Or read the transcript below:
(Transcription by J. C. Hendershot)
Interview with Senator Bob Smith by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, Thursday, November 4, 2010
ROGER ARONOFF: Our guest today is former Republican Senator Bob Smith, who represented New Hampshire in the Senate for two terms, from 1990 to 2003, and as a member of the House of Representatives from 1985 to 1990. Mr. Smith, Senator Smith—“Senator Bob,” as we call him—now lives in Florida, and he has recently joined Accuracy in Media as a special contributor. Good morning, Bob—we’re pleased to have you here on Take AIM!
SENATOR BOB SMITH: I’m delighted to be with you, Roger. I have a long-time respect for your organization, and it’s an honor to be with you, and work with you on the great causes that you espouse.
ARONOFF: Thank you so much. Before we dig into the outcome of Tuesday’s elections I want to tell our listeners a bit more about your background. Then we’ll talk about your background, and then we’ll have plenty time to talk about the elections and the new column—by the way, we want everyone to go to our website, aim.org, and see Senator Bob’s first column for AIM, which is an analysis of the election and some advice to the new members coming in. Senator Bob Smith has had a fascinating and varied career. From New Jersey, he served in the Navy in the 1960s, including a year in Vietnam. He later taught history and English, worked in real estate, spent two terms in the House of Representatives from New Hampshire and two terms in the U.S. Senate, again from 1990. He was elected in ’90, went in in ’91 and left in 2003, and—as I mentioned—he has recently joined Accuracy in Media as a special contributor, and we’re so pleased to have him as part of this organization. So let’s start with this: Why did you decide to go into the Navy? What was going on back then—1965, I believe, right?
SEN. SMITH: Well, it’s actually ’63.
SEN. SMITH: It was actually, to be honest, ’62, I believe, when I actually enlisted. I had a background in my own home on that—my dad was a naval aviator, a graduate of Annapolis, class of ’38, and right at the end of the War, after serving in the War and coming home, he came back to Virginia and was killed in a plane crash, a military plane crash, out in the Chesapeake Bay after being only home a month from the War. This was 1945. So I had a Navy background in the family and a lot of impetus there, and what happened—I was in college when the Cuban Missile Crisis hit and so there was a lot of patriotic flare going on there. I went down and enlisted in the Navy Reserve during that time—in ’62, I believe—and then went on to active duty and serve five more years in the Reserves and two on active duty in the Navy. One of those years was in the Gulf of Tonkin and in the Mekong area during the Vietnam War.
ARONOFF: What is your most powerful memory from having served in Vietnam?
SEN. SMITH: A lot of great memories, but, you know, being out there, aboard ship, and watching—we refueled the aircraft carriers right off the coast as the pilots took off and went out on their bombing missions and came back. I can remember how you can hear, because you’re so close—I was on an oiler, we were refueling these ships, and one of them, of course, was the aircraft carrier, and they would announce that 40 pilots—or 30 pilots, whatever—went off on the bombing run, and then sometimes, even before we’d finish refueling the ship, those planes returned—and they’d often announce that one or two planes didn’t make it back. It always made you think a lot about what was going on. But, you know, it was an honor to serve, I’m glad I did, but it was hard for everyone. I mean, you’re out there, it’s a stressful time, but it was a cause, in those days, that most of us believed in. We’ve had a lot of wordsmithing and looking back since then—you know, the armchair quarterbacking—but at the time, we all, those of us that served, believed the war was the right cause, and we didn’t really like it too much that the protests were going on at home. We were certainly very much aware of the home protests, that’s for sure, while we were serving.
ARONOFF: You mentioned the Gulf of Tonkin. Were you around during the famous incident that became the justification for the war?
SEN. SMITH: I think that was a little before—I was there in ’66.
SEN. SMITH: I can’t remember—wasn’t the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution ’65?
ARONOFF: I think ’64, but—
SEN. SMITH: ’64. Yes. But it was interesting, because you’re out there, there were a lot of Chinese aircraft in the area, they were constantly flying around and trying to harass ships. No military action, that I’m aware of, that they ever took, but when you’re out in the pitch black night in the Gulf of Tonkin and you get a Chinese MiG fly over you at about 500 feet above the ship, it’s a little bit intimidating.
SEN. SMITH: But for the most part it was incident free. Although oftentimes the bodies of individuals who had died would be put onboard ship and taken out. So there were some moments that you’d like to kind of blot out of your memory—
SEN. SMITH: A few accidents—there were a couple of guys killed in accidents on the ship when I was there, and, of course, the pilots, as I said, that didn’t come back when they flew on their missions.
ARONOFF: So you came out, you worked, I guess you were teaching for a while, obviously, but what shaped your political views, your views of the world? Who were your biggest influences? How did that come about?
