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Larry King Live
President Clinton on the State of the UnionAired January 28, 2000 - 1:00 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, President Clinton on the State of the Union. What did he say, how well did he say it? From the White House, presidential press secretary Joe Lockhart. Also in Washington, Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York; Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss, associate editor of "The Washington Post," author of "The Clinton Enigma." In Manchester, New Hampshire, the managing editor of "Time" magazine, Walter Isaacson. Robert Novak, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," "CAPITAL GANG," and "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS." And CNN's senior news analyst Jeff Greenfield are all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Normally, this would be the time when LARRY KING LIVE would be repeated from its earlier version, but because we were not on earlier, we are on live now following the president's State of the Union address. We're going to spend a few moments with Joe Lockhart in the White House briefing room. He is, of course, the press secretary. And then we'll have our panel assemble.
I know the president is often self-analytical. How did he think he did tonight, Joe?
JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think the president thought he did a good job of laying out a very aggressive agenda for the American people. He was -- You know, going in, he was very charged up. He walked into the holding room where the congressman who escorted him out was supposed to greet him. He got there a little bit early. And he kind of looked around the room and, you know, said, "I can't believe this is the last time I'll come up here." But he did it in a way that really showed excitement about going out and showing that we got a lot of work to do for the last year.
And when he came off, I think he was a little tired, because he'd given it everything, but he thinks that he laid out a very solid and progressive agenda for the next year.
KING: Are you telling us he was actually early, Joe?
LOCKHART: He actually was. He was out there -- We were up there about ten to 9:00, so let the record show that we got there early and we certainly left late.
KING: It also is the record in length, was it not? LOCKHART: Yeah, I think it was. I think it was probably a few minutes longer than last year. So I think the president tried to do a couple of things here, and it took some time. One was talk about the strategy for how we've turned this country around; and two, and more importantly, and which is what took time, talk about how we can apply that strategy for laying a foundation for the future. I thought he did a good job of touching all the issues, and I think everybody in the room was pretty impressed.
KING: Was it emotional for you? Seemed at the end certainly emotional for him. This will be his last, was his last.
LOCKHART: I think so. I think all of them, in a certain way, are emotional for the president, but this one's very special. It's the last time he's gone up to do this. It's the last time he's had the privilege to lay out an agenda to the American people and to Congress in this way. So I think he approached this with a certain emotion.
But you could see in the last hours leading up to this how enthused he was, how excited he was getting. And I think he really delivered, and he delivered a great speech.
KING: The man who loves the job so much is out again tomorrow, right, pushing this?
LOCKHART: Yeah, we are out. At the crack of dawn, we're going out to Quincy, Illinois, which is a town that's really turned around in the last seven years, a great economic story, a great social story. I think the president will go out and really have a chance to talk in small town America about the great transformation in this country.
KING: When you think about -- Are you about of the planning for who sits up on the left side in the audience group, why we will have Hank Aaron and the like?
LOCKHART: Well, I think, you know, that's mostly done by the first lady and her staff, but everybody weighs in. I think Hank Aaron was just an obvious choice. Here's a great baseball player, a great ambassador for the game and for this country around the world. And here's someone who, you know, even recently, stepped in and found a way to reconcile a very difficult situation with a baseball player who said a lot of things that shouldn't have been said. And it really said something about him and said something about what the president's been talking about, about a reconciliation in this country and how our diversity is what makes us strong and what defines us.
KING: Couple of other quick things. Lot of times, lame duck presidents coast through the last year. If we were listening to that tonight, he's going to treat the last year like the first.
LOCKHART: Well, you know, the president has, I think, defied the expectations since the first year. Washington has never quite figured out what to expect. I think what they should have known all along is that every day he comes to work with the idea of making America a better place, making American lives a little bit better. And he's not going to stop until the last day.
KING: Now what surprised you the most about working with him? We've all been surprised by him; anyone would say that, his strongest critic would say that. What surprised you the most that you didn't know before going in?
LOCKHART: You know, I think just looking at him tonight as he prepared to go out, just how excited he was, even though he'd done this six or seven times before, the excitement in his eyes, the excitement in his voice, the sense that he could go out and by laying out agenda, make a difference. That's what motivates him. That's what always has motivated him. I think that's what separates him from a lot of people in this town. And I think it was very evident in the speech he gave tonight.
KING: The quote he gave us the last time, "My bad days are good days," works for him, right?
LOCKHART: It does. And, you know, I know that there's a lot of people who try and spend a lot of time trying to figure out what's in his head, and coming up with some convoluted theories about what his motivations are when they're really very simple. And sometimes you miss things because they're obvious.
