BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Rik Hertzberg, you say in your book that the title of your book, "Politics," is kind of a rip-off. What`d you mean?
HENDRIK HERTZBERG, AUTHOR, "POLITICS: OBSERVATIONS AND ARGUMENTS, 1966-2004": Well, I took the title, really, from a wonderful old magazine that was published in the late `40s by Dwight McDonald (ph) called "Politics." And this little magazine, it was basically a one-man operation, although he had people like George Orwell writing for it. It was an absolutely great little magazine.
Now, why did I take his title? Because he took somebody else`s title. When he put out his collection of political essays, he called it "Memoirs of a Revolutionist." And that was taken from Victor Serge (ph), whose book, "Memoires de Revolutionaire (ph)" -- he`d taken -- so he ripped off his title, so I figured, Well, I can rip off mine from him.
Now, I`ve since have discovered that Serge actually ripped his title off, too, from Peter Kropotkin`s (ph) "Memoirs of a Revolutionist." So it traces back into a kind of politics that`s always been important to me because Dwight McDonald was an independent-minded, anti-Stalinist man of the left, and a brilliant prose stylist, too. He was -- for many years, he was movie critic of "Esquire." That`s probably where -- how most people of a certain age know of him. But a great, great political essayist and a hero of mine.
LAMB: Did you ever meet him?
HERTZBERG: I did met him once, yes. I met him once at a Christmas party, when I was about, oh, I guess I was about 15 years old. And I was utterly thrilled to meet him because I had just read a book by him called "Henry Wallace: The Man and the Myth." And this was a debunking -- a little debunking biography of Henry Wallace published in the 1948 campaign, when he was running as the sort of lefty, essentially communist front candidate for president. And McDonald had written this hilarious book, "Henry Wallace: The Man and the Myth" about Wallese (ph), the language of Henry Wallace. And it was just a devastating book.
And so I said, Oh, I`m so happy to meet you, Mr. McDonald. I`ve just read "Henry Wallace: The Man and the Myth." And he was -- he said, Well, I`m just thrilled to hear that because hardly anybody`s read that book. It sold maybe 3,000 or 4,000 copies, and nobody liked it because the people who liked Wallace hated it, of course, and the people who didn`t like Wallace already knew, so...
And I wrote about that. I once wrote about -- I lost my copy once of that book, and I mentioned that in a "Diarist" in "The New Republic," and a reader sent me a new one.
LAMB: Why would you even be reading something like that at age 15?
HERTZBERG: Well, I was brought up in that kind of a household. I was brought up in a -- my parents were -- had met in the Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas and Eugene Debs, the democratic anti-Stalinist Socialist Party. And I was brought up in a -- just steeped in the politics of the marginal Eurocentric anti-Stalinist left. That`s really the -- it was almost the religion of our family. So I was avidly reading Ignacio Salone (ph) and Dwight McDonald and George Orwell as a boy, and it stuck. It`s -- my politics now are I`m essentially a liberal Democrat, but the kind of moral universe that I come from is that one.
LAMB: In your acknowledgments, in a couple of sentences, you kind of sum up where you`ve been in your career. You say, "Lillian Ross persuaded William Shawn to give me a job at "`The New Yorker.`" How many years at "The New Yorker" total?
HERTZBERG: Gosh, if you add it all up, I was there `69 to `76 -- that would be seven years there -- and then for the last 14 years. So I`ve been there 21 years.
LAMB: "James Fallows recruited me for the White House staff of Jimmy Carter." How long were you there?
HERTZBERG: I was -- well, four years, the maximum for Jimmy Carter.
LAMB: "Martin Peretz may have given me hell sometimes, but he twice gave me heaven at `The New Republic.`" What do you mean by that?
HERTZBERG: Well, he`s the proprietor and editor-in-chief of "The New Republic," and he hired me as editor of "The New Republic" when I left the Carter White House involuntarily. And I was editor of "The New Republic" for four years. Then I was non-editor of it for four years while Mike Kinsley was again editor of it. Then I was editor again for four years. So those are the -- the twice was that I was twice editor of "The New Republic."
LAMB: When you say left involuntarily, you lost the election.
LAMB: I mean, it wasn`t because you got fired from...
LAMB: "Tina Brown, an impresario of nerve and dash, revived `The New Yorker` and then brought me back in -- back to it. David Remnick, long may he reign, freed me from editorial chores, handed me a giant bullhorn." What do you mean by that?
HERTZBERG: Well, when I went back to ""The New Yorker" in 1992, when Tina Brown became editor, I went back as her executive editor and helped her reshape the magazine. Then when David Remnick became the editor -- he had been the writer across the hall from me, and he was suddenly plucked up to this extraordinary position of editor of "The New Yorker," and he wanted me to write. He didn`t want -- until then, under Tina, I had had a lot of editorial duties, administrative stuff, picking -- helping pick cartoons, helping with design, helping with editing, all kinds of things like that. David just kicked me out of that and took out a big bullwhip and said, You will write. And I`m very grateful to him for that.
LAMB: What kind of people read "The New Yorker"?
HERTZBERG: Well, the circulation of "The New Yorker" just topped a million for the first time ever, and we don`t -- the editorial staff and the business staff are pretty well separate, so it`s not like we`re getting memos telling us what the demographics of our readers are. We know pretty much who they are. They`re kind of like ourselves. You know, they`re -- they`re...
