The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Profile on Philip Crane
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. With his post-summit polls rising rapidly, the Congress turning cooperative and the Democratic Party exhilarated, Jimmy Carter`s looking very presidential these days. Politicians who`d begun to think he was an easy target for 1980 may now be having second thoughts. But for at least one presidential hopeful it`s too late to turn back and feign indifference: he is Philip Crane, Republican Congressman from Illinois. Back in August he became the first man to declare himself a presidential candidate for 1980. The announcement got front-page treatment around the country, a sign perhaps that neither his relative obscurity nor his conservative ideology disqualify him from serious consideration. Tonight a conversation with the first declared presidential candidate and the people from his inner circle. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, they call Phil Crane Jack Armstrong, the all American boy. They also call him an intellectual conservative, the conservative fallback, a conservative Kennedy from the Middle West, the next Reagan, and the man nobody knows but the far Right, among other things. All of those labels seem to fit, more or less -- the Reagan analogy not only for political reasons but also because he looks like a movie star; the Kennedy comparison because he`s one of four brothers; one, a marine aviator, died in a plane crash; the other two are running for Congress this year. The intellectual handle is there because he`s a Ph.D. and was a professor of history before going into Republican politics. He`s the fallback because Ronald Reagan and Robert Dole are considered the conservatives` front runners for 1980. The "nobody knows him" applies because most of his national action up till now has been among his own, on the Right.
As President of the American Conservative Union he played a leadership role in rallying opposition to the Panama Canal treaties, to federally funded abortions and federally funded congressional elections; to labor law reform and to the creation of a Consumer Protection Agency, among other things. Both his record and his rhetoric are one hundred percent true-blue conservative. He`s proud of it, and he came to it naturally. His father is Dr. George Crane, the well-known creator of the Worry Clinic newspaper column. Dr. Crane is a self-professed McKinley Republican who taught his sons to work for their spending money and to believe in a conservative philosophy and support people who shared it. Phil Crane is forty-seven years old, he`s represented a conservative congressional district in the Chicago suburbs for nine years. He`s married, has seven daughters and one son, known affectionately as "lonesome George".
David Broder, writing in the Washington Post recently, said Phil Crane is the same kind of politician that Pete Rose is a ball player; he loves his game. What Broder did not say, of course, is that Rose is a switch-hitter. He hits from the left side of the plate as well as the right. Phil Crane and his supporters would probably counter with the fact that Joe DiMaggio, the man whose record Pete Rose could not break, was not a switch-hitter, he hit only from the right. Robin?
MacNEIL: Before we talk with the candidate himself, we wanted to get a sense of the man from the people around him, his campaign director and his issues advisor -- two people at the heart of the presidential campaign. First the man described as closest to Mr. Crane -- which he is this evening -- his campaign director, Rich Williamson. Mr. Williamson is an attorney in private practice, he`s known Phil Crane since 1970, and was his administrative assistant for two years. Mr. Williamson, what attracted you to Phil Crane?
RICH WILLIAMSON:I think Phil is an exciting candidate and he`s an exciting politician. I think we`re facing increasingly new problems, new issues, and somebody like Phil, who is aggressive, who doesn`t hesitate to take on hard problems, offers the sort of answers that the country needs and was exciting for me when I first began to work for him back in 1970.
MacNEIL: What makes his campaign plausible to you?
WILLIAMSON:I think within the Republican Party his campaign`s plausible because the broad mainstream of the Republican Party is conservative. I think the people are looking within the Republican Party for new leader ship, and because he has the combination of being not part of the regular establishment but at the same time having had experience both in Congress for five terms and before that, I think, his experience as a trained historian gives him a type of insight and advantage that other politicians don`t have.
MacNEIL: Do you regard it yourself as a real long shot?
WILLIAMSON: Well, about a year ago Phil and I had dinner with a mutual friend who`s a political analyst, and at the time he said, "Phil, I love ya, I think you should be President, I think you`re the man most qualified. But I think you`re a 2,000-to-one shot." And about two months later another political analyst put within his newsletter that Phil was a hundred-to-one shot. And I called him that night to ask him if he was worried that we were peaking too soon.
MacNEIL:(Laughing.) What are the odds right now?
WILLIAMSON: I think he`s five-to-one, ten-to-one.
MacNEIL: What`s the strategy --whom do you need to knock off, and when -- in this enormous sort of primary season that faces you a year and a half from now?
