Harry McPherson Text of Interview: June 3, 2003Catherine Nugent2022-04-26T15:24:01-04:00
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ORAL HISTORY OF
HARRY C. MCPHERSON, JR. – FOURTEENTH INTERVIEW
This will be the last day of this series of interviews of Harry McPherson. Today is rainy,
cold June 31d in Washington.
Mr. Vanderstar: We talked before we turned on the tape about the fact that
Harry’s own book, A Political Education, leaves off in 1969 and that there are a number of
themes that come up in the epilogue that was written after the original writing. We also talked
about Charlie Horsky’s book, A Washington Lawyer. It was written in 1952 and had been a
series of lectures which Charlie gave at Northwestern, Harry, you’ve looked at that and are
ready to react to some of the things that Charlie talked about. So let’s start with that. And in full
disclosure, of course, Charlie was a partner at Covington & Burling, which was my firm for 39
Mr. McPherson: Yes, and a colleague of mine in the Johnson White House and a
friend of mine, which whom I spent a week in the Montana wilderness one time.
I should comment about one aspect of the epilogue that I wrote in 1994 for
publication in A Political Education. None of the publishers over the years who did this
book-there were two publishers after the first one-would let me change the book for
economic reasons. It costs money to do that, to amend it, so instead they let me add prefaces,
prologues, epilogues and so on to it. In writing this one, I made a colossal boner, as it turned
out. I wrote about the Senate in 1994 and compared it with the Senate that I had worked in. In
1994 George Mitchell was the majority leader, and it was extremely interesting to compare his
time and conditions of leadership with LBJ’s. What I never imagined happening did, after I had
sent in the text of my epilogue. Newt Gingrich and his pals, including my new colleague Dick
Armey, just cleaned the Democratic clock in the 1994 election, and so many of the themes that
appear in that epilogue don’t make any sense in the context of a Republican Congress. I talk
about all these senators being chairmen of committees, but they were not chairmen after the vote
in November 1994.
Let me just say a few things about some of the themes in Charlie Horsky’s book,
A Washington Lawyer, which is just as clear-headed and sagacious as Charlie was. One of them
is its generosity toward those of us who have made our careers as “Washington lawyers,” that is,
people who deal as lobbyists, as representatives and advocates for clients in the executive branch
and various agencies of the government in rule-making proceedings and in a wide range of
activities that are influenced by political ties.
One of the things that is fhdamentally different, not always specifically different,
but fundamentally different between the practice of law before courts and in formal
administrative proceedings, and the practice of representing clients before members of Congress
and executives in the executive departments is politics. Success in the latter practice is often
influenced one way or another by political ties. That is, when you go to Capitol Hill to talk to
members about an issue that has political lightning in it, there is a real political spin where the
very mention of the issue or the mention of people involved with the issue creates an immediate
reaction in the listener that may influence what success you have. As a result, you would be a
fool to go and see people who are absolutely, furiously opposed to your client’s position. They
might not necessarily know a lot about the client, but they do know the industry that the client is
in. They probably know that the client or the predecessor executives of the client were huge
donors to the opposition’s political party, or perhaps that they underwrote a think tank that
produced savage attacks on this member. So you would think twice about taking your client up
to see that member or going yourself. In effect, you’re forum shopping, and the fora are
members, various offices with whom the practitioner, the lobbyist/lawyer may have his own
I think I described a very uncomfortable session before about eight or nine
Democratic senators who invited me to make the best case I could on behalf of the tobacco
settlement. This was in a rather early period before anybody except its defenders had seriously
thought that you could deal with this nefarious industry. And I looked at these people and I
realized that I knew them all, I had had lunch with them, I had had two or three of them to my
house for Christmas brunch; they were friends and people that I enjoyed. At the outset they
regarded me warmly, as they always had. I’d been around a long time and they thought of me as
a kind of agreeable veteran of the Hill, as I did them. So here I was representing this
presumptively corrupt and evil industry, killer of hundreds of thousands of people, and I was
speaking on behalf of a deal that it and the states and the trial lawyers had cooked up and were
trying to get the government to approve.
Mr. Vanderstar: That example, I guess, is in the classification of the so-called
“third rail” that nobody wanted to touch.
Mr. McPherson: Exactly.
Mr. Vanderstar: Unlike the situation of someone who has donated heavily to the
member’s opponent. I suspect there wasn’t anybody on Capitol Hill who even had an open mind
about the tobacco issue.
Mr. McPherson: Tobacco’s only reliable supporters were people from Kentucky
and North Carolina. One of them was a good friend of mine, Wendell Ford. As much as I liked
Wendell-he was the Democratic whip in the Senate, he was very successful and very well liked
by many people-I didn’t want to be tied to Wendell, who was the spokesman for the industry
on all of the issues that were associated with tobacco and that had earned the distaste of many
members for years. The other was Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who would always go to bat
for the industry.
Actually this whole idea of cranking up a settlement, if it didn’t originate with
Jim Hunt, the governor of North Carolina, certainly found in him an early advocate-someone
who could talk to Bill Clinton about the desirability of a settlement that would pay a lot of
money and change a lot of behavior on the part of the tobacco companies and keep this issue out
of the political scene. Clinton said to Jim Hunt, “I want to see a change. I don’t want to lose the
North Carolina vote before I even get started by being on the wrong side of tobacco, so let’s get
it settled.” That’s what he said at first. Clinton was behind it but would not say a word or allow
Bruce Lindsey in the Clinton White House, who had been charged with dealing with it, to say a
word in its favor.
Mr. Vanderstar: But you’re saying that, except for a few tobacco state senators,
the senators considered this industry to be so evil that they didn’t even want to arrive at a
solution that would involve the industry, as you say: (a) forking over a whole lot of money, a
sum that nobody had ever imagined before; and (b) changing a lot of behavior, consenting to
FDA jurisdiction, that sort of thing.
Mr. McPherson: Also advertising.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes. Why was that so unattractive to the political people in
Mr. McPherson: That is a subject that has interested me a lot, and I don’t know
how to answer it. Some issues, and you’ve used the “third-rail’’ term advisedly, some issues are
answered in the politician’s mind when he hears the fateful words-when you say “Tobacco
Industry Settlement” or “Dealing with Tobacco Industry.” That means you might be thought to
be selling out to the tobacco industry in some way, letting them off the hook when they ought to
pay through the nose. This was at a time when the trial lawyers were filing class action suits and
the industry was looking at a combination of those suits and of state suits brought to recover
Medicaid costs that the states had had to pay out to people where were unhealthy because of
smoking. The subject just seemed to temfy members. They just found it very hard to even think
about it. I did have some good conversations with people like Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd,
people who would sit and listen, ask some questions about it, who were interested. But most
members, even though I knew them, looked at me with what seemed to be suspicion.
