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Clinton Addresses Nation On Economic Plan
February 15, 1993
Correspondent: Dave Marash
Anchor: Ted Koppel

TED KOPPEL (VO): He's been selling it at a town meeting.

PRES BILL CLINTON: So we have to put together a plan that keeps my commitments to you, invests in you and your jobs, in your education, in your health care and your future.

KOPPEL (VO): On the radio.

PRES CLINTON: We've got to act and act now.

KOPPEL (VO): And tonight in a nationally televised address.

PRES CLINTON: Seventy percent of the new taxes I'll propose, 70 percent, would be paid by those who make more than $100,000 a year.

KOPPEL (VO): It's one of the most intense public - relations campaigns ever staged from the White House, and as much a test of presidential salesmanship as economic strategy. Tonight, the results of our instant poll to see if America's even in the market for the Clinton economic plan.

ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: Many of you are convinced that we in the media are just busting to tell you what we think when the President speaks, as he did tonight. In reality, we can't wait to find out what you thought. ABC News commissioned a telephone poll that was conducted right after President Clinton's speech this evening. We'll give you more precise results a little later on, but basically you seem to have approved of what the President said by a ratio of better than two to one, thought his economic plan was on the right track by a ratio of close to three to one. But even though the theme of the President's speech was that we're all going to have to give up something, and even though, as I said, most of you seemed to approve of that message, the majority of those we polled said that most Americans are not ready to sacrifice. Interesting. Most of you are ready to give something up, but you're not so sure about your neighbors. Anyway, most of the time when the President decides to sit down in the Oval Office and address us on live TV, most of the time he is not about to deliver good news. As Nightline correspondent Dave Marash reports, tonight was no exception.

PRES RICHARD NIXON: Good evening. I want to talk to you tonight from my heart.

PRES JIMMY CARTER: I come to you this evening to discuss the extreme -

PRES RONALD REAGAN: How, in these past several days, violence has erupted.

DAVE MARASH, ABC NEWS (VO): For virtually as long as there's been national television, the Oval Office of the White House has been not just a presidential workplace, but a showplace. And tonight, for the first time in his presidency, anticipation and anxiety accompanied Bill Clinton as he opened his show.

PRES BILL CLINTON: Good evening. I have chosen this day, on which we honor two great presidents, to talk with you about the serious problems and the great promise of our country, and the absolute necessity for change if we're to secure a better future for ourselves and for our children.

MARASH (VO): If change can be called Bill Clinton's signature theme, the patriotic orchestration that surrounded it tonight sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan. In fact, a lot of Clinton's speech sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan.

PRES REAGAN: (February 5, 1981) The federal budget is out of control, and we face runaway deficits.

PRES CLINTON: The federal deficit has roared out of control. Look at this - the big tax cuts for the wealthy, the growth in government spending.

MARASH (VO): And not just Clinton's words tonight were Reaganesque; so were his visual aids.

PRES REAGAN: Now let me show you a chart that I've had drawn to illustrate how this can be. Here you see two trend lines.

MARASH (VO): But tonight, Clinton's chartwork savaged Mr Reagan's economic record and justified what sounded like a policy reversal.

PRES CLINTON: But as you can see, while the deficit went up, investments in the things that make us stronger and smarter, richer and safer, were neglected. This matters. When you don't invest in jobs and education and economic opportunity, unemployment goes up and our incomes go down.

MARASH (VO): Decidedly unlike Mr Reagan, though, was Mr Clinton's admission of failure.

PRES CLINTON: I had hoped to invest in your future by creating jobs, expanding education, reforming health care, and reducing the debt without asking more of you, and I've worked harder than I've ever worked in my life to meet that goal. But I can't, because the deficit has increased so much beyond my earlier estimates and beyond even the worst official government estimates from last year. We just have to face the fact that to make the changes our country needs, more Americans must contribute today so that all Americans can do better tomorrow.

MARASH (VO): That there might be bad news for average Americans in Wednesday's State of the Union speech has been carefully prepared for in all - night work sessions at the White House, and hinted at, if not spelled out, in a series of appearances by President Clinton that began last Wednesday with his town meeting outside Detroit.

PRES CLINTON: (February 10, 1993) I believe I got elected on a commitment to change America, to create jobs, try to raise incomes, to face the health care crisis.

MARASH (VO): The next day it was a speech to business leaders.

PRES CLINTON: (February 11, 1993) I want to reduce this deficit, not as an end in itself, but because I think it is a critical part of the strategy to build jobs and growth for America today and over the long run.

MARASH (VO): While on Friday Mr Clinton jawboned the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices.

PRES CLINTON: (February 12, 1993) We cannot have profits at the expense of our children. These practices have got to stop.

