Kevin Phillips
Kevin Phillips
The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath
ISBN: 1559944277
The Politics of Rich and Poor
Mr. Phillips, a political analyst, discusses his predictions for the coming decades in his recent book, The Politics of the Rich and Poor. Mr. Phillips foresees another New Deal or progressive era following the Reagan era. The author compares the years President Reagan held office to two previous Republican heydays, the 1920s and the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
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TRANSCRIPT
The Politics of Rich and Poor
Program Air Date: June 24, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Kevin Phillips, author of the new book "The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath," what's the point of your book?
KEVIN PHILLIPS, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR: WEALTH AND THE AMERICAN ELECTORATE IN THE REAGAN AFTERMATH": I think the point of the book is that during the 1980s, the people at the top in the United States really got a lot richer, more so than any other part of the country. Policy had a lot to do with that -- the favoritism of tax policy, monetary policy, deregulation. And as a result, I think what we're praying for in this country -- as a frustrated middle class who've wondered sort of what happened to them, but really didn't know who made out -- is that we are going to start understanding who made out, and that during the 1990s we're going to see pressure to change some of the redistribution that occurred during the 1980s. So I think that is the overall message and interpretation of that book.
LAMB: On the back of your book you've got two people who are quoted about what they think of it. Let me read the first one. "Kevin Phillips is America's premier political analyst. His new book, 'The Politics of Rich and Poor,' will revolutionize the way we think about politics in the '90s, just as his 1969 book, 'The Emerging Republican Majority,' had such an impact on the decade of the '70s -- former President Richard Nixon." Why did you use that?
PHILLIPS: Well, former President Nixon was kind enough to give me a good quote, and I thought it was a quote that was very much to the point. I mean, I think his sense is that what's talked about in that book is something that's going to be an important political dynamic of the 1990s.
LAMB: You cut your teeth on Richard Nixon, so to speak. When?
PHILLIPS: Well, I started working for Richard Nixon in the 1968 campaign, doing political analysis, and then went into the administration, but only for a pretty short time and came out. But I've kept in touch with him, particularly during the Reagan years, and he's been kind enough to say nice things about previous books prior to this one. And we have lengthy discussions from time to time.
LAMB: He says nice things about your book, and your book says the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. What does he think then of the Reagan administration?
PHILLIPS: Well, I wouldn't want to try to speculate what he thought of the Reagan administration because he passes up the opportunity to be blunt in any assessment when he's asked. He has, however, said in some interviews this Spring that, while he didn't want to criticize former President Reagan, he didn't agree with his evaluation of government as purely part of the problem and not part of the solution; and that he, Nixon, back during the late 1960s, looking at the failure of liberal programs, still felt that you had to try to do something for people and that you had to use government as a vehicle and government as part of the answer. So I think he has had some personal dissenting attitudes towards things that were done by Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: What do you think of Ronald Reagan?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think Ronald Reagan was a hell of a man to be able to become President of the United States in '69 and stand tall for what he believed in. I think he served a lot of useful purposes in his first administration. I think he represented a number of directions the country had to move in: stronger foreign policy, bringing government under control, whipping inflation. Unfortunately, I think in the second Reagan administration -- and there were elements of this in the first -- that he went too far and that what we wound up with, after eight years of Ronald Reagan, was a foreign policy that had started to be devalued under the whole Iran-Contra scandal, an economy that was a mountain of debt. So I think he sort of outstayed his utility, but I think we needed a lot of what we got in that first Reagan administration. The sum total of the eight years, I think, has a lot of troubling legacies.
LAMB: What do you think of George Bush?
PHILLIPS: I think George Bush is somebody who's a supporting player for the Reagan era, who is now stuck with administering it, doesn't have any real sense of it. I think George Bush is what I think of as a Tennison Trust Fund Republican. He represents a different type of outlook. He certainly would never have done a lot of the things Reagan did that were a little bit dubious because Bush is so cautious. But I think it's going to be very difficult for him to survive four years of having basically to administer the results of somebody else's ideology. I think we're starting to see some stress on that already.
LAMB: The other quote in the back of your book is from somebody on the other side of the political spectrum, Governor Mario Cuomo. "Phillips says convincingly what Democrats have not been bold enough to say and Republicans won't admit. We have redistributed our wealth from the poor and working middle class to the rich. We have compromised our fiscal integrity and risked our world position. Phillips says that the people will compel what the politicians have failed to do. I hope he's right. Every American should read this book." As a Republican in the Nixon administration, does that make you nervous?
PHILLIPS: No, it doesn't make me nervous. I think that what we tried to be back 20 years ago -- and I say "we" although I wasn't in the administration long -- but my concept of what sort of new majority middle-American Republicanism was about was a lot more attention to the average guy than I think the average guy has received during the 1980s and is receiving now from George Bush. And to the extent that the Democrats want to pick up the banner of trying to represent the average guy, and a lot of them haven't during the 1980s, I think that's a very useful thing. I don't think that American politics works well when neither party is representing the ordinary American. And I think that that's been the case during the 1980s. And if Mario Cuomo can help the Democrats start representing what the Democrats have always called "the little guy" again, as opposed to a bunch of theorists and other people that just want to go along with the White House because they're scared and they don't have any ideas -- if Cuomo can make the Democrats represent that, then more power to him. He hasn't totally proven that yet, though.
