John Barry
John Barry
The Ambition and The Power
ISBN: 0831783028
The Ambition & the Power
John Barry describes his book The Ambition and the Power as "a case study of how Washington really works." Barry looks at the consolidation of power by House speaker Jim Wright and follows Wright through his resignation after charges were made against him by the House ethics committee. In this interview, Barry discusses the inside seat he was given by Wright. Appealing to Wright's "sense of history," Barry was even allowed access to sensitive staff meetings. Additionally, Barry discusses the changed House of Representatives without Jim Wright, specifically the role of the Rules committee. He also discusses the role of journalists in covering the Congress.
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TRANSCRIPT
The Ambition & the Power
Program Air Date: January 14, 1990

JOHN BARRY, AUTHOR, "THE AMBITION AND THE POWER": While Wright was trying to accumulate power on one side, Gingrich was actively trying to destroy it on the other side for a two-year long campaign.
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Is your book a success story about Newt Gingrich?
JOHN BARRY: I think my book is a study of how power works, ah, and it uses Jim Wright's speakership as a vehicle to explore that, and, I mean that's every aspect of power, whether it's inside the House, whether it's how you use polls to ah, plan legislative strategy, whether it's how you manipulate the media or try to manipulate the media, ah, and that's what I think it's about.
LAMB: Did Jim Wright get a bad deal?
JOHN BARRY: I don't think there is any question but that he, if he violated any rules of the House, they were in a most technical nature, ah, I think that's clear from, ah, the reading of the evidence.
LAMB: Give us the rundown on how this book was put together. When did you start it, what were you doing right before that, and why did you start it?
JOHN BARRY: Okay. The book grew out of a profile I did of Wright for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, which ran in ah, November 1986, shortly before he became speaker, and as soon as I got to know Wright, it became immediately apparent to me that Wright was a very different animal from any speaker in recent history. Wright wanted to make the speakership into an office equal almost to the presidency in power, and I knew that power is a zero sum game. If Wright had more power, somebody else had less and people in Washington don't give up power gracefully. They would fight to keep it, so I knew there would be an enormous amount of conflict. I thought, I had no idea whether Wright would succeed or fail, but I thought it would make a good book. I went to Wright and asked him if he would cooperate. I asked for access to private meetings. I didn't really expect to get it. I thought I'd compromise and get an hour of interview time a week, exclusive, and we sat down for a couple of hours a couple weeks before he became Speaker. One of his staff people argued against his cooperation and he overruled the staff, which I found, quickly found was typical, and he gave me exactly what I asked for, and I was amazed frankly. He had no editorial control over the book, nothing was off the record. He didn't even read the manuscript before it was published, and ah, he allowed me to sit in basically on every leadership meeting in the hundredth Congress. If, the ground rule was that if staff was allowed in the room, I was allowed in the room.
LAMB: Has he read your book?
JOHN BARRY: Yes.
LAMB: Have you talked to him about it?
JOHN BARRY: Yes.
LAMB: What's he said?
JOHN BARRY: Well, he likes the part that says, in effect, he wasn't a thief, and you know, not only did Wright profit from (?). I got transcripts, you know, the Ethics Committee acted in, in private and in secret really, but I got transcripts of the most important deliberations. It's clear from reading the transcripts just how much, much politics was involved in their decision, and how little evidence there was, so he likes that part of it. He doesn't like the part of the book, which really probably is the bulk of the book, of how he used power, and Gingrich also likes it. In fact, Gingrich even gave me a ah, quote to use in advertising it if I wanted to.
LAMB: Knowing what you know now, would you advise a politician to allow another John Barry to come into their lives in the future?
JOHN BARRY: Ha, ha, ha, you know, I appealed to Wright's sense of history when I asked him to cooperate. Ah, incidentally, a lot of members of Congress cooperated with me, not just Jim Wright. I mean people who were actively working to defeat Wright and to, and Gingrich, I mean some of them even let me into also their private meetings when they were plotting against Wright. Gingrich, also cooperated throughout the ah, hundredth congress, and, and later. Ah, I mean it's a hard end, I mean yeah, I'd say so. I think the, you know C-SPAN showed, when they started televising the floor of the House, this stuff is interesting and it does not destroy the process. You know, the only restraint I had on what I wrote, was that I couldn't publish anything before 1989. Most of the stuff is time sensitive, that the politicians worry about.
LAMB: Brooks Jackson wrote a book on Tony Coelco and he's gone.
JOHN BARRY: Well, I don't think that had anything to do with the book.
LAMB: But he did let him in, and let him behind the scenes, and let him see memos, and sit in meetings.
JOHN BARRY: Right.
LAMB: Why do ah, why do elected officials do this?
JOHN BARRY: Well, of course Brooks' book on Tony was a little different, you know, because that was, he was supposed to do both sides, but the Republicans dropped out and refused to cooperate. Ah, I don't think Tony (?) would have agreed to let Brooks Jackson in by... You know, in Wright's case it was, again, I appealed to his sense of history, he loves history, ah, oddly enough, I think ultimately the reason he agreed to cooperate, why he trusted me really, not to, he never read the manuscript, as I said, but he, I, he trusted me not to sensationalize or take things out of context. Maybe it was because I was a football coach, ah, and his first ambition in life was to coach football. I think there was a odd chemistry there, because Wright, you know, doesn't like the press. The press doesn't like Wright. Ah, and I had not met Wright until I did that profile for the New York Times. It's not as though he had known me for years, ah.
LAMB: What were you doing right before the New York Times pieces?
JOHN BARRY: Well, I was the Washington editor of what used to be called Dunn's Review, ah, had done that for several years and I did a lot of writing for national magazines, ah, Esquire and the Washington Post Magazine I used to write for a lot. Sports Illustrated.
LAMB: Where were you a coach?
JOHN BARRY: Ah, several places, but the largest school would be Tulane University, ah, in New Orleans, of course. I was there when Knight went to a bowl game, had the best team since 1948 when I was there, the first time they had beaten LSU in 25 years.
LAMB: What year?
JOHN BARRY: 1973.
LAMB: How long were you a coach?
JOHN BARRY: I coached for eight or nine years, I guess.
LAMB: Why?
JOHN BARRY: Why? Ha, ha. I loved the game and I was frustrated as a player. Those who can, do, those who can't, coach.
LAMB: Did you ever play?
JOHN BARRY: Oh, sure, yeah. I went to Brown and I played at Brown.
LAMB: What did you graduate in?
JOHN BARRY: Ah, history, and went to grad school in history, and technically I might still be on a leave of absence from a Ph.D. program, I think, I don't know.
LAMB: What's the best thing about coaching?
JOHN BARRY: Winning, I guess. No, I, I left coaching because winning didn't give me a lot of satisfaction and loosing really tore me up, so there was no, there was an imbalance there.
LAMB: Any relationship between coaching and politics?