MARASH (VO): The campaign continued over the weekend with the second straight Clinton Saturday radio speech and a full administration blitz on the Sunday talk shows.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: ("Meet the Press," NBC) We're searching for balance between revenues and spending cuts, and we're committed to real spending reductions.

LEON PANETTA, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET: ("Face the Nation," CBS) What we're trying to do, obviously, is to try to make sure that we provide a very bold economic plan for the country.

LAURA D'ANDREA TYSON, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: ("This Week With David Brinkley") Why not give the economy a booster shot against this possible stumbling again?

MARASH: Part of the reason for this blitz was offensive - dominate those headlines, keep the White House message at the top of the news. But part was defensive - fending off people like Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, who presented a rebuttal tonight.

SEN BOB DOLE: Before President Clinton demands that the farmer, the nurse, the factory worker, the shopkeeper, the truck driver, or our senior citizens send one more dime to Washington, they should demand of President Clinton and those of us in Congress that every outdated program, every bloated agency, and every item in the federal budget takes the hit it deserves.

MARASH (VO): Tonight Clinton looked forward to the battle with the vigor of a Lawrence Taylor or Dick Butkus.

PRES CLINTON: Within minutes of the time I conclude my address to Congress Wednesday night, the special interests will be out in force. Those who've profited from the status quo will oppose the changes we seek, the budget cuts, the revenue increases, the new investment priorities. Every step of the way they'll oppose it.

MARASH (VO): This kind of preemptive strike at opponents in Congress and among other entrenched interest groups could have sprung from the lips of Ronald Reagan or any other former president. But one Clinton paragraph, darned near the climactic one, sounded like not a president, but a failed candidate, Ross Perot.

PRES CLINTON: This is your country. You demonstrated the power of the people in the last election. I urge you to stay informed and to stay involved. If you are vigilant and vocal, we can do what we have to do.

MARASH (VO): The apocalyptic vigilance of Perot and the overwhelming optimism of Reagan, a bit of Kennedyesque sacrifice, a touch of Harry Trumanish bashing of big business greed - there was quite a crowd of voices tonight in the Oval Office, but only one president can sell this program to Congress and the nation. The wind - up is underway and pitcher Bill Clinton's best fastball comes in the State of the Union address before Congress Wednesday. I'm Dave Marash for Nightline in Washington.

KOPPEL: When we come back we'll talk with some accomplished political salesmen from both parties. We'll be joined by Clinton communications strategist Paul Begala and by Michael Deaver, who helped Ronald Reagan earn his reputation as the great communicator.


KOPPEL: Paul Begala is a partner in the political consulting firm of Carville Begala, which helped steer the Clinton campaign to the White House. He is now helping the President shape his message and communications strategy in an unofficial position. He joins us here in our Washington studio. Michael Deaver served as assistant to former President Ronald Reagan and as deputy chief of the White House staff. He is now executive vice president of Adelman Public Relations Worldwide. He is also in our Washington bureau. Paul Begala, let me begin with you, if I may. You've always been refreshingly candid about what you folks had in mind in terms of the way that you deliver a message. What was the point of tonight's message beyond the substance, which I gather will be filled out a great deal on Wednesday?

PAUL BEGALA, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Well, I think Dave Marash picked his baseball metaphors right. It was a fastball, not a curve ball. We just wanted to put our guy out there and have him deliver his message straight to the American people, and it was very simple. We have to change, we have no choice, we can't afford any more of the status quo, and the plan that he's going to present to the Congress is a plan for the middle class and for change, and we're going to need their help if we're going to get it through the Congress.

KOPPEL: I guess what I'm asking you is, since the message is going to be delivered again in even greater detail - in fact, I would hope, a lot greater detail - on Wednesday in the State of the Union address, why do it at all tonight?

MR. BEGALA: Well, this President does not come from Congress or Capitol Hill and he derives his power much in the way that President Reagan did, from his rapport with the American people. And he's very much seen in this country as our spokesman in Washington. He hasn't become part of that crowd there. And so we felt it was important, before he turns to the Congress - which will be a very important speech Wednesday night - that he start with the American people and begin the dialogue, or continue the dialogue with them that he's had all through the campaign and all through the four weeks of his presidency.

KOPPEL: When you put it in terms of before speaking to Congress, let it be noted that he did meet with just about every Democratic member of Congress at the White House today, correct?

MR. BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. We want to sell this plan.

KOPPEL: All right. Mike Deaver, since perhaps it's easier to look back than it is to look at the present, when your man back then, Ronald Reagan, did exactly the same thing, came up a few days before his State of the Union address with a very similar kind of speech, what was the thinking behind that? And relate it to what you saw tonight.

