BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company.

ERIC ALTERMAN: The great vision of the Great Society was built on an ever-expanding pie that could be redistributed to more people. But once that pie started shrinking in the 1970s, because of largely economic reasons-- then we started fighting over the spoils.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I am a supporter of capitalism, but as a Christian I'm not always a supporter of capitalists.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Imagine if you turned on your TV set someday soon and were greeted by this:

SESAME STREET CHARACTER #1: HI! Welcome to Sesame Street!


BILL MOYERS: But first, this message…

CAMPAIGN AD #1: This time Romney’s firing his mud at Rick Santorum…

CAMPAIGN AD #2: Starring Barack Obama as President Flexible…

BILL MOYERS: Sesame Street—brought to you by the letter C, for creeping campaign cash corruption. Okay, perhaps we’re exaggerating a bit, but as the late William F. Buckley, Jr., used to say, the point survives the exaggeration. Because a startling decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the federal ban against political and issue advertising on public TV and radio. This means potentially, that super PACs, special interests, and the rich who want to influence elections could buy ad time on your favorite public television or radio station.

The Public Broadcasting Act was signed into law in 1967. It uses the term “noncommercial” 16 times to describe what public television and radio should be. It specifically says, and I quote, “No noncommercial educational broadcasting station may support or oppose any candidate for political office.” We’ve taken that seriously all these years, and most of us who've labored in this vineyard still think public broadcasting should be a refuge from the braying distortions and outright lies that characterize politics today.

In its majority decision, the circuit court did uphold the rule that forbids public stations from carrying ads for commercial products and services, but it said it seemed logical to the judges that the decision on political advertisers wouldn’t cause stations to dilute their noncommercial programming. Logical? Sorry, your honors: this is the same so-called logic that led the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its notorious Citizens United decision, that’s the one that opened all spigots to flood the political landscape with cash and the airwaves with trash. “To be truthful” one former PBS board member said, "it scares me to death.” Us, too.

With our stations always in a financial pickle, frantically hanging on by their fingertips, it won’t be easy to turn down those quick bucks from super PACs and others. But if I may, hang in there my brothers and sisters in the local trenches: if ever there was a time for solidarity and spunk, this is it. Stations KPBS in San Diego and KSFR, public radio in Santa Fe, have already said they won’t take these ads. If enough of you say no, this invasion might be repelled. And viewers, our stations need to know you’re behind them.

This message was paid for by our uncoordinated Super PAC: Americans at the Crossroads for Wall Street Prosperity and Restoring the Future on Our Terms Only Who are People Like You.

I’m Bill Moyers and I both approve and disapprove this message.

This week, two important new books, two fine writers – one on the left, one on the right, each an independent thinker. Together, they make the case for old-school faith and politics.

First, The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.” Eric Alterman superbly tells the story of how FDR’s New Deal liberalism lost its hold on the American imagination and is struggling now to regain it.

A historian turned journalist, Eric writes for The Nation and The Daily Beast, among others, and has published eight previous books. He is also Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College and the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Welcome to the show, Eric.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Thanks for having me.

BILL MOYERS: So have you written the eulogy for liberalism?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Well, I certainly didn't intend to write the eulogy. No, I haven't written the eulogy for liberalism. I fear that I may have written the eulogy for a certain kind of liberalism, for an economics-based liberalism, for a liberalism that sees the-- that uses a strong central government on behalf of the people who need to be protected by their government, who need to-- who need some force in the world to protect them from corporations and economic forces that are beyond their control. Certainly cultural liberalism is flourishing. Social liberalism is as healthy as it's ever been.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by "cultural-social liberalism?"

ERIC ALTERMAN: Well, marriage equality, however you want to define it, is clearly the wave of the future. It's when I-- let alone, you, but when I was young, the idea that being gay is something that's okay, that you would talk about with your children and they would have teachers and friends that were openly gay was unimaginable.

Was one of the worst things you could joke about, in those days. And yet, today, we've had a revolution in that area. Much quicker, I think, than most of us expected. When gay marriage first came on the agenda. I don't think any of us expected that it would be legal so quickly. Civil rights took much, much longer than that. But again women's rights, civil rights, gay rights, other kinds of rights for people. Anything that doesn't cost money, really.

BILL MOYERS: This is why I asked you if you'd written the eulogy. Because taking the criticism from the other side, David Brooks, the conservative writer wrote recently that "this should be a golden age of liberalism." Wall Street debacle has undermined faith in capitalism. Worker wages are flat. Corporate profits are soaring. "The Republican Party is unpopular and sometimes," says Brooks, "embarrassing." And, "yet the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberals is either flat or in decline. There are now," says Brooks, "two conservatives in America for every liberal."

ERIC ALTERMAN It's a complicated phenomenon. In fact, if my friend David Brooks had looked a little more carefully at the data, or a little more deeply, not carefully, but deeply. He would have seen that most of the positions that people who reject the liberal label, nevertheless embraced liberal positions.

Just about everyone who calls themselves a moderate has liberal positions. But they won't cop to the word "liberal." That's in part because the word has been so abused. It's been-- there's been hundreds of millions of dollars spent by conservatives to make liberal an epithet. And it's been successful.

And the other reason is probably liberals' fault. It's not that people disagree so with liberals on the issues. They don't. What they don't like is what they feel to be liberal condescension. The liberals telling them how to live their lives.

BILL MOYERS: But wait a minute, it's the conservatives, Santorum and others, who are telling people how to live their lives.

ERIC ALTERMAN: But for a long time, when you and your friends were running the government there was a sense that anyone who stood in the way of progress for black people and other minorities was immoral or ignorant, at best. And they needed to be uplifted. And that was certainly-- I certainly would have felt that way. And-- but it didn't seem to have any end. So at some point, a bunch of people, maybe most people decided, "Well, enough is enough. We've made up for all of the inequities that this country has been responsible for a long time." We've made good on that check that Martin Luther King said needed to be cashed at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. And then the rest of it was just liberals, again, telling them how to order their lives.

BILL MOYERS: What liberals were saying is, "You can't keep people in indentured servitude. You can't keep people in second class and third class schools." It wasn't--

ERIC ALTERMAN: That's what they began saying. But in the late '60s, what they began saying is, "We're going to take your job away and we're going to give it to other people."

BILL MOYERS: You're talking about affirmative action.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Affirmative action, housing, you know, discriminatory housing patterns. If you look at all of the inequity in education, in housing, in jobs, in a place like Chicago. Well, it all derives from housing patterns.

The way-- that were purposefully built that way, to separate white people who didn't want black people in their neighborhoods. And every time you tried to address that, you were met with community wide violence that was approved, by and large, by the community. Fire bombings and horrible things.

And so there were no good solutions to this. And I think one mistake liberals made, even though I certainly sympathize with the goal, is they didn't have a plan for what to do when things didn't work out. When we had to integrate the country with all deliberate speed, what was the plan if the people weren't going to go along with it.

BILL MOYERS: Liberals couldn't have done what you would like them to have done and reversed discrimination in this country.

ERIC ALTERMAN: But the fact is that we were asking for almost a revolution in everyday life for in a lot of parts of this country. And the liberals who tried to bring it on from above--

BILL MOYERS: But when the demand for change came, it didn't come from the top. It came from Martin Luther King. And young men and women on freedom rides and pastors in the South, standing up to Jim Crow. That's where the movement--

ERIC ALTERMAN: That's an enormously inspirational story. I call that the "we shall overcome period" of history. But societies are organisms. And when you change one thing in one place, things change all over the place. And I think that liberals were so in-- they were so committed to the rectitude of their cause that they didn't think hard enough about implementation. And they didn't realize-- I mean, the one things conservatives are right about is that when you change things-- particularly from the top down, they're never going to go as you plan. And you have to be adaptable. But that was Franklin Roosevelt's great strength was he was always ready with another plan when the first one didn't work.

BILL MOYERS: He was impro-- he was a great improviser.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, great improviser. Government is--

BILL MOYERS: You write that "Franklin Roosevelt's great contribution was to inspire the notion that government might play a positive role in improving the lives of its citizens." But you also go on to say "He never defined the boundaries of benevolent government intervention in either the economy or our individual lives." And isn't that still where liberals are wrestling today, to define the boundaries of government, in its intervention?

ERIC ALTERMAN: I think they're wrestling with the consequences of having failed to define them. I think there were certain boundaries that people would have felt comfortable with and liberals went beyond them. And I do blame liberals, particularly in the '70s for failing to understand that they were no longer acting liberally anymore. They were merely redistributing the spoils of the system amongst various groups.

The political scientist, Ted Lowi, called this "interest-group liberalism." And liberals turned on one another, you know? Feminists turned on blacks turned on gays turned on white working-class people and so forth. And they ended up being their own worst enemies, because they couldn't agree on a common goal for government to lift up people in a majoritarian sense.

The great division in postwar American liberalism is between Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy's notion that-- I'm not so sure about Kennedy, but certainly Roosevelt and Truman, that this was a majoritarian movement to help everyone, lift all boats. And that by doing so, you would help the people who needed help the most.

And then beginning with the Great Society, it became much more about trying to help particular victims of past discrimination and past wrongs and so forth. And so people no longer saw themselves in this project. And that's when I think liberalism was seen to go too far. Now philosophically, you can say it was the right thing to do, because these are the people who needed help. But it's a political loser.

Again, society's very complicated. People are very complicated. And we have to be careful when we mess with these things. Because we're messing with people's lives. And they're not going to react like laboratory rats.

BILL MOYERS: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, United States Senator from New York, once said that Democrats are the party of government. And David Brooks says that is the problem, is that liberals still believe in government when most Americans don't. He quotes one poll that reports only 10 percent of Americans trust government to do the right thing, most of the time. That makes it hard for liberals to call for more government.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I agree liberals are the party of government. You can't-- look, an individual in society, who is not well-born, who is not born with all kinds of advantages needs help to be able to self-actualize through the education system, through community organizations, to get through college.

It costs to go to a private college, it's $50,000 a year. And with people who work, you know, hard just to make a living, it's not easy. And they need a hand from somewhere, particularly since we now live in an age of global capitalism, where the corporations have no-- feel no sense of responsibility at all the local communities or even the country themselves. So if you want to give people genuinely equal opportunity, which is what is the point of liberalism, you need to give these people a hand somehow. And government is how we do that.

The problem is-- and it's the problem for liberals. There's an awful lot of unfairness in the world. And there's only so much we can do about it, you know, as a society. There's only so much opportunity we can offer people. There's only so much equality that's ever going to be available.

