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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  March 15, 2016 5:30am-6:01am PDT

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>> funding for "overheard" with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you. >> i'm evan smith. he's the author of four essential reads on the civil rights era, including "parting the waters: america in the king years 1954-1963," which won the pulitzer prize for history, as well as acclaimed books on two topics that couldn't be more timely in 2015, college sports and the clintons. he's taylor branch. this is "overheard." [applause]. >> actually, there are not two
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sides to every issue. >> so i guess we can't fire him now. i guess we can't fire him now. the night that i win the emmy. >> being on the supreme court was an improbable dream. >> it's hard work and it's controversial. >> without information there is no freedom and it's journalists who provide that information. >> window rolls down and this guy says, hey, he goes to 11:00. [laughter]. >> taylor branch, welcome. nice to see you. >> thank you. nice to be back. >> appreciate you being back. so, here we sit 50-odd years from the voting rights act, from selma, from the assassination of dr. king. we have an african american president, which is a sign of progress in this country itself. we've gone from we shall overcome to hands up, don't shoot. to black lives matter to i can't breathe. >> yes. >> how far have we really come, in your estimation, as the preeminent historian of the civil rights era?
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pronounce wisdom on what we're looking at today. [laughter]. >> we've come a long way in race relations in the united states, which is now and always has been the barometer of whether we're fulfilling democratic promise. >> you feel good about where we are. >> oh, i think that the tragedy of this time -- >> yeah. >> is that we are so -- we're so on tenterhooks from our own history that we've constructed myths that we haven't made the progress that we have. and in some degree we are repeating our history of misremembering the 1960s the same way we misremembered the 1860s, which were a great step forward out of slavery into having black people go from being slaves to voting -- >> yeah. >> but then, all of a sudden, we convinced ourselves that that wasn't a good idea. we forgot the fifteen amendment, the fourteenth amendment, the thirteenth amendment, and by world war i we were saying the best thing to do is to segregate race relations out of all
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politics so we can have a progressive era. so we misremembered our progress and imprisoned ourselves again. and i think what happened in the 1960s was that the leap forward that we made that set into motion all kinds of progress for groups -- collateral groups to black folks, for women, for senior citizens, for disabled people, for immigrants, and ultimately for gay people ought to make us enormously optimistic about our capacity to deal with tough problems and realize the promise of democracy. but, instead, we're in a cynical age where we're saying government is terrible. and i think a lot of that is racial. that people do not want to acknowledge how central race relations is to our democratic fulfillment. >> right. well, there's no question that when president obama got elected there was a conversation that really began with reverend wright, not that there needed to be any reminder that race was at the center of that campaign -- >> right. >> -- implicitly or explicitly. we began talking a little bit more openly about the place that
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race occupies in the national conversation, but the political and governmental aspects of race notwithstanding, it really is over the last, say, two years, three years. go back to trayvon martin. come forward to ferguson and to what's happened more recently with eric garner. those communities would not share, i'm assuming, your point of view that we're just misremembering where we were and that, in fact, there's a lot to be grateful for. they feel like whatever progress has been there in front of their eyes is not there, right? >> well -- >> how do you tell somebody in ferguson things are good? >> you don't tell them that they're good. you tell them that they're better than they were when it was segregated. >> and is that enough? >> no. it's definitely not enough. it's definitely not enough. the problem is that the people who value that racial progress are themselves skittish to talk about it for fear that they won't understand it or for fear that they will use it just as a bludgeon. nobody has a sense of balance. while the people on the other
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side, who are denying and using race as a wedge issue in politics, basically say that we make a mistake even to mention race. they'll jump up and down. that's why president obama is afraid to mention race. >> yeah. >> his aides go nuts if he mentions it because they know all it will do is generate a huge flurry of people saying that he's playing the race card because he's black. >> did you expect that he would be a more overtly race-focused president by virtue of his historic status? i mean, he might say -- it has been said that he has governed the country as a president who happens to be black. >> right. >> as opposed to a black president. >> which is what any adviser would advise him to do. >> would have advised him to do. do you think an opportunity has been lost over the last seven years? >> not really. i think in the long -- you know, when you're dealing with race, you need to be brave about raising the subject in the short-term but have a very long-term perspective.
