Transcript, May 28, 2004
BRANCACCIO: Tonight on NOW...
Migrant farmworkers in the fields of South Texas. Vanessa Garcia started working there as a little girl. But when she looks to the future, this is what she sees.
GARCIA: Without a high school diploma, you can't at least get a decent job. But you would get something greater if you graduated from college. So that's what I'm going for.
BRANCACCIO: There's a long road ahead.
And the road to Iraq. Well before the war started, a maverick Republican wanted some answers to his questions. He didn't get them. And now he's back.
REP. PAUL: We've been trying to promote democracy around the world since Woodrow Wilson sort of started this whole thing. Make the world safe for democracy, and it doesn't work.
BRANCACCIO: Congressman Ron Paul. A Bill Moyers interview.
And what's at stake in this year's election? Moving to the right in America.
WOOLDRIDGE: Whoever wins the election in 2004, this will still be a right wing country compared with Europe, but also compared with the America even of Richard Nixon.
BRANCACCIO: THE ECONOMIST's Adrian Wooldridge with ABC's Michel Martin.
And everybody's seen THE MATRIX. What about The Meatrix?
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. Topic "A" on this program has been fairness.
What is a fair wage? At one end of the spectrum is Richard Grasso, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange. A lawsuit filed here in New York this week will try to force Grasso to give back half of a pay package worth somewhere around 200 million dollars.
That's one man making enough money to pay the wages of 20,000 migrant workers for a whole year.
MOYERS: Those migrants are the working poor at the other end of the spectrum. People like the Garcia family. They came to this country as did millions of others to make a better life for themselves and to give their kids opportunities they never had. Once upon a time those opportunities led from the classroom to middle class status and to middle class security. For the Garcias though, the odds of getting there are staggering. Our report was prepared by correspondent Michele Mitchell and producer William Brangham.
MITCHELL: Vanessa Garcia can get you very excited about the future. She's a straight "A" student, a sophomore at Edinburg High School in south Texas the kind of girl you think could go the distance.
VANESSA GARCIA: You know, because without a high school diploma you can't at least get a decent job. But, you would get something greater if you graduated from college. So, that's what I'm going for.
MITCHELL: At first glance, the economy in south Texas would seem to be on Vanessa's side. Free trade has meant a lot of money washing back and forth across the border with Mexico. But take a second look and you see two economies here. One that's prospering, and then one for people like Vanessa's family.
The Garcias are part of what economists call "the working poor." They own their own house, one they built literally with their own hands. But the dream of moving up the proverbial ladder is becoming just that...a dream.
The Garcias are migrant farm workers, and their day starts early. Vanessa's mom gets up at 5:00 to take care of Vanessa's bed-ridden grandmother. Vanessa's brother waits for the bathroom, hoping his sister's out before they're both late for school. Her parents are already heading for the fields.
Estela Garcia came here legally in the early 80's. She thought what everyone in Mexico thought: the U.S. was the land of opportunity.
ESTELA GARCIA: When you are in Mexico, you think everything is easy. And it's not, because the people talk only the good things, not the hard things. And when you are here, it's so different.
MITCHELL: The Garcias work part of the year in south Texas, but once the harvests are done here, they travel thousands of miles around the country picking fruits and vegetables.
There are at least a million migrant farm workers in the U.S., both legal and illegal. You rarely see or hear from them, yet their work fills our refrigerators and grocery stores.
Today, the work is not so bad clearing weeds from a melon patch. It might be humid, but the hot Texas sun is blocked by the clouds. But appearances are deceiving. According to the federal government, farm work is one of the most dangerous jobs in America.
ESTELA GARCIA: And sometime you feel dizzy. It's 100 degrees. And you feel so bad, and you need work. You need to do. You want to eat? You need to work.
MITCHELL: Estela estimates that she and her husband Jose each earn about $9,000 dollars a year. That averages out to 35 dollars a day. For their family of four, that's right at the federal poverty level. There are no benefits, no sick days, no health insurance.
Estela and Jose know they're likely to be doing this for the rest of their lives. So they're placing all their hopes in their kids. But the migrant life can be an obstacle. It's a life their kids learned at a very early age.
VANESSA GARCIA: I started when I was five. But actually was sort of when I was four, about to be five.
MITCHELL: Even before they were in kindergarten, Vanessa and her brother were in the fields with their parents. Back in those days, it was more play than work.
VANESSA GARCIA: Well, we were like, me and my brother we weren't that like, "Oh my God. We're working." You know? No, we would just be sitting on a blanket, picking the blueberries from the bottom of the tree. One to the mouth. One to the bucket. And that's the way it was, you know? We were little. So…
MITCHELL: So, it was kind of…
VANESSA GARCIA: It was more fun than actually hard work. Now, it's, it takes the fun out of everything.
MITCHELL: Vanessa is 15 now; she's been working in the fields for 10 years. It may have started out as fun, but now the family relies on the money she and her brother bring in.
Vanessa says she's lost track of all states she's worked, and all different crops she's picked. But the job she hates the most is detassling corn pulling the flower off the top of every cornstalk.
VANESSA GARCIA: Because, the rows, they can be up to a mile long. I mean they're super long and the plant is huge, it passes us through our heads, we're short. And, like to be just picking it, like, picking it off, your hand hurts. And you have to take your little jug of water so you don't get dehydrated.