So the first thing we need to do, as liberals, to become credible to the other 80 percent of Americans who refuse to call themselves liberals is find a way to make the government protection of their lives, intervention on their behalf, in their lives credible. And it's no easy task.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you say that liberals have never gotten the right handle on the class issue. That Democrats, they can't handle politically the issue of class, right?



ERIC ALTERMAN: Why can't they do it?


ERIC ALTERMAN: I guess there's two reasons that come to the top of my head. One is that because identity politics, for so many groups, is so strong in this country. In part, because we're a nation of immigrants, and a nation of minorities that those identifications seem to trump class. So certainly race trumps class.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean when you say "race trumps class"?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Most people of color think of themselves as people of color first, not as working people first. And certainly their leaders do. Remember, it was an amazing thing when Jim Hightower from Texas endorsed Jesse Jackson. Because the idea that a white populist would endorse a black civil rights leader for president was seen as shocking.

When in fact, they were on the same side on just about all issues. But the division of race was seen as so much more powerful than the continuity in class. So the great question from Werner Sombart, the historian, why we have no socialism in the United States, it's because the people who would have been the socialists and were in Europe were fighting with each other, between the Italians and Irish and blacks and Jews and so forth. That's one reason.

The other reason is that the conservatives have mastered the politics of class in a way that liberals haven't. Liberals are afraid of the politics of class, in part, because they're funded by really rich people. They're funded. You know, our liberal politics are funded by people who would have to demand higher taxes on themselves.

And whereas conservatives have a consistent message. And so they're able to-- they're libertarianism, even if it's only for show, it resonates with people. It's a response to the liberals telling them how to live their lives. The conservatives are saying, "We're not telling you how to live their lives. You go do and whatever you want."

BILL MOYERS: Libertarians are, but not Christian conservatives.

ERIC ALTERMAN: No. And they're in a very uneasy balance with one another.

BILL MOYERS: You begin your book with a quotation from the late historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. himself a great liberal. Quote, "The existence of Franklin Roosevelt relieved American liberals for a dozen years of the responsibility of thinking for themselves." How so?

ERIC ALTERMAN: When Franklin Roosevelt was governor of New York, he wasn't really much of a liberal. He didn't really become a strong liberal until his second term. He was elected on a balanced budget in 1932. But then he came out against economic royalism. And he called himself a "militant liberal." But his policies were not ideologically driven at all. They were incredibly pragmatic.

BILL MOYERS: Militant in his rhetoric against the plutocrats. But many of the New Deal programs deliberately excluded black participation, farmers in particular, others like that.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, Eleanor Roosevelt used to be on his case about this a lot. But he would tell her this is the only way that they can possibly pass. This is the only way to hold this coalition together. And they're better off. And he was right. None of those politicians would have gone along for the ride if it had included blacks. That was where they got off the train. And in fact, as you know, the labor movement never really made any progress, much progress in the South. And that was because it was insufficiently exclusionary to blacks.

So this-- I mean, you can tell the story of the epitaph of liberalism in many ways. You can say, "In the 1970s, the pie stopped expanding."

As you know, as well as anyone, the great vision of the Great Society was built on an ever-expanding pie that could be redistributed to more people. But once that pie started shrinking in the 1970s, because of largely economic reasons-- then we started fighting over the spoils.

You can say that "Liberals have a tendency, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, to overpromise and underperform." But you can also say, as Lyndon Johnson said, by signing the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and losing the South forever-- he didn't just lose the South, he turned the primary constituencies of the Democratic Party, in the North, against one another. And from that moment on it became much, much harder to put together a progressive coalition.

BILL MOYERS: He knew this. He knew when he embraced the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, '64 and '65, that he was taking it beyond Franklin Roosevelt. He was including embracing the cause of civil rights, knowing it was going to alienate Southern churches, Southern Baptists and the white elites.

ERIC ALTERMAN: And it might have worked over time, if there had really been an expanding pie. But because he got so deeply involved in Vietnam. And Vietnam became such a sinkhole and also divided the country, it became impossible to move forward on the kinds of the "we shall overcome" agenda. And so we'll never know. We'll never know. But the way it turned out was disastrous for the cause of liberalism. And actually, in many ways, for the cause of the people that he was trying to help.

BILL MOYERS: You also quote the liberal economist whom we both know, Robert Kuttner. Quote, "how did we make such stunning progress in three decades on issues involving tolerance and inclusiveness," as you have just talked about. "And how is that, during the same period, we have gone steadily backwards on a whole set of economic issues?"

ERIC ALTERMAN: Another reason that liberals do so badly in polling, in terms of, "Are you a liberal?" is that most people don't think that politicians are going to deliver on any of their promises. So even if you-- some guys promising to gut your Medicare and Social Security and another guy's promising to protect it, they're just promises. It doesn't matter. You might as well vote for the guy who looks and sounds like you, as much as possible.

Liberals have taken their eye of the ball, I think, since the '70s. It didn't happen by accident. They have allowed this purchase of a government to take place. They have spent their time fighting amongst themselves, arguing about peripheral issues, being on the defensive. It has a lot to do with the loss of self-confidence. Liberalism suffered an enormous blow from McCarthyism in the first place. And then from the New Left--

BILL MOYERS: McCarthyism condemning liberals as traitorous--

ERIC ALTERMAN: As somehow less than American. And then they suffered an enormous blow when their children, in the 1960s, told them that they were war criminals because of Vietnam and because of the way we treated the Indians and because of how blacks were treated and so forth. And these were their children. These were the people in the elite schools that they had worked so hard to send their children to.

And they never-- and then Ronald Reagan got elected president, who seemed like a joke. Before Reagan was-- got elected, nobody took the guy seriously. How can you elect this buffoon who thinks that air pollution comes from plants and trees? And so I think those three events, those three punches in a row, robbed liberals of their self-confidence.

And ever since then, they haven't really been able to make their case in a full-throated way. You know, whenever a conservative says, "A." A liberal says, "Well, maybe A, maybe B, possibly a little bit of C." And it's very hard for any politician. If you take the most conservative politicians in our society, you know, people like DeMint.

BILL MOYERS: Senator Jim DeMint, South Carolina.

ERIC ALTERMAN: And Rick Santorum. And you compare them to the most liberal in our society, people like Barney Frank or George McGovern. They're-- I admire Barney Frank and George McGovern, but they're very moderate people. They see the other side of their-- of the issues. They're not demagogic in any way.

BILL MOYERS: So do liberals not have the instinct to fight?

ERIC ALTERMAN: I think, number one, they've lost their self-confidence. And number two, they're, to some degree, hampered by their own recognition of complexity. If you listen to Limbaugh and Buchanan, everything is simple, you know? "Here's what we've got to do." But if you listen to a liberal-- Obama said this about himself and about Jimmy Carter and about Bill Clinton. He said, we're paralyzed by our wonkishness. And it makes it difficult to communicate a vision that we can march to as a collective.

BILL MOYERS: On a scale of one to 100, as a measure of where someone stands, where do you put Obama as a liberal?

ERIC ALTERMAN: With 100 being who?

BILL MOYERS: Roosevelt.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I put him at about 30.


ERIC ALTERMAN: Thirty-five. Yeah, in today's society, I would put him at about 55, 60.

BILL MOYERS: Why the difference?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Because as a society, we've moved incredibly further to the right, since Roosevelt's time. But there's something about our political system, dominated as it is by money and by corporations and by the elite media that beats down the liberalism in Democratic presidents.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, David Brooks, who is a thoughtful critic of liberalism says that liberals need to do what farmers do. They weed. And they get their ground clear. And then they replant. And he says, liberals, Democrats should weed out what's not working.

ERIC ALTERMAN: That's absolutely true. And what liberals have done instead, because of their loss of self-confidence is they've played defense everywhere. So one of the great victories of liberalism, and it's true, was when George Bush tried to destroy Social Security. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo," which barely existed at the time, got all his readers to call up their representatives and say, "Oh, did you want to destroy Social Security?" And it got the representatives to go on record.

But nobody then came forth with a plan to make it whole. Nobody has a good plan on the liberal side to ensure, that I've heard, to ensure that Medicare will survive. Nobody's willing to take on corporate welfare, the agricultural lobby, all the tons of money that goes to all these different organizations. That goes to the Catholic Church, for God's sakes. Billions and billions--

BILL MOYERS: No pun intended.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Right. I mean, they're all these organized groups that, are we allowed to say, sucking at the tit of government. That are considered to be sacred. And liberals need to fight this battle, because the resources are finite. And you can't, obviously, you can't win these battles when the very victories that you won like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid in the Great Society have now become albatrosses around your neck. So they need to do what you and David Brooks suggest is weed out the programs and decide which ones are the ones worth fighting for and expanding. And then fight for them.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you write this book?

ERIC ALTERMAN: I was looking for people who I could admire in history. I was looking to locate myself on the shoulders of others. But more than that, you know, I think liberalism just makes sense. Liberalism is acting rationally and principally in the name of fairness, in the name of the greatest amount of equality possible.

Saying that being born rich shouldn't give you an impossible advantage over everybody else forever. That's just common sense to me. It's what this country was founded on. There were different priorities back then. But it's the same challenge that faced the founding fathers. That faces every generation. And yet, it's held in such ill-repute. It's considered so outrageous.

Whenever-- I've had the word liberal in a few of my books. And whenever I go on the radio or on one of these cable shows, it's like I'm defending, you know, child murder. So I'm really needed to-- I'm a historian, so I needed to understand that process, historically.

BILL MOYERS: In a word, as we say in television, what is the cause today?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Today the cause is greater equality, two words. Well, yeah. No way to say that in one word. Today, we're living in a moral emergency. The combination of the Supreme Court opening up the system to unlimited amounts of money and so much money being accumulated by such a small part of our society has really threatened the future of this country, as a democracy in any meaningful way. Plutocracy is not a hyperbole. It's actually a more accurate description of how our politics actually works.

BILL MOYERS: And plutocracy means?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Plutocracy means the rule of the wealthy, the rule of the very top of society by the plutocrats. Everything flows from that. Schools flow from that. Parks flow from that. Health care flows from that. Housing flows from that.

All the causes that liberals care about, having to do with equality, are only given meaning by the resources that are being, right now, sent entirely upward. And unless we can find a way to equalize those resources, to some degree, then things like integration are kind of meaningless.

BILL MOYERS: So when the proverbial alien from Mars arrives and says, Alterman, how will I know a liberal when I meet one? How do you answer?

