tv Charlie Rose PBS May 6, 2010 12:30pm-1:30pm EDT
>> charlie: welcome to the broadcast. tonight, we look at the greek debt crisis. will it spread to other european countries? also, the british elections. who will be the next prime minister? martin wolfe from "the financial times." >> ultimately, solvency questions, sovereign-debt questions are political questions. they always are. in every society. can you reach the consensus necessary to close your deficit? it's a problem in the u.s. and it's a very big problem in greece. >> charlie: from "the pbs newshour" jim lehrer talks about his new novel about trains. >> it grows out of my childhood in kansas where those santa fe trains came through there, silver streak -- they never stopped at the little town that i lived in but they were -- i've talked about this, those trains were the way you were going to go to school, the way you were
going to go to war, the way you were going to run away, the way you were going to go find your destiny, you were eventually going to get on one of those trains. >> charlie: the crisis in greece and the british elections with martin wolfe, and pbs's superstar jim lehrer on his new novel. next. captioning sponsored by rose communications >> additional funding for "charlie rose" was provided by these funders. >> and by bloomberg. a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. ♪ >> from our studios in new york city, this is "charlie rose." ♪ >> charlie: in greece today, three people died as thousands
took to the streets to protest planned austerity measures. a 24-hour strike turned violent when protesters set fire to a bank in athens, trapping three. on sunday, greece's prime minister george papandreou announced a raft of deep spending cuts and new taxes demanded by the bailout package. today german chancellor angela merkel and the i.m.f. head warned of financial contagion if the euro-zone crisis isn't halted and kept in greece saying that nothing less than the future of europe and with that the future of germany and europe is at stake. fears of contagion to countries like spain and portugal caused a major selloff of european and u.s. stocks. joining me to make sense of all of this, martin wolfe of "the financial times," his column in today's paper takes a look at
greece's bailout. i am pleased once again to have him back at this table. welcome. >> pleasure to be here. >> charlie: i take, now, the first paragraph of what you said in today, may 5. desperate times, desperate measures, after months of costly delay the euro-zone has come up with massive support for greece by bringing in the international monetary fund at germany's behest it has obtained additional resources and a better program but is it going to work? alas, mr. wolf says, "i have huge doubts." so waif it doesn't work? >>ed the good thing about it at least as far as greece is concerned it kicks the can down the road, gives them money, quite a lot of money which will cover their borrowing requirements for between two and three years. that leaves them out of the markets so they can keep going. meanwhile, the european central bank has promised to refinance the greek banks so they will
keep going and meanwhile, the government is in any case going to have to cut spending and raise taxes dramatically to eliminate the so-called primary deficit which is the deficit before interest payments. that itself is a reduction of about 9% of g.d.p. that is going to need to happen over the next 2-3 years whatever. so as far as greece is concerned, provided the government stays in power, there isn't actually so much turmoil, the politics collapse under them, they have probably solved the problem. after that, everything is completely open. it's quite unclear that the greek program will work in the longer term and it's very unlikely they will be able to avoid having to reduce debt. debt, restructure debt, postpone debt, in the longer run greece needs better competitiveness and it's stuck in the zuro and it's hopelessly uncompetitive, so you can say they've done that, they've halted it.
the problem they have is people can see the accumulation of debt because of huge deficits in other countries, they're also not growing and they're going to be required to do similar sorts of things even if they don't have the bailout. there is a real danger, therefore, that we're going to see political problems emerging in other countries. even though their difficulties aren't as big like portugal, like spain and the europeans will be asked to give them money, and i don't think they can get that through the german parliament. so at some stage, this might be really very difficult to contain. >> charlie: so you can easily say the big international issue of our time is sovereign debt. >> you can say that, clearly, and we know that there are other countries outside this, the u.k. and the u.s. with gigantic deficits, increasing debt, very, very rapidly. they have the advantage if things go seriously wrong that they can get their central banks to buy the debt for some time. that indeed has been happening.
