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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  October 29, 2014 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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>> rose: welcome to the program. we begin this evening with a conversation with amy poehler. >> my approach to the book was really less that is my life and more this is how i'm feeling and thinking. >> rose: this is my experience. >> this is my experience so far, yes. and it's kind of a compendium of essays and stories and personal stories and lists and lots of jokes hopefully. and my goal really was to be funny and truthful. >> we have atul gawande on his book being mortal, medicine and what matters in the end. >> i'm writing about things that confuse me like why are the healthcare costs the way they are. what is itching or in this case why even in my own limitations are we miss managing them towards the end and what could
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we do better. writing has been my wear of exploring, figuring out. it gives me an excuse to call people up and say can i come and check out what you do. it's really great. >> rose: we end with michael waldman with his book called the second amendment. >> when you look at the second amendment, the way we understand it is not the product of some sort of pristine constitutional text but always results in kind of a push and pull and rough of tumble of political advocacy and public argument. so over time, we understood it differently, but it is the case that until very recently the supreme court and constitutional experts didn't think the second amendment recognized an individual riot to begun initiative. >> rose: amy poehler, atul gawande and michael waldman when we continue.
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>> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: amy poehler is here. she's an actor, she's a comedian, she's much more. she was a cast member from saturday night live from 2001-2008. she's now on parks and recreation. she's written a book called yes, please. so i am pleased to have amy poehler back at this table. now look at this, mr. and mrs. america. this is the "new york times." this ad cost them maybe at least
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$150,000, don't you think. >> i was going to say at least 200 bucks. >> rose: probably that. by purchasing yes, please buy amy poehler. you commit to the following and i hereby swear to purchase the book and read it. may be red on subway airplane, cannot be read while driving, giving birth or walking near parks and water fountains. discuss the book with family and friends and purchase more copies. >> it's great when you read it. >> rose: they have big expectations for you. >> lots of pressure. >> rose: unless amy can deliver, we need to go down with that ad. >> rose: here you are at the ripe old age of something desiegd it's time to write my memoir. i've got so much to tell. >> i'm 43 and i find myself stuck in the middle of life. young children, parents still alive, really busy, career
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luckily flourishing and feeling really juicy. i think a very street level perspective of life so much not a burden's eye view. a lot of the stuff i read are people that have some perspective looking back over a long life or young people kind of on the verge ready to step into the next phase. >> rose: what's life in the middle of it. >> it's thick. it's very chewy, it's flavorful. it's also hectic and there's a lot of confusion as to who you are and what you are supposed to do. >> rose: you and i went to a dinner for norman lear. were you writing the book then or did that inspire you to write the book. >> i was writing then and norman who is -- >> rose: 90. >> yes. and who wrote a beautiful book. even this i get to experience. is a friend of mine, and i'm happy to say. and i would speak about our
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books and i would kind of laugh and we would laugh because it was kind of silly talking about my memoir next to norman. he encouraged me and reminded me everyone's voice is distinct and different. and i, my approach to the book was really less that is my life and more this is how i'm feeling and thinking. >> rose: this is my experience. >> this is my experience so far, yes. and it's kind of a compendium of essays and stories and personal stories and lists and lots of jokes hopefully. and my goal is really just to be funny and truthful which that alone was hard to do. >> rose: really. >> to be truthful and funny at the same time? i think so. >> rose: does being, do you think being funny helps you with being truthful. >> well, i think writing as yourself was an exercise for me that i hadn't done really where i had to figure out the parameters what i wanted to share, how i wanted to share it and i'm so used to writing a
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character. while i was writing this book, i was writing scripts for parks and recreation, a show that i'm on and it's just like water being able to write in someone else's voice, you know. >> rose: speaking of that, when, i had to make a speech so i reach out to seth to help me. >> was he busy. >> rose: he was too busy because he was preparing for whatever he d the thing he did out there. and he said to me -- >> i'm going to nail him if he said he was too busy. >> rose: he did say that. but he said look right now i'm in the midst of practicing something he was doing. >> maybe he was hosting the emmys. >> rose: whatever he was hosting. he said in fact i've got tina and amy writing jokes for me. >> yes. seth gave us some singers for
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the gold en globe. sam means a writer wrote the joke the previous year or the james cameron joke. >> rose: who was that, do you remember? >> it was kathryn bigelow here tonight. i haven't been following the controversy about zero dark 30 but when it comes to torture, i believe that's what it is being married to james cameron. >> rose: yes. and the clooney -- >> the clooney joke was what was the name of the movie. gravity. i just saw gravity. george clooney would rather float off into space than spend five more minutes with a woman his own age. he's a lot of fun that one. >> rose: the gift of being able to be funny. i mean, did you have that or did you learn that? >> well, thank you. when you say that i don't even
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really know. it feels funny to respond to that. but i found myself liking to perform at an early age. i write in the book that i was doing a performance of the wizard of oz when i was fourth grade. fourth grade, yes. and but mentally probably four, emotionally probably four. >> rose: and you loved it. >> and i got a laugh and i remember this feeling of getting one, really liking it, leaning into it. and wanting to get it again. but i think i had to learn how to perform certainly and be a better performer. >> rose: you learn timing and thing like that. >> you do. and you learn how to work with other people. how to sometimes go against, you know, our first natural instincts are not always great, they're just kind of like cheap and a little selfish and a little repetitive. you sometimes learn how to sift through that first layer which is kind of like the instinct.
