Transcripts: Howard Zinn Interview TEXT ON SCREEN: Howard Zinn is an American historian, political scientist, social critic, activist and playwright. He is best known as author of the best-seller 'A People's History of the United States.' Zinn has been active in the Civil Rights and the anti-war movements in the United States. PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Thank you for joining us. Our interview with Howard Zinn. Thank you, Howard. HOWARD ZINN, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: Oh, glad to be here. JAY: So we're just a few weeks away from the election. Obama's ahead in the polls, although Obama supporters are still holding their breath and talk about October surprises and this and that. You've written about the election process as not being as democratic as it would like to call itself or people would like to call it. On the other hand, you still end up with the idea that people should participate, should vote, and I don't think you quite said "holding your nose," but with some reservation people should vote against McCain, vote for Obama. Explain what your thinking on this is. ZINN: Yeah. Well, you know, I'm very skeptical about the American political process, which only gives voters a very limited multiple choice test. You know, A or B? Or A and A-prime? The Republicans or the Democrats? And almost always the Republicans and the Democrats are so close to one another in policy, I mean, not identical, but fairly close in policy, so that the person who wants bold changes in the way our society is going is not going to find them represented by either the Democratic or Republican candidates, and that's still true with Obama and McCain. However, there are certain moments in history when even a small difference between the candidates may be crucial, may be a matter of life and death for large numbers of people. I mean, when the French had a change of presidency in France during the Algerian War, it made a difference in their bringing the Algerian War to an end. And I think that there are such moments, and I think this may be such a moment in American history. That is, we've gone through an insufferable eight years with the Bush administration, probably the worst administration in history, and, I mean, two wars in one presidency, and a total disregard of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and a shattering of the economy. And in this situation, we are desperate for change. So even though Obama doesn't represent any fundamental change, he creates an opening for the possibility of change. That's why I'm voting for him; that's why I suggest to people that they vote for him. But I also suggest that Obama will not fulfill that potential for change unless he is enveloped by a social movement which is angry enough, powerful enough, insistent enough that he fill his abstract phrases about change, fill them with some real, solid content. JAY: The Nader supporters and some of the other third-party candidates will say, "Well, there is an alternative." No. I interviewed Ralph Nader and I made the argument to him that there isn't a feasible alternative, and he says, "Well, yes there is. It's not feasible only when people keep saying it's not feasible." But what do you say to Nader and the other third-party candidates who say, well, the only way to break this paralysis of the two-party system is to start voting outside it?" ZINN: Well, you're not going to break the paralysis of the two-party system within the party system. In other words, you're not going to break it in the electoral system by putting up a third-party candidate whose showing will inevitably be pitiful and will therefore only be a demonstration of the weakness of the movement outside of the electoral arena. If you choose to go into the electoral arena, you'd better go in with strength. If you're going with weakness, you are not doing a progressive movement any good. To me it is a waste of Ralph Nader's energy to throw himself into the electoral process, 'cause his energy is best used by building a movement, by doing what he has done for most of his life very effectively, reaching out to millions and millions of people who will not vote for him but who really believe in his ideas, and help him to organize those people so that whoever is elected as president will then have to face a constituency, a citizenry which demands change. JAY: Now, how does that movement develop now? I mean, let's assume that Obama is going to win this election. If the polls are right and there's no, you know, extraordinary event—which I suppose nobody can rule out—but the world as we know it today, it looks like Obama's going to win the election. And I say that with some reservation, 'cause if something big happens in four days, it's going to make this interview dated. So we'd better publish quickly. But given that, how does an independent movement develop? What are the obstacles to a national movement of the type you're talking about? ZINN: Well, the obstacles are a kind of resignation that things will go on as before. That's always the obstacle to change. The obstacle to change is not that people don't want change. People want change. But most of the time, people feel impotent. However, at certain points in history, the energy level of people, the indignation level of people rises. And at that point it becomes possible for people to organize and to agitate and to educate one another, and to create an atmosphere in which the government must do something. I'm thinking of the 1930s; I'm thinking of Franklin D. Roosevelt coming into office not really a crusader. Roosevelt came into office, you know, with a balance-the-budgets history. It was not clear what he was going to do, and I don't think he was clear about what he was going to do, except that he was going to be different from Hoover and the Republicans. But when he came into office, he faced a country that was on strike. He faced general strikes in San Francisco in Minneapolis. He faced strikes of hundreds of thousands of textile workers in the South. He faced a tenants movement and an unemployed council movement. And he faced a country in turmoil, and he reacted to it, he was sensitive to it, he moved. That's what we will need. We will need to see some of the scenes that we saw in the '30s. JAY: And how do we get there? ZINN: How do we get there? Well, we get there by somebody starting it off, like the four kids in Greensboro in 1960 who started off the sit-in not