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Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton & the Swift Boat Vets

Reported by Marie Therese - August 10, 2004 -

This is my partial transcription of an appearance by Bill Clinton on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, August 9, 2004, during which the ex-President has a few things to say about the scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's military record. After you read this, if it makes you angry, find a way to fight back. Need ideas? Check out our category "What You Can Do".

STEWART: My guest tonight - a two-term Democratic President, whose bestselling memoir is "My Life". Please welcome to the program President Bill Clinton. Mr. President.

Clinton enters to loud cheering and applause.

STEWART: Thank you for coming. Nice to see you.

CLINTON: Nice to see you.

STEWART: Thank you for coming on the program.

CLINTON: I'm glad to be here and I'm glad you did that riff on the military attack on Kerry, too.

STEWART: That was a rough one, wasn't it?

CLINTON: Yeah. But ya' know, they did the same thing to McCain in 198 - 2000...

STEWART: Same group, am I right?

CLINTON: Same group.

STEWART: Nice kids.

CLINTON: Yeah. In support of the same crowd I might point out..

STEWART: Right....who (long pause) "had nothing to do with it".

CLINTON: They also pointed out, they had a calling operation in South Carolina in the primary in 2000 talking about how John McCain had a black baby. They didn't want the white voters to forget it.

STEWART: They actually meant Strom Thurmond. It's just they had the wrong name.

CLINTON: Actually, McCain - he would have been perfect for this little other thing you did with the Democratic Party [a funny skit in the first part of the show]. Actually, McCain had adopted a child from Bangladesh. But it served the callers to call him 'black.'

STEWART: Now, I see the anger when you think about these tactics. For instance, I think you may take a swing at me.

CLINTON: No. I like you.

STEWART: Very nicely said. Is it - has it gotten to the point - do you believe that politics has gotten so dirty and so - that these kinds of tactics have become so prevalent - that this is the reason half the country doesn't vote, or, this is the reason we don't get, maybe, the officials that we deserve?

CLINTON: No, I think people do it because they think it works.

STEWART: That's it. Simply a strategy?

CLINTON: Absolutely. And as soon as it doesn't work, they'll stop doing it so I think Senator McCain, whom I admire very much, made a mistake not bashing the Bush campaign over the attacks on his service. They implied he betrayed the country when he was a POW and he made a huge mistake in not bashing them for that calling operation saying he'd adopted a black baby. It was blatantly racist. They'll do this stuff as long as they think it works.

STEWART: Now, do the Democrats...?

CLINTON: They're runnin' this ad against Kerry's military record 'cause they think it's not good for them. I mean, Kerry went to Vietnam and President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who are big hawks, or like me, we didn't go. All three of us could have gone. And we didn't and Kerry did, so it's not good for them, so they're tryin' to put a chink in his armor. But it's wrong. And if they really disapproved of it, they would have said they disapproved of it. There's a reason they didn't say the disapproved of it.

STEWART: They would allow it to go.

CLINTON: Yeah. They do that stuff. Look what they did to Max Cleland in Georgia. Here Max Cleland left two legs and an arm in Vietnam and in 2002 they rans ads against him Again he was being opposed by a man who, like me and the President and the Vice-President, did not go to Vietnam. They ran ads comparing Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein, because he didn't vote for the Homeland Security Agency exactly as the President had drafted it. And they treated him like a traitor.

Y'know why he didn't vote for it? Because the bill removed all civil service protections from 170,000 federal employees who had nothing to do with your security. So he [said] "I didn't leave half my body in Vietnam to come home and strip 170,000 people of their job rights just for a cheap election year issue. But, they beat him with it and until we stop them, they'll keep doin' it.

(Loud cheers and clapping.)

STEWART: 'Cause, you know, it's hard for me to wrap my hand around the idea that the Republicans will stopp to anything, but the Democrats would not. I sort of feel like - I imagine both sides have their foibles. Why is it that the media or the - or somebody - doesn't have any oversight? Why is it that a campaign commercial doesn't need to be as truthful as, say, a toothpaste commercial?

CLINTON: Well, to be fair in - since - for about the last three elections starting in '92 actually, the newspapers began to evaluate the truth and accuracy and fairness of the ads and they do it more often and this ad you've featured here has actually been subject to quite a bit of criticism, so we are getting better at it, but when someone comes after you, you have to go back at them.



STEWART: Are the Democrats good at having - you know, I watch -

CLINTON: In general we're not.

STEWART: On a lot of these 20 hour, 24 hour news (garbled word) the Republicans seem really disciplined in terms of - as soon as Kerry announced Edwards, we all heard "first and foremost liberal senator in the Senate". We heard "way out of the mainstram." We heard all kinds of facts repeated in sort of a carpet bombing kind of a matter, not very much from the Democrats in defense.

CLINTON: Well, we're gettin' better at it. I think you know in '92, we were very good at it and it worked. Whenever they hit me, I hit 'em back. And, whenever they came up with a charge I didn't believe was fair, I answered back. And that's what we have to do this time.

STEWART: Does it blow your mind? You know, I look at it now - yesterday, Halliburton basically said they committed fraud and were fined $7.5 million from the SEC. The Vice-President was in charge of Halliburton at the time this fraud was committed.

Do you ever look at that and think (long pause) "Travel-gate - are you serious?!" Like, do you ever look at this and think, "where is the outrage over there?" Considerably much larger...

CLINTON: I know.

STEWART: ....and more crucial issues.

CLINTON: Not only that. Ya' know, Halliburton got a lot of no-bid contracts in Iraq paid for by money we appropriated from Iraqi oil after the war.

STEWART: Billions of dollars.


STEWART: They have an offshore subsidiary that does business with Iran. Why aren't (stops, shrugs shoulders) - FILEGATE!! Honestly! Does that (searches for words) Does it drive you mad or only me? It drives me mad.

CLINTON: Well. Well, I think we oughta be talkin' about it. If we keep it a secret, you know, the media will say - the mainstream media will say - "Well, the Democrats aren't gripin' about it'. We need to point it out, that's one of the things I tried to do in my Convention speech and that I tried to do in this book

I tried to say "Look, I don't hate them the way they hated me" and the way - and the kind of venom they put out against Kerry in this ad. I think they believe certain things and I believe certain things, most Democrats do, and we have to say we believe in different things, that leads us to different tactics.

It also, more importantly, leads us to different policies, which will affect the lives of the American people and we can't let them have the whole debate, so when they want to - I always took it as an opportunity when they attacked me.

I thought, "That's a briar patch". They can throw me in any day because then I'll engage in the debate. And you're not bein' negative then, if all your doin' is responding to their attacking, you're not bein' negative.

STEWART: Yeah. It's like, if they throw the first punch, lights out.

CLINTON: That's my theory.


It's my theory too, Bill, and that of all my Democratic and Green Party friends.

We're mad as hell and we won't take it any more.

Are you listening, DNC?

You need to attack more often and harder.

Stop playing to the boxes.

Play to the bleachers!