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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  March 25, 2016 5:30am-6:01am PDT

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- [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. also, by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. - i'm evan smith. he served three terms as governor of new hampshire and three years as president george h. w. bush's white house chief of staff. his fond account of 41's presidency, "the quiet man," has just been published. he's the honorable john sununu. this is overheard. (applause) - [voiceover] let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? you could say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you know, you saw a problem and, over time, took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? i think i just got an f from you actually.
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(laughter) this is overheard. (applause) - governor sununu, welcome. - it's good to be here, thanks. - this is a wonderful book. - well, thank you. - and i know that you're a loyal friend and former colleague of the 41st president. i don't need to ask you why you wrote the book but of all the people to write a book about these days, this president doesn't necessarily come to mind. everybody loves reagan, everybody loves roosevelt. right, everybody loves bill clinton, or at least is intrigued by bill clinton. in so many ways, he's deserving of his story to be told, but it doesn't get told as often. - well, that's why i wrote the book. - but why not? i mean, i realize it was one term. - it was one term, and it was, first of all, in a historical context. since dwight eisenhower, no party has held the white house for more than eight years except once, and that was the term. - right. - it was the extension, to many people, the extension of the reagan term.
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and many people assume that everything that was achieved was just on the momentum of ronald reagan. but as i try to point out in the book, i don't think anyone could have accomplished what george herbert walker bush did internationally as well or as completely as he did. the collapse of the soviet union really, as i talk about in the book, it was his capacity to create personal relationships with his allies, thatcher, mitterrand, and kohl, and with the other side, gorbachev. - he was not reagan's third term, in fact. - no, he was his own term. ronald reagan did a wonderful thing. he built america's defense capacity and put the soviets on notice, to the point where gorbachev understood that he'd better move a little bit. but it was george bush, with his great diplomatic perception and his great diplomatic skills that really closed the deal.
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- his experience, which we learned first really about in the mass sense, when he ran for president in 1980, his experience was a very different experience. his set of experiences were very different from the people who preceded him, as you say. - right, and it was an amazing coincidence in time, that it was the right man at the right place. the way he handled saddam, kicking him out of kuwait - right. - and then having the brilliant foresight to say, "we're not gonna chase him into baghdad." - and stand all the criticism - right, right. - and be right in the long run. - well, of course, everybody's a critic, and you know, at the time you know, it was a controversial decision, and when we came back around with saddam hussein later, people said, "well, if only we had done thus and such," but you can always look back, 20/20 hindsight. - it would have been a quicksand. - you think it would have been a quicksand? - yeah. - yeah, right. - and secondly, he didn't have authority from the u.n. and we were trying to create a world in which people were willing to come together as a coalition
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to fulfill the commitment that's made that brought 'em in and no more. - it's charming to think that there was a time when we didn't have authority from the u.n., was not something to be cheering about, right? i mean, the idea today. - yes. - the politics of the world are so different today. the idea that you would go to the u.n. for support or ratification or anything, we hate the u.n. that's the big picture theory. - it was hated before. - it was hated before. - yeah, right. - and what bush did with his relationship with all the people at the u.n., he had been our delegate to the u.n. he knew them all. - he knew them all personally. - and knew the way the process worked. he got, if you will, the cover for the u.s. to use force for the first time since vietnam. use force to kick saddam hussein out and create it in such a way that the american public was comfortable that it was the right thing to do. - now, i mentioned the politics have changed over the world. would george h. w. bush get through a republican primary today? - yeah, because, - you think he would? - yeah, people are saying-- - oh, you are a loyal friend.
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- no, but people are saying reagan wouldn't either, and i'm saying, no. the character of the individual sets the tone of the campaign, and ronald reagan, for example, was such a powerful individual. he would have dragged the population to where he is. - and maybe the party to where he is. - right, and george bush's campaign in '88, if you look back on it, he started so far behind dukakis - correct. - and ran a fantastic campaign. - you have to admit, dukakis was the perfect opponent for him. - yes, both in terms of philosophy and height. - and height. (john laughing) - and also in, i mean-- - and i say that-- - yeah, yeah, you're not-- - as short, as being - disadvantaged on the same side. - right, you're not exactly 6'8", yourself, i realize that. no, but the point is, dukakis presented for the republicans, as you say, rare for the party to hold the white house for a third term. dukakis wasn't the only person who he could have beaten but dukakis presented, as a contrast, somebody who was a useful contrast. - but particularly philosophically, on some tough issues.
