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Bill Moyer's Journal:
     Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues
     Moyers on Democracy

Bill Moyers conversation with Garrison Keillor on Cspan part II

GK: Hmm. But we need opposition, We need something. This is a basic American idea. That opposition and competition bring out, bring out the best in us. Bring out the admiration and idolatry are very hard, very hard to deal with. But a little honest debate really snaps us to. We want to face a worthy opponent. We want to face a team that is up to our level. We don't want walk over an opponent. This is an essential aspect of our culture. This beautiful adversary culture.

 BM: That's true Garrison, its not always beautiful. In our day and time, its become quite ugly. And yes if you like debate and are good at it you should be a debater. You should join the fray that way. That's not my manor. If you read my speeches, there are tougher than my persona on television. But that's cause there's this filter in television that can turn anger, that can turn you off if you feel anger. You see the person on stage or on the screen is angry. I'm not much of a debater. As I say, I was not good in live television. There's something else. Most of the people I put on, are people from whom I learned from. Journalism for me has been a continuing education in adult education. My own. And I have had a great classroom, for sharing it with other people. So when I discover the poetry of Robert Bly, who's here tonight, up in the balcony. When I discover a side of Jon Stewart that I didn't know and you wouldn't know and they wouldn't know unless they would have had that conversation with him that I once had. When I discover that someone has something that surprised me and enlarged me and cause me to exclaim in my own mind " Why I didn't know that!". I want to share that. So I'm trying to draw the person out. I'm trying to draw that out. I'm trying to reveal the blessing, if I may, that person has bestowed on society through poetry, through a book. Louise Erdrich here in the Twin Cities wrote a book that I opened and it took me two nights. It was like being on a bullet train. I couldn't get off that book. I stayed, I gave up two nights of sleep to read that book. Its called Shadow Tag. Its a story of a marriage, of a relationship in which the protagonist, the women in the marriage discovers that her husband is reading her diary. So she deliberately begins to write a false diary. And he starts reading that and then it becomes a dynamic novel that you can't put down. I, when I finished that I said I've got to share this with other people, I've go to bring her on the broadcast so all these people will know about Shadow Tag. And read it. that's my purpose. That's my aim, no the only one. But no I'm not much for a debate on television. I've done them, but I'm not much for them.

 GK: Hm. Well I'm not sure about that . Well I'm not sure about that Mr. Moyers. (laughter) You've said some sharp hard things in your career and I admire you for them. I mean, I wrote a column, a newspaper column, for a while and I felt honor bound to read, to read all the angry mail that I got. Anonymous, you know, comes in the internet and it's all anonymous and its animity leaves people a great freedom to be abusive in a way that they wouldn't if they signed their names to it. And it just, it was just exhausting. All this hostility. But, there are battles that need to be fought. We all want to be well liked. We all want to be popular. But there are battles that need to be fought. And, and if people are not shooting at you, then, then you are in the wrong place don't you think?

 BM: Well I have been shot at it many times. Mostly they missed, but sometimes they are not. I have done some of the, if I may say so, some of the most forthcoming and forthright documentaries on television in my 40 years. For example, Buying the War. Buy the War was a ninety minute documentary that I did after 9/11 showing how the press corp. and the Bush administration colluded in spreading the misinformation (applause) and disinformation about society. I did a documentary four or five years ago called Trade Secrets about how the chemical industry for 40 years had covered up the toxic products that they were, the toxic chemicals that were in products they were selling to consumers, to citizens. And that they were, that there workers were producing. 40 Years! 40 years they have engaged in a most diabolical, costly tradeoffs. Conspiracies against the public. And the chemical industry hired malicious political guys, malicious political guys, political stalkers, and they came after that broadcast. Tried to discredit it before it aired. They didn't succeed. The documentary aired. Won an Emmy. Was a great documentary thanks to my producers. I did a documentary called Pesticides in Children's Food. Chemical industry came after me again. I mean I'm accustomed to being attacked. I read every bit of the angry mail I get. Signed and unsigned. Mainly cause I want to know what did they see in the documentary. Why didn't they get the message. Because they're animus overwhelms the message. But what I did in 1973, before Richard Nixon was impeached, I did a documentary called Essay on Watergate. That anticipated what was going to happen because I having been in Washington. I could see what you couldn't see because I had been inside in Washington. I put that documentary together. So. So that's one thing. That's one genre. That's one form of journalism. Fortunately journalism can be an instrument of many. Can be a symphony of many instruments. And so the documentary is one. Conversation is another. I feel that when I'm invited into people's homes, and I know this sounds maybe sanctimonious, but when I'm invited into people's homes, I don't want to be shouting at them. I don't want to be shouting with the person sitting across from me. I want to see if we can reach some insight. Not agreement, but insight. That will cause the light to go off in a viewer's head.

 GK: But one of the most telling indictments of the, liberals today, is that we back away from a fight. We are under heavy assault and have been for years. An assault of misinformation and, and all out assault. We can describe this, but we are under attack and we tend to back off. We back off battles. That's the most telling criticism of this president. That he backs away from a fight before he ought to. He's out this week trying to raise money from Wall Street. The very segment of this society that he ought to be seen in battle with. (applause) And he's trying to raise money.