SEN. SMITH: Well, as a kid, a young guy, growing up, I lost my dad—my mom worked, but we lived—she came to live, with my brother and me, after my dad’s death—on a small farm that they had in New Jersey. So I had adults in my life. My grandparents were really, basically, my parents because of the fact that my mother had to work, so I was raised with a strong work ethic. We lived on a farm and had a lot of chores that I had to do. My grandfather was a taskmaster. I mean, he really was a no-nonsense person. You had to work, and you had to understand that you had responsibilities. So growing up in that environment kind of shaped me. I really don’t recall any real intense political pressure at the time. My family was mixed. My grandmother’s family was Democrat, my grandfather’s family was Republican. I think he would have voted for a gorilla on the Republican ticket. He didn’t care. But, for the most part, no real political views shaped there—but then, in college, you start to think for yourself a little bit. I was getting the pressure from some of the liberal professors, and I realized then that they were wrong and I was right. Conservative was the right approach. But I think when I got back out of the Navy and went to work as a teacher in California, initially, and then we moved to New Hampshire, that’s when my political views started to develop. And then, of course, I ran for Congress in 1980 for the first time.
ARONOFF: Well what led you to run?
SEN. SMITH: It was Ronald Reagan, it was really Reagan. I mean, Reagan ran in the primaries. I was new to New Hampshire so I didn’t really understand the political process there at the time, and the importance of the New Hampshire primary, but he ran, as you know, in 1976 in the New Hampshire primary and, of course, all the moderates up there, and the liberals, were all for somebody else—anybody but Reagan. He was going to blow up the world and all this stuff—but I supported him and worked hard for him in ’76 and really cried when he lost in that convention, on the floor there in 1976, but he came back in ’80 and I wanted to be part of the Reagan Revolution. So I ran for Congress that year, and I lost my primary. Then I won the primary in ’82, and lost the election. And then, in ’84, I won the primary and was elected, and served three terms in the House, from the First District in New Hampshire, before going to the Senate. So Reagan was really my motivator. He was the one that really got me going. I always was interested in politics, but Reagan just really turned me on to what we really needed to do for America, and the great potential that our country had.
ARONOFF: What was the situation, after three terms in the House, that made you decide to seek the Senate seat?
SEN. SMITH: Well, the Senator at the time was Gordon Humphrey—I’m sure you remember him.
SEN. SMITH: I know that your founder, Reed Irvine, knew him well, and we worked together a lot, but Gordon was a great conservative. He had no political experience, and yet he was elected to the U.S. Senate in a surprise win over a guy by the name of Tom McIntyre in 1978. Gordon and I were good friends, politically and also personally, and he told me that he was only going to serve two terms. He gave me the heads up about a year and a half out, before the media even knew it, and he said, “If I hear about this, or read this in the media that I’m not running, I’m going to attribute it to you and I’m not going to support you.” I took him at his word on that. I did not tip my hand, I never said a word, but it gave me the time to prepare, quietly, behind the scenes, to line up some support. So with Gordon Humphrey’s help I was able to win that Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1990, and went on to get elected, and then re-elected in 1996 in a very close race with Congressman Swett.
ARONOFF: You mentioned that Senator Humphrey was friends with AIM’s founder and long time chairman, Reed Irvine—
SEN. SMITH: Correct.
ARONOFF: During your time in the Senate, one of the issues you were passionate about was the POW/MIA issue—Prisoners of War/Missing in Action—and it was during that period that, I guess, you became acquainted with Reed. So tell us a little about that issue, why you became so involved in that, and about your relationship with Reed as a result.
SEN. SMITH: I don’t want to get into too much personal stuff here, but in the airplane crash that killed my dad there was very little information provided to my mother. As a matter of fact, she got, really, hardly any information. But after I got elected to Congress I was able to dig out the files, and use the power I had as a Congressman to get the files. I was entitled to them but it took a little work to get them. I found out a lot about what happened. I think that not knowing a little different—a POW’s different than that—but for a while, not knowing how my dad died, or what happened, or what the circumstances were, it kind of led me to, when I heard about these guys that still might be in Vietnam prisons somewhere—and we’re talking now late ’70s, early ’80s, when there was still a lot of talk about that—I met up with a Congressman, Billy Hendon, who had been involved in it—a North Carolina Congressman at the time—and I was just fascinated by it. I took, I think, three to five trips, I believe, to Vietnam. We went through prisons and met with Vietnamese leaders. We could never—I still believe they kept men behind but we could never really bring one out, so to speak, and that seems to be the ultimate criteria for proof. I know Reed Irvine was fascinated, was certainly helpful with us, all of us, who were working that issue at the time, in terms of writing about it and being supportive, and that’s where I got to know him. I think it was a good relationship, and one that I’ll always cherish as a member of Congress.
ARONOFF: That issue seems to be a dead issue these days. You don’t ever hear anyone talking about it anymore. Did it just kind of reach, as you said, the end of the line, where we couldn’t bring anyone out, and there was no proof, so it just kind of lost its sting as an issue?
SEN. SMITH: Well, there was, I think there was a lot of proof. I just think it was ignored by many in our government and the intelligence community. Congressmen Hendon wrote a book called An Enormous Crime which, I think, outlines the whole history of it as well as anything I’ve ever read in terms of, you know, from the beginning to the end, where the situation is now. He still works the issue hard. Even today, even as Hillary Clinton was visiting Vietnam, there were stories about a prison, in Hanoi, underground, that has never been given access by anyone. Hendon wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton, asking her to go to that prison, to ask to go to that prison unannounced. She refused to do it. So, I mean, there’s still a lot out there. As you well know—and I don’t want to replay the whole issue here—Richard Nixon promised reparations to North Vietnam after the war. Congress rejected it after they found out about the tortured prisoners. I read the document myself. It’s called the “1205 Document,” where the North Vietnamese leaders claimed, in a confidential, private setting, a meeting of the Politburo, that they had 1,205 prisoners and they only returned 575. So what happened to the other 500?
