Miller Center

Interview with Richard Moe and Michael Berman

Introduction

Richard Moe chronicles his work as Chief of Staff to Vice President Walter Mondale. He begins with the development of Mondale's vice-presidential role during the 1976 campaign and transition, particularly Carter's desire for a strong vice president and the integration of the VP's staff with the White House staff. He discusses Mondale's role in the transition period and the Cabinet selection process, and the administration's early efforts to court constituency groups and the Washington establishment. Moe describes the first year of the presidency as a failure to frame and execute priorities and the administration's troubles in working with Congress and creating coalitions. He outlines the organization of the White House staff and his interactions with key figures (Jordan, Watson), and the strong role of the Cabinet. Moe offers his perceptions of Mondale's operating style and his interactions with Carter and Congress. He also comments on Carter's approach to governing – how he received information, and the use of polls and task forces. The first day ends with a long discussion on the Camp David personnel summit, the "malaise" speech, subsequent staff changes, and Mondale's role. Day Two begins with a discussion of economic policy, particularly inflation and the budget, and the role of Mondale and Carter. He talks again at length about the operating style of both Carter and Mondale. The interview concludes with Moe's thoughts on the 1980 campaign, what a second Carter term would have looked like, and the successes and failures of the Carter presidency.

Transcript

Young

The understanding with respect to the ground rules, which I’d like to repeat for the tape, is that nothing said in these sessions, which are in the nature of oral history materials to be used for research, goes out of the room. The only people to see the raw transcript as it comes off the tapes will be Mr. Moe and Mr. Berman. When they are each provided with copies of those transcripts, they’ll have the opportunity to make such editing changes or off the record indications as they think is appropriate. The amended or marked up transcripts with those changes will be incorporated in the materials that will be used for research purposes. The understanding is that those amended transcripts will be used as primary source materials for an overview of the Carter Presidency to be done under the auspices of the Miller Center. After those transcripts have been used for that purpose, either they or some version of them would be made available more generally for Presidential library research. I think that’s the general understanding.

I’ve talked with both Dick Moe and Michael Berman earlier this morning about the general subjects in which we’re interested. Obviously for this session we have people who were in a rather unique position of being associated with the Vice President’s staff in an administration where the Vice President and presumably his staff as well had very close and perhaps unique associations and relationships with the White House staff. This is Ken Thompson, Michael Berman, and Dick Moe.

One of the topics that we’ll want to address first when we get down to the questions this morning has to do with the early period of the administration from the campaign transition into the first few months, or what you would define as the settling in period. Then we might move on to a whole set of questions and discussions about the actual workings of the staff as it might have changed over time during this period of the four years of the Carter administration, with perhaps some specific examples about the sorts of things the Vice President’s staff were principally involved in. Perhaps you will use some illustrations to walk us through your various roles in order to shed some light on the actual working relationships that transpired.

Moving away from that, we’d like then to get some perspectives on the Carter White House and then in a larger sense, the Carter Presidency. I’ve told the guests that we’re here to be educated and your unique perspectives will be very useful for those of us on the outside. We’ll then have a chance to look back on, and look inside from the outside of the Carter Presidency. Then we can perhaps figure it out as an analytic exercise and understand its place in history. We’d appreciate it if you’d like to start out with just some general comments about what you think is important to introduce this session.

Berman

All right. I first worked for Mondale in the summer of 1964, at which time he was the chairman in Minnesota of the [Lyndon] Johnson-[Hubert] Humphrey Presidential campaign. I was just out of law school. I then joined his Attorney General’s staff for a period that turned out to be about seven weeks, at which point he came to Washington, having been appointed to the Senate, and I stayed with the new Attorney General. I then stayed with that Attorney General Robert Mattson until the summer of 1966, when I joined Mondale’s re-election campaign. I went from that to Washington in his Senate office for the next five and half or six years. I then went back to Minnesota in 1972, and ran his re-election campaign. I retired so to speak from full-time government service, worked part-time in Mondale’s office in Minnesota, practiced law, came back for the 1976 Presidential campaign, joined him in the White House as Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff, and did the transition in, the transition out. I now practice law in Washington, with a smidgeon of politics thrown in—to do something I like to do as opposed to what we do for a living.

We look upon the Mondale Vice Presidency as being rather unique. There’s some bias in that obviously because we were a part of it, but I think it’s true based on my own conversations with other people. I think the central fact of the difference of the Mondale Vice Presidency has to do with President Carter. A little bit later on we might touch upon the constituencies, and what I believe is a fable that the Vice President only has a single constituent—the President. I don’t think that’s accurate. But to the extent that a Vice President is or is not going to be successful, it is totally within the control of the President. It is my belief that most of the stories one hears about Vice Presidents who weren’t successful because of the President’s staffs, for example, are only true to the extent that the President allows them to be true. And that if a President wants a Vice Presidency to be different and successful, he will make sure it happens, as President Carter did.

I think it is also true that when people talk about the Mondale Vice Presidency being successful, it has to be seen in terms of how success should be defined. And from my point of view, a successful Vice President could in fact be one who in fact is never heard or seen from again for four years. Because the Vice President ought to be what the President feels the President needs, and not necessarily what the public needs. Now that has nothing to do with whether or not a Vice President ought to be prepared to become President. The Vice President should be a supplement/complement or whatever to the President that the President wants him to be. And with that I will—

Moe

I’m pleased to be here with so many political scientists. I should say I used to be a political scientist myself, and then I went into politics and I had to learn a whole new discipline.

Young

So now you’re teaching.

Moe

Now we’re teaching political science, that’s right. No, we’ve looked forward to this session for a long time. We really are pleased to be here. My political background began in Minnesota some twenty years ago in a series of political and government positions, including working for Hubert Humphrey and serving the mayor of Minneapolis’s office, in state government, and in the state party. I spent three years as state chairman of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota, at the end of which Mike Berman persuaded me to come to Washington and take his job as administrative assistant to Senator Mondale. I should have been suspect of that because he went back to Minnesota on to better things and I stayed in Washington. But I spent four years on the Hill with Mondale, and then of course four years in the White House. Again, like Mike, I’m now practicing law.

I share his view that one of the key aspects of our experience in the White House during those fours years was the unique way in which the Vice Presidency was structured. It’s a subject both Mike and I have some strong views on because it has some historic implications in terms of what the President and the Vice President can try to do with that often-troublesome relationship.

Young

You both indicated that from the very outset of the administration it was because of things that happened, agreements made and understandings reached at the beginning that this Vice President would serve a much stronger and different role from those to which it is ordinarily relegated. Why don’t we talk about those arrangements in terms of how the two parties and the two staffs worked together to the extent they did. You moved from campaign into the transitional period after the election. Were the role and responsibilities of the Vice President and his staff in this White House clearly defined at the outset?

Moe

No, I don’t think so. I think you’d have to go all the way back to June of 1976 when Mondale went to Plains to be interviewed by Carter, along with several others at different times, for the Vice Presidency. While they had met each other a couple of times briefly before, that was the first lengthy meeting they had had. They spent three hours together, getting to know each other, sharing views, basically trying to feel each other out as to whether or not they would be a compatible team. During the course of that discussion they spent a lot of time talking about the Vice Presidency. While they didn’t agree on a whole lot of specifics, at the end of the session it became clear that Carter had given the subject a lot of thought, which was something that very much impressed Mondale.

Carter had a similar view of the Vice Presidency as Mondale did in that it was an asset to be used by the President. They both agreed that for most of history, the Vice Presidency had been a wasted asset. Mondale had seen Humphrey and [Nelson] Rockefeller and others suffer through that experience. They were mistreated and basically not used fully. Mondale made it clear to Carter at that point that he did not want to be a ceremonial Vice President in the traditional sense. Carter fully agreed, and the way the session was left was that if Mondale ended up on the ticket, they would sit down after the election and work out the specifics of the relationship. But what really made that session work for both of them, and was the key determinant in Carter’s decision to pick Mondale, was the dynamics of that conversation. They both felt strongly that this is an office that could be used.

After the election they did sit down and talk more specifically. Although I should say in the meantime there was one thing that happened that had significance for later. And that was that Hamilton Jordan came to us, Mike and me and others, and said, Look, we want you as part of our campaign team. This was at the New York convention. But you have your choice as to how you want to structure the Vice President’s campaign. So you can run this out of Washington if you want, go back to Minnesota and run it, or you can come down to Atlanta and work with us. He gave us total flexibility about that.

Without blinking an eye, we went down to Atlanta lock, stock, and barrel and in effect integrated our staff into their staff. At least we attempted to do so, and I think with some success. This had not only significant implications for the campaign effort but much more importantly for the staff structure that was to follow in the White House. It really set a precedent for a form of integration of staff that I think ultimately played an important role in making the Vice Presidency work as part of the Carter Presidency. In any case, after the election, Carter and Mondale sat down and talked more specifically about what his role would be. Carter asked Mondale to draft up a memo of what he thought his role should be and we all went to work on that.

In the meantime, Mondale spent a lot of time talking to old Washington hands and particularly old Humphrey staffers who had gone through this, with Humphrey himself, with Rockefeller, and with anybody he could find who had had some experience with the Vice Presidency. What he concluded and what ultimately took form in this memo was Mondale’s view that it would be a mistake for a Vice President to have specific institutional responsibilities. For example, as Humphrey was chairman of the space council or Rockefeller was chairman of this council or that council. He thought that was a mistake for a number of reasons.

Number one, it almost inevitably impeded on somebody else’s turf and created other problems. Number two, it tied down a Vice President’s staff and resources and time in such a way that he couldn’t be involved as effectively in the major issues. He concluded that he should be a general, across-the-board advisor to the President. The premise for this was that he was the only other nationally elected official. He had a mandate and a view and a perspective. He wasn’t encumbered by the institutional bias of a Cabinet member or some other official with specific responsibilities in the government. And that he felt that he was uniquely positioned as Vice President to give advice and to weigh in on those things that he cared to or those things that Carter cared to look to him for. So we came up with this memo which basically outlined that approach.

Mondale also felt that in order for this relationship really to work and for this role to work, three things had to happen. Number one, he had to have unimpeded access to the President, which the President clearly granted. The Vice President had a standing invitation to any meeting that was ever held in the Oval Office or elsewhere. He obviously didn’t go to all those meetings, but he was clearly welcome in any of them. Plus they ended up having this regular Monday lunch where it was just the two of them, which was a very important aspect of making this relationship work. There were staff people present. Mike and I and others often didn’t know what happened in those sessions afterwards because it was a place where they let their hair down with each other.

The second criterion was that the Vice President have access to all the information that the President had access to. This meant all the classified intelligence reports and so forth. The President also very generously provided that access, which I think was unprecedented. So every piece of paper that the President had, Mondale had access to if he wanted it. And most of it came to him on a routine basis. The third criterion was, as I said before, that he be unimpeded with the kinds of institutional responsibilities that would seriously interfere with being able to move to where the action is as an across-the-board advisor. So that’s ultimately what they agreed upon. And that’s how Mondale spent most of his four years.

We submitted this memo, we went back and looked at it I think three years after it was written, and we were all just incredibly amazed that that’s in fact the way it worked out. Obviously there was some fine-tuning and some adjustments, but most of what was contained in that memo actually happened. Mondale spent time doing other things of course than being an advisor. He was a troubleshooter, spent a lot of time on the Hill, did a lot of foreign travel and so forth. But I think if you asked him, he would say that his principal contribution to the President was his ability to give advice, to be able to weigh in on anything.

I must say that the President did certain things to make this relationship work even better. For example, he made me a member of his own senior staff in addition to being Mondale’s Chief of Staff. He did this in the recognition that one of the historic pitfalls of Vice Presidents has been the inability of the Presidential staff and the Vice Presidential staff to get along. Humphrey was badly undercut by Johnson’s staff, Rockefeller in turn badly undercut by [Gerald] Ford’s staff. Those lessons were there for all to see, and Carter did not want to fall into this trap.

I must say as Mike did earlier, the reason why we think this relationship worked so effectively and the condition without which it cannot work is the President’s willingness to make it work. And the President really made a very determined and serious effort to make this work. I heard him tell his own staff on more than one occasion, he said, If you get a request from Fritz, you treat it as if it were a request from me. And almost inevitably, that’s the way it always happened. His own staff did respond to Mondale. On other occasions he said, If I ever hear anybody being critical of Mondale, you’re out. You’re just out of the White House. So he made it clear from the outset and consistently thereafter that he cared a lot about this relationship. He had put a lot of thought into it and he’s the one ultimately who made it work. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. And I think it’s to his everlasting credit that he did so because I think this has some implications for future Vice Presidencies. While no other relationship can be exactly the same, I think he nonetheless set a tone and a pattern that is bound to be emulated for some time to come.

Berman

I think one of the things that also made that meeting that Dick referred to in Plains work was the fact that Mondale prepared for that meeting. I suspect in ways—and Dick was far more involved in that preparation than I was—I was working on the ethical disclosures that the Carter lawyers wanted from Mondale, and Dick was worrying about the substance probably in view of Mondale. Mondale tells this joke, which I can’t remember in all its pieces about different goofs that theoretically other people made—Frank Church going down there and saying, I had a cousin from the South, General [William Tecumseh] Sherman. Someone else coming down and asking about blue-eyed peas.

Young

Blue-eyed peas.

Berman

Blue-eyed peas, yes.

Young

Those are Texas peas.

Berman

And he finishes this long joke—and we’ll send it to you because it’s kind of a fun joke, but it’s sort of prophetic—by saying that we got off the plane, Carter turned to him and said, Fritz, if you just keep your mouth shut, the job’s yours. [laughter] But there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Mondale has always prepared for everything. There’s much talk about the fact that he really has initially been appointed to every public job he’s held. What’s forgotten in each case is the way he prepared to get those jobs. Whether it was Attorney General initially where he prepared by being—besides that fact that he’s smart—by being extraordinarily involved in the politics of the men who were going to make those decisions for many years, starting when he was 18, literally, in Minnesota politics.

If you talk about his ascendancy to the Senate, as Attorney General in Minnesota he was certainly the most popular Attorney General in history, and may have been at the time the most popular political figure in Minnesota. And in terms of the Vice Presidency of course, he had to sell then-Governor Carter. I know he read about the family, he read everything, he talked to people endlessly, and so he came to that meeting much more prepared I think to understand Carter and perhaps to be able to talk with Carter in Carter’s own language in all terms. And further there’s a certain kind of symmetry to their backgrounds. Here’s Carter who obviously is a fairly religious man, from small town America. Mondale the son of an itinerant minister in southern Minnesota who claims at least five specific southern Minnesota towns as his birthplace, and they all claim it as his birthplace, whose wife’s father was also a minister. The towns that Mondale grew up in, some of them were in fact smaller than Plains. So there was a kind of a symmetry that also played well into that relationship.

The campaign period I think has extraordinary—I tend to be somewhat loquacious and speak my mind in most circumstances, and I was the first one of his staff willing to go down to Atlanta. Mondale took me aside before I got on the plane and said, I’ll tell you only one thing: keep your mouth shut until somebody asks you. Which would not have been my ordinary bit, but which I did. We set about doing our business. Dick came down shortly thereafter and we ended up with maybe 20 people down in Atlanta.

But we very carefully did our business until others who were there decided to ask whether how we were doing our business might help their business. So that whether it was the mechanics of setting up a scheduling and advance operation for a Presidential campaign, or how to approach certain issues areas, or how to approach certain politics, we slowly came into the process because we’d been there. Seventy-six was the fourth Presidential campaign that I’d been involved in, and probably the same number for Dick. And we developed relationships there with the Carter staff in the context of our subsequent time in the White House that really paid off for four years.

It was—let me go back and put it this way: the White House is an extraordinarily formal place. There’s no way for a person, whether you’ve been in Washington for 15 years or five minutes, to not be in a sense overcome once you get there, once you physically arrive at the place and know you’re going to be there for at least four years. It is formalistic in its nature. And it seems to me that that formality exacerbates relationships between Presidents’ and Vice Presidents’ staffs and other people in the government.

What we had going for us is that we had—the arrangements in Atlanta were that all of us who came down from outside lived in a hotel that was physically connected to the building in which the campaign headquarters was located. In fact, like most campaign headquarters it was essentially a big barn; it was abandoned floor space that we took over in an office building. So there’s no way for a campaign to be formal, whether by dress, behavior, hours, eating habits, whatever it was. So that you were allowed to build relationships in a significantly more relaxed atmosphere. Going from there into an abandoned HEW [Health, Education and Welfare] building for transition purposes was another kind of step—slightly more formality, but in fact with people you already knew in a circumstance that was less formal than the White House.

During the transition—Dick was with Mondale in his Senate office as Mondale was still a Senator. I had the enviable chore of going down into the pits at what was then called North HEW’s building to begin the mechanical process of transition, which was sorting through people and whatever, and maybe had a better opportunity to see one of the schisms that had developed within the Carter organization vis-à-vis who would control the White House. There is much publicly written. But if you were physically in those halls 18 hours a day as we were, you could see the growing isolation between the operation that Jack Watson had been working on since April, a very long time—Jack’s role in the campaign was to prepare for the government—and those people who were part of the Hamilton Jordan group that ran the campaign. There was physical difference between them, there was formality difference between them—

Moe

If they wore a tie they worked for Watson, if they didn’t wear a tie they worked for Jordan.

Berman

You could begin to see—and we of course, sitting down there I did my level best to stay totally and completely away from that. But you could see that Watson’s people had really prepared for a whole variety of things—how to handle the forty thousand whatever number applications you get for jobs in a very admirable, scientific way with computers to handle the information.

However those systems did break down in many respects. And the political team began to be more involved in the selection of people. Dick will expand on this because he was involved in some of those searches.

So, for example, the people that I related to most of all in the White House were initially people like Richard Harden, who headed the office of administration, Bob Lipshutz, who was the first counsel, and subsequently Hugh Carter, which is kind of an interesting story—the first legal opinion that I was asked to draft was whether Hugh Carter could legally become a member of the White House staff under the federal nepotism laws. Bob Lipshutz didn’t want to write the opinion and Dick was involved in me getting that assignment. Lipshutz came in one day and said Dick said I knew about nepotism. I had seen the statute once, and I think Dick and I had had some arcane conversation about it. So I was given the problem of writing an opinion.

It was not one you wanted to write in which you might have to tell the President’s first cousin that he was not permitted by law to be on the White House staff. Rather than looking at the law, which was only five places long, I got hold of three separate genealogists, one at the National Archives, one at the Library of Congress, and one at some university, and posed the problem to them, which they solved for me by teaching me something I didn’t know—the concept of once removed. I’d never heard of once removed, four times removed. In the North that’s not much of an issue [laughter] and I’d never really thought about it. Fortunately they explained that Hugh Carter was the President’s first cousin once removed. The statute was very specific: in the list of prohibited relationships were first cousins. I ruled that it was to be taken literally and first cousins once removed were not covered by the statute.

I then attached another opinion in which I expressed my political judgment that the President’s family should not be part of the paid team in the White House. I had some weird idea that my second opinion would be kept somewhat private. Unfortunately within 24 hours I got a call from Hugh Carter, who asked why I expressed that opinion, and I told him. He was not pleased. Interestingly, Hugh and I probably became closest of friends in the White House operation over time. We got through that period and were able, at least at the mechanical levels, to do a lot of work together. I was involved in our own project on how the Vice President’s staff ought to be structured, and I was involved in their project on how the White House staff ought to be structured.

We got to the White House. The President as I said before and as Dick pointed out detailed—one other point that Mondale made I don’t think Dick mentioned was that he wanted to have his own independent staff. He wanted to get the President’s permission not to be dependent on the President’s staff for all of his advice. Now he always had access to them, but he wanted another cluster of people sitting off here who he knew and he alone had selected to be giving him advice on almost all of the same subjects. So that to the extent if he wanted to take exception or to advise the President in his own particular ways he had some independent database or judgment base or recommendation base on which he might operate.

Moe

The President went to Mondale one day and said, Fritz, why don’t we just share a common staff? This drove Mondale slightly crazy, because while he was very hopeful and comfortable about the relationship, he had never been without his own staff and wanted to have his own resources, as Mike said. So after stewing about that for about a week, he decided to go back to the President and suggest that we follow through on the system that had been started in Atlanta; basically that we integrate staffs. And Mike’s absolutely correct. That’s basically what happened. Our staff became almost totally integrated with the Carter staff function by function.

I spent most of my time working with Hamilton Jordan, and later Jack Watson. Mike was part of the chief counsel’s office handling, and had primary responsibility in a lot of areas like conflicts. Our press people were part of Jody Powell’s operation, Gail Harrison part of Stu Eizenstat’s operation, foreign policy all the rest. It was a system that really worked well overall because it contributed largely to a lessening of tensions and paranoia and all those other things that naturally occur.

You have to start from the premise that the relationship between a President and the Vice President is fundamentally, constitutionally flawed. There’s only one function for a Vice President really, and that’s to be ready to take over. Whatever else a Vice President is is what the President wants him to be. It’s because of that vacuum, that void, that so many misunderstandings and so many problems arise. That’s why I think the President was so wise in filling that vacuum and thereby reducing the potential problems of it.

Young

I think there are a number of questions on what you mean by integrated. I’ve gotten the impression thus far that your campaign, as far as the content of the campaign went, was integrated and you worked in the same place and in a closely coordinated fashion where all kinds of personal relationships developed around campaign administration and campaign issues. On the transition staff, that is the Watson staff, if one can make this distinction between the Jordan and the Watson operation, did the Vice President’s staff have people working with Watson’s group? Is that a correct impression? In this sense, you bridged both of those. You had people working on both.

Moe

Well, that’s true. Although this conflict between Watson and Jordan came up and came to a head fairly early in the transition because Watson moved on it, or Jordan moved on it, very decisively and prevailed, as we all know. Because of our campaign experience with Jordan in Atlanta, most of us were naturally closer to him than Watson. Watson was physically removed from the campaign operation in Atlanta, and while we all liked him and admired him and worked with him, we simply saw less of him. So our natural inclination was more towards Jordan.

Once he prevailed he made us part of his transition operation. For example he’d asked me to take over primary responsibility to search for an economic cluster of people, OMB [Organization of Management and Budget], CEA [Council of Economic Advisors], and Treasury. As a result, I came up with a notebook for him of potential candidates for those positions. He asked others to do other things. But in terms of how the integration actually worked, I spent more of my time working for Carter than I did for Mondale. Carter made me a member of his own senior staff, and I viewed my job as Mondale’s Chief of Staff primarily and almost exclusively to make sure that that relationship worked. And that meant spending most of my time with the President’s people. So what I typically spent my time doing before the ’80 campaign came along was to substitute for Mondale in the ten o’clock meetings with the President when he couldn’t be there, and to head up a number of Presidential task forces on various things that came up.

For example, when he vetoed the defense appropriations bill in 1979, Mondale went in and urged him to veto it, which was a big thing at the time. He succeeded, and the net result of it was that the President asked me to head up a task force to see that the veto was sustained. There were other task forces that followed on that, hospital cost containment, election law reform, trying to defeat the constitutional amendment to balance the budget, which was then moving rapidly through the state legislatures, and other things.

In other areas, I spent most of this time working on matters with the President’s counsel. Mike also had primary responsibility for running our office. I spent very little time on that because it didn’t need a lot of attention because we’d all worked together before. We had existing relationships we were all comfortable with. But to the extent that our office was administered, Mike was the one who did it. Almost everyone moved into the shop of their counterpart on the President’s staff and worked in tandem, so that we didn’t have competing staff operations, which I think was very important in the success of this relationship.

Young

I get the impression that you were already during the campaign and then at a point in the transition working closely with Jordan’s staff. I get the impression that your role must have been a very important one to Jordan, whose staff I would guess was not nearly as Washington oriented or experienced. So to the extent that you are contributing to his concerns, you must have played a rather important role and had an important perspective that must have generally been lacking in the campaign organization generally. Did he use you for that?

Moe

I think so. Most of them had not spent time in Washington before. Jordan himself had spent some time in Washington. Most of the others had not, and most of those people who had worked with Jordan were purely campaign oriented. They had no run of government. We hadn’t run a government either, but we had been in Washington for some time, and I think he did try to use us for our perspective and our experience in those areas.

Strong

It’s interesting that the Vice President’s campaign staff was well integrated with the President’s campaign staff, and that the Watson and Jordan operations were anything but well integrated. There is a lot written about that in public record and I don’t want to go over that, but aside from the physical separation of those two staffs and perhaps the personalities of Watson and Jordan, is there anything about Carter’s way of thinking or his management habits that would explain the separation of those two operations and the emergence of the conflict?

Moe

Well, I suppose there is because he’s the one who ultimately made it happen. He had thought about the Vice Presidency and the concepts behind it. He had also thought about the problems of transition, which is another historic problem that every new President goes through. I think he simply wanted to be prepared. And he decided early on. I remember going to my first meeting in Plains at Carter’s house. It had to do with the transition. I remember being very baffled sitting around his living room with a bunch of people, Charlie Kirbo and Jordan and others, talking about the transition, and the campaign hadn’t started yet. I thought his priorities are all out of whack.

Well, in fact he was right to think ahead. Some of the tensions arose because a lot of the campaign people resented that this Watson operation had to be funded out of campaign resources. There weren’t any other funds for it. This was money that could have gone into media or state organizations or whatever. But I think it was inevitable, the personalities of Jordan and Watson aside, and they ultimately became good friends and I think had a good working relationship once they passed this problem. It was inevitable that there be this kind of conflict. And in thinking back on it, I’m not sure how it should have been structured. There were some mistakes made on both sides when the campaign was over, in terms of trying to get the President’s attention on how to structure the government. The way in which it was done made these problems inevitable.

Berman

It was logical however. It’s still logical to try and have people whose goal is to get you elected working with others working on what you’re going to do when you get in. The two things don’t mix. They’re unrelated, the approach to them is totally different. One has much more permanence than the other. The campaign is over, it’s a three-month, two-and-a-half-month job and it’s done. I think the problem was that Carter never dealt directly with who’s on first. Or maybe he didn’t feel he had to. Maybe he always knew who was on first, but there was some question among other people as to who would be on first. You really do have to have them separated. There’s no place for a transition operation, even in the same physical facility, as a campaign operation because their work is totally different.

Young

The way you have described the critical meeting right at the outset, and then the follow up on it after the election between Carter and Mondale, suggests Carter was a person in preparing to be President who had very decided views and had thought about how an advisory relationship ought to be structured with the Vice President. Mondale also had them, and the two views converged. It suggests a great deal of thinking about how he wanted his advisory system structured. Is this an exception?

Moe

No, I don’t think that he had thought it through to that extent of detail. I think that he had thought about it and read about it sufficiently so that he knew that this was number one, a problem in developing a relationship with the Vice President. But it also was an opportunity. He saw it as a wasted asset, historically, and he wanted to use it more effectively. But in terms of working out the relationships that they ultimately settled on, it was Mondale who proposed this role and Carter who quickly agreed to it. In looking back on it with the perspectives of the two individuals, there’s no other relationship that could have developed, so I think Carter would have come to this conclusion on his own. But I don’t think that Carter had really thought in that much detail about the structure of the White House or the Vice Presidency. But he had done enough reading to know what was a problem and what to look out for.

Young

And he followed up on it.

Moe

He followed up on it.

Young

With clear instructions to his staff, You treat a request from Fritz Mondale as a request from me. Anybody who criticizes the Vice President will go out. Those are fairly clear and specific instructions that suggest somebody who knows exactly how these things work and could get out of hand.

Moe

Right.

Light

As far as the transition goes, when you say that the Mondale staff was integrated, we must be talking about how many people? Was it you and Gail Harrison already, or was it just a handful of them?

Moe

She was in our Senate staff. We had a small staff in the Senate and small staff in Atlanta, which largely overlapped. And we structured our staff in the White House mostly based on those people who were either in the campaign or the Senate or both. We brought in very few new people. And we all knew each other. We were comfortable with each other. There was myself, Mike, and Jim Johnson was the other key person who was the Vice President’s executive assistant. He was in charge of being with Mondale all the time, making sure the paperwork was done and that he was properly briefed as well as some other important responsibilities. We had a small domestic policy operation, which was Gail Harrison and two other people. We had a very small foreign policy operation. We had one foreign policy advisor plus some military aides. That was essentially it. We had a small press operation of about three people. We had a total staff of sixty-five or seventy. The rest of those people were all support people, either clerical, military, or the like.

Light

I want to know whether you went through a similar shakedown period that the White House staff would go through, because you did have sixty-five or seventy people working for you?

Berman

Not the same kind of shakedown. We knew, first of all, all of our people. We were able, to the extent we wanted, to staff up fully with people who hadn’t been with Mondale for less than two or three years, even down to the secretarial level. With just a couple of exceptions. So that in the transition time we spent many hours really with me drawing charts and Dick, Jim, and me conferring about what was the minimum need we had on the day we went into the White House, what did we want to be? Being very aware that we couldn’t know for sure what the demands would be initially, so that we went in with the smallest staff we could. I suppose it grew by 25-30 percent afterwards. We had left ourselves room to pick up the people that we found we needed in terms of skill, but we really sat down and functionalized it first. As much by luck as anything else we had those people available that we had confidence in.

Young

The Vice President was given, after this initial proposal of why don’t we share staff, in effect carte blanche, and you already had a team in a sense.

Moe

We had a team and we had a budget. It was simply a question of fitting the people in.

Young

Did you feel you suffered from understaffing because of Carter’s guidelines about cutting staff?

Moe

No. Well, we had some feelings about that. Generally we didn’t think it was all that wise to cut back initially in the White House staff.

Young

It seems to be the universal view.

Moe

No question about it.

Berman

But you see, we weren’t cut in that process, in fact we weren’t really cut. I mean he did cut—well, he didn’t really cut the White House either, frankly. I mean he shifted the White House. But through a series of rather intricate negotiations for which I take some credit as the plan for the White House began to develop, I was able to convince the people who were drawing that plan that the Vice Presidency was already understaffed based on the previous administration and what the budget would actually take. And a few of you know about budgets, the numbers involved in the budget documents, at least on the executive side—and you have to remember there were two theoretically separate staffs, the staff that was given him as president of the Senate, and the staff that was given him as part of the executive—and the Senate staff is larger in terms of numbers of people than was the executive staff. But the numbers were sufficiently large on the executive side—there are numbers in the budget as a line item—to do a pro forma cut without ever really cutting what had been the staff of the previous Vice President in fact.

Moe

There is another aspect to this that I think is interesting and important. During the transition, we spent a lot of our time and effort trying to place our staff people that we didn’t take with us directly into the Vice President’s office. This includes former Senate staff people, campaign people, and others. This had two aspects to it. Number one, we wanted to make sure they were treated fairly. I think for the most part they were; they had good opportunities. But also we decided that this whole relationship could work in the way that Carter and Mondale wanted it to work, if some of our key people were strategically placed elsewhere in the government, not solely in the Vice President’s staff. As a result, Bert [Bertram] Carp, who had been Mondale’s chief legislative aid in the Senate, became Stu Eizenstat’s chief deputy. David Aaron, who was Mondale’s chief foreign policy advisor in the Senate and served with him on intelligence committee, became [Zbigniew] Brzezinski’s deputy. This played a large role in terms of the staff integration, in terms of the flow of information and in terms of the lessening of potential tensions. It played a very key role in making the whole thing work.

Thompson

This is a two-part question. You both paint a picture of Mondale being quite decisive in his formulation of the concept of the Vice President in the Carter administration. I remember the University of Minnesota meetings on international education where Fritz Mondale would read a paper and/or Ken Holland and others would be present, and he literally read the paper and then had very little forceful responses in the question period that followed. He said he didn’t really like this hurly burly of sleeping in motels and hard campaigning. I thought back then to in the ’76 primaries. I thought back to those University of Minnesota days and that was the Fritz Mondale that I remember. But somehow something happened along the way, and I was curious what Fritz Mondale’s journey was that made him, throughout the administration, but even in this definition of the office, a fairly decisive, strong, clear-viewed person on the question.

The other part of the question has to do with the transition. I’ve always wondered what your role was. Here were a group of Georgians of whom it was said were parochial and had not had much contact, although some of you had had. Did you for that reason play a larger role in the transition? If you did, why was it you didn’t use a [John F.] Kennedy model a little more with Dick Neustadt and Adam Yarmolinsky and outside people doing a lot of the traveling around, knocking on doors? I remember I was in New York when both of them came to New York, long before Kennedy got interested, and they asked long questions about [Dean] Rusk. They must have done hundreds of other people. Did you do any of that with outsiders?

Moe

Well, we tried to urge that approach and other approaches on them, but I think with only limited success. I think you have to keep in mind that our relationship with these people was still fairly new. It was not Mondale’s style nor our style to try to forcefully impose our views of structuring a government or staffing a White House on them. We tried to make ourselves available. We did offer different forms of advice as things came up, but we did not try to impose a whole system on them.

What you have to keep in mind is that here is a group of people who were very skilled politically. They had taken a remote Governor of Georgia and made him President of the United States. Really a remarkable feat when you think about it. They admired the job they had done. We admired the job that they had done. It’s true that once the campaign was over and they came to Washington, during the transition, the task was entirely different. But the attitude was not entirely different. And while they were receptive to our ideas and they always politely heard us out, they did not always take our advice. Nor did we expect them to.

