Episode 61: David Boren – A Letter to America
In this episode of our Engaged Elder series, I dialogue with David Boren, U.S. senior statesman and advisor to Barack Obama. David has been the President of the University of Oklahoma since resigning from the U.S. Senate in 1995 to take that position. He also teaches history classes to incoming freshman at the university, based on the understanding that if a people does not know how they achieved a certain greatness of contribution, they cannot remain great. During his two-terms in the U.S. Senate he was the longest serving chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and was previously Governor of Oklahoma.
Keying in on his new book, A Letter to America, we talk about the challenges of the 21st Century for the U.S. to develop a new consciousness, a much better educated citizenry, and the financial and energy independence that will be required for America to play a positive collaborative leadership role in our emerging global world. In particular we talk about the crucial importance of renewing and maintaining a financially self-reliant and educated middle class -- and I outline my original idea for New Energy Bonds as a not previously possible democratized venture vehicle to move from our traditional and no longer working “tax-and-redistribute” economic model to a new 21st century collaborative, share-the-wealth, empowering investment model.
For further detail on the proposals I have made see my website newenergycentury.com or contact me at livingdialogues.com.
After you listen to this Dialogue, I invite you to both explore and make possible further interesting material on Living Dialogues by clicking on the Episode Detail button at the top left of this program description, and by taking less than 5 minutes to click on and fill out the Listener Survey there (or click on the Listener Survey icon to the left of this column).
“Duncan Campbell, I heard about your podcast a few months ago, and have been deeply listening to all the dialogues with your fantastic friends/guests. Your words, ideas, and wisdom are truly inspirational. You have evoked a new appetite for knowledge in me that I hope to share with a starving younger generation. Thank you for doing what you do, and creating a unique space, void of boundaries and classification. A breath of fresh air! Much love and respect.” – Amit Kapadiya
In furtherance of creating and maintaining the planetary dialogues now required in the 21st century, I will be featuring a special series of dialogues on this site with myself and other elders in the next few weeks during and after the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and the U.S. election season. These dialogues will address various specific political aspects of our planetary crisis, with its dangers and opportunities for a visionary and evolutionary shift. (We remember that the Chinese character for “crisis” is often described as meaning both “danger” when visioned from a fear perspective, and “opportunity” when visioned from a wisdom perspective.)
Following the last weeks’ dialogues with Ted Sorensen and Robert Thurman, and Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss, other elders who will join me in coming weeks will include George Lakoff on The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain, Sean Wilsey, and others.
In my preceding dialogues I have talked in various ways about the need to generate dialogues across generational, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries -- building bridges of understanding and wisdom in the cooperative spirit and reaching out required by our 21st century realities, and the essential roles that we all are called to play in our evolution for it to take place..
This is the time for renewed dialogue, for visionary and inspiring discourse producing practical and innovative solutions together, to engage our own elder wisdom and youthful inspiration, and in so doing to experience and exemplify that “Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”.
And that is what we all do, in our mutual roles as host, deep listeners, and guests, when we gather together here from all parts of the globe in Living Dialogues.
Other programs you will find of immediate interest on these themes are the Dialogues I have had with mythologist and keeper of world stories Michael Meade `(Programs 48-51), world-renowned cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien (Program 52), poet and translator of Persian poet Rumi, Coleman Barks (Programs 3, 53-54), as well as Programs 13 and 14 with Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell (editor of The Enlightened Heart, which contains the poem The Swan by Indian poet Kabir which I mention in Part 3 of my Programs 55-57 with African teacher Sobonfu Some), Program 58 with Ted Sorensen, counselor to John F. Kennedy, and Program 59 with Robert Thurman on the Dalai Lama and China. Also of directly related interest in terms of the founding and traditions of the U.S. during its tipping point 2008 election season, with its implications for global shifts, are my dialogues with historian Joseph Ellis, honored as “the Founders’ historian” by The New York Review of Books (see Programs 38 and 39).
