Hendrik Meijer talks about his latest book "Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century" and shares stories of the former Michigan Senator. November, 2017.
0:00:01: Good evening and welcome to the Ford Presidential Library. My name is Elaine Didier, and it's my privilege to serve as the Director of the library here in Ann Arbor and the museum in Grand Rapids. Tonight is a very special program to honor Hank Meijer and the publication of his authoritative biography on Michigan senator, Arthur Vandenberg. Tonight's program is very special because it's made possible by a three-way collaboration, the Ford Presidential Foundation, the Bentley Historical Library and the Ford School of Public Policy.
0:00:34: As many of you are aware, Hank has been an active contributor of his time and talent to each of our organizations as well as to the university at large. Tonight's program is being live streamed and also videotaped for later broadcast. I have requests for your cooperation on two matters of housekeeping. First please turn off your cellphones and second as you think of questions during the program, please pass them to the side aisles and they'll be brought forward later for the Q and A so that we can have everyone hear your questions and we promise to handle as many questions as possible.
0:01:14: We'll begin tonight's program with introductory remarks by a couple of special guests. In a moment we'll have Dean Michael Bar, Dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, and then President Schlissel, the 14th president of the University of Michigan. But first, let me acknowledge a couple of other guests as well. I understand that Regent Ron Wiser is supposed to be here, but I haven't seen him. Ron, are you here? Okay, he may join us later and with us is the Ford Presidential Foundation Executive Director Joe Calvaruso. Joe...
0:01:50: It's been a lot of fun to collaborate on this program with our neighbor, The Bentley Library, and with the Ford school. The Ford Library is especially honored to host this celebration tonight because he's been a pillar of support to all of the work that we do and currently serves as vice chair of the Ford Presidential Foundation. "Hank, on behalf of all of us at the library and museum, thank you for your many, many years of support." And now it's my pleasure to introduce Michael Bar, who is the Joan and Stanford Weill Dean of the Ford School of Public Policy. Dean Bar began his appointment in August of 2017 but had been on the faculty of the Ford school for a number of years with a primary appointment in the U of M Law School. At the law school, he is the Roy and Jean Profit Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Finance, Law, and Policy. Over the course of his prestigious academic career, Dean Bar has also served in the judicial, legislative and executive branches of our government, including stints at the state department, the White House and the Department of Treasury.
0:02:58: Most recently in 2009 and 2010 he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions where he led a policy team working with Congress to enact the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. We also were just joined by the former Dean of the Ford School, Susan Collins so it's delightful to have you with us as well Susan. But now let me welcome and invite to the podium the new Dean of the Ford School, Micheal Bar.
0:03:33: Thanks Elaine for that kind introduction and my many thanks to you and your team for the wonderful collaboration on this exciting event, which started under my predecessor, Susan Collins, leadership and I've said on other occasions, but I'll keep saying it, I'm deeply grateful to Susan for leading such a strong and vibrant and exciting institution. It is a real pleasure for the Ford School to be co-hosting tonight's book launch with the Ford Presidential Library and the university's Bentley Historical Library.
0:04:09: President Schlissel will in just a moment, introduce our featured speaker, Hank Meijer, but I wanna say first a few words about the friendship that Hank has really demonstrated to the Ford School for so many years. Hank Meijer is among a group of leaders in Grand Rapids who find tremendous inspiration in the life and legacy of President Gerald Ford as we do at the Ford School. Who was, of course, a favorite son of both that great city and of the University of Michigan. From the day in 1999, when the university named it's Fine Policy Studies program for President Ford, Hank and other Grand Rapids leaders have rallied around the school.
0:04:49: Their generosity and supporting student fellowships, strategic initiatives in our building helped us leap forward and take a place among the country's top ranked schools of Public Policy, and let me just say on a personal level as I have been getting to know the Ford School community better, it has been just an honor and a privilege to get to know Hank, to get to know other leaders in Grand Rapids, who have welcomed me into this family in ways that I could not have asked for. Hank and the Meijer Foundation among their many gifts to this school have championed a new Gerald R Ford Presidential fellowship.
0:05:27: Our exceptional students under this program exemplify President Ford's commitment to bi-partisan cooperation and civility. They're deeply and positively engaged in community, in public service and inspired by his work researching and writing the Vandenberg Biography. Hank and his family made a generous gift to the Ford School to establish the Annual Vandenberg Lecture. The lecture series will focus on global issues and will serve as a vital intellectual tribute to Senator Vandenberg. Who forged by-partisan support for our country's most significant and enduring foreign policies of the 20th century, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO and the creation of the United Nations.
0:06:09: I've had the chance to read Hank's book about Arthur Vandenberg. And let me just say, it is a beautiful book. It is a delight to read. And it is a first-rate piece of scholarship. Presidential scholar, Doug Brinkley has called and quote, "An Important Contribution to 20th Century: US Political History and a Landmark Achievement." And I couldn't agree more. I was a History major in college. I'm a scholar of a banking, and I learned things about Senator Vandenberg in banking history that I'd never heard before. I didn't know about his key role, for example, in establishing federal deposit insurance in 1933, in the wake of the horrific bank failures here in Michigan, and also around the country. And I also found a tremendous inspiration in Hank's story that he recounts, I think, again, so beautifully, of this powerful principled man, who despite, let's just say his very healthy sense of self.
