The Polarized Polis: Public Debate in the United States - Part 1
Panelists: Amy Gutmann, moderator, John Dilulio, John Jackson, Jr., Kathleen Hall Jamison, Jim Leach, Andrea Mitchell.
Amy Gutmann: It's my pleasure to welcome you to the David and Lyn Silfen University Forum. I'm Amy Gutmann. I'm president of the University of Pennsylvania, and I'll be the moderator of this evening's panel. Now I'm particularly delighted to extend a special greeting to David and Lyn Silfen. Their generosity has enabled this and all future university forums. So please join me in thanking David and Lyn, will you please stand up. Stand up.
The Silfen series addresses timely questions of national and global import. And this evening three distinguished Penn Faculty members and two very special guests have joined us to discuss the polarized polis, the state of public debate in the United States. Let's meet our panelists now.
John Dilulio, is a political scientist and public policy expert who has commentated extensively on American politics. He has advised presidential candidates in both parties, and he has served as the first director of the White House office, of faith based community initiatives. John Dilulio.
John Dilulio: Thank you.
Amy Gutmann: Penn Alumna, and award-winning journalist Andrea Mitchell has spent her journalistic career in the ever evolving, shall we say, world of the media. Today she serves as a Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC, and hosts MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports, which is a daily program featuring political news and interviews with top news makers. Andrea Mitchell is also, I'm very proud and pleased to say, a member of the executive committee of our board of trustees. Welcome Andrea.
Andrea Mitchell: Thank you.
Amy Gutmann: John Jackson, Jr., blends expertise in anthropology and communication to analyze media. He is a prolific author, a documentary film maker, and a blogger. Most notably for the Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm project. Probably not what you first think of when you think of blogging. Welcome John.
Kathleen Hall Jamison is, I would say, the leading voice in the field of political communication. She recently authored Unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. She helped to create factcheck.org, which assesses the accuracy of political communication in the United States. Thank you Kathleen for joining us this evening.
The honorable Jim Leach is chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In December, he commenced a 50 states civility tour and he's already done 20 of those states to try to make clear in his words, "That coarseness in public manners, can jeopardize social cohesion." With 30 of experience in the Untied States House of Representatives, Congressman Leach has seen firsthand the changing tenure of debate in Washington and we very much look forward to his comments today. Thank you Congressman Leach for being here.
Now we're going to focus our discussion this evening on polarized rhetoric and its effects on our culture, on our behavior, on our politics. Speaking on Fox News about President Barrack Obama, Glenn Beck, "I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. He has a, ‘This guys is, I believe, a racist.’" And speaking on his MSNBC show about healthcare reform, Ed Shultz asserts, "The republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They'd rather make money off your dead corpse."
So, do these sound bites accurately reflect the state of public debate in America? Is polarizing, posturing, the new status quo? If so, what in the world do we want to do about it, if not, what are we missing? I'm going to begin by sitting down, directing questions to each of our panelists, and we'll let the discussion begin. Thank you all for being here. So let's begin with civility, Jim.
Hon. Jim Leach: Yes.
Amy Gutmann: It's always dangerous to sit closest to the teacher here, and especially to make eye contact; but none of you can avoid it, so let's begin with Jim. Some of you and probably most of you know that in 1993 Sheldon Hackney, who is a former president of this university, then chairman of the NEH, started a national conversation to get citizens talking about civility and the state of public debate.
Kathleen and I think were brought into that conversation and in a similar spirit, Jim, you recently began this tour, this civility tour. Since civility in America seems to have been in such a long state of decline, I have to ask you, what's your hope that you can make a difference? I'm not going to ask easy questions.
Hon. Jim Leach: First I want to comment on the assumption. There are a lot of things different about today than in our History, but after all, we did have a Vice President of the United States shoot dead the secretary of the treasure, and so we've had... and that was legalized in civility. It was a legal duel in the neighboring state of New Jersey.
Amy Gutmann: So let it be said that things could be worse.
Hon. Jim Leach: Things could be worse. But-
Amy Gutmann: I think that's a general law, actually.
Hon. Jim Leach: ...but there are things that have relatively speaking, gotten worse in the congressional setting, and there're aspects of the media that are different and I just want to touch on one, because this is Kathleen's field, and that is just simply that there are lots of examples of bad words used in the 19th century in every newspaper in the country. The omnipresence and almost narcotic dimension of television is very different and getting... the more sophisticated television becomes the more omnipresent becomes, and so it makes a difference in how people think and act.
In terms of “why proceed in this direction”, part of it is, not to proceed in this direction is to abdicate to other voices and other ways. Another reason is to voice a perspective and then to try to give voice to so many Americans that want to see something different. In this society we're becoming polarized in both political parties with the edges coming to control with the one aspect of our founders being mistaken. And that is, the founders assumed that your legislated bodies would be filled with people representing everybody, but right now the great American middle is hardly represented in your principle legislative chamber of the congress and increasing less so in the state legislature's as well.
Amy Gutmann: So, John Dilulio, you lead the Fox Leadership program and recently you've brought hundreds of students to work in the devastated area after hurricane Katrina. You've noticed and made it very vivid to me as well, how engaged, civically engaged Penn students are. Actual surveys show that college students now, care more about making a difference in the world than any group of young people since the '60s and they're not cynical the way those of us who were students in the '60s... I must admit, largely were. Myself excluded of course.
Do you worry and if so do you think there's anything that the civic engagement does to immunize those same students from becoming completely disillusioned when they hit, as citizens, the public debate and its polarized state in the United States? Not only its polarized state, but its mean, uncompromising quality?
John Dilulio: They love… the lies about the millennial generation being you know, "They're not interested in public affairs and civic life." They volunteer at higher rates, they are civically engaged. What they don't like is politics, conventionally understood, because they've grown up in this environment that the congressman just talked about of this incredible hyper polarization and partisan ideological terms, and by and large, you know they have their own good, liberal, and conservative, and other views. They reject it.
