Episode 39: Joseph Ellis – 2008 U.S. Elections – Historical Tipping Point and Evolutionary Perspective – Part II
What patterns are emerging in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Primaries? Will what Bob Herbert of the New York Times and many others have referred to as the bitter divisions of the last 20 years prevail and thus continue and intensify? Or will America be able to embrace real change and live up to its motto E Pluribus Unum, ‘out of the many we are one’, to survive and prosper in the 21st century as a respected and generative force in the world? In this program, I dialogue with Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Ellis, called "the 'Founders' historian" by The New York Review of Books, and author of Founding Brothers, American Sphinx, His Excellency George Washington, and most recently American Creation -- about the tipping point historical significance and perspective of the 2008 Presidential Primaries and elections, and what effect a further divided or united America emerging will have on the survival prospects of "the continuing American revolution".
Will the de facto dominance of two "monarchial" families (the name-recognition-based 'collusive celebrarchy' as some have called it) of the last 20 years, with their commonality of encouraging ‘identity politics’ in the political spectrum to win power and govern through divisiveness, continue? Or will the 21st century see once again in American history an adaptive evolutionary transformation of politics in a genuine cleansing and fresh perspective, freeing us from the continuing self-serving gridlock and stains of the past and bringing new 'clean energy' to both process and policies, in the unifying spirit of Washington and Lincoln? As Jonathan Alter of Newsweek framed it, "will it be Restoration or Inspiration" that we choose now to be the hallmark of this next generation.
As I mentioned in my prior dialogue with Paul Ray on the creation of a world wisdom culture, in order to meet the demands of interpenetrating globalization, peak oil, and global warming, all parts of our culture, including our political culture must be planetary and world-centric in identity and scope, capable of holding the exploding worldwide diversity in a larger creative and cooperative whole. To do this, those of us in America also have to grow up, to mature as a nation beyond being in the co-dependent thrall of mentally adolescent politicians and other would be authorities whose narcissism disempowers and polarizes by playing on victimhood, doubt, ignorance and fear to manipulate the identity politics of both left and right.
In this two-part dialogue, Joe Ellis and I give historical confirmation to what I have said in many of my other dialogues – affirming that we can do this by activating an energizing remembrance of a deeper felt sense of unity that is part of the heritage of our collective past, together with the individual creativity and innovation of our contemporary modern mind, to co-create the new structures and content of a transformed culture. A new kind of inspirational politician is now required for this bold evolutionary and creative leap to take place in our public sphere, one who interacts by mutually empowering deep listening and opening to heartfelt eloquent speech that stirs the soul – evoking our deep shared hope that is in accord with “the most heartfelt and cherished version of our original intentions as a people and a nation”, in the tradition of Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and JFK, as well as Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Only such a figure can adequately play the truly transformational political role called for as part of our collective drama in this historical tipping point time, to bring new energy and participants together.
We who are the vanguard of choosing change are all called to lead by example, to meet the core challenge of the evolutionary impulse and imperative to realize E Pluribus Unum in all spheres. Barack and Michelle Obama are part of this vanguard in political life. By having the courage to choose change, repudiating deceit and refusing to endorse an expedient, corrupting strategy of sowing divisiveness, we maintain our truth and integrity, and build trust that we can feel inspired and “follow our bliss” to once again feel good about our country, ourselves, and the prospects for the species. I, you, we – all the personal pronouns together – can make history now by “turning the nation’s sorrowful partisan and racial narrative into something radiant and hopeful”. Otherwise, in the words of a recent Op-ed piece: “it’s not change, it’s not a breakthrough moment in American history. It’s just a nervous decision that we’d rather go back than risk going forward”. Are we collectively and individually ready to take this courageous evolutionary leap, to confront, expose and leave behind the either-or polarizing ideologies and politics of the past in order to meet this historical moment to secure an evolved future for all? If not, then that which we fail to transform, both inner and outer, through healing awareness, that which is avoided and kept apart rather than “transcended and included”, will show up, as observed by C.G.Jung, not as our destiny, but as our fate.
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Duncan Campbell: Welcome to the program. I’m your host Duncan Campbell. And I’m delighted to say that we have Part Two here of my program with Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winning historian, on the historical significance of what has evolved in this incredibly historic and potentially tipping point election: the 2008 presidential primaries and elections. Hello Joe. Are you with us?
Joseph Ellis: I am with you Duncan.
