BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Elizabeth Drew, author of "On the Edge: The Clinton Presidency." Where did you get that title?
DREW: While I was reporting for this book, it was in December of '93. Clinton had just won the NAFTA trade agreement against great odds, and he was riding very high and then the stories came out about the Arkansas troopers' allegations that he had used them to help with his alleged assignations. And a friend of Clinton's -- somebody who had been a long-time friend and ally said to me, "Bill is someone who has always lived on the edge personally and politically." It had a second meaning, too, in that his presidency was subject to so many ups and downs and there were so many times when it seemed on the edge of political collapse. And in turn, that kept us on the edge about it. I mean, the American people were sort of watching this thing to see what was going to happen.
LAMB: If somebody buys the book, what time frame are you writing about?
DREW: Well, I'm writing specifically -- the time frame starts right after the elections, the transition period, where a lot of the seeds of later trouble were sown through August of 1994. But what I would hope is that the things that they learn about Clinton -- the person and his wife and the people around him -- there's no time frame on those.
LAMB: Did you have any time with him in the White House?
DREW: I'm not supposed to say, but I can say that I saw every senior official of the White House.
LAMB: In your author's note, you say that this is a genre of middle-distance journalism. What's that mean?
DREW: Well, it's a term I kind of invented in the sense that I'm certainly not writing daily journalism and I'm not even writing weekly or biweekly journalism. I was in there, I was seeing all of his top people regularly, and others throughout the administration, and talking to people on the Hill. But then I could step back some and try to get some perspective on it and write about it. Now historians will come along and they will have documents that aren't released to us at this point. On the other hand, I think there are things that you can get by being that close to it, watching it up close, seeing people regularly that historians can't get.
LAMB: You say you saw all the top officials. How do you go about doing that?
DREW: Well, you make appointments with them. Oh, you mean how did I get to see them in the first place?
LAMB: No, but I mean, do you see them in their offices or do you see them socially or do you...
DREW: I really pretty much kept interviews to the office. When I regularly -- now this is with the Clinton White House and I would have a day's schedule of appointments. I don't think there was a day that the schedule stayed in place because it was sort of such a helter-skelter place at least in the first 17 months or so. And I would see them in the offices. Sometimes we would have lunch, so there'd be a longer time to talk, better time to talk because the phone doesn't ring, and people aren't running in and out. But I don't interview people socially. I think you should keep it separate.
LAMB: Do you take notes or do you record them?
DREW: I take notes. I almost never use the tape recorder. I think something happens with the tape recorder -- people freeze, they start speaking for the ages and start wondering how their words are going to look. And I found, I think, only one person, whom I can't divulge, who was as natural when the tape recorder was going as not. But I didn't even try it on very many people. I think it puts something between you and the person you're talking to.
LAMB: One of the first things you learned in your book is that -- you quote somebody as saying, "We probably made a mistake by having the transition in Little Rock."
DREW: Bruce Lindsey said that to me. He's a very, very close friend and adviser. Bruce had traveled with him all through the campaign and he, up until very recently, traveled with him anytime the president took a trip. But Bruce was very close to him, and what that was was they realized they made errors during the transition that caused them problems further down the line. And while they thought it was important to certainly not base a campaign in Washington, stay near his roots and people could come there if they wanted, maybe they'd have understood more about what they were getting into, and maybe they would have been able to get more advice if they had been here during the transition. Because one of the big problems was that his opening days were so awkward, if not clumsy. And people formed impressions then that was very hard for him to shake. And there was a mistake that really didn't need to be made. To me, it was astonishing that Bill and Hillary Clinton, very smart people -- I mean, you hear they're smart; they are smart. They'd been in and out of Washington a lot. They had networks of friends. They had people here who were very eager to help them and give them advice, and yet they were startlingly unprepared for the presidency.
LAMB: You've appeared, over the years, on a lot of programs and given your opinion. Do you feel that you have a political point of view or a label that you put on yourself?
DREW: I hope not. No, I don't. I call it as I see it, and my goal is to be fair and to try to look at it, to have some detachment and write what you see. And in this case, writing things that the people who've become friends aren't going to like, but you try to write, observe the truth as you see it.
LAMB: This book was a period of -- what? -- around 18 months or so. Is there any conclusion that you reached after this is all over, that you saw up close, what do you think of what they did in the first couple of years?
DREW: Well, those are sort of different things. In the first couple of years -- first 18 months, at least, Bill Clinton accomplished a lot. Now he never got this across. There was a core idea to his domestic policy and I'm unfashionable enough to say he even had a vision, which is a strikingly unusual thing to say about him. He really believed in giving people opportunity and lifelong opportunity. In other words, you start with the Head Start program and you make it year round, you try to get everybody into it. But he also understood that life has changed so in America that people are going to hold several jobs, likely, and they might need retraining or re-education at several points in their lives. This was a very interesting idea. He never got across that that's what he was doing. So he isn't credited, I don't think, enough for what he did.
And on the other hand, as we saw in the election, a lot of people don't like what they think he did do. On conclusions about Clinton, I really felt that this was one of the most complex people I had seen in the presidency. Now I'd seen few that close. I mean, Lyndon Johnson was complex, too, but he's a very complex man, and that he had a hard time dealing with the problems that he'd brought into office with him. He has flaws, personal flaws. He has flaws that the public have picked up, the Slick Willy aspect, and that his presidency seemed to be a constant war between his ambitions and his flaws. And I really didn't know how it was going to turn out. I still don't know how it's going to turn out in two years.
