President Bill Clinton, author of "Between Hope and History," where did you get that title?
From a poem by Seamus Heaney called the "Cure at Troy." It's actually a play. And I read it when I was in Ireland and I quoted a section of it when I spoke in Derry last year. And Seamus Heaney, I guess, heard about the speech or saw it, and when I got to Dublin, he came and gave me a handwritten copy of those paragraphs of the play with "hope and history." And I've got one of them -- there's a two-paragraph section. I've got one with "hope and history" in the book and the front piece there.
What does it mean?
It means that there are moments in history when people's hopes are more likely to be fulfilled. It means that -- if you read the lines, it says there's a moment when hope and history rhyme, when there's a greater possibility than at other times. And I think this is such a time; when there's a time when people's hopes can really be fulfilled. It's the greatest age of human possibility in history. And that gives us special opportunities, but it also imposes upon us special responsibilities.
This says, “History says don't hope on this side of the grave, but then once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope in history rhyme." What role has poetry played in your life?
At various times a big role. And, you know, I would go for -- I didn't read poetry very seriously when I was young. When I went to England, I started reading poetry a little bit. And then I went several years and didn't read any and then periodically I get back into it. I've actually been trying to read some more lately. Last year, when I was going to Ireland, I read a lot of Yeats, again, especially the poems that were written around the time of the Irish civil war to try to get a feel for it and also because it's wonderful poetry.
This book -- why did you do it?
I did it because I wanted to get a simple, straightforward, fairly brief account out to the American people in 1996, for anyone who wanted to read it, about what we had tried to do, what we were going to do if I got another term and what the larger world view behind it was; why I was trying to -- why I was doing the specific things I was doing. I wanted people to understand how I view America now and how I view the world and where we're going.
When did you start thinking about doing it?
Oh, probably about a year ago, maybe just a little less. But, you know, since I knew what I wanted to do and since it essentially was a distillation of a lot of the things that I had been saying and doing for years, I knew it wouldn't take a long time to do what I wanted to do in this book. But I didn't really -- you know, we didn't finish it until about last summer.
You give credit in the back to someone by the name of William E. Nothdurft.
Yeah. He just -- I couldn't have done the book without him because I was in the middle of not only being president but running for president, and he volunteered to help me on it. We met Bill -- I and the vice president, people in our administration did -- when he did some work in the drafting of one of the reinventing government annual reports that the vice president does. And I read it and I was very impressed with it. And he seemed to understand what it was that we were about, what our administration was trying to do. And I asked him to help me on the project and he was very, very helpful. We spent hours and hours and hours talking about this project and then, you know, with me telling him what I wanted, where I wanted certain things that I'd said and done or written before.
And then he did a proposed outline for me and I changed it and said, “This is the way I want it." And then he did some drafts and I changed it. And then he did another draft. And then I took it off to Wyoming and essentially substantially rewrote it the way I wanted it to be. But he did a fabulous job. He really understood exactly what needed to be done after we'd talked. And I think it would have taken me probably two or three times as long to do it if he hadn't been involved in helping me write it.
Who is he?
He's a writer and a man who cares about public policy; lives in the Pacific Northwest. And as I said, I'd never met him before. He's been active in -- on and off -- in public affairs through the Democratic Party for several years. But I'd never met him before he came to my attention for writing this reinventing government report that the vice president puts out every year. And he did such a fine job, with what some people think is a dry subject and he made it come alive to me. He made a lot of -- I liked the way he did it. And so we got together and he agreed to work with me on this project.
You say, on page 12, “We have access to more news and information than ever before, but are often skeptical of whether what we hear is true." Then you go on to say, “And that skepticism can lead to cynicism about whether our most basic institutions, especially our government, can work for us." What do you think of all this information? I mean, I know you also talk about computers in here and the Internet.
Well, I think there are really two problems, one of which is that I think that in the information explosion also the lines are being blurred. You know how you have news programs, then you have sort of newsmagazines programs, then you've got kind of near-news programs, then you've got entertainment and spoof for programs. And I think that people are kind of -- -- they do have sort of a discount factor sometimes with what they hear. And they don't know what to believe because they're getting so much information from so many sources all the time.
The other problem, I think, is you can almost have an information overload because it's not only important to get facts, you have to understand the facts in their larger context. You have to be able to connect the facts to a larger understanding. And that's another thing I worry about in this world. That's why I think it's so important still to give children a good fundamental education so they can not only read well and write -- but that they can think and reason and they understand how to go about taking all these facts that are being bombarded at them from all sources and put them into a whole view so they can have some rational and coherent view of the world they're living in. I think it's very important.
Do you get on the Internet yourself?
Sometimes. But, you know, normally it's all I can do just to do my work, and I spend most of my free time -- totally free time when I'm at home reading. I read a lot.
What do you read?
Magazines, books -- all kinds of books: books about politics, books about history, mysteries. I love mysteries. I'm an addict; that's one of my little cheap thrills outlet. I'm always reading mysteries.
How often do you get a chance just to sit and read, and what's the longest time you ever spend reading?
