BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Mona Charen, author of "Useful Idiots" -- why are conservatives so angry with liberals?
MONA CHAREN, AUTHOR, "USEFUL IDIOTS" There are many reasons. I guess there is a lot of pent-up anger over many years that liberals have set the national agenda, have decided what`s news and what isn`t, have decided what`s moral and what is not. And conservatives who`ve tended to be critical of liberalism until recently didn`t have a good outlet to criticize. Things have changed enormously lately.
LAMB: What`s that that`s changed lately?
CHAREN: You have a flowering of different outlets. You have the Internet. You have newspaper columns. You have radio, talk radio, Fox News, a conservative book publisher that knows how to reach that audience, namely Regnery, that published my book.
LAMB: But your -- the name for this book, "Useful Idiots," you say came from another book publisher, Peter Collier.
CHAREN: Well, that`s true. Peter Collier is a friend, and he came up with the idea for the title. Let me say the initial title, the words, "Useful Idiots," may seem excessively cruel to some, but they`re the words of Vladimir Lenin, who, in his very cynical way, predicted that Western liberals and American liberals would swallow whole a lot of the lies presented by the Soviet Union and the communist movement and would prove themselves to be, in their credulity and in their naivete and in their sympathy for the communist cause, what he called useful idiots for their purposes.
LAMB: What was your reaction when he first suggested this as a title?
CHAREN: I thought it was great. I said, yes, that`s it. Well, of course, the phrase has been in circulation ever since. People aren`t certain that Lenin actually said it, but it`s certainly been attributed to him for 75 years.
LAMB: Now, there are 11 pictures on the cover of this book. Katie Couric, Jesse Jackson, Madeleine Albright`s there, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Martin Sheen, Al Gore, Teddy Kennedy, Phil Donahue, Jane Fonda and Peter Jennings. What do you think their reaction is going to be to seeing their pictures on the cover that says "Useful Idiots"?
CHAREN: Well, I guess you would least like to have your picture on the cover of a book with that sort of title, but I don`t know if they`ll even notice.
LAMB: Why -- did you have something to do with selecting these?
CHAREN: Actually, the publisher came up with that list, but every person on the cover is mentioned in the book in some capacity or other, said something that was worthy of being noted.
LAMB: Pick Katie Couric.
CHAREN: Oh, gosh! What did she say?
LAMB: I can help you...
CHAREN: Yes, help me.
LAMB: Yes. Let`s see...
CHAREN: Oh, she was praising -- she was praising Cuba, if I recall.
LAMB: Well, in this section, you say -- I`ll just read a little bit. She said, "Still, when the NBC `Today` show with hosts Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric visited Cuba in 1992, they mouthed some of the chirpy nonsense that has always characterized liberal views of Cuba."
CHAREN: That`s exactly right. They went over there, and there was -- as I document in the book, whenever the major media or liberal newspapers report on Cuba, they do it in this completely uncurious way. You know, they go down there, and they repeat what the Castro regime says. So they find themselves talking about their wonderful health care system and the fact that their educational system is so terrific. And they limit themselves to that. They never seem -- or -- or they -- they -- that`s the emphasis. They don`t also report the fact that Cuba is a police state that has zero respect for human rights, that it persecutes thousands and thousands of people, that the whole island is a virtual political prison.
LAMB: Another person on your cover -- Peter Jennings -- you write about this Cuban issue -- "Peter Jennings quite often found reason to praise Cuba. In 1989, as the rest of the communist world was reaching eager hands toward freedom, Jennings continued to laud the `accomplishments`" -- in quotes -- "of Castro`s Cuba. "Medical care was once for the privileged few,` Jennings told ABC viewers. `Today it is available to every Cuban, and it is free.`"
LAMB: Why does that rankle you?
CHAREN: Well, because, you know, it`s accepting at face value the self-reporting of the Cuban government, which is notoriously unreliable. I mean, they -- communists in general and the Cubans in particular tend to lie. And as we discovered when the Soviet Union fell -- you know, they used to make the same sort of claims about their social services, and we found out, if we didn`t -- for those who didn`t already know it before the Soviet Union fell, all doubts were dispelled after the Wall fell and after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, that social services were abysmal. Many of the hospitals in Moscow didn`t even have running water, far less usable hypodermics and that sort of thing.
In Cuba, what you have is a two-tiered system. They do have an excellent health care system for Europeans with money, Americans with money who choose for whatever reason to go down there, and the nomenclature within Cuba itself. For the ordinary Cuban, health care is not wonderful and universal and free and all that. I mean, this is a fantasy that so many liberals find it hard to part with, that communism delivered a good life for most people. And it`s simply not true.
LAMB: Do you really think they think communism was good?
CHAREN: No, but they don`t fully appreciate how evil it was.
LAMB: Why not?
CHAREN: There are many reasons. There is a tendency among people to want to discount threats, not -- to want not to believe that something is as dangerous as it really is. We saw that during the Nazis` rise, that, you know, the English and the French found millions of reasons to suppose that Nazism wasn`t as dangerous as it proved to be. Similarly, I think there was some of that in this country regarding the Soviet Union and not wanting to believe that they were as dangerous as they really were.
