BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Nina J. Easton, who is--or who are the gang of five?
NINA J. EASTON, AUTHOR, "GANG OF FIVE": The gang of five are--Bill Kristol, Ralph Reed, David McIntosh, Grover Norquist and Clint Bullock comprise my gang of five.
LAMB: And who are they?
EASTON: Well, what I tried to do in this book was look at what I call the flip side of the baby boom generation. These are folks who ar--emerged on campus in the 1970s--social pariahs, really, on campus, to be a conservative at that time--came to Washington with Ronald Reagan, came to Washington behind a victor. But they were part of the baby boom generation, and so they have the same qualities--personality qualities that you find among '60s leftists, that sort of contrarianism. They were rebels, they were insurgents. And they remain so today.
Who they are specifically--Bill Kristol, I'm sure, most of your viewers know. He is frequently giving opinions on major networks. He's the publisher of The Weekly Standard, which is a quite influential conservative magazine.
Grover Norquist is an anti-tax lobbyist, but that's only one piece of his claim to fame because really if you think of this mythical right-wing conspiracy we hear about so much from--from Hillary Clinton and others, it would probably be taking place every week in Grover Norquist's conference room, every Wednesday morning when he gathers dozens of activists from the right-to-plot strategy.
David McIntosh, congressman from Indiana, who graduated the University of Chicago Law School. Very smart. Came to Congress with the so-called Republican revolution in 1995 and was a co-leader of that freshman class, who we all remember was quite--raised quite a--quite a ruckus in Washington.
Clint Bullock is a constitutional lawyer. He's at the Institute for Justice here in Washington, which he co-founded. He is a leader of the School Choice Movement in--throughout the country, really; is also famous for sinking the nomination of Lani Guinier for--during the early years of the Clinton administration, a civil rights appointee. So he's a--he's an anti-affirmative action activist as well.
Ralph Reed is also very familiar to your viewers, I'm sure. He was--built the Christian Coalition into a major political powerhouse in the 1990s.
LAMB: Where'd you get this idea?
EASTON: I got this idea--I was with the Sunday Magazine of the Los Angeles Times and I had written a number of pieces about the conservative movement. In fact, I'd written about Bill Kristol and Bill Bennett and Charles Murray at one point, sort of the early stream, really, of the compassionate conservatism we hear so much today. They were using a lot of those same ideas in the welfare reform debate. But I--I wrote about libertarians, and I wrote--wrote about pieces of the movement. And I found, Brian, that it wasn't being covered in depth. It was fresh territory. And I found it quite interesting. I think there is a lot of working press--there is--does tend to be a liberal bias. And there does--and certainly among liberal political people there's ignorance, frankly, of--they know far less about conservatives than conservatives know about them. So I found it fresh territory.
I call it a hidden history of American politics because the influence and the rise to influence of this particular generation of conservatives has tremendously infl--influenced the political debate when you look at everything from political muckraking to abortion politics to the budget battles of the '90s. And these guys were very key in helping shape those debates.
LAMB: What kind of cooperation did you get out of the five?
EASTON: It was--it varied. But mostly, given the fact that I was from the, quote, "establishn--establishment media" and there was probably some reason to distrust somebody coming from there, they were pretty cooperative. I sat for--they--they sat for anywhere between six and a dozen interviews themselves, long interviews, taped interviews. I interviewed all of their families. I interviewed their friends, their fellow students. I went back to their hometowns. So they didn't put any blockades in my way, and that was quite helpful.
LAMB: Did Grover Norquist let you in his Wednesday meeting?
EASTON: Yeah, he did.
LAMB: How often?
EASTON: I was there mostly during the '96 election, when I started the book. And it was very interesting at the time because he was--or this or--his group, The Leave Us Alone coalition, was looking at how to impeach Bill Clinton even then, when we were just talking about Whitewater and so on. And there was a lot of talk in the conference room then. There was a lot of presumption that Clinton was going to pardon key Whitewater figures and, `If he pardons them, can we impeach him? We should get it out in the election dialogue, suggesting to voters that we--that this is a possibility?' Well, of course, it did--didn't happen, and it would take Monica Lewinsky to bring the impeachment business to fore.
LAMB: How many--it's--it's one of those parts of Washington that the public doesn't see, these meetings.
LAMB: I mean, you talk about Paul Weyrich's Kingston meetings...
LAMB: ...which--are they the forerunner to these?
EASTON: They are. They're very much the forerunner. I think Grover tried to be both more inclusive among--because--believe it or not, despite this notion of the vast right-wing conspiracy, there's a lot of divisions and rivalries within the movement. Grover tried to make it a more diverse, a more inclusive, a big room kind of meeting. And I think it was generationally different. He's in--he's a different generation.
This generation came--and this is really important to remember--they play to win. They think they're going to win, as opposed to the Barry Goldwater generation, who played really on the fringe of politics for so long. Or you saw Paul Weyrich after the last election and the impeachment battle and the public not being on their side during that. He wrote that memo basically saying he was going to check out of politics. He was through with it.
These guys don't play like that. They--they want to return to the days of Ronald Reagan, and they think they will. And there's a sense of--even though there's a sense of being--there's somewhat a sense of being an underdog and that they feel like the--they've battled a liberal press, they feel like they've battled liberal groups that are well-funded and have a better standing with the press in Washington, they also believe themselves part of the process, winners. They're--they're part--it--it's not an accident that they really became an important part of the Republican Party.
LAMB: Well, let's talk about--a little bit about them. Gro--Grover Norquist comes from what era--what--how old is he? What's he like? Is he married? Does he have kids?
