Bill Moyers and Kathleen Hall Jamieson discuss developments in the 1992 presidential campaign one week before the election, as well as the campaign and advertising strategies of the different candidates. A short segment on the presidential election in New Jersey is also presented.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: You’re going to get me in trouble with the media, and who would want to do that?
TOM BROKAW, NBC News: Tonight, the character of George Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Don’t let these newscasters tell you what’s happening or how to vote.
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: [to reporter] No. I don’t – no.
ROSS PEROT: I’ve never met a more thin-skinned crowd in my life. If you can dish it out, you ought to be able to take it. You can’t take nothing!
PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: You may have noticed that Ross Perot does not have a particularly high opinion of the media.
ROSS PEROT: Look, I don’t have to prove anything to you people.
TOM BROKAW: Perot is not expected to win, of course, but he is causing some worry these days.
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: [“Donahue”] I’m not going to answer any more of these questions. I’ve answered them till I’m blue in the face. You are responsible for the cynicism in this country.
DAN RATHER, CBS News: Besides the CBS News/New York Times poll, there’s not much for President Bush to cheer about in several other polls out today.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: My favorite bumper sticker, “Annoy the media, re-elect President Bush.”
ROBERT MacNEIL, “MacNEIL/LEHRER NEWSHOUR”: All sides claimed victory in last night’s debate.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: You have a debate, you see what you think and then two seconds later some crackpot comes on and tells you what you think.
BILL MOYERS: Crackpot? Ouch. Join us for more of campaign ’92 on Listening to America.
I’m Bill Moyers. Welcome to this final edition of Listening to America. As the presidential race appears to tighten in the last days before the election, we’ll look at the battleground state of New Jersey. But first, our resident analyst of campaign rhetoric, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Well, here it is, the last week, and it says it was a plot. White House says it’s crazy. Bush says it’s paranoid. I mean, what’s going on here?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Dean, Annenberg School for Communication: What we have in the final weeks of the campaign is a test of the credibility of Ross Perot, the candidate who has purchased more total air time in the general election than any candidate in the history of television, a candidate who is now outspending both of his opponents combined by more than two to one, is now being subject to the kind of tests that were being used to assess his candidacy right before he dropped out. And as a result, we have an interesting test of the kinds of claims you saw in the opening of the program because news is a highly credible medium. We trust those unscripted encounters. And now the question about Ross Perot is, is that person we saw in the press conference after the debate, in the press conference we saw this Monday, the real Ross Perot or is Ross Perot, the real Ross Perot, the person we see in those half-hour presentations or in the debates? And news is going to win out in that encounter. We trust news at the same time as we say, “Oh, those media people! I don’t like any of them.”
BILL MOYERS: Well, I was going to ask, if news is trustworthy, why does President Bush keep – about all he can say these days is “Attack the media, attack the media.”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I’m going to surprise you by defending George Bush. One of the things that we looked at about four or five weeks ago was the tendency of the news media when somebody’s been the front-runner for a while to disadvantage the person who’s behind in the polls. Now, the conservatives charge that that’s a conspiracy, that basically the “liberal media,” “liberal reporters” are out to get George Bush. It’s not a conspiracy at all, but there is a tendency in the structure of news as we know it now to say of the frontrunner in news stories, ”This person must be doing something right to be the front-runner. Let’s now run stories which account for the person’s success.” The news stories pick decisive moments that show that the person is doing really well. And of the person who’s behind in the polls, the questions change. When George Bush was interviewed by Bryant Gumbel this week, for example, the poor President spent much of his time having to dodge questions which said, “How can you possibly win?” in essence. What we basically do is make it harder for the person who’s behind to get his message through. We make it easier for the person who is ahead to duck accountability. We spend too much time talking about strategy, who won and lost the debates, instead of what was the substance disclosed.
BILL MOYERS: Nonetheless, the President is constantly on the attack against his opponent and against the media and it’s getting really tough in these last few days against Bill Clinton. Take a look at this.
1st MAN: [Bush campaign commercial] If you’re going to be president, you have to be honest.
2nd MAN: Bill Clinton can’t tell anything honestly to the American people.
1st WOMAN: The man just tells people what they want to hear.
2nd MAN: About dodging the draft…
2nd WOMAN: I think he’s full of hot air.
3rd MAN: I wouldn’t trust him at all to be Commander-in-Chief.
3rd WOMAN: I think there’s a pattern and I just don’t trust Bill Clinton.
4th WOMAN: I don’t think he’s honorable and I don’t think he’s trustworthy.
4th MAN: You can’t have a president who says one thing and does another.
5th WOMAN: He scares me. He worries me. And he’ll just go one way or another…
BILL MOYERS: Now, those are real people, but those photographers are professionals pretending to be amateurs, home videos. What do you make of that?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: This form of advertising, which emerged in the 1976 campaign, deliberately takes the techniques of news, the hand-held camera, the documentary look, the quick cuts between individuals, to suggest to you that in a news-like encounter, here we have typical citizen reactions to a candidate. What we’re missing, of course, in these kinds of encounters is a sense of typicality. These aren’t actually real citizens. These are people the camera-holder knows are Bush supporters and they’re saying things that we would find far more controversial if they were uttered by the candidate, George Bush. People in the street are able to make stronger attacks with more impunity because, after all, they’re just expressing their own point of view.
