Vice President Walter Mondale and Rep. Jack Kemp were recently asked by Meg Greenfield, editorial page editor, to talk about the way things are likely to turn out for the Reagan administration. In particular, they were asked to speculate on the next inauguration.
A: Well, it depends how successful the Republicans are in dealing with some very fundamental and difficult problems. To the extent they are successful, I assume the odds favor swearing in a Republican president. To the extent that they are not, that would be one of the factors that led to a Democratic president. I say "one" of the factors because I think our return to power will not be based just on negative policies, following Reagan on a reverse curve of some kind or taking advantage of mistakes and of the inherent difficulties of office. But my guess is that in 1984 many of the same difficulties that hounded us will still be very much center stage. The inflation/unemployment/productivity issues.
A key part of it is the energy crisis. I anticipate that oil prices are going to continue to go up. The vulnerability of the international oil supply and the impact on oil pricing is still one of the toughest problems and is going to be very much with us at that time. I think that unless the Russians, through a change of leadership or a change of attitude, somehow fundamentally alter their course, the issue of how you deal with an aggressive and totalitarian irresponsible force will still be very much of concern.
And one of the things that was pretty much off the stage this time I think will be back up front in '84, and that will be the issue of social justice in America. The American people are very fair-minded, and if the Reagan people are betting that they're not, they're going to find out they're worng. To abandon this shared commitment of over 50 years to social justice in America will, I think, bring about a prompt and dramatic public response that will put that isssue back up front.
Q: You're talking about blacks?
A: No, I'm talking about everybody in America who is in a position where just a minimum decent life is not possible. That can be old people, handicapped people, poorly educated children, a small business man who can't get along. It also includes civil rights.
Q: Do you see anything in Ronald Reagan's approach so far to suggest that he might move to satisfy their legitimate needs?
A: There is no way of knowing at this time. We haven't seen a budget; we haven't seen a program. We've seen speculation. But we are starting to see certain stories about reality setting in: "Oh, we may not have a balanced budget: oh well, maybe this tax cut ought to be put off for a couple of years; well, we may have to stretch out and delay Social Security."
The cold dawn.
It happened to us too, and it's part of the difficulty of assuming office. Let me say this. I'm a Democart, but above all I want this country to succeed, and because of that I want Reagan to suceed. We can have our political fights later.
Q: What is Reagan's biggest problem going to be?
A: I can see several very, very tough issues he will have because we had them and they don't fall away on party lines. For example, if we are going to talk about national security, I think one of the most grievous inadequacies of our present system is that the president of the United States, who has to conduct American foreign policy, is left emfeebled in terms of a crucial foreign aid and military assistance. I could give you a hundred examples. It took us a year to get the little help we got in Nicaragua. Whatever you think of what's going on down there, certainly the president ought to be able to act decisively. With Parkistan we could only come up with a small amount -- they called it peanuts. You can say the same of the situation in Liberia, in El Salvador.
I feel very deeply about that, and I wish we'd give a president a fund that he could use quickly, expeditiously, albeit requiring accounting, so that he could be effective and decisive in a curcil area where he cannot be today.
Q: This idea of the crippling of the president -- is this the voice of someone who has just spent four years in the executive branch as distinct from the man who used to speak from a congressional perspective? Would you fellows have given Richard Nixon a fund?
A: Watergate is behind us now. I think the time has come to let us do a little bit more. Make certain that it's accountable, and lawful, but a president should have a chance to be a president for four years. For crying out loud, let a president govern insofar as the executive branch's legitimate functions are concerned.
Q: If you were of a mind to give some really good advice to the Reagan administration, to tell them how to avoid your own administration's greatest mistakes, what would you say?
A: Number one, I would say --
Q: Don't see the press?
A: Well, of course Lesson No. 1 would be: the press is marvelous; trust them, they're intelligent, they're kind, they always know what they're up to. They have only the interests of the politician at heart. They would never write a bad story or embarrass you in any way possible. That's the first thing. If you'll just operate on that basis, you'll be impeached by March 1st.
One serious point: you've got to trust them. There's no alternative. You're going to get some bad stories when you don't deserve it. But to be suspicious and distrussful is a cancer. You've got to work with the system and keep respecting it. I've seen suspicious politicans, and it always hurts them more than it does anybody else.
Second, the problem of presidential authority within the executive branch is much more profound than any president believes until he has been in there for a while. Each administration approaches that authority problem along its own lines. But I believe that the American people, since they only have the right to elect a president and a vice president, should have the right to expect that the person elected is accountable. And if he's going to be accountable, he should have the authority, and today that's very, very difficult and it deserves a lot of attention by any president, including the incoming president. I think it leads to a lot of distrust by Americans when they see one agency fighting another.
Third, use your vice president. I'm going to get personal now. This is a big world, there are problems, the president has only a limited amount of time to travel, to talk to other leaders. A vice president can help tremendously if he's seen as being important and close to the president. There will be many disputes in the administration between Cabinet officers and top officials that a vice president can settle because of his position in the administration. There are many political problems in the field, in the country where he could be helpful.
Next, pick up the tent flaps and let everybody participate; don't just have a small club run the country. I think we did a lot more than we are given credit for, but the other day they picked Mansfield to continue on. I think that's a very good move. Do more of it; and the more all Americans feel a part of something, the politically better it is for you.
You know, a president, in my opinion, starts out with a bank full of good will and slowly checks are drawn on that, and it's very rare that it's replenished. It's a one-time deposit. And you have to be careful -- the more you do to encourage public trust, the longer those reserves are there. And a president's power is not to be found much in the law or in the institutional strength of the president. It's there, but it's almost totally a matter of public confidence and trust. When that exists, everything is possible, overseas and at home.
When they sense overseas that you are weak, they stop dealing with you. They start trying to play with your opposition; you lose your image. It's not tangible in one snese, but it's a very tangible in what really counts in government.
Q: There is no single mistake or error that you think he needs especially to look out for?
A: You mean Reagan? Well I can't think of any. He has not yet called me and asked me for a list.
Q: You're talking about all the difficult institutional problems that really beset a president. Do you get a sense that the current president got a bum rap for not being able to handle things that are beyond handling?
A: I believe that President Carter is going to be treated much more generously by history than some might suggest. He stayed out of war. We did this other little thing: we told the truth and obeyed the law. And the president took on every miserable issue conceivable. From water policy to energy policy, Civil Service reforms, he did it. I think he deserves credit for it.
And I am also personally gratefuel because he was so generous to me and Joan. I've talked to past vice-presidents. I know what people in my job have gone through. I was never once humiliated or made to feel in way unwanted. As a matter of fact, when he sensed that, he went out of his way to be generous to me.
Q: Has he given you an example that you would emulate with a vice president if you were president?
A: Well, yes -- I hope this institutional arrangement continues because I think the country needs it. I think this has served the country well.
Q: Let me ask you, going back to Jan. 20,1985: Is there any chance that you'll be being sworn in? Can you imagine that? Would you like it?
A: I'll try to give you a very clever answer.