Bill Moyers on the health care debate, Democrats, and Afghanistan

"These narrow interests win no matter how many Democrats are elected, no matter who controls the levers of power."

Published August 29, 2009 1:30PM (EDT)

Bill Moyers was on Bill Maher's show last night and spoke about the core failures of Democratic Party in the context of both the health care debate and the ongoing escalation in Afghanistan.  The whole discussion is really worth watching (at least until HBO intervenes, the entire 30-minute interview can be seen in 3 parts:  here, here and here; HBO is re-running the show throughout the weekend on this schedule), but I want to excerpt several key parts, including his very complimentary featuring of this post I wrote on Thursday regarding Democrats:

On what's really happening in the health care fight:

MOYERS:  I don’t think the problem is the Republicans . . . .The problem is the Democratic Party.  This is a party that has told its progressives -- who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform -- to sit down and shut up.  That’s what Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff at the White House, in effect told progressives who stood up as a unit in Congress and said: "no public insurance option, no health care reform."

And I think the reason for that is -- in the time since I was there, 40 years ago, the Democratic Part has become like the Republican Party, deeply influenced by corporate money.  I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama’s re-election will come from the health care industry, from the drug industry, from Wall Street.  And so he’s a corporate Democrat who is determined that there won’t be something in this legislation that will turn off these interests. . . .

Money in politics -- you’ve had in the last 30 years, money has flooded politics . .. the Supreme Court saying "money is free speech."  It goes back to the efforts in the 19th Century to give corporations the right of personhood -- so if you as a citizen have the right to donate to campaigns, then so do corporations.  Money has flowed in such a flood into both parties that the Democratic Party gets a lot of its support from the very interests that -- when the Republicans are in power -- financially support the Republicans.   

You really have essentially -- except for the progressives on the left of the Democratic Party – you really have two corporate parties who in their own way and their own time are serving the interests of basically a narrow set of economic interests in the country -- who, as Glenn Greenwald, who is a great analyst and journalist, wrote just this week:  these narrow interests seem to win, determine the outcomes, no matter how many Democrats are elected, no matter who has their hands on the levers of powers, these narrow interests determine the outcomes in Washington, even when they have to run roughshod over the interests of ordinary Americans.  I’m sad to say that has happened to the Democratic Party.

I’d rather see Barack Obama go down fighting for vigorous strong principled public insurance, than to lose with a [corporate-dominated] bill . . . . the insurers are winning. Everyone already knows the White House has made a deal with the drug industry -- promising not to import cheaper drugs from Canada and Europe – promising not to use the government to negotiate for better prices -- that deal has been cut . . .

There’s this fear that Barack Obama will become the Grover Cleveland of this era – Grover Cleveland was a good man, but he became a conservative Democratic President because he didn’t fight the powerful interests – people say Obama should be FDR – I’d much rather see him be Theodore Roosevelt --– Teddy Roosevelt loved to fight – … I think if Obama fought instead of really finessed it so much . . . I think it would change the atmosphere.

On Afghanistan:

MAHER: What do you think of Obama's policy in Afghanistan – you were around for the Vietnam debate and the escalation -- it may have been why you left the White House?

MOYERS:  I’d think it would be a tragedy beyond description for this young, bright, exciting President to be drawn into an endless war in the same way that the last young, bright, exciting President was drawn into – intervened in Vietnam.  I was there when Kennedy chose to send advisers to Vietnam – and was there when LBJ escalated – they both acted from noble intentions – actually they did – they wanted to stop Communism in Asia and spread democracy – but the advisers soon became bombers and the bombers became grounds troops and pretty soon, it became a regional crusade – and 12 years later, billions of dollars, and millions of lives later, including 60,000 American troops – we lost – because the U.S. is not good at that sort of thing.

Here Obama has 68,000 troops over there and the Generals are asking for another 20,000 -- maybe 30,000 more troops -- saying it’s not enough.  The military and the hawks will always say "not enough."   Obama has to say "enough" -- or he’s going to be drawn into it.

Now they’ve shifted the mission of troops:  to protect the villages of Afghanistan.   100,000 Americans can’t protect the villages of Afghanistan  – and now they say we’re going to be there to build a nation – we’re not good at building other nations – we’re hardly good at building our nation. If you're an Afghani and look up and see Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature coming to build your nation, you’re going to run – you’re going to put up a No Trespassing sign. We need to come home.

  On the U.S. as a declining empire

MAHER: There are so many parallels – I hate to say it – between great empires that were on their decline and what’s going on with this country right now – a sort of internal malaise, where we are debt-wise, how much money we owe the world . . do you still think we’re a great nation?

MOYERS:  We are a very crippled giant suffering from self-inflicted wounds that if we do not treat and heal, will in fact bring us to our knees and ultimately to our doom. . . .

We can’t say, though, it’s over - we can’t.  What makes us great – we’re not smarter than other people, we’re not more intelligent, we’re not wiser – we have that First Amendment – that self-correcting faculty -- that enables people like this to climb up on the ship and say: "that’s an iceberg out there. . ."  We wait a long time until almost the ship has sunk . . .  We’re close to losing the moral, financial and economic muscle and wisdom that makes a huge nation a great nation, but it’s never too late.

There's some wisdom and insight that can come only from witnessing events first-hand for many decades.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Afghanistan Washington