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January 31, 2008

Ask Kathleen Hall Jamieson

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Media and politics expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson last appeared on the blog to provider viewers with debate-watching tips:


I recommend not watching before the debate and after the debate. I recommend that after the debate you turn the debate off and you talk with your family about what you saw and what was important to you. And you think about what you saw.

Now we invite you to ask the author of EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT POLITICS...AND WHY YOU'RE WRONG about what's been puzzling you about politics, media, and the long road to November 2008.


January 25, 2008

Moyers on the Rhetoric and the Reality

Iraq
Watch Video

We invite you to respond by commenting below.


Rethinking The Criminal Justice System

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, author John Grisham said:

“We still have two million people in prison in this country right now. Two million. Our prisons are choked, they’re so full. And most of them are non-violent. Most of them – and we’re spending between $40,000 and $80,000 somewhere to house them, every guy in prison. Now, somebody’s not doing the math here... Lock the bad ones away. But you gotta rethink everybody else. You gotta rethink the young kids who are in there because of crack cocaine. They need help. And if they serve five years they get out there and do the same thing over and over again. The system’s getting worse.”

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with John Grisham that our criminal justice system should be rethought?
  • Why do you think the system works the way it does?
  • What reforms to our criminal justice system would you recommend?


  • Assessing The "Economic Growth Package"

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Ordinary Americans and the media alike have been astir this week with discussions of the looming recession and the “economic growth package” Washington quickly assembled in response. In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL, sociologist Katherine Newman shared her thoughts about their plan:

    “It's a bad news situation out there for millions of Americans who are really going to worry about their futures and their children's futures... I think they'll be pleased to hear that Congress and the President have found some way to cooperate with one another. But a lot of people will be left out and left in the cold.

    I'm more encouraged than I thought I would be, because it provides rebates for people lower down the income spectrum that I thought it would. But I am very concerned about the long-term unemployed, which is rising, not only in general, but as a proportion of the unemployed. And that's one of the disappointments of the stimulus package... I think if we built more infrastructure, we would see a greater long term benefit from the money we're investing, because we will improve our roads, our schools. And you know, that's exactly what Franklin Roosevelt thought. And that’s why he put millions of Americans to work.”

    What do YOU think?

  • Do you support the “economic growth package” announced this week? Why?

  • Are you “pleased to hear” that the quick formulation of the “economic growth package” is the result of bipartisan cooperation?

  • Do you think it is a good idea for government to expand public employment in areas like infrastructure maintenance and education as a means to mend our economy?


  • January 18, 2008

    Democratization, U.S. Foreign Policy, and The Middle East

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, journalist Craig Unger said:

    “It does seem at times we don’t seem aware of the consequences of our actions. We go around talking about democracy, but the Saudis, of course, are a brutal theocracy. There’s not much in the way of human rights there. The whole vision of democratizing the Middle East, I think, really, in practical terms, has fallen by the wayside. And America’s objectives really, when it comes down to it, seem to be Israel’s security and oil... The whole vision is in tatters right now. And it’s very unclear what options the United States has... Our policies are so full of contradictions. And I think if you go back to the roots of it, it was built on so many misconceptions that a lot of this is coming home to roost.”

    What do you think?

  • Is Unger correct that Israel’s security and oil are the foundations of America’s policies in the Middle East?

  • Does U.S. involvement with and support of non-Democratic regimes undermine the goal of “democratizing the Middle East?” Is that an appropriate objective of American foreign policy?

  • How would you reformulate American foreign policy to fit the world of 2008?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)


  • Leveling The Playing Field?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston said:

    "Get rich by working hard, working smarter, coming up with a better mouse-trap. Don’t get rich by getting the government to pass a law that sticks the government’s hand into my pocket, takes money out of it, and gives it to you. That’s not right. That’s not a fair playing field. Adam Smith warned again and again that it is the nature and tendency of business people to want to put their thumb on the scale and, even better, to get the government to put the thumb on the scale for their benefit... You need entrepreneurs to have a good society. I don’t have any problem with entrepreneurs. But we need to have a system that also fairly distributes... When we have people who make billon-dollar-a-year incomes and pay 15 percent taxes and janitors who pay the same tax rate and school teachers who pay a 25 percent tax rate, something’s amiss."

