Part one of Bill Moyers’ discussion with members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, about the inability of Washington to govern. The program features five politicians and their responses to the exasperation of the American people.
MOYERS: Good evening. I’m Bill Moyers. We’re Listening to America tonight, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. There’s a bunker mentality here these days. The city is under a political state of siege. You don’t need to follow the polls or even read the papers to know that the gap between citizens and politicians could hardly be wider. Confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. The presidency and executive branch are widely scorned as well. Politicians I’ve known a long time say they’ve never had to endure such a vitriolic, ugly and dehumanizing atmosphere as the one which prevails now in Washington
We’ll hear from some elected officials in this broadcast, but first, let’s listen to what a prominent Washington reporter and some voters have to say on the subject.
MARY McELRATH, Teacher: When we send someone up for president and when we submit someone to become the president of these United States, we would like to have our best. That means the person who is, of course, intellectually our best, and morally our best. And that’s a basic thing. And for some reason, the Democrats can’t seem to figure that out.
INTERVIEWER: Have you supported the Democrats in the last few elections?
3rd VOTER: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like they’re putting up candidates who are going to be good for the country?
3rd VOTER: No.
GEROME CARR, Caterer: I would have to say that I was raised in a household that always voted Democratic, and I decided in 1980 that we needed to see a change, and now, it’s unfortunate, but I bought a lie.
ACTOR: [Republican campaign ad, 1980] It’s morning again in America. Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history.
GEROME CARR: I believed Ronald Reagan, and I always get asked – being black – “How did you buy into that?” But I did. I believed that he was going to do great things and new things for this country.
LEWIS RODRIGO, Service Station Owner: Is this a transmission problem?
The people in Washington are so far out of touch, it’s just – I’m stunned by what I see, and I think most Americans are stunned.
I’ve never seen the anger out there, I’ve never seen the dissatisfaction out there. We tum on our TV and we see this silly thing down in the Senate, the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas thing.
Sen. ORRIN HATCH, (R) : On page 70 of this particular version of The Exorcist, “Oh, Burke,” shied (sic) Sharon – sighed Sharon. In a guarded tone she described an encounter between the senator and the director. Dennings had remarked to him in passing, said Sharon, that there appeared to be ‘alien pubic hair floating around in my gin.’ ”
LEWIS RODRIGO: Here is a roomful of lawyers, people who are educated, people who are elected, United States senators, people who should know how to act. They broke every rule of Roberts’ rule of order, they broke every rule of jurisprudence, they broke every rule of common decency.
Sen. ALAN SIMPSON, (R) Wyoming: And now I really am getting stuff over the transom about Professor Hill. I’ve got letters hanging out my pocket, I’ve got faxes, I’ve got statements from her former law professors, statements from people that know her, statements from Tulsa, Oklahoma saying, “Watch out for this woman!” But nobody’s got the guts to say that, because it gets all tangled up in this sexual harassment crap.
LEWIS RODRIGO: There was nothing proved by that, but we were made to look like a bunch of fools in front of every country in the world. The American people spent millions of dollars to have a confirmation process which was worse than we have at Little League in town. Our Little League meetings are held with more decorum than that.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think about politics in this country right now?
1st WOMAN: I’d like to ask Father MacDonald to offer the invocation first.
FATHER MacDONALD: Let us pray, almighty God, who has given us this good land, the United States, for our heritage, we humbly beseech Thee
4th VOTER: It’s gone to hell. Am I authorized to use that kind of language? Yeah, it’s gone to hell.
BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) E.J. Dionne covers politics, including the ’92 election, for The Washington Post.
E.J. DIONNE, Author, “Why Americans Hate Politics”: What do you think of President Bush?
4th VOTER: He’s a big letdown.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] He’s the author of the acclaimed book, Why Americans Hate Politics.
E.J. DIONNE: And the state of politics generally, where do you think things are?
6th VOTER: Who likes politics?
E.J. DIONNE: I have spent a lot of time talking to voters during this election, and what’s striking is their dissatisfaction transcends the usual lines of ideology or party.
6th VOTER: I guess the economy has overshadowed the President’s success.
E.J. DIONNE: You expect to vote for him in the primary?
6th VOTER: I expect to vote for the President, that’s right. Unless something better comes along.
7th VOTER: I’ve already voted absentee, and I voted for Buchanan.
E.J. DIONNE: And why?
7th VOTER: I just like the idea of a protest vote to the President. It’s time to move on and time to become a leader here in the United States, other than the world.
7th VOTER: I don’t want to vote for Bush again, but I see no Democrat I want to vote for, either.
E.J. DIONNE: I think for a long time most Americans saw politics as being about solving problems and resolving disputes that couldn’t get resolved any other way. Arthur Schlesinger, the historian, talks about politics as being the search for remedy, and I think that one of the reasons Americans have come to mistrust politics over the last 15, 20 years is that we’ve gotten away from that idea of remedy, that politics has become instead one series of kind of food fights from one election to another, where issues are kind of pulled out of the closet, they’re used to divide the electorate for the purposes of the election, and then they’re put back into the closet afterward. And at the end of these fights, nothing is settled and no problems are solved.
There was a study done by the Kettering Foundation which showed that voters believe journalists and politicians and political consultants and polltakers are all part of this private world, this insider industry, they speak their own language, they have nothing to do with the voters.
1st VOTER: I don’t like any of the candidates that we’ve had the last two or three elections, because an honest man can’t win. He must tell lies.
2nd VOTER: Everyone says, “Oh, why vote, because there’s no one to vote for,” but there’s always a lesser of the two evils, you know, or three evils, or whatever, and if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain, ’cause there’s always somebody who’s a little more qualified. And I feel this way, I have a perfect right to bitch.
BILL MOYERS: In part because of all that discontent, more incumbents are quitting this year than at any time since 1978. One of them is Senator Warren Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire. He surprised this city recently with his announcement that he would not seek reelection. Warren Rudman has served 12 years in the Senate and built a reputation as a public servant of blunt integrity. He takes no contributions from political action committees, and he has often challenged Congress to discipline its spending and its ethics.