0:07:17: He still knew how to listen. He still knew how to learn. He turned really from an Isolationist view of America to a full-throated advocacy for the crucial post World War II International Institutions. Vandenberg remained open and deeply curious about the world. And in response to a changing world, his thinking evolved. He took a risk, a big risk of reaching out his hand across the aisle and forged bi-partisan consensus for American Foreign Policy when we needed it the most. What a great role model for all of us and for our University of Michigan students.
0:07:55: So, we are very grateful, Hank, for your belief in Arthur Vandenberg and his story and for your belief in the young people studying now at the Ford School, and in the promise that they hold, and I know that you believe they hold for our future. It is now my pleasure to introduce our next speaker, Dr Mark Schlissel, who is the 14th President of the University of Michigan. I could probably end there. You know the rest of the story, at least in broad outlines. But let me just say, in my view under the president's leadership, the university has taken bold action in a wide variety of ways. To make college affordable for all Michiganders, to deepen our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, to seek long-term solutions to poverty, to broaden the university's public engagement in the service of this fine state and the country. He's putting us on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary work and Biosciences. He's just launched a new school focused on sustainability. And I could go on for quite a while. I am deeply and honored and privileged to have the opportunity to work with him. And please join me in welcoming him to the podium. Thank you.
0:09:17: Good evening everybody and thanks Michael for that very kind introduction. Thanks to all of you for coming this evening. Many of us know the name of Meijer as a leading supermarket chain, and that's all I knew before I had the privilege of meeting Hank in a number of settings but as we know, Hank Meijer is the CEO of that company and a respected business leader in West Michigan and actually in our nation. But Hank is much, much more when you consider his outstanding contributions to society and to the University of Michigan in particular. He's a U of M graduate and while here, he won the prestigious Hopwood Award for his essays. The Hopwood Awards are University-wide literary prizes. He then worked as a journalist in West Michigan before joining the family business, and he continues to write, of course. In addition to this book on Senator Vandenberg, Hank has written a book chronicling the family history and the life of his grandfather, the founder of the Meijer business. His wife Liesel also graduated from the U of M and she too is a writer. Hank has been a trusted and dedicated advisor to several University of Michigan presidents, as members of the President's Advisory Group. His volunteer work for the university, also extends to the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, where he served on the Dean's Advisory Committee for the English department.
0:10:38: Added to Hank's roles as a businessman, historian, journalist and university volunteer, is his dedication to helping others through philanthropy. He and the Meijer Foundation have supported scholarships for first-generation students. He visited The Bentley frequently to conduct research for his Vandenberg book and supported the Meijer Foundation gift to create a scholarship at The Bentley, so future researchers would have this great resource. It is fitting that during the University of Michigan's bicentennial, we're here to celebrate an alumnus who's helped us better understand our own history while creating brighter opportunities for new generations of students. And at a time when thoughtful perspective seems to be sorely lacking, we are fortunate to have people like Hank Meijer who seek ways to foster and encourage intellectual growth, who support others who need assistance and who chronicle the stories of those who lived a life of public service.
0:11:37: Like Senator Vandenberg, Hank embodies the essential role of the engaged citizen who looks out for the greater good of society. "Thank you, Hank for all you do for the University of Michigan, for being a true renaissance man and for your commitment to intellectual discovery." It's now my pleasure to introduce Terry McDonald, the Director of The Bentley Historical Library. Terry and Arthur Thornell Professor of American History became Director after serving for a decade as Dean of our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Terry and The Bentley have played a large role in our bicentennial and in addition as chair of the President's Advisory Committee on university history, he's been advising me on how to consider requests to rename buildings on the University of Michigan campus. [laughter] I'm lucky I've got Terry. [laughter] Please welcome Terry McDonald.
0:12:37: Thank you, Mark. I'm very grateful for the introduction, and I don't want any more mail about the issues that I'm working with, with Mark of course. [laughter] I want to say how grateful I am to be here with my friend, Hank. We've met. We've known each other now for some years and it's a real pleasure for me to be able to interview him about his book tonight and we'll hopefully have plenty of time for your questions as the evening goes on as well. As the President mentioned, I wanted to start with the point about Hank, which is of course that this is not Hank's first book. The first book is actually this one called, "Thrifty Years." Which is the life of Hendrick Meijer, but in fact, it's much more than that, and it's the beginning of this skill that Hank has developed over time, to use a biography to open up a really significant scope of American history.
0:13:24: I recommend this to you if you have any interest in the history of Michigan, in the history of West Michigan, what the Dutch colony was like, and Holland and Grand Rapids. Any interest in the really interesting subject of the history of supermarkets, all of these things are opened up through this incredibly interesting period in American history, in his first book. And so his second book, which we'll talk about in a moment, is really the evidence of him actually as a writer. And I sort of wanted to begin with that. So, Hank, you do many, many things, but one thing you do is be a writer. Tell me about, how did you first start to think about writing? How do you do it in your busy life? A little bit about yourself as Hank, the writer.
0:14:04: Well, I regard myself... And thank you all for coming tonight, this is very humbling and it's just delightful to be able to sort of come home to The Bentley and by extension of the board where this story really started. I always loved to write. I mean, I was an English major as an undergrad and I remember I had a professor, a Classics professor, Donald Cameron, who when I did an essay on the Odyssey and he didn't just grade it, but he critiqued it in a way that made it feel like I was the writer and he was the editor instead of the student and the professor. And that was one of those sort of validating moments, and that was an upward entry that did pretty well. And then I was a reporter after college and I would say a failed poet and fiction writer, [laughter] but discovered through a love of history that it was great to be able to take a character who already existed and explore and understand and try to bring that character to life.
