Browse Topics



For immediate release
May 10, 2002
Laura Gross,

Bill Clinton Says He Would Be Suprised if There Was a Talk Show in Interview with NPR's Tavis Smiley

LOS ANGELES, CA-Former President Bill Clinton discussed the possibility of hosting a talk show in an interview on The Tavis Smiley Show from NPR® that aired today. When asked about a potential television show he said, "I don't think this is going to happen. I'd be surprised if it did."

Clinton also spoke about the situation in the Middle East by commenting that the U.S. should be doing more.

The Tavis Smiley Show from NPR, a daily one-hour magazine that engages national radio audiences with new voices and fresh perspectives, premiered in January 2002. The show reaches listeners through 20 public radio stations, including WNYE and WNYC New York, WHYY Philadelphia, WEAA Baltimore, KTSU Houston and WCLK Atlanta. Internet users can listen to the program and find local stations broadcasts at Audio from the Friday, May 10 program will be available at after 7:30 a.m. ET on Friday, May 10.

Transcript of interview by Tavis Smiley of former President Bill Clinton on May 9, 2002 in Beverly Hills, CA. (*This is a rush transcript, and has not been thoroughly proof-read.)

*Please credit Tavis Smiley and/or NPR's The Tavis Smiley Show

Q: = Tavis Smiley
A: = Bill Clinton

Q: Mr. President, nice to see you, how have you been?

A: I've been great Tavis, thank you.

Q: The cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians seems endless. Is there more the U.S. and other nations should be doing now to achieve peace in the Middle East.

A: The short answer is "yes." Of course in the end the parties will have to make the decisions for themselves and we really can't impose it on them. But everyone knows more or less what it will take to get to a final agreement. If they can't get to a final agreement then they need to make an interim agreement. They need to say this is the way we are both going to behave over the next two years, we're going to do our best to make peace, keep peace, and make progress toward a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, towards security and the acceptance of Israel, toward economic development for the region. And I don't think that can be done unless the United States and Europe and maybe even Russia and the other Arab countries all weigh in, get on the same side and be willing to do whatever it takes to make it work.

Q: Much hay has been made about, much political hay has been made about what you did or did not do when you were in the white house about this crisis in the Middle East. Is there something that you think you might have done differently on the war on terrorism during your tenure.

A: Well I don't know. Let's talk about what we did do. We stopped a lot more attacks than we had. We captured and convicted most of the people that committed terrorist attacks in the United States or against Americans while I was President. We got Mr. Bin Laden thrown out of Sudan where he was operating and tried unsuccessfully to get the Saudis to put him in jail. And then we attacked him in Afghanistan and weakened the Taliban dramatically because they wouldn't give him up. And we tried to get the Pakistanis to go get him unsuccessfully. I think the only thing that we could have done is to try some sort of invasion which would have been widely condemned around the world as a violation of international law and we didn't have what President Bush did have after September 11th which was basing rights in adjoining countries. So maybe there's something else we could have done, I just don't know. But I can tell you this. We did everything we could. And in the Middle East I think we did a good job, I just think Mr. Arafat made a mistake not to take the peace agreement at the end of my term. I think a lot of the Palestinians feel the same way now.

Q: How are things between you and Al Gore these days, and do you think he is the best Democrat to take on George Bush in 2004.

A: Well I talk to him every few weeks, keep up with him and have a good relationship with him. He hasn't told me yet whether he is going to run. If he does, of course at the outset he would be the front runner, and I think he recognizes that under these circumstances like every other Democrat he'll have to make his case. But obviously he's got a lot of friends around American and a lot of people who know we won the popular vote last time and a lot of us think we won in Florida last time. I'm one of them. I'm one of them. So we'll just have to see. We're quite blessed though. If you think about the names that have been mentioned. Daschle, Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards, Senator Kerry from Massachusetts. If they all were to run, along with Vice President Al Gore, it would be probably the most distinguished array of candidates that we've fielded in almost 40 since 1960 when President Kennedy ran with Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey and Stewart Simington. It's probably the most distinguished array of people in terms of what they've given our country of any group we've had. So I feel good about our party and I trust the people to figure out what the right thing to do is at the time.

Q: Despite the fact that she has said that she is not interested in running for the White House in '04, one Hillary Rodham Clinton who you might have heard of before, is still on everybody's list. If she were to ask your advice about running in '08, what would you say to her?

A: Hmm. That it's a life time away, and that we don't know. I think that what we'd like to do -- what she wants to do is to continue to solidify her position in New York, to be able to speak out on issues of particular concern to the people she represents but also to America and the world, all the work she's done for the last 30 years and the work she did as First Lady, and try to help our crowd win in 2004. And we'll just have to see what happens after that. I have no i-- let me tell you something, what she says publicly to the world is what she says privately to me at home. So she's not doing--saying two different things. I've told everybody this, I think she's doing the right thing to tend to her knitting right now, but if she ever did run and could be in a position to serve, she would be fabulous. She is as able as any person I have ever known in public life and I am very very proud of her. I'm proud of what she's doing now.

