Senator George McGovern, author of "The Essential America," is it me, or do people who are liberals shy away from saying so?
I think they do. I think that liberalism has been so battered by its critics that people have almost become self-conscious about using the word. I don`t feel self-conscious about it because I think Thomas Jefferson was a liberal. Thomas Paine was a liberal. James Madison was a liberal. These early Founders, the ones who were really the deep thinkers, I think had a liberal streak through them. Now, they also had some conservative streaks. And I`m not against the conservative traditions. In fact, in my book, I say that the genius of American politics is the creative tension that exists between conservatism, on the one hand, and liberal on the other. My dad and mother lived and died as conservative Republicans. I had some pretty good arguments with them in later life, but I respect both of those traditions. And I don`t think people ought to be ashamed to say, I am a conservative, I am a liberal. I respect both traditions.
You talk about the Patriot Act at one point in your book, and you talk about what would happen to you -- what you would do to somebody. You say you`d go to jail. You do -- shove somebody out the door. What were you talking about?
Well, you know, the Patriot Act provides all kinds of authority to the federal government that I feel uncomfortable with. They have the right to monitor our mail. They have the right to monitor our reading habits, to go to the libraries and see what books we`re taking out. They have a right to monitor even our financial transactions, our banking and our check writing and all those things. I think it puts the federal government into a role in American life that is unhealthy. I have the feeling that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, people of that generation, would find this hard to believe, that that much power had been given to the federal government to intervene in our personal lives on matters that are of no business to the federal government. And that`s why I say if they start that kind of perusal on me, I`ll give them a shove out the door.
Why do you think both parties went along with it?
I think it was a quick reaction to the 9/11 bombing, the kind of feeling, ,Well we got to do something. And that act was passed with administration support and broad bipartisan support, both Democrats and Republicans, as an indication that we`re going to do something to make sure there`s nobody here in the United States who`s not faithful to our country and to our government. I quote George Washington in my book. He`s giving his final address, his farewell address. And he says, I don`t think the government needs to pledge you to be loyal. Loyalty grows out of your own heart and mind. And that`s what I think. We can`t go around this country looking under the rug and looking under the furniture and through the mail and all these other things without sacrificing something pretty precious, and that`s our right to privacy and to make certain decisions without regard to Washington watching us.
How often do you find yourself -- I don`t know where it would be, on an airplane somewhere, and the person you`re talking to has no idea that you were the Democratic nominee in 1972?
Well, that happens from time to time. Some people couldn`t even find me on the ballot in 1972. They went the other way, quite a few of them! But I don`t mind that. I get recognized by so many people that that`s, in itself, rewarding. Sometimes it can even be a bit of a burden. But I don`t worry about not being recognized. You know, one of President Reagan`s aides, Michael Deaver, told me that one time, he was with President Reagan, he wanted to go for a walk at night. So they left their hotel in New York, and a man in the lobby came up and said, I know you probably value your privacy, but I would know Gregory Peck anywhere. Can I have your autograph? So Ronald Reagan took the pen and wrote, "Best wishes from Gregory Peck." And as they walked away, Mike says, Why didn`t you tell him who you were? And President Reagan says, I know who, Am. But he doesn`t. He thought he was meeting Gregory Peck. Why disappoint him? Well, that`s the kind of way I feel about these things. You make light of it if you`re not recognized where you think you should be.
What town were you born in?
Avon, South Dakota, 600 people. I was there recently, and they have a sign outside of Avon that says, "Avon, 601." So even without me being there any longer, they`ve gained one in the last 82 years.
What year were you born?
In 1922. July 19, 1922.
And your parents did what?
My father was a Methodist minister, Wesleyan Methodist, to be precise. He a little church in Avon, South Dakota. I don`t imagine there were more than 30 or 35 families in the church, but that`s where he was at the time I was born. He became a builder of churches. I mean literally a builder. He had certain carpenter`s ability, as we`re told Jesus Christ had. He was a carpenter. And my father was sent by the conference in the towns that had no church. He would help organize the congregation and then solicit volunteer help from the farmers and the merchants and the electricians, and so on, they`d, put up a new church. And he did that all over South Dakota, some four or five different churches.
Early in this book, you start to name philosophers and people -- Founding Fathers here. But you name Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Montesque, Didero, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume. Where did you first get your introduction to people like that? And why are you talking about them here?
