Michael Elliott
Michael Elliott
The Day Before Yesterday:  Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present
ISBN: 0684809915
The Day Before Yesterday
Mr. Elliott talked about his recent book, The Day Before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present, published by Simon and Schuster. It focuses on why many citizens believe the 1940s and 1950s were a unique golden age in U.S. history and how this makes their expectations too high for the present which leads to a general cultural mood of misery. He also stressed that the economy is performing better than many people believe.
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The Day Before Yesterday
Program Air Date: September 22, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Elliott, where did you get this title, "The Day Before Yesterday: Reconsidering America's Past, Rediscovering the Present"?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT, AUTHOR, "THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY:" The title was a brain wave by my editor, the famous Alice Mayhew, from Simon & Schuster. I'd written a sentence in the book in which I said, "The United States has to rediscover the day before yesterday," and I'd hardly written the sentence and sent the manuscript up to New York before Alice said, "That's the title." And we'd been playing around with a variety of titles before that, none of which worked as well as this. So as soon as she said that that was the title, I knew it was.
LAMB: What is "The Day Before Yesterday"?
MONTEFIORE: The "Day Before Yesterday" is the period before what I call the golden age, 1945 to the early 1970s. In the conceit of this book, that's yesterday, and that's a period on which we are fixated and obsessed by...
LAMB: Before '45?
MONTEFIORE: No, the period from '45 to 1970 -- to the early 1970s is yesterday, and what I'm saying in the book is let's try and remember the day before yesterday.
LAMB: I'm going to just take a little bit of your time, if you don't mind...
LAMB: ...and I want to read the first paragraph -- or the first couple of sentences of chapter one ...
LAMB: ... and ask you some things about it. You start out by saying, "Americans whine. They live in the most prosperous society that the world has ever seen. They have a greater level of creature comfort than any nation has ever known before. They enjoy great personal freedom. And their government is systematically constrained in the ways in which it can intervene in their lives. And yet they are convinced that their life is miserable." Did you work on that for a bit?
MONTEFIORE: You know, I'm not sure that I did, actually. I think that that paragraph came quite easily to me. I knew that I needed a paragraph in the book which caught people's attention, grabbed them, hooked them hard, very early on, and that was it, I guess. That was it.
LAMB: Well, explain some more. "Americans whine." How do you know?
MONTEFIORE: You and I know too much to know that the world should be run by pollsters, but if you look at polls which ask the question: "Is the United States on the right track or the wrong track?" "Do you think life's getting better or do you think it's getting worse?" You get, over the last 10 years, something like 60 percent to 70 percent of respondents who will tell you that we're on the wrong track and that life is getting worse. You pick up any newspaper and it's now become a staple of newspaper life or of television life to go out and find, you know, the angry white male or the soccer mom or the -- or the angry woman who will tell you that life's getting worse, that the country's going to hell in a handbasket, what have you. I've never thought that, and I wrote the book to try and explain why Americans are miserable and to suggest why they should not be.
LAMB: Are you an American?
MONTEFIORE: I'm not. I'm one of those celebrated resident aliens. I'm a green card holder. I've lived here for a long time, nearly half of my life, since leaving the university in 1974. My kids are Americans, and my kids have been brought up here. My elder daughter was actually born in London, lived there until she was one, but she's spent almost all her time here. My younger daughter is a fully fledged American citizen, with a little passport.
LAMB: I almost hear you saying, as I read this book, "we..."
LAMB: ...meaning -- "we" meaning you, Michael Elliott, an American. Do you feel that way?
MONTEFIORE: I don't have any trouble regarding myself as both American and British. I mean, I'm a hyphenated American. I'm a British American. Britons don't often describe themselves like that, but I don't have any trouble describing myself as as a British American. I've made my life here, made my children's lives here. I have very, very close contacts with the United Kingdom and I go back there every summer and most Christmases and have a great affection and identification with the UK, too, as I do with the United States. I resist choosing between the two countries to which I'm attached and I resent it when people say that I have to. I have a high degree of comfort level in belonging to two societies on different sides of the Atlantic.
LAMB: What got you interested in writing a book about all this?