It's simple because what he wants to do is make America better, make people's lives, working families' lives better. And that's what he's worked very hard to do. And I think he's done a remarkable job in turning this country around, transforming this nation, as he said in his speech. And he's got another year to go.
KING: Thanks, Joe. Always good seeing you.
LOCKHART: Thanks, Larry.
KING: Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary.
When we come back, our panel will assemble. They'll be with us for the rest of the hour. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have built a new economy. And our economic revolution has been matched by a revival of the American spirit. Crime down by 20 percent to its lowest level in 25 years. Teen births down seven years in a row. Adoptions up by 30 percent. Welfare rolls cut in half to their lowest levels in 30 years.
My fellow Americans, the state of our union is the strongest it has ever been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our panel will now be with us the rest of the way. Let's introduce them individually. Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, one of the more profound and strong members of the United States House of Representatives. David Maraniss is the writer and associate editor of "The Washington Post." He wrote "The Clinton Enigma," and he's got a book out now that's been a major bestseller since he wrote it, and one of the best sports books ever written called, "When Pride Still Mattered, The Life of Vince Lombardi."
Walter Isaacson, the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is in New Hampshire. Robert Novak, in addition to many other duties, has just written, "Completing the Revolution, A Vision for Victory in 2000," published by Simon & Schuster. Actually Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. And our very own Jeff Greenfield, CNN's senior news analyst.
Charles, I know you are very pro-Clinton and obviously liked the speech. Was it a little too long for you?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, when you looked at the time, it was long, but in listening each time, it seemed like he had ten speeches and he just boosted up to another one. It was just so exciting. He gave us a blueprint that I find it very hard to see how we cannot look at it as a bipartisan talk. If not now, when? It was just exciting.
KING: Robert Novak, was it, politics aside, a good performance in your opinion?
ROBERT NOVAK, CNN "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS": Well, you know, it was really a terribly constructed speech? If you want to have a speech that's coherent, has a vision with a few examples, it was just one issue after another.
But I think what it is, Larry, is that the president really believes -- is a utopian. He really believes that in America, there can be a country where -- he didn't say everybody has a chance to succeed -- where everybody succeeds, and that the government is actively involved in that. I think that in the long run, is doomed to failure.
But I think what tonight showed is what happens when a person with those utopian views has a $2 trillion surplus for the next decade. What does he with it? He spends it.
KING: David, you know pretty him well. You've written about him extensively. How do you rate the performance tonight?
DAVID MARANISS, CLINTON BIOGRAPHER: I thought it was a classic Bill Clinton performance. He walked in smiling. His first six words were, "We are fortunate to be alive," and never were truer words spoken about this man considering what he's been through in the last two years and there he was alive. And his last words were, "This is our moment." And this certainly is his moment. He loves these State of the Union addresses, and I thought he...
You know, Bob Novak can be right that it wasn't a classically put together speech, but that's the way Clinton does it. It's from moment to moment in that speech and it holds the audience I think even for that hour and a half. I was ready to listen to him for three hours. I thought he'd never stop.
KING: Walter Isaacson, was he at the top of his game tonight?
WALTER ISAACSON, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Well, he sounded very good. But I was riding around today up here in New Hampshire with Governor Bush's campaign, and Governor Bush kept saying, "Listen to the speech tonight. Here's what he's going to do. He's going to give you a litany of program after program he's going to spend money on, and that's the big difference. You know, we don't want to send that much money to Washington. If there's a surplus, we want to send it back to people."
Clinton looked at the surplus and he sees various things he can do with it. Also grand visions that he can do with it. No child to be raised in poverty. No person should go without health care coverage. And so you really do see a great divide between the parties, even though we're at sort of a post-ideological period.
KING: And the key to that, Jeff Greenfield, is which side moves the public, right? So in that area, did he win them tonight?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, he always does and he always does even though the speeches always get criticized for being compilations of laundry lists. I think friend or foe of him, one of the things about Bill Clinton is he always has been under estimated.
And I was just thinking about this, Larry. Eight years ago at this period up here in New Hampshire, we were listening to prominent people say Bill Clinton would be out of the presidential race in 72 hours. And five years ago, he faced a Congress that had turned Republican, and there was talk about being a lame duck. And you remember two years ago, Monica had just exploded.
I think what he knows is that what his appeal his is not the role model. Parents don't want their kids to grow up to behave like Bill Clinton, but he sees himself as the guy, as he says often, hired by the American people to do a job: "Here's what I'm going to do for you. Here's what I'm going to take a little bit of federal money, not a whole lot, to make your life a little bit better in specific areas. That's what you want me to do." And I think the years demonstrate he has better political pitch on this than most of his critics.
KING: And Robert Novak, has the opposition party not read that?
