In a sprawling discussion of his past and our common future, the former president compares his administration's early years with Obama's and talks about what he believes - in health care and next year's midterms - is about to happen.
Clinton talking to President Obama at the funeral service for Senator Ted Kennedy. Esquire …
In his most extensive interview since Barack Obama took office, former president Bill Clinton predicts that Obama will win passage of health-care reform, urging the Democratic party to "stand and deliver" while the Republicans are "in la-la land."
Endorsing Obama's push for health legislation, Clinton tells Esquire executive editor Mark Warren that Democrats should ignore opposition from the GOP. "The president's doing the right thing. It is both morally and politically right," Clinton says. "I wouldn't even worry about the Republicans. I'd worry about executing.
''Do I think he's doing the right thing, even though he's jamming a lot of change down the system? I do," Clinton says. "So there's a lot that's like my first year, but it's going to have a different ending - he's going to get health-care reform."
In the interview, which appears in the October issue of Esquire, the former president also talks candidly about his own efforts to reform health care fifteen years ago, about the Supreme Court decision that resolved the 2000 election, about the state of the Republican Party and the prospect for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.
Highlights from Esquire's exclusive interview:
- On Obama's Health-Care Plan
"What I'm more worried about is our people getting careless, forgetting the experience of '94, and that it is imperative that they produce a health-care bill for the president and make it the best one they can; if it's not perfect, we'll go back and fix it. But the people hire you to deliver."
"This electorate has suffered. They've suffered economically, they've suffered an enormous amount of sort of psychic insecurity from 9/11 to the economic breakdown, they've seen all this change going on around them, and they see in Obama a cool and intelligent guy who can multitask in a world where they know you've got to multitask. What they don't know is whether our guys are going to stand and deliver. And sooner or later you've got to stand and deliver. All we have to worry about is getting things done and doing them as well as we can. Don't even worry about the Republicans. Let them figure out what they're going to stand for. 'Cause as long as they're sitting around waiting for us to mess up, they don't have a chance."
- On the Defeat of His Own Health-Care Plan
"Almost everything anyone today writes about this stuff is wrong. It's a classic example of how in a war, the victors get to write history.
"Basically, everybody who writes about this stuff today repeats the health-insurance lobby's line from 1994. Like: "The bill was long and complicated." The bill took out four hundred more pages of federal law than it put in. They say we forced a bill on Congress - untrue. I asked Congress to write the bill, and Chairman [Dan] Rostenkowski [of the House Ways and Means Committee] demanded that Hillary send him a bill - a complete bill. He said, "I won't take it up if you don't. We don't know enough about it, the interest groups will eat us alive, we'll modify your bill, but you've gotta send us a whole bill." It was the demand of the most important committee in the House of Representatives. And yet I've read over a hundred stories saying what a terrible mistake we made, it was all our doing. We did what Congress asked us to do. We also got two bills out of two committees for the first time ever. Harry Truman tried to do this, Richard Nixon tried to do it, Lyndon Johnson didn't even try, with the biggest congressional majority in history. He didn't even try - he quit at Medicare and Medicaid, because he knew how hard it was..."
"And we now know, and I'm surer of this than anything: We just couldn't do [health-care reform] as long as Bob Dole was running for president. He's a good guy, and he's a friend of mine, and the whole time I dealt with him, the only time he was not as good as his word was on this. After Rostenkowski had asked for a bill, I personally asked Bob in the Cabinet Room if we could sit down and write a bill together and send a joint bill to the Congress. Because he was really good on health care for a Republican, cared about it, and he said, 'You know, you need to send a bill in and we need to produce a bill, so that people know there are differences between the two parties and our approaches. Then we'll get together and compromise it out.' When he said that, I think he believed it. Then he gets Bill Kristol's famous memo that says, you know, If you let Bill Clinton pass any kind of health-care bill, the Democrats will be the majority party for a generation, and you can forget about your presidential hopes. Your only option is to beat anything. Kill it off."
- On the 2000 Election
"George Bush ran a brilliant campaign in 2000 - that compassionate-conservative thing was just brilliant - and it got him close enough that he got into the Supreme Court and they issued what I think is one of the five most reprehensible decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. And they were embarrassed about it, because if you read the decision, it says, 'Now, unlike our other decisions, this has no precedential value; you can never cite this decision in any other case for the rest of eternity, this is only a one-off.' I mean, they know better. They knew better than to do what they were doing - it was just a pure, naked political deal, but anyway, it happened and Gore was a good man and he honored the traditions of America and he thought the principle of judicial review and the role of the Supreme Court was important enough not to attack it, and he took it in good grace."
- On the Alternate History of the 2000 Election
"I think if Al Gore had become president... first of all, let me inject a little humility here: No one knows. But for example, as Colin Powell said when he was secretary of state, our policies with North Korea had led us back from the brink, and we were on the verge of getting a total ban on these missile flights and completing the total denuclearization of the peninsula. I expect that would've happened, and if that had happened, I think it is highly likely that the kind of tensions we've seen in the past few months, including the situation involving those two young women, they might not have happened."
"I think he would've had a much more vigorous Securities and Exchange Commission. Could some of this have still happened? Maybe, but we were up on some of this in 2000, up on Capitol Hill, warning that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were getting overexposed, and their real problems didn't happen until four years after that. So I think whatever happened in the economic downturn would've been less.
I'm reluctant, because I was not there, to talk about the run-up to 9/11, but I can always say this: Al Gore was hypervigilant in his following of the intelligence reports and very solid in his understanding of the defense and security policy, and I think he would've done a really good job. I think that he would have been reluctant to fight a war on two fronts; I think he would've tried to finish the business with Al Qaeda and Afghanistan and let the UN inspectors finish what they were doing in Iraq. So yeah, it would've been a very different time."
Read more of this interview with Bill Clinton on Esquire.com
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