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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 26, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with john nichols about his new book "dollarocracy." he details about how elections are being controlled by a small group of billionaires and corporations, to the detriment of the rest of us. join us in our conversation with john nichols, coming up right now.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. nots: just in case you may think big money dominates elections, consider this. the last election was the first $10 billion election in the history of the nation. washington correspondent john nichols has written a critique of our current practices called "dollarocracy."
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john, thanks for your work and it is an honor to be -- to have you on this program. beat romney, or did money beat money? >> money beat money. we love the happy story, but the fact of the matter is that barack obama and his supporters raised about $1.2 billion and mid romney raised about 1.3 billion dollars. it was big money versus eight money. i would argue that obama will one on the basis of his own strength. tavis: let me go forward and then we will go back. the supreme court was forced to make a decision that depending on where you stand, perhaps it was a ruling that would completely gut what is left of campaign finance. if the decision goes in the way many people think it will go --
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>> it is good you raise that question. allowingentially wealthy people to give more than ever to candidates. mccutchen would allow those wealthy people in a public way to give more money. but the fact that they are giving that money now through so-called independent expenditures, what the bill would do is systematized and make it more regimented. the truth of the matter is, the barn door is already open. if the mccutchen ruling comes down, it will be that much easier for them to do it, but we should not lie to ourselves. our politicians are dominated by the dollar. it is really just a cleanup after the fight. we lost the fight in citizens united, all the way back to the 1970s.
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until we begin to address the fundamental issue, that money , weing into our pockets lose these fights because money is well organized. that is the simple reality. if you have a great deal of wealth, you have the ability to make it all work well. earlyn the late 1960s, 1970s, civil rights and voting rights were really starting to expand. vote for a system that was little more fair and just. pump the money into lobbying and politics and you begin to knock down the barriers to money and politics. year processa 40 in this country of money moving into politics. from theill dominates presidential level down to the local city council level. we end up in a situation, you talk about an issue like poverty, gets pushed aside.
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in a situation where washington dc, the capital of the wealthiest nation in the world -- we can go to war in syria, we can bailout iran, but we just don't have enough money to put people on food stamps. that is "dollarocracy." tavis: help me understand, if money controls everything, if everything and everybody is up for sale, and if you don't have the money to participate in the bidding process, how do you exercise whatever agency we are supposed to have in a democracy? >> that is where he gets very difficult. at the end of the day, we do have that vote. we still it lets the great people, and honest people, to congress. bernie sanders is a guy who i think goes against both parties a lot. there are republicans who are on a role players that go against their own party. ask,he core question you
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that agenda is being set. we have such a narrow debate in this country, if we want to change it, we cannot just look for the perfect candidate or the perfect party. we have to make structural reforms and get serious about it him and say we are going to shape a democracy where the vote matters more than a dollar. we will have debates on social security and medicare and medicaid cuts for ever, because they want that money. structuralthough changes have to be brought about by elected officials that we sent to washington, and if you cannot get in the game -- you are right, we do sin good people to washington, but apparently not enough. i'm with you on everything you are saying, i'm just trying to figure out how the everyday american exercises their agency to do anything about this, when everything is about money.
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we have been across the country talking about this, union halls, churches, universities, wealthy people, poor people. you never hear anybody who disagrees with the diagnosis and you never hear anybody who disagrees with secure. here is the answer. -- who disagrees with the cure. this is the important thing to understand. we're going to need to do some constitutional amendments in this country. know what it takes to get a constitutional amendment passed? >> i do. we know the constitution is written in stone, handed down to michele bachmann. [laughter] along thes, somewhere way, we have amended it 27 times. we amended it to say women have the right to vote. give 18-20 one-
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year-olds the boat. we amended it again and again to make democracy changes in this country. now, at this critical moment in our lives, we are saying now it is too hard to amend. we had thein 1910 triangle shirt waist fire. we had children working in males. in those -- children working in mills. by 1920, those immigrants, those low-wage workers, those poor people had risen up and build movements that got women the vote, that got us a tax system that allows us to tax the wealthy and tax appropriations. if our grandchildren -- if our grandparents can do that, who are we to say we cannot? let me offer this as a viewpoint.
