One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, Democracy & Government, November 10, 2017 http://billmoyers.com/story/one-year-later-political-cancer-metastasizes/

America was never what it had purported to be.

Excerpt…There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton… Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist… You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement. Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. …Many voters … enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath…About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,”…

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history… His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country…. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

…. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel…We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us…. Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat…That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold… the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate ….White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency…We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

Full text

One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2017

America was never what it had purported to be.

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.

In Maine, voters approved an expansion of Medicaid that their right-wing governor had rejected several times. In Washington state, Democrats won the upper house of the legislature. Meanwhile, GOP members of Congress are deserting the ship, one by one. As Steve Bannon marshals his “alt-right” forces to defeat mainstream Republicans, his primary candidates may be so far off the political spectrum next year that they could derail the Republicans’ Senate hopes. Across the board, Democratic prospects in 2018 look promising, if the Democrats don’t manage to screw things up, which is a very big if.

And yet, before anyone gets too sanguine, consider where we are. There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton, and one year ago I wrote a valedictory to the America I had known and loved, quoting lines from W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939, in which he described the cataclysm of Hitler’s armies marching into Poland and launching World War II. America had flirted with disaster in the past, but we prided ourselves on not having succumbed to it, save with the Civil War. Somehow alleged good sense and solid institutions kept us from going over the precipice. Somehow.

And then, last Nov. 8, we did.

I wrote then of the peril the nation faced, of the way Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist — that Trump would either normalize himself to fit the contours of our politics or that he would be normalized by the inhibitions of American democracy, where inertia exerts far more power than movement, especially since the great divide between the conservatives and liberals. You could hope that the disruption Trump represented would be mild, and it would be brief. You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement.

Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. Even before Tuesday, recent polls showed a sense of buyer’s remorse. Many voters no doubt had felt glee at upending the applecart of modern America, and they enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath. Trump was supposed to be a political archeologist, digging down to another epoch. He was supposed to restore America to a halcyon past of white supremacy, on the one hand, and populism, on the other.

But Trump has betrayed that promise, even as he continues to give lip service to it. About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,” which is something any old establishment Republican could have accomplished. In short, as a policymaker, Trump is less than nil, and that probably wouldn’t matter much to his supporters, who really don’t give a damn about policy, if it weren’t for the fact that Trump sold himself as a doer, and he is also nil there.

Still, that is just policy. Trump’s real accomplishment goes far deeper and is far more destructive than his attempts to repeal Obamacare or revoke environmental protections or banking regulations or any of the other dozens of things he has tried to do and sometimes did. After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history.

When he is called the “divider-in-chief,” the label goes beyond his incendiary rhetoric to a zero-sum blame game. Whatever ails his supporters, he says, is the result of someone having taken something from them. His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country.

He nurses grievances, he advances conspiracy theories, he exacerbates angers, he scapegoats. He has opened wounds that had taken a century to begin to heal. And globally, he has given the middle finger to the rest of the world while lowering the nation’s standing and offending our allies while embracing our biggest enemy. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

The idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.

A recent article in The Boston Globe looking at divisions in York, Pennsylvania, provides a powerful microcosm of how thoroughly Trump has splintered this country in only a year. He may not be the cause of this change, only its product. But no major candidate in any major party ever provided the opportunity he has to loose these divisions and ignite these hatreds.

I think of Trump’s America as a kind of Opposite Day — the game we played in grammar school where everything said was interpreted as the opposite. In a remarkably Orwellian fashion, Trump has taken whatever was good in this country and said and did the opposite. Nothing is what it used to be. Everything seems turned inside out. That is the country in which we now live. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel. Those few who speak out against him, like Jeff Flake, only do so when they know they cannot win a primary against a Trump-backed candidate. Failure emboldens them. The others pretend to ignore him when it comes to legislation, but they know that while Trump is ignorant of and less than engaged with policy — all he wants are victories, regardless of policy — he is the electoral 800-pound gorilla in Republican primaries.

Rank-and-file Republicans still love him, not because of any ideological affinities but because of their emotional ones. We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us.

Moreover, Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat. We have already seen how the media practically canonized him for shooting some missiles at Syria, or how they gave him kudos for seeming to make a budget deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Trump dread is so deep in most of the country that even his refraining from tweeting for a few days would raise his stock and elicit praise that he was now “presidential.” Similarly, as I have written here, a war against North Korea would make him a short-term hero in many quarters and would certainly rally much of the country behind him. That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

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5 Farewell, America

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold. Once you know that those old institutions won’t inhibit a leader who hired Michael Flynn, a Russian acolyte, as his national security adviser (!), who threatens the press, who enriches himself in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, who promotes white supremacism, who insults government professionals, including members of his own Cabinet, declaring, “I am the only one who matters,” or who… well, you know the litany. You also know that the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate on the 4th of July, at Thanksgiving, and with stanzas of the national anthem and every salute of the flag. What we have learned this year is that Trumpism is now a permanent part of our polity. White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency. This Trump cancer may be only a few aberrant cells, but it is a permanent feature of our body politic, threatening to metastasize, even if he is deposed.

We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People

by Bill Moyers, TomDispatch, September 12, 2016 commondreams.org

Excerpt and highlighting by Phyllis Stenerson, curator of ProgressiveValues.org 9/23/16 full text follows

They [citizens] simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.  Fiercely loyal to their families, their clubs, their charities, and their congregations — fiercely loyal, that is, to their own kind — they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves. 

… this is the oldest story in our country’s history: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a metaphysical reality — one nation, indivisible — or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

There is a vast difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud, a democracy in name only.  I have no doubt about what the United States of America was meant to be.  It’s spelled out right there in the 52 most revolutionary words in our founding documents, the preamble to our Constitution, proclaiming the sovereignty of the people as the moral base of government:  

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

What do those words mean, if not that we are all in the business of nation-building together?…

…And yet, despite the flaws and contradictions of human nature — or perhaps because of them — something took hold here. The American people forged a civilization: that thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. Because it can snap at any moment, or slowly weaken from abuse and neglect until it fades away, civilization requires a commitment to the notion…that we are all in this together. American democracy grew a soul, as it were…

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the soul of democracy, too.  He expressed it politically, although his words often ring like poetry.  Paradoxically, to this scion of the American aristocracy, the soul of democracy meant political equality.  “Inside the polling booth,” he said, “every American man and woman stands as the equal of every other American man and woman. There they have no superiors. There they have no masters save their own minds and consciences.” 

God knows it took us a long time to get there.  Every claim of political equality in our history has been met by fierce resistance from those who relished for themselves what they would deny others.

So it was, in the face of constant resistance, that many heroes — sung and unsung — sacrificed, suffered, and died so that all Americans could gain an equal footing inside that voting booth on a level playing field on the ground floor of democracy.  And yet today money has become the great unequalizer, the usurper of our democratic soul.

No one saw this more clearly than that conservative icon Barry Goldwater, longtime Republican senator from Arizona and one-time Republican nominee for the presidency. Here are his words from almost 30 years ago:

“The fact that liberty depended on honest elections was of the utmost importance to the patriots who founded our nation and wrote the Constitution.  They knew that corruption destroyed the prime requisite of constitutional liberty: an independent legislature free from any influence other than that of the people.  Applying these principles to modern times, we can make the following conclusions: To be successful, representative government assumes that elections will be controlled by the citizenry at large, not by those who give the most money. Electors must believe that their vote counts.  Elected officials must owe their allegiance to the people, not to their own wealth or to the wealth of interest groups that speak only for the selfish fringes of the whole community.”

Now, I recognize that we’ve never been a country of angels guided by a presidium of saints…And yet, despite the flaws and contradictions of human nature — or perhaps because of them — something took hold here. The American people forged a civilization: that thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. Because it can snap at any moment, or slowly weaken from abuse and neglect until it fades away, civilization requires a commitment to the notion (contrary to what those Marshall housewives believed) that we are all in this together…

So it was, in the face of constant resistance, that many heroes — sung and unsung — sacrificed, suffered, and died so that all Americans could gain an equal footing inside that voting booth on a level playing field on the ground floor of democracy.  And yet today money has become the great unequalizer, the usurper of our democratic soul.

No one saw this more clearly than that conservative icon Barry Goldwater, longtime Republican senator from Arizona and one-time Republican nominee for the presidency. Here are his words from almost 30 years ago:

“The fact that liberty depended on honest elections was of the utmost importance to the patriots who founded our nation and wrote the Constitution.  They knew that corruption destroyed the prime requisite of constitutional liberty: an independent legislature free from any influence other than that of the people.  Applying these principles to modern times, we can make the following conclusions: To be successful, representative government assumes that elections will be controlled by the citizenry at large, not by those who give the most money. Electors must believe that their vote counts.  Elected officials must owe their allegiance to the people, not to their own wealth or to the wealth of interest groups that speak only for the selfish fringes of the whole community.”..

The Greek historian Plutarch is said to have warned that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of a Republic.” Yet as the Washington Post pointed out recently, income inequality may be higher at this moment than at any time in the American past.

… In 2009, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez explored decades of tax data and found that from 1950 through 1980 the average income of the bottom 90% of Americans had grown, from $ 17,719 to $ 30,941.  That represented a 75% increase in 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, the economy has continued to grow impressively, but most of the benefits have migrated to the top…Even though everyone took a hit during the recession that followed, the top 10% now hold more than three-quarters of the country’s total family wealth.

these statistics highlight an ugly truth about America: inequality matters. It slows economic growth, undermines health, erodes social cohesion and solidarity, and starves education. In their study The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found that the most consistent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, low educational achievement, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration was economic inequality.  

… The Pew Research Center recently released a new study indicating that, between 2000 and 2014, the middle class shrank in virtually all parts of the country…

Once upon a time… the American ideal was one in which all children had “a roughly equal chance of success regardless of the economic status of the family into which they were born.”

Almost 10 years ago, economist Jeffrey Madrick wrote that, as recently as the 1980s, economists thought that “in the land of Horatio Alger only 20 percent of one’s future income was determined by one’s father’s income.” He then cited research showing that, by 2007, “60 percent of a son’s income [was] determined by the level of income of the father. For women, it [was] roughly the same.” It may be even higher today, but clearly a child’s chance of success in life is greatly improved if he’s born on third base and his father has been tipping the umpire.

This raises an old question, one highlighted by the British critic and public intellectual Terry Eagleton in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

”Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality?… Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? Is it plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality?”

The answer, to me, is self-evident.  Capitalism produces winners and losers big time.  The winners use their wealth to gain political power, often through campaign contributions and lobbying.  In this way, they only increase their influence over the choices made by the politicians indebted to them. While there are certainly differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic and social issues, both parties cater to wealthy individuals and interests seeking to enrich their bottom lines with the help of the policies of the state (loopholes, subsidies, tax breaks, deregulation).  No matter which party is in power, the interests of big business are largely heeded.

… plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. As the late (and great) Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The rich…should not be able to buy more democracy. That they can and do is a despicable blot on American politics…In a recent poll, 71% of Americans across lines of ethnicity, class, age, and gender said they believe the U.S. economy is rigged…

Millions of Americans, in other words, are living on the edge.  Yet the country has not confronted the question of how we will continue to prosper without a workforce that can pay for its goods and services.

the United States was being transformed into one of the harshest, most unforgiving societies among the industrial democracies.  You could instead have read the Economist, arguably the most influential business-friendly magazine in the English-speaking world.  I keep in my files a warning published in that magazine a dozen years ago, on the eve of George W. Bush’s second term.  The editors concluded back then that, with income inequality in the U.S. reaching levels not seen since the first Gilded Age and social mobility diminishing, “the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”…The United States now has a level of income inequality unprecedented in our history and so dramatic it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around.

… the world is made to work by those with the money and power… As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago, “In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men.  But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality.” Exactly.  In our case, a religion of invention, not revelation, politically engineered over the last 40 years. Yes, politically engineered.  On this development, you can’t do better than read Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of political science….troubled that the heart of the American Dream — upward mobility — seemed to have stopped beating; and dumbfounded that all of this could happen in a democracy whose politicians were supposed to serve the greatest good for the greatest number. So Hacker and Pierson set out to find out “how our economy stopped working to provide prosperity and security for the broad middle class.”…they concluded, “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.”

There you have it: the winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system.  And when the fix was in they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” The end result, Hacker and Pierson conclude, is that the United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by…

Bruce Springsteen sings of “the country we carry in our hearts.” This isn’t it.

Looking back, you have to wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs.  In the 1970s, Big Business began to refine its ability to act as a class and gang up on Congress.  Even before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, political action committees deluged politics with dollars. Foundations, corporations, and rich individuals funded think tanks that churned out study after study with results skewed to their ideology and interests. Political strategists made alliances with the religious right, with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, to zealously wage a cultural holy war that would camouflage the economic assault on working people and the middle class.

To help cover-up this heist of the economy, an appealing intellectual gloss was needed.  So public intellectuals were recruited and subsidized to turn “globalization,” “neo-liberalism,” and “the Washington Consensus” into a theological belief system.  The “dismal science of economics” became a miracle of faith…  Self-interest became the Gospel of the Gilded Age…. evolution, i.e., the natural process of improvement… successful people might not even know if or how their pursuit of self-interest helps evolution, but it typically does.”

Human beings have struggled long and hard to build civilization; [neoliberal and neoconservative] doctrine of “progress” is taking us back to the jungle….Our founders warned against the power of privileged factions to capture the machinery of democracies.  James Madison, who studied history through a tragic lens, saw that the life cycle of previous republics had degenerated into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy. Like many of his colleagues, he was well aware that the republic they were creating could go the same way.  Distrusting, even detesting concentrated private power, the founders attempted to erect safeguards to prevent private interests from subverting the moral and political compact that begins, “We, the people.” For a while, they succeeded…

Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1830s… he did warn of the staying power of the aristocracy, even in this new country.  He feared what he called, in the second volume of his masterwork, Democracy in America, an “aristocracy created by business.”  He described it as already among “the harshest that ever existed in the world” and suggested that, “if ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrate the world, it may be predicted that this is the gate by which they will enter.”

…[from] the ravenous excesses of Wall Street in the 1920s to the ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News, to the business press’s wide-eyed awe of hyena-like CEOs; from the Republican war on government to the Democratic Party’s shameless obeisance to big corporations and contributors, this “law of nature” has served to legitimate the yawning inequality of income and wealth, even as it has protected networks of privilege and monopolies in major industries like the media, the tech sector, and the airlines.

A plethora of studies conclude that America’s political system has already been transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy (the rule of a wealthy elite)…Whether Republican or Democratic, they concluded, the government more often follows the preferences of major lobbying or business groups than it does those of ordinary citizens.

We can only be amazed that a privileged faction in a fervent culture of politically protected greed brought us to the brink of a second Great Depression, then blamed government and a “dependent” 47% of the population for our problems, and ended up richer and more powerful than ever. …

Which brings us back … to all those who simply can’t see beyond their own prerogatives and so narrowly define membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.

How would I help them recoup their sanity, come home to democracy, and help build the sort of moral compact embodied in the preamble to the Constitution, that declaration of America’s intent and identity? 

First, I’d do my best to remind them that societies can die of too much inequality.

Second, I’d give them copies of anthropologist Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed to remind them that we are not immune.  Diamond won the Pulitzer Prize for describing how the damage humans have inflicted on their environment has historically led to the decline of civilizations…Any society, it turns out, contains a built-in blueprint for failure if elites insulate themselves endlessly from the consequences of their decisions…. the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that the will to live is the fundamental reality of human nature.  So he puzzled about why some people override it and give up their lives for others.

“Can this happen?” [Joseph] Campbell asked. “That what we normally think of as the first law of nature, namely self-preservation, is suddenly dissolved. What creates that breakthrough when we put another’s well-being ahead of our own?”

Schopenhauer’s answer, he said, was that a psychological crisis represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical reality, which is that you and the other are two aspects of one life, and your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time.  Our true reality is our identity and unity with all life.

Sometimes, however instinctively or consciously, our actions affirm that reality through some unselfish gesture or personal sacrifice. It happens in marriage, in parenting, in our relations with the people immediately around us, and in our participation in building a society based on reciprocity.

The truth of our country isn’t actually so complicated.  It’s in the moral compact implicit in the preamble to our Constitution: we’re all in this together.  We are all one another’s first responders…

I realize that the command to love our neighbor is one of the hardest of all religious concepts, but I also recognize that our connection to others goes to the core of life’s mystery and to the survival of democracy.  When we claim this as the truth of our lives — when we live as if it’s so — we are threading ourselves into the long train of history and the fabric of civilization; we are becoming “we, the people.”

The religion of inequality — of money and power — has failed us; its gods are false gods.  There is something more essential — more profound — in the American experience than the hyena’s appetite.  Once we recognize and nurture this, once we honor it, we can reboot democracy and get on with the work of liberating the country we carry in our hearts.

Full text http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/09/12/we-plutocrats-vs-we-people

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People by Bill Moyers, TomDispatch, September 12, 2016 commondreams.org  They simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.  Fiercely loyal to their families, their clubs, their charities, and their congregations — fiercely loyal, that is, to their own kind — they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.  

Sixty-six years ago this summer, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town of Marshall where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter — small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the paper’s old hands were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to help cover what came to be known across the country as “the housewives’ rebellion.”

Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers.  Those housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service.  Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in those jobs all their lives, social security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.

The housewives argued that social security was unconstitutional and imposing it was taxation without representation. They even equated it with slavery.  They also claimed that “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  So they hired a high-powered lawyer — a notorious former congressman from Texas who had once chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee — and took their case to court. They lost, and eventually wound up holding their noses and paying the tax, but not before their rebellion had become national news.

The stories I helped report for the local paper were picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP Teletype machine beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing our paper and its reporters for our coverage of the housewives’ rebellion.

I was hooked, and in one way or another I’ve continued to engage the issues of money and power, equality and democracy over a lifetime spent at the intersection between politics and journalism. It took me awhile to put the housewives’ rebellion into perspective.  Race played a role, of course.  Marshall was a segregated, antebellum town of 20,000, half of whom were white, the other half black.  White ruled, but more than race was at work. Those 15 housewives were respectable townsfolk, good neighbors, regulars at church (some of them at my church).  Their children were my friends; many of them were active in community affairs; and their husbands were pillars of the town’s business and professional class.

So what brought on that spasm of rebellion?  They simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.  Fiercely loyal to their families, their clubs, their charities, and their congregations — fiercely loyal, that is, to their own kind — they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.  They expected to be comfortable and secure in their old age, but the women who washed and ironed their laundry, wiped their children’s bottoms, made their husbands’ beds, and cooked their family’s meals would also grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years of labor but the crease in their brow and the knots on their knuckles.

In one way or another, this is the oldest story in our country’s history: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a metaphysical reality — one nation, indivisible — or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

“I Contain Multitudes”

There is a vast difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud, a democracy in name only.  I have no doubt about what the United States of America was meant to be.  It’s spelled out right there in the 52 most revolutionary words in our founding documents, the preamble to our Constitution, proclaiming the sovereignty of the people as the moral base of government:  

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

What do those words mean, if not that we are all in the business of nation-building together?

Now, I recognize that we’ve never been a country of angels guided by a presidium of saints.  Early America was a moral morass.  One in five people in the new nation was enslaved.  Justice for the poor meant stocks and stockades.  Women suffered virtual peonage. Heretics were driven into exile, or worse. Native people — the Indians — would be forcibly removed from their land, their fate a “trail of tears” and broken treaties.

No, I’m not a romantic about our history and I harbor no idealized notions of politics and democracy.  Remember, I worked for President Lyndon Johnson.  I heard him often repeat the story of the Texas poker shark who leaned across the table and said to his mark: “Play the cards fair, Reuben. I know what I dealt you.” LBJ knew politics.

Nor do I romanticize “the people.” When I began reporting on the state legislature while a student at the University of Texas, a wily old state senator offered to acquaint me with how the place worked.  We stood at the back of the Senate floor as he pointed to his colleagues spread out around the chamber — playing cards, napping, nipping, winking at pretty young visitors in the gallery — and he said to me, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see the people who sent them there.”

And yet, despite the flaws and contradictions of human nature — or perhaps because of them — something took hold here. The American people forged a civilization: that thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. Because it can snap at any moment, or slowly weaken from abuse and neglect until it fades away, civilization requires a commitment to the notion (contrary to what those Marshall housewives believed) that we are all in this together.