You mean at a time?
At a time.
Oh, normally about 30 minutes. I try to read at least 30 minutes a day, usually before I go to bed, sometimes in the middle of the day in my office time if I can get away. And then, you know, sometimes on weekends or a long plane ride, I'll read for a couple hours at a time. It's hard for me to read more than two hours at a time because normally I have to stop and do some work, even on the weekend or on a long plane ride.
What's the best book you've read in 1996?
The best book about politics I've read in 1996 -- let me sort of disaggregate them -- I would say is E.J. Dionne's book, "They Only Look Dead."
What was good about it?
Well, it had a good result. He predicted that the administration and the Democratic Party weren't dead, so I like that, even though we looked dead. But I thought it was good because it was an attempt to analyze what was going on in America today in real people's lives in larger historical terms, the forces that are shaping America today, the parallels they have to the industrial revolution changes of 100 years ago. And I thought it was just a very, very good book, and I liked it a lot.
One of the things you mention more than once in here is cynicism. How would you define the word “cynicism,” and how bad is it in the country?
I would say, first of all, that a sense of doubting other people's motives and, more importantly, even doubting whether -- in the context of this book -- whether working together we can make any difference on our problems or enhance our opportunities. And I believe that we can. I believe there's a lot of evidence just in the last four years that when we work together we can make a difference -- a positive difference. And I think cynicism is basically a useless attitude. Skepticism is one thing; cynicism's quite another. We all have a healthy sense of skepticism, looking before we leap in every way. But to be cynical, to believe that it doesn't matter what you do and that whatever you do, it won't make any difference, there's just simply no evidence to support that.
And if anything, I'm less cynical and more idealistic than I was the day I became president because I look back over the last four years and I see what can be done and what a difference it will make. And I am able in this book, which was finished last August, so we don't have all the latest, you know, information on the economy and everything -- but it's basically got the outlines of what has been done in the last four years, what the American people have done together, what the government's role in it was. And I did it with the hope that people who read it would say, well, you know, these ideas matter. What government does or doesn't do matters. What I do or don't do, that matters, too.
Who are Kent and Carmen Amos?
Oh, they're two wonderful people who live here in Washington, DC, that I met when my friend Ron Brown died. They were his next-door neighbors, very good friends of theirs. Kent is a businessman, and when he came back here with his company, he put his kids in the public schools. His children found some friends that were in trouble that came from broken homes. And he sort of started taking these kids in, he and Carmen did. And they wound up adopting, in effect, a huge number of children who came from difficult home situations who were poor. I think they're now -- they may have, oh, 15 or 20 kids at any given time now that they're kind of taking care of in their extended family.
You say -- the number you give at the time you met them was 87 that they'd taken in.
They'd taken in 87 total, and now they're up to a big number. And I think they spend, I think, $20,000 a year on this, just giving kids meals, giving them place to stay, checking up on their homework, making sure they're doing all right. And a lot of really troubled kids, and they haven't -- not all their kids have worked out all right. Some of them have had real trouble. But an extraordinary number of them have been able to rescue their lives and go on and do well because of what they have done. And, to me, they sort of represent the kind of a spirit and conviction and values and action that is the best of America now. And they see these children that are in trouble, and instead of wanting to withdraw from them, they want to embrace them and give them a chance to make more of their own lives. And I think that's an attitude that we all need to have. And, you know, now not everybody can afford to do what they do. They've been blessed by having good educations and good careers and reasonable resources. But we need more people adopting children.
That's one of the reasons I was proud to sign that bill giving a $5,000 tax credit for adoptions. We need to have more people spending more time working with kids through community groups and doing all kinds of other joint endeavors. And so I was so impressed when I met them, and the more I learned about them, the more impressed I was. So I wanted to write about them in this book in the hope that they would inspire other people to do similar things, even if on a smaller scale.
Mrs. Clinton talked sometime during this year about having another child or even adopting a child. Have you given any more thought now that this election's over?
Well, we thought about it. You know, you have to be careful, though, when you bring a child if it's a little -- if we were to adopt a little baby at our age, if we stayed healthy, we could raise the child. But I think it is very important for people to bond with an infant, and it would require massive amounts of time that I don't know whether we could guarantee the child at this moment. If you took an older child that would have a bigger, more difficult adjustment period and would think it was a little weird living in the White House, then you would have -- that also would require a lot of time. So I'm kind of doubtful that we could do it right here. But you know, I've always kind of been interested in it. And who knows? Maybe when I leave here, I'll still be young enough to do it.
One of the things you talk about in your book is about teaching, and I want to get to the page because I've underlined it. I wanted to ask you what you meant. You said, “Teachers must also demonstrate competence, and we should be prepared to reward the best ones and remove those who don't measure up fairly and expeditiously.” How can you do that in a system that has tenure?
Well, you have to give the -- I believe you have to have a system where tenure does not become a shield to failure to perform. Tenure should only guarantee you freedom from being dismissed for arbitrary or irrational reasons. And if you have school-based decision-making where you, first of all, work with teachers in a positive sense -- because keep in mind most teachers can do most of what they need to do if they're given the support, the training, the re-education. And then if someone fails to perform, I don't think tenure should be a bar to removing them. And legally it's not if an appropriate record is made and if the managers -- in this case, the principals -- have the power to make those recommendations and move on them.