But I also think that there -- there is a continuum of the political spectrum. Left-wingers tend to be for larger government and for more social programs, and they tend to believe that government is an agent for good, for improving people`s lives. And so when they look at a regime like the Soviet or communist versions of that -- of that system, they tend to say, Well, they were a little over-aggressive, certainly, and they don`t respect freedom, and we don`t approve of that, but, you know, at least they were on the right track. I do think that sort of encapsulates the liberal view of communism.
LAMB: As you know, books not too dissimilar from this are selling. A man named Michael Savage went right to the top of "The New York Times" best-seller list. You ask most people who he is, they don`t know. Ann Coulter`s book -- very successful, and the book, "Bias." I can go on and on. And this seems to be in the recent past. Why is -- what`s changing here?
CHAREN: Well, I do think that part of is that some publishers and -- you know, book publishers have learned that there is a huge conservative audience out there that is willing to buy books. I remember Michael Kinsley had this very sort of bemused or bewildered column saying, Gee, you know, conservatives read books. We didn`t know that. But -- so I think -- I think that`s part of it.
And I guess a generation has come along now that is finding its voice, that`s willing to say, you know, For years, we`ve been -- we`ve been the minority, and we have not had our views adequately expressed in the media. And so now we`re going to take them on, and we`re going to tell it our way. And it`s -- it`s getting a reception. I mean, it`s -- it`s an amazing thing that whenever you put on a conservative point of view on television, you get an immediate audience. I mean, there`s a huge population out there in this country that is -- is just hungry for the conservative perspective.
LAMB: Why are conservatives so angry about the evening news shows?
CHAREN: Well, I don`t know if they really are that angry -- I mean, especially now that there are so many choices.
LAMB: But why were they?
CHAREN: They used to be because, you know, Walter Cronkite would say, "And that`s the way it is," and everybody would say, Well, maybe it isn`t. You know, that`s just the view of three big companies who happen to have a -- or not a -- an oligopoly on news and on presenting the world and -- at least, on the broadcast media. Obviously, that`s no longer the case, but -- but their bias has been obvious and persistent over the years.
There`s a sort of institutional -- I mean, people always ask me when I travel, you know, Why is that the media is so liberal and something that`s a preoccupation of so many people? And part of it is that when an institution gets an institutional culture, it just gets passed on, just like a family passes on its religion to its children, you know. And somebody new who comes in to work at CBS might not have any particular political view, but they will absorb what`s around them and they will scorn what their colleagues scorn and they`ll -- they`ll appreciate what their colleagues appreciate. That`s human nature.
LAMB: What do you say to somebody watching that says, I`m not going to listen to this again. I`ve heard this story from the conservatives. They`re using this issue for political purposes.
CHAREN: What issue?
LAMB: The issue of bias in the media, bias in the -- you know, because your book is an account of all the biases you see among liberals over the last...
CHAREN: My book isn`t about...
LAMB: ... thirty years.
CHAREN: ... bias in the media. My book is about the moral failure of liberalism in this country to confront one of the two great evils of the 20th century. I say that fighting Nazism came very naturally to liberals. They despised what the Nazis stood for. They recognized the threat. They were prepared to go to war to be sure that nobody, and particularly not us, had to live under that kind of a regime.
Their great moral failure in the 20th century was failing to recognize that the communist threat was equally evil and equally dangerous. And so my book is about showing how academics, religious figures, journalists, all of the major opinion makers in this country -- not all, but the liberal ones got it so badly wrong about the cold war, about what we were fighting for and about this country.
I mean, that is another major theme in this book, is that starting at around the Vietnam war, the left developed this very curdled view of the United States. Well, the left really always had it, but that leftist view of the United States went mainstream, and a great many people who had considered themselves liberal patriots before began to sort of move toward this extremely cynical, extremely negative and even America-hating point of view. And I document it. I talk about the change that happened in Vietnam.
You know, I -- there`s a chapter about Vietnam, and I say, Look, reasonable men and women can differ about whether that war was advisable, whether it was prudent, whether it was necessary. And at the time, some people did make the case that it was not a war we ought to have sent our soldiers to fight. That`s a very different thing from arguing that this was a criminal enterprise, that the United States was an evil and rapacious nation attempting to subjugate another people.
We weren`t doing anything of the kind. We may have been misguided, in the sense that, you know, it might not have been necessary to send our soldiers. But we were fighting to thwart communists and to keep a nation, South Vietnam, not a perfect democracy, to be sure, but we were -- we were fighting to keep them from being overrun by their communist opponents. That`s not an unworthy cause, and it`s not an immoral cause. And there was no reason for the kind of vitriol that was spouted about this country.
You know, I mention in the book that during one of the Moratorium protests here, some members of the Peace Corps flew the flag of the Viet Cong from their building. That was what changed in the `60s, and that is one of the themes of the book is that not only did they get it wrong about the cold war, but they`ve consistently got it wrong about us, about America. And their criticism has been bitter and wrong-headed.
I mean, in the long history of human civilizations, you know, we are certainly not perfect, but if you read history and you look at the bloody nature and the oppressive nature of most societies in most of this world`s history, this place is pretty damn wonderful, and I think we should be grateful for it. And yes, by all means, criticize. It`s part of our freedom and it`s part of our heritage. But the -- but the hatred directed against this country I resent.
LAMB: Where were you during the Vietnam war?
CHAREN: I was in junior high school and high school, I guess.
LAMB: And what do you remember? I mean, how do you...
