ELECTIONS ’92 : Clinton Maps Ideas From Inner City to Persian Gulf


Following is an edited transcript of Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton’s meeting Thursday at The Times:

QUESTION: Using Los Angeles as an example of urban America, what specifically would a Clinton Administration offer . . . to improve the quality of life in the nation’s cities?

ANSWER: First, I would offer a completely different economic approach than this Administration does, which would increase public investment in our nation’s cities--in transportation, communications, environmental technology and cleanup.


Second, I would seek to increase the private sector economic activity. I support the initiative of urban enterprise zones that (Housing and Urban Development Secretary) Jack Kemp has championed, but I think more needs to be done. In particular, I think you need a banking network that actually makes loans to people who live in these cities, and so I have called for two things: One is the establishment of a network of community development banks in all major urban areas . . . and secondly, a major effort to get the traditional banks themselves to make such loans.

Then I think there has to be a whole sort of personal mobility initiative, which would include intensive efforts at providing for summer jobs and mentorships and other things of that kind for our young people. . . .

I strongly support some very specific educational initiatives, which I think would be very helpful to the bigger cities in particular. This includes smaller classes in the earlier grades, full funding of Head Start, and then the ability to tell young people all along their school lives that if they stay in school they can either go to a two-year apprenticeship program . . . or they can have a chance to finance a college education through the national service trust that I recommend. . . .

The third thing that I think we need is a whole response to the problem of poverty itself. The two things that I have emphasized are, first, raising substantially the earned-income tax credit so that anybody who works 40 hours a week and is the head of a household that has a kid in it is lifted above poverty. . . . And secondly, a real welfare reform initiative that would intensify our efforts at education and training and job placement for people on public assistance.

(Next), I think what we need is a safe-streets initiative. My plan among other things would place 100,000 new police officers on the streets in the next couple of years.

I am convinced that one of the biggest problems that we have is that people do not talk to each other in America across lines of race and income. And I think one of the things we have to find a way to do . . . is find some permanent forum that is kind of an ongoing town meeting for Los Angeles. The President would have to use the bully pulpit to make sure that every major area in our country has that kind of forum for airing these disputes before they get out of hand.


Q: In the campaign questions have been raised about your foreign policy experience. You have argued essentially that President Bush’s experience hasn’t prevented him from making mistakes. Nonetheless, would you please describe your personal foreign policy credentials?

A: I have also argued more to the point that our presidents have succeeded in foreign policy not based on the experience in foreign policy they had when they came to the White House but based on their understanding of America’s interests and America’s values . . . and their judgment and their ability to respond to a crisis . . .

Our countries fought two world wars in this century, both under the direction of presidents who came to the presidency from governors’ offices. In some ways being a governor and having experience in the global economy . . . is as good a preparation for the presidency, if not better, than being in the United States Congress.

Q: What would President Clinton do to get rid of Saddam Hussein or deal with China?

A: Well, we don’t have the opportunities that we had right after the Gulf War, when it was obvious that the United States wanted desperately to keep Iraq intact, even if it meant Iraq was governed by Saddam Hussein. . . . The options are more difficult; he is much more firmly entrenched now than he was at the end of the Gulf War.

I essentially support what the Administration is now doing through the United Nations, trying to turn up the heat on Saddam to comply with at least those portions of the cease-fire agreements which affect the rest of us: That is his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. But I think that dealing with him and with some of the other dictators in the world who are rushing to develop the capacity to have weapons of mass destruction will be a monthly trial for the next President, whether it is George Bush or Bill Clinton, and I wouldn’t rule out military action.

But I don’t think that we should discuss specifics in a hypothetical context. I think the United States will have to continue to lead a U.N. effort to be very tough with him, or he will do things we will all pay for in the years ahead.


Q: One of the issues the President has stressed quite a bit in the last weeks is his support for private-school choice. You usually pose your opposition to it in terms of financial strain, that we can’t afford to do this now while our public schools are underfunded. If the resources were available, would you be willing to experiment with this, or is there a deeper principle involved?

A: Let’s put this in proper context. Over 90% of all the money for public education comes from state and local revenue, a much higher percentage now than in 1980. . . . So basically what you’ve got is a President out there advocating something that is supposed to stand for a whole set of values and issues that has very little to do with the job a President does all day every day.

I do not believe that the choice issue is a silver bullet for education under any circumstances. Number two, I think kids ought to have choices in schools, and I have supported wider public-school choice.

I support private schools; I think we have a lot to learn from them. . . .

But I am philosophically opposed to taking the tax money under present circumstances, when our public schools need it and there are other avenues to reform available, and devoting it to private schools. . . .

Q: Governor, you have said repeatedly in the last several weeks that it will require courage for Americans to change presidents and embark on a recovery program. But the scenario you sketch out seems remarkably free of sacrifice for everyday Americans. What sort of sacrifices do you see Americans having to make so that the country can regain its footing economically. If you could be specific on that . . .

