BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Liz Carpenter, you say early in your book that "by heritage and by profession I am a storyteller." Where did you learn that?
LIZ CARPENTER: I think growing up. I grew up in rural Texas. Rural areas seem to -- you need entertainment, and so my family had been rooted in Texas for five generations and they were full of tales that had been hand-me-downs. We heard them a lot around the fireplace while you're cracking pecans, and it grew. Then, of course, I just was propelled to be a journalist, and that's what I did. I went to the University of Texas and came to Washington when Franklin Roosevelt was president, with my journalism degree in hand and my virtue intact. I still have the journalism degree. It just led naturally into seeing things as a story, a saga.
LAMB: You mention you actually were in the audience to see Will Rogers perform.
CARPENTER: Absolutely, and I know that it makes me feel like an artifact, but he came to the University of Texas. We went to see him for 50 cents, and he twirled his rope on the gymnasium stage and told stories about going to see the Franklin Roosevelts. I remember that he told about when he knocked at the door -- my mansion after the time we've done in the White House -- but just to knock on the door, and Mrs. Roosevelt came. He said, "Where is the president?" She said, "Wherever you hear the laugh." You know, that's a buoyant tribute to a man who was handicapped. In fact, I have a hard time not being so sentimental I don't cry with it. But I think it was the sense of fun in politics as well as purpose, that we've lost too much of the spirit of humor in politics, I think.
LAMB: Do you speak a lot?
CARPENTER: Yes, I do.
LAMB: Do you tell stories?
CARPENTER: I tell stories; I tell anecdotes; I recycle stories.
LAMB: What's the one that gets the biggest laugh every time?
CARPENTER: I guess telling the story about when I was a young working mother and had two kids of my own and I was working at the White House. You tend to forget a lot of things because the White House comes first, so I forgot and left our big, fat dachshund at the vet about two weeks, and suddenly I kept getting insistent phone calls from the kids to go get Mitzi. I went by and got Mitzi. They handed me this little, tiny dachshund and I felt so guilty. I just thought, She's been love-starved. I put her in the car, and I tried to call her name all the way home. She wouldn't look my way. We get home, she jumps out of the car, and the kids come tumbling out of the house and they just scream, "Mommy, that's not Mitzi!"
So of course I dashed in, picked up the phone and called the vet. Sure enough, I took her back and got our own fat dachshund. It was none the worse for wear, but that wasn't the only thing. You remember Les, my husband. He was a wonderful gardener -- gardening was his hobby; he was a reporter. But he was dying to have St. Francis Assisi in the garden. So again I was dashing home from the White House, the night before Easter. I ran by the nursery and there were all of these men in sandals and long hair, and I grabbed one in a hurry, hopefully not by the neck, took it home. The kids again said, "That's not Francis Assisi. That's Jesus." Well, Brian, I'll tell you, you cannot take Jesus back. There is no way. I still moved Jesus to Texas when I went home and he's standing in my ivy bed, and I'll tell you he's come in handy in what I'm doing now, which is raising three teenagers that are my nieces and nephew.
LAMB: This book is called "Unplanned Parenthood."
CARPENTER: That's because I hadn't planned to be a surrogate mother at age 70. My oldest brother, 79, Tommy, who had 10 children, kind of unstructured life. He went forth and multiplied, taking the Bible quite literally. The second batch were 12 and 14 and 16 when he was dying and there was nobody else to take care of them, so I did. It has been frightening, it's been maddening, but it's also been a wonderful expansion of what I know about the 90s.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
CARPENTER: I live in Texas on a hill overlooking the city of Austin. I live about two miles down the road from Lady Bird Johnson, whom I worked for in Washington and who is a close dear friend and who incidentally was the first one to call and say, "Bring the kids over for dinner." She does that quite frequently. One time she called and I said, "I'm cooking hot dogs." She said, "I haven't had a hot dog in a long time." She came over to have dinner. I think that we try to talk about history a lot in front of these kids. She had just gotten back from the Reagan Library dedication and had conversations with former presidents and first ladies, and she really tried to give something of that to these children. That is really what you can do if you are an aging surrogate. I think we have a lot history to share that they miss. Who else is to give it?
LAMB: Where are these three kids today?
CARPENTER: Today Liz, the oldest, is in New York City in Park College. It's called the School of Visual Arts. She works half time at a video store, and she's got a Hillary Clinton hairdo. She has just matured so much, and I saw her last night at a party for the book. It was fun to introduce her because she looks like a grown young woman compared to the child I took in. Then Tommy and Mary I put in a small boarding school near my home because I am out on the road with the book, and I don't want to worry about them. So they have taken to it really. They are a little rambunctious about having to stay there on weekends when I am away, but I'll be back and forth and so I'll spring them for a weekend.