American democracy grew a soul, as it were — given voice by one of our greatest poets, Walt Whitman, with his all-inclusive embrace in Song of Myself:

“Whoever degrades another degrades me,
and whatever is done or said returns at last to me…
I speak the pass-word primeval — I give the sign of democracy;
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms…
(I am large — I contain multitudes.)”

Author Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has vividly described Whitman seeing himself in whomever he met in America. As he wrote in I Sing the Body Electric:

“– the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child — the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn –”

Whitman’s words celebrate what Americans shared at a time when they were less dependent on each other than we are today.  As Townsend put it, “Many more people lived on farms in the nineteenth century, and so they could be a lot more self-reliant; growing their own food, sewing their clothes, building their homes.  But rather than applauding what each American could do in isolation, Whitman celebrated the vast chorus: ‘I hear America singing.’” The chorus he heard was of multitudinous voices, a mighty choir of humanity.

Whitman saw something else in the soul of the country: Americans at work, the laboring people whose toil and sweat built this nation.  Townsend contrasts his attitude with the way politicians and the media today — in their endless debates about wealth creation, capital gains reduction, and high corporate taxes — seem to have forgotten working people. “But Whitman wouldn’t have forgotten them.” She writes, “He celebrates a nation where everyone is worthy, not where a few do well.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the soul of democracy, too.  He expressed it politically, although his words often ring like poetry.  Paradoxically, to this scion of the American aristocracy, the soul of democracy meant political equality.  “Inside the polling booth,” he said, “every American man and woman stands as the equal of every other American man and woman. There they have no superiors. There they have no masters save their own minds and consciences.” 

God knows it took us a long time to get there.  Every claim of political equality in our history has been met by fierce resistance from those who relished for themselves what they would deny others. After President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation it took a century before Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a hundred years of Jim Crow law and Jim Crow lynchings, of forced labor and coerced segregation, of beatings and bombings, of public humiliation and degradation, of courageous but costly protests and demonstrations. Think of it: another hundred years before the freedom won on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War was finally secured in the law of the land.

And here’s something else to think about: Only one of the women present at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 — only one, Charlotte Woodward — lived long enough to see women actually get to vote.

“We Pick That Rabbit Out of the Hat”

So it was, in the face of constant resistance, that many heroes — sung and unsung — sacrificed, suffered, and died so that all Americans could gain an equal footing inside that voting booth on a level playing field on the ground floor of democracy.  And yet today money has become the great unequalizer, the usurper of our democratic soul.

No one saw this more clearly than that conservative icon Barry Goldwater, longtime Republican senator from Arizona and one-time Republican nominee for the presidency. Here are his words from almost 30 years ago:

“The fact that liberty depended on honest elections was of the utmost importance to the patriots who founded our nation and wrote the Constitution.  They knew that corruption destroyed the prime requisite of constitutional liberty: an independent legislature free from any influence other than that of the people.  Applying these principles to modern times, we can make the following conclusions: To be successful, representative government assumes that elections will be controlled by the citizenry at large, not by those who give the most money. Electors must believe that their vote counts.  Elected officials must owe their allegiance to the people, not to their own wealth or to the wealth of interest groups that speak only for the selfish fringes of the whole community.”

About the time Senator Goldwater was writing those words, Oliver Stone released his movie Wall Street.  Remember it? Michael Douglas played the high roller Gordon Gekko, who used inside information obtained by his ambitious young protégé, Bud Fox, to manipulate the stock of a company that he intended to sell off for a huge personal windfall, while throwing its workers, including Bud’s own blue-collar father, overboard.  The younger man is aghast and repentant at having participated in such duplicity and chicanery, and he storms into Gekko’s office to protest, asking, “How much is enough, Gordon?”

Gekko answers:

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars… You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip.  We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it.  Now, you’re not naïve enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, Buddy?  It’s the free market. And you’re part of it.”

That was in the high-flying 1980s, the dawn of today’s new gilded age.  The Greek historian Plutarch is said to have warned that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of a Republic.” Yet as the Washington Post pointedout recently, income inequality may be higher at this moment than at any time in the American past.

When I was a young man in Washington in the 1960s, most of the country’s growth accrued to the bottom 90% of households.  From the end of World War II until the early 1970s, in fact, income grew at a slightly faster rate at the bottom and middle of American society than at the top.  In 2009, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez explored decades of tax data and found that from 1950 through 1980 the average income of the bottom 90% of Americans had grown, from $ 17,719 to $ 30,941.  That represented a 75% increase in 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, the economy has continued to grow impressively, but most of the benefits have migrated to the top.  In these years, workers were more productive but received less of the wealth they were helping to create. In the late 1970s, the richest 1% received 9% of total income and held 19% of the nation’s wealth. The share of total income going to that 1% would then rise to more than 23% by 2007, while their share of total wealth would grow to 35%. And that was all before the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.

Even though everyone took a hit during the recession that followed, the top 10% now hold more than three-quarters of the country’s total family wealth.

I know, I know: statistics have a way of causing eyes to glaze over, but these statistics highlight an ugly truth about America: inequality matters. It slows economic growth, undermines health, erodes social cohesion and solidarity, and starves education. In their study The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found that the most consistent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, low educational achievement, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration was economic inequality.  

So bear with me as I keep the statistics flowing.  The Pew Research Center recently released a new study indicating that, between 2000 and 2014, the middle class shrank in virtually all parts of the country.  Nine out of ten metropolitan areas showed a decline in middle-class neighborhoods. And remember, we aren’t even talking about over 45 million people who are living in poverty.  Meanwhile, between 2009 and 2013, that top 1% captured 85% percent of all income growth.  Even after the economy improved in 2015, they still took in more than half of the income growth and by 2013 held nearly half of all the stock and mutual fund assets Americans owned. 

Now, concentrations of wealth would be far less of an issue if the rest of society were benefitting proportionally.  But that isn’t the case.

Once upon a time, according to Isabel Sawhill and Sara McClanahan in their 2006 report Opportunity in America, the American ideal was one in which all children had “a roughly equal chance of success regardless of the economic status of the family into which they were born.”

Almost 10 years ago, economist Jeffrey Madrick wrote that, as recently as the 1980s, economists thought that “in the land of Horatio Alger only 20 percent of one’s future income was determined by one’s father’s income.” He then cited research showing that, by 2007, “60 percent of a son’s income [was] determined by the level of income of the father. For women, it [was] roughly the same.” It may be even higher today, but clearly a child’s chance of success in life is greatly improved if he’s born on third base and his father has been tipping the umpire.

This raises an old question, one highlighted by the British critic and public intellectual Terry Eagleton in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

”Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality?… Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? Is it plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality?”

The answer, to me, is self-evident.  Capitalism produces winners and losers big time.  The winners use their wealth to gain political power, often through campaign contributions and lobbying.  In this way, they only increase their influence over the choices made by the politicians indebted to them. While there are certainly differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic and social issues, both parties cater to wealthy individuals and interests seeking to enrich their bottom lines with the help of the policies of the state (loopholes, subsidies, tax breaks, deregulation).  No matter which party is in power, the interests of big business are largely heeded.

More on that later, but first, a confession.  The legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here’s mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. As the late (and great) Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Of course the rich can buy more homes, cars, vacations, gadgets, and gizmos than anyone else, but they should not be able to buy more democracy. That they can and do is a despicable blot on American politics that is now spreading like a giant oil spill.

In May, President Obama and I both spoke at the Rutgers University commencement ceremony.  He was at his inspirational best as 50,000 people leaned into every word.  He lifted the hearts of those young men and women heading out into our troubled world, but I cringed when he said, “Contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think…”

Wrong, Mr. President, just plain wrong. The people are way ahead of you on this.  In a recent poll, 71% of Americans across lines of ethnicity, class, age, and gender said they believe the U.S. economy is rigged.  People reported that they are working harder for financial security.  One quarter of the respondents had not taken a vacation in more than five years.  Seventy-one percent said that they are afraid of unexpected medical bills; 53% feared not being able to make a mortgage payment; and, among renters, 60% worried that they might not make the monthly rent.

Millions of Americans, in other words, are living on the edge.  Yet the country has not confronted the question of how we will continue to prosper without a workforce that can pay for its goods and services.

Who Dunnit?

You didn’t have to read Das Kapital to see this coming or to realize that the United States was being transformed into one of the harshest, most unforgiving societies among the industrial democracies.  You could instead have read the Economist, arguably the most influential business-friendly magazine in the English-speaking world.  I keep in my files a warning published in that magazine a dozen years ago, on the eve of George W. Bush’s second term.  The editors concluded back then that, with income inequality in the U.S. reaching levels not seen since the first Gilded Age and social mobility diminishing, “the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”

And mind you, that was before the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, before the bailout of Wall Street, before the recession that only widened the gap between the super-rich and everyone else. Ever since then, the great sucking sound we’ve been hearing is wealth heading upwards. The United States now has a level of income inequality unprecedented in our history and so dramatic it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around.

Contrary to what the president said at Rutgers, this is not the way the world works; it’s the way the world is made to work by those with the money and power.  The movers and shakers — the big winners — keep repeating the mantra that this inequality was inevitable, the result of the globalization of finance and advances in technology in an increasingly complex world.  Those are part of the story, but only part. As G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago, “In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men.  But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality.”

Exactly.  In our case, a religion of invention, not revelation, politically engineered over the last 40 years. Yes, politically engineered.  On this development, you can’t do better than read Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of political science.

They were mystified by what had happened to the post-World War II notion of “shared prosperity”; puzzled by the ways in which ever more wealth has gone to the rich and super rich; vexed that hedge-fund managers pull in billions of dollars, yet pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries; curious about why politicians kept slashing taxes on the very rich and handing huge tax breaks and subsidies to corporations that are downsizing their work forces; troubled that the heart of the American Dream — upward mobility — seemed to have stopped beating; and dumbfounded that all of this could happen in a democracy whose politicians were supposed to serve the greatest good for the greatest number. So Hacker and Pierson set out to find out “how our economy stopped working to provide prosperity and security for the broad middle class.”

In other words, they wanted to know: “Who dunnit?” They found the culprit. With convincing documentation they concluded, “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefitted the few at the expense of the many.”

There you have it: the winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system.  And when the fix was in they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” The end result, Hacker and Pierson conclude, is that the United States is looking more and more like the capitalist oligarchies of Brazil, Mexico, and Russia, where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.

Bruce Springsteen sings of “the country we carry in our hearts.” This isn’t it.

“God’s Work”

Looking back, you have to wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs.  In the 1970s, Big Business began to refine its ability to act as a class and gang up on Congress.  Even before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, political action committees deluged politics with dollars. Foundations, corporations, and rich individuals funded think tanks that churned out study after study with results skewed to their ideology and interests. Political strategists made alliances with the religious right, with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, to zealously wage a cultural holy war that would camouflage the economic assault on working people and the middle class.

To help cover-up this heist of the economy, an appealing intellectual gloss was needed.  So public intellectuals were recruited and subsidized to turn “globalization,” “neo-liberalism,” and “the Washington Consensus” into a theological belief system.  The “dismal science of economics” became a miracle of faith.  Wall Street glistened as the new Promised Land, while few noticed that those angels dancing on the head of a pin were really witchdoctors with MBAs brewing voodoo magic.  The greed of the Gordon Gekkos — once considered a vice — was transformed into a virtue.  One of the high priests of this faith, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, looking in wonder on all that his company had wrought, pronounced it “God’s work.”

A prominent neoconservative religious philosopher even articulated a “theology of the corporation.”  I kid you not.  And its devotees lifted their voices in hymns of praise to wealth creation as participation in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  Self-interest became the Gospel of the Gilded Age.

No one today articulates this winner-take-all philosophy more candidly than Ray Dalio.  Think of him as the King Midas of hedge funds, with a personal worth estimated at almost $16 billion and a company, Bridgewater Associates, reportedly worth as much as $154 billion.

Dalio fancies himself a philosopher and has written a book of maxims explaining his philosophy. It boils down to: “Be a hyena. Attack the Wildebeest.” (Wildebeests, antelopes native to southern Africa — as I learned when we once filmed a documentary there — are no match for the flesh-eating dog-like spotted hyenas that gorge on them.)  Here’s what Dalio wrote about being a Wall Street hyena:

“…when a pack of hyenas takes down a young wildebeest, is this good or bad? At face value, this seems terrible; the poor wildebeest suffers and dies. Some people might even say that the hyenas are evil. Yet this type of apparently evil behavior exists throughout nature through all species… like death itself, this behavior is integral to the enormously complex and efficient system that has worked for as long as there has been life… [It] is good for both the hyenas, who are operating in their self-interest, and the interests of the greater system, which includes the wildebeest, because killing and eating the wildebeest fosters evolution, i.e., the natural process of improvement… Like the hyenas attacking the wildebeest, successful people might not even know if or how their pursuit of self-interest helps evolution, but it typically does.”

He concludes: “How much money people have earned is a rough measure of how much they gave society what it wanted…”

Not this time, Ray.  This time, the free market for hyenas became a slaughterhouse for the wildebeest. Collapsing shares and house prices destroyed more than a quarter of the wealth of the average household.  Many people have yet to recover from the crash and recession that followed. They are still saddled with burdensome debt; their retirement accounts are still anemic.  All of this was, by the hyena’s accounting, a social good, “an improvement in the natural process,” as Dalio puts it.  Nonsense.  Bull.  Human beings have struggled long and hard to build civilization; his doctrine of “progress” is taking us back to the jungle.

And by the way, there’s a footnote to the Dalio story.  Early this year, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, and by many accounts the richest man in Connecticut where it is headquartered, threatened to take his firm elsewhere if he didn’t get concessions from the state. You might have thought that the governor, a Democrat, would have thrown him out of his office for the implicit threat involved.  But no, he buckled and Dalio got the $22 million in aid — a $5 million grant and a $17 million loan — that he was demanding to expand his operations. It’s a loan that may be forgiven if he keeps jobs in Connecticut and creates new ones. No doubt he left the governor’s office grinning like a hyena, his shoes tracking wildebeest blood across the carpet.

Our founders warned against the power of privileged factions to capture the machinery of democracies.  James Madison, who studied history through a tragic lens, saw that the life cycle of previous republics had degenerated into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy. Like many of his colleagues, he was well aware that the republic they were creating could go the same way.  Distrusting, even detesting concentrated private power, the founders attempted to erect safeguards to prevent private interests from subverting the moral and political compact that begins, “We, the people.” For a while, they succeeded.

When the brilliant young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in the 1830s, he was excited by the democratic fervor he witnessed.  Perhaps that excitement caused him to exaggerate the equality he celebrated.  Close readers of de Tocqueville will notice, however, that he did warn of the staying power of the aristocracy, even in this new country.  He feared what he called, in the second volume of his masterwork, Democracy in America, an “aristocracy created by business.”  He described it as already among “the harshest that ever existed in the world” and suggested that, “if ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrate the world, it may be predicted that this is the gate by which they will enter.”

And so it did.  Half a century later, the Gilded Age arrived with a new aristocratic hierarchy of industrialists, robber barons, and Wall Street tycoons in the vanguard.  They had their own apologist in the person of William Graham Sumner, an Episcopal minister turned professor of political economy at Yale University.  He famously explained that “competition… is a law of nature” and that nature “grants her rewards to the fittest, therefore, without regard to other considerations of any kind.” 

From Sumner’s essays to the ravenous excesses of Wall Street in the 1920s to the ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Fox News, to the business press’s wide-eyed awe of hyena-like CEOs; from the Republican war on government to the Democratic Party’s shameless obeisance to big corporations and contributors, this “law of nature” has served to legitimate the yawning inequality of income and wealth, even as it has protected networks of privilege and monopolies in major industries like the media, the tech sector, and the airlines.

A plethora of studies conclude that America’s political system has already been transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy (the rule of a wealthy elite).  Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, for instance, studied data from 1,800 different policy initiatives launched between 1981 and 2002.  They found that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”  Whether Republican or Democratic, they concluded, the government more often follows the preferences of major lobbying or business groups than it does those of ordinary citizens.

We can only be amazed that a privileged faction in a fervent culture of politically protected greed brought us to the brink of a second Great Depression, then blamed government and a “dependent” 47% of the population for our problems, and ended up richer and more powerful than ever.

The Truth of Your Life

Which brings us back to those Marshall housewives — to all those who simply can’t see beyond their own prerogatives and so narrowly define membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.

How would I help them recoup their sanity, come home to democracy, and help build the sort of moral compact embodied in the preamble to the Constitution, that declaration of America’s intent and identity?

First, I’d do my best to remind them that societies can die of too much inequality.

Second, I’d give them copies of anthropologist Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed to remind them that we are not immune.  Diamond won the Pulitzer Prize for describing how the damage humans have inflicted on their environment has historically led to the decline of civilizations.  In the process, he vividly depicts how elites repeatedly isolate and delude themselves until it’s too late.  How, extracting wealth from commoners, they remain well fed while everyone else is slowly starving until, in the end, even they (or their offspring) become casualties of their own privilege.  Any society, it turns out, contains a built-in blueprint for failure if elites insulate themselves endlessly from the consequences of their decisions.

Third, I’d discuss the real meaning of “sacrifice and bliss” with them.  That was the title of the fourth episode of my PBS series Joseph Campbell and the Power of MythIn that episode, Campbell and I discussed the influence on him of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that the will to live is the fundamental reality of human nature.  So he puzzled about why some people override it and give up their lives for others.

“Can this happen?” Campbell asked. “That what we normally think of as the first law of nature, namely self-preservation, is suddenly dissolved. What creates that breakthrough when we put another’s well-being ahead of our own?”  He then told me of an incident that took place near his home in Hawaii, up in the heights where the trade winds from the north come rushing through a great ridge of mountains.  People go there to experience the force of nature, to let their hair be blown in the winds — and sometimes to commit suicide.

One day, two policemen were driving up that road when, just beyond the railing, they saw a young man about to jump.  One of the policemen bolted from the car and grabbed the fellow just as he was stepping off the ledge.  His momentum threatened to carry both of them over the cliff, but the policeman refused to let go.  Somehow he held on long enough for his partner to arrive and pull the two of them to safety.  When a newspaper reporter asked, “Why didn’t you let go? You would have been killed,” he answered: “I couldn’t… I couldn’t let go.  If I had, I couldn’t have lived another day of my life.”

Campbell then added: “Do you realize what had suddenly happened to that policeman? He had given himself over to death to save a stranger.  Everything else in his life dropped off. His duty to his family, his duty to his job, his duty to his own career, all of his wishes and hopes for life, just disappeared.” What mattered was saving that young man, even at the cost of his own life.

How can this be, Campbell asked?  Schopenhauer’s answer, he said, was that a psychological crisis represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical reality, which is that you and the other are two aspects of one life, and your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time.  Our true reality is our identity and unity with all life.

Sometimes, however instinctively or consciously, our actions affirm that reality through some unselfish gesture or personal sacrifice. It happens in marriage, in parenting, in our relations with the people immediately around us, and in our participation in building a society based on reciprocity.

The truth of our country isn’t actually so complicated.  It’s in the moral compact implicit in the preamble to our Constitution: we’re all in this together.  We are all one another’s first responders.  As the writer Alberto Rios once put it, “I am in your family tree and you are in mine.”

I realize that the command to love our neighbor is one of the hardest of all religious concepts, but I also recognize that our connection to others goes to the core of life’s mystery and to the survival of democracy.  When we claim this as the truth of our lives — when we live as if it’s so — we are threading ourselves into the long train of history and the fabric of civilization; we are becoming “we, the people.”

The religion of inequality — of money and power — has failed us; its gods are false gods.  There is something more essential — more profound — in the American experience than the hyena’s appetite.  Once we recognize and nurture this, once we honor it, we can reboot democracy and get on with the work of liberating the country we carry in our hearts.

© 2016 Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books, including Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, Moyers on Democracy, and Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards.

Bill Moyers: ‘We Are This Close to Losing Our Democracy to the Mercenary Class’

NOTE – here’s a short video – Bill Moyers: ‘We Are This Close to Losing Our Democracy to the Mercenary Class’ – video http://www.upworthy.com/if-more-people-knew-the-secrets-those-in-power-keep-from-us-all-we-would-toss-them-out-on-their-ear?c=ufb1

By Bill Moyers, TomDispatch, posted on Alternet,org,  December 12, 2013  

I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document.  By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country.  He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him.  He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”

Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?”  He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”

That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration.  How I wish he were here now — and still on the Court!

