Q. It's tempting to compare this moment in history to F.D.R. in 1932 or J.F.K. in 1960 or even Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- all watershed years. In terms of the task you face, which of these comparisons seems most appropriate?
A. Probably somewhere between Roosevelt and Kennedy. The economy is not as devastated as it was under Roosevelt, and the changes we need to make don't involve as much Big Government or Keynesian economics, but they are quite profound. There's a sense that we need to get the country moving again. That's what Kennedy brought to the White House. But structurally the things we have to do here at home are more profound than what we had to face in 1961.
Q. You've also been admiring of Reagan.
A. Substantively, the best thing he did early was to restore the country's sense of confidence and optimism and possibility.
Q. Do you feel you have as much of a mandate to make changes as any of those three Presidents did when they were elected?
A. I guess it depends on how you read the results of the election. If it had been a two-person race, the popular margin would have been greater, but the electoral margin might have been slightly tighter. It's hard to calculate because some states were so close. I think what I have a mandate to do from the people who voted for Clinton and Perot, and some of the people even who voted for Bush, is to try to make the government work again, to strengthen the economy to solve problems, to represent the people at large rather than just the people who are organized and have great wealth.
Q. Did Perot make your task easier by getting people to focus on the fact that some of the solutions will be painful?
A. Maybe. But another thing that was very helpful coming out of his campaign was this whole emphasis on political reform. When I became the nominee of the Democratic Party, in a country that hadn't voted for a Democrat in a long time, there were all these people who wanted political reform but weren't sure any Democrat could deliver it. So when Perot got the vote he got, that really gave me the impetus to stick with the political reform. I think this will open the system to making tougher decisions.
On the deficit thing, what was said helps people to think about making tough decisions. What they want is for ((the solutions)) to be fair and commonsensical. People understand more and more that at least over the long run, you've got to do something about it.
Q. Are there some things that Perot proposed, like the gasoline tax, that you think might now be more palatable to the public?