Duncan Campbell: Hey. Well, it’s wonderful to have you back here. I’ll just introduce our program by saying that in this particular program, we want to investigate what the emerging patterns are in these presidential primaries and elections. Will what Bob Herbert of the New York Times and many others have referred to as “the bitter divisions of the last twenty years prevail and thus continue and intensify?” Or will America be able to embrace real change and live up to its motto “e pluribus Unum” to survive and prosper in the 21st century as a respected and generative force in the world. In this program Joe and I will be talking about this and about the tipping point historical significance and perspective of these elections and what effect a further divided or united America emerging will have on the survival prospects will have on what Joe has called “the continuing American Revolution.”
Joseph Ellis has been called by the New York Review of Books “the founder’s historian”.
He is a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Founding Brothers, American Sphinx, His Excellency, George Washington and most recently American Creation.
And so Joe I’d like to begin here by reprising the theme that we had last time when we talked about how the moment, the historical moment, that faces the country now at the beginning of the 21st century, is uncannily similar to that which faced the founders in that period over 200 years ago when the need for unity, above all, was what was foremost on the mind of George Washington, subsequently during the Civil War, on Abraham Lincoln and again it presents itself in a very divided and polarized country which has been that way for the last 16 to 20 years. And so let’s dive in with perhaps reprising that theme and talking a bit about the double-tradition that we have in the United States. On the one hand there are those that say that our politics are a two party system that’s relentlessly adversarial. Any talk about unity is really a pipe dream or a fairy tale and only deep adversarial politics, winner-take-all, is the tradition that we need to work within. On the other hand, in your op-ed piece that you wrote for the LA Times last Saturday, inspired by our original program, you took a very different view of our historical heritage and so I’ll let you summarize that.
Joseph Ellis: Well, thank you Duncan. There have been critics of the Barrack Obama message of unity and hope as something that is, as you say, naïve and Clinton referring to part of that called it “a fairy tale” – Bill Clinton -- and I thought that I needed to correct the record as a person who has spent some time thinking about the founding era and that the rhetoric of almost all the founders, save perhaps Aaron Burr who’s always an odd man out in this group, but of all the prominent founders: Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin was a call to union and a call to a collective purpose. The watchword for that generation wasn’t the people although it did say “we the people” in the Constitution. But rather the public, res publica, things public, the collective interest of the whole. And the devil’s faction or party or partisanship…you were suspected of being selfish and of not acting in the common good if you were partisan in a way that seemed rooted in your own self-interest or material interest. And some of the classic documents from the era, to include Washington’s Farewell Address or Madison in Federalist Intent, are pretty eloquent on this point. And so…then I think that Obama, in his book The Audacity of Hope, does seem to be familiar with some of that material though his major historical hero is Lincoln. And Lincoln who calls us to the “better angels of our nature” and “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” And I just think that instead of suggesting that Obama is some kind of weird, historically mindless creature he’s really giving voice to a message which has deep roots in American history and which all the founders, and we can even include Lincoln as a founder here, believed in passionately. So he knows his history and I think he is a historical and transformative figure in that regard.
Duncan Campbell: And in that regard we might just remind our audience what some of the op-ed pieces were that were coming out about three weeks ago where Frank Rich of the New York Times, “After so many years of fear and loathing we had almost forgotten what it’s felt like to feel good about wrote. Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote that “the historians can put aside their reference material. This is new. America has never seen anything like the Barrack Obama phenomenon. He has shown in one appearance after another a capacity to make people feel good about their country again.” And Michael Powell writing in the New York Times on January 5 talked about the possibility of “turning the nation’s sorrowful racial narrative into something radiant and hopeful”. Those were the things we talked about a scarce two weeks ago and in the meantime, in the space of just two weeks, the situation has changed dramatically as the Washington Post and Newsweek and NBC and others have observed the original sin of America, as you call it in your book American Creation, the sin of slavery and the racial divide in this country has once again reared its ugly head. And we might now take a look at that and what’s happened so rapidly here as some commentators have said, we’re back again into a racial re-divide of the country” where Ted Kennedy according to Newsweek and Robert Emmanuel, or Ron Emmanuel, have called Bill Clinton and said that they feel he’s playing the race card in this election. And let’s take a look at that and the historical perspective where we have a situation where that wound of slavery, you mention in your book, is a kind of original sin that has been percolating underneath our politics ever since the beginning. It’s embodied in some sense in our Constitution with the compromises made with respect to the Electoral College and so on. So let’s go back to the root of that and talk about the divide that began with Washington and Jefferson and the birth of the two party system and then we’ll bring it forward.
