In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Chuck Robb, Virginia's 64th governor from 1982 to 1986 and U.S. senator from 1989–to 2001. Governor Chuck Robb is also the author of In the Arena: A Memoir of Love War and Politics. In the conversation, Governor Chuck Robb shares his story of joining the Marines, being assigned to the White House, serving in Vietnam, and marrying President Lyndon Baines Johnson's daughter, Linda Bird Johnson. Chuck Robb also talked about his leadership journey in public service as Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and a U.S. Senator representing the Commonwealth of Virginia and being appointed as co-chair of The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission by President Bush. Finally, Senator Robb talks about how the best leaders approach leadership and their impact.
-Chuck Robb's formative years in the Marines and being in the White House as a military social aid
-On being a good leader and how to get the respect of people that you are working with
-Chuck Robb recalls meeting, getting engaged, and then marrying President Johnson's daughter Linda
-Why Chuck Robb asked to serve in combat in Vietnam
-Going back to law school and what drove Chuck Robb to start his career in politics
-Why Governor Chuck Robb didn't run for President
-Senator Chuck Robb, on his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act
-The appointment by President Bush to co-chair the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission
In the Arena: A Memoir of Love, War, and Politics on Amazon
Senator Chuck Robb's speech on the Democratic National Convention Day
Senator Chuck Robb's (D-VA) speech on the Defense of Marriage Act (September 1996)
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[00:00:00] Mahan: Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Chuck Robb. Chuck Robb served as the 64th Governor of Virginia from 1982 until 1986, and then as the United State Senator from 1989, until 2001. We talked about Chuck's own life journey, leadership journey, and impact, which he has also shared in his book," In the Arena: A Memoir of Love War and Politics. I really enjoyed this conversation because of Chuck's own impactful leadership journey, making such a big difference on so many people's lives.
I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, email@example.com. There is also a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. Really enjoy those voice messages.
Don't forget to follow the podcast. Tuesday conversations with magnificent change-makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region. Many of them with global impact and historical impact like Chuck and then Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders.
Now, here is my conversation with Governor Chuck Robb.
Governor Chuck Robb. Welcome to partnering leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
[00:01:24] Chuck: Thank you. I'm delighted to be able to join you.
[00:01:27] Mahan: Governor what an incredible story you have had that you have shared in your book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading In The Arena: A Memoir of Love, War and Politics with many magnificent pictures that speak volumes by themselves. So I would first love to start out with your upbringing in Arizona. What was your upbringing like
[00:01:54] Chuck: My father, had been, very active in a number of things. He started out in the aviation industry. He became a pilot, he was stationed in Arizona, he'd actually homesteaded at one point in Arizona and then became a pilot, then want to get into the dude ranching business. Later on, we were living in Phoenix while he was on the administrative side of America.
He was flying, I don't think this is in actually in the book that no one will know what Luddington airlines was. He was a pilot for Luddington airlines initially. And he talked about flying into Washington DC, which was located at that point where the Pentagon is now located would have to call ahead and caused them to turn the traffic lights so that they could stop the traffic on route one, which ran right through the middle of what was then the landing area. So he had an interesting time early on in aviation. But I was not a part of that really.
I was, born in Arizona. My father and mother were living there at that time. They were living in Phoenix, which is why I have a Phoenix address rather than a Virginia address. They were both born on this coast so I'm on the east coast. My mother was actually born in Virginia. My father was born in what was Virginia before it became West Virginia. There were in at least a geographical area that was quite removed from where I ended up being born. I have fairly deep roots.
And this part of the country where I'm currently located used to have a house here, report burned down. I graduated from Mount Vernon high school, which is just down the road from where I was then living, and it was living before the house burned down in any event. So I have in addition to my own Virginia roots and my experience both in as Governor and then in, the Senate it, all of that experience has been gained basically being in Virginia or from Virginia
and clearly relates to the Marine Corps, which was pivotal part of my early life and help shape what I did in the rest of my life.
