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CNN Today

The Clinton Presidency, a Retrospective: Clinton & The People

Aired January 15, 2001 - 1:51 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: As we enter the final week of the Clinton presidency, we'll be looking back at its impact. Today, the public's take on Bill Clinton.

Here's CNN White House correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, how are you? What's your name?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He always seemed more at peace, more comfortable out here with the people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like what you're doing for education.

CLINTON: Thank you. Hi, hello.

KING: One legacy of any president is his place in public opinion. And Mr. Clinton leaves office with reason to smile. Two- thirds of Americans approve of his performance on the job. But like so much about this president and early efforts to assess his legacy, it is so much more complicated than that. Nearly six in 10 say Mr. Clinton is not honest or trustworthy. Nearly seven in 10 say he will be remembered more for scandal than any accomplishments.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: I think Bill Clinton tried an awful lot. I think in some ways he succeeded. But I wouldn't put him anywhere near the top of the heap when it came to presidents. But he is a likable rogue.

KING: From the very beginning, a polarizing figure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I, William Jefferson Clinton...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Elected and reelected, but never with a majority of the vote; always with vocal opposition. Repudiated two years into office: the Republican rout of 1994.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOV. 9, 1994)

CLINTON: I think that I have some responsibility for it. I am the president. I am the leader of the efforts that we have made in the last two years. And to whatever extent that we didn't do what the people wanted us to do or they were not aware of what we had done, I must certainly bear my share of responsibility. And I accept that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In 1995, one of many revivals, a president who found his voice in two very different crises. April: horror in Oklahoma City, and Mr. Clinton voices the grief of a nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 23, 1995)

CLINTON: Those who are lost now belong to God. Some day we will be with them. But until that happens, their legacy must be our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Then December: a nemesis and a showdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEC. 15, 1995)

CLINTON: Now the Republicans in Congress are not only refusing to talk, once again they are threatening to shut the government down if I do not accept their deep cuts in health care, education, the environment, and their tax increases on working families. I would not give in to such a threat last month, and I will not give in today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mr. Clinton would carry the day and public opinion about the government shutdown. One senior Republican involved in the talks back then put it this way: We have no one like him -- not even close.

JAMES CARVILLE, FORMER CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: They didn't respect him, they didn't do this, they didn't do that, OK. But they were scared to death of him, and that's why he beat them every time.

KING: Welfare reform and a balanced budget: a Democratic president on traditionally Republican turf. One Clinton legacy is a fierce public debate over whether he led public opinion or shamelessly followed it.

DUBERSTEIN: Now we're talking about the eight years of Bill Clinton being overnight tracking results, polling virtually around the clock so that every little tick of public opinion could be registered.

JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He enjoys politics, he, you know, he looks at where the American people are. But I think he does that largely because he uses that as a way of helping him really explain what he's trying to do. He knows that having the support of the American people is enormously important.

KING: One constant in eight years of tumult: overwhelming support from African Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOV. 13, 1993)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, these are your people. Give him a great big hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Memphis, November 1993, in the church where Martin Luther King preached his last sermon 25 years before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOV. 13, 1993)

CLINTON: He would say, I did not live and die to see the American family destroyed.

(APPLAUSE)

I did not live and die to see 13-year-old boys get automatic weapons and gun down 9-year-olds just for the kick of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No one questioned his intelligence or his skills as a communicator, but many questioned his sincerity and judgment. He was the president who shared our pain; shared some things we didn't need to know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 19, 1994)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, the world's dying to know: Is it boxers or briefs.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Usually briefs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Eight roller coaster years, some of it impossible to forget, some of it still hard to comprehend. Through it all, he said most of all he wanted to be remembered as the president who fought for ordinary Americans.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I think he's going to be remembered in history, in a very odd way, just like his mentor or his favorite president, Jack Kennedy. And as Kennedy was always better remembered by the people than he was by the historians, Kennedy, to this day, remains a popular figure in the minds of the public. Kennedy, to this day, is not a high-ranking figure among historians. I think Bill Clinton is going to rank well among the populous. Many people at the lower end of the spectrum did well during the Clinton years, and they respect him for that and they like him for it. But the historians, I think, will be more unforgiving.

KING: He campaigned to the very end, eager to shake a few more hands; eager, if possible, to shape history's judgment.

John King, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our man at the White House, John King, will continue his look at the Clinton presidency throughout this week. Tomorrow, Clinton by the numbers. John King will look at his stats on welfare, crime and the economy, among other things. We'll see how they have changed over Mr. Clinton's eight years in office.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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