When the FCC loosened the rules to allow media companies to own even more television stations, the public was outraged. Everyday citizens, and groups as diverse as the NRA and the National Organization for Women, inundated the FCC with letters and emails, asking to block the new rules. The US Senate took the remarkable step of passing legislation to roll back the new rules, but months later the Republican leadership of the House refuses to bring it to a vote. While critics wonder why Congress is dragging its feet, NOW takes a look to see if backroom deals are giving Big Media more control than ever over what Americans see, hear, and read.
With the presidential contenders heading south to what used to be a Democratic stronghold, NOW’s David Brancaccio gets the lay of the land from a religious leader and a labor leader — both political watchers — who remember a day when the Democrats reigned supreme in the South. Reverend Joseph Darby and Harris Raynor offer their views of the upcoming contest in South Carolina, how Democrats have lost their grip on key constituencies like African Americans, and what they can do to win back their edge in key southern states.
Then, Bill Moyers talks to Dan T. Carter, one of the nation’s foremost historians on US and Southern history. Carter is the author of several books, including the award-winning THE POLITICS OF RAGE, FROM GEORGE WALLACE TO NEWT GINGRICH: RACE IN THE CONSERVATIVE COUNTERREVOLUTION and SCOTTSBORO: A TRAGEDY OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH. Carter shares with Moyers his thoughts about the upcoming South Carolina primary and the impact that it has on the national presidential election. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. Once upon a time it was a plantation economy. Cotton was king and rice and indigo its exotic first cousins. Once upon a time 96% of its voters in a presidential race went to the Democratic candidate. We’re talking about South Carolina.
Nowadays South Carolina is better known for producing BMW-X5s than cotton and there are as many Republicans in the state as there used to be boll weevils.
But the Democratic primary next Tuesday will have a powerful impact on who runs against George W. Bush this year. The candidates are already all over South Carolina. And later in this broadcast, we’ll check out what’s happening in the land of God and flag.
BILL MOYERS: We will indeed, David. But first, I have to keep reminding myself what an election is all about, with all the coverage of a crackling, colorful primary campaign. It’s all about power – who gets to deal the cards, divvy up the spoils. It’s easy to forget in January that government decides who wins and who loses, no matter how you vote in November.
Here’s what I mean: we have a story on how power really works in America. Be forewarned. You may want to send the kids out of the room. It’s not a pretty picture that our colleague Peter Meryash has produced about how politics works when we’re not paying attention.
Just this past Wednesday, citizens of San Antonio, Texas lined up around the block, trying to squeeze into a hearing being conducted by the Federal Communications Commission.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell and colleagues had come down from Washington to listen as regular people spoke out on media issues. There was plenty on the public’s mind including the complaint that a handful of big companies are controlling too much of what Americans see, hear and read.
JOHN COURAGE, AREA RESIDENT: I think we have all heard the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It appears what the commission is trying to do is put absolute power over the media in the hands of the very few.
BILL MOYERS: The open hearing in San Antonio was in sharp contrast to what is happening in behind closed doors in Washington — where secret deals are being struck that make it possible for the media giants to get even bigger. That’s our story in this report.
You probably noticed last week when Congress passed a gargantuan spending bill approaching a trillion dollars — that’s trillion with a capital “T” — almost two thirds of the Senate said yea —
SENATE PASSAGE OF THE BILL: On this vote the yeas are 61, the nays are 32 — the motion is agreed to.
BILL MOYERS: The 1,182 pages of the bill contain some juicy fruits of inside trading — one million dollars to promote golf in St. Augustine, Florida — fifty million dollars for an indoor rain forest in Iowa.
But there’s something we bet you didn’t hear about — buried there in the smallest of the small print — just twenty-four lines on page 98 — representing what one member of Congress calls “a great gift” to America’s largest and richest media conglomerates …
CONGRESSMAN JIM LEACH, (R-IA): It’s an umbrage to the public. And it’s an umbrage to the legal system. And it is absolutely indefensible.
BILL MOYERS: What Republican Congressman Jim Leach is talking about is a provision in the bill with scarcely a fingerprint on it — until you figure out who stands to gain when those 24 lines are translated from legal jargon into the plain language of politics and profit.
First, though, let’s go back to last summer — to the story that you kept hearing about here on NOW … The decision by the Federal Communications Commission to change the rules on broadcast ownership.
With strong backing from President Bush, the FCC by a 3-2 vote gave the megamedia giants what they wanted — permission to get even bigger to own more TV stations across the country even to own newspapers, radio and TV stations in a single community.
To just about everyone’s surprise, the public rose up in outrage hundreds of thousands of letters and emails poured into the Commission and Congress.
LEACH: And it wasn’t as if there were Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other. It was everybody felt the same instinct: let’s have diversity, let’s not have concentration.
And the public is absolutely adamantly — in one camp. Interest groups are absolutely adamantly in another camp. And it’s a contrast that is as symbolic and as important as any set of contrasts I know in government today.
BILL MOYERS: Republican Jim Leach was just one politician impressed by the public’s passion on the issue of media ownership. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan heard from his North Dakota constituents as well.
