February 15, 1993
Correspondent: Dave Marash
Anchor: Ted Koppel
TED KOPPEL (VO): He's been selling it at a town meeting.
PRES BILL CLINTON: So we have to put together a plan that keeps my
commitments to you, invests in you and your jobs, in your education, in your
health care and your future.
KOPPEL (VO): On the radio.
PRES CLINTON: We've got to act and act now.
KOPPEL (VO): And tonight in a nationally televised address.
PRES CLINTON: Seventy percent of the new taxes I'll propose, 70 percent,
would be paid by those who make more than $100,000 a year.
KOPPEL (VO): It's one of the most intense public - relations campaigns
ever staged from the White House, and as much a test of presidential
salesmanship as economic strategy. Tonight, the results of our instant poll to
see if America's even in the market for the Clinton economic plan.
ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted
KOPPEL: Many of you are convinced that we in the media are just busting
to tell you what we think when the President speaks, as he did tonight. In
reality, we can't wait to find out what you thought. ABC News commissioned a
telephone poll that was conducted right after President Clinton's speech this
evening. We'll give you more precise results a little later on, but basically
you seem to have approved of what the President said by a ratio of better than
two to one, thought his economic plan was on the right track by a ratio of
close to three to one. But even though the theme of the President's speech was
that we're all going to have to give up something, and even though, as I said,
most of you seemed to approve of that message, the majority of those we polled
said that most Americans are not ready to sacrifice. Interesting. Most of you
are ready to give something up, but you're not so sure about your neighbors.
Anyway, most of the time when the President decides to sit down in the Oval
Office and address us on live TV, most of the time he is not about to deliver
good news. As Nightline correspondent Dave Marash reports, tonight was no
PRES RICHARD NIXON: Good evening. I want to talk to you tonight from my
PRES JIMMY CARTER: I come to you this evening to discuss the extreme
PRES RONALD REAGAN: How, in these past several days, violence has
DAVE MARASH, ABC NEWS (VO): For virtually as long as there's been
national television, the Oval Office of the White House has been not just a
presidential workplace, but a showplace. And tonight, for the first time in his
presidency, anticipation and anxiety accompanied Bill Clinton as he opened his
PRES BILL CLINTON: Good evening. I have chosen this day, on which we
honor two great presidents, to talk with you about the serious problems and the
great promise of our country, and the absolute necessity for change if we're to
secure a better future for ourselves and for our children.
MARASH (VO): If change can be called Bill Clinton's signature theme, the
patriotic orchestration that surrounded it tonight sounded a lot like Ronald
Reagan. In fact, a lot of Clinton's speech sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan.
PRES REAGAN: (February 5, 1981) The federal budget is out of
control, and we face runaway deficits.
PRES CLINTON: The federal deficit has roared out of control. Look at
this - the big tax cuts for the wealthy, the growth in government spending.
MARASH (VO): And not just Clinton's words tonight were Reaganesque; so
were his visual aids.
PRES REAGAN: Now let me show you a chart that I've had drawn to
illustrate how this can be. Here you see two trend lines.
MARASH (VO): But tonight, Clinton's chartwork savaged Mr Reagan's
economic record and justified what sounded like a policy reversal.
PRES CLINTON: But as you can see, while the deficit went up, investments
in the things that make us stronger and smarter, richer and safer, were
neglected. This matters. When you don't invest in jobs and education and
economic opportunity, unemployment goes up and our incomes go down.
MARASH (VO): Decidedly unlike Mr Reagan, though, was Mr Clinton's
admission of failure.
PRES CLINTON: I had hoped to invest in your future by creating jobs,
expanding education, reforming health care, and reducing the debt without
asking more of you, and I've worked harder than I've ever worked in my life to
meet that goal. But I can't, because the deficit has increased so much beyond
my earlier estimates and beyond even the worst official government estimates
from last year. We just have to face the fact that to make the changes our
country needs, more Americans must contribute today so that all Americans can
do better tomorrow.
