Nothing about the 2020 presidential campaign is typical and the debates are no different. Diane talks with Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, about how they are planning in the middle of a pandemic.
What’s at stake in the coming presidential election? “Everything,” says Senator Barbara Boxer. The lifelong democrat is retiring from the Senate after 34 years in Congress, but insists she won’t stop fighting for the causes she believes in, like environmental protection, women’s rights and healthcare. In a new memoir, Boxer chronicles her political career spanning four decades, and talks about honing what she calls “the art of tough.” She’ll share her views on the 2016 presidential race, give us a look inside her life as a senator and tell us what she thinks it takes to truly stand up for change at a critical time for our country.
- Senator Barbara Boxer Junior United States Senator from California; retiring from the Senate after 34 years in Congress
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Senator Barbara Boxer has been called every name in the book, a stupid nut and far worse. As well as a fearless trailblazer and an inspiration. The senator from California has remained tough in the face of overwhelming odds during her political career that's spanned four decades. In a new memoir, she talks about her plans for leaving the Senate and the next phase of her political life.
MS. DIANE REHMHer new book is titled, "The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life." And the senator joins me in the studio. Of course, you are welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. You can also see this conversation. We're video streaming this hour at drshow.org. Senator, it's good to see you.
SEN. BARBARA BOXERIt's great to be with you, Diane.
REHMI feel as though people want to understand the art of touch. Why did you call your book that?
BOXERI knew I wanted "tough" in the title because all through the years, people would keep coming up to me, Diane, and say, how can you stand it? How did you get so strong, how did you get so tough? And the word tough kept coming up. And I used to dismiss it in the early years. Oh, not tough. I'm just an ordinary person and I do what I think is right.
BOXERBut then, when I sat down to write this book, it took me three years to write this book, I recognized that, yeah, I am tough. There's an art to it and that I really learned how to do it from my parents, mostly from my mother.
REHMThat's what I was going to ask you. Take us back to your mother and how that came about.
BOXERRight. Well, there's nine rules to "The Art of Tough." I'm not going to give them away today. I want people to buy the book.
REHMI've got them right here in front of me.
BOXERI know you know what they are. But one thing is always do the right thing. And when I was a little girl coming home from public school, I guess I must have been about 11 or something, 12, I had a really good friend, Sheila. And Sheila dragged me by the hand into the local little candy store that we used to call it, in Brooklyn, the Candy Store. And she picked out two taffy pops and when the owner of the store wasn't looking, they cost, each one, two cents each, she shoved them in her pocket.
BOXERGrabbed my hand and we walked out the door. I was appalled because my mother always taught me never take anything that doesn't belong to you. Pretty clear. And my mother always said, do the right thing. Well, I didn't do the right thing. I went along with her. I didn't say anything, but I was filled with remorse and when I got home, I told my mother -- who always called me when something serious, Barbara Sue.
BOXERShe said, Barbara Sue, what's wrong? And I explained the situation and she said, well, I am stunned that you didn't say anything. It's only a two-cent taffy. But if everyone did that, that poor man and his family would have nothing and you always have to do the right thing. Now, you march up to Sheila's apartment -- she lived right above me on the sixth floor -- and you tell her what she did was wrong. And I said, look, mom, I didn't do anything wrong.
BOXERYes, you did. You didn't speak out. So I said, but Sheila did it. And she said what every mother has said over the generations. If Sheila's mother said she could jump off the building, would you follow her? You know, every mother has said that.
REHMI've heard that.
BOXERShe said, go up there. And so I did and at the end of the day, Sheila respected me. We remained friends. So that's an example of how I learned that even if you're sort of not involved in the bad thing, but you see it, you better step up to the plate.
REHMWhat did Sheila do? Did she take the taffy back?
BOXERYeah. Oh, I don't think she did at all. My job, according to my mother, was to tell Sheila how I felt and once I did that, you know, the rest of it was up to Sheila and her mother.
REHMNow, to what extent have you been able to do the same thing in the Senate?