SEN. SMITH: I was Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on POWs and MIAs. Of course, I had to do battle with John Kerry all the time on that, because all he wanted to do was restore diplomatic relations but didn’t believe that there were any POWs there. I can guarantee you one thing: There’s a lot of information about live American prisoners that was never given to us by the Vietnamese, and that’s still the case. So I think that before we go down the road and treat them like equals we ought to at least have that information. Believe me: They have not provided all of it.
ARONOFF: Also, during your Senate career—it was very interesting times, obviously—you were Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics during exactly the period that Bill Clinton was impeached and tried before the Senate. I think a lot of people may not remember, after he was impeached in the House there were, at least on one or two counts, 50 votes in the Senate to remove him from office. Were you among that 50?
SEN. SMITH: I was. I absolutely was. I believe that—I don’t think it was 50, I think it was—I might be wrong on this, don’t hold me to this—I believe it was a majority vote. I think there was something like 47 or 48, but not enough. It was, pretty much, the Democrats were lock solid with no exceptions, and then a few Republicans. I remember Specter was one, and some others that weren’t supportive of the removal. But it was a tough time. It was. I think that you have to look at it this way, though: I don’t care that the term—Paula Jones was called “trailer trash” by a number of people—but I don’t care if you’re trailer trash or a queen, you still deserve the right to have the President of the United States to tell the truth under oath. He did not do that. He lied under oath, and to me that’s conduct that’s deserving of impeachment and removal, and that’s the way I voted. I might say this: It isn’t about—everybody said, “Oh, it’s political, you know it’s political. You voted against Clinton because you’re a Republican and all that.” Let me tell you: I voted to throw out Robert Packwood as a member of the Senate Ethics Committee. I wasn’t the Chairman at the time, but I was a member of six members—three Republicans and three Democrats—and I voted to remove him from the Senate because of the things that he did with women in his office. It was disgusting and he deserved to be removed. I took a lot of heat for it from Republican colleagues. I remember one particular Senator coming up to me, screaming in my face, telling me it was a terrible vote, I should never have done it, it’s going to cost us a seat in Oregon and all that. I said, “Well, it probably will cost us a seat, but that’s not the issue. The issue is, Robert Packwood did wrong, and,” I said, “you’ll have the chance, when this comes out of committee, to the Senate floor, you’ll have a chance to vote against me. He said, “I can’t wait!” But when it came to the Senate floor he came over and thanked me because, he said, “You were right and I was wrong, and I apologize.” So that was a very interesting exchange with a Republican colleague, but look: When somebody’s wrong they’re wrong. I mean, look at Nixon. Barry Goldwater was the one that went to Nixon and said, “You’re not going to survive it if you go through the impeachment procedure.” I think it’s important, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, if you’re wrong and you do something that’s unbecoming or unfitting for the office, then you should take your consequences—and that’s why I voted the way I did for Bill Clinton. I still think the cause, to call that a political charge or a political—what’s the word I want, conspiracy or whatever—
SEN. SMITH: Vendetta? Vendetta—Yes, that’s a good word. That was not true. I can tell you: People really agonized over that vote. So, anyway, that’s—
ARONOFF: Without relitigating that, as Obama said, we can talk about it—I mean, we felt there were many other reasons that he should have been removed that had nothing to do with any of the sexual indiscretions or even lying under oath, but had happened before that—“Filegate” and these other things were very real scandals. But anyway, one last question on that. We heard stories about there being an “evidence room” that, if all the Senators had gone to see what was there, there might have been a different outcome. Do you recall that, anything about that?
SEN. SMITH: Yes. They had certain amounts of evidence available. It wasn’t—I’m trying to remember now, you’re really catching me, but I think that, as I recall, there was evidence there that some members didn’t want to look at—
SEN. SMITH: —didn’t look at. I do know that when we met, the Senators decided to meet in the Old Senate Chamber. There were no staff, no cameras, no microphones, and every Senator—Democrat and Republican—had a chance to speak. We were all forbidden—and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever broken that on either side of the aisle, broken that vow—but we were all sworn to silence that, whatever somebody said, you’d quote yourself when you come out, but don’t quote another colleague by name. I can tell you, point blank, there were Democrat Senators in that room who were harsh on Clinton, who really lambasted him, but when it came down time to vote in public, they didn’t do it. So, you know, I think they were the ones that displayed the partisanship. I mean, personally, I like Bill Clinton personally. He was always nice to me personally. He never seemed to let these things bother him. I mean, he was a likable guy, and was always polite to me and my family whenever we met him anywhere. But that wasn’t what it was about. It was about lying under oath. That you don’t do as a President of the United States. You’re supposed to be setting the example, not doing those kind of things.