MITCHELL: How many hours do you do that for?
VANESSA GARCIA: We usually get up at 3:00 in the morning to drive the two hours to we work from sunrise to sun fall. And then we go back two hours.
MITCHELL: That's a really long day.
VANESSA GARCIA: About 15 hours, 14 hours. 14 to 15 hours.
MITCHELL: It's against the law for really young kids to work in the fields, but just like it's illegal to hire illegal aliens, child labor happens. And believe it or not, it's legal for a 13-year-old kid to work in 100-degree heat picking onions, but federal law prevents that same 13-year-old from working in an air-conditioned store.
It's not an easy way to grow up.
MITCHELL: You know, you're very good-humored about all of this. But what you're describing to me sounds really hard. A lot of people would say, "Why would anybody put their kid through that?"
VANESSA GARCIA: It's like my duty to help her. I'm her daughter, you know, so I guess that's why we also do it.
Even though I know she doesn't want us to be there, but we have to. Like, I guess we also choose to be there because we know they need the help and well, we want to help. Because well, in the end, we're like mostly the ones that are paying for our food, our clothes and everything.
MITCHELL: Estela says money's not the only reason she takes the kids to the fields, she can't bear to leave them behind in Texas or alone in migrant camps. But she says there's also a valuable lesson here for her children.
ESTELA GARCIA: I told them, "If you see how hard is work in the fields, you need to work in the school more hard to be something in your life." I told them, "It's for you. Not for me. If you study and get a college and get a career, it's for you." I will be die and I want them be okay.
MITCHELL: For working families like the Garcias, getting an education has long been the hope for finding a way out. But here as well, being a migrant farm worker gets in the way.
At some point every spring, the Garcia family packs up and heads north. Usually they go to minnesota to work the corn and beet fields, but the timing is unpredictable. When the farmers call, they've got to go. This means the Garcias often have to pull their kids out of school weeks and sometimes months before the end of the school year.
ESTELA GARCIA: Yeah, it's hard because I want to stay here to finish their, they the school year. But, you know, when you have a job waiting for you over there, the farmers called, the, the work is ready. And we need you. And we need to be there. We need to be responsible for the job. And they say, "Oh, mom. We want to finish the year here." Yes, but we need to work.
MITCHELL: It's that time of year. The Garcias have a decision to make. They've heard there's good work up north if they come right away. The kids want to stay and finish out their courses, but the family needs that money.
VANESSA GARCIA: We were planning on staying this year. And like, my parents working during the summer in whatever they could find. But, like, my parents have already… they're seeing that as close as we're getting now to summer, there's not gonna be like, any good work around here. And so, I guess it's like a necessity for us to leave.
ARAIZA: I think it, it saddens me that 12, 13 year olds, migrant students like Vanessa have to give up their childhood, to grow up to be adults really quick because of financial circumstances.
MITCHELL: Hilda Araiza is one of Vanessa's favorite teachers. She says migrant families not only leave early, they often stay away well into the following school year.
This constant disruption takes a toll: on average, less than half the migrant students in the U.S. make it all the way to graduation day.
ARAIZA: They have to work on catching up with assignments, making sure that the teachers are flexible with that, and assisting them in that as well. But it's a double burden, you know, where they're a semester behind, but they still have to catch up with what's being done in the class currently. It's a struggle for them.
MITCHELL: With these kinds of obstacles, can the working poor move up in America? Sometimes, it seems possible. Take the case of Yolanda Garcia.
She grew up in a migrant family. Her parents are in their 80s and they're still at it. And with only a sixth grade education, she got a shot at the middle class when she landed a job sewing pants at a Williamson Dickie factory.
YOLANDA GARCIA: No es mucho 160, 170 por semana pero daba para pagar mis pagos entonces mi chamaca estaban estudiando. (It's not a lot $160, $170 a week but that was enough to pay my bills, and my daughter was going to school.)
MITCHELL: The pay wasn't the greatest but the work was steady, and the money allowed her to build this three room house that she now shares with two of her daughters and two grandkids.
Thousands of others saw their lives improve in the 80's and 90's when many of the nation's big clothing manufacturers came to south Texas. Companies like Hagar, Fruit of the Loom, and Levi's were drawn here by the cheap, reliable labor of people like Yolanda.
YOLANDA GARCIA: Estas son unas de las compañeras que tenía en esa unidad. El primer año que empecé yo ir a trabajar en la Dickies. (These are my co-workers from that unit during the first year I started to work at Dickies.)
MITCHELL: But then her shot at a better life came to a halt. In corporate America's never-ending hunt for cheaper wages, workers like Yolanda weren't cheap enough. Williamson Dickie did what everyone did: they closed down their factories and moved to Mexico and beyond. In the fall of 2002, in the midst of a record sales year, Dickie laid off Yolanda and 600 of her co-workers.
GUEVARA: We've lost 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in the Valley here in the past 5 years. And in an area that can't afford to lose jobs, that's a major catastrophe.
MITCHELL: Rey Guevara's job is to help Yolanda and thousands like her train for a new life.
GUEVARA: You know, we're talking about hundreds, thousands of people who were at the core of a middle class. You know, they had stable jobs, good insurance, great benefits, vacations and so forth. And within the span of five years, that's gone.
