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Air Date: July 7, 1992 Transcript #114
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Listening to America with Bill Moyers
A Conversation with Governor Bill Clinton
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LISTENING TO AMERICA Transcript #114 Air Date: July 7, 1992
A Conversation With Governor Bill Clinton
BILL MOYERS: What is character to you?
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: Character is living and doing the right things for other people, as well as for yourself. Character is striving continuously for real integrity - that is, putting your mind and your body and your spirit in the same place at the same time. It is - it is the effort to act in a way that makes a difference to other people and that is the right thing to do.
BILL MOYERS: Tonight, from Little Rock, Arkansas, a conversation with Democratic presidential candidate Governor Bill Clinton.
Outside the governor's mansion, Bill Clinton anticipated a theme of next week's acceptance speech: the global economy.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: People are really worried in America that the only way we can compete is to drive wages down. That's what they're worried about. They think we're going to have to compete with Mexican labor at very low wages. But the lesson of the global economy is that you have to change. That's the only lesson.
BILL MOYERS: You can't stop that.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: You can't stop changing.
BILL MOYERS: We have a global economy.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: There is no power - no president can stop the change. The issue is, what kind of changes are we going to have? And who's going to be in charge of them?
BILL MOYERS: The Governor had just enjoyed a long Fourth of July holiday. He and his family went to three movies and a doubleheader baseball game. And he found time to play golf with more than a thought here and there of politics.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: This could be an exciting time, full of opportunity and real progress, but we're going to have to change to get that done.
BILL MOYERS: Are you able, on a long weekend like this, to keep politics out of the - out of your mind?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, by and large. I didn't work on the vice presidential thing this weekend.
BILL MOYERS: You're not going to tell us?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I didn't - no. And I had to do more than I wanted to on the convention. But apart from worrying about the convention, I just tried to relax for three or four days. It's the first real time off I've had in eight months.
BILL MOYERS: Did you do any thinking about the possible impact of the abortion issue on this election, now that the court decided as it did last week?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Yes, I - it's not clear what the impact will be. From my perspective, the most important opinion was the one that Harry Blackmun wrote, saying that we're just one judge away from repealing Roe v. Wade. I think Americans can differ on what restrictions or delays or second thoughts they want to give to the issue of abortion, but I believe that most of us would like to see it not criminalized again. And so my own view is that the focus ought to be on the attempt that this president has made to get judges who would vote to repeal Roe v. Wade. He hasn't been entirely successful, but he's made the attempt. And the unrelenting pressure of this Justice Department to try to get the court, every time an abortion case comes before it, to use that case to repeal Roe v. Wade.
BILL MOYERS: Will you see to it, if you're elected, that that fifth judge, your first appointee, will be a strong supporter of Roe versus Wade?
BILL MOYERS: Is that not a litmus test?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: It is, and it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, but we just had - we will have had then 12 years in which Presidents Reagan and Bush will have appointed 70 percent of the federal judges. Many, many of them were appointed more for their politically correct views, their extreme conservatism and their relative youth, so they could stay on the court a long time, than for their education, their background, their judgment and their experience. And I'm worried about the Bill of Rights and the right to privacy, not just the right to choose, but the general right to privacy, which I think is very important. In a country like ours, you need that elbow room. So I would want the first judge I appointed to believe in the right to privacy and the right to choose.
BILL MOYERS: Arkansas in 1988, I think it was, passed a constitutional amendment that put some rather severe restrictions on abortion, reservations on abortion, and you stood back and accepted that. Have you changed your opinion now-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No, I didn't accept it.
BILL MOYERS: -or were you just simply bowing to the realities of
BILL MOYERS: -a conservative state.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No. What the bill did was to ban any public funds being spent on abortion. As a matter of fact, I think I was the only public official that raised many questions about it. I said that we didn't need it and it could have some unintended consequences. It passed very narrowly. We weren't spending public funds on abortion anyway in Arkansas. Most states weren't. But we did use the medical center to perform abortions that the doctors there felt were medically necessary and now that's been greatly restricted, as you might imagine, because of the amendment.
BILL MOYERS: If you asked this judge you might put on the court how he stands on Roe versus Wade, would you also ask him how he stands on the restrictions, the state restrictions that the court approved last week? Would you like to abolish those altogether?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, I would be very reluctant to get into a great deal of detail on that. The judge might have a record, for all I know, which would tell us what he or she believes. I wouldn't - I don't want to get into that kind of interview process in great detail, but I think that the essential principle, that the ruling ought to be preserved, that it ought to stand, that in a society where even deeply religious people are profoundly divided over the issue of abortion, we should not criminalize it again.
BILL MOYERS: You said a minute ago you were worried about the convention while you were celebrating the 4th. What worries you about it?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Oh, I'm not worried about it. I think it'll be an exciting, not very contentious but interesting convention in which we'll have some debates on minority planks in the platform, in which we'll adopt a very strong and forward-looking platform, one that calls for an awful lot of political reform in both parties, which I think we need. But it just - you know, it's a convention. A lot of people show up and you've got to figure out who's going to speak when and all that and it's a lot of complicated things to decide.
BILL MOYERS: I live in New York and I was reading the papers before I came down here about all the protests that are planned, the demonstrations out in the streets by this group or that group. We have a lot of them in New York, as you can imagine. And my mind-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I saw them.