There was a giant book, you probably read it, by Kluger. After having bashed the
industry and all of its behavior and its advertising for 700 or 800 pages, Kluger ends by saying it
would be foolish to think you can terminate all smoking in this country. If you made the
manufacture of cigarettes illegal in America, they would be manufactured in a hundred countries
around the world and gotten into America. You can’t stop it that way and you lose control of it.
You need to work out a deal very much like the one I was trying to describe.
In any event, I was using tobacco as an example of a politically-charged issue.
Often the job of the lobbyist is to deal in such a charged atmosphere in which he is representing
somebody who is perceived from the outside to be taking the wrong side. One way or the other,
there is an almost immediate reaction on the part of many people.
Take the decision yesterday by the FCC. That’s going to go to Congress.
Mr. Vanderstar: For the record, briefly, that was a decision on multiple
ownership of television, radio stations, newspapers and various other media outlets. That’s the
basic issue you’re talking about.
Mr. McPherson: Yes. Yesterday, Byron Dorgan, Fritz Hollings and Trent Lott,
a very interesting trio, were on C-Span saying that they were going to be looking for a legislative
route to undo this. Trent Lott said, “If we fail in every other way, we’ll have to look at
appropriations.” Hello? Meaning, would have to consider conditioning appropriations to the
Federal Communications Commission on their willingness to change the rule they adopted
yesterday. That’s pretty extreme.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes.
Mr. McPherson: In any event, if you take that issue, if you were representing
one of the networks or one of the big media companies, a big newspaper owner who had in mind
buying a television station in his own town where he had the paper, you would get to the Hill in
an environment in which a number of people, probably largely Republican, would be in favor of
taking the shackles off the media.
Mr. Vanderstar: And supporting the FCC.
Mr. McPherson: And supporting the FCC, people who traditionally agree with
the Wall Street Journal’s editorial policy. On the other side people who feel that what the FCC
has done is an invitation to a concentration of media power that is very much not in the public
interest. So if you were hired by a network that wants to own more, wants to go from a 35
percent reach of viewers in the country to 45 percent, as the new rule allows, you’d have to go
up and see people who would immediately regard you as a flunky voice for Murdock and Disney
and Michael Eisner and these guys who want to own everything in their own tight little box.
So you are often involved in a heated ideological environment. When you’re
trying cases, you certainly look for a judge, if you have any choice, you want to try to find a
judge whose record is reasonably tolerant of your point of view. It’s not as if there was a totally
180 degree distinction, but it’s more political on the Hill and in the agencies and in the policymaking parts of the departments.
Most of Charlie’s writing, appropriately, is about rule-making proceedings and
adjudicatory proceedings in agencies. You sometimes have the problem of the bureaucrat who
has always felt a certain way. I have always heard that Stanley Sporkin at the SEC was going to
have a view on some corporate governance issue that was against you when you went in to see
him. You just know he was going to look scornfully at you and scowl and give you a very hard
time. You could count on that. But for the most part I’ve found that officials and counsel in
regulatory agencies and departments try to function in a just way that carries out a reasonable
interpretation of the statute that they are administering.
When you get a step up or get into the appointed policy makers in the
departments, when you get into the assistant secretaries and under-secretaries in the cabinet
offices, people who may have, in today’s world, Karl Rove on their Rolodex, you deal with
officials who can be presumed to have pretty strong Republican conservative views. In the
Johnson years, and in Carter’s and Clinton’s, people in those jobs would have pretty liberal
views of the laws that they were administering. So when you went to see one of them hoping to
get a ruling or an agreement within the department that the department would provide finds for a
certain program that you were espousing, they would write to members of the Congress that they
supported a certain program that your client was interested in. If you went today, you would
expect to find moderate-to-extremely-conservative Republicans in those positions, and it would
probably be best if you went with somebody like hey, when he can do that, can go to the
executive branch, although he cannot lobby on the Hill. If he could just make a call to someone
and say, “This guy is a Democrat but he’s a respectable person and I’d be grateful if you’d see
him.” Very often that’s enough at least to get you in the door. You may not get the result you
want, but you can at least have a shot at it. If you have a large firm like Covington or like Piper
Rudnick you can send an e-mail around and ask if and ask if anybody knows or ever had any
experience with anybody who administers Title 405 of the Housing Act, and you hope that
somebody, there among the hundreds of lawyers in the firm, would have had some such
experience, and they can give you some help.
Mr. Vanderstar: The business of going to a basically political person or agency
which may set some boundaries before you even get in the door means that you would always
try to match up with people whose political instincts already the favor the position you are trying
to advance if you can find them.
Mr. McPherson: If you can find them.
Mr. Vanderstar: In Congress.
Mr. McPherson: Yes.
Mr. Vanderstar: In an administrative agency, if the chair of the agency has been
appointed by the incumbent president, then you know what you’re up against.
Mr. McPherson: Right.
Mr. Vanderstar: So, is the problem getting in the door or, maybe more
generalized, does the problem go deeper than that, putting aside the tobacco industry type of
problem, in that there are just a very few persuasive arguments you can make when you are up
against political opposition?
Mr. McPherson: Well, that’s where we would get to a wider representation than
Charlie was talking about in 1952. Two things, you looked in two places. One is okay; the other
one has never made me feel very comfortable.
The one that’s okay is media. If you’ve got an issue with a substantial aura or
glow in the public scene, that is, in other words, people think about it, the news shows have the
occasional comment on it, the Lehrer program interviews a couple of people about it, there’s an
editorial in the Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, in other words, it’s in the
currency of the political scene. You think you’ve got a pretty good case but you also think it’s
going to be tough to get it through the executive department that administers it. So what you
might want to suggest to your client is that the client hire a public relations firm to develop a
strategy for bringing the client’s position to public attention. If the client doesn’t want to spend
a lot of money on that then you go to someone on the editorial board of the Post or the Times or
one of their reporters-after being in the town 45 years it’s likely that you know a few of
them-you approach them and try to get them to listen to your case. My success rate in actually
producing results in such matters-that is, an editorial or a story that I could really feel helped
my client-is about one out of eight. It used to be better, but so many people have adopted the
tactic that the Post and the Times, if they haven’t totally shut their doors, have certainly made it
harder to get in.
My relationships with a number of media people are such that they can tolerate
my raising an issue with them from time to time. I don’t make a big deal of it, I don’t make it
seem as if it’s the end of the world; essentially I offer it as an interesting view and say, “YOU
might take a look at this side of the question.” Anyway, in some cases approaching the media
occasionally helps. You can imagine when we get on to pharmaceuticals, to the issue of how it
provides drugs for Medicare and Medicaid, imagine the amount of money that will be spent on
newspaper and magazine and television advertising.
