Did the administration mislead the American people about its reasons for going to war in Iraq? For many voters, this remains the key question as they consider the presidential candidates. NOW deconstructs the road to war in Iraq through the eyes of a critical intelligence insider, Greg Thielmann, who headed a group of State Department analysts examining the secret intelligence on Iraq during the lead-up to the war. On the Friday before America votes, Thielmann measures the hard evidence about what the president called the “threat gathering against us.”
WATCH THE SEGMENT
Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement in America has been a political, social and cultural juggernaut. How have conservatives amassed the power they enjoy today, and are there rumblings in their ranks that will force soul searching after the election? Bill Moyers asks this to Richard Viguerie, one of the modern Conservative movement’s founding fathers. Viguerie is credited with pioneering the political direct mail of the 1960s and 1970s that many say was the catalyst to the conservative groundswell that has swept America. Viguerie’s new book is AMERICA’S RIGHT TURN: HOW CONSERVATIVES USED NEW AND ALTERNATIVE MEDIA TO TAKE OVER AMERICA.
Where have all the progressives gone? David Brancaccio asks Joe Trippi, former manager for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, about the state of the Democratic Party today, what it means to be a Democrat, and about the role of progressives in the party that nominated John Kerry.
You can access the original web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.
With insurgents mounting as many as one hundred attacks a day, the news from Iraq has been so distressing — “heartbreaking and outrageous” in the words of the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE — that President Bush has made a high-risk gamble. He sent his national security advisor out on the hustings to defend the war. In critical battleground states stretching from Florida and Ohio to Michigan and Washington, Condoleezza Rice has been repeating the themes we heard again and again in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. Here is what she said on Monday in Florida:
RICE [10/25/04]: When people ask whether Iraq is a part of the war on terror, well, of course. Not only did Saddam support terrorists, not only was he a weapons of mass destruction threat and all of those things, but he was a tremendous barrier to change in the Middle East.
MOYERS: The risk for President Bush in this is two-fold: by turning his national security advisor — a position not usually embedded in partisan politics — into a surrogate campaigner in a close and heated election, he further polarizes foreign policy. And by sending Condoleezza Rice into the fray, he is calling attention to the credibility gap between what his administration told Americans about the invasion of Iraq before it happened, and what we have learned since. Our colleague Peter Meryash prepared this report on the issue.
MOYERS: In making the case for invading Iraq, the Bush administration was unequivocal—
CHENEY [8/26/02]: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.
MOYERS: The warnings were ominous.
RUMSFELD [9/19/02]: No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
MOYERS: There was an occasional caveat, as on this CNN news program but officials always came to the identical conclusion.
RICE [9/8/02]: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.
MOYERS: The President himself conjured the most chilling image.
BUSH [10/7/02]: America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
MOYERS: Days after that speech, Congress gave Bush what he asked for, authority to use force against Iraq.
It fell to Secretary of State Colin Powell to convince the world when he went before the United Nations’ Security Council.
POWELL [UN]: The gravity of the moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world. Let me now turn to those deadly weapons programs and describe why they are real and present dangers to the region and to the world.
MOYERS: Using surveillance video and telephone intercepts and satellite photos, Powell spoke with certitude—
POWELL [UN]: We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
MOYERS: Much of the world remained skeptical but the speech dazzled most of America’s mainstream media.
The NEW YORK TIMES called it “the most powerful case to date” against Hussein. USA TODAY said it provided “new and forceful evidence” of Iraq’s weapons programs and terrorism links. The DALLAS MORNING NEWS proclaimed “only the blind could ignore Powell’s evidence.”
Six weeks later, the United States went to war to disarm what the Secretary of State had called a “threat to international peace and security.”
But the press and the public had not been told the truth, that the imminent threat had been exaggerated.
THIELMANN: So much of what has been said about the imminent and ominous danger posed by Iraq was simply not justified by the sensitive intelligence that I saw.
MOYERS: Greg Thielmann spent 25 years in the foreign service before retiring in mid-2002. As a member of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, he led a team of analysts examining the secret intelligence on Iraq leading up to the war.
I first talked to Thielmann about that intelligence three months after the war started—
THIELMANN [6/03]: I think the credibility of the intelligence community has taken a real hit because of the way the information has been used by senior officials.
BUSH: The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.
MOYERS: As the President was proclaiming the war’s end, Thielmann was telling us the American people had been misled.
He should know; the work of his office analyzing the Iraqi threat would later be singled out by a key oversight committee in Congress for being more accurate than that of the CIA or any other intelligence agency. Today events have confirmed for Thielmann just how extensively that intelligence was misused.
THIELMANN: The way it was presented, the way the Administration talked about it, the American people got exactly the wrong understanding of what the specialists knew to be the case.
MOYERS: The most serious distortion, says Thielmann, concerned the most ominous of threats.
CHENEY [8/26/02]: Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.
MOYERS: That possibility had been addressed in this top secret National Intelligence Estimate, given to the administration in October 2002, as the best assessment of all fifteen U.S. intelligence agencies.
A pared-down version has now been declassified and it shows that Vice President Cheney had not mentioned a crucial caveat in the report.
The assertion that Iraq “probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade” was clearly prefaced by the condition “if left unchecked.”
