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Transcript:

May 2, 2008

BILL MOYERS:There's good news tonight: Kathleen Hall Jamieson is back after an extended leave from her duties as our resident scholar of common sense on politics and the media. The director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania returns from a prolonged trip just in time to help us sort out the barrage of messages saturating the airwaves in North Carolina and Indiana, where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are spending more than $100,000 a day on TV ads to sway the undecided, shore up the faithful, and turn out the vote in next Tuesday's primaries. In addition to decoding the spin of politics, Kathleen Hall Jamieson is scrutinizing how democracy works. Her latest book is just out — Presidents-Creating the Presidency, Deeds Done in Words. Co-authored with Karyln Kohrs Campbell of the University of Minnesota. It's good to have you back.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:It's good to be back.

BILL MOYERS:And I'm almost prepared to forgive you for going AWOL.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS:Here we are in a weekend in which Obama and Clinton are back and forth in Indiana and North Carolina, pressing their case. What's the story, this weekend, they're trying to tell what each thinks will close the deal?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:The context, in which Senator Obama is responding to the Wright controversy, is one that is familiar to me from studying history. When the concern is that you've been, for some reason, cast as being extreme or frightening in some way, the way a candidate who is skillful responds, is to go back to basics.

To re-tell the biography. But also to move into formats in which the communication itself becomes a form of rebuttal. Historically, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 by doing that. President Carter, in his campaign, wanted to cast Governor Reagan as out of the mainstream, extremist and scary.

Ronald Reagan's campaign responded with an ad that was aired so often that people in the campaign got complaints from their own supporters saying, "If I see that ad one more time, I'm not- I'm gonna stop watching television." But the ad reconnected Ronald Reagan to his biography in a way that made it harder to cast him as extremist or scary.

BILL MOYERS:What was the main point of that biography?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Boy from Illinois. Grew up. Radio announcer. Lifeguard. Went on air about baseball. Went to California. Worked as a Union member. Very basic things. What he had done as governor. By the time you finished with that ad it was very difficult to say scary extremist. And they ran the ad so often that they put in a biographical rebuttal.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:So fast-forward to this week. Driven by the Rev. Wright controversy. What Senator Obama has done is gone back to the basics of his biography in his speech. Basic speech to audiences- getting picked up in news. And taken that biography into environments, news environments, in which his manner becomes a kind of rebuttal.

BILL MOYERS:What do you mean?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:He sits down and has interviews with female reporters in news context in which he has extended answers with Michelle Obama seated next to him, in his low-key, engaged, thoughtful fashion.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:I think it is fair to say that both Michelle and I grew up in much less privileged circumstances than either of my two other potential opponents.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:It's easier to identify him with the Reverend Wright showcased in your sympathetic interview last week, than it is to identify him with the Reverend Wright of the histrionics of the Sunday and Monday performances. And to the extent that he locks that persona, which is consistent with what you've known of 'em in the past, back to biography that now stresses some things that he hasn't stressed in the past. Grandfather who was a veteran. Now we're taking on the patriotic issue raised by some of those comments.

BILL MOYERS:Obama's grandfather. Yes.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Obama's grandfather. He's also saying that he was a civil rights lawyer. Not that he was a Constitutional law professor. Now, he could say either one of those two things. A civil rights lawyer. Now put those two things together and the biography that he's filling out in those context, in an extended fashion, in a low-key, and thoughtful manner is one that is reassuring.

But what is important is, the linkage of the argument from biography. And the identification as a civil rights lawyer. Hence what is he not? A Black Power advocate. Grandfather, veteran. What is he not? In some way identified with an anti-US position.And then, he reminds people, as he did in his statement this week. That his speech to the Democratic Convention wasn't a speech that was against the United States--

BILL MOYERS:2004.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:--2004. But rather one that expressed his love for the country. Now he's drawing back something that many people in the audience had as their first experience of him. And asking you to test that moment in that interview with his wife seated next to him and the story he's telling, drawing in your first experience with him, against the inferences that you might have been invited to draw about his relationship with Reverend Wright. It's very effective rebuttal.

