HH: A little preview of that this hour as I continue a conversation I began a few weeks ago with Secretary Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s great to have you.
DR: Thank you very much, good to be with you.
HH: Three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and still rising like a bullet, as they say. Are you surprised by the reception that Known And Unknown has received?
DR: Probably, I’ve got to imagine, the New York Times is surprised.
HH: More than a little bit.
HH: But it’s still, even putting aside ideology, it’s a serious book, it’s hundreds of pages, it’s detailed, it’s supported by an online memoir. It’s not something that most Americans pick up. Why the fascination, do you think?DR: Well, I debated doing a short book from memory, and I had this rich archive. And I had my parents’ letters back and forth in World War II, I had every vote I cast in Congress during the Vietnam period and the Civil Rights period. I dictated a note why I voted the way I voted, and I had all the memorandum that I dictated as secretary of defense, of when I was chief of staff at the White House. And I thought that archive is too rich and important to not use. So we created this website, www.rumsfeld.com. And if one reads the book and sees a paragraph quoted, you can go to the endnote, and then go to the website, and actually read the entire memo and see the context. There’s so many books that get written by people who weren’t there, journalists, and they sound authoritative. But this book has got the facts in it, and it’s got the documentation. We have over 2,500 documents on the website that support what’s in the book. And because we were able to do that, I figured I’d take four years and write it. And I suppose that’s why people find it interesting, because it gives them a glimpse as to what government was like, and how decisions were made, and how complicated they are.
HH: We are sitting in the recreation of the East Room at the Nixon Library, and we’re going to be focusing on Nixon tonight. But I want to ask you a couple of questions about Nixon, your early years. A lot of people have asked you about the war. In fact, if I hear anyone ask you do you have any regrets again, I’m just going to fall over out of boredom. You must hate that question by now. Let me ask you, by the way, instead of that question, what’s your proudest accomplishment at the Department of Defense?
DR: Well, I suppose I’d mention two things if I may. First, and it isn’t my accomplishment, it’s President Bush and Colin Powell and George Tenet and Condi Rice. We’ve gone almost a decade without an attack, a successful attack, on this country. And I don’t know anyone who would have believed that would have been possible on September 11th, 2001. I just, I think it’s an amazing accomplishment, and it’s a credit to President Bush and the structures that have been put in place, and the pressure that’s been put on al Qaeda and terrorists all across the globe with a 90 nation coalition. The second thing I’d say with respect to an accomplishment would be the fact in the Pentagon that President Bush said he wanted to transform the department. He wanted to bring it into the 21st Century, the information age. And we’ve made enormous progress. We’ve moved from big divisions with proud histories and songs and pennants to brigade combat teams, which are vastly more flexible and more capable, and can do what we need to do in the 21st Century. We’ve increased dramatically the number of unmanned aerial vehicles, which can protect our country, and provide all kinds of intelligence information. We’ve repositioned our forces across the globe. And that, the pain of doing it, change is hard for people.
HH: The pain was primarily felt by the Army. In fact, I pre-recorded a segment that will follow next hour with a wonderful lawyer by the name of David French, Army reservist officer, served in Iraq during the surge, enlisted under your tenure. You were his boss. And I said David, what would you like me to ask the secretary of defense. And he said ask him why we went in with so few troops, such a light footprint, when we knew we had to do nation building. Now I know the answer from reading Known And Unknown. But why don’t you answer David French.
DR: He’s talking about Iraq, not Afghanistan?
DR: First of all, we went in with the number of troops that everyone agreed was appropriate. We had 450,000 troops ready to flow into Iraq if they were needed. General Franks was the combatant commander. He worked with the joint chiefs. He worked with the President and me, and the National Security Council. And we got to, I think it was something in the neighborhood of 150,000, and he used off-ramps. He felt they had accomplished major combat operations very successfully. I don’t know any of us who really wanted to do nation building. In fact, I don’t even believe we’re capable of doing nation building. I think countries have to build their own nations, and that it has to fit their culture, it has to fit the times and their history, and their circumstance. And what we can do, and what we’ve done, is give them a chance to build their nation and create something that’s important for them. And I think the American people, and the men and women in the Armed Forces, can be darned pleased and proud that they’ve given the people in Afghanistan and Iraq that chance.