LAMB: What year did the kids move in with you?
CARPENTER: 1990 or 91 -- gosh, the years all meld together somehow. I've lived kind of a rollicking old age and was enjoying the freedom of being able to go and lecture whenever I wanted, go to vacation house parties, so it really trimmed my sails a lot. Somebody had to be there. What I found is this kind of family saga of my life, which turned out to be in the happy hour of life, is part of a national trend of grandparents taking care of kids. Of course, mine are nieces and nephews, but one out of four kids in this country are being raised by somebody other that their parents.
LAMB: What did you learn about music?
CARPENTER: Learned not to listen as much as possible; learned to move the CD player out to the guest house, which is the converted room for Tommy. I learned that the shortest time between the moment that they hop in the car for me to drive them to school is when they punch the button to get on something like Megadeth playing, "Do It, Do It, Do It," which is lousy advice. Learned that they cannot stand for you to think that Tommy Dorsey was anything, that's it's all Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, so I've learned a lot of in-house terms that I like to spring them on my friends.
LAMB: Let me read you something you wrote. You said that "music can shut out a dysfunctional world, the more I realize that music is an escape for them."
CARPENTER: Very much. I think that that's part of it as well as the high-tech salesmanship of all kinds of players and discs, but I find this generation is mostly from broken homes, what my nephew Tommy calls the "orphan generation." He said only one of his friends has both of their natural parents, and I hear these ids on the phone because this house is a gathering place. They like my refrigerator; it's normally filled. I enjoy having them around, but they'll be talking to a parent on one side of town and trying to keep peace with a divorced parent on the other side of town. The bounty of this just may be that we are raising peacemakers, diplomats because these children learn to be very careful in what they say, not to betray one parent to another, not to keep the contention going, and I do think that they back away from contention in their homes. I'm not sure they aren't going to have a lot better marriages because they are looking for love.
LAMB: You mentioned Les, your husband, earlier. How long has he been dead?
CARPENTER: He died in 74. That's about 18 or 19 years. I miss him very much, and I keep thinking, Why was it so much easier to raise my own teenagers than these thirty years later? Well, I had a husband, I had a partner, and now I'm a single surrogate. It doesn't mean I don't make up ads in the middle of the night: "Wanted: A husband, somebody who still has a tool chest" -- because there's a lot of breakage in a house with three teenagers.
I also dream of winning the Ed McMahon Publishers' Clearing House, and so you find me on mad days when I worry about money taking those little stickers and almost putting them on a magazine you want. Have you ever been hooked on the Ed McMahon "buy more magazines and you have a chance at $10 million, and there's a truck just waiting down the hill to bring you a dozen roses and $10 million"? I got hooked early because I thought that it would be a way out of all my troubles, a way to three college educations, and so you end up doing that and then you find they put you on other sweepstakes lists. Suddenly I was being besieged with a contest for kiwi fruit in Florida and again for a Jaguar bonus, and you're taking those little gold seals. Meanwhile the letters are coming in with "Elizabeth Carpenter" embossed in gold moving from 5 up to No. 1. So those are kind of the madcap things that I recount in the book because they were part of life. It's kind of an Auntie Mame book. If you liked Auntie Mame, I think you'll like this book.
LAMB: You've got two children of your own, you mention in the book. They are how old and where do they live?
CARPENTER: Scott lives in Seattle, and Scott is 47. Christy lives in Sausalito, in San Francisco, and she is 42.
LAMB: What years were you in the White House, and what was your job?
CARPENTER: The years I was in the White House, don't you remember?
LAMB: Yes, I do.
CARPENTER: I was there from 1963 right following the assassination on November 22. I worked for President Johnson. I was in Dallas that dreadful day and the moment that changed everyone's life and ended up back in Washington on Air Force One. I wrote those 58 words that the president delivered when he stepped off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base, "This is a sad time for all people" and so forth. So then for five years I worked at the White House as press secretary and staff director for Lady Bird Johnson and sometimes funny-speech writer for LBJ when he was willing to use my gags.
LAMB: How often do you think about those five years?
CARPENTER: They're part of you, they shake you, they furnish a lot of fodder for your folklore of politics, and I like to think about it and tell it. I think it was a very yeasty time in this country almost akin to the early New Deal days because we worked very hard on the War on Poverty while he was trying to subdue the war in Vietnam, which got a lot more attention, but it's when Head Start was born, the Job Corps was born, when Lady Bird would go out to try to inspire people to make this planet cleaner. We did a lot of raft rides in the West and tried to lure some European dollars here. It was an exciting time of life for me.