EASTON: Right. Grover is actually famous for his bachelorhood. He ha--has a group house on Capitol Hill that has served as a kind of nesting ground and party central for his fellow comrades, as he calls them. He--he uses--he borrows a lot of Leninist-Marxist rhetoric to make his point. Grover's interesting because he's the son of an engineer, and he looks at--he looks at politics as systems. When he was--when he was fighting the Clinton health-care plan, for example, he viewed that a--he said, `Clinton's health-care plan was an attempt to put more Democrats on the payroll,' because government workers vote Democratic and it's going to expand the government. That's how he views politics, like systems. And he's got a lot of that thinking himself.
He went to Harvard. He came down to Washington, started with the National Taxpayers Union, went back to Harvard to finish his Ha--his MBA, really just to satisfy his father. He grew up in a very, very tony suburb of Boston, beautiful area, where I--as I point out in the book, it's the kind of regulation that Grover hates--zoning and everything. Actually, it's a lot of very nice suburbs with--without the trash you usually see with suburbs. It's a lot of strict zoning, two-acre plots.
LAMB: Did you go there?
EASTON: Yeah, I went there. I went to his parents' home and it's beautiful.
LAMB: What did his parents think when you showed up?
EASTON: Well, I had made an appointment with them beforehand.
LAMB: But I mean--but what did they think of the idea of talking about their--their son?
EASTON: They were--they were very happy to talk about their son and themselves. They were shy, though. There's a shyness and discomfort with people that I think we also see with Grover. Grover Norquist is very good at dealing with groups of people--groups of people, as--as somebody in the book said. Groups of gun owners, groups of tax activists. But he's not really good on--one-on-one. And it kind of has led him into some--as some of his friends point out, led him to misjudge people along the way. But his parents were quite forthcoming, and pulled out their--their own college yearbooks. His father told me the story of how he picked out his wife. He pulled out his--he pulled out the yearbook. He was interested in a wife with these qualities, 15 qualities, the angular face and Republican and a non-smoker. And he looked at the Honor Society at the University of Michigan, and he picked out who he would be interested in dating and called her. And that was it.
LAMB: How long have they been married?
EASTON: A long time. I mean, they--they--back--dating back to the '50s. They've been married a long time, and had a nice family life. His--his father is a Polaroid executive.
LAMB: Now David McIntosh, the congressman running for governor of Indiana.
EASTON: That's right.
LAMB: Republican against Frank O'Bannon...
LAMB: ...who's the incumbent. What's--what's his story?
EASTON: He is--comes from a small town in Indiana. He lost his father when he was five years old. Actually, they were living in San Francisco at the time. His mother's a nurse. And this is interesting, too, because I think a lot of liberals think that Republicans and conservatives just come from elite backgrounds, and most of these guys--well, not--half of them don't. And he's a good example. His mother struggled. She had four children. He was the oldest, and he was kind of in charge of them. Very unathletic boy, but brilliant. Would sit in the--in his room reading math books while the kids outside were playing. And they'd say, `David, come out,' and he wouldn't--you know, he wouldn't come out.
He--his family was known for--his mother expected his--her children to be able to debate, to build a fine argument, a reasoned argument, and they--this was a trait handed down from her side of the family, known as the--Slows was her last name. And they called the Slows slayers, the people--the--the folks in the family who could really argue the best. And if you couldn't make a good argument at the table and stand up and reason your way out of an issue that you wanted to defend, you could be laughed off the table. So that--that trait is part of his family and led to him being quite articulate, but also, this led to him being a bit combative and moving in towards debate.
LAMB: Where did he go to school?
EASTON: He went to the Yale--he went to Yale. And what I started to say, he--he--like a lot of conservatives on campus in the '70s, he moved into the debate society because on campus in the '70s, liberalism really did hold sway. It was--it--it held the moral high ground, if you will, and a lot of conservatives were written off as--this idea of political correctness that we talked about in the '80s and '90s, a term that wasn't even invented in the '70s--the most striking thing about my research was to what extent liberal orthodoxy held sway on particularly elite campuses.
If you had conservative views, you could be dismissed, ignored, laughed at. David actually started as a Democrat, but because of the liberal orthodoxy on the--he and like-minded colleagues felt at Yale, they moved in the direction of what was known as the Party of the Right in the Yale Political Union, which was willing to debate really fundamental issues, wa--was willing to have adventurous debates, was willing to risk being called even anti-Democratic or racist, for example, if they challenged affirmative action policies. And this appealed to David, this challenging of conventional wisdom.
And he took that and he went to that great school, the University of Chicago Law School, where--where great minds do challenge conventional wisdom, particularly in the '70s. Very free market-oriented school. Graduated from there and went on to become a foe of regulation. He worked for Vice President Quayle on the Competitiveness Council and so on. So it--doing away with the regulation became his kind of forte.
LAMB: One of the things we learn in your book, that--both--all of these four--five men have people in their past, writers, that they admire. But also, there are all kind of groups. You mentioned Grover Norquist's Wednesday meetings. Then also around David McIntosh, The Federalist Society.
EASTON: That's right. That...
LAMB: You cover a lot of The Federalist Society. What are they, who started it?
EASTON: Yeah. David was a co-founder of The Federalist Society, actually, with some of his colleagues from Yale; Steven Calabresi and Lee Liberman. They--it started as a student group, but it soon got funding from Bill Simon's organization...
LAMB: Former secretary of the Treasury.
EASTON: Former secretary of Treasury, which was a--the Olin Foundation, a very big conservative funder. By the way, Irving Kristol was also involved in this and getting funding into this group early on. And in the '80s, it became a real clearinghouse for anybody who was conservative, who wanted to work for the Reagan administration as a judge, as a clerk and so on. It became much more of a professional society as well as a campus society. And today, it still, as you know, is a--is an important fixture on the Washington scene and elsewhere, and--and and an--a very important fixture in--in the conservative legal movement.
