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Interview With Armstrong Williams, John McIntyre

Aired May 28, 2003 - 19:23   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Former President Bill Clinton has never been shy about stating his opinions, today no exception. Speaking at the John F. Kennedy library in Boston, he weighed in among other things on President Bush's tax cut plan.
Candy Crowley joins us live from Boston with more on the former president's unprecedented comments -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the president, former President Clinton was at the JFK Library. Tomorrow would have been John F. Kennedy's 86th birthday.

He was introduced by Ted Kennedy on a stage that really was filled with nostalgia, including the now famous picture of teenager Bill Clinton meeting JFK for the first time. So nothing else would do on this occasion than taking some of JFK's own words and turning them against the Bush tax bite.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have not asked what we can do for our country. We have said give me mine now, my government is bad and I am good and entitled.


CROWLEY: It was classic Bill Clinton today, Anderson. He was passionate, he was articulate. He ran the gamut from foreign policy to economic policy and then into public service.

He was asked about the 22nd Amendment, which as you know is that one that says that presidents can only serve two terms. And although he says it wouldn't apply to him, there is some indication he said it would not be a bad idea to change it just a little.


CLINTON: The 22nd Amendment should probably be modified to say to two consecutive terms instead of two terms for a lifetime because we're all living longer.


CROWLEY: It is probably enough to send shivers up the spines of those who are running in the '04 race. Basically there is a lot of nostalgia for this man. Again, nobody does it any better than Bill Clinton. One of this decade's -- one of last decade's, and this decade's best politicians. A little note to the '04 campaigners, they may not want to share a stage with Bill Clinton, who is still as good as he was when he was in office -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. What sort of response did he get? I mean, is he received on his own merit, or is there always -- is there any buzz left of, I don't know, the stigma, should we call it?

CROWLEY: Well, it's Boston, what else could we say? I mean, it's a very Democratic state, Massachusetts. And so it was a great reception. And there is wherever Bill Clinton goes because he goes on the base and he's still very popular with his base and this was part of that, certainly in Massachusetts.

This was a more of a historical look at JFK, and of the Clinton presidencies. He was asked sort of round about, because you know there's this new book that came out about JFK which mentions that JFK had an affair with an intern. And he was asked whether he thought it was fair that the personal lives of politicians and of presidents are looked into and become part of history.

And he said, well, he thought, maybe a hundred years or 50 years after the fact that's one thing, but to make a public pinata, as he put it, out of somebody who's in office was something else entirely.

COOPER: Interesting. All right. Candy Crowley, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

I want to talk a little bit more about former President Bill Clinton. What kind of role Mr. Clinton's going to play for the Democrats in next year's political races, for instance. Or has he lost his usefulness, perhaps, as a party icon?

Joining to debate some of the topic, John McIntyre, television talk show host of Pittsburgh's "Nighttalk" program. He says Americans are coming to realize that Bill Clinton was a good president.

And joining us in Washington, syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams, who doesn't believe the former president will have much clout in the elections.

Gentlemen, appreciate you joining us. Armstrong, I want to start off with you. I want to show you and these viewers this recent, from about April, CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll.

Now in answer to the question, who do you regard as the greatest United States president? Bill Clinton came in third, tied with George W. Bush. Now this, of course, comes on the heels of the war. Bush's popularity is at all-time high. Armstrong, what do you make of this? What is the American public telling us?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, former President Clinton had eight years in the White House and our present President Bush has been in less than two and a half years.

COOPER: You're saying it's just a matter of familiarity?

WILLIAMS: Obviously, it's a matter of familiarity and obviously, people remember during eight years of Clinton, the economy was pretty good, America was not in the kind of conflict that we're in today.

I think it's remarkable that President Bush was even mentioned along with Lincoln, Kennedy and Clinton. It's just remarkable but I think it's too early to even judge this president, because there's too much that has not been defined yet.

COOPER: All right, John, what do you think? Is this good news? I mean, I guess Democrats are probably going to be smiling about these kind of poll numbers. I mean, 11 percent is pretty low overall, but the fact that he was in the top three.

JOHN MCINTYRE, "NIGHTTALK" TV TALK SHOW HOST: Yes. Only 2 percentage points behind Kennedy, close, but no cigar. I totally agree with Armstrong that it's ridiculous that George Bush's name is mentioned with any of the great presidents of our time and he's already proving himself, in my view, to be one of the worst presidents of our time.

WILLIAMS: Oh, please.

MCINTYRE: And I think when the fog of war lifts, the American people will realize that.

COOPER: But do you think -- What do you think it says about where people's focus are? Also in this Gallup poll, they talked about what's most important to people, and most people said it was the economy, not necessarily the war on terror.

Do you think that is what is translating to sort of looking fondly at former President Clinton?

MCINTYRE: I think 9/11 made people realize that there are important issues in the world, including national security, including the economy, and that the president's personal life doesn't matter. And now that they realized that, they realized that on all of the big issues -- the economy, the settlement in Bosnia, peace in northern Ireland -- Bill Clinton did a great job with regard to public policy. That's what a president is there for.

COOPER: Armstrong, do you think you're going to see these nine Democrats who are now running for office starting to move closer and closer to Clinton as the election approaches?

WILLIAMS: Well, if history is any kind of indicator, wherever former President Clinton campaigned during the 2002 elections, especially in Florida, it was a manslaughter. It was a mandate for Mr. Bush.

So obviously they found out then that he -- I think people personally like Mr. Clinton, but in terms of that translating into votes and if any Democratic candidate wanted to attach themselves to them. I think that would be a huge mistake and I think the 2002 mid mid-term elections have shown that.

COOPER: Well, John, what's your interpretation of that? Because you know, you listen to the Democratic gathering that we're looking at on the side of the camera right now. You did hear a lot of Democrats mentioning Clinton, talking about Clinton. Even John Kerry said some kind words to President Clinton.

Formerly, you suggested Joe Lieberman, who spoke about Clinton with praise.

MCINTYRE: I don't know how Al Gore getting more votes than George W. Bush in a stolen election in Florida translates to a mandate for Mr. Bush. But I do think Al Gore made a mistake in not embracing President Clinton, and then blaming him afterwards. It was foolish.

COOPER: So you see the exact opposite as Armstrong. You're saying they should be moving closer to Clinton?

MCINTYRE: Absolutely. And now that with time and distance the American people see that the right-wing rabid witch hunt wasted the country's time for a year and tied up $50 million and the business of the Congress and the business of the presidency. With hindsight they can see it was a big fat waste of time and that Clinton accomplished a lot. And I think John Kerry and the rest of the gang should embrace him.

COOPER: Armstrong, what are your final thoughts?

WILLIAMS: Many Americans would say that if a president, a vice president, cannot carry their own home state, they're not even worthy of the presidency. And I think the reason why Mr. Gore lost is because Mr. Clinton could not carry Arkansas and Mr. Gore could not carry Tennessee. And I don't think many Americans will forget that.

COOPER: All right.

MCINTYRE: But he still got more votes, and they won't forget the stolen election, either.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it right there. Gentlemen, appreciate you joining us. Good to talk to you, as always.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you.


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