BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ben Wattenberg, author of the new book, "The First Universal Nation." You've got lots of statistics in this book. And one of them that caught my attention was the percent that are quite proud of their country in the world. And you list that the United States has 96 percent of its people that are proud -- number one in the whole world -- of their country. Why?
BEN WATTENBERG, AUTHOR, "THE FIRST UNIVERSAL NATION": Well, this is a great country, Brian. What can I tell you? I mean, Americans are very different. Tocqueville wrote about it. Over 100 years ago, he called it American exceptionalism. Americans are the only people who belong to a country that was started on a set of ideas rather than on who you are. We now come from everywhere -- all over the world. We believe we have a role to play around the world -- it is interesting -- I will tell you why, or give you some evidence that there's some historical truth to it, I think.
On the back of the dollar bill of the United States of America, there is the great seal of the U.S., which is a circle with a triangle, a pyramid and an eye. And beneath it, it says, "Novus Ordo Seclorum," which is a new order of the ages, and pretty close to what President Bush is talking about -- new world order. That great seal of the United States was written by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson before there was even a Constitution. So you had these three guys, probably drinking beer in Philadelphia, sitting before a little sliver of land along the East Coast of the United -- it wasn't even the United States of North America, thousands of miles away from where the action was in the world, which was Europe. And they were already sitting there saying, "You know, we're going to create a new order for the ages." So the United States of America was never just about being the most prosperous nation in the world, having the highest per capita income, having the best budget deficit or trade deficit. I'm sure we're going to end up, alas, talking about that. But it was about a different way of organizing society and humanity, and it had to do with pluralism and upward mobility and individualism and opportunity and dynamism and a whole lot of other things; and Americans feel that.
And that's one of the reasons no other country would be involved in this Gulf thing. Switzerland wouldn't be involved in that. What do they say, "We want to eat well and drink well," which is fine. I have no problem with that. So Americans feel that they have been the good guys of history and that we stand for something important, with all our problems. And we have loads of problems, and I try to deal with them in the book as best I can and as honestly as I can. But there is a great optimism in this country, and it is an optimism based on realism. We have become, as the title of the book says, "The First Universal Nation," the only country in the world where people from everywhere come, and the only country in the world whose culture, whose popular culture, whose ideas are now swamping the world everywhere -- movies, television, radios, VCR, journalism, C-SPAN, CNN -- whatever.
LAMB: And I want to leave this statistic because I want to make a connection to something we've been doing here, and that is concentrating a lot on Japan and Germany. If you go down this list again of the percent of people who are very or quite proud of their country, Ireland is second, Britain is third, Spain is fourth. But then on the bottom of this particular list, you have Japan, that only 62 percent are really proud of their country and in Germany, only 59 percent. Why do you think that?
WATTENBERG: Wasn't Italy down there, also?
LAMB: Italy's ...
WATTENBERG: Sort of low?
LAMB: No, it's 80.
WATTENBERG: Is it? Well, I mean, I'll tell you, if I were an adult Japanese or a German, looking back on the recent history of my country, there would be a lot of things I would not be very proud of, like setting into motion World War II, which killed 60 million people. They have a lot not to be proud of and I think that deep down, that they understand that. And moreover, they don't have -- my sense of that question is no other country in the world -- maybe, perhaps a few -- have a sense of purpose that we stand for something, we're here for something. I mean, France is so protective of its culture, but it's sort of we want to keep this language in this particular thing here in France. But it's not a global idea, it's not an idea-oriented situation.
And my sense is --and again, I deal with it in the book -- that with the demise of the Soviet Union as a major competitor, in this grand argument for who's number one and who's the most influential in the world, we will be moving from the military and diplomatic sphere --and that's still very important -- people say, "Well, now what counts is economics and who's going to sell the most widgets." I would argue with that. I mean, that's important, also. But the importantest thing is who is going to dominate the global value system, the way the world turns and marches -- the ideas. And I think this spread of American popular culture is a) our secret weapon, and b) probably the most important thing going on in the world today.
I mean, they ran the Academy Awards early this year and it's a trade show. I mean, it's like 100 that I've given speeches to. It's the glitz merchants out there pedaling their products and they do it in a particularly interesting way. And it's a trade show. We -- nobody would particularly want to go to the widget or the snap-hook fasteners trade show. This one was broadcast in 100 countries to a billion people because they said, "You know, those are the people I watch on my television set. Those are the movies I watch." Why do they watch them? It's not just because we're so technically proficient in that field, although we are. It's because even those movies that alleged neocons like myself would say, "Oh, that's anti-American, that's not showing America in a good light, la, la, la." -- even those movies, let alone the other ones, are sort of suffused with this idea of America. And people all around the world are saying, "I hate it; I love it; but that's where the action is. That's what's going on in the world." And that is, in terms of the grand argument, who's making the world spin in the direction it's spinning. We are the most dominant in the world now, becoming more dominant for a variety of factors. And the irony of it is at precisely that time you have this sort of band of intellectuals -- I call them the ABC gang, the apocalyptic bean counters -- are going around saying, "America's in decline." I don't believe it.
LAMB: Page three.
WATTENBERG: Yes, sir.
LAMB: Help me understand the following. Talk about yourself: "I am a paleo-liberal." What is that?
