Editor's Note: Last Saturday, Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings died at the age of 97. Back in December 2004, Mike Wallace spoke with Senator Hollings on the eve of his retirement from the U.S. Senate. Below is a transcript of that story, entitled "A Feisty Farewell."
He's long been known as the tartest tongue of the Senate. But feisty Fritz Hollings, Democrat, South Carolina, is giving up his seat. He didn't lose it, he wasn't defeated by a younger Republican, but after 38 years he just decided enough's enough. "The Senate has changed, and not for the better," he says. "I'm sick of raising money to get re-elected so I'm going home to Charleston."
And that's where we sat down with him to let him fire a few final barbs about what's wrong with Congress. Insights from an insider who knows better than anyone the unhappy differences between then and now, especially when it comes to money.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Whoo. When I got up, there was hardly a breakfast or an evening reception. Now, there are three breakfasts, three receptions. Now, on Fridays, we don't work. We're back home on fundraisers. Got to collect money.
Mike Wallace: You mean...
Senator Fritz Hollings: We came...
Mike Wallace: ...all of this is about money?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah. This is all about money. There isn't any question.
Mike Wallace: Give me some numbers.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Well, in my last campaign six years ago, it was eight and a half million. That factors out to about $30,000 a week each week, every week for six years. So if I miss right at this time, Christmas week or New Year's week or something, I'm $60,000 in the hole. I got to hurry up and start playing catch-up ball.
Senator Fritz Hollings: The cancer on the party politics, Mr. President, is money. Money, money, money.
He said senators spend hours a day almost every day just working the phones to raise cash.
Mike Wallace: Do a telephone call. I'm on the other side of the phone.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah. I'm calling you for the Democratic Campaign Committee. Now, we got a chance to take the Senate back and stop some of this nonsense: faith-based this and faith-based that and you got to have moral values. We got better morals than that crowd has. We need your help. Can you give us another contribution?
Mike Wallace: How much?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Well, for the party, $25,000. I've asked for $50,000. I've shocked myself.
Mike Wallace: What's in it for me, Senator?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Good government. Russell Long said those who give the money are getting more than good government.
Mike Wallace: In other words, I'll get access...
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah.
Mike Wallace: ...to you...
Senator Fritz Hollings: That's right.
Mike Wallace: ...as a powerful senator in the Senate of the United States?
Senator Fritz Hollings: There isn't any question about that. We say it's otherwise, but it's sort of adulterated us in a sense that we can't see everybody. So you're bound to see those who are the big givers. You… it's gratitude.
Mike Wallace: But does access mean your vote?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Not only the vote... Wait a minute, it's way ahead of us. K Street lawyers now, and lobbyists and interests make up the legislation and they work with staffs and everything else.
Mike Wallace: What do you mean they make up the legislation? The bills that come before the...
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah, the bills, and the special interests overwhelm us with submitted legislation.
Mike Wallace: Who are the interests?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Communications, Defense, you've got them all. Farm, agriculture people and everything else like that.
Mike Wallace: The energy bill, who wrote it?
Senator Fritz Hollings: The lobbyists. The energy industry wrote that. That's just exactly what the oil industry wanted.
Mike Wallace: They want their piece of the pie.
Senator Fritz Hollings: And they get their piece of the pie. That's our problem today, you can't find the real interest of the country.
Hollings won his first campaign at age 26 for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. In there, surprisingly, he helped pass an anti-lynching law and he became South Carolina's youngest governor at the age of 36. He managed the peaceful integration of Clemson University back when other Southern governors were fighting to keep their universities all white. But in the U.S. Senate, the one vote he cast that he knew was wrong and that he's always felt guilty about, was against putting Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mike Wallace: Why did you vote against Thurgood Marshall for the Supreme Court?
Senator Fritz Hollings: I couldn't get re-elected. That's the honest answer. And if I had voted for him, I might as well have withdrawn from the race. It wasn't any--it was political.
But the political landscape changed on his watch. He saw the South switch from a solid Democratic bloc to a Republican stronghold.
Mike Wallace: I grew up under Franklin Roosevelt and people after that.
Senator Fritz Hollings: That's right.
Mike Wallace: And this was the solid Democratic South. What happened?
Senator Fritz Hollings: We had a sweetheart deal with the National Democratic Party. "We'll go along with all your programs if you go along with our segregation." But once that Civil Rights Bill passed in 1964, Lyndon the friend became Lyndon the enemy. Now, the Republican Party is all white and the Democratic Party is a majority black, I would say.
Mike Wallace: Here in South Carolina?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Oh, yeah.
Mike Wallace: Yeah.
Senator Fritz Hollings: And in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia. You can just go right across the spectrum.
Mike Wallace: What are you saying, that all of these folks that keep voting Republican are racist?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Not quite. They are conservative. They honestly don't believe in government like we do in the Democratic Party. We believe in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless and educating the uninformed, and everything else like that. They believe in private education, privatize Social Security, privatize energy policy, privatize, privatize. They don't believe in "We the people," in order to form a more perfect union.
Mike Wallace: Well, then why are they so successful among "we the people?"