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i think the fact that he has been a black president, trying to be president of all of the people has a subliminal effect that in the long run is worth more than any particular thing he does about race. >> so that in the -- in the near future, when another african american candidate, significant -- well, you have dr. ben carson running as a republican as we sit here in 2015, potentially for the nomination. it's more matter of fact to consider an african american candidate there. you have many hispanic candidates who are considering running for the presidency this time, are running for the presidency. >> exactly. >> it's not an issue. they are americans. that's all they are. >> they are, but even those hispanic candidates and latino candidates might be very surprised if, in an interview like this, they talk about how being latino informed their politics now. just as obama cannot talk about -- >> right. >> his life lessons have been about what it's like to be a black person. >> i'm looking forward to, at a minimum, when president obama is out of office so that he is
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liberated from the problem that you described and can -- as i expect he will do this. he'll be able to reflect very candidly, much more candidly than he's able to now. >> i hope so. >> on the experience of having been the first african american president because well, you know, it's a wonderfully interesting complex of it. before we leave the topic of civil rights, i'm interested to hear you enumerate the list of groups that benefited, sort of sat in the sidecar as african americans, enjoyed the fruits of progress on civil rights. you mentioned latinos, you mentioned women, you mentioned gays and lesbians. really, latinos and women have progressed much farther since the '60s in terms of a position of parity, if not pure equality. but gays and lesbians are now only beginning to enter the conversation about equality. and, in fact, often you hear the fight for marriage equality couched in terms of civil rights. that this is actually a logical extension of the civil rights movement and that in fact african americans and others who
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experienced the benefits of progress on the civil rights front should be joining with gays and lesbians for similar reasons. can you reflect on that? >> sure. >> do you think it's a legitimate comparison? >> oh, absolutely. and i think -- but i think historical perspective is really necessary to have. i don't say that african americans are enjoying this thing that came to them. what i'm saying is that they pushed open the gates to freedom by getting people finally to deal with what equal citizenship means. the promise of equal citizenship was an enormous citizens' movement. and when they did and people started saying what does equal citizenship mean, they started saying why is it that women can't go to the ivy league colleges? >> right. why is it that women can't serve on juries in most states? >> right. >> why is it that the want ads are divided help wanted male, help wanted female and that most of the help wanted female ads were for girl friday in the "the new york times"? this is not that long ago but people have a hard time remembering it. and the notion that gay people could have any rights, their behavior was criminalized.
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>> right, it was viewed as abhorrent, even in polite aspects of society. >> it was beyond -- it was on pluto. it was beyond the imagination of the most liberal reformer at that time. >> right. >> so what i'm saying is that miracles occur when you deal with the potential of equal citizenship, that african americans historically have shoved those doors open and that once they did in the 1960s and people started saying what does this mean, it became harder not to address those questions for disabled people -- >> correct. >> i say that the third great pillar of the civil rights movement that nobody recognizes besides the voting rights act and the civil rights act of '64, was the immigration reform act of '65 in which lyndon johnson went up to the statue of liberty and said we are repealing a race-based quota system on who can become a naturalized american -- >> right. >> that was restricted mostly to the nations of northern europe. they didn't even want italians and -- >> right. >> and says anybody can come
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here and never again will the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege shatter the gate to freedom. and invisibly it is -- and literally and figurative it's changed the face of america. >> yeah. >> we have communities from all over the world. >> and yet we're still arguing about -- >> still arguing about immigration. >> -- immigration, right. >> absolutely. >> yeah, old is new. >> old is new. >> let me move from the controversial topic of civil rights to the not at all controversial topic of college sports. we now live at a time when i think more people are talking about the sausage making as opposed to the sausage of college sports, and i blame you, or i credit you for that because your book "the cartel" was a major exploration of -- really the underside of what we all sort of enjoy in an entertainment way of college sports when the reality is it's a lot more complicated than it appears. is college sports any better for having had its dirty laundry aired by you and others over the last couple of years? or is it just moving on blithely into the future without regard
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for these criticisms? >> i think it's taking some steps toward being honest. >> what do you mean by that? >> toward recognizing that there's a difference between being a student in the classroom and an athlete on the field in a commercialized venture. >> yeah. >> right now we fuse those together by saying you're student-athletes. >> right. it's a hyphenate. >> it's the only hyphenate in the world like that. >> it's like model-actress. i'm not sure that's any more a legitimate thing either. but you don't think there's a possibility that somebody can be a student and be an athlete -- >> no. >> -- and have that self-identity be -- >> i think they can be a student and an athlete but i think honesty requires us to think independently. and surely people on college campuses are smart enough to see that there's a different role being played here than there. but if you fuse them together then you open up all kind of tricks in the mind where basically the way they treat them is that they treat them as student when they're out on the