LAMB: What do you think of the talent in the Cabinet?
DREW: For all of the trouble that they had putting the Cabinet together -- and that's partly because of his pledge to have a Cabinet that looks like America -- he was determined to have one more Hispanic and more more black and one more woman then Bush had had. We also saw in that period early signs of his indecisiveness and the fact that he could be rolled by the interest groups, or it appeared that he could be, and I think that was a very bad sign to send out during the transition. With all of that, I think he ended up with quite a good -- not universally good, but a quite able and in many cases talented Cabinet.
LAMB: You mentioned a couple of things about the Oval Office I want to get you to expand on. Have you been in the Oval Office?
DREW: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: You mention that the Rodin's "Thinker," a small statue of that is in the office. What's the reason for that? Did you ever ask him that?
DREW: I didn't ask him that. A friend gave it to him and he seemed to like it. And he hung a painting there that he liked by Childe Hassam of New York on the Fourth of July. And it's part impressionistic, but quite striking colors, and it's the first thing you see if you go into the Oval Office from the hallway. Every president decorates it -- I mean, with the goo-gahs and things in their own way. Of course, the Clintons really redecorated the Oval Office, I think, with less success.
LAMB: You also mention that he has stack of books behind him. I know we've talked about that and you also suggested that he hadn't read those books?
DREW: No, it struck me that that could have been a bit of an artifice. He's a reader, but I didn't see how he could have a lot of time sitting in the Oval Office reading. He once said to a group of us who had a lunch with him that he had had a self-imposed rule to read one mystery for one serious book -- or read two serious books for one mystery, but as he got into the presidency and he got so tired and there was so much on his mind, he allowed himself one for one. Now I have no question that he read. I just didn't think he sat there reading.
LAMB: Lani Guinier. You write a lot about Lani Guinier, but the one thing I want you to talk about is the last few moments where he met with her and you say that he'd already made up his mind what he was going to do but didn't tell her at that meeting. Could you explain that? What was the whole Lani Guinier episode?
DREW: Well, it's one of the chapters in the book, in part, because it shows some good and some not-so-good aspects of the way Clinton governed. It began by the fact that he thought that a couple of independent people, constitutional scholars, had read her writings which were, perhaps, controversial and said there was no problem. In fact, it wasn't that way at all -- just one person who was actually her advocate read it. But anyway, as she increasingly got into trouble, increasingly the staff felt that they couldn't go forward with the nomination.
LAMB: What was the job?
DREW: Assistant attorney general for civil rights. And she had written some controversial articles, you know, and as scholars often do, at the edges of civil rights policy. One of the big problems was Capitol Hill. Senator Biden of the Judiciary Committee just didn't want to conduct a hearing on such a divisive subject. I mean, she was called the Quota Queen, that was unfair. But that's one of the subjects that strikes at the heart of the Democratic Party. And so aides were saying, "Look, this won't work. He was getting advice from the Hill. You have to pull this," and he couldn't make up his mind.
And part of it is because he just hates to hurt anyone, especially someone who he knows. And she was sort of a friend of both of the Clintons. So it went on and on and on, meeting after meeting after meeting. In fact, Mrs. Clinton, who was her friend as well and had played a role in her being chosen, thought that the whole thing was settled 10 days before the president actually did it. Then there was a little sort of game playing about when he read her writings. He knew about her writings and, in fact, a staff member had sent him a memo about the writings. But he hates to hurt someone, and yet in trying not hurt someone, he often causes them more pain by dragging this thing out.
So finally, he did make up his mind and he called her into the Oval Office and they sat in those big, yellow chairs -- which Clinton, by the way, finds uncomfortable -- and he talked to her, but he didn't tell her what he was going to do. Aides later said, "Well, that was because they didn't want her to walk out of the White House and announce it herself." Well, maybe, but it may also be that he just hates to tell people bad news, although his statement was already written. Then he made a statement to the American public. It was a little bit of that was Les Aspin. Tony Lake told him that the president wanted to make a change. The president didn't tell him until two days later. In between, Aspin asked to see the president, made a rather emotional plea to be given more time and to show he really could run the Pentagon. And he said to Clinton something that Clinton found very hard to take.
He said, "You know, just getting rid of me is not leadership. Getting rid of me because there have been these criticisms and because the Somalia policy was unpopular -- leadership is giving me more time." And that nearly paralyzed Clinton, and so then that night while Bobby Ray Inman was in a Washington hotel waiting to be told formally that he had the job, Clinton had late-night meeting -- late-night meetings were very common -- past midnight with the vice president and Strobe Talbott, the now deputy secretary of state calling in from Moscow urging him to get on with it. Finally, the next day, after some more urging, he made up his mind. But he just couldn't tell him, and he didn't want to hurt him.
LAMB: What did you learn about the Bobby Ray Inman part of this?
DREW: Well, that when Bobby Ray Inman was first announced, you may recall, that most people in Washington thought it was just brilliant. I mean, there was a lot of hypocrisy that came in later on, and yet I received a call from someone who was, as I describe, in the defense foreign affairs community -- these people around town who've been in office, who have a lot of contacts with each other and so on and with the military. And one of them called me up and said, "Do they know what they're doing? This man is very stubborn and he will quit at the drop of a hat" -- something Aspin tried to tell the White House, but he didn't have a lot of standing to do that at that point.