LAMB: Liberal Democrats?
HERTZBERG: Well, not all of them, no, not by a long shot, because "The New Yorker" is not really a political magazine, certainly not primarily. It`s primarily a literary and reportage and critical magazine. And there`s some politics in it, but there are plenty of conservative readers and there are plenty of -- that`s one of the pleasures for me is that I`m not preaching only to the choir. At "The New Republic," I wasn`t preaching entirely to the choir, either, but it was a narrower -- a very intense and narrow -- narrower but very intense audience. "The New Yorker" has a very intense audience, too. People are devoted to it, and they pay incredibly close attention to it.
And of all the magazines of its size -- and a million is a lot -- it probably has the least patronizing relationship to its readers. I mean that it talks to them as equals, directly, not as a marketing target, marketing audience, but as -- as a part of a dialogue.
LAMB: Who owns it now?
HERTZBERG: It`s owned by Conde Nast, by Sy Newhouse.
LAMB: And how many of the million live outside the New York City area?
HERTZBERG: Oh, the big -- a pretty substantial majority. The biggest state for "The New Yorker" is California. We have the highest circulation there of any state. If you look at the whole New York metropolitan area, it would be higher than that, but I guess New York, it`s probably a quarter of the circulation, something like that, and three quarters outside New York.
LAMB: A famous "New Yorker" editor, William Shawn -- how many years was he there?
HERTZBERG: Oh, 30?
LAMB: ... called you, the first time you ever talked to him, and you were -- you didn`t believe it. Tell the story.
HERTZBERG: Yes. Well, I was sleeping late one morning in my room at Harvard and-
LAMB: What year would this have been?
HERTZBERG: In 1965. And the phone rang, and I picked it up and a meek, little voice said, Hello? Mr. Hertzberg? Huh? Said, "This is William Shawn." Of course, I knew who William Shawn was. I mean, he was most famous editor in the world. So I said, yes, right. And this is Marie of Romania. Because I assumed it was a friend playing a joke. The phone rang a couple of minutes later, and, Hello? Hello? No, this really is William Shawn. And he invited me to come and see him in New York, and I did.
LAMB: Why was he inviting you?
HERTZBERG: He had a son, Wallace Shawn, now a very -- quite a famous actor and playwright, who was in my class. We were in the same class. And so Shawn was reading "The Harvard Crimson." He was paying a lot of attention to Harvard, and he hired a lot of people from that cohort, Jonathan Schell, author of "The Fate of the Earth," among many other books, a wonderful writer who used to do the -- write the section that I write in "The New Yorker" now. George Trobe (ph), several other -- Jacob Brachman (ph), Daniel Chassen (ph). There were a number of people from that era -- Anthony Hiss (ph) -- who came to "The New Yorker" because Shawn was paying such close attention to that cohort of people.
LAMB: You mentioned Wallace Shawn. I did not know that was the son until...
LAMB: ... I read your book. But the reason I -- "My Dinner With Andre."
HERTZBERG: Yes. And you know, you see the character that Wally plays in that movie, which is kind of himself. But you can see -- I`m not sure how he would -- if he`d be happy to hear this, but the resemblance with his father is just extraordinary. God, it makes me think that some movie producer should do a biopic about William Shawn and get Wallace Shawn to play the role.
LAMB: Did you work for William Shawn?
HERTZBERG: I sure did. Yes. He -- when I went to see him, he actually offered me a job, but I did not come -- I did not accept it then, partly because I was trying to figure out how to not be drafted right at that moment, and partly because I just thought I was way too green. I knew that if -- I knew that when you went to work for "The New Yorker," you were basically given complete freedom, put in a little office and left to fend for yourself. And I just didn`t think I had the discipline to do that, that I needed some seasoning. And so I said no to that.
And then three years later -- we`re getting ahead of our story, I guess, but when I got out of the Navy, I went back to Mr. Shawn -- I still find it difficult to think of him without the "Mr." I went back to him and said, Is that offer still open? And it was, so I joined "The New Yorker" then in 1969.
LAMB: Well, you did make a comment before you admitted to spending three years in the Navy that you were trying to avoid the draft. Why were you doing that?
HERTZBERG: Well, there was a little something called the Vietnam war going on at the time. And every -- every young man had to face what he was going to do, unless you were lucky enough to have some obvious physical problem that gave you a 4-F or physically disqualified draft status. Then you had to -- you had to figure out what to do.
I mean, that`s what the presidential campaign is largely all about, isn`t it? It`s about what men of our generation, Bush, Kerry, Cheney, what they -- how they grappled with this question of, What am I going to do? And everybody -- it went -- there were -- things changed so quickly then that it was as if there was a new generation every year. And 1965, when I had -- when I faced it, was very different from 1968, and that was very different from 1971.
And so I went to work after college for the National Student Association for a year. And it wasn`t just because the National Student Association was a wonderful cause that advanced liberal ideas and fought communism abroad and all of that sort of thing. Later, we learned that it was a CIA front, but I didn`t know that. What I did know was that if you worked for the National Student Association, you didn`t get drafted, that -- it wasn`t exactly that you were deferred, but anyway, nobody got drafted while working for the National Student Association, so it was a way to have a year without worrying about getting drafted.
LAMB: Did you know going into the National Student Association that you weren`t going to be drafted?
