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Kasia Anderson: Welcome, once again, to our Truthdig chat with Robert Scheer. Hello, Robert Scheer.
Robert Scheer: Hello.
Anderson: And I guess we’ll just get right down to questions about this week’s column. How’s that?
Anderson: The first question is from Bob from Fulton, Mo.: With the president already on record more or less intending to govern as a moderate Republican, what should progressives do in the next two years to influence the conversation?
Scheer: Well, a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower, who was far better than any of the presidents who came after him, would be welcome. You know, even Richard Nixon favored a guaranteed annual income. What I’m worried about is Obama may do what Clinton did, which was move to the right—to the right of Richard Nixon, to the right of Dwight Eisenhower. And it was Bill Clinton, in response to his reversal in the ’94 election, who ushered in the disastrous radical financial deregulation that caused this whole problem. And Obama, in his extreme stupidity—and I use those words advisedly—turned to the same fools that created this mess under Clinton, to Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the protégés of that raging genius, Robert Rubin, and gave us this stupidity that said that Wall Street did not need any brakes on the system, any road rules, any rules of engagement.
And as a result, we have 50 million Americans that have either lost their homes or have their mortgages underwater and are thinking of walking away from their homes. We have 44 million Americans living under the official poverty line. We have a disaster going on here, and the people who call themselves progressives, that have sold their soul to the Democratic Party, seem to have an inability to recognize this. They’re yapping cheerleaders. Even Jon Stewart, who I’ve respected in the past, would have Obama on just before the election, and accept this nonsense that, oh, “Summers did a heckuva job.” He only quibbled about the word? This is a disaster that we’ve had. And as a result, the right wing, which can be very dangerous—if they start blaming immigrants, if they cut back needed social programs, yeah, they’re a real danger. And if we don’t do what we have to do to get out of this mess, it’s a really big problem.
Anderson: [Question from Truthdig member chacaboy]: There’s a preamble here. It says, “If Obama had not shown so much deference to Wall Street and the military and such eagerness for an exorbitantly expensive occupation of Afghanistan and excessive military budget, I could have sympathy. But as it is, I cannot distinguish Obama from most Republicans, including George W. Bush.” So now he says: “I would like to ask if there is any truth to the idea that we have something to lose by our critique?” I guess progressives critiquing Obama is the context there. “Is there anything to the argument (i.e. columnist Ruth Marcus) that Obama passed a stimulus package, he got health care done, and he passed financial regulations, and to withdraw support from him now would be to lose more ground by throwing the baby out with the bathwater?”
Scheer: Well, you know, we live in a democracy, and the key to democracy is that we not surrender our common sense or our ability to think. And what she [Marcus] said in that article was just gibberish. I mean, what are we talking about? First of all, the American people have rejected health care. At least half of them find it terrible, and the other half seem to be quite tepid about it. I’m tepid about it. You know, yeah, there are some good things in the health care thing, but there’s no cost control. It forces people to buy health insurance from insurance companies that are not going to do us any favors. This administration gave us something called health reform which is really, at best, mild, and at worst quite costly and disastrous. It certainly is not the thing they should have moved on when they had a banking meltdown, when we had a disaster in the economy. It was a feint. It was an attempt to find some win-win thing which didn’t work out. Health care should not have been the big item on the agenda; it was done for opportunistic reasons, you know, because they didn’t want to confront Wall Street. And instead of spending his capital on making the Wall Street system correct and putting sensible regulations in, he settled for very mild regulations on Wall Street and a very weak consumer agency; he couldn’t even push through Elizabeth Warren as a confirmed appointee with some real power. And as a result, you know, health care basically did not help him, and it’s been mostly a distraction. And the right wing has used it—you know, “socialized medicine” and all that garbage; of course, it’s nothing of the sort.