The volunteerism part of it is interesting. You mentioned the post-Katrina New Orleans group, one of our student groups that went down there, went down in part, not just to help in the recover, human physical financial recovery process, but also to have the kind of dialogue about middle eastern politics that you don't hear in a civil way in Washington, if you ever did. This was a group of our students, our Muslim Students Association and our Penn, they created a nice acronym, they call themselves MAJIC, Muslims and Jews in Cahoots. What did they do? They went down there… (laughter)
Amy Gutmann: We need more groups like that.
John Dilulio: ...we need more groups like that. They worked side by side, they sweat together, they ate together, they figured out how to get around New Orleans together, but what they then did was talk about middle east poli, and they disagreed. There's a lot of fundamental disagreement. But, that's... I think is... they have found, not a magical solution but if more adults and more people in power would do that kind of thing. It matters how you hear somebody, even who's expressing a view that is diametrically opposed to your own, if you can sort of check in to their humanity a little bit and see that there is some common ground that you share. So I think ... look, there's a lot of hope for these kids and a lot of them are going to go into electoral politics, I hope, eventually, and get involved at that level as well.
But it's not the case now that they can look to Washington, that they can look at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and I'm not talking about just the present encumbrance--this fish has been rotting from the head down and the tail up for a long time--and see inspiration. And see the kinds of things that frankly, you know, folks of an earlier generation saw in their leaders. Not just strong political views, but very strong concern for the public interest in the common good.
Amy Gutmann: So, John J., let's say. Syndicated columnist E.J. Dion laments, and he's one of many who lament the decline of civic education in our nation's schools. So here's the question for you, he writes, "At a time when our Country's busily selling the democratic idea to the rest of the world, we need to tend our own civic life. Can schools and universities like Penn play a role in this?
John Jackson, Jr: I would argue that this is probably one of our most important roles, is to try to begin to get people to think about how to not just debate important issues, but to do so in a way that allows us to try to find places we can reconcile that might be almost irreconcilable truths, I feel like. So in some ways, part of what we're seeing now with this heightened incivility is people being true to their emotions. Being true to their fears, their anger, their rage.
There's a lot about that, that is quite authentic I would argue. But it's at the expense of being true to facts of the matter, to specificities and details about the past, the present, and the possible future. I think the idea is, how do we find a way to be passionate, to teach students that you can be passionate about a position while also at the same time being competent about your interlocutor and debaters position so much so, that you can recognize some of the validity in their arguments, and to find a way to talk about what is at stake, not simply because you want to win the debate, but because you want to wrap your head around why someone else can come to the very same place from a completely different perspective.
I think if you can find a way to get ourselves, get our heads around other people's positions, I think we have a much better chance of continuing to have conversations that are fraded right, that are clearly intense. I argue my last book, we actually need a touch of incivility, at least in the conversations about race. Part of our problem is we've sanitized the public sphere, but we need incivility in moderation. The idea is just to find a way to do it so that we put the facts of the matter, we put the truth on the table, but not at the expense of really having long term conversations about the implications of our different perspectives.
Amy Gutmann: So Andrea, it didn't take but one question for someone to point to the media and what's happening on television. This actually follows from what John Said, because he says we have an obligation to teach this, but let's go back a little bit in media history. You and I are approximately the same generation, and we were kids in the…
Andrea Mitchell: She's flattering me.
Amy Gutmann: ...1960's, when... very young kids. And the media essentially had an unwritten agreement with The White House for example, not to report on President Kennedy's alleged marital allegations, infidelities. Today, front page stories abound, just abound, and they repeat, and they repeat, and they repeat on televisions about, for example, John Edwards illegitimate child. These are true stories. We're not talking what I began with, the false ones, because they also abound. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's weight. How…
John Dilulio: I don't like that one, by the way (laughter), absolutely out of bounds I was thinking. I want to go on the record today (laughter).
Amy Gutmann: These are not footnotes, these are full blown stories. How does a professional journalist like you, whether on nightly news or your MSNBC program, deal with this competition?
Andrea Mitchell: I think dealing with the competition is in a strange way, not the primary thing that I worry about. What I worry about is getting back to, what Professor Jackson said, is facts. We can have passionate debates if we're dealing with a set of facts or, we can argue the facts within some construct of evidence-based information. But what has happened and it is television, and it is cable, and it's the Internets; is that everyone is finding their own version of truth on talk radio. I mean, I sort of trace my own emersion in this when I was first covering congress fulltime. I came from The White House in 1989 and it was the winter of repealing catastrophic health insurance, seniors banging on Chairman Rostenkowski’s the hood of his car in Chicago and forcing congress to back down after a year of working on something.
The congressional pay raise, talk radio, it was really pre-talk television but it was, sort of the fermenting of anger in what... Kathleen is a better expert on this than I because she's always taken the step back and looked at it from both above, behind, and around…but it's just seemed as though we lost control. Not just of reasonable debate, but of fact-based debate.
Today I was at the nuclear summit interviewing Sam Nunn and Bill Cohen. Men who come from two different political parties, both of whom were members of the senate. And perhaps I've idealized the senate in those years when I was first covering it in the late '80s and '90s, but they were reasonable debates but they were debates held between Pat Monahan, and Jack Chafe, and John Danforth and people in both political parties that Chairman Leach worked with, with whom you worked, who cared about ideas, and they cared about compromise. And I have the take it back to talk radio, talk television, and our own news coverage and the velocity of information and false information that... and we can explore this more Kathleen through your work but… it is all happening so rapidly. There is no time spent absorbing and contemplating.
Last night on one of the television networks, there was an item briefly denying by tweet, Elizabeth Taylor denied that she's getting married for the ninth time. This was denying an item that had been on the previous day from one of the websites. One of the celebrity culture websites, correct. And, it was a funny item, but it could have been checked with Elizabeth Taylor the day before, it never would have aired. So there just seems to be a ... and I know it was my network, but they're... all of the networks do the same thing. Nobody checks anything, not nobody because that's an exaggeration, but people are just not taking the time to check things.