There were obviously cultural differences; there were political differences. They came from a political environment that was totally different from ours. We grew up in a state where most of us had our ideas shaped largely by the experience of Hubert Humphrey. We’re party oriented. They came from the South where they were not party oriented. They had little to do with institutional political leadership, whether it was in the labor movement or whatever, except in the civil rights movement. Our whole orientation was different. We often thought it was presumptuous for us to try to impose what we thought was right or our particular style on them. We had a fair number of good arguments about this. But ultimately they did it their way. We had a healthy exchange, but I don’t think we ever figured that we were going to convert them overnight to our way of doing things or to the Washington way of doing things. As to the first part of your question, I think you’re right in that Mondale is now or even during the White House a much more decisive figure than he was. I don’t know when you heard him at the university.

Thompson

Early ’60s.

Moe

Early ’60s, right. But I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a different man. He started out in public life back then in his early 30s, as you know. He gained a lot of confidence in himself during the next couple of decades. I saw him during four years in the Senate and then four years in the White House, and I have never seen a person mature more politically than I saw him mature in the White House and even in the Senate. He was sobered by what he saw in the White House in terms of the responsibilities the President has to face and the kinds of decisions he has to make. He is largely a different person than he was in the early ’60s, based primarily on experience.

Berman

I would add another element—I think that’s right and I’ve seen Mondale literally since 1964, and he is the same person in terms of his philosophical underpinnings; he’s a totally different person in terms of the public person. But there’s even another part to this. I think that Mondale always was, even in those years, more decisive as an internal politician than he would be in an external situation. And here we’re dealing with an internal situation. We’re dealing with internal politics in terms of his being able to shape the role that he was going to have in the administration because it was he and the President.

The second thing I think played into it and perhaps made him even a little bold was that you were dealing with a President who couldn’t be threatened. Here was a man in Carter who was a very confident individual. You didn’t have to worry that—it was clear that Carter wasn’t worried, and I think he said this a couple of times, he was not worried about a Vice President threatening him because he was the President. And he was sufficiently confident in that. And given that kind of relationship with somebody—it’s kind of peer but it’s not peer, you’re still number two, that is the fact of it—allows you to be much more aggressive than if you were with someone whose reaction you can’t predict if you step boldly. I think that affected his willingness to step forward.

The other thing was, he was now moving into a very high point in his political career. This could easily turn out to be the last step on the political ladder for him. So I think he was very concerned that it not drift off into, Well, whatever happened to old Fritz? So that he was willing to be a little more bold in that regard.

Light

Can I ask just a real quick follow up while we’re on this? In many respects Mondale’s career before the Vice Presidency was one of being attached to people who were pulling for him, or as kind of a mentor. He was appointed to the Attorney General, appointed to the Senate, and some have said that he had the training to be a number two man, and that when he became Vice President, he was just naturally psychologically suited for it. He knew what it took to be behind somebody else. What do you think of that?

Berman

I’ve heard that said before. But I think it is more than him being trained to be a number two man. It was his very style of politics, even in the Senate. While you can find a number of initiatives that he took himself and that he led, he was always a very strong inside baseball player. He worked the politics of the Senate. You have to remember, this is a man who when he wanted to get on the Senate Finance committee, got there because Jim Eastland decided he would be there. That’s who he went to for help, and their relationship by that time, which I guess was ten years old, was such that while they had probably not voted on any significant issue on the same side 20% of the time, Eastland decided that he should be there over the objections of Russell Long. So that his internal political skills have always been very strong, and I think that more than the question of was he suited to be number two—because in that relationship he really had no boss. One of the things that was difficult for him about the Vice Presidency was he had a boss for the first time. As Attorney General of Minnesota, you have no boss except the state legislature in the sense that they give you your budget. You’re not beholden to the Governor, you’re not anything. You are a separate constitutional officer. In the Senate you’re beholden to a state full of people, but again you have no boss. This is actually the first time in Mondale’s political career where there really was a boss, who if he chose to could tell you what to do and you pretty much had to do it.

Moe

I think also, Paul, that this touches on the most frustrating aspect of Mondale’s experience. He often characterized it as his loss of independence. He really loved the U.S. Senate; he loved being a Senator and he particularly loved the independence that went with being a Senator. You could pick your own issues, you could take your own positions. Here he was, clearly for the first time in his political career, in a number two position. As generous as Carter had been to him, and he was extremely generous in the way that he shaped this relationship, Mondale always recognized that there’s only one President, and while he had an opportunity to go in and argue with the President to urge whatever course he wanted, ultimately the President had to decide and he had to act based on that decision. It was predictable that he would chafe under this relationship, as every Vice President has who has cared about any degree of independence. But I think it was obviously made more bearable by the fact that Carter gave him the leeway that he did. But nonetheless, I often heard him express the fact that what he missed most about the Senate was a loss of independence. It just goes with the territory.

Thompson

Some of your predecessors have talked about loyalty when we’ve had previous sessions. They said that when they began to get a little expansive about what would and what wouldn’t constitute loyalty, then you got the developments that lead finally to the firings after the mountain event. To ask Paul’s question another way, do you think Mondale’s relationship to giants like Humphrey made it a little easier for him, even though he was a strong personality, to vigorously enter into something I never thought he would get into, foreign policy? Did this early experience give him some sense of what it meant to be loyal?

Moe

I don’t think there’s any question about it. Humphrey was clearly the one who drove that home to all of us by his experience. And of course Humphrey’s own loyalty to Johnson, I think some can argue, led to his own ultimate defeat in 1968. Nonetheless, it was an admirable quality, one that we felt strongly, one that Mondale continually drove home to us on the staff. He would not ever abide any criticism on the part of any of us of the President when we would have frank discussions among ourselves. But he would not tolerate any public or semi-public criticism of the President or the President’s staff. He felt extremely loyal to the President and he knew going into the experience that he would have these frustrations that I talked about earlier.

I remember very clearly in I think April or May of 1976, when I sent Mondale a memo indicating why he might be considered for Vice President based upon traditional ticket balancing aspects. He was a northern liberal based in Washington, all the rest. He knew that he was being considered, although at that point he was fairly far down on the list. And one day Mondale, Humphrey, and I had coffee in the Senate dining room and Mondale asked Humphrey right out, Is this something I really should be interested in? You’ve been through all this and what do you think? And Humphrey without hesitating said, Absolutely. The Vice Presidency is the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life. For all the suffering that Lyndon Johnson put me through, and believe me there was a lot of it, and all the humiliation, this is the most rewarding experience you can have. You’ll learn more about this country and about this world and you’ll have a greater impact on public policy than you ever can in the United States Senate, if you have the opportunity do it.

Mondale ultimately did it because he knew that number one, it would be a great education for him, and number two, that it gave him a potential opportunity to impact on public policy, which is what he really cares about. He knew in doing so that there would be tradeoffs. That there would be these frustrations, and he wouldn’t be entirely his own man anymore, but he was willing to accept that. It was difficult for him to go through it. I think in the first couple of years he ultimately became adjusted to it. Later in the term, we got to the Camp David session that led to the firings that probably led to the most serious rupture between the President and the Vice President and the two staffs. We can get into that in some detail if you want. But with that exception, I think the relationship worked pretty well, and that was basically because Mondale felt this sense of loyalty.

Jones

This matter of style and motivations as they get played out in staff operations is particularly important. We can bring it back to the staff business. I was interested in Mike’s comment that Carter was so confident he was not worried about the Vice President threatening him, but it’s possible however that he selected a person who wouldn’t threaten him. The style you talked about before in the campaign and transition period for you—be quiet, be prepared—is not a very threatening type of style. My question really is whether during this campaign period and the transition period you can say that it was Mondale’s style or Carter’s confidence or direction that determined the role of the Mondale staff?

Berman

It was both. But I think it also played out in terms of the styles of the people who were involved. He could have had a good experience and we could have had a miserable experience. That is a possible combination of events because of how the President treats him. But that wasn’t the case either. Stylistically we vary in all kinds of different ways in terms of our own staff. Some of us are wonderfully diplomatic and others—I don’t happen to be particularly diplomatic. I guess that’s why I tend to be an inside person and Dick, who’s much more diplomatic, tends to be an outside person, to do things more publicly than I would ordinarily do.

There was never any question in my mind in four years as to who was on first. If I had a dispute with the President’s counsel, for example, as happened on occasion, a dispute of judgment, or law, or whatever it was, the only time I could guarantee that it would be my way was that if it was something that related to both of them but Mondale had a peculiar choice. So that if we were trying to decide how things would be disclosed, how we would pay for certain things, I could control those things directly myself. But as relates to everybody else, all I could do was make my argument. There was no way to guarantee that what I wanted would be. But I knew that, and I didn’t have any doubts about that, and I pretty much learned over time how far I could push that edge. Now I must say that over time we were allowed to push it awful damn far. I didn’t really feel constraint. I can remember an occasion when I felt maybe the judgment was wrong, but not where I was constrained to where I was cut off without having made my argument in the fullest fashion.

Jones

I take it that at least in the one case you gave that Mondale made it clear to his staff what their role was to be.

Berman

Yes, but you also knew from Mondale when he wanted you to push the edge as well. Much goes on that has nothing to do with Mondale at all. Huge chunks of what happens in the White House have nothing to do with the principals. But he lets you know when he wanted the edge pushed, and then I would be more bold on those occasions, or would be less diplomatic than I tried to become, because you knew that he shared the fallout if it didn’t quite work right, if there was some repercussion from it. You were participating with him and you weren’t—I mean you’re always as a staff person terribly careful that what you’re doing in terms of your own job—each of us with our own careers, each of us with our own reputations and a different peer group in a much smaller universe than his, had reputations nonetheless—doesn’t affect him. So that to the extent that he was saying, Well, I really want to go all the way on this one, he pushed much harder. But you have be very careful because you don’t want some personal proclivity of your own or fantasy of your own to have an adverse effect. That’s our loyalty to him.

Jones

Could you give an example or generalize in any way about where he was likely to push, particularly in the early period? Or was that more characteristic of the later period?

Berman

I think we all got more aggressive later. I equate it a little bit to the right of Mondale to go into a meeting, a White House meeting. The point is where to look, as I have, at the number of Presidential meetings that Mondale attended. There is a clear change in number over the four years. Part of that change is due to the fact that at the tail end he was on the road a lot, especially after the Iranian thing erupted. Mondale was the sole campaigner for months and months and months. But setting that aside, even before that period, at the very front end Mondale went to literally every meeting that was on in the President’s office. I think to establish the right and the regularity and the expectation, The President’s given me this right, and now I want everyone to know that he means it. And so you went to an awful lot of meetings.

As time went on, and in part as his specific assignments changed and increased in number, that went down. But if you look at those meetings, at least in my view, he started selecting as to importance. There are some meetings that are very routine and very regular and you know what’s going to happen; if you read one briefing paper for 15 minutes you pretty much have the context of that meeting. There are others where there were important decisions to be made, and he’d move into those, so that he changed. That change wentWould you repeat the question, I’ve lost it—

Jones

I was just asking whether there were examples of where he decided he was going to push to the edge, as you put it.

Berman

As time goes on I’ll think of one. It was more of a general thing—and Dick may be more acquainted because when it got down to the substantive parts, except for the few remote areas, my bag was not necessarily to be involved in advising him in the specific issue in which he would advise the President.

Young

When we get into the actual work and the assignments, the trouble shooting, the issues that became most important from the Vice President’s and the President’s point of view in terms of use of the Vice President, we can draw some of this out. We have an unfinished agenda of some questions it seems to me on this transition period.

Ceaser

When you say you were from the beginning more integrated into the President’s staff, that also seems to me to pose certain problems, because as you’re integrated into the President’s staff, there’s the question of how you continue to operate also for the Vice President. Even though you were integrated into the President’s staff, how did you define your own role on those staffs? How did you continue to operate as the Vice President’s man on the President’s staff? What rules of thumb did you develop? You seem to suggest you stayed out of all arguments between staffs, between members of the President’s staff who would have power afterwards, so that you weren’t sort of active participants in politicking of staff power. Did you meet yourselves regularly to decide on a Vice President’s line that you carried on across the various integrating agencies and staff? And did you find that your own staff became fragmented and took positions that reflected the interests of the different levels of staff of the President, his national security versus the White House staff? During the campaign, did you develop certain rules of thumb consciously that you all pursued even though you were integrated into the President’s staff at the time?

Moe

Well, that covers a lot of territory. Basically, we started from the premise that we were all working for Mondale. But this was a particularly tricky relationship that we were entering into; we had to feel our way. So I don’t think we had any firm guidelines at the outset, except that because we all had worked with Mondale for so long, we all reflected his style and certainly reflected his mandate. We did not create any problems at the outset. We were newcomers to this relationship; we were clearly in a secondary role, which we all recognized, and if we were to gain the confidence of these people whom we really hadn’t known at all before the campaign, we were going to have to proceed very cautiously. And that’s what we tried to do.

Gradually we came to share our experience and our expertise such as it was with them. We gained their confidence to an extent that they welcomed our participation in a whole range of areas. This is not to say that there weren’t problems. But increasingly we would assert ourselves with them. We did disagree with them on large numbers of occasions, but we always tried to reflect what Mondale’s view was on any particular matter. And we had periodic meetings with Mondale. Typically our day would start with all of us assembling in Mondale’s office where we would spend a half an hour or forty-five minutes simply just chatting about whatever was topical and then we would all go off and do our things and basically reflect his views. I don’t think that’s fully responsive to your question. Maybe we can get into some details later.

Young

Mike Berman has a few words about the purposes of office. And then Dave and Clinton and I have some more questions to fill us in on the campaign and transition and early decisions about staffing and policy.

Berman

Washington is a town in which perceptions are generally more important than reality, at least in terms of the rest of the government, the Congress and whatever. There were several real differences that Carter instituted which made life a lot easier and made it appear to people right from the outset that Mondale had a new role and a role that he wasn’t going to be jerked around. First of all was the West Wing office point. Mondale was the first Vice President to have a permanent office in the West Wing. Vice President [Spiro] Agnew had had some form of West Wing office for about a month at one time when they were remodeling the Vice President’s office in the EOB [Executive Office Building]. In fact, while Mondale had an EOB office, if he spent a total of ten hours there in four years, I’d be surprised, and those would all have been media occasions when we were desperate for a large enough room to hold the group in, because it was a very large office.

That told a lot of people that Mondale would now be physically located within 30 or 40 feet of the President’s office, sitting in between Jordan and Brzezinski, that there was a very different relationship. And that was important because the White House operates not by structure but by what I call an osmotic thing. Things move and flow—it’s a very tiny place, which may be its beauty. Much is done by people floating in and out of other people’s offices, bumping into people in the hall, dealings in the White House restaurant, the mess. If you’re out of that loop in terms of what’s really going on with the President, it’s very hard to be part of the loop. It happens spontaneously. So that was a critical factor in terms of perception and in terms of one’s ability to interrelate and pop into the President’s office in 13 seconds as opposed to having to come from across the street, which had to take you five minutes anyway.

The second thing was as they really made available to Mondale again for the first time the total realm of the mechanics, whether it was communication, airplanes, transportation, all the physical accoutrements of office were simply made available to him. To be sure Carter cut back on some of them generally, but that was general and had nothing to do with Mondale. Dick made this point before that Humphrey’s people really had to beg for aircraft. There were many occasions during Humphrey’s tenure when they would have an aircraft scheduled where it would be pulled away by the President or his staff three hours before the event, and they had a backup of private commercial aircraft that they could borrow on moment’s notice from various companies around the eastern seaboard to be able to take some of these trips.

In our case, there were always two or three aircraft that couldn’t be moved without our permission. That made an enormous difference. You really had control of your physical life, and in terms of offices and locations we got our pick so to speak. We were not crunched, forced to use inappropriate facilities, not cut for equipment, never limited in our ability to use the communication facilities of the government, which are enormous. That made a big difference.

I think also the fact that Mondale was the first Vice President to really inhabit the Vice President’s house. So that didn’t specifically have to do with Carter. It was a combination of circumstances. It was really prepared during Ford’s term, but that was short, and he moved into the White House. Rockefeller thought his own house was nicer, and it may well have been. [laughter] So he was in that house one night, and the rest of the time he lived at his Foxhall Road residence when he was in Washington. Of course, Mrs. [Happy] Rockefeller never really moved to Washington.

That also made a difference, because it put the Vice President for the first time with the capacity—now Ford had the capacity too—with a place to entertain, to see people, to have physical location, to have a lot, again, of the accoutrements of prestige, which in Washington is an awful big part of the game.

Young

I’m struck by the clarity of authority, in terms of how staffs of different people behaved toward each other, the clarity with which and consistency on which this relationship was defined in all external terms between the Vice President and Carter. I’ll come back to this point later because one of the kind of puzzling things, looking at Carter in terms of his operating style and what he tried to figure out, is what he really wanted in terms of staff arrangements. It’s a bit puzzling. Here is one area that seems to have started out with some fairly clear principles of operation in mind and a fairly clear relationship defined.

Moe

I think that’s right. Mike is absolutely right about the importance of the West Wing office. There’s an interesting story behind this; it’s frankly something we hadn’t thought about. Our attention was focused on the campaign and then on the transition. And we hadn’t focused on where we would all be physically located. It was Carter’s idea that Mondale be in the White House. It was not Mondale’s idea; it was Carter’s idea. Jordan came to me one day and said, Here’s a floor plan of the first floor of the West Wing of the White House, which office would the Vice President like? All the offices except the Oval Office were open.

I went to Mondale and we decided that it would be prudent not to request the corner office, which is traditionally the Chief of Staff’s office, sometimes known as the [H. R.] Haldeman office—thinking that Jordan would probably want that, having just come out of his experience with Watson, and we were correct. So Mondale opted for the middle office, the one between the corner office and the national security office. There are three principal offices in the West Wing. And he took the middle one.

I think that reflects more directly than anything else Carter’s approach to wanting to make this work. And it also helped to cement our relationships because once he was over there, as Mike points out, he was in the traffic pattern, he was in the loop. Not just in terms of paper flow, but in terms of the informal kinds of conversations that go on. That fact had more to do with the success of Mondale’s experience there than any other single thing. Just physical proximity is important. He became so impressed with it that he used to refer to the Executive Office Building across the street as Baltimore. He said if you’re over there you might as well be in Baltimore.

Other things dramatize the difference between our experience and other experiences. Mike and I have a good friend who was Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary. He told us that during the four years he was Humphrey’s press secretary as Vice President, Humphrey was not in the West Wing of the White House more than five times. I mean it was a highly unusual experience for him to be invited over. And Humphrey himself of course is over in the Executive Office Building. I mean there was almost a deep chasm between the two buildings, and therefore between the two operations. In contrast, all of my office was in the Executive Office Building, I spent most of my day in the White House in meetings. Mike’s experience was roughly similar.

I remember Humphrey came down once in 1977 shortly before he died. Mondale was about to leave on a trip where the President saw him off on the south lawn in a helicopter going out to Air Force Two and all the trappings of a high level trip. Humphrey just shook his head in amazement. He said, You know, if I wanted to go somewhere, I’d have to first of all come down and beg for an airplane from Lyndon Johnson. If Marvin Watson wanted me to have it maybe I’d get it. But if I did get it I’d have to leave in the dark of night. It was obviously a miserable experience. I mention that because I think it dramatically contrasts the kinds of experiences we had with some of our predecessors.

Young

Some of the White House staff people have talked about that and have talked about Humphrey, especially when Carter picked him up early in Washington and when he rode in the helicopter down to the White House.

Moe

Humphrey had never been to Camp David.

Young

I know.

Moe

Until Carter invited him up there.

Young

That’s right.

Clinton

I have also been impressed by the clarity of thought that was given to a lot of matters in these early days and I wanted to ask you about another issue. You both talked about the different skills needed for campaigning as opposed to the transition and governing. During the campaign, how much thought did you see being given to how much the traditional Democratic campaign that you were forced to run, once you had gotten into office, during the transition and then once you were governing, would perhaps raise expectations that the President might not be able to fulfill?

Moe

You mean in terms of policy?

Clinton

Yes.

Moe

Well, I think as is true in most campaigns, our focus was primarily on the campaign itself. We were not thinking beyond it. That is just part of the dynamic of a campaign. And I think it’s the reason why the President decided to put Watson off on a separate operation to think about the longer term aspects of that. I can’t remember spending a minute thinking about anything that was to follow the campaign. I doubt that anybody in the campaign did. This is the reason why I think transitions historically have so many problems, if they’re staffed solely by campaign people. The transition psychologically is simply too great. As your question implies, the talents and skills required for staffing and for governing a White House are totally different, or at least substantially different from those required in the campaign. Now to some extent they overlap and it’s traditional to bring campaign people into the White House, and I think there’s some merit to that if it’s done with some degree of balance.

I don’t know if you want to get into this at this point, but I think one of the things that struck me and particularly strikes me in retrospect is that during the transition particularly one of the biggest mistakes that was made was the failure to settle on the President’s early policy priorities, with one exception. He came to grips with the current economic situation at that time and proposed an economic stimulus package, which met with considerable early success in the Congress. I think it was correctly conceived and had the desired results for the most part. But the problem was that with that exception there was a lack of discipline in terms of forcing priorities amongst all those people who were pushing all those different initiatives.

You have to keep in mind the Democrats had been out of power for eight years; all the initiatives were storing up. In effect, what the President did during the first six months, even the first year, was to overload the circuits in the Congress. We sent up too much legislation, we did not accurately tell them what was most important or what was least important. As a result, I think we got off to a bad start with the Congress, and most of those programs floundered, with the exception of the economic program. In looking back on it, I think [Ronald] Reagan learned this lesson from us. He came into office with a very clear set of priorities, stuck with it, forced his people to keep everything else on the back burner, and largely succeeded. We paid a big price for not having done that.

Clinton

Do you think that, at least in part, resulted from the fact that the transition staff was off to itself and didn’t have as much contact with the rest of the Carter campaign?

Moe

I think that’s true in part. But I think it stemmed also from the fact that most of the President’s people were new to Washington. They were just learning about how to deal with the Congress. They had not yet really cemented solid relationships with the Congressional leadership. They believed all these things could be done. There was so much pressure building up from so many different quarters to do so many different things that to some extent they were irresistible.

Young

Do you think it would have been different if the conflict between the Watson operation and the Jordan operation had not happened, or if Jack Watson and his transition preparatory work had moved intact into office? Or do you think there would still have been that problem?

Moe

No, I think there still would have been that problem.

Young

For Democratic Party reasons?

Moe

Yes. And newness to Washington. I never felt that the conflict between Watson and Jordan had any lasting implications. Whatever mistakes were made or whatever problems ensued stemmed from other sources. That was quickly and decisively resolved, and I don’t think it impeded the decision-making process.

Berman

Jack’s operation was not really an issues operation.

Moe

Well, in part it was, Mike.

Berman

Yes, but the issues—

Moe

Primarily personnel.

Berman

It was the formation of the government. The issues group that moved into the domestic policy staff was essentially Stu’s operation.

Moe

That’s right.

Berman

It was the campaign-related policy people who became essentially the significant domestic policy people in the White House operation.

Young

I’d like to ask some fairly specific questions about critical decisions made early. Were they made by default or consciously? I want to get back to the question of the President’s preferences, apart from the role of the Vice President and the issues of how the two staffs would relate to each other. Was there a conscious decision made to not put anybody in charge in a Chief of Staff sense of the White House operation? Perhaps, implicitly, somebody was in charge. The location of Jordan’s office suggests that, but we’ve had evidence from a number of people saying there really was nobody in charge. Was that a conscious decision, do you think, on the President’s part? Was it the result of inadvertence? In that connection, there were, as we understand it, various proposals made and papers produced on the reorganization of the executive office of the President during that transition period. The papers I’m familiar with were not followed. It’s a question of trying to figure out whether this loosely called spokes of the wheel approach with 22 different people reporting to the President was something conscious or something not. How did it look from your perspective?

Moe

I think it was conscious. It stemmed in part from the way that the President had traditionally operated, particularly as Governor in Georgia, and it stemmed also from Jordan’s own instincts in this area and his awareness of his own limitations. Clearly Jordan and Powell were first among equals, among those around Carter. And it was clear once he had prevailed over Watson that nobody was going to be higher on the ladder than Jordan. At the same time Jordan sees himself as a number of things, but included among them is not that of an administrator, and he’s the first to admit that. He simply doesn’t have the style or the inclination to be an effective administrator. We all recognize now that this structure led to some problems because even though he was the focal point for coordinating and resolving different issues in the White House, it was a role he didn’t really want. He always saw himself as a political strategist, as an overall policy strategist, and indeed that was his greatest strength. He was extremely valuable to the President in that sense. But it led, as you suggested, to this spokes of the wheel concept.

I remember Dick Cheney, his predecessor, had left in his office this beat up old bicycle wheel that was bent about sixteen different ways, with a little plaque on the bottom saying, Welcome to the spokes of the wheel, which should have been fair warning to all of us. But in concept it was supposed to work like Cabinet government was supposed to work. There were about nine or ten senior staff people and they all had equal access to the President, but the President was at the center of it and he was the ultimate decision maker. This stemmed in part from the President’s own inclination to make decisions that other Presidents or other administrators might choose to delegate.

This of course is vividly contrasted in the styles between Carter and Reagan. Carter was used to and liked to involve himself in even routine decisions. And this is clearly the way they had operated before, the way they were all comfortable operating, and they felt it would work at this level. If a mistake was made, it was in underestimating the complexity of issues that a President was called upon to resolve, and the fact that a President’s time and resources are so limited that he has to devote them to a few key selected areas that are most important. And that’s why I think the system ran into trouble as time went on.

Berman

To add another point to that, the other part of the problem was that all of the spokes were not of equal quality. While I spent a lot of time in more of the organizational side, when that system works as it does sometime, it demands equal strength of the people who are surrounding. If anything, the job of Chief of Staff or administrator or whoever you decide is that person first underneath the principal, is to solve those softnesses, if you will, those weaknesses. There was no one in this White House to deal with those specific kinds of problems, so they always only got worse, never got better.

Young

That’s a good point. I was going to ask you about the economic stimulus package, because we have had people here who were intimately involved in the development of that and in consultation with the President, Bert Lance and Charlie Schultze and so forth. The consultation with Congresspeople made it fly. I was going to ask you if there were any other issues that emerged early in this transition period in which a policy was developed, formulated, and got through Congress without major difficulties. This was an exception.

Moe

I think the economic stimulus package was an exception. I can’t think of anything else in a similar category.

Young

What was the first major policy issue in terms of policy development, or in terms of work on Capital Hill, where the Vice President or his staff played a major role?

Moe

It’s hard to identify. He was involved in all of these initiatives. He was looked to by Frank Moore and others early on to help develop early Congressional relationships. He did play a role in formulating, structuring, and ultimately selling the economic stimulus package, which I think was everybody’s earliest priority.

I might just say parenthetically here, the Vice President was given a role by the President during the transition that I have trouble recollecting with a lot of clarity. But it was basically an agenda process. I remember we went down to the first meeting with the Cabinet at Sea Island, and the Vice President had Gail Harrison deeply involved in this process. She had primary staff responsibilities, and if you’re going to see her you might want to ask her about that. But what we did was to ultimately lay out an agenda for the administration for the first year in terms of foreign policy, in terms of Congressional initiatives, in terms of Presidential travel, and in terms of all aspects of Presidential policy and activity. And we would meet periodically to fine tune this, and to a large extent it was followed.

Ultimately the system didn’t break down, but it kind of disappeared because other processes took over and it operated pretty much on its own. The one area where I think the process did not succeed was the one I mentioned earlier, in that we simply overwhelmed the Congress with too much too soon. We sent everything up there the first few months, health insurance, welfare reform, everything.

Young

When you had this discussion, was it with the President on the agenda and the plan? Did you have the feeling that you were the only people forcing some thought about this? Or was the President getting other papers with other agendas?

Moe

Yes. Well, everything was funneled through this process. We would typically ask every Cabinet Secretary and all the principals in the White House to send in to us what they thought the next year’s or the next quarter’s agenda should be. We would take this, try to reconcile it all and put it all into a big chart or a plan that made overall sense in terms of the President’s time, resources, and priorities.

Young

That was almost a high-level Chief of Staff function, wasn’t it?

Moe

In many ways it was. And interestingly at this meeting at Sea Island the President said in referring to this process, Mondale is going to be my— it wasn’t Chief of Staff. I think it was staff chief or something—and that was the headline the next day. And Mondale again recoiled from this, it wasn’t the role he saw for himself.

Young

Not quite something he bargained for.

Moe

No, it wasn’t really the role the President saw for him either. But for a while the perception got out that Mondale was going to be the Chief of Staff. This was not accurate and we quickly put that to rest. But he was performing that function.

Young

And something derailed that. He got lost and then came back as an operative.

Moe

The agenda process worked I think for the first year and a half or so, or first two years, and worked fairly well, but it was loose. If it had a flaw, it was that there was no monitoring of it as we went along and there was no disciplined exercise. I think it was well conceived and it wasn’t originally conceived as being a really tight enforceable program, but more as a guideline to allow the President to develop his own set of priorities.

Berman

The thing that was always missing from that process, and it wasn’t really that people didn’t think about it, just that in my view, again, which was more external than Dick’s, was that it never really successfully—and this may have been as much Carter’s style as anything else—succeeded in isolating issues as to whose they should be. And I don’t mean by that individuals. In other words, in my own view of the White House and how the President has to operate, there’s a series of issues that should never get to the President. There may be a small group of issues at the top of the list in which the President will in fact be involved intimately, daily, himself—Reagan’s done some of this—very intensively. Then there’s another set of issues that never get above the Cabinet level, that the Cabinet Secretaries, based on their own territories, would have principal responsibility and the buck would essentially stop there. And then a third level of issues that stop at a whole series of other places not involving any of them—either in a department or in the White House itself. That part, that isolation of responsibility, never quite happened. We tried to talk about it a number of times.

Moe

That’s right. And the other reason why I think even though the agenda was well conceived for the most part, the reason why it was not always followed had to do with the nature of the relationship that Carter established between the White House staff and the Cabinet Secretary—

Young

I’d like to hear you talk about that.

Moe

—at the outset. And this changed dramatically during the course of the administration. But he made it very clear at the outset that he wanted Cabinet government to work and that he didn’t want, I forget exactly how he put it, but he didn’t want White House staff people ordering Cabinet Secretaries around. I mean he really built up the perception that these Secretaries were almost autonomous, that they had direct access to the President at all times, and that he didn’t want anybody in the White House monkeying around.

Young

Could I just interrupt to ask if this again is something that stems in your view from Carter’s working style as Governor, or was it more an effort to distance himself from the Haldeman-[John] Ehrlichman syndrome?

Moe

Both. I think both.

Young

I think it was Ehrlichman who let out the story about when you tell a Cabinet member to jump, he jumps.

Moe

That’s right.

Young

That’s the idea of working situation. It was both of these.

Moe

It was both of those, without question. He was clearly repulsed by the way that the [Richard] Nixon White House operated. As a matter of fact, much of his campaign was based on perceptions of how Nixon operated. So he was trying to avoid that. But that led to a lot of problems in terms of responsiveness to the White House and in terms of coordination because there wasn’t a real focal point. Here’s one area where the Watson-Jordan dispute had an impact later on. Watson was Cabinet Secretary as well as liaison for Governors and mayors. He was the principal White House contact to the Cabinet Secretaries. Because of his temporary estrangement from Jordan, he had difficulty reconciling that role with the implementation of policy in the White House, and it led to a lot of problems.

Berman

There’s another piece of that too, and that is that the—it’s not necessarily the argument of whether Cabinet government is good or not, which is another whole project, I suspect. There was never much of a distinction, which I think is critical if that’s going to work, between the policy and the politics. And by that I mean that within each department there’s a political aspect to what you’re doing, there’s a political aspect to the placement of people, which becomes a critical factor. And in the main, at least at the outset, the Cabinet Secretaries weren’t particularly responsive on any ground.

My own view is that as others came around, one of the problems—and again I approach this in a pretty mechanistic basis—that [Joseph] Califano and [Michael] Blumenthal had, was that they never acknowledged or participated with the political mechanism of the White House at any time at pretty much any level. So that instead of saying, Look, we have to deal with the President’s staff regardless of what the President says and so we ought to (excuse the expression) co-opt them by playing with them in areas that are particularly important to them, whether it’s X number of people being taken care of or whatever it is, they rejected that out of hand. And consistently gave the back of their hand to people on all issues.

It wasn’t just on the question of whether we were going to have an economic policy or not, it was a question of whether some person who had labored for two years making 27 cents a week on a campaign was going to get some kind of a job—not trying to be an Assistant Secretary, but some kind of a job. You didn’t have to pay people very much because most of these people had never made very much. Anything. So that one of the stories around Washington was that we were so successful in placing a much smaller group of people—that literally every person who was involved with us in the campaign who wanted to get a job in the government got a job in the government relatively close to what would have been reasonable expectations. Some people had some grandiose ideas that we cut off at the knees in terms of the level of their idea, but we worked with them on that, and through Dick’s efforts, myself, Jim, Mondale himself, lobbying, working, we got all those people essentially what they wanted. By kind of seducing the people out there. So that there was a crunching, and there is nothing that is more important to a campaign manager—and I’ve been in that role too many times—to be able to take care of the troops that brought you to the dance. That never worked.

Now with the Secretaries that did make it work—and there were some—Ray Marshall over at Labor, Pat [Patricia] Harris wasn’t all that bad about it, Cecil Andrus was good about it—I mean you could go through them, and there’s a limited number of departments where that works at least because of the technical skills required. Their position over time—they did not end up with this kind of personal conflict with the White House staff that some of the others did.

