the clinton years

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interview: dick morris

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A political strategist who advised Clinton on and off since 1978, he devised the 'triangulation' policy that helped the president win reelection in 1996. Clinton initially hid Morris's role from his White House staff, referring to him by the code name "Charlie." He is the author of a 1998 book on his White House experience: Behind the Oval Office: Getting Reelected Against All Odds.

Interview conducted June, 2000 by Chris Bury

The '92 campaign. Can you talk about an example of when you were consulted during that?

...He was asking for advice about New Hampshire. And he said that Flowers had not really hurt him, the revelation of his relationship with Gennifer Flowers. But the draft was sending him into free-fall, the allegation of draft dodging, and he said, "How should I handle it?" And I said, "Ignore it. Go back to your issues. Go back to what brung you. Go back to the 'New Democrat' approach, the 'End Welfare As We Know It', all of the issues that really made it possible for you to win what some people have called the intellectual primary of 1992. And remind them as to why you're there." And I said, "That can give you a strong second place, a come-back second place, which I think will carry you on to very good shape for the Southern primaries on Super Tuesday."

And he said, "You mean I shouldn't answer?" And I said, "Right." And he said, "But in our work together, you always say, 'Answer, answer, answer'." And I say, "This is one time when you shouldn't answer. You should avoid it. And you can talk about it in free media if you have to, but your ads should be concentrating on the theme of what you're going to do that really is going to move this country forward and going to articulate new solutions to these issues. That's why they're voting for you in the first place. You'll never convince them you didn't dodge the draft, and you'll never convince them you didn't go with Gennifer Flowers. But you can convince them that despite that, you can reform welfare."

Later on during the campaign, there is much consternation about a vice presidential candidate, the traditional factors are geographical balance, electoral map, and so on. Gore was quite different--fellow border state, southerner.

Right. I think that the reason Clinton chose Gore was that he was an example of what Clinton was like. He was kind of almost like the yellow magic marker that you use to highlight the text so that you can really remember what are the most salient features of it. He wanted to choose someone who was a metaphor for himself: who was his age, who was from a nearby state, who was also a moderate Democrat, concerned about the environment.

And he wanted to choose someone next to whom his own virtues would be highlighted, almost the way you choose the backdrop on a set. If you have blue eyes, you want a blue backdrop so your eyes stand out. He was kind of using Gore almost as sort of the backdrop for his candidacy.

In understanding what is the core Clinton, you can't look for ideology. He
sees goals, not ideology.What was your advice?

Well, I felt that he should choose Gore. I thought it was a very good choice. The thing that also influenced him in his choice of Gore is that at the time he was reading a wonderful book called Generations, by Howe and Strauss, which was written in 1991, which talks about American history in terms of generational cycles. And he and I had actually, coincidentally, both read the book, and we talked about it.

And his whole point was that in the book Generations it says that the G.I. generation, the World War II generation, will control the American presidency; and there will never be a president from the "Silent Generation," the generation that came of age in the '50s; and that it will skip to the "Boomer" generation that came of age in the '60s.

And that was true, it turned out. George Bush, Sr., was the last G.I. president. And Dukakis, Mondale, McGovern, all of them "Silent Generation" candidates, did not get elected president. And it skipped over to the "Boomer" generation, which was Bill Clinton.

And he wanted to choose a fellow "Baby Boomer," to make that point, to tap into that generations consciousness, and to really inspire it to support him. And Gore I think was a very good choice for doing that. And I think that's really why he chose Gore.

Fast-forward to September 1994. You've been out of touch with Clinton for some time. You're campaigning up in Connecticut, I believe, and the phone rings.

Well, I had had occasional contact with Clinton. I'd met with him three or four times a year during '93 and '94. But increasingly, he was not following the advice I was giving him. He was going off in a direction of working only with the Democrats. And so we kind of fell out of touch. We didn't have a lot to do with each other.

And the phone rang, and they say, "It's the President of the United States on the phone." And I at the moment was working on a congressional race in Connecticut, figuring out how the Wilton, Connecticut town committee would vote on this guy's nomination for Congress. And it was like I was being levitated out of this, and lifted up to a cloud, that the president called.

And I had to, in those moments before he comes on the line, reconstruct in my own mind the sort of exercise you have to go through before you talk to Bill Clinton. Because he's very smart, and he's very sharp, and he's very quick--and no preliminaries. So you gird up for it.

And then he gets on. And right away he said, "What do you think I should do about Haiti?" And I said, "Why? What are you planning to do?" And he said, "Well, we're thinking of the possibility of an invasion."

And I realized--I remembered again that when you talk to Clinton in the first 30 seconds you have to oppose what he's saying. Because if all you say is "Good idea," he's never going to call you back, because he doesn't figure he needs your advice.

So I said, "You're invading the wrong damn island." I'm meaning Cuba [laughs]. And I said, "You know, the two most important forces in American politics are racism and isolationism. And if you incur casualties in Haiti, you'll be offending both of those." And that was kind of a perspective he hadn't had before. And you have to do that with Clinton. You have to sort of shoot it across his bow, so that he stops, backs up, and then looks at it and takes another look at the facts.

And then we had a nice 20-minute conversation about it--and all of a sudden, I was back. And I cannot describe to you the magical feeling that you have then. It's like all of the sudden there's an aura of stardust around you, and you're no longer a mortal human being. And I hung up the phone, and I had a lot of difficulty figuring out about the Wilton town committee after that phone call.

At what point do you get taken into Clinton's confidence, in terms of what's happening politically in the fall of '94?

Clinton in effect handed the franchise for his second term over to the
congressional Democrats. As a result, he hasn't done anything. Nothing has
passed of significance. Well, in the early days of October '94, he called me and said, "What do you think I should do about the congressional elections?" And I said, "Well, let me take a poll, and give you some advice." Because that's how I usually do it.

So I took a survey with him. And I remember we were preparing the questionnaire, and he's on the phone with me. I figured that the President of the United States wouldn't have much time to fool with the questionnaire. No, he spent an hour and a half on the phone with me, going over each word of each question: "Make sure you ask about this accomplishment," "Make sure you ask about that accomplishment," "No, no, you have here that I created three million jobs; it's really three and a half million jobs." And he's all over that.

So I did the poll, and I found something very interesting. I found that nobody believed in the big achievements of his: Nobody believed that he was reducing the deficit; nobody believed he was reducing crime; nobody believed he was creating jobs; nobody believed he was lowering unemployment.

But they did believe the small achievements: They believed he'd lowered the student loan interest rate; they believed that he had succeeded in the Family and Medical Leave Law; that he'd made good appointments to the Supreme Court; that he'd expanded and saved the school lunch program. The small achievements.

So I had a conference call with him and Hillary. And I said, "Stop trying to sell the big achievements. Sell the small ones. They'll believe those, and that's enough to move votes in your direction." And he kept saying, "No, but if I tell them all the jobs I've created, I tell them all the stuff I've done--" And I said, "Stop trying to get elected for the right reasons. Just try to get elected."