BILL MOYERS: These are people we might know down the street, around the corner, at the shops.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They’re selected to look like us and they’re also selected to sound like us, but occasionally the ads misfire. One of these ads, which has been aired repeatedly by the Bush campaign, shows a woman who, on first exposure, seems genuinely concerned about whether there’ll be clothes on her child’s back. But what we found in focus groups is that as people see this ad repeatedly – and that’s a characteristic of advertising, we see it again and again and again – people step back from her and say, “I don’t like her. I don’t trust her. She sounds highly partisan. She sounds unfair.” So as we get repeated exposure to any communication, we become more likely to test it.
BILL MOYERS: Politicians cannot always get away with saying something ugly about the other guy or the other woman, but if you take a “man or woman on the street” saying the same thing, we’re more inclined to believe that.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: To accept it, yes.
BILL MOYERS: What does that say about politics today, that the professional politician must use amateur techniques in order to get the message across?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think what it says is that your strongest attacks, historically, have always been carried by surrogates and we now have a surrogate who has emerged as a representative of the American people, actually a pseudo-representative of the American people. Basically, these people on the street are surrogates for the candidate. They’re surrogates in the same sense that the people who introduce the candidates are surrogates. They’re surrogates in the same way that the anonymous print of the 19th century was a surrogate. You notice we don’t have on the screen an identification. We don’t know who the person is, where the person lives, what the person does. This is supposed to be Everywoman and Everyman.
BILL MOYERS: That’s why – you just explained why, it seems to me, that in the scrap between Bush and Perot, Clinton can appear to be presidential, stay above it and look at these two fellows bloodying and mugging each other down on the street.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Clinton actually is emerging in the final week as having a classic advantage because to the extent that Bush and Perot are charging and counter-charging, Perot saying “dirty tricks, trying to smear my daughter, Bush saying ”Where’s the proof? Paranoia. He seems delusionary” – that’s what Marlin Fitzwater is saying – Clinton is then able to step back and not engage in attack, which means that we say, “Among these three, which one looks presidential?” And the answer is the one who’s not attacking. That’s part of what these people in the streets are doing. We’re not supposed to look at those people and say, ”Bush is attacking.” We’re supposed to say, ”The people of the United States are attacking Bill Clinton’s credibility.”
BILL MOYERS: Even Perot’s ads have the aura of a surrogate for Bill Clinton, by attacking George Bush. Take a look at this.
ANNOUNCER: [Perot campaign commercial] It is called “trickle-down economics.” It assumes lower taxes on the rich create prosperity that trickles down to all the American people. Instead of a sound economic principle, it turned out to be political voodoo. Trickle-down simply didn’t trickle.
BILL MOYERS: What do you make of that?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That’s a very strong indictment of the status quo and because the status quo is identified with Reaganomics, with the Bush economic agenda, it’s a very strong indictment of George Bush. If you look at the structure of Perot’s messages overall, they are more strongly attacking the incumbent president than they are attacking Bill Clinton. And in a very clever move, after the first Perot half-hour, Bill Clinton capitalized on this because after Perot had spent 30 minutes indicting the status quo, “Read George Bush,” Clinton bought a 60-second time spot to suggest that he had the solutions and had implemented them in Arkansas. The two in combination, essentially, looked as if, “Definition of the problem, courtesy of Perot; the solution, Bill Clinton.”
BILL MOYERS: He also turned the word “voodoo” around on George Bush. It was 1980, remember, when George Bush, running for the nomination for the Republican Party, attacked Ronald Reagan’s “voodoo economics” and here Ross Perot is, turning the magic of voodoo around on George Bush.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: He’s also using a voodoo wand in one of his presentations. In his first presentation he used a pointer and he got criticism from someone in his audience who said she didn’t like the pointer, so in his next presentation he brought an actual voodoo wand. Now, the recollection of “voodoo economics,” “voodoo wand” with Ross Perot, I think, is more than incidental.
BILL MOYERS: But Clinton is also attacking this week. Take a look at this commercial.
ANNOUNCER: [Clinton campaign commercial] This is the $825 billion question. That’s how much foreign corporations operating in the U.S. took in one year. [on screen: “IRS Bulletin, 4/8/92”] But 72 percent of them didn’t pay one dime in taxes. Not one dime. [“IRS Commissioner, 4/9/91”] And George Bush supports tax loopholes for foreign companies operating here, supports them so much that he attacks Bill Clinton for wanting to close them. [“Bush speech, 8/27/92”] Bill Clinton wants to collect what foreign corporations owe and put the money to work to rebuild America. Clinton-Gore – for people, for a change.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What most people don’t realize is that advertising digests the central messages of campaigns. This is a major theme of speeches being delivered by the Clinton-Gore ticket. But advertising is always selective and it rarely, as a result, provides us with enough information to actually make a decision. It fragments the total information available in a political campaign. Here it doesn’t invite us to ask, “Well, if we start to tax these foreign corporations that are here, aren’t the foreign governments that are hosting our corporations abroad going to start to tax our corporations in response or hold them accountable for the taxable income that’s owed? And as a result, aren’t we ultimately going to be hurt?” The advertising also doesn’t invite us to ask, ”Where do we get the information about how much tax income is being sheltered through this means?” There’s real controversy here. Now, the Clinton form suggests news. Put print up on the screen, put a little source underneath, and we’re invited to say, “Ah, they have the evidence.” But in fact, advertising rarely discloses the whole body of evidence and there is real controversy about whether we can save as much as Clinton says we can by simply calling in those taxes.
BILL MOYERS: Well, no one ever suggested that political advertising is argument. It’s not pro and con, it’s –
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Assertion.
BILL MOYERS: -assertion. “Proposition,” I think you academics call it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yup.