Q: Speaking of you talking to Hillary at home and vice versus. For 8 years you were the most powerful person on the planet. What's been the hardest part of returning to life as Citizen Clinton?

A: Every now and then the traffic jams get on my nerves (inaudible). But, let me just say this. I think that I feel the way that most of my former cabinet members do, most of my young staffers do. You talk to most of the people that worked for me, they all say the same thing. They say, Well, you know I kinda like having my life back. And I do. You know like last night I had dinner with a bunch of friends in New York and we sat around for four hours and we talked about things. We talked about our families, our lives our friends. I couldn't' have done that, you know, if I were President. I like having my life back. I enjoyed every stage of my life. I'm financially comfortable. I've been very blessed in that way. Although I still have legal bills that I have to pay. And most of my people who worked in the Administration are doing as least as well most of them are doing much better than they did when they were in the White House in public service financially. But I feel the way they do. We miss the work. We loved the public service. We believed in what we were doing in the White House. We believed in what we were trying to do for America. We had fun doing it. You know I read David Brock's book Blinded by the Right, talking about how he moved from their side to our side and who these guys were obsessed with destroying me and Hillary and all of us and how they knew there was nothing to Whitewater and a lot of other stuff they did. And I thought to myself--after I had gotten--one guy gave me the book and he said when you read this you'll be so mad at those people. And when I got done I wasn't made at all, I thought these people aren't havin' any fun, they're so obsessed with power, they're not having any fun. We actually had fun. We loved, we loved doing the work, all of us. And so I miss the work terribly. But I'm trying to be useful now and enjoy my life.

Q: The author Toni Morrison has called you the first black president. Political strategist Donna Brazile says that in every poll for years black voters chose you as the number one African American leader and of course Dwayne Wickham has written this book that you have cooperated with called Blacks and Bill Clinton. What's your take on why you and black folk get along so well together?

A: Well I think it's partly the way I was raised. You know I had two very unusual grandparents who had no formal education to speak of. The worst racists in the South were the lower middle class whites because they needed someone to look down on. My grandparents weren't that way. They were for integration the whole time. My granddaddy had a little grocery store and almost all of his customers were black, and so I grew up different than most kids did my age. Then I was blessed to go to law school with some African Americans who became friends of mine. And then I was blessed when I taught in law school, listen to this, this is how much the South has changed in a little time. I went to teach at the University of Arkansas in 1973, in 1977 in January I became Attorney General. From August of '63 until December of '76, I taught class, two and a half years, right, I had taught when I became Attorney General 70% of all the licensed black lawyers in Arkansas.

Q: Seventy percent?

A: Seventy percent. That's how quickly the profession changed and the state changed. And so I was blessed. I was young and I had you know I had always felt very strongly about the civil rights movement. When I was younger I used to drive over to the Mississippi Delta and stop and get out and talk to people and I never had any idea if I'd be in office or anything. So it was what was in my heart but it was also I was lucky. I was lucky to have the family I did I was lucky to have the experiences I did. And you know I tell people all the time when they ask me about this; I got asked about this the other day at the Senate retreat in New York. I said, look you don't have to -- we're talking about voting here in America. You don't have to know the third voice of Lift Every Voice and Sing--

Q: You DO though.

A: I do, but that isn't why I have the support I do. It's the same thing with the Israelis or the Irish. You take any group of people that have been under the gun for generations, and they develop extraordinary antennae about who's 'em, who's against 'em, who's just shaking around and who's for real. But the main thing is I just wanted all the people in our party to be committed to an agenda that would empower African Americans. You know my life's story is my life's story. My friends are my friends. Nobody else can do that, just like I really am not the first black President but I hope to live to vote for the first black president. But I feel--one of the reasons I wanted to be in politics is that I didn't like racism and I didn't like inequality and I wanted to do something about it. But the main thing is that we need to not think this is unique. You know, there are lots of white candidates who get more or less the same percentage of the African American vote that I do. And now we white Democrats have a chance to elect Ron Kirk to the Senate from Texas, the Mayor of Dallas, an African American leading in the polls. And so now that our big challenge is to show up for him the way they showed up for us all those years. The richest Hispanic American in Texas is our nominee for governor. And they are clearly better qualified than their opponents by experience, by achievement, by ability, so to me that's the next big step and I'm thrilled about it.

Q; The talk show. Who asked whom, who turned down whom? What happened there? It's been bandied about in the press but you've not said anything about this.