0:15:11: Great. By the way, unless you think I'm just making this up, we just got a copy of an advanced review that's gonna appear in the National Review in the published version. It's on the web right now, which says this, "At the risk of offending Hank Meijer, as the author is called, I will make a confession. I thought this book might be a fond book by a multibillionaire with a taste for history of a half-forgotten figure from his hometown. No. [laughter] It is a first-class political biography. Enthralling. A page-turner. It ought to win prizes. Meijer ought to quit business and do this full time."
0:15:54: Just so you know, my comments that have been, I feel the same as Dean Bar does, that this is a fabulously interesting book. It should be on your Christmas list for people that care about Michigan history or the history of the United States because this beautifully written door that opens up through the life of Vandenberg, this incredible period of American history. So, one of my mottos as a history teacher is that you should never assume that anybody knows anything you're about to talk about. And so, Hank, could you just kind of orient us with the life of Vandenberg? So you know, when was he doing this? And when was he doing that? And kind of situate him a little bit.
0:16:29: He was a same generation in the late 19th century as Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and graduated from high school in Grand Rapids in 1900 and had won an oratorical prize for the peace conference at the Hague in 1899. He was a high school kid, he was 16 years old. He's already thinking about International Relations. Claimed he started reading congressional record at 14, we don't have any evidence of that, [laughter] but when he graduated from high school, his first job was working, he didn't have enough money for college, and so he went to work for a biscuit factory in Grand Rapids and this was in 1900 when Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning for Vice President with William McKinley. And Teddy Roosevelt, I often think, had the same kind of... Exercised the same kind of charismatic influence on a generation in 1900 that JFK might have in 1960. And Vandenberg walked away from his desk at the biscuit factory and went to that parade when Teddy Roosevelt was in town with a contingent of Rough Riders. And when he got back to the biscuit factory, he was fired. [laughter] And I would say he was fired and inspired at the same time. [laughter] Because he then got a job as a cub reporter at the Grand Rapids Herald and quickly became their most prolific young reporter. His first byline a few months later was a big story on the Electoral College.
0:17:58: Here, again, he's 17, 18 years old doing this. For this audience, he came to Michigan, spent a year here in 1903. And ran out of money after his first year in the Law Department and came back to Grand Rapids and went back to the Herald. But he was... This was someone who became Editor of the Grand Rapids Herald just before he turned 22. He's kind of a wunderkind in that sense but what I love about his story is he began to realize that in those days if you were the editor or publisher of a newspaper, you had your own constituency. You were the source of information in that Community or at least in partisan papers for the Republican or Democratic segment of that community. And he was already writing editorials and sharing opinions that were influencing the national debate from his office in Grand Rapids.
0:18:58: He meets Will Hayes, who's the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and starts writing speeches for the most important foreign policy speeches for Warren Harding in that 1920 campaign. At the same time or just before the great debate is over American participation in the League of Nations. And Vandenberg was already at that point trying to find a compromise. For him, compromise was an art form and he's... You've got Wilson coming back from the peace talks at Versailles seeking approval of the Covenant for the League of Nations and not tolerating the thought of any reservations or amendments, or changes to that Covenant. And then you've got the Republicans who feel slighted because none of them... Henry Cabot Lodge who chaired foreign relations... And none of them were invited along to the peace conference. And they resent and distrust Wilson. And then there's Isolationists who are the irreconcilables ready to stop it all together. And Vandenberg's looking for a path in the middle. And he's supplying arguments that Henry Cabot Lodge is using and he's trying to persuade Senators to persuade Wilson to accept some changes.
0:20:14: He doesn't succeed but he's already a part of the debate. And he's rising in the state political visibility and giving keynotes at conventions and things. But after World War I, he shares that widespread disillusion of that generation with what the war had brought. All of that carnage and the seeds are sewn for future conflict. And so he falls back on his hero worship of Alexander Hamilton who was the original author of "No Entangling Alliances" for Washington's Farewell Address. And it says we really need to stay out of these European Wars. And that's the spirit that's guiding him in the 1920s, in the 1930s. As war clouds are beginning to loom again in Europe he becomes the leader of the isolationists in the United States Senate. And he's... And besides that, he has a growing... He's elected to the Senate. Appointed and then elected in 1928. Becomes the... Gets on Foreign Relations Committee, leads the arguments in favor of isolation and supports some really New Deal measures.
0:21:27: But then the second New Deal begins to really fall out with Franklin Roosevelt and become one of his chief antagonists. He doesn't trust Roosevelt and Roosevelt's gonna get us into the war and he is sticking out his position on isolation. Looked like he was gonna be the leading candidate for... He was in the 1938-39, he was regarded by many people as the most likely Republican Presidential nominee in 1940. In fact, the FBI opened an office in Grand Rapids in 1938 and sent an agent out there. And an elderly former editor of the Grand Rapids Herald became a good friend of his and shared with me... He asked this guy, "Now, what are you working on here?" 'Cause Grand Rapids in 1938 wasn't like a really hot spot. [laughter] And the agent literally said, "I've been sent here to keep an eye on Arthur Vandenberg." And that's politics.
