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Transcript:

January 22, 2010
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. Only about 100,000 votes separated the winner from the loser, and the outcome was to increase the minority party in the senate by just one vote — from 40 to 41. Nonetheless, this week's election in Massachusetts has been declared a repudiation of Barack Obama and a resurrection for Republicans. But I checked just before this broadcast, and Democrats still controlled the White House, still had a 78 vote majority in the house, and 59 of the 100 members of the Senate. But from all the spin this week, you could imagine there had been a coup in our nations Capitol — a tea party to beat all tea parties. No doubt about it, the pundits said — people have spoken — 100,000 of them, at least — and America is red again. Listen to the right's partisan boom box:

GLENN BECK: Republicans are starting to go where no Republicans have gone before. Places, strange places, for Republicans. Like New Jersey, and possibly now Massachusetts.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Tonight, everything, yes everything is turned upside down. The political impossible has happened.

DR. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: This was a center-right country, even in Massachusetts, repudiating a left agenda. This is not rocket science.

BILL MOYERS: But let's get another take on the news from two avowed progressives known for their candor and clarity. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an Associate Professor of Politics and African American studies at Princeton University, her commentary and analysis have appeared in publications across the country. She's at work on a new book titled, "Sister Citizen: A Text For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn't Enough."

Eric Alterman is distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College, and a Professor of Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and his most recent book is this one, "Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post Bush America." Welcome to you both.

BILL MOYERS: This couldn't have been what Barack Obama wanted on the first year anniversary of his inauguration. A resounding-- what's been seen as, interpreted as a resounding slap in the face in Massachusetts, where he wasn't even on the ballot. Was this election on Tuesday a repudiation of Barack Obama?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Who knows? I mean, you know, you got to give people a reason to vote for somebody in a special election, and as far as I can tell, there was no reason to vote for this woman. She didn't even know who Curt Schilling much less run a competent campaign. They did no polling. I mean, it was a "how not to" campaign. Whereas on the Republican side, they ran a brilliant campaign, under the radar, to the point where the Democrats didn't know what hit them. The problem is that, as you say, 100,000 votes in a very liberal state, no question about it, is being interpreted as a repudiation of absolutely everything this President has ever said and done by the entire country. That's nonsense. But the media have constructed this narrative that makes it true. And I must say, the President and the Democrats have allowed them to do it. And that's where they're really at fault here.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, I mean, I agree. I think a lot of our emotions about this particular seat has to do with Senator Kennedy. The sense that Senator Kennedy was one of the first and strongest voices on health care, and that somehow replacing Kennedy with a Republican who is voting against health care or is likely to vote against health care is a very painful sort of shift. But I also know that someone who's been in office as long as Kennedy was in office was not just about sort of all of these liberals and progressive liking his liberal progressivism -- they liked having Senator Kennedy be their senator. So, the changes that may have been happening in the electorate, the shifts may be these secular shifts that have occurred for some time. They're not just about the moment of this one, sort of, question about this President.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Now look, we got to give them this. It's a liberal state. They went for McGovern. They have gay marriage. They elected a conservative to replace Ted Kennedy, who by the way replaced John Kennedy. I mean, it is shocking. Now, the question is what's at the source of the shock? If you ask me, it's the fact that this President, this and particularly this candidate has not given people an inspiration to turn out, the way these same people had an inspiration to turn out a year ago. Barack Obama carried Massachusetts by 28 points -- that is a liberal state. And so, it should be a shock to the system. But it's not a repudiation of everything that Barack Obama believes. And it's clearly not a repudiation of him for being too liberal, much less socialist. It's equally plausible and to my mind more plausible that it's a repudiation of his being unwilling to fight for the agenda that people thought they were electing him for.

BILL MOYERS: Do you find it laughable that Obama is considered too liberal?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes. I mean, certainly. Barack Obama, it seems to me, more than anything, is a kind of careful pondering leader. He takes a great deal of time when considering both domestic and international policy moves. And he also brings in a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints. Probably not as many viewpoints from the left as many of us would like to see. But he certainly spends time thinking about alternate ways of imagining what outcomes are. That's really stunningly different than what happened over the course of the past eight years. I think the other thing is he keeps trying to govern in public. One argument about what's gone wrong with the health care reform plan is that it simply should have passed sooner.

And that a large part of the reason that it didn't pass more quickly was a sense that we wanted to include all of these different ideas and perspectives in it. And it seems to particularly irritate the left who says, "Come on, we've got a majority. Let's go. Full steam ahead. Use this extended you know, executive power. Let's get what we want." And he's definitely reigning it in. It's not socialism.

