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Transcript:

June 6, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

BILL MOYERS: The news of the democratic presidential nominee is sinking in around the world as well. Banner headlines marked this historic milestone — from Uruguay, Japan to Kenya.

Even the conservative Times of London notes that the Obama campaign has, quote, "rekindled America's faith in its prodigious powers of reinvention — and the world's admiration for America."

And surely, after a little time to reflect and celebrate, the news is sinking in for Obama himself, news that may manifest itself in two simple words: "now what?"

To contemplate that question and more, I am joined by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Ron Walters.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is familiar to viewers of this program. She's the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Here is her latest book — PRESIDENTS CREATING THE PRESIDENCY: DEEDS DONE IN WORDS.

Ron Walters turned from politics to scholarship after working as Jesse Jackson's issues director during his two campaigns for the democratic nomination back in the 1980s. He directs the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland, where he teaches government and politics.

Among his eight books is this newest: THE PRICE OF RACIAL RECONCILIATION , and this one — FREEDOM IS NOT ENOUGH: BLACK VOTERS, BLACK CANDIDATES, AND AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS.

Good to have you both with me.

RON WALTERS: Good to be with you.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Good to be here.

BILL MOYERS: Let me ask you this, I mean we're talking about a man who, four years ago, was in the State Senate of Illinois. Was elected to the United States Senate. Served two years before he announced, "I'm running for President." He's only 46 or 47 years old. And he's taken the democratic process by storm. The democratic nominating process. Is this about him?

RON WALTERS: No. You cannot understand this election with respect to Barack Obama alone. And a lot of people have tried to do that. And it simply doesn't make sense. What has happened is that I think that he is he has tapped a vein, you know, in the American people about profound change.

When you look at the state of the American economy. When you look at the fact that people are losing their homes. When you look at the fact that they're embarrassed about our standing abroad. The way in which this war has turned out. The American people have come to the end of their generosity.

Not only with this Administration, but I think with the conservative movement. With the Republican aspect of that. And so I think what they want to do is they want to turn, and he's been able to articulate this. I think what Barack Obama did was to see, in the 2006 election cycle what happened. The American people said, "We want change so much we're gonna turn the control of the congress from Republican to Democrat." And then, in the special elections since then, we're gonna do the same thing. So he says, "Well, sure, this is what's going on here. I'm gonna build a campaign around the theme of change. And I'm gonna be able to articulate it better than anybody else. And I'm gonna use movement language." We-

BILL MOYERS: Movement language?

RON WALTERS: We.

BILL MOYERS: We. Plural.

RON WALTERS: We. We are going to-

BILL MOYERS: We the people.

RON WALTERS: This is about you. That's what-

BILL MOYERS: We shall overcome.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And, yes, we can.

RON WALTERS: That's right. And all those-

BILL MOYERS: And, yes, we can.

RON WALTERS: And there are all of these other people-

BILL MOYERS: That's interesting.

BILL MOYERS: 'Cause the age of me, which is what the 80s were about-

RON WALTERS: I. Yeah. I.

BILL MOYERS: I, you know, and me, to the age of us and we.

RON WALTERS: Well, no, not so much the age. We're talking about this campaign.

BILL MOYERS: Oh, all right.

RON WALTERS: Because all of the other candidates thought it was still the age of I. So they came out there and they said, "This is what I will do for you. I have been in the Congress forever and Washington forever. And if you just follow me."

And he was saying we and you. And this is the movement language. This is a whole different thing. So what he was doing was empowering the American people to follow him in this movement for change. And none of the rest of them got it until it was too late.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think about that?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think that the disaffection with the Iraq war was very strong and very palpable, I think economic anxiety, strong, palpable. I think dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration on many grounds, strong, palpable. And I think there are times in which the young come into politics, now they sometimes don't stay, but they come into politics.

They come into politics in time of war. They're more likely to turn out the vote. They come into politics in time of economic anxiety. I think the young were there waiting for a candidate who could harness their aspirations for a different kind of future.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: We know that the young generation that entered politics when FDR was running for President came in as Democrats and they stayed as Democrats into old age. We know that the generation that came into politics during the Reagan revolution, so called, was far more likely to stay Republican over its younger years into its middle aged years. What is exciting for the Democratic Party about the candidacy of Barack Obama, and he has the youth vote. Hillary Clinton had the seniors vote. He has the youth vote.