    What do you think?

  • Is America’s present tax system unfair? If so, what do you suggest?

  • Does government have the responsibility to pursue redistribution of wealth? If so, what are reasonable expectations for such a policy?


  • Is Cynicism Un-American?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Reviewing Professor Harvey J. Kaye’s book THOMAS PAINE AND THE PROMISE OF AMERICA in THE NEW YORK TIMES, historian Joseph Ellis wrote:

    “'The promise of America' that Paine glimpsed so lyrically at the start cannot be easily translated into our 21st-century idiom without distorting the intellectual integrity of its 18th-century origins... In the wake of Darwin's depiction of nature, Freud's depiction of human nature, the senseless slaughter of World War I and the genocidal tragedies of the 20th century, Paine's optimistic assumptions appear naïve in the extreme. What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy. My more muddled position is that bringing Paine's words and ideas into our world is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

    Responding to this review in his JOURNAL interview, Kaye said:

    “I got to the end and I thought, 'How sad. The loss of hope, the loss of aspiration - how un-American,’ I almost said... Americans should always be trying to plant flowers. There are ways of sprouting things anew, and that’s what America’s about. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason to be cynical, no reason to be desperate...

    We need to have this kind of confidence in our fellow citizens that they somehow are able to take advantage of that confidence. It's our job to join with our fellow citizens and join them in the courage that we have.”

    What do you think?

  • Is cynicism about the direction of the United States “un-American?”
  • How much can “confidence in our fellow citizens” cure the ills of our body politic?
  • If such confidence can be effective, how can ordinary citizens “plant flowers” for a better nation and world?


  • Moyers on Clinton, Obama, King and Johnson

    LBJ and Martin Luther King, Johnson Library
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    We invite you to respond by commenting below.


    January 11, 2008

    Grievance, Black Politics, and Black Identity

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar Shelby Steele said the following:

    I am black and happy to be so, but my identity is not my master. I’m my master. And I resent this civil rights leadership telling me what I should think and what issues I should support this way or that way. And that’s where, in black America, identity has become almost totalitarian... You [must] subscribe to the idea that the essence of blackness is grounded in grievance, and if you vary from that you are letting whites off the hook. And we’re gonna call you a sell out. We’re gonna call you an ‘Uncle Tom’... I was gonna have a life or I was just going to be a kind of surrogate for blackness... but you enter an exile where the group identifies you as someone who is a threat, and part of being black is despising or having contempt for people like me.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Steele's contention that today’s black identity is “grounded in grievance?”
  • Is ideological diversity within the black community limited by an imperative to not "let whites off the hook?"
  • To what extent are racial divisions and classifications reinforced by minority group identity?


  • Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    By Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    1) I recommend not watching the coverage immediately before the debate and, when the debate is finished, turn the television off and talk with your family about what you saw and what was important to you. And think about what you saw.

    2) Candidates make different assumptions about government's role, about economic policy, about the value of government regulation, about the role of the US in the world, about appropriate use of military power, about US relationships with other countries... and the like. What are the governing philosophies of the candidates?

    3) Come to a debate with a list of the issues that matter to you and ask what you learned about each candidate's record and promises on those issues. Where are they similar and how do they differ?

    4) When a candidate promises a new program or any move that will reduce government revenue -- how will the candidate pay for it? Increase the deficit? Cut spending elesewhere and if so where? Raise taxes? On whom?

    5) How accurate are candidates' descriptions of opponents' programs? And how accurate are a candidate's descriptions of his or her own record?

    6) Is the candidate willing to tell voters things they don't want to hear about the challenges facing the country and what is required to address them?

    7) If the country were faced with a crisis, what can you know from the candidates' past performance, character, and dispositions about whether the country would be in good hands?