LAMB: You mention your early days here. You came here in what year as a reporter?
CARPENTER: Shortly after the Earth cooled. I came in 1942. I was 22 years old, very green but fresh from the University of Texas, and I knocked on doors around the press building to get a job. Because it was wartime, there were many more openings for women reporters than there had ever been before. I went to work for a small news bureau that was run by a terrific woman called the Duchess, Esther Van Wagoner Tufty. We were on the 9th floor of the National Press Building. I fell in love with Washington, and it was such an easy thing -- imagine being 22 years old and getting to go and cover Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Hill. The Hill and all of the emerging lives like Speaker Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson were part of my life, part of my beat.
LAMB: You mention one thing that comes up so often in books. I want you to talk about it. You say that you were with the press in the House Caucus Room to observe the confrontation between Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. How important an event was that, and why do so many people remember that?
CARPENTER: It was so dramatic, and it was one of the first really high-drama moments of confrontation. To be there -- it was jammed; it was televised. Everybody wanted to believe Alger Hiss and not the "pumpkin papers" and Whittaker Chambers. Alger Hiss was a smooth, good-looking servant in the State Department, and Whittaker Chambers kind of looked encumbered by tobacco juice and bad teeth and he had worked for TIme magazine but had not for a long time. So there was mystery in it; it had a lot of the elements of Watergate later, when the Watergate burglars and the people who plotted it or talked about it or knew about it at the White House began to appear on the Hill.
LAMB: Have you ever changed your mind on which one of those men was telling the truth? Alger Hiss is still alive.
CARPENTER: I still don't know, and my inclination starts to think that Alger Hiss would not betray his country.
LAMB: You were in the press gallery when General MacArthur made his speech.
CARPENTER: High drama again. Les and I had one seat that we sat on together that was right peering down over the House chamber, and remember, of course, that Gen. MacArthur had really had it out with Truman. Anyway, he had his day in Congress. He made a dramatic speech and then he started out of the chamber, and Mrs. MacArthur was seated where normally the first lady sits, in that gallery. Gen. MacArthur stopped dead still and looked up and blew her a kiss, and he had just said before he left the podium that he remembered an old Army barracks song, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." The guy sitting on the seat next to us said, "Hamlet, next week Hamlet." It was pure theater, and so much politics is theater, don't you think?
LAMB: When you talk to those kids, how often do you say things like, "Well, if you could have only seen it in my day"? What do they do when you say that?
CARPENTER: Sometimes they turn off their ears, but what I try to do, because I do think conversation is a dying art form in this country -- we're viewers, we're watchers so much more than we are talkers -- I try to instill that in them around the table. I do try to tell them stories about politics but also growing up in Texas, about their own ancestors who are part of history and at the Alamo -- a 17-year-old boy died there. If I don't tell them who else is going to tell them?
LAMB: Are they interested?
CARPENTER: Yes, they've gotten more interested, and as they read American history they are full of more questions, and since I've brought them to Washington, which I did on a fabulous trip here, they're much more interested. The day they really perked up was when several of their friends were there, and they were just spellbound. I told them about some of the people that they were studying in school, that I'd interviewed Gore Vidal, that I'd been part of helping write a State of the Union speech. When Tommy came back from taking these kids home, he said, "My friends said, Your aunt knows good stuff.'"
From then on they really kind of invited me to tell more things, and we started a live poets society -- of course, I don't want a dead poets society, I'm too close to that edge -- but a live poets society we started. These kids are big in words. I think we've got a lot of good English teachers out in the country. They study Jack Kerouac; they all keep journals. Today's young people keep journals, and I think that again shows something about a way that they are isolated because they are
pouring out their feelings into a journal.
LAMB: You point out that for the first time in your life you read Jack Kerouac.
CARPENTER: I did. He wasn't my kind of Galahad. That Seven League Boots, Richard Halliburton was my hero. It made me want to travel to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight and swim the Hellespont. That is the same kind of hero to this group, was Kerouac, who was the Beat Generation writer and whose papers are at the University of Texas, so we made a pilgrimage there to look at them, one of the English classes that the children were in, and they just thrilled to read what he really was writing in his own hand.
LAMB: After all of this Guns N' Roses and this music that you've been listening to, have you changed your allegiance? When you're by yourself at home . . .
CARPENTER: It's violins I want, but I must say we do kind of compromise on Elvis Presley. Never has Elvis Presley sounded so good to my ears as after hearing some of the hard rock, the metallic stuff.
