Bill Moyers Address: “Take Back America”
(click above link for streaming video links...)
SCHUMAN CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY
FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2005
Federal News Service
ROBERT BOROSAGE: Good morning. Good morning. (Cheers.) Everybody awake? Are you ready for more? Special treat this morning. (Cheers.) Let me tell you a little bit about our speaker. You all know who he is, I believe. Bill Moyers is a special grace. (Cheers.) He was born in Hugo, Oklahoma. He grew up and he was educated in Texas – (boos) – (laughter) – the best part of Texas. He studied religion in Texas. He worked as a newspaper reporter. Then he descended into politics. (Applause.) He became the leading adviser and press secretary to a president that came from Texas when Texas used to send us progressives, Lyndon Baines Johnson. (Applause.) He was deputy director of the Peace Corps.
In 1970, he found his place. He came to television – CBS, PBS – and there he became the true exemplar of the Edward R. Murrow school of journalism, of being able – (applause) – of being able to tell the truth. He perfected investigative journalism. He would portray not simply the facts, but the context, and so be able to tell the story that would allow people to see what was really going on. He provided extraordinary conversations with the world’s leading thinkers, displaying on television what it never shows, real wisdom and insight.
And he never ducked the hard questions – Watergate, race, class, Iran/contra, the rise of the new plutocracy, the CEO crimes and corruptions of Enron, the hijacking of the faith, the current rise of a radical right and their machinery, the corruption of the Congress, the lies and dissembling of those who would disassemble us in the war. (Laughter.) For that, of course, he earned the enmity of the right. And it’s interesting about that – you know he always brought the leaders of the opposition onto his television show. He put a camera in front of them, he asked them questions, he let them tell their own story. He let them tell their own views and they saw themselves on that television and like the witch in the fairy tale, they railed against the mirror because they did not like what they saw. You know, there’s a phrase in – (applause) – there’s a phrase that we often use – you often hear at conferences like this about telling truth to power. It’s all struck me as sort of odd because the powerful often know the truth and try to suppress it. The real story is who will tell the people, who will have the courage to tell the people? (Applause.)
And in our time, there has been really no one like Bill Moyers, having the courage, the wisdom, the sense of history, the ability to tell a story, the ability and desire to get to the facts. No one has been able to tell the people better than Bill Moyers. Now next week – let me do a little plug – next week in bookstores across the country, the paperback edition of Bill Moyers’ “On America: A Journalist and His Times” with four new essays, including one entitled “A Time for Anger” comes to your bookstores. I recommend it highly. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a deep honor and pleasure to introduce to you, Bill Moyers.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for that very generous introduction, Bob.
MR. : (Off-mike) – happy birthday!
MR. MOYERS: Thank you – (laughter) – happy birthday. (Applause.) All right, thank you for that very generous introduction, Bob, and for that very warm welcome. I want to hurry because we need to save a couple of hours for Jesse Jackson, who follows me. (Laughter.) It’s really good to be with you again. I was here two years ago, also on my birthday, and I can’t imagine another gathering where the passion for democracy could be more inspiring or the spirit more contagious, unless we’re in the boardrooms today of the Fortune 500 companies celebrating the appointment of a new SEC commissioner. (Laughter.)
I wish I could have attended all the sessions, listened to all the speakers, and heard all the points of view that have been raised here. But thanks to C-SPAN – thank god for C-SPAN. (Applause.) I’ve been able to eavesdrop on much that’s happened in this hall. I fear you’ve left me with very little to say. That’s okay, because as Bob reminded us back in January, what matters isn’t what is said in Washington, but what you do back on the ground across the country to build an independent infrastructure, generate ideas, drive local campaigns, persuade the skeptics, organize your neighbors, and carry on at the grassroots this movement for social and economic justice.