You talk about a teacher who taught you Latin in the book.
She was from Pennsylvania -- in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I grew up. I had four years of Latin from her. And she was a remarkable, educated, cultivated, interesting woman -- lively. And I stayed in touch with her many, many years. Amazing that a large number of us took Latin even though we knew it was a so-called “dead language” and we'd never be speaking it on the street corner anywhere. And I'm very glad I did now. I have great memories of that class, and I understand a lot more, I think, about language and the structure of language than I would have otherwise had I not taken it.
You think kids should have to study Latin today?
No, but I think they should have to study some foreign language. I mean, I would like to see a curriculum in every school where every child took a foreign language. But we're a long way from that, I guess. My first preference would be for there to be some nationally recognized standards not set by the federal government, but nationally recognized standards like the math and science standards we have now. And then a nationally recognized examination that all of our children took at regular intervals so that you would have maximum local control, but we would know what local control was getting us. We'd know whether these kids were learning or not. And we've been moving toward that for many years in this country, but there's a lot of resistance to it.
When I worked with the other governors and President Bush on the national education goals, my thought was if we set out these goals, then surely somebody would agree we had to have some way of defining whether we met them and some way of measuring whether we met them. But there's a lot of resistance to that. So we do a lot of testing today, but all the tests mean different things and hardly any of them have any universal recognition and, at the same time, are tied to what children are supposed to learn in the classroom. Well, I think that's the next big test for us. We -- as I said, we got pretty well-developed national math and science standards now, even though there's no generally accepted test that everybody takes that measures them at regular intervals. And that's one reason I think we're making progress in math and science, because at least the teachers know we have these standards about what these kids are supposed to learn, and they're teaching more and more and more with reference to them.
Do you understand any foreign language when you're meeting with leaders?
German. When I speak with Helmut Kohl, I understand a lot of what he says, probably half of what he says. I took German for three years in college, and I enjoyed it very much and I was fairly conversational when I was a young man. But I haven't spoken it in 30 years.
Do you use it ...
And now quite often it's interesting ... because I've been around it a lot, when people speak in French or Spanish, sometimes I understand the -- get the drift of what they're saying. But German's the only language I've ever studied and spoken.
When Mr. Gorbachev was here, we did this show and we talked about language, and I asked him whether or not he could understand any English. And he said over the years, he's starting to pick a little bit of it up, but really wasn't able to speak it. Do you sense that when you talk to world leaders, that they understand you in English?
Some do and some don't. But the ones -- a lot of times, the ones that do will also want it repeated in their own language so they get it twice. And I must say I always feel they're at a distinct advantage because they hear it twice and I hear back what they're saying to me once. And it's very impressive when you see a person that's completely fluent in more than one language.
The day after the election, when you woke up, did you feel different about the world?
No. No, I just -- I felt grateful, and I felt determined to implement the ideas in that book. That's what I felt. I felt the American people had renewed my contract; they had ratified the work I had done, the record that we had established and the direction in which we were going, and that I had a heavy responsibility to bear down, redouble my efforts and keep trying to prepare this country for the next century.
But your chemistry didn't change at all that you don't have to ever run again?
I don't think so, no. You know, I think there's a way you can overstate that. I'm sure there will be, in subtle ways, you know. You realize there are maybe some trips you don't have to take, some things you don't have to do. But in the first term I took a lot of very risky decisions which were unpopular because I thought they were right over the long run. And we paid a price for a lot of those risky decisions, but I still think we were trying to do the right thing over the long run. And in the second term, even though I'm not running for reelection, I don't want to provoke a reaction among the American people that would lead to the undoing of everything I've worked so hard to do. So no person in public life can be unmindful of the way that the American people feel about a course of action.
But I guess there's a little more freedom. At least I'm not -- you know, I don't have to ever -- I don't think about the next election. I don't have to go out and worry about running again myself. So I have more time to focus purely on my work, and that's good. But in terms of my attitude toward it, it hadn't changed because I knew when I got here I was going to have to do some things that would be unpopular and take some chances because we had to make some difficult changes in order to be prepared for the 21st century, in order to keep the American dream alive, in order to keep this country coming together, in order to maintain our leadership in the world. And, again, I would say in a time of change a leader has to be prepared to make decisions that will look good 10, 20 years from now whether they look good in the short run or not. Some do and some don't. The test of your success is whether you can explain to the American people why you're doing things that don't seem to make great sense to them now but will be very, very good for their children. And, you know, we've always been a country that has cared a lot about the future and cared a lot about our children and understood our generational responsibilities, so it hasn't been a very hard sell. Now we've got a lot of hard things still to do, but I trust the American people. They nearly always do the right thing.
If you weren't the president of the United States -- this is a rather large hypothetical -- and weren't in politics, what would you have done in you life, do you think?