And then Hillary joined in the chorus and said, "Bill, all you're doing is just trying to give them the big achievements. You're trying to justify yourself to history. Focus on the election. Focus on these voters."

And then, he didn't follow the advice. And he called me a week before the election, and he said, "How do you think it's going to come out?" And I said, "You're going to lose the House and the Senate." And he said, "The House and the Senate? The Senate I can understand, but the House? No way I'm going to lose the House." And I said, "Well, I think you'll lose the Senate by six seats, and you'll lose the House by 20." He said, "Twenty seats in the House? You're crazy." And I said, "Well, just in case what you say isn't going to happen happens, can I send you a speech as to what to say at that point?" And he said, "Okay." And then, the next thing, he was giving it, after he'd lost both houses.

In that fall campaign, the Republicans did a very effective job with their spots of morphing Democratic candidates into Clinton. And the taste that was in a lot of the public's mind at that point was based on things like gays in the military, the appointment debacle at attorney general. And Clinton had a perception of not only being part of an administration that was screwing things up, but that he was much more liberal than the electorate had known or expected.

You have to realize why Clinton came across as a liberal in the first two years. The thing that dominated his thinking as he was taking office in late '92, was the fear of being another Jimmy Carter, of being a Democratic president who was ineffectual because Congress didn't support him. And he was scared to death of that.

So he met with the House and the Senate Democratic leadership. And they basically said, "Listen, we'll play ball with you, we'll protect you, we'll do whatever you want. You just have to govern within our caucus. Don't govern in the whole House or the whole Senate. Work with our caucus, with the Democrats in the House and the Democrats in the Senate. And when you get their support, go with it. And let's forget the Republican Party exists. We'll just pass these bills on our own. We have the majority."

And he was relieved. And this is a guy who's a scrambler normally, to use a football metaphor: He's used to going all over the field; being left, right, center; moving around; targets of opportunity; avoiding the blitz. And instead, he became a "pocket quarterback": "Just sit there behind this big offensive line of these Democratic politicians, and just throw the football, and we'll protect you."

When we talked about that, I advised him against that. I said, "They will become your jailers. You won't be their candidate; you'll be their hostage. And you'll be spending every waking moment going around the liberal, Black, Hispanic caucuses, handing out goodies to try to round up the last Democratic vote, because you need them all to defeat the Republicans. Whereas, if you play it in the center, you'll get a good many Republican votes, and you'll be able to pass your bills."

Then, the Constitution of the United States was amended--secretly. Nobody understood it. You needed 60 votes to pass a law in the Senate, not 50. The Constitution says 51, a majority. But as a practical matter, the filibuster, which had previously been used only occasionally in the civil rights era, throughout the '80s became used more and more and more, until ultimately it became de rigueur, it became habitual. In fact, there usually wasn't even a filibuster. There was just the threat of one, and if you didn't have 60 votes you wouldn't bring the bill up on the Senate floor. And while he had 55 or 56 Democrats, he didn't have 60. And as a result, the caucus method of governing broke down, and that accounted for a lot of the failures of his first term.

If I could go back to the '94 election for a second--

One of the big reasons that I think Clinton lost the House and the Senate in '94 was that a week before the election he zigged when he should have zagged. He went to the Middle East two and a half weeks before election day. And he negotiated a peace accord. And his popularity was very high at that point. It jumped about ten points. And when he came back to the United States--Democrats were winning most of those races that they ultimately lost.

History will be very good to Bill Clinton. At first, people talk about the
scandals, but after ten years nobody's going to mention that.And he called me and he said, "What do you think I should do?" And I say, "I think you should go back to the Middle East," meaning, "I think you should stay as president, stay out of this political stuff, don't campaign for anybody, keep your image up there. And that'll help your candidates win." And he said, "I can't do that, Dick. These people have voted for me with their careers on the line. They face tough races. They used to be afraid of my endorsement, but now I'm popular enough I can go into those districts and help those people."

And I said, "Any district you go into, you'll be hurting the candidate you're campaigning for. Because you'll be lowering your image, which, while it'll help them in the moment that you're there, it'll depress their vote total." And he said, "No. Can't follow your advice. I have to go do that." And then after that, that's when I predicted he would lose both houses.

Had he not campaigned in that last week, his approval ratings would have been ten points higher on election day, like they were a week before election day, and he probably would have kept the House.

After the election, you were taken into the fold, but you have to use a code name, because Bill Clinton wants to keep your involvement a secret. Why the secrecy? And tell us why you came to use that name?

Well, back then I was not at all known publicly. In fact, all the biographies that had been written about Clinton and Arkansas didn't mention my name. I'd been very much below the radar screen. And we both liked it that way.

And I had become more of a Republican than a Democrat in the early 1990s. And in fact, all of my clients at that point were Republicans: Bill Weld in Massachusetts, Trent Lott in Mississippi, Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania. And I had a very thriving career as a consultant on the Republican side.

Then the Democratic president, their persona non grata, calls me and says, "I'd like you to help me win this election, or help me stay in power." Now, when a president calls, particularly someone you've known for 20 years, you don't say, "No." You drop whatever you're doing, and you come and you say, "Yes." It's the old American tradition of "Drop your plow and sign up."

But he wasn't sure that I would work out, and I wasn't sure that I would work out, either. I didn't know if his staff would accept me. I didn't know if he was really going to follow the advice I was giving him. For two years he hadn't listened to a darn thing I'd said. I'd been advising against almost everything he'd done for two years, and he hadn't listened to any of it. And I wasn't going to go into a situation where he wasn't listening to me, I'd end my career with the Republicans, and I would be ineffectual with him.

From his point of view, he had a liberal Democratic staff that disapproved of everything I would urge. And he wasn't about to announce me with great fanfare if I wasn't able to really make the grade and give him advice that was effective.

So both of us were sort of having a trial marriage. And we both figured it was better for me to be involved secretly. So I made up a code name, "Charlie"--which, by the way, is the name of my favorite Republican political consultant, Charlie Black. And I just thought it was kind of funny that I'd use a Republican name, working for Clinton.

And it was really weird. He would be in meetings with Panetta and his whole staff. And Betty Curry, his secretary, would come in and say, "Charlie's on the phone." And he would say, "Excuse me, that's a call I have to take." And he'd go out into the anteroom and talk to me. And he'd go back in. And they'd all be wondering, "Is this some head of state? Is this some CIA agent or something?" And they had no idea who it was. It was kind of funny.

At some point, the staff realizes that something is going on. They're submitting drafts in the daytime, and the next morning these drafts are coming back with significant, even radical, changes. And the staff says, "Well, there's a day Clinton, and there's a night Clinton."

What was going on in that period?

Well, the most interesting and funny part of it was when he wrote the State of the Union speech of 1995. He didn't like the draft that he'd gotten, because it was more of a liberal draft than he wanted to give. And he asked me to come over to the White House residence.

So I came over. And he said, "I'd like you to work with me on the State of the Union today." It was kind of an all-day thing. And he doesn't type. He doesn't know how to type. So the staff knows that he doesn't know how to type. So he didn't want me to type a draft into the White House computer, because then the staff would figure out that that wasn't his draft.

