Skip to main content /transcript



Will Bill Clinton's Memoirs Be Worth Reading?

Aired August 7, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Good evening. Welcome to "CROSSFIRE."

Anybody who was silly enough to be worried about how Bill Clinton was going to make ends meet after he left the presidency no longer need be concerned. He has signed a contract with Alfred A. Knopf Publishing House for his memoirs with a more than $10 million advance: the biggest nonfiction payment ever, more than the pope, more than Hillary. Publication is set for 2003, the same year as his wife's $8 million book.

What will we find in the president's book? What really happened with Monica or an analysis of Clinton's budget policy? Which book will sell and which one won't?

Bob Shrum, the Democratic super-consultant, who really ought to write his own book some time soon, is sitting in on the left for Bill Press tonight.

Joe Lockhart, you are in frequent contact with the former president. We all want to know badly, is he really going to tell all of what went through his mind when he was lying to the American public about Monica?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, somehow, Bob, I think you might be disappointed with anything Bill Clinton would write. But there are a lot of things that happened in the last decade of the century. There are a lot of things that happened as far as how the world has globalized, how the economy has changed, what part we played in making this the envy of the world, and the rest of the world, I think he is going to focus on those things.

BOB SHRUM, GUEST HOST: Cliff, Ronald Reagan, who wasn't exactly candid in his memoirs about the Iran-Contra scandal, got $8.5 million for that book and for one other. His publisher laments that it only sold 20,000 or 30,000 copies. I think Bill Clinton is going to do better than that. But don't you think that it is worth $10 million to read how he beat you guys when you shut down the government, how he beat you in 1996 and how he stopped every effort to destroy him over eight years? Or do you just resent everything about Bill Clinton, including his book advance?

CLIFF MAY, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, if that is what the book is about, it will just be the summer repeats. We could read that in the statements of Joe Lockhart's and yours and other people's.

If this book is going to sell, it has got to be more than about that, more than about how he fixed America's education system, how he brought peace to the Middle East and human rights to China -- although that would be a great fiction book. It has got to be how he used troopers in Arkansas to provide himself with female companionship, how he had tough love relationship with Juanita Broddrick, and maybe how he shared cigars with Monica Lewinsky. That's what people are going to want to read about and that is the only way that he is going to sell more than 20,000 copies.

NOVAK: Joe Lockhart, as you often did in your glory days at the White House, you didn't quite answer my question. But there was an answer to my question, from a man named Sonny Mehta, who is the president and editor- in-chief of the Knopf Publishing House. This is what he said about what the president told him,

I'm quoting Mr. Mehta: "He said the book would deal with all of the principal events of his life. We talked mostly in generalities about the presidency and the path that led him to it. Monica Lewinsky did not come up in so many words."

I guess that so many words is two: Monica Lewinsky.

Do you -- you are a practical man, you are in the world of business. Do you mean that they are paying this guy $10 million and they don't know whether he is going to talk about Monica?

LOCKHART: Well, I'll tell you something, I think these are pretty smart businessmen because they are business people and the market sets the price for what the president is going to get, or what anybody is going to get. And I think it says something about the continuing obsession of the right with a series of issues that the American public made a judgment on. But, the American public also made judgment on what he did for the economy, what he did to reduce crime, reduce welfare, changes that made this country a better place across the board.

That is why when he left office he was sitting at 65 percent approval rating. That is something that Ronald Reagan or George Bush could say, but they had their own problems on the issues. You know, the public made a judgment, but we are obsessed, in this little part of the world here inside belt way, with reliving. And, we heard in Cliff's first answer. He's got some, you know, some very clever things to say about some things that happened, but if you want to talk about the economy -- where it was then, where it is now, that will be fun. If you want to talk about crime rate that will be fun. If you want to talk about things that mean something in peoples' every day lives, we will do that any time.

MAY: It sounds like we know what title of this book is going to be "Advertisements for Myself," only Norman Mailer already wrote that book.

NOVAK: You know, I want to make one more try at this. I would like you to listen to Robert Barnett. Robert Barnett is the lawyer- agent, and he is known to many of us here as the Jesse James of the 21st century, because if he can get these $8 million and $10 million for what I'm sure will be boring books, he is wonderful.

