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2004-10-14

Howard Zinn on the Election: Candidates Not Addressing "Fundamental Issues of American Policy in the World"

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Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, joins us as George W. Bush and John Kerry wrap up their third and final debate of the campaign. We speak with the legendary historian about the election, U.S. foreign policy, Ralph Nader’s candidacy, the importance of citizen involvement before and after elections, and much more. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry battled over health care, jobs, taxes, immigration and many other domestic issues in their third and final debate last night. It was the last chance for the two major party candidates–who are locked in a dead-heat–to address a mass audience before the Nov. 2nd election in three weeks.

The debate was held in the key swing state of Arizona at Arizona State University in Tempe. Along with health care, jobs and taxes, Kerry and Bush outlined differences on other domestic issues including immigration, abortion, gay marriage, the minimum wage as well as addressing their different faiths.

While the 90-minute face-off was focused on domestic issues, both candidates took advantage of several chances to weave the Iraq war into the discussion.

Last night’s debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. In January 2003, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post penned a profile of Scheiffer–who happens to hail from Bush’s own Texas. Kurtz included this bit of family history:

“During the ’90s, [Bob] Schieffer also struck up a friendship with George W. Bush when his brother Tom-now the U.S. ambassador to Australia–became partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers.

"Bob and W. went to ball games together, played golf, attended spring training. ’He’s a great guy-that doesn’t mean I agree with him,’ says Schieffer, adding that the situation became 'a little awkward' when Bush ran for the White House but that he’s never gotten favorable treatment."

  • Excerpt of third presidential debate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

An excerpt of last night’s debate. In that last exchange between the two candidates, Kerry quotes Bush as saying he does not think much about Osama bin Laden and is not all that concerned about him. The president replies "I just don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations."

But at a press conference on March 13th 2002, just as the build-up for the Iraq war was getting underway, Bush did say about bin Laden "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run." He described bin Laden as "marginalized," and said, "I just don’t spend that much time on him."

Today spend the hour taking a look at the third and final presidential debate looking at domestic issues like health care, immigration, labor and much more. But first to get perspective on the debate we are joined by the legendary historian Howards Zinn, author of "A People’s History of the United States. His latest book with Anthony Arnove is * "Voices of A People’s History of the United States."*

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to move on now to the elections, and to the final debate that was held last night in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, President Bush and Senator John Kerry battled over health care, jobs, taxes, immigration and many other domestic issues in their third and final debate last night. It was their last chance for the two major party candidates who are locked in a tight race to address a mass audience before the November 2 election in three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: The debate was held in the key swing state of Arizona at Arizona State University. Along with health care, jobs and taxes, Kerry and Bush outlined differences on other domestic issues, including immigration, abortion, gay marriage, the minimum wage as well as addressing their different faiths.

JUAN GONZALEZ: While the 90-minute face-off was focused on domestic issues, both candidates took advantage of several chances to weave the Iraq war into the discussion. This is an excerpt of last night’s debate with moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News opening it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: By coin toss, the first question goes to Senator Kerry. Senator, I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight. And that is, will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?