MONTEFIORE: I first came to the United States in 1974. That's when I first lived and worked here. And it was wonderful to me. It was like a kind of great cornucopia had been emptied into my lap. I enjoyed myself enormously. It seemed like a land of plenty and a land of opportunity and a land of boundless possibility, and for one coming from Britain, it seemed refreshingly free, non stultifying, as if one could kind of take great gasps of liberty. Then I went back to the UK, and for most of the last 10 years -- the next 10 years I was based in the United Kingdom, but I came over here more and more and more. And I was generally conscious, as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, that people were less happy, more miserable and had a sense of regret, as if they'd lost something. Then I came back to work here in 1986, 10 years ago.

And I was working for The Economist then, as you remember, because we had a lot of conversations at the time, and The Economist asked me to do one of their long surveys -- 20,000 word essays -- on the state of the United States, which eventually didn't get done till 1991. I thought then was the moment to kind of try and crystallize everything I'd learned over the past 15 or 16 years. And as I started doing some reading it dawned on me that I had arrived in the Unites States for the first time in 1974, just at the end of a really remarkable period, and that, in a sense, the unhappiness and uncertainty that I was seeing around me in the early 1990s -- late '80s, early '90s, was an inability to cope with the fact that we had finished, ended or lost a period of remarkable social cohesion and economic prosperity. As I started to kind of delve into the question rather more, it dawned on me that this period that I had arrived at the end of -- the period from 1945 to the early 1970s -- was not normal, was not the way America usually was, but was, on the contrary, a huge aberration, a massive stroke of luck. And I concluded that one of the reasons that we were so unhappy or miserable now was because we were constantly comparing ourselves to an unattainable dream time, I call it, and that's the thesis of the book.
LAMB: Where do you live?
MONTEFIORE: I am, as we speak right at the end of July, in the process of moving from Bethesda, Maryland, to Bronxville, New York. For the last year I've been commuting between Washington, where I've lived for most of the last 10 years with a little gap in London in the middle, up to New York. I'm the editor of Newsweek International so I'm headquartered in New York. So I'm leaving Washington, I hope and believe not for good because this is a city that I'm enormously fond of, genuinely love. But I'm getting tired with spending all my time on the shuttle between Washington and New York, so my family and I are moving to the suburbs of New York City.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
MONTEFIORE: We met at Oxford University in 1971 -- I had to think about that for a minute -- when we were both students at Oxford University.
LAMB: What were you studying?
MONTEFIORE: I was studying law, which is an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom, and then I did graduate work in law at Oxford. And then my first full time job was teaching at Northwestern University Law School in downtown Chicago. And I've always been incredibly grateful that my first sustained experience of the United States was Chicago; that it was not New York or Washington or Cambridge or LA, the kind of places that most Europeans gravitate to when they come to the United States, where they have already made international society that they can slot into and where things aren't so much different from home. I was stuck right in the middle of the country from day one and I've always been tremendously grateful for that. And I still kind of get a -- you know, a kind of fuzzy sense of romanticism whenever I arrive at O'Hare and make it downtown in Chicago.
LAMB: Now you tell a story in the opening...
LAMB: ...about your touchdown in New York.
MONTEFIORE: My very first day, right. Right.
LAMB: Would you mind retelling it?
MONTEFIORE: No. This was in the summer of 1974, a couple of days after Richard Nixon resigned as president, and I had to fly to New York from Paris. I mean, in those days the cheapest way that you got across the Atlantic was on these things called charter flights, you know, and you had to pretend you were a member of a student club to do something or other. And for that summer, for reasons I've long since forgotten, the cheapest flights went from Paris rather than from London. So I made my way from London to Paris, and there I discovered that the plane was 12 hours late. I had arranged for a friend of mine from Oxford, an American, to meet me at JFK at what was assumed to be 2:00 in the afternoon, but we were now going to get in at 2:00 in the morning. I had no way of making a trans Atlantic phone call or anything like that.

