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Transcript:

February 20, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. That great movie comic and professional curmudgeon W.C. Fields once said, "you can fool some of the people some of the time — and that's enough to make a decent living."

Watching the news unfold this week about Robert Allen Stanford — he prefers "Sir Allen" as befits a true Texas charlatan — I was reminded how right the old comedian was. As Stanford was allegedly bilking investors of billions of dollars, and making a decent living at it, he was also stroking the backs of Washington politicians causing them to purr like kittens as they licked his hand.

This story is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Sir Allen Stanford was knighted by the Governor-General of the Caribbean island of Antigua, off-shore headquarters for his alleged, multi-billion dollar con game. He bankrolled junkets to its balmy shores for several members of Congress including Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Stanford partied with Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last summer. And when Tom DeLay was still House Majority Leader, he flew the friendly skies in Stanford's private jet 16 times in three years, including a trip to Houston for DeLay's arraignment on money-laundering charges. I am not making this up!

Sir Allen also showered millions of dollars on political campaigns; much of it in the very year Congress was debating a bill to curb financial fraud. Two of the biggest recipients were Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican John McCain, one of the original Keating Five. Three key Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee got checks from Stanford, too. Surprise, surprise — the reform bill never got out of the Senate.

According to the indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, over the last decade, Robert Allen Stanford spent nearly five million dollars lobbying the Senate and House.

Altogether, however, Stanford's contributions were a spit in the bucket of what he's alleged to have swindled and just a tiny slice of the multibillion dollar pie the lobbying business has become in Washington. Never an industry to let opportunity pass by, lobbyists already are jumping all over Obama's economic stimulus, so much so the independent newspaper, "The Washington Examiner" newspaper, renamed the bill "The Lobbyist Enrichment Act."

My next guest, Robert G. Kaiser, says that the lobby industry "has helped moneyed interests protect their status and privileges, undermined government regulation of business and turned our elected officials into chronic money-chasers."

Bob Kaiser has been at "The Washington Post" for more than 45 years, covering just about every position on that distinguished paper's masthead, from foreign correspondent in Saigon and Moscow to National Editor and Managing Editor. He's now Associate Editor, and author of seven books. A native Washingtonian, Bob Kaiser says the problem in D.C. is that there's just "So Damn Much Money." That's the title of his new book on the corrosion of American government.

Welcome, Bob, to the Journal.

ROBERT KAISER: Thanks very much, Bill, wonderful to be here.

BILL MOYERS: Any of this news about Sir Allen surprise you?

ROBERT KAISER: It's extraordinary. There have been so many embarrassments. So many careers ended over the years by people being caught in an embarrassing kind of situation, having accepted some favor or hospitality. And somehow, the lesson has to be relearned again and again, and is never learned somehow.

My biggest theory is, my most central theory, these people come to Washington, member of the House of Representatives, senator of the United States. They think they're really big stuff. They think they're entitled to be treated like potentates. And when somebody comes along and says, "Gee, I'd like to treat you like a potentate, how about it?" Too many of them say, "Okay, let's try that. Let's see how it feels."

BILL MOYERS: Where does the title of your book come from?

ROBERT KAISER: That's your old Texas pal, Bob Strauss, Robert Strauss, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, started out as a fixer in Dallas, Texas, and ended up as a fixer in Washington. A remarkable character. I went to Strauss, and I said, "Explain to me why the lobbying business has boomed so, in the years that you've been in it, 35 years." And he thought about it for a minute, and he said, "You know, there's just so damn much money in it."

BILL MOYERS: He took his share of it, didn't he?

ROBERT KAISER: Sure. I mean, the money has become so important in politics now. You've been reporting about this for years. The cost of a campaign has gotten so high, the compulsion of incumbents, who want to get re-elected, to raise that money, is the single biggest gift the lobbyists get. Because lobbyists see that they need that money. They know how to help them raise it. And they know how to exploit the gratitude that comes after they've raised it.

BILL MOYERS: Your book is so full of examples that show people the price that taxpayers and citizens pay for this kind of conduct. But you also have recently been writing about some later examples of it. For example, sweeteners. You say that after the House defeated the huge bailout bill last fall, for the banks, it was saved by sweeteners. How so?

ROBERT KAISER: "Sweeteners" is a wonderful Washington term. It means a provision that helps out somebody in a congressman or a senator's constituency. It makes it possible for that person he thinks to vote for the measure that's on the table. In this case, as you remember, the House voted down the bailout bill. The stock market plummeted, though, as it was happening. They had to go back to the drawing board, and they gave new breaks. And with those sweeteners, they got the votes they needed. They came back and passed the Bailout Bill.

BILL MOYERS: And when you say a break, you're talking about, you know, $100 million to stock car racetracks. $192 million in taxpayer dollars to that Puerto Rican rum industry. $478 million for movie makers who shoot their films in the USA. And you say that did the trick? They got the bill passed?

ROBERT KAISER: That's over ten years, though, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Right. Well, but it's still out of the taxpayers pocket.

ROBERT KAISER: Yes, it is. You referred to the Bailout Bill as the Lobbyist Enrichment Act, and it is that, in a way. When the government spends so much money, we have to be ready to see the potential recipients of that money, troop to town, and look for their share, as you put it.