LAMB: It seems that this has come up in a lot of the books we have talked about on history, something you say that you did, that you went out here to the Rock Creek Cemetery to the statue Grief. Why? Eleanor Roosevelt used to do that.
CARPENTER: It's a place to be alone, a place to be quiet, a place to meditate, and I think this was at the time that Fred Maroon had just done a beautiful book called Washington, D.C. with a gorgeous picture of the shrouded figure in it. You never knew whether it was a man or a woman. There's no expression of joy or grief. It's just there, and it's in a cloister of beautiful trees -- what's the Christmas berry tree? It had berry trees.
LAMB: Holly trees?
CARPENTER: Holly -- it slipped my mind; that happens all the time now. And these holly trees, and there it is, a tribute of Henry Adams to his wife. I think it's a lesson in not to be immobilized by grief or by terrible events in your life because you'll have no feeling. This statue seems to have no feeling at all, and the lesson of it is -- at least that's what I read into it -- is that you make a second life, which is pretty much what I tried to do after Les's death. In widowhood somebody just took my hands and said, "God's given you a chance at a second life." I've talked about that a lot in books and in lectures, and I can't tell you how rewarding it is to hear from other widows who say that it gave them courage to take on a new adventure.
LAMB: But in all this you've had the death of your husband, you've had a mastectomy, you've had an ankle fusion . . .
CARPENTER: I'm down to one of everything.
LAMB: Let me just show this because you brought this. This is your cane.
CARPENTER: I'm into canes and kids, but I have a friend who makes me those wonderful canes. They're just much better-looking than the medicinal-looking metal ones that if I were 20 years younger, I'd start a business with them because everybody asks me, "Where did you get that?" Well, I had a good friend.
LAMB: What keeps you going through all of this?
CARPENTER: I've always had high energy. It fades towards sunset, but I think that you feel needed. The worst thing in the world with aging is not to feel needed, and that's why I really think that we ought to have more intergenerational exchanges, and we're just beginning to. I've been invited to a couple of conferences where they're going to talk about what old people like me can do for younger people, because we do have a crisis with kids today in needing somebody to listen, a comforting arm, some sense of continuity. I think we've made a big mistake by putting lots of old-age homes out on the fringes of town where there are no sidewalks and where they can't see anybody but their own generation. There's so much that can be learned from each other.
LAMB: This tour you're on, before we sat down you said 28 cities.
CARPENTER: Twenty-eight cities, and I hope I don't go home in a pine box -- it's a long way. But I'd like to say they were clamoring for me, but I'm going out to speak at different things -- the Planned Parenthood conference down in Atlanta, and on across country to the West Coast. I get something from that; it feeds my soul. I hope it also brings this book to the attention of lots of people.
LAMB: Did you ask the kids if you could write this book, because there are a lot of personal comments in here from these kids.
CARPENTER: I didn't ask them. I began talking to them and saying, "I think I'm going to do this because you all are an interesting story." I would almost interview them. They weren't terribly receptive at first; they got more into it later. But even now Mary, who is the youngest, says to me, "I never wanted to be a public figure." I said, "You're the first person I ever met, Mary, who didn't want to be." The night that we had the blastoff for the book at the LBJ library auditorium -- there were a thousand people there -- Mary was dressed to the nines, Tommy was dressed to the nines. When they came in to present the first book to Lady Bird Johnson, Mary gave a wave almost like Queen Elizabeth. She enjoyed it and I think they like to hear from me. I write postcards home and try to tell them where we are at this time.
LAMB: You say near the end of the book that you picked up a $375 tab at the Kennedy Center one night.
CARPENTER: We went to the Kennedy Center, and we were feeling grand -- this was on our great trip to Washington. I brought six teenagers, not just the three I had, but one of the three was Jennifer Robb. We stayed with the Robbs and she was the right age group; then my grandson and a young friend of Tommy's named Bianca. But it was a little pack of 14- to 17-year-olds. So we went to the Kennedy Center. The president and Mrs. Clinton had made the presidential box available, that we could see The Phantom of the Opera. So we thought, We'll just dine up on top of the Kennedy Center.
My gosh, they ordered the equivalent of Shirley Temples, non-alcoholic drinks, and had an over-ambitious waiter who kept pushing more and more $10 Shirley Temples on them. I got the bill -- $379 -- and about $78 of it was due to the 17-year-old boy who ate everything in sight. But it was a grand evening, and then the marvelous thing was that the next morning I had this call from Mrs. Clinton's office saying, "Come to the White House tonight to dinner and bring the children." I said, "Bring the children?" She said yes and that they would be up with Chelsea in the solarium and with a number of other kids, and they'd have a pizza party. My grandson Les Carpenter from Seattle, says, "It's the first time I ever had pizza on White House china." But it was such a gracious thing to do, and, of course, it made a wonderful chapter in the book. I think it's the kind of thing they do quite frequently with children of their friends.