WATTENBERG: Paleo -- I guess as in old. Not old necessarily, chronologically. I'm 57 years young. That's the Heinz year for 57 varieties. But it's all in the sense that when I became a liberal and a Democrat, I was a kid under Franklin Roosevelt and there was Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson. I worked with Hubert Humphrey, worked with Scoop Jackson. It was a very sort of a muscular, assertive liberalism. It said, first of all, that the United States ought to be internationalist, assertive around the world, when the Republicans were isolationists. It said we ought to believe in merit. Quotas were anathema to that Democratic -- that paleo-party, that old party -- the one that used to win elections, by the way. It's a people -- I mean, after all, it was quotas that were keeping Jews and blacks out of college, so we were against quotas; we were for merit and we were for vigorous, muscular, rapid economic growth and it was the Republicans, those high-bound fogies, sometimes called conservationists, not conservatives, who were saying, "Oh, no, go slow." I campaigned with Hubert Humphrey as late as 1970, and he used to use in his speeches the phrase "belching smokestacks." That was the good news. Belching. Scoop Jackson -- we campaigned up in Berlin, New Hampshire -- in the 1970s, I guess it must have been in '72 -- we did sort of a foray in there to see whether he was going to run.
And as you come into Berlin you get this terrible smell of the paper mills, and we were sitting in the back of the car with Scoop and I said, "Oh, God!" And he laughed at me. He poked me, he says, "Hey, that's the smell of money." He came from Everett, Washington, big paper town, and when you had that smell, people were happy and everything: "The mills are working." So now on all three of those issues the nouveau liberals, the new-politics liberals, as opposed to the paleo-liberals or the neo-conservatives -- whatever you want to call them -- it's as if the skate master blew a whistle and said, "Oh, OK, everybody skate the other way, we're not going to be internationalists; we're going to be neo-isolationists; we're not going to be pro-merit, we're going to be pro-quotas; we're not going to be pro-economic growth -- or not in the same measure that we are; we're going to be environmentalists."
Now a certain case to be made for each of those, but not much of one by my light. And so I think, on those three issues, for example, Ronald Reagan pulled the biggest political heist in the history of the world. He took over the ideology of the whole party. And he didn't take it over; it was given to him. People said, "Oh, no, we're not interested in that kind of stuff anymore." Of course, the rest of the American people are. He said, "This is not a country that wants quotas; it's a country that wants economic growth; it's a country that wants an international view of things." So I say I'm a paleo-liberal because people call me a neo-conservative -- I don't care what people call me anymore. But my sense is, who told them -- the governing wing -- that they own the Democratic Party, or owned the word "liberal." Liberal was an honorable word. Now the liberals have to go around saying, "Oh, I'm not a liberal. Call me a progressive."
LAMB: Let me continue ...
WATTENBERG: Go ahead. I didn't mean to go on that long.
LAMB: No, that's all right. With your words, "a supply-side infrastructionalist." I'm sure I blew that one but ...
WATTENBERG: Yeah. This whole supply-side argument intrigued me. I mean, I think some of it makes a great deal of sense. What turned me off a little bit about supply-side was their anti-government stances, that you -- if you were a supply-sider -- you were anti-government. The government has still, a powerful, potent role in a vigorous supply-side economy. You don't have to be supply-side -- infrastructuralist is what I call it. A government still has to build one level or another of government -- the roads, the bridges and the ports and the harbors and the air traffic control system and all the things that make a modern economy go bang. And to simply say, "We're going to cut taxes and cut government, and that's the Magic Kazoo," is as silly as some of the liberal magic potions. And I am for an entrepreneurial spirit, and I am for more competition and I am for deregulation, but that does not always mean a mindless assault on government.
LAMB: I'm going to keep going on this, but let me interrupt just a second. Born in Brooklyn?
LAMB: Excuse me.
WATTENBERG: That's all right.
LAMB: Parents were from?
WATTENBERG: My parents were both from Eastern Europe, both of whom immigrated, in one case as a child and one case as a very young man, to what was then called Palestine. And then they both -- after World War I -- came to the United States to study. Met at Columbia University -- this is the first book of mine where I had a chance to do some memoir and some humor and some reflecting and so I have that in there -- and met here in the United States, and they planned to go back to Palestine, and then my sister was born and there was a depression, and I was born and there was a war, and here we are.
LAMB: And they never went back?
WATTENBERG: Well, I mean, they went back as visitors but we ...
LAMB: One is dead and one is alive.
WATTENBERG: My mom died -- what? -- 13, 14 years ago, and my dad -- we're just going to celebrating his 91st birthday at my house in late December. And he's still going strong, boy.
LAMB: We'll talk some more about that, but I want to back to how you describe yourself. Paleo-liberal, supply-side infrastructuralist, a neo-Manifest Desterian.
WATTENBERG: No. Neo-Manifest Destinarian.
LAMB: Excuse me.
WATTENBERG: That's OK. That's my bumper sticker. That's what we were talking about before. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century in the United States said -- as I was saying in somewhat different words -- that the United States has a role to play beyond its own immediate prosperity, that we stand for something. This was at that time a geographically expansionist country. But in the mouth of Theodore Roosevelt and others, it was not just geographical expansion, it was the idea that we stand for something and we ought to try to purvey these ideas.
Now it went too far. There is no question what we did in the Philippines and a lot of other places -- and it was done, at times, in a coercive manner. But the idea that we have something to offer in this world, that this set of ideas is powerful, important and relevant to the rest of the world, I think, is what the 1990s are going to be all about. So that's why I put the neo on top of the Manifest Destiny. It's not the same kind of Manifest Destiny idea, but as neo-Manifest Destinarians, that ought to be the root of our foreign policy. It is to encourage those parts of society, be it in the entertainment world, or tourism, or immigration, or our colleges, that are out there organically purveying or offering these American ideas, and we cannot direct that as a government. We don't want to touch it; it's got to happen on its own. But we ought to encourage it and make it easier for those instrumentalities to function around the world.
LAMB: The book is, as you define it, a bunch of your columns. You write one a week?
WATTENBERG: I write one a week.
LAMB: Published where?
WATTENBERG: Published all over the country by it's in about 200 newspapers. It goes out through United Media and through the Newspaper Enterprise Association, NEA.