BOXERWell, many times and many of us do. An example, right now, Kirsten Gillebrand is leading us on the problem of sexual assault in the military. And Kirsten wants to take the whole prosecution away from the commander and give it to the objective attorneys in the military. And we've had to fight really hard. They want us to go away, the military does, and a lot of our colleagues that don’t want to shake things up.
BOXERYou just have to not be intimidated. That's the art of tough. People, no matter what you do in life, Diane, whether it's your work, my work, a nurse's work, a doctor's work, a janitorial staff work, anything, you can name anything or even if you don't have a paid job, people will try to shut you down. It's just the way it is. And you have to feel very strong inside you and you have to learn the art of tough. Not just be a bully and not act out of anger, which was another wonderful lesson...
BOXER...that I learned as a child when I got really angry and I overreacted to something and it turned out really badly for me. This is the art of tough. It's not being a bully. It's not bossing people around. It's being able to bring people along with you and never losing your courage.
REHMAnd yet, what seems to be happening in politics today is that courage doesn't seem to take you far enough to get exactly what you want done. I think there are people wondering why, after 34 years, you are leaving the Senate.
BOXER34 years in the Congress, 24 in the Senate, 10 in the House and 6 years in local government so it's 40 years. I'm leaving with a full heart. I’m excited. I'm not leaving because I'm frustrated. I've gotten a lot done. Mitch McConnell and I, who didn't talk for 20 years, and I detail why in the book, after he issued me direct threats in many way about destroying my colleagues if I went after Bob Packwood, in those years when Bob Packwood had sexually harassed dozens of people, we didn't talk for 20 years.
BOXER'Cause in the book, I say, if someone really breaks your heart, take them out of your life and he did. But after all that time, we realized we were the only two people working with Senator Inhofe who could pass a highway bill. And all the jobs were at stake. And transportation systems and falling down bridges were at stake. We have 66,000 bridges that are structurally deficient. We got over it and we worked together.
BOXERSo you can get things done. I am not leaving 'cause I can't get things done. I've got a lot done. In the book, I outline -- I call them my top 50 accomplishments. But I'm leaving because I've done this. My state is now bright blue. I will go out on a limb and say we will have a strong Democratic woman taking my place in the Senate. I'm leaving fabulous colleagues in the Senate to carry on with my work on the environment, on children, on women's rights, you know, on income equality, all the things that I've given, you know, my political life to.
REHMAnd will you go to a particular organization? What will you do?
BOXERNo. I think I will become my own organization. And one of the things I've learned is -- and you hear it on the campaign trail from both Hillary and Bernie, is that the campaign finance system is a mess.
BOXERIt is horrible. And, you know, people can hide behind anonymity and spend millions on dollars. It's awful. So since I understand how important it is who's in the rooms when decisions are made -- and that's one of the points of the book, to take my readers inside the inside the inside of those rooms. Who's in those rooms when you're making decisions? Who's left out of those rooms on purpose when you're making those decisions?
BOXERI'm going to stay in politics in that sense and work hard to make sure that progressive candidates for national office have the funding they need.
REHMAnother person you had certainly a split with was John McCain.
BOXERSure. We had -- well, as I write in the book, it's the most complicated relationship I've ever had. And when I run into John, even today, I don't know if he's gonna give me a hug or give me an argument, you know, because we have that kind of relationship. It is respectful, but it's complicated and once I appeared before him as a very, very junior member of the Senate to talk about why it was a bad idea to tell Hollywood how they had to talk about their movies.
BOXERThey wanted to censor. They wanted a govern the system, rather than have the industry do it themselves. And I made a point that that is a terrible idea because who in the government is going to decide if something should not be seen by children and I pointed out an argument I was having with a member of Congress where I thought "Schindler's List" ought to be seen in high school and he thought it was obscene because there were scenes in there of naked women in showers.
