tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations PBS January 24, 2020 11:00pm-11:31pm PST
nouncer: support for the pbs presentation of this program was provided by general motors. i see a future. i see a good future. i see a future filled with ads and no rage. both: we see a future... with zashes. woman: i see a future where fossil fuels... man: are a thing of the past. all: we see a future with zero emissions. i see a future where traffic... keeps perfect time. where intelligence is always by design. man: we see a fu zero congestion. - we are... - we are... both: we are... all: general motors. david: george herbert walker bu asked you to help him his campaign. i said, "well, george, that's a great idea "except i don't know anything about politics. and number 2--i'm a democr." ford loses narrowly to carter. that's 'cause you were in the white house advisg. - well... - [laughter] was it difficuprepare reagan for the debates? the red light goes on, and he's perfect.
david: as secretary of state, your job was to go around and get the coalition put together. james: it was a textbook example of the w to fight a war. david: what was the reason you were so successful? james: lucky. woman: would you fix your tie, please? david: well, people wouldn't recognize mef my tie was fixed, but ok. i'll just le this way. all right. david: i don't consider myself a journalist, and nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began e on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private eqty firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? david: do you miss the days when everything you diwas in the front pages and everything you were doing was making world policy,
or are you quite happy with what you're doing now? james: i only miss not having been re-electein '92 because i think we were getting a lot of things done, and i think ld have continued doing some things. but i have to tell you, life after politics is pretty damn good. [laughter] you'reour own boss, you set your own schedule, you do what you want to do, and r ere's a lot to be said at. let's talk about your career and how you came to be in the positions that you held. so, you are a native of houston. is that correct? james: right. david: your family had been here for quite some time. - 1872. - to be precise. that's quite some time. g and when you were grow, did you know that you wanted to be secretary of state, secretary of treasury, chief of staff? no, no. i ised by a family that didn't really participate in politics. politics was sort ofdirty b. and really good lawyers didn't involve themselves
in politics. i had a grandfather whose mantra for the young lawyers coming to work for baker botts, the family law firm, was "work hard, study, and stay out of politics." and that's the reason i use that title for my st recent book. so i was pretty mu apolitical. were you a star athlete? were you a student leader? what was your interest? james: i was a reasonably decent athlete. i would not say i was whata student leader.t? my freshman year because i'd gone to a prep school in pennswhvania, the hill school,h was very . we couldn't have dates, couldn't have girls there, d so forth. and so when i gorinceton and got all that freedom and i could go to new york, i didn't spend much time studying. - right. - [laughter] david: after you graduated from princeton, you went to the marines, though, before you went to law school. james: marine corps before that, yeah, tu and that was a veryh, ng experience for me,w school.
and i love the marine corps. and i lo it to this day. as you know, there's no such thing as a former marine. david: no. james: when you're a marine, you're a mare. david: my father was in the marines. i understand. i know that. university of texas law school. you thought about going to law school in the east. why did you come to the university of texas law scol? or on his advice. he said, "you know--"i think i could have gotten in to harvard law school, and thought about plying. dad said, "no, you really ought to go to a texas law school because you're gonna be practicing with people from texas." and i think he was probably right. david: all right, so you graduated from university of texas-- and texas had a very good law school, too. well, you went in the law revi there. you did quite well. so you're ready to join baker and botts. what happened? james: ha! they had a nepotism rule, t i was hopeful. one day, my dad came home from work, and he said, "son, tomorrowmethe onsideration
"you're on the law review, so forth and so on, nd you're the 4th james a. baker in a row that would practice there." and he came home the next night and he said, "well, the firm decided not to waive the nepotism rule." - [laughter] and i was very down about that. but assaid to people in retrospect, "it was the best "thing that could ever havf happened to me because "had succeeded, it would have been because my dad was there. "and if i had failed, people would say, 'what do you expect? he's only here because his dad is here.'" so it was a good thing for me that they didn't want me to he's only here because me there.s here.'" growing up, your father was a tough taskmaster. as i remember, you said he had a certain set of principles about preparation. james: he kept telling me, "son, a prior preparation prevents poor performance." he called it "the 5 ps," and it was-- again, iwas a mantra that sort of guided my life.
i can probably say, since we're here at the baker institute, that i thought it might ought to be "the 6 ps"-- "prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance," right. [laughter] david: ok, well, your father didn't say that, but this is your addition to the family mantra. right? - [laughter] - that's right. james: it's an amendment! ac all right, so you're cing law,t's right. you're minding your own business, you're playing tennis with someone ned george herbert walke. james: right. david: and then all of a sudden, geor herbert walker bush asked you at some point to help him in his campaign. - right. - and that is after your wife dies of breast cancer. yeah, that's correct. she died of breast cancer at the age of 38. barbara and george were the last non-family members to see her before she died. we wose, even then. and george came to me, he said, "bak," he said, "you know, you need ttake your nd off your grief and help me run for the senate."
