BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: How do we afford this level of government if we want to keep it? Do we want to keep it? How are we going to pay for it? If we're going to cut, where are we going to cut? Those are key questions. And that's what this election should be about.
BILL MOYERS: And…
ROSEANN DEMORO: I'm looking for absolutes. I'm not interested in the neo-liberal agenda. I'm not interested in bipartisanship. I'm interested in social change that actually puts society back with the people.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. The presidential campaign is off and running; off and running from one fundraiser to another. President Obama has already set a record: the "Financial Times" reports almost 200 events at which he’s rattled the tin cup, more than his four predecessors combined. He’s ahead overall – with $104 million the last time papers were filed with the Federal Election Commission. That’s ten times more than what Mitt Romney’s campaign had in the bank.
But Romney is the darling of the super PACs: Pro-Romney PACs have collected ten times as much from the friendly rich who prefer to give anonymously. And even when he’s the draw, you don’t see much of the candidate: At a New Jersey fundraiser the other day, Mitt Romney vacuumed up $400,000 in one hour at a private home while the press was safely cordoned off by police. No peeking allowed.
But while only a few people will actually see the candidates up close between now and November, we will be seeing the commercials that all that money is buying. They’re coming at us now fast and furious:
MITT ROMNEY: I balanced the budget every single year.
NARRATOR #1: You don’t quit and neither does he.
NARRATOR #2: Job creation numbers fall for the third straight month.
BILL MOYERS: But don’t despair. You don’t have to watch all of them. Because we have Kathleen Hall Jamieson for that. Our master media decoder and her vigilant team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center scarcely miss a bobble along the political beat. At the websites FactCheck.org and the new FlackCheck.org, their job is to critique, watch, analyze and share what they find out.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you for being with me.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: One of the big stories this week was the defeat, in the Republican primary, of Senator Richard Lugar after 36 years in the Senate. And he attributes his defeat, in the statement he made after his concession, to the determination of conservatives and right wingers to bring him down. And he says it was because of his vote for the TARP program, for government support of the auto industry, for the START treaty, and for the confirmation of two of Obama's nominees to the Supreme Court, Sotomayor and Kagan.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: We have now lost an individual who was willing to do what he thought was right even when that meant working across the aisle. He's a conservative. He wasn't a moderate by most definitions. And as he notes in his statement, during the Reagan period, he was the reliable Reagan supporter. You'd call him a Reagan conservative now, which tells you how far the party has moved.
By losing him in the Senate, what we've lost is a person who has dedicated much of his life to nuclear non-proliferation, to try to make sure that those dangerous weapons don't get in the wrong hands and that we have fewer of them overall. He worked with Barack Obama on that. And the Obama campaign in 2008 featured that in ads.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The single most important national security threat that we face is nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, to help lock down loose nuclear weapons.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That fact was used against Senator Lugar, the fact that he worked with someone across the aisle.
BILL MOYERS: So what does this mean for the polarization that already has caused such disaffection among the American people? What does it mean for solving-- resolving something like nuclear proliferation?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It means that if you're going to get action, you're going to have to have both parts of Congress and the presidency controlled by the same party because you're always, under this set of assumptions, going to produce gridlock otherwise. And you're going to condemn anyone who tries to break that gridlock by reaching across the aisle in order to find a point of common ground. Essentially, Senator Lugar was defeated because of his efforts to find principled common ground on issues that he thought were important.
BILL MOYERS: Many people I respect, including you, say that this period between the election in November and the inauguration of either President Obama again in January or President Mitt Romney is a very dangerous period because the Bush tax cuts expire. The deficit has to be dealt with. There are other issues that cannot wait any longer and that there's going to be a roadblock in that period of time unless, somehow, they do find the Richard Lugars. Where are they going to come from?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I don't know. But we're facing what some have characterized as a fiscal cliff. This country has got to find a way to grapple with these issues at a time in which our system has proven to be dysfunctional because of the driving force of polarization.
BILL MOYERS: So what do people watching, regular voters out there, ordinary citizens who don't have much time for politics, what do they-- what should they be doing between now and then?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: First, we have to do everything that we can as a journalistic and academic community to focus this election on things that matter and to focus on issue distinctions between candidates that can actually translate into governance. There is a piece that the Obama campaign put up this last week that was called "Life of Julia" that projects from the age of three through 67 how Julia would be affected by various government programs that are actually already in effect.
BILL MOYERS: Frame Julia for us. What Julia are you talking about?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Julia is a two-dimensional figure created on a slideshow by the Obama administration as a means of showing what government currently provides under the Obama administration. And so Julia at three has Head Start.
And as she ages, she benefits from the fact that she gets to stay on her parents' insurance thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
When Julia faces potential pay discrimination, she's protected by the Ledbetter Act, the first act signed by President Obama.
BILL MOYERS: Which means?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Which means that she can file a discrimination suit if she is not getting comparable pay to a man who's doing the same kind of job. And she doesn't have an odd notification period requirement, meaning you could be discriminated against, not know it, and as a result lose your right to sue.
When she reaches Medicare and Social Security age, she's able to retire. And so it's an attempt by the Obama administration to say what does government currently do for you and with you?
