tv Author Discussion on Partisan Politics CSPAN February 16, 2020 1:00pm-1:47pm EST
time triple walter reports on the science and business of antiaging. radio host diane ream offers her thoughts on end-of-life care. sally pipes argues against medicare for all. nebraska democratic party chair jane cleaver raises in on how democrats can win back rural voters. and dennis baron researches the list of pronouns in history and today. that all starts tonight at 6:30 p.m. eastern here in book tv :
>> please welcome, james fallow, karl rove, jeff flake and bret stephens. [applause] >> hi there and welcome. i am - - and i run the political - - at usc. i used to be at strategist with political campaigns where i made some acquaintance with karl rove. let me introduce this panel starting at the other end.
james fallow, a longtime writer at the atlantic. he and his wife just traveled across america and produced a remarkable book called our towns. 1000 mile journey into the heart of america. senator jeff flake. author of the conscience of a conservative who didn't run for reelection in 2018 amid the trump storm in the gop. karl rove, chief strategist for george w. bush in 2000 and 2004. served in the white house. writes a column for the wall street journal and has written a fascinating book about the 1996 presidential campaign between william mckinley and - - 1896. did i say 1996? bret stephens, columnist for the new york times. his book, entitled america in retreat. which now seems quite
prophetic. he gave a speech in 2017 on the dying art of disagreement. it fits perfectly with our topic. let me ask directly and we will start with brett, how polarized are we and are we making the situation worse i think we are experiencing the most dire polarization since the civil war? >> i think the answer to the second question is yes. i do think we make matters worse with a lack of historical perspective. it doesn't help us. are we polarized compared to when exactly? february 19, 1968 and the battles over the vietnam war. as we as polarized as they were during the grant administration discussing the ku klux klan. nevermind the battles over kansas in the 1850s. compared to those episodes in american history, iwould say , the answer is not particularly. we are a country that is going through, let's put it this way.
a difficult phase in its marriage. and that doesn't we shouldn't be concerned or should take steps to do something about this. but i don't think we need to to start using metaphors. i will say there is one thing that greatly worries me. which is the advent of social media which really should be called antisocial media. [applause] has succeeded in re-creating a form of politics or forms of politics that we thought we had put behind us in the middle of the 20th century. in particular, the ability to create one in effect is a mob on social media. that targets individual voices. individual writers. in a way that's a genuinely
frightening in its intensity. and its irrationality. above all, and its consequences. i think this is having an effect among other things on literary life. if you do nothing else today, look up an extraordinary speech by george packer. it's his piece for receiving the hitchens prize. he talks about the effects of being a writer in her 30s and 40s today when the risk of saying anything remotely consequential or controversial can be career ending. that i think is really something that really ought to worry us. the ability of the people on the fringes of political discourse to have not just a voice but a veto in the way we express ourselves as americans.