NOVAK: The opposition party, Larry, the Republicans, are terrified of President Clinton as the very feeble response show. Certainly, Senator Frist and Senator Collins are able, young members of the Senate, but they decided that they had to play on the Democrats' ground on health and education, Senate Republican issues. The issue...
KING: Well, is that because he's gotten them to do that over the years? NOVAK: Absolutely. He's Clintonized them. They're afraid of losing elections. I think just the opposite. I think they would be in better shape if they stuck to their own issues. It is amazing to me that when the real question, the ideological question before the country is whether you spend the surplus or you give it back to the people in taxes. And in the long run, those are the only two real options.
The Republicans, in their response, did not say one word about the tax cut, which is, of course, going to be the fight during the next decade.
KING: All right, Congressman Rangel, is it that he's very good or they're very wrong or very bad?
RANGEL: They are so concerned about an $800 billion or a trillion-dollar tax cut that the vision that the president has. And that is, if we don't invest in Social Security, if we don't invest in Medicare, if we don't make America better, if we don't allow other people to participate.
I don't know what Bob Novak says when he says that this is a unreachable dream. This is what American is all about. And if you invest in people, they stay out of jail, they become productive, they're doing jobs, they're paying taxes, we expand our trade, these are the things that make America so great. So he's laid out a blueprint.
Now the Republicans can opt in or out, but judging from their awkwardness and just hearing the excitement of the president's program, I don't see how they cannot afford to reach across the aisle and see whether we can get something done this year.
KING: David, does he fool his opposition, or do they underestimate him?
MARANISS: Consistently. He's always -- He's done that at least since 1995 when Gingrich took over the Congress and the president suckered them into closing down the government. And ever since then, they've really been wobbling on their feet. And now it's five years later, and they still haven't quite figured out how to deal with him, as is evident by Mr. Novak's frustration over their responses.
KING: Walter, is it beyond slick Willy now?
ISAACSON: I think what he does is he preempts the issues. I mean, tonight, you talk about tax cuts. He preempted again to some extent the issue of a tax cut. Suddenly, he's put a tax cut on the table, is not nearly as big as Governor Bush's, not as big even as John McCain's, and yet he's the one defining the battlefield just as Robert said.
KING: We'll come back and ask Jeff Greenfield how he was able to take the field. We'll also be including your phone calls. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed at once so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats. Never before have we had such a blessed opportunity, and therefore, such a profound obligation to build a more perfect union of our founders' dreams.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: All right, Jeff Greenfield in Manchester, how did he, if it is true, how did he capture the field?
GREENFIELD: You know, I think like FDR and Ronald Reagan, the enemies of Bill Clinton never quite understood him. I think just like with those two gentlemen, the ideological want to sit there. They seethe. They cannot believe that this guy has -- is as politically attuned as he is. And what Clinton has done, as I think those other two gentlemen did, was I think he has almost perfect political pitch. He knew that the traditional liberal appeal was dying. That's when in 1992, he ran as a different kind of Democrat.
And when the Congress went Republican, rather than trying to fight them on everything, he declared the era of big government over, and he pushed the Republicans on the defensive with the government shutdown, and he shrank what he was intending to do.
The other thing that let him take the offensive was the astonishing performance of the American economy. Now it is absolutely genetically impossible for someone like Bob Novak, I think, to give the president any credit for this. But just like it was impossible for Democrats to credit Reagan with victory over the Cold War, they can't do it. It's in the DNA, it's in the human genome.
But if you had gone to a Republican, a conservative Republican and said, OK, in 1992, seven years from now, here's what the economy is going to look like -- and by the way, the crime rate will be down 20 percent and so will the divorce rate -- would you take that deal? I think this is why it's so hard for them to come up with an argument, because whether you credit Clinton or not -- Let's just say he's the luckiest guy in the world. Larry, you're a sports fan. Remember Joe DiMaggio's famous line, "I'd rather be lucky than good"?
NOVAK: You know, Larry, I recently spoke to a group of about a thousand semiconductor entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley, and I asked them, "Everybody raise your hand who..." -- Each one of them is a millionaire, a multi-millionaire. I asked every one of them who thought Bill Clinton had anything to do with the economy being so good to raise their hand. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Republicans by any means. This is Silicon Valley. I didn't get one hand go up. I got a lot of...
KING: But Bob...
NOVAK: I got a lot of horse laughs. KING: You also won that area big.
NOVAK: I know, but they don't think -- They don't really believe that he had anything to do -- I mean, nobody who knows anything about economics would think he had anything to do with it. With all due respect to Jeff about setting aside liberalism, what has changed all this is this huge budget surplus. Tonight, you heard the biggest liberal speech I have ever heard in my life in a State of the Union address surpassing, I think, everybody will agree, Lyndon Johnson's great society great (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is a huge government intervention.