LAMB: You say you've known Mrs. Clinton for a long time.
CARPENTER: I've known both of them. I've known the president since he governor of Arkansas when I went down to work on getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed. Arkansas wasn't ripe for it. He was but the state wasn't. I've known Ms. Clinton since she was on a White House fellows committee that I was chairman of for the Southwest. She came to my home, and we were a group selecting White House fellow candidates from that part of the country.
LAMB: White House fellows started in Lyndon Johnson's time?
CARPENTER: Yes, and I think it proved to be a really good thing. They are banded together like brothers -- and sisters now -- and quite a few have gone on to be -- Elizabeth Dole was, for instance, a White House fellow.
LAMB: Wasn't Colin Powell also and Tim Wirth?
CARPENTER: I don't know. Maybe they were. But Tom Johnson was one, and you can find them scattered everywhere now, and they are all intently interested in public life and that's a good thing.
LAMB: A quote from you, this is one of your favorite toasts: "From Gen. Lafayette to Washington, central star of the constellation, may it enlighten the whole world." Why do you hold onto that toast?
CARPENTER: It's so much a dream of ours to be an example of democracy, and we fall short of it quite frequently, but I think when the general came back, and he came back on about three ceremonial trips, at the corner of I Street he lifted his glass and made it to the city of Washington. We were a mud hole of a town then. This is in the 1700s. People might have laughed, and, in fact, it took a long time for Great Britain to recognize us as a real, worthy country, but it was well-expressed. One time I was working on a toast for the president, and I used those lines because I think it was an underdeveloped country that was here at the time. It's good for us to remember we were once an underdeveloped country.
LAMB: You also have this quote from Allen Drury, the novelist . . .
CARPENTER: Still a good friend, still pouring out books.
LAMB: Is he still here in town?
CARPENTER: No, he lives in California. I see him when I go out there. I think he's into about his 40th book.
LAMB: What was his most famous book?
CARPENTER: Advise and Consent. It still stands, I think, as the best novel about this city.
LAMB: Quote from Allen Drury: "Washington, the great white marble capital in which evil men do good things and good men do evil in a way of life only Americans can understand, and often they are baffled."
CARPENTER: Isn't that a fabulous quote? I wish I'd written it. You can waltz to it. He gives such a good description. He was a young reporter for the New York Times covering the Hill at that time.
LAMB: "Washington, the great white marble capital in which evil men do good things. . . " Have you ever seen an evil man in this town do good things?
CARPENTER: I think probably.
LAMB: Do you want to name any?
CARPENTER: Andrew Jackson might have been an evil man at some time. We're not a flawless group of lawmakers. I mean, the evidence is there every day on Page 1, but I do think that -- well, Jefferson was a slaveholder but Jefferson also wrote a fantastic Declaration of Independence. Evils change, I guess, in which good men do evil and evil men -- how does the line go?
LAMB: "Good men do evil in a way of life only Americans can understand, and often they are baffled."
CARPENTER: I think we are baffled by it. You know, Lyndon Johnson picked up his dog by the ears. Well, a lot of people thought that was evil. He claimed that it made them healthy, but he also had the guts to have a war on poverty. He was the author of most of the civil rights legislation, so we can't expect perfection but, gosh, we batter our presidents. In a merciless way the present one is certainly -- I've never seen as cruel a press as we have today.
LAMB: What's behind it?
CARPENTER: Who knows? I think some better assignment editors at radio and TV stations would help because there's too much focus on one story. That's where the cameras go, and they pick it to death. They pick a president to death, and all the time that he's struggling to try to make peace in one part of the world, they're criticizing him in another. It's a merciless time in politics, and one of the things that I think is evil is the growing number of what I call hired guns, the people who don't really have any intimacy or association by birth or state with public figures and who are contracted for to come in and run focus groups and to run in and do polls.
I know that's very much a part of daily fare today, but whatever happened to your own friends, your own constituents for good judgment, because I see these people ride into Texas and they don't have a real feeling for the state or even the candidate's consideration. I'm thinking of New Jersey and I'm thinking of -- well, both sides have them, and it's too bad because it means the political parties themselves have lost power and idealism and hold on their membership. I can remember a Democratic Party and a Republican Party that were at loggerheads, but they had their own soul and they had their own judgment. They were not just collection agencies for big-money politics and for the hired guns. They had a Democratic Digest that took pieces of speeches, of ideas, of jokes. You had a sense of joy in politics.
