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Paul Greenberg
Paul Greenberg
No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton Watching
ISBN: 1574880055
No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton Watching
Mr. Greenberg talked about his recent book, No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton-Watching, published by Brassey's. It is a collection of his articles and editorials written about President and Mrs. Clinton in the 1970s and 1980s for newspapers in Arkansas. He described the ambivalence about President Clinton among the public which is evident in his articles.
No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton Watching
Program Air Date: July 7, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Paul Greenberg, where did you get the title "No Surprises"?
PAUL GREENBERG, AUTHOR, "NO SURPRISES" Two Decades of Clinton Watching": Throughout Bill Clinton's rise, it occurred to me that many people were surprised, and still are, at the different courses that our president takes. But to some of us who have followed him for 20 years or so, there are no surprises. And if I could put together a selection of past columns, editorials, comments, and then look back on them in additional comments, we would have a reference book that would avoid surprises in the future about Bill Clinton.
LAMB: Where did you get your Pulitzer Prize? For what?
GREENBERG:I was writing for the Pine Bluff Commercial then. I was doing editorials on civil rights. The prize was awarded in 1969 for editorials written during 1968. And that was a time when George Wallace was running for president and much of the South was still in turmoil. And the editorials were generally about the need for understanding, respect for the rights of others. And the Pulitzer Prize was awarded early the next year, in '69.
LAMB: How long did you live in Pine Bluff, Arkansas?
GREENBERG:For some 30 years, not counting one year away in Chicago with the old Daily News.
LAMB: What got you there in the first place?
GREENBERG:I was looking for a job. I had just been told that Columbia University would no longer have need for me as a graduate student, since I had flunked my oral exams there. And I was very anxious to take a year off -just get a job, preferably writing. And sure enough, the University of Missouri placement bureau told me that there was a one year opening in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and it sounded like heaven to me to get back to the South, where I'm from originally.
LAMB: Where's home originally?
GREENBERG:Shreveport, which is just a little further south from Pine Bluff.
LAMB: Can you remember the very first time you ever met Bill Clinton?
GREENBERG:I don't think I can. I remember meeting him on various occasions, both in a political setting and just the kind of ordinary meetings you have in a small state. But I can't recall the first time that he came onto my radar screen.
LAMB: You write about a time when you were at a birthday party with him in one of these columns. Do you remember when that was?
GREENBERG:Definitely. That was around the time that Michael Dukakis was running for president, so it must have been in '88. And I was fascinated because Bill Clinton, at a social setting, must have spoken for about four hours solely about politics, not about sports or music or art or entertainment or even about the people who were there or the ordinary small talk that transpires on such an occasion. And at one point, our governor, then, took me aside and explained in excruciating detail every mistake that Mike Dukakis had made during the campaign and what lines he would have used instead of Governor Dukakis' and how he would have conducted this campaign in a much more effective manner.
LAMB: Was this, by the way, a private party?
GREENBERG:This was a birthday party for an old friend in Pine Bluff, a fervid partisan and supporter of Governor Bill Clinton's, now President Clinton.
LAMB: And what was your relationship with Bill Clinton then? What did he think of you then?
GREENBERG:I don't know what he thought of me. We had written numerous editorials, both critical and favorable, toward the governor. I have written my share of endorsement editorials for Bill Clinton over the years. And it was a social gathering, and we had a good chat, or at least he had a good chat with me. I don't think I had a chance to say very much.
LAMB: But for hours, he talked about politics?
GREENBERG:Every time I saw him at this party, he would be talking about politics to someone else, and he seemed to spend an excruciatingly long time with me.
LAMB: September 27th, 1980, best I can tell, from a column, `Slick Willie 'started.
GREENBERG:Yes. I was much interested, when we put together this book, as to the origins of Slick Willie. I knew that we had coined it very early.
LAMB: Who's `we'?
GREENBERG:I'm using the editorial we, for the Pine Bluff Commercial. I'm really talking about myself.
LAMB: You coined Slick Willie.
GREENBERG:Right, with the approbation of my publisher then, Ed Freeman. And I wasn't sure exactly when, and thanks to the good people at the Pine Bluff Public Library. And going through editorial page after editorial page, to the best of our knowledge the library staff and mine we were able to bracket it at September 27th, 1980, during that gubernatorial campaign. That was when, on a Saturday edition, we referred to Bill Clinton as Slick Willie. It was in connection with his having painted himself at a Democratic convention as being in the long line of reform governors that had followed Orval Faubus, which put him in the line of Winthrop Rockefeller, Dale Bumpersand David Pryor. And we were aghast and horrified at that, because even then, we thought of Bill Clinton as a trimmer, a compromiser rather than a forthright spokesman for reform. And, indeed, in 1980, he was competing at protesting the arrival of Cuban refugees at Ft. Chaffee with the Republican candidate in that year. So we took exception to his painting himself as a reformer and dubbed him Slick Willie. I can't say that we gave him the nickname, because we often referred to politics, on that editorial page, and to politicians by nicknames. Some of them stuck; some of them didn't. And I think Bill Clinton earned his by his general dissembling, his tendency to waffle throughout his career.
