[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 1, 1998]
[Pages 1947-1951]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Interview With April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks in 
November 1, 1998

African-American Support/Voter Turnout

    Ms. Ryan. Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us today. The 
focus: the African-American vote, getting African-Americans to the polls 
on November 3d. For so many weeks some members of the--some White House 
officials have been saying that you're trying to get everyone--that 
there is, indeed, a definite effort to get the African vote; that's why 
you're at New Psalmist today, to talk to black congregations and blacks 
throughout the country. Is the African-American vote a make-it-or-break-
it vote for this election?

[[Page 1948]]

    The President. I think in many districts it will be, and perhaps in 
some of these close Senate seats. And I think it's important just to 
take a minute to explain why.
    Traditionally in the United States, in Presidential elections the 
vote turnout is much bigger, and then it falls off in midterms. When 
times are good, as they are now, very often the falloff is even greater. 
And disproportionately, working people, lower income working people, or 
poor people are likely to be among those who fall off. Single mothers 
that have to worry about, on Tuesday, getting their children to school 
or to child care and then getting them home, going to work and getting 
back; people that live in cities, who have to take mass transit to work, 
and maybe the polling place is not on the bus line or the subway line 
coming home--they've got to go to a lot more trouble.
    So we know that the American people as a whole agree with our 
program that's at stake in this election. They agree with our position 
on saving Social Security, on building modern schools, on passing the 
Patients' Bill of Rights, on raising the minimum wage. They agree with 
our position by 15 or 20 points when contrasted with a positive message 
from the Republicans. So the only way we won't do very well in this 
election is if our turnout is lower than theirs. So this is a big issue.
    Ms. Ryan. Well, many people said when you first ran for the office 
that African-Americans brought you into office. Do you think that this 
African-American vote, if you reinvigorate it through this election, can 
help many Democrats in years to come, as well as this election?
    The President. Oh, of course. And I think it can be something that 
we can sustain, that is, the idea that every election is important, that 
not just the Presidential elections but every election is important and 
helps to shape the future.
    I think people understand, after this 8 months of partisan standoff 
we had in Congress this last year, when really nothing happened until 
the very end and they had to go through the congressional Democrats and 
me to get a budget, so they had to agree with us on some budget items 
for education and other things. I think the American people understand 
that these congressional elections are profoundly important. The 
Governors race and other races are profoundly important.
    And as I said today in the church, election day is a day that 
everybody counts the same. It's a real tragic thing, I think, when 
people pass the opportunity to be just as powerful as everyone else.

Republican Campaign Ads

    Ms. Ryan. Well, as you said, these votes are important. You have 
people like Newt Gingrich who said--well, the Washington Post said that 
Newt Gingrich orchestrated attempts to make you look bad through 
Republican campaign ads. Do you think those ads are confusing to people? 
And do you also feel, like the Vice President, shocked that he did this?
    The President. Well, I'm not--no, I don't feel shocked that he did 
it. It appeared to me that the message of the ad was, you know, you 
should be mad at the President; therefore you should punish someone else 
who had nothing to do with the mistake the President made; and in the 
end, you should punish yourself--you should deny yourself the Patients' 
Bill of Rights, deny your children a better education, deny people a 
rise in the minimum wage, deny the Democrats the votes they need to make 
sure we don't squander this surplus until we save Social Security.
    I don't think it's a very persuasive message, once you tell people 
what the message is and give them a chance to think about it. And I hope 
it won't be successful. I don't think it will be.

Voter Turnout

    Ms. Ryan. Well, President Clinton, I watched you in church today. 
You walked the walk, and you talked the talk. You quoted from Matthew. A 
lot of people called you ``Reverend'' Clinton. [Laughter] But what 
happens if you cannot generate the kind of support for the blacks to go 
to the polls like you want? What kind of answers will you have when the 
finger-pointing starts?
    The President. Well, we've done everything we could to get the votes 
out, and I think we're going to do very well. If you look at the history 
of these midterm elections, particularly in the sixth year of a 
Presidency, almost everyone concedes, even the Republicans do, that 
we're going to outperform the historical average. And of course, it's 
unbelievable, since they have literally raised, through the Senate and 
House committees and the Republican National Committee, $110 million 
more than our people have.
    So we're out here to work, and I don't worry about finger-pointing. 
I just do the best I can

[[Page 1949]]

and work like crazy until the election is over and hope--you know, we've 
got a lot of good people out there who have done, I think, astonishing 
things, being outspent two, three to one in the last week, maybe four to 
one, or more, still hanging in there in these races. And I just want to 
make sure we light a fire under our voters and that they know what's at 
stake. And I think we're going to do pretty well on Tuesday.