So he hunted all throughout the residence for a manual or electric typewriter--you know, from the stone ages. And they found this dusty IBM Selectric. And the guy lugged it upstairs to his office and "Whew [blows]," blew off the dust. And then I sit there typing the draft of the speech. He's standing over me, kind of half-dictating, half saying, "Then I want to go here, I want to go there." And I tried to put into words, other words, what he was saying, or get his words.

And then as we finished each page, he would take it into his other room, and he'd copy it over, left-handed, in longhand, so that he could give it to his staff and say, "This wasn't a speech writer's draft. This is my draft. I stayed up all night working on it."

In fact, it was his draft. He was standing over me when I was typing it. I remember at one point I looked up to him and I said, "You know, this is what I've wanted to do since I'm eight years old," and he said, "Me, too."

And then we worked on the draft and produced it. And then the next day, the story all over the White House was that the president had stayed up all night writing the speech on his own. And a couple of people suspected something was going on, but nobody really knew.

How does it leak out, or how is it revealed, that in fact you are working for the president again?

Well, in March, after I'd been doing this for four months, he felt that it was important for me to get in touch with the rest of his staff. Because what was happening was, I was urging one course of action, they were urging another, and there was no integration between them. And he just felt it was essential that that happen.

So he introduced me to Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff; Leon Panetta, the Chief of Staff; and Erskine Bowles, the other Deputy Chief of Staff--not yet Stephanopoulos. And the three of them attended a meeting. And I was having these weekly strategy meetings with him. And I show up, and there are these three other guys there. And I said to myself, "This is the end of the secrecy." And then, in the course of the meeting I mentioned that I hoped to remain anonymous. And Harold Ickes says, "Well, the one thing I can guarantee you is you won't be anonymous." And sure enough, about a week later, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine called me and said, "I understand you've been attending strategy meetings with the president every week. Can we talk about it?" And then I was outed. After you were outed, there is great consternation among the White House staff that, A, the president's gone back to this guy he knew from Arkansas; B, that you're a Republican; C, that you still have Republican clients, including Trent Lott. How did you deal with the fact that enormous numbers on the staff weren't at all pleased to have you there?

Well, first of all, I dropped all my Republican clients when I went to work for him. He was my only client at that point. And you have to understand why Bill Clinton had the staff that he had. Clinton has always had a staff of two: Al and Hillary. That's his staff. And anything he doesn't do himself, he works with those two on. And about 70 percent of what goes on in his presidency, he does himself--or he has no involvement in. But 70 percent of what the president does, Bill Clinton does himself. And the other 30 percent, he does with Al Gore or his wife Hillary.

And his staff was not a staff that he used in the traditional sense of the word, to help him work. They were really representatives, ambassadors to different factions in the Democratic Party. Stephanopoulos was there because he was sort of the ambassador to The Washington Post and the ambassador to Gephardt, on whose staff he'd served. Ickes was there because he was the ambassador to the minority community and the labor movement. Panetta was there because he was the ambassador to the House committee chairmen and the barons in the House and the Senate, from the budget process. Everybody was there as an ambassador to another wing.

In that way, he was a little bit like Abe Lincoln. Lincoln and Clinton had a lot in common in the way they were elected: In both cases, they were dark horses. In both cases, they were from small states. In both cases, they were not the favorite for their parties' nomination. In 1860, the Republicans would have rather nominated Seward; and in 1992, the Democrats would rather have nominated Cuomo. So Lincoln and Clinton both had to win the affection and the loyalty of their party, that they really hadn't had. And in both cases, their party controlled Congress.

So Clinton had in his Cabinet everybody that would have run against him for president. Clinton on his staff had ambassadors from every wing of the Democratic Party. Now, as long as that staff was performing and producing in '93 and '94, that was fine, that was great. Their job was to work with the Democrats in Congress, and they were very good at it. They passed a lot. The only bill they didn't pass was health care reform, and that was at the very end.

But then, when it turned out that he needed a different staff, because he wanted to move to the center--because all of a sudden he had a Republican Congress, not a Democratic Congress--he couldn't fire the staff. Because if he fired the staff, he'd be rupturing his relations with his own party. So in a sense, he had to supersede the staff. And that really was what he brought me in for, to create sort of a second level of staff that he would work with, apart from the permanent staff that he couldn't fire.

Beyond these sort of ambassadorial roles you just talked about, there's also another division. And it has to do with what ought to be polled, and what ought to be a matter of principle. And some of the people that we've been interviewing have suggested that your dominance as an advisor came to represent a victory of polling over principle. And there was resentment on that basis, as well.

Well, I think the first point is, you and I are conducting this interview in the year 2000, not being interviewed in 1996. Nightline would have run a feature on Bill Clinton's one-term presidency in 1996, not in 2000, had we not done polling, because he never would have gotten reelected.

I used to say to them, "What's the problem? We're only 34 points behind." When after the '94 election he was a lame duck, there was speculation on whether he was relevant as president at all. In fact, he was driven, I think in Canada, to at one point say, "I am relevant"--like Nixon saying, "I'm not a crook."

And the only reason that he went from being totally irrelevant in '94, to winning the election in '96, is that we did use polling to combine principle and polling. I want to elaborate on that a little bit.

He uses polling the way a navigator uses tacking in a sailboat. If all you do is set your rudder and say, "I'm going to sail for this point," your boat capsizes. Because it's a sailboat; the wind may not be blowing there. But if you say, "I want to get there, but the wind is blowing a little bit to the left, I think I have to go a little to the left," and then it comes about, and you go a little bit to the right; you end up where you want to go.

That's really how he handled it. He would say, "I want to balance the budget and cut the deficit. I've got a Democratic Congress, so I have to raise taxes." "Now I have a Republican Congress, so I have to cut spending. But ultimately, I get where I want to get: I balance the budget."

And I think that the advisors who were around Clinton felt that polling was not a legitimate part of the process of policy formulation, and that's ridiculous. It's an essential part of it. Franklin Roosevelt didn't poll because he had great political instincts. Now we have polls; we don't need instincts. But is that a change in principle? Is it a change in principle that we use a xerox instead of carbon paper? It's of the same order of magnitude.

Well, one time James Carville takes out a piece of paper--and he's with a number of his colleagues--and draws a picture representing Clinton. And he says, you know, "Where does Clinton stand?" And I think, talking to them, you get the sense that there is almost a despair during this point that even his closest advisors don't know what is the core Clinton, what are the beliefs that he holds which are stronger than any poll.

In understanding what is the core Clinton, you can't look for ideology. You have to look for achievements. The core Clinton--If you sat down with Bill Clinton in 1991 and you said, "What do you want to achieve as president?" he would say, "I want to reduce welfare by half, I want to cut crime in half, I want to end the budget deficit, I want to reduce the student loan rate, I want to increase home ownership, I want to raise per capita income, I want to bridge the gap between the top fifth and the bottom fifth, I want to have a positive balance of trade, I want to lower tariffs around the world, and I want to reduce the number of conflicts throughout the globe." That's how he would talk, and that's how he thinks. And he sees goals, not ideologies.

