tv Tavis Smiley PBS January 19, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
tavis: good evening from washington. tonight, we bring you the first of three nights devoted to a conversation about the state of this country, called america's next chapter. thanks to the support of nationwide insurance, we are proud to bring you this event from the campus of george washington university. of our panel includes david brody, maria teresa kumar, dana milbank, arianna huffington, maria bartiromo, cornel west, david frum, and john chen. we are glad you've joined us for night one of our conversation, coming up right now. [laughter] [applause]
>> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> nationwide is on your side >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- [applause] tavis: i think i want to start our conversation first with dr.
west. i only do this because i was reading some clips of some of his media appearances of late, one in particular, where you were being asked about this conversation. and i thought we were friends. [laughter] in this article, you called this conversation america's next chapter. in the subhead, you talked about how america can return to its greatness. i want to start with the theme before we get into the particulars. we have three hours to drills. but you took exception in the piece i read, my particular media outlet, with the notion of america returning to its greatness. i want to let you on packwood you had to say about this. talk to me philosophically about how you see this notion of america's greatness and whether it ever existed, and whether or not we can ever return to it if it ever existed. >> first, i want to thank you for bringing us together.
we need to have this conversation at this moment in history. this fragile experience in democracy called the united states of america, the usa. what i meant is that for me the very notion of the great nation is a bit oxymoron like, because i come out of a christian transition -- christian tradition that says you judge a nation on how it treats its poor. alexander the great is not great to me. he just conquered a lot of people. napoleon is not great. he just dominated a lot of people. for me, the legacy of martin king, d 95-year celebration -- it focuses on the release of days. how are you doing with the prisoners? how are you doing with the fatherless, the working class is and so forth? the military might of america is unbelievable. social mobility and
technological innovation are unbelievable. rights and liberties are at its best. but greatness has to do with how you're poor and working people are doing. that is the vantage point for me. [applause] the legacy of martin king and dorothy height -- they said the future of america rests on how we respond to the legacy of martin king. when i look at how our poor people are doing, not very well. downward mobility, the chronic poor locked into a complex, militarism in not just afghanistan, but the military industrial complex. the military budget is 50% of the u.s. budget. there is no wiggle room to deal with the situation of working people and poor people in the budget. there is a spiritual issue with hedonism and narcissism, spiritual malnutrition and constipation that we see in the nation.
i think we are in very deep trouble. it is not returning to america's greatness, but trying to make america greater with great courage, and great love, great commitment to public-interest and the common good. for me, in the and, no nation is going to be great, because it is going to be shot through with greed, domination, and oppression. the best we can do is gain some accountability to working people as our elites continue to dominate our government and economy. [applause] tavis: if dr. west is right about our nation trying to become greater, i am trying to juxtaposed that notion with your recent best-selling book, "the third world america," where you are you that if we do not change a lot about the way we do business, we may end up a third
world america one day. get me from west saying we need to become greater to your notion that we are slipping toward becoming a third world america. can you juxtapose those things for me? >> first of all, i want to say that i would like to spend the next few hours listening to dr. west. [laughter] i was completely spellbound. then i thought that at some point tavis is going to come to me, and i would rather sit here listening. one of the reasons is that i think we are also starved of poetry in our public discourse. everything is so prosaic. so much is about data. o just listening to cornel reminds us how malnourished we are when it comes to that. i think there is not a contradiction between what he is saying and what i say about america. i do not think you can ever
return to anything, even if there was such a thing as america's absolute brightness, including for the poor and our working people. my great compatriot, the philosopher herodotus, said you can never enter the same river twice. everything flows. everything moves on. everything changes. having made that philosophical point, practically, as an immigrant to this country -- listen to this accent. i am acutely aware of how we are losing the american dream, because i lived it. as we are looking now at the possibility of upward mobility, the possibility of working hard, playing by the rules, in doing well is becoming impossible for millions of americans. we see that since the middle class is at the heart of any first world country, if we lose our middle class as we are in danger of doing right now, we do
become third world america. the statistics -- i hate to dive into statistics after dr. west. but we have 100 million people right now who are worse off than their parents work. when it comes to upward mobility, we are after france, after spain, after the scandinavian countries. to be behind france in upward mobility would be as if france .ere behind us in croissant's that is my concern. we have a lot time to discuss. ultimately, i am optimistic. i know you want to start with the darkness. it is good to do well in the darkness for a little while. but ultimately, i believe in this incredible american character, american compassion we see expressed around the
country in small communities. you just need to scale it, accelerated, and make it part of our everyday life. tavis: just days ago, dana milbank, there was a washington post report released called the rasmussen report. it found that almost half of the american people think our best days as a nation are behind us. whether you believe numbers like that are not, it is clear to me as i travel the country that this feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and concern about the future and whether or not their kids or grandkids will not do as well as they have done -- how do you move the country forward? how do you put the country on the right track if half of its citizenry think it's best days are behind it? >> it is a grim statistic. to the extent there is any good
