Remembering Dick Clarkby Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Posted on 2014-01-08
LEAHY. Mr. President, on December 5, the world lost one of the
greatest leaders of our era, and of any era, when Nelson Mandela died
at the age of 95. His capacity for forgiveness was rivaled only by his
courage. His actions serve as an example for the entire world. Having
led South Africa out of its darkest period of history, Mandela focused
on achieving national reconciliation to transition his government from
minority rule and apartheid, to a multicultural democracy. He was
successful in this endeavor because he believed in the importance of
bringing people together, breaking down the barriers that defined, and
imprisoned, many South Africans. For Nelson Mandela, the opportunity to
lead meant the possibility of painting South African society on a blank
canvas. It meant the possibility of creating a unified and free South
Africa, rather than perpetuating a fractured mosaic defined by
We are fortunate to have leaders among us who share many of Nelson Mandela's qualities of leadership and a focus on human rights. Having served for nearly four decades in the Senate, I have had the privilege to serve with some of them. Dick Clark, a Senator from Iowa who was in the Senate when I was first elected, is one such individual, and his story is connected to Nelson Mandela's legacy. I not only served with Senator Clark but I travelled with him to Vermont and elsewhere. His sense of commitment and his conscience set a Senate standard that is rarely matched.
He was a fierce opponent of apartheid, and a recent POLITICO article recalls Dick Clark's efforts to raise awareness in Congress on the importance of the issue, and to push legislation that would distance the United States from the South African government's activities in the region. His efforts eventually contributed to his electoral loss at the end of his term, but that did not keep him from pursing his goals. I am pleased that during this important period of reflection, Dick Clark's contributions continue to be recognized.
I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the recent POLITICO article, A Nelson Mandela backstory: Iowa's Dick Clark, be printed in the Record.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record as follows: [POLITICO, Dec. 26, 2013] A Nelson Mandela Backstory: Iowa's Dick Clark (By David Rogers) Dick Clark was Mandela when Mandela wasn't cool.
A one-term Democratic senator from Iowa and for years afterward a leader of congressional discussions on apartheid, Clark is now 85 and long gone from the public scene. But the ups and downs of his career are an intriguing back story--and counterpoint--to the outpouring of praise for Nelson Mandela, the black liberation leader and former president of South Africa who died Dec. 5.
It wasn't always that way in Washington.
Indeed, Mandela turned 60 in South Africa's Robben Island prison in the summer of 1978 even as Clark--chairman of the African Affairs panel on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--was fighting for his own re-election in Iowa.
It was a time when Republican challenger Roger Jepsen felt free to taunt the Democrat as ``the senator from Africa.'' Tensions were such that the State Department called in a South African Embassy official in May for making disparaging remarks about Clark in Iowa. And after Clark lost, South Africa's ousted information secretary, Eschel Rhoodie, said his government invested $250,000 to defeat Clark, who had become a thorn in the side of the white regime.
Jepsen denied any knowledge of South Africa's alleged role. Nor does Clark accuse him of such. But 35 years after, Clark has no doubt that the apartheid government led by Prime Minister B. J. Vorster wanted him out--and had a hand in his defeat.
Clark's liberal record and support of the Panama Canal Treaty, which narrowly cleared the Senate in the spring of 1978, also hurt his chances in Iowa. But the fatal blow was a fierce wave of late-breaking ground attacks from anti- abortion forces--something even conservative writers like Robert Novak had not anticipated in a published column weeks before.
``Abortion was the issue, and how much effect this apparent $250,000 had to do with promoting it more, I have no way of evaluating it,'' Clark said in a recent interview at his home in Washington. ``No question that they did it. They said they did, and I think they did.'' Clark had made himself a target for South Africa with his high-profile chairmanship of the Africa subcommittee. In Washington as well, he was not without critics who accused him of being too puritanical, too quick to fault U.S. policy. But like no senator before him, Clark used the panel to raise the visibility of human rights issues in the southern regions of the continent. The roster of prior Africa subcommittee chairs reads like a Who's Who of national Democrats: John Kennedy in the late 1950s; Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore, father of the future vice president; future Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield; and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey after his return to the Senate. But all stayed for just one Congress before moving on. Clark stuck, challenging Cold War policies that he believed hurt the larger struggle against apartheid that Mandela symbolized.