BILL MOYERS: Were you surprised by the firestorm of public reaction to the FCC when it issued the new rules, allowing the media to get bigger?
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: I was. I mean the FCC issued a ruling that goes well beyond what anybody would expect reasonable, even from an FCC that wanted to be particularly friendly to big business. This was you know the FCC hog rule. It’s let’s do everything that business wants, plus let’s add some.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Dorgan thinks that further media consolidation could lead to a cartel of power that would limit what Americans see, hear, and read.
DORGAN: What if the broadcast properties, television and radio, are in the hands of sufficiently few people in this country’s future to decide that these are voices we don’t like very much?
We don’t even want to cover them. We don’t want to hear them. We don’t want to play their songs. We don’t want to hear their voices. We don’t want to cover the events that they’re engaged in politically. I mean, I just worry about that a lot. And I think that people in a city where you would have the newspaper, three television stations, eight radio stations, and the cable company all owned by the same person, you think that person or that company can’t have a profound influence on what that community hears, sees, and reads? I think it is not in concert with what we think the roots of democracy should provide our country.
BILL MOYERS: Vermont’s Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders was one of many who agree.
SANDERS: If you’re concerned about healthcare, you’re concerned about the environment, you’re concerned about the economy, be concerned about corporate control over the media and media consolidation.
It is as an important or even more important political issue than anything else out there, because we’re not gonna be able to address the major economic and foreign policy problems facing this country unless the people have an opportunity to hear all points of view and learn the truth about what’s going on in their country, and at the moment, they are not doing that.
BILL MOYERS: Congress clearly got the message. The Senate and House separately voted to roll back one of the FCC’s new rules. As part of that giant spending bill, they said no company could own stations that reached more than 35% of the country.
A conference between the Senate and House agreed to keep the limit right there — at 35%.
Senator Dorgan was on the conference committee. He left the meeting delighted there was a deal to hold the line — a deal he believed Republican leaders would keep. Then —
DORGAN: About two weeks later I’m driving down the road listening to my car radio, and I discover that some Republican members of the conference committee are now negotiating this provision with the White House, and decided that they would agree on 39 percent national ownership limit.
BILL MOYERS: Unknown to Dorgan and other members of the conference committee — a new deal had been reached … This one between the White House and Republican leaders — a deal to protect the interests of the big broadcast companies.
DORGAN: My guess is that they kept working behind the scenes, and– that which had been concluded and decided by the Congress was then later negotiated by a few members of Congress with the White House.
BILL MOYERS: It quickly became apparent who would benefit from this new deal.
DORGAN: There were two very big enterprises. One is — Viacom, which owns CBS. The other is Rupert Murdoch’s empire which — which were over the cap.
BILL MOYERS: Remember, the ownership cap limited the number of TV stations one company could own. But Viacom and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation were already over that cap.
And so those 24 lines were quietly inserted in last week’s fine print. With those lines, the House and Senate agreement was overturned and the new cap was set just high enough to allow Viacom and Murdoch to keep all their TV stations.
SANDERS: Nothing here, nothing at all surprises me, ‘cuz its, you can have a debate in the House, you can have a debate in the Senate, then you have a small number of people who recess to the bowels of the Congress to work their own way. And what they come out with can be very different than what was passed in the House and the Senate. So nothing surprises me.
Strange things happen. Strange things appear in bills, not only what’s taken out, but what appears.
BILL MOYERS: What opponents of greater consolidation had won in the open was now secretly taken away. But they didn’t give up.
They tried something else in both the House and Senate an entirely new effort to roll back all the FCC rules.
Senator Dorgan introduced what’s called a resolution of disapproval. That’s a procedure that’s been used successfully only once before and in effect would veto what they FCC had done.
Lo and behold, the resolution passed the Senate by a big majority — 55 to 40.
DORGAN: And I was frankly surprised that I found the willingness here in the Congress on both the Republican and the Democratic side to take on the FCC and take on this rule, because it is quite an undertaking. You’re taking on the broadcasters. Big, important group in this country.
Taking on the newspaper publishers. A pretty big, prominent group.
BILL MOYERS: Among those taking on big media was conservative Senator Trent Lott — the former Republican majority leader. He joined Dorgan in the effort.
SENATOR LOTT: I think that this is a case where the people are very concerned and that’s why the majority of the Senate and I think probably a pretty good majority of the House has been taking the position they’re taking, in spite of leadership and administration and a variety of groups that oppose it.
BILL MOYERS: It was an anomaly, to look up on the screen in evening and see you — and Trent Lott standing there side by side on the same side of this issue.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: That’s true. I mean, Senator Trent Lott, he worked the Republican side. I worked the Democratic side. I told him, you know, we’re going to appeal to the schizophrenics in this country, the two of us.
BILL MOYERS: But that is not the end of the story.
BILL MOYERS: The resolution was scarcely out of your hands, headed toward the House before the House Majority Leader, the most powerful Republican in the House, said, “Dead on arrival. It isn’t gonna happen.” How could he get away with that?