HERTZBERG: I was 99 percent sure.
LAMB: Why didn`t you know the CIA had funded it?
HERTZBERG: Well, it was a secret.
LAMB: Did you have any suspicion?
HERTZBERG: No. No.
LAMB: Who was fronting, personally running the place that gave you the impression that it was an independent organization?
HERTZBERG: Well, the leaders, the elected leaders of the association, the president and the international vice president and the national affairs vice president, were all elected at an annual student congress that consisted of representatives of student councils, from university student governments, from universities all over the country. And they had this enormous congress, and at that congress, the president and vice presidents of the organization were elected. So that was one -- they seemed to be grass-roots people.
The financing of the organization was -- I mean, we were kids and didn`t ask too closely, didn`t understand stuff like that. But basically, we -- NSA had a travel agency, and we were told that that generated some of the money. And then there were foundation grants. The program that I ran there as a staff member was putting out a magazine that was circulated to student leaders abroad called "The American Student." And it was financed by a grant from the Foundation for Youth and Student Affairs, which I was -- I had been told was money from the Corning Glass fortune. Well, it turned out, when -- when the mask was removed, that, in fact, this was simply a conduit for CIA funds. It was a paper organization, and the money came right from the CIA through this fake foundation to me.
LAMB: Was it ever told to you that you couldn`t write something?
HERTZBERG: No. See, there was -- at NSA, National Student Association, some people were "witty," as we -- as they called it, and some were "unwitty" -- witting or unwitting. And it was essentially the people who traveled abroad for the organization that were let in on the secret. And this had been going on for a generation. It had been going on since shortly after World War II.
LAMB: What was the purpose?
HERTZBERG: Well, it was -- the purpose was that liberals -- essentially, people who were anti-communist liberals in the CIA -- realized that the policy of just supporting right-wing dictators and anybody who said they were anti-communist was not going to work, was not going to win the cold war, that to win the cold war, that to fight the cold war, you had to appeal to people`s ideals. You had to get behind democratic movements, behind anti-colonial movements, even socialist -- democratic socialist movements. So there was a wing in the CIA that was financing all sorts of activities that, in the political context of the time, would have been scandalous.
I mean, the National Student Association provided seed money for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, for the Civil Rights movement, for the movements -- movement against the House Un-American Activities Committee. If the right-wingers in Congress had known that the taxpayers` money was going to that organization, which was regularly denounced on the floor of Congress as a communist -- you know, bunch of left-wing radical communists because they were abolishing the House Un-American Activities Committee and things like that -- they were, you know, France getting out of Algeria. They were for France getting out of Vietnam.
If they`d known that, it would have been denounced. So it was a kind of -- at the beginning, it was a little bit like the monasteries in the Middle Ages that kept Aristotle and Plato`s works alive. It was -- but then, as American foreign policy changed in the Vietnam period and there began to be more dissent, not just on the far left but the moderate left, this arrangement began to go sour. And the young men and women at the National Student Association who were let in on the secret, after being sworn to secrecy and threatened, essentially told that -- you know, We`re going to tell you something important, but if you reveal it, you`re going to go to jail or worse. People who were let in on the secret in the early days were delighted. Suddenly, they realized they weren`t just playing in the sandbox. This wasn`t just student council politics, this was serious international grown-up stuff.
But then in later years, especially as the Vietnam -- as Vietnam heated up, people would be terribly conflicted, at best, or horrified. It broke up marriages. It caused tremendous damage to people, and it radicalized a lot of people. It`s an untold story, really.
LAMB: I was going just to ask you if anybody ever wrote a book about this.
HERTZBERG: There`s a woman named Karen Paget (ph) is now working on a -- has been for years working on a book on it. She`s the only one that I know of that`s really gone into this. There have been some books about the CIA financing of the Congress of Cultural Freedom and other such groups, but the National Student Association story was different in that so many staff members of the organization were recruited into it.
LAMB: Anybody else in the group that we would know that worked with you?
HERTZBERG: In that general era, Bob Kiley (ph), who is now the head of -- he`s now the head of London transport. He was head of transport -- he was head of the New York subway system and the Boston subway system. He was a figure -- he was a figure in the organization. Jeff Greenfield of CNN was not witting, but he was very active in NSA. Sam Brown, who used to be head of the Peace Corps, now very active in the Kerry campaign.
LAMB: And they were all not -- they had no knowledge.
HERTZBERG: Some had knowledge and some didn`t. Of the ones -- the ones I`ve mentioned, I don`t think they did.
LAMB: Why did you get out?
HERTZBERG: I just -- my year was coming -- was up.
LAMB: What year did you learn the CIA had been funding it?
HERTZBERG: I went to work for "Newsweek" in San Francisco right after working for NSA. And while I was out there -- and I was just there for six months, but while I was out there, "Ramparts" magazine, which was located in San Francisco, exposed this story. A guy who had been the finance director of the National Student Association -- and they had been secretly trying to free themselves of the CIA tie and to find other sources of money -- finally blew the whistle.
LAMB: Do you think we will wake up in the next few years and find out that the CIA has been funding other things we don`t know about now?
HERTZBERG: I wouldn`t be a bit surprised. I mean, it was a pretty profound shock because the National Student Association`s selling point was that it was independent. You know, it`s not like those communist international student organizations that are run by the KGB. I mean, we`re real students. We`re really independent. So it was a pretty profound shock.