There was a time when I was covering the White House when you would not air a story that the associated press recorded until you had personally confirmed it. And, you know those days, are long gone in most instances so I think that is what contributes to the emotion and the passion that nobody is working off the same database.
Amy Gutmann: It seems that the two are connected. That is, the kind of information that gets the blood boiling and is titillating of private lives and faux pas and all of this, and the disregard for what's true because it all seems to be entertainment. So my question to Kathleen is, in the first quarter of 2010, pundits like Rachel Maddow and Bill O'Reilly saw their ratings growing by better than 20%, while more traditional news anchors on CNN, saw their stars fade. And this is what, with declines over 40% here, is what one commentator Efron recently observed in the week.
He said that a line up in which Wolf Blitzer is considered the exciting anchor, may just be too bland for our fanatic short attention span culture. And my question to you is, what does this mean for democracy when what succeeds or seems to succeed, most in the television media, is not as Andrea rightly suggests, that which is most fact based and most careful about reporting in a way that informs the public as opposed to incites, gets their juices going.
Kathleen Hall Jamison: First let me go back to an observation by Andrea, because I never disagree with her so this is a rare moment of my life.
Andrea Mitchell: Please do.
Kathleen Hall Jamison: But I do believe that right now there would be a reporter on some cable station who would take “Elizabeth Taylor denies about to be married for the ninth time,” and the report would say, "Ah, in a shocking revelation, Elizabeth Taylor says she doesn't plan to marry for the ninth time," and no one in that venue would have asked, "Why do we care?" And "How seriously should we take the denial, if we think it's newsworthy enough to carry it."
So the predicate of many of these discussions is, that we've shifted our concept of what is newsworthy in a way that privileges some things, and it means what is not being discussed is important. And then, how it's not being discussed is the second question. But if it's not being discussed to start with, you can't even ask how it ought to be discussed and so, I wouldn't start from the assumption by the way, that Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly don't do many things that are admirable, and don't cover much content that is valuable.
Those people are who are covering from an opinion perspective, however, are playing a different role in democracy than are those who are the keepers of what is granted as consensual fact. And I use that concept very carefully because it was the academy after all that for more than a decade denied that fact existed in some quarters and turned a whole generation of students to the notion that there was no such thing as an establishable anything. And…
Amy Gutmann: So let me just, because I know that you can go on about that, and I want you to, but I just want to punctuate it by, so we know where we are here, by asking you, so there's nothing wrong with pundits. I mean we need people with opinions and stirring up peoples’ juices, that gets people interested. But where do people now look to get the fact base? Other than factcheck.org, which of course, is important but isn't the same as the networks and the cable news programs. A lot of people have asked, where is the dividing line on a lot of the cable networks?
Kathleen Hall Jamison: Well first, let me say something about the so-called partisan media. There is a fact base for it, but the fact base is not in interpreting the views of the other side. It is in trying to protect one's own side from any assault that might violate a standard of accuracy, which is really very rigorous. So it's not that it doesn't exist, it's that there's a partisan filter under it. Where is it still? It's in the notion of balance as a norm in journalism. Aspiring to objectivity, as a norm in journalism. Not that anybody, every things, you achieve objectivity, but when that aspiration starts to erode, then the answer to your question is, it's increasing difficult to find it, and the question is, how do we preserve those spaces, and now back to your questions, it seems that audiences are gravitating away from it in an environment which we have the most highly college educated population we have ever had in the history of the Country.
Amy Gutmann: So, Jim, you bring just a huge amount of experience to this, you served in congress for 30 years. Beginning when you were just a teenager and people asked you why you said the most difficult question you eventually got asked is “why are you running?” But what do you make of Senator Evan Bahy's explanation that he retired as a result of, I want to quote this because it's so relevant to what we're talking about, "as a result of strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of finance, campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties, and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus."
I hope you all feel like I, but everything else is fine, right? Other than this. Are some of our most prominent political institutions to blame for these problems? You began by looking at the media, I want to bring it back to some of the political institutions that are also often named as sources of this problem.
Hon. Jim Leach: I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever that we're in need of some self assessment on the institutional practices that exist in America today. And frankly the most important relates to the whole issue of money and politics, and a circumstance that has gotten exacerbated in the last several months with the recent supreme court ruling. I have been one that, have never tried to criticize the court, but I think on this ruling, the Country has to pay attention and one of the aspects when you think of the tea party movements, and now the new coffee party counterpart, everybody has a legitimate reason to be concerned.
Anyone that doesn't totally respect these expressions of concern isn't thinking. Part of the reasons being concerned is that there is a sense that the great American democracy is not reflecting as much as it should, the will of the people, and that great segments of Americans are being left out. Whether it the philosophical middle, where there'd be the unmoneyed common man, whether it be the institutionalization where the concept isn't the common good, the concept is balance of interest groups where the poor are nonrepresented where many people are non represented. People are very, very upset.
The senate rules is one ramification of this, which by the way, one of the aspects that no one thinks about, is it disenfranchises the house of representatives. Where you have two comparable bodies but one has a rule system that makes it very difficult to reach equitable arrangements between the two bodies as well as within the body.
Then you have this whole issue of the nationalization of elections based upon the same moneyed interest supplying the funds at every election. Whether it be Iowa, or Philadelphia, or Los Angeles. It's a phenomenon just, unrecognized as a possibility by the founders.
Amy Gutmann: Andrea, things are not all black and white and Dwight Eisenhower actually said this, and he said, "There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes right and left are in the gutters." Now, are moderation and compromise just déclassé now? Is the only way to succeed to set up shop and what President Eisenhower thought were the gutters, or are we now basically living there and we just have to come to terms with the fact that this ain't the 1950's anymore where the country's in a different place. This is the tension between the view that there is a majority in this country that really wants something in the middle. Wants, what in democratic terms, has to be compromise. There's also a lot wrong with this country and there's a lot of reason for the extremes being angry and upset, whether it's the tea part or moveon.org.
Andrea Mitchell: There is a premium in the media placed on provocative conversation.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah.
