With some of the deadliest fighting yet in Najaf and the cost of the war at $128 billion and growing, Iraq remained the flagship issue in the final stretch of the 2004 presidential campaign. If, as some polls suggested, Americans were losing patience with the war, NOW With Bill Moyers considers the consequences for November. Bill Moyers gets the insight of author and political analyst Kevin Phillips. Phillips was the chief political strategist for Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 and wrote the bombshell book EMERGING REPUBLICAN MAJORITY, as well as WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY: A POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN RICH looks at how big money and political power are the invisible hand in the hidden story of the American experience.
Then, as the parties’ political machines cranked out ads, both campaigns were crying foul. But with the most polarized electorate in recent memory, were these ads changing the way Americans think about Bush and Kerry? David Brancaccio asks Kathleen Hall Jamieson, one of the nation’s most respected media and political analysts. Jamieson is director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and author of EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT POLITICS… AND WHY YOU’RE WRONG.
From devout capitalist to crusader for America’s workers, CNN’s Lou Dobbs has been transformed. “It’s as if whatever made Linda Blair’s head spin around in ‘The Exorcist’ had invaded the body of Lou Dobbs,” wrote THE WALL STREET JOURNAL about his opinions on exporting American jobs and his calls for a balanced US trade policy. Bill Moyers sits down with Dobbs for a candid look at what’s behind this change of heart of one of the most respected names in financial news reporting. You can access the original web page for this program at the archived NOW With Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.
It’s been a virtual drought of coverage of what’s happening in Iraq, except around Najaf. Instead, it’s been Olympic fever, a peek into Governor McGreevey’s closet, endless coverage of Scott Petersen’s love life, Kobe Bryant’s trial, and then more Scott Petersen.
Craig Kilborn put it this way the other night on his late night show on CBS, referring to the recent media frenzy over almost-celebrity Paris Hilton and her little dog, too.
KILBORN: Ladies and gentlemen, Paris Hilton lost her pet Chihuahua, then found her again. Thank goodness we can get back to focusing on that Iraq thing now.
MOYERS: Funny line…but no joke, our President’s war in Iraq. American casualties are approaching one thousand; more died last month than the month before.
It’s dangerous for everyone there, journalists included. Some brave reporters keep daring the odds and in our first report you’ll hear from one of them, just back from his recent tour of Iraq. NOW’s Candice Waldron produced this view of events there. Michele Mitchell has the story.
MITCHELL: For the past two months, American soldiers in Iraq have been dying at a rate of almost two a day.
Most have fallen here, in and around the western provinces of Anbar and Najaf, fighting the guerrillas of Moktada al-Sadr’s insurgent Mahdi army.
A few months ago, Fallujah was all the headlines. This month, Najaf is getting most of the attention, even as control for Iraq is up for grabs all over the country.
In the northern city of Mosul, the Stryker brigade of the 23rd infantry reports the heaviest fighting in its nine months in Iraq. In the slums of Sadr City, Oregon National Guardsmen write home that the rocket and grenade attacks on their positions are increasing. In Nasiriyah, the Iraqi governor negotiates a cease-fire for Italian troops under attack in the city, while in Baghdad itself, a mortar attack near a police station kills seven civilians and wounds more than thirty.
The insurgents aren’t strong enough to defeat the coalition militarily, but that may not be necessary in a war like this.
PARENTI: The U.S. has essentially lost Iraq, and it’s a matter of time only before the U.S. has to leave the place in ruins.
MITCHELL: Christian Parenti has spent the better part of this year in Iraq, reporting on the war for THE NATION magazine. He’s one of the few American journalists to go beyond the battle lines, to places like Baquba, to report on the occupation itself.
PARENTI: We had to circumvent some U.S. patrols and get in and then got shot at by U.S. soldiers and then found this sheik, a religious scholar who is very pro-resistance. And I asked him, “Why are you supporting the resistance?” And he said, “Look around. Everything is broken. It’s been over a year. And nothing has changed. No one has any work. There’s not enough electricity. There’s not enough water.” You know? We’re furious. This has to stop.
MITCHELL: Forget what you’ve heard about America’s enemies being limited to foreign fighters, Shiite militiamen, or holdouts from the old regime. Parenti says ordinary civilians are disillusioned by the continuing chaos of daily life.
PARENTI: The occupation hasn’t done anything good for people in an economic sense. And they want basic things like clean water and the lights on again. And if they don’t get it, they’re incandescent with rage and, you know, 15 months into it, ready to kill American soldiers.
MITCHELL: A lot of people might say, “Look, I read the news. There’s a lot of sabotage going on. These people are blowing up their own infrastructure. It’s not the fault of the United States that this infrastructure hasn’t been put in place. It’s the Iraqis’.”
PARENTI: Well, if all of the damage was caused by sabotage, then that would be true. But that’s not the case. The basic infrastructure of water, power and sanitation is in utter dilapidation throughout most of Iraq.
MITCHELL: In Baghdad, the capital, seven water treatment plants, several power stations and most of the sewage treatment facilities still aren’t working and there’s not much to show from the American firms that were hired to repair them.
PARENTI: For over a year, Baghdad has been dumping raw sewage into the Tigris River which millions of people downstream drink from. So, there’s an explosion in gastrointestinal illnesses and diseases which the dilapidated health care system can’t handle and puts that much more pressure on the hospitals.
