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Transcript:

October 30, 2009


BILL MOYERS:
Welcome to the JOURNAL. Americans are mad at bankers. Just Google the three words "I hate banks," and see what comes up. But nowhere has the anger been more palpable than outside the annual convention of the American Bankers Association in Chicago this week.

PROTESTERS: We're fired up, can't take no more! We're fired up, can't take no more!

BILL MOYERS:
These demonstrators wanted to know why regular folks are facing foreclosures, rising credit card and checking fees, while bankers are laughing all the way-- well, all the way to the bank.

PROTESTERS: We're fired up, can't take no more! We're fired up, can't take no more!

BILL MOYERS:
They protested Wall Street's outrageous bonuses, subsidized with trillions -- and I do mean trillions -- of taxpayer dollars, after their reckless gambling with other people's money brought down the economy a year ago.

There's some historical irony in the timing of this meeting and the protests. 80 years ago this week, on October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, bringing the Roaring Twenties to a screeching halt. The Roaring Twenties -- that era of flappers, bathtub gin, and dancing 'til dawn, of reckless speculation and living it up while raking in money from the stock market and buying on credit as if there were no tomorrow.

The ultimate judgment came from Al Capone, the city's celebrated gangster. The market's "a racket," he said. "Those stock market guys are crooked."

Black Tuesday, as the crash was called, saw already-shaky shares plunge twenty-five percent in just two days. Fortunes were wiped out in minutes and small investors saw dreams of prosperity, even security, disappear. As the weeks and months went by, the nation slipped deeper and deeper into the abyss of the Great Depression.

All these years later we're still arguing over what brought on the hard times. If you want to join the argument, you need to start with this classic: THE GREAT CRASH, 1929 by the noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith. First published in 1955, it has never been out of print, in part because its analysis is so prescient and, excuse the expression, on the money.

A new edition is out, as timely as today's headlines. And it comes with a new introduction by another noteworthy economist, James K. Galbraith. That's right, the son of John Kenneth.

James K. Galbraith, onetime executive director of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, teaches economics at the University of Texas, where he holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He also directs the university's Inequality Project, which analyzes wages and industrial change around the world. His own seven books include this one, THE PREDATOR STATE: HOW CONSERVATIVES ABANDONED THE FREE MARKET AND WHY LIBERALS SHOULD TOO.

James Galbraith, welcome back to the Journal.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS:
How does this last year compare with what happened after the Great Crash in '29?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
It's similar in important respects and different in others. If you look at the trends in world trade and manufacturing, they're very similar. There's been a massive collapse, a collapse which is comparable in scale to 1930. The overall economy hasn't come down nearly as much, and the reason for that is that we have the institutions that were created in the New Deal and the Great Society, institutions of the welfare state, social security. And, of course, there has been the influence of John Maynard Keynes, which gave us the very quick reaction in the form of the expansion bill of the stimulus package. And that also has kept the damage from being as large as it was in 1930 to '32.

So what we're seeing today is distress of a different kind. And I think it's playing out on a longer timeframe. The great wealth that the American middle class built up, over 70 years, largely in their homes, has been terrifically impaired. In many cases, wiped out.

People are upside down in their mortgages. Their mortgages are worth more than the houses that they live in. And that doesn't mean that they're going to default or millions will be foreclosed, but many millions more simply can't sell, can't move, can't change their circumstances, don't have a cushion. And that is a factor that will bring stress into their lives over time.

BILL MOYERS:
A long time, right? And this is--

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Over a long time, yes.

BILL MOYERS:
--not something from which people recover. I mean, my father was about 24, 25, maybe at the time of the Great Crash of 1929 and he never recovered from it for the rest of his life. He never got over that experience. Is that likely to be the case with all these people suffering out across the country now?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
The same was true of my grandfather on my mother's side, who was a lawyer whose practice depended upon the prosperity of the 1920s. My mother who lived until last year, never really overcame the attitudes that were inculcated in her in the Great Depression. It will have a -- if something is not done to provide particularly young people, who are looking for work and cannot find it, with an opportunity to move on in life at this stage, it will mark them for the rest of their lives. I think there's no doubt about that.

BILL MOYERS:
The NEW YORK TIMES had a story just the other day about community colleges being so crowded right now that they're holding classes up until two o'clock in the morning. What do you make of that? What does that say to us?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
It says that first of all, people cannot find jobs. And secondly, they are looking to the educational system to provide them with something to do, and some way out of this dilemma. But until jobs are created, and in great numbers, there will not be places for those people to come out of the community college system and find useful work. That's the problem.