ARONOFF: Give me another example of, maybe, the biggest ethics case that came before your committee that might not be as memorable to people as the Clinton impeachment. What was another? You mentioned Packwood. Was that one of—
SEN. SMITH: Well, that was the biggest, that was the biggest one that came before me when I was there because—and I can give you a quick summary of it. It was a fascinating case. Bob Packwood was a Senator from Oregon a very senior, knowledgeable, smart Republican colleague who was well liked. I mean, he was respected in the Senate as one who knew the issues, especially financial issues, but, for whatever reason, he got involved with harassing women who worked for him in some capacity—some in the office itself in the Senate, some in his campaign. But he wrote about it in a diary. That’s the fascinating thing: He wrote all these entries in his diary—about these things. It was bizarre. I didn’t feel comfortable, as a member of the committee, looking into somebody’s personal diaries. I did not want to do it—in fact, I never did read the full diaries. He introduced the diaries himself, to defend himself, because there were passages in there that would be to his benefit, but the lawyers ruled that if you’re going to introduce part of the diary, you have to introduce it all. And when it all came out—oh, my goodness! The stuff that was in there was just unbelievable. Unbelievable. So he clearly deserved to be removed, and that’s the way the committee voted. It was a bipartisan committee and it was, I believe I recall, six to nothing. When it came to the floor—as I said, there were people angry with us because they knew that Ron Wyden, the Democrat who was in line to run for the seat, would win, if Packwood was out. But, as I said, that really wasn’t the point. What’s wrong is wrong and I was proud of my party and proud of myself for taking that stand because it was the right thing to do.
ARONOFF: Another committee that you chaired was the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which had power over issues like global warming. It oversaw the EPA. What about their history of using real science versus junk science? As Chairman of that committee, what did you see that the rest of us aren’t aware of?
SEN. SMITH: Well—you said it pretty well. I think you could find a scientist somewhere who could give you a hard case on global warming, or the need to clean up every Superfund site in the world tomorrow—and then again you could find one who would take the exact opposite view. It was a tough committee to chair for a conservative like me because—believe me, it was hard!—I tried to be fair, and I think I was fair to the other side in terms of having hearings and so forth—but, yes, it was bizarre. We had some really interesting hearings. Of course, the committee oversaw all these environmental laws—the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund, Endangered Species—all of these things were before our committee, and, at one time or another, they were always coming up for re-authorization. So we usually had a big battle. Of course, we had Clinton’s EPA there for most of the time that I was there—and then, just before I left, the former governor of New Jersey was the Chair for President Bush.
ARONOFF: Christie Whitman.
SEN. SMITH: Christine Whitman. But it was interesting because, as you recall, when we had the Senate split down the middle, pretty much, Jeffords switched parties.
SEN. SMITH: So when he switched parties he took my gavel away—and he became Chairman of the committee. Everything kind of went south after that. It’s amazing. That’s why this—you talk about the Senate. These committees, these votes are critical. I mean, Chairmen have almost unlimited power—as a Chairman of the committee I could decide, basically, by myself whether I wanted to bring a bill up to hear it, or whether I even wanted to talk about it before the committee. You really have a lot of power as Chairman, so the majority in the Senate makes a huge difference on how things are conducted—as it does in the House.
ARONOFF: In 1999 you made the decision that you were going to run for President. That’s pretty heady stuff. What gave you the idea that, that you could get elected President?
SEN. SMITH: Some people said it was temporary insanity. I never took that position. You know, I don’t know if it was Lyndon Johnson or somebody who said, if you’re a Senator and you’re breathing, you can probably give it a shot to run for President.
SEN. SMITH: I really believed, at the time, that I had a lot that I could offer. I considered myself a fair person who was willing to listen, but I also had strong beliefs that, I knew, if I could get to be President, I believe I could help my country. It was an open primary in 1990—excuse me, in 2000—
SEN. SMITH: —and so in ’99 I put my name in. We ran around, we were in New Hampshire and Iowa and Louisiana and Florida—several states that were either going to go early or were talking about going early—and I had a lot of support. I raised over $2 million in, mostly, small donations. But it became apparent, as the primaries moved on, that the Republican Party was going to nominate George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas, and once that was obvious then I decided to drop out. Although, if you look me up on any on the Wikipedia or any of the sites they’ll have, they always get it wrong. They said that I left the Republican Party to run for President. That’s not true at all. I ran for President as a Republican, and after I came back to the Senate after spending several months, almost a year out on the trail—I mean, I was still voting, I didn’t mean literally, I never missed a vote while I was running, by the way, I always did it on my own time, on the weekends—but when I came back, it seemed like the Republicans were caving in to Bill Clinton on this or that. They were caving in on abortion, caving in on gun control, and I just got tired of it. Several people approached me from the Constitution Party and asked me if I would consider running for President—this was after I came back out of the Republican primaries—if I would consider running for President as a member of the Constitution Party. I thought about it, I gave it very serious consideration, even made a few forays out in the field and talked with some people, but I ultimately changed my mind, and did not do it. But I did become an independent for four months, just to make a statement, to say that Republicans have to stick to their principles or they’re going to lose—of course, in 1994, when they won the House, they did sacrifice their principles, and lost the elections. Now they’re back again in the House. Hopefully they’re going to come back to the principles that made them a great party. If they do, I think the American people will be supportive. But it was a tough time for me. I felt strongly about what I believed in, and so I was going through some soul searching.
