The President Speaks
A street vendor is seated under electoral posters in Algiers, Algeria, Tuesday May 8, 2012. The legislative elections will take place in Algeria on May 10. Islamists will square off against pro-government parties in what many expect to be the freest elections in Algeria since 1991.(AP Photo/Ouahab Hebbat) / Ouahab Hebbat
Dan Rather: And so now I'm going to pick up the pace a little. I want to read you off a list and ask you to tell me the first thing that comes into your mind. George W. Bush.
Bill Clinton: President-elect.
Dan Rather: Like him?
Bill Clinton: I - well, I don't know him very well. I like his father very much. And I've actually had more contact with his brother who's the governor of Florida than I have with him. But I have a lot of friends in Texas who like him and say he's a good man. Like his wife very much, like his daughters. And - and I hope he'll succeed.
Rather: Going to go down the list. Won't stop on each one. All right? Al Gore.
Clinton: (Pause) Best vice president this country ever had, and a partner without whom I could not have been successful as president.
Rather: Newt Gingrich.
Clinton: (Pause) A brilliant adversary and a complicated man.
Rather: A bit of an adversary, I understand -
Clinton: Brilliant. Brilliant adversary.
Rather: A brilliant adversary.
Clinton: And a complicated man. He's a complicated man. Interesting man.
Rather: The National Rifle Association.
Clinton: (Pause) An effective adversary, but I think on balance, a negative force.
Rather: Can -
Clinton: B - because they're trying to convince their people that what we're trying - that we're trying to do something we're not trying to do.
Rather: Which is?
Clinton: Take everybody's guns away. You know, that's why I - I like giving speeches - in debate with 'em. Because I always tell everybody I talk to, if you missed a day in the deer woods or a single sport shooting contest, you ought to vote against me and our whole crowd. But if you didn't, they must be telling you something that's not true here. Let's look at what we're really for.
So I - I - I think the National - the NRA did a lot of good things in Arkansas when I was there. Partner education programs. They helped me resolve some property disputes. They really did some good things. But now they're just into terrifying people and building their membership and raising money. And - and, you know, it's just not true we're trying to take your guns away. And it's just not true that we've interfered with legitimate hunters and sports people. And it's just not true that we've done enough in America to protect from the dangers of criminals and kids having guns.
So - but, you got to give it to 'em, they've done a good job. They - they probably had more to do with anyone (sic) else in the fact we didn't win the House this time. And they hurt Al Gore.
Rather: Going on down the list. Janet Reno.
Clinton: (Pause) Good woman. Tried really hard to do a good job. She's a ood person.
Rather: Your mother.
Clinton: First thing that comes into my mind? I still miss her every day.
Rather: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton: I love her, and I'm really proud of her.
Rather: Chelsea Clinton.
Clinton: (Laugh) I love her, and I'm really proud of her.
Rather: You expect her to run for something someday? Run for a public office?
Clinton: Oh, Lord. I kind of doubt it. Although, you know, I'm proud of her. She got into this deal, helping her mom. And, you know, she traveled with me some, when Hillary couldn't go the last year and three and four months. And she cares about public issues and public life, and she's got a big heart. And a - and she's really interested in all of it. But you know, I don't know that she would ever run for office. But if she did, if she wanted to do it, I'd sure support her and do whatever I could to help her. But it's totally up to her.
Rather: The Lincoln bedroom.
Clinton: (Pause) It's the place where Lincoln freed the slaves.
Clinton: (Pause) The biggest bogus issue in modern American politics.
Classic, it - (Laugh) it was a fraud from the get-go, and a lot of the people that were propagating it knew it was a fraud. It - and I - you know, in that sense, people will look at this years from now and be amazed that it - that anybody rode it as hard as they did for as long as they did.
Rather: Special prosecutor Ken Starr. Independent counsel.
Clinton: First title was better than the second. But I don't have any - you know, I don't - he just did what he was supposed to do. I don't have any particularly bad feelings about him.
Rather: He did what he was supposed to do?
Clinton: Yeah. That -
Rather: What was he supposed to do?
Clinton: They put him in there because Fisk was a fair, balance(d) man. And he was - the whole thing was going be over before the '96 election and they didn't want that. So they put him in there to drag it out and, you know, get a bigger body count.