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you go on instinct but it's not always great your first instinct when you perform. >> rose: i learned a little bit by watching. it is an instinct, it is timing. it is also a craft. you really know what a great joke needs, you know. and how to deliver the payoff. >> you know, i should say, i've gotten better at knowing how i can deliver a joke. i don't know if i know what a great joke in general needs, but i have gotten better at knowing what i can do well which is half the battle, i think. to read something and know i can deliver this or if i tweak this, it will come out better out of my mouth. and that's what weekend updates helps me with is just doing joke after joke and learning what ones are working and what wasn't working and saying oh, i'm going too fast or i need to personalize this moment or you know that kind of stuff. >> rose: to me it also seemed
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the ability to see and feel the funny of it. so you tell it with a certain upness. >> yes. and also the audience can't be nervous or worried for you. they have to be relaxed. that's what great performers do i think. they just seem like they're in control and everything's going to be okay even when they're on the wire and the audience gets excited about how not nervous they are. >> rose: yes please is the title. >> yes. >> rose: what does that mean. >> well, it is a few things for me. one is, saying yes has really given me pretty much everything i have in my life. it's the tenets of improv, agreeing and see what happens next. i like saying yes to things
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including writing a book. and the please is added because as i've gotten older i realize you can't of kind do it alone. and it's a privilege to get to do it. so i like that combination. it's kind of a statement and a question, and a title my kids can say. and they like to say it a lot around the house. >> rose: yes, please. >> uh-huh. if i do my job right. >> rose: was it hard to do this? >> it was. i write about it being difficult which again i don't know if it's self endulgent. in book people treat like they are beautiful golden eggs. i like the effort, i like showing my work so i try to do
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that at the beginning of the book and i write about it. >> rose: didn't you say it's like having a screwdriver. >> yes. i joke. people ask me howls the book going which by the way any time anybody asks you how is the book going you immediately start to lie and say everything's going great. you get into a full panic and everything is so smooth. i say it's like brushing dirt away from a fossil. which is just a load. and then i realize it's just hacking away at a freezer with a nice ice pick. >> rose: did tina help you? she had a book before yours. >> she was much too busy to help me with any of the writing but i was certainly encouraged by the work she did. i mention in the book i reread her book and other writers that i loved. >> rose: you read them beforehand. >> i read them beforehand. >> rose: what did you want to do. >> to remind myself what i love about writing and the specific female voices. i write a lot of norah nephron
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and it's terrible because she was a great writer and i read her stuff and then go back to my computer. >> rose: when you read a good writer you say i can't do this. >> yes. it's really discouraging. when you're writing a book you don't want to read any other book. but i, so i try to inspire myself in different ways. >> rose: you said something interesting to me talking about improv and seeing it at four years ago. what happened after that? did you then say i know what i want to do. >> i came from a very blue collar family.