And while this agony was going on at the White House, Bobby Ray Inman was at the hotel, as I mentioned, and he called up -- he was very torn about taking the job, and he was truly torn. And I think he began to see what this was like, getting a decision out of the Clinton White House. And he called up someone at the White House and said, "'m leaving town. My family's celebrating, I'm not going to take the job."And they said, "Oh, you know, you can't do that." And a very odd thing happened. David Gergen and Warren Christopher, the secretary of state, without telling the president, went to the hotel and begged Bobby Ray Inman to give them more time. Now it wasn't supposed to be known and wasn't known till I wrote this that Christopher played any role in this, because the secretary of state should not be seen replacing the secretary of defense, and yet he knew all about it. And then, increasingly, Bobby Ray Inman's own doubts, I think, took over, and for a number of reasons he just pulled out.
LAMB: What did Warren Christopher have to do with it?
DREW: He knew all about it. One of his aides said that he's sure he raised it with the president in one of his one-on-one meetings but that he felt that Aspin was not doing a good enough job. Strobe Talbott, who was the Russia coordinator at that point, is a very, very close friend of the president's and he was working on it. But Strobe respects Christopher and he was keeping him informed the entire time. He knew what was happening.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
DREW: Well, in one sense it's book number eight. In another sense it's book number one in that it's the first one that I have written from the beginning myself. The others grew out of writing I had done for The New Yorker and they were put together in a book. The first one I did from scratch. It's a wholly different experience.
LAMB: What's the difference?
DREW: Oh, it's very hard. There's no comparison. And I had a new-found respect for people who write books when I was working on this. Also, as you can see, there's a range of subjects. I mean, I had to know about Bosnia and I had to know about economic policy and Supreme Court and things like that. And we did it in a relatively brief period of time so that it would be timely. And you just have to start. You have to decide how to organize it, you have to decide when are you going to bring up this point, when are you going to repeat this point, have you, you know, repeat this theme, have you done it too many times? It's a wholly different experience and I found it sort of hard but sort of exhilarating. It was a whole new thing to do. I stretched new muscles.
LAMB: How many years did you work for The New Yorker?
LAMB: And for those that had never seen what you did for the New Yorker, what was -- it was a Letter From Washington? Is that what they call it?
DREW: Well, I started just writing articles from Washington about Washington, and at some point in there, William Shawn asked me to write the Letter From Washington.
LAMB: I noticed a similarity, correct me if I'm wrong, that you basically are writing for someone other than insiders in town here. It seems like you're writing for people that may not know all the details. Is that right?
DREW: Well, I suppose. I don't think about who I'm writing for. I think about telling the story and trying to get across what happened. But, of course, it would be ridiculous just to write for the people in town because why? Why would you do that? And you have to be very careful to define your terms, realize that the shorthand we often use with each other here is not acceptable and doesn't work in terms of helping a reader understand what's going on.
LAMB: You say, and you ask this question, "Why is this person telling me this?" And this is in the author's note. What were you getting at?
DREW: Well, you do something like this or you do most journalism based on interviews. And while I had access, I mean, to see people, each one making up their own mind as to whether they were going to see me, nobody said, "Well, let's give Elizabeth Drew this whole story." So I had to piece most of these stories together or all of them. And in many, many cases, there were conflicting stories or conflicting accounts or conflicting reasons for things. And so you had to ask yourself -- you always asked yourself, "Well, why is he telling me this? Is he trying to puff the boss or is he trying to get an advantage over so-and-so. Does it ring true? How does it compare with why someone else says it?" There's no science to it. You have to go by your instinct and your experience.
LAMB: You mention in the first part of this that you're not supposed to say whether you talked to the president or Mrs. Clinton. Let me just ask you first, why? What -- what...
DREW: An awful lot of people writing books wanted to see them, and so it was considered that if someone did see them, it would be on a background basis and you couldn't -- if I did see them, it would have been that it was on a background basis, that I couldn't say directly that I saw them and this is what they said.
LAMB: Did anyone inside the White House who knew that you were writing this book kind of try to guide you? I mean, did they want to make sure this book came out their way?
DREW: Oh, probably everybody. I mean, that goes with the territory -- not only in the White House, but I was seeing Cabinet secretaries and also people at the lower levels in some of the agencies at the White House. On Capitol Hill, as you know, you can't really cover the White House just from the White House. It's too much of a cocoon. But a very important place to stay in touch with at all times are people on the Hill who go back and forth and can tell you, you know, what went on in meetings or the president's mood, give you their perspective on things.
LAMB: I've got brackets around a couple of paragraphs here, and I don't want to bore you with this, but I want to read these paragraphs because there's something I want to ask you about. You say here, this is page 345 -- "At the White House on Friday, November the 12th, five days before the NAFTA vote, people were moving around from meeting to meeting with a tight, determined look. Sitting in his small office that afternoon, George Stephanopoulos seemed wired. He talked faster than usual. There was a certain giddiness. Stephanopoulos knew by then that the administration was probably going to win, but the victory wasn't nailed down." The reason I put brackets around it is I wanted to ask you if you were there.
