Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

May 16, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Before we get to politics with a power couple whose pillow talk sounds like an Obama-Clinton debate about gender and race, let's look at what happened in the Senate overnight.

The public's voice actually penetrated the fog in Washington.

Many of you will recall that a few months ago the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to let one company own both a broadcast station and the major daily newspaper in the same market. This narrow victory for the industry came after the commission held hearings around the country where thousands of citizens turned out to say "Hell, no, we don't want more media consolidation."

SEATTLE FCC HEARING PARTICIPANT: We told you a year ago that media consolidation is a patently bad idea, no ifs ands or buts about it. So with all due respect, I ask you, what part of that didn't you understand?

BILL MOYERS: Ignoring public sentiment, the majority on the FCC gave the conglomerates what they wanted.

But despite that setback, pressure continued from public interest groups and organized labor. And overnight, the United States Senate said, "Whoa! Enough's enough."

SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: The issue here is simple; we have far too much concentration in the media.

BILL MOYERS: In a near-unanimous voice-vote the senate passed a "resolution of disapproval" that would nullify the FCC's decision.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: The ayes do have it...joint resolution is agreed.

BILL MOYERS: President Bush, whose scorn for journalists is balanced by a soft spot in his heart for the conglomerates they work for, threatens to veto the Senate action. Keep in mind that when the public was asked to submit comments to the FCC about consolidation, only one percent approved it. The President may not be listening, but the Senate is, and the public won this round. The House has a similar resolution under consideration.

That Senate vote was like a flare in the sky, signaling that if you care about standing up to big media, and many people do, you are not as alone as you thought.

BILL MOYERS: As everyone knows, on Tuesday Hillary Clinton won West Virginia by a mountainslide. While following the returns, I happened to tune in into BBC radio.

JIM BARBER, BBC RADIO: And they say if it is just him they will go Republican. 98 percent of the people are for Hillary, and they don't care much for Obama.

WOMAN: No I do not think he can win.


WOMAN: Because he is black.

BILL MOYERS: There it was - no longer a whisper but out in public, on the record: Because he is black. The fault line in American history is now a dividing line in this election and it's changing the conversation.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You gotta look at race first and foremost. We know that it's a state that is 95 percent white and she's always done well among white voters. No question about that.

BILL O'REILLY: What's the racial component here? Is anybody going to tell an exit poller, "I am bigot and I won't vote for a black guy

CHRIS MATTHEWS: How do we get back away from these where people like Hillary Clinton so loosely say "hard working white workers?"

BILL MOYERS: We heard it all week and now the political world is asking: Could the candidate who has won more votes, more states and more delegates lose in November and could the reason be race?

A lot of people are having this conversation right now, but no one more intensely or intimately than my guests.

Maria Echaveste is a Superdelegate pledged to Senator Clinton whom she also serves as a campaign advisor and consultant. Her husband, Christopher Edley, advises Senator Obama.

Chris Edley is Dean of the University of California's Berkeley Law School where Maria also lectures. Both are political insiders. Maria was Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton before leaving to found the Nueva Vista group - a consulting and lobbying firm specializing in immigration, labor and health care issues.

Christopher Edley served President Jimmy Carter as a Senior Advisor on Domestic Policy and then many years later was back in the White House as Special Counsel to President Clinton. He's on the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Committee.

Maria, Chris, welcome to the JOURNAL.


CHRIS EDLEY: Thanks, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Let me ask both of you how has being on opposite sides of this battle for the nomination play out at home?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: We have some pretty intense discussions. Well, there have been some times when I've hung up the phone.



MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think it had to do the time I suggested that perhaps Senator Obama was na´ve in thinking that it was gonna be easy to bring the people together, Congress together, and the--

CHRIS EDLEY: You know, I totally lost it. I totally lost it. It plays into a stereotype. I think it's the na´ve, it's the minstrel, it's the boy. It is discrediting I think the sophistication, the maturity, the judgment. Now, the question is ...Is it racial paranoia? Or is it instead a legitimate, a reasonable reaction to code words whether intended or not, have the potential to summon up the worst instincts in a segment of the population.