BILL MOYERS: You saw them? That's right. You dealt with them. I saw you deal with them.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I got acquainted with them.
BILL MOYERS: My mind went back to the 1968 Democratic convention. Democrats have never really recovered from that convention, when all hell broke loose in the streets between the police and the anti-war demonstrations. Do you remember where you were at that time?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I do. I was in Shreveport, Louisiana.
BILL MOYERS: Were you watching it on television?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I was. I watched it all.
BILL MOYERS: Were you - what did you think about it?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: It made me sad and angry and I was just disappointed. It was a metaphor for how profoundly divided the nation was and the Democratic Party was over the war and how threatened a lot of people felt by the opposition, the demonstrations, and how the demonstrators themselves were divided between those who would take stronger action than others. It was a very sad time.
BILL MOYERS: Some - I would say that the public at large still has a hard time believing that the Democratic Party, your party, is an organized party, and much of it goes back to that convention and much of it goes to the contentiousness of the kinds of people who will be gathered in the streets when you're in New York next week. How do think the Democratic Party, with its very aggressive factions and partisans, often at odds with each other, can heal sufficiently to put a united front up? You haven't - your party hasn't won the presidency but once since 1964.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, Will Rogers said a long time ago that we weren't an organized Democratic - an organized party, even though he was a Democrat. I think that the way we're going to win is to prove that we know that both parties in Washington have let the American people down, to prove that we can be the instrument of change, to adopt a platform that is forward-looking, that puts the American people and not special interests first, that calls forthrightly for a lot of political reform to kind of break the stranglehold of special interests in Washington and to show the American people that we have some new ideas, that we're overwhelmingly concerned with restoring the health of the economy and restoring some meaning to the value we place on childhood and making this country work again. I think that's the only way to do it.
BILL MOYERS: In the primaries you just went through, the turn-out was the lowest ever. How do you explain that apathy?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, I think that there are lots reasons for it. I think the - the domination of the process, frankly, by media and by media images and both paid ads and short clips on the news and the absence of old-fashioned, honest debate and grass roots campaigning instead of moving from tarmac to tarmac, from media market to media market had something to do with it. And I think the-
BILL MOYERS: Take that seriously because in the New Hampshire primary, the turn-out was 62 percent.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: High. That's where all of you were on the ground a long period of time.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: And we campaigned hard. We worked hard.
BILL MOYERS: But you can't do that in every state.
BILL MOYERS: So is the system-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: But what we proved was that the American people were hungry for an honest discussion of the issues and were willing to let that cut through a lot of other things. I think that's what the New Hampshire campaign proved. And what I tried to do in this last month is essentially to try to recreate New Hampshire by doing all these nationally televised town meetings and interview programs and question-and-answer programs on MTV and Arsenio Hall, as well as the morning programs, trying to recreate a sense of commonality, to try to cut through all the superficial bull that tends to dominate politics.
BILL MOYERS: But despite that, Ross Perot seems to be the only one of the three of you, at the moment, who excites the passions of people who want to believe that they can take democracy back again, that they can govern themselves again.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, he's the only one who's not part of any political party. He hasn't had to go through what I did to get nominated. He can afford to pay his way in the presidential election, so he didn't have to go through a party primary. And he says things people agree with. But I think as this process goes on and people really look at the record, who's done what for the last 10 years, the last 20 years, I'll be able to make a very compelling case that I ran to change the Democratic Party and to change the country and am far more of an outsider to Washington lobbying and influence-peddling and special interest dealing than either Bush or Perot.
BILL MOYERS: What he really says that excites people is that the system doesn't work anymore, and that gets people. They believe the system doesn't work.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: They're right about that. The system doesn't work anymore.
BILL MOYERS: How do you account for that? How do you account for the cynicism?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I think there are two reasons the system doesn't work. There may be 200, but there are two big ones. One is that we've been in the grip of a false idea for 12 years that the way to make the economy function in a global context with all this tough competition is to keep taxes low on the wealthy and big corporations and have government get out of the way. Don't worry about investing in our people. Don't worry about being competitive in having the government work with the private sector to develop new technology. Don't worry about controlling health care costs. Don't worry about any of the problems. Just keep taxes low on the wealthy and get out of the way. Now, that is a bogus idea and it has led us to unprecedented deficits, to reducing investment, to being less competitive. It's led to government failure. And the Democrats have gone along with it enough, or at least enough of them have in Washington, to keep that idea on the front burner.
The second thing that's killing us is the paralysis of politics in Washington, where the two parties are pointing the finger at each other and where organized interest groups have so much power, they can paralyze the process.
Then I frankly think that the whole domination of the political process by the media and the sort of focus on the moment instead of the long run sort of undergirds it all and weakens it. But anybody who says the system's not working is absolutely right. How in the world could you think the system is working? We've had declining wages for more than a decade. We've had declining productivity, compared to other countries. We quadrupled the debt and reduced our investment in the future. The system doesn't work.
BILL MOYERS: Your own party in Washington is very much a part of that system.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Absolutely, it is.
