Led by Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Dean, Annenberg School for Communication), with Paul Begala, Karl Rove, and Tom Luce
KATHLEEN (Moderator): Good morning. Let me welcome you to a panel described by one member of the panel as three white males from Texas. You can guess which irreverent member of the panel characterized it that way. He's the one wearing the boots. The--the panel this morning is also composed of the three members who have an affiliation with the commission. Two are current members of the commission; one is a former member of the commission, as I understand it, required by law to resign. And that had nothing to do with his behavior; that had to do with the job responsibilities that he was moving into. The three individuals who are here have held a wide variety of--of positions that will help inform us about the current state of political discourse and public discourse; how we could improve it; what the prospects for it are.
I assume that you know a great deal about them, and so I'm not going to spend a great deal of time introducing them. Let me simply say that Karl Rove is the custodian of the rhetoric of George W. Bush, and we're going to hold him responsible for having the kind of high-minded campaign for president that he ran when he supervised the campaign that elected George W. Bush governor of the state of Texas. One of the things that was remarkable about that campaign was that, in an era in which it had become almost axiomatic that you had to engage in a certain level of suspect campaigning in order to win, that campaign was run in an exemplary fashion, and some argue, one, because it was a campaign run in an exemplary fashion. An exemplary fashion meant that it was a high-minded campaign that took the high road; it did not engage in cheap attack.
In the process, George W. Bush gained an advantage that Clayton Williams had not had in relationship to Ann Richards. Clayton Williams, by running a campaign that alienated Republican moderate women, effectively ensured that Ann Richards would be elected. And so I see that campaign as one small piece of evidence that it is possible to campaign well and also to campaign effectively, and as a result, view the prospect that George W. Bush is going to play an important role in the primaries as--as something that suggests that we have the prospect of seeing that kind of behavior modeled at the national level.
Paul Begala has been active in working for, on behalf of, and now commenting about Bill Clinton. And since he was the subject of some commentary by our mayor, Ed Rendell, last evening, believes that he has personal privilege in order to respond to the notion that he is supervising a rhetorical food fight now as a means of earning a living.
Tom Luce has served on many important commissions, has been an--an emissary from the governor of the state in many important capacities and is known as a person who has accelerated the pace of educational reform in Texas. He's a lawyer by background, and he has held appointments both at the Kennedy School and the Lyndon Baines Johnson School at the University of Texas.
And I would like to begin by asking these three Texans to tell us, in five minutes or so, what they believe we ought to know about the state of public discourse and about its prospects. And in the process, give Paul Begala, whom the group has agreed will go first, the opportunity to say anything that he'd like about the constraints and opportunities created by the talk show format in which he currently works. Paul.
Mr. PAUL BEGALA: Thanks, Kathleen.
I--I missed the mayor's comments, and I'm sorry that I did. Very sorry. It's odd to me that--that someone--I mean--would come on a cable debate show like I have and then come away astonished that it's a cable debate show. You know, it--it's--if it's a rhetorical food fight, bring your biscuits if you're coming on, Mayor. In truth, you get a whole lot more time--it's only a 22-minute show, absent commercials--but you get about eight seconds from Andrea Mitchell. You get about 11 minutes from me and North. Yeah, it's divided up, but, you know, you--you have a chance to make a case. If you think a question is unfair, you can say so, and you'll get the better of it. If somebody asks you a question that's biased, too far, too tendentious, unfair, you'll win as the guest by saying that. `Well, no, that's not really fair, and here's my--my side of it.'
So while there are a lot of very legitimate criticisms of a format like the one in which I participate, criticisms that say it forces everything into a black-white divide, th--that's--that's true. I think, though, the good of having two sides rather than just one, of having 22 minutes rather than eight seconds, of having a nightly forum in which people who are interested in politics and public discourse can participate in it, I think greatly outweighs it.
I mean, I was intrigued when Ed came on our program; that the chairman of the Democratic Party w--was unwilling to criticize the leading candidate in the Republican Party. It seems to me that civility is one thing and surrender is another. If we're not interested in drawing distinctions between the parties, we ought not be in politics. That's what this is about. I mean, Lincoln did not stand up and say, `I really have no disagreements with--with my opponent here.' I mean, he stood up and said, `This is what I view about slavery, and let the little giant, Mr. Douglas, talk about what he wants to talk about on the same topic.' So drawing distinctions, I think, is a very healthy thing.
Now here's where--now that I've got both feet in the media and 12, 13 years before that in politics--where I think the--the more serious problems lie, rather than with obscure cable shows' formats. They lie in the reality that whether it is on a show like mine or whether it's on an audience of 20 million or 30 million on the nightly news, the pressure in the press corps is enormous to get campaigns to talk about polls and process, scandal, attacks, gaffs. Those four things will always get you on television. They are rarely very important, although smart campaigns will use--particularly the media's predilection of one of those four--that is, attacks--to draw attention. Senator Bradley is in the newspaper this morning, fairly and rightly, because he's launched an attack on Vice President Gore's position on health care. I think that's good. Now I support Gore, OK? But I think it's good for Bill Bradley to stand up and say, `Al Gore is all wet on health care. He's abandoned the Democratic Party's principle!' That's what politics should be. And he knows that if he only gives his--as he's been doing for weeks--his positive view on health care, he's not going to get any press. But he engages his opponent--he didn't attack him personally. He didn't say anything that I think is even close to the line, much less across the line, but it was a `by God' attack, and the media will respond to that.
The rest of those three, though, are almost always things that any campaign is going to want to avoid. And so what do you do when three out of the four things the press want to cover are things you don't want to have any part in? You don't want to have a scandal. You don't want to be talking about polls and process. It does you no good. No one's going to say, you know, `Ethel, let's vote for Bush. He's ahead in New Hampshire.' They actually want to know what's going on in their lives.
And it seems to me that--one of the things I've watched as Karl's candidate has come to the fore is this fixation--when their communications director came on our show, a friend of mine, who's also in the media, suggested these questions that I ask her: `You fired David Beckwith, your press secretary today. Why?' Second: `Governor Bush had a restrictive covenant on a home he owned in Dallas, which said it couldn't be sold to blacks and Jews.' The covenant was 40 years written before Bush ever be--became the owner and it was of no legal force. There's no reason to believe he even knew about it, but ask that one. Third, I was advised to ask: `In 1978, Bush was running for the House of Representatives. He had a brochure that said he served in the Air Force instead of the International Guard. Isn't that Bush lying about his military record?'
Now this is someone in the media more experienced than I am in the media. And I said, you know, `Gee, I'm new to this, but here's what I'm going to ask: "The--the--the--the--the senator from Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy, has proposed raising the minimum wage about a buck an hour. What's the governor's position on that? The president of the United States has proposed that Medicare cover prescription drugs. What's the governor's po--position on that? The governor's made his name on education and yet his party's national platform calls for the abolition of the Federal Department of Education. What's the governor's position on that?"' And those are the three things I asked Karen Hughes. Now if that's a rhetorical food fight, I'm all for it. I like Karen, I respect her. She didn't have very good answers to those. I suspect it's because she spent the whole day answering stupid questions about why they fired David Beckwith.
That's the media's fault. And--and now that I'm in it, I am eager to engage that. And in a very--you can do it in a very rough and tumble way, and I think Ed saw that when he came on our show. But we do have an obligation now that I'm in the media to try to get it to issues and to things that are relevant to people's lives. One of the reasons people are tuning out is because so much of what we talk about is irrelevant. Well, if Medicare covers prescription drugs, it's going to matter to people. And if David Beckwith is fired, it's not going to matter to anybody but Mrs. Beckwith.
We have in the press two modes. We've seen this with the governor's campaign: puffball and sleazeball. They--we--we began in the press with everything was perfect with--with George W. Bush, so much so that Cokie Roberts, one of the toughest, smartest people in the media, was even reduced to asking him in an interview, `Have you been surprised by the size of the crowds, governor?' That was the toughest question that she asked. And she's--she's the best. So if that's what the best is doing, what do you think, you know, the worst is doing? And then just like this, for no good reason, we will turn and switch into this sleazeball mode and--and, again, ask about unproven, untrue rumors about 30-year-old behavior of a man, who, to my understanding, hasn't even drank a beer in 13 years.
KATHLEEN: Alleged behavior.
Mr. BEGALA: Alleged behavior, right. I mean, I--I haven't had a beer in 13 hours, and I'm supposed to ask this guy about something that didn't--that might not have even happened 30 years ago. But that's the sort of sleazeball that the press will slip into almost immediately.
Now how do politicians--political strategists react to that? Having been one for a long time, we play into that as well. And one way is--and I think it's the most regrettable way, is falling into particularly the scandal, merging scandal with attack. When I visited with this group in 1995, we talked about civility in politics, and I said then--got my notes out--I said then that it seems to me the question is not really whether politics is civil, but whether it's criminal. And I said back then that the thing that disturbed me most about politics was this trend to criminalize political differences.
And at the time, I was using the--the attempted prosecution of Newt Gingrich as case in point as something that I thought was unfair. Little did I know that I'd spend a year of my life, you know, defending the president of the United States against what I felt to be politically motivated legal attacks based on his personal behavior; had no relevance to his fitness for office. But we political strategists get into that. You saw it with the Democrats and Gingrich, you saw it with the Republicans and Clinton. I can't blame the media for that. But I know as a political strategist, if you stand up and say, `The speaker is a crook' or, `The president is a crook,' you're going to draw a whole lot more attention than if you stand up and say, `I have a new idea on how to fix Medicare.'
With that, let me turn it over to my--my colleagues.
KATHLEEN: Let me set a context for Karl. The--Mayor Rendell was talking about the incident on Paul's show that focused on Governor Bush's responses to the questions about leaders of other nation states. And with that, any five minutes that you'd like.
Mr. KARL ROVE: Chechnya, General--you know, I t--put--Ken--I mean, Tom and I were talking last night as we flew up, we thought it odd that a panel on civil discourse would have three practitioners of Texas politics. And then it dawned on me that, obviously, we have a--in Texas, a great reputation for the high-minded and civil tone of all of our campaigns over the years. But my personal favorite of high-minded Texas politicos was Governor James Furgeson, better known as Pa. He was impeached, the only governor of Texas to be impeached, ostensibly for vetoing the entire budget of the University of Texas. But in reality, he'd become too open in his sale of pardons and paroles from the governor's office and something needed to be done about it.
He once made the, I thought, very thoughtful statement in response to an attempt to teach bilingual education in Texas, that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it was good enough for Texas. Having--having been to--having been tossed out of office, he succeeded in getting his wife elected, Miriam--getting his wife elected governor, Ma Furgeson, and returned once again to his humble practice of selling pardons from the por--from the porch of the governor's mansion.
Begala and I--I followed Begala in teaching a course at the University of Texas in Austin. After Paul had polluted young minds with leftist rhetoric for several years, I was allowed to come and set things right, Paul, at the university. But we talked of--out of the same book, "Out of Order," by Patterson, and so I would simply echo a lot of what Paul has to say about--about the decline and the coverage of political campaigns, that Patterson's game scheme is accurate.
I mean, the media's more interested in covering this as a sports contest than it is as a high-minded political debate. And you--incentives work. If you--if you'll get coverage by focusing on the game, then you'll focus on the game. If you have the incentive that if you talk about high-minded, thoughtful things, you'd get coverage, people would do that as well.
But there is an incentive in--in the current process that forces campaigns inexorably into a focus on the--some of the things that Paul talked about. I think it also has to do not only with the attitude of journalists who cover political campaigns but also the shortened--shortened news cycle. It has to do with the proliferation of tabloid journalism. Not only the cheap and sensational things like Paul and Ollie North's cable TV program, but also, unfortunately, its infiltration into the mainline print media. And I agree with Paul very much on this criminalization of political activity. The end of the special prosecutor law--its simple death would probably be a very positive thing for--for political discourse in America.