ERIC ALTERMAN: My own impression is that he governs the way I play poker, which is that I wish for a royal flush every time that I'm dealt cards, but I play the hand I'm dealt. Now, the hand he's been dealt is incredibly problematic from the perspective of any progressive President. The legacy of the Bush Administration is one crisis after another. In addition to which, he's governing in a dysfunctional system, in the Senate, where-- because the Republicans are so unreasonable in terms of offering any cooperation whatsoever, that he can only be as progressive as the 60th Senator on any issue. He's getting no Republican cooperation on anything. Very different than the way the Democrats behave. So, no matter what he believes in and what he knows to be the best, or what he would like to see for the country, he has to cut the deals. He has to play the cards he's been dealt. And those cards are being determined by the insurance industries, by the pharma industry, by the big banks, and the power that money exercises in our system is much more significant in decision making process of senators than is their own views.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I think this is part of why we have to think about what this Massachusetts loss means. I mean, we keep talking about the loss of the 60. But did we not notice the Blue Dogs and Joe Lieberman? I mean, this hasn't been some solid 60 in lockstep behind a progressive President overreaching towards a more progressive era in social policy. That's just an empirical fallacy to imagine that that's what's been going on. And that does speak, I think, to a failure on the part of the Democratic Party writ large to tell a better story and a more-- and I mean, seriously, just a more accurate story about what's going on.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I was going to bring that up too. The narrative that's come out of this presidency is really at fault in significant ways. They haven't done a good job of telling the story they want people to understand. They did a great job in the election; he hasn't done it as President. Now, if you if you remember, there was a big kerfuffle during the election when Barack Obama said that he admired the way Ronald Reagan changed the conversation. What he was saying was that the ideas that the Republican Party brought forth, however wrong they were, were bold and had the effect of sort of changing the playing field. I don't understand-- this is my most significant criticism of the President. I don't understand why he didn't come in, in the same way. He understood the need for it. But instead he came in on issue after issue where he thought the deal was to be done. Ronald Reagan would come in with these crazy plans and then when the time came to cut the deal, he cut the deal, and he got a much better deal than he would have if he came in where he thought the deal was to be made. But you have them coming in with a stimulus plan which is what they thought they could pass. They should have come in with an incredibly ambitious and idealistic stimulus plan. And then gotten the best deal they could. Same with health care. Instead, they were so pragmatic about trying to get legislation passed right away, that they lost control of the story. And the Republicans were able to step into that void, helped by Fox News, helped by "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, helped by this entire movement that they have that's colonized much of the media. And they-- it's their story, not the President's.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I want to disagree just a little bit about where the locus of that blame might sit. So, I agree with you that one of the amazing things about the Obama candidacy was this sort of sense of what the story was. And of Obama's narrative. But what I disagree with is the notion that that was a tightly controlled narrative, emerging from the campaign. Quite the opposite. I think that the brilliance of the Obama campaign had to do with creating a sort of outline figure of who Obama was. A figure of change, of hope, a representation of what America most wanted itself to be. But what was amazing was how at the level of very ordinary people, there was an opportunity to project onto Barack Obama all of your greatest hopes. It's how I ended up finding myself in a coalition with people who I typically disagreed with. I mean, there was a moment when I realized that, you know, I was in a coalition with, you know, Colin Powell. So, in many ways, I think that this governing reflects something similar. And that the missing piece is that those same people who had such enthusiasm to tell a story during the campaign, have failed to tell those stories during governing. We got right on the defensive immediately and started feeling very anxious. And I'm not sure that that was all coming from the White House.

ERIC ALTERMAN: But Melissa, I think you're putting your finger on an unavoidable problem of going from a campaign to governing. If you and Colin Powell are disagreeing on fundamental things, but you both agree on the need for hope and for change, well, then as President it's up to Obama to define what that means. And he's going to lose one of you along the way. And it seems to me--

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Or he might convince one of us along the way.

ERIC ALTERMAN: He might. Yeah. I so, good luck with that--

BILL MOYERS: Both of you were very hopeful in 2008.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Almost embarrassingly so, yes.

BILL MOYERS: Exactly. But can either of you name one gift he has given to the liberal wing of his party since he became President.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I can give you a few.

BILL MOYERS: All right, what are they?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Net neutrality. Government--

BILL MOYERS: That's really big in Massachusetts.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Government trans-- well, they're not the kinds of things that excite people. But he--

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Lily Ledbetter Equal--

ERIC ALTERMAN: Releasing the torture memos.

BILL MOYERS: But not closing Guantanamo.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Canceling the F-22. I mean, these are all things that President McCain would never have done. Sonia Sotomayor.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes.

ERIC ALTERMAN: These are things that demonstrate that there's a significant difference between the two parties. It true-- he's taken a few minor hits. He hasn't taken a big hit. And I think this is a mistake, because I think that the American people admire a President who fights for what he believes in, regardless of whether or not they believe it themselves. And he hasn't given that impression.

BILL MOYERS: But it does seem to me that he prefers the argument to the battle. And that preparation and the arrangement of the case becomes his obsession. But to go out and fight and to go out and struggle and to take on the enemy and be defined by his haters, he doesn't seem to have the-- and I'm not-- this may be his nature, not his choice. It just may be the way he is.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I mean, I don't know. I hear you. And he certainly does seem more the argument, case-presenting, law professor, intellectual. And the fact is, that just actually whoops me up. I love that sort of thing.

BILL MOYERS: Of course you do.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: You know, right, of course, because that's where I am. But--

ERIC ALTERMAN: This much of the electorate.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Right. I under-- right. So I get that. I get that. He's not going to lose the college professors any time soon. But what I will say is, I think that we are underestimating how much of a battle it is to simply stand still being Barack Obama at this particular moment. I mean, I've spent a lot of time watching both the left and the right be exceptionally critical of every piece of legislation, of every choice, of not talking about the Equal Pay Act. Of not talking about the fact that he's trying to move towards a closure of Guantanamo. Of appreciating that at least he took a moment on Afghanistan. As much as I wish the decision had been different, I appreciate that he deliberated before making the decision. So that in each of those cases, he takes the battle from both, and simply because he doesn't fight back does not make him not a warrior. I mean, we wouldn't have claimed that, you know, Dr. King was not a warrior because he wasn't fighting back. Part of the fighting back is standing still as others attack you.

