Bill Clinton: The Rolling Stone Interview
O’Rourke: It’s not just the Democrats. For fifty years people in both parties have been saying: “Bring me your problems, and I’ll give you a solution. Maybe a maximalist solution, maybe a minimalist solution, but I’ll bring you some kind of solution.”
But I think when we started doing that, most of the problems we were talking about had solutions.
Greider: Back to the anger. What’s underneath it? Are the people right to sense they’ve been cut out of their government?
Yeah. Underneath the anger, there’s the sense that government works for the organized, the rich and the powerful, not for ordinary folks.
Thompson: I believe that myself.
And I think they’re right. The second thing is, there’s a sense that nothing ever really gets done, that we don’t make any progress, we don’t change.
Then, underlying that — and this is what I tried to address in this campaign, with mixed results — there’s a third element. People say this society’s got a lot of problems but ask: “How can the government fix them? What am I supposed to do? How are we going to change the way we are? What is the role of the president in reducing infant mortality or teen pregnancy or drug abuse or whatever?”
There is a sense that the system works for the few, a sense that big problems don’t get solved and a sense that a lot of these things are beyond the reach of our common endeavor. Most people are working harder for less money than they were making ten years ago. The census even shows it.
Greider: They know it, and they know that the politicians have not been talking about it.
That’s accurate. And so there is an atmosphere of fear and concern and anger. But there’s also an enormous amount of hope out there. People know we’re in a new era, that the end of the Cold War gives us a sense of new possibility. And this is — at least it always has been — an incurably optimistic country. Our ability to re-create ourselves at critical junctures is why we’re still around after all this time.
Greider: When you say “mixed results,” I’m curious. Are you grading yourself on how well you’ve communicated all this?
I think I’ve done well at times and not so well at times. Part of it had to do with static in the atmosphere, part of it had to do with just trying to craft an honest and responsive message. But I do believe that to make people believe in politics again, you have to say three things. “Here’s how it’s going to be fair: It’s going to work for everybody. But more important, here’s how it’s going to work: We’re going to restore economic opportunity and a sense of progress.” Then I think you’ve got to say to people: “There are limits to what a government can do if you don’t do your part.”
O’Rourke: That interests me, because if you add up federal, state and local spending, government in one form or another is spending forty-seven percent of our gross national product. That means that forty-seven percent of GNP is being allocated by political means rather than individual choice. I’m concerned about the governmentalization, politicization of so much of our lives. Is it possible to say no to the voters?
Yeah, but I think we need a government that is in some ways less and in some ways more, a government that’s different.
Take health care. We need a system of health care that is private but where the government organizes the insurance markets so that you have managed competition. A system that gives everybody access to basic care and controls the cost but where the docs, the hospitals, the providers and the insurers are still in the mix. That requires more government activity. On the other hand I think that we need less government micromanagement of the health-care system, fewer people on the government payroll second-guessing every decision.
Greider: Governor, what I hear from my labor friends is that you’re stuck in the middle on health-care reform, that — you know the argument — you’re not willing to go all the way to a —
Greider: Yeah, a single-payer system like Canada’s, because that will get you tagged as a tax-and-spend liberal.
No, I’m not willing to do it because the Canadian system is fee-for-service, with no incentives to manage cost, and taxpayer financed, with no incentives for citizen-contribution restraint; it has the second-highest rate of cost increase in the world. Ours is the first highest.
Greider: It’s still better than ours.
It’s better than ours, but I think you get quicker response to certain procedures here. But look at Hawaii. It has a mixed system, with sweeping insurance reforms, heavy emphasis on primary and preventive care, outreach, and its insurance premiums are half.