I felt like a little kid who’d gotten the Golden Ticket from Willie Wonka when I’d I found out I was one of the lucky few journalists who would be allowed to hear President Bill Clinton speak to a standing-room only (oh, who am I trying to kid — the crowd filled an enormous auditorium and two overflow rooms where the speech was televised) crowd at Solar Power International. By contract, President Clinton decides who among the media gets to cover his events, and as of Tuesday afternoon, there was still some question if Solar Power World would make the list.
Then word came down, in hushed whispers in Press Room 206-A, as if I were being inducted into a secret fraternity, that I had indeed been one of the chosen ones — and I got my golden wristband (no joke, it was gold) that would give me access to his speech.
The man who nearly brought down the house at the Democratic National Convention a mere week before wasn’t as fiery here as he was there. But as always, he was committed, passionate and thoughtful. I’d heard from fellow reporters who’d had the opportunity to meet with the president about his flawless memory and his ability to talk about any subject without notes. He displayed that ability proudly during the Q&A session with SEIA President Rhone Resch after his speech.
But what made his speech so powerful (a silent crowd hung on his every word, cheering frequently at some of his best lines) was his obvious love of the solar industry.
“I like you guys, and I believe in what you’re doing,” Clinton told the crowd. “You are going to win this battle. You all know this. It’s just a matter of when. You are all in the future business.”
His main theme, repeated forcefully and without apology, was that the industry has done a lousy job of telling its story to the American people.
“Since no one on the solar side has told the American people the truth about the Solyndra story, the American people can be forgiven if they believe the Republican myths,” Clinton said. “You have to tell your story. You have to tell it far and wide. You can’t just expect people to get it.
“You have a good story. Tell it,” he said.
[I took exception here: I've been screaming from the rooftops since my first day on the job that the Solyndra "scandal" was full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Note to self: I need to get President Clinton on our e-newsletter list.]
And here’s the broader point that I think is highly relevant: We need more high-profile solar advocates like Clinton. And, barring that, we need to tell our stories as forcefully as he did every day.
We need to put a national face on the industry with people like him who can forcefully make our case to the American people. And we need to stop expecting others to get it just because the logic of an American solar future is impeccable and unbreakable.
We have to tell our stories — the thousands of successes we’ve had and the immense successes we will continue to have — every day. We have to respond so the silliness that permeates so much of our solar discussions on a local level. The power that President Clinton spoke of is in our hands. Let’s not let our great story slip through those hands because we’re too busy succeeding to make the case.