Andrea Mitchell: We've seen that. There is so much that is fractured because of... The days when I was growing up and there were three network newscasts and we dominated the airwaves and we pretty much duplicated each other's broadcasts but we didn't have any competition and 80% of those watching television were watching one of those three networks. And now, the audiences are much smaller. Many people believe that the future is pay per view, is cable, and that in fact it is because NBC has a cable news operation which the other networks don't have at this moment, that we are surviving by being able to keep ... more and more of our profits are coming from the cable screen and not from the broadcasts. So the premier broadcast always has been NBC Nightly News, and the Today Program, which are at the top of their game in terms of audience share of the network viewers. Yet, the money stream is really coming from the cable side.
Amy Gutmann: And why?
Andrea Mitchell: Because there are just so many choices. More and more of your students, and your students if they watch news at all, are watching it on the internet or in some way, downloading it, certainly not sitting around an Ozzy and Harriet table at night watching an evening newscast at 6:30 PM, and that's just not happening anymore. So, there's so many choices. At the same time that all this explosion of media have erupted, you have through gerrymandered districts, a premium placed on the wings. The extremes in politics are what are successful. Take a look at the conversation in New Orleans over the weekend, these speeches. And you have a clear cut debate, Luke Bainbridge was arguing that the republican party should be the party of yes, it should be the party that promotes ideas and a new iteration of a contract for America, but some new policy.
Sarah Palin got up and said, "We should not only be the party of No, but as Bobby Jindal just said, we should be the party of Hell No." And those are the two choices right now in the republican party. Democratic party is similarly fractured but has, at least because it controls The White House, some notional part of the leadership that it tries to aspire to, and that's another conversation. But the fact is that the people who are succeeding now, in elective politics at the congressional level, and the legislative level, are often the people who are not middle of the road choices.
Amy Gutmann: So should we just... I'm going to just throw this open for a moment and then I'll bring it back to order. Should we just get used to it?
Andrea Mitchell: No.
Amy Gutmann: Why not? I mean, it doesn't ... It's not going to just go away and ... because what can we do about it?
Andrea Mitchell: Because at least three of us here, and you as well as being part of the academy, are elevated young people who are going to Haiti, going to New Orleans, doing other important work that is changing their perspective on their world, so there is enormous hope for this next generation.
Amy Gutmann: So let me give you an opposite example that may not strike you as opposite to begin with, but, I'll ask Kathleen this question because she and I have talked about this. What was widely covered with our president, gave the State of the Union, was the representative Joe Wilson saying, "You lie." That's... doesn't seem like the opposite, but he actually apologized afterwards. Does that make a difference Kathleen? And if so, does that give us some hope, that either there are limits? After all he didn't go so far as to kill the president, he burst out in a, what I think everybody thought was an uncivil way, and then he apologized.
Kathleen Hall Jamison: But then he went on a website and used the event to raise large amounts of money and implied that his… apology wasn't one that was going to hold. The thing that's missed in this exchange is that, there are rules in the house that were set by Jefferson, and whatever else we say about how we founded the country, those are awfully good rules. One of the reasons that Jefferson said in the House Representative’s rules, "You shouldn't engage in personalities." In essence, you shouldn't impugn the integrity of the other person. Once you do that, there is no further discussion. If I call you a liar, there is no point in you talking to me, or me talking with you and especially any opportunity for us to do anything together and the next move up is going to escalate to something that's worse.
But, in the context of that accusation in what, in democracy, should be sacred space, that is on the floor, at a point of which you have The Supreme Court, the President, and the representative bodies. So we see our democracy working to show us that we have three branches that can come together. That's violated sacred space in a very important way, but, the President of the United States did strongly imply shortly before that, that members of that very audience, and I believe Senator Grassley was the object, had been lying about his proposals too.
And as a result the question is, what let the speechwriter put those words and those implications to the mouth of The President, and what was it about the congressman that led him to suggest to himself that this was an appropriate venue to suggest anything like that. Or that whatever mic in that exchange, and it may be the general coarsening society. It may be that those things have been said so often at other venues you've lost the boundaries. It may be that in some quarters your reward structure is such that you get coverage for those sorts of things, and as a result you may produce an incentive for the Michelle Bachmann's of the world to emerge.
Amy Gutmann: Jim, in your 30 years in congress, did you witness, experience anything like what you're observing today? And if so-
Hon. Jim Leach: I can recall one worse incident and one fabulously better incident. The worst incident was a republican member of the house representatives attacked a fellow republic and in fact outed him on public television. I've never seen anything lower in my life.
The other that I think is a fabulous indication of the precedence of the house that Kathleen was talking about, was the speaker of the house then, Tip O'Neill, he was upset with the republicans’ comments about the democratic party and he took the floor and he said of the republican, never in his time here had he heard anything so low. At which point the republicans demanded his words be taken down, and they went to a thesaurus and found that the word low was synonymous with the word base, and the word base had been ruled out of order in the house of representatives, and the speaker of the house had to apologize to a republican member for using the word low. And I will tell you, most of us have used harsher words in our life.
So we have seen some things that are awkward, now we also had in the 19th century a house member caned a senator to death, most house members think that was a high moment of the 19th century, but that's another time.
Amy Gutmann: You said, Andrea said, we don't want to just settle for the way things are. There is a phenomenon that we've touched on, but we haven't said very much about, which is the web. We've talked about television, and Kathleen alluded to this because the way Wilson raised money, was you go on a blog, and you can raise a lot of money from your base. But the web isn't all bad, and John Jackson has a blog, brainstorm, where you actually talk about some of these issues. I wonder what your take is, on countering polarized hate with the kinds of blog that you do?
John Jackson, Jr.: I think I would agree with Andrea, that we don't want to concede to the kind of histrionic, and hyperbolic, and vitriolic rhetoric that seems to be hegemonic now. What I can tell you is someone who recognizes that there's something about the anonymity of web 2.0 that allows the kind of freaks to come out at night, as it were. That I think is really interesting, I mean, in some ways part of what we see on the web, lowers selves in some ways, because we have the protective cover of being secret.