BOXERAnd the reason I brought the topic up was to point out that this is very subjective. I would rate it one way. My colleague would rate it another way. Let's keep it away. Well, he flew off the handle and he said, you can never come back to my committee again. You talked about someone who wasn't here. I tried to explain to him that I wasn't putting down the other person. I was just pointing out we had different views after seeing the same film.
BOXERAnd my friend, Joe Biden, ran interference and said, calm down, Barbara. He's always that way.
REHMSenator Barbara Boxer, her new book is titled, "The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. Senator Barbara Boxer is with me. She has a brand new book out. It's titled "The Art of Tough," something she's learned over a lifetime and has taken those feelings, those thoughts, those strengths with her into public office, many years in the House of Representatives, 20 years in the Senate. And now she's going to step away from that official office, but continue to do the work that you have so been involved in. Let's talk about what's going on in California today, a huge and important election. You call -- you say that everything is at stake in this election. What do you mean?
BOXERWell, I mean it. I just -- somebody said, what's at stake? I said, one word explains it, everything. All you have to do is look at the two Democratic candidates, what they're talking about, which is lifting up our families, making sure there's equal pay for equal work, a decent minimum wage, making sure that when you go to college it's not a burden on you to pay back that loan till you're on Social Security, which is the case for many people. I've seen it. I've heard it.
BOXERMaking sure that we preserve this environment and combat the ravages that are coming our way from climate change. Compared to the presumptive Republican, Donald Trump, who really says he wants to make America great, but clearly doesn't understand what makes us great is when we all work together, who clearly doesn't understand that we are a nation of immigrants and that's our strength. You don't say you're going to kick out 11 million people and think that isn't going to tear apart our families. A man who has insulted two-thirds of the people, whether women, Muslims, Hispanics, it goes on and on, disabled people, even veterans. This is why I say everything's at stake.
REHMWhen you look at both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders has brought a great many ideas into this campaign. Many believe that Hillary Clinton has been really pulled to the left because of his campaign. How important do you believe he has been in this campaign?
BOXERI think they both have been equally important. As much as he's put issues on the table, so has Hillary. I mean Bernie never was a fan, if you look at his history, of sensible gun laws. And she talked about it and he moderated some of his views. On the other hand, he's been so eloquent on student loans and health care that she has had some new policies which, for example, would open up Medicare to people over 55. So I think if you look at them, they have impacted each other.
REHMWell, if Hillary does go to the convention as the presumptive nominee, before the delegates actually cast their votes, we have David on Facebook who asks, who does Senator Boxer think Hillary Clinton should choose as vice president, to bring progressives into the tent?
BOXERIt's a wonderful question. And I'm not ducking it when I don't name a particular person. But what I want to say is this, for a presidential nominee, this is a hugely important decision. And I would argue, when John McCain picked Sarah Palin, that did not help him in any way, shape or form, for reasons we don't have time to go into, but I think they're evident in history.
BOXERBut I think this is a decision that the nominee must make based on a number of criteria. First and foremost, who has that experience to step into the toughest job in the world? Who does she trust to be able to be prepared both on foreign policy and domestic policy? Secondly, who does she trust and who does she know she can deal with and doesn't have to sit and have arguments with, day in and day out. They have to see the world in...
BOXER...in the same ways...
BOXER...in a similar way. Not exactly.
BOXERNot exactly, because she also wants someone who's going to be frank with her and candid with her and will tell it like it is. You know, Joe Biden is that way. He'll just say, you know, boss -- that's what he calls Obama -- boss, this is what I think. And then it's up to Obama to decide if he's going to go with what Joe is saying. So all those things are critical. Also, I do agree, we need someone who can unify us. That's a very important point. And also, thinking strategically, perhaps the state that they come from may weigh in to the decision.
BOXERBut there's a wonderful list of people. They're all been out there. We have a deep bench. I'm proud of it. And I think she will make the right call.
REHMWhat about Bernie Sanders? Do you believe, if in fact Hillary is the presumptive nominee after the voting today and next week in Washington, D.C., do you believe he will gracefully acknowledge Hillary and join her? Or do you believe he will continue to go to the convention, as he has said he believes there will be a contested convention.