And I have a weird view about this. I'll admit it's weird. I think the endless search after money in thousand-dollar increments forces members of Congress and candidates for president--most candidates for president--to spend endless hours in the pursuit of money rather than in the pursuit of votes. And if we simply went back to 1974 and said, `OK, what was $1,000 worth?' A thousand dollars then is worth what today? And raised the personal contribution limits and indexed them for inflation, we would have candidates spending a lot less time raising money. And in equivalent terms, they get just the same amount, $1,000 in 1990--1974, I think, is worth something around $4,400 today. If--if $1,000 in 1974 money wasn't enough to corrupt anybody, why is $4,400 today?
But it would end the ceaseless search for money, and I--I can say this having been in the one campaign that has--that--in which the candidate spends very little time searching for money and yet has vast sums of it pouring over the door. And having been also in campaigns where candidates spend 50 percent or 60 percent of their time stuck in a small closet somewhere, dialing people, asking them to send $1,000.
And there's the ability to talk about things and--and approach the issues in a more thoughtful way and to emphasize them more if you don't have to spend all of your time chasing money in $1,000 increments. I think the good news is something that our moderator alluded to. I do think the one bit of good news--and there's lots of bad news--but the one bit of good news is, I do think the voters will reward good behavior.
I--I--in 1970--in 1994, it's correct, Governor Bush never ran a single nasty TV ad; never made an unkind statement towards his opponent; treated her with respect and dignity, even when she called him a jerk, publicly. And the voters rewarded him. On Election Day, both of them had very high personal approval ratings. Both of them had--she had very high job ratings and, yet, he won by a margin that had--had not been seen in a Texas gubernatorial contest since 1974. And I think voters do--particularly in high-profile races--attempt to reward good behavior.
But I would raise the contribution limits, and I'd also require instant or near-instant disclosure over the Internet so that people can focus on that if they want to focus on it. And I think Paul Taylor probably has a good i--nugget of an idea in free TV time, though I am reluctant to say that the government ought to mandate it. Why don't TV stations simply declare themselves independently willing to give certain amounts of extensive coverage or in-depth time to candidates and--voluntarily?
And as I say, I say this on an entirely--as everything else is in my personal capacity, no official capacity, but the end of the special prosecutor law would, I think, more than anything else, help return civility at least within the Beltway in Washington.
But having said that, I'm not saying what about this. I think that the cycle of journalists focusing on game schema and campaigns responding by focusing on the game and the--it--it's--it's a cynical and dangerous and debilitating process that I see no ready and quick end to.
And may--maybe the times will change and require people to change their attitudes, but the decline in standards and ethics and--when a major publishing house publish--or prints 70,000 copies of a book, by God, it turns out to be a failed car bomber and successful fraud artist, and they didn't know about it, it strikes me as a general comment on the times.
KATHLEEN: Thank you. Tom.
Mr. TOM LUCE: Well, I guess I'd bring to the table several experiences which may highlight in some way the--the difficulties that we face in public discourse, but hopefully can respond in some way as to what we ought to do about it. First, I had the pleasure of running as a candidate for governor of Texas four years before Governor Bush ran. Then I had the delightful experience, after I lost to a gentleman by the name of Clayton Williams, of going to Harvard and explaining Clayton Williams to Harvard. I would suggest that is an academic challenge.
Then I served--and let me say briefly--as the campaign manager of the Ross Perot presidential effort in 1992 until he dropped out of the race; I was not associated thereafter. But I--I learned through those two experiences several things. One, on the--at the gubernatorial level and at the state level, I experienced as a candidate some of the things that Karl talked about.
For instance, I would have reporters come to me and say, `Luce, we're never going to be able to get you on the front page. We want to be on the front page. You know, we want a byline on the front page and we're never going to be able to get you on the front page unless you attack Clayton Williams. If you continue to talk about education programs and environment and, etc., etc., you'll never get on the front page.' They were right.
Second, I think also in that experience, I could relate one anecdote that I--I think does point up one problem. I remember one time having a press conference to discuss an environmental program which I was laying out, which I must say is probably highly unusual for a Republican running for statewide office in Texas, but I did, at a time when no other candidate, including Ann Richards, had discussed the environment.
When I presented the plan to a press conference in the state capital where all the capital press corps was there, the questions I received about the environmental program all had to do with polling. `Why was I doing this now? What was the political advantage of doing this now?' I didn't get a single question about the environmental program itself.
I think David Broder has said that one of the worst things we did was create something called political reporters who cover political races, because they take it to be their job to report on politics, not on policy or substance. What was really interesting about that was that when the press conference was over, a reporter came up to me from one of the large papers in the state who was an environmental reporter. He proceeded to ask me about 20 minutes of very good questions about my environmental program. When he finished, I said, `What in the world are you doing here?' you know?
He said, `Well'--he said, `I had to work on my editor for a week to be allowed to come to the press conference. We don't ordinarily allow reporters like me to come to gubernatorial press conferences to cover gubernatorial candidates.' But I persisted and he said, `I will allow you to go if you won't ask questions except after the presentation.'
I spoke on education all over the state and I never had a single education reporter for any paper come to any press conference to discuss education issues. I think one very simple solution would be for people who have in--influence within local communities--foundations, etc.--to urge the press to at least try to send reporters who cover a subject that's being debated, as well as the, quote, "political reporters." I'm not suggesting you can ban political reporters. But it seems to me you would get some additional type of coverage if you had reporters who do engage in an active coverage of that subject.
With respect to the Perot experience, it's kind of hard to think back now to those early days of that campaign before it imploded. But I think it--I learned several things in that experience. One, the amount of alienation and disconnect that the public feels to politics was absolutely manifested in the early days of the Perot campaign.
What most people don't remember is that in the early days of the Perot campaign, there was no paid media, none. I signed the checks; I know. No paid media, no paid petition gatherers, no direct mail. There was none of the typical expenditures on--no polls. I signed the checks. I can tell you, no polls, no direct mail, no paid media. And, yet, he reached the top in the national polls in June before it collapsed.
Also what was very significant is in the signing of these petitions--for instance, in one Pacific Northwest state, more than 50 percent of the registered voters signed Perot petitions. Now when you have that kind of alienation in a segment of the population that was reaching out to something different in that stage, it shows the--the state of the--the voters' minds. I think, though, coming out of that '92 experience, what I see now is--and I was discussing this at breakfast--is almost the reverse. It's a--it's a complete sign-off by a huge segment of the population on politics, policy, etc.
I think they have absolutely tuned out what happens in Washington and on MSNBC or NBC or ABC or anything else. People are--I think it's a combination of time pressures, change in lifestyles, but also just a feeling of total irrelevance to the political debate. I don't think they tune into it because they don't think it makes a wit's bit of difference in terms of their daily lives.
And, of course, you see that in the declining number of people who vote and who participate. the And long-term implications of that are not very rosy if you step back and think about it from a historical perspective. I think the--the answers really must come from the creation of mediating institutions to replace the ones that used to help structure public debate and public policy and community affairs. I mean, it seems to me the decline of labor unions, the decline of the influence of the church, certainly the decline of the political parties--you know, one other--it--in my gubernatorial campaign or--plus anything I've worked on in Texas politics for 30 years. The impact of the political party in Texas on either side is--I started to say zero, but it's probably a negative.
I mean, political parties have no impact that I can see anymore. It's all centered around candidates. And so you have a decline in the political parties, labor unions, churches, etc., and what's got to be created is through, I think, foundations, libraries. I mean, I don't know what all, but through--at the local level creating new institutions that can help push a different type of debate. And I guess I'd close with two or three things that show not only the--of more concern to me than any food-fight mentality is the corruption of the media in a sense that I experienced in the Perot campaign.
I, for instance, had a head of one of the network's news department call me one day, ranting and raving. I mean, literally where I had to, you know, kind of first--you know, `Calm down. Tell me what the problem is.' And he said, `Well, the problem's very simple. Ross Perot had agreed that he wouldn't go on the X morning show a second time in a row before he came on our morning show. And now he's gone and gone to that morning show twice in a row and left us out, and if you think that doesn't impact our news coverage, you're naive.'
Second, I had another reporter for one of the national network evening news shows who was covering the campaign, who came to me early in the campaign and said, `I've been told by Mr. So and So, the anchor of the national news, that my job depends upon five minutes lead time on three stories: Who Perot picks as vice presidential nominee; where the convention's held'--I've--I've forgotten what the third one was. And he said, `So I need you to give me five minutes lead time on those s
tories over any network. And if you do that, I'll take care of you.' When you have that type of attitude and--and I would say corruption in the process, it--it really emphasizes again that--some sense of a--of a mediating institution that will help galvanize public support for a different style of debate and a robust debate. I don't have any problem with a robust debate, provided it's on education or environment or health care or a hundred other things. But I think if--i--if we can restore that, the--the country will be much, much better off, and that's the only way that I see that we have a chance of trying to do that.
I--I would say, also, I guess, in closing, you know, it's interesting to me in terms of the types of questions that media ask. I al--I--I am--and Karl corrected me--I can't say I'm a trial lawyer, I'm a trial attorney. There's a certain political implication of saying you're a trial lawyer. But I'm a trial attorney and I always--it's fascinating to me that the questions that a Sam Donaldson asks in his way are absolutely designed to not retrieve any information. Whereas a Brian Lamb, who gets kind of mocked, asks an open-ended, tell-me-about-it question and gets more revealing information than any Sam--10 Sam Donaldsons will get in the questions they ask. But, again, that's into the tactics of this. And if you don't change the framework and have the mediating institutions, then none of that's going to change.
KATHLEEN: Let--let me--let me add a piece of academic research. We've done a lot of experimental work with the effects of the strategy structure in political news coverage, and it found that it depresses learning and activates cynicism. So apart from minimizing the access the el--that the electorate has to a different kind of discourse, whatever substance does get through isn't remembered by audiences because the frame is so fundamentally cynical.
But let me take that as a point of departure, because news viewership is declining, news readership is declining, and candidates have the wherewithal in most campaigns to put on the air whatever they'd like because they have the money to advertise.
So let me ask you this question. The commission yesterday in its summary of--of--of i--of recommendations, in its profile of what it would like to see itself do in the future, said it would like to model the good instead of simply criticizing the bad. What are the things that candidates could do with the resources that they have in order to provide an alternative kind of discourse?
And I think the underlying reason for asking the question this way is that whenever I've asked political consultants why, if they are frustrated by what they don't get in news, they don't simply put it in ads, they've said, `If we did, no one would watch.' This would suggest that the news media are being responsive to their perception of what the audience is willing to accept rather than that this is some pernicious structure that has an outside force driving it.
Mr. BEGALA: But--but in--in part, but that's a bit of a cop-out. Mr. Perot ran ads that were 30 minutes long, that--where he held up charts. They were unwatchable, and tens of millions of people watched them because they had a sense that they were going to be about ideas and policy. So it's a bit of a cop-out for--for people in the strategy business to say, `Well, no one will watch.' They--they can do it, and they should, and they are.
I mean, when--both in '92, when Clinton was being sort of crushed by national media coverage about things other than issues, he spent his own money to--to buy 30-minute increments to have town hall meetings, where he let--my recollection is we let the University of New Hampshire Department of Political Science choose the audience by any means they wanted and let them ask any questions that they wanted on live statewide television, and no one ever asked about Gennifer Flowers. And we did them over and over and over and over again to connect with those voters in New Hampshire, but also to show that, often, the questions that--that citizens will ask are going to be much more substantive than the ones that--that reporters ask.