LAMB: Can he be elected president?
PHILLIPS: I think Mario Cuomo can be elected president if the economy turns down in the last two years or this year of the Bush administration. If the Republicans have a strong economy heading into 1992, if they can keep the balls in the air that long, then I think the answer is no, Mario Cuomo can't be elected, but no Democrat would be elected in that circumstance.
LAMB: I don't know if I count right, but 22 years ago I think you wrote this book, "The Emerging Republican Majority." This was published by Arlington House. Whatever happened to Arlington House, by the way?
PHILLIPS: I don't really know. I'm glad they were there in 1968, but I couldn't tell you their status today.
LAMB: Does this book hold up?
PHILLIPS: I think it has. My sense is that the emerging Republican majority emerged. I mean, there are people that think that I wrote predicting an absolutely top-to-bottom Republican majority, talking about the Alabama Legislature and the New York City Council. What that book projected was that the Republicans would dominate the Presidency pretty much for a generation or more. They have. By the time George Bush's term is up in January 1993, the Republicans will have held the White House for 20 of the previous 24 years. That's basically what I was writing about, the national politics, and I think it's happened. Watergate, I have to say, had me feeling that it wouldn't happen back in 1973 and '74, but it did in the end.
LAMB: This may not mean much, but the book "The Emerging Republican Majority," sold for $7.95 back in 1968, '69, and the book that you put out now, which is about half the size, sells for $19.95. Does that say anything?
PHILLIPS: Well, actually the inflation has been more than that. Prices have at least tripled since 1967, '68. Sure, we've had a lot of inflation. There's no doubt about it. I think the inflation rate has actually been worse than what the official rates have said. People who have to buy movie tickets and children's sneakers and lunch in fast-food places and pay for health insurance, pay their local taxes -- it's really gotten out of hand. The middle class has been nibbled and nibbled and nibbled, but we have had a lot of inflation.
LAMB: What's happened to your own views about politics and the Republican Party since you wrote your first book and this new one?
PHILLIPS: Well, my sense is that if you go back and you look at the history of the Republican Party -- and I don't think I sufficiently appreciated this back in 1967 or '68 -- that it's taken power in some of the great cycles of American history. It's taken power for broad-based reasons: in 1860 with Lincoln in the Civil War; in 1896 when William McKinley fought back the William Jennings Bryan challenge; and then in 1968 when the country was, really, in some ways on the verge of disintegrating from riots in the cities, riots on the campus, a Southern sectional movement led by George Wallace. And the Republican Party has played a kind of nationalizing role. It's kept things together during these particular periods. But once it's been in for 10, 12, more years than that, what we see is that it tends to, I think, get it too close to upper-bracket economics, a kind of capitalist heyday, and it does too much for the people at the top and it loses sight of the people at the bottom. And I think the 1980s have had a lot of that.
LAMB: Reviews are mixed. Some people don't like your book at all. And one that I'm looking at is from The Wall Street Journal. It's a fellow by the name of David Brock, who is with the Heritage Foundation and that was published on Thursday, June 14th. Did you have an overall view of Mr. Brock, the Heritage Foundation, of why he didn't like your book?
PHILLIPS: Well, I have an overall -- I don't know Mr. Brock at all. I've never heard of him, but I have an overall view of the Heritage Foundation and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, and basically it's they deserve each other. I mean, if there any people who've been involved in sort of blueprinting the whole laissez-faire deregulate, cut-the-taxes, hands-off view of the American economy during the 1980s, it would be groups like the Heritage Foundation and the editorial page, which I differentiate from the rest of The Wall Street Journal, which is superb. But the editorial page is all these yuppies in red suspenders who miss not going to Morgan Stanley during the heyday, running around and thumping. So I think that these are the people whose policies, I guess, the book would be dead against. So I can't say that I'm particularly surprised that they're critical. I mean, from their standpoint I think they should be.
LAMB: Now you write for The Wall Street Journal still as a contributing -- as part of their group of editors?
PHILLIPS: Well, I'm a member of -- I guess you could it call the political strategists or pundits panel that they run in the back page of The Wall Street Journal. But what you have to understand is the internal divisions within The Wall Street Journal. The editorial page and the news operations are totally separate, and the people that write, the reporters for the newspaper, are a totally different group than The Wall Street Journal editorial page -- and they don't share the same views.
LAMB: Let me just pick out a paragraph.
PHILLIPS: Yeah.
LAMB: "Of course this very fact ensures Mr. Phillips enthusiastic notices from the culture police all the more since his Republican credentials are seen to bestow a certain gravitos to analysis that unfailingly jive with prevailing left liberal prejudices." I didn't read that well, but you can see where he's upset.
PHILLIPS: Well, you know, the cultural police, that's an interesting phrase. Where do you meet the cultural police? I mean, are they at the movies? Do you see them going into a bookstore? I think I know what he means, but I'm not sure what he's talking about or what he would regard as the -- I suppose, the people who dominate the media. It's interesting that George Gilder, a supply-side economic theorist, referred to his principal opponents being the elite of the information society. So I suppose the elite of the information society are cousins of the cultural police. I mean, as someone who graduated from what was a fairly populist Republicanism back years and years ago, I have to look with some amusement at all of this.