LAMB: There's also some of your work in US News & World Report.
WATTENBERG: Some of my work in US News.
LAMB: Some individual, new work woven in through this, including memoir material.
WATTENBERG: Right, about 60 separate, smaller pieces. Some small, some that go on for a few pages, a lot of it memoir, personal recollections of some of the people I worked with -- President Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson. Some of it, I like to think, a little humorous. And then there are still two other pieces to the ...
LAMB: I know. I'm going to get there. But ...
WATTENBERG: Very unique, strange book, I'll tell you. It taught me a lot.
LAMB: You had a lot of fun with this book.
WATTENBERG: Oh, yeah. This is ...
LAMB: The best?
WATTENBERG: I don't know, they're all your favorite when you write them. For the moment this one is because it let me do things that I hadn't really done before. I mean, the stuff, the recollections, the anecdotes, that is fun. I want to go back to that and do it in a bigger way. But you can get a lot of ideas across through reminisces, recollection, personal observations, some humor that is a little harder to digest when you say, "Brian, I'm going to tell you how the world works. A, B, C, subset A -- Roman four, subset." I mean, for the moment it's my favorite.
LAMB: I could be wrong about this, but I think the last column that I could find in here was August 7th, 1990 which was right after the August 2nd Kuwait, Iraq experience. Was that when this thing went to bed?
WATTENBERG: Well, yes and no. We closed it roughly in the middle of August, but then I had the opportunity in early September, and mid-September, and even late September, of doing some final corrections, and I did. I was making some galley corrections. And I looked at that one and I had subsequently written another few columns and pieces about Iraq. And I said, "No, I think I got it right the first time." And, basically, I think the column was called "Thanks, Saudi Baby" or "Thanks, Saddam," or something like that.
At the time when everybody was saying, "Peace dividend, peace dividend," where you can go do away with the defense budget, everything's going to be fine, America doesn't have this to do anymore -- that it was still a tough, cruel world out there, that we still had a major responsibility and a major role. That this would help us long-term. That it would make clear to everybody that the United States was still the leading power in the world, which we are, which the Gulf thing makes very clear. So I've written a few things there after that, but I said, "That's got it -- that's got it pretty well."
LAMB: Another ingredient, in essence, gets back to how you describe yourself, because it was so voluminous, I had to copy all of it on separate pages.
WATTENBERG: Oh, great. OK.
LAMB: Twenty-five separate pages of numbers. And you call yourself a numbers nut.
WATTENBERG: Yeah, well, I have always -- what I did in the book -- that's the fourth part of five parts. What I did in the book, as I've done in some earlier books, is say, "Look, these arguments that we get into, be it about poverty, or race, or education, or infant mortality, or housing or whatever, people are ignoring the central numbers on these things." You get the rhetoric of activists on either side and they are flailing around with this number or that number, but the reader, the observer, the participant rarely gets census reports, he doesn't get the reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, he doesn't sit down for a week with the statistical abstract of the United States, he doesn't get business indicators. So I designed 125 little, sort of, pocket-size charts. I made them lean and mean and just run them in a simple column so people --because people can get a little turned off by too many numbers.
So I have always been writing, since I wrote this, the first census book with Dick Scammon in 1965 called "This USA." This is the fourth, really, in a series of books that I call, in my head, census books. I mean, they've gotten far beyond that; they get into foreign policy, and attitudes, and American history and politics. But that they are rooted in numbers. And the columns tend to talk about trends and what's going on in the United States. But in each section I put a page of four or five or six bite-size charts that kind of give you a flavor of what the real numbers are.
And some of those little data sets there are the most powerful things in the book. In other words, we have this huge argument in the United States about infant mortality. They say, "Oh, infant mortality. It's so terrible. It's going up. There's so much of it." And you look at the simple time flow, that in the last 20 years or so infant mortality in the United States, for both blacks and whites, has been cut in half; it's been reduced by 50 percent. And we go prattling on about how high it is and it's getting terrible, and it's not.
Now you can make the case that it's higher than it ought to be. You can make the case that we still want to take it down further. You can make the case that there are babies dying who oughtn't to be, and I happen to agree with that. But this is a country -- we've scored a massive victory in -- and better than writing a book about it, you can show that in a little data set.
The other reason I went into that is I do a lot of speaking to corporate groups and trade associations. A lot of the businesspeople say, "Well, tell me what you know about demographics. Tell me, how can we plan for the 1990s? Where are we now?" So the book is, in part, addressed to them. And again, to give them the original working title of the book, before I expanded it to where it went, was called, "The Terrain of the '90s." It was looking ahead and saying, "You can't predict the future, but you can know the terrain upon which you operate." And those number sets tend to lay out a terrain upon which a marketing man, or a CEO, or an advertising executive can say, "OK, this is where we come from. This is how many blacks there are, how many Hispanics. This is where the immigrants are. This is the number of college-educated people." But again, in a sort of distilled basis.
LAMB: Now you said there's a fifth part. I may have missed it, but other than the fact that you have written original material introducing some of the chapters in your introduction here ...
WATTENBERG: Well, the fifth part is -- there's an introduction, and then a second chapter which goes on for -- which lays out a grand thesis of what's going on called, "The First Universal Nation." And then the columns and the 60 additional little interstitial pieces, plus the charts, try to bolster -- and they are the bricks that support the thesis that's laid out in this original first chapter. And -- as I say -- we've had a lot of conversations with the publisher. It is a little hard to figure out how to describe this book, because I do not want it called a column book. It started out as a column book.
LAMB: Why not?
