The Aspen Ideas Festival

For the second year, The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute collaborated in July to host the Aspen Ideas Festival, which gathers scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, religious figures, and others for a week of conversation and debate. Participants contribute provocative ideas from their fields, and discuss the world, both as it is and as it might become. Following are some excerpts from this year's discussion.
Bill Clinton
on America’s image in the world

The former president spoke about what the United States could do to burnish its reputation overseas, and argued that foreigners need to feel that America is on their side.

First of all, I think we have to realize … as long as we’re in the position we’re in, or even when others may acquire some greater parity with us on a military … economic [or] political plane … There will always be times when we will be making decisions that some people won’t agree with … [B]ut they need to think that in general we wish them well, and that we are trying to take the world to a place where everybody on earth has a chance to live their dreams and to pursue their faith and to preserve their culture and to make a decent living …

I remember once I was in Sri Lanka, talking to one of the parliamentary leaders of the Tamil Tigers. And we had them on the terrorist list the whole time I was president. And he said, “You know, you had us on the terrorist list the whole time you were president, but I liked you anyway.” And I said, “You did?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I always figured that you wanted my people to have a fair break here, that you thought that Hindus should be treated fairly.” Now, I don’t mean to be self-serving … that’s the first thing that came on my mind. But the point is … you want people to admire and not to resent America. And when they disagree with us, you want them to disagree with us in the way you have a disagreement within your family or your business … You want them to think, basically, we are the good guys on the right side of the history, and we are pulling for them …

There are two Muslim countries where our standing is better than it was a couple of years ago, and they are both important: one, the largest, Indonesia, and the other, the most troublesome, Pakistan, because it’s home to so many Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers—and the reasons are the tsunami and the earthquake … I saw this myself. When former President Bush and I took our first [trip] over to the tsunami area … we visited [these] little kids, and part of their therapy—if they had lost their families during the tsunami—was to draw pictures of what they saw. Picture after picture after picture: American military helicopters dropping food, not bombs, dropping ladders to get people out of isolated places.

Karl Rove
on immigration

Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, made a plea for a system attuned to the realities of immigration, the struggles faced by immigrants, and the promise of American life.

We are working hard on getting control of the borders. But we cannot get control of our borders until we do something about … a man or woman who is making fifty cents an hour in Mexico and can make ten bucks an hour in the United States, for a job that Americans will not do; until we have a system that allows them to come here. We don’t have enough people to stand across the bottom of the border and stop them. We just don’t …

Every bit of evidence we have is that people do not come here in order to stay in America … But we are making it so difficult to get here that what happens is … you scrape together the money to get across the border, you get across the border, you get a job … you can’t go home. [It’s too] tough to get back and forth. His little sister gets married, he can’t go home, it’s too difficult to get back and cross the border … can’t go home for holidays, can’t go home for family. You wake up, you’ve been here for five or ten years, and you say, “I’ve got no connection in that dusty little town in the interior of Mexico. I am staying.”

Who should be surprised at that? What we ought to have is a system that allows him to keep those personal connections, to travel back and forth across the border freely during the time that they are in the United States legally …

Let me say one more thing: there are a lot of really good people who are scared to death about immigration, and we shouldn’t be surprised about it. First of all, because it always happens. I’ve been reading sort of the pre–Civil War history, and boy, talk about—you know, the Mexicans in those days were the Irish … You should hear what politicians in the Midwest said about [us] Norwegians when we were coming in: “root eaters.” I mean … they didn’t like us. This happens, and I understand that. But … we are a great country and have been able to assimilate people from all kinds of backgrounds, from all parts of the world, because we’ve emphasized a shared language, a common tradition … Look, with all … respect, there’s no Filipino dream, there’s no Japanese dream, there’s no Italian dream. But there is an American dream. And some guy standing on a street corner in Addis Ababa knows what it is about.

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