THIELMANN: If left unchecked, which is an amazing qualifier and something that no one noticed in— but it was in the very first paragraph of the key judgments of that estimate. Because the situation in Iraq in March of 2003 was by no means unchecked. Not only was there a fairly effective system of sanctions and arms embargo which frustrated any ability of Saddam to acquire the kind of— especially the very sophisticated kinds of equipment he would need to pursue nuclear weapons.
But there were U.N. inspectors on the ground going virtually anywhere in the country to take samples, to talk to scientists. So, the “if left unchecked” qualifier for that 2007 to 2009 best estimate meant that the clock had not even started ticking yet.
MOYERS: What’s more, the top secret estimate included a strongly worded dissent from Thielmann’s office of intelligence at the State Department: “The activities we have detected do not add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.”
THIELMANN: Our conclusion at the time was both that Iraq did not pose the kind of the same magnitude of threat as a country like North Korea. And also that even if Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons it did not pose an imminent security threat to the United States.
MOYERS: The administration never told the public there was a major disagreement within America’s top intelligence ranks.
THIELMANN: Most intelligence analysts are professional and disciplined in holding to their security oaths, not revealing to the public information which is classified, top secret special compartmented information. And it is classified like that to basically protect the source and methods that are used to acquire the information so we don’t jeopardize that.
I’m afraid to say that I believe the Administration abused their end of the bargain here. The intelligence officials kept silent because it was their job to keep silent. But one would think it was also the job of the political leadership not to misrepresent what the intelligence professionals were saying.
MOYERS: Case in point. Reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase uranium in Africa. The administration said this was proof of Iraq’s efforts to build nuclear weapons.
RUMSFELD [1/29/03]: His regime has the design for a nuclear weapon, was working on several different methods of enriching uranium, and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
MOYERS: But that’s not what the nation’s top intelligence analysts were saying.
The CIA had been tracking that story of uranium from Africa and in 2001, 15 months before Rumsfeld spoke, the CIA had concluded, “There is no corroboration from other sources that such an agreement [to buy uranium from Africa] was reached or that uranium was transferred.
Then, a year later, in October 2002, the director of the CIA himself, George Tenet, followed up with two memos and a phone call to the national security team at the White House.
Tenet wrote: “the evidence is weak” and “the Africa story is overblown.”
At the same time, State Department experts weighed in with their own warning: “The claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious.”
THIELMANN: When the reports first started coming in that the Iraqis seemed to be trying to procure uranium from the state of Niger, that after some examination, that didn’t last very long, our own bureau felt comfortable advising the Secretary of State that these reports were likely to be bogus.
Because they just didn’t fit together. They didn’t correspond to the nature of uranium economy in Niger, to the pattern of Iraqi efforts to procure things illegally. All kinds of reasons that made this a very suspicious report.
MOYERS: Nonetheless, three months later, on January 28, 2003, in his State of the Union message, President Bush told Americans.
BUSH [1/28/03]: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
MOYERS: What did you think when you heard the President mention it in the State of the Union message long after both the CIA and your State Department Intelligence Bureau had challenged that evidence?
THIELMANN: I was shocked and at first confused.
Because I thought they must have new information on this. Something must have crossed the desks here that I hadn’t been privy to. But then it slowly dawned on me that he was referring to that same bogus report that we had seen earlier.
MOYERS: Eventually, the White House admitted it had been a mistake to include the bogus report in the President’s State of the Union speech. The admission came three months after the invasion of Iraq.
What had gone wrong? Condoleezza Rice said she didn’t remember the warnings from the CIA.
But what about the State Department’s warning? The one in the National Intelligence Estimate.
An un-named, senior administration official told the press: the President and the National Security Advisor “did not read footnotes in a 90-page document.”
MOYERS: Wouldn’t you expect the national security advisor to know what’s in the footnotes of a critical national intelligence estimate?
THIELMANN: I would. The normal way that policymakers at least those familiar with estimates read them is, you want to know that the arguments were in the intelligence community, not only what everyone could quickly agree on, but where is the evidence a little bit shaky, or where is a fast conclusion a little bit suspicious here. Because someone actually wants to record for posterity that they’re not in agreement with the majority opinion.
Because estimates try pretty hard to produce consensual and unanimous judgments about what’s happening in the world. So any time that system breaks down and you have someone setting themselves apart, it arouses interest, or it should, by anyone who is savvy about this process.
And one has to suspect that if in fact it really wasn’t read, then the whole intelligence estimate wasn’t taken seriously. Then it’s almost as if they already knew what the answer was before the intelligence community produced anything, and they didn’t want to be confused by the facts.
Then there is the case of those famous aluminum tubes.
BUSH [10/7/02]: Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
MOYERS: This was the closest the administration ever came to a smoking gun — probably the most significant evidence presented in the lead-up to war.
It was leaked to an obliging NEW YORK TIMES which quoted government officials saying “it was the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view” that the tubes “are used to make—centrifuges” that will enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
The paper quoted one senior but un-named official as saying, “the best technical experts and nuclear scientists supported [that] assessment.”
Vice President Dick Cheney hailed the tubes as “irrefutable evidence” that Saddam has “once again set up and reconstituted his program” to build a nuclear weapon.
