Bill Moyers and resident scholar, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, analyze the first two debates in the 1992 Presidential Election during this live edition of Listening to America.
PRESIDENT LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: I, Lyndon Baines Johnson-
JUDGE: -you, Richard Milhous Nixon-
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: I, Gerald R. Ford, do solemnly swear-
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush
BILL MOYERS: How many vice presidents have become president? Answer, 13. It’s something to think about. Join us for more of campaign ’92 on Listening to America.
I’m Bill Moyers. Welcome to Listening to America. We’re live tonight to talk about what we’re learning or not learning from the first two debates. There’s not a spin doctor in the house, but we will hear from a well-known capitalist, a labor leader, a journalist turned Washington insider, an actor and political activist and the minister of Harlem’s best-known church. I’ve asked them here to speak their minds about politics and democracy.
But we begin tonight, as usual, with America’s most quoted analyst of politics and media, our resident scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Among her many books is this one, Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking.
Well, you’ve given your life to studying what we watch tonight
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Dean, Annenberg School for Communication: Well, not my whole life, I hope.
BILL MOYERS: -human communication, what we talk about in common, the conversation of democracy. What did you learn about democracy tonight from that exchange between those vice presidential candidates?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You know, academics have always thought that if you could get a moderator format with good questions, what you would get would be candidates would address the questions. They would stay on the topic. They wouldn’t deflect out all over the place and we’d learn something. Well, what we learned tonight is that unless you have a very strong moderator and candidates who want to agree to do that, you don’t learn a great deal from a moderator format. In particular, one of the most important questions asked tonight, about the cities, yielded no answer on either side. The candidates just have no interest in talking about that topic. They segued away as if they were fleeing the bubonic plague.
BILL MOYERS: Doesn’t that say to you – I mean, when that question came up, both candidates, all three candidates, turned to talking about taxes and the middle class and – doesn’t that say to you that they were really appealing tonight to their constituencies, not to the people who are not going to vote for them, the people in the inner cities?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah. Essentially what it says is that the predicate of the question was wrong. The voters who matter are in the suburbs and the answers, as a result, were going to reflect that. The problem, of course, is there are problems in the cities. We deserve answers and if we don’t get answers from the campaign, we’re not likely to get them when one of these folks becomes president, either.
BILL MOYERS: But I thought that the format tonight was more useful than the one Sunday night because it did occasionally give us the chance to hear a follow-up, a rebuttal, a challenge. Take a look at this brief excerpt from the debate.
Sen. AL GORE (D-TN) : The question was not about free trade or education. The question was about-
Vice President DAN QUAYLE: Talk about waffling! You’re the one that brought up-.
SENATOR AL GORE: Let me-no, that’s-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: -the issue of waffling.
SENATOR AL GORE: Dan, let-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: And he has waffled on-
SENATOR AL GORE: I let you-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: -the abortion issue.
SENATOR AL GORE: Let me talk now. It’s going to be a long evening if you’re like this, now, because-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: No, no. It’s not.
SENATOR AL GORE: Don’t change the subject.
HAL BRUNO, ABC News: Gentlemen, let’s get on with the-
SENATOR AL GORE: Don’t change the subject because what you have done-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Well, you answer my questions, then. Answer my questions. On the 24-hour waiting period, do you support that?
SENATOR AL GORE: I have had-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Do you support that?
SENATOR AL GORE: -the same position on abortion, in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Do you support a woman’s right-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Do you support-
SENATOR AL GORE: -to choose or not?
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Do you support a 24-hour waiting period to have reflection-
SENATOR AL GORE: You’re still avoiding-
VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: Talk about avoiding the question!
SENATOR AL GORE: You’re still avoiding the question.
BILL MOYERS: What did you learn from that exchange?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You learn that each candidate wants to phrase the question in a way that yields the greatest number of votes. This was not a terribly productive exchange, except to show the American people that both sides are trying to duck. However, there was an exchange in this debate that I thought was very productive. Unlike the first debate, in which the President didn’t have a chance because of the format to tell us his position on health care, in this exchange in the debates tonight what we learned was that there are very different philosophies governing health care and that Dan Quayle thinks that one really ought to reduce the health care question to one of malpractice, in which case one ought to ask, ”Why didn’t the Federal Product Liability Act get as far as the President this year?” It didn’t because the Republicans in the Senate just didn’t think that was a very good idea.
BILL MOYERS: What did you learn in this debate about Quayle that you didn’t know?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think that what we learned about Quayle was that he is a lot stronger presenter than he was four years ago. This Dan Quayle did not stare blankly into the headlights anymore. He has clear, well-articulated positions. He was very aggressive in pursuing them and he was adopting a very straightforward strategy throughout this debate. He was going to label the Democrats “tax and spend” Democrats, whether Al Gore wanted it or not. And I thought, as well, on the environmental exchange, that what Quayle managed to do was capture the agenda against Al Gore. What Gore should have done in response was to lay the Competitiveness Council at Dan Quayle’s feet and I don’t think the phrase “Competitiveness Council” occurred any place in this debate.
BILL MOYERS: The Wall Street Journal had a story this morning that many of the decisions made by the Dan Quayle council had been taken for corporations that had given lots of money to them. Why didn’t Gore bring that up?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I don’t know. It was as if, in the area of the environment, Gore just defaulted entirely. His strength was in explicating his ticket’s position on the economy and there Quayle was substantially less articulate. He didn’t lay forward the Bush plan, which is the alternative, with any great clarity. But on the environment, something that Gore should have anticipated, Gore didn’t say, for example, ”Well, why did the Competitiveness Council recommend and Baker quash an initiative to dump toxic chemicals in town dumps that didn’t have linings in them?” That would have been a good way to put Quayle back on the defensive. It just didn’t happen. I can’t explain it.
