As the Republican Party increases its hold over Congress, what can the American people expect during the next four years? Bill Moyers interviews Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and architect of the Conservative revolution. His weekly meeting of activists has become the Politburo of strategy where Conservatives of all stripes bury their differences in order to defeat Democrats. From the Christian coalition to Log Cabin Republicans to the NRA, Norquist keeps the conservative troops on mission and on message. In fact, his success prompted Senator Hillary Clinton to muse aloud “If only Democrats had a Grover Norquist.”
With the loss of Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry and dwindled representation in Congress, will there be a movement for change in the Democratic Party? David Brancaccio sits down with public policy and national politics expert Christopher Edley to discuss the future of the Democratic Party, the role that moral values played in this election, and what Edley says is at stake with the President’s judicial appointments.
Bill Moyers gets the perspectives of NOW’s regular analysts, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson and author Kevin Phillips on the Presidential election. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW and welcome to four more years.
Watching the returns this week — seeing all that red in the middle of the country and all the blue on the coasts led people in both colors to say: “I don’t live in their America.” But take a look at this map. The vast stretch of red obscures the fact that in the 31 states carried by Bush, nearly 26 million people voted for Kerry. That’s 43 percent of the vote. The same is true in reverse. Twenty-five million people, or 45 percent, voted for Bush in the blue states that went into Kerry’s column. Red or blue, we don’t live on different planets; we share the same continent and country.
MOYERS: But not the power. Washington swings fully this week to the rhythm of a one-party town. Conservatives have it all— the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the regulatory agencies, the K Street lobbying firms, and, one day soon, the Supreme Court.
Only in their wildest dreams could the corporate, political, and religious right imagine this day. And what are they going to do with all this power? Well, give no quarter, for one thing. President Bush teased reporters yesterday not to get uppity with him:
BUSH: Now that I’ve got the will of the people at my back, I’m going to start enforcing the one-question rule. That was three questions.
Again, he violated the one-question rule right off the bat. Obviously, you didn’t listen to the will of the people.
MOYERS: But then he turned deadly serious.
BUSH: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.
MOYERS: The President the political muscle to back his claim to a mandate — and the enforcers to carry it out. One of them is with me now, Grover Norquist, one of the most prominent and powerful figures in the conservative movement.
From leading college Republicans — he himself has two degrees from Harvard — to running Americans for Tax Reform, which dubbed Senate minority leader Tom Daschle an “enemy of the taxpayer” and helped to defeat him, Grover Norquist is a prime mover on the right. In the words of Newt Gingrich, “the most creative and most effective conservative activist” in the country.
He’s also one tough hombre. This week he told Democrats to get with the program, accept the fact that they are powerless. The WASHINGTON POST quotes him saying after the election: “Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’re fixed then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don’t go around peeing on the furniture and such.”
Grover Norquist assures us he was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but Democrats and liberals are now accustomed to have his thumb in their eye.
Welcome back to NOW.
NORQUIST: Delighted to be with you.
MOYERS: Did you really say that?
NORQUIST: Yes, well, what happened is the question is what about the tension between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. And I said, “Look, back in the ’60s and ’70s, there was no tension between the Democrat majority and the Republican minority. Because the Republican minority was so comfortable in the minority. When we get to that point again, Washington will be sedate and quiet.”
MOYERS: Are you about to do to Democrats what Democrats did to Republicans in those days?
NORQUIST: In the sense that back then the Democrats were the majority party in the United States. And you could step up and run as a Democrat and you won. And you could walk into a room and know that a majority of the people agreed with your world view. Today, that’s largely true for Republicans. And if the Republicans are competent and keep working at it, I believe that for the next generation, the Republican Party, not just in Washington but in state capitals as well, will be the dominant majority party in the United States for the next 25 years or more, just as the Democrats had been since the 1930’s.
MOYERS: You said not long ago the Democrats are toast.
NORQUIST: Yeah, over time. Well, actually, the presently structured Democratic Party: organized labor, trial lawyers, big city political machines, the dependency lobby, both wings of the dependency lobby, the guys who are locked into welfare dependency, and the guys who make $80,000 a year managing that dependency, making sure they don’t get jobs and become Republicans. That group right there, the hate and envy class division Democratic Party that’s toast. There will be a Democratic Party. There will be two parties. I don’t know how the Democratic Party will restructure itself, but it cannot be the 1930s class division, trial lawyer, labor union boss party that it is today.
MOYERS: That has been your goal. I’ve followed you for a long time. That has been your goal since you crawled out of the cradle. And in your wildest dreams could you have imagined getting to this point today?
NORQUIST: Yes, I think the collapse of the Soviet Union as quickly as it happened and as bloodlessly as it happened was a pleasant surprise. But everything else is largely on track. And Bush and the Republicans in the House and Senate and in the state legislatures have laid out a game plan to increase the number of Americans who own shares of stock.
Why is it important to reform Social Security? First of all, because if you’re under 50, it’s a lousy rate of return. You do much better off in the stock market or a bond or a five percent savings certificate. Social Security gives you a one percent, or young enough, a negative rate of return for your Social Security. That needs to be fixed. But politically when every American has the option of a personal savings account, I believe we’re moving to a situation where instead of 60 percent of Americans owning some stock, we’ll have 100 percent of Americans owning substantial amounts of stocks in 401K’s, IRA’s, personal savings accounts.