MITCHELL: Yolanda's been told to get ready for what's expected to be the state's next big wave of employment caring for the thousands of aging baby boomers that Texas hopes will retire here. Those jobs aren't here yet, but the slightest promise of a job is enough for Yolanda. At 51, she's hoping to become a certified nurse's assistant.
TEACHER: So when you move someone in bed you need to make sure you really support that person, ok?
YOLANDA GARCIA: De repente fue un cambio brusco, de trabajara a sin trabajar. Entonces fue cuando me dieron la oportunidad, dije la voy aprovechar. Muchos me dicen ya no es tu tiempo para que estudies, les dije creo que no hay edad para estudiar (The change came all of a sudden, from work to no work. So when I got another chance I said, I'm gonna do it. Everyone told me I'm too old to go to school, but I said, there's no age limit for studying.)
MITCHELL: Even if Yolanda passes her exams and gets a job: the starting wage would be around $6.50 an hour, about a dollar an hour less than she made stitching pants.
Meanwhile, Yolanda makes tissue paper dresses for Barbie dolls. It takes two hours per dress, and they earn her about seven dollars a pop…less than minimum wage.
It's harder and harder for people with few skills and fewer resources to move up. Education is crucial. But Rey Guevera says, even for those still in school, like 15-year old Vanessa Garcia, reaching the middle class may be tougher than they think.
GUEVARA: You know, first of all, you've got to be realistic. Just being a high school graduate is no longer gonna do it. You know? You're not gonna get a job. The realistic picture here is that if you don't apply yourself, if you don't, if you don't go to college, if you don't get in the top five or ten percent, you're gonna go with the rest of the masses. And that's not a pretty picture.
MITCHELL: There is one way government can help more working people move out of poverty and that's more money for education. But look at what's happening in Texas: it ranks only 32nd in the nation in what it spends on public education. And lawmakers say the state is ten billion dollars in the hole. So how much is Texas going to invest in educating its poorest people?
PENA: The suburbs of Texas have now taken control, and they're exerting themselves politically and saying, "Look we're tired of paying for the poorer folks in Texas even though our constitution says that that is our responsibility."
MITCHELL: Democrat Aaron Pena represents the Garcias' district, and he says his constituents are getting stiffed. He doesn't want to hear about the budget deficit. He says Texas is short of money for education because Texas won't ask the wealthy to step up to the plate.
MITCHELL: I mean if you're living in these wealthier districts, and you're putting your kids through school I mean, and you feel that you're paying a lot in property taxes you might be sitting back and saying, "Well why should I be subsidizing those kids in down in South Texas, what's the point of that?"
PENA: And so if you're in the suburbs of Dallas you need to understand that if I don't care for my brother who lives in South Texas that you'll ultimately pay for it in terms of higher services, in terms of jails and other problems that are created.
MITCHELL: Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth represents the suburbs of Ft. Worth. She says raising taxes is not the answer. Just like every other state, Texas is competing with the world now. It has to remain competitive. She says any further tax burden will drive businesses out of the state, and there'll be no jobs left for those kids they're trying to educate.
WOHLGEMUTH: We are a low tax state. And that brings businesses to our state. We like to be friendly to economic development and jobs creation for our citizens. We have a burgeoning population, and we need to have jobs to offer to our citizens.
MITCHELL: Back at the Garcias', it's time for Vanessa's family to make their decision. After a lot of back and forth, they decide not to migrate early.
Everyone agreed the kids should finish the school year in Texas. Vanessa and her brother are thrilled. And there's also something Vanessa wanted…to go to the prom.
But the family's decision comes at a cost. By not leaving, the Garcias may have given up over two thousand dollars in wages. That's a big chunk of their yearly income.
To help make up for it, they're sewing underwear to sell to friends. Estella says they can make $100 a week if they really work at it.
The next day, the family gets to enjoy a little victory.
Edinburg High School will have its graduation ceremony this weekend. Vanessa's confident that in two years, she'll be standing on that stage. She just won awards in math and history. And she had perfect attendance.
But the odds are long. Of the 100 migrant students who enrolled four years ago, only 44 will be graduating this Saturday.
MOYERS: We turn now to a man who was right when no one listened. Now a lot of people are saying what he said. Six months before President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, Congressman Ron Paul, an independent Republican of Texas, took to the floor of the House of Representatives to sound a warning:
REP. PAUL: I rise to urge the Congress to think twice before thrusting this nation into a war without merit. One fraught with danger of escalating into something no American will be pleased with.
MOYERS: Ron Paul asked the press and his colleagues in Congress to consider a list of 35 questions to be answered before troops were sent to Iraq. But the consensus of conformity in Washington between official sources and the establishment press was so suffocating that mavericks like Ron Paul didn't get a hearing. Congressman Paul is indeed one quirky maverick. He practiced obstetrics and gynecology before entering politics, defends medical marijuana, doesn't like a lot of things about government, won't allow his children to accept federal student loans, and refuses to take his congressional pension or payments from Medicare. He ran for President in 1988 as the candidate for the Libertarian Party, a party small in number but strong on principle that looks skeptically on government. He will address their convention tomorrow morning in Atlanta.
