tv Tavis Smiley PBS March 25, 2010 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. health care is now the law of the land. the senate is amending certain portions they deem inappropriate. up tonight, our conversation with one of the leading voices on health care, tennessee lamar alexander. also tonight, dee dee bridgewater is here. her latest project is a tribute to the late great billie holiday. we're glad you joined us. lamar alexander and dee dee bridgewater coming up right now. >> there are so many things
wal-mart is helping people do. most importantly, we are looking forward to building stronger relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley". tavis and nationwide insurance -- working to improve economic empowerment. >> 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] tavis: senator lamar alexander is a member of the senate's health, labor, and pensions committee. he joins us from capitol hill. senator, good to have you back on the program, sir.
>> thank you, tavis. tavis: before i get to the details, now that this has been signed into law, let me start with honestly and frankly some of the uglyness that's taken place over the last few days and get your thoughts on that. in no particular order, on sarah palin's web site they now have that emblem of the gun target that's being placed over certain districts around the country, number one. number two, we saw members of congress being spat upon, some of them members of the congressional black caucus being called "nigger" as they went to vote on this bill. newt gingrich said republicans should be happy if this bill passed because it would do for democrats what l.b.j. passing the civil rights did for democrats back in the day as l.b.j. predicted for about 30 years. i could go on and on and on. there are members of congress now who have around-the-clock
capital police protection. what in the world is going on here simply because we passed a health care bill, senator? >> well, you have gone through a whole range of things. some of which i don't know anything about. of course members of congress should have good conduct ourselves, that's very important. second, we should always deplore any sort of racial incident of any kind and any sort of violent exchange. i do deplore that in all of my conduct. i try to do my best, and i just said on the senate floor that this has been a long and empassioned debate. it has been a well intentioned debate, and we have big differences of opinion, and we ought to stick to our differences of opinion and leave it at that and hope that the rest of the country will do the same. tavis: is it just a difference of opinion, or have some portrayed your party, obstructionist behavior?
>> we're trying to lower health care costs. this is an historic event, this health care bill. but it is a historic mistake, and the reason is because the democratic side is trying to expand the health care system that everyone knows is too expensive and is going to bankrupt our country. what we want to do is lower the cost of the health care delivery system so that more americans, especially lower income and middle income americans can afford to buy health care. we have offered a whole series of proposals that would do that, that wouldn't increase the debt, that wouldn't over-charge students on their student loans to pay for health care. so we want to reduce costs, they are going to increase costs. the american people of all races, all back grounds, all part of the country, i would think, would want that. tavis: if you are right about the fact, and i think you are, that most americans believe this system is broke -- broken and needs to be fixed, why is it
those of you that represent us in washington could not find some biptisan solution to this problem if we all agree that the situation is broken and needs to be fixed. >> with all due respect to the president, i don't think he tried. if you look back over the other pieces of major social legislation in the country, they have all been bipartisan -- medicare, medicaid. all the civil rights bill, 1964, 19 of f 67, 1968, the president had bigger democratic majorities than president obama has but he was having those written in the republican leader's office. he didn't just want to pass the bills. he wanted to have enough consent in the country that after they were passed they could be implemented, and they were. so we're ready. we went to the health care summit a few weeks ago with a whole range of ideas, and i think people were pleasantly surprised because they heard the democrats said well the republicans don't have any ideas. we had 7 1/2 hours of how to
reduce health care costs. for example, allow people to buy health care across state lines. if your health care has gone up 33% in california, instead of being limited to california, you can shop in nebraska and find a cheaper health care policy. that would cuft costs and that won't increase the deficit. tavis: i hear your point, and you are right about the fact, senator, that most social legislation that changed the social order of things in this country did, in fact, get passed in a bipartisan manner. i guess the question is whether or not that's a statement about barack obama the president and his style or a statement about how nasty and divisive the politics are these days in washington as compared to back in the day. >> the main difference about politics in washington today is that it is on television 24 hours a day. i am reading james k. poltz diary. he was president in the 1940's. i am reading what happened every day.