BILL MOYERS: But surely you wouldn't think your wife in using the word "na´ve" about your candidate had a racist background to it.

CHRIS EDLEY: No. But coming from her it's either an insensitivity to the way in which it might be heard by African Americans and others or it's parroting the lines, the messages of her candidate without really stopping to think about the consequences for the racial dynamic in the election.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: There ought to be a way in which you can challenge lack of experience, which I think is hugely important, one of the reasons that I chose Hillary Clinton, not just because I've known her for many years, but because I've seen how tough the job is, having worked as President Clinton's deputy chief of staff.

It's like what the next President is facing is gonna require such a set of skills and experience and strength of character that I just felt Senator Obama, who I do admire and I do think that he can be a great leader. I just felt, "How do you challenge that lack of experience without it being seen through this racial-"

CHRIS EDLEY: Well, you-


CHRIS EDLEY: Well, first of all, you don't have to be ad hominem. I think there's a difference between saying "unrealistic" and saying "na´ve." The larger point is that this is the first time we've gone through this. Race, gender, at the very top of our exercise in democracy. We don't know how to do it. We just don't know how to do it.

We don't know where the lines should be drawn. Which to me means that we people of goodwill have to bend over backwards to be scrupulous, to be exceedingly careful about these code words, about these messages, so as not to inflame the evil angels in our nature, if you will.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: But I think we've what we're learning is that we still have a long ways to go in terms of both race and gender. I mean, one of the questions for November, and it looks like it's gonna be Senator Obama. We do have to finish -

CHRIS EDLEY: Well, what was your first clue?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: We have to finish the rest of the calendar, but it does look like Senator Obama is locking up the delegates and will be the nominee. But the fact is starting now we don't know whether Americans, a majority of Americans, are prepared to vote for an African American or a woman. In both -

CHRIS EDLEY: But I just want to be clear. I mean, those West Virginia voices that we heard - I think there's just simply no denying the fact that there's a group in the population, we don't know how large it is, who are just ready to get a signal that it's okay to vote their fears rather than their hopes and to vote their prejudices rather than their aspirations. Listen, we started all of this with me being deeply pessimistic about whether the country was ready. And I have been amazed and extraordinarily gratified to see what his candidacy has become.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: But we shouldn't deny and sort of ignore that we also have the first female candidate who has really shown that a woman could run for President and do so and be very viable. Remember, this race is very close. It reflects the fact that we have two excellent candidates.

BILL MOYERS: Let me hear your explanations talking to each other of why West Virginians rejected the presumptive Democratic nominee by more than two to one? I mean, a state that Bill Clinton carried in 1992 and 1996, think of it, almost half of the Democratic primary voters, typically the most partisan Democrats in that state, said they would vote for Republican John McCain rather than Obama in November. Is that because of race?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think there probably is a piece, some part of it is race, but it's not the whole answer. There has to be, I think, some anxiety about experience and about basically not feeling that Senator Obama understands who they are and what their experience is, not because he's black but because he's from Illinois and East and Hawaii, and he doesn't know what it's like to be in West Virginia.

CHRIS EDLEY: It's "Who can I connect with?" Who can I connect with? And the very fact that Clinton carried West Virginia, right, the name recognition factors and so forth, I mean, that's a piece of it. And race is certainly a look, on some of the best political advice I ever heard was during the Dukakis campaign. I was -


CHRIS EDLEY: I was his national issues director. And I remember during the debate prep, one of the debates, and one of the advisors said to him, "Governor, you have to understand, the American public is sitting there and they're watching this debate. And they're trying to figure out which of these two characters do they want to have with them in their living room every night for the next four years." That's the first question.

And I think that was absolutely right. I mean, your issues, positions, and all the rest, that's way down the list. It's who do I want to have in my living room with me? And that question of who do I feel some sense of connection with I think dominates our choices.