ARONOFF: So let me ask—
SEN. SMITH: Anyway, I paid the political price for it, but I think I did the right thing.
ARONOFF: During those years in the Senate, and running for the White House, what was your experience with the media? What’s your opinion of media bias, the double standards, that sort of thing? Just kind of give us your overview on that subject.
SEN. SMITH: It’s a great question. It’s funny you ask me that, because I was watching the news this morning and they had a clip of Chris Matthews accusing Congresswoman—oh, the one from—
SEN. SMITH: —accusing her of being under hypnosis because, he said, “You and Nancy”—it’s disrespectful. I remember, several times, interviewing with Chris Matthews when he was disrespectful. I remember saying to him one time, “Chris, if you’re going to shout over me and not let me answer, then I’m just going to sit here, because that’s not my style. I want to be able to answer the question.” He was always rude like that. But, anyway, to answer your question specifically, there were a lot of nice people in the media that I enjoyed. I didn’t think they had an agenda, they just did their job and asked me intelligent questions. I tried to answer them. I didn’t feel that they had some specific agenda. But, on the other hand, there were those that had an agenda, clearly, and it was against conservatives, and it was biased. You could do an hour interview on the economy and they’ll ask you, as you’re just breaking up the news conference, a question on abortion—and then that’ll be the headline the next morning. That’s when they have the agenda. I support the First Amendment 100%. Lincoln was called everything from a baboon to an idiot, but he did pretty well. So I think all of us that are criticized are in pretty good company. But, on the other hand, there’s a responsibility, and I think Reed Irvine understood that—and I know all of those folks now currently at AIM, Accuracy in Media, understand it as well—that there is a responsibility, and you need to get it right. Because, ultimately—I’m speaking now as a candidate or someone who served in public—once something is written, it never goes away. You can retract it, but it doesn’t go away. It’s still there. Somebody’s going to be lazy and sloppy when they do their research, they’re going to find it, they’re not going to find the retraction, and so it’s going to be written about you forever. It’ll never go away. I used to think about my family, my wife, my kids, reading this garbage, and it was sad. I remember one time, in New Hampshire, they had a 30-minute discussion among reporters on whether or not I was stupid.
They used to call Gordon Humphrey “The Stupidest Man in the Senate” because, when they can’t get you on issues, they play that card. So, yes, there’s a lot of bias in the media on both sides. But it seems to me that the Constitution meant for the press to get it right. If you want, in the name of opinion, to say things, that’s fine—but in the name of reporting, you’re supposed to get it right. And they don’t, and they do have an agenda—some of them—and I think that’s unfortunate. But right makes might, and you’ve just got to call them on it. That’s what you do. That’s why I’m thrilled to be working with you. Exposing their errors is good, it’s good for everyone. That’s what I hope to be able to do, with the full knowledge that I respect the First Amendment, support the First Amendment, freedom of the press, and, certainly I would always work to protect it. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t expose erroneous or misleading stories, and correct them.
ARONOFF: One last question, and then we’ll jump to this week and the elections. I see in your column that we just posted on the AIM website today that while you were in the Senate you had the desk that had been Daniel Webster’s desk. What a great link to history! What was that like?
SEN. SMITH: It was a great link to history. To the best of my knowledge—and I might be wrong on this—there are only two original desks in the Senate. I know that Jefferson Davis’s desk is still there, because I know the Senators from Mississippi would use that, and I know that was an original desk. I know Webster’s was an original desk. Whether there were others, I don’t know. A lot of them got lost, I know, when the Capitol was burned. The British, they burned some things. So there were things lost. I believe they are the only two originals, but I could be wrong. But just sitting there, looking at it, and opening that drawer and seeing all the names of all my predecessors, including Webster, scratched in that drawer—as I said in the column, it reminded me that, when you sit here at this time, whatever your job is, whether you’re sitting as a Senator from New Hampshire or wherever you are, you’re here for a brief moment in time, and you have to do what you need to do to make a difference, and then you’re gone and somebody else is going to be there, and you’ll be just a memory. So I always tried to keep that in mind, and I don’t think there was ever a time that I sat at Webster’s desk that I didn’t think of that. As a matter of fact, when I left the Senate, I actually wrote two or three hundred letters to friends, relatives, and supporters on that desk, on that very desk. I went down after hours in the Senate and sat there, at the desk, and wrote these letters, after I left office, because I was so inspired by the fact that that was Webster’s desk. You know, a lot of people don’t realize Webster was not the Senator from New Hampshire—he was the Senator from Massachusetts. But he was a Congressman from New Hampshire, and he moved from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, where he was elected. I don’t know the exact history here, but I believe Ted Kennedy had Webster’s desk but wanted his brother’s desk—Jack Kennedy’s desk—when he came to the Senate, so, somehow, it got over to the New Hampshire side. I believe it was Norris Cotton who introduced a resolution saying “Now, and for all time, the Webster desk will remain for the senior Senator from New Hampshire.” It’s great history—
SEN. SMITH: —it’s just a lot of fun, and it really kept me aware of the fact that we are, literally, temporary stewards in a long, long line of, hopefully, future great moments in American history.
