Bill Moyers focuses on the conservative evangelical movement in the US, presenting an eye-opening report on the “National Affairs Briefing,” a meeting of members of the religious right following the Republican National Convention in 1992.
EMCEE: The President of the United States!
President GEORGE BUSH: Thank you Paul. Thank you, very, very much. Thank you, Paul. [audience boos]
Senator AL GORE (D-TN) : May I respond to you? [audience boos]
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: And I just-would you please be quiet and let me finish? Would you please shut up and sit down!
LYNN MARTIN, Secretary of Labor: But I think you want me to answer the question.
HECKLER: The fact is, those are lies. Those are blatant lies.
SECRETARY LYNN MARTIN: I’m sure you’ll make television, but I think, in all politeness, just as-
BILL MOYERS: Politeness has nothing to do with this. Join us for more of Campaign ’92 on Listening to America.
I’m Bill Moyers. Welcome to Listening to America. Later in this hour we’ll report from a gathering of the religious right, followed by a conversation with four people who have some very strong opinions on politics and culture.
But first we continue our countdown to the election with some analysis from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and author of this book just off the press, Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction and Democracy.
Kathleen, we began this broadcast with that clip of hecklers trying to shout down the speakers. George Bush was heckled. Bill Clinton was heckled. Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin was heckled. Do you think heckling is a form of dirty politics?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Dean, Annenberg School of Communication: Heckling disrupts the basic democratic process because it makes it harder for people to speak and it makes it harder for people to be heard. Is it dirty? Well, it’s contextual. It works because-
BILL MOYERS: Contextual?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It creates a context so that, just as when we listen to sitcoms we hear the laugh track but we really don’t and we find ourselves laughing at things that weren’t funny, and in horror movies we don’t really hear the eerie music, yet we realize we’re frightened the way we wouldn’t be without it, the hecklers are functioning that way. They’re creating a context and in that context, we respond to the substance of the message in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t. We think, “Gee, that must not have been a good message. The audience it was intended for didn’t respond positively to it.” So it’s actually an insidious way of making it harder for us to hear the substance of politics.
BILL MOYERS: Who are the hecklers this year?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: On both sides. You’ve got people who are disrupting because they have special agendas they want to put forward. The people on both sides of the abortion exchange are heckling. People on both sides of the environmental movement are heckling. In some instances, we assume that the hecklers are planted by the other side’s supporters. In the debates in 1988 – it’s one of the reasons that I’d like to see the audience, the studio audience, out of the debates both sides choreographed their part of the audience and they basically said, you know, “If Bush says something that’s silly, laugh, hoot.” Then at the second stage, what the Democrats did was took the Bush-Quayle [sic] exchange – ”You’re no John Kennedy” – re-edited the audio track, just the way you’d edit a sitcom’s audio track, increased the amount of laughter and hooting when Quayle made the Kennedy comment in order to create a context for us to hear it, for us to ridicule with that presumed audience.
BILL MOYERS: In ’88 the campaign looked more and more like an ad, a perpetual ad campaign. In this year, it looks more and more like a sitcom. What about the Clinton rally where the Republicans ostensibly paid for that plane to pull that sign across the sky that said, “No draft dodger for president”? Is that just a playful nuisance or does it get a message across?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The reason that you see heckling continuing and you see signs appearing, obviously put there by the other side, is that news cameras are drawn toward it. Lynn Martin is right when she says, ”You’re going to get news time for this.”
BILL MOYERS: And they did.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And they did. And in the process, a part of the message is lost. The message is contextualized differently. The reason that plane flew overhead was to keep the draft question for Clinton in the news agenda. It accomplished it. The news cameras just moved right toward that visual picture, away from what Clinton was saying, as a result.
BILL MOYERS: It does seem to me that since you and I last met a week ago, the Republicans have been very effective in forcing Bush – Clinton to keep talking about the past.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And what is interesting about the exchange is that it’s the surrogates in the campaign that are actually carrying much of the debate over Clinton’s record on the draft.
BILL MOYERS: Here’s an example. Let’s look at this tape.
KATIE COURIC, NBC News: [“Today”] George Stephanopoulos, is this a legitimate campaign issue, not only Bill Clinton’s failure to serve, but the apparent inconsistencies in his story about what actually happened?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Clinton Campaign Communications Director: Well, I don’t think that Vietnam is the issue of this election, whether or not Bill Clinton served. Several commanders-in-chief of the military never served in the military. As for Governor Clinton’s story, it’s remained consistent over the years and repeat it again at the America Legion.
MARY MATALIN, Bush Campaign Deputy Manager: George is such a good guy, I just feel sorry for him having to sit there and go through that. If the ROTC knew that Governor Clinton had received an induction notice, Lieutenant Colonel Jones said, they would have rejected his application for ROTC. He’s – Governor Clinton is running around out there with this sincere face, saying he gave up his deferment fully expecting he’d be drafted. As The Wall Street Journal points out this morning, President Nixon announced earlier that year there would be no more inductions that year. This story has changed consistently. The only thing consistent about the Governor’s story is its constant inconsistencies.
BILL MOYERS: Who won that round?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The Republicans. To the extent that the question stays in the news agenda and is considered legitimate by the public, it hurts Bill Clinton because it challenges his basic credibility. He hasn’t been fully disclosive about this. His story has changed. That raises questions about whether we can trust Bill Clinton to tell us the truth.
