May 11, 2007
Bill Moyers talks with Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of REASON MAGAZINE.
BILL MOYERS: I'm joined now by a man who keeps his eye a most contrarian eye on the religious right...and the religious left and everything in between, and beyond, including Democrats, Republicans, war, peace, pornography, hypocrisy and even the game Monopoly, whose history, he writes, is more epic and entertaining than passing go and landing on Boardwalk. There's his by-line in the May issue of his magazine, REASON.
Month in and month out you won't read a smarter magazine, and I'm not alone in that opinion. Reason has been named one of the best 50 magazines three out of the past four years and is widely acknowledged to have one of the best political blogs on the web.
REASON is the magazine for libertarians and the best known of them is reason's Editor-in-Chief, Nick Gillespie, whose heroes include Margaret Thatcher and Madonna, and whose shoulders are so straight because in a polarized world he refuses to carry water for Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives.
Nick Gillespie, welcome to the JOURNAL.
Does Pat Robertson keep you awake at night?
NICK GILLESPIE: Ugh. Well, you know, a lot of things keep me awake at night, mostly thinking about the future for my two sons, which centers a lot of my political thought. But Pat Robertson and the religious right don't worry me too much. I think in contemporary America, the high watermark for the religious might, might have come a few hours after the 9/11 attacks when Robertson and Jerry Falwell looked at the carnage at the World Trade Center, at Ground Zero, and said this was somehow the vengeance of God reaped upon an unholy nation.
And I think at that moment just as we were confronting a different kind of fundamentalist religion, one from the from the Middle East, I think you saw the high watermark of the religious right in American political discourse. Because I think most Americans said, "Okay, that's what these guys are thinking, even if I believe that Jesus is my personal Lord and savior, that's not something I want to be associated with."
But you live part of the year in Ohio.
- which decided the election many people said because of the Christian conservatives out there.
I don't know if it's Christian conservatives. And it also may be more important to talk about the mid-term elections in 2006 where we didn't have any kind of great conversion away from Christianity in this country. We're a very religious country. And I think people tend to be more observant here than they do in many other places around the world.
But in 2006 we saw what people really care about. One was a war that was misconceived from the beginning and has been prosecuted as poorly as possible. So it's a double whammy there for the Republicans and for Bush and I think for the religious right to the extent they lay in with that.
But the other thing, and this is even more important, is that under Bush and under the Republicans where they had full control of the federal government on every level for six years, they screwed up. They said that they were going to cut spending. They said that they were going to get the government out of people's lives, and they didn't do that. They grew the government. They were hypocritical to their own professed ideals. And people in America don't like the idea of being told - of having people encroach in the bedroom or in the boardroom, I think.
Even as religion is extremely important to many Americans, I think it is starting to evacuate the political sphere partly because of our engagement with Islam. I don't think people you know, we don't want to fight a war against Islam on some level or Islamic terrorism, religiously based terrorism and then say, "Okay, well, what we gotta do is create a theocracy here." I don't think it's going to be like that.
BILL MOYERS: Don't you think God gets tired of being introduced into all of these political debates? She has better things to do.
NICK GILLESPIE: I like to think that there may be many gods or no gods. But I'm sure all of them are annoyed at this point. But, you know, one of the questions about the religious right in America is ask them if they feel like they're in charge or they're on the grow. And within recent memory, Paul Weyrich, who helped co-found the Moral Majority and helped co-found the Heritage Foundation, I mean, two vast institutions of the religious right. A couple years ago he said, "You know what? We have to get out of politics 'cause we're getting our butts kicked."
When you look at somebody like Pat Buchanan who was the instigator of the culture wars, I mean, in Republican presidential primaries, a couple years ago he - or last year he called for a truce in the culture wars. The fact is, is that social conservatives who tend to be religious have lost the culture wars.
And I think that they recognize that. Abortion, even if Roe versus Wade gets overturned, they know that the American people are not going to go back to an era where women don't have reproductive rights. Things, you know, other issues that are really powerful for them are just, they're not going anywhere. They've lost the fight against homosexuality. I mean, there's no way that -
Culture's ahead of them.
Gays are not going back in the closet. And I think religious conservatives have understood that. In a real way, they have lost the culture wars and they know it.
BILL MOYERS: But when you look at that piece about Pat Robertson, you see that he's quite serious and there are a lot -
NICK GILLESPIE: Oh, sure.
BILL MOYERS: - generation of young people coming along who--
NICK GILLESPIE: I also, you know, one of the things - because I am not religious myself but I do respect religion in many manifestations. And I realize that religion is one great source of community and meaning and significance in people's lives. And on a certain level, I'm like, I don't want to live in Pat Robertson's America.
And I certainly don't, wouldn't have wanted to go to Regent University or have my kids go there. But I think it's great that he's able to do that. And I think it's great that he's able to create an institution that somehow embodies his ideas and concepts, as long as it's voluntary. And I think that, you know, just showing what's going on there in a lot of ways is one way of inoculating larger America against that. Because we are, in the end, a tolerant population, which also means that we recognize that our rights to create something like Regent University, it means that we can't force people to worship a god or a religion or a set of politics that we don't agree with.
This is one of the fascinating questions about religion in contemporary America is that, you know, 20 years ago Pat Robertson, and Pat Robertson is one of the guys who got Oral Roberts to build his university.
BILL MOYERS: The faith healer. Right.
NICK GILLESPIE: Yeah. Okay? But 20 years ago Pat Robertson would not have shared the stage with a Mormon, period. He would not have made common cause with Catholics. He would not have been talking up the Passion of the Christ as he did a few years go -
BILL MOYERS: But do you think that represents a union?