Before you leave though, Bob has asked me to talk a little bit about what’s at stake in what you are doing. But given what I’ve already heard on C-SPAN, I have to take my cue from the late humorist, Robert Benchley, who arrived for his final examination in international law at Harvard to find that the test consisted of this one instruction, quote “discuss the arbitration of the international fisheries problem in respect to hatcheries, protocol, and drag-netting procedure, as it affects a) the point of view of the United States, and b) the point of view of Great Britain.” Benchley was desperate, but he was also honest, and he wrote, I know nothing about the point of view of Great Britain and the arbitration of the international fisheries problem, and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish. (Laughter.)
Now, that’s what I’ve done, as Bob indicated, in much of my journalism. 35 years ago, almost to the day, I set out on a three-month trip of over 10,000 miles to write a book called “Listening to America.” I completed the book, but I never finished the trip, was never able to stay off the road, couldn’t stop listening. My world-view has been a work-in-progress, molded by the stories I’ve heard from the people I’ve met. And I want to tell you this morning about some of those people. They reveal what’s at stake. I began with two families in Milwaukee. The breadwinners in both households lost their jobs in that great wave of downsizing in 1991, as corporations began moving jobs out of the city and then out of the country. In a series of documentaries over the next decade, my wife and partner Judith Davidson Moyers and our colleagues chronicled their efforts to cope with the wrenching changes in their lives and to find a place for themselves in the new global order. I grew up with people like these. They’re the kind of people my mother would have called the salt of the earth. Takes one to know one. They love their children, care about their neighborhoods, go to church every Sunday, and work hard all week. But like millions of Americans, these two families in Milwaukee were playing by the rules and losing. By the end of the decade, they were running harder, but slipping behind, and the gap between them and prosperous America had reached Grand Canyon proportions.
I want to show you a very brief excerpt from that first documentary. It aired in January of 1992 with the title “Minimum Wages: The New Economy.” You’ll see the father of one family as he looks for work after losing his machinist job at the big manufacturer, Briggs & Stanton. You’ll meet his wife in their kitchen, as they make a desperate call to the bank that is threatening to foreclose on their home after failing to meet their mortgage payments. During our filming, the fathers in both families became seriously ill. One was hospitalized for two months, leaving the family $30,000 in debt. You’ll hear the second family talk about what it’s like when both parents lose their job, depriving them of health insurance and putting their kids’ education up-for-grabs. Take a brief look at this excerpt.
MR. MOYERS: Incidentally, Claudelle, one of the children in the Stanley family, went on to join the Navy, and he was in the Pentagon on 9/11. He escaped unharmed, but as usual, he had taken the route of the military to try to help the family grope with their financial situation and to get himself ahead as well. Seeing those people again, I was reminded of what turns their personal trauma into a political travesty. They are deeply patriotic. They love this country, but they no longer believe that they matter to the people who run this country. When our film opens in 1992, they are watching the inauguration of Bill Clinton on television. By the end of the decade, when the final film of the series aired under the title “Surviving the Good Times,” they were paying little attention to politics. They simply didn’t believe their concerns would ever be addressed by the governing elites. And remember, this was under the Clinton administration. They’re not cynical, they’re too deeply religious to have any capacity for cynicism. But they know the system is rigged against them and so do we
You know the story. For now, a relatively small fraction of American households have been garnering an extreme concentration of wealth and income, as large economic and financial institutions obtain unprecedented power over our daily lives. In 1960, in terms of wealth – the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent was thirty-fold. Four decades later, it is more than 75-fold. Now such concentrations of wealth would be far less of an issue if everyone were benefiting proportionately. But that’s not the case and statistics tell the story. I know statistics can cause the eyes to glaze over, but as one of my mentors once reminded me, it is the mark of a truly educated man or woman to be deeply moved by statistics. (Laughter.) Now, this is an educated audience with a few exceptions and – (laughter) – I want to see if these statistics move you.