ERIC ALTERMAN: You know how you know someone is a liberal? It's because they believe in the enlightenment. It's because they believe in reason. It's because they follow their thoughts to their logical conclusion. And they say, "This is the right thing to do." Now exactly what policies that leads you to is always changing and always open to argument. But they don't say, "This is what God told me to do." They don't say, "This is what the dialectic of history told me to do." They say, "This is the right thing to do for the greatest number of people."

So if there's one challenge that faces liberalism-- liberals today, it is to find a way to revive people's faith in the ability of government to improve their lives. And that, to me, is the-- would be the next chapter of this book.

BILL MOYERS: The book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama. Eric Alterman, thanks for being with me.


BILL MOYERS: Just as fifty years ago liberalism was the vital center of our politics, our religious landscape then was dominated by mainline Protestants and a Catholic Church becoming less Roman and more American every year. One of the most symbolic events occurred in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for the new headquarters of the National Council of Churches here in New York City. Before a crowd of 30,000, Eisenhower quoted George Washington, who described religion as the firm foundation of the country’s moral life.

That was the decade America put God on our paper money and in the Pledge of Allegiance. And though the churchly DNA often fostered racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and Cold War dogmatism, many thought biblical religion, in its various incarnations, was the engine driving the American future.

But then, says my next guest, American Christianity went off the rails – and now threatens to take American society with it. Furthermore, the snake in the garden is not atheism, nor is secular humanism the worm in the apple. Our fall is the work of heresy, as you see in the title of his latest book: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

Ross Douthat has tasted widely from the buffet of American Christianity. He was baptized Episcopalian, attended evangelical and Pentecostal churches in his youth, and was converted to Catholicism at age 17. Now he’s widely considered to be one of the country’s most influential conservative voices. He’s the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and also has written Privilege – about the perils of a Harvard education, and co-authored Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.


ROSS DOUTHAT: Thank you so much for having me Bill, it’s great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: I found your book fascinating because you seem to me to be carrying on an argument with yourself. And I'm never sure till the last chapter which Ross Douthat is going to win out. Am I right about this?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, tell no tell me more. What’s kind of argument am I carrying out?

BILL MOYERS: Well, there's the pious Ross Douthat whose faith was delivered to the saints. Historically and traditionally grounded. A believer in the dogma of the essential Christian experience. And the political Ross Douthat who seems, throughout this book, to be unsure about making peace with a Republican party and you are conservative, whose base embraces an absolutist theology.



ROSS DOUTHAT: I see. You see, you're trying to tug me. Well, let me--

BILL MOYERS: No, no. There is the suspense of where you're going to come out, is worth the price of the book.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, that's very kind of you to say. I mean, I think that I do consider myself a political conservative. And I do identify, you know, with religious conservatism broadly speaking. And I identify with, I think, the causes that animate religion conservatives. I'm pro-life and I think that cause is immensely important to American Christianity.

But I also do argue that what's happened on the religious right over the past 30 years is often a sort of captivity of religion to partisanship rather than a religious spirit influencing politics. And I think that's happened though on the religious left as well.

I think in part the story of what happened to American Christianity after the '50s and '60s is sort of a captivity on both sides.

And so you have Billy Graham, this you know, Evangelical preacher, and you have Martin Luther King, a civil rights activist. Both of those figures are religious figures who had political influence. And, you know, both of them were sometimes more partisan. Graham became more partisan in the Nixon presidency. King late in life became somewhat more ideological. But they were never in general thought of as specifically partisan figures.

But then flash forward a few decades to the 1980s and two figures who could have been their successors in a way, Jesse Jackson, a potential heir to Martin Luther King, and Pat Robertson, you know, similarly in a preacher with a wide audience.

When they decide to get involved in politics what do they do? They don't sort of stand outside a little bit and try to influence. They run for president as you know, Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson ran for president. And imagine how different the history of the 1950s would be if Billy Graham and Martin Luther King had run for president?

And I think in that, in that difference you can see the shift from, again, a faith that I'm arguing that Christian faith always has to be, in some sense, political because Christians are called to be engaged with the world. But, it needs to be political in a way that doesn't just become a sort of expression of a party line. And I think that's happened on the left and the right alike.

BILL MOYERS: But your quarrel is with what you call the heresies?


BILL MOYERS: Joel Osteen's gospel of prosperity. God wants you to be rich.


BILL MOYERS: Oprah Winfrey's therapeutic religion. You can make yourself feel better.


BILL MOYERS: Glenn Beck’s messianic nationalism which sees God as the president, the commander-in-chief, so to speak. Your quarrel is with-- you call those the heresies, right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I and try look at sort of popular theology. Right? Where are people where are ordinary Americans actually getting their religious teachings from today. Right?

And I think the places that they're getting it from are places like The Oprah Winfrey Show. There're writers like, you know, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love which I think is a fas - actually a theologically fascinating book. Writers like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and so on.

And then, as you said, preachers of sort of a religion of prosperity like Joel Osteen who argue that, you know, God wants you to have that big house on the corner. That, you know, you need if you aren't rich now it's just 'cause you aren't praying hard enough. And I think that those-those aren't necessarily, you know, you could argue that Osteen is sort of right wing and Oprah is sort of left wing, but they aren't really political, they aren't really political figures.

BILL MOYERS: They're not Jesse Jackson.

ROSS DOUTHAT: They're not Jesse Jackson.

BILL MOYERS: Right, right.

ROSS DOUTHAT: But they are some of the, what I call in the book, heretics. And I use the word heretics because I think that - what is religion in America like right now? Are we a traditionally Christian country? I don't think so. But are we a secular country? Well, surely not. I mean if you look at public opinion polls on belief in God, experience of miracles, people claiming personal encounters with the divine, we're probably just as a religious as ever.

So we-- I think we occupy this interesting middle ground between sort of traditional Christian orthodoxy and sort of secularism or something more post-Christian where we're deeply influenced by Christianity but sort of flying off in all kinds of directions. And I think heresy, it is obviously a loaded word, but I think it's the right word.

BILL MOYERS: But the premise of your book it, to me is that once upon a time, 50 years ago, 60 years ago religion was the - it was a robust center.

ROSS DOUTHAT: There was, there was-

BILL MOYERS: And it was broad-

ROSS DOUTHAT: There was a Christian center, yes.

BILL MOYERS: And heresies can be even more robust, can they not?


BILL MOYERS: Than the institutions from which they split off?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Absolutely. And the book is very critical of a lot of the religion trends I'm describing. But it’s also…

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you call it bad religion.

ROSS DOUTHAT: But it's bad, but it's also what I do try and do as well is take them I think more seriously, theologically seriously, because you're right. They can be deeply robust. And I think, take the example of prosperity preaching. Right? I think a lot of people, especially our fellow journalists, turn on a prosperity preacher, whether it's somebody smooth like Osteen or one of the more ridiculous figures in their garish suits. And they say, "This is absurd. This is just something to be made fun of."

But the point I make in the book is that, no, there's actually a real core theological appeal to that idea. And the same is true, the same is true when I talk about sort of what I call the god within and sort of therapeutic religion and Eat, Pray, Love. I think that these are-- these theologies have an appeal for a reason. They answer people's questions about God and the universe.

BILL MOYERS: Well, they're writing theology irrespective of what the faith of our fathers and the old time religion might have believed.

ROSS DOUTHAT: What's different about our era is not the presence of, as you say, people writing their own theology. There's nothing more American than that.

What's different is the absence of a sort of institutional Christian response. I think there's been this, one of the points in the book is that we're used to thinking that orthodoxy without heresy is dangerous. Right? And that's absolutely true.

But the era we're living in now is a landscape were we have heresy without orthodoxy. That, you know, when Emerson stands up in the eight, I think the 1830s and gives this famous Harvard Divinity School address and says, "I can no longer agree with this, this and this Christian doctrine," that's a fascinating and intellectually important moment because the people in his audience disagreed with him because there were people though there who did believe in those traditional doctrines and you had that clash.

If Emerson - if an Emerson stood up and said that at Harvard Divinity School today people would say, "Well, sure. We don't, you know, we don't believe in that either." And it's that, it's that tension between orthodoxy and heresy I think that's been lost as the traditional mainline denominations have declined and as my own Catholic church has weakened as well.

BILL MOYERS: The charged word in the title of your book is not, to me, heresies, because I think the faith is a long narrative of heresies and many fights over them. The charged word is "bad religion."

ROSS DOUTHAT: Bad religion.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that fundamentalism, along with the gospel of prosperity, the cult of therapy with Oprah and the chauvinist, nationalist, god-soaked patriotism of a Glenn Beck are bad religion?

ROSS DOUTHAT: And you've left out the "Yes, we can" utopianism of certain Obama supporters, which I do throw in there as well. But I’m--

BILL MOYERS: That, oh, it seems to me that's political rhetoric. What, every president--- "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Maybe that's theology, but it's political.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think, I think--

BILL MOYERS: Are you equating Obama with Osteen and--

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that, I'm not equating Obama himself with those figures. I think in some of the enthusiasm for Obama in 2008, if you go back and look at some of the things that were written, there was this famous column in The San Francisco Chronicle where you know, a writer said, "I think Obama is the light bringer. He's this great soul." And you had all the endless sort of religious iconography and magazine covers.

And or you go watch that famous Will.i.Am video where, you know, everybody's singing about Obama. I think there, yes, you do see a sort of, a liberal, a liberal form-- I think the investment of partisan causes with sort of religious enthusiasm is part of what I call heresy. And I yeah, I think--

BILL MOYERS: All right. But--

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yeah, I think it happened with Obama supporters too. I think there’s a mirror.

BILL MOYERS: You're too young to remember how people sang for John F. Kennedy and--

ROSS DOUTHAT: I, but I-- well, I--

BILL MOYERS: And even Lyndon Johnson before the fall. And at the rhetoric, how did the rhetoric of Barack Obama differ from the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan in terms of its- -

ROSS DOUTHAT: Oh, no. I think, all but what I'm saying is that-- I mean I talk about Reagan a bit in the book too.


ROSS DOUTHAT: I think there are mirroring-- I just think there's a mirroring on the left and right where on both sides you've had this sort of you know, as institutional religion weakens, but people remain religious. Right? They still have religious enthusiasm, because man is naturally a religious animal, it becomes easier and easier to invest partisan causes with religious enthusiasm.

And I agree. You see that in sort of the Republican cult of Reagan sometimes. Sort of, you know, "Morning in America, city on the hill." I'm just saying-- I think you saw it in the 2008 campaign a little bit too. But I haven't answered your question about badness.

I think the badness comes from the fact that they have the field to themselves. And it's the absence of this, this creative tension between, between some of these heretical forms of faith and stronger institutional churches, you know, I think you can draw a bright line between certain forms of prosperity, theology and the housing bubble.