Condoleezza Rice said the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.”
And the President drove the message home.
BUSH [9/12/02]: Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.
THIELMANN: He just stated it flatly as a fact. And I was astounded when he did that. Because I had been witnessing for months a very vigorous and extended debate within the intelligence community on whether or not those tubes would be suitable for use in centrifuges to enrich uranium. And as the months accumulated and as we sat, in effect, as a jury listening to the experts, it became more and more obvious to us that they were not suited for use in centrifuges and were indeed being used for artillery rocket casings. So—
MOYERS: Conventional weapons?
THIELMANN: That’s right. And so this sort of deepened my surprise when the President said this.
MOYERS: In fact, the government’s foremost nuclear experts at the Department of Energy disputed the White House position.
After their technical analysis, the best experts on the subject concluded the tubes were “poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges” and as a result they found “unpersuasive the arguments that they are intended for that purpose.”
That was enough to convince the State Department’s intelligence experts that “the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.”
But that’s not what the President said.
BUSH [1/28/03]: Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.
MOYERS: Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his address to the Security Council, did make a rare acknowledgement of the disagreement among the experts.
POWELL [2/5/03]: By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes and we all know that there are differences of opinion. There is controversy about what these tubes are for.
MOYERS: But in the end, he presented the worst case scenario, even though his own experts had discounted it.
POWELL [2/5/03]: Let me tell you what is not controversial about these tubes. All the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use.
MOYERS: The world was listening to that speech. The press was almost universally favorable in this response to that speech. What did you think when he used the aluminum tubes as evidence?
THIELMANN: Well, I was sympathetic to the spot that he was in. Because a lot of us assumed that Colin Powell had been arguing behind closed doors about the dangers of a unilateral approach and arguing for diplomatic and alternative methods of dealing with this problem. So, he was obviously in a political spot.
Because the President had, I think it’s obvious now, had already decided to go to war when Colin Powell made his February, 2003 speech. Having said that, it was deeply disappointing on a personal level. Because I was among the vast majority of my colleagues, was a big admirer of the way Colin Powell has run the State Department.
But one would think that there comes a point when you simply cannot go on participating in a distortion.
And I’m personally sorry that Secretary Powell never reached that point, because I believe that he’s probably the only American, short of President Bush, that could have prevented the invasion of Iraq.
MOYERS: But even after Powell’s Security Council speech, there was still time to get the real story of those aluminum tubes.
By now, the weapons inspectors had returned to Iraq among their assignments, to solve the mystery of the tubes.
The head of the agency that monitors nuclear matters around the world reported back to the Security Council on what the weapons inspectors had found.
EL BARADEI [3/7/03]: There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import aluminum tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment.
MOYERS: What did the Administration do with this new evidence?
THIELMANN: It ignored it completely.
MOYERS: That was 19 months ago, just days before the invasion.
Just this month, it was revealed that long before the war started, Condoleezza Rice had known that government experts disagreed about the aluminum tubes.
The NEW YORK TIMES broke the story and Rice was asked about it on ABC news.
RICE [on This Week]: At the time, I knew that there was a dispute. I actually didn’t really know the nature of the dispute. We learned that, I learned that later.
MOYERS: When you hear and see Condoleezza Rice say that, one has to ask doesn’t one, wasn’t it her job to find out the nature of that dispute?
THIELMANN: It is incredible to me that the President’s National Security Advisor would not at least satisfy herself in understanding the broad dimension of a very vigorous dispute inside the U.S. government on the most important evidence behind an allegation about the most important category of weapons of mass destruction.
I mean, if you don’t understand the details of this and at least in broad outline, what issues do you understand with regard to justifying a war against Iraq. This was the mother of all intelligence disagreements for this subject. And so she was either irresponsible in not acquainting herself with those broad outlines of the dispute. Or else she’s not telling the truth.
MOYERS: Condoleezza Rice, is on the road right now, stumping, in effect, for the President. They’ve got Secretary Powell on the talk shows again making his case.
THIELMANN: Well, at least in terms of some of the assurances, I think their credibility has been spent. I mean, it wasn’t just that they said that we believe this is happening.
They assured the American people, looking us in the eye, that we know this is happening, that there’s no doubt that the evidence is solid, multiple sources, and all of those phrases used by Secretary of State Powell. And unfortunately, what that means is when we talked about real problems with the Iranian nuclear weapons program or the situation in North Korea, it makes it so much harder like the boy who cried wolf, to take them seriously, even when they’re accurately describing what the intelligence information says. You know, once you’ve been misled on a very significant issue, you’re very reluctant to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
MOYERS: Do you give the President some benefit of the doubt? Do you say he is the Commander in Chief, he is charged with the security of the United States, with protecting us against all foreign threats? That he has to follow his instinct when the intelligence is inconclusive?
THIELMANN: I certainly think there is a role for instinct. And because intelligence never produces the kind of confidence level that policy makers would like to have, there is an element of truth in what you say. One has to give the President a little bit of running room and a little bit of slack in taking the information as far as the intelligence community can provide. And then going a little bit beyond that.