BILL MOYERS: You know, we propose that something is so and because we say it’s so, it is so.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah. It is usually assertion unbacked by the kind of proof that would constitute argument. And the problem in this case for Clinton is that his ability to reduce the deficit and pay for his programs is predicated on whether or not you believe he can recoup as much as money as this ad says he can recoup. Serious analysts have said no, he can’t, but the ad doesn’t invite us to engage in a controversy about that. And since Bush doesn’t want to talk about this issue in his ads, we don’t see a clash between the two points of view. We’re not invited, as a result, to create a context that lets us understand the issue.
BILL MOYERS: That’s also happening on what I thought would be the fundamental issue being debated in the last month of this campaign, and that’s health care. I actually thought that this election would become a referendum…
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: So did I.
BILL MOYERS: Did you? On health care. And yet it hasn’t become that because, once again, they’re making assertions and attacks on the others without coming forward with the kind of dialogue that would help us understand how their health care proposals differ.
We have a couple of commercials. Look at one of them for Ross Perot.
ANNOUNCER: [Perot campaign commercial] Health care in America is in critical condition. We are pumping more money into it than any other nation, yet 37 million Americans have no coverage and soaring costs are bleeding our families, our businesses. But health care can still be saved if we act now, if we choose a candidate who can form an alliance between public and private sectors to restore accountability, if we choose a leader who will work to put a basic benefits package within reach of all Americans, to establish prevention programs that dramatically lower long-term costs. There is no instant remedy, but the first step in the recovery process is November 3rd. This is no time to waste our votes on politics as usual. It is time for a candidate who will get down to business. It is time for Ross Perot.
BILL MOYERS: As a diagnosis of how bad our health care system is, or how inadequate it is, one can’t quarrel with that. I mean, that’s factually so. But?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But again, advertising is selective. It doesn’t present the whole argument. And in the absence of clash with the other positions, what we are not invited to ask is this question. Ross Perot, in his deficit reduction plan, says he’s going to save a large amount of money through health care reform, but he’s going to apply it in his plan to reducing the deficit. This ad would suggest that he’s going to apply it to covering the insurance for 37 million uninsured United States citizens. He can’t apply the money to two different purposes, but nothing in the campaign structure right now invites us to ask that question or find that answer. Ross Perot, in other words, is now doing what we’ve accused the other two candidates of doing. He’s spending the same money twice.
BILL MOYERS: Spending money he doesn’t have and not explaining to us the source of the financial support of the proposals he will make. But they all do it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. But the interesting thing about Perot is that the most recent polls show that most people believe that he’s the one who’s addressed the problems and he’s the one who’s offered the solutions that are needed by the country. More people are saying that than are saying they’re going to vote for Ross Perot. Ross Perot, in his half-hours, actually hasn’t laid out the solutions. He hasn’t tied those solutions back to the problem, as he sees it, and he hasn’t laid out an underlying structure that would say, “This is the cause. This is how the solutions ultimately meet the underlying cause and this is why, as a result, it’s better than the solutions offered by the other candidates.” But because we’re so unaccustomed to seeing 30-minute blocks of discourse, we’ve made the assumption that he’s put the solutions out there and that we somehow have just missed it when, in fact, he never presented it.
BILL MOYERS: George Bush was out with a negative ad on health care this last week and there’s something very intriguing about this particular spot. Take a look at this.
ANNOUNCER: [Bush campaign commercial] Bill Clinton’s health plan puts the government in control and that will ration health care and limit a doctor’s ability to save your life. His plan would require $218 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts in the next five years. His plan could cost 700,000 Americans their jobs. Government-run plans have been tried in Europe, only there it’s known as “socialized medicine.” You can’t trust Bill Clinton’s health plan. It’s wrong for you. It’s wrong for America.
BILL MOYERS: Judith and I were watching television over coffee one morning and she saw this ad and said, “There’s an unspoken message there.” Did you catch it?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There’s a businessman sitting right in the middle of what looks like a free clinic and this poor man has obviously never waited for anything in his life and now isn’t going to get the medical care that he thinks he needs on the schedule that he’d like and he’s not going to because of a word that slips into this ad at the very end: “socialism,” “socialized medicine.” The great fear that, in fact, we’re going to create a bureaucratic structure that’s going to ultimately disadvantage large parts of the population by equalizing treatment across the board.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. You’re going to be treated equally, but it’s not going to be equally good health care, it’s going to be equally bad health care. That’s the hidden message there.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: We’re all going to be drawn down to a common denominator that’s not acceptable. The other thing that the ad is doing is taking the worst of the scare statistics and trying to tie them to the Clinton plan. Clinton is assuming that we’re going to save money in the process of moving to his proposal and a reputable non-partisan study that compared the Bush and the Clinton plans ultimately says that over the next 10 years, the Clinton plan would save more than the Bush plan and the Clinton plan would cover everyone, where the Bush plan in eight years would leave over 20 million people uninsured. And so again, the Bush ad assumes that we don’t have the wider context, we haven’t been able to look at the plans comparatively, and nothing in the campaign to date has let us do that. And so the danger is that propaganda on either side about the issue shapes our interpretation of an issue and, as a result, we don’t vote based on the available facts.
BILL MOYERS: An ad like that is so subtle, however. Does your work with the focus groups, the citizens you deal with every week, suggest that it’s effective? Do they see and know what they’re seeing when they look at that businessman surrounded by those poor folks?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There’s a very real fear, and many would argue a legitimate fear, that when government takes something over, it becomes inefficient. And on the stump, the Republicans say, “Do you want a health system run,” you know, “like the KGB with the efficiency of the U.S. Post Office?” Now, talk about taking two images of – and we’re going to offend every postal worker in the United States – two images of generalized incompetence and identifying them with the Clinton proposal is a very powerful image. Most people, given a choice, would like to say, “I want to be able to go into my doctor’s office at an appointed time and get to see my doctor immediately.” Now, Clinton would argue, “You’re still going to be able to do that under my plan. Bush would say, “No, you’re not.”