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field and say you're just a student here. you're not really generating a lot of money. and quite frankly in the classroom the professors and the other students treat them as jocks. >> treat them as athletes. >> yeah, they're not real students. so they get the worst of both worlds. >> they're not seriously in the classroom or expected to submit to the same rigor or to the same expectations in the classroom. but on the field, this is an interesting point, we view them as students so we don't pay them. we don't regard them as the moneymakers. >> we say you're a student first. >> right. >> whereas if you said to mark zuckerberg you can't reap any benefits from inventing facebook while you're in college because you're a student first. we're going to take all the money from facebook. >> right. >> or you say to james franco while he's a student at yale making movies, you know, you have to be a student first. you're a student actor. >> so you can't make any money off of the films. >> so we're going to take the money. >> are you not susceptible to the argument that what the students are being paid, in quotes, is an education to which they would otherwise not be
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exposed or entitled? so if you bring a kid in to a university setting and maybe the kid is not academically qualified or maybe the kid is not the right fit for that university, but the athletics door is the door through which that student, male or female enters. by virtue of that, that student is exposed to an education that would not otherwise be possible, might earn a degree a that would not otherwise be possible. is that not a form of payment? >> that's a form of patting them on the head and saying be grateful for what you get. >> isn't that the argument, primarily, that those who push back against paying student athletes make? >> right. but it's a totally bogus argument. it's like saying you're getting health insurance in your job, you don't really need a salary. it's like setting -- if that were sufficient, if that were fair, then you wouldn't need a whole agreement among all colleges to punish the athletes and to punish each other if they offer a nickel. if a student asks for a better health insurance policy. if a student does anything, they define that as unethical conduct
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and they turn the whole world upside down and say that exploits the student because it exposes them to the world of commercialism. >> right. the temptations. >> in a sane world, exploitation is when you don't pay people and when you don't give them the rights to benefit from their talent. >> right. >> but we've turned the whole world upset down. >> there's no question that universities benefit financially, monetarily from the labors of these students. couldn't they just decide we're going to come up with some sort of a way to nominally compensate them for the contributions that they make? would it eat too much into their financial benefits? >> oh, it would eat too much for them because they have a great deal. they get to decide what they do about it. it's really not a question of -- people always say, well what is the system and who would get paid what? that's not the question. the question -- >> although you acknowledge it's complicated. i mean, you have a football -- >> no, no. it's not complicated. >> but you have a football -- well, the response, what they would say is, well you have a football program, which is the largest generator of money. but then you have this rowing team. well the rowing team can't be paid the same as the football
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team. the rowing team or the lacrosse team can't be paid, except in certain schools, duke. you know, people are trying to make distinctions between different sports and between the genders. >> right. >> do you think that can be made whole if you wanted to? >> it becomes the real world, which we have everywhere else. >> yeah. >> and it's simple because all you have to do is say that the rules by which we conspire to limit the rights of the athletes are bogus and always have been, and one day be recognized as criminal. >> yeah. >> and if you just abolish them then the world would evolve and the colleges would have to decide, well, what are we going to do? because the athletes coming in here can bargain, they can do this. and we won't pay anything to the piccolo player in the band. and we never have been -- we'll laugh when they ask for money but they have a right to ask for money and so does the multimillion dollar quarterback and we're competing with oklahoma where they were going to sign him. >> i'm just fixated on paying the piccolo player. we're going to pay people in the band now? being in a band's going to be a lot cooler. >> yeah. that's what people throw out at
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me. gosh, if you pay the players, aren't you going to have to pay the people in the band? well, no, but the people in the band have the right to ask for money and the college has the right to laugh at them because there isn't any money. >> so when students at my alma mater, northwestern, made the decision to unionize or an attempt to, you like that? you think that's them taking control of their own situation? >> well, i think they have a right to do that but i think my main response to that is that that it would expose the absurdity of the situation because they would become the first labor group in history to achieve collective bargaining rights when they have zero individual bargaining rights. anything that they could bargain for collectively would be illegal by the ncaa rules, which make them individually serfs. it brings out the worst in colleges, which is paternalism and really -- and in american citizenship more generally. we think that everything we're doing is devoted to the young people and that we're really taking care of them.