BOXEROkay. My view is that I take him at his word. He says his highest priority is keeping Donald Trump far away from the White House. And Bernie's been in public office for 40 years.
BOXERA lot of people forget that. He knows his way. And he knows what's at stake. And I would say to Bernie, who is my friend, you know, the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama race in '08 was closer than this race. And Hillary Clinton, when she saw the numbers and realized they told a story, that Barack Obama was going to be the nominee, she just walked by his side from that moment forward. So I'm not going to tell Bernie when the moment is.
BOXERI think it's critical that the people in New Jersey today get out and vote, that the people in California today get out and vote. Because it doesn't matter what the Associated Press says about all the numbers. What matters is, I think, the actual votes. And right now Hillary is ahead by 3 million. She may be ahead by more. But Bernie's people and Hillary's people should come out, come out strong in California and New Jersey and several other states that vote between now and I think it's June 17.
REHMYou know, you talk in your book about the importance of being authentic.
REHMNow that's something that people have criticized Hillary Clinton about.
BOXERI'm so glad you raised that, Diane. What does authentic mean? It means being yourself. Now if Hillary Clinton went to a rally and shook pom-poms, that's not who she is. She's not good at those great big rallies. She is authentic and here is how. She's authentically smart. She's authentically a workaholic. She's a workhorse. She's not a show horse. She doesn't backslap people. She fights for you. She figures out how to win the day for you. I've seen her at ground zero. You know, she came into the Senate. Everyone thought, superstar. She's be all over the place. She quietly watched. She tried to learn her -- the ways.
BOXERWhen 9/11 happened, she was thrust into the limelight. She went down to ground zero. She saw what the first responders were being exposed to. She came back. She took on the Bush administration and said, it's not safe down there. The air isn't safe. They said, oh, it's absolutely safe. But she fought with every fiber in her body to make sure those first responders got the health care that they needed. So is she authentic? Yes. She's going to make an authentically great first female president.
REHMIsn't Bernie Sanders equally authentic?
BOXERAbsolutely. I mean, Bernie can get up there and he says from his heart what he believes.
REHMHe sure does.
BOXERIt's great. And, you know, he can't express it the way Hillary expresses it. And she can't express it the way he does. I mean, she's not going to get up in there and say, it's huge. You know, he's lovely. I mean, he's -- that's Bernie. And people are attracted to that and they love it. She's got a different type of authenticity that comes from years of fighting back, you know, prejudice against women, that comes from years of being in a decision-making position, that comes from years of dealing with foreign leaders who didn't really think women deserved respect. That's her authenticity.
REHMSenator Boxer, lots of our listeners want to hear you talk about what happened at the Democratic convention in Nevada. Some are very critical of your actions. Tell us what happened that day.
BOXERWell, if people are critical of my actions, I just kind of throw up my hands. Let me tell you what happened that day.
BOXERNevada was won by Hillary Clinton. And then there was a convention to select the delegates. So Bernie's people were asked to send a representative and they said, Nina Turner, a terrific Ohio-elected officeholder. And Hillary's people were asked and I -- they asked me and I said sure. So I hopped on a plane from California. I arrived. I walk in. And it was supposed to be a unity tie. That was my speech. Let's work together. And my speech that I never gave because, I'll explain why, was, I know Bernie. He's my friend. I know Hillary. She's my friend. We must unite and beat Donald Trump. And I was going to -- that was my pitch. I was there for that reason.
BOXERWell, when I walked in, there were about 50 to 100 Bernie people who were standing at the foot of the stage. And security tried to move them back and they wouldn't move back. Even the Bernie Sanders organizer tried to move them back. They wouldn't move back. A wonderful state senator spoke and introduced me. They wouldn't move back. So I guess I had an option. I could have walked off the stage. But the art of tough kicked in and I thought to myself, I think, maybe I could turn this around. That was incorrect. I couldn't. But I tried. So I stood up there and I faced these folks.
