Q: You're Tim Hyde, 36 years old, deputy director of the Republican Senate campaign fund. You live in Alexandria -- Old Town. You draw a salary of $43,000. In 1969 you were an undergraduate history student at the University of Iowa. Self-made, certified student revolutionary, Progressive Labor persuasion. What do you think Tim Hyde 1969 might have said about Tim Hyde 1984?
A: He might have said that Tim Hyde in 1984 hadbeen co-opted by the system and had sold out as have a major portion of his generation.
Q: There's a saying that anybody who's not a socialist at 20 has no heart, anybody who's still a socialist at 30 has no head. Does that do any justice to your situation?
Q: Or, is a job is a job and does Tim Hyde, like a lot of people, work for the next best available employer?
A: That, in part, explains how I got to be an employe of the Republican Party.
Q: Tell me about the political tradition you grew up in?
A: My family was middle class. My father was a salesman. Owned his own business. We lived in Iowa, then in Abilene, Texas. My father was a strong Republican. My grandparents had been schoolteachers, strong Republicans. My parents got divorced. My father was no longer a factor in my life, financially or otherwise. We moved back to Iowa. My mother worked. We were on public assistance. And as far as I could tell, apolitical. There was no political environment until my junior-high and high-school years.
Q: When did you discover politics?
A: I began selling peanut brittle for teen-age Republicans in 1964 as a social activity. Not really until I came to the University of Iowa [did I] start moving to the left.
Q: When did you discover you were a student revolutionary?
A: That took some time. I went to a rally in 1966 where a band of protestors gave a series of speeches. They were heckled. Eggs were thrown at them. I was rather offended by that. I started paying more attention to the leaflets they were handing out. Attending meetings. Becoming more and more interested and gradually became involved. I discovered I was a student revolutionary, I suppose, in the fall of 1967 when I was in a demonstration and I was arrested. It was certified then.
Q: Do you remember what you were demonstrating about?
A: Dow Chemical was coming to the University of Iowa to recruit and we were trying to block passage. The police arrived in all their riot gear with thousands of people standing in the parking garage across the street watching. They dragged us one by one to the waiting vans. It was quite festive.
Q: Do you recall any people you looked to on the way as models?
A: I don't think so. A large group of people more or less moved left together. We spent a lot of time reading various tracts, discussing things in meetings. We fed off of each other's enthusiasm. We were still quite in a minority in 1967 and 1968. It was not de rigueur to be against the war in Vietnam.
Q: Do you recall anything you learned in college playing a role?
A: It seems to me that in some way we were ill-served by our earlier education. We were taught that the United States was the greatest country the world had ever produced. Our armies were the strongest, invincible. Our founding fathers were the purest. Our leaders would never lie to us and had the best motives. We discovered, soon after arriving at college, that that wasn't true. Our leaders did occasionally lie to us. Our forefathers weren't always the purest. Our armies weren't invicible and our country wasn't flawless. And I think we just inverted it. We turned it on its head and soon believed that the United States was the most evil country the world had ever produced. That our leaders always lied to us and the peccadilloes we discovered in our forefathers made them rogues or worse. And that the country, the whole thing, had to come down.
Q: When did you turn in a different direction?
A: Because we were so powerless and impotent, and because we were at a university where we had so much leisure -- we didn't, after all, have to work for a living -- we quickly dissolved into doctrinaire sectarian groups. We spent more time in internecine warfare than we did fighting the real enemy.
Q: Who was the real enemy?
A: The system. And I was never very comfortable with extremists. And I'm not comfortable with people who don't have some measure of self-doubt anwho are humorless. There were an awful lot of humorless people walking around the University of Iowa in those days. Protesting the war became more and more popular. Increasingly the argot, the slogans seemed to be not very well thought out by the people who were shouting them. It became more and more ritualistic. Every spring you took over the campus and walked the streets. I began to think the whole thing was rather fatuous. I winced every time someone said, "Power to the people." I retreated to the fourth floor of the university library and read books about Marxism and decided to go to graduate school to try to develop an informational base to support the views that I already held. I spent more time with footnotes than I did in the streets. I grew tired of running in the streets.
Q: What was your draft status during all this?
A: 1Y. [A medical deferment.] Hard of hearing. I was never subject to the draft.
Q: The entire student movement is identified with two large forces: the civil-rights movement of the early '60s, and the war itself. By the early '70s both wound down. Do you think your transition had something to do with a changing climate?
A: Yes. The prospects of successful revolution taking place in the second half of the 20th century seemed increasingly remote. And as I would emerge from the library to check my shadow from time to time, there were fewer and fewer people in the streets. The whole thing came to seem more and more irrelevant.
Pretty soon I wasn't thinking much about the revolution at all. I suppose I would have tried to find my unregistered gun -- if I'd had one -- and brought it out and dusted it off. But by 1972 more likely I'd have watched the revolution on Walter Cronkite.
Q: When did you decide that you were a Republican?
A: At no point did I stand up and say, "I am no longer a Marxist. I am no longer a student revolutionary." I just realized one day that it was irrelevant, no longer a factor. I was just apolitical. I was working on constructing a family, a career.
