BRIAN LAMB, HOST:
Terry Eastland, why did you call your new book "Energy in the Executive: The Case for the Strong Presidency"?
Mr. TERRY EASTLAND, AUTHOR, "ENERGY IN THE EXECUTIVE": I called it that because that was a phrase that Alexander Hamilton used, basically in describing what the presidency is all about. Hamilton wrote--200 years ago he said that--that energy in the executive is a leading characteristic of good government, and so I tried to bring this idea of energy into the political discussion this year.
LAMB: George Will calls you, on the back of the book, `a public philosopher, seasoned by public service.' What do you think he meant by that?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, perhaps he's referring to the fact that I did spend some time in the Justice Department. I spent five years, from 1983 to 1988. I have two degrees in philosophy, so I guess George Will is referring to the fact that I have thought some about the public interest, which is true. I think this book is an expression, basically, of my understanding of the presidency and also of government.
LAMB: E.J. Dionne also writes on the back about two points: He says, `He is utterly convincing'--meaning you--`that ethical behavior is central, not peripheral, to strong--a strong presidency.' What's he talking about, ethical behavior?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I think what he's talking about--and which I write about in the book--is the fact that we have to understand our president, in terms of someone who basically has an office that he's been entrusted with. A certain degree of power has been given to the president, and he is responsible for its use to the American people. It is an ethical undertaking, and I think that that, basically, is what I'm referring to, but I think also there's an obligation on the part of people who work for a president--who are appointed by him--also to see to it that they act morally in every case.
LAMB: Are you still a fellow at the Ethics in Public Policy Center?
Mr. EASTLAND: That's right, Brian, I sure am.
LAMB: What is the Ethics in Public Policy Center?
Mr. EASTLAND: The Ethics in Public Policy Center is a think tank here in Washington. We have many of those, but this one originated about 14, 15 years ago. It basically focuses on the relationship between the ethical dimension of--of our existence and public policy. And it does a number of studies regarding public policy and religion; public policy involving the schools, the courts, the legal system.
LAMB: Who supports it?
Mr. EASTLAND: It's supported by a variety of contributors. It is a non-partisan organization. It is--it is a foundation-supported institution, for the most part.
LAMB: How--how big is it?
Mr. EASTLAND: There are about 10 to 12 individuals who work there. It is a small unit, compared to many of the larger ones here in town.
LAMB: And who runs it?
Mr. EASTLAND: George Weigle is the president. George, in fact, is an author of numerous books, and he has just written a new one, coming out this fall, dealing with the revolution in Eastern Europe over the past few years--a quite interesting book.
LAMB: Who is the most ethical president in our history?
Mr. EASTLAND: It--it--it would be very hard to say that--who is the best, but certainly there are several who come to my mind. Certainly George Washington was regarded by his--by his fellow countrymen at the time as--as quite an ethical man. I think as well Abraham Lincoln, in terms of his custody of the office--of actually keeping the Union together--has to be regarded, certainly, as someone who was highly ethical. Teddy Roosevelt, I would regard as someone who tried to make sure that his subordinates were--were ethical. He investigated any charges of malfeasance against his subordinates, and he called the shots as they may--I mean, he didn't turn someone out of office just on the basis of a rumor. In fact, he would defend someone if they had been unfairly accused of something.
It cuts both ways, I think, when you discuss ethics. You need both the firmness to stand behind someone if they've been unfairly accused as well as to take action in case there is a validity to the complaint.
LAMB: You say in your book that Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first of the liberal presidents.
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, he was, in a sense. I mean, the presidency, in my mind, if you start with George Washington and go to the president--to--to the present--certainly it seems that, with Teddy Roosevelt and--and, really, with Woodrow Wilson, we have the introduction of a new kind of presidency that's been called the rhetorical presidency.
Most of us think of presidents in terms of their public speeches, and certainly Reagan--Ronald Reagan did nothing to--to change that perception. But it's with Teddy Roosevelt, really, that we get the idea of a president who will constantly be using that bully pulpit, who will be urging the American people to move on to greater heights, if you will. Woodrow Wilson was the theorist, by the way--the theorist--a former college professor--of the bully pulpit.
But we have seen its use, really, by presidents in the 20th century. By the way, the Founding Fathers really had little use for presidential rhetoric, in fact. They worried that presidents who went out and spoke a lot would be demagogues, that they would be making the worst kind of appeals to the American people.
LAMB: Did the Founding Fathers who became president live it?
Mr. EASTLAND: By and large, they did. If you go back and you look at the kind of speeches that our presidents in the 19th century gave--late 18th and--and 19th century--what you find is, of course, that they gave some ceremonial addresses, but what they did not do--they did not go out, for example, and--and make a tour, asking the American people to rally behind the president against Congress in behalf of some legislative proposal that the president had on the Hill. That is just simply unknown. Of course, we didn't have the technology--the kind of technology that could e--equip a president to go out and deliver that message.
But the one time there was a departure from that, with Andrew Johnson, right after Abraham Lincoln--we all recall that he almost got impeached. Well, one of the articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson dealt with, in fact, the kind of speeches he made. You couldn't imagine someone trying to indict a president on the basis of speeches today. Everyone regards speeches as part of the job--in fact, most of the job, in some people's minds.
LAMB: Your subhead, here, "The Case for the Strong Presidency"--who are the strongest presidents in history?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, clearly Abraham Lincoln; George Washington, I think, would have to be described as quite strong; I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in many respects, was a strong president. I think, though, that when I answer that question, I have to ask myself what aspect of the presidency are we looking at? And the--because i--it seems that sometimes a president might be strong in some areas and weak in another. For example, George Bush, in my view, is strong in an institutional sense: He has defended the office of the presidency, in fact, better than Ronald Reagan did. That was Ronald Reagan's--one of Ronald Reagan's weaknesses as a president, in my view.