So I duly arrived at 2:00 in the morning at JFK with no one to meet me and nowhere to go, and I felt completely lost and just a little bit frightened. I hadn't flown many times before and, you know, kind of coping with the Big Apple in a very foreign country was slightly disorienting. And a guy who'd been sitting next to me on the plane, who had done his junior year abroad in Paris -- he was a student at Antioch -- said, "Well, you'd better come home with me." So he was being picked up by a pal of his, and I guess it was 3:00 in the morning now. We got into a car and we piled out into the inky blackness and we drove for about half an hour, and we finally got to what seemed to me to be an enormous house, which I could just make out in the darkness, and his mother greeted us and took me upstairs, showed me into the guest bedroom, and I guess it was 4:00 or so. So I slept for a few hours.

About 8:00, I woke up and went downstairs and followed the noise of breakfast. And I walked out onto this patio, right, which I can see in my mind's eye to this day and I gulped. And I gulped not because of the opulence so much as because of the weather because this was a hot, sticky, New York, August day, you know, and you could almost cut the air with a knife. And it was clammy and hot and exotic. And there, sitting on the patio, were the family having breakfast, and then a beautiful lawn swooped down to a swimming pool and a dock and then a kind of gray haze in the distance. And this was Long Island Sound.

We were in Great Neck, Long Island, with a family called Cohen. He was a Jewish labor lawyer from New York. I promptly lost his address. I've never been back in touch with them, but I owe them a lot. And they gave me this fantastic breakfast -- orange juice, you know, in jugs this big, and coffee in jugs that big that was amazingly fresh and sweet rolls and scrambled eggs and sausages. And I was kind of overwhelmed by the generosity but also by the scale of everything, by the size of things, by the refrigerators that you could walk into, you know. And the next day I got a plane to Chicago and I drove in from O'Hare -- I got a cab in from O'Hare -- and you could see these skyscrapers looming on the horizon like fat giraffes, you know -- the Hancock Tower, and the Sears Tower had just been finished, and there was a sense of scale which created a sense of excitement which I've never lost and it was all a consequence, really, of those first 36 hours when people showed me such kindness and such neighborliness that I fell in love on the spot.
LAMB: Now if you were in talking to -- let's just say, your closest intellectual friends...
LAMB: ...in Great Britain and they were saying to you what they really think of the United States...
LAMB: ... maybe they haven't even been here ...
LAMB: ...what kinds of things do intellectuals in Britain think about the United States? What do they think of us?
MONTEFIORE: I think an awful lot of them would think that it was a society in decline; that it was a society whose inner cities were wracked by drugs and violence; that it was society that was racially divided, that was increasingly stratified by class; a society whose government couldn't function particularly well and a society which, in some cases, in some aspects, was kind of funny -- pathetically funny, if you like, like politically correct language and so on and so forth. That would be the attitude of many. It wouldn't be the attitude of all. You would find other people who recognize -- rightly, I think -- that the economy of the United States is the wonder of the world, that the United States has a technological lead in many of the industries of tomorrow that is enormous and that it has great vitality and dynamism of a sort that it's always had. But there's no question that a lot of Europeans probably think, they probably thought this rather more five years ago than now, to be truthful, think that the United States is in a period of decline. Alan Riding from The New York Times in I think it was 1990 wrote an article from Italy in which he said that young Italians in Turin or Milan were going around saying, "America a qui," "America's here," as if, you know, the abundance and the prosperity and the opportunity for which they once crossed the Atlantic, they could now get in Italy. Now that mood's changed. There's a general perception in Europe, I think, that it's got severe problems of its own and that it doesn't have the dynamism and the entrepreneurialism of the United States, but it wouldn't be hard to find people who would tell you that the US was in decline.
LAMB: How old are you daughters?
MONTEFIORE: My daughters are seven and five, nearly eight and five.
LAMB: And one of them is -- are they both Americans?
MONTEFIORE: No, one of them is a green card holder like me, and one of them's an the American citizen.
LAMB: And...
MONTEFIORE: The elder one moved here when she was one.
LAMB: What have you learned from them -- I know they're young...
LAMB: ...about this country? Anything?