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foreign policy, crime. - right, right. - the minute dukakis popped out of that tank in the hat, like rocky the flying squirrel, it was probably over. - you know, i wanted roger ailes to play some music with that but he refused. - he refused to do it? - i wanted him to play "tanks for the memories." - oh, is that right? (john laughing) the rare moment in history when roger ailes thought, "no, even that's too mean for me." actually, i get it. but i want to come back to this idea of the politics of the world. so the politics of the world have moved to a place where, if you had a guy like george h. w. bush, whose family over time had been supportive of planned parenthood, which the bush family was. in fact, i believe prescott bush had maybe run a national fundraising campaign for planned parenthood. or you had somebody who was talking compassionately about, i mean, this is not an era politically, whatever else you say about it, where the kind of compassion that he evidenced would be in favor, necessarily, right now. - but, you know, he, as a candidate and as a president, he was the most pro-life president we've ever had.
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- right, but the perception of him as a moderate doesn't necessarily square with those sorts of things. - well, what doesn't square more than anything else is the perception that he was not a domestic policy person. - [evan] talk about that. - george bush, george herbert walker bush, passed more domestic legislation than any president except lyndon johnson and franklin roosevelt. - and those were two special circumstances. - yes, and he passed more conservative legislation than any president in history. - right, yeah. - the budget agreement, which he, at that time, was not very popular, the five-year budget agreement. but it turned out to create all the surpluses of the '90s, and the growth period, the 10-year growth period-- - and the clinton folks will say, "well, we did." the predicate was in this four years. - it was, because this set - all the rules for budgeting with caps and everything that congress and clinton just had to enforce and it occurred. - right. - clean air act, he broke the 13-year stalemate on clean air
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by bringing market-based solutions to the problem. the energy policy act, which was the broadest and most significant and probably the only solid energy strategy this country's ever had. it got discarded by subsequent administrations but was there. the civil rights bill of 1991, the americans with disabilities act, the agriculture reform act, which really produced all the incentives for exports that have created our large agricultural export market. the crime bill, he acted on immigration. childcare. he fought for and, in a very classic event that i talk about in the book, made sure that childcare was based on vouchers directly to the families rather than building up huge bureaucracies and those voucher programs became the prototype for the charter schools of today. - by the way, - that's a very conservative idea, right? - it is, he was a very conservative president.
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- right, the congress that he dealt with at that time, was not the congress that any president is dealing with today. - but it was 260 to 175 in the house. the democrats controlled it. - correct. - it was 55-45 in the senate. - right. - and two smart, shrewd democratic leaders. george mitchell, as partisan as you can really be, even though people don't perceive him that way. - gosh, he seems like a moderate by comparison to today. - and tom foley. - tom foley. - but again, i make the point governor, i make the point though that he had, he was dealing with a congress of the other party. - yeah but, here's the point. - yeah. - nothing happens in washington without presidential leadership and presidents spending political capital. george herbert walker bush did it, bill clinton did it, his predecessors did it. it is not being practiced today. both parties, - yes. - the party that is the party of the president and the opposing party, need presidential leadership
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in order to come together. it is crazy to think that 435 members of congress can come together without presidential leadership and that 100 members of the senate can come together without presidential leadership. - you put the stalemate, the quicksand that we're in, whatever you want to call it, you put that on the white house only. - absolutely. - predominantly. - really? - yes. this congress seems pretty dysfunctional. i'm willing to - but it's dysfunctional - accept the white house. - because it's not being led. - i'm willing to accept the white house is responsible at least for half. - you can have an irresponsible herd of cats if nobody's herding it. you can have an irresponsible herd of cattle, to be more appropriate to texas, if nobody's herding it. and so, it looks like it's the cattle's fault, but it's the herder's fault. and we have no presidential leadership, no willingness to spend the capital. this president, george herbert walker bush, sat down with congress and swallowed, "read my lips: no new taxes", - no new taxes.