JOHN BARRY: Well, in success, sure. You know, one thing that both Gingrich and Wright demonstrated was; A) you have to know what you're trying to accomplish and B) you have to be tremendously willful and maybe ruthless, ah, to get there, and I think that's true of a successful football coach, just as it was true both for Wright, as every, I think your audience is probably aware, of how effective he was in the hundredth Congress. And, he did move his agenda through the Congress. He wanted to make that office into something, as I said earlier, equal to the Presidency in power. And he really, in a lot of ways almost did that. Ah, consensus after the hundredth Congress was it was the most effective Congress in at least 25 years, and maybe longer. Ah, and that was because of Jim Wright. By the same token, Newt Gingrich had an enormous will and was quite ruthless, ah, in his pursuit, in his efforts to destroy Wright. And it was strictly because of Wright's power. You know, as, as Gingrich said to me in April 1987, just as Wright had passed a budget without a single Republican vote, ah, Gingrich said, "If Wright ever consolidates his power, it's clear he'll be a very formidable man. We have to take him on early to prevent that," and almost at that moment is when Gingrich started looking around, and began his ethics campaign against Wright. Ah, a few months later, as his ethics campaign was gearing up, still two years before Wright resigned, Gingrich told me, "You know, I don't think Wright is a mafia don, he is a useful keystone to a much bigger structure," and that bigger structure, of course was power. You know, I'm sure, again your viewers are probably well aware of how long it's been since Republicans controlled the House, oh, 34, 35 years now. And they tried everything else, and Gingrich thought, if he could destroy Jim Wright, he could gain Republican seats.
LAMB: Jim Wright or, is Jim Wright or ah, Newt Gingrich an idealogue?
JOHN BARRY: I don't think either one of them, in fact, this may sound very strange, but I think if anyone, Wright might be more of an idealogue than Gingrich, because Wright, I'm convinced, really believes in a lot of the liberal policies that he pushed through the Congress. I think Gingrich is much more of a tactician and much more an expert on the processes of power, ah, and much more willing to abandon a cause, if, you know, for political purposes, for tactical purposes.
LAMB: This book is 768 pages long, and there's no index, how come?
JOHN BARRY: In the next printing.
LAMB: Good.
JOHN BARRY: There is an index available or will be, in the next printing, but buy the book now, ha, ha.
LAMB: How come no index now?
JOHN BARRY: It got screwed up on the printing, and it just got screwed up, that's all I can say. The index wasn't ready when it went to the printer and, sure, unfortunate accident.
LAMB: How's the book, how's the book doing?
JOHN BARRY: I think it's doing quite well here, ah.
LAMB: How many printings.
JOHN BARRY: Well, so far just the first printing, but they had a pretty large first printing, about 50,000 copies.
LAMB: Are you going to have a second printing?
JOHN BARRY: I certainly hope so. It's only been out a few weeks, it's a little too early to tell.
LAMB: You spent how long on this book, writing it, not, not the, not the research, when you sat down to write it, how long did it take you?
JOHN BARRY: Well, it's hard to separate, because I was writing as I, you know, I practically lived in the House in 1987, I mean, I'd have breakfast, Wright, Wright began each day with a breakfast staff meeting. I attended it almost every day, ah, and, you know, I'd go home at night and I'd start writing. It's, it's hard to separate the two, and, you know, obviously to get it, it's kind of remarkable, I think, in the, for the publisher, I want to give him credit, or them credit, Viking, ah. Wright resigned, I mean this book ends on June 30, and it's already out, ah, that's, for even a magazine, stories don't move that quickly sometimes. Ah, so I worked probably 18 or 19 months without taking either a Saturday or Sunday off, and I'd work 10 to 14 hour days regularly.
LAMB: As a general comment, how much interest is there in this story, do you feel, in the public at large?
JOHN BARRY: I think there's a lot of interest. Ah, you know I've found it. I've gone around the country trying to promote it, I've been on talk shows, we always get callers, and, you know, again, it's, it's not just about Jim Wright, it's about power. It's about how the, you know, on the one hand, it could be a, an adventure novel, I mean that's what one of the reviewers in the, in the Chicago Sun Times said. Ah, you know, you've got a man of tremendous ambition and ability, Jim Wright, and, you know, he's, he's reaching for power, he's really, for immense power, and he rises to quite a height, and then you've got somebody else trying to destroy him. I think it's an interesting story, and beyond that, again, it's a case study in just how Washington really works.
LAMB: I'm looking at the back of the book, and we see people like ah, Jim Baker and Tony Coelco and Tom Foley and Newt Gingrich and Bob Michael and others, Dan Rostenkowski. Who on this page did you get to know better than you knew before you started this project, and, besides Newt Gingrich, and ah, what do you think of them?
JOHN BARRY: Well, I got to know all of them better than I did before I started the project, probably. Ah, you know, one of the first things that struck me was, when you're dealing with the top levels of politicians, and they're all capable men, they're remarkably capable men, ah, they'd be very successful in another field, so in one sense, I respect all of them. You know, when I first came to Washington a dozen years ago, I used to believe in the saying, "The only way the press should ever look at a politician is down." But as I got to know these people, they're capable. You know, I think they all have weaknesses and they all have flaws, just as Wright does, and just as Gingrich does. Every one of those people has flaws, so none of them are superhuman.
LAMB: What kind of a speaker is Tom Foley?
JOHN BARRY: I think Tom Foley is, you know, is a brilliant man, I agree with that assessment, he's restored comedy to the House, which I think is very important.
LAMB: What does that mean?
JOHN BARRY: Well, there's more collegiality. Ah, it's easier for both sides to work together. I think he has yet to demonstrate the kind of leadership that Jim Wright demonstrated. Maybe he'll do that, maybe he won't.
LAMB: At one point in your book you write about Bob Michael being shrewder than he appears.
JOHN BARRY: You cannot survive as Republican leader ah, as long as he's survived, ah, without being shrewd. I mean he can understand what (?) are working. You know, the audience may not recall, but there has been a long history on the Republican side in the House, of regicide, and even when Michael rose to power in 1980, you know, his, his predecessor stepped aside, but one of the reasons he stepped aside voluntarily, that was John Rhodes, was because there was a strong chance that he might not have been reelected as Republican leader, and of course, Gerald Ford and Charles Halleck and the whole line, there has not been really a smooth succession or a graceful retirement from the leadership, going back to before Joe Martin, the last Republican speaker. And ah, you know, Michael says, "The key to leadership is to listen", and he listens to his troops. And I think he adjusts, you know.
LAMB: Will Newt Gingrich take his job eventually?
JOHN BARRY: I think probably not. I think ah, when Michael leaves, I think that will probably be graceful retirement. I think he'll break the succession of that, that string, and I don't think Newt will rise easily. I think there will be a fight before he takes over. He may well win it, but I don't think he'll be unopposed. When Wright rose to speaker, he was unopposed, as have most of the, under Democrats, been an easy step up the ladder.
LAMB: In the middle of this story, did Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich have strong personal feelings about one another, negative feelings?
JOHN BARRY: Wright certainly did for Gingrich. I think Gingrich had a colder assessment of Wright and a more professional assessment of Wright. Ah, on the same day that the five Central American peace, Central American presidents signed the peace agreement in Guatemala, Gingrich said to me that if, this is, remember in August 1987, Gingrich was already two months into, into his ethics campaign against Wright, that day Gingrich said to me, "If Wright survives this ethical thing, he could be the greatest speaker since Henry Clay." Now Clay was speaker in 1811. That's a long time. Ah, so Gingrich had a lot of respect for Wright's ability, and again, that was exactly why I think he tried to destroy him.
LAMB: Now that you've been inside, really inside, and spent a lot of time, what do you think of the press?
