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
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,
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.
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
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
At what point do you get taken into Clinton's confidence, in terms of
what's happening politically in the fall of '94?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
You don't think history is going to reflect on a character
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.