KING: And the question is, David, would you think that a majority of Americans were nodding or saying no to what he was saying?
MARANISS: Well, I think probably a majority were nodding. I think he, like Jeff said, he does have very good political pitch and he knew that those small programs might not add up to something thematically larger, but he used the phrase, "step by step," and I think that appeals to a lot of people.
KING: Walter, Who's right here? Novak or Greenfield?
ISAACSON: Well, I'm sitting here with both of them, you know.
KING: Are you in the middle?
ISAACSON: No, I'm on the side here, but I'll tell you, what I think is that Clinton has been able to preempt a lot of the Republican issues by stealing them, taking welfare reform, taking the tax cut, triangulating, as they used to call it. And I think he's got great political pitch, and I think a lot of these small programs do add up. I think Bob is right that this is a very, very liberal speech now.
KING: Charles Rangel, did he steal them and the Republicans failed to report the crime?
RANGEL: Listen, it depends on where you're coming from. If you're with Bob Novak taking a poll with millionaires, then I guess he did steal them. But if you're talking about a working -- If you're talking about working family, that really did not make a killing on Wall Street. They work every day, they try to make ends meet, they're trying to send the kids to school, trying to do with college. Or older people who get Social Security but they can't afford to pay for their prescription drugs. Or if you're a minority and he tells you that being a minority is one of the greatest things ever at this time, because that's America greatness, diversity, I'm telling you, he said, "Thanks God for being an American."
Now I would like to believe that a guy like Bob Novak wouldn't call that liberal. He is just saying, "Come on, this is our time for all America to come in and prosper." What's wrong with that?
RANGEL: That's America. KING: Sort of like a city on the hill. We'll come back and pick up. Hold on guys. We're just going here. We'll be right back with our panel, and we'll ask about the effect of all this on Gore, Bush, McCain, Bradley, whatever. We'll also be including your phone calls. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: America again has the confidence to dream big dreams. But we must not let this confidence drift into complacency. For we, all of us, will be judged by the dreams and deeds we pass on to our children. And on that score, we will be held to a high standard indeed, because our chance to do good is so great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Jeff Greenfield, we'll start with you, and then everyone can get in on this. Is there a Clinton in New Hampshire tonight? And does Gore get a bump from this, Jeff?
GREENFIELD: Yes. I think the most powerful argument that Al Gore has is the one that George Bush had in 1988 when in an acceptance speech, he said, "We know you have to make a change, but if you're going to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to get on the horse riding the same direction.
The American electorate now, according to pollsters, is more content, believes more that things are going in the right direction that at any time since the assassination of John Kennedy. Now you can argue whether this president deserves credit or not, but as a political matter, and you're the sitting vice president, that's the most attractive climate to run in. And this speech tonight reinforces that. It sets the stage and it cannot help but help.
KING: David, do you agree?
MARANISS: I do right now, but I always think of Bill Clinton as sort of a tidal pool that goes in and out, it washes in and washes out again. Right now, he's definitely to the benefit of the vice president, and the vice president is moving that closer to the president in his speeches and embracing him more.
But another theme that has been consistent throughout Bill Clinton's political career is that when he's riding high, which he seems to be doing right now, something comes along again. So I wouldn't be at all surprised -- It won't happen between now and New Hampshire, but at some point still in this primary season, Bill Clinton will do something, not nearly of the magnitude of his previous misbehaviors, but something will happen, and the vice president might have to sort of distance himself again.
KING: Robert Novak, does Gore -- Did Gore get a bump tonight?
NOVAK: No, I don't think he gets any at all. I think President Clinton is a lame duck. I don't think it has any impact at all on the presidential race. The question is, if this president is so popular, his economic program has created this miracle, why isn't Al Gore, a very skilled politician, way ahead of everybody? There's two reasons. One reason is there is a personal animosity to President Clinton by many people which rubs off on the vice president. But the second and bigger reason is people feel so comfortable that most people, most ordinary people don't feel the need for a big brother government to take care of them in every possible way that Charlie Rangel wants it to.
KING: Charlie, is Gore helped tonight?
RANGEL: No question about it. And it's not so much the personality of Bill Clinton, it's the message that's out there. If you can see the Republicans not knowing what to do, fidgeting, sitting on their hands, waiting for Speaker Hastert to give some type of a signal.
And throughout this campaign, everything that Bill Clinton said is the direction that the Democrats and the House would want to be going and the direction that Al Gore will be going. And so constantly, people will be reminded, do they want to shore up Social Security, Medicare, have some control over guns, to have a patient bill of rights. Do you want to have a strong military? Do you want to expand trade and create more jobs?