[00:04:11] Mahan: Governor, in University of Wisconsin, you were in the NRO TC. Why did you join the Marines after that
[00:04:20] Chuck: I will tell you that I always had a great admiration for what the Marines stood for, what they had done. I didn't do any of most of their historical legacy, but I inherited all that. I wanted to do and inherit and I guess I wanted to be with the first to fight. I'm not denigrating or taking down or taking a shot at any of the other services, they're all great. But the Marines had a reputation being the ones to go in there first. And I wanted to be part of that reputation. And you can inherit it if you worked hard at being Marine and in my case, I was already destined to be a Marine officer.
And in the ROTC, the Marines can only take one-sixth of each graduating class at the same percentage that they can take from the Naval academy incidentally, I think it's still the same in any event you had to be originally successful to make sure that you could be in, the top part of your inner ROTC class in order to be able to select the right option.
And the challenge that, that brought with us, both OCS, which was then called training and test regimen was later renamed OCS, basically the same thing as bootcamp that you do at either Paris Island or out on the West Coast and any event that, that was a challenge. And I liked challenge. I've always liked challenges clearly marked me for the rest of my life. Linda sometimes used to kid me, she said you basically married the Marine Corps. And I was well involved in the Marine Corps by the time we met or when we married, she said, I'm just your mistress.
[00:06:03] Mahan: Yes. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
[00:06:05] Chuck: Once a Marine always. That's right. You got it.
[00:06:08] Mahan: And you graduated, at basic school with honors, which is why you also got assigned to the white house as a military social aid, Governor, what was that initial experience as a social aid light?
[00:06:23] Chuck: It was very interesting. You're actually all each of the services nominate several eligible young man in most cases. It's both men and women. I think they may take folks that are married at this point. At that point, all of the social aides were single. And so there were eligible and you had a chance to engage in all of the functions that the white house takes care of.
And in my case, I was also assigned the additional duty of being the officer in charge of the white house color guard. So whenever we had a state dinner, we would March in, I would go up with the color guard and go into the in almost all cases into the into the yellow room and salute the president and the visiting head of state, whoever it was and request permission to withdraw the colors and that they would follow me and the colors down the grand staircase and into the Eastern Wing in the White House, which is where the receptions in most cases took place. But my duty and most of those cases if I didn't lead the color guard , in, in most cases, I would already be standing with the president and introducing all of the people that came through the line there's aide that would be setting them up so to speak would ask each person to give me their name, rank, whatever honorific they might have, and that was to make sure that the president never was confronted with somebody that he knew well and suddenly forgot their name or forgot their title and so I would repeat it and , that way the president should always acknowledge the person that was coming through the line and and that conversation would flow naturally rather than having some attempt to remember what it was they wanted to talk to that person about.
[00:08:18] Mahan: Governor, all those opportunities to stand next to Lyndon Johnson, who was a master politician and was eventually able to get the civil rights legislation passed. You must have gotten an inside look into politics.
What were some of the things you learned early on about what it took to be such a master politician as the president Lyndon Johnson was..
[00:08:45] Chuck: Well, Let me say, I didn't start to be a "master politician." I wanted to be a good politician. I wanted to be a good leader. I wanted to have the respect of the folks that I'm working with. I always thought that one of the most important aspects of any relationship where you're in a leadership responsibility is you have to have the respect of those you want to lead.
They have to respect you particularly in the military or the war, fighting aspects of the military. If you're going to ask for whom you're responsible and you're responsible for their direction with the officers and NCO, those that are below you through which you would make your orders known to troops that you're leading. They have to know that, you understand what it is they're going through and that you have the ability to directly impact life or death for them. And they have the ability to provide life or death protection for you. And so you're mutually dependent on each other and you have to respect each other.
I found in leadership at any level, It doesn't have to be the military, people know that you're a man or a woman of your word and that you're not going to deliberately mislead them or give them information, order you know that improper.
You can get a whole lot done if people weren't suspect, I'm not going to cite recent examples or whatever that, people might not have been as willing to take a chance. But at any event, you have to believe in the person who is subjecting you to particularly, in a combat situation to life or death situation, almost around the clock really around the clock because you're out there in the field fighting you're not stopping for a break heavily guarded institution or whatever the case may be or wherever else you might live, you're out there and you and everybody else are responsible for everybody else who's out there.