Joseph Ellis. Gee. That’s a lot. But I think that slavery was a sin. It was…and all the founders acknowledged that it was incompatible with the values on which the American Revolution was based. They didn’t try to ignore that fact. They thought that it was just very difficult to end it, both for economic reasons but also for racial reasons. The founders were very imaginative. They could imagine a large republic. No one else could. They could imagine a separation of church and state. No one else could. They could imagine a two-party system. No one else could at that stage. But they couldn’t imagine a bi-racial society. I think that racism was embedded. And that over time what we’ve seen is the gradual erosion of that with the end of slavery in the middle of the 19th century, with the Civil Rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. But there still is a clear residue of racism deep inside the culture. Whether it will ever be completely eradicated isn’t clear. But Obama’s candidacy as the first black candidate with a serious chance at winning the nomination at the election in American history, represents an incredible step forward. I would say that Hillary’s potential nomination is analogously important because she would be the first woman. So this is really historic election for us, in both senses. But in the racial and the Obama sense it’s probably inevitable that the residual racism is going to be… going to rear its head or be used as a weapon against Obama. And I think that some people say that a black candidate simply cannot win an election. I think that if Obama wins the South Carolina primary, which I think looks like it’s likely, the fact that about half the voters in the Democratic primary are black is going to be used to argue that he’s essentially the black candidate. Which is again ironic because initially some of the black leaders were saying he wasn’t really black. And so the playing of the race card, which some people are accusing the Clintons of doing that and then the Clintons accuse the Obama campaign of doing that and it’s a back and forth thing, it seems clear to me that Obama is not running as the black candidate. Obama is running as the candidate for all the American people which is the source of his attraction but it’s difficult for us to talk about this because of the history of race in America.
Duncan Campbell: Well there’s already been some very intense reaction to this in the last couple of weeks. We might just talk about one particular commentator who noted that just in this last week Obama has lost his attempt to be the colorless candidate. “He’s lost one-half of his white support in South Carolina in the last week”, I’m quoting now from this commentator “and he has lost it because there is a campaign underway by the Clintons to paint him as the black candidate.” Robert Reich, Clinton’s former Labor Secretary, said it on Thursday, January 24 just yesterday that “Clinton is injecting race into the race. And that’s true. And it has hurt Obama among not only whites but Latinos. He’s getting 8% of white female voters in South Carolina versus 35% in Iowa. John Edwards, who has no chance of winning, is beating Obama among white voters in South Carolina 3 to 1. That’s the story. The racial polarization on the Democratic side this time. This has ramifications that will last a very long time. I think it hurts the Clintons over the long haul and the Democratic party. In the short term, I think it may end Obama’s candidacy. It’s an amazing story that nobody is paying any attention to for some reason: the Clinton strategy to divide and re-divide America racially.” And so the Washington Post has come out and talked about the untruths that have been talked about in the campaign and so on and so forth. But what we’re seeing here is something very interesting. The Democratic Party historically was thought to be, in the recent past anyway, that would be since 1964, the party that represented black people. And here ironically we have the two…the white candidate and her spouse injecting it in a way that, as one commentator put it “puts Obama inside the black box from which he cannot get out” so that if he does win the South Carolina primary it will be seen as “oh yeah, that’s because he’s black” and will be dismissed as inconsequential and no momentum going forward into the February 5 primaries.
Joseph Ellis: Well some of the numbers you gave me I didn’t know myself. Especially the Edwards advantage in white voters.
Duncan Campbell: That just came out yesterday. And I might also just add one thing. There was a commentator on NBC yesterday, Leo Tyrell, an African American from LA, radio talk show host, who made a very powerful statement. He said, and I quoted him at length here, just to give you a sense of the intensity of what’s happened just in the last week. This is an African American commentator. “Obama was a colorless candidate in Iowa. Iowa voted for Obama because of his issues. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton played the race card in the South. They took him from a guy who “wasn’t black enough” to someone who was now “the black candidate”. They have injected race in this case in this candidacy. And you know that the therapy is the African Americans and the Democratic Party should have a wake-up call. Racism is alive and well within the Democratic party and I can assure you” he was talking to Chris Matthews, “ that a lot of African-Americans if Hillary gets the nomination in the general election African-Americans will stay home…because she played the race card and black Americans knew that what’s happened last week. It’s disgusting. What was not an issue in Iowa is now an issue in South Carolina. What made the change? The change is Hillary and Bill used the race card to marginalize Obama and I can guarantee you this one fact: if he wins in South Carolina “oh, that’s because he’s black”. They have created a wedge issue between blacks and whites and, more importantly, between blacks and Hispanics. Mr. quote black president, Bill Clinton, used the race card against the black candidate and the blacks will not forget this in November”. End of quote. And so now we have a very interesting issue here about the effect on Latinos which we seemed to see also in Nevada. So let’s talk about this from the perspective of what it means in terms of our historical dealings with slavery in the South and so on.