You know, Felix Rohatyn--I think he was credited with saying, "The difference between the French and the Americans is that the French value ideas above facts, and the Americans value facts over ideas." And Bill Clinton in that sense is the ultimate American: "Don't tell me if it's liberal or conservative, or capitalist or socialist. Does it work to accomplish my goal, or doesn't it work?"

And when they said, "We don't know where Bill Clinton stands," he stands where he needs to stand to accomplish the objectives he has in mind. And when you look at his legacy, he accomplished every single thing he set out to achieve, and then some.

Sometime in the spring of 1995, you urge that Hillary Clinton change her role in the White House. What was that advice, and why?

It became very clear to me at the end of '94 and the early month or two of '95 that there was a zero-sum game going on between Bill and Hillary, in terms of the public's eyes. The public was unable to accept the idea that you would have a couple with two powerful people in it, and that their power would reinforce one another; and the stronger one was, the stronger the other would be, and the stronger they'd both be. Maybe that's not how their individual marriages worked; but they couldn't accept that. There was a zero-sum game: If Hillary was powerful, Bill was not; if Bill was powerful, Hillary was not.

And the public liked very much the Hillary Clinton that would go out in public and defend women and children and fight for her agenda. What they didn't like was the behind-the-scenes Hillary who would vet nominees for Attorney General, or who would make suggestions for the Cabinet, or who was the person who would formulate the inner working strategy on different issues, like health care reform. And they became very suspicious of that Hillary.

But more importantly, Bill Clinton could not be seen as strong until Hillary Clinton was seen as weak. Because the public assumed that the power belonged to one of them. It couldn't belong to both simultaneously, in their view.

And therefore, it was very important for Hillary to kind of assume much more of a lower profile, and to focus much more on public advocacy than private machinations. I, in fact, felt that it was not a good idea for her to hide. I felt it was a good idea to talk about things like Agent Orange in Vietnam, or the Gulf War disease, or breast cancer, mammograms--issues where people would like her and identify with her on. But not to be seen as the power behind the throne.

Even so, there was no question she was the power behind the throne in the White House.

Oh, no, she wasn't. In '93 and '94, she was. And in '98 and '99, I think she was. But in '95 and '96, she absolutely was not. She was completely out of the loop. She used to have to come to me when she wanted an appointment for somebody and say, "Please talk to my husband to get Ann Lewis appointed communications director."

The relationship between Bill and Hillary oscillates based on the political facts of the moment. In the aftermath of Gennifer Flowers, she had tremendous power, and she was a crucial element in the White House in '93 and '94. But after the defeat of '94, which was largely--which Clinton in his own mind attributed largely to Hillary's health care proposal, and the sort of left direction, Hillary had very little power in the White House in '95 and '96: never came to strategy meetings, was never involved in any of the major decisions, and really was out of the loop. She came back into the loop after Monica Lewinsky, and then she really in effect took over. It was kind of a silent coup. But in the period of '95 and '96, she was nowhere in evidence.

She was still important enough for you to worry, according to your book, about when you were on her bad list. I mean, you talk about there being no colder experience in the world than being frozen out by Mrs. Clinton.

Well, I had always had a good relationship with Hillary. In fact, she was instrumental usually in bringing me in from the cold after Bill had screwed something up, to try to get it right. And we had always had a good relationship.

In January, a book by David Maraniss came out called First in His Class, that quoted me as saying that Hillary wanted a swimming pool built in the Arkansas governor's mansion, and that I had talked her out of it because I was concerned about the political backlash--which is a true, if somewhat innocuous, story. She was very mad at me for doing that, and February, March, April, and May, didn't talk to me; wouldn't take my calls, wouldn't return my calls, and I had nothing to do with her.

I would send her memos every week or two of advice, and she would take it. And at one point, I called Bill and I said, "You know, I've always had a good relationship with Hillary. She's not talking to me." And he would say, "She's not talking to me much, either." And I would say, "Well, you know, I know that I'm not long for this world if I'm not in touch with both of you." And he said, "She takes your advice." And then I had a comment that maybe was a little too smart. I said, "Yeah, I leave the food out at night, and in the morning it's gone. But I have no relationship with her."

Then I was meeting with Susan Thomases one of Hillary's closest friends. And in the middle of the meeting, lo and behold, Hillary called Susan, and she wanted to speak to me. What coincidence. And from then on, we talked constantly.

What was it like being frozen out for those few months?

Well, I was frozen out during a period in which she was very removed herself. She was shattered by the '94 defeat, unnerved by it. At one point in December, or November of '94 , we were talking on the phone, after the defeat. And she said, "Dick, I'm so confused. I just don't know which end is up. Nothing works any more. Nothing that I do works. I just don't know what to do. I just don't think I have any political judgment any more. What do you think I should do?" And she was unnerved, and she really needed a period of retreat.

I also think that that was a period of some difficulty in their relationship. And I think that during that period she was basically sort of out of the loop for everybody, and then came back in. I think it was me, but I also think it was her relationship with her husband at that point.

You also talk about incurring the president's wrath at different times. And one of the examples that you gave was, you had leaked a story to David Broder of the Post, and the president calls you up.

Well, yes. This was kind of a ceremonial thrashing, I feel. I had worked with the president on his speech for a balanced budget, and he had given that speech. And I had been one of the people who was fighting for it. And it was over the objections of his staff, and they knew it was over their objections.

And I had called Broder and I had given him kind of a spin as to what I thought the strategic goals the president was trying to achieve were. So Clinton kind of gathered all of the staff around, and picked up the phone, called me up, and yelled like hell at me. And I kind of got it midway that this was sort of a performance for the other people in the room. And there's some stuff he said that kind of indicated that. So that wasn't a real thrashing. But I have gotten real thrashings from him.

What are they like?

Well, one of the most telling was ... David Maraniss came out with his book, First in His Class, in early 1995, which was really the best biography of Bill Clinton. And in it, I had quoted to him how Clinton and I had worked together in the 1978 campaign for governor; not just on the governor campaign that he was running in, but in the Senate race, to defeat Jim Guy Tucker, who was ultimately Clinton's successor as governor of Arkansas.

And he called me in a fury, in a rage. He said, "What did you talk to Maraniss for? What did you tell Maraniss?" And I said, "I told him that you and I worked together on the negative ads against Tucker." And he said, "Why did you tell him that? Can't I trust you? Can't I trust anybody? Why are you doing this?" And he was really screaming. I was at a restaurant, and I had to hold the phone away from my ear.

And I said, "What are you mad about? You ran against Tucker in '82, and we ran negative ads on him up the gazoo. What are you hollering at me about? '78 was tame compared to '82." And he said, "He knows about '82, but he doesn't know about '78!" And I said, "You're the president. He's the governor of Arkansas. What do you care?" "He controls the state police!" screamed into the phone.

