Remember Florida 2000? An obsolete voting system and allegations about partisan election officials threatened the legitimacy of the nation’s last presidential election. Four years and millions of dollars later, is America at risk for an even bigger election debacle this November? NOW’s Michele Mitchell travels to Florida to examine costly and controversial new technology that may not make the system any more accurate or tamper-proof than it was before, along with new concerns across the country about partisan politicians controlling official election tallies.
The Democrats put on a good show for a stronger, more secure America, but what’s the substance behind the images? Bill Moyers asks NOW returning analysts Kevin Phillips and Michel Martin about how carefully orchestrated convention themes might play with voters.
Fresh from the convention, political theorist Benjamin Barber analyzes the backroom discussion behind the unified public face as Democrats grapple with how America should act in a post-9/11 world. With national security and America’s world view the central issue in Boston, Barber examines the strong public front versus the struggle for a progressive platform. Benjamin R. Barber’s 17 books include the classic STRONG DEMOCRACY (1984); JIHAD VS. MCWORLD (1995); and FEAR’S EMPIRE: WAR, TERRORISM AND DEMOCRACY (2003). His next book, THE DECLINE OF CAPITALISM AND THE INFANTALIST ETHOS is due out next year. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW With Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. Democrats left Boston today determined to turn out a big vote in November. But they’re haunted by a question: will those votes be counted?
GORE: Take it from me: Every vote counts. And let’s make sure that this time every vote is counted.
MOYERS: Democrats kept reminding themselves that what happened in Florida in 2000, could happen again… there or somewhere else in the nation. Who can blame them? Our first story is reported by correspondent Michele Mitchell and producer William Brangham.
PROTESTORS: 2, 4, 6, 8. How many recounts does it take?
MARTIN: You remember these scenes. November 2000. Something had gone wrong in Florida.
JENNINGS [ABC NEWS]: And so the legal challenges to the outcome of the presidential race have begun…
MARTIN: A presidential election hung in the balance, an election that would lead all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The winner of Florida would take it all, and he did.
BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear…
MARTIN: If Americans needed to be reminded that voting matters, that every vote counts — or might not count — this was it.
You remember Katherine Harris. She was Florida’s Secretary of State, the top election official with the power to referee any election dispute.
HARRIS [11/26/00]: I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes.
MARTIN: But Katherine Harris wasn’t just heading up Florida’s election system. She was also heading up the Florida Bush-Cheney Campaign. While it’s been common for Secretaries of State to support a candidate, Harris’s actions left a dark cloud hanging over the election.
HARRIS [11/14/00]: On the advice of our legal counsel, I won’t be answering any questions this evening.
MARTIN: For example: Harris’s office hired a private company to draw up a list of people to be removed from Florida’s voting rolls because they were felons. Florida is one of seven states that doesn’t allow felons who’ve served their time the right to vote.
But there was something fishy about Harris’s list. Thousands of people on the list weren’t felons at all. They were perfectly eligible voters, many of them African American, who showed up on Election Day and found they couldn’t vote.
In testimony two months after the vote, Katherine Harris admitted she was aware of concerns about the list.
QUESTION [1/12/01]: And you became aware of the concerns raised about the legitimacy of the list that were provided by the private firm?
HARRIS: Yes, I became aware.
MARTIN: But she passed further questions onto a staffer.
QUESTION: And what action did you take in response to becoming aware of those concerns?
HARRIS: Again, I’m going to defer that to Mr. Roberts, in that he’s in charge of day-to-day operations.
MARTIN: Andrew Gillum is a City Commissioner in Tallahassee, the state capital.
GILLUM: It was an old Southern tactic at disenfranchising African Americans.
MARTIN: He’s says it’s no coincidence that a lot of eligible voters who ended up on that list in 2000 were African American because blacks in Florida overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
GILLUM: It was one of those tools that should’ve been gotten rid of, and to believe that in today’s day and age that the state would be so careless in the way that it executes this purge, I mean, it’s gross. It’s gross.
MARTIN: Fast forward to 2004. If you think everything’s been fixed by now, think again.
Florida has a new Secretary of State, Republican Glenda Hood. She was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. Just as Katherine Harris’ did, Hood’s office hired a private company to come up with a new list of felons to boot off the voting rolls. Democrats and civil rights groups said, “Show us the list.” But her office refused.
One person who saw part of the new list is Ion Sancho, and it worried him. He’s the supervisor of elections for Leon County, Florida. The felon list he got back in 2000 was over 95% wrong. Out of about 700 names, only 33 were actual felons.
SANCHO: So now in 2004, the state sends another list.
MARTIN: His new list had over 800 names that he was supposed to cut from his rolls. But the state hadn’t double-checked those names. Glenda Hood’s office gave that job to him.
SANCHO: So that puts us in a bind. We’re faced with an impossible dilemma. And the only way we can solve this dilemma is to do what we did in 2000 which is to verify all of the information on the list. I don’t believe that, for example, in Leon County we can complete the investigation on our 850 person list. Were not legal researchers. We’re not private investigators. We’re election administrators. But if you don’t do this full investigation, the experience of 2000 has basically shown us that we’ll end up disenfranchising Florida voters.