>> your former boss george w. bush listen to the inaugural address of donald j. trump. as they were coming off the platform, he famously said something to barack obama like, what kind of blank was that? is trump a uniquely divisive figure among presidents who drives this polarization? >> first of all it was purportedly said to hillary clinton. i'm going to neither affirm or deny the statement. but look, he's not uniquely divisive. as far as a presidential candidate. he may be unusual. we've had a few divisive presidents.one of them was his model. andrew jackson. you heard last night, the famous quote, [indiscernible]. this was routine. i'm doing work on the jackson
on the nullification crisis. he's angry not only in his private letters but his public pronouncements. i seek each one of these moments, we are not at war. we were at work once. 600,000 americans died as a result. let's not get carried away. there's going to be a program immediately following this that follows this in more detail. i don't want to go into my brilliant talk now. each one of these moments seems to be different. i think social media has a big impact in this. if you look at other moments like the late 1840s and 50s, we also had technological change. we had instantaneous movement of information across nations through the telegraph. it used to take weeks to get information from new orleans to boston and now in the years following, information began to move rapidly. in the gilded age, we had
similar technological impact. daily newspapers. at one point we had 19 in new york city because the cost of them dropped dramatically as people figured out how to print them cheaper. we have the 1920s and 30s with the growth of populism. and that moment using technology, radio. father coughlin using radio to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment around the country. then we had the growth of the networks, tv networks, which tended to bring us together temporarily but social media is pulling us apart. we will survive this president just as we survive previous presidents who path moments. it's going to take a concerted effort to deal with social media and the things it has given rise to, the disruption
and division. there is a reality behind people's feelings about why they're as angry as they are. on both the left and right. we are going to a populist moment and people on both sides believe they have real reasons to feel the way they do. until we can figure out to have the leadership to bridge those divines, we will be where we are. >> jeff, you've been in the cockpit of that polarization in the senate and decided not to run again in part because of it. how bad is it? >> it's pretty bad right now. you always think it's worse than when you sit down with historians. you get some affirmation that we can get through this. [indiscernible] [laughter] >> say that again. it was so good. >> you read john meacham, a
song of america talking about how we've been through worse and we got through it. that was before nuclear weapons and twitter you wonder if this is a different era and it certainly brings it more to the floor. as an elected official and we spoke more about those in the last forum.the incentives right now to get together to work together across the aisle for example, were too deliberate. which the senate has been known for. there is just very few incentives. every incentive is to rush to your tribe and stay where you are and stay there because that's where the political safety is. i suppose we will be there for a while. we won't snap out of that that quickly. social media exacerbates it. but elected officials and you see it this week. in the last several weeks, the incentives really pushed us to our tribes. until those incentives change that may be a process, then we will be in this. there have been worse times, certainly. but it's pretty bad right now
in terms of the incentives that elected officials face. >> that's the perspective from someone who served in the senate. you and debra traveled around the country. how divided is it. is it different out there? >> yes i think so. i think it way different from the normal press narrative. there's an array of normal political alignments reflected in this panel.i agree with bret stephens, karl rove and senator flake that this is part of the continuum of american disruption. if you look at the history of any your especially the 1840s, 1890s. you have technological movements, political strife.
we saw evidence of being in a second gilded age with many of the same tensions that americans went through a century plus ago. there are disruption the decisions that come from that. second, all of us have been involved in national politics one way or another. i worked for jimmy carter as a speechwriter. i think that national politics are probably more tribalist, more polarized than they've been in a long time. the very first national magazine article i did in 1974 was for esquire for a man named charles wiggins. it was a conservative congressman from el monte. i spent a year with him. charles wiggins, initially very strongly for nixon but he came around on the evidence. it's hard to find his counterparts. the other thing that - - and i have found, at the level of
everything else except national politics in american life. you find a still functioning level of society. practicality and comity and reinvention. i will just mention maybe two examples. most of the places we went ended up voting for donald trump.one of them was dodge city, kansas. scene of gunsmoke and now a majority latino place because of the meat packing industry. when the kansas state government began cutting the school funding, the voters of dodge city, majority white, past a school levy to fund their schools for a majority of latino school population. something similar happened in holland, michigan. we found things like that all over the place. the head of rotc in the sioux
falls, south dakota public school is a girl who once walked out of the door for and whose mother works at one of the pork processing plants. we saw things like that around the country. nearby in san bernardino, i grew up 30 miles down i-10. they have become - - the schools have become arguably the most innovative in the state. with a 90 percent nonwhite population. one final point on the press. all of us are involved in the media in one way or another. i think there's been an overcorrection by the national press. we know that was a here is predilection with enormous consequences and if thousand things when a different way, the outcome would have been different. one of the impulses of the press is a fear of missing out on something. i think there was a fear of having missed out on things out there. so you people go out to diners in iowa and kentucky and west
virginia and alabama and say, how angry are you really? our experience is if you ask people how angry they are, they will say we are really angry. if you asked them about national politics, you will hear anything interesting from that second of it but if you asked him, what happened to the schools, how is the town getting better or worse. you see four of the fabric of renewal and practicality. china, where we lived for a long time, looks less impressive, the closer you get to it. america looks more impressive, the closer you get. [applause] >> let me follow that up with something else you've written about and discuss. the decline of local newspapers. what's the impact of that? >> that has a profound impact as i'm sure you know.