in the euro-zone they don't have this luxury and they also don't have the adjustable exchange rates so they can't sort out the competitiveness problems either. i would say these countries have an extreme version, particularly greece, the most extreme version of a very general ailment. financial crises become sovereign crises and, of course, sovereign crises become financial crises because if there were debt restructuring, it's one of the things they're worried about, serious debt restructuring, that would mean the banks would have to write off more debt. they would need more capital. and a lot of them are already in very bad shape. you've got to worry that the financial crisis has become a sovereign crisis and the sovereign crisis in return can become a financial crisis. >> charlie: and you wonder whether what we heard today is an indication of the possibilities of what could happen in the streets. >> this is not surprising it's happening in greece. greece is a deeply divided society. huge civil war at the time of
the second world war. there has been a military coup not so incredibly long ago -- 40 years ago. this is a divided society and all the pain is being imposed on the public sector and there the middle parties and the wealthy don't pay taxes so there is tremendous resentment about it, and there is a real danger that the socialist government which actually represents the public-sector workers could be very seriously damaged, even destroyed by this, and then you start worrying about the politics of it. ultimately, solvency questions -- sovereign debt questions are political questions, they always are, in every society. can you reach the consensus necessary to close your deficit? it's a problem in the u.s., and it's a very big problem in greece. >> charlie: it's a problem in germany too -- the kind of pressure that's brought to bear on merkel to say "we can only go so far." >> i think the big point there, it's a very big issue -- it's clear that the overwhelming
majority of ordinary germans are opposed to this bailout, and they will be opposed to any other bailout. germany is going to be the biggest single contributor to this. they feel they have been cheated. they were told -- they were never really asked, they were told -- that we have to go into the euro, because it's a good cause, a good european cause but it will be a completely sound currency and there will be no bailouts. and now, 10 years later or 12 years later they're being asked to give bailouts to a country that they know has cheated because it cheated them, and which in their view has behaved in a depletely irresponsible way. politically, therefore -- in a completely irresponsible way. politically, therefore, this is why angela merkel is right about this, for the first time in germany you see a popular backlash against the great european project. without germany, there is no european project. so obviously, this pressure in germany, with the fear there
might be more, does start creating a very real question about the future of the european construction. >> charlie: there is no european construction without germany because germany is -- >> the central power. >> charlie: is the richest and strongest country there. >> it's the country without which this whole project would have no meaning. ultimately, it was there in a sense to contain and organize relationships with germany. >> charlie: and in fact we now know and just to appreciate how big germany is, it was only in the last year that china surpassed germany as the third largest economy in the world. >> that is correct, and germany today world's second largest exporter of merchandise, the world's premier exporter of sophisticated manufacturers, it's a very important player in the world and particularly the world economy. >> charlie: is the euro-zone dead as an economic model? >> it's certainly not a model. >> charlie: fair enough. >> but what is true -- i think most people realize that it's
not likely to go forward very much. the question is -- and this is the difficulty -- they have to hold onto what they have because going back there is a real danger that first the currency unravels, then the single market unravels and then the basic e.u. structure unravels. unravelling it, the bicycle theory again, you can't go back. the difficulty is where they are is no longer sustainable, that's the great lesson of the crisis because the idea in this project was that you could have a single currency and you didn't need a fiscal union, you didn't need a political union, you didn't need to do what they're now doing. now, the first crisis has arisen and they've suddenly realized we do need a fiscal transfer, we do need a fiscal union, the terrible thing is to hold on to what they have, they have to go forward but there is no will to do so, and that is exactly the core of the crisis. angela merkel is absolutely right. it is an absolutely essential
crisis for europe, they have to deal with it and i think now it's clear they have to go forward in some way. >> charlie: ok. did they make a mistake, then, in having a single currency without having a financial union? >> my view was they made a mistake in doing so when they made the single currency so big. many germans, particularly the people close to the bundes bank and the finance ministry thought we could have a single currency, it would contain germany, netherlands, belgium, scandinavia and france. that would have been fine and probably would have worked without what we're seeing. for political reasons, the treaty was written in such a way that it could, with a lot of stretching allow these other countries in and they all wanted to join and they all worked very, very hard to do something to allow them in, and then the germans for various reasons, and the french and the others accepted this, so suddenly they end up with a euro-zone which is
much broader, much more diverse, much more heterogeneous and much more problematic than that core europe. this euro-zone that we have today is really quite difficult to run without some sort of fiscal union. the one that they thought of before -- the small one with all the relatively similar countries -- that would have worked. fine -- that would not have been a problem at all but the sheer ambition of it because these countries just don't fit in one matrix. they're not similar enough. the shocks are too different. the way their economies operate is too different. the competitiveness is too different. and that means you get into these huge crises -- and we now see how difficult they are to handle. >> charlie: why do people think spain and portugal are the next two likely to run into trouble? >> let's be fair. these are very different cases. they're much better managed. and there is a very good chance they can get out of it. why are they similar? they are both countries with enormous fiscal deficits and
huge competitiveness problems. their debt is still relatively low, spain managed its debt very well before the crisis but now they both have very large deficits, close to 10% of g.d.p. and they can't get growth. very large deficits are manageable if you start growing the economy, revenue will come back. it becomes easier to manage. but if they're stuck without growth and there is a real risk of this, then the fiscal austerity that's required risks pushing the economy further into recession, making the fiscal management even more difficult. so that's the similarity. in many other ways they're very, very different but you could imagine that if these countries don't get back to growth and don't manage the austerity without growth, then some years down the road they could have debt problems like this, and that is what looks so scary. they are very uncompetitive and the overall growth in the euro-zone as a whole is very, very weak, so they find it very,
very difficult to export their way out of the difficulty. >> charlie: suppose greece had just defaulted. >> personally, my own view is that you should regard the best way to handle this is to regard this money, whether or not it was necessary -- would have been necessary five, six months ago as another matter, basically to see this as an opportunity to reorganize the restructuring of the debt -- a default of some kind, restructuring of the debt seems almost inevitable, you have to understand at its peak, if everything goes well, the debt-to-g.d.p. ratio in greece will reach 150%. this is really high. japan manages a higher ratio but greece is not japan. it seems almost inconceivable that you shouldn't have a radical debt restructuring. if they just had a disorderly debt collapse now, just let it happen like argentina after its default in 2001, then, of
course, the worry is it could damage the banks across europe, there will be runs on all the banks, it would damage all the other countries that are deemed at all risky because there will be a flight to safety,esh will put their money in german bonds -- german banks or outside the zone so you could then have a terrible implosion, which would look in a way a bit like what happened after lehman. allowing greece to collapse it might be feared, we didn't try it, was very dangerous but it still seems to me that the right thing to do is to restructure the debt and accept that that is going to be part of the solution. greece is not, i think, going to be able to manage monstrous austerity. they are being asked, roughly speaking to put it into u.s. -- to cut their fiscal deficit by the equivalent of $2.5 trillion. just imagine trying to do that in the u.s. in four years. that's what they're being asked to do. i don't think it's going to work. >> charlie: and when it doesn't work?