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me that the Republicans know they got one here, that they just won’t let go of it.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The problem for Clinton is that when you haven’t revealed everything and then something else is disclosed, and you haven’t revealed everything and something else is disclosed, and then you go to the America Legion and you say, “This is the candid, final story” and then something else is disclosed, the intervention of his uncle to try to get a slot within the Navy system – we’re always waiting for the next shoe and it’s very difficult, as a result, to say, “This is the final statement. This is the candid, final statement.” You can be candid once too often. It’s like the little boy crying wolf.
BILL MOYERS: The Republicans have not started running tough ads on the draft issue. In fact, neither party has started running what I would call really tough ads, but some other people have. Let’s look at a video piece here.
ANNOUNCER: On April 15th, Americans put their honesty on the line. But for 11 years, George Bush has been less than honest. He avoids paying income tax to Washington and Maine, where he lives, because he claims his home is a hotel room in Texas, where there is no state income tax. So he saved himself more than $200,000 and swore he was telling the truth. It’s time to send George Bush home, wherever that may be. [on screen: “So long, George. Paid for by the Independent Committee on Ethics Political Action Committee]
BILL MOYERS: We didn’t see that ad on national television, did we.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No. Usually attacks are carried in local markets and in regional markets. We don’t usually see them at the national level, in part because those who are airing them don’t want the national press to expose those attacks. They’re highly questionable. In this case, however, this group would love to have national press focus on its ads. It doesn’t have the money for a national buy. What it was hoping was that it would get a lot of national news attention and put this issue into the issue agenda. The ad is implying that George Bush has done something illegal. He hasn’t. They’re suggesting strongly he’s done something dishonest. Well, he’s within the law in claiming Texas as a residence when, in fact, that means he pays no income tax and he lives in Kennebunkport, Maine.
BILL MOYERS: So what’s the message that they’re trying to get out?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Same message that the Republicans are trying to convey about Clinton: “You can’t trust this guy,” although here the place for the charge is not trust, in that one is claiming he’s lying, but fairness. Is this somebody who would tax you, but wouldn’t himself pay income tax.
BILL MOYERS: You and I both have spent some time this week trying to run down who sponsored this ad. What did you find out?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Some folks we both know because we both have a background in Texas: Jim Hightower-
BILL MOYERS: Former secretary of agriculture in Texas, a liberal Democrat.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: A liberal Democrat. Frances Farenthold
BILL MOYERS: Former candidate for the Democratic governorship of Texas, liberal Democrat.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And a state senator from Maine – now we’ve got the two states in which George Bush has residence – who is a supporter of Ross Perot, but also a Democrat.
BILL MOYERS: So what do you make of this?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: This is-
BILL MOYERS: Calling themselves – wait a minute. They call themselves what, the-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They call themselves the Independent Committee for Ethics and they’re running the ad a very short period of time, a three- to four-day time buy, in the industrial states that will be, in fact, the battleground for the Reagan Democrats’ soul. Now, the argument to the Reagan Democrats that George Bush doesn’t believe in paying taxes himself, he just believes in taxing you, “Read my lips” is, in fact, a very powerful claim. This is a very clever ad strategy. They don’t have enough money at this point to make it matter. What they’re gambling on is being able to get into the national news agenda.
BILL MOYERS: But they didn’t. I saw it on none of the evening newscasts.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And that tells you that this year the national news media are doing a better job.
BILL MOYERS: Of?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Of policing political advertising and not using news to legitimize it. One of the things I argue in Dirty Politics is that in 1988, news is what gave legitimacy to the Willie Horton ad. The total time buy in 1988 for that ad was under $500,000. That ad got its national impact out of over $1 million of free air time in network news, where network news never questioned the facts of the case. Network news never asked the relevance to the presidency of that case.
BILL MOYERS: And you say they’re doing a better job? The news – the networks are doing a better-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The fact that you’re not seeing this in network news means that the news media is saying, ”We’re not going to air things unless the ad buy is at least worth the amount of free time we’d give this if we aired it in news.” That’s a good rule for the networks to use.
BILL MOYERS: Peter Jennings said last week that the ABC World News Tonight is not going to go for this daily tit-for-tat. “You’re one” and “No, you’re one, too.” Do you think that’s a good thing or will the public miss knowing what the candidates think about each other?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: In the past week we saw the networks move to the most substantive coverage of the campaign. We had two Congressional initiatives coming forward which moved into the news agenda. We had the Federal Product Liability Act, which really raises the question about lawyers and tort reform that Dan Quayle has been discussing around the country. We also had the Family Leave Act discussed and put forward now for what will be a Bush veto. The news covered it and covered those two issues substantively. You also had a substantive economic speech by President Bush, covered substantively, as substantive speech by Bill Clinton on welfare covered substantively. This last week, broadcast and print news did a good job.
BILL MOYERS: And they turned both of these speeches into ads. Let’s take a look at this video.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: You really want to know what kind of America will our children grow up in? We owe you a clear and serious answer to that question. In that spirit, today in Detroit I outlined my agenda for American renewal, an integrated, comprehensive set of answers to the questions you’ve been asking around your dinner table.
BRYANT GUMBEL, NBC News: [“Today”] His plan calls for cutting the White House budget by 33 percent if Congress does the same, cutting high federal salaries by 5 percent and cutting income taxes by 1 percent if Congress enacts his spending cuts.
1st REPORTER: [‘World News Tonight”] For a family of four with an income of $43,000, that would mean a tax cut of $5 a week. The President also threw in a 30 percent cut in taxes for small businesses and his long-time favorite, capital gains cuts.
