BILL MOYERS: For all its many qualities, including some fine acting, “Contagion” was frozen out of the Oscars—not a single nomination. In fact, none of my favorites were nominated. Nonetheless, let’s go to the movies for some insights on our politics today, because when it comes to storytelling, Hollywood and Washington are co-dependents. Political conspiracies, skullduggery, and infighting have long provided solid plotlines for moviemakers. In turn, politicians try to embrace the values that movies depict as the noblest virtues of the American character: selfless courage, patriotism, sincerity and compassion. Both know that movie entertainment informs our image of what leaders should be but at the very same time capably and handily distracts us from certain grim truths.

So we’ve chosen this moment to talk with Neal Gabler, the historian of culture and film who expertly interprets how movies reflect our society and politics. Here in New York, Neal Gabler is an indispensable Saturday night guide to the movies on our flagship public station WNET/Thirteen.

NEAL GABLER on Reel 13: Welcome to Reel 13. I’m Neal Gabler.

BILL MOYERS: His books include biographies of Walt Disney and the powerful gossip columnist Walter Winchell, this one An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood and my favorite, Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. He’s back in town after a semester as a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Welcome home, Neal.

NEAL GABLER: Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS: When you say life's a movie what are you saying?

NEAL GABLER: What I'm saying is that life itself has become an entertainment medium, that we are all actors in, and audience for, an ongoing show, that we have so steeped ourselves in the theatrical arts by watching them and ultimately by assimilating them that we have turned our own lives, and life outside of us, into a movie which we can watch and which we can perform in simultaneously.

I'll give you one example, you know, if you were to ask a farmer in the 19th century, or even in the 20th century for that matter, 'Why are you wearing overalls?' He would have looked at you in complete befuddlement. 'What do you mean why am I wearing overalls?'

But now we have people who walk down the street wearing cowboy hats from Ralph Lauren or wearing safari outfits from Ralph Lauren. You can, your clothing becomes a costume and you become a role player in some sort of fantasy.

And of course we see this in politics, you know, in spades where politics is a movie. And we're now, you know, in a campaign season where what we're really watching is not so much political debate, though it's called that, as we are watching a movie in which candidates are contending to be our protagonist-in-chief, as I would put it.

BILL MOYERS: Protagonist-in-chief--



NEAL GABLER: Meaning that they, themselves, see the country as a kind of movie and they want to be the hero of the movie because they understand that's what the American people really are looking for. They want a Clint Eastwood, they want a John Wayne. They want an Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the head of state.

BILL MOYERS: But we wanted heroes in the White House before there were movies. George Washington, hero; Andrew Jackson, hero; Ulysses S. Grant, hero. That was some-- that seems to be something inherent in human nature, not in the movies, per se.

NEAL GABLER: I mean, there’s a distinction between real heroes and celebrities who are people on whom we impute a kind of heroism who haven't really earned it. John Wayne is a perfect example. John Wayne never whenever to war, and yet almost everybody in America regards in as heroic because he played a hero.

So the lust for heroism I don't think is anything new. That's a product of human nature possibly, and it's certainly a tradition in America. But the difference is the nature of heroism, what we define as heroism and the way in which heroism gets framed. We have expectations now of our political leaders.

And the expectations are that our political leaders are going to operate the same way that movie heroes operate, not the traditional war heroes or whatever operate, but that movie heroes operate, and that they'll essentially slash their way through problems and vanquish them at the end of the presidency, which in this case is the end of the national movie.

BILL MOYERS: It used to be that the first reel contained a villain and the last reel contained a hero. But in politics it's just the opposite. Very often the hero, who gets elected is a villain by the time he takes office, right?

NEAL GABLER: Well, you know, the election is the greatest movie of all. And when the lights come up on election day and we leave the theater and we say as we did in 2008, as many people said, 'Boy, this is, what a great day for America that we could actually elect an African American to the presidency and that the slogans of hope and change that you can believe in, all these things are really operative.' But there's a sequel. And the sequel is governance. Now, as much as the movie of the election may be powerful and entertaining and even in some cases uplifting, governance is a whole different thing.

BILL MOYERS: So in the end are movies contributing to the paralysis and the frustrations of democracy? Because as you say, the movie is glamorous, governing is not.

NEAL GABLER: Absolutely. In fact I think the-- I would even go farther than that. I mean, governance is a very bad movie, it's a really lousy movie. Elections are a better movie because look at, elections fit into a clean framework of there's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser. It's essentially a sporting event.

But then, that contest ends and after that we have a whole different set of problems and situations, but there aren't clear winners and losers. There isn't the clear framework. There's not the clear sense of hero and villain as there was during the election as we impute those things onto our candidates. So governance is as I say, is a lousy movie. And we don't know how to deal with that.