But right now he joins us from his home in the 14th district of Texas, on the Gulf Coast. Welcome back to NOW.
PAUL: Thank you, Bill. Good to be with you.
MOYERS: In that speech you made on the floor of the House, you were almost prophetic in what you said. You were right. You were not listened to. Do you think people like you are being listened to now?
PAUL: Not a whole lot. I think they listen. But they, very interestingly enough, ignore it. I think silence is the best treatment for me as far as they're concerned. If they criticize, I think I would get more attention. And they certainly aren't going to compliment it.
But you know, one-on-one, it's interesting what happens. The other day there was a member sitting next to me on the International Relations Committee. He leaned over to me. He says, "Ron," he says, "do you ever think about sending out a press-- press release and saying, 'I told you so'?" I said, "No, not really." Really, if there's any "I told you so" added to, I think it should come from somebody else. I think I have to go from where we are now and make my best judgment on what we ought to do.
MOYERS: What should we do?
PAUL: Well, I think we should leave. And I think we should leave as quickly as possible. And let the Iraqis take over. My suggestion is this. That… it's an artificial country. It was created by Westerners. It's not gonna be held together politically very easily.
And, therefore, I would make a suggestion as we were leaving, this is really three countries. Do a cantonization of it. Or it's… maybe even adapt some of the principles of our early republic. Have three independent states. If they want to be loosely knit and come together, let that happen.
But say, "Here are the likely boundaries," that we have three countries there. We have a Kurdish land. We have a Shiite and a Sunni land. And we're suggesting you honor this and commit to this. And we're leaving. And I think if they knew that and we started packing up, I think there would be there would more likely have peace there than there would be if we continue to do what we're doing.
MOYERS: Most people I've talked to say that without an American military presence in Iraq, the country will almost certainly fall into civil war with bloody conflict that could bring the rest of the region in. What if they're right?
PAUL: Well, you know, I guess it's always possible. There's no way to say there will be none. But I think that's exactly what my concern has always been is that if we go over there and disrupt that area and pick sides and be involved, which we've been for years literally since we got rid of Mossadeq in Iran. You know, that has led to many problems.
And that, still, is festering. The fact that we were an ally of Iraq and in the war against Iran is another festering sore there. So yes, I think our interference does exactly what we say we're there to prevent. There is that possibility. But I think it would be a lot less. And besides, I don't… I never find… I'm never comfortable with assuming we have this moral authority to do what we're trying to do.
Nor do we have the money. I mean, this country's nearly broke. I mean, we're running a national debt increase of $700 billion a year. So, can we afford this $200 billion that we're spending over there? So, there are practical reasons against it.
And there is the risk that there would be chaos over there. But isn't there more chaos there now? I mean, there's a lot more people being killed in the last 15 months than the prior 15 months.
MOYERS: But the President said in his speech on Monday that if we fail to build a stable democracy in Iraq, it will invite, an unprecedented terrorist victory. It will lead to more violence. And it will threaten American security. You may have been right last year. You were right last year. But now is now. Areen't we trapped there? Those…
PAUL: I guess a lot of people would think so. But do you recall the so-called entrapment in Vietnam? I mean, we couldn't leave. And what did we do? We always escalated. And so those are the choices: leaving or escalating. Because most of the good military people now are very concerned that we don't have enough troops.
Some say we need to double or triple the troops if we really wanna police that area. So, it's escalation or leave. And history shows I think one of the things that those who were so energetic about promoting this war failed to understand the history of the area. It just doesn't work that Westerners can occupy that territory.
And the idea that even the British were gung-ho over this war means that they have short memories as well. So, I don't just see how this policy of persistence at this level will bring peace and stability. And I think the national security issue is critical. And that was one of the reasons I voted against the war is I did not believe our national security was threatened.
And I don't think it's threatened now. And I think we have shown that they weren't… they couldn't have done anything to even their neighbors. So, the idea of that, if we're not there promoting democracy, I mean, we've been trying to promote democracy around the world since Woodrow Wilson sort of started this whole thing. Make the world safe for democracy.
And it doesn't work. You only promote good values by setting good examples. So, this idea that we can force things on people doesn't work. We tried it militarily in Vietnam. We walked away after losing the war and now we're friends with Vietnam. We trade with them. They're more Westernized and capitalized than they'd been if we'd have stayed.
MOYERS: Many conservative writers this week, particularly since what happened in the prisons over there has become known, are saying that the fault lies with the liberal media. That liberal journalists are undermining our effort in Iraq. What is your take on that?
PAUL: No, I don't think you can blame it on the media. I mean, I've had my battles with the media, so to speak. But and I think, if anything, my blame goes to the liberal and the conservative media who, once again, both endorsed the war, you know?
Whether it was THE NEW YORK TIMES and the major three networks or Fox News, I mean, they pumped up the people. And, of course, the radio talk shows did, too. And so they pumped up the people. So, from my viewpoint, I don't distinguish a whole lot between the so-called conservatives and the liberal media because both of them, like both parties, endorsed this idea of foreign interventionism and have lost their faith and confidence that non-intervention is a good policy and is worthwhile to pursue if we're interested in peace.
MOYERS: There's something different here. We were attacked by terrorists, by militant extremist Muslims who are still trying to kill us.
MOYERS: How would you deal with the war on terror?