JOHN BARRY: About the same I thought of them before, which wasn't, you know, that much. I think the ah, you know, that goes back to football. I, I think one of the reasons, as I said a moment, a few minutes ago, why Wright allowed me into the room, was that he had a sense that I had been on the other side, and, you know, the press is manipulated. The press is a passive creature. Ah, the stories I write about very rarely, I mean very rarely, come from their own initiative. They are usually handed to them. Ah, now everybody tries to manipulate the press. Jim Wright tried to do it. Newt Gingrich tried to do it. Ronald Reagan tried to do it. George Bush tries to do it. Tom Foley. They all try to manipulate the press. And the press is manipulated. You know, a few years ago, Larry Speakes, then Reagan's press secretary, said, "Don't tell me how to manage the news and I won't tell you how to report it.". And that describes the relationship. You know, the politicians are trying to dictate what stories the press covers. The press tries to exercise some element of independence by ah, injecting themselves into what they write about, what they're forced to cover. Ah, but the basic thing, I think there is a an inherent conflict of interest in any story that any reporter writes about any subject, and that conflict of interest is not an ideological agenda, it's a, it's, it's self interest. You know, the reporter wants his story to be on the front page or be the lead in the network news broadcast, and how do you do that? You do that by hyping something, by maybe taking what may be the most interesting element of the story, but really not an important part of the story and not representative of the whole story, and, and making that the lead. So, you know, the, the press, and, and, plus, in Washington particularly, reporters read each other. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, they all read each other every single day, and the L.A. Times, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, a lot of these. They all read each other and, and they form a consensus. I think that's the most dangerous part. You would think that these guys, since they compete so incessantly, that they would retain their independence, but in fact, there is a, because of various insecurities and the way, and you know they, they form a, a pack really, and every politician on every side of the aisle, has complained about this stuff, as long as there has been a press corps almost. I don't think, again, and, and, I don't call names in the book of anybody. What I tried to do is analyze how the thing works, and you know, 500 years ago Cardinal Thomas Woolsey, who was involved in Henry VIII and all the wives, said, "If we don't destroy the press, the press is going to destroy us", so it's nothing new. 200 years ago Edmund Burke coined the term "the fourth estate", when he was sitting in Parliament and said, "Yonder sits the, the press gallery, sits a fourth estate, more powerful than we all." And ah, when they form a pack, it's very hard to fight them. It can be done, but it's hard. You know, there was the idea that George Bush was a wimp. I did a profile of Bush about four or five years ago. I never thought he was a wimp, I think there was another question you could ask about him, which was, you can still ask, and that is, what's his vision for the country? I don't think that's been articulated yet. But the idea that he was a wimp, anybody who knew anything about Bush could see that this guy was tough. It's a different issue, whether he, what he believes in and what he wants to do with the country and whether he's tough. You know, different questions.
LAMB: Has the press been rough on you because of the position you have taken in this book, which is not, I'll try to characterize it as not anti-right, I don't know if you want to be considered the, but you've gotten, I've seen some of it, but do you think they've been rough on you because of that?
JOHN BARRY: Let me first say, as I said earlier, Gingrich has publicly praised the book. Ah, Henry Hyde, I was on the air in Chicago, a show with Henry Hyde, again your audience I'm sure knows him, Hyde, you know, publicly praised the book, ah, ah, senior Republican staff people in the House, have, have praised the book. Ah, I don't, I think when you say it's not anti-right, I think you're thinking in terms of the ethics charges.
LAMB: All I really was getting at, what I wanted you to, have, forget what I say, I mean, the, the, you, I've read the same things you've read, and I want you to talk about what your reaction has been to the reviews and the press coverage, and have you gotten, have they been fair to you?
JOHN BARRY: Well, it's my first book and I, you know, I complained to some, about some stuff to the publisher, and they said, "Hey, John, relax", you know? They're, I've actually been a little surprised that some of the hits haven't been a little more aggressive, ah.
LAMB: What are the hits that you've taken, that you think are unfair?
JOHN BARRY: Well, there are, I don't want to discuss the reviews specifically, but some of them have taken, have in essence misrepresented what's in the book.
LAMB: You got mad enough to write a letter to the Washington Post about Dan Shorr's(?) review.
JOHN BARRY: Well, he, he didn't tell the truth about what was in the book. That quote that I, he said that it was too partial to Wright, and ah, to prove it, he, he pointed out that I was comparing Jim Wright to Henry Clay. The fact is, I didn't compare Jim Wright to Henry Clay. Newt Gingrich compared Jim Wright to Henry Clay. He attributed to me a quote, I mean a statement that I quoted Newt Gingrich as saying. And the reason I quoted Gingrich was because I thought it was very provocative, particularly because it came from Gingrich. You know, if it had come from one of Wright's aides, who cares? But when it comes from Newt Gingrich, that's interesting. And Daniel(?) Shorr attributed that statement to me, but I didn't say it, Gingrich said it and I thought that was dishonest, frankly.
LAMB: Go back, but what I'm really getting at is here is ah, you know we've spent a year...
JOHN BARRY: I think that's in one, one review that I thought was kind of bizarre, was that one review by Daniel(?) Shorr in the Washington Post. Aside from that review, almost, the, the reviews have been quite favorable. The New York Times, the L.A. Times, Chicago Sun Times, ah, USA Today.
LAMB: What I was really talking about was conventional wisdom, and, and are you allowed, I mean you, you described the press earlier in our conversation as being, you know, fairly groupie oriented, that they all do the same thing. Conventional wisdom in this town, I ask you, was it that Jim Wright was guilty and should have gone?
JOHN BARRY: Absolutely.
LAMB: And because you have not been that strong on it, has it been tough on you, have they made it, has the press made it difficult, word of mouth, "John Barry was had because he was so close to the speaker?"
JOHN BARRY: Some people have said that, but interestingly, Bill (?) used to be the Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times for years, one of the most respected journalists in Washington, then he became the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, now he runs the (?) Center at Harvard ah, which is the Center for Journalism, they take outstanding young journalists, you know, 30, 35 years old usually, several of whom have won Pulitzers already, and give them a year of study. (?) reviewed the book for Newsday, and entirely embraced my thesis, and in fact, when I was in Boston, he asked me to address the (?). Now (?), no one is going to be more sophisticated, about both how power works and how the press works. And Ken (?) reviewed it for USA Today and (?) of course was NBCs chief, I don't know his exact title, but if not their chief political correspondent, then one of their lead political correspondents for years, and ah, he also entirely embraced that part of the book, and most of the book. Ah, so in that sense, I was a little surprised that I haven't taken more hits. The only, you know, unfortunately was in Washington, and, and you referred to it already. I think that was the only review that I've gotten that was really like that.
LAMB: Go back to the original article you wrote for the New York Times. Did...
JOHN BARRY: Right.
LAMB: What was it about your relationship with Jim Wright at that point that, when you came back to him, made him feel comfortable?
JOHN BARRY: I don't know. It's funny. I even included in that story ah, several things that Gingrich went around charging Jim Wright with. You know, as far as questions about his investments in 1979, oil wells ah, and conversion of campaign funds to personally use, back in 1977, all that was in the New York Times Magazine story, so I didn't sluff over these things, and there were people who told me Wright wouldn't like it, but I think he felt it was a fair piece. I think the ah, I think what he liked about it was that I took him seriously. The second paragraph of that story said that "Wright wants nothing less than to rearrange the balance of power between the White House and the Congress." That's exactly what he wanted to do. And the fact that I recognized that, he was, I, you know, saying that to a lot of reporters, and it wasn't appearing in any story, you know, I just took him seriously, took him at this word, that this is what the guy wants to do. So he felt that I recognized what it was he wanted to do with the Speakership. And ah, he thought I would be fair.