NICK GILLESPIE: I think what it represents is that there is a shift in religious thinking where you have conservative Jews, conservative Catholics, conservative Protestants banding together in a way that was literally unimaginable in 1980. It does not mean that the religious right is becoming more powerful, but they are squaring off more against what they see as secular.
You know, the dividing line is now not between Catholic and Protestant. It's between secular people and religious people. By the same token, where are the places that religious thinking is being forced on people? Or not religious thinking but religious policies? And when you look at, you know, the flashpoint issues here, whether it's prayer in school, whether it's abortion, whether it is other manifestations of religious life, I don't think that you see the encroachments there.
BILL MOYERS: You're hard to figure out. I mean, here's the cover. "Wikipedia and Beyond: Jimmy Wells' Sprawling Vision." An epidemic of meddling, the totalitarian implications public health. Here's one that took my breath away. "Be Afraid of President McCain: The Frightening Mind of an Authoritarian Maverick"?
NICK GILLESPIE: I think there seems to be some themes that come through pretty loud and clear to me. And it goes back to that idea of free minds and free markets. That individuals are not only capable of taking care of themselves and figuring out what's best for them and their loved ones, but they should be allowed to do that.
BILL MOYERS: I look at one of your recent covers and it says, "Who deserves the libertarian vote?" All right. As of now, who deserves the libertarian vote?
NICK GILLESPIE: I think any candidate, any particular candidate who says, "You know what? You know how to live your life the best and I'm going to give you the freedom and the autonomy to do that. And among other things, I'm going to get the government out of your bedroom. I'm going to take the government out of the boardroom for the most part. And I'm going to take America - American military, America's military out of foreign lands."
What we'll do, I mean, if we want to be a shining city on a hill and all of that-- and we should be. This is a fantastic country that offers up unparalleled individual freedom and personal freedom to the people living here, including illegal immigrants. And I think, you know, we're totally pro open borders.
BILL MOYERS: Tear down that wall.
NICK GILLESPIE: And as much as possible, but any candidate who speaks to those concerns and says, you know, the best way for America to interact with the world and to turn more people on to liberty and freedom is by trading with them and by giving them access to an American lifestyle which can be adapted into particular circumstances.
BILL MOYERS: If you were put against the wall and given 30 seconds to define who you are, what would you say a libertarian is?
NICK GILLESPIE: What we believe is that in a grand tradition that dates back to the 17th century and to the founding of this country, which is that the individual should be given as much freedom to live his life or her life as he sees fit as long as he's not screwing up somebody else. We believe in free minds. We believe in free thinking.
We believe in free speech. And we believe in free markets. We believe people and goods and ideas should be able to traverse the world as freely as possible.
BILL MOYERS: But the free market creates great wealth. But it also kicks a lot of people off the road and into the ditch. What do we do about them if you're a libertarian?
NICK GILLESPIE: I actually, I, first, I disagree with that. I think that the free market creates a lot of wealth and that everybody is better off as a result of it. There are cases where people have, you know, where people don't do as well as others. But in general, it raises the overall level of income, the overall level of wealth, and more importantly, the overall level of opportunities and options in people's lives.
BILL MOYERS: So as a libertarian, what do you want the government to do?
NICK GILLESPIE: I would like to see the government, first off, shrink its mandate to things that it can really only provide. And that includes national defense and having a strong army. I'm not a pacifist. But I'm also a an anti-imperialist.
I, you know, I hate when people call those of us who are slow to invade other countries "isolationist." I'm a non-interventionist or a military interventionist. But things that the government should be doing is, you know, national defense, certain types of road building, certain types of public works projects that are very difficult to do otherwise, like roads, things like that.
Justice system. I believe in what the Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick called the "night watchman state," on all levels. Because people do pretty well figuring out how to regulate their own lives and manage their own lives pretty well.
BILL MOYERS: What is the back-story of this election? I mean, I watched the Republican debates and the Democratic debate. They're not talking about what people are talking about.
NICK GILLESPIE: That's true. The back-story of this election, though, I think is that the Republican Party could, for a long time, take for granted the 10 to 15 percent of the American electorate which reliably votes pretty libertarian. Maybe not under that name but people who are interested in social freedom and social tolerance and smaller government and fiscally responsible government.
That 10 percent is totally up for grabs now. And that's what both parties, it's not simply the Republicans. The Democrats need that. 10 percent in any election, in any national election is going to swing it. And the libertarians have signaled in declining numbers voting for Bush and for Republicans that they're up for grabs.
BILL MOYERS: There's an anomaly. I have to come back to this. You you have strong opinions about politics, parties, elections. You're registered to vote but you don't vote. You feel stateless? You feel lost in America?
NICK GILLESPIE: You know, it's been so long since I've had political heroes that I don't worry. I was thinking about watching the piece about Regent University and the discussion about the role of religion and the state. One of my great heroes is Roger Williams, who is, like Pat Robertson, was a Baptist.
This was the guy who was kicked - he was trained at Cambridge during the great Puritan years in the 17th century. He was a classmate of John Milton. He came to America to preach. Got kicked out of Massachusetts Bay Colony because he said, "You guys are mixing the Lord's work with secular government."
And he ended up founding Providence, bought land from the Indians, you know, which is almost unheard of then. Created the colony of Rhode Island. Got a royal charter for that as a place for religious tolerance.
He came up, and this is a Baptist, who, like Pat Robertson, in his heart of hearts, thought that the pope was the antichrist, or a werewolf. You know, in the popular prejudices of the days. But articulated the absolute need to have a secular government where your religious faith was a private concern that the state could not control but it also couldn't compel any individual to worship in a particular way. And it seems to me, you know, Roger Williams may be my last political hero.
BILL MOYERS: Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of REASON, thank you for joining me.
NICK GILLESPIE: Thanks. It's been my pleasure.