SUBSCRIBE HERE FOR FREE TO LIVING DIALOGUES AND IN THE COMING WEEKS HEAR DUNCAN CAMPELL’S DIALOGUES WITH OTHER GROUND-BREAKING TRANSFORMATIONAL THINKERS LISTED ON THE WEBSITE WWW.LIVINGDIALOGUES.COM. TO LISTEN TO PREVIOUS RELATED DIALOGUES ON THIS SITE, SCROLL DOWN ON THE LIVING DIALOGUES SHOW PAGE HERE -- OR CLICK ON THE NAME OF A GUEST ON THE LIST AT THE RIGHT -- TO HEAR DUNCAN’S DIALOGUES WITH DR. ANDREW WEIL, BRIAN WEISS, COLEMAN BARKS, RUPERT SHELDRAKE, LARRY DOSSEY, JUDY COLLINS, MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, MATTHEW FOX, JOSEPH CHILTON PEARCE, DEEPAK CHOPRA, BYRON KATIE AND STEPHEN MITCHELL, CAROLINE MYSS, GANGAJI, VINE DELORIA, JR., MICHAEL DOWD (THE UNIVERSE STORY OF THOMAS BERRY AND BRIAN SWIMME), STEVE MCINTOSH, FRANCES MOORE LAPPE, STANISLAV GROF, RICHARD TARNAS, MARC BEKOFF AND JANE GOODALL, RICHARD MOSS, PAUL HAWKEN, PAUL RAY, JOSEPH ELLIS, DUANE ELGIN, LYNNE MCTAGGART, ECKHART TOLLE, MICHAEL MEADE, ANGELES ARRIEN, SOBONFU SOME. TED SORENSEN, ROBERT THURMAN AND OTHER EVOLUTIONARY THINKERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
The best way to reach me is through my website: www.livingdialogues.com. Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program. All the best, Duncan.
P.S. As a way of further acknowledging and appreciating your part in these dialogues, and since I cannot personally answer all of them, I have begun to publish from time to time in these pages some of the numerous (unsolicited) appreciations received from you.
Announcer: This program is brought to you by personallifemedia.com
I’m David Boren, author of A Letter to America and I really enjoyed being on this program with Duncan. This kind of dialogue that we’re doing over the airwaves with you is just the kind of thing that needs to happen all across America as we pool our very best thoughts to keep this society strong.
From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous counsels and ancient wisdom traditions through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo and quantum physicist David [??Boehm] mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness. Evoking a flow of meaning, a dia, flow of logos, meaning. Beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So join us now as, together with you the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in Living Dialogues.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues. I’m your host Duncan Campbell and with me for this particular dialogue I’m totally delighted to have as my guest, David Boren. Rhodes Scholar, he was the longest serving chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, a former US Senator and Governor of Oklahoma. He has served as President of the University of Oklahoma for the past 13 years. One of the leading lights in American political history both in terms of his foreign policy and domestic vision, he has set that to paper in his most recent book, A Letter to America. Described by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough as “wise, timely and constructive.” Sam Nunn, former US Senator from Georgia has said of this book “David Boren defines our nation’s challenges with clarity, common sense and courage. American’s will find Boren’s diagnosis and prescriptions, refreshing, compelling and inspiring.” Jim Lehr, Executive Editor and anchor of News Hour on PBS has said “Here now is the letter to us all. The one we have been waiting for and sorely need. It is a message of alarm but also of hope. Our problems as Americans are huge but most are of our own making and thus capable of our own fixing. I said Amen, David Boren.” And so here with call-in response, David I’ve got to welcome you to Living Dialogues. What a pleasure and delight it is to have you here.
David Boren: It’s great to be with you, Duncan. And as you read those comments from the back page of the book all I could think is it’s good to have friends who will lie for you if the time comes. But overly generous comments.