One thing I find is it's really difficult, and this is something I struggle with literally every single day. I blogged before I came today and there was an instantiation of just this afternoon, it's hard not to feel like you have to fight fire with fire. So one thing you imagine is, someone comes after you they go for the jugular, you don't want to just defend yourself, you feel like you have to attack back and there's a way in which, part of what I've been trying to do, is use these moments of incivility and hostility, hopefully as pedagogical moments that should bring them back, thematize them in a blog, and get other folks to talk about why it is one, we're not even reading one another's pieces. So what's often interesting is, people are railing against me and making ad hominem attacks and they literally have not read the post, right?
They look at the thing and they go, let me ... I have a ready made script as to why I think everything you're saying must be cockamamie. So first we have to stop and say, "Let's listen to what one another actually want to articulate. Let's be committed to pro-active hearing," and I think that's already difficult because we already think we know what the other side's going to say before they open their mouths. I think what I've been trying to do now, is kind of practice what I preach online, is to say, "Well, I'm not just going to go back after people, but I'm going to try to listen to the critique, separate the riff from the raff and figure out really what are they trying to articulate. And then respond to them on that particular ground and try to do it in a way that's engaging but tries to be respectful, that tries to demonstrate a model, a form of civility and interactive possibility that I imagine, hopefully they'll be receptive to.
Sometimes they are, sometimes I get emails and phone calls, "This is actually quite inspiring," folks are saying, "You know what, I'm the person who said that and I apologize. I appreciated the way you responded." Sometimes they'll blog a response and say, "You know what? Fair enough. Fine. You heard me," or they'll just ignore me. But all three of those options are always on the table. I think our job is to not get seduced into what's easy about just sort of lashing back. It's hard to be reasonable in a world you feel like is completely irrational. But you gotta try to find a way to hold on to that.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah. John, our students tweet and they use Facebook and YouTube. Our students make some wonderful YouTube videos that are edifying and entertaining at the same time. How does that feed into your sense of what civic education in a university is about? Is it just a distraction or is there someway in which it actually can better connect [crosstalk 00:41:37] people.
John Dilulio: It's all the above, right? And these great young people are, I'm telling you, that my hope is we're not going to throw in the towel. We're just going to let the pig pester the python, and let the millennials take over. That's my solution because they are growing up in it and they see it for what it is, I really believe by and large. But, the other day, one of my great students, I don't know if he's here, Blake Harden, we were talking about this in the Religion in Public Policy class, and why is it that you have this fiery discourse and it's just as John is saying, the fight fire with fire aspect. Somebody says X, somebody has to say 2X, 5X, and before you know it, it's all over the place.
This kid said, Blake went and found on YouTube, he said, "Did you know Professor Dilulio, in the 1970's that Billy Graham debated Woody Allen?" And I said, "No, I missed that one, I was absent that day. Who won?"
"Oh," he says, "Nobody won." So he sent the link and I sent it out to the class, and you know, I'm not here to recommend or plug, I have no interest in ... but you know it was actually a fascinating discussion. Now-
Amy Gutmann: So the amount of information that the younger generation gets through the web is amazing.
John Dilulio: Right.
Amy Gutmann: And gives them much more knowledge than we ever had.
John Dilulio: And let me just say I prefer that, and Kathleen will correct me I know, if I'm wrong, and she will know if I'm wrong; because my sense is that they have... younger people are much better at sifting through all these stimuli, certainly than I am, and they also are a little bit less like ... it's such a norm for them to see this that they kind of, "Oh, that's just that wingnut stuff from both sides," and they sift through it and they crawl through and they find ... They're very good at finding the better aspects. The fact-based aspects of what's out there on the web I think, than somewhat older folks are.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah, Andrea you're on Twitter and Facebook, you Tweet, and you have friends and followers. How has it affected the way you approach the news?
Andrea Mitchell: What I'm seeing evolve on Twitter is, now that Hilary Clinton and Robert Gibbs and other officials are actually... instead of emailing us with announcements, they are tweeting. So it has now become a conversation where if I learn something... I was walking into the senate today and ran into a very senior European official who had been at the negotiations last night, known as the P5+1, where Clinton was meeting with these security council members and Germany to discuss the Chinese, and you know China was there, to discuss their response on Iran; and asked this senior official about the claims today that they had actually made progress and that the Chinese commitments were going to make an appreciable difference in the sanctions debate at the United Nations coming up.
This source whom I've trusted for quite a long time, and is at a very senior level said, "Absolutely not," that this was just another iteration of the Chinese getting passed this particular bump and then when we get to the security council, the resolution will be watered down in the same way. Well I tweeted that. So it's the fastest way ... My show wasn't going to be on the air for another hour and a half. The fastest way for me to get information is, and start a conversation and potentially get some information back; it certainly provoked a response from the State Department, which, elicited some phone calls. So, it is a new arena. I was the last person I swear, the last person at MSNBC, well maybe not because Keith Olbermann started this week, but the last person of my sort of level to get involved in this. All the other correspondents were doing it with… their own approach.
Amy Gutmann: But you get information very quickly.
Andrea Mitchell: Which, is... I mean some people are doing it, myself included, occasionally on weekends when, you know, we're talking about basketball, or golf. But generally it is a way of getting information out, and The White House and other agencies are now using it. So it's very useful, and this is sort of the upside of it. It's fast, and it's authoritative when it's coming from official sources. And, the media are in a very strange place as we struggle with the economic effect of what I was discussing earlier, because we still... something happens in Haiti, a disaster, and we're there.
The plane crash in Russia, and the response in Poland. We're all there. At the network level, at the cable level, and we're there with strong correspondents who know what they're talking about. If we're going into Kandahar, we're going to be there. In Marja we were there.
What we're not doing is a lot of expensive coverage that we in the past, would take for granted. Funding bureaus that always existed and it is very deeply saddening to me and to those of my generation who could always count on going here, there, and the other place. But we're still doing some extraordinary work, all of us, it's just mixed in... the mix is different.