BILL MOYERS: So, what did you both think when you heard Senator Clinton say she had the support of, quote, "hard-working white people"?

HILLARY CLINTON: There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again and how the whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. And in Independents, I was running even with him and doing even better with Democratic-leaming independents. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.

BILL MOYERS: Did you think that was a statement of reality? An observation of nature? Or was it trying to stir the pot?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think that she was making the case to the super delegates about who can win in November, looking at all the different demographic groups. And which you build a coalition so you can win. And I think that the way it came across, though, of by focusing on hard-working white Americans just - it rubs people the wrong way, and I cringed when I heard it 'cause I know that's not what she meant.

CHRIS EDLEY: Yeah. It's - I agree with that. I don't think that there was certainly anything in her heart of that nature. I certainly believe that she conflated two different ideas. She conflated the campaign rhetoric about hard-working Americans with the dry demographic analysis of the voting patterns. And she stuck those two things together in a simple phrase, which made it seem uglier than anything that was in her heart. She's still fighting. And she's still trying to make out the case that she would be the better nominee, she would be the better President. And I think it's past the point of being constructive. And it's this is a personal crusade on her part now. And it's an indulgence. And I think it's unfortunate.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: An indulgence? Wow, that's a pretty strong word considering that there are just hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton supporters - many women, many women, who feel that she has to stay in there until the end.


MARIA ECHAVESTE: Because they believe, and I think to some degree I share this view, that Hillary Clinton did not get a fair chance with both media perspectives and the subtleties on the gender discrimination. I think there was in the media particularly there's a zone of protection around Senator Obama on race where none existed on gender. And it may be that in so many ways for her to be capable of being commander-in-chief, being the tough person that she - that people want - it also raised all kinds of pretty misogynistic views about women and that woman in particular. And a lot of women are angry about it.

BILL MOYERS: What is it, Maria, that you think might happen here at the end of this long race that would cost Obama the nomination? I mean, is Hillary waiting for lightning to strike? Is she waiting for some revelation about him?

BILL MOYERS: They see the longer she stays in there, the more these doubts grow about Obama, right?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think those doubts have been there from the beginning. I -

CHRIS EDLEY: But she's doing everything she can to reinforce them now. And -

MARIA ECHAVESTE: Look, the question is who can beat John McCain in November? And I think there really is a question in a lot of people's minds as to whether Senator Obama can do it or whether she can. Senator Obama has barely had the attacks that the Republicans are gonna throw. And I think that what we've seen in the last few months is that he can't quite take a punch and -


MARIA ECHAVESTE: - and I really think that everything that's known about Hillary has been dissected, rehashed. They can't throw anything new to her. For some people that is an argument that she would be the better candidate against McCain.

CHRIS EDLEY: Rarely have you said so many wrong things in so few words. Look, there are a lot of negatives about Hillary that did not come out in the campaign, a lot of baggage that she and Bill have that was not discussed in the campaign. So to suggest that everything has been considered is simply not accurate. Number two, it is true that there are doubts within the party. But they've been litigated. They've been litigated long enough to know what the outcome is going to be.

And now the question is how to heal. And instead of continuing to reinforce those concerns, she should be trying to allay those concerns. Now, she says that starting as soon as this is resolved, presumably in June, she will start to turn her attention to allaying those concerns. The question is, well, why not start now since the outcome is inevitable?

The only principled reason I can think of for that, and it's an important one, is at the end of the day she has to work her heart out to heal the party and for us to win in November. And whatever she has to do over the coming days and weeks to get herself psychologically and to get her supporters psychologically to the point where they're willing to do that, that's what I'm for. And if it means that she's stays in, fine. But I think she's gotta be very careful about her communication strategy.