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite moments in one of the best political movies ever made, The Candidate, Robert Redford--

NEAL GABLER: Ah, wonderful movie.

BILL MOYERS: Remember he runs this race for the-- and he's elected.

NEAL GABLER: He’s selected, tapped as the Democratic candidate in California partly because he's the son of a former governor, but also because he looks like Robert Redford.


NEAL GABLER: You know, he's handsome and he's articulate and he gives the impression of sincerity, all the things that one needs to be elected. But there's no substance to the campaign whatsoever. And indeed, as the campaign goes on it becomes more and more about aesthetics.

About how one looks, how one appears, where one shows up. I mean, there's one scene in the movie where he walks down the beach just so he can be photographed for a television commercial and people come up to him and he looks like, boy, he's so relaxed, he's in his element. And then we get to the end of the movie. Now, he's elected and he goes to his political advisor-

MARVIN LUCAS in The Candidate: Okay, we have about 60 seconds of privacy before they find out we’re here now, so what’s on your mind, Senator?

BILL MCKAY in The Candidate: I don’t know.

MARVIN LUCAS in The Candidate: Okay, we got to get out there. See I told you they’d be here.

BILL MCKAY in The Candidate: Marvin, what do we do now?

MARVIN LUCAS in The Candidate: Wait a minute, wait a minute, what?

NEAL GABLER: Election's easy. Governance is hard.

BILL MOYERS: The hero of the campaign becomes a pretty weak figure at the moment of governance, right?

NEAL GABLER: If the campaign is about aesthetics. And that's what has happened in American politics.

BILL MOYERS: Earlier this week on CNN there was a headline that said, "Will the debate reveal a new Romney?" I mean, a new Romney is the-

NEAL GABLER: A new Romney? Well, here we have another debate and what's Romney's role going to be in this debate? How does he project himself? This is all about the narrative that the candidates are presenting to the public. And it's all about how well they can seduce the public. Now, the public's wise to this. It's not like the public is sitting back and they're stupid. The public gets this. They understand that this is-

BILL MOYERS: So why do we go along? Why do we go along with it?

NEAL GABLER: Well, I think--

BILL MOYERS: Because we-- after the election we are so frustrated, democracy's not working, nothing gets solved. And yet we were party to the movie, we were in the audience applauding when the new Romney emerged.

NEAL GABLER: You know, there's, I think, a kind of American schizophrenia about our politics. On the one hand we love to sit back and see these people be compelled to seduce us because elections are basically about seduction. And we understand, there's no fooling us that that's what the process is. So we sit there and we say, 'How well are they going to seduce us?'

But that also gives way to an incredible cynicism about the process. Americans are deeply cynical about politics generally. And one of the reasons we're cynical is because we get it. We get how it works. On the other hand we would have theoretically at our disposal the ability to change American politics, to say, you want to know something? I don't want to buy the new Romney, or the old Romney, or the new Gingrich, or the old Gingrich, or the new Santorum, or the old Santorum.

I want to know who a candidate really is. I want him to speak honestly and forcefully to me. And I also want to understand policy-wise what choices is he going to make? What interests are we going to-- is he going to serve? You know, these are questions that are almost never addressed in a political campaign and yet they're the fundamental questions of a political campaign.

BILL MOYERS: But let's go to The Candidate because there is another scene that I remember so well when Robert Redford, the candidate, tries to get his opponent and the media to take the issues seriously.

NEAL GABLER: This is the moment during the debate, if I'm not mistaken--


NEAL GABLER: Where he's debating his Republican rival, a three-term Republican senator. And he's saying, 'Look it, we've got to address the issues here. We're not addressing the issues.'

DEBATE MODERATOR in The Candidate: Mr. McKay, you now have one minute to sum up. Mr. McKay?

BILL McKAY in The Candidate: In the begin-- I don’t, I think it’s important to note what subjects we haven’t discussed. We completely ignored the fact that this is society divided by fear, hatred, and violence. And until we talk about just what this society really is than I don’t know how we’re going to change it. For example, we haven’t discussed the rot that destroys our cities. We have all the resources we need to check it and we don’t use them. And we haven’t discussed why not. We haven’t discussed race in this country, we haven’t discussed poverty, in short, we haven’t discussed any of the sicknesses that may yet send this country up in flames. And we’d better do it. We’d better get it out in the open and confront it. Before it’s too late.

NEAL GABLER: And his handlers absolutely feel that he's done the absolutely wrong thing in trying to compel the press to address issues in an aesthetic campaign.

But the difference today would be that there would be a headline that the candidate says, Redford says, 'America is rotten,' or, 'America is sick.' And everyone would jump on it and then he would be compelled to come before the camera and say, 'I didn't say that America was rotten and I didn't way that America was sick.'

