Joseph Ellis – 2008 U.S. Elections – Historical Tipping Point and Evolutionary Perspective – Part I
Living Dialogues
Duncan Campbell

Episode 38 - Joseph Ellis – 2008 U.S. Elections – Historical Tipping Point and Evolutionary Perspective – Part I

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.


To order a full transcript of this program you can contact me at my website: or at [email protected]. Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program. All the best, Duncan



Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Bohm, 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.

And welcome on this 11th day of January 2008, 5 days after the Epiphany, and as we move into a whole new year. I am your host, Duncan Campbell, welcoming you to the program, and welcoming my guest, Joseph Ellis. Joseph Ellis, known to many of you for his works on the founding brothers, on Thomas Jefferson, on George Washington, on the creation of our country. He has been called by the New York Review of Books “the founders historian for our time.” His most recent book is American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. He was won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Founding Brothers, and the National Book Award for his portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx. He is the Ford Foundation professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, and he lives in Amherst, MA with his wife Ellen and their youngest son, Alex. So, Joe, it’s a great pleasure to have you back here on the program.

Joseph Ellis: Really great to be back with you, Duncan.

Duncan Campbell: I have to say, we’re here today to take a very long view, and deep view, hopefully, of the current presidential primaries, and this whole election season, and the election of 2008 in our country from the perspective of its potentially tipping point importance and great significance in our country and in the world, and also to take that kind of perspective that you took in American Creation, where we’re seeking to see the deep and complex underpinnings of the political process and how it has come about in our particular country and how that’s perceived both in our country and the rest of the world. And so I thought we might begin by just acknowledging the praise that’s been received for your most recent book, American Creation, where, as you put it yourself, our founding fathers in America, as they’ve been called, or you’ve recalled them, thefounding brothers, and the founding men and women of the United States, basically have often been lionized or made into larger than life figures, seemingly with super human abilities and insight. And on the other hand, there’s been another school of thought to try to reduce them to ordinary and less than ordinary people motivated by things that are quite very much in their self-interest, and so on, and you’ve tried to steer a middle course to see that indeed there were some highly extraordinary events happening in the time and place at that time in history and some extraordinary people who were able to see and sense that zeitgeist we might call it, the “spirit of the times,” as they say, the zeitgeist, and to go with it, and to make difficult decisions based on a kind of faith and vision and a sense of an exceptional moment in time offering an exceptional opportunity.

Joseph Ellis: They really did create the first liberal nation-state that was rooted in the principal of individual rights, rule of law, separation of church and state, and a kind of a legitimate opposition, that is, a two-party system in which you didn’t kill your opponents or put them on the guillotine, but you argued with them. So the degree of their triumph was, is, extraordinary. They become the -- they discovered the recipe for the liberal nation-state that will triumph in the 19th and 20th century.  But as you’re also aware, they failed in some respects, and so the book’s talking about triumphs and tragedies. And as you know, the two great failures, as I see it where they stood, were the failure to end slavery, and the failure to reach a just resolution of the Native American question.

Duncan Campbell: And you’ve called those, in a sense, the original sins of the country that have a stain that still remains, we might say, in the psychic energy field and as we are perceived around the world. And this particular election coming up seems to have a unique opportunity to do a kind of cleansing of that particular wound and an opening up and a restoration, if you will, of the original vision, a kind of renewal of it, and in this particular regard, I’m thinking of the sense of American exceptionalism.  There’s a way of looking at that where it is a kind of small-minded hubris, or a sense of chauvinism or hyper-patriotism, “We’re different than everybody else, and we’re better” and that kind of adolescent attitude. But at a larger, we might say, archetypal or very practical perspective, the exceptionalism of America is quite real. As the founders realized, the piece of land that we live on here has extraordinary resources, and is positioned between two oceans in a way that provides a certain kind of security and abundance that’s really available in no other country on Earth in the same degree. So there’s a sense of stewardship of an exceptional and extraordinary possibility here with the construction, as you say for the first time in history of a genuine liberal open incipient democratic state. And what I’d like to do is ask you now, as we go into the 21st century, as we’ve devolved in the last 20 years into a kind of bitter partisanship, and a kind of fragmentation, the red state blue state divide. It’s reminiscent in a sense, I think a very real sense, of the situation that prevailed an the time that this was just an idea, the Declaration of Independence, and then the thirteen years later, in1789, having the Constitution. Nurturing this tiny potential in its infancy into what would become a great nation, and in that timeframe, George Washington’s main concern was to create a sense of unity which was almost an impossible task.