MONTEFIORE: I'm terribly impressed by their kind of easy sense of patriotism, you know, by their enjoyment of being American and by their lack of self consciousness about it. In Europe, patriotism is often regarded as a kind of slightly declasse, you know, emotion. My kids -- they're very proud to be British, too, I should say -- but, I mean, there's a kind of easy patriotism that comes to them. They love living outdoors. One of the things that always attracted me about living here, compared with the United Kingdom, is that my kids can spend so much of their time outdoors. They live in an American suburb of Washington, DC, just about to move to a very similar suburb of New York, and they have wonderful, great wolf packs of friends who wander around the neighborhood together and swim together and trick or treat together and play soccer together, what have you.

In other words, the community spirit that you often hear people say is being lost in the United States doesn't seem to me something that's being lost when I look around my neighborhood. On the contrary, it seems to me to be extraordinarily strong and rather wonderful. So I think I've learned that from the kids, too.
LAMB: There are two names that seem to float through your book, from different backgrounds. One of them is Alexis de Tocqueville.
LAMB: And the other one is Betty Friedan.
LAMB: Start with Betty Friedan.
MONTEFIORE: Start with Betty Friedan?
LAMB: Why did you use her?
MONTEFIORE: Betty Friedan I used because she was one of a handful of people who kind of blew the whistle on the golden age and who complained, rightly, I think, that although in many ways it was a wonderful period, it did not, for example, give as many opportunities to educated, intelligent women as it should have done. Now I think that "The Feminine Mystique" is overdone as a thesis.
LAMB: Her book.
MONTEFIORE: Her book, 1962, 1961. I think it's overdone as a thesis, but she was right. She was right to identify that the period between 1945 and the early '70s, which I concentrate on in the book, was not wonderful for everyone. I mean, it was not wonderful for intelligent, ambitious, educated women.

Tocqueville is an obsession of a different order. When I started work on this book, I kind of thought to myself, "Well, I kind of have to read -- I suppose I have to read de Tocqueville," you know, not to try and put myself in the same league as de Tocqueville, but because this is one of the early -- not the earliest -- but one of the early visits by a foreigner to the United States to try and figure out what made it tick. And I'd read de Tocqueville many, many years ago and hadn't remembered much of it, but I'd somehow kind of got a sense that it was pretty hard going and complicated and a bit like glue. The more I read and used it -- and de Tocqueville's been a companion of mine now for five years -- the more it just blew me away. I mean, the acuity of his insights into the United States and, of course, his ability to predict, which is truly remarkable.

I mean, the famous passage on the United States and Russia being destined to be rivals, the position of African Americans coming back to haunt the United States in the 20th century. I mean, not simply an extraordinary insight into the lives of Americans then in the 1840s but this fantastic ability to predict the future. It's an astonishing piece of work. It's an astonishing piece of work. It's probably arguably better to read it in an edited version than to read the full thing, although I've read the full thing but, you know, some -- there are passages that don't have much relevance to us now. But it's an amazing, amazing piece of work.
LAMB: You get the impression when you read your book, again, that you've been everywhere in this country.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: Have you?
MONTEFIORE: I haven't quite been everywhere. I've not been to Alaska. I've been to 49 states, but never to Alaska.
LAMB: And you constantly reference little things...
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: ...streets or boulevards or some shop or something.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right, right.
LAMB: Did you travel around over the years?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, I mean, most of my time here has been spent as a reporter; not all of it. I mean, I'm now an editor stuck in an office in New York, but for six or seven years, I was a reporter here for The Economist magazine. And Rupert Pennant Rea, the editor of The Economist at that time, gave me astonishing freedom just to wander around the United States writing about anything that took my fancy, a freedom which I lapped up. So this book is written -- it has a thesis and I hope it has a kind of, you know, intellectual thesis -- I was an academic before I was a journalist -- but it's a reporter's book, I hope. I mean, it's a book that tries to kind of find the little small town in Kansas that built four churches in 10 years, or that finds the Monongahela Valley in -- in western Pennsylvania and explains why the steel industry collapsed. And, originally, the book was a lot longer and there was a lot more. There were real streets in it -- I mean, you know, genuine street names in it at one point. Astoria Boulevard, New York, I described in a kind of long passage that in the end we cut out. I remember describing a street in Natchez, Mississippi, once. That, too, got cut out. But I love kind of trying to find the little places and the little incidents that illuminate a larger point. And I've traveled pretty widely in the US.
LAMB: When you travel, how do you keep track of it all?