While we’ve witnessed several periods of immense growth in recent decades, the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers – that’s a mass of people – fell by 7 percent between 1973 and 2000. During 2004 and the first couple of months of this year, wages failed to keep pace with inflation for the first time since the 1990 recession. They were up somewhat in April, but it still means that working Americans effectively took an across the board pay cut at a time when the economy grew by a healthy 4 percent and corporate profits hit record high, as companies got more productivity out of workers while keeping pay raises down. Believe it or not, the United States now ranks the highest among the highly developed countries in each of the seven measures of inequality tracked by the index. While we enjoy the second-highest GDP in the world, excluding tiny Luxembourg, we rank dead-last among the twenty most-developed countries in fighting poverty, and we’re off the chart in terms of the number of Americans living on half the median income or less.
And consider the prognosis – on the eve of George W. Bush’s second inauguration, the Economist – not exactly a Marxist rag – (chuckles) – produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American can get to the top. With income inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age – and this is the editors of the Economist speaking, not a radical on PBS like me – with quote “an education system increasingly stratified with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries and great universities increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities,” with corporate employees finding it harder quote “to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchy by den of hard work and self-improvement,” with the yawning gap between incomes at the top and the bottom, the editors of the Economist – all friends of business and advocates of capitalism and free markets – concluded that the United States quote “risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.”
Let me run that by you again. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society. Or worse – the Wall Street Journal is no Marxist sheet either, although its editorial page can be just as dogmatic as old Stalinist. The Journal’s reporters, however, are among the best in the country. They are devoted to getting as close as possible to the verifiable truth and describing what they find with the varnish off. Two weeks ago, a front page leader in the Wall Street Journal concluded, quote, “As the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1970, the odds that a child born in poverty will climb to wealth or that a rich child will fall into the middle class remains stuck – I’m still quoting – despite the widespread belief that the United States remains a more mobile society than Europe, economists and sociologists say that in recent decades, the typical child starting out in poverty in continental Europe or in Canada has had a better chance at prosperity.”
That knocks the American dream flat on its back. But it should put fire in our bellies, because what’s at stake is nothing less than the meaning of what it means to be an American. (Applause.) A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague, Charlie Rose, put a question to the new president of CNN, Jonathan Klein. He asked, could there ever be a successful, progressive version of Fox News Channel? Klein didn’t think so. He said, Fox appeals to, quote, “mostly angry white men,” while liberals, you know, they don’t get too worked up about anything. (Chuckles.) Well, let’s see if this is something to get worked up about.
Under a headline stretching six columns across the page, the New York Times reported last year that tuition in the city’s elite private schools – kindergarten as well as high schools – would hit $26,000 for the coming school year. On the same page, under a two-column headline, the Times reported on a school in nearby Mount Vernon, just across the city line, with a student body that is 97 percent Black. It is the poorest school in town. Nine out of ten children qualify for free lunches. One out of ten lives in a homeless shelter.
During Black History Month that February, a sixth grader who wanted to write a report on the poet Langston Hughes could not find a single book about Hughes in the library – not one. There’s only one book in the library about Frederick Douglass, none on Rosa Parks, Josephine Baker, Leontyne Price, or other path breakers like them in the modern era. Except for a couple of Newberry award books bought by the librarian with her own money, the books are largely from the 1950s and 1960s when all the students were white. A child’s primer on work begins with a youngster learning how to be a telegraph delivery boy. There’s a 1967 book about telephones with the instruction quote “when you phone, you usually dial the number, but on some new phones, you can push buttons.” There’s no card catalog in this library and the newest encyclopedia dates from 1991 with two volumes missing. Something to get worked up about.