It's hard to know. I might have been a teacher and a writer. When I was in my early 20s a friend of mine said that I shouldn't go into public life because I wasn't mean enough to be a politician. He said I was a great writer and I should just keep writing, so I might have done that. I gave up music in high school, so I don't think I would have done that. I might well have, you know, been a trial lawyer and an active private citizen. Probably if I had not gone into politics after a few years in law, I would've gone into business because I like running things. I like making organizations go. I like working with people and helping them fulfill their potential. And I think I would have somehow gotten into something where I could have managed something.
As you know, as you talk in here -- I wrote the presidents that you mention: LBJ, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln. You talk a lot about Theodore Roosevelt. When he left the presidency he was 50, and when you leave you'll be 54. I shouldn't do this, but jumping ahead fours years, based on what you know, you've got a long life ahead of you. What would you do after you leave this kind of a job?
Well, I hope I have a long life ahead of me, and if I do, I hope I can be useful to the American people and to the causes I believe in around the world. But I really haven't given a great deal of thought to it. Roosevelt spent the last years of his life -- and he died unfortunately young, at 58 -- but he spent the last years of life still very active in the public life of America, but in a way that I hope I will not be; that is, he came back and ran for president on the Bull Moose ticket. So I'll be term limited, I can't do that. But he was very much involved in the party politics in that way. And there are other models.
President Taft became the chief justice. President Hoover went off and helped to reform the government. John Quincy Adams went to Congress for eight terms. President Carter, I think, may wind up having the most enduring legacy of any former president because of the way he established his presidential library as also a center of action. The Carter Center is an action center that he's helped to cure diseases in Africa; he's helped to grow food in developing countries; he's monitored elections all over the world, dealt with human rights problems all over the world. And he set up this, if you will, his own system, his own organization to kind of keep being active in a way that is consistent with his nation's interests but gives him a chance to make a unique and, I think, profound contribution. So I've thought about all this, but I've reached no final decisions.
Could you ever run again for an office like either the House or the Senate, do you think, after being president of the United States?
Oh, I doubt it. You know, you kind of don't want to be hanging around getting in anybody else's hair. I'd like to be an active citizen. I'd like to think that my fellow Americans still care what I think. I'd like to believe I could have an impact on some issues, particularly issues that may be new and arise or ones that we don't quite get resolved in the way I think should be in this eight-year period. I kid everybody and say I might run for the school board someday at home. You know, I think that may be the hardest job in America today, except being president, being on a local school board. But I haven't given any thought ever to coming to Congress. I loved being governor; it was a wonderful job. I mean, for a person of my temperament, being a governor or being mayor of a city is probably the best thing you could do next to being president.
You said that you could have been a writer. In your lifetime, your favorite writers?
Who has lived in my lifetime?
Not necessarily. That you've read. Writing that you liked that you remember that you admire.
Well, when I was a young man, I loved Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner, the great Southern writers. In my adult life, I think that the finest novel I've read is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." I read it when I was in law school and I've gone back to it two or three times since then. It's a rhapsodic, mystical, marvelous work. And I enjoyed that very, very much. And so, as I said, a lot of the fiction I read now is more for release. I read a lot of mysteries and ...
Anybody in particular?
: ...thrillers. Well, yeah, I just read a mystery by Gerald Seymour, a British writer, about Bosnia and Croatia. I just read an interesting book by Thomas Gifford, who's a great mystery writer, called "Saint's Rest." And a kind of a fun read called "Jack and Jill" by a mystery writer named Patterson. And I read everything that Sarah Pereski or Sue Grafton write; I like them. Jonathan Kellerman, Walter Mosley -- a lot of others. David Lindsey's a very good mystery writer out of Texas; very interesting man.
What makes a good writer?
Someone who I think understands character, understands people, understands what makes people tick, understands their fears and their hopes and the drama of daily life as well as the drama of whatever the theme of a book is and that continuously fascinating interplay between people. And then can somehow communicate it all. And can give large ideas and large emotions and large feelings; reality in one life, other lives of the characters in the book. It's very, very hard work, you know? It's a great gift.
When was the last time you had time to sit and actually write a full speech?
I don't know. You know, before I became president, I essentially did all my own -- I spoke mostly from notes extemporaneously because I knew my subject and I knew what I wanted to say. Since I have become president, I rely more on written text because I have to do more different kinds of things and I want to make sure that the point I am trying to make will get across. It's not like a book, you know, 10 of us could read this book and have a slightly different take on it. And if you know you're only going to have 10 or 15 seconds on the news at night, you want to make sure there's just that one take. So I do that and it's been awhile.
Now in a couple days, I'm going to give a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council. It's an important group to me, a group I helped to organize in 1984. They've been a vital source of ideas for me and my administration and I think for the country. And I'll get a draft of that speech, but I'll spend a lot of time working on that myself to make sure that I'm saying exactly what I want to say in the way I want to say it.
When you think back on the first term, are there words that you spoke in a speech that you hope will be remembered? Or, you know, over history, there are words of presidents that always get quoted. What do you think they'll quote from you?