I think you can draw a bright line between some of the cult of the god within and the fact that Americans seem to have harder and harder-- a harder and harder time living in community with one another. Our, you know, we marry less, we have more children out of wedlock, our community organizations are weakening. And some of that I think does have to do with a kind of narcissistic form of spirituality. So, so, yes okay. I will own up to the badness. I just want to emphasize that I'm a believer in that tension between heresy and orthodoxy.

BILL MOYERS: Let me come back to what was going through my mind as I read this book. It seems to me you're just not all that comfortable with the conservative religious sanction of politics that has turned the Republican party into a church of capitalism. Is that right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think it’s, you know, what - part of what makes me a political conservative today, is that I think that that synthesis of Christianity and the welfare state isn't always as easy as people thought it was in the '40s and '50s. And it isn't always as easy, in part because I think people in those eras were often a little bit over-optimistic about what centralized planning could accomplish in an economy.

And also I think a little bit, a little bit naive about the extent to which original sin, right, which works itself out in the marketplace all the time, can also work itself out in, you know, corrupt bureaucracies and administrations just as easily.

And at the same time, I mean I think there has to be a distinction that Christians have to be willing to draw between saying we as a society need to be open to caring for the poor, but we as a society don't necessarily need to feel a Christian obligation to maintain, let's say, middle class entitlements as they are now indefinitely into the future. Right? There's no New Testament passage where he says, you know, "Remember the middle class and their Medicare, now and forever, world without end."

So again, I am a political conservative overall. And my broader sympathies at the moment are with sort of having some sort of limiting factor on government. That being said, I think you're absolutely right to see in my writing a discomfort with sort of an easy valorization of sort of anything that capitalists want to do.

BILL MOYERS: Jesus was hard on the money changers. Right?


BILL MOYERS: But conservative Christians today seem quite at ease in the service of wealth and power. Quite uncritical. Quite unquestioning. In fact I think if they read this book they'll be harder on you for your judgments about the heresy of worshipping mammon and those who produce it than they will be you calling them heresies. But I think all of those Christians out there who think that the free market was set up in Genesis 1:1 will have a real quarrel with you. As you do with them.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that there are conservative Christians who think that way. I also, though I spend a lot of times with conservative Christians. And I think that what you also have from a lot of them, younger Evangelicals especially and then also Catholics and so on, is a, I think an agreement with the point I make in the book. Right? And that you just expressed. That the New Testament is very critical of great wealth and so on.

But also a fear that if they - if they spend too much time sort of rhetorically focused on those issues, that they will be essentially giving aid and comfort to a liberalism that they feel is hostile to their basic beliefs.

BILL MOYERS: I wrote down something you said elsewhere. Quote. "If you don't think the government should be responsible for cutting great fortunes down to size that should only heighten your responsibility to issue a moral critique when rich people let greed and hubris get the better of them." Where on the religious right do you find that moral critique of wealth today?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that you've, I mean, I think you sometimes find it from even conservative Catholic bishops. And I think you do find it particularly among a lot of younger Evangelicals who are still sort of identified as conservative.

BILL MOYERS: But is a faith that has made its peace with laissez faire capitalism and that theologically justifies the pursuit of wealth, in your own frame of reference is that truly Christian?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I would distinguish in a way between the two. I think that laissez faire capitalism is, for all its faults, the system you know, it's what Churchill said about democracy, right? It's the worst system except for all the others. And so in that sense, yes, I think Christians do have to make their peace with some form of capitalism.

Having made that peace, though, as in the quote you just read, I think it's important for Christians not to then proceed to make theological justifications for everything that people within the capitalist system do. So that's a distinction I would draw. I am a supporter of capitalism but as a Christian I'm not always a supporter of capitalists, if that distinction makes sense.

BILL MOYERS: Should Christian societies do everything in their power to make the largest possible provision for the poor?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that Christian societies have an obligation to do two things. They have an obligation to, one, make a provision for the poor, but they also have an obligation to make sure that that provision doesn't create dependency and sort of rob the poor of their independence and ultimately their ability to rise.

And that the state doesn't become a substitute for institutions that I think Christianity is ultimately more in favor of. So sort of the family, private initiative and so on. Jesus of Nazareth, as you said, incredibly hard on the money changers. Incredibly hard on the rich. But his exhortations are usually focused towards individuals. He doesn't have a specifically political program.

And so there's a danger if you're too political, if you say, "Well, the state is just going to be solely responsible for taking care of the poor," then there'll be no room left for sort of genuine acts of charity. So that's, that's the balancing act. I support a welfare state, but it doesn't mean I support every expansion of the welfare state.

BILL MOYERS: Who is closer to your sense of Christian conservatism, Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Now that's a very good question. And it's a hard one. On the sort of big picture question of how faith should relate to public policy I have a lot of sympathy for the passion that Santorum brings and the fact that, you know, he's-- I mean there are a lot of nominally pro-life politicians in the Republican party.

Rick Santorum actually cares about the issues, that issue. And he's spent a large part of his career in the Senate working on that issue. By the same token, Rick Santorum has also been an example, to some extent, of the kind of thing we were talking about earlier where you want your politicians, your Christian politicians to not just be partisan. I mean Santorum as a senator, he was very conservative, but he was also would reach across the aisle, particularly on issues related to poverty.

BILL MOYERS: Well, on progressive taxation--

ROSS DOUTHAT: He was a tax--

BILL MOYERS: He was to the left of Romney--

ROSS DOUTHAT: He would, he would--

BILL MOYERS: --on progressive taxation.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Right. And he was attacked by Romney for a bill allowing felons to vote and so on. So there is a sort of a secret left wing side of Rick Santorum that was created by his Christian faith. So in that sense I say Santorum not Romney.

But then if you ask me on sort of you know, who, you know, aren't just voting for someone whose sort of overall premises you admire. You're voting for someone on policy positions and on competence. And on those grounds I'm probably closer you know, closer to Romney.

BILL MOYERS: What more do Christians conservatives want from Romney? I just made a list. You know, he's already says he's pro-life and has pledged to de-fund Planned Parenthood. He pledged to appoint an attorney general who will defend the Defense of Marriage Act. And he supports a constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

He pledged to repeal the healthcare overhaul. He says that Americans are victims of unbounded government appetite. He argues that Obama wants the repress the freedom of conservative Christians. Those are right out of his statements. So what more do Christian conservative want of him?

ROSS DOUTHAT: They want, they want what Americans always want from their politicians. They want to feel like he loves them. They want to identify with him. No, I mean, this is the thing. Politics is not just about sort of reciting the right list of positions.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it's not even that.

ROSS DOUTHAT: People want you to support.

BILL MOYERS: You're on the right track. It's not even that.

ROSS DOUTHAT: It's not even that. And Mitt Romney in their hearts, conservative Americans know, it's not just Christians. It's just conservatives across the board. They know Romney isn't really one of them. That he is, he is what, you know, what Gingrich called him. A Massachusetts moderate. Not in the sense of being, you know, really liberal but in the sense of--

BILL MOYERS: That's a real heresy.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Being a sort of technocratic, you know, businessman. And that, it's that sense of identification that has been missing for Romney. Whereas, you know, I mean conservatives want to feel what liberals felt with Barack Obama. Right? And what liberals felt for Barack Obama in 2008. Again, it wasn't just about the policy. Isn't wasn't even about the policy. It was about this almost religious that, I said before, identification. And that's where Romney falls short. But it might also be why he would be a good president. But I tend to think it actually better sometimes when politicians don't inspire that kind of affection from us.

BILL MOYERS: I would challenge you on one point. I don't think the liberals I knew felt that way about Obama. They thought his election would be the apotheosis of 300 years of racism. But I think they wished he-- I wished-- they would like to feel the way they once felt, and my father felt, about Franklin Roosevelt. Which is, I think, the same thing that Ronald Reagan made a certain generation feel.

Look, we have to close. But you quote in your book my friend Bill McKibbon, who says that America is, quote, "simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior." Right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well I, but I quote him to disagree with him slightly. I think that in quoting him, I think what – I think that argument does sometimes miss the good that conservative Christians do not by voting for government programs but in their homes and their charities and their overseas missions and so on.

And that if there was one thing I would say to liberals who think that all conservative Christians are sort of hypocrites and so on it's that, you know, look at the way a lot of American Evangelicals in particular live their lives. Look at someone like Michelle Bachmann, right? Who's kind of a hate figure on the American left. Michelle Bachmann really did you know, she really was a foster mother to a lot of children.

And I think that kind of impressive personal behavior is present, I mean it's present on the left and right alike, but I think it's a big - it's a big part of what it means to be Christian. And so as much as I'm critical of conservative religion, I think it does also get part of the Christian story really right.

BILL MOYERS: Can we continue and I'll put this on the web?


BILL MOYERS: The book is Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Ross Douthat, thank you very much for spending this time with us.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Thank you so much, Bill. It was a pleasure.

BILL MOYERS: You may recall that recently we talked about how the media giants who own your local commercial television and radio stations have been striking like startled rattlesnakes at a simple FCC proposal. It would shed light on who’s bankrolling political attack ads by posting the information online.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the rule April 27th, and this past Monday, its chairman, Julius Genachowski, walked into the lion’s den, the annual get-together of the industry’s lobby, the National Association of Broadcasters. In his speech, he cited a letter from the deans of several leading journalism schools who said quote: “Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover. It seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principles to themselves." We’ll link you to his entire remarks. In fact, we now have a special area on our website -- Campaign Ad Watch -- dedicated to keeping the story of political advertising and all the big, often secret money pouring into it, front and center. You can share your opinion on the idea of super PAC ads on public television. What do you think? Let me know. I’ll be reading. That’s it for now. See you next time.

Watch By Segment

The Case for Old-School Faith & Politics

April 20, 2012

Two movements once at the vital center of our society, liberal politics and American Christianity have gone astray. In separate conversations on this weekend’s Moyers & Company, Eric Alterman and Ross Douthat discuss the implications of these wayward courses on American democracy.

First, Eric Alterman describes the grand aspirations, ambitions, and historical ironies that prompted him to write his new book The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama. He calls on liberals to regain “the fighting spirit” that characterized Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and to put it in service of new liberal policies for the 21st century. Liberals, he tells Moyers, have overpromised and underperformed, and it’s time once again to make government credible.

Ross Douthat, the conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, is just as candid about how traditional and institutional Christianity has declined from a vigorous, mainstream, and bipartisan force to a polarizing, heretical combatant in the culture war. He argues that a revival of true and basic Christian principles can lead to American renewal.