And in the process, they're making some assumptions that are suspect assumptions. The Republicans respond by saying that's the nanny state and that's the--
BILL MOYERS: Culture of dependence.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Culture of dependency. And they lay up their alternative about what they think would happen if the Republican scenarios played out, better job growth, et cetera, et cetera. The Libertarians come in and do something that's very interesting. They basically say both of you are part of the nanny state, you Republicans and you Democrats. And we marginalize Libertarians a lot. The Libertarian critique is actually an important critique.
One of the things the Libertarian take on Julia says is her father is, you know, smoking marijuana. He gets arrested and put away. We're still fighting two wars we're not paying for. There basically is this other third critique out there that looks at the long term and says we can't sustain these things.
That's what makes the Julia narrative, for me, very valuable. It casts the long term as our perspective, not the short term. And if you look literally at what the Obama tracking of Julia's life in the slideshow does, it says this is what government currently does. How much of it are you ready to give up if we can't afford to sustain it? That's my reading on Julia.
The Obama people want me to read that and say, "Vote for Obama, you get to keep it." Vote for Obama, you don't get to keep some of it because its economic assumptions are not consistent with what we know the real world is. But I like the fact that we're asking the question: how do we afford this level of government if we want to keep it? Do we want to keep it? How are we going to pay for it? If we're going to cut, where are we going to cut? Those are key questions. And that's what this election should be about.
BILL MOYERS: But do you hear or see Romney and Obama addressing these tough choices--
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No.
BILL MOYERS: --in ways that reassure you?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No. And if we have an election campaign in which they don't and they act responsibly, we're going to disconnect campaigning from governance. And when we have a campaign in which they don't, it's less likely that they will. And as a result, we run the risk that we are actually going to hurt the country dramatically because the polarization is making it much, much more difficult for people to find the common ground that they need.
When Speaker Boehner and President Obama came as close as they did to a grand bargain, we were seeing the possibility that government could work. When on each side the people from the left and the right said, "No, you can't give that," "no, you can't give that," we saw the problems of polarization. The leadership impulses of the speaker and the president were the right impulses. How do we draw them forward in order to get the right decisions for the country in an environment in which we cannot continue to do what we're doing?
BILL MOYERS: I'm going to get a lot of emails from my viewers saying, "Please don't have that woman again."
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I know.
BILL MOYERS: "She's making me think too much. She makes my head heart," because these are tough choices.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They're extremely tough choices. And we can't afford not to make them because if we don't make them the alternative is unsustainable for the country. And the people who say, "Well, we're going to find a way to cut," should be explaining why that's enough.
And we've had an interesting moment in which the-- Governor Romney was caught on a microphone in which he said, "Well, we'll cut housing. We'll cut education." Well, I'd like to see him say that in public and explain why. I'd like to see both sides say, "With Social Security here's what we should do." I'd like to see them debate Simpson-Bowles.
BILL MOYERS: That's the commission that recommended compromise on both spending and taxes.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, and had distinguished individuals from both political parties. It is-- it makes tough recommendations. And I would like to see in the absence of the candidates having the courage to take the position, someone lay out the case for the Simpson-Bowles alternative so the public understands what it is so that we begin to build some consensus about what the trade-offs look like, what the costs are going to be, and what we need to do to sustain this country for future generations.
BILL MOYERS: But how do we do that?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think we do it by having the media feature it intensely as an alternative and explain why it is important.
That's what we need to do in the presidential debates. We're going to have them. When they don't answer the question, the next person up should forgo his or her question and ask the question again. And if the entire debate simply has to ask the question then let's ask, what about Simpson-Bowles don't you like, Mr. President? You know, Governor Romney? What about it do you like? Are you ready to advance-- to say that we should move the Social Security age to 70 in some kind of a phased-in structure?
Should we be doing means testing in some ways? What are your alternatives? When you say you're going to reform the tax code, is that an excuse for saying you're going to do nothing? How much money can you get out of the reforms that you were offering? And what are you going to eliminate and what are you going to cut? Right now we're playing this game. Right now you've got the Ryan budget proposal.
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Uh-huh. And to his credit, there is a proposal there. The first thing the Democrats did a response was to say, "Ha, we're going to assume he's cutting everything across the board." So they started pushing on the assumption that this good thing is going to be cut. This good thing, this good thing by “X” percent.
Congressman Ryan responds, "No, I'm going to get rid of some things entirely, and I'm going to preserve some things entirely. And I'm going to cut some things." That's actually the beginning of a productive exchange. Now the question is what for both sides? And let's get the public on board to accept that there's some things we take for granted now we're not going to have. There's some costs we're not now paying that we're going to have to pay. It's necessary to preserve our country.
BILL MOYERS: I understand that. But I don't know how realistically we make it happen unless there's perhaps a popular movement to require Romney and Obama to meet every week for six weeks before the election on debate terms, not of the parties' choosing, but of some independent group like we used to have with the League of Women Voters, that requires tests, probe, expects and demands that they answer these questions.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think the debate structure is the possible-- is the place where we've got the possibility of the solution. I would like to see a proposal that Harvard floated a number of years ago, that we devote Sunday nights, from the beginning of the general election period through the election, to intensive discussions with presidential candidates about the serious issues of the day.
I think you'd find an attentive audience for that. And I think the person who's elected would find that he was better able to govern if the public had had that opportunity. The public isn't stupid. The public actually is smart in some important ways.
But it needs help in getting up to speed.