And I said, "I'll take care of it." And then through an emissary I sent word to Tucker apologizing, and Tucker sent back that it was no problem. And got that back to Clinton, and he was calmed down. But it was significant to me because of the nerve that it touched, in light of the subsequent investigations; but also, in terms of the temper. It was the first time he'd ever really screamed at me--Well, the second time. I had a run-in with him in 1990. But the temper is something new in his personality. He really did not do that in the 1980s. It was in the '90s that that began to develop.

You develop a theory that comes to be known as "triangulation" after the '94 elections. And just very briefly, what was your thinking?

Well, we were locked into a very sterile conflict between the left agenda and the right agenda. And it was like going into a restaurant and not being able to order a la carte. If you wanted to have pro choice, you had to vote for the Democrats and accept high taxes. If you wanted to have pro life, you had to also accept government--less environment. There was a coupling here on both sides that was inappropriate.

And I felt that what you should do is really take the best from each party's agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn't be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn't believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.

For those of your viewers who are into philosophy, it really is Hegelian in concept: the idea of a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. And when we originally discussed it, we did so in terms of Hegel, which we had studied at Oxford. But in American politics, we spoke of triangulation.

In June 1995, the following spring-summer, is the fight over the balanced budget. This is not necessarily the most popular thing on the White House staff. You somehow persuade Clinton that it is in his best interests.

The deficit in American politics was an excuse for both political parties to do their thing. The Republicans used the deficit constantly as an excuse, as an issue to run against the Democrats and talk about fiscal irresponsibility. The Democrats would always talk about protecting Social Security and Medicare, and pretend that any budget cut that balanced the budget had to eviscerate those programs. And both parties found it so convenient, that they didn't want to get rid of it.

And I felt that in opposing the Republican budget cuts, we had to make clear that they were not necessary to balance the budget; that you could get rid of the deficit, as we in fact have done, and still preserve Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment; that you could cut the Post Office, or the Department of Labor, or minor programs, without really getting into the stuff that people cared about.

And I told Clinton that I felt, "No amount of rhetoric will convince people of that. You have to actually produce a balanced budget without cutting these programs." And the staff was opposed to that. They were liberals who I think for the most part really didn't want the deficit to go away. They were having too good a time with the deficit. Because as long as there was a deficit, they could run against the Republican cuts.

I felt that was just continuing a sort of World War I static dialogue of one against the other, and that what you needed to do was to show there was a way to balance the budget without cutting those programs. So I urged him to give a speech explaining that to the country. And every member of his staff, except Erskine Bowles, opposed that. And ultimately, he decided to do it.

Later on that year, the president moves toward a series of smaller themes. You talked about giving that advice in '94. But beginning in 1995 there are things like school uniforms, which seem to be coming out of nowhere. And for people who wanted them to take big ideological stands, this was another example of a president who seemed to be practically a Republican.

Well, people wanted him to build walls. But to do that, we had to use bricks. And education is a good example. He made a series of very minor, very tiny proposals: school uniforms, values ratings on television, an offensive against teen smoking, higher standards in the school, 100,000 extra teachers, gun control on school property, a whole host of these things. And when you put them all together, they amounted to a very significant education program.

My point to him was that you have to go brick by brick. You can't do the whole thing all at once. I also felt that there was a very important role for the president to be a leader in proposing things that he couldn't necessarily do. Education is, again, a very good example. The president has no real power over education. But he has the power to influence America's political climate, so that the education issues which are determined at the state and local level can be affected by the rhetoric the president is pushing.

This really is part of a broader theme, which is the formal powers of the American presidency have largely atrophied. He doesn't run the economy any more. The Federal Reserve Board does that. He's not really commander-in-chief of the armed forces, because he can't incur casualties without slitting his throat politically. The power to tax is a theoretical power. If you raise taxes, you're cooked in America today. The power to regulate: People are strongly against government regulation.

So you have to replace these formal powers with the informal powers that Clinton brought to the presidency: the ability to persuade, the ability to float issues that kindle enthusiasm at the grass roots and change politics up and down the spectrum. And it's in that context that you have to look at what I call the "bite-sized achievements."

In the fall, the big issue in '95 is the government shutdown. You're polling at this time, at what moment can you tell the president that taking a goal line stand is going to help him? Because the president's instinct, according to everybody we've talked to, is "Let's cut a deal."

Bill Clinton is like a sparrow: He likes to prepare his nest. And he gathers twigs and branches. And when his nest is just right, he sits in it. And he'll stay in it till hell freezes over.

In May and in June of 1995, he was building his nest. That was the balanced budget speech. It was crafting an alternative position that reached a balanced budget, but didn't eviscerate the important programs. And he was at the same time developing a method of protecting his nest. And that was raising money for television commercials that would explain his position to people, even if the news media was not really covering it.

And when he had completed both of those missions, it became very clear to him that the viable strategic course was to settle in his nest and wait everybody out; and that he would win the budget shutdown, because he had properly positioned himself.

Now, that's not to say that at any given point in that process he wouldn't have jumped at a budget deal. He wanted one, and I was almost frantic to try to help him get one. And ultimately, the deal that he offered to the Republicans in '95 and '96 was the same as the one they accepted in '97. We just had to go through an election, and they had to learn the reality that they couldn't get their way on everything.

But the president was always very decisive when he had carefully prepared his position. And you have to see the balanced budget speech, the money for TV advertising, the soft TV ads that everybody criticizes, as essential to the positioning that permitted him to make that goal line stand on the balanced budget.

Was he moved by how the public was reading it? In other words, you were doing overnights in that stage. And at some point, you were able to go in and tell him, you know, "This is working."

From the very beginning of the process in early August we told him, "This is working," to stay firm, not to move, throughout August, throughout September, throughout October, throughout November, throughout early January--all of that six-month period of the confrontation.

We kept telling him two things. The first is, "Your position is well prepared, the people understand it, and they're supporting you." But the second thing is that, "In the crucible of this fight, you are getting rid of your weakness image."

From the very beginning, Bill Clinton had two big problems: a third of the country thought he was immoral, and a third of the country thought he was weak. Now, we couldn't solve the first problem, but we could solve the second one. And the budget fight was a way of solving the second problem. Because in the course of resisting those budget changes, in the course of taking that two government shutdowns and not blinking, he convinced people that he was strong, and it solved his most solvable problem. Still couldn't solve the morality one, but we sure could solve the weakness one.

During this time, you keep a back channel open to Trent Lott, the Majority Leader.

Right. Well, Clinton always wanted a deal. He always wanted an accomplishment. He felt that if he balanced the budget, he would win by 20 points, and he was right. The reason he has high job ratings now--after all of the scandal, after all of the impeachment, after all of everything--is the tremendous stuff that he accomplished in '96 and '97, in basically, almost singlehandedly, producing a balanced budget with all of these programs protected. And he knew that that was the big political goal.

Now, Bob Dole was the leader of the Senate, and he had one agenda, which was to get elected president. And to do that, he believed he had to stop Clinton from achieving a balanced budget. But underneath him, you had Trent Lott, who was the number two in the Senate and no friend of Bob Dole's. He had won that Whip post over Dole's objection. And he was not looking at Dole getting elected president. He was looking at reelecting Republicans to the Senate. And he realized that, unless they produced some achievements, they wouldn't get elected.

