BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Chris Wallace, why did you name your book "Character"?
CHRIS WALLACE, AUTHOR, "CHARACTER: PROFILES IN PRESIDENTIAL COURAGE": Because that`s what it is about. And I think there`s a point to the book. And the point to the book is that a lot of what we understand about the presidency I think is wrong. I think a lot of people think the presidency is an exercise in intellect or an exercise in ideology. And I covered Ronald Reagan for six years. And if you want to discuss it some more, I can tell you what I learned in those six years of covering the presidency because it was a lot different than what I thought it was going to be.
But it became clear to me that, to a large degree, it is a test of the president`s will and purpose, to believe in a few big things, to stand steady against the swirl of political controversy, opinion -- nowadays -- that`s certainly not true for the -- all the presidents in this book -- polls, advice from counselors, all kinds of things that would drive a president away from his core convictions to not necessarily do what he believed in or what he really believed to be best for the country.
This is a book about character, about 16 presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush, who all, in a moment of national crisis, did what they in their hearts believed was the right thing for the country, who showed character -- not necessarily what turned out to be right -- I think there`s some of the decisions they made that I don`t know I agree with and you can certainly argue about them, but that they were not the popular thing. They were the brave thing. And that`s what this is, "Character: Profiles in Presidential Courage."
LAMB: How long ago did you get the idea?
WALLACE: About a year-and-a-half ago. And it was a kind of collaborative effort. My -- a fellow, an agent, Bill Adler (ph), came up -- called me up and said, Have you ever thought of writing a book? And I said, yes, but I never have had an idea. And he kind of had some ideas, and we sort of put the idea together and then we went to -- got a publisher, Rugged Land, a small publishing house with a relationship with Random House, and also, talked to Richard Neustadt, the great presidential historian.
And it`s a funny quick story there. I was a kid going to a private school in New York back in the 1950s. And there was a kid in my class named Rick Neustadt. And it turned out -- I`ll never forget. He told me one day that his dad was a professor at Columbia University and that they`d had champagne for dinner the previous Friday night. And that seemed quite glamorous to me. And I said, Why?" And he said, Well, he just finished a book called "Presidential Power," which, of course, became a very famous textbook, kind of the definitive book about the power of the presidency.
So I got in touch with Professor Neustadt, retired -- and it actually was shortly before his death -- and talked over the idea with him. And I guess the basic idea was, by this point in a campaign, as we get closer to election day, people are fed up with the candidates. They`re fed up with the negative attacks. Oftentimes -- I can remember as a kid, sitting around with my parents, during the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, and then saying, I can`t believe this is the choice we`ve got. These are the two guys running for president. And quite frankly, that`s been true every single four years. I`m sure you`ve experienced that, too. People say, I can believe these are the two best people America has to offer.
And so I thought, Let`s write a feel-good book about American democracy. Let`s write about presidents who don`t do the poll-driven thing, who don`t do the popular thing, who, you know, don`t do what sometimes seems a little craven but who stand up and do what is in their core conviction, what they believe is right for America.
LAMB: Just a quick thing. Rick Neustadt met an untimely death, the son.
LAMB: ... Carter administration and all -- what happened?
WALLACE: He was in a -- I mean, we had really lost touch with each other, but I certainly was aware of this incident. He was in a whitewater rafting trip, and his raft -- you know, I`ve been fortunate enough to do it and fortunate enough to walk away from it. But his raft flipped over, and he got caught underneath it and he drowned.
LAMB: Do you remember how many years ago that was?
WALLACE: I would think at least 10.
LAMB: So 16 presidents. That leaves out -- there are 42 men that have been president. It leaves out a bunch. No Eisenhower, no John Adams, no John Quincy Adams, no James Polk. How did you pick the 16?
WALLACE: Well, it -- you know, it`s somewhat arbitrary, and you certainly could make cases for some of them. I suppose, in the case of John Adams, my feeling was he`d been pretty well covered recently. And one of the things that intrigued me about the book was to find people who don`t get a lot of publicity, who aren`t well known. I mean, George Washington is in here. Abraham Lincoln`s in here.
But one of my favorites is Grover Cleveland. I love the Grover Cleveland story. Can I talk about it just briefly?
WALLACE: Grover Cleveland -- 1894 -- he was a tremendous friend of labor. He had been a reform mayor in New York state, in Buffalo. Then he had become the governor of New York. Then he`d been elected president. He was the president who helped create the federal arbitration system. He was also the president who legalized labor unions.
And on his watch in 1894, there had been this big international exposition in Chicago. And it was right around the time when there was a strike, a railroad workers strike that started in Pullman, Chicago. Pullman -- George Pullman (ph) was the fellow who developed and built the Pullman railroad cars, which was the very great luxury railroad cars that you could sleep in. I was fortunate enough as a kid, I remember, to sleep in a Pullman on the 20th Century Limited going between Chicago and New York. And you know, they were the height of luxury.
And he created a town outside -- just outside Chicago, which he called, modestly enough, Pullman. And it created a kind of -- a classic company town, where people had to -- you know, it was quite nice, quite nice housing. But people had to live in the housing. People had to shop at the Pullman stores. And there was a -- considerable economic downturn in the late 1890s, and he started cutting back the salaries of the Pullman workers, but he didn`t cut back the rent or the cost of food that all these people -- so as a result, when they deducted all of that before they`d give people the paycheck, these guys sometimes ended up owing money, or if they got any money, it was just, you know, pennies.