WATTENBERG: Why not? Well, because column books, people say, "Oh, well, I already saw that. That's old stuff." And Erwin Glikes, who's the president of Free Press, came by my office one day and said, "I really like your columns. Let's do a collection of columns." They had done George Will's column book. It did very well. George is a very distinguished columnist and I was very flattered and impressed and said, "Hey, you know, great -- wonderful. I know what I'll do. I'll take the best 150 columns, put a cover on them. Bye, it's great -- you get a free book out of it." And I sat down and I started doing that and rereading all my old columns. And this was sort of in -- must have been mid `88 or something, and the whole events of '89 were coming toward us with a great rush.
And I had done a book about the '60 census, about the '70 census, about the '80 census, and I saw the calender moving toward the '90 census, and I said, "I don't have to wait till 1992 or 1993 to write about the '90 census." With all the sample survey data coming out, we know pretty well what the 1990 census is going to show about how many Asians are coming and how many Hispanics, and what the median income is. You don't have to wait for that data to come out. And I started reading that stuff and I said, "You know, there" -- I unconsciously had been in my weekly writing in my columns, which I take pretty seriously, moving toward a central idea, this idea of the first universal nation. I said, "Hey, you know, I want to do one of those books again. Can I do it using some of the material I have, but then weaving it together with a lot of new material."
And then what happened was -- it was kind of interesting. It almost subconsciously --see, there must be -- I don't know, there a lot of columns in there -- over 100. And people say, "Well, you know, those columns -- you're just reprinting them." At least half of those columns came into my mind after I understood the thesis of the book and said, "You know, I'm going to be attacked in this book because people are going to say, 'Crime is terrible in the country.' I better take a fresh look at that." And on that one it was kind of interesting because I'd say, "Everything's coming up rosy," because I tend to be optimistic. And that crime is an absolute disaster in this country and I'm going to write a column, laying it out, what the data are, how terrible it is.
So I did the column for the book, not the other way around. And I got into it and actually went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI. The numbers are pretty complicated, and depending which set -- crime is a disgrace in the United States, way too high, higher than any country in the world. You can make a pretty good case when you look at the victimization rates, as opposed to the crimes reported to the police. And I think the victimization rates are the correct ones, for reasons that I explain in the book, that crime went up, way up, and then as it came down a little in the early '80s and it's kind of plateauing at this somewhat lower level. I think it's going to go down again a little bit as we deal with the crack epidemic; the other line, crimes reported to the police, keeps going up. There's two very different views: that crime is getting worse and crime is bad; but it's kind of leveling off and may be going down. I tend to lean toward the latter.
But in any event, getting back to what you were talking about, even a lot of the columns were directed toward this central theme, so you end up with a book -- I was thinking about it -- when Truman Capote wrote this book "In Cold Blood," he called it a non-fiction novel, and that got an enormous amount of attention. Wow, new form, non-fiction novel, what does he mean? And it was this story of the Clutter family and that murder -- it was a beautiful book. And I was saying, "This thing -- by my lights anyway, it is not a collection, in the normal sense of the word." I mean, there's so much I went through -- all the agony and passion that you go through when writing a normal kind of book, because you have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You have to have a structured thesis and ensure it. Put in a lot of these columns, which I worked very hard on, plus the data, plus the interstitial essays.
And so, I was trying to come up -- I'd been a publisher, and I said, "You know, what would you call such a book generically?" And I haven't come up -- if one of your viewers has a good idea. I toyed around with calling it "novel non-fiction," as opposed to a non-fiction novel, but that tells what it isn't, if you say it's novel non-fiction. But it's a different combination of elements, anyway. And as you said, I really like it. That's the most important thing for an author here.
LAMB: There should be no doubt, though, if you buy this book, compared to almost every book, that at least we've seen this year, that this is a positive, optimistic --America is a wonderful, fabulous place and here's the proof. That fair?
WATTENBERG: All correct. I would say ...
LAMB: Best nation in the world.
WATTENBERG: Oh, yeah. But the question is whether that's optimism or realism? And I would say that is realistic. I do not fancy myself as an optimist.
LAMB: You did not start with the premise and then find the statistics to fill it in?
WATTENBERG: I don't believe so. I mean, there are obviously people who would say otherwise, but that is not the way I go about this thing. And I think I'm what people call an optimist because that's where the data has taken me. And I'll tell you something else, you go out on the street -- and there is survey research on this -- and ask the American people "Is this the best country in the world?" -- we were talking about it earlier -- everybody will agree. That's a pretty uncontroversial statement, by the way. I mean, everyone says, "Oh, there's Wattenberg, he's crazy. He's going around saying America's the best country in the world. What's he doing that for?" Everybody agrees with that. Not only do Americans agree with that, all over the world people agree with that. It's not exceptional.
LAMB: Pick two pessimistic authors that you write about. Charles Murray, now your colleague.
WATTENBERG: Now my colleague, there you are.
LAMB: American Enterprise Institute. And Kevin Phillips, who -- you just disagreed with Kevin Phillips. You think he's got a bad idea, a bad thesis.
LAMB: Why? First of all, what's his premise and how do you disagree?
WATTENBERG: Well, Kevin Phillips, it's a combination of economics and politics. His economics say -- and he's picked this up from a lot -- and he's a smart guy. He's a colleague of mine on the CBS Spectrum broadcast and I've known him for many years. He says that the rich got richer faster -- no, strike that. He says, essentially, and he has a lot of muddled numbers in his book, in my judgment -- he picks up this basic cliché that the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer and the middle class got poorer at the expense of the poor. That's the basic argument.