Well, I guess there are a number of things ... I hope that the speeches on race I gave, the affirmative action speech at the archives and the speech at the University of Texas, the morning of the Million Man March. I hope they will be read and quoted.
Is there any one phrase or -- you know, like the “bridge to the 21st century” or something like that?
Not in particular that I can think of. The ...
By the way, who invented that phrase?
I really don't know. I don't know. I don't want to take credit for it because I can't remember. I don't know who did it. But it's something I really like because it conveys the spirit of what I'm trying to do. Anyway, I hope the speech at Oklahoma City will be remembered. I hope that the commencement speech I gave at Michigan State, after Oklahoma City, urging people to come back together and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens will be remembered. I hope there'll be some reference to the speeches I gave in connection of the 50th anniversary of World War II.
How important is the second inaugural speech?
Oh, I think it's quite important.
How long will it be?
In some ways, it's more important than the first. And that's a funny thing to say, but people had a strong sense of what the campaign was about the first time. And while I gave a very short inaugural speech the first time, it essentially was a distilled version of what I had been saying in the campaign. And I think it's the third shortest inaugural speech ever given out. George Washington's second, Abraham Lincoln's second, and my first were the shortest. This time, it might be a little longer. I don't think inaugural speeches should be very long. You know, President Harrison gave the longest one, then he died a month later of a cold he got because he stayed out and gave such a long speech. So for the health of the Republic and the president, probably ought to give a short speech.
But what I want to do is try to capture -- for the American people -- what it will take us to move into this next century, what we have done in the last four years, where we have to go and how it fits into a broader world view. What do these words mean -- this words in this book, you know? I think whenever people change dramatically in America, the way we work and live and relate to each other and the rest of the world, we're plainly doing that now, whenever that happens, we have to re-examine again what changes we have to make to perfect our union, to continuously make a more perfect union. And to me, that means it always, in every time, it means that you have to make sure that you're offering opportunity to everybody, you have to make sure that you have defined the responsibilities for people in their individual and family lives and then their responsibilities as citizens. And you have to make sure that with all this incredible new diversity we're getting into this country, not only ethnic and racial and religious diversity, but also economic diversity -- more and more people working at home, more and more people working in small businesses, that are self-employed, that there's still a way that we can define our American community so we know what things we have to do together so that we'll all be better off.
And I want to talk a little about that in the inaugural in terms of what exactly we're going to have to do in the next four years to get into the next century in good shape. Because when I leave office, my farewell address, you know, will be the first one of the 21st century. So this inaugural, in some ways, is more important than the last one. I think the American people also were preoccupied with more immediate concerns in 1992. They wanted me to get the economy going again. And they wanted me to get a sense of movement in the government again, a sense of movement in the country. And now they know we'll do that. I mean, they know that. Even my worse critics know I show up for work every day. I mean, they don't think that anybody's lazy around here. They know we're hitting it and that we've got an idea and we're moving toward it. And so now I think that it's more important to get people to take a longer view and understand these next four years in terms of how we're going to get into the 21st century with all of our people having a chance and with the country coming together and still being able to lead the world. And that's what the book's about.
By the way, why didn't this book sell? I'm sure you saw that ...
Because I didn't promote it. You know, I didn't want to make ... First of all, I thought we probably should have made a paperback book and had fewer copies out. Because my experience is, just looking at how -- I mean, I know how hard Hillary worked to sell her book. Books sell when people go around and go on book tours and talk about them and go do interview shows like this, you know, sit in bookstores and sign copies for hours. I think I was in one bookstore where my book was between this day and the day it came out. And that's because I just happened to be in Chautauqua, New York, one day, you know, preparing for the debates. And there was a pretty bookstore there and I went in and shook hands with the people and talked to them. And I think I signed 12 copies in 10 minutes or five minutes or something. But it was just there. That's what you have to sell a book. It's like -- and I think that I feel badly for the publishers, but I think they may be able to sell some more around Christmas and perhaps around the inaugural because I'm proud of the book. I'm proud of what's in it. I'm proud of the work that I did on it. I'm proud of the collaboration I have with Bill Nothdurft; I think he did a fine job. And it does give a feel for what this administration is about at greater length. But still it made a manageable length than anything else has done.
Is the inaugural in this book?
A lot of it is.
Because of you and the speaker of the House, who often quote Alexis de Tocqueville and others that we've found on this book show that talk about Tocqueville, we're going to take a tour of the country and retrace Alexis de Tocqueville's steps back in 1831 when he ...
That's a great idea.
... and his friend Gus Beaumont came here and went around to all the states east of the Mississippi. I want to ask you this first question because it happens so often. Why does so many politicians quote Alexis de Tocqueville?
Because he was a very shrewd observer of American life. And a lot of what he said when he came here so long ago is still accurate today.
Have you read "Democracy in America"?
Oh, yes. Yes. I read it many, many years ago. And I have referred back to it from time to time over the years. He wasn't right about everything, but he made a lot of very trenchant observations which are still relevant today. Now the speaker and I quote him and probably draw different conclusions from him. But de Tocqueville talked about the incredible propensity of Americans at the grass-roots level to join things. You know, we're churchgoers and we belong to clubs and societies. We did in the early 1800s; we certainly do today.
