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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Have you concluded that American voters are ready to elect a woman president?

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, we won't know till we try.

INSKEEP: Hillary Clinton is not quite saying she will try, but she is saying it should be tried. The New York senator sat down in Manhattan yesterday, amidst speculation that she may run for president. She faces questions about whether a woman, or this particular woman, can win. And she said such questions should be decided in a campaign - by voters.

Sen. CLINTON: They get to take a measure of you. They get to decide whether they like your position on energy, or whether they like your hairstyle. I mean it's all fair game. So until a woman steps into that arena - and believe me, probably better than most, I know how brutal that arena is - but until somebody does that, we really won't know.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The former first lady is giving a handful of interviews because she's putting out a book. It might offer clues to those who wonder what she would stand for as a candidate. She re-published “It Takes a Village.” That's the book that she put out 10 years ago about the community's role in raising kids.

INSKEEP: She wrote it in 1996 after her party lost Congress, partly because of a disastrous national healthcare plan that Mrs. Clinton supervised. Ten years later, Democrats have just won back Congress and the nation is at war, but she still endorses her book's call for universal health coverage.

Sen. CLINTON: What's that old saying that, you know, good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. I learned a lot about how we have to do this. We have a partnership. We have to have the private sector onboard. We have to have everybody believing that the system, over the long run, will function better for them and not for somebody else. And I think we can do that now.

INSKEEP: You mean it's - what you've learned is just to approach it differently in a tactical sense?

Sen. CLINTON: No, I think strategic as well. I mean, the goal remains the same. I believe that it is absolutely unsustainable for the United States of America, the richest nation in the world, not to have quality, affordable, accessible healthcare available to every American.

INSKEEP: You also write about the way the world has changed since 9/11…

Sen. CLINTON: Right.

INSKEEP: …since you published this book.

Sen. CLINTON: That's right.

INSKEEP: Is it fair to say that the changes since 9/11 have forced less attention on problems that you care about: education, healthcare, and so forth?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, it's fair to say that security is the number one problem we face, because we were attacked and we have people around the world, unfortunately, plotting against us as we speak. Unfortunately, we have only focused - and I believe in an inadequate way - on one of our problems in the last six years.

INSKEEP: Has the war in Iraq drained resources that could better have been spent on education or healthcare?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, the war in Iraq has certainly drained resources. And it's been very troubling that this administration doesn't even put the cost of the war into the budget, something that we intend to do, as Democrats, when the new Congress convenes. We have seen waste and we have failed to provide basic equipment to our young soldiers and Marines who go into harm's way on a daily basis.

INSKEEP: Does that cast your vote to authorize the conflict in a different light? That it's cost hundreds of billions of dollars and there are huge deficits, and that would be part of the reason?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, it's also cost thousands of lives and thousands more of injuries. You know, I've said repeatedly that, you know, had we known then what we know now, there never would have been a vote. I certainly wouldn't have given the president the authority. But I believed that putting inspectors back in, and allowing inspectors to determine once and for all whether Saddam Hussein, who had used weapons of mass destruction, still had them and still had the capability to deliver them, was a worthy effort.

Unfortunately, the president did not permit the inspectors to complete their job. If he had done so, we would have found what we found only after military action.

INSKEEP: In the Democratic Congress, are you going to be in a position to advocate for changes on a grand scale to anything, given the realities?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I believe we will advocate and we will finally have a forum to do so. Democrats will be able to put forward plans about universal healthcare coverage, about moving toward greater energy independence, about dealing with the threat of global climate change, about improving our education system. We have seen so much of the progress, to really make lasting change in our country, stalled or reversed in the last six years.

INSKEEP: But if you're going to put forward a plan on, say, universal healthcare, and also say we're going to pay as we go, and make sure that there's money to pay for whatever we propose, it's not going to work out.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, see, that's just not true. If we had been governed sensibly the last six years, with the balanced budget and the surplus, which this administration inherited, we would have been a long way down the road to deal with Social Security, and Medicare, and all of the financial challenges they pose.

You know, I believe America can confront any problem if we're willing to make some tough decisions. We've not been asked to make any tough decision. The president hasn't called for sacrifice from any of us. We're not asked to even turn the lights off and conserve energy, in order to limit the amount of money that is flowing to regimes that are antithetical to our interests.

INSKEEP: What's a tough sacrifice that you would call for, if you were in that office?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I believe, number one, we've got to get back to balancing the budget. That means we're going to have to cut spending, and we're going to have to take a hard look at these tax cuts that have not produced the revenues that were promised. You know, we have quite a long list of difficult decisions we're facing but we need leadership in order to begin the debate.

INSKEEP: Would you, if you were in that office, be saying in past wars the government raised taxes to pay for the war? And we're in a war, we should raise taxes to pay for the war.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I have repeatedly said we've never had a president who took us to war and cut taxes at the same time.

INSKEEP: But would you raise them?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure you need to raise them. I think you need to prevent them from continuing to be cut and you also need to take a hard look at the ones that are about to expire. Everybody has got to pitch in.

INSKEEP: What would say to one of those people who's been telling pollsters, I know who Hillary Clinton is, I have an idea what I think Hillary Clinton stands for, and I don't like her or I don't like her as a presidential candidate?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, I would say what I said to people in New York, who said the very same thing, let me introduce myself to you, really. You may think you know about me but I may be the most famous person you know very little about. There's just so much kibitzing about who I am, and what I believe, and what I've done. And I'd like to make sure the record is clear and then people can make their own judgment.

INSKEEP: I mean, obviously this is a brutal stage. New York can be a tough crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: As you know well. But I wonder if there are other parts of the country that would be an even tougher crowd for you.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, you know, I spent many wonderful years in Arkansas, grew up in Illinois. I have, you know, a lot of friends that, you know, I still see from my high school years. You know, the middle class out of which I came is being squeezed. If we don't hold together, if we don't believe in our values and ideals, then everybody's future is at risk.

INSKEEP: Well, Senator, thanks very much.

Sen. CLINTON: Good to talk with you.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Hillary Clinton of New York speaking yesterday. She has re-published her book “It Takes a Village” for its 10th anniversary.

MONTAGNE: Later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll ask if voters are ready to elect the first female president. This is NPR News.

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