The name of the book is "Advise & Dissent." The author is James Abourezk, a United States senator and United States House of Representatives member in the '70s. Where'd your father come from?
He emigrated here from Lebanon in 1898, went to--he went to South Dakota. I think he had an older brother there, a--or a younger brother. One--one of his brothers was there. He went there and eventually became a homesteader and a--and a merchant. And he peddled spices and linens from a pack on his back, as so many immigrants did. And eventually, he opened a store in 1913, on the Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota. And then, in 1920, when my mother finally came over--he'd gone back to marry her in the meantime, and they had a couple of kids. She came in 1920, the--which is the same year that he opened his second store on the same reservation.
And where's your mother from?
She's from Lebanon. He went back to Lebanon and found her, as she was 20 years younger than he was; married her. They had my older brother and sister and then he came out.
Were they both from the same village?
Yes. Oh, yeah. Well, it's natural. You would never go outside of your village over there to--to find a wife, right?
Why is that?
I don't know. It's just the way things work.
What do you most remember about your dad?
Well, that he was a very generous, very--he was quite a wonderful guy, you know. He would give you the shirt off his back. If he had $5, he'd give you $4.95. And he wou--when he lost his temper, which was quite often, he would lose it for three minutes, and then totally forget about what he'd lost his temper about. But he--he kept a lot of people alive during the Depression out in Wood, South Dakota, just by giving them credit in the grocery store and--and never expecting payment, of course. Nobody had much money back then. He went bank--he took bankruptcy two or three times just because of his goodheartedness.
What do you most remember about your mother?
That she was tough. She had grown up virtually by herself and raised two kids, my brother and sister, by herself during World War I in southern Lebanon, and--which I think gave her a lot of toughness. And she came off--she came to this country being very tough. And when my father died in 1951, she then lived another 22 years by herself. And, oh, she lived most of her life by herself, practically.
And your dad--w--when you're--when you were born, your dad was quite old for...
He was 60 when I was born.
And he lived to be?
And you started out life speaking Arabic in South Dakota?
Yes. Well, my mother spoke only Arabic. She didn't speak any English when I was born, so naturally I spoke Arabic until I started school. And, you know, I started drifting away from it and forgot--I've forgotten most of it now, unfortunately.
What was it--wh--who taught you the--the Arab philosophy of life or the traditions and all? Was it strictly your mother and father?
Well, I--it was just my mother and father. What little tradition I learned was from them. But you have to understand, we lived in the prairie of South Dakota. There were very few other Arabic families out there. In fact, the only one real close by was the Abdinar family; Senator Jim Abner came out of that family. We had--actually, we held two seats. The Lebanese seat in the Senate was held by both Abner and myself for--except he was a Republican, unfortunately.
W--what is the s--in your opinion, the source of the--the strong feelings between the Arabs and the Jews?
Well, I don't think there's any strong feeling between Arabs and Jews as such. It's strong feelings the Arabs have about the Israelis coming in to move them out of their land, to take their land away from them by force of arms, and--and the brutal way in which the Palestinians and the Lebanese have been treated ever since then. That's the--that's the source of the hard feelings. It has nothing to do with ethnicity at all or religion.
And in this country the image that the Arabs have in the eyes of most Americans is what, in your opinion?
I think it's been a very low image, which is one reason I organized ADC, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. I think the image is either that of a high-s--high-spending, greedy, spendthrift Arab sheik or a terrorist--Arab terrorist. And these are images that have been propounded, I think, by the Israeli lobby. And, I think, quite effectively they've done it, just simply for their own political purposes.
The--the purpose, in my view, of the Israeli lobby is twofold. One is to make certain that the flow of American taxpayers' money goes from our Treasury to Israel; that it's uninterrupted. And the other job that the lobby has is to prevent any real negative information or news about Israel from filtering back to this country. They've had a little harder time preventing that in recent years, l--what with their invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the brutality that they committed there, and now the brutality that they're committing in the West Bank a--against the Palestinians as a result of the uprising against their occupation there.
So they're--they're getting a lot of bad press lately. They deserve an awful lot more bad press because, basically, the coverage is sanitized. They don't show 10 percent of what's really happening there. I mean, there's--there's a prison camp, Ka--Ketziat Prison in the desert--in the Negev Desert that holds some 3,000 or 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners. That's all they are, is political prisoners. They're kept in the heat--or in the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer without adequate water, without adequate ventilation. It's a--it's a brutal, brutal existence for people who disagree with Israel's occupation.
What is a Palestinian?
Well, a Palestinian Arab is someone of Arab descent who was born in Palestine a--or who lives there now.
And so if you live on the West Bank or you live in Gaza or you could be--could you be a Palestinian and live in Egypt? Could you live in--in Jordan? I mean...
Well, yes. Palestinians now have been dispersed all over the world as a result of Israel's invasion of Palestine in 1948.
How many Palestinians are there in the world?
My guess is there's about three million or four million. I'm not exactly sure. I mean, there are three million or four million all around, you know. I'm not exactly sure of the number. but they live now in Lebanon, Syria, all through the Middle East, in--many in the United States, in England, all through Europe. They've been--they've been kicked out. There are a lot in South America that I've met, from South America.
You--you've traveled to Israel?
I've been there once--1973.
How'd they receive you?
And why was that?