Now, interestingly, we've seen Newt Gingrich do a variation on this, and I think it's fascinating, it's kind of post-modernist. Because Gingrich is going around saying, that, you know, we don't talk enough about policy. We really ought to talk about policy. We're talking about personal things, but we really ought to talk about policy. But in talking about talking about policy, he never talks about policy. He's simply talking about talking about policy. Now, this is a wonderful trick. It makes him sound as if he really wants to address policy without ever having to do so.

BILL MOYERS: So would Mitt Romney get the role of playing Mitt Romney if there were a movie about which Mitt Romney is going to win?

NEAL GABLER: Well, it depends on which Mitt Romney you want in the movie. I mean, I think what Mitt Romney has done is he's created the narrative that he is the strong businessman. And he looks the part, and that's one of the reasons why he can play this role.

On the other hand, that narrative has not played well with the Republican constituency. Because they don't care whether he's a strong businessman. What they want to know is, does he have the courage of his convictions which is essentially the courage of their convictions, their conservative convictions.

So Romney's problem in this campaign is his narrative is the wrong narrative. He's playing the wrong role. They want to see if he has courage. They don't want to see that he has the financial acumen to run the economy, they don't care. And this is a very difficult thing to do. He's miscast. What makes a great actor? What makes a great actor is the authenticity. You believe in that performance. That's great acting.

And, what we do is we get a candidate, Gingrich, you know, coming along and saying, 'Well, I'm authentic because I'm going to-- I say what I want to say. I don't pull my punches.' And then he gets taken down. Now Santorum is cast in the same way. Why is Santorum being boosted? Because he's sincere.

BILL MOYERS: You say in here that we escape from life by escaping into a neat narrative formula. Isn't that true of politics, as well? Movies give us a neat story, a neat drama with a beginning, a middle and an end and we like that even though politics isn't really like that?

NEAL GABLER: Politics is antithetical really to the values of movies even though the values of movies as I said earlier permeate politics, and that's a problem. You know, Americans love democracy, but they hate politics. And politics is one of the things that gives us democracy.

BILL MOYERS: I would have thought just the opposite. They love politics, witness the audiences for the debates, witness the enthusiasm of the crowd. But it's the working of democracy they don't like.

NEAL GABLER: Well they love the theatricality of politics. But when I say politics I don't mean the horse race aspect of it. I mean the bargaining, the negotiations, the policy, all of those things which are the essence of real politics and political decision making, Americans hate that and they are cynical about that. They feel it doesn't work.

And that is not a healthy situation for democracy. What we have to do is embrace the fact that democracy's a mess. Movies are not, movies are clean. Democracy is a mess. That's what makes it democracy.

It's about finding out how interests get resolved, that's what democracy's about. Movies aren't about that. Movies are about vanquishing a villain, that's what movies are about. And what happens in American politics is that notice how, and we see this in the Republican debate, that idea of vanquishing the villain, in this case Barack Obama, has become the political meme.

It's not about policy. It's not about interests. It's about, there's this bad guy in the White House and we've got to defeat him. That's Batman. That's not really the way the political system would operate. And it contributes to polarization.

BILL MOYERS: Have you seen Ides of March with--

NEAL GABLER: Yes, I have, yes.

BILL MOYERS: George Clooney? There's a moment in there where he talks differently about religion from the way many candidates including Santorum are doing. Let me play that for us.

GOVERNOR MORRIS in The Ides of March: I am not a Christian, or an atheist. I'm not Jewish or Muslim. What I believe, my religion, is written on a piece of paper called the Constitution. Meaning, that I will defend, until my dying breath, your right to worship, in whatever God you believe in. As long as it doesn't hurt others. I believe we should be judged as a country by how we take care of the people who cannot take care of themselves. That's my religion. If you think I’m not religious enough, don't vote for me. If you think I’m not experienced enough, or tall enough, then don't vote for me. Because I can’t change that to get elected.

NEAL GABLER: Of course, if anybody had ever said what Clooney says here, and again this is where we get this kind of schizophrenia, we love candidates who are forthright on the movies. We love candidates in the movies who say what they want to say and just rip the cover off the ball and, you know.

But in real life if a candidate ever said that he would have doomed his chances to be elected in a second because the headline would be-- and every one of his opponents would say, 'Doesn't believe in God. Clooney doesn't believe in God.' And then for a week the narrative that week would be him having to come back and def—'I never said I don't believe in God.' And you know, this is the kind of idiocy that absolutely overtakes the American political narrative. But this is the only-- the only thing we get is idiocy. We get one-

BILL MOYERS: We're a nation of idiots?

NEAL GABLER: I won't say we're a nation of idiots although I will say this-- I would never say that of course. Because if I said that-

BILL MOYERS: In a movie you would.