MOYERS: Let me— a couple of weeks ago, we had a report on single women in Nevada. And the woman I’m about to show you hadn’t made up her mind whether she was going to vote for Bush or Kerry. She’s an ordinary working woman with three children who lives in Nevada. And this was a bit of that report. Let me show it to you.
MICHELE MITCHELL: What don’t the candidates understand about your life?
PENNY KATICK: How expensive everything is. Most people would think nothing of just stopping at the store on the way home and getting, you know, getting some milk and gas. For us it would be a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas is almost a hour’s wages. And so when your son guzzles a gallon of milk and you think “No, that’s supposed to last us for the rest of the week.” Little things like that, but they don’t realize how hard it is every day.
MICHELE MITCHELL: Three days a week Penny wakes up at 3:30 in the morning. She’s got the first shift at the diner, a 20-minute drive from her home.
The routine is automatic by now. While her older kids are sleeping, she rouses Brandi when it’s time to leave at 5 a.m. She’ll take her sleeping daughter to a friend’s house, where the school bus will pick her up later.
By 5:30, Penny opens the diner. She’ll put in more than a 40-hour work week, and she’ll make a little over minimum wage which added up to around $13,000 dollars last year. That’s well below the poverty level for a family of four.
MICHELE MITCHELL: You’ve talked about how you are living right on the edge. So, when you’re looking at the start of that next month, is it, “Okay, this is going to be the month I get ahead?” Or—
PENNY KATICK: You like to think that. But it just never happens. Something comes up, like this last couple of months it was school clothes.
If I was to get sick, yeah, we would just be— I don’t know what we would do if I was to get sick. I can’t. The kids aren’t covered right now which scares the heck out of me.
MICHELE MITCHELL: So what are your plans for next year then?
HEATHER KATICK: After I graduate, I’m probably— most likely I’ll probably go into the Army. And just, you know, that way I can get money for college that way. And just, you know, see what that Army has to offer me. And if I like it I’ll stay. You know? But yeah.
MICHELE MITCHELL: Does it kind of scare you that joining the Army now means you’ll probably be going off to war?
HEATHER KATICK: It does. It does scare me. I mean it scares me pretty bad. But it’s just a sacrifice that I’m going to have to make. You know.
PENNY KATICK: It just seems like it’s ridiculous for the only way for a girl, you know, a young girl to go to college is to go to war, you know. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. But what are you going to do? If it’s a way out of here then she needs to take it.
NORQUIST: I sympathize with all of the things she brings up. And I would point out that the conservative movement is on her side in all these fights. She lives in Nevada.
There you have a governor, Kenny Guinn, who unfortunately has been a tax increaser. And he raises her taxes over and over again.
MOYERS: She lives below the poverty line. She doesn’t pay any taxes.
NORQUIST: They don’t have an income tax in that state. They have sales taxes. They have property taxes.
Poor people in America don’t not pay taxes. Half of them don’t pay federal income taxes. But they [pay] social security taxes and state and local taxes that are very damaging.
MOYERS: Here’s the opening sentence of the business page on the day after the election, quote, “For Wall Street Firms, a second Bush term represents a lush dividend on the millions their chief executives began raising for the President in the early days of the first term.” I mean, what more can you fellows do for these people? They got their sweeping cuts in dividend capital gains and dividend taxes. How much pay back is enough?
NORQUIST: Well, the folks who brought President Bush and the Republican House and Senate back into power again are the broad majority of Americans. One of the things that we are disappointed in is how many people here in the New York financial markets funded Kerry, how Hollywood’s big money, the billionaires in Hollywood funded Kerry. So, the corporate big wigs spent an awful lot of time and money on Kerry.
MOYERS: You’re right about that. I have no quarrel with that. But the fact of the matter is it’s the President who’s in the position to pay back. And he is paying back. And the Republicans, I mean—
NORQUIST: But the reason that we want to eliminate the double taxation of dividend income is not to help the company but to help the 60 percent of Americans who own shares of stock. And Bush and the Republicans want to make sure that all Americans own shares of stock.
MOYERS: You say you’re, you know, for years, you’ve said your party’s committed to small government. But under your President and under your Congress, federal spending is out of control.
NORQUIST: Right, federal spending has increased too rapidly. There’s been too much spending during the last four years, not just on defense, not just on foreign policy but on overall government.
MOYERS: Is it possible that we’re governed now by ideologues and theologians, ideologues who embrace a world view that can’t be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary and theologues who assert propositions that can not be proven?
NORQUIST: Well, in terms of ideology, I think if you ask free market conservatives and Republicans, we would say, “Take a look at what free market policies give you. And take a look at what stateist policies give you, the difference between East Germany and West Germany, North Korea and South Korea, between France and the United States.”
MOYERS: You’re comparing Democrats to East Germany?
NORQUIST: Just in terms of stateism, more government gives you less growth, less opportunity—
MOYERS: But you guys have been increasing the size of government. That is a fact. I’m not making that up.
You guys have increased the size of government, the cost of government and the rising deficit as the result of that. That’s just a fact.
NORQUIST: Right, Over the last four years, the Republicans have never had the control of the Senate that you need to enforce discipline. With 55 votes, Republican votes, which is what we had in the late ’90s, it will be much more— the Republican Party will clearly be much more responsible for what happens. But those of us in the conservative movement have got to speak to the House and the presidency in the Senate and say, “Guys, it is very important that you focus on the overall cost of government while you’re making other reforms.”