JOHN KERRY: Well, first of all, Bob, thank you for moderating tonight. Thank you, Arizona State, for welcoming us. And thank you to the Presidential Commission for undertaking this enormous task. We’re proud to be here. Mr. President, I’m glad to be here with you again to share similarities and differences with the American people. Will we ever be safe and secure again? Yes. We absolutely must be. That’s the goal. Now, how do we achieve it is the most critical component of it. I believe that this president, regrettably, rushed us into a war, made decisions about foreign policy, pushed alliances away. And, as a result, America is now bearing this extraordinary burden where we are not as safe as we ought to be. The measurement is not: Are we safer? The measurement is: Are we as safe as we ought to be? And there are a host of options that this president had available to him, like making sure that at all our ports in America containers are inspected. Only 95 percent of them — 95 percent come in today uninspected. That’s not good enough. People who fly on airplanes today, the cargo hold is not X-rayed, but the baggage is. That’s not good enough. Firehouses don’t have enough firefighters in them. Police officers are being cut from the streets of America because the president decided to cut the COPS program. So we can do a better job of homeland security. I can do a better job of waging a smarter, more effective war on terror and guarantee that we will go after the terrorists. I will hunt them down, and we’ll kill them, we’ll capture them. We’ll do whatever is necessary to be safe. But I pledge this to you, America: I will do it in the way that Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy and others did, where we build the strongest alliances, where the world joins together, where we have the best intelligence and where we are able, ultimately, to be more safe and secure.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, you have 90 seconds.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Bob, thank you very much. I want to thank Arizona State as well. Yes, we can be safe and secure, if we stay on the offense against the terrorists and if we spread freedom and liberty around the world. I have got a comprehensive strategy to not only chase down the al Qaeda, wherever it exists — and we’re making progress; three-quarters of al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice — but to make sure that countries that harbor terrorists are held to account. As a result of securing ourselves and ridding the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the Afghan people had elections this weekend. And the first voter was a 19-year-old woman. Think about that. Freedom is on the march. We held to account a terrorist regime in Saddam Hussein. In other words, in order to make sure we’re secure, there must be a comprehensive plan. My opponent just this weekend talked about how terrorism could be reduced to a nuisance, comparing it to prostitution, illegal gambling. I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous. I don’t think you can secure America for the long run if you don’t have a comprehensive view as to how to defeat these people. At home, we’ll do everything we can to protect the homeland. I signed the homeland security bill to better align our assets and resources. My opponent voted against it. We’re doing everything we can to protect our borders and ports. But absolutely we can be secure in the long run. It just takes good, strong leadership.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Anything to add, Senator Kerry?

JOHN KERRY: Yes. When the president had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, he took his focus off of him, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, and Osama bin Laden escaped. Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" He said, "I don’t know. I don’t really think about him very much. I’m not that concerned." We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Gosh, I just don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations. Of course we’re worried about Osama bin Laden. We’re on the hunt after Osama bin Laden. We’re using every asset at our disposal to get Osama bin Laden. My opponent said this war is a matter of intelligence and law enforcement. No, this war is a matter of using every asset at our disposal to keep the American people protected.

AMY GOODMAN: And an excerpt of last night’s debate. In the last exchange between the two candidates, Kerry quotes Bush as saying he doesn’t think much about Osama bin Laden, and is not all that concerned about him. The president replies, quote, "I just don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations."

JUAN GONZALEZ: But at a press conference on March 13, 2002, just as the buildup for the Iraq war was getting underway, Bush did say about bin Laden, quote, "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run." He described bin Laden as, quote "marginalized" and said, quote, "I just don’t spend that much time on him."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we’ll spend the rest of the hour talking about this third and final presidential debate. We’ll be joined by historian, Howard Zinn, labor activist Brenda Stokely. We’ll speak about health care and talk with immigration with Maria Hinojosa of CNN and Latino U.S.A.

AMY GOODMAN: By the way, just talking not only about the candidates, but the anchor of last night’s debate, CBS News anchor, Bob Schieffer. In January, 2003, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post penned a profile of Schieffer, who happens to hail from Bush’s own Texas. Kurtz included this bit of family history, quote, "During the 1990’s, Bob Schieffer also struck up a friendship with George W. Bush when his brother, Tom, now the US Ambassador to Australia, became partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers. Bob and W went to ballgames together, played golf, attended spring training. He’s a great guy. That doesn’t mean I agree with him," says Schieffer, adding that "the situation became a little awkward when Bush ran for the White House, but that he has never gotten favorable treatment." Right now, we’re going to turn to historian, Howard Zinn, author of, People’s History of the United States. Now a new book with Anthony Arnove called, Voices of A People’s History of the United States. He joins us in our firehouse studio here at Democracy Now! Welcome Howard Zinn.

HOWARD ZINN: Thank you, Amy and Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. If you could comment overall about this presidential contest right now. We are just weeks away from the election.