Why do you think there is so much cynicism and discontent, frustration and anger out there toward your professional group of people?
Sen. WARREN RUDMAN, (R) New Hampshire: Yup. I think a large part of it is because the government isn’t working very well anymore, and hasn’t for several years. This country has been heading into deeper and deeper economic trouble for the last, really, 10 or 12 years, and all of a sudden, the standard of living is starting to fall, and people are finding a lot of discontent with their lives, and they’re tending to look towards Washington.
In addition to that, the public media, the way it portrays Congress, most people probably think that we’re all a bunch of scoundrels, thieves and drunkards. And I fundamentally am concerned about the attitude of many Americans who really don’t want to take the time to understand this government. Let me give an example.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: There was a poll done by The Washington Post last year, and it was printed widely – I believe it was the Post – it was printed in my state. People believed that a full 50 percent of the federal budget was waste, fraud and mismanagement. And I thought to myself, how could a country with the kind of media that we have, with the kind of newspapers we have, with the kind of communications we have, have a population that is so totally ignorant about what’s really going on with the federal budget?
BILL MOYERS: Yes. What’s the answer?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: The answer is, they’re paying no damned bit of attention to it whatsoever, and that’s a shame. The schools have failed, we have failed as communicating politicians, you have all failed in the media, because evidently the message has to be reinforced a lot more strongly than it is.
BILL MOYERS: You’re saying the people are out of touch. They’re saying you’re out of touch.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, I think both are, to some extent, correct.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you heard the fellow in the tape say it’s a toilet there and it’s time to flush it.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Yeah. Which is absolutely false. I mean, this place is populated by very good, sound people. I mean, the ethics of the people here, compared to what the ethics were of the United States Congress – for anybody who studies history – 20, 30, 40, 50 years or back in Daniel Webster’s time, the ethics are superb.
BILL MOYERS: And they used to cane each other, they-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Of course. And they used to take money from lobbyists, and they used to have their lifestyles maintained by lobbyists. I mean, we don’t have that kind of corruption. What we do have, however, is an endless pursuit for reelection above all else, and an unwillingness of most members of Congress to get out on a limb and take a political risk. And that, of course, is a form of intellectual corruption, as far as I’m concerned.
BILL MOYERS: How much would you have to raise if you were going to run for reelection, even from a small state like New Hampshire?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, 1 could have done it for “a small amount of money,” a million, a million and a half dollars. But if you’re from California or from New York or Pennsylvania, you’re talking mega-millions.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you know, I think you’re on to something when you say that much of the cause of the discontent is with the economic hardships that people-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, that’s so.
BILL MOYERS: -are facing. But I have to tell you that I ran into a member of Congress this morning, admittedly a Democrat, who said, heard I was coming here and said, “I know why Warren Rudman is getting out. Warren Rudman is getting out because the mess he helped to create in the 1980s is about to come down on us and he wants out of the way before it falls.” and he was talking about the economic policies of the ’80s, which led to all the debt, which had an impact on the economy, which – you know all of the – you know-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: To some extent, Reaganomics was a contributing factor. But with all due respect, we’re not putting blame going back to the administration in which I believe he served. The entitlement programs, which were created back in the ’60s, in the ’50s and some in the ’70s, never were thought to be of the size they are today.
BILL MOYERS: I agree with that.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: And they have grown totally out of control.
BILL MOYERS: Out of control.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: As a matter of fact, the curious thing about this year’s budget deficit is simply this. If you eliminated the entire discretionary spending of the United States, except the defense, you would still have a budget deficit of close to $175 billion.
BILL MOYERS: Because?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Because the entitlement programs have gone from 30 to 40 and now 50 and next year maybe 55 and by 1998, 70 percent of our budget. And the reason the American people are really discontent, in my view, is that they do not understand why government cannot do the kinds of things that they think it ought to do. The reason it can’t is we don’t have any money. Do you know, I sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Do you know the Senate Appropriations Committee only appropriates approximately, putting defense aside, the rest of it, about 12, 13 percent of the entire budget is appropriated for the government? Everything else is automatic. If you are over 65, you are entitled to a whole series of things. We don’t appropriate money for that. We don’t cap it, we don’t do much to test it, we just pay the bills. The great amount of spending in this country is in the entitlement area, and that is what the American people don’t understand.
My Republican colleagues probably don’t like this, and I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way, but I have often sat back as a citizen and said, you know, “I wonder what it would be like around here to have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president?” Let’s see if the Democratic Party can solve it. Give them four years. If they don’t, we’ll throw everybody out.
Unfortunately, the American people don’t seem to be that sophisticated. They want to – they want to split the government, either because they like our presidential candidates and don’t like our congressional candidates. The fact is that there’s no accountability here. The American people, to some extent, are accountable themselves by electing split government.
BILL MOYERS: The passion with which you speak and the candor with which you speak makes me wonder, really, why you are leaving. And let me show you a tape. I did an interview earlier this month with a New York writer and social critic, Michael Thomas.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: And we were talking about leadership.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: He describes himself as a conservative, and he believes the people running the country in Wall Street and Washington are running the country into the ground. Your name came up. Let’s listen to what he says.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: All right.
MICHAEL THOMAS, Writer: I think we’ve got a feeling that leaders get you into trouble, you know, ’cause leaders do lead, and often they lead you into battle, and you get shot.
BILL MOYERS: But they get you out of trouble, too, and there’s no one now trying to get us out of trouble, is there?
MICHAEL THOMAS: Well, I think that there are people trying – try – who feel very deeply about it, but they feel that the system has so far defeated them.
BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s Warren Rudman, and he says it’s no – it’s not fun anymore, I’m getting out.
MICHAEL THOMAS: Well, he-
BILL MOYERS: You can’t get anything done, he says.
