THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 7, 2000
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE
Aboard Air Force One
En route Los Angeles, California
November 2, 2000
2:45 P.M. EST
Q Thank you for your time, I appreciate it. It takes time to do
something like this.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
Q Why do you think the race is so tight, given the economy, the
issues, the incumbency. How could it get to be this close?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think for one thing, things have been good for
a long time and I think a lot of people may take it for granted and may not
have -- they may not be as clear as they should be, which I hope we can use
the last week to do, on what specific policies contributed to it and what
could undermine it. I think that's one issue.
I also think that, you know, there's not as much general awareness as
there might be about the differences between the two parties on health
care, education, the environment and crime, where I believe that the things
we've done over the last eight years had a measurable impact on all those
things going in the right direction.
And a lot of -- most presidential races are fairly close, you know,
because a lot of presidential voting is cultural.
Q The way you were raised.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the way you were raised, and sort of the
neighborhood you live in, your socio-economic and ethnic background. I
mean, a lot of it's cultural. So I think there are a lot of reasons it's
Also, keep in mind, in the history of our republic, only two Vice
Presidents have ever been directly elected President. One of them, when
Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson, we were effectively a one-party
country then. And the other, when George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis,
the country was not in as good a shape as it is now, but it was in pretty
good shape. And Bush basically destroyed Dukakis. It was a hugely
negative campaign with a lot of charges that were never effectively
So this has been a much more positive race. There have been
differences on the issues, but neither one of them has called each other's
patriotism into question or whether they're normal Americans. Basically,
the wrap that was put on Dukakis was like reverse plastic surgery. So I
think that that explains it largely.
Q At the end of the interview I'm going to ask you to make a bet
What physical change in you says that you've served eight years and
it's a job that really takes a toll?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I'm in better shape, better health than
I was eight years ago, in a lot of ways. My hair is gray, I think that's
about it. I've got a few wrinkles I didn't have eight years ago.
But I've held up pretty well. I've had a good time. I've enjoyed it.
I couldn't help my hair going gray, it would probably have gone gray if I
hadn't become President.
Q One of the most important jobs that you, as a President, have is
to talk to the country in the wake of national tragedies, frame the issues
for the American people. I'm going to ask you about two of the things that
happened during your two terms: the Oklahoma City bombing and the
Where were you when you first heard about the Oklahoma City bombing
and what was your first reaction, personally? And then how did you think
you should frame that to the American people, to help them understand
what's really a national trauma? And where were you when you heard it?
THE PRESIDENT: I was in the White House. I believe I was in the
White House, because I remember making a statement at the beginning, right
in the Rose Garden, saying what you would expect me to say, expressing the
nation's sympathy for the loss, but also urging the American people not to
jump to conclusions about who had done it.
Remember in the beginning, there were a lot of people saying it was
obviously some sort of act of foreign terrorism. There was one man that
was brought back on an airplane, he was flying out of the country through
to London and he was brought back, suspected of maybe being involved, and
he wasn't. And, of course, subsequently, it was a domestic terrorist act.
But then when I went to Oklahoma, at the memorial service, what I
tried to do was to elevate what the people who had been working in that
building were doing, they were all public servants. And it was at a time
when it was quite fashionable to bash the government. And I told myself,
even, that I would never refer to people who worked for the government --
even in agencies I thought weren't performing well -- as bureaucrats again,
because this whole -- we have gotten for more than a dozen years a sort of
demeaning rhetoric about the nature of government and the nature of public
service. And I tried to point out that these people were our friends and
our neighbors and our relatives, and they were an important part of
America's family and that their service ought to be honored in that way.
And also, obviously, I took a strong stand against terrorism. And I
was able -- later I went to Michigan State and gave a commencement speech
and tried to amplify on that. But I really believe that was the turning of
the tide in the venom of anti-government feeling.
Q Did you see -- was it a conscience thought to you that this could
be the turning of the tide, and if you focused it correctly, if you said,
you know, you can't love your country if you hate your government, that
this would crystallize that feeling?
THE PRESIDENT: I think I felt that after I had some time to think
about it. In the beginning I was just horrified about all those people
dying, all those little kids killed and hurt.
Q What I'm trying to get at is, once beyond that obvious first
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I mean, it occurred to me that -- you know, the
American people are fundamentally decent and they've got a lot of sense.
And I thought that this might break a fever that had been gripping us for
too long. And I think it did.
Q And you thought, if I can take advantage of this opportunity -- I
mean, to have this tragedy -- in every tragedy comes an opportunity, so is
this an opportunity where I can make people re-think that idea.
THE PRESIDENT: I think in a way, at least at some -- maybe not even
at a conscious level the American people were re-thinking it. And I think
maybe that's why what I said at the memorial service struck a responsive
chord in the country.
Q What I'm trying to get at is, was that a deliberate thought on
your part? That I have an opportunity as President
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I thought that -- yes, I was conscious of what I
Q Did you connect it in some way to a kind of metaphorical
bomb-throwing of Newt Gingrich, of the real anti-government stance that he
was taking at the time?
THE PRESIDENT: I was careful not to do that. I wanted it to change
the American peoples' attitude toward public servants and their government.
But to do it you had to focus on what happened.
One of the things that I didn't like about Newt -- and he certainly
wasn't responsible in any way for the Oklahoma City bombing, because one of
the things I didn't like about him is he was always blaming the 1960s or
liberals for everything that went wrong. When that woman, Susan Smith,
drove her kids into the lake in South Carolina, he blamed the 1960s, and it
turned out that the poor woman had been sexually abused by her father, her
stepfather, who was on the local board of the Christian Coalition or
And when that woman dropped her kid out of the window in Chicago, he
blamed the welfare culture. He was always blaming. So I didn't want to
get into where I was doing reverse blame. I just wanted to try to make it
clear to the American people that we shouldn't have a presumption against
government in general or public servants in particular.
Q What about Columbine? Where did you first hear the news about
that? And, again, what was your reaction to that?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe I was in the White House when I heard that,
but I'm not sure. But I know that I called the local officials and the
school officials from the Oval Office. You know, that was only the most
recent and the most grotesque of a whole series of highly visible school
shootings that we've had -- a number of them in the south, one of them in
Jonesboro, Arkansas, that was in my home state, and I knew some of the
people who were involved, who run the school and in the county and in the
There was one in Pearl, Mississippi, and there was --
Q One in Oregon.
THE PRESIDENT: The one in Springfield, Oregon. What I thought there
was that -- I thought a lot of things. I thought, number one, how did
those kids get all those guns and how could they have had that kind of
arsenal without their parents knowing? And I thought, after I read a
little about it, how did they get so lost without anybody finding them
before they went over the edge?
We had a spate of -- before all these killings associated with that
kind of darkness on the net, network --
Q What do you mean, darkness on the net?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, those kids were apparently into some sort of a
-- weren't they into some sort of satanic-like thing?
