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Transcript:

June 22, 2007

Bill Moyers talks with Victor Gold

BILL MOYERS: The gentleman you're about to meet is someone I'm also meeting for the first time, although we started in national politics in the same year long ago. And therein lies a story. Back in 1960 Vic Gold and I were both young idealists, and we both voted for John F. Kennedy for president.

Except for our awe of the Alabama football legend Bear Bryant, that's probably the last time we ever agreed on anything until now. What we have in common now is the belief that politics ain't what it used to be. I went on to serve in the Kennedy administration and then in the White House as LBJ's assistant in 1964 during the presidential campaign against the conservative Barry Goldwater.

BARRY GOLDWATER: It is a cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people and so help us God that is exactly what a Republican president will do with the help of a Republican Congress.

There across the political divide from me in that campaign was Vic Gold, who had become a speech writer and advisor to Goldwater. Goldwater won the nomination and lost the election. But the end of his campaign was the beginning of the modern conservative movement which came to power with Ronald Reagan and was consumated with George W. Bush. Vic Gold has never forgiven me for the television ads we ran against his candidate. That was 1964. I left the White House three years later to atone for my sins, as Vic Gold might put it, and have been in journalism ever since.

Vic Gold went into public relations and to soldier other Republican campaigns. He worked with Richard Nixon's vice-president, Spiro Agnew, in 1970 when Agnew took after journalists. He called us " nattering nabobs of negativism." I didn't take it personally, Vic. Along the way, Vic Gold became a confidante of the first George Bush, helping in his campaigns and in the writing of the soon-to-be president's autobiography Looking Forward in 1987. He even wrote a political satire with his old friend Lynn Cheney, the vice-president's wife, called The Body Politic.

Now, however, this long-time Republican insider has written a book with a title that almost all of us who started in politics no matter our party affiliation wish we had claimed first. Because sooner or later, most of us think the party of our youth has fallen into the wrong hands. Look at that title: Invasion of the Party Snatchers. In Vic Gold's case, the subtitle says it all: How the Holy Rollers and the Neocons Destroyed the GOP. Vic Gold, it's good to meet you after all these years.

VICTOR GOLD: Good to see you.

BILL MOYERS: Do you remember what Pete Hamill said about Barry Goldwater? The very liberal journalist from New York who had been quite critical of him?

VICTOR GOLD: I would like to say that this is the first time I've said this publicly. It was really Pete Hamill that inspired this book.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you exactly what you quote Pete Hamill as saying in your book. "No democracy can survive if it is wormy with lies and evasions. That is why we must cherish those people who have the guts to speak the truth: mavericks, whistleblowers, disturbers of the public peace. And it's why in spite of my own continuing, though chastened, liberal faith, I miss Barry Goldwater more than ever."

VICTOR GOLD: I don't know Pete Hamill. I have never met Pete Hamill. But what was going on in the Republican Party and what was going on in American politics was getting to me. And when I read that in the LA Times, the quote that Pete Hamill said, 'God, I wish we had a Barry Goldwater around now', and I said, "By God, he's right." And I worked for this guy. I am going to write something about why have we left this type of principle.

BILL MOYERS: I never met Barry Goldwater. Back in 1964 he was just the guy on the other side to beat. I mean, we did see him as shooting from the hip, as mobilizing the fringe, even mobilizing the old Confederacy, in being what we thought was on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. But I came, in the years to follow, to admire his candor. Who's speaking like Barry Goldwater today?

VICTOR GOLD: I don't know if a Barry Goldwater could exist in today's political--

BILL MOYERS: Why?

VICTOR GOLD: Because the impact of the sound bite mentality, the appealing to the base, which you find in both parties. The reason is there's been a debasing, no pun intended, of the system because if you listen to-- if you look these-- I call them the Stepford candidates on both sides in these debates. Isn't it interesting? The only two candidates that speak clearly, you see, are the ones they call the kooks. On the Democratic side they ask Mike Gravel a question and he goes, "Do you think Ameri-- English should be the official language?" He said, "Yes." And the rest of them say, "No, not the official language, the national language." I said, "Well, what the devil is the national lang"-- I mean, why don't you just say "no"? And on the Republican side you have Ron Paul, who was the only candidate who is antiwar and pro-civil liberties. That is he opposes what this administration is doing in terms of civil liberties. And they call him a kook. That's the closest thing you can get. So you can imagine Senator Goldwater, if he were-- he'd probably throw up his hands at the whole process and not run. Which-

BILL MOYERS: Why is it people running for office can't speak their mind today?