BILL MOYERS: Is it the problem that we lay too much on any President? It's only been a year this week that he was inaugurated. And yet, one year after he took the oath of office, he's being repudiated. Repudiated for what?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Well, it the narrative of the media go from one form of hysteria to another. And what you need if you want to be an effective President is a theory of change. How do you move the system? I thought Barack Obama had a brilliant theory of change as a candidate. He said we're all friends here. We're all Americans. We're all basically interested in the same thing. Let's stop fighting with each other the way the Bush Administration wants us to do. And this nasty Dick Cheney fellow is always trying to get us riled up. Let's find what we agree on and move forward.

And then I thought that once he became President he could say, okay, I tried. I tried it the nice way with these people. But they just won't cooperate. Now it's time to slap them around a little and get something done. He hasn't taken that step. He's giving the impression that he can be pushed around. And I think he needs to push some people around, even at a short term political cost, just to show that there's something to fear with this President.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I don't know. I mean, I hear you. But I keep having to remind myself that I'm committed to the particular social contract that is democracy with a little "d" in the U.S. And so, what that means is the messy hard work of recognizing that winning an election is not the same thing as staging a coup. And that even if the other side does it ugly and bad and mean and dishonestly, that the rules of the game are at least as important as the overall outcomes. And so, the plodding, difficult, bureaucratic, listening to people who you disagree with and who you think have ill will, is part of the democratic process. But it is that difficulty of governing together in a country where we don't agree with each other that is the work of democracy.

ERIC ALTERMAN: But in this case, he's playing tennis and there's nobody hitting the ball back. The Republicans are not playing. They're saying-- they're waiting on the sidelines, criticizing his performance and he keeps pretending that he's in a tennis game with two sides. And the question is what can you accomplish under those circumstances? Well, you can accomplish a health care bill that is okay with Joe Lieberman and Senator Nelson. That's all you can accomplish. But it turns out you can't even do that. Because of this vagary that took place in Massachusetts. So, what's the plan now? In other words, the Democrats are so committed to being reasonable, to doing all the things that you just described, as if there were another party that were behaving responsibly. But the Republicans are not interested in behaving responsibly.

BILL MOYERS: What has he gotten for his bipartisanship? I mean, he heavily weighted the stimulus toward tax cuts, against the advice of many Democratic economists, hoping to win some Republican votes, and got none. He ruled out a single payer system ahead of time and then refused to be strong for a public option, hoping to get Olympia Snowe and one Republican vote. Didn't get a single one. He got labeled instead for all of this as a socialist or worse. Does he really know who his opponents are?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: The question is why is it that the American public doesn't notice this? So, I just want to be careful that we don't play the game the way that our opponents play it, simply because that's how are opponents are playing it. You don't cheat because you're playing with cheaters. What you hope--

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, but you call them cheaters.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: No, possibly, but-

ERIC ALTERMAN: You say, "You're cheating."

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: But I think part of what you hope is that by demonstrating reasonableness in the face of unreasonableness that a democratic system of observers goes, "Wait a minute. They've turned the water hoses and dogs on people who are fighting back with nothing. That's not acceptable. That's not American. And therefore, we're going to get on the side of the people who are playing fair."

ERIC ALTERMAN: How is that working out?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, but I think that we have to be really careful about this incredibly short term vision that says, "What we do is fight as nasty as possible to win the policy we want, because at least then we will win the policy we want at the cost of who we are together in a democracy."

BILL MOYERS: But listen —

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: This is a long term game.

ERIC ALTERMAN: No, but really what are we talking about? Barack Obama has the largest majority of both houses that any President has had in 30 years, and yet he's governing as if he's- it's 50-50 or even he's in the minority. Now, he should be willing to take some hits for what he strongly believes in, and the American People will respect him for that, even I think, if they disagree with what — that's the way it was with Reagan, and that's the way it was for a long time with Bush. Instead, he's managing the fight between the two sides. He's not leading the fight. And it's a strategy. It might have worked. But it hasn't worked. It's clearly not working now. And it needs to be rethought.

BILL MOYERS: It is working for the Republicans. I mean, they refuse to go along with his hand out. They slap it away. They don't give him a single vote on anything. The Republican strategy has set that up. Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. Then go to the country and say, "The country can't get anything done. Let's send a Republican to Congress."

ERIC ALTERMAN: This is the failure of the ability of the President and his party to tell their story. It's a Republican story being told. What is the Republican health care alternative? There is none. What is the Republican alternative to the country almost going bankrupt before the stimulus plan? There is none. They have no serious governance strategy right now. They have slogans and they have anger. And the media are allowing the part where "Okay, what's behind the curtain?" to go untold.

