[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 2, 1998]
[Pages 1951-1956]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Telephone Interview With Tom Joyner, Sybil Wilkes, and Myra J. of the 
Tom Joyner Morning Show
November 2, 1998

    Mr. Joyner. We go to Washington, DC, and on the line right now is 
the President of the United States, President Bill Clinton. Good 
morning, sir.
    The President. Good morning, Tom.
    Mr. Joyner. How are you this morning?
    The President. I'm great. It's a beautiful day here, a little fall 
coolness in the air, but it's a beautiful day.
    Ms. Wilkes. It's a great day before getting out the vote.
    Myra J. Yes.
    The President. It is. I hope tomorrow will be as good as today is--
with the weather.

African-American Vote

    Mr. Joyner. Now, we've been talking all along about how important it 
is for African-Americans to get out and vote. I want to go back, first 
of all, and let's talk about the times when black Americans didn't have 
the right to vote. Because I know that you came up in an era where you

[[Page 1952]]

can remember the Little Rock Nine; you can remember Medgar Evers; you 
can remember the four little girls in Birmingham, where a lot of us only 
know about these events from recent movies.
    The President. Absolutely.
    Mr. Joyner. But you remember those times.
    The President. I lived through all that. I lived through the 
churches being bombed and people being driven away from the polls. And 
then I lived through the poll tax era, where people would buy the poll 
taxes by the roll, and black people had to agree to vote the way they 
wanted and they--if they could get a certificate for the poll tax. I 
remembered all that----
    Mr. Joyner. ----from Arkansas. And you probably heard a lot of 
hatred growing up in Arkansas, too.
    The President. I did. Of course, I did. To me, the passage of the 
Civil Rights Act, the voting rights law, the open housing law, all those 
things, they were the pivotal events of my childhood as far as my 
citizenship goes--I mean, just the whole civil rights movement. Now I 
see that we do--at least on election day, we are all equal. As I said 
yesterday in Baltimore, tomorrow, whatever anybody thinks about all the 
challenges and problems we still have in America, every single person 
tomorrow is just as important as the President or the Speaker of the 
House or Mr. Gates at Microsoft or anybody else. Everybody shows up, and 
everybody's vote counts, unless you don't show up.
    You know what kinds of debates we've had here in Washington over the 
last couple of years; you know what the big issues are. And the real 
challenge here is that if this were a Presidential year, then African-
American voters, Hispanic voters, working people generally--single 
mothers who have to work for a living and figure out how to get their 
kids to child care or to school and work through how to get to the 
polling place--all these folks would be voting. And it's clear, if that 
were the case, that we would win the congressional races handily, and we 
could change the direction of this country. We could end this last 8 
months of partisanship we went through and really start building on the 
successes of the last 6 years.
    So what I've got to try to do is persuade enough people just to go 
out and vote, because this election is not an ordinary congressional 
election. This Congress will shape how the American people live in 
important ways for many years to come.
    Mr. Joyner. The African-American vote is real important.
    The President. Very important. It's important because in these 
midterm elections, normally, African-Americans do not vote in the same 
percentages as they do in Presidential elections. And normally the 
falloff is bigger than it is for hardcore Republican voters, who tend to 
be older, a little better off, have a little more free time, and more 
likely to vote. And of course, the so-called Christian Coalition, the 
very conservative right wing of the Republican Party, they always vote.
    So if we want our voices heard and we want to continue the progress 
of the last 6 years, I need some support in Congress. We had a little 
more balance in Congress--if we had a few more Democrats in Congress, we 
could pass the Patients' Bill of Rights to make sure that health care 
decisions are made by doctors and not insurance company accountants. We 
could pass Senator Carol Moseley-Braun's school construction initiative 
to make sure that we have not only 100,000 teachers, but they're 
teaching our kids in modern schools and not classrooms that are all 
broken down buildings. We could pass an increase in the minimum wage. 
And we could stop this raid on the surplus until we save Social 
    Those are huge issues. And that's really what this election is all 

2000 Census

    Ms. Wilkes. Mr. President, you were saying about African-Americans--
and certainly there are a couple of things that are before the U.S. 
Government in the Congress, specifically, when you're looking at the 
U.S. census coming up and the importance of that, as well as 
representation in Congress, which the census obviously affecting that--
    The President. Absolutely. Let me say to everyone here listening to 
us, the census is not just important because it's a way of telling us 
how many Americans there are and how we break down, what communities and 
States do we live in, what are our ages, what are our incomes, what are 
our racial backgrounds. The census also is used to draw the 
congressional maps and to determine the amount of assistance that comes 
in education aid and other things to various States and localities.

[[Page 1953]]

    Now, all I have tried to do in this census is to guarantee that we 
have an accurate count. In the last census, we know we missed several 
million Americans, disproportionately Americans of color and Americans 
who live in urban areas. We know they were not counted. So all we've 
said is, let's take the most reliable way of doing that. The Republicans 
are adamantly opposed to the National Academy of Sciences' 
recommendations. They're opposed to the recommendations even of 
President Bush's own census taker. And the reason is, I think they don't 
want all Americans counted because if that happens we'll have a 
different distribution of the congressional district maps, and it will 
make a big difference for the long-term future of our country.
    Now, this will happen in the year I leave office, 2000, my last year 
as President. But I just believe I owe it to the future as we grow ever 
more diverse. And this is not just an issue for African-Americans; this 
is an issue for Asian-Americans; this is an issue for Hispanic-
Americans; this is an issue for new immigrants from even some of the 
Central European countries, countries of the former Soviet Union. All 
these people, if they're here, deserve to be counted. If they're 
citizens, they deserve to be counted and taken into account when we draw 
the congressional district maps. If they're legal immigrants, they 
should be counted so that we can give the appropriate distribution of 
Federal education and health care assistance and other things.

President's Motivation and Goals

    Mr. Joyner. You know, Mr. President, I hear you talking about things 
like that and the fact that you'll be out of office soon, and I just 
read in the paper the other day about the millions of dollars that you 
have allocated for African-Americans and other minorities to fight AIDS. 
And I think that's a tribute to you and your dedication, and it makes me 
want to ask you what makes you keep pressing forward like this, knowing 
that you're going to be out of office soon? What makes you keep trying 
to do these kinds of things?
    The President. Well, what would be the point of being President if 
you didn't use the power of the Presidency to try to solve the problems 
of the country, to meet the challenges of the country, to seize the 
opportunities of the country? When I ran for this job, I had a very 
clear idea of what I wanted to do. I didn't know, obviously, every 
decision that would be presented to me or every challenge or crisis that 
would come up. But I knew that I wanted to turn the country. I wanted to 
change our economic policy. I wanted to change our education and our 
welfare policies. I wanted to give more young people the chance to serve 
their country in national service. But all of it together was designed 
to create a country that was ready for a new century and a new economy 
and a new world. And one of the critical things about getting ready is 
whether every person in this country believes that we're moving toward 
one America.
    You mentioned that AIDS initiative. We got $156 million to try to do 
special things to reduce the dramatic increase in HIV and AIDS in the 
African-American community, in the Hispanic community, in other 
communities of color. That's where the growth is now. How can we be one 
America if a ravaging disease like this is being brought under control 
in part of our population but not in another?
    So I think this is very important to me. I have--I can rest when I'm 
not President anymore. I need to work like crazy till the last minute of 
the last hour of the last day to try to make sure I have done everything 
I possibly could with this precious 8 years of time the American people 
gave me.
    Mr. Joyner. So what do you want historians to write about you when 
it's all over?
    The President. I want them to say that I helped to take America into 
a new era, that I really prepared America for a global economy, a global 
society, for increasing diversity at home, for responsibilities in a 
world where there was no cold war but we had a lot of challenges from 
terrorism, from racial and ethnic and religious wars. I want them to say 
that I did create an America of dramatically increased opportunity for 
all people, an America where we were coming together more in a spirit of 
unity, an America that was a leading force for peace and freedom and 
prosperity in the world. That's what I want them to say.

President's Advisory Board on Race

    Ms. Wilkes. You know, Mr. President, when you were talking about the 
Little Rock Nine and how you lived through that, and also people have 
said that as you have promised--and you have carried through on that 
promise--to give

[[Page 1954]]

us a reflection in your Cabinet and those around you of America, and one 
of the leading things that you brought to mind is the race relations 
panel. And I was just wondering what the status is on that.
    The President. Well, we are preparing right now a final book on 
that. I got the report from Dr. John Hope Franklin and the other members 
of my panel on race, and we're going to do a book on it and get it out 
to the country. And then we're going to continue the work. We're going 
to take the recommendations of the panel and work with them on the next 
legislative program I present to the Congress, in the administrative 
policies of our Government, and in continuing to find things that are 
working at the local level and promoting them throughout the country.
    I think this is very important. They did a terrific job. We've got 
literally hundreds of thousands of Americans involved all across 
America, and we're going to continue to work. I've got the report now, 
and we're going to be about the business of implementing it. I think 
it's very important.
    Ms. Wilkes. And that's the importance of having the Congress that 
you can work with, that will get that out.
    The President. That's right. That's right. And let me say this. The 
real problem now is that the Congress is basically dominated by not only 
the Republicans, but the right wing of the party is in the driver's 
seat. And if we get a big turnout here and we change the Congress, the 
composition of the Congress, you wouldn't have to change it all that 
much to get enough balance in there for us to be able to take some 
affirmative action.
    If we had a few more Democrats we could do things positively instead 
of do what we had to do last year, which was to--this year--we fought a 
rear guard action for 9 months, and then at the very end they came in 
and had to deal with us on the budget. And because we all stuck 
together, we got 100,000 teachers; we did save the surplus for Social 
Security; we were able to get programs for children after school--
hundreds of thousands--that was a good thing. But there is so much more 
we should do. And if the American people believe it's important to have 
modern schools and more teachers and to have the Patients' Bill of 
Rights, to have an increase in the minimum wage, to save Social 
Security, if they think these things are important and they want us to 
keep coming together, not be driven apart, then it's important to show 
up tomorrow.

Voter Turnout

    Myra J. Do you think the Republicans are counting on African-
Americans not to come out tomorrow?
    The President. Well, I think they are hoping that there will be a 
lower turnout among people who will vote for the Democrats, yes. They 
are hoping that there will be. And they are hoping there will be a 
higher turnout among people that they have tried to inflame, as they 
always do, in the various ways that they do it.

Republican Campaign Ads

    Ms. Wilkes. And the Republican ads, certainly, have been flooding 
the airwaves.
    The President. It's unbelievable. I think it's important that the 
people listening to us know that they raised over $100 million more than 
the Democrats did in their Senate and House committees and their 
national political committees--over $100 million. And they, over and 
above that, they have a lot of these so-called third-party expenditures 
where--just in the last 10 days they dropped another $750,000 against a 
congressional candidate in Michigan, a few hundred thousand dollars they 
dropped into a television ad campaign attacking one of our Democrats in 
rural Ohio. I've never seen this kind of money.
    But we have the message; we have the issues. The country is in good 
shape, and we can do better. And the public agrees with us on our 
program, so it's basically their money and our issues and the question 
of who votes. And that's why this interview is so important to me.
    Mr. Joyner. Radio stations, I told you I would be running long. I'm 
running right through the break with the President of the United States. 
Please hold with us.
    Ms. Wilkes. Bigger name.

1998 Elections

    Mr. Joyner. Yes, bigger name. [Laughter]
    Mr. President, we've talked about what happens if African-Americans 
turn out to vote tomorrow. What if we don't turn out?
    The President. Then they'll win a lot more seats than they otherwise 
    Mr. Joyner. So we're going to be to blame if it doesn't work out?

[[Page 1955]]

    The President. Well, I wouldn't say that. I mean, who knows--
President Kennedy once said, ``Victory has a thousand fathers, and 
defeat is an orphan.'' I don't think it's worth thinking about that, but 
I think it's worth thinking about the difference between what--you know, 
Carol Moseley-Braun in Illinois has been behind this whole race. She has 
been badly outspent. She has run against someone with millions and 
millions of dollars who attacked her and basically refused to appear and 
tried to disguise his philosophical positions, which were far to the 
right of the voters of Illinois. She's made a huge comeback in the last 
week. It's amazing. One survey even had her leading by 2 points after 
being down by as much as 16. But it won't amount to anything unless the 
voters in Illinois who would vote for her show up.
    Senator Hollings is in a tough fight in South Carolina. We have a 
chance to win a Senate seat in North Carolina. Chuck Schumer in New 
York, Barbara Boxer in California, these are huge, huge races, and there 
are many more. I just mention them. In Las Vegas, Nevada, where there's 
a substantial African-American population, we've got a congressional 
seat and a very important Senate seat in play. So the extent of the 
turnout all across America--and there are 30 or 35 congressional seats 
that could go one way or the other, and how they go will determine the 
shape of this next Congress and what their priorities will be.
    Ms. Wilkes. And into the year 2000 and beyond.
    The President. Yes.
    Mr. Joyner. And you, personally, have a lot riding on this Congress, 
with all of the troubles that you're having.
    The President. You know, I've just got 2 more years to be President, 
and I would like it--I'll be happy to fight, just like I did this last 
year, if that's the Congress I have to deal with, and at the end of the 
year we'll get something done, just like we did this year.
    But it would be so much better--here we have the lowest unemployment 
rate in 28 years, the first budget surplus in 29 years, the lowest 
welfare rolls in 29 years, the highest homeownership in history. The 
policies we've followed have been good for America, and it would be so 
much better now if we could just go to work and get rid of some of this 
bitter partisanship. The level of intense, angry partisanship that the 
Republicans have injected into Washington is really not good for 
    I want to work with all people here who have good ideas, to go 
forward. It is possible to do. But it's not possible to do as long as 
they think they can win with huge amounts of money and divisive attacks 
and negative campaigns. So if we can change the balance here a little 
bit, then we can get everybody to work together to move the country 
forward for the next 2 years. And yes, that's what I'd like to spend my 
time on. I think we ought to be working on people's problems out there 
in America and not just fighting with each other inside the beltway.
    Ms. Wilkes. Mr. President, you talked about how good things are in 
the country and some people have said that they're too good and people 
have become too complacent to get out there and vote for any difference.
    The President. Well, I have two things to say about that. First of 
all, they are good, but they can be a lot better. Yes, we have the 
lowest African-American poverty rate ever recorded. But is it low 
enough? Of course not. They can be a lot better. And I have offered to 
Congress initiatives to dramatically improve the schools, to 
dramatically improve the economic prospects of inner-city neighborhoods. 
I'd like to have a chance to pass them.
    Think of the need we have for this Patients' Bill of Rights. Think 
of how many people are out there in HMO's that are having health care 
decisions made by accountants, not doctors. Think of the need we have, 
with the biggest school population in history, to build 5,000 modern 
schools that can be hooked up to the Internet and smaller classes for 
100,000 teachers to teach in. Think of the need we have for a minimum 
wage increase. You know, even with low unemployment, you can't raise a 
family on $5.15 an hour. And think of the need we have to reform Social 
Security in the right way and to preserve the Medicare program and to 
meet these other challenges. So my first answer is that we have a lot to 
    The second thing I would say is that if everybody stays home and we 
have people in here who will be irresponsible and squander the surplus 
and risk our economic program and its stability as they did for the last 
8 months here, if they tried to do that, then things could get worse in 
a hurry. So I believe that it would be a great mistake for anybody to 
stay home

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because times are good and to assume, ``Well, the President is dealing 
with all these guys all right, and things are fine, and I don't really 
have to show up.'' That's a big risk that's not worth taking. We have 
too much to do.
    Mr. Joyner. Well, that seems to be the mood.
    The President. I don't know. I think a lot of people know this is a 
big election. I think they know what their priorities are, and you 
mentioned them. And I think they know what our priorities are. And I 
think they know that the Democrats are focused on the people out there 
in the country and not on some sort of a partisan power game here in 
Washington. That's what I want to get out there to the people, and if 
they understand that, I think they'll go. I certainly hope they will.
    The American people, given enough time, virtually always make the 
right decision. But we need people to go, because otherwise this huge, 
vast amount of money that's been spent in this campaign is going to beat 
a lot of very, very worthy people who would be very good in the Congress 
and the Senate.
    Mr. Joyner. All right. Thank you, sir, for coming on the air and 
talking to us.
    The President. Thank you.
    Mr. Joyner.  And we look for results tomorrow and a better day on 
    Ms. Wilkes. Are you going home to Little Rock to vote?
    The President. No, I'm not. I voted absentee already. I've already 
cast my ballot.
    Mr. Joyner. All right, Mr. President.
    The President. Thank you. Goodbye.

Note: The interview began at 9:05 a.m. in Room 415 of the Old Executive 
Office Building. In his remarks, the President referred to Bill Gates, 
president, Microsoft; and Dr. John Hope Franklin, Chairman, President's 
Advisory Board on Race. Myra J. was the on-air name used by Myra Hughes.