MONTEFIORE: I keep a notebook with me all the time and I jot things down and then get back home and go back through the notebooks. And, you know, if I see something that's useful, stick it into a computer file. I mean, I've almost always got a computer program going at home called Notes, you know, and so I tend to travel with a notebook. Even if I'm on vacation, I keep something with me and I'll scribble something down -- a billboard that catches my eye or something that I've seen on the street. I'm making this sound rather more systematic than I actually work. But, you know, I try and keep a record of things and then I dump it into a computer file when I get back home so that if I want to retrieve this stuff, I've got some kind of record of it.
LAMB: You wrote the column, Lexington...
MONTEFIORE: I wrote the column...
LAMB: ...in The Economist...
MONTEFIORE: Absolutely.
LAMB: ...for how many years?
MONTEFIORE: For three and a half years, from 1990, nearly four years...
LAMB: Unsigned.
MONTEFIORE: ...till the end -- unsigned till mid '93 when I joined Newsweek.
LAMB: So if you didn't -- you know, I mean, you've done our show...
LAMB: ... and we've talked about Lexington...
LAMB: ...meaning what?
MONTEFIORE: Meaning the first place at which British took shots at Americans, a little village outside Boston.
LAMB: But you didn't sign it.
MONTEFIORE: I didn't sign it.
LAMB: So did that bother you when you would go out and find these little nuggets and then write it up and...
MONTEFIORE: Working for The Economist is like joining the British civil service, I always say. You sign the official Secrets Act and you promise that you're not going to talk about anything that you see during your work. And if you're not prepared to sign that, why join the British civil service? If you're not prepared to be anonymous, there's no point in joining The Economist. It's kind of part of the contract, that you trade anonymity with its drawbacks for any journalist because we all like seeing our name up in lights -- you trade anonymity for the reputation that The Economist has, or perhaps I should say had, see, because I don't work for it anymore.
LAMB: All right, the golden age, '45 to '70.
LAMB: Let me assume that a friend of yours is coming in from Britain...
LAMB: ...and he or she asks you, "Michael Elliott, tell me five places to go in the United States..."
LAMB: "...special places that will give me some real insight, not the obvious, you know..."
MONTEFIORE: Right, right, right.
LAMB: "...to understand what America is." Let's just see if we can hold to five. Give us the first one.
MONTEFIORE: A lot of people have said this and written about it but I'd go to Macomb County, Michigan, just outside Detroit.
LAMB: David Bonior's district.
MONTEFIORE: David Bonior's district, indeed, the book -- the place that Stan Greenberg wrote a book about a couple of years ago; that Michael Barone has written about a lot in the "Almanac of American Politics," a much studied place...
LAMB: Where is it?
MONTEFIORE: ... the home of the Reagan Democrats. It's just north of Detroit. It's a blue collar, middle class community of typically East European ethnic Americans, heavily Catholic, with a close association with the auto industry, which was very, very heavily Democratic, traditionally -- the most Democratic suburban county in 1960 -- and which gradually became more Republican. My book isn't really about politics but, I mean, this is sociology. It gradually became more conservative, more Republican during the 1960s, '70s and '80s and a place where you can almost feel people expressing this sense that life was once terrific and now is confused and uncertain.

These are people -- well, these are people who have worked in car factories or whose fathers would have worked in car factories in the '50s and '60s; when Walter Reuther was getting incredible benefits from the car companies; when people could get $20 an hour in today's money, and when what I would call working class people could aspire to creature comforts beyond the dreams of anyone else in the world. Life's not like that now. The car industry's laid an awful lot of people off. Detroit, which they had a great connection to, has become an extremely sad and sorry place. It's gone through some vicious race riots and the economic base of the city center is crumbling. So I think Macomb County is a place of great uncertainty and a place where people have difficulty understanding how good life now is and could be in the future. That would be one.
LAMB: Two.