DREW: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And how did you decide in this process when to kind of let the reader know you were there and when you weren't there? I mean, the quotes -- you've got quotes later -- you say, "'This is it,' Stephanopoulos said. 'We have to win it. We're back in the must-win place. I guess we'll be there a lot,'" unquote.
DREW: Well, the next line is really one of my favorite lines in the book.
LAMB: "Breaking into a laugh he said, 'We're always stuck in the small crawl space between must win and can't lose.'"
LAMB: But the -- I mean, the techniques in the book, how often did you quote when you were there, and did you ever quote when you weren't there and somebody's passed it on to you?
DREW: You could only quote what someone said in a meeting or say what someone said in a meeting if you had reason to be terribly sure that that's what was said. And you talked to a lot of people -- we just keep talking and talking and talking and talking and you see what matches up and what doesn't. And again you say, "Well, why would someone be telling me that he made a powerful -- or this person made a powerful argument,"or what. You just had to keep making these judgments. Some scenes, you know, seem more vivid to me than others. You want to show some real live people some of the time, and sometimes it was just a matter of reporting what happened.
LAMB: Are Bill Clinton's people that are around him loyal to him?
DREW: Yes, mostly. I found the White House people themselves to be quite loyal. The conclusions that I might have drawn that don't seem so flattering, like the indecisiveness, grew out of our reporting. I mean, nobody said to me, "God, the man's so indecisive I don't know what to do." I would just piece together the story and realize how long it took him to make up his mind about Lani Guinier or Aspin or a number of other things.
LAMB: You refer to the principals and to the consultants. Why did you put those labels on people, and who are they?
DREW: Well, they're very different groups. The principals, that is the working name. That is the formal name of the top foreign policy officials -- the secretary of state, secretary of defense, director of CIA, UN ambassador and -- am I leaving anybody out? I don't think so. National security adviser, of course. And in this case, one of Vice President Gore's -- his foreign policy aide also sat in the principals' meetings, as did the deputy national security adviser. That's one sign of Gore's extraordinary and unprecedented role.
LAMB: You say there's never been a vice president like this in history?
DREW: No, not that was in on as much as he is in and has as much influence as he does. I mean, the relationship between him and Clinton is really a rather amazing one, given they're both very smart and very driven people. But Gore knows who got elected and he tries to play a real policy role. Anyway, the principals are supposed to be the people who shape the foreign policy decisions that the president is going to be faced with or is supposed to make. And in some cases, the system worked all right, but in others -- for instance, Somalia. I found afterwards there had never been a principals committee meeting on the subject of Somalia. And I was reporting after the debacle in Mogadishu, which was also, you know, so damaging to the president, that it was the result of a series of really casually made decisions that didn't take into account, "Well, then what happens or what new vulnerability might we get into."
And then it emerged that several people thought that it was time to try to approach Somalia with more emphasis on diplomacy and less on trying to chase Mr. Aidid. And, in fact, Les Aspin gave a speech about that over the summer, and in any event, the policy went forward and the rest is history. But Mogadishu -- what was so fascinating about that is it turned out that -- I was told that afterwards, the president kept saying, "Well, how did this happen? I thought we changed the policy. I thought we weren't chasing Aidid anymore." Well, if the president thinks he's changed the policy and the aides don't think he's changed the policy, or as they describe the policy, it was more diplomacy and "Get Aidid if you can," you've got a real problem.
LAMB: The consultants?
DREW: The consultants are four people who have played a very big role in the presidential campaign -- James Carville, Paul Begala, his partner as a political consulting company, Stan Greenberg, the pollster, and Mandy Grunwald, who is a media person who does ads, but she did more than that with Clinton. I mean, it was more, you know, "How does he look in his speeches?" and what she said. The consultants played an extraordinary role. They were in and out of the White House all the time. They were in a lot of policy meetings. This became a subject of some dissent within the White House. Some of the White House aides felt, well, it's all very easy for them to come in and say, "Well, here's how we think you should do things," and then they'd go out again.
They didn't have to do it. They didn't have to get a bill passed, they didn't have to try to get something implemented, they didn't have to try to get a decision made. And so there was some resentment about that. My clear impression now is that the role of the consultants has been reduced. They have been reined in. When Stan Greenberg, who does the polling -- and therefore, it was a very important role -- sees the president now to give him his polling results or what he's picked up, what he thinks he sees, the chief of staff and/or the deputy chief of staff are in there with them, and the consultants themselves are supposed to report to the deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes. So they don't have the same free-wheeling role they had before, which, as you saw, extended despite their denials to foreign policy.
LAMB: How much policy was made after Stan Greenberg was in there giving polling information?
DREW: Well, it's hard to make an exact, you know, one-for-one measurement -- where did this come from, where did that come from? But I think Stan played a very large role. Stan didn't worry me; he's a very nice guy and he's actually quite smart, but the degree to which the Clinton presidency was poll oriented and the degree to which he had all these people in there advising him, you know, "Do this. Don't do this. Emphasize this." That's fine except when it begins to paralyze the president, which on occasion it did. He's not the first president to be interested in polls, but their role was so great that I drew the analogy when Harry Clinton -- Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur, he was at 26 in the polls. I mean, some things you just have to do no matter what the polls say.
LAMB: Let me come back to this in a second. Let me just ask you some questions about yourself. The book is dedicated to David.
DREW: David Webster, my husband.
LAMB: How long have you two been married?