CHAREN: Well, I -- I remember it pretty vividly. I mean, I remember that -- actually, when the Vietnam war began, I was in elementary school, pre-school, that -- you know, really young.
CHAREN: In New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey, at first. And a neighbor, I remember, had -- was really kind of indoctrinating me and another little girl, encouraging us to draw pictures of the United States sticking its big nose into the affairs of poor little Vietnam. I brought this home to my parents, and they were appalled that this neighbor was attempting to indoctrinate me. But so there you are. At the age of, you know, 5 or 6, I was already introduced to the roiling battles that were taking place within this society about that war and about the nature of our role in history and who we are and...
LAMB: And what were your parents, then? What were they doing? What was...
CHAREN: My parents were -- they were pretty mainstream Democrats, at the time, which meant that they were anti-communist. They were internationalists. They were probably in favor of domestic -- you know, sort of liberal policies domestically, but they were very anti-communist. And there was -- there were a lot of Democrats like that in the early `60s and into the mid-`60s. But the Democratic Party began to move sharply left with the McGovern moment. And at that point, my parents became Republicans.
LAMB: What did they do for a living?
CHAREN: My father was a dean of a small community college in New Jersey, and my mother was a school psychologist.
LAMB: Did you have brothers and sisters?
CHAREN: Two brothers, older. Both became doctors.
LAMB: And their politics today?
CHAREN: Well, they`re both pretty conservative now. They didn`t always -- they weren`t always that way, but I guess the whole family has moved.
LAMB: Can you remember when you really cared about issues first?
CHAREN: I don`t -- I was very young when I first started being interested. I was about -- what was the year that Johnson announced he wasn`t running for...
LAMB: It was `68.
CHAREN: In `68. So I was 11 in 1968, and I remember falling asleep on my mother`s lap during that speech, or I was starting to fall asleep. Then I heard him say, "I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president." I sat up, and I said, Did he say that? I was very interested.
LAMB: So how did you start to, you know, manifest all this interest?
CHAREN: Well, when -- in no particular way. When I got a little older, I started to read magazines, newspapers. Started reading Bill Buckley`s column in our local paper at first because I...
LAMB: What year -- what year did you say that?
CHAREN: Oh, gosh. What year? In `72, `71, somewhere in there.
LAMB: Is he going to be the person that first influenced you, then, when it comes to...
LAMB: ... thinking this stuff out?
CHAREN: I would have to say the first influence was Barry Farber, who was a radio interviewer on a New York station, and I used to listen to him. And he was -- he had this wonderful Southern style of speech and very informed and interesting. And you know, he used to talk about the captive nations and about the fact that the Soviet Union and Germany invaded Poland on -- you know, at the same time, which I had never heard. I didn`t realize that the communists and the Nazis had been allies. And you know, you didn`t get that major media and from sort of what was in the atmosphere. So I found that very enlightening, and that made me more interested in the communists and...
LAMB: Where`d you go to school?
CHAREN: I went to public schools in New Jersey, and then I went to Columbia University in New York.
LAMB: And then law.
CHAREN: I got a law degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: So was there a time throughout all this that you decided, I want to be a columnist, I want to be a writer, I want to be an activist politically?
CHAREN: I had a fantasy of becoming a columnist when I was, I guess, in college and thereafter. And I went -- my first job out of college was working at "National Review" magazine. And there I was, 22, and wanting to be a pundit. And I thought, You can`t exactly offer yourself to the world when you`re 22 or 23 and say, you know, I`m going to tell people what I think about the world, because you don`t know anything yet. And so I decided to go to law school and at least get a credential. And so that was my path. But I kept writing, and I kept -- I remained interested in public affairs.
LAMB: You say this book was -- is probably here because of a thunderstorm.
CHAREN: That`s right. I was giving a speech in Indianapolis and was heading back to the airport to come home, and thunderstorms had prevented all eastbound flights. And so I found myself there with Herb London, who is the president of the Hudson Institute. And you know, we knew each other a little bit, but we sat down to talk because we were both stranded. And we wound up talking about the cold war and talking about liberals and whether they fully appreciated the -- well, the fact that they did not fully appreciate what it -- what the cold war was about.
And furthermore, our complaint -- my complaint to him and he completely agreed -- was that -- this was post-cold war that this meeting took place. And we were saying, you know, they`re rewriting history. Liberals are now presenting it as, you know, that we were all cold warriors. Bill Clinton gave an inaugural address I think it was in 1993 or 1994, where he said, you know, that what made politics so simple during the cold war is that politics ended -- you know, stopped at the water`s edge. We all knew which side we were on. And I thought, Well, that`s not the history that I remember.
And in fact, that`s nothing like what really happened. It was -- this country was bitterly divided about whether the cold war was even worth fighting. And those of us who thought it was were -- were scorned as -- you know, the -- even the term "cold warrior" was an epithet during the cold war. That was something that was used to prove that you weren`t interested in peace, and so on.
So now, of course, they`re wrapping themselves in the title "cold warrior." So I wanted to just go back and correct the record. I think they were badly wrong about the cold war, and I think they`re wrong now about the current threats that face the United States. That same impulse to believe the worst about us and to be unwilling to face the threats or the evils of our enemies is still there, still operating.
LAMB: There are a couple of things you wrote in here that I wrote down that I guess a lot of people wouldn`t expect conservatives to say. And there are three of them I`ll mention.