Mr. Vanderstar: Sure. It will be vast.
Mr. McPherson: Well, we saw it when Hilary Clinton came out with her bill in
1994. It was the subject of a gigantic and very successful counter-campaign.
The other thing that you do, the thing that I don’t like, is rely on campaign
contributions. Our firm has a large political action committee. It had a large one even when we
were Vemer Liipfert. Now that we are Piper Rudnick, my estimable young partner, John
Merrigan, who runs it and is a very successful fund raiser politically, went around to all the
offices in the firm, every one of them, and talked to what must have been a fairly cold-faced
collection of real estate lawyers and litigators and deal lawyers about why they ought to
contribute very substantially personally to the political action committee, and he’s been very
successful. We’ve had a very good response. There was tremendous leadership in the effort by
the people at the top of the firm who didn’t hammer partners but did say, “We now have a
section of the firm that works in the political arena so it would be very good if you all could
That is something I don’t like a hell of a lot, I’ve never liked campaign
contributions as a way of making my case, but they are part of the ergs of power that open doors,
They don’t get you success. I’m sure they haven’t gotten me success. But at least you get in the
door by virtue of somebody in your firm having made campaign contributions.
Mr. Vanderstar: If you got more than that, wouldn’t you then start to run risks of
crossing the line of kosherness?
Mr. McPherson: You would.
Mr. Vanderstar: Your story in your book about one member, I don’t remember
who it was, who made a speech about campaign contributions linked to his position was quite
dramatic and the effect it had on the legislation.
Mr. McPherson: Yes, the Natural Gas Bill in 1956, Senator Case.
Mr. Vanderstar: So, as I say, you really have to be very, very careful.
Mr. McPherson: Yes, and I have never asked anybody to do anything because I
have reminded them that I made a contribution or someone in the firm made a contribution to
them. But contributions are just a fact of life in today’s Washington.
Mr. Vanderstar: But even if you don’t ask, there’s always the risk that a
contribution leads to access and it results, because of your persuasiveness, in favorable action.
And so there’s a risk of a perception that the favorable action was, to be blunt, bought. How in
the world do you guard against that?
Mr. McPherson: I really feel like a penny ante player. The firm was just out in
Las Vegas for its firm retreat. In walking through the casinos, an hour of the day or night.
You’ve been out there to see.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes. People with nickels in paper cups.
Mr. McPherson: Paper cups.
Mr. Vanderstar: Silver dollars or whatever.
Mr. McPherson: Yes, yes. They put them in there. I feel like the guy playing
the 25-cent machine compared to huge companies whose Washington vice presidents take
members even now to golf vacations and things like that and develop great friendships and
clearly have a huge advantage when it comes to talking to that member about an issue.
Most members that I have seen, I believe, retain a degree of independence when it
comes to their vote or their actions being influenced by campaign contributions. I think most of
them see an open door, a willingness to meet with the donor or his counsel, as the limit of their
obligation. There are always people, there always have been people who felt they needed to go
Mr. Vanderstar: I guess what I’m asking is, isn’t there always the risk that the
public, if it knew, would see contributions from such-and-such an interest and a vote in favor of
legislation that favored that interest and make the connection that that vote was bought, even if
that was not true? I just don’t see how you can possibly avoid that risk always arising when
there are contributions and access.
Mr. McPherson: That’s true. Well, take the typical find raiser, the six to eight
in the evening find raiser at the Democratic National Club or the Republican Club. There will
be a lot of lawyers there and a lot of vice presidents of corporations, people who are based here
in Washington, and the lawyers will represent every side of almost every issue. In other words,
Tommy Boggs may be there. He represents the trial lawyers and has for years; his firm is
counsel for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. We may be there. We are
representing one of the biggest re-insurers in the world on asbestos. It is in our interest, our
client’s desperate interest to find a way to resolve the asbestos conundrum in a way that will not
break it. Everybody is jumping in as well as every other insurance company. Trial lawyers are
mixed; a few of them represent truly sick people and people with mesothelioma who are not
getting any relief because they are just put into huge classes and the courts are choked with these
vast classes including, for the most part, people who have been exposed to asbestos but have
shown no signs of illness. Well, Tommy’s got to represent those latter trial lawyers as well, the
people who don’t want the kind of resolution that the re-insurer does. So, I suppose one answer
to your question, John, is that a practical protection against the assumption that a member has
been “bought” on an issue is that the member’s taking money from all sides so it would be hard
to figure the influence of one contribution.
Mr. Vanderstar: Well, that would be a good solution but is that always the case?
Mr. McPherson: I’m sure it’s not always the case. Members very often have
their positions just handed to them by fate. Norman Dix is a very good congressman. He’s from
Seattle/Everett, Washington. Does he stand on his head for Boeing? Of course he does.
Everybody in his district works for Boeing. And he is on the Armed Services Committee. He
just persuaded the Pentagon to enter into that lease deal with Boeing. Here is a centrist, an
excellent member of Congress, very well regarded by everyone, but he doesn’t have two views
on whether the lease deal with Boeing is a good idea for the public interest or not. You and I
may, but he doesn’t.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes, but again that’s an easy case. He is known to represent the
district that includes Boeing workers, so I don’t think it would occur to very many people to
critical of him for representing the interests of his constituents. After all, that’s supposedly why
he got into office.
Mr. McPherson: You’re asking whether the guy who doesn’t have any of that
constituency backing, no particular reason to take the position he does, is given a substantial
campaign contribution and then votes for the interest of that. Well, it happens and it probably
happens a lot. I guess what I was in a way suggesting is a certain surprise that it doesn’t happen
all the time. In fact, most of the guys who survive and are well regarded by their colleagues give
you the courtesy of a meeting, the courtesy of paying at least apparent attention to what you say
to the point of asking question and so on, and then say, “Let me think about that. I think you
make a very good point.” I’ve had members call me and say, “I thought your case was a good
one. I didn’t vote for you, and let me tell you why.” And it’s because someone to whom they
owed a lot, some member, asked this person to stay with him.