Moe

I think there’s an interesting point here that is very revealing about Carter’s Presidency and his whole approach to government. That was his very firm desire to separate policy from politics. Once the campaign was over, he didn’t want to hear about politics. During the first and second years when we’d get into different policy discussions, it became legendary in the White House that there was no quicker way to lose Carter’s support than to make a political argument on national health insurance or welfare reform or anything. I heard him say this a number of times, I will take care of the politics. I don’t want to hear any political arguments on this. And I think that had a lot to do with our subsequent problems in Congress and elsewhere.

Getting back to the point that Mike was making, it was revealed in the way that he structured the government. In effect, once he made his Cabinet appointments, he gave away the government. He let each Cabinet Secretary completely staff his own department. Ultimately the White House had to sign off on everybody, but there was no kind of negotiation between the White House and the Secretary as to who would be Undersecretary, Assistant Secretary and so forth down the line. Every Secretary and particularly the forceful ones like Califano felt that they had complete carte blanche and did. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated. This sentence has been eliminated.

The same thing existed elsewhere. Most of those who had been politicians before, like [Robert] Bergland or Ray Marshall or whomever, had enough sense to know that they should be somewhat deferential to the White House. But even people like Jordan and certainly us were put in the position of having to go and beseech these people for a hearing on hiring a campaign worker or hiring somebody we thought was particularly good for a particular position. And this initial failure to get a handle on those people in key policymaking decisions I think had a lot to do with the lack of responsiveness throughout the government that later had a crippling effect on the government.

Young

Perhaps on the disciplinary problem you talked about earlier.

Moe

That also.

Berman

In Johnson’s time even when a Cabinet Secretary was given the authority to pick their own person for a particular spot, before the deed was done, the person always came down to the White House at the end of the day for a visit with Marvin Watson to make sure there was a clear understanding about who the person worked for.

Moe

That’s right.

Berman

There was an equally clear understanding about who the people in most of the departments worked for, and it wasn’t the President. This isn’t something against the President, but he was not their employer.

Moe

The primary loyalty was to the Cabinet Secretary and not to the President.

Thompson

Did you ever talk about this when you looked at candidates for Cabinet positions? Would Califano, would Blumenthal, would somebody else be excessive in the demands for control of their own department, or didn’t that ever come up?

Moe

We undoubtedly had conversations about it, but it did not play a major role. It certainly was not high on the President’s list of criteria. I think he assumed that everybody would be a team player and be responsive to him, and indeed they were responsive to him, but of course what we all failed to recognize is that he oftentimes failed to ask them to be responsive to him. I mean he really paid them great deference and led them to believe that they were in fact largely autonomous in their own areas. So it was not an issue faced early on, but it was an early frustration once it had been done because it was clear to us very early that these people were not going to be terribly responsive to us. It was a problem that plagued us. That decision and practice early on led directly to the session at Camp David and the mass firings. I don’t think there’s any question about it. Califano and Blumenthal and others were perceived as being totally unresponsive, and in fact going out of their way to show the White House staff that they didn’t have to deal with them.

Young

In some cases though, despite this free hand, there did develop some degree of close working between departmental staff and White House staff, didn’t there?

Moe

Yes. What I’ve been talking about was mostly on the political level. I think Stu Eizenstat and certainly Jack Watson developed their own set of relationships on policy matters with departments and that did work out fairly well.

Jones

Were the people that you were able to place loyal to the White House in a sense, or did the whole system contaminate the people who were originally loyal?

Berman

With the exception of people that we took ourselves, people like Carp and Aaron, who went into the President’s actual mechanism, the people we were placing in the government were not at levels that really made an extraordinary amount of difference in this problem. In each case they were an ongoing access for us if we had a problem. If we needed something and one of our employees was over there, you can damn well be sure they turned heaven and earth to help us to have them within the purview of their responsibility and authority.

Moe

But I think also it’s important to note that Mondale had primary impact, although he was very much involved in the whole Cabinet selection process. He used to go down to Plains every week to meet with the President on this. His greatest impact in this was to secure appointments for Bob Bergland and Joe Califano. And those two experiences worked out in two entirely different ways. So the answer to your question is very mixed. But once the Cabinet selection process was over, we ran into the same frustration that everybody else in the White House did: the Cabinet Secretaries were making decisions for the other positions, and we were almost out of the process at that point.

Young

You had to lobby for your own positions, in effect.

Moe

Right.

Jones

We’ve had bits and pieces on Mondale’s role during this transition period and early months, but we haven’t asked the question directly, that is Mondale himself as distinct from the staff and integration and all that sort of thing. Can you characterize that role that he played? Were there issues that he was particularly active on, or was he particularly important on the political matters or the organizational matters in consulting with the President?

Moe

I think most of his time was spent traveling to Plains and sometimes to Atlanta, because the President hardly over came to Washington during the transition, talking about and interviewing candidates for Cabinet positions. Mondale used to hate that trip to Plains because it was a long flight and then it was a long drive and he’d have to get back on the plane and come back the same day. He hated to stay overnight down there. I don’t know how many of you have been to Plains, but it’s not a place where you want to spend a lot of time. So that’s where most of his attention was: on the key personnel decisions in the government. He did not get deeply involved in the White House structure because the President was doing that pretty much on his own. He was starting this agenda process and he spent a fair amount of time on that. Once the Cabinet was picked, then they started to get into the policy decisions that led to the economic stimulus program and other things.

Jones

And he was in on all of that?

Moe

Oh, yes.

Jones

Did the Carter regulation that he didn’t want to hear about politics apply to the Vice President as well?

Moe

Not as much. Not as much. I mean he didn’t like it from anybody, but he would tolerate it from Mondale. Typically what Mondale would do if he wanted to make a political argument, or indeed any forceful argument, he would raise it at this Monday lunch. He would not necessarily raise it in the Cabinet meeting or any other semi-public meeting, because he felt that it was unfair to the President to put that kind of pressure on him in a meeting with others, because he felt it might signal the way the President was going or it might inhibit candor on the part of somebody. We spent a lot of time carefully structuring an agenda for these lunches, and he always knew the points he wanted to raise. I would work up an agenda of the points I thought he would want to raise with the President. He would always take it and cross out some and add others and go in there with his own agenda. That’s where his real business with the President was conducted.

Berman

There’s another reason for that, again mechanistic, and that is why Reagan’s having a problem with leaks, the White House is a sieve. There are dozens and dozens of reporters working there getting most of their information at the third level. We were always concerned that anything the Vice President did in public could very easily find itself in the Washington Post the next day, and as an example of the President and the Vice President in conflict on a policy matter. Since people were looking for that from the day we started to the day we left, we worked very hard to avoid that kind of problem.

Young

I’m glad, you brought that up because it is clear that there was a great deal of badmouthing and conflict producing in reporting. The press as medium was used both within the Carter White House and within Washington. Not the only one, but a conspicuous exception is the Mondale-Carter relationship, either in terms of staff leaks at the third level or even on top. I’m interested to hear you say you worked hard to prevent that. Your bringing up the question of the Vice President’s involvement and his trips to Atlanta or Plains on the Cabinet leads me to ask the following question. Can you talk about what sort of people Carter and Mondale thought should be appointed to the Cabinet? What was the Cabinet recruitment strategy or what kinds of people did he consider? What qualities or qualifications were considered as important? Was there a philosophy about this?

Moe

That’s interesting because there was the implicit and explicit campaign philosophy that Carter intended to bring in a lot of new faces. And there’s this famous Hamilton Jordan quote in effect that, If Cy Vance and Zbig are part of this government, I don’t want to be part of it. And of course they were the first two appointments that the President made.

Young

That may suggest something about Hamilton’s influence.

Moe

No. No, it doesn’t. I think it says more about Carter’s coming to terms with the realities of government and the need for experience and competence. He placed a high priority on competence, as we all know. But he placed less on experience. Through the Vice President and others, he just faced the enormously complex issues that he recognized had to have experience and respected people in most of these positions. He did reach out and get some new faces. But Cy Vance was also Secretary of State and Brzezinski was running the National Security Council. The Vice President tried to accelerate this process of recognizing reality and trying to get some, if you want to call them establishment, names in the government on the grounds that Washington was a new and a difficult place to work for the President, and that he needed this kind of help. The President went through his own internal transition here. I’m not sure Jordan’s quote really ever accurately reflected Carter’s mental state of mind on this issue. But even if it did I think it was fairly quickly rescinded.

Young

Can I press you on that point a bit more to clarify with respect to Cabinet appointments, competence as against for example bringing constituent elements into the Cabinet.

Moe

There was not a high priority on this because again you have to reflect back on the kind of political environment that Carter came out of in Georgia. They do not play constituency politics the same way that I think most of us do in the North, or certainly the way we do in Minnesota where there is an organized labor element that is a major player, along with teachers, farmers, or whatever else. I mean it’s just political parties; it’s simply a different orientation to politics. They, and Jordan particularly, felt that they had free rein in terms of their selections and needn’t pay as much attention to the traditional constituency groups.

Young

In the Cabinet appointments.

Moe

In the Cabinet appointments. That’s right. I think he ultimately changed a little bit on this. In our early dealings with the Congress they tried to press some appointments on the President, and the President wasn’t always terribly responsive.

Young

Was there any thought, do you think, to this factor in making up your Cabinet appointees? Did you anticipate problems with the outsider getting along with the Democratic Party in Congress or the Washington crowd?

Berman

We ran against all the institutions. Therefore it makes it kind of difficult, and the way the institutions that approach you even after you win is hardly sophisticated. Even though they are with you on your day at the doorstep and their arrival at the same doorstep is kind of a demand for the acknowledgement of their position, and maybe one should or shouldn’t. But it was certainly very difficult, if you look at the campaign and said, just from a political point of view, We ran against all these institutions, we ran against Washington, we ran against the regular order, if you will. We have now arrived with that as being part of the set that Jimmy Carter delivered to the American people. I always found in Cabinet composition—again, Dick was much more involved than I was in Cabinet composition—that there was almost a sense that one had to be careful that one didn’t walk in the door in a way that would say, Hey, folks, business as usual. This guy’s a lawyer from day one. That everything we’d been about was simply turned around now that we were instant insiders, so to speak. I think that preyed on, or at least affected the process.

Light

You had all the conditions necessary to have some kind of influence—you had access, you had information, you had the West Wing office, you had perks, you had the perception of power, you kept conflict out of the press: the question would be whether or not you were able to affect Cabinet appointments. I mean not just whether or not you were invited to discuss with the President and present some ideas, but whether or not you actually were able to direct and modify the course of policy.

Young

Are you asking this question with respect to an affect on Cabinet appointments?

Light

Let’s make it specifically with Cabinet appointments.

Young

Because you have mentioned Califano.

Light

Was Mondale able to bump Califano up the list? Was that Mondale’s personal choice that he brought in to Carter and persuaded him?

Moe

Yes, it was. Both he and Bergland were Mondale’s. He set out to persuade the President to pick Bergland and Califano and ultimately succeeded. He also played a role in the other appointments, but not in the same way. Obviously his success in this process was mixed. I mean he would prevail on some issues and not on others, but I think we all recognize that would always be the case. It was ultimately the President’s decision. But I think it was also an indication of the President’s early willingness to acknowledge Mondale’s new role that he picked Califano and Bergland.

Berman

Califano really more than Bergland.

Moe

That’s right. Because he felt very comfortable with Bergland, who was kind of a natural pick and there was never any serious competition.

Berman

He showed up on a lot of people’s lists.

Moe

Yes, that’s right. It was an easy choice. Califano was a much more difficult or certainly a different kind of choice, and Mondale was required to be more persuasive on that than he was on Bergland. I mean he saw that through from beginning to end and it ended up to be a very unhappy experience for the all reasons that led up to the Camp David meeting. But nonetheless he spent a lot of time on that early.

Strong

I had a question about priorities in the first six months or first year. You mentioned that Congress and the public were overloaded and the administration was under lots of external pressures. Working in the White House, did you have a clear sense of what the President’s priorities were and what his preferences would be on the various policy questions that were emerging in those early months?

Moe

No. Looking back then, I didn’t feel this at the time because we were all kind of persuaded that we could all do this. Even those of us who had worked in the Congress and had been in Washington failed to recognize the mistake that we were then making in terms of sending up too much. But I never had the feeling that the President came to grips with this issue, except with the economic stimulus program, which was on everybody’s priority list. Once he got beyond that, I never felt that he had made a clear-cut decision as to what his priorities were.

I remember several times during the first and second years, when the Vice President was chairing this agenda process, he was called upon to respond to Tip [Thomas P.] O’Neill or Senator [Robert] Byrd and others in the leadership to come up and explain what our priorities were. And we would go through this process of trying to work up a short list of priorities, and it was a very difficult task because we couldn’t get a consensus within the White House, and sometimes not even clear direction from the President as to what they were. Everybody was very cautious about having too short a list, because if you leave this off then you’re signaling that it’s not really important and this constituency will get angry. So there was a real failure on the part of all of us throughout this process to really come to grips with this problem.

Young

I think you’ve referred several times to this agenda-setting process and its obvious frustrations. After a while we might want to come back and have some concrete descriptions of what it was.

Thompson

Every public affairs center has to have some high corporate officials who keep it alive. A couple of us have been dealing with this problem, and the other day in New York the chairman of probably one of the two or three largest corporations in America said if he made his selections in his corporate responsibilities in the way that the Reagan and Carter administrations had picked Cabinet members, his corporation would be bankrupt tomorrow. And then he went on to say that nobody could guess, nobody could imagine the number of man-hours that went into the selection of top corporate officials. The millions of dollars that were spent, the months that were required. You’ve also seen this process at work on tenure appointments I know, both of you probably.

But we’re interested in the whole process. Is it possible to make generally responsible choices in the short time you have, is the network such that one can identify responsible people? Can you ask enough questions? I know one or two of the Cabinet appointments and having watched one of them in great detail over a period of years, I wasn’t a bit surprised at some of the events that followed. I wondered as events unfolded whether anybody had bothered to ask people who had observed this man in a particular setting how he‘d done in that relationship. But anyway, can you really do it responsibly?

Moe

It’s a fascinating question, and I’m not sure I have an adequate answer. I don’t think we did a terribly adequate job in 1977 in doing this. In the end the process has got to reflect the President-elect and his instincts. Most decisions are going to be made following personal interviews with prospective Cabinet members and how he feels the chemistry works, whether or not they’re on the same wavelength, and all those other intangible factors.

One of the things that did handicap the selection process was the dispute between Jordan and Watson. Because once Jordan had prevailed in that dispute, we virtually started from scratch. He came to me and said, I want you to work up a notebook with prospective candidates for Secretary of the Treasury, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and OMB. This was about two weeks after the election. I hadn’t given this any thought. It wasn’t an area of expertise that I had been involved in particularly, but he just came and asked me to do it. So I did it and talked to a lot of people and produced a notebook.

The point is that whatever work Watson had done in this area was totally lost to the process. The same thing happened in other areas. So we ultimately came up with Mike Blumenthal, who looked terrific on paper and had a great reputation. He was a Democrat and one of the enlightened Democratic business leaders in the country at the time. He appealed to us because he was a Humphrey Democrat. But we didn’t have the time—and I think that really gets to your question—or the resources to check out the other factors that ultimately led to the difficulties that in turn led to his departure. And if we’d had more time and more resources, maybe we could have discovered that there was trouble down the road there. But in fact we didn’t.

Berman

The comparison to a corporation is a little unfair. First of all, they have more than their share of failures as well. They sure as hell paper them over in a lot different way than you can in government. It’s not fair because it’s a continuing area where it’s, Why can’t government operate like business? And the answer that I give when I’m speaking in colleges is very simple: they don’t have a charter that says, Promote the public welfare. We’re faced with a whole series of competing interests, needs, and demands that no corporation is faced with. A corporation only is going to make money. It’s got to satisfy its stockholders, there’s a bottom line—if you make money you’re terrific. You can have the worst management team in America, but if you’ve got the best product you may still make a hell of a lot of money.

Here, not only do you have to look for people that you think are going to be competent, but you must within a group of about a dozen people satisfy a whole series of constituencies—whether it be the environmentalists, whether it be blacks, Hispanics, women, geographic constituencies—none of which affects corporate selection. So that’s why it’s a lot easier that they can do a better job.

The other one is the time problem. They do take sometimes years in advance preparing for successions. Knowing that at a certain time a certain executive vice president or a president, a CEO, is going to be moving on, they can bring people into the system to replace them. They can test them in the system. As you know, people start career paths. Some float off in different places, and eventually someone, if it’s an internal selection, may actually emerge at the top. But there is a whole series of tests that are absolutely unavailable in the selection of government people.

Thompson

My only point was that Doug Dillon, a Republican sitting around a boardroom table, invariably encouraged everybody to do a little bit more for the common interest, and you never imagined that for some ideological, political, social economic reason you were being put in your place by Doug Dillon. You always did with Mike Blumenthal. And he always had the last word in a way that Dillon never did. There was a controversy when Kennedy picked Dillon. They said, Why do you want a Republican? Why do you want him? Yet when you talk to Carl Kaysen and anybody else of whatever liberal hue, they always say the guy who gave them the biggest push and kept them moving ahead was Doug Dillon. And I think any call to anybody who had sat around the board meetings of the Rockefeller Foundation could have given you that answer on Blumenthal and Dillon.

Moe

Well, we made a number of calls on Blumenthal and that particular aspect of it did not come through to us.

Thompson

It didn’t?

Moe

No.

Young

It sounds like the Cabinet selection process you’re describing was more like a corporate process without the time or the investment of resources in that competence rather than politics is emphasized.

Berman

But it isn’t. Carter wanted competence, but he had to satisfy other things. Could he have had a Cabinet without a woman in it? No. Could he have had a Cabinet without a black in it? No. No matter how much—you just had to have those other competing interests—I don’t mean it as an excuse for not getting people that are good but it is—

The other part of it is that—and Reagan did this better, although I don’t think the result is necessarily that much better—is that politicians, political managers, are notoriously bad about using people who have non-political skills that might be helpful. At least to this administration, in bringing in Pendleton James, they brought in a person to head their personnel department who actually knows something about personnel. Never in the four years of this administration did the person in charge of personnel in the White House have any experience in the question of personnel.

Moe

And it showed.

Berman

Yes.

Moe

And to compound that, Jordan hated dealing with personnel. Hated it. Tried for years to get rid of it. Finally did get rid of it. But we paid a price for that. Because there’s no more important thing that a President does than the key appointments he makes. And yet, as Mike points out, we had a bunch of campaign kids over running our personnel operation. I mean it’s just incredible.

Berman

From personnel in the White House, a dear friend of mine was the chief advance man for the campaign. It just wasn’t a match.

Jones

Do you want to connect the selection of these Cabinet-level appointments with the failure to follow through and hold onto lower level appointments? One can imagine meeting the political demands in filling the Cabinet Secretaries’ position. But then it’s equally important to surround that person with other people of competence. You give that away, then you’ve really given away your influence.

Moe

Then we gave it away.

Berman

The argument is that the really good people insist on this kind of control as a price of coming in. I think that’s utter nonsense. The fact of the matter is that most people who come into government in those kinds of roles, regardless of how much money they’re making, whatever else, are salivating for the opportunity. You’re not going to say, Look, I’m going to put every single person in your office. You go over there and I’ll send over this truckload of folks next week that are your staff. Nobody would let you get away with that. But Carter may have even believed this a little, that when somebody like Joe Califano—as Joe did—went in and insisted on control, if you wanted Joe, that was part of the price to pay. I just don’t believe that.

[BREAK]
Young

Why don’t we continue with you enlightening us about this agenda setting? You’ve indicated that this was one of the original assignments of your areas of responsibility for the Vice President from very early on, and it obviously went through some kind of evolution with periods of mixed success. As a way of illustrating one of the functions of the Vice President, you could perhaps show how it works in an area that’s been identified publicly as a real problem for the Carter administration.

Moe

As I mentioned earlier, this was one of the responsibilities that the President gave the Vice President during the transition. And it’s too bad Gail Harrison can’t be here because she was the primary staff person responsible for designing this and filtering the different recommendations that came in. Basically we tried to request from the different Cabinet and White House staff people their own sense of priorities, issues that ought to be taken up, demands on the President’s time and so forth. We would take all this, try to filter it, sift it out, and work it all into a comprehensive plan for a given period of time, either the next quarter or the next half year and sometimes full year, and ultimately try to get the President’s approval on this.

The first time this was presented was at the first Cabinet meeting during the transition at Sea Island, Georgia, where the Vice President had a series of big charts. I think we still have those charts around somewhere don’t we, Mike? They outlined different areas of Presidential activities in terms of legislative programs, foreign policy, foreign travel, Vice Presidential activity, political activity. Virtually anything that impacted upon the President’s time or attention we attempted to factor into this process. I don’t think it was ever designed to be an enforcement process. Although if it had a failing, it failed in that it lacked any kind of enforcement capability.

To the extent that it was helpful, it served as a set of guidelines for everyone in the administration to understand, and as a discipline process to try to filter out the less important issues and to try to make the President’s time more available for the more important issues. This did not work very well the first year where the President, by his own instincts I think, tended to immerse himself in everything that came his way, whether large or small. Gradually he worked his way out of that to some extent, but certainly not in the first year.

We would try to repeat this process every quarter or half year, I can’t remember exactly which it was, make an assessment of how we were doing and to plan forward for the next period of time. But there was never any enforcement process built into it, and therefore it had only a limited degree of success. In the first year, we tended just to do everything.

Young

Who is the we in the group?

Moe

The Vice President was given the responsibility for this, but everybody participated. He would chair meetings in the Roosevelt Room first with the entire White House staff in trying to finalize this after having gotten the suggestions from the Cabinet members.

Young

Were these really sleeves rolled up sessions and a lot of contention about what ought to be top or what ought to be on the list?

Moe

Yes, there was a lot of competition in that area because every Cabinet Secretary obviously felt that his issues deserved to be on the list, and similarly with many White House staff people. So it really required a degree of discipline to pare the list down to a realistic size and particularly to establish priorities. That’s one thing the process never really did well. It never did clearly establish one or two early priorities, with the sole exception of the economic stimulus program. And as I pointed out this morning, this led to inevitable problems on the Hill. And even when it became such a problem that the Hill came to us and asked us to force ourselves to send up a short list of priorities, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

Light

Didn’t this violate Mondale’s goal of not getting involved in line assignments and not taking away turf from other people?

Moe

No, because this didn’t get into anybody’s substantive turf. It was really more procedural, and obviously it got into substantive areas, but he didn’t object to it on those grounds.

Ceaser

Was the problem that no one was powerful enough to want to enforce priorities?

Moe

It got into a lot of the things we touched on earlier. In part, the President didn’t want to be an enforcer, and the way he had set up the White House structure, he was the only one in a position to be an enforcer. Nobody else in the White House, because of Presidential injunction, was able to go out to a Cabinet Secretary and say, Look, you can’t do this. I mean we had built ourselves into a structural corner on that kind of thing. And therefore we were frustrated in trying to implement what we thought was Presidential policy.

Wayne

Was there any attempt to utilize the clearance function as a way of saying no to the departments and agencies?

Moe

Yes. Not in this process. They did ultimately and you had the traditional tensions between the departments and OMB because of that. Jim McIntyre and others used to participate in this process, but this was before anything would ever get that far. This was really in the early formative planning stages of something, and didn’t get into the substantive detail.

Young

You’ve identified the following problems encountered with this process; the President’s own predilection for immersing himself in many issues, no enforcement and no enforcer, and the President didn’t delegate that responsibility to anyone. Both were related perhaps to the problem of how you got an agenda together, and the difficulty was establishing priorities among that.

To give you an example from another administration that didn’t have a heavy legislative program but which attempted to deal with this problem, in the [Dwight D.] Eisenhower years there were a group of people who would assemble the departmental people in the White House once a week. They’ve described those meetings to me as line drawing between what is Presidential and what is departmental. And their effort, as they were Congressional liaison people, was to keep the agenda highly manageable down to relatively few issues. Was that the problem that you couldn’t easily separate out, not just the areas of intrinsic importance from those of lesser importance, but the areas of Presidential priority from the departmental?

Moe

We tried to. Now that you mention it, that was one of the processes we went through. We tried to segregate different issues into different categories. For example, there was a group of issues called Presidential level number one, which meant clearly required the President’s time and attention. And then level two and level three and then we got into secretarial level one. In other words, issues that were intended to be kept away from the President and handled at the departmental level. But even that didn’t always work.

Young

The question is why. The President started out with apparently in his own mind a clear sense of wanting to devolve certain responsibilities onto the Cabinet. And compatible with the notion of Cabinet government in this sense is the notion that there is a distinction between my business and yours. Did that not ever come together that way?

Moe

That’s right, but implicit in that is the President’s willingness to allow Cabinet Secretaries to come forward with their own initiatives and to get Presidential imprimatur on them and send them up to the Hill. And so the White House became a funnel for all these different things, very few of which were stopped or altered or slowed down. But all of which went up and overloaded the circuits in the Hill.

Berman

I have three or four observations, because I really wasn’t involved in that process. One, I always question when the President got those agendas if he ever chose or simply accepted the agenda. I was never certain that it did happen, that the President really adjusted that very much, and said, Well, I think these are the seven that ought to be in one.

Two, if you look at the natural power in the White House, which was very limited, I only thought there were three naturally powerful people in the White House, and one of them had to leave. Jody, Hamilton, and Bert Lance. Bert had to leave. Even with those three, there was no naturally powerful person who had policy as his particular personal goal, or particular thing he was really into. Jody wasn’t really into policy the way I’m talking about. Obviously he was the press spokesman and involved in the politics. Hamilton certainly didn’t. And Bert really didn’t. So that there was no internal power force of the several power forces there that was really—Stuart was an influential person, but was not a politically powerful person in the context that I’m talking about. He influenced the President, but it was different than those other players. So nobody was trying to do their own thing to make those things happen.

Third, often as not the Cabinet had its own agenda regardless of what the agenda was. They often were either putting their own twists on it—even once it was agreed to—or were not necessarily lobbying for what we wanted. The Department of Education is a perfect example of that. There aren’t many where Joe basically did his own thing, although if there was ever a clear priority in this administration from the middle of the campaign on, it was the part of education. Yet to this day I still believe Califano was not wholehearted in his support of that mission.

Finally, I think it was affected by the fact that large—again going back to the problem we had of having given away the government—that large parts of the government and the people who were brought into it at the Cabinet level were so disdainful of the White House and the people therein that it was almost—they kind of went out of their way to show they were full of stuff—we’ll strike that one when we get an opportunity. [laughter] (But in my ordinary stuff I wouldn’t say that.) But it’s the non-management kind of problems, the non-really powerful people really wanting things to happen. We never really had the equivalent of what Ed [Edwin] Meese is supposed to be. Now, whether he’s filling that role or not, some other group can decide four years from now. But I thought that was a missing piece of making the agenda process work.

Young

I’m trying to figure out what the components of the problem were. To what extent was it a problem intrinsic to the Democratic agenda? The degree to which it was a problem resulted from the way responsibility, power, and advice were organized in the office. Carter never really altered the agenda very much. One can see in retrospect, particularly if you look at his own retrospective in the farewell speech, what the most important things to him were. One can see a lot more clarity in terms of what his priorities seemed to be, environment, nuclear proliferation, and things like that. But somehow this never gets itself translated into the government’s agenda that you put together all through the administration.

Moe

He wouldn’t have given that speech early in the administration. No, there’s a lot in what you say, and I think all those factors contributed to the breakdown of this process. I think you have to remember we were out of office for eight years. All these initiatives had stored up, not just with Carter and his people, but on the Hill. A lot of people up there were pushing very strongly for leftover initiatives from the Johnson years or from what Nixon had frustrated. For the first time since the 1960s we controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, and people were ready to move on all kinds of fronts. The problem is that there was too much, and there was no filtering. There was too much pressure to move on all these fronts, and while we attempted to filter and to sift out and to establish priorities we were overwhelmed by the quantity.

Young

Just a minute. Let me follow it up because of something you just said. There was this unfinished agenda from a party out of power. What would have happened if the President had said no to most of that agenda? Given the tenuous nature of his electoral victory, the tenuous nature of his relations with the Democratic Party, wouldn’t he have been in the soup then too? If he had just said no, these are mine, and to hell with the rest of yours.

Moe

That’s right.

Young

Was it avoidable?

Moe

Well, I think it could have been negotiated out. He could have said no, but that would have led to inevitable political problems on the Hill and elsewhere. We had organized labor, the NEA [National Education Association], all kinds of civil rights group, and every Democratic constituency out there with its program ready to go. They all understandably felt that their program was more important than anybody else’s and they didn’t want to wait. So instead of trying to slow down some of that, which Reagan had fairly effectively done on the social issues, put it on the back burner for while, try to temper it or negotiate with those people, everything went. And we simply were overwhelmed.

Young

So in effect the President, or the President’s office was being used to service other people’s agendas.

Moe

Oh, yes.

Light

He did say no to national health insurance though.

Moe

No. No. We spent three years unsuccessfully negotiating national health insurance with [Edward M.] Kennedy and others. But that was always on his agenda.

Wayne

To what extent at the beginning of the administration did the Vice President or President have some ideas in mind that they wished to impress upon this group? It sounds like they were pretty receptive as opposed to having in their own head some pet priorities, perhaps from the campaign, that they wished to translate into legislation or translate into executive policy.

Moe

Well, they certainly had their own ideas, but I come back to this point of just having come out of a successful campaign where you called on all these different groups for help. We had to listen to them and respond to them in terms of what they now wanted to do. And we simply couldn’t cope with the quantity of it.

Berman

Or the promises book. It would have taken about 50 administrations, 100 years each, to work your way through.

Moe

And which we foolishly compiled and released to the public.

Berman

there were a couple other things that occurred in this process. One, there was a missing negotiation partner in all this, and it’s called the United States Congress. Our relations with the Congress went from bad to worse early, so that while eventually they came up and said, For God’s sake, sort this out, none of this was really negotiated—I mean there were some contacts with the Hill, but in terms of the President really negotiating with the leadership of the Congress, even through intermediaries as to what his principal agenda would be, how it would fit with theirs or what they thought was possible—that basically didn’t occur.

Secondly, I think there was an initial mentality that sitting there with the Congress controlled by Democrats in both houses, having been faced with Republican initiatives for the previous eight years, that if the President sent it up, it would pass. So in part the overloading of the system was a function of, Why not? President Carter—Democratic President—sent it up, it must be right. And it would go through.

This may not be the time to talk about it, but the difficulty with the Congress has a whole lot to do with the lack of success of the agenda—not just saying that the process wasn’t a problem that we could have overcome to get through the overload, but I suspect one could have saved more of it and gotten more sorted out if that relationship had been somewhat better.

Young

Here is an agenda proceeding in part from the Congress itself and from the Democratic constituencies they represent, which, when sent to the Congress for enactment under Presidential approval, suddenly creates a big problem. There’s something strange about this. You say there’s a negotiating process that was omitted, but the Democrats were being given by the White House what they asked for presumably. I’m deliberately oversimplifying it to try to clarify this.

Berman

that presumes something about the Congress though. To be sure it was all part of the initiative, but the Congress is by definition the least organized body in the world. So that while you have to negotiate with the Congress, I think, about what a feasible legislative program is and how much can be chewed up in a week, or a year or a session, you really also have to control it in a sense. Once it gets up there, its leadership is different from house to house, and you’re dealing with a Congress that was really getting its feet wet under reform, which is better labeled disorganization. There was a unique set of problems, which—that’s really a separate discussion, or maybe a later part of this discussion.

Young

The legislative difficulties might as well be addressed first in the context of the agenda setting. That’s really what we are discussing. You’ve mentioned, among other things, that there were three new leaders, Bob Byrd, Tip O’Neill, and the President, all new to their positions, some older hands than others.

Berman

But a disorganized Congress. You remember funny examples through the four years. I remember one day Frank Moore coming into a senior staff meeting, which you were missing and I had sat in for you, and poor Frank had been under bombardment as fallout from the campaign itself as a matter of fact. This was a year, year and a quarter into the administration, and he began reading this article. Everyone at the table was slipping under the table because it was really devastating. It was about the head of the President’s Congressional liaison office, and poor Frank is sitting there reading to us, I guess because he wants sympathy for what he’s done. He got the whole thing done, and then everybody was saying, Jeez, isn’t that harsh? It was an article about Larry O’Brien, from the first year of the Kennedy administration.

I’m telling you, you got put out sometime because if you want to substitute Frank’s name, you would have had every series of adjectives and every series of problems that we were facing, and a wholly different kettle of fish. Those previous extraordinarily successful people never faced—what are there, 50 caucuses in the House now? There are at least 30. A wholly different—and not equipped to— It was in the process of changing. Committee chairmen took on new roles, and either it was ’76 or ’78 where they started electing committee chairmen, I mean really electing, and actually forcing some negotiation. And subcommittee chairmen. It was an extraordinarily weird time for everybody.

While we perhaps did some things not perfectly in beginning those relationships, part of the natural—while I was internally pretty critical at the time, although quietly—over time I’ve begun to wonder—sure, a lot of little bullshit that went on was significant and affected people, but I’ve started to think that maybe those criticisms were a substitute or a rationale for something else that was going on and affecting the leadership of both houses. There had been a change, and they could no longer deliver and perform the way they were expected to perform and the way their predecessors had performed for a long time.

Young

This is a subject of continuing controversy. The propagated view is that between Carter’s own either lack of taste or experience in Congressional politics, and that of competence in Frank Moore, these are what explained it. Another point of view is no, you have to look at what the Congress was like at that time. The leaders couldn’t deliver, the party discipline, and the nature of the Democratic Party, which is not one party but many parties. These, more than false Presidential technique or staff operations, explain the difficulty. How does one sort out all these facts?