MONTEFIORE: I'd go to Boulder, Colorado, or almost anywhere along the front range of the Rockies. But I'd choose Boulder because it's a town that I'm enormously fond of and where I've got a lot of friends. The great untold story of the United States at the moment, I think, is that the Rocky Mountains are going through a faster explosion of growth than anywhere else in the country. And Boulder is where you can see this kind of fascinating banging around of two or three versions of what the West means: the kind of liberal, environmentalist West, associated with the University of Colorado, which is headquartered at Boulder, fantastic, high tech entrepreneurs coming in doing software, doing bioengineering, what have you. And then the West that you don't read about -- Hispanic immigrants, cowboys, trailer parks on the edge of town, a few mangy dogs around, a few beer cans being kicked about. And you can see all of that anywhere on the front range of the Rockies, but Boulder I'd choose just because it's a wonderful place.
LAMB: Three.
MONTEFIORE: You have to do somewhere in Southern California because Southern California, by comparison with anywhere else on the planet, has been the most successful piece of real estate this century. I mean, the place where more people want to be, from more places than anywhere else in the world. So I'd probably choose somewhere in Orange County, actually. There's a shopping center I know in Santa Ana, which looks like a Mexican shopping center, but it has a dentist who's a Korean. And a couple of blocks away there's a church that's shared by, I think, Koreans and Mexicans, and there's Vietnamese everywhere. And a couple of miles down the road, there's the Crystal Cathedral -- you know, this kind of enormous testimony to muscular Protestantism. And somehow everyone gets along, you know? I mean, you have the aspiration of immigrants combined with the supposed conservatism of Orange County, and everyone gets along and creates an economic prosperity beyond the dreams of their parents.

I'd go, fourthly, I guess, to -- let me see -- now we're running out of places. I'd go fourthly to New York City, almost anywhere in New York City, but which is a place which in some ways typifies the things that have made people frightened in the United States -- gang rapes in Central Park, Son of Sam, you know, what have you -- but at the same time has been remade in the last 15 years, has become a middle class town again. Eighty thousand Koreans, Chinese, Barbadians, Jamaicans, Irish, Poles, Russians remaking this kind of great, pulsing city into something that's really rather magical. Crime in New York, as we know, is at its lowest level for a generation. The streets aren't paved with gold, but I mean, there is a kind of sense of optimism there and well being.

And I guess I'd go finally to one of my -- to one of my favorite places in the United States, and that's the Monongahela Valley in western Pennsylvania, running south from Pittsburgh. And this was the area where the steel mills were built, where Carnegie built the steel mills, and which was, beyond anywhere else, the place where unskilled workers could earn an awful lot of money and have creature comforts unknown anywhere else in the world. And you can't be optimistic about someone -- where like the Monongahela Valley. I mean, I can give you a dose of optimism about most places in the United States, but one of the things I try and say in the book is that the economic change that we've gone through in the last 25 years or so has had costs. Some people have gained, but some people have lost, and those sad steel towns in western Pennsylvania ain't gonna come back, you know. I mean, there's no economic magic wand which is going to make them what they once were, and I think we have to realize that. I mean, this is an optimistic book, but I hope it's not a Pollyannaish one.
LAMB: Are you glad I didn't say six?
MONTEFIORE: I would have had to have chosen somewhere in the South for a sixth, and I'm not quite sure where I would have gone, but somewhere in the South.
LAMB: There's not a page that you turn to here, where there's not a statistic on it.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right, right.
LAMB: You know, a...
MONTEFIORE: Right. In a very nice review in The Wall Street Journal, the reviewer said, "This is surprisingly readable, given that at times it could be the statistical abstract with verbs," which I think I took as a compliment, you know?
LAMB: What I wanted to ask, as I was reading it, there are a couple of sets of statistics that...
LAMB: ...that we had reason here to deal with...
LAMB: ...that I found, "Yeah, that's right, that's what we found."
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: How did you protect yourself in this process, and how did you go about getting the statistics that you thought would stand up over time to be accurate?
MONTEFIORE: Well, let's put in a plug for a little bit of the federal government that is, I think, a model for the whole of the world, and that's the Census Bureau of the United States at the Department of Commerce. I mean, the statistics that the United States produces on all kinds of aspects of life, social as well as economic, are just astonishing to me in the range and in the reliability, you know?