Also, can you imagine Super Grover from Sesame Street followed by a super PAC ad from K Street? Neither can Bill Moyers. In an essay at the top of the show, Moyers talks about the recent U.S. Circuit Court decision to allow political and issue advertising on public TV and radio channels. “Just say no,” Moyers urges station managers across the country — but they need your help.

  • submit to reddit
  • SteveB

    Bill, A great show.  Though now an American living in Australia, I keep up with what is going on day-to-day in the US (often more completely than relatives and friends living in the US) through such efforts as yours.  Thanks for all that you do to try and preserve some civility in American political discourse.
    Steve Flora, Canberra

  • Anonymous


    It’s too bad you couldn’t have  have found a better exponent of liberalism than Alterman – someone who actually proposes a Green New Deal for the country, as Jill Stein does. If he claims it is moribund – perhaps it would be interesting to talk to someone who doesn’t. Alterman says no one on the left has a coherent plan for saving the safety net programs of the New Deal era – that is because he considers the left and the Dem party coterminal. If the left wants lefty answers, it will have to go outside of the Dem Party – that has been quite clear since Clinton …

    Keep hoping you will expand your horizens ….. so far you have gone the gamut from A (Dems) to B (Reps) – when do we get to see C?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never quite figured out what it is about Alterman that makes me ambivalent about him, but I think I may now know what he’s trying — and sometimes failing — to express.

    I agree with him that the classic liberalism that has fueled Americanism is out of date — if, indeed, that’s what he’s trying to express.  There is something about old-style liberalism that cannot deal with difference except to deny that it exists.  To deny it exists means being blind to gender, race, ethnic, sexual, and other kinds of difference.  It’s fine to state that we are all equal, but “equal” does not mean “indistiguishable.”   In other words, liberalism cannot deal with the postmodern — and if you are an orthodox postmodernist, what you want is to get rid of liberalism completely.   I don’t yet want to go that far, since postmodernism has not yet been able to tell me what happens to agency and choice within a postmodern political system.  Just because agency and choice are relative, does that make them undesirable?  Postmodernism cannot answer that question.

    For me, this problem with liberalism is most apparent in the abortion debate: when it comes to reproduction, women and men cannot be regarded as identical humans.  E.g., the liberal ideology of individualism operates against the pregnant woman, who is neither an individual nor two individuals.  She is in a category by herself — a category which classic liberalism does not recognize as a legitimate category.   The way liberalism deals with her is through pro-choice; the way conservatives deal with her is as two separate individuals, and the fight is over which of the two’s rights are primary and which are secondary.

    So let’s get rid of the liberal ideology of liberalism and treat pregnant women as in their own category.  For me, what pro-choice means is that, until we do away with individualism altogether, the pregnant woman should decide whether she’s one or two individuals.

    Another problem with liberalism is that it seems to have adopted from old-time marxism the notion of “false consciousness,” meaning that people who disagree with liberals — people like those seemingly nutty religious conservatives — don’t really know what’s good for them, so they should not be allowed to interfere in the political process.  Contemporary marxists — of whom there are precious few in the US (but a few more in Canada and Europe) — have spent the last couple of decades grappling with this idea.  I think that socialists — the true leftists, not those pseudo-leftists that Americans call liberals — have abandoned the notion of “false consciousness.”  They recognize that those who seemingly suffer from it are merely different. 

    In sum, it’s about diversity.  I don’t know how a federal government grounded in old-fashioned liberal principles can govern a people as diverse as those in Canada and the US.  Liberals want to standardize everything, when what is really needed is a way to deal with all the myriad differences.   Americans freak out at the idea of sharia law without recognizing that the American Jewish community has been practicing Judaic law for decades.  In other words, there are ways that liberalism can accommodate difference: all you have to do is come together as a community and decide on where to draw the red lines, i.e., honour killings definitely cross the line.

    Liberalism seems “liberatory” to us, only because conservatism has had its way for so long.  But we need to think more deeply about it.  We need to think about which liberal principles we wish to hang on to and which are no longer useful.  In short, we need to reform liberalism itself.   It has proved reformable over the last 150 years.  There’s still room for reform within it.

  • Anonymous

    A response to the Douthat segment.
    ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that Christian societies have an obligation to do two things. They have an obligation to, one, make a provision for the poor, but they also have an obligation to make sure that that provision doesn’t create dependency and sort of rob the poor of their independence and ultimately their ability to rise.
    And that the state doesn’t become a substitute for institutions that I think Christianity is ultimately more in favor of. So sort of the family, private initiative and so on. Jesus of Nazareth, as you said, incredibly hard on the money changers. Incredibly hard on the rich. But his exhortations are usually focused towards individuals. He doesn’t have a specifically political program.
    And so there’s a danger if you’re too political, if you say, “Well, the state is just going to be solely responsible for taking care of the poor,” then there’ll be no room left for sort of genuine acts of charity. So that’s, that’s the balancing act. I support a welfare state, but it doesn’t mean I support every expansion of the welfare state.
    Response: and here we have the religious argument for the state to ignore the poor. To take away their choice, their decision to help, or not, the poor since the government will do it?  How can I be a good Christian and help the poor if the government does it?  It is the same conservative argument on guns.  If you take away my guns you take away my choice not to use the gun to kill someone because I feel like it.  How can I be good when you take away my choice to be bad.  The narcissism required here is immense, but it is also very American.  How can I assert to other people that I am good if I cannot tell a story of how I was tempted to do bad, but did not? 
    Of course this kind of thinking must mean that when someone does bad, and kills someone because they feel like it, they should be punished.  Conservatives should be insisting that George Zimmerman be in jail because he used a gun to kill Trayvon Martin who did not have a gun.  And here is where we see the narcissistic disconnect of conservatives.  They want to assert that having the choice means that choosing wrong will be punished, except when they don’t.  Douthat has no answer for the inconsistencies.
    ROSS DOUTHAT: But it’s bad, but it’s also what I do try and do as well is take them I think more seriously, theologically seriously, because you’re right. They can be deeply robust. And I think, take the example of prosperity preaching. Right? I think a lot of people, especially our fellow journalists, turn on a prosperity preacher, whether it’s somebody smooth like Osteen or one of the more ridiculous figures in their garish suits. And they say, “This is absurd. This is just something to be made fun of.”
    But the point I make in the book is that, no, there’s actually a real core theological appeal to that idea. And the same is true, the same is true when I talk about sort of what I call the god within and sort of therapeutic religion and Eat, Pray, Love. I think that these are– these theologies have an appeal for a reason. They answer people’s questions about God and the universe.
    Response: And here is Douthat’s main problem, explicated by Douthat himself.  The “heresies” answers people’s questions about god and the Universe.”  Moyer should have continued this by asking what do you think those questions are?  What have those questions become?  The reality is that as inequality has grown increasingly the questions people ask are why do they have so much when I have so little?  Why are they asking this question?  Because of very political decisions made over the last thirty years, decisions made by the wealthy to become even more wealthy.  The increasing inequality has driven the religious questions.  Why does God reward them and not me, even when I do what’s right?  The answers however come not from God, but American culture where individualism reigns.  The why comes back to what choices have I made?  I did not have enough faith.  Not that I did not go to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, I did not makes all the connections to the right people, I was not born rich, no, the cultural answer is I do not have enough of something inside me and that is why I am not rich.  Douthat is correct in asserting a narcissism, a need to be told it is all about me, my faith, my belief, me, me, me. 

  • Anarchangel

    At 9:47 , Alterman describes reactionary racist arson attacks. Alterman’s next thought is, “…and I think one mistake Liberals made…”

    No one who
    supports the forces of compassion and ethics against the forces of injustice
    and hate fails. If the fight is going badly, just play something tragically heroic like Wagner or Evanescence, and you may understand this statement, and perhaps that music, a little more clearly

    See Bill’s comment after 8:15 to find out who are the real enforcers of political correctness

  • Anonymous

    I think a bigger problem than the move from an “orthodox”  faith in God to a heretical religion guided by TV evangelists, is determining if you are a Christian or not.  Unless you have faith in the teachings of Jesus and accept Him as Lord, I don’t believe the rest of it matters in the long run. 

    Many so-called christians seem to forget what the Bible really teaches as a foundation, and let someone else interprete scripture for them into political propaganda.  Jesus even narrowed down the commandments to three.

    When you consider that the end results will last for eternity, I would hope that more people would spend time studying the Bible and researching answers to their questions and important issues.  I am convinced that God’s Word  is alive and more relevant than ever to today’s problems and events when studied in context of the time and culture, and as a means of testing the integrity of leadership.   

    Everyone seems to want to be a prophet, but understanding the prophesies fulfulled by Jesus  is more important.  As a Christian, on judgement day, I don’t want to have to explain why I wasn’t trying to live by the simple teachings provided by Jesus instead of someone else’s conflicting agenda.

  • Cfrkeepr

    Great program Bill. Authors Alterman and Douthat really prove the point of how effective the conservative movement is in bringing out primal instincts of tribal loyalty. Both espouse admiration and respect for liberal idiealogy and fault for their consevative tribe, yet they still wave the flag of the conservative tribe. It seems that not even a severe threat to human society would cause them to switch sides. Perhaps your next story should have   Chris Mooney on to discuss this psycological irony.

  • Notsofancyfarm

    I do not understand so called christian not following the ten commandments and the golden rule. Until the great depression the church was the welfare department. The bible says preachers are to live in humble means. What has happened to our churches?

  • Julogue1

    The so-called conservative right would have us believe that you create dependency by pushing drowning victims down into a piranha tank. 

  • Julogue1

    The message is clear:
    John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and
    the one who has food should do the same.”

    Many “Christians” are not looking for answers but constantly, consistently and stubbornly marketing the justification for plutocracy. 

    Perhaps Jesus was referring, not so much to the poor, but to the wealthy, when he spoke of the poor, you will always have with you. 

  • Gary Williams

    One of your best shows ever.  Both gentlemen were outstanding in presenting their viewpoints, and both had very valid points.

  • Ellen and Oskar

    Thank you for your essay, Bill!  This court decision had escaped our attention and, as usual, you have made us aware of a situation that requires our participation.  My family and I are off the write our three local PBS stations right now !

  • Liaisonsus

    Look at someone like Michelle Bachmann, right? Who’s kind of a hate figure on the American left. Michelle Bachmann really did you know, she really was a foster mother to a lot of children.