i looked at him. i said, "well, george, that's a great idea "except for two things. "number 1--i don't know anything about politics. and number 2--i'm a democrat." and he said, "well, we can fix that latter problem." [laughter] and we did. and when i'm talking to a room full of republicans, i say, "i got religion," and when i'm talking to a mixed crowd, i say, [laughter] david: rtiht. so, you switched p. you helped him in the 1970 election for the senate. i've been a little bit bitten by the political bug, not totallompletely. but they asked me to be state finance chairman of the republican party of texas, and i did that. david: you were offered a po when president ford was president. james: for jerry ford. that's right. david: and you were offered the position of being deputy secretary of commee. and how did you quickly become somebody who is in charge of finding delegates for president ford in his race
in 1976 against ronald reagan-- james: well, first of all, the job of deputy secretary commerce, they usually try and find a business lawyer type, and that's what i had been. george bush, i know, put in a good word for me. but the second tragedy struck after i had been at the commerce for about 6 months, the second tragedy that chaed my life. and that was that jerry ford's delegate hunter in his campaign for the nomination against ronald agan was killed in an automobile accident, and they needed a new delegate hunter. i didn'tganow anything about de hunting, but i found out about it. david: so, to remind p wple, in 1976, gerald fo beesident, but he'd neve elected. he was gonna run for re-elect-- - run for election. - run r election. and his main opponent was ronald reagan. james: right. and it came down to a very, very tight convention. and your job was to get the delegates for president ford. - yeand how did it go?
well, that was the last truly contested national convention of either mahir political party in tcountry, and it went down, went right down to the last ballot. it was very tight. reagan was very strong. he almost knocked off an incumbent president, but weable to prevail. we used, i will say, the full resources of the white house to get there. i used to tell people, "i've been to more state dinners than anye dy in the world," beca a delegate hunter for president ford, i used to bring uncommitted delegates to state dinners. and then i became secretary of state and had to go to every state dinner, which i... - [laughter] election is-- carter's way ahead. and then he catches up toward the end, ford comes back. they he debates. but ultimately, ford loses narrowly to carter. that's 'cause you were in the white house advising.
- well, uh... - [laughter] no, that was later when he lost, but, uh... [laughter] you have now managed a campaign that lost for president. what did you decide to do? you decide to go back to texas? - and... i tell people every time we lose an election, i come back here. a lot of people stay up ere. i don't do that. david: so you dede to run for attorney general. james: well, i'd been bitten by the political bug because that convention was really close, it was very exciting. and by the way, we only lost that election to you guys by 10,000 votes out of 81 million votes that had been cast. you turn 10,000 votes around in iowa and hawaii, ford woue been president. carter would never have been president. i was bitten by the bug. and so... but i'd practiced law for 18 years, and i was coming back here and i said to myself, "w your hand at this political game." david: and while you were campaigning, you point out
that somebody came up to you and said, "you look like jim ber." well, i'd a gotten a lot of press time as ford's national chairman, a lot of tv time. and people used to recognize me. they couldn't really come up with a name. this guy one time did that. he said, "anybody ever tell you you look like jim baker?" and i said, "yes, often." and i g ought, "boy, this is a al." and the guy said, "doesn't it piss you off?" that's when i realized, david, i wasn't gonna win that race. david: all right. all right. so you didn't win that race. - no. - that was in 1978. - yeah. and then you get a call not too long aft from your friend george bush and sa, "guess what. i'm gonna run for president. i want you to help manage my campaign." - so what did you say? - that's correct. james: i helped george bush because he was my close friend. david: ultimately, he did not get the nomination. james: no, reagan got it. i don't think you thought that george bush was gonna be picked as vice-president.
we didn't. i was in the suite with barbara and george and a few of our campaign staff. we thought it was all over. when walter cronkite comes out, and he says, "ford is seriously considering jothe ticket with reagan"-- well, turns out that when walter cronkite used the phrase "it would be like a co-presidency if ford was gonna be the vice-president for reagan," reagan got upset with that. he said, "this isn't gonna work." and he then ultimately caed george bush. i took the call. it was drew lewis who was working for reagan. said, "governor reagan would like to speak to ambassador bush," and i handed him the phone. and he said, "yes, sir. yes. how are you? yes, sir. and he said, "yes." and the only question i think reagan asked him was phone. "will you support my position on abortion?" and pres--amor bush said, "yes, sir, i will." david: now, you were given a task by rona reagan to help on the debates? james: to help with the debates, lp negotiate the debates and help prepare for the debates. david: was it difficultto n
for the debates? people were not confident that he was a good debater. mes: a lot of his close-end people didn't want him to debate. i wanted him t his pollster, i think, wanted him to. i believe nancy wanted him to. i always thought he was trific in front of the camera. the red light goes on, he's perfect. reagan wins the election. and what do you think you're gonna be offed, if anything? james: i don't think. i don't know. i'd heard that my name had been surfaced as a potential white house chief of staff. i said, "that's not possible. "you don't go to somebody who's running two campaigns against you and make him your and guess what. i don't think in'll ever happen againmerican po, not the way we're going today anyway. james: he did. david: and you became chief of staff of the white house. james: right. david: was it as much fun doing that job as it later is talking about it?