news here, it is that a lot of the reasons we are all feeling so bad is because of a short- term problem in the economy. we have two problems now. one is that we have just gone off this economic cliff, which has made all the statistics worse, and which has made the american public extraordinarily dour. more than 85% of people feel we are on the wrong track right back. i think that is what gets at the statistic you are bringing out here. because that is overlaid with a sense that our problems are greater than the economic cycle. and we probably have reached a point improving living standards are going to slow down, just for demographic reasons. we have reached a point where the rest of the world has caught up. america will no longer dominate
the way it once did economically, militarily. that does not mean we necessarily are going to suffer lower labor standards -- living standards. you have to things coming together now. our problems are at large but not insurmountable. what is happening now is that they seem insurmountable because 15 million people are out of work, because so many people believe we just cannot come to grips with the short-term problems. tavis: john chen, dana said that we have to recognize the fact that we can no longer dominate. let me ask you a direct and pointed question. if the 20th century belonged to the united states, does the 21st century belong to china? do we need to accept the fact that we won in the 20th century, but it belongs to china in the
21st century? i ask that because we all know that hu jintao, the leader of china, is headed to the city in a number of days to speak to president obama in a summit. does the 21st century belonged to china? >> first, i have a comment before you insert -- before i answer your question. i am glad i did not go to princeton, because i did not understand half of what dr. west said. i would never have graduated. i would not be sitting here. [laughter] i would first say to you -- i run around the world and i am fortunate enough to do a lot of business around the world. we beat ourselves up pretty bad. i think that is one thing we always like to do. i think there is a lot of countries out there who would love to be america. they love americans. and the fact of the matter is that we are all sitting here talking about this. we are very open and from a very
diverse background. that is a good sign. there are a lot of cultures and political factions and powers of their that these kind of discussions would never happen, nor would anything happen because of it. [applause] that is the first thing. we have to not beat ourselves up first. i am going to answer your question about china. that is not to say we do not have problems. it is the rate of growth. this is like companies. mature companies grow slower. immature market -- a mature market. china has caught on. we have been telling them how to do things. eventually, they did it. it suddenly worked, and the rate of growth is a lot faster. and their attitude is very different. they are a lot hungrier than us. but they also have issues that if they do not continue to go
peacefully, and i am sure that in the three hours we are going to talk about securities -- if they do not continue to grow peacefully, the political and social stability will be integrationist. if you ask the chinese people, the majority of the 300 million middle-class from the total of 1.3 billion, they still have a large challenge. the 300 million middle-class and the others who aspire to be that middle-class would rather have the current growth structure than some of the stuff we like to impose on them. given that, they have a big internal demand. everyone wants to put money there, including us, to grow their market. and they are hungry. the next decade, we're going to see a lot of development from them. tavis: i have a comment to the
other side, to david brody. you work for a network that i think most americans tend to view as conservative in its approach to the news and in its beliefs and values. when i listen to what john chen had to say, i am reminded that during this campaign, back in november, there was a lot of anti-china rhetoric that we heard from a lot of folks on the right. it is easy to beat up on china, because china cannot respond, in the middle of an election in your specific district. i am not saying there are not issues with china we need to address. there was a lot of anti-china rhetoric in this last election. that is one issue on which there is a divide in this town. there is china and a litany of other things i could roll out. you are all aware of that. what say you about what is or is not going to happen, courtesy of this new divided government here
in washington? >> we have got nine hours or a little longer, we can talk about it. it is tough. it is a complicated issue. i think it starts with a moral factor in this country as it relates to god. because if you think about it -- i travel around the country and talk to people like jim wallace on the left and ralph reed on the right. here is one thing they agree with. there is a moral crisis in this country in everything from wall street to the housing market to what has happened economically. i would suggest there is a lot of common ground that can be found in this area of economic catastrophe, if you will. i think that is a very important part of it. i would also suggest as relates to stability in government i think we need to see here -- this is pie in the sky, potentially. but as relates to the two sides
shooting and the divided government we have seen, we need the elected leaders of this country and the influential commentators in this country, a bill reilly or a keith alderman -- olberman -- some of these guys need to speak up and come together, whether it means recording a psa announcement. words have consequences. tavis: you are suggesting bill o'reilly and keith olberman issue a statement together? [laughter] >> if you are going to get through the clutter and really make a difference, there needs to be shocked value. if you are going to have shock value, you need to get people who would normally be in their own entrenched zones to come out and start to dialogue. tavis: is that our problem, david frum? is this really about a moral crisis? >> i would not say so.