LAMB: Can you remember when somebody nationally used that for the first time?
GREENBERG:I think it began to arise in the 1992 campaign. I began to notice Slick Willie cropping up as Bill Clinton took various different positions in that campaign, some of them contradictory with the earlier positions.
LAMB: Did they get that from your editorials?
GREENBERG:I don't know what the origin is, but I'm confident about the original use of Slick Willie.
LAMB: I counted tell me if I'm wrong 146 columns in this book.
GREENBERG:You know, I never counted them. I appreciate your giving me that information.
LAMB: How did you figure out which 146 to choose, and what's the purpose of the book?
GREENBERG:I went through about 20 years of old editorials and columns, and I was particularly interested in those that would shed light on Bill Clinton as he developed. Those that might have some prophetic or predictive quality. And I was also interested in the worst, in those editorials which showed how often I had misjudged Bill Clinton or had given him the benefit of the doubt when he disappointed us later. And I thought that they would show something of Bill Clinton's evolution as well as mine. This book could be subtitled, "The Education of Paul Greenberg," really, about the political techniques that are Clintonism. And if I could supply that to the public as a reference work, some of the courses that Bill Clinton takes would no longer be a surprise.
LAMB: I found the same phrase on two different pages in two different time frames. I'm going to go to page 22, and this is July 29th, 1992. And you wrote the following. `So emphatic a denial hasn't been heard since another great American statesman, Richard Nixon, declaimed, "I am not a crook."' Now that's on page 22. And if you go back to page 148, in a column this time that was written in 1993, you say, `The assertion had the same empty ring as Richard Nixon's denial at another press conference, "I am not a crook."' And Richard Nixon, I think more often than anybody, is compared by you to Bill Clinton. Do you agree with that?
GREENBERG:I think so, because there seems to be a hollowness at the core of both these politicians. There doesn't seem to be a consistency, a philosophy. Instead, there seems to be a certain tactical genius in both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and an ability to come back from political adversity. After all, if you look back at some of Nixon's surprising moves, you wonder about why would a man with Nixon's background be in favor of wage and price controls or make his dramatic decision to go to China? Those were deviations from his course. But in Bill Clinton, the deviations really replace a course. I cannot think of a single consistent thread in Bill Clinton's political development; certainly, no principal that he might not shave or even abandon if an election were at stake.
LAMB: When did you start calling him `Hollow Man' that's another title for another column and why?
GREENBERG:That would have been early in the 1990s, and it became more and more evident to me as the '92 campaign got under way. That was a campaign in which Bill Clinton almost had a debate with himself on every issue.
LAMB: When did you start referring to the first lady, and why did you start referring to her, as `Miss Hillary'?
GREENBERG:Well, Miss Hillary, you know, is really a title of respect. You might have to come from our latitudes to understand that. But there are certain people, either age or stature, such as the governor's wife, the first lady of your state, whom you would like to refer to in a formal sense with full respect. And at the same time, this figure is so familiar to readers that it would sound unnatural to say, `Mrs. Clinton.' And so Miss Hillary is proffered, just as an old friend might be Mr. Sam or Mr. Charles, or your doctor might be Dr. Joe instead of Dr. Smith.
LAMB: What do you think of her?
GREENBERG:I have a great deal of empathy for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I remember vividly the first time I saw Hillary Clinton. I will never forget that. It was at the Hotel Sam Peck, which now is the Hotel Legacy on Capitol in Little Rock. She was there as a law professor from the University of Arkansas to participate in a forum on the newly developing National Endowment for the Humanities. And in this entire room of professors who thought it was just a splendid idea that each of them get a federal grant to go around the state talking about their particular specialty, this faculty member, this teacher of law whom I had never laid eyes on before, got up and warned the assemblage that one could not accept federal money without also accepting federal strings. This was a period when the Vietnam War was really in the news, and here was a person who was going to retain her independence and understood very well that with money comes control. This is not the Hillary Rodham Clinton, I think, we would recognize today. She has gone through many changes since, and I would hazard the guess that it was at considerable sacrifice to the strength and integrity of her character. At one point, she even changed names. Early in the Clinton administration, much like other strong minded women, she stuck with her maiden name. She was then Hillary Rodham.
LAMB: You're talking about down in Arkansas.
GREENBERG:Down in Arkansas. And later, after Bill Clinton's defeat for re election as governor, she became simply Hillary Clinton, adopting her husband's name and also, I think, a more demure and less prominent position. We saw the development of what you might call a Stepford wife there, in which the spouse of the candidate steps back during speeches, looks adoringly at the candidate himself and generally fades into the background. And then, with the '92 campaign, we were going to get two presidents for the price of one, if you will recall Bill Clinton's campaign. She took a very prominent role in what proved to be a political disaster, the development of the health proposal, and then went into the background once again. I don't know how many changes are ahead of her, but I'm confident that we have a very strong personality in Hillary Rodham Clinton and that she's made many sacrifices of that personality and of her own strong integrity in terms of forwarding her husband's career.
