Richard Armitage was the 13th United States Deputy Secretary of State, serving from 2001 to 2005. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and then after the fall of Saigon moved to Washington D.C. to work as a consultant for the United States Department of Defense, which sent him to Tehran and Bangkok.
Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Armitage worked as an aide and foreign policy advisor to politicians including Senator Bob Dole and President-elect Ronald Reagan. When Reagan was elected, Armitage was appointed to the Department of Defense. In the 1990s, Armitage worked in the private sector before being confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State with the election of George W. Bush in 2001. He left the post in 2005.
Armitage was educated at the United States Naval Academy. He is an avid bodybuilder, and speaks many languages, including Vietnamese.
Question: Is the American political system broken?
Armitage: No. I think we have a way of correcting ourselves. We fight our battles in public. We regularly change our elected members. I think people have to sort of see things deteriorating. And clearly if the opinion polls I see are correct, only 14% view our Congress as . . . in a favorable light while 33% view the President in a favorable light. I think at some point and time people finally decide again to get energized and make our democracy work. And it doesn’t work top down. It works from the bottom up. They get out and start electing school board members who care about the welfare of students and schools. And they start working on city councils, and then up through their congressional members. It’ll happen. This is one of those, I think, periods of cynicism about the political process.
Question: If you could change one thing about the political process, what would it be?
Armitage: Oh gosh, I . . . I think there are thousands. I think the main . . . go back to try to make things a little more thoughtful in the terms of the debate. I mentioned the fact that House members . . . many House members coming to the Senate bring sort of a House behavior, and I think that’s not the way the founding fathers first saw things. And it leads to rhetoric and not good policy deliberations. On the Democratic party, they have two interesting . . . or three interesting candidates. That’s helping. But what you really see right now, I think in my view in the American public, is there’s all this cynicism about Washington; and that Washington spends all its time bickering and not doing much; that the states themselves have started to . . . to take up that . . . or to fill that vacuum – Governor Schwarzenegger in California with his environmental movement. Other states who are looking at more robust healthcare for all of our citizens. So what you’re finding is state leaders are stepping into that vacuum. At some point and time, the national leadership will get the message that the American public wants them to govern on things that matter, and not spend their time on little mouse turds, which is what they’re doing now.