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BILL MOYERS: This is no time to mince words and thank goodness, Thomas Frank never does so. In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine -- “It’s a rich man’s world” -- he wrote: “Over the course of the past few decades, the power of concentrated money has subverted the professions, destroyed small investors, wrecked the regulatory state, corrupted legislators en masse, and repeatedly put the economy through the wringer. Now it has come for our democracy itself.”

Strong stuff, and typical of Thomas Frank, the historian and journalist. His book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a best seller about how we so willingly allow money and ideology to subvert government, against our own self-interest. Now, we have his latest -- Pity the Billionaire, in which the worst economy since the l930s has led to a revival of power for the very people who brought it about. Thomas Frank, welcome.

THOMAS FRANK: It's my pleasure to be here.

BILL MOYERS: This week Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase testified before the Senate Banking Committee on how his bank got it wrong on risk management. What would you think if I told you that seven members of the Senate Banking Committee have been big recipients of money from JPMorgan Chase?

THOMAS FRANK: I would not be surprised, not in the least. That's obviously where JPMorgan would be spending its lobbying dollar would be on the, you know, giving to the campaigns of the people on that committee. That's the wisest strategic choice for them.

BILL MOYERS: And get this. The bank has been the second largest contributor to Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat, the chairman of the committee.

THOMAS FRANK: And I got news for you. They also, I mean, you know this already, they also were one of the biggest donors, or their, I should say their employees, to President Obama's campaign in 2008 and also to, I believe, to John McCain's campaign in 2008. This is the nature of what they do. They spread their spread the wealth around, you know.

BILL MOYERS: And there's more. One of Senator Johnson's former staffers is now one of JPMorgan's chief lobbyists. And the chairman's present top assistant used to be a lobbyist for a law firm that worked for JPMorgan. I mean, this wasn't a hearing. This was a reunion of the Gambino family.

THOMAS FRANK: Well, look, this is what we call in Washington the revolving door, okay. And this, if your viewers haven't heard of this they need to learn about it right away because this is how Washington D.C. works is that people go back and forth from, typically from Capitol Hill staffs to working for lobby firms or directly for these, you know, the clients of the lobby firms that have to do with the interests that they used to work on when they were on Capitol Hill.

And then they go back and lobby to their former boss, right, and convince him or her to vote one way or the other. And that's how you get ahead in lobbying is you start out working for someone on Capitol Hill, a powerful senator on a given committee. And then you go and essentially sell that expertise, sell that, you know, the fact that your friends with that guy to, you know, to a lobbying firm or to a bank or to whoever. That's totally how it works.

BILL MOYERS: It's an interlocking cartel and it's serious business. How can we claim to have a representative government when they really are representing the people who bought the campaigns and not the voters who voted for them? It's a serious question.

THOMAS FRANK: Well, there are people who, I'm going to get cynical on you here, Bill. There are people who believe that the more money we have in politics the closer we become to a democracy. They think it's better for there to be more money in politics.

Why do they think that? Because they think that the market is a democracy, that markets are democracy and that government is, when government interferes in the economy it's illegitimate by definition. And so the more money we get in there the more it allows entities like JPMorgan to defend themselves against the sort of, you know, the heavy-handed meddling of some, you know, Washington bureaucrat.

BILL MOYERS: But what does it say when members of the Senate Banking Committee have received $13 million over the last few years from the financial services industry? And these are the guys who are supposed to protect the common folks out there from the predatory lenders. I mean, what happened?

THOMAS FRANK: They haven't done a very good job, have they?

BILL MOYERS: That’s the answer.

THOMAS FRANK: They've done exactly the opposite. I mean, you can look over their record over the last 20 years, all the amazing ways in which they deregulated the financial industry, I mean, this is the story of our time.

And they deregulated this aspect, the other aspect, everything, you know, overturned the Glass-Steagall rules, you know, that's the biggest example. But my favorite one, actually this wasn't the Senate that did this, this was the Bush administration. A lot of states have laws against predatory lending and were enforcing those laws.

And this would have stopped the housing bubble in its tracks, you know, the no-doc loans and this kind of nonsense that was going on. The Bush administration preempted those laws, the state level laws and said, "No, no, predatory lending is now only going to be enforced at the federal level and here's how we're going to enforce it: By doing nothing."

BILL MOYERS: There’s also a report out this week from Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont. Would you believe according to his figures that 18 former and current directors from Federal Reserve Banks, including Jamie Dimon, directly benefited from the financial bailouts after the 2008 crisis?

THOMAS FRANK: That's not a surprise. It's cronyism in this kind of extreme otherworldly dimension. When the bailouts happened and when all of this stuff was on the front pages, it was the kind of moment that really shakes the faith of an entire nation.

It was so disturbing. Well, first the financial crisis was disturbing, the failure of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch going down, Chrysler and GM declaring bankruptcy. One after another on the headline of the newspaper, it was the pillars of middle class life crumbling around us.

And it was astonishing, okay. And then the second chapter, the bailouts, with this enormous price tag where these guys on Wall Street, the bankers just whistled up the resources of the public Treasury for their own benefit, you know. And the country could have gone in any of several different directions. Now, I was looking at this from the perspective of the 1930s.

BILL MOYERS: When the collapse of the economy brought out a large social protest and--

THOMAS FRANK: Exactly, there were even--

BILL MOYERS: -- and a demand--

THOMAS FRANK: There were bailouts then in the '30s. The Hoover administration did massive bailouts of the banks. And it was exactly the same thing. It was rampant cronyism. I'll tell you a story. So the head of Hoover's bailout agency, it was called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The guy that Hoover put in charge of it had been Calvin Coolidge's vice president, you know, this is cronyism already, right?

At one point the guy quits his job as head of the bailout agency and goes back to his bank in Chicago. Couple months later he comes to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation which he had just, a few weeks before, been the head of and says, "Oh, I need a bailout," and they give him one. And the country is, like, outraged, right? Because ordinary people have lost their jobs, unemployment is at 30 percent, whatever it is.