BILL MOYERS: What did you learn about Gore in the debate?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think that Gore is a very well-programmed debater and lacked some of the spontaneity that, ironically, came from the running mate of H. Ross Perot. Gore I thought was less articulate on the environment than I would have expected and he ducked, I thought, and I think deliberately, any discussion of global warming directly when he was told that a major champion of his position disagreed with him. That is, in fact, a pretty accurate charge. Instead of indicating that that was a discussion about global warming and actually getting into the meat of that issue, he didn’t talk about global warming at all. He just backed into a general defense of protecting the environment.
BILL MOYERS: This format tonight turned a lot of people off. The young woman who’s the makeup artist for our show is also the makeup artist for Rush Limbaugh, so she’s not partisan. You can tell that. And she got up twice and walked out because she just said she felt insulted by the level of the exchange, what became a brawl.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah. This is reducing to The McLaughlin Group. This is beginning to look like Crossfire. At the point at which you see two people who at some point could become one of your 13, now 14 vice presidents to become president interrupting each other, you know, shouting over each other, in effect, requiring that that moderator suggest that perhaps they could stay on the topic, one begins to ask whether or not either of these people is qualified to be President of the United States. The norms of civil discourse were being broken a couple of times in this exchange.
BILL MOYERS: But I found the debate on Sunday night stifling. I thought just about the time you got to the moment where you thought you were going to get a good rebuttal or get a clarification, the whistle blew. We have a brief excerpt from Sunday night’s debate.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I’m concerned about “ethnic cleansing.” I’m concerned about attacks on Muslims, for example, over there, but I must stop short of using American force until I know how those young men and women are going to get out of there, as well as get in, know what the mission is and define it. And I think I’m on the right track.
ANN COMPTON, ABC News: Are you designing a mission that would-
JIM LEHRER, PBS: Ann, sorry. Sorry. Time is up.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I have to take 10 seconds here at the end – the red light isn’t on yet – to say to Ross Perot, please don’t say to the DEA agents on the street that we don’t have the will to fight drugs. Please – I have watched these people. The same for our local law enforcement people. We’re backing up at every way we possibly can. But – but maybe you meant that some in the country don’t have the will to fight it, but those that are out there on the front line, as you know, you’ve been a strong backer of law enforcement-
JIM LEHRER: Time.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Really, I just want to have – clear that up – have the will to fight it and frankly, some of them giving their lives.
JIM LEHRER: Time, Mr. President. ïAll right. Let’s go now to another subject.
BILL MOYERS: Are we going to ever get a better format?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Part of the problem is that when you have three people and no follow-up for the candidates or for the reporters, you basically take 26 minutes of time and fragment it into your stump speech, divide it into one- and two- minute units. And there’s not, as a result, a coherence that advances an argument. There’s a second problem and that is a candidate can say in this environment before, in this case, 81 million people, something that’s blatantly untrue and the facts don’t really ever catch up with the candidate because the next morning very few people are going to read the nation’s newspapers and the broadcasters aren’t disposed to cover the factual accuracy of the statements. They’re more likely to talk about appearance or strategy.
BILL MOYERS: It struck me that most of the themes we heard addressed in both debates could have been perceived if you caught the three new commercials that have been running over the last 72 hours before the debate. Let’s look at three commercials that we saw this week.
ANNOUNCER: [Bush television commercial] He said he was never drafted. Then he admitted he was drafted. Then he said he forgot being drafted. He said he was never deferred from the draft. Then he said he was. He said he never received special treatment, but he did receive special treatment. The question then was avoiding the draft. Now for Bill Clinton it’s a question of avoiding the truth.
ANNOUNCER: [Clinton television commercial] They’re a new generation of Democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and they don’t think the way the old Democratic Party did. They’ve called for an end to welfare as we know it so welfare can be a second chance, not a way of life. They’ve sent a strong signal to criminals by supporting the death penalty and they’ve rejected the old tax-and-spend politics. Clinton’s balanced 12 budgets and they’ve proposed a new plan, investing in people, detailing $140 billion in spending cuts they’d make right now. Clinton-Gore, for people for a change.
ANNOUNCER: [Perot television commercial] Our children dream of the world that we promised them as parents, a world of unlimited opportunity. What would they say to us if they knew that by the year 2000 we will have left them with a national debt of $8 trillion? What would they say to us if they knew that we are making them the first generation of Americans with a standard of living below the generation before them? We cannot do this to our children. In this election we have the opportunity to choose a candidate who is not a career politician but a proven business leader with the ability to take on the tasks at hand, to balance the budget, to expand the tax base, to give our children back their American dream. The candidate is Ross Perot. The issue is our children. The choice is yours.
BILL MOYERS: Perot’s single message is the economy’s going to hell in a handbasket; the Democrats- ”We’re changing. Trust a new generation.” The Republicans’ message is, “Bill Clinton can’t tell the truth.”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah, and that essentially summarizes tonight’s debate. The interesting thing about that opening commercial- all the commercials are, by the way, trying to create a context for us to view the debates. They’re trying to get us to ask of the debates their central question and to see the answers through that filter so the debate becomes a reinforcement of the commercial. But the interesting thing about the Quayle question -“There’s going to be a crisis sometime in the next four years. Predicate that for a moment. Now, do you really trust Bill Clinton?” – is that it also raises the question, “Do you trust Stockdale” and the answer tonight was, I think, unequivocally no, you don’t. A fine, honorable person, but not someone up to being vice president. And then do you trust Dan Quayle, the very person asking the question? And unless his standing improved substantially tonight, the majority of the American people have said, “I’m really nervous about that possibility,” in which case that question ultimately advantages one vice president candidate as it may simultaneously disadvantage the top of the ticket.