WILLIAMSON: I think the lessons of McGovern in `72 and Carter in `76 argue that with the proliferation of primaries it`s terribly crucial to break from the pack early and break from the pack strongly. And so for any candidate it`s important to go and do well in the early caucuses and early primaries; but I don`t think there`s any absolute timetable. In 1975 I certainly didn`t think Reagan would last if it took him to North Carolina to win a primary, and we`re certainly not going to consider whether or not Phil Crane should leave or not until well after North Carolina, and by then we think we`ll have many primary victories.
MacNEIL: Okay, thank you. Phil Crane`s chief issues coordinator is Gerald Lange, a Harvard Law School graduate who`s been working for several years as a producer in Public Television. Mr. Lange worked on the program "The Advocates", where he met Congressman Crane, who was a guest six years ago, and he was the executive editor for the recent PBS series, "In Search of the Real America". Mr. Lange, in your eyes, why is Mr. Crane presidential timber?
GERALD LANGE: Well, I think there are two levels on which you can answer it; first, on the personal level, Phil is perhaps as good a natural politician as you`ll find on the national level, really. I think any body who`s seen him in action realizes that; people respond to him very positively, even people who disagree with him. On a more fundamental level, the level where in a sense I don`t care who wins, I think Phil Crane is a man who ought to be President. I think he`s one of the most honest men in politics-I`ve ever met, and he`s a man of great character, of much greater character than my own, frankly, and it`s...
MacNEIL: How do you measure that? It`s a nice thing to say, but how do you actually justify it?
LANGE: Well, in small ways I think can tell you things. In all the time I`ve known Phil I have never heard him say a bad word about someone else. Now, I wish I could claim the same for myself.
MacNEIL: Not even his staff?
LANGE: Not even his staff, not even his most bitter political opponents. And I must say, I admire that in somebody, I admire the lack of animosity, the lack of vindictiveness. I think he has shown by his record that he is open and honest, willing to take on very difficult issues. I think there are few politicians who are willing to do that. And I think it is important that whoever makes it to the presidency is a man who is not driven simply by the desire to be President. And an awful lot of people run for the presidency because it`s an important, prestigious position, they`re famous and they`re powerful, but they have no other reason for being there.
MacNEIL: If he isn`t driven by that desire, what is he driven by?
LANGE: Well, I think there are people who want to be President in order to do things, in order to take on the challenges and, as they see it, the important issues of the time. And I think we`re reaching, in my own judgment, a watershed period in American politics, a watershed period very similar to the 1930s when the New Deal philosophy began to take hold in the United States. I think in 1980 the conservative philosophy as I understand it and as Phil understands it is going to be moving even more so than it is now into the broad mainstream, it will be taking hold, and it will b e taking hold because there are so many important matters that it will come to grips with.
MacNEIL: Let me ask you both this, starting with Mr. Williamson. Mr. Williamson, why would Phil Crane make a better candidate, supposing he could be nominated, than Mr. Reagan or Mr. Ford or Mr. Bush or Mr. Baker or the other people who are named? Why a better one?
WILLIAMSON:I think that some of the people you mentioned aren`t as fresh and new, and I think that`s an advantage with Phil as a candidate when he becomes the nominee. Furthermore, I think that he more consistently has articulated the sense of the mainstream of the American people and the concerns and frustrations that we`ve seen in the upset of Dukakis, the upset of Frazier that is both within the Democratic and Republican parties.
MacNEIL: How would you answer that same question, why a better candidate, assuming he could be nominated, to run against Jimmy Carter or another Democrat?
LANGE: Well, in my own judgment the conservative movement is growing up. It began about fifteen years ago and it is fast approaching maturity. I think that the younger generation of conservatives have a better sense of the problems, a better sense of the political nuances of those problems, than what I suppose would have to be called the older generation candidates. I think you see this in the candidacy of someone like Avi Nelson up in Massachusetts, who ran very strong against Ed Brooke, and I think in the judgment of nearly everybody would have beaten Ed Brooke except for the fact that Ed Brooke was an incumbent. Bob Healy in the Boston Globe, I think, the day afterwards had a very perceptive though simple comment. What he said is that what Nelson`s candidacy showed is that a conservative can win, can win big, provided he has two things: one, money; and two, he`s an attractive person. And I think Phil is...
MacNEIL: I wanted to ask you about one of those two things. We`ve talked about the first one, in your terms, money. One measure of whether a candidacy, especially one declared as early as this, which is extraordinary and unique in presidential campaign history, is whether people will actually put up money to pay for it. What is happening in the fund raising so far?
LANGE: Well, frankly I think Rich should answer that question. It`s going well so far as I understand.
