November 14, 1997
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, four perspectives on today's Democratic Party. Rep. Maxine Waters of California is chairman of the congressional Black Caucus; former Sen. George Mitchell of Maine was the Senate Majority leader, he's now with a Washington law firm; former Sen. Gary Hart was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, he's now with a Denver law firm; and Al From is president of the Democratic Leadership Council, the advocacy group founded by party moderates. And Congresswoman Waters, what do you think the Democrats' refusal to support the President on fast track says about the party today?
REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) California: (Los Angeles) Well, actually, you have to understand that it was based on principle. We represent working people. We represent people who expect us to look out for their ability to have a decent quality of life. The President or the DLC--no one has made the case to show that even NAFTA created more and better jobs for working Americans. We see major corporations exporting jobs to third world countries for cheap labor. We see exportation of workers, child labor. We see the Maquiladoras down in Mexico. We see devastation to the environment, and so we cannot support that. We are good Democrats. We embody and embrace the values of the Democratic Party. You can put any kind of spin you want on it. We represented Democrats with our refusal to support this fast track without having those kinds of protections in the legislation. I think it's a good debate for the Democratic Party, and in the final analysis, whether it's the polls that show that we really did represent working people or the vote that we all felt very good about having to take, it means that we really do have to provide the leadership for our party, no matter where someone wants to take the party. The fact of the matter is we're right where the people want us to be.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Hart, how do you see it, a good debate for the party?
GARY HART, Former Senator: (Denver) Well, from 1500 miles away it's an interesting perspective. In the last national election 51 percent of the eligible voters did not vote. Those--the future of America--the age group of 21 to 30--only 15 percent voted. What it looks like from here I think to too many Americans, particularly young ones, is the squabble within a party over some programs that were created in the 30's and maybe in the 60's--whether they should be slightly larger or slightly smaller while the world has that debate, if you want to call it that--is changing dramatically, and the Democratic Party--I'm afraid to say--I don't think is responding to that changing world.
MARGARET WARNER: Al From, do you think trade--how do you see the fast-track vote, and do you think that trade is sort of a new fault issue for the party? How deep is this?
AL FROM, Democratic Leadership Council: Well, I think that trade is an issue on which Democrats are very ambivalent. And that was shown. Our surveying shows that most Democrats now accept a global economy, think we have to move forward into it. They're very nervous, as Rep. Waters indicated, about how trade--particular trade agreements work. But, look, the case needs to be made because the Democratic Party has to move forward. We can't be a protectionist party. President Clinton has had a very successful economic policy. He's been the most successful Democratic President--or politician in 50 years. His economic policy has been pretty good for working people, the lowest unemployment in a quarter of a century, 13 million new jobs, low inflation. I think that's a pretty good record, and trade has been expanded. Trade has been central to that. So I think over the long haul the Democratic Party has no choice but to move toward a more international economy.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Mitchell, how do you see it? What do you think the vote or the non-vote this week tells us about where the party's going or is?
GEORGE MITCHELL, Former Senate Majority Leader: Well, of course, disputes and disagreements among Democrats are as old as both the party and the country. It's the longest enduring party in our nation's history, and its obituary has been written dozens of times before. I happen to agree with the President on the fast-track issue. I think that expanded trade increased export is essential to our economic success, but I don't think this has the disastrous or cataclysmic results that some are suggesting. It'll last until the next dispute comes along. I think debate and disagreement is healthy. It's inevitable. Remember, this is a very large, diverse country. Most democracies have parliamentary sessions where they have several parties. We have only two. As a result, disagreement within those parties is inevitable, and it can be helped. It's a good debate. I think the President is right on this one, but I respect those who disagree. I don't think it is any Armageddon for the Democratic Party or any disaster. There are going to be a lot of disagreements in the future. The one disagreement I'll have with the tape that was presented at the outset was it simply selected out those things in which there's been disagreement over six years. The fact is there have been many more areas in which there's been agreement and success. And as Al From rightly pointed out, the economic record of Bill Clinton's administrations has been truly positive and very, very good for the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Al From, back to you and the DLC, how successful do you think this President has been in reshaping this party in the new Democrat image?
AL FROM: I think he's been very successful in reshaping this party. He's made this party again the party of economic growth and opportunity. And that helps the people we care about, the working people in this country. He's made this party a party that believes in work and not welfare, and that helps broaden the base of this party. He's been very successful with his anti-crime initiatives. Crime has been all over the country. He has moved this country into the strongest economy in the world, the most competitive economy in the world. I think the new Democrat agenda, which he has pursued, has been very successful and he's done it at the same time while decreasing the size of government. What he's been able to do has been--he's been able to promote and to further traditional Democratic values, like opportunity for everyone, sense of community, values like work, family, and responsibility. He's been able to do that with modern means that have earned broad support from the American electorate.
MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman, do you agree that the President has been successful in reshaping your party?