LAMB: One is your -- a sentence -- when you`re talking about the Vietnam war, you say, "Nor did the military conduct itself intelligently."
CHAREN: Right. Well, I think the military itself acknowledges that there were a lot of mistakes during that war, the first one being that they -- they kept seeing this as a fight only against the Viet Cong, when, in fact, it was being run and orchestrated from the North from the very beginning, which Stanley Karnow documents very well in his history.
And there were other things. There were morale problems. There was a drug problem with our troops. There were -- there was insubordination. I mean, but that wasn`t all the fault of the military. I mean, some of the things that were going on in the larger society filtered into the military. So -- but I would say that another -- another fault that you could find with the military conduct of that war was that they weren`t honest about how things were going, and there was this constant sort of, you know, happy face reporting about numbers of enemy killed.
And you know, it was always, you know, 700 North Vietnamese, 600 Viet Cong and, you know, 20 South Vietnamese and 3 Americans were killed today. You know, that would be the report. And there`s reason to doubt whether those numbers were accurate, and there`s reason to doubt whether that was the measure of the progress of the war.
LAMB: Another thing you say is that Nixon was not particularly conservative.
CHAREN: No, he wasn`t!
LAMB: How long have conservatives felt that?
CHAREN: Well, a lot of conservatives have always felt that way. But you know, Nixon expanded the size of the federal government. He imposed wage and price controls. And he himself used to separate himself from the -- you know, I think he would -- he would talk about conservatives as being, you know, ultra-conservatives, which is a term usually only liberals use, but he used it. I mean, he wanted to position himself sort of in the center.
LAMB: So what do you think of him looking back now, just overall, as a president?
CHAREN: Well, I mean, he`s -- he`s highly tainted. He was so insincere. I listened to some of the C-SPAN programs that include interviews he gave in his post-presidency, and even then, his insincerity so often just -- just screams at you. So I find him interesting, highly intelligent. I`m always interested to hear what -- his reflections on things because he was -- he was an observer of so much of our history, and he was very bright. But I find him, as a person, a little off-putting.
LAMB: The other one I wanted to mention was -- you say that during John F. Kennedy`s term, that that was the high-water mark of American anti-communism.
LAMB: Do you think you could have gotten conservatives to -- to praise JFK back then for being a strong anti-communist?
CHAREN: Well, you know, conservatives and liberals didn`t differ about communism back then. There was -- you know, you couldn`t find any daylight between Nixon and John F. Kennedy on the subject of the cold war in the campaign of 1960.
LAMB: Why did conservatives dislike John F. Kennedy so much, then?
CHAREN: Well, I don`t know. I mean, you know, I suppose it`s because, you know, partisan differences being what they are. But I don`t really think it was a matter of the cold war. You know, Kennedy was -- he gave that most ringing inaugural address, where he laid down the gauntlet, said we would "bear any burden, fight any battle," and so on. And in a way, that might have over-promised what we were prepared to do. But I`m not so sure that -- I don`t know exactly what conservatives thought of Kennedy at the time.
LAMB: Back to some of the people on the cover. We mentioned Peter Jennings, but one of the things that you quote him as talking about is I.F. Stone and a bunch of others.
LAMB: Who was I.F. Stone, and why does that bother you so much, the things that were said about I.F. Stone?
CHAREN: I.F. Stone was a journalist who -- his name was -- he was known as Izzy Stone. He was a Stalinist for a very long time, who -- who would present the best possible interpretation, let us say, of the communists, the most -- the most excusing of their behavior, whereas he was ready -- had a ready indictment for this country at every pass. He defended the Soviet Union for one crime after another. And yet he was -- or perhaps because he did this, he was a hero of many journalists in America, many journalists who are called liberal. Now, nobody would dispute that I.F. Stone was a leftist, OK? And yet he`s -- he`s lauded as this great hero of liberal thinking.
LAMB: You say that TV personality Larry King called Stone a "truly genuine hero." You say that Peter Jennings called him "a journalist`s journalist" and recommended his work. He says -- quote from Peter Jennings, "For many people, it`s a rich experience to read or reread Stone`s views on America`s place in the world, on freedom, on the way government works and sometimes corrupts."
What -- what`s wrong with that statement?
CHAREN: Well, because if I.F. Stone is an expert on freedom, somebody who is constantly excusing the Soviet Union, then words have no meaning. If you want to look at somebody who was really concerned about freedom and who was steadfast in opposing all threats to freedom, you look at somebody like Sidney Hook, who was an intellectual and also a journalist, but a partisan in all of these battles that raged during the 1920s, `30s and `40s, the intellectual battles in New York.
Hook was a man of the left. He was -- he tended to have sort of socialist sympathies and views. But he was a vehement anti-communist because he did love freedom. And the left needed to make that distinction and all too often failed to.
LAMB: Often conservatives -- and you did this -- bring up Walter Duranty of "The New York Times." What is it about Mr. Duranty that gets everybody excited?
CHAREN: Well, during the early years of the Soviet Union, the Soviet state basically declared war on the peasantry and rounded up millions of people and tortured them, starved them, shot them, put them in these collectivized farms, which were completely hopeless, and confiscated their seed. I mean, they -- it was just a comprehensive assault on the peasantry -- an irony, you might think, because the Soviets presented themselves as the champions of workers and peasants. Well, they made war on the peasants, and there was a terrible famine that was orchestrated by Lenin and furthered by Stalin in the `30s. It started in the `20s and into the `30s.