And I still think that what`s really wrong with it was clueing in some of the people involved and actually using them as -- as intelligence assets. In other words, they would write reports about their meetings with student leaders overseas that would go to the CIA. But if they hadn`t done that, if they just funneled them the money, it would have been a different story. I`m sure that there`s a lot of money-funneling going on.
LAMB: This book called, "Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004," has what in it?
HERTZBERG: It`s got what I think are the best of the stuff I`ve done in my career. I kind of have to face the fact that I`m a short distance runner, and if I was ever going to have a book, it was going to have to be a collection. And so this is -- this is a sample of what I`ve been doing all these years.
LAMB: Did you ever count the number of pieces you have?
HERTZBERG: I haven`t done that.
LAMB: It seems to me there are two books here. One is the book that you just talked about, and then the other is the introduction. And there`s a sub-story going through this, often a personal story. And I want to quote you one of the more provocative statements you make in the introduction. Quote, "I`m pretty sure there is no such thing as God," unquote. How long did you think about that before you wrote it?
HERTZBERG: I guess about 60 years.
LAMB: Why did you write it?
HERTZBERG: Well, I think that we`ve got -- I mean, I go on from there to say some other things. But I think we`re in a period of fairly -- it`s paradoxical. We`re in a period where it`s -- where you`re not supposed to say anything impolite about anybody else`s religion, but you`re sort of -- if you don`t have a religion that believes in the supernatural or revealed truth, then you`re kind of left out of a -- of America .
And I think that this is a sign of really not taking religion seriously enough, in a way. In `20s and in the 19th century, we had just as much fundamentalism and religious revivalism as we have now, but there were also voices that denounced organized religion, that denounced revealed religion. And there was a lively public debate on this. There isn`t much debate now. It`s -- there`s a kind of bullying atmosphere about -- about religion.
LAMB: What do you think people`s -- I mean, you know right now people watching...
HERTZBERG: I mean, and I guess what I`m saying there about God is I just -- you know, the idea of a big person up in the sky that interferes in history and decides who wins football games and elections and that sort of thing -- I`m baffled by that.
LAMB: But you know that people watching right now, their whole chemistry changed the minute they heard that.
HERTZBERG: I`m a nice guy, though. All I can say is that I don`t think it`s -- I believe in good and I believe in evil and I believe in morality. I`m a huge admirer of -- I`m an admirer of Jesus and of the religious impulse. And obviously, religion -- obviously, something that is so deeply engages so many hundreds of millions of people has an enormous portion of truth in it. I don`t remotely deny that. But I think -- I think we should -- I think it should all be open to discussion.
LAMB: You say in that -- it`s the fourth area where your pieces are -- I mean, it`s the fourth introduction to this group says, "I am a Judeo-Christian. My father was indisputably a Jew, even though he was a militant enough atheist by the age of 13 to refuse to be bar mitzvahed." You go on to talk about your mother. You say your wife`s Catholic. What was your mother?
HERTZBERG: My mother was born a Congregationalist. She was a WASP, Protestant, became a Quaker. She was a sort of a Christian pacifist, at least for a while pacifist, but always -- but a firm Protestant.
LAMB: Explain this. "The Nuremberg laws would say I`m Jewish. The Law of Return would say I`m not."
HERTZBERG: Well, according to the Nuremberg laws, if you have a -- if you had a Jewish father, the Nazi classification, you were a Jew. But the Law of Return, where -- what entitles you to citizenship, automatic citizenship in Israel, you`ve got to have to have a Jewish mother. So I`m Jewish one way, I`m not Jewish the other way. I guess I feel sort of 51 percent Jewish because my name, Hertzberg, sounds Jewish, and therefore, people respond to me, often assume that I`m, you know, 100 percent Jewish.
LAMB: And you`re married to a Catholic, and you say in here she`s not practicing.
HERTZBERG: And she would -- and when she sees this and says -- and realizes that I`ve done my village atheist thing, she`s going to really -- I`m going to be in the doghouse.
LAMB: What do you say to young Wolf? Who is how old?
HERTZBERG: He`s 6. Well, we`re kind of playing that by ear. He hasn`t -- he`s -- you know, he`s still at an age where he`s living in a magic world, and we`re not going to disturb that until we have to.
LAMB: And about -- you say this also. "I`d rather not call myself a secular humanist." That`s another code word, as you know, that sends some people...
LAMB: ... off the end.
HERTZBERG: That`s why -- that`s why I`d rather not call myself that. And it -- also, it sounds kind of culty, and there is no -- it`s not like there`s a body of doctrine somewhere that`s secular humanism. You know, it`s not like you`re following some set of doctrines. It`s -- and I`m not following any such set of doctrines. So any "ist" stuck on my beliefs, at least my metaphysical beliefs, I would object to.
LAMB: How many people have you either known or come across that actually study religion? And how many people do you think just accept what the parents gave them?
HERTZBERG: I think most -- I think most people think about it pretty -- pretty profoundly. I do think that for most of the people I know -- I know who consider themselves religious, consider themselves believers, it`s -- a lot of it is a cultural thing. A lot of it is a way of relating, of finding a place in society and relating to family and relating to the larger world. And it`s a sense of a sacred presence out there somewhere, not -- not this notion of a -- of a God -- a personal God interfering, dictating everything that`s going on, and that -- who decides -- as I say, deciding who`s going to win the election, deciding who wins the Super Bowl, all of that kind of thing. I don`t think many people who -- I think that most people who consider themselves believers are more like deists. You know, they believe in a sort of a prime mover, a sacred presence, something that is given the name of God. And I don`t really object to that.
I guess what I do object to is this -- is the idea that certain people know what God wants and what God demands, and God -- you know, and God doesn`t like gays, you know, and God -- I just don`t think God has any opinions on this. If there is a God, whether -- his opinions on matters biological and sexual must remain a mystery.
LAMB: I want to do a little bit of politics. You made this statement in one of your pieces, near the end. You say that, "If George Bush wins, Democrats will win in 2008." Why?
HERTZBERG: Well, I think the pendulum will swing violently enough in that direction. I think -- I think people didn`t want George Bush, to begin with. That`s why he -- that`s why he lost the vote of the people. If they -- if he is reelected, it`s going to be in spite of his policies. It`s going to be out of fear. It`s going to have something to do with terrorism, with fear of terrorism. That`s the only possible reason that Bush can be reelected because he has no successes in any other areas of policy. He doesn`t have any successes, in my opinion, in that area, either, or not compared to alternatives.
LAMB: But you say the House of Representatives may be Republican for as far as you can see. Why is that?
HERTZBERG: That`s because of -- that`s because of gerrymandering. The Republicans have gradually taken control of enough state legislatures that they have redrawn the lines of congressional districts in such a way that if you take the -- if you take the presidential vote from 2000, you call it a tie and, you know, you figure that`s how people express their real politics, when they vote for president -- so you take that pattern of voting and you put the map of the congressional districts over it and you see how Clinton and Gore did in each congressional district and figure that`s the natural outcome, you get a 40-seat Republican majority when you do that. And that`s bigger than the majority they`ve got now, so...
And the only reason that they don`t have the 40 seats is because there are a lot of old Democratic representatives, congressmen in there, who`ve had the seat for a long time and, you know, they`ve gotten to know everybody in the district and, We don`t want to throw out old Congressman Thing because, you know, he brings the bacon. And as these older members, who are discontented anyway because they`re not in the majority anymore -- it`s nowhere near as much fun to be a congressman when you`re in the minority. As they retire, a lot of those seats are going to go Republican.
So unless there`s a real strong, political swing to the other side, I don`t see the House of Representatives becoming Democratic in my lifetime.
LAMB: Let me just take a minute or two to ask you about New York politics. You live where?
HERTZBERG: I live on the upper west side of New York.
LAMB: There are four names, I think, that loom rather large nationally: George Pataki, Rudolph Giuliani, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and this is probably old by the time this airs, but Bill O`Reilly running for Senate in 2006 against Hillary Rodham Clinton.
HERTZBERG: Oh, that`d be great!
LAMB: The point, though, I want to ask you about is, guess -- just -- I know this is a big guess -- in 2008, how many of those names will still be prominent? And who would you say would get through the filter?
HERTZBERG: I think they`ll all be prominent. I don`t think any of them will get through the filter. The only one that might have a chance, I think -- I suppose Giuliani or Pataki would have an outside chance of being a vice presidential nominee on a Republican ticket.
LAMB: But Hillary Rodham Clinton?
HERTZBERG: Personally, I don`t see it. I don`t see it happening. You know, I could be -- I just -- I could be completely wrong about that.
LAMB: Do I dare ask you about Bill O`Reilly?
HERTZBERG: Well, I think Hillary would pretty -- would squash him like a bug. And I think New York has more self-respect that be to put Bill O`Reilly in the Senate. Although I have to admit, we did -- we did put Al D`Amato in there, so -- you never know.
LAMB: While we`re on presidential politics, your longest piece in here is your piece on Jimmy Carter. You worked for him for four years. Were you the chief speech writer for Jimmy Carter? Was that the title?
HERTZBERG: In the last two years, yes.
LAMB: Who`s Judson Wellover (ph)?
HERTZBERG: Judson Wellover was the very first White House speech writer. Not the first person to write speeches, ghost write speeches for a president -- that would probably be Alexander Hamilton for George Washington -- but the first person who was ever hired just to write speeches in the White House was Judson Wellover. He was hired by Warren G. Harding, and he -- it was such a matter -- it was such a shameful thing to have somebody writing -- hired to write speeches that they hid his salary in the budget of the White House garage. And when we started, when Bill Safire and I started the Judson -- the society of sort of a marching and chatter society or dinner -- we have a dinner every couple of years of White House speech writers from all administrations, we named it after Judson Wellover.
LAMB: How many are there?
HERTZBERG: Well, there`s probably about 40 or 50, at the very least, maybe more.
LAMB: Describe what a White House speech writer`s life is like.
HERTZBERG: There`s usually -- the number of White House speech writers varies, but let`s say there`s about half a dozen, and a few assistants and researchers and stuff. And the chief speech writer assigns out -- you know, you have meeting with the -- with the schedulers to figure out what the upcoming events are and then parcel out the speeches to the various writers. And there are a lot of routine speeches and appearances and off-the-cuff remarks. Every -- all of them have to have something provided. Then there are the big speeches, the ones that count, and that`s where the real -- that`s where the really important work happens. And it varies from White House to White House.