cities with is not a local newspaper, their bond rating deteriorates and have to pay higher interest rates because people of the city government isn't being held accountable. there's a sense of community contact lost. something i've been interested in is looking at the new models for local journalism. a lot of involves a shift from a hedge fund or private equity model. for reasons i won't go into. also, i will tell you later about report for america, which is an organization that everybody should look at and try to support. it's a time of experimentation. >> tell us now. >> report for america, the business model is a shared investment. a small paper that's struggling has to put up $10,000 for a new reporter on a new beat. it's a healthcare in reservations in wyoming.or climate change that impacted south carolina.
it's up $10,000. it has to raise $10,000 from local plant. in the report for america gives them $20,000. $40,000 a year, they get some reporter usually in her mid to late 20s. someone not right out of college but someone experience. they go there for two years. three years ago, they had 13 people. last year they had 61. this year they have 250. they're aiming for 1000. i think bank for the book philanthropic the is as strong as any place.
comments on my column and i wasn't, you're not even involved. you're not even addressing the argument that i'm making. you're just - - and that's genuinely problematic because in order to disagree well, you first have to understand well. that's fundamental. you have to be able to know your opponents arguments so well that you cannot only rehearse them, you can make your opponents argument even better than he might be able to make it. at that point, you can engage in genuine and serious disagreement. the last thing i want to point out this is important in an age where social media has two kinds of thinking. outcast thinking and conformist
thinking. as far as i can tell, all serious social literary technological political progress has been made by people who have the guts to disagree. all forms of community begin with the words, i do. whether it's a marriage or an agreement. but democracy at its heart rests on the person who says, i don't agree. i don't go along. i have a separate point of view. you ought to hear me. when we think 50 years from now, what are the tests of whether america prospers or not. i think one of the great questions we will face is whether we remained a country that remained not only receptive to - - thinking but when out of its way to give
those - - space to at least make their case. if we become a society where we treat them as heretics, we will have a future as grim as some of the states in places of the world or any form of independent thought is a potential capital offense. it would be astounding that a country as free as america through means that appear to be voluntary, walks its way into a situation where the risk of being that naysayer carries such social and even financial or professional penalties that nobody dares to say, i don't agree. not so fast. [applause] >> i have to point out that the word bloviate, was actually not a word until 1920 when it was coined by warman g harding who some used to think was the worst president in american
history. but now that word has achieved a state of normalcy. >> i can think of a lot more presidents that were more useless than warren g harding. he brought us out of an economic profession by being stable and steady. i want to play on something you said. i don't read my social media posts. i post things on twitter. i have 600,000 twitter followers. who the hell are these people? if there's something worth responding to, fine. the problem is, it's sort of the anonymity of i'm posting something on twitter. or i'm posting on facebook so i can say the crudest, nastiest, most vicious things and someone will pay attention to me. so i don't pay attention to them. i don't know how, there are people worth listening to.
