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Transcript:

February 6, 2009

BILL MOYERS: I had a history professor at the University of Texas - Robert Cotter - who believed the most remarkable quality of Abraham Lincoln was his empathy for people he didn't personally know. The working man. The soldier in battle. His widow and orphans.

Ordinary folks caught in the undertow of events. We could use that kind of empathy today. As Washington obsessed all week over the fate of one nominee to the cabinet, and as we watched hearings about the failure of watchdog agencies going to sleep on the job, we heard almost nothing of the people across the country suffocating in the wreckage of their lives. Some of us born in the Depression still remember the song made famous by the Carter Family singers, called the "Worried Man Blues".

"I went across that river and I lay down to sleep. When I woke up there were shackles on my feet."

The day my father was fired from his job at Manly's Appliance Store, he came walking home as if he had shackles on his feet. I still remember the look on his face. He wasn't yet 50, but had suddenly turned old, the way a lot of people look today who are losing their jobs. Their stomachs are knotted with fear as the life they had come to expect is fading fast. Not because of their own failures but because our political and financial elites rigged the economy for their own advantage.

John F. Kennedy famously said, "Life is unfair," and so it is. But it wouldn't feel as unfair if the shackles wound up instead on the well-heeled feet of Wall Street and Washington's elect. That's the change we need, the change we can really believe in.

That's it for the JOURNAL.

For more, visit our website at pbs.org. I'll be available to chat with you online this Tuesday afternoon, February 10th, at 2 pm, Eastern Time. The details are at pbs.org.

I'm Bill Moyers, and I'll see you next time.

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