Subset of that is, well, maybe other people didn't actually lose ground, maybe they gained a little ground, but the rich got so much richer. And then he says, "Therefore, because American politics works in certain cycles where this issue of equity and fairness continually comes up" -- in that he's essentially correct, although his conclusion from that, I don't think is entirely correct. He says, "Therefore, the Democrats, who have been pussycats on this issue, ought to go out and say, 'Fairness is what counts -- equity is what counts.'" And he's been attacked for preaching class war and that's what will win elections for Democrats. And as you know, in 1990 when the budget material came up, everybody said, "Oh, this is the Kevin Phillips argument. Isn't that wonderful the Democrats have rediscovered fairness."
Now I argue with Kevin Phillips. I think it's not new and it's not true. Other than that, it's pretty interesting. It is not true that the poor got poorer, the middle class got poorer, and only the rich got richer. There are two arguments here.
One is, in the 1980s, and even going back before that, you look at the census data, everyone got richer. The poor got richer; the middle class got richer; the rich got richer. You can see those quintile data. So the real argument is this: it's not whether some of us didn't get richer -- as groups; we all got richer -- it is, did some people get richer faster than other people? Did the gap -- did the percentage shares of income --did the rich get richer? And that is very complicated data. Everybody said, "Oh, that's true. It happened. Reagan greed and all that kind of stuff."
Very complicated stuff, because the data is very complicated. For example, in those data series they don't count non-cash transfers, so-called. They don't count things like food stamps. We decide to spend tens of billions of dollars on a program like food stamps, you get little pieces of colored paper, you can take it into the supermarket and buy what money normally buys, but they say, "We're not going to count that as money because it's a non-cash transfer. You didn't get it in money. We're talking about income." Well, I mean, that's income.
Then the other thing they don't count -- that's on the poor side. The other thing they don't count -- the biggest advance in the middle class in the last 20 years or so has been in the form of medical programs paid for by the employer -- huge boost in that in cost and in number and the employer share of pension plans, which have grown fantastically. "Sorry, we're not going to count that -- not cash." Well, not cash, but if you've got to go buy it, it's cash. The unions all bargain for it. So that gets very complicated and very fuzzy. It's not as simple.
And then on the political side, the idea that Democrats ought to use the fairness issue --it's a great issue. It is a great issue. That's not new. That's been going on at least since the time of Franklin Roosevelt. It is the best Democratic issue. But Carter used it against Reagan, Mondale used it against Reagan, Dukakis used it against Bush. It isn't enough. What is plaguing the Democrats is not that they haven't been going on fairness. That's a good, rich, legitimate issue.
Dick Scammon and I wrote a book in 1970 called "The Real Majority," where we said "Sure, economics are still important, but the Democrats are losing it on what we then called the social issue: crime, race, permissiveness, values, Pledge of Allegiance, Willie Horton quotas." I mean, just to update it. And the Democrats, because they are reflexively -- the liberal squeaky wheel part of the Democratic Party -- are so intense on that and so afraid to come out the other way that they are always looking for a golden kazoo, for a Holy Grail that says, "We don't have to worry about that. We can win elections on the gender gap, on nuclear power, on the nuclear freeze, on blacks voting in the South, on Nicaragua, on El Salvador" -- you name it, they got it -- "On fairness. All we have to do is concentrate on fairness and people."
And then every four years the Republicans come along with a big wet fish and slap them on the head and say, "Gotcha." And they do it on patriotism, and they do it on values, and they do it Willie Horton and they do it on the Pledge of Allegiance, and they're going to do it on quotas just as sure as we're sitting here. And the Democrats say, "Oh, you're not playing fair. You're being a demagogue." I don't believe that. The biggest issue in American politics in the last 25 years is, "Has the Democratic Party gone too liberal?" And the Republicans would be crazy not to campaign on it. And depending on what metaphor they use, and what language they use, you can say, "It's getting demagogic." But that is a powerful issue and people have every right in the world to vote on it.
LAMB: Would you say -- well, by the way, I wanted to read one line here. You said -- this is from your book, and you're talking about Kevin Phillips -- "He kindly informs Democrats how to win in the '90s. Interesting. Phillips is a Republican. His advice is suicidal for Democrats." And then you have a little phrase there, you go, "Hmmm." Do you think he's up to something? Is he doing it on purpose? Is he setting them up?
WATTENBERG: No, let's put it this way, in this conspiratorial town there might be those who would think that. I know Kevin. I don't think he's doing it. I think he's had a legitimate change of heart over the years. I don't think he's much of a Republican now. I don't think he's doing it as a way to trick Democrats into behaving suicidally, but, in my judgment, what he is prescribing is suicidal for Democrats.
LAMB: But if people watch this town and people like you and Kevin Phillips -- you're a Democrat, and he's a Republican -- and you're both confusing everybody.
WATTENBERG: Well, you know ...
LAMB: Don't you agree? I mean ...
WATTENBERG: It's very interesting. You know,he must be a few years younger than me -- not many years younger than me. We both grew up in the Bronx. He was known as a big conservative when he wrote his first book, "The Emerging Republican Majority." I came up working for LBJ. I mean, I was regarded as a rather liberal sort of a Bronx-Jewish kid, and somehow the ships crossed in the night, and so that the Democrats, particularly liberal Democrats, say, "Hey, you know, look at Kevin Phillips. He's saying the right thing." And I got a whole bunch of people on the conservative side -- a lot of Republicans saying, "Hey Wattenberg" -- I was called, I think, in Time magazine, Ronald Reagan's favorite Democrat. So it is a little strange, but politics is a little strange. I mean, people have to go where their heart and mind takes them.
LAMB: I mentioned Charles Murray. Who is he and what was his thesis and why do you disagree with him?
WATTENBERG: Murray is a social scientist who wrote a very insightful book called "Losing Ground" some few years ago that made the case that the basic Lyndon Johnson great society programs, far from helping the poor, hurt the poor because it made them too dependent. And I thought that half of what he said -- and that's what I point out in the book -- half of what he said was very profound and very insightful and very important. He said that things like permissiveness in the education system, and permissiveness in the criminal justice code were hurting poor -- these liberal ideas were hurting poor people.