Joseph Ellis: Well one thing that it means is…the one thing that is demographic reality is that the brown or Latino population is the fastest growing minority group in the United States. It’s larger than the black population now. And that they’re a very, almost new entry into the Presidential sweepstakes, as they’ve reached a size and level of influence in certain key states especially. So that….and I’d be interested in your thought on how the race issue plays here because it seems to me here that there is competition and a sense of hostility between African Americans and Hispanic Americans since they’re often competing for the same jobs. To the extent that Barrack Obama gets painted as the black candidate -- which again is a contradiction of everything he’s said and all he’s written in his two books -- I think that’s going to cost him some Hispanic votes. So playing the race card means playing the black race card and I’m curious about what the polls will tell us about what Hispanic voters do in response to that.
Duncan Campbell: Well, we’re going to be joined here at the top of the hour by former Democratic mayor, Frederico Pena, Transportation Secretary in the Clinton administration, and he will be, I think, an excellent person to address this issue and what it means. Because there is a history, as we know, in major metropolitan areas including Denver with Wellington Webb, of black mayors winning with substantial Latino support and also the new mayor in LA, who is Latino, has won with substantial black support. But this introduces a whole new level. It seems to have touched a nerve that is unprecedented in our current history but has really, really deep roots going back to the divide, let’s say, between Washington and Jefferson himself. The main concern of Washington, as is very clear from your books, was the need to actually promote unity at all costs among a disaggregated and sometimes intensely polarized group of states, generally broken down along geographical lines between the plantations of the South and the moneyed interests of the North. And he realized that without actually being able to evoke, both in speech and in inspiration, some sense of unity as the pre-condition, that the infant nation might actually founder and break apart. And Jefferson, on the other hand, although he said things, like in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and so on, was a man divided within himself and divided really against Washington. We find out in your book that Jefferson, while serving as Secretary of State under Washington, was actually undermining him by having people write articles at his behest questioning whether or not Washington had gotten too old to serve and in many ways just trying to fractionalize the situation. He became eventually, Jefferson, the founder of the first political parties and then he said that he didn’t want to belong to any political party. If he had to go to Heaven in a political party he would rather not go. So he also spoke out about slavery but yet he privately and in his writings talked about miscegenation as a sin and then engaged in it with Sally Hemmings, as we now know. So let’s talk about this very complex situation between Washington and Jefferson that goes right back as an illustration of what we’re seeing emerge now in just the last few days.
Joseph Ellis: They obviously are both giants. They’ve both got prominent positions both on Mt Rushmore and on The Mall. I think that…I’ve written a book on Jefferson and I’ve written a book on Washington so I’ve spent five or six years with each of these people and reading all their papers. To me it’s pretty clear that if you move them both up to the coming of the Civil War, 1860, ‘61, Washington would have definitely gone with the Union, with the North, and Jefferson would have gone with the South and the Confederacy. Jefferson, the more you look at him, becomes a real bundle of contradictions and at some point, a level of duplicity that is incredible. In fact, towards the end of his life, Washington said to his wife Martha that…he couldn’t even talk about Jefferson, and that if, when he died, Jefferson attempted to pay a visit to Mt. Vernon that she should not allow him on the premises. Which is in fact what happened. So there was real bitterness between the two of them. There’s a fundamental difference on the race issue too. Washington could have taken more overt action against slavery than he did though he thought that to do so would be to risk the union. He did however, in his will, free all the slaves he owned upon the death of his wife. And unlike Jefferson, Washington believed that free blacks, once freed, could live in the same society as whites. Jefferson did not believe that. Jefferson believed that if they were freed, all African-Americans would have to be sent either back to Africa or to someplace in the Caribbean. So that there is a overt biological racism present in Jefferson’s thought and again it’s hypocritical because at the core he believed that any mixing of the races, what becomes to be called miscegenation, he called it “amalgamation”, would dilute the blood, if you will, of the Anglo-Saxon race. I know this is offensive sounding, but that’s what he said. And yet he himself fathered at least four and maybe six children, by Sally Hemmings, a mulatto slave that became his mistress. At least the DNA evidence on that is pretty conclusive. So I would say…I’m probably going to say something a little bit scandalous here but there’s something Clintonian about Jefferson. That his use of language to evade and avoid the truth and to misrepresent himself. It’s clear in historical terms about letters, he’ll send one letter to one group of people saying one thing, same day write another letter to another group of people saying the exact opposite. He’s a man that played hide-and-seek within himself and could probably pass a lie detector test on certain issues that which he really is contradictory. And in that sense he’s the kind of prototypical politician. Who, you know, in the South Carolina campaign, would be undermining his enemies and yet he’d always have it done by surrogates so that he himself didn’t have his fingers dirtied. Of the two of them, it seems pretty clear that Jefferson is the most famous in terms of his resonance because of the language of the Declaration but the more you look at it Washington is without question the greatest leader in American history.