ANN CURRY, NBC News: President Bush has unveiled his menu for economic recovery, but critics say it looks like repackaged leftovers. The President offers voters a taste on the campaign trail today.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What happened this last week was Bush gave a major speech. The press summarized the major elements of the speech and that, of itself, is important. They didn’t simply say, “In a strategic move to compensate for the fact that he’s behind in the polls, he delivered a speech today.” They summarized the speech. They then compared the speech to the Clinton plan. The failure in the news this week was in the dismissal of the seriousness of the plan in news interpretation.
BILL MOYERS: Of Bush’s plan?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Of Bush’s plan. Basically, news has a problem. News thinks that things that have been put forward before and then are brought back into the news agenda can’t be significant because they’re old and, as we know, news has to be new. And so the editorial spin is the spin that you heard in the last piece of commentary: ”Well it’s a re-packaged plan. This is just old news.” These things are substantive proposals for the second Bush term and we ought to look at whether or not the substance works, not whether or not it’s repackaged.
BILL MOYERS: But how do we do that? I mean, I think both candidates are still bamboozling us on the details. Bush does not want to be specific about taxes, which taxes he would cut, which spending he would cut. Clinton doesn’t want to be specific about the deficit and about health care. And unless you have the details, how can you make an informed judgment?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That’s what print press basically did this week. The editorial pages said, “This is a good start, but now let’s find out specifically where does the money come from, where does the money go to.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: When we’ve done this in the past, has it worked?
BILL MOYERS: – editorial – Ms. Jamieson, editorial pages are the least-read of any part of the newspaper.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That’s true, but the fact that they’re doing it is an improvement over the situation in 1988 when they didn’t do those kinds of things. But a second thing happened this week which suggests that maybe we’re going to have that discussion because Ross Perot came back into the news. This man now has the New York Times best-selling paperback –
BILL MOYERS: At $4.98?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: At $4.98. And this is basically his economic plan, the economic plan that was so controversial that the American people would not have accepted it, in the eyes of many of his advisers. And also you’ve got Tsongas and Rudman putting forth their own deficit plan, so you’ve got-
BILL MOYERS: Paul Tsongas, Warren Rudman, both of whom say the deficit is the overriding issue and they came out with a plan this week.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And so, essentially, you’ve got moving into the news agenda and into public discussion two different alternatives and both sets of individuals – these are respected people with constituencies – are saying to Bush and Clinton, “Let’s have the specifics. Let’s have a serious debate here.”
BILL MOYERS: Lyndon Johnson used to tell Martin Luther King, ”You keep out there. Make me be honest. Keep me pressing to do the right thing.” You’re saying that Tsongas and Rudman and Perot may press Bush –
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but I think you’re wrong because I don’t think there’s anything to be gained on the part of Clinton and Bush to be candid about what they would do because what they have to do hurts too much.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Perot, Tsongas and Rudman can actually give them some incentive to do it by offering them a constituency that doesn’t vote for them unless they meet the tough challenge. Now, the question is the electoral equation. If you believe the lesson of Walter Mondale in 1984 is if you tell the American people something that is tough, “I’m going to raise your taxes in order to erase the deficit,’ and the American people are going to reject you – if you believe that’s the lesson of 1984, then your scenario is right. Then Bush and Clinton have no incentive. If you believe that in states such as Texas, Perot has enough votes to say, “Don’t vote for either candidate unless they come up with specifics, but vote for the one who does,” Texas could swing behind the one who provides the specifics. So a rhetoric of sacrifice, a challenge rhetoric, might actually find a responsive audience.
BILL MOYERS: You want to be a prophet instead of a scholar? Do you think-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No!
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that Perot will get back in the race?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: You do?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I expect Perot to put advertising on the air in October because he’s a qualified candidate now and he will be on the ballot in all 50 states. The technicalities of the federal rules mean now that he can walk into the networks on two or three days’ notice and say, ”You sold time to Clinton and Bush, sell time to me,” bona fide candidate. And he gets the lowest rate available, bona fide candidate, which means he could move onto the air with five-minute ads saying, “Here are the questions we want answered. And if they answer them, vote for them. If they don’t, vote for me,” in which case – he’s not going to ultimately make an electoral difference, but he could push a specific agenda forward, make it more salient, get more accountability from the candidates.
BILL MOYERS: Since we last met, both candidates, Clinton and Bush, fell back with that old war cry “family values” and both of them spoke to religious groups. Let’s take a look.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: And what are the pressures on the families today? You know them well: schools with low academic standards, young people not learning traditional values that can steady them in an uncertain world, and the coarseness of our culture is reflected on some of the most outrageous television shows, the scourge of drugs and violence. These are real issues that government must address, so I will not be driven away from discussing ways to strengthen the family by those who claim the topic unimportant. Strengthening the family must be a national priority and it will be as long as I am president of the United States.
Governor BILL CLINTON: [University of Notre Dame] President Kennedy was right. To preserve our social fabric we must always appreciate the wonderful diversity of the American tapestry. That is why, like so many Americans, I have been appalled to hear the voices of intolerance raised in recent weeks, voices that have proclaimed that some families aren’t real families, that some Americans aren’t real Americans. And one even said that what this country needs is a “religious war.” Well, America does not need a religious war. It needs a reaffirmation of the values that for most of us are rooted in our religious faith.