HH: Do you think most other secretaries of defense who would have been selected by George W. Bush would have made the same choice about the same number of troops, given all the recommendations you came? Was that a Rumsfeld mark, a fairly small force? Or was that a mark what would have happened because of combat and command, and what flew up from the…
DR: Well, I don’t know anyone who disagreed.
HH: Shinseki, General Shinseki was always held up as the guy who disagreed, but you demolish that in Known and Unknown.
DR: Well, it was easily demolishable.
HH: (Laughing) It was…now he’s held up as kind of a folk hero, though. Has he ever sat down with you and talked about this?
DR: It’s total mythology. I mean, I know precisely what he was asked, and what he answered. And he said it’s up to the combatant commander, and he never raised a question in a National Security Council meeting, or in a meeting with the President, or in a meeting of the joint chiefs. I never heard one utterance. But the mythology evolved that he had a different view. And if he did, he never said so, other than what he said in that hearing, which was basically, it should probably take several hundred thousand, whatever it would take to win major combat operations. And it’s up to the combatant commander.
HH: Why didn’t you push back as that mythology took root? You know, it’s so deep now. Try arguing with one of our lefty friends in the blogosphere that Shinseki wasn’t fired by you summarily, instead of serving out his term as agreed to…
HH: Or that he…the whole thing you detail in Known And Unknown. Why didn’t you push back?
DR: Well, how do you do that? You’re arguing with people who buy print by the barrel. They own the airwaves. They say what they want to say. And I mean, take another example. Newsweek printed a story that a Koran was flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay. There were riots in several cities. People were killed in the riots. And then weeks later, Newsweek writes well, to the extent any aspect of our story was not accurate, we’re sorry. And of course, the people they were sorry to were already dead. So a lie races around the world three or four times while truth is still getting its boots on.
HH: You also quote, trust leaves on horseback but returns on foot, one of Rumsfeld’s rules.
DR: I think it’s actually Mark Twain, or something like that.
HH: We don’t trust Newsweek anymore. Let me ask you about Guantanamo Bay, the big news this week, President Obama’s announced it’s going to stay open, we’re going to resume trials of illegal combatants held there.
HH: Are you surprised by the President’s change of mind?
DR: I’m reassured that he is being realistic. He campaigned against it. In fact, both candidates campaigned against Guantanamo Bay. It’s received terrible press. It’s probably as good a prison facility that exists on the face of the Earth. It has been tainted with bad press and ugly comments from member of the House, and members of the Senate, partisan comments, people overseas. We took over 150 members of Congress down there. They saw for themselves that it’s a fabulous, well-run, very, very professionally run facility. And yet if you ask anybody about Guantanamo Bay, they say oh, it’s a terrible place, torture and all of that nonsense. There weren’t people tortured down there.
HH: Do you believe it will be open…
DR: Let me ask you a question. How many people do you think were waterboarded at Guantanamo?
HH: Well, I read Known And Unknown. I know the answer is zero.
DR: But if you ask anyone else, they would say hundreds, tens…
HH: Well, they would rely on Dick Durbin on the floor of the Senate.
DR: Dick Durbin was disgraceful, what he said.
HH: Let me ask you, do you think Guantanamo Bay will be open in ten years, doing the same role, performing the same role that it performs today?
DR: Well, I mean, the Obama administration recently said that they’re going to keep Guantanamo open, that they agree with President Bush’s idea that there are some people that you have to simply keep in indefinite detention. And they announced that they’re going to use the military commissions. And they’re going to do the military commissions in Guantanamo, which makes all the sense in the world. I mean, those are tough decisions. When we decided on Guantanamo, I described it as the least worst place. Now grammar aside, or you know, proper grammar, we looked all over the place, where was the best place to do it, and we came up with that. My guess is it could very well be open in ten years.
HH: And twenty and thirty?
DR: But I think that people who pile on, when somebody says oh, something’s terrible, and don’t take the time to look at the facts…we took people from the press down there by the dozens.
HH: And it didn’t matter.