I don't know why. I have no idea. But it was a very cool reception.
You've traveled throughout the Middle East.
Oh, yes. Yes.
Is the problem over there, in your opinion, solvable? And if it is, how will it be solved?
I think it's--it's solvable, and I think what it really is now is that Israel is the obstacle to a peace agreement between the Arab states, between the PLO and Israel. Everybody's reached out. The PLO's reached out further than anybody to try to make a peace agreement. Israel is--is intransigent. And the reason that they are is that they--they know for certain that if they start negotiating with the PLO, the end result of that negotiation will be a peace agreement, but they will also have to give up the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which they don't want to do.
And so they're--you know, they're sort of erecting the barricades out as far away from Israel as they can. In other words, tha--what I--what I'm saying is they won't talk to the PLO. They come up with every excuse not to talk. They say, `We won't talk to the PLO.' Well, the PLO's their enemy. And if you want to settle, if you want to make peace, who do you talk to? Let's say--you don't talk to your friends; you talk to your enemies. So, basically, they're saying, `We don't want to talk to our enemy.' Therefore, they're against peace, you know.
In your book you say, `Not long after I left the Senate to return to civilian life, I attended a backyard party hosted by Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus and his wife. Kay Graham, who owns the Post, walked over to me during the party and hissed, "Are you representing a lot of rich Arabs now?"' You reacted strongly to that. And why? What'd you say?
Well, I said--well, I can't remember exactly what I said right now, but I--I know that--I know that Mrs. Graham would never have gone up to a--a Republican or a Jew and would have said, `Are you representing a lot of rich Jews or rich Republicans?' Like--I mean, you know, it's--it's a bit of the stereotyping in operation. And it's unfortunate the owner of a great newspaper has to have that mentality, that mental attitude. That's tragic. What--what does that say about people who are less educated or less fortunate?
`People who are proper and decent don't speak out on behalf of Palestinians or against the Israeli government.' There--you wrote that; that's out of context. Why were you...
Well, what I'm saying was I--I'm seen as an intruder by people in the establishment of which Mrs. Graham is a member. I'm seen as an intruder because I make them feel uncomfortable with my posi--my political positions. And as I said, people who stand up for Palestinians or hol--hold the oil companies' feet to the fire are not really accepted in the establishment, and I think it's a good thing.
The PLO--good organization?
Well, w--what do you mean by `good'? I mean, compared to what?
Do--do--do you like what they do?
Do you have respect for Aser--Yasir Arafat?
Oh, yes. Yeah. He's a good politician. Yasir Arafat is quite an extraordinary politician, having had survived all these years after assassination attempts and--by enemies in--from Israel as well as from enemies in the radical wing of the PLO. I--I think he's an extraordinary politician. He's--he's seen by Palestinians as their leader. He's the guy who brought them where they are today. A lot of them don't like Yasir Arafat. They think that he hasn't managed the PLO properly, but still they say, `If he's an SOB, he's our SOB. We--we wouldn't be anywhere without Yasir Arafat.'
I'm--I don't even know; he may or may not be president of Palestine, whenever that becomes a state. I--who--who knows? But whatever it is, that--they'll always remember what he did for them.
Talk about terrorists and--and not just on one side or the other, but--have the--has the PLO tak--undertaken any terrorist activities? At the same time, have the Israelis undertaken any terrorist activities?
Yeah. I--the Israelis have undertaken a number of terrorist activities and have--I'd--I'd say the ratio of Lebanese and Palestinians and others that they've killed--that the Israelis have killed i--as opposed to how many the Palestinians have killed is a ratio of 50:1. The Israelis have killed 50 times more Arabs than the--than the Palestinians have ever killed of Israelis.
At what time? When--at what time?
At any time you want to--I mean, through--you know, through the whole history. I have somewhere in my files at home a white paper issued by the Israeli Foreign Ministry called "The Threat of PLO Terrorism," in which they detail, they say, that since 1969 when Arafat took over the PLO there have been 600-plus, maybe 650 Israelis killed by PLO terrorism. Well, I--I can document 25,000--25,000 Palestinians and Lebanese who have been killed by Israeli terrorism in that same period of time. And I have it documented in another book that I wrote called "Through Different Eyes," by the way.
An--when you say 25,000, w--give us an example of--of what you're talking about.
Well, 18,000 were killed in the Lebanese invasion of 1982, when Israel invaded in Lebanon and killed that many civilians. These are not soldiers; these are civilians. Of all the bombing raids they've gone thr--the bombing raids have gone on for 15 or 20 years, and they've killed, you know, hundreds and hundreds of civilians in those bombing raids. The massacre in 1948, by the way--the Irgun and the Stern Gang together, which Menachem Begin and Shamir were in charge of at that time--they were Jewish terrorist groups--in 1948 massacred an entire village called Deryasin, of--243-some civilians were murdered by those terrorist groups. And on and on and on; I mean, there's just--there's a whole litany of--of terrorist activities on the part of Israel.
And yet the--the complaint I have is the propaganda in this country--is that--that only Palestinians are terrorists. And yet when Israel as a state commits acts of terrorism they hide it. You know, they hide behind the fact that they say, `We're securing our state.' Well, the Palestinians are securing themselves, too, you might say.
Why has the Israeli lobby been so successful?
