tv Smerconish CNN February 17, 2017 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
-- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com >> thank you for watching "ac 360." a special edition of "smerconish" starts now. america slit down the middle. can the union be saved? my special program: fixing the divide. i'm michael smerconish. four weeks to the day since he was inaugurated and keeps the truth, we were a nation divided but this did not begin with
donald trump and he said as much himself yesterday. >> i didn't come along and divide this country. this country was seriously divided before i got here. >> just consider reaction to the president's first press conference. it was a political war shock test dependent on which team you were on. team limbaugh and team maddow. >> it was just fantastic. and the american people are going to eat this up. >> this is what it looks like when a president fails in every way. >> twitter saying trump was on fire, giving him hell or a trie frightening disgraceful rich racist drunk uncle. this civil war is not new. how the last 30 years brought us to donald trump. i want to drill down on the partisan divide and get real concrete ideas on how we can fix it. before things can get better though, we need to understand how they got so bad.
i have seen many causes including money, social media, geography, and the polarization of the media. let me start with the media, a subject on which i have strong opinions. three decades ago on ronald reagan's watch, washington was a different place. sure, there was partisanship. but not polarization. and the ideologues were the exception, not the rule. according to the national journal which took the ideological pulse of the congress every year, 60% of the senate on ronald reagan's watch was comprised of moderates. there were so many republican moderates that they had their own weekly gathering. they called it the wednesday lunch club and members included bob dole and alan simpson and ted stephens, arlan specter. today, they're gone and they haven't been replaced. how much have things changed? in 1982 according to the national journal, 58 senators had voting records that put them
between the most liberal republican and the most conservative democrat. every senate republican was more conservative than any senate and then every senate democrat more liberal. and the house similarly divided. here's another barometer of the schism. as late as 1970, the typical member of the house voted with their own party only about 60% of the time. by 2014, that number was approximately 90% of the time and typical of the bygone era was a member from texas, george herbert walker bush. he served two years during the johnson administration and voted with the democratic johnson administration 53% of the time. and then he served two years in the watch of richard mik son,ni voted with that administration
only 55% of the time. and so washington has become polariz polarized, a divided town just in the last three decades. guess what else has changed in that exact same time period? the media. coincidence? i think not. it used to be the power in washington was earned by paying dues and accruing seniority. today, you just say something incendiary. and you're a fund raising superstar. think of joe wilson lie you lie at president obama during joint session of congress or democrat alan grayson saying the republican health care plan was that you die quickly. each became a fund raising magnet within 24 hours. now, where did they learn that coarse behavior? i say from the polarized media. i think i know because i had a front row seat. when i began in talk radio three decades ago, there i am with hair, personality was king.
conversation was key. not ideology. can you imagine that i once cut my teeth guess toasting for a gentleman named bernie herman? his brand was that he was the gentleman of broadcasting. you're not going to sell that today. those days are over. that climate changed with the a ascent of rush limbaugh and then conservatives felt rightly shut out of the media and rush filled the void and gave a clubhouse. fox news launched in 1996 and took a page out and drudge report did likewise online. msnbc struggled to compete until they did the same thing from the left and then huffington post was born as a liberal alternative to drudge. and suddenly we had a totally polarized landscape that captivated attention of primary voters and elected officials. all of this set the stage for
the entrance of a political neophyte. donald j. trump, diatribes against the mainstream media and all things clinton well received by an audience that had been preconditioned to hate both. for 30 years by the conservative media. donald trump was the nation's first nominee to mirror the talk radio fox news drudge report, breitbart view of the world even though some of the media mall pieces turned against them and when after winning the nomination, trump hired breitbart's executive chairman steve bannon to be the campaign manager, well, now the transformation of our political leadership was complete. today, politicians repleflect t real power brokers. men with microphones set the tone for the current debate and their objective is not good governance. it's to attract computer clicks to web sites, ears to radio shows and eyes to tv cable news.