REP. MAXINE WATERS: I think the President has been successful in a number of initiatives that he's undertaken. I don't see all of this new Democratic Party having been reshaped by the President or the DLC. I don't think most Americans want a successful economy. Most Americans want to work. Most Americans want the American dream, and it really is not a left-right argument. The fact of the matter is the problem that some of us have is that the wages have been driven down; we have too many families where the husband and wife were both working two and three jobs in order to take care of the families and try to buy a house, and we're finding ourselves with this younger generation unable to have the quality of life that the previous generation has been able to have with home ownership and all those kinds of things. So I think when we look at the jobs that have been created, we have to talk about what kinds of jobs and whether or not they're quality jobs, whether or not they're the kinds of jobs that people can really have the American dream. I don't think you're going to find any argument from the so-called left or center or the right about the American dream and everybody wanting this economy to do well. Some communities, some cities have been left behind. At the same time that you find growth and prosperity on Wall Street, or with major corporations and in some areas, what you still have is lingering unemployment, people who are left behind, and these are the people that really create lots of problems in our society.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congresswoman--
REP. MAXINE WATERS: And we've got to deal with that.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me let Sen. Hart in here. Sen. Hart, a lot has been made of organized labor's role in this fast-track setback for the President. Do you--from where you sit--does labor look resurgent, more powerful to you within the party, and do you think that's a healthy thing?
GARY HART: I think it's very difficult to say. I was a very strong labor supporter--although labor didn't always understand that--in my years in the Congress and the Senate. I think the issue now is not--is whether labor and other forces in this society will figure out a way to address two revolutions simultaneously. One is the shift from a manufacturing to an information-based economy, and second, the entry of the United States into a maelstrom called a global economy. We should not--we cannot just maintain policies of the past. These are revolutionary times. What worries me is the debate in Washington--whether it's with labor or anyone else--is about micro-managing old economic policies that have very little to do with the new transition. I think, you know, it's very hard to reconcile the good news that Al From gives and others--George Mitchell--all of which is true--with the fact that this--this legislation went down. What that means is even though people have jobs, they're worried about those jobs; they don't feel that security. And it's because we don't have a national policy to help people transition from the old economy to the new. Give them some economic security and some sense that they will not only have a job but, as Maxine Waters rightly says, a job that is productive and meaningful. And that's--that is what seems to be missing from the equation.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Mitchell, do you agree with that, that that's the component that's missing certainly from maybe the new Democrat message?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I think everything that's been said one can readily agree with, that things are very good, but that some people aren't sharing fully in that prosperity. Of course, there has never been a time in the history of this or any other society where every person has shared fully in that prosperity, and that's a goal that we constantly strive for and seek to attain. I do agree with Sen. Hart that there has to be a much greater emphasis on education and the creation of skills in those individuals who most need the assistance. The fact is, of course, there will always be dislocations and injury in a dynamic free market economy, that's the essence of a free market economy, and we have to promote job creation and job skills for people who need them.
MARGARET WARNER: And staying with you for a minute, Sen. Mitchell, what about labor's role, do you think labor influence is healthy for the party, and what about its role in this particular issue?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, although I disagree with their position on this particular issue, of course, I think it's a substantial contribution to our society. They represent working men and women, and that's the same group of people on which our Democratic Party is based. Now, nobody agrees with someone on every issue. Generally, they support Democratic candidates and Democratic candidates tend to reflect the views that they do. They are resurgent. I think it's probably a healthy thing in political terms in this instance; I think they took the wrong position. And the fact is that the policies that have been suggested as alternatives to the President--when they have been proposed--will not achieve the objectives that are stated for them, the objectives that Rep. Waters has earlier stated I think would best be solved by pursuing economic policies that the President has proposed and by adding to it the component that Sen. Hart has suggested is missing.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, Al From, address this last issue that came up this week, which is people starting to talk about the President as a lame duck; that this revolt may be repeated. How do you see that?
AL FROM: I think that's really sort of ridiculous. The President has won a lot of political battles, a lot of battles on the Hill, and he happened to lose this one. But his--his presidency is still strong. Don't forget when you get outside the House Democratic Caucus in Washington most Democrats supported the President on this, most rank and file Democrats. Most Democratic governors and mayors supported the President. The Democratic Party--even though we have a hard time understanding this--is not the House Caucus. It's those rank and file vote--and it's not any particular interest group--it's the rank and file voters who identify as Democrats, and they overwhelmingly support the President's agenda.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: That's not what the polls showed on this issue, Al. The polls showed that the people were against fast track. They were with us. We were representing them. And I think when we talk about feeling insecure, at a time when you're talking about globalization, you are--people are witnessing strawberries that are making our children sick coming out of Mexico. We want to deal with those issues.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And, Congresswoman, let me just ask you--
REP. MAXINE WATERS: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: --before we wrap up here, as the only member here of the House Democratic Caucus, was this revolt a one-time thing, or are we going to see more of it?
REP. MAXINE WATERS: Well, listen, Clinton is our president. We're Democrats. We fully intend to work with him. We like it when we can all agree. This is no struggle that we are involved in to embarrass him or to weaken his presidency or to make him a lame duck. We want him to be strong. We like him. We disagreed on this issue, and before he fashions another trade bill, he should get with us and find out what our concerns are and how he can address them.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: I've asked him to address the drug trafficking issue with trade I think he can do that. We don't mind trade. We're not afraid of trade. We want fair trade. We want trade that will not drive down the wages in our own country, take away the jobs, and expose us to the pesticides that are being put on food products in other countries that we don't know or understand. We want to fashion a trade bill that's fair and equitable.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congresswoman, thank you very much. And thank you, gentlemen, very much. next year.
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