And that's why I think the format is so important. Now contrast that to Senator Clinton going on The O'Reilly Factor. If Barack Obama responded to the Reverend Wright controversy by going on to The O'Reilly Factor, first he wouldn't have a chance to complete sentences and engage in a length exposition, in a context in which he has the capacity to give you a real sense of who he is, because there's an adversarial structure built in to the Hillary Clinton interview with Bill O'Reilly, that isn't there in the same way when he's being interviewed on CNN, and when he's being interviewed on The Today Show.

BILL MOYERS:How does Hillary Clinton deal with this biographical story that Obama is spinning out with Michelle at his side? That he's not Jeremiah Wright. How does she do it?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:She doesn't. When she's asked the question about Jeremiah Wright she says, he wouldn't have been my pastor. I would have left the church. And then she steps back from the controversy. But what she's doing in The O'Reilly Factor is as important as the move that Senator Obama makes into these interviews where he can lay in place facets of the biography that haven't been featured before and give you a chance to ask, does this seem like the kind of person about whom you could draw the inferences that are being invited from the Wright controversy. She's doing something that is very different.

BILL MOYERS:Which is?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:She's moving on to Fox News into the most adversarial format you're going to find on Fox News with Bill O'Reilly. Now my backdrop for this is Jay Leno. When the Democrats refused to be part of a Fox News debate, Jay Leno quipped, how are they gonna handle the terrorists if they can't even handle Fox News?

BILL O'REILLY:All right. So I'm getting a 6.5 percent bump. And so is Bill Clinton.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON:Well, it's only for the people making more than $250,000.

BILL O'REILLY:No, that's me. That's me. You're talking to him.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON:I know.

BILL O'REILLY: OK. All right. All right. All right.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON:And I am very happy...

BILL O'REILLY:So 6.5 percent.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON:... that you're going to pay more...

BILL O'REILLY:I know you are.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON:... so that we can cut middle class taxes...

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Hillary Clinton is featuring her toughness. She's featuring the fact that she commands detail. That she can take on a tough interrogator. And that she will hold her own and she will give no ground. What is she stressing? By simply being in that format, before you've ever heard an answer, she's stressing, she's tough enough to be Commander-in-Chief.

She's ready to be president. She's experienced enough to handle the job, because of the command of detail in her answers.

This week, both of those candidates moved into venues that did exactly what they needed to do. The formats reinforced what they needed to argue. And also, they showcased strengths that they each have that advantaged them with the electorate.

BILL MOYERS:But they did so here in New York. The primaries, the decisive primaries next Tuesday are in Indiana and North Carolina.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Here's what we know about how people are consuming information, in general and this year. People who are interested in making a political decision. That is, they're undecided but they know they're going to vote become information seekers. So you hear that there's a Barack Obama interview that's gonna happen on The Today Show. You tune in.

You hear that the Hillary Clinton interview is gonna happen on The O'Reilly Factor. You tune in. So first, the likelihood that the audiences for those kinds of presentations were increased in those days, very high. Secondly, we know something about how the electorate is using the new media environment.

BILL MOYERS:The new media environment being?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Meaning lots of cable channels that you have an option to go to, even when you're watching traditional, mainstream broadcast.

People aren't watching 30 minutes of NBC or CBS or ABC anymore. There's a whole part of the electorate that is watching a segment of it. It gets what it needs of politics, and it starts to channel-surf to find other political information.

And over a third of the electorate says, it's done that at least once or twice in this most recent viewing experience. And so here's what's important about that. It means that you're willing to channel-surf over to be finding information on channels you might not otherwise go to. Fox News is not a place that you would ordinarily expect a very large number of Democrats.

You'll certainly find some. But what are you going to find there? You're going to find people who are part of a constituency that Hillary Clinton and Senator would like to reach.

BILL MOYERS:Then why are they still spending $100,000 a day each in Indiana on local TV ads and $120,000 plus in North Carolina on TV ads? Why are they spending all of that money on advertising?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:It's not just that they're advertising and that they're using these news formats. And I consider the O'Reilly structure with Hillary Clinton a news format. But also, they're moving into places in which the voters they most need to reach are watching. They're moving on to The View in order to present their case to people we know a lot about.

And so, if you simply look at the appearances of these candidates what you realize is, first, they've had a chance in an extended format, to articulate their basic message to an audience they would like to reach to vote. It's a voting audience. It's is not a high news consuming audience.