They have to know you have something that every now and then there are people that get in a position of leadership or should recognize it may get a little carried away with their powers and forget that they're actually serving everybody who is responding to their leadership.
It's a fairly simple, straightforward lesson that nothing particularly sophisticated or anything else about it, it just trust.
[00:11:12] Mahan: Governor you also in the book mentioned, balancing that with the need for leaders to have humility. So how were you able to balance that?
[00:11:26] Chuck: Try to not get too excited about who you happen to be at the moment, whatever your rank or position happens to be. And to try to understand the feelings of the peoples whose lives you are affecting either directly or indirectly in some cases. If it looks like you're getting too big for your boots you're not going to be as effective.
[00:11:47] Mahan: While you were at the white house serving as the military social aid, you met Linda and you mentioned in the book, she was out of my league. So how were you able to woo Linda.
[00:12:01] Chuck: Let me say that Linda is very outgoing. She's very smart. She's wise in the ways of the world. She was kind enough to ask me to be her escort, to a number of official functions. I was typical bachelor in the Washington area at the time.
I was dating a number of very appealing young woman. But she would frequently be asked in her capacity as the first daughter of the president of United States to come to an event. She might be a sponsor or whatever the case may be, but she was expected to have an escort. So she frequently asked me to be her escort to official events.
So became very comfortable with her early on, and we developed a mutual respect and a mutual appreciation for our joint activities. We just liked being together. I do talk about this in the book. Linda went with a bibliophile collector of children's books and whatever, over to England and coming back, realized how much I miss her just as she's getting ready to leave. We're in the white house she's whispering to me, we've got to talk when I got back. And I thought you, you've been missing something. In any event it led from there and we had dinner within two or three days after we got back, whether it's the first time that we had been invited to come as a couple to any event.
Then curator of the White House had a little dinner party two or three couples, and we were both invited to the same party. Sometimes I would be invited to parties and take Linda and Linda would sometimes be invited to parties to take me, but that's the first time we went as a couple, we came back to that. We went up to the solarium in the white house which is where we did a lot of our long-term talking, thinking whatever.
And over a course of two or three hours, I guess it was we both just decided to get married. It wasn't the usual as I've had with our daughters when they have decided that it's time or in a mood that it's time to say yes. They would frequently come to me and, or the young man that was proposing marriage to them would come to me a whole spiel that you expect a courting son to become son-in-law to go through. I didn't go through any of that, but we did later on after I got a ring and I could get down on my knee and offered to her, but I have two sons in law or one on one I know because he actually filmed the whole routine of him getting down on his knee to present the ring that he was offering to our then youngest daughter is in whose home I am now staying since we don't have a home after the fire in any event, he has it all on, tape.
He's a very good photographer as well. So he's got that moment frozen in time. Enjoy. They have to have the cutest little boys you'll ever see, and when they get old enough to decide that they want to find a life partner, he can share that with them. I all life I'm sure is that you and I just went through
[00:15:17] Mahan: It's a great story. And you also, as a part of this, Governor had to ask the president of the United States for his daughter's hand in marriage. How were you able to do that?
[00:15:28] Chuck: Fortunately because I had been standing next to him for a long period of time and he knew me, but he didn't really know me yet. He trusted my judgment, I think. I'm sure that the way that people for white house duty or whatever that he had a pretty good idea that I had been quite successful so far in the Marine Corps.
But in any event I requested of his secretary a very short, personal visit and that was arranged it happened to be in the Lincoln bedroom. And I got there just ahead of him. And he came at the door and the first thing I said, Mr. President, I suspect that why I have asked for this meeting and he gave a very warm shake of his head
and said yes, I think I do. So knew it was going to be very pleasant experience. And by the time I got around to actually formally asking for the hand of his eldest daughter in marriage and he says, you have it. And then you have followed up, and my love and I thought, wow, this is the most powerful man in the world at this point, and he's using the word love in there. I thought, wow.
But there's an interesting story, which is also in the book how Linda on the night, we actually decided to get married on our own without asking our parents either way. She went on to tell her mother and she had to, her mother and father were in a big bed and she went over to try to get her mother's hand to get her attention so she could talk to her. At that point, her father woke up and gave this, oh, they don't even want to talk to me. And so at that point she said that she got in bed with both of them shared the whole thing. And then the next morning it was about the next morning I guess,. I had to head back to Marine barracks eighth to ninth streets, Washington, DC, where I was stationed for that period of three years.