And so they decided they were going to strike. And it happened in the context of lots of people coming to Chicago for the international exposition, and it became riots and tremendous civil disorder. And they counted, the labor people, on their friend in the White House staying out, or if anything, caving in to their demands, Grover Cleveland. Cleveland, who, as I say, was a huge friend of labor, felt that the nation`s security was in jeopardy. And he really went against the Constitution because at the time, there was -- you -- presidents were not allowed to send troops into a state unless the governor asked for the troops, and Governor Altgeld (ph) of Illinois didn`t want them because he was a -- he favored labor.
And so Cleveland went against the law, went against Altgeld, sent in federal troops, restored order. Of course, the labor -- you know, the union types, Debs, all the organizers felt that he had betrayed his back ground, his history, certainly. the popular will at the time. And his feeling was, I`m going to protect and save the security, the civil order of the country. And you know, it was a profile in presidential courage.
LAMB: You did point out that Grover Cleveland had been a sheriff, a mayor, a governor, and now a president. You think the fact that he`d been a sheriff had anything to do with it?
WALLACE: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I think there was -- there was a kind of conflict between the lawyer and the labor advocate, on the one hand, and the sheriff who believed in public order. And let me just, if I can, read the first paragraph because I`m -- one of the things we try to do -- I try to do in the book is that I wanted to not write about it as a historian. I wanted to write about it as a journalist, take you, to the degree that it`s possible to take you, into the moment and what these politicians were -- presidents were feeling and thinking and what the various currents of opinion were at the time that were swirling around them, and -- but to keep it very immediate.
And so I begin the chapter on him, called "Constitution be damned." "Grover Cleveland once killed a man. Two, actually. Of course, they`d already been sentenced to death. As sheriff of Erie County, New York, to avoid wasting government money on a hiring a hangman, he simply hanged the men himself."
So I -- you know, I just love that story. And it frankly -- and there are a lot of stories in here that I didn`t know. And I got a lot of help in research from this wonderful team at Rugged Land and, you know, that helped me to tell the stories.
And I learned a lot in writing the book. And one of the things that I hope anybody who reads it is that they will learn -- and things that you sort of -- that you sort of have heard of, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Berlin airlift, Lend-Lease. There are these sort of words that I was aware of in American history, but I must, as no great presidential historian, I didn`t really know what they were, what they meant, what were the circumstances that had led to them. And as I, you know, read the research and started writing about these presidents, you know, learned about the great drama`s involved in all of it.
LAMB: What about Rugged Land? First time we`ve ever done a book from that publisher. Any background on them, who they are?
WALLACE: Well, there`s a fellow named Sean Coyne (ph), who`s the publisher, and another fellow, his partner, who is the editor, a wonderful named Web Stone (ph). And they started this. It`s a small house on the lower west side of New York. As I say, they got a relationship with Random House. And they`re very good. And it was -- it was a very interesting process. As a first-time author. I didn`t -- you know, I`d always read about the role of an editor. Boy, a good editor -- I`m sure a lot of authors have told you that -- can make all the difference in the world. And this fellow, Webster Stone, is just a terrific, very inventive, very creative but also very solid, serious man. And he helped me in just countless ways in putting this book together.
LAMB: You were doing this book, though, in and around your move to Fox News. Did you finish it before you got there?
WALLACE: No, no. I was writing it -- in fact, the heavy writing was done since I`ve come to Fox News, some at ABC, but primarily at Fox. And people say to me, When did you have time to do it? Given the fact that I do "Fox News Sunday," I have Sunday afternoons off, all day Monday, all day Tuesday. And it actually works because all the kids are out of the house. My wife is off doing her life. So I really had a lot of time to myself, two-and-a-half days a week. and did the heavy work then.
LAMB: The other thing you did after each of the 16 chapters is include some primary source material. Where did you get that idea? And what kind of primary source material were you looking to put in the book?
WALLACE: Well, something that, again, would take you back to the moment and how presidents -- you know, with Ronald Reagan, we talk about how he decided to build up weapons, against tremendous opposition, so that he could try to pressure the Soviets into ending the arms race. And we take the specific speech in which he talks about -- proposed for the first time SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative. And with George W. Bush in Iraq, we take a very powerful speech he made at the military academy at West Point. Some of the -- the Emancipation Proclamation is the actual proclamation.
But you know, some of them are -- are documents, some of them are presidential speeches. And it`s just anything that can take you back to the moment. I talked about how we tried to make this as historic -- as journalistic as possible, to take you as much into the moment as we possibly could. And the source material is, you know, how they were trying to -- these various presidents, to make their case, how they were trying to persuade the public, which in almost every one of these cases was going against them, how they tried to persuade them, you know, this is the right thing to do.
LAMB: Andrew Johnson. How did he get in here?
WALLACE: Well, I have to say this. There`s a certain amount of perverseness to this book. I -- you know, I wanted -- as I say, there are the greatest hits in there. There`s FDR and there`s Washington and Lincoln and Reagan. But there are certain presidents that I was kind of intrigued by who go against the popular -- Richard Nixon is in here, and you wouldn`t think necessarily a book about character and Richard Nixon would be a good fit.
Andrew Johnson -- Andrew Johnson becomes the vice president -- and again, you know, I think most Americans -- now, you`re a great presidential historian, so you probably knew all about Andrew Johnson. But you know, most people -- Andrew Johnson, impeachment. That`s about it. You know, the vice president when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Andrew Johnson was one of the very few -- I think he was the only -- correct me if I`m wrong -- Southern senator who stayed in the Senate during the Civil War -- was chosen, I think, to help as a kind of -- as a vice president for his bravery and the idea that he could help the healing, help bind the wounds at the end of the Civil War. Didn`t want to come to the inauguration, was scared of it. Finally was convinced by Lincoln, direct order, Get your tail up here to Washington, on his way to the Capitol, stopped off and got loaded and proceed to deliver at the inaugural ceremony a drunken rant.
