As Jim Lehrer continues his interview with President Clinton, they discuss the negative politics of modern campaigns, the character issue and the continuing Whitewater investigation.
JIM LEHRER: These polls that have come out recently, not only do they show you ahead of Bob Dole by--in double digits--all of them--they also show consistently another interesting thing that I want to ask you about. For instance, the Pew Research Center poll that came out a couple of weeks ago said, these people that overwhelmingly support you for reelection, only 30 percent of those polled found you “honest and truthful.” Only 35 percent believe you keep your promises. What's that all about?
A RealAudio version of of this NewsHour segment is available.
In his Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer, President Clinton discusses:
- re-election and his first term
- negative politics and Whitewater
- the differences between himself and Bob Dole
- his stake in the Congressional elections
- Dick Morris and the role of consultants
- his move to the center
June 18, 1996:
The Senate Whitewater Committee released its report which was highly critical of the White House and the First Lady.
Browse NewsHour coverage of Whitewater.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, there's been a very long and very well financed effort to attack me personally, you know, it goes all the way back to 1991, and people can't help being influenced by that, but now they've seen me be President for three and a half years, and they've seen me get up and fight for them and their interests and their families and their futures in the face of daily withering, highly partisan attacks by Senator D'Amato, who's Sen. Dole's campaign co-chairman, for example, and others, and we keep producing results for the American people. I think that explains the polls. But you can't expect people when all they hear is negative things on one person not to process any of it. But I think the way their voting indicates, that they know that it doesn't amount to much. Down deep inside they know that. And, you know, I can't worry about that. Other people can damage your reputation, but they can't have anything to do with your character. They can't tear it down, and they sure can't build it up. And, uh, the final judge of that is God Almighty, not the people who spend all their time trying to tear it down. So I'm going to keep fighting for the American people. I'm going to keep trying to talk about what we've accomplished and what we're going to do, and point out that there still has not been a single, solitary, shred of evidence of anything dishonest that I have done in my public life, not only as governor--not as governor and as President. And, uh, they spent tens of millions of dollars trying to do it. So I think the people will get this right. They normally always get it right, and I think they'll get it right this time.
JIM LEHRER: Some people have suggested that what this means is that the standard by which people judge political figures, including Presidents of the United States, has changed, that politicians are expected to be different than other people. They're expected to do things in order to get elected, and the public has accepted that now. Is that--do you buy that?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Oh, there might be a little bit of that, but I think people also know that, that we have lived in a time when the quality of our public life has been severely altered by the relentless negativism of the coverage, and that some elements, some political elements have become so well organized and so well financed that they stoke that, they feed that, they work that, so I think there's a little discount factor there too. I think people may not believe that politicians are worse than they used to be or that the standards have been lowered. In fact, I think as someone who's been around this town a long time, I bet if I were doing the interview and I asked you if politicians, on balance, are more honest and better behaved today than thirty years ago, you'd probably have to say that it's probably true.
JIM LEHRER: I would.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And so I think the fact that people have the reverse impression has more to do with the way we talk about each other, the way campaigns are conducted, the way they're covered, the way politics is conducted, and the way it's covered. The rhetoric is so much more harsh, so much more personal, so much more negative. I think it's bad for our country. But I think people have adjusted to that, and they have discounted, therefore, some of the, of the things they hear thrown on public figures.
JIM LEHRER: It just doesn't matter that much anymore.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No. I think it matters, but I think that it matters because people want to believe in people who are in office, but if you--if you look--again, I will say--if you look at what I said I'd do in 1992, if you look at the results we've achieved, if you look at the fact that the results were achieved by doing what we said we'd do in ‘92, and I can make that case in the debates, for example, and to the American people, I think that they see their lives are better and we're moving in the right direction. We're addressing these problems that are concerns to people, their families, their kids. That's all you can do. You cannot worry about the static in the atmosphere or the negative things. You know, if I spent all my time worrying about that, I would never do anything good for the American people.
JIM LEHRER: One of the--one of the negatives, of course, is the Whitewater thing. I want to ask you one question about that. Susan McDougal told a federal judge in Little Rock the other day that the reason she was refusing to testify before a grand jury is that she believed Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, was “out to get the Clintons.” Do you agree with her?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think the facts speak for themselves. All we know about her is she said what she said, and then her lawyer said that he felt they did not want her to tell the truth; they wanted her to say something bad about us, whether it was the truth or not, and if it was false, it would still be perfectly all right, and if she told the truth and it wasn't bad about us, she'd simply be punished for it. That's what her lawyer said.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe him?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think that the facts speak for themselves. I think there's a lot of evidence to support that.
JIM LEHRER: But do you personally believe that that's what this is all about, is to get you and Mrs. Clinton?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Isn't it obvious?
JIM LEHRER: You obviously believe that, right?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Isn't it obvious?
JIM LEHRER: It's obvious to you.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I mean, you know, look at the D'Amato hearings. Uh, what did the D'Amato hearings reveal, witness after witness after witness testifying that as governor, I--every time I was given a chance to do something unethical or ethical, I chose the ethical path, witness after witness after witness. And they still--so whenever a question was answered, they'd just go ask a bunch of questions. But the American people will figure that out. They'll get that. I'm not worried. I trust the people, and I think that's what we should be doing.
JIM LEHRER: If you're reelected, would you consider pardoning the McDougals and Jim Guy Tucker in a second term?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I've given no consideration to that, and you know their cases are still on appeal. And they--I would--my position would be that their cases should be handled like others; they should go through--that there's a regular process for that, and I have regular meetings on that. And I would view those cases as they come up and after there's an evaluation done by the Justice Department, and that's how I think it should be handled.