And that's - he just did what he was supposed to do. But I - I don't really have any, you know, that group, that faction of the Republican party control those independent counsels, and that's what they do. And - but I don't have any personal animosity toward him. L- I mean, he really - he's part of that crowd and they really believe it. I mean, they that whatever they do to our side's OK. And that's what they really believe.
That's - I didn't - I underestimated that when I got here. I just didn't really believe it. I always had good relationships with Republicans at home, even very conservative ones. Members of the so-called Christian right. We always dealt with issues head up. And just didn't understand that before I got here.
But once I figured out what the eal was, I could sort of let it go. I realized they just had a different worldview than I did.
Rather: At the end of my list - well, first. The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.
Clinton: We got a lot done together. And could have gotten more done if they hadn't given their right-wingers veto power from time to time. For example, we had - we got a lot done. Look what we got done this year. We just passed the best education budget of my entire eight years as president. Huge increases for after school programs, school modernization and repair. Near - nearly doubled the number of kids in the after school programs. A - a big increase in Head Start. We've now done more to expand college access than anything since the G.I. Bill.
We passed the China Trade Bill. The Africa Caribbean Basin Trade Bill. And we took the earnings limit off social security. I mean we did a bunch of stuff this year. And we did for the last six years. But we have a majority in the Congress - in this Congress, not the new one coming in.
In the one that we're in now, we had a majority for campaign finance reform. We had a majority for a patient's bill of rights. We had a majority for an increase in minimum wage. I believe we had a majority for closing the gun show loophole. Anybody that
Rather: But you couldn't get any of that through?
Clinton: No, because the right wing blocked the leadership from letting us have a full and fair vote on it. So that I regret. But, you know, I worked with them. And I have very - I - I - personally I like - Senator Lott, I like Speaker Haster(t). I've even acquired -
Rather: You like Tom Delay, you like -
Clinton: I've even acquired a rather jovial relationship with Dick Armey. We've gotten to where we joke around with each other.
I think, you know, (Tom Delay) I don't know as well. I - I have - I told him, I said, "The only thing you ever said about me that really hurt my feelings was when he said he didn't believe golf handicap was as low as it was." And I sent him - I think I sent him a score that was in the Syracuse newspaper. (Laughter)
Clinton: But - you know, (Tom Delay) worked with Hillary. They both got an award - (Tom Delay) and Hillary both got an award from an adoption group because they'd done so much to try to facilitate adoptions. And that's the one area that I found real common ground with him on, that I think he's really genuine on that.
The - my problem with - with him is, I just - his whole deal about how you should treat your opponents if very different from mine. I just think he's got a total scorch and burn policy, you know. Take 'em out, whatever the cost, whatever you have to do.
And - and he's real nice about it, he smile(s) - you can have a very cordial conversation with him. I think he really believes that. I think he thinks that's the way yo're supposed to treat your political opponents. And - and I just don't agree with that.
And, you know if, for example, I never would have sensed if I wouldn't let someone from the White House go to a contested state and try to intimidate vote counters. I wouldn't do that; I just don't believe that. That's just not who I am. I don't think - I think that a great country has to have some voluntary restraint on the exercise of authority.
But he's a very able guy. And if you don't stand up to him, he'll run right over you. And so he's a worthy adversary.
Rather: At the end of my list, and you expect it, Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton: Sad chapter in my life that I wish were not public. But it's in the past, and for her I wish her well. I hope she has a good life.
Rather: Do you take the responsibility - personal responsibility, full responsibility?
Clinton: Absolutely. I did - I did and I do.
Rather: There was a report today, you're thinking about hosting a television program. Anything to that?
Clinton: No. (Chuckle) You guys make more money than I have though. Maybe it's not a bad idea. You know, I hear it costs a lot of money to support a senator (Unintel) (Laughter) -
Rather: Don't believe everything you read, Mr. President.
Clinton: I don't have - I don't have an offer on the table. (Laughter) Is CBS getting into the betting here?
Rather: What about running for something? Run for mayor of New York, Mr. President?
Rather: Governor of Arkansas?
Rather: Governor of New York?
Clinton: I loved it - no, I - I - let me just say something about running. I - I think it's very important that - first of all, I need to take a couple of months to just go down. I need some rest. I've been working like crazy for 27 years. And I - I want to help Hillary however I can to succeed, because I think she - I'm so proud of her, and I think she's immensely talented, and I think she - she'll do very well.