I mean, for me, the--the dichotomies are not so much like negative or positive. For me, in ads, they're either fair or unfair. I'm all for negative ads. If they are about issues, if they are true, if they're accurate, if you can document it and back it up, I am all for it. If they weren't doing speeches, instead doing ads, and Bradley and Gore were running ads right now, attacking each other's health care policies, I think that would be a very good thing, because it's about something that matters in people's lives.
And on the press side, too, rather than sort of negative or--or positive, I think if it's about process, it's--y--it's going to turn people off; if it's about policy and substance, people are going to like it. And so you're right, campaigns should try to do more of that. But I--I think they are.
Mr. LUCE: But, Kathleen, I would add there as a former candidate, when--for instance, when I ran for governor of Texas, I raised $3 million, which used to be a large sum of money in a gubernatorial race. But Texas--and this is in a primary, not a general election. But Texas has 22 television markets. Now try to spend any sum of money running as a first-time candidate and try to get a message across in 22 television markets with $3 million. It can't happen, particularly when my opponent had fund-raisers at his ATM machine and spent $15 million of his own money to buy television ads.
So you have to deal with campaign finance, particularly, you know--and I--in--in large states, I mean, the sums of money that it takes to reach with a--with a program that dealt with substance would be astronomical.
Mr. ROVE: Yeah. Texas actually does campaign finance reasonably right. We don't have instant disclosure; we don't have frequent enough disclosure. But there are no limits, no corporate contributions, but no personal limits. But imagine this problem if you have to start raising things, not in contributions of $10,000 or $15,000 or even an occasional $100,000 gift, but if you've got to raise it $1,000 at a time.
Let me give you one example, real-life example. March 7th of next year, the Republicans on that day have fewer primaries than do the Democrats. Republicans have primaries in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and California. And the Democrats have, like, six more primaries that day. If you're a Republican candidate for president and you want to buy one TV ad in every one of those TV markets for March 7th and put a thousand points of television behind it, that is to say, roughly enough to drive home one single ad, enough so that people see it and recall it, it will cost you $5 million. And you gotta raise it $1,000 at a time.
Now, you know, I don't think--the campaign that raised more money, adjusted for inflation, than any presidential campaign in history at this point was Eugene McCarthy's campaign. I don't think he was corrupted by Stewart Mott III or Jr., or whomever, giving him large sums of money, as long as the people knew about it. And that--if we want political discourse--I disagree with the assumption of the question--I don't think most candidates, particularly candidates for Congress, for US House or US Senate, have enough money to articulate a message.
So they are forced--you know, they--we have--we--we talk about mediating structures. We've already got a couple of mediating structures. We've got parties which have been essentially gutted. We've got candidates who have been limited in their access to discourse by this $1,000 limit. You either gotta have--be a absolutely terrific fund-raiser or have mass sums of personal wealth on which you can draw. And you've got the media, and the media's feeling all these pressures of the competitive cycle and of the short news cycle and a general decline in standards.
So we've got three so-called mediating structures: campaigns, parties and--and press. Two of them have been eviscerated or limited, and one of them doesn't have its act together. And at--at minimum, we ought to do something to strengthen parties and to--and to unshackle candidates, and maybe that'll have some salutary effect on the media as well.
KATHLEEN: Let--let--let me grant your--your premise and say that that appears to argue for the position that you took in your opening statement, which is there is desirability in having some kinds of free access. There also, one could argue from the other side ideologically, would be an argument for public financing of some sort.
But let's set that aside for the moment, and let's turn to a proposal that has been floated by the academic community since the 1950s and was, I think, stated best in a Harvard proposal a couple of years ago, and that was the regular Sunday access in the general election, given by the broadcast networks through whatever financing network, the candidates wouldn't have to pay for it, so that every Sunday evening, the electorate would have an hour of access to the candidates when--who have been the ma--major party nominees for the general election.
Suppose, Karl, that we were able to make that happen. Suppose that you now have the--the Republican nominee, and we come to your Republican nominee and say, `Sunday from 7 to 8, you're going to have access in this kind of a format,' would you advise your candidate to take it?
Mr. ROVE: I--in a presidential race, yeah. But i--but I will tell you, it's weird. I--I've been involved in the Swedish elections with the (Swedish spoken) party, which won their first non-socialist victory in 40 years on the compelling slogan of (Swedish spoken), which means `bourgeois cooperation.' It's a very compelling slogan. And in--in that election...
Mr. LUCE: You had a great impact in Sweden, I can tell.
Mr. ROVE: (Swedish spoken). Fabulous.
KATHLEEN: Are you aware that they're taping this?
Mr. ROVE: Yeah, well, maybe I can--well...
Mr. BEGALA: There goes the re-election contract, Karl.
Mr. ROVE: Yeah. I, however, admire the great people of...
Mr. BEGALA: Yeah, that's it.
Mr. ROVE: Yes, the fabulous people of Sweden. But the--but the--in Sweden, the--all the parties were given access to free television time, 'cause it's state-run television, and they all agreed, `We're gonna forego it.' And the reason they went to forego it was they said, `OK, we're going to give you'--I don't know what it was, five or seven minutes' time in the evening news every day. And the parliamentary leader of every one of the six major parties said, from Communist to the Christian Social Democrats, or whatever they were on the hard right--said, `We don't want to do it because it will take too much time.'
So you have to have a reasonable--you know, you cannot, for example--Sundays. I mean, look, running for president is a huge physical drain. And if you were to do it on Sundays and tape it on Sundays, as opposed to taping it on a Friday or a Saturday, you know, you're basically taking the one day of the week that candidates have a legitimate excuse not to campaign or not campaign as hard and taking it away. So you really do have to think through what are the ramifications and what's a reasonable amount of activity that you're willing to offer them?
But, yes, absolutely, particularly the high-profile race for president. The key would be, if I were an incumbent candidate for governor, an incumbent candidate for senator or Congress, if that was my client, I'd recommend against it if that would blow the system up, because, again, the incumbent has an unbelievable advantage in both the ability to raise money and dominate the news cycle in a--in a race, particularly a race for--for Congress that you might not otherwise have.
So you have to figure out some way to keep the candidates to say, `It's not in my interest to do that,' to--to penalize them by--by if need be, providing it to the other candidate and saying, `Fine, the other--candidate A refused to take advantage of the half an hour we offered him, and candidate B did.'
Mr. BEGALA: Why not--why not have no strictures on format and content? Why not do what Britain does, where they--they let it open to anything you want to do. And I was over there for Tony Blair's election, and this is a guy who's got nearly as good a--public communications skills as President Clinton or anybody I've ever seen. He didn't do his--he didn't do a speech on his time. They made the most brilliantly creative stuff you have ever seen, and I wish...
Mr. LUCE: Prepared by you?
Mr. BEGALA: No, no, I had nothing to do with it.
Mr. LUCE: Oh.
Mr. BEGALA: Believe me. They had--they--they made a takeoff on "It's A Wonderful Life," where they had Peter Postlethwaite, that--the actor, playing the cabbie who was the angel, and they're taking a guy to the--to the--to the voting place, and he gets there too late. And his little girl has broken her arm and he can't get her into the national health--'cause he wasn't there to vote Labor. And all these terrible things happen. And so then Peter Postlethwaite takes them back in time; he can go vote; he does go vote; his little girl's arm is healed; all is well with the world. It was just--and it--and if you...
KATHLEEN: That--that sounds like a highly complex discourse, subtle and nuanced.
Mr. BEGALA: If--but if--if you'd compare it to the crap that we air, it is. If you free these people up--and--and I would do a couple of things slightly different from--I--rather than just let--open up all the checkbooks, I would have public financing and I would have free media time, and I would let these people use their creative energies to try to connect with voters rather than connect with contributors. Whether it's $5,000 or $50,000, it still ought not be what they're spending their time on.
KATHLEEN: Yeah, but if I gave you a half-hour, Paul, and said, `It's Sunday night,' can you get an audience for a candidate?
Mr. BEGALA: Sure.
Mr. LUCE: Sure.
Mr. BEGALA: Absolutely. You'd have to be creative. You'd have to be entertaining. Even someone as riveting as Mr. Perot was or as entertaining or talented as Bill Clinton was might not get the audience. But you can be--if you open the format so it wasn't just talking heads, let them say whatever they want. And voters are smart; they'll figure out if this was too much BS.
KATHLEEN: Yeah, the recollection is that one of the Perot infomercials had higher viewership than the World Series on the competing channel in 1992...
Mr. BEGALA: Right.
KATHLEEN: ...which would suggest that he had found some way in a half-hour format to attract an audience.
I--I'd like to open to the audience; I know there are people who've had their hands raised. Just move a mic, Joel.
JOEL: I j--I'd be interested in--in ha--having any member of the panel say what--where they think the pressure on the reporters is really coming from. Is it--is it--is it audience? Is it an attempt to get audience share? Is it sell more newspapers? Is it ego, getting their names on the front page or on the air? Is it--is it--it's the editors, I assume, that are making those decisions. Is that--what--what are your--what's the reason for the particular pressure that you-all have described, and is there any difference between print reporters and--and television reporters?
Mr. BEGALA: I gotta s...
Mr. ROVE: Cable news w--news networks are the worst. No, sorry.
Mr. BEGALA: No, sorry. I--I honestly don't know, Joel, to tell you the truth. I don't know where that pressure comes from. I'm very new to the--the cable side of this, and I don't cover the race. I'm a commentator; I don't hold myself out to be fair or objective. I'm a partisan squared off against another partisan. I th--I think it's the competitive pressures, I--although I don't understand them. I don't think a viewer remembers that NBC got the running mate story five minutes ahead and therefore to--I don't believe an advertiser cares. So I--I don't understand. There's enormous ratings pressure; I do know that. But that's part of the free market system; they do have to sell newspapers or gain ratings, and they had to 30 years ago. So I don't know that that's altogether different.
So honest answer is I hon--I really--I can't fathom it, because they're drifting off into real irrelevancies here. And yet that's where the whole herd is going.
Mr. ROVE: I--I--I don't know the--the complete answer, and I know there are probably a lot of different answers. But I do think the cult of celebrity journalism hurts a lot. I mean, l--look, you have--you have a respected reporter working for a major newspaper who can write in a thoughtful, w--reasoned way, and yet you also have at the same newspaper somebody who will make the kind of approaches to candidates and to campaigns that--that Tom alluded to.
So it really gets down to a question--and it--you know, you have some journalists who refuse as a matter of policy to appear as talking heads, others who love the limelight. You have some who are willing to go and make speeches to trade and industry groups for large sums of money and others who, as a matter of principle, refuse to do it. And I--I--I think this cult of celebri--celebrity journalism means that ego plays a big role in this.
Mr. LUCE: I'm--I really do, too, and I--I think--and part of it is--and I--I mean, who knows how you can prove these things? But the post-Watergate mentality is really a culture of reporters now, and instead of interpreting Watergate in a more substantive way, it's that the end result was `I brought down somebody' or, `I'm gonna be a star if I uncover this.' And somehow we've perverted all of that into this mind-set that drives a really different approach. And it really is an--an approach that--that, basically, I think, says guilty until proven innocent.
And--but I don't know--you know, like--obviously part of it is ratings. Take the--take the example of the morning television show, Perot not appearing on their morning television show. That was pure and simple ratings. In those days when he appeared, ratings went up, and so it meant dollars. And so it was a big deal that he didn't come on their morning show. That's ratings; that's dollars.
Mr. BEGALA: The--there's one other thing that--that--I thought of while these guys were talking, which is a lack of accountability. Brill's Content notwithstanding, which is a healthy thing, and other media watchdogs notwithstanding, there's--there's no real accountability. And--and that's really new to me, OK? Everything I used to do in the public eye, anything I said when I worked at the White House or even before as just a campaign consultant, I knew that the media was out there holding me accountable, and that was good. Everyone in business, in academia, in every other facet of society--in government--has the--the--the very healthy prophylactic pressure of the media, but the--except we the media ourselves.