And Walter Duranty was the correspondent for "The New York Times." There were not that many foreign correspondents in Russia at the time, but he was one of the most important. And he was sending back these reports of, you know -- as Malcolm Muggeridge later wrote about, you know, granaries bursting with grain and apple-cheeked milkmaids and everything being wonderful. And H.G. Wells and other people, you know, went and visited there and said everything was terrific. And in point of fact, this horror was going on.
And Duranty won -- you know, Duranty -- there were rumors about the famine, OK, and Duranty`s reporting made many fair-minded people believe that the rumors were false. And in fact, of course, the rumors were true. And Duranty was given a Pulitzer Prize, and only later -- many years later -- did it come to light that he was actually being blackmailed. It would have been bad enough if he`d been wrong anyway. The fact that he was being blackmailed is almost secondary because the point is, he was reporting something that was completely untrue, grossly untrue. And if there were -- if there were a crime of criminal negligence in journalism, he`d be guilty of it, but...
LAMB: Did anybody at "The New York Times" ever admit this?
CHAREN: Oh, gosh.
LAMB: Ever deal with it?
CHAREN: That`s an interesting question. I don`t know. I don`t know the answer to that.
LAMB: When you researched your book, did you find a lot of reference to him? Was it easy to find the way people felt about him in history?
CHAREN: Yes, it`s pretty easy to find.
LAMB: How did you go about researching all -- I mean, you got lots of quotes in here. What was your -- you know, where were you set up? Where`d you do the book?
CHAREN: I did the book from home, where I do all my work. I have a home office. I have access to LexisNexis and to, you know, the Internet, so...
LAMB: Explain what LexisNexis is.
CHAREN: LexisNexis is a service you can subscribe to that`s basically like your library research service where if you go to your local library and you can get on these databases and you type in several words, you know, like Duranty and famine and you`ll get a whole series of articles that will come up. And usually you have to narrow it down obviously, otherwise you`ll get too many and so on.
So, I have access to that. I had a whole bookshelf in my - right behind my chair that was just filled with books about that were about the subject I was addressing so there must have been 50 books on that shelf right there. They were just books I called them and that was it, I mean you know the Internet is...
LAMB: How many hours a day would you spend on it?
CHAREN: Oh, well, it varied. It depended on what was going on in my family, what was happening in terms of having columns to write and so on, but sometimes as much as four or five hours a day.
LAMB: And so how do you determine, you write a book that no one`s ever done before that`s unique to you, a book that will sell, I mean how did you, did you do that on your own or did you do that by working with your publisher?
CHAREN: Oh no, I came up with the idea on my own. I presented a proposal to the publisher and they liked it. No, I was angry. I wanted to make this point.
I felt that this was an untold story, especially because I felt very strongly that there was an attempt to rewrite history going on that, you know, we were all cold warrior stuff. And so, I felt the need to go back and correct the record.
LAMB: And what did you correct the record about in here besides Vietnam, besides Elian Gonzales? Why did he deserve so much attention?
CHAREN: Oh, because as I get to the end of the book I describe how these same attitudes that were evident throughout the period - I focused mostly on the period between say 1965 and the end of the Cold War in 1991.
But the attitudes that were so prevalent, the misunderstanding about the nature of communism, the tendency to believe that we are in the wrong is still alive and well and despite the fact that all these folks are now claiming that they were cold warriors.
When it came to a concrete example in our time, post Cold War, where they could demonstrate that they understood the nature of communism, they proved exactly the opposite.
"The New York Times" had a headline during this whole controversy over Elian Gonzales where it was classic. It said communism still looms as evil to Miami Cubans, you know, as if they`re the only ones who see communism as evil and proving very evidently that "The New York Times" doesn`t, never did.
LAMB: Katie Couric is quoted again. I want to ask you a general question. Why does Katie Couric make conservatives so mad? Ann Coulter got into a tussle with her on her show.
CHAREN: I don`t know. I was pretty democratic, small D, in the book. I quote I guess hundreds and hundreds of people. She`s one of them but I think she only makes one appearance.
LAMB: Well here, no, she makes more than one.
LAMB: Here`s the one on Elian Gonzales. Some suggested over the weekend that it`s wrong to expect Elian Gonzales to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami.
CHAREN: Oh, yes. That did irritate me, yes. How can, you know, very arch, right, oh that`s funny. If she had any idea about what really goes on in Cuba she could never make such a remark.
LAMB: How do you know what goes on there?
CHAREN: Well, all you need to do is read. I mean there`s a great memoir by Armando Valladares called "Against all Hope," somebody who was imprisoned by Castro merely for being an anti-communist. He was bout 20 years old when the revolution came to power and he spent 20 years in Castro`s gulag.
You read the reports of the human rights groups around the world. You look at independent reports of all kinds. I mean the information is out there and but it`s just not, it`s just not part of the daily diet of people like Katie Couric.
LAMB: One of the things you quote is Mikhail Gorbachev saying nobody won the Cold War and that bothered you.
CHAREN: Well, it didn`t bother me. I said it`s understandable that Gorbachev would say that. He was - he presided over the dissolution of an empire and for him not to want to admit it is understandable.
What I was criticizing is the liberals who tended to agree with him. I mean why did they want to say that nobody won the Cold War? Somebody clearly did.