But, you know, I've got a - I've got to support my family. I want to try - I've never had a chance to save any money. I want to try to save some so they'll be all right if anything happens to me. I got to make sure we paid all our bills. And -- I want to have - I want to have some time to rest and just be a private citizen again.
And then what I would like to do is to find a way to be a useful - to use all this - this incredible opportunity I've had as president - to - to work on things that - that I care most about, here in the United States and around the world, that could do it in a way that does not in any inappropriate fashion get underfoot of the next president.
I think that - I don't - I don't want to do that. I just want to try to be a good citizen. And you know, I think there have been two truly great former presidents, in tems of their public service: John Quincy Adams, and Jimmy Carter.
Rather: John Quincy Adams because he went back and served in the House?
Clinton: Went back and served in the House, and he served 16 years, or served eight terms, anyway part for eight terms. And -
Rather: Any chance you would do something like that?
Clinton: And he's great. And - well, let - let me finish. And then, you know, William Howard Taft went on to Supreme Court, served with some distinction. And - for some - for some years. Teddy Roosevelt kind of organized another political movement. Herbert Hoover did a lot of good, you know, he went out and headed the Commission for President Truman. So, they also did well. Thomas Jefferson did some productive things after he left the White House.
So, there's a lot of - there's evidence that if you don't just vegetate you can do some good. And I'm going to try to use my center and foundation to do some really good things. But I think that what I need to do is I just need a little time to sort of decompress. And, like I said, I want to try to take care of my family. And - and just see what happens.
But I - I feel - You know, I just gave a speech in Coventry at the University of (Warwick) for Tony Blair, talking about the - sort of the big issues of the 21st century.
Rather: The globalization speech?
Clinton: Uh-huh. How do you put a human face on a global economy? How do you - how do you empower poor people in America and around the world? What are we going to really do about AIDS and the breakdown of public health systems around the world?
How are we going to figure out - how - how do you deal with global warming and still have an economy to grow in? We - we - unless we can break the - the link between putting more stuff into the air, greenhouse gases, and getting richer we're going to have a disaster on their hands, because people are not going to agree not to become wealthier. And they shouldn't.
So those - these - these are big questions; these are things that I care about, you know? I ran for the White House, you know? (Chuckle) I - sometimes I feel like a fish out of water. Especially like this interview. You know, we spent one half our time on kind of like political questions. But the reason that I had some success as president, I'm convinced more than anything else, is that I always thought presidential) elections, and presidential administrations were about ideas - that resonated with the values of the American people, but were appropriate to the present and the future.
And I still believe that. I mean, if somebody asked me for advice I'd say, you know, "Figure out what you believe, what's your vision of America. Come up with a strategy to achieve it. Then make your specific practical moves; you decide what ideas you're going to push." I think that's very important. So, when I'm not president; that's what I thnk I ought to be doing: fighting for the things that I believe in, helping the people that I like to help. People that would be - people or problems would be ignored by a lot of other people. So I hope I can do that; that's what I care about.
And, finally, of course, I - the great work of my life has been in racial and religious, and ethnic reconciliation. And I've tried to carry it forward here as president. And - I hope I'll be able to make a contribution on that in the future.
Rather: Mr. President, the clock is running quickly on me here. First of all, are you and the First Lady planning on selling the place in Chappaqua, New York?
Clinton: Actually, I hope not. I've gone to a lot of trouble to fix that place up.
Rather: You're buying a place here in Washington, in Georgetown?
Clinton: (Laughs) I don't know. But you got to have a place to live here. And, you know, I - I - I hope we'll either have to rent a place or buy a place. And we'll figure out what to do about it. But -
Rather: Haven't bought one yet, did you?
Clinton: No, we haven't bought one yet. And we're definitely not gonna sell our place in Chappaqua if I got anything to say about it. But we just got it all fixed up. And we've done lots of work on that house. It's a delightful place.
And, you know, I'm going to have an office - a presidential office in New York City. I have a temporar- you know, I have my transition office here for six months. But I'll have my permanent office up there. And I'll have the home in Chappaqua. And the - I expect we'll spend virtually all of our weekends there. So, but you got to have a place to sleep down here.
Rather: Now, the first lady - going to be paid - now go to my notes here, because this figure is a whopping figure, $8 million for her memoirs. What's she going to say about you in that book?