MOYERS: I’m sorry that I’m retiring at the end of December. Because I think the next four years are going to be a bonanza for investigative journalism. I just think every time you wed the state and business together like this, you get corruption flowing like the Mississippi River.
I mean, one of my favorite history books I was reading last night in that long period when Republicans and business ran the country in the last party of the 19th century, well, here’s one of the quotes, Frederick Townsend Martin, “We are rich. We own America. We’ve got it, God knows how. But we intend to keep it.”
And in that period of time, the last gilded age in the 1920’s, the relationship between business and government created more corruption that actually renewed the Progressive Party and brought the Democrats to power.
NORQUIST: Okay, we certainly need to fight against any effort by any corporation or any industry to ask for special deals from the government. And that’s why the conservative movement has always been so separate from the business community. I know the left keep thinking they’re the same thing. I assure you, the business community is very aware that they’re not the same thing.
Certainly, the demand for free trade is something that historically, the business community’s been against. Because they like protectionism for their own industries. You see, the business community very happy with some corporate subsidies. I’m very pleased, that I’ve worked with Ralph Nader on fighting against corporate subsidies. And I think you’ll see on the right and the left getting together to fight against corporate subsidies and, frankly, on some of the civil liberty issues that have come up in the last couple of years.
I wish the liberals would help us more. We get help from the left. We don’t get a lot of help from the liberals.
MOYERS: Well, liberals have traditionally been part of the power apparatus that serves the same corporations quite frankly, right? And now you guys are doing the same thing. You replace one group of elites with another.
NORQUIST: What I’d like to do is reduce taxes on all people and reduce the power of the state.
MOYERS: Keep ’em progressive?
NORQUIST: I’m not particularly interested in that. I want the top rate as low as possible. Certainly, you can make it progressive by having exemptions and so on. But the most important thing is to keep rates as low as possible so that it affects people’s decisions as little as possible.
MOYERS: You’ve got the power now, power you could hardly ever dream of. What are you going to do with it in the next four years?
NORQUIST: In the next four years, you’ll see the President had four tax cuts in the first four years. I believe you’ll see four tax cuts in the next four years. We now have the votes to abolish the death tax. We have the votes to go to expensing for business investment, for expanding IRAs and 401Ks so all Americans can save tax free for their retirement. We need to get rid of that three percent federal excise tax which was put in to fund the Spanish-American War 100 years ago and is still there, hitting low income Americans. We will reform Social Security so that every American has the opportunity to save for his own retirement. We’re going to defeat the trial lawyers, these billionaire parasites who’ve been raising the cost of everything Americans buy and do. We’re going to expand trade throughout the hemisphere, because we’re the most competitive nation in the world economically. This is a tremendous asset for us and it’s also extremely helpful, because on their behalf, we’re beating down terrorists in the Third World, and I think we’ll be able the make people in the Third World much better off than they would be under protectionism.
MOYERS: Thank you very much, Grover Norquist, for coming here again.
NORQUIST: Glad to be with you.
BRANCACCIO: Grover Norquist is among the 59 million Americans who had acquired a special spring in their steps by midweek. Yet there were 55-million Americans who are rather less pleased. For them there was new meaning in the term “blue state.” Democrats could point to *some* victories here or there. Barack Obama the new senator from Illinois; Ken Salazar the new senator from Colorado. And there were other, smaller moments of note.
Remember Penny Katick, the Nevada waitress Bill just talked about? She first got our attention after she wrote the local newspaper supporting a hike in the minimum wage. Well, measures to do just that passed by a large margin in both Nevada and Florida.
Now Penny Katick and others like her will earn an extra $40 a week, $2,000 a year. Nice. But Penny will still be living below the poverty line.
And then there’s someone we featured this spring: Mike Huckleberry who owned a restaurant in Greenville, Michigan where the big refrigerator factory was moving jobs to Mexico. Some time after our visit, he was moved to run for Congress. On Tuesday, he lost to Republican Dave Camp in Michigan’s 4th district. But he did earn nearly 111,000 votes.
A dark winter of mourning is settling into the Democratic party. There will be soul searching as well. Christopher Edley has the credentials to help with that process. He’s been part of high stakes political battles for 30 years, first as part of Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy staff and later as Bill Clinton’s special counsel.
He is now dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley. Christopher Edley, welcome to NOW.
EDLEY: Thanks, David. Good to be here.
BRANCACCIO: So they asked folks walking out of the polls on Tuesday “What was the big issue for you?” And they said moral values. I mean, this seemed to trump for 22 percent of those polled things like terrorism, things like jobs. Moral values. What does that say to you?
EDLEY: This is a continuing problem for Democrats. And, frankly, since the Martin Luther King days in the ’60s, there’s been a secularization of the way in which liberals, progressives talk about our great issues.
And I think it’s impoverished civic discourse in important ways. The reality is that most of the difficult policy questions that divide us are at root about values. And if our leaders don’t engage the public on the plane of values, which frequently involves religion, if they don’t engage the public on the plane of values, then you’re gonna lose the argument.
BRANCACCIO: But the Republicans use this value stuff as almost a wedge issue. I mean, they use it for political advantage.