>> well, when it doesn't work, then it will become obvious that either the countries of the euro-zone buy all the debt because the private sector will not go back into this market or the debt will have tow restructured and the debt probably in that circumstance will be restructured. the greeks are being asked to accept an extraordinary adjustment of their fiscal position, massive tightening without any real prospect of economic growth. this is not the country i would say the most likely to do that. nothing is ever impossible, but it's not very likely, so i think we have to envisage that there will be a restructuring and we have to hope that that will be managed in such a way as finally to restore confidence. >> charlie: here is what paul krugman said. "until recently most analysts, myself included considered a euro breakdown basically impossible since any government that hinted it was considering leaving the euro would cause a
crisis run on its banks." forcing them into emergency issue miss like temporary restriction oz bank withdrawals. this would open the door to euro exit. is the euro itself in danger? in a word, mr. krugman said, yes, if european leaders don't start acting more forcefully providing greek with enough to avoid the worse a chain reaction that starlts with a greek default looks all too possible. >> i think it's certainly possible. it has to be understood that a default doesn't, of course, necessarily in any way entail leaving the euro, and leaving the euro is a stupendously complicated thing to do. it would create tremendous problems. it would destroy the banking system, for example, completely destroy much of the financial system and, of course, politically it would be a violation in the most profound way of one's european treaties. when i think about this, i actually think a slightly less unlikely outcome, i'm not saying
either of them is unlikely, is that the germans will decide politically in the next election that actually this was not what we signed up for. "we want a strong currency. we've ended up with this bailout structure. so we'll leave." the germans can leave. there is no doubt they can leave. they would immediately create -- >> charlie: what would they do? vote in a new government? and say we're going to leave the euro? >> it's possible -- i'm not saying it would happen. >> charlie: does the treaty allow for the process to do that? >> no, the treaty doesn't allow anybody -- in fact, the treaty basically says that any member of the european union except for two countries that have opt-outs -- denmark and the united kingdom -- must be in the euro, so for any country to leave the euro is a violation of the treaty. these things, therefore, only happen in the most desperate circumstances. we are not in these desperate circumstances. but i think paul krugman is right in the sense that for the first time, some people are
talking about this possibility, however remote and however unreasonable it might be and that, of course, itself changes anything. >> charlie: it sure does. >> if you're a greek person and you have got your money in a greek bank and you think this just might happen, you take your money out, which you can do today and you put it in a german bank. that's why these things become contagious runs. that's why you have to bail them out. that's why the e.c.b. is providing the support. and that could go on and it could happen in other countries. >> charlie: tell me one more time. what is it about the greek culture and habits and economic deeds that is so separated from germany? >> this is history. very long history. greece emerged only rather late -- in the 19th century, the early 19th century as an independent nation after having been dominated in the turkish
empire, it was completely separated, utterly separated from the whole history of europe from the renaissance onwards. the industrial and economic culture that developed in western and northern europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th century never occurred in greece. it found adjusting to the modern world very hard. it's a tough neighborhood. it has had terrible wars with turkey, well known, and the real fundamental of it is it has now a very weak economy outside things you know, shipping, tourism and so forth -- there is really not much in the way of an industrial sector, a lot of the most talented greeks work abroad. it's a really quite weak economic system but very high costs now, and really rather uncompetitive, and a long history of political -- as the
greek prime minister himself said a long history of corruption and essentially, paternalistic politics. the sort of politics that is built around family relations, and ties to particular families. a hereditary business. this is a very different political and economic culture from contemporary germany. just a reality. and it's an extreme version of the huge variety in europe anyway. >> charlie: does it have any argument on the argument that turkey makes to be part of the european union? >> that's an interesting question. it might well be when they look at this they will think even more carefully about whether or not they want to join this mess. >> charlie: it's been the other way around. >> this doesn't seem to work very -- >> charlie: you will say to france, you're right, it wasn't a good idea. >> one thing we can say for sure is that european -- until all this is sorted out in one way or another, the european union will not be in a position to expand.
