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Transcript:

October 17, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

We'll be hearing in this hour some voices that have been missing in the larger conversation of the campaign. As you listen, keep in mind, as if anyone could forget, America's economic nosedive. Here's how Jon Stewart describes our predicament.

JON STEWART: This is a rudderless ship. The pilot just ejected and we're all still on the plane. It's "Lord of the Flies" down here. You know what, somebody give me the conch. Where's the… alright, listen up everybody. I've got the conch. Listen up.

BILL MOYERS: The one opportunity all of us have to put our collective hand on the rudder of the ship of state comes two weeks from Tuesday, Election Day.

Latino Americans are considered by many experts to be a decisive swing vote. Once solidly Democratic, they switched to Ronald Reagan in the early 80s, his proclamation of "Morning in America" appealed to hard working, family oriented, Latino voters. The dawn of that alliance is captured in a documentary produced by Phillip Rodriguez which just aired the other day on PBS. It's called "Latinos 08."

LIONEL SOSA: Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate to hire the staff that was needed, and to put the money forward that was needed in order to court the Latino vote. When I met him, I said Governor, we have been hired to help you get the Hispanic vote - and he'd just smiled and say, well that's going to be, easy. And I said, why? Because… Hispanics are Republicans, they just don't know it.

BILL MOYERS: This year, according to a Pew study, which we posted on our Web site at pbs.org, Latinos are moving back to the Democrats. But it's not a sure thing in the swing states, so Obama and McCain are still trying to close the deal.

Joining me to talk about this year's campaign are two people who have followed, or participated, in politics for a while now. Both are also influential voices in the Latino community.

Roberto Lovato once directed the largest immigration rights organization in the country, known as Carecen. He's now an editor at "New America Media." That's an association of more than 700 ethnic media groups. He's also a frequent contributor to THE NATION magazine.

Also with me is Linda Chavez who chairs the Center for Equal Opportunity, a non-profit public policy research organization. She served on Ronald Reagan's White House team and as staff director of the U.S. commission on civil rights. She writes a column and contributes to Fox News. Her books include OUT OF THE BARRIO: TOWARD A NEW POLITICS OF HISPANIC ASSIMILATION and most recently, AN UNLIKELY CONSERVATIVE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF AN EX-LIBERAL.

Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Let's look at the last two weeks of this campaign. What do you think is the central dynamic that will be driving it?

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I think it's going to be outside events, and it's obviously going to be the economy. The kind of wild swings that we've experienced over the last few weeks on Wall Street have had a dramatic impact. Obviously, the meltdown in the financial sector has been a great detriment to the McCain campaign.

Three weeks ago, John McCain, if the election had been held then, probably would have won the election. I don't think we're really going to know what's going to happen in the next two, two weeks or so. But I think it's all going to be driven by things outside the actual campaigns themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see a possible game changer, something that could come in and really alter the landscape as we get close to the vote?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think in this day and age, where the unexpected become normal anything's possible. But, that aside it comes down to strategy, resources, financial, technological, human resources. And at that level, I think the Obama campaign has pretty much defined the strategic game, especially since they defeated the Clintons. And the way they defeated the Clintons is now defeating the Bush, I mean, I'm sorry the McCain campaign.

And for all that he knows about war and everything, and strategy comes from war, John McCain hasn't shown himself to be much of a strategist. And I think that's ultimately what's going to defeat him.

BILL MOYERS: I was intrigued by the column you wrote earlier this week or last week, in which, you know, with the economy tanking and the government coming in with lots of taxpayer funds to bail out the banking system, and more and more commentators joking that they never dreamed a Republican administration would usher in socialism. You wrote a column saying, "let us celebrate the true and definite death of the Reagan revolution." What is it you're celebrating?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think I'm celebrating and doing a call to really, really be clear that we need to move away from market fundamentalism. I mean, Joseph Stiglitz said that.

BILL MOYERS: The economist?

ROBERTO LOVATO: The economist, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, said that the fall of Wall Street is to market fundamentalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism. And if there was a statue to be dropped, it would be the statue of Ronald Reagan.