But every hospital I visited didn’t have enough medicine, had troubles with sewage backing up. The main hospital in Sadr City has to get clean water from tanker trucks that a German NGO delivers to them.
MITCHELL: There are good reasons, the American contractors say, for the slow pace of reconstruction. Security concerns and difficulties in getting parts have delayed them.
But the Iraqis who know these plants say their expertise is being ignored. Meanwhile, a new government audit says that at least eight billion dollars in reconstruction money has simply gone missing. And what about the other billions of dollars already paid out to contractors to rebuild the country?
PARENTI: The U.S. has allocated, depending how you count it, up to $24 billion for reconstruction, most of which hasn’t been spent. They had a year to spend the money. They had a year to invest. And instead, they chose not to.
MITCHELL: For example, Parenti reports that in June, the military had to take on a job that the contractor Bechtel had already been paid to do: the repair of a critical Baghdad water plant.
PARENTI: The managers said that they had made big promises. But they had never delivered anything. And that finally in the last month, in June, the Army of Corps of Engineers began to help out. And that was the first real kind of material aid he’d seen from the U.S. institutions.
MITCHELL: So U.S. taxpayers paid twice?
PARENTI: They pay once to Bechtel for the job not to be done and then again to the U.S. military for the job to be done by a force that is stretched thin, being shot at constantly and is not properly equipped, doesn’t in fact have enough money to do all that many of the local commanders on the ground would really like to do.
MITCHELL: The fog of war gets even thicker. Bechtel told us they’ve never committed to repair that plant as part of their contract, and the Army Corps of Engineers say they’ve never heard of it.
Meanwhile, the Web site CostofWar.com now estimates the taxpayers bill for Iraq at $128 billion and growing. Iraq is the trump card in this final stretch of the presidential campaign. President Bush touts his leadership skills; John Kerry his experience in combat.
And while resentment continues to grow among Iraqis, support for the war at home is falling. In December 2003, sixty-four percent of Americans supported the war, thirty-four percent opposed. Now, the public is evenly divided.
MOYERS: It happened in Vietnam 30 years ago. The casualties and chaos there chipped away at public support for the war. This week the Pew Research Center says the 2004 election could be the first since the Vietnam era in which foreign affairs and national security issues are a higher priority than the economy.
Kevin Phillips’ experience spans then and now. As a young but influential presence in the Nixon camp, he helped bring Republicans to power in 1968 when America was polarized over Vietnam. He’s been a fixture ever since, as the author of best-selling books and an independent commentator. This season he’s a resident analyst on NOW. Welcome back.
PHILLIPS: My pleasure.
MOYERS: At the end of the first Gulf War, the first President Bush said we, quote, “have buried Vietnam in the sands of the Arabian Peninsula.” But now as you saw increasing numbers of Americans are beginning to say that Iraq, like Vietnam, is not worth the cost.
PHILLIPS: Well, I think that’s absolutely true. And one of the other parallels is that more and more conservatives and Republicans are saying this was a mistake. And they’re beginning to see it an increasingly negative light, as an unwinnable war, as something we never should have gone into. And I think it’s very likely that it’s gonna play, if not the dominant role in the election, a very major role.
And the great Achilles heel of the Bush Administration is that this is really a two-decade involvement in Iraq that has two Bush names written all over it. It started with the build-up of Iraq under the Reagan-Bush Administration, very much led by George Bush, Sr. as Vice President.
And now it’s back in full force. And what we really have is the resurrection of the whole weakness of the United States that was writ large in Vietnam has been brought back to this country by two generations of failed Bush war policy.
MOYERS: It’s uncanny that no one in this administration seems to be able to explain what is going on. Not Bush. Not Cheney. Not Rumsfeld. Not Powell. Not Condoleezza Rice. What we’re hearing are in their speeches, banalities and bromides.
PHILLIPS: Yes. But unfortunately, we’re hearing pretty much the same thing from the Democrats. John Kerry doesn’t have much to say about this at all. And when he does have something to say, it’s sort of, “Yes, but—” or, “I would have voted for this.” Or, “I would have voted for that.” You can’t be leader and not come to grips with this massive failure over two presidencies of the same family.
MOYERS: But, as you say, Kerry has failed to distinguish himself from Bush’s policies on the war. Yet he leads a party whose activists are against the war. Nine out of ten of his supporters, according to that poll I just quoted, say the war was a mistake. And yet while that poll shows rising doubts about Bush’s conduct of the war, they also show that Kerry has not made the sale. That people are no more likely to have confidence in him on Iraq than they are in George Bush.
PHILLIPS: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. The only reason I would say is you might have a little more confidence in him is they would at least start with something of a clean slate and not see the failures that we’ve seen writ so large over the last year. But in terms of Kerry’s willingness to grapple with this issue as a serious one where you can talk seriously to the American people about what’s gone wrong, he fails that test of leadership.
MOYERS: Has he—
PHILLIPS: He has not done that.
MOYERS: Has he thrown away his trump card? Because this was the issue that gave rise to the opposition to Bush last year.
PHILLIPS: I would say he hasn’t thrown away his trump card so much as he hasn’t realized what’s trump. And now that he knows that the suit is gonna be Iraq and national security, he better get back in the ballgame. Because all this straddling and not wanting to say anything and saying how we voted on this time and that didn’t vote, it’s all a joke.
MOYERS: Amazing that—
PHILLIPS: You can’t make that criticism.