Campbell: Well, you’re being excessively modest and I think appropriately because we are in a time where people need to once again think the big thoughts; like FDR did, like JFK did, like Lincoln did, like Washington did but to do so, as all four of them did, with great humility. I even think of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes talking about FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he said – and not unkindly – he said “Well, FDR has a second rate mind but a first rate temperament.” And he meant that as a real compliment. FDR did not have the luxury of being a scholar or of spending his life in philosophy or history but he did have a first rate temperament. I would say someone like John F. Kennedy had the benefit of both. He had a first rate intellect and a first rate temperament. I see that happening again now with Barack Obama.
Boren: Absolutely. He’s a person of tremendous intellectual depth but he’s also an activist, as we’ve seen in all phases of his life and this is certainly a time when it’s critically necessary for us to get together. In my book I wrote in the form of a letter. It sort of came back to me when I was studying at Oxford one of the things I used to read every week was Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America. And he was wonderfully insightful because here was this son of Great Britain, living in the United States observing us at something of a distance and yet able to be so objective. So somewhere in the back of my mind, remembering that caused me to want to write this letter and, as you say, it is a letter to start an American conversation. It isn’t a letter in which I claim to have all the answers and some will be disappointed if they’re waiting for the last chapter to tell us what we should do to revitalize America again because I think we can, but what I was hoping to start was a dialogue. A talk among each other about things that really matter. Sometimes when I turn on the media it’s entertainment. We’re obsessed with just entertaining ourselves, not thinking about the things that really matter. And one of the things Duncan, that caused me to really finally sit down and write this letter to America was an experience that I had interviewing candidates for the Rhodes scholarship. They let some of us older, former members of that group – thankfully I don’t have to answer the questions anymore. I get to ask the questions. It’s a lot more fun. – but we were asking this group of finalists, incredibly bright young people from our region of the country, a whole series of questions. And about half way through the first young man who came in he was answering every question so quickly to the panel of five or six people who were asking him questions. He was absolutely brilliant. I don’t know why it struck my mind but I just said to him “How long do you think the United States will be the world’s leading superpower or even one of the world’s leading superpowers?” And he all of a sudden was absolutely silent. Looked down at his shoes and kind of shuffled around. People on the committee, they were getting nervous. Why is it taking him so long? Why does he look so shocked? Why isn’t he talking? So finally to help him I said, “Well you know, we’re only 6% of the world’s population. You take India and China, for example, they’re expected to have economies in gross terms as large as our own. If they decided to spend it on military might they could become our military equals but they’re ten times as many people there. What makes you think we’re going to continue automatically to lead the world?” Still silent. I said, “Well, there’s no Roman empire, no British empire, no Ottoman empire anymore. What makes you think And finally I said, “What do you think will determine how long we will be a leading power in the world, if you want to call it, maybe just a leader in the world is a more appropriate, less arrogant expression?” And finally he said “well…Education.” It’s always a good place to start. “We really must develop all of our human talent.” And I said, “Well, Isn’t it interesting that on standardized tests, verbal and math and science, we’re only around 15 to 20. There are many countries ahead of us and interestingly enough, when you go back and you try to find out why the top five countries are in the top five, they’re getting their teachers, on the average, from the top fourth of the graduating classes from colleges and universities. And why? Because they’re paying them proportionately three times as much as we are. And by the way, next was a young woman. I did the same thing. I waited until about half way through the question period. She’d done so well in all the other questions. Silence, again, when I asked that question. What it told me was the best and brightest young people with their future’s all ahead of them were not thinking seriously about what we need to do to keep our society healthy, to pass our values on to the world, to be a leading nation in the right sense of the term and not in the imperial sense of the term, but in the right sense of the word, to provide our values, our leadership to the world, keep the world together, build stability in the world. If they weren’t thinking about it it’s a sense that the rest of us out in society are certainly not thinking about it if these bright people weren’t thinking about it.