We have a stimulus package, which is helping now, but it will be over with at the end of next year. Will there be a basis for another strong, privately financed expansion at that point? I don't see the evidence for that now. And that seems to me to be something we should be worrying about.

BILL MOYERS:
So what should we do?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
We need to find another path for economic expansion. We need to set a strategic direction.

Our problem now, our big social and environmental problem, is energy. It's climate change. It's the greenhouse gas emission issue. If we built a set of institutions that could deal with that problem effectively, you could employ a large part of the labor force for a generation, dealing with that. And you'd then make that profitable for private enterprise to get into in a serious way.

BILL MOYERS:
The candidate Obama talked a lot about this, green energy, in the campaign. And he's talked a lot about it since he became president. Do you see signs that those aspirations are being implemented, in institutional ways?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
They made a start, and certainly in the stimulus package, there were important initiatives. But the stimulus package is framed as a stimulus, as something which is temporary, which will go away after a couple of years. And that is not the way to proceed here. The overwhelming emphasis, in the administration's program, I think, has been to return things to a condition of normalcy, to use a 1920s word, that prevailed five and ten years ago. That is to say, we're back to a world in which Wall Street and the major banks are leading, and setting the path--

BILL MOYERS:
To restore what was.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
To restore what was--

BILL MOYERS:
Instead of reform what is.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
And I don't think what was can be restored.

BILL MOYERS:
And you say that's the objective of the administration's policies? Geithner, Bernanke, Summers, the President himself?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
To the extent that there's a defined objective, that's it, yes. I think in the immediate day-to-day work, they've largely been preoccupied with keeping the existing system from collapsing. And the government is powerful. It has substantially succeeded at that, but you really have to think about, do you want to have a financial sector dominated by a small number of very large institutions, very difficult to manage, practically impossible to regulate, and ruled by, essentially, the same people and the same culture that caused the crisis in the first place.

BILL MOYERS:
Well, that's what we're getting, because after all of the mergers, shakedowns, losses of the last year, you have five monster financial institutions really driving the system, right?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
And they're highly profitable, and they are already paying, in some cases, extraordinary bonuses. And you have an enormous problem, as the public sees very clearly that a very small number of people really have been kept afloat by public action. And yet there is no visible benefit to people who are looking for jobs or people who are looking to try and save their houses or to somehow get out of a catastrophic personal debt situation that they're in.

BILL MOYERS:
But when President Obama came into office, people said, "This is a Rooseveltian moment. This is a moment to seize a crisis and do what FDR did." How do you-- how do you trace the comparison in the last 40 weeks, of Obama with Roosevelt?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Well, the public is way ahead of the political system. The public certainly wanted a Rooseveltian moment. The Congress, the Washington press corps, wanted a return to their familiar patterns of activity. And I'm not saying-- the Congress did, in fact, respond quickly on the stimulus package, but in general, they're always more comfortable dealing with the issues they know, than framing ideas, with respect to new challenges. And so, Obama's objective situation is much more like Herbert Hoover's than it is like Roosevelt's.

BILL MOYERS:
What do you mean?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
In the sense that Roosevelt was-- when Roosevelt came in, in March, 1933, and there were machine guns nests on the rooftops of Washington for the inaugural parade, everybody knew, the banks were closed, everybody knew that you needed immediate action. Roosevelt's cabinet was sworn in on the first day. He had initiatives ready to go. This was not the situation that faced President Obama, by any stretch.

BILL MOYERS:
Suppose that your father were around today, and '08 had happened, the Great Collapse. Do you think he might have said, "Aha. Told you so?"

JAMES GALBRAITH:
He did say, "I told you so," in this book, in--

BILL MOYERS:
THE GREAT CRASH?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
--in THE GREAT CRASH. He talked about the conditions under which it would recur, and he said, "No one can doubt that the American people remain susceptible to the speculative mood, to the conviction that enterprise can be attended by unlimited rewards in which they, individually, were meant to share. A rising market can still bring the reality of riches. The government preventatives and controls are ready. In the hands of a determined government, their efficacy cannot be doubted. There are, however, a hundred reasons why a government will determine not to use them."

And that's the point about the crisis, is that it could have been prevented. The people in authority two, three, five years ago, knew how to prevent it. They chose not to act, because they were getting a political and an economic benefit out of the speculative explosion that was occurring.

BILL MOYERS:
You mean, the people who could have prevented the dam from breaking were too busy fishing above it, and reaping big rewards to want to fix the crack in it?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Sure. The Federal Reserve, in particular, knew that the dam was cracking. Alan Greenspan, I think, almost surely knew this, and chose to wait until it had washed away.