Senator Fritz Hollings: Because we run a lousy campaign.
Mike Wallace: With a lousy candidate.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Well, he was a good fellow. He's still one of the finest. But he got over-coached. He had too many consultants, too many pollsters and really too many in that they called it "Noah's Ark," because he had two or three of everything and he never could make up his mind.
Hollings has a richly-deserved reputation for blunt candor, especially about Republicans. An example: Condoleezza Rice and Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Senator Fritz Hollings: He's the finest physician in the world. There isn't any doubt about it. If I had a heart transplant needed, I'd go get the Dr. Frist.
Mike Wallace: He wants to be president, doesn't he?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah. He's now running for president. He's out of his element. He ought to be back in the operating room. You know what I mean?
Mike Wallace: Condoleezza Rice?
Senator Fritz Hollings: A real mistake. She ought to go back to teaching Russian or whatever it was. And for her to come on to the television and saying on 9/11 there was "nothing specific." Nothing specific? You don't say that. You don't ever get a call and say, "We're going to bomb you tomorrow morning." I mean, that's piecing together-- that's intelligence work.
And Hollings showed us that neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush could begin to compare with his hero Jack Kennedy. That's Hollings next to Kennedy back when he ran JFK's presidential campaign in the South.
Senator Fritz Hollings: The world loved him. The most popular president of the United States ever. And he's the most unpopular president ever, George W. Whether it's in Europe, whether it's in the Mideast, whether it's out in the Pacific Rim or whatever it is. Oh, no, they like America still, but they don't gee-haw with George W. I can tell you that.
Mike Wallace: Because?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Because of his policy. You know, "I'm going to do it on my own. You're either with me or against me." You've got to work with people in things. Leading is not fussing and cussing them out and insulting them.
Hollings wishes this President Bush had learned a lesson from his dad's war in the Gulf when George Sr. stayed out of Baghdad.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Papa Bush said, "I'll never lead American troops into an urban guerilla warfare and bulk down in a quagmire and turn the Arab world against us." I mean, he was against going into Baghdad. But I think George W. wanted to say, "I can do what Daddy can't. I'm going to show him that he should have gone on." Of course, he had the cheerleaders of Pearl and Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rumsfeld and everything and said, "Whoopee!"
Hollings voted for the Iraq war, but he believes the war has been a colossal mistake and that getting out of Iraq will not be easy.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Democracy is voluntary. You can't force feed democracy, particularly with this disparate Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites. It's just not going to stay together. It's not a natural. They've been after each other. You can't change the culture and the history that way.
Mike Wallace: The Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds and so forth.
Sen. HOLLINGS: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's right. And you ought to understand it.
He blames Donald Rumsfeld for mismanaging the war, trying to do too much for too few. And he blames President Bush for huge budget deficits because instead of raising taxes to pay for the war, Bush fought for tax cuts.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Whoopee! Let's make the tax cuts permanent. Let's lose another $4 trillion. We don't care. By the way, there's a war on and we're going to have deficits. So sooey, pig, everybody come. Anybody want anything? We've got the money. We'll just print it.
Mike Wallace: You know something, Senator, talking about money, if I may.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yes, sir.
Mike Wallace: Monogrammed shirts.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Oh yeah, that's right.
Mike Wallace: I mean--and this is not cheap.
Senator Fritz Hollings: That's right. That's right. I got this when I was a little lieutenant governor.
Mike Wallace: That shirt?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Not this shirt. But that's when I started with custom shirts. I haven't bought any in about 15 years.
Now, with a pension of $124,000 a year, we're not going to hold a tag sale for Fritz Hollings. He and his wife, Peatsy, have been married for 33 years.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Had four children. We got seven grandchildren. We got a good family.
Mike Wallace: She does what you tell her to do, I suppose.
Senator Fritz Hollings: No. No. No. She's got her own mind. I can tell you. And now they say you reach that stage, the golden years, "honey do." "Honey do this and honey do that." So I'm ready to do that.
Mike Wallace: Of course, I've heard it said that you and Peatsy have gotten along so well because you're both in love with the same man.
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah, they talk about the couples in Washington. We get along better than any. And one fellow that knows me says that's easily explained. He said, "They're both in love with the same fellow."
He may be 83, but he doesn't act like it. And he believes it's the Senate that has kept him young. But he says the Congress is not as much of a convivial club as it used to be.
Mike Wallace: When you made your farewell speech to the Senate, how many senators were on the floor?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Finally, none.
Mike Wallace: Are you serious?
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah. They watch you on TV.
Senators can watch live pictures from the Senate floor, and they rarely come to the floor except to cast a quick vote.
Mike Wallace: Speaking to just empty chairs sounds...
Senator Fritz Hollings: Yeah. That's why I stopped. I wanted to get in...
Mike Wallace: Bizarre.
Senator Fritz Hollings: I wanted to get into Iraq. I wanted to get into several other subjects. But I was boring me.
And now he returns home a hero to many, but not all. And that's just fine with him.
Senator Fritz Hollings: The newspaper had, in the hometown--one of the letters to the editor ended, "We sure hope Hollings enjoys his retirement, because we sure as hell will."