George Bush has been stronger in defending the prerogatives of office. The irony is he might leave this to Bill Clinton. He has been weaker, though, than Ronald Reagan in a political sense. I mean, George Bush's most obvious weakness, it seems to me, is that he has not been able to communicate to the American people what his political identity is. And going into this election season, that may be one of the things that--that--that hurts him. But I think that when you look at a strong presidency, you have to ask which instance, what episode, what--what context do we mean that in?
LAMB: Early in your book--it's kind of set up as an answer to or an antithesis of Richard Neustadt's book on the presidency. Who is Richard Neustadt, and did I characterize it right?
Mr. EASTLAND: Right. Richard Neustadt is probably--well, certainly he's one of the most distinguished political scientists who--who have written of the presidency in the past generation. His 1960 book on presidential power remains clearly the most influential book, so far as--as I know, in the study of the presidency. It's widely used, by the way, by journalists and others in this town. And there are many things that you can learn--one can learn from Richard Neustadt's book.
But I think one area in which I--I--I differ--and, in fact, I take him on in my book, is in understanding the office of the presidency. I think that the formal powers of office--the formal powers that we find in the Constitution--are essential to understanding presidential power and the strength of a president. In my view, Richard Neustadt simply gives short shrift to those powers.
But I think that we need to understand the presidency in terms of the Constitution. I have appended it, in fact, to my book, so that one can see exactly what the Constitution says about the president as well as the other branches of government.
LAMB: Actually, I was looking for that while you were speaking, because I wanted to ask you--I don't know how many pages you devoted to this in the book: Was this a hard decision to make, to actually put the Constitution in here?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, no, it was not, because the reason I included the Constitution in there, Brian, again, is to make the point, through the very structure of my book, that it's important that we understand the presidency in terms of what the Constitution says about it, and also in terms of its relationship to the other three branches of government.
Now this is very important. A lot of the people who study the presidency are--are what I would call focused almost exclusively on the presidency, to the neglect of the other branches. My argument for a strong presidency is not an argument for a monarch. It's not an argument for--for a presidency that ignores the other two branches. And it's important to understand those branches.
By the way, the structure of my book--as you know, I begin--there are three parts to the book: the president and Congress; the president and the executive branch; and then the third part is the president and the appointment of judges. Now if you pull out the Constitution, you'll see the Constitution deals in Article 1 with Congress, in Article 2 with the presidency and in Article 3 with the judiciary. So my book, in a way, tries to understand, by the very structure of the book there, the way in which the presidency relates to these other branches.
LAMB: Actually you'd have to--it would--to be fair you'd have to say there are five parts to this book: plus the Constitution--the fourth--and the fifth, which I want to get into, are the notes.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: General question: Why so much devoted to notes?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, one reason for that is that--y--you know, Brian, when--when--when people sometimes spend some time in public life, they somehow think they're obligated to a--a personal memoir. My book is--is not about myself, even though I did serve for five years in the administration. Nonetheless, my book is a critique of the Reagan and Bush years. It's an analysis, largely, of the conservative expe rience in power. I'm a politicalconservative and I think that it was im--it is important to try to come to grips with this experience that conservatives have had in the executive branch.
And I was involved in some of the case studies, some of the episodes that I deal with in my book, yet I didn't think my role in them was--was so large that they warranted my writing an autobiography, so--but I have included, in some--in some places, in the notes, some of my own experiences that might be useful for a reader in thinking about these years.
LAMB: One of the things we'd better deal with early in this discussion is your own personal history, which you deal with in the notes, about how you left the administration. For starters, what was your job in the administration?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I came in in 1983, on the staff of William French Smith. I had been in the newspaper business as an editor. I had been the editor of the Virginian-Pilot, down in Norfolk, and I came here in '83, and I worked for Bill Smith, then the attorney general, for two years. In '85 Ed Meese, the new attorney general, asked me to take over the office of public affairs, and so I ran that office from 1985 to 1988.
LAMB: And how did you leave?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, the way I left was actually, I--I guess, interesting--certainly in terms of the calendar. It was Friday, May 13th, and--1988--and I was called into the attorney general's office--actually, I had wanted to meet with him on some very small matters, and--and at the end of a brief discussion he indicated to me, as--as I told at the time and as I relay now in the book--in the notes, as you mentioned--that I was not defending him aggressively enough. He had been, at that time, enduring an
independent counsel investigation, and we all remember at that time that the independent counsel investigation had gone on for quite a long while.
And his view, at least as I understood his own mind at the time--and I've never known it to be any different--was that I simply was not defending him well enough. And he asked me to leave, and so I left in due course--actually very soon. The next--the following Monday I left the department.
LAMB: But you do say in the notes here, `He asked me to leave within 30 days and said that "Of course, we will fete you, give you a party."'
Mr. EASTLAND: Right. Well, that was just simply not for me, Brian. I couldn't imagine sitting up there on the--the fifth floor of the Justice Department with the bust of Oliver Wendell Holmes looking upon me and all of my friends looking upon me and being feted for something, even--even as I am being pushed out a door. I would just prefer to leave, and to leave as soon as possible. And that's what I did.
LAMB: What--what did the Ed Meese experience tr--teach you about ethics?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I think there--there are lessons that--that I can learn--anyone can learn--I mean, these are lessons that--that transcend me, and I really think that the key lesson here is the importance of prudence, of judgment, in terms of--of an executive's conduct in office. It seems to me, particularly now, in the '80s and the '90s, in which we have more ethics laws than ever, we have more journalists than ever that will ask questions re--regarding compliance with those laws, we have divided government, which Democrats will often use--for example, the independent counsel, which I discuss quite a bit in my book--Democrats will use that as a partisan weapon against the executive. In fact, the roles might be reversed if the--if the Democrats control the presidency and the Republicans the Congress. Human nature is human nature.
In this context, it seems to me, one of the most important things a public official can do is to exercise good judgment, in terms of who he--who he is around, whose advice he asks, what kind of involvements he has. And that, to me, was the major lesson to be learned from the Meese experience.