I sent some flowers because I wasn't really planning to get engaged that night, but , maybe If I examine my conscience in full, I might've been thinking about it. Obviously I was thinking about it while she was gone. I had gotten much more serious about her.
In any event I wanted to send some flowers so I sent a dozen red roses and they were inadvertently delivered to her mother. And you've read that in the book. And she said, no, those are mine. Those are mine. And her mother very graciously turned them over. Her mother understood completely.
[00:18:04] Mahan: Magnificent story. And your sense of humor, Governor also comes across in the book. And after that you had a beautiful wedding in the white house. One of my favorite pictures is Linda putting her head on her father's shoulder at the wedding.
[00:18:26] Chuck: I wanted to show the love between father and daughter, obviously very special. And it's 54 plus years that Linda and I have been in this relationship. It's clearly the best thing that ever happened to me.
[00:18:42] Mahan: You got married to Linda. The commander in chief is your father-in-law. You have already served the required time in the Marines, but you still ask to be assigned to go to Vietnam. Governor.
[00:19:01] Chuck: Let me just say, because I was fortunate enough to end up make reference to it. I wasn't going to brag about it, but because I was fortunate to end up first in my class, and the Marine Corps had honored me by giving me Mameluke sword with my name and everything had graved on it. As the number one red for the club, I felt that I had an obligation to prove myself that I was as good as they seem to have. They kind of, I was based on the evaluation they made. Fortunately, all of that took place before I ever even met Linda or before I ever met her father.
So there was no concern afterwards that I was either sent any of those things that would have happened. All of that, what I call very plush duty, I thought was the Marine Corps desire to reward me for the accomplishment that took place there in a non-combat situation. I felt if I ever left active duty without having actually served with the muddy boots Marines in combat, that I was shortchanging the Marine Corps and myself, I know too many people in the political process who had, I thought very exciting career possibilities every now and then I'd run into somebody.
I'm not going to name any names at this point, who would confide with me said, I don't think I'm ever going to get where I wanted to go in politics because I didn't go to Vietnam. I didn't serve. Doubt. I didn't want to have that doubt. So it was very important that I do, I covered this in the book, but I don't name the person somebody that was high up and Linda's father's administration took me aside after this.
I don't remember the exact timeframe, but wanting to talk to me and said, now you've already fulfilled your obligation in terms of active duty service with the Marine Corps. You take your permission as a regular officer. that was already completed, said, you don't have to go to Vietnam.
You could resign your commission right now very shortly or whatever. you can Walk away in effect honorably from serving. And I said, I can't do that. I gotta live with myself too. And so it was important to me to be able to go and what I wanted to do, and I was fortunate enough eventually to get this, I wanted to command an infantry company in combat in Vietnam.
That was the only war that was going on at the time. And in any event it was something I felt compelled to do and would have felt a complete erosion of public confidence and morale I'm sure if I had not done, if I had taken what others assume was the easy way out. Now, I didn't realize at the time that by being right up front about wanting to serve even before we were married that I was making it difficult for another son-in-law at the time. I should have been thinking about the contrasting images that were at play. It was for me very important that I do it. And I'm again it's one of those things you're just really glad you made what you considered the right decision at the time.
Throughout the political process, I'm always pleased, particularly when you're taking a position, which seems to be politically unpopular at the time. If you've taken the position that history will look on it with favor, you're always pleased that you made the decision that probably wasn't understood because you knew that it was politically unpopular to do that. And some of those were, alluded to in the book, but in any event you never get in serious trouble if you do what you believe in your heart and your mind is the right thing to do.
I used to get consulted frequently by other office holders and they had an unpopular issue to deal with. And I would say if you believe in your heart and you're conscious that you're doing the right thing, even though it's politically unpopular make that decision and explain why you've made the decision.
People I think will understand. They'll give you a credit for making a tough decision. And that was always my case. I always benefited ultimately from making tough decisions that were required. I thought a part of your leadership you've got to stand up for what you believe in.