0:22:27: But then War breaks out and the isolationist position is really discredited and Wendell Wilkie zooms past Vandenberg and Robert Taft, who's an up-and-coming Senator at that point to win the nomination in 1940. I'm running through this...
0:22:45: Yeah, go ahead.
0:22:45: Sort of Cliff Notes version of his career. And then Vandenberg fights every step of the way the repeal of the Arms Embargo of the Neutrality Act that Roosevelt is seeking so he can aid the British and then fights land lease when we want to give 50 Destroyers to the British. Fights it every step of the way but then, of course, Pearl Harbor comes along and that changes everything. And Vandenberg would claim that overnight he becomes... He loses his isolationism. It's not a real legitimate claim. He always wanted to write a biography of Saint Paul and he liked that conversion story. [laughter] His political conversion was never quite so instantaneous. The Republicans have been split down the middle when Wilkie comes along and his foreign policy is much closer to Roosevelt's, actually. And so they've got this schism that's opened up that is open today again between the Isolationists and the Interventionists or Internationalists in the party.
0:24:00: And so they're looking ahead to the 1944 election, when presumably Roosevelt may not want to run again and they have a chance to take back the White House, and the party bosses say, "Yeah, but if we can't agree on platform, we're gonna be in trouble." And so, they hold a conference up on Mackinac Island and Vandenberg is in charge of the Foreign Policy Committee there, and he gets these 49 Republican elected officials to... And this is Robert Taft and Earl Warren who's the Governor of California, and a number of people to come together around a statement in favor of a post-war organization. The tides were turning in the war and the allies were beginning to contemplate the future. And, he crafts it so that our sovereignty won't be infringed but we are willing to be a part of a new international organization. And this is at a time when Franklin Roosevelt is preventing the Democrats from making any kind of statement like this. He's focused on winning the war. He doesn't wanna alienate our allies by coming up with a plan that may offend the British because their counties might be in jeopardy, it may offend the Russians because they've got other plans for Eastern Europe.
0:25:21: And so Vandenberg, by default, finds himself taking the lead and speaking out in favor of an international organization leading the Republican party in that direction. And he says, "When I got 49 prima-donnas to agree," and it certainly took one to know one. [laughter] "I found the secret formula or the magic formula." And so, that gains him a lot of applause but he's still viewed generally as an isolationist until as the war is nearing its end, and Roosevelt's getting ready to go to Yalta for a summit conference with Stalin and Churchill where they're going to turn their attention to post-war planning. And Vandenberg stands up in the Senate on January 10th, 1945, and in a statement that contradicts a lifetime of political activity, says, "We need to have a post-war security treaty. Let's us allies, the Russians, the British, the French, and the Americans, agree that we will sign a treaty to make sure that Germany and Japan are never again threats to the security of the world." It's a very public renunciation and this is viewed as the sinner who has recanted his views. Press loves it. FDR's sort of condescending and suspicious about it but just as he's leaving for Yalta he takes 50 copies of the speech along with him. So, it made an impression.
0:27:00: But that marked Vandenberg's coming out as someone who is in favor of a global leadership role for the United States after World War II and that means that if you're Franklin Roosevelt then you're planning to create the UN in a conference in the summer of 1945 in San Francisco, much as you despise the guy you've got to name him to the American delegation founding the UN. And so Vandenberg gets appointed and then FDR dies. And, of course, Harry Truman famously had had lunch once with FDR between the inauguration and FDR's death and so was a decisive leader. Said, "Yep, we're gonna go ahead with this conference even though it's a few weeks after Roosevelt dies." But is unschooled in foreign policy. Roosevelt had always been his own state department. When it came time for a diplomatic mission, he would send Harry Hopkins. He didn't call Cornell Holmes, Secretary of State, and ask him what to do. He kinda bypassed the State Department.
0:28:06: Vandenberg gets to San Francisco, and the Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius is a competent manager but has not been engaged in international relations much. Vandenberg's Democratic counterpart, Senator Tom Connally isn't that strong a figure. Vandenberg is the most important American delegate at the founding of the UN. And he's sitting down across from Molotov, the Russian Foreign Secretary, in the penthouse of the Fairmont Hotel and that's where a lot of the decisions get made of what the charter of the UN is gonna look like. And that really starts Vandenberg on this new path. He comes back from there. Goes to the first UN General Assembly where one of the other delegates, in London, is Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he's had a really fractious relationship because the Republicans figures she's always been sort of this socialist behind FDR and Vandenberg's mantra was, "As a moderate Republican we need to be social-minded but not socialist." and he drew that big distinction.
0:29:17: But they sail over to South Hampton together and he writes that... And they become good friends. And he says, "I take back everything I've said about her." And it's become plenty. And then he goes on to attend... And no senators, I don't think have ever played this role in our diplomatic history, he and his counterpart, Connally, go to the peace conferences in Paris where the treaties are being negotiated among the foreign ministers of Italy and all the other defeated allies of Germany. And so he's... In fact, in 1946 he's a candidate for re-election and only returns to Michigan into Grand Rapids in time to vote. He's been in Paris or Washington the rest of the year. But it's that sort of indispensable and then comes the need for European reconstruction and George Marshall unveils the Marshall Plan. Vandenberg, good conservative Republican that he is, bristles at the cost but sits down with Marshall and they figure out how to sell it to the Senate. And he puts that through the Senate. And then re-development is great, but we need to... But the Red Army is posed across Europe and the western democracies are feeling very insecure.