ARONOFF: Okay. Let’s jump to the elections this week. Avalanche? Landslide? Earthquake? What magnitude? How do you explain it?
SEN. SMITH: I think it was a great win for the American people, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, partisan, nonpartisan, black, white—whatever. I think that it showed that, when you look, when you really look at those results out there, and you look at prominent incumbent Democrats, who’d been there for years and years and years—like Ike Skelton, who, really, was a pretty conservative guy, and a nice guy, I knew him well—losing, and others—this was really the American people just fed up with politics. The Democrats had the majority, so they took the biggest losses. As I tried to indicate in my column, the American people, the voters—yes, Tea Party, but others, who were not identified with the Tea Party—just had to have some mechanism to display their dissatisfaction. They couldn’t do it with the Democrat Party because they were in power and they were the big spenders, so they chose the Republican Party to do it. I do not call it a great Republican victory—that was the result, that more Republicans got elected than Democrats—but the American people won here because they are now asking a different political party to change things. And I can guarantee you—as I said, again, in my column—in the blink of an eye that’ll change if the Republican Party doesn’t do what it says it’s going to do, which is to reduce spending. That’s what the American people want. They want more privatization, less spending, less government, more jobs. And that’ll all be created if we repeal some of this legislation, as opposed to trying to go out and pass a bunch more. So I think it was a victory for the American people. I have never seen, in my lifetime, more focus on the grassroots. I have seen, and I think this is a very important contrast here—and you have, too—we both have seen, in our lifetimes, as many others have, that you can activate your party base and get landslide elections. You can really motivate them because of something that happened, whether it’s Watergate or Clinton or impeachment or whatever. Some big issue that causes—or a depression—you can motivate your base. Political leaders do that. But that wasn’t what happened. This was not political leaders motivating any base. This was the base motivating themselves to throw out people who were taking this country in the wrong direction. That’s what makes me so excited about it: They are not going to tolerate. They’re going to be very impatient, they’re not going to tolerate a lot of wordsmithing. They want this corrected. They know it can’t be done overnight, but I think if the new members can start setting things in motion, to repeal some of the health care, to privatize more, to create more jobs—I believe that we made a right-hand turn here, and we’re maybe heading back to the Constitutional government that we used to have. So I’m excited because of the fact that it was a grassroots, bottom-up, if you will, revolution, and just like in 1776.
ARONOFF: I think it’s all the more amazing because, again, the issue of media bias—I’ve often referred to what Evan Thomas, the Associate Editor of Newsweek, who, back in 2004, said the media was worth fifteen points to John Kerry, and he later said, “Well, maybe more like five,” when he was challenged on that, but the point is, the way the mainstream media portrayed the Tea Party movement and the Republicans during this period, and that they still came with this victory—it’s just really all the more amazing as a result of that. How would you say the media portrayed the Tea Party movement through this period?
SEN. SMITH: Well, you know that, early on, they were written off as a bunch of kooks. When we first started hearing about it, when they were having their rallies, then the liberal-biased media tried to make them out to be a bunch of racists, and they would focus on any sign that might be a little bit embarrassing. But let me tell you: I spent three or four months campaigning for Senator here in Florida, and I met hundreds, maybe thousands, of members of the Tea Party in speech after speech, group after group. I remember I went to one event in, I believe, Orlando—it was either Orlando or Tampa—where Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck spoke. There were 15,000 people crammed into a college gymnasium. They were—I hate to use the term—normal people. They were doctors. They were lawyers. They were businessmen and -women. They were housewives. They were unemployed. They were black. They were white. They were Hispanic. They were Americans. I met hundreds of them right at that event, not to mention hundreds more as I campaigned around, and I knew the media had it wrong. They were chastising these people as kooks when, in fact, they were not. They were sincere, God-fearing Americans who just had had enough. I knew a lot of them personally, right where I live, in Sarasota, go to work every day. They don’t go to Republican Party events, or Democratic Party events. They don’t attend those things. They’re not interested. They’re doing their jobs, coming home, taking care of their families—but they’re fed up with the fact that the government is not listening. They want less government, not more—you know, I don’t want to go through the political speech here—
SEN. SMITH: —and so those are the people, that’s who they are, and the media missed it. The liberal media missed it. Maybe they deliberately missed it, but they had it wrong. They made fun of them—
SEN. SMITH: —and will continue to make fun of them, to try to marginalize them, as I also said in the column.
ARONOFF: We’re shortly going to lose our live audience, but I just want to let everyone know that you can come back to the website in a day or so and this whole thing will be up—the full linked version, and we’ll have a transcript of it. We’re going to continue on for a little while longer. One interesting item is that the Progressive Caucus—AIM Editor Cliff Kincaid wrote about this yesterday, that’s on our site also—which is the largest in the Democratic Party, lost only four out of 80 members in their caucus, while the Blue Dogs, the more conservative group of Democrats, lost twenty-something out of their 40-something members. People are interpreting this in different ways. They’re trying to say, “Look: The people who actually voted against ObamaCare and all that, they’re the ones that lost, and the ones that supported him, they won, so that proves that the Democrats should have all supported ObamaCare.” But, actually, Dick Armey was on Washington Journal this morning, and he pointed out that these people, they’re trying to present themselves as Republicans, yet they stay in the Democratic Party—so you have a choice between a real Republican, or a Democrat who—
SEN. SMITH: I think that—
ARONOFF: Yes. Go ahead.