BILL MOYERS: Are we close to de-legitimizing the American political system? Is it possible we could reach a point in our political system where it collapses of its own absurdity?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: We're close right now to having a campaign run on attack and irrelevant arguments that are highly deceptive and, as a result, make it extremely difficult to solve the problems facing the country, which is what all the concern about money and politics is well justified and why we ought to worry about trying to vigilantly hold the super PACs and the third-party advertisers accountable.
Now, what are the consequences of high level of attack? You don't have a reason to vote for someone. You're only being told why to vote against. Hence, no projection of what the alternatives are and no understanding of the trade-offs in government. And the danger is, with all of this unaccountable third-party money, that we're going to have high levels--
BILL MOYERS: You mean super PAC money, special interest money.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Political party money, special interest money as well as super PAC money. We're going to have high level of attack; hence, no relevance to governance and votes against. And that we're going to have high level of deception; hence, people who feel betrayed once they see actual governance or who vote against a candidate they might otherwise support.
We have got to worry about this as an issue. And as a result, trying to ensure that people understand the facts under the ad's critical. Important that the ads not distract us from the central issues. All of this is a journalistic function. And important that, when there is deception, the candidate carries the burden.
If you'll remember 2000, Al Gore was hurt as a result of the way in which he campaigned against Bill Bradley. He made some claims that were considered illegitimate by those who were tracking the campaign. He carried that penalty forward. And the Bush campaign capitalized on it, in some ways, illegitimately to attack him in the general election.
What happens when a super PAC deceives? The pro-Romney super PAC not only outspent the pro-Santorum and pro-Gingrich super PACs, it outspent them 20 to one in deceptive dollars. Those are dollars spent on ads that were deceiving. So what happens when that super PAC carries all that deception? Do we say about Governor Romney he deceived and, as a result, he carries a penalty? No, we don't. And as a result, there's no penalty structure put in place to create a structure that dampens down the deception. BILL MOYERS: Since we last talked, the Wesleyan Media Project, I'm sure you're familiar with that, has given us some grim facts about how the campaign advertising dollars are being spent. First, it says, this campaign is shaping up to be an overwhelmingly negative one, much more negative than 2008. So far, says the Wesleyan Project, 70 percent of the ads are negative. Talk to me about that.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What we do know this year is that we've had a high level of attack and that we've had a high level of deception. And I separate the two because you can have deception in ads that make the case for a candidate that aren't simply ads that attack. And what happens when you have a high level of attacks and a high level of deception is that you disassociate campaigning from governance. And you minimize the likelihood that the candidate who is elected has made a case for a presidency that he can actually act on and mobilize the American people on behalf of.
BILL MOYERS: So negative ads are alright if they’re true, right?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I don't like to use the word "negative" because it conflates legitimate and illegitimate attack and because negative to most people means duplicitous. It means you're not looking at the ads that make the case for a candidate that may be deceptive.
But the-- one of the problems with high levels of attacks is that it doesn't give you a basis to vote for a candidate. One of the advantages of attack at some level is it creates legitimate issue distinctions. When it's fair and accurate in relevance to governance, attack is what makes politics work.
I'm not going to tell you bad things about me when I'm running. You're going to tell voters things that are accurate if you're running a good honorable campaign to create a legitimate issue distinction. Sometimes candidates attack others for things they've actually done themselves.
And also you're going to make a case that has-- translates into governance so it gives people some reason to vote for you and against me. Those contrast ads are actually the strongest form of advertising we have because they tell you on an issue where there's a distinction where I stand, where you stand. And if that relates to a real decision in governance, that helps people vote.
BILL MOYERS: What's your response to these numbers? Outside groups including super PACs have sponsored almost 60 percent of the ads aired compared with three percent! Three percent of the ads in 2008. One group alone, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, has aired nearly 17,000 spots mostly against Obama.
And all together there have been 33,420 anti-Obama pro-Republican spots run compared to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama spots. What do you make of that?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first, third-party advertising, that's non-candidate advertising, has historically been more attack driven and more deceptive. And that's true this year as well. Secondly, when there are imbalances in money tied to messages, the side with the higher dollar amount of messaging has the advantage.
We showed this in 2008, interestingly, when the advantage was with the Obama campaign, which in some media markets outspent John McCain four to one. We documented the effect of that difference in the presence of controlling everything else that might have affected voters. And we showed a difference in vote choice based on the amount of money-- differential in the amount of money spent by the two campaigns.
And the biggest problem occurs when there's a differential in spending and a high level of deception tied to a high level attack because now you have the worst possible consequences. The whole electoral environment becomes more attack driven with deceptive content that might mislead voters into voting against a candidate they might otherwise support.
And it, by divorcing campaigning from governance, it invites cynicism about our political process. Why, after all, if when you're told all these things that are deceptive and then you vote and you don't as a result see forecast governance, should you vote the next time? And that's the theory behind the notion that maybe it does demobilize. There is some evidence of that.
BILL MOYERS: So if I had more money than you and I spend more of that money on negative ads and I run more negative ads than you, I have the advantage?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Assuming that you've got a comparably effective message. Yes, redundancy is correlated to retention.
BILL MOYERS: How do beleaguered, busy, besieged voters sort out the BS from the truth? I mean, I brought with me two ads I want to play side by side. One is from Americans for Prosperity, funded by in part by the super-rich Koch brothers. And it attacks President Obama's record on energy.
The other which I’ll play right after is an almost instant rebuttal from the Obama side. And it features someone most people have never seen, the deputy campaign manager for Obama's reelection. So let me play these two ads and then we'll talk about them.