BILL MOYERS: There was another story you tell, of what happened during the bankruptcy bill a few years ago. How money influenced that process.

ROBERT KAISER: You know, one of the themes of my book is the way the moneyed interests of America have been able to protect themselves and their own interests, over many years now. One of my favorite statistics. Since 1973, working class incomes in this country have been stagnant. In the same period, 35 years, we've seen skyrocketing incomes at the top. And this is part of that. The bankruptcy bill, which was pushed for years and years, opposed vigorously by a group of liberals, Ted Kennedy in the lead. But in the end, they got 75 votes in the Senate. A lot of Democrats voted for a bill, which made it much, much harder to file for bankruptcy.

And they did was make it now a requirement that you have to repay your credit card debt, even before you pay your alimony or your child support. The Center for Responsive Politics, a very good Washington organization, did a study which showed that the banking interests and the credit card interests, over many years, contributed $40 million to members of Congress, to win the overwhelming victory they won on that bill. Now, interestingly, it's going to be amended. Obama has said in the context of this mortgage crisis, that we have to have an easier path to bankruptcy. They're going to go back and take it back. Interestingly now, the bank's $40 million isn't going to talk as loudly. But it's really a sad story, to me of how that money works.

BILL MOYERS: I've read a lot of books on money and politics. But yours is absolutely unique, because it does, as you just said, make clear why, for the last 30 or 40 years, policies in Washington have favored the rich over the poor, right?

ROBERT KAISER: You know, it's not a secret. Politicians have been embedding this. There's a wonderful quote about it from Bob Dole, from 1983 or '2. Where he says, you know, poor people don't contribute to campaigns. And there it was. You know, 30 years ago, the whole story is right in that phrase. We've watched the cost of these elections climb every two years. Like clockwork. We've seen lots of efforts at reform. We've seen some real reforms. But you know, $25 million it costs to run for the Senate in North Carolina, last November.

BILL MOYERS: And they have to get that money somewhere.

ROBERT KAISER: They do. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: And it comes from corporations, lobbies, wealthy individuals, as we see with Sir Allen.

ROBERT KAISER: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: You build your story around a fella named Gerald Cassidy, a liberal Democrat, who once worked for George McGovern, back in 1972. Who became, for a spell, the single biggest lobbyist in Washington. Even hired, at one time the notorious Jack Abramoff. This is a fella who once did legal aid work for poor people. How did he become this lobbying superstar you write about?

ROBERT KAISER: He's a classic American type to me. I call him the Jay Gatsby of modern Washington. He's a self-invented man. And he, just as you say, he went to work for migrant workers in Florida as a lawyer, a young lawyer. He still would call himself today a liberal Democrat. He gives more money to Democrats, by far, than Republicans.

He thinks of himself as doing good work when he can. But more important to him is to get rich. And he's gotten really rich. He's worth more than $100 million. Partly because he's a good investor, but mostly because he's a great lobbyist, and a very shrewd businessman. And to me, the Cassidy story is wonderfully illustrative of how Washington became a venue, in my time and your time, a venue for the great American pastime, which is not baseball, but making money.

BILL MOYERS: And his first clients were not greedy corporations, but they were-

ROBERT KAISER: Colleges and universities. And he was - it's a wonderful story, really. He invented, he and his original partner, the modern earmark that John McCain got so agitated about. That you've talked about so often on this program. They had a first client was Jean Mayer, the president of Tufts University, famous nutritionist. And these two guys in the lobbying firm, and had worked with Mayer on nutrition issues for McGovern, when they worked on McGovern's hunger committee. They were friends. Mayer says, "I got an idea, come and talk to me. My congressman here, wants to help me, Tufts University, what can he do to tell me?" Well, his congressman was a guy named Tip O'Neill. Then only the Majority Leader.

BILL MOYERS: The Majority Leader and Speaker.

ROBERT KAISER: And with O'Neill's help, they figured out how to get $26 million for Tufts to build a center on Human Nutrition Research.

BILL MOYERS: Not a bad thing.

ROBERT KAISER: Not a bad thing, by itself. This was the first modern earmark, I argue. Then they got a veterinary school for Tufts. Then they got a medical library for Tufts. Then Boston College, over across town, heard about this, they hired Cassidy. Then Boston University wanted to get on board. John Silber, the new president, he hired Cassidy. And suddenly, this little lobbying firm, had a big new business going of academic earmarks.

BILL MOYERS: Of actually getting money designated for specific university projects?

ROBERT KAISER: Exactly. And as you said, you know, "What's wrong with that?" Well, what's wrong with it is that, you know, Tufts wanted to build a Nutrition Research Center, it got the money. But nobody asked if Princeton had a better idea, or if University of Texas had a better idea. It was a fix. The fix was in for Tufts. That's the essence of the earmark system. The congressman gets the credit, because the fix is in. The lobbyist gets the money, because he got the fix in. It's a wonderful circle, it pleases everybody, but it doesn't create a fair, competitive, open system.

BILL MOYERS: And Cassidy became so successful doing this for universities, as you write in the book, that corporations begin to say, "Hey, look what that guy is doing. He could do that for us, right?"

ROBERT KAISER: Yes. And there's some wonderful stories of how he did.