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i like to kind of have fun and get attention. and i tucked it away as a kid in school, learning and being a suburban kid. i never acted when i was young, i never did some school plays and i never reached out a little bit. when i got to college i joined an improv group and started understanding this idea of ensemble and getting to the show on time and all of that kind of fun stuff. but it's a very slow gradual -- >> rose: you weren't thinking about making that your life. >> no. both of my parents were public school teachers and i liked the idea of that and it wasn't until i started performing in college in chicago that i thought mm-mm, i can be a waitress anywhere. let's try it, let's give this a try. >> rose: and improv was your thing. >> yes. that turns me on because it's just truly dangerous. good improv is just this alchemy
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that is, you know, very dependent on the other and listening, active listening and taking risks and chances. i had tried stand up and i had done sketch for a very long time. the improvisation still remains the same like i feel very devoted. >> rose: what do we mean by improvisation. >> well you know, very quickly the you're right citizen's brigade which is a theatre i started along with three other guys in chicago, we have theatres and l.a. what we do is long form improvisation. shows that are completely improvised, completely made up. >> rose: different from night to night to night. >> oh yeah. they differ from hour to hour, you know. and doing scenes that are improvised on the spot. a lot of time improvisation for most people is short kind of games, comedy games and we kind of do long plays. and it's just really fun. >> rose: you said
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improvisation and sketch comedy gave me my currency. i assume, tell me what that mean. >> if you're lucky, you get to at some point kind of decide what your currency is. for some people it's their looks. for other people it's their brain. and some people, some lucky people it's both. but i learned early on that my currency was my ability to trans, my willingness to transform and look silly and play. and i just funeled that into sketch and improf and writing. i just didn't have to depend or worry as much being pretty, which which is every young person's unfortunate burden which is how do i look, what do they think of me. >> rose: who am i. >> who am i and in relation to
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the rest of them. so sketch and improv gave me a tribe, a group of people that i felt comfortable with and escape from you know my own face. >> rose: no need to do that. but you also said improvisation is like the military. you leave no man behind. >> you remember the times when you're in battle and someone awe -- abandons you and you you under the truck or like something else. >> it's like desserting. you turn to your partner and look in their eyes and go wow, this is crazy. i love you forever and you turn around and you look at someone and they are gone you think oh no, where did you go. >> rose: is it easy now than it's ever been? i mean, you're doing scripted shows now. >> it is.
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to improvise right now is a little more difficult for me because i haven't done it in a while. i get a little bit in my head, i think, because i'm not as loose as i used to be. >> rose: not as sharp. >> definitely not as sharp. i think a little more tired. it's like a muscle i haven't worked in a while. so i've been doing a lot of sketch or rather doing a lot of written stuff with parks and rec and films and stuff. so when i go back to the theatres i click in my step a little bit. >> rose: do you do that. >> i do. i improvise all the time. >> rose: like some comedians will go to the comedy club. >> that's what it feels like for me like dropping in on a sunday night, seeing who is playing and the audience is happy to see you but they're also expecting so you have to show them a good time. i like it, i like that feeling of not treating anything too precious and having a place
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where you can always stop? >> rose: you said you knew you were going to be on saturday night live. you phrased it this way. did i know i was going to be on saturday night live? the answer's yes. >> i guess i did. i kind of did. >> rose: you do develop a currency. the community knows that somebody's got it. you don't know when it's going to hit. >> i wanted to say it like this which is, and i didn't want to sound like i was bragging or being immodest but there was a voice inside me that believed i could do that i would see that show and i would think i think i'm going to do that. it just feels not so far away from me. that being said, i never in my wildest dreams could imagine i would be doing what i'm doing now. if i was asked to draw a blueprint of my life, it would have stopped at, you know, at my improv group in college. i would have been like this sounds great, i'm very happy, good we're done. >> rose: when you got to saturday night life.