So I’m sympathetic to all of that. What I’m not sympathetic to is distorting information so completely that in the end, the public gets exactly the opposite understanding of a situation than you believe to be the case.
But I also understand that there is a psychological element here for the American people, a desire to believe the President of the United States.
The realization that the President of the United States would distort — would knowingly distort issues or even negligently misinform them on issues that will result in the death of America’s sons and daughters is so monstrous, that most good and decent and patriotic Americans can’t believe that. They don’t want to believe that. That’s just too awful to contemplate, that the President would do that to them.
MOYERS: Something else to consider. You’ll no doubt recall that in making the case for invading Iraq, the administration also pinned Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. It became the mantra.
CHENEY [1/30/03]: His regime aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda. He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for use against us.
BUSH [9/25/02]: The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.
MOYERS: And defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there was “solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members,” and that the administration had “very reliable reporting” of “contacts going back a decade, and of possible chemical and biological agent training.”
It worked. They said it so many times, and it’s been repeated so often on by the echo chamber of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, Fox News and right-wing talk radio, that the latest Harris poll reports that 62 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda and 41 percent believe that he actually helped plan and support the attacks on 9/11.
But this summer, the most extensive federal investigation in history – the bipartisan commission investigating what happened on 9/11 revealed that it had found “no evidence indicating Iraq cooperated with Al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
Earlier this month, Secretary Rumsfeld back-tracked on his earlier statements.
RUMSFELD [10/4/04]: To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.
MOYERS: As for Condoleezza Rice, well, the President’s National Security Advisor continues on the campaign trail, recently in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. The PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE says that she “did not deviate from the misleading contentions” put forth by the Bush-Cheney ticket and that she sought once again, quote, “to make the non-existent link between 9/11 and the Iraq war.”
BRANCACCIO: For much of the past year, NOW has focused on the politicians running for office. But tonight, in this final countdown to the elections, we want to talk about party politics: where the Democratic and Republican parties go from here, no matter who wins Tuesday.
We begin with the Democrats. Joe Trippi was Howard Dean’s campaign manager. A long time political consultant and democratic strategist, Joe Trippi guided Dean’s candidacy through the months in the wilderness.
Raising more money than any Democrat had ever raised before in the primaries by using the internet, and in the process, transforming political fundraising in this country.
The cover of the NEW REPUBLIC heralded him as the man who “reinvented campaigning.” His new book is THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED: DEMOCRACY, THE INTERNET AND THE OVERTHROW OF EVERYTHING.
Welcome to NOW.
TRIPPI: Great to be here.
BRANCACCIO: So John Kerry wins next week and no one’s gonna be doing any soul searching. Of course if he loses, there’ll be plenty of soul searching. Is that the right formulation? There’s nothing to say if John Kerry wins?
TRIPPI: No. I think if John Kerry wins, it’ll be a giant sigh of relief among Democrats and progressives. But I think there’s a lot of energy on the Democratic side to try to reform this party. I’m they really try to challenge it from within and get sort of what was going on in the Dean campaign going again.
BRANCACCIO: Is it gonna be a sort of a challenge from the progressive side, from the liberal side of the Democratic Party?
TRIPPI: Yeah, I believe so. I think we’re — both of these parties try to do everything they can to kill new ideas and to kill anything — ideas from the outside, any people from the outside. We saw McCain try to reform the Republican Party from within. Crushed by the Republican establishment.
You see Dean try to reform the Democratic Party from within. And the Democratic establishment crushes him. So I think what’s gonna happen is the first initial response is gonna be to reform the Democratic Party from within. But if it’s squelched again by President Kerry and other establishment Democrats, then what you’re gonna see is that energy forced to the outside. And I believe by 2008, 2012, you’ll see a real movement out there sort of spawn a new party even, spawned by the internet.
BRANCACCIO: Give me a sense of what the progressives want after next Tuesday.
TRIPPI: I think what they want is the end of politics as usual. I mean, a real movement for the common good of the country. And that means real progress on healthcare. That, you know, I mean, healthcare’s been in the party platform since 1948 when Truman put it into the platform.
It’s never happened. We had the presidency, the House and the Senate several times since Truman. Once they get in the establishment gets together and it never happens. Lobbyists have control of the system. You know, I mean, that’s where it really gets down to. It’s the money.
You gotta follow the money. And right now you’ve got a Democratic Party that’s addicted to huge contributions. So, yeah, we don’t talk about poverty. We don’t talk about a lot of the issues that need to be talked about in this country. And that has to change if you’re gonna continue to be a party of ideas.
And that’s the other thing that’s going on. We used to debate in this country democratic ideas. The Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, all coming from, you know, when there’s Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. I mean, the ideas that were being pushed forth always came from the Democrats. It was the Republicans that were reactive and standing against those new ideas.
BRANCACCIO: Well, I’ll tell you what, the Republicans are not reactive now.
TRIPPI: No. It’s totally flipped. Last, you know, Social Security’s not gonna work. Who’s got always ideas about privatizing it? Where’s the idea come from? The Republicans. It’s a horrible idea but it’s the only idea out there.
The Democrats, it’s, “No, we’re not gonna let anybody ever touch Social Security.” Even though, unless we do something, it’s not gonna work.