Meanwhile, Bush will be saying the same thing that the Republicans are saying in the House, and that is, "Let's get a big fat tax cut and make certain that those people in Washington don't spend the surplus."
KING: We'll ask what Walter thinks about that. We'll be including your phone calls. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Last year, the vice president launched a new effort to make communities more liberal -- livable -- liberal -- no. Wait a minute. I got a punch line now. That's this year's agenda. Last year was livable, right? That's what Senator Watt's going to say in the commentary afterwards. To make our communities more livable. This is big business. This is a big issue. What does that mean? You ask anybody that lives in an unlivable community, and they'll tell you. They want their kids to grow up next to parks, not parking lots. The parents don't want to have to spend all their time stalled in traffic when they could be home with their children.
Tonight, I ask you to support new funding for the following things: to make American communities more liberal -- livable, one. I've done pretty well with this speech, but I can't say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our guests are, in this live special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. He's in Washington. Also in Washington, David Maraniss, the associate editor of "The Washington Post." In Manchester, New Hampshire is Walter Isaacson, the managing editor of "Time" magazine. Robert Novak, the co-host of "CROSSFIRE" and author of "Completing the Revolution," and Jeff Greenfield, CNN's senior news analyst.
We're going to go to calls, but Walter, we have -- we get to get your thoughts on whether Gore gets a bump tonight.
ISAACSON: Of course, he's get a bump tonight. This speech will be very popular. Every State of the Union has been popular, gives about a ten point, five or ten point bump. This one is a very good, feel good speech. And up here in New Hampshire, all past few days, Al Gore has been wrapping himself around Bill Clinton, not distancing himself from Bill Clinton. And I think he gets a bump for another, you know, few weeks. And as long as the economy continues, you know, I think coasts well.
GREENFIELD: Larry, can I...
GREENFIELD: Can I ask David Maraniss a question?
KING: Of course. It's an open panel. Anything goes.
GREENFIELD: OK. Joe Lockhart, I thought, was sending a little dart in your direction when he said, you know, there are all these people that have convoluted explanations of why Bill Clinton behaves the way he does. You wrote a bestselling book called "First in His Class," if I can get a plug in, that was an attempt to explain, I think, the origins and the psychology of Bill Clinton. Did you take that as perhaps a common, perhaps even how Bill Clinton feels about people who try to analyze him?
MARANISS: Well, I'm sure that the president feels that way about people who try to analyze him. I didn't take it too personally, because you know, I try to base what I say on my intense knowledge and study of his life and not just sort of go into psycho babble about it.
But, yes, I do think that the White House -- and probably for a good reason over the last two years has felt that a lot of people who don't know anything about him have been trying to psychoanalyze everything that he says or does.
KING: Let's take a call. Sierra Vista, Arizona, hello.
CALLER: Yes. Bill Clinton could run for president again, I'd vote for him. I think he shows great character. And I'd like to know how you think he'll be rated as a president in history outside of the Monica Lewinsky affair.
KING: OK. Hard to go outside of that, but how -- We don't have a historian on the panel, so let's get the -- let's start with Walter Isaacson. How's history going to treat him? ISAACSON: Well, as you say, it's very hard to say outside of -- you know, sort of outside of Monica Lewinsky. You just can't do that. It will be the great bifurcated thing. But certainly, he's going to be rated as the president who happened to preside over the greatest expansion and the greatest prosperity in our history, and he is going to get some but not all of the credit for it. Rubin, Greenspan, Clinton, a pretty good fiscal and economic policy led to this great explosion.
He will go down in history pretty well, and it's a great debate. Some of us having it over dinner in New Hampshire tonight. If he were running, would people be so sick of him, they wouldn't even think of voting for him because of what he did as a -- special character in the White House, or would he win easily hands down because of his great approval rating and how wonderful the economy's going.
KING: It is amazing that you could even think that he would, right? There was some in the discussion who probably said he would.
NOVAK: Larry, I think that he would win, and this is another...
KING: You think he'd win?
ISAACSON: Yes, absolutely, because he's popular. And I think this is another good reason why presidential term limits were such a good idea. There shouldn't have been a third Eisenhower term. There shouldn't have been a third Reagan term. You ought to have congressional term limits as well.
But let me say this. I think the president ought to go down...
RANGEL: Be careful on that.
ISAACSON: ... has a mediocre president who didn't accomplish very much. All of the things that happened good were out of his sphere, but history is written by liberal professors. And there is a revival for every Democratic president. They turn mediocre presidents like Truman into heroes. And I'm still waiting for the Jimmy Carter revival, but there will be one by Bill Clinton down the line. History is not written, I don't think, by the victors, as the old saying goes, but by the liberal professors.
