BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Stanley Greenberg, author of "Middle Class Dreams," you quote Frederick Lewis Allen (ph) as saying that the election of 1896 perhaps is the most important in the whole history of the United States. How come?
STANLEY GREENBERG, AUTHOR, "MIDDLE CLASS DREAMS": Well, as I -- as I tried to work my way back from our current period -- and I actually -- and I started with a couple simple ideas. I've been -- I've been hearing over and over again as I talk to people, when you ask them, What's -- what's the Democratic Party -- what do you associate with the Democratic Party? They say, It's the party of the -- party of the people. It's for the little guy. And you ask them about the Republican Party, and they say it's a business-oriented party. I can -- I'll get that answer whether I ask some young kid who's never -- who has no recollection of America's political history or if I ask a senior citizen, they'll tell me the same thing. Republican and Democrat, they'll tell me the same thing.
And so part of the motivation of this book was to try to understand, you know, those simple ideas in people's heads. And what I found in the course of writing the book -- I kept coming back to 1896 as a -- as an election that was -- came in depression, in which the really -- it was really the first modern -- election in which the -- in which the parties were shaped by the modern industrial order. We had -- you know, we've gone through other elections, particularly, you know, since the Civil War, which we're living with the remnants of that struggle, and Reconstruction. And then you enter a competitive period in which it was unclear which party would be ascendant.
But 1896 was really the first election about how it is we organize a modern industrial America and how it is we achieve prosperity, how it is that ordinary citizens prosper as the country prospers. And there were two major world views put on the table in that election. From William Jennings Bryan, a populist view of the world, regionally based but, you know, asserted that the purpose of government is to protect the common person against the power of -- against the very powerful institutions of the country, both private and public. And then on the other side, you had, really, the first articulation from McKinley, the idea that if American capitalism survived -- you did -- I guess you could go back to Hamilton and some of this, but it was -- the election was really -- it was cast in these terms, with McKinley making the case that a business-led prosperity would bring prosperity to the country as a whole.
I mean, he went well beyond the way these had been spoken about before. He was a strong protectionist, protect American industry, build up American industry, and out of that process, we would be able to have prosperity to the ordinary worker. He -- McKinley -- McKinley came out of a working-class district in Ohio, where he had been running and trying to persuade working -- working-class people, union members, even at times supported strikers -- persuade them that their future lies with business. So McKinley made the case for a business-led prosperity.
It produced a three-decade-long great Republican era, which I write about, where the idea of business-led prosperity was a central notion. It was interrupted only by the splintering of the Republican Party, allowing Wilson to come into office, but it really didn't change the three-decade rule through Coolidge up until -- up until Hoover in which the idea of business-led prosperity was the conventional wisdom of the country. Forged in depression three decades -- three decades long.
The Democrats were seen out of that election as -- even though populist and for the common person, they were also seen to be anti-progress, anti-change, and were marginalized in the election. What happened then in '32 was the -- again, Depression, a three-decade-party era forged, but this time from the bottom up, the notion that if you could give the common person some stability, economic stability and rising living standards, that the country as a whole would prosper. And you had three decades of a great Democratic era, interrupted only by Eisenhower, who was a military hero.
But I believe it all started in 1896. That was the formative election in which a bottom-up party and a top-down party dominated our political scene for -- now for a good part of the century. It's not clear that party order now any longer fits the emerging economy. That's one of the great challenges we face. But I think we begin in 1896.
LAMB: Have you always been interested in history?
GREENBERG: Yes, I'd say that's true. I mean, I was trained as a political scientist, and I've always been -- I've been politically active as long as I can remember, beginning with the Civil Rights movement. And the -- I did my doctoral dissertation on the politics of poor neighborhoods in the United States. But when I went to write the book off of that, which was eventually called "Politics and Poverty," I decided to deal with it historically, look at the flow of immigration from how Latino communities were formed in the Southwest and how the flow of immigration came from Mexico, and got to understand the flow of immigration from out of the deep South to create sort of the urban communities of Detroit and Philadelphia. So I'm always push -- trying to push my understanding back historically, as a way of making sense of the present.
LAMB: Senator Chris Dodd was bragging on the radio this morning that you started with his campaign in 1980. Is that accurate?
GREENBERG: It's absolutely true! Absolutely true. I mean, I did -- I did -- I mean, I did polling as an academic, and I -- as a hobby, I would sometimes help candidates that -- you know, that I favored and contribute my services. But I didn't have a company, and I never even imagined that I would do it other than as a -- just for fun, as a volunteer. But no, it was his campaign in 1980. He decided for whatever reason not to use the pollster he was using and decided to use me. And so the first major campaign I did was Senator Dodd's campaign in 1980, and I'm sure I learned it all there.
LAMB: What were you doing? What...
GREENBERG: Well, I was...
GREENBERG: I was teaching at Yale. I was in New Haven, so I was in Connecticut. I was -- my wife was working on that campaign. The -- I was involved in a targeting group that was doing statistical analysis of -- you know, of precinct-level data. He asked me to do -- kind of take a second look at the polling data he was getting from his pollster and decided, based on the second look, that maybe I ought to do the first look. And so I did his campaign, which really -- was really the first campaign that I've ever done. Now he's chair of the Democratic Party and I'm happy to be in his wake.
LAMB: Your wife is Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. How long have you been married?
GREENBERG: We've been married for 16 years.
LAMB: How'd you meet?
GREENBERG: In a campaign. I was this quirky professor that got asked to help out in a '75 mayoral election in New Haven, and we began to -- in '76, we began to work on some campaigns together, and it -- it blossomed. We both ate anchovy pizza, and we both had our coffee with cream and sugar, and if you've been through a campaign when they -- when you go get the fast food stuff and bring it -- bring into the campaign headquarters, people who drink the same things and eat the same things gravitate to each other.
LAMB: And she's in what term?
GREENBERG: She's in her third term, just elected to her third term in Congress.