Q No, they had their websites and --
THE PRESIDENT: Their websites, yes. There were, earlier, a number of
kids who killed themselves who were into talking to each other about
destruction, but they weren't killing other people. And I just kept -- I
worry that -- I worried then, I worry now about the people in our society,
particularly children, that just drift off and no one knows, or people feel
helpless to do anything about it.
You know, I couldn't help thinking, wondering whether those kids could
have been saved if somebody got to them, and then whether all those other
children would still be alive.
Q It seemed shocking to me and a lot of other people that after
that there was no -- we didn't get any new gun control legislation after an
event like that.
THE PRESIDENT: It's going to be interesting to see what the voters in
Colorado to. They have a provision on the ballot now in Colorado to close
the gun show loophole. And it's a heavily Republican state and I think
it's going to pass.
THE PRESIDENT: I think what happened is that -- well, first of all,
you can't say nothing came out of it, because there was an organization of
young people in Colorado that then organized kids all over the country for
common sense gun legislation. They got about 10,000 kids involved. Now we
have the Million Mom March, and they're very active.
But the truth is that when legislation time comes that a lot of the
people in Congress are still frightened of the NRA, because even though
there is broad public support for these measures, they are still not
primary voting issues for a lot of the people who are for them. Whereas,
the NRA can muster an enormous percentage of the vote -- maybe 15 percent,
maybe even 20 sometimes for who -- that's a primary voting issue.
So if you've got an issue where you're ahead 60-30, but in your 60
it's a primary voting issue for 10 percent of the people, and in their 30
it's a primary voting issue for 20 percent of the people, the truth is,
you're a net loser by 10 percent. That's the way -- that's what happens in
Congress and state legislatures. They're genuinely afraid.
Q They know they could lose their seats.
THE PRESIDENT: You see the tirade that Charlton Heston has carried on
against Al Gore and me, before -- saying that I was glad some of these
people were killed because it gave me an excuse to take people's guns away.
We never proposed anything that would take anybody's guns away.
I saw a special -- you may have seen it on television the other night
on ABC. Peter Jennings actually went out and went to some of these gun
shows. And he was talking to all these people who were absolutely
convinced that we wanted to take their guns away. The NRA is great at
raising money and building their organizational power by terrifying people
with inflammatory rhetoric. I guess that's why, since LBJ passed the first
law after Bobby Kennedy was killed, I was the first President to take him
Q You got Brady and assault through. But why didn't you take the
opportunity with this post-Columbine atmosphere? I mean, you called the
White House Conference on Violence immediately --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I did, I tried --
Q But it focused on, like, violence in the media --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but we also did lots and lots and lots of events
Q -- and then you thought you could reason with the NRA.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I didn't think I could reason with the NRA. I
thought Congress would be so shocked and the public was so galvanized that
we had a window of opportunity.
Q Right. And what happened to that, is my question.
THE PRESIDENT: The Republican leadership just delayed until the fever
went down. That's what happened. They knew that they couldn't afford to
have their members voting wrong on closing the gun show loophole or banning
the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, which allows people to
get around the assault weapons ban.
Q Were you powerless to do something about that?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we had tons of events. And we got a vote -- if
you'll remember, we finally got a vote in the Senate, where you can bring
things up, where we got a majority vote for it. Al Gore broke the tie --
another reason he ought to be President, he broke the tie.
But we couldn't get a bill out of a conference committee that had it
in there. If we could ever have gotten a clean
Q You would have won that vote.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely.
Q And beat that --
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. We could win the vote today if you could
get a vote. But the leadership of the Republican Party, as long as they're
in the majority in both Houses, they can control things -- especially in
the House, you can write the rules so that you can just keep stuff from
Q So despite your power, despite that event --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And we had lots and lots and lots of events at
the White House, not just one. We had a ton of events, we brought people
in, we talked about it, we pushed and pushed. We finally got the vote in
the Senate. We got 50 votes, then Al broke the tie, we got 51. And
there's no question that we could pass it.
But I'll remind you that one of reasons that Democrats are in the
minority today in the House is because of the Brady law and the assault
weapons ban. And, interestingly enough, we didn't -- there is not a single
hunter has missed an hour, not a single sports shooter has missed an event
-- an hour hunting, I should have finished the sentence -- or a single
sports shooter has missed an event. But they acted like the end of the
world, but a half million felons, fugitives and stalkers haven't gotten
handguns because of the Brady law.
The ironic thing is, there's no reason here -- when we tried to pass
the Brady law they said, well, this won't do any good because all these
criminals get their guns either one-on-one or at gun shows or urban flea
Q Let me change the subject. This is absolutely
THE PRESIDENT: I feel passionately about this, and I'm glad I took
them on. I'm just sorry I couldn't win more. There are a lot of good
people out there in America who work hard, their only recreation is hunting
and fishing; they don't follow politics all that closely; they get these
NRA mailings -- they're good people, but they think they can believe these
folks. And they know that if they can stir them up, they can raise more
money and increase their membership. And they do it by basically
Q How would you characterize race relations today, as compared to
when you took office?
THE PRESIDENT: I think they're considerably better.
Q In what ways?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, the country is changing,
it's growing ever more diverse and, therefore, more and more people are
having more contacts across racial, ethnic and religious lines. And I
think that, ultimately, the more people relate to each other, the more they
come to not just tolerate -- I don't like the word "tolerance" in this
context because it implies that one group is superior, putting up with an
inferior group and tolerating them.
I think the more they come to genuinely appreciate each other's
heritage, find it interesting and find a fundamental common humanity. I
think a lot of it is just systematic human contact. And beyond the human
contact, I think that the race initiative we started led to hundreds of
efforts all over the country to have honest conversations. You know,
sometimes people work around each other for years and they don't know the
first thing about one another. Forget about race, I mean, there are people
who probably work in the White House who see each other every day that
don't know the first thing about one another.
So I think that the one thing we did was to spark all these
conversations and also to highlight systematic efforts that were working in
local communities and try to get them replicated around the country -- in
communities, in work places, in schools. I think that there was a genuine
effort to deal with that.
I think the third thing is that we may have had some impact on it, I
and my administration, because we were so much more diverse than any other
administration in history. And I think people felt -- who had never felt
that way before -- that the White House was their house, too, the
government was their government, too. So I think the climate in the
country was positive for that.
Q And you sense that change in climate from those factors in --
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Look at the difference --
Q Because this is one of your main priorities.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And look at the difference in the rhetoric in
the presidential campaign this year. All the rhetoric is about racial
inclusion. Now, you know, we could argue about the policies. I think that
the Republican policies are still divisive, but the rhetoric is about
inclusion. And even they -- a number of their members have taken a
different tack on immigration.
Q Do you have any special message to young people, any sort of
valedictorian thoughts to the kids in school right now, as you leave
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. First of all, I think that they should
realize that they're very fortunate to be living in this country at this
time. Fortunate because of our economic prosperity, fortunate because of
our enormous diversity and fortunate because of the permeation of
technology in our society, all of which enables us to relate to the rest of
the world and to one another in different and better ways.