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with you and tina, was that instant chemistry. >> we met in chicago. >> rose: that was across the country. >> we met in the early 90's in a place called improv olympic ie theatre. we were on performing and chicago was, when i arrived in chicago in 93 was talent. steve colbert and the comedians working there were really special. i felt i was part of something special even though i was taking classes. >> rose: chicago became that didn't it. >> it did. it's conveniently removed in a way to allow people not feel the l.a.-new york pressure to get cherry picked took the shows. it's a theatre town. >> rose: was there chemistry
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though between you and tina. >> yes. right away. we just liked each other and we just saw talent in each other. we liked that about each other. >> rose: it clicked in terms of timing, she can feel you, all of those thing that make it. >> for sure. we have been sitting or standing next to each other for many years. >> rose: and then seth became part of your circle. >> yes. seth and i started s&l together. >> rose: he's a writer at first. >> he was a cast member. a new cast member like i was in 2001. and our first show was two weeks after september 11th in 2001 and it was such a really strange time to start a job on a, you know, a current sketched comedy show weekly comedy show in new york city. so we kind of dug in and, you
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know, we were figuring out where the bathrooms were together. we kind of just getting the lay of the land, and it took a while. and it was such a, you know, people were saying that comedy was dead. we'll never laugh again, you know. and of course we did. >> rose: what do you come away with saturday night life, the confidence, experience. >> saturday. night live is like comedy camp. you learn how to write, produce, think on your feet, get used to live television, not get too precious about your jokes. >> rose: not get too precious. being willing to. >> cut yourself. you can tell when you work with different writers and people argue about wanting, let's say your show is three minutes over. you have to deliver a 21 minute episode and you're three minutes over and you say this can go and this can go. and people are like i think that's funny. and you're like well yeah everybody ups funny hopefully at
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this point everything's funny. that's what s&l is like we call it killing your babies which is basically like your perfect joke has to go. there's just no time. >> rose: when did parks and recreation come up. it's in the seventh year. >> yes. we're finishing our seventh and final season. that started in 2008. my son is born and the creator, michael scher who i worked with at s&l had gone off to work and starts the american reboot of the office starring steve carell . he said i've got this idea for a character and you'll love the way we shoot, it's really fun and loose. and i thought i just ended a seven year job and i just had a kid and i don't know. and he said well just read the script you know, see if you like it. >> rose: you read the script.
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>> yes. oh man. >> rose: take a look at this. this is when leslie is taking a phone call. here it is. >> leslie. stop right there. do you know what. fluoride protects your teeth and it's perfectly healthy for you. well if jan says that he's a lying idiot and if you believe it then so are you. >> whoa you just talked to that person like i talk to you. you can't do that. >> what are you going to do. kick me out of office. why did it take me so long to realize this. there are no consequences for my actions. no matter what i do nothing can happen. i'm like a white male u.s. senator. floor i'd i don't remember -- fluoride is going into the water. >> rose: yes it successful. is it the conceit of the show. >> i think people grew to really care and love the characters. i think they wanted to see the
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characters every week. we always talked about in the writer's room and onset about the shows that we loved. and that you know, i always liked characters that you could imagine what they did on the weekends, you know, when you weren't watching them. and i think the fictional town we created in parks and rec feels real and is populated by beautiful weirdoes. i think our characters are people that people wanted to keep checking in with and see what happened to them. and certainly leslie know is a character that's like this exuberant cheerleader who is really cool and loves people she works with. >> rose: has she changed over seven years. >> absolutely. we've gone through, when we kind of first meet her she's in a
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failed relationship and trying to figure out how to operate in the system. in season seven, it's years later and she's figured some things out. she's in love and she's married and she had children and she's now fighting, we always talked about when we did the show, how does one become a player, you know, how does one become powerful without becoming corrupt. how do you figure out how to be an insider and still stay true to those big ideas that got you involved in public service in the first place. >> rose: tell me about the thing that you are doing now called smart girls at the party. >> well, it started -- >> rose: it's a great idea. i thought about it when you were talking about it at a earlier moment. >> thank you for asking. it's a website. it's a big idea that came from a very small idea.
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the small idea was let's do a web series where we interview kind of regular girls about what they're interested in and we treat it as seriously as a charlie rose-style show. so i got a roundtable and i sat with young girls in a dark studio and i asked them questions about writing and being sister and what it's like to be alive and what are you curious in. we wanted to do just that small series and what happened is it started to grow and now we're creating programming that we hope is kind of a celebration of being yourself really. kind of antithesis to so much crap on the internet and all the stuff that comes witness. >> rose: good for you. >> thank you, charlie. >> rose: the book is called yes, please. thank you. >> thank you for having me, always.