NEAL GABLER: That would-- in a movie I would, in a movie, absolutely. Yes.

BILL MOYERS: We'll do a movie.

NEAL GABLER: But I would say that we allow this kind of thing to happen, we let it happen. And we let the media promulgate this sort of thing and we don't put our feet down and say, 'You know, enough, enough.'

And I think we have to shame the public and the media, shame them, into saying, 'Look, as a citizen this is your responsibility. It's not your responsibility to watch, you know, woodpeckers in a debate, you know, knock one another's heads. That's entertaining and it's fun and all of that, but now you have a duty. You have a responsibility.'

We've got an Occupy Wall Street movement. We now need an Occupy Media movement in which, you know, ordinary people say, 'I want a real debate on issues.' And find the resources to do that.

BILL MOYERS: But in a society so thoroughly saturated with entertainment, aren't we losing our capacity for the sustained or more serious ideas?

NEAL GABLER: We are losing our idealism. We are losing our ability to process these things. We outsource our opinions. I mean, when you look at Fox News and MSNBC for example, and they're not the only culprits, what do they really represent? I mean, people always say, 'Well, they're, they market to a niche.' But what they really represent is outsourcing our own opinions.

Yeah, we don't have to think. We can outsource it to Fox. We kind of agree with them generally, we kind of generally agree with MSNBC, so now we've outsourced it. They'll do it for us.

So in some ways in this media saturated, entertainment saturated culture what we have to do, it's imperative for us to do this, is disenchant ourselves, get ourselves out of the movie, leave the theater for a moment and say, what is the real impact?

When we get into the cold light of the sidewalk after the movie is over, what is the impact of all this? What is it going to mean for my life? What is it going to mean for America? And if we don't start asking those questions we can't move this forward at all. All we're going to get is punditry and analysis of who's winning and who's losing and a movie. We'll get nothing but the movie. But the problem is movies don't answer the pressing questions of America. Policy answers the pressing questions of America and we have to demand to know what these guys are going to do and what choices they're going to make.

BILL MOYERS: Neal Gabler, we'll continue this conversation as the year goes on. Thank you for joining me.

NEAL GABLER: Thank you so much, Bill.

Neil Gabler on How Pop Culture Influences Political Expectations

Film historian and culture critic Neal Gabler joins Bill Moyers to discuss how representations of heroism in movies shape our expectations of a U.S. president, and how our real-world candidates are packaged into superficial, two-dimensional personas designed to appeal to both the electorate and the media. As a result, says Gabler, we never get to the true pressing questions and issues of America.

“We love candidates who speak their mind in movies,” Gabler tells Moyers, adding that the same is not true for real life. “Movies are clean; democracy is a mess.”

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  • Anonymous

    Neal Gabler has identified something important. Gen Y and Gen X have grown up among a peer group who seem to believe that movies are a substitute for real experiences. These kids seem to think they’ve had a shared experience if they’ve seen a movie together.

    There was a time when a shelf of books was the hallmark of the intellectual. Now, it’s a shelf of DVDs. Soon, a person’s intellectual life will have been reduced to an account on Netflix.

    Gabler correctly analyzes the 2008 campaign as a surreal movie, and is correct in predicting the same in 2012. I admire his summary: Policy solves problems, not theatrics. Policy is hard work. Theatrics is John Wayne pretending to be a war hero, when he never even served.

    Ironically, I am responding to a video presentation. Maybe Moyers and Gabler are also protagonists.

  • 19obert63

    Top Ten Political films (and four documentaries)


    1.JFK-conspiracy or no conspiracy; that is the question
    2.Thirteen Days-best interactive dvd
    3.DR. Strangelove- Kubrick
    4. Hamlet-Olivier
    5.Battle of Algiers
    6.Citizen Kane-Wells
    7. Seven Days in May-Lancaster/Douglas
    8.Paths of Glory-Kubrick
    9.All Quiet on the Western front-1930’s
    10.King Richard the Third-Olivier


    Civil War- Ken Burns
    Freedom Riders-Stanley Nelson
    Inconvenient Truth-Gore

  • Devene Ashford

    I thought Mr. Gabler was right on his analysis but very interesting that neither Mr Moyers nor Mr. Gabler mentioned Ron Paul.  B/c Dr. Paul does say what he believes and the analysis is born out by the fact that his party rejects, that get does not receive equal treatment from the medica, essentially ignored as a side thought.  Dr. Paul has said some extraordinary things.  I do not agree w/Dr. Paul on a number of things, but I will be voting for him when we do have a primary in Texas.