KING: Mr. Rangel, do you wish to counter that?
RANGEL: Yes. You know, Bob Novak has never been richer in his life, and this has been on the Clinton watch. So he can't hate him. He has to smile and love him. What Clinton -- You know that, Bob.
What Clinton has done is to give everybody in this great country, and indeed the world, some hope. And how did he do it? By just talking about being liberal and starting welfare programs? To talk about having a school system with class sizes and qualified teachers to allow a kid to be able to dream, I mean, I'm the beneficiary of the G.I. Bill. God knows where I would have been without it. There are millions of Americans out there that want their kids to get a college education, don't know how they can do it. That's what he's talking about, to be old and live older and not be able to afford the prescription drugs. He has a dream, President Clinton, for all of us.
KING: Charleston, South Carolina, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry.
CALLER: My question for your panel is -- and everybody seems to be avoiding this -- is why was all nine chief justices of the Supreme Court absent tonight?
KING: Do we know why? Anyone know why? Jeff, do you know?
GREENFIELD: You know, I don't. I think it's because I'm up here in Manchester, New Hampshire.
KING: All right, let's ask our guys in Washington. Do you know, David?
MARANISS: No, I don't.
KING: Charles, do you know?
MARANISS: That's a fascinating question.
RANGEL: No, I did miss them. This is the first time since I've been in the Congress that they haven't been at a State of the Union. Maybe they're in session.
KING: Novak, do you know?
NOVAK: I think Jeff was starting to say, and I agree with him, I guess, that it's because they thought it might be looked upon as a political act. That's my only guess.
KING: Well, they've attended every other one, right?
GREENFIELD: You know, Larry, if I could...
KING: Walter, do you know?
ISAACSON: No, I don't. They gave some news early on about individual reasons, why different justices couldn't make it. I think Clarence Thomas' brother just died down South, and he was there. And we know that Justice Ginsburg is -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ill. So there was some individual reasons. I don't know if it's a collection of individual reason or something more than that.
GREENFIELD: Larry, can I make just one quick observation about your prior caller?
GREENFIELD: Asking anyone to judge President Clinton apart from Monica Lewinsky is like the old joke, "Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" Whatever else happens in history, the first sentence will be, President Clinton, the second president to survive impeachment. That's the first line of the obituary.
KING: We'll be back with more calls for our outstanding panel on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. By the way, tomorrow night, back at our regular time, 9:00 Eastern. Both sides of the Elian Gonzalez question. The grandparents who have come from Cuba and the relatives in Miami. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We began the new century with over 20 million new jobs, the fastest economic growth in more than 30 years, the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years, the lowest poverty rates in 20 years, the lowest African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates on record, the first back-to-back surpluses in 42 years. And next month, America will achieve the longest period of economic growth in our entire history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Gentlemen, before we take our next call, the justices of the court informed the sergeant at arms they would not attend tonight because of individual reasons. There's travel and minor illnesses. They had planned to attend. The last time they failed to attend was 1986 when the address was rescheduled after Shuttle Challenger explosion. So no plot.
Okawville, Illinois, hello.
CALLER: Good evening, Larry.
CALLER: My question is for Charles Rangel.
CALLER: After President Clinton being sort of a centrist arguably for the last seven years, is his U-turn towards socialism a payback for the Democrats keeping him from being kicked out of office?
RANGEL: Well, I guess that was a question that's not really looking for an answer. I think he's been a great president. He's had some setbacks, but I think the American people had enough of the negativism and are enjoying a better life.
KING: Do you think he's been a liberal president, Charles Rangel?
RANGEL: I don't like these labels, liberal. I mean, someone who's made a big priority of reducing the federal debt and taking the interest that you're saving there and bolstering the Social Security system, it's a real stretch to call that a liberal concept.
KING: And Bob Novak, Jeff Greenfield brought up the point if someone had gone to you in 1992 and listed you all the things, the condition of the stock market, the economy, the unemployment, the crime, wouldn't you have said that was a pretty good administration?
NOVAK: That's the illusion, Larry, that in this private enterprise society, that the president is going to determine whether the economy goes up or down.
KING: Well, but if someone told you eight years ago, would you have guessed that would have been a pretty good presidency?
NOVAK: No, I wouldn't, because I don't think the president has much to do with it. And responding to Charlie, the idea that this is not a liberal administration -- The only thing the president did kicking and screaming was accept the welfare reform. But everything else, he has been -- I mean, what more could you ask from him than the speech he gave tonight if you were the person on the farthest left of the Democratic Party?
RANGEL: I would have thought...