MOYERS: —President Bush got away with accusing John Kerry of being nuanced, as if that’s some kind of French temperament.
PHILLIPS: Well, nuancing is something that George Bush one time said he just doesn’t do it. And he just doesn’t do it. When a war’s falling apart, he doesn’t see the nuance of having never understood it. He just says, “You know, fight them some more because we’re the good guys.” We’re under the right flag and it substitutes for brains.
MOYERS: Helen Thomas, the long-time White House correspondent, likes to tell the story of that famous Paul Conrad cartoon back in 1964 when a pollster knocks on the door and a lady sticks her head out the window. And he says, “I’m after your voter preference. President Johnson or Senator Barry Goldwater?” And she looks at him and says, “Who else you got?”
I mean, in the real world, though, we got Bush and Kerry. If the issue comes down to Iraq, who comes out ahead: Bush or Kerry?
PHILLIPS: You know, I really hate to say because I think part of what we have to see is how the revisited Vietnam issue comes out. Because we’ve traced Iraq back now to Vietnam and whipping the Vietnam Syndrome which wasn’t achieved. And what we’ve got is a re-fight of Vietnam coming up.
MOYERS: Yeah. All over again.
PHILLIPS: All over again. And this time I would say I cannot see how you can judge these two people by anything other, at least in a very significant way, than how they deal with what they were doing during this period. And we have John Kerry, I think he was a bit of a medal-hunter over there.
I think some of those Purple Hearts were for some pretty inconsequential injuries. But I know who wasn’t there. I know who took the circumstance of his daddy got him a nice little slot. And he was AWOL. And maybe if George W. Bush had taken some time to attend to his military duties, he would have taken a course on strategy. But if they wanna fight it out on this, maybe we need the catharsis of it.
MOYERS: Kerry got a lukewarm reception when he spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars earlier this week. Some of them apparently have never forgiven him for his antiwar activity when he got back from Vietnam. And those Swift Boat ads that everybody’s talking about this week, attacking Kerry’s record in Vietnam seem to be getting through.
PHILLIPS: I think they are getting through. I think to some extent they deserve to get through because he’s been so mealy-mouthed about his different positions that people figure I think that he’s covering up. That the whole hero pose is just bravado and propaganda. And I think he has to meet them squarely, start talking about what happened all those years ago, both to him and to George W. Bush, who said during that period he was young and irresponsible when he was young and irresponsible. How irresponsible?
If Kerry’s gonna be judged for 1966 and for 1970, what was George W. Bush doing? That’s all back on the table. So let them fight it out. We’ll see who’s the leader, who’s tough, who can convince the American people that they’re the man to make the hard decisions, not the easy mushy speeches.
The NEW YORK TIMES has a front page story this morning about the Swift Boat ads. And it ties them directly to, quote, “a web of connections to the Bush family, high profile Texas political figures and President Bush’s chief political aide, Karl Rove,” the same sort of people you write about in your new book AMERICAN DYNASTY.
I’m afraid that’s true. It’s very clear that some of the same crowd that was involved in trying to scuttle John McCain in 2000, that handled ads back in 1998, there’s a kind of underground in the Texas Republican conservative movement because it’s not all just party. It’s also right-wing.
These are the names. These are no more independent of the Bush White House than, you know, the police in Moscow don’t work for Putin. I mean, this is a joke. The Democrats are faced with an enormous challenge here. They’ve got something that obviously involves an element of conspiracy to violate the election laws. I don’t know exactly what. Do they have the guts to pursue this? You—
MOYERS: Well, their hands were all over it, too. I mean, the 527s of George Soros—
MOYERS: —and Harold Ickes. I mean, they’re both in the game.
PHILLIPS: Exactly the question is whether the Democrats have the guts to pursue this knowing that their people have done some of the same things. But they’re not part of an old crowd that goes back 20, 30 years surrounding the candidate and his family. It’s the same way the Democrats wouldn’t really touch Enron ’cause, you know, some of the Democrats have been in there, too.
Well, there comes a time if you’re gonna be a leader you gotta bite the bullet. You’re gonna take a few hits because your side isn’t totally clean. But it’s the other crowd that have been in there in the garbage can hauling out the lemon rinds and the orange peels and throwing them. And this time, from what I read, you’ve got this Texas group. They can be tied to the Bush White House.
MOYERS: They play to win. Is Kerry tough enough to take them on?
PHILLIPS: You know, my reaction as somebody— we go back maybe to a tougher period of politics. But I look at the people who fought the Bushes the way the Bushes deserve to be fought. I’m talking about Republicans like Ross Perot and John McCain. When they ran, I mean, Ross Perot said that George Bush, Sr. gave Saddam Hussein the green light in Iraq.
John McCain accused the Bush’s of, you know, colluding with Bob Jones University and all of that sort of stuff. I’m waiting for a Democrat has the guts of the Republicans who fought the Bushes. If the Democrats don’t have that kind of guts, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves for losing elections.
MOYERS: It seems to me watching the race as a journalist that Kerry is waiting for a walk. He’s got— it’s the ninth inning, the bases are loaded and he thinks the other guy’s gonna put him on the base with balls.
PHILLIPS: Well, I’ve watched too many campaigns. The Nixon campaign back in 1968 and you remember, the last month, Nixon thought he was gonna have a walk in September after the Democratic Convention. So he didn’t really wanna say much of anything. And then it starts to come undone in October.