How about this? Caroline Paine’s (sp) face and gums are distorted because the Medicare-Medicaid-financed dentures don’t fit. Her appearance has caused her to be continuously turned down for jobs. Caroline Paine is one of the people in David Shipler’s recent book “The Working Poor: Invisible in America.” She was born poor. Although she once owned her home and earned a two-year college degree, Carline Paine has bounced from one poverty-wage job to another all her life equipped with the will to move up, but lacking the resources to deal with such unexpected and overlapping problems as a mentally handicapped daughter, a broken marriage, and a sudden layoff that forced her to sell her few assets, pull up her roots, and move on. In the house of the poor, Shipler writes, the walls are thin and fragile and troubles seep into one another. If you believe the Declaration of Independence means what it says that all of us are endowed by the Creator with a love of life, a longing for liberty, a passion for happiness, and that Caroline Paine is included in that embrace, this is something to get worked up about. (Applause.)
Or this, courtesy of the journalist Mark Shields. It seems workers in the American territory of the northern Mariana Islands were being forced to labor under sweatshop conditions, producing garments for Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, GAP, and Liz Claiborne. The garments were then shipped tariff-free and quota-free to the American market where they were entitled to display the coveted Made in the U.S.A. label. When Senator Frank Murkowski heard that these people were being paid barely half the US minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks without plumbing while working twelve hours a day, often seven days a week, with none of the legal protections US workers are guaranteed, he became enraged. He got the Senate to pass a bill unanimously that would extend the protection of our laws to the territory of the northern Marianas.
But then the notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff moved into action – (boos) – with an S.O.S – with an S.O.S. to his good friend Tom DeLay. The records show they met at least two dozen times. DeLay traveled to the Marianas with his family and staff on a scholarship provided by Abramoff’s clients, where they played golf and went snorkeling not far – you’re not going to believe this – not far from the sweatshops. Was DeLay offended by what he saw? To the contrary, he told the Washington Post that the sweatshops were a perfect petri dish of capitalism. (Laughter.) ABC News recorded him praising Abramoff’s clients by saying quote “you are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican party and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free market system.” And Tom DeLay, the right wing radicals’ revisionist reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi – (laughter, applause) – Tom DeLay, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives of the United States of America killed the bill. If that doesn’t get your dander up, maybe this will.
As you heard this week, the minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1997. After the Republicans recently defeated an effort to increase it, Rick Wilson wrote for commondreams.org – (audio break, tape change) – of the poverty level. Meanwhile, the base salary of the members of Congress who voted down the wage increase is $162,100. That single mom would have to work about 31,476 hours to earn what those members of Congress get in a year. And remember the minimum wage she is earning is actually worth less than it was 40 years ago. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. America was not meant to be a country where the winner takes all. Through a system of checks and balances, we were going to maintain a decent equilibrium in how democracy works. If you don’t believe me, I’ll bring you my copy of the Federalist papers. Because equitable access to public resources is the lifeblood of any democracy, America made primary schooling free to all. Because everyone deserves a second chance, debtors – especially the relatively poor – were protected by state laws against their rich creditors. Charters to establish corporations were open to most, if not all, white comers, rather than held for elites. Government encouraged Americans to own their own piece of land and even supported squatters’ rights. That old hope for equal access to opportunity became a reality for millions, including yours truly.
Ruby and Henry Moyers were knocked down and almost out when the system imploded into the Great Depression. They worked hard all their lives, but they were always poor. My father’s last paycheck before he retired was $96 and change after taxes. We couldn’t afford books at home, except for the Bible, but the public library in Marshal, Texas gave me a card when I was eight years old. I went to good public schools. My brother made it to college on the G.I. bill. And in my freshman year, I hitchhiked to college along public highways, stopping to rest in public parks. Like millions of us, I was an heir to what used to be called the commonwealth, the notion of America as a shared project. It’s in our DNA. You know – we the people, in order to create a more perfect union?