KING: Bob, are presidents -- Bob, are presidents at fault if, for example, when there was the recession, was Bush at fault? When the economy was good in the mid-'80s, was Reagan the credit?
NOVAK: No, the only one I would say -- I would say that Hoover was at fault because he did the wrong things when they got in the depression. He raised taxes.
KING: So other than that, presidents don't affect the economy?
NOVAK: Not that much.
RANGEL: Bob Novak, would you not think that if a president was to say that they were going to wipe out the national debt by the year 2013 that that's a pretty economically conservative idea?
NOVAK: He didn't wipe out the national debt.
RANGEL: I said if someone said they're going to do it. I mean, certainly, Ronald Reagan didn't do it.
KING: Well, let's ask our other guys. David, what effect does Clinton have on this economy? Whether it matters or not, does he get the credit?
MARANISS: I think he does, and I think there's a major fallacy in Bob Novak's argument. It's kind of odd I find myself defending the president so much tonight but here it is. When the measures were passed on taxes in 1993, virtually every Republican was predicting an economic disaster as a result of that. Rush Limbaugh was leading the charge of sort of the conservative movement saying that this... KING: He said the world was over.
MARANISS: Yes. And it did not happen. So you can't, at one sense, not give him any credit on the other hand say that.
KING: What do you think, Jeff? What's the president's effect on the economy? That's funny about talk show hosts.
GREENFIELD: Well, look, when presidents -- In 1980, when we were suffering under 18 percent annualized inflation and a recession hit the industrial heartland, I don't remember Republicans say, "Well, you know, presidents don't have that much to do with the economy. One of the reasons Ronald Reagan won was that the economy was in disarray. And it's a cliche, but some cliches are true. What happens on a president's watch, president generally get the credit or the blame for.
I think David's point is what's going to make an argument for Republicans tougher this year. They did say, "Mr. President, if you do this, the economy is going to hell in a hand basket." And for whatever reason, it didn't.
NOVAK: Can I explain why? Because the Republicans underestimated the strength of the private sector and the economy. I really do believe if you hadn't had that tax increase in '93, the economy would even be stronger, because the American people are unquestionably being overtaxed right now.
KING: Walter, where do you stand on this? And we can get a break and take another call.
ISAACSON: You know, what you're going through now is a great long boom, this amazing economic boom that's happened for a variety of reasons. And like the end of the Cold War, for what you can give Ronald Reagan some of the credit and every president from Truman on some of the credit, I think historians are going to have a wonderful time looking back at this amazing economic explosion and saying, "Where do we give the credit? Where do we apportion the credit?" And you got to give some of it to Clinton, to Greenspan, to Rubin, to Summers. I think to Rubin. I think the Bentsen.
NOVAK: How about Reagan?
ISAACSON: I think Reagan, by turning around the growth of government and starting the slow down, the rise in taxes, gets a lot of the credit for the long boom through which we've turned the century.
KING: Let's take -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Walter. Finish the sentence.
ISAACSON: And I certainly think that Clinton and his policies, and the deficit reduction and the way they were fiscally prudent, and the way they brought down the deficit gets a lot of the credit for keeping stable interest rates and a growth in the private sector that drove this long boom. KING: Back with more calls for our panel. I'll pick right up with Jeff right after this. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: If we stay on this path, we can pay down the debt entirely in just 13 years now and make America debt free for the first time since Andrew Jackson was president in 1835.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I believe before we take our call from Phoenix, Jeff, was it you, Jeff, that wanted to add something?
GREENFIELD: Well, I just wanted to observe, as we were hearing this, Walter explained that Clinton deserved part of the credit. I was going to ask you to send a cardiopulmonary unit to help Bob Novak here, who was in absolutely shock. But I come back to this point. I think part of what happens -- And I really do make this parallel. If you -- When the Cold War ending, you know, there were people on the left, good liberals, who couldn't bear to say that Ronald Reagan deserved any credit. And I think the greater issue here...
GREENFIELD: ... since we're heading into a political campaign, let's just put aside the substantive argument of whether Clinton gets credit or not when they go into this election. All I'm arguing is the strongest argument the Democrats have going for them, especially if it's a sitting vice president, is look what happened on our watch. Do you really want to put this at risk?
And whether we're over taxed or not, whether the economy could be even better than that, that's speculative. People know what's going on now, and what I believe is whether they're right or wrong, they are in a more contented frame of mind about the state of America than they have been in decades, and that's got to be good news for Democrats. Doesn't mean they're going to win. It doesn't mean the Republicans don't have arguments. It means it's really tough for the Republicans to make that argument.
KING: G. Gordon Liddy would even have to say maybe they did something right.