Joseph Ellis: It’s true, I mean in the late 18th century, both during the war for independence and afterwards, and the adoption of the Constitution into the 1790s, most Americans did not regard themselves as Americans.  They regarded themselves as Virginians, or New Englanders, or Georgians.  The term United States was a plural noun, not a singular noun: “The United States are.”  It took some time for the different regions --  One’s loyalty, in other words, was not to a larger nation, called the United States, but to one’s local government or local area or region, or at best, state. And then one of Washington’s biggest tasks was to try to gradually – of course, because you can’t do this quickly – bring Americans together and become the symbol – he himself became the symbol for something, a larger collective. When you’re looking at the kind of divisions that exist in Iraq now, while our divisions were not ethnic in that same sense, or religious in quite that same sense, it does remind us how long it takes to create a larger national sense of identity.

Duncan Campbell: And one of the things I think that is most important here is the recognition here both on the Democratic side and the Republican side as the election season begins to unfold, that there are really some of the same issues that confronted the founding fathers, founding brothers, founding men and women of this country that have arisen once again: a kind of bitter political divisiveness, a tendency to go negative in campaigning and misrepresent the other person’s opinions, and most importantly, to stoke the fires of fear and uncertainty and make an appeal, we might say, our less idealistic, our less noble natures. And in that particular regard, I’d like to just address this question of unity. Let’s start with the Democratic side. One of the things that has been remarked with, for instance, the candidacy of Senator Obama, and it’s been remarked repeatedly by commentators is that his message is one of aspiration, hope, positivity, and this extraordinary ability to appeal across the spectrum of not only just Democrats, but also -- and Independents, but also Republicans, and we’ve seen recently comments by major Republican commentators praising his abilities and so on. And what we find here is a statement by Bob Herbert in the New York Times, saying, “The historians can put aside their reference material. This is new. America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon.” He said, “Mr. Obama has shown in one appearance after another a capacity to make people feel good about their country again. His supporters want desperately to turn the page on the bitter politics, serial disasters of the past 20 years. They have gravitated to a black candidate to carry this task. This, to use a term I have heard for the first time this week, is momentous.” Not only is it momentous, but this is the first time there has been what they call a viable black candidate who could actually win the race. Now what does this represent in terms of our history, going back to, as you say, that original sin of slavery which has never been completely expunged from our national psyche?

Joseph Ellis:  I tend to agree with the thrust of Mr. Herbert’s remark, in that certainly Obama’s central message is to bring us together, and I think when he talks about bringing the red states and the blue states together, it’s an interesting way of only obliquely talking about bringing both blacks and whites together too. Because he’s not a kind of self-consciously racially oriented candidate. I also think that in some sense you might see his serious candidacy, meaning that he has a legitimate chance of becoming elected President of the United States. This is the first black candidate for whom this is possible. I think Shirley Chisholm ran, oh, 30 years ago now, but Obama is quite a serious candidate indeed. And this is the first time in the republic where that is the case. And we might very well read it as the ultimate fulfillment of the original American promise made by Jefferson in the Declaration, carried forward to end slavery by Lincoln, carried forward to end racial discrimination in public facilities by Martin Luther King. And now, a black candidate who might very well become the leader of the entire nation, in some sense I think the founders would regard this as the culmination of an experiment that they began over 200 years ago. I think there is some truth in also suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy at the same time represents an analogous situation. There’s never really been a serious possibility of a woman president. And so on the Democratic side, on both leading candidates, we have epical historically unprecedented contest situations right now.