look, we've ceded control to media equivalent of professional wrestlers. there's george, the animal steel. he just passed today. i say it's time to take the debate back. tweet me at @smerconish. i'll read some live during the course of this program. joining me now, ronald brownstein who was editor of the national journal and now senior editor of the atlantic. a fellow at the university of pennsylvania who earned his ph.d. with a dissertation on talk radio and michelle bernard, president of the bernard center. ron, i was quoting a lot of your data from the national journal days and, you know, it was hard for the journal to compete in the environment i just described. >> yeah, you know, it's interesting. the national journal is a publication started in the 1970s. really, around the observation of daniel patrick, the late
senator from new york who famously said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts and it was built on the idea that there was kind of a rational debate in washington in which everyone would sit down and kind of, you know, bob dole and ted kennedy would work through a common set of facts maybe from different ideological perspectives and reach an agreement and found a hard time kind of operating in a world in which people were not looking for facts on which to base their views but facts on which to support the views that they came into the debate with. they were looking for things to support talking points. the core, the media, i think, real quick is both cause and effect of the polarization. obviously, it reinforces the polarization but the core issue that we've had and i wrote about in my book, the second civil war about polarization, the parties have become much more ideologically. and great sorting out of liberals and moderates and conservatives out of the democratic party. everything else is flowed from
that. the behavior of the elected officials, the behavior of the media and the entire system has just become much more clarified and divided. >> and, you know, to your point about everyone self-sorting, let me put to this brian rosen wald who earned a ph.d. by studying talk radio. everybody can go to their own source. here's the irony. we have never in the internet cable television sirius xm. so much choice and so few exercising it. >> because now you can exercise the choice to only hear what you agree with. now you can wake up and read breitbart in the morning, listen to russ in the middle of the day, come home and watch fox news at night. >> on the left, you can do the same. >> yes, msnbc, npr, huffington post and russ changes this but at least in the early days, people listened to rush and watching evening news and reading "the new york times" and "washington post" and so they're
getting some facts. now, they're living in these sort of sealed echo chambers and what happens is they literally, it's alternative universes. they're talking about different things. they have different facts and i'll use air quotes because in some cases, they're not at all factual. and this is poisonous to the system. >> i used to draw solace from the fact, according to gahl lop, 40% of the country are independents and i think this is a healthy thing to break away from control of the parties but i'm not sure the 40% aren't playing into the same traps that we're here tonight to describe. >> i'm certain, i am hoping they're not falling into the same traps but it's difficult if we go back and look at how we got here. in my opinion, i sort of started tracking it and started with the trash tv. the early phil donahue show and oprah winfrey that were still legitimate but getting us down a road to jerry springer, geraldo and now an era of outrage tv
designed to make people not like one another and driving this is profits too. and a lot of places to look on the web, on television, online, on the radio and everyone is fighting for that little sliver of information and profit, they are inclined to be as outrageous as possible and when they do that, let's face it, if you're a member of congress, you don't want to be called a rino by rush limbaugh so you're in favor of gridlock, not good for democracy. >> i'm going to present tonight in the span of 60 minutes, this needs to be a ten part series. i don't mean the whole list here but would you agree with me that the factors we're describing are an explanation for how donald trump say, this was teed up beautifully for him? he first dipped his toe in the water in portsmouth four years ago. it wasn't right for him then. it is now.