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a lot of our laws are -- >> yeah. >> and, yet, if you turn around and look, the people who deal with children are the worst treated people in the world, the pediatricians, the teachers. children and young people -- we like to think that we're taking care of them but the record shows that we take the money. and that's what's happening in college. >> that's actually a fairly uncynical view of this whole thing. you know, you're saying, well, it's paternalism. that's why we're trying to take care of these kids. maybe it's not actually paternalism, maybe it's just greed and it's masquerading as paternalism. maybe it's not that we want to take care of these kids, which is what we're doing, we're doing this for their protection. maybe we're doing it for the protection of our own ability to generate a buck and we're just couching it in terms that make us look like we're unselfish. >> well, i am happy not to be the one who is being the toughest on the college sports scene for once. >> okay. i just gave you a break. okay, good. i just let you off the hook. [laughter]. >> in the remaining time we have left, you, in 1972, had two
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roommates, is that right, for a period of time when you were co-chairing the george mcgovern campaign for texas -- for president campaign in texas. >> right. >> you had two roommates, bill clinton and hillary clinton. was she hillary clinton at the time or was she still hillary rodham? >> she was hillary rodham. she was still in law school. >> so as you look back and you think about my two roomies back then. if you had said one or the other is going to be president, maybe both, would you have imagined that she might be president one day? as you knew her back then. >> well, i didn't imagine any of us being president because we lost texas by 30 points. [laughter]. >> oh, please. democrats lose texas by 30 points all the time. come on. that doesn't seem that surprising. >> that's what it was like to run the mcgovern campaign in 1972. >> now we know her as secretary clinton and candidate clinton. what was she like back then? you knew her at a time when she was not practiced in the spotlight.
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>> she was -- to me she was all duty. she was a duty-driven person. he was a passion-driven, political passion-driven person. >> yeah. >> she was more of a lawyer than he was. >> yeah. >> she would parse things out. he loved politics and the first meeting we had when we were here is we went over to see bob bullock, you know, the secretary of state of texas who was a character if there ever was one. >> if ever there was one. >> of course he and clinton became good buddies. >> right. >> hillary was more studious. she could be just as angry. she was just as passionate but she was always trying to figure out things in a legal framework that was fair to everybody. >> didn't particularly like politics? was she not as interested in politics as he was? >> she was not as interested in -- as clinton later told me in the white house, you know, the art of politics is figuring out an issue on principle but in
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order to make it work you've got to marry it to the personality somehow of the people that you're working with. and he was involved with i can figure out what makes people tick. and then work with them in the framework of the public policy. hillary was shier about the human interaction and more at home in the public policy analysis. >> i'm just sitting here stunned because the bill and hillary you're describing in '72 is effectively the caricature, if not the reality, of them now, right? >> well, they're the same people. [laughter]. >> he's more passionate -- but i think it's amazing to me that people don't change. you know, he's more passionate about the stuff. he's more political by nature. she's a little bit more rational, lawyerly. you know, has a harder time accessing the individual connections. you know, this is the knock on her that she's not as authentic, politically, as he is, you know. if authentic politically is not an oxymoron, right? >> we had those same conversations back then.