  • Comtessa de Metoncula

    Look at someone like Michelle Bachmann, right? Who’s kind of a hate figure on the American left. Michelle Bachmann really did you know, she really was a foster mother to a lot of children.
    She is actually a raving lunatic!
     She with the help of her maybe homosexual husband, tried to cure Homosexuals with forced prayer and what else..
    Don’t you need a medical licence to cure anything in this country? The same goes with exorsism..Either one of those forms should be scrutinized as quakery and sanctioned as snake medicine.
    They are all hypocrites and religious lunatics.

     I think that Christian societies have an obligation to do two things. They have an obligation to, one, make a provision for the poor, but they also have an obligation to make sure that that provision doesn’t create dependency and sort of rob the poor of their independence and ultimately their ability to rise.
    So , how do you reconcile the fact that in order to make the poor independent, you should give them them the tools to become independent especially women?

    Give them the right to decide whether to reproduce or not . The number of children they really can afford to raise..And hello my fellow Americans, but poverty is directly linked with the lack of availability of Planned Parenthood. I want to vomit when  I hear Santorum and Romney  talk about our healthcare while they and their families benefit from free and lifelong healthcare  paid by the Taxpayers no less. Something is very wrong with this picture!

  • Carl Howard

    As for Eric Alterman – and in fact, because of Alterman’s specific remarks, I have to conclude that Moyers needs to schedule Chris Hedges immediately.
    As for Ross Douthat, I have to conclude that he is a man so conflicted in his own beliefs that he has reached a form of comfortable denial.  He allows himself to believe in false equivalencies and in historical distortions of fact.  Specifically, at no time did either the Obama campaign or the Obama Administration fall on New Testament dogwhistles in the disgusting manner that the Reaganites – and of course Saint Ronnie himself – constantly did.  Obama at best has mustered pseudo-religious weak sauce at National Prayer Day Breakfasts he ought to have stayed away from, just as assuredly as he never ought to have made any connection with the pathological homophobe Rick Warren.

    Douthat appears to refuse to acknowledge the comfortable ingress of theocratic fascism within the mainstream of the GOP itself, and its insidious axis with the corporate oligarchy which spends millions each month in its efforts to reduce the United States from a cultural and educational leader, to one mired in ignorance and servitude.

    Mr. Douthat, look to your own… and rebuke them. And distance yourself from them.  You’re clearly miles above a stumbling, dissembling goon like Sean Hannity, or a carnival barker of the Apocalypse like Glenn Beck, and yet you have lost the critical ability to see the forest for the trees.

  • Milt2

    <> Hedges was demolished by Chris Hitchens back in 2007 on KPFA. Hedges is a dud.

  • Susan Humphreys

    I realized many years ago that “our religions” haven’t
    served us very well. I use religion (little r) in the broadest sense of any
    philosophy that holds specific beliefs or doctrines about the world and how it
    works or should work. In this sense Liberalism, Environmentalism, Capitalism any
    “ism” would qualify as well as what we traditionally consider Religions (big R);
    Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.. From the conversation last night
    I’m not sure either of the guests pinpointed why things went wrong. All the
    world’s major Religions have taught that it is our EGO that gets in our way and
    keeps us from reaching our full potential as human beings as well as from
    finding our way to God or whatever it is we seek. I think the underlying cause,
    why our religions have failed us, is Hubris (brought on by our EGO), our
    tendency to think that our ideas, our beliefs, our God, is the TRUTH, the BEST,
    and all others are (to be polite) not as good as ours or blatant outright lies,
    dangerous to society, Communistic/un-American. There is never room for compromise or even modification to accomodate other ideas/beliefs or even openness to listening to other ideas. Why bother if you believe you have all the answers? If we want to solve the world’s problems we
    need to figure out how to help people control their Ego’s and thus their

  • Susan Humphreys

    A Heresy the dictionary tells us is simply a belief that is different from the accepted belief of a specific group at a specific point in time. Jesus was a heretic, his beliefs went against the mainstream teachings of his group at his point in time. Paul was a heretic, his beliefs (from what I have gathered from the Bible and Biblical scholars) went against the beliefs of Jesus and his 12 disciples. So HOW in all honesty can someone complain about the heresies of others when his own faith is itself a heresy?

  • Susan Humphreys

    I think you make some good points. In the effort to level the playing field, Liberals settled on a “one size fits all” concept and applied it to every situation and problem they encountered. Which we intellectually and scientifically know doesn’t and will never work. BUT it is the easiest way out, the easiest way to handle complex problems and make yourself feel good about doing something to solve the problems rather than ignoring them.

  • Rbu1230

    Thank you once again Moyers and Company another fantastic
    show. Eric Alterman’s thoughts are similar to what I have been debating with
    myself. Since Regan said (paraphrased) “government is the problem” government
    has gotten a bad rap and has taken the liberal cause down with it. I now (after
    much analysis and observation of government, politics and private industry)
    believe that American government is a good thing.  Who is there in times of natural disaster, when you need
    protection (both local and abroad), keeps our water and air clean, subsidizes
    education to help us get ahead and so much more? The answer is, the government.

    So I say to Regan and his anti-government
    believers I think government is the solution and not the problem. Maybe
    government can use a facelift or some new spin doctoring? So I propose to all
    liberals/progressives let’s present government like it is family. Yes like a
    good family, government is there to protect – like a father, guide – like a
    grandparent, help-out – like an uncle/aunt, support – like a brother or sister,
    care – like a mother and instill discipline (the dreaded idea of “regulation”)
    – like both father and mother. And we can be either a dysfunctional family or a
    functional family. I hope with proper understanding of how government is a good
    thing, government can be seen as important and functional for the benefit of
    the greater good for all of us as in the U.S. Maybe then we can start repairing
    the damage that has been done by all the past negativity toward our government
    and liberal beliefs. 

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps Richard Dawkins as a guest.

  • Rban201

    To Rbu1230
    We don’t have clean water or air, American education is abysmal, and FEMA is scary at best + we have antiquated energy sources that are killing us and all life on the planet – surely, you jest when you say all is just fine

  • guest

    but isn’t a member of the military, part of the government? 

  • Gary4books

    I have not seen this show.  But the day any New York Times writer tells me that my church and I are not “on track” I will disagree.  God knows what we do.  I doubt that Bill will ever have a clue.

  • gramma

    I’m 72 years old and have become a “wizard” at using the DVR.  Why?  So I can watch a few shows on commercial television and speed by and ignore their commercials, particularly the ones that result from the Citizens United decision.  I can still watch HBO and PBS and not be exposed to these insulting, ridiculous commercials.  But now I may be losing that right while watching PBS??  I can’t believe it!  Let’s keep our local PBS stations free from commercials from Super Pacs.  Every day I wonder why I didn’t move to Canada in my earlier years…

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Hitchens was a mentally ill war monger at the end, and now he is dead. Hedges continues to  develop. Considering the similarity of Hedges’ and Moyers’  Christian based morality it is a mystery to me why they are not collaborating. In the last several months Moyers has delivered a parallel message to Hedges, albeit more patient and polite. KPFA: the stark frankness of atheism rationally trumps any religion in debate; but many people (not me) base their humane morality in belief and faith. What matters is moral action, and I don’t discredit people for doing the right things when their motivation remains inexplicable to me. That is my limitation, not theirs. In any new regime I would preserve both separation of religion from “state” , as well as  the freedom to believe or not believe what one will about our purpose here and life’s nature, and to worship as one sees fit. Reasoning humanitarians have always cited freedom of religion (implied freedom of thought) as the greatest underpinning of the United States. Economic style is a lesser thing.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Ross is hamstrung intellectually by his Catholicism in a way most American Catholics are not. 
    I would be wary that Chris and Bill might overwhelm one another with their expansive critiques. Such a conversation might require a moderator. I suggest Brian Lamb.

  • Danettelittleton

    Mr. Moyers, In your interview/dialogue with Mr. Douthat, I was reminded of my Grandmother’s exchanges with various folk who called at her door with religious intent. They may not have left changed in their belief, but shaken in their certainty. Did any other viewer notice that Mr. Douthat’s foot shook vigorously as he searched and formulated responses. Thank you Bill Moyers for today and years past that informed and inspired me. 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I think your repulsion over minor crackpots is overblown. I hope you have  plenty of sane, productive friends with whom you plot genuine reform. It is a waste of energy to swat at the wild hairs on the head of Fascism. If any beast deserves starving that Oligarchy does. Don’t feed their pets by supporting such celebrity.

    *The Bachmanns boarded foster care wards because social service stipends and survivors benefits checks (SS) make that a lucrative business when operated on an industrial scale. Someone had to be collusive in local county offices. Their operation  was on the order of a modest rest home and required hiring employees for assistance.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Your robo-news is well established.
    She’s discredited now so quit looking.Other matters are more urgent.
    Hint: There would be no Olympics without spectators. But there could be an Olympics without profiteers. (I plan to boycott the 2012 games.)

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Being Christ-like requires prophesy.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Alterman has P.T.Barnum traits that repel me too.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I think Liberalism (of the FDR/LBJ variety) is ended. I don’t see your government issue  one size fits all as being a problem any longer, if it ever was. If millions need the same fix why not hand it out wholesale? I didn’t see Reagan taking a la carte orders for surplus commodities in 1984. I cooked a variety of dishes with that cheese, butter, flour, rice and beans; and filled many stomachs.It was more the times than the ideology. Whom did you help today? And how? When that becomes an important and pervasive question for all, religious and not, we’ll be more than half way home. Someone should be asking Congress that.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Alterman is an expert on the challenges and injustices of our current debacle but is trapped in popular culture so deeply (as a profession) he can’t see abandoning the hype to save the planet. Maybe hepness is to Alterman as Catholicism is to Douthat. Bill hosts creative visionaries, but political visionaries…. not so much. Now he owes this audience some radical dreamers.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    What do you do Downunder to help Moyers’ cause?
    Can you share anything from there we should know or try?

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Also, are you a relative? 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    “Thesis moderates antithesis into conformity and Synthesis never arrives.” Dr. Roy Wagner

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Thanks for this historical truth, Susan.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Government can sometimes be problematic, but commercialism is not the solution. Commercialism in Fascistic interaction with government now seems locked in an escalating global positive feedback loop of corruption. Maybe both business and government  must be undermined if civilization is to survive.

  • Anonymous

    “the pregnant woman should decide whether she’s one or two individuals.”

    Aye, there’s the rub – that’s what the “discussion” is about – whether it is the woman herself who gets to make that choice  ….

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me that one way to counter the courts’ allowing our airwaves to be filled with paid propaganda is to have shows like Moyers’ help its viewers to explore the range of political options out there – that would be a real public service …. 

