3:24 pm Sep. 25, 20121
"I am violating all protocol today," Bill Clinton told a big crowd packed into the Sheraton ballroom in Midtown for his annual Clinton Global Initiative summit this afternoon. "Because if you're an American citizen, and you introduce the president, you're supposed to say, 'The President of the United States,' and shut up. That's it."
The crowd sensed that was unlikely.
"I just want to make one comment about this; I'm going to finish that speech I started in Charlotte," he said, as the laughs turned to cheers.
Clinton was introducing Barack Obama to the eighth annual summit of business and political leaders, a meeting that was attended this year both by Obama and his opponent, Mitt Romney, within a few hours of each other. But, for all the attention it got (political reporters were packed into overflow rooms even after waiting in line for an hour) the speeches mostly avoided any overt politics.
The point Clinton wanted to make about Obama--with whom he has developed a mutually beneficial friendship of late--was that the president "basically started his life as an NGO" by working as a community organizer, and had proven his commitment to the kinds of global programs advanced by CGI by attending the conference every year since he was a candidate in 2008.
("And then he picked a Secretary of State who was basically a walking NGO," Clinton said, to more laughter.)
Obama called Clinton "a treasure," and joked, again, about appointing him "Secretary of Explaining Things."
He then delivered a sober policy speech about the United States' commitment to ending human trafficking.
The president said the practice "must be called by its true name: modern slavery," and he acknowledged two women in the audience who had broken free from enslavement and become advocates against the practice.
The president's speech came a few hours after Romney spoke. After Clinton introduced him, Romney joked that he was now expecting a Clinton "bounce" of his own.
Romney's speech had a slightly more political subtext. He proposed a hypothetical program called "Prosperity Pacts," and said that foreign aid which elevates people in the long term would be “a much higher priority in a Romney administration.”