0:30:40: And so, they want to create some kind of defensive union. And they come to the United States and Vandenberg in drafting the charter of the UN has made sure that the Latin Americans in the US can have a mutual defense pact in the tradition of the Monroe Doctrine. And so that's a template in the UN Charter that will allow him to create, "The Vandenberg Resolution" that enables US participation in NATO. And so UN and Marshall Plan, NATO, and then he dies rather abruptly. He fights for the appropriations for NATO and then he's a leading... He's viewed as a potential candidate for President in 1948. Doesn't campaign. His wife has cancer at that point.
0:31:40: And soon after that a spot is discovered on his left lung and in September of 1949 he comes here to Ann Arbor to have half of that lung removed. He wanted to postpone that because he wanted to be indispensable in Washington. And it really made his ego feel good to think that maybe Truman and the government couldn't get along without him. And the week he's scheduled to come back here for surgery is the week the Russians explode their atomic bomb. And he writes to his wife who, to say... To consult with his doctor, who is his best friend back in Grand Rapids, to say, "Talk to EBU, the doctor, and ask him, is it really necessary for me to come back now 'cause I think I'm needed in Washington." The doctor said, "No, you've gotta come back." And next two years he's in and out of the hospital. Goes back to Washington once but ultimately dies in the spring of 1951 as the Korean War is breaking out, as the civil war in China comes to an end, and Mao wins and other Republicans are saying, "Who lost China?" And then there's a young Senator named Joe McCarthy who is beginning to run wild.
0:32:55: All these things are contributing to the deterioration of this bi-partisan sort of miracle that had happened from 1945 to 1949 and Vandenberg is off the scene and not able to be a part of that debate. And one of the things that's fun to conjecture about is: What might have happened with McCarthyism had Vandenberg lived. Edward R. Morrow, the week that Vandenberg died talked about that and said that had he lived he would have gloried in the debate and he would have steadied it. And expected sounder minds to prevail. Anyway. That's the outline of the life of...
0:33:38: Anyway if you can get here from that fantastic times in American History and this book basically chronicles all that through the lens of Vandenberg's life in an incredibly interesting and easily accessible way. So, big personalities in these years. You've got Vandenberg on the Republican side. You've got Roosevelt on the Democratic side. And one of the strongest statements you make in the book is, "Vandenberg hated Roosevelt." So, what was the relationship between Vandenberg and Franklin Roosevelt? Why was it so bitter?
0:34:11: Well, they had once been somewhat closer, Roosevelt sort of jokingly said that if Vandenberg had... Well, Vandenberg was smart enough in 1936, L Flynn really wanted him on the ticket as Vice President and smart move to stay off and landed famous carried Maine and Vermont. [laughter] But Roosevelt, they were amicable at that point because Vandenberg, being both a wily politician but also understanding the emergency of the depression, had supported some of the early New Deal measures. Even gave... Michael was talking about the FDIC and that was Vandenberg's brainchild. He had to fight Roosevelt to get it. But finally gave credit to Roosevelt for implementing it.
0:35:05: But he was very mistrustful of Roosevelt, the isolationist. And Roosevelt was concerned about him as a candidate. In 1938 on the eve of the outbreak of war in Europe the British King and Queen came to the US on a goodwill visit that was a beautiful piece of PR building support for the British. And they had a big garden party at the British Embassy and then they had a reception that night at the White House and Vandenberg was in line, the receiving line, and Roosevelt introduced him to the King as, "This is the man who thinks he's going to succeed me but he isn't." [laughter] Without introducing, without mentioning Vandenberg's name. And then the King addressed to a joint session of Congress the next day and saw Vandenberg again and they said, "Well, you know, it's nice to put a name with a face." [laughter] But there was just real bitterness on both sides and then Hazel, one of her planned communities was to be a town in West Virginia whose cottage industry would be furniture-making. And you could imagine how the senator from Grand Rapids looked at a federal project to build furniture. It just didn't sit right. [laughter] But anyway, they had a very rivalrous relationship.
0:36:38: One of the things that's interesting about this period is how a senator could have so much authority and be so much involved with all these very high-level policies. Of course, one of the reasons they had... There was tension between Roosevelt and Vandenberg was because this was the leader of the opposition party who had extraordinary visibility and authority, so how did Vandenberg basically accumulate all this prestige and authority within the Republican party and ultimately beyond? What do you think was the secret to his ascent?
0:37:10: Back up a little bit and I think there has been a significant erosion in the stature of the senators in the last 50 or 60 years. I don't know I think the novel "Advise and Consent", that it was one of the first political novels I read when I was a kid, was in the 50s. And that was when it was still a big deal to be a senator and a lot of them were household names in a way that they tend not to be today unless there's something sort of notorious happening. [laughter] No and the legislative branch, it's... Roosevelt was in the early stages of the imperial presidency and as more power has accrued to the Executive, that has come at the expense of the Legislative, sometimes I think through abdication on the part of the legislators. But the committee chairs in Congress had such power and even when Vandenberg chaired Foreign Relations and he and Robert Taft... He basically deferred to Taft on Domestic Policy in the 40s and Taft deferred to Vandenberg on Foreign Policy, generally. It didn't matter who the minority or majority leader was. People didn't even remember that Wallace White was, I think, the majority leader because Taft and Vandenberg were calling all the shots. And I think the committee roles were so much stronger then as well.