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because in some respects hillary and i were more alike than he was. we were disillusioned by the politics of that campaign in 1972. that in the middle of watergate and in the middle of the vietnam war that had been extended for four years, that those issues weren't really about what the politics were. >> yeah. >> we were very disillusioned and that the world was turning against the lessons of the race of the civil rights movement into a backlash. backlash was the phrase, and we were a war country. and hillary and i were -- when we left here in 1972, both of us were depressed. clinton left to go run for attorney general of arkansas. >> he was energized. >> he was the energizer bunny. he's going to go run. and we, hillary and i used to talk about that. does he -- is he too much an automatic pilot politician?
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and she said no but she said that is his ambition. she went back, of course, and worked on the watergate committee. >> on the watergate committee, right. >> so i was there with her in washington and we would have lunch every now and then and i would say, you know, how are things with bill? and she said, well he's running down there. and she says he wants to marry me but only if i'll move to arkansas. have you ever been to arkansas? [laughter]. >> you know. >> you could say that. democrats aren't going to win arkansas the next election so you're not risking anything. you spent a lot of time, particularly with president clinton at the end, the book that you did with him, kind of reflections on his time in the white house. did you get a sense of how she changed, her time changed? it was obviously a very personally contentious and tumultuous time for them in the white house, it goes without saying. did you get the sense that she came out of the other side of those eight years feeling more favorably disposed to public service than politics? because obviously she ran for the senate and she served as secretary of state.
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she did all that willingly, nobody forced her to do it, but i can't imagine that that time was a particularly happy one for her, given everything that happened. >> no, but she was still -- that book that i did, keeping his diary of what he would want people to know when he's dead that he couldn't say then because he couldn't tape his conversation -- he wanted to tape his conversations but he couldn't do it, so this was a pale imitation. it is my biggest professional disappointment of all my books on all these subjects. >> because? >> because it was taken solely on a highly politicized -- it was either a defense of clinton or a betrayal of clinton because it was so personal. it was about what they were doing. you know, we'd be talking about air strikes, if cruise missiles attack in iraq and chelsea would come in and say, please time my biology take-home exam. and i put all that in the book -- >> right.
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>> to me it was about what it's like to be president and their relationship was part of that. >> right. >> and so i'm disappointed that it's been seen through the lens of a highly politicized -- >> did you learn -- i guess maybe then to say this a different way, did you learn anything about her in the process of writing that book about him? because it was more a book about him than it was a book about them. >> i was amazed by how steadfast their partnership was in the sense of their dialogue and their discourse, that they could finish each other's sentences right through the times that she insisted that he not -- that he sleep, you know, out of the bedroom when she was so mad over monica. that they still had a political partnership on principles. she was a more passionate defender of him in impeachment than he was. during the impeachment trial he would say this is politics, they can do anything they want. and she said, no, this is about how the constitution works. >> more lawyerly. >> yep.
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>> right. >> and if they come anywhere near -- she was much tougher in his defense than he was on something that had been a huge personal blow to her. >> won't it be fun to see him in the white house again if that's what ends up happening? >> oh, i dread the soap opera of that. >> you do? >> that's where i dread the press. you know, who is he looking at in the front row and what's the pillow talk? and i'm afraid the soap opera could get going again. >> all right. don't deny us our fun. come on. [laughter]. >> taylor branch, thank you. nice to connect with you again. >> thank you, evan. >> look forward to seeing you. [applause]. >> we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our web at klru.org/overheard to find invitations to interviews, q&as with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. >> the texas democrats were squabbling like crazy. the johnson faction and the yarborough faction, and sissy farenthold was just running for governor and they said this is a civil war. we need two of you to go in
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there. and they asked me, do you know clinton well enough to work with him? and i had a vague acquaintance, i said fine. and they asked clinton the same thing. yes, they wanted two non texas southerners as peacemakers. >> funding for "overheard" with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also by hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global healthcare consulting business unit, hillco health. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you.
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