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Barnes and... A Conversation with Taylor Branch

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Taylor Branch is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Martin Luther King Jr. biography, "Parting the Waters". Steve Barnes speaks with Taylor Branch about his new book, "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, which is based on 79 taped conversations Branch had with President Clinton during his eight years in office.

TRANSCRIPT

STEVE BARNES: HELLO, AGAIN, EVERYONE. THANKS FOR JOINING US. TAYLOR BRANCH HAD A SECRET HE SHARED FOR EIGHT YEARS, PERHAPS LONGER, WITH AN OLD FRIEND THAT BEGAN 20 YEARS EARLIER. AND IN MAKING WHAT I THINK TAYLOR BRANCH IS YOUR THIRD, PROBABLY FOURTH APPEARANCE HERE ON OUR AIR, WELCOME VERY MUCH. YOU'VE GOT A NEW BOOK OUT. THE CLINTON TAPES, WRESTLING HISTORY WITH THE PRODUCT. THIS WAS THE PRODUCT OF THAT EIGHT YEAR SECRET. BRING US UP, VERY QUICKLY, HOW THIS THING CAME TO BE.

TAYLOR BRANCH: I HAD KNOW BILL AND HILLARY WHEN WE WERE KIDS ASSIGNED TO CAMPAIGN IN TEXAS. WE GOT WAXED BY NIXON BY 30 POINTS, TEXAS WAS TOUGH FOR MCGOVERN DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE VIETNAM WAR. I DID NOT SEE THEM FOR 20 YEARS, I WENT INTO JOURNALIST AND H E -- -- JOURNALISM AND HE WENT INTO POLITICS. HE WAS SEEKING ELECTION AND I WENT AND I WOULD WAKE UP AND HE WIZZARD PRESIDENT AND HE SAID, CAN YOU BELIEVE ALL THIS? MEANING ALL THE POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE? I READ YOUR BOOK AND I WANT TO KNOW IF MY PRESIDENT LIBRARY IS GOING TO HAVE RECORDS THAT VIVID FOR FUTURE HISTORIANS TO STUDY. I WAS  AMAZED THAT HE WAS THINKING OF THAT BEFORE HE WENT TO OFFICE AND REACHING OUT TO AN OLD FRIEND HE KNEW WAS INTERESTED IN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY. OUT OF THAT GREW A PROJECT. HE WASN'T GOING TO RECORD HIS TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS. NO ONE HAS DONE THAT SINCE NIXON. HE FOUND OUT PEOPLE WEREN'T TAKING GOOD NOTES AND TO HAVE A SECRET DIARY, AN ORAL HISTORY WAS THE NEXT BEST IDEA AND WE LIT UPON THIS PROGRAM. IT HAD TO BE SECRET BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SUBPOENAED AND A HUGE UP ROAR, SO HE HAD TO KEEP IT SECRET FROM HIS STAFF AND WE RECORDED ONCE A MONTH LATE AT NIGHT IN THE RESIDENCE.

STEVE BARNES: YOU HAD RESERVATIONS AT THE TIME BECAUSE, ONE THING, YOU WERE STILL AT WORK ON VOLUME THREE OF YOUR MARTIN LUTHER KING TRIAL TRILOGY.

TAYLOR BRANCH: I STARTED VOLUME THREE IN '98 AT THE END OF THE PROJECT AND I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT.  HE WAS TALKING OF HAVING ME MOVE INTO THE WHITEHOUSE TO BE AN IN-HOUSE HISTORIAN WHICH I TOLD HIM I DIDN'T THINK WOULD WORK TO DO OR WAS WISE FOR THE PRESIDENT BECAUSE IT WOULDN'T BE TAKEN AS OBJECTIVE. IT WOULD BE SEEN ASEN IN-HOUSE AVERSION. AND IN ANY CASE, I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT. I THOUGHT HE SHOULD CONCENTRATE ON MAKING THE BEST HISTORY HE COULD AND KEEPING THE MOST VIVID RECORDS HE COULD AND TRUST THE FUTURE TO JUDGE THE HISTORY. YOU CAN'T CONTROL THE HISTORY.