LAMB: Does it have any impact on either one of you that you're both fairly high-profile in this town right now?
GREENBERG: Well, for a long time, people didn't know we were married and it was actually -- it was intriguing. The -- she worked for Senator Dodd as -- she was his -- Senator Dodd's chief of staff for six years and then was in -- headed up the campaign to end Contra aid and eventually ran for Congress herself.
I -- I mean, I was at Yale. I was not, you know, in this town. I taught at Yale until '87, and so there's an impression because I work for the president that I've been in Washington working for a very long time. It's actually not -- not the case. So the -- and I used to come down and do polling from time to time, but I was still based at Yale and in New Haven. So it's only in recent years we find ourselves together. It's generally known, though, as -- sometimes the papers get it wrong, but most people now know that we're married.
LAMB: One of the things that you learn in your book is that you do a lot of focus groups, a lot of polling, but focus groups, where you sit around and listen to folks tell you what they think. How does that work? How do you put together a focus group? How do you select the people?
GREENBERG: Yes. Well, you know, my entry into -- and the reason I made this transition from being in academia to being -- to being a pollster is -- is largely, I think, because of focus groups. I -- as an academic, I've done books on a number of subjects. They haven't been bought by many people or read by very many people. The -- but they almost always are based on one-on-one interviews, in-depth interviews with people. And so I've -- I've always tried to kind of construct a sense of reality from the way people understand it and try to develop patterns out of people's thinking. That's true of my work on politics of poverty. I've also done work on comparative race relations.
In '80 -- in '84, the Democrats got slaughtered nationally, and particularly in Michigan, which was a, you know, strong Democratic state, union state. In 1985, in McComb (ph) County, which was a suburban area of Michigan, heart of UAW, 40 percent UAW members, Ronald Reagan got 67 percent of the vote. It was shattering. Democrats, who had held every position, lost half the legislative positions.
So I was asked to come out, in part because I'd started to do this political polling, but also because of the kind of one-on-one in-depth interviewing that I do, that they thought, Maybe we could get at a deeper understanding of what was going on. So I organized focus groups. The Democrats, for the most part, had not done a lot of these before. Republicans, I think, had, but Democrats had not.
Focus groups are really small-group discussions, you know, 10 or 12 people in a room who talk for a couple hours and try to get at -- get -- you know, get beyond the kind of structured questions you get in a normal survey and have a more in-depth conversation. The key is, is homogeneity. The key is to have people who are like-minded, similar in background, who are comfortable enough with each other that they can say what's on their mind. They don't feel inhibited by the nature of the group.
And so the groups we did in 1985 were -- you know, were all-white groups in, you know, suburban McComb County. One group was all union members. These were all Democratic defectors. These were all people who had voted Democratic in the past and who voted for Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: How do you find them?
GREENBERG: Well, you do pre-interviews. I mean, you do -- you actually conduct a survey. You ask questions. You see whether people qualify. Then you ask them whether they'll participate in the focus group. You usually pay them to come participate.
LAMB: How much?
GREENBERG: Oh, $35 dollars -- I forget what it was then -- $35, $50 to come participate. Now you do -- these things are done in focus group facilities. They're actually a conference-type room. There's a one-way mirror. You can observe, you know, the discussions going on. Then...
LAMB: Do they know, by the way, there's a one-way mirror?
GREENBERG: Well tell them, you know, there's a -- you know, there's a microphone there, and you point it out. So you want to create a comfortable context, people aren't being deceived told that there are people behind the glass who are observing.
But in -- when we do -- when I started this in '85, there weren't very many of such facilities. We did some of these in bars, and back rooms of bars, some of them in hotels. And so it was much less formal and...
LAMB: Do you record them?
GREENBERG: We record them and transcribe them, and so that -- I mean, I will -- you know, I'll listen to the conversation myself. I like to be there. I like to see the body language. And I'll then usually read through the transcripts at least twice before I...
LAMB: Do you do the questioning?
GREENBERG: No. We use a moderator. We use somebody who has -- you know, who's trained with the skills to facilitate, you know, conversations. And so the -- what happened in the -- in those groups, and part of which is in the chapter on McComb County, is we raised the race issue, and unbelievable emotion came pouring out. We read a -- I remember reading a statement attributed to Robert Kennedy about the obligations to address this as a Civil Rights issue, and the, you know, people started saying things like, No wonder they shot him.
It was a very strong response to it, and it became very clear -- and people were quite willing in this setting to talk in great depth about the sense of grievance on race grounds, and how that was coming to shape their whole view of the Democratic Party and of the role of government, and that if -- I mean, at the time, I advised if Democrats didn't come to terms with this, they were -- you know, they were going to lose middle America.
LAMB: Do you keep their names confidential?
LAMB: And so no one will ever know who said what.
GREENBERG: That's right. That's right.
LAMB: Let me read you some of the words that you took out of a focus group from one you did on Ross Perot, I believe. Would you do one just on Ross Perot?
GREENBERG: We did a study for the -- which is part of this -- on where we talked to people who had just voted for Ross Perot.
LAMB: And the reason I want to do this is looking to the next election, 1996, the Perot voters and where they're going to go. Is that of concern to you?
GREENBERG: Sure, it is. Sure, it is.
LAMB: How about these words -- "spending," "crooks," "they don't live in the real world," "greed," "rich men," "jerks," "insensitive jerks," "spending money," "I think of them as a big black wall stopping everything from happening," "thieves," "waste," "bad checks," "special interests."
Do you only hear those kinds of things from Perot voters?
GREENBERG: You get it beyond Perot voters. This was done in a focus group where we just said, What comes to mind when you hear the word "Congress." And this came out, and it -- it's also -- or it's very important because the -- you can get a sense of it. It's not just the words. You know, sometimes, you say, you know, What comes, you know, to mind when you -- you know, when you hear Betty Crocker, or something, and people will, you know, sit back and try to think. When you say, "Congress," it's immediate. It's like a -- you know, it's like a machine gun, just boom, boom, boom, boom. It's like top of mind. People have very strong feelings.