BILL MOYERS: What lesson did you take away, do you take away from the S&L, the savings and loan scandal, where both parties helped to make it possible? During the 1988 campaign, they hid the scope of it from the American public and then as soon as the election was over, they dumped the price of it on the taxpayers. What lesson do you draw from that?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: That the people who pushed it in the administration, the Republican administration, and the people who supported it in the Democratic Congress were influenced by those who were supporting this deregulation and didn't understand the economics of it. They were both unduly influenced and they were just wrong. You couldn't deregulate the S&L's and make them like banks overnight without training the people to do the work, without having some sort of real accounting and accountability system. I mean, the whole thing was a nightmare and it happened again, in my view, because of a bad idea and the dominance of special interests, the same thing that's hurting the whole system.
BILL MOYERS: The Associated Press this morning reports that there's a growing possibility that taxpayers are going to have to bail out the banking system once this election is over, that both parties even right now as we talk in Washington are trying to cover up the true extent of the banking system's perils and that as soon as the election is over, however, they'll turn right around, as after the election of 1980, and say, "You taxpayers have to bail it out." Let me ask you, if it comes to that and you were to be elected in November and the banking system were to require a bail-out, would you ask the taxpayers to bear that cost?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I think the people who made the errors should bear the cost, but directly or indirectly, you either have to let the banks fail - you keep in mind what the taxpayers were asked to bail out was the guaranteed deposits, so the taxpayers were, in effect, bailing out each other. But there were people who made a killing ripping off the depositors in the S&L's and they were the ones that should have been held more accountable. More of their assets should have been devoted to paying off the S&L's. We should have been much tougher on that.
BILL MOYERS: But both parties colluded in that not happening.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think both Democrats and Republicans are holding their breath now until after the election, regarding another banking crisis?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No, I think - the banking system, it's a different situation. There - there are some problems in some banks because of regional depressions and there have been some mistakes made, but the scope of the problem I don't expect to be nearly as great.
BILL MOYERS: Given what you yourself say about the Democratic Party in Washington, why should working people vote Democratic? I mean, William Greider in his best-selling book, Who Will Tell the People?, talks about how the Democratic Party has been captured in Washington by economic interests that are at odds with the natural constituencies of the Democratic Party, and that they really govern your party.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: In the first place, there is a strong movement within the Democrats around the country to reassert the traditional purposes of our party, to put the people first again. There are people in the Congress who would turn this country on a dime if they had the influence to do it, if they had a president who was helping them. There are going to be 100 or more new members of Congress. We have a chance to turn this country around if the president and the Congress can stop pointing the finger of blame at each other and begin to work together in harness, and if there's a president who exercises some leadership. You know, Truman used to say, "The buck stops here." You can't get this country straightened out again until you have a president who will take responsibility for the long - term problems of the country, who passionately cares about it, who's willing to take on these interests and willing to fight it through and willing to get people to work together again. I think that you can put together the votes in Congress if you've got a president who has assumed some sort of leadership. That's what this country's all about.
BILL MOYERS: I'm not really certain you understand the extent of the opposition there. I mean, Greider and others have pointed in verse after verse, chapter after chapter, to the fact that the Democratic Party in Washington has become a party of lawyers, many of whom serve the very corporate and Republican interests that you want to - you find at the heart of what's gone wrong in this country.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: That's right.
BILL MOYERS: And that they supported - they were working for the banking, the savings and loan industry, during this period of the '80s and they would not let the Democratic Party tell the truth.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Absolutely, but that's why I've been out here for all these years trying to reform the Democratic Party. One of the reasons I got in this race for president, because I didn't think anybody else would do it. I've called for restricting the influence of political action committees, changing the whole nature of congressional elections to open the airwaves to debate and to reduce the amount of spending on congressional elections, real restrictions on lobbyists and lobby control and real disclosure requirements for lobbyists when they testify or clients when they testify before congressional committees. We're going to have to open this thing up and there are a lot of people who won't like it, but there'll be enough new members of Congress, enough who are there now who want to change, that if I can win on advocating the kind of tough changes we need, we'll change this thing.
Look, this country has had these problems for 200 years. We always have problems that require us to fundamentally change about once a generation. And what we're facing today is not any more profound than the Civil War or the Depression, for goodness sakes. What's killing us today is, we've become so cynical we don't think we can change any more.
BILL MOYERS: Fair enough. But earlier in the '80s, it was the Democratic Party in Congress that opened the floodgates of those tax giveaways. It was Danny Rostenkowski on the Ways and Means Committee in 1981 that actually bid more than the White House wanted to bid to the corporations and the interest groups. It was the Democrats who first proposed lowering the tax rate on unearned income, who supported the regressive tax for Social Security. I mean, it's a schizophrenic party, right?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, when they raised taxes on Social Security, I don't know if they knew what they were doing. I don't know if they had any idea they'd be raising too much money. But as you know, it's given us a real reactionary tax system now. I mean, the Social Security system is $70 billion in surplus. And what I think we've got to do is to change that, but that's what you have elections to do. You've got to - you've got to - look, if you have one guy out here - me - saying, "OK, I'm for progressive taxes. I'm for treating the middle class and small businesspeople and the people who are making jobs in America fairly. Vote for me," and the others aren't saying it, you have - at least you have a chance with me. That's the argument I want to make to you and I think - look, look at all - the Congress can hear. This is not 1976. This is 1992, when there's going to be 100 new members of Congress, maybe more, because of public outrage at this political system. And they know, the public knows that both parties in Washington have to change to get anything done.