LAMB: Where did Clinton Bullock grow up, and where did he go to school?
EASTON: Clint Bullock grew up in New Jersey, the son of a welder. His father died when he was 12, and his family also struggled financially. Interestingly, Clint went to UC-Davis Law School the year after the famed Bakke decision.
EASTON: In California. And--so that at the time--the Bakke decision, of course, was--was a--the so-called angry white male challenging affirmative action programs. And the Supreme Court eventually said the UC-Davis Medical School program went too far, but generally, affirmative action programs--taking race into considera--ation is OK.
Clint went to Davis at a time when the campus was very prickly and sensitive about issues of race, and really wanting to prove its commitment to diversity. He got caught up in a very interesting subplot going on at the Davis Law School, where he was the lone opponent of the affirmative action program there. It was a very lonely, very bitter battle for him.
LAMB: What's he like?
EASTON: He's actually a very idealistic person. I know we're not supposed to find idealists on the right, but he is. He's somebody who tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, and he tends to not let these kind of battles roll off him, that--they hurt.
LAMB: You said he's a libertarian and a follower of Tom Paine?
EASTON: That's right. He's a libertarian, who, of course, we need to distinguish. I--it was difficult--the--the terms in this book because libertarians don't always like to be called conservative. Libertarians believe in a--as we know--a limited government, people should be left alone. And sometimes, especially in the '70s, when Clint ran for a state assembly seat as a libertarian in 1980, they would veer left on issues, like drug legalization, for example, or Carter's draft registration, and they'd veer right on budget issues. So he is a libertarian, although he's come to call himself a big government libertarian in that he does view more of a role for government than a lot of the libertarian purists, and often he gets in trouble with them for that reason.
LAMB: Take Tom Paine for a moment. A lot of conservatives didn't--don't like him.
EASTON: That's right.
LAMB: How does he--why does he like him? Why does he follow him?
EASTON: He likes him because he--he coined a--a--an important anti-government sentiment that he--that Clint has latched onto. He was willing to stand up to the king. He was willing to stand against slavery. He was also, however, a proponent of the French Revolution. He was this rootless guy. He--he--he was hardly a--hardly a symbol of traditional family values. And I think that's why a lot of conservatives keep saying to Clint, `Don't use Thomas Paine, really,' you know. But Clint loves that--that phrase, that sort of revolutionary phrase. `We have the power to begin the world over again,' Thomas Paine said, and Clint uses that a lot.
LAMB: By the way, they--are they all friends?
EASTON: They are--some friends and some bitter rivals.
LAMB: Who's the biggest rival?
EASTON: The biggest rival, I think, is between the circle around Grover Norquist and the circle of thinkers around Bill Kristol, partly because Grover Norquist tends to be a populist type. He tends to draw the--the gun crowd around him. He tends to talk in a language that we heard a lot in the mid-90s, revolutionary rhetoric and so on. Kristol is more of a--talks more about virtue and family--the importance of family, and the coarsening of the culture--which Grover Norquist, you know, listens to Janis Joplin, you know. I mean, he--he doesn't care about those things.
And so there is this kind of undercurrent of--and I think that Norquist feels like the--the thinkers around Kristol--`Well, they--they write and they talk and they--they get on these big TV shows, but what have they done for the cause lately?' They're also viewed as a bit disloyal, Kristol is, because he's willing to criticize fellow conservatives, which does not go over very well in the Norquist camp. And that's probably--frankly, that's probably the biggest division is the iconoclasm of somebody like Bill Kristol, who is willing to criticize and--oh, during the Bob Dole campaign, he--he was just a thorn in that man's side through the entire campaign. And that really rankled a lot of loyal Republican conservatives.
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LAMB: Just for a second, because I know that you mentioned a lot of these national politicians and that they differ on them. Take Bob Dole, and let's go around the horn before we go on with some of these characters. Clint Bullock, what would he have thought of Bob Dole?
EASTON: Clint doesn't usually get involved in Republican politics. He's--tries tries to stay out. So that's a--he did try to get him to take an anti-affirmative action stance. But other than that, he didn't get real involved.
LAMB: David McIntosh.
EASTON: David McIntosh would be a good, loyal Republican soldier, you know, `Bob Dole's, you know, fine if he can win.'
LAMB: Grover Norquist.
EASTON: Same thing. I mean, Grover--for all of his revolutionary rhetoric, he wants--he's a Republican and he wants a Republican to be...
LAMB: Ralph Reed.
EASTON: Ralph--of course, behind the scenes, the Christian Coalition did a lot for Bob Dole, and that rankled the rank and file in the Christian Coalition, the purists, who really supported Pat Buchanan. That was a difficult--that's an untold story. That was a difficult--that was a very difficult time for Ralph.
LAMB: You found some rough edges with Ralph Reed.
EASTON: Yes, Ralph is--Ralph--there's two sides of Ralph. There's this kind of hardball, play-to-win-at-any-cost politico on one side, and there's this very considered, brilliant strategist with good motivation on the other. And they kind of--they kind of run together. He went to the University of Georgia. He--first of all, let me back up a bit. He--he spent most of his youth in Miami. And his father--before that, wa--his father was a military man and they moved around. Spent most of his youth in Miami.
But then he moved to a small town in Georgia for the last three years of high school. And he's often seen as somebody from the South, small town, Bible Belt. In fact, he didn't fit in at all. He did not fit in with this Bible Belt town at all. They saw him as this mouthy, little guy who was just willing to elbow anybody aside to get where he wanted to go. He was not well-liked at high school.
