Transcript: Hillary Clinton, Not Holding Back

"Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden spent a day on the campaign trail with New York Senator Hillary Clinton. The following is an excerpt of her interview:

McFadden: As you know, the left wing blogs, you're not their favorite person at the moment.

Clinton: Well, that kind of comes and goes, too. You know, we work together or have common cause in some areas. We disagree in others. But that's true with everybody.

McFadden: You must scratch your head sometimes, though. Either you're too liberal or you're not liberal enough.

Clinton: It's sort of like the Goldilocks theory of politics, you know ... But I have a pretty good idea how difficult it is to be universally liked and I don't expect that.

You know, it's people who, frankly, don't care, who couldn't be bothered, who don't see the challenges that I think our country faces, who I think are really selling themselves short.

McFadden: So an association game, if you'll speak a word or two about the following political folks, OK? President George Bush.

Clinton: Disappointing.

McFadden: Because?

Clinton: Oh, on so many fronts. You know, I think our country is really headed in the wrong direction. And after 9/11, we were united and there was an opportunity for leadership that pulled us together, and not just in the immediate aftermath of that horrific attack, but for months and years and called us to sacrifice on behalf of a larger national purpose.

But that didn't happen and we have paid a big price for it. We're just ending the commemoration of Katrina and everyone knows that was a terrible failure of leadership and a neglect of a big section of our country.

McFadden: All right, so George Bush is disappointing. What about John McCain?

Clinton: Intriguing. I know him as a colleague and a friend. ... He is someone who has strong opinions and doesn't hesitate to express them. I agree in some areas, disagree with many others. But I enjoy his company.

McFadden: Hillary Clinton.

Clinton: Hmmm ... Well, I'm going to leave that to others. I am myself. So, you know, I don't have much objectivity. I am who I am.

McFadden: If you could pick an adjective that you hope people would use to describe you, what would it be?

Clinton: Real. I think that when you've been in the public eye as long as I have and you are basically viewed through so many different lenses and there has been kind of a cottage industry trying to turn me into a caricature of who I am.

I have loved the opportunity the last seven years in New York for people to get to know me. And that doesn't mean a 100 percent are going to like me or vote for me, but it's a much better feeling that comes from people saying, "You know, I get her" or "she's real and I agree with her." And that's all you can hope for.

McFadden: So you've campaigned all day today.

Clinton: I did.

McFadden: And perhaps the greatest campaigner in our generation played golf today.

Clinton: That's right, that's right.

McFadden: I want to ask you about something that's on the minds of a lot of people, which is, is your marriage fair game? The New York Times clearly think so, front page article about how many days you spend with your husband -- 14 is their answer -- a month.

How angry does that article make you?

Clinton: Not at all. You know, I just don't pay any attention to it, I really don't. My attitude is I have no control over what somebody wants to talk about or write about.

McFadden: Really?

Clinton: Really.

McFadden: It doesn't hurt? It doesn't make you mad? I mean, it would sure make me mad, I think.

Clinton: No. Well, maybe I've just been at this too long. I learned really a long time ago you take criticism seriously, but not personally ... You know, everybody lives their lives differently. And my life is mine and I'm not going to cede it to anybody. I'm not giving up any piece of it. I'm not letting anybody have control over it.

I live my life according to my best values and what I think is important and people can make their own judgments about it.

McFadden: Are you a different person in that regard today, as you sit here at 58, than you were 28, 38?

Clinton: Certainly. You know, I think that's one of the great gifts of life, if you're willing to keep learning. That's been something I've worked very hard at.

McFadden: I want to turn to Iraq and probe a little bit on what your position is at this point. You were one of the Democrats who case a vote in favor enabling the president to go into Iraq.

Do you, as we sit here today, with the information we have today, regret casting that vote?

Clinton: Well, I can only look at what I knew at the time, because I don't think you get do-overs in life. I think you have to take responsibility and hopefully learn from it and go forward.

I regret very much the way the president used the authority he was given, because I think he misled the Congress and he misled the country and he misused the authority.

McFadden: As we sit here today, was it a mistake to go into Iraq?

Clinton: Well, given this administration's track record, they have been nothing but a series of mistakes.

And I don't see this administration, frankly, with the credibility and the authority to lead both our country and the world in dealing with these very threatening situations. So even if one could say they made mistakes and they shouldn't have done it, right now we're in a series of challenging decisions and they aren't demonstrating the leadership necessary. ... But they're a hard group to help, I've got to tell you. They don't listen to Democrats or Republicans.