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HH: All of the proceeds that Secretary of Defense and Mrs. Rumsfeld would have received from Known And Unknown are being donated to charities that serve the men and women of the United States Military. Which ones are the proceeds going to, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Well, the Rumsfeld Foundation supports, oh, six or seven or eight different charities that support the troops, including, for example, Paws For Patriots, that provide guide dogs, the Fisher House, which provides facilities for families visiting troops that have been wounded, Rivers Of Recovery is another example, the Wounded Warrior Project.
HH: It’s a great project. They’ve been on the program before.
HH: Now I want to start, since we’re at the Nixon Library, I’m going to get to Nixon. But before I do that, I once asked President Nixon in his retirement why he signed the Endangered Species Act, and he said well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. You co-sponsored FOIA, the Freedom Of Information Act. What were you thinking?
DR: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
HH: (laughing) What has gone wrong with that act now? And how would it be changed, in your opinion, if you could?
DR: Well, it was a good concept, and a good law, and it still is a good law, in my view. And there were certain exceptions for things that were security, or of a personal nature that need not be public. The problem with it is that it can be abused. Today, you can go in and impose a lot of cost on the government by, in effect, give me all your sevens. And I don’t know, maybe that’s an old game. I forgot even, was it Fish?
HH: Yeah, Go Fish.
DR: Yeah, and so the other day, someone went in and said I’d like to have every document that somebody asked for, And they don’t even know what they’re asking for. They just know somebody else asked for something. And of course, the cost that gets imposed on the government is substantial.
DR: But I do think that people in our society, that people have a right to know. And John Moss of California was sponsoring it, and I was a young Congressman and co-sponsored it with him. And I’m proud of doing that.
HH: You were also one of the reformers. I don’t think people know this, either. When you threw in with Ford and the reformers, you antagonized Les Arends, who was the dean of the Congressional delegation from Illinois. You were one of the young bucks who tried to break the Congressional system in those years. Do you see that playing out now again in the House of Representatives, where the old guard is running up against a new guard?
DR: You’re exactly right. There’s no question but that right now, there’s a large freshmen class, they are putting pressure on the leadership. That’s not a bad thing. We’ve got excellent leaders in the Congress, I think, today in the House side where all these new members came in. But he has to manage that process, and it’s not easy for a majority leader, or a Speaker in this case. But they’re doing a good job, and they’re meeting with the freshmen frequently. My problem was different. Back in the 1960’s, we had a very small minority. We had very few members. We had, after the Goldwater election, failure to get elected, we had 140 members out of 435. And we had a lot of senior people who’d been in for years, and they were quite comfortable being in the minority party. Well, I wasn’t comfortable being in the minority party. I wanted to be in the majority party. I wanted to have our ideas actually implemented in legislation. And so we threw out the old ones, and put in some new ones. HH: Now Republicans in Congress, when you were secretary of defense the second time, deserted the war quite vocally and visibly in many instances, criticized the President, criticized you, criticized all sorts of aspects of the war. Is that just part of being a Republican round heels? Were you disappointed by the Congressional Republican support in ’04, ’05, ’06?
DR: No, I think that…I wasn’t surprised. If you think about it, the resolution that was passed by the Congress was supported by Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, all of these people supported it. And then of course, when things get bumpy, some people start walking away. And as I discuss in my book, those are not people you’d want to be in a foxhole with. They drift away when things get difficult, and change their opinions. The thing that really disappointed me was that during the 2006 campaign, the White House didn’t defend their positions. Obama and McCain both campaigned against the Bush presidency day after day after day. And in my view, the President apparently decided that he was, this was 2008…
DR: He decided he didn’t want to be blamed for McCain’s loss, assuming he’d lose, and so he didn’t defend the administration. And I think the administration deserved to be defended. And it hurt to have both presidential candidates, Republican and the Democrat, getting up every morning and blasting the administration, which had done a darned good job.
HH: Let me ask you about what the after effect is. As we meet tonight, there are calls upon President Obama to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, to try and secure a peace there. What is your assessment of those calls, and what’s your advice to the President, if he happens to get a transcript of this conversation?
