View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 18, 1999
                              EXCERPTS OF
                       INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
                        PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS

                       Diplomatic Reception Room
                           December 16, 1999

Q This room, sir, this fireplace and others in the White House obviously remind me of President Roosevelt.

His relationship with the public was of such a magnitude that people, in many cases, thought he was a god; placed absolute faith in him. Do you think there will ever be a time when another American President gets that kind of commitment?

THE PRESIDENT: If the country is under that kind of threat. It was in this room that President Roosevelt gave his Fireside Chats. And, keep in mind, he took our nation through two huge threats -- first, the Depression, where 25 percent of our people were out of work, for the only time in our history; and, second, in the second world war, with Hitler and the Axis powers.

I think the people in this country are -- they nearly always get it right, if they have enough information and enough time. They're very hard to stampede. And I think they would follow a good leader in a tough time like that.

THE PRESIDENT: When I leave the White House I will be more idealistic about the American people and the American system of government than I was when I showed up here. And I think cynicism is a cop-out and a refuge now. I think skepticism is good; I think de-mythologizing is good. I think cynicism, because it's fundamentally a negative and self-defeating emotion and it gives you an excuse not to think, is stupid.

Q I don't mean to belabor the point, nor will I, but I think many Americans believe that you contributed to cynicism about politics. And I assume if there's anything you could take back over the last several years it would be the Lewinsky affair.

THE PRESIDENT: Why should you be cynical? If someone makes a mistake, and they say they make a mistake and they do their best to atone for it, then you can say, well, people aren't perfect and I'm disappointed. But that shouldn't make you cynical about the American political system, the American system of government.

Q I'd just like to pick a couple things that the century will always be remembered for, and get your take on them. What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

THE PRESIDENT: It was the symbol of what was wrong with Communism. It was about control, and keeping people back, and keeping people in. You know, John Kennedy had that wonderful line in his speech, "Freedom has many difficulties, and our democracy is far from perfect. But we never had to put up a wall to keep our people in."

Q What difference did the atomic bomb make?

THE PRESIDENT: It reminded us that we had the capacity to destroy ourselves completely. And it humbled people. And I think that's very important, because people with power -- and I include myself -- you give anybody a lot of power, and if they're not careful they will make arrogant decisions, unheedful of the most fundamental desire of people: to have life and liberty, and to enjoy the blessings of normal life.

THE PRESIDENT: We will look back at the development of the atomic bomb in some ways as one of the most humbling events in all of human history, because we finally had to come face to face with the fact that we could take it all away. You know? Beyond the gas chambers, beyond the pogroms, beyond the killing fields of the Somme and the Marne in World War I. We could actually make it all go away. And I think it sobered the world up in a way that was oddly reassuring.