MICHAEL DEAVER, REAGAN MEDIA ADVISER: Well, I think there is a - one of the big differences was that Reagan had been talking about what he talked about in his speech to the American people and his State of the Union for a long period of time. There weren't any real surprises in what Reagan was saying. Everybody knew what he was going to say. I think this is the first time that this White House has concentrated for four or five days on the subject of the economy, and I think it was wise for them to go on tonight, even though they're going to speak again two nights from now, because they're going to have to keep this President focused, and I think that may be one of their most difficult challenges.

KOPPEL: Because?

MR. DEAVER: Because I think he's interested in a lot of things, in a lot of things having to do with government, in a lot of programs. Reagan, you know, was accused so many times of being disinterested in things, and that's right. He was stubbornly disinterested in anything except about three things that he wanted to do, and I think that's important that this President stays focused on this for the long term or he won't be successful.

KOPPEL: As I mentioned at the beginning of this broadcast, we did a telephone poll just after the President's speech. One of the questions - we'll put up the questions as we do this - "Did you approve of what Clinton said?" Fifty - nine percent said yes, 27 percent said no, 14 had no opinion. I'm going to give you three questions, because they all seem to relate here. "Clinton said sacrifice is necessary; do you agree?" Seventy - five percent agreed, 22 percent disagreed. Enormous, better than three to one. (No opinion 3%) And then finally, "Are most Americans ready to sacrifice?" And this is the interesting one. Forty percent, yes, most Americans are ready to sacrifice; 55 percent said most Americans are not ready to sacrifice. (No opinion 5%) Now, Paul, let me begin by asking you. Seventy - five percent agree that sacrifice is necessary; only 22 percent disagree. But then when you start asking about other folks out there - "How about your neighbor down the road?" - all of a sudden the majority says, "No, they're not going to do it".

MR. BEGALA: Well, I think you're seeing the voters making up their minds right now. I think when they heard the President tonight - and they clearly tuned in to watch the speech - he made a persuasive case for fundamental change. And I think he convinced millions of Americans tonight that this is the only way we're going to have the change. Now, sitting in the privacy of your own home, I think a lot of people were probably wondering, "Well, my neighbor is probably not as enlightened as I am, but I've been convinced by my President that this is the way we've got to go". And as long as we're focused on that change that they want, I think voters are going to come along with their President on this.

KOPPEL: Michael, do you think that that simply indicates that when people look down the street at their neighbors that they're a little bit behind the curve? That in fact their perception of their neighbors will catch up with their perception of what they themselves are prepared to do? Or does it indicate that there may be some disconnect here?

MR. DEAVER: No, I think it's a little bit like asking people, "Are you prejudiced?" and they say, "Well, of course I'm not prejudiced. But take that Catholic next door, you know". I mean, it's kind of our own view of ourself as opposed to everybody else. I think there wasn't a heck of a lot in the President's speech for people to argue about tonight. It was general, it was a good speech. But if you ask any of us today if we would be willing to sacrifice for our country, of course we would be, but give us two or three months to let this thing be debated up at the Congress and then let's take a poll and see what happens. I think Clinton's biggest challenge may be not necessarily those people that you asked the question of tonight, but those people up on the Hill. Is he going to be able to keep those Democrats in line when the special interests start going at their special interests?

KOPPEL: Mike, thank you very much. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion with Paul Begala and Michael Deaver.

(ABC News Nightline poll: Clinton's economic plan: Right direction, 62%; Wrong track, 25%; No opinion, 13%)


KOPPEL: And we're back once again with Paul Begala and Michael Deaver. Let me give you a little more of that poll to play with. We asked the question, "Would you accept a $100 increase in taxes to reduce the deficit?" Now, we first asked that question in May of '90 and the answer then was 44 percent yes, 48 percent no. That doesn't do you much good the way it's set up right there. Would you put up the yes and the no, please? There you go. Now, if you look at that column on the right, you'll see back in May of 1990 44 percent said yes, 48 percent said no. Tonight, 67 percent said yes, 29 percent said no. What do you make of that, Mike Deaver?

MR. DEAVER: Well, I think there's been many years of discussion and debate about the deficit, and I think it's an issue that's much higher on the political spectrum than it was in 1980.

KOPPEL: But not only higher in terms of people's attention to it, but apparently higher - a relatively modest amount, we're talking about $100 - "Would you be willing to pay $100?" - and there's sort of the implicit suggestion that that might even help, if we all paid $100, but at least there is the implicit suggestion that people are willing to make some sacrifice now to reduce it.

MR. DEAVER: I think that's true, and I think that one of the things that's unclear to me, and maybe I missed something in this, is how much of whatever the sacrifice we're being asked to make is going to be earmarked for the deficit.

