THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 3, 1997
BY MIKE MCCURRY
E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
University of Akron
2:05 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I just wanted to check and see if anyone needs anything before we take off from here and go to Chicago.
Q Did the President speak to Dr. Thernstrom afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: A couple things. The President said afterwards that he loved this forum, he hoped that the future town halls go as well as this one, and he thought there was a lot of value in the dialogue itself because those who witnessed any part of this discussion will see Americans really engaged on the kinds of issues that the President wanted to highlight as part of the solution.
He had a good discussion afterwards with Dr. Thernstrom, and they talked more about the Army's affirmative action program and the question that the President used provocatively I think to try and get some sparks going during the town hall. But they had a good conversation and all the participants, including the three authors, seemed to enjoy it.
Q Did he have that question in his pocket?
Q It seems that there was an overlying kind of black-white issue going at this town hall meeting. Will the President ever for his town hall meetings deal with issues of one race at a time instead of just lumping all the races together in one -- it seemed like the black-white issue prevailed. Then he talked a little bit about Hispanics and about the Asians.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the concept of one America and the President's recognition of diversity in this country suggests that you should not try to deal separately and equally with different racial groups, that you ought to get people having some cross-dialogue. There's certainly racial issues that exist between the black community and the Hispanic community, for instance, and it's important, I think, to keep that kind of dialogue going.
Q Mike, did the President feel that people were really open and honest in their discussion? Because there was a lot of agreement on stage, and if they were being honest, did that mean that this town hall was loaded with people who agreed and had one point of view?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the President detected different points of view there. And I think he worked hard, as you saw, to draw out some of those differences of opinion.
Q Was he at all frustrated that he wasn't able to draw out more -- at the end, he dispensed with the sort of scripted program and tried to get them to be more blunt.
MR. MCCURRY: I think he felt that he did have to work hard to draw people out, but that he had expected that, given that people sometimes have a hard time opening up in front of the President.
Q Mike, is the President going to attend a town hall meeting in Phoenix in January?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. I know that we have additional town halls, but I don't know where they are planned or when they are planned.
Q I've got two questions. Was he surprised or disappointed there were not more concrete suggestions when he went around at the end asking for some?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that the reality is this is a difficult problem and there are no easy answers. I mean, you all kind of come at us often and say, well, where's the concrete ideas here, and the kinds of things that we're doing and the kinds of practices that you can see on display here are the sorts of things that we need to hold up and to emulate and to then reproduce elsewhere. So the President is full aware that it's not easy to come up with solutions and with answers. And that's why when we find things that work, we have to work extra hard to see if we can mass produce them.
Q And to follow up, did he believe he changed Ms. Thernstrom's mind when he had this discussion with her afterward? Does he feel that he made any --
MR. MCCURRY: No, she has a very clear point of view and argues it, I think, very elegantly in her book. The purpose of the discuss was not to change minds, but to understand people's thinking better.
Q Has he read the book?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he has read at least part of it. And I know that he got a very good summary of the argument that had been prepared in advance of this along with excerpts. So he was certainly familiar with her overall argument, the data that she uses to buttress the argument that she presented in a snapshot form at the beginning.
Q How might future town hall meetings be different as a result of what was learned today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President liked having the focus on young people today. And there has been some suggestion that we might in future town halls not put so much of an emphasis on young people. But the President, in talking about this one, and I think as you can see from his reaction, believes that it's particularly important to direct this initiative to those that will profit most from it because they've got more of their lives to live into the next century.
So I think that the focus on youth will likely continue, although we might change format a little bit. We'll certainly go back and look at this one. Clearly, it takes times to get the dialogue going, and the President, I think, got it revved up in overtime. So we may look at adjusting the length of future town halls.
Q Is that why the President extended it like 25 minutes later, because the dialogue really didn't get into full swing until later on?
MR. MCCURRY: Two reasons that he reported afterwards -- one, he wanted to get more chemistry; and, two, he wanted to get more people participating, because not everyone --there were a lot of people there and he could see that they were engaged and he indicated that he wanted to draw more people into the conversation.
Q -- kind of issue out and just let him run it next time?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll go back and look at this and see what worked and what didn't work and make any adjustments.
Q There's been the suggestion that there were too many middle class people there, not enough lower class people, because this is a class issue as well. What do you say to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, my understanding is they made a good-faith effort to try to get a representative sample of people from the Akron community. I think, if anything, we probably had somewhat higher proportional representation of minorities, but I think that's necessary given the subject matter of this dialogue. But I think in terms of the socioeconomic background, they did try to get a representative sample.
Q And some of the people in the audience came away saying that they wished there had been a more in-depth probing of the actual tensions that exist between people of different races, and that they would like to see that happen. Is that a concern that the White House has also of this town hall and a way to address it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, as the President indicated at the beginning, it's important for this kind of discussion to continue long after this town hall is over. So perhaps those that felt that way leaving this meeting will continue exactly that kind of dialogue in their own churches, their own schools, their own workplaces, places where they can gather and continue the conversation.
Q -- the other town hall meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: He intends to participate in the future town halls much as he did today.
Q Mike, how much faith does the President have on polls on race relations and views of that? Thernstrom cited one. He, himself, said that he was sparked to do all this when the racial divide was exposed by the O.J. Simpson trial and how divided opinions were.
MR. MCCURRY: The question is how much -- I couldn't quite here -- but does the President put much faith or stock in public opinion sampling on race issues?
Q Particularly on race -- are people honest when they come --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that public opinion experts would tell you you have to be cautious in looking at data related to race questions because answered in the abstract you get different answers than if you're asked about an individual's own personal attitude. And I think people are generally aware of that. I think, given the sophistication of polling on race-related questions, there probably is a universe of data that's helpful out there. And the President, as he does with all data, takes it for what it is -- just one other source of information that you can use as you make your own judgments.
Q Mike, towards the end -- well, at the end of the program, the President stayed around and talked to a lot of people. He seemed revved up about this. Is he revved up to the point where he's ready to set another date and another place for the next town hall meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: As I already answered, I don't have other places, other dates for you, but, yes, the President is revved up.
What else? Let's go.
Q -- President's view of discussing affirmative action? It seemed at the end he was dismissing that as a genuine topic for --
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. I mean, they spent a large portion of this town hall on this subject, so clearly that's not a correct analysis.
Q Mine was about the affirmative action thing, too. Is it possible to have a discussion just on that? That seems to be where every discussion leads to.
MR. MCCURRY: My strong hunch is that when the President meets with a number of conservative leaders, depending on who actually is able to be there, but if it's the mix that I think the President wants to see, it will probably a conversation largely on that topic.
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily, and we wouldn't make it so. But my guess is that's where the conversation will go.
Any other subjects beyond today? All right. We'll be back regular briefing tomorrow, but no gaggle in the morning given the late arrival for many of you and many of the staff. So we'll just do something later on in the morning. You can check with the office in the morning.
Q Is there anything happening before the Christmas Tree lighting --
MR. MCCURRY: What are we doing tomorrow? I'll have to check and see. We will keep you posted if there is anything. I'll get an update later on about the schedule tomorrow and pass it on to the pool on the flight out to Chicago. So look for a pool report off of that if there is any change -- if there is any schedule information we've got available. I just haven't done a look-ahead to tomorrow yet.
Okay, thank you.