VICTOR GOLD: It's the system that we have reduces -- when you go out-- if you have to win Iowa, that means you have to come out for ethanol. And if you come out and say, "I don't believe in it," that finishes you. And so if you want to be a candidate, you compromise there. Then you've got to go over to New Hampshire and you've got to sign a pledge: No taxes. If you didn't-- if you don't say "no taxes," you're going to lose New Hampshire. You get killed there. And then you will not make the cover of Time and Newsweek and that'll ruin. So that's what does it.

BILL MOYERS: You said you wrote this book because you were angry. Why? Why were you angry?

VICTOR GOLD: Goldwater did seem to be a clarion voice, a clear voice. What did Goldwater and the conservative movement at that time stand for? They stood for limited government. Now, when I say "limited government," I mean limited power of government. What Arthur Schlesinger ultimately came up and discovered was the imperial presidency under Nixon. What Nixon did I didn't like was he picked up what Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy had done in terms of the imperial-- what I consider the imperialization of the presidency and continued and expanded it. I thought that the Republican Party of Goldwater that believed in it and believed, if I may say, in terms of our foreign policy of-- to use a discredited phrase, not America first in terms of 1939 but America in terms of its national interests and the fact that we would not be policemen for the world. And we this-- the neocons and the religious right have taken the party from that phrase.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you feel so threatened by what you call the holy rollers and the neocons?

VICTOR GOLD: I am a non-conformist. I have always been a non-conformist. When I was with Goldwater, I was a non-conformist. And maybe some people might not have thought that, but we always-- we thought the conformists were on the other side. The fact is that what the religious right demands is conformity. They would like to establish, or I may say, they-- a theocracy, purely and simply, a theocracy. That bothers me because this is the old fight that we've had that goes back centuries between religion, church, and state. And up till now we've had a separation of that and I think our founding fathers have had a separation of that. But these people want to merge it. The paradox is that the neocons, they are not religious.

VICTOR GOLD: Oh, but they have a mission. A benevolent hegemony. They think we have a moral mission in the world. The United States is the leading nation in the world, it's the superpower in the world, has a moral mission. The French have the mission to civilize. We have the mission to democratize. And if we don't, we-- our mission in Iraq or in Iran is to bring freedom to these people. So you're-- you're right to. And by the way, you check a lot of these neocons, they're also theocons. You check the Weekly Standard in terms of its position on the theo-- on the theocon of the religious right issue.

BILL MOYERS: Well, they've used each other, right?

VICTOR GOLD: They've used each other but they take the same position. But the fact is these people establish a benevolent hegem-- a benevolent hegemony is the word that's used in terms of how we're going to assert, we're going to democratize. We're going to teach these people the ways all over the world the way it should be.

BILL MOYERS: I still have in my files the article that Barry Goldwater wrote in 1994 where he said: "The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process. The radical right," said Barry Goldwater, "has nearly ruined our party." That was 1994, 13 years ago. What's your explanation for how this happened?

VICTOR GOLD: The interesting thing was if you go back to the Goldwater campaign and see its speeches, the word "spiritual," the spiritual side of man is very much in every speech. At that time there was argument against a material, the idea of which he accused President Johnson and the Johnson administration being materialistic. The spiritual-- he spoke of the whole man. So he used the word "spiritual" and he used the word "God." But what happened was when it came to the line of injecting a religious belief of putting-- what we're talking about, it's-- keeping government out of the boardroom every Republican conservative understands. What they don't seem to understand is keeping politics-- keeping government out of the bedroom and private lives. Goldwater understood that. If you had told me and if you had told Barry Goldwater that we would one day have an office in the White House called the Office of Faith-based Initiative, what kind of Orwellian language is that? Faith-based initiative? That's the Office of Religion. The Office of Religious Outreach. What-- how do you put that in the White House? It's not simply a separation of church and state. I'm talking about a separation of church and politics.