BILL MOYERS: Now, what struck me – I looked at both speeches, all of them, all the way through. Clinton gave his audience more red meat than Bush did. You would have thought that Bush would have thrown out those old irritants down there, but he talked about the economy. He talked about schools. He did not give the right, the Christian right, the red meat that they did at the Houston convention.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Two things. At the convention, there was both a rhetoric of inclusion -Barbara Bush and the AIDS victim -and a rhetoric of exclusion – Buchanan and Marilyn Quayle. The polls showed that the rhetoric of exclusion was not playing well with voters that George Bush needs. The Republicans have pulled back from that rhetoric in the past week, moderating on abortion, Dan Quayle, Marilyn Quayle pulling back from the more strident claims in her speech. But secondly, the specific red meat claims are out there. They’re out there in the documentary that you’re about to show. They’re out there in print, which says such things as, “Homosexuals want death for Bush.” So the constituency that wants to hear those appeals can take the general “family values,” read in these specifics and say, “Bush is our boy.” Whether or not that’s what Bush intends, that’s a possible interpretation now available for them.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much. I’ll see you next week and we’ll see what’s new between now and then. But for the moment, we’re going to take a look at the Dallas convention that Kathleen just mentioned of Evangelical political activists, the folks often referred to as the “religious right.” It took place immediately following the Republican convention in Houston and many of the conservatives who helped right that Republican platform at the convention were present in Dallas for what was called “the National Affairs Briefing.” It was billed as “informational and non-partisan.”
CONFERENCE SPEAKER: Hosea 4:6 reminds us that “My people perish for a lack of knowledge.”
REGISTRATION WORKER: Don’t lose that because that’s what gets you into the floor.
1st CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I’m from San Antonio.
2nd CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Fort Worth, Texas.
3rd CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I’m from California. I’m involved with the Bush-Quayle campaign, with the Evangelical community, and there’s a whole passel of us gathered here.
4th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I came from the Republican convention.
5th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: We came here to seek information on where these candidates stand on moral issues such as abortion, such as issues that surround homosexuality.
INTERVIEWER: I notice you were circling some names there. Which ones are you most interested in?
6th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, of course, Colonel North and Mr. Pat Buchanan and the list goes on.
7th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Of course, we’re against homosexuality. It’s abomination to God, the Bible says. We want to hear what they get to say and to tell us about that.
8th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: My name is Jerry Horn. I’m a special assistant to Judy Brown from American Life League. It’s the largest pro-life grass roots organization in the country. Carol’s a former abortionist and has had a real change-around in the last few years and so she’s here with us. We’re here to participate and to show our encouragement for those who stand for Christian moral values in this country and to stand up for what’s right.
7th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: We love them. Bless them. I love them. If you told me you were a homosexual, I’d tell you I love you and I’d really mean it, but that don’t mean I tolerate your beliefs and I sure don’t tolerate politicians going out and saying, “Hey, we can put them in the restaurants. We can put them in the schools to teach your children” and all of these things that are happening in America right now.
MINISTER: Pray for forgiveness for them [unintelligible] those who fail to preach the whole gospel of Christ.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, Eagle Forum: I come to you just off the plane from Houston, where we have won one of the greatest battles in our cause, the cause of pro-family and the cause of saving innocent babies’ lives.
REVEREND DONALD WILDMON, American Family Association: Do you think that the secular, liberal media is fair in their reporting?
REVEREND DONALD WILDMON: Do you trust the secular, liberal media?
REVEREND DONALD WILDMON: Bill Clinton’s made a covenant with them. In fact, Mr. Clinton is Murphy Brown’s baby grown up. Bill Clinton sold his political soul to the most extreme, left-wing groups in this country. And remember, if Bill Clinton goes to the White House, he’ll take with him his friends: the homosexuals, the radical homosexuals, the abortionists, the National Educational Association, the radicals from the National Endowment for the Arts, the people out in Hollywood, people who make a living out of pornography, the leaders of the ACLU, People for the American Way, the National Organization for the Women and the liberal secular media. And it’ll be they, not Bill Clinton, who will run the White House for the next four years. Now, if you want that to happen, do nothing. Just do nothing. If you don’t want that to happen, work to get George Bush re-elected. Thank you.
Reverend GENE ANTONIO, Foundation for the Advancement of Compassion and Truth: The pro-abortion movement and the sodomy lobby – or the AIDS lobby, because they are really synonymous – are intimately allied. The pro-abortion forces promote death before birth; the pro-sodomy lobby encourages behavior which causes death after birth. The fact is, homosexuality is a “death-style.” The vast majority of male homosexuals in this country are infected with AIDS. Before AIDS, there was a pandemic of hepatitis B and other diseases. Homosexuality can be cured through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, through His shed blood and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’ll leave you with this. We are facing a new type of Gestapo. We are facing a “Homintern” or homosexual Gestapo which will break the back of every church, and that is their goal, which opposes them. If you don’t do homosexual marriages, they will sue you into oblivion. If you don’t hire them, if you don’t serve them communion, if you don’t allow them to be ministers, they will break your back, quite literally, financially. Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you, get out the vote. Get your people to stand up for traditional values this fall. God bless you. Thank you very much.
9th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Basically, it’s just one issue.
INTERVIEWER: And what is that one issue?
9th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, you know, that we be a country under God.
10th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I want to see some morals brought back to America, I guess, some guidelines for people. That’s important.
SPEAKER AND AUDIENCE: – one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL OLIVER NORTH, United States Marines (Ret.), Freedom Alliance: America’s families are what make this country distinct and different from any other country on earth. This nation has been a beacon of hope to others for so long, we sometimes forget that America is first in everyone else’s eyes. And nowadays, we’ve become, I suppose, imbued with that sense of gloom and doom that’s been foisted upon us, the liberal line of that loony, leftist bombast from our media.
