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Interview with Max Cleland, May 5, 2009

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:45 - Early life

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Partial Transcript: Let's start with your early life. You grew up in Lithonia.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland recalls growing up in Lithonia, Georgia, just after WWII. Cleland praises his father, a traveling salesman, Navy man, and truck driver in the CCC, and his mother, a secretary. He discusses attending the Holy Trinity School and Lithonia Methodist Church. Cleland also talks about the impact of his extended family and the neighborhood boys who taught him to play sports, and he mentions going to Stetson University, where he was placed in remedial English classes.

Keywords: Commercial Carrier Corporation (CCC); Little Five Points; athletics; college; education; family; father; school

00:14:55 - Intro to politics

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Partial Transcript: The one political thing that really injected itself into my world was the 1960 television debate between Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland discusses Georgia's progressive voting laws, and political issues of the '50s and '60s, including the state sales tax, school integration, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cleland mentions participating in American University's Washington Semester Program, where he interned with Jim Mackey, and learned about Maxwell Taylor and the Vietnam War. He remembers President Kennedy's assassination and the Johnson administration.

Keywords: Cuba; JFK; Jim Mackey; John F. Kennedy; LBJ; Lyndon Johnson; Vietnam; segregation

00:31:23 - Mentorship of Richard B. Russell

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Partial Transcript: The summer of 1965 also was a turning point for me.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell's mentoring of other Senate leaders like Lyndon Johnson, John Stennis, Robert C. Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden. He talks about Senator Russell's meetings with Southern senators and having a change of heart regarding civil rights.

Keywords: Richard Russell; Senate; Senator Russell; civil rights; confederacy; legislation

00:39:25 - Serving in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: So Russell tells us interns that he is very leery, in effect, about the massive land buildup in ‘65.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland discusses Pres. Johnson and Gen. McNamara's Vietnam War buildup, and he talks about fighting in Khe Sanh, where the wounds he sustained resulted in losing his right arm and both of his legs.

Keywords: 1st Air Cavalry Division; LBJ; President Johnson; Robert McNamara; Tet; Vietnam

00:46:36 - Georgia State Senate

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Partial Transcript: How did I come to run for Georgia politics?

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about the 1970 state elections, in which Jimmy Carter was elected governor and Cleland became Georgia's youngest state senator. Cleland describes competition between Lt. Governor Lester Maddox's followers and Governor Carter's camp, which Cleland supported. Cleland also describes the roles of Georgia state senators in planning Carter's presidential bid.

Keywords: Hamilton Jordan; Jody Powell; Lester Maddox; Lieutenant Governor Maddox; Phil Wise

00:54:35 - Appointment to Administrator of Veterans' Affairs

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Partial Transcript: In 1974- in 1974, I ran for Lieutenant Governor.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about running for lieutenant governor, working on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and being appointed Administrator of Veterans' Affairs under the Carter administration.

Keywords: Department of Veterans Affairs; Jimmy Carter; President Carter; Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee; inauguration

01:01:10 - Heading the Veterans' Administration / Recent wars

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Partial Transcript: Well, President Carter swore me in as head of the VA. March 2, 1977, we had a ceremony in the Oval Office.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about managing the VA after President Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers. He also comments on misinformation regarding the wars in Iraq and Vietnam, and discusses fighting terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Keywords: Bin Laden; Iraq War Resolution; Middle East; amnesty; draft dodgers; pardon; terrorism; wars

01:07:16 - Challenging issues for Obama and Bush

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Partial Transcript: With the commendation of President Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and one of these days probably a brand new Secretary of Defense and a whole new lineup with the military--

Segment Synopsis: Cleland discusses the U.S.'s withdrawal from Iraq, integrating domestic and international intelligence agencies, and ending state-sponsored torture.

Keywords: CIA; Department of Homeland Security; Iraq War; War on Terror; intelligence; waterboarding

01:14:20 - Georgia Secretary of State

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Partial Transcript: Let’s get back to politics. You decided to run for Secretary of State.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about his decision to run for Georgia Secretary of State and about the office's responsibility to maintain fair elections. Cleland discusses Georgia's transition to computerized voting under Secretary of State Cathy Cox(1999-2007).

Keywords: Diebold; democracy; elections

01:21:22 - Time in the U.S. Senate

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Partial Transcript: You were elected three more times and served in that office for fourteen years.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about leaving the office of Secretary of State and becoming a U.S. senator after Senator Nunn retired. He mentions his relationship with Georgia's Republican Senator Paul Coverdell and recalls transitioning into the role of senior senator for Georgia following Coverdell's death.

Keywords: Paul Coverdell; Sam Nunn; Senate Armed Services Committee; senior senator

01:26:52 - The Growth of Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: Then George Bush got elected, and the whole world changed.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland discusses the national rise of the Republican Party in the early 2000s, when national security became a major political issue. Additionally, Cleland recalls the Republicans' ad campaign against him, the change in the Georgia state flag, and Georgia's transition to a Republican stronghold. He attributes this change to racial divisions and increasing migration from the Rust Belt to Georgia.

Keywords: George Bush; President Bush; Republican Party; Republicans; partisanship; realignment; state flag

01:34:04 - The Democratic Party's reputation

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Partial Transcript: You’re a good friend of President Clinton.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland comments on President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, which compromised the integrity of the Democratic Party and contributed to George W. Bush's election in 2000. Cleland draws parallels between voting behavior since Clinton's presidency and voting behavior around the time of prohibition and the Great Depression. He also indicates that Republican voters have become angry about taxation and may make an electoral comeback.

Keywords: Bill Clinton; economics; moral voter; party politics; scandal; taxes

01:39:53 - War in Washington

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Partial Transcript: What else, Max? You’re a great man, great public servant.

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about the animosity between opposing parties in Washington, D.C. and the quality of candidates and campaigns in America. He claims it is up to the public to moderate politics.

Keywords: George W. Bush; Karl Rove; campaigns; political environment

01:45:54 - Reflections on Cleland's career and legacy

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Partial Transcript: If you look back over your career, is there anything you might have done differently?

Segment Synopsis: Cleland talks about his regretting his initial support for the Iraq War. He also ponders the importance of leaving a political legacy.

Keywords: Iraq War Resolution; VA