It came after World War II. I came back from flying 35 bombing missions in the war and immediately enrolled in the college, Dakota Wesleyan, a little liberal arts college in my hometown, where I`d spent my first three years. I went there for a year, and I took a course on the history of philosophy. It`s probably the best college course I took in four years. And we reviewed all of those names that you have just read, plus numerous others. That`s where I first discovered what the "social gospel" was, was in that course. I went on from there to Northwestern University, all the way through to a Ph.D. in American history. But I`ve always been interested in philosophy and history and other related subjects.
You said your parents were Republicans.
Yes. My parents were Republicans. I`m not sure whether during the four terms of President Roosevelt they always voted against him. I think near the end, they may have given Roosevelt a vote once or twice. I remember my father when I was just a little boy, he took me to the Davison (ph) County courthouse in Mitchell (ph), South Dakota. And he said, George, I wish you`d go in with me. I want you to meet Bill Comstock (ph). He said, He`s the county treasurer for this county, and he`s a good man, even though he`s a Democrat. And he says, I think Bill Comstock is a Christian gentleman, and I want you to meet him. I like him and I vote for him. So I know he voted for one Democrat.
When you were flying -- B-24s?
... in World War II, what was your politics?
I was not a Republican. I brought my family heritage with me when I went overseas, but I`ll have to tell you that by the time I`d been abroad for about a year and saw how President Roosevelt was handling the war and read about it in "Stars and Stripes" every week, I came to the conclusion that he was a very capable, dynamic man. I would see him -- not see him, because we didn`t have television then, but I`d see the rewrites of his speeches, and so on. And I thought he was quite a remarkable man. So it didn`t take too much of a shove when I came home from the war to switch over to the Democratic Party.
You were in the Food for Peace program with President Kennedy?
Yes. President Kennedy came to South Dakota in October of 1960. He was then a United States senator from Massachusetts, campaigning for the presidency. And I introduced him at the national corn-picking contest. And he had about a 12-page speech that somebody had written for him. He wasn`t very familiar with it. Frankly, Jack Kennedy wasn`t too well informed on agriculture issues at that stage. He later became well informed, but he didn`t know much about things like parity and the price index and all those things. And it was raining and the wind was blowing. It was cold out. And he flopped before about 60,000 farmers from nine different states out there. So as we`re going in the -- he had a little airplane then. I`ve forgotten what it`s called, a Columbine or something like that. We were flying over to Mitchell, my hometown, where 6,000 people were waiting for us there in the Mitchell Corn Palace. And he says, George, I really blew that thing. What do you think I ought to do over in Mitchell?
I said, Well, the first thing I`d do is throw that speech away. It`s no good anyway, and you don`t deliver it very well. I don`t think you`re familiar with a lot of those terms. Why don`t you just walk out on that platform and say, I believe the farmers of South Dakota can do more for peace in the world than any other group of Americans, if we remember that food is peace -- I mean, food is freedom. Food is health. Food is strength. Food is hope for tens of millions of hungry people around the world. And I don`t regard our farm abundance as a burdensome surplus. I regard it as a great opportunity to share with those who have less than we do. If I`m elected president, I`m going to provide a Food for Peace director at the White House to distribute our farm surpluses to hungry people abroad. Well, he brought the house down. He gave that thing without a note, improved on it over my delivery. And he did exactly what he promised that day. He created an office of Food for Peace in the White House. And guess who was the first director?
How did that happen back then?
Well, he did it by executive order. He simply issued -- his first order was to increase food distribution in the United States to hungry people. Some of the people he had seen in the West Virginia primaries and the coal fields, and so on. His second executive order was this one. He created this office in the White House. We staffed it with people that we borrowed from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of State, and so on. And I ran that program for the next two years. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life, and certainly, one of the most rewarding.
What had you been doing before then?
Well, I was in the Congress for four years, in the House of Representatives. I ran for the Senate in that same year that President Kennedy was running and was defeated by a half of 1 percentage point. It was a razor-close finish. But President Kennedy lost the state almost 2 to 1. And I got a call from him on the Friday night after the election. I remember that because this was a very tender time in my life, losing a race for the United States Senate. And he says, George, I`m sorry that I cost you that election out in South Dakota. I said, Jack, you didn`t cost me that election. If I had won, I wouldn`t have given you credit, so I`m not going to blame you that I lost. Well, he liked that. He never forgot it. He mentioned it to me two or three times. He says, No, Bobby told me what happened out there. I know what happened. Come and see me, please, before you make any plans. Well, I leaped to my feet. I was rather -- I didn`t know what was going to happen to me after losing that race. I had five kids and a wife. But he put me in this Food for Peace office. It may be the best job I ever had.
And when did you run for the Senate and succeed?
