Interview with Margaret Chase Smith
Yes OK we have to act as if we're in the middle of the conversation.
Oh that's right if I could only introductory this is that we were talking to us and we have we have many students here you. And I talk with the classes that come in and be 20 to 40 in a class that's taken from distances one came from Mill bridge the other that one came from. The South. WEST corner. And. I like that best of anything to be able to talk to. Well to see that interest that young people take up.
Let's start with a question about the world of politics today and how it's changed. How do you see the world politics now.
You're going. Yeah. I think it has changed. But very gradually so gradually that many people don't notice the changes in my opinion. You think you're in a better position to understand that than I am perhaps but the. People are not interested. Unless it's a personal affair. People are not interested in in the ring. And when a town of 8 10 that they have 10000 that's a state of eight or ten thousand that can get only four or five people hundred people out to vote. The something that I want and I think this is the big change that's come from the early days.
Do we say Republicans have done what democracy is and get what we deserve as far as our public servants are concerned I think US.
Well I think so. Well I'd like to see it the other way and I have thought about mandatory voting. Because people don't want mandatory voting. I think it would be a good thing to find some way to make people go to the polls and vote their convictions. And. Be forfeited something good tax wise some of them let me.
If that were to happen would do it would that automatically translate into a greater interest in politics or would there be sort of a grudge feeling about well we have to do this we're not interested in doing it.
I don't know I don't know if I ever will know because I doubt if it will in the follow through. I tried it I I started yesterday and plan for people both you know having a tax. Credit on. That action. People didn't pay much attention to it.
Do you know if the percentages were greater there though. Was it a successful since you know. About the same. That say. If you could change or shape the direction of federal government nowadays if you had a hand in setting policy what would you like to see being done.
That's what I'd like to see I'd like to see. I'd like to find the way I like a system as Prime Minister Churchill said to me one time when I was interviewing him at the American political system is the best in the world. It can be kept that way so long as you keep the economy strong. Military strong and I think this is the end of that. It's unfortunate that people don't realize that they're going to get about what they give. And if they go to the polls and vote. Some people say well I don't like the candidates. So that is well and write a name in just to show you that you were they. But they don't do that.
As you mentioned Churchill said you have to keep the economy strong and the military is strong in this day of the end of the Cold War. How. Are the leaders of the world to gauge. At what rate deductions should be made in military budgets and yet still be able to keep a position of strength. How can that work.
I don't think it does work. And I think this is one of the answers one of the only reasons why I think something should be done. How are you going to know whether this is going to be an attack or even the planning. I know no way.
So your position then is to maintain very high levels of readiness. For eventualities or potential allies.
I think we should always be strong militarily. I think at the fences. More important than almost anything else. And that doesn't mean that necessary and this is a spending I mean strongly in what we have. And that in dollars and cents.
Do you see the spending on such things as health and education as being defense matters.
I had never thought of that no.
Some people do I'm wondering if you can see why they do. Healthy strong educated country would be a strong country of defense in defense terms to.
Health Education and pretty basic. And they both should have.
Equal. Attention. There are of course the butter issues and the sword issue is. If it came to pass that you were satisfied that the Commonwealth of Independent republics or whatever the Soviet Union is called now days was no longer any kind of a threat. Where would you like to see cutbacks in military spending.
Where where can we say oh I don't think we can come to that. I think this is too early to even. It's well enough to think about well enough to think about the future. But I wouldn't want to make a judgement.
This is really wishful thinking I guess. You up have a history in Maine of being very aware of state politics as they are run and you've been keeping up on them. What do you think of the current situation in the state we've had. State budget problems recently what can be done about that.
I'm not close enough to be a judge on what is going on. I read it as everybody else does but I'm not at the State House that the same thing going to be done as far as the state is concerned as it should be done and that is individual persons should but just eight individual persons should vote those convictions and be permitted to stay at home and there is a no vote and then complain.
There is a tendency among state legislature legislatures at times to. Not decide issues but to throw the issue back at the people for them to the side. What do you think of that.
I think it's very bad. I think that this is exactly what is happening. The. People. Who don't vote.
Complain. If they went to the post and voted. So you then have a right to complain. Now I think that's very bad.
One thing that's happening now with the increased amount of unemployment is that the welfare rolls are expanding there is more people out of work and they need help and for whatever reason. Mothers of. Children and mothers are wet. There's a number of situations that put a demand on the public coffer. What can be done to stop that flow or change the direction of the flood.
