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Emanuel Says Obama’s Acceptance Speech Visionary (Transcript)

September 05, 2012

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a confidant and onetime chief of staff to President Barack Obama, said at a Bloomberg News/Washington Post breakfast today in Charlotte, North Carolina, that his former boss will give a “big, visionary” acceptance address tomorrow at the Democratic National Convention, and he expects a speech with a little more political “edge” tonight from former President Bill Clinton, for whom he also had worked.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Mayor, thank you for being with us. Let’s start off with the next two nights. If you were - if you were able to script both Bill Clinton and President Obama, what are the arguments that they each need to make? And how are they different?

RAHM EMANUEL: Well, they’re - OK, they’re somewhat different in - not similar, but that I think obviously, in my view, if I was at least drafting or influencing, I think, President Clinton - I think he - you know, everybody’s (inaudible) this hazy image of this great bipartisanship of the ’90s. I don’t remember the bipartisanship on the first budget. I mean, I have slightly - I started that job 6’2” and 250 pounds. And this is all I got left after those years, so I don’t remember that bipartisanship.

And we also had a party that shut down the government over Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment, or as we used to write in President Clinton’s speech, M-squared, E-squared. And so the very things that we’re talking about today are the battles that happened before. And if you want to see the economic growth we had before, you’ve got to continue to fight and invest in the things that actually are most productive for the economy. That’s number one. And I think the president both on politics and policy can draw parallels and similarity. That is President Clinton.

President Obama has a different voice, and I think everybody else is doing some kind of contextualization. President Obama, I think, has to tell people where we’re going, how he plans on getting there, and what I think are the - I wouldn’t - it’s not a State of the Union, so I don’t say that, but it’s the affirmation of what - why four more years will bring the continued changes that are necessary for the country to grow.

And I think they’re similar at one level, but I - I mean, I would - similar in the sense of it’s the same values, same policies. I think President Clinton (inaudible) I think more political, and with a little more edge, as the former president with a 69 percent job approval - favorability, rather than job approval.

QUESTION: He has spent a lot of time over the summer defining the differences between his view and Governor Romney’s view. He spent much less time talking about what you just said, which is talking about where he’s going.

EMANUEL: He, being President Obama.

QUESTION: He, being President Obama.

EMANUEL: All right.

QUESTION: Why has he not done more of it? Why has he waited until the convention to do that in a more explicit way?

EMANUEL: Well, I think this is a different stage. And I think they - my own view is, I think they were - as a campaign - extremely successful in defining the differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And Mitt Romney, if you look at the summer, I think the president - which party, which candidate, which nominee has succeeded with their summer mission? We have a fall to go through, and I would say the Obama campaign has succeeded.

Mitt Romney has a real difficult problem between working- class, middle-class voters identifying with them. And part of that is he gave them, obviously, fodder to work with from his taxes to other issues that help them accentuate where Mitt Romney does not have the interests of hard-working middle-class families at heart or in the focus.

You’re now getting into the second - the final part of the campaign, and you add the introduction and you introduce the second layer, still the foundation, because the choice is clear, the choice of the two - the two nominees is different, their values are different, their policies are different, who they are sent to work in Washington or in the Oval Office for is different.

And that said, you now add, I think, the important piece for the president to add, having laid somewhat of a foundation, which is an additional piece, which is this is where we’re going and this is how we’re going to get there, without being a 12- step policy speech on these nine things on health care. If he does that, it’s not the speech, and I don’t expect him to do that.

QUESTION: Let me do a quick follow-up, and then everybody else jump in. If it’s not a State of the Union address, how can he give people the kind of vision you’re talking about or the kind of detail, explicitness about what he wants to do?

EMANUEL: You guys will sit there and say, you’ll look at what was missing and you’ll highlight it without a doubt. I won’t read it, but I predict it. And I will read it. I’m joking.

That said, my view is - look, I don’t - if you think this is a State of the Union, get that out of your mind. It’s a visionary piece with big goals set out for the country, somewhat of the roadmap we will take, but not the 10-point plan. That’s not what it’s going to be; it shouldn’t be that. And I think it would be a mistake if it was that.

But I want to go back to your first question. I think the Obama campaign has done a good job, in my view, in the first part of distinguishing between these two individuals. It set the precedent now for the second part. And you can’t get to the second part without the first part.

QUESTION: Getting past the convention, what do you think the specifics ought to be going forward? Beyond the convention, where he’s going to put an emphasis or what are the real objectives for the second term?

EMANUEL: Well, I think it’s not like you all of a sudden said they’re not the same objectives, but let me do one thing if I can back up. I don’t - I’m a fan of politics. I like politics, not just for political (inaudible) I think elections have consequences, and I think they matter.

In 1995, the Republicans shut the government down. They shut it down. We had a huge debate in ’96. Now, I’m saying it could be seven, it could be nine months later, we had a balanced budget agreement. Why? Because the Republicans came to the conclusion, all right, the guy’s re-elected, that’s - that was then, and this is now.

Now, because the president got elected and not Bob Dole, you had a balanced-budget agreement that also created for the first time a health care plan for children without health care whose parents work full-time. And that would not have happened had Bob Dole gotten elected. You had the doubling of the national parks. You had the creation of the Hope and lifetime learning tax credits that help middle-class families afford and send their kids to college education. You had reforms to Medicare that lengthened and strengthened Medicare for years on, all things that would have been different had Bob Dole gotten elected.

But a consequence of the election was the Republicans had concluded, Mr. President, the battle we started in ’93 opposing him universally, not one vote for the ’93 budget, that was then, it’s a different day, and they could then work to cut a deal. I believe the Republicans, after the election, if President Obama wins, will say, that was then, this is now, the election - the voters issued a verdict, and we’re done.

And one other lesson. In 1998, when the Republicans were in the - ’98, why did the Republicans in the sixth year of a presidency lose seats when they should have been winning? Because they refused to take the verdict of the voters and tried to follow through on an impeachment process. Voters didn’t want to do that. Elections have meanings. They have consequences.

And I believe if the president wins, it will have consequences, and the policy will be in a direction, more investments in infrastructure, more investments in research and development, greater accountability in our education, building off Race to the Top, with a balanced approach to fiscal discipline that doesn’t do in the short term damage that - all the hard work that I think has been done in the four years, digging out of what was the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

AL HUNT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: What are the odds now Romney will win?

EMANUEL: What’s the - say again?

HUNT: What are the odds that he will win, that Obama will be re-elected?

EMANUEL: I’m not doing odds until I see the debates.

HUNT: But how do you feel about the state of the race right now?

EMANUEL: It’s a - I think this, Al. It’s a close race because of the - you know, where things are. It’s a close race because of where things - oh, thank you - was the lox a comment about Judaism around here? I mean, what is that? All right. Anyway. You’re now - you get one, too? OK.

One is, it’s a close race. I think the one thing - I will say this. And you know my view about the summer, so I don’t need to repeat that. I will say one other thing. The Romney campaign kept saying, you know, this trip overseas is going to be a real game-changer. That was a disaster. They constructed it. Nobody else constructed it. They constructed it. It was their trip.

My view is, if you can’t make it as a tourist, you’re not really going to make it as a chief of - of commander-in-chief. You know, you’re a tourist.

HUNT: Much less the chief of staff.

EMANUEL: Yeah, less the chief of staff, horrible job. Number two, it was their convention. We had more energy in this room in one night than they had in four nights. The two - the two things that they constructed didn’t come off. This is real. This is primetime. You’re running for president. Give me a break.

And so I think the - you know, and campaigns do matter, how you - you know, it’s not everything. The campaigns matter. I don’t think they’ve done a good job for their candidate, and I think the Obama campaign and President Obama have done a good job for his candidacy, in a very difficult context.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) left office (OFF-MIKE)

EMANUEL: We’re all older.

QUESTION: We were - we were younger then, but I think we had a pretty good understanding of (OFF-MIKE) Bill Clinton (OFF- MIKE) Democrat? I don’t feel like I have that same concrete sense. And is there a difference between a Bill Clinton Democrat and a Barack Obama Democrat?

EMANUEL: There is no difference. As a - and I say that because I would describe myself as a New Democrat that I - you know, in the sense of what Bill Clinton reinvented the way we as Democrats, post-Great Society, reinvented and thought through what government could do, rather than do it. It inspired it.

In the ’60s - let me give you a classic example of what I mean. In the ’60s, we would have basically done a police program nationally. This is what’s going to - you know, and what we did was each city got police, but you had to adopt community policing to get those police, so you inspired the change towards community policing, rather than demand it. And if you didn’t want it, you’d have to apply for the cops, OK?

That’s one example. I think the welfare reform, as I said on Sunday, you know, all the Republicans could say, oh, this was a great - no, we vetoed two of their bills before we got what was actually supposed to happen.

Now, the president, Obama, shares exactly that kind of reinvention and rethinking of what government should do, should not do, and if it’s going to do it, how it should do it differently. I think that’s a fundamental different vision. There’s an affirmative role for - let me - let me just - I saw you - I saw you, Ruth. There’s an affirmative role for government to play. It can’t play the role it used to play. It’s still an affirmative force. You have to think through what it can do, what it should not even try to do, and if you’re going to say you should do it, what is it you have to reinvent?

I can - now, I’ve again, folks, been on the local level. I can give you an example, chapter and verse, of what I would do. But I think there are certain things like on infrastructure that are classic examples of what they could do differently to help us achieve our goals as an economy.

QUESTION: But (OFF-MIKE) Obama’s presidency (OFF-MIKE) government doing (OFF-MIKE)

EMANUEL: Well, I will say, you know, health care. I don’t think - look, I’m a - I worked on crime in the Clinton era. You could not get the health care bill that President Obama signed into law if you hadn’t gone not only through the Clinton experience, learned certain things about Clinton. The bill that Barack Obama signed into law was as close to Senator Chafee’s bill as you’ll ever get. It was closer to Senator Chafee’s bill than anything Republicans introduced in the last 10 years, and that’s -

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

EMANUEL: President - no President Clinton’s bill included the employee -

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: The big division between President Clinton and Chafee was employee versus employer mandate. President Obama signed into law the employee mandate, basically, that’s what happened.

QUESTION: Rahm?

EMANUEL: Yeah?

QUESTION: One of the most effective lines down at the Republican convention was this sense of lost hope.

EMANUEL: (inaudible)

QUESTION: You know, the young kids with their faded Obama posters, the line about how, you know, the best day of the - you know, the Obama administration (OFF-MIKE) and that’s all been downhill from there. How do you get over - or get past those kinds of messages?

EMANUEL: Well, I don’t know. I thought the best day of the Republican convention was Clint Eastwood. I mean, I was - I remember it differently. So that’s one.

Two, look, you’re not going to have in a re-election - Bill Clinton didn’t have the same thing in ’96 that he had in ’92. George Bush didn’t have the same thing in ’04 that he had in 2000. He was running in a different context; he was a different president. That’s also - that’s just self-evident for every person who runs. And it’s different. Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and by ’84, it was a different type of debate and different type of context.

You can’t have that kind of freshness that came in 2008, but what you can have is the same - and I think Michelle advanced that last night - was the core person is still the same. And I think she did a tremendous job last night for the president, revealing and constantly reminding people who it is that she fell in love with, which I think was an essential, subtle message to all the - to all the public that voted for somebody in ’08, why you fell in love with this person is the same reason I did.

QUESTION: How (OFF-MIKE) presidents (OFF-MIKE) voters who used to love him now seem to only like him?

EMANUEL: Well, that’s better than the alternative. It could have been the other thing. That’s one. And I don’t buy that that’s - first of all, I don’t buy your premise.

QUESTION: But the polls show (OFF-MIKE) talk to people - I mean, you said it yourself. The freshness is gone.

EMANUEL: Well, that’s -

QUESTION: - disappointed, they’re still not wild about Romney -

EMANUEL: There’s three things that I - let me say this. I’m trying to - I know we’re doing a live stream, so I want to have an honest conversation without playing a doctor game with you guys, OK? In 1992, Bill Clinton ran -first of all, he didn’t run in the same context of the economic collapse, totally different. Bill Clinton ran as a New Democrat who was going to change his party. There was people wavering by ’94. Some of us - you remember some people even in this building were talking about trying to plan a primary challenge Bill Clinton in ’94 right after the midterm.

He held people because it was about whether he was going to change his party. He ran as a New Democrat. When people work hard, play by the rules - which is a different value system than we were associated with as a party - this is going to be your chance. And by ’96, they saw that, A, the economy was doing better and, B, also they felt that the president had made some of the changes that he promised.

Part of the challenge the president has is, unlike running as, quote, unquote, I’m going to change my party, he was going to change the tone in Washington. And so there is both an economic piece to it, and I know this for a fact, because I - as a student of both polling and focus groups, they don’t blame him for what he inherited. They know he inherited a bad deal, their bad deal, and he has made changes and significant progress, but not enough that they have felt it.

If you ask for where, quote, unquote, the disappointment is in the context of Washington’s coarseness, and I think the president shares that frustration with the public.

QUESTION: Rahm, do you -

EMANUEL: (OFF-MIKE) separate the two, political and economic.

QUESTION: Rahm, another refrain at the Republican convention was to play off of the president’s “you build it” comments to try to portray him as anti-business, and you see that spin pretty persistent strategy. Do you worry, whatever you think about -

EMANUEL: I’m Jewish.

QUESTION: - the comments, do you -

EMANUEL: I worry about everything.

QUESTION: - that that’s resonating out in the public. And do you think that -

EMANUEL: No, I think the bigger issue is the ones - I mean, I think it feeds into more of the kind of - the sense of coarseness debate. I’m not - I worry about it. I don’t think it’s healthy for the country. I don’t believe the rhetoric. So on a fundamental thing - because I think he’s - I know he’s not hostile to business. I know he also believes that business creates the jobs that are necessary. Government creates the kind of environment and atmosphere for economic growth and job creation to happen. And I don’t - and I have a different view of the relationship - I know what his attitude is (inaudible) essential role.

I don’t think that that kind of sense of division or hostility is - I know it’s not one he wants, and I don’t think he - and I also know he doesn’t think it’s good for the country.

QUESTION: Do you think you need to do more to counteract that or rebut it than - than you have thus far?

EMANUEL: I think - well, you’ve got to - you’ve always got to work on every piece of making sure that any attack by your opponent doesn’t go unanswered, so I would stay on that.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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