Bob Graham talks fact, fiction and Florida

An interview with the former U.S. Senator and FL governor turned novelist.

click to enlarge A SENATOR IN THE HOUSE: Bob Graham at the mic in CL Space June 21. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
A SENATOR IN THE HOUSE: Bob Graham at the mic in CL Space June 21.

In a state where Democrats aren't exactly thriving, Bob Graham stands out more than ever. Although the longtime legislator, former Florida governor and U.S. Senator has been out of office for over six years, he's not exactly your average Sunshine State retiree.

Since leaving Washington after his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president, Graham spent a year at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, traveled extensively in Asia and the Middle East, co-chaired the national commission on the BP oil spill, and authored several books, including his just-published first stab at writing fiction, The Keys to the Kingdom, a surprisingly racy spy novel about possible Saudi involvement in terrorist attacks.

Relentlessly promoting his book, Graham is making media stops throughout the state and the country, and participated in a book signing and Q&A at Creative Loafing's CL Space hosted by the newly launched national advocacy organization My America and moderated by this reporter on Tuesday, June 21.

Here are selected excerpts from our 45-minute live interview, which is also available in an edited audio version at cltampa.com/news.

On Washington: When I went to the Senate in 1987 I would have speculated that about a third of the Senate were just a little bit right or left of the center line. Today I think that number has declined to less than 15, and the exodus has been to the end zone, where people can't hear each other talk and therefore the gridlock and partisanship has grown substantially more severe.

Pakistan: This is like a bad marriage that, maybe because of the children or some other reason, the two parties can't split. Our interest in Pakistan is primarily their nuclear stockpile. And these are some really scary numbers. In the year 2000 Pakistan had 20 nuclear bombs [and by 2009] the best estimate was they had between 40-60 bombs. Within the last 30 days there was an updated estimate that Pakistan had 94 nuclear weapons, which means they virtually have an assembly line and can continue to add to their arsenal. That arsenal sits in the middle of one of the most unstable countries in the world. The civilian government is unstable, the military is the strongest institution, with only the most tenuous ties to the civilian government, there have been three or four coups where the military has taken over the government. The second thing [is], in order for us to pursue the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the principal port of entry for everything [from] gas to food and ammunition.

Obama foreign policy: I would give Obama a high grade on foreign affairs. The state of America's relationship with the world at the end of the Bush administration was probably as low as it has been since the end of WW II. I have the opportunity, Adele [Graham's wife] and I, to travel rather extensively, and since I left the Senate I've been very distressed at the comments that you hear in the street and among average people and their attitude towards the U.S. I think Obama has substantially rebuilt that fundamental confidence in the U.S. In terms of his foreign policy, just like his economic policy, he was heavily locked in by what had happened before him.

America in decline? We are a country that needs to commit ourselves to an intergenerational responsibility. One of the things that concerns me, and this last legislative session would be a prime example, would be every decision where you posited, What would be the easiest thing to do today, vs. what is the wise thing to do in the future, the future lost. And that is a path to that accelerated decline. I mean how in the state of Florida, how can we even consider cutting the per-student funding of our public schools by 10 percent? That's just, it's so ludicrous, that it's hard to actually believe we've done it. So I think that we have the opportunity, the resources, the human skills to avoid that decline, but we've got to have the political will to do some things that will involve some change of our current pattern of action, but which are critical to the long-term well-being of our country.

The BP oil spill: My thoughts are that the BP oil spill should have been a [wakeup] call, but apparently it wasn't, even though [it was] the greatest manmade environmental disaster in the history of the country... There has been complacency among the industry that has put safety last. We had hoped that our report would have jarred that complacency. We've been very disappointed. The industry has not done what the chemical industry did after Bhopal, which is to adopt a number of industry-wide standards and a mechanism to enforce those standards

Funding cuts to FL water management districts: Our current political policy seems to be the way you create jobs is to make us the cheapest and least regulated state in the nation. I think that's absolute stupidity.

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