Duncan Campbell: And it all seems to me to be connected to this narrative of unity, you know, how the campaigns are run and how they are perceived. One of the things that’s extraordinary here that Michael Powell in the New York Times has said about the Obama campaign is that he has made in his speeches a sense of historical moment, that I, you, we can make history. He says, and I quote, “by turning the nation’s sorrowful racial narrative into something radiant and hopeful.” Now this would have been almost unimaginable to the founders --

Joseph Ellis: Yes, it would, it would. I mean, when I talked about this being the fulfillment of their original promise, that’s true, but it’s one that they could not act on themselves.

Duncan Campbell: Yes.

Joseph Ellis:  The belief that blacks and whites could live together in the same society was very difficult for them to imagine. This is one of the, you know, as we say, “original sins,” but I don’t think, short of a, you know, couple hundred thousand frontal lobotomies you were going to be able to make a change on that score.

Duncan Campbell: Not in that --

Joseph Ellis: We have now evolved --

Duncan Campbell: Uh-huh.

Joseph Ellis: And moved forward. And this really is a kind of truly dramatic moment, and this unity theme, I mean, as I listen to Obama, I hear the cadences of Martin Luther King, and the message of John Fitzgerald Kennedy brought together. I think he’s not afraid to ask us to make sacrifices, which I think is a good sign, and he’s not making promises that he’s going to solve every problem in the world. He’s not – I think this notion of bringing us together is extremely attractive to a great many Americans.

Duncan Campbell: And it may actually be essential for the survival of the American project. One of the things that you, I think, document in a very extraordinary way in your new book, American Creation, is how close the American experiment came again and again to failing. And had it not been for, for instance, some extraordinary events which George Washington even went so far as to attribute to Providence –

Joseph Ellis: Right.

Duncan Campbell: -- They were so unlikely, that nurtured the possibilities for even surviving as nation in our infancy, and if it were not for Washington making difficult and painful personal decisions on the very issues you’re talking about, we would not be here. And by --

Joseph Ellis: That’s right.

Duncan Campbell: And by that I mean, Washington, as you point out, had fought in the French Indian Wars, had a very close experience on the battlefield, and respect for Native Americans. The same thing, he was in an extraordinary position as the head of the Continental Army, where basically many of the soldiers were poor white and poor black people that were not actually in the normal strata of society that the other founders moved in. So he had an experience of something that really transcended race, transcended class, and he saw the possibility, and indeed the huge necessity for bringing all of these energies together if the experiment were even to survive. And we might say, I think without hyperbole, that we’re back in that same situation again today, that the bitter fragmentation and polarization that we’ve experienced in the last twenty years in our politics has been tremendously debilitating and exhausting, and it has actually lowered our respect around the world, and thus our possibility to bring forth whatever gift this nation has in its peculiar personal history to give to the world. And so, if we look at these candidacies now – we’re gonna get on to Hillary Clinton in a moment, but let’s just finish here with the Barack Obama candidacy. He got the endorsement of John Kerry, who incidentally is my old college debate partner, so I know him, and I was very interested to see his speech, which was unusually powerful and passionate. In fact, it was remarked by one of the commentators that this was the John Kerry of old, when he was younger and passionate, and idealistic, and who had felt constrained since then by continually running for office, and he had an opportunity here to express his own deeper aspirations, and he said, and I quote, “I support Obama because he doesn’t seek to perfect the politics of Swiftboating, but to end it. I support Barack Obama because he will bring the country together again, lead the world and show by example, not by words, that here in America anything is really possible for those who dare to dream.” So in a sense, he’s cutting through this sort of, more petty debate about words versus action. Everybody knows that you have to have action, but you also have to have words that inspire. But in the end of the day, what Kerry is suggesting here is the mere fact that America might elect a black man in itself will send a message not only to the rest of the country, but to the rest of the world because he’s not running on a, we might say, divisive agenda as a black man. This is not a black man who’s running black versus white, who’s playing the race card. This is someone who’s actually trying to go beyond the race card. And that’s what was meant by Michael Powell when he said we could turn the sad narrative of our slavery into something that is inspirational so that the country can heal and go beyond that. What do you think about that Kerry endorsement?