PAUL: Well, you know, I think, first thing, we should be very cautious in our definition. Because if you listen to the radio talk shows, they glibly say, "We have to be there because they're trying to kill us." But they don't define anything.
Sure there's some people trying to kill us. But the Iraqis weren't trying to kill us, so we couldn't use that argument. Somebody else was trying to kill us. What we oughta try to do is understand why were they trying to kill us? And they give us a pretty good hint as to why they were.
But immediately after 9/11, it was pretty well-confirmed that the al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden did the deed and that they should be attacked. I voted for the authority for that and even the funding to go specifically after those who perpetrated the crime.
But in a way, our foreign policy got distracted because they had this other issue and we have spent too much time and energy in Iraq which literally has created more enemies. The al-Qaeda gets to skip off into Pakistan. At the same time, we do the worst thing in the world. We take over a Muslim… Arab country.
And then with this prison scandal, we have, unfortunately, the policies we follow has fallen into the… to the benefit of Osama bin Laden because of the recruiting effort now is just tremendous. So, I think the unintended consequences of this are just overwhelming. But, also, the ability of those who really wanted this war for other reasons aren't capable of stepping back because they would have to say, "You know, we really messed up. We made a mistake and we ought to pursue another policy."
MOYERS: I saw President Lyndon Johnson come to grief, lose his credibility over Vietnam. Do you think President Bush has any credibility left on Iraq?
PAUL: Its interesting, if you did a poll in my district, I imagine the large majority would still say that we gotta support our President. And we gotta, you know, stay the course. But when I talk to them and take a position which is different, it doesn't offend them.
And, you know, they sort of nod their heads. And they don't hold it against me that I actually have a different foreign policy. But there's still there's still a fair amount of support. But I think obviously the polls are showing in this country there's a lot less.
Matter of fact, back in September of 2002, one month before the election, I did a little speech on the floor, a five minute speech, talking about the politics. I sort of was being cynical. And I said, "You know, nobody cares about the Constitution. Nobody cares about my views on non-intervention. But let me talk about the politics of it." And I went through, you know?
And I mentioned Lyndon Johnson and others. And you know I said it's not even good politics even though in the short term, I admitted it could be. And it did. It helped the Republicans in 2/02. I said, but long term wars hurt. They have hurt.
Republicans have come in after Democrats have been involved whether it was World War I or the Vietnam or Korean War. So, I said, "Boy, you have to be careful." I say in a practical sense, war is not popular politically because there's always a cost. People die. And there's an economic consequence. And it hurts the economy.
And that didn't get any attention either. But I thought maybe I could get their attention on the politics of war.
MOYERS: I watched the Democratic Party come apart on Vietnam, Congressman Paul. And in this Washington Post this week, the conservative, very conservative, columnist, Robert Novak, writes, quote, "The Republican Party is displaying symptoms of a nervous breakdown." Do you agree with that?
PAUL: I think to some degrees. There's a split even among the neocons. Those who promoted the war are splitting off from the President and giving him less support because we're not being aggressive enough. So, in some ways, we have conservatives who think the Republicans are spending too much on entitlements. And we have some who think they're not strong enough and militant enough going after this nation-building project.
And, of course, my position is that we spend too much on entitlements. And we spend too much on war and the military. And I think we should save a lot of money. My only compromise on this philosophy is I would cut the overseas spending, whether it's military, foreign aid, bring it home, take half of it and put it towards the national debt and use the other half for those projects that lend itself to some benefits for some people in this country, even like the Corps of Engineers. I'd rather build highways here than pretending that we can nation-build in Iraq.
MOYERS: Congressman Ron Paul from Texas, thank you very much for being with us on NOW.
PAUL: Thank you, Bill.
BRANCACCIO: Next week on NOW...
A new generation asks old warriors about courage.
SPEAKER?: What inspired you to keep pressing forward in the heart of battle instead of just running back or hiding?
BRANCACCIO: The veterans of D-Day remember what it was like under fire 60 years ago.
HOWARD: Frankly, I thought I might be a coward and that really worried me.
BRANCACCIO: A D-Day reunion. Next week on NOW.
BRANCACCIO: And connect to NOW online at pbs.org.
Find out how your paycheck compares to that of top executives. Read essays by migrant children. Check out the list of questions Congressman Paul says still need to be asked about Iraq.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
BRANCACCIO: If you're going to make any sense of this election year, you have to try to understand the soul of the Conservative movement that brought George Bush to power, and the Republican majority to both houses of Congress. To help us with that, we've asked two reporters to join me tonight. Michel Martin is a correspondent for ABC news, and a regular contributor to NIGHTLINE. Adrian Wooldridge is Washington correspondent for THE ECONOMIST, and the co-author of a new book. It's called THE RIGHT NATION, CONSERVATIVE POWER IN AMERICA. Welcome to NOW.
MARTIN: Thank you.
WOOLDRIDGE: Good evening.
BRANCACCIO: Adrian, knowing full well that there are 31 definitions for the word "right" in the dictionary, how, right is America right now?
WOOLDRIDGE: In this book, we try and argue two things. The first is that America contains a right nation, which is a vigorous, well-organized, well-distanced, conservative movement, unlike anything that exists in the rest of the world. But we also try and argue in this book that the center of political gravity in the United States is very much to the right of the center of political gravity in Europe. So, in one sense, the whole of America is a right nation, in the sense that they're more conservative on all sorts of measures than any single European country.