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that washington was not as dysfunctional then as it is now. i can do better than that. there were people in washington then, no matter how much they disagreed with the other side of the aisle, they were prepared to shut the government down a couple of times in 20 years to make their point. i'm just trying to get a sense of whether or not things have gotten so bad now, and people are so recalcitrant in their inability to compromise and to to shut the government guys they can't have their way, i'm trying to see how a constitutional amendment can legislate in that kind of framework. here is an important thing to understand. country,ars of this they did not allow slavery to be debated in congress because they thought it would be too contentious.
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we would not even talk about it. we finally started talking about it, but it wasn't easy. it was ugly. it was difficult. i think we have figured out how to make reforms now with a little less violence. i hope so. here is where it is important. you and i can talk about washington, and we know every bit of dysfunction in that city, but we also know there are ways to start in small towns and cities far from washington. if we had a media in this country that did not cover politics, but covered politics, including grassroots politics, every body would know that 16 states have formally petitioned congress to amend the constitution to overturn citizens uniting -- united and get big money out of politics. montanar, in november, voted on whether to overturn citizens united with a
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constitutional amendment. colorado was an obama state and montana was a romney state. over 70% voted for this. people want this change. i know it's going to be hard, but my job is not to come here and tell people what they can't do. believe me, if that is what people who cover politics right about democracy, if we cannot fix this thing, we never will. i don't think it will be possible to overcome slavery. i don't think it was possible to get women the vote. there are a lot of things that weren't possible, and it was never the big guys, it was the little guys. tavis: because if you rely on the media -- first of all, god help you. let me just take that as an example. if you are relying on the media, what we hope our colleagues would do more of, you would not
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rely on the media to cover politics and not politicians. everybody is struggling with poverty, but we still won't talk about it. there are other things only is that we won't talk about, but here is that point. two or three people are all over the media right now. what it comes back to, "dollarocracy." the dollar controls everything. how is it that we get traction on a conversation about fundamental changes, if even the media cannot be relied upon? , we used to have a labor page in this country. have you seen a labor page lately? >> no. tavis: we have a business page. how do we level the playing
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field? do you ever ask yourself why there is all this voter suppression, while this stuff is happening? has it occurred to you that maybe we are the majority, maybe the great mass of people who really want a just and fair society are the majority, and the people who don't want and have to work incredibly hard to prevent that majority from being heard? tavis: >> they are still winning because they've got the money. age, 100 years ago, they had the money. the bottom line is, you and i are having a conversation right now. this is a piece of a much bigger whole. we are going to have to break away from a media that does not service. there, a lot of journalists are like actors.
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they work a day job in a restaurant, and then it night they go out and do some journalism. this is what we are doing. we are building it back. we are clawing this country back. if we said it was going to be easy, the media should tell our story and make it all work. that would be great, but it never, ever was that way. people that the american are constantly starting to wake up to things. when our president suggested to us in august that we might want to get into another war in the middle east, there was this incredible reaction. there was a congressman that said, are people just don't want this thing. they just don't want it. the media said well, the american people are war weary. they love a good war, but they need a vacation. i think they were missing a letter there. i think the american people are
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war wary. they have seen the call for war in the middle east. were willing to push the congress and the president not to do this. we have to always keep up with the evolution of the people. as i travel across the country, i am blown away at how passionate people are about getting their democracy back. i have faith in them. i will never tell him it is easy, but i will tell them we will give you some information about the crisis. we will give you some ideas as you try to fix this thing. tavis: we talked about the mccutcheon case earlier, that the supreme court is going to rule on it some point. rnc immediately came out in support of mr. mccutcheon.
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they are very clear where they come out on this. it is clear where republicans are on this. they want to be able to flood more money to candidates all across the country. if it's not about party come in and give me some assessment of why republicans are bending over backwards to support mccutcheon in this case? my next book is the history of the republican party. i have spent so much time with doubt -- how much wendell wilkie pressured franklin roosevelt, how republican mayors, people like john lindsay -- this is a party that has made a terrible compromise. they have decided that being exceptionally friendly to wall
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street, to moneyed interests, will give them resources that they need to push now a bunch of ideas that are not popular. genuinely unpopular ideas. immense power with this amount of resources, with an agenda driven so much by wall street and economic power, that away evenhaped them from what they once were. the compromises -- this is pretty cool. when the state of maine voted on urging a constitutional amendment, 30 republicans joined the democrats to vote for that. in america, there are a lot of republicans who get it. what we have is not a functional system. this are republicans in country who would like to have a debate with me, because i'm pretty much on the left. they are willing to do it.