[00:23:33] Mahan: That's part of the respect and leadership that you were talking about earlier, Governor. And while serving in Vietnam, you earned a bronze star. There is a picture in the book of tapes you used to send back to Linda that she had shared with her father. There's a picture of LBJ, listening to the tapes with his head down on his fist.
[00:24:05] Chuck: He had listened to a tape recording that I had sent to Linda, not believing that he would ever hear it. So I was fairly candid, but I always tried not to make it sound too gruesome. If I was describing casualties, I wouldn't really describe exactly what they look like or exactly how their bodies were misshapen, because of whatever the action they'd been through. I would try to keep up, but I would talk about various aspects that I could share. And her father apparently had started asking her to share my letters with her. Incidentally, the tape recorder was presented to me by her father.
A similar type of order was presented to Linda when I left for Vietnam. that was to enhance our communications, the actual tape, because it's very, it was very hot in Vietnam. It tends to stretch out a little bit and you got very slow, but the white house audio group was able to put it back speed-wise, and he played it for his cabinet just before that photograph was taken and he's still in there thinking about it.
He actually took very seriously all of the lives that were lost in war and in battle. He had served during World War II but he had not been in combat as such and he had real appreciation for what the families of those in most cases, men now more and more women and I've had great pride in the women who want to serve. I think that's great if they'd like to, and we shouldn't take undue advantage of that, but let's not hold them back from achieving their aspirations.
So I'm willing to share that honor with those who would like to share it. In any event, he was listening to a description and this case, I think it was, if I recall correctly, I was describing a midnight evacuation of one of my men but who had a fall and we were going through the mountains that are all pitch black.
He had fallen, it was a little waterfall. He had ended up, broken his leg. And we had to evacuate him by dropping a basket from a helicopter all the way down through the jungle and then securing him in there and then they reel it back. And take him in and get him patch up, but it was the description of exactly what was happening.
I may have had a description on that tape. I don't remember of some other action we had when we're actually engaged. And when you're talking about the enemy and you're talking about if you have killed enemy troops you'll almost always immediately search them for documents or indications planning can be useful in the whole greater intelligence field.
But sometimes you had talked about the fact that frequently particularly those who are conscripts for the other side, maybe serving against their first choice of career in life and in their backpack they may have pictures of family wives in some cases that are really very much like the pictures you're carrying yourself.
And so he had an enormous respect for the enemy loss of life as he did for loss of life for our own troops that's not always appreciated by people who are in a combat situation and sometimes more reporting gets done of those who prance on the victim in a way that distorts the beliefs of all of those who were in combat.
Again, I won't go into any detail on me lie, but that was always a sharp black mark against military service, I thought at the time, because you don't take advantage of women and children and just slaughter them. You don't do that with your troops. Even if, they're your prisoners, you don't want to do that too.
But you don't do that because they're easy targets. Any event, it was that type of thing. That type of understanding, which I'm not sure it was always fully understood about Lyndon B Johnson. He had the duty of accepting responsibility for in effect every loss of life on both sides because he has ordered those troops into combat.
[00:28:40] Mahan: Vast majority served with the honor as you did Governor, I wonder how did that experience shape you as a person?
[00:28:51] Chuck: It's obvious the deep impression. People believe what they're doing for their country. And ultimately it boils down to, for the man on the left and the man on the right they're each responsible for each other's lives. And those are the ones that they bond are closest to, but they recognize they're doing it for their country and they believe that they're doing what everybody else is doing for their country.
So it is not just an act of liking a combat environment. There are some people that don't fair as well if they have been in intense combat over an extended period of time, when they come back into peaceful environment, they don't adopt as well. And most cases can make the switch back to the friends and family and not have a tough time.
After Vietnam, I came back, I was head of the principal officer recruiting prep program for the Marine Corps for a period of year and a half, whatever it was, This particular program recruited more Marine Corps officers that either the Naval academy or they're an ROTC program for which I had come, everybody was recruited as a civilian on college campuses and then went to OCS and were commissioned as we were at that, when they graduated from whatever institution they were in.
But I was doing that for that period of time. After I would been in this position for awhile, I decided on the basis of comments and advice from a lot of friends who said you ought to go to law school. And had always sort of planned to come back and go get an MBA the master of business administration.