And what -- what I -- you know, what I argue here is that the Congress has become a symbol of a corrupted politics, where ordinary people have -- their interests, their values have been left out, ignored, that the people who go to Washington get caught up in the special interest politics, become arrogant, become out of touch, and that Congress symbolizes our politics. It's not -- it's not literally about Congress. They are the -- they are seen to be kind of the worst form of what happens to politics in our -- in our era.
Ross Perot, I believe, was the antidote to Congress, that -- what everything they've disliked about Congress, they liked about Ross Perot. That is, he was for the people, didn't forget -- didn't forget those people, gets things done, not caught in the gridlock, not arrogant, you know, can do. It wasn't a -- Perot voters were not very ideological, but I think their consciousness was shaped by this, by their perceptions of Congress. And I think they read into Ross Perot the things that they hated about politics.
LAMB: In '96, if there are only two candidates, where will those Ross Perot voters go, based on your experience?
GREENBERG: In '92, the -- all the surveys showed that if Perot voters had to vote in a two-way contest, they would have split evenly between Bush and Clinton. Now, since they were -- since Perot voters are overwhelmingly Republican in their voting history -- I mean, Perot voters are, you know, libertarian, more secular, disaffected Republicans who pulled out of that coalition. But they would have split evenly between Clinton and Bush. That meant that Clinton probably would have gotten about 53, 54 percent of the vote in a two-way race.
In the congressional election in '94, they went 2 to 1 for Republicans, in '94. Obviously, it'd be a very serious problem if that were to be maintained to '96, but I'm confident that we're going to be dealing with a different mood come '96.
LAMB: "Perot voters are strongly populist and ant-establishment, similar in their thinking to Democratic presidential voters." That's what you wrote. What do you mean by that?
GREENBERG: Well, it's interesting. It's very, very easy to misread the Perot voters, the -- and to read into Perot voters what you -- what you want -- what you want to believe. The Republicans tend to -- because Perot voters are focused on the deficit -- that's one of the things they care about -- Republicans think that Perot voters are anti-government, conservative philosophically. But they actually parallel Perot himself, who -- I mean, Perot was very focused on the deficit, but at the same time that he was for cutting government spending and the deficit, he was also for strong industrial policy, for massive infrastructure projects, talked about the space program, the highway program as models for -- you know, for governmental policy.
They actually want accountable government, small-scale government, that works for people. They are -- they are very populist, which is a point which relates to the point you're raising. They are -- but they are -- they are populist both in political terms and economic terms. That is, they resent political power and they resent economic power. And in some ways, they're even more populist than the -- than the Democratic voters.
LAMB: How white are they?
GREENBERG: They're very white.
LAMB: Any -- any other …
GREENBERG: Well, sure, I mean, the Perot voters are -- I mean, the group that really -- I mean, there's lots of different kinds of Perot voters. And for example, under 30 -- there are a lot of under-30 Perot voters who are there because these are very independent voters who've never belonged to a party, and Perot is an easy outlet. And there's not a lot of philosophical identification with Perot. It's the independence that they like.
But when you get beyond the under-30s, the biggest bloc are non-college younger men, below 50, people without a college degree -- men -- is the next biggest bloc of Perot voters. They're a very alienated bloc. That is, they -- they are politically alienated. They think the political system doesn't care about them. At the same time, this is a group with incomes that have declined in real terms, more than almost any other group in the electorate. And so they resent what -- you know, they resent what's happening with the economy, they resent the official statistics that say things are getting better. And so they are -- so they are -- you know, their populist instincts carry over to both political and economic ….
LAMB: You say they held Ronald Reagan in low esteem.
GREENBERG: Yes. Well, the Perot voters -- which is very interesting. Given -- given the Republican history of the Perot voters, it is -- now, I'm talking about at the time of the '90 -- you know, '92 election, you know, the -- you know, as you get further away from the Reagan presidency and you're dealing with a retiring Ronald Reagan with -- you know, who people are following his current difficulties, I'm sure if we asked about Ronald Reagan, we'd get a different result right now. But when we asked about -- this is after the '92 election, in '93, when you asked about Ronald Reagan, Perot voters gave him quite negative scores. I mean, Perot voters do believe the Republicans exploded the deficit, that they were too -- you know, too favorable to the wealthy. These are populist voters.
Now, they're also anti-government, and they want -- what Republicans don't understand, and perhaps what Democrats don't understand -- these people are both anti-government and anti-economic power. They're anti-concentrations of power. They're for -- you know, they're for the common person.
LAMB: You say that, "Anti-establishment and anti-government sentiment leaves them estranged from all the power centers in society." Is there ever a point that they would be drawn into the power centers? Is there any way that they would like what the power centers do?
GREENBERG: Well, I mean, they would -- I don't know if they'll like it. They were rebels in '92 against the Republicans. They were rebels in '94 against the Democrats. I don't know what they're going to be in '96. I truly don't.
LAMB: How many of them are there?
GREENBERG: Well, there's a good 20 percent of the electorate that, you know, are committed to being independent voters, anti-party. And three quarters of them were Perot voters. So there's a big bloc of potential Perot voters or potential voters for an independent candidacy of some kind.
LAMB: What do you say, Stan Greenberg, you're sitting in front of the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the word just comes in Ross Perot's running for president 1995, 1996? What's your reaction?
GREENBERG: You know, it's interesting. I remember at the time of the Democratic convention, there with the presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, when he withdrew. And I remember everybody immediately jumped to, you know, conclusions whether this was good or bad -- you know, bad for us. Everybody had their own -- his first instinct was to say that this -- you know, that this -- he did it for personal reasons, that -- you know, and we should understand his personal reasons. There's a lot of humanity in the president that was -- he refused -- he declined political calculation. You know, he was identifying with somebody facing a very tough choice and decided not to run and suspected there were personal reasons for it.