BILL MOYERS: Kathleen, instead of talking frankly and candidly to real people, what the candidates are doing, it seems to me, is giving us a kind of mantra of words that repeat over and over again the message that they want us to receive even when we don’t know we’re receiving it. Let me illustrate by playing a little word association game.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: OK.
BILL MOYERS: All right? If I give you a word, you give me the candidate. If I say, “Change,” you’d say?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Clinton.
BILL MOYERS: If I say, “Pattern of deception,” you’d say?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Bush attacking Clinton.
BILL MOYERS: If I say, “Trust,” you’d say?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Bush.
BILL MOYERS: “Deficit”?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Perot.
BILL MOYERS: “People”?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: All three.
BILL MOYERS: “Plans”?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: None of them.
BILL MOYERS: Well, but Perot really talks about plans.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, Perot talks about plans.
BILL MOYERS: “Arkansas”?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Depends. Bush is much more likely to say “Arkansas” than Clinton. Clinton talks about his “state.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, “my state.”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: “My state.”
BILL MOYERS: And Bush in the debates talked about Arkansas. He always wanted to pin Arkansas.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Small governor – “Failed governor of a small state.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Well, one more. “Lawrence Welk.”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Ross Perot.
BILL MOYERS: Because?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because he’s not going to give us Lawrence Welk music. Now, by using that referent, he basically becomes unintelligible to half the audience that grew up without Lawrence Welk.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you know, with apologies to TV game shows and Lite beer commercials, aren’t the candidates simply trying to state the obvious, to give us – to drum words into our ears?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah. Language does our thinking for us and we tend to forget that. We assume that we think thoughts and then we put them into language. But to the extent that I can sculpt the language that you use, I can drive your conclusions. And so you see if you’re a news junkie and you watch a lot of news, what you realize is that all the camps basically are programming all of their people to use the same words. And so let me give you a word test. In the last four days, who’s said the word ”bizarre” most often?
BILL MOYERS: The White House.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The White House…
BILL MOYERS: Marlin Fitzwater.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: …about Perot.
BILL MOYERS: …about Perot.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And as you turn person to person to person, including the President, the word ”bizarre” continues to fit into people’s perspectives. It’s because, as we frame situations to interpret them, we use language as the frame. And so if I can get you to think “trust” as you go into the voting booth, that is going to help George Bush more than it’s going to help Bill Clinton.
BILL MOYERS: Well, we’ve done a little sculpting of our own. Take a look at this.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: There’s a pattern of deception here.
There’s a pattern.
…a pattern of deception…
That pattern is a dangerous thing to…
A pattern of deception is not right for the Oval Office.
People are going to ask this question about trust.
Who do you trust?
George Bush has taken us through some tough crises and we trust him to do that.
I believe I have the trust of the American people.
I have earned your trust.
ANNOUNCER: [Bush campaign commercial] In a world where we’re just one unknown dictator away from the next major crisis, who do you most trust to be sitting in this chair?
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: I represent real hope for change.
And I must challenge the American people to change.
It’s time to change.
It’s a change…
It’s a change…
…courage to change…
ANNOUNCER: [Clinton campaign commercial] Bill Clinton for people for a change.
ANNOUNCER: [Democratic Party commercial] Enough is enough. Vote Democratic for a change.
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: Now it’s exhilarating to me to think that as president I could help to change all our people’s lives for the better and bring hope back to the American dream.
BILL MOYERS: They’re sticking labels on our unconscious.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They’re also using the classic appeals of incumbency and challenger. We’re afraid of the unknown and “trust” suggests that the devil you know is better than the devil that you don’t know. “Change” is the constant word of the challenger. If there’s no reason for change, there’s no reason to vote for the challenger. And so to some extent, this is primal politics. This is the way politics always happens. But each campaign is also trying to take the other’s code word and turn it. And so when Bush says, “Trust me,” he always says “international crisis.” Clinton turns that around by saying, “Trust you? You’ve created a domestic crisis. And what about Iraqgate? What about arms for hostages?”
On the “change” front, Bush says, “All you’re going to have is small change left if you adopt Clinton change and we don’t want his change. His change is bad change. It’s scary change.”
BILL MOYERS: But it works. I was at Atlanta the other day, handed my ticket to the agent at the airport. He looked at it, recognized my name, and he said, ”You know, Mr. Moyers, this is the worst I’ve seen in my life and I’ve been around for 42 years.” He said, “George Bush doesn’t know which from what.” I said, ”Well, who are you going to vote for?” He said, “Bush.” I said, “Bush? Why?” He said, “Well, I’m a military man and I just don’t want to change my commander-in-chief.” I thought of that a moment ago when we looked at those ads. It gets in there, doesn’t it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: …ask when you walk into the voting booth, I have your vote. Politics is a complex process. It’s not a simple process. We talk about it as if there is some single decisive issue that shapes us throughout the whole campaign. In fact, there are competing perspectives and competing issues and ultimately we decide some things are more important to us than others. What the politicians try to do is to get us to repeat the language that drives us toward the question that yields a vote for them. And when they succeed in doing that, ultimately we begin to talk their language.
What we found in focus groups is interesting. The effective campaigns by election eve have the electorate saying, “I’m not influenced by those ads.” And then they repeat the very language of the ads to explain their vote.