Well, they're well-organized, they're well-financed and they've been at it an awful long time. And when they--when they mo--when they work on the Congress, when they move on the Congress, they understand very well how to get to a congressman. They know where the political erogenous zone is, and that's money--campaign money, early campaign money. So the lobby itself knows how to make campaign contributions and to whom. And they use the threat of contributions, either for you or against you, to keep you in line, to keep you voting for money--taxpayers' money to go to Israel. And people are gen--you know, politicians are generally very cowardly, and they don't want the controversy that might be involved in attacking the Israeli lobby or going against their wishes. Politicians would rather have that money coming into their campaign rather than their opponent's campaign.
Can you buy a politician?
Well, not outright. I--I d--I wouldn't say outright, but I think you can get a politician's support by virtue of the ki--the size of the campaign contributions that you can put into his or her campaign.
Did you ever feel like--that you had an obligation to anyone when you were in the Senate after somebody had contributed to your campaign?
No, I never did. Actually, I've had people who contributed to me who demanded my support later on. If I didn't think it was the right thing to do, I would--I would not vote that way. I--I made a few enemies that way, I guess.
Wh--what would you...
People are used to buying access and support that way, I think, in the Congress.
What would you do about the whole business of--of money and politics if you could change things?
Well, I think the--the most critical thing is the--the way elections are financed. I would make illegal all private contributions and take campaign money out of the Treasury. And I would shorten the time of campaigns by limiting television advertising, and I would require that the television networks provide free, equal time to candidates who are running for office.
And I will al--I think I would also say that if a candidate wants to bad-mouth or smear another candidate, that they be required to do so in person, so that you don't have an anonymous announcer attacking and smearing and throwing mud at somebody, where the candidate who's hired that announcer is standing back away from the battle and doesn't get any of the mud on himself or herself. I think if you required candidates to do their smearing by themselves, they wouldn't do nearly as much. I think it's very important because, simply, it keeps good people from running, these smear campaigns do, and I think it turns off the public. I think it makes them not want to take part in elections, the public.
So I--people who argue against public financing of campaigns on the grounds that it's too expensive, I think, tend to overlook how expensive private financing is. Let's take the savings and loan scandals. I mean, they're--we'll probably wind up paying $200 billion, perhaps even more. Nobody knows for sure how much the bail out of the savings and loan are going to cost us. But the laxity in regulation, I think, is directly due to congressmen and senators who intervened on the behalf of the savings and loan with the regulatory agency and made them slack off on their regulation, which then allowed them to defraud the public the way they have been. So that's--What?--$200 billion? You can finance campaigns into the next century with that kind of money. I mean, that's only one scandal. There are many around that we don't even know about that we won't find out for years yet.
I want to come back to the whole Palestinian question, but here's a line from your book. `The nature of the Congress has changed since I stepped down in 1979. There were more politicians then who were willing to try to slow the rush of the greedy and the power-hungry, but no longer.' What kind of people are there now?
Well, I like to call them Sanforized, pre-shrunk, blow-dried, poll-reading, you know, finger-to-the-wind politicians for the most part. There are still a few people who--up there who act viscerally, who react viscerally to issues, you know, that--in other words, if you believe in an issue, you do it; you don't go out and read a poll and say, `How does the public feel today?' Because the public changes its mind depending on the news that it's fed. So I--I think politicians read polls much too frequently and worry too much about their everyday, day-to-day images instead of using their good, sound political judgment to vote on an issue today that may be unpopular but that may be good for the country in the long run.
Do you try--do you lobby the Congress now?
No, I don't lobby. I never did lobby.
You don't--you don't even contact them on behalf of the Arab causes?
Oh, no. Once in a while, I'll contact them and say, `Will you come and make a speech at our convention?' And--or I'll say, you know--I wrote a letter to the Congress recently suggesting that--allowing Soviet immigra--Soviet Jewish immigration into the West Bank would be destabilizing in the entire area, simply because I believe that it would displace Palestinians if this immigration were allowed to go on into the--it's illegal, you know, to allow immigration into an occupied land. And I think the Congress is the only entity that can really stop that, because they're--the Congress is the entity that can say to Israel, `Don't do it or we won't give you any more money.' Israel lives on the United States, you know, and all the Congress would have to do is get some courage and stand up and say, `No more.' You know, `Stop doing this illegal stuff.'
What would happen if the $3.2 billion in foreign aid were withdrawn...
Well, Israel would have to cut a deal...
Yeah. They'd have to cut a deal and make peace tomorrow. They'd have to s--they'd have to really sit down and talk. But the reason they're not talking peace now is because they don't have to. They're getting rewarded by the Congress. No matter what they do, no matter what sins they commit or what crimes they commit, they get rewarded.
What would happen to Egypt if we withdrew the $2 billion in...
Not much. I--I understand that not a lot of that money gets to the Egyptian people anyway. It goes to consultants and--and the rich in Egypt anyhow, so it doesn't bother me.
So you think that the whole Camp David agreements and the idea of paying both of those countries that kind of foreign aid was a bad one?
Oh, yeah. It's bad. Well, we were paying Israel before Camp David. Egypt--that's--I--I consider that part of Israel's aid bill anyhow, the $2.8 billion we pay Egypt, simply because that's a bribe to keep Egypt from attacking Israel. Because if you--if you saw that--if the--Egypt did attack Israel tomorrow, the Congress would withdraw that money tomorrow, so you can't call it anything but a bribe, in fact.