LAMB: Why did you leave Pine Bluff, and where did you go?
GREENBERG:About four years, ago I was offered a job as editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. That was the surviving newspaper of the newspaper war in Little Rock, a bitter contest. And I was confident that our publisher, Walter Hussman, was interested in providing the whole state with an editorial page, a whole opinion section that would present a variety of opinions and, at the same time, be a strong advocate for views of conservative ideas. And it was just an irresistible offer to me, and I took it.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
GREENBERG:Just about all over. I went to Centenary College of Louisiana in my hometown of Shreveport for a couple of years, a fine liberal arts school. And then I went on to study journalism at the University of Missouri. Fell in love with history there and stayed on to get a master's degree. And then after the Army, went to Columbia University in New York City, where I spent a couple of years not getting a PhD in American history.
LAMB: What happened there? Why didn't you get it?
GREENBERG:That question has often arisen in my dreams; not so often anymore. I do know that I had come quite a ways but was unable to pass the oral exams. Why that happens, only the professors could tell me.
LAMB: What would have changed in your life had you been successful, do you think?
GREENBERG:We're not given to look into our alternate futures. I would like to think that I would have enjoyed the study and teaching of history, but I can't really imagine anything as much fun as I have had writing editorials and writing columns.
LAMB: Whose idea was the book?
GREENBERG:A man named Frank Margianas, the publisher at Brassey's. He called me one day and asked if I would like to do a book about Bill Clinton. And I said, `I really don't have the time and energy to do a biography, but I have always wanted to collect past columns and editorials that I thought were particularly interesting,' because I was getting tired of trooping down to the basement of the Democrat Gazette and going through old and dusty cartons looking for a particular historical precedent that I thought would be so telling. If I could have all these in one book on my shelf to guide me and to refer to in the future, I thought that was good enough reason to collect a book like this and also to write various introductory and concluding passages about where Bill Clinton had been and where I was in my judgment of him.
LAMB: Did anything that you found among the columns surprise you?
GREENBERG:I knew that my doubts about Bill Clinton and about his tendency to trim the truth and to dissemble was very strong by the time 1992 and that presidential campaign arrived. I knew I had a few surprises in store for his years as president. But one thing that did surprise me was how long it took for me to give up on Bill Clinton as a president who would lead us into an era of principle or clear direction. As I went through those columns, particularly those that endorsed Bill Clinton for another term, I realized how often I had given Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt. And so I can sympathize now with those voters who have a vague and inarticulate unease or dis ease with Bill Clinton but who would like to give him another chance, who feel that he will shape up next time, because I can identify with them. I can see that pattern in my own writing. Indeed, I had lunch not too long ago with Jim McDougal, who was at the center of the Whitewater financial transaction that later became a national obsession and scandal. And one of the things he said when I asked him to describe Bill Clinton was that part of Bill Clinton's political charm, and his charm as a human being, is that he seems to be a young man who just wants a chance, who needs a little help, a little guidance to set him straight. And that rang a bell with me, because very often, I myself had written columns that had predicted that `once Bill Clinton gets on his feet, once he matures, he will use these tremendous personal assets of stamina, energy, articulation in good causes.' And again and again, I was disappointed.
LAMB: Define your own personal political views, the best you can.
GREENBERG:I'm kind of a non party liner conservative. I think if you put me in the conservative ranks, you would certainly have me in the right area. I believe in trusting experience more than theory. I'm very suspicious of abstract ideas in politics, very much interested in preserving the integrity of our institutions. And at the same time, I am an American conservative. I want to extend those freedoms that are in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights to an ever growing number of Americans, which may explain my interest in civil rights back in the 1960s and '70s and before then. And also because it may explain our grave disappointment in the United States? And everybody's predicting that he's going to be re elected.
GREENBERG:Now that's a good question, and it is one that I've asked myself. I don't think Bill Clinton is an anomaly. I think that he is very much a part of ourselves and about the developing culture of the 1990s. I remember holding that letter he had written to Colonel Holmes, the ROTC colonel, to thank Colonel Holmes, as a young Rhodes scholar, for keeping him out of the draft at a critical time. I think that is the most revealing document Bill Clinton ever wrote. There is a winning candor about it, and even in that letter, having expressed his opposition to the war and his gratitude for being able to escape the draft at a critical time, he explains why he didn't take a more public stand against the war. It was in order to protect, he said, his political viability. I think that is his cardinal principle: His re election, his advancement in political life. And as I read that letter, I thought, `Well, this finally does it.' I felt a little like Jack Burden in "All the King's Men." At last, Jack Burden had this little slip of paper that would show what kind of man he was after, and that Bill Clinton would surely not be able to come back from this kind of a statement, which showed really not so much that he had avoided the war at a critical time, but that he had dissembled about it for about 20 years when he said he had submitted to the draft without thinking about how to avoid it .And I thought, `This finishes Bill Clinton.' But I was surprised by how little that kind of letter or any of the other inconsistencies in the Clinton record matter. And I think it has something to do with how we approach our politicians in the 1990s quite differently from the way we approached them in the '50s, say. We're not so much interested in the before or the after, the consistency or the principles of a politician; we're very much interested only in the present moment. I think about it in terms of our music. If you want to appreciate a symphony, say, the individual note doesn't matter very much. You have to remember what went before and what will come after. Do you like Mozart? When they can watch MTV, when they can watch the present. If you look at a film clip, not on C SPAN, but on other networks that provide entertainment, there is such rapidity of movement that only the present counts. Neither the past nor the future count so much as the emotion of the present. And, you know, Bill Clinton does have a great talent for substituting the sentiment of the present for any kind of durable principle that extends from the past to the future. His is a kind of instant MTV music.