james the worst job, worst job in government, and i tell everybody that. and i tell the people who've been nominated for that job or appointed to that job, "you'vgot the worst job "in government "because you're right at the intersection of politics and policy."nt and for mee it was even worse beca was an interloper. i wasn't a californian. they didn't give me credit for being a conservative. i wasn't a reaganite. and there were a lot of people that tried to take mout. but the gipper was always there for me, and so w wife. and so it was mike deaver and stu spencer so, reagan was an amiable person. you found him to be quite easy to work for. and it was said that you had to give him a joke every day. he liked to hear a joke every day. and he would give you one every day. james:lee was the best joke tyou ever heard. - i can't repeat 'em. - [laughter] david: you're chief of staff, and you're doing a good job
thatfiverybody thinks is ter reagan is re-elected. and then you dece to do a switch, which is you become the secretary of treasy. the secretary of treasury becomes chief of staff. whose idea tas that, and was it haconvince reagan of that? that was don regan's idea, and here's what happened. there had been a leak that really antagonized don regan, who was secretary of the treasury. and by the wayregan was a damn good secretary of the treasury. and he was--i think he was probably ronald reagan's favorite cabinet officer. and they were both irishmen and they really related to each other. but there'd been a leak, and regan got really upset. and he called me, chief of staff, and he said, "i'm gonna resign. tell the president." i said come on, don. you're not gonna do that." i said, "i'm coming over." so i went over to treasury right across the street, and said, "you can't do this."
and we chatted for a while. he said, "you're tired, aren't you?" and i said, "are you kidding?" i said, "i've had this job longer than anybody in history that didn't go to jail." - [laughter] and "yes, i'm tired." he said, "we ought to switch jobs." he said, "no, we ought to switch jobs." i said, "don't say that again or i'll ke you up on it if the president approves it." and anyway, t from there. i had been there when president reagan first asked me to take the job. i said, "mr. president,in e -year increments." he said, "fine. we'll do it in 2-year increments." he told suomn, "your man's gonna beat 5:00 every afternoon." t well, i was never home00. and after 4 years and 2 weeks and 3 days, i was still in the job. and regan made that suggestion, so w t, wey and to mike deaver,
and oth thought it was a good idea. spencer did, too. then we took it to mrs. reagan. she thought it was a good idea. then we took it to the preside. so that's how it happened. david: so came secretary of the treasury, and during that time, among other things, became the most significant rewriting of the tax code we'd had for 50 years or so the tax-- - in a revenue neutral way. - ok. we didn't itow the deficit to do . - 1986 tax act. - '86, yeah. davihow did you get that through? because congress was controlled by the democrats in those days. s: yeah, well, we worked-- president reagan was very good about reaching across the aisle. and we worked with the democratic leadership in the house to make that happen-- it wasn't easy. it was a very close-run thing, but we finally got it done. you got that done. and then your friend george herbert walker bush says he wants to run for president. reagan's two terms are gonna be u george bush is vice-president, and he asks you to helprun. james: yeah.
david: so were you reluctant to leave as secretary of treasury to do that? well, i was gonna do it. i d s gonna do it, if he as to. i didn't like the idea of having to get back into the grubby, nitty-gritty of politics, leave the treasu's-- actually, bush is behind for quite a bit the campaign, catches up, wins. i'and then do you say, "ok ready to go back to houston?" no, he knew i wanted to be secrety of state. david: and he offered you that right away. james: yeah, the next day. david: so, as secretary oftate, you had to deal james: yeah, th a number of problems. one of them was the invasion of kuwait by saddam hussein. your job was to go around and get thcoalition put together and also to raise the money to pay for it. and was that hard to do? james: well, it's the first and only time it's ever been done. so i tell people it textbook example of a way to fight a war. you tell the world what you're gonna do, you get the world togeth with you to do it, you d
and nothing more, nothing less, you bring the troops home, and then you get other people to pay for it. that's never been dfore. i don't know when it's gonna be done again, but that's the way to fight a war. davi cold war actually ends during george bush's presidency. the berlin wall falls down. why did you not recommend that george bush go over there to berlin and kind of remind everybody we'd won the cold war? - and dance on the wall. - that's exactly right. why not? this was president bush's decision, and it was absolutely the right decision. he got a lot of griefor it. if he had gloated and been triumphal, we would never have been able to conclude what we were able to subsequently conclude wirbachev- the two lead, s of the soviet union w the way, made the decision not to use force to keep the empire together, an history will treat very, very well in my op david: what do you think was the reason you were so successful?