DREW: We were married in 1981.
LAMB: And who is David Webster?
DREW: Well, he's a really interesting man, but you don't have a lot of time for that. He is English and he was a very high official of the BBC when we met. I was a widow, and we met. And he moved -- as he said, he defected to come here and marry me. He stayed in his role at the BBC but based in America for a while, and I suppose you'd call him a consultant in communications, but having risen through the whole BBC, he knows quite a bit about journalism and he's a very smart man. He now advises former Communist countries on how to have independent broadcasting. It's quite creative work that he thought up. I, literally, could not have finished this book if it hadn't been for him. There was so much work to do, and, of course, he was a sounding board all the time, but just even handling the volume, the material. And I would sit with him and say, "Now why would so-and-so say this? What do you think between this" -- I mean, it literally could not have done it without him. People often say that in their acknowledgements, but I really meant this one.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
LAMB: How long did you live there?
DREW: Through going to going to college and then while I was in college, my parents moved to Florida, but I consider myself a midwesterner.
LAMB: What were your parents doing? What was their...
DREW: My father was a businessman.
LAMB: And where did you go to college?
DREW: I went to Wellesley College.
LAMB: Same place Mrs. Clinton went.
DREW: Same place. A little bit before her.
LAMB: Did you know her in connection with the college at all?
DREW: No, I didn't. I'd met them a few times through friends of theirs here, because as I said earlier, they were in and out of town. She served on boards here and he is a participant in governors' association issues, was in and out of town a lot.
LAMB: What did you study at Wellesley?
DREW: Well, political science, but the connection between that and this is more accidental then it might seem. My minors were history -- it was a close call -- and English, and oddly enough, I didn't want to take English because I didn't want to have those creative writing courses. Now I still don't do creative writing. I don't think I do reporting. But the political science seemed interesting to me. I had no prior disposition toward it, nor when I graduated from college, did I have a clue what I was going to do.
LAMB: What did you do when you got out of school?
DREW: Well, I'm of the era that when I got out of college I was considered very lucky to get a secretarial job at a publishing house. But I didn't think that ... Actually, they put out a magazine called The Writer, but I wasn't thinking about writing. I was actually waiting to marry somebody at the Harvard Law School, but it didn't work out.
LAMB: And when was the first time you got a job as a writer?
DREW: Well, I came to Washington two years after I graduated from college. The big thing that had an effect on me was during college I was an intern here one summer, and with deference to my former professors, it was so much more interesting to see in real life and to watch these people interact and pose and get things done and so on that I was just curious to come back again. I didn't know what I was going to do. But one of the jobs I was offered was a three-month, temporary job at Congressional Quarterly, a news service about what happens in Congress. It's broadened, really, to cover a lot of other things, as well, in government. And my three-month job lasted five years, and I think that was extraordinarily helpful training in learning how to read bills, how to write a precise sentence about what was in a bill, how to cover things that happen on the congressional floors.
LAMB: Along the way, anybody play a role in teaching you how to write well?
DREW: Well, when you put the word well on it, I suppose, as a writer, the greatest influence on me was William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker. I was very, very lucky. I came into The New Yorker -- I never dreamed that he would want me to write anything. At that time, the legend, or it wasn't just legend, about The New Yorker was it had enough material to print for three years if they never bought another thing. But one thing lead to another and I thought I just wanted to -- I didn't want to go to my grave not having at least inquired.
And Mr. Shawn wrote back and said, "Just come see me when you're in New York." And I was there pretty soon. In any event, my first real project there was -- I told them in the fall of 1973 -- this was when Spiro Agnew was in trouble -- I said, "You know, I think we're going to change presidents." I just had this instinct. "Oh, that would be very interesting," he said, in his very soft voice. And so I started writing a journal about that. And then when Archibald Cox was fired by President Nixon, the independent prosecutor, Mr. Shawn, as he was then, called me up and said, "Well, you better keep going, Mrs. Drew, don't you think?" And I said, "Yes."
And he was the editor for that series. He edited my work for quite some time. And he liberated me in a lot of ways in that I was working on this journal -- and it was a new kind of format for me. And I said, "You know, I'm thinking of doing" -- whatever it was I was thinking about doing -- and he said, "Take a chance on anything, Mrs. Drew." And I knew at the other end was someone who wouldn't let me make a fool of myself and wouldn't threaten me. You know, he would just take the pencil and cross it out. But we worked together and I think the great thing that William Shawn did for writers is he gave them confidence and confidence makes better writers.
LAMB: When did you discover that the written word had some -- I'll pick the word -- power. When you would write something, you would get the kind of feedback that'd say, "Somebody's paying attention to this"?
DREW: I don't know if I ever discovered or it's just sort of one of the things that happens when you write and you reach a certain audience and they write you or comment on it. But you don't do it for that. I mean, at least I don't do it for that. I love to figure out what's going on. I mean, it's very interesting. I probably had more fun on the reporting on this book than on anything I've done. I learned all sorts of things, I hung around these people for a long period of time, got to know them, watched the interactions. It was extremely stimulating.
LAMB: Chapter five -- I don't why this got my attention, but it's on a heading of the chapter, Starting Again, you say, "During the transition, some Clinton aides had sought the advice of Michael Deaver." Why would the Clinton aides go to Michael Deaver?