MICHAEL THOMAS: -well, I mean, it’s not going to be fun. It isn’t any fun. It’s no more fun for me than it is for Warren Rudman. He feels a certain institutional frustration. And so he leaves.
BILL MOYERS: Is that a cop-out?
MICHAEL THOMAS: Well, I think it is. I think it is.
BILL MOYERS: You think he should stay and fight on?
MICHAEL THOMAS: Well, I think – this way, you’re just playing into the hands of the anti-government party. John Adams remarked, quite early in the life of this nation, that the notion that the people’s government is their enemy is about as pernicious a notion as you could let loose in a democracy, or in a republic, as they thought of it then. If the good men take a walk, you begin to wonder why. Is the system utterly beyond the reach of reform?
BILL MOYERS: Is the system utterly beyond the reach of reform?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, hardly. No, no, I don’t believe that at all. And I’m not totally discouraged, because you see, I think we will come to a solution, quite frankly because we have to, because people here have to love this country to serve here, and at some point they have to understand this country is close to economic disaster, very close.
BILL MOYERS: But if that’s so, why don’t you stay and lead that fight? Because I think Michael Thomas has a point. Now that you’ve declared the truth about the system-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, I just didn’t declare the truth. You’ve just been paying attention to it.
BILL MOYERS: You mean you got all of this attention.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Why don’t you become the Senate – in fact, you got more attention in resigning than you did from the speeches you made-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Isn’t that a sad commentary?
BILL MOYERS: But what you’re saying is that if you’re in office, you can’t tell the truth.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: It is difficult for many to tell the truth. I have tried to. Others try to. But some pay the price.
BILL MOYERS: Is one of the reasons you can’t tell the truth because of the huge amount of money that incumbents get from political action committees and others? You don’t take political action committee money, but-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: No, I don’t. I’m not sure that’s right, because the most powerful group – the most powerful group in this country electorally are none of the above -they are the American Association of Retired People, who on any issue like we’re talking about can be extraordinarily effective and scare the daylights out of politicians.
BILL MOYERS: Give me an example. What happens?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, what happens is, if you start talking about means-testing entitlement programs, their leadership down there, you know, if they wish to take a strong position against what you’re doing, can generate in the space of a week or two enormous support to oppose what you’re trying to do.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that, means-tested entitlements?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Very, very simple, Bill. Someday, you and I will retire, and well, maybe we’ll never retire, but one thing I’m certain of, I hope I’m certain of, we’ll probably both reach 65…
BILL MOYERS: Yes.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: -and when we do, we’ll be eligible for Medicare. I daresay that both of us could probably pay a higher percentage of our medical costs, a considerably higher share, than the fellow who is the custodian of this building we’re in who retired on a very modest retirement, and I say we should pay it. That’s called means testing, and that’s all we’re talking about. We’ve got to face facts on medical costs in this country. Medicare and Medicaid are eating the country alive. Private medical insurances are eating employers alive. We’re heading towards a disaster in that area, and we’ve got to make some tough choices. We know what those choices are, but we have to make them.
BILL MOYERS: But do you think voters reckon with reality’s true complexity?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I think in time of peace they generally have not. In time of war, they generally have. That’s a strange thing about our country, if you read its history. The American people have dealt with reality in wartime pretty clearly. Go back to the history of World War II, the economic history, the sacrifice everyone made, enormous sacrifices on the home front as well as those who served.
We haven’t yet found a way to have people sacrifice for the economic well-being of the country, but we are fast reaching the point where it will be forced upon them.
BILL MOYERS: Well, why can’t we discipline ourselves as a society?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I think, to some extent, the culture here, post-World War II, has been a culture of self-gratification, of indulgence in materialism, of caring more about the next vacation rather than the next year of college, of buying the camper instead of maybe an Encyclopedia Britannica for the children, or a modern video version. I think the values in this country have shifted greatly and, you know, that’s a serious indictment, but I happen to believe it.
BILL MOYERS: But as you said earlier, now people are feeling threatened by the economy. They feel that they’re heading toward a precipice, that their children are not going to-
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: They’re right. They’re right. So what they ought to be doing is to be paying more attention to the very thing we’re talking about, and to elect people who don’t tell them what they want to hear, but to elect people who are willing to tell them what is the truth.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Conrad of North Dakota is leaving after one term because he says it’s impossible, you can’t do anything about the deficit. And here you are leaving and you fault the fight on the deficit. I mean, you do not leave me feeling very optimistic about the process you very cogently defined.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, you shouldn’t feel optimistic, save this one thing. I will give you the very bad news to prove there is some good news. Twenty-five percent of this year’s federal budget is borrowed, much of it from the Japanese and the Germans. Stop and think about it. How could a family operate that – their entire family budget, they went to the bank every week and borrowed 25 percent of their expenses. It’s impossible.
All right, now. We now have a federal deficit of $400 billion this year, a debt heading toward $4 trillion. The money is drying up, and we are going to start getting real pressure from our foreign friends about our profligate ways. When that happens, this government will be forced to deal with this. It will have no choice.
BILL MOYERS: Isn’t there another alternative? What if the voters out there just threw everybody out?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Mm-hmm.
BILL MOYERS: The President, the Congress, the Democrats in the House, the Republicans in the Senate, and said to a fresh group of legislators, “Start over, and do it right this time.”
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: OK. Now, do you think that those new legislators would be, having been elected to these vaunted halls and suddenly smelling the sweet smells of Washington and living the good life, would suddenly be willing to take any more risks than many people are willing to take now? I think the answer is clearly no. I don’t think that’s the answer at all.
BILL MOYERS: Shouldn’t you have the guts to stay and fight?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Oh, I have sometimes felt in the last two weeks somewhere between Benedict Arnold and Nathan Hale, I’m not sure which one. But frankly, I’m tired of this fight, from the inside out.
BILL MOYERS: There’s a burn-out?
