Quickly! What's the first thing that comes into your mind when I say, "Jerry Springer?"
If you're like most people, it'll be that talk show he's hosted since September 1991. If you possess more arcane information, you might also think of Jerry Springer: The Opera "Weird Al" Yankovic's song about him. If I asked you to think of Jerry Springer and politics, you might recall that he was mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio.
But, if any of that is all you know about Springer, you're missing out.
Springer is here in Las Vegas to host America's Got Talent at Planet Hollywood through December 11. His schedule is insanely busy as he commutes between the live stage show in Las Vegas and the taping of his syndicated TV show in Stamford, CT. But, happily for me, he found time to sit for a few minutes and talk politics which, he says, "is my passion. The show is my job."
He was born in London -- precisely in the Highgate tube station -- the child of Margo and Richard Springer, refugees from the Holocaust. When he was five the family emigrated to the USA, settling in Queens, NY. They came here, Springer says during the show, "because America was the land where anything was possible and where you could be any religion you wanted to be." He still believes that and that belief has guided much of his life.
Springer's interest in politics was kindled early. He recalls:
Every night at dinner we'd go around the table and talk about a story we read in the paper that day. I'd talk about sports. That was my interest and they let me. As I got older I'd and I realized what my parents were interested in, I began to read about and talk about politics.
He became interested in the civil rights movement. "It was clear. There were good guys and bad guys. It was about justice."
As he grew up:
My interest in the civil rights movement morphed into the anti-war movement. When we left Vietnam, I thought it would go back to being communist. It began as a good deed but, in the end, you have to ask, why 58,000 Americans died for a result that was predetermined.
Looking back, Vietnam never made sense, just like the Iraq War. In both cases you had the so-called best and the brightest making decisions. The lesson there probably is that being intelligent doesn't necessarily mean you make good judgment calls. At some point you start getting enough information to stop. At first Vietnam was a humanitarian move, but you have to recognize where you can have influence and where you can't.
Springer earned an undergraduate degree in political science at Tulane in New Orleans and then went to law school at Northwestern in Evanston, IL. In Chicago in 1968, he was one of the student protesters in Grant Park during the Democratic convention. A few months later he cast his first vote presidential vote for Hubert Humphrey. He's stayed involved ever since.
At the 2004 Democratic National Convention I was an Ohio delegate and a big contributor for John Edwards because I liked him on domestic issues. Of course, by the time the convention comes, everything has been decided through the primary process. And, I do think we'd be better served with four regional primaries, rather than individual states having them.
The 2008 election of Barack Obama, Springer believes, "said more about us than about him. Grant park where, 40 years ago the Democratic Convention demonstrations took place was a great setting for his victory. I think in time no one is ever going to remember his race was an issue."
Okay, but how has the President done in office? Springer is a fan and he is clear in his reasoning: "The expectations people had of him were phenomenal. And it was going to be tough for him. To his credit he's taken everything on."
He inherited a disastrous mess. I like his activism but we've got to do more in the area of employment and the President shouldn't shy away from it. Right now we've got to put everybody to work and if that means government projects, then we have to start them. And we need health care, but it's going to cost money. If there's a hole in your roof you have to pay to fix it, you don't just let it go and let the roof collapse. The same is true with the country.
You can look around this country and put everyone to work with government projects. More workers mean more taxes and we shouldn't forget that the price we pay for kids growing up in unemployed families is phenomenal. How can we pass onto our children a nation that is over 10 percent unemployed? The President doing exactly what a president should do.You may not like all the the programs but they're working. He stemmed the financial panic. And at least some of our economy is returning.
There is so much to do and he's got to push through until it gets done. Once people are working -- even in government-funded jobs -- they have to take a lunch break. They go to the local cafeteria and spend money. The cafeteria has to buy more food. There's a ripple effect. It will cost money to get going and he shouldn't be afraid to say that.
And Springer, for one, is pleased about Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I understand what the Nobel committee was thinking. America was in a downward spiral and that could, in the long-term, be very dangerous to the world. If we became the bad guy there would be no help for anyone. Barack Obama got the world to understand what America is all about. It's about being a good citizen, about working with others. Now we're back to the America everyone thought we could be.
Obama changed the tone and tone is important. To have the most visible spokesperson in the world speaking about inclusiveness is so important. We're not stronger than all the world combined. We're strong, but we're part of the world. Now, when it comes time to choose sides, they'll choose us. It's not America against the world.
"And that," Springer says, "is good for everyone."
Follow Ellen Sterling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EllenSays