Let's hear what Mr. Barnett has to say.


ROBERT BARNETT, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT CLINTON: If you want to find out what's in the book you have to buy it and read it. It will be comprehensive and candid.


NOVAK: Candid? Now, I mean, you know, we are all grown up.

LOCKHART: What Bob's also known for is getting big contracts for media-types, like the people who sit around this table. So he is pretty effective at what he does for almost everybody else.

Listen, I think the president will put into perspective: The things that happened around impeachment were obviously important to the presidency. I think he will discuss candidly his views on those, but I'll tell you something, people outside of here don't think this presidency began and ended with what the House and the Senate did. They look at how it impacted their lives, and I think if you look at the eight-year presidency, you will find that across the board, at every income level, at every group -- not depending on gender or race -- people's lives got better and that is what they ultimately make their judgment on.

MAY: Do you really think, even if that were true, that is what people want to read about, that they want to hear Bill Clinton tell them how much good he did for them? I don't think so. And I think you can measure that that by looking at the media for the last couple of years. No one wanted to talk about Clinton's policy on Cuba, Clinton's policy on anything. They only wanted to talk -- he was a very entertaining president. Maybe he can write an entertaining book. It will take very entertaining book to provide enough readers for a $10 million advance.

LOCKHART: Listen. Thankfully, what is interesting and what is important doesn't get decided by the media, because if that was the case, we would be in a pretty sad state.

SHRUM: Cliff, all you obviously want to do is advertise scandal, but the fact is that Bill Clinton did achieve some important things that had eluded his Republican predecessors: welfare reform, which Joe mentioned, children's health care, eliminating the deficit.

When you look at what he did, don't you think Republicans ought to buy this book, first, to find out how to do a really good job as president and how to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget after 12 years of Republican red ink?

MAY: I certainly hope he will tell us how he embraced welfare reform on a third try by Republicans, a Republican policy that he didn't want to do. I hope he will tell us how the Republicans in Congress -- and he helped put a Republican majority in Congress after first few years -- helped to keep him from screwing up the economy entirely. I hope he will talk about some of those things very, very candidly.

LOCKHART: Look, I'm still waiting for the waiting for recession or the depression that Dick Armey and John Kasich promised us with the Clinton economic plan. Not a single Republican voted for it, and we had 22 million new jobs, low unemployment, low interest rates, and the best economy in the world and right now we are not sitting in such a good position.

MAY: This is the wreak of a presidency that was great at taking credit and poor about taking responsibility, and you hear that now.

SHRUM: Well, let's see if people can take responsibility here, because all of you including Mr. Novak, you always refuse to give the president credit on the budget and the economy. I want to put up a quote from eight years ago today, from no less an authority than Bob Novak on "CAPITAL GANG" attacking Bill Clinton's 1993 economic plan. "I'll make you a bet: The deficit is not going to be smaller at the end of two years. Any time you want to make that bet, I'll be happy to make that bet with you."

In fact, the deficit was $100 billion smaller, because of that economic plan. It's what Everett Dirksen used to call "real money." Don't you think Bill Clinton deserves some real credit for that achievement?

MAY: I think the credit for that goes to people like Bill, Bill Gates, and Al, Al Greenspan. I think least of all does it go to this president.

Look, we've have had an 18-year period of unprecedented prosperity. It all goes back to a long time ago -- it goes back to the American people really, who have worked for this and who have been innovative, and to the free enterprise system. If it goes back to anybody, it goes back to Reagan, who opened up the gates for investment, which paid off luckily -- and Bill Clinton is nothing if not lucky -- luckily during Clinton's regime. It did not happen because of anything Clinton did and there is no economist who seriously will tell you that it's the case.

NOVAK: Mr. Lockhart, you're one of the few people who has been intimate with the president and had contact with him, so I've got a couple questions about him that I would like to ask.

Do you think the president sees this book as a means of getting back into the political swim? It just looks like he hates not being in the limelight, of creating a sensation, going into the 2004 election, attacking Republicans, being once again the sounding horn of the Democratic Party? Do you think so?