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because the country needed a five-year budget to strengthen the dollar and to provide a budget for the young men and women that he had sent to deal with saddam hussein. otherwise, we'd have gone to a defense sequester. when we got stuck on the americans with disabilities act, this president got himself involved. this was not a president that said, "go get me a piece of legislation." he worked them. - why do you think this president has not done that or not been successful at it? the current president. - i think you have to invest personal time and spend political capital. - and you think he has done neither of those? - and i think you need the experience of having dealt in the political system before and i think both of those reasons are the reasons-- - well, we're going to come back around to that question as we get to some of the candidates for president this time, because you have a few who probably don't pass the sununu test. (john laughs) why did he lose to bill clinton? - a number of reasons. number one: the historical imperative i talked about. we tend to replace white house parties
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on a pretty, pendulum swings. - pendulum swings. - and so, it not only swung after eight years but it kept going, you know, against the grain for four more, and so, the pendulum swing was against him. he had passed a budget that people misunderstood, and so, there was an issue that he could be attacked on. ross perot gets in the race. - right. - gets 19 percent of the vote, two-thirds of which really belonged to george bush, and he would have won with that. - not surprisingly, everybody fights about whether that's true or not but i know that that's the conventional read. - well, perot was running. - it's really interesting, perot was running on, "i'll take care of the budget the right way." even though he was proposing more taxes than bush had ever thought about accepting. but the third, the last reason's a very interesting one and it's the one i call, the churchill effect. if you go back to world war ii, winston churchill was the heart and soul
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of inspiring england to stand up and defeat the nazis in germany. and he provided both the inspiration and the strategy and the relationship with roosevelt. everybody acknowledged, without roosevelt, england would have done much worse than they ended up doing against the nazis, and defeating hitler and the nazis. before the end of the war, there's an election in england, and churchill's thrown out, by his own friends and people. there is this exhaling if you will, on the part of an electorate, that when a huge, international, political burden is removed from their shoulders, they go to the other party. - catharsis, yeah. - yeah. - george bush lost, margaret thatcher was kicked out by her own party, maroni lost, mitterrand lost, kohl eventually lost. the australian prime minister lost, the japanese prime minister lost and his ruling party was kicked out for the first time. - right, so it was a moment.
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- it was a moment in history, over a two or three-year period, this catharsis, as you call it, occurs and everybody turns to the opposing party. - can i go back to your first reason because i think that the conventional wisdom on one of the reasons that republicans were not as enthusiastic about president bush, and some peeled off to support ross perot, some may just not have voted, is this idea that he said, "i'm not going to raise taxes." and then either fairly or unfairly - sure. - he's perceived - to have broken that promise. that is the fundamental question in our politics today. they campaign as conservatives and then they get into government and they don't do what they said they were going to do. "we're going to throw out a bunch of people," they say. every election cycle, who come in and they promise, "read my lips: no new, blank." and then they come in and they do, blank. and it may be a perfectly good reason to do, blank. but the minute that you say one thing and do another, you're dead, and i wonder if he was the earliest, modern example of that. - look, when he said, made a commitment for no new taxes, he meant it, and really, - he was sincere when he made - he was sincere when - the pledge. - he made the commitment, and
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- he could have fulfilled it, if the democrats didn't have the numbers in congress. we got a one-year budget to begin with, without taxes, - right. - when we first came in. then, the dollar was weakening, greenspan was saying you need a multi-year budget. the international financial community was saying you need a multi-year budget to show you're gonna handle the deficits. our deficits were growing then. and, and everyone forgets the and, he had just sent young men and women to the middle east to begin to prepare for what would happen two months after the budget agreement, the battle to throw saddam hussein out of kuwait. so, there's a lot of pressure on him. we're negotiating for a long period of time, it is clear that mitchell and foley have decided that they're gonna make him pay the ransom of taxes. we had two packages drawn up.