BILL MOYERS: What you say about Stockdale is true, an honorable man fighting the wrong war, but a decent human being who, to me, struck the most – the most pure moment in the debate when he said, “I don’t think you people are living” – here on this stage – “are living in the world of reality.” And it reminded me of all the spin doctors after all the debates, all the insider language, the politicians with their, as you say, programmed, rehearsed messages. It’s not a language that cuts through out there to where people live, hurt, can’t pay their taxes, can’t afford to get sick. And that moment was the most clarifying moment for me because it says, “Folks, this is – this is another game that’s being played and you’re not even spectators at it.” There were some spin doctors there the other night we recorded, followed by some interviews with real people. Take a look at this and then we’ll bring in our other guests.
KATIE COURIC: [“Today”] What did you think?
AL HUNT, “The Wall Street Journal”: Well, I think for those CBS viewers who watched the baseball game instead last night, the bottom line for the debate was no runs, no hits, no errors.
RON BROWN, Democratic Party Chairman: [CNN] Bill Clinton hit a grand-slam home run tonight. There’s no question about that. If this had been a heavyweight championship prize fight, I think they’d have had to stop it and stop it early.
PAUL BEGALA, Sr. Clinton Adviser: [“Good Morning America”] Bush needed every sports metaphor we could conjure up. He needed a pin, a slam dunk, and a home run, and a touchdown.
JACK KEMP, Secretary, H.U.D. : From a football metaphor, as an old quarterback, I think he certainly in the fourth quarter threw a couple of long passes for touchdowns.
RICHARD GEPHARDT, House Majority Leader: The President did not hit a home run tonight.
LYNN MARTIN, Secretary of Labor: You know what’s amazing? Tonight was a play-off game. This is a kind of play-off, too, four – if you will – four games, man a mano. Who hits the home run? Who hits the triple?
1st VOTER: [“Today”] President Bush has not given me any clear-cut answers to the economy or the health or the education. Urban education, to me, is very important since I have children and this is something that I’m looking to hear.
2nd VOTER: 1 hope that some of the other debates will let there be enough time devoted to an issue. You can’t settle the economy in 60 or 120 seconds. There has to be a long period of many minutes, at the very least, to let the American people see exactly, specifically what they will do first, second, third, not just in phrases but in detail.
3rd VOTER: [“Today”] One thing 1 was really disappointed in with all the candidates is, is that they all seem to have done a lot of problem finding, but I haven’t heard any real problem solving. They say, “This is a problem,” ”That’s a problem,” but the solutions they come up with are – they’re sound bites.
4th VOTER: [ABC News] My major concern this year is the deficit and while all of the candidates seem to have a plan about what to do about it, none of – they were all kind of vague on exactly how we’re going to pay for it. If you want to have a good plan, that’s fine, but the money has to come from somewhere.
CRYSTAL GREER: Well, Ross Perot did do a very good job tonight, but he goes about it in a way – he wants to see the problem and get the problem accomplished, but then how can he explain dropping out of the presidential race?
TOM AUSTIN: Bush kept referring to the fact that – “The new Congress,” “The new Congress.” Why is he so confident?
PETER JENNINGS: Good question.
BILL MOYERS: Just plain folks want just plain speech, but they’re not getting it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And look what we have off the wires tonight. The head of Clinton-Gore in Tennessee: “I think AI gave Atlanta it’s first gold medal performance.” Richard Beard, an executive director, G.O.P., Arkansas: “Dan Quayle hit a home run with the bases loaded.” What this basically does is takes the learning that real voters do as a result of debates – and we know at every educational level, even in the most impoverished debates, we do get education and clarity about positions on issues – and we turn that around with the spin doctors and the language of games and strategies into three irrelevant questions. The first: Who won, who lost? The second: What’s the decisive theatrical moment? And then the third: Who appeared to be more presidential or vice presidential? And what we do by asking those questions is take the learning and the questions that the real voters are asking and push them aside and put other kinds of information in place. And so we don’t do a service to the people who watched the debate. It’s happening tonight again. The networks tonight concentrated on who appeared vice presidential.
BILL MOYERS: But each candidate’s spin doctor said his candidate won. Did that surprise you?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Iíd like to see the first spin doctor who comes forward and says, ”Well, I’d like to admit that my candidate lost, just outrageously came out third and I’m going to be out of a job shortly.”
BILL MOYERS: You’d better have a lot of tenure before you get that question asked.
We’re joined by some people who follow politics very closely, listen to it, speak about it, but have independent minds. Ted Forstmann is founder of the investment firm Forstmann, Little & Company, and the national co-chair for the Bush-Quayle reelection campaign. Sherrie Rollins was formerly an assistant to President Bush and was recently named senior vice president of U.S. News & World Report. Actor Ron Silver is president of both Actors Equity and the Creative Coalition. Anthony Mazzocchi is a labor official with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers international union. And Reverend Calvin Butts is the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.
Ted Forstmann, if you were a member of the panel for the next debate, what question would you ask?
TED FORSTMANN, Entrepreneur: Well, I would ask each of the candidates what their view is on how the economy works. And as a second question – because none of them ever says what their view is on how the economy works. And as a second question, I would say, “Because unless you understand how the economy works, you can’t tell us how you’re going to get it back on a growth path and if we don’t get the economy growing, we’re not going to be able to solve any of all these other problems that people spend so much time talking about.”
BILL MOYERS: Ron Silver, what do you want to hear debated between now and November 3rd?
RON SILVER, Actor/Activist: For my own taste, I don’t know that debates are going to be the answer here. I think the people of this country are not being told the truth about the entire political process itself and there’s a profound disrespect on the part of not only the politicians who are using the media, but the media itself, in terms of what Kathleen was talking before, in terms of its educational prospects. They’re simply not being told how the country works, what interests are really in power in this country. And I hope I’m not coming from a terribly left, paranoid perspective here because I don’t think of myself like that, but I’m talking about even the frivolous pictures we see in the papers all the time with the candidates standing on the top of a plane waving on the tarmac. And anybody in the media knows there’s nobody out there at the airport. They’re waving to nobody there.