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: The big interests have a powerful grip on what the leadership’s agenda is in the US House. Their agenda is to support the big interests. To support the broadcast interests. I mean you just look at what they do in the US House. The speaker and the Majority Leaders strong-arming members. That’s what they’ve done in every case. And that’s what they’re doing here. Regrettably.
LEACH: I know of no circumstances more clear-cut of a special interest intervention– against the public interest than this one. And it’s a matter of grave concern.
BILL MOYERS: So much concern that two hundred five members of the House — including Congressman Leach and ten other Republicans have signed a letter asking Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert for a vote on the resolution of disapproval.
Supposedly the House is the body of Congress closest to the people’s will and given the outpouring of public support for limiting media conglomeration, those 205 members want to put the House on record.
LEACH: I’m confident if you had a vote members would be hard pressed not to stand up for their publics.
BILL MOYERS: But Hastert has not responded to the letter asking for a vote. And remember, Majority Leader Tom Delay has promised there will be no vote.
BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you about democracy? That almost a million citizens make themselves heard in support of overturning the FCC ruling. The Senate votes 55 to 40 to overturn those rules. And yet the House can’t vote on it.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: Why? Because the President supports the FCC rule. This is his Federal Communications Commission.
It’s classic politics. You know? I mean big interests have big sway in this town. And this is the high stakes, big interest issue. They have, there’s a great deal of money at stake, as you might well imagine. And the Majority Leader as he almost on all occasions does, is standing with the big interests.
BERNIE SANDERS: Millions of people became involved in this issue. I held five town meetings on corporate control of the media in the state of Vermont, huge turnouts.
So, people all over this country are saying, “Gee, is America supposed to be about a handful of companies determining what I see, hear and read? Is it supposed to be about having one company in one city controlling local television, radio and the newspaper? Is that really what America’s supposed to be about?”
So, the people are concerned, not just progressives like myself, conservatives who have the same objections that we have. And yet, we cannot get the Speaker of the House to even give us a vote. Maybe we’ll lose the vote. I think we’ll win. But maybe we’ll lose. But let there be a vote, Mr. Speaker. And he is refusing at this point to allow us to do it.
BILL MOYERS: Once again, we’re back to issues of big money and power. I have a report that over 3 years, 3 recent years, Rupert Murdoch’s company spent almost 10 million dollars on its lobbying operations in Washington.. And a member of the Senate told me earlier in the week when I was in Washington that they think there’s a connection between the fact that CBS dumped buried, deep-sixed that recent mini series on Ronald Reagan that conservatives didn’t want to air because CBS, owned by Viacom, didn’t want to offend the powers that be in Washington.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Big money and a lot of power at work there, it seems.
Money and power are on display as Democrats barnstorm through the South this week. But a battle is raging within the party about how to win hearts and minds in the changing landscape of the New South.
Al Gore failed to carry a single southern state, not even his home state of Tennessee. The primary in South Carolina on Tuesday will be the first real test of which candidates can connect with the southern electorate. History is against these Democrats.
Only one Democratic presidential candidate in the last generation has managed to crack South Carolina’s political code. A gentleman from the next state down did it in 1976. But since Jimmy Carter, it’s been a long, dry spell for the Democrats, a party that used to reign supreme in these parts.
Remember, for the first 100 years after the Civil War, Democrats here and across the South were the party of segregation, dedicated to preserving the racial status quo.
But when the Democratic party embraced civil rights, the old political order began to fall apart. 1964 is the watershed moment, when legendary South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond turning Republican.
STROM THURMOND: The Democratic Party has forsaken the people to become the party of minority groups, power hungry union leaders, political bosses and big business men looking for government contracts and favors.
BRANCACCIO: Race was still the number one issue, but Thurmond and others often transmitted it in code – States Rights was the phrase, meaning the rights of white southerners to oppose the federal push for integration.
Republicans came to dominate southern politics. Their core message changed from overnight racism to family values and law and order. Behind it it was anger at big government and faceless meddling Washington bureaucrats, a potent political message says David Beasley.
In 1991, Beasley, a fifth generation Democrat and South Carolina state representative, changed his party and ran for governor as a Republican. He won.
BEASLEY: The Democrats became, perceived as the party of big government, central government. More taxes, more regulations. Washington knows all. Opposed to state’s rights. These types of issues. Opposed to pro-family and Southern traditional family value type issues. And those issues culminated into what began the slow march away from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party over time.
BRANCACCIO: Now, both Republicans and Democrats are faced with a South that’s in rapid transition. Industry and technology was now driving the region’s economy, no longer agriculture. Republicans have responded to a world driven by freer trade by offering tax breaks to companies to move in attracting investment from foreign companies such Michelin, BMW and Hitachi.
There are losers in this new economic equation. New jobs created in South Carolina don’t necessarily go to workers displaced by old line industries. In the past three years, 70,000 jobs have disappeared in South Carolina — the worst stretch for jobs since the Great Depression. Many of those jobs came from the state’s once booming textile industry. Those jobs — and many others — have shifted overseas.
For the past four decades the Democrat’s core constituencies in the South have been labor and African-Americans. Joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina are two people to help us understand the challenges that Democrats face in a region that has changed dramatically. Harris Rainer helps run the nation’s largest textile and apparel union and spends a lot of time talking to workers in the South.