INTERVIEWER: So do you feel real motivated after hearing these speakers today to go out and get actively involved in the campaign, or are you already involved in the campaign this year?
11th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Probably already involved. This just encourages us to keep on, gives us a little more sense of hope, I think.
EMCEE: Let’s welcome a great American, Patrick Buchanan.
PAT BUCHANAN: As America’s imperial troops guard frontiers around the world, our own frontiers are open and the barbarian is already inside the gates. And you do not deal with Visigoths and Vandals who are pillaging and looting your cities by expanding the Head Start and food stamp programs. You know, I asked myself, when I saw the pictures of the mob dragging that man out of his car, kicking him in the face, “Where did it come from? Where did that mob come from?” I’ll tell you where it came from. It came out of public schools from which God and the 10 Commandments and the Bible were long ago expelled.
So, my friends, we must begin to take back our cities and take back our culture and take back our country. And God bless you and God bless that country, the United States of America. Thank you.
12th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I love the man. We totally, strongly, 100 percent deeply believe everything Pat Buchanan stands for and I think Oliver North is a great American hero and I’m so thankful that the powers that be didn’t get to put the screws to him, like they tried to.
1st ARGUING MAN: Let me tell you what John 3:17 says. John 3:17 says this: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world,” meaning that all men are potentially our brothers
2nd ARGUING MAN: No, no!
1st ARGUING MAN: Then let’s address the Scriptures-
2nd ARGUING MAN: But I’m not going to call apostate my brother. I’m not going to call a homosexual my brother.
1st ARGUING MAN: Let me tell you something. You are-
INTERVIEWER: Homosexual rights – is that an issue that interests you at all here or that you’ve been curious about what speakers have to say?
13th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, I’m not really curious because I know what God says and God says that homosexuality is a sin. And in God’s eyes, it brings down a nation and that’s one of the things that God says will cause a nation to be vomited out.
14th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: You know, that’s like during the Republican Party, all week they talked about “inclusive” and “exclusive.” Sure, we are to be inclusive, but not so inclusive that we include all those enemies of ours in this country. You can’t bring the homosexuals, you can’t bring the militant feminist movement and the abortion crowd into the party and make it a strong party. Those are the people that – we might as well become Democrats.
3rd ARGUING MAN: I was told to preach the word of God!
1st ARGUING MAN: And the word of God says, “Judge not that you be not judged.” [crosstalk]
3rd ARGUING MAN: That group there judged a bunch that were evil and Christ commended them for it!
15th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Any time that you have God’s word being taught, there is always the opposition. Anything that opposes the word of God is the enemy in the world.
REVEREND E.V. HILL, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles: For the first time in the 58 years of my life, I am not waiting on a Russian invasion! They’re gone! They’re out! They’re over! Communism in the Soviet Union is dead! It’s only alive in America and we ought to kill it here! And I have come here to publicly accuse that the greatest enemy that we have to save in America is the public secular news media! That’s the number one enemy! If we don’t wake up, we are bound for one of the biggest wrecks and catastrophes that America has ever had! Wake up! Get up! Go on! Fight on! God bless America!
AIDS DEMONSTRATORS: Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!
16th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Doug Hellman, and I’m just a – I’m just a volunteer with the Christian Coalition, so-
INTERVIEWER: Would you like to tell us a little bit about it?
16th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Yeah. What we want to do is get people involved in the political process and one way to do it is to get them registered, number one, and then get the facts to them with voter guides, let them know where their representative
stands on vital issues. And we feel like when we do that, then they will make maybe a proper decision – I mean, proper – what we feel like would support traditional values. So that’s what we’re trying to do, get people involved. Get them educated and then get them to the polls, get them off the couch and get them out of the church.
INTERVIEWER: This is Pat Robertson’s-
16th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, he founded it.
INTERVIEWER: He founded it, right.
17th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: We’re state directors from the American Family Association of Texas, which is an organizational group formed by Don Wildmon. Don Wildmon started the organization 15 years ago in Tupelo, Mississippi. We’re a grass roots organization who stands for traditional family values and we fight against pornography, different issues that have to do with the family.
INTERVIEWER: What do “traditional family values,” what does that mean to you? Help explain that to me.
17th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, to me, traditional family values is really hard to explain. I’ve never – I’ve never explained it before. I can’t answer that. I just – my husband usually does all this and I can’t.
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I was speaking with a doctor the other day. He said anatomically, the rectum wasn’t made to do what is being done with [it] in the homosexual community. Those – to love those people is to tell them, ”You’re doing something wrong. It’s killing you. Look what AIDS is doing to you.” Just like an alcoholic. It’s no different. Whether you’re homosexual, whether you’re an adulterer, whether you’re into fornication, Jesus says, “All of you can come unto me.”
19th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: I still think women ought to be women and mothers and you give me a good opportunity to say so.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel satisfied that your position and your beliefs are now written into the Republican Party platform or do you feel
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: They’ve been there.
20th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: They’ve been there. This isn’t a change, no.
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: They’ve been in – see, they’ve been – our beliefs have been in this nation for its entirety.
20th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: See, that’s what people don’t understand. This nation was founded on Biblical principles. We’ve lost ground, and that’s another way maybe that – why we consider, as you said, a religious war. We’re taking back some of the ground that we lost.
INTERVIEWER: When was it lost?