LAMB: How did it work, who did you, who was your liaison on Jim Wright's staff? Who did you work with every day?
JOHN BARRY: Nobody. Jim Wright. You know.
LAMB: I mean, let's say for instance that your... how did your day, what was a typical day like for you?
JOHN BARRY: I'd come up to the staff breakfast, I'd look at his daily schedule, and ...
LAMB: Walk in the office?
JOHN BARRY: Oh, yeah. I had the authority to open a closed door, walk in the room, in his office. I cleared that with him. Staff, in the beginning, his staff used to try to block me all the time.
LAMB: Any particular people on his staff?
JOHN BARRY: Ah, well no reason to name them. You know, basically everybody on the staff didn't want him to...
LAMB: The reason I mentioned that is the, the audience is very familiar with John Mack, who was the legislative..
JOHN BARRY: Well, John didn't want him to cooperate, and neither did Marshall Linum (?).
LAMB: Linum(?) was his ...
JOHN BARRY: Ah, I think his title was Chief of Staff.
LAMB: But when you walked in the office every day, you could just walk in? Walk in, in ....
JOHN BARRY: I had, you know, the authority came from Wright, so therefore his staff really couldn't do much about it.
LAMB: And when did you start doing this?
JOHN BARRY: In December, late December 1986. And I was there pretty much for the whole show.
LAMB: Was there ever a time when he said ....
JOHN BARRY: Jim Wright? No.
LAMB: Stay out?
JOHN BARRY: No. There was one meeting ah, where another member of the Democratic leadership, as I opened the closed door and started to walk in, held his hand up in my face and closed the door. That was one meeting, that was in June or, May or June of 1987. But no. If I wasn't in the meeting, then I would, you know, within a couple of hours, talked to half a dozen people who were in the meeting. You know, I missed, I wasn't in everything. Ah, the reason was my schedule, you know, I was in, I was not only attending Wright's meetings, but I was interviewing other people. You know, if I had an interview scheduled with Newt Gingrich, you know, I, I kept that appointment, because a lot of these things don't appear on Wright's schedule, out of the meetings. They developed spontaneously. Something happens on the floor and they move into his office. Ah, so I, I wouldn't attend everything. There'd be things that happened that I didn't know about. Not so much because they were trying to keep me in the dark. Ah, I mean I was in meetings when the staff wasn't there. When the book opens with a scene with Wright and Bob Michael(?) sitting down with Carlos Tunnerman(?), the Nicaraguan Ambassador, and this was right at the beginning of the Central American peace plan, ah, Tom Lefler(?), you know, in fact, when Tom Lefler(?)
LAMB: Who was?
JOHN BARRY: Who, he was a former Republican Congressman from Texas, who ran for Governor of Texas, and then the White House brought him in, in the spring of 1987, to see if they could pass Contra aid. Actually, early summer 1987. And I was, staff was neither, when, when, I was sitting there when Lefler(?) asked Wright, speaking for the White House, "Would he be interested in ah, cooperating in a peace initiative in Nicaragua", and there was no staff in the room then. Nor was there any staff in the room when Wright sat down with Tunnerman(?) and Michael(?), Tunnerman(?) being again the Nicaraguan Ambassador. So there were things that I was in on that staff wasn't in on. They resented it, believe me.
LAMB: Staff resented it?
JOHN BARRY: Sure.
LAMB: What about the other politicians, either the Democratic staff members.....
JOHN BARRY: There were...
LAMB: Or Republican members?
JOHN BARRY: There were initial problems, ah, with some other members of the Democrat leadership. You know, Wright had given them the authority to keep me out of, if they wanted to, but I soon learned that Wright was the 800 pound gorilla, and if it was okay with Wright, it was okay with everybody else. But, there were resentments. They cooled over a period of time. I think they were mostly concerned initially that I'd leak something to the daily press. They, but that went away.
LAMB: Did you ever find yourself in the room with just the Speaker and one other politician, just the three of you sitting there and having a fairly intimate conversation about a political issue?
JOHN BARRY: Well, understand this, I didn't have conversations as such. I just sat there.
LAMB: I don't mean you, I mean, you sat there, did you find yourself just three people sitting there, and you said to yourself, "This is incredible, I can't believe I'm getting a chance to do this."
JOHN BARRY: Almost every day, ha, ha. You know, the stuff was fascinating, there's no question about it. You know,
LAMB: What is on, in your notebooks? I mean you've got every bit of that ....
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, and if it was...
LAMB: How many more books can you write?
JOHN BARRY: On this? The problem, you know, this is a long book. You should see what's on the cutting room floor. You know, I think, although it's long, I tried to keep it tight. In my own mind, at least, I wasn't, again, I wasn't even writing about Jim Wright. I was writing about how power works, and, if it didn't deal with the exercise of power, then it's not in the book. Ah, so, there is an enormous amount of really interesting stuff about how the world works that...
LAMB: Aren't you walking around though with a lot of information about other politicians, you could almost write a book on a Tom Foley or....
JOHN BARRY: Sure. I mean, I think I have a different perspective on Foley than, you know. I have the same perspective that a member of Congress has, except I don't have the limitations.
LAMB: Here, here's the, here's the 64 dollar question. What are these people like when there are no cameras around, and they think they're just talking among themselves, are they greatly different that what we see?
JOHN BARRY: No, not in, no, not really, I don't think.
LAMB: You know, an hour
JOHN BARRY: Let, let me say, Rayburn used to say. "If you tell the truth the first time, you don't have to remember what you said." I think the first thing that I learned was that they tell a lot fewer lies than you would expect, that what they say inside the room, is remarkably consistent, in most cases, with what they say outside the room publicly. Ah, you know, there are people whom the press likes who are not respected by their colleagues. There are a few of those.
LAMB: Can you name them?
JOHN BARRY: I'd rather not...
LAMB: Are there people that the press doesn't like that are terribly respected by their colleagues? I'm not sure the work terribly is accurate there, but I mean are really respected behind the scenes.
JOHN BARRY: It's not so much that the press doesn't know of them, you know. There are just a good 50 or 60 real operators in the House, capable people. I mean, I think, Wright, for example, you know, before he got into, entered the House in 1954, he was 30 years old, he made $70,000.00 a year. That was a lot of, it's still a lot of money for a 30-year-old. In 1954 it was an enormous amount of money.
LAMB: What is he, 66 now?
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, ah, or just turned 60.., actually probably, his birthday was last week, just turned 68 I think. Ah, you know, he was in business with his father, and I think, you know, he could have built that business into a, I mean, Congressman then made $12,500, to give you a sense of the discrepancy. You know, he would have been very successful in business, if, in, you know, maybe like Ross Perot, if he had staying in private life. I mean, Tom Foley would be one of the, you know, most highly paid lawyers in America. No question about it. Ah, if, if he were a, a lawyer in law practice. You know, Tony (?) turned down a, a seven, not six, seven figure, ah, job offer three or four years before he became Whip or maybe more recently. Ah, they wanted to stay in politics. I mean, it wasn't so much a personal sacrifice to them, they wanted to play a different game. To them, money didn't mean that much.
LAMB: What did you think of staff after you got close to the situation, just staff in general, on the hill?