Campbell: Indeed. And it’s not in our media at all. Not at all. Not only is the media obsessed with silly celebrity-type stories, but worse than that, the coverage of all the great issues of our time is so thin and so superficial, at the level not only of the three networks that area always looking for the lowest common denominator in terms of commercial advertising and not wanting to upset the consumer, we’re talking now ABC, CBS, NBC, but we’re talking cable news, even CNN, MSNBC, much less Fox News with its very right wing perspective, still extraordinarily superficial and one of the great examples of this David, of why this great dialogue is not happening and how low-level the dialogue is is what’s hanging up Congress right now. Three energy bills proposed by the Democrats at the end of July were throttled by the Republicans because they’re holding out for a bill from a bi-partisan committee which will allow off-shore drilling, which is another hallucination here because we all know who know about this situation, because the facts are out there, on the Internet and elsewhere, that the first barrel of oil that will come out from off-shore drilling, is seven years away, and even the Bush administration, not widely reported, has admitted that it may or may not have any impact on gas prices but because our media is silent, right now, ordinary people are thinking, “Well, gee. If it’s a choice between the environment and maybe once in a lifetime like an oil spill and my price at the gas pump, well, I’m in favor of off-shore drilling.” Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin are reportedly in favor of this while off-shore states; coastal states are in fact against it. But the main thing is our media are not reporting to an uneducated population that off-shore drilling is not a good idea and it’s not going to impact oil prices or gas prices.
Boren: Now, that’s exactly right. The American people have great common sense. And when they have the information...
Campbell: When they have the information.
Boren: When they have the information. When they’re given the information, yes they’re ready, they can judge it. They can spot a fraudulent proposal or a fraud a mile off. They really can. I have great faith in the American people and their ability to make good decisions but the problem is we have been not been challenging…we have been dumbing down our public discourse in this country. We have been turning news into entertainment – what passes as news – and it’s simply not giving the American people the information that they need. For example, the American people need to know that our political freedom is at stake, our independence. When we are sending billions and billions of dollars to other countries, the centers of oil and gas production. When we’re also sending billions and billions of dollars in our own debit – we’re living beyond our means. We haven’t solved a lot of problems in this country. We haven’t made ourselves energy independent. We have not harnessed the solar power that is here is this country. We have not harnessed the wind power. We have not done enough research on switch grass, which is everywhere in the central part of this country, to build energy independence, We’re not only sending that money to people in other countries, we’re going heavily into debt. We’re not solving, for example, the entitlement problem in this country. It’s predicted now that in twenty years just the interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicaid will consume all the taxes we’re now paying in this country. Well, what are we going to do? Are we going to quit helping people in need? Are we going to double the taxes on young people who are trying to educate their children and buy a home? We’re pushing that crisis off and we’re doing it with debt. Who is holding that debt? More and more other countries, even sovereign funds. That means the governments of other countries are holding the debt owed by Americans. Now that is a threat to our political independence. If they decide they don’t like what we’re doing on a certain world policy, for example, they can threaten to call in that debt. They can threaten to quit sending their savings into the United States.
Campbell: Or simply move it into another currency which would lead our country very quickly into real economic stress and collapse.
Boren: The dollar would absolutely plunge even further. And the other thing that they’re doing is they’re buying up our companies, our assets, on the cheap in this country. So that if we’re not careful, because of the weakness of our dollar and the fact that so much of our debt is going overseas, we’re going to have a whole generation of Americans not working for people in this country, not working for ourselves but working for people in other countries. So we’ve got to tie that all together. And the other thing we have to look at, I just saw the news this morning, it was reported that the deficit which was expected to be under $200 billion this year was going to be $400 billion. We’ve spent a…
Campbell: Like Everett Dierckson used to say, pretty soon, a billion here, a billion there…we’re talking about real money.