BILL MOYERS: Like those speeches in the House that we see on C-SPAN.
RON SILVER: Exactly right.
BILL MOYERS: The camera pulls back and one person is-
RON SILVER: Well, that’s exactly right. That’s frivolous, but there’s more important things going on here with the S&L, with the deficit and how things really work. Even when laws are passed, that’s only the beginning of the process. Most of the people feel good that a law was passed, but all the lawyers on K Street in Washington and everybody else knows that’s the beginning of the process. They’re going to regulate it and talk about it and change it and do this and that and eviscerate what was done.
BILL MOYERS: Sherrie Rollins, are you learning, now that you’re back into journalism, are you learning what you want to learn from this campaign?
SHERRIE ROLLINS, Former Assistant to President Bush: Well, I do think that the campaign, post the presidential debate, is taking a more serious turn, which I think is healthy. I think it’s very clear that the American public does not like negative campaigning and what has been very effective in the past is not registering. And I think that’s good. I really do. I think people should want to feel that they’re for someone or for something, as opposed to having to just feel that they’re against the other alternative. And I do think that that is – not because we took the high road from the very beginning, but I think because it’s clear that it’s just not working. I mean, you see even in the President’s ads, I think it’s some 67 percent think that the charges are unfair. Now, some may even be valid, but when that kind of polling, when that kind of reaction, it’s clear that voters have turned off on strictly negative campaigning.
BILL MOYERS: And yet it seems to me, as an observer, that President Bush is continuing to use the negative attacks.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: Well, I think President Bush came out and talked about Jim Baker’s role in the second term and these things appeal to me, to hear what – how the second term will be different, yes, to hear about Jim Baker’s role and changes in economic players involved. I think all of that is very important. It’s something I would have liked to have heard a lot earlier in the process, but I welcome it nonetheless.
BILL MOYERS: Tony Mazzocchi, does negative advertising, negative campaigns, work out there with the folks in your union?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI, Labor Official, O.C.A.W. : Well, I – we look at it totally different. I was reminded that the book, Eloquence in an Electronic Age, proved to be an oxymoron tonight. And the – our problem with debates and the campaign is that the issues are narrowly framed. People’s concerns are not being debated and that’s why many of us think we need an alternative party out there, a non-electoral party that begins to frame the issues so issues can be discussed. I mean, America is in-
BILL MOYERS: A third party?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: A third party.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve got Ross Perot.
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: We’re talking about a third party that is not the personification of an individual, but issues, non-electoral, one that can frame issues. We’ve been working on that now because we don’t see the issues developing in this debate. America is in serious trouble. People perceive it. I’m like George Bush, an old-fashioned American, grew up in the Depression, different family background, grew up poor in Bensonhurst, product of World War II, but we discussed and formulated programs in a totally different way. The American people heard about the programs. When I heard Franklin Roosevelt in a fireside chat, he spelled out very specifically what that program was to be and mobilized his constituency behind that program. We have no mobilizing effort today and no party that speaks to the people. You get this nonsense that passes for a debate. I mean, that’s embarrassing tonight. That was as sophomoric as one could get. I thought I was watching Saturday Night Live there for a while.
BILL MOYERS: Politics has become a-
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: I think it’s really – at a time when this country’s in serious shape, Americans want to know what are we going to do about jobs? We have a hemorrhage of jobs. We have a hemorrhage of good jobs. This is the first generation in the post-war period where people think it’s going to be worse for their children than them.
BILL MOYERS: That’s the point that Perot keeps making and made it in the ad we saw a moment ago. Calvin Butts, you were originally for Ross Perot. Are you still?
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS, Abyssinian Baptist Church: No, I’ve changed my mind simply because Perot dropped out and once he dropped out and then dropped back in, it showed an indecisiveness that could not possibly make a good president. And plus he left a lot of good people who were well-meaning out on a limb and who is to say he wouldn’t do that again with people who would come behind him even as president? And he could change his mind at some point and decide to go off on some kind of dictatorial, autonomous whim which could lead us into worse shape than we’re in now. None of us are satisfied with anybody. Nobody speaks to the American people. The debate doesn’t help and the poor American people have to make a choice between one of these three and it’s almost who comes off looking the best. And in three weeks nobody’s going to be able to get into any serious debate on substantive issues.
BILL MOYERS: Are you hearing anything from any candidates that address the realities of the people who come to the Abyssinian Baptist Church on Sunday mornings?
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: Well, Perot says things that captures people’s imagination because these one-liners are simple and easy to understand. So, for instance, he says that, you know, he’s against any kind of racial prejudice whatsoever and he thinks that it ought to be stamped out. Well, you say that’s a very simple statement and anybody can say it, but he says it with such ease that some people say, ”Well, God, he’s saying more than Bush has ever said” and Clinton is the product of a conservatism in the Democratic Party that nobody trusts in my community.
BILL MOYERS: Ron Silver trusts it, don’t you? You trust the conservatism of Bill Clinton?
RON SILVER: Yeah, I do. I do. I’m a partisan. I’m a Bill Clinton supporter and an Al Gore supporter. Sure, I trust it. See, he’s been tested. He has been tested. He’s been a governor for 12 years. He has had to deal with those problems, albeit on a smaller scale, and I don’t think he has been found wanting.
BILL MOYERS: Well-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Let me – tonight we heard a series of claims about what Clinton did and did not do and part of the problem with debates is you don’t have a chance to put them in context. Clinton claims that he took 17,000 people off welfare rolls. He did. Thirty-five thousand went back on. He claims that there is the highest growth rate of jobs of any of the major states, or any of the states in the country, and he claims support from one of Bush’s own cabinet members. But those weren’t high-wage jobs. They were jobs, which is better than what we have elsewhere, but they weren’t high-wage jobs. Out of that kind of a context, can you build a confidence in someone who, in fact, has only dealt with a small state?