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: There is a burn-out. And I couldn’t look at the people in the audience and want to give you six more years with the same level of enthusiasm, say, I gave you the last 12.
BILL MOYERS: Well, thank you very much, Senator Rudman, for being with us, and good luck to you back when you’re just plain Mr. Rudman.
SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Thank you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Here’s what some Americans had to say about how they think government ought to function, how they think it used to function, and how they think it does function.
MARY McELRATH: I think the government is like any other organization or system. I think it is constructed by well-meaning people. It’s compartmentalized, departmentalized, by well-meaning people. But then it becomes a monster unto itself, and then it begins to eat up well-meaning people.
LEWIS RODRIGO: It seems almost as if government in Washington has gone against us. We used to have government of the people, by the people and for the people. Now it seems like we have government of the people by the interest and for the few.
8th YOTER: I think there are very few people – the average person in New York City, if you stopped them on the street and you asked them
9th YOTER: Are you better off today?
8th YOTER: -yeah, “Are you better off today? Can you make a difference? Can you affect change?” And they would say, “No.”
E.J. DIONNE: I think there was a time when people could look to politics and government to help them solve particular problems they had. The – I mean, the G.I. Bill is a political hero of mine, a kind of – an inanimate political hero.
COMMENTATOR, Newsreel: President Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill of Rights. The legislation provides $3 to $6 billion for veterans to establish homes or to start in business, to finish their educations, tide them over unemployment periods.
E.J. DIONNE: I think what the G.I. Bill did is two things that people like government to do. On the one hand, it gave a whole group of people, who wouldn’t have had the chance, a chance to go to college, to buy homes, essentially get the basics of middle-class life. At the same time, the G.I. Bill was linked to this sense of kind of obligation and reciprocity, that the people we were rewarding were people who had been willing to give up their lives in war. So that people saw government doing two things, reinforcing the values they thought should be encouraged, on the one hand, and also giving people a hand in building a sort of – some kind of decent life for themselves. I don’t think people have seen government do that sort of thing for a long time.
GEROME CARR: I don’t know about 1992. If I didn’t feel like it would be wrong not to vote, I would consider not voting for anybody at this point, because I don’t know – I don’t trust any of them at this point.
E.J. DIONNE: There’s a great line in John Steinbeck where the farmer is being foreclosed on, and the man comes to push him off his farm, and he says, “If you do that, I’ll shoot you,” and the guy says, “Don’t shoot me, I was just sent in by somebody else.” And it goes on and on like that, and voters now no longer have a sense of whom they should shoot.
BILL MOYERS: E.J. Dionne may say that voters don’t know whom to shoot, but try telling that to incumbent members of Congress. Several of them are with us tonight, Democrat Dave Obey of Wisconsin, Republican Susan Molinari of New York and Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
Congressman Obey, you’ve been around since when? April Fools’ Day, 1969?
Rep. DAVID OBEY, (D) Wisconsin: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: What a start. What’s it like, trying to govern today?
REP. DAVID OBEY: Very much different than it was 10 years ago. I think the big difference is that today, substance is frozen because of the decision of the ’80s on the budget, which drained the Treasury and which left the cupboard bare in terms of tools to deal with substantive problems. And as a result, I think you have seen politics more and more manipulated by angle players who will use public anger to try to divert their attention from substance to trivia.
BILL MOYERS: Congresswoman Molinari? What’s it like to try to govern?
Rep. SUSAN MOLINARI, (R) New York: Well, certainly I would disagree with Congressman Obey’s partisan analysis that it is the administrations of the ’80s that have yielded the kind of problems that we have today, but I do agree totally that there is a trivialization of politics now that even when the best of intentioned men and women get together to try and solve overwhelming problems, there really is almost a reticence that if, in fact, we go out on a limb to do something as magnificent as, for example, the G.I. Bill, there might be something that’s negative there that will be picked up and turned around, so therefore, in order not to be picked on to be negative, we become ineffective.
BILL MOYERS: Congressman Barney Frank, you’ve been here since what, ’80, 1980?
Rep. BARNEY FRANK, (D) Massachusetts: 1980.
BILL MOYERS: Why can’t we solve problems anymore?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, I think we can. I think, in fact, things are better – we can never solve them, we can make them better. I disagree with E.J. Dionne that we’re not still doing good things. Part of the problem, frankly, is I think the public has gotten a lot better educated and a lot more sophisticated. You look at the Congress that passed the G.I. Bill, and you put their practices and their activities up before today’s public, and I wouldn’t want to be between them and the nearest telephone pole to which they were going to be strung.
Ironically, just at the moment when, now that we’ve won the cold war, we should be very optimistic, because what we’re able to do, if we’re sensible, is to take a substantial percentage of our resources that we no longer need for that high priority, and we can put them to other purposes, domestic and foreign, but the strain of all that has told on us. So I think we have the ability to do some great things, but our nerves have worn thin.
BILL MOYERS: I was speaking of a speech that Senator Danforth made on the floor of the Senate here just a few days ago in which he said that he thinks that what’s wrong, the reason for the discontent, is that deep down in the hearts of people like you, the members of Congress, you really realize you’ve bankrupted this country, that you’ve handed the American children, in particular, a legacy of bankruptcy, and that, quite frankly, to get elected time and time again, says John Danforth, you’ve had to tell the American people that democracy is a free lunch.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Well, I’d say if Senator Danforth wants to look in the mirror and say that, that’s fine with me, but very frankly, I do not plead guilty. When the key decisions were made in ’81 that saddled us with deficits four times as large as they were before that time, which put this country into a situation with a national debt four times as large as it was previously, yours truly is the person who offered amendments to both the Democratic and Republican packages to try to stop the Reagan supply-side onslaught.
BILL MOYERS: But you couldn’t carry the Democrats-
REP. DAVID OBEY: We were clobbered.
BILL MOYERS: – And the Democratic Party bought into that.