MARTIN: But part of the political genius of George Bush is the way he's co-opted the Conservative movement, and changed it in his image. I mean, Ronald Reagan's Republican party wanted to abolish the Department of Education. George Bush's Republican party wants to turn it to his own purposes.
I mean, and use it as a tool of what he used to call, "Compassionate conservatism," before national security became more important. And if you also look at some of the key cultural groups that make up the conservative movement, like religious conservatives, they have adopted some of the things that were considered the main concern of the left, you know, 20 years ago, like racial reconciliation. I mean, if you look at, you know, some of the more diverse congregations in the country right now, they're going to be non-denominational, Christian, Conservatives who are, you know, have their own sort of political interests. But they're very interested in kind of racial harmony…
BRANCACCIO: So, it's Conservative…
MARTIN: What I'm saying is Conservatives have changed a lot. It may be, you know, I don't know, Adrian, but Conservatives are not, these are not your father's Conservatives.
WOOLDRIDGE: No. But the Conservative movement has an extraordinary capacity to change, to adopt new ideas. I think that's part of it's success. It can reinvent itself, but still present itself as being exactly the same. George W. Bush presents himself very much as being the heir of Ronald Reagan on all sorts of things.
And yet, if you look at his attitudes to government spending, for example, big government, and big government conservative, it's very different. But you can still see certain strands of continuity that all Conservatives rally around. One of course, is patriotism. There's a flag, they've always been, in their own view at least, a very patriotic party.
And another is a sense of values, of virtue, of character. That party's… stress the importance of religion. Now they may redefine religion. They may use religion now as an element of racial reconciliation, which I'm sure that's exactly right. But still if you compare them to the Democrats, they're the party of people who go to church once, twice, three times a week.
BRANCACCIO: Well, we just heard Bill Moyers talking to Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who talked about the view that maybe the Republicans, the Conservative movement is having a nervous breakdown. Because this core conservative idea of fiscal discipline, among other things, seems to be breaking down.
WOOLDRIDGE: No. I think there are all sorts of different strands of Conservatism, all sort of different group within the Conservative movement. There's the Libertarians. There's the Evangelical Christians.
There are the big government Conservatives, who believe the most important thing is the projection of national power abroad. And that's why Karl Rove's job is so different. He's like… I think of a Medieval army. Everybody's who part of the Conservative coalition comes together under their own, different militias, under their own different colors.
And the difficulty of whoever is coordinating the Republican party is getting them to fight together in a common cause. I actually think in November, they will reassemble, and fight together in a common cause. But there are fundamental differences. And the difference between a Libertarian and a member of religious right over abortion isn't… it's not negotiable. It's a fundamental, absolute difference…
BRANCACCIO: I was getting the impression, reading the book, Adrian, that it doesn't matter who wins in November. The notion is that the Conservative movement in America has already won, is the take away point that I was getting.
WOOLDRIDGE: I think there's a lot of truth in that. I think if you look at America in 1960 and now, this is a country that has moved very, very far to the right. Whoever wins the election in 2004, this will still be a right wing country, compared with Europe, but also compared with the America even of Richard Nixon.
It's not that it's irrelevant who wins. But the center of gravity is very much further to the right. I think a lot of Europeans think that this country has been hijacked by this right wing fleet of lunatics, and that their motto basically is waiting for the nightmare to end.
But I think if Kerry wins, the nightmare for Europeans won't end. There will be a brief honeymoon period. But on Iraq, on Israel, on Kyoto, on the projection of power abroad, on the virtues of the use of power versus the use of negotiations, America will still be an outlyer. And the Europeans will still be very discontented of America's attitude.
MARTIN: You know, I agree with you that the key difference between George Bush and John Kerry is not what, but how. I mean, this is a man who voted for the Iraq resolution, who has proclaimed that he is for America as the strongest military force in the world. That he wants to project American power. That's clearly necessary to win the election. But it also, I believe, is a core belief…
MARTIN: …you know, of his.
MARTIN: But on the other matters, I really do think this is a moving target. I mean, young Republicans are as likely as… well, maybe slightly less likely than young Democrats, but pretty likely to savor things like gay rights, or they, at least they're agnostic about it. I mean, maybe not in favor of gay marriage.
But they certainly don't want gay people to be singled out for any particular program. They don't particularly want their personal choices to be circumscribed in some way. On matters of, you know, racial tolerance, as we started to talk about, I mean, their attitudes are no different.
WOOLDRIDGE: No, I agree with that. I think there is a generational difference here, which is a generational difference within parties rather than between parties, that younger Republicans, younger Conservatives, and I talked to a lot of them for this book are very strikingly tolerant about issues such as gay marriage.
BRANCACCIO: And from the European perspective, we really do, as a country, seem sort of off the charts conservative. There are European conservatives who think we're too conservative.
WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. I remember during the primary campaign in Iowa, going to look at Dean's supporters. And I was talking to one who happened to be Swedish.
What a Swedish person was doing working for Dean, I don't know. But he told me that Dean was the one person that he could work for. But only with a certain heavy heart.