MARASH (VO): That there might be bad news for average Americans in
Wednesday's State of the Union speech has been carefully prepared for in all -
night work sessions at the White House, and hinted at, if not spelled out, in a
series of appearances by President Clinton that began last Wednesday with his
town meeting outside Detroit.
PRES CLINTON: (February 10, 1993) I believe I got elected on a
commitment to change America, to create jobs, try to raise incomes, to face the
health care crisis.
MARASH (VO): The next day it was a speech to business leaders.
PRES CLINTON: (February 11, 1993) I want to reduce this deficit,
not as an end in itself, but because I think it is a critical part of the
strategy to build jobs and growth for America today and over the long run.
MARASH (VO): While on Friday Mr Clinton jawboned the pharmaceutical
industry for lower prices.
PRES CLINTON: (February 12, 1993) We cannot have profits at the expense
of our children. These practices have got to stop.
MARASH (VO): The campaign continued over the weekend with the second
straight Clinton Saturday radio speech and a full administration blitz on the
Sunday talk shows.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: ("Meet the Press," NBC)
We're searching for balance between revenues and spending cuts, and we're
committed to real spending reductions.
LEON PANETTA, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET: ("Face the
Nation," CBS) What we're trying to do, obviously, is to try to make sure that
we provide a very bold economic plan for the country.
LAURA D'ANDREA TYSON, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: ("This Week With
David Brinkley") Why not give the economy a booster shot against this possible
MARASH: Part of the reason for this blitz was offensive - dominate those
headlines, keep the White House message at the top of the news. But part was
defensive - fending off people like Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, who
presented a rebuttal tonight.
SEN BOB DOLE: Before President Clinton demands that the farmer, the
nurse, the factory worker, the shopkeeper, the truck driver, or our senior
citizens send one more dime to Washington, they should demand of President
Clinton and those of us in Congress that every outdated program, every bloated
agency, and every item in the federal budget takes the hit it deserves.
MARASH (VO): Tonight Clinton looked forward to the battle with the vigor
of a Lawrence Taylor or Dick Butkus.
PRES CLINTON: Within minutes of the time I conclude my address to
Congress Wednesday night, the special interests will be out in force. Those
who've profited from the status quo will oppose the changes we seek, the budget
cuts, the revenue increases, the new investment priorities. Every step of the
way they'll oppose it.
MARASH (VO): This kind of preemptive strike at opponents in Congress and
among other entrenched interest groups could have sprung from the lips of
Ronald Reagan or any other former president. But one Clinton paragraph, darned
near the climactic one, sounded like not a president, but a failed candidate,
PRES CLINTON: This is your country. You demonstrated the power of the
people in the last election. I urge you to stay informed and to stay involved.
If you are vigilant and vocal, we can do what we have to do.
MARASH (VO): The apocalyptic vigilance of Perot and the overwhelming
optimism of Reagan, a bit of Kennedyesque sacrifice, a touch of Harry Trumanish
bashing of big business greed - there was quite a crowd of voices tonight in
the Oval Office, but only one president can sell this program to Congress and
the nation. The wind - up is underway and pitcher Bill Clinton's best fastball
comes in the State of the Union address before Congress Wednesday. I'm Dave
Marash for Nightline in Washington.
KOPPEL: When we come back we'll talk with some accomplished political
salesmen from both parties. We'll be joined by Clinton communications
strategist Paul Begala and by Michael Deaver, who helped Ronald Reagan earn his
reputation as the great communicator.
