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Were President Clinton's Remarks About the Election Appropriate?

Aired January 10, 2001 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Appropriate, inappropriate -- plenty of folks would argue the transfer of power from one president to another should be more solemn; an occasion above political sniping. Let's talk to a presidential historian about that. Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, what's your reaction to that?

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I was saddened by that. I thought it was poor form. I think we expect our outgoing presidents to give a farewell address, not a farewell campaign speech. But I suspect with Bill Clinton, the temptation of giving a little red meat to a group of Democratic people in Chicago was just a bit too much, because as you say, Lou, up to now, he really has been quite gracious and quite helpful to the incoming administration.

WATERS: Will this red meat give ammunition to those who would like to delegitimatize the presidency of George W. Bush?

HESS: Oh, I shouldn't think so, but I do think it's sort of a wake-up call in part for Bill Clinton, who's making an important transition, too. And it's going to be hard for somebody as young as he is as an ex-president to move out of the White House, and he's going to have find a more appropriate role as being a very young elder statesman.

WATERS: How would you characterize his exit? I saw one cartoon where he was being pushed up the ramp to the moving van in a chair while he was on the cell phone attending to last minute business. Have you ever seen a president acting in this manner before?

HESS: No, it's very -- it's very odd, I must admit, and, of course, typically what a president -- an ex-president does is build his presidential library and write his memoirs, but that's not going to be enough for Bill Clinton. He's going to have to find what may turn out to be a very unique role. But, of course, he's also going to become a political spouse.

WATERS: We've heard a lot of talk that he might run for mayor of New York. What does a young man like President Clinton do? What roles could he take on?

HESS: Well, I think one person he might look to would be actually Jimmy Carter, who turned out -- in his case -- not to be very effective president, but a very revered ex-president and he did through careful attention to international affairs that he cared about to being involved in some important charitable affairs in the United States and I think, he might sit down and talk to Jimmy Carter about what it means because it's psychologically -- it really is quite an adjustment.

WATERS: Yet the news conference in the transition office this afternoon, one reporter suggested maybe Mr. Bush take his own limousine to the inauguration rather than ride with Mr. Clinton because of that comment last night. How awkward is it when you're handing off the torch?

HESS: Oh, I think this one is just going to be just fine, and they'll do fine. They're gentlemen. There's not a great deal of bad blood between them, really, but there have been moments in the past. Of course, there was no love lost, quite the contrary, when Harry Truman turned over the White House to Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, and they were barely talking. Equally, of course, was the case of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Of course, in that case, Roosevelt had just defeated Hoover.

WATERS: Well, it's going to be interesting. Stephen Hess, as always, good to talk with you.

HESS: Thank you.

WATERS: Thanks for coming by, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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