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>> rose: atul gawande is here he's a surgeon, a public researcher and harvard professor. he's also been a staff writer for the "new york times" since 1998 and he's written about aging and dying called being more ton, what matters in the end. thank you for being here. what's your schedule, one book over three or four years. >> every four years, so far. >> rose: i guess you're a doctor, are you still operating. >> yes. i'm still doing about 120 cases a year. and then i've grown a research institute called ariana labs which is health system innovation. my love is still doing what i observed and trying to write about what i experience and see. >> rose: the first love is the ability to look at things that you have some experience to analyze and writing about them
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in a clear and precise way so there's signifience of where we are. >> i often am writing about things that just confuse me like why are the healthcare costs the way they are. or what is itching, or in this case why even in my own patients are we mismanaging what happens to them towards the end and what could we do better. so the writing has been my way of exploring and figure out. it gives me an excuse to call people up and say can i come check out what you do and i normally wouldn't be allowed to do that. it's really great. >> rose: how do most people think about death? >> well, we don't like to think about it at all. there's this really great study i got to write about by a woman in stanford. she's a psychology professor. and she put pagers on people and tracked them over years of their life. more than 20 years. and her team would page them and they'd record what their
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desires, motivations, fears were over time. and basically one of the things she found is that if you are far away from death, and far away means let's say you have at least 20 years to lifer. you basically act as if you were immortal. that you know, we all act as if we're going to live forever and all we care about is achieving things getting more stuff. but when we become aware that our lives, we might have a limited time on this earth, we suddenly care about family, about being connected to people we love. we tighten in. and that change is pretty dramatic. it ends up at the same time you have people as they get older they actually are happier as they get older. >> rose: why is that? >> it's not clear. they have some more perspective and getting some connection to people they want to be connected with and not trying to chase the
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next thing. allows a certain calmness. >> rose: and so at the same time there's this whole argument about people when they began to realize that they have a vert proximity, they begin to seek out all kinds of scientific means that we have now to prolong it. and why not? i would want to. >> medicine has given us incredible capabilities and they can be as simple as we replace an aspirin which didn't much for your crippling arthritis with any replacement that adds ten years to independent michelle obamaity made a huge improvement to people's lives. on the other hand, i did a study with my team. we found that the most likely week that you are going to have surgery in your life is the week before you die.
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and the most likely day is the day before you die. and that's when it adds the least value to your life. if anything, actually we find that aggressive treatments when the likelihood of benefit has become really tiny, you're getting all the harm, all the pain, all the suffering and very little of the benefit. and making decisions that lead you to say i'm not going to sacrifice what all of life is for myself. turns out to actually, it actually does not shorten your life. in many cases in the studies lengthens your life. >> rose: you say your team two fundamental points about the end of life. >> yes. the first fundamental point is that people have priorities in their life besides just living longer. we care about whether my brain works or whether i get to spend some time with my dog or whether i get to be home or in the
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hospital. >> rose: whether i'm in pain or not. >> the second fundamental thing is the most reliable way to find out what people's priorities are is to ask them. and we don't ask. less than a third of patients for example in the cancer trial that looked at people who have on average only four months to live, less than a third of the patients that the doctors have a conversation saying well what are your fears and goals. what are your priorities if time becomes short and your health worsens. the ones that did have that conversation had less suffering, they stopped -- >> rose: you have that conversation you suffer less. >> yes. because people then often choose. they stop the chemotherapy earlier. they will end up sending less time in the hospital. they'll start hospice sooner. and the irony is in subsequent studies that have been done, that they tended to live in case of lung cancer for example 25 minutes longer by reaching that decision. >> rose: can you tell when
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death is coming within 48 hours. >> no. >> rose: or 52 hours. >> there's always uncertainty. part of the reason i wrote this book is my father was diagnosed with brain cancer in his brain stem. i seen the way i took care of the way of my patients and he seen the way he took care of his patient who is a surgeon. >> rose: how old was he. >> when he was diagnosed he was around 60 and he died around 7 6. it was incurable tumor. i asked him those questions about the priorities. there are some specific questions what is your understanding of your condition. he said i know i'm going to die from this but i don't know when. and i said what are your fears and worries for the future. he said i really fear this is going to make me quadriplegic which we knew it would and he wouldn't be able to do surgery anymore, he wouldn't be able to intera with people anymore and he would be in terrible pain.