SEN. SMITH: I think Dick Armey was right with that analysis, because I saw, when I was there, both in the House and the Senate, that many—Blanche Lincoln comes to mind—of these Democrats, when they go back home, they talk the conservative talk, but when they’re up there, they vote liberal big time, and support these liberal programs—and I think the voters figured it out. There was a lot of information put out by grassroots people, and they couldn’t fool them, couldn’t fool the voters any more.
ARONOFF: Then you have the issue of them saying it’s a mixed bag for the Tea Party, look who lost—Angle, O’Donnell, Miller, probably, in Alaska—and Armey’s answer to that, too, which I found interesting, was that those were basically people that the Republican Party—they sort of had their favorites, and when their favorites didn’t win, then they didn’t support the Tea Party people. So in that way the Republican Party kind of failed in that. That’s going to come up again, and this issue of, now, who’s going to get the leadership roles in the new Republican caucus. Are they going to give one to Michelle Bachmann? Again, Armey pointed out, that’s between them and the caucus. They come up before the caucus and say “I want this position,” and someone else does, and you lay out your qualifications. I mean, no one’s entitled to anything. They have to earn the votes of their colleagues.
SEN. SMITH: That’s right. And, of course, Dick Armey would know that, since he served as a leader in the caucus, and, again, I agree with Congressman Armey on that as well. Look: The Republican Party, they need to get it. If you have these establishment people who think—and I know how they think, and I also tried to point that out in my column—that they are going to try to run over you. If the establishment can say, “Well, we’ll set these folks over in the corner here, we’ll marginalize them, we’ll tolerate them. Yes, we’ll take their votes, we’ll need them. We’ll be nice to them, maybe we’ll give them one leadership spot”—that’s the way they think. If they think that way, they’re going to get thrown out. John Boehner, what he’s been saying has been very impressive, and I hope he continues in that vein, or he won’t get elected Speaker. But whoever is elected, they’ve got to realize this is a change—I believe a permanent change—that’s bringing the Republican Party back to the roots that started the party, and, I believe, this is critical to their success. But the establishment will not go down easy. They’re going to fight it. You still may see some more realignment before this is over—you could see people who call themselves Republicans, like Specter did, and Jeffords did, and others who bail out and go to the other side. Maybe that will happen; I don’t know. But you know what? Let it happen! If it happens, it happens. Numbers, in the majority—if you don’t have the voting numbers on the issues, then that means nothing. All it does—yes, it gets you your chairmen, and your committee chairman pick—if you don’t have the numbers to pass or defeat, to pass good legislation or defeat bad legislation because people who are still the establishment are bucking the trend, then it’s for naught. So let it happen. Let it all shake out. Armey’s right: Let them do battle in the caucus. I hope Michelle Bachmann runs for something—or others. Even if they lose, they need to make a statement: We’re here, we’re not going away, and do not take us for granted, because our goal is to take over the party in terms of the philosophy that it used to be.
ARONOFF: I think Michelle Bachmann’s stock went way up with a lot of people when they saw her hit back at Chris Matthews in that incident you were talking about—asking him about that tingle, that thrill up his leg! That was a great moment!
SEN. SMITH: I don’t mind saying it, to be honest with you, even though it’s controversial: I think that Chris Matthews, he’s not the same Chris Matthews he was fifteen or twenty years ago. I used to interview with him. He was tough, he wasn’t always fair, but he wasn’t rude. This guy has gone over the line so many times. Look at what they did to Juan Williams, for crying out loud. I mean, this guy is so unfair, and so—he can’t even control himself as a member of the media. He ought to step aside—of course, Rush Limbaugh says nobody watches MSNBC anyway, so it doesn’t matter—
SEN. SMITH: —but he’s so far gone over the line in terms of having any semblance of fairness. I mean, who cares anymore? Olbermann’s in the same bag, as far as I’m concerned.
ARONOFF: I think Matthews became kind of bitter when Olbermann became the king over there, and got—he’s making like three times the amount that Matthews makes now, and he was sort of put in charge. I think he feels that he has so much more knowledge and experience than Olbermann, and it gnaws at him. But anyway—
SEN. SMITH: The other side, too—people say they have a right to have Matthews and Olbermann, we have Hannity and Rush, and so forth, but there’s a difference. Very seldom does Rush Limbaugh interview anybody.
SEN. SMITH: He talks. He does his radio. Hannity does interview, but I’ve never seen Hannity rude to people. I mean, he asks tough questions of everybody—but I think he’s always respectful. Democrats—liberal Democrats—come on his show, so that tells you something. I just think there’s a time and place to be editorializing, and there’s a time and a place to be reporting, and if you blur that line, then you’re not doing your job. You need to make it very clear when you’re editorializing, but to be disrespectful, like he was—first of all, it was a noisy room, to begin with, and she was trying to hear, and then he’s blurting that kind of stuff out, which is—I don’t know—
ARONOFF: Let me get to a few more things. We just have a little time left. The lame-duck session: A lot of people have been concerned. Harry Reid has talked about trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform while they still have the big numbers in favor of the Democrats, and then there’s the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts. What do you see happening, briefly, in this lame-duck session?