The Reverend Joseph Darby is pastor of one of the biggest churches in South Carolina, the Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. With 3,000 members, this church is an important whistle stop for Presidential candidates. All the Democratic frontrunners have shown up there for Sunday prayers and to hear him preach. Harris Raynor, Joseph Darby, welcome to NOW.
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: Thank you.
HARRIS RAYNOR: Good morning.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Reverend Darby, I was just listening to President Bush. He was up in New Hampshire late this week. And his impression from talking to the American people is that things are looking fairly upbeat. Is that what you’re feeling from your conversations with your congregation?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: I think that the President is looking through rose-colored glasses. From what — from talking to my congregation things are not particularly upbeat. We do have some people who are having some serious economic challenges. And I think that they’re a result of national policies.
But most of the folks that I see from week to week are still having difficulty. Just before I came here I spoke with a gentleman who had just been laid off. We are trying to start some kind of a job counseling program at the church so that we can make a difference. Unemployment is a significant problem in South Carolina.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Mr. Raynor, what are you hearing? We have the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 10,005. Retail sales are up. There are other national economic figures that support the notion of recovery. Is that what you’re seeing among your colleagues in the union?
HARRIS RAYNOR: Absolutely not. Manufacturing in the US and the job situation is a total disaster. My people were furious at the President’s comments in the State of the Union Address about jobs and the economy improving. Many of them think he’s gotten caught up in the space program and he apparently is on Mars but not anywhere in South Carolina or any of the rest of the South.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: With this roster of Democratic candidates who’s talking your language? And if no one in particular, what should they be saying to your union members?
HARRIS RAYNOR: I think there are a number of them who see the importance of the issue. Obviously I think many of them do. Senator Edwards, of course, being from North Carolina and a native of South Carolina I think knows a number of these things personally. But I think a lot of the candidates are addressing them.
I think the problem here is that the political process has been something that a lot of our people feel very left out about and feel that it’s manipulated by wealthy interests. And I think there’s a healthy degree of skepticism about the difference between word and deed. The Democratic Party, after all, was the party that brought us NAFTA.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: I’m not hearing any overt protectionism from the Democratic candidates. Is that what you would actually prefer to hear? That we could close off the borders to protect your jobs?
HARRIS RAYNOR: Absolutely not. You know, the it’s kind of an interesting thing. In the labor movement, at any rate, it’s become a lot more diverse. We have a lot of workers who come across the borders to work here. We’re not about stopping the rest of the world from making a living or trying to stop the process of globalization.
But we are about the process of regulating that globalization or trying to get candidates who will try to address the issue of free and fair trade for everyone.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians are military veterans. The state also attracts a decent amount of money from the federal government for it’s military installations there. To what extent are members of your congregation, who may have connections with the military gonna vote for the Commander in Chief this time around?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: I think you have to understand that well, a couple of things. One, Charleston, South Carolina is a very military town. It was the site of a large naval base. So, you’ve got a lot of naval retirees there, still the site of an air force base site of a couple of hospitals there. Draw those who are retired military, and I think that when you look at the congregation at Morris Brown, we have a number of ex-military folks. And talking with those folks, a lot of them are not enamored of the Commander in Chief. They are of the mindset that those who set policy, make wars, and then get those of modest means to fight those wars.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: What about the view — I don’t know who actually would say it out loud — that, look, in South Carolina African-Americans are gonna vote for whichever Democrat ends up on the ticket in November. Is there a danger that could then be taken for granted if that’s the view?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: I think there’s always that danger. In South Carolina we have had a couple of Republican candidates who are starting to get an actual clue about how to frame issues and how to address issues in a way that appeal to African-American voters. And so I think that the Democratic candidate needs to be able to really articulate an agenda.
I don’t think that in this day and time it’s enough to say vote for me because the other guy is a racist anti-Christ. I think these days you need to be able to say what you’re going to do. If you don’t do that and if you don’t somehow produce then you’re more likely to be held accountable at the polls the next time around.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Harris Raynor, come on, the union men and women, they’re gonna vote for the Democrat in November. Do we really need to sit down and talk with your colleagues in this primary season?
HARRIS RAYNOR: I think it’s absolutely true. I think that both in the black community and the labor community which obviously often overlap — I think those constituencies are Democratic constituencies. But there’s a real issue here. The real question of the Democratic Party is turnout.
And a Democratic candidate is gonna have to excite our people to bring them to the polls, to have them anxious to work in their campaigns, to have people excited about being involved in the political process. And that means they’ve gotta speak to our people. Taking either the labor community or the civil rights community for granted would be a serious, serious mistake for any candidate.
Casting an individual ballot is one thing. Being involved in the political process and being excited about that process is another. And these candidates, the challenge for them is to figure out how to get their message out.
And a candidate has go to start to unite people. I think that’s possible because I see it happen everyday.
But it’s not gonna happen by pandering. It’s not gonna happen by slogans. It’s gotta happen by somebody who’s talking to our people and showing them the respect that they deserve.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: It’s not possible for a candidate to make the argument possibly from the Republican side that ultimately textiles is old economy. And you can see the writing on the wall with those jobs. And that really what a South Carolina worker should do is embrace the new.