My interview with him was one of 12 episodes in that series on the Constitution.  Another concerned a case he had heard back in 1967.  It involved a teacher named Harry Keyishian who had been fired because he would not sign a New York State loyalty oath.  Justice Brennan ruled that the loyalty oath and other anti-subversive state statutes of that era violated First Amendment protections of academic freedom.

I tracked Keyishian down and interviewed him.  Justice Brennan watched that program and was fascinated to see the actual person behind the name on his decision.  The journalist Nat Hentoff, who followed Brennan’s work closely, wrote, “He may have seen hardly any of the litigants before him, but he searched for a sense of them in the cases that reached him.”  Watching the interview with Keyishian, he said, “It was the first time I had seen him.  Until then, I had no idea that he and the other teachers would have lost everything if the case had gone the other way.”

Toward the end of his tenure, when he was writing an increasing number of dissents on the Rehnquist Court, Brennan was asked if he was getting discouraged. He smiled and said, “Look, pal, we’ve always known — the Framers knew — that liberty is a fragile thing.  You can’t give up.”  And he didn’t.

The Donor Class and Streams of Dark Money

The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate.  “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections.  Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have a Senate in which, as a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels reveals, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we have a House of Representatives controlled by the far right that is now nourished by streams of “dark money” unleashed thanks to the gift bestowed on the rich by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.

We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.

Writing in the Guardian recently, the social critic George Monbiot commented,

“So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics… When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?”

Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do.  Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.

Class Prerogatives

Listen!  That sound you hear is the shredding of the social contract.

Ten years ago the Economist magazine — no friend of Marxism — warned: “The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”  And as a recent headline in the Columbia Journalism Review put it: “The line between democracy and a darker social order is thinner than you think.”

We are this close – this close! – to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.

When Justice Brennan and I talked privately in his chambers before that interview almost 20 years ago, I asked him how he had come to his liberal sentiments.  “It was my neighborhood,” he said.  Born to Irish immigrants in 1906, as the harsh indignities of the Gilded Age brought hardship and deprivation to his kinfolk and neighbors, he saw “all kinds of suffering — people had to struggle.”  He never forgot those people or their struggles, and he believed it to be our collective responsibility to create a country where they would have a fair chance to a decent life.  “If you doubt it,” he said, “read the Preamble [to the Constitution].”

He then asked me how I had come to my philosophy about government (knowing that I had been in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations).  I don’t remember my exact words, but I reminded him that I had been born in the midst of the Great Depression to parents, one of whom had to drop out of school in the fourth grade, the other in the eighth, because they were needed in the fields to pick cotton to help support their families.

Franklin Roosevelt, I recalled, had been president during the first 11 years of my life.  My father had listened to his radio “fireside chats” as if they were gospel; my brother went to college on the G.I. Bill; and I had been the beneficiary of public schools, public libraries, public parks, public roads, and two public universities.  How could I not think that what had been so good for me would be good for others, too?

That was the essence of what I told Justice Brennan.  Now, I wish that I could talk to him again, because I failed to mention perhaps the most important lesson about democracy I ever learned.

On my 16th birthday in 1950, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up.  It was a racially divided town — about 20,000 people, half of them white, half of them black — a place where you could grow up well-loved, well-taught, and well-churched, and still be unaware of the lives of others merely blocks away.  It was nonetheless a good place to be a cub reporter: small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something new every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the old-timers in the newsroom were on vacation or out sick, and I got assigned to report on what came to be known as the “Housewives’ Rebellion.”  Fifteen women in town (all white) decided not to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers (all black).

They argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that — here’s my favorite part — “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  They hired themselves a lawyer — none other than Martin Dies, Jr., the former congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the witch-hunting days of the 1930s and 1940s.  They went to court — and lost.  Social Security was constitutional, after all.  They held their noses and paid the tax.

The stories I helped report were picked up by the Associated Press and circulated nationwide.  One day, the managing editor, Spencer Jones, called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk.  Moving across the wire was a notice citing the reporters on our paper for the reporting we had done on the “rebellion.”  I spotted my name and was hooked.  In one way or another, after a detour through seminary and then into politics and government, I’ve been covering the class war ever since.

Those women in Marshall, Texas, were among its advance guard.  Not bad people, they were regulars at church, their children were my classmates, many of them were active in community affairs, and their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town.  They were respectable and upstanding citizens all, so it took me a while to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary defiance.  It came to me one day, much later: they simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.

Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs, charities, and congregations — fiercely loyal, in other words, to their own kind — they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves.  The black women who washed and ironed their laundry, cooked their families’ meals,  cleaned their bathrooms, wiped their children’s bottoms, and made their husbands’ beds, these women, too, would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show for their years of labor but the creases on their brows and the knots on their knuckles.  There would be nothing for them to live on but the modest return on their toil secured by the collaborative guarantee of a safety net.

The Unfinished Work of America

In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy.  Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson.  Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites.  I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”

But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud.  That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.

Toward the end of Justice Brennan’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he made a speech that went to the heart of the matter.  He said:

“We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses… Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”

And so we are. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.”  That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.

 

See more stories tagged with:

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Justice William Brennan [5],

class warfare [6],

roberts court [7],

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bill-moyers-we-are-close-losing-our-democracy-mercenary-class

Links:
[1] http://www.tomdispatch.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bill-moyers-1
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[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bill-moyers
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/justice-william-brennan
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/class-warfare-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/roberts-court
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/plutocracy
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/dark-money
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

On the Sabotage of Democracy by Bill Moyers

October 4, 2013

BILL MOYERS: And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional. Then rabid. Like this:

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

BILL MOYERS: That’s false, of course. Just like those right-wing talking points that keep grinding through the propaganda mills of Fox News:

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

BILL MOYERS: Not true.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

BILL MOYERS: Again, not true. Nor is this, from the multi-millionaire fabulist Rush Limbaugh:

RUSH LIMBAUGH from the Rush Limbaugh Show: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

BILL MOYERS: That’s just a tiny sample of the lies and misinformation perpetrated by the right with the song and dance compliance of its richly paid mouthpieces. Sarah Palin set the bar for truth at about ankle height with those fictitious “death panels” that she still insists will decide our rendezvous with the Grim Reaper.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

BILL MOYERS: Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.

When the president refused to buckle to their extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.

Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”

This man is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.

It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.

Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media.

NEWT GINGRICH on Crossfire: I’m Newt Gingrich on the right.

BILL MOYERS: On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”

At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.

© 2013 Public Affairs Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-shutdown-showdown/

The End Game for Democracy

 by Bill Moyers, billmoyers.com August 23, 2013

We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below.

The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke.

Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs.

They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations.

We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain.

The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works.

William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?”

Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-the-end-game-for-democracy/

The American Legislative Exchange Council Is Hard at Work Privatizing America, One Statehouse at a Time

BillMoyers.com By Bill Moyers, June 22, 2013 

Excerpt

A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, “United States of ALEC — A Follow-Up” explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work…

Full text

A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, “United States of ALEC — A Follow-Up” [3] explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.”

Former health care industry executive Wendell Potter [4] says, “Even though I’d known of [ALEC] for a long time, I was astonished. Just about everything that I knew that the health insurance industry wanted out of any state lawmaker was included in that package of bills.”

Following up on a 2012 report, this update [5] includes new examples of corporate influence on state legislation and lawmakers, the growing public protest against ALEC’s big business-serving agenda, and internal tactics ALEC is instituting to further shroud its actions and intentions.

“United States of ALEC” Executive Producer Tom Casciato says people who saw the first report [6] “might be surprised to learn that, despite more than 40 companies having dropped out of ALEC [7], the organization is still going very strong.” He adds, “ALEC doesn’t publish a list of its members, so covering will always be hard, but in a democracy it’s a good idea for people to know where their laws originate.”

In addition to watching the show, you should follow our “Eye on ALEC” blog [8] and see all of our features and articles [9] related to ALEC. Also, you can help us build a national map [10] of state representatives who are members of ALEC.

See more stories tagged with:

alec [11],

privatization [12]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bill-moyers-american-legislative-exchange-council-hard-work-privatizing-america

Links:
[1] http://billmoyers.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bill-moyers-0
[3] http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-united-states-of-alec-a-follow-up
[4] http://billmoyers.com/guest/wendell-potter/
[5] http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-united-states-of-alec-a-follow-up/
[6] http://billmoyers.com/segment/united-states-of-alec/
[7] http://billmoyers.com/2012/04/05/companies-respond-to-alec-boycotts/
[8] http://billmoyers.com/category/what-matters-today/the-united-states-of-alec/
[9] http://billmoyers.com/spotlight/eye-on-alec/
[10] http://billmoyers.com/content/interactive-map-is-your-state-legislator-a-member-of-alec/
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alec
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/privatization
[13] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

How Storytelling Is at the Heart of Making Social Change

By Bill Moyers, Marshall Ganz, From BillMoyers.com, May 13, 2013 

BILL MOYERS:  How do you handle the grim news of inequality, corruption, poverty, dysfunction and buffoonery that washes over us every day? Well, you can tune out and ignore it; pretend it will go away until it’s too late or you can look around, find kindred spirits and throw your energies into the fight for justice. … [Marshall Ganz] is an American maestro of organizing who … has never given in to despair or given over to fear. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Marshall Ganz teaches the next generation of organizers, students from all over the world. He tells them: when in doubt, just remember the story in the Bible of little David and his slingshot…

Smiting Goliath might as well be Marshall Ganz’s job description. It began in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964 when his fury against injustice pulled him out of Harvard and into the struggle for civil rights. From there, he signed on with the legendary Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and for 16 years, struggled to unionize the men and women in the fields of California who toiled endless hours and mounting days, picking crops for next to nothing.

Three decades after Marshall Ganz had dropped out of Harvard, he went back to finish his degree and earn a doctorate. A few years later, he was asked to become the architect behind the Obama campaign’s skillful organizing of students and volunteers.

Today, Marshall Ganz is a founder of the Leading Change Network, a global community of organizers, educators and researchers mobilizing for democracy. You’ll find more of his experience and philosophy in this book: Why David Sometimes Wins.

… Stories have been a powerful part of your life. Where did that come from? Why stories?

MARSHALL GANZ:First of all, I grew up in stories. My fathers a rabbi. And I grew up with the Exodus story as a child. And I was always puzzled by the fact that, you know, they said that at a certain point you were slaves in Egypt. I’d never been a slave or been to Egypt, they’d say to the children. And, but then I came to realize that what it meant was the story really wasn’t the property of one people, time, or place.

And then out to the farm workers. And we’re in the religious narrative. I mean, one of my first assignments in the farmworkers was to organize a march from Delano to Sacramento. But it wasn’t a march. It was a peregrinación. It was a pilgrimage. It was at Lent. It reached Sacramento on Easter Sunday.

It was like an enactment of the redemptive narrative of Easter. But it was built into the movement that we were building. So in my experience in organizing, it was also all within narrative. And so we kind of knew that narrative stories mattered. And they mattered to the heart. And they weren’t the whole story. The whole story, so to speak. The strategy mattered, structure mattered, but narrative mattered, the motivation, the courage.

BILL MOYERS: Until I read your book about Chavez and the strikers, I didn’t know how much of their own efforts revolved around stories. But then when I read your book, I realized how the stories that they told, the stories that they inherited, added up to a story that they wanted to leave for their children.

MARSHALL GANZ:Sure. But I mean, that’s one of the things that distinguishes movements from, like, interest groups. Movements have narratives. They tell stories, because they are, they are not just about rearranging economics and politics. They also rearrange meaning. And they’re not just about redistributing the goods. They’re about figuring out what is good.

So they have this cultural piece of work that movements are doing, along with the economic and the political. Not in lieu of it. And I think it’s particularly important, because doing that kind of work that movements do requires risk-taking, uncertainty, going up against the odds. And that takes a lot of hope. And so where do you go for hopefulness? Where do you go for courage? Where do you go? You go to those moral resources that are found within narratives and within identity work and within all faith traditions, cultural traditions.

BILL MOYERS: You know, Campbell told me that that was the great appeal to him of Carl Jung. That Jung wrapped his psychology into the stories of what had actually happened in his life and, and in the lives of the people sitting in front of him. And if he could get somebody into a story, he knew that person would discover who he was more likely than if he dealt with just abstract ideas.

MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, it is so true. It’s the particular. See, we often think, we associate understanding with abstraction. It’s just the opposite.

BILL MOYERS:That’s right.

MARSHALL GANZ:The particular then becomes the portal on the transcendent, because it’s through the particular experience that I’m able then to communicate the emotional content of the value that is moving me.

You know, my father was a chaplain in the American Army. And we lived in Germany after the war for three years. You know, my fifth birthday party was what, he worked a lot with what were called DPs.

BILL MOYERS: Displaced Persons.

MARSHALL GANZ: Well, my fifth birthday party was in a camp of, a DP camp of all children. And my mother thought that I should give presents rather than get them. Well, I didn’t quite get that. And I actually thought it was kind of cool that there were no parents, until later I realized why there were no parents. And so it was, it was sort of a moment and then a deeper understanding of that moment later that sort of was a kind of sobering experience and helped me understand the emotional work that’s there that stories do.

BILL MOYERS:How so?

MARSHALL GANZ:It helped me understand that dealing with, dealing with fear is probably the central moral question we have to deal with. By moral, I mean, if you think, if you think of moral questions as not being about principles, but more what Jung called “moral sentiment.”

In other words, how do I live with empathy as opposed to alienation? How do I live with a sense of my own value as opposed to a feeling of deficiency? How do I live in a spirit of hope instead of fear?

BILL MOYERS: How to be in the world, right?

MARSHALL GANZ:How to be in the world and capable of moral engagement with other human beings is sort of how I think of it.

Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher defined hope as, said, “Belief in the plausibility of the possible as opposed to the necessity of the probable.” Now let me say that again. That to be a realist is to recognize that the world is not a domain in which the probable always happens. I mean, Goliath is more likely to win. But, you know what, sometimes David does, you know?

BILL MOYERS:Was there a time you had to do that, when you had to suspend disbelief and see that the inevitable was not a necessity, that it was a probability?

MARSHALL GANZ: Boy, I you know, well, first of all thinking I can get into Harvard in the first place from Bakersfield, leaving Harvard to go work in Mississippi is…

BILL MOYERS: You left before you finished your studies?

MARSHALL GANZ: Yeah, I had a year to go. But see, when I left, it was to just go for the summer project. But I found a calling there.

INTERVIEWER:Marshall, what are your motives for going down to Mississippi this summer?

MARSHALL GANZ, 1964:Reading the papers last year, talking with people, and hearing about what was happening in Mississippi and the South, shooting of Medgar Evans and other events like that generates such a feeling of outrage and injustice that you feel you must act.

MARSHALL GANZ: I found this thing called organizing, which I had never really understood or heard of. And it wasn’t about charity. It wasn’t about, you know, helping. It was about it was about justice. It was about working with other people in a way that respected and enhanced their agency and my own at the same time.

BILL MOYERS:How did you learn that?

MARSHALL GANZ:Through being part of it.

MARSHALL GANZ:Our initial project, so we were trying to claim voting rights because African Americans of course, didn’t have the right to vote in, any practical right to vote in Mississippi, Alabama, much of Georgia, and so forth, in those states, at that time.

The work was to build a parallel organization called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that was because the regular Democratic Party excluded Blacks.

So our idea was we were going to build a parallel one, choose a delegation, go to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention, 1964, challenge the racist Democrats, and replace them with our Democrats. And that was going to be a blow for the civil rights movement.

So the work was going to people’s houses, Black people, talking with them, registering the Freedom Democratic Party, have a house meeting, come to a caucus, get elected.

Working with people to find courage, to find solidarity, to find a sense of hopefulness, to stand up to pretty scary stuff. I mean, you know, three of our group were killed before we even left Oxford, Ohio. That was Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. And so it was, I’ve often thought about that book by Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice.

BILL MOYERS: Love, Power, and Justice.

MARSHALL GANZ:And where he argues that power without love can never be just, but similarly love that doesn’t take power seriously can never achieve justice. And that was, I think, what I learned.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve said that when you tell a story, the story becomes three stories.

MARSHALL GANZ: Yes. Well, when we do public, so public narrative, is like a leadership skill of moving people to public action. So there’s a story of self, which is using narrative to communicate why I’ve been called. So I tell stories that can communicate the values that move me. A story of us is using narrative to create a sense of the values we share as a community. And then the story of now is do they experience the challenge to those values that requires action now? So sort of three pieces.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s what Martin Luther King meant when he talked about the urgency of now at Riverside Church?

MARSHALL GANZ: That’s exactly right. And you’ll see in that talk his calling and then he reminds us of what we’re called to as African Americans, as White Americans, and as Americans.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, that is such a thing as being too late… And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

MARSHALL GANZ: It’s so amazing the way he’s able to speak the, the Christian language, but in a way that’s inclusive and not exclusive. It’s really extraordinary. It’s extraordinary. And then and then because we share those values, guess what, folks, we face the fierce urgency of a now that requires action. That’s what public narrative is.

BILL MOYERS:Is it true that the slogan for Cesar Chavez and his farm workers was “si se puede”?

MARSHALL GANZ:Si se puede, yeah.

BILL MOYERS:Which translated literally into Obama’s…

MARSHALL GANZ:“Yes, we can.” Oh, you betcha.

BILL MOYERS: Is that right?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, “si se puede” came in Arizona, 1972 Arizona had a governor Jack Williams that passed a law that denied farm workers the right to organize, boycott. I mean, it was a terrible law. And so we had to figure out were we going to challenge it or not?

So we all went to Arizona to challenge it. We got there. And went out talking to people. And Dolores Huerta actually came back. We were meeting in a hotel/motel room. She said, “I’ve been talking to all these everywhere. And everywhere I go, people say, ‘no se puede,’ ‘no se puede.’” She goes, “Ah, you can’t do it. You can’t do it, you know? It’s just too, you know? And we got to, we got to answer that. We got to say, ‘si se puede.’” And so that became the slogan in that campaign was “si se puede.” Yes, it can be done. And that then became a farm worker movement slogan. “Si se puede.” So in New Hampshire, when Obama lost that night, and there was a lot of that talk going on around.

BARACK OBAMA:Generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums of the spirit of a people.

MARSHALL GANZ:Then comes out, “Yes, we can.” Well, that’s “si se puede.”

BARACK OBAMA:Yes we can. Yes we can.

MARSHALL GANZ: That was a great moment. That was what sort of raised such hopes about his presidency.

BILL MOYERS:Did people count too much on his charisma and didn’t assess his inexperience sufficiently.

MARSHALL GANZ:Oh, in retrospect, you know, probably so, you know? But I don’t know, I think there’s plenty of responsibility to go around. I mean, I think there was too much readiness to just leave it up to Obama. And I think that those of us who wanted to do more about economic justice and immigration and climate change needed to do more.

We had to be contentious. That’s how it works. It’s like this idea that contentiousness is somehow alien to democracy and that consensus is somehow what democracy is about and that polarization is bad, paralysis is bad. But, you know, it’s like Saul Alinsky says… Organizers have to be well-integrated schizoids, because you have to polarize to mobilize and depolarize to settle. But without polarizing you’re never going to mobilize anything. And yeah, then there’s a time to negotiate. And I think we’re really screwed up on that right now…

BILL MOYERS: It’s always been struggle and conflict and winners and losers that move us forward or backwards.

MARSHALL GANZ:That’s the heart of democracy, democracy is a system of contention. I mean, of constructive contention when it works.

MARSHALL GANZ in class: What did the farmworkers want? You remember in the farmworker story? Those that read that one? You remember in this context, in this moment what they wanted?

MALE STUDENT in class:Is it recognition for UFW?

MARSHALL GANZ in class:Yeah, it was recognition and it wound up being recognition from a particular employer, Schenley Industries, a big liquor company in Vallejo. And union recognition means a contract signed between the workers and the unions specifying wages, hours, working conditions and all the rest. Very, very concrete objective. Right? But that was, like, the focus of their efforts so that they could then move toward the bigger goals of broader justice and all the rest of it.

And so the whole point about outcomes is specifying them clearly enough that you can actually focus in and commit to making it happen or not. And, and I think a lot of project are struggling with that right now. It’s how to specify the place between, you know, justice out there, goodness in the world and, like, my next meeting.