RON WALTERS: Well-

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And that's the future.

RON WALTERS: But not only the youth vote, you know. And I've tried to caution people about simply saying that this is only a constituency of youth and blacks. Because if that were the case he wouldn't be winning in all these white states. I mean, he has a very significant American population behind him.

And let's be very clear about that. The young people, yes, they came in between 2000, 2004, something like 40 million new young people came in. And they are poised to go further than that this time around. The long history that you just cited is absolutely correct.

The problem we've had is keeping them in the electorate. Because they've come in and then they've come down. The difference that I sense is that now there has been a infrastructure built around turning them out, about letting them know what the issues are.

This is the MTV generation. This is the internet generation. They're involved in fundraising. And so we now have this mechanism that you didn't have before that is likely to keep young people somewhat interested in involved in campaigns. And I wouldn't be surprised if this time the difference between 2004 and 2008 isn't six million. And about 40 percent of those African American young people.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And one other thing, if you're just involved in a campaign, there's always a chance that you don't then carry on that level of activism. We don't have that many campaigns. But what the Obama campaign is doing is setting up a training structure to train this cadre of newly involved individuals, not all of them young.

This cadre of newly involved individuals in how to produce change. If you actually create agents of change then their obligation is not simply to participate politics every four years, or every two years, but to now create a different kind of community.

The community organizer who is running for President is trying to find a way to organize politics differently in this country. And if he succeeds he transforms the political landscape. Because imagine that you have this large active group, it follows politics more closely.

As a result, it holds politicians more accountable. And, importantly, its issue agenda is more likely to be treated seriously. And I may tend to over weight the young in this for this reason. When you have a group that under-votes in proportion to its population as much as the young have traditionally done, that's the group that can create a huge amount of change if it just starts voting in higher numbers.

Because politicians don't talk to your interests if you don't vote ordinarily. And if the young start to vote, look what happens. Instead of saying, "Well, let's have this social program which you'll pay for, great grandchildren. You'll pay for, new young generation out there." Now you have a group that's at the table thinking in the long term. Because it has a long horizon.

RON WALTERS: But I think he has to do something to make that possible. And that is I've argued that he has to institutionalize, that is to contribute to institutionalizing their power outside of government. Because-

BILL MOYERS: How did he do that?

RON WALTERS: Well you know, there have been people who have done that. They have run for President and all of a sudden they have, you know, fighting for America, this organization that they've created with chapters and fundraising structures. And things like the ability to intervene in congressional districts and to call up members of Congress.

BILL MOYERS: Build a movement.

RON WALTERS: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: Progressive movement that happened.

RON WALTERS: Well, this is happening-

BILL MOYERS: Populist movement.

RON WALTERS: If you look at the Republican side, since 19— mid 1970s, they have built this amazing infrastructure of organizations. So that their ability to deal with a public policy agenda has not just been all these people inside government. It's also been in this tremendous apparatus outside of government.

BILL MOYERS: Jesse Jackson's campaign in 1988 — you worked on it — was perceived to be a black campaign. But Obama's campaign has not perceived to be a black campaign, has it?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: When I heard a commentator say, when Senator Obama announced that he's running to be the first black President, I said, from my cultural tradition, he's running to be the President. He's running to be our — the President of all of us.

RON WALTERS: That's right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And, to some extent, to say that he's running to be the first black President, I knew what the commentator meant, but I thought that was problematic for that candidacy. I think it misunderstood the candidacy.

RON WALTERS: Well, I think you're right. And that media has sort of a tradition of overemphasizing race in everything. But your point, I think, was very right on about them perceiving Jesse to be a black candidate. Even though, in that campaign, we tried to reach out to whites at every instance. But this was the height of Reaganism. And-

BILL MOYERS: The 1980s.