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too much of its leadership doesn't want that honest debate. they won an overwhelming money advantage which would allow them to win. tavis: is money all that important in the end? there are only so many radio spots and tv commercials you can buy. at some point, does money ultimately make that big a difference? if republicans think it is just about more money, more money, and it is not about ideas, if they never get serious about making a real play, at some point it's not about the money. a pile of sitting on cash, but if you're ideas are so out of step with america, my question is, is money all that? that, but itot all allows you to do a lot of technical stuff.
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>> gerrymandering and redistrict ing is another issue. >> money allows you to message have votera that we fraud in this country. money allows you -- here's the final thing that money does. ads, in many key races, as much as 90% are negative ads. sayave to look at money and , is all that money going to elect you? no, but what it might let you do is cause a substantial number of your opponent's supporters to stand down. just a couple of weeks ago there was an election with an 82% turnout. when turnout is low, that is troublesome.
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in germany, 72% turnout. states we have about 53% of our voting population voted in 2012. why is our turnout so dramatically low? local races usually have turnout into the 30's and 20's. we fled people with messages that politics is ugly, that everybody is a bad player on all sides. at the end of the day, a lot of people opt out. that is the power of money. fails, we just tell people to give up on it. and negative ads do that. to get down to the handful of people who actually care, then you organize the tea party. tavis: that is depressing, but i take your point. now to the democrats. i recall so vividly having as a
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guest on this program the former u.s. senator russ feingold, one of the most aggressive members congress had ever seen. i remember having russ feingold on the show and he was so, so disappointed, as i was, when barack obama, at first said he wasn't going to take the money, saidhen did a 180 and well, i am going to take it. ,hat was sad about that remember this? alito almost went into full cardiac arrest because the president was slamming the .upreme court he slams them for citizens united, but then his campaign said i'm a these are the rules, and if these are the rules, were going to have to take this cash
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because we want to be competitive with romney. money into beating money. feingold implored the president 0.t to do that 18 the obama people will tell you, and they told me this in 2007, what we have to do is win first. once we win and we get in, then we can get serious about pushing real campaign-finance reform. we've got to get in first, because if we don't win, if we don't play the game by these rules, we cannot get in, and if we're not in it, we cannot change the rules. they are in now, and i don't see anybody talking about campaign finance reform. this government shutdown, all this crisis, i so wanted the president to go on television and say let's step back and understand why this is taking place.
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this is taking place because we have created a republican caucus who never fear november elections. the ability of the money that -- i wishespecially the president would do more of that. i have to tell you that if you are looking for the democratic party to be the pure party that is going to clean this thing up, my answer is no. democrats are better on the issue. the president is better on the issue. the president has said that he thinks a constitutional amendment may be necessary to overturn citizens united. i give him immense credit for that. better, but the problem is this. horribleget into that calculus of are going to be overwhelmed by the money, that
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never ends, because the dollarocracy never stops. it doesn't finish with election day. the next election is just down the line. gimme three quick ways we fixed this. >> a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. why don't we put anybody on the show with tavis smiley and have them come out against the right to vote. number two, we've got to get this money out of our politics. we cannot lie to ourselves anymore. we do need a constitutional amendment that says money is not the issue. corporations are not people. more than thers dollar. at the end of that, but we need to do is connect those groups to
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all the movements that we care about. if you talk about poverty, i want that to be your first issue, but i want the second issue to be political reform. we need to get this high on the agenda of everyone who cares about the future of this country. that is the way be overwhelmed washington. tavis: "dollarocracy." by john nichols, our guest tonight. .hanks for your brilliant work >> it's an honor to be with you. >> that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with barnard college president about her new book, wonder women.
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that is next time. we will see you then. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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next on "newsroom" one transit strike ends and another is averted, but tensions remain. what does it all mean for the labor movement? with the national roll-out of obama care hobbling along, what can we expect from california's new health care exchange? the state's top campaign finance watchdog heads to the federal election commission in washington. >> we have been able to achieve consensus, and i'm hoping that we're going to be able to do the same at the s.e.c.

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