And he’s scrambling. And some of us wrote memos. But it just never came out. I don’t know why exactly. He was lucky he won by a couple of hundred thousand votes. And a lot of people do this. Thomas E. Dewey did it in 1948. He was a winner. He didn’t have to fight. So Truman, you know, kicked him in the slacks.
Kerry is not the man ahead here. What may be ahead in the guise of a candidacy is the old Republican methodology basically of getting out there and attacking and defining your opponent. And if he doesn’t understand that that methodology is right there in the control room this year, he can lose.
MOYERS: Let’s talk about the economy briefly. I brought a story that says, “New government data show that President Bush’s tax cuts have shifted the overall tax burden to the middle class from the wealthiest Americans— Wages are stagnant and the middle class is shouldering a larger tax burden,” and finally, “Three in five [of the new jobs] pay below the national median hourly wage.”
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. What we need is for the debate this year to develop a replacement for the old misery index. And I would think that a squeeze index is not the right description. But I would say oil and gasoline prices, the gap between the middle-class and the rich, job loss, wage stagnation, the budget deficit, the trade deficit. Foreigners have to loan us the money to do all the stuff that we do so poorly.
And this is adding up to a weak economy. But the Democrats, again, they have no imagination. And they haven’t explained this in either hard-hitting ads or hard-hitting speeches. When are they gonna lead?
MOYERS: This is a discussion I look forward to continuing. See you next week.
PHILLIPS: I look forward to it, too.
BRANCACCIO: There’s more to come on NOW.
An icon of capitalism transformed into a fiery crusader out to save America’s middle class from big business and big government.
DOBBS: I want to hear one of these candidates sharply and clearly say this country is about the people who live in it.
BRANCACCIO: In the end as defined by November 2nd, Election Day, it’s all about how these ads fighting the Vietnam War all over again are processed in the minds of voters.
It’s the voter that has to grapple with these ads and other forms of political communication flying about in this little gap between the Democratic and Republic conventions.
When the topic is political communication, you call Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She directs the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, you’ll see a list of her books and those of Kevin Phillips on our Web site. Her latest is THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF PARTY POLITICS. She’s a frequent guest up here at the desk with us on NOW.
JAMIESON: Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: The controversy over the war time records of both the President and Senator Kerry. We need to actually probably delve into this. And so let’s actually take a look at the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Ad that really sparked the current controversy.
VAN ODELL: John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star. I know. I was there. I saw what happened.
JACK CHENOWETH: His account of what happened and what actually happened are the difference between night and day.
ROY HOFFMANN: John Kerry has not been honest.
ADRIAN LONSDALE: And he lacks the capacity to lead.
LARRY THURLOW: When the chips were down, you could not count on John Kerry.
BOB ELDER: John Kerry is no war hero.
GRANT HIBBARD: He betrayed all his ship mates. He lied before the Senate.
SHELTON WHITE: John Kerry betrayed the men and women he served with in Vietnam.
JOE PONDER: He dishonored this country. He most certainly did.
BRANCACCIO: Amazing how this works. It runs in just a couple of states. They pay a little more than half a million dollars for this ad flight. Yet most voters in America must have heard something about this.
JAMIESON: Today we released a survey, the National Annenberg Election Survey. Over 2,000 people surveyed from the time the ads started to air, and what we found was that over half of the people in the United States said that they’d either seen or heard about the ad. Now how can that be when this ad only aired in very limited numbers of places, three states only? You’re right about that.
And also, during that time, didn’t have a lot of airing in those markets. And so when people say they saw or heard it, they didn’t see it because it was paid for by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They saw or heard it because news and news-like talk and political talk radio and cable talk gave it a lot of free air time.
BRANCACCIO: But if we go even deeper, the question becomes, does it work for its intended purpose? People will have heard it, but a big time John Kerry supporter would watch this and probably reject a lot of its information. Someone who loves President Bush is going to embrace it anyway.
JAMIESON: The survey shows that if you’re a John Kerry supporter, you just raise all your skeptical flags and say I don’t buy this. If you’re a Bush supporter, you’re already disposed to believe it. And so you’re going to believe it.
The real question is what happens with those people who are on either side and haven’t yet made up their minds, the undecideds. What this kind of ad does when replayed extensively in news when not effectively countered on the other side, it increases the likelihood that doubts are raised among some in the audience.
BRANCACCIO: Now, an early response to this wasn’t for the Kerry Campaign directly, but from really a surrogate. The MoveOn PAC put this together, kind of a one-two punch.
NARRATOR: George Bush used his father to get into the National Guard, was grounded and then went missing. Now he’s allowing false advertising that attacks John Kerry, a man who asked to go to Vietnam and who served with dignity and heroism. Well, here’s what a true Republican war hero said, “I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable… I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad.” George Bush, take that ad off the air. MoveOn PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
JAMIESON: First, notice the effect that John McCain is having on the election. When you listen to news about whether the Swift Boat Ad ought to air, news is continuing to replay the question, “Should you take this ad down, Mr. President?” Reporters are asking that of White House spokespeople. Why?
Because when John McCain was asked about it, he called the ad dishonest and dishonorable and said it ought to be taken down. MoveOn.org’s ad is reprising that claim. But what’s happening in the news environment is that John McCain is becoming the kind of conscience of the race.