But enough of them convinced me that it would be a very useful, to be able to have a lottery and said, you will never have to be put in a position. Will somebody say you don't understand I'm a lawyer. Is that you'll be a lawyer too. They won't be able to use that.
And one of our daughter, our middle daughter actually is a very good practicing lawyer right now, and it's the first amendment lawyer, in any event.
It was important to me. So I went back to law school, so suddenly I have a whole new qualification, I had found, because I had come back with the head of the they call it the platoon leaders class PLC program, it was at least the largest source of brand new second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
I was frequently called upon to either react or give speeches and did in both cases had at least one event that turned out to be quite memorable in Philadelphia, it turns out and I went up there to visit with the officers. They also chose the officer selection officer there, and they asked me to put on an event, it was in the height of the anti-war period.
The auditorium that, which it was held with just filled with people with all kinds of anti-war paraphernalia and signs and whatever. And it was a difficult audience, but the very fact that I could ultimately, I could get them to chuckle at something, then I could take them head on on issues and earn their respect, we'll go back to that word. And at the end, they gave me a standing ovation. They had come there to see me completely pulled apart limb out of my buddy, came away with a different approach. I don't know and I say I don't know that I changed that many minds on the war, but I think that changed that many minds on whether everyone served their country was necessarily war criminals.
That can give you a certain experience that you have the ability to deal with difficult issues and win over people on the basis of words. And so I, was increasingly intrigued by the political process. I hadn't gone into either the rink Corps or the law school specifically to get into politics, but I realized I had a brand new credential that I knew I had something of value there are things that I could do that I might not have thought about.
And for a variety of reasons, Virginia offered a very appealing opportunity for someone who wanted to correct some wrongs from the past, but respect the people going forward. It was in a period that was just really at the end of reconstruction. And Jim Crow was still very much alive in terms of the way the a whole lot of the country treated those who had been mistreated during the entire slavery experience. I could see that I had a real opportunity to change minds. I didn't want to start out running from Governor the very first elective office, I thought Lieutenant Governor will give me an opportunity to prove my bonafides in a political office it was an office to be the president of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor, and as the Lieutenant Governor you're next in line for succession like the Vice- President of the United States should you have to exceed to that office under other circumstances.
Fortunately that, I was able to run for office, but I ran for office knowing that would be good preparation and would again establish stronger argument that I can handle the responsibilities of government and that the pressures of government before I went for the top job.
[00:34:37] Mahan: And you did in 1982 to get elected Governor of Virginia. And as you also mentioned in the book, you served both as Lieutenant Governor, and eventually as Governor in transitioning Virginia from what had existed for a long time with the capital of Confederacy, with the Jim Crow laws to a more modern Virginia.
[00:35:03] Chuck: Absolutely. And that was my objective at that point. I thought that was not so far out of reach. that it couldn't be done, but I thought we still had to acknowledge that we had been very much the focus of much of what was then wrong with society in general. And that the capital of all of that effort had been in Richmond, Virginia.
I thought we had a responsibility and I thought there were enough people that wanted to get beyond and wouldn't live in that past and try to perpetuate a very unequal society that we could make real progress.
[00:35:42] Mahan: A national platform. Governor, you had a speech in 1984, that bill Clinton and the intro to your book also references where you said Democrats need to be compassionate, to care, tough enough to govern, which can be true today as it was back
[00:36:01] Chuck: Right. Absolutely. Regrettably the democratic party in the minds of many Americans at that point, and perhaps internationally was viewed as being insufficiently patriotic to stand up for their country and serve in combat whatever the case may be. But you had the advantage of a party that was clearly a well-known for its compassion, you had to have both. And that's what I like. I was able to bring together in Virginia people who wanted to move forward, not cherish the part of the past, that was not doing us any good for the future.
[00:36:43] Mahan: Governor a lot of people after brief stints in politics end up running for president, you had served as a popular Governor of Virginia, your term ending in 1986. For those not familiar in Virginia, you can only run one term as Governor 1984 speech to the democratic convention, national stage, why did you choose not to run for president?