Joseph Ellis: I think he’s right. I think that the world would regard the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States as an extraordinary statement about what’s possible in the United States.

Duncan Campbell: And in their own countries, that was his suggestion.

Joseph Ellis: Right, right. I think that – I mean, I want to lay all my cards on the table here, I am a Barack supporter. I think I need to be detached when we’re talking history here, but I’m quite committed, and my eldest son is working for him, was working for him in New Hampshire. But there’s no question that he wants to bring us together both racially, and regionally, and idealogically. At least for the last eight years, the Rove-ian theory of election was to not go to the center and bring people together, but go to the margins of your base, in his case, Evangelical Christians and corporate America, and then win the election by half a percentage point, and then govern from that position. While Bush promised us to be a compassionate conservative, he certainly has governed from the right. And he promised not to become policemen of the world, and after 9/11 we find ourselves mired in a quagmire in Iraq, and so in some sense, I think historically we’re gonna look at the last eight years as a kind of political, and in fact foreign policy aberration, and Obama’s wanting to bring us back to a kind of conversation as Americans that, at least for the last eight years has been shunned, and also a conversation with other nations in the world, including other nations that we don’t agree with, like Iran. So, you know, I really, I am feeling extremely optimistic about the fact -- whether or not Obama wins, he’s created something new in American politics.

Duncan Campbell: And in fact we might call it the Kite Runner effect, you know, after that hugely popular novel and the new movie, where the key point begins in the novel when the protagonist, who’s now an adult and a refugee in Marin County gets a call from his mentor and his father’s friend from thirty years ago, when he’s been a child, you know, back in Afghanistan, and the man says to him, “Come back now, there is a way to be good again.”

Joseph Ellis: Wow.

Duncan Campbell: And here we see in Frank Rich’s column last Sunday, his Epiphany column on January 6 in the New York Times, he said, “After so many years of fear and loathing, we had almost forgotten what it’s like to feel good about our country.” The same thing was remarked upon by Bob Herbert, and now Gail Collins, in the New York Times, had this to say, she said, “The Democratic contest is extremely unusual for an American election in that it contains more than one viable option. Barack Obama turns out to have a positive genius for making moderation sound exciting, and is perhaps the only politician in American history who can get a crowd all worked up with a call to politeness. ‘We can disagree without being disagreeable,’ he said in his New Hampshire farewell, drawing a roar of approval.” And so I think there’s a nerve there that’s very important. It’s the power of rhetoric, we could go all the way back to Dante in Italy, and The Divine Comedy, and his vision of Hell, or Inferno was full of people that today we would call political consultants, or false statesmen, who had smooth talk but did not have talk that really fired you up or inspired you to actually go beyond self-interest in a way that was empowering to the people rather than empowering to the leaders. And then he had to go through Purgatory as we know, up to Paradise, in that great book The Divine Comedy, and so a purgation, some kind of recognition that there is something that is underpinning our collective that needs to be dealt with which is this spirit of negativity and divisiveness that until we do that, and purge that, and the stain of which we might call this original sin, the true energy and possibility that’s here cannot be liberated. And so now let’s turn our attention to Hillary Clinton and to John Edwards, and how do you see their candidacies in the light of these historical perspectives. We do see something unique here in the possibility of Obama. What do we see that’s unique and relates to these themes in Hillary Clinton and in John Edwards?