>> he has been a deeply polarizing candidate from day one. and you look at the first weeks of his administration, the gap between the way he has viewed by members of his own party, the opposite party, far wider many polling than we've ever seen before, but having said that, he does transcend some boundaries. he is someone who's not been in the conventional mode of many of the debates that we've had. he downplayed the traditional social issues and elevated a set of physicifissures and particul trade and immigration. i think the core here, what we have had is as we have seen, starting in the 1960s and really accelerating in the decades since, as we have seen the parties become more ideologically homogenous, the pressure for more uniformity has grown. you schism pimply don't have th base on each side that allows people to be as heretical as we saw them being in the '70s and
'80s. when ronald reagan, you talked about the early 1980s, when ronald reagan wanted to elevate william brad reynolds who was the jeff sessions of his day in terms of his use -- one-third of the senate republicans voted against him. look at how many senate republicans voted against nixon on his supreme court nominees and obviously, many crossover democrats. that's gone. and it isn't as if we necessarily have more disagreement in the society than we've ever had but more precisely along partisan lines but partisanship and ideology and didn't exist at any point earlier in american history to the extent that it does now. >> when the parties are homogenized, where do they go as many ta many? >> the most significant figure in the republican coalition is rush limbaugh and he cares about
one thing. charging confiscatory advertising rates as he likes to put it and michelle says, it's more entertaining to be bombastic and outrageous and for talk radio hosts tightifights fr increasing bloggers and media on the right and on the left and fighting for the same sliver of the audience that was once there for many fewer people. so the way you do that is you make sure you don't get outflanked or any daylight between you and your audience and sure as heck don't lecture your audience and say, well, that's not true. what you heard from uncle steve in the e-mail, that's not true or what you heard for this tweet or that tweet, it's not true. you can't do that. so these people have every incentive to demonize the opposition and every incentive to be as entertaining and to not worry about facts. >> you look at that press conference just yesterday, both sides are fund raising as a result of it. ron brownstein, michelle bernard. check out the first tweet that came in, but the first that
we're going to post. smerconish, cnn, fix easy. moderate our tribalistic tendencies to flourish and thrive in our wonderful diversity. that's like poetry, michelle. i'm not sure if we can achieve that, but i'm all for it. >> in a very few characters, but well done. >> it did not come from the president, no disrespect, mr. respect. continuing my report, another fundamental cause. we will follow the money. i want to talk to jane mayor of the new yorker why outside groups are able to finance the divisive ads without you knowing who's influencing your vote. he called her a total [ bleep ]. >> obama is trying to force gay marriage on this country. that's not the change i voted for. ♪ ♪ the new false lash look?
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he said, tip, the i had a ticket to heaven and i'd give mine away, go to hell with you. those days are over. the courts deregulated giving with citizens united. but as a result, representatives in non-stop fund raising. the campaign to go to washington and win in an election and spend only tuesday through thursday in the nation's capital before rushing home to raise money to keep that job. and so gone are the days when families relocate to dc and missing is the socialization that used to occur among members. it's far easier to demonize a political opponent you really don't know. but haven't broken bread with and the corresponding problem of money we can't track. groups exploiting the 501c4 loophole to raise and spend in a way the public cannot track and the groups notorious for using
score cards for ideological purity and their influence extends from the white house to the state house. joining me now is jane mayor, author of a terrific book. dark money, the hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right. define "dark money". >> that's the kind of money that you can't trace. it's money that comes from donors hiding their hands. the public can't see where it's coming from and goes into the groups not be political, and supposed to be social welfare groups but in fact, they air all kinds of vicious ads and are very active in campaigns and this blossoms, as you said, right after the citizens united decision by the supreme court which was in 2010 and it really shifted the game in a lot of ways and it shifted the kind of money that was going into american politics and so it used to come mostly from the parties which were sort of more centrist
and then rogue billionaires putting money into secret groups and they're exerting a different kind of influence. it's in some ways radicalizing the politics because many of the donors are quite radical. >> i'm sure, jane, some are watching and saying, wait a minute thr minute, this sounds like a hit job on the right. surely, must be similar influences on the left. address that. >> i mean, there are some big donors on the left for sure. the names that are always brought up are george soros and tom zaisire was one of the bigg in the recent elections but there's a difference that, you know, i know i'll get hit for this because it's asymmetric, really, a lot of the money from soros and from stooir ier is disclosed. an off lot of the money on the right is on the right and where
it's not traceable unless you're going to spend years like i did trying to figure out where it came from. >> so at the time of citizens united, my recollection is that justice scalia was one and kennedy was another and i was in this cat dwoir egory of misread decision and it might be a good thing relative to transparency and instead, jane, let me show a snippet of a commercial to make this point. this is a 2013 commercial against obamacare. roll it. >> okay. let's have a look. >> the disclaimer. all we saw was the obgyn.