LAMB: Bay at the Moon Club?
CARPENTER: Bay at the Moon Club was never political but is something that is my indulgence as an aging woman in Texas.
LAMB: When did you start it?
CARPENTER: Seven years ago, we were out on a ranch. The moon was full and we were too. Anyway, the coyotes -- we have a lot of coyotes down there -- started howling at the moon, so we all started going, "Woo, woo, woo." It made us feel wonderful. The great satisfaction was it shocked our children, and there's no greater satisfaction than to shock your own children when you have white hair. So we started getting together every time the moon was full and started making each other write poetry and be creative. They wrote a ballad when I had written Getting Better All the Time, a book about aging, and they have now written one called "The Ballad of the Teens," and they're going to go with me when I start the Texas tour and sing "The Ballad of the Teens." We are all older people, but we are all hams, and it's life-enhancing to do something ridiculous every week.
LAMB: Your foreword in this book is written by Erma Bombeck.
CARPENTER: Isn't she a whiz? I love what she told me, "Teenagers are hazardous to your health." When I told her I was contemplating taking these children, she said, "If it's adventure you want, Liz, go to Mount Rushmore, tie a rope on Lincoln's wart and take a bungee jump." She's been one of the really good advisers on what you say about kids today. I've picked her brain, her husband's brain. He used to be a schoolteacher, and he has great advice, Bill Bombeck.
LAMB: I was looking for the reference to "First, you should know I was bitten by a mad dog when I was 6."
CARPENTER: I was and I was living in the country. My younger brother and I had this puppy that turned out to have hydrophobia and we were bitten by it. We had to go down and take those 21 shots in your stomach, but out of it, George became a rabid Republican and I became a rabid Democrat. It had its effect.
LAMB: I wanted to ask you about that. Your brother Tom was the one that died and then left you with the three children. Was he a Republican?
CARPENTER: No, he was a Democrat, and, you know, we're in charge of give-away programs, accused of it. But he was a very interesting character and a soul mate in my life, and there was a beautiful eulogy to him at his funeral. When people read about it in the newspaper, I'd get these calls saying, "I wish I had known Tommy. I didn't know him." And I'd say, "Would you like one of his children?" It was kidding, of course, but nobody took them. So I have them and I have grown with it, and I love them and I miss them when they're gone from home. It's worth considering if you're older. Certainly it's more worthy than taking a dog, and maybe a lot less trouble.
LAMB: In a family like yours how would one of your brothers be a Republican and you be a Democrat? What happened in the family?
CARPENTER: I think we had a lot of arguments at the table.
LAMB: Did you have arguments?
CARPENTER: Oh, yes.
LAMB: What's the difference between you and George in age?
CARPENTER: I was more a child of the Depression -- with us, about three years. He just moves more slowly in terms of wanting progress. I want to race for progress.
LAMB: I wanted to ask you what you think a Democrat is and a Republican is.
CARPENTER: I think that a Democrat is one that thinks that government is a tool to be employed to bring better life for the people, to try to lift people out of squalor and to answer problems. I think that the Republican Party is so busy pinching pennies that they really think that the virtue is to have an absolutely balanced budget even if there are hungry and homeless in need, but we are a country that ought to be able to get together. Problems, I'm very aware of the health plan. These three kids I cannot afford health care for. It would cost $6,000 a year and so I take the gamble that they're pretty healthy. Yet when Mary breaks her arm, it cost $612 to set her arm in Austin, Texas; to get braces $3,000. You're writing big checks all the time, and I just would be horrified if some terrible disease that would come along because there wouldn't be any provisions. One of Lyndon Johnson's greatest regrets was that he did not serve long enough to get kiddy care -- like Medicare -- kiddy care through for children. There are so many children that just have nothing to lean on but charity or an indulgent aunt for their medical bills.
LAMB: You live in Austin and you're traveling around this country. Are the American people as mad at Washington as we read?
CARPENTER: No, in the loop you all have a grand old time disliking each other and focusing on every single flaw. I think out in the country the Clintons are trusted; I think that they are liked. I've lived through and known about 10 presidents, Brian, from FDR on, and all of them were shaped by World War II and the Depression until we had Clinton and Gore, and I think of them as a foursome. This group was shaped by hating the disasters of Vietnam, hating war, so to speak, and being for the environment. Those are the two factors that I see shaped them, and I don't think we've ever had four people as well educated and as well intentioned for the public as these four.