He went to the University of Georgia. He built the College Republicans--in 1980 when Ronald Reagan came in, he built the rep--College Republicans from about five people. They used to call themselves the `Closet Republicans.' They could all fit in a closet. He built them into a powerhouse on campus. He was--he was brilliant at doing this.
At the same time, there was the other side of Ralph. He stole the College Republican election.
EASTON: He--he packed the room. He changed the constitution of--for the group so that you could sign up that day and become a member and, therefore, vote. And he went out and he solicited all these--particularly, fraternity brothers who--he wasn't in a fraternity, but he s--he'd solicit from the frats and promise them a beer keg party afterwards. And--`Give me your five bucks,' or he even, apparently, kicked in the five bucks if they could't pay.
LAMB: But it was legal...
EASTON: It was legal, yeah. It was legal.
LAMB: ...that he got the constitution changed.
EASTON: That he--he got the constitution changed. It was very upsetting to the people around him, though. Very upsetting, that they--that the meeting at which they--they voted his ally in instead of the--the original candidate, which--he was trying to get his ally elected. There were tears. There was anger. The main group of College Republicans broke off and became Young Republicans, they were so angry. It was--it was an ugly period for him. He was also fired for plagiarism at the--from the school newspaper, where he wrote some terrific, brilliant columns, but also some that just went over the edge. But the plagiarism incident was the most difficult.
LAMB: What did he plagiarize?
EASTON: He plagiarized a review of a--of the "Gandhi" movie. And--and the--we all remember "Gandhi," the movie--the Richan--Richard Attenborough movie that came out in--What was it?--1982. And he--he wrote a review of it, and he quoted verbatim this review in Commentary. And I actually went back and checked both, and it's--it's a pretty fair assessment that he took huge pieces of it. And that was a very difficult time for him.
He was distrusted enough on campus that the debate society, the very--the--the debate society--it was known as the Demos--Demosthenian Society--they blackballed him the first time he wanted to get in. Literally, they voted members in by placing in black balls and white balls. When he first applied to be a member--now here was the guy who wrote brilliant columns, could debate, you know, circles around anybody and should have--and had a lot of friends in the society--should have been elected. But one of his friends stood up and said, `We can't trust him. We don't trust him.'
LAMB: How'd you find all this out?
EASTON: I interviewed all these classmates of his, most of his friends...
LAMB: Had this ever been printed before?
EASTON: No, it was interesting. I was really surprised for all the profiles that have been done of Ralph, how many people hadn't been interviewed. And these are friends--very close friends of his from that time, who said--in fact, the friend who stood up to give the speech said, `This was the hardest time in my life because I felt like he was a friend. But I--and I knew him to be a friend, but I--I didn't think--I--I was worried that he would drag the society down into the mud.'
Well, just to finish the story to be fair to Ralph, he mended his ways in the eyes of the society, and they did elect him in a year later.
LAMB: We see glimpses of him--and--and you can put the words on it--in--in automobiles as a kid running around, drinking...
LAMB: ...screaming out the windows, and stuff like that.
EASTON: Right. He was the gu--he was the lamp shade guy, the guy that was just--would go wilder, was edgier. There was this danger in Ralph, which I--I say in the book, in a bigger boy, might have been syphoned off into sports, but he wasn't athletic. He was small, and he--there was this--this dangerous edge to him. One friend told a story about--yes, where they--he drove around--they were in the back of a pickup truck and he'd shoot blanks at people with his rifle to scare them on a Saturday night. There was the other story about him walking along a ravine with a couple friends and he just threw himself over the ravine just for laughs, to shock everybody. But there was this shock value.
In fact, one of the things I write about in the book was this outpouring--at the University of Georgia, this outpouring of sentiment over the Iranian hostage situation, where people came out--students came out angry, furious, feeling like America was kowtowing to these--these hi--these--to the--to the ter--to these terrorists, and--which I thought was fine. I mean, that's a normal att--healthy reaction to this. But then, people were carrying signs like, `Nuke 'em.' You know, `Le--let's nuke the students going to'--they wanted to kick out the Iranian students at the University of Georgia. It got very edgy and ugly and Ralph was taken with that. He liked that. And I thought that was--he was drawn to that.
And so it--the fact that he was--he was drawn to this kind of edgy side made a lot of his friends nervous about him, even in the College Republicans, where--he--he and Grover Norquist went on to the national College Republicans--well, Grover was already there--and basically turned it into a Communist cell of the right. They purged the leadership of all the moderates. They built up a--a system where the--the con--hard-core conservatives would be in control.
They changed the constitution to el--to eliminate entire bodies where the moderates were on. In fact, con--convinced moderates to vote themselves out of office. So before you knew it, in the '80s, you had this College Republican organization with 1,000 members nationwide, access to Republican money--which the Republican Party wasn't very happy about, by the way, because they--they were angry and felt like they were wasting money--but access to Republican money, and running some real hard-core campaigns.
LAMB: What's the average age of these folks?
EASTON: The average age is late 30s, early 40s.
LAMB: What is the--the message--if--if you're a young person watching you discuss these folks, and you're interested in politics--forget whether they're Republicans or Democrats or libertarians or conservatives--what's the message about how you get involved, based on what you found with these five?
EASTON: They all got involved in college. They all got involved in college, and they all got involved re--the--the one thing that motivated them was the fact that they felt like they were not able to speak, that they were--that they were not--they were being shut out of the process. And they--they went in and they made themselves a part of the process.
LAMB: Is there anything about their background that all comes together? Are they from a similar background in any way?
EASTON: They're from--that's the--that's the--that's what I like about this group, is they're actually from very different backgrounds. You've got Bill Kristol from a very elite background. His father is Irving Kristol, the neo-conservative, his mother is a well-known Victorian scholar. He grew up in Manhattan.