LAMB: Did Ed Meese have bad judgment?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I think he did, in--in--in terms of, certainly, his associations with a close friend of his, who, in fact, was investigated, later indicted and convicted, although the conviction was overturned on appeal...
LAMB: Mr. Wallach.
Mr. EASTLAND: Mr. Wallach--Bob Wallach, up in the southern district of New York. But criminality to one side--criminality, to me, is really not the issue, often. I mean, rarely are there actual crimes committed. To me the important thing is to avoid the kind of appearances of impropriety or even improprieties themselves, if not criminal, that are going to occasion headlines and occasion the kind of press attack that can--can result in today's age. This weakens the executive branch. This is my point.
What happens when you become investigated as--as Ed Meese did, is that the very department that you manage or run can be weakened, in--in terms of what the president wants from that agency or department. It happened with us. That's no secret. I think also a party itself can be weakened by ethics charges, by--by--by ethics accusations such as we had in 1988.
LAMB: What happened in the Justice Department, when you were working there for Ed Meese, as people began to see that, in your opinion, he wasn't dealing with this the way you wanted him to? What happened to the people around him? What happened to their attitude?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I think the most serious problem that occurs in a situation like that is just--is just one of morale, of attitude. Now the Justice Department's a large place. It had, at that time, about 80,000 employees, and certainly people out in the field, investigating a drug casein--in Mexico or in California or--or somebody involved in the federal prison system--all of these inst--institutions are under the Justice Department. I think on a day-to-day pe--basis those people are really not affected by what's going on in Washington, but at the senior level, particularly at the political level inside the Justice Department--that is where an investigation like this can have a profound effect, in terms of morale.
LAMB: Have you talked to Ed Meese since you left?
Mr. EASTLAND: Oh, I see him on occasion. In my view, Ed Meese is--is--is a good man in--in many respects. The reason I wrote--and by the way, I only wrote three or four pages in--in--in my book about this--I wanted to point out the importance of good judgment. In the kind of age--political age we live in, I think it's very important for the president to have people on his staff who try to exercise the best judgment possible and to avoid the kind of ethics accusations that can weaken energy in the executive.
LAMB: Now what kind of signals or vibes was Ed Meese getting from the president of the United States, then Ronald Reagan?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, as I recall, at that time, certainly the president was steadfast in his support of--of--of Ed Meese. But that is no surprise. The president of the United States generally believed that all accusations against a subordinate were accusations, really, against him. And his view, more or less, was that `None of my people can ever do any wrong.' And so I think the president was inclined to stand by his friend, or--or really any of his friends, although that changed with Iran-Contra, by the way, where--where Oliver North and--and John Poindexter immediately left.
LAMB: But you say in your book, though, that a president has an obligation on--to--if he's going to be a strong president--to have a different attitude toward ethics.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right, exactly. I mean, what I point out and what I try to argue--and I think this is this important for political conservatives, who tended to defend any of the Reagan administration officials against ethics charges--there was a tendency during the '80s to say, `Oh, it's all political,' simply because we have political differences with the Democrats.
Well, to a degree there is a partisan element here. But it seems to me that, unless we have an independent standard for judging the behavior of individuals, then we reduce everything to partisanship. And it's important that a president understand that there is an independent measure, if you will, of conduct and he ought to be willing to apply it. And he ought to set an example by saying, `Look, I expect the highest kind of behavior, compliance not only with the--the civil and criminal laws that might apply to the executive branch, but even to go beyond that and to make sure that none of us, at any time, do anything that might be called into question.'
And again, one of the really important reasons for having this kind of standard in a--in a presidency, I think, is that otherwise you lose the crucial ingredient, the energy, in the executive that's needed for good government. Again, energy is the precious commodity, and it can be drained away, I mean, by all kinds of behavior. I discuss in my book--I have a chapter on David Stockman. I thought Stockman's behavior, for example, in going and--and--and breakfasting with--with a journalist, back in 1981--in a series of breakfasts he basically trashed the Reagan economic program that had just been passed in the Congress. And that kind of behavior, while that doesn't have anything to do with a criminal law or a civil law--that kind of behavior, I think, weakened the executive branch. It was later written up in a famous article in the Atlantic Monthly.
My view is that, if an administration official has a difference with the president, he ought not to serve him. He ought to leave. There's honor in resignation. It seems to me to go out and to stay in an administration and to speak against it is exactly the wrong example of behavior that we need.
LAMB: On that issue of David Stockman, you talk about two things that--and I can't remember where--where I read it in the book, but two things that are most important when you hire somebody to work in the 5,200 jobs you say a president has to fill?
Mr. EASTLAND: Right. There are about 5,200 jobs that are what we call political positions in the executive branch. I mean, those vary. They're--they're fungible, to some extent. But that's--that's more or less the total at the moment.
LAMB: Was it Ronald Reagan that said the two things, ability and loyalty, and ability first, loyalty second? I don't know which president you wrote about...
Mr. EASTLAND: I don't remember that--that exact one. I do know that in the Reagan administration--actually, the Reagan administration was--had--had--had a number of criteria by which it examined individuals, but competence in the particular area that someone might be in charge of, loyalty to the president, a commitment to change, even, in terms of policies. We speak a lot about change in the current election year; commitment to change was one of the Reagan administration criteria.
LAMB: But if you were in--in charge of personnel and i--and a--what you would consider the--the need for a strong presidency...
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: ...what comes first, ability or loyalty to that president?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I--I think that--that I would have to say that, first of all, I would want someone who understands the constitutional system, in the sense that the president is the one who has the executive power. And so if--if a person understands that, he will realize that, while he should be loyal to a president, he should not be so blindly loyal that he would accept anything a president might ever do. I think it's important for some--for an aide to a president, for example, to--to advise the president if there is--is something that is amiss or wrong, or if there's a policy disagreement, to--to raise it very frankly. But I think it's wrong for that official to go outside of the bounds of the executive branch, if you will, and simply to trash a public policy that a
president has already adopted, such as David Stockman d id.