BILL MOYERS: What was his expertise?

ROBERT KAISER: The system. How it worked. How the appropriations system works. It's a very technical system. You know the rules. You have to pass two bills traditionally. You have to pass an authorization bill, to authorize spending on such and such. And then you have to pass the appropriation to pay for such and such. It's a tricky, complex system. It takes a couple years, often, to get one of these things through. And the Cassidy method was to master the technicalities. And interestingly, literally to teach members of Congress how to do it.

BILL MOYERS: And a lot of these members of the staff graduate from the staffs of their members of Congress, and go to work for the lobbyists downtown, right?

ROBERT KAISER: To me, that's one of the biggest changes in Washington in my time. There was a famous case in the late '70s, Jim O'Hara, you may remember. A good congressman from Michigan. Liberal Democrat. Ran for the Senate and lost. And came back to town. He had five or six children, and no job. And he went to work for one of the biggest lobbying firms in town. And I remember this vividly. It was a scandal. "Jim O'Hara's become a lobbyist? Gee, that doesn't look very good."

Well, that was then. Today we've got 185 former members of the House and Senate, registered as lobbyists. It's absolutely routine, happens all the time. And nobody's eyebrows go up the way yours just did.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. And it is all legal.

ROBERT KAISER: It's all legal.

BILL MOYERS: So what's wrong with it?

ROBERT KAISER: Well, it creates a system of self dealing and cashing in your experience and your contacts from public service for your and your clients private gains. Which, as a citizen, bothers me. But you know, we saw this with Tom Daschle. I think it was fascinating. Daschle obviously thought, "Hey, everybody does this. I'll do it now. It's my turn. I'll cash in, too." It troubles me. I don't think it's the way it was always meant to be.

BILL MOYERS: And the elites of Washington seem to be ready to go along with Daschle, despite this digression.

ROBERT KAISER: Right. Even the editorial page of my own newspaper. It was interesting. Frank Rich took "The Washington Post" to task in "The New York Times", for being the only big newspaper that did not call for Daschle to withdraw. I don't know if it's fair to my colleagues on the editorial page, but it does leave the impression that we have a kind of a different standard inside the beltway.

BILL MOYERS: What would they say to you about why they defended Daschle?

ROBERT KAISER: I suspect that my colleagues writing that editorial, thought that, you know, "Well, it's unfortunate that this had happen, but he is the right guy for the job. He probably ought to go ahead and get the job." And what they knew, and it was true for sure, is that had the matter come to a vote, Daschle would have been confirmed.

BILL MOYERS: By his peers.

ROBERT KAISER: By his peers.

BILL MOYERS: Judgment of his peers that there's nothing wrong with it.

ROBERT KAISER: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: I was amazed the extent to which Cassidy, the lobbyist, talked to you. How do you explain the fact that he gave you so much time? And told you so many secrets?

ROBERT KAISER: Well, I think what happened is that his associate Jody Powell, Jimmy Carter's old press secretary, who Cassidy hired years ago to set up a P.R. firm, within the confines of his lobbying firm, a firm called Powell Tate. I think Jody advised Cassidy, probably correctly, "This Kaiser guy is so determined to do this, he's going to do it whether we can cooperate with him or not. I can't promise how good it'll be. But I know one thing, it'll be worse if we don't cooperate than if we do." Jody's told me that that's what he told him. And I'm sure that was the key thing.

So, Cassidy decided to talk. Once he decided to talk, he got into it. And you've seen this over the years. People in Washington, who think that they're big players, and they're important people, but have never had much attention, and that's certainly true of Cassidy. I'm sure most of your viewers have never heard of Gerald Cassidy. But he liked the idea, clearly, of getting this attention from a reporter from "The Washington Post", and old hand, and so on. And he liked telling his story.

He's very proud, understandably, of his accomplishments. He came from a really horrible, painful, booze sodden, Irish childhood in Brooklyn. He was the first member of his family to go to college, the first to go to law school, a professional school. He's done extremely well, he's a shrewd businessman. He's accumulated all this money. He didn't mind the world knowing how well he'd done, clearly. And talking to me was a way to make that known.

BILL MOYERS: And how well he has done. You have some photographs in here that are quite revealing. There is his home, 165 acres.

ROBERT KAISER: On the Eastern Shore, it's quite remarkable.

BILL MOYERS: Eastern Shore, yeah. Eight million dollar estate.

ROBERT KAISER: On the previous page he's turkey hunting with his friend Jody Powell, who he made rich also.

BILL MOYERS: And you've got this photograph of Jack Abramoff. There's a moment in your book, when Cassidy goes to Abramoff, and hires him.

ROBERT KAISER: Cassidy's firm, as I said, was number one on the revenue table, by the macho way these guys have measured themselves, for many years. And just at the moment that Abramoff was fired in 2003 by his previous Florida law firm, the new revenue table was published, and Cassidy had fallen into second place. And I'm sure that he, at that moment, thought, "I've got to do something to get back in first place. This guy Abramoff is obviously a hell of a rainmaker. He brings in a lot of money. I'm going to see if I can make contact with him." They were completely different. Abramoff, a right wing Republican. Cassidy, a liberal Democrat. They had no acquaintances in common to speak of. They had no past in common to speak of.