Robert Putnam, the distinguished contemporary political scientist and sociologist, wrote a trenchant article called "Bowling Alone" in which he argued that our penchant for association were going down as we spent more hours at work and then more time at home and had more entertainment at home. But I don't think that that's exactly right. I mean, I think there is some of that, but there's some evidence that we're coming back to our organizations. Now from that, the speaker has often concluded that the federal government should do nothing and the government should do nothing, that people should just associate themselves into solving their problems at the grass-roots level. My conclusion is that many of our problems -- crime, drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy, these social problems, welfare dependency -- they cannot be solved by a federal government program or bureaucracy. But what we have to do is to give people the tools they need and create the conditions in which working together at the grass-roots level, they can make the most of their own lives. So the speaker and I draw slightly different conclusions from de Tocqueville, but I think both of us would say he is still very accurate in what he observed about us then, after all of our changes, much of it is still true today.
I read your book and I was watching a speech that the speaker was giving when we were carrying it and I almost saw word for word what the two of you said, and you both say this more often than not; and I'll read it. It's on Page 18. “It wouldn't hurt for each of us to keep our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights handy and look them over from time to time. The promise embedded in our founding documents -- it's clear that America promises liberty" -- on and on. How can two men read the same documents like Tocqueville and these and come up with so many different conclusions about what's right and wrong?
Well, I think that's the genius of our system. I mean, that's a good thing, isn't it? I mean, Jefferson and Hamilton had very different conclusions, and Jefferson and John Adams did. And they all fought like cats and dogs. But they fought within a framework of agreed upon principles. And, you know, it bothered me so much about American politics when I ran for president and a lot in the last four years is that I thought that there -- we had gotten away from having a debate over ideas -- and that was fatal in a time of change and that we had substituted for it a sort of politics for personal destruction and meanness which I thought was bad at any time.
I think that in the last few weeks of the last Congress, we got a lot done because you had people who had different specific views on issues but who shared the same broad framework. And we were able to come together in principle compromise and do a lot of great things. So the Kennedy-Kassebaum health-care reform bill, the minimum wage bill, the welfare reform bill, a lot of the things that were done, I think, were important. But the speaker and I, we have a different view about exactly what's going on here. I mean, he believes that the federal government's utility, except for national defense and a few other things, is just about done because we needed a big federal government in the 20th century to deal with big business and big labor in a self-contained world by the global -- we had a Cold War and a national economy. And now that we're in a global economy that's highly entrepreneurial with more small businesses, we need virtually no national government or much smaller because most of this stuff is being done by people on their own at the grass-roots level or in global networks that are -- and that anything the government does, it's likely to mess up.
My view is slightly different. My view is that we are in a different world. We're in a global economy, an information-based economy and a global village after the Cold War. And we need much smaller federal government. You know, this administration -- ours has downsized the government more than my two Republican predecessors did. But I still believe that the national government has a responsibility to see that people have the tools they need to make the most of their own lives, to give everybody opportunity. Not a guarantee, but a chance. And that we should also follow policies which make responsibility by citizens, for their own lives and toward each other, much more likely. That's why our crime bill, I think, is important. So we just have different views in that way. I think we analyze the sweeping historical trends the same way; we harken back to the same fundamental documents but we reach different conclusions on specific things about what our government should be doing.
I'm on the road a lot and I hear radio and I listen to some of the shows that talk about you every day, rarely ever say anything nice about you. Do you ever listen to that?
Not much. But a lot of my friends do. Sometimes they even get mad and call in. The thing that strikes me about it -- of course, the talk radio, the sort of hostile, shrill talk radio is overwhelmingly right wing, not just Republican, but right wing and, therefore, very hostile to me and to my administration, my wife, to others and to our policies. And I think when it goes from criticism to ridicule and hatred and particularly when it is at variance with the facts, which is quite often, it's not serving the country well. But this is a country where there's free speech, and they have the -- if they've got the money and the sponsors to get on the air, they have a right to do it. But I don't think it's been very good for America.
But on a day-to-day basis, I mean, some days, you pick up the paper, you read the columns, you listen to radio, you watch television news and all that stuff, it's just non-stop. Do you ever hear all of that or do you -- I mean, how do you go about dealing with criticism? I mean, how much of this do you ...
Well, I think, first of all, you have to figure out -- you have to consider the source and the substance. And if the criticism is serious, you need to deal with it. All people in public life will make mistakes. And sometimes people acting in their name will make mistakes. And sometimes people who are part of this vast government enterprise will do things that aren't right, that they weren't even authorized to do, but they do. And so it's important to be able to hear criticism and to be able to take it seriously, but not personally because if you take criticism personally, then you can't take it seriously. Because you get angry and frustrated and then it deafens you. So I try to do that. I try to make sure that we know what's going on. If somebody's criticizing a policy or an action or something, that we take it very seriously and evaluate it. But people that are just in the business to bad mouth you, I basically try to ignore that because I think that all but ... So much of the forces at work today in the war of words in America where people are always bad mouthing each other, they're designed to bring people down, to make you small. And America doesn't need small, America needs big.