but i'm not going to be the person that makes the decision whether i should listen to them. i will give someone else that job because it's depressing to see what social media has done to the brains of our fellow citizens. [applause] the new york times, it worries me that the new york times appears to be driven by, that dean prickett town hall meeting where he said we have to pay attention to what our leaders are telling us. and sort of begging forgiveness of some unnamed 20 world digital assistant editor for having - - for having had a neutral headline regard to donald trump. i don't want our great institutions to lose the sense that they have a responsibility to call balls and strikes. not to be sitting there following their readers. either to the hard right or
left. i'm at fox where i get this. tucker carlson, sean hannity, there following their audience. which is why i'd rather be on bill ham or or chris wallace. social media is an insidious, corrosive influence on the responsibility of the media to get the facts and not slant to them. and not be playing to their twitter feed. we go through this. with each new technological advance. i have the confidence we will work ourselves out of it. we say one more thing in response to senator flake with whom i worked for seven years at the white house. we had a good relationship except, you may not notice, he's an unpaid agent of fidel castro. [laughter] he's in favor of a lot of things with regard to cuba which i oppose.
this guy goes down there and lays around on the beaches. incentives. talked about this isn't going to change until incentives change. maybe. i've got to tell you, i see it particularly in the senate among the younger group of senators. democrat and republican.they did go there to engage in a political food fight for their careers. my sense is, given the right moment, you're starting to see portman, republic. democrat new hampshire. energy conservation bill, working through. get it done. my sense is we will see more and more of that people saying, i didn't come here to spend six years or two years of my life or repeat that six years of my life by getting reelected. in a food fight. i want to get something constructive done for our country. it works better when you have leadership that says okay fine,
i'm the president and i will work across parting lines to get something done. but it also may work well in the absence of human interference from the white house. i see it a little bit now but i sense a lot in conversation. i will be interested to see if you have those same - - >> is there arising are of agreement? >> i don't know if it's agreement but a rising desire to get something done and a recognition that the system is designed by the founders to require compromise. that's why portman and - - sat down and negotiated this out. this is why we've seen something like the war resolution and other moments where the congress is seemingly coming together. but more than the moments that they've come together is i think the desire to get something done which i think will grow in the years ahead. >> i hope that's the case.
let me just dismiss the cuba thing. >> have you been to the beach in cuba? >> i've been down 20 times. we did the - - which allowed us to change the policy with regard to cuba. i always felt if you want to get rid of the castro brothers, xm deal with spring break once or twice. - - let them deal. so i like freedom in that area. >> i don't like funding the state apparatus - - anyway. we've had this conversation for many years. >> are the people that get along and agree? yes. we saw an example with criminal justice reform. that's something on a smaller
scale that people sat across the aisle. cory booker, michael lee. for very different reasons, decided to move ahead. there's some of that happening on climate change. i hope and i think with chris coons on one side, mitt romney's involved, trying to get the republican party to acknowledge that there is something here. the difficulty is, to try to explain to your constituents, i'm working across the aisle. that's not something you put in a campaign brochure. he gets blowback for it. that's why i think incentives have to change. populism is not governing
philosophy. you've got to go in and look at things. the big problems we need to solve, that's an deficit, climate change, gun policy whatever agreement you have to have a cross party lines. share the political risk. >> we used to have a common base of knowledge in this country. we sort of observe most of the time - - advice that everyone's entitled to their own opinion but no one is entitled to their own facts. now we live in different factual universes. how do we overcome that? >> i saw of have on this point, the conservation of ignorance.
most people didn't know anything because they were illiterate or whatever. let me segue to a parallel for slightly different answer which is being a writers festival. to me, the two great pieces of writing that bear on this question of how we come together and transform, to that are always on my mind. one of course is the seminal essay. the moral equivalent of war. looking back on the civil war and saying, in the most catastrophic episode in american history, you have all these examples of avery and his or heroism. the question is, how can you have a moral equivalent.
i think that american leaders who have found ways to do that for notably with kennedy and the space program. the other is edward bellamy's. looking at united states that had solved its golden age problems. gilded age problems. the point i will make to close this, a lot of the big shifts in american awareness and possibility come from having a presidential personality that nobody anticipated. when i was working for jimmy carter, nobody that she would never have become president were not for nixon and watergate. people felt there is something different we need. interview ways ronald reagan and barack obama and bill clinton and trump now all representatives of we want
something different. i think this sense that we are better than our government to just now will lead to some different personality either this year or four years from now. >> i want to play off something but i'm not sure i agree that we are dealing in a different culture in which we for the first time ever disagreement about facts. i think we've had generally a sense of a common vision of where the country was in what it represented. but we disagree about the fundamental facts all the time. the war of northern aggression versus the southern rebellion. they had a difference of opinion about what the facts were with regard to the ability of black people to function in society. that's what a lot of the policy, the big policy battles of our 200 some odd years of existence have been fought over.
