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'People Need to Vote . . . Based on What Kind of Future They Want'

August 14, 2000

Excerpts from President Clinton's interview with The Times, conducted by political writer Ronald Brownstein. The White House Press Office transcribed the president's remarks.

Question: To what extent do you consider this election, the November election, a referendum on your two terms, the good and the bad?

President Clinton: I think it depends entirely on whether people understand what the choices are. And, first, even before that, whether they think it's a significant election. I mean, the most troubling thing to me is--at least before the two conventions--there are a lot of people that are saying, "Well, things are going along well, this probably doesn't make much difference and I don't know what their differences are, economy, crime, whatever."

I think if people understand with clarity what the choices are, they will clearly make a decision to keep changing in the right direction . . .

Q: Is defining the stakes in the election one of the goals for your speech?

A: Yes. But I think primarily that has to be done by [Al] Gore and [Joseph] Lieberman. . . . But I think the American [people]--I can say a few things about what I think the choice should be. But this convention is very important that it belong to Al Gore and, to a lesser extent, to Joe Lieberman, and that they define the choices.

Q: In terms of defining the choices, when [George W.] Bush and the Republicans define the choice they put a lot of emphasis on changing the tone in Washington, changing the climate in Washington. When he talks about restoring honor and decency to the White House, do you feel as though he's talking about you, personally? Do you take that personally?

A: Well, yes and no. Yes, he's talking about me personally; no, I don't take it personally. It's what they have to say. They're wrong on economics; they know the people don't agree with them on crime; they know the people don't agree with them on turning the environment back over to the polluters. They know the people don't agree with them on these issues . . .

So they basically can't win on any of the issues that affect the American people, so they have to divert the attention of the American people. So, no, I don't take it personally . . .

Q: I asked you a moment ago if you thought that Bush was referring to you when he talks about honor and decency in the White House. The Lieberman selection as vice president has been widely interpreted as signaling at once continuity with your policy, in terms of picking the chair of the [Democratic Leadership Council], but also an effort to separate from you, personally. Did you view it that way?

A: Well, I think the far more important thing is the continuity of policy, because the thing that has always bothered me about these polls--until the last few days, where I think they are beginning to tighten up and firm up--is that the vice president wasn't getting the credit he deserved for the role he played in the administration.

I never believed, not for a minute, that the American people were going to, in effect, vote against their own interests and their own values by holding Al Gore responsible for a personal mistake I made--for a second.

The whole record here has been obscured. Joe Lieberman was the first Democrat to [criticize me over the Monica Lewinsky scandal], but he didn't say anything different than Al Gore said. He certainly didn't say anything different than I said contemporaneously. . . .

That doesn't mean that what they [the Republicans in Congress] did was right. What they did was wrong. And what Lieberman said was right. And that's what Gore said. That's all Gore said.

So, you know, sooner or later the American people would figure that out and they--people are so much more fair than politicians and, sometimes, press pundits. . . .

Q: That rather extraordinary session you had [last week] talking with the ministers [in Illinois], and you talked at great length about your personal feelings, about the whole controversy. You didn't say much about looking back and how you felt about the impeachment process itself.

Do you feel now that it was only partisanship at work, or could there have been legitimate reasons for some Republicans to feel the way they did?

A: Well, first of all, some of them--I think [Rep.] Peter King [R-N.Y.] gave the best speech on that. I'll use his words. Peter King said, "I'm voting against this because if it was a Republican president you'd be against it too." It's basically what I think. But, you know, the American people can evaluate that. The most important thing was not what I say; it's what those 800 or 900 constitutional experts said. Way over 90% of the people with an informed opinion about the history and the law said it was wrong. Two-thirds of the American people thought it was wrong.

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