How often do you find yourself representing the--the American Arab Anti-Discrimination...
...ADC? It's a lot of words. How do you--how often do you find yourself getting mad and wanting to do something about it? And when you do, what is it that you want to reach out and correct something?
Well, every day. I--I'm--I get angry over something every day. You know, angry in--in the respect that it's frustrating to see the kind of press coverage that you get...
Give me an example.
...or--or you don't get. For example, here's--let's--let's not talk about press coverage right now. Let me talk about the Congress and how it has a double standard. When the Chinese government brutalized their own students last year in Tiananmen Square, of course, everyone in Congress was up on their feet making a speech about it. But when Israel brutalizes Palestinian children--you know, they're killing kids two years old, five years old, 14 years old. They're shooting, you know, at random, and killing these kids over there. There is total silence up in the Congress. Now that makes me very angry. Not a word is said up here by these so-called great human rights advocates that you see in the Senate and the House--not a word.
Well, because they're afraid of the Israeli lobby. They're intimidated because they want to make sure the money keeps coming.
But you say they can't be bought.
I said not directly. I said you can indirectly buy somebody by making sure they get a lot of campaign--by--you can buy their support by mak--getting and--making sure that they get the campaign contributions they want.
What do you say to the reasons that are often giv--given that Israel is the only real democracy i--in the Middle East?
Well, I don't know how you can call it a democracy; everybody in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not only prevented from voting, but they're kept in--virtually imprisoned there. I don't know how you can call that a democracy. It's a democracy for Jews in Israel, just like South Africa's a democracy for whites in South Africa. So if you want to call South Africa a democracy, I guess you can call Israel a democracy.
What about the 750,000 Arabs that are citizens of Israel and can vote?
Well, those--yes, they can vote, but they're treated as second-class citizens, though. See, most of the benefits provided by the Israeli government to the citizens of Israel depend on whether you've served in the military or not, and Arabs are not permitted to serve in the military. Well, I can understand that, but to discriminate on benefits put out by the government, that's another question altogether. That's--that's wrong. It's unfair.
Where did all this start?
All what start?
This commitment to Israel, in, I mean, your opinion, and for what reason, and why does it just keep on going? Mr.
Well, I think--I think America and its politicians felt guilty a--about what happened to Jews during World War II, and they felt guilty because the United States did nothing to help during World War II. We turned away Jewish refugees in the late '30s and early '40s who were trying to escape Hitler's pogroms. We turned them away from our shores, would not let them come here, and many of them went back and were massacred by Hitler.
And I think there's--that was one of the great evils, one of the black marks of our democracy here. But I think there's a lot of guilt over that. I think there's a lot of guilt by American Jews because they weren't able to do en--enough to save Jews over in Europe from Hitler. And I think that operated in 1948, along with the Jewish terrorist groups who were cleaning out the Palestinians--you know, scaring them off, killing them, trying to get them to empty out Palestine. I think that, combined with what was happening politically here because of the guilt, combined and created--in the creation of Israel and in declaring itself a state on Palestinian land.
Israelis will tell you today that they're getting a real bad treatment in the American media.
Oh, well, sure, they'd say that. Wh--what's happening is the media's finally starting to cover what they do--about 10 percent of what they do. So I--I mean, they're spoiled. You know, basically they're very spoiled. So any press coverage that's negative they're going to complain about. What would you do if you were an Israeli? Of course.
Has your s--I'd hate to say your side, but is--have the Arabs gotten better coverage in recent years? And...
I don't think the Arabs have. I think what's happened is that the press has covered the uprising, the Intifadah, and they've seen what's happening. Here are kids throwing rocks and Israelis shooting bullets in return. You know, it's--Americans are basically fair people, so when they see this kind of thing, it turns them off, right? They get angry. They're not angry enough yet to pressure their congressmen, but I would hope at some point they would.
When Congressman Joe Kennedy ran for--against seven other people, I think, in his district up in Massachusetts--the son of Robert Kennedy--you wrote him a check for $100?
Yes. He had--he was an old friend of mine, actually, Joe was.
Young Joe--yeah. And he had sent a solicitation out for money for his campaign, so I sent him $100. About three months later his campaign manager called me and said, `We're going to send the money back.' Well, I said, `Well, why?' He said, `Well, we don't--we don't take money from PACs.' I said, `Well, I'm not a PAC; I'm an individual.' I said, `In fact, that's my money.' In fact, I--you know, I had to scratch around to find the money. I didn't have much money at that point. And he said, `Well, we don't want to get involved in the Middle East this way.' I said, `Well, you're--I'm not asking you to get involved in any way.' I said, `Joe's a friend of mine. I want him to have this money to run on; you know, to help him in his election.' And so I said, `Well, I'll tell you what. You send the money back and you tell Joe that if he ever needs my help again, he can stuff it.'
And so I held a press conference a few days later, and by that time Joe was calling me, saying, `Oh, Jim, I didn't know about this, you know. I'm sorry,' and so on and so on. Actually, Joe learned a lot. He went to the West Bank last year--or maybe a year and a half ago; something like that--and came back, I think, with a totally different view of the Middle East question when he--when he saw what the Israelis were doing. And he came to our--ADC's national convention about a year ago and made a speech. I introduced him at the speech. He got up and apologized for doing what he'd done in returning my money. It's a--it was basically a slap in the face. It was an insult. But I--I think he's learned an awful lot and I think he's grown up an awful lot o--in that regard.
His uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and you were friends?
Yes, friends and allies. Yes.
Well, I'd say we're still friends. I don't--I'm not sure we're allies anymore.
Well, I think we've split, pretty much, on the Middle East question. I think Ted has just gone off the deep end on that question.
His position today?
I'm not sure what it is. In any event, I heard him a year or so ago announcing on the radio that he thought the PLO offices ought to be closed in this country, closed down. Well, you know, that's a--that's a fascist point of view, and I told him so.
Back in--during the hostage crisis with Iran, you got involved. What'd you do?
I was actually general counsel for the government of Iran here in Washington at that time, for the embassy here in Washington. After the--it was about two weeks after the embassy was taken over, I decided I'd go over and try to get--obtain the release of the hostages. So I went over and I--I negotiated with Bani Sadr, who was then chairman of the Revolutionary Council. And w--I worked out a deal with him. I--what the Iranians wanted was to air their grievances against the United States, of which they had many at that time, by the way. You know, we had supported the shah while he was torturing and killing Iranian citizens. They had found, by the way, in the basement of the American Embassy a CIA counterfeiting operation--counterfeiting American money. They were very upset about that--I--Iranian money, not American money.
And so anyhow, I--knowing this, I--I said to Bani Sadr, `Look, if you want to air your grievances, I think, in return for the release of the hostages, that I can get the US Senate to hold big publicized hearings allowing you to do just that.' Well, we worked out a deal. It'd be a three-step deal, where we would announce the hearings, he would release the hostages and then we would have the hearings. And he said, `All right. You s--you take that to the Senate and I'll take it to the Revolutionary Council. We'll try to--we'll try to work it through.'
So I called Senator Byrd, who was--of West Virginia--who was then minor--majority leader, and proposed it to him. I called him from Iran. Then when I got back from Iran, I called him up and he said, `Well, the--the administration is opposed to that kind of a thing.' Because Jimmy Carter at that time was--was standing tough. He was trying to look like he didn't want to negotiate. And my view was, `Look, you know, I don't care who you negotiate with. If you've got hostages who are suffering, you'll negotiate with anybody to try to get them out.' That's not to say you have to lose your dignity. But it means that you surely should try to do what you can for people who are taken hostage.
Well, in any event, they--they turned the deal down, the administration did, and the Foreign Relations Committee, I think, objected to it as well on the grounds that Carter should be allowed to handle the situation. I said, `Well, Bob'--I said, `you'd think that Carter might give you the approval under the table and still be against it in public if he wanted to be. But let us try to get the hostages out.' And he said, `Well, we have to stay with what the president wants.'
I--you know, I'm convinced to this day that--that--Carter and his people were running against Ted Kennedy, by the way, in the primaries. I think what he wanted to do was--was hang on to this hostage issue until he got Kennedy out of the race because his popularity was going up and Kennedy's was going down as a result of the hostage thing. So I--I think--you know, I think they passed up a chance--who knows whether it would have worked, but at least they passed up that chance.
You say in your book, though, that there was a meeting held with some of Ted Kennedy's aides, people that are well-known in this country because they used to be Jack Kennedy's aides...
That was later on, yes.
..like Ted Sorensen and--and your friend, former Senator John Culver from Iowa...
...where they wanted you to go to Iran and try to get some hostages released to Ted Kennedy. For what reason? And did you do that?
Well, yes. Yeah. That was later. That was after my first trip. They came to me on behalf of Ted Kennedy and said that they would like to--they would like to have me go over and see if Iran would release some hostages on his behalf...
...release them--re--release them all.
Why would they want to do that?
Well, because K--Kennedy was running against Carter and things were not going so well in the election so th--they needed some kind of a boost in the election. And I said, `Sure.' You know, I was supporting Kennedy, right? So I went back over. And of course that failed as well.
Were you at all concerned that you were getting close to stepping over the line with the Logan Act and all that, getting involved in foreign policy for political reasons?
Didn't bother me. No. I mean, I would have loved to have been put in jail for trying to release hostages, right? I don't think they would have done anything. But it would have not been--it would not have been very politic on the part of the administration.
Were you surprised that Senator Kennedy wanted to use that crisis for political reasons?
No. No. Not any more than I was that Carter was using it for his political reasons. Politicians do that sort of thing, Brian.
The Baltimore Jewish Times reporter Arthur...
...Magada did something with this story. Published it?
Yeah. Well, he came and did an interview with me. He wanted to do a story on me--a profile. And when I read the profile, all of a sudden I saw in the--in the profile that an unnamed Kennedy staffer told him--I think it was Tom Dyne...
...who's now the director of AIPAC, which is the central focus of the Israeli lobby. I think Tom Dyne was on Kennedy's staff at that time. Dyne had told him--or whoever it was; I guess it was Dyne--told him that--told Magada that I approached Kennedy and asked for money in return for going after hostages, and--which was a lie--a bald-faced lie. And I--Magada, of course, apologized for it and they run a retraction on it. But that--that's the sort of thing the Israeli lobby does that--you know, what you'd call perfidies right and left.
The Senate club. You--you tell a lot of stories about senators that--some have gone. One of them, in particular, was Jim Eastland of Mississippi. You write a lot about him.