20th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, a good point was – they started – a good piece of the ground was lost in the 1960 decision of the Supreme Court when they started taking the prayer out of the public schools. And you can look at the facts that David Barton expounded on last night.
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Look at SAT scores.
20th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: SAT scores.
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Look at all those medicators –
INTERVIEWER: You think SAT scores are connected to school prayer?
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: It’s an indication? Oh, sure. [crosstalkl
20th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: Well, it’s not just a coincidence.
18th CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: The murder and all those things, the drugs in schools. You can actually plot that out and see where we are now and when it began. And it’s interesting how about 1962, ’63, the graphs start to show a rapid decline in moral values.
EMCEE: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States and Mrs. Bush.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Thank you, all.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years!
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Thank you very much. Hey, listen! This is a nonpolitical gathering!
DEMONSTRATORS: [outside conference hall] Four more months! Four more months!
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I happen to believe that just as we fix our economy and improve our schools, we’ve got to strengthen our moral foundation. And if I could make one political comment – I was struck by the fact that the other party took words to put together their platform, but left out three simple letters: G-O-D.
DEMONSTRATORS: [outside conference hall] No second term! No second term!
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: My opponents accuse me of mouthing slogans, but it is no slogan that America remains the most resolutely religious nation on God’s great earth and it is no slogan to say that America will always occupy a special place in God’s heart. But that is true only as long as we keep Him in a special place in our hearts.
And so I’m not going to be dissuaded by the critics who call “family values” a cliché, who say that family values have no place in our national debate. I will ignore those who would rather not talk about a moral revival in America because I believe it is as important as any other challenge that we face.
BILL MOYERS: A report like that, and the campaign itself, raise so many questions about politics and culture. I’ve asked four people whose lives and work have long intrigued me and impressed me to come and talk about some of these issues with us.
Marvin Liebman is considered one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement. He’s author of a book called Coming Out Conservative, which deals with homosexuality and the political right.
Father Richard John Neuhaus is religion editor for The National Review and is now editor-in-chief of First Things, a monthly journal on religion and public life.
Anna Deavere Smith is best known for her remarkable one-woman show, “Fires in the Mirror,” which she performed this year at New York’s Public Theater. In it she explored the tensions between Blacks and Jews in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, taking on the many voices of the people she interviewed. She’s also a professor of drama at Stanford University.
Melvin Van Peebles is an author, film director, composer and a former Wall Street trader. His latest project is a screenplay about the Black Panthers, which his son, Mario Van Peebles, will direct.
Marvin Liebman, you are one of the people on whom the people we saw in that film have declared war and my question is, you’re a Republican too, and a conservative. If someone claims that he or she is acting in the will of God, how can you possibly hope to have any kind of civil discourse with them?
MARVIN LIEBMAN, Author, “Coming Out Conservative”: Well, you can’t. They’re neither Christian, because it would make Jesus weep – their hideous discrimination and hatred and intolerance – and they’re not conservative because they’re for government getting into people’s lives. They’re neither conservative or Christian.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS, Religion Editor, “National Review”: These people, in a raucous way, in a way that’s undoubtedly vulgar, which is to say, very democratic – lower case – believe that they are presenting a Christian viewpoint. A Christian is someone who professes that Jesus Christ is Lord and I think if someone says they’re a Christian, we have to agree with that. We may think they’re a bad Christian. We may think they’re wrong and then we have to engage in argument both at the level of what is authentic Christian belief with regard to homosexuality, for example, and at the level of citizens in a republic – namely, how do you make the connections between your deepest beliefs – in this case, people whose deepest beliefs obviously are informed by a Christian commitment – how do you make that connection and what ought to be done in a public realm, how we ought to order our life together as a society. And it’s very difficult to make that connection.
BILL MOYERS: I’ve always-
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: But it has to be made.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES, Filmmaker/Writer: I think part of the problem is they have pre-empted or attempted to – “Everything that’s good about America is us. Everything that is bad about America ain’t us.” Now, I can’t really be all that sympathetic to half of the stuff they’re saying because this great time that they were talking about up in the late ’40s on they were still lynching people of color. The – Coughlin was around with his – with his hate, and so forth, and all this was traditional – when the woman was asked, “What is ‘traditional values,’ ” she didn’t know.
Meantime, back at the ranch, I’d just like to ask you a question. Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic?
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: Who stays up all night worrying about Dog.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, he didn’t believe in Dog. That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: Anna Deavere Smith, you’ve had a sympathetic ear for people on both and all sides of an issue.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH, Actor/Author, “Fires in the Mirror”: I believe in-
BILL MOYERS: Do you have any empathy for these people?
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: Let’s – it’s hard, you know, what I just saw. It’s really hard to find empathy. But I do appreciate their will to communicate. That’s as much as I can say and even that, I know, is dangerous to say.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: It’s like George Orwell. I mean, you can – you heard great doublespeak: “I love homosexuals and I would say I love you here, but I wouldn’t want him to work in a restaurant or” et cetera, et cetera. I think the major point here is the misinformation, the misinformation that has been very Machavellianly manipulated, to have these people believing – I applaud their wanting to get involved and wanting to do – but I think that they’re very misinformed.