Secondly, I think they should understand that our future success is
not guaranteed and depends upon their interest in public affairs, as well
as their private lives, and their participation. One of the things that's
really concerned me about this election is all these articles that say that
young people think there is not much in it for them. I think maybe that's
because there has been a lot of debate about Social Security and Medicare
in the debate. They think that's an old folks' issue.
But it's actually not just an old folks' issue, because when all of us
baby boomers retire -- and I'm the oldest of the baby boomers, the baby
boomers are people that are between the ages now of 54 and 36. So when we
retire -- unless everybody starts having babies at a much more rapid rate,
or we have hugely greater immigration -- there will only be two people
working for every one person drawing Social Security. Now, more of us are
going to have to work into our later years. And more of us have a choice
now because -- one of the good things that Congress did unanimously was to
lift the earnings limit on Social Security.
But, anyway, even the Social Security issue is a youth issue. Why?
Because the baby boomers, most of them I know are obsessed with our
retirement not imposing an undue burden on our children and our
grandchildren. But there are all these other issues. We have to build a
clean energy future to avoid global warming.
Two stunning studies have come out in the last month and because of
the presidential campaign they've not been much noticed. One analysis of a
polar icecap says that the 1990s were the warmest decade in a thousand
years. The other projecting study estimates that if we don't change our
greenhouse gas emissions the climate could warm between 2.4 and 10 degrees
over the next century -- 2.4 is too much. Ten degrees would literally
flood a lot of Louisiana and Florida. This is a very serious thing.
Then you've got this incredible scientific and technological
revolution that will lead to, among other things, if you just take the
human genome alone, a lot of the young people in America today, when they
have their children they'll get a little gene card to take home with them
from the hospital; and their children will be born with a life expectancy
of 90 years, because they'll be able to avoid so many of the illnesses and
problems that they have a biological propensity to.
So this is a fascinating time to be alive. But it's not free of
challenges. So I would say to the young people you ought to be grateful
you're alive at this time, you'll probably live in the most prosperous,
interesting time in human history; but there are a lot of big challenges
out there and you have to be public citizens as well as private people.
Q Do you think that people should go to jail for possessing or
using or even selling small amounts of marijuana?
THE PRESIDENT: I think, first of all --
Q This is after -- we're not publishing until after the election.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been
de-criminalized in most places and should be. I think that what we really
need -- one of the things that I ran out of time before I could do is a
re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment.
Some people deliberately hurt other people. And if they get out of
prison -- if they get in prison and they get out, they'll hurt them again.
And they ought to be in jail because they can't be trusted to be on the
streets. Some people do things that are so serious they have to be put in
jail to discourage other people from doing similar things.
But a lot of people are in prison today because they, themselves, have
drug problems or alcohol problems. And too many of them are getting out --
particularly out of the state systems -- without treatment, without
education, without skills, without serious effort at job placement.
Q You're talking about any offender?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. But there are tons of people in prison who are
non-violent offenders, who have drug-related charges that are directly
related to their own drug problems.
Q Don't you think those people -- should we be putting non-violent
drug offenders in jail at all, or should we put them in treatment programs
that are more fitting and not --
THE PRESIDENT: I think it depends on what they did. You know, I have
some experience with this. Let me just say --
Q Well, I remember your experience is based on your brother's --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say about my brother -- whom I love
and am immensely proud of, because he kicked a big cocaine habit. I mean,
his habit got up to four grams a day; he had a serious, serious habit. He
was lucky to live through that. But if he hadn't had the constitution of
an ox, he might not have.
I think if he hadn't gone to prison, actually been put away forcibly
somewhere, I think his problem was so serious it is doubtful that he would
have come to grips with it. I mean, he was still denying that he was
addicted right up until the time that he was sentenced. So I'm not so sure
that incarceration is all bad, even for drug offenders, depending on the
facts. I think there are some --
Q I meant --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. I think the sentences in many
cases are too long for non-violent offenders. I think the sentences are
too long and the facilities are not structured to maximize success when the
people get out. Keep in mind, 90 percent of the people that are in the
penitentiary are going to get out. So society's real interest is seeing
that we maximize the chance that when they get out, that they can go back
to being productive citizens, that they'll get jobs, they'll pay taxes,
they'll be good fathers and mothers, that they'll do good things.
I think this whole thing needs to be re-examined. Even in the federal
system, these sentencing guidelines --
Q You've got mandatory minimums -- would you do away with those?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, most judges think we should. I certainly think
they should be re-examined. And the disparities are unconscionable between
crack and powdered cocaine. I tried to change the disparities and the
Republican Congress was willing to narrow, but not eliminate, them on the
theory that people who use crack are more violent than people who use
cocaine. Well, what they really meant was that people who use crack are
more likely to be poor and, coincidentally, black or brown and, therefore,
not have money. Whereas, people who use cocaine were more likely to be
rich, pay for it and therefore be peaceable.
But my own view is if you do something violent, it's appropriate to
have an incarceration. But I think we need a serious re-examination in the
view toward what would make us a more peaceful, more productive society. I
think some of this, our imprisonment policies, are counterproductive. And
now, you know, you have in a lot of places where, before the economy picked
up, prison-building was a main source of economic activity and prison
employment was one of the big areas of job growth.
Q Do you think people should lose access to college loans because
they've been convicted of smoking pot? Which is now law.
THE PRESIDENT: No. I think that, first of all --
Q I mean, those are people that seem to need a loan the most.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don't believe, by and large, in
permanent lifetime penalties. There is a bill in Congress today that has
bipartisan support that I was hoping would pass before I left office, but I
feel confident it will in the next year or two -- which would restore
voting rights to people after their full sentences have been discharged and
they wouldn't have to apply for a federal pardon to get it. I changed the
law in Arkansas -- when I was attorney general I changed the voting rights
law in 1977, to restore voting rights to people when they had discharged
their sentence. And my state is one of the relatively few states in the
country where you do not have to get a pardon from the governor to register
to vote again -- or from the federal government, for that matter.
Look, it depends on what your theory is. But I don't believe in
making people wear a chain for life. If they get a sentence from a jury,
if they serve it under the law, if they discharge their sentence, the rest
of us have an interest in a safe society, in a successful society and
seeing that these folks go back to productive lives. You know, keeping
them with a scarlet letter on their forehead for the rest of their lives,
and a chain around their neck, is not very productive.
Q Just to wrap this up, do you think that we need a major re-think
of what these drug sentencing laws are?
THE PRESIDENT: Not just drugs. I think we need to look at who's in
prison, what are the facts --
Q Well, they're filled with drug prisoners, these jails.
THE PRESIDENT: -- most of them are related to drug or alcohol abuse,
but there are some non-violent offenders unrelated to drug or alcohol abuse
-- which is not to say that I don't think white collar criminals should
ever go to jail. But I think we need to examine -- the natural tendency of
the American people, because most of us are law-abiding, is to think when
somebody does something bad, we ought to put them in jail and throw the key
And what I think is we need a discriminating view. There are some
people who should be put in jail and throw the key away, because they can't
help hurting other people. And I believe that one of the reasons for the
declining crime rate is that we have a higher percentage of the people in
jail who commit a lot of the crimes; a very small percentage of the people
are multiple, habitual criminals. And if you could get a significant
percentage of them in jail, the crime rate goes way down.