LAMB: Best training for a speech writer?
HERTZBERG: Any kind of imaginative writing, probably. I mean, you`ve got to have a feel for politics and public policy, of course. My training turned out to be pretty good. I had been writing for "The Talk of the Town" in "The New Yorker," and that`s a -- "The Talk of the Town," in those days, was the "we." You know, We did this, we did that. So it was writing in the first person, but it wasn`t me. It was an imaginary person, this "Talk of the Town," Eustace Tilley, man-about-town character, so...
And when you`re writing a speech, you`re writing in the first person, but it`s not you. It`s the politician you`re writing for. But it`s not quite the politician you`re writing for. It`s sort of an imaginary construct of that politician, so it`s more like playwriting, probably, than other expository writing. It`s for the ear. It`s speech, though it has to be able to stand up to being read on the page, as well. And you`re projecting yourself into somebody else`s mind.
LAMB: Is there any possibility that because there is a speech writer now or speech writers for every president that people have begun to say, Well, that`s not really his words?
HERTZBERG: Oh, yes. That`s -- and this is a problem for all presidents now, is the -- it`s assumed -- a degree of inauthenticity is just taken for granted. And you can certainly see it in Bush, for example, where his written speeches, his prepared speeches, I think, are extraordinarily literate and eloquent. I think his speech writer, Michael Gerson, is the best, the best since Ted Sorensen, Kennedy`s speech writer. They`re -- I don`t agree with three quarters of what`s in them, but as a technician, I have nothing but than admiration for them.
LAMB: Have you actually...
HERTZBERG: But then you compare that to how he talks off the cuff, you know that you`re -- you know he`s -- you`re reading the creation of two different minds here.
LAMB: Have you actually read 54 presidential inaugural speeches?
HERTZBERG: Yes. And I...
LAMB: Did you ever write one?
HERTZBERG: I lived to tell the tale. I did not. I did not. I was deprived of my chance by Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: Why did you read the inaugural speeches?
HERTZBERG: I read them to do a column, I guess, to write a piece about inaugural speeches. And I also read acceptance -- I read a whole bunch of categories of speeches. I write a couple -- an acceptance speech. And I read as many of those as I could get my hands on.
LAMB: What did you learn from reading the inaugural speeches?
HERTZBERG: That it`s an undistinguished branch of American literature, with a few golden exceptions and one truly great exception.
LAMB: That is?
HERTZBERG: Lincoln`s second inaugural. Lincoln`s second inaugural. His first inaugural`s not bad, either. Washington`s are pretty good.
LAMB: Did Abraham Lincoln write them himself?
HERTZBERG: He wrote them. Garry Wills has written a lot about this. There`s a lot of literature on this subject. He solicited suggestions from his cabinet and advisers, and some of the phrases in that speech are based on what they gave him. But everything -- everything was changed and torqued. I mean, it was kind of tweaked by Lincoln to raise it to a level -- it`s as if it would go from two dimensions to suddenly being in three dimensions or from black and white to color, when you see what was given to him and what he made of it.
LAMB: What was the worst?
HERTZBERG: Oh, gosh. That would be a photo finish with about, you know, 20 horses.
LAMB: That bad?
HERTZBERG: Yes. Some of them are really awful. And even some of the good presidents have had some pretty terrible inaugural speeches. Some of the 19th century ones went on and on and on. I mean, I forget which president caught cold giving his...
LAMB: William Henry Harrison.
HERTZBERG: Is that it? Yes, giving his -- I think his speech lasted about an hour-and-a-half, and he didn`t have a hat on. And a month later, he was dead.
LAMB: Who were some of the other good ones besides Abraham Lincoln?
HERTZBERG: FDR, Teddy Roosevelt. There`s some good stuff in Wilson`s.
LAMB: What did you think of the JFK speech that`s so often quoted?
HERTZBERG: It`s really good. It`s really good. It has -- you know, it risks -- comes just to the edge of Roman absurdity. You know, it comes just -- he`s practically wearing a toga, and it has a very -- you know, and there`s a classical quality to the language to it that`s self-conscious. But it doesn`t go over the line in the sort of Ciceronian rhythms of it and the balances of -- the rhetorical balances of it work. And it`s -- of course, I can -- I mean, I can practically recite it. It`s so -- it`s got so many memorable, wonderful phrases. It is a great speech.
LAMB: You tell us in here that you did write the so-called "malaise" speech of Jimmy Carter.
HERTZBERG: Well, I say I typed it.
LAMB: That word of "malaise" wasn`t in there anywhere.
HERTZBERG: No, it isn`t. And I`ve won a few bets on that subject. But Carter did not go for French words. "Malaise" is a French word. The word was used -- it became known as the "malaise" speech because Pat Caddell, Carter`s pollster, used that word in background briefings, talking to reporters.
LAMB: What do you mean you typed it?
HERTZBERG: I mean that I was the guy that put it together. I did write some passages, but it was being put together up at Camp David during a kind of retreat.
LAMB: What was the circumstances at the time?
HERTZBERG: The circumstances were the Carter administration was in a lot of trouble. There were huge energy shortages, long gas lines. People were really -- his popularity was in the ditch. He had just come back from an economic summit in Japan, and before that, from signing the SALT II treaty in Vienna, been on the road, essentially, for a month while things were going to hell back home.