BILL MOYERS: If you find the rich Democratic lawyers and lobbyists in Washington working against your proposals in the Hill, working for their corporate client, will you blow the whistle on them publicly?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Sure. Well, of course.
BILL MOYERS: They brought down Jimmy Carter and they can do it to you.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I don't think so. I think what happened, with all respect to President Carter, was a combination of bad luck and historical trends and perhaps some policies that were at least poorly timed. I mean, don't forget, those Washington lobbyists didn't give us the inflation and interest rates and-
BILL MOYERS: That's true.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: - Iran and all those problems that - he had an unbelievable number of problems and still a lot of what he tried to do was right. But I think you're going to have much more upheaval in the Congress. I mean, they get it now. They understand that they have an infuriated, angry, disappointed, skeptical, sometimes cynical public out there. We have got to change this country. You know, I did not get into this race just to sort of go up there and cozy up to everything that went wrong. I wanted, in large measure, to bring the Democratic Party back to its true roots, to revitalize it as a party of growth and fairness and opportunity. And if we can't do that, it won't work. But believe me, I've got a better chance to do it than anybody else. We know that President Bush won't do it because he doesn't believe in it. He believes in the policies of the last 12 years. We don't know quite what Ross Perot will do or what he would advocate, but we know he'd have even more trouble than I would, doing it. And we know that, based on his history and the work that he's done up there with the Republican administrations going back to Nixon and the Democratic influence people in Congress, that I am the one most likely to bring a true outsider's perspective to this.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think the American people get for their government? We have no universal health care. We have no federal guarantee of higher education. It was government policies that drove the real estate speculation of the '80s that cost the American people.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: And then brought it down.
BILL MOYERS: And then brought it down. It's government policies that encourage a lot of corporations to move American jobs overseas. It - the regulatory agencies have, in many cases, been gutted. What are the American people getting for their government now?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: They're getting Social Security and Medicare and an inadequate system for poor children, a national defense system that's too expensive and not geared to the demands of the 21st century and an economic policy that's atrocious. They're not getting their money's worth.
BILL MOYERS: What I hear them saying, expressing, is fear, fear that things are not only bad, but things are going to get worse. They hear all the talk that their jobs are going to have to be shipped overseas, that they're going to have to take a lower standard of living in order to compete with Mexican workers who make $78 a week and that there's nobody really standing up for them.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: That's exactly what they're going to have to take if they don't change.
BILL MOYERS: If who doesn't change?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: If the American people don't change. The American people have got to vote to change the direction of this country. The only way they can do that is to change the president. If they don't vote to do it, they're going to get exactly that. This administration believes that we don't need to maintain a manufacturing base in America. This administration believes that it's OK if we keep becoming a hard-work, low-wage country. This administration is not upset that most Americans are working longer hours than they worked 20 years ago for less wages than they made 10 years ago. You've got to change. But look, you can have a high-wage, high-growth country. Look at the Germans. The average factory worker in Germany earns 20 percent more than the average American, has a national health insurance package, had health insurance costs go up less than the rate of inflation, gets four weeks paid vacation and family leave when there's a kid born or a parent sick. We can do these things. It is our stubborn refusal to change and the fact that the voters keep getting suckered by the Republican attack every four years that's keeping us from doing it and the fact that no Democrat has taken on the established interests in both parties to change.
BILL MOYERS: I heard you tell the workers at the G.M. plant in Texas that they did the right thing when they accepted concessions, a lower standard of living, to keep their jobs, while workers in Michigan at the G.M. plant who refused to make those concessions were told, "Tough luck." And what some of those workers understood you to be saying is, "This is the way it is, fellows. Unless you accept a lower"-
BILL MOYERS: -"standard of living," like the Republicans are saying
GOV. BILL CLINTON: When I bragged on them for doing was changing the work rules and I think that labor is going to have to take the lead in working very closely with management and government and the education system in creating a continuous environment of change in every work place. I don't think you can hunker down behind yesterday's rules and expect to compete in tomorrow's economy. And I think labor's responsibility is to do that, to be as productive as possible and to change the work rules, but I do not want a hard-work, low-wage eco-nomy. I want a smart-work, high-wage economy. And I think a lot of workers have done it and been punished for it. I mean, look at the Flint engine plant, one of the G.M. plants that's going to be closed, recognized all over America as one of the best examples of labor management cooperation, of getting rid of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, of recreating productivity. They're still going to close it. Those people ought to be rewarded, not punished.
BILL MOYERS: Business Week recently said that that area along the Texas-Mexican border, they called it "Detroit south" because so many auto work - industry has moved down there. And I thought at the time, "Why shouldn't General Motors be happy to move a plant down there where workers make $78 a week?" I mean, isn't that the economic rule?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, why do manufacturing - why do we only have 16 percent of our workers in manufacturing when the Germans have 32 and the Japanese have 28, even though they don't use as many people to make cars per car as we do? Because they're always moving into new things and because they've got a manufacturing strategy. If you're running a little company in America and you looked at our tax code, you might think your country wants you to shut your plant down and move it overseas. You can talk to manufacturers anywhere. You don't get an investment tax credit if you modernize your plant and equipment or if you re-educate your workers. But if you shut your plant down and move it overseas, you get all kinds of tax concessions. We don't have a national economic strategy that says, "Hey, we want to keep as many manufacturing jobs in this country as we can and we want to keep upgrading them as fast as we can and we want to keep moving into new areas." So that's what we're getting the shaft on. And I also think, frankly, that if the Mexicans want us to extend the Maquiladora Line - that is, have a new trade agreement - they're going to have to agree to invest more in labor standards, wages and environmental protection in order to get the playing field evened a little bit so that both of us will be better off.
BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that corporate salaries are soaring while corporate profits are falling?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: It's wrong. It shows you that the culture of this country is still into that "turn a quick buck," "get it while you can" mentality of the 1980s that nearly ruined government and did devastating damage to our private economy.
BILL MOYERS: As president, would you go along with the recommendation in Congress that executive salaries over a million dollars no longer be tax-deductible, that stockholders, not taxpayers, should pay for those that income?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I would if that's the best we can do. It's a simple solution to a problem that's a little more complicated than that. That is, if an executive is running a company where the profits are growing, the employees are expanding in number, the stockholders are doing fine, I don't much care what they make. What bothers me is all these people that kept raising their pay while they were throwing their workers in the street and their profits were going down the tube. And it wasn't just government that let the American people down over the last 10 years, it's also been a lot of people in big business who took advantage of their own position at the top of the totem pole while their workers were losing their jobs and their benefits and their companies were losing their profits.
BILL MOYERS: You're not against wealth. You're not against an executive-
BILL MOYERS: -making a lot of money if -
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No, I - I think
BILL MOYERS: What's the principle?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: The principle is, if you make money with a company, you ought to make money because you're doing a good job for that company.
BILL MOYERS: Increasing productivity.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: You ought to be increasing productivity. You ought to be strengthening the position of your workers. You ought to be increasing your profits. But if your profits are going down and your workers' wages and benefits are going down, for you to be raising your pay is just wrong, and that's what's happening all over America. It's been going on for 10 years now.
BILL MOYERS: Is it just a - isn't this just a sort of symbolism, a psychological thing that, in fact, if you change corporate pay, you're not going to - you're not going to change the basic economic output of this country very significantly.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No, but I think it will change the whole culture of America. You know, we have a company that has two plants in our state, Nucor, a very productive steel mill. And in one year, when the earnings dropped and worker bonuses had to be cut, the man running that company cut his own pay by two or three times the percentage that worker pay was cut. It sent a signal like a rifle shot throughout that company. You know, the people running the company are taking responsibility for the decisions which put it in trouble. They're not blaming the workers. They never did lay anybody off, never did fire anybody. But just because the bonus was lower, the managers took a bigger cut. That's the sort of thing that I think - that's the old--fashioned American notion that if you're running the show, you ought to ride up in the good times and when your workers go down, you ought to go down some with them.
BILL MOYERS: Some of your critics say, "Well, Clinton's got it together, but he's really not tough enough to take on both the economic forces in this country and the power blocs and factions in Congress." And some of them point to the race you lost in 1974, when you were running for Congress, I think it was, and you said in a speech that got you into a lot of trouble that corporations should pay their fair share. "If they don't," you said, "it seems conceivable it won't matter who is president because the president will not be the most powerful man in the land, or official. The man who runs Exxon or some other big, multi-national corporation, who can take action with your money, even though it hurts your interest, he'll be running the country." And I wondered, did losing that election make you more cautious about tackling entrenched, powerful interests and to seek compromise instead of confrontation?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No. No. I've lost two elections and I learned something from both of them. And what I learned is, there's a time to take people on and there's a time to make accommodations and you have to know when to do both. I think now you have to begin by staking out your ground and taking on the interest groups. In the end, no president may have every last T crossed and I dotted just the way that he might want, but you have to take them on. If you look at my record, if you look at the interest groups I've taken on over the years, I've been at odds with nearly every organized group in this state and I've been willing to take them on when I thought they were wrong and to fight through to a successful conclusion, whether it was for lobby reform or accountability in education, including teacher testing, which is a real tough deal here, or differing with the National Rifle Association over issues that affected law enforcement. I have often taken on very tough interest groups and fought them. I think that's what you have to be willing to do and the president's going to have to do that to get anything done.
BILL MOYERS: But you're also known as a compromiser here. You've been careful on the environment in order to keep jobs. You were for education reform and to pay for them, you accepted a regressive sales tax. I mean, you do balance these interests so that people do see you as more conciliatory than a leader.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, a leader -
BILL MOYERS: A manager.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: A leader gets things done. I mean, if the American people just want somebody that'll stand up there and tell them what they want to hear and won't do anything, I'd just as soon they vote for somebody else. I don't have any interest in leaving the life I have here to go to the White House to say things that titillate people and excite them and not get anything done. No - we're not electing a king here, we're electing a president. You can't - Roosevelt was a great leader who took on the economic royalists, but in the end worked with people to get things through Congress.
BILL MOYERS: Is there one idea you will fight for, no matter what the political cost, if you're elected president?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Oh, absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: What is it?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: There's more than one, but -
BILL MOYERS: What's the one, though?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Racial equality, the absence of discrimination, the end of these terrible divisions that are gripping our country. I'll stand for it against all comers to the very end.