If--if--if CBS makes a terrible mistake on a story, it's never even entertained that NBC will run a lead s--item saying, `CBS made a major mistake in their--in doing their job today.' But i...
Mr. LUCE: Or that NBC will say, `CBS made a major mistake.'
Mr. BEGALA: That's what I mean. The competitive pressure should work there, but it doesn't. If the Bank of America makes a major mistake, believe me, it will lead on NBC News. And so it's--it's--it's this enormously self-referential world that the press live in, where we are only accountable to each other and to ourselves. And so after a show, you go to a--to the cocktail party or you go to your colleagues and peers, and what they say matters most, because it's not going to be in the newspaper if you make a mistake. It's really only what your colleagues say. And they care a lot about being first and being toughest and being the most famous.
Mr. LUCE: But I do think, you know, it's--it's very easy, and we have good reason to comment on the press. But individual candidates can absolutely overcome all of that and make a difference. And one example that's been mentioned is Governor Bush's race with Ann Richards. He absolutely campaigned on a positive basis, on four issues that the press got sick of him talking about, but he knew what his priorities were; he talked about those issues. He never engaged in any banter with Governor Richards. And he won. And I think individual candidates, sooner or later, are going to ignore the advice, you know, don't do this, don't do that, from the consultants' ranks, and individual candidates will break through, and it will begin to show. And I think this may happen in this national race. It'd be interesting to see if Governor Bush can prevail in the same type of campaign he ran in Texas.
KATHLEEN: Since we are focusing on moments that worked well and not simply things that are--have gone wrong, I think it's important to note that, in 1992, for whatever reason--an anxious public, an incumbent that people were not happy with--there was unprecedented access given to and taken by candidates in morning news shows, and the ratings followed the appearances. And so there was, at least throughout the--the primary season, a--a moment that looks like the academic ideal, good questions posed, in some cases, by citizen audiences to candidates; in some cases, posed by reporters who are not focusing on strategy--strategies and tactics. H--why we didn't manage to perpetuate that into the next election cycle is, I think, an interesting question.
Mr. LUCE: And let's also don't forget in '92, and that--there is one thing the Perot campaign should get credit for, and that's raising the deficit issue, the budget deficit issue. And it shows, because of the multiplicity of media outlets, that one issue can surface. And there's no doubt that the whole political environment shifted on budget deficit in '92 with regard to all candidates: President Bush, then-candidate Clinton. I mean, the environment changed with respect to budget deficit, and it was because of a dialogue on that--on that issue.
KATHLEEN: And also the fact that Perot got into the debates, which is an historical accident, and as a result could feature an environment in w--in which neither...
Mr. LUCE: It won't.
KATHLEEN: ...candidate saw an advantage in attacking him; used his paid time in order to feature that as an issue and used it very effectively, both in the short spots and in the half-hours; and had a--unprecedented levels of news access for a potential third-party candidate.
The--in answer to the question `Why the press's tendencies?' I think there's a simpler answer than this. This is a non-falsifiable form of discourse, and as a result, it's the easiest form of journalism to write. If I know who's ahead in the polls, I know that their tactics are working, and I know that their motive is to use those tactics to work. And I can ascribe, as a result, the motive to the tactics to the working; now I've got my story. If the candidate's behind in the polls, the tactics aren't working; it's not resonating with the voters, so whatever they're saying isn't resonating with the voters. And who's to say that's not true? Who's to put together a different causal chain?
And so it--it--it is--it--and I see it when I'm asked to comment. I can make any statement about why a candidate is doing anything, and no reporter can tell me I'm wrong...
Mr. BEGALA: Right.
KATHLEEN: ...because how do you falsify a claim about motive?
Mr. BEGALA: Right.
KATHLEEN: And so I can say, you know, `Why'--you know, `Why did George Bush answer that question? Well, because he was on a caffeine high.' Or because, you know, `Idiosyncratic characteristics of Texas governors yield this sort of odd behavior.' There isn't any way to tell me that I'm wrong. And so you have a press structure without accountability inherent in the structure. The issue structure has accountability, because if you get the facts wrong, you are held accountable. You're held accountable by the people who--for whom--whom you were misrepresenting, but you're also held accountable by the rest of the journalistic establishment. And so it's harder journalism.
Mr. JAY ROSEN: Paul, I want to go back to this Rendell thing last night, 'cause I think it was actually a little more interesting than you've given it credit for.
Mr. BEGALA: Well, I didn't--I didn't hear what he said; I just kind of heard it through several...
Mr. ROSEN: OK. Well, I'll try and tell you what I thought I--it was about, 'cause it relates to something that you've said this morning. If it's true that Governor Bush was able to run and win as governor by conducting a campaign that was focused on the issues, not about attacks, if it's true that Bradley is, to some degree, following that strategy and succeeding in some way with that now, that's important for us as a commission because we want to know how can this environment change at all.
Now last night, Rendell s--as DNC chairman, told us something quite interesting, maybe even newsworthy. He told us that when Clinton and Gore asked him to take the job, he said he'd be happy to do it, but he's not going to be an attack dog; this is not how he's going to operate in this very important position, which becomes more important as the campaign goes on, 'cause he's on television so much on shows like yours.
And in effect, he told us through indirect means that he intends to compete with his counterpart in the Republican Party on, in effect, discourse grounds. Is--he did say that he was going to be energetic in arguing with and even attacking the Republicans. He said he didn't have any hesitation about that. What...
Mr. BEGALA: So what does he mean that he's not going to be the attack dog, but he's going to attack?
Mr. ROSEN: I'll tell you. I'll tell you. He's willing to attack; he's not willing to be a dog about it, meaning that he--that he doesn't want to engage in a--in a functional sort of rote, inauthentic role that is expected of him in which his identity and character as a public official is completely eclipsed by the expectations of the role. He's not going to fit himself into a role. This is what he's saying.
Now in that connection--Right?--he s--he believes, as a public official, as a politician himself, that the question to Bush about `Do you know the president of Pakistan?' was an absurd, idiotic question asked by a self-seeking reporter that has nothing to do with the campaign, nothing to do with differences between the candidates, and ought to have been laughed off the public stage. This is his belief. And he's also said that he intends to operate as DNC chairman in which he does not pounce on every trivial line of attack, but focuses on substantive lines of attack. This is what he told us.
Now if it's true and you're a representative of the news media, this is a significant difference to explore between the two parties, between the two chairmen.
KATHLEEN: Actually, I--I heard Mayor Rendell say that he thought the Republican chair agreed with him in this disposition.
Mr. ROSEN: Yes, but he said--following that, Kathleen, he said, `But he is much more constrained by his party than I am, and, therefore, we can't expect him to behave in the same way.' Now what I'm saying is...
KATHLEEN: Actually, he engaged in what--what one might identify as a cheap attack, quoting someone else saying the Republican Party has more wackos.
Mr. ROSEN: OK, but it's--if I could just ask my long-winded question; I do apologize for the--here's my question. If Rendell, making this pledge, intends to carry it out, and you have said that it's possible that this is the way politics is going--Right?--that this kind of approach could resonate with voter. If he intends to carry out this approach, then it seems to me it's just as interesting for people in the news media to let that difference shine through as it is to get him to engage in this rote attack-dog role. So that's why he was upset with what you did in your role is that you seem to expect that this is the only way to compete, when there's another way to compete.
Mr. BEGALA: It's just a sort of meta-politics now--Right?--that--that we're going to run--I--and I do believe campaigns can be metaphors for how one should govern. But at some level, there ought to be issues and there ought to be clashes over those issues. Now the--where the mayor and I disagree, it's whether--which question is fair and which isn't, OK? I went on "Meet the Press" and debated David Bloom from NBC News quite vigorously. I was defending Governor Bush against what I thought were very unfair questions.
Mr. ROVE: Sort of defending Governor Bush.
Mr. BEGALA: Pardon me?
Mr. ROVE: Sort of defending Governor Bush.
Mr. BEGALA: Well, I was certainly attacking David Bloom for asking him unfair, illegitimate questions. So I have some sympathy to the view that there are questions the media asks that are unfair. Where I just disagree with Ed is, I mean, that--that the notion that asking someone who a foreign head of state is is unfair. There's a good way to answer if it's too obscure. Bill Bradley did. He said, `I'm not going to get into that, but let me explain to you the roots.' He was asked--the same reporter--`Who's the head of North Korea?' something like two days after Bush. He said, `I'm not going to get into that gotcha, but I'm desperately concerned about the--America's role in the Korean conflict,' and then he discussed it with some real knowledge. And the press didn't pick up on it, 'cause it wasn't considered a gaffe. But that was--if you ask me as a strategist, that was the correct answer.
But I think--this is just where I disagree with Ed--that those are perfectly legitimate questions, whereas questions about drug use are not. And--and I tried to sort of sort this through with my friends in the press who--who were troubled by those questions. It was interesting; people who asked Bush about drug questions thought th--about drug use thought that the prime minister of India was not legitimate. And so my question then was, `OK, tell me my rules, 'cause I'm new in the media. I can ask their girlfriend, the name of their girlfriend. I can ask the name of their drug dealer in college. But I can't ask the name of the leader of the second-largest country on the planet, who's got his finger on the nuclear button.'
For me--we all draw lines in different places, but e--I don't understand what Ed means when he says, `I won't attack.' If he means he won't draw distinctions on issues, he's wrong and he shouldn't be in the job. If he means he won't attack them personally, I salute that. That's great. I like Bush. He's a good guy. But th--so that's what I'm trying to--I wish he were here--that's what I'm trying to get at. I think there should be very robust attacks on issues between the parties.
KATHLEEN: It--we, by the way, do know some things about how voters say they respond to different kinds of attacks. We know that they don't find attack, per se, offensive. What they find offensive is personalized attack, attack that's hyperbolic or histrionic, attack that is lying or it's perceived to be unfair, or attack that doesn't have advocacy attached to it. So if attack is legitimate, fair, contextual, relevant to governance and tells you what your alternative is, the electorate doesn't tag it as being negative or unacceptable; it recognizes it as legitimate discourse.
So I wish we could get rid of the pundits' distinction between `the negative equals the illegitimate' and start talking about legitimate and illegitimate attack and advocacy, because advocacy can be deceptive, as--as can attack; it can be out of context; it can be hyperbolic; it can be histrionic, etc., etc.
Mr. ROVE: May I--may I say one thing about...
Mr. ROVE: ...in response to Jay's question? I have disquietude like Paul does about Ed Rendell, but for different reasons. I think if he adheres to this philosophy of picking arguments on the basis of substance and doing it occasionally rather than endlessly, he'll be more effective in his job, and I'd like him to be less effective. I will say the good news is--is that he is chairman of the DNC, but that has not stopped this daily barrage of idiotic, stupid little news releases from Jay Andrews or whatever his name is, him--and his number two deputy there who clearly is the attack dog at the DNC, which are laughable in their--in their content and material.
Mr. ROVE: So I hope that he, you know--outside my personal political context, I hope he does elevate--attempt to elevate it, but there's a difference between saying that you're going to do it and then being able to effect the institution that you--that you had, because I will tell you, the little--I get them every day--the little e-mails and the little faxes that are sent out to the media. More--more trees have been wasted and more bandwidth has been used up by these--by these really idiotic and stupid little, you know, daily nit-nit, and it's gotten to the point where literally the recipients of them, the press, just ignore them. They just flow across the--the--the--the electronic bandwidth or they come across the fax machine, and they get ignored. And...
Mr. BEGALA: But that's not what's polluting the discourse. I don't know exactly what you're referring to.
Mr. ROVE: Well, but it's--it's representative of...