Boren: And you know, there’s a connection. People used to say, “Oh. Foreign Policy. What do I care about that?” Well, look at the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq has now cost…oh, easily over a trillion dollars, probably $2 trillion by the time we give the real care our soldiers deserve.
Campbell: And a study from our own government says $3 trillion if we factor in exactly all the care for veterans and so on.
Boren: Hopefully we’re going to give veterans some educational benefits, the other things that we should. Well, what does that mean to the average American? Well, again we saw the $400 billion, we know about $4 gas, we know about declining job opportunities, we know about a very deep recession in this country right now. Well, there’s a direct result. One of the most interesting things, and I’ve talked a little bit about it in my book and I’ve discussed it with Barack Obama and you may have noticed he sort of shocked the questioner in one of his debates. He was asked, during one of the primary debates, is there any living president whose advice you would ask in the foreign policy arena? And he said, “I would talk to President George Bush Senior and advisors he had like General Scowcroft because,” he said, “you compare the cost…” and many Americans do not know this, the first Gulf War under President Bush Senior, ending up costing -- it had certainly any loss of life is tragic, but far fewer human causalities. Financially, it didn’t cost the American taxpayer a single penny. He worked so carefully to build those coalitions. Not a cosmetic coalition. A real one. The countries that couldn’t send troops, like Japan under their constitution, they reimbursed the United States, they fully reimbursed the United States. Now compare that to $3 trillion, compare that to the effect on the economy. And he said, “I want to talk to the first President Bush and advisors he had like Colin Powell and General Scowcroft, to talk about how we can build real partnerships because he said, “the future well being of the United States is going to depend on real partnerships abroad. We can’t carry all the burden on our own shoulders alone and we also have to regain the confidence.” I was thrilled to see 200,000 people in Europe where the United States had fallen from 80% to 90% approval rating all the way down to as low as 12% or 14% at one point, waving American flags because they thought, for the first time, perhaps we can rebuild a partnership. And you know you don’t want a partner that’s just going to talk to you, get his way or her way all the time. You want to form a partnership where each party meets the other half way, where you listen to each other and it’s beneficial to both of you. So I think that for the next president, one of the most important things, and I think Barack Obama has demonstrated this and something I call for in my book, it’s a partnership. A partnership abroad, a real partnership and a burden-sharing with other countries abroad and a partnership here at home. We’ve got to restore bi-partisanship and you and I were talking about George Washington; there can’t be any stronger traditional figure in our history than George Washington who saw the dangers of polarization by political party, the failure to cooperate. We’re all proud of our political parties. I happen to be a Democrat but we have to also be like Lincoln who was another American great who understood this…
Campbell: And who was a Republican.
Boren: And who was a Republican. And Doris Kearns Goodwin has written the most wonderful book, and I happen to know that Barack has read it at least twice and he’s discussed it with the author, Lincoln and a Team of Rivals. He was so committed to doing something good for this country. We were in crisis. We needed the smartest, we needed the best without regard to their political party and so he even put his rivals, people who had run against him, people who were even plotting to run against him in the next election. He put them in his own cabinet. Churchill did it during World War II. He created a Unity Cabinet with people from the various parties. We need a president who will restore the tradition of bi-partisanship in this country and stop all of the blame game and get on with solving the energy crisis, get on with solving the health care crisis, get on with re-building our infrastructure which we can’t even have speed trains in this country because we still have rail trackage from the 1880’s, built on the 1880’s design. And I went to… I sat in the back. I wanted to observe. This was before I made up my mind about how I was going to feel about the candidates in the coming election. And I for…I don’t know, forty years, fifty years maybe; my Dad was in Congress…so maybe fifty, almost sixty years, I’ve been sitting in Democratic rallies and Barack Obama got up and he said, “It’s great to see so many wonderful…”
Campbell: In Indiana. Heartland state.