I don't know. I just don't know how you're going to get people to realize that the government is going to be what they make it. And the cost equal itself. And then. Unless they participate and have a say in it they have no right to complain. Yet when a man or woman can stay at home and be on welfare and get within 5 to 10 dollars in pay.
And be relieved of that responsibility. I think it's very sad.
You mean that they are able under welfare to earn within five or ten dollars what they would normally make on the outside with a price but I'm told that's that's remarkable. And that's. I can understand why you're concerned the way out.
In fact I had a discussion the other day and they were talking about this this very thing and the man said Well I stay home and I don't have to look back. What I want to do. And. I get get my check. It's about five hours less than I would have gotten if I had been working at the present day labor rates.
How can a state government or a local government put a stop to that what kinds of things would need to be done.
Well I'm told that it would cost so much to have to have all of this checked. It would not be worth. The effort and the money that I can't believe this. It seems to me if there are should be some way to check to check. For instance if a. And I'm thinking of us there are a special. Problem if someone. Is on welfare and gets a job and doesn't take itself off from the Welfare. She's getting welfare and pay too. I must be some way to see that. Watch it and cut it out.
The president last evening as we were recording this gave his State of the Union address and it was by some accounts his best speech of his career. What is your reaction to that.
I thought he did a very very very excellent presentation.
Were you pleased with some of his directions some of his policies.
I would know why he does that and I say enlisted but I would say generally speaking yes I've noticed you have a tendency to be very careful about painting other people's opinions. Is that something you held to very closely throughout your life.
Well I yes I think I have no right to criticize I say I have something to offer and if I don't know the execs to be talking about it.
Iraq going back a year from now Iraq was forcefully evicted from Kuwait by the allied forces of which the American side was the largest portion. Would you have done anything differently in regards to that war.
Oh goodness I don't know what I might have done but I think that I think the president did well to keep his word about going in and getting out when he said we would. Oh I would like to have seen them just a little taken care of so us trouble.
What that really means in veiled language is either controlling or killing Saddam Hussein. That's right there is no easy way to say. This. As you read the events of the day we listen and watch the broadcast media do you. Do you shake your head in disbelief or have you all have you heard this all before and just shrug your shoulders.
I never shared my shoulders I always wish there was something that I could do. And I don't know what that something can be and I should have. And then. There are arguments against men. I mean of course.
I know you've been coming back to that often times on as a potential solution to this. The idea of mandatory voting would work wouldn't it. If. The edger if the public were educated to the point of being able to make good choices if they if they aren't able to make good choices then even mandatory voting might not work.
That's the argument against it.
How about getting the public to a point of being able to make good choices how do we do that. It's not just education.
I think we. And I think we have been going around this. This is not a new situation. It's been building for for some years and it's going to take a long time to get back get to the point where I think we should be. I think you got stabbed in the lower grades in school and yet young people have the habit of being responsible for their attendance in school. Whatever you know out of the big good citizens and this is not going to be done overnight it's got to take it's going to take some time.
This is one of the things that you are involved in and quite happily as I understand it talking to young people that come to the center here. Is do they. Can you tell how through the years is there a change in attitude or are our kids pretty much the same as far as being willing to take information from you as far as their curiosity.
Well I think we close we get some winners and we get the cream of the crap here I think that's not true. We get the schools that that come here by choice.
And. I think that they wouldn't that the some of them are coming out. And I will be a good citizen that it's going to take some time to build that interest. And. And an obligation.
How do you create the aura of excitement of curiosity of interest in A. A child and I say of you know sort of a collective noun child the children of today. When they are surrounded by so much stimuli on television and in their personal lives. How.
How can that be done in the home and in the schools. I think this has to begin in the home and this is something we are getting away from.
Turning to the educating of the potential voter. Some of that a lot of that education would come naturally from the media of the journalistic enterprises around the country. How closely should the news media look into a politician's life.
Well I think quite a person does in his own home is his business and I'm sure that that is a part of the. Outside world was about. I'm not sure that it should be. I don't know I'm not able to answer that question.
If I can give you a little while the question that if. If the public has a duty to vote as you would like them to be too. Shouldn't they vote from the position of the most information they can get on somebody.
It's exactly right and that should be. Done in the home with the home so take time for that anymore. If they go to the television they don't watch TV. That kind of a program. They watch the exciting ones. Should be done in the schools but the teachers have about all they can do to keep up with all that they have to do. They can't do it oh a can help. I think this is the home and the school in little places and that's been. That's a tall order.