BILL MOYERS: The Terry Schiavo case seems to have been a turning point in all of this. Don't you-- that seems to be a moment at which people like you really began to be aroused that-- that the religious right would bring that issue so powerfully into the White House.

VICTOR GOLD: Well, think of what it was aside from the emotional aside. Think of what it meant constitutionally and in terms of conservative principles. One of the things-- and the hypocrisy of the Tom Delays and the people who brought that-- the cry has always been activist judges. We don't want these activist judges interfering. All right. What they wanted to do and also the principle of federal government over state. Here you had state courts that ruled on the thing. Congress under the quote, Republicans, unquote, passes a law which takes a case out of state jurisdiction and turns it over to the federal court. The president, who didn't have time to fly-- to come to New Orleans at the time of Katrina right quickly, flew back from Crawford, Texas, to sign this bill. They sign a bill which assign-- takes the case out of state hands and puts it into federal hands. Now, they turn it over to a federal court that says, "We don't want this case. We don't want this case." And the pitiful thing was they take this personal family tragedy and elevate it a national case.

BILL MOYERS: I'm intrigued by the fact that as Goldwater began to unfold his views over the years and I had left politics and he was saying things like he was supporting the rights of gay men and women. He was voting consistently for Roe versus Wade. He was talking about the separation of church and state, which he respected. He was concerned, as many of us were, about the religious right. I began to say, "Who's the conservative here and who's the liberal?" So my question is, "What happened to those Goldwater Republicans?" Did they leave him?

VICTOR GOLD: No, they didn't leave him. They now feel we can't win an election unless we have the theoconservatives, the religious right with us. We can't win an election unless we have-- these are our ground troops. These are our storm-- but when you take them in, when you take them in, it changes the character of the party. You win but do you win-- do you win on any principle that you stood for?

BILL MOYERS: Well, they won twice, 2000, 2004.

VICTOR GOLD: They won. You said, "They won." That's I think a lot of conservatives like me have discovered. I voted for George Bush in the year 2000. And a lot-- in 2006 you found out a lot of defection. Like, I opened the book by saying I was actually rooting, and I wasn't the only one, there were a lot of people like me, conservative Republicans like me, wanted to lose and who want-- feel we have to go back--it's best to lose and go back and reform-- reform what we believe in.

BILL MOYERS: Back in 2001, you wrote the profile of the new vice-president for the official inauguration program. You wrote, quote, speaking of Cheney, "a man of gravitas with a quick and easy wit, a conservative who will see a road less traveled, a political realist who sees his country and the world around him not in terms of leaden problems but golden opportunities."

VICTOR GOLD: That's the person I knew. I mean, I wasn't writing bull. I mean, that wasn't just putting on .

BILL MOYERS: So what do you think happened?

VICTOR GOLD: That is one of the great mysteries. I quote Madam Destaile in the thing. Men do not change; they unmask themselves. As you know, power can change people. I mean, you know, this-- when I was in the Army I remember when I got my sergeant stripes they say, "Now we're going to find out what kind of person you are." Are you going to be a, you know, lord it over people or whether you're going to change. Man becomes vice-president of the United States. Maybe all this-- it's been a very good masquerade he's been putting on because this is not the Dick Cheney any of us knew. If you recall, when George was elected everybody said, "Well, George may be inexperienced but we have good-- we have a good stable person in Dick Cheney." And now what we have-- he's bombs away. I mean, that-- I-- I don't under-- we don't understand it in terms of everything, the intransient position that Dick Cheney takes on every issue, you find that reflected in the White House.

BILL MOYERS: You're very angry in here about the war.

VICTOR GOLD: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

VICTOR GOLD: Because I can say it, even though the people in politics can't use the word. I feel for those kids, and they are kids, over there. They are getting killed every day, and their life-- this is a-- their lives are being wasted. Now, when politicians use-- they say, "Oh, no." I didn't-- they're heroes. But their lives are wasted. This is a to-- and they're going to keep getting killed as long-- and while they get killed, we have a white tie dinners at the White House. This is not the president says this is a total war. Where is the sacrifice? I know what a total war is like. You know what a total war is like. I feel for the families of the kids who are over there and the people who are getting killed in a war and the-- every day that passes, every day that passes there are more of them going to be killed toward no end.