Boren: And it was in a high school gym about 5000 people, he said “It was in so many great Democrats here.” Of course, predictable applause. And then he said something I had never heard in 50 years at a Democratic rally “And I’m just as glad, aren’t we, to see so many great Republicans and so many great Independents here.” And huge applause. I was absolutely shocked about it and then I look around and I began to analyze the audience as well as the speaker and it was an American audience. There were people from different political parties and different perspectives. And so we have to rebuild that. When I first went to the Senate, I talk about it a little bit in my book, we had eight new Republican Senators and eight new Democratic Senators and we had old-fashioned community potluck dinners about every six weeks. Our spouses, we’d each bring a dish, we’d meet at a different Senator’s house. We became personal friends and we found ways to work together when it was important to work together. Today the new members don’t even get to know the members from the other party. Every week the Democrats all meet in one room in a caucus for three or four hours; the Republicans, like clockwork, same thing, and all that’s ever discussed in those two rooms is how do you score points on the other party? When does the bi-partisan caucus meet? It doesn’t. When does the potluck group meet? It doesn’t.
Campbell: It doesn’t exist.
Boren: It doesn’t exist. These personal friendships like you used to have Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dierkson might have had a drink of something after work at the end of the day and they worked out, they fought on the floor, but they worked out a solution.
Campbell: Even Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. That’s only 25 years ago.
Boren: Even Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. So you can bring back bipartisanship but you have to create an institution to do it. And I really hope our next President will create that institution. President sitting at the head of the table, maybe the Secretary of State and Defense and a national security group with maybe eight top Democrats and Republicans from the Congress and they sit there and they work out something. That’s what happened with the Marshall Plan. That’s probably what helped us win the Cold War. Can you imagine today if a President got up and said, had gotten up right after World War II, Truman, and said “We’re going to raise your taxes to help rebuild Germany that has just been involved in killing your sons and your daughters and your husbands and we’re going to help rebuild them with your taxes.” Now if the Republicans had jumped in there and taken advantage of that with sixty seconds spots, it would have been dead. Instead they were strong enough, they knew each other, they worked together, they knew you couldn’t have Europe flat on its back.
Campbell: And the leader Arthur Vandenberg of the Republicans in the Senate joined in, what Dean Acheson as you point out in his book, called Present at the Creation, that they were creating a new world, one that would replace the trauma of World War II with a possibility of peace and cooperation not only within the United States but internationally. And I think it’s such a great point you make because today, when we’ve become numbed to these negative ads with 527 organizations that are free to do so outside any kind of constraint, the second ad you said might have happened if we were in today’s polarized state was, and let me just quote it from your book. You said, “An ad could have come out at the time we were considering the Marshall Plan. What is this talk about having troops that we pay for with our tax dollars continue to be stationed in Europe to provide a buffer against Soviet communist expansionism? We’ve done our job. Do we want our boys over there anymore? Let’s bring them home.” These kinds of things which, as you point out, are pushing the emotional hot buttons are confusing an already dumbed down electorate. You point out in your book that other countries have laws, such as Britain, where a campaign cannot last for more than 60 days but beyond that, very interestingly, you say some countries have laws where if you do put advertising on television it must be of a certain minimum length so that’s it’s not just a 30 second, 60 second attack, pushing a hot button, but is required to go into depth. In her book, Susan Jacobi which that she wrote recently, deploring the lack of civic awareness in the United States and educational intelligence in our culture, pointed out that in Japan there are opportunities for debate where it’s not just one side versus the other. They may have a minimum of three or even up to five different commentators so it doesn’t get reduced to a simple either-or situation. Deborah Tannen, from the University of Georgetown, who has written about our argument culture, has made the same point. That having multilateral, we might say, points of view on an issue that are informational is extremely important and to put some of that into this dialogue, to really support what you’re saying, David, I’ll just give one example. On CNBC on July 8th of 2008, Boone Pickens was on to introduce his new energy plan and, as he put it, to force this debate to be paid attention to by the media as the number one issue in our time. He