Of course, very shortly thereafter, Lincoln is tragically assassinated, and a lot of people had questions, real serious doubts as to whether Johnson, as a Southerner, had been involved because Booth had come to his boarding house -- wasn`t it the day before or the day of -- trying to remember -- and had left a message, you know, inquiring to see if Mr. Johnson is at the boarding house. And this became knowledge after the assassination.
LAMB: Let me read that so everybody knows what you`re talking about. The note from John Wilkes Booth, "Don`t wish to disturb you. Are you at home?"
WALLACE: Right. And of course, we now believe that it was, in fact, because the effort was, Let`s kill the president and the vice president and throw the union into real disorder. But at the time, some people thought that there was a conspiracy going on, and this was Wilkes Booth looking to work out with Johnson the assassination of Lincoln, and that they were, as I say, in cahoots together, in a conspiracy.
In any case, the -- official -- the Office of Tenure Act is passed because they become so upset, the Senate does, with Johnson, that would prevent him from firing any member of the cabinet without congressional approval -- completely against the Constitution. And he decides to go ahead and fire Stanton. And you know, it`s just -- it is a remarkable profile in courage, that he was sitting there, fighting for the Constitution, fighting for presidential prerogative, and came within a vote of being removed from office, and prior to Bill Clinton, the only president to be impeached.
As I say, these aren`t all stories about guys that did the wise thing or the thing that, looking back with -- you know, from the vantage point of 100 or 200 years later was the thing that was the best for the presidency -- best for the country. But it was at that moment he stood up, risked his political future to do what he believed was right for the country, and certainly right for the presidency.
LAMB: And then you have this note in here that Mary Todd Lincoln wrote to a friend. And it combines the drinking of Andrew Johnson and also the card that we read from John Wilkes Booth. I`ll read it. "That miserable inebriate, Johnson, had cognizance of my husband`s death. Why was the card of Booth`s found in his box? Some acquaintance certainly existed. I have been deeply impressed with the harrowing thought that he had an understanding with the conspirators, and they knew their man. As sure as you and I live, Johnson had some hand in all of this."
WALLACE: That`s right.
LAMB: When -- do you remember when that was made public, that note?
WALLACE: I don`t. I don`t.
LAMB: It doesn`t say. But I wonder if that...
WALLACE: No. I think it was -- I think it was...
LAMB: At the time?
WALLACE: Yes, I think so. I mean, if not, it certainly was the case that this thought was out there, that he had been in a conspiracy, because the note from Wilkes Booth was certainly made public at the time. It was part of the investigation. And there was this feeling that this Southerner had, you know, come in -- been taken in by Lincoln to help bind the wounds of the Civil War and had then betrayed Lincoln and helped lead to his assassination and conspired.
LAMB: You say -- you have quotes in here from President Lincoln at the time, around the inauguration, whether he was drunk, because I guess he -- you say he did -- put on quite a show, having too much to drink.
WALLACE: Oh, absolutely.
LAMB: "He made a bad slip the other day, but you need not be scared. And he ain`t no drunk. Abraham Lincoln."
WALLACE: No. It`s fascinating. And he -- you know, first of all, the whole idea that he was the vice president -- I mean, it`s a wonder -- and again, as I say, I try to take you back into the moment, what life was like. And here is the man being chosen as vice president, doesn`t want to come up to Washington for the inauguration. He`s kind of scared of what he`s gotten himself into. He`s ordered by Washington. He goes and stays at a rooming house. He has to make his own way to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony, and stops off along the way and gets loaded. I mean, you -- I mean, in a funny way, you sort of wish it happened today, that we -- that people lived in a much less scripted, much more normal way. It`d probably be good for all of us. But you know, that was the way it was done in 1865.
LAMB: I want to drop back to the chapter before that because it`s Andrew Jackson. And first of all, how often did you look for the little story at the beginning that -- I mean, frankly, a lot of them I`d never heard. I mean, some of these...
WALLACE: Well, if you didn`t hear of them, then I`m very impressed. We did. And I can`t say that I was the one who was personally going through the archives and doing it, but that was one of the decisions I made to try to make it as non-historical as possible, to make it as journalistic as possible. And it is -- it`s a device we use in journalism, to find the little nugget, the little anecdote that gives -- reveals something about the guy`s character. It`s -- it`s a device you use in journalism, "lead little," lead with some little wonderful nugget, anecdote, that gives you an insight and draws the reader in.
And we begin, in the case of Andrew Jackson, with a story of him in a duel, defending his wife`s honor, which he had to do a number of times before he went to the presidency.
LAMB: You say -- the fellow`s name is Charles Dickinson (ph), who was 27 years old, you say, had already killed 26 people in duels. "Dickinson spent the ride to Kentucky shooting at cards, apples and any other target he could find. Back in Nashville, he`d been eager to wager that he would kill his opponent on the first shot." Who`s his opponent?
WALLACE: Andrew Jackson.
LAMB: And what was -- what was the reason for the duel?
WALLACE: The duel was because of the fact that he insulted Jackson`s wife, who had left her husband and married Andrew Jackson. And so -- and so Jackson spent a good deal of his time before he became president -- I forget the exact number, but I think it was 20-something duels defending his wife`s honor. And he was...
LAMB: He actually had 103 duels...
WALLACE: Oh, 103?
LAMB: ... before he was -- you say here, before becoming president.
LAMB: I`m not sure that was all about his wife.
WALLACE: I don`t think it was all about -- but he was the kind of guy that you insulted, and he`d say, All right, let`s go fight about it. And in fact, there was some belief -- I don`t know if it was ever quite proven -- that it was Jackson`s opponents who put Dickinson up to it, that Dickinson really didn`t care about Jackson`s wife, but that Dickinson was a famed and enormously -- well, obviously, he couldn`t be unsuccessful duelist because he`d be dead -- and that they kind of put him up to it. He insulted Jackson. Jackson went for it, and they went off to have this duel.