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500 billion dollar reduction in deficit, with a little bit of taxes in it. 400 billion dollars without, okay. so, he could have had a 400 billion major, it still would have been the largest - significant, yeah. - largest reduction in deficit in history, without taxes, but the democrats insisted on taxes. let me make one point. - sure. - the tax in the package that the president agreed to was primarily a gasoline tax which had not been adjusted for inflation in nearly a decade. - again, this is the conversation we're having now, strangely, right now. - nearly a decade. - so, in fact, george bush's big tax sin was to adjust gasoline tax for inflation. - is the lesson from this, don't trust the other party, they're gonna screw you at the first available opportunity. or is it, don't make pledges. - it's probably the latter, under normal circumstances. there are occasions in which you can do it and if you live in a state like mine, you can make a pledge on taxes and keep it.
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in new hampshire, - correct, other states. - no tax pledge, no new taxes, no sales tax, no income tax. - let me transition from this conversation to the one that i've been walking up to the edge of and that is the current political situation. what in hell is going on with your party right now? - well, i don't know what's going on with the country, forget my party, it's the whole country. - well, but your party is looking at a series of candidates, 50 percent plus are people who've never served in office before. it's essentially the middle finger vote to the establishment. - and the other side's looking at a geriatric socialist, you know. (laughs) - well, but i think the reality is, i'll bet you 50 cents that trump is more likely to be your party's nominee than bernie sanders is to be the other party's nominee. - i'll put the half-buck on the table now. (laughs) - you will, okay, good. - let me tell you what, i don't know the answer and what i mean is, i used to understand, i think, the electorate. - but you were one of the people who understood this first and most, i think. - yeah. - i must admit to you, i am not comfortable giving an analysis of the electorate anymore. - why?
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- i don't have a feeling for it. part of it is i'm an old fogey and there's a significant number of younger people with not only different perspectives but volatile perspectives. their perspectives of this month may not be their perspectives the next month. - right, it changes. - changes, there. - it's a very volatile set of feelings and opinions. and secondly, our elections now depend so much on the mechanics of who people get to vote. - turnout? - turnout. - turnout-driven and mechanics of turnout-driven. so, i still have faith that in the long run, both parties will come to their senses and nominate somebody with decent experience in making the system function. i lean towards governors and former-governors. they have to deal with the legislature. - they've been executives, right? - they've been executives, but the art form of dealing with the legislature, the art form of creating bi-partisan results.
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i'll even take, perhaps, and i just use this as an example, i'm not endorsing. rubio was a speaker of the house in florida. - so, you've not endorsed. - no, i'm not, - and you're not going to endorse? - i'm trying not to endorse. - your son, who's the former senator for new hampshire, he's a kasich guy, am i right about that? - he is, and i have another son running for governor and i don't want to create problems for him. (laughs) - has he endorsed? - no. - so, your other son is a legislator, right? - he's a member of the executive council. - executive council. - it's a - very significant position. - pardon me, and he's running for, yeah. so, why are you trying so hard not to endorse? - well, because i'm not an easy, i'm not a very disciplined guy when it comes to talking about things. (laughs) - that's a healthy self-insight. - and so, i don't want to put my foot in his mouth. - on the other hand, new hampshire is so crucial, - yeah, i know. - timewise, - chronologically, in this race. you're gonna have an iowa clock, that's on february the first. - always is. - it always is. you're gonna have an iowa clock that's on february the first, which i'm gonna just go out on a limb and say is almost certain
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to produce a different winner than you get in new hampshire. - well, it's almost always true. - new hampshire is a firewall. - iowa picks corn, new hampshire picks presidents. (audience reaction) - wow, zing! (laughter) (applause) we'll clip that out and send that to iowa public television. so, and in fact i'm remembering that iowa picked a different winner in new hampshire in-- - oh sure, they picked dole and robertson, first and second, in '88. - in '88, right. - and bush came in a very terrible third. - right, and i'm remembering john mccain's campaign was resurrected in 2000. he beat george w. bush there, correct? - right. - and santorum won the iowa and romney won new hampshire. - yeah, he won the big. - yeah, big. - so, who's going to win new hampshire? - i don't know, and i'm telling you i really admit i don't know. it is so hard to get a handle on what's happening and look, you have a lot of people supporting trump