JOHN BARRY: It's too broad edged a question to answer. What do you mean?
LAMB: Are we being well-served in general by staff people on Capitol Hill?
JOHN BARRY: Well, sometimes they have their own agendas, and I think that's unfortunate, but..
LAMB: I mean, you don't, you don't say...
JOHN BARRY: I think if there were fewer staff in the White House, fewer, fewer staff in government period, I think the public would be better served. Not just in the Congress.
LAMB: Can you talk about one staff member of Jim Wright's that I mentioned earlier,
JOHN BARRY: John...
LAMB: John Mack. What did you think of him?
JOHN BARRY: John, it's funny, you know, Newt Gingrich, for more than two years, campaigned against Jim Wright, calling him every name he could think of. Newt Gingrich knew about John Mack in January of 1987, if not earlier, but he never said a word about John Mack. The reason was that, that Mack was probably the best-liked staff person in the House, by both sides, not just Democrats, but Republicans. They really liked him and they really trusted him, you know. I mean, you can't defend what John did. It's indefensible. You know, ...
LAMB: Explain (?) crime.
JOHN BARRY: ...his crime...
LAMB: Explain in case someone who is watching this and never heard of John.
JOHN BARRY: Okay. In, when, when Mack was 19 years old he assaulted a woman, a complete stranger, he was managing a store, and he dragged her into a storeroom and, and hit her with a hammer, and slashed her with a knife. And served, he served ah, just about 2-1/2 years in jail for that. Now, Jim Wright's daughter, one of Jim Wright's daughters, knew him for high school, and, and Mack's father was, I've forgotten exactly, but I believe he was a career military person, an officer, and, you know, and Wright's daughter said, "This kid's really, I mean, he went off the deep end, but he was, he's okay," and the sheriff actually, publicly was saying that John was a model prisoner and Wright gave him a job, the lowest job in the office, opening the mail, and the sheriff publicly, I think, you know, said he should be commended for giving him a job.
LAMB: He married his daughter.
JOHN BARRY: No, no. He did not, no. John's brother married...
LAMB: Married...
JOHN BARRY: Married
LAMB: Jim Wright's daughter.
JOHN BARRY: Exactly. Ah, and, you know, he worked his way up to a very responsible position. When, you know, first in Wright's personal office, where he didn't have contact with members. Ah, Mack was very smart. Ran the computer, ultimately ran the computer system. And then Wright's old friend and very senior aide, a guy names Craig Raub(?), left Wright's staff. Craig, Wright was then majority leader, Craig Raub(?) was his chief floor assistant, and Raub (?) was a former political science professor, former Vice-President of Eastern Airlines, the former Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a heavyweight. Raub (?) recommended that his replacement be John Mack. And, there was definitely discussion at the time, whether or not they could give it to Mack, and I think Wright's feeling, and the general feeling in the office, was if Mack is rehabilitated, you know, he's already been working there for eight or nine years, I've forgotten the exact number, if Mack was rehabilitated, then why shouldn't he get the job, and if he isn't rehabilitated, then why is he working there at all, so they gave him the job. And of course that all blew up, both for Jim Wright and for John Mack six months....
LAMB: Who did that?
JOHN BARRY: The Washington Post ran a story in, you know, early May of this year, or May of 1989, I should say, ah....
LAMB: Fair?
JOHN BARRY: You can't defend what Mack did.
LAMB: Did you talk to John Mack after the story hit?
JOHN BARRY: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, he resigned two weeks later. I mean, was the story fair? I think the one thing that was, you know, there was a story in the "Columbia Journalism Review" about the story, ah, and I think the most disturbing thing to me about it, or two things; 1) that the person who wrote it was a close personal friend of the victim, ah so you've got a conflict of interest there ah, 2) the Post knew about the story two years earlier, and decided not to run anything. And then, if it wasn't news two years before, why did they run it later? But, you know, I mean, it's all lost, because how can you defend Mack's action? You can't. But he, he had done it, what 16 or 17 years before that, and ....
LAMB: Is the House operating today any differently because of the Jim Wright episode?
JOHN BARRY: Absolutely. You know, there is ah, a greater sense of collegiality, ah, although I think there is a lot of tensions below the surface. I don't think the Democrats are using their power nearly in the way they did under Wright or under Tip O'Neil, for that matter. Primarily, the rules committee is the difference, ah, again, for your viewers, who I think have a better, much more sophistication than, than most people about the Congress, the Rules Committee controls the floor. In, in process is power. There is one thing that anybody who understands, I mean, process is power. Procedure is power. And Wright definitely used his advantages right to the hilt and, at least in, in one instance, clearly abused his power, in the spirit of the rules. I mean, that would be in October 1987, when he lost a vote, a very important vote, ah, at noontime, and the House rules prohibited him from bringing the same legislation back to the floor for a second vote on the same day, so at three o'clock in the afternoon, actually I think 3:05, he adjourned the House and reconvened it at 3:15. Technically this was a new legislative day. In fact, of course, it violated the spirit of the rules, ah, clearly.
LAMB: Were you in on the planning of that?
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, I was sitting there. I mean, again, I mean, I'm just a fly on the wall. I never spoke, you know, to Wright about my opinions on anything, I just sat and observed. So, when you say, "In on the planning", I just sat there. No, I mean, I had a lot of, you know, Wright and I would have dinner and talk about things, but during, during a meeting, I said zilch. Ah, but yeah I was in on the planning of that.
LAMB: Did you find yourself, because you were so close, feeling compassion for Jim Wright and wanting to help him?
JOHN BARRY: Oh, sure. You know, yeah. I mean, not so much that particular, I mean, he was willful. He was going to win. Now, interestingly, this is much lost in the shuffle, but Foley went to Bob Michael(?) to see whether or not he would approve of this, you know, and Foley told me later that ah, Michael(?) just sort of grunted. Now later, of course, after the vote, you know, it became clear that the Republicans were outraged about this. You know, at the time, the Democrats tried to sell it on the basis of, it's convenient. It was a Thursday, they were all scheduled to go home Thursday night, go back to their districts Friday. You know, they all had appointments Friday, ah, or many of the members did, and ah, the alternative to re-voting that day, that second legislative day, would keep the House in Friday and force all these people to change their schedules, so there was an argument. They were trying to say this was for the convenience of the membership. The fact of the matter is, it wasn't. The fact of the matter was, Wright was afraid that if they didn't vote on it again immediately, it would disintegrate. His chances of victory would disintegrate. So he wanted that vote.
LAMB: My question was really the overall situation, getting compassionate to Jim Wright and having meetings with him and dinners and all that stuff, did you, was it ....
JOHN BARRY: Well, if you, if you have as much contact with somebody as I had with Wright, you either gotta love him or hate him, because you know him so well. You know, I think that I understood what his flaws were, and I understood what his strengths were. There were a lot of strengths too.
LAMB: His strongest points.