This is sort of populist labels used by people that wouldn't know a grassroot from a piece of asphalt, who hole up in a lot of these sort of rarified think tanks and media operations themselves here in Washington. It's ironic, when I wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" all those years ago, what the Democrats represented were people who had taken over all these Washington institutions and who had just become totally remote from the average American. And they really had never met a payroll. They'd been on the government slots and think tanks. That's what conservatism is becoming. We're producing foundations and think tanks and editorial rooms full of all these people that have sat around and sucked ideological thumbs for the last 10 years. So it's an interesting development, but I think it's a sign of conservatism's weakness.
LAMB: He strings together a bunch of the phrases you use and let me read that. He says, "Indeed, all this book really demonstrates is how much the author's high-tone sensibilities were deeply miffed by 'Darwinism' and 'Babbittry,''Boone Pickens' and 'Ivan Boesky,' 'stretch limos' and '$300 cowboy boots,' 'champagne and raspberries,' 'hustling middle-class Reagan aide'" and 'right-wing economists'" -- these are all in quote marks -- "Rodeo Drive," "Sutton Place" and "the Florida Gulf Coast.""
PHILLIPS: Well, those are all in there. If you take these nouns -- they're in the book. They're not paired the way that they're paired there. They don't appear in the same places. They might be separated by 46 pages or nine paragraphs. I mean, it's that sort of thing that I think I find sort of amusing. That's the sort of stuff the liberals did 20, 25 years ago when they were on the skids. Those are skid marks.
LAMB: One last thing here from this particular review. "Such images pepper entire chapters filled with nothing but lists of billionaires and centimillionaires and decamillionaires, lists of Wall Street 100 and the largest golden parachut in "The Emerging Republican Majority"...
PHILLIPS: Lots of lists.
LAMB: 143 charts -- and you've done almost the same thing in your new book. Why all the charts?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think the charts are critical to proving the point. There was one fellow that reviewed "The Politics of the Rich and Poor" and he said that, where Mario Cuomo spoke poetry, what I did is I had some of the style of an accountant. And he's referring to the number of charts. Now of course the conservatives loved the charts that were in "The Emerging Republican Majority." And apparently they don't particularly like these charts and I can understand why.

If you're going to prove the point, it doesn't do any good to simply say something. What makes sense is to go in there and lay it out, put down the numbers -- to just put down the numbers from a lot of different directions. There's a chart in there that shows how during the 1980s, the Forbes 400 richest families roughly tripled their net worth. There are others on who made the most money in Wall Street, how much the top partners in the most prosperous law firms made. There are lots and lots of charts. And the point is that by the time you get through the charts, you've got a picture. And in this particular case, those pictures, I think, are something you can't possibly do with words. So there's a reason for them.
LAMB: How rich are the rich?
PHILLIPS: The rich are incredibly rich. See, that's what's happened during the 1980s. When I started writing this, I really didn't have as full a sense at all. I knew that there was a major change that had come, but I really didn't have any sense of how incredibly large it was. I mean, if you take the number of billionaires in the United States between the early '80s and 1989, the number of billionaires went from something like seven or eight up to 53 or 52. The number of millionaires in the United States climbed from about 500,000 or 600,000 in 1980 up to 1.5 million by the end of the decade. The money made was absolutely enormous. And this is during the same time when the median household income and the median family income and things like that, adjusted for inflation, stayed pretty much the same. I mean, they went up, but they only went up by a little bit. So what you had was an incredible situation where the people at the top were getting the big gains in the economy. And that's why things like Architectural Digest had a surging circulation. That's why they had to put area codes on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, so that people could dial their yachts. That's what happened to the United States during the 1980s.
LAMB: Why are we so fascinated -- and I say we meaning the American people -- through the tabloids and the magazines and newspapers -- with people like Donald Trump, Ivan Boesky -- those kind of people. What is it about those kind of people that we're interested in?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think there are certain periods of history where you can identify first a sea change towards the more conservative politics and economics and then sort of, at the same time, as that starts to catch hold and as the economy starts humming and the markets start booming and entrepreneurialism starts surging, what you get is a fascination among people with the people who are part of this trend, with the people who are the entrepreneurs and the fat cats. And we saw this during the 1980s. You saw that the decade began with shows becoming right at the top of the TV lists like "Dynasty," "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest." That was sort of a pre-Trump mentality in itself. That was preparing people to watch the Donald Trumps and people like them. And we had a fascination with that during the 1980s. I think that's curdling now. But there's just no doubt about it, it was a mainstay. People admired glitz. They almost admired greed; not quite, but they were fascinated by it.
LAMB: One of the things that you can see in your first book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," and in this book, the new one, "The Politics of the Rich and Poor," is the constant referrals to cycles. Where did you first get this notion that cycles were worth watching?
PHILLIPS: Well, there's a sense among at least a considerable minority of political scientists and historians in the United States that our politics, in contrast to those of most other countries, have had a very strong cyclical pattern. And they really have, if you go back, at least I think so, because you can see that in history and the year 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896 and 1932 and then again in 1968, we had the beginnings of periods during which one party really dominated American presidential politics. They might lose once or twice in 20 or 30 years, but essentially they dominated. And when they won one of these watershed elections, a lot of things changed. And as I read as a kid in school, I guess I became pretty convinced of that. And during the 1960s I thought it was happening again. And when I was at law school and after I got out of law school, I was busy pulling together information.