BOXERNow, I need to say what I said to Bernie, because I called Bernie about this. The vast majority of his people, like 98 percent, were wonderful. They were sitting. They were respectful. They were lovely. The 50 to 100 people were not young people. And even Bernie thought, when he spoke to me, maybe they really weren't even my people.
BOXERI told him, look at the tape. So what happened is -- I want everyone to picture this who's listening to this description -- I'm standing there facing these 50 to 100 people who won't move back from the stage. They're six feet away from me. I didn't know if they were going to throw a shoe or whatever. I didn't know. It was, in fact -- I did fear for my safety, which is what I said after. I tried everything. I said, Bernie's my friend. He's asked for civility. When you boo me, you boo him. It didn't work.
BOXERWhen I got down off the stage -- I had a lot of security around me -- and walked out, they were following me out the door, screaming some vulgarities. So my sense of humor kicked in, which is part of the art of tough, and I threw them a kiss and they got even more enraged.
BOXERAnd, you know what? It's over. It's okay. It's gone. The vast majority of the Bernie people were lovely. They were wonderful. And these few kind of wrecked the whole day because they really couldn't get the work done until very, very late at night.
BOXERAnd there was some very bad things that happened to the chair there, of the convention, which I won't go in to. But when I called Bernie, he was distressed about it. He just said to me, Barbara, this shouldn't be the way. I can't believe, he said, my people would do it. I said, maybe they weren't really your people. So that's it. It's over. Right now, that's not important. You know, what's important is that everybody vote, today, for Bernie if you're a Bernie fan, for Hillary if you're a Hillary fan, and we move on united to defeat Donald Trump.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Senator Boxer, if you'll put your headphones on, we're going to open the phones. First, we'll got to Lansing, Mich. Hi, Joe. You're on the air.
JOEHey, Senator. How are you doing today?
BOXERFine. Thank you, Joe.
JOEYeah. I wanted to publicly thank you because a few years back my son, Joe, moved out to California and he was having trouble even after a year of attending classes out there and working, establishing his residency. And one day I went into Senator Stabenow's office in East Lansing, I told her what was going on, her office manager. A couple of weeks later I was at my daughter -- one of my daughter's equestrian events and my estranged wife called me on the cell and she said, I just got off the phone with Joe. And he said to thank you. I said, why? And he said, well, somebody from Senator Boxer's office -- and I had to explain to her who you were. I -- and he -- and she said, well, they arranged it and Joe's residency is all set.
BOXERAnd I've always meant to thank you. And I want to apologize to you for taking this long to do that. He has now gotten to his degree from Cal Berkeley. He's working in the San Francisco area for a web design and security company. And I had always meant to repay the kindness. I may be working on a phone back for you but you messed up on me.
BOXERI mean, it's music to my ears and I thank my staff every day for their caring attitude. That's what we're there for.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Steve in Potomac, Md. You're on the air.
STEVEHi, Senator. Thank you also for your years of service. I worked in the House and Senate when actually people had to work together. And I really admire your commitment over the years and your style. Let me ask you, what do you think Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain can learn from your book and the art of being tough when it comes to standing up to Donald Trump? Which they're not doing, by the way.
BOXERWell, I think it's a wonderful question. I would say, you've got to do what you think is right. And when someone is not doing the right thing, you need to tell that person. And one of the other issues that I take up in a big way in my book is racism. If you're going to be tough, you've got to stand against racism. Because what racism is, is just making a person disappear simply because they don't look like you. And I see that many of my Republican colleagues are speaking out about this. But at the end of the day, they have to look inside themselves and decide if they can go along with Donald Trump, given that he has hurt two-thirds of the American people and insulted them and brought them down. That's not going to make America great.
REHMI think it's interesting that Paul Ryan has come out against Trump's charges against the judge but nevertheless continues to support his run for the presidency. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we have more callers, some tweets, some emails. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd one of the issues that Senator Barbara Boxer talks about in her new book, "The Art of Tough," is anger. And you talk, Senator Boxer, about how anger has played into your career and how you've struggled with it.