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and he's, i hear that he's being supported by the tea party. the tea party hates government-funded, single-payer healthcare and trump is for it. the tea party hates eminent domain and trump is for it. - trump is for it, right. - there are so many things of trump's positions that don't correspond to the political positions of the group that's supposed to be supporting him. - except for two things. - i can't explain. - they want authenticity and the guy is nothing if not authentic. - well. - right, he says whatever comes to his head. you don't think so? - i don't think so. - you think he's inauthentic? - i think loud bs is not authentic and i grew up in new york (audience laugh and applause) and i can read loud bs when i hear it. - and you think that's what it is? - and i think this is, no! - it's not authentic. - and look, his policies have changed. - well, he has. - he was a cleaning person for a while and now he's not. he was on this side of this issue and now he's not. how can you be authentic if in with a period of less than a handful of years, you are flipping and flopping back and forth,
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perhaps even changing party. - right, not authentic. - not authentic. - well, the second thing i was gonna say was i refer to this, sorry, this is basically a middle-finger vote. - yes. - the anger of the world and particularly a segment of your party's electorate, at the establishment they distrust people in office, they feel they've been lied to. he has become the vessel for that vote to express its anger. - yeah. - but the problem is and it is a problem, i think it's because we don't have civics taught well anymore. - okay. - we talked about a congress control that's controlled by republicans. - yes. - it doesn't mean they can pass things but they can block them. we have a president that hasn't led. we have a dysfunction between congress and the president because, i believe, there's not been leadership. and that allows the herd of cats to wander in whatever direction they want. the country has a problem, i don't deny it. but the solution is not to elect somebody who can't
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bring the herd of cats into order. it's to elect somebody who has the capacity to do it and who has demonstrated that capacity. i brought a number of private sector people into government, when i was governor. - you did. - with one or two exceptions, they have tin ears, politically. even i, i got elected really, from the private sector to be governor. it took me a little while to understand. and this is gonna be a hard thing for people to accept, that the inefficiency of our system is its greatest strength. the inefficiency of our system is its greatest strength. and let me explain that. - please. - we have a lot of people running around talking about the constitution. i don't think they understand it. let me talk about that. if you look at the constitution, the fundamental character of that document is constructive tension to make it difficult,
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to make it difficult to change things quickly. you have three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. and they all have a tug and pull on each other. - yes. - you have two bodies of congress operating under, if you will, with different constituencies. - yes. - a congress of 435 and, if you will, a slightly more elite senate, representing two per state. - upper chamber. - then you have the tension between the federal government and the states. and then congress has built-in tensions between all the forms of government and us as individuals. it is designed to have constructive tensions that force you to bring all these disparate groups together. the idea is you have to work. - yup. - and you have to listen, and you have to compromise. if you demand absolute purity under this system of tension i've talked about, you get zero. - that's exactly where we are right now.
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we have a minute left. very quickly, since you won't endorse, it sounds to me like you would not be comfortable with trump? - if i haven't made that clear then i (laughs). - so, would you not support (audience laughter) the nominee of your party if your party nominated trump? - i will support the - nominee of my party. - even if it's trump? - but it's not going to be trump. - would you support any of these young senators who've only been in office for a cup of coffee, who've never run anything other than their mouths? - i'm comfortable with someone like rubio. i'm comfortable with the governors that are running. with jeb and governor christie and kasich. - governor kasich, yeah. - yeah, and look i want, all i'm asking from my party to nominate is somebody that can fix the problem, not somebody that is noise and talks about the problem. - marvelous, we're gonna stop right there. governor john sununu, so nice to have a chance to talk to you. (audience applause) - thank you. - thank you very much. (applause) - [voiceover] we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at to find invitations to interviews,
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q & a's with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. - i'll give you what i think is the only solution and that's all of us who care about this have to start talking to our friends and neighbors. there is the most influential person in terms of political policy, is your friend or your neighbor that's talking to you. not the politician, not the tv ad. - [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. also, by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation.
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