0:38:38: Something else you might remember that Hank was here the night when we had a celebration here for Congressman Dingle and one of the things he pointed out was in those days everyone that went to Washington stayed there. I don't know if you noticed that, that there was this kinda interaction among all the office holders, whereas of course today they are expected to return almost every week. So, I don't know if you think that made a difference.
0:39:00: Oh, Very much. The Wardman Park Hotel, which is the Sheraton on the Connecticut Avenue today, had a residential tower and it was one of two or three really nice big apartment buildings in the district and there were cabinet members and other congressmen and senators, they were all living in this same apartment building. I mean, Vandenberg tells a story, and I don't think it's in the book, about Henry Wallace is a neighbor. Now Henry Wallace is Secretary of Agriculture, Vandenberg is slamming the Agricultural Adjustment Act, where the plan to create scarcity to raise farm prices. But Henry Wallace is a neighbor and is out back of the hotel throwing a boomerang, showing Vandenberg his boomerang and nearly taking his head off, but you have that kind of just casual interaction.
0:39:56: Let's go back to the actual transition between... I think it's important and one of the really interesting things about the book is how dramatic it was for the absolute leader of the isolationists in those years to turn internationalist. So, what do you think were the various things that went into that change in Vandenberg?
0:40:18: Obviously Pearl Harbor changed our sense of security but there were other factors. Vandenberg's nephew, and in many ways I almost want to say, surrogate son, was Army Air Force General Hoyt Vandenberg, and so Vandenberg Air Force Base is named for the General, not the senator. And he was a young up-and-comer in the Air Force, a real student of modern warfare. He'd been in Britain during the Battle of Britain as an observer and would later become the second Director of the CIA. He was pretty plugged into things. But I think he's coming over the to the Wardman Park on a Sunday afternoon and he and Arthur excused themselves to the kitchen and talk strategy. I think that was a factor. I have to mention that I don't think it was a factor, but Arthur had a pretty high-profile affair with the wife of a Canadian attaché attached to the British Embassy. I was interviewing one elderly reporter who said, "Well they... " And her name was Mitzi Sims and, in fact, Walter Winchell had one of his radio pieces describe the senator from Michigan, which didn't help.
0:41:33: This was in 1939, did not help Vandenberg's prospects in 1940 either. But the elderly reporter said to me, "Well, you know, of course, the British planted Mitzi on Vandenberg, just like they planted Kay Summersby on Ike." And there was that sense... And I think it's eminently... And her husband was a good friend of William Stevenson who was the British Intelligence Director in the US and he was reputed around the code room at the Embassy. But there is every reason to believe that they may well have planted her because Vandenberg is leading the Isolationists who are plotting in the Senate to stop the repeal of the Arms Embargo, to fight land lease, and the British needed to know what was going on. These were the people who might be standing between them and destruction by the Germans. But other critics of his blamed her. It's fun to mention in sort of salaciously but I can't give it a lot of credibility, but I think, it was Pearl Harbour, it was Hoyt Vandenberg, it was unquestionably a recognition that World War I had ended badly. And that the US was going to be in a position of global leadership and hesitate that seriously and it was increasingly apparent that there would be a vacuum when the war ended.
0:43:02: And in fact, you very quickly... When Vandenberg's in San Francisco, his negotiating with Molotov. This is in 1945, the war's still going on and the vast preponderance of information that most Americans are getting is that the Russians are still our friends and allies. But in San Francisco with the UN, there are already having arguments about their separate visions of the world. In fact, Vandenberg writes a speech in the fall of 1945 and he calls it the "Iron Curtain Speech." And it is, as far as I can tell, the first use of the phrase "Iron Curtain" in a public address or forum of any kind in the US. Now Churchill has used it in communications and in the UK, but in the US, Vandenberg delivers his iron curtain's speech and his friend and advisor John Foster Dallas writes to him and says, "Great speech basically too bad nobody heard it but I think the coinage will catch on." The speech was the same week, I'm not sure, Eisenhower returned from Europe or something and there were big parades.
0:44:16: McArthur, wasn't it McArthur who came back?
0:44:17: That was when he died.
0:44:18: Oh, okay, okay.
0:44:21: But the news of the day drowned out his speech even though he had the Senate out on Congressional Station where it says, "Iron Curtain Speech." But he was, so he was early on more conscious than most that the new power rivalry would be with the Soviets and that the US was gonna have to step into that.
0:44:42: Tell us something that about, about the man. I mean, so he's a complicated guy. You point out that he sort of aspired to greatness but sort of wanted to be asked. He wasn't really... For example, the fact that he constantly couldn't decide to run for president meant that it was a possibility all these years. He enjoyed being in the center of things all the time. On the other hand, he was kinda fragile and insecure. What's your take on him as a man at the end of the biography?
0:45:11: Well, I think, it's a easy shorthand to make but you could say there was sort of life-long search for security. His father had a harness business, it was pretty prosperous in Grand Rapids that went burst in the panic of 1893 when Vanderburgh was nine years old and they lived in a pretty big Victorian house and his mother... His father was, an exaggeration to say, a broken man but he never really, he was always, I think, felt crushed by the failure of his business and his mother took in boarders and Arthur started doing all sorts of odd jobs and really was working, working, working to achieve a level of security again that he had lost when he was a kid.