  • Michael O’Connell

    I think that Christians have a responsibility to the poor while not turning the US into a welfare state. They ALSO have a responsibility to work towards social justice, helping to ensure that capitalism benefits the most people possible. 

  • Edie

    Mr. Douthat’s  Christian conservative view that fundamentalism is the answer to the destructive conservative Christian political power taken over our politics and government. It is ridiculous to equate Barack Obama  and his secular approach to governing to the Republicans cynical use of christian fundamentalism to control everyone’s lives as we watch the war on women, resurrected in 2012. He makes no sense when he applies his confused thinking to social programs. they worship plutocracy and rule by the powerful over everyone else using religion as the medium for hatred of the government and secularism.

  • Dkensil

    When Mr. Douthat stated that he thought Romney would be a better President than Obama, I decided to discount most of what else he had to say.  I think the safer way to judge folks is on what they do – or intend to do – than what they say. No true Christian could vote for the Romney-Ryan budget which apparently Mr. Douthat supports.

  • Anonymous

     This was exactly the point that was bubbling up in my brain as I read the article. 
    Why is “liberalism” and “left,” and even “progressive” always ASSUMED to equate to the Democratic Party?

    If liberalism is truly in some sort of decline I would place the blame at the feet of this misnomeric concept first.

    There are certainly more parties in this nation that we liberals are to be found involved in -the Green Party for starters.  Though they are trying mightily to keep others off ballots thinking that they own the votes of liberals, the Democrats are increasingly facing a  public tired of false promises and hungry for new ideas and electoral choice.

    It’s time for liberals to take liberalism back.

  • Dominick Durso

    The addictions of society have spilled over into politics. 

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Twisted logic  is often required for pundits to please their Oligarchs.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    There’s little danger of a welfare state here. A greater danger would be plagues from the breakdown of healthcare delivery combined with poor nutrition.

  • Anonymous

    You raise a very good point – we talk a good deal in many venues about how money and media stifles political voices and choices –  but the elephant in the room is the enormous barriers both parties have colluded in raising to the entry of 3rd parties into the process, both at the polls and in political debates …

    They are afraid, and have good reason to be, IMO, that if the public were offered exposure to, and a reasonable chance to make, other choices, much of it would do so …

    Again, i do encourage Mr. Moyers to explore this crucial, yet vastly ignored and under-covered, aspect of American politics – If the role of public television is to speak truth to power, or at least cover those who do, especially those whose voices are stifled, this would be a very good topic to cover – and a very appropriate time to do it ….

  • GradyLeeHoward

    “with us” is the key phrase. Jesus knew he could always count on the poor; the rich, eh, not so much.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Excellent suggestion for disposing of bodies. In Argentina and Chile (US sponsored temporary totalitarian states) they fed sharks from transport  planes.

    Piranhas when ground make a nutritious fish meal that with growth hormones and antibiotics matures broiler hens in just six weeks. Humans fed a steady diet of genetically accelerated chicken also seem to mature early. Speculative alacrity requires biological speeding.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Christian charity before the Great Depression has been greatly exaggerated.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    How in Hell can a homeless guy wandering from town to town with 12 buddies be expected to have a “political program”? Maybe Christ’s platform came down from the “Home Office.”

    I don’t think Christians need worry about their random acts of kindness being pre-empted by governmental largesse. Not today. Not in the United States. That’s a preposterous proposition.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    There were at first a number of cross promotions between M&C and some excellent blogging and activist sites. That campaign has faded. Featuring a “personality” can also be problematic. Remember “Tree Cups of Tea”? Who’d have suspected that a media darling like Greg Mortenson would turn out  to be an “unknown quantity.” Media booking is a minefield, and M&C is handicapped with a standard issue
    BS detector. 

  • Dnadanyi

    Remember the Enron fiasco? I thought at the time whew I am glad Virginia’s electric is not being deregulated and privatised. Well when I looked it up I was wrong. All the commons are on schedule to be deregulated and privatised. Private companies have lobbyists who donate to politicians campaigns. Think about it when prisons are privatized they need more prisoners to make money so money is paid to politicians to change laws to benefit the profits of these companies. Privatize the military-then they need wars to make money etc. Our water is being privatised.  So now American Water and Aqua America are selling our water supply directly to the Marcellas Shales gas companies in order to make money. And they are putting in pipes to direct the water directly to these gas companies so we do not have to see the trucks on the road. At one point electricity went up 40% in Maryland. The post office is next.  After all the commons are privatized we will not just be nickeled and dimed to death we will be hit over the heads with sledge hammers.  This is abominable and we need to stand up and fight the privatization of our commons.

  • Mlwillsie

    Great Show Bill !

  • GradyLeeHoward

    International trade agreements often mandate these privatizations and austerities without any legislative lobbying involved.
    Elite economic administrators (actually representing corporate and Oligarch interests) meet secretly to negotiate and finalize without any transparency or public access. This negates both democracy and national sovereignty. That’s what the WTO protests in the fall of 1999 in Seattle were about. Subsequently, militarized police have become even more prepared to crush those acting within their rights of redress and association. Elite meetings have become even more insulated and secretive. It’s about too late once related rubber stamp approval gets before Congress. What is billed as free trade is Oligarch mercantilism. Local productivity and control are the target. So don’t think all this privatization occurs in state legislatures and Congress (some does). It’s a global thing driven by engineered economic collapse and even feigned non-state terrorism. It is also integrated with US militarism and foreign policy. It’s business as usual now.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Christ’s threatening policy of serving the poor first resulted in his execution by the Roman State. Maybe Julogue1 has been taught that Jews did it.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It is a basic mistake to think of the Democratic Party as Liberal. It is similar mistake to think of the Democratic Party as an oppositional or alternative organization. It is merely one of two contenders for corporate Oligarch approval. Duopoly is an accurate description.

  • Anonymous

    Blaming Americans for their ignorance ignores the fact they are indoctrinated from cradle to grave in misperceptions. Schools, news and government propaganda alike promote American exceptionalism and downplay its ongoing history of theft and fraud.

    These characteristics define American culture even more today than at the founding of the republic. Nonsense about pushing too hard for justice and equality blinds viewers to the monstrous mobilization of resources against those values by conservative foundations dedicated to maintaining inequality.

    The fact these resources were made possible by systematic theft from both the indigenous nations and the American people dismantles any notions of self-reliance on the part of conservativism, and is indeed traced back to the beginnings of the American aristocracy. Attempting to make amends is understandably difficult, but the 24/7 efforts to spread confusion and distort the history of our culture do not help.

  • Damon261

    Thanks for this!  Excellent material for my economics class at my small Christian school in south Georgia

  • Damon261

     Come on, really? No true Christian – really?  Any vote for any candidate is going to require compromise of some “Christian” value.  Take Joseph and Daniel, for example.  They undoubtedly had to deal with “true Christian” naysayers on their way to the top of their respective political spheres. 

  • Alan Jay Rom

    The interview with Eric Alterman hinted at, but did not capture the critique of “liberals” best captured at the time by Phil Ochs in “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” The concepts of equality and sacrifice by others is good, as long as it doesn’t affect them personally. Look at the response to desegregation in Boston: white liberals fled to the suburbs, leaving desegregation to poor whites and poor blacks, latinos and others. That’s the point of the song. And it is true today (just need to update the lyrics).

  • Jim cooke

    Superb, as usual, Bill.
    But, I wonder what Douthat  means by “religion.”

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but I somehow fail to see the correlation between a “media darling”  and the representatives of legitimate political parties who have been  essentially censored by corporate commercial media ….  

  • Stephen

    Eric Alterman doesn’t seem to understand that democracy is messy; all things can not be neatly planned. The civil rights movement was bottom up, not top down. Segregationists would never respect the rights of minority Americans except by force and public opinion. Minorities being subjected to post civil war violence and exclusion had no choice but to demand the government to protect them, regardless of other outcomes.

  • Dnadanyi

    Who’s idea was the WTO and why is the US involved? This is scary stuff.  It is like we have no control over anything. Nadar worked all his life to help protect us and these treaties have wiped out all his hard work. I feel helpless.

  • Dnadanyi

    The Bachmans never refuse government money.

  • guest

    We need  to remember a fundamental of our nation which seems to have been forgotten by many on the right. We are a nation founded on religious freedom.  We are the most pluralistic society on the planet and to foist Christian principles on the rest of us is simply wrong. Those policies which promote the Christian view denies the rest of us our view.  Our founding fathers are spinning in their graves at the perversion being perpetrated by the Christian right.

  • Dnadanyi

    When I was in NZ I heard a very smart man on the TV. Turned  out to be Thom Hartman. Had to go to NZ to see him on TV.

  • Frances in California

    No, guest: therein lies the confusion that will end the human race!  The US military – as it is in reality here and now – is the fascist entity which controls the President and most politicians; they THINK they control the corporations, who in turn, think they control the military, hence Eisenhower’s sage warning of decades ago.

  • Norris Tidwell

    One Thing that Ross Douthat pointed out was the mental or world view difference between Liberal and conservative is that conservatives seem to talk or view the World in Black or White terms and liberals are open to many views and questioning of issues.  Liberal can’t form a strong position on a single minded issue and thus Conservatives are successful in the political world.
    I completely concur with that assessment.  That is why the present day conservative movement in this country is so dangerous.  People who want the black and white answers, and may not realize it, are longing for a Dictator. Dictator call all the shots on issues.   Descent is not permitted.
    Democracy requires many inputs, many walks of life, and Compromised solutions.  But if you can’t tolerate any other point of view that differs from yours,  you are not participating in a Democratic process.  Democratic process is messy and requires struggle to reach a consensus.  When you follow a single minded script, that all must follow,  and the many are disenfranchised or dismissed or outcast or at the mercy of the powerful, then you have a one party system that dominates all.
    The World does not present us with Black or White issues and we can’t pretend that it is Black or White.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to think, struggle and work hard to assure that our Democracy works and survives.

  • Jamenta

    Interesting interview of Douthat – and tbh, not a book or author I would have listened to (given my own spiritual beliefs that diverge)  if it had not been for Bill Moyers deciding to have the interview.

    One point I would like to bring up – and the reason for this comment – is Douthat’s criticism of spirituality (I suppose considered as a heresy to the current christian orthodoxy) that believes sacredness and guidance can be found from within. 

    Douthat made the criticism that this kind of “within” spirituality in his view led to less community – i.e. that it led to more narcissism – since I suppose – the answers lies “within you” – rather than what is given outside – or even what is written in the bible.