Well, after two years, I ran for the Senate and I succeed. I won in a landslide, 597 votes out of 300,000. It took a month after the election to recount the votes. Most of the counties had no machines, so every paper ballot...
Who did you beat?
A fellow by the name of Joe Bottom (ph). He had been appointed to the Senate after the death of Senator Francis Case (ph). He was the lieutenant governor of South Dakota. And some wit in my campaign had buttons printed, considering the name of my opponent, Senator Bottom, "McGovern is Tops," kind of a cheap shot at a perfectly nice man.
So how, in a state that is conservative and somewhat Republican, did a Democrat and a liberal win? What did you do?
I think what I did, Mr. Lamb, I had to almost shake hands with everybody in that state, from morning until night. I was making speeches, too, and going on television and radio, but the rest of the time, I was going up and down Main Street of every town and city in South Dakota and shaking hands with everybody. When I`d come to a garage where they were doing repair work, I would always go around to the alley and come through the back end, shake hands with all the mechanics first. And then I`d get up to the owner and the salesmen later. Sometimes, I had grease all the way up to my elbows. But that`s the way I waged that campaign. And I told people I was a Democrat, but I said, I really think it`d be good for South Dakota if we can establish an authentic two-party system in this state. And I`d appreciate your consideration on election day. So I swayed maybe a third of the Republicans in the state, I`d say at least a third of them, to cross over and...
On your personality or on your issue?
A little of both. But I suspect that personal contact had a lot to do with it.
How many people voted? I mean, you said 300,000. How many people are there in South Dakota?
Today, about 700,000.
So when -- do you remember the first moment you said, I`m going to run for president?
You know, I think I do. It was in the summer of 1969. We had had that turbulent Democratic convention in Chicago, and I was running for reelection to the Senate that year, 1968. And the Kennedy people talked me -- after Bobby was killed, they talked me into filling in as a kind of a stand-in candidate and hold that delegation together and go to the convention with it. So I did that. And I found that I liked it. Even though it was only a two-week campaign, I found that I liked the excitement, the pressure, the adulation and all the rest. So I got to thinking about if we lose in `68 to Mr. Nixon, maybe I should think about taking him on in `72, four years later. Now, the one big hang-up to me was that there was a general feeling in the country that after the death of Robert Kennedy, that Senator Ted Kennedy was the logical heir to run for president, if not in `68, then in `72. And I was at a birthday party in the Virgin Islands at Henry Kimmelman`s (ph) home, Henry and Charlotte`s Kimmelman`s home. And a woman from Washington came across the way -- we were out around a swimming pool -- Scottie Fitzgerald (ph). She was the daughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novelist. And she made a beeline for me, and she said George, did you hear that Senator Kennedy just went off a bridge? She said, I can`t remember the name, some Indian name, and that there was a young woman killed in the accident. Well, I stayed up and talked, and I first of all tried to call Senator Kennedy to give him my sympathy. I couldn`t get through. The lines were all tied up.
You`re both in the Senate at this point.
Both in the Senate. He was a dear friend then, as he is now. And I remember I sat out around that pool after the party had broken up. Even my host and his wife had gone to bed. I woke up the next morning with the sun streaming down in my face, and I had a strong feeling that I was going to be the Democratic nominee. I thought this Chappaquiddick tragedy would probably rule out Senator Kennedy, which it did. And I just decided, Who`s got a better shot at it? I decided to do it.
And how many people ran for that nominee -- that nomination in `72 on the Democratic ticket?
It was 17. Can you believe that?
Who were some of the big names?
Well, the biggest names were Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie -- they`d been the national ticket in `68 -- Scoop Jackson, a prominent senator from Washington, Gene McCarthy, who had done well in `68. Governor Sanford of North Carolina, a leading advocate of quality education. And so it went down the line. There was a whole string of very capable people running that time. It was a tough deal to win that nomination. I don`t say that boastfully, but look at the caliber of the people who were running. It was very difficult.
And when did you have it? At what point in the campaign?
You know, I didn`t have it until the last minute. Unlike Bill Clinton`s two nominations, this one was fought down right to the wire. And the reason it was is that all the other candidates got together and challenged my claim to the California delegation. They said the winner-take-all primary should not be allowed to permit. Well, I had headed the commission that dealt with the new delegate rules, and I knew that we had a verdict of our commission that we would recommend against the winner-take-all principle, except for California. Because of its long tradition, we specifically exempted it. And everybody knew that. Every candidate running knew that whoever won California would get all the delegates. But that was challenged right up until almost the midnight before I was nominated. It`s one of the reasons that we were so poorly prepared with what followed. We didn`t have any time to think after almost a two-year bid for the nomination. We should have had a little time off to think about what we were going to do in the general election, and that was denied us. And it`s one of the reasons we made some costly mistakes.