  • Anonymous

    RE:  Devene Ashford comment:  I think Ron Paul is the perfect example of the problem Mr. Gabler talks about.  I can’t imagine Ron Paul being able to govern in the real world of politics.  Real politics requires compromise, deal-making, and a genuine sense of humor–something lacking in Mr. Paul and many of his colleagues. 

  • Phread

    No mention of Ronald Reagan, who got the role of a lifetime. In a marvelous documentary by Clive James about 20 years ago called ‘Fame in the 20th Century’, he pointed out that because of Kennedy on TV, where a president became a star, it was only a matter of time before a star became president. But the stage was set. He also points out that while Europeans were busy making history (Hitler pounding his chest) Americans were busy making movies (Tarzan pounding his). And now with the internet, everyone is.  

  • Rschenck

    A nation of idiots is more to the point.  Most would have or have seen the movie but who reads the books?  It is kind of like who watches PBS or the Science channel.  People today in American don’t even have time for the movie.  Give it to them on twitter or download it to their IPOD. 
    Go into your public library and check out any number of real American History books and see how many times they have even been checked out before.  Compare this to the fiction section.  Ignorance and stupidity are the new reality show and you can tune in on any channel.  
    In 1858 people traveled miles to see Lincoln and Douglas have real debates with no moderators and this was just for Senate.  Today, I would not bother turning on the televison to watch the Newt and Mitt show.  

  • Anonymous

    With the 2000/2004campaigns
     deserving an Oscar for Horror Movie of the century

  • Anonymous

    I am no longer convinced that the problem is with the american public or media. I’d like to hear plus and cons of our system versus a parliamentary democracy from Bill Moyers.

  • 19obert63

    The political view that frightens me with Ron Paul is
    his belief in  deregulation; imagine an unbridled standing military, continuing deregulation of  derivatives, soaring medical costs, unchecked natural gas drilling; although his persona exudes intellect and populism, he is now being sponsored by at least one billionaire-

  • 19obert63

    I think a parlimentary democracy with a labor and a Tory party is an interesting concept. I definitely share you interest in discussing its pro and cons.

  • Bill Chapman

    This interview reminds me of the terrific documentary Bill produced in his 1990 series The Public Mind – especially the comments of Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)

  • D

    it’s working so well in england…which now has a hard core third party that, though the smallest minority, is in now control of government. They got to choose the party they would coalition with, the party that would make a prime minister of the candidate who got the least number of votes….and their economy is now suffering for it. (The olympics may buy them some time.)

  • Sarasvatia

    Any documentary by Adam Curtis: start with “Century of the Self”, “Power of Nightmares”, “Mayfair Set”.

    Also: “The Last Mountain”

    and “The Inside Job”:

  • Jeffreydebra

    Unfortunately, you have a good point.  Who really reads the books anymore?   There are a lot of amazingly ignorant people who don’t take time to use the discipline to really study the issues the way they should be studied.  The real villain is ignorance.   My son says that his classrooms are sometimes more interested in political correctness than say, talking about the Clooney character’s comment about athiesm, sad indeed.

  • Jllybnz

    We love candidates who are forthright – to heck with what the media says, and what THEIR narrative is for the week. 
    The media needs to be forthright too, and stop reaching for the juicy soundbite (even when they have to skew the news to make one)

  • Javert

    Neil Gabler? I thought it was Stephen Sondheim.

  • Song Weasel

    interesting show. it does make me wonder though…i think i’d like to hear a candidate say, “heck, the pay and benefits are pretty good and i am looking for a job.” but for sure, the deal sealer for me would be “oh, and i’m not a lawyer.” :)

  • 19obert63


  • Claus Gehner

    Very interesting interview – it seems to reenforce my conviction, as expressed in “Death of Democracy in America”
    that, although there are many contributing factors, the ultimate cause for the Death of Democracy in America is that journalists (“The Press”), as part of Corporate Media and the Entertainment Industry, has given up on their responsibility to ensure that we are “informed citizens” in favor of just keeping us entertained….

  • Sarah Siddell

    Twice now in the last couple of weeks, I have seen the right-wing and the left-wing in this country discussed as though they were equivalent, once by Jamieson and then by Gabler. the latter equated MSNBC with Fox news! This is like referring to the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslim as “the warring parties” in that conflict in which the Serbs massacred men, women and children with impunity and the Muslim fought back. The hatred, lies and insanity of the right-wing and Fox news are certainly NOT comparable to progressives in the United States or MSNBC and other “leftist” periodical likes Mother Jones Magazine. That Bill Moyers allows this comparison to go unchallenged is disappointing, to say the least!

  • Guest

     And the choices in that netflix library will become smaller and smaller overtime as well. Just like the the fires that burned unwanted written influences in Germany our own kindle fire will do the same in time, no real flames needed, click click, delete.