Mr. BEGALA: It's like get--the Republicans every day saying Gore said he invented the Internet. Well, it was a mistake, it was a slip of the tongue, it was hardly a--a big deal. And I don't think...
Mr. ROVE: But I don't think the...
Mr. BEGALA: ...that's unfair for them to pounce on that, though.
Mr. ROVE: I don't think the Republicans treat it as a big deal. They treat it as a...
Mr. BEGALA: Oh, goodness gracious, Karl.
Mr. ROVE: They treat it as a laughable item...
Mr. BEGALA: Please.
Mr. ROVE: ...a laughable item.
Mr. BEGALA: You can't--you can't go five minutes with any Republican without them mentioning that. And they have a right to. It's a slip of the tongue, but it wasn't a very important distinction, anymore than I suspect these news releases you don't like. I don't think that's what's harming the dialogue.
KATHLEEN: Lawrence Lesig.
Mr. LAWRENCE LESIG: So I want to imagine for a second that maybe the press isn't evil, that--that--that there is--pess--press is responding to incentives and we should understand something about the incentives, and let's take a--as the core of these incentives this picture of the person with the remote control button, right? And that on--obviously is a real constraint on what their life is like, the fact that the attention span in this context of discourse is extremely small, and whether it's small--I mean, we had a great presentation yesterday from Neal about the dramatic structure which constrains the kind of discourse that might go on in this context--whether it's small for that reason or small just because people aren't interested in politics, the reality is the attention span is tiny.
Now if that's true, can you do anything with this conversation to the people? I mean, can you say anything of interest in 500 words or less, and if the reality is that you can't really get anything across of interest that's going to engage people and get them to think about issues differently, shouldn't we be thinking of other institutions where their attention span is something more than five minutes, other contexts where they've got to, you know, sit down, whether it's a jury or whether it's Jim's work of deliberative polling, where they've got to sit down and confront issues and think about them.
Now imagine a world where you had a resource of, let's say, you know, Jim got $1 billion, and he ran these things consistently, and consistently they produced...
Mr. LUCE: You accept, correct?
Unidentified Panelist: He'd let the commission do it.
Mr. LESIG: ...consistently they produced useful and--and representative--wouldn't that input into the political discourse be extremely valuable as a way of checking what people were saying, and much more valuable than even the best that you could imagine that you could be doing as candidates, where people will just flip if you start getting too boring in what you're doing?
Mr. LUCE: Yes. I mean, yes, in the sense in that's what I was referring--we have to come up with a new framework, and new institutions need to step forward all over to create that, because it's not going to happen in the current structure, I don't think.
Mr. BEGALA: OK, Larry, let me give you a `yes, but.' Yes, when Jim d--I went to--to the--the first of the big deliberative polls that Jim did at the University of Texas, and it was terrific, and Al Gore went on--on behalf of the Clinton-Gore team, and he loved it. I talked to him before and after; he loved it. It helped him enormously. It changed how he viewed the campaign, and I suspect the Republicans who went had a similar and impressive experience, and I know that the citizens who were there did. So I would do as much of that as you can, but even if you don't have 22 minutes like I do, if you only have eight seconds, I would still--a good candidate can say a lot--and this is what I do with my candidates, I'll do it with you. `For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.'
That's 26 words in 6.4 seconds. It's all of Christian theology, and--and I did this with Clinton, to try to explain to him how to use soundbites, and I would say, `Well, now, Governor, if the Lord God can explain all the important tenets of Christian philosophy in six seconds, you can tell us if you're for the balanced budget amendment.'
Mr. LESIG: Yeah, but, Paul--Paul, you might be smarter than I, but when I learned Christian theology, it took longer than eight seconds. It took every Sunday for many years of my life before I began to ...(unintelligible). OK?
Mr. BEGALA: Yeah, but if you're--if you're the guy with the rainbow afro in the end zone and you've only got that--that--he doesn't have eight seconds, he has two seconds when they're kicking the extra point--he holds up John 3:16. And that ain't nothing.
Mr. LESIG: If you could choose between every Sunday for an hour, and eight seconds, I know what you would choose, right?
Mr. BEGALA: Well, sure, presuming you can hold their attention, but I just wouldn't completely despair. I--I--we have what we have, and I'd like to change it. You all are in a better position, I suppose, than I am to do so. But we shouldn't let people off the hook, in the media or in the political world, just because we don't have the world we want to have. We ought to press them, and you know--I know that there was divine inspiration behind John 3:16, OK? In the--in the more secular world, they still ought to be doing a better job, even with the eight seconds they have. They can do more than they're doing.
Mr. ROVE: Yeah, well, be--because there's not divine inspiration behind most political words, I--I--I'd rather regress to the `68 or `60 and give them 25 seconds or 40 seconds.
Mr. LUCE: True.
Mr. ROVE: I mean, I do think that--that--that--that 25 or 30 seconds or 50 seconds on television is a way for people to gain an insight into who a candidate is. I mean, there's--there's--you know, there may be artifice, there may be false construct, but they're--they're--people get a sense. It's the emperor's new clothes, particularly if you're running for president, or running for governor in a big state, or running for US senator. They know who you are, or they gain a good sense of who you are, so--but I'd rather--I would rather--I mean, it just seems to me to be to be idiotic that we say, `OK, we're going to--we're going to, in essence, tell you that you better strip discourse down to eight seconds or you're not going to get on the evening news. And if there was some magic button to push to say, `OK, it's now going to be, you know, 47 seconds,' great. So much the better. There'd be more information that people would get, and there'd be less artifice to it. I mean, you know, some of us could come up with six seconds, but we can't come up with 30, and the jobs they're generally running for are jobs that require they come up with a hell of a lot more than 30--than 60--than six.
KATHLEEN: In--in the interest of featuring positive examples, let me note that the "Newshour With Jim Lehrer," formerly "MacNeil-Lehrer," has been running eight-minute candidate speeches since 1988.
Mr. LUCE: Yep.
KATHLEEN: And as a result, if people want to turn the dial, there's nothing that says you have to watch the major party networks. You can turn to PBS, and you can see extended segments from candidates' stump speeches, very well edited, to get the core of the substance of the content. At the same time, major newspapers have set aside `In Their Own Words' boxes--The New York Times pioneered it--which also is unmediated access to candidate words. And so they--I think in the process of saying that we've shortened the amount of time in network news, we lose track, to some extent, of the extent to which we control the ability to go elsewhere to find the substance if we want it.
We also have C-SPAN. The--the analogy that the--the point of comparison is used in that--in that data is 1968, and the allegation is that in 1968 we had substantially more access to candidates than we do now. You forget in the1968, we didn't have debates. We didn't have C-SPAN, we didn't have Lehrer, we didn't have "Nightline." And as a result, we didn't have all of the alternative forms of access. One could argue that we now have more access to more extended candidate speech in every form than we've ever had in the history of the republic. Marty.
Mr. ROVE: Let--let--may I say one thing?
Mr. ROVE: I--it's t--t--actually, two things. One is, as long as you're talking about good news, I will say that there's probably been a significant change in the coverage of this cam--presidential campaign...
KATHLEEN: Yes, there has.
Mr. ROVE: ...as opposed to the last presidential campaign by major print organizations...
KATHLEEN: So far.
Mr. ROVE: ...the Times--the LA Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post--all are attempting to do a more in-depth coverage. Now they will still fall back into Patterson's game scheme, and my personal recent favorite is, Bush goes to New Hampshire to make the third of--of a long-announced series of education speeches, and one of the major print organizations goes and gives extensive coverage to the substance and speech, but cannot help themselves. In the first paragraph they had a--you know--`Following two speeches which appeal to moderate and centrist, even Democrat voters,' you know, `Governor Bush today went to New Hampshire to make a speech with an explicit conservative appeal.'
Well, when we made--when he made the first speech in Los Angeles two months ago, he said, `I'm going to give three speeches. First one's going to be on the poorest of the poor, the second one's going to be on accountability, and the third one will be on character and safety and--and charters and choice.' So it's not as if, you know, this was sort of like, you know, some, you know, calculated decision that he'd made because of recent polls, which was the clear implication of the coverage.
But the print coverage is getting better. I will--I will grant you that. Why is it getting better? Is it getting better because everybody's fed up and concerned about it, or is it getting better because they are being driven by, you know, `Jeez, this is where the market is driving us, and we'll be rewarded, and this is what our own internal ethics tell us to do.' I--I--I don't know.
KATHLEEN: It's--I think it's getting better because the candidates are engaging in substantive speech-making at an unprecedentedly early point in the campaign process, and as a result, we run the risk that all the substantive coverage is now being--is now taking place, and will be old news by the point at which the electorate starts paying attention, when all the strategy coverage is going to kick in. And so I share your sense that there has been extraordinary coverage--except on the Test-Ban Treaty--in about the last three months. The question is, can it persevere in the face of a strong news norm that says, `OK, we covered that. You must know that. Now we're going to go off to what you don't know' tactics.
Mr. ROVE: Well, I--and--and my--my answer would be no. I mean, poor Steve Forbes goes and lays out his economic proposals as early as last February, goes to New Hampshire two weeks ago and lays them out again in a comprehensive fashion, and eve--virtually every news story that I saw on it said, you know--you know, in essence, Forbes said nothing new today. Well, he said something new with regard to the vast majority of the American people hadn't paid any attention to it, or hadn't heard it or seen it, but they could not help themselves. They had to basically write something that said, old news.
Mr. LUCE: But I do think--and I've talked to some owners of newspapers--they are finding in their market research that they're having to be more substantive, that that's their niche in the market. I mean, and they're getting told by readership surveys that they've got to change the way they're doing things as well.
KATHLEEN: Now just parenthetically, when people talk about the strategy schema, they're coding first paragraphs and headlines. There's no such thing as a news article that's 100 percent strategy schema. It's got to have some substantive content in it about which you're strategizing. The problem with the strategy structure is it activates a cognitive schema that invites you to distance yourself from the process and interpret all that factual information cynically. And so it's not that there isn't substance in this coverage, it is that you're not invited to treat it as if it has significant substance that has relevance in your life--your life. Marty, last question.
MARTY: I suppo--I suppose at bottom, the set of problems that you describe are driven by the American public, by the intelligence, attention span and tolerance for complex discourse. There's a surprising paradox in all of this, and I--I--the more you talked, the more at sea I was, and here's the paradox: There's something called the Flynn Effect, which you may not know but you should, which is not an artifact, and that is, the IQ, the intelligence, of the American public has increased by roughly 20 points in the last 50 years. And the education of the American public--and that's not an artifact, by the way. No one's got a good explanation. It's for real. People are smarter than they were 50 years ago, and people are much more educated than they were. So those statistics are going north, but at the same time the statistics on--that you talk about, tolerance for complex argument, etc., every--all of that's going south.
This is really a major disconnect. I don't understand it at all. Larry at least began to attack this disconnect. Jim Gleick, I think, in his book "Faster" tries to attack what Larry's after, and that is it's doing everything faster. The only hopeful sign I can see, when you--when you look around at every--everything that we do faster, well, it's--if it's in the entertainment sphere, we do it faster. If it's at work, we do it faster. But there's one domain we don't go fast in, and that's when we deal with relationships with other people, helping other people face to face. In those things, we don't go faster yet, and I--the only hopeful sign I can see if somehow seeing oneself as a voter gets thrown not into the category of entertainment, or work, but into the category of relationships.
At any rate, I want to underline this paradox between the growth in sophistication of the American public--which is enormous--and the decrease in the manifestations of this, which is also enormous.
