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Rose-Colored Glasses

Bill Clinton's The Case for Optimism: From Technology to Equality, Five Ways the World is Getting Better All the Time
Rose-Colored Glasses

In the print version on the last page of Bill Clinton’s recent TIME Magazine cover story, Oliver Munday, who drew the illustrations for it, includes one of a pair of rose-tinted granny glasses, with the round lenses transformed into the global grid, common in technology circles nowadays. To further the theme, the opening pages of the article are the same rose color and contain a large version of the same global grid image, but this time with a smiley-faced emoticon look. There is no doubting the message: Bill Clinton is bullish on the world, but some feel there may be just a little too sunny of an attitude in his viewpoint.

Love Clinton or hate him, there is no denying his importance still in America, and throughout the world. His superstar appearance at the Democratic Convention this year bears testimony to his continuing popularity; many, if not most, commentators agreed that he outshone President Obama in his introductory speech. In the years since he was president, Clinton has worked for a number of causes around the world, but he has devoted the most time to the foundation named for him and within that foundation’s objectives, the Clinton Global Initiative stands out. Created in 2005 to be a non-partisan organization that convenes global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, each year CGI hosts an Annual Meeting in September, scheduled to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly. Throughout the year, CGI attempts to help its members—primarily corporations, NGOs, and government leaders—maximize their efforts to create positive change.

This article, in spite of its considerable chest thumping, details a number of success stories world-wide that are impressive. It describes “five areas in which there has been concrete, measurable and reproducible progress.” In these five areas—technology, health, economy, equality, and justice—Clinton ranges from Africa to China to South America telling stories of positive initiatives he sees changing the world for the better.

Some of these are fascinating and informative. His initial section on technology, for instance, dwells on the way in which the cell phone is changing the availability of banking facilities for the poor in Haiti and allowing health care to reach into the most remote parts of Africa. Though internet access is still primarily a Western phenomenon, the cell phone is almost everywhere. One graph accompanying the article purports that there are 86 cell phone subscriptions per 100 people in the world.

Based on the premise that there are “three big challenges with our interdependent world: inequality, instability and unsustainability,” Clinton writes of the ways in which these challenges are being overcome in his five areas and basically offers five specific solutions to some problems within those areas: the cell phones mentioned above in the area of technology, HIV/AIDS testing in health, green energy in economy, investment in training women in equality, and a student program in the area of justice.

The article, which is highly selective in its choice of only prospering programs, would make a great discussion for many reasons, not least of which is that it raises the question: Where is the church in all this change? Clinton speaks more than once of the troika of “the private sector, governments, and non-profits…combining their skills and resources to form networks of creative cooperation to boost local economies while addressing problems like climate change and poverty.” Though they might be implicitly included under “non-profits”, it is instructive that he does not even mention religion or religious organizations in the entire article. For someone who never missed a photo-op of himself carrying his big Bible to church while he was president, this omission is strange to say the least.

Other questions for discussion:

Are these the five areas you would choose to talk about changes in the world? Which ones would you add or subtract from Clinton’s list?

Do you agree that the three biggest challenges facing our world are inequality, instability and unsustainability? Again, what would you substitute or add to these?

What are the theological implications of Clinton’s optimism? Is it justified biblically? If so, under what circumstances? If not, why not?

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