BOXERYes, I mean, it's really an understandable emotion to get angry when you feel so strongly about something or so upset about somebody else's attitude. And I realized as I wrote down -- I sat down to write the book that I learned very early on that it's dangerous to act out of anger. And what happened was when I was a little kid, remember in our day, Diane, not to age you at all because you're just a child, I remember the boys used to chase the girls and make us crazy, you know.
BOXERAnd I was always little. I think I was -- I was at my full height at seventh grade, and I never grew another inch so less than five feet. So especially the little guys, I was a great target. So this one kid was in my face constantly, Albert, and he'd chase me, and, you know, I'd fall down or whatever. I couldn't seem to stop him. I didn't want his attention. And one day he just was in my face, as they say. He punched me in the arm, called me something, and I just decided at the moment I was going to take matters into my own hands, which was a huge error but something I learned never to do.
REHMDid you punch him?
BOXERI did something worse. I took out my Number 2 lead pencil, and no one was looking, and I stabbed him right where you get your vaccination.
BOXERAnd I started to cry after I did it, and Albert did. I cried because I knew I had really blown it, and he cried because he knew he deserved it. So we both decided this was our secret. We never said anything, and...
REHMNo teacher saw it happen?
BOXERNobody -- we were alone in the hall. This was in fact a public school in Brooklyn. I used to walk by Albert's house when I went home from school. He's absent he next day. I don't think much of it. The second day he's absent. On the third day -- he was Italian Catholic, and -- and the third day, I'm walking home, I see a black crepe cloth draped over his little house. And I thought that was it, I must have killed Albert, he's been absent now it's going on the third -- the anguish, the fear.
BOXERSo I take it to mom, of course, my mother, the font of all wisdom, who never graduated from college, and I got to her, and she says, what is it, Barbara Sue. And I said, I -- mom, I think I killed Albert. She said what are you talking about. I tell her the story. She said I don't think you killed him. How could you ever have done this. And of course she makes me feel so guilty, I'm lying on the floor, and she says I'll call the principal. And she finds out the grandpa died.
BOXERWell, I felt bad to be relieved that it was the grandpa. I mean, I felt terrible, but it wasn't Albert. He came back to school, I hugged him, we stayed out of each other's way. But the lesson was learned. When you act that way, you feel awful. It's not the way. And I learned to be a lot calmer, to take a deep breath and figure out a better way to resolve an issue.
REHMBut that has got to be so hard in politics when you're up on the Hill, and somebody that you totally disagree with is making the point publicly and calling you...
BOXERWell, you do it in ways like this. I'm working on an issue now where the Republicans are trying to take away paid break for truck drivers, when they go to the bathroom or when they have lunch. It's ridiculous. How do I do it? So I go to the floor with a smile on my face, as best I can, and I say look, as far as I know, I say to my colleagues, and always -- you know, we do senatorial language, you know, my dear friend or my dear colleague.
REHMYeah, I hear that a lot.
BOXERI'm sure my dear colleague from such-and-such a state doesn't dock the pay of his press secretary if his press secretary has to use the bathroom, doesn't dock the pay of his staff when they go to lunch. Why on earth would you do it to a working person who's driving all those miles, who needs to get a decent level of pay to support their family? That's the art of tough.
BOXERYou know, my mother told me, after that Albert situation, and she repeated it over the years, something I'll share with your listeners. It does use a bit of an off-color word, so forgive me, but it's not that bad a word. She said, you know, honey, you can tell someone to go to hell, but if you say it in the right way, they'll thank you for it. That was mom.
REHMBut let me give you an example. Donald Trump said of John McCain, I prefer people who don't go to prison. Now John McCain is saying he will support Donald Trump. Shouldn't that have been an example of a guy who does get angry and come out and call somebody out for what he has said?