Mr. BEGALA: But I'm not--I--people, I think, if you challenge them, will rise to the occa--in '92, I think some of it was a reaction to '88, which was a contentless campaign, and so independent, Bill Clinton or anybody running, the media decided we're going to make sure that there are substantive disagreements aired and honestly debated in '92, and Clinton sensed that and stepped in, and he had a book and a written economic plan. Paul Tsongas did, as well. And so there was a--there was some pretty complex fights going on about public policy issues, and actually if you look, you know, at least at my party, I see Bradley and Gore--there's a--they both have very detailed health plans, and it's the only thing they want to talk about. The challenge: to get it through the entertainment media.
This morning, the vice president went on the Don Imus morning show. And, you know, there were the usual sort of chuckles about Naomi Wolf and alpha males and inventing the Internet, but there was a really substantive discussion about tobacco and whether he was a hypocrite for what he had done and said, why he hired a guy who had been a tobacco ad salesman, and--and health care, and the debate with Bradley, and it was--even though it was in entertainment medium, it was surprisingly substantive, and it may be that you've got to find ways to--to weave them together. Whenever I would deal with reporters, and they would say, `What's your strategy,' because that is the only thing they ask, I would always answer with `The message.' But I wouldn't say the message. I'd say, `Well, look, if you really want to know what the strategy is, to let everybody know that Clinton's got this and this and this idea on the economy,' and they would write it down furiously. But if you just said `Our message is...' they would put their pencil down. So some of it's manipulation.
KATHLEEN: By the way, I wouldn't make the assumption that the cognitive complexity of candidate discourse has dropped. I mean, we've coded the presidential general election speeches from '52 through '96, and if anything, it's become more sophisticated, not less. I wouldn't make the assumption that the public is learning less. The survey mechanisms that we've used to assess candidate learning haven't asked the level of question to detect much of the learning that takes place. But if you look at the major themes articulated by candidates' speeches and reinforced in debates, and ask what the public knew at the point at which it voted in '96, it knew most of what the candidates said it ought to know, including those areas in which Clinton was working very hard to confuse people by looking as if he and Dole were not distinct.
And so, I mean, I suspect that what we are concerned about is reaching an ideal, not saying that there's been falloff over--over recent periods. If anything, I think you--you would have to make the argument that it's steady state, with improvement in the candidate discourse. President Rodin.
President JUDITH RODIN: We've talked the whole time about campaigns, as if that's the only moment in which political discourse is material. If the only action that the American public is asked to take is make a decision when going in and pulling--you know, flipping a lever, then are we ever going to move the public discourse? If we're really talking about public engagement and a public readiness to listen to substantive conversations, isn't there the--the obligation on the part of candidates, once elected, to keep the public interested in them and what they're doing and the momentum going, so that people are more willing to listen, are then more willing to vote, are more willing to demand substantive conversation the next time around. Isn't that a candidate's obligation as well?
Mr. ROVE: Yeah. Not only that, but it's a measure of self-preservation. If you can keep the dialogue going and have some degree of control over it as an incumbent, you stand a better chance of getting yourself re-elected. I--I don't--I worry less about the dialogue that candidates, once elected to office, have with their constituents, than I am about the dialogue that office-holders have with other office-holders. I mean, if there--we have always had this sort of weird disconnect of, you know, `I hate Congress but I love my congressman,' even if he or she represents the worst of the--of--of--of what's evident inside the Beltway, and that's because office-holders, candidates, once elected, generally do a pretty good job of--of--of--of engaging in ongoing dialogue with their constituents.
But I--you know, this--this whole approach of the--the--the--the--they--the whole mindset within the Beltway has deteriorated--I don't know whether it's Watergate, I don't know whether it's Clinton-Gore, I--I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's Nixon, I don't know if it's Vietnam, I don't know what it is. But the whole discourse within the Beltway has deteriorated. And I worry about that, frankly, almost as much as I worry about the--the lack of candidates' ability to--to--to share a message and to do so in a way that people find inspiring and positive.
Unidentified Man #1: Kathleen, Paul was very wordy in condensing the proper Biblical text. The shortest text in the New Testament would be a summary of your comment here on Jesus looked at American politics--`Jesus wept.'
KATHLEEN: I thought it was, `In my father's house there are many mansions,' and that gives us room for Perot, the Democrats and the Republicans. Yes.
Unidentified Man #2: I wanted to ask you a question about the relationship between pro--again, between process and substance. When you talk about what would be a substantive, civil campaign, you use the examples of education, environment, health. And I wonder whether the whole notion of civility doesn't move this set of issues away f--that is, could you discuss race, abortion and homosexuality in a civil way? Could you discuss wel--welfare and immigration in a civil way. Doesn't this emphasis on--on civility, if you will, on--on a substantive campaign, move you towards certain issues and away from other issues that are really important in American politics?
Mr. LUCE: I don't think it has to, and I think--I always prefer the word `robust' as opposed to civility. I mean, I--but I think you can have discourse over very emotional issues if you set the right framework and the right structure. I think Fishkin's deliberative process ca--can show that you could even take an issue of abortion and have a deliberative process about it, even though it is very emotional.
Mr. ROVE: The--the--these issues--you've got two sets of issues. They--they--one set shares something in common, that is, it's easy to demonize your opponent, and going back to 1994--I hate to dwell on it too much but, Ann Richards and NARAL--NARAL ran a series of ads attacking Bush as being anti-choice, and Richards said early on, `This is going to be what the campaign is all about, because Bush is anti-choice.'
So all the reporters ran to Bush, and Bush said, `Look, I understand people have an honest disagreement over this issue. I'm pro-life; I believe that we ought to aim towards finding common ground. There are things that everyone, regardless of their views on the issue, can find as common ground. We ought to speed up the options, we ought to find ways to help women in crisis, we ought to do--parents ought to be involved in the decisions of their teen-age daughters.' And he did so in a way that took the edge off of it. And as a result, the issue dropped, totally disappeared. Ann Richards was unable to bring the issue back up. She brought it up literally the last week in the campaign, with the underground phone banks calling women Republican voters, and the rash of NARAL radio and TV ads, literally on the Friday night to Tuesday election. And Bush won 50 percent of the women's vote.
And I think that these issues--education, it's hard to demonize your opponent unless your opponent has stood up and voted to ban the teaching of evolution in the Kansas schools, it's awfully hard to demonize your opponent as being anti-education. Now you can try to do it by painting vouchers as the absolute tool of--of the--those who desire to undermine the public schools, but it's a hell of a lot di--more difficult on some of these issues to paint your opponent as a demon.
Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, but isn't that just the point? The issue got dropped, and doesn't American soci--I mean, that is, for people who really care about abortion, dropping the issue is the worst possible outcome, because then it just gets taken off the table.
Mr. ROVE: Well, I don't know if it got taken off the table. There was an attempt to demonize one candidate by painting him as something--as a--as an intolerable person with whom there was no agreement whatsoever on the issue, and by framing it in the--in terms of what is it that a governor can do--the Supreme Court had said there'll be abortions--what--what is it that we can do as a society to reduce abortions, and here are practical steps that I advocate--it basically made it impossible for her to demonize him, and didn't take it off the issue agenda. If you cared about abortion one way or another, I'm sure there were discussions among the pro-life chapters and the NARAL chapters and people who were concerned about--about the issue, but it--but it made it--it made it difficult, if not impossible, to demonize somebody over the issue.
Unidentified Man #3: But let me just push the point, because I think it's important to get it on the table. The question is, have we gotten into a politics of demonization, because we've been talking about issues that are particularly difficult for us to deal with, and--or--and--and--and is it possible, really, to keep these issues on the table, to continue to face up to them in American society, without--that is, demonizing them. I mean, it's easy to turn the environment into a purely technical issue, and the question is, can you guys find a way of discussing abortion, discussing a ra--race in the political--in a--in a charged political environment, in a civil--in a civil kind of way.
Mr. BEGALA: That--that is actually, for me, the most fun and most challenging aspect of having one of these shows--these divisive social issues. I sit there with Oliver North--pretty conservative guy. I'm pretty liberal on some of these things. And we--even this august group, I would be proud to show you some of those videotapes.
We had a woman on recently who's the head of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a group called PFLAG. She debated a woman from the Family Research Council, which is a very conservative fundamentalist Christian group, on the issue of hate crimes. We had just had this young man murdered in Wyoming. Nothing could be more emotional than to have two very strongly believing mothers arguing about the death of a--of a kid. And they did it with real class, with real civility, with strongly held positions, but they didn't demonize each other--in fact, they walked off the set together, chatting. `What about this, and what do you think about that?' It wasn't--it was fine. We aired every aspect of it, and it is possible to do it if you have some sort of sense of ground rules, almost like spouses fighting.
The truth is, at least on our show, North and I take it as our job to--to have a level of comity on the air, because I don't think people do want to clue into people screaming at each other, `Oh, you ignorant slut!' You know, that's fine for "Saturday Night Live," but they only have to hold you for a five-minute sketch. We want you 30 minutes every single night. And so actually, we have a market incentive in addition to the fact that we've actually struck up a bit of a friendship, to--to try to not demonize these things.
On a similar issue, Bob Barr--there's no member of the House, probably, that I disagree with more than Bob Barr from Georgia--and he came on, we were arguing about hate crimes, and he said, `Well, you know'--he turned to--he said, `Actually, I probably as a prosecutor wouldn't add a lot more elements to the offense to prove it, but I would add longer punishment on the end.' Well, that was progress. I mean, that was--I--I thought it was remarkable that a guy would go on national television from the very, very ultraright perspective and sort of open up a little bit. So it can be done, and I don't think my show is "MacNeil-Lehrer," but it is possible to do it, and I do think that people will reward that.
Mr. ROVE: Yeah. The--the crux of it is, though, you have to have both parties agree to a common set of rules, and in the politics of personal destruction, there--you know, and people in my profession--are--are the worst proponents of it, but I mean, you have to have candidates and handlers and media firms and a political structure that says there are commonly accepted rules of engagement, and this isn't one of them. But we don't have that now, and we certainly don't have it in the form of media.
I--I--I will tell you, I sat there in Seattle, Washington, on the--on the week before the Jay Chatfield book was published, with a reporter from a major news organization, and I could just see the pressures within his organization pushing him to write an article about a book that he had personal misgivings about, but the rules of--the rules of engagement said `I've got to write about this.' And the fact that the Democrat--the then-Democrat DA of Harris County was found late on a Friday night in Houston, Texas, to say `This is absolutely baloney,' is what kept this--in my opinion--this major news organization from writing an article for its Sunday edition saying, `Here are these charges,' front page, big expose.
And--but--but the pressures are there, and I don't know where--where all of the pressures spring from, but the rules of engagement clearly don't say, `Hey, we're not going to engage in something that is--that is beyond the--the pale.' There is no beyond the pale in politics anymore, or virtually nothing beyond the pale.
KATHLEEN: But there are some success stories in this as well. The New York Times investigated, found no confirmation, didn't run the story. And so I--I think it--it's important to--to...
Mr. ROVE: I--I would suggest that was not a--I--I would suggest that that--that that was not a--by any means a sure thing.
KATHLEEN: I--I--I take positive news wherever I can get it, but...
Mr. ROVE: Well, posi--positive news, there but for the grace of several ph--phone calls and a--and a weird coincidence.
KATHLEEN: Let--let me ask Paul a question. I--I--I think when we talk about civility, we sometimes conflate the content of the discourse with the form of the discourse, so let me be specific. One of the things that I find very problematic about the format that has been conventionalized on cable talk are two things: One, that one is licensed to always interrupt anyone else at any time; and two, one is always licensed to talk over someone else at any time. And I wonder if there is a way to attain the objectives of the shows while having those be the rules of engagement, that we'll--one will not do those two things.