RON SILVER: But I’ll tell you something. You know, you deal in this all the time, but I forget who said it, but somebody said “There are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics.” Now, statistics can be used by anyone to mean anything. It’s almost like using the Bible as your authority here. So I don’t think we’re going to get – I think what Tony was referring to and what the Reverend Butts and even Ted was – was something grander, a larger vision.
BILL MOYERS: But how do we get that into the political discussion? Ted, you talked about the fact that none of the candidates are describing how the economy works. What would they be talking about if they came-grand vision, but talked about the economy?
TED FORSTMANN: Well, actually, I think that one of the reasons that Perot came into being was that – and this is a bit of an iconoclastic view, I know, but I think that lots of Americans think that we do have big problems, but that the problems are not that difficult to solve and that the people that we have up there trying to solve them, and I mean everybody, are not as – they’re kind of mediocre, that they’re not – they’re not as good as they might be.
Now, let me just spend two seconds on the economy and my new friend over here will be interested in this. You know, the way you create jobs is to have more business and you can’t create more business without capital. Capital’s gotten kind of a – gotten to be a kind of a dirty word because people – but it isn’t a dirty word. Even a person who wants to start a pushcart needs 20 bucks for the lemons. Even if he’s going to work 24 hours a day, he’s got to find $20 to buy the lemons or he can’t go into business. And what we have in America today is a real shortage of capital, a real severe shortage of capital and as a result of the fact that we have a shortage of capital, we have an abundance of labor and that’s called unemployment. If we had more capital, it would employ labor and an abundance of capital would lead to a scarcity of labor and higher wages. Now, that is a real fact and I haven’t heard anybody talk about that or say anything about that.
BILL MOYERS: Tony, what’s your response to that?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Well, I’m not prepared to argue the question of capital accumulation on this show. I think we would create some space for that type of debate in the future. I would hope, though, that the debate over jobs would be a broader debate. For instance, I mean, you have President Bush talking about job creation and you have Governor Clinton talking about fair trade with Mexico, we would retrain Americans who are displaced. Most Americans understand – retrain for what? I mean, the whole retraining dialogue is total nonsense. I came out of an era where we tackled the most aggravated crisis of dumping a whole host of people on the labor market at the end of World War II and we didn’t talk about retraining. We talked about, one, creating intellectual capital, which we did with the G.I. Bill of Rights. We redefined what work was and is. We knew we couldn’t provide jobs and the redefinition of work was you could go to the beach and that was work. You got two thirds of the average wage. We – the G.I. Bill of Rights was the most socially progressive piece of legislation conceived of and passed. We knew how to deal with the crisis. We created the capital.
BILL MOYERS: Where are those ideas now?
TED FORSTMANN: Tony, let me ask you a quick question. If, by waving a wand or by passing some legislation or doing something, you could get the economy growing at 4 or 5 percent a year, wouldn’t that solve many of the problems that we’re all sitting around here worrying about?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: That, again, is a debate. Look, a high-wage strategy is one that makes sense. Look at the Europeans. The Germans earn 45 percent more than we do. They work less hours than we do. We’re incredibly more productive than the Germans are. The whole concept of a social wage is not even discussed. “Family values” discussed in this campaign. A 12-week maternity leave without pay and then compared to European countries who have family leave all those countries have family leave with pay. You see, the context in which the debate takes place is extremely skewed.
BILL MOYERS: Why is that? Calvin?
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: The ideas are there. They’re out there. What it takes is an individual, which many of us thought Perot might be in terms of some of the things he said earlier – what it takes is an individual who’s willing to go out and get those ideas and then try to make them work. And it takes a different kind of forum, and I really don’t know what it is, in which those ideas can be discussed with the American people. Now, we would like to believe that it’s – the various forms – the various mediums that we have out here, television, newspaper, whatever, but somehow the formats just don’t allow for it. There’s never enough time or they’re extremely boring. The American public is used to thinking very fast. So how do you get-
BILL MOYERS: But the other night-
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: -these complex ideas to people who go to sleep at night, because they’ve worked all day, reading the newspaper?
BILL MOYERS: But Calvin, the other night Ross Perot bought 30 minutes of time and got the second-highest audience on the network that night.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: And a lot of people in my community appreciated him doing that.
BILL MOYERS: And then, instead of running a new show the next time, he bought another half hour, ran the same show, discussing economics and got more viewers than were watching the play-offs.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: And that may be something that we’ve learned.
BILL MOYERS: So why-
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: Or he’s learned.
BILL MOYERS:Sherrie, youíve been on both sides of this. Why can’t we get this kind of discussion? Why can’t people tell the truth? Why can’t-
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: And again, he’s willing to spend his own money.
BILL MOYERS: Well-
SHERRIE ROLLINS: Well, I do think that the Ross Perot infomercial or commercial, whatever you call it, did show that I think we’ve underestimated people’s interest level and their ability to sit and listen and to want to learn. I think for many people that was sort of their first economics lesson and I watched it and was spellbound and I went – you know, turned it on completely expecting to think it was ridiculous and I didn’t at all. I thought it was very effective. It’s a powerful message and one that needs to be told and I think people recognize that.
BILL MOYERS: If you could even get Forstmann and Mazzocchi up there on-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Although I’ve got to say, you know, granted, we’ve got a poll which says that the American people are 20 percent more likely to be information-seeking this year than they were in the past and the viewership for the first debate is higher than it was in 1988 – those are good signs – but what Ross Perot did in the half hour wasn’t present a coherent one-half-hour argument that laid out philosophical premises that accounted for the problem. He presented 30 commercials in little segments that were bracketed by such statements as “Oops” and “The Dead Farmer.”
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: It was political Sesame Street, but that’s what it takes to get to the American public. They’re not going to sit there and listen to this unfolding for an hour and a half. [crosstalk]
RON SILVER: That’s a profound disrespect for the American people to say, ”You know, it’s simplistic and we all are more sophisticated than that, but if that’s what it takes” – because that’s why we get debates like we do because they are trained to say, ”We really can’t discuss the issues and we really – we have to phrase it in a way and get a bite.”