Let's turn to the ideals of press freedoms how the press gets into a position of being able to ask private questions and being able to get away with delving into people's private lives. As the press is the press going too far. Has it changed a lot in your in your life span.
I can't answer that because I'm not close enough to it.
But you are an observer and you do your notice through the years that the press perhaps the press hasn't changed at all. I'm wondering whether or not their press is becoming more aggressive. Do you remember in your years in Congress whether they were as aggressive.
I've always found the press very good to work with. And then as I said through the is the same time that they gave you just what you asked and I presume they. Begin the book because it seems to be the thing that the public wants to read in the press gives the people what what the people want to read.
Is that an endorsement or an attack. The press the fact that the press gives the people what they want to read.
Why wouldn't think it was either. It's a fact it's a fact that I should say is that good or bad.
Well I think it's good in many ways. On the other hand how do they judge what the people really want.
Do you think that the media is up to the journalistic enterprises around the country should be. Should take it upon themselves to give the people what they need and not so much of what they want.
No I don't think it's for the press to decide oh well this seems to be what they're doing great you know that I can answer those questions because I'm I'm not close or close enough to either either.
As you look back over your long career both in the public and the private the privacy of before you were in the public eye. What. Kinds of events popped out in your mind as being particularly good particularly worth remembering and particularly bad and wishing you could remember.
Well there's so many that I wouldn't know where to begin. But I enjoyed myself This of course very much but I was very closely to the people. And I think that's five in my life fondest memories that I worked with the people. Had. They felt that that was one of them. I like to think that anyway.
This is something that we talked about a little bit before we started videotaping the fact that you have taken upon yourself throughout your career to answer letters. Personally it seems to me that must be quite rare Do you know of other.
Well you must remember that Maine as far as population is concerned is small in comparison to the last states. And I could do that where a member of the Senate in a large state like New York would not be able to do it because of the mass of mail it comes in that I had a very heavy mail because I answered my mail personally and I felt that if it if a person took the time and showed interest to write me a letter asking me a question that's it suggesting what he would like done then I owed him a personal answer and I dictated I open my mail I dictated my mail I signed my own me. Oh yes you were.
Actually you have your own regulation about other people opening your mails I understand.
Well I always felt that if you for instance why do you write your personal without it you would know that if it was my person especially that no one else would see it and I thought that was only fair to the people.
I'm not asking you to judge anybody else but do you know if this is the case with other public servants nowadays is there anybody that you know of who has the same policy.
I don't know I don't know.
I would think that it would be almost impossible nowadays with as you say the volume in other states would be tremendously States. There is though now the computer which you might not have had access to when you were in Congress that can develop letters At The Push Of A Button.
What's your reaction to that. I don't know enough about it. I'm out of the you. In fact that I have that they have a computer here at the library that I do it so I can answer computer questions.
I think you just don't want to be critical. You know I don't know. I really don't know.
And I match before anyone else asked me about it and let me describe it to you because I think it's fascinating there are let's say somebody writes to their senator about the president's speech last night and. What a person in the senator's office can do is on the basis of reading a letter that can push any number of different. Pre-existing answers to those questions. And format a letter that comes out of a machine already ready for the senator to sign. It has absolutely nothing to do specifically with that person's letter. On a personal level with the exception of perhaps the senator's signature and maybe a little have written note at the bottom.
I wouldn't like you in the know would I approve of it.
If that happens a lot of those that have sat with me you know the people are writing more letters nowadays than they were perhaps when I was like oh I had a mail I have there I have a mail and I still haven't had a mail in the mail from that country.
And you deal with this every day every day. Do you ever let it get up. Get behind you do you ever let it pile up and I don't intend to but sometimes I do and always so I fight. Just out of curiosity how many hours a day do you spend on correspondence. Oh I don't know I would think.
I. Think waist that I stat dictating about 7 o'clock in the morning. Go sometimes. Sometimes. It varies greatly. I would think on a average of an hour a day maybe an average of two hours a day.
And then you have an opportunity to sign them and little notes they come back to me right after lunch and I read the sign every one of them myself. It's quite a discipline.
But it's one that I like you must remember are tied and people want to know what I do in my time and that's what I'm doing.
One of the issues that comes up periodically and I think it's currently fashionable to debate it in Washington is the source of outside income for public servants and whether or not there should be some kinds of restrictions. There's a lot of demands put on public servants to make appearances to make speeches and oftentimes there's a lot of work that goes into the creation of those speeches and those appearances. What's your feeling about compensation.