There are all kinds of reasons why politicians do things. One time I was talking
to Senator Lawton Childs of Florida, and I asked him if he could support us on something. He
said, “I don’t know because I don’t know how”-I can’t recall who it was, another southern
member -“I don’t know how he’s going to come out on this, and I like to stay with him if I
can.” And I took that as just maybe they were two friends. The he said, “There are six of us in a
twice weekly Bible breakfast.” Six of them. “A mix of Democrats and Republicans devoted to
the Bible and to the friendship that they have developed among themselves and, of course, we
study the Bible.” (Every now and then a wonderful woman named Naomi Rosenblat, she’s a
sabra, born in Israel, would go up and meet with this group. She is a scholar of the Old
Testament.) The friendship that came out of that was so tight that it caused Childs to say, “I
want to ask so-and-so if he thought it would be all right if I vote your way.” In other words, he
knew that that man had an interest in this issue, and he wanted to be sure that it was all right for
him to go my way.
So one answer, and maybe answer, to the question I’ve been pressing is that
life is so complicated and so nuanced that it’s awfully hard to draw the inference that the
contribution led to the vote and that the vote wouldn’t have been there in the absence of the
contribution. The things that you remember, the trials that you remember in John Vanderstar’s
career, the successes you had, and as I remember mine, don’t have to do with getting a guy to
take a couple thousand dollars for a contribution. During the couple of years when I was a
member of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, I was asked by a wonderful lawyer there who’s remained
a friend all these years, Bob Sisk, a wonderful trial lawyer, who represented the Pepsi Cola
Bottlers Association, if I could help out a little in Congress. They were seeking a bill that would
in effect approve the territorial franchise system of the bottlers. Very interesting antitrust issue.
Well, the chairman of the Antitrust Committee was Phil Hart of Michigan. When Phil came to
work as a senator, he was put on the Calendar Committee, of which I was counsel, and we
remained friends, real friends, for as long as he lived. I don’t think there was anybody I admired
or liked any more than Phil Hart.
Mr. Vanderstar: You and a lot of other folks.
Mr. McPherson: Like everybody. He, being Phil Hart and being generous,
arranged to see me and Bob Sisk and set aside two hours-a lot of time-and brought in his two
counsels on the committee and Sisk and me. I had spent about three days here, the two of us
working together until I knew enough not to be an embarrassment. Bob was a fine anti-trust
litigator who really knew the issue. The two of us when to see Phil and his counsels. When we
walked out, Phil said, “Let me talk with my counsels and I’ll call you about what I will do.” The
atmosphere was so fine, it was everything you’d ever want in an atmosphere. We were
challenged, there was no turning aside or passivity on the part of these counsel because they
knew that Phil and I were friends, not the slightest. And he was firm and steady, while
remaining just as friendly as could be.
We walked out and Bob Sisk said, “I can’t tell you, I’m overwhelmed by this
experience. I never thought there would be anything like this in Congress. I didn’t know you
could have something like that in Congress.” It would have been like having, if you could have
an exparte meeting with Learned Hand or somebody like that. As a litigator, you could have
And Phil called me the next morning and said “I think I’m going to support you
on that legislation.” Well, I called Bob Sisk in New York and he was absolutely ecstatic. I’m
sure I never gave Phil Hart a dime in campaign contributions, even in the days before PAC
contributions. What he chose to do was based on the merits, on trust.
Mr. Vanderstar: That’s of course the other coin of the realm, which is personal
relations and personal friendships. Just to ask a leading question, surely you would say that
members do not cast votes that they might not have otherwise cast because of friends of
theirs-a Harry McPherson or whoever-asked them to.
Mr. McPherson: That’s true.
Mr. Vanderstar: It really comes down to recognizing the nuances and
complexities of life instead of drawing an inference from two facts: (1) a contribution or a
friendship; and (2) a vote.
Mr. McPherson: I think that’s true. There are 535 of these people up there, and
almost all want to be reelected.
I was talking to one of my colleagues, one of my political colleagues, today about
someone in Congress, and he said, “Oh, she’s a crook, an absolute crook, has been for a long
time, and her husband’s a crook, and this guy is not a crook, this man here, and he knows this
situation extremely well.” There are plenty of people up there who you wouldn’t want to say
were not influenced by campaign contributions. There certainly are. And the bigger they are,
the more awash the system is with money, obviously, you run the risk of a lot of those outcomes
being directed by contributions.
Mr. Vanderstar: Were you or your firm involved in the campaign finance, the
Mr. McPherson: No, or the litigation that challenged it.
Mr. Vanderstar: Covington was in the latter at least so I can ask you, in a
handful of words, what do you think about McCain-Feingold?
Mr. McPherson: I think there are certainly flaws in it, but anything that will put
the brakes on soft money contributions has got my vote. It seemed to me that the tolerance of
soft-money giving was a fatal mistake on the part of the FEC. Then it became possible for the
corporations to write a giant checks.
Mr. Vanderstar: You don’t think disclosure is enough of a disinfectant, to quote
Mr. McPherson: It certainly should be, and obviously a lot of the system is based
on that, but I’m beginning to be in at a rather skeptical mood about our political system right
now. It seems to be that there’s an awful lot of lying going on by this administration. If people
aren’t really challenging them or aren’t very successful, people are saying things that aren’t so,
starting with weapons of mass destruction. I just have a feeling that even knowledge or
availability of knowledge of campaign contributions by the public is not adequate. I think you
have to stop the soft money.
Mr. Vanderstar: That brings up a point I wanted to ask you about independently
so let me bring it in now, and that is, the whole business of the development of cable television
and 24-hour news shows and so on, as witnessed the recent New York Times problem with Jason
Blair, the great pressure to get the story and get the story out, which most people think is
negative because it puts the wrong kind of pressures on folks. But, if there is full disclosure of
even soft money contributions and all the rest of it with this aggressive media we have in this
country these days, doesn’t that make disclosure an even more effective tool to control that or
Mr. McPherson: Well, theoretically, yes, theoretically.
Mr. Vanderstar: Okay. I thought I saw that answer before you opened your
mouth. (laughter) Theoretically it should, but you don’t think it’s adequate?
McPherson: I don’t know. Maybe some people think so, perhaps it does. Most
people I think, even when they see it, even when it appears in newspaper stories, tend to shrug
their shoulders and think, “Politicians-that’s the way people operate. The rich give huge sums
and that’s the way it’s always going to be.”
Mr. Vanderstar: And you don’t think that being called to account by an opponent
in the next election is enough of a deterrent?
Mr. McPherson: I think in some places it is. The United States is different in
different parts of the country. There are some states, some districts where doing something like
that, taking a large campaign contribution and then voting in a way that clearly seemed to be
influenced by it would defeat a candidate.
I read Roll Call and the Hill, the two newspapers that cover the Congress, and just
looking through it from time to time I see cases in which somebody has that trouble because his
opponent had been using his vote and campaign contribution, tying those together.