A: No well -- A lot of what's been in the press is not right. Let me tell you what happened in general terms. First of all I don't think this is going to happen, I'd be surprised if it did. This not only didn't come from me or from NBC, a group of other people approached me and said we'd be interested in helping to finance this kind of show, would you be interested in doing it? He called a friend of mine and he called me and I said Gee, I never thought about it, you know. I can tell you what the appeal of it is to me. The appeal of it is that I could speak about things I care about in an environment where people would be free to listen to larger numbers of people than I can speak to. For example when all of this came up I was out in Las Vegas at a speech that I gave to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. They had to move the venue twice because so many young students wanted to come. And this has happened several times. Because the world is changing. Everybody knows that we are moving into a new world that is not fully formed. That there are a lot of good things about it, and as September 11th proved, there are a lot of bad things about it. We live in a world with open borders and free travel and spreading information technology, and it's very good but it makes us vulnerable, that's what we learned. So I think one of the things I can do because I was President that no one else can do is try to explain this to the American people in a way that will help them be better citizens and help them make better judgments, not in a partisan way but almost in an educational way. And i think people are interested. So I thought, I ought to talk about this. So then my friend called me back and said, You're going to be in Phoenix, because I was going there to Phoenix, and I think that we ought to consider whether -- give the network, any network a chance that wants to talk to you and the NBC people are out here and they were interested in talking, would you like to talk. I said sure, because I was in Phoenix, I'll come over and we talked. So it's not whether they did it or I did it or anything else. We both decided we ought to sit down and talk about it. And that's all we did. But neither NBC nor I came up with the idea of doing this. This came from some other people and I don't know if it's going to happen or not, but I'd be kinda surprised if it is, because I just sort of think that it may be hard to make it work commercially, either for a network or for private syndicators or anybody else, but I do think it would be good if somewhere on television, there was a decided effort, maybe it's not every day, maybe it's instead of 15 minutes a day or something out of an hour show it's once a week or once a month, somebody needs to be trying to make sure everyone understands the big things that are going on in the world and what impact it has on our lives and what we're supposed to do about America and the rest of the world.

Q: Do I hear you saying that if the right role could be carved out for you to do commentary or analysis, you'd be willing to do something like that?

A: No, well I would consider it. I really don't know. Look I spend more than half my time right now on public service. And I've got a book to write and I've got to finish raising money for my library, and I've done over 120 events for other people. Probably 20% of 'em were political events for friends of mine. The rest of them were things like the work I'm doing out here for the International AIDS Trust, for the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. I try to do a lot of that. So I don't know if I could do this. This would radically change my life. But I would talk about it. But nobody has made an offer, or accepted or rejected, or I haven't walked away or walked toward anything. This was just a conversation that got blown out of proportion and then both NBC and I, I think got tagged in a way that wasn't quite right.

Q: Mr. President, finally, one of the people you pardoned is Kemba Smith, a young first-time offender sentenced to nearly 25 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. On Saturday, tomorrow, I don't know if you know this or not, she's graduating from Virginia Union University, with honors. Kemba was on our program yesterday, and afterwards, she sent a special message to you. I'd like to play it for you and get your reaction, sir.

Kemba Smith: Mr. Clinton I am so grateful for god having moved you to among the many petitions that came across your desk that you signed mine. You have given back to me so much, and you have allowed me the opportunity to raise my son. Also to allow me to be productive to allow my parents to be proud of me and my accomplishment of graduating from undergrad and receiving my diploma, you've given back to me so much. And I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart, my parents and I and my son have personally wanted to thank you and I'm grateful for this opportunity to finally do so. And I pray that God continues to bless you and your family because you have done so much for mine. And I will continue to represent your good works for what you have done for me. And I just pray that God will continue to guide me and guide my path and do whatever it is that is of his will and again thank you and my blessing to your family.

Q: How do you feel about that?

A: Well first of all I'm very proud of Kemba Smith. Her case was brought to my attention by a number of African American leaders around the country and it was obvious to me that she'd been in prison too long. And I later learned that she was part of a general class of women, some of whom were African Americans, but several of whom weren't, who came to be known together as the so called girlfriend cases. Where these young women at some point in their lives had been involved with somebody who was dealing drugs or doing drugs and very often they weren't involved at all, and if they didn't rat their boyfriends out they got stronger sentences than their boyfriends did. We had one young woman who was in prison who had nothing to do with her boyfriend's drug dealing and he'd been out of prison and dumped her and married someone else, walking the streets. So I pardoned Kemba Smith and several others, I gave executive clemency to, to shorten their sentences to get them out of the penitentiary, because I thought they had served more than enough time and the system of justice -- you know you can understand a zealous prosecutor says if you don't give up this person I'm going to bust you. Then the person turns around and gives him somebody else, and they send these women to jail for years and years and years, and it's just wrong. SO one of the thing I was proudest of and the way we did this comprehensive review of the prison system was that we were able to bring some justice to women like Kemba Smith, and that fact that she's graduating from honors, she's taking responsibility for her child, she's gonna have a future. To me I mean I can't tell you how it makes me feel. I'm proud of her, and all I want her to do for the pardon I have her is to be a good citizen and a good mother, and do a good job with her life, and I want her to have a good time and be happy being glad she's free.

Q: Mr. President, always a pleasure to see you. Thank you for your time, sir.

A: Thank you Tavis.

NPR, renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information and cultural programming, serves a growing audience of nearly 20 million Americans each week via more than 680 public radio stations. NPR Online at brings hourly newscasts, news features, commentaries and live events to Internet users through original online reports, audio streaming and other multimedia elements. NPR also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwide, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network and throughout Japan via cable.