HOWARD ZINN: Well, the contest, unfortunately, is not giving us any kind of fundamental reappraisal of American policy foreign and domestic. By a fundamental reappraisal, I mean we are dealing with a serious issue of the war in Iraq and we’re dealing with the serious issues of health and education, and what to do with the wealth of the United States to help people, and neither candidate is addressing the fundamentals. By that I mean, I heard them on the clip that you showed and talked about Osama bin Laden, they exchanged accusations about it. Bush denying, of course, as he denies everything, about what he said, and Kerry saying, no, you said that. It’s not important, really, about Osama bin Laden. They’re always trying to focus our attention on something that’s not fundamental. What’s fundamental is not one particular man. What’s fundamental is not even al-Qaeda. What’s fundamental, really, is American policy in the world, because if there is a root of terrorism, and that’s the problem, getting at the root of terrorism, the root of terrorism is not any one man, not any group of people in this country or that country. There are too many countries of where there’s anger against the United States, and where that anger against the United States can turn into fanaticism and into terrorism. The reason for the anger against the United States is that America has its hands, its armies, its military bases in too many countries in the world. We are intervening too violently in too many places. We are initiating wars as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have military bases in over 100 countries. We have been supporting the occupation of the Palestinian lands. In other words, Bush and Sharon have been acting in the same superficial way, an absolutely unproductive way in dealing with violence. And I think that neither candidate is really dealing with the question of what is the role of America in the world. Are we continuing to be a military superpower sending our troops everywhere whenever we feel like, are we going to be a peaceful nation and use our immense resources to help people in this country and do something about universal health care, do something about education, and at the same time have resources available so they can deal with the other problems of the world, problems even more serious than Iraq, like the enormous disaster in the Sudan, or AIDS in Africa? If you have a $400 billion military budget, if you are sending troops and keeping troops in other countries in the world, you don’t have any resources left to deal with the really serious human disasters that are taking place there and here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Howard Zinn, as a news junkie, I have watched all four of these debates, it still astounds me, although I think Bob Schieffer did the best job of the moderators asking some tough questions, of all of the things that were not dealt with: the environment, the policies of the Bush administration and Kerry’s policy toward the environment, not discussed at all; energy policy, and the United States has continued to search for maintaining control of the world’s oil supply to justify our consumption; the issue of civil liberties, attacks on civil liberties by this government and the continued pursuit of Arab Americans on false charges, the PATRIOT Act. None of this was discussed. I just am astounded at these issues that many Americans, including I think Tavis Smiley said — there was one question about affirmative action and African Americans but the continued cultural and racial changes in American society, very little attention to the continuing problems of racism and discrimination, not just with African Americans but Latinos and Arab Americans as well. I blame it more on the journalists than I do on the candidates. The candidate will only respond to questions they’re asked, and the journalists haven’t chosen to ask any of those questions.