BILL MOYERS: Well, there’s a new language that’s out there this year that has intrigued both of us throughout ’92. It’s the language of young people and some of the political camps have learned how to use that language very effectively. Take a look at this.
YOUNG M.C.: [excerpted from “No More Points of Light”] [rapping] We need a good leader and not Hulk Hogan / so I sat down and came up with a slogan / ’cause life is cheap and it is not free / So no more points of light for me, G /
Now, you say it’s cool that you dropped the prime rate / but if I have no job, then it ain’t so great / The unemployment rate should be your concernin’ / ’cause right now 20 million people ain’t earnin’ / Homeless, homeless – look on the street / Whole families and not enough to eat / Abandoned buildings on the some block / but you can’t trespass through a government lock / You tighten the dollar, but it’s still weak / The track deficit goes up each week / And foreign countries are hip to the scheme / ’cause the Japanese are buying the American dream / We need a change, so I made my push / I’m pro-America, but anti-Bush / Look. at the facts and you will agree / Yo! No more points of light for me, G.
BILL MOYERS: That’s a rock video, excerpts of a rock video produced by the Los Angeles Young Democratic Club. The artist, the performer, is called and known in the business as Young M.C. His real name is Marvin Young. He’s a graduate of the University of Southern California, a very smart, sophisticated young man. This video is being used at rallies by Democrats across several states and they want to get it on television in the next few days.
What is it say to you about the language of politics?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first, song has always been part of politics. You remember “We’re the bright young men who want to go back to 1810. We’re Barry’s boys” from an election that…
BILL MOYERS: I’m sorry to say I do remember it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You were on the other side on that one. Remember “We Shall Overcome.” You know, music has been a very powerful part of this culture. The Republicans managed in 1984 and 1988 to use music much more skillfully than the Democrats. “I’m Proud to Be an American,” Lee Greenwood, was the theme song of the Reagan reelection effort. In 1988 and 1992, George Bush picked up the song that is actually being rebutted here, Randy Travis’s “1,000 Points of Light.” “If you see a problem and you want to make it right,” says this song on video, “you can be 1,000 points of light,” stressing the volunteer effort of the Bush administration. This video is saying, “No more points of light for me.” It actually constitutes a rebuttal. But it’s putting in place visuals that show that the 1,000 points of light haven’t been a reality for this particular rapper in this particular city.
BILL MOYERS: What we’re learning, too, is – it’s obvious, but it’s taken us a while to grasp it – that young people are processing information differently in our culture from how we did when you and I were 18 years old.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The young people – we shouldn’t even call them “young people” because they’re now – you know, they’re now approaching voting age. The new citizenry, the people who will be the leaders of this country within two generations, grew up on video games. And, as a result, they first have incredible hand-eye coordination, but they also are able to respond to pictures much more rapidly than you and I are. And what that means is that you can increase the pace of the political communication. The length of the edits in MTV is substantially shorter than the length of the edits in prime-time television. You and I find it disorienting. Those who grew up on video games and MTV find it the norm. In this video, we’re using the rapid intercutting of those visuals, an intercutting that is difficult for people who are not accustomed to it to even make sense of – but the rapid intercutting to show piece of evidence after piece of evidence after piece of evidence.
BILL MOYERS: The picture is the evidence to the words’ contention.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. In fact, this is a new form of argument. The argument, the verbal argument, the basic claim is being carried in the rap artist’s verbal statement and then picture after picture after picture puts in place the evidence. We can recognize this as traditional argument. We’re just not accustomed to seeing traditional argument made visually.
BILL MOYERS: Where are the Republicans on this? Because Clinton and Gore have moved into this new grammar very, very effectively this year, but the Republicans have not.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah. The Republicans, who were the first to realize the power of music, particularly music on such channels as VH-1 and the Nashville Network, have been avoiding MTV. MTV extended an invitation to both Bush and Quayle to come and be interviewed by MTV viewers and the Republicans refused. I think they made a strategic error that is enormous.
BILL MOYERS: By? Because?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: By not moving into the medium that reaches this part of the audience. Young voters usually under-vote their percent of the population. This year they’re registering in incredible numbers. Now, that’s in part because of fears for the economy, fears of joblessness. But I think it is also because the Democratic team has legitimized their channel of communication. It’s taken them seriously and Bush-Quayle have dismissed them. Bush said, “I’m not an MTV type of guy.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. The other thing it reveals is how the campaign has just reached everywhere. Once it got out of the control of the evening news, it has now, politics, has spread to all points in our culture, right?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. Yes. The culture is actually pervaded with politics and we realized that when we realized the extent to which bumper stickers, which used to be a prime mode of communication, are now simply reinforcing what you see everywhere else.
BILL MOYERS: It’s pretty hard to find a bumper sticker that says, “New Jersey ponders,” but that’s what we’ve done for our next and final report. New Jersey has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1964, but this year it’s up for grabs so all the candidates and their relatives are turning up this week in New Jersey. Take a look.
Senator AL GORE (D-TN) : New Jersey is as close to a key state as you will find anywhere in this nation.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Thank you, New Jersey.
TIPPER GORE: We love you, Camden.
GOVERNOR BILL CLINTON: …from what the Democratic Party has given to New Jersey and the country…
ROSS PEROT: Thank you!
Vice President DAN QUAYLE: It’s time to win the domestic war.
BARBARA BUSH: Well, George would really appreciate your support.
BILL MOYERS: President Bush has campaigned in New Jersey seven times already and is expected to return again before election day. Bill Clinton will be back for a televised town meeting later this week. Where did Ross Perot go when he left the TV studio? New Jersey. We traveled across the state to talk to some of these highly-prized voters about their choice for president.