It's catastrophe and this guy who, you know, politically connected is getting a bailout. And the country reacted though not with Tea Party movement, not with, you know, people demanding more deregulation. It reacted by electing Franklin Roosevelt and it reacted with an enormous labor movement and all the things that we remember from the 1930s.

And when I watched this stuff happen, you know, the banks getting their bailouts I thought we're going to see that happen again, we're going down the tracks of, you know, very well-worn tracks. We can all see what's coming.

BILL MOYERS: And everybody was saying, "Come on Barack, give us an FDR, right?

THOMAS FRANK: That's right. I thought it was a Roosevelt moment. And he certainly had the public, the kind of public adulation that Franklin Roosevelt had in 2008. Remember those crowds when he was inaugurated, all those people out on the National Mall. He was something like a national savior. People really thought it's Franklin Roosevelt all over again. Didn't work out that way.

BILL MOYERS: But recently Barack Obama sent his campaign manager, Jim Messina, to New York to assure the financial services industry, Wall Street, that when they heard Barack Obama talk populist rhetoric on the campaign trail he wasn't going to demonize them.

THOMAS FRANK: He wasn't going to demonize Wall Street? Oh no. This is the amazing thing to me, that we have just come through this sort of extraordinary real world demonstration of the folly of our financial system, of all the stuff that we've been doing, the deregulation of the last 30 years, the setup of the Federal Reserve system, however you want to put it, it has all failed us.

And we haven't been able to rise to the challenge and do anything, you know, to fix it in a really structural way like they did in the 1930s. We haven't done that. And Barack Obama who had that opportunity and had both houses of Congress and had, I mean, the world at his feet in 2008 could have gone in any direction he chose, instead chose to basically follow in the footsteps of the sort of tepid centrist Democrats before him, you know, to do little regulatory things here and there, to use some sort of mean-sounding rhetoric at times, but to not really change anything.

And the failure is the Democrats. Democratic Party has by and large not risen to the challenge. I mean, this is not the party of Franklin Roosevelt, it's not the party of Lyndon Johnson. This is a part that can't, you know--

BILL MOYERS: And Barack Obama for all of his virtues and intelligence is not a man of the people.

THOMAS FRANK: No, he's not. And he also, he's a man of academia. He's a man who believes in experts and expertise as we've seen in many, many, many, all the different sort of arenas of his presidency whether you're talking about the war in Afghanistan or whether you're talking about the financial crisis.

This is a man who defers to experts, believes in expertise. He does not have much sympathy for, say the labor movement. He can't go out there and tell you why, say the regulatory agencies failed. He can't, it doesn't make sense to him. He can't talk about these things that everybody wants to know about.

Now, on the other side you've got a movement, the conservative movement, a right wing populist movement that talks a very good game, that speaks to people's anger and that offers them a kind of idealism, a kind of hope that perversely draws on a lot of the rhetoric of the 1930s and models itself after a lot of the movements of the 1930s.

And what they offer, this is interesting. What they offer, the dream, the sort of utopia, the vision that they have for the future of our country is pure free markets. And they say this all the time. It's not me making this up. You go to any Tea Party rally--

BILL MOYERS: That's right. We've covered them. You're exactly right.

THOMAS FRANK: --and they talk about this. If we can just get government out of the way and we can reach out, you know, and--

BILL MOYERS: But getting government out of the way is what helped bring down the economy--

THOMAS FRANK: Of course, but they say the only problem is that government, you know, yes, we deregulated all that stuff, we deregulated all through those years, but we didn't go far enough. And so you can say to them, "Well, look at the record of George W. Bush, the champion deregulator. Look at all the amazing things that he did to set Wall Street loose to deregulate."

And they're like, "Well, George W. Bush was not a real conservative." They say this all the time. It's very easy for them to, you know, because they're such purists and such ideologues to excommunicate someone like George W. Bush from their movement and say, "Well, he wasn't pure enough." Ten years ago they had little statues of him on their desks, you know. But how he's thrown out of the movement, "Not pure enough" --

BILL MOYERS: That's their idealism?

THOMAS FRANK: -- because of the bailouts.

BILL MOYERS: Their idealism is their unblinking faith in the free market?

THOMAS FRANK: Yes, and this is an idea that when I first started writing about it was something that you only saw from the Jamie Dimons of the world.

I called it market populism. It was something that you saw on CNBC in the early days, in the stock market boom of the '90s. You would see it in, like, personal investment books and I made fun of it. Today it is everywhere. It is epidemic, and it's not just the high and the mighty that believe this stuff now, that believe that markets are both a natural phenomenon and a democratic phenomenon. This is average people all across America that believe this.

BILL MOYERS: But you're a historian. Why has this happened?

THOMAS FRANK: Our anger turned from Wall Street to Washington, and it happened in a very short period of time. If you remember back to 2009 when the bailouts were going on the sort of high point of public anger came when AIG, remember these guys? This is a company that should not exist any longer.

These are the people that invented, they didn't invent the credit default swap, but they sort of took it to its logical extreme. And these guys were not only bailed out, they were handing out bonuses to the executives in the division that had invented the credit default swap and had done all these crazy things. And the public was so angry. This is in March of '09. I remember the feeling.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I do to. I was reporting on it.

THOMAS FRANK: People were furious. And then all of a sudden the direction changed and it went away from AIG and over to Washington. And we decided that the real villains in all of this was Washington. And--

BILL MOYERS: But Tom, why wouldn't you feel that way if you saw how the banking committee is dominated by money from Wall Street, if you see the revolving door you talked about, if you know that 18 members of the Federal Reserve Board of Directors benefiting from the bailout, if you see the deregulators helping Wall Street despite all this? Why wouldn't your anger be directed toward Washington?

THOMAS FRANK: They certainly deserve a really, really big helping of public anger. And there's a lot of terms, look, I imagine I'm going to make fun of the Tea Party movement, and that’s certainly what Pity the Billionaire is about, but let's give them some concessions right off the bat.