Berman

It gave them a ready excuse for blaming some of their own problems on the administration.

Moe

There were all of those things. As Mike pointed out, the internal changes in the Congress played a large role in this: the heightened expectations and the inability to deliver and perform. But there is another factor that was unique to Carter, and that was his own personal relations with the Congress. In going back over the administration, I think it’s accurate to say that he spent more time with members of Congress than any other recent President. But that does not reflect itself in his legislative record, and the reason for it is how he spent that time.

He spent the time with them in fairly formal sessions, trying to sell them on a specific piece of legislation. It was very seldom spent in a relaxed social setting where these relationships are often cemented. He would never call somebody down from the Hill just to put the feet up on the desk and bring out a battle of Scotch and have a cigar. And he seldom called them down for advice. It was usually to tell them what he wanted, and we all know about egos on the Hill and how they like to be stroked. Everybody likes to be asked for their advice. But he never really crossed that hurdle and never cemented personal relationships on the Hill in a way that those people would later go out and produce for him.

Young

A number of people have talked about that aspect. Others have also mentioned that even if he had been good at that, he was handicapped at the very outset because he had no long-established relationships or network he knew on whose support or loyalty he could call.

Moe

He would have overcome that.

Young

In other words, the view was that a President coming in as a sort of an outsider and also having much business to do and policies to get through doesn’t have much time to build what he didn’t bring in to office with him.

Moe

Right. It was mostly a matter of Carter’s style. He hated small talk in any form. He felt that every waking moment should be spent at work, and if you were going to relax, you planned your relaxations, you went out and jogged. But you never sat down and just chatted with members of Congress or did those necessary things to cement relationships that ultimately make things happen.

Berman

It’s the flip side. Remember the Johnson strategy that I just heard the other day when I was up on the Hill. Another little story: he often used to like to sip bourbon and branch water with [Everett] Dirksen, and Dirksen spent a lot of time at the White House late in the afternoon, late at night. The story is told that one day he called Dirksen and said, Get your ass up here, I’m alone so let’s talk. And Dirksen said, Well, I can’t, we’ve got this big thing today on the floor, and hangs up the telephone. Fifteen minutes later in walks Johnson with the beagle into Dirksen’s office, and they sat and had their bourbon and branch water there for god knows what period of time.

It is that context. In a sense it is how Mondale built his role in the United States Senate, in the Secretary of the Senate’s back office. Because that’s where he came to grips with the southern Senators who controlled the United States Senate. That’s where they built their relationships, in that atmosphere of everybody with their feet up and coats off.

Young

But apparently it wouldn’t have been sufficient given the nature of the Democratic Party for him to cement relationships even with the leaders, because there were problems they had in even delivering their subordinates’ votes.

Berman

But you could have done that over time if you ever got past the first hurdle of the leadership. And I’m not sure you ever could have done it with Bob Byrd anyway, but you could have done it with Tip. Tip’s open to just about anybody. Byrd is just a more complex, difficult individual, and I’m not sure what you have done with other people in the Senate who have accomplished your purpose.

Moe

The other factor that affected this whole relationship of course was the nature of the campaign that Carter ran against Washington and implicitly against the Congress. Deep resentment on the Hill lingered well into the administration stemming from that kind of campaign, and he never fully overcame it.

Young

Yes, and also most of his competitors for the nomination were in Congress.

Moe

Right.

Strong

A question that logically arises when you start talking about Congressional relations and early Congressional relations in the Carter administration is the comparison with early Congressional successes of Reagan. Would you attribute those successes to a different style of dealing with the Congress, or could you never have achieved as much with a Democratic Party as you could with a Republican Party?

Moe

There are some fundamental differences here. First of all there’s the nature of the campaign and more importantly, the nature of the immediate post-campaign period where Reagan was very successful in persuading the country that he had a mandate to cut taxes, cut the budget, and completely overwhelm the whole budget tax structure. Carter never was able to persuade the country or the Congress that he had a mandate to do anything except pass the economic stimulus package. And in fact I don’t think he did. Reagan didn’t have that mandate either, but he persuaded the country and the Congress that he did.

Also, I think Reagan came into office without the liabilities up on the Hill that we’ve just talked about that Carter did. Most importantly Reagan, I think, having learned from Carter’s experience, limited his agenda to tax and budget. That’s all he did; everything else was forced on the back burner. Enormous discipline was exercised by the White House on the departments and on the whole rest of the government to hold back on every other initiative except those, and the President spent all of his time on those issues. Carter, in contrast, became immediately deeply immersed in foreign policy. He didn’t know anything about foreign policy, never dealt with it before. So he spent hours and hours and hours with Brzezinski and Vance and others trying to educate himself on foreign policy. And it used to be legendary with the White House staff that here goes another President getting sucked into that foreign policy trap and everything else is suffering from it. Reagan has mistakenly gone to the other extreme where he’s totally ignored foreign policy for the first year, and I think he’s paid a price for it. But whatever the merits of that, Reagan did discipline himself and his administration to focus on one or two goals. We never did that.

Young

It would have been strange with the kind of campaign if you had been able to do that.

Moe

Yes.

Light

While you’re talking about the Congressional problems, it just strikes me that the situation in the White House and Congress called for some help from maybe a Democratic Senator who was now Vice President and who had had ten years of experience up on the Hill. I wonder whether or not you and Mondale over sat down and chewed over what he might be able to do to help Frank Moore. I know he was involved on Panama Canal and some other things, but he wasn’t very active up there.

Moe

No, on the contrary, he was quite active. He spent most of his first year on the Hill or in Hill-related matters.

Young

Did Mondale do a lot of troubleshooting and some Congressional relations?

Moe

He did a fair amount of Congressional relations on what we called the big-ticket items: the Panama Canal, the economic stimulus program, most major programs that we had up there. He would, working with Frank Moore and others, go up and meet with Senators, Congressmen, and have a number of calls to make. Also he became the lightning rod for many of the frustrations on the Hill, because he had established relationships, particularly in the Senate. He would get all the negative feedback. So he was very sensitive to these problems, and was very concerned about them and tried very hard to resolve them, but I’m afraid with only limited success. Because there was a mindset on the part of Carter and his people and their experience in Georgia that was contrary to Mondale’s experience. And whether this is a cultural gap or whatever I don’t know, but we were never wholly effective in bringing them along on Congressional relations. I’ve always regarded that as one of our failures. We had spent a lot of time obviously on the Hill and we thought we knew how that place operated. But we were never able to fundamentally alter the way in which the White House dealt with the Hill.

Young

Were these helpings out and the Vice President’s work on the Hill done at his volition, or did the President call upon him and say, Would you help out in this specific way? and Here is something you can do?

Moe

Both. Sometimes the President would call him, or during the Monday lunches, and say, Here is something that is important to me. I want you to get into this and help Frank, and therefore he would go back and have a meeting with Frank Moore and weigh in on it. Other times he would come to the President and say, Here’s an area where I think we’re in trouble and with your permission I’m going to get involved in this and see if I can’t work it out. So it was a mix.

Young

I’m interested in your statement that you could somehow have mixed success. Frank didn’t have any experience in Washington, but Dan Tate’s whole public life had been in the civic arena. Though it wasn’t all that long, Mitch Talmadge is AA [administrative assistant]. Bill Cable and he were given, as I understand, sort of a free hand. Bill Cable was in fact Tip O’Neill’s.

Moe

Frank Thompson, but he was very close to Tip O’Neill.

Young

Yes.

Moe

I see what you’re leading up to.

Young

Even within the Congressional liaison staff there was some experience.

Moe

There was a great deal of experience. As a matter of fact it’s one of the little known facts of our administration that Frank Moore had one of the best staff operations in the White House. Frank always got a bad press out of it. But he had very good and able people. But they ran into exactly the same problems and frustrations that we did in terms of their inability to affect the way in which we dealt with the Hill.

Young

Tracing back to the President himself?

Moe

Yes.

Berman

It may have been that if that problem had arisen two years into the administration we would have been more effective in helping to solve it because we might have been more aggressive.

Moe

And more critical.

Berman

And more critical with them. But because it was right from the beginning, even from before any of us got there, because the problem had already come into being, then you couldn’t be as aggressive as you would have been. We were still earning our bonafides and credibility, and there was a sense that the little things which began as annoyances and then became the issue as opposed to the substance just went on and on and on. It’s all junky stuff, but for members of Congress it’s kind of the life blood—are you invited to this affair, or how is this person treated at the commissary, what kind of appointment that someone can get at Rick’s—

Young

Actually, the people who have looked at this record report that in terms of actual legislative record, in terms of box scores, Carter’s performance was not distinctively bad. Yet there is this aura of terrible Congressional relations, which has some substance to it.

Moe

But as Mike pointed out, it had more to do with the little things than the big things. I mean some Congressman wouldn’t get his letter answered, or Tip O’Neill didn’t get the right box at the inaugural Kennedy Center show, that kind of thing. But in terms of the legislative performance, in retrospect it’s fairly impressive. But we got the perception set in early that we were incompetent and insensitive in terms of dealing with the Hill. We never shook it for four years.

Young

And put that together with the fact that the program was rarely popular.

Moe

Yes. Well, Carter had a propensity for doing the most difficult thing.

Wayne

You commented a moment ago about being new on the job, being early and having to establish your credentials. Were presumably the most effective people on the Hill not original Carter people? Was there in fact a gap between the Georgians who wanted to deal with this in one fashion, and the rest of you who couldn’t really explain to them how it was done because your credentials weren’t effectively established?

Berman

In part we may have gotten elected in a way and in a campaign that if we’d had to choose it and put together it would have never happened, and never would have won.

Wayne

So your people were really very careful the first year on how you dealt with these people?

Berman

We were careful and we did our own thing to help around the edges, but—who knows whether this will survive in editing—but if you look at it purely as a management problem, forgetting blame as to whether or not Frank was good or bad, you very early got to the point in the managerial perception where the only way you could ever hope to solve a problem was to replace Frank, whether or not that was fair to Frank. You had to do something very dramatic to identify a change. The President was never willing to do that. Some Presidents are and some Presidents aren’t.

If you’ve got to work for somebody and spend as much and give as much as you do to a politician and take the abuse you take from them and everybody else, it’s sure as hell better to work for somebody who’s loyal to you than isn’t loyal to you, because with Carter loyalty clearly does run both ways. There are an awful lot of political people in this world for whom loyalty only runs one way. But poor Frank became the symbol, and he wasn’t beginning to be as bad, in terms of his own judgment and ability, as everybody—and I was at any number of sessions on the limited number of issues I worked on. Frank made sense. He knew what had to be done. It is always much more fun to perpetuate myths if somebody can be picked on than it is to say that really is bullshit and we ought to deal with the reality. It becomes very hard to do.

Wayne

My second question is a follow-up and it’s a nitty gritty question. You mentioned some of the things that you tried to tell the Carter people about what was going on. What were some of the things that you attempted and how were you rebuked? Would you speak to Hamilton and say, Hey look, this guy really feels his nose is out of joint, he needs stroking, or Can’t you get the President to lighten up in these conversations? Did you do things like that?

Moe

Yes. Very much along that line. I can remember going to Hamilton and saying, Look, you know you really ought to urge the President to pick out a couple of Senators or Congressmen, probably from the South, with whom he’s got some affinity, and really work on those relationships. And he’d say, Yes, I’ve urged him to do that. But it just wasn’t in Carter’s style. The other thing I did fairly often was to try to urge Jordan, who was then gaining a notorious reputation for not returning phone calls from the Hill, to return those phone calls and to indeed go up to the Hill and establish his own relationships with some of these people. He adamantly refused to do that on the grounds that he thought it would undercut Frank Moore, who was then having his own share of problems. And he said, No, if I start doing that then they’re all going to start coming to me and they won’t go to Frank, and that will undercut Frank.

I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now. I think he could have worked it out in much the same way that Jim Baker and those people have worked it out. But people on the Hill, particularly the leadership types, liked to deal with the most powerful staff person in the White House on some issues. There’s no getting around that. I think it’s inescapable if you’re going to be successful. But Ham, who didn’t much like dealing with establishment Washington types anyway, really stayed as far away from the Hill as he could.

Clinton

You’ve said that on some issues the Vice President got involved because the President would ask him to. On the others, did the Vice President and you, and other members of his staff, establish your own set of priorities to determine what were the big ticket items that he would devote his time to on the Hill?

Moe

Well, we would argue internally, and we were always invited to argue internally, as to what we thought the priorities should be. He always welcomed our input in these processes. But once the priorities were established by the President, his priorities became our priorities. This fell naturally into our whole relationship where there’s only one President who could call the shots and we followed the tune. So we never went to the Hill with our own set of priorities.

Clinton

But you couldn’t spend a great deal of time on everything that was termed by the administration a priority. You’ve been talking about how many there were.

Moe

And we didn’t.

Clinton

How was it determined? What among all the things the administration called priorities would the Vice President spend time on the Hill on? Was it just what was in immediate trouble right then?

Moe

Well, I see what you’re getting at. Some things were so obvious like the Panama Canal treaty, later SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] and a few other things. Some of these reflected his own areas of interest and experience, and he was naturally drawn to them. So it was a mix of those factors.

Berman

We did often chart an independent operational course for Mondale to get to those same goals. Where Mondale would travel, for example, this was part of the administration programs. As to what he would say when he was there, that was our operation. So we had some flexibility in approach to getting the job done and telling people why and what we were doing. So we had that kind of control.

Light

Did you clear that with the Carter staff? Did you clear speeches and things?

Berman

We never cleared speeches.

Moe

No, never cleared a speech.

Light

Never were asked to?

Moe

Never was asked to.

Berman

There were one or two occasions when the policy we were dealing with was so sensitive that you would make sure that Brzezinski or Stu agreed that the formulation you were using was in fact consistent, but it was always at our initiative, and never at theirs. I can remember maybe two times in four years. It was never any question of clearing anything Mondale did or said.

Light

And you had your own speechwriting corps?

Moe

Yes.

Strong

I wanted to raise a new subject, but I think it is related to Congressional relations; and that is the White House task forces. Were they set up dealing with specific issues as a way to overcome problems, with White House organization and Congressional liaison? Did they work fairly well, and is there one that you served on that we could usefully talk about for a few minutes?

Moe

It’s a good point because I think the task forces grew out of our inability to establish priorities and to focus attention in a much narrower fashion on specific issues. So I can’t remember when it was, but I think it was well into the first year before we started setting up task forces on welfare reform.

Young

Could I state, as to avoid confusion in the record, that people mean two things by task forces. One is a task force essentially for policy development. Another is a task force to organize constituency outside support on items already on the legislative agenda.

Moe

I’m referring to the latter. They really didn’t have them in the former sense. Stu had worked with the departments in terms of formulating domestic policy and Brzezinski in the foreign policy area. But I’m talking about internal White House task forces that were set up to enact legislative proposals. And these took on several dimensions. We must have had a half dozen or maybe a dozen of them throughout the course of the administration. They were designed to develop and then implement a legislative strategy for a particular proposal.

And it had outside components to it. Mobilizing constituency groups, external public relations and all the rest were totally aside from just working the Hill. I chaired a couple of those. Trying to sustain the President’s veto of the defense authorization bill in 1979 was a very short term but intensive effort because the President was not persuaded that his veto could be sustained. We spent two weeks trying to mobilize support for this in a variety of ways, and we ultimately succeeded.

I served as chairman of another one on hospital cost containment for over a year, which ultimately failed. We never did get that through, because we could never persuade the Congress that we could ever overcome the lobby of the hospital groups that were located in everyone’s district and which were very well financed and very well organized. So the task forces had a mixed record of success. But on the whole I think they were useful devices to overcome the internal White House structural problems. They tended to focus resources more narrowly, and in a sense once a task force had been set up, a priority decision had been made in doing so. And so in a sense it was almost a substitute for the failure of the agenda process to establish priorities. But as I say, they had a mixed record.

Young

Others who have talked about the task forces have pointed to the danger of everybody wanting a task force so long as they were successful. How do you see the difference, if any, that Anne Wexler’s appointment and the changes in the public liaison and the nature of the public liaison operation made in the effectiveness of this task force?

Moe

I don’t think there’s any question but that she was a major addition to the White House operation. Her predecessor, Midge Costanza, had no real function, and they had to have a woman on the senior staff. I think she was the first to recognize that. And she tried to reach out to different constituency groups, but she did not try to mobilize the support of these constituency groups in pursuit of our legislative goals, which is what Anne did superbly in a number of areas, particularly in the business community, but elsewhere as well. So she was a major addition. That was probably the single most important structural change in the White House that came out of the first Camp David meeting.

Berman

The task force was really—I headed one of them, which was also unsuccessful, on public financing—but I was persuaded that it was a good idea even if you got a well-working Congressional issues operation, because it gave a little more formality to something that ought to happen anyway. If you look at the basic composition of any one of the task forces—at least I had one that had no outside Cabinet department, so there was nobody to bring in from outside on public financing—but you had somebody who was in charge, you had a press component, you had a public liaison component, you had a policy component, and if you were doing any organized effort, you needed all those things anyway. So that while it might not have as formalized a name in a different setting if the whole operation had been working a little differently, it worked out pretty well, especially in the context of the fact that every person who was any good in the White House was overloaded with work. Almost from day one. So that by getting someone who was really focusing on a given issue—not necessarily the people who were on the Hill on a day to day basis—who could watch and make sure that the liaison people, while organizing for 15 other things, were also organizing the special constituencies you needed, that the press people were getting out the editorial stuff and articles—I think it was pretty good structure, again, as a management tool, because it took somebody in almost every case who didn’t have the responsibility on a day to day basis to be up on the Hill.

Moe

Not only that, but it was a useful device to try to rein in recalcitrant or renegade departments. For the reasons we talked about earlier, we gave away the government and they went their own way. For example on the veto of the defense authorization bill, we were convinced at the time that in DoD [Department of Defense] below Harold Brown most of the department was on the other side. They didn’t want that veto sustained. And in fact we kept getting reports of back channeling up there. So we tried to rein these people in through our task force mechanism to make sure they were on board. That worked only partially.

Young

Perhaps there was a third function these things served. You said it overcame some of the liabilities of the difficulties of priority setting because of the internal structure in part bringing in the renegades, getting all the actors with the different components involved in the issue there. But perhaps in the long run of history this innovation—and I think it was one in the institutional arrangements strategy of the Carter White House—also helped take the edge off some of the difficulties that were inherent in the kind of Congress you faced. It extended to the Congressional liaison operation that worked inside Congress, the mobilization of issue parties and constituents outside to backstop the effort inside. So in effect what you were doing was building a constituency party around each issue.

Moe

That’s true.

Young

So in an era of party weakness and lack of discipline, this makes a good deal of sense. I think historians may see that aspect of it too.

Strong

Did the President work closely with the task force director, or was the task force director more of a focal point for senior White House staff?

Moe

Mostly the latter, although on those task forces that I chaired I would not hesitate to ask the President to do something. Either to make a public statement if that was called for or to make selected calls to the Hill or something that only he could do. I mean he was always viewed as a resource as part of our strategic plan, although we tried to limit the number of times that we would have to call upon him. But he was always willing to do that. Sometimes he would complain that we were asking him to do too much and we’d have to scale back a request. But he was usually available to help in those areas.

Young

Didn’t he often give a talk to opinion leaders or groups that were brought in?

Moe

Right. Anne would bring these groups in for East Room briefings, which turned out to be a very successful device. We would call in community leaders and sometimes editors and others from around the country outside of Washington, and focus a half day or a day on a given set of issues and then urge them to go up to the Hill and do a little lobbying. Sometimes we’d call in Washington groups, Washington representatives of groups to do the same thing. And Anne made an enormous contribution to our efforts by organizing those forums.

Young

I was just going to ask you if in this regard the Wednesday lunch groups that met with Anne and others were mostly Washington people. Weren’t they outside the administration?

Moe

That’s right.

Young

Having discovered that, what should an outside analyst make of it? Did it serve a useful purpose? If so, what was it?

Moe

I thought it did. Aside from Anne’s staff, I was the only other regular White House participant in those. That was designed to be, and served very well as, a sounding board. It was to get the reactions of people in Washington, knowledgeable and politically experienced in the ways of the town, to feed back what they were hearing on the Hill and elsewhere about the ways in which we were doing things. And I found them very useful devices, because these were people for the most part who had no political axe to grind, they weren’t looking for a job or anything and they’d be very candid with us and often very critical. Anne, and to a lesser extent the rest of us, would take those feedbacks and pass them on to Jordan or often to the President. It’s a very useful device. As a matter of fact, it’s continuing now on the Hill.

Young

Yes, I know.

Moe

House leadership. But I found it very useful. The biggest problem being a White House staff person is the maintenance of perspective. It’s an old cliché but it really is an insular place. And as often as you try to get out, you don’t ever get out enough, and we always tended to eat in the White House mess, talk to each other, and reinforce each other’s opinions and biases. And having a group like this coming in and questioning our premises was very useful. Any White House has got to have a device something like that.

Young

Got you out of the hot house?

Moe

Right.

Young

Did the President himself have outside people besides Mr. Kirbo that he might talk with?

Moe

I don’t believe he did, and I think that was a mistake. Occasionally he would be prevailed upon to invite in Clark Clifford for a chat. Some of the old wise heads around town also were invited. But he always had to be forced to do this. And it was never institutionalized in any sense. They only had very limited impact upon him. It wasn’t in his nature or his style.

Young

What about people outside Washington?

Moe

Not that either.

Young

Except Kirbo.

Moe

And it was almost as a direct result of this that they went through the experience that they did at the second Camp David session where they went overboard in trying to get outsiders to give advice. If they’d had their way, they would have had the whole country up at Camp David.

Young

Is it possible the President did this without your knowledge, do you think?

Moe

No, I don’t think so. I’d like to believe that he did it because it’s one of those things I always thought he should do.

Young

He may not have done enough of it but we have had, from some people who were very close to him, some indications that unbeknownst to them, except by accident, they discovered that there had been people in there and he’d been talking to outside people without their knowledge. That’s why I asked you if it was possible that you didn’t know about.

Moe

That may well be. Well, evidently it is. I’m glad to hear it.

Young

We’ll have to reserve that one for the President himself if he comes.

Thompson

You know the saying for every truth there’s a balancing truth. Is there any chance that by the Wednesday mechanism and talking to people, that you inadvertently contributed to the sense of anguish, incompetence, not knowing exactly what was doing in this area? At a certain point in the administration, the press simply couldn’t write about anything except incompetence and having problems that weren’t being solved. Is there anything there that present or future administrations have to think about getting the word out too many times to too many people, that there were things that were wrong?

Moe

I don’t think the Wednesday group contributed to that. Obviously if you convey that impression it’s going to reinforce whatever is out there. But the Wednesday group was mostly a mechanism, not for getting the word out but for getting the word in. And these people came to us with their perspectives, often critical because we didn’t hold them to hear the good news. We wanted to hear how we could improve things. And they were, I think, fairly useful in that regard and I don’t think harmful. Most people kept the confidence of that room and I don’t think much went out through that mechanism.

Berman

It really highlights a significant problem in the White House, and I’ve said as much. Everyone sees the fence around the White House as keeping the visitors out, and I say what it does is keep us in. There is an increasing isolation of the Presidency. It can be affected by the natural inclination of people, it’s affected by over-subservience to the Secret Service, a whole lot of things, which lead me to believe that by the 1988 campaign people won’t be campaigning anymore. Literally. We will only be on television by that time, but that’s another subject.

It is impossible—Bert Carp and I must have talked 15 times, why didn’t we take off ten days and knock around the country? Even if we only were going to talk to public officials, and it really wouldn’t get down to the nitty gritty, wouldn’t that be a hell of an experience? We both agreed it was and we were right, and we never did it. I came out of the White House believing at least for myself that I knew less instinctively about what was going on in the country than at any time in my political career up ’til then. Because you get all your information from—and I’m a little different, I don’t read the Washington Post, I didn’t read the New York Times—so that I wasn’t as distorted as most people become. That’s a pet peeve of mine.

Thompson

What did you read?

Berman

I read some of the local papers here and there, I took all my news from television. That’s a little bit disingenuous because if you’re in the White House there’s no way you avoid most of the news that you have reason to know anyway.

Young

That may or may not have anything to do with keeping in touch with the mood of the country.

Berman

Well, maybe, but I think both of those newspapers are destructive on the legislative process. Dick will not agree with me, but I think they give all the people in Washington, to the extent they stay there, a distorted view of what the country knows and what the country thinks. Both newspapers are elitist and both of them have better information than the government. It’s odd that one can say on the Hill that if you want to do your research for your legislation, you did it out of the New York Times, not in any original sources, and you could do pretty damn well at that. But you can talk to people, as we all did. We made it a point to call X-number of people each week and talk to friends around the country. It isn’t the same. So I really felt a less-instinctive feeling about what people felt about us and about anything when I got out than the day I got in.

Wayne

Were you getting any polling data during this time?

Berman

Polling was a funny subject. There was polling data; it was pretty closely held.

Wayne

By whom?

Berman

By the senior staff, the President. Mondale had access, we had access to it, we saw it, but it was—we saw the stuff that Pat [Caddell] was doing, it was not widely disseminated. You got other people’s polls. You got the public polls. But that is another tremendously destructive force in American politics—there was a lot of lead in his polls. Again, it becomes a substitute for any sense of one’s own instincts.

Wayne

In reading the material that you sent me, I noticed a very derogatory statement that Mondale made about polling and a quote in one of the articles, you either believe in polls or they weren’t worth very much. Was that sort of statement for public consumption or was there a feeling on behalf of certainly Vice President Mondale that polls really weren’t worth much and you shouldn’t spend much time on them?

Moe

I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. Mondale had as much interest in reading polls as any politician for all the obvious reasons. But he felt they should not be substituted for one’s instincts about what one ought to do in terms of governing and in terms of recommending legislative proposals or all the rest. And this really came to a head at the second Camp David session when Caddell was laying out all these polls that reinforced his malaise premise. Mondale very strenuously argued with that to the extent that it led to the rupture I referred to earlier. He felt the President ought to be concentrating on solving the country’s economic problems, giving them some hope and energy, instead of telling the country that they were failing. That really brought it into focus. But he’s not total, I don’t know what quote you’re referring to and I don’t know if it was intended for public consumption or not, but I can imagine he might have made a critical statement about polling in that context. It’s a useful device, he would say, but not a substitute for decision-making.

Berman

Those pollsters, believe it or not, they talk to fewer people than politicians do. With the exception of those pollsters who are smart enough to go into a focus group now and again, they get all their information about the country from a series of numbers out of the computer.

Young

One thing again to clarify any possible misunderstanding as a preface to perhaps talking about the Caddell role, and what one staff colleague has referred to as the nervous breakdown of the Carter administration there at Camp David. Is my impression correct that you’re saying that this administration, leaving the Camp David thing aside for the moment, gave a great deal of attention to polls in developing its politics and initiatives?

Berman

I don’t think it was so much a question of—I know Pat’s been here a little bit—he would probably argue that he wasn’t listening enough, to the argument that he was listening too much. But more than the design of policy initiatives, the poll became the determiner of what was the mood and what was the political situation, and what people were receptive to, as opposed to now is the time to do the Social Security Act, people are concerned about Social Security. So I make that distinction. Polls were a consuming passion of this administration. The President really likes polls. In many ways I’m also a poll nut, so I can understand that. But he’s an engineer and engineers like to quantify things. Depending on who your pollster is and how he deals you those numbers, it really puts everything into a series of very neat boxes.

Mondale, while he loves talking to pollsters and does with great frequency, and reads polling information—I don’t think he’s ever read a poll probably in his life, he’s read some analyses but he would never bother to look at a single table or anything like that, they’re just not his thing—always tests them in so many conversations I’ve had with whatever his instincts are. I don’t think there was much test of the polling data we got against instinct. I think they were simply accepted as being gospel.

Young

Obviously all elected officials are interested in polls, but I want to try to nail down one point. I’m bearing in mind what so many have said, that the Carter program was essentially not the kind of program that a President in search of boosts of high popularity would have put forward. The Panama Canal was not that sort of thing. I’m trying to put this attention paid to polls in that kind of context.

Berman

I don’t think Carter used that to pick the things he’d be for and against. He wouldn’t have gotten a poll and said, Gee, the Panama Canal is popular, let’s go do it. He thought the Panama Canal was important, so he was going to do it.

Young

Or this is unpopular, so let’s not do it.

Berman

That’s right. I don’t think that happened. But I think the public mood was all from polls. What they were feeling.

Young

Where else would he have gotten the information about what the public said?

Berman

People.

Young

Such as who? Town meetings?

Berman

Well, the town meeting—listening to Larry King on the radio. Not that he would stay up listening all night. There’s an extraordinary problem for a President; it’s difficult to be critical of a President who doesn’t do it. But the idea that the President ever leaves the White House for four years is not true. He never leaves the White House. I don’t care where he is, he is there. We had the problem a little less because we traveled a little less, a little less magnitude around us, and they’re ruining even that now. But you’re always where you are; you are the President and the intimidation of people by being in the presence of the President is extraordinary. Their willingness to be candid—it takes a pretty strong soul to walk in and meet the President for the first time, which is really what you need to have when you’re talking to people around the country. I think you have to find—I hope someday we have the challenge of figuring out the mechanism—you have to find some way for the President and his people to get exposed to real people, under the assumption that all of us become unreal.

Young

Would the same be true of Congressmen?

Berman

No, it’s more true of Senators and less true of House members.

Young

Because a number of people would say the Democratic Party and significant elements in the Congress were way out of touch with the public mood. I mean that’s a view. I’m trying to press you on who are these real people who don’t have axes to grind?

Berman

If you asked the average Congressman what the people in his district think, he could tell you, really tell you what they think. That’s separate from his making a decision that he will be for something because he thinks it’s right and they will permit him the latitude. It is very different because even today the power of a Congressman to get reelection is only moderately related to substance, and much related to character, personality, and service. With a Senator it becomes less because some of those personality characteristics are still working because the constituency is bigger. When you get to the Presidency it eventually becomes irrelevant. For a while the good feeling works there. You can’t hold your constituency by the force of your individual contact with them.

Moe

Let me get back to the Carter White House. I may disagree with Mike a little bit on this. I don’t think Carter paid a lot of attention, if any, to polling or public opinion in any sense in the first two and a half years. As I tried to point out earlier, he would reject any kind of political argument on any substantive matter. He would go out of his way to make it clear that he didn’t want to hear political arguments.

We used to have these talking papers, talking points that circulated around the White House for the inevitable year-end stories. And I remember one of the recurring themes in the first year or two was Carter’s tackling the tough issues. He’s taking on regardless of public opinion, regardless of whether or not it’s popular, sometimes in the face of unpopularity the important issues, regardless of the political consequences. That was certainly true of the Panama Canal and a lot of other things. And it used to be very frustrating to many of us in the White House who had a political orientation that he wasn’t being more political. I don’t think it was until the spring and summer of 1979 when we were getting closer to the election and Kennedy was appearing to be getting ready to run against Carter that he really started paying attention to the polls. Caddell and others forced this process on him, and then all the rest followed. But I think he went out of his way to avoid that kind of thinking up until that time.

Strong

Is that because he had a different sense of what politics was? That he had run a campaign that wasn’t heavily based on issues and constituencies and was generally based on finding out the mood of the country and appealing as the honest anti-Nixon?

Moe

Yes. He reflected his own environment and his own experience in Georgia and it didn’t have a lot to do with institutions, the traditional way of dealing with Congress. He had a totally different approach to governing than we had come to expect from most of our recent Presidents. And I think this reflected itself. He came into office and I think he said to himself, I may have just one term and here are the things I want to do, although it’s a little more complex than that. In his own mind, and he was absolutely sincere about this, he did want to tackle the tough problems, and that cost him a lot of popularity in terms of raising social security taxes. There was very little political gain in those things that we tried to take on in the early years. I’ve never had any doubt that this was deliberate on his part.

Young

He had a different approach to governing. It’s important to understand whether it was different or how it was different in more detail. A lot of the critics claimed he had no approach. I think it was a different approach, and that’s one of the things we try to figure out here.

Thompson

What were the limits of Mondale’s influence on Carter? I got a little glimmer a moment ago when you talked about the engineer and in a sense the humanist, the man who liked to talk to people, Mr. Fixit, and somebody who had a reputation of being a popular Senator and who had a great passion for social reform. It seems to me that the picture we had earlier is almost of Utopia. A President and a Vice President who agreed about everything, the Vice President was going to do anything and everything. He was going to be an advisor. The other way to do it, I suppose, is to say the Vice President does those things that he’s best equipped to do and that most need doing. Maybe that’s the way it came out. But above and beyond that, what were the fundamental differences of philosophy, style, outlook, values that may have set some limits on what Fritz Mondale could accomplish?

Moe

Well, first of all let me try to correct an impression I may have conveyed. It wasn’t a Utopian situation. It may have been a Utopian relationship structurally, which is the point I was trying to make. But that is not to say that all was happiness and light, or that Mondale prevailed on those things that he weighed in on or that they were always in agreement. They were not always in agreement. But the fact remains that he, unlike his predecessors, had an opportunity to influence the decision-making process, whether he prevailed or not. That was the basic point I was trying to make.

They did have differences in approach. Mondale was continually fighting, for example, for greater funding for educational programs. And he would spend weeks to find some strategies to get more money in the education budget, and usually successfully. Never as much as he wanted to. Other things like that. Less successfully. I don’t think anybody except Mondale and Carter can give you a complete answer to that because so much of what they disagreed about took place in these Monday lunches where only those two were present and where none of us ever got a full briefing, even from Mondale, because he put such a priority on maintaining the confidentiality of that relationship. Mike, do you want to add anything to that?