NARRATOR #3: Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus. But that’s not what happened.
Fact: Billions of tax payer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries. The Obama administration admitted the truth that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas. While millions of Americans can’t find a job. $1.2 billion to a solar company that’s building a plant in Mexico.
Half a billion to an electric car company that created hundreds of jobs in Finland. And tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China. President Obama wasted $34 billion on risky investments. The result: failure! American tax payers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries. Tell President Obama: American tax dollars should help American taxpayers.
BILL MOYERS: And now here is the almost the almost instant rebuttal.
STEPHANIE CUTTER: Hi, I’m Stephanie Cutter. I’m the Deputy Campaign Manager here at Obama for America, and I wanted to arm you with the facts about the latest attack from Big Oil. You may have heard of the Koch brothers. They’re secretive oil billionaires bankrolling Republican campaigns and now they’re backing Mitt Romney. Pretty simple reason for this, President Obama would take away billions of dollars in unnecessary oil tax breaks – Mitt Romney would protect them.
So now they’re spending six million dollars on an ad that is so blatantly false the Washington Post said they have no shame.
Let’s get the facts out because it’s important that you guys know the truth. President Obama has helped create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs. Projects in all 50 states. And the way these oil billionaires and their front group completely ignore the truth is breathtaking.
Let’s take some crazy examples from their attack ad. They claim the administration gave money to build electric cars in Finland. No, the Department of Energy’s funding was specifically for U.S. jobs at U.S. facilities. Sure enough the company is employing 700 workers in California and their planning to build a plant in Delaware.
Okay, another ridiculous claim: they said we sent money to China to build traffic lights. That’s wrong again. Those traffic lights were assembled here, in this country, and helped expand our light manufacturing industry in this country.
They said we gave money to a company building solar plants in Mexico. Nope. Wrong again. Our money is going to a solar plant here in America with American workers.
These guys are going to say whatever it takes to tear down the President. They will literally say anything. They oppose expanding clean energy. They oppose higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. So we’re going to call their BS when we see it. And we need your help to call them on it too and to set the record straight.
So share this, Tweet it, Facebook it. I keep hearing about Tumblr and whatever that is, please use that too. And thank you, for all of your help.
BILL MOYERS: Two totally different kind of ads. One's slick, highly produced, all that music and sound bites and the drama of it. The other one just straightforward, some young woman talking into camera. How do you evaluate the techniques there?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first, the second is a web video and it's consistent with the ways in which the Obama campaign talked to supporters in 2008. Very straightforward. Someone comes on camera and says, "Here's the way we see the facts."
The produced, the highly visual, very evocative produced content is almost always more effective because it's more memorable. The visuals, the music, and the words underscore each other. Under both of these, however, are problematic claims. And so if you say, "I really like Stephanie Cutter. She seems really credible. I guess I'm going to believe her," or, "I really buy into all this fancy produced content in the third-party ad," you've made a mistake.
What you need to ask in both is what are the patterns of deception and how can I detect them? So let me give you some quick guides. The Koch brothers aren't big oil. The Koch brothers are little oil. They run all sorts of things, but the percent of their income that comes from oil, small compared to big oil.
She's calling them big oil because you're afraid of big oil. Big oil is negatively cast. And it's much easier to say bad thing, big oil and tie it to Koch brothers than to say highly diversified, lots of things that they run, Koch brothers. So first move, when somebody uses a single scary something and attacks should ask is that right? And what does that mean? On the other side, when people make categorical claims, do you think it's really plausible? So no jobs created by the stimulus? That's not plausible. Everything about economic theory would say it must have done something.
Well, the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, says that the stimulus created or saved 1.2 to 3.3 million jobs. That's not a small number. So test the plausibility. When people make categorical claims, they're usually false. Now, I notice I didn't say always false because that would be a categorical claim.
Then when visuals pop up on the screen, as you see words or you hear words, ask whether the visual is driving a false inference. You saw Solyndra pop up on the screen. Solyndra has failed. You heard 34 billion and the word "failure." Now, you're not-- you're processing rapidly. It's going like this in the ad. You're not likely to say 'cause you know Solyndra was a failure. That was Solyndra 34 billion? Was everything else 34 billion a failure? When you see a visual that's strong and you associate it with something that is accurate, ask whether the rest of what you're processing is coming along is misleading you.
Of the rest of that money, Solyndra and a group, I think it's called Beacon Power, are the two that have failed. We may, as a country, get back some money from them in bankruptcy. But let's assume that we don't, we lose all of those loan guarantees. If we do, it's two percent of the money that's been spent.
But that piece is not going to let you ask that because it's moving so rapidly. You've already processed the whole thing has failed because Solyndra is so visible and available. And we've heard about it in news. And it is legitimately a failure for the Obama administration. And we tend to over-generalize. So what's the bottom line with this? And there's one more, by the way. Whenever somebody says "jobs overseas," stop. We're in a global economy.
It's virtually impossible to spend a large amount of money on something major and not have something that's going overseas. We've got things that are plants in the United States that are owned by people overseas. We've got people in the United States who own things but the plant is overseas. And in many of the big products that we assemble, automobiles, you've got parts coming from all over.