When they talk about crony capitalism they're right. When they talk about what you just said, all these interconnections between the banks and the legislators, they're right. When they talk about, they use this term, “the ruling class,” that term is totally right on the money. That's a term that we should be throwing around these days. These--

BILL MOYERS: But the ruling class is--

THOMAS FRANK: --people are, they are in bed with each other, you know.

BILL MOYERS: But the ruling class is funding their movement, the Koch brothers, the--

THOMAS FRANK: Exactly, this is the--

BILL MOYERS: --big corporations, Wisconsin.

THOMAS FRANK: -- this is the funny thing that instead of saying, instead of looking at the present situation and saying the regulatory system broke down, we need stricter oversight on these people, we need a political, you know, we need Washington to at least be strong enough and smart enough to supervise these guys and make sure this never happens again which was the response that we had in the 1930s.

Their response is, "It's impossible to regulate these guys." What we have to strive for instead is some kind of pure free market system, so get government out of the way all together. Stop trying to regulate them. And you see the kind of people who've been elected, as a result of this populist anger out there in the country, get in office and immediately go to war against the Securities and Exchange Commission that's supposed to regulate Wall Street.

They want to hammer those guys into the ground. They go after the, what is the new, the only sort of substantial new regulatory agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they go after those guys. They've tried to de-fund them. You know, they wanted to make sure Elizabeth Warren would not be chairman of it.

They've gone to war against regulation, against the very idea of government oversight of the financial markets. This is fascinating. How can you react to, you know, three decades of financial deregulation leads to this collapse, this tremendous disaster and our response as a nation has been to say, "Well, we need more of that. We need to deregulate more."

BILL MOYERS: Is one of the reasons money in politics, both of us know there's nothing new about money in politics in American history. What's the difference now?

THOMAS FRANK: Well, there's two things. One is the sheer size of it. We've really turned it loose. The Citizens United decision, we're going to see a wave of money like we've never seen before. The 2010 midterm elections dwarfed what they call independent expenditures which is expenditures by PACs and super PACs were two times what they were in 2008. So there's that.

The other thing is that we are so blasé about the money. It doesn't shock us anymore. You know, and there was a time when, you know, John McCain is a Republican, was offended by money in politics. Today, you know, we've all sort of made our peace with it.

BILL MOYERS: You raised Citizens United. When Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the other conservative judges he said flatly quote, "This court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." Can anyone, seriously now, can anyone in touch with reality believe that?

THOMAS FRANK: I don't see how you can. To say that that doesn't give rise to the appearance of corruption when the billionaires are more or less directly, you know, staking these men to run for the presidency and--

BILL MOYERS: And when you've got the banking committee taking money from JPMorgan whose CEO is testifying?

THOMAS FRANK: But even worse when he wrote those words the country was in the throes of this populist outrage at Wall Street because, you know, Wall Street had been able as I said before to get itself a bailout. The connection between private wealth and the, you know, and public power and the force of government had never been more clear.

And that's the moment when he wrote that decision saying, "Well, that is by definition, we hereby decree that that is not corrupt and that it's not even, it doesn't even appear to be corrupt." And yet the country's politics are being moved by that very perception at that same moment.

BILL MOYERS: Someone you know, the writer E.J. Dionne says that the Citizens United decision is part of quote, I'm quoting, "A larger initiative by moneyed conservatives to rig the electoral system against their opponents."

THOMAS FRANK: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You agree with that?

THOMAS FRANK: No doubt about it. For a long time the people have been talking about the conservative movement and their effort to develop some kind of permanent lock on power. And I think that Citizens United might be the thing that actually delivers that not because it's going to give Republicans per se a lock on power or give them a permanent majority or anything like that. You're still going to have a two party system no matter what happens, but it will tilt our politics in a certain direction. It will draw both parties by a sort of force of gravity in a certain direction. Before you can even, when you put such a price tag on elected office, and this has been going on for years, but today it's way up there in the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to run for the presidency.

And who knows how many millions to run for the United States Senate and a couple million to run for the House of Representatives. When you put a price tag like that on political office you automatically rule out lots of people and lots of ideas from the competition.

If you have to be able to reach out to the billionaire community and make your case to the billionaire community even before you begin, even before you start running for office, you know, automatically a lot of ideas and a lot of ideas that are very traditional, very American, you know, red, white and blue ideas are automatically off the table. You have to be able to please that class of donors before you even start.

BILL MOYERS: So our choices are narrowed to candidates favored by the rich?

THOMAS FRANK: The choices have already been made for us instead of, you know, 20 candidates out there, they've chosen two candidates who've made it through the money primary and that's who we get to take our pick from.

BILL MOYERS: Tom, here's the dilemma. I know a lot of good citizens who are simply giving up. Two nights ago I was with some old friends out in the Midwest, your part of the country, and one of them looked at me and said, "I don't know what to do, so I'm just bailing out." And she was serious.

THOMAS FRANK: Look, I have the same problem myself. I also have an answer. I have a solution for it. You want to hear what it is?

BILL MOYERS: I do.

THOMAS FRANK: We need third parties in this country. And by that I don't mean another third party supported by billionaires, that centrist, you know, in the sort of Ross Perot manner. I mean parties that represent different opinions on the spectrum in the manner of the populist party in the 1890s which was really the last time we saw a third party movement, you know, that contested the ballot from the bottom all the way to the top, you know, and they were a real political party. Unfortunately the techniques that the populists used are against the law in most states. If we were to repeal those laws you might have a vibrant third party scene again.

BILL MOYERS: But the two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats make sure that those--

THOMAS FRANK: That those laws stay in place, exactly--

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, that the barriers are not taken down.

THOMAS FRANK: Well, I'll tell you the other thing we need, and this is even, I mean, everything is going against me here, a labor movement. I mean, it just seems as I look back over all the books that I've written and we look back over our lives what's missing from when we were young and what and where we are now, what made that world, you know, in the 1960s, different from this world that we're in today, and the answer just leaps out at you: it was a strong labor movement.