EDLEY: They do. And I have to say that there is a danger here. There’s clearly a danger. If appealing to values and religion means an absolutism then the process of governing can really get bogged down, we’ll be at loggerheads.
I actually think that that’s one reason why Democrats are often reluctant to speak in those terms. If it’s just about my ten-point plan versus your eight-point plan, maybe we can cut a deal at nine. But if it’s about your deepest convictions versus my deepest convictions, then the possibilities for working something out and making the process effective are much diminished.
BRANCACCIO: And you must have noticed this. You talk to some Democrats and you say, “What about values?” And progressives will say of course they have values. They have values like equality. That everyone is entitled to a living wage. But that’s not exactly, I think, what those voters polled coming out of the polling places were saying when they said moral values.
EDLEY: I think that’s right. It’s not quite the same thing. This is more than packaging. This is what you reach down inside and present to the people. What you present of yourself when you’re trying to get a voter to trust you for the next four years. Look, I remember when I was working with President Clinton on race issues.
And I was with a group that met with him regularly over a period of time talking about affirmative action. We talked about everything. After one particular session in the Oval Office where we’d been arguing about some very tough issues, moral issues, legal issues, the whole deal. We were breaking up. And he said, “You know, this reminds me of something I was reading last night in my Bible.”
BRANCACCIO: This was what the President said?
EDLEY: With the president. He walked around behind his desk in the Oval Office, opened a drawer, pulled out a Bible in microscopic print. Put on his reading glasses and then he read a passage from I think it was the Gospel Matthew. Saint Matthew. And was right on point. Made complete sense on the policy issues that we’d been talking about.
Seemed completely authentic, in the moment. And I thought that was pretty cool. But a little later I was thinking about it, replaying it. And it struck me that if 30 feet away in the Cabinet room I’d been arguing with the Attorney General about the budget for the Bureau of Prisons and somebody had cited scripture as a reason to cut or to enhance the budget, I think everybody in the room would have felt that that was somehow inappropriate, that a line had been crossed.
That it wasn’t appropriate to appeal to scripture in order to make a budget decision, a major policy choice. And that kind of ambivalence between when is it appropriate, when is it not appropriate to appeal to values, to appeal to religion, is something that really has Democrats sort of stymied. When is it right? When is it wrong?
BRANCACCIO: Because in the America of 2004, it seems increasingly acceptable to perhaps bring in a values or faith discussion to the policy debate. That is what Republicans seem to be doing very effectively.
EDLEY: In a confused world, people are looking for a source of guidance. They’re looking trying to figure out what the way forward is. And I’m just not gonna trust you with this laundry list, this eyes glazed over set of propositions about what you wanna do in this area or that area when, frankly, I don’t trust politicians to actually deliver on what they say anyway.
So tell me who you are. Tell me what makes you tick. Help me connect with you. Part of it’s likeability, certainly. But the other part of it is connecting with you because I get where you’re coming from. I can identify with you.
BRANCACCIO: But are you worried that there are progressives watching this right now who are saying, “Okay, I get the takeaway point. We just need to find someone a little more like Clinton, a little more like President Carter who’s more comfortable with his faith and can use this language.
EDLEY: Well, I think it’s certainly part of being that. That a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton certainly has a comfort level in discussing their religiosity, in discussing values. But it’s got— it can’t just be in the one person. It’s really gotta pervade the party.
Look, I also remember going up to the Hill to lobby on welfare reform. And at the time, we were really talking about what I think of as policy plumbing and of the detailed technicalities of welfare reform legislation and what needed to happen. Conservatives, on the other hand, were talking about the work ethic. They were talking about out-of-wedlock births. They were talking about the deserving and the undeserving poor.
They were talking about values while we were doing the policy plumbing. And, of course, years go by, it turns out the public wasn’t interested in plumbing. They were interested in the values. And we got a very conservative form of welfare reform enacted some years later. That is the mistake that we make. That in some respects I think Democrats and certainly progressives were so convinced of the rightness of our policy positions that I just wanna beat you over the head with it again and again without trying to understand what about your values that’s making it difficult for you to see your way clear to follow me in the direction I’m suggesting.
BRANCACCIO: Where might progressives find a figure or an idea that jump starts this process to reevaluating the party’s message? The movement’s message to these moral issues or issues of faith?
EDLEY: Look, I think there are a number of Democrats who are certainly comfortable speaking in that direction. Actually, the nation got a chance to see one of them this summer at the convention: Barack Obama. One of the things that touches people about his rhetoric and that’s been a hallmark of his success in Illinois is that the importance of the party categories seem to fade away.
And it’s his personality, his character, his values that seem to be luminous and make people want to follow him because they can trust him. They can believe in him. Bill Clinton once said something interesting. He said that American voters would rather support somebody who’s wrong but strong as compared with somebody who’s right but weak.
Now there he wasn’t so much talking about values as he was talking about character and leadership, et cetera. But I think the same holds true. If I get a basic sense that you’ve got values, they’re somewhat like mine, I’m gonna follow you, and the policy particulars can just fade away. That’s what I’m focused on is “who are you?”
BRANCACCIO: Now this moral issues question was not the only thing that led to this — what should we call it— grand slam by the Republican Party this week. A lot of issues. The Republicans made some inroads among, for instance, Latino voters. Republicans are speaking their tune somehow at some level.