it's now found that its biggest and most central project is in trouble. >> charlie: does this mean that margaret thatcher was right all along? >> well, my view -- this is difficult -- margaret thatcher was right about a lot of things. i always regarded -- and i wrote about this more than 20 years ago -- the euro as a very risky project because it involves merging something so central to a country. when i thought it would just be a limited euro including the countries i listed, i thought that would work perfectly well, right on german lines -- but once you include italy, spain, portugal, greece -- or, god help us, the british -- you've got a project in which you're yoking together an elephant and a camel and a lion, and they don't really fit together. >> charlie: no, they don't. >> and when things go wrong, they don't trust each other, and that's a large part of what's happened. in the end, the way the german people have reacted to this shows the euro-zone is not a country. it doesn't feel like a country.
it doesn't respond like a country. it responds like different countries. and their response is "let these people drown." that might even have been -- coming back to what we discussed earlier the right thing to do but in fact the political leaders of europe didn't want them to drown. you have this tension. the economies are pulling you apart, the people are pulling you apart, the elite wants to pull everybody together and that is creating a very, very serious crisis. >> charlie: can i turn to britain, please? >> of course. >> charlie: you have an election on may -- >> equally disturbing. >> charlie: you have an election on may 6. you have had an american-style campaign with three debates. >> this is correct. >> charlie: you had a middle party, the liberals who happened to do well -- mr. clegg did well in the debates and therefore stirred lots of attention that maybe we end up with not a majority in the house of commons. >> that's right. >> charlie: so therefore, unlike when tony blair swept in with new labour, and able to form a
government at his pleasure, we may have what? >> nobody knows what we may have then. it depends very much on how the very specific and ideosyncratic electoral arithmetic of the u.k. works out. you could have a situation in which labor comes third in the votes and still is the largest party in the house. in that case, the normal rule is if labor becomes the largest party in the house, gordon brown is entitled to stay prime minister and try and see if anybody will support him. that probably won't work. in that case, then there will be a breakdown and we don't know how exactly it will result. presumably mr. cameron will be asked if he can form a government. he would have to decide whether he would be a minority government with some agreement with other parties, mainly the liberal democrats, i assume on a program or actually try and create a true coalition which is a very rare event in political politics because it's such a
complicated thing to do. the simple truth is we don't know what would happen, we don't know how it would play economically although so far the markets have been very relaxed almost britain as a safe haven despite our huge deficit, although it might trigger conceivably an economic crisis. my guess is from what i'm reading at the moment that mr. cameron will be the prime minister. it looks as though he's likely to be the prime minister. whether it will be a minority government, which might not last very long or a proper coalition government, that seems to me completely unclear. >> charlie: if that turns out to be true, and most people agree with what you have just said in terms of those who are predicting what will happen tomorrow, if that turns out to be true, will gordon brown have lost the election? or will david cameron have won? >> actually, i think if this is the outcome, both will have lost. gordon brown will clearly have lost. he forced tony blair out to become prime minister. he's never won an election as a
leader. he did have an opportunity a few months later, which he famously bottled out on -- he famously didn't take -- >> he should have run -- >> he should have run when he could have -- i think it was october 2007, i can't remember right but i think that was right -- so he will have -- and he will have lost, and he will therefore go down in history without a doubt -- despite having done some remarkable things -- as a failure. from mr. cameron's point of view, here he was, the bright, fair hope of a nacent conservatism out of power 13 years not to get a pretty good victory, and if he finds it in terms of votes, actually a share of the votes, the liberal dems are quite close to him that means that the conservatives just aren't back -- they aren't back. they have lost quite fundamentally. so i would say, then, he too is
lost. the winners, if this is the outcome would unquestionably be the liberal democrats. >> charlie: they really have a future, then? pth to be a broker? >> if they end up with the -- to be a broker? >> if they end up with the numbers of seats, some people are talking about as many as 100, particularly if they end up with the second largest share of the vote and not so far from the conservatives, maybe 4%, yes, that's pretty important. it doesn't yet give them a breakthrough of power and, of course, if they have a coalition, one assumes they're going to make some sort of reform of the voting system as a precondition, and with reform of the voting system, british politics are changed forever. we would fundamentally be changed from the sort of political society we -- the u.k. has been since the 1830's when the great reform act was introduced. so i think it's potentially a colossal victory for the liberal democrats and a game-changer for the whole of british politics.