LAMB: And Dickinson was dead.
WALLACE: He shot -- well, in fact, Jackson -- I mean, rather, Dickinson got the first shot off and hit him in his coat and thought that he was dead. But Jackson stood there, staggered, stood, turned and shot Dickinson dead. And then it turned out that, in fact, he had hit Jackson, and Jackson`s boot was filling with blood.
And there was -- there was a story that Jackson had purposely lowered the top left brass button a couple of inches because, apparently, that was where duelists aimed because the brass button lined up with the heart, and if you hit somebody in the brass button, you`d hit him in his heart. And he did hit the brass button, but it was a little lower, so it only gave him a chest wound instead of a fatal wound.
LAMB: You say that Andrew Jackson kept 37 pistols in duel-ready condition. Did you come across any other stories about duels back in those days? I mean, it must have -- was it all -- going on all the time in politics?
WALLACE: Well, of course, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, sure. So I mean, it was a way that people settled things, and it was a way -- you know, talk about negative politics. It was a way to get rid of your opponent. Let`s get him into a fight. In this case, with Dickinson, who was all but a -- kind of a hired gunman who had been brought in by Jackson`s political opponents to -- Let`s get rid of Andy by getting him to defend his -- the honor of his wife.
LAMB: You`ve mentioned several times that you`re a journalist and not a historian. Talk some more about what the difference would be if a historian were sitting here talking about this, versus a journalist.
WALLACE: Well, I don`t know that I -- that it -- maybe it`s something more in my own mind than it is in reality because some of the really good historian -- histories I`ve written -- I`ve read, rather, like "John Adams" by McCullough, which I referred to a moment ago, certainly have something of what I would think of as the journalistic touch to them. You know, that begins, as I remember, with Adams going -- you know, on his horse and solitarily going down the Boston Post Road towards Philadelphia.
You know, and I think anything that puts you in the moment and takes you back in very specific, almost anecdotal form, and relies on details and characters -- you know, I`m sure there are a lot of people out there who`s say, Well, that`s just good history. But to me, it had a little bit of the feel of a good journalistic profile that you might see in the paper or one of the news magazines that takes you back into the moment and creates vivid characters, vivid anecdotes. And that`s what I wanted to do.
I really, in a sense, didn`t want to be looking back from the vantage point of 200 years and saying, Well, now we understand what this fellow was doing, but take you back into the moment and what these guys did, you know, take you back to Andrew Johnson in the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol and the horror of everyone, including Lincoln, as he sits there, three sheets to the wind, and proceeds to denounce, you know, a lot of the people in attendance. I wanted to give it that vivid "You are there" quality.
LAMB: No footnotes, and in the back, only references to books you read. Purposely done that way? And for what reason?
WALLACE: Oh, I guess -- I can`t say that there`s a tremendous amount of thought given to that. I mean, we certainly wanted to credit all the source material in the books. You know, I think, to a certain degree, given the fact that this is not about one president, it`s about 16, I think, you know, the -- I can`t say that if you -- I`m delighted that there`s things you didn`t know. But we obviously, in terms of the researchers and stuff, weren`t going into the stacks and trying to find source material that had never been uncovered. To a certain degree, the point of the book is to look at specific moments in time, moments of national crisis. And a lot of it has been reported by other historians. We wanted to give them full credit.
And to say this is -- we`re making a point. In a sense, all of this is leading to a specific larger theme, which is the idea of presidents standing up against popular will, against advice, again the polls, against their own backgrounds, as in the case of Grover Cleveland, and doing the right thing.
LAMB: The chapter right after Andrew Johnson is Lyndon Johnson. And I just want to read what you wrote. "Serving as Kennedy`s second-in-command tortured the competitive Johnson. He soaked his misery in Cutty Sark. Often too depressed to get out of bed, aides had to lift him up and move his arms about to get him circulating." Was this while he`s president?
WALLACE: No, no. This is when he was vice president. This is...
LAMB: Well, I mean -- but it was while he was a politician...
WALLACE: Yes, absolutely.
LAMB: ... not after he`d retired.
WALLACE: No, no, no, no. No. This was...
LAMB: Aides had to lift him up and move his arms about to get him circulated? Where did -- do you have any idea where that came from?
WALLACE: You know, I`m trying to -- I mean, you`re asking me about something I wrote a year ago. I mean, it`s in the source material. I can`t -- I don`t know that I can find -- I could say specifically which one of those books it`s from.
LAMB: But he was so depressed when he was No. 2...
LAMB: ... that this was going on.
WALLACE: Yes. Absolutely.
LAMB: There was a lot in here that compares to today, that I -- you run the -- the news conference at the end, the presidential news conference on Vietnam. And I marked it because I wanted to read it, a little bit of it, and ask you if you hear any of the things that we`re hearing today.
"We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there was no one else, nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another, bringing with it perhaps even larger and cruder (ph) conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history."
This is July 28, 1965. What did you learn from -- what else did you learn from that news conference? Vietnam.
WALLACE: Well, you know, I think that so many of these people -- and I have to say, this was a revelation to me because I lived through that time and...
LAMB: How old would you have been in `65?
WALLACE: Well, about 18. And I certainly was aware of Vietnam and our deepening involvement. I can`t say that I was aware at the time because Johnson certainly didn`t portray it, it was only later -- and that`s one of the things that`s wonderful. I try and take you back in time. But the one thing we`ve had that no journalist could have had is we have the records of what -- of what the presidents were, in fact, thinking at that time because he wrote his memoirs and other people have written historical accounts about it -- is the degree to which he felt torn by not wanting to be the first president to lose a war, a war that he felt he had inherited, but on the other hand, in terms of what his passion was, was truly and deeply committed to the Great Society, to the war on poverty, and quite frankly, misled the American people, lied about it, because he wanted not to fully state the involvement of the United States in -- growing involvement in Vietnam and the bombing of North Vietnam because he wanted to continue.