pointed out, in his 30 second ads, just to begin the dialogue, not to have an end; he said the problem is this. We are sending $700 billion a year to foreign sources to pay for our oil. We are funding both sides of the war on terror as a result. There is no possibility of drilling our way out of this. I say this as an oilman who’s been an oilman for 50 years and made my $4 billion fortune now at the age of 80, from oil. And I’m saying this is a crisis of our own making and we can get out of it if we’re willing to think in terms of a radical new energy agenda and then he proposes his particular solution. Now on that same program they had one of our country’s leading investment advisors who agreed with everything he said and then he said, “Boone, You know Boone that $700 billion doesn’t just go over and fund madrases and luxury items. A good deal of it comes back and buys our Treasury bonds and so right now 42% of our Treasury bonds, because we’re a consuming culture rather than a savings culture, are owned by either the Chinese who are funding their economy with our consuming patterns of our middle class, or these countries that are receiving our oil dollars and they are now getting very nervous about the fall in the dollar and are thinking of putting their money in other currencies. And if they do so, and if they do so in some coordinated way, our economy might just might sink off to the side and, as you pointed out quite correctly, Americans might find themselves working for foreign owners and so the opportunity for America as a nation to reinvigorate itself and claim it’s birthright, if you will, as one of the most generous leading forces in the world, will be lost. And I want to lead now to that portion of your book where you talk about our vanishing middle class. I think this is really incredibly key. Not only is it a matter of finding new energy sources in solar and wind and in second generation non-corn ethanol bio fuels and in oceanic hydro, all of which our country is uniquely blessed with, these are limitless resources that we are almost better positioned than any country in the world to harness. But the second thing we have going for us is a social structure that is democratic and very fluid where the best and the brightest have traditionally had the opportunity, as de Tocqueville noticed even back in the 19th century, to rise to the top so that the best and brightest of our brains in our country have traditionally been able through education to make their contribution. This is why, as you point out, immigrants still flock more to this country than any other country in the world because even though our k-12 education has fallen way behind and has been deplorably deficient in recent years we nonetheless still have the best higher education system in the world and we have hundreds and thousands of foreign students coming here but now, with our immigration policies, they’re being in a sense forced out or it’s more difficult for them to get in and here is a tremendous multi-cultural resource that we have traditionally been able to use to great economic innovation. And then finally, the one thing that we have, and we can actually credit Ronald Reagan I think here quite fairly for this, is that he saw, that the Democratic Congress itself, as the as Lord Acton said in the 19th century, the British historian who was regarded as the most civilized man of his day in Europe. He said “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” We had the powerful corruption of a first gilded age after Lincoln, in the second half of the 19th century that led directly to the collapse of the stock market and the Great Depression. At that point, because there had been no progressive taxation, in fact there had hardly been any taxation at all and the market left to its own devices went directly to greed. The very, very wealthy existed in a separate world from all the rest of us. F. Scott Fitzgerald correctly said, “The wealthy are different than the rest of us. They dress different, they change their clothes three times a day. “Everybody else you could tell was not wealthy because they wore fairly ordinary clothes and so on. But when the great collapse came in the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt said “we all knew that greed was bad morality and now we know it’s bad economics.” What is not known to a lot of our country, because again it’s not been reported in our history books is that a secret went from the patrician gilded age class to Roosevelt and said “you are one of us. You are part of the American patrician hierarchy. You have your retreat there on the island of Campobello. The fact is, after Lindbergh became famous after his St. Louis trans-Atlantic flight from America to Paris, he became a very wealthy man and quite a celebrity and because of that his child was kidnapped and murdered, held for ransom. We feel that we are a class like that, under siege. We’re living essentially in compounds that are heavily protected by security. We see 75% of the American people on bread lines and unemployed. We are very worried for our lives and the lives of our children that we have. And so we’re authorizing privately and secretly here to do whatever you need, pass whatever taxation legislation, implement whatever programs you need to put people back to work, you can even vilify us as the cause of