STEVE BARNES: I THINK IT'S FAIR TO SAY YOU SHARED A LOT OF VALUES, YOU SHARED A LOT OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY. YOU HAD SHARED A LOT OF BLOOD, SWEAT, TEARS, TOIL AND OOCCASIONAL SUDDENS BACK IN '72 DOWN IN AUSTIN. WERE YOU FEARFUL OF BEING COMPROMISED?

TAYLOR BRANCH: NOT REALLY BECAUSE I DID NOT VIEW MY JOB AS ASSESSING HIM OR TRYING TO BE OBJECTIVE. EVEN THIS BOOK IS NOT AN ASSESSMENT OF CLINTON. IT IS A RECORD OF THE EXPERIENCE OF GATHERING THIS RECORD. MOST OF THE JUDGMENT IS THE JUDGMENT IN THE MOMENT WHAT, HE SEEMED LIKE, WHAT HE LOOKED LIKE AS HE'S DISCUSSING BOSNIA, WHITE WATER OR HIS RELOTIONS WITH BOB DOLE OR HILLARY, WHAT IT WAS LIKE. I SAW MY PRIMARY ROLE AS GATHERING HISTORY. BUT IT'S NEVER THAT SIMPLE BECAUSE HE WOULD ASK ME QUESTIONS AND SAY, DO YOU THINK I SHOULD FIRE THE CIA DIRECTOR AND WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY WHEN HE SAYS THAT. IF I SAY I'M JUST HERE TO ASK QUESTIONS AND GET YOUR ANSWERS ON THE RECORD FOR THE FUTURE, I THINK OUR RELATIONSHIP WOULD HAVE DETERIORATED. HE -- HE LIKED GIVE AND TAKE.

STEVE BARNES: THERE GO THE WRESTLING HISTORY.

TAYLOR BRANCH: YES. THERE'S MY ROLE AND HE'S TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CHANGE THE PERCEPTION OF POLITICS -- HE LOVED POLITICS AND POLITICIANS. HE THINKS -- AND WE HAVE THIS SOMEWHAT IN COMMON AS WHITE SOUTHERNERS FROM THE FIFTY FIFTY TIS WHO -- 50S WHO GREW UP AND GOT CONVERTED, WE THINK POLITICS WORK MIRACLES AND IS A GOOD THING, THAT'S THE ESSENCE OF PATRIOTISM. MOST PEOPLE WERE SOUR ABOUT POLITICS AT THAT TIME, AND HE SAW HIS MISSION AS TO TRY TO RESCUE THE POLITICS HE LOVED, AND THAT'S WHY IN THAT SENSE HE'S FIGHTING HISTORY AND FELT TRAGIC AND UPSET TOWARD THE END WHEN THE MONICA SCANDAL VINDICATED THE CYNICISM HE WAS TRYING TO OVERCOME.

STEVE BARNES: A QUICK WORK OF THE MECHANICS. YOU WERE BASICALLY AS MUCH AS ANYONE CAN BE, SNUCK INTO THE WHITEHOUSE. THIS IS HOW IT WENT. YOU WENT UPSTAIRS WITH TWO TAPE RECORDERS, RIGHT?