So did the jobs all go overseas? Or in a global economy would some of it have gone overseas and some of it come here? Now, once you make that inference, you can tell why the Democratic response and the ad are both telling you a partial truth. Some of that money did create jobs overseas, but some of that money created jobs here. The ad only tells you half. The Democratic response only tells you half. But since you know the economy is global, you know there is some truth in both.
BILL MOYERS Is it true, by the way, that fact checkers forced Mitt Romney to back away from his claim that he had net-net increased jobs by 100,000 while he was running Bain Capital?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. And when people say fact checking doesn't matter, here's a case study. Fact checking often hits a brick wall. That is the campaigns believe that they can restate so often with evocative ads that they override it. But when it is persistent and when you have debates to personally hold a candidate accountable and when the other candidates are doing it as well, it can succeed. And that's how the process is supposed to work.
BILL MOYERS: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, we'll be seeing how this plays out over the next coming months. Thanks for joining me.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You're welcome.
BILL MOYERS: Given the astronomical amounts of money being spent on all those ads – and the fog of lies with which they shroud our awareness – and despite the unshakeable grip of the very rich and their mercenaries on both our political parties, I’m always amazed that there are people out across America who still fight back. Who don’t give up, no matter the odds.
Case in point: my next guest and the powerful union she heads will lead a march fighting back against economic inequality in Chicago on May 18th. The Chicago protest is part of a growing international movement in support of what’s called the Robin Hood tax, named after the legendary English outlaw who took from the rich and gave to the poor back in the 13th Century.
The Robin Hood tax is a small government levy the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions like stocks and bonds. Supporters say it’s a tiny tax to clean up the mess the banks helped create. The money generated could be used for social programs and job creation.
As the idea has spread around the world, it’s been estimated that a Robin Hood tax could raise as much as $77 billion in the European Union countries and $350 billion a year, here in the U.S., The movement has been embraced by Germany’s Angela Merkel, Pope Benedict, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, and billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Its momentum has been bolstered by a savvy media campaign that ranges from slapstick…
BANKERS in ADVERTISEMENT: The bankers win! The bankers win! We’ve won again!
BILL MOYERS: To slickly produced videos…
MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Have you heard this idea about the Robin Hood bankers tax?
MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Yes, it’s a sweet little idea taxing the banks to help the poor, but I don’t think it would work. It’s very complicated and would be very tough on the banking sector.
MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Which has just been given billions of pounds in taxpayer monies to keep it going?
MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Well yeah, of course.
ROSEANN DEMORO: A very minimum tax could amount to at least $350 billion dollars, that could go back to our communities, that could go back to jobs, that could go back to health care.
BILL MOYERS: Here in the United States, leading the charge in support of the tax is RoseAnn DeMoro and the organization she leads, National Nurses United. It’s the largest registered nurses union in U.S. history.
And with nearly 170,000 members, it’s one of the country’s fastest growing unions. In recent years, the nurses staged some of the most organized and best-publicized campaigns for health care reform. Now they're doing the same for the Robin Hood tax with a fight they call the Main Street Campaign.
Events already have been held in Washington and on Wall Street here in New York…
The May 18th march in Chicago originally was planned to coincide with the G8 summit of the world’s most powerful nations. President Obama then decided to move that meeting to Camp David, so intentionally or not, he’ll be dodging a confrontation with RoseAnn DeMoro and her nurses. RoseAnn, welcome.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you, Bill. It's so nice to be here.
BILL MOYERS: When you went to your membership and said, "I want us to get involved in taking on Wall Street. I want us to fight for the financial transaction tax," did they scratch their head and say, "What the devil is that?"
ROSEANN DEMORO: You know what, Bill? It was the most fascinating thing. They got that in a heartbeat. The people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street, need to give a little bit back. It's very American. It's happened before. It's not anything novel. And the nurses know that they pay tax. So when we explained that they complete got it. We did a lot of education around it. And then we fanned out into the capital.
We had a thousand nurses in Washington, D.C. last year. And we introduced the financial transaction tax. You know, there's some sophisticated things about the financial transaction tax, but frankly, all you need to know is that people in this economy are hurting. They're losing their homes. They have no health care. They've lost their jobs. Something's wrong and everyone knows it. And when you look around and you see the billions of dollars and the billionaires and the excessive wealth that's been taken out of the economy, everyone knows that.
They don't necessarily know how to speak about derivatives or stocks or all of that. But they know that those people who have those things have the money. So when we went to the capitol, two stories I'll relate very quickly.
One of the young nurses goes into one of the legislator's offices and says, you know, "We want the financial transaction tax." And this male legislator says, "Well, you nurses know a lot about financial transaction," like, you know, "What would a nurse know? Or what would a woman know?" "You nurses need to lower your expectations." And she said, "Would you like me to say that to you when I'm prepping you for surgery?" And it says the story right there, right, though, because ultimately we're talking about the life and death of people. That's what the nurses see. They see life and death. And so it's that same body that's presenting themselves to the nurse on that operating table. Those nurses see those patients in droves every single day. And they see people without hope. And they see fundamental despair. Another nurse told one of the legislators, "I don't know a lot about the financial transaction tax, but I know I pay tax on everything I buy as a working person and they should too." And that's it. They have been able to essentially, the people in the financial industry have been able to ultimately take so much money out of the economy and not even have to pay a minimum sales tax on that money. Not even a minimum.
BILL MOYERS: So how did these two congressmen respond?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Very cynically, very cynically.