Amy Gutmann: Right.
Andrea Mitchell: And, that requires a much smarter consumer.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah.
Andrea Mitchell: And…
Amy Gutmann: That's very key I think because we forget how much more information we and young people are getting now because of how quickly and in some ways thoroughly. Many news media are going into really critical situations around the...
Andrea Mitchell: And going in light. I mean, when I went to Haiti, I carried my own camera. I hadn't... believe me, you don't want to see with no training what I was shooting. But the bottom line is we're moving into places because of the technology. We used to have to move teams in and satellite trucks and that just doesn't happen anymore.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah, yeah. I have to tell you all how quick Andrea is. She may have been late to tweet, but I was waiting to hear from The White House, when I would be appointed as chair of the President's Commission on Bioethics, and I heard it from Andrea five minutes before I got it from The White House. She was like that. It was really quite remarkable.
So that's the... I'm glad we focused on some of what the positive side of all of this new media is, but I can't just leave it at that because as you know, one of the more famous tweets of late, was by Sarah Palin. You thought I would leave her out of this discussion, no.
To her followers called, The Common Sense Conservatives and Lovers of America, and this, Kathleen, "Don't retreat instead, reload." She urged readers to visit her Facebook page, which featured a map of the United States with cross hairs indicating the locations of 20 house democrats who voted for the health care bill, and served districts carried by republicans in 2008.
Is there a line between the kinds of quick and speedy communications that might polarize, they excite, and ones that incite? And is this somewhere... Where is this on that line?
Kathleen Hall Jamison: Well go back across history and the telegraphic communication tends to be used that way, no matter what the media is. I mean in my generation it was, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" And it was being shot at, LBJ from outside The White House, and that's one of the kinder things that was being said in the protest against the Vietnam war. Now the question then is, was that a legitimate position to take, and if so, is that the way to take it?
You can always I think separate the legitimacy of a position from the way in which it's appropriately articulated, and ask under what circumstance is a stronger kind of articulation warranted, and under what circumstance would you define it as out of bounds? The thing however that worries me about the discussion about short versus long is, some very important things can be communicated in very short segments. We have to realize when that's appropriate and when it's not. Granted inappropriate things can happen in that way too, but you can have extended inappropriate discourse also.
I can tweet someone's position on abortion, in 140 characters. I can not communicate someone's position on Waxman Markey Climate Change Legislation, and I also can not explain the news judgment among main stream journalists who didn't have to travel anywhere to get the story, to decide that Michael Jackson's death was a more important way to lead the main stream news, than was the passage of climate change legislation in the house.
On one hand you have the future of the planet and our survivability. On the other hand, Michael Jackson has died. He was going to stay dead whether we led the news with that or not.
John Dilulio: How do you know?
Amy Gutmann: But I want to…
Kathleen Hall Jamison: John's… day announced.
Amy Gutmann: Let's just go back to... because this... I just have to challenge you all. Don't retreat, reload. I mean, there is a difference between inciting people to a movement that's ... and crossing the line and suggesting violence. Are we confident enough that we're not going there?
Hon. Jim Leach: Let me use some other words for a second, in public life today somewhat surprisingly, public officials are being called communists. They're being called fascist.
Amy Gutmann: Right.
Hon. Jim Leach: And you think the meaning of these words, and the history of them and we lost 400,000 Americans defeating fascism, tens of thousands holding communism at bay, do we really think a public official wants to have a Gulager concentration camp. And are those not words with warring implications? And then you have some new words that all of us know the meaning of, at least one of the two, that we haven't heard for years. The word succession has gathered great currency in much of America, although regionally specific intensely. And all of a sudden the word nullification has come to have meaning in a real American sense. Many of us thought that was settled in the civil war.
These are new currents of thought and they really have to be addressed, now I want to just make one other observation. This is not all public life and politics. I mean, when you talk about civility, it's society. We do have this generation of students that John talks about that are frankly, as fine as we've ever had in this country, but we also have some problems.
I just was out in California, we have a campus that has had some swastikas painted on student doors. We've had LGBT offices vandalized. We've had Ku Klux Klan hoods put on statues on campuses in one California campus, and so there is a kind of problem that's rising in all of our society, and words can lead to violence that can lead to greater violence. That was the history of the '30s in Germany, it could happen anywhere anytime. And so I just simply suggest to people, you've got to resist some instincts early and think about them early rather than later.
Amy Gutmann: I just want to say Amen to that. We really have to worry about taking American democracy for granted. So I ask you all now, what can we do ... whatever you think, wherever you think we are on this spectrum, it's certainly far from heaven. It's far from what we would have hoped when that woman asked Benjamin Franklin after coming out, "What do we have," and he said, "A republic if you can keep it." It's not clear how close we are to keeping it, right now. What can we do to improve it? What role is there for leadership? Political leadership? Jim let's start with you.
Hon. Jim Leach: Well first I want to say about leadership, people tie it to politics. Actually this society has never had greater leadership in every field of academia, the arts, most fields of business, politics is letting the system down a little bit today. And so, one of the great challenges is to bring the leadership of America into the political process. John is talking about these fabulous young kids that aren't attracted, one of the reasons they aren't attracted is how it's polarized. Another is the lack of access.
The way the political parties are organized today, one of these idealistic kids might want to get involved with politics, how do they? It's very difficult, and so somehow we have to open up the system and attract people into it.
Amy Gutmann: John do you want to build on that?
John Dilulio: No, the congressman's right, I mean, they are repelled by the polarization. My only point though is, and there are problems, no generation's perfect, and I do believe in the greatest generation, the world war two generation, I believe that.
But this is the next greatest generation that's on the horizon. I really do believe that because they are going to get involved. And you start to see it and they're going to have to do it the hard way. They're going to have to throw their hats in the ring, they're going to have to put up with a lot of it, and there's... I see increasing evidence that's anecdotal evidence but it's there, that they're going beyond volunteerism to voting, and beyond voting to actually getting involved, taking the reigns of government.