EDLEY: Look, and that’s a very dangerous trend for the Democrats. The estimates are that in 2000, Gore got about 67 percent of Latino votes. Kerry this time, 53 percent, 55 percent. If that pattern holds, we’re talking New Deal style realignment in our political process.
Democrats have gotta get it together. Values is part of it. Look, another way of thinking about this is if you go back and look at the slave states, the segregation states, the 17 states that were the source of Jim Crow segregation, those states, plus the sort of Missouri Compromise states, those were over 2/3 of the electoral votes that President Bush won this time around.
That lock on now the South, the central states, this is old deep stuff that has echoed down literally through the centuries in the divisions within this country. The only way to bridge that, it seems to me, is for Democrats to have messages, to have, not just messages but positions that resonate with folks in terms of a vision for the country that isn’t about the policy details, but is instead about the pole star that we believe we need to follow.
BRANCACCIO: ‘Cause the thing is, Christopher, that the conservative movement has figured out a wonderful way to bridge this issue. Their message seems to resonate increasingly among people of modest means. And they’ve forged this amazing coalition between folks at the top of the income level and folks towards the bottom. And it’s something that the Democrats, they need to start looking at.
EDLEY: But there’s also a tactical issue here. There is an argument always about to what extent do we pay attention to our base of minority voters, of low income voters? Versus focusing on the swing voters. This is the perennial difficulty that the strategists have.
BRANCACCIO: Democratic Leadership Council, the centrists says go for the swing voters and don’t even talk to, for instance, maybe African-Americans.
EDLEY: Now if you’re not gonna talk to the African-Americans, if you’re not gonna talk to Latinos. If you’re not going to also talk to swing voters about why it should matter to them what’s happening to the Democratic base, if you’re not gonna talk in a way that tries to connect the values that we aspire to as Americans and have them make sense to Joe Six-Pack, then you’ve lost it completely.
So I think the prescriptions that say “run away from progressivism, run towards the center” are exactly wrong because that is inconsistent with the message that says “focus on the core values.”
BRANCACCIO: But could you then tell me that by running to the left, that would also produce enough votes to win one of these things?
EDLEY: Look, what I’m saying is if the values are about opportunity and about community building and about connecting with people who are different from you, that you can’t communicate that message, you can’t project that value if you wanna leave Latinos, African-Americans, have-nots out of the equation, out of your communications strategy, out of your campaign strategy.
If you’re ignoring the very communities who are, in essence, the center of your values message about compassion and opportunity, then you’re not credible. You’re not gonna be able to talk about it in a convincing way. So that is really our challenge. It used to drive me nuts when Ronald Reagan would give important speeches filled with anecdotes about real human beings.
Because, as a dyed-in-the-wool policy wonk, I wanted to hear the analysis. I wanted to hear the data. But the reality is that the American people wanna hear the stories because the stories are a vehicle for projecting values.
BRANCACCIO: I wanna move you on briefly now to something that’s crucial. I mean, the earth shifted this week in America to the left, to the right, everybody agrees on this essential topic. For you, what is the most significant development this week that will perhaps shape America for the longest term?
EDLEY: Well, remember that this big shift in political terms amounts to a swing of 100,000 votes in Ohio. But it will have a meaningful impact, a very serious impact. First and foremost, it seems to me, in the judiciary. Because the greatest, the most important, the most lasting part of a president’s legacy is often the judges that are appointed. So—
BRANCACCIO: The Supreme Court certainly.
EDLEY: Starting with the Supreme Court. But the lower courts as well. Now President Bush has been very effective, very focused on sending nominees for the lower courts who reflect a conservative ideology. And only a handful of them have been blocked by Congress out of hundreds.
He’s had a much higher success rate in terms of confirmations than Bill Clinton did, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary that you hear from many Republicans. Going forward, the opportunity to remake the Supreme Court could have a major impact on American society for a generation.
BRANCACCIO: And when you say conservative ideology, when it comes to judges, what are you talking about? ‘Cause one way to look at it as a conservative legal approach is a cautious one, one that looks carefully at case law over the years. But you’re talking about something else.
EDLEY: No, I’m talking about ideological conservatism that over and over again we’ve seen over the last 20 years, puts aside principles of precedent that have guided judicial decision making. And attempts to remake legal doctrine.
The question is which points of view are gonna control it?
When judges come before the Senate, there’s an added issue. And that is what Constitutionally is the advice and consent role of the Senate when the president sends forward a nominee who seems to be or is arguably outside the mainstream? To what extent must senators simply defer to the president’s preferences for who should be a judge?
And I and many others have argued that the Senate does have a role in trying to make sure that the extremes, be it left or right, the extremes are ruled out when we’re making what are, after all, lifetime appointments– to incredibly powerful unelected offices. We live with these choices for generations. And– someone with a mandate of 100,000 voters in Ohio should not be able to remake the Constitution.
BRANCACCIO: But someone who has 55 Republican senators when the magic number is 60, that’s getting close to the 60 needed by the Republicans to just fly these nominees through.
EDLEY: Not fly. But be prepared to struggle. And I hope there will be a struggle because there’s so much at stake. If you talk about a woman’s right to choose, or you talk about the future of affirmative action, or you talk about the president’s war powers. These kinds of issues that Americans do, in fact, care about— are importantly shaped by the ideology, if you will, sad to say. The ideology of the folks who wear the black robes. But it’s not a slam dunk for Bush going forward. He’s gonna have to be prepared to defend many of his judicial choices. And we’ll see whether or not Democrats in the Senate, moderate Republicans in the Senate, the few that remain, will exercise their Constitutional responsibility to put the president to a tough test.