KOPPEL: Good question, and Paul Begala, let me ask you to answer that first. Do you have any answer for it?

MR. BEGALA: Well, you'll see it. The President will outline the exact numbers. I don't want to try to scoop my boss here. But I think you'll see a very, very significant deficit reduction. In fact, he's set out particular sets of numbers, but I think that you can be comfortable knowing this will be the biggest cut in the deficit we've ever had. He'll probably be the first president in a generation to leave office with a deficit smaller than when he came in, and that's the kind of change people want. But the fact that he has been able to do a 23 - point turnaround in a number like you just read to me, that 23 percent more of the American people, 67 percent in total, are willing to sacrifice to try to get this economy moving and changed, I think it's a testimony to Bill Clinton's powers as a leader.

KOPPEL: Well, I'd be a little careful before you attribute it all to Bill Clinton. That's a change from almost two years ago, from May of 1990, and I think what Mike Deaver said is really true, that the awareness of the deficit has grown enormously over the past two years. Some of that, I'm sure, is due to Bill Clinton's politicking, but I suspect there may be some other reasons. But let me show you another result from the poll here which speaks directly to what the American public expects. We asked them, "Do you think most of the money will be used to reduce the deficit or to increase spending?" Only 39 percent thought it would be reduced - used to reduce the deficit; 52 percent expect it to be used to increase spending; 9 percent had no opinion. (No opinion 6%) Paul, what do you think? After Wednesday, do you think people will be a little more reassured?

MR. BEGALA: I think so. The deficit, as the President said in the piece of tape you ran earlier tonight, is only a means to an end. I mean, the end is generating jobs and increasing incomes. And the problem we have right now is twofold, as the President talked about it tonight. We have a budget deficit that's high and we have an investment deficit where we have actually reduced the amount of spending that we've made in the things that make our country stronger and safer. And so we have to do two things at once. We have to cut wasteful spending, we have to increase revenue, especially from those who can most afford to do it, but we've also got to invest in things like Head Start and in high - tech jobs and in job training to get the economy moving. That's not an easy thing to do.

KOPPEL: Mike Deaver, you've had a little bit of experience in what it takes to translate presidential rhetoric into action up on Capitol Hill. Now, granted, what Ronald Reagan was proposing was a good deal more popular with most legislators, that is, cutting taxes rather than raising them, but what are some of the hurdles that stand in President Clinton's way that you might feel free to warn him about?

MR. DEAVER: Well, I hate to repeat myself, but I must tell you that the largest hurdle that President Clinton's going to have is to keep himself focused. There is so much coming in and there are so many people that want him to do things, there are so many requests to divert his attention from this goal which, if this is his principal goal, then he is going to have to be singleminded about what he does with his time and who he speaks to and where he speaks, because otherwise, with all the information that's coming at us, this message is going to get very diluted. And I hope - I hope Paul's right about what we're going to hear on Wednesday. If President Clinton is able to do that, he in fact will be the first president to do something significant about the deficit, but that means he's going to have to convince the American people to trust him to get the Congress to make that commitment, too.

KOPPEL: Let me just ask you very quickly, because we're beginning to run out of time. The President's going to go on a bus trip, he's going to send his Cabinet members all over the country to their respective parts of the country to jawbone on this issue. At which point does the medium and the message and the advertising and the politicking and all of that come up against a blank wall when it comes to turning all of this into legislation?

MR. BEGALA: Well, I think we need to bring the change the people want, and you'll see the particulars laid out when the President speaks to the Congress. But the important thing is that the substance and the reality of the package, which is change, matches the symbolism, and that's what you're going to see. This is why the President has been very bold in the way he has tried to sell his program, because the contents of the program itself will be very bold. And I think as long as the substance matches that symbolism, they won't be at war at all and we won't have that kind of problem.

KOPPEL: Has - Michael, a quick observation from you, which is all, I'm afraid, we're going to have time for.

MR. DEAVER: Well, I think the President's got to stick to what he says. If he gets the American people believing that he's going to stick by his principles and stick by everything he outlines and not let it get watered down by the Congress or special interests, people will trust him.

KOPPEL: And what is going to happen when he takes it up to Capitol Hill? I mean, going on the bus trip is one thing. How much of an impact does that have on the Hill?

MR. DEAVER: Oh, I think it can have an enormous impact on Capitol Hill. It did during the first year of the Reagan administration or we wouldn't have gotten those programs. We had a Democrat administration. He's got his own people up there.

KOPPEL: Mike Deaver, Paul Begala, thank you both very much. I'll be back with more in a moment.


KOPPEL: Later on World News Now, more analysis of the President's address by ABC's political director Hal Bruno and by congressional leaders. That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.

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