At the end of the day, what was it, Madison said, "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm," well, they're not. And it's this generation I think that has grown up, again, I sound like a broken record here, but they are immersed in this. And they've known really no other reality. We're talking about people born in 1990, 1991, here okay? It's frightening, I know. I know. I don't know whether to lecture, or burp them. That's the truth.
The bottom line is, they, I think they get it and I see, if you look at, and I'll just get one quick example. You look at say, what would be called the extreme secular left and the extreme religious right. You look at it inter generationally. You look at the evangelical Christian kids who are very conservative on lots of issues, but they'll talk to you about environmental protection, AKA to them, creation care. They have a more complex set of views. And the same thing, the sons and daughters of folks raised in the opposite ideological and political groups.
I'm very hopeful and optimistic of a generation or so down the line. And I think we just need to encourage them and keep the lights on, and remind them that it's not just light a single candle, you gotta get the electric company, you gotta go into government. I really do think it's quote unquote, that simple.
Amy Gutmann: So if they ask you what Jim said was one of the hardest questions he ever was asked was, "Why should I run for office?"
John Dilulio: Because if you care enough to ask yourself that question in the first place, and you're so wired, and you have not only the fire in the belly but you have a sense of the public interest and public spiritedness, they will come. They will come. They will enter. I think we have to do a better job in the more mundane sense of making it easier for them to figure out.
It's easy to figure out how you can go to lots of other leadership sectors that have to get into politics and we don't do a very good job of that from sort of, how do you get involved in politics and public affairs, if we're not just talking about purely non-partisan or volunteer type work.
Amy Gutmann: Right, so let me just ask you a follow up question because, so they're going to go... we see really, very talented, idealistic students who want to go into politics. Then they ask you the question, "If I go in, what should I do to try to make things better? One piece of advice professor Dilulio.
John Dilulio: Don't, you know, the congressman said it. Political leadership, good leadership, people who have a moral compass may not all agree on things, follow that moral compass. You're going to have to play by the ABC's which everybody ... democracy requires alliances and bargaining and compromises. That's not the dirty evil stuff. The dirty evil stuff is when you want to destroy other people because they disagree with you. Because you're not really trying to find common ground, the common interest, you're just trying to score points and rally your followers and supporters and so forth. Don't be that kind of person. You know what, I mean, I'm telling you, there are very few of these millennials, I think we're going to be very pleasantly surprised in about seven to fifteen years.
Amy Gutmann: Very good. So, Andrea, what role is there for leadership in journalism and is your larger profession?
Andrea Mitchell: Well, I think the worst day that I saw in congress this year, was the day before the passage, in the house, of healthcare. The day when John Lewis and Congressman Cleaver were walking across and Congressman Cleaver was spat upon, and John Lewis was, you know, abused in a way that a man who is an icon to many of people in my generation, nobody should be abused. The language, the N word, and all of that. And the inappropriate understanding of what that kind of rage, how does that come. That's not just the cause that is perhaps fed by bad information, by bad media, by all the things we've talked about.
But there is something that you touched on before, congressman, the rage that people who are feeling threatened, we've seen these kinds of reactions before during recessions and this sort of populist anger. I'm not sure that this really approximates that, I think it was race-based, a lot of it. And is, and I think we in the media have to acknowledge that and can not shy away from it, and there are times when we simply have to go on and expose it, and that is the value that we can bring to it, and context, and history and try to get the majority of Americans who I think see this for what it is, to recognize the real danger that we have. The threshold that we are apparently ... if we don't pay attention, going to cross.
Look at Scott Brown's vote in the last 24 hours on employment compensation and his previous vote on the jobless bill. Which is not to say that I either agree or disagree with that vote, but he's simply is saying to his constituents, I am not a captive of the tea party movement. They may claim me, but I am my own person and I don't believe, he put out a statement yesterday that he doesn't believe in filibusters, that he thinks that issues should be debated.
Amy Gutmann: So there's real room for leadership.
Andrea Mitchell: So there's real room for leadership. You had four republicans voting for that on that cloture vote yesterday. So, people are not always as they are, as is being described, or as is caricatured in the public debate. I just think that we as broadcasters, as communicators, as writers, as educators, have to keep trying to create the context to provide information and to give people the history and let them have more choices of information.
Amy Gutmann: And if you cover that and if those small acts of courage get highlighted, it is an...
Andrea Mitchell: It feeds on itself.
Amy Gutmann: Exactly. Exactly. John. John is a member of the younger generation, and-
John Jackson: I'll take it, I'll take it.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah, absolutely. And John gives me great hope because he really, you've really exposed in a way that brings to light and also offers some hope of having a conversation about some of what fuels tea party and extremists and so on.
What do you think as a professor and somebody who does documentaries and blogs, what can more professors do to further this kind of civic engagement that is very firmly grounded in fact as well as understanding that somebody who's trained at anthropology for example, can bring to the conversation.
John Jackson, Jr.: One thing I always try to emphasize to my students is, that nothing's innocent. That you really have to be most critical about the things that you cherish. So for instance when I think about kids and new media, obviously it's a democratizing possibility, they use it very well, it's natural to them. It's like the air they breathe. But it also recalibrates sociality. One thing I still can't understand is, are things like Facebook and Twitter, is this public or private space? We use them as though they're both, and there's a way, which muddying the distinction between the two, actually speaks to some of the issues we have about what actually is appropriate in particular venues, right?
There's a way in which we're dealing with technology that's ambiguous in the ways, which allows us to communicate information. What used to be backstage is always already on stage. We have to negotiate that. Not just politicians, but all of us do. It means there is no backstage anymore, but sometimes we still try to deploy these things as though we're talking off the record. There's a kind of faux intimacy to it. I think it's interesting, but also problematic because it also means we can inflate and flatten out some of these differences that we used to have silos and firewalls between.
I think it means often we imagine that because there are certain spaces where anything goes, maybe every space is that kind of space. I think there's a way in which all these sort of new media offerings prime us for imagining, as long as we're in a conversation, as long as we're being honest, it's fair game. I feel like there's something about that dynamic that is a function of some of what this new media technology allows to do, we weren't able to do before.