One of my favorites.
Did you agree politically with him?
Not on any one issue that I can remember.
Who was he?
Jim Eastland was a senator from Mississippi--I think, classical racist who ran against blacks--you know, against--on the black issue I think from the time he started politics. Of course, that's how you did things in Mississippi back then, I think. But Jim was always up front. I mean, you knew what he was. He didn't try to pretend he was anything else. And he ran the Judiciary Committee very handily, very easily. Every Democrat who came on the committee was given a subcommittee and some staff. And, of course, all of us on the Judiciary Committee appreciated that. He even gave a Republican a subcommittee wh--while he was chairman, Roman Horuska from Nebraska.
Tell the story about how you used to go there--there's a special room that...
Jim--actually, Jim u--there--there was a room--it was the s--the room belonging to the secretary of the Senate--well, who occupied it above the Senate floor on the third floor. And there used to be a small group of senators--Ted Kennedy, John Pastore, Eastland, myself--I started going up there. We'd take a drink now and then in the afternoon. Jim Eastland furnished the Scotch. I think he had the Cotton Council send it up all the time.
In any event, we would sit up there and hold court and start talking about different issues. And every time I'd walk in, it reminded the senators sitting there about American Indians because I was the champion of the Indians. And so they'd start talking about Indians. And--oh, I think Pastore spoke about--this one day, Pastore spoke about what he thought about them and somebody else did, and...
Pastore was from Rhode Island.
Rhode Island, yeah. And Jim Eastland came out of his chair and he said, `I never saw an Indian woman who wasn't virtuous,' and he sat back down. And Jim never talked very much, you know. He was a very qui--very quiet man.
What was the source of his power and his e...
Does anybody--does anybody have that kind of power there today?
I don't know. I don't know. I would doubt it. I would doubt it.
He was chairman of the Appropriations Committee?
No. He was chairman of Judiciary.
And today is it strictly seniority, like it was then?
Well, it's still seniority, yeah. But, I mean, he...
Why--why do you doubt...
He had more...
Why do you doubt that he would have that kind of ...(unintelligible)
Well, I think people are more--people are a bit more rebellious now than they were back then. I think the seniority system was--was a lot tighter then than it is now.
You--you write a lot about Jimmy Carter.
Well, I had a lot of experiences with Jimmy Carter.
Do you like him?
Oh, I like him. He's all right. I--I--you know, he's--when you look at Reagan and Bush, he comes off looking a lot better now than he did back then.
He's--he was far from being a good president. I mean, he was all right, you know?
`His entire national career was based on sniffing the wind to see what was momentarily popular, a technique that he tempered with a pious attitude that he thought would carry him past the political rough spots.'
Yeah. That's--that's Jimmy Carter. You got it.
`To him, this was the'--I--this is--these are your words, not mine. `To him, this was the way smart politics was done, but to the public he appeared weak, an image that presidents cannot convey and remain popular. The best comparison I can offer it is that of Ronald Reagan.'
What's the comparison?
Well, the comparison is Ronald Reagan stood for things that most of the public did not agree with. I mean, they didn't agree with his, you know, cutting taxes for the rich and his unemployment program when he was trying to s--trying to bring interest rates down and so on. But yet seemed very strong. He gave the image of being a strong, decisive president. And even though the public didn't agree with what he said, they liked how he did it. So he, there--thereby, retained his popularity.
Now Carter, on the other hand--the issues that he came out with, I think, people generally agreed with them, but because he conveyed this image of a vacillating, weak president, he lost tremendous popularity as a result of it.
This is what the book looks like. It's called "Advise & Dissent." And we are talking to the author of this book, who is former Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota. Who published your book?
Lawrence Hill Books in New York.
Why'd you choose them?
Well, you know, they made an offer to publish the book and I accepted it.
How's the book selling?
It's selling quite well. They're in their second printing now of the hardcover printing, and I expect we'll go into paperback printing after this--after this run is finished.
There's a lot of people--have called the publisher and said, you know, `We want to buy it, but we can't afford the b--it's--What?--$18.95.' And they wait till--they want to wait till the paperback comes out. But, nevertheless, the book is selling quite well. The reviews have been excellent.
And how much interest are you getting in the talk shows around the country to have you come on and talk about this?
A lot. I've done--oh, my gosh--I guess about 30 or 40 talk shows. I did a tour--a book tour in October and November of last year and part of December and I did 40 cities then, so there's an awful lot of interest in the book.
And any--well, what's the repre--what's the reaction to the audience about the whole Jewish-Arab issue?
You know, it's strange. I--I've been going on talk shows for years about this issue. I used to get an awful lot of flak. And I was on, for example, the Larry King show here not very long ago, in--well, it was in January--yeah, in January. And I have to tell you, there was very little opposition to what I was saying. There were most--most of the calls that came in were calls in agreement. In fact, Jim Bohannon, who was the guest host that night, had to start apologizing to the audience because these calls were so favorable. He said, `Look, I'm just taking these in order. This is not a set-up,' which I thought was interesting because he was--he also was surprised and he was used to people calling him and attacking anybody with my point of view on the Middle East. I think things are changing.
And what do you point to as the s--as the reason for that?
The uprising and the--and the press coverage--the--what little press coverage that's come out of the Intifadah has really turned people around in this country.