what was said and done in the 20's and 1950's had as much emotion and passion as there is today, it just wasn't on television 24 hours a day. this is a place where big difficult issues are debated. and almost always, in fact, every time the lathe senator pat moynihan used to say, every time we've will a big piece of social legislation it has been bipartisan. this time it hasn't been. people can make their own decisions about why this is the case. i think it is because the president and his party said, we won the election, we'll write the bill, we don't need the republican input. tavis: i am a part of the media, and you may be right that the media doesn't do what it ought to covering these issues. i would ask, is it the media or politicians these days who want to poll test everything, who want to politically calculate everything. it used to be you campaign and then govern. now you guys are campaigning 24-seven. it's all about making decisions
that allow you to get re-elected. is it the media or politicians? >> i didn't blame the media. i just said you are on all the time. tavis: what a big difference. [laughing] >> no, it is a big difference. i ran for president in 1996. if i got on once on "road to the white house" i thought i was on national television. today you are on 24 hours a day. so people see all this every day. a lot of what they see, if they will think back on it, is not members of congress talking to each other, it is a lot of strategists and analysts and people out on the streets. so we need good decore yum -- decorum. but we have a big difference of opinion. should we expand a health care system that's too expensive? that's not good for people. or should we reduce the cost of the health care system we've got to people can buy insurance? that's our position, and that's what we're going to continue to advocate. tavis: to your point now of
continuing to advocate, what do republicans do now? >> what we do now and tomorrow and the next day is try to make amendments of wlats -- what's left of the bill that's not now law. we think all of medicare savings rvings the half -- saferingse, the half trillion that's left should be spent on medicare. what the bill will do is spend it on new programs. that takes it away from seniors, 40 million americans, who rely on it. it cuts medicare benefits for one in four seniors who have medicare advantage. that's one amendment. my amendment said let's reduce the rate for interest rate for 19 million student loans by $1,700 to $1,800 a year. what the bill does is over-charge students $1,700 a year on 19 million student loans, that's 200,000 of them in tennessee, so they can help pay for the health care and other government programs.
so we're trying to improve what we think is a bad bill. >> what do you think is going to happen when parts of this legislation are put to court challenge? >> i'm not sure, taffers. -- tavis. we'll have to let the courts decide that. there may be some constitutional issues. i think the more difficult problem is that a lot of people in america will accept this bill. when young people find out how much their premiums are going up, when seniors find out how much 0 their medicare is going up, when seniors are told how much is going to go up because of medicaid expansion, and when lower income americans who celebrated because they are added into the medicare system and then they find out 60% of doctors won't even see new medicaid patients, people will be unhappy with this bill. tavis: the industry spent about $200 million during this health care fight, if we n call it
that. what's their return on that investment for that $200 million they spent, senator? >> i think their stock went up when the bill passed, and they are going to get a lot more customers. so the president must have given them a pretty good bill. the second thing is the drug company stocks went up, and we know they got a good deal because they made a deal with the white house that they would get to keep their brand name drugs for shorter years which means lower income americans won't be able to buy cheaper drugs and in return for that the drug companies spent about $500 million adding -- advertising for the bill. so insurance companies and others, doctors, some of them made deals that benefited them. we think it is not going to benefit the american people. we think we are going to improve it and reduce health care costs. tavis: senator, thank you spor for sharing your insights. lamar alexander.
>> thank you. >> up next dee dee bridgewater with a tribute to billy holiday. stay with us. tavis: i am honored to welcome dee dee bridgewater back to this program. she is out with a tribute to the late, great billie holiday, the lady day. the disc is called "eleanora faga: to billie with love from dee dee bridgewater." here she is. ♪ ♪ go on and help yourself but just don't take
mama may have and papa may have but god bless the child ♪ tavis: first of all, i'm stuttering. i don't care how many times i hear that song, it makes me tear up every time i hear it. the lyrics on that song is -- and you put something on it, too. >> well, you know what, when billie wrote that song, and that's one of the two full compositions that she wrote. the other one is fun and mellow. every time i hear that song i feel like it should be a spiritual.
you know, it should be part of our black anthem, you know? and the fact that she's speaking about the importance of taking care of one's self and standing up for one's self, she as a -- she was a visionary of a woman. i love to do that song, and i have to take it to church. tavis: yeah. >> i have to. that's how it has always spoken to me. tavis: it may not be a spiritual, but it is spiritual at its core. >> absolutely. tavis: i'm so glad you did it, but why this project, and why now? >> the story is long, and let me see if i can do a kind of shortened version for you, tavis. this c.d. was part of a bigger project. i had done a play about billie holiday called "lady day." i did it first in paris, france, in 1986 in french, which is how
i learned french. it is a horrible way to learn a language. then i did it in 1987 in london where he directed me. and i had a lot of offers to do this play after wards, but i was possessed by billie holiday to the point that in london i received fan mail addressed to billie holiday, not dee dee bridgewater. so i was looking for a vehicle that i could use to stay put and come off the road, and i've been wanting to get back on stage. i've had a lot of theatrical offers i've had to turn down because of my concert work. i had an option to play last year january until august. i had almost gotten it to a regional theater and we were going to do a comprsm o-production and i had to use -- and we were going to do a
co-production and then i had to use my money for some personal issues and i had to just let it go. and i believe if it is not time, don't try to force it. so my goal was to do one c.d. of the actual period of the play in the 1950's, and a second c.d. which was a celebration of billie holiday, this c.d. so i knew how much time doing a theatrical piece was going to take. so i thought going into the studio, if i could get these musicians i wanted to work with, and try and knock this out and have it sitting on the shelf and have it when we did the play. so when the play didn't happen, i had it done, and i was able to get christian mcbride on bass. tavis: you can't do much better than that. >> no. louis nash on drums.
david, which you saw in our concert in spain on the day that billie holiday died, july 17th. so it was literally 50 years to the day. i put that as a kind of a affirmation that i had done something right. so universal who distributes me asked if they could hear the c.d., because they hadn't even heard it. when they heard it, they went crazy. they said if you are not doing the play, please book this out. and that's how it got started. tavis: you got go mezz and mcbride? >> yes. tavis: what are your feelings on doing this 50 years after her death, i have some thoughts, but maybe you have some insights. how does this much giftedness come out of a woman whose life was troubled practically from beginning to end?