He came back home, big energy shortages, big gas lines, decided to give a speech, canceled the speech, went up to Camp David and had a sort of a domestic summit, improvised domestic summit where he brought people up to critique his performance as president. And after about a week of this retreat up on the mountain, he came down and delivered this speech, which we called the "crisis of confidence" speech, and it became known as the "malaise" speech, where he -- actually, the first third of it was completely written by Carter. The first third of it was where he reported on the -- what he`d been told by people about his performance, and it was just the most excoriating self-criticism an American president has ever made, you know, Mr. -- people -- that he basically confessed to having been a bad leader in that first third.
The second third was about the general crisis of confidence in American institutions that went back to Watergate and Vietnam. And this was a piece of truth-telling and prophecy, in a way. He really told the truth, I think, about the malaise, if you like, that existed then and that continues to exist now and that`s behind things like low voter turnout and political alienation.
And then last third of it, which is the weakest part, I suppose, was the -- was saying how we were -- we would have a new energy program and by getting control of the problem of energy, we could begin to work our way back from this crisis of confidence.
LAMB: You write about a trip you took with Jimmy Carter to Israel. And it was a quick trip. I mean, it was five days to put it all together. What were the circumstances that seemed to have an impact on you?
HERTZBERG: It was -- this trip was -- the Camp David agreement had been reached a year or so before, but it had to be turned into a real peace treaty to have any effect. Otherwise, it would have ended up like Oslo and ended up with a -- collapsing. And it looked like it was about to collapse, the agreement, the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
So Carter went to the Middle East to save it. And this trip was put together on five days` notice, as you mention, which is unheard of for a presidential trip. I mean, normally, they`re put together months in advance, tremendously careful laying of the groundwork, everything planned, scripted in advance. This -- nobody -- this was totally seat-of-the-pants, so that while we were flying over there, I mean, I was writing the speech he was going to give a day later at the Egyptian parliament. And this was a real -- this was a presidential trip, really, unlike any other. It was a real high-wire act.
And at the end of it, by putting himself on the line, Carter did get an agreement between Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, and President Sadat of Egypt. He got these guys, and especially Sadat, to go out on a limb pretty far because he was going out on a limb. He didn`t get much political bounce out of this success, but if he had failed, he would have gotten a huge political thud, and they knew it. They knew that he was risking everything for this, and so they came through. And that`s why we have peace between Egypt and Israel right now. And that`s why Jimmy Carter`s got the Nobel Peace Prize.
LAMB: Do you have any relationship with him today?
HERTZBERG: Yes. I mean, a warm -- I certainly have nothing but warm feelings. I see him from time to time. I saw him at the Democratic convention.
LAMB: When you see...
HERTZBERG: And I presented, you know, Wolf to him...
LAMB: Your son.
HERTZBERG: ... and he gave Wolf his blessing. yes.
LAMB: When you look back on the experience for four years and being around a president, what are some of the things that you saw that we don`t see?
HERTZBERG: Well, you see the contingency of it all, the degree to which the White House is really like your office -- I mean, it`s like everybody`s office -- where -- with the difference that it`s extremely much more intense because of the limit on -- because you know you`re just there for four, or at most, eight years, so it`s now or never. So you -- there`s that intensity, and the fact that everything`s in the newspaper. You know, imagine if you got up every day and half the newspaper was devoted to what goes on in your office.
But you realize how little -- how there really isn`t anybody in charge, that these are just human beings that -- I believed before I went there that somewhere up there, there was somebody in charge, that, really -- you know, that things were being taken care of. And I don`t think this is just Carter. I think this is true of every White House. You learn that it`s just people up there, and they`re not that different from the people you know. And they`re not gods and they don`t know everything. And they get tired and they get irritable, and they want to just put it out of their minds sometimes when it gets too stressful.
And you learn that while you`re in the White House. Then when you leave, you forget it again. I`m sort of back to thinking there`s somebody -- even in the Bush White House, I sort of think -- because otherwise, I`ll go out of my mind. You know, I think there`s got to be -- there`s somebody up there taking care of things. And the glimpse you get -- the biggest glimpse you get working in the White House is that there`s nobody -- not that there`s nobody home, but that it`s just fallible human beings up there.
LAMB: Let me go back, to wrap around your life, back to the beginning. Are your parents alive?
LAMB: How long ago did they die?
HERTZBERG: They died in 1984. My dad died in 1988. My mother died -- they seem to -- we seem to die during election year.
LAMB: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
HERTZBERG: I have a younger sister, two years younger.
LAMB: What does she do?
HERTZBERG: She runs day care programs in Rockland County, New York. She runs a whole bunch of day care programs.
LAMB: What kind of work did your parents do?
HERTZBERG: My dad was a itinerant journalist/agitator. I`m sort of in the family business, in a way. My mom was a school teacher, and then she became a professor of history and education at Columbia.
LAMB: Now, you lived around the world, in some sense. I mean, you went to schools all over the place. Where were your early schools?
HERTZBERG: No, I -- we -- I basically grew up in Rockland County, New York, 25 miles or so north of New York City, from age 6 to when I went off to college.
LAMB: I meant -- back to Millbrook (ph) School...
HERTZBERG: Yes, and I went to a prep school for one year, a boarding school in Millbrook, New York.