DREW: Because Michael Deaver was a genius at presenting a president. Now the president he had to present was Ronald Reagan, who was pretty good material to work with. I mean, I remember Mike Deaver telling me during the Reagan period that every time Ronald -- President Reagan entered a room, he consciously threw his shoulders back. I think he's the one that began the salute, you know, to the military aides when he gets off the helicopter. Nobody's done it as well as Ronald Reagan did. And they were looking for, "Well, how do you package these things? How do you get what you want on television? How do you get the public's attention to the issues that you want" -- something that they never really mastered, in part, ironically, because Deaver did such a good job of it that afterwards, I think, a lot of the press resented that. They felt that they had been used and were part of the Deaver packaging of a president. It's a lot harder, even if you did have as good material as he had, it'd be a lot harder for anyone to follow that act.
LAMB: Why did he help the Clinton administration?
DREW: Oh, he's a citizen. I'm sure, you know, a lot of people are flattered at being asked their advice. There's only one president at a time. There was no reason not to try to help them.
LAMB: You say that, in chapter six, that Bill Clinton loved the presidency. More than anybody else?
DREW: No. But what I noticed, and, of course, I was closer to this one than to others, he was very excited about it. They had a mixed feeling about the White House, about living there, but he loved the White House. If you ever have a chance to have him take you on a tour of the White House or talk -- I mean, he knows everything about the history of ever room in the White House. And he actually felt -- this was when it was brand new to him -- felt the sense of history and thought about the presidents who had lived there.
One thing I do point out, I think, in that chapter as well other people didn't know or don't know is that the Clintons found it extremely confining to live at the White House. Here's this young couple with a young daughter -- people used to being spontaneous. You can't be spontaneous when you live at the White House. You can't just decide to go for a ride or take a walk or do something, you know, impulsive. It's like living in an elegant apartment over the elegant store -- Secret Service people around all the time and there's a great sense of loss of privacy. Now they've never complained about this publicly, realizing that it would sound like they were complaining about living in a palace. But for a young family, you could see that it could be frustrating. And one night early in the Clinton presidency, Michael Dukakis, the former candidate, governor of Massachusetts, came to see Clinton -- and they'd known each other through governors. And they had a visit, and Clinton said, "I'll walk you back to your hotel." And the president of the United States got as far as the iron fence, and the Secret Service said, "No, sir, you may not do that." And he just felt so trapped within his own fence.
LAMB: You also mention that there was a frustration on a part of the president that when he's in a car with Secret Service agents he can't talk to them?
DREW: Right. And Clinton's a great talker, as you know, and in the campaign, the Secret Service, well, they do their jobs, certainly, but there's a little more informality and you can talk to them and so on. When they're guarding a president, this is very serious business. And he found he'd get in the car and he wanted to talk, and there were two Secret Service people there and they weren't allowed to talk to him. He found this very frustrating.
LAMB: They can't talk to him at all?
DREW: Well, they've got to keep their eye -- they've got to pay attention to what's going on. They wouldn't want to make a mistake.
LAMB: What did you learn about Mrs. Clinton?
DREW: Well, what I learned about both Clintons, to start with, is they're both are very complex people with a mixture of attributes that I think throw people off if they don't see the whole thing. In her case, the public image is off in the sense that she can be very warm, very feminine, giggly even. She likes to have a good time. She has a loud laugh. She likes to have fun. But it's also the case that she can be -- well, a woman's not supposed to be tough, but I don't mean this derogatorily. She'd be very tough, very strong. I mean, somebody said to me that she's the only one around here people fear. One thing that's quite interesting, I think, not understood, is she's ferociously protective of him. And whatever there has been in their relationship, she protects him very carefully. She always refers to him, or almost always refers to him in conversations as the president, not Bill, and staff members learned that if they had scheduled him badly or put him in an event that he wasn't prepared for, they were going to hear from her. And she would go over the schedule. She cared very much that he be served well.
LAMB: What's he...
LAMB: What's he like?
DREW: Bill Clinton is a combination of so many conflicting things. That's part of what makes him so interesting. He is as smart as people assert he is. And to me, what's interesting is he synthesizes things in his own mind. He can put five things together and see a whole thing there. He can be warm, charming, nice. You just sort of catch you up in his charm and his warmth. He can be petulant, moody. The temper that people have heard about is there, but it's been misunderstood. I think it's apparently not a lot of fun to be at the other of it, unless you get used to it, as George Stephanopoulos did. But then it blows over. He doesn't remember, he doesn't resent.
He's warm and sunny, and people really rather like to work with him. He ranges from having enormous confidence in his own brains and ability, both of which are substantial, and having bouts of real doubt, a real lack of self-confidence, and he can get very down. And I know a Cabinet officer said to me -- he went over one day and an aide said, "Can you think of something to cheer him up?" The term used -- I heard used was the "knife edge of his confidence." It was apparently that precarious. And others who had been in politics, who saw a lot of him, said that so many people -- it's not why they're in politics -- some are in politics because they like the adulation, they need the reassurance, they need to be told how important they are. Clinton seemed to need reassurance even more than most politicians. This may seem a surprising thing, but there it was.
LAMB: The recent elections -- I bring it up because this book preceded all that. I mean, all the different things you write about, how much of it matters, do you think, to the population at large -- the chief of staff and the way decisions are made and what the president is like in person and all that? Does any of that get out to the public at large?