Q: A career in what?
A: I was a research historian on a state-history film project, the Iowa Heritage Project, and I did some consulting work for the State Historical Society. And I was apolitical. I don't think I even voted in 1974. I remember watching Richard Nixon resign and thinking that was very interesting and following it the way the rest of the American public did. But I certainly didn't have any ideological perspective.
Q: When did you decide that you were happy among Republicans?
* In 1977 I applied for a job with the Democrat and the Republican caucus staffs in the Iowa Senate. The Republicans hired me. I found myself in very compatible company. I liked the people, liked what they were doing. I was comfortable with the Republicans. I'd always been uncomfortable with the George McGoverns and the liberals.
Q: You've said to me that there was no epiphany, no bolt of light, but nonetheless in the course of your odyssey from student Maoism to comfortable Republican existence, the one thing you've never been was a liberal Democrat.
A: I used to say in '68 and '69 that I would be more comfortable sitting in a room talking to Ronald Reagan and I would be more likely to believe Ronald Reagan -- or whoever was the conservative at that time -- than Gene McCarthy or George McGovern. At least Ronald Reagan will admit we live in a class society. Liberals have all these fuzzy views.
There are some consistencies between the positions I held then and the positions I hold now. Republicans tend to be non-bureaucratic or antibureaucratic and we certainly were that in the late '60s. We tended to view rule-making restrictions of one sort or another imposed by government as harmful. I hold that view now and did then. Liberals always seemed to me to be the bad guys. In the late '60s the liberals were the ones we viewed as trying to sell us out. They were interfering with our goals. Today the liberals are wearing the black hats for the obvious reasons that they would like to maintain the status quo -- New Deal liberalism.
Q: What do you do at the Republican Senate campaign committee?
A: I'm one of three deputy directors. In the past two years I worked with 12 U.S. Senate campaigns. Providing them with the money that the federal law allows us to give to U.S. Senate races and with other kinds of advice and services. Helping them get elected or reelected.
Q: How's your batting average?
A: Five of my six incumbents were reelected. None of my challenge candidates were elected, although several came pretty close.
Q: What do you like about the job?
A: In some ways it's similar to graduate school. There are tremendous highs and tremendous lows. You do it for the highs. It's very exciting. You sit at a table with other major players and make decisions about how a lot of money's going to be spent. You make decisions that indirectly are going to have a rather major impact on the country. Why do you think you're in this job as opposed to a policy-making job somewhere in the administration?
Q: A job in private business?
A: I've had options. All of us in this business feel ultimately that we have to go out and get a real job some day -- that somehow this is not real. James Dickey, in a poem called, no less, "Adultery," has this line where he talks about "rooms we cannot die in," and in a sense that's what this business is. Some day I feel I'm going to have to do something else, but right now it's financially rewarding. And it's very exciting. One can be harassed and depressed and a lot of other things, but never bored.
Q: How do you think Tim Hyde of '69 would have reacted to the young entrepreneurial professional Tim Hyde of 1984?
A: I suspect I would have found the Tim Hyde of 1984 a pleasant fellow but not very good company. It would have been uncomfortable. In 1969 I had this mmense love for humanity in the abstract. I didn't always get along with individual human beings very well. I didn't agree with most of them. And in 1984 I'm not in love with humanity in the abstract. I don't even think much about it. But I get along pretty well with just about everybody, whether I agree with them or not.
I'm sure there are some unresolved conflicts.
Q: How do you work them out?
A: I don't spend a lot of time trying to resolve them. And that's one reason why this whole exercise makes me somewhat uncomfortable because it's forcing me to put some positions that I've held and positions I hold side by side, and say some are wrong and obviously the ones I hold now are right.
I can say that the Vietnam war was stupid and it was a mistake. I now no longer see conspiracies all over the place. I don't think it was an imperialist misadventure. I just think it was a stupid mistake.
Q: Do you have any heroes?
A: Yes. That list certainly includes Ronald Reagan for whom I have just immense affection. He's a great human being.
I'd like to be like Edmund Wilson, a person I think about a lot. To be able to retreat somewhere into his library and shut out the noise and read a lot of books and get paid for it.
Some of the great explorers in the North Country -- Alexander Mackenzie was a bit of a hero of mine.
Q: Any common denominators here?
A: All of them led rather unstructured lives, had a great deal of personal freedom and never went into a 10-story office building with a briefcase at the same time every day and left at the same time.
Q: Any of the figures in your pantheon of '69 still there?
A: Good question. At the risk of jeopardizing whatever security clearance I might someday be awarded, I have to say Karl Marx. What a great thinker. He did a lot for my career. My academic studies $ much easier, having some structure to hang your details on. He understood history very well. He didn't the future.
A: Campaigns. Campaigns, I guess. Any volunteer activity? No, I don't. I've entertained the notion, but there's virtually no time. Pro bono would be spending more time with my daughter.
Q: Is there anything in particular that makes you sad?
A: Not in a big enough sense to jump into my mind at the moment.