what is that and how do i know who paid to influence my vote? >> so what that is is one of the front groups that was filled with money from charles and david coke who run and own the second largest private company in america. it's a fossil fuel company for the most part but came out swinging for obamacare and help to fund the tea party unrest during that period. >> jane, my beef is not so much with the fact they gave money, i think they've got a right to be political players and that's fine. it's the lack of transparency and so if i'm a member of the house or the senate and i, to get back to my original point in coming to this segment and i have to compete in this environment, then i'm not spending time in washington. i'm not relocating my family and putting the kids in the school and having a cocktail with a colleague. i got to get the hell out of there and go raise money because i've got to be able o defend
against that kind of a commercial and put one on myself. >> and those commercials, a lot of them what they did was they keep the politicians in line. they keep the candidates in line. so that, for instance, on a number of issues, the american voters are really in the center, but the money is far two too one-sided for voters. if you take an issue like guns or climate change or social social security, the voters tend to be kind of in the himiddle b you've got private money and interests on the fringes so they're keeping the politicians in line and having them tow the donors' line. >> i promise we would talk solutions. this is a no brainer, right? we've got to close that 501c4 loophole. nothing in citizens united that prevents congress from imposing
total internet transparency. you agree? >> i do. and as you said, scalia made a big point of saying that transparency is what's going to keep political money from being corrupt. >> thank you so much for being here. appreciate it. what are you thinking? keep the tweets coming at smerconish. what do we got? being a centrist is a dirty word today, destructive to democracy. you know what the new c word is? compromise. compromise is even worse than being a sent rhys acentrist and to bring it back into vogue. up ahead on our superb lope look, the role of gerrymandering. how has redrawing the electoral maps polarized the country further? per roll bounty is more absorbent, so the roll can last 50% longer than the leading ordinary brand. so you get more "life" per roll. bounty, the quicker picker upper
we're going there. the causes of our polarized divide. let's talk geography and jer gerrymanderi gerrymandering. nate silver of the 538 blog documented a quarter of house districts were swing districts meaning the result of the presidential race decided within 5 percentage points but look at the yellow. by 2016, that number had decreased to just 37. no longer in play. and that explains the lack of compromise that you see in congress because there's no incentive when members represent only the like-minded. here's another way of thinking about our cocooning. cracker barrel versus whole foods. as of 2016 presidential election, 412 whole foods in 184 counties and 642 cracker barrels in 484 counties but they overlap only in about 90 counties.
so they build in different areas. and i suspect that's because of political data. in 1992, bill clinton got elected and the dwgap was only 19%. but in the election that just ended, donald trump won 76% of counties with a cracker barrel. only 22% of counties with a whole foods. the gap had grown to 54%. how did we get from there to here? joining me now, the author of the cracker barrel versus whole food analysis, david wasserman of the cook political report and larry kramer, former dean and current president of the hewlett foundation that added polarization to the list of global robs it seeks to tackle. explain, why did the gap grow? >> thanks for having me on. a lot of people including democrats think that if we were to end gerrymandering, if we were to have an impartial robot
draw all of our political maps or at least take it out of the hands of politicians, we'd have a bonanza of newly competitive seats but i'll take a slightly contrarian view to that because what we've seen and we calculate swing districts a little bit differently than 538 has but we've seen a 56% decline in the number of competitive seats in the house since 1997, but according to a study, we're going to put out next month, 83% of that decline has been attributable to factors other than redistricting which happens every 10 years. what's happening is that voters are gerrymandering themselves. they're choosing to live in like minded areas where the vast majority of friends and neighbors agree with their political values and i think we've proven that by looking at the data of whole foods versus cracker barrel. when i was speaking to a group of young democrats in arlington, virginia, several years ago, it was a yuppy crowd but a woman
raised her hand and asked, did you mean crate and barrel? and i think that drove home the bubble mentality. >> both of you know, i eat the chicken fried steak and drink the asparagus water at whole foods. you're the contrarian. you're the one who's been telling me for years that michael, don't overemphasize the impact of gerrymandering. explain. >> part of the reason is what he just said. not that the districts are competitive but not competitive for reasons that are not because of political gerrymandering. of course, that would mean that you would have to actually gerrymander to create competitive districts and one thing to remember is that the districting that takes place does try to work along the lines of normal interests, so cities, you have city districts and, you know, suburban districts and rural districts. and that's what you want representatives to do and to create, you would have affirm gerrymander districts that
didn't make sense from that perspective. >> you two are both bright guys but i have to believe that gerrymander, do we have any of the crazy maps and if we do put them up on the screen, because, come on guys. look at some of this stuff. it's like modern art for crying out loud. >> it's not a part. >> there certainly is some gerrymandering but it's not -- >> stop right there. i know that district. and by the way, the guy who represents, it's a good guy named pat. those are the suburbs of pfld. but that map was drawn to keep the seat in his hands, larry. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. but the question, whether it produces polarization is a different one, right? for instance, compared to voting behavior of representatives from competitive districts to non-competitive districts or from gerrymandered districts versus non-gerrymandered districts. it's happening in the senate.