And then after the 1966 elections, I'd gone down to Washington. I was convinced it was happening again. And I started on the book that became "The Emerging Republican Majority." And I think that it will be deemed to have happened again on the national level. Now we're kind of unique as a country to be able to go through these things. And I think it's because the United States, first of all, has regularly scheduled elections in contrast to what a parliamentary regime when you never know when they're going to come. So politicians can kind of build things around elections and they've done that in the United States.

The second thing is that we've had these cycles, I think, in part because they're regional and we've filled in the country. And as different parts of the country have been settled, you've created different relationships between the prosperous part, which is usually the furthest part east, and the parts that are being settled. And then regionalism has played a role. So for all of these reasons I think that cycles are debatable in the United States but have a more legitimate framework than in almost any other country. And I certainly would emphasize that.
LAMB: Based on your cycle theory, what's next?
PHILLIPS: What's next, I would think, would be a center to progressive something or other reformist cycle beginning in the 1990s. Back in 1968, where we began what has been 20 out of 24 years with the Republicans -- and it may well continue in 1992 -- I was a little dubious that it would happen in the old way. And it didn't happen in the old way because it didn't happen below the Presidential level nearly as much. We still have much more Democratic strength on the local levels and even in Congress now that the Democrats have got the Senate back.

So I think what we'll see in the 1990s when we start a new cycle, as it were, will be something that's even more superficial and less fully rooted and that the media make it less and less possible to have the old deep-rooted cycle where things change from the top down to the bottom. But I think what we'll see is that the progressive, reformist, populist -- I don't know quite what to call it; I don't think it'll want to call itself liberal, which is one word I don't think they want to use -- will get back in, and that we'll see more demand for government, more concern for the people who've been left out, more concern for building things again in the United States as opposed to finance. Taxes'll go up. There'll be more regulation. Hopefully there'll be some good things, too.
LAMB: Well, as you write about the cycles, you go back and show that the taxes were real high back in the '20s -- and you do better at this than I can -- and real low and this thing just keeps going up and down. So if we're at a 28 percent rate now, you suggest that's going to go back up to how high eventually?
PHILLIPS: Well, that's an interesting question. The first income tax in the United States was put on during the Civil War and it was then taken off in the 1870s. As the whole populist crusade got under way, Congress passed a law setting up an income tax again in 1894, but the Supreme Court threw it out. So we really got our first full-fledged income tax beginning right before World War I. And it got up to a rate in the '70s. During the 1920s it came down from 73 percent to 25 percent, which is kind of like what happened in the 1980s when it came down from 70 percent to 28 percent. But in the meantime, back during the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the top rate got up to 91 percent.

So I think what we're going to see is that rate goes back up again, but I wouldn't think it's going to go up over 45 percent or 50 percent. And the reason I don't think that'll be the case is that we're probably going to have to have some consumption taxes, whether it's a much, much increased gasoline tax or some form of a value-added tax or a national sales tax -- something like that. And if we do, I think it'll enable the top rate to be kept at a level at somewhere between 38 percent and 50 percent. So I don't see much likelihood of it going back up to 70 percent or 90 percent or anything like that. But I do think we will not see the 28 percent rate very much longer.
LAMB: Who in history -- and both recent history and in American history or world history, do you admire the most? In politicians mostly?
PHILLIPS: Well, it's hard to say because I guess I've been too involved in politics during a period where disillusionment and politics sort of went together, whether it was -- I don't know -- Vietnam or Watergate or Carter or Reagan or Iran-Contra -- now "Read my lips" and then flag desecration. I'm not too impressed. It's a very hard question for me to answer. I'm not sure I'm a good one to even try.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite president in the 20th century?
PHILLIPS: Well, of course I worked for Nixon. There are lots of ways, I think, Nixon could have been the dominant president of the post-World War II era. He muffed some of it and other people helped take away from what he did do, so I don't think we can put him up for that role. I think he was probably in many ways the brightest. But, no, I'm not in the game of singling out who my great heroes or people I admire are. If you're so much in the business of cycles and history, it gets pretty difficult because you tend to evaluate them in ways that don't deal with them as people, as historical forces, as people who rode waves, as creators of movements. And that's really not the yardstick for evaluating people.

One who has to be identified in the 20th century, of course, is Franklin D. Roosevelt -- there's no way around that -- more than probably anybody else. The cyclical evaluation gives you an awful lot of the ones that history give you. That's an interesting overlap -- I mean, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, maybe, in a sense, Washington. And those are the cyclical people. It sort of suggests that when you're on top of one of the cycles and you represent the beginning of something that wins and has a great historical effect, it sort of builds a presence for you historically. I think that has been the record. I'd certainly put all of the people whose names I just mentioned right at the top of any list of American Presidents.
LAMB: Do you ever find yourself, when you read either politicians or columnists quoting history, saying, "There they go again. There's another historical figure. They just keep trotting out whenever it serves their purpose and, in fact, they really weren't that great"? Or maybe a better way to ask it: who's the most overrated person in history that you keep reading about?