LAMB: B. Hamelfarb, a better nickname for him.
EASTON: B--yes, exactly. I'm sorry, B. Hamelfarb. He went to a very tony and upscale and intellectually rigorous prep school, went to Harvard. Very much a part of the establishment if you will. And then there's somebody like Clint Bolick, who's the son of a welder from New Jersey.
LAMB: So you've got two Harvards, one Yale, one US--UC Davis...
LAMB: ...near San--Sacramento and the other one from the University of Georgia. What about grades?
EASTON: They all were pretty good grades. They were--they were--these are smart people at--at--the other thing they did, going back to your earlier question, as I think about it, they tended to have mentors. They tended to--for example, Bill Kristol at Harvard, a very famous Straussian named Harvey--Harvey Mansfield really shaped his thinking.
LAMB: Still--still going at Harvard.
EASTON: He's still going at Harvard. And somebody like Clint Bolick--his mentors are very interesting. One was a city councilman in his New Jersey town who is the lone Republican but was m--not much of a Republican. He used to say, `When you vote for the donkey or the elephant, that's what you get.' But was--was very much an embattled battler, if you will, of the--the Democratic machine in the town. And he had a very sad ending in which the--the machine leaked some material about his personal life that destroyed him.
Anyways, Clint sought him out as a mentor; later on, sought out Cla--Clarence Thomas as a mentor. Clarence Thomas was a godfather to...
LAMB: At the EEOC?
EASTON: At the EEOC. He's--he and Clarence Thomas would talk for hours about Clarence Thomas' grandfather and his experience trying to start a business. And this really shaped Clint's approach to politics.
LAMB: What about David MacIntosh's mentor?
EASTON: David MacIntosh had a--his mentors--a lot of his mentors I think were peers. They were the fellow founders of this Federalist Society who had grown up in more intellectually elite circumstances than he had. He, of course, you know, rose quickly to their level. Another mentor, though, of his was Richard Epstein at the University of Chicago, who believes that regulation basically is--is theft of somebody else. That the--transferring assets, whether it's welfare payments or a progressive tax system, takes away from somebody else, and therefore, sh--that person should be compensated.
LAMB: What about Ralph Reed's mentor?
EASTON: Ralph Reed didn't really have a mentor. I was--he--he was v--he really looked up to Grover Norquist. When he was a College Republican, he very much looked up to Grover Norquist and the chairman of the College Republicans at the time, a guy by the name of Jack Abramoff, who's also very active still here in town. He looked up to them, but as far as an older mentor, he didn't really have that. In fact, his--he went to Emory and got his PhD in history, and his professor there was a liberal, Dan Carter, who saw in Ralph a very brilliant writer, somebody who could put together eloquent arguments and knew history.
LAMB: Who did you come close to picking that you didn't to profile out of the gang of five? What a--was there close to being a gang of six?
EASTON: Actually, there was a gang of seven.
LAMB: Who were the other two?
EASTON: Well, one was a woman--I--I don't know if I--I don't want to say it because I'd probably--she d--she--she decided she didn't want to do it, so I don't want to, you know, go down that road. The other person was John Fund, who is an editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal, and that was a difficult decision. There was--I--I dropped him really just because we needed to cut, there were too many characters to follow and a lot of his views could be seen through others, such as Grover Norquist. He--and he figures fairly prominently in the book anyways.
But one thing I didn't do--they're all men and they're all white and it--that bothered me--you know, I kept trying to think, `Should I just pick somebody--should--should--do I have to have a woman in here?' And I thought at the end of the day, `No, I'm not going to force this. These--each of them are in there for a reason. Each of these men represents a different piece of the movement, a different school of thought. And they also are of a generation. They're that tail end of the baby boom generation, and they tell a generational story.'
And their stories are interwoven enough that I can narrate a story through the '70s, '80s and '90s that keeps the readers going. This isn't just profile, profile, profile. This--I interweave their stories so you can understand things and make it, you know, a little more novelistic, a little more interesting.
LAMB: What was the reason the woman didn't want to participate?
EASTON: She was going on to other things and wanting to--you know, she was having a baby and so forth and just moving on.
LAMB: So if they--did--were you concerned that they weren't going to cooperate, it wasn't worth doing the profile is what you're saying?
EASTON: Yes. I mean, she--she was not going to cooperate, it was clear, so it wasn't--I wasn't going to force that issue.
LAMB: When did you start the book? What year?
EASTON: I started the book in 1996. I put together a 60-page proposal in--let's see, it was early 1996. It went out for bid in the spring. Two houses were interested Simon & Chur--Schuster and Warner Books. Simon & Schuster ended up with the contract. And--and so it was--it was a four-year project.
LAMB: And you start, and you acknowledge in the back, there's a young lady--I don't know if she's young--but a woman at Cat--the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian group, who played a--a role in this.
EASTON: Anna McCollister. She's--she's very important to this because it was her idea initially to take a look at the conservative movement through a more humanistic perspective, to look at these people as people. And she's a libertarian. She's no longer at the Cato Institute, but she had some health issues and wasn't able to con--continue on the project, but she really--she came to me with the idea--sort of the broad idea. It was--I turned into this--this kind of narrative of these five figures. But she was the one who saw that this was fresh territory and would make an interesting story.
LAMB: Where do you come from originally?
EASTON: I come from Los Angeles, outside Los Angeles.
LAMB: Where--where'd you grow up?
EASTON: I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Palos Verdes. I went to school at UC Berkeley. I worked on the Daily Cal there. I was managing editor of the Daily Cal. And I came to Washington right after graduation.
LAMB: What about your own family?
EASTON: Too hou--too far away.