i think the truth is this, the facts are this and we need to respond in this matter. in 20 bull have been able to galvanize public opinion by convincing people this is the reality we face and the answer we must take. i'm not certain we are a country where we've always agreed on the facts. we've had deep disagreements about what the quote, facts are of the situation. >> but we didn't have two major media universes that for trade two different - - of the country. i think you're apologetic for discrimination the way blacks was treated was completely wrong. wrong on the merits and wrong morally. you and i have disagreed before so we will disagree. >> i agree with you on it but the point is there was a disagreement. i'm reading a book that no one will read in this room that is called the reconstruction of texas, 1866-1880.
the stories of what is happening in for texas counties over the last 40 years of the 19th century is unbelievable. the amount of violence that took place on a routine basis. we had a disagreement as to whether or not fellow americans were worthy of being treated as equals.>> can i at one point? with great respect for moynahan, it's a slightly stupid quote and overused. because what we are really disagreeing on at least at a certain level, i'm not talking about at a common level. at a certain level, the questions we always face are what are the significant facts? i gave a speech the other day here in palm springs on the subject of how not to predict.
i don't know how to predict but i can think of some ways predictions almost always go wrong. >> is a significant fact to you in 1985, you would think that will tell you about the future that japan will become a great power in the united states is going to be eclipsed. if the significant that was that japan had lousy demographics and real estate costs - - in downtown tokyo. that would lead you to a different set of conclusions. >> but those were all facts. >> i get it, but for the most part, what serious people disagree on is the subject of
what is the significance of one fact. is one facts simply a point of data or is an interesting signal - - to borrow the famous phrase, amidst all the noise. i'd like to make one quick additional point. which is that - - upholding truth and standards and accuracy and values of objectivity versus garbage media suppressing democracy. to some extent, i worked for the wall street journal for many years and now the new at times. i'm a great believer in elite media. one of the proms i think we have in the united states is that institutions that should hold themselves to particularly scrupulous standards when it comes to avoiding - - in the reporting and analysis have not
always met those standards as well as they should. so they have provided an opening for unscrupulous people to say, you see, it's all fake. it's all fraudulent. the way in which demagoguery succeeds in any country is not by telling lies. it's by telling half-truths. people sees on that half of the story that seems to have some validity. it is valid that core institutions, i mean the media. that's on us. that's a serious issue we have to confront people we simply
say, sean hannity is so awful and these characters are such a jerk spirit which they are. but, that's another story. >> let me get to the question of whether or not we can make this better and maybe i will start with jim and come down here and we will conclude. i run an institution at the - - called the center for political future where we try to model an advance politics where people are opponents, but not enemies. if you lose the game, you don't burn down the stadium. where we respect each other and respect the truth. is there any way we can get back to that kind of politics? >> my observation based on being in hundreds of smaller towns, that is essentially how local level american democracy is happening most places. i invite you to go somewhere you haven't been before, when
you get there, to not ask people about donald trump or nancy pelosi or hillary clinton. asked them, what's happening here? greenville, south carolina and the nashville, which are mapped on the opposite extremes actually work the same way. if you didn't know they were opposite, you would think they were the samecity in the way the university and city government work together. i would say there is this still healthy fabric . it's a matter of finding if that can percolate to the national level. great. if it can't, then it's all the more important that he be maintained. i thinkgoing out and seeing how people are engaging . >> jeff, your take? >> i think when you look out there and the most recent example to me, you touched on a bit of it the president signed an executive order allowing or