BILL MOYERS: Cynically?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Yeah, what happened was that then the nurses came back together, told the stories. And of course, that enraged everyone, because that's the same experience they had in all the offices, dismissive. Our legislators have found that they can be dismissive, because labor doesn't have anywhere to go. So we decided to take the campaign to establish a Main Street Campaign to take it back to the communities and talk to real people who are losing their homes, jobs, and health care.
And say, "There is an option. We can all get together. We can fight for a financial transaction tax, this tax."
BILL MOYERS: We used to have a financial transaction tax in this country. From 1914 to 1966. Then, in 1987, at the time of another Wall Street crash, the first President Bush and Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, and several other Republicans called for restoring it. Didn't happen.
ROSEANN DEMORO: No, and there's even a financial transaction tax in the S.E.C. right now-- a small one. There's one in New York City, as well. I mean, so financial transaction tax, you know, has been here.
BILL MOYERS: There are many critics of the financial transaction tax. And they say, among other things, that the banks will simply pass the cost onto the consumer. They say that the banks -- if they have fewer trades, will let people go. There'll be unemployment on Wall Street. They say that the banks will flee, they'll go abroad, they'll go somewhere else with their business, as happened once when Sweden had a financial transaction tax, and lost a lot of trading activity. They say you're killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, I'm waiting to see the golden egg. The truth of the matter is you can fix the fleeing with regulation and with policy. That's an easy fix.
In terms of jobs, there's very few jobs actually that the financial sector hits-- it's a computerized industry. Nanosecond trading, and it's very concentrated. And that's part of their beauty, part of their scheme, right? It's basically they've created an economy onto themselves without people.
And the problem is their lobbyists and the incredible amount of money they have buy and sell our legislature. They've got enormous amounts of money. But we can win this, because we have the people with us.
BILL MOYERS: So is the campaign for financial transaction tax largely leverage you're seeking, just a means of getting the attention of the powers that be? Or are you serious about getting this $350 billion dollars from a 50 cent tax on every $100 dollars of transacting?
ROSEANN DEMORO: We're as serious as a heart attack. Can I tell you that?
BILL MOYERS: You can tell me that.
ROSEANN DEMORO: If you're going to fund social services-- we assume we need about, what $500 billion to kind of jumpstart a jobs program. There aren't real jobs left in America. We need real jobs. And we need health care. I mean, all of the things that we should have a society.
BILL MOYERS: But here's what you're up against. First of all, they're not going to take you seriously, because you are nurses. What do nurses know about Wall Street? Secondly, they're going to say that, you know, the banks will find a way to circumvent this tax, pass it on to the consumers.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Isn't that amazing? Isn't it amazing how bad our thinking is in this country? That people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street. That they shouldn't have to pay 50 cents on $100 dollars of trade? I mean, that's just-- it shows how far we-- afield we've come from where we need to be as a society.
Because otherwise, what we're going to be is, you know, have this kind of industrial peasantry in this country. And I mean, that's where this could go if something doesn't change pretty dramatically. What I can't understand is why our legislators-- they know there's a problem.
I don't know what they think, how they think we're going to solve the problem. You know, there's a deficit created by speculation. And all of a sudden working people are supposed to pay for the deficit, that's the rallying cry? Like a deficit that working people didn't cause, that that's the priority of this country to resolve a deficit caused by Wall Street rather than job creation?
BILL MOYERS: But, you know, I don't know anyone who understands the castle better from the battering ram side than you. You've been out there with a battering ram for a long time. Trying to change Washington is virtually an impossible task, because of the entrenched, systemic corruption by which the town now runs.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely. The current way we practice politics, we are headed for devastation. I would agree with that. The only way we can do that is by changing ourselves. I'm very tired of all of us being disappointed in Democrats. I mean, okay, how many more Democrats can we be disappointed in? I-- we have got to change ourselves. We have got to-- that's why I like the Occupy movement.
And hoping that it, you know, moves with structure and reform. And I'd say, you know, kind of non-reformist reforms. Like the financial transaction tax, because what that does is it starts having a different view on speculation and what's a responsibility to society. But Occupy is extremely important to us, because it actually doesn't buy into the fact that we're all in this together.
We have been in this we're all in this together bubble fantasy for so long. I mean, you know, things were supposed to trickle down. And then all of a sudden, we were supposed to be part of some bubble up. And I mean, it's just everything's trickling, but it's trickling up.
BILL MOYERS: But suppose you get the $350 billion. What if it's spent on bombing Iran?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, precisely. We're not earmarking the money. We're not saying, "Okay, we want $350 billion. And this part should go to health care and this part should go to education." What we're saying is that part of the process of obtaining the financial transaction tax is the movement itself.
Because if we can engage people to actually engage the legislators-- I mean we have to continually hold them accountable. We can never give our power away. And we can never buy into the lies that have been told to us for so long. I mean, I don't even recognize, you know, liberals anymore. I don't even—
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, they will invariably be apologetic for anything that comes down. In health care reform, liberals, we want single payer. We absolutely want single payer. And then suddenly single payer was off the table. Even the president said at one point in time he supported a single payer system. Boy, you never hear those words anymore.