BILL MOYERS: I've been following this discussion the conservative press because it seems to me they're gonna be gatekeepers for some of their own followers as to how far you go in exploiting race if Obama is the nominee. Columnist Tony Blankley said, "If we're honest we run the risk of having two conversations, a polite public one that uses euphemisms or evasions about race and a nasty private one that is likely to dredge up the worst within us." Has that ugly conversation started already with West Virginia?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I have to be hopeful.

CHRIS EDLEY: Yeah, 'cause your immigrant tradition -


CHRIS EDLEY: - is being hopeful, right?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I have to believe in the best of America. And the reason I do is I look at Indiana, the results in Indiana and North Carolina. Look, I was disappointed as a Hillary supporter. But the fact is, is that he won North Carolina and came very close to winning in Indiana after all of the Reverend Wright and after all of the negative attacks. And it seems to me that there were a lot of white Americans who said, "I'm still gonna vote for Obama because I like what he's saying."

But one of the groups that's really, he's gonna have to work hard and also will be an interesting discussion for the months to come is the role of the Hispanic voters and, you know, that's -

BILL MOYERS: They're nine percent of the electorate, right?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: That's right. And if you got Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada particularly in play. But he also needs to not forget California and New York. The fact is, is that Hillary had two-to-one support among Latinos for her and not Obama. And I think the fundamental reason was that they didn't know Senator Obama.

CHRIS EDLEY: And the second was that Obama did not have as strong a political effort, a communications effort with that community as he should have. And I think he kind of caught up late. And he had a lot of work to do because of the name recognition factor. And now he can - now he's gotta focus on that.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: And we've got this situation in that John McCain actually is known by Hispanics. He comes from Arizona.

BILL MOYERS: He's the one Republican most likely to appeal to his Latino voters, right?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: Absolutely. And he's already started to do some websites and outreach and trying to show a different face. And this is really going to be an issue in -

BILL MOYERS: Growing up in Texas it was obvious to my wife and me that there was antipathy between — even back then, you know, 40, 50, 60 years ago — between Latinos and blacks. How do you explain that?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: Well, I think it's caught up in all of our history, meaning our racist history and the sort of - let me put it this way. One of the challenges, especially since, like, something like 40 percent of the Latino population is foreign born, is - and one of the new issues is how do we integrate all these immigrants, right? And one - I always say integrating into what? Integrating into a society which has always had African Americans sort of at the bottom?

Well, if people are coming in sort of going, "I'm gonna skip over this part. I'm gonna emulate the rest of society," well, of course, you're gonna have that antagonism. Or do we find an opportunity to not repeat the patterns of the past and actually see the common ground? If you look at the state of California, the children who are not receiving the education that they should are both black and Latino children. And together they would represent a majority of progressive voters in the state of California. And the state is still very, very broken. So there's -

BILL MOYERS: They're fighting over the scraps.


BILL MOYERS: And that's why they oppose each other so much?

CHRIS EDLEY: But as Maria said, if you're an immigrant and you come to this country you see two possible narratives. There's the hopeful, striving, up, succeeding immigrant narrative, right? And then there's the downtrodden, minority - class structure, rigid class structure narrative of being black in America. If you have a choice between which of those narratives do you want to identify with — it's a no brainer.

BILL MOYERS: Isn't it also possible to be unfair to the white working class people that we've heard some of whom are expressing racial sentiments, racist sentiments, isn't it possible that they feel this competition, too, in this society where there's so much of a gap between the rich and poor that they see the immigrant, they see the African American, and now they, too, are at the bottom of the economic ladder. And so you've got this three-way competition between people who are all fighting just to get -


BILL MOYERS: - through the day.

CHRIS EDLEY: Exactly right. And I think that to Barack's credit, he's talked about that. Some of that was in his Philadelphia race speech. Some of that was, unfortunately, framed in his comments about bitter voters and so forth. I think that the honest discussion about what are the sources of tension, what are the sources of difference, is really valid. I used to have this argument sometimes with Bill Clinton when I was in the White House and we were working, that it's a little too easy just to talk about the things that unite us. It's a little too easy that the real -

BILL MOYERS: A little na´ve?