Now, on the other hand, there are a whole lot of other people in jail
who will never commit another crime, particularly if they have -- if they
get free of drugs or free of their alcohol abuse, and if they education and
training and if somebody will give them a job and give them another chance.
And what I think we need is a serious re-examination of what we've
done, because we've done a lot of good in identifying people who are
habitual criminals and keeping them in prison longer, and that's one of the
reasons that the crime rate has gone down, along with community policing
and improving the economy. But we also have just captured a whole lot of
people who are in jail, I think, longer than they need to be in prison, and
then get out without adequate drug treatment, job training or job
But the society is moving on this. I notice now back in Washington
there is a really good program where -- maybe two, that I know -- where
they try to keep people who go to prison in touch with their children, and
they use the Internet so they can e-mail back and forth. They try to, in
other words, not cut people off so completely that they lose all hope and
all incentive of returning to normal life and they try not to damage these
kids so badly, to reduce the chances that the kids will follow in their
Q Let me change the subject.
THE PRESIDENT: I think we need a whole new look at that. The
sentencing guidelines, the disparities, are only a part of it. We have to
look at how long should certain people go to prison from the point of view
of what's good for society. We need to completely rethink it. Because
criminal laws and sentencing tend to be passed sort of seriatim in response
to social problems at the moment.
Q You, in general, restored judicial discretion and replace the
kind of panic legislation that was passed about crack or --
THE PRESIDENT: The reasons for the sentencing guidelines in the first
place was to try to reduce the arbitrary harshness. It wasn't because they
wanted to make sure everybody went to jail for a while; it was because the
citizen guidelines tended to be abusive on the other end of the spectrum.
I think we may need some sentencing guidelines, but I think the
impact, the practical impact of the ones we have has led to some people
going to prison for longer than they should and longer than they would have
under the old system. So there should be some more flexibility than there
Q I'm going to change the subject. The Balkans was your only major
military engagement. What was it like to run a war night after night? I
mean, was it your mentality in feeling that as all of that was going on as
you go to sleep every night?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I went to sleep every night praying that it
would end that night and that Milosevic would give in, praying that no
Q You were literally praying?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Praying that nobody would die, no American would
die, and hoping that no innocent civilians would die -- but knowing that
You know, it's easy for people to talk about war when it's appropriate
to use military force, but you have to know that once human beings start
using big, powerful weapons, there will be unintended consequences. We
wound up bombing the Chinese embassy, innocent people died. We hit a
school bus. And we have the most skilled Air Force and the most
sophisticated weapons in all human history.
In the Gulf War, which is normally thought of as a hundred-hour war,
and a model of sort of technical proficiency, we had four and a half months
to settle in and prepare there and still a lot of the American casualties
were from friendly fire. The same thing happened even in the small
engagement in Grenada, and President Reagan. These things happen. There
are -- once you start killing people, there will be unintended
Q How do you get yourself personally comfortable -- I mean, how do
you get yourself, as a person and as a politician, ready to make that
decision with a level of comfort you're now going to go ahead and do this?
THE PRESIDENT: You have to be convinced that the consequences of
inaction would be more damaging to more people and to your country. And in
the case of Kosovo, I didn't think it was a close case. They had already
killed several thousand Kosovars and they were running a million of them
out of their homes, 800,000. It was a clean case of ethnic cleansing.
And I thought the United States and our European allies had to stand
up against it; we couldn't let it happen in the heart of Europe. If we did
that, we would lose the ability to stop it anywhere else.
Q And wouldn't it be on your conscience in some way, for having
failed to stop it?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Look, it took us -- one of the things
that just tore at me -- and in the end it didn't require much military
engagement, although it required some -- was how long it took me to build a
consensus. It took me two years to build a consensus among our allies for
military action in Bosnia. And you know, what happened there was, after
the slaughter at Srbenica we finally got -- you know, everybody said, okay,
let's go -- we did a few air strikes and all of a sudden we were at Dayton
and the peace talks. And for all the raggedness of it, the Bosnian peace
has held and it's better now, because we turned back the tide of ethnic
But over 200,000 people died there. And I just knew, you know, there
is no point in letting it happen again in Kosovo.
Q How do you feel, then, about Rwanda? I mean, clearly it's a
difference -- you didn't have the allies, you didn't have intelligence, all
kinds of things. Is there anything that we could have done to prevent it?
And whether there was or not, it happened while you were President -- do
you feel any responsibility in that, personally?
THE PRESIDENT: I feel terrible about it. One of the reasons that I
went to Tanzania to be with Mandela and try to talk to the Burundians into
the peace agreement -- because before my time, over 200,000 people were
killed in Burundi. Same deal
-- the Hutus and the Tutsis, same tribes, fighting the same battles.
In Rwanda, the thing that was shocking about Rwanda was that it
happened so fast and it happened with almost no guns. The idea that
700,000 people could be killed in a hundred days, mostly with machetes, is
hard to believe. It was an alien territory, we weren't familiar. After
that, we began working very earnestly in Africa to train troops to be able
to go in and prevent such things. We worked very hard with something
called the Africa Crisis Response Initiative.
And when I was in Senegal I actually went out of Dakar to another city
to watch a training exercise -- at least a parade exercise -- and talk to
the troops from Senegal, that our American soldiers were working with. We
are now working with the Ghanian forces and Nigerian forces to give them
the training and the capacity to prevent the resumption of the slaughter of
So I think that -- I hope the United States will be much, much more
involved in Africa from now on, and everywhere. In economic development,
we passed the Africa Trade bill this year; in fighting AIDS, TB, malaria in
Africa; in debt relief, we passed a big debt relief legislation this year;
and in helping them to develop the mechanisms to do this.
The African countries have leaders who are willing to go in and take
their responsibility in these areas if we'll give them the logistical and
other support necessary to do it, if they're trained to do it. That's what
happened in East Timor, where we didn't have to put troops on the ground,
but we sent 500 people over there and provided vital air lift and
logistical and other support, so that the Australians and New Zealanders
and the other troops that came in could bring an end to the slaughter
So I think that there is -- there is sort of a sliding scale here. In
Europe it had to be done by NATO and the scale of it and the power of the
Serbian government was such that if we hadn't been directly involved with
our NATO allies, we never could have turned it back and Milosevic never
would have fallen. If we hadn't stopped him in Bosnia and Kosovo and kept
the sanctions on, the people would never have had the chance to vote him
So I feel good about that. I wish we had been -- Rwanda, if we had
done all the things we've done since Rwanda and Africa -- training the
troops, supporting them, working with them, what I think would have
happened is the African troops would have moved in, they would have stopped
it and we could have given them the logistical support they needed to stop
Now, there are other problems that may develop --
Q Another reason to vote for Gore.