BILL MOYERS:
Why?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
They let all of this run, because they were getting a superficially stronger economy out of it. The ownership society, all that was a scam, basically, designed to lure people who could never afford these mortgages into accepting them. And yes, I think they, any rational person, certainly people in the industry, knew that this was not going to last. There was a little industry code, I've learned, IBGYBG. "I'll be gone. You'll be gone."

BILL MOYERS:
Really?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Yeah.

BILL MOYERS:
The industry being the securities industry?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Well, and the mortgage originators and the bankers, generally.

BILL MOYERS:
But that's criminal fraud.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Oh sure. There was a huge amount of it. The Bush administration did not actively investigate the fraud that they knew, that the FBI knew was occurring, from 2004 onward. And there will have to be full-scale investigation and cleaning up of the residue of that, before you can have, I think, a return of confidence in the financial sector. And that's a process which needs to get underway.

BILL MOYERS:
The perplexing question to me is whether or not you can reform a system that is so infiltrated by the money from the people who are benefiting from what's going on, who have a vested interest, and use their money to promote that vested interest to make sure nothing changes.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
I think you can. I think the law is powerful. I think you cannot legalize financial fraud. You cannot fully conceal the tracks of financial fraud. You have to put the resources in to uncover it. You have to prosecute it. You have to give appropriate punishments, but we have a system, in this country, for doing that. It is a question of a decision to use the judicial resources that we have, to clean up the system.

BILL MOYERS:
Timothy Geithner wants to provide a super-regulator to keep those big five firms in line. Will that work?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
No, it will not work. The super-regulator will not be able to control those institutions. And probably will make all of the mistakes that the, if it's the Federal Reserve, that the Federal Reserve made in the run-up to the last crisis.

BILL MOYERS:
Under Greenspan.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Yes, because the priorities of the Fed are always going to be with the larger problem of economic growth, monetary policy. The culture is dominated by its economists. The regulators are down in the hierarchy. So it may have the authority, but as in 1929 it will, in the crunch, choose not to use it.

I think what you have to do is to aim to reduce the market power of these enormous, strategically, systemically dangerous institutions. And the way to do that is by re-imposing some internal barriers, the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banking. And by resolving, auditing and resolving the institutions that are really close to failure. Those institutions, if they're taken out of the picture, that would permit smaller banks who did not get caught up in this dreadful business, to grow into their market roles. And you would have a more competitive and healthier financial system, as a result.

BILL MOYERS:
But as you speak, Congress is watering down the legislation proposed to regulate the ratings agencies that were such a part of the problem.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Well, the fact that there is lobbying going on, from financial institutions that were only yesterday bailed out by the taxpayer, is just egregious. It's an outrage. And I know the administration has said this. And I applaud them for having said it, but the political position of the banks, to me, is just totally unacceptable. The public was obliged to rescue them. It is not their role, now, to be trying to tell Congress what shape and direction of the reform should take. This really should be out of their hands entirely.

BILL MOYERS:
So you can understand that anger on the streets, outside the American Bankers Association's meeting in Chicago this week.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Of course. It's entirely justified.

BILL MOYERS:
Where do you think that anger might go? It could go either direction.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Well, of course. I mean, that's the great danger, is that if there is not a constructive program that people can identify with, there will be a destructive program that they will identify with. And it will come along quite soon. And what form it will take, and it's anybody's guess, but the result will be, very well could be disastrous.

BILL MOYERS:
So we're not out of the woods yet.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
No, not by any means. I think we're in an extremely dangerous period. And which, as I said, everybody can see that a few, very small number of people have come out of this. And they cannot see how this is bringing any benefit to their own lives. It's not saving their houses. It's not providing them with jobs.

BILL MOYERS:
Is our system so vulnerable that this is going to keep happening, '29, the savings and loan scandals in '89, and now the great collapse of '08.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
It's clear that it's vulnerable and that this is a cyclical problem. This is something which comes back after a few decades, because--

BILL MOYERS:
Because we forget?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Because people forget, and because when the system succeeds, then you build up prosperous institutions and they start lobbying. They say, "Everything's fine. Things are going well." And they start lobbying for a relaxation of the rules. So you have-- it's never going to go away. But you want to have these 20, 30, 40-year periods when you have relatively stable growth.

And when you're focused on achieving a certain goal, you can eliminate poverty. You can deal with the environmental questions. You can, in fact, do this if you can sustain a course of policy for, let's say, a 30 or 40-year period. That's--and then you may have strong institutions which can carry you even further. Social Security, for example, is a nice example. It keeps the elderly population of the country largely out of poverty.

If I had one thing I could add to the health care debate, I would lower the age of eligibility of Medicare, say, to 55.