BRANCACCIO: You know, Grover Norquist says that Democrats should now be prepared to be a permanent minority. Are Democrats ready for that?
EDLEY: Well, I think that’s what Newt Gingrich said in 1994. But the Gingrich revolution didn’t last very long. Let me put it this way, the Republicans have created the very real possibility of a lasting political realignment. The question is whether or not Democrats recognizing demography and recognizing the importance of this values discourse will be smart enough, will be smart enough to adopt a strategy that speaks more effectively to the broader group of Americans who don’t care about the policy plumbing. But they do care about the pole star that our leaders are following.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, thank you very, very much.
EDLEY: My pleasure.
MOYERS: Time now for our last hurrah with Kevin and Kathleen. Political analyst Kevin Phillips, a true independent who never confuses red or blue for red, white, and blue, and media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson. You’ve seen them often on NOW during this political season. We’re glad to have them back one more time.
Thank you for joining us.
PHILLIPS: Nice to be here.
MOYERS: So, what’s new after Tuesday?
JAMIESON: In the press conference yesterday, the President was asked a question about the deficit and about cutting costs. And part of his answer was— responds with entitlement reform and fiscal discipline. He was previewing I think, the tough debate that we’re going to have on Social Security.
MOYERS: Let’s take a look at it.
BUSH: I’ve talked to a lot of members of Congress who are wondering whether or not we’ll have the will to confront entitlements, to make sure that there is entitlement reform that helps us maintain fiscal discipline. And the answer is, yes; that’s why I took on the Social Security issue.
MOYERS: Time and again in our discussions, almost every question I ask you, you come back to Social Security. This seems to you to be a burning issue you won’t let go of. Why?
JAMIESON: I think it’s a burning issue the country can’t let go of. There is a generation now, that is my parents’ generation, that is not in poverty, that is living a kind of life that when I was a child, my parents’ parents and grandparents didn’t live. There’s-a phrase when I grew up that said, something bad is going to happen; we’re going to send you to the poorhouse. And there was a view of old age that was genuinely frightening. And families looked both at how you care for the young and how you care for the old.
And when Social Security and Medicare is in greater difficulty than Social Security came into place, we essentially changed the way in which you could view old age. We now have people living longer. We have all of the attendant problems, but all the attendant benefits. And we have a deficit that is extraordinary. And in this environment, every President has postponed this decision.
The tragedy of Clinton’s second term and I think it’s cautionary. Second terms don’t turn out well in recent history. The tragedy of Clinton’s second term is we had a projected surplus and we had Monica Lewinsky. And as a result, you don’t know whether if Clinton had the political capital of that surplus, and had an economy which people were very optimistic about the future, if in the absence of Monica Lewinsky, he might have fought through Social Security reform.
I believe it’s an issue that we have to handle. And that there are trade offs. The trade offs are real. We can’t talk about them in campaigns, because we automatically defeat anybody who does. And the President is going to address it. Now, whether he would address it the way I would like to see it addressed is an entirely difficult question. But I think he deserves credit for raising it in 2000, for raising it again, and for putting it on the agenda. Now he just has a lot more difficult time dealing with it than he would, had he had it as his first agenda item in 2000, before those tax cuts.
PHILLIPS: I think the only way you can approach Social Security with any reasonable chance of success is to say that the United States can’t afford all the promises that have been made. But if we can’t afford the promises that have been made to the ordinary people, the middle class and so forth, about what they’re going to get in Social Security, then perhaps we make too many promises that we can’t really afford to keep to the people who’ve got all these upper bracket tax cuts.
And then if there’s going to be sacrifice in Main Street, there’s going to be sacrifice in Wall Street. And I think if something like that came down the pike, you’d find people paying serious attention. I’ve never heard it come out of both sides of the equation ever, by any serious politician.
MOYERS: Are we in a second Gilded Age when the powerful, the elites, the wealthy, ignore what’s happening in society, like Social Security for ordinary people? Have we so divided into two societies of rich and poor, that these issues cannot be joined across that divide?
JAMIESON: I think that’s the open question for the next four years. And I don’t think we have an answer. We have different economic philosophies that are out there. And the one that is now actually gotten itself a verb form is, we’re going “to grow the economy.”
JAMIESON: The answer to whatever question it is, we’re going “to grow the economy.” And in fairness, the answer that Senator Kerry had for Social Security was, we’re going “to grow the economy.” He wasn’t addressing it at all. Now, one question that’s underlying this, what is it that we know about how the economy works, particularly in time of large deficits, when we have a large open-ended commitment in Iraq, and when we have an economy that, although doing better than the Democrats suggested, is doing worse than the Republicans suggest. And I think the open question is the question you’re asking for the next four to eight years. And I don’t have any answers.
MOYERS: You’re smiling.
PHILLIPS: Well, I’m too old, Bill. Like you I can think of too many bit of history that are relevant here. I mean, the first thing is you’ll have to go back to Eisenhower to remember a second term President who was successful during that second term. The hubris of reelection is usually a problem, but in looking at George W. Bush, and some of the people around him, you gotta come up with a new word. This is hubris-plus as I’m looking at such a difficult global and financial situation that you can almost see the way in which things are gonna unravel. So, it’s hard not to chuckle when you hear some of the pomposities.