He knew that if it became widely and fully known how much he was going to have to spend on this war, that they would cut back on his beloved social programs, and he wanted to get them entrenched and on the way before people became fully aware of the war.
LAMB: I mean, a lot of what you write about is Rolling Thunder, the bombing of the North. This is again `65, from his news conference. What I`m getting at here is a little bit of what we`re hearing today about Iraq.
"We just cannot now dishonor our word or abandon our commitment or leave those who believed in us and trusted us to the terror and repression and murder that would follow."
This is talking about leaving Vietnam back then. Did all that happen when we left?
WALLACE: No -- well, obviously, they`re one of our great business partners.
LAMB: But I...
LAMB: I mean, we hear this -- I mean, there`s a theme through all this. You hear politicians talking about this. And I wonder if we ever learn anything from history.
WALLACE: Well, you know, that gets to be politically -- quite politically heavy, Mr. Lamb, because, you know, some people will say, you know, Vietnam and Iraq are not very good comparisons.
LAMB: Well, I mean, we`ve heard that for months.
LAMB: And I guess I`m asking you whether you think they are a comparison at all, and is this language useful at all now in understanding what`s going on?
WALLACE: Well, you know, Iraq`s -- it`s -- one of the -- it is a hard question to answer because of the fact that -- that we know about Vietnam. And we know that so much of what we feared about Vietnam turned out not to be true, that the domino theory didn`t turn out to be true. You know, that it was only what -- seven years after that `65 news conference that the red Chinese, who were being played up as such devils in Lyndon Johnson`s world, Nixon, who is also in the book, goes to China and repairs almost 30 years of separation with his handshake with Chou En-Lai.
So, obviously, there`s a lot of stuff that were our greatest fears in Vietnam that didn`t turn out to be true.
We don`t have the advantage of that kind of long view of history now about Iraq, what`s going to happen in Iraq, what -- what would happen if we -- if we failed in Iraq.
I mean, I can give you my political opinions if you want to hear about them, but I don`t know how much they are worth.
I -- you know, I -- it`s a funny thing about history, because on the one hand a lot of people said about Reagan that, you know -- that a lot of what he said about -- about the Soviet Union and his buildup of arms during -- during the `80s was wrong and that, you know, that he was -- the idea of building up to tear down weapons, the arms buildup to try to force reductions was equally crazy or was equally shortsighted. Turned out -- that turned out to be pretty smart. And I know people disagree as to whether or not Reagan helped to bring the end of the Cold War or not. As someone who covered it, I think he had a heck of a lot to do with bringing the end of the Cold War. And in that case, presidential prescriptions of disaster, I think, were, if this is the cure that`s going to prevent those, turned out to be true.
LAMB: Here`s some more from that news conference. "In this pursuit we welcome and we ask for the concern and assistance of any nation and all nations. If the United Nations and its officials or any one of its 114 members can be -- can by deed or word, private initiative or public opinion, bring us nearer an honorable peace, then they will have the support and gratitude of the United States."
By the way, it`s interesting, it is 114 members then, it`s like 192 now. Just since 1965.
WALLACE: Right. Right. Well, of course, you`ve got -- instead of the Soviet Union, you have got how many nations now? And -- but then and there are also -- there are a lot in Africa and other parts of the world that developed.
It`s an interesting question, and that, you see, throughout this -- throughout this book is the whole relationship between this country and other countries and the number of times that presidents relied on international good will. Teddy Roosevelt trying to stop the Russia-Japanese war over Manchuria in -- you know, in the early 1905. And then on the other hand, you`ve got other cases where presidents went completely against the will of the international community.
Again, one of my favorite stories, which I just love, and I learned so much in the preparing of this is Harry Truman and the Berlin airlift. In 1948, when the Soviets decided that they were going to cut off access of the Western allies to -- to Berlin, and all of the president`s top diplomats, all of his top generals said, you know, you`re crazy. There is no way we are going to be able to support -- and -- and replenish Berlin. It had 2.5 million people there -- by air, it`s impossible. It has never been done. It can`t be done.
And Truman, and actually it`s a part of the book that I -- that I wanted to mention today, they -- they have a meeting with all of the top advisers, and Truman says -- they all tell him, that it, you know, absolutely can`t happen. And Truman is in the Oval Office and is talking to one of his top diplomats, and he says: "The president cut him off with a roar. There is no discussion on that point. We stay in Berlin, period.
And then the president`s advisers knew better than to argue that this was a difficult or unpopular course. In response to such statements, Truman would point to a framed motto of Mark Twain`s written in the author`s hand, that he had hung in the Oval Office. `Always do right!` it read. `This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.`"
And, if, you know -- if there is a message in this book, it`s that. It is always do right. You know, what`s right, you know, we can talk about Vietnam. You can talk about Iraq and say, you know, that it`s -- it`s easier to tell it from the vantage point of a quarter century or a century later. But -- but this book is all about presidents who in that moment in history did what they thought was the right thing.
LAMB: You also bring up a famous old quote in the Harry Truman book, "I like old Joe, he`s a decent fellow." And then you go on to describe what Clark Clifford said to him -- told him not to repeat that. What was the famous line? And what was he thinking? You know, I mean ...
WALLACE: He liked him.
LAMB: Why -- why did he ...
WALLACE: He -- he met him and thought he was charming ...
LAMB: Joe Stalin.