There's one interesting th--preget--pertains to this network; that's the reason why I wanted to ask you about this. Back down--try--I--I see the page here, but I can't remember the hearing. It says, `I was usually the only senator pre--senator present at committee hearings, so occasionally I resorted to one of my old tricks to bring other committee members out of the hearings--out for the hearings. I would ask John Thorne to set up TV lights and an inoperative TV camera.'
Yes. Yeah. I...
Did you really do that?
Oh, yes. Sure. Yeah.
When you were in the Senate...
...you'd have--you'd have lights and camera--a camera set up. For what reason?
Well, to--that there'd be--senators wouldn't come to these hearings unless they themselves were chairmen of some committee, but they wouldn't come to the ones I was--so--they would come if they thought there was television there. So I'd set up the empty camera and the lights and so on and their staffs would run to the phone and call them and they'd start coming--they'd show up for the hearing for a while and then leave again. But that's a way to get them to attend the hearings.
How often did this happen?
Oh, a few times, you know? Didn't do it all the time, but a few times.
Were you as cynical going into the United States Senate as you were coming out?
No. Of course not. Of course not.
Did you ever think going in that you were going to stay there?
No. I never thought about how long I would stay. But about a year after I was in I decided that I would not run again.
What were some of the things you used to...
You know what a--you know what a cynic is. You know, of course, you go from idealism to cynicism. But a cynic is someone who, if he sees a bouquet of flowers, looks around for the casket. So that's what happens if you stay in politics too long, right?
Speaking of caskets, S--Senator--former Senator John Culver from Iowa is...
I know what you're saying.
...is cited in your book as being a practical joker?
Well--oh, he just did a few; not too many, you know? John--John told me when he read my book--he said, `Jim,' he says, `I've tried to build my reputation for 20 years and you tore it down with one book.' But John was a very funny guy, by the way; very brilliant guy and very funny. We walked in--Senator Maclellan was sleeping on the sofa in the cloak room one day.
Former Senator Maclellan, now deceased...
But John was--Maclellan was there snoring--you know, sleeping, and...
In the back of the Senate?
In behind the Senate floor. Culver walked in, looked at him and he said, `Why don't we just get a bouquet of lilies and take the chairman out into the rotunda and let him lie in state out there for a while?'
Oh, he did the same thing to Randolph--virtually the same thing. It was during that all-night filibuster. Byrd was--the filibuster of the natural gas bill, and Byrd had kept us in all night long. And about three in the morning Jennings ran off--he was sound asleep on this same sofa. And Culver went over and shook him and he said, `Jennings'--he said, `there's a group of high school students from West Virginia out there who want their picture with you.'
And Jennings, who was in his 70s, by the way, jumped up, straightened his hair out and his tie and went out in the corridor to find the students. And he came back in, and instead of denouncing Culver, he said, `Well'--he said, `some of these younger guys look a little sleepy.' He says, `I think I'll just talk a while and give them a chance to rest.' So he stood up and gave a two- or three-hour recitation on the history of the natural gas bill--the natural gas regulation. It was an amazing performance, I thought.
`The prize for lack of humor would have to be shared with a number of senators,' you write, `but South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond is strongly in the running.' Why?
Well, Strom took over as chairman of Judiciary in 1981, when the Republicans took the majority. And I ran into him up in the cloak room and I said, `Well, congratulations.' You know, we served on the committee together when I was in. I said, `Congratulations, Strom.' I said, `You know, I'm going to take down my picture of Ted Kennedy,' who was chairman, `and I'm going to put yours up in his place.' And Strom, instead of, you know, laughing at the joke, said, `Don't do that,' he said. `It's going to hurt Ted's feelings.'
And when you were in the Senate, it could get pretty rough at times.
Well, in what respect?
In debate. See--you had some experiences where you had some--you were--especially over this filibuster--some strong words.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was pretty tough. Although, you know, as Bill Hathaway said, the--the great advantage of the Senate is there's no heavy lifting involved, you know?
Former senator from Maine.
Maine. Yeah, Bill Hathaway. Yeah.
The reason why I mention it is you--you left the Senate before it went on television.
It wasn't until 1986. Do you think that whole episode of the filibuster--and you might tell us a little bit about that--would have happened if you'd have been on television?
Oh, yeah. I think surely it would have, yeah. I--I think, in fact, we'd probably had more filibusters had we had television. But we did the filibuster to try to defeat the natural gas deregulation bill. And...
That was 1977 when we started on it. And we thought that because it was going--the deregulation seemed to be slipping through so quietly that we had to call attention to it to get the public aware of what was happening so they could pressure the Senate and the House into not deregulating natural gas. We accomplished that push--purpose partially, but when--when Jimmy Carter changed positions--he was originally on our side, against deregulation. He switched positions and came out for it later on. Well, we were defeated. There was not much we could do, because we relied upon Carter to switch the two or three votes necessary to defeat the bill, and we didn't get the help from him that we should have.
And you said that after that filibuster experience--you have a whole chapter on the filibuster in here...
...they changed the rules?
They did change the rules, yeah. It's much harder to conduct that kind of a post-cloture filibuster now. But I thought--i--in all the years--I thought it was interesting. In all the years that the Southern senators filibustered to prevent civil rights legislation and that Senator Allen from Alabama filibustered to prevent antitrust legislation from going through, that they only changed the rules when Howard Metzenbaum and I filibustered on behalf of the consumer. I thought that was very interesting about the US Senate.