A: First of all, you know, the only people who ask me these questions are reporters whose incomes didn’t go down in the 1980s. And their bosses, whose incomes went up in the 1980s. And I hate to be sort of aggressive about this, but there is an astonishing lack of awareness in these questions about what really happened to most Americans in the 1980s. Most of your fellow citizens are working harder today for lower incomes than they were making 12 years ago. Their tax burdens are higher, they’re paying more for health care, more for housing, more for education. They have sacrificed. They are bleeding. They are hurting.


Bush is going to stand up and tell them that Al Gore and I have crazy ideas, we don’t represent family values, we’re going to tax all their income away, and we’re going to take their guns away, and they’re going to raise all these red flags and scare everybody to death. And it always takes courage to change.

But middle-class people’s main challenge is going to be the challenge of lifetime education, redefining security in terms of being employable rather than having a particular job and making a major commitment to recreate the workplace in every place in America. They may have to pay more in the future for specific benefits, and I think they are willing to do that. All the polls show, for example, that if we can’t finance a national health program through cost savings, that people would be willing to pay more if it were for a specific benefit.

Q: If you have the large bulk of the population convinced that there’s going to be no financial outlay for them to solve the nation’s problems, if your plan doesn’t work and you have to go to plan B, you have a populace that essentially has to be convinced anew that they’re going to have to be a partner in this recovery.

A: No, because I have never said “Read my lips.” I’ve gone out of my way not to say that. You know, I still think that Mr. Bush would not have gotten in nearly as much trouble--I mean nearly everybody, a lot of thinking people knew that this “Read my lips” pledge he made was an improvident pledge anyway. And I think he would not have been in nearly as much trouble if there had not been more tax fairness in his 1990 tax package, and if instead of just sort of signing it in the middle of the night on a weekend, if he had gone before the American people on the front end and said: “Here’s what happened: The circumstances were worse than I thought, and I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said this.” I think he’d be in better shape today if he’d done that.

Q: One could characterize pumping investment into the economy as taking the risk of running a greater deficit, with things not working out on any kind of timetable. If the investments don’t work out as you envision, if the transportation and communications investments don’t yield this greater wealth we’re looking for, you’re saying then you would go to the American people and say . . .

A: We’ve got to try something else. . . . Keep in mind there are two plans that are more extreme than mine. There’s the Bush plan, which is sort of incrementally more of the same. There’s the Perot plan, which is let’s go in and balance the budget now, have eight slow years and then it’ll get good at the year 2000; and I think that plan has some integrity in the sense that it’s very forthright and properly analyzed in terms of what the impact is.


Then there are the 100 economists, including the Nobel Prize winners, who said invest $50 billion now and add it to the deficit because you’ll get enough growth, net growth, that you’ll actually reduce the deficit by getting growth. Then there’s the private sector version of the same argument, which is the Jack Kemp-(Rep.) Vin Weber argument, which as you know, adds $400-something billion in tax cuts over the next five years to the deficit because that will give you growth.

I have taken a more moderate position than either one of those, which is to increase public investment, increase private investment but do it in the context that will still enable us to bring down the deficit in a modest way. I look at the other high-productivity, high-growth countries, and if you compare, for example, what we spend on research and development, what we spend on infrastructure, the percentage of our income we spend on education and training, the efforts we make to develop new technologies and turn them into jobs . . we are way behind them. And there is every reason to believe that appropriate and competitive levels of investment in those areas will produce the same high-wage jobs and the same growth in this economy that they produced in those economies.

There is no reason to believe you could possibly generate high levels of growth without high levels of investment both on the public side and in private investment, which is why I’ve called (for) the new venture capital gains tax for five-year holding periods and a permanent investment tax credit.

Q: The responsibility of the press--in this campaign . . . this issue has surfaced, and I know it troubles many people . . . if our leaders are going to be talking about family values, where does the press draw the line? In other words, we have responsibility not to get involved in sleaziness, but also we have a responsibility to the American public to help them evaluate the candidates and their character. So where should we stop? Where do we go too far?

A: I don’t know. I think it’s a difficult issue in terms of the times in which we live. But I think that for one thing, you need to make sure you are never driven by commerce. . . . Don’t ever write a story on this stuff to beat the competition or because you think the Republican National Committee will beat you to it or because the tabloids are doing it, or whatever. I don’t know. I can’t answer your question, but I would ask you always to remember that somehow, miraculously, the Republic survived without knowing about Franklin Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer. Somehow we made it. He did a pretty good job. Somehow the Republic survived without knowing the severe mental stress under which Abraham Lincoln labored or the enormous behavioral problems his wife had. We are still around. . . . I know it’s a new and different age. I have to tell you that I just don’t feel confident giving you advice . . . ask me after the election, or after I’m retired from public life, when I have no dog in this hunt. . . .

Q: The Bush Administration has with a lot of fanfare, at least, initialed the beginnings of a free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Everyone knows that Congress isn’t going to get around to this until next year, by which point you might be President. So what happens then? Would you in any way try to stop this agreement? . . .


A: I was strongly supportive of giving the Administration the authority to conduct the negotiations. And I was for it for philosophical and practical reasons. A great country like ours only grows wealthier by increasing the value of trade. And it has to be in some measure a two-way street. . . .