JOHN BARRY: Well, intelligence, will, persistence, courage, which I think, the number one thing lacking in politicians, as far as I'm concerned, is courage. Ah, and whether it's in the White House or the Congress, they don't have enough courage. Weight had courage, whether you, you know, love him or hate him, the guy had guts. Whether it was political guts in the sense of ah, going out front on taxes, or you know, Nicaragua, the, the guy was willing to get out there on his own, which also was one of the things that contributed to bringing him down. There was, there was, every Thursday morning the Democrats have a Whip meeting, which is usually attended by about 50 or 60 members, and there was an incident early in 1987 that really taught me this lesson. And, there was, what members don't like is a tough vote, a tough vote is designed as, is defined as a vote that makes enemies, and Foley announced that the following week they were going to vote on a bill backed by the AFL/CIO, what they call a labor bill. A labor bill is a tough vote because no matter how you vote, you're gonna make enemies, either labor or business. Ah, and one Congressman got up and, the, the Whip meeting just erupted, everybody was angry, and one Congressman got up and said, "I don't know about the Senators from your state, but in my state the Senators go to the AFL/CIO convention and go, get a standing ovation, the they walk across the street to the Chamber of Commerce convention and get a standing ovation, and the reason they do is because in the Senate they're smart enough not to schedule these damn labor bills for a vote." I cracked up. I thought it was funny, but what it really said was that, you know, this guy didn't want to vote. It was a tough vote. He didn't want to make, but that really brought home to me how these guys don't want to make any enemies.
LAMB: Who was that guy?
JOHN BARRY: Oh, you know, I can't, you know, nothing was off the record, but I did agree that if there are things like that I learned simply by being in a room, I, I couldn't violate that confidence.
LAMB: Would you talk about something that you write about, and that is the personal thing that Jim Wright did that put people off...the smile...
JOHN BARRY: The smile...Unctuous...
LAMB: ...Did he know about that?
JOHN BARRY: I say...like ah...that people had told him not to smile, had been telling him since 1964 not to smile like that. They had told him so often that they had stopped telling him. Wright is a very complicated man. One of the most complicated and fascinating men that I think that have been in Washington in decades and I believe that smile grew out of his personality. When he was a kid, he moved from town to town...I mean he lived...before he got to highschool, he lived in something like eight or nine towns or different states...he was always...and he also skipped grades, he was smart, so he was younger than his class mates and he was always going into these small, real small towns, you know...in Oklahoma, Texas or Louisiana and he always had to make friends. He had to go out and actively make them. I mean these were colloquious little places and I think that the smile grew out of that...
LAMB: Did you ever talk to him about it?
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, yeah, I did as a matter of fact and he did not want to talk to me about it just as he didn't want to talk to anybody about it. I think, you know, that certainly put a lot of people off. I think he came off very poorly on T.V. and did not come off a lot better in person either.
LAMB: Is that the origin of people calling him, "A Snake Oil Salesman"?
JOHN BARRY: I believe it was, yeah, sure...You know, there was one occasion where, maybe you can remember, I can't remember the name of the Republican Congressman that he almost got in a fight with, back in the early 80's, California...?
LAMB: I want to say Dan Lungren(?)...
JOHN BARRY: ...I think you are right...But you know, he came off the...down from the speaker's restroom and told Lungren(?), "I am smiling because if I wasn't smiling, I would punch ya." That is a sense of insincerity. I mean people are supposed to read smiles as friendship, with him it was a mask, and it covered the way he felt and that's where you get that sense of unctuousness.
LAMB: Were you with him after the day that he gave the speech and tears came to his eyes over...about his wife?
JOHN BARRY: You mean which...
LAMB: The day that Jim...
JOHN BARRY: Not the resignation?
LAMB: No, no, no...The day that he gave the speech where he got so emotional about his wife?
LAMB: Yeah, I was there. I just wanted to ask you what...?
JOHN BARRY: That was sincere if that's the question.
LAMB: What was their relation...I mean often it was written that he did things for his wife. He needed money so that his wife could live better...Is that true?
JOHN BARRY: It is and it isn't. I think that, you know, he got...the funny thing is...I think what brought him down was Huberts (?)...again it goes back to...
LAMB: Which means?
JOHN BARRY: No...It's a fatal flaw in a Greek tragic hero and Huberts(?) is also matched in the classic Greek Tragedy with Nemesis...and Nemesis, of course, was Newt Gingrich and one of the reviewers of the New York Times said it is a near archetypal drama of Huberts and Nemesis. And Wright's financial problems...remember I said that he was making a lot of money when he went to Congress...His financial problems actually grew out of a senate race to replace Linden Johnson when he came in 3rd out of 72 candidates, missed the run off by just a whisper, ironically, John Tower ultimately won that race and of course, Tower preceding him in flames by a few months...Wright had a very large campaign debt after that. And he paid it off with his personal funds. He could have held fund raisers but he didn't like being in debt, it really bothered him. It was an instinct...all this stuff he says about the deficit and the National Debt...it's true. I mean, he paid off his first mortgage on a house, after World War II, in three years because he didn't like being in debt, which was not a wise financial decision but gut instinct, he couldn't deal with it. By the same token, the campaign debt, he hated being in debt. Instead of holding a series of fund raisers to pay it off, he used his personal funds to pay it off. At the time...he actually took out loans, personal loans, and that plunged him into debt. He never really recovered until the late 70s and here was a man, 55 years old, late 50s, the majority leader of the United States Congress, with really a net worth, probably one quarter of what it was when he entered Congress 20 years before that. And he began...and he was frustrated as Majority Leader. The Majority Leader does not do much, particularly under Tip in those days...you know...you have, in a lot of ways, less power than he would have had as Chairman of the Public Works Committee which he would have been if he hadn't become Majority Leader and he thought seriously about leaving Congress and one of the frustrations, he really felt that he didn't have anything so he began to look at the edges of the rules. I know a lot of people blame (?) for that, but I think that Wright has to take responsibility for anything that he did that was on the edges of the rules.
LAMB: Let me go...just a moment, to your own involvement with this book...Viking Press, how come?
JOHN BARRY: The did more than the other publishers.
LAMB: Were they interested from the beginning?
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: And what kind of special things did they do for a book like this?
JOHN BARRY: Well, I don't know if there is anything special...I mean they are behind the book. They have cooperated on promoting it...They are doing some adds. What ever a publisher does when there is a pretty large printing.
LAMB: Have you ever published a book before?
JOHN BARRY: No, first book.
LAMB: Would you go...If you had it to do all over again...?
JOHN BARRY: Would I go with Viking again?
LAMB: No...That is not a fair question...If you had it to do over again would you do it differently? What part of this thing didn't work right for you? What was difficult?
JOHN BARRY: I think...no, I am happy with the book, I mean...Do I think that it has no flaws whatsoever? Of course...You know, I can't open a page without being driven crazy by, "Why didn't I use this word instead of another word?", but I think...I am proud of the book. I hope others like it.
LAMB: The audience is looking at the cover of this book...Did you have anything to say about the title, about the cover itself, about the picture?
JOHN BARRY: Yeah, I did?
LAMB: What is the symbolism of all of this, anything special?
JOHN BARRY: Well, of course, the ambition and the power means that...that that is what the book is about. Ambition and power...it's not Jim Wright, it's about everybody's ambition and power. Whether it's, Wright's or Gingrich's or Quello's (?) or Foley's or Rostankowski's (?) or Dick Chaney's... I mean all of these people are players in the book, and of course the empty Speaker's chair speaks for itself.
LAMB: This is a very simple question, but we have talked about a lot of things and a lot of things that are not particularly in this book...If someone buys this book, what are they going to get that we have not talked about? What kind of things did you focus on here that you think is important...You think...