DREW: Well, I think so. And what I was writing about in this book -- I mean, it's certainly not been negated by the elections, it's just been sort of reinforced by the election -- is that all these things explain why things that people think they're familiar with -- "Well, why did that happen? How did that happen?" And to me there was a really larger question here -- certainly know how it was going to end up -- but the larger question is: How does someone who started out with such high public expectations and hopes; a man of real, raw political talent -- there's no question about that. And real brains and energy and resilience, what the book talks about, in large part, is, how did somebody like that end up sort of on the edge in terms of his political power? I certainly didn't know how the election was going to turn out.
But I had a theory when I began the book which was that Clinton was elected by a fairly angry and cynical electorate in 1992. He got 43 percent of the vote, and he ran on change. And what I say in the introduction is what I was thinking at the time and that is, if he "fails" -- if the judgment is he has not brought about change, I thought that this electorate would be even more angry and more cynical and we might be right for demagoguery. I did not think it would happen this quickly, nor do I think the story of Bill Clinton is over, because he has so many talents and he is resilient. I have no idea how it's going to end up, but I did feel that, to the end, his presidency was going to be a war between his ambitions -- I mean, his ambitions -- not just his personal ambitions, there were things he really wanted to get done for this country, and his personal flaws that kept getting in the way.
LAMB: What is your sense of what the White House and the apparatus that he's set up with Leon Panetta, as chief of staff, will do with this Republican Congress?
DREW: Well, they're considering now -- they were actually thinking a lot a out what the next two years were going to be like well before this. Because whatever happened, Clinton was not going to have a working majority. Not that it will even happen, but anything that seemed conceivable. He was not going to have a working majority in either the House or the Senate. So they had to think about that situation anyway. Now with this, they have to think all the harder. I think it'd probably be a mistake to even presume that they've said, "We're going to handle it this way" or "We're going to handle it that way."
I think they're going to be feeling their way along. Different people are going to bring different arguments to the table and it'll probably change with events. But I also think that it's a mistake to think the Republicans are so clear on how they're going to handle the new situation. I think in Washington we're going to be in for a lot of people feeling their way along.
LAMB: I read reams of copy about the importance of David Gergen and you talk about -- he resigned the night before the election to go to Duke, I guess, to teach. Was all that copy that was written about him worth it? Did he matter in the process?
DREW: I think he did help. He was very controversial within the White House, and I think a number of people, especially the younger members of the staff and people who were close to George Stephanopoulos, never forgave him for coming in in a way that it appeared that he was replacing George. That was really the president's fault. I mean, it wasn't Gergen's and that isn't really what happened. Also some of them never forgave him for having worked for Nixon. With all of that, he was the only one in there, who, for instance, had ever gone to an economic summit conference when they had to go to Japan. He had a sense of how issues moved, what would be the timing of making a proposal, how the elites were going to respond to something. And this often put him at odds with the consultants. The consultants were not unanimous on very many things, actually, but there was a strong sense in the consultants that the elites were the problem and that Clinton should not pay any attention to them.
And yet, Clinton wouldn't have won NAFTA without the elites. And so Gergen had a lot of experience with the Washington press, so he had a better sense of how it was going to responding to things. So in that sense, he helped. One of the reasons for bringing him in was also for the president to advertise, "This time I really am going back to the center." David is a centrist. But that didn't work as well because he didn't have very many allies on that within the White House, and at the end, really, his only real ideologically ally was Mack McLarty who was losing power as well and then was ultimately replaced -- Gergen, whatever. The State Department, where again, he helped with the kinds of things I've talked about, but he told friends from the beginning he didn't think he would stay more -- you know, past the 1994 elections, if even that long.
LAMB: I remember in a previous book in a discussion that we learned that when George Bush was president he asked his son to tell John Sununu that it was time to go. And you mentioned earlier a situation where Bill Clinton asked -- I can't remember because there's so many of these -- did he ask Vice President Gore to tell Mack McLarty it was time to go, or was ...
DREW: Funny you should ask. Well, I don't know if he asked him to tell him, but it was Gore who brought it to a head.
LAMB: Now you wrote that, yeah.
DREW: I did write that, yes.
LAMB: Well, why do presidents to that?
DREW: Some, they just don't like to face people. Again, Bush with Sununu, they were friends. He brought him in. With Clinton, it was extremely difficult. I mean, Mack McLarty is universally called a nice man and he is a nice man, and he's also a very, very intelligent man and a gracious man. But he just was not cut out to be the chief of staff in a White House. He didn't have the background or the experience, and perhaps even the personality to do it. He just was not tough and he didn't make people get to conclusions, get to decisions, see that decisions were enforced and so on. And some of the president's close friends were starting to say to him by May of 1993 that McLarty wasn't working out, that he should not be chief of staff, lovely man, but just not the job for him.
It took Clinton nearly another full year to finally face up to it. This was his childhood friend. He was someone he felt very safe and very comfortable with. They could talk a lot at the end of the -- they still talk -- a lot at the end of the day. And he didn't want to face it. Mrs. Clinton had come to the conclusion that Mack should be replaced. She's careful not to force her opinions on him. She kind of urges and sort of waits for him to come to his own conclusion. She might enlist an ally or so or people enlist her as an ally. And finally it was Gore, who liked McLarty very much and they're good friends, but he brought it to a head. Because when this was finally brought to a head, Clinton was on the edge of political paralysis.