KOPPEL: Paul Begala is a partner in the political consulting firm of
Carville Begala, which helped steer the Clinton campaign to the White House. He
is now helping the President shape his message and communications strategy in
an unofficial position. He joins us here in our Washington studio. Michael
Deaver served as assistant to former President Ronald Reagan and as deputy
chief of the White House staff. He is now executive vice president of Adelman
Public Relations Worldwide. He is also in our Washington bureau. Paul Begala,
let me begin with you, if I may. You've always been refreshingly candid about
what you folks had in mind in terms of the way that you deliver a message. What
was the point of tonight's message beyond the substance, which I gather will be
filled out a great deal on Wednesday?
PAUL BEGALA, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Well, I think Dave Marash
picked his baseball metaphors right. It was a fastball, not a curve ball. We
just wanted to put our guy out there and have him deliver his message straight
to the American people, and it was very simple. We have to change, we have no
choice, we can't afford any more of the status quo, and the plan that he's
going to present to the Congress is a plan for the middle class and for change,
and we're going to need their help if we're going to get it through the
KOPPEL: I guess what I'm asking you is, since the message is going to be
delivered again in even greater detail - in fact, I would hope, a lot greater
detail - on Wednesday in the State of the Union address, why do it at all
MR. BEGALA: Well, this President does not come from Congress or Capitol
Hill and he derives his power much in the way that President Reagan did, from
his rapport with the American people. And he's very much seen in this country
as our spokesman in Washington. He hasn't become part of that crowd there. And
so we felt it was important, before he turns to the Congress - which will be a
very important speech Wednesday night - that he start with the American people
and begin the dialogue, or continue the dialogue with them that he's had all
through the campaign and all through the four weeks of his presidency.
KOPPEL: When you put it in terms of before speaking to Congress, let it
be noted that he did meet with just about every Democratic member of Congress
at the White House today, correct?
MR. BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. We want to sell this plan.
KOPPEL: All right. Mike Deaver, since perhaps it's easier to look back
than it is to look at the present, when your man back then, Ronald Reagan, did
exactly the same thing, came up a few days before his State of the Union
address with a very similar kind of speech, what was the thinking behind that?
And relate it to what you saw tonight.
MICHAEL DEAVER, REAGAN MEDIA ADVISER: Well, I think there is a - one of
the big differences was that Reagan had been talking about what he talked about
in his speech to the American people and his State of the Union for a long
period of time. There weren't any real surprises in what Reagan was saying.
Everybody knew what he was going to say. I think this is the first time that
this White House has concentrated for four or five days on the subject of the
economy, and I think it was wise for them to go on tonight, even though they're
going to speak again two nights from now, because they're going to have to keep
this President focused, and I think that may be one of their most difficult
MR. DEAVER: Because I think he's interested in a lot of things, in a lot
of things having to do with government, in a lot of programs. Reagan, you know,
was accused so many times of being disinterested in things, and that's right.
He was stubbornly disinterested in anything except about three things that he
wanted to do, and I think that's important that this President stays focused on
this for the long term or he won't be successful.
KOPPEL: As I mentioned at the beginning of this broadcast, we did a
telephone poll just after the President's speech. One of the questions - we'll
put up the questions as we do this - "Did you approve of what Clinton said?"
Fifty - nine percent said yes, 27 percent said no, 14 had no opinion. I'm going
to give you three questions, because they all seem to relate here. "Clinton
said sacrifice is necessary; do you agree?" Seventy - five percent agreed, 22
percent disagreed. Enormous, better than three to one. (No opinion 3%) And then
finally, "Are most Americans ready to sacrifice?" And this is the interesting
one. Forty percent, yes, most Americans are ready to sacrifice; 55 percent said
most Americans are not ready to sacrifice. (No opinion 5%) Now, Paul, let me
begin by asking you. Seventy - five percent agree that sacrifice is necessary;
only 22 percent disagree. But then when you start asking about other folks out
there - "How about your neighbor down the road?" - all of a sudden the majority
says, "No, they're not going to do it".