was it that you were trained as a lawyer, that you are harder-working than everybody else, smarter than everybody elre clever, better surrounded by better people? what sas the reason you wesuccessful? - lucky. - [laughter] david: well,tle bit more than that, probably. well, i had wonderful parents who instilled a solid work ethic in me. i think--and by the way, i never wing it. lways foowed the "prior preparation prevents poor performance" mantra. i think those things made a difference. but i was brought up to believe that if you start something, you finis or you do evything you can to finish it, that sort of thi. but i was there at a wonderful time, a time-- and now here's what i really think was the best thing for me. i had tremendous associates and assistants.
they really performed beautifully, and i was the itneficiary of a lot o so, today, as we look at some of the problems the current president has to deal with, let's just talk about those for a few moments. - yeah, sure. david: an issue that you were deeply involved with, the middle east peace. what do you think is likely to happen? james: i'm very pessimistic. i mean, i think the stars are misaligned badly. i don't see any chance of anything in the nearter, and it's very sad. it's sad for the people in the region. it's sad for the palestinia. it's sad for israel. because she should not have to be a nation perpetually at war. there needs to be peace. ppused to think it would in my lifetime. i'm not so sure now. david: whaabout korea? my sense is that i've seen this movie before, because we've done thie starting in 1994 in clinto, where we changed the policy of resolve
and determination to one of conciliation and tried to buy north korea off with aid and assistance and were never able to get them to give up their nuclear program. i don't see them giving it up. i really don't. and i hope we don't go over there and just take their promise that they're gonna give it up. david: what out china? that is the biggest geopolitical, in my view, allenge facing american policymakersoday is how we react, how we react to the emergence of china as the new global superpower. she's already an economic superpower, anbut i mean as politicalse. now our relations withurope seem to be under some duress. well, i think it is very important for us to understand and recognize that america's strength is founded in large pa on its alliances. i mean, we have alliances around the world that permit us to
verage our strength-- our economic strength, our military strength, our diplomatic strength. those alliances are extremely important. they take care and feeding, and we need to do a better job of caring for them and feeding 'em. david: on the iranian agreement, would you have done un and we need to do the deal that was doner pre, for them and feeding 'em. or would you have pulled out as president trump? i ven't think we should otten into that negotiation to begin with. i thk it was a mistake. because if sanctions were beginning to bite iran, and i think if we were gonna get into negotiations tth iran, we should have done i. we should have done it on nuclear and their support ror in the region and gotten some promise on that. david:ofn your time as secretartate, you met a lot of prominent prime ministers, presidents, kings, queens. who was the one or two most impressive people you met outside the united states? i dealt with some outstanding leaders. i think of gorbachev, i think of thatcher,
a wonderful, wonderful soviet-- former soviet apparatchik who changed entirely. - you met gorbachev many times. - many times, yeah. david: you were imprd sed with his intellect s abilities? yes, yes. david: he seemed to have done an incredible job of actually changing the course of the world, maybe unintentionally, to some extent. it was uninten of it was unintentional. david: so for people who are watching who woulday, "what are rds of advice for the congress or the administration "from the great former secretary of state, secretarffof treasury, chief of sim baker?" well, yeah, i think that we absolutely have to understand that one of the biggest threats fac og our country and faci democracy is the political dysfunction we have today in this country. we don't--you know, when i was there 25 years ago with reagan and with bush and with ford, we reached across the aisle
and we got things done. it happened with carit happ. that doesn't happen anymore. and that's truly tragic. david: so, your pleasures are still hunting and fishing and-- james: yeah, and i like playing golf. i still go to the office. i'm still a seniorer at baker botts. re i still go to the office. we have a mandatoryrement , but there's an exemption if you have been chief of staff at the white house... - [laughter] secretary the treasury, and secretary of state/ - well, um... - [applause] david: well, they should have that exemption. so let me just say, after you left as your term in government, i had the privilege of working with you for about 15 years in business and other things and it was one of the great pleasures of my life getting to see you up close, somebody i'd read about. thank you for your friendship and your great leadership thank you for yours, david. [applause]
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