JOHN BARRY: I think you got a deep understanding of both how power works...I hope you get...and about how politics work and with that, and also, a lot of the, you know, every person in the book, that is even a minor character, I tried to put some profile information in there and that is one of the things that I am kind of happy about. I think...one of the things that I hope I do well is understanding what...why people do things, what their motives are...so you get whether it's Bush or Chaney or Foley or Rostankowski's (?), think you get a very good sense of the man from the book...I hope you do.
LAMB: You talk about Jim Wright's up bringing. You talk a lot about the whole development around the Central American involvement...Anything else in the book that you are particularly happy with...that you enjoyed writing about?
JOHN BARRY: I think the role of the press. I think that is very important. I think that...you know...you really have to understand the press. I quote David Rogers (?) who is a Wall Street Journal, very good, very good Wall Street Journal reporter and we are talking about...we haven't really talked about the Ethic stuff...but at the end, the press know about a lot of serious flaws in the Ethic's Committee Report, particularly Richard Thalen (?) the Outside Council for the Ethic's Committee, you know...clearly distorted the evidence and misrepresented the facts and on occasion, told out and out lies to the Committee. But the Committee knew this...in fact, again, I had the transcripts of this Secret Session to the Ethic's Committee. In one exchange I quote Jim Hanson, a Republican on the Committee, complaining to Thalen(?) about telling and outright lie, so I don't believe that...I'll get to my point in a minute...I mean I don't believe that Thalen(?) manipulated the Committee. I think that the Committee, really wanted...they were using Thalen(?) for their own purposes and Thalen(?) had his own ambitions to take care of...he has tried to run for Governor of Illinois but he couldn't raise enough money so he was running for President of the Cook County Board and he just wanted to build a name for himself.
LAMB: That is the only reason he took the job?
JOHN BARRY: He sought the job out, you know, he actively sought the job out and the Committee went to people, prominent, well respected attorneys looking for recommendations, but Thalen(?) was not recommended by anybody...he heard of the job and went looking for it. But the point is, there were so many flaws that the press was not exploring, and I asked Rogers(?) why not and he said...I even read the quote back to him a week or two later to make sure it was accurate...He said, "You know it's true that Thalen's report was really kind of loose and it frustrated him." And it frustrated him and then he said, "It sort of became my role to tighten the case against Wright for Thalen.(?)" I don't frankly think that is a journalist's role. I really don't. But it is...you know...the press is a flawed institution, but so is the Congress and so is the Administration and so is the White House, you know, because people are flawed. I think that one of the things that I learned from the book, was how important personality is in leadership...you know...I...
LAMB: Is it also important whether you survive in the town?
JOHN BARRY: Yes...
LAMB: I mean, if you go back over the personalities o the people who have been very controversial, Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Wright...?
JOHN BARRY: Absolutely.
LAMB: If you are a nice guy, you win...?
JOHN BARRY: Or if you are perceived as being a nice guy. A lot of these guys who are supposed to be nice guys are not such nice guys.
LAMB: Is Jim Wright a nice guy behind the scene?
JOHN BARRY: I think so...I know there are others who don't think so.
LAMB: Did you ever see him not so nice?
JOHN BARRY: Sure, you know I have seen him...
LAMB: What creates that? I mean, what did you see him do?
JOHN BARRY: When he is frustrated, when he is willful, I mean, he gets willful, you know...He can be ruthless. There is no question that he can be ruthless in the use of power and was ruthless.
LAMB: What about some of the others on the back of your book here, people like...
JOHN BARRY: I think every one of those people back there can be ruthless with the exception of Tom Foley.
LAMB: Tom Foley doesn't have it in him?
JOHN BARRY: I don't know if he has got it in him, but I have never seen him be ruthless, and I think that maybe you have to be ruthless to be in a position of power.
LAMB: Dick Chaney?
JOHN BARRY: Chaney can be tough...and Baker, I think can be a cold character. Rostankowski's (?) knows how to be rough.
LAMB: Bob Michael(?)?
JOHN BARRY: Bob Michael(?) knows how to be rough when he has to be.
LAMB: George Bush?
JOHN BARRY: I think he has shown that...Although, in the campaign...it's funny, Gingrich, about three weeks ago was complaining in the Washington Post, that Bush had shown that he could be ruthless and calculated in the '88 campaign but he wasn't doing it at the present and Gingrich was complaining about that.
LAMB: I want to ask you about something, that page 363 just popped out, to me...and I want to ask you whether or not this is new information or whether you had seen it before. You are writing about conversations that you had with Newt Gingrich and you come up with four headings of what his whole strategy is as a politician or what a politician has to be and he names four times that you have to have...First of all, was that new to you...I mean, had you ever heard that before, or did he tell you that for the first time?
JOHN BARRY: I think that I had heard it from Newt prior to that conversation. I had known Newt a lot longer than I knew Wright.
LAMB: Where did you know him from?
JOHN BARRY: Well, you know, I covered politics for...I had been in town for a while so I knew him, not exactly when we met, but it would have been early...during Reagan's first term...I have forgotten the year.
LAMB: The reason I asked, is because we have spent a lot of time here with him as we do with the speaker before but I had never seen this...and the four things..."Vision, Strategy, Projects and Tactics".
JOHN BARRY: Right.
LAMB: This network has been in business since 1979 and Newt Gingrich came to Congress that year...?
JOHN BARRY: You are certainly part of his strategy...
LAMB: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that...you know, we sit here passively, carrying The House of Representatives everyday, but anybody who has watched it has been able to see a lot of this...What part of the strategy were we?
JOHN BARRY: A way to put his message out to people who were interested in politics and interested in the Congress. You know, the chief vehicle would be the One Minutes and the Special Orders and the first years that you were televising the Special Orders, the Democrats did not have any coherent, organized strategy to use that time whatsoever, but Gingrich did and the considerable opportunity society which...you know...has sort of a rotating head, but he was one of the prime movers behind it...did...and they would use it, you know, evening after evening when the House went out, just to put their message across and they would engage in what seemed to be a debate 'cause they'd have two or three or four members on the floor and of course, the camera is locked in only to the members speaking, so it seemed lively and they would have exchanges and they would, you know...if you'd go...I have forgotten what your audience was back then, I know it's grown significantly since then, but even then there were probably several hundred thousand people and they were interested people, because your viewers vote and the politicians in the Congress know it. I think you have over 90% voting participation rate, probably the highest of any single demographic, you know, break down.
LAMB: Why didn't the Democrats, maybe you heard them talk about this behind the scenes, why didn't the ever do the same things? Why didn't they counter?
JOHN BARRY: Partly they were fat and lazy, I think, in the sense they controlled the House. They didn't think that it made any difference. There weren't as media savvy. The Republicans being out of power were looking for any edge that they could get, so they were more aggressive. I think it's much more balanced now, although I think probably, on special orders the Republicans still have an edge, maybe a strong edge.
LAMB: You don't see Newt Gingrich like you used to though, how come?
JOHN BARRY: He is a whip. He is in a position of leadership. He is #2 and he can't do those things. When he says something now, he can't...you know, he is speaking for the Republican Party.
LAMB: Do you think it having...this is probably not the right word...more "fun" now or enjoying his job more that he is in the leadership or did he enjoy it more when he was fighting for the power?
JOHN BARRY: I think he is still fighting for power.
LAMB: How far does he want to go?