In any case, I'm not sure how the president would respond in that particular circumstance. My own -- my own position is going to -- you're going to see as a fudge. The -- when -- in '92, when there was the prospect of an electoral candidacy, you know, some people began to say, Well, you know, Democrats, they need a 43 percent strategy, not a 51 percent strategy. They -- in a three-way race, they should go for 43 percent. That means, you know, solidifying your base, go after the union vote, go after the minority vote, go after the urban vote, and you can -- it'll add up to -- you know, to 43 percent.
I was always of the view that that -- if you're going to -- if you aim for 43 percent, you're going to get 37 percent and you're going to lose. And more important than that, parties have obligations. It's part of, I think, the message of this book. Parties have obligations. This is a compact between the vision and the promises that a party offers and the citizenry's hope for their own lives. There's a compact there that's real and needs to be bigger. The Democrats had the reach to be a majority party even if there was a fractured vote. It's both right, and it's also the best, you know, tactic. But it's also right in a larger sense.
And I think the same thing's true here. I don't know whether we're better off in a two-way or a three-way race. I can imagine scenarios for winning two-way races or winning three-way races.
LAMB: What is your opinion about the 20 percent and Ross Perot in this day and age? Will they go -- will they support him?
GREENBERG: I think Ross Perot would be viable if he, you know, runs. I mean, not viable in the sense of, you know, winning the election. I think there are limits on his ability to grow beyond -- beyond the base he has. But -- you know, but Ross -- you know, Ross Perot represents something, and if he runs, he'll have significant support.
LAMB: Your first candidate is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Your wife is a congresswoman from Connecticut. And...
GREENBERG: Chief deputy whip.
LAMB: Chief deputy whip. And your -- your chief client is in the Oval Office. Does it get any better than this?
LAMB: And you got a book out.
GREENBERG: Well, working for Nelson Mandela was -- was OK.
LAMB: What'd you do for him?
GREENBERG: We did the -- we did the polling for his -- his presidential campaign.
LAMB: How well did you get to know him?
GREENBERG: Pretty well. Ultimately, worked in a -- you know, with a fairly -- a reasonably small group of people that was central advisory group for the campaign. They formed a command center something like what the war room in the Clinton campaign, which I was part of.
LAMB: Where did he get the idea to hire you?
GREENBERG: Well, I -- you know, I haven't -- we haven't run through my whole biography yet. I have a -- you know, an academic history which ultimately lapped over to doing work in South Africa. I did work on -- I went for my work -- I should have actually answered this in your question about history. When I -- after I finished the book on politics of poverty and doing the history of migration, I began to do a work -- a book on comparative race relations to try to understand -- better understand American race relations, and ended up going to the deep South, but also South Africa. Spent a lot of time in South Africa as part of writing there -- writing that book, became co-director -- associate director of the Southern African Research Program at Yale. So I have a long-standing Southern African interest, which has taken me back year after year. So that the first democratic elections in South Africa, having experience here electorally but also the experience on the ground in South Africa, it was, I think, a reasonable reach to try to have me, you know, get involved.
LAMB: What do you see in Nelson Mandela up close that we don't see on television?
GREENBERG: He's tremendously gracious, extraordinarily gracious. If you -- I mean, he's -- I mean, he's an historic figure that -- and -- you know, which is -- which he carries with him. At the same time, if you sit down, he'll go get you your glass of water or your coffee or -- I mean, he will go to great lengths to make sure you're comfortable and to …for you. He's a very tender, gracious person, an extraordinary combination.
He was also -- he's very tough-minded. I don't know whether that, you know, comes through publicly. It's obvious from his own acts, acts of rebellion, being in jail for 27 years and his spirit coming out. But I've seen him turn to his political associates and those in the campaign and say, I understand all the political reasons, I understand all the people will be offended. We're not doing it. And he had a big sense of history, and he knew where he had to take the party. So he has -- he's very tough-minded.
LAMB: Where were you born?
GREENBERG: I was born in Philadelphia, until I -- lived there until I was 5, came with my parents to Washington. Had nothing to do with government or politics. My father was an engineer, worked in a company in Silver Spring, Maryland. But I grew up, went to the public schools in Washington, was -- lived through the desegregation of the public schools. I lived in an all-black neighborhood when I -- for at least the first three years that I was...
GREENBERG: ... in the District. But I went -- I went to an all-white school that I just climbed over the fence, and -- but all my -- all my friends and neighbors, they all had to travel to a more distant school. And then ended up being -- after it was integrated, ended up, after we moved to Riggs Park, which is a lower-middle-class Jewish neighborhood, ended up being bused to a -- back into a black school, one of about I think 30 kids, white kids in the -- in that -- in that school. Eventually ended up at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, went to Miami University in Ohio, then to Harvard for my Ph.D.
LAMB: What year did you get out of Miami?
GREENBERG: In '67.
LAMB: You were at Yale at any time when the president was there?
GREENBERG: Well, I -- I went in '70, so I -- you know, I overlapped...
GREENBERG: To teach.
LAMB: First course you taught?
GREENBERG: First -- first courses I taught were on urban politics, in '70.
LAMB: When did you first meet Bill Clinton?
GREENBERG: I met him on some conference of -- panels on education some years ago. I can't even remember when. But the first real serious contact was the 1990 gubernatorial election, where I came in after the primary to help think through how to develop the themes for his general election campaign.
LAMB: What was his status?
GREENBERG: He'd had a tough primary. I mean, he'd been in office -- he had been in office now, you know, almost a decade. And as -- you know, as Mario Cuomo knows, it's hard after -- after being in office that long to make the case that you still have an unfinished agenda, that you have, you know, new things to do. He had just -- he had a fairly rough primary, but then there was a lot of concern about the general election, so they wanted to get it right. And there were a number of us who helped out.
LAMB: What was the reason he called on you?