MARTIN: While Sancho and his staff were struggling with their part of the list, others were trying to get a look at the whole thing. CNN, joined by several newspapers and civil rights groups, successfully sued the state. And sure enough, when the list became public, there were people on it who weren’t felons.
But there was something else. Of the 47,000 names on the list, only sixty-one were listed as Hispanic. A little on the low side, considering that 11% of Florida’s prison population is Hispanic. But Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican and that’s why, critics say, they’re not on the list.
When the story became public, state officials immediately scrapped the list. They blamed the lack of Hispanic names on a computer database error.
A computer database error. That’s the official excuse for this year’s flawed felon list. And computer errors are also at the heart of another big problem in Florida’s electoral process: touch screen voting machines.
Fifteen Florida counties are now using these touch screen machines. Advocates say they’re the future of voting, and they have many advantages, like making it easier for disabled and non-English speaking voters.
But here’s the problem: the Florida machines are totally computerized, and produce no paper trail. No receipt where voters can confirm their choices. That means if there’s a computer glitch or computer tampering there will be no way to conduct a recount independent of the machine. You’re stuck with whatever it tells you.
The machines may have already failed once. It happened this past January. Remember Broward and Palm Beach counties, home of the infamous butterfly ballot? This year, during a state legislative election, residents voted on those new touch screen machines. The margin of victory for the winning candidate was twelve votes. Yet the machines recorded 137 votes for no one. Is it possible that 137 people came to the polls for this one-race election and chose to vote for nobody?
Ion Sancho says, we need to know. But without a paper trail, we never will.
SANCHO: Transparency is critical. Verification is critical. And the ability to do a recount without depending upon technology is critical. And I can’t begin to tell you how many times having a paper ballot has solved a dispute or a controversy.
MARTIN: Florida’s just one of many states wrestling with new voting technology. In November, it’s estimated that somewhere between a quarter and a third of all voters will use these new touch screen machines. That’s partly because in 2002 Congress passed a law called the Help America Vote Act.
The law did a lot of things. It promised money to train election workers, it ordered states to create computerized voting rolls, and it also outlawed antiquated machines and ballots.
BUSH: Every registered voter deserves to have confidence that the system is fair and elections are honest, that every vote is recorded and that the rules are consistently applied.
ARNWINE: Oh, sometimes good deeds go astray.
MARTIN: Barbara Arnwine runs the LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW. She says that by getting rid of chads and butterfly ballots, the law sent many counties and states on a spending spree to buy new voting machines, many of them the very kinds of machines that leave no paper trail.
ARNWINE: What if there’s a recount? How are we gonna trust that the machine’s the databank is the correct count? Especially if the machines malfunction, as they have in many, you know places. So voters are saying, “Give me some kind of ability to confirm my vote. Either give me a paper receipt that I can walk away with. That I can, that I know it confirms that I voted for who I thought I voted for. Or allow me some other way of making sure my ballot is correct before it’s cast.”
MARTIN: A grassroots revolt has broken out over these new paperless voting machines, particularly those made by an Ohio-based company called Diebold.
DIEBOLD ANNOUNCER: When it comes to voting, Diebold is the name you count on.
MARTIN: The first concern is whether they can be easily tampered with. This year, computer specialists from Johns Hopkins and Rice University reported that the software in one Diebold machine fell, quote, “far below even the most minimal security standards.” Diebold pointed to a different report, commissioned by the state of Maryland, that says the machine is plenty safe.
A second concern is the partisanship of Diebold’s C.E.O. Walden O’Dell is a major contributor to the Republican Party. He wrote a fundraising letter that said he was, quote, “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.” O’Dell later said he regretted the wording of the letter.
But Diebold, and all touch screen machines, took their biggest hit yet when California’s Secretary of State Kevin Shelly came out against them.
SHELLY: I am decertifying all touch screen systems in California until specific security measures are in place to safeguard the November vote.
MARTIN: He said they were too vulnerable to tampering and in the case of Diebold machines, contained software California hadn’t authorized. As a safeguard, Shelly has ordered that every touch screen machine in California must provide a paper receipt for each vote, just like an ATM.
SHELLY: I am prohibiting any new touch screen systems in California unless they feature a voter verified paper trail.
MARTIN: Elections supervisor Sancho won’t use touch-screen machines in his county. He’s using an optical scanning machine, one that counts paper ballots.
SANCHO: That ballot would be taken and the valid votes counted.
MITCHELL: Wow, it says “counted.”
SANCHO: So we’re not anti-technology, we just think what you use has to be transparent, has to transparent, it has to be simple and easy to operate, and it has to be accurate.
MITCHELL: Sancho says the system broke down in 2000. He’s doing his part to fix it, but he can’t do it alone.
SANCHO: I think citizens do have a responsibility in the election process to make sure it works, to make sure it works for them. And you can’t do that unless you stand up and raise your hand and demand that it work well.
Florida’s an example of what can happen. You can destroy the system. And once you do that, it’s a hard thing to put back together again.
MOYERS: Florida is not unique. The kind of glaring conflict of interest that didn’t seem to bother Katherine Harris when she served as both the state’s top election official and the head of the Bush-Cheney Campaign goes on in other places too.