MR. BEGALA: Well, I think you're seeing the voters making up their minds
right now. I think when they heard the President tonight - and they clearly
tuned in to watch the speech - he made a persuasive case for fundamental
change. And I think he convinced millions of Americans tonight that this is the
only way we're going to have the change. Now, sitting in the privacy of your
own home, I think a lot of people were probably wondering, "Well, my neighbor
is probably not as enlightened as I am, but I've been convinced by my President
that this is the way we've got to go". And as long as we're focused on that
change that they want, I think voters are going to come along with their
President on this.
KOPPEL: Michael, do you think that that simply indicates that when
people look down the street at their neighbors that they're a little bit behind
the curve? That in fact their perception of their neighbors will catch up with
their perception of what they themselves are prepared to do? Or does it
indicate that there may be some disconnect here?
MR. DEAVER: No, I think it's a little bit like asking people, "Are you
prejudiced?" and they say, "Well, of course I'm not prejudiced. But take that
Catholic next door, you know". I mean, it's kind of our own view of ourself as
opposed to everybody else. I think there wasn't a heck of a lot in the
President's speech for people to argue about tonight. It was general, it was a
good speech. But if you ask any of us today if we would be willing to sacrifice
for our country, of course we would be, but give us two or three months to let
this thing be debated up at the Congress and then let's take a poll and see
what happens. I think Clinton's biggest challenge may be not necessarily those
people that you asked the question of tonight, but those people up on the Hill.
Is he going to be able to keep those Democrats in line when the special
interests start going at their special interests?
KOPPEL: Mike, thank you very much. When we come back, we'll continue our
discussion with Paul Begala and Michael Deaver.
(ABC News Nightline poll: Clinton's economic plan: Right direction, 62%;
Wrong track, 25%; No opinion, 13%)
KOPPEL: And we're back once again with Paul Begala and Michael Deaver.
Let me give you a little more of that poll to play with. We asked the question,
"Would you accept a $100 increase in taxes to reduce the deficit?" Now, we
first asked that question in May of '90 and the answer then was 44 percent yes,
48 percent no. That doesn't do you much good the way it's set up right there.
Would you put up the yes and the no, please? There you go. Now, if you look at
that column on the right, you'll see back in May of 1990 44 percent said yes,
48 percent said no. Tonight, 67 percent said yes, 29 percent said no. What do
you make of that, Mike Deaver?
MR. DEAVER: Well, I think there's been many years of discussion and
debate about the deficit, and I think it's an issue that's much higher on the
political spectrum than it was in 1980.
KOPPEL: But not only higher in terms of people's attention to it, but
apparently higher - a relatively modest amount, we're talking about $100 -
"Would you be willing to pay $100?" - and there's sort of the implicit
suggestion that that might even help, if we all paid $100, but at least there
is the implicit suggestion that people are willing to make some sacrifice now
to reduce it.
MR. DEAVER: I think that's true, and I think that one of the things
that's unclear to me, and maybe I missed something in this, is how much of
whatever the sacrifice we're being asked to make is going to be earmarked for
KOPPEL: Good question, and Paul Begala, let me ask you to answer that
first. Do you have any answer for it?
MR. BEGALA: Well, you'll see it. The President will outline the exact
numbers. I don't want to try to scoop my boss here. But I think you'll see a
very, very significant deficit reduction. In fact, he's set out particular sets
of numbers, but I think that you can be comfortable knowing this will be the
biggest cut in the deficit we've ever had. He'll probably be the first
president in a generation to leave office with a deficit smaller than when he
came in, and that's the kind of change people want. But the fact that he has
been able to do a 23 - point turnaround in a number like you just read to me,
that 23 percent more of the American people, 67 percent in total, are willing
to sacrifice to try to get this economy moving and changed, I think it's a
testimony to Bill Clinton's powers as a leader.