BILL MOYERS: But do you think the returns in Wisconsin suggest that is--

THOMAS FRANK: No, I don't think that's in the cards. And the Democratic Party could have made it a possibility with something like the Employee Free Choice act in the Obama years and they declined, they decided not to do it. They didn't really lift a finger for their friends in the labor movement and are watching them just get wiped out.

BILL MOYERS: If we become as you suggest we are already becoming, a country of rich people, what's the odds then of reversing that--

THOMAS FRANK: Well, we're not going to be a country of rich people, Bill. Some people are going to be rich. We're going to be a country ruled by rich people. We already are to a certain degree, and there's a word for it, plutocracy: Rule by wealth. And there's no doubt in my mind, I mean, this is the direction we've been heading for a long time.

We came to a turning point and we didn't turn. We came to a point where the plutocracy had utterly discredited itself, had ruined all of our savings, you know, smashed our 401ks, defrauded us in countless ways, corrupted our government as we saw in the Bush years and the Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay years and we came to a turning point and we didn't turn. We decided no, we got to double down on this. We need, you know, a stronger dose of that bad medicine. That's where we are today.

BILL MOYERS: So why pity the billionaire?

THOMAS FRANK: That's sarcasm, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: No, no, Tom Frank sarcastic? Tom Frank, the book is Pity the Billionaire. Very good reading. Thank you very much for being with me.

THOMAS FRANK: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Thomas Frank on Money in Politics

June 15, 2012

When it comes to the vast, corrupting influence of money in politics, historian Thomas Frank has sounded the alarm loudly and often. In “It’s a Rich Man’s World,” one of his recent essays for Harper’s Magazine, Frank writes, “Over the course of the past few decades, the power of concentrated money has subverted professions, destroyed small investors, wrecked the regulatory state, corrupted legislators en masse, and repeatedly put the economy through the wringer. Now it has come for our democracy itself.”

Bill talks with Frank about the power of concentrated money to subvert democracy.

Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a best seller and his latest, Pity the Billionaire, asks how Tea Partiers and their allies can make heroes of the rich and mighty who ran us into a ditch.


Editor’s Note:

On June 20, we received a response to this interview from the Senate Banking Committee:

Statement of Senate Banking Committee Spokesman Sean Oblack

“The facts speak for themselves. Under Chairman Johnson’s leadership, the Senate Banking Committee has conducted extensive oversight of the financial services industry and implementation of the Wall Street Reform Act. With respect to JPMorgan Chase specifically, Chairman Johnson was the first to announce hearings on the matter and the first committee chairman to call JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon to testify. While Senate and House Republicans, along with Mr. Dimon, have fought to weaken or repeal the Wall Street Reform Act, no one has been a stronger defender of the law than Chairman Johnson.”

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  • Vageiger

    I love reading Frank.  I have all of his books.  I continue to hope that he will eventually get it as he continues to try, even in his latest book, Pity the Billionaires.  Unfortunately, he continues to fail.  Frank is correct about Obama and his technocratic approach to problems.  But he continues his confusion about why Americans will vote against their own economic interests.  The fundamental thing Frank refuses to accept is that it is the form, not the content that matters culturally.  The form is CHOICE and the content too often does not matter.  What Frank, and Moyers through his continued failure to have Richard Slotkin on his show, refuses to acknowledge is the cultural importance of regeneration through regression narratives and, in this case, how Wall Street bankers successfully asserted a regeneration through regression narrative in the current crisis.  First, they continually asserted (falsely) that no one could have seen it coming.  Second, they assert that they took TARP money because they were asked, or forced, and actually did not need it (this is also false).  Paulson, with his thirteen banker meeting, deliberately created this excuse (he was not CEO of the vampire squid – Goldman Sachs for no reason) as a public service.  Third, they successfully asserted that all they had they had earned by working harder and being smarter than others (this includes all the bonuses they received even after crashing the economy).  Frank continues to portray a bemusement at the irrationality of Americans to make choices against their (analytically derived) best interests while refusing to accepts that this is what people are actually doing and then looking seriously at why.  It is American culture, Mr. Frank, a culture based on individualism and very receptive to any kind of message that presents the option of supporting a narrative that tells Americans that all they have is a result (falsely) of their own individual efforts.  Americans do not want to be told that much of what they have is a result of collective behaviors and government policies that benefit them, as a collective.  I continue to read Frank in the hope that he will eventually accept what his data tells him, and then analyze that.  I may be wrong in this but I have hope. 

  • Jeanne

    Bill, about your friends that are just giving up.  What if, rather than just slipping away and disappearing as if they never existed they make their exit official and do it with a bang?  Having to choose between the lesser of two evils can  drive a person of conscience to the edge. The fact is the lesser of two evils is not a choice at all. It is still 2 evils and that is not a choice.

    I absolutely refuse to give up my most precious right to vote because I don’t like the choices. Too many have died, suffered and sacrificed for me to so offhandedly opt out.

    I am opting out of the corrupt politics we now call elections but not without a final say . I will not in good conscience vote for the lesser of two evils but I will make it official and vote my conscience by writing in “NONE OF THE ABOVE.”  And as a registered voter that has not missed an election since 1964 and with all my first amendments Right to free speech  in hand I will write NONE OF THE ABOVE in plain clear English on my Official ballot. I just trumped corporate person’s  first amendment right in the process. Money may be speech but it can’t write.

    My conscience is clear and in so doing gave homage and honor to all those that have served and fought  to preserve my right to do just that. It is the very lest I can do in their honor and for which I am very very grateful.

    Giving up is not an option. Not after everything we have been through. Not now. Not ever.

    I would suggest that a third option is available to your friends who do not know what to do. Voting NONE OF THE ABOVE says it loud and clear. It is also officially counted and recorded. 10 people who speak make more noise than 10,000 that are silent.   I am proud to speak my mind and it is my way of sticking it to Big money Big time.