LOCKHART: I think if president wanted to do that he wouldn't need to write a book. There is a vacuum here in Washington now. Our president has gone to Texas for a month, all he would have to do is come up here and give a speech or two. I think he has got a different -- he went through, and led this country and led the world through an extraordinary time, a time that changed the world.

NOVAK: Led the world?

LOCKHART: Yes. He led the world. And you know, this country does lead the world, and I used to hear that from conservatives. I know that we want to isolate now and build walls around this country and go it our own way, but this country did lead the world over the last eight years, and there are a number of important issues that he wants to discuss. And I think -- I think we all could learn something from him.

NOVAK: Joe, the president owes about $4 million in legal fees. I understand that the trust that was set up to pay these legal fees was shut down without even coming close to paying off the lawyers. Would the president take some of this $10 million -- $4 million to be exact -- and pay his lawyers with it?

LOCKHART: Well, the president had said all along that he would pay his lawyers and he will pay his lawyers.

NOVAK: Will he take the money out of this?

LOCKHART: Who knows where he will take the money from? I don't think it matters which account it comes from. I think the president, after serving in government and public service for his entire life, is really enjoying the idea that he can go out and make money to provide for his family.

NOVAK: That wasn't quite -- your guarantee is he will pay it or...

LOCKHART: The president has. The president has guaranteed he would pay. Go back and look at the record. He has paid most of it and he will pay the rest of it.

NOVAK: There are a lot of skeptics about that, Joe.

LOCKHART: Well, you know what? There are a lot of skeptics about everything he does, and maybe someone ought to look at the dozens and dozens of frivolous lawsuits that were filed by our friends on the far right. And all of the different, you know, the people who talk how the trial lawyers are the worst thing in the world -- couldn't wait to get to courthouse as soon as he was elected and kept going for eight years.

SHRUM: You said earlier that Ronald Reagan deserves the credit for this. Isn't the fact of the matter that when Bill Clinton became president we had $300 billion deficit and the investment was in a state of collapse? Didn't Bill Clinton take the critical steps that restored this economy?

MAY: I don't think that he did and I don't think any serious economist would say that he did.

LOCKHART: Except maybe Alan Greenspan, who praised the president for his ability to reduce the deficit and spur investments.

He may not be credible, but most people think he is.

MAY: Presidents don't create wealth, the people of America, who work do.

NOVAK: Absolutely. We've got to take a break. And when we come back, we will try to answer the question: What legacy?


SHRUM: Welcome back to "CROSSFIRE."

I'm Bob Shrum, sitting in on the left for Bill Press.

While George W. Bush was vacationing at his Texas ranch, with his staff telling us that he was reading a new best-selling biography of John Adams, the big news was the $10 million-plus advance paid for Bill Clinton's autobiography.

But you can be sure that no matter how good it is, the Clinton memoirs will get some bad reviews, especially from Bob Novak and the Republican right. But the real question is, how will history judge Bill Clinton?

With us for some preliminary assessments, Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary for President Clinton and Cliff May, former communications director of the Republican National Committee.

Cliff, you keep wanting to talk about scandal and you keep saying, that you hope the book is about that. Isn't that because you can't talk about the Clinton record from 20 million new jobs to the longest period of prosperity in history, to peace coming to Northern Ireland?

So I have a question for you: Can you give Clinton credit for anything? Can you name one or two things he did right, or are you too partisan to concede that even?

MAY: Let me start, I think it is the publisher who hopes the book will be about scandal, so it is not a boring book and he doesn't lose his $10 million.

On the economy, as you know, all the indices that you cite, whether it is productivity or stock market going up, or unemployment, none of that even began until you had Republicans as a majority in both houses of Congress. And Bob, you are right, I give Clinton great credit, without Clinton I don't know that we would have had both houses of Congress in Republican hands.

SHRUM: OK. The deficit was down, as you know, by $100 billion in the first two years of the Clinton administration before the Republicans took Congress, but I'm going to keep trying to see if I can get you ...

MAY: So you are saying that as soon as he got in... SHRUM: ... I'm going to keep trying to -- No. Not as soon as he got there.


