I spoke with Lou Dobbs, anchor and managing editor of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and author of The War on the Middle Class on Monday, October 30th. Here is part of our conversation:
Eric Kuhn: I want to start by getting your reaction to something Lynne Cheney said on The Situation Room last Friday . She told Wolf Blitzer that CNN's "Broken Government" special is "straight out of Democratic talking points...We've been through 9/11, we've been through Katrina. We're in a country where the economy's healthy. What this government has done is effective. That's not broken government." What is your reaction to this?
Lou Dobbs: As I told Wolf later that evening, I said, "That is simply power bridling at truth." The truth is that Lynne Cheney is an ideologue and a partisan, and understandably so, and I'm not. Our government, by any definition, is not functioning as our government was intended. For her to cite Katrina and the government's response, to cite any of those examples, to me, is breathtaking because those are examples of the government not working as it should.
You told the New York Times on February 15, 2006 that "There's nothing fair and balanced about me, because there is nothing fair and balanced about the truth. 'He says, she says' journalism is a monstrous cop-out." What do you mean by that?
I mean the tendency, particularly in television news, to put up two sound bites from a Republican and Democrat and say that we have done our job - "Fair and Balanced" - really adds nothing to the public knowledge. It's our responsibilities as journalists to get to an independent, nonpartisan reality. And that's what I try to do each evening on my broadcast. That's what I tried to do in my new book. I don't take either Republicans or Democrats seriously because they don't take working men and women very seriously, or their families. They are really leading the assault on our middle class.
What do you say to people who say the media has a "Liberal Bias" or the liberals who say it has a Republican slant, like Fox News?
I think you could probably make the case that they are both right. But that isn't what concerns me and I don't think it should concern anyone else. People in this country are so much smarter than they're given credit for being. It doesn't take much for them to discern a bias. But what does concern me is the bias towards orthodoxy. Whether the issue is free trade, or illegal immigration, or the outsourcing of jobs, or healthcare or any number of issues, the fact is the national media tends to be reflexive and unthinking and not diligent in pursuit of the facts. That is what should really concern people.
Let's, then, head into some of the issues. We do hear that the Dow Jones is breaking record after record. Do you believe our economy today is strong and booming?
I think parts of it certainly are, and for certain people, remarkably strong. Unfortunately for the vast numbers of Americans, particularly the middle class, this economy is not booming. We have health care rising in double digits each year. Health care insurance is being shunned by an increasing number of employers. Wages are stagnant. Tuition costs - I am talking about state universities in this country - in some states, is rising 30 to 40 percent each year. That's unconscionable. To ask working men and women and their families to contend with this is insane, because both political parties have put our working middle class into competition with the cheapest labor in the world. It is utterly unfair.
On the 26th the President signed into law a bill, kick starting construction of a 700-mile fence, and claimed it was "an important step toward immigration reform." If the Democrats win the House and/or Senate, how do you believe the immigration debate in Washington will change?
Obviously both political parties support illegal immigration, because, as I said, they are in lock stock and barrel by corporate America. The only difference is the House. The Republicans there have put border security - imagine this five years after September 11th - as a priority. Without the Republicans in the House we would have wide-open borders and amnesty for illegal immigration. That said, both political parties have embraced corporate America's desire for cheap labor to compete with the lowest wage earners in this country. That is just simply disastrous. When I look to this election on November 7th, despite everything that you are hearing, in my opinion I think those elections will be decided on issues important within those congressional district, because both parties have supported the war in Iraq. Neither party has come up with an intelligent, rational, effective strategy to extricate us or secure victory in a reasonable time. Those are the realities. That offends the partisans. That offends those who are ideologues on either end of the spectrum. But it's the reality.
You mentioned it took almost five years to talk about border security. What is going on in Washington? What has taken so long?