Do you know who the most frequently booked guest on "Meet The Press" was this year? Ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Do you know how often Nancy Pelosi, the actual Speaker of the House was on "Meet The Press" this year? Zero. Do you know how many times all the other living ex-Speakers of the House were on "Meet The Press" this year? A grand total of zero. Newt Gingrich has no position, and yet the mainstream media has embraced him as a responsible spokesman for a position where he says the President- This is not Rush Limbaugh. This is not Bill O'Reilly. He says the President of the United States cares more about the rights of terrorists than he does protecting the American People. Now, does any sensible person believe that? No. But that is driving the narrative in the mainstream media. Not on Fox.

BILL MOYERS: Give me your explanation of why you think NBC, GE, and David Gregory constantly ask Newt Gingrich on and not Nancy Pelosi?

ERIC ALTERMAN: I think because the right wing media, Fox, the "Wall Street Journal", "The Weekly Standard", et cetera, et cetera, the Heritage Foundation, they have been so successful at defining the terms of the debate that the mainstream media accept their definitions of the issues and the parameters of discussion without even knowing they're doing it. And this infection has been going on for decades. And when the White House tried to take it on, in the form of taking on Fox, the media reacted, "Oh my God, you're attacking a sister network." That was the phrase of one of the ABC correspondents. They should recognize that there are some people doing honest journalism and some people doing propaganda. And those people doing propaganda should be shamed.

BILL MOYERS: What would you like to see your candidate and your President do that he's not doing? I mean, are you offended by the fact that the man you helped elect is making compromises with conservative elements in the Democratic Party to-- at the risk of a woman's reproductive rights?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I am very angry with a couple of things. The question of women's reproductive rights would be near the top of that. The failure on the part of the entire party to stand very strong on issues of marriage equality and a much broader extension of things like, for example, the Fair Housing Act and employment discrimination protection for LGBT individuals. The banking crisis. So, there are all sorts of things about which I disagree both with this President as well as my local Democratic and national Democratic leadership. But I'm not offended. I think offended is the wrong word, because I don't feel that it's being done in the sense of sort of an unwillingness to even imagine a different kind of possibility, which is very much how I felt during the course of the eight years when George W. Bush was President. I felt that there was no possibility that we were even beginning to think about a more inclusive American story. In this Presidency, I think there's been some failures to take the really toughest stances. I think there's been a lot of hoping that you're playing tennis with someone, that you're dealing with reasonable people. But I also appreciate that my President is working really hard to follow the rules of the game that he set out at the beginning. That he told us I'm a centrist Democrat. I'm interested in working across party lines. I am concerned with these questions, but I'm a free market guy.

ERIC ALTERMAN: He also kept his campaign promise on Afghanistan. I don't like it, but he did it.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, he did.

ERIC ALTERMAN: No, I don't think offense is the right term. There are a lot of things about politics that offend me. It offends me, as I'm sure it offends most Americans that the amount of money that we gave to Goldman Sachs that went to A.I.G., $13 billion is exactly equivalent to the amount of bonuses that the Goldman Sachs executives are getting this year. That really offends me. That's not Barack Obama's fault. There are- I trust Barack Obama. I think he's the best possible President we could have. That said, there are a lot of things I don't understand why he's doing. I don't understand why he's basically caved on all of the issues related to the war on terror and civil liberties. I don't get that. I can't explain it. I take some comfort in the fact that he's a very intelligent man. I think he's got good values. And he knows a lot of things I don't. He's smarter than I am. And he has information I don't. And maybe he's right. I sure hope he's right.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose he knows something you don't want to believe. Suppose he knows that Americans really do fear a proactive, social democratic agenda. Maybe he knows that this is not as progressive a country —

ERIC ALTERMAN: That's not true.

BILL MOYERS: -as either of you would like it to be.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I know that's false. I know that's false. It's one thing to say that this is not a progressive country as we would define it, but we know what people feel on the issues. The problem is that there's no direct connection between what people feel on the issues and pressure that politicians feel.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ERIC ALTERMAN: There is a direct connection between the money that's contributed to a politician's campaign and the votes that he makes in Congress, but the fact that 80 percent of the country might agree with, let's say, re-importation of prescription drugs. That's very popular. And yet, there's no lobby for it. Yet, there is a very powerful lobby to prevent it. And that lobby's money and influence speaks much more powerfully than the vast majorities of Americans who support it. So, what the President has done, and what any President has to do, and this President has actually done less of it than most, is the President has to pick his battle. He has to say, "I'm going to let these S.O.B.'s have their prevention of re-imported of drugs, because it's more important that I can get $40 billion into the hands of people who have no health coverage." And he's done that over and over. And he's bet on being effective. But damn it, that's not working either. So, he needs to rethink that, given Massachusetts, given the way the narrative's gone, he needs to rethink it. But I'm not saying that- I mean, it turns out to have been wrong, but it wasn't dishonorable and it wasn't offensive. It's that he was elected to get things done, and this is the best way he could figure out to do it.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Let me just suggest that there was one great potential lesson behind the Obama Presidency that I feel progressives in the broader sense missed. And that is that for all of our sort of we really like to be outsiders, we really like to talk about how difficult the system is. And that's certainly true. But one of the things that we might have done is we might have looked at an Obama candidacy and said, "This now is the moment to field a team of new and interesting and lefty people willing to run for office from dog catcher to the U.S. Senate." That his candidacy was so unlikely to have happened and yet managed to happen, despite the structural constraints that we might have said, "Hey, I'll run for office. Me for the school board. Me for dog catcher. Me for mayor. Me for-" and instead we said, "Oh, thank gosh, we've got Barack Obama. Now we can go back to tweeting and blogging."