REP. DAVID OBEY: We were clobbered. No, the Democratic Party did not buy into that. A minority of Democrats bought into that. A majority of Democrats stuck with our position on both the tax bill and the budget bill which would have produced – or which would have avoided the giveaways which bankrupted the ’80s.
BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that all those people that we saw here and that we read about in the surveys – and the surveys are all- Every day, there’s a new poll showing the discontent of the American people-Are you saying that it’s because of policy, not procedure?
REP. DAVID OBEY: What I am saying is that this economy has really been in trouble since 1973, and I think the policies adopted in the ’80s turned influenza into pneumonia, as far as the economy is concerned. And I think that since that time we have had efforts on the part of people in both parties to try to correct it, and they’ve been blocked.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: We have had a problem with economic growth, and I think that that’s the major thing. I don’t think the American people are neurotic. I think they are reacting to some very real problems. We have today in this world hundreds of thousands of American troops all over the globe, most of them doing very little – not their fault, it’s the policymakers’ fault – wasting tens of billions of dollars, and I think people are feeling the strain.
BILL MOYERS: Susan, are these comments striking you as partisan?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Well, to a certain extent, I think they’re correct. To a certain extent they are partisan, because of course, no Democrat is going to tell you that there’s a problem with the procedure because, in fact, the Democrats, for the last – since before I were born, were responsible for the procedures of in the House of Representatives. So I’m not going to say that I agree with all the policies of the last two administrations, but at the same time there are procedures that are in the House of Representatives that have been unchallenged by 40 years of Democratic control of the House of Representatives.
BILL MOYERS: Such as?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: That allow committee chairmanships to decide and dictate, really, the ability of a minority party to affect public policy. I happen to serve on the Public Works & Transportation Committee. It’s a very good example of where Republicans, as a minority party, can really affect public policy, because the leaders of those party – of the Democrats in that particular committee have been very fair, eminently fair. There’s a good cooperative spirit on that committee. Some of the other committees are not like that. If the committee chairman does not like an issue that’s being debated, he can or she can ostensibly kill any debate, any creativity, any real harnessing of action. That’s not an indictment of Democrats, that’s an indictment of the one-party control that happen to be Democrats.
REP. DAVID OBEY: But Bill, if I could-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: If I could just say one point, David, and that is, yeah, there are always going to be problems in a democratic society, but people forget sometimes, and Susan is much more careful than some of her colleagues, she talks about the House. In fact, the Republicans controlled the United States Senate. They had a majority, a significant majority, from 1981 to 1987, and you know what procedures they changed? None. The United States Senate, after six years of Republican rule, had as many perks, it had as many filibusters, it had everything the same. So I do think focusing on the procedures, in fact, misleads people, because I think we are dealing with very real substantive problems.
BILL MOYERS: So with all due respect, the public is not buying Democrats blaming Republicans, Republicans blaming Democrats.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, they look at – they look at Washington as a whole, and they say Congress is undisciplined, the administration is spineless, the deficit is running out of control, the press is cynical and craven, Washington is a viper’s nest of lobbyists and lawyers who serve single interests only, and that government has become its own end, and they don’t care who blames who.
REP. DAVID OBEY: But the fact is that elections do decide things. Now, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was very straightforward. He told the country what he was going to do, and then he proceeded to do it after the election. And in my view, unfortunately one-third of my party went along with those policies, which gave us the deficits we’ve got today. Up until 1980, we never had a deficit exceeding $69 billion.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: There is also one other major procedural problem that none of us can do anything about. We have the only government of any major power in the world where it is legally possible for the executive branch to say one thing and the legislative branch to say another, and then we subdivide the legislative branch. Nobody has got a joint House and Senate conference committee anywhere else in the world. That’s an American peculiarity.
BILL MOYERS: Some observers say that, in fact, if we’re going to get real government, real change and accountability, we’re going to have to have one party in control of both the House and Senate and the executive.
REP. DAVID OBEY: But let me dissent from that. Yes, I would obviously love to see that. But I served under Richard Nixon, I served under Gerry Ford as well as Jimmy Carter, and I have to say that while I personally had minimum high regard for President Nixon, that in fact, even though we had divided government, we got an awful lot done in those years.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: And I can say as a Republican, I would not want to see a long string of years where a Republican president was met unchallenged by a Republican Senate and House of Representatives. To a very large extent, while it may delay process, the fact that we have a viable two-party system working by a division of the House and the presidency means that a lot of mistakes are checked. I come from New York City where, for a very long time, there has not been any Republican motion there. And again, I don’t mean this as Republican versus Democrat, but what you have then is a city that understands that their administration can do whatever they want. And if the press doesn’t pick up on it, there’s not going to be a dissenter in that group. And what that has yielded is a government, a debt, a series of crime and drugs like New York City that very few cities have the problems that they have.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: You mean you think if there were more Republicans on the New York City Council there’d be less crime in the streets of the city?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: If there was a more vigorous-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: See, I find that – that’s a kind of excessive partisanship.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No, no.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Crime isn’t caused by the makeup of a city council.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No, I think I suggested-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: You said crime.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: -That it had nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, that when in fact you have a one-party system that doesn’t challenge the other, you lack an energy.
BILL MOYERS: If you can, just separate yourself from partisanship for the moment and just take one issue, the deficit, which is running out of control. Isn’t the fault the fact that we the people want all the boodle and none of the taxes, and that your job is to give us the boodle?
REP. DAVID OBEY: But let me make a point. If your kid wants something and your family cannot afford it, you level with that kid and tell them that you can’t afford it. But in my view, in the ’80s
BILL MOYERS: But your kids don’t vote for you.
REP. DAVID OBEY: – but in the – my point is, I don’t think that you should saddle the public with the blame for this impasse. Until the President and the Congress together collectively confront the American public with the limitations that our economic realities place on the budget, we’re not going to get very far.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: But until we’re willing to come face to face with people who receive an awful lot of entitlement, very powerful political factors in all of our futures, I’m not really sure that we’re now being honest with the public. What that would require would be us all to join hands and say, “We’re going to tell the truth, we’re going to make some painful cuts and we’re going to suffer the consequences.”