BRANCACCIO: You had this great line I read, I think you wrote it last summer. It was wonderful. It was something about politics is driven by money the same way that the movie industry is driven by box office receipts. But it is also true that you can raise a fortune of money for a movie and that thing can still flop at the box office.
BRANCACCIO: There has to be a real program behind the money raised in the innovative fashion.
TRIPPI: Yeah. But that’s the problem. The real problem right now is everybody sees that the big victory of the Dean campaign was money. That was true. But that wasn’t the big victory of the Dean campaign. The victory of the Dean campaign was Americans having faith in strangers again. And this happened over the internet.
BRANCACCIO: Social capital in a way.
TRIPPI: Yes, exactly. Where no one in this country today goes out and puts on a telephone pole, “I’m Joe Trippi. I live at 1313 Main Street. I don’t know you but come to my house. Let’s talk about how we can do something for our country and change it.” Doesn’t happen.
In the Dean campaign, hundreds of thousands of people were putting their name and address on the internet and inviting anybody who stumbled across that site to come to their house and get involved. And it happened. And the most amazing thing was 40 people would come to your house who you didn’t know.
They’d all talk about doing something together to help change the country. And the amazing thing was when they left, the jewelry was still in your jewelry box. The silverware was still where the silver was supposed to be. And the fine china was still in the china cabinet. No one stole anything. Americans are good. And somebody has to start reaching into that goodness and moving the country in a purposeful way for the common good.
We haven’t had a leader of either party appeal to that common good in the American people to accomplish some really great things that we could accomplish if we pulled together. We haven’t had that leader in 30 or 40 years. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite.
A spiraling downturn to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to nuke the living daylights out of each other, to suppress voter turnout, get Americans disengaged and isolated. And in that, we can’t solve any of our problems if we’re disengaged and isolated.
BRANCACCIO: Now, your man Dr. Dean tried some of this. But we know what happened to him. And…
BRANCACCIO: –the object has gotta be to win because nothing follows if you…
BRANCACCIO: –lose. It’s– so how do the progressives actually bring enough people into their fold to win an election to do some of this?
TRIPPI: Well, there’s a whole lot of issues out there that appeal to both ends of the spectrum. The Patriot Act… opposing or changing the Patriot Act. I mean, there’s Pat Buchanan Republicans who think the Patriot Act needs to be changed and reformed. It way oversteps America’s rights and civil liberties.
And the left believes that. But we are not having these debates.
And it’s not winning the debate. It’s having it. It’s having the American people involved in a great American conversation about where we’re really going. And we’re not having that discussion because we don’t have the leadership in either party right now to make that happen.
BRANCACCIO: It’s so clear that what’s fueling a lot of the support for John Kerry is people who can’t stand the president, people who really think the war is wrong. That’s not really a mandate for broader reform that the progressives are calling for.
TRIPPI: No, that’s right. I mean, that’s why he, I think, if he is elected, he has to turn immediately to try to govern differently. And I think the way to govern differently is to recognize what he and the people around him should have learned from the Dean campaign in terms of how you could govern differently. Don’t take your bills to the Congress. Don’t…
BRANCACCIO: Take it to the internet.
TRIPPI: Take it to the internet. Take it to the American people. Let them rally around it. Then send it to Congress with ten, 20 million Americans pounding on Congress’s door saying, “You better pass this thing or we’re throwing you out.”
‘Cause there’s one thing Congress understands more than money. And that’s a whole lot of people backing the president’s agenda. So I actually think Kerry as the president has an enormous, enormous opportunity to change the country. But if he does it the old way, send the healthcare bill to Congress, we’re gonna have the same exact result we’ve had since Truman.
Bunch of lobbyists will come up — 33 lobbyists for every member of Congress. They’ll kick the damn thing and snuff it out before it ever sees the light of day. And, you know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. We can do it differently and the tool’s there and the American people are there if John Kerry has the…
You know, I think he’s got the leadership. But he needs to understand the real power that’s about to be unleashed among the American people if he’s willing to guide it.
BRANCACCIO: Joe, are you personally inclined to give him that chance? You gonna vote for Kerry next week?
TRIPPI: Of course. Yeah. I mean, but I’ll admit it. Like a lot of people, I’m doing it… I would have rather seen a different nominee. But, I think we’re at a pivotal point in our history.
I think, you know, we had a… our founding fathers were really concerned that economic power would one day try to seize political power in this country. And they were concerned the Constitution wouldn’t be strong enough to thwart that moment. I really believe we’re there.
I believe we’re at the moment that would be our founders’ worst nightmare in the Bush Administration. That we are a place where there’s a government that’s allowing economic power to seize political power. And, I can’t stand by and watch that happen. That’s one of the reasons I joined the Dean campaign in the first place. And it’s why I hope Kerry wins on Tuesday.
BRANCACCIO: Joe Trippi’s book is THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED: DEMOCRACY, THE INTERNET AND THE OVERTHROW OF EVERYTHING. Joe, thank you very much.
TRIPPI: Thanks. Great to be here.
MOYERS: Many of you watching know I’ve been around politics a long time. I was there forty years ago next Tuesday when Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in the ’64 election and people said conservatives were finished in American politics.