all this. We will keep our mouths shut and we will go along with this because we fear for our lives. Now, this is a thing that was not widely but was reported several years ago in one of our leading political magazines. And so what happened then was FDR was able, through his ability to educate people to start his fireside chats -- this was for mobilizing people in World War II -- but before that he educated people about putting people back to work. He had the Works Progress Administration. He focused our economic energy in a way that showed the best possibility of government working with the private sector. JFK did that again with the Apollo program and showed how government could be a force for technological innovation that would have many, many redounding beneficial effects in private enterprise. But one thing that Ronald Regan brought in was, after the Democrats had been in power since 1948 and had done a tax and spend re-distribute kind of approach to the economy and really got quite corrupted in the process, we had tax rates that had risen to 90% in some cases on every additional dollar. I remember that happened in my own law firm with the people that were making the most money and by then it was not even $100,000. Seventy percent was the marginal tax rate. By the end of Reagan’s term that had been reduced in half. That helped people become investors in our stock market. Today we have 100,000,000 “ordinary” people in the market, participating for better or worse, sometimes now for worse, in our national financial system in a way that they never did before, but most importantly the venture capital industry was born in the ‘80’s because of these reduced taxes which gave people the incentives to take high risks in the possibility of getting high rewards in start-up companies. This led directly to the transformation of the electronics industry, the computer industry and the telecommunications industry and it will lead us into the 21st century in what Tom Friedman of the New York Times has correctly called, “the next great global industry, that of clean energy.” I have been an advocate of that myself as you know, for over five years and I see that the venture capital industry is one of our greatest unique American tools that literally exists nowhere else in the world and if we can form a great new public-private partnership with the best minds of our country in both economics and in technology we are in a position to actually salvage from this impending disaster an opportunity that may be unparalleled in our national history to bring the middle class back into full participation. And I’m going to put out finally, as I’ve told you before, the idea that came to me four years ago, which is to democratize venture capital in this way. Of creating a national venture fund of $100 to $300 billion that would be supervised by the best financial minds in our country and allow ordinary people to invest in energy bonds guaranteed by the government and then, just as we do with convertible debentures where you make a loan at the beginning to a start-up company and then later you can convert it into shares and get your 10x or 20 times return as if you had invested the full amount completely 100% risk capital to begin with. This is a model that’s worked in the venture industry, it’s worked for people that are already wealthy but under our laws to protect people against securities fraud only the already wealthy can make these investments. But this is the way that we can take a uniquely American phenomenon that is bipartisan in nature. This woe can give credit to the best thinking the Reagan era had about reducing taxes and to counter the worst thinking we’ve had with the Bush administration making tax cuts that are unfocused for the wealthy into the new, I would say, Republican degradation. So we now need to get a bipartisan approach that takes the best of nurturing Democratic thinking, the best of Republican free market thinking and combine them in a new trans-partisan cooperation of the very kind that you’ve recommended in your work in the Senate and in this great book. And so, as we’re coming down toward the end of our time together I’d like you to address this whole question about the middle class. And I’m going to lead into that with basically a comment from Molly Ivins, now deceased, who many years ago -- this is back in 1993 -- had a wonderful column in the paper in which she had said, “Americans have felt, since World War II, that America is like a mustard jar. That we have a little thin cap on the top and a thin bottom but mostly there’s this big fat middle which is the middle class. But she said, computer image representation of what’s actually happened to our economy since 1973 show’s that we are much more like a country kitchen where there’s a big fireplace with a big mantelpiece on top and then a little narrow chimney going to the roof and that mantelpiece is going up, up, up and the chimney’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller at the top and people are falling down below the mantelpiece so we really have an economy – this is 15 years ago – where it’s no longer the mustard jar, it’s the people that are climbing way up and out into freedom at the top of the house, are very, very few and everybody else is dropping into the flames.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell