August 18, 2000


A Converstation with President Clinton

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 /U.S. Newswire/ — The following is an abridged transcript of an interview of President Clinton by Ron Brownstein of the LA Times:

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Los Angeles
August 11, 2000
4:43 P.M. EDT

Q: One of the things that was a little surprising at the Republican Convention was the extent to which they tried to characterize the meaning of your eight years. Bush said you had coasted through prosperity. Cheney said, these have been years of prosperity in the nation, but little purpose in the White House.

What is your response to that? How do you feel hearing that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it was — on the facts, absurd. So I think what they're trying to do, their strategy seems to be to hope people think it all happened by accident. You know, when they had the White House for 12 years, they took credit every time the sun came up in the morning. And also I think they did it because they fought so much of what we did.

I think they were just trying somehow to get the American people to discount what's happened.

Q: In your mind — this is a legitimate debate — how significant a role did your economic decisions, the '93, the '97 budget, the other things that you've done, how important has that been in the prosperity of the last eight years?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it was pivotal. Because if you remember when we just announced what we were going to do — we announced we would have a deficit reduction plan that would cut the deficit by at least $500 billion. After the election, but before we took office, there was this huge boom in the stock market and interest rates dropped. And then when we passed it, it happened all over again.

Q: A little bit on social policy, on crime, other social trends. Do you think that federal decisions have been significant —

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Q: — in things we've seen on those areas?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think if you look at it, I saw a study the other day — and I'm sorry, I don't remember who did it — which said that about 30 percent of the drop in the crime rate could be clearly attributable to the improvement in the economy. But I think the rest is due to better policing strategies and to more sensible efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The crime bill that we passed in '94 basically was the product of law enforcement officers, community activists, prosecutors, who were beginning to do things that were working at the neighborhood level. But since 1965, between then and 1992, the violent crime rate had tripled and the police forces of the country had gone up only by 10 percent.

So I don't think there's any question that putting 100,000 police in the streets, supporting more community prevention efforts and doing the Brady Bill, the assault weapons ban made a significant contribution. They don't think — the law enforcement people agree. I was in a suburban Republican community yesterday, outside Chicago, and I did what I always do when I leave, line up the police officers — and they had police officers from three different jurisdictions there — and two of them mentioned how important the COPS program had been to them and how much better they were doing as a result of it.

On welfare reform, I think starting with all the waivers we gave to states to experiment with welfare-to-work projects, right through the passage of the bill, and then getting 12,000 companies in the welfare-to-work partnership to commit to hire people off welfare, I don't think there is any question that we have maximized the efforts. There again, some of the welfare decline has to be attributed to the improving economy. But the rest of it has to be attributed to changes in the law and the policies.

Q: So when you look at all of that — the economy, the social trends — to what extent do you consider this election, the November election, a referendum on your two terms, the good and the bad?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it depends entirely on whether people understand what the choices are. And, first, even before that, whether they think it's a significant election. I mean, the most troubling thing to me is — at least before the two conventions — there are a lot of people that are saying, well, things are going along well, this probably doesn't make much difference and I don't know what their differences are, economy, crime, whatever.

I think if people understand with clarity what the choices are, they will clearly make a decision to keep changing in the right direction, because all the surveys show over 60 percent of the people approve of the economic policy, the crime policy, the welfare policy, the health care policy, the general direction of the country — the people support us.

Q: Is defining the stakes in the election one of the goals for your speech?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. But I think primarily that has to be done by Gore and Lieberman. Now, I do that when I'm out on the stump, you know, with our groups, because I want them to be able to go out and talk to other people and communicate that. But I think the American — I can say a few things about what I think the choice should be. But this convention is very important that it belong to Al Gore and, to a lesser extent, to Joe Lieberman, and that they define the choices.

Q: In terms of defining the choices, when Bush and the Republicans define the choice they put a lot of emphasis on changing the tone in Washington, changing the climate in Washington. When he talks about restoring honor and decency to the White House, do you feel as though he's talking about you, personally? Do you take that personally?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, yes and no. Yes, he's talking about me personally; no, I don't take it personally. It's what they have to say. They're wrong on economics; they know the people don't agree with them on crime; they know the people don't agree with them on turning the environment back over to the polluters. They know the people don't agree with them on these issues. They know they can't make the case anymore that helping the environment hurts the economy.

So they basically can't win any of the issues that affect the American people, so they have to divert the attention of the American people. So, no, I don't take it personally.

Q: So it is the public record, in effect, the outward-looking record on which you think the judgment should be rendered and the vote should be based?

THE PRESIDENT: Because that's the only thing that matters to them in their lives. And because, you know, if I were running again they could evaluate me in whole — all my strengths and all my weaknesses. But I'm not running.

However, the things that we stood for — the reason I was thrilled about Lieberman's selection is that we've been working together in the DLC for years; it was a clear statement from Al Gore that he's going to continue this new democratic course; it should be encouraging to independents and moderate republicans that there will be a basis for bipartisan cooperation; and that we're going to continue the kinds of change that have wrought so much good in this
country in the last eight years.

Q: Let me ask you to sort of take a step back and think about the political ledger for a minute. You've become the first Democrat to be reelected since Roosevelt. The party was averaging about 50 electoral votes an election in the three elections before you. So, clearly, there has been a restoration of the capacity to compete at the presidential level.

On the other hand, you've lost Congress, fewer governors, and Gore is in this ambiguous position here as the campaign begins — or in the middle of the campaign. Do you feel that you are leaving the Democratic Party in a stronger position than, in effect, when you found it in the fall of '91?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, I do. Because a lot of those congressional seats we held because we had a guy who had been there for a long, long time, while the districts had been changing, more republican. I feel terrible about what I did to weaken our position in Congress and, by extension, probably in the governorships in '94, because we got all the down side of voting for the crime bill — that is, the NRA was out there telling all those people we're going to take their guns away, and they hadn't seen it work and they hadn't
seen that the fear tactics were wrong.

We got the down side of voting for the economic plan because people didn't feel the economy going better. And the republicans were out there telling everybody we raised their taxes. In fact, you know, for most people, the vast majority, they didn't get their taxes raised. We had more tax cuts than tax increases. But there was this general sense of, well, nothing is really all that much better yet. And I felt terrible because — you know, I got the benefit in '96 and
we began to win seats back.

But what I think now is, the '98 election I think was a true watershed election, because the President's party won seats in the House for the first time since 1822, in the sixth year of a presidency. That was a long time ago. And even though we only won five, they thought they were going to win 20 or 30 and they spent $100 million more than we did. They thought they were going to win four to six Senate seats and they didn't win any.

This year, we're well positioned to pick up seats in the House and the Senate; in '98, Senator Hollings was reelected, we got a democratic governor in South Carolina, we got a democratic governor in Alabama, we got a Democratic governor in Georgia, we got two African American state-elected officials in Georgia. I think Zell Miller will be elected in Georgia in November.

So I think that the Democratic Party is coming back and I think that it is a party reborn in the direction that we have taken in the last eight years.

END 5:25 P.M. EDT

Return to Frontpage