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President Bill Clinton's keynote at Presidential Ideas Festival

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Presidents Obama, Clinton
Then-President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former President Bill Clinton in the East Room at the White House in November 2013 in Washington.
Alex Wong | Getty Images 2013

Former President Bill Clinton gives the closing keynote address at the Presidential Ideas Festival held last week at the University of Virginia.

He was asked to reflect on the role of the presidency through history and look to the future. 

Clinton told the audience that the president's role is to expand the definition of "we the people," and to find ways to make "a more perfect union." 

Reflecting on eras such as the Great Depression and the Civil War, Clinton said, "it seems like something terrible has to happen to get us to expand the definition of 'we the people.'"

"There is a war in America," he added, "between inclusive tribalism and divisive tribalism ... We need the president to speak for a bigger 'we the people,' not a smaller one."

The role of the president, Clinton said, is "carrying your hopes for a more perfect union." 

Speaking about his own presidency, Clinton said, "my often stated definition of making our union more perfect is this: I thought my job was to widen the circle of opportunity, to deepen the meaning of freedom and to strengthen the bonds of our community." 

President Clinton spoke May 23, 2019 at the Presidential Ideas Festival hosted by the University of Virginia's Miller Center.