And Lott understood that his candidates running for the Senate were more incumbents than they were Republicans. And Clinton understood that he was more of an incumbent president than he was a Democrat; and that ultimately, if things worked out, the incumbents, be they Republicans or Democrats, would both be helped to a new level of popularity.

And I was constantly working with Trent, to get him to sort of try to sell to the Republican leadership that point of view. And the key audience was Gingrich, who was increasingly realizing that this confrontation was undermining his capacity for leadership, undermining his reputation and, as it turned out, destroying his political career.

And as he began to realize it, he began to feel that it was necessary to come to a deal. But he could never really bring himself to pull the trigger. The deal was always just elusive, and the real problem was that Dole didn't want it.

Did you keep the back channel to Lott a secret? Or was that well known among the White House advisors?

Well, I reported every single word, both to Clinton and to Lott. They both told me, "Tell the other everything that I'm telling you. There are no secrets between us." And I did that.

I never told anybody outside of Trent and the president what each was saying to the other. But the White House staff was furious that I had this back channel, because they wanted all those communications to go through them, so that they could sabotage the budget deal.

Because their philosophy was very different. They said, "You're absolutely right, Dick. If you have a budget deal, the Republicans will get reelected to the Senate, and the Republicans will get reelected to the House, and Clinton will get reelected president. But we won't get our Democrats to control the House and the Senate." They were Democrats; I was a "Clintonista." And my job was to help Bill Clinton get elected; and their job was to try to get the Democrats across the board elected.

And you didn't care if the Democrats controlled the Congress.

I didn't care at all. In fact, I feel that it was in many ways better for Bill Clinton if the Republicans did, because it permitted him to get rid of the craziness of the liberals in the Democratic Party and go with the centrist achievements that I think have worked so well for the country.

Which was treason to people on the White House staff.

That's right. As I said, the people on the White House staff were more ambassadors from the Democratic Party than staffers who were loyal to Clinton. And at some point, the interests of every president clash between his role as an incumbent and his role as the head of the party.

As the head of the party, if your party is in the minority in the House and the Senate, you don't want anything to pass, so that you can run against a do-nothing Congress--like they do now in 2000. Democrats have sabotaged everything for the last two years, so that they could take control of Congress.

On the other hand, if you are the president, you want to accomplish stuff, because you want to have a record as an incumbent. And it doesn't much matter to you who else gets credit for it.

For someone like Leon Panetta, former Congressman, loyal Democrat, this is almost the ultimate act of disloyalty: a senior advisor to the president openly suggesting that it's better for Clinton if the Republicans, not the Democrats, take over Congress.

No, well, I never said that publicly. And I never really said it to Clinton. And I'm not sure I really believed it at the time. But I did feel that I didn't much care who won the races for Senate or Congress; my job was to get Clinton reelected. And the best way to get him reelected was to do a good job for the country. And the best way to do that was to make a deal with the Republicans and get stuff through.

If we can fast-forward to the time when Bob Dole left as leader, and Trent Lott became leader, at that point we passed a whole series of important legislation for the country: minimum wage increase, portability of health benefits, immigration reform and, most important of all, welfare reform.

It's those achievements that, A, permitted the Republicans to keep the Senate and the House but, B, permitted Bill Clinton to get reelected and keep the high ratings that he's had throughout his second term. That was a two- or three-month period of such incredible achievement in the legislative process that it's really the shining moment of the eight-year presidency, and has set in motion the high ratings and the successes that he's had.

Back up a little bit. Before Dole gets the nomination, one thing I wanted to go over- Clinton is not worried about Bob Dole becoming the Republican nominee. He's worried about who?

Colin Powell. Clinton was apoplectic on the subject of Colin Powell, terrified of Colin Powell. For three months, all he could think about was Colin Powell. And he would talk about the press giving Powell a free ride, that the press is promoting Powell's candidacy. And he was going through all of that.

This was when Powell was doing the book tour?

The book tour, right. And I did a poll which showed that Powell could defeat him for president, but that there's no way he'd win the Republican nomination. That when you told Republican voters that he was in favor of affirmative action, that he was in favor of gun control, that he was essentially pro choice on abortion, that he favored immigration, when you told them those positions, they ran screaming.

And this was a situation where you had a candidate that could win the election, but couldn't win the Republican nomination. So I told Clinton, "Don't worry about Powell. He's not going to run, because the polls are going to show him that he can't win the nomination. And he's not going to go into a fight he can't win."

And sure enough, Powell dropped out, saying that it was family issues. And I don't mean to disparage that, but the fact of the matter is that he couldn't win the nomination. And that was a vast relief to Clinton.

How involved is Bill Clinton in the ads that you're making for the '96 campaign?

Oh, very involved. Clinton really saw them as 30-second speeches that he was giving to the country. Most of the ads featured him speaking for much of the ad. And he would work very carefully on every comma, every dot, every "t"--dot every "i" in the advertisement itself. And he loved doing it. He was very good at it. And he did that throughout '95 and '96. Fast-forward to '96, the Democratic convention in Chicago. ... You are seen at that point, again, to use the words of Leon Panetta, you're the dark force to the loyalists on the staff. That's a big battle.

Yes. Well, we had a seminal moment in that in January of 1996. I had been completely incapable of understanding throughout '95 the signals Clinton was sending me. On the one hand, he would do a lot of my advice. He would take it, he would implement it, and he would go with it. But then, on the other hand, every time a vacancy came up on the staff, he would appoint somebody that hated me. And I just couldn't figure it. I just didn't understand it.

And I had a meeting with him in January. And my wife, Eileen McGann, actually is the one who gave me this insight. And I came in to him and I said, "You know, I think I've finally figured you out." And he smiled, and he leaned back in his chair, and he said, "Tell me about it."

And [I] said, "I don't understand why you take all my advice, and you appoint a staff that hates me. And I think it's because you want me to be like a little bird perched on your left shoulder, whispering into your ear so nobody else can hear it, just giving you advice." And he had a big grin on his face, and he said, "You got it. Leave it with me. Just tell me what you think I ought to be doing. Leave it with me. I'll take care of it. Don't deal with my staff. If you need information, get it from them. If you need facts, get it from them. But just give me the advice."

So during all of '95, I was trying to shoulder my way into staff meetings and be included in this and included in that. And then in '96, I realized that I didn't want to be included in anything. So I would refuse to go to any staff meetings. Panetta used to beg me to come, and I would say, "No, I'm not." Because in the last analysis, the channel that Clinton wanted me to pursue was the direct, private channel that we had with each other. And we would talk two or three times a day by phone. I would send him eight or ten notes every day. And it was a very close rapport.

And what would happen is that the staff would come up with a recommendation, submit it to Clinton, and they would try to lobby me to get me to tell Clinton that I supported it. And I would never respond. I would just tell Clinton what I thought and then--It was kind of an appeals court.

