Nicholas Katzenbach taught Law at Yale University and the Universityof Chicago, and served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrationsbefore becoming senior vice president and general counsel for IBM. He was witness and participant to some of the most challenging events inUnited States history, including the Freedom Riders, the desegregationof the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama, the fear of communistinfiltration during the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, theassassination of JFK, and the Vietnam War. His memoir is entitled"Some of it Was Fun: Working with RFK and LBJ."
Topic: Endorsing Obama
Nicholas Katzenbach: I would like to see Obama as the next president and I say that because I don’t know him, but at least watching him, I’m impressed by his intelligence and I’m impressed by his willingness to listen. Because whoever is President of the United States, he sure as [hell] doesn’t know how to solve the kinds of problems that this government is going to have in many, many areas, and all he can do is to have some objectives, general objectives that he’d like to see, how to get there, he has to listen to people who have experience and who have knowledge and who know how to do it, and he has to ask the right questions and try to make the right choices. And it seems to me that Senator Obama is well qualified to do that. I hope that he is.
Question: What is he not doing now that you would like to see him do?
Nicholas Katzenbach: Oh, I think there are things he could do before he’s elected but I think he’s not going to do them at this stage of the game, because I think all his advisers would tell him wait, wait until you’re elected. Don’t take any further risks. And I understand that. There are things I would hope he would do. I would hope particularly that he take the politics out of the Department of Justice, but more than that, and this will be very difficult for any president, he has to take some of the ridiculous powers that have been claimed in the last few years for the presidency and this… What amounts to an item veto which President Bush invented or somebody invented for him is ridiculous. I think also, and this is difficult, but I think also he ought to try to see if he can reduce the influence of money in politics. And I don’t think the Congress of the United States is capable of doing that without some pretty big help from the outside. And I would like to see a commission appointed. It will be wonderful. It could be appointed by the President together with the bi-partisan leaders in Congress to appoint people of real competence to make recommendations on how to do that. And then try to have an up and down vote on that, try to take the pressure off of the senators and congressmen who have been getting these donations. And I guess in that connection, I would like to see people go into government so that they can do the right thing in government, not so they can get a good job afterwards.
Recorded on: 10/22/2008