BOXERWell of course, but the issue isn't whether you get angry. Of course you're going to get angry. The issue is how you deal with that anger. John McCain did what he did. I remember the day that that happened. I went out with a great defense of John McCain, and to me the way we get back at Donald Trump is to beat him, beat him bad. He can't go around insulting veterans, prisoners of war, women. You know, it's unthinkable. As a matter of fact, he's gone after this wonderful judge who is a hero in his own right, who took on the Mexican cartels, an American born in the Midwest. According to Donald Trump, I guess the only people who are real Americans are Native Americans because everybody else came from somewhere else.
REHMThat's right, and remember you can watch this conversation at drshow.org. Let's go to Tom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You're on the air.
TOMHi Diane. You're the best.
TOMMe and the senator are kind of, like, the same age, except I'm on the East Coast. So we both experienced Vietnam, Middle East, Afghanistan, Middle East again, Afghanistan. My father and tons of people like him lost their jobs here on the East Coast because of NAFTA. Long before Donald Trump came along, I said to myself, why not America first, why not. So I guess that's my question. Military intervention, disaster. Economically don't tell me about the prices on free trade. I just went shopping. Prices are not -- the only thing we got from that is the dollar stores. So why not America first?
BOXERWell, America first is a slogan, and of course we all -- we're Americans, and of course we're going to put our country first. but when you put your country first, it doesn't mean you shut off ties with the rest of the world. This is a global economy. You know, this is a different America than when I was a kid, and so I don't have a problem with the slogan, it's definition. If it means shutting us off from the world, no, I don't think that really works.
BOXERAnd we have to -- we have to stand for something. And my view has always been if you invest in your people, and you lift up your people, and you respect your people, and you show that yes, this melting pot works, we will lead the world. So I don't have a problem with America first, but if it means turning our backs on the world, I just don't think that's the way to go. You've got to be smart, you have to have a smart foreign policy where war is the very last resort, and we have to use the soft power of diplomacy that Hillary Clinton has spoken about so well, as has Bernie Sanders.
REHMHow did you make the migration from Brooklyn to California?
BOXERIt's pretty simple. My husband was in law school. I had the summer off, and I took a car ride with my parents. We went to visit relatives and friends. When I saw California, I just fell in love with it. It sounds overly romantic, but I'd never seen a place like that. And then when I saw the population, the diversity, the excitement of it, that was it.
BOXERAnd I asked my husband, who was at Fordham Law School, can you -- can we move? I mean, I was 21 when I got married. Can we move? And he said if I can get a job two years in advance, which he probably thought he could never do, we'll move. Otherwise it's too scary because we don't have any money. I said that's a deal. And sure enough he did, and the rest is history.
REHMHow long have you been married?
BOXERFifty-four years, Diane.
REHMThat's how long I was married before John died.
BOXERYeah, it's really something, you know, to share all this.
REHMIt sure is.
BOXEROne of my favorite lines in the book is Stu, my husband, married Debbie Reynolds, and he woke up with Golda Meir. I know. And oh, he's so -- he's fantastic.
REHMI want to ask you about something that means a great deal to me personally. As you perhaps know, I've been very outspoken as a supporter of the right to die, and your state has become the most recent to approve, and now as of June 6 or 5, an act, the right to die.
REHMHow do you feel about that?
BOXERI feel that this is an issue that lies deep in the heart of every citizen, and they know when they can take pain, when they don't want to take the pain. And I respect that so much. None of us knows what we'll do, but having that option, it's -- it gives you a sense of peace that you have the option. No one has to do it. It's your decision, and you can bring anyone into that decision you want, your God, your doctor, your family, your loved ones, your friends.
BOXERAnd at the end of the day, if you don't want to go through with it, you have that option, as well.
BOXERSo I view it as something that's in the back of our minds to give us a sense of relief that if we ever got to the point where it was too painful to take a breath that we would have that option. And for Jerry Brown, growing up Catholic and religious, I think he thought about it long and hard. And having California step out like this I think is a good thing. And states will decide if they want to do that or not.