LAMB: Why did they do you think?
CHAREN: Because they didn`t think it was worth fighting in the first place. They thought it was, as I say in the book you know, two scorpions in a bottle, an insane arms race that had a dynamic all its own that was sort of untethered from any other reality.
They felt that accommodation, negotiations, getting to know one another better was the answer to tensions between the U.S. and the communist world, the West and the communist world.
LAMB: Another person on the cover is Madeleine Albright. Let me read from page 136. Madeleine Albright who advised Walter Mondale on foreign policy in the 1984 campaign scolded, "We have a president who seems to have a mindset against arms control" though she would later claim after becoming secretary of state in the Clinton administration that her world view had been forged by Munich.
LAMB: What`s the Munich reference? We get it all the time in these books.
CHAREN: Right. Well, Munich was the sellout of Czechoslovakia by Britain and France in 1938 and many opinion leaders, many policy makers in the West were very - found that to be a searing lesson about how if you appease dictators it will, you know, you are simply encouraging them and that you may not have to fight now but you`ll have to fight later and it will be even worse later.
OK, well that was the lesson the conservatives continued to want to apply to the Soviet Union and the communist world generally, whereas liberals didn`t. They tended to want to apply that very much to the Nazis but not to the communists and I was quoting Madeleine Albright because she was really, she was opposed to most of the major steps that Reagan wanted to take to fight the Cold War.
Reagan wanted to fight and win the Cold War and liberals across the board thought this was reckless, dangerous, and wrong headed, and she was one of the most prominent and vociferous critics of the Reagan policy.
LAMB: You bring in the church, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church. Is there a role for churches in politics and what irritated you about the churches?
CHAREN: You keep saying irritated me. I guess...
LAMB: Angered, irritated, frustrated, you define it?
CHAREN: I felt that it was wrong and I wanted to say so, OK. That`s really it, I mean you know, although I won`t deny that it irritated me. It`s just I don`t want the picture of me sitting there grinding my teeth the entire time I was writing this book.
LAMB: You mean you weren`t?
CHAREN: Well, maybe I was but look the churches like everyone else in our free society is perfectly willing to express a view. I`m also free to express the view that they were badly wrong and, yes, they did weigh in and I mention the Jews too.
You know, the Catholic churches, the National Council of Churches, tended to be - basically they were in favor of appeasement. They were in favor of unilateral disarmament on our part and they made that plain and I have the quotes in there.
LAMB: Should they be involved? Are they 501C3s? I mean are they allowed to be in politics?
CHAREN: Well, I suppose technically the churches themselves aren`t but can`t they have political wings? I mean they can have 501C4s or whatever that they can found. I`m not actually sure about what the tax laws have to say about all this but I certainly think that if you are a - as a free American you can express your views and it`s actually even good to hear the views of religious people.
They may bring something to the table. They often do that`s worth hearing for the rest of the society and we give great weight to what religious leaders say and we think they have special moral authority sometimes. In this case, I felt that what they were saying was disastrous.
LAMB: Go back to what we were talking about earlier about your column, your law degree. What year did you get your law degree?
LAMB: What year did you start your column?
LAMB: When did you first get involved in writing for politicians?
LAMB: Who was it?
CHAREN: Nancy Reagan.
LAMB: Why did you do that? Where did you do that?
CHAREN: I left law school and through the people that I knew at "National Review," Bill Buckley and Priscilla Buckley, sent my resume over to - well, I realized I didn`t want to practice law. I found law incredibly deadly dull, and I was interested in writing and they sent my resume over to the White House and I got a call that they were looking for a speech writer for Nancy Reagan.
So, I went over and I was hired because it was a campaign year and though she didn`t usually do that much public speaking where she would need formal, you know, speeches where she couldn`t just do it off the cuff, they hired me for the campaign.
LAMB: What did you learn from that experience?
CHAREN: That it`s a lot more fun flying around on Air Force Two than being in law school but after I worked for her I went and joined the West Wing staff and worked for Reagan and it was an invaluable experience. I mean it was just...
LAMB: In what way?
CHAREN: Oh, I mean the understanding of how government works and how policy is made behind the scene.
LAMB: What`s different about it up close and what we think it is looking in from the outside?
CHAREN: Well, I guess one thing I would say is that people who look in from the outside often think that everything is so well planned and everything is so well orchestrated by those people inside who are, you know, sort of pulling all the strings.
It`s not like that at all in my opinion. You can attempt to manipulate things but half the time it won`t work the way you hope it does and a lot of the time the people in power are sort of responding to events and have so much on their plate that they`d be lucky if they can respond in a coherent way. It`s very, very difficult to orchestrate matters.
LAMB: So, the column, again go back to when you were 22. You didn`t dream that you would ever write a column and here you are somewhere along the line you say I`m going to write a column. How did that start?
CHAREN: While I was, let`s see, I left the White House. I went to work for Jack Kemp because I thought he would be a good president and that would have been in `86, and while I was working for him, I started to write a newsletter, a fortnightly column that went out to the Republican members of the House of Representatives.
And, it was like 2,000 words every other week and it got a great response and I thought hum, you know, this isn`t that hard, seems to be getting a good response, so I started doing more and more and by then I already had also a good portfolio of published work elsewhere.