John McCain wanted this ad taken down, too. John Kerry asked that it be taken down. And it was. So the remaining question for the Bush campaign triggered by McCain is shouldn’t that ad be taken off the air, since Bush says that Kerry’s service was honorable and noble. Why wouldn’t he be comfortable taking the next step saying, “And if people say it is not, they shouldn’t be saying that.”
BRANCACCIO: It’s a tactic that you see repeated in some of these ads, which is the Democrats getting Republicans to endorse their point of view. You have this in the person that John Kerry saved all those years ago out in the waters of Vietnam. And John Kerry’s come out swinging. And there’s an ad of his own that’s just come out.
JOHN KERRY: I’m John Kerry and I approved this message.
NARRATOR: The people attacking John Kerry’s war record are funded by Bush’s big money supporters. Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved.
JIM RASSMANN: They blew me off the boat. All these Vietcong were shooting at me. I expected I’d be shot, when he pulled me out of the river. He risked his life to save mine.
NARRATOR: The Navy documented John Kerry’s heroism and awarded him the Bronze Star. Today he still has shrapnel in his leg from his wounds in Vietnam.
BRANCACCIO: How are voters supposed to process this conflicting information?
JAMIESON: Well, first during the early part of the two-week period these last two ads weren’t on the air. So when news, news talk, political talk, talked about them, the ads that got airing was that first Swift Boat ad. As a result, imbalance, basically advantage to the Swift Boat ad. What happens when people see these kinds of encounters?
When they see messages on both sides, the messages tend to neutralize each other. When there’s a message only on one side, not on the other, that’s when you’re likely to get attitude change. That’s also likely a time when un-rebutted information takes hold and is harder to dislodge.
BRANCACCIO: And normally we would chide the media for not trying to get to the bottom of these ads. What is the truth here? But I’ll tell you, in this Swift Boat case, that’s a toughy. I mean, people have tried. And the fact is the information from so many years ago is uneven, is sometimes contradictory. It’s hard for a newspaper or a broadcast like this to say, all right, here’s really what happened.
JAMIESON: THE WASHINGTON POST and NEW YORK TIMES have done a very good job at getting to what we can reasonably get to in the record. What interests me about it is that you have people on both sides who seem to genuinely believe conflicting accounts. And I think there’s an explanation for it.
We know that human memory is fallible. And anybody can go back in their own past and say, there are times when I was so sure this is what happened. And then I talked to other people who were there, and they didn’t remember it the same way. I don’t think that the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth had any idea who Kerry was when Kerry was on those boats.
He wasn’t Senator Kerry or President Kerry, he was just one more person on the boats. I think they went back and recalled their memories of Kerry when he came and protested the war. And I think they were very angry. They came back and thought they heard him accusing them of atrocities. I think this is the explanation for why it is that they believe that he must not have earned his medals even though the evidence would suggest that he did. In order to make their own internal story coherent about Vietnam, they have to somehow reconcile what they heard as an attack on them, what they heard as allegation of atrocities that they had committed, which is different actually I believe from what Kerry said.
But, nonetheless, what I believe they heard and the ads suggest what they heard. They had to reconcile that with Kerry the hero who earned the medals. I believe to make their own story consistent for themselves they believed he couldn’t have earned those medals. Hence, he was a liar then. He was a liar when he protested the war. He must be unfit to be president. I think this is an exploration in the process about human memory requires us to create a consistent story, particularly about people we intensely dislike.
BRANCACCIO: And now the Swift Boat Veterans have fired back. And they have this ad.
JOHN KERRY: They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads—
JOE PONDER: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.
BRANCACCIO: I mean this is Kerry being shown to critical of our armed forces all those years ago.
JAMIESON: This is out of context from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And there’s a certain inevitability about this now being the lead on this ad because for the last four months political talk radio has been taking segments of the testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee out of context.
The context is for these statements Kerry saying, in effect, and I’m paraphrasing that he heard at the Winter Soldier hearings people say to him that he’s reporting what other people have said to him. He is not making allegations about what he saw. And it is what they said happened.
He is not making a universal allegation about everybody who’s in Vietnam. This is going to take some very careful contextual journalism to go back and ask what was the context, play the entire thing and then let the American people make a judgment about what Kerry was saying.
BRANCACCIO: So as an antidote to swimming in all this campaign griminess, let’s take a bracing swim in an Olympic pool.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I’m George W. Bush, and I approved this message.
FEMALE VOICE: In 1972, there were 40 democracies in the world. Today, 120. Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. At this Olympics, there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes. The strength, resolve and courage of democracy will triumph over terror and hope will defeat hatred.
BRANCACCIO: I’ve seen it five times. I’m still getting choked up by this one.
JAMIESON: Very effective ad. One of the things that we know about advertising is that it draws strength from the context it’s placed in. Sometimes ads are placed in places the fight them. So an ad is dropped into a context that contradicts it.
But in this case, you have an ad placed in the context of Olympics. And Olympics make us feel good about being Americans. This ad is emotionally evocative. It reminds us of how proud we are in particular when our swimmers do well. When other people’s swimmers are there in this new nation we now assimilate all of our good feelings about the Olympics. And there’s a little bit of good feeling about the gymnasts one night and the swimmers one night.
And now you take those emotional feelings and they become attached to George Bush.
And when you’re feeling good about something and it’s attached to a President, you’re more likely to say, I think he’s doing a good job. I think the country’s better off. I think I feel good about being an American. And George Bush is part of the answer.