Berman

It was utopian in the context of what it could have been and what we were all afraid it might be. There was almost a very large sigh of relief that all the horror stories we had heard never really occurred. Sure, there was, at least on the surface, a basic difference, but I don’t see Jimmy Carter as being as non-humanist as others may view him. But I always see that there’s enormous difference in people who come into the White House depending on their background, even how they structure an office.

I was taken by the Rockefeller example of their office, which I viewed, which was very rigidly structured. Extraordinarily. Everything, every place, came up in very hard sold specific lines. You knew everybody’s turf down to the nickel. In our office things were much looser. We had a structure, and things got done, but there was a lot more collegiality, there was a lot less concern about turf. We sometimes intruded too far and we’d bump heads and resolve it. Much more flexible. The difference between a person who comes to the process from the legislative side and a person who comes from the executive side. Carter had been an executive, a Governor, an engineer. In that part of the military where things were very specific and concrete.

Mondale, like the Congress, was into what I call the responsibility of the Congress, the responsibility of the individual Senator. No need to be responsible, because you’re not responsible to anybody. You’re not responsible for anything that happens. You never decide anything in the Senate. You may cast a deciding vote, but there are 50 other people with you, or 49. And so Carter simply approached things right from the outset in a much more definitive kind of fashion, where you had to make hard, specific decisions. I think there were a lot of things Carter was perfectly willing to do, but then he saw the problems quicker of fitting it all into a context that I think Mondale saw in the beginning.

The point I made at lunch was that in 1972 they ran against Mondale as one of the young turks. There came a time when they challenged us as Mondale having voted in the previous year for twice the size of the total budget. Everybody said, That’s crazy, and I said, Why, did somebody add it up? and we added it up and it was. It literally was twice as much as the total budget that he had supported in legislative initiatives. Obviously a lot of it didn’t pass. So I think they were in some ways more simpatico. I don’t think, and Dick would be a better judge of this than I am, that Carter was against those things necessarily. He saw different balancing that had to happen earlier than Mondale did.

Clinton

Did Carter’s preference for making decisions himself and his reluctance to delegate strengthen the Vice President’s voice? I can see that he might have a more difficult time influencing policy if he had to insinuate himself into a policy process formally under the purview of another White House staffer than as the case apparently was where he could make his case before a President with whom he had a good relationship and with whom he met fairly frequently.

Moe

I don’t have a good sense of how to answer that because I don’t have anything to compare our experience with. So I don’t know how it would have been. He, as I said earlier, had a mixed record in trying to influence policy decisions, as anybody would. But I don’t think he ever felt inhibited by the process. He certainly never felt inhibited in attempting to weigh in the President on anything he felt strongly about. I have trouble imagining another process in the White House than that which we experienced, so I don’t know what the answer to that is.

Young

I do want to get your story of the Camp David affair, without any specific questions until after you say how you saw that event.

Thompson

How was your side given responsibility for OMB, for CEA, for Treasury, and the economic aspects? How did you select people in that area? The M&M image, or the image of Mondale as the big spender was present. How did it happen that one of the areas where you had a role was the area we’ve heard about when we’ve listened to the director of the budget and others talk about fiscal responsibility? It seems to be paradoxical that that should have been Mondale’s role.

Moe

It wasn’t Mondale’s; it was mine. It was a very limited, brief, one-time assignment during the transition. I’ll be damned if I know how I ever got the responsibility, because I have no background or expertise in it at all.

Young

That was not a substantive responsibility with respect to policy.

Moe

It was a personnel search for those positions.

Young

A personnel search for those positions. You would not call yourself a key actor in the economic policy thing?

Moe

No. Anything but.

Thompson

And Mondale himself was not?

Moe

No. He became very actively involved in the whole economic policy area. Probably spent more time on economic policy than any other single subject.

Thompson

I guess the reason I ask is we get this feeling of a slightly schizophrenic administration, one side pressing fiscal responsibility in light of new realities, the other side seeking to maintain the traditional Democratic role as a socially responsible party.

Moe

I don’t think there’s any question about it and it’s not limited to economic policy. I mean here on the one hand we had a Bert Lance at OMB and a Charlie Schultze at CEA. If you set them down, as we often did, on almost any economic question, you’d come out with different answers. The same thing is true in foreign policy, where you had a Brzezinski posed against a Vance. This was true elsewhere. I think that this stemmed from the President’s approach to these issues. Those two areas in particular were areas in which the President was not experienced and not particularly comfortable. He wasn’t sure what his foreign policy was going to be. He wasn’t sure what his economic policy was going to be. He knew enough to know what the parameters of his own decision-making process were. So I think he intentionally got people into key positions. He bracketed them and he figured that he would sort through the different options he was given and he would make the ultimate decision somewhere within those parameters. I’ve always thought that was a conscious device on his part. It led to a lot of inevitable problems because, as you pointed out, we did appear to be schizophrenic in both these areas.

Berman

The missing problem was again, he took what theoretically could have been a healthy tension, took a fairly long time and often didn’t make a finite, specific decision, and then even when it was made, if the losing side—and there always has to be a losing side—he didn’t cut off their legs when they didn’t play the game as he had set the rule. So that whether it was Vance or Brzezinski or Charlie or Bert or any combination of people, what was an interesting debate—could have been an interesting debate—never got honed to a line. Even if he made a decision, people still felt free to play around with the edges and keep fighting the case six weeks after theoretically the decision was made, because he would never cut them off. He would never bring people in, a couple times it happened in very dramatic ways, and just say Enough of this bullshit. If you don’t like what I’ve decided, take a hike. That didn’t happen.

Moe

He would inevitably compromise many of these issues because of the structure that he had set up, and that in turn led to the impression abroad that he was indecisive or that he was too prepared to compromise even within his own administration. There’s some truth to that because he didn’t really want to completely side with Vance as opposed to Brzezinski or vice versa. He wanted to keep them both on the reservation so to speak. But he couldn’t. I think in the later years he overcame some of these problems. But initially I think he was really caught between the dilemmas of his own structure.

Young

And the dilemmas of his own party I might add. Do you want to tell us about what you think and know about the Camp David ’79 thing? We know the circumstances. The President had been to Vienna and then to Tokyo, he cut his vacation short, the gas lines were forming, he cancelled his energy speech, and so on. We asked all the people who have come here about this simply because it’s going to figure as an unusual and dramatic event in the administration. It is certainly going to figure in the things that analysts of the Carter Presidency are going to pay attention to. So we’d like to hear everybody’s perspective on it, in your own words without any specific questions.

Moe

Mike and I would both like the other to start because it’s the unhappiest memory we have of the whole four years. It really was a period of anguish for all of us, I think. The President ended up at Camp David after having cancelled his energy speech. It’s well known that what happened at Camp David did not happen by design. It happened largely by fortuity and circumstance. But having cancelled the speech there was a question of, What do we do now? Just give another energy speech or address some more fundamental questions?

I’m not all that knowledgeable about what happened in the early stages of that Camp David session but I believe that Caddell and [Gerald] Rafshoon and others persuaded the President through polling data and other things that he had some fundamental problems in his Presidency that he had to address. And some of these were political, others were structural. This is a gross oversimplification, but they said in short that he ought to pause now and take a look at his entire Presidency.

The first thing he was persuaded to do was to get some of the wise old Washington heads up there to tell them what they thought. So Clark Clifford and a bunch of others went up. They were so pleased with that experience that they decided to reach out and structure the whole week with other groups, Governors, mayors, religious leaders, every group in America was up there before the week was out. The Vice President was up there in the early part of the week. I think Jim Johnson was up there too, and he would be more knowledgeable than either Mike or I about this aspect of it, but as I recall, Mondale got into some very vigorous debates with Caddell and Rafshoon and others about even going through this process.

I’m not sure I’m doing them justice, but I think Caddell’s basic argument was that there were problems in the country that were unrelated to Carter’s Presidency and that it was really a failure on the part of the American people to respond and to do those things that needed to be done. Mondale would not buy any part of this. He felt that whatever problems existed could only be solved through forceful Presidential leadership, specifically in terms of redressing economic energy and other basic problems that the country was then facing. If the goal was to get the country feeling better about itself, that was the way to do it: solve these basic problems by doing those things that had to be done. There were some very forceful arguments about that.

The Vice President came back and throughout that week he shuttled up and back with different groups. I had the misfortune of spending four days at Camp David that week. There’s no question about it, they were the four most miserable days I spent in the whole four years. This was a process without a design. It was so totally alien to anything that I’d been through before I couldn’t understand the reason for it. I couldn’t understand where it was leading and it didn’t have a predictable outcome. And being a very cautious, conventional politician, I’m reluctant to participate in things in which you can’t foresee the outcome. So we went through all these anguishing sessions, which I’ve fairly successfully been able to put out of my mind.

I have only a vague recollection of it except for one experience where a bunch of us in the White House staff were sitting around Holly Lodge one day talking about what was going to happen after this week was over. And somebody said, Well, what about this business of asking for everybody’s resignation? which is the first that I had heard of that. And I recoiled in horror and asked them to expand on what this was. They said, We thought it might be a good idea to ask everybody in the administration to submit his resignation and start from scratch, accept some and not accept others. I really couldn’t believe this, told them that I thought it was very Nixonian, that Nixon had tried this but at least he’d done it after a successful reelection, that it would be viewed as bizarre and was fraught with danger and that I hoped that nobody was seriously considering that, at which point Jordan successfully changed the subject. That was the last I heard of that until the following Monday morning.

The President had come down from Camp David. He had delivered his energy speech I think on Sunday night, and there’s a debate surrounding that speech which I’ll get back to in a minute, but we were all kind of up beat about the President’s speech. It had been very successfully received I think, and we could see that we were on an upswing here. The President called the White House staff together in the Roosevelt Room and I remember I was sitting on his right, as I am on yours. He came in, and among other things, he said that he was about to meet with the Cabinet and that he was considering asking for their resignations. He hadn’t decided at that point. This was five minutes before he went into the Cabinet meeting. And my single greatest regret of the four years that I spent in the White House was that I did not at that point speak up and say, Mr. President, I hope you won’t do that, because he subsequently went into the Cabinet room and did it and all the rest is well known.

The other debate that occurred at Camp David was over the nature of the President’s speech. This was again a debate between Caddell on the one hand, and Mondale and Eizenstat and a few others on the other hand. It was about whether or not this ought to be an energy speech, or what came to be known as a malaise speech. Mondale argued very forcefully that it ought to stick to substantive issues and specific proposals, and Caddell of course argued the other side. The speech ended up being a mix, but at least Mondale and the rest of us felt that it was a better speech than it otherwise would have been.

On Monday the President had a Cabinet meeting. Mondale left for a trip around the country to sell SALT. This had been in the planning stages for a long time. His goal was to spend a full week on the road just selling the SALT treaty. So he was out of town during the whole week in which the Cabinet was reshuffled. I kept calling him every hour to tell him who was fired, and he was getting some calls from the President during this period. Were you on that trip, Mike?

Berman

No, I was back there with you.

Moe

That’s right. We were suffering together. But Mondale had a terrible time on the road because this was obviously alien to his way of doing things.

Berman

He was having two press conferences a day, maybe three on some days, so that the breaking news was on top of him as he walked out of each airplane flight.

Moe

That’s right, and he was getting beat up by the press, What’s going on? He didn’t know what was going on. Ultimately we got into some pretty strenuous arguments over this whole process with Jordan and others. This episode put a greater strain on our relations with the President and his staff than anything else that occurred during the whole four years. As a matter of fact, it was the only serious strain on those relations, but it was a serious one. It pointed up the clear differences in style and perspective that the two principals brought to this kind of thing. We later were able to work together as we had before, and we largely if not wholly repaired the damage that was done to those relations, but it was some time in coming.

Young

You suggested that there were a number of agendas going into that speech and perhaps at Camp David as well. One of them I’ll call the Caddell agenda, the dimensions of which had been known for some time because I think it was consistent with what Caddell had been reading into the public mood for a long time. Another agenda had to do with how to use this opportunity, or to address in a dramatic way a long-standing problem in the administration, which had to do with questions of loyalty, discipline, and perhaps competence as well in some areas, I don’t know. A third agenda was what to do about this energy problem as gas lines were being created. Is that a fair way to describe it, or were there other agendas as well?

Moe

I think that pretty well covers it.

Young

The result basically was to combine an energy with a crisis of confidence speech followed up by some new faces in the administration and the appearance of tightening up. Outside of the strained relations, changes were made both in the Cabinet and in the White House staff. Some people departed soon after that, others were brought in, a Chief of Staff position at least was formally defined, although Hamilton has said he really didn’t operate that. That was not the real description of the role because he was soon drawn off into other things for other reasons. It was not the kind of role he would do anyway. [Alonzo] McDonald was brought in. Did those changes make any difference?

Moe

I think they did, both in terms of the White House and the Cabinet. I think the changes were for the most part very good and helpful changes. I think we brought in Neil Goldschmidt, Moon [Maurice] Landrieu, shifted Bill Miller to Treasury and all three of them proved to be very effective team players and very effective in their own areas. Certainly in the White House view, they were very effective Cabinet members. Also internally in the White House, the restructuring that took place, bringing in Al McDonald and giving Jordan the title of Chief of Staff, did bring a degree of organization to the White House that hadn’t been there before.

Part of what McDonald was doing was viewed by some people as irrelevant in terms of organizing the White House. I think he forced people into a system of some rationality, whereas there had been little or no system before. So I’ve always felt on the whole that those changes were quite helpful. But of course in political terms, it was all overshadowed by the damage that was done by the way in which the changes were made, which were so alien to us.

Young

You want to give us your view?

Berman

From a mechanistic point of view, what happened was in part, there were some beneficial changes, but at a very minimal level. Speechwriters did have to communicate with policy people in a little different way in the preparation process, paper did arrive at places theoretically with people having seen it and on a better timetable. But it led to some weird distortions where Al McDonald, who was originally out of McKinsey & Company, and then had been over at the special trade rep’s—McDonald was really [Robert] Strauss’ creation—was suddenly the final pass on Presidential speeches, a role for which I think he was singularly not suited. Not because he wasn’t a very smart man in what he did.

The other thing was that you took an institution which had been organized in kind of a formless fashion, and worked in some marvelous ways and just ambled along, and suddenly overnight imposed an extraordinarily rigorous discipline on it, which was alien to that institution and alien to most of the people based on any past experiences they’d ever had. And that rigidity—

Young

The discipline being McDonald, not Jordan?

Berman

Yes, McDonald—a rigidity. And I know what Al was trying to do; he didn’t have a hell of a lot of time, and he wanted to bring it up short and change it, but there was zero effort to try and seduce people into a new process. You took a bunch of relatively inexperienced people—for better or for worse—and suddenly imposed a new organizational form on them when they were all distraught emotionally anyway. Everybody in the White House was affected by this process, not so much as whether you were going to keep or lose your job, but it was a wrenching thing that was going on. And it was simply imposed.

People rebelled against it, and it went off in funny directions. One of the minor points was the famous or infamous employee evaluations, staff evaluations. This was designed by me and by another fellow in the organization, a consultant who was working in the White House, at Hamilton’s specific request. Like so many things in that period, we had about 48 hours to put it into being. So we created a questionnaire that had never been created before in history for that kind of institution, at least that we would find after hitting the literature and asking people was there some evaluation process that might be instantly applicable? No. So we made our own.

And then because the folks liked it, and we designed what was a good thing for the White House, a political institution over which we theoretically had control and could affect based on permission, they moved it in a half a day’s time out into the administration. So you were now evaluating assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries on a basis that quite frankly we never would have done if give that assignment.

That is not to say that the form was good or bad, I don’t know, I don’t even much care. In fact it developed some pretty useful information, not about specific people, but about how little relationship there was between what and how unit heads thought their shops were operating. There was an awful lot of dissimilarity between how the heads of the units saw their people and what was going on, and what their people saw. They were asked that question, but as we evaluated the data—the data was theoretically used to get some people to change their people, but not a lot of that really occurred—there were a lot of threats and people argued and militated for things they wanted. And when it hit the administration, the Cabinet Secretaries refused to use it. Not because, as they might well have thought, the form was inapplicable; they resented the idea that anybody in the White House could have any right to have from them an evaluation of their people. So it never became a reorganization as one would term that, I don’t think.

Wayne

I was under the impression that an evaluation of the Assistant Secretaries had been done by an outside consultant, by the name of Don Magnum. This was sent through senior staff to get their evaluation of how the different Assistant Secretaries were performing?

Moe

There’s something to that. Do you recall that, Mike?

Berman

There were discussions.

Wayne

He could have done that. It had to be top secret, and Carter authorized it on the grounds that no one was to know about it. His job was to go around to senior White House staff and get their evaluations of the Assistant Secretaries.

Moe

Oh, I think that’s right. I think he came to me. That was before Camp David, right?

Wayne

I believe so.

Moe

I don’t think anything ever came of that. But I think you’re right, I think he did it.

Light

I just have a couple of specific questions about the Monday meeting. Was Mondale out of town when Carter came to the senior staff and met with them?

Moe

Yes.

Light

Well, for the $5 what if question, what if Mondale had been there when Carter was considering his action? I presume that Mondale didn’t know that Carter was going to ask for resignations?

Moe

He knew at some point. You recall, Mike, exactly when?

Berman

That all happened so fast.

Moe

I don’t remember exactly when he first learned that.

Light

Do you think that had he been in town during that week, that some things might have been done differently?

Moe

I don’t know. That’s one of the great what if questions and I don’t know the answer to that.

Young

We’re also interested in what was.

Light

Was he surprised by the decision to sack Califano?

Moe

Yes. He was surprised, I think it’s safe to say, by the whole process and by all the decisions. Once that decision was made, it was predictable as to who was going to go. Blumenthal and Califano were at the top of the list.

Young

Do you think this is a situation in which the President after that—because if it was hard on you, it was hard on him—acted somewhat out of character in carrying out these sudden firings?

Moe

Yes. Because one of the things that characterized the first two and a half years of the administration was that he didn’t fire anybody. As a matter of fact, Strauss used to say, There’s no penalty for screwing up in this administration. And that spoke for the attitudes of a lot of people. The President found it very difficult to be critical of those people who were working for him. Sometimes he would do it, but it was difficult personally for him to come to terms with this or to dress somebody down, let alone fire them. And as a result there was nobody really fired with the exception of Midge Costanza in the first two and a half years of the administration. So I think it really was out of character, and people viewed it as strange because they knew it was out of character.

Young

How in people’s minds did this crisis of confidence that Caddell was pushing relate to decisions about Cabinet firings? What was the connection made in people’s minds, what got those two things together?

Moe

Well, once they got onto the Camp David session anything and everything was fair game. I’m not precisely sure how that happened, but these frustrations with certain Cabinet members had been building up for a long, long time. And as a matter of fact, the first Camp David session a year earlier, I think in April of ’78, was really designed to deal with the same problem.

Young

I was just going to ask, this was the second one of these, and from your point of view much worse.

Moe

That’s right. Much worse.

Young

But it had been preceded by another retreat in thinking through the administration’s problems.

Moe

That’s right. The whole Cabinet and senior staff were invited to Camp David for a day or two. I remember once the decision to go up there was made, Ham came to me and said, What do we say, what do we do once we get there? And he asked me to work up some talking points for the President, which I did. And I never thought any more about it, never thought that it got to the President. Got up there and the President started reading my talking points about how the Cabinet has got to be more responsive and how we’ve got to work these things out better.

Young

Did the President do the first one on his own initiative, or did people say, This is a good idea to do, and he agreed?

Moe

I don’t really recall. I think the President was persuaded by Jordan and others. I thought that was a good session. I thought that the first Cabinet session up there was really quite good. I thought the tone was right, people came away feeling good, the President came across as being forceful, in charge, willing to hear criticisms of his administration, here’s how we were going to change things. We came away from that feeling quite good about things. Not much changed as a result of it, but certainly no damage was done in the way it was a year later.

Young

Did Caddell’s advice play a major role in the first one as it did in the second?

Moe

I don’t think so. I don’t recall that it did.

Young

There wasn’t that worry about polls, and of course you weren’t that close to a reelection.

Moe

No.

Berman

We were still in the statesman period.

Moe

Yes. And I think it’s important to keep in mind about the second one that it did not happen by design like the first one.

Young

Well, how did it happen?

Moe

It happened because the President cancelled an energy speech.

Young

That was his doing?

Moe

That was his doing and on the grounds of well, you know, Here’s one more energy speech. Well, I’m not going to give just one more energy speech. Now what do we do? So everybody rushes up to Camp David and they start figuring out what to do and he gets all this conflicting advice and he spends a week trying to reconcile it. That was not done by design. That’s fundamental to understanding what happened up there.

Berman

And what it did was, it did create a situation in which it had to do something.

Moe

That’s right.

Berman

And having spent a week there, and having all the people there come and talk to you, and having acknowledged that there was something basically wrong, whether it was Pat’s malaise or whatever it was, it was something. Then you had to do something dramatic or people would have thought the whole thing was totally in trouble.

Young

I’m wondering how much this relates to that problem you were talking about earlier, Mike, the isolation that closes in on you in the White House. In some respects this sudden bringing in of everybody and the kitchen sink looks like an effort of a President to get exposed to the country again.

Moe

That’s right.

Berman

There was some of that I guess. I wasn’t up there so I was only observing and listening to rumor, but it took off.

Young

Took on a life of its own?

Berman

Yes, it really did. The first group, the Clark Clifford group, if you’d stopped with that, it was still in context. These weren’t your very traditional—I mean to get everyone together, the wiser heads and so on. But then it was the fine tuning; the hours that went on balancing the lists, deciding which Governor should come, the lobbying that went on to be invited—which organizations would or wouldn’t be left out. It developed a kind of politics surrounding it, if anyone could ever get hold of the lists and analyze it. And God knows, all those lists certainly exist somewhere in the libraries. It was just a zoo. Trying to figure out how many seats you had in the helicopter, how many people could get there on time, and if they had invited somebody who represented a specific thing he had to have, and they couldn’t come, then you had to find—you made a decision you wanted somebody like that, you had to find somebody else. And you’re doing all this not in days but in hours.

Ceaser

You mentioned that Mondale was opposed to the malaise idea and then you were opposed to the firing idea. But then when you commented afterwards on what worked and what didn’t work in the speech, you mentioned that what really harmed the President politically was the firings and the way that was handled. The question I have is, did Mondale ever become convinced that the malaise idea was a good idea after the speech, or did he always think that that was nonsense? And then after that, Carter defined, during the rest of the next few months, his administration in these highly moralistic terms. We were going to once again rechart America’s future. Was Mondale uncomfortable throughout that period? If there was a difference between the two, what does it show about their difference in what politics is?

Moe

It says as dramatically and as clearly as anything could the difference in approach that those two individuals had. To answer your first question, he always thought the malaise business was nonsense. Never had any use for it. As a student of Hubert Humphrey, he always felt that the purpose of politics was to try to lift people up, to give them some hope, and most importantly go out and try to do something concrete in the economic area or the energy area or whatever to in fact improve things for the country. I don’t think there’s any period in the four years in which he felt more uncomfortable. And it was some time before we got things back to normal. Eventually they got back to normal, but I think it was at least a couple of months.

Young

The components of what is called the malaise speech, that term was not used, crisis of confidence was the term used, but the components of the speech that were addressed to energy were quite specific. One, two, three, four, five followed up by new legislative initiatives as well. That’s why I was wondering what you meant by the moralistic equivalent of war component in this speech.

Ceaser

No, no. I meant the first half of the malaise speech.

Wayne

My question overlaps a good deal of Jim’s but I’d like to just focus on one small aspect of it. Part of your difficulty as you expressed at the outset was the non-directed nature of this meeting and the fact that one thing led to another. If it was wrenching for you, wouldn’t it have been wrenching for the President? From what we know of him, he was very controlled and very orderly. Do you have any observations on how he dealt with this week and how he dealt with the criticism? Was he psychologically unnerved by it?

Moe

No, he disciplined himself at the outset to go through this process. I don’t think there was an element of self-doubt involved, but there was an element of mea culpa, which ultimately reflected itself in the speech, particularly when he quoted all those different people who have told him all these different things, most of which were critical. I could never put myself inside his mind to really understand what he went through in arriving at where he ultimately came out during that week.

Wayne

Did he see all the people who came up, or was some of their criticism filtered through Jordan, you and others?

Moe

No, he saw them all. I sat through a half dozen of these sessions. Down in Laurel Lodge there’s a great big meeting room, about four times as large as this room, and we kept shuttling helicopters up and back and he sat through all these. These meetings were three, four hours at a time, and another group would come in and he would ask them specifically, Now, what do you think is wrong with the country, what do you think is wrong with my Presidency? I want you to be candid, and many of them were very candid. So he just put himself through a week of this. I mean there was more said that week than any single individual could ever absorb. The atmosphere was so highly charged and everything was so intense. I’ve never been able to understand what mental process he went through there.

Wayne

I keep thinking of the session he went through after he lost that race for Governor in Georgia with Ruth Stapleton.

Young

Well I think we ought to be cautious about psychologizing about it. It’s an administration that’s deeply in trouble as far as the next election is concerned. It is failing on energy. The President probably had right instincts about that energy speech that had been prepared for him. He had to go beyond this. The press is seething with criticisms, so he says, All right, I won’t listen to it. There’s a certain quite rational component in it, though we can’t figure out why he did it the way he did. A Presidency that’s belabored with problems of disloyalty within itself is going to either lie down and be walked over or some heads are going to roll, so the choice was for heads to roll. Why it was done the way it was is the unusual part of it. It’s a very difficult thing to figure out.

Light

Yes, I just wanted to ask a real specific question as regards your coalition building. It seems to me that Mondale and the rest of you were trying to make some pretty clear links to the Eizenstat staff in that incident, trying to build a coalition. Is that true?

Moe

Well, no. There was always a natural alliance between Mondale and his people and Eizenstat and his people and some others in the White House. Included in that would be Watson, Wexler and what came to be known as the non-Georgians in the White House. But Eizenstat and Mondale in particular saw themselves as allies on most domestic policy issues. And they did join forces to the extent that Stu was up there during this Camp David process. But that was a natural sort of alliance, because it occurred many times before.

Strong

You mentioned that the response to the speech was extremely favorable. If you didn’t accept the malaise half of the speech, do you think that response was to the energy half? I find that hard to believe.

Moe

I haven’t gone back and read that speech recently, but I think a lot of the malaise stuff was tempered. Our current impression of what was in that speech, at least in my own mind, is largely affected by what Ted Kennedy ultimately convinced us was in that speech. As you pointed out the word malaise was never in the speech, and he persuaded the country that that was the malaise speech. But if you’d seen some earlier drafts of that speech, you would have felt, as we did, quite relieved about the final version. The tone of it was entirely different. He delivered it well, and we felt maybe we didn’t have enough reaction time, but immediately after he delivered it we felt that he had overcome this hurdle, he’d come down from the mountain with a plausible rational speech and that we were out of the woods. We thought this was it.

Young

The speech as I have reread it is quite different from the impression later created by Kennedy. It has an internal logic. It says we have a fundamental problem, which is a crisis of confidence in our ability to handle our problems. All right. It then moves to the tests. You know, the way we get out of this box is by a specific way of dealing with this, let us say energy problem, and it’s followed by very specific kinds of proposals. In terms of the internal structure of the speech, that’s not most people’s memory of it. There’s a great disparity between the way the thing now looks in retrospect or looked shortly after, particularly when it’s contaminated by this Cabinet firing business, and the actual speech itself.

Strong

Was the large public response perhaps guaranteed by all the attention given to the speech?

Moe

I think so. As Mike pointed out, there was a lot of dramatic buildup to this. And we didn’t have any illusions that it was going to solve all of our problems, but we thought we’d get a temporary lift out of it.

Thompson

This may be a have you stopped beating your wife type of question, but is it possible that Carter saw the crisis of confidence as more far reaching than Mondale did, even though Mondale was out into the country and Carter was not? Might he have been more correct, in retrospect, given the results of the election, given the failures of so many things that have subsequently been undertaken, given the polls that we continue to read about people’s confidence about what is working, can work, will work, is it barely possible that the slightly if not always consistently [Reinhold] Niebuhrian politician understood this part of it better than Mondale with his social reform commitment?

Moe

Well I’m not sure that’s the alternative, but I don’t know. We’ll never know. Carter certainly didn’t go into that week feeling this crisis of confidence business. It was something that he was persuaded of during the course of the week. But it just wasn’t Mondale’s thing. He would never approach a problem in this way as I tried to point out earlier. He would take the view that if you have a problem, the best way to restore public confidence is to go out and solve the problem and to give some people some hope that you’re doing so. And I think that we’ve seen, and I think the polls will bear this out, that under Reagan people are more hopeful and more confident—until the recent economic downturn, at least—about the country’s future. I think that’s a direct reflection of the approach that he brings, which is designed to give people some hope.

Berman

There was a crisis of confidence in the government.

Moe

In the government, but not necessarily in the country.

Berman

It was the response. Where Mondale would disagree was how you responded. Almost from day one whenever we talked about what we were doing or what the President was doing, it was, He’s not giving people hope. Carter told it straight from the shoulder all the time. Most of the time I think he was right in what he said. Things he said were problems were problems. But it’s like people—I watched those people on the television last night who first of all lose their jobs, and now they’re losing their employment counselors because we’re cutting them away. It was laying all those things on top of them and really not showing any light at the end of the tunnel except we’re going to have to suffer some more.

In a strange way, Reagan’s doing just the opposite. He’s saying, There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and making a whole lot of people suffer like hell. But saying there is hope. And if you look at the polls, one of the things that is still holding up is the whole light at the end of the tunnel. People see it as somebody described it the other day, as getting a little dimmer, but still in the most recent polls I’ve seen taken the end of last month, they are still very hopeful because what else can they do except hope that something will become of all this, some solution.

Young

Kind of scares you, doesn’t it, if it doesn’t turn out all right?

Thompson

Did Carter do that as a campaigner in the ’76 campaign? Carter did offer light at the end of the tunnel. You begin to wonder whether the experience of the two men was the same or whether it was their different perspective and philosophy and outlook on the world that led them to want to put this thing differently. They both went through what you described as a crisis of confidence in the government.

Berman

You have to really see the difference between them. Reagan sees the world, I think, very simply. His great success as a politician and public figure is that his entire world is testable against four or five sentences. That man knows what he believes in and he believes it, and every time you ask him a question or decision, he tests it against that. He’s a relatively uncomplicated man, at least in terms of policy and how he approaches things.

Carter is absolutely the opposite. Carter is very complex. Reagan never sees the complexity, maybe intentionally, under all this. Carter sees it all. He sees every single twist. He really looks through all the logical implications of what might come from what he’s doing. Reagan just plows ahead. That made things very difficult for Carter, and made him feel compelled to shoot straight in a way. He felt it was an obligation.

Thompson

Where would you put Mondale in relation to these two types?

Berman

Probably he is more complicated. He’s not as complicated because he’s never been as detailed or never wanted to be as detailed as Carter, but many, many times more complicated than Reagan is. Mondale, once you get past the basic belief in social justice, can’t test everything he does against four or five lines, can’t do it. He is someplace in between their styles. When you really look at their styles in terms of works in a whole variety of ways—background, from the engineer to the actor, from the person who works four hours a day to the person who works fourteen hours a day, to the nature of the philosophy. Philosophy-wise he’s left of both of them. But in a whole variety of ways he comes out someplace in the middle.

Clinton

Did I understand you to say that a larger part of the adverse reactions to the firings and other events that followed the speech was caused by shock at the great contrast with the indiscipline that had characterized the administration before? Because it was such a great change, did people maybe feel it was worse than it really was?

Berman

I don’t know if I said it, but that was an enormous change. I think he could have fired those people and gotten away with it had it been done differently and in a different kind of context. The leaving of Cy Vance later on, basically over a policy disagreement, did not begin to cause that kind of a ruffle.

Thompson

Or [Griffin] Bell.

Berman

Or Bell, but Bell is really in another kind of class because he so came from the President and in context with the President. He was truly an insider. The public isn’t going to be repelled by someone, but it was wrapped up in this package, it became part—none of those activities stood alone anymore; they were all part of a bigger package, which we view differently now than we did then. And again, being inside, it was—to say it was an emotional period was to understate by geometric proportions.

Young

I was always surprised at the sudden surge in and the approving response to the speech, because just from the outside I saw this unprecedented action and thought it was bound to doom the administration. I don’t see how you can pull victory out of defeat, or success out of perceived failure, by announcing failure.

Berman

That was the basic argument, it was always to be hopeful—

Young

There’s a logic about it, but when you look at it as a public strategy it seems very strange.

Berman

I’ve seen the speech as a lift. It didn’t take a hell of a lot to give us lift. [laughter] In terms of our own feelings about the situation—to be sure, the President is the one being beat upon, but it does have a ramification. In those time periods you didn’t go to a cocktail party, you didn’t go to a dinner party, you didn’t go to the grocery store if someone knew where you were involved or if you accidentally stumbled onto the street still wearing your White House identification badge. It was everywhere. Now I don’t know if it was everywhere in Minneapolis and Chicago and Los Angeles, but it sure as hell was in Washington D.C. There was no other topic of conversation. You could not hide from it.