BILL MOYERS: You're sitting by someone who was a charter member of the Reagan administration. Is it over?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think actually, politically, I mean, I think the great failure of the Republican Party right now is that there is no successor to Ronald Reagan, and we have not seen Republicans acting like Reaganites. Boy, they certainly didn't act like it when they were in control of Congress. They became big spenders and big pork barrel advocates. And I think that's one of the reasons they lost control of Congress.

And I think the Bush administration has not acted in the Reaganite trend. John McCain has some aspects that remind me of Ronald Reagan, but he certainly is not ideological in the same way that Ronald Reagan was. And I see differently from Roberto. I think this is a problem. I am concerned about this intervention into the market. And only time will tell. Well, probably I, at least, will be probably too old to be able to come back and talk about this when we get away from it far enough to be able to really analyze it.

But frankly, I think this intervention into the market, instead of allowing the market to work as it is intended to work I mean, the great advantage of capitalism is the creative destruction of capitalism. There are winners, but there are also losers. And that kind of market discipline is what makes the market work. We have intervened now. And only time will tell whether or not that intervention was a good or a very bad idea.

BILL MOYERS: I was very skeptical about the bailout. Everyone kept saying, of course, that you have to intervene to save the system. Because if the system goes down, there's no hope for anything. But who's not benefiting from the bailout?

ROBERTO LOVATO: If you look at the way that the politicians and the treasury, people in the treasury, and some of the, even the media are talking about it, they're talking about Main Street. And that seems to me to be code for middle class and up.

We're not talking about the poor, the people that live on Cesar Chavez Boulevard or Martin Luther King Way, as Nancy Pelosi quoted me in her recent speech on the bailout that was so controversial. And we're not talking about issues that affect poor people that are renters, people that are holding two jobs, people that are having kids and wondering what's going to happen to their kids' schools, to their kids' future.

BILL MOYERS: Linda, does the market, as you were talking about a moment ago, serve those people that Roberto's talking about?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think it serves them far better than the kind of government programs that in the past have been aimed at helping them. I do think that a rising tide lifts all boats. And in fact, certainly, that's one of the things that the Clintons talked about, in fact. The expansion of jobs, the expansion of the economy in the 1990s. It also happened in the 1980s. We saw that kind of expansion. And I think that did help move poor people.

My concern, particularly with what a President Obama would do, is to try to get government involved in trying to lift these boats, in trying to, you know, reach the people, Roberto, that you're talking about. He has lots of programs in his tax policy that would be refundable tax credits, that would really be Uncle Sam writing a check to people who don't pay any taxes. These are not tax cuts, because it's being given money being given to people who don't pay taxes.

BILL MOYERS: The earned income tax credit?

LINDA CHAVEZ: The earned income tax, the expansion of that. All of that, I think if it dampens the free market, if it dampens the ability of those with money to invest in creating jobs will, I think, in the ultimately not work to the benefit of the poor and will, in fact, make the economy what we had in the 1970s, which was high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I can't really say that my interpretation of history is the same. This started in the 1970s, with Carter, in fact. And that Carter, Reagan, Clinton there's been a consistent line to, that brought us to the present. You can't just lay this on George Bush or Ronald Reagan. Because if you look at say, Robert Rubin, who's one of Obama's advisors right now, he's putting up the same free marketeering fundamentalism that the Reagan people put out.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote a couple of weeks ago that you have some real, you're really skeptical about Obama on key progressive issues. What worries you about him?

ROBERTO LOVATO: What worries me about him, first and foremost, is the move to Afghanistan as a replacement for Iraq. I think that was a way to communicate to big military-industrial interests that make trillions of dollars. That, hey, your interests are going be okay. I think he's not talking about the true depths of the economic problems of the country, and what the effects are. Like that telling silence when they're both asked, "What are you going to cut?"

They don't really want to tell us, because they know how devastating it's going to be. They know what was on those balance sheets before we did. We still don't know. And if they're not talking about the prison gulag that we have developing in the United States, and they're surely not talking about the immigration part of that gulag, which is of great concern to a lot of Latinos.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think no one has really looked at the impact of the crackdown on the illegal immigration and what role it has played, both in the housing bust, and in the turn in the economy.