Joseph Ellis: I think to some extent, Hillary Clinton’s viable candidacy, no question about it, makes me go back to the letter that Abigail Adams wrote to John in March 31, 1776, it’s a famous letter, it’s called “Remember the Ladies” and in that, she suggests that the very ideas that Adams and his colleagues at the Continental Congress had been hurling at George III and Parliament had implications for the relationship between men and women too, and that it implied at least a level of equality both politically and within the family that John himself was not prepared to acknowledge, and in effect, the implications of that ideology are now staring us right in the face with Hillary Clinton as one of the front runners on the Democratic side. So, you know, first it was Seneca Falls, then it was the vote, and then the civil right to bring women as well as blacks into the conversation. And now, you know, gender as much as race has been a stain, with the way in which discrimination and patriarchal values have dominated our culture. I think it’s impossible to have imagined either a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton in this position twenty, twenty-five years ago, so this is really -- we’re crossing some kind of threshold here.

Duncan Campbell: And I saw some Latin American commentators recently had said, it would be a good thing either way, if we saw a woman in the White House in the United States, that would be very good. But we already have actually women in Chile and Argentina. If we were to see a brown face in the White house, that would be revolutionary. So there are people around the world that are going to be affected by this election one way or the other. And I think that one of the things that we need to address here as we move on here to the Republicans is this shadow that was cast over the New Hampshire election. There was, as we know, exit polling that took place on the Republican side and on the Democratic side by the same pollsters and they were exactly accurate on the Republican side, but they were way off on the Democratic side. Now, we’re not talking about polling prior to the election, but we’re talking about exit polling. And this raises some uncomfortable things, that again, there have been articles in the New York Times, that I think we need to face. One of them is that there could have been, and most likely was according to these commentators, a hidden racial factor, the shadow side of our national wound. And also even moreso, Dennis Kucinich has come out today and asked for a recount, suggesting that there may have been some way that people were to manipulate the voting machines there. Now, we don’t want to spend too much time on these two things, but we want to acknowledge that there are also underbellies here in our electoral process which reflect the kind of things that happened at the founding of our nation, and how people were not always completely full of integrity, the way the dealt with the voting process. Perhaps you’d like to address those two things?

Joseph Ellis: Yeah, the polls – eight separate polls, four of them quite distinguished pollsters, regarded Obama on the eve of the election as having between an eight and a thirteen point lead, and the exit polls confirmed that. And very distinguished pollsters have never seen something like this, where all of them were wrong, and wrong in a big way, even though Obama lost by a very narrow margin, nevertheless, that’s a swing of ten percent, which is unheard of. And there’s the kind of “boo hoo” explanation to it, that right before the election, that right before the election, Hillary had an emotional moment. She didn’t really cry, but the moment of honesty and emotional vulnerability that might have influenced a good many older women voters who did turn out in greater number than anticipated for Hillary. I think that we have to also hold open the very real possibility that polls that have, that are polls for black candidates as Obama is, have a history of over-representing his votes, because people, especially working-class whites, will often be unwilling to acknowledge that they simply cannot vote for a black man. And  so we don’t know the answer to this, but if I were to follow it through I would say that we have to face the fact that even though we’ve ended slavery, even though we’ve put civil rights in place, even though this is a serious black candidate, that a large number of New Hampshire and Iowa whites have voted for, and both of those states are 97-98% white, so those are all things to be applauded, there is probably still a residual racism present in this society that we really simply cannot ignore.

Duncan Campbell: And in fact, there was a very serious piece by Andrew Kohut in the New York Times, he’s the president of the Pew Research Center, and we can recommend that people go to that, where he said from his own experience with David Dinkins in New York City, that he was up by a margin of victory of 15 in their polls, and he ended up being elected by a 2% margin, and that’s something that Andrew Kohut experienced personally. And then there was Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia, another very highly respected pollster, who had been intimately involved in 1989 with the Doug Wilder election in Virginia --

Joseph Ellis: Virginia, right.