some of that, i have to say, worries me a lot. coalition politics can be very, very messy. >> charlie: as you have seen in places like israel. >> be careful what we wish for. on the other hand, i do accept that the sort of power that our majority governments have had and the way they used it, or abused it in recent times is not very attractive either so there is a case for reform but we can't be -- i'm not confident as a matter of getting a bit older, all reform is not necessarily for the better, i'm afraid. >> charlie: you write for "the financial times." >> that's right. >> charlie: how long have you been? >> 23 years. shows a lack of imagination. >> charlie: no, you've written all these famous books. "the f.t." recently endorsed david cameron. this is what they said. "the parties have not been straight with the public about the austerity that lies ahead." i thought we were talking about austerity in greece. "whoever enters number 10
downing may suffer a form of a winner's curse." >> that is indeed correct. >> charlie: "who wants this job?" in other words. >> i think there is a remark out that a friend of mine has reported that the governor of the bank of england made said whoever wins the next election will be out of office for a generation. >> charlie: i read that. mr. davis. >> that is actually a real possibility. if a government comes in and implements the sort of austerity required which is not so terribly different from that of greece, we have had a big devaluation, i think that will generate growth, we have a central bank that can stabilize the debt market but we need an enormous fiscal tightening, something in the order certainly of 6, 7, 8% of g.d.p. -- to put that in an american context, that's $1.4 trillion or so, between 1 and 1.4 trillion, will
they be able to do that without causing enormous political backlash? no. we're going to have big strikes. i don't expect riots. we'll have big strikes in the public services. there will be a lot of unrest. and it's not clear that a weak government will be able to deliver this. if things go very badly, we might have a serious economic crisis. so yes, i sort of think that if we were mr. cameron -- but of course, he am be out if this happened -- there might be a little bit that says it would be quite nice for gordon to have this situation of a minority government make a complete mess of it, the labour party will implode and then i take over. in 1992, when john major won everybody thought this would -- >> charlie: lady thatcher. >> he defeated labor, surprisingly and then a few months later we collapsed out of the exchange-rate mechanism, sterling was devalued dramatically and the reputation for competence of the
conservatives never recovered and it was that which really gave, i think, labour this huge majority in the next election, so you have to worry a bit about whether this is the election to win, but in the end, i talked to politicians about this, they want to win regardless. they want to be in power. whatever the consequences. >> charlie: but you could look -- you have to go for it when you have the opportunity to go for it. >> of course. >> charlie: if you don't believe me, ask barack obama. >> of course. >> charlie: if you have a moment, you go for it, you don't worry about somebody who says it will be better if you run four years from now. >> the problem, they have not prepared the ground so if mr. cameron becomes prime minister and suddenly introduces -- >> charlie: austerity measures. >> all these measures in an emergency budget, nobody has been prepared for this. >> charlie: i'm surprised brown -- brown basically says it will -- all those austerity measures is the worst thing you could do for the future of the economy. that has not taken hold or traction or simply he has no credibility. >> i think the truth is, he's being a bit devious about this because he's playing out the
differences, but if you actually look at the outlying programs of the major parties in terms of the reductions that they think -- they're all very similar. everybody knows what has to be done. the things they all agree on, what has to be done in numbers, but what they also agree on is "let's never tell the people what we're actually going to cut because that's going to frighten them," so the differences between the parties are entirely rhetorical, and where they all agree is whatever happens, we should never allow the electorate to have any idea what's actually going to happen to them, so let's treat them like children. so i tend to see this as a complete consensus of the politicians and the differences are really rhetorical, and i think people are on the whole quite smart enough to realize that. >> charlie: so therefore? >> so therefore, they have had enough of gordon brown, he's been around for 13 years, he's tired, the party is tired, "we want him to go," the policies are going to be the same broadly anyway. >> charlie: right, right, right.
>> we know the treasury -- our treasury has got it planned so why not have this new fresh-faced man -- the other fresh-faced man. i think that's how it's going to be dealt with in the end because nobody really believes that there is such a fundamental difference as gordon brown suggests. >> charlie: so your analysis is exactly like my friend, michael caine. >> oh, is it? i didn't know. >> charlie: he says people are just tired. they want a change. he was basically saying, "that's me, michael caine saying what i feel, i just want a change. it's been long enough with one party. let's get some new players in." >> 13 years. after 17-18 years with the conservatives, intolerable in 1997, and 13 years is too long. it would be better if we could somehow manage a way of always having a rotation after eight years like you. >> charlie: i thought i was getting an economist and i got a historian. i'll take both. >> you got whatever you got. >> charlie: thank you, martin
wolfe. jim lehrer is here. he is, as you know, executive editor and the anchor of "the pbs newshour." this broadcast has become a fixture on public television since it premiered as the robert mcneal report in 1975. jim has been a prolific author. he has written two memoirs and three plays, his latest book is called "super," it is his 20th novel. i'm pleased to have my friend and colleague, jim lehrer, back at this table. welcome, sir. >> thank you, charlie. >> charlie: tell me about it. >> charlie, it is -- to me, it grows out of my childhood in kansas where those santa fe trains came through there. the silver streak -- shump, they would never stop at the little town that i lived in but they were -- you and i have talked about this but those trains were
the way you were going to go to school, the way you were going to go to war, the way you were going to run away, the way you were going to go find your destiny, you were eventually going to get on one of those trains and was inbred in me as part of my d.n.a., and buses were the same way -- it was just the way. you knew eventually you were going to get on one of those things and go, and that's been with me all this time, and three or four years ago i started thinking a little more about the super chief in particular, the train of the stars, movie stars went there, and they would go from los angeles to chicago, and it was all sleeping cars. fred harvey service. heavy china. heavy silver ware. fresh food. they would stop in newton, kansas to get fresh bread and they would stop in colorado and places to get trout and all that sort of stuff. they would then go to chicago and they would have dinner or
lunch in the pump room -- the hotel restaurant in -- >> charlie: chicago. >> chicago. then they would take the broadway limited or the 20th century limited to new york. it was the way to travel. of course, i never was on the super chief when i was a little boy in kansas. that was not how we traveled. i have been on a lost trains since but i was not on that one. what was so fun about this, charlie, i will finally say, "ok, now you can ask me another question, i'm just going on" -- but the bottom line was this. i decided i wanted to write about the super chief and i realized in order to do it i had to do enough research, meaning watch movies, d.v.d.'s, read books, think about it, talk to people to where i could actually get on that train and be on that train long enough to write the book. what movies did you watch? >> "north by northwest." >> charlie: got to watch that.