Do you think that they actually tried to change the rules because of what you did with this filibuster?
Yes. Oh, of course. Yeah. They--they--up there in the--in the Senate, they call that the Abourezk Amendment. It was changed after I left in the Senate, but it was because of Abourezk.
What's the main difference now?
Well, the difference now is that--well, before--you have to know what it was before. If you introduced an amendment prior to cloture--prior to the time cloture was voted, that amendment could be called up after cloture was voted. So I had 500 ma--amendments introduced. Those amendments were not counted against the time because after cloture every senator gets only one hour to speak, unless he gets unanimous consent to extend that time.
Well, now these amendments, as I understand it, are counted aga--any amendments you call up are counted against your one hour, so you really can't call up very many amendments now. But it was virtually unlimited back in those days, and that allowed you to do a filibuster.
Tell a story about I believe it's the late John Sparkman--Senator Sparkman of...
Is this the one about the--the prime minister of Botswana?
Oh, yes. Yeah. I wasn't there, by the way. That story was told to me by another senator who was there. But John, you know, ha--unfortunately--was a good man, by the way, but he suffered from narcolepsy, or the--you know, he fell asleep at a--almost any time during the day.
He couldn't control it, yeah. It was just--you know, just a--it's a disease that's like any other disease. The prime minister of Botswana came to the Foreign Relations Committee for lunch one day and he was sitting next to Senator Sparkman. And John introduced him--Sparkman introduced him, and the prime minister, in his clipped Oxford accent, said, `Well,' he said, `I am most happy to be here today.' He said, `The last time I was in Washington, the country's attention was turned toward Watergate and Vietnam and the problems of Africa were pushed on the back burner.' He said, `I'm so happy to see that you've finally turned your attention--your--your sound attention to Africa today.' And just at that time John Sparkman fell asleep and his head came over on the prime minister's shoulder, who had to push him away. It was a magnificent bit of timing, I thought.
And this story was--you had a television station owner in your state by the name of Joe Floyd.
Yeah. Still there.
And you were on a committee that was going to hear from the president of CBS News, Arthur Taylor.
Well, Joe called me up--Joe was one of my great supporters--called me up and he said, `Jim'--he said, `Art Taylor's going to be here, the president of CBS.' He said, `I'd like you to go to the hearings and sort of, you know, help him out.' I said, `I don't want to go--I don't want to go to those hearings. I got other work to do, Joe.' `No,' he says. `I'm--it's the only request I've ever made of you. Just go to the hearings.' So I went up there and I--Phil Hart was chairing the--the hearings; it was his subcommittee.
Former senator from Michigan, now deceased.
Yes. Right. I--I was sitting there doodling--you know, just whiling away the time, trying to get back to my office, when Phil Hart passed me a note. He said, `I've got to go to the Senate floor. Can you take over as chairman of this subcommittee?' I said, `All right.' So I listened to one other witness. Then Art Taylor--Arthur Taylor came up and, I guess, fully expecting I was going to be his friend on the committee. Probably Joe Floyd had told him.
So Taylor started talking about the great benefits of free television as opposed to pay television. They were trying to defeat pay cable TV back then, such as HBO and Showtime and so on. And I listened to him for a long time, and it was getting so bad that I--suddenly, I just couldn't take it anymore. And I said, `Wait a minute. You mean free television until the time you buy a tube of toothpaste or--or a bottle of underarm deodorant, right, Mr. Taylor?' And we got into the most horrendous argument. I mean, he didn't like what I said, obviously. I don't blame him.
And we got into a horrible argument, and the--the hearing broke up, you know, just on a very sour note. And I went back to the office, and--and Joe Floyd called me and he said, `Well, how'd the hearings go?' And I said, `Well, sorry, Joe. I--I think I've been, in your eyes, a very bad boy.'
When did you--and we only have a couple minutes left. When did you know that what you saw in the Senate you didn't like?
I suppose the first few months I was there.
What were a couple of things that you started to notice that you said, `This just does--I'm uncomfortable about this'?
Well, you know, I was in in '73 the first time--is when I first went in. And we were trying to get the Vietnam War stopped. And I could not believe that--that this United States Senate was incapable of stopping it. They were very cowardly. I mean, not all of them. You know, there was a very staunch group who were trying to end the war, but the majority were cowardly. They just did--they were afraid to do it for fear they'd be blamed for losing Vietnam as though we owned Vietnam. I mean, this war was killing people on both sides--on our side; on the other side. It was the most senseless thing I could ever see. You know, this--this so-called deal to bring democracy to the world. You know, you can't kill everybody just to bring democracy.
And I remember the big debate on--on ending the bombing. The--and--and senators got up and I couldn't believe what I heard, you know? I mean, I was really disillusioned that they were absolutely afraid to put an end to the bombing and an end to the funding of the war. That was the first bit of--of disillusionment. I had it many other times, of course, but, you know, people are disillusioned all through their lives. I--it's--that's really--that's really not the cause of all--all things, but...
Our guest for the last hour has been James Abourezk. Here's what the book looks like. It's called "Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of"--a South Dakota--of "South Dakota and the US Senate," in your bookstores. Thank you very much for joining us.
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