knowing whether it would spread. We need somebody who is losing their home because they can't afford to pay their mortgage, we need them surrounded by their neighbors who then do not allow them to leave, do not allow their furniture to be taken away. This is what happened in the '30s. In other words, we need direct action, we need civil disobedience, we need to raise the level of tension in the country, because only that kind of indignation is going to have some effect on the people in Washington. JAY: And in terms of building a movement that could give rise to a third party that actually had a chance—and in many countries of the world, parties do come and go—first of all, why haven't we seen some of that which one did see in the '30s? There were other parties that had some kind of weight. And are we entering with this financial crisis a period where something like that might be possible? ZINN: Well, third parties can have an effect on the existing parties. I mean, in the 1930s it wasn't a third party that won; it was the fact that there was a movement throughout the country. Part of it was socialist and communist, but a lot of it would be working people and tenants and so on, and they had an affect on the Democratic Party, which up to that point had not been a very militant or very energetic party. As a result it had lost elections in the 1930s to non-entities like Harding and Coolidge. But I think it'll take the kind of energy that we had in the '30s to not necessarily create a third party that will win office, but that will transform the Democratic Party into what might be a third party, almost in the way that the Republican Party before the Civil War was transformed into a party that would do away with slavery or at least try to do away with slavery, even though that was not its primary objective. JAY: If we're looking at four years, maybe eight years, of a Democratic administration, and if that Democratic administration follows the previous course we've seen from most of the people that are going to be leading it, then this movement is going to be directing a lot of its target or arrows at the Democratic administration. ZINN: Unquestionably. If we have a Democratic administration, that administration has to be the target of a new social movement. Problem with the years of the Clinton administration is that whoever in the United States really wanted to go beyond the Clinton administration in foreign policy and domestic policy became complacent, and they did not organize, and there was no real movement in the country in Clinton's time, as there had been in 1960s, to push Clinton into any good direction. That will have to be different when Obama and his administration come into office. JAY: Well, there's a new reality asserting itself, and I think everyone's marching into uncharted waters here with the current financial crisis, which seems to be as profound as some of the most dire predictions are. And in the next segment of our interview, let's talk about your views on the roots of this crisis and where we might be headed. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Howard Zinn. DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy. Noam Chomsky Interview Transcript Chomsky on Presidential Elections Paul Jay PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: As the financial crisis and the economic crisis deepens, working people are asking, "How bad is it going to get?" and "How will it affect me?" To help us answer those questions, we're joined by Professor Noam Chomsky, who needs no introduction. Thanks for joining us. NOAM CHOMSKY, PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS, MIT: Glad to be with you. JAY: So a few weeks ago, on George Stephanopolos's show, George Will said the following: ~~~ GEORGE WILL, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Surely in a democracy it's time for us to stop being sentimental and say the question we settle in an election is not whether elites shall rule but which elites shall rule. ~~~ Which was a rather candid moment to see on television. But for people, ordinary people, working people in swing states now, where their vote might help determine which section of the elite is going to rule, should it matter to them? CHOMSKY: Not only it should matter, but it does matter and has mattered right through American history. Actually, George Will is essentially correct in the terms of the framing of the way American democracy is supposed to work. James Madison, the main framer, his main view, as he expressed at the Constitutional Convention, was that power should be in the hands of the wealth of the nation, the responsible set of men—men, of course—who respect the rights of property; and the goal of the government should be to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. And that thesis runs right to the contemporary period. The perhaps most famous exponent of it was the leading figure in American media, the public intellectual in the 20th century Walter Lippman, who wrote progressive essays on democracy. He was a Wilson-Roosevelt progressive. His view was that the population should be spectators, not participants. He called them ignorant and meddlesome outsiders who have to get out of the political arena, and we smart guys who have to run things have to be protected from the trampling and the roar of the bewildered herd—that's you guys out there. On the other hand, the population has never accepted this, has always struggled against it. The Jacksonian democracy is a famous case. But it continues. The benefits, the freedom that we have now is because of popular struggles. Popular struggles in the 1930s compelled the government to create New Deal measures, and in the 1960s it led to civil rights, Medicare, welfare state measures, women's rights, and so on. Every single one of them, if you look, is the result of people simply not accepting the doctrine of elite rule, and it's true today. You just take a look at polls. A spectacular 95 percent of the population—which is amazing for a poll—object that the government doesn't pay attention to popular opinion. JAY: There's been sort of a traditional analysis on the left. There's a section of the elite that's more connected to the military-industrial complex, a section of the elite that's more connected to domestic economy, needs a more vigorous domestic purchasing power, you know, certainly overlap. Does that analysis hold up? And if so, for ordinary people is it better to