BILL MOYERS: What did they have in common?

ROBERT KAISER: Appetite for big bucks, and it was a natural marriage. They made a deal quickly. And Cassidy drove right through flashing red lights. It was a really a silly mistake he made. But he was called on it, it's a wonderful Washington story, by his old, he called him a friend, Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii. I asked Inouye, repeatedly, "Is Cassidy your friend?" He would never say the word friend. He'd say, "Well, I've known him for a long time. We've worked together on a lot of things." Well, in Washington context, they were friends, because Cassidy had hired Inouye's closest aid for many years, a guy called Henry Giugni, to be a vice president of Cassidy & Associates. This is another gimmick in town for getting the attention of members you want to influence. You hire their aides. And Henry Giugni helped make Cassidy even richer by bringing in a lot of new clients. And so they have this connection. Inouye was a member of the Indian Affairs committee, which was investigating Abramoff. He called Cassidy, when he realized what was coming, how bad it was going to be and told Cassidy, "You got to get rid of this guy right now." And Cassidy did.

BILL MOYERS: What do those two guys do that makes Washington unique in refusing to pass judgment on them until one of them breaks the law?

ROBERT KAISER: The falling away of taboos, the changing standards in Washington. The "everybody does it" syndrome, which has taken control there. I think has made moral judgments really difficult in our nation's capital. People shy away from saying, "That's just wrong." There's a wonderful story here from John Stennis. It's a real signal of what was happening. It's from the '80s, '82. John Stennis is running for the seventh term in the Senate. He's never spent more than $5,000 on a campaign before. You knew Stennis, a lot of your viewers don't remember him. He was a vicious racist from Mississippi, a bad guy on the race issue. But on other things, a very serious, very smart man. And interestingly, the first chairman of an Ethics Committee in the Senate, believed in ethics. He was in trouble, because a young guy called Haley Barbour, then 34 years old, I think, was going to run against him. First time he had a serious opponent.

And his friends in the Senate were scared. Russell Long of Louisiana and Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, particularly. They literally hired a political consultant for Stennis, which he never would have dreamed of, I don't think, sent this guy down to Mississippi to check out the situation. It's a charming Southerner named Ray Strother. Anyway, he comes back and explains to Stennis that it's going to be an ugly campaign. That this Barbour is going to make a lot of TV commercials, which is just becoming the main vehicle for campaigning. He's going to accuse you of being too old and too feeble to run for another term. We're going to have to respond to him. We're going to have to make our own TV commercials. It's going to cost $2 or $3 million.

And Stennis was shocked. He said, "How could I raise so much money?" And Ray started to explain, "Well, you're going to go to the defense contractors, who you've helped as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee for so long. And you're going to ask them for contributions." And Stennis utters this memorable line, which I love. He looks at Strother and says, "Young man? Would that be proper?" And then he answers it, "No, it wouldn't be proper. I hold life and death power over those companies. I will not solicit their money," he says. But he did. And they got it. And the commercials were made. And they won the election. And I think that was 1982. And I think that was sort of when we lost the war here. From then on, "Would that be proper?" is a question we don't here very often. And I wish we heard it more.

BILL MOYERS: What about the fact that some people who defend the system, or explain the system, say that it was when liberal government arose in the new deal, and Washington began throwing money at so many problems, that it became just a fact of life that there was money to be made by trying to help connect people who needed money with government money that was available?

ROBERT KAISER: There's no avoiding this, you know? And it's also important to say that lobbying is protected in the same First Amendment to the Constitution that you and I like for its journalistic implications. The right to petition the government for redress of grievances is right there in the First Amendment. And that's lobbying. And that's true that big government means big spending, means big opportunities, means business for lobbyists. So, it's inevitable. There's no way to stop it. But it can be much more transparent than it's been. We can see people, what they're doing, much more clearly than we've been able to do so far. There are reforms that are possible. But we're never going to make people into pure, you know, Christian gentleman. It doesn't happen that way.

BILL MOYERS: So, is there any way, realistically, you think that this could at least be tamed?

ROBERT KAISER: Obviously, public financing of elections would have the most dramatic impact. It's very hard to imagine how that would come to pass. But there are ways it could come to pass.

BILL MOYERS: It has in some states. Arizona, for example.

ROBERT KAISER: Exactly. Our new Secretary of Homeland Security, the former Governor of Arizona has said very articulately on the record, what a difference it made to her to be able to run for re-election without raising any money. That she didn't feel indebted to anybody. And that's a liberating thing. I have an idea that would be fun, and I think very significant. If you required every official in the government to report, which we can do now, technologically, on the internet, at the end of the business day, every day. "Here are the lobbyists I met with today. And here's what we talked about."

BILL MOYERS: Ah.

ROBERT KAISER: Just a daily file of, you know, real transparency. That would have a huge impact.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think reforming of earmarks is possible? Just take earmarks themselves.

ROBERT KAISER: Yeah. It's already happened. I mean, it's interesting. The new rules that were imposed by the Democrats, after they came back to power in '07 are full of new details. So that we can actually trace the earmarks. And members have to stand up and take responsibility for them. There's a juicy scandal breaking this week, around this lobbying firm called PMA consisting mostly of, or led by aides to John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the world champion earmarker.

BILL MOYERS: A Democrat.

ROBERT KAISER: A Democrat. And they got 103 earmarks in the defense appropriations bill that Murtha passed through the House last year. That's just come out, thanks to the new reporting requirements of the new reforms that have been passed about earmarks. And they will have an impact, for sure. These reforms. All these things are pliable, malleable. They can be changed. If you make people admit what they're doing, and report on what they're doing quickly, less bad things will happen. I'm sure of that.

BILL MOYERS Does Obama understand this?

ROBERT KAISER: You know, he does. Remarkably well. I credit him in a recent piece for being a good cultural anthropologist. He only spent two years, really in the Senate, before he started to run for president. But he did figure out, he's the one who said, "Politics has become not a mission, but a business." He said that during the campaign.

BILL MOYERS: So, there is some hope?

ROBERT KAISER: Well, I'm a believer.

BILL MOYERS: For renewing democracy?

ROBERT KAISER: I'm an optimistic person. I can't say there's no hope. But boy, it won't be easy.

BILL MOYERS: The book is must reading. "So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government". Bob Kaiser, thank you for joining me on the Journal.

ROBERT KAISER: Thanks, Bill. It was fun.

BILL MOYERS: It seems every soul I meet these days is experiencing some pain from the economy. People with jobs worry about keeping them. Retired friends are watching their savings and pensions shrink. Mortgage holders worry about their payments.

In Phoenix, Arizona, for example, more than half the home sales now are foreclosure sales and the median price of a house has dropped 49 percent from what it was three years ago. A taxi driver here in New York told me he's working twice as many hours for half the income of a year ago.

A reporter covering a job fair in a suburban New Jersey county wrote of men over 40 standing in line for interviews, dressed in sober suits as though they could start work today if someone would just make an offer.

These hard times prompted me to want to talk to a man whose lifelong mission has been to negotiate the difficult realities of life with the help of faith and spirit.

Parker Palmer founded the Center for Courage & Renewal. He's widely known for counseling people who chose vocations for reasons of the heart and may have lost heart because of the troubled, sometimes toxic systems in which they work.

In addition to fifteen years as senior associate of the American Association of Higher Education, Parker Palmer is also a senior adviser to the Fetzer Institute, which, coincidentally, also supports the Journal. Parker Palmer's many books include "Let Your Life Speak", "A Hidden Wholeness" and "The Courage to Teach". In a few days he will be celebrating his 70th birthday.

Parker Palmer, welcome, old friend.

PARKER PALMER: Thank you, Bill. Good to be with you.

BILL MOYERS: So you were born as America was climbing out of the Great Depression. And here you are reaching your 70s as America is descending into the great collapse. I mean, I'd say your life has been sandwiched between two great eras of adversity.

PARKER PALMER: Oh, I think that's true. And I also feel having been born in 1939 and then sort of coming to an age of awareness in the '50s and '60s that I was inculcated with a lot of illusions about what was going on in this society, which are now being punctured and vaporized before our very eyes.

BILL MOYERS: Illusions?

PARKER PALMER: Yeah, illusions I think about, first of all, about America's essential goodness as an economic system. I don't want to deny that there is goodness in our national character or in our economy and certainly not in democracy rightly understood. But the notion that we always get it right, my country, right or wrong — that somehow America is the noblest nation in the world, these are things that I've for a long time, been unable to believe. And I think a true patriot is one who loves his country.

But as you do when you love something, you also have a lover's quarrel with it. And that means that you stand on some other ground than simply the inherent 100 percent continuing goodness and validity of that which you love.

BILL MOYERS: It's a little surprising to hear you say these illusions are being stripped away now because you were a child of World War II. You came of age in the Cold War. You lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the riots in the cities. What is it peculiar to right now that strips away, as you say, those illusions?

PARKER PALMER: Well, first of all, I think the rehearsal of that history of losing our illusions is very important. It's very important because it tells us that we can lose illusions big time as we did at each of the moments you just named. And then a year or two later forget that we lost the illusions.

So I think that what's happening now is a little bit like what's often been said about — what would happen to war if Congress members had to send their kids first or the administration had to send their kids first. And that is that we would declare and fight fewer wars.

Today a lot of people are being affected by what's happening. And while that's very, very painful it does hold I think some promise for the very kind of thing we saw in the recent presidential election. By which I mean the mobilization of segments of the American population that had never gotten involved in politics before or had gotten involved in less than thoughtful ways to suddenly connect the dots and see that what was happening did have an impact on them and to vote accordingly.

BILL MOYERS: This seems to me one of those moments when the dots connect themselves. Reality can no longer be denied, right?

PARKER PALMER: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. So at the same time, I don't think that we should ever doubt our capacity to deny reality. I mean, after all, until you get to be our age, you really believe you're not going to die. That fundamental human fact of life.

And of course, that's part of our problem. I mean, I could make the same argument about the current economic collapse. Who didn't know it was coming? Who didn't know that a system that encouraged us to live beyond our means and provided all kinds of devious and ethically doubtful ways for us to do that was going to fall apart someday?

Who didn't know that housing was over-evaluated? That stocks were overpriced? Who didn't know that a system the makes the rich richer while the poor get poorer will someday face a curtain call? We all knew that at some level, just like we know we're going to die. And yet our capacity to deny reality is huge. And I think that we don't want to know what we really know because if we did, we'd have to change our lives. And now we have to change our lives because the whole thing is crashing down around our head.

BILL MOYERS: Much of the talk today is about the middle class and what's happening in the middle class. But as both of us know, you as a teacher, I as a journalist, there are all those truly powerless people out there-

PARKER PALMER: Right.

BILL MOYERS: -who have nothing on which to hold right now.

PARKER PALMER: Right, right. Exactly. I really don't know and I don't think I ever will know what it would be like to have my home and my means of livelihood ripped away from me. So there's a strong sense in which I don't have counsel for them or deep insight into the interior of their lives. And I think that's an important thing to say.

At the same time, I have learned from the great movements that have been conducted, energized, animated by people in exactly that situation the black liberation movement in this country, the movements for liberation in Eastern Europe and Latin America, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the women's movement itself around the world, movements that have been animated by folks who have had every external form of power taken away from them and yet have created movements, social movements that have changed the lay and the law of the land.

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't there no movements like that right now, Parker, in terms of the widespread economic the misery that has beset the country?

PARKER PALMER: Well, I think that's a very perplexing question. I've actually wondered since Vietnam why a larger movement hasn't arisen in this country against the palpable injustices of our system. I think there's a lot of anesthesia being — that's been pumped into American culture, the mass media television, various forms of entertainment, and the illusion of wealth that we now understand to be an illusion as well as the illusion that America is a world power.

I've never understood that one, the world leading power, because as far as I know, we haven't won a major significant war since World War II. And yet we've been able to pump enough anesthetic into the culture to maintain that illusion or the sleepiness that allows us to hold those illusions.

I do think that the recent presidential election is evidence of our capacity to mount a movement. And I think the Obama campaign was very skillful and not only skillful but understood something about the human heart to create the movement that it did. I'm fascinated with this, with the Camp Obama phenomenon.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

PARKER PALMER: Camp Obama, starting two and a half, three years before the election, when the Obama candidacy was a real long shot, happened around the country. Circles of people gathered together for two or three days and invited to tell three stories.

And I want to call attention to this because I think movements always begin in this very interior place in the human heart where people are asked to look at and share something of their own lives, their own experience.

And so at Camp Obama, in small groups and over a period of a couple of days, people were invited, first of all, to tell the story of self. What are the hurts and hopes that bring you to this occasion, to the possibility that this long-shot candidate might represent your interests and might actually get elected? The story of self.

The second story, very important, the story of us. How do you see your own story relating to the stories of other people you know and to the larger American story that's going on right now? I'm a Quaker. And one of my great monitors was Douglas Steere, a great Quaker teacher. And he always said the "Who am I?" question is important. But the "Whose am I?" question is equally important.

What do you mean when you say "we"? And so the story of us, so that self-story doesn't end up in narcissism but gets connected to the larger fabric of community. And then finally they were asked to tell the story of now from their point of view. What do you see going on in this moment that makes you think we have a chance to heal some of the hurts and pursue some of the hopes that you've named in those earlier stories?

Well, there's a lot to be said about that process which then rippled out through concentric circles to gather more and more people in as these folks went back home and asked other people to tell the same stories.

So that in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, in the several days preceding the election, we probably had a dozen people knock on our door at different hours of the day and night saying, "Do you know where your polling place is? I'm deeply involved in this campaign. I hope you are, too."

BILL MOYERS: And that's where community organizing begins.

PARKER PALMER: That's where community organizing-

BILL MOYERS: The sharing of these stories-

PARKER PALMER: -begins.

BILL MOYERS: -and then the going out and knocking on the doors-

PARKER PALMER: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: -and asking other people to do something about it.

PARKER PALMER: It's feet on the street. And it's press the flesh. And it's ring the bell. And it's talk to each other, which is something that in a privatized affluent society you don't do.

But to me the underlying genius of what happened at Camp Obama was simply this. I don't remember until the Obama campaign a presidential campaign which we were not asked, I was not asked, to buy a presidential candidate as a commodity in a consumer culture. The Obama campaign did not ask me to buy something. It asked me to tell a story. And in that movement it turned me from being a consumer of a political commodity to being a citizen, a voice. Somebody wants to hear my story. That's why we ended up looking on TV in the wake of the election at all of these young people, these African American people, these Hispanic people, who had always felt disenfranchised, who had always felt their stories didn't count but now felt they were being heard on some significant level. And they turned out to vote as a result.

PARKER PALMER: These things don't happen overnight. They aren't easily done. They require, to use the good words of my mentor Robert Bellah, a new set of habits of the heart. But it's precisely in hard times, it seems to me, that we start to learn new habits of the heart because we don't have a choice.

BILL MOYERS: You've written that we all have to learn to live in what you call the tragic gap. Now, some people are going to find that notion very un-American then because it flies in the face of the fundamental American assumption of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What is the tragic gap? And who wants to live there?

PARKER PALMER: Well, I think the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of reality because illusion never leaves us ultimately happy. And I think the opportunity now is for us to get real. And I think that's going to make us, in the long run, more happy. The tragic gap, and I call it tragic not because it's sad. It is. But more fundamentally because it's an inevitable part of the human condition.

Tragic in the sense that the Greeks talked about it. Tragic in the sense that Shakespeare talked about it. The tragic gap is the gap between what's really going on around us, the hard conditions in which our lives are currently immersed, and what we know to be possible from our own experience.

We don't see it every day. We may not see it very often. But we know it's a possibility among real people and real space and time. Now, what happens when we don't learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible? I think what-

BILL MOYERS: Reality and the possibility.

PARKER PALMER: The reality and the possibility.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

PARKER PALMER: I think what happens is we flip out on one side or the other. Flip out into too much reality and you get what I call corrosive cynicism. And corrosive cynicism is partly what's got us where we are. Corrosive cynicism is, "Oh, I see how the world is made. It's dog eat dog. It's whoever gets the biggest piece of the pie gets the biggest piece of the pie. So I'm going to take my share and run and let the devil take the hindmost." That's corrosive cynicism.

Flip out into too much possibility and you get irrelevant idealism. Which sounds very different from corrosive cynicism but both have the same function in our lives. Both take us out of the action. Both keep us out of the fray.

BILL MOYERS: I can see how corrosive cynicism keeps us from doing anything because we just don't believe anything signifies. But how does this idealism you talk about keep us out of the action?

PARKER PALMER: Well, I think irrelevant idealism that's not held in tension with what's really going on on the ground eventually just disappoints and drops people off the wagon. It actually...

BILL MOYERS: Because nothing does change...

PARKER PALMER: Because nothing changes. Because if you don't have a capacity to hold the tension in your heart between reality and possibility then you're just going to give up eventually.

It's actually a concern that I have and I think other people have it about the huge enthusiasm on the part of newcomers to the political process that went into the Obama campaign. Now we see that Obama is an ordinary person. He has feet of clay. He makes mistakes. He himself says, very refreshingly, "I screwed up."

The question is, are people who came into this with the enthusiasm that one attaches to a messiah and then discovers this is not our savior, are they going to fall away because they haven't learned to stand in the tragic gap? And I don't think that we, I don't think in this culture we teach very much or have very much formation around the holding of these great tensions, which is so critical to our lives.

We want instant resolution. You give us a tension. We want it to get it over with in 15 minutes. We do it in everything from microcosmic situations to what happened in this country after September 11th, which is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only September 11th but our national response to it. We had an opportunity in the weeks following September 11th to really connect in new ways with the rest of the world, who were showing toward us compassion, which means suffering with.

They were saying today I, too, am an American, despite the fact that they knew more of this kind of suffering than we did. And we had caused some of theirs. Around the world people were saying, "Today I am an American."

Well, if we had held the tension between that attack, that horrific criminal attack, and this possibility of connecting and deepening compassion, held it not through inaction but through what Bill Coffin called the justice strategy rather than the warfare strategy. If we had done that I think we would have opened a new possibility in American life. But we couldn't. The 15 minutes elapsed and we had to hit back.

BILL MOYERS: You've also written on the politics of the broken hearted. Now, you know, I grew up to think that broken hearts are a personal matter, not a political condition. What do you mean by that?

PARKER PALMER: Well, there are two ways for the heart to break. When we hold these tensions and we don't know how to hold them, the heart explodes like a hand grenade. And we sometimes want to throw that hand grenade at the enemy. I think that's what happened after September 11th.

But a new habit of the heart would allow us to take that broken-hearted experience in a new direction, not towards the shattering into a million pieces but toward a heart that grows larger, more capacious, more open to hold both the suffering and the pain of the world. I think that's teachable stuff. I think that if our schools and our religious communities worked on that, that we would have a greater capacity individually and collectively to do it.

BILL MOYERS: I came upon this passage in one of your books over the weekend. "While writing this essay, I have been dealing with some personal heartbreak. The details are commonplace, familiar to anyone who draws breath, especially to those of a certain age, the deaths of people I love, the transitory nature of the work to which I have devoted myself for 40 years. And the impossibility of realizing some of my dreams for my life." What's behind those words?

PARKER PALMER: What's behind those words, Bill, is that my closest analogue to some of the economic suffering that's going on right now that I don't share in is my own journey with personal darkness.

BILL MOYERS: Depression?

PARKER PALMER: Three times clinical depression, which I've written about and spoken about-

BILL MOYERS: Yes.

PARKER PALMER: -most recently when I was 65 years old. I think it's a very important thing to talk about partly because it remains a subject of shame in this culture. And I think those of us who have come through to the other side and have a new appreciation for life and its realities need to talk about it on behalf of those that suffer and those who are standing with them.

I got tremendous help from a therapist at one point, in one of my depressions, who said to me, "Parker, you seem to keep treating this experience as if depression were the hand of an enemy trying to crush you. Would it be possible to re-image depression as the hand of a friend trying to press you down to ground on which it's safe to stand?"

Well, those words didn't mean much to me immediately because when you're there you can't hear that kind of counsel. But they grew on me, those words did. And I started to understand that in my case this very situational depression that I had fallen into, not the result of bad genetics or brain chemistry gone awry, but the result of getting crosswise with some of my own truth had resulted from my living at altitude.

I was living in my intellect. I was living in my ego. I was living in a kind of up, up, and away spirituality. And I was living in a set of ethics that didn't really have anything to do with what my, how I intersected with the world-

BILL MOYERS: I don't understand that.

PARKER PALMER: -rightfully and properly. Well-

BILL MOYERS: You mean you're a hypocrite?

PARKER PALMER: Yeah. I was living by oughts that weren't mine to act out. I mean, there are a million oughts in the world. There's a million ways in which I ought to be serving the world. But the ways I'm gifted to serve and the opportunities that come to me to serve are not a million. They're more like one, two, three, four dozen over the course of a 70-year journey. And so when you live at elevation and you trip and fall, as most of us do every day, you have a long way to fall. And it might kill you.

BILL MOYERS: What do you do when you hit bottom?

PARKER PALMER: Well, nothing for quite a while. And people sometimes say depression is like being lost in the dark. My experience is it's more like becoming the dark. You don't have a sense of self any longer with which you can stand back and say, "Oh, I have this disease and it, too, will pass."

The voice of depression takes over. And all you can hear is the darkness which is you. And I think what you learn at that point is a couple things. One is there's huge virtue in simply getting out of bed in the morning, by which I mean learning to value the fact that you can take one step at a time.

The second thing you learn is that you need other people. You don't need their advice. You don't need their fixes and saves. But you need their presence. I sometimes liken standing by someone who is in depression as being like the experience of sitting at the bedside of a dying person because depression is a kind of death, as is addiction and other serious forms of mental illness.

You have to be with that person in an unafraid way. Not invading them with your fixes, not hooking them up to wires or whatever the non-medical equivalent of that is, giving them advice, but simply saying to them with your very presence, your physical presence, your psychological presence, your spiritual presence, I am not afraid of being with you on this journey of the — at the end of this road.

BILL MOYERS: There are two ways to measure the health of a society, the gross national product, the sums of the goods and services that we produce, and the gross national psychology, the sums of our hopes and fears. Is it possible to think that this depression you experienced can also affect us politically, socially, and communally as a nation?

PARKER PALMER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I don't think it's an accident that we talk about the Great Depression and maybe the impending depression that we're going into economically is about clinical depression.

There's a lot of darkness out there. And there's a lot of lossness. And there's a lot of people feeling that their lives are over. We need to learn to be present to one another in listening ways, in compassionate ways. Do we need to be doing outside work that has to do with repairing a broken economic system and a political system that's in disrepair? Absolutely we do.

But we need to be drawing for that on an inner wisdom that isn't there when it's only fake science that's driving our reconstruction efforts, when it's only an illusion of rationality or an illusion of affluence. We need to penetrate those illusion bubbles. Thoreau said reality is fabulous. And I agree with him. It's a lot more fabulous than illusion because it won't let you down. Reality won't let you down. It is what it is. And we have to learn to deal with it. Because when you're standing on the ground of your own reality, your society's reality, you can fall down, as we do and we will continue to do, and simply get up and dust yourself off. You aren't falling from 100 feet in the air where you're likely to kill yourself.

BILL MOYERS: Is this a heartbreaking moment in American history?

PARKER PALMER: Absolutely. It's a heartbreaking moment. And part of the heartbreak is around things that never should have happened, like the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. We're seeing that in our faces now. And it's good that we are because those things never should have happened.

Part of the heartbreak is around having to give up illusions that we've carried for far too long. And it's good that that's happening, too. And the two, of course, are related. But, yes, it's a moment of heartbreak. And it's a moment for people to step up and say we have to learn to hold these tensions in a life-giving way. We have to learn that Camp Obama has to be for all of us, whether we're Democrats or Republicans or Independents. We have to learn that we need to hang together or we're going to hang separately. We have to learn a new set of habits of the heart. And I think that can happen.

BILL MOYERS: Parker Palmer, thank you for being with me on the Journal.

PARKER PALMER: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: My friend Parker Palmer speaks of the stripping away of illusion to stand on the firm ground of reality. That's something to keep in mind as America seems heading once again into a foreign adventure that's more slippery slope than terra firma. This very week, President Obama let it be known that he has approved increasing American forces in Afghanistan immediately by nearly 50 percent — at a cost, by the way, of $775,000 per soldier every year according to one recent estimate.

Thinking of the troops who will pay the ultimate price for foreign expeditions like this, I came the other day, quite by chance, on the DVD of one of those classic movies that all policymakers, generals and pundits should see before they point young people toward hell and shout, "Charge." Those of you who hearken back to when our English teachers required us to memorize poetry, will recognize the title of the film immediately. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was Alfred Lord Tennyson's epic account of the slaughter of an elite British cavalry riding straight into Russian cannon during the Crimean War.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred."

Forty years ago, some upstart British filmmakers turned "The Charge of the Light Brigade" into a gripping, angry and dark-witted account of a stupefying blunder, as the delusions and grandeur of empire dissolved into the blood and guts of brave but doomed warriors. You can only wish our president and his advisers would watch it in the White House theatre as they prepare the surge from which many now living will never return.

I'm Bill Moyers. That's it for the Journal. See you next week.

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