Clinton: (Laughs) I don't know. I don't know. I don't know that there's $8 million worth to say, you all know it all already. But you know, she's had two bestsellers. And she - she - she gave all the money away from the first one. The second was on the bestseller list, a book on the White House; now it's a really good book, I think. And she's given all the money away to that.
And so she just auctioned this one. I think she - she was probably surprised as anybody that - that the auction brought that price. But her - the publisher that won it published her other bestsellers. I guess they think she's got a third one in her.
Rather: Well, I want to say this respectfully, Mr. President, surely you don't want her writing about Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and all those things again. Is she likely to do that?
Clinton: You ought to ask her. She can write about whatever she wants. (Chuckle) In fact, I tell you, I bet it'll be a good book.
Rather: The first lady's future. It's assume among Democrats she's going to run for president. I guess the question is does she do it in 2004 or 2008?
Clinton: Well, I tell you what I believe. I believe that - that, you know, - worse than idle speculation. What I can tell you what I've urged her to do. What I've urged her to do is, No. 1 , solidify her roots and her ties with the people of New York state. Have an agenda for New York. Have an agenda for America, because every senator - she's a senator on American issues, too. Stay on the forefront of ideas. Keep pushing and getting things done. And, you know, the future will take care of itself.
But I think, you know, that this - she said she intends to serve her term in the Senate. And I believe that's what she intends to do.
We already assume there are a lot of other people who will run for president again four years from now, including the vice president. And of course he would have a big leg up because he won the popular vote this time.
Rather: Do you consider him head of the Democratic Party now?
Clinton: I certainly think he is the leader of the party, and - and he won the election - the popular vote, I mean. He won the popular vote. And I think that, you know, he will decide what he's going to do, then other people will decide what they're going to do.
But, you know, look, the world will look entirely different; it could look different six months from now - a year from now. No one has any idea what it'll be like four years from now.
You know, when I ran for president - this is why I say the ideas the most important - when I started running for president in late '91, my mother is about the only person (who) thought I could win; that's not quite true, Hillary did.
But, you know the - the incumbent president, President Bush, had an approval rating of over 70 percent. You know, these things are not predictable. And I think people waste so much energy thinking about 'em and maneuvering, I want Hillary to enjoy being a senator and to be the best senator she can be. You know, this seat was held by Senator Moynihan and - and Robert Kennedy. And they were great senators. And that's what I want for her.
Rather: You do or do not think it's a given that she'll one day run for president?
Clinton: Oh, I don't think anything's a given like that. I don't think it's a given that any - if you could name me any person in this country, Democrats or Republican, and say, "Do you think it's a given that they'll run for president?" I would say no, because I don't.
You know, Abraham Lincoln once said about this; I think he always thought he'd run for president. He's the only person that probably we forgive his ambition. He once said, "I will work and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come."
Rather: Mr. President -
Clinton: That's about all anybody can do, but I - no, I don't know if any of 'em are going to run.
Clinton: Well, that's up to them. You know, they - we had a bipartisan panel of prosecutors testified in the Congress that no - ordinary prosecutor would do such a thing, even think of it. They were five of them that testified to that.
And the Republicans in the Congress argued that they didn't have to have an indictable offense, you could impeach somebody for something that you wouldn't indict 'em for. And then - so I don't know. That - I - I may have more setbacks that - look, I don't - I don't have any idea. I don't have any control over that. And I don't spend much time thinking about it.
All I know is Whitewater was a fraud. The civil lawsuit was a fraud. They knew that for a long, long time, everybody did. And a lot of innocent people have already been hurt for purely political reasons. And if I had to do it all over again I still would because the country's in better shape. So, all I can tell you is nothing can take away my feeling of gratitude for having had the chance to serve, and my feeling of gratitude that it worked out so well for the American people.
Rather: Do you think President Bush will pardon you to keep possibly within an indictment or in case (of) an indictment?
Clinton: You know, I haven't given any thought to that. But I doubt it. I mean, no, I haven't thought about it.
Rather: I mean, there are those who say, "It'd be a great, unifying thing for the country," quote, unquote, for him to do that.
Clinton: Well, if I don't believe that I should be charged - I - I don't want - (Chuckle) I don't want that. I'll be happy to stand - I told you before, if that's what they want I'll be happy to stand and fight.
Rather: Speaking of pardons, you still have it in your power to pardon people. True or untrue that you're considering pardons - for - a financier, Milliken, for Hubbell, for others involved in the Whitewater case, and for the killer of two FBI agents, Mr. (Peletier). Any truth to that?