BILL MOYERS: Why that one?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Because this country cannot develop a successful economy until we say everybody counts. We're all on the same side. We don't have a person to waste. And we can - I've laid out a program for economic growth, and it's a good one. Somebody's got a better idea and they say, "Well, you ought to change it a little bit here or there," as long as fundamentally it's committed to investment and putting people first again, being for growth and for fairness, I'm open to that. But until we say everybody counts again, until we can pull everybody together again across the racial and ethnic divides, we're going to not be able to perform against the Japanese, against the Germans, against these other countries. And besides that, it isn't America. A country's not a good place to live when people are so divided, one from another.
BILL MOYERS: Leadership requires a president to make some unpleasant choices. And critics of your new economic plan say that you don't make any hard choices, that you really are trying to satisfy all the factions out there, give a little bit to everybody, and that you don't - you haven't really told the American people what are the unpleasant choices you will make and ask them to make.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I've asked something of everyone. I've asked people in the - in work groups to - in labor unions and other working places to change all the work rules to be more productive. I've asked the wealthy to pay their fair share. I've asked the executives to stop paying themselves bigger increases than their workers get or than their profits warrant. I've told the people who are running the health insurance companies and the health care bureaucracies they're going to have to change their way of doing things if they're going to stay in this business, because we're going to bring health costs in line with inflation. I've gone - I've told people on welfare I want to invest more in their futures, but I want them to move off welfare into work. I've gone through person after person after person and said "Here's my challenge to you," and I have been far more specific and direct about it, to the best of my knowledge, than anybody who's run.
BILL MOYERS: Take just health care. Why not just say, ''We will have universal health care and we'll raise taxes to pay for it. Everybody will have it and we'll pay for it with taxes"?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Why should we do that when we're spending 30 per-cent more than any other country now? That means - if you start with a tax increase, that means we're going to leave the health insurance companies with what they've got, we're going to leave this massive health care bureaucracy, bigger than any other country in the world, we're going to leave that in place. It means you're going to leave the same delivery system we've got now without the kind of primary and preventive health care we need. If we lead with a tax increase instead of with cost controls, you're just giving up. You're saying, "OK, America has this unforgivably inefficient, wasteful system and we don't want to take on those interest groups, so we're going to stick it to the middle class taxpayer one more time." My view is, before you raise any money, reform the insurance system, slash the bureaucracy, stop the way the government's regulating it, get people into health care networks so they don't, you know, get encouraged to spend more than they should. Do things that make it possible for people to get medical care that they need at an affordable price. That's what the American people want.
BILL MOYERS: I've read your proposals. I've read your speeches. And as I did so, the thought struck me, you know, Bill Clinton seems to have done a brilliant job of preparing, but has he prepared for the wrong world? He's prepared an affirmative, aggressive government program when there really is no money to pay for anything new and he's prepared a comprehensive plan when what people out there are yearning for, or at least they seem to me to be yearning for, is a fighter, somebody who can galvanize democracy, who can rekindle faith in the system, who can take on the adversaries of - in Washington and rout them, not just conciliate them. They're wanting somebody who has three or four or five core principles, almost like Ronald Reagan in 1980-Dukakis had almost 100 proposals in the 1988 campaign. And what people were-people weren't looking for those proposals. They were looking for soul. They were looking for combat. They were looking for a leader who had three or four core principles.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: But I do. I do. Government's not working. We're going to have to change both parties. We've got to put people first again. That means we've got to put education and training above everything else. We've got to have an economic program that will grow this economy again, instead of collapsing. We've got to get control of health care costs and provide affordable health care to all Americans. And we've got to come together across racial and ethnic lines. Those are the things I have said from the beginning of this campaign. You know, I don't think I should be disabled because when people say, "Well, how are you going to do it?" I tell them, and then they say, "Well, you're giving up too much," whereas everybody else has got these secret plans or whatever.
BILL MOYERS: Is this trial by ordeal the way to elect our presidents?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Oh, I don't know. I think there are ways you could improve on it. You know, you could maybe have regional primaries and - there ought to - tarmac to tarmac, state to state, media market to media market - it's terrible. You don't connect with real people.
BILL MOYERS: You don't learn anything, do you, about the country?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: You don't learn anything. I learned most of what I learned in this primary process early on. You know, I - when I went back to the town meetings, like in Pennsylvania, I met some other people and really learned some things. But you can't learn anything if you're just spending 40 percent of your time on an airplane going to the next place and trying to think of what you're going to say in your eight-second sound bite that night.
BILL MOYERS: Maybe Perot has the right idea.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: What do you mean?
BILL MOYERS: I mean, he's not doing that. He's-
BILL MOYERS: -hooking up with television and-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, and I think - you know, the stuff - I started these town meetings back in New Hampshire. We did two of them on television to let people call in and let people put people in the audience. And I think it is absolutely the way to go. We did a number of them. I think we should do more debates. I think we should do more interview programs. I think we should do more of these town meetings and I think - you know, the system we've got hasn't worked. It's a part of the problem. It's immensely expensive, it's time-consuming and it is numbing. You know, you don't have time to read, to learn and to resonate with real people out there.
BILL MOYERS: You're tired even after your vacation. Your voice is still hoarse. I mean, what kind of shape are you in if you win in November?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Oh, I'll be in good shape. I'll be just fine. I'm ready to do it.