Mr. BEGALA: It's harder than it looks, because politicians filibuster, so if you're on there interviewing a person and you've asked her a question, and you know she's filibustering, she's not going to get to the point, it is--and you know you have a very limited amount of time, it is enormously frustrating, and that feeds some of that. I believe--and my e-mails back this up--that people don't like all that interrupting. You're right. You're not the only one, so I don't think it's good for the show. I've been on other shows where I could hear the producers through the other guy's ear, saying, `Interrupt him. Cut him off. They're going on too long.' But it's just--it's--it's actually very difficult to do, when you have four people and you're trying to debate an issue, and--and you're trying to generate some heat. You want to hold audience interest, and actually, some of these people really believe this stuff, believe it or not, and so they are animated.
KATHLEEN: But--but--but couldn't one start out by saying, `Everyone's going to be given 30 seconds.' Or, `Everyone's now going to be given 45 seconds.' In other words, I'm not going to interrupt you until that point, so--but get your point in during that time, at--you know, at the point at which I'm moving toward you. That means it's your time. I mean--part of what--what concerns me about this is, I think that the content of the discourse, which is often legitimate and important, gets lost in the form, and we tag the content as being uncivil, when, in fact, if we--if we could just parse it out and put it in sequential form, we would recognize that they articu--articulating alternative points of view and offering evidence with different kinds of assumptions, and that you've actually learned something, instead of just raised your blood pressure over irritation at what appears to be inappropriate interaction.
Mr. BEGALA: But it just--when you have people--in that show I just mentioned, the--the woman from the Family Research Council was going on about how gays live a sinful lifestyle, and she was going on for quite some time, and I was letting her go, and before I could interject anything, finally, after quite a long time--I don't know how long that is in TV time...
KATHLEEN: Eight seconds, nine seconds.
Mr. BEGALA: No, maybe 30. I mean, she'd gone on for quite a while with a generalized statement about the sinfulness of homosexuality, and the--the--the woman from PFLAG interrupted, and it was one of the best moments we've ever had, because she turns, she said, `Look, as a mother of a gay child I cannot stand here and abide that.' She didn't say, `You horrible bigot.' But she--and she interrupted. But the woman from the Family Research Council stopped and let her go for about 30 seconds in a very passionate, personal--but not demonizing--defense of her--her child.
KATHLEEN: I've been licensed to go an extra 15 minutes. My 15-minute license has now expired. I would like to thank the panelists. I think that they have--have served the state of Texas and its high ideals well, and I believe we're going to take a break and that there are refreshments of some sort in the back of the room.
JAY: ...what I believe is the final plenary panel in the Commission's life, which is a great honor for me to preside over the gradual lowering of a institutional corpse into the grave, or something like that.
Unidentified Man #4: This is a gravestone.
Unidentified Woman: ...(Unintelligible) the corpse.
JAY: But we're still alive, and last night Joyce Appleby, very kindly on behalf of all commissioners, took a moment to thank Judith Rodin for the leadership she's shown and for chairing the Commission, and I think she spoke for everybody on the Commission in--in saying that.
Since this is the final plenary session, I want to also acknowledge the fine work of the staff o--of the Commission: Steve Steinberg and--everyone, of course, from Steve Steinberg down to those who help guide us across the street, our Seeing Eye dogs, and everyone in between have not only provided us with a wonderful opportunity, but have actually given some thought to how this inquiry could go, and if you just look at the design of this morning's sessions, you can see the tremendous care and intelligence that they've used in programming the event.
This morning, we heard from people at the very top of national politics, in a lot of ways, running campaigns, media figures, White House operatives, who are talking about the problem of improving public discourse from this hierarchy that they sit atop. And this morning we're going to hear from people working with citizens at the most basic grassroots local level, towns, cities, church basements, education halls and other places, trying to create a dialogue that would reach these people at the top.
And so to understand the elegant design of the day, you could simply sketch on your notepads--or you could do it in your head--a hourglass shape, two triangles. Put politics at the top, citizens at the bottom, and media at the choke point. So this morning, our conversation was the top triangle--politicians, what they're trying to say, getting to the choke point of the media. This morning, part two, we're looking at the bottom triangle, citizens--Right?--aiming their messages at politics and finding similar kinds of choke points that exist.
So this is ingenious. I ha--ha--love to say I have nothing to do with this whatsoever. I was just put into the role of moderator of this discussion, but it enables us to look at the problem of public discourse in a particularly effective way, so I want to tell you who these people are, so you'll know why they were asked to come here by Steve and his staff.
Martha McCoy helps bring communities together i--with large numbers of citizens for what they call democratic discussion and problem solving on key issues at the local level. That's what the Study see--Cir--Circles Resource Center does. Martha's been at it for a long time, and this means creating discussion in communities, meaning many sites within the community, over things like race relations, education reform, crime and violence, immigration and other things. And so the Study Circles Resource Center creates small study circles of people who talk about public issues in a community setting where it is the community that is supposed to be facing the issue, not just the circle of people in the room. That's what they do.
Ca--moving to the right, Mary has for seven years directed the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, which is a project of Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, DC. And the intent of the project is to intervene in the politics of abortion by creating a space for dialogue between pro-choice and pro-life people, which they've done nationally in over 20 states, creating dialogue between people who are ordinarily on opposing and highly armed sides. So that project is part of Search for Common Ground, which is a public mediation conflict resolution project nationally.
Carolyn Lukensmeyer, who I've known for some time, created America Speaks, which found its niche in a particularly interesting problem for those of us who understand American political science. She tries to create deliberative or genuine face-to-face dialogue among citizens that can in some way be taken to scale, meaning register at the national level, or connect to national policy-making in a way that the founders of the republic thought was probably impossible, right? You can't have direct democracy, or you can't have citizens speaking to the government except through a representative system. So she's trying to use technology to ask again about certain problems of scale that were held to be constitutive of the American republic. So in a way, her project, America Speaks, is one long elaboration on a book like Robert Dahl's "Size and Democracy," or other texts that treat this problem of scale. And so that's what she's done, is create citizen dialogues on things like education, environment and most importantly, Social Security that can be taken to scale.
Bob McKenzie, who I've known for many years, is an associate of the Kettering Foundation, and works with their public policy institutes. The public policy institutes train people in the art of moderating and cultivating public deliberation in small group or study circle centers around the country in something that Kettering calls the National Issues Forums. So the National Issues Forums are an ongoing network of community-based groups that create deliberative face-to-face dialogue and the people who run those groups, or moderate them, are educated and enlightened by Kettering. So that's a significant ground-up effort in creating better discourse, and that's why Bob McKenzie is here.
David, on my far right, finally, studied all these things on behalf of the Commission, tried to think about their work in the context of what academic thought ha--has produced about deliberation and democracy, and he can reflect on what they say.
So I'm going to ask them each to give us some key lessons they've learned from their work and then we'll move on from there. Martha, why don't you begin?
Ms. MARTHA McCOY (Study Circles Resource Center): Thanks, Jay. If we had more time this morning, I was toying with the idea of asking people to pair up, not for the purposes of staring into each other's faces like we did yester--yesterday afternoon, but to do a little bit of an exercise that I'll just sort of put it to you right now, so you don't have to close your eyes or anything like that, but it is sort of an imagination exercise, and I think it's one actually that might be useful in terms of moving towards benchmarks in--in the Commission as you move to the area of connecting theory to practice, and that is this.
Imagine what our country and our democracy would look like if there were opportunities for face-to-face citizen deliberation that were a matter of course in our democracy. What would that mean for what state and local politics look like? What would that mean for what our national politics looked like? What would it mean about citizens' connections to government, and what would it mean about citizens' connections to each other? And so I want to s--you to sort of hold that question in your mind, because I think it is probably the vision question that has compelled the work of the Commission, and it's certainly also been one of the guiding questions of our work at the Study Circles Resource Center in the last 10 years.
And Jay has asked us to briefly talk about lessons, and of course lessons suggest an evolutionary process, and I would say that as--at the Study Circles Resource Center, over the past 10 years, we have certainly gone through an evolutionary process of falling on our faces a lot in trying to make this kind of citizen deliberation large-scale way of doing things in communities, and that was our mission at the beginning, to think about how do you make face-to-face democratic discussion an ongoing part of the way a community does its business?
And to look at that, before I get to the lessons, I'll share with you four questions that have been guiding our work. The first question is, what will bring large numbers of people to the table in a community to participate in this kind of conversation, this kind of discourse? What will literally bring them there, because this isn't metaphorical, this is really getting people to come out on a rainy night and sit down and talk to each other. Number two, what will provide a meaningful and productive experience of discourse once the people are there, which is a very important question. Third, how can those opportunities be expanded and sustained? And the fourth question that has driven our efforts very much to the going to scale kind of question that Carolyn is asking is, how can these efforts be replicated in other communities? And to date we have worked with about 150 communities around the country, in every region of the country, every size of community--small, medium and large communities--that are inc--that are involving hundreds and sometimes thousands of citizens in face-to-face citizen discourse around tough issues like race relations, education reform, crime and violence and diversity and immigration.
So briefly, what have we learned as we've been doing this, because while we consider we've been doing are sort of like laboratories of democracy, because it's very important, the work we're doing there with the community, but we're hoping to extract from that lessons that then we can then synthesize and put back out to other communities who can then make this happen, because this is a very community-driven process. We're not there making it happen, we're--we're the assisters of the process.
So the first lesson, the big lesson that we've learned is that for large numbers of people to participate, the discourse must be explicitly connected to possibilities for action, change and decision making. This was something that actually did not--that sort of took us by surprise. I--I ha--hate to say that, but in hindsight, looking back to 10 years ago, that's not an assumption that drove our work, but it's something we came to learn. The first thing people ask when they're a--asked to participate in a program like this is, `Is this just more talk or is it going to lead to change in the community?' A recent League of Women Voters study showed that people are motivated to participate in civil activities to the extent that they are limited to--that they are connected to results.
Now what this learning has meant for us in the kinds of process and kinds of things that we put out, I think I should probably leave most of that to the question period but let me just mention one major one, and that is, that we learned that in order for this kind of deliberation to be connected to action, it had to be sponsored by large groups of institutions, broad-based coalitions of institutions at the community level that would bring people into the deliberation and prepare, all during the while of that deliberation, to then connect that deliberation back to change in institutions and policy-making at the community level. And so we've learned that it's important to build the movement to action into the process itself. We've also learned that action is more than input, that people have to think about ways that they themselves can take part in implementing the solutions they came up with. So that's all part of the first lesson about discourse must be connected to action.
The second learning we had made--and this is actually one that was a verified hypothesis that we started out with--and that is, for the process to work, people need opportunities to sit down together face to face in groups over time--one time isn't enough--in order to build relationships, build trust and to be honest with each other. And I have sort of the--the three subsets to this one, where people are saying, `OK, we need structure.' This doesn't just happen; people have to be provided these opportunities, they have to have the literal face-to-face opportunity, and as--as someone said in a--I think this was in a video clip from a Midwestern city that was doing study circles--you can't just walk up to somebody at the post office and say, `Hey, what do you think about race relations? Let's sit down and talk about it.' Obviously structures have to be provided.
What do those structures have to look like? In three sort of A-B-C subsets, one is that they have to be diverse, and that's racially diverse, socioeconomically diverse, ideologically diverse, gender diverse, all sorts of diversity within the group, and also role diverse. Now let me tell you a couple ways in which that's counterintuitive to what some people do when they try to organize discourse. In the beginning what we thought is that we could help communities organize this on an institution-by-institution basis, therefore, the NAACP would have--have a deliberation, the schools would have deliberation, the churches would have deliberation, but what we discovered was, what made this really interesting was that intersection of bringing people together from all those institutions into the groups so that in the group people aren't sitting with the people they usually sit with. They're not sitting within interest groups or specializations. They are sitting there as community members in all their diversity.