MacNEIL: Mr. Williamson?
WILLIAMSON: Yes, we`re very pleased. We have set out prognostications, of course, on what we`d like to see over the next two years, and I think a lot of people will be surprised on the October 10th filing, because we`ve gotten well over 10,000 contributions and substantial money in from all over the country.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Let`s hear from the candidate himself, Congressman Phil Crane, Republican from Illinois -- and I don`t think any more introduction is necessary. Congressman, do you feel you have a realistic chance of being nominated and elected President, or are you running for some other reason?
Rep. PHILIP CRANE: No, I feel I have a realistic chance at it, Jim, and I felt that when I announced and I wouldn`t have made that decision if I didn`t think it was winnable. What has been most encouraging to me since is each passing day, without exception, has further reinforced the conviction that we can win, and that includes sometimes isolated little things like a black policeman from the City of Chicago who called my office in Washington two hours after I announced, indicated that he was a lifelong Democrat but he wanted to volunteer to help; was reinforced by an incident in New Hampshire when a Republican alderman in one of the towns up there told me to be on the lookout for a colleague of his, a Democratic alderman, who was going to come to the breakfast and he wanted to volunteer and he was going to switch parties to work for me in New Hampshire.
LEHRER: That`s two votes. That`s a beginning.
CRANE: Well, it`s also the support that I`ve had from Ford as well as Reagan people. Paul Laxalt made the observation the Reagan and I would be fishing out of the same political barrel, but that`s not true. We have an ability to reach out to Ford supporters equally with Reagan supporters.
LEHRER: Will you stay in if Reagan gets in?
CRANE: Oh yes, absolutely.
LEHRER: Is there anything that would dissuade you to get out at this point, other than losing several of the key primaries at the beginning?
CRANE: That would be the only thing that would, if we were forced out that way. Otherwise we`re in it to the very end and it`s still my expectation that we`re going to win this.
LEHRER: To the point that Robin mentioned at the beginning, that several weeks ago when you announced your candidacy, Carter looked like easy pickings. Things have changed drastically since then. Are you having any second thoughts as you sit here tonight?
CRANE: None whatsoever. I heard the comment made that some wanted to delay announcements of candidacies to find out how Carter looked in the polls, say, toward the end of 1979. That to me is quite irrelevant. This race is important to be run; I think the position and the message that we have to take to the voters must be presented. I am persuaded it`s in the mainstream not only of Republican thinking but it`s in the mainstream of thinking certainly of independents and I think a majority of Democrats as well.
LEHRER: Let`s talk about that, the mainstream idea. Both of your gentlemen have also used that expression. As you know, hard-liners of any kind, whether they be conservatives or liberals, have not done very well in presidential elections, a la Goldwater and McGovern. Why do you think it might be different in your case?
CRANE:I think there`s been a misanalysis of the Goldwater race. No Republican could have beaten Lyndon Johnson in 1964 because the nation had been traumatized by the tragedy in Dallas. But what Goldwater did was to lay the foundation for the 1968 election, and what was significant about that was Hubert Humphrey, who was the darling, certainly of the liberal community, ran and got only forty-three percent of the popular vote. Now that`s the same percentage that Herbert Hoover got in 1932.By 1972, of course, Nixon ran up the margin to equal -- in fact, better -- what FDR did in 1936. The mood of the country had definitely shifted. Watergate set the momentum back, but it has not stopped it, and I think the point that Rich made earlier about look at what issues Short campaigned on in Minnesota and what Ed King campaigned on up in Massachusetts: they`re all fundamental conservative issues -- tax reductions, tax limitation, opposition to abortion and support of growth. These are all fundamental conservative issues. Carter himself campaigned on them. Balanced budgets, reduction of the size of government, and deregulation of gas and oil.
LEHRER: Do you disagree with those who say, however, that the overwhelming majority of the American people are not ideological in any way, either conservative or liberal, that they`re pragmatic middle-of-the- roaders, they have little or no interest in ideology or in radical change?
CRANE: That may very well be. I think the danger of using labels is that everyone has a different definition of a word. I was speaking in behalf of a black Republican candidate in Hartford, Connecticut recently, and I made my presentation, and a black reporter in the audience said, "Now, Mr. Crane, you`re defined in the papers as an archconservative but you don`t sound like an archconservative." And I said, "Well, I can only tell you what I believe in and you can put the label on that you think fits."
LEHRER: You don`t think archconservative fits, in your case?
CRANE: Well, if you`ll define what an archconservative is ...
