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January 4, 2008

Bill Moyers talks with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

I know, I know — enough politics already.  But no matter how sick and tired you may be of all Iowa all the time, something fresh is brewing here.  This small mostly white, corn-growing state has put forward two men who are not more of the same.  Michael Huckabee's a Baptist preacher with a social conscience.  He's no Ronald Reagan but he's no Pat Robertson, either, with a view of the universe out of the middle ages.  You can't have been the pastor of a congregation without knowing that people hurt, and Huckabee's populism, which is why Wall Street Republicans are mobilizing against him, clearly comes from coping with people swimming upstream. 

RALLY: Lord Jesus, we pray God for Mike Huckabee that you would give him strength...

BILL MOYERS: There are far more evangelicals in this country like Huckabee than you may think.

 For his part, Barack Obama is no Martin Luther King Jr, but he's no Jesse Jackson, either. 

BARACK OBAMA: The one that can change this country brick by brick...

BILL MOYERS: Obama changes the metaphor; because King took his people to the mountain, Obama can take them somewhere else.  He wouldn't have been in Iowa except for the civil rights movement, but he's about far more than black and white.  

All of a sudden, the political landscape has changed.  As only an Iowa farmer would understand, the plow has broken new ground. But in presidential politics a reality check is always in order. Keep in mind that only twice since 1972 have winners of contested Iowa caucuses gone on to win the White House.  The total turnout for the caucuses in Iowa was less than 350,000 people in a state of three million.  Rarely are so few heard so loudly by so many through the megaphone of the media.

 For some analysis, we'll talk to two men who've been running for president and have nothing to lose by speaking their mind and from one of the country's foremost analysts of the co-dependency that exists between the press and the politicians.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the Director of its Annenberg Public Policy Center.  Her latest of many books is this one — co-authored with Brooks Jackson: UNSPUN: FINDING FACTS IN A WORLD OF DISINFORMATION.  It's good to see you again.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Good to see you as well.

BILL MOYERS: Any surprises last night?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No, actually. But what I thought was interesting about last night was that the polls proved to be correct. Final polls predicted this outcome. But what was intriguing to me about last night was that this is the breakthrough opportunity for these candidates to speak to the American people unmediated in some important ways, by all those pundits who are ascribing meaning to their candidacies and their outcome.

BILL MOYERS: So both Huckabee and Obama spoke a little long, but I guess they were taking advantage of that opportunity for free television to be heard once by everybody, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yeah, we forget that we've seen a very long campaign period and very little national access to candidates actually delivering a stump speech. Unless you're a political junkie and you're watching a lot of C-Span, the last time you saw Obama was in his announcement speech, and before that at the Democratic Convention. And you probably didn't catch Huckabee's announcement speech, because nobody was talking about him. And so, you probably weren't looking for him on C-Span. And so, having the opportunity for the nation that is politically attentive at this point, to hear these candidates deliver a speech that defines what they would do as president, is actually very, very important.

BILL MOYERS: What did you hear with Obama and with Huckabee? With Obama?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Obama delivered a speech in which he cast himself in the role of the President of the United States, as opposed to a candidate seeking that office alone. The speech is an attempt to try on the presidency and see that it fits. Obama's a very strong stump orator. And one of the things that we realize when we see the extended speech of Obama is that he is a much weaker debater. He's much weaker when he's speaking one on one to reporters. He's much weaker when he's speaking to camera. And he's good in all those formats than he is as a stump speaker. As a stump speaker, he is a master.

BILL MOYERS: And Huckabee?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Huckabee demonstrated that he is very good at speaking intimately. Less well crafted speech — he wasted a lot of time at the beginning of the speech. But where Obama's a natural stump orator, Huckabee's much more effective at intimate use of a stump platform. Ronald Reagan could do both. He was a great stump orator, and he was great at intimate communication. Huckabee is very good at kind of low key, intimate conversational engagement. Obama, much better at rallying the masses.

But here's why both of those speeches were important. They were good speeches. They talked to the nation in the role of a candidate who is speaking as a president to a people. Giving people a chance to say how would you fit in that role. And we forget sometimes that speech making is a very important role in the presidency. There are times in the nation in which the president is the only one who can speak to us and for us. And whether it's the president we wanted elected or not, that person has to be able to play that role for all of us. Obama has that capacity, and I believe Huckabee does as well.

BILL MOYERS: What was Huckabee's message that he heard?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Huckabee's message is essentially, I'm here and we're going to stay here with this message of carrying your message forward to the American people. But it's delivered well. It's delivered in a way that is engaging, and it suggests that he's a personable candidate who's here to stay.

