Public Papers - 1991 - December
Interview With Jim Gardner of WPVI - TV in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Q. Mr. President, this is Jim Gardner from Philadelphia.
The President. Loud and clear. See you, Jim.
Q. How are you, sir?
The President. On a scale of one to ten? About a seven today.
Q. Well, that's not so great.
The President. It's pretty good.
Q. Well, it's not so bad.
The President. No, it's not bad.
Q. Mr. President, I'm sorry -- Mr. President, we were interested to hear your spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, this morning proclaim today that the country is, in fact, still in a recession. Until now you have said again and again that the country was technically not in a recession. What changed your mind?
The President. Well, I don't know about technically, but I think what we're trying to put the emphasis on is people are hurting. And some people can define it. Some areas will say, ``Hey, we're not in recession; we've got a certain amount of growth.'' Others will say, ``Tell us about it. We're in a serious recession.''
So, rather than try to define or not define terms, what we're saying is: We are trying to help. And we've got to get this country doing better, to bring pressure on all of us, the administration and Congress, to do what we can to help. And we've done certain things that I think will. We've freed up .6 or .7 billion worth of Government spending. We're signing a jobs-intensive transportation bill that will kick it. And then, as you know, we're going to have some new initiatives at the State of the Union.
So, I'm less interested in what the technical definition is. You might argue technically, are we in recession or not? But when there is this kind of sluggishness and concern, definitions, heck with it; let's get on with the business at hand.
Q. Mr. President, many thousands of Philadelphians have been suffering at the hands of the economy for far too long, and many of them would feel that they have been abandoned by your administration and specifically by you. I would assume that you don't see it that way.
The President. No, I don't. But I can understand their frustration. For a person that's out of work the unemployment rate is not 6.9 percent or 6.8 percent nationally; it is 100 percent. So, I can understand the frustration and, you know, you've got to take the heat in this job. I don't think there's any quick and easy answers to this economy. There are certain things we can do and that I've tried to do in three separate State of the Union Messages.
But for somebody that's hurting out there, Jim, I can understand their saying, ``Hey, the President isn't doing enough. Congress isn't doing enough.'' And I have to take the heat on that. I've got to take the responsibility. But what I'm trying to do is to lead this country out of this sluggishness to the best of my ability. And, as I say, we've got some proposals, and we're going to have more.
Public Opinion Polls
Q. The new ABC News/Washington Post poll, out this morning, says that 58 percent of the public think that you care more about serving the wealthy than you do about the middle class. I wonder, does this point to a failure of your economic policy or an inability of the administration to convey how it does feel?
The President. I think it's the latter and possibly the former, because people look at it and say, ``Hey, why can't you get Congress to do what you want it to do? You did it in Desert Storm.'' The difference is I didn't need Congress to move on Desert Storm, as you may well remember. So I think it's a combination of things. And I can understand when people are hurting that they feel that way, and a good thing happened on this polling, though. I vowed when the polls were sky-high not to live by the polls and saying I didn't believe them. And I'm not going to start now, trying to analyze where I stand. What we're trying to do is help people and get on with this trying to do what the Federal Government can do to help the recovery. It isn't just Federal Government, I might say, but we've got a large role in it, and I want to see us be more effective.
Soviet Nuclear Weapons
Q. The issue about nuclear weapons. Russian President Yeltsin is saying that Ukraine and Byelorussia have agreed to destroy their nuclear weapons. But the Presidents of those two Republics are reportedly saying that they won't get rid of their nuclear weapons or the nuclear weapons on their soil unless Boris Yeltsin gets rid of his. And the President of the Islamic Republic of Kazakhstan is now saying that he wants to keep his nuclear arms. Secretary of State Baker is saying he has no more concern than normal. But aren't Americans right to be concerned about nuclear stability in that part of the world?
The President. One of the things that we are trying to do in handling this peaceful evolution in the Soviet Union, in the Republics, is to be sure that the nuclear question is handled well. And one of the reasons I spend a fair amount of time on this question is because I think I owe it to the American people to use the best of our ability to see that this nuclear question is handled correctly.
I hadn't heard the latest that you've just given me on one Republic, but I can tell the American people this through you: We are getting proper assurances from all about the safe disposal of and accounting for and control of nuclear weapons. And that is a key. That's one reason why, when I hear this criticism, ``Hey, you shouldn't spend time on foreign affairs,'' by some of these turning-inward people -- we must do it. We owe it to the kids there in the State of Pennsylvania and everyplace else. And I am not going to forswear my responsibilities for leadership in this area.
Q. Mr. President, here in Philadelphia, this morning marked the start of a program to make condoms available to juniors and seniors in the city's public schools. How do you feel about that?
The President. I'm not enthusiastic about that. I certainly would like to see more in the hands of families; more in the hands of education. And I have expressed myself, and you know, let the local jurisdictions do what they want. I mean, they have rights. States have rights. Local communities have rights. Local school boards have rights. But you ask me, I would much prefer to see this matter handled through better education, through behavior, getting people to understand that in the case of AIDS this is a disease that can be controlled, for the most part, by individual behavior. And I don't think passing out condoms is the way you affect individual behavior, very candidly.
So I'm less enthusiastic about that approach than I am about doing a better job with family, with education, with getting forward with the whole behavioral side of the equation.
Q. Mr. President, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us today.
The President. Nice to be with you. Have a good Christmas.
Q. You, too, sir.
Note: The interview began at 1:53 p.m. The President spoke via satellite from Room 459 in the Old Executive Office Building.