One other thing has to do with Charlie and lawyering in the context of Congress
or, for that matter, of, say, a senior appointed official in the executive branch. We used the word
“trust” earlier. Since one is operating in my world most of the time exparte, it becomes,
curiously, more important that the lawyer in that situation not only be honest with the person he
is seeking to influence, but that he actually tell that person that there are disputes about this
matter. He doesn’t have to make a brilliant argument on behalf of the other side, but I’ve
normally tried to say, “This is not a slam dunk and there are those who feel strongly that suchand-such” and sometimes, “Their argument is so-and-so. We think,” and then give our answer.
I want the person to feel that while this is a monologue, it’s not one that is seeking to twist arms
or to cause that person to walk the plank, with a danger of getting hurt thinking that yours is the
only side of the case.
Mr. Vanderstar: You’ll be comforted to know that litigators have the same
problem in credibility with a tribunal, especially an appellate tribunal, and also in preparing for
witnesses to testify and saying, “For heavens sake, don’t get up there and pretend that there is no
other side to the issue that you are going to testify about.” You would expect to explain why
your side is better.
Mr. McPherson: Right. I was describing this problem to distinguish it from one
which was adversarial. Yes, I understand that there is an adversary who could point out the
shortcomings of your position.
Mr. Vanderstar: And that’s one of the reasons you want to reveal that you
don’t have all the truth on your side, just to avoid that kind of attack. There are similarities
between our two kinds of work.
Let me ask you about some things-this is a change of tone, perhaps, but I
wanted to be sure to ask you about some things that arose from reading the post scripts and so
forth in your book, and one of them is the whole business of a person being elected president
who has, on one hand, served the public only by being a member of Congress, typically a
senator, or, on the other hand, a person who has at least had some executive branch experience, a
vice president or a governor of a state. We talked about that a little bit before we started the tape
and I want to go back to that because I just think it’s, especially right now for the record nine,
eight men and one woman are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination and one of them
is the governor of a small state, happens to be in New England, not in the South, but a small state
and all the other are or have been senators. Is that right?
Mr. McPherson: Well, not A1 Sharpton.
Mr. Vanderstar: No, not A1 Sharpton. Of the ones who have government
experience, all are present or former senators plus one former governor.
Mr. McPherson: Yes. I think that’s right.
Mr. Vanderstar: You make a point in your book about President Carter and
contrast him with President Johnson on a number of points but notably on President Carter’s
seeming unwillingness or inability to become a political person and to trade and to do deals and
instead his emphasis on kind of the moral issue and the answer that the morality produces. So
there’s a case where you had a president, namely, Johnson, who’s primary experience had been
in the Congress, in the Senate-he had only been vice president for a few years-being
successful, and a president who’s government experience had been as a governor being
unsuccessful. Could you talk about that?
Mr. McPherson: Yes, I will. Johnson’s great success-I think it would be
widely agreed-was as a legislative leader, in the White House just as he had been on the Hill.
What Johnson did was to find ways using the presidential office and the reach it gave him to
bring about the passage of a vast legislative agenda that had been building up for 20 or 30 or 40
years. He was the guy who could make that happen because of his knowledge of the Congress,
his relationships in the Congress and his new scope as president. He brought in to his office
leaders of business, labor leaders, civil rights leaders, mayors, everybody. It’s a great place if
you know how to use it and are willing to use it. Everybody wants to go see you and offer to
help and if you get on the phone with them enough after they’ve been there, they’ll just do all
sorts of great things for you and the country. Johnson was made for that.
His tragedy was associated with his executive branch role of Commander-inChief. That is obviously something we could spend a couple of tapes on. Carter had been a not
very successful governor in the sense that he angered most of the legislature in Georgia. I
remember one day I was lobbying a very bright man, decent man, Congressman Barber Conable
from upstate New York, Republican. I had a date to see him at 1 1 :30 one morning on some tax
matter, I think. He didn’t get there until 12:30, and he apologized profusely because he’d been
to the White House and Jimmy Carter had laid out his energy program. Barber said, “It was
amazing.” He said, “He didn’t use a note. He didn’t call on anybody to help him, the secretary
of the interior or the secretary of commerce or the secretary of defense, didn’t do any of that. He
talked about the National Petroleum Reserve, he talked about prices, the Middle East. It was just
remarkable.” I was really quite taken aback, this Republican saying this Democratic president
was quite impressive. I said, “Is he going to get his program through?” And he said, “Oh, I
don’t know. You know, he’s got no friends up here.”
Doesn’t have any friends! Hell, when Nixon had his back to the wall shortly
before the House committee voted the Articles of Impeachment, he still had friends from the
Chowder and Marching Society. They were all on his side. I heard that pathetic man, Nixon, the
other day, they’re playing his tapes occasionally. He was being interviewed by an old staffer of
his, Frank Gannon. I listened, I didn’t get out of the car, this last weekend, I just listened to this
hallucinatory talk about the last few weeks as president leading up to the resignation. Even then
he was talking about how he might be able to duck the vote of impeachment in committee if he
could just get the southern Democrats. He mentioned Joe Waggoner of Louisiana-I think he
was Ways and Means, and he was the leader of the conservative, smart Democrats, southern
Democrats, who had ties to Nixon. And Nixon was saying, “I talked to Joe Waggoner and he
said, ‘I think I can get, if I can get just one then I’ll get the other two and you’ll have three
southern Democrats voting with you and that will block the vote.”’
Mr. Vanderstar: Wow.
Mr. McPherson: This is at the very end. It didn’t happen; Joe couldn’t get them.
But Nixon still had a southern Democratic Conservative friend trying to help him. It was quite
Mr. Vanderstar: I guess what I’m finding so fascinating here is the conventional
wisdom that, if you’re a governor or a former governor you have a good chance of winning the
Presidency but if you’re a senator, you don’t. And here you’ve got two Democratic presidents
whose successes and failures completely refute that conventional wisdom. Now, in the context
of today’s Democratic presidential race, where does it leave us? Do we have senators who might
have a good shot at winning the Presidency and being successful because of the Lyndon Johnson
experience, or is the conventional wisdom more likely to apply here?
Mr. McPherson: You know, I don’t know anyone who feels much confidence
about the outcome on the Democratic side. One guy we left out is the House member, Gephardt.
In a way he had more responsibility of a presidential nature, by way of being a Democratic
leader in the House. He may turn out to be a strong candidate. The whole political situation is
to me baffling right now. George W. Bush still has over 50 percent approval, when what is
happening is that he is taking natural advantage of a situation.