``He was the icebreaker here,'' says his friend Rep. George Miller (D-Cal.). ``He was out breaking ice on Africa issues for the country and certainly for the Senate.'' What's more, after losing his Senate seat, Clark didn't stop. Instead, he found a new classroom via the Aspen Institute, where the former professor began what amounted to his own graduate program in 1983 to educate members of Congress about different policy issues.
Russia had been Clark's early academic interest and was as well in his first years at Aspen. But Africa tugged and he set out ``to try to get a get a cadre of Congress who would know about South Africa and what was going on in South Africa.'' These typically were nearly weeklong seminars--held at choice locales overseas to lure members of Congress but also to provide neutral ground for the warring parties inside South Africa.
Bermuda, for example, served as a meeting place in 1989. The island allowed officials from the South African government to shuttle in and out before the arrival of outlawed representatives for Mandela's African National Congress, which was operating then from outside South Africa.
``All of them were there, making their pitches,'' Clark said. And once Mandela was released from prison in 1990, the venue shifted to South Africa itself. ``We got Mandela, who had just gotten out of jail not long before, to come,'' Clark recalls of an April 1991 session in Cape Town--a seminar that also included F. W. de Klerk, South Africa's white president.
Most striking here was Clark's impact on Republicans--the party that helped to throw him out of the Senate.
``He is a wonder,'' says former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). ``I had been told he was a lefty, the stereotype, but he just drew out people. He never showed bitterness toward the right or promoting one side.'' Just as ``Mandela made a difference, Dick Clark made a difference in awareness'' at home in Congress, Simpson adds.
Former Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) remembers an Aspen meeting in Cape Town at which Clark surprised the participants on the last day by sending them out to walk through the neighborhoods of a black township to meet with families. ``Dick Clark would do things like that,'' Porter said.
``This was before all the big changes in South Africa when we were debating sanctions,'' said former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.). ``He was just so dedicated to it and knew all the players.'' In fact, Clark says he knew very little about Africa before coming to the Senate after the 1972 elections. But when a seat opened up on Foreign Relations in 1975, he grabbed it and fell into the Africa post--just ahead of his classmate Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the future vice president. Timing is everything in Congress and it was Clark's good fortune in this case. The legendary but very controlling Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) had just left the Senate at the end of 1974 and this allowed subcommittee chairs like Clark to act more on their own.
``Fulbright's attitude was the subcommittees couldn't do anything. Everything ought to be done by the full committee,'' Clark said. ``I was next to last on seniority. When it got down to me, the only thing left was Africa about which I knew very little. Some would say none. So I just figured: Here's a chance to learn something and I spent a lot of time doing hearings and learning about Africa.'' He also traveled--venturing into southern, sub-Saharan Africa which was then unfamiliar to many on the Senate committee.
``Humphrey told me that he got as far south as Ethiopia,'' Clark said. ``It was new territory and interesting and of course we were putting a lot of covert money in Africa, as were the Russians.'' In the summer of 1975, Clark and two aides left Washington for what was to be a trip to just Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire. But that itinerary quickly expanded to include the two former Portuguese colonies, Mozambique and Angola.
The Angola detour was pivotal and included face-to-face meetings with Central Intelligence Agency personnel on the ground as [[Page S130]] well as the leaders of the three rival factions in Angola's post-colonial civil war. The Soviet Union and Cuba were then actively backing the new leftist government under Agostinho Neto. The CIA and South Africa had begun a covert partnership assisting rebel factions: chiefly Jonas Savimbi in the south, but also Holden Roberto, whose base was more in the north and Zaire.
Soon after Clark returned, the debate broke into the open after news reports detailing the U.S. and South African operations. Congress cut off new funding in a December 1975 appropriations fight. It then quickly enacted a more permanent ban--the so-called Clark amendment--prohibiting future covert assistance for paramilitary operations in Angola.