LAMB: You talk about Washington. You write, "Beauty, intrigue, in-the-know conversations, the breathless waiting through a tight vote on Capitol Hill, the over-the-shrimp-bowl gossip at 5 o'clock -- if you were young and a reporter, there was no escaping the spell this great city of power and glory offered, this listening post for the world, this revolving door for heads of state, this democracy in which we all hold a sense of personal ownership." Was that hard to write?
CARPENTER: Not a bit. It just rolled out. I was fresh from the White House at the time I wrote that, and there is where you felt the pomp and the ceremony of it and where you knew this was the No.1 residence of the Free World and it was the family that lived there. I have a very personal feeling about the White House.
LAMB: You went to the White House that night with your three kids, your new
kids. They went upstairs to the solarium and had pizza. You were downstairs with 60 people having what?
CARPENTER: A wonderful dinner.
LAMB: Who are some of the people you were there with? When was this?
CARPENTER: I think that the only Republican there was Alan Simpson, and he was very humorous about it, pointed it out constantly. I sat at the table with President Clinton, and he had Helen Thomas on his right, a table that was a mix of legislators -- well, congressmen, a number of black congressmen. He had people from Arkansas, and I loved it when the Strolling Strings came in and played "The Arkansas Traveler." I thought to show that the White House is full of people from all parts of the country and not just one coast or the other was a great tribute. It was very convivial. We were dining in the Blue Room, and I think the piercing eyes of John Tyler were on us, who incidentally -- you know, I collect history and so I told President Clinton that he was ancestor of Harry Truman. Sure enough, you'd look at them and they'd look somewhat alike.
LAMB: Had you been back to the White House for that kind of a social evening since Lyndon Johnson had been president?
CARPENTER: Yes, I was invited to a ceremony by the Bushes for Mrs. Johnson, and I had been there during the Carter administration when I worked here in Washington as assistant secretary of education under Shirley Hufstedler, when Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn were there. I believe that I'd been to a reception when President Reagan was there.
LAMB: But sitting there that night at that dinner in the Blue Room, looking back on the time when you were responsible for those kinds of things and making them happen, what were you thinking? What were you thinking about the White House, this president, your experience?
CARPENTER: I am a Clinton supporter so I was thrilled to be at his table, and this young man doing the best he can by his country. I was thrilled at that and to see old friends, but a thousand ghosts pass through your mind of moments when you entered that house. We entered under a very dark curtain, the death of President Kennedy, and I will never forget Mrs. Johnson, who was so good with words. She said when somebody asked how it felt to be in that house, "History thunders down the corridors at you." It does indeed. I remembered when Charles Lindbergh came back and the astronauts were there. I was in charge of setting p a picture of him with the astronauts because we thought they'd be thrilled to be photographed with Lindbergh, and he hadn't been there since Hoover. When the cameras clicked and that flash went off, you could see him flinch visibly. I knew that this was a man that really hated the spotlight. I could remember great heads of state coming through there, and those wonderful two Andrew Jackson trees outside the windows, the big magnolias. I could remember funny press conferences down on the first floor. I was press secretary and there were about 85 women reporters, primarily women, who covered Mrs. Johnson, and I was trying to get them to go to the Big Bend out in West Texas, so the more I would talk about the fact that you had to be careful of panthers and we would be riding rafts, the more people would sign up. They wanted adventure; they wanted to go on the trip.
Sure enough, we ended up with about 85 rafts going down the Rio Grande River, where you could almost reach Mexico on one side of the canyon and Texas on the other. It was one of the most delightful trips I've ever been on, and I think she loved it. Stewart Udall was with us; he was secretary of Interior. I called back to the White House, and, of course, the person who was always awake at any moment was President Johnson.
In fact, there's a funny story about him calling Wayne Hays one night, and he said to him at 1 a.m., "Wayne, did I wake you?" Wayne Hays said, "No, Mr. President, I was just lying here waiting for you to call." When I called the White House to find out how the story was being played because there had been a lot of photographs of all of these rafts going down the river, and Mrs. Johnson and Secretary Udall, the only person I could get on the phone who had read the papers was LBJ, up early. I said, "What is it like?" He was such a good reporter, he said, "There's a four-column picture on the front of the New York Times in which Stewart Udall looks like Tonto and Lady Bird looks like the Lone Ranger."
She had on a western hat. I knew exactly what it looked like, but I think it was the accessibility of the Johnsons to the public and to those of us who worked for them that really made you so willing to work long hours and still be at it. It's amazing to me when we have an LBJ reunion, which we do about every two years, as you know, there's so many people who are still in public life if not as public servants or running for an office but just being part of the process because we never got turned off of politics. We thought it was a tool that could be used to make life better for the folks.
