A Conversation With Bill Clinton

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," September 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, former president Bill Clinton goes "On the Record." He talks about everything tonight -- his Clinton Global Initiative, Senator Obama, even Reverend Wright, Senator McCain, Senator Clinton, powerful women, spouses to political figures, Alaska governor Sarah Palin and her husband, "First Dude" Todd Palin, and so much more.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right, it's always fun. It's been a year since the last time we talked about the Clinton Global Initiative, and everybody in New York is here to talk about it, to see where -- what it's done in a year and also to be inspired by next year. So what's the report?

CLINTON: Well, the report is we now have a thousand commitments made by probably 1,500, 1,600 people and organizations. They operate these commitments in 150 countries and they are helping 200 million people in economics, helping people escape poverty, in fighting climate change, and health care and education and in reconciliation areas. Of those thousands, 240 have been completely committed -- completed. They're over.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meaning paid?

CLINTON: Yes. Everybody's paid the money. Everybody's done the time. We will have at this meeting displays around the public areas showing people the results of those that are totally finished. And we'll have ongoing updates, too, of the ones that are still in progress.

But a lot of these commitments are multi-year commitments involving a lot of people. So, so far, I can say that the people are keeping their commitments, And there are a lot of people alive, kids alive, kids getting an education, villages getting clean water, all kinds of energy products to fight global warming and help save money and a lot of -- a very large number of micro-credit programs helping poor people to get credit so they can go to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what I like most about it isn't just sort of the money contributions, which are important, but the innovative ideas.


VAN SUSTEREN: Like, last year was the merry-go-round, I think, that was when the kids went around the merry-go-round ...

CLINTON: To pump water.

VAN SUSTEREN: They pumped water. I mean, it's the ideas, as well.

CLINTON: Well, see, one of the things -- you know, we don't have many speeches. We were going to have a couple this time just because of the unusual nature of the moment, so close to a national campaign. But we don't -- and the ones that are given are always, like, five minutes, ten minutes at the outside. This is mostly a conversation.

And the smaller working groups, I think, are the very best thing about it because people sit down and they come up with innovative ideas, or they bring something they're doing, and then all of a sudden, other people want to help them. And it's really been incredibly rewarding.

And we have also every year worked hard to try to let people participate who don't have a lot of money but may have time or skills or an idea. Or if they want to give a little bit of money, they can go onto the Internet to Mycommitment.org, our commitment site, and make a commitment. And they can also follow the CGI over the Internet. We're going to Webcast it. So it's good.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think people realize, too, that, you know, we're very lucky in this country, or a lot of people in this country are, is but for a small amount of money, like, something like even malaria -- you know, it doesn't take a lot to...

CLINTON: Nothing.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... To change people's lives.

CLINTON: Absolutely. You can, you know -- for just a few dollars, you can save somebody's life for a year from malaria. You can even provide AIDS medication to a child for a year for $60 now, which is, you know, one tenth of what it was when I started trying to whittle these prices down. You can, for 50 cents to $1, get one of the Procter and Gamble clean water packets and give a family a big pitcher or a vat of water that might last them a week. I mean, the things that we think of as necessary to life that other people don't have can be provided for relatively small amounts of money.

VAN SUSTEREN: How much...

CLINTON: And there are lots of other examples.

VAN SUSTEREN: How much time are you spending on the road doing this? I mean, how -- how much of your attention?

CLINTON: Well, now that the campaign is over, I do as near to full- time as I can. I want -- I'm working toward the day when I'll be completely dividing my time between the Clinton Global Initiative and the activities of my own foundation.

Watch: Greta's Interview With Bill Clinton, Pt. 1 | Pt. 2

You know, we have a big AIDS project, a big childhood obesity project in America, a huge global warming project in 40 cities on six continents, and a major economic development project in countries that have mining, where we're trying to redo the economy and make them sustainable, and lots of other things.

And the third thing I have is the School of Public Service around my library at the university in Arkansas. And I'm moving as quick as I can to be full-time on all of that.

And I'm -- I will never again, I don't think, be as involved in any kind of political activity as I was when Hillary was running. And ever since the campaign is over, I have moved aggressively to get back in, get ready for CGI, and get my other foundation stuff going.

