1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: Bill Clinton: ‘This is the way America works’

  1. Transcript of: Bill Clinton: ‘This is the way America works’

    ANN CURRY, co-host: We're back now at 7:41 with former President Bill Clinton . The nation's unemployment rate now stands at 9 percent, with 14 million people out of work and President Clinton is offering his proposal to get people off the

    unemployment lines in his new book "Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy ." Mr. President, good morning.

    Former President BILL CLINTON: Morning, Ann.

    CURRY: "Back to Work " is a prescription for economic renewal. Is there anything that can be done right now that is not being done that could spark the movement towards creating more jobs?

    Pres. CLINTON: Yes, but it won't bring us all the way back. Let me explain what I mean. What happened to us was we had a financial collapse and a real estate collapse. If you go back 500 years when countries do this, it takes a long time to get over, sometimes five to 10 years, sometimes even longer. So I wrote this book to try to explain how we can beat those odds. But there's no instantaneous fix. I think the president's proposals on the payroll tax cuts for employers and employees would help and I think they should pass. Then I think we have to get the money going in the economy again, which means you have to get the bank money released, primarily that's reforming the mortgage crisis, get corporations to invest back in America again. There's $4 trillion in banks and corporations that could be invested here, and that would take the world out of the financial crisis .

    CURRY: The question is, what is it going to get them to invest that money? And you just mentioned that -- you compliment the president on some of his policies. But I want to point out that you also point out a number of mistakes made by President Obama and the Democratic Party , including not making a stronger case for efforts to stabilize the economy in 2009 , failing to craft an effective national campaign message to counter the tea party 's anti-government rhetoric of 2010 and bungling their response to the country 's debt by not choosing to raise the debt ceiling in 2010 when they had a Democratic majority in the house . Why offer these criticisms now in this book? Are you considering that they are fodder for the Republican Party ?

    Pres. CLINTON: First of all -- no. Well, probably because this is the second you question you asked me which proves the thing I said in the book. The first half of the book is what happened to us politically and economically in the last 30 years. Conflict makes better politics and news coverage, cooperation makes better economics. So the second question out of the box , the book lavishly praises the administration's economic, its energy policy , it's whole thing. And the second question I get asked is this, this is the way America works. Ann...

    CURRY: But you do you criticize the president.

    Pres. CLINTON: No. Well, first of all, I made a mistake as it turns out, on the debt ceiling because I didn't think it was subject to the filibuster. Turns out the White House told me, Gene Sperling told me they did try to raise the debt ceiling and Senator McConnell said he wouldn't do it unless they caved to all their demands. But on the other thing, I also pointed out, we made the same mistake when I was president in 1994 . We didn't run a national campaign. So the debt -- the tea party line basically was the only thing people heard. But I think that the important thing is what are we going to do now? And what works best in real life is cooperation, not conflict, and so we got a big disconnect between where our politics have worked, conflict works and the way our economics works. If you look at Silicon Valley , if you look at San Diego , where they have the Human Genome Center and more Nobel Prize winning scientists than other city, look at Orlando , where I was yesterday where they have 100 computer simulation companies. Look at Cleveland , where the Cleveland Clinic and the Cuyahoga Community College are training these midcareer people with high school educations who have lost their jobs and they are desperate, to go back into health care work. Pittsburgh , switching from steel to nanotechnology. All these places, you've got your government and the private sector working together. That's what works.

    CURRY: You say cooperation. Because I want to play you a clip because it's not the only thing I think you've said that has worked. In 1992 there was a presidential campaign video in which you talked about something else. I want to show you that video.

    Pres. CLINTON: We've got to put our own house in order and restore the middle class , reduce poverty, bring this country together again. I've got a fine national economic strategy for the short and the long run, but in the end a plan is just a piece of paper. To make it change lives you need leadership and vision and action. That's been the work of my life and that's why I'm running for president.

    CURRY: First of all, how cute were you and your hair hasn't changed. But number two -- but number two, you talk about vision there and leadership. So what is President Obama 's vision on the economy ?

    Pres. CLINTON: He wants to work -- he wants it to work for everybody. He wants to have broad-based prosperity, shared prosperity, growing middle class again, not the kind of growth we had in the last 10 years where almost all the income gains went to the top 10 percent, most of that to the top 1 percent, and you had median income declining, as it still is. Poverty rising, that doesn't work. To build a shared economy with shared prosperity, you have to have growing jobs. And until you get job growth , until you get economic growth , we can't balance the budget. I don't care what you do, they're finding that now in the UK . You can cut spending, you can raise taxes, you can do whatever you want. You can't balance the budget until we grow this economy again.

    CURRY: I want to know if you -- what you think about this, because when you look at the president's disapproval rating on the economy , it's 57 percent, according to the latest poll, you know, you often speak of your wife's extraordinary gifts. Do you ever think that the country would be better off if she had won the presidency?