The Democrats really missed an opportunity by not having ads on the air assimilating those nice emotions to John Kerry’s candidacy. They’re trying to make it up now by getting one on the end of the week.
BRANCACCIO: That has family member of someone who unfortunately died on 9/11 talking about… has the Bush Administration… accusing the Bush Administration of squandering world good will toward America by its policies.
JAMIESON: And look at the mood that happens the ad essentially tries to remind people that things aren’t better. You now have an ad that says, ooh, feel uneasy in an environment which you’re trying to feel good. You want our folks to be doing well. That ad is more discrepant to that environment, it’s trying to break the Bush Olympic link. In the process, it may cause you some unease about people who are intruding on your wonderful experience of the Olympics.
BRANCACCIO: However, it’s nice to know that there are limits to some of this advertising. Let’s take a look at this one. This is from a primary, a Congressional primary in North Carolina. The person running for Congress is, name of Vernon Robinson. He counts himself as a prot—g— of Jesse Helms. And during the primaries he was running this one.
NARRATOR: For seven years Vernon Robinson sat in this chair and courageously fought the liberals. When Vernon said our unguarded Mexican border was a threat to national security, the liberals laughed. They’re not laughing anymore. This is Pakistani terrorist Kamran Akhtar. He got arrested videotaping targets in Charlotte, North Carolina. He came here illegally across our Mexican border.
VERNON ROBINSON: I’m Vernon Robinson, and I approved this message because ol’ Akhtar didn’t come here to live the American dream. He came here to kill you.
In Congress I will shut that border down.
BRANCACCIO: He came here to kill you. I will shut that border down. Does that work? This kind of advertising?
JAMIESON: This is the best news of the last month. Despicable ad, candidate lost.
BRANCACCIO: He lost pretty good?
BRANCACCIO: So there are limits. You can push this thing too far and there are now lines that we can then draw.
JAMIESON: But you’d hope that the line is a little closer to the center than that one. That one’s a really easy call as way out of bounds.
BRANCACCIO: Can you really, though, imagine a campaign where the ads that the candidates are buying are not negative? They’re just about issues. They’re just about the strength of their own candidate. That just seems utopian.
JAMIESON: I wouldn’t want a campaign in which there weren’t attack ads and which there wasn’t strong attack because it differentiates. What we should ask of campaigns is that they differentiate in an honest fashion, speaking to the issues in a way that increases the likelihood that people see the relevance of that campaign to governance that will follow.
And you can do that with honorable attack. We’ve done it in two campaigns in the past. The ’60 election and the ’80 election. Very different outcomes. Democrat one, Republican the other. Were both very good campaigns. Legitimate attack focused on issues and produced candidates who, as Presidents, were able to govern.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you very much.
JAMIESON: You’re welcome.
MOYERS: How is it that a winner of the Horatio Alger award and the Peabody award, a fixture of cable news, a founding member of CNN, a man touted for changing the landscape of business journalism, and who’s made a mint doing it— how could such a man wind up accused of being a communist, or worse, a raving populist, charged by the powerful Business Roundtable of conducting a jihad? What’s the fuss all about? Well, not God, not war, not sex. The hot-button issue is outsourcing — sending American jobs abroad — and the man with his finger on the button is the host and managing editor of CNN’s marquee business show, Lou Dobbs.
DOBBS: Good evening. President Bush today acknowledged that American jobs are being shipped to cheap labor markets overseas — what we call here the “exporting of America.”
MOYERS: For fifteen months in a row, Lou Dobbs has made outsourcing his number one beat — some say his obsession.
DOBBS: Corporate America has now outsourced hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world, most of them to India, China and the Philippines.
MOYERS: He’s been listening to workers whose jobs are disappearing, like this tech worker.
TECH WORKER: They say they only do the low-end grunt work. That’s not correct. They’re going after each and every job they can get.
MOYERS: And this auto worker.
AUTO WORKER: These are jobs that put kids through college, that pay the mortgages.
MOYERS: Lou Dobbs and his reporters are naming names.
DOBBS: General Motors today said it will export thirteen times as much white collar work in the coming year as it currently does.
REPORTER: Tyco used to call New Hampshire home. It moved to Bermuda in 1997.
REPORTER: Delta Airlines announced it is building new call centers in the Philippines and India.
MOYERS: They’re also pointing fingers at those they say are ganging up on American workers: business executives and Washington officials.
REPORTER: The Secretaries of Commerce and Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative all coming down in favor of offshoring.
MOYERS: Dobbs’ Web site lists hundreds of companies that have shifted jobs overseas. Among them, CNN’s parent company, TimeWarner.
Be warned, says Lou Dobbs, your job could be the next to go.
DOBBS: U.S. corporations are sending American jobs overseas at such a rapid rate that this country’s economy is facing a crisis of historic proportions.
MOYERS: All this from a lifelong Republican and avowed capitalist. Now there’s more: a new book: EXPORTING AMERICA: WHY CORPORATE GREED IS SHIPPING AMERICAN JOBS OVERSEAS.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
DOBBS: Bill, great to be with you. Thank you.
MOYERS: This book is more than an economic argument, it’s a political manifesto. Let me read you the opening paragraph. Quote, “The power of big business over our national life has never been greater. Never have there been fewer business leaders willing to commit to the national interest over the selfish interest, to the good of the company over that of the company’s they head.” Are you saying that these companies are unpatriotic for outsourcing jobs?