PHILLIPS: Well, if I were to go through that, in a sense, one I'd pick would be Woodrow Wilson because I think Woodrow Wilson was naive. And Woodrow Wilson was taken to the cleaners on the international stage. He gets an enormous amount of credit for being a man of peace and global foresight, as it were. But yet with what he was involved in he wasn't particularly successful. So there would be one.
LAMB: What about world history -- I want to ask you about Winston Churchill, and I know this isn't fair to you because you haven't heard the other interviews, but for some reason or other we started talking about Winston Churchill here and from both sides. Christopher Hitchens says he was not nearly what Americans think he was, and Cap Weinberger writes in his book that he was everything to him. And he'll be seen on BOOKNOTES in a couple of weeks. Where does Winston Churchill fit in your in your mind as a world figure?
PHILLIPS: Well, my sense is that while Winston Churchill had a number of the weaknesses of any politician and of his class, which was seen pretty vividly in 1945, '46 when he had some difficulties with readjusting Britain to its different circumstances after the war, that by any serious historical yardstick he was a very, very strong and dominant and major historical figure, I mean, beginning with his emergence on the scene during even the Boer War when he was captured in South Africa and he escaped. And he became a front-page figure in the UK after that, and succeeded in winning a parliamentary seat out of Oldham. I guess it would have been maybe 1901, 1903. And when did he leave the prime ministership? You know, 50 years later. I mean, this is a man that -- whatever anybody might say to derogate some of his particular circumstances or issue positions -- he marched across 50 years of British history like the band of the grenadier guards and I don't see how you can take that away from him.
LAMB: You mentioned the cycles and how difficult it is to look at individuals. Do individuals matter in politics anymore?
PHILLIPS: Well, I think they do. I mean, I have the sense in the United States right now that we have a set of failures on the part of the Republicans and Democrats and potential historical convergences, of great issues ready to be laid out, of understanding by the American public waiting to be recognized by politicians who are less than the people they serve. And I think what we need is somebody who can rise to that and somebody who can stand up and lay these things out and who's good enough to do it. So I think individuals matter enormously right now, and I think we're paying the price for the fact that -- I wouldn't like to say we have third-rate individuals, but I think historically it's very fair to say they're almost all second-rate, and what we need is somebody who's not.
LAMB: You mentioned also that -- and I won't put this in the context, but you can -- about the media and how it's difficult today because the media is doing what to -- I mean, you went on to indicate the media was messing up the normal cycle.
PHILLIPS: Well, I wouldn't say messing up, but I think what you had -- the evolution of the cyclical pattern, as I think we've had it, really began in the United States because the United States itself began pretty much in the period of the Industrial Revolution, in the period where you had the move away from what had been an aristocratic politics into a democratic politics, where elections became more and more important and more and more people participated, and electorates were mobilized and parties came to the fore as opposed to factions. And as a result, the earlier cycles in this whole pattern from the 1800s -- early 1800s up through Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal -- what you saw when politics realigned is a pretty much top-to-bottom phenomenon because the role of the party was strong enough that it became a major force.

I think in the cycle we've had since 1968, one of the reasons why you couldn't have a more substantial realignment is, first, that the media were pre-empting, in many ways, the role of the party as an information distributor. Government bureaucracies were taking over the old role of the party providing turkeys at Thanksgiving or helping people who were unemployed. And then, last but not least, the whole role of the media being so prominent and shaping people's views every night, every day -- they had the ability to speed up the process, that the whole process of evolving issues and changing attitudes could be condensed and exacerbated and pulled away from the actual old structures and becoming much more free-floating. And I think that's what we've seen. I don't imagine that we can go back to a 32 or 36-year cycle in American politics. As a matter of fact, the one we're in may be the last that even approximates that, and what we get beginning in the 1990s may be a lot less rooted and a lot more free-floating.
LAMB: When you wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority" in 1968, there were only roughly four television channels in most towns. The president could say, "I want time," and he'd get it in prime time. Now the average is 30-some. It'll just keep growing more and more, and you've got 70 percent of the American homes have VCRs, 60 percent of them have cable television. Is that going to make it more difficult for a politician in the future to get the attention of the American people to govern?
PHILLIPS: I think it may make it more difficult for a national leader to harness public opinion, either as a candidate or as a president when he's in office. It should promote a balkanization of the electorate and the power elites. On the other hand, it certainly promotes the ability of people to take off, to launch themselves, as representatives of either segments of the communications world or of the people that watch a particular medium or of different interest groups who -- I think it probably increases the ability of politicians to function in one way and then decreases their ability to provide another function. We'll have to see how it balances out.
LAMB: Because of this change, is there a different kind of person that's going to be elected in the future after George Bush?
PHILLIPS: Well, if you go back, it's always -- it's been tempting for people at different points of history to say we're going to see different types of politicians. And the funny thing is, looking back historically, you don't really think that because people and their personalities and their desires and their weaknesses tend to be the same. But it is true that there are certain junctures in history where the way politics behaves and some of the weaknesses of it are very much influenced by the media, whether it's the rise of Hitler using radio or whether it's the actually very substantial modernization of politics in the second quarter of the 19th century because of all the changes in communications, from the telegraph to the railroads.