GREENBERG: I think largely because of focus groups skills, because of -- you know, the work I do is very -- you know, is very thematic. It's trying to understand the underlying feelings and get beyond the surface impressions. And I think he wanted to have a deeper sense of the way people understood his -- his leadership and understand the kind of case he would make for his reelection.
LAMB: And then what did you do in the 1990 campaign that had an impact that he held onto you and used you in '92?
GREENBERG: You never know how these things …with. I did the -- I did these focus groups in various parts of Arkansas, and I -- he wanted some immediate reading on this thing. And he's a night person, so he wanted to do this after the -- after the groups were over. I'm a morning person. I have, you know, great trouble with moving my lips at night to speak. And I began to try to present. I really couldn't do it, and also needed more time. So they agreed to come back in the morning, we'd do this thing at 7:30 in the morning. And so I stayed up and worked on this thing. And he's not a morning person. He doesn't like to get up early and do these things, but he was there at 7:30. I overslept, missed the meeting. But despite all that, we ended up working together.
LAMB: "Middle Class Dreams," the title of your book -- what is the middle class?
GREENBERG: Well, it's more an idea. It's more a normative concept than it is just a material concept. The media's way to define it is in income terms, and so it probably includes people earning up to $50,000, $60,000 a year, depending on what part of the country you're in. That would include 50 to 60 percent of the country. But I don't think of it in -- in those kind of material terms, and I don't -- and I don't think most of the people who think about middle class in the country think about it. They think of it more as the people who do the right things in life, who, you know, support their family, go to work every day, get a wage or salary and try to -- and try to make sure their kids have a better life.
So it's much more a set of values and a way of life, which most people in this country, the overwhelming proportion of people in this country identify with. They either believe they're middle class or believe they should be middle class or believe their -- their family, their kids should be middle class. And they above all believe that the values of middle class life ought to be honored, ought to come first, ought to have primacy, ought to be honored. And they think -- and they think those values have been neglected, ignored, trampled on. And the -- what people are hoping for is a restoration of respect for those values.
I called the book "Middle Class Dreams," not a "Middle Class Revolt," in part because I don't think these people want to be rebels. They don't want to spend their -- their lives in rebellion against politics. They're looking for something more fundamental. They're looking for a sense that their political life will honor their values and make it possible for them to have stronger families and rising living standards.
LAMB: What percentage of the voters consider themselves middle class?
GREENBERG: Well, if you ask it just straight our, Are -- you know, What class are you, middle class -- working class, middle class, upper class, 45 percent say working class, 45 percent middle -- say middle class. You say, Lower, middle class and upper class, it's about 75 percent who will say middle class, if you cast it in those terms. So a lot of it depends on -- on the terminology used.
But even many of those people who say they're working class, you know, will -- you know, will say, yes, I used to be middle class, and then before I got, you know, squeezed and we, you know, worked so hard, my wife went to work, and now we don't have enough money, you know, to -- our incomes are declining. We don't have money to send our kids to school …So I've been pushed down. So there's a sense of decline, a sense that the middle class is shrinking. There's a very strong sense in the country that the middle class is shrinking.
I presented a chart, actually, to middle class voters -- that is precisely the term -- where I ask people to react to the chart. And what it showed -- you know, if you look at it more closely when you read -- when you read the book, that -- that, you know, the middle class isn't shrinking. The middle class is there as a great bulge in the middle. It's remained fairly stagnant over the last couple decades. But it violates voters' visible -- their sense of what's happened to the middle class, which they think is being -- has been shrinking, the lower class should be -- is rising and the upper class is rising and the middle class is squeezed in the middle. So the statistical sense of the middle class is somewhat at odds with people's visible sense of the middle class.
LAMB: Well, this is hard to describe, I mean, if people are looking at this chart, and we were showing it, but what -- this shows that on the far right, if you're looking at it on the screen, people are much closer together in income than they were in the early days?
LAMB: And if you go back over here, you see there's a disparity...
GREENBERG: In the '50s, you'll see that the -- the percentage of people who were working class, lower class is -- dominates the income spectrum.
LAMB: In 1992, how much work did you do for the president?
GREENBERG: The -- it was actually -- I only did one other race, other than the president, and that was Chris Dodd's race, the reelection race for the -- for the Senate. No, we -- no, I devoted myself wholly, entirely, completely to the election of Bill Clinton as president of the United States.
LAMB: When did you start on it?
GREENBERG: September of '91. He announced in -- the first week of October. I participated in the discussion leading up to, you know, whether he was going to run. In September, the real work began.
LAMB: Who was in the group?
GREENBERG: Bruce Lindsay was -- was there. Frank Greer (ph) was there, myself, the first lady, Gloria Cabe.
LAMB: Who's Gloria Cabe?
GREENBERG: Gloria Cabe was his chief of staff in the governor's office had a fairly long political history with him, someone whose judgment that he trusted. And so it was a fairly -- you know, fairly small -- small group of people. Now, when you say that, one of the unique things about the president is these networks of associations he has from his life -- you know, the -- the network of people from Oxford that he went through the Rhodes experience with, that he's carried with him, who are some of his closest friends, some of whom are now in the administration, from Secretary Reich to Strobe Talbott. But he also has -- as governor, he also has his governor's network. He was head of the Governors Association. He has close associations with former governors.
And so by the time -- in a fairly short period of time, say in September, before he finally, firmly made the decision to run, we had some fairly large meetings in Washington, where many of these people from the various parts of his life came together to help talk through the idea of running for the presidency.
LAMB: He announced what, in October of '91?
LAMB: Between September of '91 and the end of the campaign, if we'd have followed you around on a day-to-day basis, what would we have seen you doing the most?
GREENBERG: I would probably have been on conference calls, endless conference calls. This was a campaign that was -- had an Arkansas piece, had a -- you know, had a Washington, D.C., piece, and then had a piece in the various primary states. Much of -- for a long period of time, much of the communication was done, you know, by conference call. There wasn't a lot of research done at the -- at the outset. He had -- he had been head of the Democratic Leadership Council for almost year when he ran for president, and speaking around the country, had given, you know, speeches. His Cleveland speech for the DLC was, I think, a seminal speech.