African-American Support

    Ms. Ryan. Did you see the response from the congregation when you 
came in? Did you see the people just jump up and shout and just--I mean, 
the faces were just brimming over with joy that you would come here to 
this church.
    The President. I was very moved.
    Ms. Ryan. Do you understand that African-Americans just love William 
Jefferson Clinton? And you know, it's gotten to the point where there 
are even some authors that are writing about you. Have you read the 
piece by Toni Morrison in the New Yorker magazine saying that President 
Clinton is a black man?
    The President. No, but I take it as a compliment.
    Ms. Ryan. Oh, do you?
    The President. I mean just generally. I haven't read the piece; 
maybe there is some unflattering things Toni has to say in the piece. 
    Ms. Ryan. But do you understand that the African-American community 
just embraces you?
    The President. Yes, I do. I do. And it has been a source of 
enormous--pride is the wrong word--but I have been very grateful for it.
    A man came up to my wife the other day--a couple months ago and said 
to Hillary, he said, ``You know''--an African-American man said--``the 
people who attack the President all the time say they don't understand 
why the African-American community supports him so strongly and why we 
like him so much.'' And he said, ``It's not a very complicated thing. We 
support him, and we support you''--talking to Hillary--``because you 
like us, and we know it, and we can tell.''
    I don't know, I think it's more than just the policies I've 
supported and the African-Americans I've appointed to the Cabinet and to 
the Judiciary. I think people do understand that down deep inside I 
believe that we ought to be one America and that we ought not to be 
fundamentally about race. I think that comes across. That's the only 
explanation I can give you, and I'm very grateful for it.

Reverend Thomas' Sermon

    Ms. Ryan. So getting back to the church service today, the sermon 
from Reverend Thomas was on spiritual warfare. What did you get out of 
    The President. Well, first of all, I thought it was a very 
interesting sermon, theologically. He obviously has thought about this a 
lot; he's thought about what the nature of evil is. And he argued that 
evil is not embodied in any person or persons; evil infects everybody or 
threatens to. It's a force of life that is always there.
    And then he argued that the church, the meaning of the church was to 
give redemption and give people who have flaws, who have been through 
difficulties, a chance to literally be reborn and to serve. And he had 
that great image of the open doors. The doors of death were only 
supposed to open one way. But if you believe in God and if you believe 
in the Christian faith, you believe that you can force the doors back 
open the other way, into eternal life, not just in death. I thought it 
was a very powerful sermon. It was both practical but extremely 
    Ms. Ryan. Did it touch you?
    The President. Oh, yes. I thought it was a magnificent message.

First Family

    Ms. Ryan. President Clinton, you've been really great with me in 
granting me several interviews. And I want to ask you this, and you can 
say whatever you want to say. But the American public cares about you, 
one way or the other, and your personal life has been spread across the 
newspapers and in television. And your supporters and your detractors 
both want to know, how are you and the First Lady doing?
    The President. Well, the thing that I want the country to know is 
that I'm doing my best, my dead-level-best, to heal my family--as well 
as my relationship with the American people--my wife and my daughter. 
And I love them very much, and I'm working on it. And I think that what 
the American people, I hope, will agree is that, beyond that, it ought 
to be private; the good times and the tough times, they ought

[[Page 1950]]

to be private. I think most Americans want to know that I'm trying to do 
the right thing, and I can tell you, I am. But I think to talk about it 
would further degrade the privacy that I think has already been 
plundered too much in too many ways for too many people in America.
    Ms. Ryan. Well, I just want to say this on that point, and that's 
the end of that, but a lot of--you're public; you are the leader of the 
free world, and Mrs. Clinton is the First Lady. And you recognize when 
you walk to the plane, when you have Buddy running around you or, you 
know, just together, people are looking at body language. You know, you 
are the President, and you've had something happen that many marriages 
have had happen. And people want to know, and they watch your body 
language. How does it make you feel, that you're literally under a 
microscope just for that right there?
    The President. Well, on that, believe it or not--let me just say 
this. All the pain and humiliation and the anger and every other thing 
for me is behind me now, and I don't think much about that. What I think 
about is, how can I take care of my family? How can I take care of my 
country? I have always found that I should simply trust the American 
people. I don't agree with every decision they've made in every 
election. I wish they hadn't elected the Republican majority in 1994. 
But I've always found that if you give the American people enough time, 
they get it right. And we're still around here after 220 years because 
at every important time the American people have gotten it right. So 
they are free to think about whatever they wish to think, to say 
whatever they wish to say, to do whatever they wish to do. That's what 
makes this a great country. And I will continue to work on my family and 
on my country.
    But I will say this to all the American people, without regard to 
what they think about that or any other issue, as I said to this church 
today: Tuesday is the only day of the year where every citizen counts 
the same. Everybody listen to me, everybody within the sound of our 
voice, yours and mine, on Tuesday they count just as much as I do; they 
count just as much as Mr. Gingrich does; they count just as much as any 
editor of any newspaper or any owner of any television network. They 
count just as much. And the only thing I would do is to implore them to 
remember that in the end, this country belongs to all the people. And 
the progress we make depends upon what they do and, in the case of the 
voters, whether they do. My main goal for the next 48 hours is to get 
everybody there.