And the reason for that is that it would help workers who are only hanging onto their jobs because they don't want to lose their medical benefits, to move out of the labor force. And there are a fair number of those, and it's a fairly heavy burden on the business sector. So what you want to do, you want to create jobs.

But you've got to recognize. We've lost 7 million jobs. Many of those are older workers, and the jobs that you create, you want to give the first crack at those jobs to people who have started their careers. You want to get them into the work force.

BILL MOYERS:
Young people.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Young people, sure. Let older people, you know, some of them, anyway, a fair number of them, pass to retirement comfortably, a little earlier than they otherwise would. I mean, you've got to think about every possible way to make getting through this crisis tolerable for the population. Recognizing that a year, even two years from now, we are not going to be through it. The official forecasts say we're not going to go back to five percent unemployment till 2014.

BILL MOYERS:
The headline this week. "Recession unofficially ends as economy grows."

JAMES GALBRAITH:
That means we're at the bottom. But from the standpoint of the population, the bottom is going to go on for a long time.

BILL MOYERS:
Didn't you recommend recently that anybody who wants a job should be able to get a job, paid eight dollars an hour or something like that?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
I think it's a very sensible idea. Why not have a large job core involving, among other things, neighborhood conservation efforts, or health home care efforts or--

BILL MOYERS:
Shades of the New Deal, right?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Of course. Of course. But--

BILL MOYERS:
But when you talk like that, you immediately bring chills to the back of the deficit hawks, who say, "Wait a minute. We can't afford to what we're doing now. We're putting it all on our grandchildren's credit card. How can Jamie Galbraith be arguing for more deficit spending now?"

JAMES GALBRAITH:
With all respect to the deficit hawks, they don't understand the situation. And they don't know what they're talking about, in terms of federal finances. The United States is a large and powerful country. And it can, if it chooses, employ its work force in a useful way. But the point I would make about jobs programs is that the alternative is not spending nothing. The alternative is keeping people on the dole, the term Roosevelt hated.

BILL MOYERS:
And Lyndon Johnson hated--

JAMES GALBRAITH:
And Lyndon Johnson, keeping them on the dole, which is costly. But it's also debilitating to those people. And you don't get anything out of it, from the standpoint of the country. The obstacle here is not fiscal, federal finance. The federal government can finance what it wants to finance. It's, as I say, the most powerful financial entity in the world.

The problem here is organizational. It's a matter of will. It's a matter of creating appropriate institutions that are in the public sector, and incentives in the private sector, to get certain jobs done. When you approach it with that frame of mind, we wouldn't be asking about the budget deficit.

We'd be asking about the unemployment rate. We'd be asking about how we're doing in getting down, meeting our energy and our environmental goals.

BILL MOYERS:
So what is the fundamental question, the one question you think all of us should be thinking about right now?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
Where do we want to be in 30 years time? How do we get there? It's not a question of how do we return to full employment prosperity in five years. But how we solve the fundamental problems that we face, in a way which gives us a generation of steady progress.

And living standards that people can accept, that they'll live with, that they'll be happy with, while at the same time, achieving sustainability and reestablishing the American position as a leading and responsible country in the world. So that we are developing the technologies and the practices that other countries will then adopt, something which we have done very effectively for a century, but which we are certainly not doing now.

BILL MOYERS:
I want to show you something that resonates with what you're saying. I've been looking at it for a while now. It's an excerpt from a speech that Franklin Delano Roosevelt made in 1944, in the midst of war, a speech that not many people have seen, but take a look at this excerpt.

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: In our day certain economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. A second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, or race, or creed. Among these are: The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines throughout the nation. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom, freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

The right of every family to a decent home. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment. The right to a good education. All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward in the implementation of these rights to new goals of human happiness and well-being. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

BILL MOYERS:
What do you think about, listening to that?

JAMES GALBRAITH:
It's wonderful. It's splendid. It defined what we should have achieved in the last 50 years and in many ways, what we still need to achieve.

It's a test. It's a test for the country as a whole, as to whether we have the capacity to state and pursue a truly public purpose. We've come through a generation where we have really denied the existence of a common good or a public purpose. And I think we've recognized that that path leads to collapse, the collapse that we've seen. And that the way out is to somehow reestablish for ourselves this vision of what we really could be.

BILL MOYERS:
James K. Galbraith, thank you for being with me again on the Journal.

JAMES GALBRAITH:
My pleasure.

BILL MOYERS:
After our interview, James Galbraith and I talked about how his famous father, as liberal a democrat as I've ever met, became very close friends with the icon of the conservative movement, the late William F. Buckley Jr. They had debated each other on Buckley's influential talk show, "Firing Line" which ran on public television stations for 28 years. As he left, I promised James a copy of this new book, "Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement," by Richard Brookhiser.