The other things that we've learned is that the process this--of the small group has to begin where people are, and that sort of sounds like something that you could take for granted, but really it's not. That was also counterintuitive to us in the beginning of working with people, that the first session of a study circle program, people have the chance to talk about `Why do I care about this issue? What does it mean in my life? Why should I care about it? Why--why does it have an impact on my life?' If people don't have a chance to talk about that, the--the further discussion sessions, two, three and four of the study circle is completely different, and for example, if you go into a discussion of affirmative action, and you--and le--and--and pe--you say, `OK, today we're going to talk about affirmative action,' people would draw the same lines that they would draw in almost any kind of poli--political debate, but if you first sat down together to say, `Tell me your experiences with racism and race relations,' and then by session two or three, talked about affirmative action, the discussion would be very different.
And the third subset under the people needing those opportunities is that the process has to provide a way for people to consider all points of view, and this is a very important thing, because otherwise, some of the group dynamics that I think Professor Lessing was talking about yesterday, or ma--maybe Professor Sunstein, about how the dynamic would--would tend toward extremes, with--if people didn't have a chance to consider different points of view. We discovered this is very important because without that, people don't get the chance to interact with each other, listen to each other, figure out where the other person's coming from and also find a way to perhaps reflect on it and make a change in their own position.
Now this is very different from some of the kind of discourse that one might see on television, what seemple--some people might drive-by conversation or something like that. This was a--a very different form of discourse where people are actually listening to each other and having a chance to consider on different points of view.
And then the--the third major lesson that we've learned in this work--and this is one that was also very evolutionary and one that we just learned as of--as of a few years ago, and it's the one that I'll conclude with--is that you have to combine the strengths of the small group par--process with the strengths of large group processes in the community, and the larger community context for the work. And I think this is where the role of the media is very important. This partly goes along with the froo--with the--with the study circles, the conversations are sponsored by broad-based coalitions of community institutions. They ha--they have a kickoff, traditionally, where they say thi--`As a community we're going to address the issue of racism and race relations, or education reform.' Followed by that, there are many study circles going on all over the community, each aware that this process is happening all over the community, and then at the end, people come back into an action forum and have a chance to connect their deliberations to action and change at the community level. And the reason that this is very important is that it capitalizes on the advantages of the small group process, but also connects to the possibility for communitywide institutional change and policy change at the local level.
There's a lot I could say in here about the--about the connection of this process to elected public officials, which is something we've learned an awful lot about, the connection to major institutions, but I will say that the--these processes are conducted by community institutions that are using their own resources to conduct them, because they see this as a way of fulfilling the problem-solving missions they have as community institutions, and universities play also a very large role in these programs.
And I will complete my remarks by saying that I thought yesterday, when--looking at Steve's lunchtime diagram, that even though I haven't been a member of the Commission, that I think that it's very exciting that the work of the Commission at the--at this very theoretical level, so far is connecting so well with the work of practice, and I think there's a marriage that is happening, or a bridge that's happening, and I think that's very exciting to the work of practitioners, and if I could be so bold, I thought I would like to propose a Penn National Commission number two, that would be the sequel, and that would look at how productive and inclusive discourse would alter our practices of governance, because I think at the level of practice that is probably one of the major questions that people at the local and state levels are facing as they conduct these programs of discourse.
JAY: Thank you very much, Martha. Mary, tell us what have been the key lessons from your work.
Ms. MARY JACKSTEIT (Search for Common Ground): OK. I guess the--to start out the way Martha did with asking you to have an image--I would ask you just to imagine an image to--and this will sort of encapsulate the theory and the assumptions of--of our work--of a Venn diagram, two overlapping circles. The assumption of our work has been that pro-choice and pro-life positions--advocates--don't live in totally separate worlds, although their perception is that they do, but in fact, they--they overlap, and while there are significant areas of difference, there is this--this area of common ground which has been obscured and--and whose--which--the existence of which is denied for all kinds of reasons by the prevailing debate.
Search for Common Ground is an organization that intervenes in the long term in conflicts, so this is not--we did not approach this from the point of view of--of being interested in discourse and then looking for an issue, but starting with a--with an intense conflict and discovering that part of the impact of the conflict is to cripple the--the discourse, the dialogue and to s--and our belief that if we could change the--the co--the conversations going on between the--the opponents, that we could change the conflict. So our goal was not just discourse. Our goal was to actually change the dynamic of the abortion conflict, which is--not only for itself, but--but to illustrate what can happen in other deep, divisive, intractable conflict, and to do that by changing the--the stance of the opposing parties from one that's defined solely by their disagreements to a relationship that is defined not by denying the disagreements, but also by this area of overlap in which people seek to truly understand each other's positions on the issue, and they're willing to both seek and name where their overlapping interests and values and beliefs are. So it's really changing their perception of their relationship from one which is defined solely by disagreement to one in which the disagreements are there, but they--but their relationship can encompass areas of agreement, areas of common values, and a real understanding of the issues.
Now we don't stop there, because our goal is not just to do that. I mean, why bother to do that? Our assumptions are that if you--if we can alter the relationship, the perception of the relationship of opponents, then we have made it possible for s--for more resources to be devoted to the human problems that are within the universe of the abortion issue, needs of families, women, however you want to define these--these human issues, our assumption being that if part of the resources that go into the conflict could be redirected into solving social problems, that would be good, and would be permitted by this new relationship. And secondly, that ultimately, you will get wiser policy, better democ--democratic deliberation if, in fact, these new relationships between opponents exist. They will be able to think about, debate not only the abortion issue, but the things around that issue, in a better way, and that this will be better for the society. So those are--are--those have been our goals and our assumptions.
And what we've learned about that--so the discourse part is really in the--serves the function in part A of that description--changing people's perception of their relationship, changing their understanding of the conflict, changing their perception of what is possible in terms of their being able to work together. That's--we use the term dialogue, and what we've learned about dialogue is--is that you can--in order to have a new conversation, to invite people into something that is new, you say it is new.
When you're working in a conflict that is as polarized and intense and hostile as this one, people have had lots of debates with each other, either personally or they've observed them, and they are not interested in more of the same. So part of it is to make it very clear this will be different, and to make sure that it is different, so what we've learned is that you have to be plain, open, intentional and responsible about inviting people to a conversation that will be something other than what they have had. And there's--Martha alluded to some of the--the ways that you do that. You--you have a--a structure about that, you--you--you frame that in terms of the--you don't put people in a room and just say `Talk.' I mean, you--you design--there's a design and a method for having something--having a dialogue other than debate, and that's very clear.
And part of that is a set of ground rules which someone's kind of suggested in the previous session, that--that you ask people to make a commitment to how they will treat other people, the kind of language they will use, that they will understand that this is not an opportunity to try to convince people, and--of--of their point of view--but to seek understanding to--and explore possible areas of overlap. And what--what our learning is, if you create that framework, if you create those ground rules, then, in fact, a new conversation absolutely will happen.
I've been asked so many times from people, `How do you--oh, that must be so hard, what you do.' And the astonishing thing is, accepting that this is a self-selecting group that comes into this, but that you can--these--these conversations are not difficult for people who have been given an opportunity to have them, so I could sit in a room last March with people who are regular clinic escorts, who are pro-choice, who work at clinics to help people get past the demonstrators, and demonstrators at the clinic, and give them an opportunity to sit for four hours and have a dialogue rather than a debate, and they will, indeed, have that. And they will, by the end of the day, say `I am really mad that somebody has prevented us from having this kind of conversation, and to understand that we as women have an incredible amount of--of commonality and we have a lot of things to work on together.' So that's what we've learned: If you provide people with an opportunity to do that, they will--they will have it.
The second thing is that moving from dialogue to acting together really is a challenge, as Martha talked about. It's necessary, though, and that part of that in a--in a very protracted intransi--intractable conflict is not to fudge the areas of difference. It's to continue to push people to find for what's genuinely overlapping and not to pretend that they're--the difference do not--the differences do not exist.
Another learning would be at the same time with that action--Martha said people won't come into a conversation in study circles unless they know it's going to lead to something. When you have a very, very difficult issue like abortion, homosexuality, end of life issues, whatever you want to talk about, where people--even the thought of being--of being possibly identified as a working partner with someone else is extremely threatening and perhaps, you know, dangerous to their standing within their movements. In fact, sometimes low commitment is exactly what you need to promise people. You have noth--you have made no commitment to do anything other than come here and talk. It won't be made public, you don't--we're not expecting you to leave signing a manifesto, so you as the head of Planned Parenthood in this city and you as the head of--of the Catholic Diocese Pro-Life Office in this city can come and you don't have to get your institution's support, you don't have to agree ahead of time that you're going to find any common ground. That can be actually critical at the beginning. The key is sort of after you get past that point, that the--the idea that you start out with an--with an end in mind is actually counterproductive in a difficult issue like abortion.
You also--another important lesson is that you--if you do this kind of work, you have to openly acknowledge the consequences of what you're doing. You are creating a--a--what--cognitive dissonance for the people who participate. They may not any longer find themselves as comfortably in their own movement as they have before, and that's just part of being a responsible intervener. They're--especially once their participation becomes known, they may no longer be trusted, they may have to spend a lot of time explaining what they're doing, giving credibility to the other side. I was struck with the--with the term used, the politics of self-destruction, which I really think was meant to be the politics of destroying others, and that is a definite part of--of many of these--most divisive conflicts.
Part of what happens to people if they engage in a dialogue or a discourse that's different than--than debate is they no longer are willing to do that, but because that is so entrenched into the dynamics, their unwillingness, then, to resort to what they now know to be overdrawn stereotypes, unfair characterizations, makes them suspect, so they're--if you embark in this--encouraging this kind if discourse, you need to support the people who will embrace it, because they will find themselves part of a new movement with no constituency.
You're also asking them to give up part of the time they would be spending advocating their position, and that's significant, and that's part of one of the--the challenges for them. This doesn't mean people don't do it, but you have to understand what you're really asking people to do. It isn't--it isn't all wonderful.
And the last point--I know--I know I have to stop--is that the temptation in doing this kind of work is because the prof--because the transformation in relationships is so profound in what you're watching, it's very tempting to--to project from that a societal impact, you know, when someone from--who's directed pro--a pro-life organization locally, and a pro-choice organization locally, go on local television and do all sorts of--you know--it--it sort of is a mind-blowing experience. You--you want to--you want to extrapolate that immediately, that you're transforming the conflict.
Obviously, it's not that easy to--to--to take your--your impact to scale, and so I think that the challenge that--that David rightly points out in his paper that needs to be done is to try to understand how to measure the impact. And I would just say I think there's three ways to do it. One is the political process, but that's only one. And the last two things I want to add to that list are that you may also do something different, at least in a local community. You may simply impact the level of tension in the community, which can have dramatic effect if you're Buffalo last winter, where we were doing a lot of work after the doctor was killed. So you may impact the politics, but you may also impact the level of civility or the level of tension in your community, or you may do something else, which is to effect the delivery or the availability of services to people, which may not be politics but may simply mean that women who face an unplanned pregnancy have more services available or are able to learn about things more, so that as we measure the effectiveness of these kind of dialogues, just focusing on the political arena is not going to--is n--is going to be too narrow. I think there can be impacts that are much broader than that. And so I will stop.
JAY: Thank you very much, Mary, for a vivid portrait of that work. Carolyn.
Ms. CAROLYN LUKENSMEYER: Thanks, Jay. I'm going to take about two or three minutes to say what we did and how we did it and it's impact, and then go to lessons. And I'll follow the theme of the previous panelists of--I'd like you to actually imagine something. The central issue we were looking at was citizen voices in governance. I echo what Martha said. That's the fundamental disconnect that people in this country are concern about. People don't want to talk for the sake of talking. People want to talk because they believe that what they have to say on an issue will make a difference. And the break in the fabric is at every level of government, but much more dramatic at the national level than any other level.
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