BILL MOYERS: And he has that manner of — some people would say — the bedside manner of a good doctor. I come out of that world, and I know he has the manner of a listener in the pastor's study, you know, listening to people with broken hearts and with problems and debts and all of that. That's what strikes me most about him, is that he has that touch that I'm familiar with, growing up in that southern culture.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Did you hear that in Obama's speech as well? Did you hear the pastor in the pulpit telling you that the time is now, or now is the time, an echo of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

BILL MOYERS: I heard the echo but not as predominantly as that. Because to me, Obama is beyond those generations. He has, as I said earlier, changed the metaphor. You know, Martin Luther King was Moses who took the children of Israel to the promised land, but Joshua took them in. He benefited from the 40 years in exile. That's how Obama strikes me.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And I think if you want to look at that speech and ask, how does he situate himself in relationship to the Civil Rights movement in the United States, you have an interesting answer at the end of the speech. He moves through a series of important historical moments to suggest that this moment now is important in that kind of context. And he weaves those in, and then Selma and Montgomery come in. And then he continues forward. He doesn't start with Selma and Montgomery, and he doesn't end with it.

BILL MOYERS: Well, in South Carolina, which has the largest African-American voting population of all of these primaries, these early primaries, he's been trailing Hillary Clinton down there, because many of the blacks in South Carolina have said he doesn't embrace the Civil Rights movement, and he doesn't have that passion for civil rights that these-- Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson did. But I think they've misunderstood where the Civil Rights movement is today. Do you?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Mmm-hmm. And I think also, they have not heard the most important part of his speech that is self-identifying: mother from Kansas-


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --father from Kenya. This is a candidate who is going to transcend the racial divide. His speech last night was a speech of unification. It was a speech that was attempting to say, "This is a new message, this is a new generation. And we're going to have a different kind of United States if we embrace this vision." And if you looked at the way in which the candidates set their speeches-- because they're communicating visually to you as well. His speech is set not with a bunch of dignitaries standing behind him. Indeed, his family isn't standing behind him. They're standing to the side of the stage. He references them nicely, but they're not centered inside that frame. Behind him are a range of supporters.


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Some younger, some older. Some in suits, some dressed very casually. All extremely enthusiastic. That looked like the change. Contrast that to what you saw from Hillary Clinton. You saw Madeline Albright, you saw Wesley Clark. You saw Bill Clinton. You saw a kind of assertion that suggested I have experience, I have ballast. But also, you saw an assertion of it's embodiment of the older order, the extension of Bill Clinton. These are people who might carry forward to the next generation. And they looked older compared to that younger audience for Obama.

And then, interestingly, the setting for Huckabee. And here's a mistake for Huckabee. Because now he has to move beyond the candidate who needs to attract your interest, to the candidate who needs to embody the presidency. He has Chuck Norris next to him. Chuck Norris isn't going to be part of the presidency. Chuck Norris is not the argument for change. Chuck Norris is a very important way of getting attention very early. But the visual surroundings for Huckabee didn't carry his message forward the way Obama did.

BILL MOYERS: I was struck watching, by the youth of these two men who won. Huckabee's 51, Obama is 46. That adds up to less than a hundred. I mean, this really is a generational-- at least last night was a generational moment.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You had the feeling that it was a generation moment. — that what was happening was in the political parties, was an alternative vision of what it meant to be a Democrat and a Republican. Not just a new generation, but new conception. Listen to Huckabee's rhetoric, and what you hear is a rhetoric that fractures the Reagan coalition. Mitt Romney has worked very, very hard to tie back into the Reagan social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and the foreign policy conservatives. And in the process, has changed some of his positions to align with those positions. Huckabee is the social conservative who is attacking CEO greed.

BILL MOYERS: He's the William Jennings Bryan of the Republican Party. You remember William Jennings Bryan-


BILL MOYERS: The Cross of Gold, and took on Wall Street. Of course, he lost in 1896. And I'm not sure, as Dennis Kucinich and others might point out, I'm not sure that populism, even though it's the rhetoric now in the Democratic Party, will once again survive a full campaign.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I'm not sure, either. But there's a theme emerging in press commentary last night. And those themes helped set up a frame for understanding what we're seeing. Whether we like it or not we are influenced by it — that the establishment candidates didn't do well.

BILL MOYERS: That's right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The insurgent candidates did. The change candidates did well. You know, the candidates who stood for the establishment status quo did not. Now, you could say that's an unfair framing, that the candidates were being boxed into one category, don't really belong there. You can say change and experience are not antonyms. But that press frame that Romney and the whole rest of the field as establishment against Huckabee. And they set Obama against Clinton, Clinton establishment.

You also could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be where are the independents going, and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a Libertarian, but runs as a Republican in the party. And by the way, gets largely ignored for a very fine 10 percent showing last night, which should have been regarded as remarkable, given where he is placed within the Republican field and how little time he's gotten in the debates.

But we forget in the press, that people who vote and the people who are governed, are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say, "I don't identify with any of this. I'll call myself independent. I don't have a name yet." And last night, we, I think, neglected, as we talk about the implication for party, the notion that independents played an important role on both sides in who was elected.

BILL MOYERS: And they will in the general election.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And they will in the general election.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think about Dennis Kucinich? What happens to the progressive message that he's been carrying?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Kucinich articulates the left position on Democratic issues with clarity and with conviction. That expands the range of discourse for Democrats. It's a very important role.

BILL MOYERS: And Ron Paul?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Ron Paul does the same thing for Republicans. The libertarian voice is an important voice in this country. It's potentially an emergent party in this country. And to have that voice consistently articulated tells people what the libertarian wing of the Republican Party stands for. Taking him out of any presidential debate when he had 10 percent of the vote in Iowa, has been raising money, has a fervent group of partisan people who believe that his convictions are the ones that should lead the nation, I think is an injustice.

BILL MOYERS: Let's turn to the press. You and I both know that every primary creates a new reality, just as every experience creates a new reality, so that the press today has a new narrative. What's the narrative you're reading now about the primary process?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Something pernicious happened last night in press commentary. The commentators on each of the networks that were covering live — so the major cable networks — managed to say at, at least one point, that two-thirds of the Democratic voters had rejected Hillary Clinton. And then they provided explanations for why they had rejected Hillary Clinton. Nothing in the polling data tells you that anyone rejected Hillary Clinton. But the press frame is an either-or frame, a zero sum frame game. And as a result, it doesn't open the possibility for its viewers that people could look at the Democratic field and the Republican field and say, "Those are fine candidates. Any of those would be a good president. I would support any of those, but I prefer this candidate."

BILL MOYERS: It's a statement of preference, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It was a statement of preference.

BILL MOYERS: Not opposition.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And then, when after having set up this rejection of Hillary Clinton by two-thirds of the Democrats, then they provide the rationale for what the rejection means. Well, it's because she's too polarizing, she's too divisive. They also don't know that from the available evidence.

But the other piece out there before the caucus ever happened, was if McCain comes in third in Iowa, McCain is propelled into New Hampshire. If Romney doesn't win in Iowa, Romney comes into New Hampshire very, very vulnerable. Who isn't even being talked about in that narrative? Huckabee, who won in the Iowa caucuses. And you hear some of that in this morning's press coverage, and news coverage in broadcast. You hear the assumption that it's really McCain-Romney in New Hampshire. And here's the last narrative: Huckabee really was about getting those evangelicals. And there aren't any of those in New Hampshire. So we probably shouldn't think he's going to do well there. Let's wait for him to come back, when the evangelicals reappear in South Carolina.

All this boxing people into narrow categories, the evangelicals, makes it much more difficult to see what's actually going on here, I think, on both sides.

BILL MOYERS: What is the new conventional wisdom in the media today?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The interesting thing for me about this morning's press coverage, Friday morning, is that Hillary Clinton is being described as someone who's had a setback and not a loss. This is consistent with that early narrative that she could survive coming in third. The other candidates would have real trouble with that but she could survive that. If there was-- if we cast today as a loss for Hillary Clinton, that would be very different. The conventional wisdom is she has the resources to go to the end. And her campaign has been saying, Bill Clinton didn't win anything until Georgia, if you'll remember. He became president-


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --of the United States.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, he became pres- He lost in Iowa, came in what, second in New Hampshire, and said, "The comeback kid is here," right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The important thing to remember about this is that there are a whole lot of primaries, and we've just, you know, put in place very, very few delegates. I mean, we'll get to the Florida primary, where Giuliani is hoping that he's going to be able to win, and as a result, stop this conventional wisdom that says he's now effectively out of the race. You're picking up almost as many delegates in Florida as you have in the primaries up to that point.

And so, we overplay Iowa and in the process, people drop out of the race. And this is the part of the thing that worries me the most, you saw Biden and Dodd drop out last night, as a result of the results that we had. They dropped out before we ever had people actually going in, in large numbers in a state, in a regular voting process, not a caucus process to cast a vote. They dropped out before a series of debates that in five days from now are essentially going to yield another election. We, as a result, have lost their voices in the process. Iowa has now accomplished its first effect. It's winnowed the field based on the decision of a relatively atypical state.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, very atypical. Will you come back next week, and let's talk about New Hampshire and beyond New Hampshire?


BILL MOYERS: Thank you for joining me.


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