DOBBS: I’m saying not that they’re unpatriotic but they’re absolutely indifferent to the national interest, that they have given other interests primacy over the national interest. They’ve done so because, in my opinion, because of a cultural shift over the last three to four decades in this country. The absence of a countervailing influence, countervailing political influence to the power of corporate America. Lobbyists, think tanks, across the board, the power of corporate America is unparalleled in Washington DC.
MOYERS: It’s not just corporations that are outsourcing jobs though. I mean, in your own book you report 40 state governments, hospitals, even the non-profit Smithsonian Institution, sending jobs abroad looking for cheaper labor and for skilled workers.
DOBBS: And in each instance the enablers are corporate America. They are businesses whose business it is to kill American jobs and to ship those jobs overseas. This is insidious, it is spreading, it is absolutely dangerous in every respect.
MOYERS: I’m no economist. Made only a B in economics by sitting next to my wife who was very helpful to me. She made an A. But even I know that services are now so much a part of any advanced economy that it seems inevitable that some service jobs will go to where they can be performed more cheaply.
DOBBS: I think that’s right. And I think that international trade is a reality of our modern existence and it should be. I believe however that the idea that our middle class should be forced to compete on a price basis with those workers in an emerging market who are making in many cases cents while our workers are making $15 to $20 an hour is totally unfair.
We’re talking about not an economic judgment but a political judgment, a social judgment. What kind of country do we want? Do we want to destroy the middle class? Because if we do, let’s continue outsourcing jobs.
MOYERS: But the law of classic comparative advantage—
MOYERS: —has an effect and if a car if can be made more cheaply in Mexico that’s where it should be made. If our telephone bill can be processed more cheaply in India that’s where it should be sent.
DOBBS: Actually Ricardo did not suggest in any way—
MOYERS: The great economist.
DOBBS: The economist who is the father of the comparative and absolute advantage. He did not in any way suggest that you should have the middle class of any country competing with 30 million unemployed Chinese. He never dreamed about the portability of the factors of production, capital and labor, our knowledge base, our technological advantages, which are being exported and sent to these countries for no other reason than the fact that their labor is cheaper than ours. And the idea that we would put our labor force in competition with the labor force in the case of India that’s basically double our size, most of whom speak English, and work for about a tenth of our wages, is a political judgment. It is not an economic judgment.
MOYERS: A political judgment?
MOYERS: But libertarian economists like Lou Rockwell, who’s been on this show, says it’s government that’s driving these jobs overseas by their high taxation, by regulation, by the big cost of lawyers.
DOBBS: And I think there’s a good case to be made that regulation, tort law, healthcare adds about, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, about 22 percent to the cost of goods. So what? It’s part of the cost of a better life. That’s what this society is. We’re a democratic free enterprise society, unparalleled in our success.
Are we to absolutely turn back the clock on every achievement that we’ve made to improve the lives of our citizens in order for a U.S. multinational to get cheaper labor in Romania or the Philippines or India or China? I don’t think so.
MOYERS: But isn’t it an economic fact that people whose skills are obsolete or who don’t seek the requisite education and training will be left behind in the world’s changing markets? A world thatAdam Smith and David Ricardo never could imagine.
DOBBS: I think that that is probably a fair statement. But not necessarily relevant to outsourcing. They’re not sending those jobs overseas because the labor force in this country is not capable of conducting a business operation of actually doing those jobs. Not because they have an inferior education.
They’re doing so because they, the financial institution, can pay cents on the dollar for labor in India, or the Philippines, or Romania and have to pay a living wage that provides a meaningful improvement in the quality of life for an American employee. And that’s damnable to me. Do you remember through the 1980’s and the 1990’s when you heard corporate leaders and some of the best management consultants in the world talking about the empowerment of the employee. The importance of empowerment to provide the basis for innovation. The importance of having a happy, satisfied, educated, striving, aspirational employee in order to drive the successful corporation. That talk has disappeared.
Corporate America through its own devices over the course of the past decade has created an adversarial relationship between the employee and the corporate leaders. And that’s unfortunate. And so, yes, I think you not only can be sentimental, and I think there’s room for it, but in driving a business you have a responsibility to a variety of stakeholders.
You have a responsibility not only to your investors, you have a responsibility to the marketplace, you have a responsibility to your customers, to the community in which you work. You have a responsibility to the country that makes your business possible in the first place.
MOYERS: Heresy. Are you a traitor to your class? The investor class.
DOBBS: Well, I’m, you know, I think most of us are investors. And I hardly think I’m a traitor. I think it’s traitorous and treasonous and absolutely ignorant for these people to be out ballyhooing double-digit returns on equities when first we have to get our house in order in this country. And bring back integrity, principle, leadership to our business enterprises, to our markets. And try to do a lot better for the people who count. That is the middle class.
MOYERS: The powerful editorial page of THE ECONOMIST says Lou Dobbs has embarked on an anti-trade tirade. And that you greet each new announcement of outsourcing, like the one in the NEW YORK TIMES this morning, as akin to a terrorist assault.
DOBBS: Right. Well, the excess I assure you is not on my side. Those critics, whether it be THE ECONOMIST, a number of other writers, using language like that, it’s silly. And they’re not dealing with the arguments that I’m putting forward. The argument I’m putting forward is simple. Don’t put our middle class at risk by forcing only one element of our society and our economy to compete against the world. Particularly cheap foreign labor.