DR: Well, I think the caution that he’s hearing from his secretary of defense is wise. I think Secretary Gates has raised questions, and suggested that it’s not an easy thing. It can be done. We did it for years in Iraq. We had the U.N. no-fly zones in the northern and the southern portion of Iraq. We were flying, we and with the Brits were flying aircraft. We were getting shot at almost every day. It was just a matter of time until one of our airplanes, I talk about this in the book, we had all kinds of plans, what would you do if one of our planes was shot down, what if the crew gets killed, or the crew gets captured? And it takes a lot to do that over a sustained period of time. And we had ground bases. You’re not likely in that part of the world to get ground bases. You’re going to end up having to use aircraft carriers. And as Secretary Gates said, before you do it, you’re going to have to go in and try to take out both their air defense and their aircraft. So it is…and the question is, and there’s also people talking on television about having a no-tank zone, or a no-truck zone, or anything. Now there are lot of things we can do. And Gaddafi is not someone who ought to be supported. Quite the contrary, it would be a good thing for the world and for the people of Libya if he were gone. Let there be no doubt about that. But we could be doing a variety of things covertly that would be helpful to the people putting pressure on him.
HH: President Bush, and you as secretary of defense, disarmed Gaddafi of his weapons of mass destruction. You talk about it in Known and Unknown. It’s not very much known…
HH: …the extent of…but how much more dangerous would Gaddafi be today if what you took out of Libya post-2003 had not happened?
DR: I mean, when Saddam Hussein was pulled out of that spider hole, and turned over the Iraqi government, and they then tried him, and they then killed him, put him to death, imposed a death sentence and executed the death sentence, Gaddafi looked at that and said I do not want to be Saddam Hussein II. And he had a nuclear program going on, and he decided to bring in inspectors, turn in his weapons of mass destruction over to them, and dismantle the entire thing. Imagine today if he had a nuclear weapon. Imagine today if there were a nuclear arms race going on in the Middle East between Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi. I mean, the world is a vastly better place today. Let there be no doubt about it with Saddam Hussein gone and with Gaddafi without nuclear weapons.
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HH: Mr. Rumsfeld, in 1970, President Nixon sent you to the funeral of Nasser. And since Nasser’s funeral, two men have ruled Egypt, and now we’re in an interim period. What does that tell you about the Arab world, and their capacity of evolution to a democratic status?
DR: Well, it’s…you’re quite right. It says a lot. If you look down from outer space on Earth, there’s some countries that have freer political systems, and free economic systems, and the people are doing well. They have opportunities. And needless to say, this wonderful country of ours is one of them. And people line up from all over the globe trying to come here, trying to get a visa so that they can come to this country. And in so many countries, they don’t move towards free political systems and free economic systems. And pressure builds up. And clearly, that’s what’s taking place in North Africa today, is this ferment and the revolutionary feeling. And of course, it causes turbulence and uncertainty as to what’s going to happen. We know there was a popular revolution in Lebanon, and what happened was that today, Hezbollah is in charge, a terrorist organization that’s repressive. And the people did not get the freer opportunities they had before. And that’s a worry as we see what’s happening in these countries in North Africa.
HH: Now after you were on my show the first time, Pete Wehner, one of President Bush’s senior aides, said you know, Mr. Secretary, I respectfully disagree, we did have a democracy agenda. It was in the State of the Union, your deputy secretary, Wolfowitz, advanced it. Where is that argument now? Are you guys talking about different sets of materials, remembering different recollections? What was the Bush administration’s vision for the democratic impulse in the Middle East?
DR: Well, he is exactly correct. There was an effort. I didn’t say that President Bush didn’t have a freedom agenda. He clearly did. He believes deeply that people have a natural right to be free. There’s an old saying that until every…there’ll be no peace in the world until every man is free, because to every man, he is the world. And President Bush believed that. And he pushed it. And he worked towards it. What I said was the countries in that part of the world were very slow in moving towards freer political systems, not because he wasn’t urging it, but because, I think, their history’s different, their culture’s different. It’s also, look at our country. We had slaves into the 1800s, we had a terrible Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans killed. Then, we had, women didn’t vote until the 1900s. It’s not as though we arrived here the way we are today. We didn’t. We went through a tough time. And those countries are going to go through a tough time. That’s a bumpy road to get from where they are to where they ought to be if they want their people to have the kinds of opportunities we have.
HH: You know, I spent all day on Friday with a special operator, someone who has immense regard for you, because evidently, you were pretty good for the special operators across all the branches.