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i said what are your goals if time becomes short and he realized it was to keep doing work that made a difference to other people in their live even if it was charity work some way to stay connected. those were the things we worked on maximizing. he held off under growing surgery as long as he could still do surgery himself. and when that got threatened he underwent the surgical procedures which were very difficult and risky. he did well. he gained more time walking and functioning. he underwent radiation therapy when he started having trouble and that made his life worse. and when chemotherapy was taking away some of those priorities when it was making him hard for him to become part of the world he actually stopped the chemotherapy. we're not going to do that and went on hospice and lived four months longer than we knew he might. >> rose: why do you think that was. >> there's a few things we thought happened. number one when he stopped some of the medications, the side effects were less. and when we had a hospice nurse
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who focus the every day on what do we need for you to have the best possible day today. not the future, let's worry about your day today.ñno ipá he ended up identifs that he was having a lot of falls. he was falling several times and each fall would make it so he would be in bed for two or three days and he would get weaker and weaker. >> rose: why do old people fall. a sense of balance. >> combination of things. you lose sensation in your feet so you lose some balance. your strength starts to go. you also sometimes can't take care of your feet so you develop calluses and your toenails have problems and you have sores. i spent time with patient and the thing is there's a nodule which could be cancer owe something dangerous. he said no i looked at her feet.
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she has calluses and when she got up from the chair she gets oney and she's on medication that will makes her dehydrated. nobody's taking care of her feet. i checked on her a year later she didn't have any falls, didn't break a hip or die being incarcerated. she's in a nursing home and we don't teach that to doctors. ask the average doctor what are the three most important things to do to keep something from risk of falling. couldn't tell you. >> rose: is there an argument putting someone in a nursing home or not. >> yes. i mean look, we all reach a point in our lives if we avoid what my father faced which was a catastrophic cancer. we will become frail and we will begin to need help. it might be because we can't remember everything and we can't handle our finances. we may be physically disabled and need help at an assisted living or nursing home level. but the argument against these
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places, they have been inherent of medical values and those values are that health safety and survival come first. but when we live in our own home, we make choices all the time about that life, well being in life isberg than just surviving and being safe. so my wife's grandmother i tell the story, she was admitted to a nursing home because she was having falls. and in the nursing home, they wouldn't respect her privacy. she would have a roommate. she wouldn't get to be stay connected to the church she was part of. they didn't make it possible for her to see the friends she had so suddenly he she had what someone i read about called the three flags. bored dumb loneliness and no purpose. places where they make people make choices even ones that
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aren't supposedly safe like i want to have a drink. or you know, an alzheimer's patient told only be on pureed foods. what's the biggest complaints nursing homes will file against the patient. that they will eat improper food. you'll see alzheimer's patients who are hoarding cookies and they would take them away. let them have the damn cookies. >> rose: amazing. >> and the fear is they won't live as long but in fact the studies show giving people more choice more autonomy and more purpose in their life they live longer. >> rose: it seems the that everything you said so far is to ask people what they want and what they need and what makes them happy. that's the crucial question without a doubt. >> we make an assumption. >> rose: understand where they are with their own wishes and desires but it's their life. >> and it's hard. when i had to ask my father about what he really cares
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about, we ask these questions. what outcome for you would not be acceptable. what are you really afraid of, dad. those are really tough conversations, you know. he continued to do so surgery when his left hand got paralyzed. my mother and i had the conversation. the normal conversation is you got to give us the keys dad. you got to give us the scalpel. you can't operate anymore. >> rose: what's interesting too the thing about my own mother. my father instantaneously he hd a heart attack and died. he had a heart issue before. my mother had lung cancer and so therefore they made the diagnosis, they told them. so near the end i flew down to
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north carolina and spent a lot of time with them. and i remember saying to her, do you want to have a conversation with your preacher. she looked at me and said why would i want to do that. i realize that in her own mind she just wasn't there. and so i said what would you like and then we'd have a conversation like you're suggesting. >> what's interesting is, you knew the facts that her time was limited. >> rose: yes. >> and how were you going to have that conversation with her. what i found was that families and clinicians who are really good at these conversations, they had three little words they used to talk about the facts of the conversation. and that was i'm worse. what's interesting is we usually give the facts like well you have a 90% chance of dying in the next five days but there's a 10%. >> rose: i'm worried about. >> i'm worried that your time may be short. what people want is the meaning