We would never run a family or a business or a network or anything else -- any kind of enterprise -- and America is an enterprise, it's a great country. You'd never run it by subjecting all of your employees to a constant barrage of negative bad mouthing, that you knew more than half of it wasn't true in the first place. And so it would be foolish of us to spend our time thinking about that kind of stuff. What I try to do is to get up every day and say, ALook, if I did something wrong, I want to know about it and we'll fix it. If somebody else did something wrong, I want to know about and we'll fix that." If we have a mistake in policy, we need to always be willing to reconsider it. But don't pay any attention to all this sort of just hate mongering and venom spewing because all that does is drag you down and preoccupy you.
And every piece of your mind and spirit you give to that is a piece you can't give to America and to the future. Every hour I spend angry about something like that is an hour I have taken away from America's future. And I just have four years here. I have four more years now. And after that, I can do whatever I want, be whatever I want. But right now, this time, every bit of it belongs to the American people. So, you know, I'm not perfect. And sometimes, I hear something that makes me mad, I see something I think is unjust and I'm thankful for all of my friends that continue to call in on all these radio programs and try to reason with these folks. But for me, I have to try to keep every day free for the people that hired me to be president. And I also want to set an example. I mean, there's so many forces in America today trying to pit us against each other and drag us down. We don't need to be small. We need to be big. All of us need to be big. And so I've got to try to do that, too.
Which columnist or commentator that is not normally on your side do you respect enough to read on a regular basis? Any of them?
Oh, yeah. I read David Broder and I respect him. And once in a blue moon he says something that I think is just haywire. But I think he's an honest fellow that tries to call it like he sees it. I read Samuelson in The Washington Post. Once in a while, I think he says something that's just wildly partisan and way off the mark, but normally, I think he's trying to give constructive criticism and I read him from time to time. And there are others, but, you know, it's interesting. I get my best constructive criticism from people that very often, are quite sympathetic with me, because more moderate columnists, moderate to liberal columnists, basically try to write balanced columns, by and large, whereas the people that are on the right, they normally stay right there and, you know, they have a political agenda every day that they pursue. And I kind of admire that; they do it with great discipline, but you can't learn a lot from some of them.
Can you see yourself after office writing a column or being a book writer?
I wouldn't mind doing a column actually. I think I could do a good job of it and I think I could offer observations without being hateful. I think I'd have a lot more empathy for the kinds of choices that people in public life face than many do who write. I've often wondered if I could do a decent job if the shoe were on the other foot. I think it's very hard to write a column. I feel a great sympathy for these folks that have to produce three, four, five columns a week. I think that is really hard to do -- and make everyone of them interesting and new and substantive. I think it's a difficult thing.
I think your -- on your trip to Australia, when this little article came out in the AP, and I clipped it out. I wanted to read it to you and I wanted you to comment on it. "Walter Cronkite said yesterday he's disappointed that fellow broadcaster David Brinkley apologized for calling President Clinton a bore. 'As a commentator, Mr. Brinkley's entitled to express his opinion,' Mr. Cronkite said. 'Rather than apologize, he should have put Mr. Clinton on the spot. Why shouldn't he have an opinion if he thinks the president is boring?' asked Mr. Cronkite who retired in 1981, CBS Evening News. 'If he's not going to apologize, then the nice thing would have been, if he had said, 'Mr. President, you know now that I think you're boring. You've got 10 minutes to prove me wrong.' Mr. Cronkite said, 'It's kind of like retreating in a war.'" What did you think of all this?
Well, I thought, you know, maybe what should have happened is David Brinkley should have apologized to me for saying I was boring and then maybe I should have apologized to him for being boring. But after all I've been through in my public life, being called boring is not the worst thing in the world that can happen to you. And when you're an incumbent president running for re-election, having a boring election's not the worst thing that can happen to you. It means people are pretty well satisfied, so I didn't take very much offense at David Brinkley saying that. After all, it was kind of late, he'd been in election coverage for hours and hours and hours; and besides that, he probably thought it. It's no big deal to me. I mean, that's one of the kinder things people have said about me in the last four years. It didn't bother me too much.
Do you ever get up, though, and you have a whole day ahead of you and you've got to speak and worry about being boring? I mean, does that ever come into your mind -- if you do or don't, how do you avoid it?
No. I think the only time that I'm -- I think the biggest risk of being boring, frankly, for me is being too tired. Because when I'm tired, I take too much time to say what I can say in less time and fewer words. I think the subject matter is interesting. I think the subject matter is interesting if you're interested in what's going on in America today and all these great questions before us, it's fascinating. But I think I can be pretty boring when I'm tired because I just run on and on trying to say the same thing I probably said two minutes before.
When are you the most excited about what you're doing in a day's time?