1st BUSINESSMAN: I want to vote for President Bush at this point in time. He’s doing an adequate job and I don’t believe the economy’s all his fault.
2nd BUSINESSMAN: I think the question of the candidates’ integrity is being a little bit overblown and today people are just pretty much fed up.
3rd BUSINESSMAN: We need a change.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of change?
3rd BUSINESSMAN: We need to get rid of all the politicians and bring in somebody independent.
INTERVIEWER: What do you want for the future of America?
3rd BUSINESSMAN: Deficit reduction.
CLEANING MAN: Like I said, I’m a poor man. I don’t have no money. I barely got a job. So why should I vote for this guy? He did came in 12 years – his first four years – first eight years wasn’t too bad and this last four years been natural hell.
4th BUSINESSMAN: It’s just a sad state of affairs that throughout the last several years, that we have not seen a true Democratic candidate that has really come out and shined. I think perhaps Mr. Gore may have been a better candidate.
5th BUSINESSMAN: I would rather see Al Gore as president than Bill Clinton, but that’s the way it is, so…
1st FISHERMAN: I’m tired of Bush. You know, he hasn’t shown me anything in four years. You know, four more years of nothing is not going to help me at all. You know, I’d kind of like Perot because, you know, I need a little less government, less people telling me what to do and how to do it. You know, fishermen, we’re not subsidized. We get no help from the government whatsoever, but they’re coming down with a lot of rules and regulations, telling us when we can fish, what we can fish for. You know, they’re going to tell us how long we can stay out. You know, it’s just ridiculous. You know, and you just can’t work like that.
WOMAN AT BEACH: Well, my husband and I are really into the environmental issues that are going on and so we really like Al Gore and so, really, just because he’s the vice president, we’re really pleased, but we’re going to be voting for Clinton. I’m a Republican. I always have been. My parents were. But we have to go Democratic this year.
1st CONSTRUCTION WORKER: George Bush, he’s good over foreign affairs, but he’s not doing what he needs to do here in this country and I think that Clinton and – everybody wants change and I think Ross Perot is really the change that we need.
2nd CONSTRUCTION WORKER: Ross Perot I like, basically, because he’s an outsider, except that his economic policies scare me a little bit. I’m not so sure that we’re ready to crunch all that kind of work in such a short period of time.
MUSICIAN: I think they need to come down to – off that horse or out of that limousine and walk with the people, and more than just walking through a corn field in Missouri or something like that, to catch the bus, to put their money in the machine while other people have to stand and wait. Until they do something like that, I don’t think that Bush, Clinton – or any of these people are really going to understand what it’s like to live in any American city.
MAN IN GHETTO: I mean, it’s – we’re standing right now in the projects, the ghetto where years ago, people lived, you know what I’m saying? People have lived here and now they’re about to tear this down and they’re building on the other side of the highway, what they call Society Hill. It’s going to be condominiums. How are we going to afford that? So how does that make me feel? As a young black person, how am I going to keep up with that? So we don’t really care about voting for no one.
1st SUBURBANITE: It was Abraham Lincoln who said you do not help the poor by destroying the rich. There’s a lot of truth to that, as far as I’m concerned. We don’t know what a new Clinton administration would really represent in this country. We know that he speaks of higher taxes, more government. I think some of those things are not good for the country. We need to encourage private business because it’s the businesses that reinvest, the businesses who hire people, and that’s what we really need to see in this country, not more taxing to limit business investment.
BARBER: When I’m here, something goes wrong it’s my responsibility. I can’t pass the buck. I can’t say I was out of the loop, none of that, OK? And I take that responsibility. I don’t see that happening with President Bush.
DRY CLEANING CLERK: I’m going to vote for George Bush. There’s a number of reasons that I’m going to vote for him, but probably the main reason is that I trust him and I find it hard to trust the other two candidates. I really like Barbara Bush, too. I have to tell you, she’s my kind of a person. And maybe that’s that whole family atmosphere that they have with the kids and the grandkids and everything. He’s just the kind of person I feel that I can trust and that I like being the president of the country.
WAITRESS: I’ve never voted for any particular person. I’ve always gone and written in Mickey Mouse. But this is the first time I will place a vote for a person and it will be Perot. I have a 14-year-old in high school. I personally, I work full-time. I can’t afford dental for myself or my son. I can’t afford health care for myself or my son and if anything, God forbid, should happen, where am I?
2nd SUBURBANITE: Right now I would say Clinton, hands down, because with the state of the economy, anybody that is not ready for change must like torture.
3rd SUBURBANITE: I think it’s time now for us to think about our country. I have a woman in my office whose husband was laid off. He was making $85,000 a year. He had to take a $30,000-a-year job. That’s pretty sad, to have kids to put through school. I know to some people that might seem like – like an exorbitant amount, but when you demote a person from an $85,000 job to $30,000, that’s serious, you know, what they have to do to their standard of living. And I don’t want that to happen to my children and my grandchildren, when I have them.
2nd SURBURBANITE: If we have them.
MAN IN FLAG FACTORY: Mr. Clinton, I feel as though he was a draft dodger. Myself, when I was 18 years old I signed up for the draft and 13 days later I had a uniform on. I believe in my country, right or wrong.
ARTIST: I mean, there is just no way that I could vote for President Bush. He’s created a climate, a climate from the top, that kind of trickles down, a climate of what I feel is neglect, trickle-down neglect, maybe.