LEHRER: No, I mean by your definition.
CRANE: No, I don`t think it does. And what I perceive conservative to mean is an effort to conserve what is fundamentally good and right about American society. That means trying to preserve a maximum degree of personal freedom, it means preserving a maximum degree of opportunity to get a job and to improve your condition if you work hard. This is what`s in jeopardy. I think the administration has, maybe without even realizing it, conveyed a message that represents despair, The NAACP properly criticized the President`s energy program because they saw it as no growth. Now, to blacks who`ve been closing the median income gap with whites quite dramatically in the last decade, to be told that the dream is over, tighten your belt and live with less just won`t sell, and i t shouldn`t sell.
LEHRER: Well, you have made, in your announcements and what you`ve said up till now, a lot of statements about broadening the base, and you have repeated it tonight, that you do have a broad appeal. Let`s take a couple of specifics, let`s take organized labor, a group of people that normally do not vote conservative and do not vote Republican. You are on record in opposition to labor law reform, to common sit us picketing, to most of what are considered to be pro-labor legislation. What do you have to offer labor?
CRANE: Well, I think first of all you have to recognize that when members of Congress are rated by the Committee on Political Education of AFL-CIO they pick the issues, and they pick those issues and they say Phil Crane is anti-labor. I went out to Youngstown, Ohio and talked to union people who had just lost their jobs out there because of the closing of Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and they pointed an accusing finger at me of all people and said, You`re destroying a climate for investment in this country. They said, You have no idea how many millions of dollars it costs to reline a blast furnace. They said, You`ve got to abolish these wasteful government programs like CETA, we want productive jobs in the private sector. And then they tore into EPA, which to the entire steel industry -- and I`m talking about workers, not the employers -- they view EPA as the greatest menace to the survival of the steel industry in this country. And these were issues where conservative Republicans have been in the vanguard of fighting their battles for them through the years, but they nevertheless perceived us as the enemy. So..
LEHRER: What do you do about that?
CRANE: Well, I called a meeting of labor union leaders, thirty-five of them from all over the United States, to come to Washington, which they did, and I invited my Republican colleagues to come and have dinner and listen to them. These fellows had a message to tell that most of our people, I think, have tuned a deaf ear to, on the assumption that they`re adversaries. And by the same token I apologized to these union fellows and I said we`ve been guilty of that same thing, we have said, You`re union, you`re an adversary. And I think opening up the channels for communication to find the common denominators that unite us on the important issues is where we have such a fantastic opportunity today to broaden the base of the Republican Party, but in the process and more importantly, I think, lay the foundation for a solid economic base that`s going to provide expanded opportunity not just to the union member but to blacks and other minorities too.
LEHRER: All right. In a more general way, your record -- and I went through a little bit of it at the beginning -- when you look over it both on your votes and what you`ve said, the word opposition is al ways --opposition to the Panama Canal, opposition to SALT II, opposition to Consumer Protection Agency. And you know, the criticism of conservatives generally: they`re always opposed to something, but tell me what you`re for. How are you going to deal with that, or do you see that as a problem?
CRANE: Well, it`s a problem because again there`s been a stereotype, I think, created that conservatives are simply resisting things. I think today it`s the administration, as I say, and our liberal friends who are the ones that are the negativists. They`re the crepehangers who say, Learn to live with less. We`re advocating positive things, we`re advocating growth, restoring a dynamic economic base, more opportunity, upward mobility, the chance for a better life for one and all; we`re the ones that are talking in terms of dramatic personal tax cuts, tax cuts to restore that climate for investment that will create a proliferation of small business. We`re the ones, I think, that have a positive, upbeat message to take out and sell. I think in addition to that there`s another area where we have a positive message. This country has, tragically, over the last decade and in part dictated by Vietnam, focused more on its warts than on its positives. The fact of the matter is, this is the most decent and compassionate and humane, generous people that ever walked the face of the earth. We`ve always been the first to help the suffering, we`ve been the first to befriend the friendless. And I think Americans today in leadership need to be reminded of some of the positives. You know, if you walk down the street and you scowl at an oncoming person you`re apt to get a scowl in return; if you smile you`re apt to trigger a smile. If our leadership is concentrating on the negatives and is despairing, I think you`re going to see that reflected in public attitudes.
LEHRER: Let me throw one of your negatives at you. I was intrigued with something you said, which was that "by the end of the century the battle lines in this country will be drawn clearly between those who work and those who don`t." Doesn`t that qualify as a negative, and what do you really mean by that?