BILL MOYERS: For a long time the cold war defined America's existence and mission in the world. What do you think the country's role is, now that we don't have a superpower rival and enemy?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Our role should be to stand up for what we believe in around the world now. We don't have to hedge and to bob and to weave in the world because of where other countries and events stand compared to the Soviet Union, because it's not there anymore. We really can be a stronger force for freedom, for democracy, for human rights, for economic growth through free markets than we've ever been before and that's what we ought to be doing. Now, to do that we have to recognize that we've got to be stronger at home. And after World War II -
BILL MOYERS: "Stronger"-you mean-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Economically stronger. After World War II, we rebuilt Europe and Japan. After the cold war, we first have to rebuild America. In order to be strong enough to do this - I mean, remember when the Japanese prime minister said on President Bush's trip over there that he felt "sympathy" for the United States? I mean, it was a humiliating moment for us and it had nothing to do with our military standing. It was all about our economic problems.
BILL MOYERS: That's the point. This new global economy threatens the loss of some things Americans hold dear: national sovereignty, the power to enforce our laws and our will, the ability to sustain an economy that provides for social amity, social peace. The global economy really reduces the office of the presidency and his ability to change things.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Only if you believe that international economic forces will overtake the American people and their political will.
BILL MOYERS: That's what they fear out there in this country.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: That's what they fear, but we have examples that show it doesn't have to be that way. Look at Japan. Look at Germany. Look at Sweden. Look at a lot of these other countries. They have lower unemployment, higher productivity growth, very strong national economies, higher wages for working people because they work together. They make government work in a way that promotes exports, involvement in the world and still maintains high wages for well-educated and healthy people. That's what we've got to do here.
BILL MOYERS: The Bush administration is considering whether or not the CIA should be spying abroad for American corporations now. Would you want the CIA doing that if you were president?
BILL MOYERS: You would not? No industrial policy off the books?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I don't know - no. What we need is an industrial policy at home. See, that's another way they're going - I mean, that's just another diversion, another desperate search for the easy answer by this administration. What they ought to be doing, if they want an industrial policy, is to be investing in the new technologies that are going to produce these jobs, helping these industries compete by controlling their health care costs and educating the workers of America. That's what will give us jobs, not this - you know, the very idea that we can spy on foreign countries or businesses for our own business interests as a substitute for having well-educated workers, a healthy work force, a sensible economic policy - it just shows you how nutty they are.
BILL MOYERS: You've been hard on President Bush in this interview and you've become increasingly aggressive in your attacks out on the campaign trail. Has he done nothing that you respect?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Yeah, I think he did a good job in the Gulf war. I think he was wrong before and wrong after, but he did a good job there in the Gulf war.
BILL MOYERS: What about his refusal to bow to pressure to - to make the $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel? Some people think that brought Israel to its senses over the settlement policies and helped bring a more tolerant government, and now you've taken just the opposite position.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that the U.S. was beating on Israel just to re-quire certain-
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I think the U.S. was uneven in its public statements. That is, if we were going to go after Israel on the settlements, which was a position consistent with our government's long-standing position against expansion of the settlements in the occupied areas, then something should have been said at the same time, since this peace process was going on, about all the problems that the Arab states brought to the table that prevented us from getting a peace. I thought it was one-sided and that's what I didn't like about it. I did believe, by the way - let me - I thought Bush and Baker did a good job getting the parties to the peace table, but I think that their public statements made it harder for peace to occur, not easier.
BILL MOYERS: You and I come from the same part of the country, actually. I was - you were born 33 miles from where Ross Perot was born and I was born 30 miles the other side of where Ross Perot was born. It was poor country. They lost - my grandfather lost his farm. My father went from one job to another. There's something - there's a grittiness about this part of the country. How would you characterize it?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: My mother's people have been here for many generations. Most of them were, in the beginning, poor dirt farmers and then very small businesspeople or workers. I would say it's - it's an area that has produced a lot of tough people, people who work hard, who value what they had, who could take a lot of licks.
BILL MOYERS: Well, they took a lot of licks. It was hard to make a living down here.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Yeah, took a lot of licks. I mean, my grandparents had tough times. I've seen it. And they had a kind of a determined optimism and a sense that-
BILL MOYERS: A kind of forced optimism?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Well, it might have been forced, but I think it was genuine and I - and at least in my family, I found that they also had a remarkable ability to enjoy the little things in life. It's sort of a legacy that my grandparents and that generation left to me, you know, the idea that we may not have much money and things may get really tough, but you've just got to get up every day and make the best of it and the best of it is your family, your friends, the beautiful outdoors, the things that, you know, nobody can take away from you. And I think that that certainly has had a big impact on me, their whole view of life, that you've got to get up and do the right thing, regardless, and if you get beat down, you just get up again, and that you find something to be grateful for every day.
BILL MOYERS: What does this do, in regard to character? What is character to you?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Character is living and doing the right things for other people, as well as for yourself. Character is striving continuously for real integrity - that is, putting your mind and your body and your spirit in the same place at the same time. It is - it is the effort to act in a way that makes a difference to other people and that is the right thing to do.
BILL MOYERS: There was a kind of fatalism in the religion in which both of us were raised. Have you overcome that? Do you still think that you play the card that's dealt you and you can't change the hand?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No. I've worked hard on believing that you can change. I have to believe in change because that's made it possible for me to go on. You know, you and I are raised in this Baptist tradition where we know that no one is a stranger to sin, but we believe in redemption and improvement and going on. And I believe that about a society. I mean, to me, character in this presidential race is telling the American people the truth about where we are and where we've got to go and having the steely determination and the love and the compassion and the caring to do what it takes to get us there.