But you realize, as well, that this is very healthy for democracy. Because this is a format that gives them the extra time to make the case. It moves out of some of sound-byte journalism. And something else happened. When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made the decision to go on to Fox, they're breaking out of the ideological enclave in which the viewers disposed to hear their message are more likely to be, and they're starting to appeal across parties.

We've heard that conservatives are more likely to be going to places like Fox. Liberals are more likely to be going to places like MSNBC. Particularly Olberman and Hard Ball. What does that mean? If you're going to get messages framed from your ideological perspective, you'll still get some exposure to the other side.

BILL MOYERS:In Indiana, both Obama and Clinton are presenting themselves as just folks. Does this just folks appeal go over?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:In politics, politicians from the beginning of political campaigning have tried to find all of the avenues that they could to identify with the people who largely are not going to be as well-off as they are. That's just the nature of the structure that produces political candidacies.

I mean essentially, one has to make the assumption that candidates are capable of governing with an understanding of the circumstances of people who don't live the kind of lives they live. Because no one can live a life as varied as the lives that taken together constitute America.

McCain certainly- Senator McCain certainly speaks to people who were not in the military. And he speaks to people who weren't in the Hanoi Hilton. It doesn't mean that he can't understand their lives. The question is, how do they find a way to understand the circumstances out there? And then how do they address it in a way that makes sense to the people who are actually experiencing those problems.

But there's always a danger when a candidate does that. We forget that the most iconic moment of the Dukakis' campaign of '88. Dukakis in the tank.

BILL MOYERS:The tank. Yes.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Occurred because Governor Dukakis was trying to illustrate a difference in a speech he'd given that day. That he believed would get no network coverage unless he found a visual. He got into the tank to illustrate it. Now it was a poor choice of a visual. But you can understand that because news wasn't going to cover his speech he was looking for the tag.

BILL MOYERS:The Democratic National Committee has rolled out some ads. MOVEON.ORG last night rolled out an ad taking McCain to task over this statement he's alleged to have made about- or he did make about staying in Iraq for a 100 years.

POLITICAL AD:Now we need to know how long we'd be in Iraq if John McCain were president. "I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years, 1,000 years or 10,000 years". A hundred years in Iraq? And you thought no one could be worse than George Bush

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:We're going to be seeing a lot of ads this year that are going to contrast what Senator McCain has said on Iraq, with what the Democrats vision is on Iraq because they have very different policy positions.

But what is interesting about this, in a large context is what it is not doing. We are not moving forward into a debate about what Senator McCain means by saying that we will have some presence there. That he's open to having some presence there.

His statement about 100 years is being routinely taken out of context. Because he's not saying we are going to be in a war of the sort that we are in for 100 years and that would be acceptable to him. But the statement that says that we might have a presence there under a circumstance analogous to our presence in South Korea or Japan or Germany-

BILL MOYERS:Right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:--needs explication that it hasn't yet gotten. We should be trying to find a way to move the debate forward on both sides -the Democratic side and the Republican side. About what US involvement, if any, is going to look like if one is able to bring this war to a close.

It's certainly an important question. It deserves to be answered rather than focusing on misstatement saying, we're going to stay there 100 years. Implying it's going to be in a bloody conflict with high casualties.

BILL MOYERS:Once upon a time, as recently as two years ago when the Democrats took control of Congress again, everyone assumed the Iraq war would be the central issue in this 2008 election year. But it's virtually disappeared from the campaign trail. How come?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:The families that have service people in Iraq are directly experiencing the war. But most of us may have some connection through family or friends and community, but we don't have that kind of direct day-to-day contact.

When we don't see it on the news, we don't see it on the front page, the sense of its importance in a political debate begins to recede. What the candidates do is respond in part to the news agenda. And in part, they try to set their own proposals in a way that suggests that they are uniquely qualified to address these problems by projecting solutions into the future. Each one is going back to something they've done in the past.

He passed ethics legislation. She opposed that Energy Bill. To argue that the statements they're currently making-- her gas tax proposal, her windfall profits tax, his taking on special interest if he's elected, will translate into governance. The importance of that in ad structure is incredible. Because, what it does, it gives what otherwise are just simply promises the ballast in past facts that let people say, maybe this candidate has some special credibility.