In Michigan — a key swing state — Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land helps chair the Bush-Cheney Michigan Campaign. Missouri is another key battleground. There, Secretary of State Matt Blunt is running for governor and actively campaigning for President Bush. He could be the one to referee both races if they’re close.
Democrats play the same game. In West Virginia, Secretary of State Joe Manchin is running for governor. Imagine a baseball game where the pitcher calls his own balls and strikes.
To find out more about how to make sure your vote counts, go to pbs.org.
MOYERS: Joseph Campbell used to tell his students of mythology, “If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.” That’s exactly what Democrats were trying to do in Boston this week.
They were projecting a new image: a party girded for war, with a candidate as commander in chief.
EDWARDS: Decisive, strong, is this not what we need in a commander in chief?
DEAN: I’d like a commander in chief who supports our soldiers.
HILLARY CLINTON: We need a new commander in chief named John Kerry.
MOYERS: Trust us, they said, Democrats can lead a nation at war. Democrats believe in being strong and stronger. And stronger. On every front. Reading the platform they released on Tuesday you can’t miss how strong they want us to know they are. One hundred and seven times they remind us: a strong economy, strong families, strong American community. Strength all around.
You couldn’t miss the message. Every speaker was on it.
GORE: I believe we need new leadership that is both strong and wise.
EDWARDS: Ready to work with you and John to make America stronger.
DEAN: A president and vice president as good and as strong as the American people.
ALBRIGHT: Keep America strong.
KENNEDY: He has shown his strengths.
BILL CLINTON: Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.
MOYERS: A metaphor was being crafted before our very eyes. The candidate even arrived by boat, evocative of his days as a Swift Boat Commander in Vietnam. Teresa Heinz Kerry vouched that he was ready to command again.
HEINZ KERRY: And no one will defend this nation more vigorously than he will. And he will always, always be first in the line of fire.
LT. COLONEL BROZAK: John Kerry is a leader. And this Marine will proudly follow John Kerry into battle.
REV. ALSTON: I know him from a small boat in Vietnam, where we fought and bled together serving our country.
MOYERS: From the testimonials to the biographical film done with the help of Steven Spielberg of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and shown to the convention last night, the message was Kerry, courage and combat. And what was the point of it all?
BILL CLINTON: During the Vietnam War, many young men, including the current president, the vice president and me, could have gone to Vietnam and didn’t. John Kerry came from a privileged background. He could have avoided going too. But instead he said, “Send me.”
MOYERS: So with the stage filled by Kerry’s former shipmates and retired admirals and generals including two past chairmen of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff. The military images were hammered home.
SHALIKAVILI: He commanded in combat, and did so with bravery and great distinction.
RASSMANN: I’ve witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire. And I know he will make a great commander in chief.
CLARK: America, hear this soldier. Make John Kerry the next president of the United States.
MOYERS: Two former presidents pronounced the one-time commander of a swiftboat ready to captain the ship of state.
CARTER: I am proud to call Lieutenant John Kerry my shipmate, and I’m ready to follow him to victory in November.
BILL CLINTON: Since we’re all in the same boat, we should choose a captain of our ship who is a brave, good man, who knows how to steer a vessel through troubled waters to the calm seas and the clear skies of our more perfect union.
MOYERS: And then, came Kerry’s introduction by former Senator Max Cleland, a veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart.
CLELAND: He is the next captain of our ship of state. And he will be the next president of the United States.
MOYERS: By the time the Kerry took the stage last night, the Democrats’ metaphor had been so well scripted, it needed only one final flourish, from the candidate himself.
KERRY: I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty.
MOYERS: Even before John Kerry reported for duty, as it were, Republicans had opened fire. They sent Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of 9/11, to Boston to paint Kerry as a fraud. A reporter wrote it was a “brutal” message, one that said “America is in peril and only a strong leader like George W. Bush can keep her safe.”
We’ll hear more of this. Republicans know President Bush must run as the indispensable strong leader of the fight against terrorism. It’s the one issue on which he gets majority support in the polls. Also, Republicans feel they own the 9/11 story, given the president’s and Mayor Giuliani’s role in its aftermath.
We’ll talk about this with our regular analyst, Kevin Phillips, an old hand at politics. He wrote “the political bible for the Nixon administration” when he was just 27 and served as the chief elections and voting patterns analyst for the 1968 Republican campaign. He’s written best-seller after best-seller since then, including his latest on the Bush family, called AMERICAN DYNASTY.
Also joining us is Michel Martin. Before joining ABC News twelve years ago and becoming a correspondent at NIGHTLINE, she covered politics and policy for the WALL STREET JOURNAL and the WASHINGTON POST. Good to have you both.
Kevin, did Kerry last night move in on the president’s territory?
PHILLIPS: I think he absolutely moved in. Now, he has led several times before even on the terrorism issue. I think when George W. Bush looks inept, which has happened several times in things relating to terrorism or Iraq, he can be pulled down.
What Kerry did in his speech, which I think was an tremendous achievement, an absolutely tremendous achievement, is he took a whole lot of Democratic Party problems, image problems of Teddy Kennedy liberalism, Boston, Massachusetts, this sort of left wing of the American political system, sitting up there in this alien Northeast, and he took that and he took the military and his whole background in Vietnam. And all of a sudden, Boston became patriotism. And what you had is part of the same metamorphosis.