HARRIS RAYNOR: I’d love to have a Republican walk into one of my textile mills and go up to those 47 to 50-year-old workers and tell them that the most modern textile industry in the world is an anachronism and that they’re $450, $500 a week jobs with benefits and retirement and medical isn’t worth much. And that at that age they should go back to school and learn all over again about computers. But I guess their jobs can be outsourced to some call center in Pakistan or India.
And you know we have never had free trade in this country. The last time we tried it we wound up with the textile and garment sweatshops that our union was founded on ending in an attempt to bring people’s living styles up. I still believe that can happen. But it’s gotta happen with a planned economy and not with a free fall economy.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Reverend Darby, what about the argument that there might be really two societies developing in South Carolina? Do you see that?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: There have always been at least two societies in South Carolina, and strata within those societies. There’s always been a racial divide that’s still there. We have a very polite racial divide in South Carolina.
But it’s still there. And it still gets to be a very malignant racial divide at times. And I think even within the separate cultures, you have divisions now along the lines of the economy, along the lines of income. And I think that’s really bad for our state.
HARRIS RAYNOR: People are turning, I think from frustration into anger. And I think they see it’s basically you know, what some of us call disconnects, or contradictions in the things that they see. They watch these C.E.O.s, you know, the small number of whom go on trial, you know, take millions upon millions of dollars out of companies.
There seems to be no loyalty of companies to their employees. And this goes from management right on down through the hourly employee. The ones you see on the television are the ones that, you know, do the perp walk — are only the most outrageous ones. But in every company, the difference between pay at the top and pay at the bottom, the idea that somebody’s worked here 20 years means something– that’s gone.
We’ve gotta have a candidate who’s gonna say to our people, “I’m gonna represent you. I understand your interests. I understand your frustrations. And I’m gonna represent you. I’m gonna bring you into the tent, and make you part again, of the governing structures, and of the concerns of this country.” The candidate who can do that, I believe will catch fire, not only in the South, but throughout this country.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Reverand Darby, help me with Southern politics in general. How come poor white people and poor African-American people don’t see common ground and get together to vote? That doesn’t seem to be the Southern trend.
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: It’s not the Southern trend. And you have to understand now this is South Carolina. In parts of South Carolina the Civil War is not over. There’s only been a brief cessation of hostilities. What happens, I think, in a lot of cases is that the politics of division come into play.
In South Carolina at one time the natural Democratic voting block, 60s, 70s, was African-Americans and whites of modest means. Those who capitalized on the politics of division to kind of change the face of politics in South Carolina used wedge issues. Used cries about law and order, cries about welfare cheats, cries about Southern heritage to try to draw demagogic lines between people so that people vote kind of with their hearts instead of their heads sometimes. I think that’s unfortunate because regardless of how we got here we’re in the same boat together.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Earlier in the broadcast, we heard a clip of former South Carolina Governor Beasley. He started life as a Democrat. And a staunch Republican now. His advice to Democratic candidates, to be successful in South Carolina, is frankly move to the right. Be more conservative. Does the strategist in you think there’s some validity to that argument?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: The strategist in me says that’s one of the most horrible ideas I have heard. I don’t think that anyone who calls him or herself of Democratic is gonna win by trying to out-Republican a Republican. Those conservative voters, those Republican voters are going to go with their Republican candidates anyway. And I think that for any one vote which might pick up that way, at least two to five other votes would be lost when people either just voted the other way, or just stayed home, because they thought that there was not a choice. I have greater respect for a politician, who will stand upon their principles, rather than sliding into whatever’s the popular political position.
HARRIS RAYNOR: A candidate has got to be able to say, “Here’s a vision of the future. Here’s where we’re going. Here’s hope.” I haven’t heard that, maybe since John Kennedy ran. But it’s in some ways, it makes no sense to me that in a democracy where we have a government that is by the people, of the people and for the people, that there are actually politicians who will now paint that same government as the enemy.
You know? These guys have got to come out here, and say, “This is — government is on your side. This is what we’re gonna do to help solve your problems. This is what we’re gonna do to create better jobs, and better opportunities for people. And this is what we’re gonna do to make sure that our economy is working for everyone.” Not just a few people who happen to own stocks in the stock market.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Reverend Darby, this same notion, a vision of the future, if you were to help the candidates craft that in a way that you think would address some of the issues in your congregation, what would that vision of the future look like?
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: If I knew that totally, I’d probably be pulling down big bucks for as someone’s strategist right now. I think that vision would be multi-faceted. A part of it would an America that really secures the American dream. An America where every child actually can expect an equal chance of growing up to be as the old saying goes, President of the United States.
And I think an America where people can expect safe communities, where people can expect secure communities. I think an America where there is shared prosperity, and the opportunity for everyone to prosper without any kind of question, without any kind of challenge. And I think that when you create that kind of America, you create a nation that’s more respected, and you create a nation that is far better for it’s people.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Harris Raynor, of, UNITE one of the biggest unions in the South, as well as Reverend Joseph Darby. Thank you so much for joining us on, NOW.