    One billionaire voting is still one vote, not a billion.

    Just a thought. I look forward to the day when NONE of the ABOVE wins.

    Loved your commentary on your grandson’s graduation. You made me cry. So touching. You speak to the heart Bill. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Stephanie

    In Frank’s article in the July Harper’s, “Letter from Brownbackistan,” he discusses a loyalty oath being required of Kansas Republicans.  I hate to be a fearmonger or name-caller, but–am I the only person who sees a parallel between the treatment of Latinos, of gays, and now, apparently, even Republicans who have ever supported a Democrat, and the fascists in Europe in the 1930s? Will the next step be for legal aliens to wear yellow stars on their clothing?

  • Mark Whitney

    Please ponder this. The lesser of 2 evils is the lesser of 2 evils. Why would you not want the lesser of 2 evils. By not voting at all you are voting for the greater of 2 evils. The far right’s marketing is brilliant. Part of their plan is to make the process so distasteful that people don’t vote.  Low voter turnout equals the greater evil winning everytime.  Democracy is the biggest thorn in the neo-cons side, and they will do everything they can (including discusting the citizens into disengaging). Democracy is not a spectator sport. So if you value your life and the lives of loved ones, vote in a meaningful way. Better yet find a candidate you like and work your ass off to them elected. Turn off your TVs, start reading, educate yourself and vote for the lesser of two evils!

  • AlecWild

    This is an incredible, thoughtful, and on-the-nose discussion about what’s going on in this country. Mr. Frank (whose book, “Pity the Billionaire” is truly excellent) expresses incredulity at our decision to “double down” on the bad policies of the last 30 years. Mr. Moyers, shouldn’t we explore WHY Americans seem so eager to continue down the disastrous deregulation trail? Aggressive misinformation campaigns, deliberate lies, and “free” market propaganda saturate our media, largely at the behest of the billionaires and their super-PACs. How is it to be stopped (or at least balanced)? As our country’s capacity for critical thought diminishes with every political ad or Fox News Alert, how do Americans ever get to the (often complex) truth? It’s no wonder your friend wants to give up. So do I. I deeply respect the convictions of the commenter Jeanne, who nobly continues to discharge her civic duty, but voting NONE OF THE ABOVE will amount to no more than a lovely, symbolic spit in the wind as long Americans watch an average of 5.11 hours of television every day. We’re beset by chicanery in our corporate-owned media, and our corporate-owned media is the largest (only?) purveyor of political information.

  • guest

    Bill, your friend from the midwest ‘bailing out’, although one cannot bail out completely (one has to live somewhere), one does not have to reproduce. if one does not reproduce, one has no obligation to improve society. and without that obligation, so go the struggles and frustrations.

  • Kv27

    Nobody uses the word that describes our political system – fascist. Fascism is control of government by big money and the corporations. That is clearly what we have. Right wingers are prone to put labels on people. Why are the liberals and lefties so reluctant to use the emotion packed words? Using a word like ‘plutocracy’ does not carry the power that the equally honest word ‘fascism’. Right wingers have succeeding in making words like ‘liberal’ evil. Even “union’ is a derogatory word. Liberals think they are appealing to reason, but reason doesn’t win elections. They have to get conservative known as meaning bigot, greedy, hypocrytic self centered and self righteous. Only then will the playing field be leveled.

  • Karl Hoff

    I liked that Thomas Frank spoke out against money in politics and I was glad he offered a solution. Then when I heard the solution, I didn’t know whether he was against what he preached or he had become a politician. I believe that most people that watch Bill Moyers are against the unfair distribution of wealth and how it corrupts, which makes those it corrupts to become even more corrupt so as to hold on to their ill gotten gains. I believe what Bill Moyers said about the young people in the world was a better avenue to solving the world’s problems and no matter how much greed takes over it will be felt more by the young people, resulting in them understanding that what the people that let it happen without finding a solution were part of the problem, not the solution, then maybe they will have no choice, but to change things for the better.

  • Prewiredunplugged

    Gotta love Thomas Frank.  He has a pointer’s nose for finding the foul.  But he is a bit unfair to blame President Obama for “(deferring) to experts and expertise.”  That is the fault of the predominant thinking paradigm, the academic/scientific, which demands we use reason primarily and ultimately to derive meaning, and considers intuition as nice but not necessary.  If you look closely you can see that Obama’s ideas initially are founded in intuition, just as were the paradigmatic theories of our greatest scientists Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein.  They adopted a thinking paradigm that allowed them to use intuition in the first instance of perception to discover the “what” of a phenomenon; secondarily they used reason to “do the math,” to derive by calculation the “how” of the phenomenon.  Ultimately they used intuition in a testing strategy called the “bootstrap” by Clark Glymour, the philosopher who discovered that the greats used it to tweak the old hypothetico-deductive method.  (Intuition – reason – intuition).  Society forces Obama to use the academic/scientific thinking paradigm, which demands that he rely solely on reason.  His great ideas were discovered in intuition.  What is discovered in intuition cannot be convincingly articulated by reason alone.  Reason brings only expertise; expertise, ultimately, becomes mired in self-interest.  If we want Obama to do what he knows to do,  we have to let him use the thinking pardigm of the greats, which he does naturally.  It would allow him to seek wisdom and the wise, and give him the ability to reveal the discoveries of his intuition in a way to satisfy reason and actualize the promises for change that brought us hope.

  • Peter Weil

    I strongly disagree. Just because right wingers engage in the misuse of emotion-packed labels doesn’t make it right. Using “fascism” is both wrong and, for historical and moral reasons, also irresponsible. “Fascism” is is simply not an accurate description of what is going on, and your definition is also wrong. There are plenty of terms out there we can use to have some more emotional impact, but let’s use and apply them correctly and truthfully. 