LAMB: You talked about Richard Neustadt and his book that's lasted since 1960.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: This is '92. Will "Energy and the Executive" by Terry Eastland--if it's on those shelves of people's libraries and colleges 32 years from now, will it--will they pick it off and say, `Well, he was just getting off some things he had on his chest from his experience in government,' or will they say, `This thing lasts.' And how did you protect it to last if you did?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, Brian, I would hope it would last. I mean, we--we spent quite a bit of time talking about a few of my experiences in the Justice Department, but my book spends just a few pages on those. I mean, actually, the whole design of my book is really one that embraces most of what the presidency is about. I would hope that at least over the next few years, if
not over 30 years--that's--that's a tall order for any book--but I would hope that this book would be--would be found useful in--in--in a--in university courses--college courses on political science, even in law schools as well. But I think also among the journalists who cover the presidency that this might be a valuable book.
This is a book, by the way, about--about governing. This is a book about what a president does once he is elected. This is not a book about the campaign. We've spent a lot of time focusing on the campaign this year, and rightly so, but this is a book about how a president governs within the constitutional system. And I would hope that that proposition is one that would interest people, regardless of their party, regardless of their politics, liberal or conservative or somewhere in between.
And this book, as far as I know, is unique in that respect. Most of the books on the presidency--and I've read quite a few of them over the years--most of them either take this slice or that slice of the presidency. Most of them are concerned with maybe this experience or this episode or this particular president. My book is about an institution, and this institution is going to be with us for a long time. I hope my book will be.
LAMB: A native of Dallas, a graduate of Vanderbilt...
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: ...former editor of The Virginian-Pilot...
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: ...then into government, now into the Ethics in Public Policy Center.
Now what--go back through that process--is your family still alive and--and
working in Dallas?
Mr. EASTLAND: My--my parents both live, yes, in Dallas. I have a sister
there. I have a brother in Arlington, Texas. All of my family lives, in
fact, in Texas, including uncles and cousins and aunts. I'm the only one, I
think, who migrated beyond the bounds of Texas. Most Texans seem to return.
But nonetheless, we've lived in Washington these past nine years. I worked
for newspapers in North Carolina, in California, in Virginia--last at the
Virginian-Pilot, down in Norfolk. And I came to the administration in '83.
I was a political conservative, Brian, who--who wanted an opportunity to--to serve his country, to have an opportunity to be in public life. I had been in journalism--journ--there is a debate among journalists as to whether one should ever go through that revolving door, but I--Ro--Ronald Reagan was someone that I believed in, thought well of, and when I had the opportunity to serve, I took advantage of that opportunity and came to Washington.
LAMB: What kind of a conservative are you, traditional or libertarian?
Mr. EASTLAND: I--I would probably be--be more clearly called--easily called a traditional conservative.
LAMB: And what does that mean?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I think basically y--a conservative--a traditional conservative would be someone who respects the Constitution, respects the fact that the Constitution sets forth the kind of structural--the structure in which we should govern ourselves, and understands that there are responsibilities at the federal level as well as the state and the local level. I also think that a traditional conservative is someone who is concerned about limited government. Hamilton--Alexander Hamilton said that energy in the executive is a leading characteristic of good government, but by good government he didn't mean the biggest possible government we can have.
The framers understood good government to mean limited government. I think a traditional conservative wants to preserve some understanding of limited government, a difference between the public and the private sphere.
LAMB: Going forward in politics, who would--it doesn't have to be one person--two or three people that might represent your views--national figures that we know?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, maybe we have to draw a composite. Certainly it seems to me that, in certain respects, Jack Kemp represents the kind of energetic person, perhaps, in terms of someone who will make arguments, who will make a public case for what he believes in. We haven't talked about this yet, but I think it's very, very important for a president to make his arguments, to--to go out and say, `Look, this is what I propose and here's why,' and--and to give his arguments.
Now he may not win in Congress if we're talking about legislation here. He may not win in Congress, but I think he's done our political system an important favor by at least putting arguments out there where people can engage the arguments and discuss them. We're supposed to be a--a democracy that reasons our way to public policy, that thinks about--about issues. And I
think that a president can contribute to that process by making his argument.So Jack Kemp, in my view, is someone who does that very well. He makes arguments.
I think as well that you can also find people, of course, on the Democratic side--Bill Bradley is someone, I think, who--who often will come forward and state a case for what he--for what he wants or believes in.
LAMB: Do you consider yourself a Republican?
Mr. EASTLAND: Sure. Sure. I'm a Republican, a political conservative. I'm not a party activist, in the some--in the sense of someone who is involved with strategy and in the sense of someone who's advising, but I am someone who certainly would be identified as Republican.
LAMB: Go back to Dallas. What do your parents do for a living?
Mr. EASTLAND: Father--well, they--they're retired now. My father was in the
life insurance business; my mother was a schoolteacher--home economics
LAMB: Can you remember when you first got interested in this stuff?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I remember going to a--some kind of rally for Barry
Goldwater when I was 14 years old, back in 1964, and it was a quite festive
occasion. I also remembered a real sense that Goldwater was going to lose,
wh--which he did. But you know, it's interesting: I begin my book by talking
about how, in 1961, a group of conservatives met in a hotel in Chicago because
they wanted to find a way for conservatives to capture the Republican Party
and then the presidency.
And remember, 1961 was--was a heyday for liberalism in this country. John
Kennedy had just been elected; the book we referred to earlier, Richard
Neustadt had--that book had been published in 1960 and it expressed, basically, the--the pent-up desire of a lot of liberals, frustrated with the Eisenhower years, to get the government moving again. And here was Kennedy--John Kennedy--it looked as though we were going to have that kind of reinvigoration, if you will, of--of New Deal governmental activism.