TAYLOR BRANCH: AND MY NOTES OF WHAT HAD HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST SESSION AND MY NOTEBOOK LISTING THE MAJOR TOPICS I WANTED TO GET THROUGH UPSTAIRS IN THE RESIDENCE, NOT THE WEST WING BECAUSE THE WEST WING NO MATTER WHAT HOUR OF THE NIGHT THERE ARE STAFFERS WORKING, SO I'M OVER WHERE THERE'S BUTLERS AND VALLEY -- VALETS AND HOUSEHOLD STUFF. I WOULD PARK UNDER THE TRUE MAN BALCONY AND THEY WOULD TELL ME WHERE THE PRESIDENT WAS AND WHEN HE WAS READY TO TALK. SOMETIMES HE WOULD BE DELAYED. ONE NIGHT WE COULDN'T EVEN TALK BECAUSE HE HAD FALLEN ASLEEP IN THE BARBER'S CHAIR AND NOBODY COULD WAKE HIM UP. I WENT UP AND WOKE HIM UP, AND HE WOULD SAY WHERE WE WERE GOING TO RECORD. SOMETIMES IN THE KITCHEN, SOMETIMES IN THE LIVING ROOM, SOMETIMES IN HIS OFFICE CALLED THE TREATY ROOM WHICH WAS AN INCREDIBLY MOVING, IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL THAT ROOM. I WOULD SET MY RECORDER AND SAY THIS IS SESSION NO. 17, MR. PRESIDENT SUCH AND SUCH A DATE AND HERE ARE THE MAJOR TOPICS AND LET'S GO. SOMETIMES HE WOULD SAY THE NEWSPAPERS HAVE ALL I WANT TO SAY -- ABOUT THAT AND HE WOULD SAY THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WHAT WENT ON AND WHAT I SAID TO BOB DOLE OR BORROW RIS YELTSIN OR WHATEVER AND HE WOULD SAY YOU DIDN'T ASK ME ABOUT SUCH AND SUCH, FOR EXAMPLE IT'S NOW IN THE BOOK, SOMEWHAT INFAMOUS DONNY BROOK WITH AL GORE ABOUT WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR LOOING THE ELECTION. HE SAID AL GAVE AS GOOD AS HE GOT AND HE HE WOULD TELL ME WHAT THEY SAID TO EACH OTHER.

STEVE BARNES: YOUR MISSION WAS TO RECORD HISTORY AS HE SAW IT AT THE MOMENT. NONETHELESS WERE THERE MOMENTS WHEN YOU SAID WAIT A MINUTE, IT DIDN'T LOOK THAT WAY ON THE OUTSIDE OR ARE YOU SURE IT WENT DOWN THAT WAY? DID YOU FIND YOURSELF HAVING TO PLAY DE VILLE -- D. D.EVIL'S DWOK ADVOCATE?

TAYLOR BRANCH: NO. USUALLY IT WAS SO PRIVATE, I DIDN'T HAVE ANY BASIS TO CHALLENGE IT ON. IT WASN'T IN THE NEWSPAPER. IF HE'S TELLING A STORY THAT HAS THE RING OF A NARRATIVE THAT PEOPLE CAN JUDGE WHETHER OR NOT IT IS -- IT HAS THE RING OF TRUTH, I DIDN'T INTERVENE VERY MUCH. IN FACT, I SAW MY ROLE AS TO TRY TO PROMPT THAT SORT OF THING. I WOULD INTERVENE IF IT SOUNDED WOODEN LIKE IT WAS IN THE NEWSPAPER AND TRY TO MOVE TO ANOTHER TOPIC, BUT HE ENGAGED ME AT TIMES, I THINK, TO SOME DEGREE BECAUSE HE WAS PUTTING STUFF ON THE RECORD BUT HE WAS ALSO MAYBE TESTING INTERPRETATIONS OR TRYING TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO. SOMETIMES HE WOULD SAY, NOW, WHAT DO YOU REALLY THINK -- FAMOUSLY, WE HAD A VERY DIFFICULT TALK ABOUT WHEN HE LOST BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS IN '94 AND PROPOSED A MIDDLE CLASS BILL OF RIELTS. -- RIGHTS. HE WAS BITTER ABOUT LOSING THE ELECTION. HIS SOUR REWARD WAS TO LOSE BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS. HE SAID THE REPUBLICANS WANT TO UP AND DOWNER AND TELL THE VOTERS THEY CAN HAVE TAX CUTS, I'LL PROPOSE A MIDDLE CLASS BILL OF RIGHTS. WHAT DO YOU THINK? AFTER ME IN THAT CASE, I DID -- I SAID I DON'T THINK IT'S YOUR BEST EFFORT. BUT HE WOULDN'T LET IT GO THERE. HE SAID WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? I SAID, WELL, A BILL OF RIGHTS IS A FUNDAMENTAL DOCUMENT YOU DON'T HAVE IT FOR ONE SOCIAL CLASS AND NOT OTHERS AS THOUGH THEY DON'T HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS. AND HE SAID WHY NOT? I SAID, EVEN IF YOU DID, IT WOULDN'T BE A STRING OF TAX CUTS. HE SAID, BY GOD, I CAN PAY FOR MY MIDDLE CLASS BILL OF RIGHTS AND IF THE AMERICANS WANT ME TO PAN DER, I'LL PANDE RERKS. AT TIMES I WONDERED IF I HAD BLOWN THE WHOLE PROJECT AND AT TIMES HE'S ASKING ME WHAT I THINK. I'LL GET THIS ON THE RECORD AND HAVE NO IDEA WHAT PEOPLE ARE GOING TO THINK NOR DO I KNOW WHY HE'S DOING THAT. HE'S PUTTING AN EXPLANATION FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS BILL OF RIGHTS ON THE RECORD. PEOPLE WILL SEE IT IN GREAT DEAL, BUT HE'S ALSO CONFESSING SOME OF HIS DOUBTS ABOUT IT. MAYBE I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HIS CONSCIOUS. MAYBE THAT'S US BOTH WRESTLING HISTORY.

