FEBRUARY 5, 1997
Over the past two years a group of Colorado Republicans, Democrats and Independents have come on the NewsHour to discuss national issues. Last night they joined Charlayne Hunter-Gault to give their views on the President's State of the Union.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Clinton's State of the Union message is our lead story tonight. The president addressed a joint session of Congress last night. We start with the view from Denver. Over the last two years we have periodically gathered together a group of Colorado Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Last night they watched the president's speech with Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
February 3, 1997:
The NewsHour historians preview the State of the Union by looking at the historical importance of past addresses.
The White House provides text and RealAudio versions of President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address.
The Republican National Committee published Rep. J.C. Watts' (R-OK) response to the State of the Union.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you all for joining us. What were your expectations of this address, and were they met? Ms. Cisneros.
ADELIA CISNEROS, Retired: I felt he touched out to everyone. It was intergenerational; it was inter-racial and international. So he really touched on everything, and I was particularly pleased that I'm particularly against an amendment to the Constitution, and I believe in the balanced budget but do not believe in an amendment. I just don't believe that we should be messing around with the Constitution.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thomas Conway, were you about to raise your hand?
THOMAS CONWAY, Stockbroker: I thought as far as the speech went, I thought it was one of the best that I've heard. And I thought it was rather interesting that he pointed out a common adversary which we currently don't have in the nation but pointed out inactivity or inaction as being a common adversary that we have to overcome and strength through diversity and, therefore, bipartisanship to accomplish these objectives and try to bring the nation in together as a whole to reach a common objective, whether it is education or foreign policy. I thought his main message was to work together, and I thought it came across very well in that regard.
ANNE NUANES, Single Mother: I liked the part about the education. I liked that he's focusing on that because education goes across the board, or whether you're 30 something like me. I think you need to learn, especially in this age, where you're changing, you have to keep up to date, and you have to keep changing, and that takes money. And it's important.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Linda Houston, did this do what a State of the Union address is supposed to do, and how well was it done?
LINDA HOUSTON, Insurance Broker: I thought there was a lot of competitive words being used, and I thought that his sense about education, though wonderful, had an awful lot of hopes but not a lot of solutions. And I think that the education in the nation today really needs more than just a band-aid. And I think that he has a lot of bandaid-type ideas. I hope some of them work, and he doesn't talk about where he's going to get the funds to do it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Sam Arnold, how did you like the vision and the balance in the speech?
SAM ARNOLD, Restaurant Owner: I felt it was his finest hour. I think that he's done just a smashingly good job with the speech. Let's see if it comes to pass.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, how does that compare with four years ago, do you remember your reaction then? I mean, you're not exactly the president's best friend.
SAM ARNOLD: Well, I'm not actually. I'm a registered Republican, but I--I like what I see of the man, and I think he's very bright, and I think he wants to do right.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Robert Jornayvez, you're another Republican. What was your reaction?
ROBERT JORNAYVEZ, Oil & Gas Executive: I find myself in the rare position of defending him. I think he did a good job. I liked what's he said about education. I liked the ten specific points. I think he's moderated a lot. I think he's learned a lot. I think he truly wants to get something done, and I hope he does. On the campaign finance reform I hope he takes responsibility for the mistakes they've made, and I hope they do get it fixed.
LINDA HOUSTON: I think he could really go down in history if he really do what he says about bridging the gap. I mean, I think it is time that we have a president that really is able to see both sides and bring them together in decision-making that is good for all people.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean bridging the gap in terms of bipartisanship?
LINDA HOUSTON: Right, that, or any of those things where we stand to divide each other and not get to balancing the budget, or, you know, the educational needs.
ERIC DURAN, Financial Analyst: I thought that it was really interesting watching the Republican response because Mr. Watts mentioned the constitutional amendment for a balanced budget, whereas, the president mentioned specifically a budget or a way to get to a balanced budget over six years, and that he was willing to shoulder some of the responsibility by actually, you know, sending up that balanced budget to Congress, something that didn't happen last year. I remember, Newt Gingrich and the Republican freshmen didn't even wait for the president's budget last year before they began to work on theirs, and this year they're waiting, and there actually, you know, is a feeling of bipartisanship in the air amongst the two.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: George Stahnke, what did you think about all of this? I mean, did you find vision here? Did you find a largeness of spirit?
GEORGE STAHNKE, Pastor: I agreed that the speech was good, but I was very disappointed. He talked about a lot of good things. There was a lot of expected rhetoric, but for the President of the United States to say that we do not have a common enemy is unfortunate because the enemy that we have in the United States is a severe lack of a moral foundation. It's the lack of moral foundation that creates the problems in our schools. It's the lack of a strong moral foundation that has caused him so much embarrassment personally. It's the moral foundation of a country that touches every aspect of a country.
JAMES SULTON, Higher Education Admin.: I don't think that the president is going to satisfy your point of view, and I find myself disagreeing as I listen to you with a lot of what you say. I think you would disagree with my perspective on what the problem is. He has apparently mastered the art that Bob referred to of being moderate. He's centrist, and that's what everybody says you have to do to win. It brings up a question, though, of where we are on our expectations for presidential leadership, because if that's what you have to do to win, then maybe the talking heads are right, and what President Clinton needs is a crisis because he's leading a time, unlike FDR, unlike other presidents, where they had crises to address, and so they big agendas to put on the table. His agenda is hard not to support, so they decided, let's come straight down the middle, and we've bought into that. In the process, we've sacrificed leadership. I don't think we can really get the kind of leadership that would take you, whether you agree or not, forward.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Chris Goodwin, what do you think?