SHRUM: No! He passed it with not a single Republican vote. With Al Gore casting the tie-breaking vote on the '93 economic plan. You won't give him credit for that, so I'm going to try something else. See if you will give him credit for anything.

If you saw him being welcomed in Harlem last week, you knew that when he was president, African-Americans had an extraordinary sense that they had a president who understood them and who cared about them. Will you give him credit for the major efforts he made in this country to deal with the problem of race and to bring Americans together? Will you give him credit for that?

MAY: I will give him credit for his PR sense. I will give him credit for his -- for being entertaining, but as far as...

SHRUM: He did nothing right, right? Nothing right?

MAY: No, as far as African-Americans are concerned, look, education is not better in the inner cities today, and I think he has driven a wedge between -- between the races, with the various things he has done. I don't think he has helped on that. But he was the most entertaining president we have probably ever had.

SHRUM: And nothing right?

MAY: Welfare reform he came along with the Republicans on.

SHRUM: Boy, we finally got something.

MAY: There was no energy policy, no educational policy, Iraq/Iran, all wrong.

NOVAK: Joe Lockhart, let me ask a few more questions. This book just fascinates me.

LOCKHART: I'm sure it does.

NOVAK: I want to read you a...

LOCKHART: I might be able to get you a free copy because I know that you are not going to pay for it.

NOVAK: You got that right.

SHRUM: Joe, what's the autograph going to say?

LOCKHART: I can't say it on TV.

NOVAK: I would like to read you a quote from one of the great literary agents in America -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lesser authors that she represents -- Esther Newberg. And Esther says of this book, "He should employ a great writer and tell everything and then it will sell well: And I mean everything."

Well, we have already gotten the implication from you that he won't tell everything, but let's take the first part, "employ a great writer." I have heard that he is going to write this book himself.

Are you kidding?

LOCKHART: He is -- this is going to be his book, he is going to write it himself. He is going to get lots of help on the research and organizing, but listen, there is still this...

NOVAK: Listen, they are going to bore people to tears!

LOCKHART: Let me tell you something, Bob. There is this idea that somehow there are issues that have not been explored and are unknown. Do you remember the Starr report? Do you remember the obsession with media, every little detail, that has been covered? He will talk about that stuff, but he will also talk about things that actually had an impact on people's lives, like his approach to dealing with crime in this country, and welfare, and the budget, and investment, and the economy, and the world.

NOVAK: Joe, I don't know if while you were living your useful life -- you have had a useful life -- you've read presidential memoirs. I've read all the presidential memoirs.

LOCKHART: They may go back a little bit further for you, but I've read them all up to...

NOVAK: But they are the most egregious form of literature -- if I can use the word literature rather wildly -- that I have ever seen. I mean, they are so boring because they are a self-justification. But even -- at least Reagan had a ghost writer on it. You mean, I have to read Bill Clinton's prose. It is wooden. You mean to say they are going to have 800 pages of that stuff?

LOCKHART: Well, I -- hopefully, we will not have any characters, you know, extraterrestrial characters like we did in Reagan's book, and all of the focus on some of the astrology issues. But listen, he is going to write the book, and if you can listen to one thing, the one thing that Cliff said here is that, you know, I think the president is not a boring person. It will be ...

NOVAK: He is a boring writer, though.

LOCKHART: Well, it will be an interesting book. It will be an important book, and if he errs on the important side, I think we will all better for that.

SHRUM: You know, Cliff, you said the wealth was created by the American people and that is certainly true. They were trying awfully hard during the last Bush presidency and they had a hair-raising recession, but I want to ask you a question about another measure of Bill Clinton's importance,

The agenda that George W. Bush is dealing with now was set by Bill Clinton: a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare, a patients' bill of rights, an increase in the minimum wage. I mean, when you look at it don't you have to fairly concede that not only did he do an enormous amount as president, but he helped set the agenda for the next four, eight, or 10 years?

MAY: I think you make good point he left a lot of work undone because he didn't seem to have time to concentrate on presidency, and as a result, George Bush is going to have to clean up where he -- the messes that he left in things like energy, in things like education, in all of these areas where he really -- in things like health care, where Clinton was incapable of striking a deal in a bipartisan manner and getting things done and getting things through Congress.