LAMB: What--what are your parents involved in?
EASTON: My father is a--comes from aerospace, an engineer. And he is now retired. And my mother was a--raised us.
LAMB: How many?
EASTON: There was four of us. Three--my--I have an older brother, a younger brother, kind of right in a row, and then we have our caboose, my sister Marty, who's--came along 12 years after everybody else.
LAMB: And so when did you get interested in journalism?
EASTON: I got interested in journalism right in college. I just started writing for the school paper and it never left my blood. In fact, at one point, it--in school, it cau--at Berkeley, I volunteered for a congressman for a while and realized this was not for me. I...
LAMB: Which one?
LAMB: What was that like? What impact did that have on you?
EASTON: Just--I--I just didn't want--it just wasn't what I was interested in. I think I'm more of an observer than an advocate and always have been. I'm not an activist or an advocate. I'm--I--I do better at telling stories and observing, and that's what I'd like to do.
LAMB: What impact did UC-Berkeley have on you? Because anybody listening says, `Berkeley, these are conservatives.' That's a big liberal institution.
EASTON: Well, that's right. I think it--there was definitely--funny when I look back on this. This is my generation. The--these folks are my age. And when I look back, there was definitely a liberal orthodoxy on campus. The Daily Cal, which I worked for an--and helped run, was very much dismissive of conservative views. So I--and I didn't really think about it at the time. I just--that was--that was the way it was, you know. And I--it took awhile to, I think, become more open-minded about other points of view. But Berkeley was--it was a terrific institution and lively and--I mean, it's--it's a terrific place to be.
LAMB: Because you spent so much time in here on the impact of college on these five, what impacted you in college? Did you have a teacher, did you have a philosopher, somebody that you followed?
EASTON: Well, Berkeley's a big school, so no. I think really the impact was the--the--again, working on the campus paper. I studied political science. I studied Third World development, and I didn't end up going that direction. I was much more interested in foreign affairs, and I thought I would move in that direction and I didn't for a variety of reasons. But--but I think that's--that's where my interests lay at the time.
LAMB: How'd you get to Washington?
EASTON: I came to Washington, I answered an ad i--at the School of Journalism looking for writers for Ralph Nader. And it turns out that the man who became my husband placed that ad and--Ron Brownstein. I came to Washington as a journalist for Ralph. I worked on his personal staff. And again, I didn't come as an activist. I was re--reluctant, to some extent, to co--to come work for a--you know, an activist group like that, but it was the opportunity presented. And it turned out to be terrific because we were given wide breadth to write op-eds, magazine articles. We're covering national politics, and we're doing this at 22 years old.
We wrote this book, "Reagan's Ruling Class," which profiled the top 100 people in the Reagan administration. Because the assistant to Caspar Weinberger at the time, the Defense secretary--because he had been a Nader's Raider back in the early '70s, he got us an interview with Caspar Weinberger. We used that to get interviews with everybody from William Casey to Frank Carlucci. I mean, it was just--we got probably 60 interviews out of those 100.
LAMB: Who was the Nader's Raider that worked for Caspar Weinberger?
EASTON: It was Robert Taft.
EASTON: Fourth I think, yeah.
LAMB: Great grandson...
EASTON: Yes, I believe.
LAMB: ...of William Howard Taft.
EASTON: I believe so, yes. And--so we were able to get these interviews. We di--put enormous amount of leg work in, which you have a lot more energy I think when you're that young, and came up with this book that was a best-seller in Washington. And again, we were 23 years old. It was a terrific opportunity.
LAMB: How did it come that Ron Brownstein had placed the ad and then how did you meet and get married?
EASTON: Well, he just--he likes to tell the story of how he included that--he was looking for writers and he included that Berkeley thing at the last minute as--as a chance--as--as those things happen. He--anyways, I came out to Washington and we worked together, we wrote that book together, and that's how we...
LAMB: What was he doing?
EASTON: He was working for Ralph Nader as well.
LAMB: Now Los Angeles Times gets in this somewhere.
EASTON: Yeah. I--I worked for Ralph a short while, a n--a year and a half, an--and decided I really needed to be a journalist journalist. And I wanted to--at the time, it was really important for journalists to specialize, and I was really interested in getting my feet on the ground as far as business reporting. So I worked for Legal Times covering the SEC and a number of re--regulatory agencies. Then I worked for the American Banker, an independent financial paper. Again, I covered the savings and loan crisis, if you remember, in Maryland. I covered those--I got to be in on the entire savings and loan crash of the '80s, the whole--when the whole system crashed. Covered a lot of that. It was actually quite exciting.
Went to BusinessWeek in Los Angeles and then decided that that wasn't really for me. And I had been writing some freelance pieces for the Los Angeles Times' Sunday Magazine, and I went to Shelby Coffey, the editor of the--the Los Angeles Times who I knew to be a fan of my writing, and I said, `Please, Shelby, gi--give me a position here' and he did. And I covered entertainment. That was what was available at the time. I covered en--the entertainment industry for a few years and then went to the Sunday Magazine. And that's where I was really able to do the kind of work that resonated with me.
LAMB: How long were you and Ron Brownstein at the LA Times together?
EASTON: Together. Well, I started work there first. He had--he was at the Los An--the National Journal for many, many years. I started at the LA Times two years before he did, and he's still there and I'm not. I--I'd have to add up the years. I don't--six years or something.
LAMB: And there are a couple of kids in the middle of all this.
EASTON: There's a couple of kids. We've got two sources of boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. One is Taylor, who's 10 years old, and one is Danny, who's six, and they're--they're a lot of fun and they were very patient with mom through this whole process. The--books are more overwhelming than people expect them to be when they go into it, I think.