What changed because of that election? And I know that the McGovern commission changed the party, but what else changed from `72 on up until now because of that election?
I think the people have recognized the importance of political activism. What do I mean by that? I mean the importance of people who will work hard, who will get out and support a candidate, raise money, carry the word, explain the platform, why you should support people because of their convictions and their record. There was an outburst of political activism in that campaign that has continued to the present day. The political activists are still very important. Now, I`m not talking just about the people who are county chairmen or who are state chairmen. They`re very important, those elected party officials. I`m talking about rank-and-file American whose want to make a difference. You can now do that in American politics. Governor -- Governor Dean showed that this year. He put together a grass roots army that was really quite remarkable. And in a sense, in doing so, he defined the Democratic race this year.
In the primaries alone, both candidates this year have spent almost $200 million apiece. What did you spend in `72 for your campaign?
For the 11 primaries that won me the nomination, plus the national convention, which my campaign paid for, unlike today, and the general election campaign against President Nixon, less than $35 million for the whole cabal (ph).
How did you raise it then? Were there any limits?
There were no limits then. We got a few large contributions, but most of it was done by direct mail or by personal, person-to-person solicitation. The average size of our contribution in `72 was $19. Now, I want to tell you, we got a few that were $100,000, $200,000, one that I remember that was $500,000. But the average size was $19.
When did you know that you were not going to make it?
You know, I never admitted that to myself until the day before the election -- actually, really, until the morning of the election. I just refused to let myself think that we couldn`t turn that around. I`ll tell you, when I must have betrayed to Eleanor that I knew it was over was the morning of the election. We were driving in the Secret Service car from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Mitchell, my hometown, in order to vote. And as we got in the car, I said to Eleanor, You know, it`s going to be strange. After the election, we`ll have to start driving our own car again. And she whirled around and looked at me very startled. She was -- she said she knew then that I was conceding the election, and she told me that she thought it was over several days earlier than that.
Well, given the fact that Richard Nixon went on to resign, why do you think you were defeated?
I think, No. 1, George Wallace was shot, and that took him out of the competition for the presidency. He ran, as you know, in all the Democratic primaries. He was much stronger in `72 than he was in `68. But even in `68, he got 10 million votes as an independent. As surely as I`m sitting here talking to you, he`d have gotten 20 million in 1972. If that had happened, most of those votes would come at President Nixon`s expense. And under those conditions, I either would have won or I`d have come so close that it would have -- we`d have probably carried half the states.
How many states did you win?
Just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
And the vote percentage for Richard Nixon and for you?
About 60/40, in rounded figures. About 60/40. So that was a landslide win for him. You know, there was another thing that happened to us. In the excitement of the California challenge at the convention, I had to pause briefly to pick a running mate. And as every American who follows politics knows, I picked a very good senator, still a good friend of mine, who, it was revealed, had had a long history of mental instability. And after saying, We`re going to stay with him, we finally decided we`d have to ask him to step down. I think that cost us another 8 or 10 million votes. But the Wallace shooting and the difficulty over the vice presidency probably delivered that election to Nixon before it got started.
If the same thing happened today and you picked a vice presidential candidate, Tom Eagleton, at the time, and he had a history of mental problems, would the same thing happen again? You`d have to let the person go?
I`m not sure. I think we know a lot more about mental illness today than we did 30 years ago. One of the members of my family has had to have help a mental difficulty. And I think that we know a lot more about it. We also have better drugs. We have lithium now that levels out the bipolar swings between great despair and great exultation. So I think what I would do if I ran into that situation again, I`d sit down with two or three top psychiatrists and say, What about this problem? What do you think? Is this too much of a risk to take? If they told me no, I would have gone ahead with it. Now, I have to tell you that in 1972, I didn`t get that kind of counsel, but the counsel I did get was urging me to ask Senator Eagleton to step down.
And your campaign manager in `72 was?
Gary Hart. And he...
Are you still in touch with him?
Oh, yes. Gary and I and his wife, Lee (ph), are good friends. I have great affection and admiration for him. By the way, he has a new book out that I`m going to be reading.
Did you think at the time that he`d ever run for president?
Well, I knew that he had a lot of talent. I knew that he had a first-rate mind. I knew that he was an articulate speaker. And I thought that there was something big ahead of Gary. I don`t remember thinking he`d be a presidential candidate. I didn`t think that about Bill Clinton, either, who was -- who ran the McGovern campaign in the state of Texas.