CRANE: Well, I think that we`re creating in effect a group in our society that is dependent upon an ever-diminishing productive sector for its livelihood. In fact, today an estimated eighty million Americans are living off of the labors of seventy million who are in the private sector. Government cannot spend anything that it does not first take from you in the private sector. And sure, we can create jobs, government employment, but on the other hand government employment is not capable of reproducing itself if you destroy that productive sector. This calls for, I think, amongst other things, constitutional tax limitation. I think it calls for a constitutional amendment in time that would provide for balanced budgets to stop this horrendous inflation. These are important, major steps that must be taken and soon, because today government at all levels is taking almost forty-six percent of national income. Now, when it gets beyond the fifty percent mark I would argue that we`re no longer a free people.
LEHRER: If Phil Crane doesn`t happen to be elected president and all of those things that you just outlined are not done, what is going to be the consequence -- what do you mean when you say this country`s going to be divided that way? Are you talking about an ideological division, or a war of some kind, or what?
CRANE: Well, let me give you an example. I was in Great Britain three or four years ago with some colleagues to look at the British National Health Service. In Great Britain government is taking about sixty percent of national income. They have economic stagnation, they don`t have the capital to modernize their plants and update them to get competitive with other industrial nations; they have many very grave economic problems. While going through St. Bartholomew`s Hospital in London, a tall, handsome consultant in eye, ear, nose and throat came walking by and we were introduced and explained why we were there. He looked up and down the hall both ways and took us into an empty surgical room and said, "Gentlemen, let me tell you something. If I had been a member of Parliament in 1948 I would have voted for this system. I still think the concept is beautiful," he said. "The tragic fact is it`s totally unworkable." And I said, "Well, where`s it all going to end, Dr. Lovell?" And very matter-of-factly he said, "With national bankruptcy and revolution." Now, that sense of demoralization by good people can become a self-fulfilling prophesy if enough good people shrug their shoulders and say this is inevitable. It isn`t. We have believed in miracles; this country was founded on miracles and faith. And all of those ingredients are still here. The British tended to slide down into the slimy ooze of socialism with scarcely more than a whimper. We have been a rebellious people, thank God, and Proposition 13, I told Mr. Jarvis, may turn out to be the second shot heard `round the world.
LEHRER: When you see yourself as President of the United States, sitting down the road here at the White House, do you see a presidency that is radically different from the current presidency, whether it`s a Carter or Nixon or Ford or Johnson or Kennedy or whatever?
CRANE: Yes indeed, I do. In fact, I`ve talked with Democratic colleagues who`ve wished me well and in fact some of them given me even private expressions of support, and one of the things I mentioned to them, I said, "Fellows, let me tell you something, this is going to be a lot happier place for all of us if I make this," and they recognize that.
LEHRER: How are you going to make it a happier place?
CRANE: Well you know, this is a people-oriented kind of job, and one thing you do is you recognize that people are coming from different positions but you don`t bear vendettas because someone disagrees with you. I`ve never questioned anyone`s motives or integrity who holds a different point of view. A little bit more tolerance and understanding that some Congressmen have constituencies that are totally different from mine.
They`re voting their constituencies. If they outnumber mine, I will be defeated in that final showdown on the floor. But I think it`s a case of figuring out how you work more cooperatively with some people, each one of whom is precious in his own right. I may disagree with him, but working with those people on a more cooperative basis, to sit down, say, and examine where our areas of agreement are in broad terms. Now, how do we get there, and how can you fellows do that? Because Congress alone must make those decisions.
LEHRER: Robin asked Mr. Lange a moment ago what drives Phil Crane; let me ask you the same question: is he right? You don`t really care about being President?
CRANE: Well, no, I do care about being President, for this reason: I have eight children, amongst other things, and I remember when I was in graduate school seeing a senior faculty member of mine whom I admired enormously and I very pride fully came in and gave him a cigar, announcing the birth of our third child. And he said to me, "Phil, as a historian how can you bring children into this world?" He said, "You know what`s happening." And I said, "Well, it may be the eternal optimism of youth, but on the other hand it`s because I have faith in the goodness of people and the ability to turn things around."
LEHRER: We have to go. Thank you very much. CRANE: Thank you.
MacNEIL: Thank you, Congressman, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Lange. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
- Profile on Philip Crane
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- This episode features a profile on Philip Crane. The guests are Gerald Lange, Rich Williamson, Philip Crane. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Profile on Philip Crane.” 1978-09-28. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-h98z89340w>.
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