And so conservatives met in 1961, not a--not a--it would seem, a propitious time for conservatives, but they--they--they--they met in Chicago and they came up with this idea of trying to capture the presidency. Barry Goldwater was an expression of that in 1964, a clearly conservative candidate, and it was the--it was the beginning of the conservative makeover of the Republican Party. And this culminated, as I point out in my book, 16 years later, of course, with the election of Ronald Reagan. And that really was the advent of the conservative experience in power that I discuss in my book.
LAMB: Were your parents political?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, they were not at all involved in--in partisan politics as such, but they were always interested--still are--in politics, and still--still follow the debates on television and--and through magazines.
LAMB: Were you active in politics in high school?
Mr. EASTLAND: Not particularly. In fact, I was not active much in--in college. I went to Vanderbilt.
LAMB: Why'd you pick Vanderbilt?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I picked it because there was an opportunity there to study the--the liberal arts. I thought it would be a good humanities education.
LAMB: You didn't bump into Al Gore while you were there, did you?
Mr. EASTLAND: No, he--he was later, but I did have a brush with student politics. I ran for student government. In those days--and maybe it's still true today--the--the students would--would reorganize the government, you know, every six months and it would change names, but I was the--the freshman representative to whatever the--the--the--the governing board was at the time. I ran for re-election, was soundly defeated. I was really not that much interested in politics. I studied ancient things like--like Greek and Latin, and--and things that might seem to be irrelevant to the political process. Those were my interests in those days.
LAMB: Why did you pick those?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, because I was--I was interested in those. I was a philosophy major. At one point I thought about teaching, in fact. I went to Oxford after Vanderbilt, and--and at Oxford I studied more philosophy, in fact. At s--at one point I thought about going on and getting a PhD, but looked around in--at the job market and saw it was glutted, and--and I sank into journalism.
LAMB: We always hear about people in our society that have gone to Oxford. Were there any people that we know that went to Oxford at the same time you did?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, sure. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, who wrote a book last year called, "Why--Why Americans Hate Politics"--E.J. was there. I knew him from there. Michael Kinsley, of course, of "Crossfire" and The New Republic--Mike was there. Robert Pear of The New York Times was also there. There were quite a few people that I think at least would be familiar to those of us here in Washington and, to some extent, across the country.
LAMB: What was it about Oxford that got your attention? How did you get
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, this is going to seem a little, perhaps, off the subject
of politics, but what interested me about Oxford was the fact that I had been
a philosophy major. I had thought about teaching philosophy. I was
interested also in philosophy of religion and history of philosophy. And
Oxford offered a program in philosophy and theology, where you could study
Don't compare me to Al Gore. He went to divinity school. But maybe, to some
extent, I had some of the same interests that--that he might have had when he
went to Vanderbilt divinity school. In my case, Oxford married those two
disciplines together. Those disciplines used to be taught together. For many
centuries they had been split apart, in many cases, in the 19th century, and
Oxford had put them back together in what I thought was an interesting way.
And so I went there to study it.
LAMB: What year did you come back to the States?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I got my degree in '74, came back here and--and basically
worked in journalism till '83.
LAMB: And where did you start?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I was--my first newspaper job was with the Greensboro
Record, which was an afternoon daily in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was
later rolled into the Morning News. That's been the history of so many of the
afternoon dailies in our country. But it was--it has become part now of the
Greensboro Daily News Record.
LAMB: Went from there to where?
Mr. EASTLAND: Went from there to the San Diego Union, out in California, a
big paper, a good paper.
LAMB: Reporter or--or editorial writer?
Mr. EASTLAND: I was on the editorial page, and I spent a year there
when--when the--my former boss in Greensboro, Bill Cheshire, who's now out
in Arizona with The Republic...
LAMB: And he had come here as Washington Times...
Mr. EASTLAND: That's right. He later came here as editorial page editor of
the Washington Times. Bill Cheshire was leaving the Greensboro Record, so
there was a--a chance there to run my own editorial page. James Jackson
Kilpatrick, a dean of columnists, a great editorial page editor, once said
that if you can get an editorial page to run before--before you hit the age of
30, you ought to do it. And I was 28. I had the opportunity to do it. I
came back from California to Greensboro, and I spent three years there,
editing the afternoon editorial page in Greensboro.
LAMB: And then what?
Mr. EASTLAND: And then I went to--to Norfolk, Virginia. Now Green--the
Greensboro papers, at that time--still are--were owned by Landmark
Communications, which has The Weather Channel, for example, in Norfolk.
And Landmark's major paper--its flagship paper, if you will--was the
Virginian-Pilot. And so I was asked to--to come up and edit that--that paper.
And that was in 1981--actually to run the editorial pages. They--they called
it the editor of the paper, which made it an extravagant name, a rather
inflated title, but what we did as editor--what I did as editor was to run
There's an interesting footnote here: My predecessor at the Pilot for three
years had been J. Harvie Wilkinson. Now J. Harvie Wilkinson had been a law
professor at UVA and then he took this detour into the newspaper business;
then he went to the Justice Department for a year. I knew him at Justice.
J. and I both wrote books on the Bakke case in 1979. J. is now a
judge on the fourth circuit, appointed by Ronald Reagan some years ago, in
LAMB: And you also write columns now.
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I write a lot. I mean, I've written for just about
every publication that--that people can name that deals with politics, except
for those on the--on--on the far left, I would say. But I write some columns
here locally for the Washington Times; I write some for The Wall Street
Journal on occasion. I am the press watch columnist--I write on the press for
the American Spectator. I do that every month. But I'm also an editor
of--of--of books as well as a writer of books, so I have a full plate of--of
LAMB: How does American journalism fit in with a strong presidency?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, the relationship of the fourth estate to the other three
branches is a fascinating question, and I think perhaps one of the most
important ways in which journalism has related to the presidency is--is the
way in which it's democratized the presidency. In other words, the presidency
used to be an institution where the president didn't go out and give these
speeches on behalf of legislative programs. The president didn't have to
answer all that many questions.