Amy Gutmann: And you've studied and taught about how we deal with racism in this society and Andrea mentioned journalists saying that this is racist. Students ask you, how do we make progress on the race issue in this country, which obviously the election of President Barack Hussein Obama has made a difference, but equally obviously it hasn't made all the difference. What do you say to them? What can be done?
John Jackson Jr.: One thing I would say is, if we did a better job having honest conversations out in the public sphere, there would be less need for folks to imagine they need to have recourse to the internet under pseudonyms of these sort of internet subjectivities and avatars to rail in these ways that seem almost like 19th century throwbacks to racism possibly. So I feel like part of our job is to make sure we cultivate conversations out in the open to allow us to feel less suspicious about interlocutors and to think that there's no need for people to go back to their computer, huddled over in a corner somewhere and spew stuff they would never feel and bolded enough to say out on the avenue.
I think that's one of the things we can do by changing the tone and turn of the conversation we have in play. Not to attack one another, but to say let's really be honest. Let's listen honestly so we can really try to figure out if there is common ground. What kind of America do we want? Is it inclusive, and multi-racial, multi-ethnic; or is it really an America that's us versus them, the zero sum game.
I think there's a way in which this partisan fighting, seems to be an instantiation of a notion of Americana that says, "If you win, this is not my America anymore," there's a sort of pre-sub position to that, that I find incredibly frightening. I think we need to find a way to model a form of American community that says we can disagree, we can really adamantly disagree, but it doesn't mean I'm going to excommunicate you from the fold.
Amy Gutmann: Yeah, absolutely.
John Jackson, Jr.: It doesn't mean you don't belong. It doesn't mean somehow you're subhuman. And I think there's a way in which our rhetoric becomes so much about winning the debate, we mean if we don't demolish the other they can always come back. They can always reemerge and take the crown away. I feel like if there's a way to live together and imagine one way, we're not going to ... every debate we're not going to come out on top, but we at least need to be committed enough to one another to be invested in the possibility that we can have a multi-racial, multi-ideological community and not still not necessarily feel like it means we're not going to get what we want as individuals with self-serving interests…
And I think there's a way to do that, but it means really getting experience to say, "How do I listen more pro actively, and how will I really take in what you have to say?" Not just to kind of find the chinks in the armor of your argument but to really recognize why it is we could both live in the same place, breathe the same air, and have these diametrically opposed views about what the world is and how it ought to be. I've think that's something we need to understand and talk about.
Amy Gutmann: Kathleen, you're one of the most can-do people I know, and when there was a void that needed to be filled, calling a lie, a lie, and you helped do factcheck.org, what's the next thing that needs to be done to move this state of public debate and understanding forward? If you had to pick one thing, what would it be?
Kathleen Hall Jamison: The first thing is you have to do things from where you are, and there's all sorts of things I am incapable of doing. We're in a university right now, if we find a better way to inculcate the habits of mind and the dispositions to seek out the substance to look for the argumentative detail about the things that matter. There will be an audience for the kinds of news that we're saying is disappearing right now. And if we don't create that audience, no one is going to. We are the one institution that has that capacity and we ought to ask, how is it we've failed to do that and as a result, not had sufficiently large audiences to not simply sustain these, but to demand more of it. To create the reward structure out of a commercial broadcast, and media environment. I think that's a test we can address as a university.
Amy Gutmann: One of our cusps has to be, are we creating a set of graduates who demand more and better out of their democracy. So that's a good way of our looking about some of what we try to do to involve our students more in civic life while they're here in practice leadership while they're here.
Jim, we're going to come full circle before I open it up for questions from all of this wonderfully attentive audience. We're going to make you participants soon, but I'm going to come full circle with Jim. You have gone around now to 20 states, you have 30 more to go. What have you gathered is the greatest demand that you see could be fulfilled in some way that would enable us to, or enable whoever you want to choose as the leaders that you think need to come forward to improve our democracy?
Hon. Jim Leach: I think there is a sense particularly of young people but of the whole country, that a particular set of leadership over a time period has let the country down a bit. I take this over a several decade time period. There's also a sense in almost all fields that new things are happening. So for example, if you take the news, it isn't the only way to get the news. When you think of not only the standard media and the new media, but everybody in this country, particularly from the academics’ circles understand it, that you can tap into the internet and get the most extraordinary updates and the deepest updates in almost every foreign event happening, almost anything happening in any state in the country. With in-depth reviews that are academic of a nature. And so, one of the challenges it seems to me, is to get people to plug in to the uplifting side of the American knowledge base, and then to resist a little bit.
When I taught the few years I taught, I used to say to my conservative students, "Be sure to look at a Liberal blog," and I say to my Liberal students, "Be sure to take a glance at a conservative blog," to try to broaden a bit. But most of all, to seek out quality. One of the interesting things is how much quality is at everybody in this room's fingertips. And we can be upset with things we see all the time, but the quality is also out there and so to get attracted to it... and then to reward those that do their best to be reporters. To do their best to be commentators of an uplifting kind and they can be conservative, they can be liberal, they can be in between.
I think, if people think in this way, we're going to be in a really terrific way and to resist a little bit, what's happening throughout our sociology as a society, but tendency of people wanting to live next to people just like them, to look at news just like everybody looks at, and the great footnote, I'll just end with this. There's a recent survey out, the only thing that conservatives and liberals both view on television equally, is one show, called House. And everything else is dramatically one sided in both camps.
Amy Gutmann: It's amazing.
Hon. Jim Leach: Yeah.
Amy Gutmann: So we need, I think, we may need profiles and rhetorical courage and profiles and leadership courage these days in all spheres. But I think there's a broad agreement that our younger cohorts of students and prospective students are really a great hope. They have more of a sense of what the new media does for them in and uplifting way, and does for them in an entertaining way, than I think some of us older folks.
Whether you're younger and older in this wonderful audience, the floor is now yours…(Continue to Video, Part 2)