The irony of the way the White House worked in that period is that there were three outsiders in the White House: Bill, Hillary, and Gore. They were the outsiders. The insiders were Ickes, Stephanopoulos, Panetta, the White House staff which had its links with the party and with the Washington media establishment.

And they kind of saw--when Clinton would not follow their advice, they would sort of say, "He's loose. The president's loose. God knows what he's going to say." And they'd be scared to death of it. They felt very insecure about their relationship with Clinton.

They're kind of like the Moon: It has no light on its own. It's only when the Sun shines on it that you can even see it. And they were worried that the Sun was taking a vacation and wasn't going to shine on them again. And in fact, in '96 Clinton largely ignored his staff, and we just did most of this together.

1996, you find out you're going to be on the cover of Time magazine. And neither you nor the president is terribly thrilled about it.

Yes. I thought that that would be the end of me. You know, how with "The King and I," the play and the movie, you can never have your head be higher than the king's. And this was a good example of your head being higher--and it gets cut off.

So I was on the phone with Walter Isaacson, the editor of Time, trying to talk myself off the cover. In fact, afterwards, he sent me what the cover would have looked like, and he said, "This is, you know, everybody's dream. Here's your cover." And we had all sorts of ones. He wanted me standing in the president's mind. And we eventually compromised on my sitting on his shoulder, talking in his ear. And I was talking to Walter one minute, Walter Isaacson, and the president the next minute, and then back and forth and back and forth, till we ultimately negotiated a cover.

How did the president feel about you being on the cover the week of the Democratic convention?

I don't think he was thrilled about it. But I think he realized that I had done everything I could to minimize it.

Earlier that month, he and I had had a conversation where he said, "Look, I know that after this is over you're going to write about this. And I think you should. I think history has an interest in this. I think that there may not have been a closer relationship between a president and an advisor than we've had this year and a half or two years. And I think you should write about it. I just want you to be sure that you wait until after the election is over." And I said, "No problem."

1998, the Lewinsky scandal breaks. Where are you when you hear from the president?

I was on a subway in New York, on the way to visit a friend of mine. And my pager went off, and I glanced down, and I thought the pager was busted. You know, it was the old phone number, the president's personal line. And that hadn't gone off for a while, and I sort of thought maybe there was a mistake.

And then I realized that he was calling about the Lewinsky matter, which had just surfaced in the press. And when I got off the subway, it paged again. And I went to the office of my friend, and I called from his office. And we had a conversation that I've related to the grand jury. I want to emphasize that I did not voluntarily share the contents of this conversation. It was only under subpoena that I did. But since I've told the grand jury, I might as well tell you.

I said, "You poor son-of-a-gun. I know just where you're coming from. I know just what you've been through. And every part of me just aches in empathy for you." And he said, "Yeah, this has been a--This is horrible. This is just terrible. You know, ever since I was elected president, ever since '92, I've sort of shut myself down, shut my body down, sexually I mean. But I just--I just screwed up with this girl. I didn't do what they said I did, but I did do something. And I think I may have done so much that I can't prove my innocence."

And I said, "Well, you know, there's a broad streak of forgiveness that runs through this country. And I think maybe if you tell them the facts, you'll be okay." And he said, "You think so?" And I said, "Yeah. I think that Nixon was impeached because he just never told the public the truth about Watergate. And I think that there may be something here where you just nip this in the bud, and you just let it all out."

Just a correction here: Nixon threatened with impeachment. He wasn't impeached....

Okay. I mean, I believe he was impeached, in effect. But okay. ...And he said, "You really think that I could do this?" And I said, "Look, I don't know. Let's poll it. Let's find out." And he said, "Well, how would you do that?" And I said, "Well, I'll read them the different scenarios, and I'll figure out what they say, and I'll get back to you."

And I said, "I assume this is something you wouldn't want to go through your regular pollsters with, so I'll do it for you." And he said, "Can you keep it secret?" And I said, "Sure." And I did, until the grand jury under subpoena forced me to reveal it.

And I did a poll that night, and I called him back late that night. And I said, "Well, they'll forgive the adultery, but they won't forgive the lying. They won't forgive that you didn't talk about it in the deposition." And I went through the numbers with him, and it was very clear at that point that the shock of the fact that the president was having a relationship with this young woman in the White House was so severe that that, combined with the idea that he had lied about it in the deposition, would just have blown up his administration.

So my hope at that point was that he would gradually let the truth out over the periods of weeks that were following; that he would gradually sensitize the public to the truth.

Now, I didn't know what the truth was at that point. All I knew was he had told me, "I did something, but not what they say I did." I in my wildest dreams never imagined that he was hanging that distinction on two different kinds of sex; but he was, apparently. But I didn't know what he had done, but I knew that there was something there.

So I was hoping that he would sort of let the public down gently. He interpreted the poll numbers as being that he had to stonewall. And he said, "Well, we just have to win; don't we?" And then we had two or three more conversations over the course of the next few days. And then he told me that it wasn't a good idea for us to talk, because the conversations weren't privileged, and he said, "If you're ever called before a grand jury, you'll have to reveal it. So my lawyers have cautioned me not to talk to you."

Are you convinced that your poll persuaded the president to stonewall at that point?

I wouldn't put it that way. I think that the president felt that he had no option but to stonewall. And I think my earlier conversation with him opened the possibility that he might be able to get by by telling the truth. And when the poll came back, it reaffirmed his notion that he couldn't.

I think the president made a big mistake when he then went out and said, "I did not have sex with that woman." What he should have done is just hedged it, let the public believe that maybe he did have sex, let them kind of get the point, and then after four or five weeks let the truth come out. And this would have been a scandal; he would have dropped five or ten points, and would have been right back on top a few months later.

It was his digging in his heels and stonewalling for an incredible period of time, and overtly lying to the country, that really got him in trouble. He could have dodged and weaved around this until the point more or less came out--leak it, get it out, get speculation out--and then have admitted to it.

In a situation like this, you need soft hands. You need to be able to be subtle about it and gradual, and not just do anything harsh like "No." And it was just a big mistake on his part. But it was really the reflection of a lifelong habit of not talking about his private life. For his entire life, it had been based on covering up his extramarital sex. And he just found it almost impossible to talk about it in public.

Have you spoken to the president since?


In terms of how history regards this man, what's your short view?

History will be very good to Bill Clinton. At first, people talk about the scandals, but after ten years nobody's going to mention that. It'll be like Harry Truman. Nobody remembers there were scandals. We remember him for NATO and the Marshall Plan and the Korean War.

Bill Clinton will be seen as the president that solved every major problem America had at the end of the 20th century: Before he took office, we had a deficit; after, we had a surplus. Before he took office, we had soaring crime; after, crime was cut in half. Before he took office, welfare was going crazy; afterwards, the number of poor people in this country has dropped significantly, and will continue to drop. Before, the gap between the rich and the poor was widening; after, it was narrowing. Before, education was not a federal issue; after, it is a federal issue, and education standards are higher. Before, America was protectionist; after, it was free trade. Before, America was isolationist in terms of many of the global conflicts; after, we accept the idea that the president has a diplomatic role in resolving all of that.