Is instead of being somebody who reminded people of Bill Clinton in terms of not being fully effective in his military service and in Kerry’s case, it was throwing the medals away. Now he’s back with John F. Kerry, another JFK. I found myself sitting this morning writing a memo. And I wrote JFK and then sort of laughed at it.
But there was another man who commanded a small boat and became a hero. The Democrats are going back to the old fighting liberalism. And if they do that, that’s one of the worst things that can happen to the Republican Party. I can’t imagine something would hurt them more.
MOYERS: What you’re saying is that the speech really signified — because you and I talked on Wednesday before Kerry spoke. And you were pretty blasé about this convention. You said it had not been an inspiring convention so far. So, the speech turned you around?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think you’d have to say that. The things that I didn’t like about the convention in the beginning were the fact that it all seemed too pat. Everybody was sort of saying John Kerry walks on water.
And it’s all nice. And the “strong” figured in like “strong, strong, strong, strong.” I mean, you thought it was a muscle building ad or something.
MARTIN: It was.
MOYERS: Exactly. A party muscle builder.
PHILLIPS: But the Democrats are like the 97 pound weakling on the beach while we’re talking about this. And for them to be talking “strong, strong, strong” and then flexing the bicep you need a magnifying glass to see could have been a boomerang. And the whole pat business about we’re the party of optimism and so forth, all of a sudden this man and his daughters… I thought the daughters were fabulous.
I mean, I have kids in my 20’s. I can’t believe those daughters organized that did that for their father. So, I think the whole effect was to tie all kinds of things together to make him credible as a fighting, ex-military guy from Boston, the seabed of the United States.
MARTIN: I actually disagree with Kevin on one thing. I thought the whole presentation, you know, leading up to Kerry’s speech was pretty effective. This was the first convention that I’ve actually been able to watch as a viewer for, you know, 12 years now because I’ve always attended.
And one of those things that happens is, you know, the constant repetition of messages when you’re there can get kind of tiring. And I think that you get a little irritated by it. And it becomes kind of pat.
You know, “okay, I get it.” You know, Republicans, you know, four years ago, the Republicans wanted to make a big statement about diversity. And so there was this constant stream of, you know, entertainers, policy people and so forth who were of diverse backgrounds, far more diverse than the delegates on the floor by the way. It has to be said.
And by the end of the week, you’re like, “Okay, enough already. I get it. Republicans: diverse.” But watching at a distance, I think that that constant repetition of message and the layering of messages is what’s necessary to break through and to create a strong impression. I think that what we saw here was recasting of the traditional Republican strengths, strength in the military and the values question. Which I think we also should talk about, sort of, values as construed by the Democrats as Republicans. And to recast that in terms more favorable to the Democrats was the mission of this convention. I think they were very effective on a number of levels.
PHILLIPS: Oh, I think they were very effective too. What I’m saying is that you put all that emphasis on strength and you have Bill Clinton there as the first speaker who did a good job. And then if Kerry hadn’t delivered, if Kerry had come up with some Senate speech, honking policy stuff, it would have been a disaster.
He created a context in which he could only succeed by hitting a home run. And I’m not going to say quite hit a home run because he couldn’t cross the plate. He can’t do that until November.
I think he hit a triple with the bases loaded. And, you know, his patriotic image came in from third. And his leadership image came in from second base. And his family image made it from first base. I mean, it’s just stunning.
MOYERS: Did Kerry make any progress in taking some title to the 9-11 story?
MARTIN: What he did do very effectively is tie the president’s leadership style to failures. I mean, if the argument is, I mean, the key to Kerry all along has been biography.
I mean, he’s a war hero. He’s a bona fide war hero who, as his wife said, earned his medals, you know, the old fashioned way. But the question is, how do you tie that biography, which is long ago, to present circumstance?
And the way to do that is to say, “Do you like the results that you’re getting in Iraq? If you don’t like the results, then I have another vision about how better results can be achieved.” Because remember, this is a man who voted for the Iraq resolution as did his running mate. The Massachusetts delegation split right down the middle on this question.
The Democratic candidates for president split right down the middle on this question. So the issue is not Iraq. The issue is how. How do we handle this now? And his argument is that he’s a better messenger abroad. He’s a better commander in chief based on his own service.
MOYERS: Do you think that what we heard and saw this week will excite those American out there whose choice is not, in their minds, between Kerry and Bush but between voting or just not bothering to vote?
PHILLIPS: Oh yes, what we’re looking at out of the whole pattern of political alienation and uncertainty about even participating in the process, he has to have had an impact from this speech. And one of the things that the networks should watch for very, very carefully is what change there is in the universe of the registered versus the likely voters. If all of a sudden likely voters are up to 80 percent of registered voters from 72 or something, it isn’t going to be because of George W.
Now, I’m not saying that he’s lit this electorate fire yet. But there are lots of ways to tell. And the people who have dropped out of the system in the last 30 years have been particularly blue collar people, lower middle class, middle class, less educated. If they come back into the electorate, the Republicans are going to break out in a cold sweat.