THE PRESIDENT: Another huge reason to vote for Gore, because, you
know, Governor Bush has said that he doesn't think that's the business of
the American military, we're only supposed to fight and win wars and let
everybody else do this. He kept talking about Kosovo, I noticed, in a way
as if we were the only forces in Kosovo. We were only 15 percent of the
soldiers in Kosovo.
Q Let me change the subject, back to Washington. Why do you think
you were such a lightning rod for partisanship and bitterness and so much
hatred during your term now?
THE PRESIDENT: I think there were a lot of reasons. I think mostly
it's just because I won. The Republicans really didn't -- they believe the
only reason they lost in '76 to Jimmy Carter was because of Watergate.
They believe that, from the time Mr. Nixon won in '68, they had found a
fool-proof formula to hold the White House forever, until some third party
came on. That's what they believe.
Q Did you ever hear anybody articulate that, the Republicans --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in so many words. I had a very candid
relationship with a lot of those guys. They would tell me what was going
on. I think they really believed that America saw Republicans as the
guarantor of the country's security and values and prudence in financial
matters. And that they could always turn Democrats into cardboard cut-outs
of what they really were, they could sort of caricature them as almost
un-American; and that basically the Congress might be Democratic most of
the time because the Congress would give things to the American people.
But the Republicans embodied the values, the strength, the heritage of the
country and they could always sort of do, as I said about Dukakis, reverse
plastic surgery any Democrat.
So I came along and I had ideas on crime and welfare and economic
management and foreign policy that were difficult for them to characterize
in that way. And we won. And they were really mad. I think I was the
first President in a long time that never got a day's honeymoon -- I mean,
they started on me the next day. I think that was one thing.
I think, secondly, I was the first baby boomer President, not a
perfect person, never planned to be -- I mean, never claimed to be -- and
had opposed the Vietnam war. So I think that made them doubly angry
because they thought I was a cultural alien and I made it anyway.
Q Do you think that the cultural --
THE PRESIDENT: -- Southern Baptist, because the dominant culture of
the Republican Party -- President Reagan put a nicer image on it. But the
dominant culture were basically white Southern Protestant men who led the
surge of the new Republican Party, first under President Nixon and the
silent majority and, you know, blue collar people -- and then it came to an
apotheosis under President Reagan.
So I think that, you know, they didn't like losing the White House and
they didn't like me and they didn't like what they thought I represented.
And that all happened at the time you had this huge growth in conservative
talk shows and these -- you know, sort of associated think tanks and groups
and networks that grew up in Washington from the time of Nixon through the
time of Bush.
And I think they had sort of a permanent alternative government set up
by that time. And they went to war the first day of my presidency.
Q Because you were the most threatening politically and they
despised what you represented culturally, age-wise and --
THE PRESIDENT: -- think they honestly disagreed with me on a lot of
the issues as well, but a lot of it was they were mad they weren't in,
which is one of the reasons they're working so hard now. And one of the
big challenges that we face in the closing days of this election is to
motivate the people that agree with us to the level that they're motivated.
Just because they've been out a long time, they want back in really badly.
Q Were you surprised about the difficulties you had in your own
party with Sam Nunn on the gays thing and Moynihan on health care and
Kerrey on the economic plan?
THE PRESIDENT: Not particularly, because -- I'll come back to the
gays in the military.
Q Don't, because we've run through that. But just insofar as Nunn?
THE PRESIDENT: No. And the answer to that is, no, because a lot of
the Democrats who were culturally conservative and pro military thought
that gays in the military coming up so early was inconsistent with the
whole new Democratic approach we were taking. Plus, which they thought I
But as I explained to you, I think when we talked last, I didn't bring
it up first; Bob Dole did.
Now, on the other issues, the fundamental problems there was that
there were no easy answers. I mean, Bob Kerrey comes from Nebraska. He
and Jim Exon were Democrats, but Nebraska is one of the most Republican
states in the country and I think, you know, he thought we should have
maybe cut spending a little more or raised taxes a little less, or cut
taxes a little less on lower income working people so we wouldn't have to
raise it as much, you know. And I think -- and we'd been through that
tough presidential campaign.
Q These guys were like, you know, the party elders.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Moynihan believed --
Q Generally, they should like say, well, he's our new president.
THE PRESIDENT: But I didn't take offense to that. Moynihan believed,
first of all, with some justification, that he knew more about most areas
of social policy than anybody else did. I think he thought we were making
a political mistake not to do welfare reform first, which turned out to be
right. We did make a political mistake not to do welfare reform first.
And, secondly, I think he felt that the system in Washington could not
absorb in a two-year period the economic plan which he strongly supported.
He was terrific. The NAFTA trade agreement, which he strongly supported,
which was controversial within our party, and then this major health care
thing. He really didn't believe and he's told me that, you know, he said,
you know, we just don't have time to do these. He said, the system cannot
absorb this much change in this short a time.
And, you know, that was a mistake I made. Hillary gets a bum rap for
that. That was basically my fault. Because I knew that basically there's
only two ways to get to universal coverage. You either have to have a
taxpayer subsidy, which is what we've done now with the Children's Health
Insurance Program, because now we've got the number of uninsured people
going down in America for the first time in a dozen years, primarily
because in the Balanced Budget Act, we insisted -- the Democrats did -- on
getting the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is the biggest
expansion of government financed health care since Medicaid. You either
have to do it that way or you have to have an employer mandate where the
employers have to provide the health insurance and then you exempt smaller
businesses and subsidize that somewhat.
Q You --
THE PRESIDENT: I didn't take offense at it. You know, they thought I
was being bull-headed and I think, in retrospect, they were probably right.
Q What was your relationship with Newt like?
THE PRESIDENT: I had an unusual relationship with him. First of all
Q Was it --
THE PRESIDENT: It depended on which Newt showed up. But I thought
the good Newt, I found engaging, intelligent, and that we were surprisingly
in agreement in the way we viewed the world.
Q -- similar --
THE PRESIDENT: Partly. But, you know, Newt supported me in virtually
all of my foreign policy initiatives. And after he got his Congress, he
realized that a hundred of them had never had a passport.
I remember him calling me once wanting me to get them to go on foreign
missions. He said, if you ask them, then they can't be attacked back home
for boondoggle trips. So we actually had a very cordial relationship.
He was also very candid with me about his political objectives. And
he, in turn, from time to time, would get in trouble with the right wing of
his own caucus because they said I could talk him in to too much. We had a
pretty good relationship.
You know, on the other hand, as I told you, when he did things like
blaming every bad thing that happened in America on Democrats in the 1960s
and all that, I thought it was highly destructive.
Q How did he make you feel, personally?
THE PRESIDENT: At some point, probably around 1996, I got to the
point where I no longer had personal feelings about those things. But, you
know, things like the Whitewater investigation and the Travel Office
investigation, he was smart; he knew there was nothing in that stuff. It
was all politics to him. It was about power.
But he really did believe that the object of politics was to destroy
your opponent. And, you know, he ran Jim Wright out of the Congress on
account of that. That's what he thought he was doing. And he had an
enormous amount of success in the beginning and he won the Congress
basically by having that take-no-prisoners, be-against-everything approach.
