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Previously: Former Senator John Danforth at Missouri Boys State: Q and A, part 1 (June 16, 2011)

Former U.S. Senator and U.N. Ambassador John Danforth speaking on the stage of

Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg on Tuesday night, June 14th.

Former Missouri Attorney General, U.S. Senator and U.N. Ambassador John Danforth was the keynote speaker and recipient of the George W. Lehr Memorial Speakers Chair at the American Legion Boys State of Missouri in Warrensburg last Tuesday night, June 14th. After his speech Senator Danforth took questions from the audience.

“…but, are there issues where if I had to do it over again I would have done it differently? Yeah, sure. But, do I really have regrets about it?  No, I don’t. I, I really don’t…”

Journalists who saw the fool in John Danforth go on to great things

By David Martin Mon., Jun. 6 2011 at 2:10 PM

….Danforth seemed to lose his mind during the confirmation battle. At one point, he wanted to peddle a theory that Hill suffered from a condition known as erotomania, which enabled her to sound so convincing when describing Thomas’ sexual interest in her. (In his own book about the events of 1991, Danforth admits that he “fought dirty” but defends his actions by describing the terrible injustice done to Thomas.)….

“…You know, I, I am getting, you know, government retirement, I’m getting Social Security, I’m getting Medicare and I don’t think I should get so much. But I, I think that it’s pretty hard to sell that to the public. But this is the big debate we’ve gotta have…”

From 1979:

Nation: Show and Tell

Monday, May 28, 1979

…Runner-up was Missouri Republican John Danforth, who said his assets actually declined last year because the family business, the Ralston Purina Co., suffered a dip in profits. Danforth said his current holdings amount to between $6.9 million and $17.2 million..

The second part of the transcript:

….Question: …I’d like to know your, uh, position on the death penalty.

Former Senator and Ambassador John Danforth: On the death penalty?

Question: Yes.

John Danforth: Um, well, I’m , I’m opposed to the death penalty and, and my, my reasoning for it is that the only, the justification for the death penalty is that you save lives by taking lives. But that’s never been shown to be the case. Uh, it never has been shown to have an effect on law enforcement or preventing capital offenses. And therefore, I think that, so what’s the reason for it other than sort of the blood lust of, of people who want it to exist? So, I do not agree with the death penalty. Now, let me say that’s how I voted in the Senate as a, as a legislator. But I also spent eight years as state attorney general and the job of attorney general is a lawyer’s job, not legislator’s job and they’re very different. And if you’re the attorney general of the state your job is to defend the state law as it exists, not to pretend you’re a, a legislator trumping what the legislature does. So, when I was attorney general my office did seek and get the death penalty in capital cases, but as a matter of policy I don’t agree with it. [applause]

Question: Thank you very much…

Question: …Do you have any regrets in terms of your career and, if so, what’s your biggest one?

John Danforth: Do I have any regrets? Uh [laugh], I, uh, my net, net answer is I do not. I mean, I really enjoyed being in public office and I hope I did a good job at it. I, I know that I enjoyed it. Are there, are there votes that I took or issues that I championed at the time that, looking back on it from a little bit of distance, I ask myself, why did I do that? Yeah, you know. I mean, I, I’m not, I could, I want to bore you with all, with, with some of them, but, are there issues where if I had to do it over again I would have done it differently? Yeah, sure. But, do I really have regrets about it?  No, I don’t. I, I really don’t. But, I, I really enjoyed it and I hope I did well. [applause]

Question: …I was just, uh, wanting to ask, uh, the do not, don’t ask, don’t tell policy was talked about earlier and I was wanting to know what are some, uh, future repercussions you think might happen know that that’s repealed?

John Danforth: I think that the military will adjust to it. And, uh, do their job as the military and that it will have no effect at all. [applause]

Question: Thank you.

Question: …What must our current leaders in the U.S. do in order to improve the financial position of, for our generation?

John Danforth: Well, I think, you know, when you talk about economics and fin, the financial situation for your generation you’re talking about the big issue that is before our country right now. The biggest issue before our country right now has to do with the debt, the deficit, federal spending, what to do about it. And there is a lot of philosophy in this. But, my, my view is that the central question is, what percentage of the total economy should government spend? Now this is a big deal issue. Now, President Obama would say that it should be about twenty-three or twenty-four percent of the economy. I think it should be about twenty percent of the economy. Doesn’t sound like much, three percentage points, but it’s a lot. And it really, the question is, how big should the federal government be? How expensive should the federal government be? And, what point does it get so big that it becomes a dead weight on the rest of the country? My view is it’s there. It is too big. We have to cut down the cost of government, we’re not going to tax our way out of the hole. Start with the question of how much government spends and in my view, get that percentage substantially below where President Obama wants it to be. [applause]

Question: …Can we look at other countries with good health care, economic systems, and education and learn from them to help better the United States?