My own view is that we really ought to be very sensitive to people who lose their jobs, in terms of their retraining. We ought to have a manufacturing strategy that saves as many of the jobs as we can. And we ought to have environmental guarantees . . . to clean up the atrocious environmental problems that exist on the other side of the border . . .

I can’t say that I approve of this specific agreement because I haven’t seen it. . . . If it doesn’t deal with the issues of labor conditions and retraining and the environmental issues, then the next question is, is there some way that by unilateral or joint action outside the treaty itself we can deal with those issues so that the treaty is negotiated and can go forward, and we don’t have to just send people back to the drawing board? I very much want an agreement, but I want it to be one that would generate more jobs and more income for both our people.

Q: In a not unrelated issue, you can’t really talk much about free trade in Southern California without people (considering) immigration . . . That issue cuts across ideological lines. On the one hand, you have got President Bush saying that free trade will help reduce illegal immigration. One of his compatriots, Pat Buchanan, talks about putting the military on the borders . . . . Where along that rather wide spectrum do you think you fall?

A: I wish I knew what to do about the immigration issue. . . . My own belief is that if there is a substantial increase in the per-capita income of the Mexican people as a result of increased trade and market policies and the kinds of things that President Salinas has really tried to do, that that will clearly reduce illegal immigration.

So I think that we have to say: “Do we need immigration laws with quotas and limits?” I think we do. And do we need to try to enforce them? Yes, we must because a lot of people live by those laws and wait for a long time to come to this country just because they live a long way away and they can’t get here on a boat or crossing a border. Will we always have an imperfect system as long as there are these vast inequalities in economic opportunity and as long as we’re a fairly open society? I think so. For those immigrants who are here, who are going to be able to stay here, we need to try to make citizenship more available. We need to try to make sure that they can be better integrated into the flow of life in America, with education, with economic opportunity.


On the whole, immigration has been a source of strength for this country. Diversity has built us, not torn us down. And as painful as the memory of the Los Angeles riots is, if you look at what is going on in Bosnia today, if you look at what’s going on in Nagorno-Karabakh, if you look at what’s going on in Somalia, we have managed to live together remarkably, given the differences of ethnicity and income in the country.

Q: Do you support Gov. Wilson’s welfare initiative?

A: No. I like some parts of it, but I think this cut in the benefits after six months because somebody is still on it . . . that assumes that everybody can rationally be required to find work after six months. And you’ve got Ph.D.s in this state that have been out of work for a year and a half. . . . So that part of it I have real problems with.

Q: Do you have any special observations on California, on where the state is going?

A: California is going to be a great test for America, because this has been a place of unbridled opportunity for growth . . . but now it is in trouble. California really benefited from America having a national economic strategy as it related to defense and space, and when we stopped having the other strategy we had and didn’t find one to put in its place, California paid the price.

We are going to have to create in Silicon Valley in the area of technology, and here in the area of aerospace the kind of partnerships between the government, business and labor and education that will turn this situation around. . . .

The second great challenge I see here is, since this is the most diverse part of America, is that we are going to have to prove that we can educate people from over 100 different cultures speaking 100 different languages and find a way for people to move from modest incomes and poverty into the middle class by reversing the increasing inequality of America.

Q: Governor, you’ve suggested the U.N. should consider anything that’s necessary to stop the slaughter (in Bosnia), and the United States ought to be part of that effort. You’ve even suggested using air power as a start. What do you see as the American interests in such action? And in the long run, how do we get back to peace and stability in that region?


A: If the slaughter continues there, it may spread beyond the borders. It may create all kinds of obligations on European countries and eventually the United States to take a lot of refugees, to try to resettle people. We may be dealing with a tyrant who may be able to threaten his neighbors in (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic. Our main interest is in trying to make sure that somebody we have reason to believe is violating international law--in the detention camps and in other things that he is doing--does not become a bigger threat to the peace and security of Europe in ways that affect our interest.

I have not called for any commitment of ground troops, or even for the use of air power . . . but if we want to lead a world in which we try to work through the United Nations with multinational forces, one of the things we are going to have to resign ourselves to is on occasion participating in peacekeeping operations or relief operations where we might suffer some loss of life.

Q: Apart from the overriding goal of reviving the economy, what would be the two or three things that you would have to accomplish in a first term so that in your own mind you could view it as a success?

A: I would have to believe that I moved America to a point where the American people really believed they had to work together to increase productivity, and they all had to be willing to change, so that we could make the changes going on in the world our friend instead of our enemy. I would have to make real progress on the health care front . . . because if I can’t control health care costs and provide a basic health care package, then it is going to be almost impossible to avoid going back to (ask) more sacrifice from the middle class to deal with the budget crisis.

The third thing I would like to do is pass a number of these initiatives, which I think would recreate a sense of personal responsibility, empowerment and community in the United States. I would like people to believe that their government was working again. . . . I would have to do something in the first term, not only to revitalize the economy and to deal with the health care crisis, but to make this whole government accessible to people again in ways that are consistent with their values and interests.