BILL MOYERS: While I don’t find much sympathy for their views about gays as outside God’s family, I do find sympathy for the understanding that modern American culture has gone very coarse, whether it’s television, whether it’s movies, whether it’s ads, whether it’s political language, whether it’s what’s happening on the streets. People out in this country really do believe we have a coarse, if not vulgar, culture.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: The anti-abortion debate, Bill, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, because that drives to the heart. If we cannot – and here, getting back to the empathy compromise. I wonder if the word is not “compromise” and it would pose a problem for the people in this clip, as well, that it sounds like you’re saying, “Surrender your principles” or “Trim your sails in terms of what you believe.” And people on all sides of the polarization say, “No,” you know, “I’m a person of principle.” But to get the notion of accommodation, of democratic accommodation in a society in which nobody and no faction is ever going to be entirely satisfied-
BILL MOYERS: But how can accommodate on this issue? Because when Al Gore and Bill Clinton were busing through Texas, they got to Waco, which is the home of a Christian religious institution, and students were out there with signs and they said to the press, “Homosexuals must be killed. It’s not my view, it’s the Scriptures’ view.” Now, given that kind of attitude, why do you even stay in a party where those people are also at home?
MARVIN LIEBMAN: It’s my party. Pat Robertson said he’s going to spend $13 million which he collected – tax-exempt, I might say – to “take over the Republican Party.” That’s a quote. And he’s printed 40 million of these voters’ things, which he’s going to send. He plans to take over the party, as a Christian. Christian – remember that word. It’s not Judeo-Christian anymore. That’s out. It’s a Christian party.
BILL MOYERS: But how does it-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: And a white Christian party. [crosstalk]
BILL MOYERS: If it’s taken over, it’s not your party. If it’s taken over-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: It’s my party and-
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: But if you can stop it from being taken over-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: That’s exactly right because my vision, which is more than the President has, I’m afraid, is that the Republican Party, the Republican leadership has to suffer a major defeat in this election and the far right, as it was, the Christian fundamentalists, whatever they want to call themselves, will set up their own party with Pat Buchanan and so forth. And the Republican Party will become a moderate Republican party under the leadership of guys like Bill Weld or Jack Kemp or something like that.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: That’s an interesting scenario. So you’re actually – you would like to see Bush lose this election-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: Oh, yes. Very much.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: -and lose big.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: Yeah.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: The alternative to that, Mr. Liebman, is that you would see what happened to the Democratic Party when it lost, and lost in a major way several times in succession, is that small factions or interest groups or whatever one wants to call them were able to gain a real hammerlock on the party. And it may well be that a major loss for the Republicans this year, were I to be a political speculator, which I’m not, would in fact play grandly into the hands of the Pat Robertsons and-[crosstalk]
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: I would have to go with him. The best thing that happened to the Democratic Party right now is Ron Brown, who put these – exactly the splinterings that – that we’ve – was chronic in the Democratic situation.
BILL MOYERS: You mean, he’s reconciled all the interests?
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: He’s reconciled – then the Democrats have become more democratic.
BILL MOYERS: Until they’re elected.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Huh?
BILL MOYERS: Until they’re elected.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: I’d really be interested in this. Why is it, simply in terms if you look at where American public opinion is, all right, I would say that the Dallas convention and the Christian Coalition, OK, is “more mainstream,” that is, subscribed to by more Americans as their viewpoint-
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: I don’t agree with that. No.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: – than is the viewpoint of Kate Michelman and the National Abortion Rights Action League or of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
BILL MOYERS: What about the whole campaign? What bothers you most about the way this campaign is being conducted?
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: Well, just now, I mean, that list of Clinton’s friends. I mean, that’s, to me, very dangerous. You know, when you were talking to me, asking me before about empathy and compromise, I would say what I advocate more is really looking at differences, being distinct, not making lists like that. I think that’s really dangerous. That bothers me. It bothers me the way we quickly slip, for example, to way back-
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: Into an “us versus them” kind of-
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: -into “us versus them” and how much gets ignored. You know, when Quayle, you know, made his remarks about Murphy Brown, that there was a lot – of course, a lot of publicity about, for example, you know, it’s my understanding he was setting out to make a speech about the riots, or the uprising – whatever. And that quickly got lost and glossed over in this whole, you know, discussion of “family values.” So there’s a way that too much is-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: -code words.
BILL MOYERS: They’re what?
MARVIN LIEBMAN: They’re code words and I am under attack now.
BILL MOYERS: As a gay conservative?
MARVIN LIEBMAN: As a gay – as gay man.
BILL MOYERS: As a gay man.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: They’re against me now and Dan Quayle, who can barely spell – or who can’t spell “potato,” has become the leading biologist or something of the country when he says homosexuality is a choice. Nonsense. I was born this way.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: Well, but Mr. Liebman – I mean, without getting into the question of genetic disposition and choice and so forth, surely you would agree that the great majority of Americans – now, you may think they’re dead wrong about this, but they do not, given a choice, want their children to be homosexual.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: Of course! [crosstalk]
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: For the very obvious reason that a lot of suffering, a lot of tsuris comes with it, as we say in New York-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: Absolutely.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: -and, for the most obvious reason, is that most parents want to be grandparents. [crosstalk]
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, the answer to that – do you want to do as the Germans did, back when somebody has a club foot, we kill him?
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: No. Of course not. The question is, though – I mean, obviously what’s agitating the American people, among other things, on this question is that they feel, even at this Dallas convention, that they’re on the offensive, but it’s a defensive offense. That is, they feel they’re under assault from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance. They see things like Queer Nation and ACT-UP at St. Pat’s cathedral, et cetera-[crosstalk] and they say, “Look, we and the things that we value – family, parents, grandchildren, the transgenerational”-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: All of this is super stuff, which I, homosexual, alcoholic
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: -is under assault.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: If they look into their families, every family in the United States – drug addict, wife beater, homosexual, alcoholic-
BILL MOYERS: You’re saying we’re all caught up in the human-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: The human condition and we’d better recognize it and not deny it.