JOHN BARRY: As far as he can get, you know. I think that it wasn't just personal ambition for Newt Gingrich. I think he likes playing the game. As I said, I think he is an expert in the processes of power. There is a difference, and I talk about this in the book, the difference between having an issue and having a solution. And the Legislators, they want solutions, even if they don't get exactly what they want. They have to compromise. The purely political types, who generally are not in the Congress, generally not elective issues, the (?) of the world. They want issues. They want something that they can use to stir up the electorate. They don't want a solution. Sometimes they might want to veto a solution so they can keep the issue. I think that Gingrich was always one of those who wanted the issue and not a solution. Now he is in a position of leadership. In addition, the Democrats are much more willing to deal with the Republicans than they had been under Wright. Before...it is inter...in that New York Times profile of Wright that the book grew out of...I talked to Gingrich for that and quoted him at the time...Two things kind of interesting, one was that the rules of the House were designed for a strong leader with an agenda. That was Jim Wright. We are talking about '86 now remember. He also said that if Wright allows fear of votes, he can take all the poison out of this place. I mean partisanship did not enter the House with Jim Wright. You know...The McClosky (?)McIntyre(?) Race after the '84 Election was a very important disputed race in Indiana. A lot of those things that Tip O'Neil used the Rules Committee for, and of course Gingrich had his run ins with O'Neil and the issue that Gingrich was talking about was the idea that again..."Procedure is power." That you allow these guys a fair vote. If you lose, but you feel you got a clean vote, they say, "Okay, we lost." But if you lose because you never had a chance because the rules were stacked against you, then you get mad...you know, the same thing when I was a football coach...you know, if you think the referee is tilted toward the other team, you really get furious. You know, when Wright had that second legislative day after that vote, Dick Chaney said that Wright...he called Wright a, "Heavy handed son-of-a-bitch," that was a public comment and three days later he was still mad. He told me that Wright showed us that Republican votes don't count as much as Democratic votes. Now, Gingrich had been engaged in this campaign against Wright but he was really isolated and after that vote and two weeks later, Wright sat down with Danny Ortega, the President of Nicaragua and Micguel Abando(?), the Cardinal...I mean, Wright had to do that, in his mind, because without his action, the peace process would collapse. He knew that it was a very large step that he was taking and I think he felt he had the choice between either doing it and moving the peace process forward, or not doing it and watching the peace process collapse. But Republicans were even angrier, two weeks later, Chaney was angrier, two weeks later than he had been at that vote. And that was a big change for Chaney...'cause I went to Russia with a Congressional delegation and during Easter recess Wright was leading the delegation and Chaney was on it and we talked at that time and Chaney had felt that he had a very good professional relationship with Wright, so it was a complete deterioration.
LAMB: In those four things that I mentioned earlier with Newt Gingrich, "Vision, Strategy, Project and Tactics", did you...when he gave you those, did you...do you agree with them. Did that work out as a central thesis of this book?
JOHN BARRY: Well, it explained how Gingrich viewed the world and what he was doing.
LAMB: Does it work for everybody else and do you have to have vision...?
JOHN BARRY: No...
LAMB: I guess that's what I want to start with.
JOHN BARRY: I think it's very useful, yeah, I think that's the question people still have about George Bush, what's his vision, I think you have to know what you are trying to accomplish, you know, but I don't think you necessarily need to be that rational in...you know...Gingrich is an intellectual. He is a former college professor. He analyzes things. Other people act more, not necessarily from the seat of the pants...Wright, by contrast, said, "A lot of what you do is a combination of playing chess and ping pong simultaneously.
LAMB: Did Jim Wright have vision?
JOHN BARRY: Yes.
LAMB: Did he have a strategy?
JOHN BARRY: Ah...it wasn't...yes he did...It wasn't the kind of cohesive, coherent, thought out in advance, sit down methodical plan thing that Gingrich had. He had a strategy.
LAMB: Did he have a project?
JOHN BARRY: Again, he never had it that organized, but he knew he would never let an opportunity pass to pursue his will. You know,...one of the...as I said earlier...you know, he flaw was a tale of power, not a tale of morality. One of the first things he did, he dealt Rostankowski (?) the Chairman of Ways and Means was testing him when he said some things to...When Rostankowski(?) said some things to the Washington Post in March of '87 that Wright didn't like and the Ways and Means is the most powerful Committee in the Congress and as you know, the Speaker doesn't appoint Committee Chairman, the Democratic Caucus picks him, but Wright threatened Rostankowski(?) after those quotes and told him...wrote him a note actually, in affect, if Rostankowski(?) ( ? ) Wright would try to take away his Chairmanship. Now, that was an extraordinary act, extraordinary...I mean that wasn't a Project or a Tactic, I mean, he might call it a "Tactic"...The opportunity arose. He thought Rostankowski(?) was testing him and he responded to him. You know, Gingrich was in a different position. When you are in the leadership, or when...in a position like the Speaker or the President, you can have an agenda but you are still forced to deal with events. Gingrich had one thing in mind, much narrower focus, and that was do destroy Wright and therefore you are able to organize and plan a specific strategy a little bit more easily than you are when you are in the leadership, you have to deal with dozens if not hundreds of different things.
LAMB: Based on what you know and what you have seen over there...if you are just guessing, and I know that's all it can be at this point...Who is going to be the leaders of the House of Rep...Who are going to be the leaders of the House of Representatives in ten years?
JOHN BARRY: Well....
LAMB: Or five...I mean, you know, in the future, the change of leadership that comes eventually, who will be there?
JOHN BARRY: I think that one of the most interesting little groups among the Democrats are a group of roommates, fondly referred to as, "Animal House." And I think you've got four people who are all capable in different ways and you know, their families were all out in the district and they share a house. Leon Peneta(?), who is already Chairman of the Budget Committee, George Miller, who is next in line on ( ? ), Chuck Shumer(?) who is midlevel on banking and Marty Russo(?) who is on Ways and Means and a Rostankowski(?) protege. I think that group of four is one of the most interesting groups in the house and they don't always agree. Half the time they are throwing things at each other in the house but they are each...I mean, that is sort of...They are already a power in the house.
LAMB: Bobby(?)
JOHN BARRY: You know, Gingrich of course is young and junior. I think he will be there for a long time. Henry Heide(?) remains a very powerful force. You know, if Bob Michael(?) were to retire in a couple of years, I wouldn't be surprised to see those two fighting each other for the leadership, but you know, there are others. Chaney, of course, left the House. He, you know, would have been next in line.
LAMB: We could talk about this forever. We have got to wrap it up. The last question for you. Is Jim Wright...Describe Jim Wright's state of mind as a former speaker, first to resign.
JOHN BARRY: Well, I think he lost the power game...I mean...I think that he thinks, which I agree with, you know, I think there...he works hard not to be bitter. I think there is some bitterness, but less than you might expect and he was...I understand there was a clip, he moved back to Forth Worth not quite a month ago, and there was a film crew filming him moving into his new house and I understand that he said, "You know, I didn't come back here to die, I came back here to live." I think that it's his attitude that he is now at obviously another state in his life and he wants to go forward.
LAMB: When I said last question, I wasn't being honest with you...What is your next project, next book?
JOHN BARRY: I have got several ideas and they are all very complicated. One might be, I would try to do either a Cardinal or an Arch Bishop in a largely Catholic city and explore again...Power.
LAMB: John Barry, the author of this book, "The Ambition and the Power", the fall of Jim Wright. A true Story of Washington. Thanks for joining us.
JOHN BARRY: Thank you.


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