You know, immigrants are, in many respects, including illegal aliens, they're like the canaries in the mine shaft. They tell us, they give us early warning signals that there are problems. You know, most people in this country, I think, would believe that illegal immigration right now is at an all time high.

In fact, it's not. It's about half what it was at the peak period, which was in 1995 to 2000. So, you know, I actually believe that what you're seeing in terms of the illegal immigration issue, a lot of the people who were here, working hard, very productive folks, were trying to get a foothold, trying to get a slice of the American dream. And many of them actually did try to buy houses, and some of them did succeed in buying houses. When you had this crackdown, that's sort of they were many of the people in these sub-prime loans. That was the beginning.

BILL MOYERS: But you're thinking about why immigration never came up in any of the debates. There was one small reference to it this week. But before that, neither McCain nor Obama were discussing immigration in the debates. Why do you think that's so?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, I think this is an area where Linda and I have some agreement. I wouldn't call people illegal aliens, because I think that term's loaded and very ideological. And problematic and dehumanizing to boot. But I think there's a, there's an unstated consensus between the two candidates not to talk about an issue that they don't see any political benefit in.

And, in fact, they have very similar positions that, prior to the latter part of the campaign, they both had similar positions. They both supported some form of the McCain-Kennedy bill, which, for a lot of people, is a good bill. But for some of us, it's not. Because I've read that law. And the McCain-Kennedy bill had, it was 800 pages, 700 pages of which were primarily about putting more children in jail, more families in jail, more stuff that's going to facilitate more raids, stuff that's going to kill more people in the desert.

LINDA CHAVEZ: We could end illegal immigration, basically, tomorrow, if we enacted policies, immigration policies that were market-based, Roberto, that did take a look at our need for labor in this country, that allowed enough people to come in to fill jobs that Americans will not take, or even if they take them, will not stay in.

I mean, we've seen all these raids in some of the meat processing plants. When those companies have gone out and actually hired the American-born, what they find is, yes, they show up for work the first day. Many don't the second day, and by the end of the week, they're gone.

And so, these are jobs that we need doing in this society. Not all jobs can, in fact, be shipped overseas. And other people who want to do them. And we ought to have a policy that is attuned to what's going on in the economy. When you have high unemployment, you're not going to bring in a lot of new people. But when you have low unemployment, you should.

BILL MOYERS: This puts you at odds with the conservative base of the Republican Party. And, of course, this has been a dilemma for John McCain, who was for the kind of reform policy you're talking about until he got the nomination. And then, rather than alienate that base, he's been quiet about it. How's this going to cut in the election?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think the whole debate on illegal immigration was largely manufactured. I mean, I wrote columns about this. I think talk radio had a lot to do with it, cable news had a lot to do with it. Lou Dobbs inveighing every night against illegal aliens had a lot to do with it.

So I think that if you look at public opinion polls in 2002, not that long ago. We're not talking about ancient history. Immigration didn't even rate as one of the top issues among Americans. So I think it was largely manufactured. Illegal immigration is down. I think it will largely disappear.

The biggest challenge is going to be, I don't think you're going to see a push for increasing the number of people brought in legally if you've got high unemployment. So I think we're going to probably see that forestalled.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I would agree. I think that it is manufactured. But I think it's manufactured in a way to disguise the real problems in our life right now, which is the death of sovereignty. Right? Who is the real sovereign? It used to be the king. Then it was the citizen. Now it's the corporate citizen. And so, who better to blame for the end of our sovereignty than a border crossing, illegal alien?

LINDA CHAVEZ: You know, the right wing gets rightfully blamed for a lot of the nasty rhetoric. But the whole population control movement is at the heart of the immigration control movement in this country. Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, The Center for Immigration Studies, all of these groups grew out of anti-population groups, zero population groups, negative population growth, all of these groups. So there is a segment on the left that is also deeply anti-immigrant.

ROBERTO LOVATO: The irrationality that Linda's talking about, I think is rooted in the irrationality of the market, the irrationality of the political moment right now. Irrationality has taken hold of our lives.

If you look at the market, the people that are running our economy don't know what they're doing. It's obvious. They let one company die, like Lehman Brothers. And they let another survive, like AIG. What is the logic behind it? There is none. There's no logic. And it's naked to all of us. And so, why not embrace the fact that this stuff that's failed. And let's start with a new rationale, a new kind of citizenship that's more global.