Duncan Campbell: Yeah, which had the same thing, where he was way ahead, 52% to 41% on the exit poll, and then he turned out to win by 50.2% to 49.8%, so what Andrew Kohut said is that he found that oftentimes that the people that you describe do not respond to surveys and tend to have a more unfavorable view of blacks, I’m quoting the respondents that do the interviews, “And it’s not so much because respondents were lying to our interviewers, although that may have happened, but because poor, less well-educated voters were less likely to agree to answer our questions.” And therefore, they tried to provide for that in their estimations, but in his case, in New York City, with the election of David Dinkins, he was way off, by about 13% because of this hidden factor, so he concludes that there is this shadow race factor that is simply there.

Joseph Ellis: Just two quickies on this, Duncan, that is, I think that one of the things he’s saying is that when pollsters ask people a question, they indicate they’re open to, let’s say in this case, an Obama choice, when in fact, they really aren’t.

Duncan Campbell: Right.

Joseph Ellis: And so that the polls don’t accurately reflect their opinion. Secondly, one of the reasons this did not show up at all in Iowa is that Iowa wasn’t really an election; it was a series of caucuses. So voters didn’t get to go into a booth, close the curtain, and make their choice unknown. They had to argue it out publicly. In that kind of public situation, an overtly racist position is unacceptable.

Duncan Campbell: That’s right, and one of the things that this discussion does is illuminate how interesting it’s going to be to watch both Nevada and South Carolina now as they come up, because Nevada is a caucus state and South Carolina is a primary state, where you have secret ballot and so on, as they did in New Hampshire. The other thing that’s very interesting about South Carolina, it has been often said that 50% of registered Democrats in South Carolina are African American, but also another way of looking at it is that 30% of registered Democratic electors are African American women. So these two wounds that we’re talking about, the slavery wound and the gender wound will be coming together in that particular primary in a way that should be a real bellwether of how this may play out in the rest of the elections. So that’s just something to really be aware of.

Joseph Ellis: I think what I’ve seen thus far is that up until Iowa, a great many black voters suggested they really would find it difficult to believe that a predominately white nation would actually select a black man to be their leader, and after Iowa, which is again, 97-98% white, and even New Hampshire, which he lost, but barely, I mean, you’ve got to suggest that there are an awful lot of white voters who are quite willing to vote for Barack Obama, and I think that makes a difference in the South Carolina election, because I really think that the blacks for the first time think that they really do have a potential winner, not just some sort of Jesse Jackson candidacy that allows them to express their frustration.

Duncan Campbell: In fact, I think that’s going to be one of the most interesting things in the entire election, because this will be the first time we’re really having the opportunity to gauge that, not only in the pre-polls, or even in the exit polls, but in the actual results. And so whether or not this pattern continues that was observed in New Hampshire, this disturbing pattern, we will begin to see as we go through these other elections, and we’re putting aside for the moment the point raised by Kucinich, that there still are a number of voting machines in New Hampshire, all through New England, and elsewhere in the country that are not secure in terms of our voting, so that raises a sense of wonder, well what could have factored into a seemingly very anomalous result. So if we continue to get a pattern of very anomalous results as happened with John Kerry himself, you’ll recall in Ohio that his camp, his camp did not allow themselves to be enthusiastic that he may have won the November 2004 election until after the exit polls came in and then it was once again this huge anomaly between what the exit polls showed after people had voted and what the count actually showed in a Republican state where the Secretary of State was in charge of the electoral process, a Republican Secretary of State. So this kind of insecurity about being able to trust our vote, I think is also something that we have to keep an eye on as this primary system goes forward. The caucus system is self-regulating as you say because people are in a room with each other, and you can’t fudge that, but I think there’s a very serious concern here that has been raised in the past, and they say they were trying to deal with it, but we’re finding that a lot of people didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, and so --

Joseph Ellis: South Carolina will be really interesting, because it’s gonna be the first state where there’s an actual election where there’s a significant black vote. New Hampshire and Iowa were negligible black presences, and it’s gonna be very interesting because, you know, many blacks up until recently regarded Bill Clinton as the first black president.  In fact, Clinton was, I think, inducted into the Arkansas African American Hall of Fame, so he’s regarded as a champion, and then Hillary, I think benefits from that. Black women are going to have an interesting choice to make.