BILL MOYERS:A good ad has to be grounded in performance in the past — right? Before it can be trusted about the future?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:The best ads are grounded in performance in the past and make an argument that this candidate who has that past differs from that candidate. And, as a result, here are the current promises differently. The one with that background is more likely to deliver what you care about. And what you care about are those things you've been seeing in the news, and you've been seeing in your daily lives. When news reflects the economy, it's reflecting concerns that Americans have. Pocket book translates into political reality very quickly. We can all see the prices going up in the grocery store. We can all see the prices going up for oil.

BILL MOYERS:Interesting reemergence on the political scene in the last few days of Elizabeth Edwards. What's going on there?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:News media are trying to get her to endorse.

BILL MOYERS:They want her to endorse either--

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:They want her to en--

BILL MOYERS:--Obama or Clinton?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:And they want Senator Edwards to endorse, because his endorsement is the single most important endorsement out there other than Al Gore's.

BILL MOYERS:Let's look at this.

MEREDITH VIEIRA:Let's talk about John McCain's health care plan, because you have been very critical of it. He says he is the only one who has a plan to control cost, but you say that under his plan people with pre-existing conditions, like you with breast cancer or he having had melanoma, would not be able to get any health insurance. What do you mean by that, that you'd be left outside the clinic door?

ELIZABETH EDWARDS: What that means, of course, is that maybe we can get a policy, but it'd be incredibly expensive. Now, John McCain and I can afford it, but the vast number of Americans, the people that I'm going to see this morning when I go over to the clinic for my treatment, a lot of those people will not be able to get coverage, and that is enormously important.

BILL MOYERS:I see that. How do I read it?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:That is a more effective statement of attack against the McCain healthcare proposal than any ad could ever be. Here is a woman with a great deal of credibility arguing very effectively that there is, in his- the earlier version of his plan, a fatal flaw.

One, Elizabeth Edwards wouldn't be able to get coverage. Senator McCain wouldn't be able to get coverage. This week, in his health proposal, he put in place an answer to that objection, before that objection could get into attack ads by the Democrats.

I believe Elizabeth Edwards' effectiveness in using many different news interviews to make the point about that difference, changed the nature of the debate between the Democrats and the Republicans-

BILL MOYERS:This week?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:--about pre-existing conditions.

BILL MOYERS:You think so? This week?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:This week. The proposal that Senator McCain offered this week now has--

BILL MOYERS:Do you think he was paying attention to her?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:I think that the political I'd never say that I can read candidates minds. I think the campaign communication people on the Republican side, realized that there was a very effective sound-byte there that could be plausibly argued about his proposal.

And instead of taking it on directly in the general election against a Democratic candidate, created a facet of his proposal, when he offered his major speech this past week that would create a response.

BILL MOYERS:Let me go back for a moment to this emphasis you were making when we began. You talk about biography.

You talk about the biographies. The candidates trying to tell us their story. One of the young people on my staff wants to know if we've entered what he calls the post-political era. A campaign that's more about identity than it is about issues. You know, are people more swayed by Barack Obama's bowling and Hillary Clinton's boxing gloves than they are about what's happening in Iraq?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:You can't separate the two. And it's not as if in the past we had campaigns that pivoted centrally on issues and were divorced from the credibility claims of candidates. We just haven't had that. Because the policy issues gained their plausibility as you forecast them into governance, because you believe the person making them can deliver on them.

How do you know? Biography. John Kennedy argued in 1960 from PT-109 identity. John McCain argues from Hanoi Hilton. Richard Nixon argues in 1960 from his international experience. They understand history demands

Candidates have routinely, across the history of the presidency, argued to what they would do from who they are and what they've already done. As a result, you can't ask the question, have we ever had a non-identity politics? This year with age, race and gender at issue, we have a different kind of identity politics. Because, up to this point, the identity politics has been shall we say somewhat white and somewhat male. And so, when we differentiated it, it would be around such issues as the Catholicity of John Kennedy. The Quaker religious affiliation of Richard Nixon.

BILL MOYERS:So, we're not stuck in a vicious era of identity politics. It's just more of the same.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:If by identity politics you mean the identification with gender, Hillary Clinton, with race, Barack Obama, and with age, John McCain. I think we do have a different kind of campaign because we have a lot of sub-text operating. And some people are hearing sub-text where other people don't.

BILL MOYERS:Kathleen Hill Jamieson, it's very good to talk to you again.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:It's good to be back.

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