MARTIN: I’m just not convinced that… I mean, I still think that the economy is a potential weakness for Kerry and a potential strength for Bush. In part because…
MOYERS: How so?
MARTIN: Well, because the economy is not perceived as poorly as it was when his father ran for reelection and lost. And so that’s sort of the first thing, but also, I’m not so sure that Kerry’s economic message has been as incisive as it could be. And if you see who the movable voters are, they tend to be people of lower income.
They tend to be people who drop in and out of voting, who are not as consistent voters as higher income people tend to be. Among, higher income people, attention is very high, you know, it’s very high right now. And 70 percent of registered voters say this is an especially important election.
Two-thirds say that this is the single most important election of their lifetime. So, people are already… the people who were tuned in are already very tuned in. The question is whether the voters who are available to be captured are likely to be persuaded by the messages that they heard. And I’m not sure that the economic message was as incisive as it could have been.
MOYERS: Did you hear a clear economic message last night?
PHILLIPS: I heard the beginning of a clear economic message. I heard the two Americas. And I heard the problems with jobs.
And they will knit together. Because one of the least appreciated phenomena in economic watching at this point, is that for the last 10 or 12 weeks, a number of the leading indices, have shown that there’s a decline in what’s happening to the economy. And the likelihood is, based on a number of these analyses, that your third quarter is going to be pretty weak. That there’s essentially a decline going on in the velocity, momentum of the economy. Now, this is one of the reason why the real disposable income figures have been heading south in a very major way for people who are essentially in the production industry, who are not supervisors and managers.
MOYERS: The money they actually have to spend?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, the money they actually have to spend is shrinking. And they will be able to understand that and figure it out. And it dovetails so beautifully with the two Americas argument. Because essentially, “Tiffany America” is a having a field day.
MOYERS: Tiffany America?
PHILLIPS: Tiffany America. Tiffany America, the big donors, the people whose houses are always worth $1.4 million or something. These are the heavy hitters, wonderful time. And this is why the Bush people get misled what’s happening to K-mart America or Payless Shoe Store America.
They’re not doing well. And the Democrats in appealing to this group are going after the people who have dropped out of the system. And this is why it’s so critical whether they start to come back in.
MOYERS: The Ross Perot voters, right?
PHILLIPS: Ross Perot increased turnout from 50 percent to 55 percent.
MOYERS: Among people like this.
PHILLIPS: A lot of people, I would say, less at the bottom, lower middle class. Middle America was Ross Perot country. I would love to see Ross Perot do something in this election. I think what he ought to do is buy two or three of those half-hour, hour time slots and get into all of the details about the deficit, about all the ways the jobs are leaving the United States, about all the ways in which real disposable income is shrinking for the ordinary American.
Because 19 percent of the people in the United States voted for Ross Perot in 1992, against a Bush, against the first Bush economic package. And if Ross Perot gets up and talks about in that little voice, “I told you so,” he’ll be right. So, I’d love to see that. Perot back for 2004.
MOYERS: You know, many of us saw the convention as television viewers. We watched show on the screen. But, there was a convention we didn’t see. While the delegates were living it up on the floor, the celebrities, the corporate big-wigs, the predators from Washington, they were living it up at the hip-hop joints, and the exclusive clubs. And all the elites of the political class were there.
The weapons manufacturers, the tobacco companies, the big media companies, the telecom companies. The people who wanna be sure that no matter who wins in November, they don’t lose in January. Now, can John Kerry take on the interests of the people who financed this convention?
MARTIN: The irony is that as the conventions have become less important as a news event, they’ve become more important as a venue for campaign contributors. Because of changes in the campaign finance laws. As the laws have recently restricted corporate donations to individual candidates, they’ve made it easier for that money to flow to the convention.
So, this has then become a party building activity. They kept unrestricted access. And so that’s why these have become such an important venue for campaign contributors.
But as a question of, you know, to me this is an opportunity for leadership.
MOYERS: But John Kerry’s from the very establishment and inside the beltway. You covered this. He’s been in the Senate since 1984, 20 years. Little said about his political record yesterday by the way. Can he really, if he wins, take on the establishment of which he is now an embedded part?
MARTIN: Well, I think one might argue that you have to know the terrain to figure out how to get where you’re going. I mean, remember Jimmy Carter was an outsider candidate who ran as an outsider, who was an outsider to Washington. And wasted a lot of time figuring out, you know, where the locker rooms were before he could actually get some things done.
So, I think that, you know, there’s an argument to be made. And besides which, you know, elections are not you know, somebody against nobody. The election’s against a candidate with a record, and an administration with a record. And so the question before the voters is not, is there somebody better than Kerry? The question is whether they prefer George Bush, and Dick Cheney to John Kerry and John Edwards.
PHILLIPS: If they win, then I think you can expect to see them do a lot more. It’ll be amazing. Somebody actually fighting business seriously.
BILL MOYERS: We’ve all survived, the three of us, a long time because we don’t make predictions on the air. But, take off your journalist hat and your analyst hat. And put on a Republican hat for a moment. The convention is coming to town two blocks up the road, a month from now. How do you counter the very exhilarating response that Kerry got last night?