REV. JOSEPH DARBY: My pleasure.
HARRIS RAYNOR: My pleasure, too.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW— The high price candidates pay to get their message out. They’re expected to spend a staggering 1.6 billion dollars on television ads in this campaign cycle.
VIDEO CLIP: If you’re not on television, you’re not a real candidate.
ANNOUNCER: The commercialization of democracy— next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW with Bill Moyers online at pbs.org.
Learn more about Democrats and Republicans in the New South.
Trace the growth of big media conglomerates and find out who owns the television stations in your town.
Track campaign funds and evaluate opinion polls on NOW’s election watch page.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
BRANCACCIO: We’re talking about South Carolina mainly because it offers us a really interesting glimpse into just how presidential politics may play out across the South as a whole this election year. But we shouldn’t mislead people.
The chances that South Sarolina goes blue for Democrat in the November presidential election are probably pretty remote.
BILL MOYERS: But as you think about it, talk about a future election, I was thinking of past elections and a man who’s gone now probably you’re too young to remember, but a man who still has a hold on the South, the late George Wallace.
In fact, many people think that the hold the Republicans have on the South today and the plight of the Democrats in what used to be their cradle of politics, can be traced today to Wallace.
Four time governor of Alabama, four times a presidential candidate, he was the angry man who led the white backlash against civil rights.
We’ll talk about race and class today with a distinguished historian, but take a look first at this brief excerpt from a powerful PBS documentary about the life and times of George Wallace. It aired on our series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
BILL MOYERS: That film was based on a similar book about the South titled POLITICS OF RAGE: THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW CONSERVATISM AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN POLITICS. The historian who wrote it shared in the Emmy won by the documentary.
Dan Carter is a son of the south, a distinguished historian whose other highly acclaimed books include SCOTTSBORO: A TRAGEDY OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH, which won the Bancroft Award for American history, and this one, FROM GEORGE WALLACE TO NEWT GINGRICH. He teaches at the University of South Carolina. Welcome to NOW.
DAN T. CARTER: Thanks, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: What did George Wallace see in the South that he was so able to exploit? And what of it remains today?
DAN T. CARTER: Well what he saw, of course, first and foremost, was the powerful role that race continued to play in mobilizing politics in the region.
I mean no matter how much you talk about other issues, and they are important — race is the base note that runs throughout the whole process here. But he packages — he puts it together. And he accomplishes something that no other candidate had done before then. And that is he turns populism upside down.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
DAN T. CARTER: I– well, populism traditionally had been a rebellion of the powerless and the weak against– vested economic interests– corporations that were exploiting them– politicians who did their bid. And– George Wallace made populism something else. I call it kind of rancid populism.
BILL MOYERS: Rancid?
DAN T. CARTER: In which the villains are not great corporations, not vested economic interests. It’s those liberals who can’t chew gum and cross the street at the same time, or ride a bicycle, as he said, and chew gum at the same time.
He makes the federal government the new enemy. And the reasons for that, of course, are obvious. It is the courts that first introduce an end to segregation. It is the federal government, particularly under Kennedy, and even more so under Lyndon Johnson, that implements these policies.
And the federal courts moved not only beyond issues of race, but to social issues that have a particularly strong negative resonance in the South. Issues — everything from pornography to abortion. And —
BILL MOYERS: In other words, he took the old wrath and anger of the common man, the common person, that had been directed against huge economic interests, and turned them to social, cultural, and religious issues?
DAN T. CARTER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Is that what you’re saying?
DAN T. CARTER: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: You heard our two guests earlier discussing with David Brancaccio this enigma that black whites — poor black whites and poor — you heard our two guests earlier discussing with David Brancaccio this riddle of why poor southern blacks and poor southern whites won’t vote together. Realize they’re in a common boat at the bottom of the lake. And yet they won’t vote together. What’s still behind that?
DAN T. CARTER: Well, if I could really answer that, Bill, I’d be a best selling author, I think, and a political adviser to everyone.
DAN T. CARTER: It clearly has to do with a very deep history. I mean this is obvious. You don’t — the fact that we’ve now done away with segregation for 35 or 40 years doesn’t change 200 years of division between black and white.
Slavery, segregation, these are institutions which by their very nature drive tremendous wedge between black and white. And particularly when you put that in the context of economic competition, that was true in slavery, where whites always resented the fact that slave owners had an advantage over them because they had this cheap labor, in effect. And it was true right on afterwards.
And the reality is that it does work. I mean if you’re a steelworker in Birmingham in the 1930s, for example, whiteness gives you advantages. And as long as blacks are excluded from high paying positions if you’re in the textile industry, as long as blacks are excluded from working in the textile industries, then there is an advantage to this wedge between you and blacks.
BILL MOYERS: And now you have a lot of southern white men who, not long ago, were making 16, 18, $20 an hour in a manufacturing job, who are shoveling hamburgers at McDonald’s, or doing telemarketing. I mean that doesn’t do anything but aggravate the situation, right?