STEVE BARNES: ONE OF THE NOTES ON THE LOGISTICS OF THIS OPERATION, FOR THE BETTER PART OF EIGHT YEARS MR. CLINTON HAD THE WORLD'S MOST RADIO ACTIVE SOCK DRAWER.

TAYLOR BRANCH: YES, THAT'S TRUE. AFTER MANY CONSULTATIONS ABOUT THE SAFEST PROCEDURE, AND UNFORTUNATELY WE COULDN'T BRING LAWYERS IN BECAUSE HE DIDN'T WANT TO SPREAD THE KNOWLEDGE, WE FINALLY DECIDED THAT HE, RATHER THAN I, SHOULD HAVE -- OR A LAWYER, SHOULD HAVE PHYSICAL CUSTODY OF THESE THINGS --

STEVE BARNES: THE TAPES?

TAYLOR BRANCH: YES, THAT WE WERE MAKING SO HE COULD THROW AWAY OR BURN THEM IF THEY GOT EXPOSED, HE COULD MAKE THAT DECISION. IN THE SECOND TERM, AND AT THE END OF EACH SESSION, I WOULD REWIND THEM AND CAREFULLY LABEL THEM AND GIVE THEM TO HIM. HE DIDN'T TELL ME WHERE HE WAS PUTTING THEM. BUT IN THE SECOND TERM HE WOULD GET CALLED AWAY TO DO OTHER BUSINESS WHILE I WAS REWINDING AND IT GOT TO BE HE WANTED ME TO BE ABLE TO PUT THE TAPES AWAY SO HE COULD LEAVE EARLIER. IN THE SECOND TERM HE SHOWED ME WHERE HE WAS KEEPING THEM IN HIS SOCK DRAWER IN HIS LITTLE BOXES I HAD GIVEN HIM IN THE BATHROOM NEXT TO HILLARY. HE KEPT THEM THERE.

STEVE BARNES: WERE THEY OVER THE CASTLE -- OR AN --

TAYLOR BRANCH: HE HAD SEVERAL TIMES.

STEVE BARNES: HOW HAD CLINTON CHANGED FROM THE ONE YOU KNEW IN THE PAST, OR HAD HE?

TAYLOR BRANCH: HE ALWAYS LOVED POLITICS, BUT I WAS -- TWO WAYS. THE  DRIVE, HE WAS ALWAYS TAKING THINGS APART IN POLICY AND PEOPLE AND MORE THAN I HAD EVER SEEN HIM BEFORE, HE WAS IN COMMAND OF A VAST STAGE, AND IT WAS ALL IMPINGING ON HIM. HE FELT A LOT OF PRESSURE. HE SEEMED TO AGE, YOU KNOW, LIKE THE TIME WHEN HE WENT TO SLEEP IN THE CHAIR AND NOBODY COULD WAKE HIM UP, SOMETIMES I WOULD BE TALKING TO HIM AND HIS EYES WOULD GO UP UNDER HIS EYELIDS AND HE WOULD KEEP TALKING. I HAD NEVER SEEN ANYBODY DO THINGS LIKE THAT.

STEVE BARNES: MAYBE THE BARBER CHAIR WAS SHEER EXHAUSTION?