LAMB: And Did you go overseas?
HERTZBERG: And I went to France. I was an American Field Service exchange student my senior year of high school, so I lived in Toulouse, France.
LAMB: What impact did that have on your life?
HERTZBERG: Pretty big because I -- it got me away from the high school hothouse at an important moment. You know, you can get real wrapped up in high school and in the bizarre folkways and systems of rewards and punishments in high school. Thanks to the American Field Service, I was snatched out of that, put on a boat to France, and I spent the first half of my senior year of high school in France, and it just gave me a totally broadened perspective on everything.
LAMB: And who`s the American Field Service?
HERTZBERG: American Field Service was the ambulance corps in World War I, and then the veterans of that ambulance corps got things organized into an exchange program afterwards. And AFS -- American Field Service -- is the main sponsor of high-school-level international, or American/European mostly, but American foreign student exchanges. Most -- a lot of high schools -- probably the majority of big American high schools have an AFS student.
LAMB: Have we missed a school that you went to?
HERTZBERG: Millbrook, Sufferen (ph) High School, Harvard. Lycee Pierre Fermat (ph) in Toulouse, France. So I mean, I went to school -- I went to a public school in France.
LAMB: And you ended up spending three years in the Navy. You couldn`t avoid the draft. How did you get in there?
HERTZBERG: Well, one day I turned -- one -- I was -- I couldn`t avoid the draft, and I wasn`t about to cheat on it. I was too straight-arrow to get a shrink to say, You`re crazy, or, you know, to get out of it that way.
LAMB: Did you know people who did that?
HERTZBERG: Sure. Yes. And I don`t have anything against them, as long as they don`t prance around saying, I`m a big patriot, you know? They -- I was -- I joined on impulse, really. I knew that -- after -- my choice was going to come down to resistance and going to jail or going into the armed services. And I decided I didn`t have -- I didn`t think I could stand the jail for however many years it was going to be, and I didn`t really want to, as Bill Clinton would say, destroy my viability within the system. You know, I wanted to be a part of mainstream American society.
So I chose not to go to prison as a resistor. I went into the Navy. I was living in San Francisco. I heard an ad for the Naval Reserve on the radio. I happened to be driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge. I turned off at Treasure Island and signed up. And after I`d signed up, I applied for officer candidate school and went to OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, the same cohort, the same -- graduated the same month as Bob Kerrey and a year or two before John Kerry -- a year, I guess, before John Kerry, and became an officer in the Navy.
LAMB: Where`d you spend your three years?
HERTZBERG: It wasn`t three years. I was only in for two years. I ended up only being in for two years. I asked to be sent to Vietnam, believe it or not, although not anything risky. I mean, I asked for shore duty in Saigon. I was hoping to be part of, you know, the 5:00 o`clock follies, the briefing for the press there. Instead, they sent me to New York City, 90 Church Street, New York City. And I had the experience of a year-and-a-half in the Navy there, living in an apartment in Greenwich Village, wearing my uniform, basically, once a week and writing speeches for an admiral who did not have a great deal to do and who, fortunately for me, didn`t like to give speeches.
And I became more and more against the Vietnam war, finally reached the point where I would have preferred jail to continuing being complicit in the Vietnam war. I applied for discharge from the Navy as a conscientious objector. To make a very long story short, I was turned down, ordered to Vietnam. This time, my wish was belated granted, but by then, I was ready to defy it and go to prison.
I was advised by somebody in the office where I worked that if I had any dental problems, I should get them fixed before I went to the naval prison in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I went and had my teeth fixed. It turned out that it didn`t -- I got a wisdom tooth pulled, and it kept bleeding. Turned out I had a slight blood disorder, and bam, I was out, 4-F. Turned out I was 4-F, you know, physically unqualified, from the beginning.
LAMB: Did you ever think that they might have just used that as an excuse to get you out so they didn`t have to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
HERTZBERG: No, because I`ve actually seen -- I`ve actually seen the law, I mean, where there -- where the -- where what I`ve got is one of the disqualifying -- it`s a blood factor deficiency, and it`s one of the things that`s an automatic no-no.
LAMB: While we`re on this point, you wrote some time ago -- I don`t know that I`ve ever seen this before -- that Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, actually protested the war by getting out of the foreign service.
HERTZBERG: Yes. He was one of the few.
LAMB: How has he been able to stay so prominent, then, in foreign affairs?
HERTZBERG: Well, he didn`t -- he -- the war in Vietnam was a terrible foreign policy error. He did not do anything illegal. He simply resigned. He resigned out of principle from the foreign service and -- but remained a powerful spokesman, an expert in foreign policy. But he`s somebody who behaved in a truly honorable fashion.
LAMB: One last question for you. Your parents see you today writing prominent pieces up front in "The New Yorker." Would that be it? Would they say that`s the greatest possible place you could be, as far as they`re concerned?
HERTZBERG: Not really, no. They would think "The New Yorker" is a little bit too slick, a little bit too commercial. But they -- and they were still alive when I started writing for "The New Yorker." They were pleased. I know they were pleased, you know? And they -- I think they would approve of what I`ve actually written.
LAMB: Here`s the cover of the book, and the title of this book, as our guest said he ripped off from others, but you couldn`t copyright titles like this, "Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004." Hendrick Hertzberg. Thank you very much.
HERTZBERG: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.