This again is an example of the role of fate in political life. Ronald Reagan had
an approval rating in the twenties when he was shot. His manly behavior after that, his John
Wayne-Jimmy Stewart kind of behavior, was followed by a really genuine policy decision for
which he ought to get a lot of credit, facing down the air traffic controllers. That fateful shooting
started his recovery in the public eye, just as 911 1 started George W. Bush’s, which was in the
20s, not doing well at all and would have been road kill, I think, in 2004 if it had not been for
this extraordinary environment that we are in and will be in, I imagine, at the time of the election
and long after.
In any event, I’ve just finished reading a biography of Cicero. Cicero was too
canny to believe in auguries, so was Caesar, but many Romans did. Entrails and various signs of
birds and natural phenomena were real markers for what was to come, they thought. These
sudden calamities that befell the United States in Bush’s time had a huge effect. Whether that
will completely wipe out more knowledgeable people in 2004, as a Democrat, I really don’t
know. What Bush is playing now, in addition to the card of “threat,” is the card of “powerful
response.” He is sitting at the controls of unprecedented military power. There has never been
anything like this, except maybe in Napoleon’s early campaigns, Hitler’s early campaigns when
he was thrashing everybody in Europe and then began to run into winter and Russian resistance,
and the advent of America entering the war. I don’t know what will be, what will turn this
around for the United States and Bush, if anything will. Right now we are riding this stallion of
military prowess, and Bush is in command on the stallion, just as Napoleon was in France.
Mr. Vanderstar: And governors have little or no experience with such things.
Mr. McPherson: True.
Mr. Vanderstar: It gets back to the conventional wisdom of how accurate it
Mr. McPherson: Well, there are too many Democratic contenders now to
handicap any one of them with any comfort, so I think it’s probably not worth trying to pursue
that. And it’s also, curiously, a time of unimpressive candidates.
In 1960, I think I mentioned this in an earlier tape, there were five Democratic
candidates for the nomination: Lyndon Johnson, the majority leader and described in Time
magazine as the second-most powerful man in America after Ike; Hubert Humphrey, the voice of
liberalism; Stuart Symington, extremely well-known, experienced man, had run several big
government agencies, Air Force, RFC; Adali Stevenson, twice a nominee, familiar to everybody
and an eloquent spokesman for Democratic principles; and the least consequential of them all, in
terms of achievement, John F. Kennedy. Yet Kennedy was the only one who understood or was
caused to understand how to run for the nomination in modem times, how to use public relations
and connections that his father’s money made possible, his own attractiveness, his own
personality, a handsome, witty, appealing figure in terms of the public’s perception of him. He
was always interesting. I remember, and perhaps you do, rearranging my schedule so I could
watch his press conference at night. It was the best stuff on the air.
But you could see he was very different from others, and the gap was huge
between him and Johnson out in Los Angeles, in that ability to be clever and attractive and
funny, to be good “watching” on television. The gap between Kennedy and LBJ in public
appreciation was rather like that between FDR and Truman. When Truman started speaking in
the weeks after Roosevelt’s death, your spirits just sank. You had this magnificent man, FDR,
this leader with a cape around his shoulders, standing at the rail with Churchill and speaking in
his wonderful booming voice. Then you get Truman’s midwestem twang. There was a great
falling off in the appeal of the president to the people.
Anyway, politicians get nominated by both parties, even if they’ve only had one
short term as governor of Texas, as George W. did.
What is fascinating to me is the determination and ability of the Bush
administration to govern as if they had won a landslide. My instinct, if I were president, or
counsel to this president, would be to be looking for Democratic allies, trying to fashion
moderate compromises that could attract a big Democratic vote. I would be sending moderate to
conservative judges instead of hard-over nominees to the Senate. Not this crowd. If they did not
win the popular vote by 500,000 votes, they won the electoral vote by a hair. Their tax bill that
loots the Treasury for wealthy people passes the Senate 50-50 on the vote of Dick Cheney. And
they just gave Rupert Murdoch his choice of properties around the country by a vote of three to
two. So, they do these things by the narrowest of margins.
I shouldn’t complain, I guess, because I’ve worked for and am sitting across from
you because of a man who won by 87 votes out of 1,400,000, if he won at all.
Mr. Vanderstar: If he won, yes.
You mentioned, this is going to be another radical shift, you mentioned in passing
a few minutes ago the impeachment vote on Nixon. Let me ask you to talk a little about the
impeachment vote that went forward to a trial.
Mr. McPherson: Let me tell you a funny experience, I hope I haven’t already
done this, about Muskie?
Mr. Vanderstar: You mentioned Muskie any number of times, which is no
Mr. McPherson: I got home on Saturday night, the night of the massacre, the
night Elliot Richardson and Bill Ruckleshaus had been fired and Bork had come in to fire Archie
Cox. I arrived at my house in Chevy Chase at about seven o’clock, and this was going on and I
watched it with mouth open. I thought we were headed for some kind of dictatorship, certainly
something in which the power of the Presidency would have become, if not unlawful, at least
without any moral foundation-to backhand the independent counsel and then to fire the
attorney general and the deputy attorney general, who would not fire him. I called my partner,
Berl Bemhard, and I said, “We’ve got to get Muskie to call for impeachment.” He said, “Let me
get him; I’ll get him on the phone.” And he called me back in about 15 minutes and said, “He’s
got a houseful of Mainers-people from Maine-friends at a dinner party but he said to come on
over. But he said, ‘Get Clark’.’’ So I called Clark Clifford at his home and said, “Will you meet
me and Berl at Muskie’s house at nine o’clock?’’ Clark said, “I would be privileged to be there.”
Mr. Vanderstar: You told him what the point of the meeting was?
Mr. McPherson: Yes, yes. We arrived at Muskie’s house and in that area-you
know American Plant Food on River Road?
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes.
Mr. McPherson: Behind it in that westwood neighborhood, that’s where he
lived. So we arrived over there and went in and here was Ed with a bunch of great friends from
Maine and they’re just the kind you expect from Maine, plain, funny. They were all half in the
bag when we got there. Muskie said, “You all go on back to the back and talk and I’ll come
back and join you.”
We go back and I launch into my program, that is, to get Muskie to call for an
inquiry by the Judiciary Committee or a special committee into whether the president should be
impeached. Muskie comes in and he’s in great spirits. I’m extremely serious, and I’m trying to
get him to be serious and I start talking about how this is a threat to the Republic, this is a threat
to the government of laws, we cannot have this and YOU have a responsibility as one of the
leaders of this party to stand up against it.
Muskie went over and got a three-comered hat that somebody had given him and
put it on and he got a long ceremonial sword, and he started walking around waving the sword,
repeating what I had just said. “This is McPherson, Admiral McPherson saying what I must do.”