PHILLIPS: I’m sure they’re having a lot of meetings starting already. Starting at 6:00 this morning probably, to ponder exactly that. Because, I think they’re gonna have a really hard time. They’ve got to defuse his gathering relationship to the military. Defuse his credibility as a potentially strong leader.
MOYERS: John McCain, he’s gonna be right there on the big conspicuous role. The man that George W. Bush beat in South Carolina four years ago.
PHILLIPS: Well, I think it’ll be very interesting to see what John McCain has to say. Because, if he endorses George W. Bush with too much spirit and too much commitment, a lot of people are gonna say, you know, “I expected something better for John McCain than that.” After everything they did to him in the South Carolina in 2000? After all the bad mouthing you have of McCain all over Washington from Bush loyalists when they’re talking privately. So John McCain has to really watch crossing that line.
MARTIN: I don’t see why. I mean, he’s already been traveling the country in support of the administration. He’s made several appearances with President Bush. I mean, he was obviously offered an opportunity to at least discuss being on the Democratic ticket. He declined it.
So, I think that he’s pretty well established, you know, where he is. What they’re going to do is obviously exploit the president’s perceived strengths, that he’s a strong leader, that he’s consistent. That he doesn’t govern based on the polls.
And they will also surround him with people who were intended to blunt the clear weaknesses that he has that he doesn’t really understand you know, ordinary people and their concerns. You see the president already making moves in that direction by offering a proposal on flex time. Which is an answer to the argument that you know, wages have fallen, which they have.
But, instead of to say that well, you know, what workers really need is more control over their lives. So, this is the proposal that he rolled out this week. And you will see more of this as time goes on.
MOYERS: I wonder if either of you had this response? When I saw Teresa Heinz Kerry’s sons, the sons of her first husband who was a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who introduced her. And she then virtually nominated John Kerry, a liberal Democrat. Was she saying in affect, to all those disaffected moderate Republicans out there, like her late husband, “This is a big tent here in Boston, come on in”?
PHILLIPS: I think it’s exactly that. I think it’s part of the Democrats strategy. Maybe not as full blown as it should be, given their opportunity among dissident Republicans like the McCain vote and the Perot vote back in 1992. But, all the military and patriotic symbolism. I mean, I grew up in a Republican household, and I went to see John Wayne movies when I was a kid.
And you know, I don’t think I thought for a long time that most Democrats in the last 30 years went to John Wayne movies. And all of a sudden, now I have this feeling that the Democratic party and I may be meeting in an old theater that shows a John Wayne movie. And they like it and I like it. And you know, ain’t no way George W. Bush could ever have been in a John Wayne movie.
MICHEL MARTIN: I mean, I thought the prominence of the spouses was aimed really at women. Who have always been more skeptical about George Bush. And they will always be more skeptical about Iraq, and the wisdom of that venture. But who are also very concerned about terrorism, and about keeping their families safe.
And I thought that presence of the spouses who were given prominent speaking roles, was meant to say that these men are trustworthy, they are consistent. But, they were also pretty cool guys who are gonna look after you, and who are partners, and who respect women, and respect women as thinking people.
BILL MOYERS: To be continued. Thank you Kevin Phillips and Michel Martin for joining us on NOW.
MOYERS: The whole debate over who will make the best commander in chief is ultimately up to the voters to decide in November. You’ll gain critical insight into the choice from these two books: the final report of the 9/11 Commission, published a week ago, and this new book by Benjamin Barber called FEAR’S EMPIRE: WAR, TERRORISM, AND DEMOCRACY. Benjamin Barber is a political theorist, social scientist and distinguished professor at the University of Maryland, as well as a moving force behind a global network devoted to spreading democracy called, appropriately enough, The Democracy Collaborative. You will remember his first best seller JIHAD VS. MCWORLD. Benjmamin Barber came to us directly from the convention in Boston, where he testified before several hearings.
Welcome back to NOW.
BARBER: Thanks so much, Bill.
MOYERS: The Democrats seem to be playing on Bush’s field. They seem to have bought into his definition of the war on terrorism as a confrontation like World War II, lasting a long time and requiring a kind of permanent state of mobilization. Is that accurate?
BARBER: I think that is accurate, Bill. A lot of people thought the Democrats would go to what was traditionally their strength: the domestic agenda, education, the economy, our seniors, prescription drugs. But, in fact, they know what George Bush knows. They know that national security, homeland security and even foreign policy have now become obsessions of the American people thanks to 9/11. And there’s no way that this election, the first presidential election after 9/11, could be about anything other than national security.
MOYERS: But does this mean that the two parties have trapped us in the cul-de-sac where a perpetual state of war is our destiny for decades to come?
BARBER: Well, I think right there is a fundamental difference between the two parties because I think people are beginning to get the impression that the idea of a perpetual war against terrorism, that it takes all of our time and resources, is what this administration wants. And I think what the Kerry forces are looking for and what the Democratic Party is looking for is a set of strategies that turn this away from a simple war, a perpetual war, on terrorism into a set of policies that unite domestic and foreign policy, education, the economy, a strong military into a single set of themes that aren’t just about terrorism and aren’t just about a foreign war.