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I happen to disagree with that. Let me tell you, first, I disagree some with David in absolving the voters of more of the blame than I think they should be absolved from. And I think part of the problem is the voters wanting more than is plausible.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Last week I had over 40 groups from home in my office, during the week, visiting me or somebody on my staff. Each and every one of those groups wanted something out of the government that cost money, and when I routinely, as I do, go sit down with all of them, and I explain to them that, far from getting additional money for their program, they are going to be faced with the reality that we are going to have to cut an additional $7 billion out of the domestic budget because the budget reform bill that would have allowed us to transfer money from the military budget to domestic went down last week-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Key point.
REP. DAVID OBEY: -how popular do you think I was when those 40 groups left my office?
BILL MOYERS: Not very.
REP. DAVID OBEY: But my point is simply that if you level with the public, you may not get their blessing, but at least I think they – I think they will be more open to arguments about the hard choices that are necessary.
BILL MOYERS: I’d like to return for a moment to my conversation with New York columnist Michael Thomas. Take a look at what he had to say in an interview I did with him last week about the current Congress.
Talk to me about Congress for a moment. Imagine now I’m a group of congressmen sitting here listening to you and wanting to know what do you think I should do?
MICHAEL THOMAS: Well, the Congress spends too much time out finding out what its people want. We’re not getting any decisions made up there because people are – the people there are trying to be responsive to the powers that they think reelect them, that is to say, by pleasing their constituencies.
BILL MOYERS: Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?
MICHAEL THOMAS: No. I think members of Congress are up there to do what’s best for the country, with some attention to the interests of their constituency. I think these guys are going home trying to find out what it is that people want, whether it goes against their innermost belief or whatever, and trying to become that.
BILL MOYERS: James Fenimore Cooper said that no constituency has the right to rob a representative of his conscience.
MICHAEL THOMAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I wonder why Congressmen run for office? What is it they’re really after? I suspect they like the game.
BILL MOYERS: If the politicians are not leading, and if people are getting the government they want, where’s the hope? I mean, where are you going to get – how are you going to get the country you want?
MICHAEL THOMAS: The hope always goes back to what Mr. Cooper said, that there are going to be people who hold in their hearts a somewhat higher idea of what this country could be like, and who are prepared to continually go to the wall, even if it means that the dinner party invitations are going to be few and far between, and the money isn’t going to be as good, or they have the money, to try to make it better.
BILL MOYERS: We’ve been joined by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Miami.
Rep. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R) Florida: That’s right. Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. You were elected in 1989.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: It was a special election when Claude Pepper passed away and he had represented that district, well, since it – almost since its very creation, so I took the spot of a legend.
BILL MOYERS: Michael Thomas says you all are here because you love the game. Is that why you were elected?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: No, I think I was elected to serve a real need for my constituency, representing Cuban-American refugees, political exiles who came to the land of opportunity, who felt like they did not really have a voice in Congress. So I represented probably a minority segment, the growing Hispanic population in this nation, and a population that’s going to increase even more in the years to come. We’re the fastest-growing minority, and I think there’s a real sense all across the United States that Congress does not really represent all of the groups that are out there. They are mostly WASP men who may represent a certain portion of the community, a certain portion of the national face, but certainly not all the minorities are represented well in Congress.
BILL MOYERS: But how are you going to resolve giving the Cuban-Americans in Miami what you say they need and want and your obligations to make hard decisions about the budget and about priorities?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: I think that we do a fairly accurate job of representing our constituencies, and if not, we can get voted out office. I mean, we do have elections in this country, we do have them every two years, and if the voters are voting for us, well, then, somehow they’re happy with his or her representative, and if not, they should get more active. So the responsibility is also on the electorate. If they don’t like us, vote us out of office. It’s a democracy.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I do want to make a point about what Ileana said, and side with her against James Fenimore Cooper. James Fenimore Cooper talked about how we weren’t supposed to deal with constituencies. Sure, at a time when rich white guys could vote, blacks could be owned, women belonged in the kitchen. It is true that one of the things we have done in this country and I think we are the better off for it – is to tear down a lot of walls. Women, blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, a whole range of people who have previously been either legally excluded or minimized in that process aren’t as much anymore. Now, that’s messier, that’s noisier.
BILL MOYERS: Doesn’t that make it harder to govern?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, when I came to-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: And thank God it does. But it’s messier and noisier.
BILL MOYERS: When I first worked here as a young member of the staff in 1954, discipline in this place was imposed by the Speaker, by members – by chairmen of the committees. They were responsible for your campaign contributions, they were responsible for your assignments, they were responsible for those opportunities you had to service your constituencies. There was a discipline in both the Senate and the House that’s disappeared now.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: That’s right. It’s called democracy, and people have to decide whether they think that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But the American voter-”
BILL MOYERS: But a lot of people are saying it’s a bad thing.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, they’re not, really. They don’t like some things, but do they want to go back to the time when the political leaders in a dozen cities named the members of Congress, whether the people liked it or not? Because what I heard people saying was, “They don’t listen to me, I don’t have a voice anymore.” Your own initial discussions go directly contrary to what you just said, the ones you were quoting to us.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Yeah, and I think what you’re talking about is that line, and the American voter here is a very bright person, and most of them do understand and have a good gut sense of their elected officials. At the same time, they don’t want panderers, they want men and women who come to Washington to deal with the national interest. And that gets back to wható
BILL MOYERS: They want you to give them a lot of services and no taxes.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No, no, no, I think you’re cutting them short, I really do. I think that they’re reacting to representatives doing that. I think they’re reacting now to what they perceive us to be is a group of panderers. But see, what we heard was the fact that nobody has the courage to be straight anymore.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Let me simply make – go back to the point the reporter made about loving the game.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
REP. DAVID OBEY: I hate the game, because you have an increasing focus on trivia rather than major substance in this country, and it seems to me that the press contributes greatly to that. So do a number of political manipulators who try to divert attention from the fact that they’re finessing the great issues of our time by focusing on social symbols that take advantage of people’s anger, rather than help to work out solutions.