LAMB: Did you get a chance to get to know Vice President Gore in this process or about him more?
DREW: Yes, although I've know Mr. Gore for some years because even when he was in the Senate, he was often in on very interesting and important issues. I got a chance, I think, to see some aspects of his role there that haven't been known. He's very, very careful not to appear to usurp the president's authority, not to appear to push him, and not to say things to reporters that would appear to be disloyal or put the president, you know, in a bad light. He's very, very loyal to him. With all of that, if you talk to enough people and you're around there enough, maybe you get to see the vice president. You learn a lot about the, as I say, unprecedented role that he would play.
LAMB: You say, though, he's funnier than we see.
DREW: He's very funny. He's kind of a mimic, he's a great mimic. He's a storyteller. He's witty. He's quick. I mean, seeing Al Gore in a non-official circumstance can be a great deal of fun. I think it's the opposite side of his stiffness on the job -- not in the White House. I mean, he made the president laugh. Gore's a lot funnier than Clinton and Clinton appreciated the fact that Gore could loosen him up and make him laugh. There's something about Gore when he gets before a camera -- not always; I think it's sort of overdone -- that makes him stiffen up and be more formal. But he is a very funny man.
LAMB: Near the end of your -- your book, the 28th chapter, Another Start ... By the way, is there any rule about how long a chapter should be to keep people's interest?
DREW: No. I think you probably find that there are varied lengths depending on the story you had to tell. Some of them wouldn't require very long, like picking the Supreme Court justice last year and then picking another one this year. It's a short chapter, but there's a lot in there about Clinton's decision-making process. If you're telling the story about Bosnia policy or Somalia, Haiti, it might take a little longer. I didn't think about that -- whatever space or time a subject seemed to need and warrant.
LAMB: In this chapter you write this: "Despite their public downplaying, Clinton's aides knew from Greenberg's polling on the subject of Clinton's alleged past sex life and from common sense that a time would come when the character issue would become so large that it would undermine his legitimacy as president and then the possibility that the public would see him in a positive light would no longer exist. Now in January, they felt that that possibility was perilously close." This is January of 1994.
DREW: Right. Because in December, we had other stories about the Arkansas troopers and then Whitewater started to mushroom and they were facing that in January of '94. And you see the flax of the consultants, the people who are supposed to -- it isn't at all difficult ever to know what the party line was, because they were fairly obvious, you know, in saying the same thing -- was that the public had made up its mind about Clinton on personal matters in the election. They'd known about Gennifer Flowers and they had elected him, and that was all in the past. Nobody's interested. But they knew that wasn't really true, that it's there and every time people were reminded of this kind of recklessness in his past, if true, would erode the confidence in him.
I think this fits into what I think may be his biggest problem -- has been and still is that in various ways, by being too accessible, things coming out of his past, he wore away the moral authority of the office. People want the president to be accessible. They want him to feel that he's listening to them. But if he is out there all the time, if he's out there too much; he's talking too much, he's too available -- he talks about what kind of underwear he wears -- this erodes the authority of the office, the stature of the office, and the public, as I say, they want a president to feel sensitive, but they also want some majesty and dignity left in that office. And Clinton was sort of tearing that away, which I also thought was a very dangerous position for a politician, a president, to be in because there were none of the wrappings around him that give him protection, that give him the benefit of the doubt, that give him sort of, "Well, you know, he's the president." Not that we should ever blindly follow a president, but show him sort of a little more respect for him, the office. And as he wore that away, he was in a much more exposed position.
Now Leon Panetta's very conscious of this, and he tried to change things. There were fewer presidential appearances. He got him to not answer questions about another subject when the event had been about subject A, which is what they had wanted to get in the news. He wanted him to just show more stature. There's a line in -- the president said to Leon Panetta, "I should be more like John Wayne."
LAMB: Back to where we started, page 387, "Bill has always been someone who has lived on the edge, politically and personally, for better or for worse. I don't think he thinks he's vulnerable." This is a friend who says this. If we knew who that friend was, would we be surprised?
DREW: That's all I'm going to say about the friend.
LAMB: Do you think in 1996, if he runs again, that the character issue will make a difference and will play a role?
DREW: Yes, because I don't think he can escape it now. There is, among other things, an industry out there -- the president and his wife feel very strongly about this -- people who put out newsletters and go around to the talk shows, and say pretty awful things about them. That's all true. That's not their only problem, and that's not the only reason people are concerned about is character. But there's no way he can go through the fire of another election without the public not having that in mind.
LAMB: What's your next book?
DREW: I have no idea.
LAMB: Do you have anything that you have thought about that you want to write that may not be political?
DREW: No, I haven't thought about that because this is what I do, this is what I enjoy. It's just that this took so much out of me, it took so much time, energy -- mental energy, that I need to get a little clear of it before I decide what's next.
LAMB: What's the biggest surprise that came out of this book -- back to you, feedback?
DREW: The reaction to the book? Well, I was pleased -- I didn't know how people in the White House were going to respond, nor could I write about worrying about that. But I was pleased to get direct and indirect reports that people, though they read it and winced sometimes, they felt it was fair. And I really did try to be fair.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like. "On The Edge" is the title. "The Clinton Presidency." And our guest and author is Elizabeth Drew. Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.