NOVAK: I don't think so. I don't think...
KING: Maybe that's an extreme. Phoenix, Arizona, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry.
CALLER: Mr. Isaacson?
CALLER: Since Al Gore continues to say Bill Clinton just made a personal mistake, do you or someone at your magazine have the guts to ask him if Bill Clinton lied under oath? And if so, should he be prosecuted and at least disbarred? No one's had the guts to ask him that yet. Do you have the guts?
ISAACSON: Well, yeah, I think people have asked the vice president to take on the president. There are times when the vice president says he was shocked by what the president did, that he lied under oath, that sort of thing. And there are times when the vice president's trying to wrap himself around the president and share some of the good feelings that have come out right now. And at the moment, Vice President Gore seems to be attaching himself more closely to President Clinton.
I don't think you can say that Vice President Gore's gotten away without having been asked questions on how much he's going to defend President Clinton. Those are very valid questions you asked.
KING: And I think he's been asked them, hasn't he?
ISAACSON: I think so, too.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments. We'll get a closing comment from everybody right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Of course, I am forever grateful to the person who has led our efforts from the beginning, and who's worked so tirelessly for children and families for 30 years now. My wife, Hillary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Congressman Rangel, is this speech tonight in any way a plus for Mrs. Clinton? We just saw that bite.
RANGEL: There's no question about that. Things that she's been trying to do all of her life as first lady she'll be doing as the next United States senator from the great state of New York. So both Vice President Gore, as well as our first lady, are political beneficiaries.
KING: Tonight. All right, David, overall, your overall scope. This is for each of you. Plus night for the president?
MARANISS: I think that whether you like this speech or not, it was sort of everything that President Clinton wanted to do. It reflected sort of his love of being president, which almost overrides everything else and helps him keep going. You know, he did everything he wanted. He gave an ode to his own presidency, he gave a campaign speech for the vice president and the first lady. He attacked the Republicans as standstill, and he also sort of co-opted them on some issues.
KING: Walter, your overview as we go to tomorrow and focus on New Hampshire where we'll be next Tuesday and get a chance to see you in person.
ISAACSON: I think as we look back on this period, as Clinton says, we're lucky to be alive. And we'll look back also and say, this may be the strongest economy of any country at any time in history.
Bob has been saying, you know, if we had cut taxes more, it would be even better. It is hard to imagine an economy this stable and this strong with unemployment this low and inflation this low. And now, he gets to almost revel in it. He gets to say, "I've got this surplus. Here's all of what we should do." It may just be a great swan song, because none of it will ever pass, but it's a swan song that I think he feels he's earned.
KING: Mr. Novak, where does it go from here?
NOVAK: Larry, I don't think you can underestimate the ideological content of this speech, although everybody else here seems to want to. Whether you like it or not, this is what we used to call cradle-to-the-grave welfare state. And as Walter said, they have the money now to do it because of the surplus. The question is: Do the American people really want that? And they have the rest of this year until November to decide if that's the way they want to live their lives and that's what they want their government to do.
KING: And are you saying, Bob, that if they do elect Gore, that's what they will be saying if he's the nominee?
NOVAK: I will say that Gore will be just as big government as President Clinton and maybe a little more so.
KING: And your overview, Jeff?
GREENFIELD: For seven years President Clinton and the Republicans have enacted a political version of the great Wiley Coyote/Road Runner cartoons. Year after year, the Republicans purchase a new acme machine, the acme travelgate scandal machine, the acme impeachment machine, and they are certain that this time they've got him. And when the dust clears, the Road Runner, Bill Clinton, is speeding along, and Wiley Coyote, whether it's Newt Gingrich or Bob Livingston, or Bob Dole, is headed right off that cliff.
I mean, whatever you say about this guy, his survival instincts are almost unrivaled in American politics.
KING: And are you saying he's going to pass that to the next Democratic nominee?
GREENFIELD: You know, when you used to ask me for predictions during impeachment, I used to say the only novelistically correct outcome of this is that they impeach Clinton and then they repeal the 22nd Amendment, and he gets elected again. Well, they can't do that, but the ultimate thing that would send poor Bob Novak into the home for the terminally outraged is Al Gore gets elected president, Hillary goes to the Senate, and she gets elected president in 2008, and it is this endless series of Clintons and Gores that continue to drive the conservatives out of their minds. For Bob's sake, you know, we have to say, well, maybe.
KING: We thank you all very much for being with us. Tomorrow night on this program, both sides of the question of little Elian Gonzalez. We'll have the grandmothers and the relatives in Miami. And the judge will be here as well. That's tomorrow night.
On Saturday, we repeat our interview with Colin Powell. Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND." I'm Larry King. Good night.
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