BILL MOYERS: Suppose one of those students said to you, “Professor Ganz, I know that the farm workers were out-financed and outmanned. And I know they were opposed by business owners and other labor leaders spurned them. Yet, you say that they worked out a successful, grassroots strategy to organize illiterate grape pickers. Is there any lesson in that?

MARSHALL GANZ:The lesson would be to look at how it was they figured out how to do it. See, it’s sort of like you don’t copy that. But you sort of look at the depth of motivation they brought to it, the creativity. How did they figure out their strategy? How did they understand power? What did they understand about it? How did they continue to renew their spirit that they were able to keep moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: How did they?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, there was a lot of this heart work, a lot of the narrative, the storytelling, a lot of the celebratory, a lot of the nurturing of the heart. I mean, you know, it took us five years to run a grape boycott. And we had to reinvent that thing every year. And every year, you’re going back in and saying, “Okay, we got to start again.” But you find in each other, in the solidarity, in the myths if you wish that– that feed you the capacity to keep going.

BILL MOYERS:I remember what you wrote once that you had learned in Mississippi during the summer of 1964. You said all the inequalities between Blacks and Whites were driven by a deeper inequality, the inequality of power. That seems to me, the fundamental reality of American life today.

MARSHALL GANZ:Yeah, I think the political inequality and the economic inequality and a kind of cultural inequality that sort of all reinforce one another is an enormous problem, obviously. I mean, that’s sort of what we’re trying to deal with. And so the question and in some ways, you could sort of think that liberal democracy is based on a deal that inequality and economic resources can be balanced by equality in political resources. In other words, that equal voice can somehow balance unequal wealth. Well we’re sort of way beyond that. And…

BILL MOYERS: One man, one vote, one person, one vote has been, has been overwhelmed by $100,000 and a million dollars.

MARSHALL GANZ: And it’s not even just the money. If you live in a swing state, your vote counts so much more than if you live in New York or Illinois or California, when it comes to electing a president. If you live in a swing district, when it comes to electing a member of Congress, your vote counts. If you live in a district that’s been gerrymandered so it’s all Democrats or all Republicans, your vote does not count. So when you really look at whose votes count, it’s a very, very small proportion.

So we have some deep structural flaws that go all the way back to the beginning that aren’t, they don’t, it’s not about us as a people or our culture, our beliefs. We’re operating within in a set of political institutions that distort and actually warp our capacity to express our beliefs. Maybe what we really need is an equal voice amendment to guarantee that each vote actually had equal weight. That’d be pretty radical. And if we actually designed a system that did that, now, you know, would we get something like that tomorrow? No, probably not. But, but I guess my point is that, that there are a lot of sources of energy and change in a country, not to mention the world. A lot of it is generationally driven. It’s in places that may be unexpected.

BILL MOYERS: Let me come closer to where you and I are today, Occupy Wall Street did pull economic inequality out of the closet and put it at the breakfast table, the lunch table, the dinner table, and the political roundtables on Sunday. But it didn’t hang around to fight for it. What happened?

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, I think, I think Occupy made a great contribution in that it did what you just said. It, it took economic inequality, economic justice and made it legitimate. But they got stuck. I mean, they got stuck on a tactic, without a strategy that went beyond a tactic.

And, you know, one tactic doesn’t build a movement. It takes, it takes venues in which people can strategize about how to move the ball forward. You know, I mentioned at the beginning sort of these three elements of story, strategy, and structure that you sort of need to build a movement, an organization.

You got to have your, the narrative is the “why” we’re doing it. And then the strategy is how we’re doing it, not just one tactic, but how, what’s our theory of change. What’s our theory of how we’re going to use our resources to influence those sources of power. And then how are we, what’s our structure through which we’re figuring all this stuff out and working at it? And so they had problems there. You know, people confuse structure with oppression. And Jo Freeman wrote a great piece, this…

BILL MOYERS:The feminist?

MARSHALL GANZ: The feminist sociologist, called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” and I have all my students read it, where she argues, you think structurelessness, you’re kidding yourself. Any time a group of people get together, they’re going to create a structure. The difference is whether it’s visible or invisible, whether it’s accountable or not, and whether it’s open and above board and, or whether it’s all factionalized and personalistic. And so you choose what you want.And I think it’s really honest. And so the rejection of structure is a sort of rejection of taking responsibility for self-governance.

BILL MOYERS:So you talk about the power of story and for the last 40 years, the story of the free market has been the triumphant story in American culture.

MARSHALL GANZ:It really is, you know? And it’s powerful, because it has a moral dimension and it has a political dimension and it has an economic dimension. It’s sort of like that the market means we’re all free to make our own choices, so isn’t that great, because we want to be free. And it’s all about choices.

And politically, well it’s all based on people making their choices. And so that’s democratic. And economically, well, we all know it’s efficient, right, because that’s how markets work. It’s, and the problem is every one of those claims is fundamentally flawed and fundamentally an act of faith. I mean, Harvey Cox wrote this thing about the market is God. And…but the big question is where’s the missing alternative counter to that? And I think that is an enormous intellectual challenge for our time right now. Where’s that alternative?

BILL MOYERS: We need a new story?

MARSHALL GANZ: We need a new story. But it’s also a new way of describing our economic challenges and our political challenges that emphasizes not this idea of what each individual competes with, each other individual as the answer, but the ways in which we cooperate and collaborate with one another as the answer.

You know, Albert Hirschman, the development economist wrote this book a number of years ago, I’m sure you know about it, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” And sort of the idea was, okay, so you got an institution. And it’s screwing up. And so one way to fix it is to exercise voice. The other way is you can exit. The market solutions are all exit solutions.

BILL MOYERS:Explain that to me.

MARSHALL GANZ:Well, so you don’t like the way the schools work, exit, make your own over here. And that way you exercise choice. You don’t like the way public health works, exit, over here, make your own. Now the only problem is you can only exit and make your own if you got the money to do it. And so the result is that you create these parallel systems of elite systems that are, you know, that fragment the whole.

The public gets poorer and poorer and poorer, and you create all these little isolated golden ghettos all around of privilege. And the focus is on how do we find market solutions, market solutions, market… when we should but saying, how do we find more effective ways to exercise voice? How can we have more, more effective public deliberation? How can we bring more people into the process? How can we create the venues where people can actually learn and deliberate with one another?

BILL MOYERS: Can you take this one step further or beyond government over to the leadership of other institutions, business leaders, educational leaders? I mean, how do we write a narrative that includes them in this new story of collaboration, cooperation?

MARSHALL GANZ:You know Karl Polanyi’s book, “The Great Transformation,” written in 1941, sort of nailed it when he said, if you have a good that can, where price captures value, you can marketize it. And where price does not capture value you cannot marketize it.

And he was talking about labor and land when he was writing in 1941. And he was trying to explain the, the problem of the open market system after World War I that had wiped out all sorts of social structures that cleared the way for the rise of fascism in Europe. I mean, this is the context he was writing in. He was saying, “So the open market system was allowed to be a solvent that ground everything down.”

Because it doesn’t respect values other than price values. Now how do you put a price on education, really? How do you put a price on health, really? How do you put a price on art, really? Now when we price these things, we undermine their value. And so that’s why we need churches. That’s why we need schools whose value isn’t based on pricing, it’s based on a different set of understanding and the resources that it generate doesn’t depend on pricing. So I don’t know. There’s potentials out there. But I think somehow we need to get this into the, we need to get into this debate. We need to get into this argument and have it be about something really substantive. And not get drawn into these, “Oh, we’re too polarized” or something. We need to be more polarized, but polarized around the right things.

BILL MOYERS: Is there any kind of organizing like that going on?

MARSHALL GANZ:There’s a lot of organizing going. I’m privileged to get to see it, because I work with young people. Within the immigrant world, the dreamers have done some great stuff. I mean, they do the organizing, the house meetings, the one on ones, all that good old organizing stuff. You know, the crew of young organizers came out of the Dean campaign in 2003 in…

BILL MOYERS:Howard Dean?

MARSHALL GANZ:Yeah, 2003-04, and that crowd that have, you know, percolated through Obama and all that in a variety of different ways. But they’ve brought sound organizing techniques into electoral politics in a way that had disappeared. It had all been marketing. It was all marketing. And not that marketing’s not there now in a big way.

But the confusion between marketing and movement building is really a big one. And I think that’s one of the things the environmental groups really, really missed the boat on. I think they thought that they could market their way to legislation. What I mean is that through polling and advertising, they could make what, the changes they wanted palatable to enough of the people that they could, in that way, create enough of a ground that they would get the legislation.

That’s a marketing proposition. Movement building is you know that you don’t have a majority. What you got to do is build enough of a constituency that you can develop the power you need in order to achieve what you want. And so what you’re doing is engaging people, who engage other people, who engage other people. And you build a movement that way.

BILL MOYERS: Looking back on your life, is there a core to it? Is there a common denominator?

MARSHALL GANZ:There were three questions posed by a 1st century Jerusalem scholar Rabbi Hillel, when asked “How do we, how do we understand what we are to do in the world?” And he responded with three questions. The first one’s to ask yourself, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” It’s not a selfish question, but it is a self-regarding question. Sort of saying, “Ask yourself what you’re about, what you value, what you have to contribute, what…” But then the second question is, “If I am for myself alone, what am I?” But it, which is, it’s to even be a who and not a what is to recognize that we are in the world in relationship with others and that our capacity to realize our own objectives is inextricably wrapped up with the capacity of others to realize theirs.

And finally, “If not now, when?” The time for action is always now, because it’s often only through action that we can learn what we need to learn in order to be able to act effectively in the ways that we intend. And the fact that they’re questions is also really important to me, because it suggests that this work, this work of organizing, leadership is not about knowing, it’s about learning.

And it’s about asking and it’s about understanding that it is about dealing with the uncertain. It is about probing the unknown. It’s not about control. It’s about, it’s about learning through purposeful experience. And so that’s kind of, I think, what I’ve tried to, as I look back, what I’ve tried to learn, to teach, to do, to practice is how to be that kind of a learner and teacher.

BILL MOYERS: Marshall Ganz, I look forward to the next chapter of the story. Thank you for sharing your time and ideas with me.

MARSHALL GANZ:Thank you, Bill. Thank you very much.

http://www.alternet.org/activism/moyers-how-storytelling-heart-making-social-change?akid=10429.125622.gvF5cJ&rd=1&src=newsletter839684&t=5

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann Explain Why Congress is Failing Us

Moyers and Company, April 26, 2013

BILL MOYERS: Even if the threat of terrorists went away, none of those bold projects Glenn Greenwald described as defining American greatness would happen today. Our government is paralyzed and dysfunctional, and it’s getting worse than ever. Just ask Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as I’m about to do.

For decades, these two political scientists were on the go-to list for Beltway pundits and reporters seeking wisdom on the curious ways of governance. But then, almost exactly a year ago to this day, they published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post headlined, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.Mann and Ornstein argued that democracy and the economy are in a crash dive, and that congressional gridlock was largely the fault of the Republican Party and its takeover by right wing radicals. What’s more, they said, the mainstream media was adding to the problem by resorting to “false equivalency,” pretending that both parties were equally at fault.

The article was based on their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. A paperback edition, with a new preface and afterword, will be out later this year.

Thomas Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, they predicted, “If President Obama gets reelected but faces either a continuing divided Congress or a Congress with Republicans in charge of both houses, there is little reason to expect a new modus vivendi in which the president and GOP leaders are able to find reasonable compromises in areas like budget policy, health reform and financial regulation.”

Welcome to the both of you.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Great to be with you, Bill.

THOMAS MANN: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Okay, the election’s come and gone and the deep dysfunction that has gripped our government for so many years now is still with us. What are you thinking today?

THOMAS MANN: You know, the election was even more stunning, in a way, in its sweep than we might have imagined. So you would have thought things would be different. Maybe in an issue or two, like immigration, it will be. But if you look at the gun issue, the background check, so much of the focus has been on the four Democrat apostates who drifted away from their party.

Forty-one of 45 Republicans voted no. That includes people from states that wouldn’t naturally be a part of a big gun culture. What’s the reason? It’s the tribalism we described in the book that continues. If he’s for it, we’re against it. We’re not going to give him a victory, even if we were for it yesterday. And I’m afraid that pathology is still a driving force, dramatically so in the House; a little bit less in the Senate. But as we saw with background checks, not quite enough.

THOMAS MANN: Sadly, divided party government, which we have because of the Republican House, in a time of extreme partisan polarization, is a formula for inaction and absolutist opposition politics, not for problem solving.

You know, it wasn’t that long ago when you could actually get something done under divided government. There’d be enough members of the opposition party who want to legislate, not simply to engage in what we used to call the permanent campaign is now a permanent war. But that doesn’t happen anymore now. It’s Republicans are unified in their oppositions, or beholden to a “no new tax” pledge that really keeps the country, the Congress, and its political system from dealing honestly and seriously with the problems we face.

BILL MOYERS: Well, take the gun vote again. It occurred to me that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have made a fatal blunder when he caved earlier in the year and didn’t go for the end of the filibuster, as he could have. Do you agree with that?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: I have mixed feelings about that, Bill. The difficulty that Harry Reid faced was to do this would cause a lot of turmoil in the Senate. There are so many other ways that a minority party can bollix up the works. And it’s worth a price, if it’s going to lead to legislative outcomes. But with a Republican House, all those bills passed would have met a graveyard.

BILL MOYERS: They could have still blocked it over in the…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Could have still…

BILL MOYERS: Anything that…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: …blocked it.

BILL MOYERS: …passed in the Senate.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: So he went for a deal with Mitch McConnell which makes it easier, if the two leaders want to do something, to overcome individual rogue senators, like a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul. But it didn’t bank on, he didn’t bank on the Republican leader basically going back to where he had been for the first four years of the Obama administration on nominations for judges and top administration officials, and on a whole host of bills, and once again raising the bar to 60 routinely.

BILL MOYERS: You really surprised me last year, because I know how hard you both have worked to be bipartisan and to work with Democrats and Republicans, but you were very blunt in the way you came out and finally, you know.

THOMAS MANN: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: …named names and pointed fingers. You wrote, “The two parties are not equally to blame because the Republicans have become extreme both in,” quoting you, “in terms of policy and process.” And you’re saying here today, a year later, that’s still the case?

THOMAS MANN: It’s very much the case, Bill. We had no choice but to say it. It was in some ways, it was obvious if you if you look at the situation, and there is a body of scholarly research that has demonstrated this rightward march of the party, both among elected officials, but also rank-and-file Republicans. And the strongest, most extreme of those, the Tea Party people, have pulled the others back toward them. It’s a reality, and it’s not just ideological difference either. They begin with those differences, but then it’s the strategic hyper-partisanship, what Norm referred to earlier: If Barack Obama is for something, we have to be against it because he’s not a real American.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Let me just offer a bit of a caveat here on two fronts. First, we’re not saying Democrats are angels here. Plenty of flaws there. But I also hold out still some hope for the Senate. You have a number of Republicans in the Senate, and this has less to do with ideology than with focus. Are you there to solve problems, or are you there either to pursue a radical agenda or to gain political advantage? Everybody’s going to look for political advantage.

There are problem-solvers in the Senate. They are flawed ones, as we saw with the gun bill. You know, people like Lamar Alexander or Bob Corker, who joined with most of their colleagues. But I’ve talked to them when it comes to either reforming the nomination process, doing something in a larger fiscal sense that will include revenues, acting on immigration. I think you’ve got some opportunities here. Those opportunities will go to the House, and the only way they’ll pass is with far more Democrats than Republicans. And they may not make it through. But we don’t have a lost cause yet in the Senate.

Now, the recent evidence is not great on that front. And the fundamental pathologies that we wrote about and talked about and we just felt an obligation that we’d built up some capital over the years. What’s it for if you’re not going to spend it now?

BILL MOYERS: You riled the Republicans but you riled the press by talking about false equivalency. Their evenhanded treatment of decidedly uneven behavior on the part of the two parties, the equal treatment for true and false statements by advocates, equal weight to competing spin between opposing politicians and pundits without regard to the accuracy of either. You didn’t get invited on the Sunday talk shows after that, did you?

NOMAN ORNSTEIN: And still haven’t been.

THOMAS MANN: You noticed that? It’s because those programs are predicated upon having spin from one side and then the other side. We’re not the first to point out the, this artificial balance. I mean, reporters, good reporters do it partly out of a sense of professionalism, to be fair. To be wary of allowing your own personal political views to influence your writing. All of that is good.

But now it’s a safety valve. It keeps you from being charged as a partisan. It satisfies your producers, worried about advertising. And frankly, it’s become really quite pernicious. We point out example after example in the book where they treat clearly unequal behavior as equivalent.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know it’s not even that we weren’t invited on the Sunday shows, it’s the radio silence on the topic. So you mention “The Washington Post” piece that appeared at right at the time that the book was published. And it just exploded on the scene, frankly; partly because of the title, which was “Let’s Just Say It: Republicans Are the Problem”.

You know, within less than 24 hours after it was up unannounced on The Washington Post website, they had 5,000 comments. They stop counting after that. We got over 265,000 Facebook referrals; 1.5 million web his. That weekend it appeared on a Thursday, and then in the paper on Sunday. That weekend, this was the topic of discussion in Washington, there’s no doubt about that.

All those Sunday shows have panels, their charge being, let’s talk about what people are talking about in Washington. Nothing. You could invite other people on; you may not want to have us for one reason or another. How can you not raise the issue at all? Because it’s so uncomfortable for them to even raise the notion that they should focus on the truth rather than this notion of balance no matter what. And that remains the case.

BILL MOYERS: So look what’s happening. Senate Republicans are filibustering and blocking scores of executive and judicial nominations, as you point out in your new preface; they’re delaying the confirmation of others. They’re still willing, as you said last year, to use any tactic, no matter how dangerous and destructive, to damage the President and to force its will on him through a form of policy hostage-taking. You say that this policy hostage-taking was devised by this group, calling itself the “Young Guns.” Who are they?

THOMAS MANN: They are Eric Cantor they are Paul Ryan, and the third is the Republican whip Representative McCarthy of California. They laid out before the election a strategy to take hostage the full faith and credit of the United States by threatening not to raise the debt limit to accommodate previous decisions made by Congress, and signed by the president. It’s hard to imagine a more destructive action that could be taken.

We’ve got problems here, but there is still a flight to the dollar around the world. The one thing we have going for us is people trust the dollar and trust the fact that Treasury will pay its obligations when people buy bonds. But they were going to take that hostage in order to get immediate spending cuts.

BILL MOYERS: There was some compromise in January over the, over the deficit. Were you encouraged by that? Did you get an adrenaline shot when you…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: No. And unfortunately. And here’s the reason why. I mean, first of all, of course, we knew that the leverage was with President Obama in this case, not with people trying to hold something hostage, because inaction here would mean sharp tax increases across the board. And after that, the president can come back and say, “I want to propose the biggest tax cut in history for everybody except those making over $250,000 a year.”

So you could, it was clear there would be some kind of a deal that would emerge, whether before or after. One of the things that was discouraging about this is it happened very late in the game, of course, as we know. It was Joe Biden meeting with Mitch McConnell and coming up with a plan.

But here’s the plan that gets 89 votes in the Senate, including some of the icons of the conservative wing of the party which is really a radical wing of the party, from Pat Toomey to Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn. And it goes to the House, and John Boehner, who may have the worst job in America could barely get a third of his own party to go along. Now, that’s a modest deal. If you can’t get more than a third of your House Republicans to support a deal like this, that doesn’t speak well for the prospects of change.

BILL MOYERS: And you say that he, that Cantor more than any other politician helped to create the series of fiscal crises that you described just a moment ago?

THOMAS MANN: He really did. He hovered around John Boehner as Boehner was getting into negotiations with the president over the course of 2011 to head off the debt ceiling crisis. Bob Woodward…

BILL MOYERS: The Watergate Bob Woodward.

THOMAS MANN: Yeah.

THOMAS MANN: Watergate Bob Woodward has written…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Now the post-Watergate Bob Woodward.

THOMAS MANN: …written a book about these negotiations and did a lot of talking to the Republicans. And ended up saying Boehner and Obama reached a deal and Obama walked away from it. Well, Eric Cantor, in his interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker couple of months ago basically corrected him. He said, Well, I talked to Boehner and said it really wouldn’t be a good idea to reach a deal now because then the issue evaporates, the president gets the credit, and he has a better chance of being reelected. Better to keep it alive and fight it out in the in the election.