What was the most difficult thing about that period was that you couldn’t say what you thought. To be sure there was more public writing about the disagreement that Mondale had because he chose to say some things in a way that he hadn’t said them in the past. But you couldn’t go out, except with your most intimate of friends, in a locked room, one on one only, never with two people, and say what you thought. Because if you said it in a group of four people, by God it was going to be in the paper the next day. So you had this enormous frustration of saying, This is crazy, but not being able to respond to that to people that you know and thought you were sane. You could not respond to it that way. So that even increased the tensions.

Clinton

Could he have fired the people with less political damage if he had fired some people in the two and a half years previously?

Berman

I doubt it. I don’t think so. I think it was the event. I think he could have fired them later, separately, one on one, different reasons, he could have got away with it. It was the perception of the event that took over everything. It became its own theater. It was this whole play that was going to be played out, and all the scenes were part of the play. There was no way to separate it in that context.

Thompson

Yes, but weren’t they contradictory scenes, saying that there was a national crisis and then acting as though it were just an internal crisis? Saying it was a general problem but then blaming it on two or three people whom you fired? Some people worried more about that in a way than they did about his analysis of the problem. After all [Abraham] Lincoln and [Thomas] Jefferson and others have talked about the crisis of the country at other times.

Berman

I suppose, but when people were getting so wrought up, it brought into focus everybody’s anger at the people who were ultimately fired. This was not the first time, I’m sure, although I never heard what was said, but I’m sure not the first time the President got complaints from people about Blumenthal or about Califano—they’re the two prime actors in this thing. It all suddenly converged. I don’t know, maybe Dick does, about what was weighing on the President’s mind, but I know that people around saw this as an opportunity to solve some other problems; that the frame of mind reference time, place, were all there to take care of some other things.

Moe

That’s right. The contradiction you mentioned was inevitable because of what I mentioned before. This week started out without any purpose or design. The whole thing was kind of like [Winston] Churchill’s pudding, it had no theme to it. And so all kinds of different things were happening, often conveying contradictory impressions. And that’s because nobody really thought this thing through. I mean everybody was redressing whatever problem they thought needed redressing in whatever area.

Young

The question that converges on all these different agendas just got all mixed up. What I missed was the President’s pointing the finger of blame to other people. What I got out of it, particularly in the speech following, was the confession of his own lack of leadership. I didn’t get the impression he was saying, I’m the good guy and those are the bad guys, but rather, I’ve been paying too much attention to trying to manage the government without leading the country. This was a reflection to some extent on himself, which I found the strangest part of it all.

Moe

Well, I think that’s right. He didn’t try to scapegoat the people he had fired. But there was, as you say, a large element of mea culpa in his speech.

January 16, 1982

Young

We’d now like to focus on some large questions about understanding and assessing the Carter Presidency, unless you’d like to conclude the previous section with any significant points that have been omitted.

Berman

One point I’d like to amend, and that is, there is this kind of myth that operates that the Vice President only has a constituency of one essentially. He accounts to the President and nobody else. I really don’t think that’s true. I think he really has a three-part constituency: he clearly has the President, who is his or her most significant constituent. But he also has a constituency called the President’s staff. Certainly the Rockefeller situation typifies what happens if that doesn’t work, where Rockefeller and Ford as best I can understand remained on very good terms consistently but Rockefeller’s relationships with Ford’s staff, particularly [Donald] Rumsfeld, deteriorated very fast and caused him great anguish.

And the third constituency is all the constituents he brings to the office if he’s ever been in public office before. There was no way, for example, in the case of Mondale that the traditional constituencies of the party, whether it be union, minority groups, etc., that had seen him as one of their champions weren’t going to be coming to him in this administration regardless of what the situation might have been. I just wanted to make that point because it’s often overlooked.

Young

You were mentioning before the value that a study of the evolution of the Vice Presidency or comparison of this one with others would serve, and I certainly agree with you. This project can’t encompass that evolutionary study, but it seems to me the discussion yesterday brings out pretty clearly not only the basic unusual nature of the relationship here and of the roles of the staff, but the elements that contributed to the working of that relationship. That’s a very important part of the story of the Carter Presidency, both in terms of the precedent it established and in terms of what it reveals, either as exception or otherwise to the President’s operating style in terms of the reaching of a fairly clear understanding and guidelines to make this situation work. That’s very interesting, because clearly it seems to me that President Carter did not operate with such explicit understandings in many other areas of how people related to him and how the staffs were supposed to work and the kind of guidelines about staff behavior. I don’t think that’s very important, and for me at least, it’s been brought out quite clearly. Of course Paul Light is I’m sure going to bring out some of that in his own book, but it’s an important part of the Carter Presidency.

I was interested in your reference to his studying and thinking through this problem. There was no comparable situation that he would have faced in previous public office to this. Being a Lieutenant Governor wouldn’t be the same kind of thing at all. It’s interesting because this was something new about the Presidency, where he was not transferring a model from the Governorship.

Moe

I think you’re right. I hope that somebody does take a look at this. It’ll take some time to assess it, of course, but I’ve always felt from my biased perspective that this was an unprecedented experience that in fact had set a standard for future Presidents to follow. You can already see Reagan and [George H. W.] Bush trying to emulate it and it’s too early to tell exactly how that’s worked.

In the end, every President and every Vice President has to work out their own relationship based upon their own chemistry, their own experiences, their own interests, and all the rest. But I do think that this relationship that we had did set a standard that is going to hold for some time, at least I hope it will, because the basic thrust behind trying to establish this relationship was that the Vice Presidency was a wasted office and a wasted asset. The President clearly saw this, Walter Mondale aside, as an opportunity to use that office in a constructive and helpful way.

Beyond that, it was something that Carter did that obviously has endeared us to it in a very profound way. Mondale called what Carter did probably the most generous act of any President in the history of the country. That’s because Presidents have been notorious for being reluctant to give up, to delegate, or to share authority. But that’s precisely what Carter did in this instance. I don’t think there’s any question but there was an act of great generosity, although it obviously had its benefits to the President as well.

Young

One must consider the possibility of some disruptive event like assassination, given the events of the past. Surely this kind of relationship between those two people was the best possible preparation for a succession. So it’s interesting from all those aspects.

There is a set of questions we usually try to get at in terms of views of how the Carter Presidency might be assessed. It might be easier for you people, since you were both in but not of the close Carter group, to get some more distance from that. We try to get you to look from some distance of time, though it’s been a fairly recent administration, and see what emerges as the essential operating profile of this administration when we compare it with others in history: when it worked best, its essential strengths, its weaknesses, and the problems that it didn’t solve.

Along that line there are several kinds of questions. It might be interesting to take an example of a policy issue that proved very difficult for this administration to handle. An issue that probably would have been difficult for anybody but particularly for this one, that might illustrate the strains put on the administration politically and in other ways. We have identified the response to inflation and the introduction of a regime of budgetary restraint to be one of those issues in which it is interesting to look at the Carter response and the process by which that was attempted. It offers itself interesting comparisons with Reagan’s response and the workings of his system to essentially the same problem.

Clearly there were conflicting objectives or conflicting conflicts, as we have been told by many, between the need on the one hand of a Democratic President facing reelection and to try to keep the traditional Democratic coalition together. Something about that seems to have been either incompatible with or introduced great strains with respect to the establishment of a fiscally conservative policy. I wonder whether that is a good example, taking one of those issues that would be problematic for a Democratic administration but particularly this one and talking a little bit about it.

Moe

It probably would be. Neither Mike nor I were deeply involved in inflation policy, but I think your point is well taken. The President came to office without having a lot of firm ideas about what to do about inflation, the fundamental underlying rate of inflation. But he did bring a deserved reputation for being a fiscal conservative. He made it clear from the outset that he intended to trim fat and waste and perhaps other things out of the budget, and this was reinforced very strongly by Bert Lance at OMB. I don’t think the President at the outset focused a lot of serious attention on inflation programs.

Our first priority when we came in was to pass the economic stimulus program, which was designed for another purpose—to get the economy going again and to hopefully reduce the rate of unemployment. It wasn’t until some time in the second year as I recall that the priorities really shifted from unemployment. Once the stimulus program took hold and it was working, having some effect, then inflation overtook it as a priority issue. Carter’s way of handling this is interesting in that he was persuaded, I’m not sure how or by whom, to appoint an inflation fighter, which I always thought was a way to neatly compartmentalize this problem, put it over on the side and hope that somebody is going to come up for a solution for it. That didn’t happen, of course. But I think that Carter was reluctant to really steep himself in economics in the same way that he was with foreign policy. I just don’t think he had the interest in the subject matter and I think that ultimately showed.

As we worked our way through the administration, of course we were increasingly frustrated by this problem, were increasingly unable to really deal effectively with it through a series of inflation policies, all of which proved fairly ineffective. The President of course immediately rejected any kind of wage and price controls. We toyed around a lot with different forms of income policies. Tip and others ultimately rejected them all. We ended up with some wage and price guidelines that were lacking in any kind of real influence.

You’re right, the further we got into the administration, the more you could see this conflict between his desire to cut the budget and therefore cut the deficit, which in turn hopefully would lead to a reduction in the rate of inflation on the one hand, and increasing pressures from the Democratic constituencies on the other hand. This really came to a head in the Democratic mid-term convention in Memphis in 1978, when of course the President was then about to come out with his new budget. There was a lot of speculation about the cuts in those budgets. Of course in retrospect those cuts look very mild compared to what we’ve recently experienced. Nonetheless they provoked a large and loud outcry from Democratic constituencies, and this gave Senator Kennedy an opportunity to rally those forces in effect in Memphis and later.

There were also those forces within the administration. Mondale was one of those forces. He kept adding pressure to do more for education. Our Democratic allies in Congress were another force that compounded this problem. So it was probably the most difficult and intractable problem we dealt with over the whole span of the administration, and it’s clear that we never came to terms with it and with these conflicting pressures.

Young

It’s not clear that the problem is soluble and the methods are far from clear, but different ones are being tried in different degrees. Apart from that and apart from the strains this introduced in the Democratic Party itself with the traditional, more liberal elements of the party, the constituencies of the party being rallied by Kennedy, was there something beyond the Democratic connection and the possible intractability of the problem that might have exacerbated the ability of the administration to come up with something more than it did come up with?

Moe

Well, there was another factor here, and that’s the President’s having placed people in key positions who did not necessarily have consistent approaches to economic problems. You had first Bert Lance and then Jim McIntyre at OMB, both of whom were very conservative in their approaches. Charlie Schultze is a traditional, conventional, old style liberal. First of all we had Mike Blumenthal at Treasury, and then Bill Miller. It was never clear, and then Stu Eizenstat was always in the mix. It was never clear who was in charge of the economic policy, until after the Camp David session when he anointed Bill Miller as Secretary.

Blumenthal never had that conferred upon him. He was ambivalent and uncertain as to which approach to take, and ended up taking neither of the decisive approaches that may have been recommended to him by the various extremes. He settled on something in the middle, and it came across as kind of mushy and ineffective.

Young

Maybe this difficulty had something to do with what some people have called his compassionate versus his fiscal conservative side, and this kind of ambivalence when you had to make a choice it appeared between one or the other.

Wayne

Was Mondale weighing in at all on these questions?

Moe

Yes he was, for the most part. In his last years in the Senate he started getting very interested in the economic policy. He spent a lot of time and effort on it. He used to meet very often with Miller, Charlie Schultze, Lance, McIntyre, all the rest. He became fairly deeply involved in these policies.

Clinton

Did you feel that most of the time that you were fighting defensive battles against increasing fiscal conservatism, even if you were not in sympathy?

Moe

We had that feeling on the budget because we were not as fiscally conservative as some of the others. Things probably would have been quite a bit different in this area if Bert Lance had not left. He clearly was emerging during the first year as the key economic advisor and policy maker. He had the President’s confidence and ear in a way that no one else did, and if he had remained, things probably would have gone in a considerably different direction.

Young

Would you assess him as a person who could have played and continued to play a very special role as a Presidential advisor in perhaps bringing together some of the political policy business? Was Lance evolving as a key figure in the administration in terms of his relationships with the Washington people?

Moe

Yes. More so than almost anybody who came from Georgia in the White House. He was reaching out and establishing fairly effective contacts on the Hill and in the press and elsewhere. He was going about it very shrewdly. The other thing he would have brought and was bringing while he was there was a way of dealing with the Jordans and the Powells and the others on the White House staff that no one else ever was able to accomplish. They clearly had enormous respect for him, and the fact that he was so close to Carter meant a lot to them. So he clearly could have helped to bridge this gap that eventually occurred between policy and politics in the White House.

Young

Especially on the Washington side. Do you have some comments on this, Mike?

Berman

I want to get back to—and Dick mentioned—the whole managerial question, since I spent almost no time on the substance. There was no one in charge of economic policy, and I think what Dick says about Bert is absolutely right, because he had a really special combination of characteristics. He was the only person in this entire city who approached being a pal for the President, a buddy. In terms of age, in terms of kind of experience, in terms of having children—just a whole variety of things, and nobody else who was close to the age of the President in the White House had any kind of relationship like that with him. So that made a big difference.

But when I talk about management, there was a non-focus on economic policy for so long, and Reagan’s doing just the opposite now in the foreign policy. One of the things that people don’t look at in the structure of the Presidency as it now exists is this whole obsession with foreign policy, which I think affects economic policy. I think foreign policy is easier, potentially more dangerous, but much easier because in foreign policy you deal with almost no constituencies in the United States. Nobody beats you up for either building or not building a dam in Aswan, nobody worries about whether you’re properly feeding people more in Mississippi or more in Minnesota, where there’s enough for the urban cities, if you’re doing it over in Hungary or some other place.

The whole place is organized so as to emphasize foreign policy and to deemphasize domestic policy. By that I mean that if you look over at the State Department, and if you look at a companion structure in the NSC [National Security Council], you have the desk system. There is some person sitting over at the State Department right now whose entire life is dependent on making Chad important. All he does is follow Chad, and he may have some other small countries, but that’s what he does with his life. His great success is someday to get into the President’s daily briefing on a periodic basis some nuance about some tribal chief in Chad or whatever they have in Chad. (You see quickly how little I know about foreign policy.) But that structure is there, there are dozens of people who do nothing but emphasize that, and that stuff is all moving on a track in to the White House. Now, it passes through the NSC, but the NSC has a companion set of systems.

There is no comparable mechanism for the states or the cities of America. There is no person in the White House—as a matter of fact this White House for the first time tried to focus the NSC, and with some success began to isolate people who had all kinds of other things to do. I had the state of Michigan, and special problems for Michigan would come up to me. But I was already doing enough jobs for more than one person. So it was a kind of pass over thing that had more political implications than real policy implications. So that has an enormous impact and affects the domestic policy.

Secondly, the foreign policy people all write better than the domestic policy people. To the extent I saw foreign policy paper versus domestic policy paper, it’s clear, it’s less bifurcated, it may have two opinions on it, but it hasn’t got fifteen, which the domestic policy stuff does. The whole mechanism, whether it’s better or worse I don’t know in terms of its product, but the mechanism is designed to cause the President of the United States to focus on foreign policy. And that always comes to the detriment of domestic policy. I think that was point number one of what happened to us. Again, it’s a managerial thing.

The point that Dick made, nobody was really in charge. You may have had Brzezinski and Vance fighting, but you knew in very narrow parameters of where that fight was. You even knew exactly what the parameters of the fight were because they had such different positions, it was easily identified. How do you figure out where Charlie Schultze, Al [Alfred] Kahn, Jim McIntyre—who really wasn’t a player except in a strange way in economic policy—the Fed and the way it played into it, or Blumenthal and then Bill Miller, and every other expert in the world, played into the thing? There was no—and I don’t think the President was very interested except as a political need for his own administration.

Young

In other words what you’re saying in effect is that if you looked at the Reagan administration, clearly one of the leads in domestic policy, which is tax and budget, is David Stockman or has been, is that correct? In that sense, there wasn’t a designated in-house person comparable to the National Security Advisor, and that was part of the problem.

Jones

Lance may have been such a person.

Berman

He could have been. Lance was not really a policy person in a real sense. I mean he was not like David Stockman, and not going to spend every waking hour poring over the numbers. But once he got hold, within the administration, he was a man of enormous power. And power derived from a couple of things. One, because of his relationship with the President. Two, because he was pretty smart in fact—more street smart than perhaps intense economic training. And three, he was the best liked person in the entire White House. Everybody in the White House, from the janitor to the President, liked Bert Lance.

Jones

Did he have the capacity and the confidence to do this job and have the confidence of the President to oversimplify domestic issues in a way that would have made the choices easier? Or would the President not accept that oversimplification?

Berman

I don’t know, and we never found out because obviously his life started to unravel much too early. I’m inclined—he had a way of putting things down to the lowest—making the choices pretty simple and easy.

Young

Is it possible that what you’re saying—and others have made similar comments but not as fully I think as you have—is that the departure of Lance really left the administration, the White House and the President with a big hole?

Moe

No question about it.

Young

I speculate that he appointed Lance to that position because he was unique in this respect. His departure deprived Carter of that choice or that function.

Moe

I don’t think there’s any question about it. Jordan asked me during the transition to handle the search for people for Treasury, OMB, and CEA. I started going over some names for him and he said, Well, just forget about OMB, let’s get that to Bert Lance. They had clearly made that decision early because they wanted him in a key position close to the President and I think it was for that purpose.

Young

There’s also indications that the President not only personally designated Lance for that, but also McIntyre.

Moe

Right.

Young

So he took a very firm hand in those appointments.

Moe

That’s right.

Young

This gets back to another kind of question and that is how does one accurately describe Carter’s operating style? We’ve had some elements of that already put into the record in this session. Carter had a different strategy, a different approach to governing than most Presidents known to us have had. Can you help us try to identify what the components of that operating style were, starting off perhaps with one aspect of it that a number of people have commented on, and that was he was not the sort of person to operate on clear and strong delegations of authority. Where he did that it was exception to the rule. Is that an accurate way of describing one aspect of his operating style?

Moe

I think it is. Particularly in the early years, very little got delegated. And he immersed himself in the details of every issue that came to his attention. And of course ultimately he became overwhelmed. He preferred, obviously, to deal with issues on paper rather than with people. He wanted options papers and he was given many options papers, particularly early on. Even well into the administration, I don’t remember if it was the B1 or one of the defense issues where he got this thick options paper. And he not only read the options paper but he read all the supporting technical data. Clearly the kind of thing, at least I think, a President should not be spending his time on. But typically he would just wallow in that stuff.

Young

It wasn’t restricted in other words to issues of obsessing or primary concern to him. It was sort of across the board.

Moe

No. It was anything.

Young

Other Presidents have taken very much of a hand in some particular issue in this level of detail. He apparently did it as a universal approach.

Moe

Well, early in the administration, the only way to get a decision out of the White House was to take it directly to the President. On any issue.

Berman

He would credit other credit managers except that the option piece fell out a little bit. In other words to really establish what the issues were, he certainly decided what the thing was at the end; he clearly made a decision. It was that in between he took some options from other people. More often he did those himself too, in a sense that he decided what the alternatives were that he would ultimately consider.

Young

Those who have talked to us about economic policy have characterized the process as the President being quite clear at the outset and not politically insensitive at the outset in terms of asking for more than he knows he’s going to get and then, before it finally comes down, being nickel and dimed to death. In other words; Secretary X will come in and say, You can’t get it through Congress this way, but if you’ll give up this part of it it’ll go. And somebody will go to the Senate and they’ll only give up something else, so I guess it’s backed and backed and backed into a corner.

Moe

That’s right. He got sucked into that. Clearly a President shouldn’t have to do that kind of negotiating. He should delegate that to somebody. But he ended up doing it on a large number of issues himself.

Berman

He found it hard to back away. It was as if he didn’t come to grips, or nobody told him the concept of a hondle, how to negotiate. I remember just on a small piece when he did the White House authorization bill, which there hadn’t been one since FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], he was into it down to the number of people at GS 16 that we were going to have. It would have to be this pay grade, and he would check off and decide what we were going to do. They were very detailed for an issue I promise you in terms of the republic is smaller than a pimple on an elephant’s behind. He saw and passed off on every item we ultimately argued for in that bill. Everybody that I was working with was afraid, once he had signed off on an option paper that this is what he’d like, to go back to him—and lord knows it was Hugh Carter, his cousin, so if anyone should have been able to go back to him, it was Hugh—to go back to him and say we can’t get that, we think we ought to juggle this around a little bit, and ultimately did that. But it was with great strain and trepidation, and only when we could prove that we just weren’t going to get it, so that the trade off then was fail at it without having told the President in advance and try to work something out, or go back to him and say We can’t get that, they want this for this reason. But he checked off on every bloody item.

Moe

He sure did. I’ll give you another example and this was during the first year. I was trying to lobby through an Election Day registration bill in the Congress. And it required a little bit of money, I think seventy million dollars at most. We went through the normal clearing process through OMB and Justice and the President ultimately signed off on it. And I was up negotiating with Frank Thompson, who was chairman of the House Administration Committee, and we decided to make some more changes. It turned out it was going to require another million dollars.

So I went back through and there was a time, I forget what the problem was, but there was a time frame attached to it. I had to get an answer within a couple of hours. So I went to Stu and I went to OMB and everybody said, Fine, don’t worry about it. But they all said, But you’d better check with the President. You’ve got to make sure that the President signs off on it. So I had to go into the Oval Office and ask him if we were authorized to negotiate for another million dollars. He kind of laughed about the whole thing. Clearly he shouldn’t have had to be asked about something like that.

Young

Did that change over tune?

Moe

Yes.

Young

And why did it change?

Moe

Because I think he recognized that he could not be responsible for that degree of detail.

Young

It wasn’t due to other issues, like Iran and stuff that came along?

Moe

That contributed to it.

Berman

it happened before, really. He was backing off before Iran.

Moe

Yes, I think he was, but there’s another factor here too, and I don’t think I’m unique in this respect. I wouldn’t have gone to him two years later. I don’t think others in the White House would have, they just would have done it. There was enough confidence in the relationships to do that.

Young

Was there also a factor possibly that you felt as you got to know his mind on things more that he was more predictable in terms of certain minor things or in terms of staff? Did you come to know his mind and what he just wouldn’t bother with?

Moe

I think he became more predictable the better we got to know him. But he was never entirely predictable. But most importantly, he wouldn’t have wanted to have been bothered by something of that nature later, nor would we have bothered him with it.

Wayne

To what extent was the interest in the details of the options carried through after he said, Ok, this is what I want? Then was there a regular reporting system through which he found out what had happened? Did he keep bugging people?

Moe

No. There really wasn’t a reporting system I don’t think in most areas. As a matter of fact, one of our most fundamental flaws in terms of our legislative program is that there was an assumption that once you signed off on a program and sent it to the Congress, that’s all you had to do for it. It spoke for itself, you didn’t have to mobilize support. This is what directly led to the task forces. That’s what we did in the first energy proposal. So he was not prepared to do the kinds of political things that were necessary. There was no reporting system back to him. And he wasn’t particularly interested because he had this idea of, it’s on its way, now what’s next on the agenda?

One of the things that started after the Camp David sessions started was having ten o’clock meetings with the President every morning. It was Mondale and Stu and Jordan, most but not all of the senior staff. And those meetings were very helpful in terms of follow up, particularly in a current matter. Two-thirds of those meetings were inevitably devoted to legislative matters. Frank Moore was chairman. But there was no substitute for that before they started except the senior staff meeting. But of course the President wasn’t at those meetings.

Young

I can imagine that a chief of Congressional liaison staff who had been known to have been delegated clear authority by the President—This is my man and he knows my mind and he speaks for me—would have put any Congressional liaison in a very difficult position. Did it operate in that respect too?

Moe

Well, I don’t think there is any doubt in anybody’s mind that Frank Moore was the President’s man. For some people on the Hill that was the problem.

Young

Yes, I understand that.

Moe

I’m not sure what you’re referring to. As to whether or not Frank should have been delegated more authority to negotiate on his behalf, or to deal on his behalf?

Young

Well, the President apparently left himself quite accessible to an end run in that sense.

Moe

Right. But most of the policy-making functions didn’t go through Frank Moore. Clearly there should have been a large element of that in terms of outreach to the Hill.

Jones

Could you say something, back to this matter of the President’s picture of what happened after he signed off in the early stages. Wasn’t that something that Mondale could help him with, as to what happens after a big piece of legislation goes to the Hill? What do you have to do even before it goes there to make sure that something happens to it when it gets there?

Moe

We tried with some success, but it was limited. This again was in the first year and particularly with the April 20 energy program. There are so many things coming up you get overwhelmed so quickly. But that plan I remember went up there, and there was no follow through on it.

Young

The task force mobilization of support for the legislative follow up was in part a response to this problem.

Jones

I understand that. Was it in part—?

Berman

I don’t think we knew that that’s what he thought until you could ultimately see, by which time it was already too late. I don’t think he knew. I think he really believed that he had a Democratic Congress, reasonably good control of both houses, he was the first Democratic power in eight years, as Dick had said. Here he was, he’d won the election and defeated a sitting incumbent Republican, albeit one that had not been elected, and why not? He’d watched from afar, if you will, the way things had happened, how other Democratic Presidents had successfully dealt with the Congress—although the Congressmen had changed radically since the last Democratic President. I think he just didn’t have that sense, and then I think he learned. As Dick said, he became very willing to see anybody who walked, talked, or moved in terms of Congressional—whether it was mythical or not, people on the Hill would say they could get a call returned from the President faster than they could from—and they would tick off a list of senior staff members. And there may have been some truth to that.

Jones

And it would have been presumptions for Mondale to have said in those early months, Now let me tell you how the Congress works, Mr. President.

Wayne

Let me just interject something. It would seem to me at some point that at least to some of you he would be saying, Where is this stuff? I sent it up, what the hell are they doing? Didn’t he show any frustration that nothing was happening?

Moe

Oh sure, it became obvious on some of this stuff that nothing was happening. So we kept redoubling our efforts, we kept making more energy speeches and those were attempts to try to mobilize support for it. But it was all kind of ad hoc. We didn’t start out with a strategic plan to pass the first energy bill in the same way that we did with the Panama Canal treaty later or with any number of other initiatives. This was an evolutionary process we went through, it was trial and error, we were all new at it, and we were learning as we went. But there’s no question we made a lot of serious mistakes early on.

Berman

I would venture to say, not that I know a great deal about past White Houses or this one, that ultimately the battle plans that were drawn for the passage of significant pieces of legislation were probably as good as anybody had ever done, certainly in the context of the new Congress. They really were battle plans that should make fascinating case studies for some political science course if one could put them all together, because they were well thought through, even to the use of computer technology for vote counting. I remember when we did the task force on election law financing, we could have fed into the computers every conceivable kind of vote that every member of Congress had made over the last ten years on related issues so we could score people. So it became a very sophisticated operation.

Young

You know, this is a strange aspect of the Presidency it seems to me. You’ve mentioned examples. If you put on the one end of the spectrum, let’s say the first energy thing, this is a case where the President apparently did delegate fully to one person, [James] Schlesinger, the development of this proposal. You put on the other side of the spectrum the Panama Canal, which some people have described to us as the first time we learned how to mobilize the real resources of the Presidency. That was the precursor, though not done in a formal way, to that base touching with the development of the economic stimulus package. The Congressional consultation in advance, the putting together of a thing that would fly fairly easily through Congress. You have throughout in this administration these examples of very contrary strategies or ways of organizing to get something done. And it’s really quite an interesting, puzzling thing to me.

Moe

You’re absolutely right.

Berman

What’s even more interesting on the energy piece is that you have plated together a manager in Schlesinger whose attitudes about the Hill were roughly those of the President’s.

Moe

That’s right.

Berman

He was a very non-political type, for all the time he’d spent in Washington. His attitudes were about the same—you put this thing together, you don’t have to worry about whether the whole House is against some portion of it, put it in anyway.

Moe

There was a broad consensus within the Democratic Party on that.

Young

Panama Canal was a much tougher nut.

Moe

But that came later. It’s interesting to contrast the economic stimulus program and the first energy program because they came at roughly the same time.

Young

And they represent opposite trends.

Moe

Right. But as Mike pointed out, I think Carter had a fascination with Schlesinger and clearly wanted him somewhere in the administration, and he ended up with energy. He held him in awe to a large extent. He was enormously impressed with him. I remember in several Cabinet meetings it got very tense, Brock Adams would look at Schlesinger and say, Now when do I get a chance to look at this energy program? And Schlesinger would give some kind of evasive answer and it was clear that Brock Adams was not going to get a look at the energy program and never did.

Young

I’m surprised at the number of people who sat up here having difficulties at getting a peak at that program.

Moe

That’s right. Nobody saw that except Schlesinger. I don’t think Stu saw it very early on.

Jones

Back to this matter of getting along with Congress, it would be awfully hard to instruct the President on Congress without talking about politics. This goes back to the matter of whether the President wanted to hear about politics or not. This triggers in my mind what that meant to him, politics, political. What did that exclude by way of discussion? When he said, I don’t have to be told about the politics of things. How did he distinguish between the policy and the politics?

Moe

He wanted to focus exclusively on the merits of a program. Anything that detracted from that, anything that would have made the program easier to pass or would have appealed to this key chairman or that kind of tactical maneuver he regarded as politics and didn’t want to hear about it.

Jones

It wasn’t just election stuff? It had to do with negotiating, coalition building, coalitions, that type of thing?

Moe

No. It certainly included that but it wasn’t limited to that. He gradually overcame that. And in some cases fairly quickly.

Jones

Well, that would certainly make it difficult to talk to him about Congress.

Berman

One of the things you remind me is that the water projects were kicking around at the same time. The water project by itself has got to be one of the key—what happened when we did that beauty was that the Congress said, Hey, wait a minute. What the hell’s going on down there? Because it was such a—I happened to think that Carter was dead flat right on the substance of it, but if ever there was a piece of action that ticked off more people at one time, that was it.

Moe

That came on the heels, of course, of the fifty-dollar rebate thing and the kind of campaign Carter ran against the Congress and all the rest. Just poisoned the well up there.

Young

One of the fascinating things about the administration is that you find cases on both sides to illustrate two different principles, two different operating styles. It’s been fascinating to hear these and see what sense you make out of that. And maybe that has something to do with the fact that the press commentary was contributing opposite characteristics to the administration.

There’s another element of the President’s operating style. It’s related to this question of delegation perhaps, but it’s kind of a separate thing, and that is what you referred to as a certain lack of discipline in the administration. Someone said there were no penalties imposed. Part of it has to do with the follow up failure that you talked about, perhaps part of it has to do with the President’s own way of dealing with people. Part of it perhaps has to do with the possibility that the President either consciously or not built into his administration conflicting points of view.

Light

To what extent were Carter’s problems a problem of education? He had no experience in Washington and had been Governor in Georgia. To what extent was his problem mainly one of educating him about Washington, or to what extent was it a problem that had to do with the way he dealt with people?

Moe

Well, it’s all of those things and it’s an enormously complex subject. Obviously he came to Washington with a lot of attitudes that he had formed as Governor in terms of dealing with the legislative branch, in terms of dealing with outsiders. He’d run his campaigns in Georgia, as Jim pointed out, in a very unique southern way. He’s very much a loaner politically. Didn’t rely on other institutional leaders for political help and therefore didn’t bring to the White House the feeling that he needed them to govern as well. Although he was prepared to acknowledge other institutional leaders, he seldom reached out in a genuine way to make them feel part of his effort. He tried to do that more later.

The other important factor here is the way in which he ran the campaign. Made it very difficult for him and his administration to get off to a good start in Washington, no matter what he did, because he had run against everybody in that town, they all felt offended by it in one degree or another and were very suspect about him. There were no doubt other factors.

Young

Was there a real problem of discipline, teamwork, whatever you call it in the administration? Did you perceive that looking at it as a real problem in this administration, and if so, how might it have been dealt with, given the appointments policy and personnel policies that were followed and the nature of the programs that the President was committing himself to?

Moe

I think it was a problem. I thought there were some initial problems in the way in which they staffed the White House. It was primarily staffed with former campaign people. There were very few people brought into key positions in the White House, certainly nobody who had been there before, with the exception of Stu Eizenstat, and there were a lot of very junior young people who weren’t really prepared for the kinds of responsibilities placed on them.

It’s always understandable that you want to bring the campaign people with you. I had hoped that they would realize before too long that they really needed some more senior, experienced people. That did come later when they brought Anne Wexler and others in. But never completely.

More importantly it was clear after a while that some people were really not up to their jobs. It was clear in other instances that people were clearly working contrary to the President’s interest in terms of leaks or whatever. These things were well known and nobody acted on them. I remember going to Ham on a couple of these situations and just pleaded with him to do something. And he was very sympathetic and agreeable, but he really resisted being placed in this role of being the top administrator in the White House. And in fact people became very frustrated by it. The inability of the White House to correct its operations frustrated some of us inside there.

Berman

It’s impossible, in my experience at least, for an institution, or part of an institution, which is itself undisciplined, to then discipline the broader thing of which it is a part. So the very lack of discipline in the White House made it impossible to discipline the Cabinet, even to make attempts at it, having given away the government to start with. At least if the White House had operated in a different fashion, over time you could have laid a plan, department by department that was giving you trouble, and done one of two things: made life so miserable for them they either came into line or would have walked away. But because the White House itself didn’t have that kind of internal management discipline, you could never put that operation together.

Young

If you look at the history of the Presidency, clearly the FDR administration before World War II stands out as one of those examples that have become part of the conventional wisdom of political science. One of those examples in which the President deliberately built and enjoyed conflict within his administration, and felt it was one of his elements of political managerial style. Nobody then talked about a fatal problem of discipline in the administration. They were all over the papers too; his Cabinet were fighting amongst each other, intrigues that would make the Brzezinski-Vance intrigue pale by comparison. Have the needs of how to be an effective President changed, or was it something about this administration that made this acceptable?