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behind the data and that's what we've not learned to do effectively either as families or as doctors but we can. >> rose: what if you decide that you are a religious person and you decide all these things i fear are here i'm lonely, i have no purpose. all the things i used to do like your father can no longer operate. everything that interests me, my wife is deceased. my children are grown and away. i can't move well. and the person says because of all those things, i'm just ready to die. what do you say to them. they say that all the time. >> they say that all the time. we argue. we have all these reasons to live. you can say that's okay. it's okay if you let them. >> rose: and i understand. >> and that there's possibility to change that. i describe an experiment in the
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nursing home in upstate new york where they decided to give all of the people who lived in the nursing home who had the three plagues, their own pets. a couple parrotkeets. there's a man who lost has wife. he had gotten broken hip in a car crash that was suspected to be a suicide attempt. he was depressed, nothing to live for and they gave him a pair of birds. you have to help take care of these birds. >> rose: they need you. >> they need you. having the chance to take care of those birds for a week, he ignored them. for another week he noticed one
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was having trouble and reporting it to the nurse. by the week after that, he not only took responsibility for the bird he accompanied the nurse on rounds to be able to he had if a the other animals. and within three months, he was returning back to function enough that he went home. >> rose: the book is called being mortal, medicine and what matters in the end. what matters is being asked a question, have an opportunity to express your own wishes and other things. thank you. >> the pleasure was all mine. >> rose: back in a moment. stay with us. >> rose: michael waldman is here president of the brennan center for justice at nyu school of law and focuses on issues central to our democracy. these include voting rights, money and politics and the criminal justice system. he speech write for president bill clinton from 95-99. there's a revolution of the right to bear arms.
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it's call the second amendment, a biography. welcome. >> great to be here. >> rose: let me read what you say. let's be clear. the eloquent men who wrote we the people and the first amendment did us no favors in the drafting of the second amendment. >> that's certainly true. we would be a lot clearer place if the sentence was there. it's only 27 words. it's the shortest sentence in the whole constitution. and as you know it says well regulated militia comma being necessary to the security of a free state comma, the right of the people to keep and bear arms comma shall not be infringed. we've been wrestling with what that means ever since. >> rose: give me the various interpretations. >> well, you know, we're now debade baiting in the wake of new town and other shootings, we're debating gun laws and gun safety and it's the first time we've had that debate with the second amendment on everybody's tongues.
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the supreme court never ruled that the second amendment recognizes an individual right to gun ownership until 2008. that's the very first time and that was a case that justice scalia wrote and it says what that second amendment really recognizes is an individual's right to a gun to protect themselves in their home. the other argument that was five to four and what the four dissenters said was no, actually what the second amendment was talking about when it was written and since was something morales individual and more about society at the time it was the militias, the well regulated militia. >> rose: let's talk about well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state. >> it turns out to the framers that part of the amendment, it was really really important. those militias were at the heart of the political philosophy. it's not like anything we have. every adult white man was in the militia for their entire adult
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life and they were required by law to own a gun and keep their military weapon at home. and when the constitution was debated, they thought those militias were really important as a protector against tyranny, like red coats. they thought the new federal government would be like that. thy wanted to protect the militias and that was the motivated force originally about why they put the second amendment in the constitution. >> rose: being necessary to the security of a free state then the right of the people to keep and bear arms and shall not be infringed. >> and so the question we wrestle with is what does that mean. bear arms at that time principally had kind of a military meaning. but of course these days we aren't all in the militia. the country has evolved. it turns out when you look at the second amendment that the way we understand it is not the
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product of some sort of pristine constitutional text but always the result of kind of a push and pull and the rough and tumble of political advocacy and public argument. so over time, we understood it differently but it is the case that until very recently the supreme court and constitutional experts didn't think the second amendment recognized individual right to gun ownership. warren berger, richard nixon's appointment of chief justice very conservative, rock red con servative in 1991 said the idea the second amendment recognized an individual right was he said a fraud on the american people. think of that. that seems like ancient days. >> rose: tell me about the heller decision. >> the heller decision was in 2008. it was written by justice anthony scalia. it struck down a law in washington d.c. passed by the city council there that made it very very hard to have a handgun