WALLACE: Yes. He thought Joe Stalin was charming. They -- played the piano for him. And Stalin had reciprocated. He kind of bought the line. And as you say, they said to him, don`t do that again.
And I think he admitted that he messed up and realized that he hadn`t said the right thing and -- and knocked it off, and -- and stood up, and -- I mean the story -- you know, I don`t know how many people really know -- I mean, I was certainly aware of the Berlin airlift, but the story of how they flew what was called Operation Vittles, and they flew these -- these war planes over, you know, from West Germany to East Germany, thousands of tons of food, of various staples, of coal, through the winter, fighting through the terrible -- anybody who`s ever been in central Germany in the winter knows how terrible the weather can be, and these fogs, planes crashed, and they kept it going. Nobody believed that it was possible.
And they kept it going until finally in May of 1949, old Joe Stalin caved and gave in and allowed them back to have access to Berlin. And, you know, this was at a time when every one of his top foreign policy advisers and top generals in Washington said, can`t be done. Let`s pull out of Berlin.
LAMB: Describe, though, again why this -- I mean, for somebody that never thought about Berlin sat where at that time?
WALLACE: Well, I mean here`s -- I`ll do it in a bad way. Here`s Germany, and it`s divided in half, roughly, and this is West Germany and here`s East Germany, and Berlin, which was divided, is right in the middle of East Germany. So, you know, there`s hundreds of miles between the East German border and Berlin. And they cut off all rail travel. They cut off all travel on the ground. And the only way that the allies and primarily the Americans, but the Brits helped, too, could get from West, you know, supply, from West Germany into -- into Berlin was by plane.
LAMB: And you`re talking -- I mean, you start out by saying that there was what -- 10, 15 minutes before each flight, and at one point I think you got down to where was a minute between each flight?
WALLACE: Yes, I mean I forget the exact thing, but they were just -- I mean, they literally would -- would come in, land, fly back out, land in West Germany, and as quickly as they could reload the plane. And I think at some point -- it was months before they -- they had a certain amount that they had to be able to bring in. I think it was 4,000 tons a day, to be able to feed these 2.5 million people, to have coal to get them through the winter, all the various staples. And it was months before they finally were able to achieve this 4,000-ton mark. And then they began to be able to repeat it.
But it was -- it was, again, this is the point I want to make, it is -- it is not a test of ideology or intellect, it`s a test of will and purpose, and again and again and again in this book, we see these presidents who just have the will and the purpose to stand up against every possible obstacle and do what they believe was the right thing.
LAMB: In the supporting primary source material on Harry Truman, address at Mechanics Hall, Boston, October 27th, 1948, again things that sound a little bit like what we hear today and have sense then. In his speech he says, "the communists don`t want me to be president." How often have we heard that for a president says, so and so -- that ...
WALLACE: The enemy?
WALLACE: The enemy of America doesn`t want me. You know, they want the -- they want the opponent.
LAMB: And then he also said, "it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
WALLACE: Well, of course, that`s -- I mean that`s the point -- is -- you know, to go back -- and I`m glad you -- you have given me the opportunity now to go back to the Vietnam thing. I mean, you know, sometimes when you look at what these presidents said trying to rally the troops, and I don`t mean literally the troops, but the country, you know, looks on -- like spin from 35, 40 years later, and sometimes it looks pretty prescient.
LAMB: I`ve got to do one more from Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam thing, because -- "But we insist and we always insist that the people of South Vietnam shall have the right of choice, the right to shape their own destiny in free elections in the south, or throughout all Vietnam under international supervision, and they shall not have any government imposed upon them by force or terror so long as we can prevent it."
It didn`t work out that way.
WALLACE: It didn`t work out that way. No, that`s right. You know, it did not work out that way. And one of the things that we talk about in the Lyndon Johnson chapter is the dream he had, where he dreamt that he was in a field and he was tied down and couldn`t get out. I mean, he had this -- I mean, there`s a tragedy, a sort of a grand tragedy to the Lyndon Johnson chapter, because he was this man who had lived -- he had been a teacher in the 1940s of a lot of Hispanic kids, and -- and had been this wonderful teacher, Mr. Johnson, who had -- had really changed their lives and given them education and taught them about health and all these things, and had given them a tremendous social conscience.
So when he went into the White House, that was what above all he wanted to do, was the Great Society. And then he was caught by the Vietnam War, and either was unwilling or unable to get out of it.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier about covering the White House six years under Ronald Reagan. Was that the entire time you have covered the White House ...
LAMB: ... those six years?
WALLACE: Yes. From `82 through the end of his term.
LAMB: And he also said it looks different inside than looking at it outside. People who have never been there. What -- what did you learn?
WALLACE: Well, it`s interesting, because I think -- I mean, you know, everybody brings to the presidency their own life experience, and I -- as someone who was -- I`m trying to think, 13 years old in 1960, the whole Kennedy experience was -- was tremendously influential in my kind of development of my political consciousness. And, in fact, in the introduction I talk about the Kennedy having the Nobel laureates from the Western Hemisphere to the White House and saying this is the greatest assemblage of intellect or brainpower, forget the exact word, except for the time when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
And -- and I think that was the sense that -- that a lot of people of my age had about the White House, you know, the best and the brightest, that it was a place, it was an office that demanded a kind of scintillating intellect. You know, some -- a remarkable brainpower, and we heard these stories of Kennedy calling down three or four levels into the bureaucracy and, you know, talking to the assistant secretary for something.
And -- and so, when I went to the White House, I kind of brought to it this, if not prejudice, this kind of preconceived notion that it would demand a mastery of policy and a -- you know, immense IQ. And I tell the story in the introduction that I was in the Oval Office one time in -- well, I think it was pretty early on, so it was about `83, and Reagan had just come up with a new arms control proposal to the Soviets, and quite complicated. And they had this whole thing to do with first strikes, and, you know, that it would not be a first strike effort, so it wouldn`t increase the instability and make more of a hair trigger on the arms race. And -- but it was, you know, one of these complicated things that certainly had to be explained to me several times.
