NEWSMAKER: HENRY CISNEROS
AUGUST 26, 1996
Under Bill Clinton's leadership, the Democratic Party has moved decisively to the center, leaving behind much of its New Deal past. Where does that leave them now? Henry Cisneros, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, describes what defines the Democrats for him.
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CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Secretary, thank for joining us.
HENRY CISNEROS, Secretary, Housing & Urban Development: Thank you, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How has the Democratic Party changed since you entered politics over a decade ago?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Well, I think it's changed considerably. I came into politics in the 1970's in the wake of the George McGovern years when the party had a definably liberal tilt. And today I think the Democratic Party is a kind of a mainstream, centrist party. Certainly the main leaders of the party, the President, the Vice President, major congressional figures all have shared a tilt toward people's needs, but at the same time an understanding of how the economy works and business works. It isn't the party of the labor unions exclusively, as it once might have been characterized, because labor has declined in size in the country. And there is a need not just to rely on that tried and true post World War II base but to reach to a broader spectrum of the country. So I think the Democratic Party in the 70's, 80's, and certainly now under President Clinton is the party that holds the center.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, is liberalism as a force dead within the party?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: No, I don't think that liberal values are dead. In fact, I think they inform a good deal of what we tried to do.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And by that, what do you mean, liberal values?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Liberal values of compassion for people, of standing for the little guy, the family in need. But I think that we have transitioned from an era when guarantees of outcomes has given way to creation of opportunity, so that the President talks about opportunity, responsibility, and community being our central values today, as opposed to a day when let's say in the early 70's it might have been thought that the Democrats stood for guaranteed incomes, regardless of willingness to work, for example, or guaranteed financial assistance for lifetime, which we found in subsequent years bred independence. And so today these values of, of opportunity put people where the opportunities are, require responsibility, and then recognize that it's not just individuals fighting for themselves but a community effort, put those things together, and I think that defines the Democrats in 1996.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, how does that differ from the Republicans, because that's what they're saying they believe?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Well, I think considerably, considerably. Uh, first of all--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is the main difference?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: The main difference is they stand for sort of rugged individualism and let people sort of sink or swim, and we stand for community values. They stand for always tilt toward a business, when it comes to writing environmental laws let the corporate lobbyists write the environmental laws versus an understanding of a balancing of the environment and jobs, for example, as Vice President Gore has so ably demonstrated. The difference between, for example, leaving the housing markets to house people versus focusing on assistance to families who are homeless or in--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, the classic difference has always been the difference in the perception of the role of government. How do you see that difference now? Is it narrowed?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Oh, I--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because throughout--excuse me--throughout Democratic platform there is constant reference to small government, less government, and that's always been the Republican refrain.
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: I think that what the Democratic Party has gravitated to--and I think this is the absolute core of it--is what President Clinton has called the third way or a middle way--a middle ground between the old New Deal configuration and on the other hand, the Republican individualistic configuration and the middle ground is smaller government but more role for community institutions and churches and families and a greater reliance upon a more entrepreneurial government that is a partner with communities. In other words, Charlayne, instead of top down, we will give you all the money, a partner, a facilitator, we'll provide the glue that helps you put a community strategy together.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But hasn't that led to some new divisions within the party? I mean, not everybody in the party is happy with that move toward the center.
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Well, that may be true, but I think it is also an--accurate to say that's where the country is going, that the American people have watched where corporate America has gone, and recognize that a lot can be done at the local level. They have gotten tired of the huge bureaucracies and the ways to have little patience for that anymore. And there may be some in our party who haven't understood that, but my guess is that the majority of Democrats understand President Clinton's ideology quite well.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, how do you reassure those, or what's your strategy for dealing with those who feel that the Democratic Party has abandoned the little people, the poor people? They cite the welfare bill and its treatment of, of poor people, of legal immigrants, Hispanics, say they're being made scape goats for all the country's economic problems.
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Well, I think there's just--there's a lot of evidence of the Democratic Party's willingness to use the powers of government for people. Whether it's the action, for example, that the President announced today to--where domestic violence exists, to deny handguns so that we don't allow domestic violence to spread from a beating to a murder with weapons. I mean, these are the examples of how we use government entrepreneurially and helpfully to help people, and there's lots--I think the trick in these times is to tailor the role of government commensurate with our budget and our pocket book, but keep it active and working for people in constructive ways.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How about minorities and urban poor? Now the Republicans say they're going after those votes and that they shouldn't--blacks and urban people shouldn't be taken for granted. Are you threatened at all about this new outreach of inclusiveness?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: No. I think their record is so bad from 1994 to 1995 when they got the chance to govern, when they were given the House and the Senate for the first time in a generation, what they did was try to undo the environmental laws and try to cut off housing assistance and try to cut back funding for head start and try to reduce the Department--cut out the Department of Education and all of these key things. I think it's very, very clear.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In a quick word--and this is unfair to you--but what is the goal of this convention?
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: I think the goal of this convention is to take the differences that exist within the Democratic Party, try to forge a fabric out of that, and then go forward to the country by Labor Day and on through the campaign with the united message that defines who we are and what our President wants to do in the next four years.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
SEC. HENRY CISNEROS: Thank you.