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in your home basically close to a ban. and justiceally acid he was only going to be follow -- scalia said he would be following the intent. the only legitimate way to understand the constitution any ofness provisions is to ask what it meant at the time to the framers, to the people in powdered wigs. he said it was the vindication of his theory of originalism. i went back and looked at the original records of the debate over the second amendment and it interestingly told a very surprisingly different story. you can look at jail madison's notes at the constitution convention. the records of the rather know case conventions from all the different states with a few exceptions, were the debate in the u.s. house of representatives on the floor where they actually wrote and marked up the second amendment. there's not a word about having a gun for self protection or
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hunting. all the things we think about was all about this question of the militia and how to preserve the militia. madison's original proposal for the second amendment had a conscience scious objector clause. it says if you have a problem don't have military service. >> rose: are you saying that scalia said if you look at the original intent, you will discover that they meant someone to be able to have a gun in the privacy of their own home. >> right. >> rose: this was a constitutional right. and yet if you look at intent they never discussed that idea and in fact all the conversation had to do with militias. >> that's exactly right. it was quite surprising. it's really important to be clear. there were plenty of guns in colonial america, in the revolutionary period. just ask alexander hamilton. they had gun, right. and they expected, early americans expected to be able to defend themselves. they have the right to protect
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themselves especially in their homes but there were gun laws, gun safety and gun control laws even then. at the time of the bill of rights, it was illegal to have a loaded weapon in your home in boston because they blow up. the gunpowder was really dangerous. there were those kinds of laws all over the place. from the beginning it was kind of a sense of individual rights and collective societal responsibility. but i don't think the evidence suggests to me at least, that that's what they thought they were writing for the constitution. >> rose: what's the debate today. >> what changed really dramatically was the role of the national rifle association. the nra has been around for a long time a group focusing on sportsmanship, marxmanship safety. but it pacificated very sharply and refocused itself as a group arguing that the second amendment said an individual
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right. that any infringement on that second amendment was terrible and any kind of gun regulation was tram ling on a say scrud value. they landed a 30 year constitutional campaign to change the way we saw that provision in the constitution. so that they backed scholarship. they moved public opinion so that now it's pretty much wide spread and common sense that well of course this refers to an individual right. that's pretty much the common view. and only eventually then did they go to court and by the time that 2008 case happened it sort of felt like a ripe apple from the tree. it wasn't very controversial. that's really how we make constitutional change in this country. you kind of have to win in the court of public opinion before you can win in the court of law. if you think about it -- >> rose: they won in the court of public opinion. >> they won in the court of public opinion and then won in the court of law. >> rose: you have to win in the court of public opinion and
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then win the election that's how you change. >> you lobby and back candidates we know they did that. they backed scholars and they even fought to change the position of the justice department which over many years republicans and democrats have said no this isn't an individual right. but this kind of broad public constitutional argument, if you think about it, etcetera how -- it's how we got civil rights, marriage equality how the rights and voting rights and campaign financing are happening and it's how the way we look at the second mandment changed. it's sort of a classic story or a campaign toward constitutional change. >> rose: how is it played out in terms of the second amendment now. >> it's really interesting. so the heller opinion was very dramatic. it is the first time it was an individual right. it was relying at least in justice scalia's view on orming
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intent but it's been less dramatic than people expect. the court said if you strip away all the historical trappings of what scalia wrote it said yes it's an individual right but as with all individual rights there can be limitations. it didn't say what the limitations were or what the right was but there could be limitations. that's up to all the rest of us. there's been dozens and dozens of cases where people challenge existing gun laws since 2008 and overwhelmingly the courts have upheld the laws. they've said yes it's an individual right. sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes grudgingly. but there are rights that society has also. we have a compelling public interest in strong gun laws inand so it may turn out heller while it seems like an earthquake it ratifies the common sense approach a lot of americans have which thinks you ought to be able to have a gun but there ought to be rules.
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>> rose: great to have you here. >> great to be here. >> rose: michael waldman a book called the second amendment, a biography. thank you. visit us at pbs.org and charlierose.com. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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