CHRIS GOODWIN, Stockroom Manager: Well, I think it was typical Bill Clinton. It was Bill Clinton at his best. I thought it was a good speech. There was a lot of rhetoric, but I think the history of the first four years of his administration was the history of caving into the Republican agenda. And I expect--I fully expect him to do that again. I just don't have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in him backing that up with a lot of action. I liked what he said about education. I thought that was the strongest part of his speech. I find it hard to believe that either of the major parties is going to deal with campaign finance reform in a serious way. They both benefit from the system as it is now too much to believe that. I don't see them addressing the tax system that's very unfair, and he didn't address that, and I don't expect him to.
TANYA CHATTMAN, Graduate Student: I don't believe that the president will cave in so much as caving into the Republicans. I think because of the nature of the Republican Congress he has to find some kind of central ground. He has to find some kind of central--something that's central to them both. And I think in his speech he definitely reached out to the Republicans and said, okay, let's work together, let's put aside all of these bipartisan and find some common ground.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Chris Goodwin, hasn't the public, though, been saying to the president and all the leaders in Congress, get together, stop fighting, stop bickering, get an agenda that you can work on? I mean, hasn't he had to make some compromises and move to the center in order to satisfy the demands of the public?
CHRIS GOODWIN: I think what the public wants is a government that serves their interest and benefits the overwhelming majority of people in the country, not just a small minority. I've never believed that line that what people want is a politician that's going to move to the center. I think if you look at the election results, you'll find that a lot of Democrats that ran on very clearly stated progressive platforms for the Congress won. I think part of the reason that half of the country sat home and didn't vote was because everybody is moving to this mushy center where nobody really stands for anything.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Sam Arnold?
SAM ARNOLD: One thing that I feel that he didn't cover or he didn't approach, and that is the very large amount of disaffection that is all throughout the United States with government and with the federal government and with government agencies. And, for example, Colorado is 70 percent federal land, and it just seems as if the federal government is an oppressive umbrella. And I think he should have addressed that because there are a lot of very dissatisfied and unhappy folks out in the West and I'm sure other places in the country that need some reassurance that there will be some reason to come back into the way lands are administered.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Earlier, James Sulton said that he liked a lot of the things that the president said, but he didn't think that he was going to be able to do all of the things that he laid out. How do you all feel about that? I mean, do you have more trust in his ability and will to try and execute these things this time around?
ERIC DURAN: I don't know that he'll be able to achieve everything, but I think unlike the Congress or unlike the Senate is that he can feel free to make some unpopular decisions because he doesn't have to come back to the public in four years and say I want your vote. The only control on President Clinton for making the difficult decisions will be his own conscience and Al Gore. (laughter among group)
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you think the president set the right tone, though, for coop--for bipartisan cooperation, kind of a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation?
ROBERT JORNAYVEZ: The proof in the pudding is going to be on the really tough issues like campaign finance. I mean, if they really tackle it, then we're going to begin to see if these guys are serious about changing the way they govern.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Did he sound serious? Did you believe him tonight?
ROBERT JORNAYVEZ: Well, I hate to sound so cynical, but when they give a speech and they talk about it, it's tough to believe it until you see it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You all seem to approve of the education remarks that he said. Was there anything about the education points that he laid out that you didn't like?
JAMES SULTON: I didn't like the funding aspect of it because, you know, if you look at the Hope Scholarship in Georgia, it's a reasonable model. It's paid for with lottery funds. The federal government doesn't have lottery funds. If you look at the movement toward devolving things back to the states, here in Colorado we don't use our lottery funds for education; we use it for other things. So the prospects for this playing out nationally are not as bright as the idea.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Stahnke.
LINDA STAHNKE, Home Schooler: I think carrying out national standards is going to be a lot tougher than it sounds. They've already worked on history standards and had a huge flap over that. To develop standards and not have them be weak and vague and ineffective is very difficult. The whole process assumes, it seems to presume that parents don't know what they want and don't know what should be happening, but that's not true. Parents know what a good product looks like. We don't need assessment tools to show us that. We know that kids should be able to read by the time they're eight. We know that they should be able to do basic, substantial math by the time they're in eighth grade, things that he quoted. For the government to grant us that information or to do that for us is absurd. We need to go to our local school boards and get it done.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: There were those who said that, you know, this was the most important speech of President Clinton's career, and that he wants to leave his personal stamp on history; he aspires to be a great president. Did you sense anything historic in this speech, Clinton being able to put his stamp on history?
THOMAS CONWAY: His aspect of trying to reach out for the next 50 years, as Truman did for the past 50 years, was pretty clear; that he wants to put his indelible mark on historic aspects of the future and of this nation. I think he sees himself that way and hopes that he can accomplish this vast array of objectives. And now whether or not he can do it remains to be seen, but, yes, I think he's really placing a lot there to put himself in a great historic perspective of this nation for the future.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: History, place in history, Chris Goodman?
CHRIS GOODWIN: Well, balance the budget is a good idea. It depends on how he does it. I mean, he talked about spending more money on education, and he also talked about balancing the budget. He didn't talk about touching the military budget, which takes like 50 percent of our--of the whole thing, so there's nothing historic about that. It sounds like business as usual for the most part.
LINDA HOUSTON: One of the things that I was impressed with tonight, it seems like he's learned a lot from the first four years, and I think it's exciting to see that he's going to change--make some positive changes from that experience of the first four years to be set out the next four.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: One final word, anybody?
GEORGE STAHNKE: I'm looking forward to July the 4th, which is the date that he threw out as evidence of change to come.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, maybe we'll see you then. Thank you all for joining us.