McFadden: Even some of your supporters, though, and I talked to a couple today, want you to say, "I'm sorry I cast the vote. I'm sorry I enabled the president."

Clinton: Well, I understand that, because certainly the feelings about Iraq are very raw and deep and I share them. But I don't think that's responsible. ... And I've taken a lot of heat from my friends who have said, "Please, just throw in the towel and say let's get out by a date certain." I don't think that's responsible either. And it may be frustrating for some, but I don't think complicated situations in life or, frankly, in foreign policy and military affairs often lend themselves to answers that can be put into a soundbite.

And I would like us to be gone as soon as we responsibly can, but I also want to be sure that we've exhausted every alternative politically, diplomatically, to try to support this government, which, after all, is trying. ... If there were a failed state now in control of all that oil, that would have consequences for a long time.

McFadden: Is there a link between Iraq, the war in Iraq and terrorism?

The president says yes. What do you say?

Clinton: Well, the president is right, if you're talking about today, but not if you're going back to 9/11 or 2002, when the vote was cast, or even March 2003, when the invasion occurred. ... I just wish that this president and vice president would get out of the bubble they're in, quit listening to the people they're listening, change their national security team and maybe bring in some new voices, which is why I've called for the resignation or the firing, frankly, of Donald Rumsfeld.

But, instead, they're back to business as usual, trying to make links that don't exist, trying to draw historical analogies that are not accurate. I think that does a great disservice not only to the American people, but, frankly, to the quality of decision-making.

You know, I believe if you're a responsible decision-maker, you can never close your mind to the facts on the ground or to people who might have a different point of view. But in this White House, it's a small circle of people. Frankly, it's an echo chamber.

And it's time that they break that up.

McFadden: So the only person in America who seems not to be talking about whether or not you're going to run for president is you.

So let me just ask you the question directly. Are you running for president in 2008?

Clinton: I am not thinking about that at all. I know everybody else is and lots of other people are saying, "Oh, she is, she is," but the truth is, I don't think about it. I haven't made any decision about it, because that's not how I think and how I work.

McFadden: You have raised almost $45 million at this point.

Clinton: Well, that's about how much it took in 2000 and this is, of course, over a longer period of time, going all the way back to 2001. And, again, I was a Girl Scout. I believe in being prepared.

I don't want anybody to take advantage of me or I don't want anybody to think I'm taking anything for granted.

McFadden: So those who say this is a war chest for the presidential run, you say?

Clinton: I say I raised a lot of money when I ran the first time. I have spent about five and a half years helping other people raise money. I've probably ended up raising, oh, $50 million, $60 million for other Democrats.

So this is how I stay on top of my political situation.

McFadden: So to New Yorkers who say, "Senator, are you going to be around for the full six years of your term, if we re-elect you," you say?

Clinton: I say right now I'm not thinking about anything else except being re-elected and I hope you will support me in November. I hope I've earned your vote.

McFadden: And if someone other than you were having to make a decision about running for president...

Clinton: You're good, you're good.

McFadden: I'm trying!

McFadden: ... realistic to say the decision has to be made by whomever is going to run by next spring?

Clinton: Again, I don't buy any of that. You know, my husband made a decision to run in October of the year before. Other people work for decades.

McFadden: You know, to someone who's not involved in politics, this may sound like a foolish question to you, but I have to tell you it's a sincere one. Why would anyone want to be president? Can you help me understand that?

Clinton: Well, I think if someone did and were willing to run the gauntlet to do it, that person would have to believe that you could provide service to the country and leadership at a time when it's desperately needed.

I think there's a great disappointment with President Bush and it crosses party lines. I hear it all the time. I have so many Republicans who come to my events. I mean, the last couple of days, we were in a very Republican part of New York and so many of the people who are supporting me are Republicans.

And there's just a feeling of being let down, that we needed real leadership post-9/11, post-Katrina, and instead we get sort of partisan rhetoric and political gamesmanship and finger-pointing and blame-placing, and that's not leadership.

Maybe you can squeak out a win in an election, but when it really comes time to pull the country together and make tough decisions, yes, we've got a plan for energy independence, yes, we have a plan for dealing with global climate change, yes, we have a real plan for maximizing the possibility of success in Iraq or whatever it might be.

People are pretty smart and they know we don't have it right now. So whoever would come next would have to believe in their heart that they could do that and that's what the country needs more than anything right now.

McFadden: Sounds like a woman who's running for office.

Clinton: Well, for the Senate again, I hope.