  • Guest

    He is right, we do not even think for ourselves anymore.
    A show will come on complete with a panel of so called experts, if an action was done by the “powers that be” that they want supported, then the show immediately begins with the portrayal that  Yes it needed to be done, no reason to spend any time discussing that.  Then the “experts” discuss whether or not the handling of the aftermath of the action is being done in the right way instead of discussing if the action it’s self should have been done. Another common tactic they use is to have the host of the show begin by telling a story of an incident, then pose questions to their story, again, are we sure we are getting the real story or a  fairy tale story that will coincide just fine with the fairy tale questions and answers. FOX we know is a ridicules joke aimed at the weak minded, but really many of the others do the same in their own way. Many of the so called liberal programs don’t really discuss issues, the host comes on, makes one liner jokes of issues, makes light of things that should have serious discussions and investigations but hey it appeases the viewers who think, Yeah, you showed em with that punch line, and on to the next one liner followed by a drum roll and a cymbal crash.
    Rulers have always used any means available to them to control the masses beneath them, from torture to showering them with gifts. Don’t even fool yourself that that has changed. The only difference now is that they have a much larger array to choose from.

  • Avataress

    from my Pulitzer Prize contender book entitled, Nowheresville, Everywhere, Earth (Originally from Alexis de Toqueville’s book, Democracy in America):

       “In America the majority has enclosed thought within
         a formidable fence.  A writer [or heretic, in my case who
         boldly and courageously opposes these boundaries, calls a
         lie a lie and speaks the truth as I see it] is free
         inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it. 
         Not that he stands in fear of an auto-da-fe [burning at
         the stake], but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness
         and everyday persecution.  A career in politics is closed
         to him, for he has offended the only power that holds the
         keys.  He is denied everything, including renown.  Before
         he goes into print, he believes he has supporters; but he
         feels that he has them no more once he stands revealed to
         all, for those who condemn him express their views
         loudly, while those who think as he does, but without his
         courage, retreat into silence as if ashamed of having
         told the truth.
              Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains
         and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to
         have nothing more to learn, has been perfected by
         civilization.  Princes made violence a physical thing,
         but our contemporary democratic republics have turned it
         into something as intellectual as the human will it is
         intended to constrain.  Under the absolute government of
         a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily
         struck at the body, and the soul escaping from such
         blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic
         republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it
         leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul. 
         The master no longer says:  ‘Think like me or you die.’ 
         He does say:  ‘You are free not to think as I do; you can
         keep your life and property and all; but from this day
         you are a stranger among us.  You can keep your
         privileges in the township, but they will be useless to
         you, for if you solicit your fellow citizens’ votes, they
         will not give them to you, and if you only ask for their
         esteem, they will make excuses for refusing that.  You
         will remain among men, but you will lose your rights to
         count as one.  When you approach your fellows, they will
         shun you as an impure being, and even those who believe
         in your innocence will abandon you too, lest they in turn
         be shunned.  Go in peace, I have given you your life, but
         it is a life worse than death.’
              Absolute monarchies brought despotism into dishonor;
         we must beware lest democratic republics rehabilitate it,
         and that while they make it more oppressive toward some,
         they do not rid it of its detestable and degrading
         character in the eyes of the greatest number.
              In the proudest nations of the Old World works were
         published which faithfully portrayed the vices and
         absurdities of contemporaries; La Bruyere lived in
         Louis XIV’s palace while he wrote his chapter on the
         great, and Moliere criticized the court in plays acted
         out before the courtiers.  But the power which dominates
         the United States does not understand being mocked like
         that.  The least reproach offends it, and the slightest
         sting of truth turns it fierce; and one must praise
         everything, from the turn of its phrases to its most
         robust virtues.  No writer, no matter how famous, can
         escape from this obligation to sprinkle incense over his
         fellow citizens.  Hence the majority lives in a state of
         perpetual self-adoration; only strangers or experience
         may be able to bring certain truths to the Americans’
         attention. . .

              In this, no doubt, power is well used, but my point
         is the nature of the power in itself.  This irresistible
         power is a continuous fact and its good use only an
         accident. . .The influence of what I have been talking
         about is as yet only weakly felt in political society,
         but its ill effects on the national character are already
         apparent.  I think that the rareness now of outstanding
         men on the political scene is due to the ever-increasing
         despotism of the American majority [this in the early
         1800’s!]  When the Revolution broke out, a crowd of them
         appeared; at that time public opinion gave direction to
         men’s wills but did not tyrannize over them.  The famous
         men of that time, while they freely took part in the
         intellectual movement of the age, had a greatness all
         their own; their renown brought honor to the nation, not
         vice versa. . .[T]here is a great difference between
         doing something of which you do not approve and
         pretending to approve of what you are doing; the first is
         the part of a weak man, but the second fits only the
         manners of a valet.”7

  • Rydrop

    Thank you Bill and team for two rich interviews!