John Danforth: Can we look to other countries, um, on those various issues?

Question: Their systems like, good, countries with good systems of health care, education, and good economies.

John Danforth: Well, you know, you can always look to other countries and, and say they’re doing it better or they’re not doing it as well as we are. I think that that’s, that’s fine to look at them, but I think, really, what we’ve got to do is to, is to make some fundamental decisions. And the most fundamental of them all is the one that I was just talking about. And that’s how much government do we want, particularly at the federal level? And how do we afford this? And I think that one of the problems we’ve gotten ourselves into as a country is that largely the government at, at all levels, has become a check writing operation. So, when the President talks about, okay, we’ve got to invest in education and we’ve got to invest in transportation or whatever he wants, capital investments in the future. This is not what is consuming government. What’s consuming government is we’re writing checks. What’s consuming, uh, us is that between the retirement programs, the pension programs, the health care programs for retirees basically it’s just money going out which is not investment. And I think that that’s where we’ve got to look to get i
t under control. And politically it’s gonna be very unpopular to do that. Because most of us, you know, want ours. Send me my check. You know, I, I am getting, you know, government retirement, I’m getting Social Security, I’m getting Medicare and I don’t think I should get so much. But I, I think that it’s pretty hard to sell that to the public. But this is the big debate we’ve gotta have. I don’t think we’re gonna solve the debate by looking at what other countries are doing. I think we’ve gotta look inside. [applause]

Question: Thank you.

Question: …He was talking in the introduction about how you examined the situation at Waco with the Branch Davidians and a lot of people today they were talking about how militias and those sort of groups are becoming a problem again. What do you think the government can do to solve that problem and stop citizens becoming disenfranchised and becoming violent?

John Danforth: Uh, the situation in Waco was a, was a religious cult, um, with, uh, a kind of charismatic person who had a following. And, uh, he was, he was, he was gathering a large stock of weapons and the, um, ATF – Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms – part of the federal government, was trying to serve a, a search warrant on his compound in Waco. And they opened fire and they killed four federal agents. And then there was a standoff for fifty-one days. And it ended in just terrible bloodshed and that’s what my investigation was about. It wasn’t about politics. It was about a religious cult. So, it, it’s really different. I, I would hope that in our country people would feel that, you know, you can speak out, you can vote, you can have differences of opinion and you can also respect opinions that are not your own. And I think that’s what we’re, we’re really lacking is a sense that, that the other person deserves respect even if we don’t agree with them. And, and part of it is, you know, when we, when we view politics as though it were religion. And, you know, I’m right, or I’m on God’s side, or I’ve got this issue, and, you know, I’m so totally committed to it and therefore you’re wrong. So, where, where do you make the political arrangement in that kind of situation? And I think this is, this is too bad. Now, right now I think in our country there is, as I, as I said earlier there kind of a disappearance of the center. And so you’ve got people, the loudest people are the people with the most far out views. And, so, say somebody wanted to win the nomination of his party. He’s gotta be some kind of nut, you know, to get people to vote for him. He’s gotta appeal to the true believers in that party. And we’ve lost, we’ve lost the center. So, that’s what I’m for. I’m for trying to reestablish the center in American politics. I am for trying to recreate civil discourse in politics so people can agree to disagree and believe that they had a hearing even if they don’t turn out to be on the winning side. I think, you know, politics is the art of compromise. I’m all for it. Because I don’t think any of us has a monopoly on truth. And if we act as though we do then we, really we are aching for a breaking and, and I think that’s too bad. [applause]

Question: …Now, you spoke a lot at the beginning of your speech about the significance of energy within politicians. I was wondering, do you feel as though the current members of Congress are doing a good job of doing their job with energy and passion that you spoke so much about in the beginning?

John Danforth: Well, I think that the, a personal quality of somebody in politics is a high energy level. I mean, whether they’re liberal, a conservative, or , or terrific member of Congress, or, or something less than that, all of them have a high energy level. And all of ’em are, at least, supposed to be working hard. I hope they are. And I, I know that, you know, the hours are long. And, and the weekends, you know, I mean, really, you’d rather be home with your family and you’re not. So, I think that that was kind of the first test that I’ve put to people, do you have that energy level that you want to devote to politics? I don’t think that there’s anything to do that, that can create it. It, it just, you either have it, or you don’t have it.

Question: Thank you very much. [applause]

Question: …Since becoming a world power after World War Two America has developed a, a slow growing economy, poor test scores, among, oh, among developed nations and the number one obesity rate in the world. Oh, is our gradual decline in the international standing a result of an attitude of superiority we developed after the war?

