President Barack Obama brought a strong message to the audience of a thousand heads of state, diplomates, CEOs, major philanthropists, and movie stars at the Clinton Global Initiative this evening: "Real progress doesn't just come from the top down - not just from govt - it comes from the bottom up, from real people."
Kicking off this fifth annual gathering with a speech that publicly cemented his growing partnership with Bill Clinton - the husband of his former political rival - the President stressed his community organizing experience and the non-governmental work of his late mother.
"My mother understood that whether you live in the foothills of Java or the skyscrapers of Manhattan, we all share common principles: justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings," said the President. "And we all share common aspirations, for ourselves and our children: to get an education, to work with dignity, and to live in peace and security."
That meshed well with Clinton's remarks while waiting the Obama motorcade to wind its way through a gridlocked midtown: the President was the first to come into office with experience nonprofit experience "and that's a very good thing."
President Obama praised the CGI attendees and took note of the gathering's five-year record of achievement, including its 1,400 commitments affecting the lives of 200 million people around the world.
"That's how we'll confront the challenges of our time," he said. "Standing together, working together, building together... That's the spirit that I see here tonight -- the spirit that says we can rise above the barriers that too often divide us."
The President began his remarks on a light note, razzing President Clinton on his golf score an about monopolizing his wife's schedule. "I've always appreciated President Clinton's valuable advice and the ideas he's offered my administration. I do understand that the President has been having trouble getting a hold of my Secretary of State lately. (Laughter.) But I hope he doesn't mind, because Hillary Clinton is doing an outstanding job for this nation and we are so proud of her."
Then he praised the former President choice to found CGI. After leaving office, said Obama, Clinton asked, "What can I do to keep making a difference?"And what an extraordinary difference he, working with all of you, have made. For the victims of disaster, from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, he's made a difference. For those in need, from parents and children battling HIV/AIDS to your efforts today on behalf of the people of Haiti, he's made a difference. It's no exaggeration: Around the world, Bill Clinton has helped to improve -- and save -- the lives of millions. That is no exaggeration."
And CGI, said the President, is increasingly important in an interconnected world. "We need a new spirit of global partnership," the president said. "That is the spirit that guides this organization. I hope that is the spirit that guides my administration."