Why don't people see that?
The short answer is that they're stupid. I'm not saying that because I hate America – it's just the truth. Americans have no idea what's in the budget, so how could they make informed decisions about it? They think public television gets five percent of the budget. We spend $178 billion a year on public television? Somebody should tell Tavis Smiley, because he's been bitching about that ratty old couch in his greenroom for, like, five years, and I'm sure he could use some of that money.
But even smart people don’t seem to be connecting the dots — that the GOP’s agenda is to finance tax cuts for the rich tax on the backs of the middle class…
Republicans prey on something deep in the American psyche. Steinbeck wrote – it must have been the Twenties or the Thirties – about how socialism never caught on in this country because the poor people don’t see themselves poor, they see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” He’s got Joe the Plumber pegged. Remember Joe was apoplectic that Obama was going to raise the tax rate on people making over $250,000 a year — even though Joe had never seen anything close to $250,000, didn’t even have a job or a plumber’s license. But he’s got that Ralph Kramden mentality: I’m gonna, Alice. I’m gonna be a millionaire, Alice! And if I do, that Obama’s not gonna tax me! Joe was getting killed on the imaginary business in his head, and that just could not stand.
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Do Democrats deserve some of the blame?
Americans are like an animal: they sense fear and they can detect inflection, but they can’t understand an argument. So if you don’t get behind a position 100 percent, like the Republicans do, then the people say to themselves, “There must be something wrong with this position.” Why didn’t the Democrats get behind the health care bill that they passed? They ran from it like it was something to be ashamed of. Democrats don’t brag about their achievements, and they don’t stand up for what they believe in. So the American people are rightfully suspicious.
But the bigger problem is that things are terribly out of balance. We don't have a Democratic Party that actually stands up to the other side; we have two parties who agree that we should cut home-heating oil for the poor. Nobody is standing up and saying, "No, we should take it from GE." That's what's wrong with our political system.
Is that an indictment of Obama?
With the Republicans, Obama acts like a guy in a relationship who did something shady and is in that guilty phase where he lets his girlfriend win every argument. He's a brilliant politician, terrific guy, love him to death. But he's a bad negotiator.
You've been a fierce critic of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but you've backed Obama on this third war in Libya. Why?
There would have been a bloodbath, and we stopped it. I like that. And you got the sense that Obama was asking questions first and shooting later — which is a foreign concept to most of America. Why can’t we see strength in this country as being cautious and consultative? Why do we only want Toby Keith, “I’m gonna put a boot in your ass”? But that’s what Americans like. Obama’s too “professorial.” One of the people in the Iowa focus group that Frank Luntz did last month said, “Everything Obama says is textbook.” Wow, nothing worse than a textbook. Need I say more?
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