the people at home know well what the problems are. we can keep more calls on their head and remind them more. i think all the time that inside each of these problems is the answer. we have had this tense debate in 2010 over the american health- care system, it's extraordinary wastefulness. we spend more than anyone else. within that waste, if the united states spent as much as switzerland, there is four points of gdp of wasted money lying on the table. if we can get a sam walton or a henry ford to go through those systems and squeeze the waste out, there is four points of national wealth right there. that means we have able and skilled people ready to do the jobs the country needs doing. we have international global challenges. we have a hungry rival nipping at the country's heels. but that also forces the country to be more competitive,
to remember that it competes in a world of states that are diverse. the country needs to be disciplined and focused its resources. it is also a reminder that more countries look to the united states as a provider of security than most countries look to other potential rivals as providers of insecurity. we have instabilities. our task here is how we deploy the institutions and resources of the country in a way that makes those solutions effective. tavis: you said a lot, and i want to come back to you quickly with some follow-ups. let me get marja into the conversation. my grandmother used to say that what maria said sounds too much -- that what david just said sounds too much like right. it cannot be that simple. if david says challenges can be found in the problems themselves, how stuck on stupid are we that we cannot figure out
the answer to the problem is inside the problem? economically, what are we missing? >> i agree with much that has been said. what i have to push back on is dr. west, because i believe america is the greatest country in the world. we were great and are falling a bit, but we will get back to greatness again. let us not underestimate the power of freedom. we talk about the challenges and the rise of the east and the decline of those on the bottom. but this is a free country, and the aspiration of power is also amazing. the fact that you can come from nothing and work hard and get a little luck and achieve success -- that is not to say that we are taking care of all our people properly. we are not, obviously. and we need to do better in caring for all income levels, all areas of the country.
we have work to do there. i think the problem is clearly the jobs picture, the unemployment story. it is persisted. i suspect it will continue to persist. we have challenges overseas, china, india, 300 million people in this country. the numbers do not add up. of course at some point china will be the largest economy in the world. america has to sell to those people, a billion people joining the ranks of the middle class outside of america. american companies have to sell to those companies, those people. and i think that is also part of the story. tavis: let me talk to maria teresa kumar. i ran into her in advance of our conversation today. i heard her make a point i agreed with. it is hard to not agree with that. when you look at the negative
numbers, they are hitting her community, the hispanic community, very hard. the picture is not pretty, but the numbers are really hitting the hispanic community pretty hard. maria was playing this out. she closed by saying that nevertheless the hispanic community might be the most hopeful in this country about their future. i add to that that i have mad love for the hispanic community right now. the community in this country last year flexed more than the hispanic vote. they flexed. [applause] i think that if you do not like the way things are going, you have to raise uppe. as we all know, politics is not a spectator sport. you have to get involved in the process. the hispanic community did that last year, yet there were not a lot of victories for all that. what happened in 2011, for all the energy and activism
generated last year, as this campaign is about to kick up for the white house in a few months? >> i will talk about where we see our country going. i have to side with maria. i do not think america was great. i think we are seeing is a realignment we saw during the great depression. we are seeing it now during the great recession. we have new industries, a new type of immigrant, and also competing on a global scale again. what happens and the lessons we learned during the great depression was that america learned to take care of our own, our poor, women, and children. now, with the great recession, we have had a lot of legislation that has asked us to step up to the plate to health care, through financial reform, and asks the question -- are you going to take care of your poor and your children? i have to tell you that we have
done ok. part of it is because we do see increasing change within our country that a lot of folks in the middle class have forgotten how to the poor, and the rich have forgotten how to be middle- class. that is a conversation we need to have as well. as we move forward as a country, one of the reasons the american latino community is so optimistic, despite the fact that we have the highest foreclosure rates and job loss, is it because one of the reasons is that -- this is where i will bring it personally. i remember my mother getting up every single morning, going to clean houses, and working 16- hour jobs, and still telling me that america was the greatest country in the world. so when you have that in your household, when you have immigrant parents telling their kids, i don't care if you are from asia or latin america, "america is where we are going
to make our dream," that is the identity of an immigrant country. how we incorporate this? we need to make sure that that 9-year-old, whether it is arianna or me, is getting the best immigration. -- is getting the best education. that is our challenge as a country. tavis: join us again for part 2 of this conversation. you can access the debate in its entirety on our website. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: join me next time from washington for part two of our panel conversation, america's next chapter. that is next time. see you then. >> all i know is his name is
james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.