  • BorderlandBiker

    Frankly Frank, Fascism is what you’re describing. Labor cannot allow business to define them.

  • lgfromillinois

    In listening to Thomas Frank, I thought of the English Parliament rotten and pocket boroughs of the 18th and early 19th centuries, boroughs where landed and wealthy peers of the realm owned a seat in the House of Commons because a small and compliant population (or no population in a pocket borough) was bribed and coerced to maintain power.  We have wealthy and powerful men and women seeking to perpetuate their advantages over us, not with outright bribery, but by constantly using their money persuading us of their good intentions.  I reject their protestions of good intentions (and the converse of bad intentions by the opposition).   This wash of money over politics is a sorry state for a democracy to descend to.

  • Andre Lavigne

    Mr. Moyers; thank you so much for your wonderful show.  Hopefully, if enough people watch it, it will wake them up to what is happening.  We must get the money out of politics.  De-regulation is not the cause of the problems in our society.  Regulations ensure that the citizens will not be hurt by big money, big business and government.
    You must continue to shed light on this perversion.

  • Kenegbert3rd

    To paraphrase the eminent politician of a time when maybe that  wasn’t such a four-letter word:  the wealthy will get America and all it has – including us -when those who think that they are powerless to do nothing to stop them.  As ever, thanks, Mr. Moyers, and Mr. Frank. 

  • Kenegbert3rd

     Pardon the typo!  “…when those who think they are powerless do nothing to stop them.”

  • Maria

    Thank You Mr.Moyers and Mr . Frank ! it is so sad that those of us who already know and agree with   U ,   we are the only ones who will read and listen to pieces like this one

  • Noelle

    Our political system is rigged against any 3rd parties coming to prominence.
    The solution is a constitutional amendment against corporate personhood–Move to Amend is the organization.

  • JonThomas

     I don’t disagree, but you didn’t give a real explanation of why “Fascism” is not an accurate word.

    The political right, these days, is mostly a coalition of economic conservative , patriotic conservatives, and moral(or at least religious) conservatives.

    I think to an extent, the term “Fascism” does convey, fairly accurately, what a segment of the political right is pushing towards.

    The economic “conservatives” are not only trying to hinder what the claim are socialist policies but, for the last 3 generations at least, are actually working to further radical de-regulatory laissez faire policies.

    This country does not have a solid history of laissez faire. Therefore such a radical stance does fit the “Fascist” term.

    The “patriotic” segment often follows the “America: right or wrong” mentality, and does advocate the invasion of other nations to force a conforming to the American will or “American way.”

    Immigration policy is another area in which a “national identity” would be fostered under the belief system of a huge segment of this coalition.

    Such a “patriotic” idealism also fits the “Fascist” terminology.

    The moral segment would have religious ideals be codified as the laws of the land. This is a form of centralized ideology and also fits the “Fascist” terminology.

    There are many more examples…but alas, brevity.

    Perhaps “Plutocracy” is a more fitting term, but “Fascist” isn’t as far off as many would have it seem.

    “Fascist Plutocracy” anyone?

  • JonThomas

     I “feel” you are not quite correct. I can’t put my finger on it or give the reason, therefore you must be wrong.

  • JonThomas

    Mr. Frank’s words at approximately the 22:15 minute mark…and throughout the 22nd minute.

    ” We came to a turning point and we didn’t turn…”

    Unfortunately that is it! That says it all!

  • Oregon Coast

    Here’s one more sad commentary: Thomas Frank joins Bill Moyers in one of the best explanations about everything that is wrong with our country, and here it is, five days after the interview aired and was posted online for all to see, and we have a grand total of 4 “Likes” and 20 Comments.

    As Paul Krugman says, “We are doomed.”  And we either don’t even know it or we don’t even care.

  • JonThomas

    Updated 6/20/12 :

    “Statement of Senate Banking Committee Spokesman Sean  Oblack

    ‘The facts speak for themselves. Under Chairman Johnson’s
    leadership, the Senate Banking Committee has conducted extensive
    oversight of the financial services industry and implementation of the
    Wall Street Reform Act. With respect to JPMorgan Chase specifically,
    Chairman Johnson was the first to announce hearings on the matter and
    the first committee chairman to call JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon to
    testify. While Senate and House Republicans, along with Mr. Dimon, have
    fought to weaken or repeal the Wall Street Reform Act, no one has been a
    stronger defender of the law than Chairman Johnson.’ ”

    =========

    So, they claim to be defenders of a toothless law, or at least, it’s being said that Chairman Johnson is a defender of that law, perhaps the original form of that law…I don’t know as I haven’t followed his actions in regard to that law.

    Instead I will speak in specific generalities (yes, the irony is intentional, I’m too angry to speak my full mind on the matter.)

    Is anyone going to jail? Is anyone being fined? In many parts of this country a person can be tossed into jail for innumerable victimless crimes. In many areas, just walking down the street with an open container of beer can get someone arrested.

    But over the last 6 years Americans have been bilked out of billions of dollars and an incalculable amount of middle class wealth. A few charges were handed out to low level mortgage brokers as a show, but no one from top management has been sanctioned.

    This “spokesman” makes a response to defend a Senator…ok fine.

    But how about a response to the fact that not one person from banking management has been charged in this nightmare.

    The entire country, and dare I say the entire world, was victimized.

    This spokesman can make as many defensive “responses” as they desire, but the fact that this committee can’t find a tooth in any regulation should be a crime in itself.

    Does the phrase “corruptive collusion” strike any chords?

    The regulations that would have served to find legal guilt have been allowed to be stripped.

    Sure, blame the other guys, but we didn’t see you fighting, putting your job on the line to make sure this tragedy did not occur!

    In fact, nearly the entire congress handed these same “should-be criminals” billions in taxpayer money!!

    You know, not every denotation of guilt has to do with the law.

    So you…(I’m self-editing an explicative condemnation here)… can defend yourselves all you want…you all have discredited yourselves. I do my best to show deference to the office, but as human beings you are less than nothing, you are a blight on the country and the world!