>> "murder on the orient express." one of the best movies ever but certainly the best train movie. "north by northwest" is a fabulous movie. >> charlie: cary grant. >> and by the way, the ambassador west -- ambassador east hotel in chicago was where the pump room was. all kinds of things like that. but it was -- for me, the place that it took me where i wanted to go and i got into that train so much that i could actually feel the train moving. >> charlie: did you do all this research before you had created your characters? >> it was all kind of at the same time. harry truman -- i went to school the last two years of college, i went to the university of missouri journalism school in the 1950's. harry truman, former president,
came to columbia, missouri from independence to make a speech for his granddaughter and i was sent to cover the speech and i went to the former president afterward and i was scared to death, and i said, "well," he said, "you want a copy of the speech?" i said "yes, sir." he handed me his speech. it was in a binder. and the print was this high -- almost an inch high because he already had bad eyesight. >> charlie: early on, he had bad eyesight. >> early on. he gave it to me then he said, "walk with me, do you want to walk with me, son?" i said "i would love to, sir" so we walked out and i thought, "my god, this is journalism, this is what i want to do with my life." >> charlie: sounds good to me. you used to see those pictures of him going to key west where he would vacation with that colorful key west shirt and walking around. he was a big-time walker. >> the thing about harry truman, to digress for a moment, here is a man who left the white house with the lowest opinion poll
rating in the opinion of america. and now he's considered one of the great presidents. >> charlie: great presidents -- made the tough decisions. >> made tough decisions and, of course, one of the tough decisions he made, of course, was to drop the atomic bomb -- and, of course, i use that in this -- as kind of a side story -- >> charlie: former president. >> former president. when he's on the train he's a former president. clark gable. i put clark gable on the train because clark gable was the ultimate super chief rider. his first wife, carole lombard died in an airplane crash toward the end of world war ii and clark gable never wanted fly after. he had been a flier, but he never wanted to fly anymore, he always went on the train and always the super chief, he was a boozer and womanizer and a legend -- it was mr. gable on the super chief -- and i picked all this up, obviously, in reading about it, and then all
these -- and i thought, well, why not put him on there. that interested me in the movies. i don't know that much about the movies. >> charlie: yeah. >> so i did a lot of research on the movies. >> charlie: have you had a murder in your books before? >> yeah, but not murder, murders -- not like this. this is -- these murders -- these murders -- we don't want to ruin it for anybody -- but these murders are also a little bit unorthodox to put it mildly, but that's fun. >> charlie: you write early in the morning? >> yeah. >> charlie: get up and -- do you have 10 pages every morning? >> no, i don't do that, whatever needs to be done or however much time i have. i'm very fortunate, charlie, that i can use waver time is available, if it's 2-3 hours, i use it, if it's 10 minutes i use it. it's with me all the time. >> charlie: how are you different as a novel writer today than you were when you began? >> i've become a really good plotter of a story. i can tell a story very well. >> charlie: what have you
learned about that? >> well, that when you reveal a particular piece of information in a story -- >> charlie: right. >> sometimes, it is better to tell the story by just kind of teasing it as you go. my goodness, then you discover 30 pages in or 300 pages in, my goodness, that's what may meant. there is a big example of that in "super" but we can't talk about it. >> charlie: you don't want to give it away. >> there are hints throughout that book that i intentionally dropped in there that i probably wouldn't have if i had written "super" say five books ago. >> charlie: these people like john grisham. >> yeah. >> charlie: always say when you go from chapter to chapter you've got to want them to go sort of to the next chapter. you've got to leave them with great anticipation that there is something coming up. how do you do that? >> there are a lot of ways of doing it. i've done it successfully,
sometimes, and unsuccessfully sometimes. one way that you can do it that you can try is that you write it and then you go to the next chapter and then you come back and say -- and you cut the last sentence or the last paragraph. and you kind of insert that toward the beginning of the next chapter. in other words, you leave something intentionally hanging. >> charlie: right. >> that you -- the only way you can -- pick it up. instead of finishing the chapter which you would normally do is finish it, "ok, this story, this little episode is over," you don't finish the episode. you figure out a way to linger it -- to make it linger enough so people turn and go to the next chapter. >> charlie: who are your favorite writers? >> favorite writers? my favorite of all time is ernest hemingway. >> charlie: why is that? >> because he was the guy -- he was the icebergman, a man who could write in two sentences -- he was the iceberg, man, a man who could write about two