4th SUBURBANITE: I’ll be voting for George Bush, the reason being is for his conservative stands. My background is from a Christian family. I – conservative Christian institution for my undergraduate degree and I’ve been molded into the moral majority of the religious right. George Bush and Dan Quayle have taken a stand for moral values and I have to go with them just based on that platform alone.
5th SUBURBANITE: Well, I think the most disappointing thing for me about the campaign this year has been seeing how the Republican Party has taken an agenda I think too far to the right and then has taken on this sort of holier-than-thou attitude that only God’s with the Republican Party and not with the Democrats. And that – that really has bothered me because that is so divisive and I don’t think our country needs that right now. And so in contrast to that, I like what Clinton said about we need a leader who will unite us instead of divide us. And so that’s why even though I’m a Republican, I’m going to vote for Clinton this year.
HORSE GROOM: I think I’m leaning a little bit more towards Bush because of the experience. I tend to – I like what Perot has to say. I like the idea of maybe a businessman coming in and trying to clean up the mess that the economy is in, but I don’t know if he has enough political background to get along with all the politicians, because I think you have to know a little bit about that, too.
JOCKEY: I’m going to vote for Mr. Clinton. He’s balanced three budgets and we need some help and I think Mr. Bush, when he cut out our deductions for our rich people with the horses, he stopped them from playing. Then they took their money and went and spend it on boats and he put a lot of people out of work.
1st STUDENT: One of the longest-lasting impressions a president can make is through who he nominates for the Supreme Court. And if you look at the past 12 years, we’ve had Clarence Thomas, we’ve had Souter, Kennedy, O’Connor, Scalia. And another eight or twelve years – or another four or eight years of Republican rule, they can change – well, they can create a conservative court that is not representative of what the American people think.
2nd STUDENT: As a black female in America, everything that I have, everything that I attain is because I work hard for it, not because it’s given to me and not because anyone cares. And that’s why I’m voting for Bill Clinton. I feel in general, as a black woman, the rights of a woman, if they can be taken away, the rights as a black can be taken away. And I think that this history in this country has shown for many years that basically the government really could care less.
PARENT OF STUDENT: We’ve been an education-oriented type of family and we’ve made many sacrifices so the children have a good beginning and a strong foundation. If my children don’t prosper, my life has been a waste of time and I don’t feel – I feel time is probably the most valuable asset that we do have. It’s so precious that we can’t afford to waste another four years.
CHEF: Well, I’m going to be voting for Ross Perot because I’m tired of the same old thing of having politicians run this country and spending all the money and not making any money, which Ross Perot is noted for making a million dollars a day. Well, I’m hoping to have my own restaurant someday, but seeing that how it’s going, I mean, you’ll see more restaurants are going out of business because we just can’t afford it.
BAR OWNER: This euphoric attitude that I see from our president is in dream world. It may be perfect down where he’s sitting, but working in America and the 200 people that I employ, it’s not very comfortable or assuring that we’re going to see some real strong growth over the next 12, 15 months.
1st WOMAN AT FOOTBALL GAME: One thing is certain. I’m not voting for George Bush and I will not do that again. I’ve lost a lot of faith in him. I thought that he would be a stronger person in being able to work with the Congress in bringing to this country what we really need. I’m totally dismayed that again and again I hear him say, “There’s nothing wrong with this economy. Everything is great.”
MAN AT FOOTBALL GAME: I remember Jimmy Carter and I just see Bill Clinton as a repackaged Jimmy Carter. I don’t – he doesn’t appeal to me. He turns me off. I think he’s just a slick, packaged individual. I don’t know anybody who is voting for him, to be quite honest with you.
2nd WOMAN AT FOOTBALL GAME: I’m also going to be voting for George Bush. I’m a moderate conservative and I feel, out of the three candidates, George Bush represents, you know, the way I feel on most issues.
1st WOMAN AT FOOTBALL GAME: I work with kids and I hear kids express all the time their fears, their distrust, hopes for the future. They want to be proud of this country. We stand in front of kids and teach them pride in America. I want to feel confident when I’m doing that because I still get tears in my eyes when I hear the National Anthem and I always will.
BILL MOYERS: What that report said to me is an old story, that after the mind blowers are gone, after the pundits are silent, after the candidates have quit, after the image hustlers have left the scene, individual voters are left out there to make up their own minds against this barrage of images, ideas, words and sound.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And in New Jersey, they actually have an experience that most people in most parts of the country haven’t had because they have a chance to go and hear and touch the candidates if they want to, because New Jersey is a contested state. But what they are saying in this video is instructive because they’re not telling us what they would have told us when you first came into politics. They’re not saying, “Democratic Party” or “Republican Party, tell me that this candidate has these characteristics.” They’re not saying “My union tells me,” “My church tells me.” The old anchorages have been broken.
BILL MOYERS: The old institutions, the intermediating institutions have disappeared.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And essentially what we’re left with is a highly personal encounter with individuals, not with a structure. What that structure did was gave us some sense of clarity about the differences between the candidates and their directions and now, in the absence of that clarity, it becomes much more difficult for voters to make sense of the differences in public policy. Our electoral process isn’t helping them very much because the advertising fragments the messages into tiny little pieces about jobs and health care and foreign corporations and “Can you trust” and draft dodgers. It doesn’t offer us a whole picture that lets us say this is the package that will become ultimately a presidency.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what do you think all this does to governance?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What the electorate is able to understand and understands well is that there are some philosophical differences between Bush and Clinton. Essentially, Clinton is more disposed to use government intervention than is Bush. Bush is more likely to trust the free enterprise solutions, choice solutions in the marketplace. But what the electorate is not well equipped to understand this year unless it is a high consumer of print and broadcast news, and very few people are, are the specific details that will drive the differences between one policy and the other policy. And also left unanswered in all of this is how are we going to pay for it and, ultimately, how are we going to reduce the deficit? What democracy has offered us – that we had in the 1988 or the 84 campaign, but some major unanswered questions that are going to come back to haunt the politicians who didn’t believe they could answer them and be elected. Specifically, George Bush hasn’t told us what he will cut in order to pay for his 1 percent across-the-board tax decrease and his capital gains decrease. Clinton’s numbers don’t add up. Where is he going to get the revenue to pay for his new programs? And now, with his promise of health care, Perot’s numbers don’t add up, either. Which means we run the risk that the campaign has not told us how we’re ultimately going to pay for the governance that we’re agreeing in this campaign that we want. And so it’s likely, once the candidate comes into office with these plans and promises, that we will say, ”Wait! We were never told this was the cost” and we will again feel betrayed by the political process, and that’s unfortunate.