You think about this at the Lincoln Memorial. Like you, I’ve been there many times over the years. Back in 1954, when I was a summer employee in the Senate, I took the same hike every Sunday. Starting at the Capitol, I headed for the Washington Monument, briskly climbed its 898 stairs, came down almost as briskly – remember I was only 20 then – (chuckles) – veered over to the Jefferson Memorial, and then doubled back to the Mall, down past the reflecting pool to where Lincoln gazes perpetually over the city, a city that because of him is the capital of the United States of America, and just the Northern States of America. When you go there nowadays, the temple of democracy where Lincoln broods seems as deeply steeped in melancholy as it was during the McCarthy Reign of Terror, the grief of Vietnam, or the crimes of Watergate. You stand there silently contemplating the words that gave voice to Lincoln’s fierce determination to save the Union, his resolve that government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth. And then, you turn, and you look out – as he does – on a city where those words are daily mocked. This is no longer Lincoln’s city and those people from all walks of life, making their way up those steps to pay their respect to this martyr for the Union, it’s not their city either. This is an occupied town, a company town. – (applause) – a wholly owned subsidiary of the powerful and privileged who have hired the influence industry to run it for them.
It’s impossible to know how many lobbyists there are in this town, so poorly are the records deliberately kept. But the Center for Public Integrity found their ranks include 240 former members of Congress and heads of federal agencies and over 2,000 senior officials who passed through the revolving door at warp speed. Lobbyists now spend $3 billion a year buying influence and access for their clients and, according to the New York Times, over the last six years, spent more than twice the amount spent by candidates for federal office. So, once again, this is a divided city – not between north and south as in Lincoln’s time, but between those who can buy all the government they want and those – like the folks in Milwaukee – who can’t even afford a seat in the bleachers.
So it is that huge financial institutions like MBNA, the credit card giant that is the biggest contributor to the president’s two campaigns in the White House, prevail in getting Congress and George W. Bush to curtail personal bankruptcies, making it harder for those families in Milwaukee to get a fresh start and a second chance. So it is that Wal-Mart, with the third-largest political action committee in the country and pharmaceutical giants with more lobbyists in town than there are members of Congress join with gun manufacturers and asbestos makers and the White House to restrict the right of aggrieved citizens to take corporations to court for malfeasance.
So it is that even as Exxon-Mobil accumulates more than $1 billion a month from escalating oil prices – more than $1 billion a month after allocating for dividends, share repurchases, and capital spending – the oil and gas industry wrings huge tax breaks from a public already squeezed hard by high prices at the gas pumps. And so it is that on Sunday before George W. Bush’s second inauguration, Nick Confessore, writing in the New York Times Magazine, describes how the president’s first round of tax cuts has brought the United States tax code closer to a system under which income from savings and investments would not be taxed at all and revenues from public services would be raised exclusively from taxes on working men and women. And one of the most fervent right wing class warriors in Washington is quoted as predicting no capital gains tax, no dividends tax, no estate tax, no tax on interest. One of the president’s enduring legacies will be to have replaced estate taxes on the wealthy with a sweat tax on their gravediggers.
You see these things, as a journalist, and then you read the report by the American Political Science Association, which says that increasing inequalities threaten the American ideal of equal citizenship and that progress toward real democracy may have stalled in this country and even reversed. You read in the same report that a quarter of all Whites in this country have no financial assets. Then you read on and learn that the median White household has 62 percent more income and 12 times as much wealth as the median Black household and that 61 percent of African-Americans in this country and half of all Latinos have no financial assets at all.
Then you open Jared Diamond’s new book on how societies choose to succeed or fail to find a description of an America where elites cocoon themselves in gated communities, guarded by private security guards, and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools. Gradually, the lose the motivation quote “to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security, and public schools.” Any society where the elite insulate themselves from the consequence of their action, Diamond writes, contains a built-in blueprint for failure.
You read all this and you realize this is what you’ve been seeing with your own eyes. You’re seeing the mugging of the American dream right in front of your face. Go with me. (Applause.) Go with me now to a small town in Pennsylvania. Two years ago for my weekly PBS series, NOW with Bill Moyers, we spent time there listening to regular people talk about what’s happening in their lives. You’ll see on camera my introduction to the report in the studio. But then you’ll be eavesdropping on the hidden conversation of America, the conversation that the ruling powers of this country want to stay hidden. Take a look.
