President Clinton, in a reflective mood after an exhausting weeklong political trip, said he has spent the first two years of his administration trying to do too much, leaving the American people confused about his priorities and in a political “funk.”
In a rare and unusually revealing conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One as it returned from California late Friday night, the president acknowledged he had allowed himself to become enmeshed in policy details and had failed to explain his core values to the public.
“I would have been better served if maybe we’d done … just slightly less (and) if people had understood some of the big picture more,” said Clinton, who was dressed in a denim shirt and jeans and cowboy boots as he sat atop a piece of carry-on luggage in the media compartment of his customized Boeing 747.
The president unburdened himself in the contemplative 45-minute monologue, saying the nation was undergoing political, social and economic “tumult” that he is just now beginning to grasp and explain in a comprehensible way.
“I’m also trying to get people to get out of their funk about it,” Clinton said, referring to the rapid social and technological change of the final years of the 20th century.
“My own belief is that human beings, particularly the American people, are capable of enduring a lot of difficulty and a lot of tumult and upheaval if they understand it. What makes people insecure is when they feel like they’re lost in the fun house, they’re in a room where something can hit them from any direction at any time,” the president mused.
Clinton used the opportunity to elaborate on a theme that he has been weaving into his political speeches lately. He said the current era shares many of the hallmarks of the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of progressivism, Theodore Roosevelt’s independent bid for the presidency and the passage of farreaching legislation such as the graduated income tax, anti-child-labor laws and the regulation of monopolies.
He said the social upheaval of that time, like ours, left the American people unsettled and politically rootless.
Clinton said his role as president also encompassed the obligation to preach and teach about the broad challenges facing the nation.
“The president has to impart the big picture,” Clinton said.
“If you go back and look at (Abraham) Lincoln’s speeches, for example, he was always explaining the time people were living in and putting the big issues in terms of choices that had to be made, so that he basically never let people off the hook.”