and it’s a beautiful thing. It really is a beautiful thing.
Holly Kuzmich: (38:10)
President Clinton, what’s your charge and advice to this current class?
President Clinton: (38:16)
You need to think about what got you here and where you’d like to be in 10 years and whatever it is make sure there is a space there to help other people, to empower other people, to improve other people’s life.
President Clinton: (38:30)
We’ve visited a project here, which is dedicated to reducing the recidivism rate of people who’ve been in the juvenile justice system through the arts. They have a recidivism rate of 11%, so we went to talk to these kids about why. You didn’t have to be all rocket science to figure it out. They said, “We felt valued. We felt trusted. We felt that people thought we were smart and had talent, and we could contribute, and we love this.” There is a thousand things you can do.
President Clinton: (39:05)
But the point I want to make to all of you is that until I left the White House, it required so much concentration to survive and mostly to flourish in a political environment, I drastically under ppreciated that public good that a private person can do, especially now. There are over a million foundations in America and more than half of them had been started in the last 20 years. So I hope you’ll all be politically active. Whatever you think about politics, I hope you vote in every election, and be vocal, and all that.
President Clinton: (39:44)
But remember you came here as citizens because you believed that you had a mission and you were going to do it. I just hope you’ll keep that for the rest your life because I’m a lot older than all of you and it’s still what makes me happy. I hope you’ll always feel this. That’s the only thing I can tell you. 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, if you can barely get around, and you got to go places on a walker, it’ll still make you happy. When you look back in your life, you will remember the people you shared this time with and the other people who were at some fork in the road and you gave them a helping hand, or they gave you one, and you’ll never forget it. Thank you. Good luck. Thanks for listening. For more, listen on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Kevin Thurm: (40:40)
Hi, I’m Kevin Thurm, Chief Executive Officer at the Clinton Foundation. Building on a lifetime of public service, President Clinton established the Clinton Foundation on the simple belief that everyone deserves a chance to succeed, everyone has a responsibility to act, and we all do better when we work together.
Kevin Thurm: (40:57)
Through our programs that are creating economic opportunity, improving public health and inspiring civic engagement across the country and around the world, we are putting people first. Thanks for listening to, Why Am I Telling You This? To learn more about how we’re helping people across America and around the world, head to clintonfoundation.org/podcast.