Q Didn't he tell you once on the phone that he was planning to lead
a revolution against you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he thought he was leading a revolution and I was
in the way. And I think he really believed, after '94 --
Q What did you think when he says this to you? I'm out there to
destroy -- I'm going to take you on, you're through.
THE PRESIDENT: I thought he was a worthy adversary and I thought I
would defeat him, because I thought the American people would stick with
me. But I thought he was a very worthy adversary.
I think he thought that he could create, for the rest of my
presidency, a sort of an almost a parliamentary system where he would be
the prime minister and make the policy and I'd be in charge of foreign
policy and he'd help me.
Q I mean, historically, the Newt versus Bill, I was just trying to
think back, there hasn't been as powerful -- I mean, powerful and as
antagonistic a Speaker to the President, not in modern times. You had an
actual enemy. You had somebody actually out there daily fighting you, not
a -- not a Lyndon, not a McCormack. Everybody went with Reagan and gave
him what he wanted.
THE PRESIDENT: That's what they decided to do. And, you know, now I
have a Speaker in Hastert I can really work with. We've got a lot done.
But he still has -- the dominant power in the caucus is Tom Delay and Dick
Armey. And if they had their druthers, you know, they'd still follow that
approach. But the balance of authority is so -- power is so close in the
House that more often than not, we work things out.
But in the Senate, you've got the same thing with Lott. You know,
Lott I have a very cordial personal relationship with, I have a lot in
common with Lott in terms of our background and childhood and, you know,
that whole thing. His daddy was a laboring person. He could have well
been a Democrat.
Q How did you develop your strategy in sort of dealing with Newt
and outflanking him? Just wait him out, give him enough rope?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's part of it. You know, I felt after they
won that when the people actually saw the fine print on their contract,
they would think that there was a contract on America instead of a contract
with America. And then I felt that I had to oppose them when I thought
they were wrong. But I couldn't let them push me back into the old
confrontation where they could say, Clinton's an old Democrat, he's
defending everything, even the indefensible, so you may think we're going
too far, but America has to change. Because this is a country in constant
change. So that was -- for example, instead of just fighting them on the
budget, I offered my own balanced budget.
Q I mean, everybody -- I think Democrats really wanted to attack
him back as quickly as possible, and you took a much more conciliatory --
THE PRESIDENT: That's because I felt they had to have a chance to run
their -- and then when we got to the government shutdown, I wasn't just
against what they were doing, I had an alternative. See, I believe -- and
I think it's more important, I think it's easier for Republicans to be
against everything than Democrats because people view us as the party of
affirmative government. And since I believed in balancing the budget, I
just didn't want to do it the way they wanted to.
Q What's your bottom line on Newt historically? I mean, what's
your -- if you were an historian, what would you say about Gingrich?
THE PRESIDENT: That he was immensely successful in, first of all,
consolidating the power of the Republican Party and its right wing, and
then in winning the Congress, winning the historic struggle for Congress in
'94 by opposing me right down the line. And in '94, the people -- the
economy was getting better but people didn't feel it yet. The budget we
passed did not impose great tax burdens on ordinary Americans but they
didn't know it yet. And the crime bill we passed was going to help bring
the crime rate down without interfering with people's gun rights, but they
didn't know it yet.
So you had the best of all times to run through a gaping hole. And
then I had made the mistake of trying to do both -- trying to do the
economic plan and NAFTA, which dispirited some of our base supporters. And
then I tried to do health care under circumstances that were literally
impossible. You could not get a universal coverage plan passed through
So I made a lot of errors and he ran through them and he therefore
changed the Congress. Then I think people will say that we had one of
these historic battles that periodically happens in America about the role
of the national government and, indeed, what the meaning of the nation is.
And I think he thought he could actually carry out the revolution that
President Reagan talked about, you know, drastically shrinking the federal
government, drastically limiting its ability to act in the social sphere
and moving it to the right.
And to me, we had a series of battles that were really the latest
incarnation of this age-old battle of what does it mean to be an American,
what is the idea of America, what is the purpose of a nation? And there
was a government shutdown, there was an impeachment, there was my veto of
the Newt tax bill after Newt was gone. All these were ongoing battles.
The battle over -- the same thing is now happening, shaping up over
the courts. The most important issue in this election may well be what
happens to the courts. Because there is now already -- we are one vote
away from having enough votes that would repeal Roe v. Wade.
But there is this other issue in the courts which I think is quite
profound, which is there are five votes right now to restrict the ability
of Congress to require the states to participate in protecting the American
people in a lot of fundamental ways. So I think this is an ongoing battle.
But it's the same battle that we had between George Washington and
John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall on the one side and
Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Payne and a lot of other people on the other in
the beginning. The same battle Abraham Lincoln had around the time of the
Civil War, could the states secede, did the federal government have the
power to enslave them. The same battle we had at the dawn of the
Industrial Revolution when Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson asserted
the authority of the nation to proscribe basic conditions in the workplace
And it was the same battle that Franklin Roosevelt fought. That was
the fourth time it was fought. Now we're in the fifth battle over how to
define America. And in the first three skirmishes, we won. But I see that
as a big issue in this election, a huge issue.
Q Let's talk about impeachment a little. You're going to -- in the
history books, it's going to say of course that you were the second
President ever to be impeached. How does that make you feel? Do you feel
that that will cloud your real accomplishments?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's for the historians to determine. The
history books will also record, I think, that both impeachments were wrong
and that's when they failed. And I'm just grateful that, unlike Andrew
Johnson, I was less embittered by it and I had more support from the public
and in the Congress, so I was able to resume my duties and actually get a
lot done for the American people in the aftermath.
Q Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up or it just
became too hard?
THE PRESIDENT: Never.
Q Did you ever get so angry during it that you think it clouded
THE PRESIDENT: I got angry, but I always was alone or with friends
who would deflate me, so I don't think it ever clouded my judgment on any
official thing I took.
You know, I realized that when it was all over, I would have the
responsibility to work with the Republicans, as well as the Democrats. One
of the things I had to learn -- as I said, it took me almost my whole first
term to learn it -- is that at some point presidents are not permitted to
have personal feelings. When you manifest your anger in public, it should
be on behalf of the American people and the values that they believe and
the things they do.
You just can't -- a lot of this stuff you can't take personally. And
especially when I realized that, for the people that were directing it, it
was just politics. You know, it was about power and politics. So I was
largely able to purge myself of it. And I had very strong personal
feelings about it, but I tried never to talk about it, I tried to get up
every day and just do my job and let others defend me publicly and go on
with the work of the country, because --
Q -- in private?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, because presidents will always be under siege in
some way or another. And if you don't want the job and the attendant heat,
you shouldn't ask for it.
Q Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about this episode now?
THE PRESIDENT: I just think the less I say about it right now, the
better. I think the more time passes, the more people will see what
happens and the more it will come out. There have been some pretty good
books written about it.
Q What do you think of Ken Starr now?
THE PRESIDENT: I think he did what he was hired to do.
