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Romney’s Clinton Global Initiative Speech

Yesterday I noted that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had given foreign policy speeches in New York, which offered an opportunity for contrast. In yesterday’s post, I dissected Obama’s speech to the United Nations. Today it is Romney’s turn.

First, I should note that Paul criticized Romney for participating in an event with Bill Clinton, which Paul called a “lovefest.” While experience has taught me rarely to disagree with Paul, I think his criticism was too strong. After being introduced by Clinton, Romney did engage in some friendly banter:

Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate the kind words and your invitation here today.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good. After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce.

Since serving as President here in America, President Clinton has devoted himself to lifting the downtrodden around the world. One of the best things that can happen to any cause, to any people, is to have Bill Clinton as its advocate. That is how needy and neglected causes have become global initiatives. It is that work that invites us here today.

I don’t know enough about Clinton’s Global Initiative to judge whether that praise is deserved, but I assume it was sincere. Notwithstanding Romney’s kind words for Bill Clinton, his concluding paragraph included a shot at President Obama and his Secretary of State:

A year from now, I hope to return to this meeting as president, having made substantial progress toward achieving the reforms I’ve outlined. But I also hope to remind the world of the goodness and the bigness of the American heart. I will never apologize for America. I believe that America has been one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known. We can hold that knowledge in our hearts with humility and unwavering conviction.

But that wasn’t the subject of Romney’s speech, which was about foreign aid. Foreign aid is one of the perennial whipping boys of American politics, but it seemed to me that Romney took a measured and creative–not to mention conservative–approach to the subject:

We wonder why years of aid and relief seem never to extinguish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade.
 
Perhaps some of our disappointments are due to our failure to recognize just how much the developing world has changed.  Many of our foreign aid efforts were designed at a time when government development assistance accounted for roughly 70 percent of all resources flowing to developing nations.  Today, 82 percent of the resources flowing into the developing world come from the private sector. If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives. 
 
Private enterprise is having a greater and greater positive impact in the developing world. The John Deere Company embarked upon a pilot project in Africa where it developed a suite of farm tools that could be attached to a very small tractor.  John Deere has also worked to expand the availability of capital to farmers so they can maintain and develop their businesses.  The result has been a good investment for John Deere and greater opportunity for African farmers, who are now able to grow more crops, and to provide for more plentiful lives.
 
For American foreign aid to become more effective, it must embrace the power of partnerships, access the transformative nature of free enterprise, and leverage the abundant resources that can come from the private sector. …

To foster work and enterprise in the Middle East and in other developing countries, I will initiate “Prosperity Pacts.”  Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.

The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise. Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America’s own economy–free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation. …

The best example of the good free enterprise can do for the developing world is the example of the developed world itself.  My friend Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out that before the year 1800, living standards in the West were appalling.  A person born in the eighteenth century lived essentially as his great-great-grandfather had.  Life was filled with disease and danger.
 
But starting in 1800, the West began two centuries of free enterprise and trade.  Living standards rose.  Literacy spread.  Health improved.  In our own country, between 1820 and 1998, real per capita GDP increased twenty-two-fold.

Those are themes that should warm the heart of every conservative. More important, they have the virtue of being true. In comparing the speeches that the two presidential candidates delivered yesterday, I give the edge to Romney by a wide margin.

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