LAMB: In seeing President Clinton up close at a 60-person dinner, do you see something that we don't see when we watch him on television?
CARPENTER: I see a very friendly man, I see a man who will listen, I see a man who wants to make a difference in the lives of people, and I see beyond that a young Arkansas boy who went to Oxford. It must have been a really hard road to hoe to get to be a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, and I see him now trying to use that education, all of that training to make his country a terrific place on this earth and a terrific example, and I really get offended when people don't give him a break.
LAMB: When we started talking about your visit to the White House with the kids and your dinner, the kids were upstairs having pizza. After this, you had your stories and they had theirs. What were they telling you?
CARPENTER: They were telling that after they had pizza Chelsea said, "Would you like to see my dad's office?" She took them down to see the president's office. They got to sit in chairs in the Cabinet Room, and then she took them on a tour of the White House. They came up as we were breaking up from dinner, and, I had hoped very much they'd get to meet the president and say hello to Mrs. Clinton, who had greeted them at the door when we came in. I had given them a lot of warnings, "Shake hands, look him in the eye, say something interesting," over and over.
I was really pleased that when all of this little band of kids came that they headed right to him and did exactly that, and I don't know what they said but he joshed with them some. Of course, he has a teenager of his own and he understands them. Then they moved on to Vice President and Mrs. Gore, and all of us went home to Sen. and Mrs. Robb's house where we were camping out. It was like a bunch of old ladies after a tea; all of us had our story to tell. The kids were as excited as they could be, and they worried about Chelsea -- "She doesn't have a chance to be a kid." I think the Clintons have tried very hard to make her feel part of the action but without shoving her in front of cameras, and that's healthy. They also were impressed with the building they hadn't seen before, and they suddenly began saying "Bill and Hillary and Tipper and Al." That was kind of nice, too, though I hope they don't ever say it to them.
LAMB: This is not a big book. Did you choose . . .
CARPENTER: I wanted a book that arthritic fingers could hold in bed. You know, so many books today you can't lift up in bed.
LAMB: Two hundred thirty-one pages, not very heavy.
CARPENTER: Not very heavy, you can hold it in bed and it's easy easy to read. It's funny. It's a good gift book, I think.
LAMB: What you learn in this book is that you got tickets for these young kids to concerts in Austin and you ended up writing some homework, as I remember, some papers that were due for -- is it Liz?
CARPENTER: Yeah. Everybody does this, I think. I do have academic friends who shy away from -- "Why, you admitted that you wrote her paper." Well, it was a matter of getting it done. I did pump her for the knowledge that she had, but they give a lot of homework these days, you know, and so I confess. I helped her write her papers.
LAMB: Do your newfound family members appreciate what you've done for them? Do they know what you've done for them?
CARPENTER: I don't think we ever do. I've asked myself how many times did I say thank you to my mother. Not enough. I think that they feel closer to me; they say, "I love you" now, which they certainly didn't say when they first came because they were scared, they were new, they were sad about their father, they didn't know what this gray-haired woman was going to do with them, but I do think there is increasing appreciation. But if you're looking for gratitude, don't do it. You're not likely to get open gratitude.
LAMB: In the early part of your book you quote from Mary White and then Lucinda Matlock. What's the purpose?
CARPENTER: I think it says a lot about life today. Mary White was a woman who was a quilter, an illiterate woman, and she said, a quote that struck me very much, "Sometimes you don't have no control over the way things go. Hail ruins the crops or fire burns you out, and then you're just given so much to work with in a life and you have to do the best you can with what you've got. That's what piecing is. The materials is passed on to you or is all you can afford to buy . . . your fate. But the way you put them together is your business. You can put them in any order you like." I think that says something about priorities, where you want to put your priorities, on love or on selfishness, greed, on taking care of your own neck instead of reaching out to others.
But I also like Lucinda Matlock from "Spoon River Anthology." She was the old woman who died at 96 and who was speaking to the people of the village from the grave, and pretty disgusted. She said, "What is this I hear of sorrow and discontent, anger, disillusionment, and drooping hopes? Degenerate sons and daughters, life is too strong for you. It takes life to love life." Well, Brian, I feel like I've lived a slice of life in the last three years as I've lived slices of it before, but this has been an interesting time and it's made me more aware of my country and the peril that children are in.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like. Our guest has been Liz Carpenter, and the name of this book is "Unplanned Parenthood." Thank you for joining us.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.