When Richard Brookhiser was a teenager in upstate New York, he and his family were fans of Buckley's show, and in 1969, unhappy at the protests, his classmates were mounting against Richard Nixon and the war in Vietnam, the young Brookhiser decided to protest the protest.

He wrote an article and sent it off to the NATIONAL REVIEW. That influential conservative magazine founded and edited by Buckley whom Brookhiser knew only from television. You can imagine his surprise and delight when several months later, the article showed up on NATIONAL REVIEW's cover a day after Brookhiser's 15th birthday.

That precocious beginning launched Richard Brookhiser on a prolific career. First at Buckley's side and then as the author of several acclaimed books on our founding fathers, including George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

He was last here on the JOURNAL discussing the life and legacy of Thomas Paine. Richard Brookhiser, welcome back to the JOURNAL.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Thanks for having me.

BILL MOYERS:
What was the right time and the right place?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, for me, it was 1969 and shortly thereafter. And it was the excitement of discovering the conservative movement. Which my family did through "Firing Line."

BILL MOYERS:
Is that right? Watching?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
That was the first time we were aware of Bill Buckley, was the TV show. Then my father bought one of his books. His third book, "Up From Liberalism." And then we subscribed to the magazine. So that was how we got in the slip stream.

And then I, as you said, I had the good fortune to send him a piece which he decided to publish. So, you know, here was the thrill of being a kid who loved to write and here's this guy, who's a great writer, and he says, "I like your stuff. I'm going to publish it." It was just like getting a charge directly from the master.

BILL MOYERS:
You are not the only one who has said, of that period, that it was a pivotal moment in our political and intellectual history. What made it so?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
A post Depression, postwar liberal consensus was finally coming apart, was beginning to come apart. World War II had been won, obviously, by an exertion of the government. And the Depression seemed to have been ended by the exertions of the government.

And there was a consensus that this was the way that we should address all our future problems. And that we could do it successfully by bringing, you know, the best thoughts, and then the powers of the state to bear upon them. But, in the late 60s, for a lot of reasons, the war in Vietnam, racial troubles that the civil rights bills didn't seem to be able to address. People all across the spectrum began having doubts. And many of them were on the right. And that was really the moment that conservative criticisms of this consensus began to get traction.

BILL MOYERS:
You begin the book with the flat assertion, "William F. Buckley changed the world." How so?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
I think he did because he changed a climate of opinion in America. He made conservative ideas respectable. And the way he did that was by making sure he presented them at the highest level. You know, whether he was doing it himself, or whether his magazine was doing it and he also did it very aggressively. Especially if he felt he was being shown disrespect. And that was something--

BILL MOYERS:
Give me an example of that. What do you mean?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the great historian.

BILL MOYERS:
Liberal.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
And a liberal man all his life. And he and Bill were tussling about something or other. And Schlesinger wrote him a latter. And, in passing, he said, "National Review," or the "National Enquirer," or whatever you call your magazine."

Well, Bill was just not going to let that pass. So, when he wrote back, he said, "Now, Arthur, suppose I began a letter, 'Dear Arthur, or dear Barfer, or whatever you call yourself.'" And that's just to call a Pulitzer Prize winner to order and say, "Look, we can have a debate. But if you want to, like, call names, I'll do that too. I'll do it as well as you."

BILL MOYERS:
I always thought that the man who defined his mission as standing athwart history yelling, "Stop," was something of a utopian. Was he?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Yes.

BILL MOYERS:
Because history can't be stopped. History, that's not nature's to give.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Of course that's right. Now, Bill, you know, Bill had contradictory impulses, as do we all. He also often quoted a line of Whittaker Chambers, whom he admired maybe more than anyone else and Chambers said, "To live is to maneuver." And Bill always, he quoted that line many, many times. And you know certain battles are lost, and they're lost forever. But you don't just then go home and say, "Oh, the heck with it. The heck with the world."

You have to be out there doing the most you can. And then also, surprisingly, sometimes battles you wrote off it turns out you can win them. For instance, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Who would have thought-the "National Review" actually did run a cover with a picture of Lenin and the glass being smashed right at the beginning of that year. But that was, you know, that was a kind of, almost, a whimsical cover of ours. And, yet, then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall falls. So sometimes those old battles do end in victory.

BILL MOYERS:
He couldn't stop history. But, if he could have, he would have stopped the civil rights movement, right? I mean, I still have--

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Early on.