sentences -- write about heat and make you sweat, write about cold and make you shiver, write a thing that was designed to terrify you and terrify you in two or three sentences. he was able to use the language in this kind of sharp, everyday language -- he was not a big -- he wasn't -- he wasn't updike -- he didn't write -- you know, there was no involved sentence structures. no involved plot lines and whatever. he just told very direct stories. but my god, the layers behind every episode, behind every sentence were just extraordinary and you know, a lot of creative-writing teachers will tell you, "pick out your favorite writer and write like him." and in the process you will end up writing like yourself because you can't write like him. that's exactly what happened with me with hemingway. there is another guy. georges simonen, belgian writer,
wrote something like 500 novels, most set in france, a lot of them detective stories, just like hemingway in that the use of -- simoen in's novels are 150 -- simonen's novels are 150 pages long. >> charlie: have you ever read stuff by my friend reynolds price? >> super writer. >> charlie: richard ford? >> richard ford reminds me somewhat of hemingway's writing. he also leaves stuff out in a way that leaves it in. if you know what i mean. reynolds price is probably the best describer of a place, of a setting. he does it so skillfully, and he's a real wordsmith to use the old term. >> charlie: let me talk about. so here it is, garden state super," a novel, you have already -- "super" a upon novel,
you have already started the novel? you have two or three stacked up? >> i'm working on a nonfiction book out next about my presidential debate experiences about moderating and asking questions. that's the next book. that's going to come out probably in the fall of 2011. >> charlie: what will it be? just a history of the debates? or will it be -- >> no, it's about my experiences as a moderator. but also, i had a great -- man, this is right down your alley too -- i was so fortunate. started as an oral history and then we did a documentary, but i interviewed every presidential and vice presidential candidate about the debates over a 20-year period with the exception of -- obviously of kennedy and nixon. >> charlie: you didn't do it over a 20-year period. the debates over a 20-year period. >> no, i did the interviews over 20 years and we put them together in a documentary but i have also used -- i've got the full transcripts and all, i used those, but al gore wouldn't -- has never talked to me and -- >> charlie: why not?
>> and ross perot -- i don't know. i honestly do not know. we did everything we could to try to convince him to do it and he decided he didn't want to do it. ross perot didn't want to do it so i didn't want to talk to him. >> charlie: al gore is the one who surprised me. he did well. >> he always did well. >> charlie: in the bush debate he did well, he did well debating ross perot. >> on nafta. lloyd benson was too ill when it came time to do the interviews. but both the bushes. >> charlie: what comes out of this is of interest to us. >> one thing that comes out is that there are two levels for a presidential debate. as a candidate. >> charlie: right. >> and as a viewer. there are two languages being spoken. there is the word language. and then there is the body language. both of them speak loud and clear to millions of people about who is going to be the the united .
the al gore example. >> charlie: the sigh. >> in 2000. the sigh. john mccain -- >> charlie: george bush 41 looking at his watch. "i'm bored here." >> michael dukakis showing absolute coldness when asked about -- >> charlie: somebody raped his wife. >> a debate i moderated with obama where i tried to get mccain to look and talk directly to obama and he wouldn't do it. >> charlie: wouldn't do it? >> wouldn't do it. it was not a hostile thing, he wouldn't do it but it hurt him. it wasn't about the words, it was just their body language in all these cases. >> charlie: of all these people -- this is such a locker am-room question, of all these people, who was the very best that you saw? >> just as a debater? >> charlie: yeah. >> bill clinton, probably. he was -- he was -- perot was a very good debater in the presidential debates,
interestingly enough. not against al gore. but -- but -- >> charlie: why was clinton so good? >> because he could go with the flow. he was able to -- his instincts about when to go light, when to be heavy, how to pick up on something, how to turn something around, and pick up on a compliment that wasn't actually given, that kind of stuff -- he just -- he -- he's a man who hngs well and fast on his feet and that's what's required. in the world of presidential debates, as you know, a lot of this is -- they try to figure out what first of all the moderator is going to ask, what the other candidate is going to say and they run through all these dry runs and all that sort of stuff but the guys who are willing to just stand there and go with it are the ones that the public, forget the
professionals, forget the journalists and the pundits, the public appreciates and understands when somebody seems to be kind of free and loose, and so anyhow. >> charlie: it may surprise you that i have been reading some of the things you have been saying about the british debates. >> yeah. >> charlie: true. true. and you notice the british election is may 6. >> yes. >> charlie: there is only a period of -- how many weeks of campaigning? eight? >> eight weeks all together. >> charlie: is that a better system than we have? >> i don't know, charlie. i don't know. i would argue you could argue it both ways. i have always argued the longer the campaign is the better off we are because by the time we finally vote for somebody, if you don't know this person you haven't been paying attention. >> charlie: it also tells you something about their ability over a longer period of time. it shows you more kinds of crises and more kinds of challenges that they have.