SEN. SMITH: I don’t really see a lot happening. They got, to use Obama’s own language, shellacked pretty badly. I think for them to go out and try to pass things that the American people, basically, just rejected, would be stupid on their part for any future hope to come back. I don’t see it. They’ll try to probably compromise on a few things, maybe, to get—but I don’t think the Republicans are going to compromise on the Bush tax cuts. They want cuts for everybody, and I think that’s what they’re going to stay firm on.
ARONOFF: Do you think that’ll happen before and in the lame duck session?
SEN. SMITH: You know, honestly, I don’t see how it happens. I don’t see the Democrats agreeing to it. I mean, it’s always been class warfare with them, which is unfortunate. The tax cuts go into the economy. The economy doesn’t know the origin. The only thing that matters is that that money stays out of the federal trough and in the economy itself by those who want to create jobs. I was never hired by a poor person, to the best of my knowledge. I may have been hired by people who became poor because they made bad, bad mistakes—[Laughs]—afterwards, but I wasn’t hired by poor people. And business people and people who make money tend to create jobs and create wealth, and that’s what we need in this country—so the economy needs to deal with all of the cuts across the board, in order to stimulate the economy. So I don’t see the Republicans compromising on that. I think that would be a bad move, because they can wait until the beginning of the year and then pass them anyway in the House. But you know what—
ARONOFF: Now—yes, go ahead.
SEN. SMITH: Real quickly—we don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of “Well, this won’t pass, that won’t pass.” That’s fine. Pass it, send it to the Senate, and if the Senate doesn’t do it or kills it or Obama vetoes it, so be it—but the American people know where everybody stands, and that’s important.
ARONOFF: That’s exactly the point I was going to make. The Republicans can sort of, in the House, treat this as a dress rehearsal even though, say, if they decide to repeal Obamacare, knowing he would veto it, they can pass bills which they know—in essence they’re saying, if we get a Republican Senate and a Republican in the White House, we’ll pass these again, two years from now, so we’re telling you what we will do. And the American public can look at that and decide if that is what they want when they go to the polls in 2012.
SEN. SMITH: I agree, and I think—I might be wrong on this, but I believe that the ultimate judgment, because of the activist interest out there now among the general public, they are going to judge members of Congress on whether or not they try to do it, whether or not they took the vote—not whether or not they succeeded. They understand the political process. They understand that Obama can veto. They understand that the Senate can block. They understand that, but they’re not going to understand if the new Congress doesn’t put legislation up there to repeal health care, to pass the Bush tax cuts, to cut spending, to set us on a path to balance the budget, and so forth. If they put it up and it’s defeated in the Senate or by veto—fine, that’s all they have to say when they go out and they run: ‘We tried. Here’s what it is now. You need to make additional changes if you want this to pass.” To me that’s simple, but it’s not simple when they try to compromise, water stuff down, and don’t really stay true to their principles. I think we’re at the threshold now of really seeing something really, really positive happen in terms of deciding which way we want this country to go.
ARONOFF: Well, I want to tell you we at AIM are very excited to have you coming on board with us. Tell us why you decided to contact us at AIM, why you wanted to come work with us and in the cause that AIM has been involved with. Put that in perspective for us.
SEN. SMITH: As you know, having worked with Reed Irvine many years ago, I still remember him fondly, and that was part of it, but I think, even more importantly, fast-forwarding to now, with what’s going on in the country, you’re seeing this grassroots activism. People deserve to hear the truth. Editorializing is fine. That’s fine. I have no problem with that—but, again, when you get back to accuracy, the accuracy in the media, when something passes for truth that is not truth, and when somebody presents themselves as a reporter when they’re not, they’re more of an editor, then we’ve got to expose that. You folks have always done that there, and when you think about what you’re up against—I mean, an organization of a few million dollars in private donations, for the most part, versus hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in these huge media conglomerates—we’ve got an uphill climb. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m excited about it. I think that we can do a lot. I know so many people, since I left office, who have said, over and over again, “Can you believe this media?” I think that you’re going to find that you’re going to have a lot of grassroots support coming your way. We’ll be fair in terms of how we expose—we’re not going to criticize somebody just for their viewpoint, they have a right to it—but we can certainly criticize people for being dishonest or being untruthful, and expose that. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for us to write the truth even if we’re not criticizing somebody else. I look forward to that because I love to write and speak. Hopefully, we can motivate people to get involved. This is a great cause that I think will help to bring our country back to its Constitutional values.
ARONOFF: Our guest today has been Senator Bob Smith, the former Senator from the state of New Hampshire, and a Congressman from New Hampshire, Navy veteran, and now Special Contributor with Accuracy in Media. It’s been great having you on. I look forward to working with you. Everyone, you can read his article. There’s a new one, his first one up, today at aim.org, and they’ll be up there regularly from here on out. Thank you so much for joining us today on Take AIM.
SEN. SMITH: Thank you. Thank you very much. Look, Roger: I look forward to working with you.
ARONOFF: Thank you so much. Take care now.