John Danforth: Is that the reason for it? Uh, I, uh, that hasn’t occurred to me. No, I, I wouldn’t think so. Um, you know, I mean, I think that that’s more of a foreign policy question, uh, rather than, you know, as everything else that you can point to in the country depended on how America views itself in the world. It, and it, it’s a very interesting question, now. I mean, it’s should the U.S. have gone into Libya, for example. That’s an interesting question. Should the U.S. have gone into Afghanistan? And, and on and on. So, I think that that’s worthy of debate. And there are people who have, you know, who have, who have written on the subject and the, the history of, of hubris in, in American foreign policy going all the way back to the days of Woodrow Wilson. And, um, and, and what that has done to our foreign policy, and it’s a matter of debate. But I would not lay all of the, sort of, domestic issues like obesity and so on on America’s view of itself in the world.

Question: Thank you, sir. [applause]

Question: …I was wondering what your, uh, opinion is on the, uh, [Congressman] Weiner scandal. [laughter]

John Danforth: Uh, my opinion is that the country isn’t all Washington and the country isn’t all statutes and laws. And the country is basic standards of, of decency. And that it’s the responsibility of people, all of us, not just people in public office, but all of us, to uphold standards of basic decency. And to act as though, you know, the way we behave is the standard for other people. And that’s why I think really the question should be for all of us, is, do we intend to be admirable people? Is that what we want to be for ourselves? Do we want to be admirable? If you want to you can be. You know, even if you’re not the smartest person or the best athlete you can be an admirable human being. And I think for somebody to be, at any point in life, and to be disreputable, but particularly somebody who is highly visible, I think it’s just, it’s a disservice. I mean, when you talk about like the, the previous question had to do with America’s view of itself in the world post World War Two and how that had to do with our values, I don’t know that that has much to do with our values. But, I think how we conduct ourselves does. I think that does. And, uh, I think that, I think that Congressman Weiner is probably sick [laughter][applause], but certainly, but, but, but whatever the reason, whether it’s some mental illness or something else [laughter], he’s disreputable. [applause] And he shouldn’t be there.

Question: Thank you.

Question: …I like to ask how your Christian values affected how you served in public office.

John Danforth: Um, well, uh, I am what I am. And, uh, and the whole time I was in public life anybody who wanted to know anything about me knew what I was. You know, I, I am a, I went to, I graduated from divinity school. I’m ordained in the ministry of my church. That’s what I am. But nobody, the whole time I did it, twenty-six years I was in public office nobody expected me to be their pastor. They expected me to be either their attorney general or their senator. And I represented a state made up of people of all different religions and of no religion at all. And it was my responsibility to serve them. Not to check my religion at the door, because as I say, you are what you are. You know, you’re not just one way for an hour on Sunday and t
hen different the rest of your life. But, if you try to import your religion into your politics nothing is more divisive for our country. And that’s why our founding fathers kept the two separate and they should remain separate. [applause]


Question: …I was just wondering, uh, a lot of the speakers this week really inspired me to get going with international affairs. And, uh, your actions in all these countries you talked about tonight really impressed me. Uh, I was wondering how a younger kid like us could get involved with countries like that, uh, now, like before we enter Peace Corps or, uh, Food Reserves and all those.

John Danforth: Yeah, well, I, I , now, I mean, just take an interest in it. And, uh, and read the papers and try to know what’s going on in the world and understand, you know, what’s happening in other countries and how the U.S. is related to other countries. And then, you know, think about it when you go to college. I mean, think about the possibility of programs that, that offer, um, international relations, maybe a foreign service school, something like that. And just keep your options open. And, and see where it leads.

Question: All right. Thank you very much. [applause]

Question: …A man who’s job requires so much sacrifice of time and energy, how is it that you have managed to maintain such a strong family basis in your life? How do you juggle between political and family man?

John Danforth: Thanks for asking it. I, I think that this is, you know, as I said earlier, I think it’s really important to keep your priorities right and to know that, you know, you’re, you’re more than just sort of a politician. You’re a human being with all the interests that you have and, um, I, I tried very hard with the help of just a wonderful wife to make it clear to her and to our children that they came before my job. And I wrote a book a few years ago and, and one of the chapters was called family values and it wasn’t about, you know, the political, politicization of family values, but about my family. And I asked all of my children and, and my wife, I interviewed them. And they, they said, you know, one of the best things I’ve ever heard and that is, that they knew that they came first. And they did. And they do. And it’s just where are your priorities, you know? And, and keep them where they should be.

Thank you all very much [applause], really exciting to be here.