Will government change now? Interview with Former Sen. Bob Smith

November 10, 2010 04:56

I believe that we made a right-hand turn here, and we’re maybe heading back to the Constitutional government that we used to have.  So I’m excited because of the fact that it was a grassroots, bottom-up, if you will, revolution, and just like in 1776.

Interview with Former Sen. Bob Smith, Now with AIM

By Roger Aronoff at AIM

Bob Smith is a former two-term U.S. Senator, a Navy veteran, and now a Special Contributor to Accuracy in Media. Last week, following the elections, we discussed his fascinating career in the public arena, and his thoughts on a number of topics, including the meaning of the elections, the impact and role of the Tea Party movement, the media, and challenges and opportunities for the new Congress.

“Senator Bob” served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and later worked with AIM founder and long time chairman Reed Irvine on the challenging issue of POW/MIAs, Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action. It is an issue that still resonates to this day. Smith chaired the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, and talks about the Senate’s handling of the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, which had taken place in the House. He also discusses his campaign for the presidency.

Now he has joined Accuracy in Media as a Special Contributor, and will be writing and speaking and giving interviews, based on his years of experience dealing with the media. He shares many of the same concerns that AIM has about the media, and we are thrilled to have him on board with us. He discussed what it was like dealing with the media as a conservative, Republican senator, and what he sees going on with the media today. He said that “I just think there’s a time and place to be editorializing, and there’s a time and a place to be reporting, and if you blur that line, then you’re not doing your job.  You need to make it very clear when you’re editorializing…”

Below, in italics, are a number of other excerpts from the interview. You can read the transcript or listen to the entire interview here.

Reagan was really my motivator.  He was the one that really got me going.  I always was interested in politics, but Reagan just really turned me on to what we really needed to do for America, and the great potential that our country had.

I took, I think, three to five trips, I believe, to Vietnam.  We went through prisons and met with Vietnamese leaders.  We could never—I still believe they kept men behind but we could never really bring one out, so to speak, and that seems to be the ultimate criteria for proof.  I know Reed Irvine was fascinated, was certainly helpful with us, all of us, who were working that issue at the time, in terms of writing about it and being supportive, and that’s where I got to know him. I think it was a good relationship, and one that I’ll always cherish as a member of Congress.

I don’t want to replay the whole issue here—Richard Nixon promised reparations to North Vietnam after the war.  Congress rejected it after they found out about the tortured prisoners.  I read the document myself.  It’s called the “1205 Document,” where the North Vietnamese leaders claimed, in a confidential, private setting, a meeting of the Politburo, that they had 1,205 prisoners and they only returned 575.  So what happened to the other 500?

These committees, these votes are critical.  I mean, Chairmen have almost unlimited power—as a Chairman of the committee I could decide, basically, by myself whether I wanted to bring a bill up to hear it, or whether I even wanted to talk about it before the committee.  You really have a lot of power as Chairman, so the majority in the Senate makes a huge difference on how things are conducted—as it does in the House.

the American people, the voters—yes, Tea Party, but others, who were not identified with the Tea Party—just had to have some mechanism to display their dissatisfaction.  They couldn’t do it with the Democrat Party because they were in power and they were the big spenders, so they chose the Republican Party to do it.  I do not call it a great Republican victory—that was the result, that more Republicans got elected than Democrats—but the American people won here because they are now asking a different political party to change things.  And I can guarantee you—as I said, again, in my column—in the blink of an eye that’ll change if the Republican Party doesn’t do what it says it’s going to do, which is to reduce spending.  That’s what the American people want.  They want more privatization, less spending, less government, more jobs.

This was not political leaders motivating any base.  This was the base motivating themselves to throw out people who were taking this country in the wrong direction.  That’s what makes me so excited about it: They are not going to tolerate.  They’re going to be very impatient, they’re not going to tolerate a lot of wordsmithing.  They want this corrected.  They know it can’t be done overnight, but I think if the new members can start setting things in motion, to repeal some of the health care, to privatize more, to create more jobs—I believe that we made a right-hand turn here, and we’re maybe heading back to the Constitutional government that we used to have.  So I’m excited because of the fact that it was a grassroots, bottom-up, if you will, revolution, and just like in 1776.

They [the Democrats] got, to use Obama’s own language, shellacked pretty badly.  I think for them to go out and try to pass things that the American people, basically, just rejected, would be stupid on their part for any future hope to come back.  I don’t see it.  They’ll try to probably compromise on a few things, maybe, to get—but I don’t think the Republicans are going to compromise on the Bush tax cuts.  They want cuts for everybody, and I think that’s what they’re going to stay firm on.

the general public, they are going to judge members of Congress on whether or not they try to do it, whether or not they took the vote—not whether or not they succeeded.  They understand the political process.  They understand that Obama can veto.  They understand that the Senate can block.  They understand that, but they’re not going to understand if the new Congress doesn’t put legislation up there to repeal health care, to pass the Bush tax cuts, to cut spending, to set us on a path to balance the budget, and so forth.  If they put it up and it’s defeated in the Senate or by veto—fine, that’s all they have to say when they go out and they run: ‘We tried.  Here’s what it is now.  You need to make additional changes if you want this to pass.”  To me that’s simple, but it’s not simple when they try to compromise, water stuff down, and don’t really stay true to their principles.  I think we’re at the threshold now of really seeing something really, really positive happen in terms of deciding which way we want this country to go.

People deserve to hear the truth.  Editorializing is fine.  That’s fine.  I have no problem with that—but, again, when you get back to accuracy, the accuracy in the media, when something passes for truth that is not truth, and when somebody presents themselves as a reporter when they’re not, they’re more of an editor, then we’ve got to expose that.  You folks have always done that there, and when you think about what you’re up against—I mean, an organization of a few million dollars in private donations, for the most part, versus hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in these huge media conglomerates—we’ve got an uphill climb.  However, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  I’m excited about it.  I think that we can do a lot.

Roger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of the award-winning documentary, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.” He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.

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