Then everyone said, "Okay, well, we're you know, we're drawing the line on the public option. We will never ever compromise off the public option." All of a sudden public option's gone. And then it came to an individual mandate. "We will never agree to tax, you know, workers benefits. We'll never agree to tax our health care benefits." And now all of a sudden liberals are rallying around taxing health care benefits. It's like how low can you go? So I have, for myself and hopefully for a lot of other people, I'm looking at a stage now for absolutes. There's got to be—
BILL MOYERS: Absolutes?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutes. There's going to be—
BILL MOYERS: In politics, a game of compromise, you're looking for absolutes?
ROSEANN DEMORO: There you know, we've made the compromises. Look where these compromises have got us. Do I think that there's an absolute right for people to have health care in this country? Absolutely. Absolutely. Do I think people are entitled to work and provide for themselves and their families? Absolutely. That's an absolute.
Do I think that people should have a home to live in and to be able to care for the most vulnerable? Absolutely. Yes, I'm looking for absolutes. I'm not interested in the neo-liberal agenda. I'm not interested in bipartisanship. I'm interested in social change that actually puts society back with the people.
ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to start all over, in terms of how we do politics. Right now—
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to engage people in their communities to actually elect the people and tell those people what we want and tell them we will un-elect them if they don't fulfill the needs of their community.
BILL MOYERS: Now you're talking about a mass movement there.
ROSEANN DEMORO: I'm talking about an absolute mass movement.
BILL MOYERS: Because after the election, we both know that after the election, no matter how the voters have expressed themselves, it's the donors who decide what the—
ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --incumbents do when they get into office. We know that.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Invariably what happens is the groups are called into the White House. And they're told, "No." And then they come back and they tell the coalition, "No." And then everyone's cutting side deals. And there's no actual social movement.
What I like about Occupy is that a lot of groups tried to coopt it, and it stayed its own course. And we've got to have Occupy with a political-- you know, strategic decisions that are actually going to push the agenda for the American people. Revolt is a good one, because ultimately revolt gets a lot of attention. But we also have to be on the demand side. And we've got to be able to reach everyday people who are actually out there struggling. And give them hope.
BILL MOYERS: The paradox, RoseAnn, is that you're calling for more public action—
ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --for more public policy, for more government, at a time when there's a growing powerful conservative movement that says government is the problem.
ROSEANN DEMORO: We want to have the corollary to that on the other side. Where we're actually inspiring people toward a better vision for society, for hope, for a social movement that they can engage in, that's not the politics of hatred, that's not the politics of fear, but the politics of hope. Now to do that, we are going to tap the anger, because people should be angry. So we want to validate the anger, but not take it in a reactionary way. But a way that's actually life affirming.
BILL MOYERS: Have you had any indirect or direct response from the White House to your campaign for the financial transaction tax?
ROSEANN DEMORO: We have from the White House precisely what-- I can't say from the White House, in all honesty. We have with the legislators precisely what happened to us in single payer. We had the financial transaction tax. We talked to the author of the bill, who'd done it twice before, in-- in Congress. And asked him to reintroduce it again. And said that we were going to build a movement around it. He said, "Great, you know, wonderful."
And all of a sudden, they came up with this tiny transaction tax which is effectively not much for deficit reduction, earmarked for deficit reduction. And so we were just astounded. And so what they told us-- this is the same thing. This is the same speech of "You nurses need to lower your expectations. Well, we have to introduce the concept first."
Well, the concept first of all is there. It has been introduced in America. We've had it historically in America, as you pointed out. We have it in New York. We have it in the S.E.C. We don't need the concept. We have the concept. What we need is the money to jumpstart this economy.
But I think what they want to do is to make sure that they're assuring Wall Street that it won't actually hurt. The same thing is as what's happened in health care reform.
BILL MOYERS: I ask this next question, knowing that within the world of labor leadership, you have your own politics. The AF of L-CIO, just recently endorsed Barack Obama for reelection. You're on the executive committee of the AF of L-CIO. Did you vote for endorsing Obama?
ROSEANN DEMORO: No, I didn't go to the meeting.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
ROSEANN DEMORO: We haven't taken a position on Barack Obama. Our nurses worked so hard the last time on his campaign. They worked for months. I mean, people left their homes. They were excited. You know, they actually believed in his candidacy. They thought that he meant what he said when he actually supported single payer. And all we needed to do was get him there.
But we made a tremendous mistake. I mean, as a country, as the nurses, everyone. And that is he said, "You need to push me." Well, no one pushed him, except for the right, and except for Wall Street. We didn't push Barack Obama. In fact, we had the liberal groups who were yelling at anyone who stepped out of line to get in line.
So now we're in a situation that we, in part, helped create. That's the dilemma here. You can't solve the problem without changing the way you do your own work. And so this isn't about Barack Obama. We are in a process of figuring out if we're even going to endorse legislators this year, because it’s so bad.
BILL MOYERS: But let me tell you what some of your liberal and progressive allies in Washington are saying. "Look me in the eye, they say, and tell me that you're going to stand by with 170,000 powerful fighters out there for social justice and see Romney replace Barack Obama?" That's what they're saying. That's not—
ROSEANN DEMORO: Of course they would say that. And that's a reality. That's the politics of today. And so for us, you know, whether or not we endorse Barack Obama or whomever is pretty much irrelevant. I don't-- yes, it's true. We're an activist organization. We have a phenomenal amount of power. We have a disproportionate amount of power, relative to where we are. Because it's not just our members. We have, you know, we have millions of nurses who relate to us organizationally.
BILL MOYERS: It is. It's a tough union.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Oh god.