[00:37:10] Chuck: That had never been my ultimate objective. And let me just say that I was aware of the fact that I could cure some of the internal divisions in Virginia. Between those who, again, I don't like to use the terms left and right, but who identified nationally within the democratic party, our credibility on the left was better than our credibility on the right at that point.
And I thought the very fact that I had served in the United States Marine Corps on active duty in combat freed me from the automatic assumption that I'm an antiwar person. I'm not for, but I'm not dispose that I'm gonna be against anyone who wants to fight for their rights.
So at any event, what I thought I could do, I thought by my personal example I have a defense against those who want to just write me off as being a confirmed leftist, and because of my commitment to civil rights, equal rights, human rights you couldn't write me off as being anti-social or anti- freedom, anti-liberty what other case may be.
So I was uniquely positioned to do just what I wanted to do there, but I realized that doesn't translate automatically into the national level, because there are so many state parties still that are stricken by internal disagreements and I like to think that the book makes an argument for you can't be just with one, I called them tribes. You can't use tribal instincts and this case to cause everybody's gotta be X or Y whatever the case may be. You've gotta be able to weigh both sides come up with a solution in which people can have trust and to go back that word again.
It's something that didn't feel at that point in my life that I had all of what would be necessary to basically reeducate the party, nationally. I would continue to set the example. That had not been my objective in the first place. There wasn't any point in putting my family through a race that I thought would be difficult probably more difficult to get a nomination than to win the general election.
In fact, we're going to come to that, but in any event, it wasn't something I wanted to start into at that stage of my life that I felt was going to be a very difficult aspiration.
[00:39:39] Mahan: You continued your service to Virginia as the Senator. And in 1994, you ran a super energized campaign against the Oliver North.
[00:39:52] Chuck: Yes. That was an example where I could take on somebody. He was already nationally known. In fact, we had some pulling at a time if I recall correctly, that better known than the then president of the United States more easily recognized and had a following and yet had a agenda, which was quite different from behind.
It was a real challenge. I knew it was going to be a tough race. I knew I was taking on someone who had the popular opinion on his side in many respects, particularly from the Republican side of the aisle. He was charismatic loved to make speeches and whatever, I still had something to prove to myself at that point. I wanted to prove that I still had the trust of the folks and I thought I could still do the job. I liked political leadership. I was not born legislator, it's a very different kettle of fish, if you will. I have great respect for many who have done a superb job as legislators.
It is not an easy job necessarily, but for me, ultimately, there was too much time spent by the respective party operatives on both sides, trying to create difficult amendments or pieces of legislation that they knew would make it very difficult for their potential opponent in the next election to vote for or against either way.
That type of gameplay just never appealed to me. Again, I'm not dismissing all legislative experience without that. That's just the part that I disliked. I was close enough to it that I could see it along, which in some cases with some otherwise very able people because in some cases it was probably more at the urging of party functionaries and either party saying, we've got to do something to absolutely destroy your opponent the next time around.
Because in in many cases they have already cast their lot with somebody on one side of the other. They want to be able to continue in that role and they know in part, the member of their body who is up for election, has to be reelected for them to do that.
[00:42:18] Mahan: Governor, there is a lot that you can look back and take pride in. I want to highlight the fact that in 1996, you were one of only 14 senators and representing Virginia, which even now is a purple state, let alone back then to vote against the defense of marriage act.
Why did you do that?
[00:42:46] Chuck: I had taken a leading role in that because I felt very strongly that what was described as the defense of marriage act was anything, but it was a desire to discriminate against those who were somehow different.
It was a very easy vote actually, but it was a very misunderstood issue. And it could be used very effectively by those who were in favor of that act, whether they were really in favor of the act or not to paint an opponent as being somehow in favor of all these things, which people individually disagree or were out of favor in any event, it never occurred to me that someone who was a gung ho Marine that would be more identified in the long run with that particular legislation.
But I'm proud to have had that opportunity. There is some satisfaction that anyone in a position of leadership gets from being able to take on what they know is a politically unpopular position and convince people that they're on the wrong side of that issue. It's not an easy task. There are a lot of issues that you can't do that with.
But this is what I thought was clearly wrong in terms of the way it was presented. And so it was easy to get up and talk against it. In my speech on the floor, the speech against DOMA, I try to actually deliver that to the senators and their staffs who were there in the Senate, listening to it.