But those were not LBJ great society federal programs. I mean, we didn't have common criminals act in the great society, and we didn't have a"Let's throw out the three R's from public education" program. That was sort of introduced by liberal Congresses, liberal staff of Congress, liberal regulators, the liberal academic establishment. That didn't come out of these great society programs. The great society programs, while there were some we would surely want to revisit, some that didn't work, some that were bummers, a lot of them were very important and moved this country, yanked it into the second half of the 20th Century; and they include things like environment, and consumerism; a lot of the poverty stuff worked; a lot of the poverty stuff, particularly through the Social Security system. I mean, it moved the whole class of elderly poor out of being elderly poor.
And now when these various programs help the elderly, the smart people say, "Oh, well, that's not money going to poor people. See, that's not helping." Well, the reason it's not helping poor people is because there's enough cash going in there that they're no longer poor. And they say, "Oh, see, that's going to middle-class people." Well, the reason they're middle class is because we've raised Social Security so high in this country, and appropriately so. I mean, again, you can argue about the precise limit, but Social Security is a damn good program.
LAMB: AEI, American Enterprise Institute, your title there is?
WATTENBERG: Senior fellow.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
WATTENBERG: I've been at the American Enterprise Institute for 12 years now --1970 -- I think it was the summer of '77 -- 13 years.
LAMB: Columnist -- 52 a year -- how long you been doing that?
WATTENBERG: I have been doing that since 1982--eight years.
WATTENBERG: Oh, I've been giving speeches for 20 years or so now.
LAMB: CBS Spectrum?
WATTENBERG: About 10 years.
LAMB: Book writing?
WATTENBERG: About 25 years.
LAMB: Did you ever think you would do that back there in the Bronx when you were growing up? And if you did, why and who influenced you?
WATTENBERG: Well, I grew up -- the first memory of what -- when I was growing up, I wanted to be Pete Reiser. Pete Reiser was the center fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, so that was where my first -- I think then I later wanted to be an exterminator when I saw the guy coming around with the tank, spraying the cockroaches. It's interesting, now that you bring it up. After I wanted to be Pete Reiser, I wanted to be a sportswriter -- Jimmy Cannon or the great sportswriter in New York at that time. When I was in high school I wrote sports and I went away to college, edited the school newspaper, was involved ...
WATTENBERG: Hobart College, Upstate New York -- Geneva, New York -- wonderful school. And then in one of my summers hitchhiked cross-country and worked for a few weeks, almost a month, I guess, as a reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal. At college I was a stringer for the Syracuse and the Rochester papers. And then came -- was in the Air Force and was working on the Air Force newspaper, and then came back to the East and worked as a trade magazine editor and started a book publishing company and was a book editor, and ultimately, a book writer. It's a long story and I get into some of that there.
What influenced me? I don't know. My grandfather was a famous Hebrew writer, and we've always had a somewhat of a -- he was a poet, actually, I think.
LAMB: Lived in Palestine?
WATTENBERG: Lived in what was then Palestine. Immigrated from Odessa. His pen name was Bensione. I'm named after him; that's where the Ben comes from. Actually, was one of those people at the turn of the century who helped make Hebrew into a modern language from the old biblical language when the Jews from Eastern Europe were immigrating to what was then called Palestine, the British protectorate --British mandate, I guess, mandate. Yeah. Anyway, I think people in our family have always been interested in that sort of stuff. It was sort of an intellectual family. I was always more interested in playing stick ball when I was growing up and--and never quite realized how much of it, apparently, was sinking in.
But then I found as I got older that the only way I could get anything through my thick skull is if I wrote it. I mean, if I talked it out and wrote it -- I found that the way I could learn things is if I just tracked them down and looked at the numbers, talked to people, and, ultimately -- I get it in the column writing as well. I think other people do, also --you find out what you think. You say, "Oh, I got this great idea. I know what I think I'm" -- da, da, da, da. You sit down and say, "Hey, I'm going to write it all out. It's a great idea." And you look at it and say, "What moron wrote this? I don't believe that. Nobody could believe that. Something's wrong with this argument." So you get on the phone and you look through the data and say, "Now what do I really mean? How do you make the words work? I know something's going on there." And it becomes a very creative sort of an act. People tend to think, you know, writing fiction, writing poetry is creative, and it is. I've taken a crack at fiction once.
But this public affairs writing, I mean, is also. You get a certain adrenaline flow and a certain creativity going, and you end up seeing things flying at the computer page, on that word processor, that you didn't know you understood, or you thought you understood something else. And it's in some ways like writing fiction. I don't mean to say it's fiction and that it's not true. But the fiction writers always say, "Well, the characters speak for themselves," and they go off on their separate ways. So do arguments. You know, you lay them out there and you say, "No, no, that's not where it goes. I thought it went there, but it's taking me into that other room." And ...
LAMB: What'd your parents do?
WATTENBERG: My mother came to study at the Columbia School of Nutrition -- to study nutrition on a graduate level to go back to Palestine to work in a kibbutz as a cook and as a nutritionist. My father was in the Austrian army for the last week of World War I, and then he was a big labor Zionist in Vienna and immigrated to Palestine, and worked draining the swamps and caught malaria, and his family was here so he came here to recuperate, then he went to law school. And he was an attorney involved in real estate -- still is, actually. But during the '40s and up through the early '50s, he was the first director of the American Technion Society, which was a group of American Jews, largely engineers and scientists and businessmen, who were trying to raise support for a very great school in what was then Israel, the Hypha Institute of Technology, now called the Technion -- then called the Technion, as well -- which is Israel's most notable engineering school and with a lot of other science thrown in, as well.