DR: You bet your life. We put money with them, and we got better equipment, and we increased their numbers, and we increased their authorities, and thank goodness we did, because they are on the spear point in the 21st Century efforts that our country’s going to have to be involved in.
HH: But he made some interesting observation. I’m not going to say too much about who he is, or where he serves. But the Taliban were a ferocious enemy, and the Iraqi al Qaeda not so much so. But about the Taliban, I can’t say he was an optimist that they can ever be defeated. What do you think, Donald Rumsfeld?
DR: We don’t have any metrics to know. In other words, I wrote a memo one time, I think it was in 2003, and I discuss it in the book, and I said look, we know how many we’re capturing or killing. But we don’t know how many are being recruited, funded, trained in these radical madrasas to become radical Islamists, to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. We don’t have an answer to that. And we’re not competing effectively in the competition of ideas. We know what be believe. But we don’t teach it as well in our schools as we might, in my personal opinion, but we did compete against the Communist ideology over the Cold War over decades. And that was a good thing, and we won. The Communist system is discredited except in a few countries – Cuba, Venezuela and a few others. But we’re not aggressively helping the world understand the dangers that radical Islamists pose. Indeed, the current administration doesn’t even like to use the words.
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HH: Mr. Rumsfeld, make a little news for me. The 2012 race for the Republican nomination, who do you think ought to be the Republican nominee?
DR: I don’t know. I want to see them run around the track. It’s important. It’s important who does that. And this process works. In other words, we’ve got a wonderful field of candidates. What are there, six, seven, eight of them? And what’s important is to have them go out, get before people, get asked tough questions, watch world events, get asked what they would do, watch their reactions, see how they handle things, see what they’d do about some of these important problems. I mean, think of the debt facing our generation, the next generation. Someone’s got to have the courage to stand up and talk about that in a bold way. And I want to see them run around the track, and then I’ll let you know.
HH: People ask you a lot about defense, obviously for obvious reasons. You’re the only person that served twice as SecDef. But you, I think, were short listed for vice president at least three times. Was it four times? It was to replace Agnew, to replace Rockefeller, to be with Reagan, I think, in 1980. Was there another time I missed? Were you on the short list for George Herbert Walker Bush as well? You filled out more forms than anyone I know.
DR: Yeah, who counts?
HH: So what do you, of that whole experience, when it comes down to actually running for president, what is the most…so you’ve been around this. That was the predicate for that. You know running for president. What’s the most important thing for these candidates to know?
DR: To know? Well, I suppose first of all, you have to want it. And I don’t mean that in an unpleasant way, of unbridled ambition. But the process is a tough one, and you have to be willing to go out there and stand up in front of people, and be willing to be tested and measured against yourself, against the issues that come up, and against the other candidates. And I must say, I do feel that some executive experience is important. A legislative background only brings a person into that office without the kinds of experience that can be very helpful, that you do get when you’re an executive.
HH: I’m going to spend a lot of time tonight in our show a little bit later tonight talking with you about Nixon since we’re at the Nixon Library. But as a preview of that, when did you come into his orbit? And what did you make of the man?
DR: I first met him during the Eisenhower administration. He was vice president, and a mutual friend introduced me. And then I was elected president of the incoming class of Republican Congressmen in 1962, ’63 or ’64, and I invited former Vice President Nixon to come in and speak to the group, and I spent some time with him then. What did I think of him? Early on, I was impressed as a man who was interested in the world, was a strategic thinker, could talk about the world in ways that I think provided leadership and was instructive for the American people. I also was a little worried about him. He’d served in the Congress very briefly, he’d served in the Senate very briefly, he’d served as stand-by equipment as vice president to Eisenhower for eight years. And then he ran for governor and lost, and then he ran for president again. And I remember John Mitchell, I think, came and asked me to be in charge of the Nixon campaign in Illinois in 1968, and I said gee, I’d like to watch him run around the track a little bit. He’s been getting ready for a long time, but he hasn’t done a lot. He’s just mostly been getting ready. And I did watch him run around the track, and I wasn’t enamored of Nelson Rockefeller, and he was the principal opponent, and I then signed on and was helpful to former Vice President Nixon in the ’68 campaign, and ended up as an assistant floor leader, and then a surrogate speaker for him.