why is the senate as polarized as the house? there's no districts. there's other causes of this and if you ask me the primary, one of the primary ones is primary elections. so you've got 5% to 10% of the party turning out from the most extreme part of the parties exacerbated which is money and media that balance out maybe in the general election but a huge effect in the primary elections with tiny little electorates so when you get to the general election, the difference between a competitive district and non-competitive district is that in the competitive district, you're choosing between an extreme republican and extreme democrat who's not going to compromise and in a non-competitive district, one of them is a shoo-? >> to that point, i said, we also want to talk about fixing things and i don't know that larry was advocating this. i will. we need more open primaries. we need more people diluting the choices of the extremes and i feel that way in the same way
that i feel i'd like to see, no disrespect to my friend frank, ooud like to see more participation in presidential debates and more voice to independents, david wasserman. >> amen, brother. and amen larry. so only 14.6% voted up in 2014 setting an all time low. so essentially what that means as larry alluded to, 7% of people on the farthest left or right, forgoned conclusions by the time we get to november. a couple of things. i think it would be productive if voters want compromise to approve more of these top two primaries we see in california and washington. now, other states have been very slow or, you know, skeptical of those reforms but i would say, more turnout. people don't like the fringes,
vote in every election, not just the ones that occur in november. >> larry kramer, a final word if i might, but pardon me, david, this is unfair to you but you're a constitutional scholar. our founders gave us a republican form of government. is this what they envisioned? >> let's put it this way. we're losing some of the essence of the real threats to republican government. yes, they come from the pact that our media system in effect turned into a propaganda system so people are not actually being informed about issues. they come from the fact that so many of the political institutions that protect individual rights and strengthen the voter turnout and voter are breaking down. so we still have a republican form of government but it is under some serious stress and threat. >> larry kramer, david wasserman, thank you so much for being here. we really appreciate it. >> thank you, michael. >> a couple of tweets. the ultimate answer, a third
major political party. you know, danny, i thought that if the libertarians had gotten to 5%, which was a threshold in this election and just put aside the personalities of johnson and well, two good guys. but that would have really given rise for the next cycle. but it didn't happen. another tweet. hit me with it quick. @smerconish. house needs to bring back cocktail hour. i'm all for that. a couple of different bases because i enjoy a cocktail, but absolutely. you don't demonize someone with whom you've enjoyed a martini. you demonize the person that you don't know because it makes it that much easier. so absolutely. it should be a full-time job. they run for it. they should stay in dc. still ahead more of our special look at fixing divide. so what hope is there for future? can millennials help bridge the polarized country? she looks years younger than she should. is it dna or olay?
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smerconish, so glad you're shining a light on gerrymandering. we reformed in california. we know you did and gave you credit for not only drawing the boundary lines but something else you did but install the top two system in california. i don't know. like the jury is still out but i know it's intended to instill competition where it didn't previously exist. come here and talk to me about it, okay? tonight, looking at fictixing t polarizing divide. are millennials as polarized as their elders? evan buy from the great state of indiana. when retired from the senate said this, congress is not operating as it should. there is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving. i could have written that.