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I’m telling you-
RON SILVER: No, I’m talking about Perot.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: – what do people look at every day on television and what they see and how they think.
RON SILVER: You know, James Thurber said, ”You can fool too many of the people too much of the time” and Ross Perot is a perfect example of that. This is a man who owns the company and makes decisions by himself and when he doesn’t like things, he fires people. You don’t run America like that. It can’t be run like that.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: Oh, I don’t disagree, but that’s a-
TED FORSTMANN: Ron, I think Reverend Butts was making a much bigger point than that. He really wasn’t talking pro-Perot, anti-Perot or anything. What he was saying is that the methods aren’t with us today and I have an idea and I think maybe you do, too, that one of the reasons for that – I mean, how long have we had professional politicians? Have you ever stopped to think of that? How long have we had them? How long have we had, with all deference here, you know handlers and armies of lobbyists and all this. How long have we had this system kind of in place? I think the system doesn’t serve us very well.
BILL MOYERS: I read Richard Kramer’s book about the road to the White House in 1988. It’s 1,300 pages long, but when you read that – I didn’t read it all, but I read enough. He has a high esteem of the men who ran for the presidency in 1988, Bush and Dukakis and Hart and the others. He said that they’re really decent people. But somehow the system does stifle, it does distort, it does frustrate good men and women. Now, what would you do to change the system? One thing. We’ll ask each of you. One thing.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: I think if you – unfortunately, to get elected – there are people that advise you tactically what to do to get elected and there are certain messages that the American – that political – are not political and they are often messages that deal with taxes, which deal with different, very difficult issues that may not be palatable politically, but they are realistically things that you’re going to have to deal with in order to govern. And I think unfortunately the political process in getting elected, you know, tends to box candidates in because we – if neither side is willing to address and, as Perot has done to a certain degree, address difficult issues and say, “It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to sacrifice” – no one wants to talk about Social Security or entitlements because it’s a death nail [sic] politically. That’s what I would change. I would – I would wipe all that out so that you were totally – you were able to put all that out.
But one point I was going to make that’s a little off the track, but when you’re talking about how you communicate this to the American public – if you look at the medium which candidates use – and it’s interesting of late because there have been more interviews on Larry King than anything else and there’s been some criticism of that, that it’s not really a tough interview or what have you, that it’s more entertainment than journalism – I’m not saying that, but I’m just saying there’s been criticism both ways – but when you – if I am advising the President or any candidate and I want to put him in a position where I think he has the best opportunity to get his view across, but is not beaten up in the process, you end up where people are advising their candidate or the President or whoever, “We don’t want to do this interview because they’re going to be too rough on you. We no longer want to do this particular forum because it’s not fair to you”
BILL MOYERS: They will refuse to go on some programs.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: Right.
BILL MOYERS: They will refuse to go on Good Morning America if they’re going to be asked about Iran-contra.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: Well, and I’ve been there. There are certain situations that you don’t think are fair and you don’t think give your candidate the best opportunity. But unfortunately that creates a problem in itself.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You know, there is some irony because earlier we mentioned that, you know, Franklin Roosevelt had the courage, you know, to put forward his proposals, take them to the American people, but we forget he didn’t do that in his campaign. In fact, in his campaign he was going to be the one who was going to balance the budget and he wasn’t going to engage in deficit spending. In fact, when you go back and read the discourse of that campaign, you’d say by comparison this has been a very substantive year. We actually do have a revolution about to take place in health care if either of the two major party candidates is elected. And so what I think we’ve done is create a system in which we may in fact be hoping that we elect someone who is so good that they become an FDR once they become president with a very flawed system that doesn’t let us get enough evidence beforehand to really know if the gamble is worth it.
TED FORSTMANN: I was just struck – if I could just jump – I think it was Admiral Stockdale who said that – I think it was – who said, “You have two young men who have been at this for 20 years.” They’re not very old, either of those guys and they’ve kind of been at this for almost their whole adult life. And I – you make that in contradistinction to a Ross Perot who – Ron, whatever his personal failings are. Here’s a guy who does not need the job and, you know, perhaps that’s what we need, somebody who doesn’t – who hasn’t been at it since he was 16 or 18 years old, somebody who doesn’t need the job and who therefore can be a real leader. I just want to say one other thing. I kind of was – have been in Washington a bunch talking to some of the people in the current administration over the last four years about what I thought they ought to do in economic policy, very little of which ever got done. And the reason was that – given me was, ‘We can’t win.” And I would say, ”What difference does it make whether you” – first of all, you’ve got to define “winning,” but what difference does it make whether you win or not? How about leading?
BILL MOYERS: Can’t do anything about what you want to do unless you’re in office. A statesman has to be politician first. That’s the argument.
TED FORSTMANN: Right, but they were in office and they agreed with some of the things that I thought they should be proposing and they said, “We’ll never get this through Congress” and my idea of leadership is not to stop there but to go ahead and make the case, try and get it through and let the people decide and maybe they’d come around and get you the next time.
BILL MOYERS: Why don’t they lead? Tony?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Well, you know, the analogy of Roosevelt was a balanced budget, conservative program. People were voting against Hoover, but there was movements out there and there were people establishing new parameters for a debate that was taking place. You had Huey Long, Share the Wealth, you even had Coughlin in his early days mobilizing. We had an emergent, vibrant trade union movement that was creating a new political cadence where issues had to get discussed. The Depression was real. That was the reality of people’s lives. The President changed. And remember, 1938 he balanced the budget again and the country went downhill into a depression. And then we had some imaginative thinking about conversion.
BILL MOYERS: Well, where are those forces today outside the
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Well, we had to create those forces.
BILL MOYERS: That’s why you’re for a third party, right?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: That deals with issues. First of all, Americans have historical amnesia and debates like this feed it. There was a time in our history when we wanted to get productivity up during the war, right? Kaiser shipyards. It took 365 days to build a ship. We provided child care for the women building those ships. We were building a ship a day. We went from taking 365 days to build a ship to building a ship a day. All those lessons have been discarded – you know, the social concepts that need to be put into effect. We have to revisit our own history when we were successful. We need a new movement out there. In our union, we polled our people over four years. We’ve polled other trade unionists who are fairly representative of the American people. For four years our polls have been showing 58 percent of the respondents reject either political party. Fifty-five percent of the folks call for a new political party and that’s why the Perot phenomenon was successful. We weren’t surprised by those recent polls that showed 58 percent of the people rejecting both political parties. Our people have been saying this. And the American people-
BILL MOYERS: Well, what will it take, then, if you – is it going to take the collapse of our present two-party system and are we approaching that?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: It’s collapsed. It has collapsed. You have – I think what you saw in this campaign – Perot was just a manifestation of this desire. He didn’t live up to the expectation. But you will see, I believe, new party formations.
RON SILVER: Tony, I think you alluded to something that Kathleen was talking about before and I think you were talking somewhat around this, that when the economy is so bad, people start thinking with their minds and they start paying attention to more substantive issues. They start relating what people are talking about to their jobs, their health, their children, their lives and the appeals to the heart are not as strong in those cases so patriotism, the flag – and that’s why this display which, to my way of thinking, of Astrodome Republicanism this August was disgraceful when you had those four nights of cultural cleansing and religious war night and this and that. I don’t think they had the effect the Republicans thought they might have because people are hurting out there and it’s not analogous to 1932 or 6.
BILL MOYERS: But let me come back to where Tony had left us on this issue of – are the two parties nearing a state of collapse from which something rises from the ashes?
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: I had hoped so initially. We went with Perot. I had hoped that Perot would break the back of the traditional two-party system and I had hoped that out of that would come something uniquely different that would not be so drawn and torn between so many different aspects of different interests in the country, but one that would be concerned more about putting the country back on track economically, which also affects us in terms of racial issues and a number of other things. It didn’t happen, but interestingly enough, before Perot, at least in the African-American community, there was the desire to see the rise of something different with Jesse Jackson, but Jesse refused to do it and stuck with the Democrats, which is what completely has destroyed much of his credibility today. People begged him to walk away from the Democratic Party and start some kind of new movement that would give us an alternative instead of being embarrassed, as he was, with Bill Clinton. And so therefore there is a desire not only among whites, but among blacks, among a large portion of the American population to see something different. I’m told that the largest political party is made up of those who are unregistered and those who don’t vote-and who don’t vote.
BILL MOYERS: Would money follow the start of a new party, Ted?
TED FORSTMANN: I bet. But I want to just – yeah, because I think people feel unrepresented. I don’t think we should put all this off on the presidential candidates or the vice presidential candidates. 1they feel fundamentally unrepresented. You can’t – you know, term limits are kind of a – I noticed that everywhere those are up, they’re going to be approved. I say, “Thank God.” You know, you can’t get rid of these people and we have now a ruling elite and it’s made up of politicians of both parties and the handlers and the lobbyists and the lawyers and the media people who follow it. It’s a big industry. And we haven’t always had that. I don’t think it serves us at all.
RON SILVER: Can I ask a question? We keep talking about “the people” around this table. What people are we talking about? Ted, if you’re not part of the power elite and if Tony, you’re the head of a union – we’re all doing fairly well here. Our interests are represented. I would say perhaps the Reverend Butts and many members of his congregation, people in the inner city, people with very little access to money and traditional sources of power are unrepresented, or certainly underrepresented. What – who are the people that we’re talking about here?
TED FORSTMANN: I am talking about ordinary Americans of all types and all colors and all religious backgrounds are fundamentally unrepresented. That’s what I’m talking about.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: I think that goes across the board. You know, in our church and in our community, we have a cross section of people who are well-to-do and people who are not so well-to-do. But the point is that people just have this sense of utter hopelessness about this process and they want to see it broken open, or at least – maybe it is explained, educated, but not in the deep, intricate way that seems to have been suggested earlier because I just don’t think that the American public has the patience for that.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You know, a number of organizations took out an ad midway through this general election process and appealed to the major party candidates to hold a presidential debate just on health care and I was hoping that the presidential candidates would accept because if in 90 minutes you said we’re only talking about health care, you couldn’t deflect away from the topic and we would – we would, I think, begin to answer some questions about what I see as a very important difference this year and also a very important similarity. For the first time, we’re actually talking about what to do about 37 million not powerful elite individuals, individuals without health insurance who, as a result, have some real problems getting access to a system that lets them survive.
BILL MOYERS: That would be my one suggestion. I would not – I would have Congress require that before a presidential candidate can take public funds from the treasury, the check-off, he or she would have to agree to a debate every Sunday night between Labor Day and the election. [crosstalk] On specific topics.
RON SILVER: There was a proposal from the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center. There was a proposal called “Nine Sundays”-
BILL MOYERS: The two parties don’t want it. [crosstalk]
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: That doesn’t always address the questions that we’re grappling with. Look, health care is a classic. The debate’s been narrowed by the powers that be. The health care providers have a classic situation. It’s no-lose. That debate’s left out an important ingredient. It’s a classic case why you need a new entity-
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Well, the health care debate is a debate that favors the insurance industry and I don’t believe addresses the problems of the American people.
BILL MOYERS: On both sides?
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: On both sides.
BILL MOYERS: From the Republican and the Democratic-
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Because there’s another major proposal out there that many of us think addresses coherently and universally the health care question. We’d like to see it debated.
BILL MOYERS: And that is?
RON SILVER: Single payer.