Because Dean was really, in Swedish terms, a far right winger. And he said that Dean's attitude to health care, saying that you needed you know, basically some... is something that needed to be solved by the private sector was extraordinary, by his standards. But at least he was better than George W. Bush, and some of the other candidates. And…
BRANCACCIO: But you were back in London talking to some British conservatives…
BRANCACCIO: And what did you find?
WOOLDRIDGE: I talked to a lot of British conservatives. And they were very, very hostile to George W. Bush. They considered him to be far too right wing and far too…
BRANCACCIO: Tories in London…
WOOLDRIDGE: Tories, this is the closest ally that Britain has in Europe, this is the party that's most closely aligned to the American Republican party. Remember the days of Ron and Margaret, and all that sort of stuff. And these British Tories now think that George W. Bush, he's just off the charts.
Just too right wing. And they're much happier with Kerry. They're Kerry conservatives, almost.
BRANCACCIO: And luckily for all concerned, we dumped that tea into Boston harbor. And we don't have to really care…
MARTIN: Exactly. Yeah, I was gonna say, I'm sorry to be nice. But I was gonna say, "Do they vote here? I'm sorry. Do they vote here?"
WOOLDRIDGE: But one fundamental thing is that just a difference of attitude to the role of the state. The PEW research people did a fascinating study of attitudes to the role of the state. And that you find, if you look at America, the vast majority of people think the role of the state is to allow people to achieve their dreams, their abilities, not to provide a safety net.
In Europe, it's exactly the other way around. The fundamental role of the state to Europeans is to provide the safety net. It's to make sure nobody falls too far behind. And they're less concerned about letting the able, or the talented, or the ambitious get ahead.
BRANCACCIO: Do you think that John Kerry is aware of the conservativeness of America? Cause you see him not moving too far from the center, or the center right in his positions. It's sort of a…
MARTIN: Oh, he's…
BRANCACCIO: …demonstration of Adrian's thesis.
MARTIN: Oh, he has to be. I mean, he has to be. First of all, this is a man of the establishment. This is a man who has taken a very conventional course to stature in public life. I mean, certainly one that many, many people respect. And rightly so. Who is a person who went to the best schools, who despite the fact that he could have opted out of service in the military, like so many of his peers did, chose to fight what became an unpopular war.
He then did what is was an unconventional thing at the time, for somebody who had had his service, you know, to become a very vocal opponent of the war.
BRANCACCIO: Does it explain his apparent tact right now, in which he's kind of the low key candidate? Almost like President William McKinley's front porch strategy, where he'll sit on the front porch. If anybody wanted to talk to the Presidential candidate, they could come by to see him. But he wouldn't make that much noise otherwise.
MARTIN: No. I think that there's an old sort of saying in politics. If a guy's already on the ground, you know, let him stay there.
You don't need to jump on him yourself. I think there's a couple things at work here. Number one, I think that there's a sense that President's already in trouble. And it's best to just let him be in trouble, and kind of find a way to enhance his own liabilities. That it would be perceived as, you know, piling on. If he were to have too much to say about some of these matters, but you also have to stake out important ground on…
BRANCACCIO: You'd think so.
MARTIN: …you know, he has. I mean, he started this week. I mean, the President made a major speech on Iraq. And John Kerry also used this opportunity to lay out his own vision of what he would do in Iraq, specifically, but more broadly, his vision of national security.
BRANCACCIO: Adrian, you see it that way?
WOOLDRIDGE: I would agree with most of that. I think that Kerry's fundamental insight is that if a man is being hanging himself, you don't offer him any help. And his assumption is that this is a referendum on George W. Bush.
That there are many reasons why people will think that the referendum should be answered, "No," because of what's going on in Iraq. So, that will allow him essentially, to win, not quite by default. But by letting George W. Bush lose the election.
I think that that may be the right recipe for winning in November. Whether it's the recipe for creating a powerful, coherent purposeful Presidency, I think is another question. I think it's just letting the other person lose, is worrying, I think, in terms of what you do when you actually win the presidency. What you do with your power. And I haven't seen is there a sense in which Kerry's as different as you can get really, from Clinton. Clinton was really laying out a very positive agenda, a new sort of Democratic policy, which was going to cope with the problems of globalization, by using the state in different sort of ways. We haven't seen any exciting ideas from Kerry. And it makes me worry what sort of Presidency he's going to have.
BRANCACCIO: Well, it gives you an interesting take on this campaign to realize that. Here, a quiz question. Okay? Which of the following statements come from which senior, Democratic figures? Which one is the candidate running for President? And which one isn't?
One of the statements. "The unpleasant truth is that President Bush's utter incompetence has made the world a far more dangerous place, and dramatically increased the threat of terrorism against the United States." Or, "America must always be the world's paramount military power. But we can magnify our power through alliances. We simply can't go it alone, or rely on a coalition of the few."
WOOLDRIDGE: I'd say Gore Kerry.
BRANCACCIO: Is that what you would say?
MARTIN: Mmmm, I thought that Kerry said both of them.