BILL MOYERS: But let me just get to this issue, which a lot of people ask me about as a journalist, and I relay it on to you. There is a classic argument against the professionalization of politics, that it turns the career into the focus of your effort here, instead of public service.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: The great majority of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate would, if they were not in politics, be earning more money than they’re now earning. The great majority of people are here, I think, because they care a lot about public policy.
BILL MOYERS: But let me ask each of you about some of the things that you hear as a reporter around the country and that we see on these videos. First of all, it does take money to run, it takes too much money to run. Money has corrupted the soul of American politics. What about that?
REP. DAVID OBEY: Well, in my view, it takes far too much money to run for politics.
BILL MOYERS: How much does it take you to run?
REP. DAVID OBEY: When I first ran, I got elected spending $56,000; my opponent spent $69,000.
BILL MOYERS: And now?
REP. DAVID OBEY: Now it costs about seven times that much.
BILL MOYERS: And most of that comes from “special interests”?
REP. DAVID OBEY: Well, I’ve discovered that a special interest is always a group that you don’t belong to.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what would you do about it? You all nodded your head, yes, it takes too much money. Give me – each of you tick off something you would do about trying to bring money in politics under control.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Let me say something that will dissent from conventional wisdom. There is no law that Congress can pass or the President will sign that will bring control of money in politics, given the Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo.
BILL MOYERS: That’s the Supreme Court decision which said that money should be treated the same as free speech, is treated the same as free speech.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Even if you limit expenditures directly, every special interest group in the country will be able to run what they call independent expenditures. They will pretend that they are independent campaigns. They will still pour the money into the system. I have supported public financing. I have supported taxing PACs to finance public financing. But the fact is that – that will only deal with the problem for a short term. Then the independent expenditure route will come in and dominate.
BILL MOYERS: Yes.
REP. DAVID OBEY: And so, in my view, in the end you aren’t going to be able to handle this without a constitutional amendment.
BILL MOYERS: Ileana?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: My first election to Congress, just as I said, a little bit over two years ago, was $1.2 million, the equivalent spent by my opponent, and just almost as much spent by all the other folks who were in the race. It was a heavily contested primary and then a very rough general, and that was a very short special election. Can you imagine spending over a million dollars each on these races?
But in regards to public financing, I think that as disgusted as the American voter, the American constituent is now with the state of politics, if you were to tell them that now their taxes would go up or a chunk of their tax money would be going to pay for our political ads or to pay for our campaigns or to further our ambition or our egotistical demands, I think that they would go through the roof. I think that campaign finance reform has that nice soft and warm kind of look to it, and then when people really examine what it means, it means their tax dollars funding our campaigns, I think they’re going to be enraged.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but Ileana, look at how much it cost the taxpayers to bail out the S&Ls-
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, tell the media to cut down their budgets…
BILL MOYERS: -which was driven by-
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -our campaigns are being driven by these absolutely absurd media demands.
BILL MOYERS: But why don’t you pass a law-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: That’s free enterprise. Is a Republican like you going to do price control on these people? That’s not going to happen.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, they’re the ones who-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: They’re going to charge what they can.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -well, then let them not editorialize.
BILL MOYERS: But what about the-
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -let them not editorialize about the high price of our campaigns.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, they’re different. The editorial people
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: It’s going to their-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: -the editorial people aren’t on the business side.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, yes, I know.
BILL MOYERS: What about that? What about requiring television stations, which use the public airwaves, to give free time to every incumbent and every challenger who wants to be in Congress?
REP. DAVID OBEY: Look, there are a lot of simple solutions. Tell me how that is going to affect a media market like New York’s, where you have 114 candidates.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Right.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Do you really think – I mean, what’s the TV station going to do, give away their entire time schedule to.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: And you need one other thing, Bill. You need subpoena power.
REP. DAVID OBEY: That’s a great answer that doesn’t work.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: You need subpoena power to make the person sit there and watch it.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what do you do, then? I mean, you all are leaving me in despair. You say money’s driving it, but you can’t do anything about it?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I wish money was not there as much, but I don’t – there is not this kind of direct relationship between campaign contributions and money. I regret the amount of money, because I think democracy ought to be a way that you smooth down the wider swings of the inequality in the private sector. And the more money counts, the less you can do that. But the notion that members of Congress are in any specific way heavily influenced by their contributions I think is greatly exaggerated.
BILL MOYERS: David would disagree with you.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I find it’s much more the other way around.
REP. DAVID OBEY: No.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Votes follow – money follows votes, votes don’t follow money.
REP. DAVID OBEY: No, I don’t. No, I would not disagree with that.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Can I just say this? I’m summarizing that the campaign money follows our votes. Our votes don’t follow the money. The point is that however I vote, there are going to be groups out there that are going to want to give to me, by and large.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: And if you change your vote, another group’s going to be in there to supplant that.
BILL MOYERS: Last question, and they we’re going to take your hats off as politicians. Vaclev Havel, president of Czechoslovakia, says that society is a mirror of its politicians. It’s largely up to the politicians, which social forces they choose to liberate and which they choose to suppress, whether they choose to rely on the good in each citizen, or on the bad. Those who find themselves in politics therefore, he says, bear a heightened responsibility for the moral state of society.