MOYERS: The 9/11 Commission Report itself talks of a catastrophic threat from, quote, “Islamist terrorism.” I mean, those are dire words coming from an official commission of the United States government. What’s your take on that description?
BARBER: Well, I think they are looking at the cancerous tumor there. And rightly saying if we don’t deal with the cancerous tumor, it’s likely to kill us. But they also make very clear in the body of the report that there is a systematic undermining of the immune system of the world that is allowing cancer to grow.
What we need to do in addition to taking out the tumors — which we have to do with military, intelligence and cooperation with our allies and even some of our adversaries — what we also have to do is deal with the defective, the defaulting immune system that has allowed these cancers to grow.
And the 9/11 Report says, Bill, very clearly that unless we deal not just with Al Qaeda and with terrorism and the radical sect Wahhabi Islam that gives them their ideology, but that we also deal with the millions and millions of young Muslim men around the world who are angry, who feel left out of the new world markets, who feel engaged in defensive ways by the aggressive American consumer mentality and materialist economy being pushed around the world that I called McWorld. Unless we deal with that, even if we excise the tumor of Al Qaeda, we will find new tumors growing on this same immune defective system.
MOYERS: But there is a school of thought which holds that Al Qaeda and the terrorists that everyone takes so seriously come not from conditions in the world but from a radical ideology embedded in Islam itself.
BARBER: But the problem with that argument is that it assumes that ideologies, whether it’s Communism or radical Islam, grow in isolation from the conditions around them. Communism became a radical and virulent and dangerous ideology. But it came out of three centuries of class warfare.
It came out of the abuses and difficulties and contradictions of capitalism in the 18th and 19th century. That grew the ideology that in time grew Bolshevism and all the terrible costs that we paid because of Bolshevism. And radical Wahhabi Islam is very much the same. I mean, there’s a good way to define a radical religious movement.
Radical religion is normal religion under siege. When people feel threatened in their normal religious beliefs, they become radical. So we have to do something about normal religion under siege if we’re going to deal with radical Islam.
MOYERS: But by your own admission this is an elusive and loose network of stateless killers who seem to thrive on anarchy and who are extremely difficult to locate and destroy. I mean, if they lure us into a permanent state of war and cause us to change the basic nature of our society in order to protect ourselves, haven’t they really won already?
BARBER: They have, indeed. And the theme of Fear’s Empire, in fact, is that as long as we fight the battle with terrorism on fear’s turf, as long as we invade countries that haven’t attacked us in the name of removing a possible supporter of terrorism, we cannot win the battle. Because even if we win, when we fight on fear’s turf, we lose. Because fear captures us.
And the problem in the United States has been that although we’ve been attacked once in that dreadful, terrible morning on September 11th, we have been in a kind of perpetual state of fear since then with the terror alert codes bumping up and down. With anonymous threats being translated by our Homeland Security Office saying somewhere a bridge, a school, a market may be attacked.
I just came from Boston which looks more like the center of Iraq when you get near the Fleet Center because of the amount of security and tanks and guards and Coast Guard ships and overhead choppers flying around. You had to go through six layers of security to get in there. This is our nation’s great celebration of electoral democracy.
And you feel like you’re going into a maximum security prison when you go in there. That’s wrong. That’s fighting on their turf. And, as you say, we cannot win the battle against fear if we make fear our weapon. Let me just say one thing, when the president called the first wave of attacks on Iraq shock and awe I imagined Osama bin Laden sitting somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that? What a great term for what I wanted to do to the United States. Shock and awe them.” We will not shock and awe terrorism into submission. We have to create conditions in which the terrorists no longer will be motivated to do what they do.
MOYERS: Are we justified in calling this a war?
BARBER: No, I would much prefer to say we live in a dangerous world. Among the things we have to do is take on the specific and explicit threats of militant terrorism. But to do that we have to engage in a much wider campaign. And one thing I like about this book, by the way, which…
MOYERS: The 9/11 Commission?
BARBER: The 9/11 Commission book, yes. They talk about Wahhabi Islam. They say there’s a specific ideology. But they also say that until we take much wider steps aimed at education in the Third World, aimed at providing alternatives for Muslim youth, schools that are alternatives to the madrassas.
And, you know, Bill, in Pakistan today, there are Wahhabi, that’s the radical sect out of Arabia, Wahhabi madrassas, schools, that are educating young people in hatred for the West, hatred for Christianity, hatred for Jews. Along with the three R’s. One of the reasons a lot of otherwise moderate Muslims in Pakistan send themselves, send their kids to those schools is ’cause those are the only schools there are.
There aren’t other schools. We need to support what this commission report says it will be youth opportunity around the world. We have to provide and help Muslim nations provide real schooling.
MOYERS: The Republican National Convention will be held two blocks up the street from where we are right now within a month. And there’s no way we can tackle education and poverty and health in the Arab world sufficiently to remove us from the fear of what a few people might do right up the street from us. What do we on practical terms about these terrorists? About the threat of terrorism?
BARBER: Well, again, and the 9/11 Commission Report is very helpful. It says we’ve got to target the real dangers. The real danger is in the uninspected container ships that come in every day to ports around this country, 95 to 98 percent of which have no inspection whatsoever.