LAMB: You twice write about a Danish camera crew that came to you at two different times. What was the point of that?
GREENBERG:I think the first time they came, the Danes were surprised at finding this editor of the home state newspaper who shook his head sadly about...
LAMB: You.
GREENBERG:Yes. I was I was editorial page editor then, and still am, of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. And the Danes seemed suspicious and skeptical about this newspaperman who was saying that Bill Clinton did not really represent any new birth of American idealism, that it was very hard tot ell where he would go, except with the tide. And I could sense that skepticism. But after the Danes came back after a couple or three years, and they had been following European developments, and particularly the terrible bloodshed and the massacre after massacre in Bosnia, during which the Clinton administration vacillated and more or less retreated from what we had hopefully thought of as American leadership in a new world order you don't hear that phrase anymore the Danes seemed sobered and were saying things like, `Well, you were right after all. We had hoped for too much.' But I think that, because they were foreigners, because they were involved so much in European affairs, they had soured on Bill Clinton. But there is a deep river of isolationism in the American psyche that doesn't pay too much attention to Europe, does not judge a president by his foreign policy, that still has not figured out that Bill Clinton is going to go with the tide, wherever it leads him.
LAMB: When it comes to Bill Clinton, you had praise for two editorial writers. One's a conservative and one's a liberal. One's with The New York Times, Howell Raines, who runs that page, and one's with the Wall Street Journal, Bob Bartley, who runs that page. Why were you praising both men, opposite political sides, on the way they treated Bill Clinton?
GREENBERG:I have been impressed by Howell Raines' willingness despite the fact that The New York Times certainly is a liberal organ in this country and agrees with so many of the policies that the Clinton administration has, if only briefly, supported that he would sense in Bill Clinton a lack of this devotion to principle, a lack of this a sense of honor no matter what, that one sticks with one's principles whatever happens. I think it has something to do with Raines' Southern roots. And I was disappointed in an article that I didn't think captured that kind of integrity on the part of Howell Raines. In the case of Bob Bartley, I've admired and agreed with the policies he has supported on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and his willingness to go deep into the Clinton scandals. At the same time, I have just been appalled at the personal nature of some of those editorials and at the trashing of Arkansas in general that has taken place on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. And Bob Bartley and I, or at least through some of his surrogates, have had some interesting journalistic battles over this. My thesis has been that Arkansas mores should not be confused with Clinton mores, that our state is not the nest of corruption and deceit that is painted in the editorial column of the Wall Street Journal.
LAMB: You signed some of your columns `Arky.' What's an Arky?
GREENBERG:An Arky is a breed of Arkansan that might be associated with the kind of people who found themselves poor and disinherited during the middle of the Great Depression and, through great strength of character, stuck it out on their homestead or put all of their belongings on their old jalopies like the Joads Okies is a close word to Arky and struck out for California. And through the strength of their families and their sheer grit, were able to go from poverty into endurance and survival. I have a great admiration for the Arky. Sometimes people from Arkansas are also called `Arkansawyer,' a word that also, I think, calls up rural roots, a certain distance from the urban craziness that drives a lot of our society. And there is a more modern and more public relations oriented word for people from Arkansas, and that's the word `Arkansan,' very close to `Kansan,' has a Northern, urban, modern flavor, and I think much of our public relations now uses the word Arkansan in order to separate us from those rural roots and the old Arkansas stories about hillbillies and so on. I've always been suspicious of the word Arkansan myself, but many people in Arkansas favor it because it seems like such a modern, refined, up to date word. We have a real identity crisis in Arkansas, and I think many small states with a history of poverty do.
LAMB: If somebody were to be sitting at your desk over the last four, five years, ever since Bill Clinton became a contender in this country and then president, what kind of people have called you over the years? What kind of things have been said to you? Meaning other media types and all that. And what's it feel like to be in your position and be asked about all this?
GREENBERG:I get the widest range of reactions. I get the irate caller who thinks that my newspaper really ought to be more supportive of a president who, after all, is a native son and comes from Arkansas. And, indeed, I included in that book, "No Surprises," a column or two about the rise of Bill Clinton and how it has erased some of the wrong conceptions about Arkansas, about how he has attached us to some of the modern definitions of Arkansas. And at the same time, I get calls from people who say, `Well, I'm glad someone is telling what everyone in Arkansas knows about Bill Clinton how many times he has broken his promises and how many times he has waffled.' And then there are people who say, `Wow. What a terrible reception you must have back home if you're criticizing the homer, the candidate of the home state.' But I find most people are very civil, indeed...