Berman

FDR had fourteen authorized people. We came in off an administration that had 520.

Young

That’s fourteen on the books, it was hundreds actually.

Berman

Even when you look back at the numbers, as I have, the White House that we went into was at least three and a half times the size of theirs. In terms of what you call policy-level people, even smaller than that. There was no expectation that the White House was going to be the policy coordinator that it has become over time to the stage when we got to the White House. For better or for worse, that became the whole White House, and then you had the creation of the executive office of the President, which is still one of the great bastard agencies of all time. One of our great technical wars is whether it exists or not. But it’s 2,000 people. It just changed the whole nature—when the budget bureau became a part of the President’s office, the larger President’s office, that change things. So I think the comparison is really not—

Young

That is, you have a large and highly visible staff and you have introduced a significant element of policy specialists into it. Not just political managers, legmen, eyes and ears. You’ve changed the character of the problem, which teaches that the mimicry of the Roosevelt style is a bad thing.

Moe

And I think the other thing is that while Roosevelt did this, he clearly did it by design. He found this to be a helpful managerial tool. Right or wrong, he did it deliberately. Carter did not do it deliberately.

Young

Well, that’s what I was asking before. Is it possible that he consciously built in conflicting views?

Moe

He was ambivalent in terms of policy, economic and foreign policy areas. But he didn’t do it deliberately in the sense that FDR did it. To try to play these people off against each other and kind of have fun in the process. I have the impression FDR really enjoyed this. Carter did not enjoy it at all. As a matter of fact, he loathed the conflict that it produced. This is one of the reasons for his aversion to meetings. He liked to deal on paper much more than in meetings.

Thompson

Did he ever make use of penalties and rewards? Somebody has said there are two types of executives: one, and I’ve known one or two chief executives who did this, has no intermediate ground between preserving somebody in a position and firing them. Nothing in between. We were talking about Richard Allen yesterday. Maybe Allen was fooling us when he was here, but Allen in effect said that relations couldn’t be better with Reagan as he described it. And you wonder about some of the comments about Reagan personally, what he told [Menachem] Begin and didn’t tell Begin, whether there’s any intermediate area where he gets tough in the way.

Roosevelt is the second type, I suppose. FDR threatened, he cajoled, he told Jim Rowe that if he’d seen his name twice at a social affair he’d better look for another job, he did all kinds of things. And he sent up signals. I’ve known chief executives who’ve made it very clear that if you continued with this kind of gossip, talk, bad mouthing, something was going to happen, and then you knew where you stood.

Moe

That was not Carter’s style. There was almost no feedback in terms of White House performance, either good or bad. There were no rewards or punishments. It wasn’t until probably some time in the third year of the Presidency that I heard Carter being critical of somebody on the White House staff. He used to get us together periodically, Tim Kraft or somebody set up a regular senior White House staff luncheon with him. And occasionally he’d be critical of an individual or of us as a group. But I can’t recall anything before the third year where he was critical.

Thompson

And no surrogate hatchet man to do what he didn’t want to do?

Moe

No, he did not delegate that function, more importantly. The President should not be the one to convey a lot of bad news unless it’s to the senior people. But he didn’t delegate that to anybody else either.

Young

There is some evidence however, to indicate how the plot thickens, of people recounting experiences of being really very severely dressed down by the President but never with anybody else in the room.

Moe

That was certainly not his style.

Young

But beyond that sort of thing, imposing some kind of systematic sense of discipline and teamwork on the administration, that appears to have been the real acting element.

Moe

That’s right.

Jones

Was the President bothered by his own system? Or is this something that bothered management specialists? Were the kinds of characteristics we’ve described, the results we’ve described, were those things that bothered Carter, other than the conflict? You said he didn’t like the conflict that would sometimes develop. But was he concerned that he didn’t have, by somebody’s standard, particularly a management specialist standard, a good operating staff?

Moe

I’m sure he must have been increasingly bothered, although he was very wedded to his own style. He preferred to work out on paper, and we never got him to change from that, although we tried to moderate it. We went through an evolutionary stage here in most of the areas in which he worked. He brought to the office all of his preconceived notions of how to operate and a lifetime of experiences. Those are hard to change. Those are very hard to change once you get to the White House.

Jones

Did you ever sit in on discussion with him about White House staff organization or discipline?

Moe

Not early. Not in the first year and a half to maybe two years. I did later. He was more conscious of the need to change and more willing to hear people’s views on how it should be changed. I kept pleading with Jordan to become the Chief of Staff, to assume the title and the functions and to expand his own little secretariat. And I thought we might be getting to that when we went to Camp David the first time in ’78. But it didn’t quite happen, although he clearly came away from that with more authority than he had ever had before. Most of my meetings during the first two years on this subject were with Jordan.

Young

Jordan himself didn’t seek or want a Chief of Staff role.

Moe

Didn’t want it. He could have had it from the outset, but absolutely did not want it.

Jones

I thought a fascinating statement of Mike’s was that he almost had an autocratic management style. And yet on the other hand there are a few Presidents probably who have been more open in pulling people in, getting lots of representatives from different groups, appointment people who were not even going to come and be loyal to the President necessarily, but are there to represent particular points of view or particular groups. Would it be fair then to say that, again in comparing Carter with Roosevelt, whereas Roosevelt would set up competing organizational units or people, President Carter really believed in participation, but that it should all flow to him to make the decisions?

Berman

I’m sure he believed in representation, that a lot of things ought to be represented in his government. I’m not so sure about the participation part because he really eschewed, when he could, any debate in front of him. I’m observing from what people tell me. Even looking at the paper that would come to him, which often had paper on top of paper on top of paper, who would be the last sign-off on the paper before it went in, whose ox was going to get gored so it would come through—the kind of thing that, say, a manager who has some interest in some consensus, or at least trying at some consensus, would resolve around a table like this. You’d have them come and have opposing sides debate it out and try to bring it, maybe after the meeting, to some conclusion.

But the way it came out there, it always came out—I don’t think you can ever be sure if he decided to do what he did for the reasons you proposed to do it. I don’t think people were really sure—you’d have to assume that if I gave you five reasons to do it, and then you did it, but you didn’t know that. Whereas in a more debate kind of style—and I never went to a Cabinet meeting—but how participatory were the Cabinet meetings, Dick, in terms of real debate?

Moe

Oh, the Cabinet meetings were a joke almost. We used to call them the show and tell sessions. The President would start off with a few remarks and then he’d just simply go around the room. Most of them would say exactly what they had reported to the President on the previous Friday in their weekly Cabinet reports. It was where they were going to speak this week or what great success they had had on the Hill last week. It was all kind of puffery. Jordan absolutely refused to go to them, he said they were a total waste of time, and he was right. The Cabinet meetings changed later on.

First of all, they didn’t have them that frequently. We had them every week for the first year or so. They were too frequent, very dull, and unproductive. They must have served some function for the President. I was never able to determine in my own mind what that function was. After a while, I think it was after the first Camp David meeting, we had them less frequently, and the structure was changed so that the President, through Jack Watson primarily, had his own agenda. And they eliminated the show and tell aspect of it. I thought that was much more productive. But even then the President did not use Cabinet meetings as a debate for them. Sometimes they became that. Pat Harris or somebody would try to take on Griffin Bell on some civil rights issue or something. But they were never designed for that purpose.

Jones

Participation doesn’t necessarily mean in the President’s presence. I didn’t mean that necessarily, but representation is probably the better term, that he would encourage that but not in his presence. He would have it go on because he wanted people to participate in the pre-decision phase anyway. He wanted to know that that had gone on, and then he makes the decision.

Berman

I guess that’s right. I guess I haven’t thought about it enough to know whether I think that or not. I saw the government with a few exceptions as fiefdoms, kind of under some loose control of the larger lord of the manor, so to speak. Where people cooperated department to department not altogether willingly.

Young

But ad hoc they might get together?

Berman

Yes.

Thompson

Somebody might say, So what’s new? Is there any chance that the constituency of some of the Cabinet, a lot of the staff coming in from legal backgrounds, academic backgrounds, social action group backgrounds, made them want this process to be what historically it hasn’t been very often? A lot of people used to criticize Kennedy because they said with all the academicians, he wanted every meeting to be a seminar and you’d never get a decision out of that. Does the plot thicken at all here if one asks if some of the things that some people hoped would happen or expected would happen are these things not particularly well adapted to decision making?

Moe

Well, I think it depends upon style. And it clearly was not Carter’s style to use seminars or meetings of any sort as a means to make a decision. He would be compelled to hold meetings on certain key issues. For example, I remember Joe Califano coming in several times to make his presentation on national health insurance to the President, and you’d see his eyes glaze over; he was just bored to tears. But he would never make a decision in those meetings. He would go back and make his decision on a piece of paper, an options paper. But maybe others would find it different, and I’m sure they would. But I think it all turns upon individual style.

Ceaser

His individual style seemed to be in conflict with the image he presented of himself during the campaign, the whole theme of openness contrasting what his administration would be like with Nixon’s and the like. And yet his personality traits were quite contrary. What did people think of the talk and the style that he presented publicly?

Moe

I’m not sure I accept your premise. He did pride himself on running an open administration. While he had a closed personality in some ways, he was a very accessible person. Nobody in the administration who really needed to see him was denied access to him. He would always hear you out. He may agree or disagree with you, but I don’t think his style is necessarily in conflict with the perception of openness and participation.

Young

I would say they were quite complementary.

Moe

I always thought so.

Young

In government, you’ve got to get off by yourself, don’t you? You can’t let everybody be there when you’re trying to make up your mind.

Strong

I have a couple of questions about some things you said about politics and substance in the White House. The suggestion that there were two sets of people dealing with these things and the implication that there were really two tracks to the President mind and that Bert Lance was unusual in that he operated in both realms. Could one conclude from that that the political half of the President was really limited to the close circle of friends, long time acquaintances?

Moe

I believe so.

Strong

And did that group ever expand?

Moe

It expanded once we got into the campaign, which started in practical terms in early ’79. We used to have a group that met periodically up in the residence in the treaty room, the President’s residence in the second floor of the White House. There were about ten of us. Bob Strauss, Ham, Jody, Tim Kraft, myself, Mondale, and Stu occasionally. And later on Jack Watson and some campaign people. But that was purely campaign oriented. In terms of political advice before the campaign started, it really was limited to the Georgians and Mondale. Mondale always felt open and free to convey political advice, again usually in the Monday lunches.

Strong

In your experience is Carter an unusual politician in that he wanted to talk about politics only among a small circle of people?

Moe

I don’t think he even wanted to talk politics with them a lot. I think he was unusual in that once the campaign was over, he really put politics aside. Whereas my environment and background have led me to believe that politics is an ongoing process, and very important to the process of governing. It’s not just an election phenomenon. And I was very struck by the absence of that, particularly in the early years. For example, and we touched on this briefly yesterday, there was not a nexus between policy and politics anywhere in the White House. Jordan was clearly the one to perform this function and did to the extent that it was done, but he was reluctant to get too deeply into policy and was unable because he was so preoccupied with the personnel selections and other things.

But this was especially true in foreign policy, whereas Mike pointed out there’s this mentality among foreign policy types that it’s too important to include politicians in. And everything’s very hush hush and urgent. There is a style among foreign policy types that is designed to exclude non-foreign policy types, particularly politicians. And this strongly reinforced the President’s own instincts in this area. So there was never that in our White House, unlike the Reagan White House, which has such a nexus in Jim Baker and perhaps others. Ham ultimately got deeply into it in terms of both the Panama Canal experience and the Iranian experience. But those were about the only two instances I can think of.

Strong

How is it that the press image of Carter begins in the administration that there is no politics, this is a naive President, and ends with everything in the White House is political and the Iranian crisis as being manipulated? Did they just exaggerate the reality?

Moe

No. I think it underwent a fundamental transformation. I think those were both accurate perceptions early and late.

Berman

Except I think they did misjudge on the use of the Iranian situation.

Moe

Right, that was exaggerated. But we were in a campaign mode then, and there is some credibility to the charge that we were using the Iranian situation for political purposes. Which I never believed. I’m convinced it was not true, but there was enough evidence, like the press conference of the morning of the Wisconsin primary and the rest, to lend some credibility to that notion. But I don’t think it was ever true to that extent.

Young

It’s really kind of fascinating. What was the policy politics in the administration? This keeps cropping up over and over again. The connection between politics and policy keeps cropping up. Something about the behavior of the administration certainly led to that kind of perception of the outside world, whereas students of the process know that you can’t separate them so easily. And something about the President, also something about the way the whole White House was organized that contributed I think to this.

Wayne

You talk about a fairly fixed style of doing business that moderates slightly over time by virtue of the pressure of circumstances and perhaps the lack of successes. When you began meeting in this task force that looked at legislative strategy, did the President ever participate in those sessions?

Moe

Not in the sessions, at least in my task force, I was always free to go to him. And I reported to him either personally or on paper periodically through the duration of the task forces.

Wayne

When you reported to him, was he concerned about nitty gritty kinds of questions, Maybe we should try this out with this particular Senator, or this out with this one, or was he just interested in finding out where you were at this point?

Moe

Primarily the latter. And he was usually responsive to things we wanted him to do. But he would seldom initiate.

Wayne

He would never get into those kinds of tactical decisions that are necessary to get legislation through, at least not on his own?

Moe

No, he didn’t spend a lot of time on tactics, that’s right. And this goes back to the assumption we talked about earlier, once you put forward your program, its merits were supposed to speak for itself. And that remained a problem over time to some extent, but it was still a large factor.

Young

You put your finger on a real contrast, although we’ve got to reject these kinds of comparisons, but here is a real contrast with Roosevelt, who was the mastermind tactician of all, and Carter. I have seen strategy documents with respect to how an issue is going to proceed, what base is touched when, the sequencing and who and so forth. And I have seen Presidents amendments on that presented on paper, strategy. No, do this, no warning first, or no, I will do this if somebody else does that. But it’s been amendments on a presented strategy and it’s clearly a reaction to a proposed strategy.

Moe

That’s right. Every time we had one of these task forces we would first of all develop a strategy memo and that would go to the President. And you’re right. He would react to it.

Young

But in terms of masterminding it, saying that has the basic outlines, that I gather he didn’t do or did very rarely.

Moe

Right.

Wayne

I’d like to ask another question that probably I shouldn’t ask, but I’m just curious about. We do know that over time the weekend trips to Camp David became a regular part of his routine. Not wanting to delve too much into the psychological but nonetheless being curious: when he went to Camp David, did his style change at all? Did he become a little easier or freer, easier to talk to? Or was it that same Oval Office style that you’re familiar with moderating a little bit as you say in the last part? Did the circumstances change him? Did he ease up?

Moe

A little bit. Although I must say I wasn’t at Camp David with him that many times except during the two Camp David sessions and a couple of other weekends. He very generously allowed his senior staff to use Camp David on weekends and he very generously included me in that. So we spent a lot of time at Camp David. But there was a rule that if the President was there he didn’t want anybody else there from the staff. Sometimes he would invite up a Cabinet member, Cy Vance or somebody, to spend the weekend with him. But he didn’t want staff around when he was up there because he viewed it as pure relaxation, although he worked fairly hard during those weekends. I think during those few times I was up there with him he was more relaxed, clearly. I wouldn’t exaggerate; it wasn’t that big a difference.

Wayne

So Camp David was used to escape?

Moe

Well, I think most Presidents have used it for that. That’s really what the purpose is.

Young

Or San Clemente or the ranch.

Thompson

Was the President threatened by former head of the state bar association in New York, or by somebody who had a lot of money in the Cabinet? Were there any people to whom he reacted the way we’re told Johnson reacted? Charles River people or other people?

Moe

No. I think one of Carter’s strongest qualities was his own inner security, self-assurance. I don’t think he was threatened by anybody. As we touched on yesterday, one of the reasons the relationship with the Vice President worked so well is that he clearly was not threatened by a strong assertive Vice President playing a strong assertive role. That’s precisely why so many other Vice Presidents have been shunted off to obscurity, because they did threaten the President or the President’s staff. But even in the Cabinet or among outsiders I don’t think he was ever intimidated or threatened by anyone. He knew who he was and he knew what he’d done to get to the White House on his own.

Ceaser

Did he feel threatened, though, in getting to the latter part of the primary campaign, about the talk in the newspaper that the Democratic convention might turn to Mondale rather than himself? Or was there any political tinge to his appointment of [Edmund] Muskie as Secretary of State to remove a conceivable rival from the Senate and put him on the team? Or were these all press speculation?

Moe

No, no, I don’t think he did. No, that was all press speculation. As a matter of fact, the speculation about Muskie didn’t occur until after he became Secretary of State. While there was occasional talk about that, I don’t think he ever felt threatened by that, nor should he have. There was never any chance that either Muskie or Mondale was going to challenge him.

Young

Maybe to carry this out a little further, it might be useful for you to talk about the Mondale operating style and staff relationships, since it was a unit even thought it was intermixed with the White House unit, as contrasted with or compared with the Carter style. Did these represent two different ways of dealing within the same administration?

Moe

Yes, I think they’re quite different.

Berman

They’re very different. Of course, one is five or six times smaller than the other, or one-sixth the size. Mondale has always had a hatchet man. Mondale could not fire anybody, but he has always had somebody who can. While he doesn’t very often do direct confrontations with staff, just dressing down people in a serious way, although he has done it, he sure as hell tells whoever it is who has that responsibility what his pleasure or lack of pleasure may be with a given individual. He will tell you at which point he has decided they no longer should be with us, and that it’s up to you to get it done in the least painful way, or however way you want to do it.

I’ll tell you a funny story, which goes back right to the very beginning, but it doesn’t change very much and it makes the point. I joined him when he was in the attorney general’s office, and several weeks later he went to the Senate and I stayed in the attorney general’s office in Minnesota with a new attorney general. A year and a half later I joined his campaign staff and came down to Washington in December of 1966. He clearly had decided he wanted to get rid of the woman who was his secretary since the day he had gotten to the Senate. The reasons aren’t important, but he clearly wanted to get rid of her. Before I ever left Minneapolis to come to Washington as his special assistant, which meant carry his bags, worry about his schedule, take care of whatever—I mean it was a potpourri kind of job—I knew that he wanted this woman out. So I set about getting rid of her.

Now I was not in charge of the office by a long shot, I was the most junior person in the office. I was basically disliked by most of the people in the office who had dealt with me during the campaign and not happily—they had petitioned Mondale not to let me come to Washington. I must say, I’ve survived all that. But I set about getting rid of this woman. I couldn’t fire her, I had to get her to quit. I did it by slowly taking away her responsibilities. As he now tells the story, to his utter amazement, six months after I got there the woman walked in to him and said, I can’t take it any more. I know it’s not your fault, but Michael has done the ultimate to me. Today I came in and he’s taken away my telephone. I’m through and I’m leaving.

Well, that wasn’t quite true of Mondale. To be sure, it was true, but he never did anything about it and she went off and we then picked a new secretary for him. Those were the kinds of things. There were periodic times though when—and people have known that it’s useless to appeal to him in those occasions, because the people he has in that job, whether it was me, whether it was Dick after me, you knew the people in that job did not deal unless that’s what Mondale wanted. You could be as nice or as un-nice about getting the job done.

So that was point number one. Clearly there was always that person in authority—that means you were really involved in hiring every person. He may decide on a very small group of people he wants on his staff, but a great deal of authority—nobody gets hired that you haven’t participated in, so you do have that kind of opportunity for them to be seeing you, if you’re in that role, as their boss.

Operationally we structured the situation in which Dick was the Chief of Staff, he basically dealt with the White House, became part of the senior staff, dealt far more into policy things. Jim Johnson, who was the executive assistant, went into the White House physically with Mondale, in a little corner near his office, and he was literally with Mondale all the time for four years. He was the corporate memory, he made sure everything came up. He was involved in whatever Mondale was involved in at a given time. Then there was me, spending the greatest portion of my time in the EOB, doing both legal and basic managerial kinds of things.

But as an organization, we had kind of a tri-part approach. We had a consensus management thing going. We basically discussed, talked about almost anything.

Young

At the staff level.

Berman

At the staff level, but again, if we were going to hire a serious staff person, nobody every got hired unless all three components of this whole thing agreed. There were a lot of staff meetings, there were small staff meetings in various units. If anything, it was an extraordinarily redundant operation. People have talked about how well we did. One of the reasons we did well, quite frankly, is that we applied more expertise and talent than was required to almost everything we did. Among Dick and Jim and me we had 35 or 40 years’ experience in one kind of national politics or another in a group of people that ranged in age from 45 to 36—when we came in, 41 to 32 or 33. It was a lot of experience in every form and kind of politics. I’d been at the Senate, Jim had been at the Senate for a short time, Dick had been there for four or five years. We knew state politics. It was a lot of experience tied together.

The staff we put together was a pretty accomplished staff. In terms of body for body, for what they were called upon to do, they probably had in some ways more experience than a lot of the President’s people. But we were dealing with a very confined thing. The task of putting together 400 people is very different from the task of putting together 65 people. Dick and I have had long discussions about whether or not that system of really developing consensus can ultimately work in a bigger setting, or a setting in which more specific day to day policy decisions have to be made by the decision-making mechanism.

Our job was participatory in a lot of things that were going on in the White House, but our job was primarily to make sure Mondale was well served. And therefore we did not have to decide per se, and Mondale didn’t have the responsibility to decide per se, whether or not we were going to set a particular piece of legislation on the Hill, or whether we’d take a particular tack with a foreign country. There was a great deal of sensitivity to people in the staff; people worked very long hours. It was basically a very intense four years, but we spent a lot of time taking care of each other in all those kinds of things. Whether it was my worrying about whether or not Mondale loved me anymore, and Dick or Jim dealing with that for me, or their having the same kinds of feelings at different times—

Young

Is this in contrast with what you saw of the Carter staff?

Berman

Well, at least what I saw—I don’t know that, maybe it did go on. I think it was different.

Young

I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

Berman

No, that’s all right. I think there was an awful lot of—my experience has always been with the case theory—if you bring highly qualified people together, you have to generate internal conflict. Because highly qualified people— at least in politics—tend to have a whole series of unfortunate personality quirks. A lot of paranoia. A lot of turf sense. A lot of anxiety about the amount of time and attention you’re getting from the principal, in this case Mondale. Just a whole batch of things. Anger about how somebody not doing their job affects how you’re not doing your job. You have certain kinds of tasks which by definition if the people are good you can create kind of obnoxious personality traits. We managed to encompass a series of really—not weird people, but people with a lot of ego problems, and that took an extraordinary amount of massaging. And we did that.

Jones

The Mondale staff?

Berman

Yes. I don’t think they did as much of it in the White House. I think they should have done more, but I think they were really not—and we were very attuned to the question of whether people were performing at the level at which they had to perform in order to satisfy Walter Mondale, who was a very difficult person to satisfy.

Moe

If I may say, to the extent that we did have a good staff experience in the White House, and I think it was good, it was because Mondale tends to delegate a lot of this in ways that perhaps Carter didn’t to his staff. Mondale simply has no interest in staff problems or staff conflicts, and he expects us to work those out. Because I was spending almost all my time working with the White House and trying to make sure that that relationship worked, Mike had primary responsibility for administering our staff, and I think did an exemplary job of getting us through four years without a major flap or a major problem.

Wayne

Was your staff relatively constant?

Moe

Yes, it was. We had very few departures during the four years. It was helped by the fact that most of the people, not all, but most people had prior experience with Mondale, either in political terms or in the Senate terms or campaign.

Ceaser

You had some reorganization of the staff though over time, didn’t you?

Berman

No, we added to, but I don’t think we ever changed the basic structure. All of us, Dick, Jim, and I had another advantage going in, and that is—of course Hamilton and Jody had this advantage, but they weren’t exercising these particular things. You couldn’t challenge us. It was impossible. First of all, I’d been with Mondale for 17 years. Dick had been involved with him politically for probably 20 years in one form or another, been directly with him since 1972. Jim had been on board since 1972. Our own relationships with him, regardless of our own paranoias on occasion about whether he loved us or not, were pretty damn solid. We each knew what we did well, and that’s what we were doing. It was not a new learning experience for us. Mondale decides fairly early on what you’re good for, and I know of maybe one or two people in 20 years who have ever changed his perception.

One of my great frustrations of the White House was that I never really got into policy areas except in making people work together, and I would have liked to. Except that if you thought about it rationally it didn’t make sense, because that’s not what I was really trained for and really good at. Mondale was into that. Mondale really believes that he as the principal should not do one single thing for himself that he doesn’t need to do. And that’s across the board. His time should be spent on only those things that he has to do for himself, and that may be dealing with Congressmen, it may be—he was a voracious reader and you could tell what he was reading. We’d usually be sitting around when he arrived in the morning and he’d say, You know, you ought to call and tell—they really ought to do a picture on Garibaldi. And you knew that he had just consumed every book on Garibaldi that had ever been written over the last year. Or he’d come up with a quote out of some—he’s read Shakespeare two or three times, and he’d come up with a quote and you knew he was working his way through one of Shakespeare’s works. But if you get burned by him, you know you’ve been dressed down. There’s not much equivocation. But it’s an extraordinary opportunity to screw yourself in terms of the amount of responsibility that you can lay on.

Wayne

Could you just say a bit more about his likes and dislikes and what he tends to read. I mean is he into newspapers? Does he read economics, political science and stuff like that?

Young

This is an optional question, you’re free to answer.

Berman

His reading crosses an absolute spectrum. Throughout the four years he regularly used Barbara Tuchman as a person to suggest various kinds of reading lists. He loves all of her stuff. He reads two or three newspapers a day. He reads all the news magazines. Then he reads—I remember when he became chairman of the intelligence subcommittee (I wasn’t around then) in the Senate, there was a stack of books that had been excerpted, there were people he trusted who had gone through and suggested he read these sections of these books. But when he gets into it, he really reads everything that anybody says is any good on that subject—within the limits of what one person can go through. This past year has been another example of that where he has spent a great deal of time on economics and monetary policy and fiscal policy. I can’t tell you what the list is, because I didn’t prepare it, but it was gathered together by people that he and the staff thought were accomplished, and giving every point of view from Lester Thurow to Henry Kaufman. Then he just absorbs it.

Moe

Well, I think Mike quite accurately portrayed Mondale’s style, particularly in this contrast with Carter. Mondale does like to delegate a lot. There are certain things that he simply doesn’t like to deal with and looks to staff for that. He likes to spend his time primarily on substantive matters, whether it’s reading or getting briefed. Much more so than Carter, he likes to meet with groups of people. He has a better balance between working off a paper on the one hand and working with people in groups on the other hand.

The other contrast is that he appreciates much more the necessity of trying to match up the politics of an issue with the substance of an issue. He will much more readily agree to do something, either purely political or tactically necessary, to accomplish a certain goal. As a matter of fact, he will often initiate it because his mind thinks in those terms and he seldom has to be prompted to think in tactical or political terms. Otherwise I think Mike pretty well covered it.

Jones

Could you say something about how he might have dealt with Congress? What his style would have been there?

Moe

Oh yes, his style. He was a preacher of the Congress of course, so he did have a different approach to the Congress. He used to go up and spend a lot of time in Congress having lunches in his office right off the Senate floor. He worked very hard at keeping those relationships up. More so in the Senate side than the House side, but there too. He put a higher value on establishing and maintaining those relationships than Carter did. But he saw that he was uniquely positioned to provide a funnel of information to Carter because of his relationships and his experience. So he worked very hard at that. It became a two-way communication device. But he was very concerned about that. He spent a lot of time on it and got very actively involved in actual lobbying for the major programs that were up there.

Jones

Does it actively interest or even fascinate him as Johnson, who loved to see Congress work? That excited Johnson, to see the Congress work.

Moe

Yes. Without drawing that parallel with Johnson too far, he loved the Congress. One of the reasons he didn’t run for President in ’73-’74 is that he hated to leave the Senate. He really loved that institution. He loves the legislative process. So he loved to spend time up there trying to accomplish our goals. Short of an election, the most exciting thing for a politician is to try to get something actually enacted. Because it’s tangible, it has a beginning and an end and a result. And it’s always very exciting to work on those things. Plus as an administration we had a lot riding on it and the President looked to him a lot. So everything argued in favor of his becoming deeply involved in this process.

Jones

It’s interesting, your point, other than an election, that’s fascinating to a politician, but apparently it didn’t fascinate President Carter.

Moe

Well, in part it did. His legislative initiatives were important to him, but I don’t think he viewed them in quite the light that I just described.

Young

Minor point. Was there a no veto policy the President was following in the first few months of the administration for legislation?

Moe

Not that I can recall. I don’t think in fact that he did veto anything, but I don’t think it was a policy.

Jones

I have one sort of clean up question that’s associated with the Mondale staff operation and it may have been treated yesterday afternoon. Did the Mondale staff meet as a staff?

Moe

Yes. Irregularly. We met more often towards the beginning of the term than we did towards the end. We used to have weekly meetings in my office and we would go over a wide range of things. Then we gradually got away from that, particularly as we got into the campaign, but even before that they became less frequent. We didn’t see the need to have them every week. As Mike pointed out, our staff communication problems were much simpler than those in the White House because we were so small. Mike, Jim Johnson, and I used to be together four or five times a day usually. We saw others on the staff almost as frequently. So there simply wasn’t the need for that kind of communication. The size of the staff and the fact that we knew each other so well and worked with each other so long and knew what Mondale was up to, we could act almost instinctively. At least I think that’s the way it came to be after a while, after we got our feet on the ground.

Berman

We came to meet more often around specific things, so for example, because in that last year Mondale did an extraordinary amount of travel with the President, and they were traveling all through the early parts of the campaign, we had very regular scheduling meetings where that was the sole subject—what are we going to do, what are the issues he’s going to cover, what are the press implications—as opposed to having the group get together to discuss—you almost ran out of time for the more general kick-’em-around sessions because the meetings were around very focused things. Then even in smaller groups—we solved an awful lot of conflict by forcing people together, kind of locking the door and working it out.

Young

We’ve heard on some occasion, and I don’t know whether these are exceptions or the norm, about how President Carter would call up somebody or get somebody into the office, whoever happened to be there and without regard to that person’s normal responsibilities, and that person would get the job to do something. Was this an exception with Carter?

Berman

Mondale does that too. The only difference is if you don’t want to get your legs broken in our office, when you leave that office, you’d better get to the person it belongs to, and make sure they get back in the same time frame—because Mondale doesn’t care. He wants it done. Get to the right person, tell them what the deadline is and the parameters are, and you get the hell out of it and let them do their job.

Young

We’ve also been told by some of the people fairly close in that the President would often designate different people to look into the same thing. They finally figured this out and how to coordinate it. Was that part of Carter’s operating style? Would it contrast with Mondale’s?

Moe

Mondale did not do that. On the earlier part, most politicians have this trait of simply delegating something to the person who is nearest on the spur with the assumption that it will eventually find itself to the right person. I remember those stories too about Carter delegating the same thing to more than one person. That was probably deliberate. It’s not Mondale’s style to do that.

Jones

Was the topic of Mondale and Congress something you got into?

Young

To some extent.

Jones

Could you say something about how he would get involved in a matter? Would it be indirect consultation with the President? Would it come to him through Frank Moore in the President’s name, and then what would he do? What kinds of things would he do? Could you give an example?

Moe

He would get into it a number of different ways. Sometimes he would initiate his involvement. If he heard from the Hill we were having a particular problem, he’d take it to the President or simply solve it. Other times he was asked by the President to get involved in the particular area that needed his attention. Oftentimes, Frank Moore would come to him, and ask for help on this or that. He was always regarded as an asset to be used on the Hill. It was fairly widely known that he would always be helpful if he could, and so people never hesitated to come to him, including Cabinet officers, various White House staff people. But often he would initiate it.

Young

Very unlike Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy.

Light

Was he a lobbyist, did he twist arms, or was he mainly used as a source of information?

Moe

Well, certainly the latter, but he would also spend a lot of time physically on the Hill meeting with Senators and Congressmen one on one or on the phone if that’s what was called for, but directly communicating with them. Particularly on Panama and things like that. He camped out on the Hill for weeks at a time.

Clinton

Did you observe any strengths that Carter had in management skills that perhaps Mondale didn’t have?

Moe

That’s a big question. Carter had a lot of management skills. The most impressive of which was his own self-discipline. He forced himself to do a lot of tedious work. One of his most admirable qualities is that he was decisive. He would not hesitate to take on a very difficult complex issue and make a decision. And when you get into some of those issues, particularly in the foreign policy-national security area, they can be intimidating questions to confront. But he never backed off of those and took them on very forcefully.

It gets back to a question of style. The President or anybody else has to operate in a way that he feels comfortable with operating, in terms of delegation, in terms of dealing with people, in terms of the paperwork you want to absorb and all the rest. While perhaps our style would be different from Carter’s in terms of delegation, we would have liked to have seen him delegate more, I find it hard to criticize his overall style because that was simply the way he was. That’s the President we elected.

Light

Since one of the duties of the Vice President is to be prepared for succession, did you ever sit down and talk or develop a transition plan in case of an emergency succession?