We have a government that is no longer serving the interest of the middle class (all but the very rich and all but the very poor) in this America. There are 250 - 280 million Americans, whose attention - when it can be held - is diverted by wedge issues like gun control, stem cell research, "under God" and the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage...my God, the list goes on! These are all issues about which the Congress or the President will never do anything and in most cases has no power to do so. But, they do have the power to correct a failing educational system, to install border security, and be effective about it, to inspect cargo in our ports, to raise the minimum wage and to look to the interest of the people who make this country work. That is the middle class.
Do you see yourself as another an Edward R. Murrow? Are you making politicians finally talk about immigration?
Well, I have been talking and reporting on immigration now for four years. I don't see myself as Edward R. Murrow, I'd never be that presumptuous. But I do see as my responsibility to bring my audience - which is a very sophisticated, intelligent and demanding audience - that independent, nonpartisan reality. Unlike others, I don't come to it from a partisan or ideological perspective. It is really a disservice to the country to suggest that partisanship here will amount to anything, because I really truly don't think there is any experience over the last 20 years to suggest that it will.
Bill O'Reilly said on David Letterman last week, "Americans are depressed. People don't want to watch the news. They don't want to hear about Iraq, Iran, the nutty North Korean guy." I read your books and a lot of what you write and by the time I finish I find myself searching for the Xanax. Where is the hope in all of this?
One thing this over medicated nation does not need is anymore Xanax or others drugs running around. This country has to learn to deal with the issues as they're confronted. If Americans are depressed...then God bless the poor darlings. The fact is, if we are not strong enough to deal with these issues, the fate of the nation is sealed. I have no sympathy for those who lack either the character or courage to put the interest of this nation first, the common good first and begin to deal with issues. We have lost an entire generation because of our failing schools. Our public schools are the great equalizer. My God, if I hear anybody's depressed, pity them. But let me tell you. A household in this country that is fortunate enough to have two parents, the likelihood both are working and busting their chops to provide for their families and make ends meet. Those are the folks we have to care about and we have to get this country and this economy straightened out so the people who are making it work are actually rewarded. Corporate America has never had a larger share of our national income. Our working people have never had a smaller share, certainly not since World War Two. We've got to fix that and we have to do it now.
At the end of your book you have America's most sacred documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Amendments to the Constitution. Why did you decide to put those at the end of your book?
Because everywhere I go in the county, I typically ask, "How many of you have typically looked at the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?" Very few hands are raised. I keep a Constitution on my desk and have for many years. The Constitution begins with three words that are critically important: "We the People." The people have to - have to - assert themselves in order to restore this great democracy. And it means that we have to be involved in the participatory democracy. In those two documents are our national values. Personally, I'm not interested in a discussion of family values and wedge issues and political talking points from the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I am urging people to turn to our national values. First and foremost this is a nation founded on the bases of equality: equality of rights, equality of opportunity, equality of educational opportunity [and] equality of economic opportunity. It is your responsibility, and mine, and everyone else to ensure that we return to that fundamental value.
I am a sophomore in college. When I graduate, what world should I expect to enter?
You are going to enter a world, in all likelihood, will be a fiercely competitive one. You are entering a world that will have been shaped by corporate America, political and academic elites and business elites who really care very little about you, rather than a unit of labor or a tax payer. You are going to have to assert, again, a fundamental value that you are going to be first and foremost a citizen and that you and everyone around you, you will insist, I hope, regard this as a nation first and a market place or an economy somewhere down the line, but certainly not primarily. First you are a citizen. First this is a nation. Our political system is what makes this great economy possible. It is not our economy that makes our political system and this great democracy possible.
Finally, Patty Davidson of the New Yorker once said, "You have to laugh, or you'll cry." Clearly all of this is no joking matter, but what do you do to make you laugh, keep you sane?
I spend a lot of time with my wife and my four kids. I fish, I play golf and occasionally I have one little, tiny sip of vodka. And I read nearly everything that is out there, I am a voracious reader - trashy novels as well as nonfiction and important issue books.