I wasn't really trying to project that as national international speech at the time, but I knew that I was on the right side of history, if you will, in the long run. And I'm very pleased with what has transpired in that whole era, in a sense. I'm constantly reading more and more about it and some of the lives that have been different in one way or another people couldn't identify with personally, but present no threat to anybody.
And I want to live their lives differently to somehow be against them or feel you have to discriminate against them, and that just indefensible to me
[00:44:56] Mahan: That's why Governor both as Governor and Senator, you stood for what you believed in. That's what courage is all about not doing what is always politically expedient, doing what you believe is right. And that's what you did. And then post your service as Governor and Senator in 2004 president of a different party.
President Bush reached out to you in an election year that February, 2004 November would have been election for you to co-chair the weapons of mass destruction commission. What was that experience like?
[00:45:38] Chuck: First of all I was very pleased to be asked to do it because I had been very upfront in terms of my service within the democratic party. I had actually specifically declined as I had in some previous instances to support a president of the opposite party and taking a particular action in this case, it was the ill-fated attack on Iraq.
It was something that he knew politically was taking a real chance. I thought this is an opportunity for me to do something that I believe will be good.
I think I have the respect of the military and the intelligence community to conduct a fair investigation. The other quote. Who was an appellate judge at the federal level at the U S court of appeals. Larry Silverman was a Republican. And so we had one of each party president wanted to make it a bi-partisan effort and both Larry and I made it clear if not by inference and directly , president Bush at that point said he would not do anything to interfere in any way, in any political sense nor allow that to take place during that period.
And he was a man of his word coming back to trust. And the one thing that I was criticized for by a number of Democrats at that point was not specifically assessing personal culpablity of the Republican party and the president at that particular period, because that would in all likelihood have cratered his chances for reelection that year.
But because I didn't do that, took a different approach. have to, then now I have to stand up and say, Hey, he was a man of his word. That didn't necessarily mesh with what some of the Democrats wanted me to do at that particular point. At any event he took a chance on me, I took a chance on him and it worked out both ways.
Going back to trust.
[00:47:42] Mahan: That trust also helped the commission conclude that the intelligence community was wrong in most of its prewar judgments. So you contributed to the country's understanding moving forward then and there also. Governor you have a rich experience that you have shared some of it in your book, some of the speeches that you talked about, I would highly encourage people to listen to whether it's your 1984 a speech at the convention, or your speech on the floor of the Senate voting against defensive marriage act. those are great representations of what courage in leadership is all about.
So I would like to know from your perspective, having led such a rich life through the many experiences from Arizona to service in the Marine Corps, at the white house, in Vietnam, back law school, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor of Virginia, Senator leading the weapons of mass destruction commission, all of this.
When you are to give advice to leaders of organizations and leaders across the country, what do you think they should take away from your experience in terms of how they can be leaders that can be respected as you said, with the kind of courage you have shown throughout leadership experience.
[00:49:19] Chuck: First of all, let me say I very much appreciate your characterization of my service. It means a lot to me, but they ought to focus on what people are going to think about after their period of public service is over, are they going to feel that they had someone that they could believe in that they could trust?
Again, I don't like it to sounded like a Donny one note, but that is a theme that I think is always going to clear your conscience and whatever you have to do, however unpopular, and we're all gonna face and all do some unpopular times in our life that we have to speak out against whatever is politically popular or in socially popular for the right reasons.
And if you do it for the right reasons again, that's essentially the advice I give anybody that wants to get into politics. Stick to your guns. Don't be swayed strictly by public opinion. If you believe something's right or wrong, say so and then be prepared to justify whatever you say.
That's in one form at other, essentially that the advice I give anyone that is kind enough to come to me for advice.
[00:50:34] Mahan: Governor, Chuck Rob, really appreciate you taking the time to share some of your experience most especially much respect for the courage you have shown in your own leadership and in guiding so many through sharing of your experience. So we can build on the great things you have done for a better future for our communities and for our country. Thank you so much for joining conversation, governor Chuck Robb.
[00:51:06] Chuck: Thank you. I very much appreciate the opportunity.