BILL MOYERS: And it didn’t pay off for them, did…

THOMAS MANN: It didn’t pay off at all.

BILL MOYERS: Except they held the House but it didn’t pay off for them in the Senate. He lost two seats in the Senate. Didn’t pay off for him in winning the presidency?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: It was a, call it a riverboat gamble, I suppose you could say. Because what Cantor said in that interview was, if we win it all, then we don’t have to compromise. They didn’t; but the reaction wasn’t, all right, now we have to compromise. Instead it was, we’re still not going to compromise.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve said you have some hope for the Senate. There is some seeming to have to someone from afar movement on immigration. Is that must be hopeful to you?

THOMAS MANN: It is, but it’s so different than everything else. The reason there is movement on immigration is because Republicans have such a powerful incentive to move on immigration.

BILL MOYERS: Because they lost the Latino vote…politics.

THOMAS MANN: They’re on the verge of being marginalized in presidential politics. They are losing overwhelmingly the Latinos, Asian Americans, other immigrant groups the young voters. The growing parts of the electorate are moving away from the Republicans to the Democrats. They have a reason to do it. Hardball politics, not grand, bipartisan consensus. And they’ve put it together well. It’s a group of Republicans and Democrats who are working out this bill. Obama has…

BILL MOYERS: In the Senate, right?

THOMAS MANN: In the Senate. Obama stayed off to the side, as they requested, because it’s very hard for Marco Rubio to support anything the president’s campaigning for. So his absence is what they needed to move this along.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: But we shouldn’t just focus on the members themselves. There are, in the House, at least a few people who’d like to work to solve some of these problems and Boehner among them, I think. And…

BILL MOYERS: You really believe that?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: …some others well, I think, you know, he’s sees himself as the Speaker of the House. And some of it is political as well. He’s being pushed by other forces. But it’s really important that we focus as much on the outside forces as the inside ones.

BILL MOYERS: Such as?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Well, when the fiscal cliff debate came up and we get this bill coming over with 89 votes in the Senate, and you had around that time, before those negotiations, Boehner trying to get a little traction, knowing there would be a tax increase. Coming up with his very poorly named Plan B, you know? I think maybe some of his members rejected it because they thought they didn’t want an over-the-counter drug here.

But it was, give me some traction. I’d propose a million dollars as the level here, and then we can negotiate. And some of his members were ready to support him, just to give him that traction. The Club for Growth, Heritage Action step up and basically said, you members, you lift your heads out of that foxhole and support any tax increase, and you’ve got a target on your backs and millions of dollars in a primary against you.

Some of this is coming from the kinds of people who we’re electing to office, through a nominating process that has gotten so skewed to the radical right. But some of it is an electoral magnet that pulls them away from voting for anything that might have a patina of bipartisan support because they’ll face extinction.

THOMAS MANN: Bill, this is such an important point. Nowadays, political parties are not organizations, they’re networks. We talk sometimes about parties versus outside groups. No, no, no. The outside groups are part of the political parties, and so too are the media outlets. The large funders. It’s a broad system. Super PACs don’t exist as independent forces. They in fact are run by former party operatives and leaders of one kind or another.

And right now, you have a conjunction of forces that you can see in the conservative media, in the funding organizations, and in the Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers. And it all comes together to provide such overwhelming pressure on individual Republicans to toe the line, to oppose even when they want to engage in problem solving.

BILL MOYERS: So when you mention The Club for Growth, you’re talking about essentially Wall Street finance group of private citizens who will take on a Republican in the primary to defeat him if he doesn’t toe the line on what the financial interests want?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: And these are financial interests who don’t just focus on financial interests. Many of them are themselves radical either libertarians or who have a very strong ideology. And so The Club for Growth will intervene not just on tax issues, but on others. And they’re joined by other groups. You know, when Jim DeMint left the Senate

BILL MOYERS: To head The Heritage…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Head the Heritage Foundation, you know…

BILL MOYERS: Right. A very conservative organization.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Which used to be a think tank. Now, of course, it has a 501(c)4 called Heritage Action. They’re raising money. They’re aggressively participating in the political debates, and will in campaigns. Because you can have as much impact as Tom said, it’s all part of a party apparatus now. From the outside, if you use the leverage of money, and you can also use the leverage of the social media, the talk radio hosts, and others, who have such a dominant impact on the party now, that it takes the problem solvers and puts them in a really, really tricky situation.

BILL MOYERS: You say, in the book, that what we all know: President Obama made great efforts to work cooperatively with the Republicans during his first term. Didn’t get him anything in terms of legislation; got him maybe a second term. But in The New York Times this week, Michael Shear and Peter Baker say, call him, “A president who hesitates to twist arms.” Can you not be president without twisting arms?

THOMAS MANN: Oh, I think that’s a myth.

BILL MOYERS: Do you?

THOMAS MANN: I just think the press is now overrun with President Obama’s personal shortcomings. That he doesn’t engage, that he doesn’t put pressure on members, doesn’t tell them what to do. He doesn’t give them bourbon and branch water and he and he doesn’t raise hell with them. And the reality is that presidential leadership is contextual.

He’s operating with a Republican Party that’s part of this broad apparatus. What can he do to any one of those Republicans? He can’t do anything. He’s not in a position to do it. He tried negotiating early, that was his brand, right? The post-partisan President. He realized what he was up against, and then he said, you know, I’ve got to maneuver, position myself with the Democrats in a way that we can get some things done.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know, I would say on the gun issue too we’re premature here. It’s not only that you can’t twist arms in the same way that it might have been available to you before. And the few arms that he could twist on the Democratic side were almost all, with one exception, people who were up for reelection in really tough places. You’re always going to tread a little bit more carefully there. And on the Republican side, it’s not clear what either schmoozing or arm twisting would do.

But my guess is you’re going to see this, the issue of a background check come back. You’re also going to see some executive actions, we’re already beginning to see them, to make sure that people who shouldn’t have access to guns have to go through a process to make it happen. So it’s not only that, this meme in the press: “Why can’t he be like Lyndon Johnson or like Bill Clinton?” As if all the schmoozing that Bill Clinton did got him a single Republican vote for his economic plan. And it took seven months to get the Democrats helped his health care plan, or kept him from being impeached.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I’m not impressed when people say, well, Barack Obama’s not Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson is…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Today he couldn’t be Lyndon Johnson…

BILL MOYERS: Couldn’t be Lyndon Johnson.

BILL MOYERS: This is not the 1960s when Congress had a huge bevy, a large bevy of moderate Republicans.

BILL MOYERS: So who wins, and who loses, when we have this deadlock and dysfunction?

THOMAS MANN: Well, first of all, the public and future generations really do lose. We have serious problems, short and long term, in the country. We’re going to have to figure out how we can compete in a global economy where not just low value but high value jobs may end up elsewhere. We’re going to have a radically different workforce as the population changes, not only in terms of having more African American, Asian American and Hispanic Americans making up a part of that workforce, but as the population gets older and lives longer.

We’ve got challenges in terms of energy and the environment, how you compete in a globe where the threats are very different ones. If you have a government that can’t function, or that gets caught up in a war of the roses where what’s most important is doing short-term damage to the other side, shed a little blood so that you can take over and implement a revolution, we’re all going to lose.

But I think in political terms, I just don’t see a Republican Party that continues down this path. And I’m not alone in that. The Jeb Bushes of the world, and the Haley Barbours of the world, and the Mitch Daniels of the world, and the Chris Christies of the world see it too. If you move off the mainstream and pursue a radical ideology, and if you say, “We’re just not going to make any movement at all,” in some of these issues, eventually voters are going to say, “Enough of this.”

THOMAS MANN: Bill, we’ve been living through now years of stagnant wages, of high unemployment, of growing economic inequality. So the work of our legislature, our governments makes a big difference. And right now, those issues are not being addressed in any substantial way because of the dysfunctional politics, and because the Republican Party has drifted so far from the mainstream of our politics. If there’s optimism, it’s one that the old democratic accountability still works.

BILL MOYERS: Small “d” democratic…

THOMAS MANN: Small “d” democratic accountability, that a party that goes so far from the mainstream gets disciplined, gets beaten, gets hit over the head with a two-by-four by the voters. And then other voices can emerge within the party to change things. That’s perhaps the most the most important. Over time, though, we’ve got changes to make. We simply have to increase the size of the electorate in primary elections as well as

BILL MOYERS: Turnout, voters.

THOMAS MANN: Turnout, voters –

BILL MOYERS: You see that as the–

THOMAS MANN: Participation and turnout. It’s absolutely key because the smaller the turnout, the more extreme the views. And the more likely they are to appeal to the very people who are who are defending the core values of that party.

BILL MOYERS: Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Thank you for joining me and thank you for writing this.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Bill.

THOMAS MANN: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: America lost a happy warrior and I lost a friend this week – Bob Edgar, the president of the citizens’ lobby Common Cause. A fearless advocate for a fair and just America. You will find my eulogy for him – and other tributes – at our website, BillMoyers.com. And there’s more on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.

© 2013 Public Affairs Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/norman-ornstein-and-thomas-m

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking

Moyers and Company, March 1, 2013

Journalist and historian Susan Jacoby talks with Bill about the role secularism and intellectual curiosity have played throughout America’s history, a topic explored in her new book, The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought.

Excerpt

“I’m sure there are plenty of atheists and various kinds of unorthodox religious people in Congress, but they don’t talk about it,” Jacoby tells Bill. “I think that either proclaiming allegiance to a religion or shutting up about it is still an absolute requirement.”

BILL MOYERS: …Since America’s beginning, every generation has had to engage in the battle over freedom of religion and freedom from religion…[Robert Ingersoll's] outspoken views on evolution, religion and reason, the separation of church and state, and women’s suffrage…

SUSAN JACOBY: … his dates are 1833 to 1899…he decides that speaking out on behalf of reason, on behalf of Darwin’s theory of evolution, against attempts to introduce more religion into government, that this is more important to him than his political ambitions….

BM: You say he was one of those indispensable people, who keep an alternative version of history alive. What was the alternative version of history he kept alive?

SJ: …he put forward the astonishing idea that the Bible was written by men, not actually directly handed down by God…

BM:: You call Robert Ingersoll, quote, “One of the most important champions of reason and secular government in American history.” And he raised the issue of religion, as you say, the role of religion. That the role it ought to play in the public life of the nation for the first time since the founding generation that wrote the Constitution.

SJ: …he made a lot of people aware of something that had been forgotten…ours was the first constitution in the world…It separated church and state. It didn’t mention God…The fact that the Constitution didn’t mention God still stands as — religious fundamentalists are constantly trying to explain this away, saying it was an accident…It was said that, “Under this constitution, an atheist, a Jew, or God help us even a universalist could become president,” …Lincoln certainly could not have been an atheist, but he wasn’t religious in any conventional sense.

BM: He [Lincoln] actually said the glory of the founding generation was that they did not establish a Christian nation. And he praised those founders who wrote our Constitution for establishing the “first secular government that was ever founded” in the world at a time when government in Europe was still based on union of church and state…

SJ: the majority of the founders believed in a kind of providence, a deity. They were speaking in the language of natural rights. They weren’t saying there’s this kind of God or that kind of God that created you. They were saying, “We’re all equal by nature.” But it is in fact very important, the Declaration of Independence, while a declaration of independence, did not found our government. That’s why we had to have first the Articles of Confederation which didn’t work, and then the Constitution…

BM: … politicians, including the president, end every speech with “God bless America.” They do that routinely, ritualistically.

SJ: Nobody realizes that nobody ever did that before 1980... Public religiosity has become more important. And this is an idea I borrowed from really the great American religious historian Martin Marty. He said, “What this emphasis on symbolism is about is about ownership. It’s not about religion. And it’s also about a religion which is much more insecure than it was 50 or 100 years ago.”… today. We have no spokesman like Ingersoll…we don’t have anybody who is part of sort of the regular public fabric of the nation who talks about these things from all formats all the time…who will come out and talk about the relationship of religion to public issues in this way….

BM: How do you explain the political agility of fundamentalists to get their worldview inserted into the textbooks?

SJ: How I account for it is they’re better organized. Ingersoll was always saying that. That religion is an organization for the perpetuation of its own values…

BM: …His great fear was that invoking divine authority in politics, simply shut down the discussion.

SUSAN JACOBY: And how right he was. That what it’s intended to do. Because if you believe in divine authority, then how can there be any other answer but what divine authority tells you…

SJ: …All of Americans have absorbed the fact that atheism is a bad word….Others prefer to call themselves humanists. You can be all three. An atheist, agnostic, a secular humanist, a freethinkerWhich is that we have free will. And we are responsible for all the evil in the world…the answer to that is it’s a mystery…

BILL MOYERS: You quote Ingersoll  “We reward hypocrisy and elect men entirely destitute of real principle. And this will never change until the people become grand enough to do their own thinking.”

SJ: And to admit to their own thinking… to open up their mouths and tell other people about their own thinking…

Full text

“I’m sure there are plenty of atheists and various kinds of unorthodox religious people in Congress, but they don’t talk about it,” Jacoby tells Bill. “I think that either proclaiming allegiance to a religion or shutting up about it is still an absolute requirement.”

Partway through the interview, Bill presents a short clip from the documentary The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today, the story of how Illinois mother Vashti McCollum faced down three years of “headlines, headaches and hatred” to fight for the separation of church and state in her son’s school. Her efforts resulted in the landmark 1948 Supreme Court decision that struck down religious education in the public schools.

Interview Producer: Candace White. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Associate Producer: Julia Conley.

The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today courtesy of Jay Rosenstein Productions.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/susan-jacoby-on-secularism-and-free-thinking/

BILL MOYERS: Zack Kopplin is just the latest in a long line of dissenters and freethinkers.

Since America’s beginning, every generation has had to engage in the battle over freedom of religion and freedom from religion – whether it’s Roger Williams fighting Puritan intolerance in New England, the deism of Jefferson and Thomas Paine in the early days of independence, or a man you may never have heard of – an orator so famous in the 19th century that standing-room-only crowds turned out wherever he went — just to hear him speak.

He captivated audiences — with his wit and warmth — and enraged them, too, with his outspoken views on evolution, religion and reason, the separation of church and state, and women’s suffrage.

Robert Ingersoll was his name and he’s the subject of a new biography by scholar and journalist Susan Jacoby. She’s a writer possessed, as the New York Times has written, of a “fierce intelligence and nimble, unfettered imagination.”

Susan Jacoby specializes in American intellectual history with several books to her name including this favorite of mine, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.

Her new, must-read book, is The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought.

Susan Jacoby, welcome back.

SUSAN JACOBY: I’m very happy to be back here today.

BILL MOYERS: Robert Ingersoll, once our most famous orator, a towering public intellectual between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century? What drew you to him?

SUSAN JACOBY: It’s hard to exaggerate how famous he was in the last two decades of the 19th century. Lecturing was then the chief form of mass entertainment, even though newspapers– newspapers were read and widely circulated, there was no TV. There were no movies. Lecturing is what people went to to be entertained as well as informed.

And like everybody of his generation, his dates are 1833 to 1899. He was in the Civil War. He joined the Republican Party during the Civil War, because he was an abolitionist. But after the Civil War, something happens to him.

He starts speaking out on behalf of separation of church and state, against what religion was silent about, about slavery for so long, and what religion was still silent about, about what needed to be done to provide true equality and education for former slaves. He is an active Republican. He has strong political ambitions. But he decides that speaking out on behalf of reason, on behalf of Darwin’s theory of evolution, against attempts to introduce more religion into government, that this is more important to him than his political ambitions.

Which is the thing that first attracted me to him. Because I look around now at people, at congressmen who are so scared about what’s going to happen two years from now that they can’t vote against the National Rifle Association. And I think, “Who do we have in public life today who would give up big ambitions like that?

BILL MOYERS: You say he was one of those indispensable people, who keep an alternative version of history alive. What was the alternative version of history he kept alive?

SUSAN JACOBY: Well, first of all, he should be famous in American intellectual history if he’d done only one thing, which he did. He revived the memory of Thomas Paine. The historical reputation of Thomas Paine so famous, say, by 1800 because of the role he played in the revolution. “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Even school kids today know that. But he had really been eclipsed.

He was driven out of England, charged with treason, for writing The Rights of Man. His book The Age of Reason, which was published in 1793, the first part of it, in which he put forward the astonishing idea that the Bible was written by men, not actually directly handed down by God. The Age of Reason was published when he was in jail in France under the Jacobins, for opposing the execution of Louis the XVI, because he didn’t believe in capital punishment as no free thinkers ever have.

Teddy Roosevelt, the future president, wrote a biography in which he called Paine “a filthy little atheist, which esteems a dirty bladder of water” — bladder meaning a sack to carry in, not bladder the organ in the body – “as something to throw on all religion.” So Ingersoll revived Paine’s reputation.

You can say that because we’re not a nation in which the majority of people are freethinkers, although secular America is growing we know from the Pew poll. You can say that he deserves to be obscure. But that’s not right. Because history is a relay race. It’s not some kind of a thing in which people’s attention and views turn overnight.

Look how long it took to obtain women the vote. He is important because he kept this alive into the 20th century, until after the Scopes trial. Stupid intellectuals in New York and Boston decided that religious fundamentalism was dead, because Clarence Darrow had humiliated Williams Jennings Bryan on the stand. Well, as we know now, it wasn’t dead at all. It just retired a bit from politics and was biding its time.

BILL MOYERS: You call Robert Ingersoll, quote, “One of the most important champions of reason and secular government in American history.” And he raised the issue of religion, as you say, the role of religion. That the role it ought to play in the public life of the nation for the first time since the founding generation that wrote the Constitution.

SUSAN JACOBY: That’s part of his importance, and he made a lot of people aware of something that had been forgotten, which were that ours was the first constitution in the world — well, the first constitution, basically. I mean, you can’t really call the Magna Carta anything like a constitution. It separated church and state. It didn’t mention God.

BILL MOYERS: At a time when every government in Europe was uniting church and state.

SUSAN JACOBY: The fact that the Constitution didn’t mention God still stands as — religious fundamentalists are constantly trying to explain this away, saying it was an accident. Like men like Adams and Washington and Madison did things with words by accident. As Ingersoll pointed out and is true today, the fact that there was no God in the Constitution was debated at every state ratifying convention.

It was said that, “Under this constitution, an atheist, a Jew, or God help us even a universalist could become president,” which was true in theory, but has actually not turned out to be true in practice. One thing that was true is you did not have to belong to a church throughout the 19th century to become president, as Ingersoll often spoke of Lincoln. And it very much shows what the attitudes were during the Civil War, which was thought by many to be God’s judgment. And Lincoln certainly could not have been an atheist, but he wasn’t religious in any conventional sense.

And anyway, this Protestant ministers came to Lincoln and they wanted to amend the Constitution to replace “We the people” not with God, but with Jesus Christ. And Lincoln said, “Well, I will do what my conscience and my sense of my duty to my country command.” And what his choice to do was absolutely nothing. And Ingersoll talked about this, about these secular traditions.

BILL MOYERS: He actually said the glory of the founding generation was that they did not establish a Christian nation. And he praised those founders who wrote our Constitution for establishing the “first secular government that was ever founded” in the world at a time when government in Europe was still based on union of church and state.

“They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought.” Was that the intellectual grounding for his opposition to the claim that we were a Christian nation or that we should have God in the–

SUSAN JACOBY: Yes. And I would say that probably the majority of the founders believed in a kind of providence, a deity. They were speaking in the language of natural rights.

They weren’t saying there’s this kind of God or that kind of God that created you. They were saying, “We’re all equal by nature.” But it is in fact very important, the Declaration of Independence, while a declaration of independence, did not found our government. That’s why we had to have first the Articles of Confederation which didn’t work, and then the Constitution.

And it is very significant that they did not put this language in the Constitution. And, of course, the reason they didn’t do it wasn’t that they were all atheists or anything like that. The reason they didn’t do it is they looked at what went on in Europe. And they said, “We don’t want any part of it.”

One of the things Ingersoll again pointed this out. The last execution for blasphemy in France took place only ten years before the writing of the Declaration of Independence in the town of Abbeville — the Marquis de la Barre.