LOCKHART: Listen, we've got a brand-new attack, which is he didn't work hard enough.

SHRUM: Right.

MAY: What?

LOCKHART: Now, you don't have to send out a search party for his presidency for a month to go find him because he was in Washington, in the Oval Office. You...

MAY: But he didn't know what he was doing in the Oval Office?


SHRUM: I'll tell you what he was doing. He was helping to create 22 million new jobs. Let me tell you something else...

MAY: In what, the cigar industry?

SHRUM: No. For Americans who worked hard and the standard of living went up by an enormous amount when he was president. But let me tell you something else, you are right about one thing. The fact of the matter is that Bill Clinton never would have proposed as an answer to our energy crisis dealing in the Arctic drilling, oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Preserves.


NOVAK: What is the question?

SHRUM: I asked -- I asked my question.

NOVAK: Joe Lockhart, the Pew Research Center is not part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, we agree on that.

LOCKHART: I concede that point to you, Bob.

NOVAK: And a poll it took in January, it said in the long run, Clinton will be remembered for his accomplishments, 28 percent; impeachments -- impeachment and scandal, 67 percent. That is -- that is his legacy. And what the problem is that people know he didn't do anything about Social Security, he didn't do anything about Medicare, didn't do anything about energy. He didn't reform...

LOCKHART: What is the question, Bob? Bob, what is the question?

NOVAK: The question is, how do you -- how do you get away with that miserable legacy?


LOCKHART: Let me answer, very specifically, the first part, which is he didn't do anything for Social Security and Medicare. What he did was, by paying down the debt, getting the deficit down, was he extended the trust funds.

Now, this president will be in office for less than eight months when, by his budget, we are going to dip into the Medicare trust fund and we are going to by 2003 dip into Social Security trust funds. So -- but I think in the long run...


Let me answer your question, because you put two there. In the long run, thankfully, historians are going to look at the legacy, not any of us, And we all should be grateful for that, because while we entertain, we shout, we yell, we don't educate in the debate in Washington right now. And I think if you look 50 years down the road, when historians look, they are going to look at fundamental change in the way we govern. This sort of ridding government of the false choices of big versus small, left versus right, our economy will be better for a generation because of what he did, and our social fabric will be better because of what he did on welfare, crime and education.

NOVAK: When you are not spinning, don't you and your colleagues -- don't you say, gee, what a disappointment and a waste because he could have been a really important president? He just didn't do it.

LOCKHART: No. I'll tell you something. I think me and most of my colleagues, as difficult as that time was, looked at the president and thanked him for all of the work that he did. And I think there are 22 million Americans who got new jobs. There are people who have safer streets. There are people off welfare, lower teenage pregnancy. I can go on with lots of statistics. It is a better country.

MAY: But he will do scandal.

LOCKHART: We'll get back to scandal. We'll get to cigar makers or something.

MAY: Bill Clinton leaves no footprints. I think he will be disappointed with that legacy himself.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you very much, Joe Lockhart, Cliff May. And the great spinner Bob Shrum and I will be back with closing comments.


SHRUM: Bob, you guys just won't give Bill Clinton credit for anything. You won't give him credit on economy. So I'm going to give you a chance here and now. How do you explain that quote of yours that we saw during the show, that the deficit wouldn't go down, when it went down $100 billion in two years? And by the way, did you pay off the bets?

NOVAK: Nobody bet me, but I underestimated the economy. But I tell you this, the guy I feel sorry for, Bob, is not you, but the executive from Alfred Knopf Company who made this deal for $10 million. It is going to go down the tubes. It is going to be another one of these boring self-justifications -- just as boring, as your comments about how Bill Clinton saved the economy.

SHRUM: I'd say two things to you, Bob. First of all, it is going to be a lot more interesting than memoirs by your favorite President Calvin Coolidge. No. 2, let me tell something. Having worked with Bill Clinton on three or four different State of the Unions, he is a very good writer and he going to write a very good book.

NOVAK: If they're as interesting as his State of the Unions, it's bankruptcy for Alfred A. Knopf.

SHRUM: From the left, I'm Bob Shrum. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another addition of "CROSSFIRE."



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top