Do you remember him?
Oh, yes. He was the coordinator of our campaign in Texas. I remember, among other things, thinking he was awfully brave to try to sell George McGovern in Texas. But he made a valiant effort at doing that.
Who else worked in your campaign back then that`s now fairly well known in the United States in politics?
Well, I suppose, I suppose Gary Hart and bill Clinton are the two best known people that worked in the campaign, but there`s a very distinguished federal judge in Boston, Rick Stearns (ph), who was active in the campaign. Gloria Steinem went on to greater glory as leader of the feminist movement and the editor of "MS" magazine. I hate to start down a list like this because I`m bound to forget some people that I should remember. I was told one time by the former speaker of the House, Tip O`Neill, that he was so impressed with the number of congressmen who told him that they`re in Congress because they were inspired by my `72 campaign that he started keeping track of it. And he estimated over a hundred members of Congress were there because they got experience in politics in my campaign and went on to be elected themselves. I`ve run into governors, judges and artists and actors that were active in that campaign. Some of the actors and actresses you would recognize -- Shirley McLaine, and her brother, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Julie Christie. She`s English, rather than American. But all these people were active in the campaign. Dennis Weaver was very active in the campaign, and Leonard Nimoy. All those people went on to greater glory in their careers after a year in this campaign.
Did you ever sit down and talk to Richard Nixon after all of this was over?
Yes, I did. And you know ...
What did you do?
I don`t bear any malice towards Nixon. I think he made a dreadful mistake in that `72 campaign, but yes, I -- I was thinking about running myself again in 1992, 20 years after--after 1972. And I found myself seated next to him on an airplane. He was right across the aisle from me with a Secret Service agent. But he noticed the seat next to me was empty and he moved over there, and asked how things were going. I said, well, I am trying to decide whether to run for president again. What do you think? He said well...
What year was this, now?
`92. The year ...
This is when you had this conversation?
Yes. This is the -- this is the year that Bill Clinton ran for president. But this was before I knew who was going to be a candidate. He said, well, let`s see. Two questions. Would you be saying something that the other candidates for the nomination are not saying? Secondly, even if you were, would anybody pay attention? After, you know, this record defeat in `72 and so on. He said, if you could answer yes to both of those questions, why not give it another run? Who knows? You might make it. I thought it was the best advice that I got as to what to do. I didn`t decide on that basis, but it was -- I thought it was a very thoughtful and probing analysis from the man who knows as much about American politics as anybody.
You would have been 70 then.
Yes. I would have been 70 then.
Did you -- how close did you come to wanting to run again?
Well, I -- if my wife had not been so strenuously opposed, I might have given it a try. Now perhaps I would have been laughed out of the race. But who knows?
Why was your wife opposed?
She said, George, look, you had your day in `72. We gave it our best shot. And I think you ought to let younger people have a go at it now. And she said, I frankly just don`t know whether I can stand up under another campaign. Well, that was enough for me. When she put it that strongly, I thought, you know, we have been married now for 50 years and I`m not going to put her through that test.
It might come as a surprise that the person you talked to most about in this book, that you admire the most in politics, was Dwight David Eisenhower.
Well, I did admire Eisenhower. I`ll tell you why. He was a five-star general, but he`s the only president since World War II who I thought made a genuine effort to hold military spending in check. It isn`t that he didn`t authorize some increases, but only after he went over everything very carefully. And then when he finished, eight years in the White House, he delivered that great farewell address, in which he said that the number one concern with which he concludes his time in the White House is his fear of the rising power of what he called the military-industrial complex. And I thought that was a warning that everybody should have taken more seriously than they did.
Did you ever know him?
I didn`t know President Eisenhower personally. I met him, you know, at -- just at a couple of receptions. But I didn`t really come to know him as an individual. I wish I had. I didn`t think as highly of him when he was alive as I have since I have had a chance to study his life since then. I am a close friend of the late Steven Ambrose. And he wrote a two-volume biography of Eisenhower that I recommend to everybody if you want to know what Eisenwhower was all about. He told me something, Brian, that really startled me. He said that in 1960, there was a meeting of the National Security Council, which was in April of 1960, President Eisenhower`s last year in the White House. And the secretary of defense was making the argument for more intercontinental ballistic missiles. And Ike in a moment of disgust finally said -- he said, well, why do we need any more of those things? We`ve got enough to kill every Russian a half a dozen times over. The secretary of defense says yes, Mr. President, that`s true, but if we don`t continue to expand our arsenals, the Russians may get the wrong signal and think that we are going soft. And, again, in a moment of irritation, Ike said, well, if there`s anything to that argument, why don`t we just build 10,000 of the damn things and be done with it? And that, of course, is exactly what we did.