BILL MOYERS: What would you like to hear your candidate say – well, you don’t have a candidate, I guess. You’re not going to be for Bill Clinton because he’s a Democrat and you’re conservative, and you don’t want Bush to win. What-
MARVIN LIEBMAN: My dream is – I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see it – is for homosexuality not to be an issue. This is the way people are born and let them live, let us live the way we want to live, not in a bad way. Let us have domestic partnerships. That’s a no-no. Bill Buckley came out, for instance – just today in his column – one, against the Oregon initiative which would destroy homosexuality, presumably, in Oregon, and two, for gays in the military.
BILL MOYERS: But if you believe that homosexuality is against God’s nature, as they quote Scripture to say-
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: There’s something implicit in this conversation that we really have to talk about. We keep saying “God.” Now, what we have done, then, is pre-empted all gods, where there is only one God. Then we’re saying, ”Well, the Buddhists are not this. The Catholics are not that. The Jews are not this. The Muslims are not that.” We’ve been-
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: But we live in a country, Mr. Peebles, in which something like 92 to 93 percent of the American people claim they’re Christian or Jewish.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Fine, but that doesn’t – [crosstalk] But short of them claiming that, or long of them claiming that, does not mean we then pre-empt the whole word “God.” And we’re keeping pre-empting the whole word “God” and you, sir, keep pre-empting “the majority of the American people” in point of view. Now, but there’s a difference between being even God, using your what I consider – no offense narrow term of the word “God” and then saying at the same time “the American people”- those are not quite synonymous.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: Well, I mean the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, OK? [crosstalk]
BILL MOYERS: This is the big problem, is it not? This is the problem. The London Economist says this week that “Tolerance is the glue that holds this country,” America, “together, many people’s tolerance of race, tolerance of religion, tolerance of neighbor.” And if everybody’s claiming they’re speaking for God, how can you keep that center, that tolerance at work?
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: But I wonder if that’s really true. Is tolerance really the glue that keeps this country together?
MARVIN LIEBMAN: I think we’re getting de-glued, I’ll tell you.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: And a lot of people would say that there never was real tolerance.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: I go at it differently. I’d say that tolerance has never been the glue. I’d agree with you on that. Tolerance is the product of something else that holds us together. You have to have a – tolerance is not free-standing. It cannot stand on its own. You have to be able to provide a reason, a persuasive reason, ”Why should I be tolerant? Why should I be tolerant of people who are different from me and people who I find objectionable?” [crosstalk]
BILL MOYERS: Because this is a democracy, is it not? And you have to be tolerant or you have to go to war. [crosstalk]
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: I think that most Americans give the answer – when you push them far enough, 80 percent of Americans come up with the proposition that their moral judgments are derived from religion in one way or another and most Americans find it persuasive to say, “Because they’re all children of God, because finally I am obliged by a higher, a transcendent obligation that is not of my choice or not simply a matter of the Constitution.”
MARVIN LIEBMAN: But listen, Father, and everybody – I chose to become a Christian. I was born a Jew. I’m a converted Catholic now, which causes me problems. Certainly I’m a Christian.
BILL MOYERS: You are a true American. You’ve got everything.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: It causes all of us problems – being Catholic, that is.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: And I know, and you’ll agree that God loves me. I love God. I’m too old now to be abominable to a lot of my Christian friends. But of course I was an abomination, but I was born that way and I was born that way under God. God caused me. Why should I be literally persecuted as a homosexual?
BILL MOYERS: Because they interpret the Bible differently from you.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: No, I think also because people perceive – and this – it’s very difficult to talk about this calmly. People perceive that in recent years, with the general collapse of assumptions, culturally and morally that you alluded to earlier, that there is also from the homosexual community and its political and cultural allies something like a cultural war that has been declared. And so it is this-
BILL MOYERS: Pat Buchanan says it’s a war for the soul of America. You said it’s a war.
MARVIN LIEBMAN: Yeah.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: It is a cultural war. We are in a cultural war.
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: [off-camera] But we ought to avoid making it a religious war. [crosstalk]
BILL MOYERS: Any time a nation goes to war, it means politics has failed. [crosstalk]
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: What it means is, if somebody steps on my toe and years ago, I said, “Get off my toe,” he says, ”You’re a militant.” He says, “No, everything was good before. Everything was good before. Why make noise?” This is the constant cry of any persecuted minority that moves for its place, its place of equality. “Gee, guy, you’re making trouble.”
FATHER RICHARD NEUHAUS: But you know, the people in Dallas would find themselves described by you right there. Namely, they see themselves as a persecuted minority and they’re saying to you, “Don’t complain about our being militant. Don’t you know that people are stepping on us?” [crosstalk]
BILL MOYERS: Gentlemen – ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry. This is the most – this is frustrating. Television is the most frustrating medium I know of because just as we join the issue, they tell me we’re out of time. I’m sorry very much that we have to go, but let’s try to find some way to come back.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: The story of our lives, right, Bill?
BILL MOYERS: We’re out of time. Next week we’ll continue the story of our lives with a question: When is a national campaign not a national campaign? And we’ll have a report from Macomb County, Michigan, considered by Republicans and Democrats alike this year as the Gettysburg of 1992.
I’m Bill Moyers. Thanks for Listening to America.
You can view more about the series, Listening To America, on this website.
This transcript was entered on April 9, 2015.