ERIC ALTERMAN: You know, you're so right. You're so right.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: And so, I, you know, I — we are voters, but we are also, each and every one of us, potential office holders. Why don't we run? I will tell you that on the GOP side, folks will run for office and that makes an enormous difference in the farm team that's available.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I think that's a very good point.

BILL MOYERS: The farm team? The farm team?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I mean, personally, I spent eight years blogging every day about George Bush. And every day I'd wake up and there'd be some new nightmare that I had to deal with that I didn't even know about the day before. When Barack Obama was elected, something I never would have thought was possible two or three years earlier, I felt like I could relax a little. That the country was in the hands of reasonable people at worst. And yet the other side didn't go away. The other side found — did exactly what you described. The same thing that the Christian Coalition and others on the right have been doing now for 20 or 30 years, and in some ways, this very- the way that you describe, they are better Democrats than our side, because they stay there for the meetings, they stay there- they run for these local offices, and they took over their party. And we whine about our party, and they took over their party.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes.

ERIC ALTERMAN: And it's a big difference.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: So, this goes to my point about what we did in the campaign. See, we woke up in the campaign. And we decided we could be part-- I mean, people who had never been campaign contributors before found $100, $500, $50 and we got in the game.

What I'd hoped, what I'd imagined in my wildest wasn't so much that Barack Obama would save us but we might have done something different. And I — what I've been most surprised by is that in places like Massachusetts, in local elections, in New Jersey, we fielded the same sort of candidates.

ERIC ALTERMAN: But Melissa, you know what? I mean, you're absolutely right. But they didn't do it either. They had the Organize for America. They had 13 million emails. And they don't want a Democratic Tea Party. They don't want an outside-

BILL MOYERS: Who doesn't?

ERIC ALTERMAN: The White House.

BILL MOYERS: Does not want an activist revolution on its left?

ERIC ALTERMAN: All they do is send out an occasional email saying "Don't feel bad. Give us another $50."

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, that might be the Rahm Emanuel of it all.

ERIC ALTERMAN: They don't want the difficulty of having a movement they can't control. That's why to got rid of Howard Dean. So, to some degree — I mean, you're right. We should have done it without them. But they could have been an enormous help. They made a conscious choice not to build that organization into an independent organization that could pressure Democrats. That's what they were afraid of. It wasn't going to cost Barack Obama himself — people still love Obama. But it's Democrats like, you know, they don't want you going after Charlie Rangel. I mean, if anybody should be gone after it should be Charlie Rangel. My congressman.

BILL MOYERS: Because? Because?

ERIC ALTERMAN: He's —

BILL MOYERS: You're — he's your congressman?

ERIC ALTERMAN: He's my congressman. How could you be more corrupt than to be the guy who writes the tax laws without paying your taxes, because you own a resort in the Dominican Republic to say nothing of the four rent-controlled apartments he has. I got an email during the campaign from Barack Obama saying, "Vote for Charlie Rangel for change." That was the moment I knew that things weren't going to be as wonderful as I had hoped. That was when I knew that this guy will play politics when he has to. But it's not so much that they decided to give Rangel a pass. But there- what they're saying is give everyone a pass. And don't cause any trouble.

BILL MOYERS: So, last question: was this election on Tuesday, 100,000 votes separating the winner and the loser, was this in any way a repudiation of Barack Obama?

ERIC ALTERMAN: I'm sure for some voters it was. Look Martin Luther King gave his speech at the Washington Monument in 1963. Okay? He had a dream.We've made enormous progress on that dream. I don't think you could have told Martin Luther King that day that not only are you going to have a Black President in 47 years, but he's going to have the same- a name that sounds a lot like an Islamic terrorist who the country is at war with. It was unthinkable two or three years before it happened. And we have a lot more progress to make. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, after one election, based on 100,000 votes with a terrible candidate, who never heard of Curt Shilling, is just silly. And believe me, if you have us back two years, a year from now, we're both free I think — we'll be having an entirely different conversation. Because history is unpredictable. And things are going to happen that we can't know. And there's no clear trajectory from here to there. What is clear is that they need a new governing strategy.

BILL MOYERS: Eric, Melissa, thank you both very much for being with me on the Journal.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA: On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that have for far too long strangled our politics.

BILL MOYERS: One of the most difficult and important issues facing the country and the President seems completely off the agenda right now. Its energy, and where we get it. As you know, nothing came of that big global summit on climate change in Copenhagen last month. It simply fizzled, and once again the President tried to put the best face on another disappointment. As my friend, the environmental activist and author Bill Mckibben wrote this week, "The world came together and looked climate change fairly straight in the eye, and then its most powerful nations blinked."

So what happens now? And what can you and I do about an energy crisis with issues so complex and confusing. Here's one thing to do — read this book: "Who Turned Out the Lights?" your "Guided tour to the energy crisis" by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson of the non-profit research group PublicAgenda.org.

The book cuts through the jargon, gets down to the basics and presents options from across the political spectrum. You can consider it a breath of fresh air free of carbon emissions, filled with good ideas and a sense of humor. Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, welcome to the Journal.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to both of you. So question which country is guiltiest when it comes to releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, United States or China?

JEAN JOHNSON: It's a neck-and-neck race. You know, and I think it is helpful to think about the distinction there. You know, if you're talking about the accumulated greenhouse gases, which is what really leads to global warming, it's the United States and Europe. You know, we got a head start in all this industrialization. We've been using coal and natural gas for many years now. So, you know, we're the biggest contributors there. Per-person basis, you know, Americans really are using the energy. We're using-- 80 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuel. But in terms of the total emissions, because China is so huge, because they are building coal plants, because they are getting cars, because they are industrializing, they are now the biggest emitter of global warming emissions in the world. So, you know, depending on how you look at it, there's plenty of guilt there.

BILL MOYERS: You say in here that there are six reasons we have to act soon. What are the six reasons?

JEAN JOHNSON: Number one is that the United States needs more energy. The projections are that we're going to need about 25 percent more energy in the next couple of decades. If you look around, it's perfectly clear. We have more electronic gadgets than ever before. We're going to have more people in the United States. And all of us use energy every day.

SCOTT BITTLE: Number two is the world needs more energy, and it needs it even more than we do. World energy demand is projected to go up 40 percent over the next 20 years, largely because of what's happening in places like China and India as they grow and develop and become middle-class consumer societies. This is going to cause more competition for energy across the board—

JEAN JOHNSON: There's just one image that I like- that I think helps visualize it. And it's that in China, until recently, not that many people had a private car. If the Chinese will begin to have — own cars the way we do, it would put a billion cars on the planet. So if you're worried about global warming, you have to think about that. And even if you're not, you have to think about a billion Chinese drivers competing with Americans, competing with the Europeans, competing with the Indians for the oil that we can manage to get out of the ground and transmit it around the world. It is not going to be good for the price or the reliability of energy here.

BILL MOYERS: Number three?

JEAN JOHNSON: We are heavily dependent, about 80 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels, oil, coal, and natural gas. For oil and natural gas in particular more and more people around the world want them. There's only so much of it. It's expensive to get, and it's not going to be here forever. And we need to get started on the alternatives.

SCOTT BITTLE: Number four, climate change, which is the one most people hear about. The idea that, as most scientists accept, that the carbon dioxide we're putting out from use of fossil fuels is fundamentally changing the world's climate, and that is going to have an enormous impact on the world. And we're going to have to cope with it, and we're going to have to try and stabilize it.

JEAN JOHNSON: Number five is that our system for getting energy is much more precarious than most people realize. You know, I think most people know about the dangers of importing oil. And if there's a revolution someplace or a terrorist attack on a pipeline, this sends prices skyrocketing. The part of it that a lot of people don't realize is how precarious our electricity grid is. It's aging and creaking and, you know, we're at risk with the natural gas transport lines. So we really need to invest so it's not as precarious as it really is now.

SCOTT BITTLE: Finally, too much of our energy comes from countries that essentially don't like us or at least we have challenges with. If you look at world oil reserves, 60 percent of them are in the Middle East. Only two or three percent are in the United States. If we're going to keep using oil, we're going to have to keep getting it from the Middle East. And that's going to affect our politics and our national policies.

BILL MOYERS: The other night I read a story about how we are running out of energy. We are, at some point, going to run out of fossil fuels. And then the next morning I pick up the Financial Times and there's a story about the discovery of a huge new field off the coast of Africa. And I say, "Wait a minute. I'm getting contradictory messages from the universe here."

JEAN JOHNSON: Well, we do discover more, and there's more out there to be discovered. I think the problem is scale. You know, for example, the United States runs through more than seven billion barrels of oil a year in a good year, in 2007. So there may be a lot of oil out there, but it's- given how quickly Americans go through it and given how quickly people around the world are beginning to go through it, we do need to have a more diverse supply.

SCOTT BITTLE: Also, we found possibly most of the cheap oil. We're going to have to go to places like the Arctic. We're going to have to go to deep water wells under the ocean now to get the reserves that remain. The stuff that's easy to find we've found. The stuff we're finding is harder to get.

BILL MOYERS: I'm reminded when I read the book of the energy crisis we experienced in '73 when OPEC raised the prices. Oil prices soared. 1978, during the Iranian Revolution prices jumped again. Prices jumped after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Or the long gas lines after Hurricane Katrina. And when I think about those experiences and see us repeating the same sense of denial or consternation or frustration or incapacity, inaction, you invoke Bill Murray in that movie "Groundhog Day".

SCOTT BITTLE: Well, we're just like Bill Murray who was, in that movie, doomed to live the same day over and over again until he got it right.

We're living the same day over and over again on energy. We keep making the same mistakes. When prices go up, all of the sudden we panic. We're willing to change. We make these dramatic, you know, short-term changes. And then when prices go down again, we forget all about it. And one of the problems is that all the things you talked about were short-term events, you know, very specific driven events that raised prices. Now we're looking at some very serious long-term trends in both demand and in the environmental front. These are not going to go away. If thing- they are long-term changes in how the world can get energy and how it should get energy. We can't assume they're going to go away 'cause they're not.

JEAN JOHNSON: This is also an issue where Americans are — and I include myself in this before we started work on this — we're pitifully informed. You know, about four out of ten Americans cannot even name a fossil fuel. So you really wonder how they're following this whole debate about fossil fuels and global warming. I actually think it would improve the debate if we sort of stopped pointing with alarm about all the things that could go wrong and really started getting people talking about how we're going to generate electricity. What are we going to do about our cars? What are we going to do about our houses? Look at our choices here. They all have pros and cons.

SCOTT BITTLE: And I think that's one of the ways in which the debate that we're currently having is so unhelpful to most people in that everyone is talking about percentages and numbers. Should we cut greenhouse gases 20 percent or 17 percent? And it makes a huge difference between the two. Should it be based on 1990 or 2005? Should it be 350 parts per million of carbon? No, maybe it's 450 parts per million.

BILL MOYERS: And I'm lost already.

SCOTT BITTLE: And what it comes down to, though, are a few concrete choices, as Jean was saying. What kind of power plants do we want to build? And everything branches out from that. What do we put in our cars? Do we want to stay with a liquid fuel in our cars like gasoline or Biofuels or liquefied natural gas? In which case our-- the way we drive doesn't change that much. Or do we move to electricity? In which chase we need to build an infrastructure for that. We can do these things as soon as we make the choice for what we want to do. But, first, you have to lay options out for people and have- so they can understand the pros and cons.

JEAN JOHNSON: You know, it's interesting. In this country we are so used to taking energy for granted. We flip on a switch and it's there. We have had the advantage in our economy of cheap energy for a long, long time. But things are changing. And the climate debate, you know, really absorbs a lot of the political attention. But we really want to shine a light on some of the other reasons that Americans need to pay attention to this.

BILL MOYERS: You talk about viewing with alarm. When I got to the end of your book to a section you call "The Last Picture Show," I was smiling because it's been a long time since I remembered that old 1973 sci-fi movie "Soylent Green" starring Charlton Heston. And my favorite all-time great character actor Edward G. Robinson.

EDWARD ROBINSON as SOL ROTH: Why. In my day. You could buy meat anywhere. Eggs. They had. Real butter. Fresh lettuce in the stores.

CHARLETON HESTON as ROBERT THORN: I know. Sol. You told me before.

EDWARD ROBINSON as SOL ROTH: How can anything survive in a climate like this? A heat wave all year long.

BILL MOYERS: You used that to make a point.

SCOTT BITTLE: The point is that there-- Hollywood has provided us with several visions of a horrible environmental future. "Soylent Green" is one of the most compelling. What would happen basically if we do nothing? Heston and Edward G. Robinson are living in a New York City that is broiling hot, that is crowded, that is poor, that people resort to eating soylent green, which I don't want to spoil the movie, but let's just say the rules on nutritional labels have been dramatically relaxed. And it raises the possibility that human decency itself doesn't survive this kind of catastrophic climate change.

JEAN JOHNSON: The other — the opposite is- we bring up the "Mad Max."

BILL MOYERS: That's the trilogy with--

JEAN JOHNSON: Mel Gibson.

BILL MOYERS: --Mel Gibson.

JEAN JOHNSON: Where human beings have just- in living in this degraded civilization because they're so desperate for oil. So, you know, how people- again, human decency is sort of at stake because there's this, you know, need for energy.

SCOTT BITTLE: The thing about "Mad Max", the beauty of "Mad Max," is it poses that question that's- lots of people have in the back of their minds, which is, When we run out of energy, do we run out of civilization as well? And the answer is we don't have to run out of energy. There are lots of alternatives. They don't have to be the ones we use now. The ones we use now aren't going to go away soon. But they are finite. But we have lots of options here. What we have to do is be smart about it now, and the worst-case scenario never comes.

BILL MOYERS: So is Ed Harris in "Apollo 13" a good model for us as we go forward?

SCOTT BITTLE: I think he's an excellent model for us because he's focused on the practicalities.

TOM HANKS as JIM LOVELL: Houston? We are venting something out into space. I can see it outside of window one right now.

SCOTT BITTLE: It's a movie about problem solving. And there's this anthem that Ed Harris keeps repeating through the movie. "Let's work the problem, people."

ED HARRIS as GENE KRANZ: Let's work the problem, people. Let's not make things worse by guessing.

JEAN JOHNSON: I think the issue there is you had — have a terrible emergency with these astronauts loose in space with no way to come home. And yet through enterprise, through ingenuity, through cooperation, putting the arguing aside for a bit, they tried and tried and tried and were able to come up with some solutions and bring the astronauts home.

SCOTT BITTLE: There's another wonderful scene in that movie where they have to make — basically put a square peg in a round hole to keep the oxygen going for the astronauts. And they dump a bunch of stuff on the table, said, "This is what's in the spaceship. You know, this is what we have to work with." And they start taking it apart and working with it. That's really more the kind of debate we need because, fundamentally, these are practical considerations. These are decisions about technology. They're decisions about economics. We're having a discussion about politics. And we're having a discussion about belief systems and that sort of thing. And eventually you have to cut through that and get to how do we actually do this? How do you build this new energy world with the materials we have at hand?

JEAN JOHNSON: It's an issue that's going to challenge us to be practical, to weigh pros and cons, not to be gullible and, you know, pretend that some easy answer's going — whether, you know, where it's the left or the right, the environmentalists or the "drill, baby, drill" group. You know, this- these perfect little answers, you need to be very dubious about those. But this is what makes it — I think this is an issue where Americans' practicality, our sense of innovation, our sense of fairness, our sense of let's see what we can do right now, let's be pragmatic about this. If we can pull those to the fore, we can address this issue.

BILL MOYERS: The book is "Who Turned Out the Lights?: Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis." And the guides are Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson. Thank you both for being with me on the Journal.

JEAN JOHNSON: Thank you.

SCOTT BITTLE: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Even some of the most hardened reporters I know, old hands at covering famine, disaster, and war, are shaken by the carnage in Haiti. Over my own long life in journalism I've had my share of the sounds and smells that linger in your head long after you have left the scene. But I've found it especially hard this past week to absorb the pictures coming from Haiti.

Perhaps it's that as we get older, we become more melancholy watching history repeat itself, seeing people suffer all over again, when you've already seen them suffer so much. As if you know now some things will never change.

You have to ask, why does this country suffer so? The reverend Pat Robertson gave us his answer, recycling his theology of a vindictive god.

REV. PAT ROBERTSON: Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people may not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, "We will serve you if you get us free with the French." True story. And so the Devil said, "Okay, it's a deal."

BILL MOYERS: This is the same Pat Robertson, of course, who agreed with his soul mate, the late Jerry Falwell, that God had allowed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 because America needed a come-uppance for tolerating gays, women's rights and the separation of church and state.

But this time Robertson's callous idiocy toward the suffering in Haiti created such a backlash that his press agent came out to explain that the good Reverend does indeed have compassion for Haitians and is actually sending relief and recovery teams to help them.

Another controversy was triggered when the conservative David Brooks offered a less superstitious explanation for Haiti's suffering than Pat Robertson's. Brooks opined that it's because Haiti is "progress-resistant" — a society held back by voodoo religion, high levels of social mistrust, poor child-rearing traditions, and a lack of any internalized sense of responsibility. Critics fired back that brooks should read a little history.

The journalist Mark Danner has done just that. He's also lived some of Haiti's history, almost losing his life a few years ago while covering unrest there. Writing in the New York Times this week, Danner said "There is nothing mystical in Haiti's suffering, no inescapable curse that haunts the land." It was brought on, he said, by human beings, not demons.

Start with the French. They ran Haiti as a slave colony, driving hundreds of thousands of slaves to early deaths in order to supply white Europeans with coffee, sugar and tobacco. In 1804, the slaves rebelled and after savage fighting defeated three foreign armies to win their independence. They looked to America for support, but America's slave-holding states feared a slave revolt of their own, and America's slave-holding president, Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, refused to recognize the new government.

Their former white masters made matters worse by demanding reparations, and by exploiting and exhausting the country's natural resources. Fighting over what little was left, Haitians turned on each other.

Coup followed coup, faction fought faction, and in 1915, our American president Woodrow Wilson sent in the Marines. By the time they left almost 20 years later, American companies had secured favored status in Haiti. In 1957, the country was taken over by the brutal and despotic rule of Papa Doc Duvalier, whose son, Baby Doc, proved just as cruel as his old man. Don't let the familial nicknames fool you. The Duvaliers were murderous thugs and thieves who enjoyed the complicity of American interests until the dynasty played out in 1986.

Five years later in 1991, when the popular former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the presidency as a champion of the poor, he spooked Washington. Said one U.S. senator, Aristide "wasn't going to be beholden to the United States, and so he was going to be trouble. We had interests and ties with some of the very strong financial interests in the country and he was threatening them."

The Bush/Cheney administration, in cahoots with Haiti's privileged, helped destabilize his government.

Every president from Ronald Reagan forward has embraced the corporate search for cheap labor. That has meant rewards for Haiti's upper class while ordinary people were pushed further and further into squalor. Haitian contractors producing Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas for American companies under license with the Walt Disney Company paid their sweat shop workers as little as one dollar a day, while women sewing dresses for K-Mart earned eleven cents an hour. A report by the National Labor Committee found Haitian women who had worked 50 days straight, up to 70 hours a week, without a day off. If that doesn't impact the tradition of child rearing and lead to social distrust, I don't know what will.

So, once again, beware the terrible simplifiers and remember that through all its suffering Haiti is a country born of revolution, like our own, whose people sing of their forefathers breaking their shackles, proclaiming their right to equality, and shouting "Progress or Death." Yes, there's still more death than progress. It's the bitter fruit of exploitation centuries old. But even if the Devil were at work, there are Haitians determined that he will not have the last word. The last word is the poet's calling. Listen to what was written by Danielle Legros Georges, born in Haiti and now teaching at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She sent us a poem and we asked our colleague Kamaly Pierre, who also has family and roots in Haiti, to read it. Its title: "Poem for the Poorest Country In the Western Hemisphere."

KAMALY PIERRE: Oh poorest country, this is not your name.
You should be called beacon, and flame,

almond and bougainvillea, garden
and green mountain, villa and hut,

little girl with red ribbons in her hair,
books-under-arm, charmed by the light
of morning,

charcoal seller in black skirt, encircled by dead trees.

You, country, are the businessman
and the eager young man, the grandfather

at the gate, at the crossroads
with the flashlight, with the light,

with the light.

BILL MOYERS: That's all for now. I'm Bill Moyers.
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