TAYLOR BRANCH: I THINK IT WAS. HE WOULD BE EXHAUSTED AND KEEP TALKING ANYWAY AND TALKING ABOUT THESE SUBJECTS AND TRYING TO WORK THEM OUT ALMOST IN HIS MIND IN DIALOGUE. HE BELIEVED IN POLICY BUT IT WAS NEVER SUFFICIENT UNLESS HE COULD MAKE PERSONAL CONTACT WITH THE PEOPLE HE HAD TO WORK WITH TO MAKE THE POLICIES REALITY IN POLITICAL LIFE. HE WAS ALWAYS A MIXTURE OF ABSTRACT POLITICS AND HEALTHCARE AND WAR AND PEACE MISSIONS, BUT THEY'RE WORTHLESS UNLESS YOU KNOW THE HUMOR OF TONY BLAIR, THE PAL STINNIANS, THEIR RELATION WITH THEIR WIVES, EVEN. IN GREAT DETAIL THEIR SITUATION. HE KNEW AS MUCH ABOUT ISRAELI POLITICS AND ARAB POLITICS AND KING JORDAN AND SPAIN, ALL OF THAT WAS BROUGHT TO BEAR ON THE PEACE PROCESS OR TAX BILL OR THINGS LIKE THAT. SO I FOUND HIS KNOWLEDGE RELENTLESSLY HUGE. I FOUND HIM MORE IDEALISTIC AS PRESIDENT THAN I THOUGHT HE HAD BEEN AS A 25-YEAR-OLD WHEN WE WERE KIDS.

STEVE BARNES: IS THIS IN '93?

TAYLOR BRANCH: ALL THE WAY THROUGH. IN FACT, ONE OF MY A--

STEVE BARNES: THAT HELD ALL THE WAY THROUGH --

TAYLOR BRANCH: -- ONE QUESTION I ASKED, AFTER ALL YOU'VE GONE THROUGH, WHITE WATER AND ONLY THE SECOND PRESIDENT TO BE IMPEACHED AND TRIED BY THE SENATE IN ALL OF AMERICAN HISTORY, DO YOU STILL STANDY BY YOUR NOTION THAT YOUR IDEALISTIC ABOUT THE AMERICAN POLITICAL PROCESS? HE SAID ABSOLUTELY. MY DISAPPOINTMENT IS WITH THE POLITICAL CULTURE AND TO A LARGE DEGREE OUR MEDIA AND THE WAY WE DISCUSS POLITICS, BUT MY IDEALISM IS ABOUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AS CITIZENS AND THAT MAYBE NOT EVERY TIME, BUT OVER THE LONG RUN THEY WILL DO THE RIGHT THING IF THEY HAVE HARD CHOICES TO MAKE. AND I BELIEVED HIM. I THINK THAT'S RIGHT, AND WE HAD SOME INTERESTING TALKS AT THE END BECAUSE I HAD BEEN DISILLUSIONED WITH POLITICS IN '72, WHICH IS  WHY I WENT INTO WRITING AFTER THE VIETNAM WAR. I HAD TO TELL HIM THAT IT WAS A BIG SURPRISE TO ME TO SEE THE PERSONAL SIDE OF HIM BE AS IDEALISTIC AS IT WAS AS HE SEEMED TO ME IN THE WHITEHOUSE. AND THAT IS A JUDGMENT. I DON'T OFFER MANY JUDGMENTS IN HERE, BUT IT WAS A SURPRISE TO ME. I THINK IT WILL BE A CONVINCINGLY IN THE DETAIL THE WAY HE TALKED ABOUT THESE THINGS, HE WAS MUCH MORE IDEALISTIC THAN PEOPLE GAVE HIM CREDIT FOR.

STEVE BARNES: RECALLING YOUR YEARS WITH HIM, WAS THERE A HIGH THAT SURPASSED ALL OTHERS, FOR HIM?