KOPPEL: Well, I'd be a little careful before you attribute it all to
Bill Clinton. That's a change from almost two years ago, from May of 1990, and
I think what Mike Deaver said is really true, that the awareness of the deficit
has grown enormously over the past two years. Some of that, I'm sure, is due to
Bill Clinton's politicking, but I suspect there may be some other reasons. But
let me show you another result from the poll here which speaks directly to what
the American public expects. We asked them, "Do you think most of the money
will be used to reduce the deficit or to increase spending?" Only 39 percent
thought it would be reduced - used to reduce the deficit; 52 percent expect it
to be used to increase spending; 9 percent had no opinion. (No opinion 6%)
Paul, what do you think? After Wednesday, do you think people will be a little
MR. BEGALA: I think so. The deficit, as the President said in the piece
of tape you ran earlier tonight, is only a means to an end. I mean, the end is
generating jobs and increasing incomes. And the problem we have right now is
twofold, as the President talked about it tonight. We have a budget deficit
that's high and we have an investment deficit where we have actually reduced
the amount of spending that we've made in the things that make our country
stronger and safer. And so we have to do two things at once. We have to cut
wasteful spending, we have to increase revenue, especially from those who can
most afford to do it, but we've also got to invest in things like Head Start
and in high - tech jobs and in job training to get the economy moving. That's
not an easy thing to do.
KOPPEL: Mike Deaver, you've had a little bit of experience in what it
takes to translate presidential rhetoric into action up on Capitol Hill. Now,
granted, what Ronald Reagan was proposing was a good deal more popular with
most legislators, that is, cutting taxes rather than raising them, but what are
some of the hurdles that stand in President Clinton's way that you might feel
free to warn him about?
MR. DEAVER: Well, I hate to repeat myself, but I must tell you that the
largest hurdle that President Clinton's going to have is to keep himself
focused. There is so much coming in and there are so many people that want him
to do things, there are so many requests to divert his attention from this goal
which, if this is his principal goal, then he is going to have to be
singleminded about what he does with his time and who he speaks to and where he
speaks, because otherwise, with all the information that's coming at us, this
message is going to get very diluted. And I hope - I hope Paul's right about
what we're going to hear on Wednesday. If President Clinton is able to do that,
he in fact will be the first president to do something significant about the
deficit, but that means he's going to have to convince the American people to
trust him to get the Congress to make that commitment, too.
KOPPEL: Let me just ask you very quickly, because we're beginning to run
out of time. The President's going to go on a bus trip, he's going to send his
Cabinet members all over the country to their respective parts of the country
to jawbone on this issue. At which point does the medium and the message and
the advertising and the politicking and all of that come up against a blank
wall when it comes to turning all of this into legislation?
MR. BEGALA: Well, I think we need to bring the change the people want,
and you'll see the particulars laid out when the President speaks to the
Congress. But the important thing is that the substance and the reality of the
package, which is change, matches the symbolism, and that's what you're going
to see. This is why the President has been very bold in the way he has tried to
sell his program, because the contents of the program itself will be very bold.
And I think as long as the substance matches that symbolism, they won't be at
war at all and we won't have that kind of problem.
KOPPEL: Has - Michael, a quick observation from you, which is all, I'm
afraid, we're going to have time for.
MR. DEAVER: Well, I think the President's got to stick to what he says.
If he gets the American people believing that he's going to stick by his
principles and stick by everything he outlines and not let it get watered down
by the Congress or special interests, people will trust him.
KOPPEL: And what is going to happen when he takes it up to Capitol Hill?
I mean, going on the bus trip is one thing. How much of an impact does that
have on the Hill?
MR. DEAVER: Oh, I think it can have an enormous impact on Capitol Hill.
It did during the first year of the Reagan administration or we wouldn't have
gotten those programs. We had a Democrat administration. He's got his own
people up there.
KOPPEL: Mike Deaver, Paul Begala, thank you both very much. I'll be back
with more in a moment.
KOPPEL: Later on World News Now, more analysis of the President's
address by ABC's political director Hal Bruno and by congressional leaders.
That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here
at ABC News, good night.