And I think that this man--If I had told you in 1992 that he would accomplish the things he accomplished by 2000, you would fall off that chair.

You don't think history is going to reflect on a character flaw?

I think history will see that as a character flaw, obviously, Lewinsky. But you know, Thomas Jefferson had illegitimate children with Sally Hemmings. And Dwight Eisenhower had an affair with his chief of staff when he was World War II commander. And John Kennedy had an affair with Marilyn Monroe. And Lyndon Johnson had an affair with dozens of women. And I don't think that history will see Bill Clinton as anything ultimately different from that.

I think they'll be very harsh in condemning the Republican Party for using that as the basis for trying to remove a president.

I also think that history will look askance, not at the sex, but at the tactics of intimidation that Clinton has used to defend himself against these scandals. But I think that ultimately history will be very positive in its view of him. Perhaps, it'll be like George Bernard Shaw said in "The Devil's Disciple": History will tell lies, as usual.

What are your thoughts on the role of Hillary over the years, their relationship?

The relationship between the Clintons is a very complicated one. And there is real love there. It's a real marriage. It's not a sham marriage. But on the other hand, the extent to which Hillary is Bill's campaign manager varies over time, depending on whether he feels that she knows what she's doing or not.

In the 1992 campaign, at the beginning, Hillary had relatively little power, because Bill had more or less been running his governorship on his own. She had much less of a role in the late '80s than she did in the early '80s. But when the Gennifer Flowers controversy hit, and Hillary really led him in how to handle that, and was cool under fire and handled it beautifully, she really again became his campaign manager and his chief advisor.

And that role lasted through '93 and '94. And in the course of it, she had jurisdiction over health care reform, and Clinton was impressed in the early going in the way in which she handled it. But as health care reform began to fall apart, and as the sort of liberal core she had been counseling began to come apart at the seams, Bill began to lose faith in Hillary as a political advisor. He loved her as a wife. They were still close to each other. But as a political advisor, he began to see limitations to her advice.

And after the '94 defeat, he began to listen to Hillary much less. And Hillary began to feel that she was undermining herself by this role of being the power behind the scenes; that she should be more of a public advocate and less of a private advisor.

And during the period of '95 and '96, the president really did not have a lot of confidence in Hillary's political judgment. I think that came to an abrupt end with the start of the Lewinsky scandal, because I think at that point he realized again that he needed her to protect him and that she was the only one that could.

And she, in return, wanted more of a role in the White House and more power to coordinate the defense. And I think during '98 and '99, Hillary was the dominant force in his presidency, because he needed her, and because she had to play that role.

What was the battle over welfare reform like, when you had such prestigious figures as the secretary of the treasury at that point arguing against signing this legislation?

Well, Bill Clinton always wanted welfare reform. It was always his number-one priority. It was something he ran on in the campaign. And the welfare bill that was passed twice--which he vetoed twice--had very significant cutbacks in areas like day care and nutrition and food stamps and child welfare, things that he was not prepared to approve of.

So when the Republicans gave him a clean welfare reform bill embodying his basic principles that he'd always supported--time limits and work requirements--he was inclined to sign it. But then they loaded up the bill with all kinds of other provisions, to cut aid to legal immigrants, and Clinton did not want to sign those provisions.

And there was a real push-pull for his mind on that, where his liberal advisors were saying, "Look at that somebody comes into this country, and works hard, and pays taxes, isn't a citizen yet, but is injured in an industrial accident, and can't collect disability? That's terrible." And he would give those arguments back to me.

And the argument I made back to him is that, "The Democratic Congress will never pass welfare reform, but they will get rid of these extraneous amendments. And if you win by enough, you're going to elect a Democratic Congress with you, and you can fix the bill after you've signed it." And when he signed the bill, he signed it criticizing those provisions and saying he wanted to fix them.

Now, we miscalculated. He had a Republican Congress. But oddly enough, the Republican governors insisted that the Republican Congress fix the bill in exactly the way Bill Clinton wanted. And the welfare system that exists now is exactly and precisely what Bill Clinton would have designed if there were no Congress.

And I might add, that this has worked incredibly. I think that you have to put this in a historical context. When Franklin Roosevelt was president, he said, "I see one-third of America ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed." When Johnson left with the "Great Society," it was one-sixth. After Bill Clinton leaves as president, it'll be one-tenth. And that's an enormous, enormous achievement, largely attributable to welfare reform.

Was it the single highest risk legislative gamble of the Clinton presidency when you were there?

I think vetoing it would have been the single highest risk. I think if he'd vetoed that bill, he probably would not have been reelected president. He ran on the basis of welfare reform. His most important spot in 1992 was, "I will end welfare as we know it." And if he then got a welfare reform bill that, as far as American citizens are concerned, was precisely what he wanted, and was only bad insofar as immigrants are concerned, the public would never have understood a veto of that legislation.

A lot of people have remarked on the sort of different Clinton in this last phase. He's given some funny speeches. He's made the video. He seems more relaxed. What's your assessment of how this president looks post-impeachment?

Well, as I've said earlier, I have a very positive view of how history will see him. And I think he's accomplished a huge amount as president. But I'm harshly critical of his whole second term as president. I think he's completely wasted his second term in office.

What basically happened was that he went to the Democrats in Congress and he said, "Defend me against impeachment. And in return, I will never again triangulate. I will never again go to the Republicans and cut a deal with them to get stuff passed. I'll work only within the Democratic Caucus." And the translation of that is that, "I agree that nothing will pass in my second term." Because until the Democrats get control of Congress, they are not prepared to let any legislation emerge, because they want there to be a do-nothing Congress they can run against to take control.

And Clinton in effect handed the franchise for his second term over to the congressional Democrats. And as a result, he hasn't done anything. Nothing has passed, nothing of significance.

Bill Clinton could have had a deal with the Republican Party easily for Medicare reform, for a tax cut, for Social Security reform, for reducing the national debt. There was enough of a surplus on the table so he could have had that deal any time he wanted. The only reason he didn't make the deal is that congressional Democrats didn't want him to do it, and he'd promised to them that he would respect their opinions, in return for their saving him from impeachment.

And I think that he's completely wasted his second term as president. So maybe he's a comedian now, and maybe he's relaxed, and maybe he's loose; but he's squandered the four years the American people elected him to.

In personal terms, how do you think Clinton will handle not being president?

Clinton is like a solar battery: He's only alive when the sun is shining on him. When the sun goes behind the clouds, or it's the middle of the night, he's a cold lump of metal, like a solar battery in darkness.

Clinton needs public adulation, he needs controversy, he needs stimulus, he needs danger, he needs adventure. He needs all that stuff, just to get him going. That creates the electricity that permits him to function as a human being.

Now, he's chosen an occupation that gives him a huge amount of that. And he's chosen to live a personal life within that occupation that gives him even more of it. When he leaves as president, he's going to find a definite absence of stimulus. He's going to become cranky, irritable, depressed, withdrawn, introverted, upset. I do not wish anybody to be around him in the year after he leaves office. He's going to be impossible.

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Solitary NationApril 22nd