And so the real problem is that Obama has not only failed to deal with our meltdown; he’s exacerbated it. The stimulus was not effective. An enormous amount of money has been spent making the banks whole. I don’t know why these columnists can’t look at the numbers—the apologists for Obama—why don’t they talk about the over $2 trillion that were spent to take toxic assets off the books of the banks, but not a penny—not a penny really being spent to make people whole who are hurting. Where is the mortgage forgiveness, where is the moratorium on mortgage foreclosures? We don’t even know who owns these homes, 65 million homes, thanks to a system that Bill Clinton helped put in place, with the great liberals at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cooperating with the swindlers at Countrywide Mortgage, put in place this Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems so 65 million American homes are owned by a computer bank in Reston, Va., owned by the banks, and we don’t even know who owns these homes.
And so last month we had the highest number of foreclosures, people are in great pain, and progressives still blindly support the president out of some idea that he’s the lesser evil. That’s a betrayal of democracy. We’ve got to call it the way we see it. And the best thing you can do for Obama is to have sharp criticism from the progressive side, and he hasn’t been getting it. He was able to roll over the progressives, he was able to take them for granted, and unfortunately some of those very same progressives were the victims of this folly, like [Sen.] Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. My God, I mean the poor guy was one of the few people who stood against this, and he got overwhelmed by this rage out there. So I really have no sympathy at all for this position. We keep going this way, and it’s going to be a real, a bigger Republican sweep in two years.
Anderson: OK. On that note, we’ll shift to a question from Andre, who says: Hey, Bob. Big fan. I would love to know if you think Obama’s actions and moderate Republican policies are part of a strategy to facilitate re-election in 2012.
Scheer: Well, obviously, it’s a strategy. It’s an opportunistic strategy. It won’t work. First of all, he is not a moderate Republican. We are insulting moderate Republicans when we say that. I mean, moderate Republicans believe in doing something to help the economy long-term. Even Nelson Rockefeller was a moderate Republican, and a rich guy, and he would have understood you’ve got to do something to help people stay in their homes. You’ve got to bring some relief to the people suffering out there, because if you don’t solve the housing problem, you don’t get consumption back and you don’t get jobs back. And this administration has been totally indifferent to the needs of people being forced out of their homes.
The Washington Post poll on the Monday before the election—the Washington Post poll said 53 percent of Americans are worried about being able to make their mortgage payment next month or their rent payment. Fifty-three percent of Americans wonder about whether they’re going to be able to make next month’s mortgage payment or rent payment, and you don’t understand we have a crisis? And over 50 percent of the people polled by the Washington Post said they want a moratorium on foreclosures, and this president says no, he can’t do it, because geniuses like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers who created this mess when they were working for Clinton now tell us it would spook Wall Street? And we’re supposed to be grateful that these idiots that almost got us into the Great Depression now tell us they’ve saved us from the Great Depression, so all is forgiven? Is this like somebody who keeps pounding you over the head and then he only pounds you every few minutes and you’re grateful? I mean, this is nuts!
And, you know, I have no sympathy at all for this view that … first of all, I don’t think it’s going to help him get re-elected. I think it’s a shovel in this election, but it’s an absolutely disastrous course. You can’t fool the American people. They know when they’re hurting, they know when there aren’t jobs there. They know when the economy stinks, and it does—it’s in the toilet. And this guy acts as if everything’s hunky dory. And let me tell you, there’s a real problem in this country, because the people who comment—the pundits, the politicians, the people in power—they’re all doing well. Even tenured professors, you know, people who have worked for the big government bureaucracy—they can call themselves liberals and Democrats—they’re not feeling this pain. There may be members of their family feeling this pain, you know, but they’re not feeling it. They can pay their bills. But for a very large number of Americans, I would argue a majority of Americans, they are hurting. Their unemployment checks are going to run out, they don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills, the jobs are not coming back. And the ones who have jobs, many of them, are working way below their skill set.
You know, we’ve had this terrific series by Howie Stier—great writer—on the lost generation, people losing their jobs and not being able to get them back. And we’re talking about people who work in high-skilled jobs, in the movie industry and everything else, not being able to get it. So we’ve got a lot of pain out there. And the problem is that most of the people commenting on it are not feeling the pain. And I would recommend reading those stories that Howie did. I mean, they really are compelling—the kind of people showing up at food banks and … that are suffering. And you know, we always want to think it’s the “other,” it’s the losers, it’s the people who signed the wrong mortgages, it’s the people who didn’t really want to work—that’s garbage. Everyone who owns a house is hurting. Everyone. Because it doesn’t matter whether you have your house totally paid for. It doesn’t matter whether you made every single payment. The fact is, the value of your home, which is probably your nest egg, probably the basis of your retirement, has gone down drastically.