“Well,” he said, “write something up.” Then he went back to his dinner party. We spent an hour
writing three sentences. He came back and read it and said, “Well, okay, all right.” I was
expecting another hour of argument, but he said, “Okay.”
Well, the one thing that these three lawyers did not know how to do was whatever
came next, how you get it into the press. So I called Associated Press and I got some tough guy,
kind of a “Front page” type, on the phone. “What?” I said, “My name is Harry McPherson.”
“Yeah.” I said, “I’m calling from the home of Senator Edmund Muskie.” “What?” I said, “Yes,
and Senator Muskie has a statement.” “Are you his press secretary?” “No. I’m just a lawyer, a
friend of his, but he has a statement that he wants to put in.” He said, “What’s the number?
What’s his telephone number, so I can call you back.” “You want to check and see if I’m
legitimate?” “Sure.” So, I give him the number.
In a couple of minutes he calls back. “Okay, let me have the statement. What’s
your name again?” And I tell him. I said, “I’m here with Mr. Clark Clifford who was the
secretary of defense.” “Oh, all right.” I hear this thing being tapped out on a typewriter. About
11 :30 the party is winding up in front, but still going on. We turn on the TV in the den. There’s
suddenly a show with, I forget who the journalist was, but the subject, the guest on the show was
Mac Mathias, former Senator Mathias, a wonderful liberal Republican from Maryland. And
Mac was speaking very seriously about what had just happened. He was a great friend of Elliot
Richardson’s. He hadn’t quite used the magic words. I ran out and got Muskie to come back to
sit down with us, saying “Let’s watch this.” We’re in this tiny dark room with the set, Clifford,
Berl, me and Muskie, and after about another five minutes some guy hands a piece of paper over
the journalist’s shoulder, and the journalist says “Oh, Senator Mathias. Let me just read you
what’s come over the Associated Press. ‘Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine tonight called for
a Senate Judiciary Committee or for a special committee to look into the issue of the
impeachment of Richard Nixon for crimes against the United States.”’ And I forget what he said
about the legal process, but here we were, sitting there, and I looked and said, “Ed!”-and
Muskie was sound asleep.
Mr. Vanderstar: Oh, no! (laughter)
Mr. McPherson: His head was down and I shook him and said, “They just ran
So that was my one glorious experience in the impeachment business of Richard
Nixon. Everybody had to do what you could.
Watching that House inquiry was just one of the most riveting things I’ve ever
seen. I knew Paul Sarbanes, and he was on it; so was Barbara Jordan, an unforgettable person.
There was guy that I really thought the world of, never even met him before, named Jim Mann,
James Mann from South Carolina. He was great. Several people just kind of emerged, just came
forward at that time.
Mr. Vanderstar: What about the impeachment of William Clinton?
Mr. McPherson: Sidney Blumenthal’s new book, The Clinton Wars, almost
certainly contains Clinton’s view of all this, his and hers. I know Sidney very well, and I was
appalled by Clinton and appalled by Sidney, frankly, for telling me on a couple of occasions that
this was all a contrived situation in which Lewinsky had thrown herself at Clinton and he was
trying to placate her. It was the kind of thing that can only be believed by someone who was
determined to believe it no matter what, and Sidney believed it. We had lunch one day right in
the middle of it and I said, “Sidney, you can’t believe this.” And he just got up and said, “I have
to leave” and left the Hay-Adams and went back to the White House. When Clinton finally
fessed up, Anne Richards and I and another lawyer called Sidney and invited him to lunch. He
said, “I think I’m going into ‘river therapy.”’
Mr. Vanderstar: River therapy?
Mr. McPherson: River therapy. I said, “What’s that?” He said, (‘You know, the
study of de-Nile.’’ (laughter)
Mr. Vanderstar: Oh, good.
Mr. McPherson: Clinton was always a problem for me as far as committing to
him. I had huge regard for his brains and his appeal, and I was stunned by his ability as a votegetting and opinion-molding politician. He was really just extraordinary.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes.
Mr. McPherson: But I never felt that I could rely on him in some hndamental
way. I thought he was, in many ways, like Johnson in his huge capacity for political
information, huge interest in it, huge appetite for it. He wasn’t as good as Johnson in putting
factions together, but he was awfdly good. And yet his great attraction was for Kennedy. He,
Clinton, was attracted particularly to Kennedy and not to Johnson.
Mr. Vanderstar: And your 1995 preface to your book concludes by saying,
Clinton can learn much from Johnson’s failures and shortcomings, et cetera, but you were
critical of Clinton for seeking to emulate Kennedy rather than Johnson in his domestic goals.
Now, if you wrote that three years later, would you say the same thing?
Mr. McPherson: Yes, I think, Clinton’s a special case. His behavioral weakness,
to put it in a euphemism, was enormous and so was Kennedy’s, but Clinton had even less simple
caution than Kennedy did.
Mr. Vanderstar: Well, you mentioned earlier and you mentioned in your book
that the role that fate played. But for the Paula Jones suit you wouldn’t have had the deposition,
and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Mr. McPherson: Right. Exactly.
Mr. Vanderstar: Because that deposition gave Clinton’s adversaries something to
Mr. McPherson: Right.
Mr. Vanderstar: Without that they would have had very little.
Mr. McPherson: That’s right.
Mr. Vanderstar: The whole business of sexual behavior and not admitting it is so
endemic, I think, in our society that I think a lot of people sympathized with Clinton, even if they
thought he was lying. Do you agree with that?
Mr. McPherson: Yes. Many successful as well as failed politicians have had
affairs outside marriage. Years ago when I was doing some work for the Norfolk Southern
Railroad, I would be invited down to the old Pullman car that sits on a siding in Union Station.
It’s owned by Norfolk Southern and it is one of the two cars that FDR used for campaigning.
One evening I was in there for dinner. Usually six or eight people could get around the table,
and the meal was invariably steak and potatoes made by wonderful elderly Black men who had
been doing this for many years. One of them was on the train when Roosevelt used it in 1940
and ‘44, and that car, I was told by my host, had been many times pulled up on a spur on its way
to Hyde Park, a spur in New Jersey near the home of Lucy Mercer Rutherford.
One evening, a couple of drinks in me and feeling a little interested in scandal, I
said to this nice old Black man, “Could you show me where Mrs. Rutherford would stay?” And
he said, “I don’t speak about things like that.” This was 35 years later, and you might have
thought he would have told a few stories about FDR and Lucy, just to be entertaining. But he
wouldn’t tell them. I have the greatest respect for that.
Mr. Vanderstar: It sounds like a George Marshall kind of person, to go back to
your story about your conversation with General Marshall.
Mr. McPherson: Right.
Mr. Vanderstar: I guess I’ll make the assumption that you think that
impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton was not good use of our national resources.