 BM: And that's Liberals fault. Liberals should be proud of their past. And they should fight to preserve the tradition that we have carried into today from the past. I'm a, I call myself a progressive now because a progressive is someone who was a liberal but has taken the gloves off. (applause) And prefers a bare-fisted fight. Where does that come from? That comes from a populous movement in the 1880s, 1890s, here in the midwest. It comes from the great Progressives like the Republican Robert LaFollet who comes from Wisconsin (applause) Who said that "democracy is a life of daily struggle". And that's the truth. And one thing about liberals is that they think you don't have to struggle except from 8 to 5. And that's not to way it is. Look, Liberals fought to end slavery. They were called Republicans then, but they fought to end slavery. A liberal president Franklin Roosevelt, fought for social security. Rallied the nation to fight the Nazis and the warlords of Japan. A Liberal president Harry Truman, fought for Medicare. Lost. In desegregating the armed forces. Won. A Liberal president Lyndon Johnson, fought for the Civil Rights Act of '64, Civil Rights Act of '65. Liberals fought for the suffrage, for the voting rights for women. Liberals have fought for the Environmental Protection Agency. Somewhere along the line, Liberals stopped fighting. And they don't fight today. And that is a great loss in the public realm. Liberals ought to be proud for what they have done for this country and they ought to take the opposition on (applause) and beat them. (applause)

 GK: You said something a couple years back that I imagine your father would have liked. I'm quoting you here, I think I am quoting you. "The corporate right and the political right declared class warfare on working people a quarter of a century ago. And they have won. The rich are getting richer with which arguably wouldn't matter if the rising tide lifted all boats. Instead the inequality gap is the widest its been since 1929. The middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their head above water. As the corporate and governing elites are helping themselves to the spoils of victory, access to political power has become a matter of who gets what and who pays for it." Those are fighting words.

 BM: Yes and I wish that more Liberals would use words like that. We are in a class warfare. Every time Liberals stand up for the poor, working class, working men and women, even the middle class, the Right, particularly the Wall Street Journal, fires back they're trying to start a class war. Bull! Class war was declared in the 1970s., and its documented. Its on the record. You can go home and google tonight. Google Lewis F. Powell. Richard Nixon put him on the Supreme Court. But before he was on the Supreme Court, he wrote a famous document in which he called on the business community, corporations and others, to get involved in repealing the New Deal. Crushing labor unions. Fighting government programs that provided a floor under the poorest of our citizens. He wrote that memorandum for the Chamber of Commerce. Its on the record. Go home and google William Simon. Richard Nixon's Secretary Treasury. Wrote a book called Time for Truth in which he called upon the business community, corporations, just like Lewis Powell, to rally to defeat Ralph Nader's consumer programs, the New Deal and so forth. And the conservative movement, beginning with Ronald Reagan when he fired the air traffic controllers in 1981 began that movement. The most they had several aims. One, destroy unions. Because unions, if they raised wages of their workers brought other wages up behind them. Furthermore, unions were the only national organizations that could organize middle and working people across the country to take on the powers that be. To take on the large economic interest. And that demonized Liberals. Demonized Liberals. (applause) Richard Nixon believed not in defeating his enemy. He believed in demolishing and destroying his enemy. Newt Gingrich carried that on. Newt Gringrich introduced vicious political rhetoric 25 years ago when he urged conservative to talk in demonic ways about Liberals. And neutralized the main stream media. And in which they did, because so many people in main stream media are afraid to get as close to the verifiable truth because they would be accused of being unfair. Will be accused of being on the side of marginalized, disqualified, disenfranchised people in this country. So what does the main stream media do now? We go for entertainment, the arguments, the punditry that goes on. And they have succeeded. We are at the end of a 30 year war in which democracy is dysfunctional. Its symbolic only. And the real power that is exercised in our society by increasing smaller number of wealthy people. And that's the way. If you don't mind, let me (reaches for his book) Most of what I learned, I learned from other people. And here's an interview I did with Simon Johnson, Who's one of the most fascinating young economist on the scene today. A Brit who came to this country. Was at the IMF and now teaches at the Wharton School of Business. But he has the best economic website in the country called And he wrote an article that I saw on that website called High Noon, Geithner vs the American Oligarchs.

 And I wanted to know more. "So I said to him, What are you signaling with that headline Geitner vs. the Oligarchs?" " I'm signaling something a bit shocking to Americans. The situation that we find ourselves in this moment is very strongly reminiscent of the situations we've seen many times in other places. The places we don't like to think as similar to us. Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea. (aside by BM: this is no Marxist by the way) Not comfortable comparisons. We sometimes find ourselves in the grip of the same sort of crisis in the same sort of oligarchs as in those countries." "I say oligarchy is unAmerican term you know. It means a government by a small group of people. We don't like to think of ourselves that way."
 He said " I know people react a little negatively when we use the term oligarchy. Its a way of governing. It comes from a system tried in Greece and Athens. It is political power based on economic power. And it was actually an antithesis to democracy in that context. A small group with a lot of wealth and a lot of power. Exactly that. They pull the strings. They have the influence. They call the shots. Its disproportionate, its unfair and its very unproductive. It undermines business in this society because in an oligarchy, corporations want monopolies, not competition. (BM: And then he says..) Its the rise of the banks in economic terms that translates into political power. They then exercise that political power back into more deregulation, more opportunities to go out take reckless risks and capture huge amounts of money. Which they then use to buy more political power." (closes the book and sets it back down)
 My father who had a fourth grade education would applaud that because he would know today that democracy has become a plutocracy which is political power derived from economic power devoted to protecting the wealth of the privileged. That's what we have today. (applause)

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