0:46:02: Now, can you transfer that to a sense of an American need for security? I like that narrative idea, its a bit of a stretch but it also a truth, I think, there is a kernel of truth there that he was looking for security. He wasn't a visionary leader in many ways. He wanted to make sure things worked. When his hero Teddy Roosevelt split off from the Republicans with the Bull Moose Party, he stayed with the regular Republicans. He wasn't ready to follow the grand adventure of Teddy Roosevelt and he stayed and then he worked to bring the factions of the party together again. He had a huge ego invested in what he did but what he did was usually trying to patch things up.
0:46:50: This was not, in any way, written to be a track for the times and I can say that because I've been in touch with you during the writing process, but it turns out, it probably has something to say to us. Most of the time historians, of course, don't want to be asked about what are the lessons of your book for the present but this kind of, it's coming out at a time when some of the same questions are back on the table. So, what would you think someone should take from the story about the contemporary conversation about international engagement and all these kind of thing?
0:47:20: Well, there is world order that for better or worse has sustained, has prevented global war, for what, seven decades now and that has to do, I think, with the architecture of the security frameworks that were created in those years after World War II. And it seems like we ought not to risk... We risked those that our peril. And so he would've been very protective of his babies and that includes the United Nations. I mean he had very idealistic visions for the United Nations even as we all struggle with its effectiveness sometimes.
0:48:05: I think, of course, the challenge for someone who wants to be work in a bi-partisan way, is you need partners and we've seen not just in the current climate, but in past administrations of both parties, you've seen a reluctance on one side or the other or sometimes on both to engage with each other, and he was all about engaging. And then, of course, we think about so many things being done by Executive Order, and that was one of his great resentments of Roosevelt, 'cause Roosevelt was employing Executive Orders more aggressively than his predecessors. But Vandenberg when he did the Marshall Plan, the hearings for the Marshall Plan, I haven't researched this fully so things may have changed recently, but I sure don't think so. I think he had the most exhaustive Senate if not Congressional testimony ever, basically because he's saying, "I'm gonna wear down the opposition. I'm gonna give everybody a chance to talk and I may not agree with them, but they're gonna have their day in talking about it."
0:49:15: And in fact, he would get in trouble occasionally in the Foreign Relations Committee, because he would invite in Senators who weren't on the committee to participate in closed-door sessions and things, because he knew he might need their votes and if he could get them inside, he'd have a better chance of getting their votes. So he was... And he would be... Could digress, but I think Dean Acheson's book "Present at the Creation", for someone interested in that period is the great history of the post-war years, and it's beautifully written and very comprehensive and it puts Dean Acheson at the center of the creation. [chuckle] And he kind of is a little bit...
0:50:02: When Marshall is presenting the case for the Truman Doctrine to come to the aid of Greece and Turkey. Acheson talks in his book about how Marshall's done, and the Congressmen are kind of shaky. The leaders of the Senate like Vandenberg are kind of listening, shaking their heads trying to figure out what to do, and then Acheson says, "Well then I chimed up and I explained how to do it," and then he said, "With Vandenberg, his ego required him to put his... We crafted proposed piece of legislation and he'd have to put his stamp on it." Now Acheson saw that as an expression of Vandenberg's ego, and it was absolutely there, but Vandenberg also was tweaking it in ways that he knew he could take to the Senate and sell it. And one of his colleagues once asked him after on one of his Bills, "What's the meaning of these words?" And Vandenberg said, "Well don't worry about it. They mean different things to 10 different people."
0:51:07: I can tell them all, "I've got what you want in this Bill." [laughter] And that's how you made it work. We're not used to that exhaustive tinkering anymore. We're putting things through that people aren't reading.
0:51:25: Great. We have time for some questions. Do we have some?
0:51:39: We have three so far, so please pass them forward and here we go.
0:51:45: Thank you. Ah, you made good use of Vandenberg's...
0:52:04: Sorry, You made good use of Vandenberg's diaries and letters. You also interviewed a lot of people. Was there a time during an interview or reviewing documents where you thought, "Wow. I can't believe I'm learning this?"
0:52:24: There was a Chicago Tribune, Washington correspondent named Walter Trahan who was in the Chicago Tribune. Vandenberg had a very complicated relationship with Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune who was one of the most ardent isolationists, which meant that Vandenberg for a long time was one of his favorites and then when Vandenberg changed, became a traitor. And so Trahan would get invited into a lot of the isolationist issues and debates, and so he was telling me about a meeting in Vandenberg's apartment with half a dozen of the leading isolationists who were not all Republicans. There was Burt Wheeler from Montana who famously accused Roosevelt when he wanted to push for aid to England who said, "You're gonna plow up every third American boy", or something like that, but there were like half a dozen of the isolationist leaders, they're plotting how to fight the repeal of the Arms Embargo, and Mitzi Sims stops by. Mitzi Sims, the Sim's has lived upstairs from the Vandenberg's at the Wardman Towers.