BILL MOYERS: You know, our church, our Southern Baptist denomination's involved right now in a terrible internecine quarrel between the fundamentalists who-
BILL MOYERS: - have made league with the religious right and the moderates. Has that affected your - your practice of your faith?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No, but it's made me real sad. You know, I just - I hate - I really hate to see it going on and it's affected the lives of pastors I know and families I know and churches that I know.
BILL MOYERS: It's been almost as divisive as the Civil War.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: Yeah. It's really been tough on us. As you might imagine, I'm pretty much on the side of the moderates in the fight and the thing that has always been special about our church at its best was its reasoned tolerance and its understanding of the real wall between church and state. And all of that is at risk today in the interplay of the forces.
BILL MOYERS: Doesn't this, in a three-way race, make it more difficult for you to hold your base? You've got a different attitude from the historic view on race down here and you take the side of the new minority in the dominant religious force down here, the Southern Baptists. It seems to me your natural political base is jeopardized by race and religion.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: It might be, but I think a lot of the impulses in ordinary practicing Baptists to side with the conservatives are good impulses. That is, people think that, you know, things are out of hand, that excess caused a lot of the problems, both the personal and the political problems, that people have faced in this country over the last several years, so I think their impulses are good. I just think that we have to argue about what's the best way to manifest those impulses and I welcome the chance to do that. You know, I don't know that there is a natural base anymore for accepting ideas and it may cut across geographic and generational lines. But I know one thing. There's no point in being president if you don't have something you believe, if you won't stand up for it, and then you won't try to make it real in the life of the country. So I just have to be who I am and I think that in that sense, in terms of my church, I'm much more in the mainstream tradition of the church and that's where I'm comfortable being.
BILL MOYERS: How did it come about that your side let the other side ap-propriate the language of family and faith, piety, responsibility? I mean, somewhere along the way, that happened and your side hasn't recovered from it.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: We're going to try to get it back in this election, the political side. And I hope that my church will find an accommodation for all of the people who are believing Baptists, too. But as far as the Democrats are concerned, I don't think the Republicans have a monopoly on family and faith in this country and optimism. I am extremely hopeful about the future because I just - because of the past. Every time we've been up against the wall as a country, we've made the right decision, we've had the courage to change, and I think that's what will happen in this election.
BILL MOYERS: You think things are really bad now for this country?
BILL MOYERS: Could you call it a crisis?
GOV. BILL CLINTON: It's a terrible crisis.
BILL MOYERS: Of what kind, what dimension? There's no foreign enemy.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: No. We have-the crisis is a crisis of the American spirit, the American system, the American economy. It's an internal crisis. It's a crisis of self-doubt and paralysis and conflict and a lack of vision.
BILL MOYERS: Havel says that politicians like you bear an enormous moral responsibility for the spiritual life of the country because you choose by your policies which side of our character to massage, which side to support, to inspire, that you can pick out and reward the wrong forces and you can pick out and honor the affirmative forces. How do you see your spiritual responsibility as a leader, as a political leader? And then we'll quit.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: I think I have to honor the builders and the healers, those who fight for change to improve people's lives without sacrificing the basic values that make life worth living. Those are the people I have to lift up and if I am the president, those are the people I will lift up.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: From Little Rock, Arkansas, this has been a conversation with Governor Bill Clinton. I'm Bill Moyers.
JUDGE: What's the defendant's plea?
ATTORNEY: Not guilty, Your Honor.
BILL MOYERS: When the courts are overcrowded and overburdened-
JUDGE: It is akin, I think sometimes, from a layman's perspective, to a cattle call. We round them up, I bring them in front of me and I'm going almost at a mile a minute.
1ST EXPERT: If we don't have a mechanism for people to have access to justice, then we will have chaos.
BILL MOYERS: Who gets justice?
WORKSHOP LEADER: Only thing you're going to say is, "What do you know about my case?" Then you call your people. "Mama, get me a lawyer."
2nd EXPERT: We have to create the perception that this is a system that works for everyone.
BILL MOYERS: Listening to America returns two weeks from tonight with a report on the politics of justice. Join us here on PBS. I'm Bill Moyers.
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Listening to America
Episode Number
A Conversation with Governor Bill Clinton
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Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group (New York, New York)
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Just before accepting the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, candidate Governor Bill Clinton met with Bill Moyers in Little Rock for a conversation about the global economy, character and optimism.
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LISTENING TO AMERICA: A weekly series examining the issues and ideas of the 1992 presidential campaign.
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: Roberts, Chris
: White, Arthur
: Doctoroff O'Neill, Judy
Associate Producer: Berman, Rebecca
Director: Camp, Joseph
Editor: Moyers, Bill
Editor: Moyers, Judith Davidson
Executive Producer: Weinberg, Howard
Executive Producer: Weinberg, Arthur
Producer: Weinberg, Arthur
Producer: White, Arthur
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Chicago: “Listening to America; 114; A Conversation with Governor Bill Clinton,” 1992-07-07, Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “Listening to America; 114; A Conversation with Governor Bill Clinton.” 1992-07-07. Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: Listening to America; 114; A Conversation with Governor Bill Clinton. Boston, MA: Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from