Well, they were wrong. Conservatives came back to remake our political order. Outsiders then, today they are the establishment. They control the White House, Senate, the House of Representatives, and through their domination of direct mail, talk radio and cable TV they have been the prime movers of our political discourse the last 25 years.
Watching politics turn sharply right, I spotted Richard Viguerie in the intersection directing traffic. He was a young man then, as was I. And he was a genius at something liberals didn’t understand: direct mail, going right to people’s homes with letters containing unfiltered conservative messages they couldn’t get from newspapers or television or mass circulation magazines. Those letters also raised tens of millions of dollars directly from the grassroots — money to finance the conservative movement.
Richard Viguerie transformed politics. And it’s no wonder conservatives call him the ‘voice of America’ — the fundraising godfather of the movement, whose efforts launched a thousand political action committees, lobbying organizations and public policy foundations. You can read how it happened in his new book written with David Franke: AMERICA’S RIGHT TURN: HOW THE CONSERVATIVES USED NEW AND ALTERNATIVE MEDIA TO TAKE POWER. Richard Viguerie is with me now. Welcome.
VIGUERIE: Thank you Bill, good to be with you again.
MOYERS: 40 years ago, the War in Vietnam brought down Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats. Is the War in Iraq going to bring George W. Bush?
VIGUERIE: It’s making his re-election very much up for grabs. There’s a lot of disagreement among conservatives. Most conservatives support his efforts in Iraq. But there’s a strong element that had some serious problems with it.
MOYERS: You can’t be too happy with this war. The cost the catastrophe in Iraq right now.
VIGUERIE: No, and I don’t think anybody’s happy. But conservatives have mostly different problems then the Iraq War with George Bush and the Republican leadership. It appears to me Bill, that early on in this Presidency, 2001, the leadership of the Republican Party made a conscious decision to run for re-election based on a one word strategy. Unfortunately that one word strategy was bribery.
We’re going to bribe the voters. And they wanted to bribe the seniors with prescription drugs plans. Bribe the farmers with more subsidies. And recently multi-billion dollar bail out of the tobacco farmers. The Christian with faith based initiative, the Hispanics. Just one group after another. And in essence said, “If you’ve got votes, we’ve got money. Let’s talk.”
MOYERS: When all of you in early conservative movement started, you were all idealists. It was all about principal. Now, I think it is all about policy. I mean, you bought into the very place, the Democratic establishment was after it had been in power 40 years. It’s power, and greed that dominates the Party.
VIGUERIE: It’s, well, you have to remember there’s two different things Bill. There’s the Republican Party, and then there’s the conservative movement. And the conservatives that I grew up with, Ed Feulner, Paul Weyrich — Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich — and the religious conservatives. We still have all those principals. Nothing has changed there. We have accomplished a lot. We had— it was a time we had nominated anybody for president. We did that with Goldwater in ’64. Then we hadn’t elected a conservative to office. And we did that in 1980. Now, our next challenge is to nominate, elect and govern as conservatives. And we’ve not had a president who governed as a conservative.
MOYERS: You cannot be happy with those historic deficits reaching so far in to the future. Your five grandchildren are going to be paying them off long after you’ve been swept away by the Rapture. Right?
VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely Bill. And I don’t know Bill if it’s going to happen at 7:00 in the morning, or 8:00 or 9:00. But, somewhere around there the morning after the election, November 3rd, the war starts—
MOYERS: The war—
VIGUERIE: —for the heart and soul. It’s gonna be a war.
VIGUERIE: Between the traditional conservatives, those who identify with Ronald Reagan, people like myself. And, the big government Republicans. And then also maybe the Neo-cons. But—
MOYERS: And the Neo-Cons are those actually, are those folks who believe in American empire.
MOYERS: They are the architects of the Iraqi War.
VIGUERIE: Yeah and the traditional conservatives like myself, we’ve got a great concern about that. And I want to say very strongly, that almost every conservative that I know is strongly supporting the re-election of President Bush.
MOYERS: You’re going to vote for Bush.
VIGUERIE: Oh, absolutely. No question about it. Now I’m doing what I can to help his re-election. But when the voting is done and the ballots are counted, then we’re going to choose up sides and fight for the heart and souls of the Republican Party. It would be on our side, the traditional conservatives. The other side, people like Rudy Giuliani, Governor of New York, Pataki, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s going to be an interesting battle. Normally Bill, it wouldn’t be a fair fight. Cause we’ve got the troops, we’ve got the organization—
MOYERS: Talk Radio—
VIGUERIE: We’ve got the organizations— the resources, the issues. One thing we lack, a horse. We’ve got no horse. Hopefully, someone will come on the scene soon. But, but we had a lot of advantages when we came along. When Goldwater defeated in ’64, Nixon’s resignation in ’74, Ford’s defeat in ’76. Swept away most of the older Republican leaders.
MOYERS: That defeats were cathartic.
VIGUERIE: Absolutely. And it allowed younger ones, people like Newt Gingrich and Ed Feulner and other young conservatives to rise up to positions of leadership that normally would have taken another 20 years to happen.