>> you know what? i think she had a gift. she had a gift. she found a way to, i think, alleviate the painful episodes in her life through her music. she is what i call a short-term angel. she wasn't always tragic. she was a very independent and a very, very strong woman, and she refused to yield to the mores of the day for vocalist. she insisted on singing her own music her own way. but billie, she loved to crack jokes, she was a practical joke player. she could curse like a sailor. musicians that went on the road for her, she was a blast to be on the road with. if they parked for a week or more, she would pull out pots
and pans and cook for everybody. part of what i was trying to project with this c.d., most people don't know her name was eleanora fagan, they don't know her life was a short 44 years because she had such an impact. but i feel billie has reached across every line, every genre. you can talk to pop singers, rock stars, all kind of musicians and performers as well as just people, you know, and they will say how billie holiday has helped them through their lives and through painful periods. so i wanted to show that she was more than this long suffering tragic figure. billie chose to stand up for what she believed in when she did "strange fruit.
" and that's really the pivotal point in her life. that's when the government said, if you sing songs, you will have problems. that's when they planted drugs in her apartment, and they arrested her. you have to remember, tavis, she lived in a period that was very difficult for us as black people and especially as entertainers. you know, to kind of have hypocritical life of being admired by the white population but not being able to mingle with them. having to be relegated to kind of servitude status going through the service entrances or back entrances and alleys and performing on gorgeous stages, doing television shows, and yet being relegated to a kind of second-class citizen in her daily lives. i think that would have affected you and i, you know?
tavis: how do folks respond today by "strange fruit" written by the jewis brother. >> his name was james allen. tavis: how do people respond when you perform today, "strange fruit"? >> well, i recently shared an evening with al jereau at the disney concert hall and i made a decision to sing that at as the last song on my show, and i received a standing ovation. tavis: quite a way to end. >> yes, it is quite a way to end. but i feel this song is still very relevant to what is going on today. you know, it speaks about the racial inequalities mple -- and it is pin pointed to what was going on in the south after the emancipation of slavery. but i think that it still exists. i think that, you know, with our
president, barack obama, i think a lot of what is going on for him is a subtle kind of rainfall -- racism. and i think this is something our country lail has to come to grips with -- really has to come to grips with. we waltz around that part of our history. it is like we waltz around the history with the native americans, you know? tavis: i think there is a preveiling opinion about billie, about her music, and the mood that it tends to put one in. i raise that because i want to ask which of these songs is the most fun, f-u-n, to perform? it's not "strange fruit" is it?
>> no, it's not. sometimes i don't do it. unless i feel i can do it and remain detached. if i am feeling sensitive or there have been things going on in my personal life, i won't do it. i did some concerts in the south, and i did it in huntington, tennessee, and i realized that was a very sensitive thing. so i had another concert in memphis, which is where i was born, and it was like a homecoming also because i had never been back, and i decided, no i'm not going to poil this homecoming with this reminder. so i really kind of pick and choose where i'm going to do it. but the song i had the most fun with on this seed -- cede -- c d., and that's the duet i do with christian mcbride, and it is so much fun. it basically is just bass and vokals. tavis: i can't imagine anything
with christian not being fun, but i can't imagine -- because i know dee dee so well, everything is fun with dee dee! [laughing] tavis: you will love this new c.d.. it is called "eleanora faga (19 a15-1959): to billie with love from dee dee bridgewater." you're in charge of everything, right? >> yes. tavis: and you like it that way. >> yes. i wanted a picture to be a kind of bust and to kind of evoke, you know, billie as a statue. but i decided to use in my hair instead of the famous gardenias, those are magnolias, which is a
reference to strange fruit. and i decided to have myself body painted bronze and that's how that came out. because as i titled it "eleanora fagan" i was originally going to title the plaque, but that was a little -- i didn't do that. tavis: you can't go wrong with dee dee bridgewater in your collection ever. great to see you. >> thank you. tavis: that's our show for tonight. you can access our radio podcast at our web site at pbs.org. thank you 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 on my next program with actress holly hunter with her
new project "saving face." we'll see you then. >> there are so many things wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better, but we're looking forward to helping people build stronger communities and better relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide insurance working to improve national literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute, inc. ---www.ncicap.org---