I’m not on a jihad. I’m trying simply to wake people up. Trying to point out that we deserve far better representation in Washington than we’re getting. And corporate America deserves somewhat less representation in Washington. Some proportion, some balance.
MOYERS: You say in your book that, quote, “Corporations have overwhelmed government in the borderless global economy.” How so?
DOBBS: They’ve overwhelmed it because they have had the maximum influence in lobbying, the creation of international trade agreements in the direction of this economy. The World Trade Organization and NAFTA, it now turns out, are really outsourcing agreements. They give corporate America an opportunity to move plant, production and yes, jobs, to Mexico, to any part of the world and ship back into this market.
MOYERS: But your book is somewhat pessimistic on this. Because as you say this didn’t just happen, this is the result of political decisions over the last quarter-century. And you say big business all but controls the knowledge base on which Congress usually makes decisions—
MOYERS: —affecting economics and business. And that corporate interests spend more money on lobbying than the federal government spends on the staff of Congress.
DOBBS: That’s right. We need a countervailing influence to corporate America. One time it was organized labor. Labor has been so weakened in this country by both the force of corporate America and also by its own missteps and misjudgments and weaknesses. We need to find a role for institutions that can provide a countervailing influence.
What concerns me deeply though is that academia, our universities, many of them who resisted funding by the CIA or the federal government in the ’60s and ’70s are more than quick to embrace those dollars from corporate America. Understandably they want the money. But the fact is we’re beholden at all cross purposes to corporate America. The independence of thought in this country, a countervailing influence is just not there.
MOYERS: Aren’t both parties, in effect, wholly-owned subsidiaries of the big corporate donors?
DOBBS: Absolutely. And to watch the hundreds of millions of dollars that have moved into this campaign, Bill, I know, has to make you sick as it does me. Because after McCain-Feingold it turns out there were one or two minor loopholes through which about a half billion dollars managed to move.
Yes, both parties are absolutely loathe to offend corporate America. They’re loathe to look out and say, “You know, we’re a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” because I don’t think the people, based on the reaction from my viewership, feel like they’re being adequately represented.
MOYERS: You begin with a stunning quote. I’ll read it. Quote, “The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”
DOBBS: Absolutely. Corporate America has at this time controls the national media. It controls nearly every avenue of an American citizen’s access to information about the way he or she lives, about those forces that are influencing our lives.
And corporate America is protected in Washington by the dollars it spends. It is protected in the media by some virtue of ownership.
MOYERS: Do you see any sharp differences between the two parties in this campaign on this issue? I mean, John Kerry has been calling the CEOs you write about Benedict Arnolds. But do you see in the platforms and the performance and the history of these two parties any profound difference on it?
DOBBS: Unfortunately, no. The Democrats brought us WTO. They brought us NAFTA in concert with the Republicans. John Kerry has come up with some good ideas on how to incentivize corporations not to outsource. But Roger Altman, his advisor on economics, says he’s not opposed to outsourcing itself.
We can’t have it both ways. I want to hear one of these candidates sharply and clearly say this country is about the people who live in it. That it’s about your quality of life and we’re going to do everything in our power, irrespective of our party’s ideology, our party platform, we’re going to examine carefully and thoughtfully our future. And we’re going to understand what works and doesn’t for the people.
Not just the efficiency, the productivity, the competitiveness of US multi-nationals which is really another code word for “you’re going to work cheaper and you’re not going to be able to buy as much.” And you’re not gonna be able to provide for your children and give them that opportunity. I want one of them desperately to say, “I’m all about America and I’m going to make it work, damn it.”
MOYERS: Capitalism has so many contradictions.
MOYERS: I’m involved with foundations that are out to save the environment, that nonetheless invest in the energy companies that pollute.
MOYERS: Because that’s where the money is. I mean we’re all caught in these contradictions. There’s a Web site run by the Columbia Journalism Review called CampaignDesk.org. If you go there and click in you’ll find a long article put up there recently called the two faces of Lou Dobbs. Have you seen it?
DOBBS: Sure I have.
MOYERS: Is there a contradiction in denouncing these companies on the air and then recommending them as a financial advisor? Of saying this company is good even though it’s outsourcing?
DOBBS: I don’t think so. But that may be and I do now include the fact that they’re outsourcing in investment judgments. But I’ve never suggested anyone they make an investment judgment based on whether a company outsources or does not outsource. I suggest people make investment decisions based on the value of the company, the importance, the relevance, the success of its products and the commitment of its management, the commitment of its management to being a better corporate citizen.
MOYERS: The book is EXPORTING AMERICA: WHY CORPORATE GREED IS SHIPPING AMERICAN JOBS OVERSEAS. Thank you, Lou Dobbs, for joining us on NOW.
DOBBS: Bill, thank you very much.
BRANCACCIO: Next week on NOW— money, politics and influence at the national conventions.
Corporations can’t make huge contributions to the party, but a loophole allows them to spend huge sums to throw a party for the politicians they need dancing by their side in Washington.
Power parties. Next week on NOW.
BRANCACCIO: That’s it for NOW. Thanks for being with us. I’m David Brancaccio.
MOYERS: And I’m Bill Moyers. We’ll be back next week with lots of politics as the Republicans begin to invade New York.
I’m Bill Moyers. See you then.
BRANCACCIO: Connect to NOW online at pbs.org.
Discover 10 things you didn’t know about politics in America. It’s your turn — respond to our quote of the week. Join the debate over outsourcing.
This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.