  • Ken Farnsworth

    After watching “True Stories” tonight (instead of watching the Oscars), I’m beginning to wonder if David Byrne is going to sue the GOP for character/copyright infringement.  Mitt Romney seems to stumble along in the same cadence as the narrator, Rick Santorum as The Preacher spouting complete nonsense conspiracy, Newt Gingrich as a lonely guy chasing marriages, and Ron Paul as the crazy developer explaining distorted reality.  Perhaps Michele Bachman as the Lying Lady?  At least the John Goodman character was more endearingly wholesome than Mr. Gingrich would ever be.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    We don’t want freedom!
    We don’t want justice!
    We o-o-only want, someone to love.

    (This car is not a rental: It’s privately owned!)

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Thanks for this passage describing the Philosophic
    Monopoly and Intellectual Violence I confront every day. Read also “Alienation”  by Bertell Ollman- NYU.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Charlie Rose, Fareed Zakaria GPS, DRShow, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan……    and these are the more Progressive and humane brainwashers, need I say more? Curious intellectuals are actually more susceptible to being made robo-callers than the anti-intellectuals sopping up NASCAR, Nurse Jackie and Entertainment Tonight. When we let ourselves go, we escape the faith and caring dilemma (Solidarity?). We’re losing mental weight on the misinformation diet, and now we can squeeze into our 2 million year old genes. Moyers is still partying like it’s 1999. I’m serious!

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I call them the “wrong wing.”

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Nope, he went into the woods.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Austerity on toast for tea.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    We can’t even muster a Labour Party.

    But we got a busload of Kings and Queens.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Libraries buy the bestsellers (fiction) first.
    That’s the way the library board (realtors and shills) rolls. Then you have to interlibrary loan authors like Thomas Frank or Naomi Klein because they’re considered controversial. They use our tax money to censor ideas even on the county and municipal level.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I’m disappointed in Obama but I’ll bet he reads more books than Mitt Romney, more  than Newt’s ghostwriters turn out.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Gabler could risk his job if he dissed old “rotten from the head Ronnie.”

  • Avataress

     Thanks, GradyLeeHoward!  Intellectual/psychological (may I add) violence:  that’s a great way to describe what de Toqueville describes, and what I also have experienced most of my life, from grade school (when it was mostly physical violence, for years, for being the smartest one in my classes!) to now (the kids have grown up and their violence has become more sophisticated and subtle!)

  • Dave Wisconsin

    This interview was right on.  We as a society are shaped by our  entertainment.

    This most strongly reflects the reality we have in politics than what the psychologists say, the sociologic or the historians.  We are an entertainment culture.

  • Zan

    Can you make it possible to download your shows?  I don’t have internet at home so I go to a place that has WiFi and download shows I can watch at home.   I’d love to have yours.  It’s very distracting in a public place.  I don’t want to miss a minute… a second!

    Thanks, Zan Spencer

  • Taichi-wuchi

    To start with; it is becoming apparent that what we vote for and what we get is diversely different.
    “In the beginning was the word and the word was became flesh”.  Now the narrative is what we have to live with. The “words have been distorted so that what happens is inconsistent with what is expected.
    Hollywood used to reinforce the values of family, community and nation.  Now, it is promoting hate, sociopathic behavior and depravity. Our government is following suit with corruption, greed and abuse of power.  We are in a self-destruct anti-social spinout.
    Instead of the political narrative of “Yes We Can”, we are getting the Hollywood narrative of “Selfishness, Discontent and conflict”.  Fear and confusion is causing lack of humanity and social instability. Trust and fidelity no longer applies in economics and justice and equity is no longer a priority.  We are back to tribal survival of the fittest and fractured social systems.
    The only solution is to reestablishing human priorities and fixing our social systems to function efficiently and consistent with people’s needs and desires.

  • Day Brown

    Not mentioned was what effect this screen, rather than the TV, has and will have…

  • Avataress

     Along the lines of your post, Taichi-wuchi, I heard so much hype about the movie, The Help, although no one mentioned anything about the content of the movie, that I innocently viewed it after the Oscar nominations, but before the Oscars aired.  I have never felt so demeaned in my life and could not continue to watch the movie to its finish after the nasty of baking feces into a pie to give to her boss who fired her, of the maid character, Minnie, was described. 

    I would not dream of doing this to my worst enemy simply because it would demean me!  Did anyone consider what it meant that this woman had to scoop her feces up from wherever she laid them down, then mix them up in HER mixing bowl, bake them in HER pie pan, in HER oven, making her house that she shared with her children redolent of the scent of it?  This would be the lowest Hollywood has stooped in a long time, however, they glorified it by awarding this actress an Oscar for portraying this!  I was totally disgusted!