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Single payer, the Canadian plan that most American people are for, but at least it should be debated. That’s a nonissue in this campaign. That’s why a number of us propose a new political party. Forget candidates. Candidates will take care of themselves. We want a political party that frames the issues that any candidate cannot escape. Candidates escape issues now in discussion because everything is so narrowly framed. Just go over that debate tonight, where nothing tangible and relevant to the concerns of the American people really were handled in any meaningful way.
BILL MOYERS: Sherrie, were you disappointed in that debate tonight?
SHERRIE ROLLINS: I thought the format of the debate was better in that you had a chance for real discussion, but I agree, I think at times it went too far and therefore you didn’t get out of it what you had hoped you would. I thought Hal Bruno had the toughest job of anyone. But I think it was better than the presidential debate. I mean, I think it if the presidential debate, if you had the chance to respond rather than just answer one question – and there were – there was a chance for response, but not where you really took someone on and debated something back and forth.
BILL MOYERS: What else has been left out of these debates that you’d like to see?
TED FORSTMANN: I’m struck by something that, again, Mr. Perot said that I heard him say, that the process for picking a lawyer in America seems to make sense. The process for picking a doctor seems to make sense. The process for picking a president, he said, was the most irrelevant, nutty thing that he – and, you know, I kind of agree. I have a friend who’s a Congressman retiring, a very smart young man, and I watched him on Crossfire one night and he – you know, he was asked a question about the economy, very kind of cut and dried. He answered the – and the questioner said, ”You’re lying.” And, I mean, you know, none of us talk – here we are, nobody’s said anything remotely like that.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But you heard it tonight in the debate on a number of occasions.
TED FORSTMANN: Oh, it’s just the-
BILL MOYERS: When Dan Quayle kept saying Bill Clinton will not
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Tell you the truth.
BILL MOYERS: -tell the truth.
TED FORSTMANN: The level – it’s-
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: I think those debates are just to reinforce the – I don’t think anyone-
BILL MOYERS: Reinforce their?
SHERRIE ROLLINS: It’s – reinforcing your own constituency, for the most part. I don’t think either the presidential debate or the vice presidential debate changed any opinions. I think it only reinforced.
BILL MOYERS: But it kept out ideas such as Tony was saying on a third way, on health care and other things.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And on energy and we have not had a serious discussion about foreign policy and we have yet to layout an educational alternative that actually addresses the problems that we face.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: I think we ought to have a much more serious discussion about race in this country. I haven’t heard a deep discussion about the racial division in this nation that threatens really to hurt it as much as anything else. And I think that all three of these gentlemen who are running for president have avoided it with niceties and generalities. But when we take a look at Rodney King, when we take a look at what’s happening in the urban centers, I don’t think that they’ve embraced it. And to embrace that with a very clear discussion would certainly send a message to America, black and white.
BILL MOYERS: Would you give one whole debate to the subject of race?
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: Yes, I would.
BILL MOYERS: What else?
RON SILVER: No, I wasn’t going to say that. What we’ve left out of this discussion is, regardless of how substantive the issues are that are discussed, will the people pay attention? And if they will not, why? And to leave out the role of the media and to leave out the role of television – I have – I was with Governor Clinton yesterday in Philadelphia and in Wilmington and I was out in New Jersey today. I’ve been there with the cameras there. You’ve been there many more times than I have and you know that they can talk an hour and a half on education policy and you’re going to see 20 seconds, maybe 20 seconds, on the local and the national news that are going to pick out the most theatrical thing.
BILL MOYERS: But how would you change that? You’re dealing with corporations that run profit-making organizations and they decide what goes on the air.
RON SILVER: Yeah. I don’t know. I would say, in answer to a question you asked before, free TV time and real campaign finance reform and now is not the time to try to get into that, but I think those two things would make a major difference in the way – until 1952, politics wasn’t part of television and then you had that first convention, I guess, in ’52 and then TV advertising started and that’s when the money really shot up in campaigns, for TV.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But ’52 and ’56 are really instructive, as is 1960, because it is only recently that we’ve reduced most communication to short form. The problem right now is we’re expecting debates in a two-minute, one-minute format to carry the burden of laying out substance. In that format you’re going to get sound bites and you’re going to get advertising, which is why they all sound so canned, except for Admiral Stockdale. In 1952 and ’56, we heard speeches from both candidates and they actually did engage each other, as a result, because they were focused. I think we need a broader menu of discourse that has speeches and has debates and has press conferences and then ads just digest the substance.
BILL MOYERS: But this isn’t going to come unless it comes up, as Tony was saying-
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: -from-
ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI: You know, I thought we-the purpose of part of our discussion is, “Is democracy served by debates and”-I would propose not because what the debate has people assume that you’re going to see candidates debate issues. And that’s not what happens and it’s more entertainment and a show – and I think tonight can be best characterized as a bad show – and that what is needed is a different context, a different entity out there who can frame these issues and create a new political cadence that the population marches to year in, year out so we’re equipped to handle candidates in a campaign and not allow them to be frivolous with subject matter, not allow them to evade the issues.
BILL MOYERS: What is needed is more time. We have about 20 seconds.
SHERRIE ROLLINS: But I was going to say -Kathleen mentioned this earlier -the media does play a role. To immediately all ask who won the debate, which may be irrelevant as far as the issues, and to ask immediately the polling, to come back with polls of who felt who won, who was most presidential, really doesn’t serve us.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: We may be watching the death of democracy in all of this because I’m not sure that we can continue in this way and hold the fabric of this society together.
BILL MOYERS: On that hopeful note – thank you, Calvin Butts – we’ll close this discussion, wishing for more time. Thank you, Sherrie, Calvin, Ted, Tony, Ron, and Kathleen. I’ll see you next time.
I’m Bill Moyers and thanks to you for listening to America.
You can view more about the Listening To America series on this website.
This transcript was entered on April 7, 2015.