HOWARD ZINN: You, as a journalist, you are in a good position to criticize the limitations of other journalists just as I as a historian tend to look carefully at the kind of history that is taught in our schools and the limitation of that history. But what you are saying, Juan, about what the candidates are not discussing, what they’re not bringing up, I think relates to the fact that if both candidates want to continue the war in Iraq as they seem to do, although Kerry gives little indications that maybe we’ll move away from this, this is enough reason for me for voting for Kerry. He gives little hints, like we shouldn’t have rushed into war, implying that we should go more slowly to war? No. But despite these little hints that Kerry gives that maybe he is more inclined to stop this war — certainly everybody is more inclined to stop this war than Bush. Both candidates by saying they will continue in the war and win the war are saying that we will continue to have a $400 billion military budget. We will continue to be spending huge sums of money on the war. So long as they do that, even though Kerry has a better health plan and a better education plan, so long as we are spending all of that money for war, we are not going to be able to give people universal health care, we are not going to be able to take care of the other problems of the environment that you were talking about, Juan, and that is — the whole issue of the relationship between the war and domestic policy has been missing from the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: There are some anti-war candidates, people like David Cobb, Green Party, Ralph Nader. There was that controversial letter that you signed along with Noam Chomsky and others calling for people to vote for Kerry in swing states. Can you talk about that?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I didn’t think I signed a controversial letter, Amy. I try not to be controversial, but I guess there are people who are very strong supporters of Nader and Cobb, who were annoyed because a number of us said, people who admire Nader, admire the Green Party, said people should vote for Kerry in the swing states, and I think the reason is this. And I don’t know if I’m speaking for all the other signers of the petition, but probably, I would guess that this is their thinking. Certainly it’s my thinking. And that is, you know, that—admire Nader enormously. I mean, Nader stands, you know, miles high above these other candidates in terms of his morality, in terms of his contribution to the country. But this election is the wrong place for him to put his great energy and talent. And it’s a waste of his stature to put his—all of his work that he has done into counting the votes in an election which you can’t win anyway. And the Bush administration is so dangerous. This is, I think, our feeling. This is the most dangerous administration we have had. It is so authoritarian, so fundamentalist. Juan mentioned the PATRIOT Act. It is unswerving in its determination, apparently, to rule the world and to go into war after war. It is so dangerous an administration, so tied to the rich, although, sure, both parties are tied to the rich, one party tied a little more closely, but the Bush administration so dangerous that I think is very important to get these people out of office, and with Kerry in office, our thought is that we’ll have tiny ledge to stand on from which then to move on.

AMY GOODMAN: I interviewed Ralph Nader, and he was, to say the least, very disturbed about this letter, and said at least the letter could have included a demand, that it wasn’t just giving the support over unconditionally. It’s interesting, looking at your latest book that you did with Anthony Arnove, Voices of A People’s History of the United States, you begin with that famous quote of Frederick Douglass, "If there is no struggle, there’s no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."

HOWARD ZINN: Frederick Douglass is right, and Ralph Nader is right. And probably the letter could have been stronger, I agree, in making demands. I think we need to make demands even if we are saying vote for Kerry in the swing states, we need to make demands of Kerry. And the important thing, and this I say on the basis of the history of presidential elections and the history of taking care of deep grievances in American society, the history shows that the really important thing is not who sits in the White House, but who sits outside the White House. The really important thing is not who is elected, even though, sure it’s a little better to have one candidate rather than another. The really important thing is what are citizens doing to create a huge movement in the country, which will act upon, put pressure upon, make demands upon whatever candidate wins? That’s the really important thing. So that I would support Kerry for one minute in the election booth before and after I would try to join a movement of citizens that will demand that we get out of Iraq and demand that we use our immense resources to help people all over the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The debates did touch on the conditions of working Americans to some degree, although there was very little about the Bush administration’s policy toward labor in this country, whether it’s what it’s done to OSHA or about that or the NLRB, or the right to unionize. Your assessment of how important the organized labor movement will be in the next few weeks heading toward November 2?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, well, in general, Kerry has had the support of organized labor. I mean, unfortunately, organized labor is not in the kind of powerful position that organized labor was once in, but it is certainly clear that Kerry has a better position towards working people, towards labor unions and rights of labor unions than Bush has. And I think one of the key issues, whoever becomes president, is are we going to have a stronger labor movement, and are people going to organize wherever they are. We need more people in workplaces around the country that are not organized to organize, and create a kind of collective strength so that they can then have an effect not only on their immediate situation in the workplace, but they can become a greater political force in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to a clip of the candidates on labor. I want to thank you very much, Howard, Zinn, for joining us. I’m very much looking forward to Friday, October 22, an event that you will be participating in, Voices of A People’s History of the United States reading. I remember fondly, what was it a year ago, it must have been more, when the millionth copy of People’s History was sold and you had the event at the 92nd Street Y where Alice Walker and James Earl Jones and Danny Glover came out and did a reading from that. Now your new book, the same will happen. Howard Zinn, our guest. People’s History of the United States is what he is so well known for. Now a new book, Voices of A People’s History of the United States, written with Anthony Arnove.

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