Q You told me you never really met him and had no ill feelings?
THE PRESIDENT: I met him. You know, I met him once when he
interviewed me. He was hired to keep the impeachment thing -- I mean, to
keep the inquiry going past the '96 election, and to do whatever damage he
could. That's why he was put in, and he did what they asked him to do.
Q What's your take on Henry Hyde? Who was supposedly Mr.
Reasonable? And then he seemed to defy the will of the people after the
'98 elections, where he kind of got repudiated.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he did what he was hired to do, too. I mean,
the right wing was in control of the Congress, and they thought they had
paid in '98 and they thought they would never have to pay again. They
thought it was a free shot to put a hit on me and so they did. I don't
think it's complicated.
Q Once the elections were done, I remember seeing you a week
before, and clearly Democrats were going to take the House in a way they
had never taken it before in an off election. And it was a referendum on
this issue, and then they went ahead -- him and the Republican leadership
went ahead despite that. What does that tell you about them?
THE PRESIDENT: That they wanted to -- they stayed with their right
wing, and they thought they would pay no price in 2000 because they thought
whatever happened it would all be over by now. And they thought they could
put a black mark on me in history, and that was really important to them.
They were really angry. They got beat. They were just angry, and they
thought they had paid once and they wouldn't have to pay this time, because
the American people would move on to other things as they always do. And
so they did it.
Q It's not an issue now in this election, really.
THE PRESIDENT: It is in three or four House seats, but not many.
Q It's an issue to me.
THE PRESIDENT: But it shouldn't be. I've tried -- the only way it
should be an issue in the election is that it indicates how important it is
if they should maintain their majority they have somebody in the White
House that can restrain them. Because it's just an example of other things
they were doing to the environmental laws of the country, to the education
laws, to the health care system. That's the only way it should be an
issue. It's over, the American people shouldn't be expected to dwell on
it. They shouldn't have to deal with it.
Q Who do you think really came through for you and got up and
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, tons of people. The House Judiciary Committee
Democrats were really good. There were 800 people, including a lot of
Republicans who didn't even like me, who filed testimony talking about how
inappropriate it was. Then there was that bipartisan panel of career
prosecutors who said that no one would bring any criminal charges on this.
So a lot of people who came forward who had no particular reason to do it,
but who cared about their country and were offended by what was going on.
Q Do you think in some way this is sort of a referendum on sort of
the nature of morality or the character of America in some way?
THE PRESIDENT: Not really. No, I think people strongly disagree with
what I did. I did, too. I think the -- I don't think the -- I think that
they just were able to discriminate between a bad personal mistake and the
justification for a Constitutional crisis. I think -- I don't think that
it -- I think it said more about their ability to discriminate between two
different kinds of problems than any changed moral standards.
Q In the '60s we always talked -- still they talk about karma, you
know your karma? Did you ever look at it in terms of what's in my karma
that I got this shit-hammer dropped on me?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Like I said -- no, I don't. If I hadn't made a
personal mistake, they wouldn't have the pretext to do what they did, even
though what they did was wrong. So no, I don't.
Q Do you think it benefitted us, that process, that we learned from
all that, from the impeachment process?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the one thing it did was it pointed out all the
other excesses. You know, that there was a bogus Whitewater investigation.
It was totally bogus and wasted money and --
Q What was that?
THE PRESIDENT: The Whitewater investigation. That civil lawsuit
against me was bogus. Even the judge who was famous for disliking me
personally threw it out as having no merit. So I think that what it did
was, at least for the time being, it took a lot of the venom out of our
public life. You know, even as hard as George Bush and Al Gore are hitting
each other now in this election, they are by and large hitting at each
other over the issues. I mean, Bush has got some ad up now questioning
Gore's integrity, which is amazing that Bush would question Gore's
integrity, but anyway.
But he knows that there's a certain number of voters who vote for
Republicans because they're convinced that they're morally superior to
Democrats, not withstanding the fact that we're awash in evidence now that
they're not. And so he's doing that, but there has been very little of
that, even from him. They're basically -- the level of venom is lower than
it was. And maybe I absorbed enough for several years.
And if so, then that alone might make it worth doing. Because I
think it's just crazy for America with all these fabulous opportunities and
some pretty stiff challenges out there to waste our elections and our
public officials' time with things that we know are bogus or trivial and
cost the taxpayers a fortune, for no other purpose than for one side to
pursue political advantage over another. There will always be some of
that, but my instinct is that in the next four years we'll have a lot less
Q The press -- as President, you have a relationship with the press
that is unique to anybody in the world. You, as an individual, there's
certainly more scrutiny or criticism or attention, more everything. What's
your take on the press in America?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that, first of all, it's very difficult
to generalize. I think that on the balance, it's a great advantage for the
President to have a bully pulpit that can reach everyone in America and
everyone in the world instantaneously. And any criticisms that a President
has about negative press or incessant carping or whatever -- you've got to
temper that with the fact that they make it possible for you to do your job
in a communications age.
And they work -- especially the working press, I have an enormous
amount of respect for them. I mean these people that are on this airplane,
because I've worked hard and I keep long hours, it's a hard job for them,
because they have to -- they go around in the vans, not in Air Force One or
the helicopters. They have a lot of hard work to do, and I think by and
large, most of them do it as well as they can and as honestly as they can.
I have an enormous amount of respect for them.
Now, there's another part of the press that are kind of part of almost
a celebrity political press that are -- that go all the way from the
columnists to the people that are on all these talk shows all the time.
And they have, in order for them to be successful, their comments have to
have edge. They tend to be more negative and more dogmatic in their
attempts to be -- and sometimes there is more heat than light in a lot of
what's said in a lot of those forums, formats. But that's part of the new
age we're living in.
And also they're sort of on the cutting edge between the serious
press, the tabloid press and pure political advocacy and entertainment.
You've got all these segments now that are kind of blurred together,
compounded by a 24 hour news cycle, and the fact that there are umpty-dump
channels people can watch, some of which are news channels that know they
have to go after narrowly segmented markets, and they're targeting certain
So it's a very different press environment, and if you took it all
seriously, it would run you nuts. But you can't -- once you realize kind
of what the environment is, you just learn to deal with it. I think the
important thing is, too -- for Presidents, especially -- to try to hear the
criticism, because it's not always wrong. Sometimes it's right. I find it
easier, really, when it comes from thoughtful columnists who are really
trying to make a serious contribution to the national debate. Even in some
other forums it's important.
Q Which columnists or reporters do you think have been particularly
good or particularly smart in their coverage of you in the last eight
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think just in terms of columnists I think Tom
Friedman is the best foreign policy writer we have today, by a long
stretch. I think he understands the world we're living in and the one
toward which we're moving. Therefore, whether he's criticizing me or
analyzing an issue or whatever he's doing, he's trying to do it from a
completely honest point of view of trying to say, here's where the world
is, here's where we're going.
I think Ron Brownstein is one of the best political columnists in
America today, one of the two or three best. He's truly extraordinary.