So it always does make a difference. I don't see that it changes the type of people historically, but we may well see, within the time frame of a decade or looking bar -- back at a quarter of a century, the ability to say, "Well, certain types of people rose who never would have risen before." You can say Ronald Reagan was a media president. He never could have come prior to the age of the media. I'm not so sure because people have -- have risen in politics who were pamphleteers 200 years ago or, for that matter, 2,000 years ago. But it's just a question of the medium of the era.
LAMB: I want to show the audience the book. It's "The Politics of Rich and Poor" by Kevin Phillips. It's in your bookstores, and it's about -- I didn't check it -- what? -- 250 pages long.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, roughly.
LAMB: A lot of charts. Earlier, I read a Wall Street Journal review in which the gentleman suggested that you were going to be the darling of the culture police and also of the liberal media. Here is a very positive review that was out this week in Time magazine, along with -- looks like a fresh picture of you in this. Does it worry you that he predicted that the liberal media would like it? And then here is Time magazine saying they do like it. And is this a liberal publication?
PHILLIPS: Well, it's an interesting question whether it's a liberal publication. I'm certainly pleased that they like it. I mean, as politicians have said, it's always better when people are for you than when they're against you. It helps. And as someone who was attacked by all the liberals 20-odd years ago and I got my cheer from the conservatives at that point, I'm not so sure you don't do better with the media when you're getting more from the liberals. But I would suspect, everything being equal, that the greater preference for the message in there is on the part of, quote, unquote, "liberals."

But I also think that it'd be a mistake to figure that that's the basic source of the rise or fall of the message of this book is going to come from middle America, and middle America may not be as conservative as it was three or four years ago, but it's not liberal. And the ultimate, I guess, decision on a book or on ideas in this system of ours usually pretty much come from how the average American reacts to it. And I don't think it would do me a lot of good if the average fellow thought that this book was a lot of hot air and The New Republic thought it was terrific. I mean, frankly, I'd rather have the average guy and not The New Republic.
LAMB: This is again a small point, and I tried to see some connection. The book's called "The Politics of the Rich and Poor," and you had a chapter, or at least a take-out, in this last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and they titled it something I couldn't find in your book, "Reagan's America: A Capital Offense." What was this article and where'd they get this title?
PHILLIPS: Well, as the people that handle The New York Times Magazine processes will say, the author gets to have a fair say in any modification made in text. In other words, when you excerpt a book, you take it in chunks and you've got to blend paragraphs and we have an epilogue in there that wasn't from the book, but I don't have control over headlines or squibs. So in other words, they're free to come up with a different title. And "Reagan's America: A Capital Offense" -- that's intended, I think, by the people who wrote it, which wasn't me, to be a play on capital in the sense of capital in the financial. And I don't really have much problem with that, because I think there was a lot of financial mismanagement. In the sense, I think that the Reagan administration was a capital offense in the sense of an offense of large magnitude -- second administration I have a lot of problems with, but I voted for Ronald Reagan twice, so if I'd been asked about that title, which I was not, I would have preferred something else.
LAMB: You're often labeled by people in the media a lot of different ways. What is the label that you would most like to have people put on you at this stage in your life?
PHILLIPS: Well, I'm not sure. There was some question, for example, on the part of the people at The Times how I should be referred to, conservative or Republican or both, and what they did is they ran a check on -- whether it was they just used The New York Times or they used Nexis -- they wanted to get a sense of how I'd been referred to in the media for the last 10 years. And there were hundreds of things that they could take, and the predominant reference was conservative and was Republican. I don't have a problem with that. It's probably a problem for some of the people who represent the current flavor of both Republicanism and conservatism, but I guess I would say at this point it's probably fairer to call me author and commentator or political analyst or something and maybe not to stress the ideology or the party that much, but I don't have a problem if somebody puts it in.
LAMB: The reason I asked that is that so many times people are labeled in this business that you're in, and a lot of people find fault with that. And if somebody calls you a Republican political analyst, does that make you mad?
PHILLIPS: The only problem I have with that is if it's interpreted to mean that I analyze things for the Republican Party, which I certainly don't do. But I'm a registered Republican on the books of whatever precinct it is in Montgomery County, Maryland, so, technically speaking, it's correct to say I'm a Republican political analyst. I just have no connection whatever with the Republican Party.
LAMB: This seems like an obvious question, but why do you write books?
PHILLIPS: Well, sometimes I like it and sometimes I don't. I'm just in the process of obviously having finished this, and starting at the stage of talking about it and publicizing it and so forth. And it was a tiring effort, as they are more tiring as you get older, I think. So I'm always tired of it after I finish, but I come back to doing it because, as Richard Nixon said in his most recent book, there's nothing that can substitute for a book in clarifying and sorting out your own ideas and putting them down and then moving on to something else. And he said in that book that each time he's done one, he said it would be his last. And I can remember, actually, him telling me this is going to be his last or this one's going to be his last, and it wasn't. And I'm sure this isn't my last. I mean, if you write and if you think and you do this stuff, there's something fulfilling about it.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
PHILLIPS: Depending on the count you use, I guess in terms of book books, this would be number five.
LAMB: And what else are you doing besides writing books?