LAMB: Well, I guess I didn't ask it correctly. What about the national media? What are they calling you now and saying. You know, what are they asking you now? Because I know you've done a lot of television over the last four or five years.
GREENBERG:`Is Bill Clinton going to straighten up in his second term?' I get that question.
LAMB: What does that mean?
GREENBERG:That's a good question. I'm not sure what it means. I don't think that he is going to change from his waffling or his mastery of equivocation.
LAMB: Has he ever changed?
GREENBERG:I think his course has been general and I think it is predictable, but I am surprised by the number of people who are not surprised by it, who continue to think that there is, at the center of this maze, some Bill Clinton that will magically come out at some point, some great pillar of strength, and I doubt it very much. I remember that during the 1992 campaign, I got a call from it must have been Deborah Orrin of the New York Post asking, `Well, what is Bill Clinton really like?' And I had been asked that question so many times that I simply burst out laughing, and she said, `Oh, you're laughing because I'm new on the campaign trail and you've been down it so many times, and you're just laughing at my ignorance.' And I was a little hurt by that, that she would think that I would be so rude I said, `No, ma'am, it has nothing to do with that.' It's as if I'd just spent the last couple of days in a house of mirrors on some carnival’s sideshow and had never been able to find my way out and never been able to find my way to the center of this problem: Who is the real Bill Clinton? I finally managed to make my way back to the starting point, as empty of any conclusion as ever, and someone comes up to me and says, `Can you point me to the way out?' And at that point, you just have to laugh.
LAMB: There's some personal stuff in here. Chapter 12 is about the author, A Wry Self Portrait. `Me, I like old books, old films, old typefaces, the smell of coffee, the taste of Scotch whiskey, the origin and connotation of words, Mozart, Telemann, "Carmen," Patsy Cline, all the passions that are safely dead.' What was the purpose of writing this back in 1995.
GREENBERG:I think the reader of a book should have some knowledge of the author so that you know where the author is coming from, so that you can hear a person in the book. I happen to have written that column not too long ago, and I thought, `Well, here is a column that will put the non political Greenberg in the book and give the reader some insight into that person.' I think every writer, or even, Brian, every anchorman or interviewer on television has another life off camera or outside of print. I think most writers do, and I copied slavishly and confessedly this piece from Borges, the great Argentinean writer, who also wrote a very brief and much better and beautiful essay about himself and the other Borges and how much of his personal life was now being sacrificed to his life as a writer and was being put on paper.
LAMB: Are you married?
GREENBERG:I was. I'm now a widower.
LAMB: How long ago did that happen? The widower part?
GREENBERG:My wife, Caroline, died on June 15th of 1995.
LAMB: So not too long ago. How many children?
GREENBERG:I have two kids, Daniel and Ruth.
LAMB: And you say in here Dan Greenberg helped on this book.
GREENBERG:Yes, he did yeoman service. I cannot imagine this book taking shape without him, because all of these old clippings and editorials had just been thrown into boxes by years, then they had been thrown into an old storage room at the Democrat Gazette. And Dan went down there in the middle of an Arkansas summer, put them in very neat order for me. So it was a feat not only of organizing genius, but also of sheer physical stamina down in that un air conditioned place, so I am most grateful to him.
LAMB: How old is he?
GREENBERG:He's 30 now.
LAMB: What's he do?
GREENBERG:He works for the Arkansas Policy Foundation, a job he got after he came to Arkansas, briefly explored a race for Congress, and had come there from right here in Washington, where he had worked for the Heritage Foundation as a researcher.
LAMB: And Ruth?
GREENBERG:Ruth is with CIO, Chief Information Officer Magazine, in Boston, Massachusetts. She went up to Brandeis as a college student, fell in love with that part of the country and decided that she would settle in Boston.
LAMB: When you have free time, what do you? How do you spend it?
GREENBERG:I like to listen to music and I like to read books.
LAMB: And is it Mozart and Telemann that are your favorites? Are they classical music?
GREENBERG:Yes, but I would also be lost without "Carmen" and especially Patsy Cline.
LAMB: Why Patsy Cline?
GREENBERG:I guess it's the Shreveport boy in me coming up. It brings back memories of my youth and driving around Louisiana and east Texas and listening to Patsy Cline on jukeboxes, in addition to which Patsy has a great voice. I don't think anyone can listen to "Crazy" or "I Go to Pieces" without feeling that the singer is speaking and singing directly to you.
LAMB: What was Shreveport like?
GREENBERG:It was a great place to raise a family. It was a Southern city not too different from many Southern cities. Shreveport has a long and large element of Texas in it because it is so close to the Texas border. It's really a kind of capital of east Texas rather than a Louisiana city, to some extent.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
GREENBERG:My dad was in several businesses, but always at the same location. He started off selling second hand shoes and fixing them; went on into the pawn business hated that; went into the furniture business; but always at the same location on Texas Avenue in Shreveport, Louisiana.