BRANCACCIO: That was actually Gore said the first one. And he goes on to talk about just yesterday, the International Institute of Strategic Studies reported that the Iraq conflict has arguably focused the energies and resources of Al-Qaeda and it's followers, while diluting those of the Global Counter-terrorism coalition. In no way Kerry said that. He…
MARTIN: But that's not a radical thought. I mean, there are people on the you know, foreign relations committee who believe that, that the Iraq war has been the most powerful recruiting tool that Al-Qaeda has had in some time.
BRANCACCIO: No, no, exactly. But Kerry…
BRANCACCIO: …isn't saying that stuff. It's Al Gore saying that stuff. And it's sort of interesting that Kerry seems to feel that his range of motion is constrained in this environment.
MARTIN: Well, if you look at what the Bush campaign strategy is to this point is to raise questions about his fitness for the job. I mean, the President's strongest attribute has been so far has been that people like his personal qualities. They think he's resolute.
They think he tells the truth. They think he's stalwart. They think he's got a clear vision. Those are the things that are at issue at the moment. If you look at the number of people who say that there's a clear plan, they think, a majority think there is no clear plan for Iraq. If you look at the number of people who say that they're hopeful about the war, that has fallen dramatically.
If you look at the number of people who say that this was a fight worth fighting, the public is evenly split on this question. The one place where George Bush is still very strong is in the war on terror. People say that they have confidence in his ability to fight terrorism. So, what he has to do is raise questions about John Kerry's ability to wage that battle. And that's what they've been trying to do.
Their ad campaigns, and all of their, you know, public utterances are geared towards raising questions about his fitness for the job. It's not a question of policy. He's right and I'm wrong. That's not what it's about. It's about he's just not good for the job. And that's what they have to do right now is soften him up.
BRANCACCIO: Well, what about economic policy issues? Is there more room for movement on the part of Kerry to differentiate himself? I mean, there's new figures today, quarterly figures boiled down by the Economic Policy Institute.
It's an economic snapshot. It shows that in a recent quarter, corporate profits went through the roof. This is something you do want to see. Up 62 percent, way above average. Yet, wages, private sector wages during the same period went down. Six-tenths of a percent, as it turns out. You have this success in one part of the economy, perhaps not trickling down. This could be an issue for a Democrat. I'm not hearing it.
WOOLDRIDGE: I think difficult. Cause I think what Kerry wants to do is to present himself as a pro-business Democrat. He can get his surrogates, or you can get MoveOn.org, to raise all sorts of questions about what's happening to the working poor.
But it's very difficult without seeming to be too anti-business, and raising a lot of doubts in people's minds about this. Being the old Democratic party…
MARTIN: You know, it's a cliché, rooted in some truth that Presidential elections are a referendum on the economy, except when the country is at war. And the country is at war. But this is a referendum on national security.
I don't think either candidate can escape that.
BRANCACCIO: When will be know really what's gonna be happening in the election? There's an argument that by about June, we'll have a sense of how's the economy going, how's Iraq going. And that's where public opinion will solidify. And we can start speaking with authority about what might be happening in the fall.
MARTIN: That might be true in the past. But I don't believe that to be the case now. I think that there are so many things that one could not have foreseen that have affected the way people see events now. I mean, the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, for example, was something that I don't think any of us foresaw.
I mean, nobody envisioned a situ… maybe someone did. But I certainly didn't envision a situation where there would be this kind of horrible galvanizing event that would so inflame public opinion around the world, and home. It has to be said Americans are appalled by this.
And so, you know, those are the kinds of events that I think will have a very strong impact on the election. And I just simply don't feel that I at least, am competent to predict those things.
BRANCACCIO: Adrian, the great forces of history seem to be lining up for President Bush, according to your anal…
WOOLDRIDGE: Well, Harold Mcmillan, the British prime minister once said, when once asked, "What shape's your prime ministership?" And he replied, "Events, dear boy, events." And I think that events more than any election that I can think of, will shape the outcome of this election.
But still fundamentally, I think that this is a country that is conservative. It's more conservative than it was in the 1960's. And it's more conservative than any of its major European allies. So, certain fundamental things will hold true whoever wins.
BRANCACCIO: Adrian Wooldridge, co-author of THE RIGHT NATION. Michel Martin, ABC news, thank you very much.
MARTIN: Thank you.
WOOLDRIDGE: Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: Now from grilling journalists to grilling meat at your holiday weekend barbecue. The last couple days newspapers have been stocked with feature stories on the pleasures of eating meat cooked over fire. "The burger at 100" drooled my local paper, as the "official barbecue season" begins. There is another side to this, of course, as there is to just about everything.
In this case, however, the animals in question are not organized. Their cause is put forth in a little internet film produced by an outfit that promotes animal rights and sustainable farming. It's called not the "MATRIX," but "THE MEATRIX." They figured a few thousand people might watch it on the web. To date it's been viewed at least five million times. A design firm ran a competition for activist films put together with simple, internet animation. The "MEATRIX" won.
The American Meat Institute is quoted as calling it a "cleverly done movie, but it's fictional, like the movie it parodies." Here it is, see for yourself. [MEATRIX]
BRANCACCIO: You can find a link to the makers of that film, the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment or GRACE, along with a link to the American Meat Institute at pbs.org.
That's it for NOW. Next week Bill Moyers looks back 60 years to an event that defined a generation D-Day.
I'm David Brancaccio. Thanks for joining us. Good night.
© Public Affairs Television. All rights reserved.