MOYERS: But, you know, Richard it seems to me that conservatives have never had more power, or been more intellectually bankrupt today. And they’re intellectually bankrupt, if I— with all do respect, because the very people you mention, Vin Webber and Newt Gingrich, they’re now inside players. They’re lobbyists for big organizations, and big interests, just like my old friends in the Democratic Party and the Johnson White House stayed in Washington and went to work for the tobacco industry, and for all those other industries.
MOYERS: It seems to me, well, Richard Perlstein wrote a great book about Barry Goldwater. And he said there’s a rot setting in at the heart of the conservative movement because of the spectacle of greed and corruption and all of this going on in Washington.
VIGUERIE: Rick said in my office a couple weeks ago, we had this exact conversation. And I would disagree that there is a problem intellectually with the conservatives. Cause we’re the ones with the ideas. We’re the ones that say, “Hey, Social Security’s going to go bankrupt.” The Democrats are saying, “Leave it alone.”
MOYERS: Democrats said that too.
VIGUERIE: Oh, and we’re the ones with the idea of how to re-energize—
MOYERS: A bad idea is better than no idea.
VIGUERIE: That’s what I’m concerned about for the conservatives. Because we normally would win. But, if we don’t have a candidate out there, you can’t beat somebody with nobody.
MOYERS: What are you really fighting for?
VIGUERIE: I’m going to be fighting for the agendas that Ronald Reagan articulated so well in the 60’s, and 70’s, and 80’s. Lower government. Whenever government grows— it has been growing ever since you and I have been politics.
MOYERS: George W. Bush has presided over the biggest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson.
VIGUERIE: You and I are going to agree on that Bill. And I’m ashamed to say it. It greatly discourages me. Conservatives are very discouraged. We signed up for a long battle here. And we’re not going away. And we’ve been here for 40 years plus. And we’re going to be here November 3rd, fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.
MOYERS: Here’s something else that I want to ask you about. You grew up the son of working class people, right?
MOYERS: You spent six or seven summers in the oil fields working your way, right?
VIGUERIE: My dad was a union member.
MOYERS: Yeah. All right, my father was a union member too. So how can you be happy with a party that used to be for small business people and entrepreneurs? And that is now enthralled to multi-national corporations? Isn’t—
VIGUERIE: I’m not happy.
No, that’s a serious fault line that runs through the Republican party. Bill we were— we kind of came together, my generation and before. Because, we were all united against the Communists. We knew the brutality and evil of communism. And the united the conservatives in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s and the 80’s.
MOYERS: The liberals united you?
VIGUERIE: Yeah. Exactly, for sure.
MOYERS: And now, Islamists.
VIGUERIE: Nothing focuses the mind quite like that impending hanging. And it was dark days back in the 60’s and the 70’s.
MOYERS: You do need an enemy now right?
VIGUERIE: It’s not an enemy, if there’s an enemy. It’s big government. It’s these multi-national corporations that we want to empower the individual. We want to take power away from the government, and give it to the individual.
MOYERS: You know, Richard I’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh, I listened to Sean Hannity, I watch Bill O’Reilly from time to time. I read his books, I watch the internet. It seems that you are still the victim. You conservatives seem to act as if you’re still the victims. You’re the establishment now.
VIGUERIE: Well, the Republican Party is the establishment. The small government conservatives are still on the outside. We don’t think of ourselves as a wing of the Republican Party. We are the Republican Party. It’s the conservative votes, issues money that drives the Republicans success electorally. But, we haven’t been able to govern. And we’re still fighting to govern as conservatives.
MOYERS: But, George Bush the first and George Bush the second would not have been elected without you guys. What do you—
VIGUERIE: That’s the song we sing, Bill, you’re singing our song.
VIGUERIE: And I remember a reporter asking Lou Cannon as a matter of fact, the WASHINGTON POST asking an anonymous, high ranking Republican official before Reagan was sworn in, in 1981, January. Saying what are you going to give the Religious Right? Those moral majority types who are so helpful to President-elect Ronald Reagan’s nomination election. He said, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna give ’em. We’re gonna give ’em symbolism. And this is too true. Too true.
MOYERS: Richard, you’ve got faith based initiatives, you’ve got-tax cuts, so many things.
VIGUERIE: That’s not something that—
MOYERS: —you wanted. You’ve got so many— George Bush has access, I’m not making this up. He is given the Religious Right and the political Right so much.
VIGUERIE: Well we—
I don’t want to indicate that he hasn’t done a lot in terms of advancing conservative agenda. The judicial appointments has been you know, very good. We’re very pleased with that. And the tax cuts, we’re happy about that.
There are just too many things that have allowed the government to grow. And it’s not that they’ve allowed the government to grow. He’s been out there driving it. Faith-based initiative is not a conservative initiative. That’s a big government initiative.
MOYERS: Actually John Kerry has been for faith based initiative too, I mean—
VIGUERIE: Yeah, that— it’s not a necessary principled conservative position.
MOYERS: Let me come to next Tuesday. When I called you earlier this week. You said, “Bill, I’m biting my fingernails.” And I see they’re even shorter today then the last then the last time. What do you think?
VIGUERIE: I think that Bush is going to win reasonably comfortably. I don’t think that it’s gone the way it should have. It shouldn’t have been a blow-out.