CHRIS EDLEY: Yeah, the real challenge of leadership is to find ways to talk about the things that divide us and help us figure out how to bridge those not by ignoring them but by, in some sense, overcoming them, resolving them, accommodating them. And, if we can have that kind of a campaign, you know, I'm not for ignoring race in the sense that it can't be ignored. It's gonna be there no matter what.

If you ignore it in the sense of simply not talking about it then you've failed to do anything effectively to deal with the cancer.

BILL MOYERS: Let me ask you both about how the Clinton and Obama supporters for the next six months can live together and work together without a divorce?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think that because we share some very strong common values about what we want in the future, I mean, just a lot of our work is about trying to, in our own different ways, is trying to change and help move progress forward in this country on so many aspects, And though you may be supporting Obama, you may be supporting Hillary, that, ultimately, the things that we want for our country overshadow this difference at this moment. And that we have to respectfully disagree right now and be united at the end and just work towards understanding what's at stake in November.

BILL MOYERS: To what extent do you think you were influenced by the fact this is the first woman and you were influenced by the fact this is the first black man to really get close to it? How much do you think you were affected by that, Maria?

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I think that's a certain piece. I mean, the fact that you could have a woman who is also a mother. I mean, it's just there - the roles of women is just to have that be in the President, I mean, we see this in the business. You see that having people with different experiences just adds to a richness of your ability to make decisions. And that is exhilarating.

But it's only a piece of it. And only a piece of it, I mean, I ultimately it was all about who I thought could do the job pretty immediately.

CHRIS EDLEY: Look, I think that it - I confess that - I'm sure that part of it is that he's black. No question about it. But it's the qualities of mind and character more than anything else that attracted me to his candidacy and made me confident having worked in two White Houses that he has the capacity to be a spectacular President. So race is a part of it, but, boy, if he were not in the race I would be thrilled about Hillary's candidacy and as a first but also the things that I respect about her.

BILL MOYERS: Her mind, her vision -


BILL MOYERS: What is it you respect about her?

CHRIS EDLEY: Look, I do think of myself really as a policy wonk. And she is a policy wonk par excellence. So I love that. And I do think there are important advantages to having somebody THERE that who knows how to do it. I mean, look, I watched Jimmy Carter flounder.

BILL MOYERS: You were in the White House.

CHRIS EDLEY: I was in the White - I watched Bill Clinton flounder -

MARIA ECHAVESTE: The first year.

CHRIS EDLEY: The first year or two.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that's what they say about Barack Obama. He's not gonna be ready on Day One because he has no experience that would make you think that he knows what to do the day he takes that oath -

CHRIS EDLEY: He both has personal qualities that I am confident will make him ready, including his ability to take a punch and be steady and serene in a crisis but also -

BILL MOYERS: You ever punch him? You ever see how he can take a punch? Ever want to see how he takes a punch?

CHRIS EDLEY: But also he's not gonna make the mistake that both Carter and Clinton did -

BILL MOYERS: Which was?

CHRIS EDLEY: - of excluding from their staff -


CHRIS EDLEY: - people who had substantial experience. Look I was one of two Carter alumni in the White House.

BILL MOYERS: Under Clinton?

CHRIS EDLEY: Under Clinton. One of two out of hundreds of people in the White House. And the other, a fabulous guy named Bo Cutter, Bo and I used to kind of sit and commiserate with each other about all the mistakes that they were making in terms of process, in terms of strategy, because we'd seen it before. And Barack isn't gonna make that mistake. I've had that conversation with him.

MARIA ECHAVESTE: I'm hopeful. I tease him. I say if Senator Obama becomes President you're moving to Washington. The kids -


MARIA ECHAVESTE: - and are I staying in California. He's gonna need all the help.

CHRIS EDLEY: Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

BILL MOYERS: Maria Echaveste and Chris Edley, thank you for being with me on THE JOURNAL.

Moyers Podcasts -- Sign Up for podcasts and feeds.
Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