TAYLOR BRANCH: WELL, THERE -- WINNING REELECTION IN 1996 AND KNOWING HE HAD FOUR MORE YEARS IN THE WHITEHOUSE WAS A PRETTY BIG HIGH, FOLLOWED PRETTY QUICKLY BY ONE OF HIS TERRIBLE DEPRESSIONS, ONE OF THE WORST TIMES I EVER SAW HIM BECAUSE HE THOUGHT THE SCANDALS WERE GOING TO RESEED WHEN HE DIDN'T HAVE ANYMORE ELECTIONS AND THAT'S WHEN THEY INTENSIFIED BY CHINA GATE ON CHINESE AND ASIAN CONTRIBUTIONS AND ALGORE AND HE WAS -- AL GORE AND HE WAS CREST FALLEN AND HE GOT EVEN MORE SCANDAL. THE TRIP TO NORTHERN IRELAND PROMOTING THE GOOD FRIDAY PEACE ACCORD, HE TOLD ME AT THE END OF A SESSION AT THE END OF A STORY AND THE POLITICS, THAT YOU LIVE TO HAVE ONLY A FEW DAYS LIKE HIS DAYS MATCH -- MARCHING THROUGH NORTHERN IRELAND PROMOTING PEACE. THERE ARE LOTS OF HIGHS IN THE POLITICS. EVEN WHEN HE'S IN THE MIDDLE OF SEVERAL OF THE SCANDALS, HE SAID I DIDN'T HAVE ANY TROUBLE GIVING THAT STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS BECAUSE THE SCANDAL DELIVERED ME AN ENORMOUS AUDIENCE AND THE STATE OF THE UNION IS GOOD. WE'VE GOT 4.7% UNEMPLOYMENT, WE'VE CREATED 15 MILLION NEW JOBS, ELIMINATED THE DEFICIT AND NOBODY THOUGHT WE COULD AND WE'RE IN PEACE PROCESSES ON EVERY CONTINENT IN THE GLOBE. THINGS ARE GOING PRETTY WELL. THERE WERE LOTS OF HIGHS.

STEVE BARNES: THERE WAS ONE INCREDIBLE LOW AND YOU TALKED TO HIM ABOUT IT REELECTION NIGHT IN '96, THE FIRST DEMOCRAT PRESIDENT SINCE FDR TO WIN A SECOND TERM AND IT -- I THINK IT'S PROBABLY FAIR, CERTAINLY IN RETROSPECT THAT WHITE WATER, THE ORIGINAL WHITE WATER STUFF WAS PRETTY CONSPICUOUSLY PETERING OUT. TO BORROW FROM ANOTHER PRESIDENT, HE HANDED THEM A SWORD.

TAYLOR BRANCH: THAT'S RIGHT. THAT WAS LEWINSKY. HE SAID WHITE WATER WOULD NOT PETER OUT AND THEY WERE ADDING TO IT WITH ALL THE ASIAN SCANDAL --

STEVE BARNES: HE WANTED TO LUMP THEM.

TAYLOR BRANCH: ALL OF THAT PETERED OUT. HAD HE NOT HANDED THEM A SWORD, WE WOULD HAVE DISCOVERED WHETHER OR NOT THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN A RECKONING, WHETHER AMERICAN PEOPLE WOULD HAVE SAID OUR POLITICS ARE MORE DEINSTRUCTIVE THAN WE THOUGHT. IT'S NICE TO PAY OFF THE NATIONAL DEBT INSTEAD OF HAVING PERPETUAL DEFICIT AND MAYBE WE CAN BE MORE CONSTRUCTIVE. INSTEAD, ALL THE RETROSPECTIVE ABOUT CLINTON AS PRESIDENT HAD BEEN ABOUT SCANDAL AND CHARACTER FAULTS AND WE DIDN'T APPRECIATE -- HE PAID OFF $600 BILLION OF NATIONAL DEBT. NOW INSTEAD IT'S DOUBLED. WE'VE GOT TRILLION DOLLAR DEFICIT AND WE'RE NUMB TO IT AGAIN.

STEVE BARNES: THE LEWINSKY PERIOD, THE IMPEACHMENT PERIOD, HOW DID YOU FIND HIM? WHAT WAS HIS MOOD, HIS VOICE AT THAT TIME?

TAYLOR BRANCH: PRAJ TRAGIC -- TRAGIC RESIGNATION. WE DIDN'T TALK ABOUT IT MUCH BUT WHEN HE DID, IT WAS BLURTED RE CREDIT. I CRACKED. I GAVE IN. I FELT SORRY FOR MYSELF. I GAVE IN. SELF-PITY IS MY CENTRAL CHARACTER FLAW AND THAT'S HOW THIS CRACKED MY RESOLVE NOT TO DO IT. AND HE SAID I KNOW I -- HE DIDN'T USE YOUR PHRASE, I'VE GIVEN THEM A SWORD, BUT HE SAID --

STEVE BARNES: RICHARD NIXON'S.