Duncan Campbell: And we see that actually represented in the architecture of our nation, in Washington DC where you have on one end of the famous Washington Mall, you have the Washington Monument, the city itself is named after him, and at the other end you’ve got the Lincoln Memorial, the majestic Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave his I Have A Dream speech. And then off in the distance, to the side, you’ve got the Jefferson Memorial. And I thought the other day, about William Jefferson Clinton that it’s interesting that we do have these two strains in our country and one of the things you mentioned was that level of deception that we find in reading the books and the history books that Jefferson did engage in and so that has been a major point here in the last week on the campaign on the Democratic side where Barrack Obama after that last Democratic debate issued a statement in which he said that Senator Clinton and President Clinton distort my words. “That is not a way to move the debate forward. That is not a way to help the American people. And I’m not running for President just to become President. I am running to help the American people and to move the debate forward. I’m not willing to say or do anything just to win an election. Because when you start operating that way, you lose the trust of the American people. And we need trust if we’re going to build the kind of country that we want for our children and our grandchildren.” And in the most recent ad that the Clinton campaign was running in South Carolina where they repeated the distortions about Barrack Obama’s supposedly supporting the Reagan politics, they withdrew it after one day and replaced it with another ad in which Bill Clinton says that his wife can unify the country. Now the Barrack ad for Obama campaign in South Carolina says “what’s wrong with our politics today is that Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected. Now she’s making false attacks on Barrack Obama.” The Washington Post said “Clinton is not telling the truth. Obama did not say that he liked the ideas of Republicans” and so on and so forth. And finally we have the issue then that comes up of unity again, where the issue of trust and propagating trust is really, I think, the large issue of our time. That people can say on the one hand, oh that’s just politics and it’s okay to say anything or do anything just to win because it’s all about winning. And yet what we’re seeing in poll after poll is that there seems to be a great yearning, not among the establishment, not among the major newspapers who are endorsing the establishment candidates, not among the ministers and the minority community and the black community or the leaders in the Latino community that are endorsing the establishment candidates, that’s another paradigm, but we’re seeing that the people themselves are saying that they want to have some sort of larger, new beginning. And there’s a poll that came out today, put out by NBC that appeared in The Wall Street Journal that on both sides, Republican and Democratic, found the following: that when asked “who can unify the country?” the first tier had Barack Obama at 67% and John McCain at 66%. Over two-thirds of the country. And then there’s a major drop-off where you’ve got Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani clustered around 50% in that kind of polarized middle. And even below that Mike Huckabee and Mint Romney down in the 40% range. As The Washington Post observed we’ve had two very polarizing presidencies and Jonathon Alter in Newsweek said it’s not just the Bush presidency but the Clinton presidency that preceded it. So what we’re looking at now he said is a choice between restoration versus inspiration. “We’ve had two very polarizing presidencies right now in a row and Americans seems to be sick of it.” And so the question is, as we go into these February 5 primaries, whether or not the people, as they did in Iowa, are going to confound the opinion makers and the editorialists or whether or not we’re going to back off and once again have another period of tremendous divisiveness. Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times said, “if that happens we will not have a change. It will not be a break through moment in American history. It’s just a nervous decision that we’d rather go back than go forward”. So, what were the issues that, again from the historical perspective, prompted the founders to actually make the bold step forward as did Lincoln when he actually took the step to actually break out of that institutionalized stain on the American psyche.