Signed into law in February 1976, the Clark amendment was repealed under President Ronald Reagan in 1985. Conservatives long argued that it was always an overreach by Congress, reacting to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War.
``The danger now is the pendulum will swing too far the other way,'' Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned Clark's panel in a January 1976 hearing. But for all the echoes of Vietnam, Clark says he saw his amendment more as a way to separate the U.S. from South Africa's apartheid regime.
``The reason the amendment passed so easily in both houses was because of Vietnam, so I certainly related the two,'' Clark said. ``But my interest was really in Africa and South Africa. We were aligning ourselves with apartheid forces. The reason for my amendment was to disassociate us from apartheid and from South Africa.'' ``Kissinger had really no feeling for human rights that I could ever discern and certainly not in South Africa,'' Clark said. ``His association with South Africa was obviously very close.'' A year later, visiting South Africa, Clark got a taste of how closely the white government under Vorster had been watching him.
That trip included an important meeting in Port Elizabeth with the young black leader, Steve Biko, who had just been released from jail and would die 10 months later after a brutal interrogation in the summer of 1977. Clark said he became a courier of sorts, taking back a Biko memorandum to Jimmy Carter's incoming administration. But while in South Africa, Vorster himself wanted to see Clark and spent much of an hour quizzing the senator on his past public comments-- even down to small college appearances in the U.S. ``He spent an hour with me,'' Clark said. ``They obviously had followed me to each of these, much to my surprise.'' ``He would quote me. And then he would say, Did you say that on such and such a date and such and such a place?' ``We went through this for an hour. He just wanted the opportunity to tell me how wrong I was about everything I was saying.'' ``He was the last great Afrikaner president,'' Clark said. ``In fact, he ultimately resigned over the embarrassment of the Muldergate thing years later.'' The Muldergate thing--as Clark calls it--was a major scandal inside South Africa in the late 1970s when it was revealed that government funds had been used by the ruling National Party to mount a far- reaching propaganda campaign in defense of apartheid.
This went well beyond placing favorable articles or opinion pieces in the press. Tens of millions of dollars were invested to try to undermine independent South African papers. There was even a failed attempt in the U.S. to buy the Washington Star in hopes of influencing American policy. Muldergate got its name from Connie Mulder, South Africa's information minister at the time. But just as Watergate had its John Dean, Rhoodie--a top deputy to Mulder--proved the top witness: a suave propagandist who later gave detailed interviews and wrote his own book on the subject filling 900- plus pages.
Rhoodie, who was prosecuted for fraud but cleared by an appeals court in South Africa, ultimately relocated to the U.S., where he died in Atlanta in 1993. But by his account, the Vorster government had used its contacts with a Madison Avenue public relations firm, Sydney S. Baron & Co. Inc., to undermine Clark's reelection.
Rhoodie describes a meeting early in 1978 in South Africa attended by Mulder, Vorster and Baron at which Clark's election was specifically discussed, and the $250,000 was later moved into one of Baron's accounts ``to make sure that Clark was defeated.'' As South Africa's information secretary, Rhoodie was in fact the signatory of contracts with Baron, according to filings with the Justice Department. These show the New York firm initially received about $365,000 annually under a contract signed in April 1976. This was increased to $650,000 a year later. In August 1977, the same arrangement was extended through January 1979, including a $250,000 payment in April 1978.
Whether this $250,000 is a coincidence or what Rhoodie was speaking on is not clear. At this stage, most of the major players are dead and New York state corporate records show Baron's firm was dissolved in 1993--the year that Rhoodie died.
Watching it all is Clark's friend, old boss in the House and later Senate colleague, John Culver. The two met in 1964, when Clark signed on to help Culver win his first House election and then worked with Culver in Washington until 1972, when Clark went back to Iowa to run for the Senate. A Harvard-educated Marine Corps veteran, Culver said he had his own fascination with Africa as a young man in the 1960s. But he remembered that era as a time of greater optimism, as new countries across the continent were emerging from colonial rule.
``Dick came to it when there was less political reward,'' Culver said. ``But he stuck to it.'' ____________________