LAMB: And where do you think you got your conservative views?
GREENBERG:I've held them for so long it's hard for me to say exactly where they came from. I think that I've always been interested in the past, which may explain why I became a student of history, and what the past can teach us and why we pay so little attention to the past. And I grew up on the editorials in the Shreveport Times. I think that's one of the reasons I take seriously the job of an editorial writer, because even now, when some idea will form in my mind and I can't be sure where I got it from, it will take me a moment, and then I will think, `Oh, yeah, that was the Shreveport Times' position back in the 1950s.'So I think that when writing editorials, it's always good not to get too involved in the issues of the day, the president of the day, but to think about that young, developing person who's going to read these editorials and be shaped not by the position the newspaper is taking at a particular time, but by the values that that editorial expresses.
LAMB: I want to ask you about people, because you write about other Arkansans, or people from Arkansas, who we know from seeing them on C SPAN. You say somewhere in this book that Dale Bumpers, Democrat, senator from Arkansas, has character. Why would you say that?
GREENBERG:I think there is a consistency to Dale Bumpers' policy. I think I have always been particularly fond of Dale Bumpers when he loses patience with the game, does not say the perfectly discreet remark, but shows that he is very much involved with the political process. And I am especially fond of the younger Dale Bumpers, who was governor of Arkansas and came in to defeat Orval Faubus and really marked a watershed in Arkansas history.
LAMB: You don't see much of him around. I mean, he doesn't do much television. You know, there was talk about him running for president one time. What happened at some point? Did he just decide to opt out of the national game?
GREENBERG:I think Senator Bumpers would be surprised to hear you say that, but I think that there is some truth to it. I think many of our politicians from Arkansas come down with Washingtonitis, and I have been disappointed more than once in Dale Bumpers' recitation of the familiar liberal line, particularly in foreign affairs. I think that he completely misjudged, for example, the nature of the arms race and foreign policy, and I know that if Senator Bumpers were here with us today, he would still argue with me on that point. But, nevertheless, I was disappointed in that aspect of him. Something happens when people come to Washington. Brian, is it something in the water here?
LAMB: Well, you're drinking it. I don't know. You may not want to stay too long.
GREENBERG:Perhaps if you could order me up some bottled water, from Arkansas?
LAMB: The other senator who is retiring, Senator David Pryor, you also talk about him and a technique that you say he uses when someone disagrees with him.
GREENBERG:Yes. It's a very winning one, and I think David Pryor is one of the best mannered people I've ever met, if not the best mannered. He's a very winning personality.
LAMB: What do you mean by `mannered'?
GREENBERG:He makes you feel as though you are the center of his attention, perhaps because you are. He treats everyone as a guest. He treats everyone as a human being. And when I am with David, I notice that I have already slipped into calling him by his first name. I think everyone in Arkansas calls the senator by his first name because he's that sort of man. And I've often told my children, `If you want to learn manners not what spoon to use or what fork to use but if you want to learn how to communicate with people and how to have a relationship with people, just spend a day with David Pryor.' And he is solicitous of people. And as a politician, he will call up others and, without giving his own views, say, `What would you do? Give me some advice in this situation.' And that, of course, involves you as his ally and his friend in offering him your advice. And once you have done that ,whether he takes the counsel or not, you are allied to him in this endeavor. You feel a special bond with him.
LAMB: Betsey Wright.
GREENBERG:She's a scrapper, and I respect Betsey Wright.
LAMB: Who is she?
GREENBERG:She is a longtime aide to Governor Bill Clinton. She was his chief of staff for a time. She is great at rationalizing anything Bill Clinton will do. For a time, she was in charge of `bimbo eruptions,' a phrase that she herself coined with admirable candor, and I think one of the saddest sights I ever saw was Betsey Wright walking over to hear the acceptance speech at the at the Democratic National Convention in a New York downpour in her beautiful dress, just striking out because she had lost patience with New York cabs, knew she wouldn't get one, and was going to hear her man, her leader, give his acceptance speech. This was really a triumph of her political career as a counselor. And I knew even then that Betsey Wright would be eclipsed in the future of the Clinton administration. She's no longer a part of it, although she comes out now and then, is rolled out whenever there is a particularly personal scandal to explain.
LAMB: Why, though? I mean, first question: Why wasn't she put in the White House? Why didn't she take a job or why didn't they even offer her to take a job as a member of the White House staff?
GREENBERG:I'm not privy to the president's inner counsels, but I suspect it's because she is hard to get along with, brisk, can be profane and doesn't have office polished manners. And I suspect the reason she is brought back from time to time is because she is so good at deflecting criticism.
LAMB: Why does she come back?
GREENBERG:Basic loyalty, probably. She strikes me as a loyal person.
LAMB: I don't know. Again, whether this is the right one or not, but I found January 10th, 1979, as the earliest column in this book. Would that make sense?