Joseph Ellis: Well, there are really two foundings. 1776, the key document is the Declaration where we declare our dependence effectively. And 1787, key document is the Constitution where we declare our nationhood. And that second founding is the key one in terms of the issues you’re raising. And when the term “united states” was used initially it was a plural noun. They didn’t say the United States “is”. They said the United States “are”. And the attempt to bring together the states into a coherent whole was a massive undertaking and, as you indicated earlier, it took a while and the issues percolating beneath the surface had to do with race, it had to do with Native Americans and the states’ rights school, of which Jefferson was one of the founders, that was really a code word for protecting slavery. They didn’t want the federal government to have the power to make domestic policy. And, once again, it’s divisiveness against unity. And Jefferson believed that if you gave the federal government that power it was only a matter of time before slavery would be ended. Despite his rhetoric against slavery, very eloquent rhetoric in places, Jefferson never freed any of his slaves. Well, he let a couple of them run away. But…so in the long sweep of American history we’re living now a story and we’re at a place…I think that someone who claims there hasn’t been any major improvement in race relations in the last century or fifty years is obviously wrong. Certain things cannot be said out loud anymore that were said not so long ago. And yet I think that the notion that we’ve stamped racism out is a naïve illusion. And I think that what’s being done in the South Carolina primary, which always seems to be a place where the worst and most scurrilous kind of politics gets played. Remember last time McCain was being accused of having an illegitimate child and all kinds of crazy stuff, that in that instance it seems to me that Obama represents the future. And he represents a potentially transformative presidency. For me he’s the most exciting presidential candidate I’ve seen in my lifetime, since John Kennedy. And I hope that you’re wrong in that something fatal has not occurred to his candidacy because as long as he’s a candidate these issues at the level that I think he alone can articulate them, it’s important for us as a people.
Duncan Campbell: And a reminder, that was not me that said that but a commentator expressing concern on NBC yesterday that this way that the Clintons have, in a sense, abandoned South Carolina to Obama as winning the black vote but now concentrating on winning the Latino vote elsewhere is something that leads to that kind of conclusion. And just on the nature of what progress we have made, I’m looking at an article in the paper here, locally that not long ago, a white Republican businessman here in Colorado, attempting to make a joke at a benefit honoring the outgoing University of Colorado president Hank Brown, pretended to read a telegram from the White House and he said they’re going to have to change the name of that building if Obama’s elected. And so immediately witnesses said they could hear people gasp in the ballroom of the Adams-Park Hotel and so on so...It’s not possible to say those things out loud anymore but whether they’re fully expunged from the American psyche people remains the question. And we’re going to be joined very shortly by Mayor Frederico Pena who is the former Denver mayor and also is a former Secretary of Transportation in the Clinton administration and is now also campaigning for Barrack Obama. And as we resume here we might begin by welcoming Frederico Pena to the program.
Frederico Pena: Good morning. How are you?
Duncan Campbell: I’m very good, thank you. And Joe Ellis is of course on the line with us, and you’ve been listening for the last few minutes. We’d like to start right off here about this phenomenon that we’re seeing that the establishments of both parties, Republican and Democratic, seem to be at this point, in a very polarized mode as they have indeed been for the last 16 to 20 years. We saw an original burst of Obama on the Democratic side, we’ve been talking about at length because of what Joe Ellis calls “the American wound of slavery” that’s never been fully expunged with people of color in America. But also we could talk about McCain who is breaking away. The voters have shown their willingness, as in a recent column in the New York Times to go beyond the editorialists and the leaders of the establishment party machines on both sides and in a recent poll that came out today John McCain and Barrack Obama, respectively McCain at 66% and Obama at 67%, are the ones chosen in the poll by the people on a national level as the ones most likely to be able to unify the country. And so perhaps you could speak to that because you’ve had a very interesting history yourself, Frederico and just tell us your unique perspective on this.