It happened only ten years before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, 20 years before the Constitution. This is what the founders were looking to. And it’s very understandable that they didn’t want to found, not just a Protestant nation, but a Christian nation. They saw what that did there.

BILL MOYERS: It turned to war, violence. In fact one of my favorite Ingersoll quotes is from the centennial address he gave in Peoria, Illinois, on the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. Recollect that, “the first secular government, the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights and no more. Every religion has the same rights and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, the genius to know that no church should be allowed to have the sword.” They knew what the sword and faith had done in Europe.

SUSAN JACOBY: And they also knew the history of our own country, which loves to talk about the Puritans as if they were religiously tolerant, when the first thing the Puritans did was set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. And, this not being Europe instead of killing Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, there was plenty of places, there was Rhode Island for them to go to.

BILL MOYERS: Exile them.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah, but it was all right. They could start their own form of religion then. I mean, just as the Mormons got chased all the way across the country. But eventually, there was still land where they could set up and start persecuting Indians who didn’t — who didn’t believe, and also other kinds of Protestants who didn’t believe with them.

But one of the things was, then when the Constitution comes along, the states still all have all of these laws privileging Protestant Christianity. So also what they were doing in the Constitution is saying, “The federal government isn’t going to allow this. We’re going to let everyone run for office.”

BILL MOYERS: Do you think any American politician would dare describe the secular spirit and letter of the Constitution as Ingersoll and others did in his time?

SUSAN JACOBY: No, no. Because an American — the only declared atheist member of Congress, Pete Stark, retired this time. I’m sure Congress is exactly like the polls. I’m sure there are plenty of atheists and various kinds of unorthodox religious people in Congress. But they don’t talk about it. You never hear President Obama making a speech about separation of church and state. He will occasionally allude to it.

But I think that either proclaiming allegiance to a religion or shutting up about it is still an absolute requirement.

BILL MOYERS: I wonder if you just turn off your mind when you hear or look the other way when you hear or don’t even think about it anymore when you hear politicians, including the president, end every speech with “God bless America.” They do that routinely, ritualistically.

SUSAN JACOBY: Nobody realizes that nobody ever did that before 1980. Politicians did not, when I was growing up in the 1950s–

BILL MOYERS: Same here. So what do you think when you hear that? I heard it the other day twice in one of the president’s speeches.

SUSAN JACOBY: Public religiosity has become more important. And this is an idea I borrowed from really the great American religious historian Martin Marty. He said, “What this emphasis on symbolism is about is about ownership. It’s not about religion. And it’s also about a religion which is much more insecure than it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

In other words, if you have confidence in the viability of your religious institution and your own faith, you don’t need to hear the president saying, “God bless America.” Quakers and Baptists in the early 18th century would have hated that, because they were opposed to government getting in on the religious attack.

But they would have been absolutely horrified at that. Teddy Roosevelt even, who is probably one of the most devoutly religious presidents we ever had. He tried to get “in God we trust” off the coinage. And he was attacked by the then religious right, this religious president, for being atheist.

The reason Teddy Roosevelt wanted God off the coins is the government in his view had no business putting God on money, putting God and maman together. So we really see how many of these issues that Ingersoll was dealing with, they mirror the things today. We have no spokesman like Ingersoll.

And while we have many spokesman for atheism, among the new atheists, we don’t have anybody who is part of sort of the regular public fabric of the nation who talks about these things from all formats all the time, not in terms of — I never do debates about the existence of God. Why would you do that? Who are you going to convince? I like to talk about public issues. But we don’t have in Ingersoll somebody who’s that well-known and important, who will come out and talk about the relationship of religion to public issues in this way.

BILL MOYERS: How do young people respond to you when you say, “I’m an atheist”? What questions do they ask?

SUSAN JACOBY: Bill, I get asked to lecture mostly at religious colleges, historically religious colleges, whether they’re Catholic or Lutheran or Episcopalian, not too many of those left, or Baptist. I think because they’re more interested in presenting a whole range of views, their questions at religious colleges are extremely intelligent. They know more about secularism than students at secular colleges do, because part of instruction at a liberal religious college with lots of faculty who aren’t members of that faith, whether it’s Georgetown or whether it’s Augustana College.

Part of it is education, not only in different religious traditions. But — this is why they have people like me to speak, but also secularism, freethought, atheism — a lot of their parents think they’re sending their kids there to get a good orthodox religious education, but what they often get is their first exposure both to kinds of religion and ideas that they haven’t.

And I’m often asked questions about – they, in other words, they’re more likely to know that there isn’t God in the Constitution than kids at secular universities are. Because they’ve had courses that discuss the role of religious freedom and religious repression and secularism in the founding of the country. They aren’t likely, they aren’t likely to be people who, for instance, like this moronic Texas school board, which in its list of thinkers who influenced the revolution two years ago. And it’s now, two years ago replaced Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence with Thomas Aquinas. Anybody at a good religious college would know that wasn’t true.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the political agility of fundamentalists to get their worldview inserted into the textbooks?

SUSAN JACOBY: How I account for it is they’re better organized. Ingersoll was always saying that. That religion is an organization for the perpetuation of its own values.

Freethought is never – and that was true, by the way, of feminism for a long time. So I think one reason Ingersoll has been forgotten, as Paine was, nobody’s come along to do for Ingersoll in this century what he did for Paine. I’m not an orator who gets asked to speak in 50 states or I would gladly do it.

BILL MOYERS: He was ahead of the times in so many–

SUSAN JACOBY: In everything.

BILL MOYERS: He was a feminist. He was for women’s rights. He was for eight-hour working days. This in the Gilded Age, when the great wealth was spreading.

SUSAN JACOBY: And he was a Republican.

BILL MOYERS: He was Republican. His great fear was that invoking divine authority in politics, simply shut down the discussion.

SUSAN JACOBY: And how right he was. That what it’s intended to do. Because if you believe in divine authority, then how can there be any other answer but what divine authority tells you.

BILL MOYERS: And he defended blasphemy, which is impiously speaking of religions, not because he despised religion, but because he wanted to stop the appeal to an authority that could make all the discussion and debate irrelevant.

SUSAN JACOBY: Well and there were still a lot of state blasphemy laws, which were never enforced because they so clearly violated, you know, not only the 1st, but the 14th Amendment by then. But at the time, you know, it’s not until the 20th century that the 14th Amendment gets applied to the rest of the Bill of Rights. And so what Ingersoll was against was anti-blasphemy laws that could send people to jail. And while they weren’t enforced, they were still on the books. And there was a blasphemy trial in New Jersey.

BILL MOYERS: Morristown, New Jersey.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah, in Morristown, New Jersey.

BILL MOYERS: A free thinker was on trial for circulating a pamphlet that denied the Bible was authorized by God and infallible.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah, the same Thomas Paine thing a hundred years later.

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sites in Morristown is the drum head depicting Thomas Paine writing “Common Sense.”

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah. Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Here’s what Ingersoll said in the defense of the fellow who was on trial. “I deny the right of any man, of any number of men, of any church, of any state to put a padlock on the lips, to make the tongue a convict. Blasphemy is the word that the majority hisses into the ear of the few.”

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah. And it’s interesting. After that trial, a number of ministers who attended came up and shook his hand, as well. The jury, of course, found the blasphemer guilty. Although the governor saw to it that he didn’t get sent to jail. The governor of New Jersey then was not somebody who wanted New Jersey to go down as the last state that sent somebody to jail for blasphemy. So he commuted it to a fine which Ingersoll paid.

BILL MOYERS: $200 bucks I think it was.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yeah, something like that.

BILL MOYERS: In those terms. But here’s the paradox to me. Politicians still, in Ingersoll’s time, politicians still had to pay greater obeisance to religion than in the founding generation a century earlier.

SUSAN JACOBY: Much more.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

SUSAN JACOBY: Because this idea that we had been created as a Christian nation was, and particularly in Ingersoll’s day, this was a period of great unease for Protestant religion, which basically, it wasn’t just Christianity. It was Protestant Christianity. And here come all these immigrants after 1880. A lot of them are Jewish from Eastern Europe, who are obviously not Christians. And a lot of them are Catholics from Southern Italy and the Slavic countries. And at that point, the power structure of American cities was still run by Protestants.

Well, with all those Catholics coming up and setting up their parochial school system, the first really large scale religious school system, this is a period of great unease about how — and American Protestantism itself is splitting in a way that affects our country, as you know very well, to this day, in that we have Protestants of the Henry Ward Beecher variety, who say, “Let’s see how our religion can accommodate to the secular knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution.” And you have fundamentalists for whom William Jennings Bryan was the great spokesman, although he wasn’t nearly as conservative as some of the anti-evolutionists today.

BILL MOYERS: No, he was quite liberal in social policy.

SUSAN JACOBY: Oh, in social matters, yes. But even on religion, who say, “No, no, every word in the Bible is literally true.” And this split in American Protestantism, which really begins to affect every aspect of politics in the late 19th century, which is why Ingersoll’s issues were so prominent. This is the split we have today, too. Except that now Protestants have joined forces with the conservative wing of American Catholicism.

BILL MOYERS: I’ll be back with more from Susan Jacoby in just a moment. But first, this is pledge time on public television. That’s why we’re taking a short break so you can show your support for the programming you see right here on this public television station.

BILL MOYERS: For those of you still with us, sixty-five years ago, the Supreme Court voted eight to one to uphold the rights of one woman and her fifth-grade son who went up against popular opinion to keep religious education out of public schools. Vashti McCollum was the woman’s name. She and her family lived through two lower court losses, intimidation from her community in Champaign, Illinois, and three years of what she called “headlines, headaches and hatred.” Here’s a brief look at the Peabody Award winning documentary, “The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today,” the story of her fight for the separation of church and state in America.

ED DESSEN in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: She had a terrible time. The town hated her.

RON ROTUNDA in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: She was not the hero to many people, she was somehow the devil incarnate.

NARRATOR in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: She was called “that awful woman” by her neighbors, and “that atheist mother” by newspapers across the country. Her friends stopped returning phone calls rather than risk speaking with her. She was branded a communist, and the Illinois State Legislature nearly stopped her and her husband from ever working at the state university again. She received up to 200 letters a day, some of the writers claiming they would pray for her; many wishing for much worse.

VASHTI McCOLLUM in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: They heard this down at the Piggly Wiggly down there on Main street, They’re going to lynch you. Oh I said, is that all?

NARRATOR in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: All because, in 1945, Vashti McCollum, a young mother of three from Champaign, Illinois, would file a historic lawsuit that would forever change the relationship between religion and public schools in America.

VICTOR STONE in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: It has been listed as the foundation case for prayer in school and religious education in school.

DAVID MEYER in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: What McCollum did, was it endorsed a view of the first amendment that pushed public life and religion into separate spheres divided by this wall of separation. I think public opinion polls show that a majority say they think the term, a wall of separation between church and state is written into the text of the First Amendment, and of course it’s not. It’s an idea, it’s a metaphor, that is contestable, but it’s one that the Supreme Court put the weight of the Constitution behind in the McCollum decision.

JIM McCOLLUM in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: All cases involving the crossing of the line regarding establishment of religion – crèches on public property, ten commandments in public buildings and on public property, prayers in schools and this sort of thing, all these stem from the McCollum case. That’s basically the significance of the case.

NARRATOR in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: The case would shine a national spotlight on this small, central Illinois town, turning Vashti McCollum into an unlikely champion of the separation of church and state.

WALTER FEINBERG in The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today: What courage it must have taken for a mother and her young children to stand up to that and say “this is something that you can’t do. You cannot bring g-d into the public school”.

ANNOUNCER: We now return to Moyers & Company.

BILL MOYERS: You mention that Pew Research study, which shows that the number of people who say they have no religion at all, they call nones, N-O-N-E-S.

SUSAN JACOBY: Oh, I hate that so much.

BILL MOYERS: But they’re growing in number.

SUSAN JACOBY: Well I think that there are many more members of that group who are atheists than will admit it. Again, I think a lot of that group just says, “Oh, well, I don’t belong to any church.” But if asked, “Are you an atheist?” they won’t say so.

All of Americans have absorbed the fact that atheism is a bad word. And they think there are a few more who call themselves agnostics. Others prefer to call themselves humanists. You can be all three. An atheist, agnostic, a secular humanist, a freethinker. I’d answer to all of them. But I’m an atheist. And I think a lot of those people are, too. There is a particular group in the Pew Poll, who won’t say they’re atheists, they say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

I don’t respect people like that very much. Because I think that they’ve bought into the idea that to be a humanist, to be concerned about your fellow human beings, to show that concern, that you can’t say you’re an atheist, because that’s what so many people think.

It’s important to show that atheists who move about in the world, who get married, who love their children, who buy clothes and like makeup, we’re just, we’re like everybody else who’s a humanist in many of our values. We are not–

BILL MOYERS: You’re just not going to heaven.

SUSAN JACOBY: We’re just not going to heaven. We’re not somebody — no, but once you can’t demonize people, once you know that this person down the block you like is an atheist, you can’t think about atheists in the same way. When you began to know that they were people you knew.

BILL MOYERS: What’s hard about being an atheist in an obviously pluralistic society soaked in religiosity?

SUSAN JACOBY: There’s nothing hard about it in New York City, obviously. What is hard about it, I can really answer that question, because the “Dallas Morning News” reprinted the piece I wrote about atheism, which mentioned Ingersoll’s views that atheism and agnosticism were the same. But this piece I wrote was reprinted in full in the “Dallas Morning News” the week after it ran at the Times.

My author website nearly crashed with e-mails from people of all ages, from all over Texas, saying how thrilled they were to read this piece talking about what their lives were like in small towns in Texas. The oldest person who wrote me a letter was an 85-year-old African American man from Amarillo, who talked to me not only about his experiences as an atheist in Texas, but as an atheist in the African American community in Texas.

In other words, groups in which African Americans are among the most religious people in the country. And while it doesn’t translate into economic conservatism, many of them are very religiously conservative. And he said how wonderful it was to have something to show his friends. And I thought, “My God, there really is a hell, an African American atheist for 85 years in Amarillo.” He was somebody who revered WEB Du Bois, who, of course, was an atheist, but never got much traction in the African American community on that issue.

BILL MOYERS: Why are you an atheist?

SUSAN JACOBY: Why? Because it’s what makes sense to me. I look at the world around me. I’m an atheist because of — which has made a lot of people an atheist, because of the theodicy problem. The problem of if there is this all good, all powerful, all loving god, you know, how come kids are shot in Newtown? How come people when I was young died of polio– a child I knew? How come?

It started me thinking about what every religious thinker has thought about and had to come to grips with, which is how do you account for the problem of evil beside your belief in an all-powerful God? Well, the classic Christian answer, which satisfied Augustine, does not satisfy me or any atheist. Which is that we have free will. And we are responsible for all the evil in the world.

No, I think the evolution of the polio virus and Darwin’s theory of how it happened is responsible. That there is no such thing as intelligent design. If God had been an intelligent designer, what purpose would polio serve? Well, the answer to that is it’s a mystery. We don’t know what God’s plans are. That’s what my mom told me when I was a kid. My mom stopped going to church when she was 85 years old.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

SUSAN JACOBY: I asked her why. I knew it couldn’t be my influence, certainly. She said, “I’ve been thinking about the problem of evil. And it makes no sense.” She said, “Why should people suffer?” because, of course, she knew so many people unlike her who had lost their minds to Alzheimer’s. She said, “This makes no sense.” She said, “I do not believe that there can be a God whose plan this could be a part of. I never could have said this when my parents were alive. If being old is good for anything, I can do exactly what I want.”

 

BILL MOYERS: What Robert Ingersoll come to mean to you in the great intellectual tradition of America?

SUSAN JACOBY: He — first of all, he shows how even if you don’t get remembered for it in perhaps the way you should later on, that doesn’t deny the role you play anymore. Nobody knew who Elizabeth Cady Stanton was from about 1900 until the new feminism really began to take hold in the 1980s, because she was written out of the suffragists movement for writing a book called “The Woman’s Bible,” which criticized all the misogyny in the Bible.

The fact that nobody knows about you and maybe history doesn’t give you your just reward and certainly not in every time, because there are fashions in history, doesn’t mean that you didn’t play an important role.

So he carried on a tradition. And just as those feminists who got written out carried on a tradition which was picked up later on. And the second reason he’s so important is that he is a model of what you have to do to fight for an unpopular idea. And you can’t do it by hiding behind other labels, because other people are going to criticize you for it.

BILL MOYERS: You quote Ingersoll saying that the result of all of this public religiosity that was surrounding him and surrounds us today is that quote, “We reward hypocrisy and elect men entirely destitute of real principle. And this will never change until the people become grand enough to do their own thinking.”

SUSAN JACOBY: And to admit to their own thinking.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SUSAN JACOBY: Not just to do their own thinking, but to open up their mouths and tell other people about their own thinking. When he died, an editor in Kansas said, “There will come a time when men–” he talked about the political career Ingersoll did. “There will come a time when men may run for office and speak their honest convictions in matters in religion. But not yet,” he ended his editorial. Can’t we say that now? “But not yet.”

BILL MOYERS: Robert Ingersoll said of Thomas Paine, “His life is what the world calls failure and what history calls success.” Can the same thing be said of The Great Agnostic?

SUSAN JACOBY: I hope so. What I would like to see is history calling his life a success more than it has since the 1920s. That’s my aim here. His life was a success. And it should be recognized as a success and a very important contribution to the cause of reason in this country, one which is just as relevant today that was when we were fighting about the same issues 125 years ago.

 

BILL MOYERS: The book is The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. Susan Jacoby, thank you very much for being with us.

SUSAN JACOBY: Thank you.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/susan-jacoby-on-secularism-and-free-thinking/

Engineered Inequality

Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality, Moyers & Company,  March 1, 2012

Moyers & Company dives into one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us. Bill’s guests – Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered. March 1, 2012

How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top? Through exhaustive research and analysis, the political scientists Hacker and Pierson — whom Bill regards as the “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” of economics — detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class.

Who’s the culprit? “American politics did it– far more than we would have believed when we started this research,” Hacker explains. “What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.” 

Bill considers their book the best he’s seen detailing “how politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.”

Excerpt

LINNEA PALMER PATON: This is supposed to be a government run by the people and if our voices don’t matter because we’re not wealthy, that’s really unacceptable and it’s dangerous.

BILL MOYERS: Why, in a nation as rich as America, has the economy stopped working for people at large even as those at the top enjoy massive rewards?

The struggle of ordinary people for a decent living, for security, is as old as the republic, but it’s taken on a new and urgent edge. Instead of shared prosperity our political system has now produced a winner-take-all economy…

BILL MOYERS: This gross inequality didn’t just happen. It was made to happen. It was politically engineered by powerful players in Washington and on Wall Street. You can read how they did it in this book, Winner-Take-All Politics, by two of the country’s top political scientists, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

PAUL PIERSON: It’s really astonishing how concentrated the gains of economic growth have been.

JACOB HACKER: But we were actually looking at the last 30 years, and seeing that the middle class had only gotten ahead to the extent that it had because of families working more hours…

 

JACOB HACKER:  …And what we found is it’s not the haves versus the have-nots. It’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans. And those have-it-alls, which are households in say the top one-tenth of one percent of the income distribution, the richest one-in-a-thousand households are truly living in an unparalleled age.

BILL MOYERS: You set out to try to solve three mysteries: who done it, who created the circumstances and conditions for the creation of a winner-take-all economy. And your answer to that in one sentence is?

JACOB HACKER: American politics did it far more than we would have believed when we started this research. What government has done and not done and the politics that produced it is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off…

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it?

PAUL PIERSON: Through organized combat is the short answer.

BILL MOYERS: And why did they do it?

JACOB HACKER: Because they could. Because the transformation of political organization, the creation of a powerful, organized business community, the degree to which that was self-reinforcing within both parties has meant that politicians have found that they can on issue after issue cater to the interests of the very well off while either ignoring or only symbolically addressing many of the concerns that are felt by most Americans and get reelected and survive politically…

BILL MOYERS: You write, we have a government that’s been promoting inequality, and at the same time, as you just said, failing to counteract it. This has been going on, you write, 30 years or more. And here’s the key sentence: Step by step, and debate by debate, our public officials have rewritten the rules of the economy in ways that favor the few at the expense of the many…

BILL MOYERS: How can this happen? How could Washington turn its back on the broad middle class to favor a relatively few at the top in a democracy?