GREENBERG:I think that would be a good guess. I haven't gone through all of them; '79 would be close to the earliest.
LAMB: And the title of this is Who's the Little Guy With Orval?
GREENBERG:Is that a reference to Bill Clinton?
LAMB: I'm sure it must be.
LAMB: Yeah. Well, of course, it is.
GREENBERG:Yeah. The relationship between Bill Clinton and Orval Faubus was a fascinating one.
LAMB: Who's Orval Faubus?
GREENBERG:How far we have come that one has to ask, `Who is Orval Faubus?' I guess we have come in the right direction, because Orval Faubus was, at one, time a byword. The late Governor Faubus presided over a disastrous integration crisis in Little Rock in 1957 in which federal troops had to be called out in order to integrate Central High. Governor Faubus himself called out the troops to keep the school from being integrated, and then President Eisenhower federalized those troops. It was in the forefront of the news for some time, and Arkansas was wrongly depicted because of this action as a nest of haters and racists. And it was another example of a politician simply taking advantage of an opportunity to appeal to the lowest element in a slightly maddened electorate. And when Bill Clinton came along, he understood some of Orval Faubus' magic, some of his experience and how useful the Faubus machine might be to him. And that was a period in which Bill Clinton, the young smoothie, danced around Orval Faubus, the old smoothie. Indeed, Governor Clinton invited Orval Faubus to his inauguration and they exchanged an almost South American abrazo, embrace, at that moment, and that meant a lot to us in Arkansas who had fought not just for years but for decades against all that Orval Faubus had stood for, this willingness to exploit racial hatred. And it was a disillusioning moment for those of us who had held out hope for Bill Clinton. And we understood that Bill Clinton really did not have a profound understanding of symbolism and what that embrace meant. Then years passed, and Faubus developed as an antagonist to Bill Clinton. And at that point, the courting of Orval Faubus stopped on Bill Clinton's part. At one point, they ran against one another for governor, when Orval Faubus was long past his prime, and Bill Clinton became one of the Arkansas governors who defeated Orval Faubus.
LAMB: At what point did Orval Faubus move to Houston? What was the reason for that?
GREENBERG:That was after his leaving the governorship. He had married Elizabeth Westmoreland. Faubus had decided to start life anew in Houston. He told us he went there for medical treatment. It seems to have done him a lot of good at the time. And then he came back to Arkansas. There was a time when Orval Faubus hoped to sell a house that he had built in Arkansas, a mansion near his hometown of Huntsville. And for a while, Bill Clinton seemed to raise no objection to that, even though the price might have been inflated. And it was only after they had a falling out that Bill Clinton began to speak out loudly against using public funds in this manner. So that the book "No Surprises" deals with a lot of this swordplay between Orval Faubus and Bill Clinton, and it's interesting to see how two opportunistic politicians dealt with one another.
LAMB: You have also commented in here that you've got I wrote it down `I've got a couple of steak dinners riding on the re election in 1996.'
GREENBERG:Those bets were made when Bill Clinton, according to the conventional wisdom, was sunk. They were made as the Republican gains in the mid term elections made a lot of people feel that the Clinton administration was over. And I was saying to friends, `You just haven't been through the kind of elections I have with Bill Clinton. He specializes in learning from political defeat. He is great at comebacks. And I would be happy to bet you a good steak dinner at Dowes in Greenville.' I don't know if you've ever been there. It's a treat you should give yourself. `We'll drive down to Dowes and let you pay for my steak dinner.' And at this point, as we are recording this, I have no doubts that Bill Clinton will once again prove himself a masterful campaigner not a masterful governor or president, but an outstanding campaigner. Campaigns seem to just energize this president, and all of his articulation, his stamina come to the fore, and he is able to concentrate in a style that so much rewards his ability to say a few words in this sound bite culture, make his point and move on to victory.
LAMB: Will he be re elected?
GREENBERG:I would predict that he will be. Yes. I've got a couple of steak dinners riding on it.
LAMB: What does that say, then, from your perspective, about the American people, if you say he can just really only campaign?
GREENBERG:I think we're very much interested in the instant. I don't think we're terribly concerned at this point in our history about the past about history itself or about the moral obligations that the past place on us.
LAMB: Is that unusual for this period?
GREENBERG:I think it's very usual for the 1990s. I think it would have been unusual at a different period. In fact, if you go back and read the artifacts of the past, if you read the letters that common soldiers were writing to one another in the Civil War and compare them to the electronic communications we now have over the Internet, you can see how the culture has changed. I think words say a lot about a culture, and also the absence of words, and how much simpler, how much more instant oriented our culture is today.
LAMB: Based on your title here, "No Surprises," Bill Clinton's re elected this is hypothetical in November. What kind of a president will be he be when there's no more election ahead? Or, of course, he could go back and run for the Senate...
GREENBERG:That would not surprise me in the least.
LAMB: It would not?