MR. MOYERS: One of our sons says that coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous and a young woman came up to me and said, Mr. Moyers, I’m from Tamaqua. What a coincidence. Patty Borger (sp), come up here a minute. I want to ask you something. Come up here. (Applause.) I want to ask you – now, we just met, I’ve never met you, didn’t know you were going to be here – do you think that was a fair – that was a small excerpt from a long documentary, but do you think that was a fair depiction, what you saw of Tamaqua?
PATTY BORGER: It is absolutely the depiction of Tamaqua, as I shared with some of the people that I had dinner with last evening. It is that and then some.
MR. MOYERS: Thank you, because I want to tell you something, thank you very much.
MS. BORGER: Thank you.
MR. MOYERS: I want to tell you something. When that broadcast aired, Kenneth Tomlinson was watching. Now some of you know that Kenneth Tomlinson is the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Boos.) He’s Karl Rove’s ally and the right wing’s point man on keeping tabs on public broadcasting. And – I’m not making this up – you’ve heard that he and I have been involved in a little dispute of late. (Laughter.) I didn’t know until I read it in the Washington Post a few days ago, but Mr. Tomlinson himself told a reporter that when that broadcast aired, he was watching and it was too much for him. Reaching into that well-worn book of mindless right wing clichés, he called it liberal advocacy journalism and he decided quote “right then and there” to bring some balance to the public TV and radio airwaves. In other words, to counter what real people were saying about their lives.
So, what did he do? Well, apparently the sainted Tom DeLay was too busy snorkeling with lobbyist to take on his own PBS show informing the folks in Tamaqua that they are the petri dish of capitalism. But Mr. Tomlinson found kindred spirits at the right wing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, where the quote “animal spirits of business are routinely celebrated with nary a negative note about the casualties of their voracious appetites.” So now on public television, every week you can get an alternative view of reality to life in Tamaqua.
Here’s the point. The last thing ideologues want is reporting about the facts on the ground. Facts on the ground subvert the party line. That’s why if you live where right wing radio and media monopolies dominate the airwaves, you’re told a hundred different ways why unregulated markets work better than democracy. That’s a lie, of course, but because you’re never the other side of the story, it works. Here was straight-forward reporting about people who were in pain for reasons not of their own making and it was more than a right wing apparatchik could take, because too much of the truth might set those people in Tamaqua free, might take them to the voting booths or even to the streets, shouting we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. (Applause, cheers.)
I pause here to call on that old journalistic warhorse, Hal Crowther, who was a staple at Time and Newsweek and the Buffalo News, before going his own way with his independent column. Just this week, he writes that quote “ the first thing every reporter was taught, back when reporters were taught things, is that the best way to find the truth is to follow the money. If the media still-hunted with live ammunition, Enron, Halliburton, and the energy industry’s pornographic profits would be enough to force this oil-soaked, shake-beholden government to resign in disgrace.” Remember – (applause, cheers) – and he goes on to thunder, quote “worse still than handouts to the wealthy is the reprehensible new legislation that blocks working Americans from climbing the hill where the money flows.” Laws, like boulders, roll downhill to crush the scrambling underclass, the estimated 80 million Americans unable to pay their bills. Think about what it means to limit personal bankruptcies, inhibit class-action suits against toxic employers, protect chemical polluters from liability lawsuits, and cap settlements in personal injury cases. It means trying to eliminate what little protection of ordinary citizens retain against corporate leviathans that cheat, exploit, injure, empoison them, trap them in hopeless jobs, renege on their health care and default on their pensions. It means stripping leverage from the people who have no leverage to spare. (Applause.)