LAMB: But he...
GREENBERG: Before there was any campaign. So he knew what -- he knew the -- the ideas that he was going to run on for president before there was any group of advisers sitting there, saying, This is what you ought to do. And so he gave his announcement speech, which -- in October. There was never any research, you know, to, you know, test that speech or anything. It was based on the ideas he had developed over the years.
You know, what -- one of the interesting things that I discovered in the book, if you asked me what the biggest surprise is for me in the book, was the president's '74 congressional campaign, which I had -- it just wasn't in my consciousness when I started to do this book. And the book's not about the president. The book is much more about, you know, the forces around the Clinton presidency shaping our politics. And there's a chapter that I go back and look at the ideas that the president's put on the table.
But if you go back to 1974, he -- it's when he first -- when the president first ran for office, first race for Congress, which he lost -- Arkansas was the second poorest state. He ran for Congress in the northwest corner of the state, which is the poorest part of Arkansas… part of the Ozarks, so these are the poorest white people in America. They had voted -- many of them had voted for -- for George Wallace. This was a very tough place for a young guy out of law school who had just worked for George McGovern to run for Congress. He was running against an incumbent who had been elected repeatedly with, you know, 70 -- around 70 percent of the vote.
LAMB: John Paul Hammerschmidt?
GREENBERG: Right. And Bill Clinton got about 49 percent of the vote, in the end. It was an extraordinarily close race. But when you look at it, you see a person talking about -- first, talking about issues, that we shouldn't allow oil companies to reap windfall profits. Those profits should be taxed away. He was talking about education and the investment that he -- he wanted a major federal role in investing in education, particularly for poor states like Arkansas, which couldn't afford to raise up the skill levels of its own people. But education -- you know, the investment in people was his second plank. And then the third plank was the arrogant government in Washington, the out-of -- the out-of-balance budgets and the big bureaucracy which had to be cut back.
So in 1974, he was running for Congress -- before, I presume, he knew any pollsters or consultants or any of these people in Washington, he was running on themes of, you know, accountable government, investment in people and giving the power to the average person. He was running on these themes in '74. There's a consistency of viewpoint over two decades which is actually quite -- quite extraordinary. And those are important ideas now, when we think about how our politics could be reformed.
LAMB: One of the things -- and you go back to that -- by the way, you say he was -- jumped in a Chevelle (ph) truck with Astroturf in the back, you know, back in 1974?
GREENBERG: Right. Drove around the district?
LAMB: Drove a -- what was it, a Gremlin in 1970, another car that we don't have anymore
GREENBERG: He switched to the Gremlin
LAMB: He switched to the Gremlin
LAMB: Go back to this business about talking about the big money interests or the big lobbies or the special interests and all that. Has he dealt with that yet in this presidency? You know, we keep reading about that one segment. The money in politics hasn't been dealt with either by the Congress or the presidency in -- I mean, Perot voters -- go back to your Perot voters. They keep bringing that up. Is he going to deal with that between now and the time he runs?
GREENBERG: I can't speak for what he's going to do. I mean, I do -- I do believe it is one of the big unresolved questions in our -- in our politics, which is that the special interests which play such a big role in Washington are still playing such a big role. I watched the Republicans when they -- after -- when they were celebrating the scaling back of environmental regulations flanked by representatives of big business saying, Isn't this great, what we've done?
I think they misread the Perot voters, and I think they misread the period in time, if you think what people want is to turn over power -- simply turn over power to business. I think that -- I think the public has -- is skeptical of power, both economic and political power. And I think the test that the public brings to their members of Congress and to some extent, their leaders -- and George Bush failed by that test -- the test they bring is, Are they representing me? You know, Are they going there and becoming part of the establishment and -- you know, and doing politics as usual, or do they -- do they represent me, folks like me?
I think that's very much unresolved for people. I think the president's taken on some -- I think he's seen, actually, more than any previous president, someone in touch with average people. I think the fact that he is, I believe, still in the game for '96, given the problems of '94, is a testimony to the fact that he is seen to be a president who's in touch with ordinary people.
But in this town, you still have -- you know, you still have issues of campaign finance reform, political reform, that have not -- not been addressed. And I think they need to be addressed as, you know, part of a broader initiative to establish that the Democratic Party and the president are rooted in the people.
In the end -- in the end, you got to come back to these two party traditions. It's very tempting to say, and sometimes I'll think this, you know, that -- look, you have these two party traditions, the bottom-up tradition and the top-down -- they're outdated, and let's go to something else. The problem is what else? I mean, the problem -- what -- when you move away from those party traditions, what you end up with is a highly personalized kind of politics around -- you know, such as that around the Perot candidacy. I think the Democratic and Republican Party still have to figure out how to renew themselves in this era, and Democrats ultimately still have to come back to the question, How do you represent the common person in this new economic era? That, I think, is the challenge that faces the Democrats.
LAMB: Have you ever said to the president, You've got to be here by middle of 1996?
LAMB: You've got to work through all these things I'm hearing -- well, when was the last time you were in Macomb County, Michigan?
GREENBERG: For the focus groups right after the election.
LAMB: And where is that physically?
GREENBERG: It's just north of -- the suburbs just north of the city of Detroit.
LAMB: You got -- you get the metropolitan airport there and you drive, how long does it take you to get there?
GREENBERG: about 45 minutes from the airport.
LAMB: And when you go there to do your focus groups, where do you do them?
GREENBERG: In a mall.
LAMB: In a mall?
GREENBERG: Right. Malls are now the cultural center of suburban America, and therefore the center of America
LAMB: Where do you sit?
GREENBERG: Well, no, these are -- this is an office , a research facility that are located in a mall. People go to the mall, and then they go to this office, where there's a conference room.