GREENBERG:It's very hard for me to imagine or to depict Bill Clinton as uninterested in a political race, particularly the next one to come up. I think that long ago, the sentimental attachment he had as a youth to certain ideas, which might loosely be called McGovernite liberal, which now and then come out even in his more sentimental moments all of that, I think, has been replaced by a political calculation that puts running for office in the forefront of his concerns, that makes political viability the key to explaining his actions.
LAMB: You've been watching this man for how long now?
GREENBERG:Back to at least 1978, or even 1976.
LAMB: When he was attorney general?
LAMB: What will the last four years of a two term presidency be like if he's re elected? And for both of them, what will they be like? What will their issues be and what will we be saying in July of 1997?
GREENBERG:You know, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I feel that we will drift, just as we have drifted, essentially, during these past three to four years. I've never felt that there was any great evil or wickedness in Bill Clinton. I had a conversation with a talk show host just the other evening, and he commented on this book, saying, `I don't detect any malice here. I don't detect any hatred.' And I think he was right. There's not anything to hate there. There is simply an emptiness. And it's not that Bill Clinton has done anything terribly wrong or evil that disturbs me. It is what he has not done. It is the time that we have wasted. I think the country is looking for a sense of direction to match its dynamism. This is a very dynamic country, a continental power. We are very much interested in new ideas, in new ways to go, and I don't think that Bill Clinton has channeled that kind of energy into politics and that one of the reasons people are disgusted with politics, one of the reasons for the debasement of politics in our times, is that people think of politicians as just floating with the tide. And the leader of the country, who is not only chief executive, but head of state, performs a very symbolic role. And we don't really expect anything from our politicians in general that has to do with principle or honor or morality. What we expect them to do is to tell us what we already think, to articulate our moodiness. And I think that Bill Clinton has captured this drift of American society so that the real changes, the real leadership in American society now make take place elsewhere, as in business or in private affairs.
LAMB: Where did you get the title of this chapter, Chapter 8?
LAMB: Yes.
GREENBERG:That came out in a conversation, I believe, with a columnist named Tony Snow, who was talking about these various personal scandals that have no interest for me. Chapter 8 of that book really deals with why any personal derelictions on the part of Bill Clinton have never really been relevant, I think, to his political career. It's only when they impinge on his political decisions or his public responsibilities, I think, that we ought to be interested in that kind of thing. I'm only interested in Bill Clinton's political infidelities. I don't think it raises the level of discourse in this country to talk about personal scandals. I think it's unfortunate that at one point in that '92 campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton tried to egg on Was it Gail Sheehy of the Vanity Fair magazine? to investigate George Bush's private life and rumors about it. I can understand that it was an irrational decision on her part and it probably stemmed from her own family being trashed in the tabloids, so I can understand that, but it's very hard for me to condone it. I think that just lowers the level of public discourse in this country. I think more important than whether one is a conservative or a liberal is how our comments on politics elevate the level of public discourse. We should appeal to the highest values rather than getting involved in all this gossip. I had dinner here not long ago the night before last, in fact, with a few people, and half an hour of the conversation must have been concerned with the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton, about which these people know nothing and about which I was certainly not interested. And yet, this seems to have a fascination for us, this kind of rumor and salacious gossip. I'm much more interested in Bill and Hillary Clinton, the political creatures, and what they say to us about our culture and our society.
LAMB: You often bring up Lani Guinier in your columns. Why?
GREENBERG:I think that is the classic example of how Bill Clinton and much of the new class that we might identify with Bill Clinton acts in terms of commitment and calculation. There was a great deal of talk about commitment; there is a talk about undying devotion to one's friends. And yet, Lani Guinier would be jettisoned as soon as she became an embarrassment to the administration. Bill Clinton never gave Professor Guinier, whom he said he would nominate as head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department, a chance to defend her views before a congressional committee. I myself do not think I would have agreed with many of her opinions, and I found them appalling when I read them in the academic journals, but I think the lady should have had an opportunity to defend her nomination before a confirmation committee. Bill Clinton didn't give her that chance. She was the last to know that she was being dropped. And that very night, after he had dumped her, he appeared at a White House dinner, explaining his great sentimental attachment to Lani Guinier and how he would always be fond of Lani. And if she needed any help personally, he'd be happy to stand by her. And I thought that pretty much told the story of how Bill Clinton will treat his friends when they're in a crisis. He will not even give them a chance to defend themselves decently.
LAMB: Do you know where this picture came from on the cover of the book?
GREENBERG:No. That's my publisher's doing. It's a very informal shot of Bill and Hillary Clinton, probably right after a joking moment.
LAMB: And who is your publisher, Brassey?
GREENBERG:Brassey's is the American wing of an old English publisher. It specializes in a number of political books and books about history. It's right here in Washington, or in the Washington area at McLean, and sells" No Surprises" as well as a number of other good books.
LAMB: Here's what the cover of the book looks like, 146 columns of Paul Greenberg's, back to 1979 up to the present. We thank you very much for joining us.
GREENBERG:It's always a pleasure to have a civilized conversation with you, Mr. Lamb.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. 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.