    My best friend said that she saw the woman awarded the Oscar and that she was glad for her.  My friend, who like me, is African-American, did not know the actress’ name, did not know for what role she was nominated, has not seen the movie, and does not know what it is about (I did not tell her because she asked me not to because she wanted to see the movie herself) but simply was happy that the woman got the award because she is black.  Unfortunately, although I love and support my friend, and other blacks, as much as I possibly can, I cannot support this degradation!  It is absolutely outrageous!

  • Gaybicycle

    see Gil Scott Heron, “B Movie” for a 12 minute rendition by the inventor of Rap/Hip Hop pertaining to the similarity between the Reagan administration of his day and the movies.  The 12 minute version off his album “Reflections” can be found online.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    So you assumed she actually baked a crap-pie?! Claiming to have done so was more than enough to humiliate the former employer. Think symbolically: The segregated restrooms for maids was an idiotic idea not rooted in fact. Why would a caretaker of your babies require separate facilities? “The Help” was all in all insulting to civil rights heroes. It was written by a white woman born in 1969 who still employed Black help as she wrote it. It was more about Skeeter’s career than any authentic issues. Notice how Black male characters and poorer Whites were absent from the story: totally unrealistic! This is revisionist history meant to trivialize life and death struggles and cover up issues of class and power. “The Help” is Hollywood propaganda!

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Even “Thrive”, the worldview of Foster Gamble, raises many issues, although it is crackpot and turns Libertarian/Egoist in the end.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It’s not confined to younger people.
    Elders, not savvy, are easily co-opted.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I watch them around RedBox at the supermarket, chickens at the trough.
    But America is becoming a cultural/poltical desert, so they feed their heads junk.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It’s Twilight Goth politics:
    Financial Vampires
    Religious Werewolves
    Medical care Mummies
    Environmental Frankensteins
    Pundit Zombies

  • Avataress

     What I was trying to say was what you said about the movie, “The Help,” GradyLeeHoward; in short:  “Hollywood Propaganda.”  I didn’t watch the rest of the movie after the character Minnie revealed what she supposedly did, I was so disgusted!  However, it did occur to me that Minnie might not really have baked her feces into the pie, after re-viewing an episode of Seinfeld where one of Jerry’s myriad girlfriends told Jerry she’d put something of his in the toilet to get back at him for having dropped her toothbrush in hers and not telling her after she’d used it to brush her teeth.  It turned out that Jerry’s girlfriend only put his toilet brush into his toilet.  In any case, all this toity talk is making me queasy!

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I was not disrespecting you.
    The film was deeply disappointing, especially for  
    people of color, and that got  my blood up.

  • Avataress

    My dear GradyLeeHoward (if I may address you as such;),

    In now way did I think you were disrespecting me.  I also wonder what in my reply to you made you believe that I felt that way.  On the contrary, I was happy that you brought up the point about Minnie perhaps not having made the crap pie.  I didn’t even consider that until I saw the rerun of Seinfeld, which brought that possibility to my attention.  I thought it was rather smart of you to pick up on that.  However, I also don’t know if you saw the end of the film which might have made this clear.  As I mentioned in my response to you, I didn’t see the end of it because I was so put off by that aspect of it.  Did you come to that conclusion yourself, or were you able to watch the film until the end?  I do appreciate your sharp and individual perspective on things.  I read your other comments, too.  I would like it if we could communicate more personally, but I’d rather not post my e-mail here.  If you think I should take a chance to or you’d like to, then by all means, please do or let me know. 

    I’ve also been trying to get citizens’ attention about thought reading machines, which were profiled on “60 Minutes,” and which Corporations like McDonald’s are all ready using to do some of their market research.  What happened to  just  asking people what they think?  The people I’ve contacted, either won’t comment, or just ignore me!  I’d think that people would think that this is THE biggest threat to human liberty and privacy ever devised.  Most seem, though, as did many Jews who were warned of the encroaching threat of  Nazism, that it would not affect them!  How wrong they were, and how wrong are my interlocutuors as well, I’m sure!

  • Tmorro

    Gabler was incisive and brilliant. He was the perfect compliment to Bill. I will be sharing this segment with my Government & Politics class tomorrow. I can’t imagine a better bell ringer.

  • Vageiger

    Mr. Moyers, you are great. You do however, need to have Richard Slotkin on your show to explain regeneration through regression narratives and their power (you should also read all his books, especially Gunfighter Nation).  The word Gabbler was searching for was not “idiots” but narcissists.  We want those seeking our vote to tell us what we want to hear and therefore honor our individualism as asking us to choose them.