TAYLOR BRANCH: HE SAID BASICALLY I FORFEITED MY CHANCE TO LIFT THIS COUNTRY OUT OF CYNICISM ABOUT POLITICS, AND TO ME, CONSTRUCTIVE SENSE OF POLITICS IS THE ESSENCE OF PATRIOTISM. GEORGE WASHINGTON DIDN'T BECOME A GREAT PATRIOT BY TRYING TO RUN DOWN POLITICS OR THE CAPACITIES OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. AND HE WANTED TO RESCUE THAT. IN PART BECAUSE AS SOUTHERNERS WE FELT POLITICS HAD ACHIEVED GREAT THINGS BY ENDING SEGREGATION AND MAKING SOUTHERN POLITICIANS ACCEPTABLE AND --

STEVE BARNES: PUTTING ELECTRICITY ON THE FOOD HILL.

TAYLOR BRANCH: YEAH, AND CREATING THE SUNBELT. IT WAS A TERRIBLE TIME. ON IMPEACHMENT, THAT WAS DIFFERENT. HE WAS REMARKABLY CALM ABOUT THAT. ONE OF THE BIGGEST SURPRISES ON THE TAPE IS HE HAD A SECRET CONDUIT TO SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY ONE OF THE MOST ANTI-CHRISTIAN TON SENATOR -- AN TICLINTON SENATORS, HE -- THEY THOUGHT IT WOULD HURT THEM ALL POLITICALLY, BUT THE PRESIDENT SAID, I'VE GOT TO CONCENTRATE ON DOING MY BEST JOB. I DON'T THINK I'M GOING TO GET IMPEACHED BUT NOT GET INVOLVED IN IT. POLITICS, IF THEY WANT TO THROW ME OUT, THEY CAN DO IT. HILLARY WHO WOULD COME INTO THE SESSIONS WAS MUCH MORE WHATEVER PERSONAL HAD GONE ON BETWEEN THEM AND HE SAID IT WAS RAW AND DIFFICULT AND HE WASN'T SLEEPING WHERE HE WAS NORMALLY USED TO SLEEPING, HE WAS ON THE COUCH FOR A WHILE, IT WAS  HALE HEELD -- HEALED TO THE DEGREE THAT HILLARY WAS MORE FEARS IN OPPOSING IMPEACHMENT THAN HE WAS. HE SAID THIS IS A PHONEY IMPEACHMENT AND IT WILL DESTABILIZE THIS COUNTRY IF THEY MAKE THE MISTAKE. SHE WOULD GET ON THE PHONE AND TALK TO THE SENATORS MORE VIGOROUSLY THAN HE DID. THAT WAS NOT UNTYPICAL OF THEIR PARTNERSHIP.

STEVE BARNES: YOU TOOK MY NEXT QUESTION OR A QUESTION, WHICH WAS -- DID YOU FIND HIM SURRENDERING TO SELF-PITY VERY OFTEN?

TAYLOR BRANCH: WELL, HE SAID HE DID IN THE LEWINSKY CASE ITSELF, HE SAID THAT.  THE ONLY OTHER TIME HE SAID THAT WAS OCCASIONALLY ABOUT THE NEW YORK TIMES, BELIEVE IT OR NOT. HE SAID HE IDOLIZED THEM AND WE THOUGHT THE CIVIL RIGHTS JOURNALISM AND THE JOURNALISM OF HARRY ASHMORE AND SOME OF THE OTHERS WERE A HEY DAY OF JOURNALISM ABOUT CIVIL RIGHTS AND HE THOUGHT THEY WERE SURRENDERING TO TABLOID JOURNALISM THAT WAS FEEDING THE WORST IN THE AMERICAN TEAM. HE DID SAY I AM BITTER ABOUT THE OBJECT SESSIONS IN THE NEW YORK TIMES AND I FEEL SORRY FOR MYSELF THAT I DON'T GET BETTER PRESS COVERAGE IN THE TIMES. NOT GENERALLY, BUT IN THE NEW YORK TIMES. HE SAID THESE PEOPLE ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE COUNTRY AND I'VE ALWAYS LOOKED UP TO THEM. I THINK THEY'VE FOR SECRETARIEN THEIR DUTY AND -- FOR SAKEN THEIR DUTY. I'M BITTER. THOSE ARE THE TIMES HE USED THE WORLD. EARLY ON HE HAD A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH THE PRESS, ESPECIALLY THE NEW YORK TIMES AND WASHINGTON POST. HALFWAY THROUGH THE PRESIDENCY HE SAID I HAVE TO STOP THIS. EVEN WHEN HE WAS UP, HE WOULD TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHY THIS WAS HAPPENING. HE SAID I'VE GOT TO GIVE UP, DO MY JOB AND COME TO WORK EVERY MORNING.