Now, we did that kind of reporting on NOW with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio is still doing that kind of reporting. (Applause.) Hal Crowther hunts with live ammunition. But if Kenneth Tomlinson and Karl Rove have their way, journalists on public broadcasting will be shooting with blanks.
Let me tell you finally about those people in that little town. They don’t want to get rich. They just want a decent paying job. They want Social Security to be there in their old age for their own sake, and so their kids – (applause) – so their kids won’t be burdened with their care. They want a simple, comprehensive health care system. They want their livelihoods and the vitality of their communities taken into account, as political and corporate elites measure profits, economic growth, and the GDP. And they want the political system cleaned up so the playing field is more level and their voices are not wholly drowned out by the deep pockets predators here in Washington DC. These are not radical views. They’re not even liberal views. They’re just plain American values and any reporter who spends any time in the field can discover that. (Applause, cheers.) You just have to get out of the Washington and New York studios, throw away the talking points sent to you by the Republican National Committee, stop yakking and start listening, leave the winners to their wine and buy the losers a beer, and you’ll find that the actual experience of regular people is the missing link in a nation wired for everything but the truth. (Applause, cheers.) And let me tell you, these plain American values, the truth from an America that is barely holding on, scares the hell out of the powers that be.
I’m going to skip over the heart of my speech. (Laughter.) Bob asked me to talk about the past and how progressives have always put themselves in front of a juggernaught of wealth and privilege that is always threatening, from the end of the civil war through the 1920s, always threatening to roll over the last vestiges of democracy in this country. And I had a wonderful section on that, which I’ll get Bob to publish on his website tompaine.com. But I want to say, they’re back, my friends. They’re back in full force with a lock on all the three branches of government and most of the media and their goal is to take America back – back to their private garden of Eden in the first Gilded Age, when the strong took what they wanted and the weak suffer what they want. Look no further than today’s news. Donaldson is out at the SEC. He was trying too hard to look out for the interests of shareholders in the public, so the president’s big donors, the captains of industry and finance who manipulated the first Gilded Age cashed in their IOU’s and Donaldson is out, replaced by a right wing Congressman who takes a dim view of shareholder suits and supports eliminating the estate tax, the dividend tax, and other taxes on the idle rich. Once again, they’ve sold the chicken coop to the fox.
So what do you do? What do you do? Well, progressives have to be like the Irishman who was walking down the street and saw a brawl and said, is this a private fight or can anybody get in it? (Laughter, cheers.) Well, you’ve got to go home and jump in. You’ve got to tell the truth about the other side. You’ve got to fight the corruption of the system. But don’t stop with reporting how bad they are. It’s not enough to say how bad they are. Show us a new vision of globalization with a conscience. Stand up for working and middle class people and those in the middle and those who can’t stand alone. Don’t be cowed, intimidated, or frightened. You may be on the losing side of the moment, but you’re on the right side and winning side of history. (Applause, cheers.)
And I remind you, history could come tomorrow. Have some fun while you fight. Americans are more likely to join the party that enjoys a party. (Chuckles.) Come to think of it, go out there and argue that working people should have more time off from the endless hours of tedious work that devours the soul and the long commutes that devastate families and community.
And one last bit of advice, don’t forget your homework. I’m giving you some summer reading as it used to be said. My book next week comes out, as Bob says. (Laughter.) But, more important than my book, I want you to read this book. It comes out in late July. It’s called Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by a historian at the University of Wisconsin named Harvey J. Kaye. Thomas Paine was the journalist of the American revolution who called forth the better angels of our nature, who imbued us with our democratic impulse, and articulated our American identity with exceptional purpose and promise. It was Tom Paine who argued that America would afford an asylum for mankind, provide a model to the world, and support the global advance of republican democracy. This is tonic for flagging spirits facing great odds, for it is Thomas Paine who insists that it is too soon to write the history of the revolution. You, you, you, and you, and you, and you, and you Patty, and you, you’re going to write the history of the revolution, and that is what’s at stake.