requiring local officials sign off before refugees are received into states or localities. and virtually, there are very few cases of localities or states that have taken the president up on that. most have affirmatively said no. we want - - in utah's case, they said we want to receive more refugees be please send them here. i do see that and that's certainly the example of what can happen at the national level. it's difficult and social media makes it difficult but one example. a year ago, after the president - - after the midterms, a democrat was elected and she had a campaign event that was filmed where she used very crude over language saying the president should be impeached. since i've been quite critical of the presidents use of vocal language, i just - - vocal
language, i tweeted out, language like this and have no place in politics. the fact the president speaks this way should not excuse the rest of us but we should be better. within two days, there were 30,000 comments on that post. not likes or dislikes. and then they were all over the map. but the overwhelming majority of them was to the effect of, if the president speaks this way, then so must we. if that side is doing it, so must we. that just points to the need for leadership and for people to model behavior. i think they do that daily at the local level. small towns we have to get along, where most elections are on a bipartisan basis. you just do it because that's what you do. if you ask about national politics, like you say, you go off. i hope at the national level we have people that model better
behavior. >> maybe you should have taken carl's advice and not read the comments. >> you'd be better. >> when i read the book, i was struck by the point jim made about how different things are at the local level then in washington. the more we make these decisions at the local level, the more we seem to find practical ways to resolve it. you may not know this, the texas legislature is not organized on a bipartisan basis. when jim was a young journalist for the texas monthly, i was a young staffer for one of the 16 republicans out of 150 in the texas house of representatives and my bath have been a committee chairman. even today with republican majorities in the house and senate, the longest-serving committee chairman is a
democrat. john whitmire.
german of major committees in the house are democrats. - - chairman. we only need for every two years and we are trying to get to every two days every 40 years. we are not there yet. the fact that it's not organized on a bipartisan basis means except for redistricting and high-profile issues, things tend to getsolved in a practical manner. for example , remember when we had the financial crisis in 2008 and nine. our legislature had to cut the absolute level of state government spending by 10 percent. not the future of growth but literally cut from where we were by 10 percent and the bill passed, the budget bill passed the house of representatives, 147-3. it was because people were forced into practical ways we are in communities and local towns and counties and so forth, to find a way to get it done in a
way that keeps
forward progress and minimizes politics. it's probably not transferable to other states. but it is one of the great things we have in texas. well worth protecting. friday night football and politics are two blood sports. when we come together for 140 days every other year to a great degree, politics is set aside in both parties are forced to work together. >> bret, do you have a quick take on this? >> what is the central problem of politics today? is that too often, the center bends towards the french. the french ought to bend to the center. i think the center is bending toward the fringe, needlessly. which means the gravity of american politics is still at the center. most people in america are not on twitter or reading comments. and they are not, they haven't been driven crazy and thinking about politics.
politics is and what they do 24-7. even if you take the total cable viewership in the united states today whether it's ms nbc or fox news, it's just a small fraction of the country. what i do think has to happen is we have to recover not just the institutions, but the self-confidence of the center to express itself. maybe more forcefully but what kind of country we want to be what kind of country we most frantically don't want to be. i suspect that is going eventually to happen as things tend to in the united states. the worst beds in the world for the last 240 odd years has been
to bed against the united states. every few years someone bets against the united states because china has ascended for the soviets or the fascists. and some house there always wrong. they're wrong because what is unique about this country, the strength of this country, the visibleevidence of disarray and imperfection . it's the invisible side to what jim saw on his flights across the country that is ultimately going to rescue and redeem us. >> i want to first thank all of you. thanks jim.[applause] jeff, carl and brett. i want to make clear for the record that actually i think warren hardy used to be the second worst president in america. james buchanan, used to be the worst president in american history. thank you all very much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> please welcome tim mcgraw and jon meacham. [applause]