The advent of--of journalism, much earlier in this century, brought about a
situation in which presidents came to be questioned quite frequently, expected
to give answers, expected to--to be accountable, if you will, to what the
journalists might have to say. And I think that that's worked an important
effect. And we've seen an evolution in this, by the way. I think the ad--the
advent of C-SPAN, in fact, is an important part of the story. And what has
happened this year in the presidential campaigns is another part.
The fact now that candidates, this year, have wanted to bypass the journalists
and go immediately to the American people, through technology that is still
part of the media, available to them, whether it's on the "Today" show,
whether it's on any talk show, I think, is another way in which the media has
democratized the presidency. C-SPAN democratizes the institutions of
government, simply by letting the viewer see what is happening, but now,
without the interventions, if you will, of talking heads.
LAMB: Is all this good or bad?
Mr. EASTLAND: I think it's both. The--the bad part first: The Constitution
was designed in such a way that the framers hoped that there would be a
certain amount of what you might call constitutional space between the people
and their representatives. What do I mean by that? I mean space in which
the representative could think through the issues and decide without having to
be peppered every five minutes or every other day about what he's going to
decide, and without having to be brought opinion polls that might influence
That kind of space between the representatives of the people and the people
has been--has been closed quite considerably, I would say, by journalism. And
so in one sense, perhaps, we don't get quite the kind of deliberation that we
would like to get from our representatives. And this is just not--this is not
the presidency only; it's also the Congress. The one institution that's been
spared this so far, of course, is the Supreme Court and the federal courts.
They have not been democratized. I doubt that they will be, by the way.
But the--the good part is that I think that we have increased, in some ways,
the accountability of officials by having them made aware of certain issues in
the country through--through journalism, and officials have had to take that
into account, think about it more. And also the direct questions, I think,
are also often helpful, especially from--from--from--from citizens. I think
the talk shows, in a way, are--are good, because it does acquaint people
running for office with what people think.
LAMB: Because you mention him so often in your book, Alexander Hamilton--if
he pulled up a chair right here today, and came back and saw what's going on
in the country, what do you think his reaction would be?
Mr. EASTLAND: Oh, he probably would be shocked in many ways. I mean,
Hamilton, of course--some people accused him of really wanting a monarch. He
was one of the theorists of the presidency. He understood the fact that you
cannot have a pure democracy--you cannot have simply a Congress, which
governs the country; that you need, in any society, some kind of authority.
And that's what the presidency does represent, is some kind of authority. I
mean, the presidency is a--is--is, in a way, an anomaly in our tradition,
because it is--it is one individual--it's a hierarchical institution, and--and
this person has enormous power, in fact, power that we often complain about.
We want to bring him down to size.
Well, Hamilton understood the need for all that. Hamilton would probably be
appalled by some of the democratization of the presidency that's occurred.
You know, later in life Hamilton--I don't discuss this in my book--but he
proposed a--a--I believe the name of it was a Christian constitutionalist
party. He became very concerned about the kind of virtue that would be needed
in the people if we were to have a--a viable republic. I think he would be
concerned about that question today, were he here.
LAMB: There's not much time left and so much to talk about that we haven't
gotten to. Let me jump to the courts.
Mr. EASTLAND: Sure.
LAMB: And you have a whole section here about how to select a judge.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: And you bring up the Scalia-Bork-Rehnquist--that whole--Ginsberg thing.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: This is a little bit out of--out of--out of sequence, but you've got
some notes in here about Doug Ginsberg in the back. Could you refre--the
reason I bring this up is that--well, let--let me just ask you this question
about the--the--the courts: Is it being done right now, the way you select
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, my--my--my concern, in--in recent years, is that, since
the Bork experience of '87, presidents have been tempted, basically,
to--to--to select individuals who are perhaps less qualified--I think people
who have less of a paper trail, if you will; people who won't be as attacked
by journalists or by Democrats on the Hill. There's--there's safety in
that--or at least I think President Bush thought, when he picked David Souter
in 19--in 1990. The concern I have about that is--is that, if you pick that
way, that might get your individual through the nomination, through the
confirmation process, but what are you going to get for the next 10, 20, 30
years up there? I mean, are you putting up there the best kind of mind, the
best talent that you can put on the court?
LAMB: Let's start with Rehnquist-Scalia, instead of Doug Ginsberg.
Mr. EASTLAND: Sure.
LAMB: You say that was the right way to choose?
Mr. EASTLAND: In my view that was.
LAMB: And you were involved.
Mr. EASTLAND: I was involved. At that time, in 1985--we mentioned
earlier--Ed Meese came over to the Justice Department. Meese did a very good
thing, a very important thing. He--he immediately understood that there might
be a vacancy at some point on the court. Mathematics tells us there is a
vacancy roughly once every two years in this country. And so he got together
a group of us--Brad Reynolds, also there at the time, was in charge of it.
There were a group of about 20 of us who were assigned to look at all of the
possibilities, all of the candidates that we might want to select or refer to
the president, recommend to the president, for him to select to go on the
And we read all the opinions. In most cases these individuals were federal
judges--sitting federal judges. We read their opinions. We read their
written work, their law review articles, any speeches they might have given.
We vetted the resume.
LAMB: OK. Let me interrupt to ask you about the 20 individuals. You were
one of the 20.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right, I was one of them, yeah.
LAMB: Chosen by whom?
Mr. EASTLAND: Wer--br--by Brad Reynolds. I mean, basically, these were
people throughout the department.
LAMB: And what kind of people were they--what level?
Mr. EASTLAND: These people were at my level and above. Some people were
below me. The assistant attorney general level, I think, was--a lot of people
were from that level. That was the assistant secretary.
LAMB: Did you all meet as a group?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, frequently we would meet as a group and go over these
matters, but of course, you had to do a lot of work on your own, just reading
opinions and reading some of the cases.
LAMB: OK, so we can connect it to the presidency. Did Ronald Reagan turn to
Ed Meese and say, `Do this'?