    Pres. CLINTON: I don't think about it .

    CURRY: You don't?

    Pres. CLINTON: No.

    CURRY: Why?

    Pres. CLINTON: Because I deal with the world as it is. I think he's done a better job than he's getting credit for. I think he now has a Congress that doesn't want to do anything with him. And until the American people send them a signal that they want to send the tea party Republicans a signal that they want cooperation you're going to have trouble. And I think it's unfair to compare President Obama adversely to me. When people say, they're talking about my last five years as president, the proper comparison is what happened to me in 1995 in my third year, same thing that's happened to him. We went through the same thing. Not much happened, we fought and then there were two government shutdowns and the voters decided they agreed with the approach I was taking. The Congress got the message, then we started working together. So there hasn't been an action-forcing event yet. And you can see by this book, I essentially agreed with his energy policy . Green technology jobs are growing at twice the rate of ordinary jobs. We lost manufacturing jobs every single year in the eight years before he became president. We got a chance to get them back again. He's got a good export strategy, he's got a great idea for this infrastructure bank that puts private money and public money together. This book is about how to do this. It's not about politics. He'll -- his politics will improve when the economy gets better. But the American people need to send a signal to Congress that they want them to work together. Not that he's right all the time or that I was right. They got to work together.

    CURRY: All right, well, clearly you want us all to work together so we can get back to work. And Bill Clinton , thank you for caring so much about America to write this book.

TODAY books
updated 11/8/2011 7:30:08 AM ET 2011-11-08T12:30:08

In "Back to Work," former president Bill Clinton spells out the course of action America needs to consider in order to restore its status and re-inspire the American Dream. Read an excerpt.


I wrote this book because I love my country and I’m concerned about our future. As I often said when I first ran for President in 1992, America at its core is an idea—the idea that no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams and leave your kids a country where they can chase theirs.

That idea no long seems achievable to the more than 15 million people who are unemployed or working part-time who need full-time jobs to support themselves and their families. And it must seem downright unreal to the growing number of men and women who’ve been out of work for more than six months and can’t even get interviews for job openings, as if they’re somehow to blame for becoming casualties of the worst recession since the Depression.

Listen to Bill Clinton discuss ‘Our Thirty-Year Antigovernment Obsession’

Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people. I earned my first money mowing lawns when I was twelve. At thirteen I worked in a small grocery store and set up a used comic book stand on the side. By the time I finished high school, I’d made a little money doing seven other things. By the end of law school, seven more. Over the last four decades, nine more, not counting my foundation and other philanthropic work. Most of these early jobs didn’t last long. I didn’t like them all. But I learned something in every job—about the work, dealing with people, and giving employers and customers their money’s worth.


I came of age believing that, no matter what happened, I would always be able to support myself. It became a crucial part of my identity and drove me to spend a good portion of my adult life trying to give other people the chance to do the same thing. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people trapped in a web of enforced idleness, deep debt, and gnawing self-doubt. We have to change that. And we can.

  1. More in books
    1. Harlan Coben returns with ‘Six Years’
    2. ‘I Would Die 4 U’: How Prince became an icon
    3. ‘Until I Say Good-Bye’: Living for love in the face of ALS
    4. Letters from the life of George H.W. Bush
    5. Mom turns sleeping baby into fairy-tale star

In these few pages, I’ll try to explain what has happened to our country over the last thirty years, why our political system hasn’t done a better job in meeting our challenges, why government still matters and what it should do. I’ll do my best to clarify what our choices are to revive the economy and deal with the long-term debt problem, and argue that the looming debt is a big problem that can’t be solved unless the economy starts growing again. And I don’t mean the kind of jobless, statistical growth of the first decade of the 21st century, with stagnant wages, rising poverty, crippling household debt, and 90% of the income growth going to the top 10%. I want American Dream growth—lots of new businesses, well-paying jobs, and American leadership in new industries, like clean energy and biotechnology.

Unless we restore robust economic growth, we’ll be stuck in this economy for years and nothing we do will solve the longer term debt problems, regardless of how we try to do it.

In short, we’ve got to get America back in the future business.

Reprinted from "Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy" by Bill Clinton © 2011 by William Jefferson Clinton. Used with permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. @HillaryClinton/twitter

    Hillary Clinton: Granddaughter led me 'to speed up' political plans

    4/10/2015 3:58:42 PM +00:00 2015-04-10T15:58:42
  1. Courtesy Bryan Morseman

    Marathon dad's victories help raise money for son with spina bifida

    4/10/2015 5:54:50 PM +00:00 2015-04-10T17:54:50
  1. YouTube

    8 great celebrity impressions of other celebrities

    4/10/2015 6:44:22 PM +00:00 2015-04-10T18:44:22