have one section of the elite in power or the other? I mean, right now, if you're in a swing state, you're going to decide McCain or Obama. Is there a decision that matters to people? And what would you suggest if you were in a swing state? CHOMSKY: Well, I would suggest voting against McCain, which means voting for Obama without illusions, because all the elevated rhetoric about change and hope and so on will dissolve into standard centrist Democratic policies if he takes office. However, there is a difference, and it's been studied quite closely by political scientists. There's a strong difference over time. You don't see it in any particular moment, but over time the general population, the large majority of the population other than the very wealthy, tends to do considerably better under Democratic than under Republican administrations. And the reason is sort of what you said: they reflect different elite constituencies, and the differences are quite striking and very noticeable. So if that's what matters to you, you know, that's usually a pretty good guy if you're voting. It's not that the Democrats represent public opinion. They don't. In fact, like the Republicans, they're pretty relatively right of public opinion on a host of major issues, including those of most importance to the public. In fact, what's happening now, it's interesting it's not being discussed. It's very striking; it tells you a lot about American democracy. For years, decades, in fact, one of the leading concerns, if not the top concern of the public, has been the health care system, which is understandable. It's a total catastrophe. It has about twice the costs of other industrial countries and some of the worst outcomes, and it's painful for individuals. If you've ever spent a little time at an ER watching people come for a bad cold, then you can see what it's like. JAY: We've been doing work in various states—in northwest Indiana, Virginia, and other places. It's all people want to talk about is the health care system—jobs or health care. CHOMSKY: And there's a good reason for it. It's a catastrophe. It's getting much worse. It's going to swamp the federal budget. And the fundamental reason for it is it's privatized. That introduces layer after layer of bureaucracy, cherry picking, supervision, paperwork, and that's hundreds of millions of dollars of waste a year. Well, up until the 2004 election, it was just off the agenda. People mention the Clinton program, but that's a misunderstanding. What the public has wanted is very straightforward: they want a national health care system. Usually people pick Canada as the model, not because it's the best system, but 'cause it's right there. You see it. You don't see the Australian system, which is better. But the public by large majorities has favored a national health care system, say, Medicare-plus it's sometimes called, extended to the population, which would be far cheaper for [inaudible] JAY: Now, Obama doesn't go there. Obama does not go there. CHOMSKY: Well, see, it's interesting. It's quite interesting to see what's happened. Up until 2004, nobody went there. So the last debate before the election in 2004 was on the domestic economy and concerns. And, now, 2008 is different. In 2008, both Democratic candidates, Clinton and Obama, did make proposals which, as you say, were not what the public wants but were approaching it. But what happened between 2004 and 2008 to make it politically possible? Public opinion didn't change. What changed is that a major sector of concentrations of real power, namely manufacturing industry, they changed their position. So General Motors says that it cost them over $1,000 more to make a car in Detroit than across the border in Windsor, Canada, because of the inefficient health care system. Well, when a large sector of concentrated capital, concentrated economic power becomes interested in something, it becomes politically possible. So now it's moving to the political agenda. They're not getting there. What does that tell you about the functioning of American democracy? It's very revealing, and it is doubly revealing that nobody comments on it. JAY: I mean, in this segment of the interview, just to concentrate more on the politics of this election, what do you say to the third-party candidates who say, you know, they are all the same, and that we're locked in this dilemma, they say, of one party or the other, the, you know, lesser of evils and such? What do you say to them when they say it really doesn't make any difference who wins? CHOMSKY: Well, to say it doesn't make any difference who wins is simply to express your contempt for the general population, 'cause it does make a difference. A lot of what they say is correct: the two parties are effectively factions of one party, the business party, but the factions are somewhat different. And as I mentioned, over time the differences show up in benefits, working conditions, wages, things that really matter to people. So yes, there's a difference. It's a narrow difference, and the spectrum within the political system is well to the right of popular opinion, and certainly the public is well aware of it. So 80 percent of the population say that the government is run by, I'm quoting, "a few big interests looking out for themselves, not the population." And they can argue about the details, but the picture's essentially correct, and they don't like it. Nevertheless, there is some difference and you have to make a choice. If you're in a swing state, you have to ask: is this difference enough for me to pick the lesser of the two evils? And there's nothing wrong with picking the lesser of the two evils. The cliché makes it sound like you're doing something bad, but no, you're doing something good if you pick the lesser of two evils. So is it worth doing that? Or is it worth trying to act to create a potential alternative? For example, should I vote Green because maybe someday their party will be a real alternative? Should I express my disdain for the right-wing orientation of both parties by not voting, let's say? Or should I pick the lesser of the two evils, thereby helping people? Okay. That's a decision people have to make. JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let's talk about the current financial crisis. And what do people mean when they talk about the financial crisis and the real economy as if they're two different planets? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.