You say in your book, you`re not a pacifist.
Why did you need to say that?
Well, because some people think if you oppose the war in Vietnam or the war in Iraq, you must be a pacifist. I never have been a pacifist. How could I have fought as a bomber pilot in World War II if I was a pacifist? Now of course, I was very young then. I joined the Army Air Corps when I was 19 and was only 23 when I finished flying all my missions.
And they were where?
They were flown over Hitler`s domain, mostly over Germany. Some over the countries in Eastern Europe that were supplying oil to the war machine. Our number one target during the war was to knock out Hitler`s oil refineries. And we did a pretty good job of that. But, no, I am not a pacifist. Given those similar conditions again, if I had the strength, I`d volunteer to do it again. I probably couldn`t get in at my advanced age, but I would certainly be sympathetic. But, you know, people say, well, don`t you support our troops? They used to ask me that during the Vietnam War. Well, of course I supported our troops. That`s why I don`t want them sent into needless wars.
One of the things that pops out in the book -- at some point, you say that George W. Bush will be a one-term president. I want to ask you, is it a bit of a risk writing something like this in the book, because I assume this book has been done for some time. And then why did you say that?
Well, I think he will. I think that, unlike his father, President Bush Jr. has not handled this war properly. We don`t -- we didn`t get the approval of the European Union, we didn`t get the approval of the United Nations. We didn`t get the approval of the Arab League, all of which gave their approval to the Gulf War that President Bush Sr. directed. I supported that intervention in the Gulf to throw Saddam Hussein out of what was a clearly identified invasion of somebody else`s country. But I didn`t see that this time. And I think this war will become increasingly unpopular this summer and fall -- it`s already showing some slide in public support. In addition to that, I don`t think that the big tax cut primarily -- not solely, but primarily -- for high-income people, is popular across the country. I don`t think the cutbacks in the environmental programs are popular. I don`t think the failure to move on the health and educational front is popular. So I think that Kerry and Edwards have a good chance of winning this time. That doesn`t mean that everything George Bush has done is bad. Of course not. He`s done some good, good things. But I think that -- I think the country`s going to be ready for a change in November.
Do you know his father?
I know his father, and I admire his father. I like the way he handled that run-up to the Gulf War. I admire his war service in World War II. He -- he was a big hero in World War II. There`s a new book out about that, called "The Flyboys." I don`t think it`s a very good title, but it`s about a group of nine very brave men who flew combat aircraft in World War II, one of whom was George Bush Sr. So yes, I admire his father. I think the present Bush was not nearly as well prepared for the White House.
You say in your book about the Vietnam quagmire, and those are your words. "As a consequence of that awful miscalculation, much of the idealism and hope for a better future died." Permanently died?
Maybe "died" is too -- just too strong a word. Maybe I should have said, diminished. But I guess I did say much of the hope has died. I think some of it has died and the other parts of it have lived. But in any event, what I was trying to get across there is that it was almost impossible to finance the Great Society program of Lyndon Johnson`s at the same time we were financing a major war in Southeast Asia. And I think if President Lyndon Johnson were sitting here today, he would come to the same conclusion that that -- that that war drained a lot of the energy and enthusiasm out of the Great Society programs.
Now, one of the most unusual things I find in your book, and I wanted to ask you about this, this has no context to what we have been talking about, and it`s a much quoted letter from Ben Franklin.
And I want to ask -- I`ll read it and then ask you why you put it in here. Quote: "Advice to a young man on the advantages of an aging mistress," unquote. You write, "conceding that the complexions of an older woman are sometimes wrinkled, he noted that their thighs remain smooth and inviting to the end. With an older mistress, one need not fear an unwanted pregnancy. The final asset is such an older companion," according to Franklin, is that, quote, "they are so grateful," unquote. Now, that just kind of jumps out of this book. Why did you put that in there?
I -- I put it in there because I had so extolled the virtues of the founding fathers that I wanted people to know that they are human like the rest of us. They made some mistakes. They took a few liberties with the Ten Commandments, and that was one of them. Also, I mentioned Jefferson`s widely reported relationship to one of his slaves -- his female slaves, and also the fact that he held his slaves until he died, never released any of them. So I wanted people to know they weren`t perfect. So I think it`s important not to think that because you are listed with one of the founders that you are above sin.
Who was your favorite founder?