Frederico Pena: I will, Duncan. Let me say it’s a pleasure to be on with Mr. Ellis. I think what’s happening today in the country is that there is a immersion of discontent but activism on the part of many people who are tired of politics of old days. I experienced the very same movement when I ran for mayor in 1982. Traditionally there had been a very low voter turnout in mayoral campaigns prior to the time that I ran. Fifty-one, 53% voter turnouts. And I sensed, because I was an activist, a neighborhood leader, and a state legislator, that people were unhappy with not being involved in city government, they had extraordinary ideas and energy, they wanted to contribute, they felt the city was not moving in the right direction, that the administration which had been in place for many, many years, had sort of gotten a little worn and that there was no longer new ideas and a new direction for the city. I sensed that and I ran. And as you just stated, a number of the traditional media outlets and the so-called political experts predicted that I would come in fifth place in the primary vote. They didn’t understand why I was running. They said I was a dark house. And they said many of the same things that are being said about Barrack Obama today. They said that I was inexperienced. That I was too young. Some said I was Hispanic. Some said I was from Texas and that I would not have a chance of winning. Of course the facts are that I won the primary election and then right after that I got tremendous support from other groups which then allowed me to win the run-off election. I believe the very same thing is happening in our country today. And that’s why you see so many new voters who are participating in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire and why that poll you’ve just referred to shows that all these new independent voters want to support a new type of leader independent because that very same change in sentiment that is occurring today in our country that I experienced in 1982 in Denver. So it doesn’t surprise me.
Duncan Campbell: And the other thing we might say is, that on the same day the New York Times has endorsed both John McCain but also Hillary Clinton the establishment Democratic candidate as they are the establishment Democratic newspaper, they make the claim in their, or I should say the assertion in their editorial, that they know that Hillary Clinton is capable of uniting the country, despite being very much discounted in this poll. Also we know that Hillary Clinton has more negatives than any candidate, Democratic or Republican accumulated over the years. Over 50%. And so really the question here is whether or not the party establishment is going to go ahead in both parties and maybe not even nominate McCain who seems to be the one who is most likely to be electable on the Republican side. They make take a more polarizing candidate instead and the same in the Democratic party. When we talk about electabilty, people forget that Bill Clinton was elected himself in 1992 by a fluke. He had 43% of the vote and Ross Perot took 19% of the vote, almost all of it attributed to votes taken away from the incumbent President George Bush. And so in a sense the Clinton presidency was accidental. And then in 1996, running against the candidate that one commentator called “Viagra Bob” the weakest Republican candidate in over a 100 years, Bill Clinton got the lowest vote total of any re-elected president except Woodrow Wilson where they both tied at 49.2%. And George Bush when he got re-elected got 50.7% so he got more than Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton was also the only president in American history to not win the male vote during the election. So that leads us right back to this question of identity politics and whether or not you can win with identity politics with the country yearning for a larger and more inspiring, more unified experience to go beyond the exhaustion and the debilitating polarization that Bob Herbert refers to in the Times of the last 20 years. And we take note that another columnist, David Brooks, wrote on January 15 about the identity trap with the Democrats playing, in a sense, both the gender card and the race card in a very complex way and boxing Barrack as the black candidate, taking him out of contention, and then appealing to the Latinos and so on. He said basically the strategy seems to be the recognition that in the 21st century it is the Latinos who will wind up determining who gets the nomination. And that’s consistent with how the Kerry campaign, once it lost Ohio, did an analysis in the aftermath and said essentially that the way the electoral vote system -- which is itself a hang over from slavery and the divisiveness between the North and the South -- the way it works out that really there are very few states, if any, left in which the black population will really be in play in the general election. And they focused on four Western states as being the determining states for 2008. Those being Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona where the burgeoning Latino population could be very decisive in the general election and noting that, had Bush lost even one of those states, John Kerry would have been president. So you can really I think address that very precisely in terms of the demographics and your own experience of how people play this game of counting electoral votes and how they move away from unity to actually pander to identity politics in order to get themselves elected and then leave themselves afterwards crippled by the method by which they obtained power.
Joseph Ellis: I’d also like to ask what your judgment of the Hispanic perception of Barrack Obama is.