Well I think you can legislate that. I don't think I don't see any way that you can legislate. That's such a matter because there are many many ways to obtain money without the public knowing it. If I understand it correctly I never did it because I didn't do that kind of thing very often I was busy and I could be doing what I was doing but I did get a fee once in a while. But when it went to says they don't they don't get fees. I just wonder if they're honest. In it. And. I don't see how I can say how the law can say that you cannot take. That $10000 contribution for your camping. I just I don't know anyway I think a person is as ethical is not ethical. I don't think legislation does a bit of good. We've tried everything I can remember way back when I was there. Everything was tried to stop it. You know stuff.
One of the more popular ways of stopping it or at least controlling it would be to enforce some kind of regular disclosure. Is that something that's doable.
They do that I think that's already in for in the U.S. but I don't know that you have any way of checking it. I think you can you can get. For instance if you had a 10 day you would have a retailer. That maybe anything maybe a contribution for you Cambay it may be a contribution for your personal expenses maybe anything how you're going how you're going to make it clear to the people public. I would say I. Think you're either you have ethics or you don't have ethics you can't legislate.
One thing that happens oftentimes to public servants is that they get labeled either by their opponents or by their supporters or by the press. They're either liberal or they're conservative. They kept they kept polarized in their positioning. Maybe not personally but at least a label is there and it's oftentimes hard to get rid of that label what do you think of that that that well I don't understand it because I don't know.
I don't understand labels. I don't know what liberal means. I don't know what conservative means in these days. So I just I kind of then see a question because I just don't know.
Is it. I thought I would gather that you don't think it's fair that this happens. In terms of being locked into a label of some sort whether it be conservative or populist or.
Well I think the common use of language is. I don't know how you can. What do you mean when you're say liberal.
That's a question I guess that's really at the bottom.
But that's the answer to that sure is that when you were working in Congress you were oftentimes seen as taking the side of liberal issues. And yet many people have through the years characterized you as being basically conservative in your politics. Does that mean that you were pretty much of an independent person. You know I have another label.
I was a Republican the only label that I had and I was a I suppose I was going to said it but again how far do you go when you're a conservative and you know I'm a conservative. I'd have to have somebody that I would phone me to be able to say which I was. I cast I got my liberal or liberal tag during the war time and when I voted I had a I have a I suppose what you call a conservative voting record which would be in the 95 percent of them. When the walk time came I voted for the left and then at least I voted for the draft.
I voted for what was as liberal issues. And. I didn't consider them issue a liberal I consider them unnecessary issues for the world. Problems. One issue at a time.
Last question are you basically optimistic or pessimistic or how do you look at our future our near term future.
I'm very much troubled I think that people have become so apathetic so indifferent in the public affairs and perhaps politicians allies in the blame for this I don't know how it comes. But I am very very greatly concerned and wish I had a. Recommendation that could give us put us status back in the right direction. That's going to take us a long time to get back there.
We have stepped into this period solely and apparently permanently and it bothers me about as we go to you.
Thank you very very much for talking with us and I can only hope that we find a way out of these things are as a as a country and as a world. Thank you. It's a pleasure.
I think we have to. Sit and chat just a little bit as we did in the beginning. You didn't get did you get out the answers you want. Lord yes plus plus plus I tried not to win. Oh you did wonderfully. I I I I this is been a very very long time for you for pads for pat answers I try to.
Keep it within my own thinking.
And I think you know you're here major point I think and I think you this will come out in the interview is that we need to get people to vote.
And then vote with thought behind you know. That how you then do that. Well.
It's. How do you educate the masses when they don't want to be educated they'd rather watch sit back up with their beer and pretzels and be entertained.
They don't want to be interested in. They have been a few.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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- Interview with Margaret Chase Smith
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- Maine Public Broadcasting Network (Lewiston, Maine)
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- Raw footage of an interview with Margaret Chase Smith, former U.S. Representative and Senator from Maine. Smith was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination in the 1964 presidential election, but was the first woman to be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major party's convention.Smith discusses voter apathy, thoughts about mandatory voting, health, education, welfare state, and other topics.
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Interviewee: Smith, Margaret Chase
Presenter: Maine Public Broadcasting Network
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Identifier: Accession #: 1541.0265 (NHF)
Format: 3/4 inch videotape
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- Chicago: “Interview with Margaret Chase Smith,” 1990-06-17, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 16, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_245-97xkt033.
- MLA: “Interview with Margaret Chase Smith.” 1990-06-17. Maine Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_245-97xkt033>.
- APA: Interview with Margaret Chase Smith. Boston, MA: Maine Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_245-97xkt033