And so, I went to a syndicate and said would you be interested in taking me on and it just so happened that I was going to a syndicate that was getting off the ground itself, Creator Syndicate was just starting.
So, they were looking for new talent and we just happened to meet at the right time. So, I got syndicated before I was ever a columnist for a newspaper, for any individual paper. I just went straight to syndication.
LAMB: Let me ask you a question. You may not even want to answer it but when you`re starting out as a columnist how much do they pay you? How do you get paid?
LAMB: I mean do they pay you per column?
CHAREN: Yes. Well, no, not exactly. Your clients, your newspaper clients pay the syndicate so much per column, like $10, you know per column.
LAMB: How much do you get?
CHAREN: And you get half of that if that, less than half after production costs and all the rest of it the syndicate takes and their cut.
LAMB: Is that a week or a month?
CHAREN: That would be a week, so depending on, you know when you`ve got as I did in the very beginning, you know, half a dozen newspapers, you can`t live on that.
LAMB: Like $30 a week.
CHAREN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: So, what did you do to move the column into more papers?
CHAREN: Well, that`s partly the job of the syndicate. I mean they go out and they attempt to sell it and they did a fantastic job. I mean they really helped but you do other writing and I just supplemented my income by writing speeches for people and I ghost wrote a book and did whatever I - whatever came to hand to, you know, keep body and soul together.
LAMB: Do you have any stories like yours about Bill Buckley where you started out reading his column and the look what happened to you? Anybody young that`s read your column that has gotten involved in this thing? Do people talk to you? Do they write you? Do they...
CHAREN: Let me think. Oh, I do get letters, yes. I mean you know it makes you feel, I mean the first time I remember very vividly. I was about 35 and a young girl came up to me after a speech and she said - she wasn`t that young actually. Let me just say she was like college age and she said oh, you know, I really love you. I`ve been reading you since high school, and I thought you have? But that`s the way it is.
I think Michelle Malkin (ph) might have told me that she read my stuff and it made her want to be a columnist. I can`t say for sure but she might have been one of them.
LAMB: So, when you`re writing whether it`s this book or writing a column, who do you think about? Do you have anybody in mind that you`re writing for, any level of understanding, any person?
CHAREN: Not really. I mean I just I`m thinking of the educated reader, the curious person, who is open minded. I always hope to persuade. I don`t write just to, you know, preach to the choir. I always hope to persuade.
LAMB: OK, you want to write for somebody that`s open minded. How open minded are you?
CHAREN: I`m pretty open minded.
LAMB: How open minded are conservatives or for that matter liberals?
CHAREN: Anybody who is really thoughtful and has been around long enough loses some of their rigidity. You have to because you see enough in the world and you realize that everybody makes mistakes and that there are pros and cons on all sides of issues.
That much having been said there are certain things and that`s the subject of my book, where there`s no room for error and in misjudging the nature of communism, liberals made a big one, big error.
LAMB: So, what about conservatives? Have they misjudged anything in your lifetime and if they have what is it?
CHAREN: Race. In the early days of the civil rights movement, conservatives were nowhere to be found. They tended to joke about it. They didn`t see the moral certitudes that were involved and they tended to give way too much weight to tradition as opposed to justice in the beginning.
I think over time when it comes to racial issues the conservatives have come around completely and are now really the principled ones in this discussion and that it`s more often liberals who are attempting to see things, you know, take color into account way too much and conservatives who are willing to look at people as individuals now, now.
LAMB: If you were going to pinpoint the time back then when conservatives misjudged and didn`t sign on at the right time, when would that have been?
CHAREN: In the `60s.
LAMB: Around what in particular, the civil rights bill?
CHAREN: The civil rights movement, the civil rights bills. Let`s see. I`m having trouble thinking of particular moments or things that people said but I can remember sort of reading conservative publications, not at the time, I was too young, but later and thinking oh, that grates. You know the tone is wrong. It wasn`t so much what they said as the way they said it. You know it was kind of grudging and the sort of this isn`t our cause, that feeling that you got in those days.
LAMB: You mentioned in the early part of the discussion here about how things have changed. There are book publishers and networks that people can watch that are conservative side. Is there any danger that people are only watching their side?
CHAREN: Well, maybe a little bit. Maybe a little bit.
LAMB: What would be the danger?
CHAREN: The danger is that you forget that there are people on the other side who are patriots, who are open minded, who are good people. You know my children, for example, are absorbing our politics at the dinner table and in life and, you know, they`re children so they want to divide people into good guys and bad guys.
And, you know, my husband and I are careful to say to them look, you know, we don`t agree with that person but that`s not a bad person, you know. And it`s important to make those distinctions.
LAMB: You dedicate the book for my precious Jonathan, David and Benjamin who understand so much already. What do they understand?
CHAREN: A lot. They are very interested in the world around them and they absorb so much and...
LAMB: Do they read your column?
CHAREN: Not yet, not really, but they were watching television the other day and said mom and dad is France our ally? My husband and I said well, it`s a hard one to explain.
LAMB: How old are they?
CHAREN: John is eleven, David is nine and Ben will be seven.
LAMB: And what does your husband do for a living?
CHAREN: He`s a lawyer.
LAMB: What kind of law?
CHAREN: He does - well, he`s a litigator but he does a lot of international practice.
LAMB: Back to the book, on page 148 you juxtapose two stories that - I`ll let you explain why. Samantha Smith is one and the other story is a young lady by the name of Irena, is that right?