So as he was announcing it in the Oval Office, I was the only TV pool reporter, and for some reason, which I don`t understand, because it`s not done often, but I remember that we have live capability, so as he was talking and presenting his proposal, there were some of us pool reporters standing just off to the side of his desk in the Oval Office. And when he finished, he answered a few questions.
And I asked him if he could explain his arms control plan. And -- and as I admit in the book, I can`t think at the time of any other reason that I asked the question other than to stump him, because I thought, you know, he wouldn`t be able to explain the details of this plan. And that I remember vividly some of his top advisers standing just out of camera range gasping, because they didn`t think he was going to be able to explain it.
And in fact, he did explain it, in perfect detail and set me back in my place where I deserved to be.
And -- but the lesson I learned not from that but from my time in the White House was that it didn`t matter. You know, that if he hadn`t known the details, it wouldn`t have made any difference. That what made Ronald Reagan, I think, an extraordinary president and -- and why I included him in this book, is that he knew what he believed and he had this -- this deep belief -- and I can talk about this from firsthand knowledge -- that the Soviets had liked -- in a fact, he had he a favorite cartoon he used to talk about, they liked the Cold War. When there was a cartoon he used to talk about where there -- where there were two Soviet generals, and I forget how they portrayed the Cold War, and one of them turns to the other and says, you know, I like the arms race a lot better when we were the only ones running in it, competing in it.
And his belief was that -- that if he could build up the American military arsenal, and that eventually it led to the Strategic Defense Initiative that, given the economic problems in the Soviet Union, that at some point they would have to cry uncle, and that that would be the way. I mean, it was his line of peace through strength, that he could actually bring arms reductions by facing down the Soviets, by making them not be the only competitor in the race.
LAMB: Did you ever cover another president in any way? Ever interview another president?
WALLACE: Well, I have interviewed -- I`ve interviewed Clinton. I have interviewed George Herbert Walker Bush. But not -- certainly never covered them, no.
LAMB: You -- you start off the story on Richard Nixon by telling a story about a man named Petrov.
WALLACE: No, I did -- Petrov is the story about Reagan.
LAMB: My apologies, about -- it didn`t matter. The story about Petrov I want you to tell ...
LAMB: ... where it came from ...
LAMB: ... and why -- why did you use that?
WALLACE: Well, because it gave a sense ...
LAMB: Who was he, first of all?
WALLACE: Petrov was -- Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant colonel, and he was in one of the, in effect, air defense command centers in the Soviet Union in, I believe, it was 1983. And suddenly he`s sitting there, and this is at a time when Reagan is talking about the Evil Empire and the focus of evil in the modern world, and I don`t think -- I think it was a little later, but one time he -- he was doing a radio check before his Saturday radio address, and he said "we begin the bombing in five minutes."
I mean, the -- the feeling that he was building up in this country toward the Soviets and the feeling that the Soviets had about the United States was absolutely at a hair trigger. People in both countries were terrified that the other country meant to -- to launch a first strike nuclear attack.
And again, for people of a certain age who don`t remember -- you know, who didn`t live through that time, it`s hard to remember the degree to which the unthinkable was thinkable.
I remember that in the `84 campaign, Reagan had to come out and say that a nuclear war can never be fought and can never be won, because there were a lot of people in the country who believed that Ronald Reagan was -- was preparing, was leading the way towards a nuclear strike.
Anyway, without this background, Stanislav Petrov in the Soviet military, is on an air defense base outside of Moscow, and suddenly looks up and sees what appears to be an American ICBM missile headed over the horizon. And then a few moments later, he sees more missiles headed over the horizon. And he has the authority at that point to launch a nuclear counterstrike. And -- and he realizes what this is going to mean, that he`s going to basically destroy the United States and that the -- and that the Soviet Union would be destroyed. And there is no way to call back the missiles. And there is no Strategic Defense Initiative to knock them down. This is going to be the nuclear holocaust, and he has it in his power to unleash it.
And there is something in him that just says, I don`t believe it. I don`t trust it. Even as the satellite technology shows more and more missiles headed over the horizon, and he goes against everything he has been taught, everything he`s been trained to do, and doesn`t launch the strike, doesn`t turn the key.
LAMB: And would have been that, unlike here in this country where you have to have the ...
WALLACE: ...the chain of command.
LAMB: Yes. They don`t have that over there?
WALLACE: At that time they didn`t. No. He had the right to be able to do that. And didn`t.
LAMB: And he was a lieutenant colonel.
LAMB: And -- and this -- how did we ever learn that story?
WALLACE: Again, I can`t remember the specific thing, but it`s in some of the source material that, you know, that the research team`s developed for me.
LAMB: But then you paint the picture of Lieutenant Colonel Petrov today.
WALLACE: Today. And he`s stuck in a little apartment, completely forgotten.
LAMB: Can`t even afford a telephone.
WALLACE: Telephone, right, exactly.
LAMB: Never was recognized by his own government for doing this.
WALLACE: Right. Right.
LAMB: On page two -- on page 397, you write: "only the decision badly misread the situation on the ground in Iraq -- it became a misstep with profound implications for years to come." Those are your words. Do you think that ...
WALLACE: Let me see. I`m going to have to read what I wrote here.
LAMB: Yes. It`s 397. We`re talking about the original Iraq war, 1991.
WALLACE: Oh, yes, yes.
LAMB: "Only the decision badly misread the situation on the ground in Iraq -- it became a misstep with profound implications for years to come." When I read that, I wondered, does Chris Wallace think we should have kept on going to Baghdad?