    The only people you act “positively” toward is the blood suckers who want to bleed every human dry. Your words towards the citizenry are empty.

    We all know you (nationally serving elected officials) are bought and paid for by interest groups that put, and keep, you in office. Mr. Frank and Mr. Moyers did an excellent job detailing the financial vetting process by which any nationally elected official gets as far as you have in politics.

    Our hopes for you have long ago been dashed.

    What the citizenry has not done is fore-go their own moral and legal values and taken justice into their own hands.

    The only question left for the average person is… the “devil you know?”

  • JonThomas

    Oh, and I should not find myself remiss to mention the ironic abomination that through vagrancy laws, people can be incarcerated for having no money, but those who have defrauded millions, and their congressional cronies, are not held responsible in any legal court of justice.

  • Muddydoggers

    Wow.  Frank is correct on so many points–though I think it doesn’t quite ring true that one may explain away Obama’s inexplicable hard-right turns to trusting experts. I suspect that it is more so that people saw Obama as an FDR clone when he never presented himself as such to those who paid attention.  Realistically, we are stuck choosing the least worst option (among the national primary candidates who, as Frank states, have been vetted by the moneyed class) until we can break a two-party system that has so many unflinching subscribers on either side to make any change a Sisyphean endeavor.  Having said that, I’m emailing this clip to everyone; some may even watch it!

  • JonThomas

     So today I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of research.

    It seems Sen. Johnson was 1 of 7 Dems. to vote no on TARP.

    For that, I thank him.

    While I will not take back the generalized  comments I made here toward the entirety of the congressional membership, I do soften my words and feelings towards Sen. Johnson.

  • Oregon Coast

    Was Obama “trusting experts” or was he choosing advisors  who would (or should) be acceptable to the Republicans and who would support him well to the right of center? If Obama had really wanted change and progress, why in the world did he appoint Simpson and Boles to head his debt commission?  And for heaven’s sake, what expertise or even interest does Jeff Imelt have in creating jobs in this country? (Well, okay, he does employ nearly 1000 high-paid citizens in his tax  department so GE can evade…er, avoid paying any tax at all).

  • Anonymous

    As others have said: This relatively brief interview captures all that needs to be said to pin-point “What’s the matter with the entire nation”!  If not all, that need be said, then most.  Great thanks to both of you – Bill Moyers, Thomas Frank.

    Re Obama’s belief in experts – a fair and insightful comment. But in watching him I’ve come up with another “paradigm” that I believe also has strong influence on Obama’s “world view”.  Obama came of age (youth shifting to adult) during the hey-day of the “Human potential movement”, aka “The Age of Excellence”. For all the wisdom and insights in late 20thC  on human motivation – (I believe there were many, believe them of critical importance) – a part of the human potential movement was effectively nothing but the Horatio Alger story, with Horatio spiffied up for late 20thC appeal! 

    This part of the “potential paradigm” intentionally and unintentionally taught: “Your success is within your personal power to manifest”.  Theoretically this proposed success was available to “everyone”.  There was an accompanying implication that “there are no social/economic/political causes or dynamics that require activist analysis, attitudes, or practices.”

    Outward signs of “excellence”, (personal potential achievement) were polished professional careers, high income, and recognition of achievement by ones peers. The Age of Excellence included high praise for “rationalizing” the work place.  Costs were cut wherever possible even if human-to-human services were reduced; (live-in treatment centers for people with mental issues were closed, clients sent to the streets to live).  “Merit pay” seemed a good idea and was unchallenged by concepts of “value of intrinsic reward”. Those who did not participate with appropriate outward signs of achievement became increasingly irrelevant as sources of wisdom/creativity.  Without the trappings, they could not be easily identified.

    One hopes Obama’s interest in “expert opinion”, merit pay, and “everyone can achieve his/her dreams if she/he tries hard enough”, will lead him to notice available research that points out problems with merit pay, problems for whole societies that have high levels of inequality,  problems with “ambition driven” behaviors among the “successful leadership class”, and even problems demanding immediate leadership on climate change and problems of an expansionist based economic system on a finite planet!

    But I’m not holding my breath  I think Frank is right when he describes Obama as enamored by expert opinion – and I further think, (strongly suspect) that to Obama, “expert” means “successful” a la “Age of Excellence”.

  • Anonymous

    I also think of the enclosure acts across Europe as the industrial age got underway.  Commandeering the commons continues – now aimed at any possible wealth held in common to serve/foster the public good:  education, unemployment relief, food support, public medical services, and much more – good heavens, even wealth of many minds as per few if any restrictions on media monopolies and loss of voter rights!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting! You pick up on a part of Obama that I’ve ‘sensed’ but have given up on him exercising.  He remains too ambitious to take the risk. IMO, he, like most of us, is operating on an unexamined personal world view, and his is heavily weighted along the lines of “I count for something if I gain for myself, and associate with others, in power fields”.  

    I posted a fairly lengthy comment on what I read as his commitment to the late 20thC “Age of Excellence” paradigm. Granted he’s not alone on this – it *is* a dominant paradigm!  In that sense (its dominance) he is “captured” by it.  I would be surprised if his circumstances allow him to be reflective enough to notice this.

  • Anonymous

    My concern is that corruption is “normal” and will constantly find its way regardless of new, fresh, thinking unless/until we understand how it develops, (within practically any one of us).  My “antidote” is what I call “psychological literacy”.  Even basic training in conflict resolution causes reflection and insight on fundamental universal human yearnings and the fear, insecurity that causes us to use “egoic” responses to “protect” ourselves and to make “objects or enemies” of one another.   I’ve worked with young kids, ages 8-9,  in conflict resolution skills – they’re quite able to gather insight; their commitment to community, practice of empathy, and enjoyment of self/other  increases.