REHMI was so impressed with Jerry Brown's signing statement, the last paragraph. I'll paraphrase. He said something like I do not know what I personally would do when the time comes. What I do know, however, is that I would not wish to have that decision left to someone else. And I thought that said it so beautifully.
BOXERThat's right because we don't know what we do, we really don't. We think we know, but we might not know, and that's fine. We can make that decision, though.
REHMAbsolutely, and to Spencer in Charlotte, North Carolina, you're on the air.
SPENCERHello, Honorable Senator Boxer. I know you work on a lot of gun control. My question is, if you could get all of your gun control laws put into effect, how would you keep guns out of the hands of criminals? And I say that in this manner. If you could take all the guns in the world and put them on the moon and close down all the gun manufacturers, I could have one tomorrow afternoon, and it would be far more deadly than anything you can buy right now.
REHMAll right, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. So how would you keep guns out of the hands of criminals?
BOXERWell, it's a very good question, and I don't know anyone who's said just take all the guns and put them out in space. No one says that. I think what you try to do is kind of what you try to do at airports, Diane, when you have a layered system so that you can find that one person who wants to blow up a plane. And, you know, that's the answer. If you can have a background check, pretty simple, if you can make sure you know people who are mentally unbalanced, these are the things that you try to find out, and you do your best.
BOXERBut you're right, there's not going to be a perfect answer. But let me tell you, with so many thousands of people being killed every year due to gun violence, I don't take the attitude that we should throw up our hands. We should respect the fact if people want a gun to defend themselves, and that's a legitimate point, I've always said that, that's legitimate, then they shouldn't be fearful of just filling out a background check, and that's it. It's pretty simple.
BOXERAnd as for the rest, you try to protect the public the best you can.
REHMAnd finally a tweet from Murray. As a young progressive interested in running for office, I'd love the senator's advice for all of us thinking about doing so.
BOXERWell, first I hope you do think about doing so. For all that we're vilified, and we are, and there are some reasons that are justified, this is a government of, by and for the people. And what I talk about in my book is my favorite part of the Constitution, which is the preamble. We're working toward a more perfect union. Our founders never said we were perfect or that we could ever be perfect.
BOXERBut how do we become more perfect? It's when young people like you understand history, understand that you have to fight for the freedom you've gotten from those who came before. We could lose it all if people get discouraged. So of course I hope you'll buy my book, I hope you'll read my book. I hope you learn the nine rules of the art of tough because it does take a certain toughness to do this.
BOXERBut at the end of the day, what a privilege it's been for me. I'm so touched every time I walk into the Senate chamber that the people of California, and I get a little touched, a little too -- I'm emotional here. But after all those years, even though there were times they were mad at me, they didn't agree with me, they knew one thing, I was in it for the right reasons.
BOXERSo my last point to you is go into it for the right reasons. Don't go into it to be something. Go into it to do something.
REHMWas your mother alive when you were first voted into public office?
BOXERMy mother was alive, and my father was alive to see me get to my very first office. My mother was alive, but my dad wasn't, when I got to the House. And she was so excited, Diane, because Tip O'Neill was a rock star to my mother. And I have pictures of her with me and Tip. She was far more interested in Tip because he was such a hero because he was about her age, you know. And she -- she just adored him.
BOXERAnd then she passed away. She couldn't see me get to the Senate. But I think my parents knew they had done their job. In those years it was so hard for a woman. My very first race I write about, you should see what people said. I think we have time to share one quick story. I knock on the door, and someone opens the door, I'm running for the Board of Supervisors. I didn't know you'd be so short, and how can you leave your four kids at home. Lady, I only had two. Believe me, when you give birth, you don't forget about it.
BOXERIt was tough, but we did it.
REHMSenator Barbara Boxer, her new book is titled "The Art of Tough," and Senator Boxer, I'll echo one of my callers, thank you for all your service.
BOXERThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to have you here, and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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