DAN T. CARTER: In fact, I’ve actually been surprised that there hasn’t been more overt racial conflict ignited by this economic downturn for whites. There — it’s there. I don’t mean it’s not.
BILL MOYERS: If you travel what one reporter calls “The trail of misery in the south” today, you’re face to face with bedrock poverty, dying communities, textile mills that are closing down, families in distress with no insurance. So how do you explain this deep suspicion of liberal ideology and the federal government among people who need a safety net?
DAN T. CARTER: Part of it is they don’t vote. I mean —
BILL MOYERS: The poor people?
DAN T. CARTER: Poor people don’t vote. And I know there’s some political scientists who say, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference.” It does make a difference.
And you look at the statistics on voter participation, and it’s like a perfect ladder going up. The lower your income, the less you’re likely to vote. And it has to do with age and education. I don’t mean that it’s just income. But income is a powerful factor. And when you put that together with the political system, what that means is, repeatedly, it is those individuals in the top 20, 30, 40 percent of the income brackets who are, by far, the dominant forces in the political process.
Many poor whites, and some poor blacks have simply given up. You got another factor, Bill. And that is you have this enormous number of black males who have been disenfranchised because of this crazy system we have in this country of disenfranchising people who have served even minor offenses for drugs offenses.
And these are people who’ve paid their due to society. They have served their sentences. They’ve come out. And yet we have this system, which I don’t think exists anywhere else in the Western world, in which we say, “You’re marked. You have this mark for the rest of your life. You’re not gonna be able to take part in the political system. That’s just one more example of the way it tilts.
BILL MOYERS: You know, you have to admit the Republicans figured out a winning strategy, figured out how to make ordinary folks down home happy in the party of Wall Street and big corporations. How did they do it?
DAN T. CARTER: Well, they started, I think with several advantages. The emphasis upon limited government, low taxes, resonates deeply among whites in the south.
And again, it’s like so many of these issues. They’re we say they’re not racial. Well, they are interwoven with race. The first deep resistance to taxes comes, of course, when the South is a plantation culture. You don’t need much government.
And then in the Reconstruction period, the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when the state governments were predominantly supportive of African-Americans and newly emancipated slaves, they increased taxes. Still low by national, standards, but —
BILL MOYERS: That’s why the Republicans didn’t carry the South for a long time.
DAN T. CARTER: That’s right. That’s right. And for some, for white southerners, taxes becomes synonymous with black government and black waste. And it happens all over again in the 1960s.
I was doing some research on South Carolina politics. And in the early 1970s and now we’re much more politically correct. But in the early part of the ’70s, when you hadn’t quite learned how to talk about these issues — advertisements by the Republican Party were trying to get white southerners to switch parties.
Were like little seminars in which they said, “The Democratic party equals high taxes, it equals high taxes, it equals crime, it equals domination by blacks and if you want to vote for that, fine but the Republicans offer an alternative.” Well, that is about as explicit as you can make it.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
DAN T. CARTER: The connection between economic issues, in this case pocketbook issues of taxation, and the issue of race.
BILL MOYERS: The anomaly is that the one tax white southerners, including poor white southerners, never objected to was the poll tax.
DAN T. CARTER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Which was a means of keeping blacks who couldn’t afford to pay it out of the electoral process.
DAN T. CARTER: Yes. Yes.
BILL MOYERS: This, to me, is a fascinating book, FROM GEORGE WALLACE TO NEWT GINGRICH– in which you conclude by saying, “The United States has become the most unequal of the industrial nations in the world today.” That this strata of the classes is approaching Grand Canyon proportions. And yet, people keep voting to perpetuate it.
DAN T. CARTER: Yes, I think it’s — There are two factors. And many more, but two, I think Bill, that really makes it harder for this information to have an impact on people’s voting.
The first is the fact that the news media, this is not a sexy subject. And it’s not something that comes up — not just to cast a invidious comparisons with FOX News, or CBS or ABC. There may be a 30 seconds or whatever. But there’s no focused attention on one of the most important things that’s taking place. The second one is —
BILL MOYERS: Which is the divide —
DAN T. CARTER: This increasing divide —
BILL MOYERS: Inequality.
DAN T. CARTER: — in growing inequality in America.
BILL MOYERS: Second, go.
DAN T. CARTER: And the second is that Americans live under the illusion that we are in a economically and socially mobile society in which, well yeah, it’s true that I’m struggling right now, and that’s because I’m young or whatever, but I’m gonna be in that top 20 percent, or I’m gonna be in that top 10 percent.
When justice statistics absolutely, uniformly show this growing divide between rich and poor, they also show that the United States is much more socially stratified than almost any country in the Western world. England we think of as a class-ridden society, and yet, social mobility is much greater in England than it is in the United States.
BILL MOYERS: Every time a Dennis Kucinich, or a John Edwards, or now a John Kerry starts talking about inequality and this stratification of America, the WALL STREET JOURNAL in particular, and others cry, “Class war. They’re waging a class war.”
DAN T. CARTER: Well, there’s been a class war going on in this country for 25 years. It’s just, you know, the direction. I mean this is really a reflection of something that is as important as anything that has taken place in the last 25, 30 years. And that is the reshaping of the context in which we discuss political issues.