BILL MOYERS:
I still have some of his columns where, he not only defended segregation, 1959, but he defended white supremacy. He said the white community is entitled to prevail politically because, for the time being anyway, the leaders of American civilization are white.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
That's what he thought in the late 50s. He came to see that that was wrong. And he said that he had been wrong. Now, to his credit, he was not saying that for reasons of innate racial superiority, or that blacks were innately racially inferior, which many southerners were saying. That was sort of a cultural argument. I think it was, nonetheless, it was wrong. And it was wrong for him to have made it. But, you know, so that's an early position that he had, and that he abandoned as the 60s went on.

BILL MOYERS:
I was struck, in the late 90s, when Buckley called for decriminalizing marijuana. I mean, he published an edition of his magazine announcing the war on drugs is lost. What led him to that conclusion? Because that was not in line with the conservative philosophy of the day.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, he has been thinking about the drug problem, seriously, since the mid 60s. I mean, as early as 1965, when he ran for mayor of New York. And he had--

BILL MOYERS:
When he was asked what would happen if he won, he said, "I'd demand a recount."

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
He also said he'd put nets outside the windows of "The New York Times" to catch the editors jumping out. But he made some sort of anti-drug proposal during that race. And Milton Friedman sent him a postcard, you know, with sort of a libertarian critique, you know, "Wars on drugs are futile." And so on.

And this was a problem that Bill wrestled with. And he just saw, over the years, he came to see that resources were being wasted on this. It was a combination of the futility of it, and at a certain level, the injustice of it because enforcement has to be so capricious. You know, some people get it in the neck. Other people go blithely along. And so that's why he wrote that issue and printed that issue.

BILL MOYERS:
Just the other day on your blog, you saluted President Obama for deciding not to prosecute violations of federal laws against pot in those states where medical marijuana is permitted. What appealed to you about that?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
I think it was a recognition of the political reality that in 14 states, state laws have been passed to lift the penalties on medical use of marijuana. Now, this is something I had to do myself. I had cancer in 1992. And one thing marijuana can do is relieve the nausea that's often an effect of chemotherapy.

So that's a hobbyhorse of mine. I think it's a very important issue. And voters in 14 states have taken that position. Now, federal law prevails over those state laws. But what President Obama decided was we will not use our resources of law enforcement to prosecute medical users in states where the state laws allow them to do that.

BILL MOYERS:
And you wrote, "Law and order is not served by passing laws that bring the system into contempt. Liberty is not served by inserting the state between patients and their doctors. And morality is not served by withholding help from the sick."

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, one of the things I was struck with, when I was going through chemotherapy is that every doctor and nurse I dealt with had had patients who had used medical marijuana. Everyone of them. And none of them had discouraged this. But, of course, you know, you can't prescribe it. It's illegal. So they said, "Well, you know, smoke it in the bathroom of your room. Don't, like, do it out in the hall." And that just struck me as a crazy situation.

BILL MOYERS:
Buckley was a formidable intellect. A man of ideas. Even when some of us thought his ideas were wrong, we had to respect his grappling with ideas. But none of the celebrity standard bearers who have replaced him, as spokesmen or voices of the conservative movement, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, would last a minute on "Firing Line." What's your take on Sarah Palin's appeal as a conservative voice today?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, look, Cole Porter wrote a song, "You've got that thing, that certain thing, that makes the birdies forget to sing." Well, Sarah Palin has that. You know, you can look at certain politicians and just say, "Oh, okay." You know, that person really has something. That is a quality that she has.

I think a lot of conservatives identify with her life situation, her life story. The mother who's the governor. And, you know, the sort of the frontier aspects of Alaska, when she was on that cover, was it "Newsweek," when she had the shotgun that she was carrying over her shoulder, you know. And people respond to that very powerfully. Now, can she have the stuff to be a viable presidential candidate or a viable president? That is something we just have to see in the grinding of the mills of this process.

BILL MOYERS:
Let me ask you something that you write about in the introduction to your book. Quote, "In the age of Obama, conservatism is in retreat. Though, perhaps, its retreat began back with Bill Clinton, or the Bushs, father and son. But it will be back. And its ups and downs are of interest to conservatives, their enemies, and ordinary Americans." I mean, why should the ups and downs of the conservative movement be of concern of anyone, to anyone who's not in that movement?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
For the same reason that the ups and downs of the liberal movement are interesting to me. I mean, these are forces in our body politic that have an effect on all of our lives. You know, whether we agree with them or oppose them. They're out there. These are the places where the ideas are generated and disseminated. It's very powerful and influential. And so it's worth paying attention to.