    Ms. Ryan. Okay, last question. There are some movements, or 
nonmovements, in Iraq now. What's the next step through the 
administration for Saddam Hussein?
    The President. Well, we're examining that now. As a matter of fact, 
this afternoon my national security team is meeting. I've already had a 
couple of briefings about it. I think it's important to go back to the 
basics. First of all, let's look at the basics.
    At the end of the Gulf war, as part of the conditions of peace, 
Saddam Hussein agreed to suspend his biological, chemical, and nuclear 
programs, to be subject to inspections to see that that was done and to 
see that all the materials were destroyed. We were actually making, I 
thought, quite a bit of progress in that inspection after the last 
little crisis we had. And we were moving toward a resolution of some of 
the issues when he first suspended the inspections and now, apparently, 
has decided to terminate his participation in the U.N. inspection 
    It's a clear violation of the commitments that he made, a clear 
violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. I, personally, am 
very pleased that the U.N. Security Council, including some people that 
I think have been a little tolerant with him in the past, strongly 
condemned what he did. From my point of view, we should keep all our 
options open, examine the nature of the action and where we are, and 
then do what's best for the integrity of the United Nations and the 
interests, the security interests, of the people of the United States.
    I think that's all I should say about it now. I want to let my 
people meet, let them give me some advice, and see where we go from 

Voter Turnout

    Ms. Ryan. Mr. President, thank you so much. Do you have anything 
else you'd like to add?
    The President. I just hope everybody who is listening to this will 
go and vote on Tuesday. It's no ordinary time and no ordinary election--
big stakes. And when it's over, if you vote, even if you don't get your 
choice, you'll feel a lot better than if you pass.

[[Page 1951]]

Voter Intimidation

    Ms. Ryan. Thank you so much.
    Mr. President, we have a caveat to our interview. In the sermon--
well, not the sermon, but when you spoke to the congregation, you talked 
about voter intimidation.
    The President. Yes.
    Ms. Ryan. Now, where is this coming from, and what's going on?
    The President. Well, for the last several elections there have been 
examples in various States of Republicans either actually or threatening 
to try to intimidate or try to invalidate the votes of African-Americans 
in precincts that are overwhelmingly African-American, mostly in places 
where they think it might change the outcome of an election.
    And we got some reports yesterday that some unusual steps were going 
to be taken, which I think you could only conclude would constitute 
voter intimidation, here in Maryland where we are, and perhaps in 
Michigan and Kentucky and Georgia and North Carolina and one or two 
other places. We have always fought it. We asked the Republicans to 
renounce it yesterday. The idea of having extra police officers just 
look at people when they go vote, or photographing them or doing 
videotapes when they go vote, or otherwise trying to scare people off 
from voting is totally abhorrent.
    We don't try to keep anybody from voting for the Republicans. We 
think they have a perfect right to show up and do it. This is not 
American, this whole voter intimidation business. And if it's going on 
as has been reported, it ought to be stopped. I would challenge the 
Republican Party to stand up and stop it. They ought to be like me. I 
haven't discouraged any Republicans from voting on Tuesday. All I'm 
trying to do is get the Democrats to go vote. It would suit me if every 
registered voter in America would show up. And that ought to be their 
attitude, too.
    Ms. Ryan. But you know what the Republicans are going to say. 
They're going to say you're coming up with this; you're making this 
whole thing up.
    The President. Well, these reports were quite specific. So they can 
easily show that they're all wrong, factually. And if they are, then I 
will say, ``Good, we've got both parties now in favor of everybody 
voting.'' Listen, nothing would please me more than to say this is 
something that the Republicans have renounced, and we're going to both 
be together from now on forever for everybody voting. I would love to 
say that. I don't take any pleasure in saying what I'm saying here.

Note: The interview began at 3:25 p.m. in the Pastor's Parlor at the New 
Psalmist Baptist Church. In his remarks, the President referred to Rev. 
Walter Scott Thomas, pastor, New Psalmist Baptist Church; author Toni 
Morrison; and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. A tape was not available 
for verification of the content of this interview.