MOYERS: But, somehow George W. Bush consistently defies the precedents. And, I’m not sure the past is prologue when it comes to the efficiency, the ruthlessness, and the ability of this particular group of people to make their own rules.
JAMIESON: One man’s ruthlessness is another man’s focus on message and on issues. This is a president who forecast in 2000 that he would do four things. He did three out of to four in the first term. He got his Education Bill through. He got his Prescription Drug Bill through, and he built up the military.
The fourth was Social Security. He’s going to take it on. He’s going to take in on in the first two years, and I would expect we’re going to have a national debate that’s been long overdue as a result.
MOYERS: But, here’s the paradox to me, Iraq is a mess. The Federal budget is a mess. Our national intelligence is mess. Homeland security is a mess. Immigration is a mess. The rich are richer. They’re more poor than ever. Yet, the party in charge while all this is happening gets the go-ahead for four more years. How do you explain that?
PHILLIPS: Well, the most important thing about this election when you get down into it is that we have now what has to be thought of as a 9/11 coalition. We have the sort of coalition he didn’t put together in 2000. I don’t think he would have been reelected without 9/11. And, you really have elements of both a garrison state coalition and a religious grouping, which we’ve never seen before. And, I think this is in there as a caution to them, but I know they’ll never pay attention. They’ll think they have much more of an economic mandate than they have. The only band aid they really have is to keep the whole scare thing going about orange, red and yellow alerts.
And, to keep all the people who are church goers worried about the evil ones, and so forth. ‘Cause if they can do that, then they’ve got their coalition. A lot of this other stuff is just embroidery for the interest groups that give them money.
MOYERS: Was there a single thing, Kathleen, the Republicans did that made the greatest difference in this election?
JAMIESON: The most important thing the Republicans did in this election was to destroy any prospect that John Kerry had of outflanking the Republicans and the President on defense by using his biography to establish that he would be tougher on terrorism.
He would pursue Iraq more intelligently, and unlike Democrats in the past, he would recapture the military issue so that Republicans couldn’t automatically win on “weak on defense.” John Kerry lost that when the Swift Boat veterans took the legs out from under his biography.
And, as a result Republicans successfully locked the Democrats back in “weak on defense,” which gives George Bush the ability in this term to continue to pursue his war on terror without constraints that came out of this election.
PHILLIPS: The second thing that the Republicans did, which was really very clever, and they did play a role in the happening, was to get 11 state ballot issues about gay marriage on the ballot. I mean, this is mind blowing. This is taking the Democrats—
MOYERS: It’s smart political strategy, though, ’cause it accelerated the vote out—
PHILLIPS: My political friends—
MOYERS: —they turned out more of the voters.
PHILLIPS: Yes, because the religious constituencies are mobilized by a whole cross-section of issues. They’re never quite sure who was the enemy, whether it’s Osama Bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein, or gays, or making certain that they change the numbers on Route 66, because it brings up the anti-Christ. I mean, there’s just a whole element here. And, the notion that the Republicans would not profit from bringing these numbers of people to the polls who wanted to vote against gay marriage, it’s the sort of stuff that the liberals do, it just reflects a whole lack of dimension in their political thinking. The Republicans knew what they were doing—
JAMIESON: There is something important, I think, about the whole move to enshrine things in the Constitution. Republicans have now developed a strategy, which takes things that are important, and says, “I’m going to have a Constitutional Amendment.”
And, pundits tend to look at that for the substance of what is going to be changed in the Constitution, but there’s something else happening with that move. If you say, “I’m going to enshrine this in the Constitution,” you’re saying, “I am decisive. I’m going to do what I say, and put it in a form that is the most sacred form we’ve got, so believe me. You can trust that I’m going to translate what I say into an effect on your life.”
How did the Republicans capture decisiveness so clearly in this election? How did they capture it overall? They captured it in part by making an argument in a lot of places not just gay marriage, that we ought to enshrine something in the Constitution.
PHILLIPS: Well, it’s been a long strategy of the conservatives, and it’s worked most of the time to come up with Constitutional Amendments as a substitute for effective action. And, if you go back to busing Constitutional Amendments, Prayer Constitutional Amendments, Anti-Flag Burning Constitutional Amendments, they can jump up and down and say, “Look at us. We’re safeguarding all these values.”
And, if people out there who are going, “Yes, yes, yes, wonderful,” never bother to figure out whether this is any serious approach or whether any of this kind of amendment will ever get into law. So, it’s incredible to me.
MOYERS: There was another element in this. You saw the commercial in which the President, the Republican commercial in which the President is comforting the little girl who lost a parent in the World Trade Centers, and I saw a story just this morning saying that when that commercial was shown to a group of kindred spirits in Florida in a private showing, grown men were crying about it.
That somehow that commercial we may look back and see that commercial as the one that had the most impact. What do you think about that?
JAMIESON: They’re two commercials that had comparable impact. That was one. The Swift Boat attacks were the other, and that’s a set of commercials. Part of what’s interesting about that ad is that there is authenticity in that moment. We make judgments about other human beings, not simply at a cognitive, rational issue-based level.