BILL MOYERS: So it’s cross your fingers, hold your nose, vote?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Cross your fingers and vote the philosophical differences that you see and also vote based on what evidence is available through one’s experience in a day-to-day environment about the various choices that are facing us. That’s where we actually get most of our useful political information. We have some intuitions about government because we deal with it all the time.
BILL MOYERS: When we began this exercise, you and I, I had a lot of hope that your book, Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction and Democracy, would be rendered irrelevant by this campaign. I’m sad to say that it hasn’t. It’s been, in many respects, a mean and deceiving campaign. Negative campaigning isn’t likely to go away in the last few days before the election, even though the public has expressed its displeasure at negative personal campaigning. Partisans always seem upset if their candidate isn’t using fighting words.
It’s worth remembering, we thought, here in these last days, the feelings of regret of the late Lee Atwater. He’s the man who engineered President Bush’s victory in 1988.
Inauguration night, 1989. The winning candidate, George Bush. The architect of victory, his close friend Lee Atwater.
Rep. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA) : Atwater, in that sense, serves a little bit like a pulling guard in football. It’s his job to hit the line and get the bruises and it’s the President’s job to win the Heisman Trophy for going through the hole that Lee Atwater opened. I think they probably are both comfortable doing their jobs.
BILL MOYERS: Lee Atwater prided himself on being an accomplished amateur musician, but his real fame came as the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the king of dirty campaign tactics.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: You remember the case of Willie Horton, in the Reader’s Digest. The guy was furloughed, murderer, hadn’t even served enough time for parole. Goes down to Maryland and murders again.
BILL MOYERS: It was Atwater who had made Willie Horton the personification of the 1988 election, one of the dirtiest campaigns ever.
ANNOUNCER: [Bush campaign commercial] While on furlough, this man ran away to Maryland, twice raped a woman and tortured her husband. Now, this man is running for president. President?
BILL MOYERS: And in 1989, his office issued a memo wrongfully implying that House Speaker Tom Foley was a homosexual. And when Dan Quayle was asked how he would feel if Atwater was running his opponent’s campaign, he answered:
VICE PREIDENT QUAYLE: I wouldn’t run.
LEE ATWATER: I make no bones about who I am, what I am and what I do, and I think that’s one of the things that always has – people in politics are like that. I just don’t make any bones about it.
BILL MOYERS: But only 14 months after his greatest political victory, Lee Atwater learned he had a brain tumor and in his final days he told Life magazine he wished he’d done things differently. He said, “In 1988, fighting Dukakis, I said that I would strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate. I’m sorry for both statements. Long before I was struck with cancer I felt something stirring in American society. It was a sense among the people of the country, Republicans and Democrats alike, that something was missing from their lives, something crucial. I was trying to position the Republican Party to take advantage of it, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. My illness helped me to see what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with the truth, but it’s a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to the spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, the tumor of the soul.”
Once upon a time, like Lee Atwater, I was a partisan. Fate has been kinder to me, allowing me time and experience to learn gradually what he learned swiftly, from tragedy. Still, every four years politics takes on a life of its own, amusing, engaging and fascinating me for the game it is. But this all changed over the weekend. We became grandparents, Judith and I, for the first time. Our delight’s been tempered by complications that put this new life at risk, so we’ve been alternating between pride and pain, hope and fear. What I’m about to say may sound a little naive to those of you who haven’t made this passage, but all you grandparents out there will understand. It’s as if I have new eyes in my head and can see further into the future than ever, all the way to the year 2050 when, with luck, William Henry Moyers will be the age I am now. It’s interesting what this view does to your feeling for politics. Thanks to CNN, I was never far from the presidential campaign, even in that cloistered world of hospitals, corridors, cafeterias and waiting rooms. I could hear the speeches, the charges and countercharges, the talk of “nutty pollsters,” journalist jerks,” “paranoia” and that pie in the sky promised by each candidate with no realistic effort to tell us how they will pay for it. But you know, it wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t even tolerable. It all sounded so puny, so remote and deceitful. And I felt angry, not at them, but at us. We not only let them get away with it, we practically demand of them this phony war of words to protect us from reality. The true voices I heard this weekend came from the future, the silent voices of children in an intensive care unit, whom I could imagine grown up and judging us for creating the world they will live in, a world that must pay for our cleverness and conceit. They will be living with our consequences in the year 2050. They have a very large stake, then, in our electoral choices, but they have no voice at all unless we speak for them.
A lot of people have made this series possible. I’m grateful to them, to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, to Howard Weinberg and our colleagues, to my wife and partner Judith, and to you for Listening to America with us.
I’m Bill Moyers. Good night.
This transcript was entered on April 7, 2015.