former senator bayh. and seeks to organize non-partisan communities to find common ground. senator, your father served for two decades in the united states senate and then you served in the senate. what changed between your dad and your time? >> it's a completely different senate, michael, for all the reasons that you and your panelists have outlined. the gerrymandering in the house, the rise of big money that's affected the senate. several of you have mentioned the fact that no one votes many primaries, one of the most extreme people select our nominees. you pointed out the fact of the members in the senate don't get to. when i was a young man, my mother and father would have other senators into our home for dinner, they got to know each other and as you pointed out, so much harder to demonize someone when you met their family and
spend time with their children, a lot easier to find common ground and final thing to mention. there's been this big dising disaggregation. fewer common experiences. fewer people serve in the military together. so they don't have the familiarity with one another, so too many americans look at each other as almost not being a fellow citizen of the same country and the secret that many of our politicians today don't want the public to know is the truth, the truth is that we really do have a lot more in common than we do that divides us but get all of this obsessing, particularly in the media, over the things that polarize us and leads to the kind of political dysfunction that we have at a much different senate than it was back in the day. >> that's a great book and i thought you were going to cite bill bishop's the big sort in a similar vein. steven, is this a generational thing, and if your answer is yes, why aren't more millennials
participating? >> i think the answer is yes. look, bipartisanship is like a muscle. and what we need to do is make sure that this new generation is cooperating across the aisle, not just at the end of their political careers like we're starting to see but the beginning and look, this is a fascinating generation. a plurality of us identify as independents and neither political party is ready for the rise of political independence. with the millennial action project, we activate at the congressional, state, and local levels and the goal is to seize the bipartisan opportunities on student loans and college affordability, on to sharing the economy and sbrentrepreneurshipd now the big challenge, how do we amplify these success stories and how do we create a level playing field for more millennials to enter public office? >> senator bayh, let's talk solutions. i've addressed the media. what do i want people to do?
sample more opinion. we talked about money tonight. that 501c4 should be disclosed and total disclosure. gerrymandering is an issue. closed primaries? what is evan bayh thinking of what would move the ball forward? >> i agree with all of things you just mentioned, michael, but at the end of the day, those sort of structural reforms will help but at the end of the day, the american people need to take the political process back and vote for, as the other guest just mentioned, practical problem solvers. some progress is better than none. we've got a group called no labels trying to resolve that and that needs to gain some traction. because at the end of the day, as martin luther king said, we may have arrived in different ships but we're all in the same boat now. we are just electing people that don't behave that way. don't run for people who run
brain dead campaigns and all they do is attack. we need a radical center to focus on progress and that's more important than the structural things. >> stephen, i'm convinced that the vast majority of americans and i base this on social media reaction that i get and my own day-to-day existence pumping gas or going to a back to school night or grocery shopping, i don't meet ideologues. the only people i meet who see through liberal or conservative lenses are on tv or radio. because the people that i meet are liberal on some things, conservative on some things and a heck of a lot they haven't sorted out. the problem is the passion rests at the polar extremes and until there's an awakening like the senator was saying among sent rh a centrists, this is going to continue. >> i completely agree. i'm from wisconsin, one of the more polarized states right now. we swing left to right but back
home, i'm not seeing partisans but people who have a variety of issues and disproportionately, millennials do not fit into either partisan box. so we need to find ways to first of all, thanks for having this series on fixing the divide. all the aspects you mentioned are all important. fourth thing is add is investing in the next generation of leadership. they're the future leaders of this country. we're starting to see some change but there's a lot more we have to do to shine a spotlight on network and empower the new leaders. >> thank you both so much for being here. still to come, you've been tweeting throughout the course of the program. i'll read the best and worst. i try to watch fox news along
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if you missed any of the program, clips on the website and be back tomorrow morning for the usual saturday morning program. please follow me @smerconish. more tweets. i live in community where they're closest together than any part of the united states. it's swing district. fits the political model. hit me with another one. wow. sorry i yelled at you back in the day. i was told to attack you. totally respect you. fyi.
>> randy, you made my night. i remember you, we probably both have apologizing to do. how do we make the alt-right and alt left go center? there's enough us, if we get active, show passion, we can control this. thanks cnn for letting me do this. i wanted to do this hour. i'll see you tomorrow morning. you can use whipped topping made ...but real joyful moments.. are shared over the real cream in reddi-wip. ♪ reddi-wip. share the joy. so we know how to cover almost alanything.ything, even a "truck-cicle." [second man] how you doing?
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breaking news, president back on the campaign trail but what's he campaigning for? this is "cnn tonight." i'm don lemon. president in mar-a-largo right now capping off first full month in office with what else? raucous rally in airplane hangar in florida. reportedly itching to get out of the white house and taking inner circle with him to florida. obamacare, tax reform and search for new national security adviser on the table. anything could happen. athena jones is live from florida. take a step back in time, get in the time