0:53:45: And Mitzi comes in and is sort of fawning over the Senator with these other Senators there and Trahan just said, "Where do I go to throw up?" [laughter] Yeah those wonderful little vignettes that sort of confirm. The scrapbooks, the Vandenberg family gave their papers to The Bentley and a wonderful, a small but wonderful resource here and in those papers are Hazel Vandenberg's scrapbooks and she was a good writer in her own right and kept fairly meticulous records. And I became good friends with Vandenberg's youngest daughter, who died in the late 1990's. She lived out in Connecticut and was pushing her on his relationship with Mitzi Sims because she wanted to kind of say it was platonic. But then she pulls out this one scrapbook page, that they had not donated with all the rest of the Bentley. [chuckle] That had a picture of Mitzi Sims from the society columns of one of the Washingtons papers, talking about what a luscious peach she was [chuckle] and showed Hazel from the year before, when she out in Arizona for her sinuses, which is why these issues, these liaisons could take place 'cause she was gone a lot of the year for the allergies and she says, "So much happier than now." Anyway, those were kind of wonderful moments in your research.
0:55:22: And have you noticed whenever you mentioned this whole Mitzi situation, the lights dim. [laughter] This is actually in the book. "I've heard that Vandenberg's pillar speech embracing internationalism was drafted by James Reston, of the New York Times. Any truth to that?"
0:55:40: Partial truth. Vandenberg, he was an old newsman himself. And the senior journalists, a lot of them were his good friends and he routinely would share his speech drafts with three or four journalists and Jim Tobin, who was an immense help with the book, you did your dissertation on Blair Moody. And Blair Moody who was then at the Detroit News was one of those Washington correspondences that Vandenberg would share his speeches with. James Reston was another and Arthur Croc, James Reston's boss and predecessor at The Times was a very good friend of Vandenberg's. And Reston read the speech, and said, "You gotta beef it up a little bit. Let's really flesh out this proposal for a post-war treaty." and I think Reston does get credit for making a big contribution to that speech. Just how much it had... Vandenberg is going through, multiple drafts and things like that. He was definitely an influence and definitely influenced... He influenced Vandenberg to be more outspoken in favor of a post-war treaty, which did a lot to elevate Vandenberg's stature and speed his conversion.
0:57:03: This is a little present-ist, but, "Is there anyone in the present day Senate who you think would be approaching Vandenberg as a moderate unifier and as an opposing force, to isolationism?"
0:57:19: There's just nobody with that stature who commands the... There was a Look magazine profile of Vandenberg in 1946 and they quoted one of his colleagues who said, "Van thinks what the American people think, just a little bit earlier." [chuckle] In other words, he wasn't a visionary leader but as the popular opinion was beginning to evolve after the war, he was just able to capture what people wanted to hear said and that gave him... And because he had been an isolationist before, he had all kinds of credibility. He wasn't somebody who was... He was... Most Americans wanted to stay out of the European war before the war and then they were ready to find a new direction after the war and he was capturing that general thought in both cases. So, you don't have those kind of pivotal points today that someone could identify with. But you also just don't have the stature. Richard Lugar in Indiana, I'm trying to remember was he primaried out? Or...
0:58:45: There would've been somebody who would've embodied that spirit without the stature but obviously wasn't able to represent enough of his party to survive in the Senate. I think Bob Corker may have some of those instincts but again not of the stature.
0:59:07: We're gonna end with this one because this takes us on to the spiritual plane. "What if any was the influence of Dutch Calvinism on Vandenberg?" [chuckle] "Rigorous after church debates on fine points of Theology led to the success of Grand Rapids as this for religious publishers." For example.
0:59:27: One of those religious publishers published the book I'm in.
0:59:29: That's right. [laughter]
0:59:29: Like my grandfather, who was not remotely religious, so they were pretty tolerant at it too.
0:59:33: They were anti-religious.
0:59:35: But Vandenberg was never reformed or Christian reformed, he was Congregationalist, lifelong. And so that Christian reformed influence as such was not profound. One of the great little pieces of chapters of his life was his relationship with, some of you may have heard of Peter Marshall, with that big bestseller called, "The Man Called Peter." He was this charismatic Scots Presbyterian preacher who was Chaplin of the Senate for just a couple of years when Vandenberg was President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in Share Foreign Relations Committee. In his President Pro Tempore, there was no Vice President under Truman, he had the Vice President's office and President over the Senate. And so he would meet with Peter Marshall almost every day the Senate was in session, Marshall would stop by Vandenberg's office and find out what was on the agenda that day and then craft an opening prayer tailored to that.
1:00:39: One occasion Vandenberg's worried about his wife Hazel's cancer and there's something about healing and that sort of thing. In fact, I didn't think I was gonna share anything about his book but there was one moment that might relate slightly to presentism. But the Vandenberg... In his last big fight before he goes home and has the cancer surgery, as I mentioned is fighting for the military aid to the European democracies to give some teeth to NATO. And as a New York congressman who chairs the house, I think Appropriations Committee named John Taber and he is fighting... Vandenberg works with the administration on a certain amount of aid in the aid package and Taber guts it. And Vandenberg is furious, and he's being undercut by the Republicans in the house. And so Peter Marshall... I just had this in here. Peter Marshall opened the next day's session with an ad to Vandenberg's frustration. "Our Father," he intoned, "Sometimes we are discouraged and disappointed in the government of this nation. And the common people of other lands cannot understand the difference between what we say and what we do." [laughter] And I thought it was kind of funny. He used his spiritual relations to political purposes. [laughter]
1:02:03: Well, thank you, everyone, and thank you, Hank. I know a lot of people wanna see you and possibly have some copies of the books autographed which are available out in the lobby. Wonderful book, wonderful man to have a relationship with the University in the state of Michigan. So thank you so much for being with us tonight.
1:02:18: It's a treat. Thank you so much. Thank you.