VAN SUSTEREN: Somehow, I don't believe it that you're not going to get back involved in a campaign, but...

CLINTON: Well I mean, I worked -- you know, I worked a little for Senator Kerry in 2004, and we had the congressional elections in 2006. People asked me to show up, and I tried to help them. I'll always do a little of that. But this is, by and large, my life now. This is what I like to do and it's what I think I should be doing because I can make a unique contribution here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you mentioned the campaign, so that's a door opening, as far as I see it. I might sneak into it. I know that you support Senator Obama.


VAN SUSTEREN: And -- but let me ask you about Senator McCain. Would he be bad for the country?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think we should talk like that. As you know, I've made it -- my admiration for him quite clear. I like him. I admire him. I'm particularly grateful to him because he made it -- he and Senator Bob Kerrey and Senator Chuck Robb and Senator John Kerry and a few others made it possible for me to normalize relations with Vietnam, which was a big deal for Americans and for our country's psychological wellbeing and for our long-term position in Asia. And he's done a lot of other good things.

I think on the two major issues facing Americans today -- how we're going to bring this economy back and make it -- the benefits broadly shared again and create jobs again, and how are we going to restore America's standing the world -- I think Senator Obama and Senator Biden have better - - markedly better positions, and I think it'd be better for our country.

I think that, in general, Democrats produce more broadly shared prosperity. There's a new book out called, "Unequal Democracy," by a professor at Princeton named Larry Bartels, who hadn't voted since 1984 because he doesn't want it to cloud his judgments. And he voted for President Reagan in 1984, but he says that if the Democrats had held the White House the last eight years, the median family income would be 6 percent higher today than it is, that, basically, we just produce more broadly shared prosperity.

I don't think there's any question, if you look at the Obama energy plan, the education plan, and especially there's stark, stark differences in the health care plan, that those things would be better for America.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess the thing is that, you know, there are so many experts in the economy, so many people holding themselves out as experts that it's so hard for me to feel confident that anyone can really be an expert or we wouldn't be in this mess.

CLINTON: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: And so I guess it's -- so as a voter, I'm trying to think...

CLINTON: Well -- well, but...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... Like, what do you look at? How do you make those predictions?

CLINTON: Well, you can look at the record that was established when I was president and compare it to the next eight years or to the previous 12. And you can take some comfort, if, like me, you support Senator Obama, that he has gone out of his way to reach out to Gene Sperling and Bob Rubin and Laura Tyson, and you know, the whole range of economic advisers that I have -- that I had. And they produced a pretty good economy with broadly shared benefits.

And I believe that that's really important. And so I -- you know, I think that he -- in terms of this current financial crisis, it's hard to know, for anybody to say with certainty this is what you should do for the next six months because there are still events unfolding. But he certainly has shown a willingness to get together really smart people and listen to them and be open to new ideas and have what I consider to be the right values in this, you know, about how we're going to bring America's financial health back.

So I'm satisfied that what I said at the convention is still right. I think he is the person most likely to bring America back to more jobs and more broadly held prosperity more quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: You raise the issue of values. And let me ask you a question that I ask very carefully because I don't want to be misinterpreted. I don't want anyone to read anything into my question and -- you know, because this is one of the hottest items that any of us can talk about and we have to face it.

But what is the difference between an association with someone like David Duke and an association with someone like Reverend Wright?

CLINTON: Well, I think that -- first, we don't have to go there because Senator Obama left the church.

VAN SUSTEREN: After two things happened.

CLINTON: That is correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: One was a lot of pressure from the media, and then the second thing was after Reverend Wright at the National Press Club took a personal strike at him. That's when -- well, that's when...

CLINTON: That's correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... He disavowed him. It wasn't until that point.

CLINTON: But to me, it's not necessary for those of us who are surrogates on either side to weigh into that now. To me, this election is fundamentally about how the American people are going to live and who is most likely to do things that will be helpful and empowering to them and their children.

If this were still a big issue, then, you know, we could all deal with that. But I think that -- I think that that was something that was exhaustively looked at in the primary, and I just don't -- you know, I don't have anything to say about it.

Senator Obama has already spoken in his own behalf there, and there's nothing -- people either accepted what he said, or they didn't. For me, the most important thing is -- who's going to make decisions that affect the American people in a positive way?


VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up: President Clinton is, of course, the husband of a powerful woman who nearly became president. So what advice does he have for the "First Dude," Governor Palin's husband, Todd? You will hear.

And later, new details about Senator Obama's relationship with radical Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. That's coming up.


VAN SUSTEREN: We continue now with former president Bill Clinton.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor Palin is sort of in an interesting position, or actually, her husband is, because -- a position that in some ways you find yourself in, you know, married to a high-profile politician. Any advice for Mr. Palin, who is now referred to as "First Dude?"

CLINTON: No. I mean, I think he's doing just fine on his own. I think, you know, when you break these gender roles, there are all these sort of almost subconscious expectations. And so I've read -- I mean, I'm interested in -- I do think he's an interesting guy. I think anybody who finishes those long races he does, did 500 miles on a broken arm...

VAN SUSTEREN: It's amazing.

CLINTON: ... Is worth our admiration. You know, I like people that don't quit and are tough in the face of adversity. So I admire that.

But I think the trick is, if you're a husband and the woman is in the role, the political role, traditionally identified by -- with men, the trick is to give support that is unambiguous and clear and to also be there with advice privately, but to do it in a way that doesn't, in a funny way, make her look weak.

Now, these role changes have happened a lot. You know, in '92, when I became president, Hillary was assaulted by some people for being too aggressive in giving advice. I was criticized for giving her a formal role in policy making. And I found myself in a culture in Washington that, at that moment at least, seemed more conservative, if you will, than I had had in Arkansas when I was governor, when the legislature, the press, the public at large was only too happy to have her services, since it was all transparent and open. It was interesting.

So I think that whenever you start changing the deck chairs and gender roles and family roles, you have to be prepared for psychological, as well as political sparks to fly. And my advice to him is, Keep that smile. Don't get defensive. And you know, somebody asks you a question about whether you should or shouldn't have done something, try to answer it the best you can and go on.

But, they obviously love each other, and it looks to me like they've got a pretty good relationship. And like I said, he must have something going if he can finish that 500-mile race with a broken arm. I can't get over it, but I like it a lot. (LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: It's tough to be a family member, isn't it, of someone running. That's tough.

CLINTON: Yes. Sure, it is. And you know, he's been -- I've read some of these articles where they say, Well, he was too hard, and we don't want to have somebody that jumped on her. But you know, I took my own share of criticism there and I -- I think it's emotionally much, much harder to be the spouse of a candidate or an office holder than it is to do the job.

I find when you're doing a job, you tend to get lost in and committed to the work at hand. And if you are doing what you think is right, it's incredibly liberating. And you almost don't care what other people say, except you should never lose the ability to hear criticism because your critics are sometimes right.

But if you're just pulling for somebody and you think so highly of them and you think they're getting whacked unfairly and it's their job, then it's harder to take. So I'm going to be -- you know, I'm sort of sympathetic with him navigating through this campaign and what he had to do in Alaska because I was right there in this election, and I've been right there since 2000, since Hillary first ran.

It's been a -- for me, we went though brutal campaigns, you know, for a long, long time and learned to just treat it like water off a duck's back and have a good time. It's been very interesting, the different -- the challenges of being a spouse.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, thank you very much. And I love following the Clinton Global Initiative because it really is extraordinary.

CLINTON: I think it's going to be good this year. And even though the economy...

VAN SUSTEREN: It's good every year.

CLINTON: Even though the economy's down, I think our commitments will be up. I think that there is a sense of the people that come to this that the next president and the next Congress, whatever happens in this election, may be somewhat constrained for a year or two in what they're going to do by the economic challenges we're dealing with now.

And that means that for private citizens to get out there and do more in America and around the world is, if anything, going to be more important now than it was before. And I think that's the attitude people are bringing to this conference. It'll be interesting to see how it develops.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the great ideas. They don't cost a dime.

CLINTON: The great ideas.

VAN SUSTEREN: Great ideas don't cost a dime to come up with.

CLINTON: They don't cost a dime. They often save money. Great ideas often enable you to touch more people with fewer dollars, and that's what we're looking for now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, sir.

CLINTON: Thanks.


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