Frederico Pena: Well, a number of points. Number one: it is absolutely true, and demographics speak volumes about not only politics but consumer purchasing power and many other things, that the population has been moving from the Northeast to the West and to the South and to the Southwest and that’s been a trend we’ve seen for many many years and that will continue. And the natural result of that is those states which have burgeoning populations are being enhanced in terms of their population by Hispanic birth rates and Hispanic population. So, yes. If you go to California, the Hispanic population – when it votes – will make a definite impact on who will win on a statewide election. The same is true for all the states you’ve mentioned. You haven’t mentioned Texas and you haven’t mentioned Florida but the very same phenomenon is happening in those very large important states. What is happening in the Hispanic community is that it is registering in higher numbers, voting in higher numbers and beginning to exercise its political muscle. The other thing that is happening in the Hispanic community is that it is a community that is becoming much more sophisticated in its voting. What do I mean by that? It means that Hispanics no longer just vote for candidates just because the candidate happens to have a name like “Martinez”. We’ve seen that time and time again across the country. Let me take my case. When I first ran for mayor in 1982 in the primary election they there were many Hispanics who did not support me. They supported Bill MacNichols the incumbent. They had known Bill for a long time, they felt very comfortable with Bill. And they, many, not all, but many believed I could not win. Once I won the primary election, to the great surprise of many people including very traditional Hispanics who had been voting for many years in Denver, then I got an overwhelming support of the Hispanic vote in the run-off election. To some extent that is happening to Barrack Obama in the African American community. Early on Hillary had a very strong support among African Americans for all the reasons that we know and many did not believe that Barrack could possibly win. Once he started demonstrating in Iowa and elsewhere that he is a viable candidate and can win, African Americans have now said, “well, my vote will not be wasted. I now believe Barrack has a chance of becoming President, therefore we will support him.” So you’ve seen a shift there. That’s a level of sophistication that is also occurring in the Hispanic community. So what happened in the Hispanic community when Barrack ran in Illinois is that they supported him very strongly when he was the final candidate running against the Republican. When I ran for Mayor of Denver I got very strong support both in the African American community and in the Hispanic community. And when people like Antonio ???? ran his second time he also finally got strong support in the African American community and the Hispanic community. So my conclusion is that, as Barrack Obama becomes better known in the Hispanic community we are beginning to get more and more support among Hispanics. The challenge for him and for us, is finding the time, enough time, to get him in front of more and more Hispanics in California, in Nevada, in Arizona, in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Texas so that people can see him and embrace him and that’s our challenge. But we are making good ground there. In Iowa for example, we got strong support among the Hispanics there, which are only 3 or 4% of the population, and in fact we were endorsed by two Hispanic newspapers. I was in Iowa on two different occasions and it was the first time in the history of the state that a Hispanic newspaper had ever endorsed anybody. So we simply need, Barrack simply needs a little more time to get out there and once he has that opportunity we will continue to get support in the Hispanic community.
Duncan Campbell: Joe, let me make one other point for both of you to comment on. One of the things I see is most interesting Frederico, you’ve lived this out yourself in your own career and you’re moving into a whole new paradigm we might say, but if we look back at the history of the relationship of our country to slavery we see in a sense that this joke that was made by the Republican rancher here about if Barrack Obama gets elected to the White House we’ll have to change its name is really got a tremendous archetypical meaning. Both Washington and Jefferson, whom we talked about at length, were plantation owners. And we had Monticello with Jefferson and we had Mt. Vernon with Washington and so we’re all familiar with the fact that the people of color that lived on those plantation estates actually were either in the field doing the work or some were invited into the main house where the master and mistress lived, both of them white. And that paradigm has actually literally carried over to our politics in the White House. Meaning that traditionally people of color beginning, with African Americans and now with Latinos, have found their way into political authority and participation and power by having that mediated through white politicians that are already in power, particularly in the White House. This was the deep meaning behind the comment about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson and it’s been observed again by one of the commentators that basically in the time of Martin Luther King he could mobilize the people with his dream but he was not in a position to be the decision maker of being in the White House. He had to have the people’s desires mediated by a liberal politician in the White House. That was 50 years ago and, as the commentator went on, that should no longer be the case now. There should be an opportunity for people to move directly, as in the early stages of the Obama candidacy in Iowa, people seemed to be very excited about and yet when we look at the new mayor of Philadelphia who is native African American and the new mayor of LA who is Hispanic, they have both endorsed the traditional candidate, i.e., Hillary Clinton. And so one of the great mysteries in this campaign is that it seems that although the leaders in both the churches in the black community and in the political communities that are aligned with the establishment and in a sense owe their rise to the establishment even though they’ve endorsed the establishment candidates they’re not paying attention to that on the ground either in the Democratic side or the Republican side. Recently an article about John McCain winning in South Carolina, a number of conservative communities that rejected him the last time around and showing the ability to really get a lot of independence and other people into his camp and we might end just that question by saying that McCain seems to have the immigration policy, the only one, on the side of the Republicans that might appeal not only to independents but particularly to Hispanics or Latinos. So what do you think about that Frederico?
Frederico Pena: Well, I think it is more complicated. The examples you gave of those two elected officials supporting the “traditional candidate” is counter-balanced by the fact that the Governor of Massachusetts who is African American is supporting Barrack Obama.
Duncan Campbell: This is new. That’s what I’m saying.
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