FLASHBACK: Dan Rather Is Amazed By Smart, Hard Working Hillary Clinton

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In 1993, more than a decade before Dan Rather would disgrace himself as a partisan determined to take down George W. Bush, he fawned over then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s efforts to nationalize health care. After then-President Bill Clinton gave a prime time address promoting nationalized health care, the CBS journalist offered key time to the First Lady. it was 26 years ago this week, on September 22, 1993, that Rather talked to Clinton and praised her hard work: 

You know, as I hear you talk, as I have before on this subject, I don't know of anybody--friend or foe--who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I'm not surprised because you've been working on it so long, you've traveled so hard and listened to so many people. 

 

 

Does that sound like a skeptical journalist speaking truth to power? Just wait, it gets worse. The softballs continued: 

Is it possible--and I'm asking here, candidly--I mean, that when this gets through, whether it passes or not, that we will reach the point where a first lady--any first lady--can be judged on the quality of her work?

The then-CBS Evening News anchor worried that all this health care talk might have an adverse impact on the Clintons's relationship. 

 

 

DAN RATHER: All of that having been said, did you or didn't you find a time when you found yourself sort of thinking, 'I wonder how I can keep Bill from talking about health care?' Or was there a time when he just said, 'Hillary, I love health care, I'm into it, but can we please talk about something else?'

HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, we--we've had to impose moratoriums on each other during the last eight months; say, you know, 'No more talk--no more talk about any of this business stuff.' We're just going to watch a movie or, you know, have some fun. Yeah, we've--we've had to remind each other of that.

Some other examples of the then-CBS Evening News anchor’s not-exactly hard-hitting questions. The key theme seems to be whether Mrs. Clinton relaxing was having "fun": 

RATHER: When you walked in, it was pretty clear you were excited, but also maybe a little nervous. Am I wrong about that?

...

RATHER: We--next week begins the hard--really hard chore of trying to sell this to Congress, and you'll be the lead-off witness. Are you nervous about that?

...

RATHER: You've been working hard already to introduce this plan to people, sell the plan to people. Are you having fun with this? Or is it all--is it all just hard work? It looks to be very hard work.

...

RATHER: Speaking of having fun, I'm told repeatedly that you're prepared to go to hell and back, if necessary, to sell this program to the American people. But the question: Are you prepared to do as Vice President Al Gore did to sell one of his favorite projects? Are you prepared to pay the ultimate price and go on David Letterman?

This interview came just a few months after Rather praised the Clintons as “great” and added that he was “pulling for” Mrs. Clinton. From May 27, 1993: “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners...Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we're pulling for her.” 

Quite a contrast to Rather trying to destroy George H.W. Bush in 1988 or George W. Bush in 2004

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.

A transcript of the September 22, 1993 interview is below. Click “expand” to read more: 

48 Hours
09/22/1993


DAN RATHER: Good evening, and welcome to our special live edition of 48 HOURS. We've moved to an office just off the floor of the House of Representatives. The floor from the House of Representatives, of course, is where President Clinton himself has just detailed his vision of health-care reform. Now involved--very involved from the very beginning, start to finish, in preparing this plan, and deeply involved in trying to convince the Congress to pass it, is the first lady of the United States of America, Hillary Rodham Clinton.Mrs. Clinton, welcome. Thank you for being with us.

HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you.

RATHER: When you walked in, it was pretty clear you were excited, but also maybe a--a little nervous. Am I wrong about that?

CLINTON: No, you're absolutely right. I kid my husband a lot, that I get so nervous for him, and I get nervous for my daughter when she does something; that oftentimes if I'm on the sidelines of a sports event for her or watching him make a speech, I'm more nervous than they are.

RATHER: We--next week begins the hard--really hard chore of trying to sell this to Congress, and you'll be the lead-off witness. Are you nervous about that?

CLINTON: I am, but I'm also very excited and very committed, because I think that it is going to happen. As the president said tonight in his speech, it will happen this year because we can't wait any longer. We can't afford to let the system continue to do what it's doing. So I think all of us are very ready to take on this challenge and get the job done.

RATHER: You've been working hard already to introduce this plan to people, sell the plan to people. Are you having fun with this, or is it all--is it all just hard work? It looks to be very hard work.

CLINTON: Well, it is, but it's also fun because I have met so many wonderful people all around the country. I have been in the living rooms of farm families, talking about health-care problems; I've been sitting on loading docks talking to people who have told me their issues; and I've spent lots of time with doctors and nurses and others who've given me the ideas that are in this plan about what we could do and how we could do it better. And I have fun seeing people who really care, being involved in solving problems instead of just wringing their hands and talking about how terrible things are. So it's been a great experience for me.

RATHER: I want to talk about some of the details.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm.

RATHER: But first, let me run down a checklist. If you will--this will be very short--just give me a yes or no answer.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm. OK.

RATHER: Will every legal resident of the United States be covered under this, including the 37 million now who have no coverage?

CLINTON: Yes.

RATHER: Will this entail any major increase in taxes?

CLINTON: No.

RATHER: Will this help reduce the deficit, perhaps by as much as $ 91 billion, a figure often--often mentioned?

CLINTON: Yes, it will help reduce the deficit.

RATHER: And will all of this be accomplished without reducing the quality of health care to America?

CLINTON: Yes, it can be done. And the reason it can be done is because, as the president pointed out, leading experts like Dr. Koop know that we spend billions of dollars inefficiently and wastefully already. And I think for many Americans, it is a personal experience that they have had. They know that there is waste in the system. They may not know how much there is, but we are committed to getting that out and using the savings that will be available, once we get the system working more efficiently, and not imposing any kind of new big tax on Americans. Because why would we want to put even more money on top of a system in which there are so many savings that we should be able to realize first? And that's how we think about it.

RATHER: The reason I wanted to tick those off--and you said yes, it will cover the 37 not--million not covered; yes, every legal resident in the country will be covered; yes, it will help reduce the deficit; no, it will not decrease quality. It sounds too good to be true.

CLINTON: Well, I think that it may because we're not used to what other countries take for granted, Dan, and I think that's been one of the biggest surprises to me. As I have learned about this, and I have tried to study it, because I didn't know, and wasn't an expert when I started; you know, most countries with whom we compete spend less money per citizen on their health-care system, insure everybody inside their borders and provide more benefits than most of our average insurance policies do here.

And the--one example we have here in our country that does nearly the same is Hawaii, which, because employers are required to cover their employees, nearly 100 percent of all Hawaiians have access to health care. They emphasize primary and preventive health care. They spend less money per citizen than we do in the rest of the country. And I think there are enough examples, whether you look at that state, or you look at a Mayo Clinic, like the president cited, that is one of the finest health-care facilities in the world. They haven't raised their rates as fast as many other parts of our health-care system has; in fact, have kept them below 4 percent this past year. We know it can be done because it's being done all over the United States. It's just not being done everywhere at the same time.

RATHER: Now the president underscored that no one should think that this comes without sacrifice. It is going to have to be paid for. As I understand it--correct me as we go along if I'm wrong--that the emphasis in the president's plan .is one that requires businesses to take a lot of the burden of cost. The Republicans have proposed an alternative which, as I understand it, places the greatest burden on individuals.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm.

RATHER: Why is President Clinton's plans better than those of the Republicans?

CLINTON: Well, I think the first thing I would like to say is that we are very impressed by the Republican approach because there are so many features in common. The Republicans believe that there does have to be an individual requirement--every individual has to be insured--just as some states now require people to have auto insurance. We think that the burden ought to be shared, as it is now in our country, between employers and employees. But we're not that far apart, once--we recognize that we cannot get to universal coverage unless we require people to make a contribution.

The reason that the president believes that the employer-employee system will work better is because it's what is already working. That's the first point. Most of us get our insurance through our workplaces. Secondly, because there are many businesses now that are bearing the full load because of those businesses that are not making any contribution, many employees who are bearing the full load because other employees aren't making any contribution at all. And I think the other point is that we would worry that if individuals were required on their own, we wouldn't know quite how to keep track of all of them, and we would worry that employers who now insure employees would stop doing so because there wouldn't be any reason or certainly any requirement for them to continue doing so.

But I'd like to stress the way those two approaches are similar and we will be working with the Republicans on their proposal and sharing all of the details behind ours. The real bottom line is, we want everybody in the system--we want everybody insured, and we want to spread that burden fairly so that every person has some kind of contribution to take responsibility for their health care.

RATHER: All right, a lot of negotiation has to be done, and the president has said it, you have said it in so many words, that this isn't written in stone. But what is non-negotiable?

CLINTON: I think that the principles the president laid out are non-negotiable. The details as to how we fulfill each of those principles; we are open to discuss. But for example, we believe we have to have every American insured. Any plan that would not result in every American being insured as soon as possible is something that we don't think will work, that we will only have to revisit the problem if we do not get every American insured. So that's an example of a principle that we believe very strongly in, but the details as to how we would actually achieve that is what we're going to be talking about in the country.

RATHER: And true or untrue, that there is going to be built to achieve that another huge government bureaucracy…

CLINTON: Not true.

RATHER: ...with all that that entails?

CLINTON: No, not true. Right now, we have, probably as the president said, the most bureaucratic health-care system in the world, both in our federal system, through our programs of Medicare and Medicaid, and in the private system; where insurance companies have millions of forms and all kinds of checks to check the checkers, and all the things that we now pay for that we don't need. We think we will immensely simplify the system. We will remove a lot of the bureaucracy and the regulation from it, and we will keep striving as we develop this bill to get it as slim and as inexpensive as it can be. We don't want to spend money on forms for people to fill out. We don't want to take nurses away from the bedsides of very sick children. We want the money we spend on health care to go to health care.

RATHER: You know, as I hear you talk, as I have before on this subject, I don't know of anybody--friend or foe--who isn't impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I'm not surprised because you've been working on it so long, you've traveled so hard and listened to so many people. Is it possible--and I'm asking here, candidly--I mean, that when this gets through, whether it passes or not, that we will reach the point where a first lady--any first lady--can be judged on the quality of her work?

CLINTON: Well, I hope that every woman will be judged on her work, her contribution to her family, what she thinks is important. I am very grateful for this chance to not only help my husband, but serve my country, and it's very important to me. But I think all of the women who've been in this position before me have made their contributions, and I don't want to substitute one stereotype for another. I want every woman, whether she be married to a president, or out there supporting a family as a single parent, or everything in between, to feel that she is a worthy valuable person who's making a contribution that is right for her, and that's what I hope we'll be able to do. And--and if I've contributed in some way to helping women be seen as who they are, and not as--how someone else expects them to be, I think that'll be good for all of us.

RATHER: All of that having been said, did you or didn't you find a time when you found yourself sort of thinking, 'I wonder how I can keep Bill from talking about health care?' Or was there a time when he just said, 'Hillary, I love health care, I'm into it, but can we please talk about something else?'

CLINTON: Yeah, we--we've had to impose moratoriums on each other during the last eight months; say, you know, 'No more talk--no more talk about any of this business stuff.' We're just going to watch a movie or, you know, have some fun. Yeah, we've--we've had to remind each other of that.

RATHER: Well, speaking of having fun, I'm told repeatedly that you're prepared to go to hell and back, if necessary, to sell this program to the American people. But the question: Are you prepared to do as Vice President Al Gore did to sell one of his favorite projects? Are you prepared to pay the ultimate price and go on "David Letterman?" 

CLINTON: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, you've got to draw a line somewhere. I'm not sure about that. He was awfully good, though. I thought he was terrific.

RATHER: This has been--thank you very much, Hillary Rodham Clinton. We appreciate you coming. Thank you very much.

CLINTON: Thank you for having me.

 

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