Ileana, do you have any sense of politics as a spiritual vocation.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: -Or is it just taxes and boodle?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: No, absolutely, and I say it from my constituency, people who have fled their homelands, lost everything we had because of Communism. We understand that politics is a lot more than PAC contributions. It’s really the spirit of a person, it’s the spirit of democracy and of freedom. We understand the basic core values that founded this country. We understand what it is to lose everything and then to regain it all in this country. It really is the land of opportunity, and I think that’s why we see hundreds of people from all over the world still coming to our shores. In spite of whatever the press says about these corrupt politicians and how bad we all are, there is a segment of the world out there that looks upon this country as that shining beacon of – that wonderful hope, that opportunity, that dream, and it still lives. And it’s up to us to capture that spirit when we talk to the public, because I think that that spirit still lives in every American’s heart.
BILL MOYERS: Barney?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: What we are suffering from, in part, I think, frankly, is that we have gotten more ambitious in what we’re trying do to. We are trying to do more, in terms of cleaning up the environment, liberating people from prejudice, allowing people to participate fully. You know, we complain about the syndrome where we can’t get various facilities placed, as an example. Well, it used to be, 40 years ago, we didn’t have any trouble. Every time we wanted to put something unpleasant somewhere, we stuck it in the poor people’s neighborhood. And then along came a movement, Lyndon Johnson’s community action and legal services, and what we did is, we gave the poor people as much right to keep things out of their back yard as anybody else had. So now we have a problem as to where you put things. That is a more frustrating thing these days. It’s gotten a lot harder to build road and to put facilities, but that’s because we’ve gotten more nearly equal.
I regard this as a society which is blessed with a free enterprise system that’s a great wealth creator, but like any such system, it will create wealth with some uneven edges. The role of government, in my view, is to not get rid of the edges, because then you lose the incentive, but to try to tamp them down and to try and to try and deal with the quality of life, and I think the ability to do that is a marvelous opportunity. But I have to say as we do better towards that, as we broaden our goals, as we include more people, it’s going to get messier and noisier.
BILL MOYERS: Susan?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: We get our jobs through a tremendous way, and there’s no other profession in the world where everybody who is eligible to vote gets to say whether you keep your job or not. It’s not a profit motive, it’s not a popularity contest, really. It’s up to every individual citizen to say whether you keep your job or not. That’s a tremendous, uplifting, overwhelming, awesome responsibility, and for you not to incorporate that vote of public confidence into almost a spiritual exercise, as well as practical politics, is near impossible not to do.
REP. DAVID OBEY: Well, I don’t have many political or spiritual pretensions, but I would simply say that one of my personal heroes is Pope John XXIII. As a Catholic, to me his definition of the social gospel is for me a driving definition in public life. We don’t maximize our individual potentials alone, in solitude. We do it in community, and that’s why the role of government is so important to.
BILL MOYERS: You leave me with this painful dilemma. I feel like one of your constituents. You know, people always say, “I love my individual member of Congress, but I don’t like politics, and I think something’s gone wrong with American politics.” I mean, the gap between what you all reflect here and the reality. One member of Congress said to me – I’ve known him for 30 years – I’ve never been in Washington when the mood was as vicious, as meanï spirited, and as ugly as it is today.” I mean, somewhere there’s a mode of reality here that we’re not crossing.
REP. DAVID OBEY: That’s true.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Well, you know, I mean, you’re absolutely right. We’re all aware of what’s out there, we hear it from our colleagues, and there is a sense of loss and sadness. But what’s our responsibility, what’s our reaction? We’ve been chosen by the people to have a job, they entrust us. The only thing we can do is look at each other with a sense of hope and, I think, a determination to do an even better job, the best job we possibly can, to show the American voter that maybe they’ve just been a little too hard on us, or maybe we got the wakeup call.
BILL MOYERS: Even though many politicians want to do better
Rep. ROBERT S. WALKER, (R) Pennsylvania: But we came to 1986, and decided again to reform the tax code-
BILL MOYERS: -even though they may be more responsive than they used to be-
REP. ROBERT WALKER: -Because what it was doing, among other things, was lowering tax rates, a positive thing, in my opinion. ‘
BILL MOYERS: -even though they think they are governing better than voters think they are, what politicians say today appears further and further removed from what the people hear.
REP. ROBERT WALKER: Now, again, that package had broad support by many people, because what it was doing, among other things, was lowering tax rates.
E.J. DIONNE: I think electorates will always look at a system and say, ”We’re not in complete control of this system,” and they’ll be right. Charlie McDowell of the Richmond papers likes to say that we vote Democrats to Congress to get what we want and Republicans to the White House so we don’t have to pay for it. I don’t – I think that’s a wonderful line. I think it’s also, as he knows, more complicated than that as well. But I think that, to the extent that politicians themselves start talking about things that are relevant to voters, they are going to pull voters in, they are going to interest voters, they’re going to get people serious. To the extent that voters themselves demand that politicians do this, the politicians will start doing this. I don’t think there is any magical structural cure.
E.J. DIONNE: Can I ask you who you’re thinking of voting for in the primaries?
10th VOTER: I haven’t made up my mind.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over- Next time on Listening to America-
E.J. DIONNE: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” or the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal,” that’s a sound bite. Nothing wrong with that sound bite. You can say a lot of true things in a sound bite, or you can tell a lot of lies with a sound bite.
JOHN MAJOR, British Prime Minister: Some people might say on policy rather than personal matters, that the right honorable gentleman is a tax dodger. He can give no lecture to us on unemployment.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: That’s entertainment to watch, but I could certainly understand that that may be a valuable lesson as to why we seceded from our forefathers and established America.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: We had a major debate last week on the Walls bill that will allow us to use foreign military spending for domestic spending. People could be on one side or the other. It was the single most important set of issues we’ve dealt with, and you couldn’t buy space for it in the paper.
BILL MOYERS: This is a list of words sent out by a group headed by your own Newt Gingrich, advising Republican candidates how to use certain words in their own speeches: “anti-child,” “anti-flag’,” betray, bizarre, collapse. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that these are the words of a brain-dead politics.
BRITISH PARLIAMENT MEMBER: I don’t think that was meant in a personal sense.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Can we govern, part II, How We Talk About Politics.
This transcript was entered on April 2, 2015.