PHILLIPS: Well, I do a lot of different things. I have two newsletters which I edit and publish. One is called The American Political Report, which has been around for almost 20 years now, which is on politics and political economics in elections. And the second, which is now 11 years old, is called The Business & Public Affairs Fortnightly, which is on business-government relations, corporate external relations, sort of business and everything that affects it from the outside. And I'm a commentator for a number of different media, and I've been a consultant -- I go around and give a lot of speeches and talks for one of the big investment firms. So I stay very busy.
LAMB: The other media, National Public Radio, you still do that -- roundtable political analysis? Do you still do work for CBS?
PHILLIPS: CBS -- that's right. I'm a commentator for CBS Spectrum, which is their network radio. And at the '84 and '88 Democratic and Republican conventions I was a commentator for CBS television.
LAMB: Why did you give up writing a column?
PHILLIPS: I really got sick of the column. It's called "Feeding the Monster." And the "Monster" had to appear three times a week, and I was willing to entertain the possibility of once a week. But three times a week was a horrible experience, and you find yourself -- you'll produce one out of four or five that you think is really good, and out of the other four or five, two or three will be OK, but nothing much. And there's always going to be one that's a real turkey that you whip out in 36 minutes when you were late for lunch. Now there are people that are perhaps more into commentating than I am. The whole notion of going and interviewing these politicians that I regard as, you know, one notch above a melted Hershey bar, that didn't appeal to me. Reporters like to do that. I basically am interested in things that don't involve actually sitting and asking these guys, so they tell you something you know isn't true and you go write about it anyway. So I wanted to get out of that and I wanted to get to something whereby I would write only -- in terms of a column-type thing, that I would write only 20, 30 times a year. And then I'd get to write something that was large enough to be a think piece. And I do that now. I do about 12 to 15 a year for the Los Angeles Times, big ones that are like 1,200 to 1,500 words, and then usually anywhere from two or three to five or six or eight others. It works out very nicely. I haven't had a moment's twinge about not being a columnist, and when I've been asked, did I want to go back into it, I've said no.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
PHILLIPS: New York City.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
PHILLIPS: I went to the Bronx High School of Science, to Colgate University, the University of Edinboro and the Harvard Law School.
LAMB: What'd your mother and father do?
PHILLIPS: Well, my mother was a housewife, like I guess most of our mothers were back then in the '40s and '50s, and my father started as a New York state government civil servant and moved up to become a commissioner and I suppose a little bit of a politician, but he never thought of himself as that.
LAMB: Why did you get interested in coming to Washington?
PHILLIPS: Well, the first thing I wanted to be back in the middle of the '50s was actually to go to West Point, and I'd work for my congressman as a teenage campaigner, and I guess I could have had the appointment. But it began to become clear to me that there was a long time between going to West Point and being a general, and I didn't think I'd make that good a participant in the intervening stages. So after the 1956 campaign, when I started to enjoy politics, I forgot about that. And I guess I'd had it in mind in one way or another to come to Washington by the late '50s, which is what I did. That's why I went to law school -- not to practice law, which I never have, but to lay the groundwork for politics.
LAMB: And when you came here, who did you work for and how long'd you spend there?
PHILLIPS: Well, I got out of Harvard Law School in June of 1964 and was asked, I guess, maybe about six weeks later to be the administrative assistant to the Republican congressman from my district, whose name was Congressman Paul Feno. And I worked for him in New York City and then came down to Washington -- I guess it would have been December of '64, January of '65 -- right in time for the whole Great Society of Lyndon Johnson.

And I was working for Feno and enjoying being in Washington and being on Capitol Hill. And then after the 1966 elections, I got the idea that the whole Republican era that I had been sort of reading about, thinking about, mapping as a kid, drawing maps of voting patterns -- I thought that was going to come to pass, so I started writing "The Emerging Republican Majority" -- not under that title; I didn't know what the title would be -- probably in November or December of 1966. And then I moved -- in 1968, I took the book and I got a job doing the sort of political, district-by-district voting history poll analysis for the Nixon campaign, and that's how I went into the Republican campaign and administration and met Nixon.
LAMB: Has there ever been a time in the last 20 years, or a little longer than that, where you've been excited about what's been happening in government here in Washington?
PHILLIPS: Not very often. That's the whole problem. I mean, if you go back and you take my political generation at the ripe old age of just 49 -- I've been in politics for a long time, in the sense of in it or observing it. And I came down here in, let's say, December of 1964 after what had been a bad period with the Kennedy assassination, heading into the whole Vietnam era with more assassinations; then when we were, of course, happy after the '68 election, but that happiness didn't last. You could see it was an embattled administration: demonstrations everywhere -- the Mall was an armed camp; the country was divided; then Watergate came. And then we had Carter, and that was -- I think Republicans, in a small way, enjoyed the disillusionment of the Democrats. They were just as embarrassed then as Republicans had been during Watergate and Democrats had been during Johnson. I think it's been a disillusioning quarter of a century. I don't think it's been a quarter of a century in which you say, "My God, weren't these marvelous men and marvelous times?" Exciting, in a sense, yes, but not the period during which America put its best people or its best foot forward.
LAMB: Let me read you a little bit from your book. It's in the foreword. "That Washington should seem irrelevant to the average American" -- dash-- "a sinkhole to be forgotten when the fish are biting or a good movie is on television" -- dash -- "means that Republicans can keep the White House until disillusionment can no longer be avoided." Do most Americans think this place is a sinkhole?