BILL MOYERS:
Is Obama the embodiment, as you see it, of the liberalism of our time? If and, if so, what does that say about liberalism?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Obama is a complicated phenomenon because he is a great historical achievement. I mean, I covered his inauguration for the "NewsHour." And that was a moving moment. I did not vote for him. Finally all men are created equal becomes real in a way that it had not been until that moment. So that's one aspect of him. But then there also, well, okay, Mr. President, what do we do today? There's also that. And he's a very liberal politician. But, he's got, you know, at least three and half more years to go. And that's a lot of policy time that has to be filled. And we're going to see how well he does it.

BILL MOYERS:
Buckley believed conservatives had to use the Republican Party as their vehicle because there were no other choices. There's no distinction today, is there? The Republican Party and the conservative movement are one in the same.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, some places there's still a distinction. New York's 23rd Congressional District. To fill-- was it John McHugh's seat? The man who Obama named secretary of the Army. And this is up in the Adirondacks. It's a pretty conservative district. So the local Republican Party picked a woman to be the nominee for that seat. And she's pro abortion, and she's pro gay marriage, and she was for cash for clunkers, and she was for the stimulus package. And then, now, New York State has a conservative party. And they have nominated another person to challenge her. So it's a three person race there.

BILL MOYERS:
Conservative worked hard for President Bush in the 2000 election after the primaries and they worked hard for his reelection in 2004. Then after he made a wreck of things they abandoned him. Abandoned the man who had been their agent. What happened there?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
There were always things about Bush that "National Review" did not like. We never bought compassionate conservatism. It struck us partly as an empty slogan, and to the extent it had any content we didn't like it. 9/11, in our view, changed everything. Certainly changed George Bush's world.

He was not expecting to be a foreign policy president. He just wasn't. And then all of a sudden here we are. And this is the Thirty Years' War in my view. I will not see the end of it. I will not see the end of the forces that were unleashed on 9/11. So that, to me, and many conservatives, became the primary thing. And that's why we continued to back Bush. And, in terms of his making a wreck of it, I would just say, as a historian, if presidential reputations are stocks, buy George W. Bush. If it moves at all, it will go up. And I will predict he will be like Ulysses Grant who's finally being recognized as actually a pretty good president. After 100 years, 150 years of abuse from patrician historians and converted confederates.

BILL MOYERS:
What have you taken away from digging so deeply and writing so broadly about the founding era and the founding fathers?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
These were all politicians. They were just like politicians today. They made deals. They stabbed each other in the back. They did all the black arts of politics. But they were also idealists and great men. And so, into that daily world of politics, they infused something important. And they achieved something that's been going on for over 200 years. And that is still alive and valuable. And that's worth looking at. Just how does that happen?

BILL MOYERS:
Can we really know what the founders would think about our world? And should we care?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well two points. One is that they're not that far away from us. I mean, it's not like Charlemagne, right? Or Alfred the Great. A little over 200 years is not that long when you look at all the countries in the world. The other thing is the founders believed in human nature.

That what the declaration begins by talking about. About the rights that we have as men. That's what Tom Paine wrote about. That's what they all believed. So if they were right then certain, you know, the observations and the discoveries that they made have an ongoing relevance. And, of course, things change. A million things change. But we're still men. We're still men and women. We're still human. And certain qualities that we have, aspirations, needs, flaws, have not changed and never will change. And so how these men navigate all that is an ongoing interest.

BILL MOYERS:
I confess that I admired Bill Buckley, because he believed there was more to life than politics. And I think he must have been proud of the way you lived your life because you've written all of these books. And all of us who have enjoyed your books are indebted to Bill Buckley because he changed his mind about you, right?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Yes, you know, he told me when I was 23, that I would succeed him as editor of the "National Review." And then he told me, when I was 32, "No, you're not going to do that."

BILL MOYERS:
He had picked you as his heir and you came back from lunch one day and there was the letter. What did it say?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, it was a long letter. But the meat of it was, "You don't have executive flare. And it would be wrong for me to inflict you on 'National Review,' and 'National Review' on you." That's in effect what it said.

BILL MOYERS:
So he gave you all that time to research and write those books on the founding fathers. Washington, Hamilton, Adams, now Madison you are working on, right?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, I had to figure that out, though. I mean, when I read that letter I was not thinking of writing founding father books. I mean, this was, like, okay, now I have to do plan B in my life. And, by the way, what is that? I didn't know. And it was a political of figuring that out. One thing I had to do was reestablish my relationship with my, you know, my hero here. Who's dealt me this very odd wild card. I mean, I was furious. I was enraged. I was furious.

BILL MOYERS:
Heartbroken?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Yes. Of course. All of those things.

BILL MOYERS:
What did you do?