LAMB: I`ll try on that last name...
LAMB: Tarnapolski, yes.
LAMB: What about these two young ladies?
CHAREN: OK. Samantha Smith was a youngster from Maine who became an international celebrity because she wrote a letter to Andropov, who was the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, saying I`ve been worried about nuclear war. Now you have to remember that this was a time of intense paranoia and even hysteria in the West about nuclear war.
LAMB: She was ten?
CHAREN: She was ten and she wrote to the leader of the Soviet Union saying I`ve been worried about war and I was wondering what you are going to do to try not to have a war.
Well, Andropov seized upon this and used it to make political hay. He invited Samantha Smith to come and visit the Soviet Union and she went with her family and so on and so forth and much was made of her.
When she came back they had, you know, a parade in her home town for her and all of the pundits, liberal pundits were writing about her and saying isn`t this a great example for the rest of us jaded adults?
Here`s a little girl that just wants peace and comity between nations and isn`t that wonderful? And, Ellen Goodman had a column at the time saying, you know, all we adults - we adults are supposed to talk about throw away MX and START talks and isn`t it great that here the innocence of a child, so pure, and she can just write about war and peace which is what we all really care about and so on and so forth.
Now, not criticizing the child obviously in this, I mean you know she was a child and that`s fine what she did. But, the use that was made of her was kind of unbecoming on the part of the adults.
LAMB: By the way you quoted her mother, Jane Smith, told reporters that Samantha "thinks it would be better to spend more money on programs for the poor rather than on bombs."
CHAREN: Well, yes, I mean you know her parents were obviously very liberal and influenced their daughter which is perfectly natural but, you know, the Democratic Party invited her to ask questions of presidential candidates, you know.
There was this - and I link it to a sort of childlike view on the part of the left about the threat that we faced. You know they had this rather, you know, why can`t we all be friends attitude and I said the situation called for steady nerves and realism about the nature of the Soviet Union and what we needed to do was keep our powder dry, obviously not be belligerent, but it was not, you know, a matter of let`s all be friends.
I mean that was not going to advance the cause of peace, security, or democracy. In any event, as you say, I did contrast her story. By the way, Samantha Smith was tragically killed in a plane crash a couple years later and she had become this celebrity and was traveling around the country on one of those small planes and it crashed.
But, at around the same time that Samantha Smith was getting all of this attention, a young lady in the Soviet Union named Irena Tarnapolski wrote to Andropov having heard about Samantha Smith. So, she wrote to Andropov and asked him to please let her father out of jail.
Her father was, I think a physicist who worked and taught at Krasnoyarsk and why was he thrown in jail because he asked for an exit visa which in the Soviet Union was a crime. He also smuggled - while he was in prison he wrote poetry which he smuggled out.
When this book was published in France, his book of poetry, he was further accused of slander against the Soviet system and so they forbade him to work again. And, you know, so Tarnapolski, the little girl, wrote to Andropov asking for help and of course none was forthcoming and it`s a perfect illustration of the difference between the two worlds and how little liberals understood about the nature of that regime.
LAMB: Was she written up, the Tarnapolski girl?
CHAREN: Very little.
LAMB: How did you find it?
CHAREN: Well, there were a few. There were a few references but there were very, very few I can tell you. I mean I remember, you know, when you look things up on LexisNexis and you hit something that got a lot of attention, you`ll get thousands of articles and I only got one or two about her.
LAMB: This sentence about Ted Koppel is in our book, "An exquisitely tuned instrument of conventional wisdom."
LAMB: That I assume just didn`t pop out, I mean you...
CHAREN: No, it did.
LAMB: It did?
LAMB: What does it mean?
CHAREN: Well, I just - well, when I say it popped out, I mean when I think of Ted Koppel I think of somebody who, you know, very, very bright, very sophisticated but, you know, just always has the typically slightly to the left of center views that are very, very typical of the leaders of this country.
LAMB: Do they all think that way?
CHAREN: No. No. No, not everyone but...
LAMB: Most of the journalists?
CHAREN: Yes, oh yes sure.
LAMB: One final thing. Helen Caldecott, this is just a quick journalism thing. Caldecott`s use of preferred communist terminology, communist versus capitalist instead of communist versus free.
LAMB: Who is she and why did that catch your attention?
CHAREN: She`s an Australian pediatrician who became incredibly influential during the 1980s as the leader of something called Physicians for Social Responsibility and she was an anti-nuclear, basically unilateral disarmer who was constantly framing things, as I said again with reference to Samantha Smith, in terms of our children and there are no communist babies. There are no capitalist babies as she put it. They`re just babies and so on.
I mention that communist/capitalism thing because that`s the way the communists would always refer to it. They would never want to acknowledge that the difference between us was that we were free and they were not, and similarly our critics on the left fail to make that distinction too.
LAMB: First book?
LAMB: What do you think of the experience?
CHAREN: It was difficult.
CHAREN: Well, because I have three growing sons and various emergencies.
CHAREN: Eleven, nine and seven, and a column and, you know, a life and it`s difficult. Writing books is hard work.
LAMB: Will you do it again?
CHAREN: I might.
LAMB: Our guest Mona Charen, the book "Useful Idiots, How Liberals got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First." Thank you very much for joining us.
CHAREN: My pleasure.
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