Oh, gosh. I don't know. I mean, at the moments when I'm doing things that I'm more interested in than -- you know, a lot of what I do is routine stuff. But even the routine -- I like this job. Even the bad days are good. It's a fascinating job and the range of subjects at home and abroad are so vast. So it's exciting. Every Sunday afternoon, for example, or Sunday evening, I read reports from Cabinet officers from the week before. Every week. Hundreds and hundreds of items. And I pick out those things that I want to pursue, you know? And it's interesting to me. And then I get reports on specific areas like the environment or crime or welfare reform that I'm especially interested in. And I do it every week. It's part of my routine. I'm sitting there all by myself. I'm endlessly fascinated to see what my staff and Cabinet are telling me about this. Every aspect of this job is interesting to me. It's an incredible gift to have a chance to do and serve in this position.
You are often accused of wanting to please everyone. Do you sense that yourself?
No. I think it's weird that people do that. Since if I wanted to please everybody, how could I have made so many people mad over the last four years? I think -- I'm a Southerner, you know? I was raised to believe that you don't have to prove your manhood by going around and picking fights with people and bad mouthing them. And you can be courteous and kind to people while you're disagreeing with them. But if I had wanted to please everyone, I would not have been the first president to take on the gun lobby, the first president to take on the tobacco lobby. I would not have hammered through an economic plan that passed by one vote in both houses, that I believe played a major role in turning our economy around but was wildly controversial. I would not have been the first president since President Truman to seriously take on the health care reform issue knowing what it did to him. I would not have argued for foreign, unilaterally given assistance to Mexico when 80 percent of the American people were against it. I wouldn't have fought through the NAFTA battle when my party was divided right down the middle on it. I wouldn't have done what I did in Haiti.
You know, it's hard for my critics to explain why I've done so many controversial things if I was just interested in pleasing everybody. I'm just not interested in engaging the kind of bad mouthing that seems to be the order of the day for a lot of people in politics. I don't think that's necessary. I think you can like your opponents. I think you can treat them with respect. I think you can say no in a nice way. And maybe I just have a style that was difficult for people to adjust to. But I think the record is replete with examples of one tough decision after another designed to infuriate people who did not agree with them.
On Page 148 of your book, you say, “Compared to four years ago, our military is stronger, our alliance is deeper, and we are facing down the major threats to our security.” And on the next page you say, “As a result, our military intelligence forces are more mobile, agile, precise, flexible, smart, and ready than ever before.” How can you do all this and cut the number of military people down so much?
Well, because we don't need a three million person military any more. We can have a much smaller one. With the end of the Cold War, there is no foreseeable need for a large manned army to be in one place at one time like along the line facing the Warsaw Pact nations in Europe because that's over now. So we can have a smaller military. But as we get smaller, we've had to invest a lot in new technology and in making that military more mobile as well as well-trained. And you can do that and moderate the defense budget. That's what we had to. Now you have to make some tough choices. You can't do everything. But I feel very comfortable that our defense is still, by far, the strongest in the world, that it's getting better every day, and the quality of the people is -- which is the most important thing, the quality of the people in the military is just truly extraordinarily.
The secretary of the Navy told me last week I'd been on more ships than any president since Franklin Roosevelt in the last four years. And I've visited a lot of our bases at home and abroad. And the men and women in all the branches of the military service. And I wish every American could have a couple of hours just to see what we have and the people that serve us in uniform. It is a truly extraordinary thing. So we cut down on the size, but we tried to invest more in the quality of life, the training, and the technology. And I think that's the right tradeoff.
What was your reaction after you appointed your new national security team and people who reported on it, I think, almost universally, said, "Great team, but he didn't tell us what he wanted the team to do. No vision"?
You know, they keep saying that and every time I read an article or a column on that, we need one -- nobody ever says what theirs is. I mean, I think we've got a clear vision. You know, we're at the end of the Cold War going into a world which is a global village. What do we have to do to enhance the security of the American people? We have to finish the unfinished business of the Cold War. That's what the START I and START II treaties are about. That's why I want further negotiations with the Russians. That's what the conference of test ban treaty's about. That's what the nuclear non-proliferation treaty's about. That's what ending the North Korean nuclear program was about. That's a vision and specific actions that make a difference. The second thing we have to do is to deal with the new security threats of the 21st century, especially enhanced terrorism, proliferation of weapons, including biological and chemical weapons, rooted in all these ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds, tribal hatreds. And then we have to create a system of cooperation where nations share more of the burdens and the responsibilities. We have to either -- we have to make things like the work we're doing in Bosnia with NATO or the work that was done in the Gulf War through the UN more the order of the day. And then we have to create a global economic system that is more open and more expansive and gives more countries a chance to participate in economic growth in a way that is also fair to countries like the United States which have kept our markets open. And if we do those things, what's going to happen? We're going to enhance peace and security and prosperity. So I think that there is a vision there, and I feel good about where we are and I think most people understand that around the world.
Mr. President, we're out of time. This is the book. It's called "Between Hope and History" by President Bill Clinton. Sells for $16.95 if you can't get a discount. And ...
Surely, it's discounted some place, as many copies as there are floating around.
Thank you very much for your time.