RON WALTERS: Yes. Yes. And the conservative tradition. We didn't have an opportunity then to do what he's doing now. Because, right now, what we see, in the words of many of our analysts, is that the conservative movement has crashed into a wall. And people are beginning to see around it and through it for the first time.

BILL MOYERS: If Hillary Clinton had been the nominee, wouldn't she also be representing as historic a correction as Obama is representing?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. And if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee she would have looked back to a tradition that included Shirley Chisholm as a woman, but also as an African American, who helped set in place assumptions that a woman could aspire to the presidency. And that a woman could be qualified for that job.

We always assumed, in studying gender and politics, that the barrier for a woman was going to be Commander in Chief. That a woman would never pass that threshold. And that, as a result, you might have highly qualified individuals, who were women, who would aspire, but they wouldn't get there. Well, Hillary Clinton, according to the polls, is considered by the public to be an acceptable commander in chief.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that we've overcome, in both counts, some very important barriers here?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I believe that we have. And I think the challenge is to ensure that this moment is a moment that we will look back on and say, "And the general election did nothing to falsify the moment now."

BILL MOYERS: Well, that-

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It did nothing to say that there was false hope in this moment. Then I think we can say we've had a good election.

RON WALTERS: Well, see, this is the caveat that I was thinking about as you were talking. Here's a woman who has a very unique situation, a unique history with the American people. But certainly with the black community.

This has been very alienating, the way in which she has run. And for example, just the other night, after the last two primaries, there was a moment there where she could have been very graceful. And, yet, I think what she wanted to do, and there's some understanding of that, was to play this out. To say, "I want to finish on the terms that most women understand. And to stand my ground," and so forth and so on. But the context of it, again, is you're playing against another historical era. Another historical fact. We may never have this again. And so what I'm wondering is, will these things pertain if you don't have all of these special circumstances to deal with? When a woman runs for President.

BILL MOYERS: Ron, I have a good colleague here in this building who is an African American woman. And she was on the verge of tears the other day after Tuesday. Because she was both joyful and heartbroken. And she expressed it to me in the hall later.

She said, "You know, I have always wanted to vote for the first viable black candidate, and I've always wanted to vote for the first viable woman candidate. And here I had to make this choice." I couldn't bring myself to ask her what her choice was. Did you have any sympathy for the African American woman torn in this season?

RON WALTERS: I do. And this certainly came up in the South Carolina primary. Where the reporters were asking a lot of African American women what they do. And the studies, of course, tell us that race is more dynamic than gender in terms of political choice. Especially in the black community.

And that has its own history in terms of the way in which one interprets and experience of African Americans. But I think that the way in which people also parse their pride about this moment has to do again with the elevation of race — Martin Luther King Jr. and the progression. But there is some criticism, I must say, just to be truthful in the black community. Because you don't hear him addressing, very often, the specific issues that are part of our condition. The specific expectations that African Americans have, were he to be President of the United States. Why doesn't he do that Ron?

RON WALTERS: Because he is somebody that wants to be President. Seventy percent of the population is white. And so I can — here, again, you have these clash of agendas. Clashes of experiences. Clashes of interpretations.

And clash of agendas. And I think that you have to give some credence to the black community. Because there is also a sophistication there which says, "We kind of understand what he has to do." So we're not gonna press him to wall to do that. We know that if he gets that job he might do something, you know, to alleviate our condition.

BILL MOYERS: You have said if he succeeds. Now, back on the ground, where facts remain facts — what happens now? What does John McCain and the Republican Party do to deal with this phenomenon you've both been describing?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: If the town hall proposal that is offered by Senator McCain is accepted by Barack Obama we have an electorate right now that has been paying more attention to politics in the primary season than ordinarily we see in primary seasons.

BILL MOYERS: And by the town hall proposal you mean the idea that they would go out together and have —

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Televised town halls, perhaps weekly, for ten weeks over summer. And what the possibility exists that an electorate that is more attentive than we have seen in the past, and more energized. Look at this unprecedented amount of primary voting.

Now, instead of saying, "Okay, summer vacation, we'll come back to politics after Labor Day," stays attentive through summer, at a level that increases its ability to understand some of the complex problems the next President has to address.