But, they have not fought it on issues and principles. It’s been too much Iraq, and not enough about the difference, ideologically between conservatives and liberals. This could be a realigning election.
And if the Republicans do keep the White House, and increase their numbers in the Congress this will be three elections in a row, that the Republicans have won. They’ve had the Congress now for 12 years, if they win this next election here. I think we’re beginning to see not a 50/50 nation, but maybe a 53/46, 47 nation.
MOYERS: But, with that kind of dominance in power hegemony you’re running into the same situation the Democrats did. They got it all, their guys stay in Washington this— to the going home to serve the populous cause. And pretty soon that rot sets in.
VIGUERIE: There’s no eternal permanent victories out there. It’s always a fight. Because you’re exactly right, we have to be ever vigilant that the big interests that have an interest in big government, keeping it in the hands of a few people, instead of empowering the individuals. We have to have that fight ongoing Bill.
MOYERS: What are you going to do when you wake up on Wednesday morning?
VIGUERIE: Just continue doing that, Bill, which I’ve been doing for 45 years. Every day I get up thinking what four, five, six, things can do today to advance the conservative agenda? We’ve been doing that for decades, and the left hasn’t done that. The left has been thinking of it as a sprint, election from election.
MOYERS: The book is, AMERICA’S RIGHT TURN: HOW CONSERVATIVES USED NEW AND ALTERNATIVE MEDIA TO TAKE POWER. Thank you Richard Viguerie for being with us.
VIGUERIE: Always a pleasure Bill.
BRANCACCIO: One thing that’s critical to remember as you go to cast your ballot over the next few days: voting in America is a provincial affair — designed, guided and executed by local election officials.
The experience is different in every locale. Remember the infamous butterfly ballot in Florida? It taught us the importance ballot design is to how people vote.
This year, another ballot stands out: the one sent to absentee voters in Cleveland and elsewhere in Cuyahoga county. The NEW YORK TIMES said today you have to “solve a brainteaser” to get it right. Actually when you look at a mock up of the booklet, it’s not so much a brainteaser as downright misleading.
There’s no way to line up the arrows with the correct punch holes. To make matters worse, notice Kerry on top, Bush on bottom. But on the punch card, that order is reversed. Are they kidding? Sadly, no.
This is about wrenches in the machinery of democracy— and the machinery of democracy is the crucial connection between the voter and the government. We’re prompted to think about this connection at an exhibit right now at the Parsons School of Design in New York. On display: voting machines from Florida, altered in not-so-subtle ways.
The voting machines start out looking like this: but once unfolded and legs screwed on, voila a portable voting booth.
Dozens of these units were given to people who aren’t normally called on to comment on the state of our democracy: fifty artists, architects, and designers took their voting machines and transformed them. Deconstructing these plastic and metal devices, each making a statement about the power of voting— and the perils.
Contemplating these objects can help us understand the role we play in this democracy— help us process the anxiety, the anger, the confusion that plays through our heads as we pull the lever, poke the hole, or tap the screen.
Could this election spark another firestorm?
It’s enough to give you the jitters. Architect Ross Anderson wrapped his booth in a see-through curtain of words. Does this capture your state of mind so close to the election?
Remember the pitfalls of that butterfly ballot? Will they be overshadowed by the perils of new-fangled technologies? Or the reports this week about the tens of thousands of absentee ballots mailed out in one of Florida’s biggest counties that never showed up at voters homes?
Will our votes actually count?
We’d like the answers to be crystal clear, but they’re not.
Here, you’ll find some pointed suggestions for say, those early voters in New Mexico who’re reportedly having problems with their touch-screen machines. Take a look at the fool-proof ballot: big red Bush, big blue Kerry, big yellow pencil. You can’t miss.
Artist Rick Finklestein took his folded up voting machine and stuck it in a locker next to a copy of the 15th amendment, the one securing our right to vote. The artist calls this: “be suspicious of anything unattended.”
Maybe you feel the system’s rigged. Those nearly invisible columns on top are the power structure. And what are they doing under the surface? Shredding the Constitution.
This one’s become a working voter registration booth complete with forms to fill in: envelopes, pens, and postage stamps. But those tools aren’t enough. Will the registrations make it onto the voter rolls? How many are mistaken or fraudulent? Will the newly registered show up on Tuesday? Will partisans hassle them out of voting?
Official observers will be watching, although maybe not intergalactic ones. On Tuesday, international monitors from at least 15 countries will be on hand to keep an eye on the vote in Florida.
Here is our cherished democracy in a gilded box. Is this a handy offer or is the thing sealed away from the likes of you and me?
What we do know is that the army of people needed to run the polls on election day is short of volunteers — reportedly by half a million nationwide. Those good folks who’ve agreed to put in a 14-hour day on Tuesday are part of a tradition of sacrifice.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, all murdered trying to get out the vote in Mississippi in 1964. People have died fighting for this booth.
And how do you read this last voting booth? Perhaps that objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear. Like a legitimate election. Maybe in the end, this is all a reflection on ourselves. That what our democracy needs is a little attention from all of us.
That’s it for NOW. Bill Moyers and I will be back next Friday — after the elections — when we might even know who the next president is.
Thanks for joining us. Good night.
This transcript was entered on May 15, 2014.