LAMB: Do you go back there soon, check again...
GREENBERG: I'm going -- I'm going to Macomb County as part of the -- the book tour for this. There'll be a library -- a library launch with "The Detroit Free Press" for the book.
LAMB: What I really mean is do you go back there soon to do another focus group at some point?
GREENBERG: I'm sure I'll go back from time to time. I still -- I still consider it the -- the best -- the best place to read where America is going.
LAMB: And if you go back there, what kind of things will you look for? What kind of groups do you want to assemble? If you -- let's say after this discussion here, we decided we want to go back to Macomb, we want to get a group together. Who are the groups you want to hear from right now?
GREENBERG: Well, I mean, it's -- it's still the case that there is at the -- there is an independent bloc that's disconnected from the parties, you know, middle range of income, that, you know, can easily vote Democratic for Congress. I mean, David Bonior, who's the whip, the minority whip, you know, got almost 65 percent of the vote -- in a largely Macomb County district. And at the same time, they voted heavily for John Engler, Republican, for governor. Those are the swing voters that -- that we ought to be talking to, that we need to understand why -- you know, what takes them between a tax-cutting John -- government-cutting John Engler and a populist, gritty guy like David Bonior, with roots in the community? What takes them between those two kinds of office holders? And you know, how do they -- you know, understand the challenges facing their community and families?
LAMB: Now, since the president has been in office, have you done focus groups on his behalf?
GREENBERG: I've -- we have a research program with the Democratic National Committee on behalf of the White House and other Democratic candidates. Indeed.
LAMB: How does he find out? Do you go in and sit with him and tell him?
GREENBERG: Well, it's -- you know, it varies by what's going on at any given time. I mean, there've been periods of time where I've -- you know, where I've sat with the president. It -- there's a long tradition. I mean, pollsters -- there's a long tradition with presidents of having pollsters who advise them. The -- Franklin Roosevelt got polling information on -- on bombing sites in Europe, whether you would hit religious sites or not. You had -- under Eisenhower, the State Department ran a major polling program on -- on where you draw armistice lines in North Korea, whether you get involved in Indochina, right through his -- you know, through his presidency.
Harris was the pollster for John Kennedy. He used to talk to him on the phone about three times a week about various issues. Richard Nixon had polling on the incursion into Cambodia and the bombing of North Vietnam and the opening to China. Ronald Reagan had polling on leadership style, on how to best develop leadership style. He had polling on his negotiating position with the Soviet Union, on how to best communicate, you know, both strength and openness.
And so it's -- there's a long tradition of there being, you know, polling research available to presidents in various forms. And how it's presented really just depends on what's -- you know, what's going on at the White House at a given time.
LAMB: But does it work for you to go out and listen to what the public wants, tell the president, then have him go out and tell the public, you know, what they want to hear?
GREENBERG: No. And you know, it's not that literal, and -- to be honest, one -- one of the striking things, I think, about the president is that we've never polled his agenda. We've never had to say, Well, what should you be for? That -- you know, the -- as I said with his announcement speech, he developed his ideas on why he was running for president independently. Indeed, as you see in the book, he probably developed these ideas two decades ago. We'd like to think we're all very important to what he says, but I think his own consciousness is -- his own beliefs are what -- are what mainly drives it.
But we've never had to poll on whether we should be for, you know -- should he do health care initiative? Should he do a deficit reduction plan? We never had to poll on, you know, should he do that. His agenda, you know, was set in the campaign, was set in the transition. And even on health care, where we did a fair amount of research, I never polled until after the plan itself was developed.
So there was no -- you know, there was -- except for minor issues, there was no polling on, you know, Should we do a single-payer system or should it be a mixed system or should it be a minimal, you know, private sector system? We never polled on the type of health care proposal. You know, what we did research on is once -- you know, once -- once you know this is the initiative you're taking and this is the form of it, you know, how do you make the best case? What's your -- what's your best case on this? What are -- what are the -- what are people's biggest odds?What are the questions you need to answer when you're going to make your case for this initiative?
LAMB: You -- you have some space in here devoted to Vietnam. And I underlined a bunch of stuff which is belief that the government could be trusted to do what is right dropped 22 points between 1964 and '70, belief that the government is run for the benefit of the people, not for the one few big interests, dropped 26 points between '64 and '72. And then you go on to reflect what people said about the Vietnam war and the deceit that people felt in this particular group.
What impact, from what you know of history, did the Vietnam war have about the attitudes that people have in this country today?
GREENBERG: Profound, as reflected in that -- in that data, though -- though there were two sets of events going on in the 1960s, and it's hard to untangle them. The -- one set of events was the Civil Rights movement, the urban riots, the school busing initiatives and the anti-busing campaign which took place in the '70s -- or '60s and early '70s. Then you also had the Vietnam war, which -- which heated up in the mid -- in the mid-'60s and where a majority of the public turned against it before the end of the '60s. So both -- both of those formative events are taking place at the same time.
I believe that the civil -- that the racial issues were more striking, that they began -- the decline in confidence in government and belief that people represented them happened before the majority formed against the Vietnam war, which suggest that the racial issues are -- are -- at least pre-date the Vietnam thing. But I'm not sure we have to untangle them. Both of them were very -- quite powerful and had an enormous impact.
But the present significance for this story that I'm telling in the book -- I talk about these two great party eras, the Democrat and -- the Republican era and the Democratic era.
LAMB: The Democratic era was?
GREENBERG: From '32 to '62.
LAMB: And the Republican era?
GREENBERG: Or '64. Republican era was from 1896 to 1928. The -- but there were two attempts to renew these visions, two bold attempts to renew it. One was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Democrats are actually almost losing their hold. There are very competitive elections. John Kennedy barely was elected, even though the country was just -- had gone through a recession. The country was very evenly divided electorally by 1960.
Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was an attempt, maybe forced by history, maybe created by Lyndon Johnson's own sense of moment in responding to the Civil Rights crisis in the country, but it produced a racial polarization of the -- of the electorate, a racial realignment of the parties, very profound impact on the parties. And it was associated with a major collapse of confidence in political leaders in the country, which came through to the -- to the Nixon presidency. So the middle '60s to the early '70s, there's an extraordinary drop in confidence in political institutions and political leaders.
But then it was pretty steady, and it was pretty steady up until 1988. And the next big drop that you get in confidence in political leaders and institutions was under the George Bush presidency, from '88 to '92. It was a -- we should not underestimate -- many -- many Republicans look at the George Bush presidency and say that's just a -- that's a blip. You know, he -- you know, he promised to "read my lips," didn't do it. He wasn't true enough to Reagan. Let's go back. But there was something much, much bigger going on in the Bush presidency, which had to -- one was the betrayal on taxes, but also, it was -- two other things were going on. People were also critical of Reaganism. It wasn't just George Bush that people were upset with.
And people were having -- developing a much bigger view of the economy being in trouble. This was not just recession, people were coming to believe that incomes were stagnant for the long term. And the political institutions were trapped in impasse and gridlock under Bush and the Democratic Congress. And so the public turned against -- turned away from the -- turned away from political leaders and institutions in that period on almost the same level that they turned away from it in the period of the 1960s.
LAMB: You quote from some of these focus groups -- by the way, did you do the focus groups on Vietnam yourself?
GREENBERG: Yes. I have a moderator who, you know, does them, but I observed the groups.
LAMB: It said, "Aside from my friends being killed was that it finally hit me how rotten our government really can be. My own personal anger, what does it come from? It comes from being deceived. I think the Vietnam war did more to destroy the American people's faith in government than anything else. No question, they just lied to us."
How much of that is left? And how much of that transfers over to the Perot voter?
GREENBERG: Well, you know, when you -- we forget sometimes. When John Kennedy assumed office, 75 percent of Americans said that most public officials would do the right thing most of the time -- 75 percent. John Kennedy's -- the negative job performance for John Kennedy as president did not reach double digits disapproval for the president -- did not reach double digits for two years.
Right now, only about 18 percent think that the political leaders do the right thing most of the time. Used to be 75 percent, it's now 18 percent. Bill Clinton's job disapproval, people saying he's doing a bad job in office, was 26 percent the day he took office. The day he took office. So we're living with the legacy, I think, of Vietnam, of the upheavals of the 1960s, including the race issue, the political impasse and the insensitivity to average people under -- under George Bush. And that's the context in which we have gone through the '92 election, and I think the '94 election, both of which I believe are an inheritance of those -- of those changes. And it's produced a very, very volatile political situation in America.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
GREENBERG: I live in New Haven, Connecticut.
LAMB: Do you have children?
GREENBERG: I have three children, who are grown, two that are 26, one is working on her dissertation in political science at University of Chicago, and she was one of the critics on the book, along with my brother, who's a political scientist. I have a daughter who is assistant director of a program called HIPPY USA. It's a pre-school program to -- for home instruction for parents teaching their kids , it’s spreading and growing all across the country and getting -- finishing her master's. And I have son who's here, living with us in his -- in our place here in D.C., who's working for the National Wildlife Federation.
LAMB: Are you going to work on the '96 campaign for the president?
GREENBERG: It’s my expectation. And I look forward to him being reelected. I'll wait to write the next book until after he finishes his second term.
LAMB: Define your own politics at this stage in your life. And by the way, how old are you?
GREENBERG: I'm 49. I don't know. Right now, frankly, it's hard to disassociate my politics from the president's politics. I mean, I -- I think he -- he helped create a moment in history. He's also, I think, president during a formative period in our history, and whether he succeeds or not is just fundamental to what kind of politics we have in the country and whether we -- and whether we have an optimistic politics or whether we fall deeper into cynicism. And he's an instinctively optimistic person. So the project of -- of Bill Clinton's success as president, a successful presidency, is so central to, you know, everything I care about that I -- that I associate my politics with his presidency.
LAMB: Where -- do you happen to know where this idea came from here, and what is it...
GREENBERG: Well, the publisher's idea, but they got it from a tag sale, which includes some embroidery here of the American flag, and I'm sure to suggest the -- in imagery that suggests a middle class way of life, which I think is at stake and which is leading (ph) middle class Americans to want to see our politics work to help preserve.
LAMB: You mentioned that you grew up in a black neighborhood here in Washington. What impact did that have on your -- your...
GREENBERG: I don't know.
LAMB: ... thinking?
GREENBERG: I've never figured -- I mean, I've never figured out -- if I -- when I try to reflect on why I do what I do -- because my parents weren't particularly political, and so -- and they have ended up with two sons that are political scientists. The -- the -- I mean, my first politics was Civil Rights politics. And I worked -- when I left high school, before I went to college, I worked in a factory, making minimum wage, $1.25 an hour, in Laurel, Maryland. The factory was segregated. The -- most of the white workers had come -- come in from Appalachia. So it was a very strong -- there were strong racists currents in it. The black workers were only in the -- in the shipping department.
But it was '63. It was the summer of the march on Washington. So I would work there during the day, and at night, I went down and worked at the NAACP offices with Reverend Fauntroy on the march on Washington. So somehow out of all this, I'm sure there's -- there are beliefs that have shaped what I'm now doing.
LAMB: Was the first Civil Rights -- as you know -- I noticed you mentioned you've been to Birmingham. Was that in conjunction with...
GREENBERG: Well, no, it was part of -- when I did the -- the book "Politics and Poverty," and then when I did the book "Race and State," one of the -- one of the -- one of the areas that I studied was the -- was Alabama, and I studied the development of race relations and industrial growth in Alabama. And so I spent a fair amount of time in Birmingham, talking to people, understanding their history.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. Our guest has been the author, Stanley Greenberg. And the title is "Middle Class Dreams." Thank you for joining us.
GREENBERG: Thank you very much.
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