The real dangers in the cargo holds of our cargo planes where cargoes go out uninspected every day despite all the work being done on passenger planes. The real danger is in proliferating weapons that we ourselves sell around the world. It’s much easier. We worried about Saddam Hussein giving the terrorists weapons.
They don’t have to go there. They can go buy them. They can buy them on the Asian arms bazaars. So we can’t deal with the threat that way. We have to go after the conditions that create the threat, that sustain the threat, that finance the threat, and that provide the weapons for the threat. That’s what the 9/11 Commission book says so clearly.
MOYERS: You talk in here about terrorism’s strategic jujitsu. What is that?
BARBER: By that I mean that this is the premise of all terrorism is powerlessness. People who have power don’t use terror. It’s only people with no economic power, no political power, no pull, no influence who turn to terrorism because their only weapon is fear.
They use our power against us. They make us fearful. Think of what happened after 9/11. They brought down three, four airliners, did terrible initial damage. But, we closed down the air transportation system for three or four days. They sent a shock through the stock market. We closed down trading for four days.
They threatened us and got us once. We’ve been on a perpetual war footing ever since constricting our liberties. Al Qaeda didn’t constrict American liberties. We did that to ourselves. The jujitsu they use is to use our fear to get us to do the things that they are powerless to do. So, that the first lesson in fighting terrorism is not to permit fear, and fear’s empire, to govern us in how we behave, how we take them on, and how we live out our lives.
MOYERS: Let’s come to the election. Given that both Kerry and Bush want to do the right thing for the country. Given that both are equally concerned I believe about the state of national security and making our country safe. Is there really much wiggle room between them? Aren’t Kerry and the democrats proposing to do more of the same of what Bush and his administration want to do?
BARBER: No, I don’t think that’s so. It’s certainly true as Bill Clinton said it Monday night at the convention that these are two good, honest men. Each of whom wants to protect America. I have doubt of that.
The vilifications of George Bush is somehow unpatriotic or doing the wrong thing out of the wrong motives, I don’t buy. I don’t think it’s about oil. I think George Bush believes that he’s defending America. The problem is he is mistaken in his means and means are everything. It’s not enough… Kerry said it last night, it’s not enough to want to make the world safe. You have to know how to do it.
It’s not enough to want to declare war on terrorism. You have to know how to defeat terrorism. And the means question, how you do it is, absolutely essential. Do you we send more American troops preemptively into still another country? There’s been noises about Iran, maybe there really are weapons of mass destruction in Iran.
Maybe Iran really does have some ties to 9/11. Do we then take them on? What about North Korea? Do we go in there? Indonesia? They get the wrong government. Do we go in there?
What if Pakistan defects? Pakistan… its population is very friendly to Wahhabi Islam. What if they get a government that makes them our enemy? Do we then invade Pakistan? Is that how we’re going to do it? War after preventive war, none of which works.
Or are we going to develop policies that allow us to create a world in which Pakistan and Iraq and Afghanistan and Indonesia and Sudan join the world of democracies? And in which terrorists become simply common criminals.
If we work with the world and we find ways to strengthen our ties to allies, follow the path of law, follow the path of international organizations, follow the new treaties that give us real strength, real teeth in dealing with terrorism and international criminal tribunal is the ideal instrument to deal with the prosecution of terrorists. If we do that
MOYERS: But the United States doesn’t wanna join that.
BARBER: Right. Not the United States. The Bush Administration doesn’t wanna join it. But my point is, Bill, we’ve got to work with the world in order to survive.
But if we do, our survival chances will go up. Yes, we will have to get used to living in a risky world. Most of the world’s population has always lived in that world. We, in a sense, are not entering a new age. We are entering the age the rest of the world’s been living in for a long time but Americans were insulated from by their good fortune, the bounty of the land and the walls that the oceans once represented.
MOYERS: Our new granddaughter is six months old now. Is this six month old child going to have to spend the rest of her life in this shadow of anxiety, fear and terror?
BARBER: I don’t think she has to live under the shadow of terrorism. Unless our own government is constantly telling her, “There may be a bomb in your school today honey, although we don’t know that, and we don’t know where the information’s coming from.” I think what she has to is live in a world that’s interconnected, that’s interdependent.
And where children who are outraged, or hungry or feeling they have no future in Beirut, or in Kabul, will affect her safety and her future in the school she may be in, in Kentucky or in New York.
So, she’ll have to know that her growing up and flourishing will depend on others growing up and flourishing as well. But, I think that will probably make your daughter and my daughter and my granddaughter, and your granddaughter, far more aware of and willing to work with the world. It’s not time… George Bush said it back then. George Bush said, “The world better join us, it’s gotta be with us or against us.” It’s not time for the world to join America. It’s time for America to join the world.
MOYERS: The book is FEAR’S EMPIRE: WAR, TERRORISM AND DEMOCRACY by Benjamin Barber. Thank you for joining us on NOW.
BARBER: Thank you so much Bill.
MOYERS: That’s it for NOW. David Brancaccio will be back next week with the filmmaker John Sayles.
I’m Bill Moyers.
Thanks for joining us.
This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.