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I do think part of the problem is, you know, you kept hearing during the AIG issue that it was too big to fail. Well, you know, while I am generally not against regulation, I do think that, you know, our anti-trust laws have been part of the success of capitalism. You don't want to have too much concentration. One of the things I worry about when I look at the financial sector now is that we're having more and more concentration. These banks are going to be too big to fail.

BILL MOYERS: Two big banks, two big auto…

LINDA CHAVEZ: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Maybe one auto company, right?

LINDA CHAVEZ: Right.

BILL MOYERS: But speaking of irrationality, how do you think race is playing out in this campaign? You wrote a column a couple of weeks ago in which you said that Obama has tried to have it both ways on the race issue, and that race has actually been more of a plus factor for him than a negative one.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think it is a plus factor for, I think there are a whole lot of Americans, myself included, by the way, apart from my political differences with him, that would love to see a black president. I think it will, you know, I think help move us away from the stain of slavery and the stain of Jim Crow. I think many Americans really want to get to that point. And so, I think that it isn't just that he's getting over 95, 96, 97 percent of blacks supporting him. I think there is a large segment of white America who also finds it very appealing that a black man is running, and that he has a good chance of becoming president.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think that race is, we're going through a structural adjustment of our economy, but we're also going through a structural adjustment of our ideas about race. We're not in a post-racial society by any means. I think the idea of a post-racial society is dangerous. I think we're in flux, like a chrysalis, in the sense that the black-white paradigm, the black-white dichotomy that defined freedom, that defined democracy in the United States, is over. Clearly, I think Latinos, 45 million of us, are the embodiment of that, if you will. And I think whites in some parts of the United States, especially in the southwest, are having to adjust to the fact that they're minorities.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I disagree with you, Roberto, on what's happened in terms of race. I do think we are in a post-racial era. I think that Barack Obama, who is a biracial man, is more indicative of the future. One of the things about Hispanics is we come in all shades and varieties and colors and races. And in fact, the intermarriage rate is so high, both among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, and among Asians and non-Hispanic whites. And so, you've got a kind of truly melting, I mean, I look at my family. I've got everything from, you know, a little redheaded, green eyed grandson, to some very traditionally looking Latino grandchildren. I mean, this is the way America's going. We are intermarrying, working together, living together. And I think that is our future. And I see that as positive.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I look to a positive future, and I have a mixed family, as well. But, and I look at the marriage rates. But I also have to look at imprisonment rates in the United States, something Barack Obama will not talk about. In black America, in Latino America, and in poor white America, there are increasing levels of imprisonment. We're the greatest prison nation on earth now. This happened from the late '70s to the present.

And so, when we talk about a post-racial society, I'll believe it when we have very, a lot fewer people in prison, when the definition of poverty does not have a racial component that's anchoring it.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken with what you said about the great complexity of the Hispanic population of this country. But if you can generalize, what's at stake in this election for what is now called America's majority minority? What's at stake for Hispanics?

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I think there are a lot of things at stake. I think immigration is one of the issues, although I think that Roberto and I would agree that there isn't a huge difference between the McCain and Obama's support. I think the economy is far more important. And yes, you're absolutely right, that most Hispanics are registered Democrats and will vote for the Democratic nominee.

But in fact, there is a very patriotic, pro-national defense, conservative on social values segment within the Hispanic community that I think does find voice in the Republican Party. I think that the Republicans have really done themselves great damage by alienating the Hispanic vote. Without that vote, they will not be a majority party in the future.

ROBERTO LOVATO: The Latino party for the GOP is over for perhaps a decade or more. And I think, going back to your question about what's at stake for Latinos, I think you're going to see Latinos increasingly rise up to the call of history in the United States. Latinos will have a fundamental and definitive role in shaping what becomes the United States. And I think we're going to give birth to a more global citizenship.

BILL MOYERS: Linda Chavez and Roberto Lovato, thank you for joining me on the Journal. And we'll see what happens two weeks from now.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Thank you.

LINDA CHAVEZ: Thank you.

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