I am not– and you have to be careful about how you say this. Because I’m not suggesting a kind of conspiracy. But beginning in the 1970s well-to-do Americans realized that it was critical not simply to present their point of view, not simply to have lobbyists, but to reshape the whole nature of the way in which we discuss issues.
And literally hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to Richard Scaife Mellon. Others spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980s and the 1990s to set up these think tanks, these ultra-conservative or conservative think tanks these lobbying groups, that create a whole kind of infrastructure of ideology in which you get this constant kind of outpouring of I call it a kind of the mantra of the new America. That is, government’s bad, free enterprise is good government programs are bad, privatization’s always better.
Obviously, these people hadn’t spent like I have, two days trying to get my service, telephone service provider to answer my calls, while when I called my local government, they answered the very moment. So I have a different take on this whole thing.
BILL MOYERS: You say in this book, you say that invective works today, that we have become a politics of invective, and that, well, who’s better at it, the liberals or the right?
DAN T. CARTER: Well obviously I think the right is. There’s,you know, the standard line is that liberals see three sides to every two sides. And that it’s very difficult under those circumstances to get really worked up.
But conservatives certainly do have a sense of anger. And I want to emphasize that this anger comes from so many different sources. And much of it is simply a response to modernization.
BILL MOYERS: Modernization being?
DAN T. CARTER: And to the media. I meantalking to people I’m struck again and again, those who are so angry by how much they’re responding to things they see on television.
And I find this extraordinary. Back in the 1950s, I could remember being around whites who would go into a rage when a black person would come on television. Well now, they respond with rage whenever a gay couple comes on.
In both cases, it seems to me, they’re powerful symbols of this sense that modernization, television, the whole thing that we’re experiencing in the consumer culture, is undercutting traditional values.
The problem is, of course, Wallace convinced them that it’s not corporate America trying to sell you things you don’t want, trying to undercut conservative values with this buy-for-today-and-don’t-worry-about-tomorrow, that it’s the government that’s causing all these problems. Does that make sense? I mean —
And so it’s the sense of uneasiness that people have is often focused in this way. And the Democrats have simply not been successful, I think Bill, in coming up, at least until now, with any kind of alternative way to fight back, in a sense.
BILL MOYERS: Can the Democrats ignore the South in November?
DAN T. CARTER: They can. If you look at it from a purely tactical point of view, it’s gonna be very difficult to carry the South.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, John Kerry pointed out the other day indirectly, implicitly, that Al Gore got more votes for President, and he didn’t carry a single southern state. I’m not sure he should go around —
DAN T. CARTER: I know.
BILL MOYERS: — proclaiming that. But —
DAN T. CARTER: No. I mean Florida, obviously, is a state that’s up for grabs, and Arkansas, Louisiana, maybe. You know, there are a few southern states, possibly.
But the reality is that given limited resources, given the states that are so on the borderline, often having more electoral votes, that’s where the Demos — we’re now into this tactical thing in which you concentrate resources.
But I think it’s a terrible mistake. And I think it’s a mistake in two ways. In the first place, it’s a mistake because it simply guarantees Republican dominance in the long run. You’ve got to think not beyond this election cycle, but to the next election cycle. I think there is a possibility of increasing dramatically the Democratic vote in the South. The economics lean that way.
But the second factor, and this may seem strange. But I believe that if the Democrats don’t make an effort to appeal to the South, it’s going to allow the Bush administration to run a very elevated campaign. And if they’re pressed on the South, they’re gonna come back hard on some of these hard core social issues. And it may cement their control over the South. But it’s gonna alienate a lot of moderate voters.
BILL MOYERS: You mean if the Democrats don’t run a race in the South in November —
DAN T. CARTER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: — it allows George Bush and Karl Rove to appear to be moderates in the South?
DAN T. CARTER: That’s right. That’s right. And because they if they can take the South for granted they don’t have to use some of these hot button issues that I think have greatest appeal in the South.
And that allows them then to not terrify what I see. .. I’m not dividing up the electorate this way. But essentially moderate female voters– who I think would be put off whatever their own views by a kind of hard edge attack on, say, the gay issue or school prayer or any of these other — divisions of us and them. And I think it’s important for Democrats for both those reasons. And for the long run because it’ll make the Bush campaign run a different kind of adopt a different kind of strategy.
BILL MOYERS: You remind me the past is always sitting on our shoulder, isn’t it?
DAN T. CARTER: It is.
BILL MOYERS: Dan Carter, thank you for being on NOW.
DAN T. CARTER: I enjoyed it very much, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Next week will be the third big week in a row for the Democrats. So as they say in our business, stay tuned, in particular to our collegues at the NEWSHOUR who will be broadcasting a special report from South Carolina.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: And it’s important, as Dan Carter was sharing with us earlier, that even in a primary like this, turnout is a key determining factor.
I’m off to Michigan in the next couple of days to meet with some voters about how presidential politics is unfolding there with their caucus a little over a week away.
That’s it for NOW. Bill Moyers and I will be back next week. I’m David Brancaccio. Good night.
This transcript was entered on April 23, 2015.