>> that's right. that's right. >> charlie: the difference in the british election, and you have said this, if you make a mistake, there is not a lot of time -- >> it's gone. look what's happened. the guy -- >> charlie: clegg. >> he came out of nowhere. now he's the leading candidate. >> charlie: quite amazing. based on one debate. >> that's right. >> charlie: he did so well, held his own, seemed like a likable fellow. >> that's right. in the american system this would have happened months ago and there would have been time either to confirm clegg's popularity or for one of the other two to -- >> charlie: you would have had an onslaught of press coverage that would have turned out everything about his life. >> absolutely right. >> charlie: that ever happened. >> right. the other part of the coin, you've got to remember, with the british parliamentary system, the basic leaders of the two parties are seen all the time in their parliamentary debates and so it isn't -- >> charlie: question time. >> they're not a bunch of strangers. these are not three strangers in
that debate. >> charlie: what's interesting is they do have question time and john mccain, correct me if i'm wrong, suggested that if he was elected he would do something like that. why doesn't barack obama do it? >> i don't know. >> charlie: he seems to liekt idea -- >> yeah. >> charlie: with the republicans. that he did. >> health care and all that. >> charlie: why doesn't he pursue this idea? >> i don't know, charlie. the other thing you've got to keep in mind, the differences between the two systems is that the leaders of the british three parties are national figures. they don't come out of nowhere. barack obama, nobody knew him, and that's why the system -- why the system is good when you have folks like that that come out of nowhere -- jimmy carter. you go through the list of past candidates for president -- nominees for president -- and the long learning process about individual candidates is a good
thing. >> charlie: give me a sense of the country today on these three issues, bipartisanship. >> bipartisanship i think is -- >> charlie: dead? >> temporary death. >> charlie: right. >> i think it grows naturally out of a democratic system based on disagreements about things that matter. right now, there are many things on the table that matter. people's homes are being foreclosed. people are losing their jobs. the financial system is still -- hasn't been fixed. there is war going on. that causes the unrest, the unsettled public to be more concerned about what's going on, and that concern manifests itself in the political figures, and so it's -- and that leads o -- nobody has a solution to this problem -- well, i've got one, you've got one and if you don't agree -- there is a legitimate reason for the divisions in my
opinion, and once some of these things get resolved, some of that -- the vitriol will go away, and -- i think, it may be a hope -- i don't think it's a permanent state of affairs. >> charlie: why is health care reform such a divisive issue? >> because 47 million people don't have health insurance. but the rest -- the other two-thirds of the american public does have health insurance. >> charlie: the one-third don't have it and two-thirds do. >> yeah, whatever, but anyway, it's the people who have it -- their fear is they're going to lose it, and the way it was -- way it was presented by some -- on both sides, didn't quite -- it was -- it was said, "hey, look, in order to give health insurance to those 47 million who don't have it we're going to have to take a little bit back from those who do have it." >> charlie: or we're going to have to tax you more or you're going to have to make some sacrifice. in order for them to have it you
have to pay a price of some kind. >> exactly. everybody who didn't have health insurance was very much in favor of health reform for understandable reasons but the two-thirds who had it, they feared they were going to lose something and that caused -- in my opinion was the underpin -- underpinned all of this. >> charlie: this comes at a time in which there is great admiration for the verbal skills of the president. >> right. >> charlie: did he simply fail to explain it? >> i don't think -- i don't know. i think that's an over simplification. i think it was very hard to explain. and very hard to get over this hump that i'm talking about which is that -- "wait a minute, you're saying you're going to fool with my health insurance? i love my health insurance. i'm taken care of. i'm fine. why are you changing it?" >> charlie: he would always say "we're not going to change your health care, if you like your health care everything will be fine." somehow that explanation didn't -- >> didn't stick. >> charlie: right. >> whether it's his failure or whether it's probably a lot of
reasons. >> charlie: author of "the franklin affair" and "the phony marine" as the two books to mention on this book cover, a lifetime of work, and he has a day job too. makes you feel -- -- >> you're doing pretty well yourself, charlie rose. >> charlie: nice to have you, sir. >> thank you, my friend. >> charlie: jim lehrer. thank you for joining us. see you next time. ♪ ♪ captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org