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Interview with Former President Bill Clinton

Interview with Former President Bill Clinton

By The Situation Room - September 20, 2011

BLITZER: Mr. President, good to see you at the Clinton Global Initiative. Another year, it's really moving very quickly. Its jobs, jobs, jobs right now. This is an enormous crisis and potentially, potentially, it could get a whole lot worse.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could. And it could get better. And you know, what we're trying to do here is to just come up with concrete things that can be done, not just in the United States, but elsewhere, to put Americans back to work.

And when we met in Chicago in June, or July, we talked about how to put America back to work and today, we had a good manifestation of that with the announcement by the AFLCO and American Federation of Teachers if they were releasing a lot more money to try to put their members and other people, construction workers, back to work retro fitting buildings and they're going to create an enormous number of jobs doing this.

BLITZER: But you know there's political gridlock in Washington. The president comes up with these initiatives, these plans as he's done this week, but you know it's not going to go anywhere as far as the Republican members are concerned.

CLINTON: Well, I think it's sad, but the people, they were elected by the American people essentially on the promise of doing nothing. Except to try to you know, give us a lot less government. And then in the Senate, I think they'll block anything because they're afraid it will work.

BLITZER: You need 60 votes in this Senate.

CLINTON: Yes. Senator McConnell says his main goal in life so to defeat the president for re-election, so it is what it is, but I still think the president had to propose these things and ultimately, the American people are just going to have to decide what kind of country they want and vote for it.

They voted now for, in 2006 and 2008, they voted for one kind of country to take a move away from the policies of the previous several years. Then, in 2010, they voted to take a u-turn and I don't think they really think like that.

I think they think, well, we need a little more of this, little more of this and that, but they voted for quite a radical departure. And so, you know, it's interesting to me to see the voters sit around and condemn the politicians that they elected who are doing what they promised to do during the elections. BLITZER: My sense is and you I have different jobs, but '95, '96, when the government was shutdown, as you remember just before you were re-elected as bitter as the acrimony was in Washington then and I covered it, I was the White House correspondent covering your administration, I think it's worse now. But you tell me what you think.

CLINTON: Could be. I don't know. You would know better than me because I'm not there all the time. I think basically - but the American people, all I'm saying is they keep giving Congress low rating and the White House low ratings. They need to take a little ownership here. Every one of these people got into power because they were voted for.

BLITZER: They were democratically elected.

CLINTON: Yes. And none of them, there's now a determined effort to restrict the franchise and kind of toward the meeting of democratic elections, but all these people were. And you know you should pay attention to what people say when they run for office, they pretty much try to do what they say they're going to do and I will give it to the Tea Party Republicans. They -- if you paid attention, they're doing what they said they were going to do. And the voters now seem to be upset by it.

BLITZER: Did you see that debate that I moderated in Tampa?

CLINTON: I saw some of it, yes.

BLITZER: What did you think of those guys up there on the stage?

CLINTON: Well, there's a range of -- what I think, the more moderate ones, as you might imagine, are the ones that I think would be better presidents. I was like a lot of people, quite disturbed that there were those who were cheering when you asked if a man who needed life-saving care but didn't have health insurance should be allowed to die, and there seemed to be cheering. But, you know, it's all political theater now.

That is, look at the difference of what we're doing here and what happens in the campaign. And I sympathize with you, because you've got to run all these news programs.

Now, it looks to me like what's good politics in the modern world, at least when times are tough, is conflict, and it also makes for edgier news coverage. And yet, in the real world, where jobs are created, what works is cooperation. So, it's not the government versus the private sector, it's what they can do together to create prosperity.

And if you look at -- oh, I don't know, let's take San Diego, the center of biotechnology in America, more Nobel Prize-winning scientists than any other American city, no longer primarily a Navy city. It's a biotech city.

The Silicon Valley is back. Orlando has 100 computer simulation companies. Pittsburgh is trying to go from being the city of steel to the city of nanotechnology. Cleveland is using Cleveland Clinic to try to retrofit, if you will, not buildings, the workforce.

So, there are these centers of prosperity in America. Every one of them works because people cooperate, not because there's conflict. But conflict is good politics. That's how you get elected.

BLITZER: You said some of the Republican candidates are more moderate than the others. Let's talk about that for a second.

Who do you like and who are you concerned about? Not from the political standpoint, but from the standpoint of America's future?

CLINTON: Well, it appears that Governor Huntsman and Governor Romney at least have not come out and just flat-out denial of climate change. It appears that Governor Huntsman said he supported the compromise to raise the debt ceiling because America couldn't afford the economic consequences of debt default.

That used to be the position of every responsible American. That now passes for a moderate to liberal position in a Republican Party. He's the only candidate for president who supported not defaulting on our debt.

So I don't have anything against the others. I admire a lot of things about the other candidates. But I think that there is no evidence anywhere in the world of a successful country that has such bitter anti-government philosophy.

BLITZER: Like Rick Perry has?

CLINTON: Yes. It's the old get America, get Washington as far away as possible. Of course, it's interesting, because an enormous percentage of the jobs created in Texas since the financial meltdown, not before -- before, they really were doing great -- but he's done pretty well with government funding, closing his budget gaps, creating public jobs, but nonetheless, he's anti-government, this whole anti- government thing.

And it sounded so good, but there's not an example of a successful country. You look around the world, the countries that are growing faster than we are, have lower unemployment rates than we do, have less income and equality than we do, without exception they have a good government and good economy. They don't run against the government.

They use -- the government and the economy work together. So, what's good politics for them is there's just not any example in the world of the country working better doing what they advocate. Not a single one.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is you'd be happier if Romney or Huntsman got the nomination than Rick Perry.

CLINTON: Well, it's not up to me to pick -- they'll both lose if anybody thinks I've endorsed them. I'm just saying that I appreciate the fact that they're trying to navigate a landscape that bears almost no relationship to what's produced successful economies in the world.

And there are lots of countries that are now doing better than we are in some areas because of the very ideas that apparently you had to support to get the nomination. And it bothers me, because I think we need a Republican-Democratic debate and discussion about how best to change the way we produce and consume energy, and how best to revive the economy, and how best to incorporate the need for cultural norms like the value of work and family, as well as government programs to help get through this tough time.

And we can't get it, because you're either for our against the government. And if you're an anti-government guy, you've got to say every tax is bad, every regulation is bad, every program is bad. First, it's factually not true. And secondly, it's really distorting our policy. 

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