BILL MOYERS: You in fact, I watched with incredulous eyes, when you actually took on Schwarzenegger, a very popular Republican celebrity governor.
ROSEANN DEMORO: I know.
BILL MOYERS: And you helped bring him down.
ROSEANN DEMORO: We did. We did. Actually, you know, his Waterloo was when he said in front of a woman's conference, "I kick nurse's butts."
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Pay no attention to those voices over there, by the way. Those are the special interests, if you know what I mean. The special interests just don’t like me in Sacramento because I’m always kicking their butt.
That’s why they don’t like me.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, we put that shoe on the other foot. And we—
BILL MOYERS: Why did he say that?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Because well, first of all, because he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was above it all. But again, the way we practice politics. He became governor. Everyone thought it was more important to get his autograph than to actually hold him accountable for the policy. And so, what happened was he decided to-- nurses have patient ratios in California, which is a phenomenal law.
He decided to roll that back. And then he wanted to meet with us. And we said, "No, we're you know, leave that legislation alone or we're not meeting with you." Well, he attempted to roll it back. We set out on a campaign. And I'll tell you, we took his popularity from up here to down here. And he never regained his popularity again. He was so shocked and off of his game that he thought that, you know, he could just be dismissive of just about everyone. He was Hollywood. He was the governor. He was above it all. And you know what—
BILL MOYERS: He was the Terminator.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER in Terminator: I’ll be back.
ROSEANN DEMORO: He was the Terminator. He was the Terminator. But, you know what, it shows you the power of these nurses. Right there, right there, it tells you how much power they actually have. When a nurses speaks, the legislators know that a nurse can be a very scary person. And for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislators certainly know that. When Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to take on the nurses, I swear the legislators were like, "Oh my God."
BILL MOYERS: I don't want to put you on the spot, but well, I do want to put you on the spot. Why doesn't all of organized labor have that today? You know, I know that organized labor has been anemic. It's been under fire, of course, for 30 years. There’s been a strong conservative business campaign to make them impotent in our society. And they've largely succeeded. But there's a pathology in the union movement that has contributed to its own anemic—
ROSEANN DEMORO: It has.
BILL MOYERS: What is it? What's happened?
ROSEANN DEMORO: I think it's class shame. You know, in the last 30 years, everyone was supposed to be middle class. Working class was a bad thing. To be from the working class was you know, no one was from-- even labor uses that. You know, you working families. They don't say the working class and they don't say working people.
Everyone says middle class or working families, and you're supposed to have disdain for the working class. They bought into the paradigm, to where they became vulnerable to middle class consultants who redefined what they were supposed to be. So, I had one of the major labor leaders who has since left come to me one day 12 years ago or so and say, "We went through this consultant training and oh, you could learn so much from it."
And he said, "The thing that you could learn the most is non-confrontational language." And I thought, "Well, why in the hell would I want to do that?" You know, I mean, not be confrontational? There are people out there who are trying to harm my members, working people, poor people, and I don't want to confront them? Of course I want to confront them.
What it told me was that fighting became actually defined as something that was pathological. And the labor movement bought in. And why in the world the labor movement would buy in, I don't know.
BILL MOYERS: Assuming you will retire one day, do you have a bucket list of what you'd like to accomplish before you retire?
ROSEANN DEMORO: Yes. And it has things that are fundamental and things that we've been working on, all of our lives. And that is a just society, health care for all, taking money out of politics, of course. Jobs. Good paying jobs in America. Pride in being an American. Although I will say that we're working on the global scene, and the opportunities to actually have one world and one people, and even though that sounds pie in the sky are presenting itself in a way for the first time that I've seen in my life.
Because the financial transaction tax is seen by all of our allies internationally as a way of addressing the economy of the world. And that's why it's not the financial transaction tax in and of itself, it's the reconceptualization of what we should be as a society of people.
I am really sick of the people who are apologists for finance. From my perspective, and it may sound simplistic, but working people built this country. And you know what, Bill, if we have to, we can build it again.
BILL MOYERS: I can see you're going to have to postpone your retirement for lord knows how long.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, you can be my role model for it.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you, RoseAnn DeMoro, for being with me.
ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you so much.
BILL MOYERS: Joining RoseAnn DeMoro and the nurses at their Chicago march and rally on May 18 will be the rock star activist Tom Morello -- who just happens to be my guest on next week’s edition of Moyers & Company. Tom Morello came to fame 20 years ago as the lead guitarist in Rage Against the Machine. Some of you will know Rage as one of the most successful and political rock bands of the nineties. And one of the most controversial. When the group disbanded, Tom Morello became a one-man revolution: a troubadour singing songs of protest across the land from the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol…
TOM MORELLO: This land is your land!
BILL MOYERS: To Occupy Wall Street.
TOM MORELLO: Let's march and sing!
BILL MOYERS: Wherever you look, he’ll be there.
TOM MORELLO: My job is to steel the backbone of people on the frontlines of social justice struggles, and to put wind in sails of those struggles. And people who are fighting on a daily basis, at a grass roots level.
BILL MOYERS: That’s next week’s broadcast. On our website BillMoyers.com, you’ll see a new feature called “What We’re Reading” – news stories and analysis from the Internet. And take a look at our Campaign Ad Watch page. There’s information, tools and links to help you in the fight to make campaign ads honest and the dark money behind them transparent. And remember: you’re always welcome to become one of our Facebook friends.
That’s it for now. See you next time.