BILL MOYERS: Is it to Obama's gain to do that? Or McCain's gain? Why would-

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think it's — I think they both benefit.

RON WALTERS: I'm not so sure that he benefits, that Barack Obama benefits from that. What we saw in the debates, in the primary season. He does very well in a stand up kind of a framework — he's a great speech maker. He can read the teleprompter and so forth. When I put him up there-

BILL MOYERS: Obama?

RON WALTERS: Yes. And then I put John McCain up there doing the same thing clear advantage, as far as I'm concerned, goes for Obama. So why would Obama's people bring him down from that perch where he's so good and put him in a context where John McCain is good?

John McCain is good in sort of this kind of format. He is not very good with teleprompters and standing up.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I disagree.

RON WALTERS: Alright.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because I think that, in the clash of competing ideas, these candidates are both going to look good and strong. And I think the advantage that he gains as a prospective President is worth the possibility of also having Senator McCain on that stage looking better than he would be if he were delivering stump speeches. Which he will not be doing across summer in any paid format to reach the electorate.

RON WALTERS: I agree. I agree.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That we can be sure of.

RON WALTERS: I agree.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And I think the — if what Senator Obama is seeking is a different kind of politics that yields a different kind of governance we have to find a way to find campaign forums that let candidates reach to some complexity about difficult issues that require cost and trade off. And-

RON WALTERS: After he's President.

BILL MOYERS: You see, what's different about this is, as I listen to you two, is that in the Senate McCain and Obama were collegial. And both of them have a sense that there is — that this old age of Nixonian politics has run its course. And that they may, in fact, want to have a collegial campaign.

Remember, Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy had agreed to campaign in 1964 by traveling the country and having debates together. It could be that the pendulum has swung back to the kind of collegially that doesn't work, necessarily, in primaries. But just might be right for this new era that some people think we're entering.

RON WALTERS: Well, the differences are so sharp. I mean, I think that might work if the differences weren't as sharp as they are. And I think when you have differences in, both in foreign and domestic policy, that are so wide — trying to arrive at a collegial, you know, agreement on these things, especially with a different party, is really an onerous task. I mean, I wouldn't bet on that.

BILL MOYERS: Really?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But it's possible to say that one is respectful without saying that one is trying to find a forum in which one compromises.

RON WALTERS: Oh, I hear you. I do respect —

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I mean, I think these are both candidates disposed to be respectful to each other.

RON WALTERS: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think if you put them together in an environment in which they articulate as forcefully as they could their alternative positions, they could do it in a way that would be respectful and informative for the electorate. And I think it would be great television.

RON WALTERS: Okay. Alright.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I also think that there are areas in the national agenda right now, we have a broad national agenda right now for the next President. This isn't just simply a presidency about one or two issues. This is a presidency in which the next President has to confront and confront quickly a whole series of things —

RON WALTERS: A whole series of issues.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: -that we have not done what we ought to have done about.

RON WALTERS: That's right. That's right. That's right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And if you want to move to governance as expeditiously as possible, I think you have to have a different campaign structure. And so the question becomes what would let it work for both of them that would involve the electorate. If it weren't gonna appeal to an electorate and drawing and audience, it would be useless.

RON WALTERS: But I'm not so sure about that. Because, you know, if you have, and I've been using this word, as very few analysts have, and that is a landslide. This is likely to be an overwhelming electoral result in the fall. And, if that happens, you have a President who really has the advantage of a honeymoon that might last a year or two.

In that context what you're trying to do is to achieve as much as possible as quickly as possible with the forces that you have. Not necessarily taking your time to build sort of a collegial or bipartisan you may not need in both houses. So I think that a lot will depend upon how this thing turns out in the fall.

BILL MOYERS: I'm respectful of both of you, but I have to be mindful of the time. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ron Walters, if in fact these two men do meet, one way or another this summer, come back and let's critique their performances. Thank you both.

BILL MOYERS: We'll be back in a moment for a look at what news might be slipping under the radar. . .But, first, remember that this is the time we turn to you to be the public in public broadcasting. This station needs your support.

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