And you know, he understands this whole new Democrat movement that I have
been a part of. He understood the ideas that underlay the '92 campaign and
the whole Democratic Leadership Council effort. Everything we're trying to
do. And he made it his business to study that. I think he's very good.
I think E.J. Dionne is good. I regret that his other responsibilities
at the Post don't give him time to write more columns, because I think he's
Q -- towards the Times for their role in Whitewater?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think that -- it was sort of like this Wen Ho
Lee deal in a way. I mean, the same guy got a story and it was kind of
overwritten and dire things were predicted. But I think whatever I feel
about that, it has to be tempered by the fact that the Times has a serious
conscience when it comes to the national issues. I don't think the -- I
think they had a -- they really have tried consistently to think -- on the
public issues, I think they really have done an excellent job of analysis
and are trying to come out in the right place in the right way. So
whatever I feel about that is tempered by that.
Q Do you think institutionally it's working right, the press as a
whole, the major newspapers, the networks and so forth?
THE PRESIDENT: I think they're doing the best they can in a very new
and different environment. I have a lot of sympathy with them.
Q So you don't have resentment towards them? Like, a lot of
Presidents just hated -- once done, they just hated them.
THE PRESIDENT: No. Absolutely not. You know, how can Presidents
hate the press? I mean, they give you -- you can gripe all you want about
all the negative coverage you get on the evening news or on these talk
shows or being blasted in the newspaper or having to get on something where
they're dead wrong, like on Whitewater, whatever it is -- dead wrong, but
still, every day they're right in all kinds of other things about all the
things that affect the American people and their lives.
And anytime you want a microphone to have your say, you've got it. So
I think to be obsessively negative is a mistake.
Q What creature comforts are you going to miss the most about
leaving the White House, not living there?
THE PRESIDENT: The movie theater, the swimming pool, Camp David.
Everybody says I'll miss Air Force One the most once I have to return to
commercial travel. But what I will miss the most is not the creature
comforts, it's the honor of living in the White House, which I have loved.
I've loved living there, because I love my country, I love the history of
my country. I know -- I was a pretty good American historian before I got
there, and I know a lot more than I did then and I've read a lot about
Presidents that most people don't know much about, including me before I
And even more than that, I'll miss the work. It's the job I'll miss
the most. I love the work. I actually have loved doing this job.
Q Do you just get off every single day when you get up, just -- I
am so lucky?
THE PRESIDENT: Even the worst day. Even in the worst times -- the
whole impeachment thing -- I just thank God every day I can go to work. I
love the job. I've always loved it.
Q Looking at the other side of the coin, what -- is there anything
that seems attractive to you about not living there anymore?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I look forward to kind of having -- being a
citizen again. It will be the first time in 20 years -- you know, I've
been -- I was governor for 12 years, and 10 years, the last 10 years in a
row -- so it will be the first time in 18 years that I've really had a
private home that was my primary residence, and where I'll get up every
day, feeling a responsibility to be of public service, but knowing that I'm
basically in control of my life again. And it will be an interesting
challenge for me. Eighteen years is a long time to be a chief executive,
living in public housing, with every day scripted out -- you know, hours
and hours a day, particularly if you work like I do.
It's a challenge, and I'm going to be interested to see whether I can
meet it and what it means, you know, to go into this next chapter of my
life. I'm actually excited about it.
Q What's the one thing about being -- what's the one thing that
would surprise either Bush or Gore about being President that they just
can't know now? What was the greatest surprise to you? What advice would
you give the next President?
THE PRESIDENT: I think they will be surprised how many different
things happen at once. Now, Al won't be as surprised by that, because he's
been there eight years. It's another good argument for voting for him,
because he's experienced and he makes good decisions. He'll be a very good
President if he wins. He'll be quite good. He makes good decisions. And
he's had experience. And the environment, I think, will be less hostile
for either one of them than it was for me, and they will have more of an
opportunity to craft cooperative solutions.
Because almost under any conceivable scenario, the Congress will be
even more closely divided than it is now. You know, the Democrats are
going to pick up some seats in the Senate. They might even be in control.
But if they are, they will just have a one-seat majority here, too, and I
think the Democrats will win the House. But if they do, they won't have
any bigger majority than the Republicans do now. Maybe a little more, but
not much. So you will have a very closely divided government which will
require them to all work together.
So I think they may have a less hostile environment than I did, and I
hope they do, but I think they'll still be surprised at how many different
things they'll have crash in on them at once.
Q What would you tell them to do -- you say, look, here's what
you've got to do as the next President. Here's what I would like you to
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think after the election, they
ought to get more rest than I did. You know, I didn't really take a
vacation. I think they ought to clear their heads. I would advise them to
work as hard as they can to get a good Cabinet and a good staff, and then
really emphasize teamwork; and when you come to the tough decisions, do
what you think is right.
A lot of these decisions, you know, that were unpopular that I made --
Bosnia, Haiti, debt relief in Mexico, taking on the NRA, doing the debt
thing -- reducing the deficit, I mean. Right now, it's like smooth
sailing. But it's just not in the nature of human existence to be free of
difficulty. And I think when you come down to those tough decisions, you
just have to do what you think is right, tell the American people why you
did it, and hope they'll go along with you.
Q So this comes out after the election. So do you want to -- give
me a prediction.
THE PRESIDENT: I've always believed Gore will win, and I still do.
And I think if he doesn't, the only reason that I think that he might not
win is if they vote -- a higher percentage of the people that want Bush to
be President vote than the percentage of people that want Gore to be
President. But I believe if we get an even turnout, I think in the closing
days of this election, people will begin to think about whether they really
want to risk this prosperity by adopting an economic plan that has a huge
tax cut, a huge Social Security privatization program and a bunch of
spending that will put us back into deficit.
I think that people have to think about whether they want to risk
having nobody to restrain a Republican Congress if they should stay in the
majority, and I think they will think about what will happen to the courts.
And so I think that those things will be enough to put Al Gore over,
and I think he'll be elected.
Q What do you think the margin is going to be -- the popular vote?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I think it will be -- it will
definitely be close in the popular vote; whether it's close in the
electoral vote depends on what happens -- there's a dozen states it could
go either way. So either one of -- there could be a sizeable electoral
victory, it could be --
Q Predict Florida for me. Predict Missouri, Pennsylvania,
THE PRESIDENT: I think Gore will win Florida, Pennsylvania and
Michigan. I've always thought Gore would win Florida. We've worked like
crazy there for eight years, and we've done a lot for Florida and a lot
with Florida, and Joe Lieberman has helped a lot in Florida. So I think
Gore will win Florida, I think he will win Pennsylvania, I think he will
win Michigan, and I think he will win Missouri if Mrs. Carnahan is the
choice of the Missouri people for senator.
Q And Washington State?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we'll win in Washington.
Q I don't want to take any of your money on that. Did you see the
cover on Al -- that the Rolling Stone that's gotten so much talk?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q It took hours to do that interview. I just used -- eat up hours
of his time. I appreciate your time very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
END 4:15 P.M. EST