I suppose Jefferson was my favorite. Among the conservatives, I would say John Adams rates very high on my scale. If you want a classic example of a really first-rate liberal and a first-rate conservative, I would give you Jefferson and Adams. They are two wonderful men. They later became friends. When Jefferson was running for president in 1800, the Federalist Party, of which John Adams was a leading light, some of the old Federalist orators really went after Jefferson. They said, if this man is elected a French army will march in America followed by French atheists. Adams couldn`t take that. He knew Jefferson well, and he said somewhat humorously, "I no more expect to see a French army in America than I do in heaven." Well, I thought that was worth putting in there, because it indicates these people could have differences and yet not take things too seriously.
Who`s been your best friend, other politician in your life, closest, that you know the best?
Probably Gaylord Nelson.
Who is he?
He`s a former senator from Wisconsin, a former governor of Wisconsin, the author of "Earth Day," one of the -- one of the leading environmentalists of the 20th century. Gaylord and I were seat mates in the Senate. We came there the same day; 18 years later, we were defeated on the same day. He and his wife, Carrie Lee, have been the closest friends to Eleanor and me during our time...
Have you ever had a genuine political enemy?
Yes. I am not going to say who it is, but it`s ...
Still alive. And they are in your business. They are in part of the media. But only -- only one or two that I would list as people who are, I think, are genuinely hostile without letup.
Where does it come from?
I don`t understand it. Because in one case, he`s had a history of liberalism and later turned against it. Sometime I`ve found that people who have a political change of heart become more vigorous and more bitter against their initial tradition than people who have been that way all along. In other words, somebody has used the phrase that so and so is more Catholic than the pope. And it`s usually a convert that holds that -- that view. I`ve found both in religion and in politics, some of the people that are converted to a different approach to life become more bitter against their old tradition than others.
You say in the book, you quote somebody saying that 800 million people, of 6.2 billion people in the world, that 800 million people go to bed every night hungry.
That`s chronic hunger. That`s right. They ...
What does that mean?
What that means is that they are not simply victims of an earthquake or a flood or something of that kind. They are hungry all the time. They never have enough to eat.
Where do most of them live?
They live -- the most acute cases are in Africa. The largest number are in Asia, because of the greater population of Asia. There`s still a large number in Latin America and some in the Middle East. And even in some of the Arab countries and among the Palestinians. These are people that are not necessarily starving to death, although many of them are. But they never really have enough food to sustain health and energy and the ability to get things accomplished.
How many years did you live in Rome?
And what were you doing there?
Well, first I was there for -- I was in Italy for a year during World War II. But I went back after President Clinton named me in 1997 to serve as the American ambassador of the food and agriculture agencies in Rome. And I served until 2001.
Part of the U.N.?
Yes, it`s part of the U.N.
Did your opinion of the U.N. go up or down after having this term?
It went up. When -- it reminded me almost every day that the U.N. is doing things we don`t focus on. We look at what`s going on in New York, we read the arguments on the floor. We read the United States fighting rear-guard actions on resolutions we don`t support. But what goes on all the time is the work of these specialized agencies. UNICEF, which deals with children and their problems. The Food and Agriculture Organization, which helps farmers around the world improve their techniques. The World Food Group Program, which feeds the hungry. The International Labor Office. UNESCO. There`s a whole range of these agencies that are quietly working away day after day that are doing good work.
In your opinion, what`s the number one reason that these 800 million people go to bed at night hungry?
I think it`s poverty. It`s the fact that they don`t have the income to buy food in the marketplace, and they are working with primitive methods to produce it. They don`t have the advantages that farmers in the developing world have. They are short on any kind of mechanical devices that would make life easier for them. They don`t have sanitary sources of water in many of these countries that are available. So it`s a matter of lifting the standards of life, which is what the United Nations tries to do and what the United States is trying to do with its USAID programs.
Well -- I mean, as you know, a lot more than I do, there -- a lot of farmers are given money not to grow things, and we have an abundance of food here. Why can`t we figure out a way to get that food to people who are hungry?
Well, that`s what Food for Peace is all about. To take the surplus of our farms and to make it available to hungry people overseas. I just came from a food-for-peace discussion here recently, and the information that was provided is that since 1954, that`s exactly 50 years ago, the United States has given away or sold for concessional reduced prices 392 million tons of food. That`s a lot of food. It`s kept a lot of people alive over the last 50 years.
Say some young person is watching this and they are intrigued about getting into politics. What are the lessons you`ve learned over the years that you would advise them on if they want to get into politics? What works, what doesn`t work?