HH: And then you ended up as the Office of Economic Development, the consumer price control agency. I can’t believe you were in charge of prices in the United States for a while, right? How’d that work out?
DR: If you read the book carefully, I confess that I was.
HH: (laughing) Yes, I read it very carefully.
DR: And I would say, and I don’t think I’m being immodest, that I may have done the best job there that I did anywhere. It was a terrible decision by President Nixon. We never should have had wage/price controls. They don’t work. They just mess up the market. He did it. John Connally, I think, talked him into it. I was in charge, and I got a call one day from Milton Friedman, good friend. And Dr. Friedman said to me, Don, you’re going a terrible job. And I said no, I’m not. I’m doing a spectacular job. He said let me tell you why you’re doing a terrible job. He said you were doing such a good job of letting people out from under them, and avoiding excessively restrictive regulations and rules, that people think that wage/price controls are actually helping the country, and you know they’re not. And I know they’re not. And the American people are getting taught the wrong lesson. I was doing so well…
HH: He was right.
DR: …that he was worried that people would take the wrong message from it.
HH: Let me ask you about that time, with a minute left in this segment. You mention in your book, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote more books than people had read, you write in your memoir…
DR: I do.
HH: …was one of the people in an administration that included, of course, Kissinger and Nixon and yourself, it had Ruckelshaus, it had Bork, it had William Rehnquist, it had Dick Cheney, it had Vernon Walters, one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met. It was extraordinary. Of course, it also had Haldeman and Ehrlichman. I like Haldeman, I don’t know Ehrlichman.
DR: George Schultz…
HH: George Schultz, so it’s an extraordinary array of talent. Has there been an administration since then that brought together…was anyone as expansive in the hunt for talent as Nixon was?
DR: Nothing close. Richard Nixon’s administration brought in a collection of people across the spectrum who served the country very well, and then went on to serve the country for the next ten, twenty, thirty, forty years. It was an amazing collection of people.
HH: He credentialed a lot of people.
DR: He did.
HH: And not…the list is long. Did you consciously credential anyone in DOD? I know some of your friends like Tony Dolan and a bunch of people who were with you. But did you credential anyone to be a defense expert for the next twenty or thirty years?
DR: I did, but I don’t want to mention their names…
HH: (laughing) No, don’t.
DR: But we did. We had some very terrific, bright, young people who were in, oh, two or three layers down, who are going to go on in future administrations, probably of both parties.
HH: Was that conscious on your part?
DR: Oh, you bet. Yeah, there’s few things a person, an executive does. I mean, you know, unless you’re Mozart or Einstein and go off in a room and do something brilliant, all the rest of us, what we do, we do with other people. And in those big jobs, you do it with a lot of other people, and you have to pick good people, terrific people, and delegate big chunks of responsibility. It’s one of the most important things we do is pick people.
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HH: I have got very little time left. I want to ask you a question about a segment of the book. I’ve read Known And Unknown twice, Mr. Secretary, and I love the parts about Searle, the company that you ran after you left the government. Three quotes – prune, prune business products, activities, and people do it annually, Page 252; I never cease to be amazed at people, particularly lifelong politicians of both political parties, most of whom have never created anything of value, savaging those who do; and number three, people in the public center tend to be praised and rewarded for their efforts or intention rather than judged by the results of their actions. Is that ever going to change, from the perspective of having been a CEO, and having served so long and at such high positions?
DR: You did read the book.
HH: Oh, yeah.
DR: That’s impressive. And I do discuss that in the book, and I think the business part of the book is an important part. And I think that it is difficult for people to appreciate it, the business side. There’s something about the focus on government in the media that…and not on business. And what’s characterized about business in the movies, and in music, tends to be negative. And yet that’s where the jobs are created. That’s where the opportunity is. That’s where the products are created. That is so much more important a part of our society than government. And we need to value it and appreciate it, and understand it, and encourage it, and create an environment that’s hospitable to business.
HH: Next hour, I’m talking with Richard Epstein, who’s a fierce critic of the FDA, professor at the University of Chicago, et cetera. And you have the FDA in here, because they wouldn’t let you use Nutrasweet for six years.