LAMB: You said that he's still involved in real estate and the law?
WATTENBERG: Well, yeah. Well, he ...
LAMB: At 90 years old?
LAMB: Ninety-one. Excuse me.
WATTENBERG: Still goes down to the office. Still is involved in something. I mean, he's not doing it full-time, but he's doing real well.
LAMB: Now you say in your life that you have people ...
WATTENBERG: We had a great 90th birthday for him. Last year we got together, we had a restaurant, we had about 70, 80 people, and he gave a speech that we speechmakers were saying, "Holy smokes, I wish I could give a speech like that."
LAMB: In the book, I believe, people in your life and family go from 91 to six and a half?
WATTENBERG: Yes, I have a daughter who's -- my children are 33, 31, 29 and six and a half -- and she's great. She's really great. That is a real talk about education.
LAMB: What's she teaching you?
WATTENBERG: Oh, God. What is she teaching me? She's teaching me what a little girl is like. I think going through parenthood the second time around, particularly for a man, you get the sense of the marvelousness and miracleness of it all. I had three kids when I was in my early to late 20s and you don't know a whole lot about the world then, and you're concerned about a lot of other things, as well as that, which I still am. I mean, it's not as if I'm a doting father with her all the time. I wish I did more of it. And you see how much work is involved in it. My wife is not working outside the house now and is a terrific mother. But at the end of the day she is about ready to plop taking care of one -- I don't see how some of these superwomen who have full-time careers and do them admirably well, and also have a child or two or three. I am in awe of what they do.
But from my point of view, you see the miracle of life and development. She's such a great kid. I mean, she's so beautiful and so bright and so warm and friendly. And you just see her learning things and discovering things, and it's a real education. And besides, she uses my computer better than I do. She's six and a half. She says, "Oh, Daddy, press exit -- press F7, exit to main document." I think she was working that computer before she could read, but she could read all the labels because she knew what they said. She had these little computer games.
LAMB: Back to your description of yourself in the beginning of the book. We went through paleo-liberal, a supply-side -- I'm going to try to say these again --infrastructuralist, a neo-Manifest Destinarian...
WATTENBERG: You got it. Great.
LAMB: ... a numbers nut, and then a pro-natalist ...
WATTENBERG: Pro-natalist. Right.
LAMB: I knew I would do that one wrong. I sound like a village idiot. Pro-natalist, redistributionist capitalist. What is a pro-natalist? What is natalism?
WATTENBERG: Natalism is related to birth and the pro-natal movement school of thought says that when birth rates go sufficiently low in the modern Western industrial nations, including the United States, they have gone below the rate required to merely reproduce any 2.1 children per woman over time, to merely keep a population stable, absent immigration. And the United States total fertility rate was about 1.8 children; in Europe it's down to 1.6; in Japan it's 1.5 something now. And so pro-natal refers to having children's allowances, day-care centers, doing tax breaks, tax credits -- doing things to make it easier for those young adults who want to have children to be able to have the economic wherewithal to do it. And, in fact, in the new budget bill this earned income tax credit is, in effect, a European-style children's allowance backed by Bush and by a lot of conservatives and by liberals. It was a very intelligent progressive legislation. So that's an example of pro-natalism. What came after?
LAMB: Redistributionist capitalist.
WATTENBERG: A redistributionist. Yeah, I have a certain sympathy with this fairness argument. There's nothing wrong with -- I mean, we do economic redistribution through our tax code all the time. That's not brand new. The question is, who is the money going to be redistributed to? And my thought -- it ties in with this pro-natal idea -- is that instead of the classic Democratic liberal ideas, you redistribute from the rich to the poor, I think we ought to be, for a variety of reasons, redistributing our wealth from the childless to the child-rearing.
OK, we have a big problem with poor kids in this country. I mean, as I said, Brian, this is a book that is, I don't think, mindlessly optimistic. It goes into some of our real problems. Poor kids is a big problem. We are through things like tax credits and earned income tax credits and a variety of things, some of which have recently come into law, but are not nearly a high enough level. We ought to be encouraging families in this country and allowing parents to spend the kind of time and effort with their families. We haven't raised that income tax deduction anywhere close to the increase in inflation over the years, so in that sense we ought to be redistributionists. And the labels -- politically you can't say, "I want to give from the rich to the poor" anymore. That's become too tarnished with liberalism. But if you say, "Let's give from the childless to the child-rearing because it's pro-family, everybody says, "Oh, that's wonderful,"' and it happens, by the way, to be giving from the rich to the less rich.
LAMB: And, finally, you say, "I'm still a hawk."
WATTENBERG: Yeah, it's a tough world out there. I mean, it's better to be strong than to be weak. Every major country in the world involved in this grand argument of who's number one has always tried to be the most powerful military force in the world. The United States now is with the Soviet Union in the superpower business, going out of business. Their military now is in the process of losing the war to Lithuania. We are the most powerful military force in the world and we ought to use that power very, very discreetly, very, very carefully. But if you're going to be the leader -- the world leader -- it is useful and important for our national interests to be strong and to have the credibility that if provoked in certain ways, at certain times, in certain places of our choosing -- because we're involved in the Gulf doesn't mean we're going to be involved everywhere, every time, all over the world -- that you have the wherewithal to deal with that. And if you have the wherewithal and the credibility, then people don't mess with you and you avoid wars. Peace through strength. That's what I mean by a hawk.
LAMB: By the way, it's interesting, we've got an hour to talk, which we think is a lot of time -- we're not past one paragraph on page three, and we're almost out of time. That shows you how far we've gotten.