LAMB: Going back to the five--Clinton Bolick, David MacIntosh, Bill Kristol, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist--what other new things did you find out that no one's ever written about these people that you think will be helpful for people trying to understand them?
EASTON: Well, Bill Kristol--a very important thing to understand about the school of philosophy that he comes from--these are not people of faith, shall we say. Religion--they believe in religion for other people but not for themselves. So this whole crop of graduate students, these Straussians, followers of Leo Strauss, the philosopher, who by the way, believed that a virtuous citizenry is much more important than equality or--or opportunity or all these other things that we've come to believe are important...
LAMB: When did he live, by the way?
EASTON: He lived until 1973. He was--he was a German philosopher who came to the United States, and--and Bill Kristol was sort of the second generation of Straussians. And these folks became quite influential, particularly in the Reagan administration.
LAMB: Did--did Leo Strauss teach Bill Kristol or did he know him?
EASTON: No. He--he--no. He--he--but he--one of his protege's, Harvey Mansfield, who was a--as I said before, a very pre-eminent Straussian at Harvard, taught Bill, and that was--that was key. But what's interesting about the Straussians is--and--and I think very much not known--is they defend religion up and down the--they've defended even the creation battle--the procreationists in Kansas. They defended the religious right in the se--in the '90s, but they themselves are not religious.
LAMB: What about Ralph Reed now? He--if he'd started the--with a--Mr. Robertson the Christian Coalition. Is he a--a religious person?
EASTON: Ralph found faith in 1993. He became born again. And he...
LAMB: What's that mean?
EASTON: He decided to turn his life over to Jesus and, you know an--and that to be his motivating factor in life. He was not a big churchgoer before that. He was, at the time, really living dangerously, living on the edge, if you will. And this came at a very, I think, important time in his life.
LAMB: Is he religious now, do you think?
EASTON: He is still religious. He, you know, goes to church. He's--his wife is religious. Yes, they go ev--evangelical--a Protestant Evangelical Church.
LAMB: You did tell us about his wife...
LAMB: ...who he met when--when she was...
EASTON: Joanne, yes.
LAMB: ...she was, like, 16.
EASTON: Uh-huh. Yes. She was very young. They married--she was very young. They--I think he waited till she was 18 or 19 to get married, but they--they met ve--when she was 16 and he was 25, I believe.
LAMB: How'd they meet?
EASTON: They met at a Jesse Helms victory celebration in 1984, and she had her eye on him and she watched him for years. And he knew she was too young and stayed away until it was more appropriate. But they started going out after her high school graduation.
LAMB: So you found that they were for religion but not religious, the five.
EASTON: No. That would be just Bill Kristol. Just Bill Kristol.
LAMB: Oh, just Bill Kristol. I'm sorry.
EASTON: I'm sorry.
LAMB: What about the religion of the others then?
EASTON: That religion--and that's--Clinton Bolick, for example, was atheist most of his life. He now describes himself as a recovering atheist. But he--he was very much in the Ayn Rand's libertarian school of--and bel--and was atheist.
LAMB: B--by the way, Ayn Rand--I mean, a lo--I want to ask you about a lot of the names of people that--that wrote books. Did--did--how many of them followed somebody like Ayn Rand? Just Clinton Bolick?
EASTON: I'm sorry, on--on...
LAMB: How many followed her? I mean, di--followed her writings?
EASTON: In the book or in--in general?
LAMB: You know, in their lives.
EASTON: Oh, their lives.
LAMB: I mean, of these five. You--you name Leo Strauss...
LAMB: ...which is Bill Kr--anybody else follow Leo Strauss besides Bill Kristol?
EASTON: No. Of the five in there, no. But what I did in there is--but a lot of other conservatives did. So what I did with the book is, you know, Kristol represents the Straussians, and let's understand where they're coming from because they've had an enormous impact on the conservative movement. Clint represents libertarians. Let's see where they're coming from. David MacIntosh, Chicago's school. Let's see where that goes.
LAMB: Well, who, in the Chicago school, would they have followed that wrote books back then or still writes boo--you know, what are their names?
EASTON: Again, Epstein was--I'm talking about the legal side, so I'm not going to--the economist--the Chicago school economists. I won't get into, but Scalia, the Supreme Court justice, Bork--Robert Bork.
LAMB: So David MacIntosh is following that crowd from the University of Chicago...
LAMB: ...Law School.
LAMB: But you also mentioned people like Milton Friedman.
LAMB: Who followed Milton Friedman's thought?
EASTON: Well, Milton Friedman only enters the--he, of course, the libertarian free marketer and so on. He comes into the book mostly as a--as somebody for them to look up to in the '70s. But also for somebody like Clint Bolick--he--his work on the voucher movement. He and Clint kind of got in--were involved both in that. But I--Milton Friedman--I don't make him, you know, a huge mentor figure in the book.
LAMB: You quote him in here. Is that an interview that you had with him?
EASTON: Yes. I had an interview at his incredibly beautiful San Francisco apartment. Yes. But we talked mostly about the--this generation of conservatives and how it was different from the previous generation. And he talked a lot about what was going on in the '70s. Pot holes, bur--long lines of--at the b--at bureaucracies, the sort of dis--dissatisfaction with government that was so prevalent in the '70s. And so, yes, it became very easy to develop a more conservative view--or anti-government view.
LAMB: Who followed the Whittaker Chambers' book "Witness"?