JACOB HACKER: What has really changed is the organization of American politics, particularly the organizations that represent the deepest pocketed members of American society. What we’ve seen as an organizational revolution over the last 30 years that has meant that business, and Wall Street, and ideological conservative organizations that are pushing for free market policies have all become much more influential.

And at the same time, a lot of the organizations that once represented the middle class, labor unions, broad-based civic organizations and, sort of, organizations at the local and grassroots level, including social movements, have all lost enormous ground… the wealthy are much more powerful than in the past…

JACOB HACKER: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the history of American democracy it is about a broadening of our understanding of political equality to incorporate African Americans and women and ultimately to also incorporate the idea that large inequalities of property were a threat to democratic equality. So FDR during the Great Depression famously said that political equality was meaningless in the face of economic inequality… Americans have very complex views about equality, but they all agree in this basic idea that as Thomas Jefferson famously said, “All men are created equal.”…

BILL MOYERS: Point blank, Paul, do we still have a middle class country?

PAUL PIERSON: I would say no…. in terms of its weight in the society, its ability to produce a society and reproduce a society that is oriented around the needs and concerns and opportunities of the middle class, I don’t think that we live in that country anymore…

JACOB HACKER: The fact is that for most middle class and working class Americans the politics seems increasingly removed from their everyday experience and their life. And there is a current of distrust and anger towards Washington is that is so deep right now…

JACOB HACKER: That is one of the big changes that occurs over this period. Money becomes more important for campaigns and it also becomes much more important in terms of lobbying, which in some ways is the more important way that money changed American politics. It’s really the development of lobbying over this this last 25, 30 years that stands out as the most dramatic role of money in American politics…

the optimistic message is that politics got us into this mess and therefore potentially politics can get us out of it. ..

JACOB HACKER: When citizens are organized and when they press their claims forcefully, when there are reformist leaders within government and outside it who work on their behalf, then we do see reform. This is the story of the American democratic experiment of wave after wave of reform leading to a much broader franchise, to a much broader understanding of the American idea…what was valuable in the past could be a part of our future.

Full posting

(Because of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our offices and studio, we’re airing this encore edition of Moyers & Company, first broadcast in January. This Election Day, issues of money, influence and “winner-take-all politics” are more important than ever.)

How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top? Through exhaustive research and analysis, the political scientists Hacker and Pierson — whom Bill regards as the “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” of economics — detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class.

Who’s the culprit? “American politics did it– far more than we would have believed when we started this research,” Hacker explains. “What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.”

Bill considers their book the best he’s seen detailing “how politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.”

Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality, Moyers & Company,  March 1, 2012

PAUL PIERSON: I think a lot of people know that inequality has grown in the United States. But saying that inequality has grown doesn’t begin to describe what’s happened.

JACOB HACKER: It’s not the haves versus the have-nots. It’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans.

LINNEA PALMER PATON: This is supposed to be a government run by the people and if our voices don’t matter because we’re not wealthy, that’s really unacceptable and it’s dangerous.

BILL MOYERS: Why, in a nation as rich as America, has the economy stopped working for people at large even as those at the top enjoy massive rewards?

The struggle of ordinary people for a decent living, for security, is as old as the republic, but it’s taken on a new and urgent edge. Instead of shared prosperity our political system has now produced a winner-take-all economy.

GORDON GEKKO: The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth: five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows’ idiot sons and what I do — stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got 90 percent of the American people have little or no net worth. I create nothing; I own.

We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval; the price of a paper clip. We pull the rabbit out of the hat while everybody else sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy are you, Buddy?

BILL MOYERS: That, of course, was Michael Douglas as the wheeler-dealer Gordon Gekko, responding to his protégé, played by Charlie Sheen in the movie Wall Street, 25 years ago!

Back in the late 80s, the director Oliver Stone, himself the son of a stockbroker, saw something happening before it reached the mainstream. Before the rest of us knew what hit us. That little speech about the richest one percent and the demise of democracy proved to be prophetic. Flesh-and-blood Americans are living now every day with the consequences.

BILL MOYERS: This gross inequality didn’t just happen. It was made to happen. It was politically engineered by powerful players in Washington and on Wall Street. You can read how they did it in this book, Winner-Take-All Politics, by two of the country’s top political scientists, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

PAUL PIERSON:

It’s really astonishing how concentrated the gains of economic growth have been.

JACOB HACKER:

But we were actually looking at the last 30 years, and seeing that the middle class had only gotten ahead to the extent that it had because of families working more hours.

So this is a story that isn’t just about those at the top doing much, much better. But is, also, we found, a story about those in the middle not getting ahead, often falling behind in important ways, failing to have the same kinds of opportunity and economic security that they once had.

JACOB HACKER:  …And what we found is it’s not the haves versus the have-nots. It’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans. And those have-it-alls, which are households in say the top one-tenth of one percent of the income distribution, the richest one-in-a-thousand households are truly living in an unparalleled age.

BILL MOYERS: You set out to try to solve three mysteries: who done it, who created the circumstances and conditions for the creation of a winner-take-all economy. And your answer to that in one sentence is?

JACOB HACKER: American politics did it far more than we would have believed when we started this research. What government has done and not done and the politics that produced it is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.

BILL MOYERS: It’s the politics, stupid?

JACOB HACKER: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it?

PAUL PIERSON: Through organized combat is the short answer.

BILL MOYERS: And why did they do it?

JACOB HACKER: Because they could. Because the transformation of political organization, the creation of a powerful, organized business community, the degree to which that was self-reinforcing within both parties has meant that politicians have found that they can on issue after issue cater to the interests of the very well off while either ignoring or only symbolically addressing many of the concerns that are felt by most Americans and get reelected and survive politically.

PAUL PIERSON: …That it couldn’t explain why the economic gains were so concentrated within a very small subset of the educated people in American society. I mean, 29 percent of Americans now have college degrees. But a much, much smaller percentage of Americans were benefiting from this economic transformation.

JACOB HACKER: We think the story that’s told about how the global economy has shifted clearly matters. But that it doesn’t get to the sort of really powerful role that government played in adapting to this new environment and in changing the well-being of people in the middle and at the top.

PAUL PIERSON: … Which to us, really, was a very strong clue that we need to understand why the American response to globalization, to technological change has been different than the response of most other wealthy democracies.

JACOB HACKER: …But how do you explain the fact that we’ve seen over this period where the rich have gotten richer the tax rates on the richest of the rich come dramatically down. ..

PAUL PIERSON: The Bush tax cuts in a lot of ways were written like a subprime mortgage. You know, they were designed to make people see certain things, and not see a lot of the fine print.

JACOB HACKER: Fully 30 to 40 percent of the benefits were going to the very top, of the income distribution. The top one percent. And when you broke it down, it was really the top one-tenth of one percent that did so well because of the estate tax changes, and because of the changes in the top tax rates, the changes in the capital gains taxes. And if you go to 2003, changes in the dividend tax….

PAUL PIERSON: …it was really designed to front-load the relatively modest benefits for the middle class, and to back-load the benefits for the wealthy….

JACOB HACKER: So why? Why do the winners get policies that make their winnings even larger? You know, this is not a trivial change. If you say from the mid-90s to 2007, those top 400 tax payers, they’ve seen their tax rates decline so much that it’s worth about $46 million for every one–

JACOB HACKER: Well, I think this is something that really needs to be understood. You know, these large shifts in our economy had been propelled in part by what government has done, say deregulating the market, the financial markets, to allow wealthy people to gamble with their own and other peoples’ money, and ways to put all of us at risk, but allow them to make huge fortunes….

BILL MOYERS: You write, we have a government that’s been promoting inequality, and at the same time, as you just said, failing to counteract it. This has been going on, you write, 30 years or more. And here’s the key sentence: Step by step, and debate by debate, our public officials have rewritten the rules of the economy in ways that favor the few at the expense of the many.

PAUL PIERSON: In some ways, the fundamental myth that we’re trying to break out of is the idea that there’s something natural out there called “the American economy” that is prior to government, prior to politics. And that government, if it’s involved at all, is only involved sort of at the end of the day, maybe tidying things up around the edges, or redistributing money from some people to another…

BILL MOYERS: How can this happen? How could Washington turn its back on the broad middle class to favor a relatively few at the top in a democracy?

JACOB HACKER: What has really changed is the organization of American politics, particularly the organizations that represent the deepest pocketed members of American society. What we’ve seen as an organizational revolution over the last 30 years that has meant that business, and Wall Street, and ideological conservative organizations that are pushing for free market policies have all become much more influential.

And at the same time, a lot of the organizations that once represented the middle class, labor unions, broad-based civic organizations and, sort of, organizations at the local and grassroots level, including social movements, have all lost enormous ground.

And so it’s that imbalance, that shift, I think, that is the sort of underlying pressure that plays out in our politics today. The way we describe it in the book is as if the ecosystem of American politics has changed. And everyone in American politics, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives has had to adapt to this new world where money matters much more in our politics, and where groups representing business and the wealthy are much more powerful than in the past.

BILL MOYERS: And you don’t beat around the bush. You say, quote, “Most voters of moderate means…have been organized out of politics, left adrift as the foundations of middle class democracy have washed away.”

JACOB HACKER: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the history of American democracy it is about a broadening of our understanding of political equality to incorporate African Americans and women and ultimately to also incorporate the idea that large inequalities of property were a threat to democratic equality. So FDR during the Great Depression famously said that political equality was meaningless in the face of economic inequality… Americans have very complex views about equality, but they all agree in this basic idea that as Thomas Jefferson famously said, “All men are created equal.”…

PAUL PIERSON: Yes, they do. And we describe that period after World War II, which lasted for about 30 years

JACOB HACKER: Right now I think we’re seeing the kind of bitter fruit of winner-take-all politics because this financial crisis was not an act of God or work of nature. It was brought on by poor decisions that were made in Washington and on Wall Street.

BILL MOYERS: So the winner-take-all politics has produced a winner-take-all economy?

BILL MOYERS: Point blank, Paul, do we still have a middle class country?

PAUL PIERSON: I would say no. I mean, obviously there is still something there is still something that we would recognize as a middle class, it’s still probably the biggest segment of the population. But in terms of its weight in the society, its ability to produce a society and reproduce a society that is oriented around the needs and concerns and opportunities of the middle class, I don’t think that we live in that country anymore.

JACOB HACKER: … I think, what is wrong with the priorities of our society that we cannot figure out how to translate our great wealth, our ingenuity, the hard work of our citizens, into a better standard of living that is shared broadly across the population? That’s a fundamental thing that a well-functioning democracy should do.

JACOB HACKER: …

At the individual level Americans are extremely optimistic. And if you ask them, “Will you achieve the American dream?” Most Americans say yes. But at a collective level when you ask people, “Does the American dream still hold true?” We’re seeing in surveys for the first time that only about, you know, half of Americans are agreeing that the American dream still holds true. And that’s remarkable.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the practical consequences of that? Of giving up faith and hope in that dream?

JACOB HACKER: The fact is that for most middle class and working class Americans the politics seems increasingly removed from their everyday experience and their life. And there is a current of distrust and anger towards Washington is that is so deep right now…

JACOB HACKER: That is one of the big changes that occurs over this period. Money becomes more important for campaigns and it also becomes much more important in terms of lobbying, which in some ways is the more important way that money changed American politics. It’s really the development of lobbying over this this last 25, 30 years that stands out as the most dramatic role of money in American politics.

Well, a few years later lobbyists had written a lot of these loopholes back into the tax code..

PAUL PIERSON: Right. It is the story that we try to tell in this book that there has been a 30 year war in which the sound of the voice of ordinary Americans has been quieter and quieter in American politics and the voice of business and the wealthy has been louder and louder

And I think the main punch line of our story and the optimistic message is that politics got us into this mess and therefore potentially politics can get us out of it. ..

JACOB HACKER: When citizens are organized and when they press their claims forcefully, when there are reformist leaders within government and outside it who work on their behalf, then we do see reform. This is the story of the American democratic experiment of wave after wave of reform leading to a much broader franchise, to a much broader understanding of the American idea.

In the mid-20th century we saw a period in which income gains were broadly distributed, in which middle class Americans had voice through labor unions, through civic organizations and through, ultimately, their government. We’ve seen an erosion of that world, but just because it’s lost ground doesn’t mean it can’t be saved. And so in writing this book we were hoping to sort of tell Americans that what was valuable in the past could be a part of our future.

BILL MOYERS: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, thank you.

PAUL PIERSON: Thank you so much.

JACOB HACKER: Thank you.

Full transcript

March 1, 2012

Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality

BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company.

PAUL PIERSON: I think a lot of people know that inequality has grown in the United States. But saying that inequality has grown doesn’t begin to describe what’s happened.

JACOB HACKER: It’s not the haves versus the have-nots. It’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans.

BILL MOYERS: And…

LINNEA PALMER PATON: This is supposed to be a government run by the people and if our voices don’t matter because we’re not wealthy, that’s really unacceptable and it’s dangerous.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. I’m glad we could get together again. I look forward to your company from week to week – here and online at BillMoyers.com. It’s good to be back.

We begin with the question that haunts our time: Why, in a nation as rich as America, has the economy stopped working for people at large even as those at the top enjoy massive rewards?

The struggle of ordinary people for a decent living, for security, is as old as the republic, but it’s taken on a new and urgent edge. Instead of shared prosperity our political system has now produced a winner-take-all economy.

BUD FOX: How much is enough Gordon?

BILL MOYERS: Hollywood saw it coming.

GORDON GEKKO: The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth: five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows’ idiot sons and what I do — stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got 90 percent of the American people have little or no net worth. I create nothing; I own.

We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval; the price of a paper clip. We pull the rabbit out of the hat while everybody else sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy are you, Buddy?

BILL MOYERS: That, of course, was Michael Douglas as the wheeler-dealer Gordon Gekko, responding to his protégé, played by Charlie Sheen in the movie Wall Street, 25 years ago!

Back in the late 80s, the director Oliver Stone, himself the son of a stockbroker, saw something happening before it reached the mainstream. Before the rest of us knew what hit us. That little speech about the richest one percent and the demise of democracy proved to be prophetic. Flesh-and-blood Americans are living now every day with the consequences.

AMANDA GREUBEL: My name is Amanda Greubel. I am 32 years old, born and raised in Iowa. I’ve been married for ten years today to my high school sweetheart, Josh. He’s the High School Band Director in the same district where I am the Family Resource Center Director. We have a five-year old son Benen, and our second child on the way in December. Like a lot American families, we have a lot of debt – mortgage, two vehicles, and because we both have masters degrees, a lot of student loan debt.

BILL MOYERS: Amanda Greubel was invited to testify last summer at a Senate hearing on how Americans are coping in hard times. When the state cut funding for local school districts, Amanda Greubel and her husband feared they might lose their jobs. At the last minute, they were spared, although her salary was reduced by $10,000.

AMANDA GREUBEL: $10,000 might not seem like a lot to some people, but that loss of income required a complete financial, emotional and spiritual overhaul in our family. […] It means that even though I would rather shop at local grocers, I shop at Wal-Mart for groceries because that’s where the lowest prices are. Sometimes the grocery money runs out before the end of the month, and then we have to be creative with what’s in the cupboard – and that was a fun challenge at first, but the novelty wears off after a while. […] It means that most of our clothing comes from Goodwill, garage sales, and the clearance racks because we try not to spend full-price on anything anymore. It means that when my son brought me the snack calendar for his classroom and I saw that that month was his week to provide snacks for 15 classmates, I was scared because I knew that it would stretch the grocery budget even further. And we didn’t have roast beef or pork chops in our house that month. […] This past spring our son was hospitalized for three days, resulting in $1000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses beyond what our insurance covered. Then a problem with our roof required $1500 in repairs. Even though we’d been setting aside money every month for emergencies like that, we still didn’t have enough. And so we’ve spent the last few months catching up.

And finally, this change in our finances meant giving very serious consideration to whether it was even a good idea for our family to have another child. Thankfully, life has a way of reminding us through our son’s brief illness and hospitalization that some things are more important than money and that we’ll figure it out.

BILL MOYERS: She told the senators how the sour economy has affected her students and their parents.

AMANDA GREUBEL: If my family with two Master’s degrees is struggling, you can imagine how bad it is for other people.

The past few years our school district has seen our percentage of students on free and reduced lunch increase steadily. In a community that has a reputation of being very well off, over 30 percent of our elementary level students qualified for that program this year. I’ve sat with parents as they’ve completed that eligibility application, and they cry tears of shame, and they say things like “I never thought I’d have to do this,” and “I’ve never needed this help before.” They worry that their neighbors will find out and that their kids will be embarrassed. And it’s my job to reassure them that reaching out for help when you need it is no problem – it’s not a shame, it’s not anything to be embarrassed about. […] Kids don’t necessarily tell their parents when they’re afraid, because they see that their parents are stressed out enough already and they don’t want to make it worse. Sometimes their clothing becomes more tattered and we see parents cut the toes off of tennis shoes to accommodate a few more months’ worth of growth, and let those shoes last just a little bit longer. When kids don’t have enough to eat or they worry about losing their homes they cannot concentrate on learning their math facts, or their reading strategies. And in some cases financial concerns lead to or exacerbate issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, and physical or mental health conditions. All of the things that are ailing our families right now are so interconnected.

[…] I may have been called on to be the voice of struggling families today, but there are millions more out there who want and need to be heard by you. And I would ask that you not only listen, but that you then come back here and do something. Because it was your commitment and your passion for public service that brought you here in the first place.

BILL MOYERS: Our once and future middle class is in trouble. Their share of the nation’s income is shrinking, while the share going to the top is growing. Wages are at an all-time low as a percentage of the economy, and chronic unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression, but the richest Americans now hold more wealth than at any time in modern history.

This gross inequality didn’t just happen. It was made to happen. It was politically engineered by powerful players in Washington and on Wall Street. You can read how they did it in this book, Winner-Take-All Politics, by two of the country’s top political scientists, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

They were drawn to a mystery every bit as puzzling as a crime drama: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

Quote: “We wanted to know how our economy stopped working to provide prosperity and security for the broad middle class.” And that’s what you saw.

PAUL PIERSON: I think a lot of people know that inequality has grown in the United States. But saying that inequality has grown doesn’t begin to describe what’s happened. The metaphor that we had been using lately is if you imagine a ladder, with the rungs in the ladder, and you think, “Okay, well inequality’s growing. So the rungs are getting further apart from each other.”

That’s not what’s happened in the United States. What’s happened in the United States is that the top one or two rungs have shot up, you know, into the stratosphere while all the other ones have stayed more or less in place. It’s really astonishing how concentrated the gains of economic growth have been.

JACOB HACKER: You know, the startling statistic that we have in the book is that if you take all of the income gains from 1979 to 2007, so all the increased household income over that period, around 40 percent of those gains went to the top one percent. And if you look at the bottom 90 percent they had less than that combined.

And it is not just a one or two year story. I mean, we’ve seen a terrible economy over the last few years. And the last decade is now being called “The Lost Decade” because there was no growth in middle incomes, there was no, there was an increase in the share of Americans without health insurance, more people are poor. So there was a terrible ten years.

But we were actually looking at the last 30 years, and seeing that the middle class had only gotten ahead to the extent that it had because of families working more hours.

So this is a story that isn’t just about those at the top doing much, much better. But is, also, we found, a story about those in the middle not getting ahead, often falling behind in important ways, failing to have the same kinds of opportunity and economic security that they once had.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s take a look at just how dramatic the inequality is. You have a chart here. I’m not an astute reader of charts, but this one did hit me. What are you saying with that chart?

JACOB HACKER: It says how much did people at different points on the income ladder earn in 1979 and how much did they earn in 2006 after adjusting for inflation?

It exploded at the top. The line for the top one percent, it’s hard to fit on the graph because it’s so much out of proportion to the increases that occurred among other income groups including people who are just below the top one percent. So, that top one percent saw its real incomes increase by over 250 percent between 1979 and 2006. Yeah. Over 250 percent.

PAUL PIERSON: And actually, even this graph– we couldn’t find a graph that fully describes it because even this graph actually really understates the story. Because it—

BILL MOYERS: Understates it?

PAUL PIERSON: Understates it.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, this is pretty powerful. When I looked I thought it was a showstopper.

