with Steve Forbes
The Model is Reagan 
Steve Forbes talked with DEMOCRACY IN ACTION in Cedar Rapids on June 13, 1998 after meeting with a group of Iowa activists during the Iowa GOP's "First in the Nation Gala" and State Convention.
Forbes | News

  • QUESTION What is your first political memory?

  • QUESTION Was there somebody who was particularly helpful or influential in getting you started in politics? 

  • QUESTION What do you remember about your first campaign for public office?  

  • QUESTION Are there any aspects of the process by which we elect our presidents that you think should be changed? 

  • QUESTION Describe a defining moment in your life. 

What is your first political memory?

FORBES: My father running for State Senate in New Jersey. He beat the organization candidate by ringing 18,000 doorbells. He went to every home in the district. And my early memories were of him in a truck with a pile of brochures…sometime [he'd] take me around and he'd go door to door to door.


Was there somebody who was particularly helpful or influential in getting you started in politics?

FORBES: I didn't intend to go in elective politics until more recent times, but I've always been interested in politics and that started with my father's involvement with politics. He was in the State Senate, he ran for governor of the state, he was one of the early drafters of Eisenhower in the state in 1952. So I grew up in that kind of atmosphere.

In terms of figures today, I think that certainly the model for me and for the Republican party is what Reagan achieved in the 80s by demonstrating if you have a compass and a core--we all know life doesn't go in a straight direction--if you have a sense of direction you can get a lot done. And there's been no one like him since or beforehand. I think over time his stature is going to go up. I think you saw a little bit of that in that PBS documentary they did. Which was very different from a documentary they'd have done 10 years ago on him. I think his greatness is becoming more and more apparent.


What do you remember about your first campaign for public office?

FORBES: There are a lot of memories. I think the most pleasant ones were in Iowa and New Hampshire and Arizona when we had the bus and were able to bring the kids out and my wife Sabina, and that gave it very much of an extra dimension.

And I think what is good about the process we have now is that certainly in the early contests you have a chance to have an interaction, real face-to-face interaction with real voters with real concerns, that you can't get in the larger states when you have to rely more and more on media… And I think the rest of the country looks upon those early contests as a good indicator of who they should take seriously as a candidate. So I hope that isn't lost.

But it may be. California appears likely to move its presidential primary forward to early March…

FORBES: That is a very real threat to Iowa and particularly to New Hampshire. If California moves right up into that time zone so to speak, it's going to have a huge distortive impact. And I hope that there is enough time between the early contests and before you get into the mass media campaign so that people can have a chance to se candidate in the flesh and blood and size them up one by one.


Are there any aspects of the process by which we elect our presidents that you think should be changed?

FORBES: I think you have to recognize when you have an open political system such as we have, which is in contrast to what Europe has, their parliamentary systems, or even what Canada has which is a sort of federal parliamentary system… In a parliamentary system voters know who the candidates are long before you have the election. But you know who's the leader of the Conservative Party, who's the Labour prime minister, and so they know the candidates. In this country, you have to have a longer process because they're not that familiar with those who emerge as candidates. So you do need to have a chance to have that unfold so that takes months rather than weeks. 

In terms of the process we have now, yes, they shouldn't bump too many primaries together so we should have it more spaced out like the early contests where we have one one week, one another week so that we can have a chance to compete in these states. But the concept of having it open, having a chance where you can build up support and recognition, I think is absolutely critical to having citizen involvement.


Describe a defining moment in your life.

One defining moment was when my children were born. We started off with twins, twin daughters Sabina and Roberta. You're whole attitude in life changes dramatically because suddenly you realize what the word future means. That life continues long after you've left this earth. It's very sobering, it's very, in a sense exciting. It's certainly been a transforming experience.

Copyright 1998 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action