Mr. McPherson: Oh, no. In fact, there is an extremely readable book that-I
loaned it to someone but when I get it back I’ll send it to you-by former Senator Dale Bumpers.
It’s his autobiography. It’s terrific. It’s absolutely and unmistakably Dale, and not Dale “with”
anybody. It’s called The Best Lawyer in a One-Lawyer Town and it’s about his start in
Arkansas. It’s just a delightful book. At the very end he prints his speech in defense of Clinton,
which I thought was one of the best speeches I ever heard made in Congress. He put the
question to the Congress: “Why have you got this man against the wall?”
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes. And the action of the House knowing that the Democrats
controlled the Senate and were virtually certain to turn down the Articles makes it even more
startling. And one of the prosecutors is now the junior senator from South Carolina.
Mr. McPherson: Yes, Lindsay Graham. And the guy who was the main
motivator, Tom DeLay, is now the majority leader.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes. For Democrats, it’s a scary business.
Mr. McPherson: Well, yes.
Mr. Vanderstar: Let me sort of move toward a close by going back to Charlie
Horsky’s book for a minute. You started out talking about his generosity to people he
characterized as “Washington Lawyers,” which you certainly are. One of the things he says in
there is that he thinks Washington lawyers help make the government function well.
“Generosity” is a very good description of that.
Mr. McPherson: I think that’s true. Many members have said this. “I appreciate
people coming in to talk to me about these issues; otherwise, I’d never know.” It’s sometimes
meant to flatter, but it’s true. Staffs are much bigger than they used to be, but for the most part
the best lawyers in this city are in private practice, and they’re more likely to have had the time
and the focus, the assistance and associates digging in the library, to prepare their case well, to
make it with effectiveness and to bring matters to the attention of the members that the members
wouldn’t get normally. So, in that sense, people are educated by lawyers coming in to do it, and
certainly in rulemaking proceedings they play an invaluable role. Your submissions to a
rulemaking are what the agency has got to work with.
Mr. Vanderstar: And I think that’s the way Charlie was characterizing it too-if
you are helping government function by providing information to decision makers that they
might not otherwise have, then that helps make the ultimate outcome more reasonable. And, of
course, the problem people talk about all the time is that, on a lot of issues only one side has the
access. You talked about Tommy Boggs representing the Trial Lawyers Association. There is a
match for you. And you also told a story once about Jack Valenti and you making presentations
on opposite sides. And those are, of course, common situations. But there is always a worry in
the public’s mind that there are situations in which only one side, the business side if you will, is
getting access and the opportunity and the consumer, the ordinary citizen, however one
characterizes the other side, is not getting the access. I guess that’s a problem for which there’s
no real solution.
Mr. McPherson: Yes. If you looked at the whole range of matters that members
deal with in the course of a couple of years, the things that get a lot of tongue-clucking comment,
that is, in which the journalists write about lawyers or interest groups getting a special deal in a
tax bill, that sort of thing, those are actually pretty infrequent, a pretty small part of what
Congress does. Ninety percent of what Congress does is probably-and I have no basis for this
other than just surmise-but I would think that 90 percent of what Congress does is not lobbied
by lawyers hired from Washington firms or firms anywhere. It’s got to do, let’s say, with the
education program, “No Child Left Behind.” What are we going to do about that? How are we
going to handle the reading of four year olds? I was watching Lehrer last night. A part of the
problem with the Act has to do with the reluctance of a number of school districts to take part, to
take any money from the federal government because they don’t want to be told how to teach
children to read. They thought they had a better idea of how to do that. Well, that’s nothing
anybody would hire a Washington lawyer to say. It may be the NEA, National Education
Association, the AFT, certainly the Department of Education and maybe someone like the late
Marge McNamara, Bob McNamara’s wife, who was one of the founders of Reading Is
FUNdamental. People like that would probably go up and see friends of theirs, members, and
talk to them about how important it was to do a certain thing about reading, and when the
member went on the floor his head wouldn’t be filled with data from a lawyer like McPherson; it
would be filled with the argument that his friend Marge McNamara had just made, or some other
woman. For all I know, Laura Bush may have, seems to be interested in reading.
Mr. Vanderstar: Or Marian Wright Edelman.
Mr. McPherson: Marian Wright Edelman. Exactly. A lot of, most of what
Congress does is in that area that is not normally the subject of compensated lawyer lobbying.
Mr. Vandrstar: In the course of this last few minutes of discussion, both
my comments and yours, we’ve started to identify public interest lawyers, lobbyists, what have
you, so that there’s been a growth, I guess, certainly since you left the White House, an
enormous growth in a number of citizen groups, consumer groups, feminists, what have you, that
have the kind of access that you’re talking about. So that the balance is probably a lot more even
that people think it is.
Mr. McPherson: Well, they certainly are. The Leadership Conference on Civil
Rights, People for the American Way, organizations like that have been enormously active.
Here’s John Gardner, a single individual, who writes a letter with no famous names on the left or
the right of the letter to, I don’t know, maybe a million people asking them to send him 15
dollars and to help him start Common Cause. I know several hundred thousand people did.
Mr. Vanderstar: Oh, sure.
Mr. McPherson: And the letter was not a page and a half bullet-point kind of
thing. It was about a 15-page letter in which John talked about all the things that troubled him
about our society and how we citizens really ought to be together trying to do something about
them. An amazing thing.
Mr. Vanderstar: Yes, yes. That’s a good story, a good place to kind of wind up
the discussion because you’ve now spent, how many years since you first came to Washington?
Mr. McPherson: ‘56 to ‘03, so 47 years.
Mr. Vanderstar: And you’ve seen pretty much everything that goes on Erom a
big point of view.
Mr. McPherson: It’s amazing how much I learn every week, significant things,
that I’d never known.
Mr. Vanderstar: You mean, even now.
Mr. McPherson: Oh, all the time. Almost every day someone says, “You didn’t
know that?” (laughter)
Mr. Vanderstar: Good. I think we’ll close this, and I just want to say how
grateful I am to you on behalf the Oral History Project and, to a large degree, on my personal
behalf, for your time and your attention and your wonderful stories and your willingness to talk
about some things that I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to talk about, like your mother’s death, and
race in Tyler, Texas, and lots of others things even today. So, I just wanted to express my
Mr. McPherson: It’s just been a wonderful privilege to talk with you about it. I
mean, these are matters that will always interest me, but to have somebody who is also interested
in them and who evokes some ideas and thoughts from me has been great. Mainly, I’m just glad
to have made a friend and look forward very much to having you all to dinner when you get off
the mountain in North Carolina.