In fact, I don’t think we do that first. We make a visceral response. We respond by looking at things and saying, “That seems real to me. That seems right. That moment looked genuine.” And, George Bush looked as if he was connecting with that young woman. And, she tells you in the ad that she felt safe. He cared about her.
MOYERS: So, this election seemed not to go the where people really are living, but to where they’re feeling.
JAMIESON: I think the election went both places simultaneously. I think we— there’s an old paradigm which says, “Everything that’s wrong with the economy, blame the President. Everything that’s good about the economy, credit the President.” And, I think what the President’s campaign did was effectively severed that link. And, so you can say things on the ground that bad. There aren’t as many jobs as there ought to be, for example. The, you know, the economy isn’t surging as much as I would like. I haven’t experience economic benefits in my life. And then say the reason I haven’t is September 11th, corporate scandals, the reason is haven’t is the recession that he inherited.
From the very beginning, the first weeks before the Bush Presidency was the Bush Presidency, before he has taken office, the Republicans were arguing, “We’re inheriting our recession.” They were putting in place the argument that was going to make it possible four years later to say, “Things aren’t as good as we would like them to be, but we contributed a lot to how good they are. And, it would have been a lot worse without us.”
“All the other things account for this.” And, the big thing, September 11th. September 11th is the element in this election that changed the dynamics. It blunted the economic attack on the President by providing the rationale of why things were bad are not his fault. Simultaneously they shifted the issue to grounds on which any President, Republican or Democrat, would have been strong because he was there when it happened.
MOYERS: Elections always strike me as being today more psychological than political, that is how we feel about the candidates, how we feel about the country. But, elections come down to transferring power from the people to their proxies, the representatives. Power, says William Greider, is who wins and who loses. Who do you think wins and loses in the next four years?
JAMIESON: Well, I think first, there is a misunderstanding when we talk about religion being used. I think that’s one of two perspectives. I think the people who are the religiously based voters for Bush start out in a different place then you start out when you say, “What’s my list of things that matter?”
When you say, “Moral values all are the most important problems facing the country,” you’re saying something very interesting. Moral values are the most important thing facing the country? Ordinarily you think of things facing the country as things government has something to do with.
Well, the implication when you talk about stem cell research, when you talk about so-called partial birth abortion, when you talk about gay marriage is that government now does have some role. And, as a result, I think there’s a large voting block for whom the first question isn’t the economic question. The first question even if one is not well off is, “Are we protecting these basic things that for these people are the fundamental values?” They’re about when life begins and when life should be destroyed.
They’re about what marriage is and is not, and to some extent the backdrop debate which we haven’t had is, “What’s government doing in any of these domains?”
MOYERS: You’ve been watching a lot of campaigns after the one you took part in, in the ’60s. What are you going to be looking for in the next four years?
PHILLIPS: Well, the worst thing to me is we’ve had so many second rate choices really, for the last 30 or 40 years relentlessly. It seems that that’s likely to be true in the future, too. I don’t see what changes it. I don’t have any sense that the average person sees a whole lot of hope for politics. And as a result, the turnout among young people, the people expected in this last election, didn’t really materialize. I would hope that something would really engage ordinary Americans, not just those who are mobilized by churches and that was a very large percent of the mobilization this time, I don’t know what’s going to produce that.
I think the United States is really in some respects, on the sort of downhill slope that the great economic powers of the world get when they’ve got this division between rich and poor, when they’re overextended globally, when they’re building up debt. I mean, this has happened many times before. It seems like it’s where we are. And I don’t expect politics to address that honestly. I don’t expect the people to be mobilized in a serious across the board way. And frankly, that makes me very concerned about where it’s all going. So I’d like to be proven wrong in the next four years.
MOYERS: Kathleen, you teach every Friday. You teach a group of—
JAMIESON: I do.
MOYERS: What do you tell your students about what they should be doing in politics now? And what do they want to do?
JAMIESON: Most of them aren’t going to run for office, and that’s unfortunate. When you ask students to say where do you see a future? A lot of them say they’d like to be on the consulting end of politics, rather than on the running end of politics, and that explains why you don’t have the best people running. Because the costs that these people who run for office take in exposure of their private lives in a brutal campaign process, in a process that all but destroys the public sense of your identity by the time it’s over, is such that I think a reasonable human being says, let somebody else do that. I want to elect people who are that good, but I don’t want to take on those kinds of burdens. And I think that’s problematic.
About the next four years? I think that we have the possibility again, every time we have a second term, we have the possibility that a person, unliberated by the need to be re-elected, will take in the tough issues facing the country. Whether one agrees with how the person does it or not, will take them on. Because if you don’t take them on, you can’t get any credit or blame. And a lot of people deserve blame for not taking them on.
And it will have at least two debates. We will have a debate about Social Security reform. We will have a debate about tax simplification. Those two debates, I think are important. They’re intensely consequential. And then, I think the sleeping dog in this election is we will find out whether or not Iraq becomes the next Vietnam, and whether or not it essentially makes it impossible for the country to accomplish all of the wonderful things that might otherwise have been accomplished with that money and with our energy.
And we will know whether we were protected from terrorism or not. Whether or not there’s another strike in the United States, and if there was, whether we could have prevented it.
MOYERS: It’s been a real pleasure to have both of you here during this election season. I thank you very much for coming back to this final session. And I wish you both well in the next four years. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Kevin Phillips, thank you.
JAMIESON: Thank you.
This transcript was entered on May 15, 2015.