PAUL PIERSON: Okay, so well, if you really if you really want the showstopper you have to go one step further because that big increase is for the top one percent. But the real action is inside the top one percent. If you go to the top tenth of one percent or the top hundredth of one percent, you know, you would need a much bigger graph to show what’s happening to incomes for that for that more select group. Because they’ve gone up much faster than have incomes for just your average top one percent kind of person.

BILL MOYERS: But we’ve all known for a long time that the rich were getting richer, and the middle class was barely holding its own. I mean, that was no mystery, right?

JACOB HACKER: Oh, it is. It’s a mystery when you start to look beneath the familiar, common statement that inequality has grown. Because when you think about rising inequality, we think, “Oh, it’s the haves versus the have-nots.” That the top third of the income distribution, say, is pulling away from the bottom third.

And what we found is it’s not the haves versus the have-nots. It’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans. And those have-it-alls, which are households in say the top one-tenth of one percent of the income distribution, the richest one-in-a-thousand households are truly living in an unparalleled age.

Since we’ve been keeping records on the incomes of the richest from tax statistics in the early 20th century, we never saw as large a share of national income going to the richest one-in-a-thousand households as we did just before the great recession.

Their share of national income quadrupled over this period, to the point where they were pulling down about one in eight dollars in our economy. One-in-a-thousand households pulling down about one in eight dollars in our economy before the great recession began.

BILL MOYERS: You set out to try to solve three mysteries: who done it, who created the circumstances and conditions for the creation of a winner-take-all economy. And your answer to that in one sentence is?

JACOB HACKER: American politics did it far more than we would have believed when we started this research. What government has done and not done and the politics that produced it is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.

BILL MOYERS: It’s the politics, stupid?

JACOB HACKER: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: How did they do it?

PAUL PIERSON: Through organized combat is the short answer.

BILL MOYERS: And why did they do it?

JACOB HACKER: Because they could. Because the transformation of political organization, the creation of a powerful, organized business community, the degree to which that was self-reinforcing within both parties has meant that politicians have found that they can on issue after issue cater to the interests of the very well off while either ignoring or only symbolically addressing many of the concerns that are felt by most Americans and get reelected and survive politically.

PAUL PIERSON: If you listen to many public officials over the over the last 20 or 30 years as they’ve started to recognize that inequality has grown, typically what they’ll say is, this is a result just of economic change. It’s a result of globalization changes in technology that have advantaged the educated at those with high skills at the expense of the uneducated.

And there, clearly, there is some truth to this story that education matters more in determining economic rewards. But the more we looked at this, the less satisfied we were with that explanation.

That it couldn’t explain why the economic gains were so concentrated within a very small subset of the educated people in American society. I mean, 29 percent of Americans now have college degrees. But a much, much smaller percentage of Americans were benefiting from this economic transformation.

BILL MOYERS: Well, as you speak, I can hear all of those free-marketers out they say, “Come on, Piers– come on Hacker it is the global economy. It’s that cheap labor overseas. It’s those high technology skills that you say are required, these deep forces that actually are beyond our control, and are making inevitable this division between the top and everyone else.” Right? That’s what they’re saying as they listen to you right now.

JACOB HACKER: We think the story that’s told about how the global economy has shifted clearly matters. But that it doesn’t get to the sort of really powerful role that government played in adapting to this new environment and in changing the well-being of people in the middle and at the top.

PAUL PIERSON: And again, we wouldn’t want to say that the kinds of changes that they’re talking about don’t matter at all. But they still leave open for a country to decide how they’re going to respond to those kinds of economic challenges.

And when you look at other affluent democracies that have also been exposed to these same kinds of pressures, who are actually more open — smaller economies are often more open to the global economy than the United States is — you don’t see anything like the run-up in inequality, especially this very concentrated high-end inequality, in most of these other countries that you see in the United States. Which to us, really, was a very strong clue that we need to understand why the American response to globalization, to technological change has been different than the response of most other wealthy democracies.

JACOB HACKER: So it’s one thing to say, “Oh, the rich are getting richer because we have this new global economy.”

But how do you explain the fact that we’ve seen over this period where the rich have gotten richer the tax rates on the richest of the rich come dramatically down. You know, Warren Buffet now says that he thinks he’s paying a lower tax rate than the people who work for him do.

PAUL PIERSON: The thing that got us going at the very beginning was the Bush tax cuts.

GEORGE W. BUSH: This tax relief plan is principled. We cut taxes for every income taxpayer. We target nobody in, we target nobody out. And tax relief is now on the way. Today is a great day for America.

PAUL PIERSON: The Bush tax cuts in a lot of ways were written like a subprime mortgage. You know, they were designed to make people see certain things, and not see a lot of the fine print.

JACOB HACKER: Fully 30 to 40 percent of the benefits were going to the very top, of the income distribution. The top one percent. And when you broke it down, it was really the top one-tenth of one percent that did so well because of the estate tax changes, and because of the changes in the top tax rates, the changes in the capital gains taxes. And if you go to 2003, changes in the dividend tax.

I mean, these were all tax breaks that were worth a vast amount to the richest of Americans and worth very little to middle class Americans.

PAUL PIERSON: Within a few weeks after the legislation was passed, we all get a letter that says Congress and the President have given you this tax cut. And then that’s pretty much it for the middle class. But for higher income groups, the further forward you go in time, the bigger and bigger the benefits get. So it was really designed to front-load the relatively modest benefits for the middle class, and to back-load the benefits for the wealthy.

JACOB HACKER: So why? Why do the winners get policies that make their winnings even larger? You know, this is not a trivial change. If you say from the mid-90s to 2007, those top 400 tax payers, they’ve seen their tax rates decline so much that it’s worth about $46 million for every one–

BILL MOYERS: For every–

JACOB HACKER: Of those 400 tax payers. So it’s– the numbers are staggering. When you start to look within the top one percent, and look at what government has done to help those people out, through taxes, through changes in the market, financial deregulation and the like, and through protecting them from efforts to try to push back.

BILL MOYERS: Protecting them?

JACOB HACKER: Well, I think this is something that really needs to be understood. You know, these large shifts in our economy had been propelled in part by what government has done, say deregulating the market, the financial markets, to allow wealthy people to gamble with their own and other peoples’ money, and ways to put all of us at risk, but allow them to make huge fortunes.

And at the same time, when those risks have become apparent, there has been a studious effort on the part of political leaders to try to protect against government stepping in and regulating or changing the rules.

BILL MOYERS: You write, we have a government that’s been promoting inequality, and at the same time, as you just said, failing to counteract it. This has been going on, you write, 30 years or more. And here’s the key sentence: Step by step, and debate by debate, our public officials have rewritten the rules of the economy in ways that favor the few at the expense of the many.

PAUL PIERSON: In some ways, the fundamental myth that we’re trying to break out of is the idea that there’s something natural out there called “the American economy” that is prior to government, prior to politics. And that government, if it’s involved at all, is only involved sort of at the end of the day, maybe tidying things up around the edges, or redistributing money from some people to another.

And I think the financial crisis has been a rude awakening for people who viewed the economic world that way. It’s now, I think, very clear in retrospect that the decisions that leading public officials made over a period of decades helped to get us to a point where a financial crisis could be so devastating to all Americans.

BILL MOYERS: How can this happen? How could Washington turn its back on the broad middle class to favor a relatively few at the top in a democracy?

JACOB HACKER: What has really changed is the organization of American politics, particularly the organizations that represent the deepest pocketed members of American society. What we’ve seen as an organizational revolution over the last 30 years that has meant that business, and Wall Street, and ideological conservative organizations that are pushing for free market policies have all become much more influential.

And at the same time, a lot of the organizations that once represented the middle class, labor unions, broad-based civic organizations and, sort of, organizations at the local and grassroots level, including social movements, have all lost enormous ground.

And so it’s that imbalance, that shift, I think, that is the sort of underlying pressure that plays out in our politics today. The way we describe it in the book is as if the ecosystem of American politics has changed. And everyone in American politics, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives has had to adapt to this new world where money matters much more in our politics, and where groups representing business and the wealthy are much more powerful than in the past.

BILL MOYERS: And you don’t beat around the bush. You say, quote, “Most voters of moderate means…have been organized out of politics, left adrift as the foundations of middle class democracy have washed away.”

JACOB HACKER: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the history of American democracy it is about a broadening of our understanding of political equality to incorporate African Americans and women and ultimately to also incorporate the idea that large inequalities of property were a threat to democratic equality. So FDR during the Great Depression famously said that political equality was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.

So we now, I think, understand that inequality of income and wealth is part of a capitalist society, but it can’t overwhelm our democracy. And what we’ve seen in the last 30 years is a gradual erosion of the firewalls that protect our democracy from the inequalities that are occurring in the market. Money has come into politics much more.

And the power that people have in the market is being used more and more in politics as well. And that’s a concern because Americans have very complex views about equality, but they all agree in this basic idea that as Thomas Jefferson famously said, “All men are created equal.”

And he meant men probably, but you know, the modern understand of that phrase, we believe that people whether they’re rich or they’re poor, whether they have lots of property or not, whether they’re in, on Wall Street or off, they should have equal potential to influence what government does. Anybody who looks around at our government today cannot believe that’s the case or that we’re even close to that.

PAUL PIERSON: Well certainly you just have to look at recent headlines to see a Washington that seems preoccupied with the economic concerns of those at the top and is resistant in many cases to steps that are clearly favored by a majority of the electorate such as wanting to increase taxes on the very well-to-do, letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire as if you want to do something about the deficit. That’s the single most popular proposal for doing something about the deficit would be to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. And yet that gets nowhere in Washington.

JACOB HACKER: You know, there is an organized, powerful constituency for deregulation, for high end tax cuts, for policies that are neglecting some of the serious middle class strains. And there just isn’t anything of comparable size or power on the other side.

And that has pulled Washington way toward the concerns of the most affluent, most privileged members of our society and led them to often neglect the real struggles that Americans are facing during this economic crisis, struggles that are magnified versions of what Americans have been going through for 25 years or so.

BILL MOYERS: There was a time when we were sure that a strong middle class was the backbone of a democracy. And there was a time, after the second World War when I was a young man when incomes actually grew slightly faster at the bottom and the middle than at the top, is that right? Do your figures support that?

PAUL PIERSON: Yes, they do. And we describe that period after World War II, which lasted for about 30 years as being a country which we labeled Broadland. And—

BILL MOYERS: Broadland?

PAUL PIERSON: Broadland. And I think it’s most clearly captured by that old idea that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Everybody’s income is going up at the roughly the same rate, slightly faster actually towards the bottom of the income distribution than towards the top, but everybody’s incomes were going up. And it’s important to understand, so this wasn’t some egalitarian fantasy world. It wasn’t Sweden.

It was the United States, recognizably the United States with significant inequalities of wealth, but everybody was participating in prosperity and seeing their incomes rise. And then after the mid 1970′s we start moving towards a distribution of income that looks more like that of a third world oligarchy. It looks more like Mexico or Brazil or Russia. Income inequality that statistics on income inequality now suggest that inequality is higher in the U.S. than it is in Egypt. And that’s quite a journey from where we were when I was growing up.

JACOB HACKER: Right now I think we’re seeing the kind of bitter fruit of winner-take-all politics because this financial crisis was not an act of God or work of nature. It was brought on by poor decisions that were made in Washington and on Wall Street. Yes, there’s a global dimension to this, but a big part of it was failures of domestic policy. You know, if you look to our northern neighbor, Canada, it had nothing like the same degree of banking crisis the United States did. And that’s partly because it had much more effective regulations of the financial sector. You know, over this period that we saw leverage and speculation increasing on Wall Street, Washington, both Democrats and Republicans, were trying as hard as they could to allow Wall Street to do even more.

BILL MOYERS: So the winner-take-all politics has produced a winner-take-all economy? Right?

JACOB HACKER: Yes.

PAUL PIERSON: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: And the winners are?

JACOB HACKER: The winners are those who’ve made out so well in this new economy, the very well off and financial– and people in the highest reaches of finance and corporate executives suites.

BILL MOYERS: And the losers?

PAUL PIERSON: Well, the losers are, I think, almost all of us.

I think almost all Americans lose from the shift toward a society in which rewards are so narrowly concentrated on a small segment of the population.

I was talking yesterday evening with a friend of mine who spends much of his time in Mexico who was describing a society in which a small group of wealthy people are protected by guns mostly from the rest of the population and dart from one protected location to another protected location completely separate from the rest of society.

We’re not there yet but we’ve moved a long way down a road in which there’s just a sharp social, economic, cultural separation from the vast bulk of Americans and a small astonishingly successful financial elite. And I don’t think that — I think most Americans would consider that not to be an improvement. They would consider themselves to be losers from that.

JACOB HACKER: And there’s no sign that the sort of massive concentration of the gains of the economy at the very top is slowing down. In fact, this downturn has been remarkable in the degree to which those at the very top seem to have weathered it pretty well. Profits are still very high.Those who are on Wall Street have recovered thanks to a massive government bailout.

BILL MOYERS: Taxpayers put it up. I mean, they’re spending taxpayer money.

JACOB HACKER: Yes, yes. And so we’ve seen the economy over 30 years very consistently shift in this direction. And what I think has not happened and what concerns us greatly is a kind of real undermining, deep undermining, of the operation of our democratic institutions.

I mean, we’re describing a massive erosion, but the question is could we see those democratic political institutions really cease to function effectively in the future if we have a society that continues to tilt so heavily towards winner-take-all. And that’s why we wrote the book because, you know, Walter Lippmann back in the early 20th century said the challenge for democratic reform is that democracy has to lift itself up by its own bootstraps.

And we’re, we are deep believers in the ability of American democracy to reform itself, of the strength of our democratic institutions. But they’re in very serious disrepair right now. And we’ve seen in recent political fights a sort of paralysis and a broad loss of faith in government. And that sort of secession of the wealthy from our economic life that we’ve already started to see could be matched by a secession of them from our political life and a sort of loss of that broad democracy that was characteristic of mid-20th century. That’s the greatest fear that we have.

BILL MOYERS: Would you say we still have a middle class country?

PAUL PIERSON: That’s–

BILL MOYERS: Wow.

PAUL PIERSON: No, no, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t.

BILL MOYERS: You’re hesitant.

PAUL PIERSON: If you asked me if you asked me that point blank, I mean–

BILL MOYERS: Point blank, Paul, do we still have a middle class country?

PAUL PIERSON: I would say no. I mean, obviously there is still something there is still something that we would recognize as a middle class, it’s still probably the biggest segment of the population. But in terms of its weight in the society, its ability to produce a society and reproduce a society that is oriented around the needs and concerns and opportunities of the middle class, I don’t think that we live in that country anymore.

JACOB HACKER: There was a poll done in 2010 that asked Americans whether the federal government had helped a great deal the following groups: large financial institutions and banks, 53 percent of Americans said they’d been helped a great deal.

What about large corporations? 44 percent of Americans said they’d been helped a great deal. Then they asked, well, has the federal government helped the middle class a great deal? And do you want to guess what percent of Americans said that they’d been helped a great deal– the middle class had been helped a great deal? Two percent.

BILL MOYERS: Two percent?

JACOB HACKER: Two percent.

BILL MOYERS: Well, this is—

JACOB HACKER: And so it’s just a remarkable sense that Washington isn’t working for the middle class. And after writing this book I think Paul and I feel as if that assessment, while excessively harsh, is grounded in a reality that Washington isn’t working well for most Americans.

BILL MOYERS: Did either of you happen to catch the Senate hearings last summer when a procession of ordinary Americans came and testified about what was happening?

AMANDA GREUBEL: We did everything we were always told to do to have the American dream. We finished high school, we went to college, we got married, we work hard, we pay our bills. We have no credit card debt. We waited to have children until we believed we were ready. We both got graduate degrees to be better at our jobs and make ourselves more marketable and increase our worth as employees. We volunteer, we donate to help those in need, and we vote. We did everything that all the experts said we should do, and yet still we’re struggling. And when you work that hard and you still feel sometimes like you’re scraping, it gets you really down really quick.

JACOB HACKER: When I hear stories like that I think, what is wrong with the priorities of our society that we cannot figure out how to translate our great wealth, our ingenuity, the hard work of our citizens, into a better standard of living that is shared broadly across the population? That’s a fundamental thing that a well-functioning democracy should do.

BILL MOYERS: And you say we are way behind in mobility. Behind Australia, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Spain, and Canada. We are way down the list in terms of social mobility. Am I reading you right?

JACOB HACKER: Over this period in which those at the very top have done better and better the chance of climbing up the economic ladder hasn’t grown at all, it may have actually declined. And that is reflected, I think, in a sense of pessimism that you see among many middle class Americans about whether the American dream still holds true.

At the individual level Americans are extremely optimistic. And if you ask them, “Will you achieve the American dream?” Most Americans say yes. But at a collective level when you ask people, “Does the American dream still hold true?” We’re seeing in surveys for the first time that only about, you know, half of Americans are agreeing that the American dream still holds true. And that’s remarkable.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the practical consequences of that? Of giving up faith and hope in that dream?

JACOB HACKER: The fact is that for most middle class and working class Americans the politics seems increasingly removed from their everyday experience and their life. And there is a current of distrust and anger towards Washington is that is so deep right now.

AMANDA GREUBEL: When we turn on our TV’s, our radios, or pick up our newspapers, we read about what is going on in our federal and state governments, and we start to believe that you don’t care about us. We hear that corporate welfare continues and CEO’s get six-figure bonuses at taxpayer expense, and we wonder who you’re working for. And we look across the kitchen table at our families eating Ramen noodles for the third time this week and wonder how that’s fair. We read that the wealthy get bigger tax breaks in hopes that their money will “trickle down” to us, then we turn the page and read about how our school districts are forced to cut staff again. We know that money talks around here, and that means you don’t hear us.

JACOB HACKER: That is one of the big changes that occurs over this period. Money becomes more important for campaigns and it also becomes much more important in terms of lobbying, which in some ways is the more important way that money changed American politics. It’s really the development of lobbying over this this last 25, 30 years that stands out as the most dramatic role of money in American politics.

We tell the story in the book of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, because this was one of these great examples when the lobbyists were overcome. You know, the Gucci Gulch right outside the Senate chamber where the well-heeled lobbyists attend to members of congress. Well, Gucci Gulch was a place of, not of celebration, but of despair after 1986 because all these tax loopholes were closed, rates were brought down in a way that was actually making the tax code more equitable. And that was considered to be a big step forward for the public interest.

Well, a few years later lobbyists had written a lot of these loopholes back into the tax code. Ten years later, you know, you could hardly see any traces of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Almost all of the good government public interest reforms that were put into the tax code in 1986 overcoming the lobbyists have been put back in, have been overwhelmed by the day in, day out lobbying to get those tax provisions right back into place.

BILL MOYERS: Quite a cycle, I mean, if you’re creating a winner-take-all economy the winners have more money to contribute to the politicians, who turn it into a winner-take-all politics. I mean, it just keeps—

PAUL PIERSON: Right. It is the story that we try to tell in this book that there has been a 30 year war in which the sound of the voice of ordinary Americans has been quieter and quieter in American politics and the voice of business and the wealthy has been louder and louder. Many people, I think, read this book and think it’s a pessimistic book, that it’s grim reading and there are ways in which that’s true.

But Jacob and I genuinely believe that it’s an optimistic story compared with the story that we’re typically told about what’s been happening to the American economy. Because what we’re typically told is there’s nothing you can do about this, that it’s just an economic reality, there’s no point in blaming any political party.

And I think the main punch line of our story and the optimistic message is that politics got us into this mess and therefore potentially politics can get us out of it.

BILL MOYERS: But if both political parties are indebted to the winners where do the losers find an army to join?

JACOB HACKER: When citizens are organized and when they press their claims forcefully, when there are reformist leaders within government and outside it who work on their behalf, then we do see reform. This is the story of the American democratic experiment of wave after wave of reform leading to a much broader franchise, to a much broader understanding of the American idea.

In the mid-20th century we saw a period in which income gains were broadly distributed, in which middle class Americans had voice through labor unions, through civic organizations and through, ultimately, their government. We’ve seen an erosion of that world, but just because it’s lost ground doesn’t mean it can’t be saved. And so in writing this book we were hoping to sort of tell Americans that what was valuable in the past could be a part of our future.

BILL MOYERS: Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, thank you.

PAUL PIERSON: Thank you so much.

JACOB HACKER: Thank you.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/jacob-hacker-paul-pierson-on-engineered-inequality/