WALLACE: Well, it`s an interesting question. What we are talking about, let me explain, because I thought you were talking about something now, and I`m thinking, what the heck?
This is 1991. The troops, the Iraqi troops have been kicked out of Kuwait. They are on their way back on what was called the Highway of Death, became known as the Highway of Death, and American air and ground forces are slaughtering these people.
And Colin Powell and Cheney come to the first President Bush, and they say, you know, this is un-American, it looks like we are slaughtering these people, and we need to call an end to the war. And Bush, believing that the situation is total chaos for the Iraqis and that Saddam Hussein`s forces have been totally routed, calls an end to the war after 100 hours.
And the situation certainly was badly misread, because in fact all of the American forces believed that the Republican Guard had all been caught and were being torn apart on this Highway of Death. As it turned out, the vast majority of them had gotten away. And I think all of the forces in the Pentagon and the White House and probably the State Department believed that Saddam Hussein had been so fatally weakened in 1991 that he could never survive.
As it turned out, in fact, that the essential forces of the Republican Guard and of his command and control structure had survived, and as we saw with the slaughter of the Shiites very shortly thereafter, he was able to maintain his repressive regime.
So, you know, you asked the question, the question you directly asked me, should we have gone into Baghdad? That would have been hard to do. That wasn`t what the coalition had been formed to do. And I don`t -- he said defensively -- say in the book that we should have gone into Baghdad. But I think the situation was badly misread, and clearly it would have been better for the world, I think, had Saddam Hussein been sufficiently weakened so that his regime could have been toppled either, you know, from within if only that.
LAMB: Let me ask you about the war in Iraq. As someone who asks others about this in your job...
WALLACE: This war now?
LAMB: This war now.
LAMB: And it`s entirely up to you, you don`t have to tell me what you think, do you feel strongly about the war, one way or the other?
WALLACE: You mean whether it was a good idea or a bad idea?
WALLACE: I have an opinion. Yeah.
LAMB: What I`m getting at -- I mean, people who watch you ask questions of others think they can see a lot of things that probably they are wrong about all the time, but is it hard to have a strong opinion on something and then to be in the business of asking others questions?
WALLACE: You know, it`s an interesting thing, because the initial answer would be -- you know, and I think the kind of knee-jerk answer from the journalists would be, absolutely not. Brian, you know, we are professionals. We are able to separate our opinions from the job we do. And I can remember -- and it`s funny, I was about to give you that answer, and -- the analogy I always use is that we are a plumber. And if I went to somebody`s house and maybe I have some relationship with Brian Lamb, and I think he`s a dirty so and so, but if I`m called to fix your leak, I`ll fix your leak.
Since I have come to Fox News, I have come to feel that there are a lot of hidden, unexamined assumptions and opinions that do feed their way into reporting, and that it`s -- you know, some people say, well, gee, Fox News, they are right wing and they -- the point I make, and it`s certainly on my broadcast, "Fox News Sunday," is I think that if you can -- if you`re aware -- I do have opinions. And you confront that fact -- I don`t think of broadcasting them, I don`t think it`s particularly useful to say what my feelings and opinions, you know, my opinions are about the Iraq war, but I do have them, and I think maybe I confront them a little bit more openly and humanly, and maybe it helps me a little bit in dealing with trying to be an honest broker in terms of asking tough questions of all sides as we come to the end of the political campaign, because I -- instead of saying, gee, I don`t have biases, I recognize the biases and then try to put them in my back pocket.
LAMB: You also say in the chapter on George W. Bush, "when I first met him at a small luncheon for reporters, the reality was in sharp contrast to the popular image." When did you first meet him and what`s the difference?
WALLACE: Well, the first time I had, for one -- the first time I met him -- I had never met him as a candidate. It`s funny, because I met an awful lot of people in this town, but I never met him as a candidate, and during most of his term when I was working at ABC and not involved in politics, I -- the very first time I met him was one of these White House Christmas parties where you`re just in a receiving line and you shake his hand.
But the first time I had any exposure to him was the day of the State of the Union speech, which was the day after the Iowa caucuses, this year, 2004, and they hold a luncheon at the White House for the anchors of the evening newscasts and for the anchors of the Sunday shows. And so this was my first invitation to it, in what`s called the Family Dining Room. It`s a small dining room off the State Dining Room. And the president and the vice president and a few of his top aides were there, and it basically was his opportunity at lunch to sell what he was going to say in his State of the Union speech.
And I guess, again, the view that you have as an outsider of this president, certainly something that`s been portrayed in the press, is that he does not have a mastery of detail, that -- to some degree I never really believed this, but maybe he`s under the sway of Vice President Cheney, that he might not be in full command of policy, certainly as I say the details of policy.
And what I found at the lunch was this was a guy -- and I don`t think it was an act -- I think this is a guy who is really in charge. He was very conversant in the details of policy, very conversant -- he had just had a delegation of Iraqis in, was talking about the Sunnis and the Shias and various specific guys and various sects, and these fellows from this party. It`s like that wonderful -- I hope you`ve seen it and I hope some of the audience had seen it -- "Saturday Night Live" skit they had about Reagan where he was there and kind of -- you know, and slightly dense. And then -- with the press. And then he goes in, and he`s starting to talk Arabic to one guy and leading the generals around.
And there was that sense of Bush, that there was a command and a professionalism of a person who ran the show that I had never seen before.
LAMB: We are out of time. Our guest has been Chris Wallace. And this is the cover of the book, "Character: Profiles in Presidential Courage." We thank you.
WALLACE: Thank you. I`m honored to be one of your last guests on this show. And honored that you paid such attention to the book. I really feel like I`ve arrived.
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