Duncan Campbell: Well, it’s also going to be, and we’ll switch to this topic now, the old and the new, the establishment and the true change is another one of the themes that has been coming up in these primaries. And before we get into that, I just want to let our listeners know that I’m your host, Duncan Campbell and I’m speaking with my guest Joseph Ellis, called “the founders historian” by the New York Review of Books, author of many books on the creation of our country, the most recent of which is named American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, said by the Boston Globe and the New York Times Book Review to be something that will be read by many, it will be a certain best-seller, and it is a tremendous gold mine of all the work you’ve done, Joe, to really educate us as to what the historical events are that continue to percolate through our society and could really illuminate some of the things that at times, may seem confusing in the present. And that’s why we’re addressing this topic of the presidential primaries with Joe, from that perspective.

Joseph Ellis: Well, I really -- I just wanna put a word in for you, I think that I’ve come on your program many times now, and it’s in part because I really think that the kind of conversations that I wanna have, you’ve been able to provide a framework for those. And sometimes those of us on the east coast think the only place in America, you know, that old New Yorker cartoon --

Duncan Campbell: Yeah, Saul Steinburg cartoon…

Joseph Ellis: Yeah, so I’m very thankful to you for allowing me to talk to the people of the Rocky Mountain Area.

Duncan Campbell: Well, thank you so much Joe, I mean I really appreciate that, because indeed, you know, things have changed over time. That Saul Steinburg cartoon we’re referring to is where you go, you know 11th Street, 12th Street, 13th Street, San Fransisco…

Joseph Ellis: [laughs] That’s right.

Duncan Campbell: Indeed, you know, the conversation that’s happening out here in the west is a very powerful conversation because we are here in Colorado, what is known as a purple state, we’ve just gotten a Democratic governor instead of a Republican governor, and in the 2006 elections we also got a Democratic-controlled Senate in Congress for the first time in many years as opposed to Republican-controlled, so the Democratic convention will be here in Denver, and it represents the power of the west at this point to represent the significance that it represents a way where the blue states and the red states hopefully could find common ground and come together. They call it a purple state, and so it’s one that’s not, you know, sort of set in its ways as some of the so-called red and blue states are, and so these themes are very much on the minds of people out here and I think they could have a very important effect as we know on the election itself. So there’s an interesting segue that we could make from what we’ve talked about so far, we could move over to the Republican side and see their concern with national security, their concern with what they call fiscal conservativism, and what they call their concern with social conservativism. Now, how do we see the Republican party and its current position, and its current candidates through this historical lens, Joe?

Joseph Ellis: Well, I think that the Republican party has its work cut out for it, because the Bush administration has taken America further to the right than the American people as a whole prefer, and I don’t think any of the major Republican candidates is asking George Bush to appear with them or embracing him. I do think that the shadow of 9/11 remains a larger influence on the Republican side of the argument, and certainly Giuliani’s entire candidacy is based on some response to that, and I think that Huckabee’s candidacy, Huckabee is apparently an extraordinarily likeable guy, and  –

Duncan Campbell: Yeah, even the hard cynical press has acknowledged that. They can’t dismiss him as just a lightweight. He’s got a sense of humor --

Joseph Ellis: Humor, yeah, and he seems to be very comfortable in his own skin, but his constituency is the Evangelical constituency. And I mean, are we prepared to think that we could have a president who doesn’t believe in evolution, and thinks the world was created in 4004 BC? I hope I’m not being prejudicial, but I do think that’s a problem. I think that what the neo-con position now means in foreign policy is now a real problem for them, because Iraq is a calamitous failure, and an extremely costly failure, both in lives and treasure, and to embrace that -- McCain himself, you know, believes we’re winning there. And I think I’m showing my own political colors here a little bit too much, but if the Democrats lose this presidential election, they’re never gonna win an election again in all of American history.

For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell