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Transcript: Talking Bill Clinton's Legacy on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday" for November 21, 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Bill Clinton led our country with optimism and a great affection for the American people, and that affection has been returned.

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CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: That was President Bush speaking this week at the dedication of Bill Clinton's library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

All the ceremonies got us thinking about how the Clinton presidency looks now almost four years later. For answers, we turn to Robert Reich, who served in Mr. Clinton's first term as secretary of labor, and to Bill Bennett, who was education secretary under Ronald Reagan.

Gentlemen, welcome. Glad you could both be with us today.

BILL BENNETT, FORMER REAGAN EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thank you.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: Good morning, Chris.

WALLACE: I want to start by asking you both about what you think the first sentence or two should be about how Bill Clinton should go into the history books?

Mr. Reich, you start.

REICH: A good economy, the best economy in the post-war era, an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity — those were the conditions over which Bill Clinton presided in America.

BENNETT: Impeached. I mean, whether we think it should be or not, that will be the sentence. Bill Clinton was impeached. And the charge was, of course, high crimes and misdemeanors.

Some good things happened on Clinton's watch, there's no doubt about it, and we dedicated the library, so let's say some positive things. He was a very skillful politician, and I think a number of the gifts he had as a politician could have been used to advantage this time by the Democrats.

It was a period of relative peace and prosperity, though underneath that peace we know things were going on, Osama bin Laden and the like. But it was a bubble. And the economy was good.

And I also would praise President Clinton for some legislation, welfare reform, which he was dragged kicking and screaming to sign, but he signed it; Defense of Marriage Act — again, this is another example where Kerry might have picked up; and NAFTA, which I think has proved good for the nation.

But there's no question what the verdict of history will be. And the state of the Democrat Party today, which is not happy, is attributable in large part to Bill Clinton.

WALLACE: That's a long paragraph, but it's an interesting answer.

REICH: Well, it is a long paragraph. If I could just add to my very short paragraph...

WALLACE: Yes.

REICH: ... by saying that, over the eight years of Bill Clinton, this country, actually because of Bill Clinton's leadership, saw the deficits drop dramatically, also saw expenditures shifting to education, to job training, to health care for children.

This country saw a period of time in which, for the first time probably in 30 years, people in the bottom 20 percent by income started to actually get higher wages in part, in part, because of the policies of this president.

So I'm not disputing the fact that there was a stain, a tarnish, a kind of a scandal hanging over this administration, a vendetta, a relentless pursuit by the special prosecutor, by Ken Starr. But nevertheless, the achievements should not — and I don't think historians will dim those achievements in light of that scandal.

WALLACE: But, Mr. Reich, let me ask you about that, because you wrote a book back in 1997 when you left the Cabinet and before the Lewinsky scandal in which you were quite critical of Bill Clinton. You said that leadership does not cater to the center, and you wondered whether he had any goals above simply being president.

REICH: I was critical, Chris, but I was also very praise-worthy of the president, as well.

I was concerned at the end of the first term that the president had not pushed hard enough, when he could push, for a lot of the things that he campaigned on in 1992.

But remember, the president did, beginning in 1995, face a Republican Congress. It was very difficult for him. He also faced the relentless pressure of a special prosecutor that made life not only difficult but ultimately, after $70 million, did not even find a Whitewater smoking gun.

So it's a mixed bag. You know, again, I think historians are going to be, on balance, very positive about this president.

WALLACE: What do you make, Mr. Bennett, of the fact — I mean, there was such a kind of odd split personality. On the one hand, he did, as you said, he may have been dragged kicking and screaming into it, but he signed welfare reform. He did balance the budget.

On the other hand, he was willing to shut down the government over budget cuts to education and health care.

How do you balance it all out?

BENNETT: Well, I think the main thing is to look at the legacy. First of all, it wasn't just a stain. It was a knockout punch. And it wasn't...

WALLACE: We're going to get to that in a minute.

BENNETT: All right, well, look, he was a gifted politician, there's no question about it, up to a point. And the point was where he couldn't put his personal issues aside.

But he had an instinct for the middle, which I think John Kerry should have used. He had his Sister Souljah moment when he told Sister Souljah that stuff is outrageous. John Kerry should have done that with Michael Moore. I don't think Michael Moore would have sat at the Democratic Convention if Bill Clinton had been running, and I don't think Whoopie Goldberg would have been saying the things she said at a Clinton event. Bill Clinton was smarter than that.

Bill Clinton said in fact, about the Kerry campaign — I'm trying to bring this up to date — he said look, "Kerry said twice or three times he was opposed to gay marriage. He should have set it 3,000 times." And that is part of Bill Clinton's legacy.

BENNETT: The difficulty is the Democrats are in the predicament they are because of Bill Clinton. And they're still — I mean, they lost, what, 39 seats in the House, 10 seats in the Senate during the time he was there.

If Bill Clinton resigns — and remember, the reason for him to resign wasn't a relentless prosecutor. He was impeached. He lied under oath. He committed a felony while in office, the chief executive legal officer of the land.

If he resigns, Al Gore becomes president. Is being president worth 600 or 700 votes in Florida? Probably so. Then they don't have the problem they're facing right now. So that legacy of Bill Clinton is a considerable dead weight on the Democrats.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about the elephant in the room, which we've been kind of skirting around, and that, of course, is this question of impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal.

BENNETT: Sure.

WALLACE: Mr. Clinton did an interview with ABC News this week, Mr. Reich, in which he responded very sharply, even so many years later, to a question about Ken Starr. Let's talk a look at that clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought I lived in a country where people believed in the Constitution, the rule of law, freedom of speech. You never had to live in a time when people you knew and cared about were being indicted, carted off to jail, bankrupted, ruined, because they were Democrats and because they would not lie.

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WALLACE: You know, it's so interesting, Mr. Reich. There is a section about impeachment in the Clinton library, but it's called the fight for power, and it portrays all of this as simply an effort by the Republicans to try to gain in the courts what they couldn't win at the ballot box. Your reaction?

REICH: Well, Chris, I was there through part of that, certainly not through the Lewinsky scandal, but I was there in the first term. And you cannot believe the pressure of that investigation on the White House in terms of, just, again, a relentless demand for documents, headlines that really shut out a lot of the accomplishments of that first term, even though, as I said, there was no Whitewater smoking gun. Nothing occurred. Nothing actually happened.

Many people's lives were ruined ultimately by...

WALLACE: But, Mr. Reich, something certainly happened in the Lewinsky case: He lied.

REICH: Oh, undoubtedly. Chris, I'm not apologizing for the president on Lewinsky. I think it was wrong. I think it was wrong to lie to the public about it. To the extent that, you know, historians judge him harshly on that, I think that is perfectly appropriate.

But that should not overshadow the extraordinary accomplishments of this man during those eight years. We haven't even talked about foreign policy yet. On the economy, on foreign policy, on Kosovo, on Bosnia, on so many issues, this administration and this man distinguished himself and themselves.

Undoubtedly, look, the Lewinsky scandal was a problem. I think the reason that the president reacted so strongly to Peter Jennings on ABC was that, you know, this man was dogged by these problems, this prosecutor, not just for Lewinsky but for the entire eight years. He was very, very hurt, very angry, still is obviously, about all of that.

WALLACE: And, Bill Bennett, before you respond, I want to play another clip from the interview with Peter Jennings, because it's fascinating. It speaks to this whole question of him trying to put the question of his lying to the American people about Monica Lewinsky in a larger context. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: In spite of it all, you don't have any example where I ever lied to the American people about my job, whether I ever let the American people down. And I had more support from the world and world leaders and people around the world when I quit than when I started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: So how do you balance it out?

BENNETT: Well, he did lie to the American people, and he lied several times, and he lied under oath.

Let's remember, the beginning of this was a federal civil rights statute. This was a case that Paula Jones brought against Bill Clinton. And he lied under oath.

Lying under oath is letting the American people down. Committing a felony, committing perjury when you're president, is letting the American people down. And there isn't any question about it.

I don't think you can say you can't let a felony, an act of perjury, consistent lying, something like that shouldn't overshadow your presidency.

People give a lot of leeway to people in public life. They understand that people, you know, come as sinners and they will sin continually, whether they're in public life or private life.

But they do have certain lines that you can't cross. One of them is, I think, lying under oath, perjury, high crimes. That is a serious business.

WALLACE: Fifteen seconds each, final answer, where do you think — and I'll start with you, Bill Bennett — where do you think Bill Clinton will rank for historians among American presidents?

BENNETT: A lot of potential, but considerably less than average. I think that verdict's already out.

WALLACE: Robert Reich?

BENNETT: Well, I think it will be above average, certainly probably in the top third.

Again, Bill Clinton, perhaps his biggest problem was, beyond Monica Lewinsky, that he did not have a war, he did not have a national emergency, so he could not, like Teddy Roosevelt couldn't, actually show how much leadership he actually possessed.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen, both very much for being with us today.

REICH: Thanks, Chris. Bye-bye.