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Well, I was mad. I mean, I told my wife. I didn't tell hardly anybody else. But I wrote Bill a letter. I quoted William Blake in it. I said, "I was angry with my friend. I told my wrath, my wrath did end." So I said, "Why you did was contemptible." But then, you know, then I had to figure out what do I do and how do I relate to this man? And that took a while. It took effort on both our parts.

But, you know, the other line of poetry more important than that Blake-- that was just anger. Robert Frost said, "We love the things we love for what they are." And to do that you have to know what they are. You have to really know what they are. And both of us had mistaken notions of the other one. I mean, I thought, ah, here's the perfect father. The, like, perfect writerly father. And he thought, here's my heir. Here's another me, you know. Well, we were both wrong. So then, having discovered we were wrong, then we have to figure out, okay, who is this other person really? And how do I connect with him? And I think we were able to do that.

BILL MOYERS:
The book is RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE: COMING OF AGE WITH WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR. Richard Brookhiser, thanks for coming back to the JOURNAL.

RICHARD BROOKHISER:
Thank you.

NARRATOR: It's Firing Line with William F. Buckley.

BILL MOYERS:
Watching the CBS Evening News on Afghanistan this week I thought for a moment that I might be watching my grandson playing one of those video war games that are so popular these days.

REPORTER: An American military convoy traveling northwest--

BILL MOYERS:
Reporting on the attacks that killed eight Americans, CBS turned to animation to depict what no journalists were around to witness. This is about as close to real war as most of us ever get, safely removed from the blood, the mangled bodies, the screams and shouts.

October, as you know, was the bloodiest month for our troops in all eight years of the war. And beyond the human loss, the United States has spent more than 223 billion dollars there. In 2010 we will be spending roughly 65 billion dollars every year. 65 billion dollars a year.

The President is just about ready to send more troops. Maybe 44 thousand, that's the number General McChrystal wants, bringing the total to over 100 thousand. When I read speculation last weekend that the actual number needed might be 600 thousand, I winced.

I can still see President Lyndon Johnson's face when he asked his generals how many years and how many troops it would take to win in Vietnam. One of them answered, "Ten years and one million." He was right on the time and wrong on the number-- two and a half million American soldiers would serve in Vietnam, and we still lost.

Whatever the total for Afghanistan, every additional thousand troops will cost us about a billion dollars a year. At a time when foreclosures are rising, benefits for the unemployed are running out, cities are firing teachers, closing libraries and cutting essential maintenance and services. That sound you hear is the ripping of our social fabric.

Which makes even more perplexing an editorial in THE WASHINGTON POST last week. You'll remember the "Post" was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, often sounding like a megaphone for the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine. Now it's calling for escalating the war in Afghanistan. In a time of historic budget deficits, the paper said, Afghanistan has to take priority over universal health care for Americans. Fixing Afghanistan, it seems, is "a 'necessity'"; fixing America's social contract is not.

But listen to what an Afghan villager recently told a correspondent for the "Economist:" "We need security. But the Americans are just making trouble for us. They cannot bring peace, not if they stay for 50 years."

Listen, too, to Andrew Bacevich, the long-time professional soldier, graduate of West Point, veteran of Vietnam, and now a respected scholar of military and foreign affairs, who was on this program a year ago. He recently told "The Christian Science Monitor," "The notion that fixing Afghanistan will somehow drive a stake through the heart of jihadism is wrong. …If we give General McChrystal everything he wants, the jihadist threat will still exist."

This from a warrior who lost his own soldier son in Iraq, and who doesn't need animated graphics to know what the rest of us never see.

So here's a suggestion. In a week or so, when the president announces he is escalating the war, let's not hide the reality behind eloquence or animation. No more soaring rhetoric, please. No more video games. If our governing class wants more war, let's not allow them to fight it with young men and women who sign up because they don't have jobs here at home, or can't afford college or health care for their families.

Let's share the sacrifice. Spread the suffering. Let's bring back the draft.

Yes, bring back the draft -- for as long as it takes our politicians and pundits to "fix" Afghanistan to their satisfaction.

Bring back the draft, and then watch them dive for cover on Capitol Hill, in the watering holes and think tanks of the Beltway, and in the quiet little offices where editorial writers spin clever phrases justifying other people's sacrifice. Let's insist our governing class show the courage to make this long and dirty war our war, or the guts to end it.

BILL MOYERS:
That's it for this week. Log onto our website at pbs.org and click on "Bill Moyers Journal." You'll find a web exclusive conversation with the political analyst Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. There's also more from economist James Galbraith and the Journal's complete coverage of the financial meltdown and bailout.

That's all at pbs.org. I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next week.
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