The Panama Canal – Howard H. Baker Jr.
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The Panama Canal – Howard H. Baker Jr.


You mentioned the panama canal, and I would
have guessed that was the toughest, certainly the opposition was widespread. How did you
get hooked on the issue of the panama canal. well I certainly didn’t wish it, I didn’t
ask for it. But when it was clear when President carter was going to submit the treaty for
ratification I knew it was going to be a controversial issue. And I devised what for me was the best
approach, I divided my staff in to two parts, an A team and a B team. and commissioned one
to write the material supporting the treaty and one to write the material opposing the
treaty and let me take a look at it. It makes lots of good sense, it may not be sound politics
but that’s the way I did it. And then I traveled to Panama a couple of
times, and I always took, I was a leader then, and I took a person with me who was for it
and a person who was against it and we went down and we called on General Treos and others,
anyway, finally I had run out of ways to avoid the issue, and then read the papers and decided
it was a close call, but we were, we the united states were going to be better off ratifying
the treaty in the hope that the panamanian government would be our friend and ally. And
we’d be better off. and I did that. And it was a hugely unpopular vote among many Republicans. Jack Danforth, by the way, Senator Danforth
from Missouri, was one of those, one of the hearty band that supported me on that as Republicans. Danforth came into my office one day during
the debate and says “Howard, I’ve just gotten back from Missouri. And I’ve discovered something
I never new before. We’re a state of 11 million people who have a single unifying thought,
that is that they can’t live another day without the Panama canal. ” But that’s the mechanism by which I did it.
You know, deep down inside I thought it was the right thing to do, I think it was the
right thing to do, I think it’s proven to be the right thing to do. I’ve travelled to
panama once or twice since, I was there with you Yes you were and I’m pleased to say the canal
is well run, maybe better than we ran it, the country is genuinely our friend I think
it might not have been so had we rejected that treated that treaty, so I think it was
the right decision.

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