Mr. EASTLAND: Y--well, I don't know if there was that formal a communication,
but certainly there was an understanding that this is where the recommendations
come from historically. Since the 1850s, attorneys general have advised the
president on whom to appoint to the court. I guess it is part of the job.
LAMB: Do you have any--do you have any knowledge of whether other
presidencies did it this same way, with a group of 20 or even less, that...
Mr. EASTLAND: It--it--it's changed through the years. I mean,
it--it--certainly, in--in previous years--for example, I think if you go back
to FDR, where a lot of this was handled right out of the--of the White House,
the selection of jus--justices and judges. So it depends, really, on the
presidency. There are many ways to do this. This happened, I think, to be a
very good way, because this way you could look--you could use people who--who
were involved da--on a day-to-day basis with the law, with the federal law.
You could use these people to look at--at the individuals who might be
LAMB: When you started this, was it a generally--genuinely open process? You
had no idea how--how the list was going to look?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, we--we--we had no idea what the outcome might be, but
I think in the back of many of our minds, at the time, most of us there at
Justice thought that the two best individuals for the Supreme Court would be
Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork, or Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, and when we
finished going through the 20 or so people we consider--which included, by the
way, Anthony Kennedy, who later did go to the Supreme Court--we concluded that
the two best individuals, from our point of view--the president might disagree
with this, but from our point of view, the two best individuals were Bork and
Scalia. And so those were recommended by Brad Reynolds to Ed Meese, and Ed
Meese then went on and recommended Antonin Scalia to the president.
LAMB: But you also say in your book that Sandra Day O'Connor was not the best
choice, in your opinion.
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, that was right. That was five years earlier. What I
argue there is this: For a president who wants to make the most impact, leave
the strongest legacy, in terms of judging, on the Supreme Court, he is wise to
maximize his nominating power by selecting someone who best represents the
judicial philosophy he wants, whether it's liberal or conservative, or however
you wish to describe it. In 1981 Reagan didn't do that. Reagan had made a
campaign promise, in September of 1980, where he said, `I will appoint a woman
to one of my first vacancies.' First vacancies leaves a lot of wiggle room.
It was not even treated that seriously by the journalists who followed him.
In the next few months--a few months later, when that vacancy came open,
Robert Bork, for example, was high on the list that the Justice Department
had. Robert Bork could have easily been confirmed in 1981, and I think we
would have a different court had he been--had he been confirmed.
LAMB: Go back to the selection process again and how you all came to the
decis--who--who actually decided that Justice Scalia was the choice?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, as I recall--you--you know, it's interesting. I--I was,
along with another individual--I was one of the ones who vetted the Scalia
file, so I--I had a--had a hand in that. But as you recall, there was a
tricky element--or--not a tricky, but at least a--a--an unusual element that
year: Chief Justice Burger had stepped down, so what we were discussing was
the fact we had a vacancy--a chief justice vacancy--who to fill it? Well,
Scalia and Bork were the best on the merits, in terms of any positions on the
court, but it was decided that probably neither man was the best to be chief
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I think there was a sense at the Justice Department that
neither would--would really be that good as--as an administrator of the
details that sometimes a chief justice would be engaged in. And besides, many
people thought that Chief Justice--or--or then Associate Justice Rehnquist
wo--would be good in that role. And so what the president proposed was, if
you will, a two-step process. He nominated from within the court--which, by
the way, has often happened in our past, where a president has simply
elevated a sitting justice to the chief justice job--and then, because there
was a new vacancy with Rehnquist's elevation, the president backfilled into
that position with--with now-Justice Scalia.
LAMB: Did the president ever interview Justice Scalia or Judge Bork?
Mr. EASTLAND: Interviewed Justice Scalia, as I recall. It's--I can't recall
specifically whether he did interview Judge Bork--of course, he did the
next--the next year.
LAMB: In other words, what I'm getting at is: Did--did--was President Reagan
actively involved in the process or he--did he basically just rubber-stamp
what you-all said was the right choice?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well...
LAMB: And is that good, whatever the decision--whatever--however it happened,
was that the right way to do it?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, it depends on--on what we call active involvement. The
most critical thing Reagan brought to this--to--to this whole process was at
the level of ideas, of wanting a judicial conservative. That was very clear.
And that was very clear to us at Justice. And so when we came forward with
the names of Scalia and Bork, the president was clearly going to be getting
what he wanted, in terms of judicial philosophy. Those were the best people
for the job. I think that's--that's probably the best thing a president can
bring to a selection process.
No president has time, by the way, to read all of the opinions that a judge
might have written. No president has time to do all that. You need a good
institutional setting in order to be able to pick judges. And by the way, I
would add to this that the responsibility is enormous, because today in this
country a federal judge is nominated once every eight days--in this country,
once every eight days--someone for either the district courts or the federal
courts of appeals or the Supreme Court.
LAMB: And you say that Ronald Reagan and George Bush have
named--What?--three-quarters of those judges?
Mr. EASTLAND: They will have come close to nominating that by the end of
LAMB: Note 15 on page 371: You mentioned that there's a political lift also
involved in Justice Scalia because he was an Italian. Do you really think
about all those kinds of things when you make decisions on who goes on these
Mr. EASTLAND: That was not at all a strong consideration, because Scalia,
quite apart from ethnicity or any other consideration, was clearly
intellectually the strongest figure. In fact, in my view, when the history of
the--of the court is next written, Scalia, like Justice Brennan, by the way,
as well as a few others, will rank among the handful of great justices. No,
what--what--what I was observing there is that, when you have a situation
where you're elevating Justice Rehnquist--now remember, Rehnquist was pretty
critically attacked by a number of people. I think there were 33 votes
against him in the Senate--just the sheer politics of it were such that we
didn't expect that someone like Scalia would be--would be attacked after that
kind of initial attack against Rehnquist.
LAMB: Where you say that the Scalia-Rehnquist decision process was one of the
best, you suggest that the Doug Ginsberg selection was one of the worst.