EASTON: That was Grover Norquist. "Witness"--I think people need to understand how important "Witness" is to the conservative movement. Whittaker Chambers, of course, was the--the former Communist operative who came clean and then claimed that Alger Hiss was also a Communist operative. But his book was important to young conservatives in the '70s because Hiss, at the time, was being defended by the liberalest--parts of the liberal establishment, who can sti--believed that he was innocent. He was a speaker on campuses. He was defended by the ACLU, even though he had been convicted on perjury charges earlier. So for a young conservative looking at, `Well, is everything the liberal press tells me really right?' And if you read Whittaker Chambers, no.
There is this--this bias of--there is this conspiracy if you--if you will, of these liberal Ivy League gentlemen, who keep conservatives like us, anti-Communists like us, down and who--who wrote off the--the--the whole problem of--I mean, get into that--the whole problem of--of Communist operatives and spying in the--in the '50s and '40s.
LAMB: Were there other authors that they followed? Other books that are important to these conservatives?
EASTON: There are. There--there's sort of a whole canon, if you will, of books that conservatives read and...
EASTON: Still. And what's interesting, if you--if you subscribe to the Ameri--to the National Review, for example, they'll send you a little pamphlet with the Constitution and bits of the Federalist Papers and, you know, maybe some Edmund Burke. I mean, there--there is this canon of literature from Edmund Burke on up, with a heavy emphasis on the founding documents, that--that these folks read--and I fin--I found that quite impressive--and--and often, they can quote from.
LAMB: What about The Weekly Standard, which is the base of Bill Kristol? What's that philosophy, other than Straussian philosophy? Who--who owns The Weekly Standard?
EASTON: Well, Rupert Mo--Murdoch owns The Weekly Standard, which presents some sticky issues for Bill Kristol, because if you're looking at the coarsening of the culture, which is one of Bill Kristol's big issues, and you've got Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox Network and tabloids and is not exactly promoting a healthy culture for our children, that...
LAMB: Did you get any sense of why he supports The Weekly Standard? I'm--not Bill Kristol but Rupert Murdoch? What's he after?
EASTON: It--it's his politics. His--I sat next to somebody who was on his--Murdoch's board at--at a dinner, and he just said it's his play toy. He likes it. It's his--you know, he--he--it's his politics and he...
LAMB: You ever get any sense of how much he spends on it in a year?
EASTON: I don't know that. I know how much he--and I can't recall it right now--how much he put into it initially. It's not making money, but I--you know, keep in mind, liberal magazines don't make money either. The New Republic or, you know, Nation. This is a--these magazines tend to be kept alive by somebody who's, you know, got an interest in it. Or has an interest in...
LAMB: Let me assume that you sit around with--from time to time, with a group of liberal journalists. Is that an accurate statement?
LAMB: And now that you've been inside...
LAMB: ...they--do they ever look to you and say, `All right, Nina, tell me what's it like inside the conservative movement?'
LAMB: `Some--tell us something that you know that we don't know.' What do you tell them?
EASTON: Well, it's funny because The Wall Street Journal called me the `Dian Fossey of conservatism.' I've come down from the mountains to explain these `gorillas in the mist' and--to the--to the liberal establishment. I--I have found--as I've said before, I have found a tendency among liberals to stash these guys in a box marked right-winger, and that's as far as their interests or knowledge of the movement goes. And as a result, they're missing a really important piece of the history of this country and the--and politics. And what I would tell them is that you need to understand the schools of thought that have--that have--that underpin each of these.
Pat Buchanan is not the face of modern conservatism. These guys are pro-immigration, for example. There are divisions over issues like gays. You will find Clint Bolick saying, `I can't stand the homophobia in the movement and the gay bashing,' and you will find somebody like Bill Kristol saying that--that the gay rights movement is the most important and troubling movement in the--you know, the recent political history. You know, that this is something that we don't understand. The--the--the breakdown of family, or however he would couch it, is something that we're really not even going to understand until later but this is something we need to focus on an--and do it.
LAMB: What about personally?
EASTON: Personally, I think there--it tends to be what holds these together, these kind of...
LAMB: No, more so--I mean what did you find out about the--you know, were there horns--did they have horns when--when you got up close to the families and all that or--how do they treat other human beings?
EASTON: I think, again, it varies. I think it--that's the problem with sticking them in a box marked right-winger. I think it varies very much. You have--it--it varies--they were all very approachable to me. Ralph Reed was not comfortable having me look in his past, but, you know, I mean, he has personal reason for that. And it's not easy being the subject of a biography. So it--they were polite. They were forthcoming. They--some of their families were just lovely. And I--I th--and then there's people like Grover Norquist who are just so colorful and interesting. I mean, you sit down with this guy and you look at the way his mind works and you stand up and it's just--it's breathtaking. It's just--the--the--again, going back to the--how he views everything in this--in the systems, interacting, competing systems, and it's just so interesting.
LAMB: Twenty years from now where will these five be? Who would--who would you predict would be the most visible in 20 years?
EASTON: I think Bill Kristol will remain exceedingly visible. He knows how to stay visible. He--he knows, he understands--look, he got fired from ABC and he's now on "Meet the Press" all the time. I mean, he knows. He understands how--visibility. Frankly...
LAMB: David MacIntosh, will he win anything in politics?
EASTON: David MacIntosh, I think, will continue on. I think they're all going to continue and that's why I chose them. I think they're all lasting. I don't know if he'll win this governor's race. It's a tight race, it's a popular governor, but I do think we'll see him in politics. He likes it. He thrives on it. I think we'll see him continue. Clint Bolick is looking forward to the day where he can walk the steps of the Supreme Court to fight a school choice case that he is convinced will change the lives of inner-city children throughout America. And who did we leave out? And Ralph Reed--maybe Ralph will won't--run for office someday, who knows?
LAMB: We're out of time. Our guest has been Nina J. Easton and the book looks like this. It's called the "Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade." Thank you very much.
EASTON: Thank you.
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