You know, you can tell, just driving here in a very prosperous area of Los Angeles, you see one “for sale” sign after another. You go to Riverside, Calif., go to the south of Florida, places that I’ve been, you go to the whole state of Arizona, and Nevada, and you’ll see this disaster. And those people, when they feel poor, they don’t buy. And when they don’t buy, jobs aren’t created, and that’s the problem we have. And the Fed keeps going deeper and deeper into debt. I mean, my goodness. And one day you say OK, we’re going to buy $600 billion more of treasuries, and then you wonder why the debt goes up? And, you know, there’s no attention to the heart of the problem, which is the people who got swindled by the banks into loan contracts they couldn’t understand, couldn’t afford, should never have made in the first place. And it was because of the securitization of mortgage debt allowed by Clinton, and this guy is still bouncing around merrily like he’s a wonderful character and has no responsibility and is even popular? Why, ’cause he has a good smile? Well, a good smile, as Barack Obama has learned, has not cut it in the long run.
Anderson: We are full of energy on this Thursday morning.
Scheer: We are. I’m really upset. This election really bothers me, because first of all, most of my progressive friends are angry with the tea party. I’m not angry with the tea party. The tea party tapped into a very legitimate rage. As I said in my column, what, are you going to blame these people? Yeah, sure, some of them are exploiting it; some of them are not well intentioned, some of the funding is suspect. But the fact is they’ve tapped into this rage out there, a justifiable rage, in a way that the so-called progressives have not. And so I’m angry with my own fellow progressives and liberals. I think we’ve missed the boat on this. And I do think what the tea party represents ultimately is quite dangerous. You end up blaming the immigrants, you end up blaming poor people trying to stay in their homes, you end up blaming foreigners. And we see the prescription when a society fails. And if we go into another recession or a deeper recession double dip, if we have 10 years of stagnation, as many people are expecting … I think the expectations in this country are very high, and if people are hurting for that period of time, they’ll turn to extreme right-wing solutions which can be very, very dangerous to our society.
Scheer: I’m the guy who debated Ralph Nader on the [ocean liner] cruise of the most important liberal publication for 144 years, The Nation magazine, and it’s on our site. I debated Ralph Nader a few years back on a cruise, saying he was wrong, Obama was going to be a great hope, things were going to change, the Democratic Party was the only party up … let me here and now apologize to Ralph Nader, and to Chris Hedges, who didn’t take that position. I think I vastly underestimated the deceptiveness and chicanery of the Democratic Party leadership. I think what Rahm Emanuel and these people around Obama—and I guess you have to blame Obama, he’s not some innocent—did to the economy, to the people here, is outrageous. And everybody talks about, well, there’ll be a good Supreme Court—even the Supreme Court appointees aren’t so flamingly wonderful. But the reality is that he threw in with the Wall Street bandits, and made them whole. They’re doing great. And he screwed the average person. And so—who are these people around him? How do they sleep at night? I don’t get it, frankly. And yes, to answer your question, I think Chris Hedges has been a prophet. He’s a prophetic voice, and unfortunately he’s been right—I would prefer that he’d been wrong, and things had worked out splendidly, but I see a big mess out there, and I see the Democratic leadership being up to its eyeballs in it. And I think the voters were right to punish him [Obama] this time. Right to punish him. Unfortunately, it would have been better if they’d punished him with some sort of progressive alternative. But really, as Chris Hedges points out in his current Truthdig article, it really doesn’t exist.
Anderson: OK. We have a follow-up question. …
Scheer: Let me ask you something, “voice off-camera.” You said you don’t agree; what is your position?
Anderson: I didn’t say I didn’t agree. I said I had my ideas.
Scheer: So what are your ideas? Let’s make this democratic. Get on camera.