BILL MOYERS: Well, this haunts me, of course, from the Johnson years, the war in Vietnam, the year we escalated the war so intensely in 1965. I remember dinners at the Smithsonian, dances at the Smithsonian. You know, there was a disconnect. And I remember a piece you wrote some years ago about how presidents get isolated. And you said they have to burst the bubble of celebrity and sycophancy. Remember that?

VICTOR GOLD: Oh, yes.

BILL MOYERS: How do they-- George W. Bush has disappeared into the presidency, hasn't he?

VICTOR GOLD: He's acting a role. "I'm president of the United States." I'm-- do they really-- has their feet touched the ground? This is the thing that I wonder. We have people-- when I say "have their feet touched the ground," do they really-- is this really a real life thing to them? Clinton-- one of the things I fault this president for is the same thing as Clinton. How much time did he spend in the White House? My God, I remember when presidents spent time in the White-- all you have to do is drop a manifest on-- an Air Force One manifest and they're off and flying to, as President Bush said recently when he went out to Kansas to hug people, he said-- it's his job as president to comfort people. That was not-- and by the way, I don't-- that was not Lyndon Johnson's-- I was no great admirer of Johnson. But he understood there were greater responsibilities. But I felt that's what I held against Clinton, too. This idea of what gets into them? It becomes a celebrity thing to them. And they get taken away from-- carried away by it.

BILL MOYERS: You're also angry in here about the Justice Department under Gonzalez and boys, why?

VICTOR GOLD: I think it's a corrupted justice department. When I say "corrupted," I don't mean dollars and cents. I mean corrupted in terms of the values of our con-- our constitutional values. And I think you've heard some of the prosecuting attorneys who were fired speak out and the-- some of the investigation-- the investigations bringing out exactly what's going on up there. And when you corrupt the justice system, the Justice Department, that's the most important department of government in terms of protecting our constitutional values. One of the reasons I wanted the Democrats to win was because I knew the yo-yo Republicans on the Hill were not going to investigate even those they-- we-- we claim we are the constitutionalists. We are the ones concerned about the Constitution. We want strict constructionist judges. We don't want to over-- over-- overreaching-- overreaching federal government. The fact is the-- I knew there would be investigations. And I-- I-- I want these investigations to go on 'cause they weren't going on when the Republicans were in control of Congress.

BILL MOYERS: Didn't I hear you say you wanted the Democrats to win last November?

VICTOR GOLD: I'd say open up the book. I say open up the book. I wasn't the only one. We-- we-- when-- when I-- I thought it was marvelous in 2006 because I figured if these people have gone this far under the 2004 mandates, the things with the war and everything going on the way it is, if this White House wins, can you-- my god, we'll be at war with Iran in two weeks.

BILL MOYERS: Today what we have are two parties that are really captive of big wealthy interest, don't we?

VICTOR GOLD: You're talking about the wealth-- you're talking about the people who put up the money for their campaign. Absolutely. But they're captive because their only interest is, "How do we get reelected?" And that's where you see what-- what do they want to do when they get reelected? Well, they want to make money. Now, you don't make money inside Congress anymore, as I point out in the book. We've got K Street . They-

BILL MOYERS: They become lobbyists.

VICTOR GOLD: The U.S.-- we have an attorney general for the first time in my lifetime, I've known of-- of attorney generals becoming lawyers, we've got an Attorney General Ashcroft goes establish-- he establishes his own lobbying firm.

BILL MOYERS: Do you sometimes feel like a dinosaur standing in a lake that's drying up around your ankles?

VICTOR GOLD: Well, I'll put it to you this way. I more and more read histories of the 1940s and '50s and listen to Frank Sinatra music and Bobby Darren-- try to-

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, so, what do we do? I mean, we don't want to just be old curmudgeons here at the end, do we?

VICTOR GOLD: I don't want to be an old curmudgeon. But, I'll wait-- look, I'm waiting for-- put it this way. You remember the old play-- oh, that play Waiting for Lefty. Well, I'm waiting for righty. And for a rebirth of Goldwater. I don't see him around.

BILL MOYERS: The book is Invasion of the Partysnatchers: How the Holy Rollers and the Neocons Destroyed the GOP. Vic Gold It's been a pleasure to be with you.

VICTOR GOLD: Thank you for having me on the show.

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