I would say first of all, work out your own beliefs so that you know what kind of ideals and programs you want to advance. And don`t be afraid to express yourself. If you want to really get into practical politics, the best way to start is to volunteer your services in some campaign with a candidate you admire. Whether it`s for the state legislature, or the United States Congress, or a gubernatorial race or whatever. Latch on to somebody that`s out there trying to get elected and offer your services. Maybe you have to give them your services for the first few months. If you are good enough, maybe they will raise your pay by paying you. But that`s the way to break into politics, with a campaign. I tell young people all the time, don`t hesitate to -- look at Bill Clinton. He came to me in 1972 and said, I want to work in this campaign.
Did he come to you personally?
He came to my office and I -- I wasn`t there at the moment. He talked to Gary Hart, who was there, who was running the campaign. He said I`d like to go to work in this campaign. Well, Gary sent him down to Texas, and he did a great job there. He was working for a candidate who lost, lost heavily. But from that point on, two years later, he ran for Congress in Arkansas. He lost. But then he went right back and ran for attorney general, and won. And he ran for governor and won. And so that`s the way he got into politics, working for somebody else.
When you lost the Senate race, though, what year was it?
I lost in 1960, and then I lost again 20 years later.
In 1980. And in between, I served 18 years.
What did you do wrong?
In 1980, I think that it wasn`t so much what we did wrong, but we were targeted in that race. The -- all the right-wing groups ganged up, and they picked out five senators that they were going to target. Gaylord Nelson was one. Frank Church, Birch Bayh, John Culbert (ph), myself. They defeated all five of us. It was an incredible campaign of distortion of our records in all cases. But they were successful. I think that was a big factor. The other was maybe voters just came to the conclusion after 18 years, maybe we ought to try another person in that job. I don`t think it was what I did wrong that defeated me.
We started off talking about being liberal. Define what a liberal is.
A liberal in today`s world, and the definition has changed with the passage of time, but I would say a 20h century liberal or 21st century, now, liberal, is one who believes in a positive federal government that takes concrete measures that are in the interest of the ordinary citizen. A liberal doesn`t -- doesn`t sell out to the special interests. He or she seeks to serve the great American public.
You write about a talk show host by the name of Sean Hannity, on Fox News. You say that he`s congenial to you on the air and in personal relations, but his most recent book is entitled "Deliver Us From Evil," with the subtitle, "Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism." What can I say about that except "no comment?"
Well, I will comment, because I did -- Sean -- let me say, Sean Hannity has become a friend of mine, despite our differences, and we have a congenial relationship when I go on that show. But -- and before and after the show. So I mentioned to him last time I was on, I said, Sean, tell me why you put liberalism in with despotism and terrorism as the three evils that must be defeated? I don`t put conservatism in as one of the evils. I don`t want conservatism to disappear. I respect it. My father and mother were conservative. Why can`t you respect us liberals? He says, well, you have to sell books. So, anyway, I thought his defense was not very strong. But I don`t think anybody really believes that liberalism should be on a list with terrorism and despotism. Anybody that believes that is too far out for redemption.
You talk about all these philosophers. We mentioned a bunch of them earlier. Who is your personal favorite?
Well, I have always had a high regard for Rousseau. I think his views -- and maybe I would put ahead of him John Locke. Because I think John Locke was the recipe for the Declaration of Independence and much of the American Constitution. I think Rousseau had similar views, but they weren`t as sharply presented as were the works of John Locke. So I guess I would put him number one on my list of philosophical heroes.
What do you want to accomplish for the rest of your life?
Well, I want to do this. There are 300 million hungry school children around the world who get nothing to eat during the school day. I would like to see the United Nations, with the United States taking the lead, provide a good nutritious lunch every day for every hungry school child in the world. If we can get that done before I die, I will be ready to go.
How do you think that can be done?
I think it can be done, because the idea is quickly grasped by people of both liberal and conservative traditions. Bob Dole and I have teamed up to push this idea. It`s now in operation in 38 countries where school lunches are being operated by the World Food Program. We have got a lot of work ahead of us, but it`s not terribly expensive. It`s something we can do for 19 cents a day for a child. You can multiply 300 million times that to get the cost, but 19 cents a day, we can provide a good, nutritious lunch for every school child in the world. If we would do that, we would literally transform life on this planet.
Last question. How would you define the American future? In your opinion?
Well, I am optimistic about the American future. This is a great, big, powerful, resilient country with the best Constitution ever devised by man. I am confident of the future of this country. We make big mistakes along the way, but we also have the capacity to learn and to change our mistakes.
This is the cover of the book. It`s called "The Essential America," and our guest has been former Senator George McGovern. Thank you very much.