Clinton: I have been asked to consider pardons for hundreds and hundreds of people. And we were reviewing them all. And I will make decisions at an appropriate time. I don't want to discuss them until I make the decisions about 'em.
I - I'll just mentioned one - one thing. On the (Unintel) thing, the main thing I heard from there, is the people are involved in the prostate cancer, because he's been so active in that. I've heard a lot from people who say, you know, he served his time. He paid a big price.
You ought to do this, because of the contribution he's made to the fight he's made against prostate cancer.
Rather: Sounds like yomight. Fair to say you might?
Clinton: No. It's not fair to say I will or I won't. I haven't made a decision about that.
Rather: Getting a wrap-up sign.
Right. Foreign policy. I want to talk to you about your legacy on foreign policy. For most of this time, it didn't work out that way. You're planning a trip to North Korea?
Clinton: I haven't decided yet. We worked hard with North Korea. You know? We made a big break-through there, with (the) secretary of state going. I'd like to do what I can to make sure that - we started this administration with the North Korean problem being the No. 1 national security threat to the United States, because of their nuclear program. We terminated that.
Now we're trying to figure out a way to perminate the missile program. That - you know, there was some way to do tha - I might consider doing it. But, I wanted to wait - until we had a president elect. Because they'll have to have their own career policy.
It may be something they prefer to do. It maybe something they disagree ((Unintel) doing. So I just thought while I don't think that the president-elect should have a veto, like I didn't - the President Bush went to - you know, got in - did the Somalia thing after the election, eight years ago. I think that - we - it should be something that we discuss. And we just try to work through what the best thing for America's interest is.
Rather: Do you agree or disagree that U.S. policy in Cuba is out of step with your approach on other countries, and has more to do with domestic policies, and domestics politics than it does actually the foreign policy?
Clinton: Well, I think it had a great deal to do with domestic policy and politics for a long time, in the sense that we have a lot of people in America, who were personally hurt by the Castro regime. And whose families were hurt. And who lost their - their property. And even lost their lives. Lost their loved ones.
So, it's - it's - it's - in that sense, more personal. But I don't think there's any question that we would have made more progress with Cuba than we have, if they hadn't shot those planes down, and murdered those innocent people a few years ago.
Rather: The Castro regime and Fidel himself?
Clinton: Yeah. They - they shot those (Unintel) rescue planes down, in blatant violation of international law. We don't believe they were in Cuban territory or waters. But even if they were in Cuban territory or waters, it was illegal.
Cuba is a signatory to the Chicago Convention, which specifically says how you have to handle planes like that. It governs what we do, when we see planes take off from South America, small planes that we know are unarmed, that may have drugs on them. A lot of times, we have to follow them, until they go down somewhere.
Or do that, you know? This, what they did, it was - it was a deliberate, ilegal killing.
Rather: So that's a matter of foreign policy?
Clinton: Yeah. And when they did that, the Congress reacted basically, by passing the so-called (Helms)-Burton Act, which dramatically restricted the - the ability of any president to relax relations with Cuba. And it made me wonder if - the person in the whole world that least wanted the embargo lifted, was Fidel Castro. I mean, I've often wondered whether - whether he and - the people in America that don't want any change in relations, are in some sort of unconscious dance with each other. Cause as long as that embargoes there, he's got an excuse for the failures of his regime.
Rather: Mr. President-
Give it a wrap. Last question. China. The reports out of China are that they're raising church buildings. Blowing 'em up, burning 'em down, on the eve of Christmas. And they've been doing this sort of thing for a year and a half. Are you now ready to recommend that the United States back this resolution at Geneva, before the United Nations Human Rights Commission, to condemn this kind of thing?
Clinton: Well, let me say, I have been - I have worked - I believe, as hard as any president, for religious liberty, at home and around the world. Even for people who disagree with me on a lot of things. And I have had innumerable conversations (Laughter) with John (Unintel), and other Chinese officials about this.
I think their view that people who have strong religious convictions represent a political set, is just wrong. And so I will do what I think is appropriate at the time, on this.
Rather: Does that include considering backing this resolution?
Clinton: I - I gave an answer to that. That's the only answer I want to give.
Rather: Mr. President, you've been very generous of your time. And I appreciate it.
Clinton: Thank you, Dan.
Rather: Thank you.
Clinton: Thank you.