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, it was one of the worst from the standpoint that--look,
we had just seen the president nominate Robert Bork. The Bork nomination had
been, as we all know, defeated, and then, because I think the Justice
Department, as I point out in the book, was not adequately prepared to come
forward with a new nominee, we came forward with--with Doug Ginsberg. Now he
is a talented and very smart individual, but we had not looked at his file
closely enough. We had not anticipated the kind of problems that might arise
in--in a nomination or a confirmation process. And so that's why I say that
it was not the right way to do the selection of a justice.
LAMB: Well, let me ask you, though, you s--you criticize the FBI for its
process of looking at Doug Ginsberg and also the White House...
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: ...internal people for not looking at his personal life enough.
Mr. EASTLAND: Right.
LAMB: How many different people have a hand in the selection of a judge like
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, in the selection of a Supreme Court justice, there are
many people who have a hand in it. The Justice Department typically has the
lion's share of the work, in terms of looking at the substance of the
individual--his--his judicial opinions or his other writings or speeches, but
the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department, has a--a field
responsibility, if you will, to--to know everything that can be known about
that person's life. And--and--and this is where, in my view, the FBI fell
down. I mean, the FBI didn't find out, for example, the facts about the
allegations of smoking marijuana that the press somehow very easily came
LAMB: In another note, you say, `However one assesses Bennett's action'--and
I'll ask you about that in a moment--`a strong president would not effectively
cede the fate of a Supreme Court nomination to a Cabinet secretary not
involved in judicial selection.' What are you talking about?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, what I'm talking about there is that, in my view, by this
point, and maybe Iran-Contra, because Reagan was--was a fairly weakened
president at this point. This was, as we all know, late '87. Iran-Contra had
been going on for some while now, in terms of an investigation--multiple
investigations. Bill Bennett had--had called over to Doug Ginsberg on--on a
Friday afternoon, when--when his nomination was hemorrhaging--the--the
pot-smoking revelation had gone out the day before--and--and basically told
him that he thought he ought to--ought to withdraw. In--in my view...
LAMB: What business, by the way, was it of Bill Bennett's?
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, I--I--I think he just thought it was the president's
business, but I don't think he had the president's authorization to do that.
LAMB: But you say he called the president.
Mr. EASTLAND: Well, it's not clear what the president told him, but I think
that he was concerned that there was a problem for the president, and I think
Bill, whom I know as a friend--I think Bill also was concerned about his--his
anti-drug campaign that he had been mounting, and thought that putting up a
Supreme Court nominee who had this kind of past--not just that he had smoked
marijuana, but that he had apparently done so while a law professor--that this
was a bad signal to send to the young people of this country. So that might
have been what activated him to call the president. My point was just simply
this, though: The point I'm trying to make there, in that note and in--and in
the book, is that a president needs to be i--in charge of his nominating
process, and he needs to be the one who--who calls yea or nay, who makes the
decisions about whether somebody stays in or stays out.
LAMB: Another small note in the notes again--I'm trying to sell these notes,
as you can see here--you talk about--you know, we always read about these kind
of things and never know whether they're really important because the press
always writes them up. You suggest that Judge Bork might have done better, it
says here, `no thanks to the fact that Reagan and senior White House aides had
idly spent the month in California.' Does that stuff really make a
difference, when people are away?
Mr. EASTLAND: Yes. What I was trying to illustrate there is this: When
Judge Bork was nominated, Senator Kennedy gave a speech in the Senate that, by
the way, would compare with anything being said in the current campaign. It
was--it was an attack that sought to demonize Robert Bork. A lot of the stuff
was just flatly wrong and it was vicious. I think it would have made a
difference if the president of the United States had responded that day to
that kind of rhetoric. The president did not; neither did anyone else,
effectively, in the president's behalf, respond.
And that was the pattern that was set. It was set very early on. The Kennedy
speech inspired the various groups that opposed Bork. They frankly really
didn't think they could stop this nomination in early July, but that inspired
them. And it especially inspired them when there was no response from the
president or the White House, really. And so what happened was you have this
pattern where the groups were attacking the nominee. The Bork nomination, as
I argue in my book, was unusual for the fact that you had all the modern
paraphernalia of a campaign, if you will--you had all of this used against a
And--and--and it was very--it's very hard, when you're in that position, to
respond. Bork got Borked--that was the contribution to our political
clat--vocabulary. That's what happened to him. I think it would have made a
difference--and this is a lesson, by the way, with the Bork nomination--I
discuss this in my book--the president has got to respond in behalf of his
nominee. And by the way, this is true whether the nominee is that of a
Democratic or a Republican president. I mean, Bill Clinton might find this to
be so if he's in office. A president has got to be strong for his nominee,
because no one else can fight that for him. A nominee cannot effectively
become a political candidate.
LAMB: Based on what you know--we're about out of time...
Mr. EASTLAND: Yeah.
LAMB: Forget the politics of it for a moment. George Bush, Bill
Clinton--what kind of presidents would they be--George Bush in a second term;
Bill Clinton in a first term. Would they be, as you call for here, a strong
Mr. EASTLAND: George Bush would be strong, I think, still in an institutional
sense, as he has been so far, protecting the powers of office. I think he
would be strong in a foreign policy sense. I think, by the way--we didn't discuss this, but the Persian Gulf War performance as commander-in-chief was one of the strongest instances that we can find of a president using his constitutional powers effectively, during that period.
LAMB: And there's a lot in the book on that.
Mr. EASTLAND: There's a lot in the book. I would say his real weakness, though--and this is where he has to quit being himself if he's to be a strong president--he's going to have to engage domestic and economic policy, in terms of making a public case consistently for what he believes in.
LAMB: Bill Clinton.
Mr. EASTLAND: Bill Clinton--Bill Clinton's--the greatest threat to a Clinton presidency and to a strong one are going to be the various interest groups in the Democratic Party. This was Carter's problem; it could be Clinton's problem. He's going to have to find a way to rise above them and to be stronger than they are.
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