Anderson: No, I will be the disembodied voice. I was thinking that …
Scheer: This is how Truthdig operates. This is our editor Kasia Anderson, one of our editors. And so we have disagreement. Our managing editor, Peter Scheer, most often disagrees with me on these; he’s much more sympathetic to Obama. So what is your position, Kasia? We have lively debates in the office, why not let people in on it?
Anderson: Well, this won’t be a debate, because my position is that I do think that he [Hedges] called this way ahead of time—at least two years ago. And I was reluctant, as you were, to believe that. But I’ve since realized the wisdom of his words, in terms of the right mobilizing and the sort of radical movement that’s popping up.
Scheer: Let me ask you a question, because I was challenged on—we also have this tape on our site—on GritTV by Laura Flanders, who I respect. And she said “You’re only taking this position because you’re a white male.” And, you know, “You don’t care about Supreme Court appointees, you don’t care about what the right wing is going to do to civil rights and to women’s rights,” and so forth. So, you’re a woman. What do you think? I mean, am I betraying … I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I mean … I argue … I gave a talk in New York last week, and I was booed by some women because I said, you know, choice [the right to choose whether to have an abortion] doesn’t trump everything else. Getting judges on the Supreme Court who will back Roe vs. Wade—all my life I’ve been told that’s the issue. No! People putting food on the table, people having jobs, people being able to clothe their kids, people being able to send their kids to school. When you have 44 million Americans living in poverty—that means a family of four living under $21,000—that’s the issue. That’s the issue! And I don’t think choice trumps everything else, and I don’t think the fact that this guy might give us a better Supreme Court appointee trumps everything else.
I think, you know, there’s a real issue here of whether people who call themselves liberals and progressive and Democrats really care about the ordinary people. And ordinary people in America are hurting now, big, big time. You know? And this guy—I’m really confused by Obama, because I watched his press conference; the guy is incredibly appealing, he has all the right moves, you know, he’s logical, he’s smart. I wonder, where is his soul? You know, where is his feeling? Is he in touch with this? Did he learn anything as a community organizer in Chicago—which was really a brief time in his life, you know. I mean, Honolulu doesn’t have that kind of visible poverty, but it does have poor people. And, you know, is he in touch at all with the reality of the American experience now, which is quite painful for many people? They’re scared.
Anderson: OK, we have two more questions from readers, so I don’t want to take up time …
Scheer: OK …
Anderson: … defending the feminist position on choice, right at this particular chat …
Scheer: I consider myself a feminist. I don’t want [the situation to be what it was before the ruling in] Roe vs. Wade. … I was alive when people died from coat-hanger abortions. I’m not trying to minimize that issue. I think it’s a basic human rights issue that women should have control of their bodies. I’m not dismissing it. What I am saying is that it cannot trump every other concern on the political landscape.
Anderson: All right. I’m sure that some of our listeners and readers will have some things to say about that. We look forward to your comments. But now a question from Linda: How long do you think this government will survive until it’s clear to everyone we’re in a totalitarian system? And she says: “I’m a Hedges reader.”
Scheer: [Laughs] Well, you know, we’re not yet in a totalitarian system. And the reason I resist that is because that [such a notion] lets people off the hook. [To be in a totalitarian system would mean] we don’t have opportunities to organize, to agitate, to correct. No. The reason I run around giving speeches and writing books and everything is I think we can educate the American public. I think we can develop a countering narrative to that of the right wing. I mean, the right wing is wrong. The tea party movement is wrong, in that they talk about big government, but they don’t attack the big military, which is at Cold War levels—we spend more than the rest of the world combined on our military. If you don’t cut the military budget, you’re not going to cut big government. And I don’t hear the tea party people talking about that at all. We have great subsidies for big corporations; in the main, we’re subsidizing Wall Street to an extreme degree. It would be a real test whether the few libertarians, like Rand Paul, that won will be consistent and challenge Wall Street and demand that audit of the Fed. This is a real time … a moment of truth for libertarians, who’ve gotten some measure of power here now. Will they take on Wall Street? Will they take on the Fed?