    In addition to Professor Jamieson's advice, you might wish to check candidate accuracy at one of the following websites:

    FactCheck.org
    FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which Jamieson directs, that aims to monitor the accuracy of major national candidates' statements and rhetoric.

    COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: Campaign Desk
    The journalists at CJR turn their attention to "auditing" campaign ads, speeches and other media moments. In addition to CJR staff a group of veteran journalists will add their perspective to the Campaign Desk's analysis.

    The Fact-Checker
    Run by veteran journalist Michael Dobbs, The Fact-Checker is a project of the WASHINGTON POST that publishes research evaluating and providing background and context to candidate statements and popular political stories.

    Politifact and Truth-0-Meter
    Politifact is an extensively cross-referenced fact-checking resource run as a joint project by the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES and CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY.

    We invite you to respond in the space below.


    January 4, 2008

    Crashing The Parties?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Discussing elections with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson highlighted the importance of citizens left out by the polarized and exclusive process of selecting Presidential nominees:

    “You could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be: Where are the independents going and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a libertarian but runs as a Republican in the party... But we forget in the press that people who vote and the people who are governed are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say ‘I don’t identify with any of this. I’ll call myself independent.’”

    In his interview with Moyers, Ron Paul suggested that America’s two-party system belies our democratic rhetoric.

    “We send boys over there to promote democracy in Iraq, but we don’t really have democracy here. If you’re in a third party, if you’re in the Green Party or Libertarian Party, you don’t get any credibility. You can’t get on debates. You can’t get on ballots hardly at all. It’s very, very difficult. And the two parties are the same. You don’t really have a democratic choice here.

    Foreign policy never changes. Domestic fiscal policy, the welfare entitlement system never changes. Monetary policy won’t even be discussed. And that’s both parties. The vehicle that you use I think is not as relevant as the message. And that has been what has driven me, the fact that we need to change course in this country.”

    What do you think?

  • Does the two-party system adequately provide citizens with real choices on various issues? If not, can citizens reform the parties to change this?

  • Does the two-party system essentially mandate the exclusion of serious third-party contenders?

  • As Ron Paul’s Web-based, grassroots-driven campaign has seen some success, do you think the Internet can democratize the political process and/or the two-party system?


  • Media and the Presidential Election

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed the media's influence on ‘outsider’ candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich:

    "Those two have provided a clear alternative in the debates and expanded the range of discourse within each political party. Alternative parties don’t get to have debates. They don’t get that kind of television coverage. We don’t have any way to have those ideas percolate back into the mainstream. We don’t have any way for the public to see that those are legitimate and viable options and as a result, potentially, to rally behind them. And so, when those voices are marginalized, where people are taken out of the debate, that’s problematic for the process.”

    Dennis Kucinich agrees. Having been rejected from THE DES MOINES REGISTER debate before the Iowa caucuses and now the ABC News debate before New Hampshire, Kucinich tells Moyers:

    "How can you have a debate if you don’t have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Every other Democrat on the stage will be there to keep a for-profit healthcare system going with all of these Americans who don’t have coverage. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people there’s a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and the media in trying to block the point of view that I represent is really doing a disservice to the American people.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that media and its political coverage has too great an influence on the elections?

  • Does mainstream media effectively serve the public interest in elections and create informed voters? If not, what are ways in which it can improve?

  • Do you think we have too many or too few debates? Are we including enough participants in the debates?


  • January 3, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Ron Paul (2002)

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers conducts two conversations with presidential contenders, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), candidates with an inside view of the process who know well the power of the press to set expectations and transform the agenda.

    Congressman Ron Paul appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS in 2002 and explained why he was not yet convinced that an invasion was necessary and justified:

    Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry of TechPresident, a blog which focuses upon how 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web, recently wrote:

    "Over time, online strategies that shift power to networks of ordinary citizens may well lead to a new generation of voters more engaged in the political process. That, in turn, could make politicians more accountable, creating a virtuous circle where elected officials who are more open and supportive of lateral constituent interaction, and less top-down, are rewarded with greater voter trust and support."

    Do you agree? What effects will the Internet have on future presidential elections?


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