WATTENBERG: You got to buy the book. You got to go into -- I've just been doing a book tour. Brian, you want the bad news, you got to go to those book chains. Here are these new thousands of bookstores, and they're great, except to find the damn book sometime. For an author, it is so exasperating. You got to go in and say, "I want this book. Order it if you don't have it." And it's just ...
LAMB: Is it usually there somewhere?
WATTENBERG: It's usually there. Mine is in most of the big chains. I guess one of the chains ordered it only for some of the stores. But sometime it's -- my name is with a "W" so it's down on the bottom and it's spine out instead of face out and the clerks--some of them are very good and some of them are a bunch of kids. And you say, "I want such and such a book," and they look at you as if you asked for a spaceship to Mars. And, you can go into a town and do three television shows and two radio shows, and go in that night to a bookstore and say, "Such and such" -- and I had one in Los Angeles -- the kid said, "Oh, I heard you on the Michael Jackson Show today. Oh, that's really great." He had no idea that it was related to a book. So excuse me for getting into my personal problems, but the whole author complaint -- and the publishers, Free Press, have done a terrific job on this book.
LAMB: Who are they, by the way?
WATTENBERG: The Free Press is a very distinguished, smaller publishing house -- a division of Macmillan. They've done a wonderful job on this book. Erwin Glikes is the publisher and the president, the editor-in-chief. They did the Bob Bork book, a book earlier. They do George Wills' books. It's a very distinguished publishing house. But the basic economics and distribution system in the book-publishing industry. It's still a cottage industry with thousands of titles coming out and you have to fight with your elbows to get your particular baby above the weeds and say, "Hey, pay attention to it. Go order it by name, or ..."
LAMB: Over 3,000 titles a month.
WATTENBERG: Something like that. It's incredible.
LAMB: Well, the statistics that I heard a couple of years ago floating around is that 75 percent of all the books are sold between October and December, and only 50 percent of the books sold in a year are read. Have you ever heard that?
WATTENBERG: I've heard variants of that. That sounds about right. There's another piece of it, which is Alfred Knopf that said, "This is the only industry in the world where you can say, 'Gone today, here tomorrow,'" because if there's a return -- there's full return to the booksellers. So sometimes they'll say, "Yeah, sure, give me a dozen of those. Give me six books of these, whatever," and you say, "Hey, great." Your publisher says, "Hey, we've gone back to press and we've sold all of these books." And then -- never with me happened before, not much -- the books six months later start coming back for full credit, so you never really know how many you've sold. There are people, they've done press -- they say, "Third printing press, run 70,000." You say, "Wow, you've sold 70,000 books?" All you did is sell 70,000 books to retailers. You haven't necessarily sold them to customers.
LAMB: And those books can come back to the ..
WATTENBERG: See, one of the interesting things -- I'm going to write about it -- for an author-- I like to sell books, I like to make money, you know, whatever. But you don't go into that business for that reason. You're in the business because you have some ideas you feel strongly about and you want to get the ideas out. What we're doing now -- how many people are we talking to?
LAMB: It depends on the time that this is being run.
WATTENBERG: It depends. OK. More, by far, probably by a multiple of five or 10, at least, that are going to buy the hard cover of that book, without question. So what this book tour does and being on programs, particularly, I must say, in one like this where you have an opportunity to really get into some of the flesh and the flavor of it, the three years you spend in your attic writing the book -- one of the most important aspects of that is it gives you a ticket to say, "Brian's going to talk to me for an hour and 500,000 people are going to listen to me." And that is getting the ideas out that came from the book. Or if I do some other television, or radios, or speeches, or articles or columns, it comes out of the fact that you've been sitting up there in the attic trying to figure out how the world works. You may be right, you may be wrong, but at least you feel strongly about it. So that's the real payoff in it.
LAMB: In your travels and stuff, what do most people want to talk about because of this book?
WATTENBERG: Well, I get a very interesting reaction. Half to two-thirds of the people who call in, for example, say, "Oh, I'm a longtime admirer of yours. I really think you're right. I've been listening to you on the radio. That really sounds right. You know, it's about time somebody stood up for America." And I think, "Oh, isn't that nice." And then the next call comes in, maybe a quarter to a third of them says, "Host, Brian so and so, I've been listening to your guest. Where's he living? He's crazy. This country's going down the tubes, X, Y and Z."
One other thing we didn't get into it much today, this universalizing of America, which has involved vast changes in our immigration flows, in the patterns. And I think immigration has been very good for this country, and that includes the Hispanics and the Asians and the Muslims and the black Caribbeans and the black Africans who are coming in now, making us this first universal nation. And I give these brilliant arguments, except somebody forgot to tell all us folks out there -- and there is a lot, as you know, of anti-immigration feeling. And people call up and they say, "Where is he living? He's living in this ivory tower. Why, these people moved in next door to me and they're throwing their garbage out the window, and this is Third World and this isn't America and la la."
And it is a great education for an author to do these talk programs, because you end up -- even if you travel a lot, and even if you talk to cab drivers, and even if you try to expand your circle of acquaintanceships, we all live in different kinds of ghettos. And I can travel to 10 cities and I'm meeting other people in the media, or politicians or businessmen, and this gives you an opportunity to get a pretty interesting -- I think it's a great contribution to democracy, this whole reactive -- both television and C-SPAN does it wonderfully. But so do a lot of other good -- a lot of radio. It is a remarkable contribution to democracy. And one of the things is it makes people who do the writing say, "You know, hey, maybe I'm not paying attention to enough of certain sorts of people."
LAMB: We've got a lot to talk about, Ben Wattenberg, and we can't do it. The clock says it's over. Ben Wattenberg. This is his book, "The First Universal Nation," published by Free Press. Sells for $22.95. And thank you very much for your time.
WATTENBERG: Thank you for having me, Brian.
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