    I disagree with Douthat’s assessment in this regard.  Since by looking within – one can find all sorts of compelling forces that propel individuals into community:  perhaps the most powerful aspect that can be found within each of us is Love.   And this Love then moves us to contribute toward society or too our community.  Another force found within us is moral conscience – we find within us the sense of what we know is right and what is wrong.  We feel this when we do something quite unjust toward another.  Or when we lie or cheat or steal from another.  All this comes from “within”. 

    One of the great psychologists of our time – a colleague of Freud, and a man whom Joseph Campbell greatly respected – was Carl Jung.  And Jung is well known for advocating the old delphic maxim of “Know Thyself”, of becoming more aware of the internal forces within our psyche.  His theory of individuation required his therapeutic clients to pay attention to what was happening within them – self-realization.  But one of Carl Jung’s most famous quotes is this: “You cannot individuate on Mt. Everest”.  Or in other words, you cannot successfully be more spiritual, more aware of the spiritual – by avoiding society or your community.  You must participate in order to fulfill the meaning of your life and/or spiritual purpose – at the SAME TIME as realizing the kingdom that is within you.

  • sophie

    Exactly then, how would Romney be a BETTER POTUS??   Perhaps by further selling out anyone who is not of the 3%?  Romney does not do “compromise,” –he is a corporatist first, and 
    “true Christian” naysayers”   do not have anything  to do with his “religion.”    Romney’s church is the Church of Wealth.

  • sophie

    There is no god, and only you can control what you do.

  • Dominick Durso

    It was a really good show Bill.  The country has definitely grown into a hydra of addictions of all kinds. of drugs, alcohol, of power and impedance, politics.

    Its good that we see it, then we know what we are overcoming.  Now we are in need of the healing.  Not as easy as it was to get here. Facing of another issue.    

  • Dominick Durso

    I find it interesting that you end your comment with something that Jesus said.  Which was the kingdom of God is within.  Something most religious people have miss placed, And that Political types if interested would be very intimidated by. Both 2000 years ago, as well as today.  

  • Guest

    Alterman: “… no easy task”; BECAUSE neocon Company MOLES like BaraCoupbama have infiltrated EVERY level of federal “public service”.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Bill for another outstanding program with
    Mr. Alterman and Mr. Douthat. We need you andyour  guests and their articulate and civil discussion
    more than ever.

  • Jamenta

    I agree.  It is something that often gets glossed over – as if he never said it.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Mixing Old Testament archetypes with Christianity again? Better stop freebasing.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It was the idea of wealthy people in industrialized countries as a means of permeating a global market with their export goods.
    It started with GATT in 1947 and has escalated ever since. Recently transnational corporations have tried to operate WTO as a collection agency for royalties on their suspect intellectual property. (If a corporation is not a person how can it have intellect anyway?) This mostly pertains to drugs and to exotic technologies as of  late, with the arts following in that wake. We hear plenty about how the US and Europe subsidize their agriculture and make subsistence farming impossible in Korea and Mexico but WTO’s failure to protect labor rights and the environment has  even worse effects. Why are there massive demonstrations against WTO all around the world? Well, nothing looks more like a prototype for corporate world government, and it has demonstrated its power to over-ride democracy by negating legislation, and even threatens national sovereignty with its ability to penalize and enforce against nations.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Are you high-fiving me?
    Moyers may start fining people $5 who do that.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Imagine this: WTO decides US public media must accept foreign ads of all types.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    The 24/7 Noam Chomsky station on Internet radio originates there too. Let’s go visit again.

  • Anonymous

    RE: Douthat statements “impressive behavior” by the likes of Ms. Bachman (foster mother). 

    This so-called exemplary behavior is the excuse conservatives give themselves not to look at and grapple with complicated issues with the intention to solve problems. That is what’s really hard to do. In my many hours of conversations with conservatives, the point is always distilled to this: “I am a better person than the downtrodden. I work harder than they do and that’s why they are uninsured ( for example). They won’t say it outright, but they’ll slip if you can keep them talking.And they further evade the real truth of others by holding bake sales to “help the needy” thereby absolving themselves of taking on the real issues in a comprehensive way.  It’s like they say, “See how good I am, now I don’t have to grapple with this big systemic problem. I’m ‘good’ in my world.”I don’t have a problem with that attitude. But let’s just be honest about it and stop this nonsense about how “good” they are.  Let them own up to how many bake sales they’re willing to have when one chemo treatment costs $25,000.   There are 50 million uninsured.  How far does the “charity” extend since they’re fighting tooth and nail to gut ObamaCare.Get real. 

  • Anonymous

     It may not apply in this case, but many foster parents are in it for the money, or for the free labor, or for incestuous activities. One doesn’t automatically become a saint by being a foster parent; some of them are monsters.

  • Carl Howard

     No.  Hee hee.  No, I’m not.

  • Dnadanyi

    Tell me more about internet radio.

  • Dnadanyi

    Grady-I was just there as a tourist. The residents of Australia and Tasmania that I met were very kind and helpful to my disabled friend which helped me out a great deal. New Zealand has become the new hollywood.  They call it Wellywood for Wellington. Cameron just bought a big property there. Big film industry in Queenstown.  The air is so clean good for filming.  They filmed a Coors commercial there???They farm red deer and export the meat to Germany. The red beech trees were so interesting that I took several photos(I like to paint).  When I looked at them they had the faces that Peter Jackson used for the trees in his Lord of the Rings movie-the one that talked. Remember when the trees came down from the hills. Unfortnately they are going to start coal mining in the north island. Sorry I guess I am off topic. 

  • Dnadanyi

    The new privatised military and top seceret america are corporations with lobbyists.  We will always be at war.

  • Dnadanyi

    Creative destruction I guess.  Where is patriotism? Are there no leaders that are not corrupt? except Bernie Sanders?What happens if the US gets out of these trade agreements?Who are these secret committees?Do they meet at Davos?

  • Dnadanyi

    Need to read more about this any suggestions?

  • Roie

    So well written.  I came on here to say something akin, however your words were just perfect.  Thanks

  • cacciato

    Alterman keeps avoiding answering questions …  and generalizing about liberalism …  society is not responsible  money is just irresponsible.   Government is the process which we citizens use to deal with each other.  It must be large enough to stand up to irresponsible corporations ( not all corporations by any means), and defend individual workers, individual citizens against the power of corporations and wealth in general.

  • Sam in Texas

    Mr. Douthat appeared to have a flawed notion as his foundation when he stated that the United States is not a secular country.  I think he conflates the notion of a secular society with atheism, and he continues then in the vein that somehow the Christian “orthodoxy” is what is and has always been necessary to the balance of American society.  

    Quite the contrary, a secular society is an inclusive society, and, historically, if this country intended to be governed by religious sects, then it could have chosen to be.  The overemphasis of Christianity as a basis for critique of our politics then seems to miss the point entirely: that our society and politics is actually influenced by much more. In fact, the emphasis of religion in politics, or treatment of politics as a religion, replacing meaningful thought and discussion, is precisely the problem. 
     The “orthodoxy” versus “heresy” notion is quaint, but meaningless and ill suited to a global world.  Worse, it is not the basis for the founding of this country either.  

  • Private Private


    It is true that the same or similar principles found in Christianity are found in the framework of the country; and The founders did gain much of their values most likely from their faith. However, more than just theocracy is woven into the quilt of our governance.

    There are concepts that come from Whig ideology and John Locks concept of “natural freedom.” An example is the right to free speech. Theocratic governments like the Puritans of New England used to punished people for simply what they say. The concept that you cannot punish a person for what they say is a secular concept. Secular is not anti-christian, but more pro-freedom regardless of what religion.

  • Private Private

    The idea that a shift in the way humans percieve the practice of marraige and the family unit as somehow being detrimental to society is absolutely absurd.

    “Oh no gays are marrying, our species is doomed.” Yeah and Y2K was suppose to shutdown all the computers. We humans are so dramatic.

    I am simply amazed every time I here, “society is falling apart because people are having children out of wedlock and the family unit is breaking up because they are drifting from god.”

    I realize some people believe the earth is only 6,000 years old, but exactly what do they think was happening 2000 years ago before Jesus’ supposed birth? The concept, interpretation, and practice of marraige and “family unit” has changed and evolved over history. It has meant different things and been percieved differently under many different religions and gods. Yet the concept of family and marriage have persisted and still exist today; and I do not see a change in how they are practiced as likely to destroy us anytime soon. But I suppose humans, especially the fanatically religious, love a good drama to cry wolf about.

  • Private Private

    Douthat fancies himself an educated christian. He made this generalization you criticize because he has been taught these generalizations by his religion.

    Whether he is educated at harvard, princeton, yale, or on mars really does not matter. As long as a debate starts off with someone trying to assert his beliefs from the stand point of his faith, there is no way to prove to him that he is wrong; unless you can prove his god does not exist.

    So he wanders on through life believing that because people cannot win debates against him that he is somehow right; never realizing its merely that he postures, shields, himself in a position that requires a potential debater to argue religion in order to debate him down.

    He is what I call a “False Intellectual.” He can only debate that which is undebatable in order to appear knowledgeable and intelligent.

  • Charlie Branch

    Exactly. Ray Stedman’s book “Adventuring Through the Bible” points out that the Old Testament grounds us, as God instructed the Israelites to build the tabernacle as His dwelling place.  With the New Testament, and the appearance of God made human in his son Jesus Christ, that dwelling place ceased to be the tabernacle and became “in us”.  God dwells in each of us.  “Body Life”, which describes how “the church comes alive” during his pastoral ministry in Palo Alto, CA, describes the big changes that are happening in my church ( now. (I will be dedicated as a member next week, my first church home since nearly completing youth confirmation in 1970! Dad served in the USAF, which prompted the move.)  Yes, you do not need to be a member to volunteer, as I have served in public radio, and my fellow city employees as shop steward.   

    1 Peter 4:10

  • MythDebunker

    I can’t believe Bill let two guests get away with repeating the conventional wisdom about social security and medicare, that they are going broke and need to be fixed or scrapped. This isn’t even remotely true. 

    The right-wing just wants to sabotage or completely do away with the programs because they oppose them in principle, like the second guest, Ross Douthat. Why even bring this guy on the show? He’s a plain old religious conservative that would be right at home on Fox. Don’t let the Right frame this debate with their nonsense. That’s letting them choose the battlefield.

  • MythDebunker

     Where do you get this notion that a welfare state is wrong or even bad? It’s not from the Bible.

  • MythDebunker

     That was a crazy spin Douthat put on Michelle Bachmann, as if she is this innocent victim of the Left’s hate, and Bill Moyers didn’t even call him on it. Bachmann isn’t “a hate figure on the Left,” she’s just HATEFUL.