PHILLIPS: I think they do, and I also think they think their state capitals are, by and large, sinkholes. I mean, I suspect that if you took a poll in California on Sacramento, it wouldn't get rave notices. If you took a poll in Florida on Tallahassee, it wouldn't. If you took a poll in Pennsylvania on Harrisburg -- and so on. And it's clear that Americans don't think Washington does very much. It's a cynical set of situations by which I think the Republicans -- the more Americans believe that government can't do anything, the less they will demand out of Washington. The less they demand out of Washington, the more it squares with the Republican ideology of not doing very much. Now if somebody who's Republican antecedents go back to a different portion of this whole Republican period, I don't agree with that. I think the Republicans -- that this whole business with flag desecration issues and pornography, as much as I think that that exhibition that Jesse Helms has protested about in in the NEA situation doesn't deserve federal funding, it's clear to me that these issues that are being trumped up, or at least I -- it's my feeling that these issues that are being trumped up now are evasions of the larger national challenges. And I think that Washington has gotten more of a role ideally than Washington is playing. Washington has got to be the rallying point for putting this country back in a more effective set of policies and outlooks. And whether you're a Republican or Democrat, I think you've got to take some of that view, and I think it's a great weakness of the present administration that they don't want to develop that; that they alternate between pushing it back to the states and then saying, "Well, we don't have any money to do it here." Where there's a will, there's a way; I don't think they have the will.
LAMB: In the world of politics and elections, where do you put money in the important importance level in the economy? Is it everything?
PHILLIPS: You mean money in the sense of its role in politics or money as an issue for the average American or both?
LAMB: Well, I guess -- can there be a charismatic politician who can win with straight charisma no matter what the economy is, or is it all controlled, in your cycle theory, by the economy?
PHILLIPS: Well, my cycle theory involves a lot of things that aren't economic. When Nixon won in 1968, I would say that culture and patriotic issues were much more than the economy, which wasn't in bad shape in 1968 partly because of the war. I think economics is often a dominant force, but by no means always. As much or more of American political history has been a function of culture and patriotism as of economics -- and they weave together, and sometimes they go together and sometimes they contradict each other.

In the early stages, back in the Nixon years and probably even into the early Reagan years, Democrats would lead the Republicans in terms of being trusted to help the middle class or keep the economy going, but the Republicans were deemed to be much better on keeping America strong or preserving this or that value or fighting crime or things like that. So it's a mix, but I would say the really troublesome angle, at this point, is that politics in the United States now has become a matter of money in terms of its technical aspects, of winning elections, of being able to keep yourself in power.

It's so much a question of money that people who ought to be having ideas are spending their time raising money; people who should be going to committee hearings are going to fund-raisers; people who should be listening to their constituents are listening to their contributors, and the net result is a politics that reflects all that. It doesn't reflect ideas. It doesn't reflect the values of the grass roots. They talk about values, but why are fewer and fewer people bothering to vote? Because their values are represented? No, because their values aren't represented.
LAMB: The last time it was down as low as it is now was -- what? -- 1924 or something like that?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I would say that probably it was right after women had gotten the vote and women were sort of slow to move into the same level of participation as men were, and it would have been in 1924 or right in there.
LAMB: Well, then with no extenuating circumstances, is this the lowest percentage of voters ever -- 50 percent -- on a national election?
PHILLIPS: No, because you go back into the '20s, but if you go back before the '20s, it probably is because, say, in 1824, 1820 or 1828, you were just starting to have the enfranchisement of ordinary people. Right after the revolution, you might not have more than 10 percent, 12 percent, 15 percent of the adult males allowed to vote in a place like Connecticut or New Jersey simply because they didn't meet the property qualification. It's only by the 1830s that you're getting past any of that, and by the time you did get into the 1830s and 1840s, the turnout was a lot higher than it is now. So in terms of the modern United States where everybody can vote, this is about as low as it gets.
LAMB: Is it going to keep going?
PHILLIPS: I don't think so because it's just inconceivable to me that the politicians can maintain sort of the present level of non-responsiveness, of intellectual bankruptcy, of not being willing to raise issues because they can't afford to because of their contributors. I think somebody's going to move around that. Somebody's going to stand up and somebody's going to raise those issues, and I think when somebody does, if he can measure up -- and you can say her or she, but it's much more likely to be a male politician, then I think you'll see turnouts start to rise again. If it doesn't, and there's certainly a chance, maybe two or three out of 10 that it won't happen -- if that turnout doesn't start to rise, then you have to say the United States is in some trouble.
LAMB: We only have a short time left. Are you getting tired of all this?
PHILLIPS: I sometimes have the feeling -- and I've said this to people -- that I have the horrible feeling that it's like going into a movie and waiting -- and this is where I came in -- that a whole new politics maybe is about to start, maybe not; maybe it'll improve something, maybe it'll yield something and maybe it won't; maybe this time the politicians will live up to expectations, but if they really do, it'll be a first. Normally what you get out of American politics is these short bursts of real creativity and coalition change, and then it sort of settles into a norm. I think we've had a lower norm than usual. I hope there's a real change coming.
LAMB: The name of the book is "Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath." Our guest for the last hour has been Kevin Phillips.
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