  • Anonymous

    I watch the unfolding of what you seem to notice. I have shared the lines:  “First they came for, …” many times.   The list of accused is pretty long: Latinos, gays, Republicans of integrity, union members, intellectuals, teachers, the poor, the unemployed, those without health care, “socialists”, women, … .   I can piece together an informed narrative on where these “accusers” are coming from, but I’ve yet to figure out how to spark the compassion that I am sure many of them actually would like to experience and extend to others.  (I’m not speaking of the most public, outrageous, accusers, but of those who listen to them, repeat their messages, and vote for them.)

    So far, trying to stay in conversation with them (when it happens) and to offer relatively non-threatening challenge, (I see things differently here’s why…) is the only remedy I can think of.  I have a feeling that reacting in an “us/them” manner only confirms what they already believe – and I believe that they are frightened, that they feel the world is unraveling, that their own security is tenuous.  Some of them , (all?), also feel unrecognized, unvalued.

    For the first time today I had a good chat with one person in my neighborhood who is troubled by my “activist” attitudes. We discussed our shared fondness for cats and kittens!  Past points of antagonism (spaying/neutering) came up and stayed comfortable!  This time I held my activist attitude in check.  I think it helped!

  • Anonymous

    “None of the above” is good!  I’ve been thinking we need a ‘movement’ in which thousands name the same write-in candidate.  I’ve limited “group” influence – so don’t have much hope of getting anything started – perhaps you have more? 

    One of my thoughts is to write in “Occupy”.  For me, Occupy represents intelligent, creative, thoughtful, exploration/experimentation to meet 21stC challenges, and to design new systems to serve people and the earth itself.   If Occupy were a person, and were running for President, I’d definitely vote for her/him!

  • Karl Hoff

    Thank you for your comment. I am glad you mentioned the young as 8-9 because I find they are the most receptive to new ideas. Once they become teenagers, the only way most can be reached is if you agree with them, though not all. As far back in history as I can find, Empires were built with corruption and brutality which does not really show itself until the number using it to gain from it becomes so great that those left suffer. At that point it is the corruption and brutality that topples the Empire that it built and the cycle goes on. I guess until people seek to live to be average, rather than to out do each other that cycle will continue.  Average people can do great things without doing it for any other reason than to make the World a better place.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so delighted Moyers uses Disqus!  Good to hear more from you, Karl.  Key influences to my thinking (my “ideology?”) re human affairs are Buckminster Fuller; Adlerian psychology; and the ancient admonition:  “Know Thyself”. 

    Fuller’s concept of the individual human is captured somewhat in his statement: “Every child is born a genius, and is taught against this” (paraphrased).  From my work with very ordinary young children (including strong candidates for “advanced” studies and children vulnerable to be labeled “unpromising”, as well as all capabilities inbetween), *every* person has valuable “gifts to bring to the table”.  The goal for us humans, IMO, needs to be nurturing/supporting potential without culturally training one another that some of us are more “valuable” than others.  We need to somehow get to finding human richness in an atmosphere of modesty!  Fuller didn’t directly address this so much as he lived it. He was largely “about technology” but constantly spoke of need for intelligent awareness of human relationship to natural dynamics, natural forces – and use of this understanding in design of both technology and systems that helped or blocked human potential.

    Adlerian psychology shows up unidentified in much late 20thC “human potential” work and success. A primary insight well-explored by Adler (contemporary of Freud)  was that the individual personality + surrounding early environment/experience shapes individual “world view”.  The “view” is geared first to survival, but secondly and critically to longing to experience “fulfillment” as an individual in a social context. 

    Neither Fuller nor Adler chased fame – both “did what they did”, “explored what they explored”, on behalf of personal inclination, curiosity, and on behalf of “making a difference”.

    “Know thyself” – to me – is an instruction not only to the individual but to humanity itself.

    IMO, late 20th and recent 21stC practices that cause us to better know ourselves (as a consequence of trying to use the practices) include conflict resolution, consensus solution finding, and Circle Justice.  The last was practiced by First Nations before Europeans arrived in N.America – current Restorative Justice practices draw heavily from CJ concepts, and CJ itself continues to be relevant.

    I think a lot of people balk at the idea they should “seek to be average”  but if they could live in a world that celebrated *all* contributions, without singling out and worshiping Person A while ignoring Person B it might amount to the same thing in terms of overall social mutual trust,  validation, and genuine satisfaction!

  • Anonymous

    2nd post to reply to you – just finished hearing Wally Shawn read an essay he wrote that – to my mind – is a perfect fit for the thoughts you raise.   Title of essay “Why I Call Myself A Socialist” but essay itself is entirely without reference to politics.  He’s an actor, (Star Trek, Ferengi), and in his essay he explores individuals as role-players. Roles which, in real life, are “acquired” through forces that have no special awareness of, or interest in, the immense potential within each baby at birth. Reading is about 27min, followed by brief Q/A; total 45min.  You might find it of interest: http://www.leftforum.org/content/sunday-lunchtime-event-wally-shawn

  • Karl Hoff

    Hi Meg, thank you for the 2nd reply. I changed my political beliefs when I researched the subject to write about it. I quickly found that from the fuedal system to democracy were all based either partly or entirely on a dictatorship. Even the survival of the fittest was. The only form of rule was not a rule at all and that was Egalitarianism, which is the quest to remove any inequality. I quickly became one. You cannot even register to vote as one because the only way a vote could be equal is with a vote where all agree or it would not be equal for all, so I must register and vote in other parties. When ever this system is used such as by the Eskimos it worked extremely well. It also works well if one lives with other forms of rule. The problems we have today with a few gaining much of the power and wealth which leads to unspeakable suffering for so many goes away when people live to enjoy life while working to not cause others to suffer. Using two kids and one cup cake in any of the ways to rule would result in the posibility that someone could feel cheated when divided. If an egalitarian kid cut it and let the other kid choose first that problem would go away. We live in a world of plenty where everyone can have all they need. What makes it a world with so much suffering is people trying to defend their greed by giving hand outs, rather than sharing in the first place.