STEVE BARNES: SOUNDS LIKE AN HOWEVER MOMENT AIR -- MOMENTARY IT WAS --

TAYLOR BRANCH: YES. I HAVE A CHAPTER CALLED TYRADE. IT'S NOT UNCOMMON FOR PRESIDENTS TO RAIL AGAINST THE PRESS. BUT THE FIRST-TERM CLINTON MAY HAVE DONE ALMOST IF NOT AS MUCH AS NIXON NOT IN IF SAME ATTITUDES OR LANGUAGE, NIXON WAS A LITTLE MORE VOCAL AND NEVER IDOLIZED LIKE CLINTON DID. WHAT CAME OUT WITH PRESIDENT CLINTON WAS DISAAPPOINTMENT.

STEVE BARNES: JUST A MOMENT OR SO REMAINING. YOU MENTIONED NOT SINCE NIXON'S TIME HAVE TAPES BEEN MADE AND WE KNOW FROM THE PUBLIC RECORD THAT PARTICULARLY DURING THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION PEOPLE STARTED WHISPERING AND STARTED HAVING ORAL CONVERSATIONS MINIMIZED THE STUFF THAT COULD BE SUBPOENAED. AS A CIVIL LITTLE BIT TAIRN YOU MAY HAVE -- LIBERTARIAN YOU MAY HAVE LIKED THAT BUT WHAT WE'RE LOSING.

TAYLOR BRANCH: WE'RE LOSING A LOT. SINCE THE TAPES HAVE BECOME EXTINCT, IT COINCIDES WITH THE PERIOD WHEN HISTORIANS SAID THESE TAPES ARE IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND HOW IT WORKS. THESE ARE THE ONLY ONCE WHERE EXECUTIVE POWER IS VESTED IN THAT ONE PERSON AND HOW THAT ONE PERSON IS AS A HUMAN BEING AND OPERATES AFFECTS ALL OF US. TO GET GOOD HISTORY AND HISTORICAL RECORDS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. I WISH THAT WE WERE A MATURE ENOUGH COUNTRY TO SAY LET'S HAVE A DEBATE ON TAPING ALL OF THE MEETINGS AND CONVERSATIONS AND KEEP OUR MITTS OFF OF THEM, YOU KNOW, UNTIL -- FOR TEN YEARS OR WHATEVER SO THAT EVERYBODY CAN REALLY SEE WHAT IT'S -- LEARN IN THE FUTURE AND BECOME MORE FAMILIAR WITH WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE TO BE PRESIDENT. AND HOW THEY FUNCTION AS HUMAN BEINGS IN THIS JOB. BUT WE HAVEN'T EVEN HAD THAT DEBATE YET. WE'RE A LONG WAY FROM IT AND THIS IS OUR BEST SUBSTITUTE WHEN THE PRESIDENT RELEASES TAPES SO PEOPLE CAN STUDY THEM. IT'S OUR NEXT BEST THING TO HAVING ALL THE TAPES OF THE ACTUAL PHONE CONVERSATIONS AND MEETINGS OF BEING PRESIDENT. I THINK IT'S VITAL FOR HISTORY AND I WISH WE HAD NICE HISTORICAL DEBATES ABOUT THE WAY TO KEEP THE BEST RECORD FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THEY DESERVE.

STEVE BARNES: WELL, UNTIL THEN, A GREAT READ. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. SEE YOU NEXT TIME.

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