But, you know, I don’t think we’re in a totalitarian situation yet. Totalitarian means total power, and there’s no room to operate, and you’d better get out of the country or hide or something else. And I don’t believe we’re in that situation. I believe we have options, I believe … you know, even in California, we had some positive results. For instance, in terms of human rights, we had gay people win, and [they] are in our government. We had somebody who defends gay rights and defends women’s rights and has reasonable positions—like Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer—win. And these people are not the enemy, and they will probably do the right thing, or at least we know we can push them to do the right thing. So when the most important, prosperous, powerful state in the Union—it represents, what, the sixth-largest economy in the world or something—we have fairly enlightened leadership now. Our election did not turn out terribly. It turned out fairly well. And there are other bright spots—in New York, for instance. The new attorney general is very good on going after the banks, and the governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been a leader in going after the banks. So we have some positive signs out there, and I think people have got to just get concerned and organize and not put all their marbles in the bag of Obama, and you know, keep their marbles in their head, and organize, and agitate, and educate. And that’s why we do Truthdig. And I don’t think we should give up the fight.
Anderson: We’re keeping our marbles in our heads over here for one more question … [Laughter] … from Ken. He says: Lots of fine progressive analyses of the election results. So, we know the “alleged centrists” have Obama’s ear. To what extent are progressives actually able to get his attention? Or will progressive analyses be ignored?
Scheer: Well, that’s a good question. I think we should take a lesson from the right wing in America. They weren’t demoralized when Barry Goldwater lost, in an ignominious defeat to Lyndon Johnson, long before most of our readers were born. They reorganized, they agitated, they kept their powder dry. But they didn’t give up. When McGovern lost to Richard Nixon, the whole liberal movement collapsed. “Oh no, we’ve got to sell out. We have to betray our ideals.” And now they don’t stand for anything, they’re just. … So my main concern is that people who consider themselves progressive, or even just decent, enlightened adults, stick to their positions. These are sensible positions, and if you don’t solve the problems, you just feed the opposition. You feed the hysterics, you feed the immigrant-bashers. We have to solve these problems. And to begin with, we have to push … I’m not for kissing up to Obama or anybody else. People tell me … I just wrote a book called “The Great American Stickup.” I think it nails it, I think it shows the complicity of the Democratic Party leadership and [Bill] Clinton and so forth.
Scheer: For the long history of American capitalism, and going back to English common law, when you bought a house, the ownership of that house was registered at the local government. It was a matter of local control. We had a clear line of ownership; there was no packaging them in securities, there was no swindling and selling them all over the place. That MERS system, the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems I referred to before, took that power away from local governments. We don’t even know who owns these houses; it’s all done in Reston, Va. Why? Because the Fed had power over banking, and they could do that even without passing a law. They just bypassed all the states. So my concern is, my feeling is, don’t waste your time trying to tug on the ear of some influential person, whether they’re a commentator on television or whether they’re a big politician. You have to organize on the grass roots and get people concerned about alternatives. And the biggest alternative right now—the big alternative—is to have a prohibition on foreclosure of mortgages. You’ve got 50 attorney generals from 50 states that are pushing in the direction of exposing this mortgage fraud. It will be, I tell you, the biggest issue for the next few years—the fraudulent practices that got people into homes they couldn’t afford, that is at the heart of our problem. We’ve got to learn a lot more about it, and I think the power and the revelations will come mostly from the states. And I expect the new attorney general in New York to really provide the leadership on that, because Wall Street and all these things are in New York, and he has a lot of power to do that, just like Eliot Spitzer once did, just like Andrew Cuomo once did.
Anderson: All right! I guess that’s all we have time for today. I’d like to thank our resident talking head [laughter] … and I say that with the utmost respect … Robert Scheer, and columnist and editor in chief, not in that order. And we hope to see you next time on our live broadcast of Bob Chat.
Scheer: And we should say that the disembodied voice of Kasia Anderson played a good role. And next week she will come back with a spirited critique of what I have said.
Anderson: I’ll be ready for you, Bob. OK. Thanks, everyone.