Berman

The plan in case of emergency succession was there, it was nothing for us to develop. There is, through the national command authority, a set of processes and procedures for the passage of command if that’s what’s required. Mondale was fully briefed, and anybody who had to be fully briefed—and the whole West Wing was part of that—had that untoward event occurred, had all the clearances from the outset that would have been required, although we were never forced to come to grips with the information because the information at that level doesn’t just require a security clearance, it requires a need to know in order to do that part of the clearance. We basically never got into that; that never occurred. In terms of preparation being do you know what’s involved with the President running the government, if you know what’s going on in the government in terms of the information, the answer is an unqualified yes. Mondale knew what it was Presidents had to do because he was there with Carter while he was doing them. He certainly had all the information the President had, and maybe sometimes in particular areas more information if he had a particular curiosity and went trolling for it. Nobody every said no.

One of the things you touched on was the David Aaron/Bert Carp thing, which really should get a lot of attention. If a Cabinet officer wanted to test the system—and cut Mondale out of the loop because Mondale would sometimes oppose what they wanted or whatever—you couldn’t do it. If you went directly to the President I suppose you could, but if it got into the mechanism, either the National Security Advisor or somebody else, while they were absolutely loyal to the President, worked for the President, was going to be sure that Mondale was in the loop. Anybody who tried to test that earlier always failed, and therefore they never tested it again. I think that had a big part to play.

Thompson

Was Mondale ever a wait a minute man? Every administration, every organization is supposed to need one, and some of the things you said yesterday about the compatibility could have made that more difficult. The reason it seems to me this is an important question is that whether one agrees with the foreign policy critics or not, there were some things done early in the administration, human rights up to the time of Vance’s Georgia speech, the extreme proposal that never got discussed on arms controls that Vance took to Moscow. There are a number of other things that the literature now is full of criticism of Carter. Did Mondale, as he got more and more involved in foreign policy, ever say, not that this was wrong, but wait a minute, let’s think about it?

Moe

Oh, I don’t think there’s any question about it. But it was again an evolutionary process and he was more reluctant perhaps to say that in the first year than he was in the third or fourth year. But that was because everybody was new and they were all testing the system and themselves. But he would get deeply involved in those foreign policy questions and did not hesitate to disagree with anybody in the administration, including the President, if he felt strongly about it. Now he would often choose carefully the form in which he would express his disagreement, usually one on one with the President. But he spent a lot of time on the phone with Vance, Harold Brown, calling Brzezinski in, going to NSC [National Security Council] meetings. And he was not a timid wallflower at those meetings by any means.

Young

One other small question, and then we can perhaps shift gears a bit. Speechwriting. Did you detect significant differences between the way the Vice President and the way the President approached things of this kind?

Moe

Very much so. It’s an interesting contrast. Mondale likes very much to have a text to work off of for new material. He’s so often said in the Senate and the White House that he wants his speechwriters to suffer over their drafts. They do suffer over their drafts. But in doing so, he has increasingly been willing to spend time with the speechwriters so that they can get some sense of how he feels about a particular issue and about how he wants to convey it.

Carter, on the other hand, and I think this held true almost all the way through the administration if not right to the end, would not meet with the speechwriters. For a while Jody was doing it, and then Rafshoon, and they were supposed to convey the President’s thoughts and instincts to the speechwriter, who was then supposed to produce a draft and get it back to the President. I thought this was a terribly unsatisfactory system which produced not very good results, and which was very unfair to the speechwriter who was supposed to guess for the most part what the President wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.

Mondale was like this for a while, particularly back in the Senate, but we forced him to spend time with the speechwriters, and he eventually did. We eventually found one speechwriter in whom he had a lot of confidence and liked to spend time with. The President’s speechwriters were always frustrated by this inability to get a personal sense of what Carter wanted to convey and how to do it. And I think it showed up in the product.

Berman

I think there was a much greater give and take among the policy units in our office and the speechwriters than there was in the White House.

Moe

That’s right. I kept trying to argue that the speechwriting function for the President should be moved from wherever it happened to be at the time, whether it was in Jody’s shop or Rafshoon’s shop or wherever, and put in Eizenstat’s shop. There was a gap between speechwriting and policy. Stu would always have to fight to get into the speechwriting process, as other people did. I had a bias because that’s the way we structured it. The speechwriters were under Gail Harrison, who was our domestic policy person. It was a system that worked quite well. We’d slightly adapt it if we got into a foreign policy or defense speech. Ham was never persuaded of that, nor was anyone else. And that problem persisted, I think, right to the end. I don’t think we ever came to grips with it, even though they had some very talented speechwriters. But there was one speechwriter there, I forget his name now, he’d been there a year and a half and we were having lunch in the mess one day and it came out he had never met the President.

Young

The speechwriters have been here and we’ve talked about this problem.

Jones

They certainly spoke right out.

Young

They cited those cases, this doesn’t violate any confidence at all. They did cite those cases where they felt, the rare ones, where they felt it worked very well and those were invariably the cases where they did have the opportunity to talk it out with the President. Also, the President had some strong feelings and instincts about it himself. It’s fairly easy to pick out those speeches; we were mostly right in picking them out.

Moe

And of course after the Camp David meeting, Al McDonald came in. That led to a whole other set of problems through speechwriting.

Berman

That would be like putting me in charge of the speechwriters. But we had a review process during the speech process that also went after they started doing the product. Significant speeches would even come to me. Now I would never deal with the substance, but I would look at them, as others did at the same time, only from a political point of view, because I didn’t really know the substance and didn’t really much care. So there was an enormous amount of movement back and forth of any speech that had any real consequence, getting all and every kind of input. It always fell on the speechwriter to sort that out and make it coherent and put it in a form and language that Mondale would find attractive. But there was a lot of collegiality in that process. As long as they had control of their final product, they didn’t care. The speechwriters really were sucked into that.

Young

Before going on to some broader questions about the Carter Presidency, we haven’t asked you to give very many of your perspectives on the domestic policy staff operation. We assume we’ll be having Eizenstat and Carp and Rubinstein here. You’ve been in Washington to see the invention of this thing, how would you contrast its workings and its function in the Carter White House from what it had been before?

Moe

I think it worked quite well. I’m not all that familiar with what preceded it; you had the domestic policy council or something. Carter was correct in early deciding to do away with that and just have a domestic policy staff. Stu gets very high marks from most of us for the way he structured that, the people with whom he staffed it and the way that he performed throughout the administration. He had been in the White House before. One of the few people who had been in there. He saw himself very much as an honest broker. He had very strong ideas of his own about what the administration ought to do and he was not reluctant to express those ideas. But he also saw himself very much as an honest broker of differing points of view within the administration and in presenting option memos to the President. He was very conscientious in doing justice to all those viewpoints. Nobody ever complained that Stu was not fair in presenting another’s point of view.

Stu’s problem, to the extent that it existed, went back to the campaign. He was suspect in the eyes of some of the others in that he was more liberal and more Washington oriented to begin with. There was always a feeling on the part of the other Georgians that you had to keep a check or a rein on Stu, otherwise he was going to bust the budget or somehow lead the President in a direction they disagreed with. But I thought that over the full four years, Stu’s operation had one of the best records in terms of interacting with other agencies and other people within the White House and in terms of really serving the President very well in all respects.

Young

But it was not the kind of lead person on domestic policy kind of thing?

Moe

It was very hard to get anything through the President without getting Stu on board. You could do it and it was done, but you certainly had to go through Stu. He was a player.

Young

Let me put the question in another way. Should one think of Eizenstat’s role as an analogue on the domestic side to Brzezinski’s? Given all the differences that you talked about earlier about the nature of the operations.

Moe

I think so, but on the domestic side it’s more complex because foreign policy and national security policy is a nice neat little area of substance that you can treat all by itself. Domestic policy interchanges so intricately with economic policy and with budget policy that it’s very hard to separate them. And it’s simply a more complex and burdensome process where you necessarily have to deal with OMB, where you have to deal with CEA, where you have to deal with many more Cabinet agencies. It’s a lot more difficult job.

Berman

I think there were certain circumstances where you often had the impression at least that after the debate had gone on in foreign policy, Zbig might essentially slip into the office and ultimately have his way with the President by being the last to argue and having that private brief. I don’t know that he ever accused Stu of doing that. The debate was there, it was done, he had made his point along with the other points that were being made, and it was over, and then he didn’t crap around with it, he didn’t try to make his will succeed every time. So in that way he was different from Brzezinski, and I think more successful.

Wayne

Do I understand, Mike, your comment earlier on the loop that before those option papers would go through the system to the President, they passed through your office, so you at least saw them?

Berman

Yes.

Wayne

Did you have an input at the beginning of those papers?

Berman

Yes, to the extent—Gail spent as much time physically in the domestic policy staff—it was about a hundred feet from her office, it was on the same floor. Gail had worked with Bert for ten years of the Senate, and there was no effort to keep us out of that loop. Yes, the simple answer is yes. It was an ongoing involvement.

Moe

If we wanted to get involved in any issue, we could get involved in it at any stage, beginning, middle, or end. Mondale had an opportunity to put his recommendations or views on any memorandum that was about to go into the Oval Office.

Berman

On the other hand, you couldn’t do with three people involved what you could with 50 people on the domestic policy staff. You had to make some selections.

Young

But is my understanding correct that when the options would be going in to the President, the last stop on the way was the Vice President, and am I also correct in my understanding that because of the position of the Vice President and his relationship with the President, his views were not necessarily one of the check off ones?

Moe

His views were not necessarily recorded unless he chose to have them.

Young

Before there was a modern version of the domestic policy staff, some of these functions were centered around the counsel’s office in the White House, working closely with the institutional staff of the Bureau of the Budget. I take it that that didn’t happen here in part because of the different policy postures of the leadership of the bureau. Was that correct?

Moe

I think so.

Young

Was that a main source of tension independent of what you do in response to inflation?

Berman

Well, it was a source of tension, that’s for sure. Jim McIntyre was a reasonably fair player. I don’t think it was an extraordinary problem. The budget people were always trying to cut.

Young

It would be extraordinary if they weren’t trying to get it reduced.

Berman

Except the size of the budget was— [laughter]

Young

Did you want to say anything more?

Moe

No, I was just going to say there was always a degree of tension between OMB and Stu’s shop, but it was always a fairly healthy tension.

Berman

It was an open thing, it was not stuff under the table and around the corner.

Wayne

I remember people switched over from Stu’s shop to the PADs [program associate directors]. There are at least two that I can think of who became PADs.

Berman

Kitty Schirmer.

Wayne

And Frank Graham.

Berman

Yep.

Young

If there had been a reelection, how do you think the second Carter administration would have looked? You have talked about some evolving changes in the President’s operating styles, some changes in the staff system. But would it have looked more the same, or do you think it would have turned into something different, and do you think there would have been any kind of new direction in terms of its economic or domestic policy posture?

Moe

One of the things that would have happened is that the President would have more narrowly focused the priorities of the administration, probably on those issues that he devoted his farewell address to. He never increased his interest in economic policy except as required by political necessity. I don’t know what would have happened to economic policy. We floundered around there for a long time, and maybe we would have settled on a decisive new approach. I just don’t know.

I’ve always felt that if we had had a second term, that the mode of operations in the White House would have reverted if not totally back to the way we started in 1977, at least largely in that direction, particularly in terms of putting politics aside once again. A second Carter term would have been devoted exclusively to those issues that he felt were important, and again we would have heard the injunction that he didn’t want to hear about politics. And of course there would have been less reason for it in a second term than a first term, but even to the extent we talked about before in terms of dealing with Congress and other groups, I think there would have been a large number of personnel changes. Not by compulsion, but a lot of people just would have left.

Jones

Would you have?

Moe

I think so. I felt very drained and worn out at the end of the campaign, as I think Mike and others did. I had planned if we had won to take some time off and go to the Kennedy Center for four months or somehow get out of the office and out of Washington. I think we were all getting very stale. Four years inside an insular place like that is a long time, and I think a strong case could have been made for if not departure, at least a substantial break.

Young

Do you think there would have been more difficult Congressional problems during the second term than there were during the first?

Moe

Certainly if we’d had the current Congress. No question about it. With a Republican Senate and a slimmer majority in the House, I don’t think there’s any question about it.

Young

Do you think a Chief of Staff function would have become more permanent?

Moe

Yes. By the end that role under Jack Watson was firmly established.

Berman

I think the President liked it.

Moe

The President liked it. The President was finally persuaded that this was a system that made sense. Jack did an outstanding job of making that place function. So I think that clearly would have been preserved.

Young

Do you think there would have been any recasting of the system of advice on economic policy within the White House, quite apart from any personnel changes?

Moe

I don’t know.

Young

Or on how to reorganize how that was done?

Moe

I think what would have happened. Fred [Alfred] Kahn had already left I guess, but that role could not have been resumed by anybody else. He would have lodged economic policy in Bill Miller, and if Bill Miller had stayed, he would have become the first among equals in that area. But what they would have meant in terms of the shape of policy, I don’t know.

Young

A question mark?

Moe

Yes.

Young

We haven’t asked you to talk very much about one of your major activities toward the end, which was the campaign.

Jones

Did the Iranian mess, combined with the campaign, dominate the whole matter of a second Carter administration, direction, personnel change, organization?

Moe

There was speculation and conversation about it, but there wasn’t to my knowledge any serious planning effort going forward towards a second term. Everything was devoted towards reelection.

Young

How did the onset of the campaign coincide with the Iranian problem impact, to use a word I don’t like to use as a verb, on how things were done in the White House? Or on your lives?

Moe

I guess you have to go back to the beginning of 1979 when they first set up the campaign organization. They built it gradually. It wasn’t until well into the year that the President’s attention was really focused on politics as such. Even after Kennedy started presenting himself as a probable candidate, it was very hard to get Carter’s attention on purely political matters, although he liked to be briefed periodically on what the campaign was doing. Once the Iranian hostage situation occurred, that dramatically changed the dynamics of everything that happened in the White House. Although this might be hard for people on the outside to believe, it made the political job and the job of the politicians much more difficult. This was something that he was almost exclusively involved in. Everything else got shunted aside. People in the White House, particularly as this issue grew, suffered from a myopia on the subject. Nothing else, including politics, could get through the doors. Ultimately he had to make some decisions regarding politics.

We had a major debate in January of 1980 as to whether or not the President should go to Iowa and debate Kennedy as he’d agreed to do. This was a very basic fundamental question, and we all argued strongly that he should go. He had agreed to do it and if he didn’t do it, this initiative would hang over him and Kennedy could beat him up on it. He ought to just get out there and do it and come back. Well, he was so preoccupied with Iran that he didn’t want to do it. He wanted to cancel out, and in fact he did cancel out. And at the same time he imposed a moratorium on himself in terms of personal campaigning.

That turned out to be very effective short-term politics. It put the President above politics, he was dealing in an important national security matter, but he was also scrubbing around for votes and he came across more as an effective statesman and as a national leader. Of course we all know the results of those early primaries.

I emphasize the phrase short-term because the perception set in, whether right or wrong, and I think it was mostly wrong, in the middle of the primary season that he was using Iran for political purposes. That perception, once it had taken hold, took an enormous toll on him politically. And the rest is history. I’ve always been convinced that he was really single minded about Iran and that he really didn’t care that much about anything. He cared about being reelected to be sure, but he disciplined himself to put everything else out of his mind until he could solve this problem.

Young

Was the debate over whether the President should do a debate aired with him?

Moe

Oh, yes. We had one of these sessions up in the treaty room of the residence and we went round and round on it. I think it was the next day he decided to cancel the debate.

Young

Was the long-term risk that you referred to explicitly discussed? That this would become to be perceived as political?

Moe

As I recall. But none of us quite foresaw the way in which it ultimately unfolded. So nobody gets credit for it.

Young

What were the arguments for going out on the campaign trail that were offered to the President?

Moe

Mostly it was that he had agreed to do it and that he ought to honor his agreement. If he didn’t do it, Kennedy would use this to his advantage as he ultimately did, on the grounds that he deserved to have a debate with Carter. We couldn’t foresee that it would quite take that shape but we knew that Kennedy would use it somehow to his advantage and to our disadvantage. We didn’t think that Carter would do that badly in a debate with Kennedy. But he simply couldn’t shift mental gears, I’m convinced, at the time and bring himself to go up and do a purely political act in the midst of a national crisis.

Young

Beyond just the Iowa event, which you had already promised to do, did the moratorium weigh on any involvement in campaigning? Was that part of the discussion?

Moe

Right.

Young

What were the arguments on the long term, or was it just against the Iowa thing? Was it against the moratorium, in other words?

Moe

The President’s argument, of course, was that he really had to be in the White House, he had to be single-minded about this, and he really didn’t want to be distracted by politics. He took the Iranian thing very seriously. It was the most major crisis of his administration and he didn’t want to fail on it. The politicians, including us, were arguing that you’ve got a real challenge on your hands, you cannot ignore it, you have to be out there. We’ve all seen the Rose Garden strategies, some have worked and some haven’t worked, but it’s a high-risk strategy. Trying to hide in the White House was dangerous because the press would try to penetrate it and see it as a political act, as indeed they did try to do. It’s fairly classic; almost every President now in history has tried a Rose Garden strategy in one way or another. And the arguments for and against it are almost classic.

Young

Was there any argument on the grounds against a moratorium strategy that it would be beyond being good tactics that it would be good for the President to get out and get in the stride of the campaign?

Moe

Oh, yes. That was an argument. It was well recognized that the President, like most politicians, needs a warm up period to get into the rhythm and swing of the campaign. You can’t just go out there and hit the ground right into the campaign. It takes Mondale two or three months to find his stride and to find themes. I think it takes most politicians that long to really touch people and get the feel of it.

Thompson

Do you think if Carter had been a prioritizing President early on that his use of Iran and the Rose Garden strategy would have been more persuasive? Could Reagan have done that more readily and more convincingly?

Moe

I don’t know that that would be true. Iran was so clearly a national crisis that I think that whatever preceded it was largely irrelevant. I think most people were persuaded that it was a genuine national crisis and that the President had to do what he did. Let me just add parenthetically, one of the things we didn’t know about, of course, as this was not at the time of the January debate, but none of us knew at the time of the planning of the abortive raid on Tehran. But that was going on for a long time and obviously required a lot of time and attention on the part of the President. There was only a handful of people who knew about it and it was very absorbing for those people. That’s another reason why he didn’t want to be out of town.

Thompson

Was it a national crisis because of the fifty hostages and the emotions, or was it a national crisis because of strategic and political questions in the world politics?

Moe

Well, certainly the hostages, but it had the other implications as well. Iran was a long time strategic ally. We had very sensitive intelligence equipment and agents in place there. It was the only point of stability in an otherwise unstable Persian Gulf. We looked to the Shah and to Iran before that for, having come right on the heels of the collapse of the Shah it added to the instability of that region, which in turn coming on the heels of all of our other Middle East problems was obviously in most peoples’ minds a tinderbox. It had a lot of explosive potential. But the thing that made it dramatic, of course, was the taking of the hostages.

Thompson

You’d think if there had been another NSC advisor who didn’t talk about arcs of conflict, that the crisis might have been handled a little bit more the way the Berlin blockade, the Korean War, and some other crises were handled.

Moe

I don’t know that there are parallels. I’ve heard the criticism made that perhaps we exaggerated the issue, not for political purposes but simply for hard line purposes. And that may be true. I don’t know. I’d have to go back over that. But I think we did add to the tone surrounding the crisis by things we did and things we said. And maybe it could have been handled better.

Young

I was going to ask in relation to that, as another possible argument the political people might have made, that it might be an unwise idea to get into a posture that would appear to make this situation disruptive. I mean you might be identifying it by keeping the President at home and at work on the problem you were creating further drama.

Moe

Yes.

Young

Was that argument explicitly discussed? Was it part of the pros and cons?

Moe

Undoubtedly it was. Because it was certainly a contributing factor.

Young

Was this group that discussed it with the President, his closest advisors?

Moe

Yes. It was a political group that I referred to yesterday.

Young

It was not the foreign policy?

Moe

No.

Jones

One of the problems in analyzing it all along was knowing how long the thing was going to last. That leads me to this matter of the decision to end the moratorium. Could you talk some about that, and what’s involved in that? What were the considerations?

Moe

Of course nobody knew how long this would last. But the assumption was that this was a very serious problem that might last a couple of weeks, might even last a month. You didn’t know. Nobody really understood Islam, all the crazy things were happening over there. But there was a growing but gradual realization that this could be a very long-term thing. There was a lot of wishful thinking going on during that time, but nobody at the outset saw this going on for more than a year. Nobody. I don’t think anybody in the country saw it going on for more than a year.

Jones

There was nobody who said what about the worst possible case that this thing could go on for a year.

Moe

Well, no doubt in NSC, where I wasn’t present, somebody did say that, I’m not saying they didn’t. But at my level nobody saw this going on so long. We were briefed by Brzezinski and others. I remember there was a lot of talk about religious holidays coming up making it a propitious time to get behind this, and then we think we can talk to them. The problem was of course it took us a long time to discover there was no government in Iran. There was nobody to talk to. So we spent most of the spring trying to find somebody to talk to, and to negotiate with, and there wasn’t anybody. We kept going off on all these wild goose chases to Europe and South America, anywhere, we’d literally go anywhere to talk to anybody. But it wasn’t until very late that we found any credible people to negotiate with.

We gradually realized this was going to be a much longer-term situation than we had at first realized. It became clear, once he had in fact won the nomination and Kennedy was still hanging in there, that somehow he had to get out of this moratorium mode. It was wearing thin politically, very thin politically. And whatever effect it had in the primary season, you could not possibly carry over to a general election running against Ronald Reagan. It just wasn’t going to wash. So there was general agreement that he had to find a way out of the moratorium.

And I think it was unfortunate the way he finally did it. He didn’t do it exactly the way it was designed for him. But I think he said this problem was now manageable, and was heavily criticized for that. It was an unfortunate use of the wrong word, in those circumstances I think. But in any case, he went out and made one final campaign appearance before the final primary. He had in effect broken it to go to the convention and campaign thereafter. But there was general agreement at that time that he had to break the moratorium.

Jones

Was the possibility discussed that breaking it under the circumstances at the time might confirm people’s fears that it was political to begin with?

Moe

Yes. Right. We were in a box. There was no easy way out of it. That’s exactly right. We had paid a price for the moratorium, although some benefits accrued from it I gather, but it was also recognized that we would pay a price for getting out of it.

Clinton

While the opinion had been growing before the rescue attempt that you would have to end the moratorium, did he somehow meet with this group of political advisors again after the failure of the rescue attempt and decided?

Moe

There was some time in there, and of course we didn’t know this, but as long as the hope for the success of that mission existed in his mind, he was going to stay with this moratorium. When was the raid, in April?

Berman

Either April 16th or April 25th.

Moe

Yes. I don’t think that it was until another month that he broke the moratorium.

Berman

Ray came down the day before the Michigan caucuses, as I so well remember.

Moe

And his campaign trip was to Ohio, right?

Berman

Which was in June 3rd, the primary. It was late May that he actually made that trip.

Moe

I think your point’s well taken that with the raid being behind him, there was less of a reason to maintain a moratorium because our options at that point had been exhausted.

Clinton

How were you advising him to break the moratorium? You said he didn’t do it exactly the right way.

Moe

I didn’t directly advise him on that. But I know Ham and Jody or somebody had worked up some talking points for him. I don’t think the word manageable was in the talking points. And I don’t remember the exact formulation that they had devised, but it was a little better than that was.

Young

Did the President’s campaign suffer greatly? Looking at it a second time, and you also worked with it the first time, did it suffer greatly because of his nonparticipation?

Moe

Yes. I think it did.

Young

Hamilton was at some point, although ostensibly on the campaign, doing other things for the President too.

Moe

When the President’s campaigning, he is single minded about it and very well disciplined. He’ll do everything that’s necessary. And even in the White House we tried to think of things for him to do that didn’t require his presence outside the White House. One of the most effective things he did was that he made phone calls. We used to feed these cards to him, telephone call cards to different people in different states. It had a tremendous effect in some states to get a call from the President of the United States. Would you give me your support and go up and organize the people for the precinct caucuses? or whatever.

Thompson

Did anybody ever propose a solution? One of the criticisms that Carter engendered in some groups was that you didn’t know what you were doing. The word got out gradually that a couple of White House people were touring around. The Ted Eliot mission gradually became known. You never had a fellow about whom everybody said, Whatever else one can say about this administration, this guy out in the field really knows more than anyone else about this culture and these people.

Moe

No doubt we did some things wrong and we certainly got a lot of criticism during this whole period. But this wasn’t a situation that called for greater knowledge of the circumstances. We had a lot of Iranian experts around who were deeply involved in the process. What this called for was an avenue of communications that we never found until very late. That’s what we were searching for. We were looking for a way to communicate with these people, or somebody to negotiate with. It was, as we all know now, a state of anarchy over there. They had no government. So I don’t think that kind of criticism is all that deserved because that wasn’t the nature of the problem.

Wayne

Two questions. I think one leads into the other. What was the Vice President’s instinct during the crisis? What did he think should be done, and did he try to convey that? Then the second I have relates to the Vice President’s campaign. Was it simply conducted as part of the overall general campaign, or did you have any discretion in respect to who he would talk to and how he would campaign?

Moe

Well, the first part of your question. Mondale was very deeply involved in the Iranian thing. His instincts did not differ in any significant way from the President’s. He was as anxious as the President to try to find some way of communicating. When those avenues appeared to be closed off, he was one of the few who was in on the planning of the raid. He was supportive of the raid. To this day he has no regrets about that. I don’t recall an instance where he differed with the President in a significant way on Iranian policy.

Young

One relevant part of the campaign question is in terms of the coordination and co-working of campaign staff like the 1976 campaign. Was this also occurring in 1980 or was it falling apart?

Moe

It was, except we were all in the White House at this point. But Mike’s in a better position to talk about that.

Berman

to make it very brief, we were it. Mrs. [Rosalynn] Carter went out, Mrs. [Joan] Mondale went out, but that’s not the same. So he became the vehicle of the campaign strategy, and it was all campaigning. But even then, nobody was telling us what to say. We simply went and did our thing. A thing that was different only in quantity as opposed to substance of what he would have done anyway. We just did more of it because the President wasn’t there. But it went on, and our budget got bigger, our piece of the budget. But beyond that there was really no difference caused by it.

Young

Could I ask you in the brief remaining time to help us figure out what were the main strengths and frustrations of the Presidential office in this period. Some people have been asked this question here, and have said really the Presidency has become a damage limitation operation in a troubled domestic and disturbed economic environment. There were no easy solutions in the international environment. Others have talked about this Presidency as maybe coming out in history as a bridge between one world and a new kind of world with limits on what government or the President can do. What are your views on that matter, either in terms of where this administration displayed its best qualities or where it experienced its worst problems?

Moe

One of the things that I found most frustrating, and I’m curious to know how other White Houses have dealt with this problem, is that there is such a tendency to become a reactive force in the White House. There are so many issues bubbling up and coming in through the windows from all directions that need to be dealt with urgently that there is little time and no resources to look ahead and try to anticipate and do the necessary planning. I had hoped that in a second term we might try to come to terms with this better, but I don’t know that we would have. I guess you’d have to be in a White House to really feel the dynamic of it. You just feel the walls and ceilings caving in on you daily. It’s something that’s always got to be done today or tomorrow or next week. I mean next week is long range planning in the White House. Because there are so many things in the foreign policy area, economic area, Hill or whatever.

I kept urging Carter to try to get us off on staff retreats. Go up to Camp David or something for a couple of days at a time just to get away from telephones and sit down and think about where we are and where we’re trying to go in the long term, and are we really doing those things that are necessary to do that. Of course that’s what the Camp David process turned out to try to be. But it was not designed to be that at the outset. That’s an inherent frustration in any White House. I’ve heard others talk about it. I don’t know what the answer is. I think Reagan’s trying to set up a separate little office of policy planning in the White House. I think it is designed to do this. I don’t know how successful it will be. But there’s got to be an answer somewhere.

Berman

I see the Carter Presidency as the beginning of a transition period or a variety of kinds. I’m not sure when it’s going to end, I mean when the transition is going to be over. I think that has two parts. One, a change in the country going on at the same time that there’s a change in the Presidency itself. I think Carter recognized, he tried to do some things that were like what Reagan is doing. There was talk on occasion about doing something about Social Security. We did it in the traditional way, but there was conversation about shouldn’t we be doing some real adjustments to Social Security programs. They never really saw the light of day because it was cut off politically before it happened.

The water projects, the conservation in the energy area—I think he saw that we were heading someplace, and something had to bring that to a close, that we had to make this adjustment. I suspect in retrospect it is probably a particularly difficult thing for a Democratic President to do.

Young

Dealing with the problem of resource scarcity.

Berman

Yes. Because resource scarcity always gets down to the rich versus poor issue, at least in terms of everything we know or do, it always comes down. You’re going to cut back, it’s going to be on somebody’s back, and it’s always on the back of the least powerful. The non-voting American society, if you will, always gets screwed. And the one time that Reagan got his comeuppance this year was when he took on voters, the old folks. If it happened that people over 55 didn’t vote in this country in massive proportions, he would have been successful, or more successful than he was.

I think Carter saw some of that, but he couldn’t do it. It’s a little bit like—there’s a series of things. The China, we couldn’t do with China what Nixon did with China. I think that transition is still going on, and I don’t know where it’s going to go, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I guess I believe there’s going to be a change, not ultimately a change in what we believe in people, but how we go about using existing resources. I think there are going to be new resources used. I think government really can’t do it alone, and how we ever get corporate America to play as honorable citizens is beyond me, because I think they’re dishonorable citizens in the main. That’s a whole other subject.

Young

Worth at least a day and a half. [laughter]

Berman

But the other part is the transition in the nature of the Presidency. I think you can’t compare FDR’s Presidency with Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, or Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, or with Gerry Ford’s Presidency. I think they’re totally different creatures. There are two very distinct parts of Presidential life. One I suspect, if focusing on it alone, Jimmy Carter would have been superb—that’s managing the government. If we focused on that alone. But there’s another part, there’s this policy innovation part, which is quantum times more difficult to do now than it was in Lyndon Johnson’s time or whenever.

The fact of the matter is that as good as Lyndon Johnson was with the United States Congress, you dealt with ten people in a body of 535, and you were basically done. If you got a [Samuel] Rayburn, or you got the leadership with you, you were basically done. There were the really strong committee chairmen of the few significant committees—they controlled the Congress. That’s clearly no longer the case. So a President really has a very different role. To be sure, you’ve got people to do it with. So that’s going on with our expectation.

I have this theory that one day the American people are going to get up and decide what kind of person they want in their President. I think it’ll be different from anything we’ve seen so far. I don’t know when it will come, and that may be a bit of a fantasy. But something is different, and over a period of five years or fifteen years it will cause an enormous rethinking of how we do it, why we do it, and what kind of leadership we want.

Interestingly enough, what may expedite the process is we’re getting two very different kind of leaders back to back. You have in Jimmy Carter a person who couldn’t simply move people by his speech. You talked last night at dinner about moving people outside on the courthouse steps, but that’s quite different from moving a country. You have in Ronald Reagan a person who I think is surviving at this stage on that ability. Even the polls I’ve seen as old as a week ago, people still see light at the end of the tunnel. And I think that’s only because he has this ability to be a leader. But I think he’s probably crummy as a manager, and I think he doesn’t care. He cares as little about management as Jimmy Carter cared above it.

So they’re going to get a real look at, and maybe they’ll come up with a person that doesn’t exist. And I don’t know what you do with that problem. So that’s what I think is basically—

Young

It makes a difference in how you look back at the Presidency as to whether you evaluate it as a transitional Presidency, to use that short phrase, or you evaluate it against a different set of assumptions about what’s going on. Do you have this feeling that we share, this feeling that both the office, the system and the country are changing? We haven’t figured out what kind of President and what kind of Presidency you need for that.

Moe

That’s right, I do. I don’t think I have enough historical perspective at this point or detachment from the experience to really understand precisely the nature of the change or where the Presidency is going, if it’s changing. I think the most important and obvious change for a Democratic President, I don’t think this applies necessarily to a Republican President, is the resource scarcity question. Since FDR, every Democratic President has been operating if not in an expanding economy, at least on the assumption that there is a larger slice of the pie to be divided up among traditional constituency groups all the time.

Carter was the first Democrat who didn’t have that situation. And to his everlasting credit, he tried to come to grips with it in a responsible fiscal manner. He took a lot of grief from Kennedy and others on the Hill in the process. But he tried to steer a middle course through this problem with mixed success. Now, where this will lead I don’t know. I don’t think anybody can foresee at this point that we’ll be back in another sixties mode where we have another expanding economy and another larger pie to cut up. Things still seem to be going in quite the opposite direction. So I think it’s going to be more difficult for Democratic Presidents to govern in traditional terms. I think in that sense Carter was perhaps an important transitional force in bringing the party to recognize those realities. Reagan has certainly brought the party even further in terms of forcing the party to recognize those realities.

Young

That’s an irony, isn’t it?

Moe

That’s right.

Young

Reagan may do more to reform the Democratic Party than the Democrats.

Moe

Well, I think he’s done a lot. I’m not sure where it’s all going to lead, but I think what he’s done is bound to have profound effects on the direction in which the party goes. I’ll leave that to the historians. We’re all political scientists here.

Young

We’re concerned with some historical change as well. One of the problems is how one depicts and what one sees in a Presidency, which we had depended on so much in how we’ve looked at Presidents in the past. Clearly the favorite and standard of all is Roosevelt. That’s sort of taken as changing a bit, and what may be happening is that we may have to wait for another 25 years before we get the criteria for this new system and then look at the Carter Presidency. I don’t know. We’ve come to the end of our time and I want to express deep appreciation for both the time you’ve spent with us and the way you’ve spent it in helping us do our job. It was a voluntary effort. It’s a public service effort and we deeply appreciate it. We have learned a lot.