Down there, not far from where we're now sitting, you have a bunch of the much despised pen pushing bureaucrats who have created something that is truly the envy of the world. I mean, the statistical abstract of the United States, that one book that comes out each year. You can pick it up and read it like a novel. I mean, it's fantastic. So I've always kind of loved numbers and loved statistics and I found American statistics remarkably easy to use, so I just absorbed a whole range of data. In 1976, I think it was, the Census Bureau put out these two huge volumes called "Statistics on the United States from Colonial Times to 1970," two big fat volumes which had -- you know, the two volumes that if anyone was kind of -- if the bailiffs were coming to take away my possessions, those are the two I'd hold on to right to the end, I mean, the two kind of fat, hardback books, and just spectacular in their coverage.
LAMB: Is there any other country in the world that's anything like this?
MONTEFIORE: I think you could probably find a similar quality of statistics, I would guess -- I don't know them as well -- in Germany and France and the United Kingdom, but I doubt if you'd find anything as good as us in the UK.
LAMB: What about the mix of people?
MONTEFIORE: How do you mean the mix of people, Brian?
LAMB: All the way from the Asians to the African Americans...
MONTEFIORE: Oh, right.
LAMB: ...to the, you know, the different -- the Indians, Pakistanis -- you know, just name them.
MONTEFIORE: Unique, unique. I mean, the range of ethnic types and the extent to which this -- it's a melting pot, I think, is unparalleled in human history, probably.
LAMB: Let me pull a sentence way out of context. Page 94...
LAMB: ...it's a 291 page book.
LAMB: Is that something you had something to say about, by the way?
MONTEFIORE: No. There was a version that was a lot longer than that, but Alice Mayhew, my editor, and I mean, led by Alice, rightly said, "This book will work if it has a sharpness to its argument, and it will have a sharpness to its argument if people can kind of pick it up," and I don't know whether people can read it in one sitting, but I mean, can kind of follow it through.
LAMB: What was left out that you would've liked to have had in?
MONTEFIORE: There was quite a lot of detail and color that I took out in the end. There was some comparisons with foreign countries that I took out at the end. I'd spent a long time in Detroit. Detroit is quite large in the book. I'd spent quite a lot of time in Toronto as well, comparing Detroit and Toronto. I left that out. There was rather more on the West in the book originally than I put in at the end. And then there was stuff that I was very glad that I took out. I mean, I'd had a kind of quite a long section on political correctness and so on, which is now yesterday's story. So, you know, whole chunks of that went out.
LAMB: How long did it take you to write it?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it took me, in realistic terms, it took me three years. I did this long essay for The Economist in 1991. I then covered the 1992 presidential election and I sat down to write and do extra research for the book in January of 1993, and we were done kind of by Christmas '95.
LAMB: How much...
MONTEFIORE: About three years.
LAMB: How much a day do you write?
MONTEFIORE: When I was really going at it -- I did three full versions of this book: one in 1993, one in 1994, and one in 1995. And I r refined it and cut it down in each version. When I was really going at it, I would try and write 1,000, sometimes 2,000 words a day.
LAMB: All right, here's the sentence.
LAMB: I'm finally getting around to it. Page 94: "It was Korea that made Washington an imperial garrison city circled by the citadels of national security: the Pentagon across the river in Virginia; the CIA over in Langley; the National Security Agency in Ft. Meade, Maryland."
LAMB: "Korea ..."
LAMB: "... made Washington an imperial garrison city."
LAMB: How?
MONTEFIORE: Right. Washington in the 1930s was still a kind of steepy, relatively provincial southern town. The United States did not have an awful lot of foreign policy clout. After all, Woodrow Wilson's attempt to lead the world in 1919 had been decisively rejected by the Congress. New York was a great international city; Washington, DC, was not. But during World War II, you have this huge influx of government workers, temporary buildings lining The Mall, the Pentagon is thrown up, and so on and so forth. But the war ends. The war ends. And you've then get the greatest peacetime demobilization of an army that the world has ever seen, and people try and go back to normal. Korea changes everything. I mean, Korea changes everything.

You then get, on the back of Korea, you get an increase in defense spending that is unprecedented. It goes up to a level -- you get a little spike in Vietnam, but I mean, essentially Korea sets a level of defense spending and sets an importance in national security concerns in Washington that's sustained, that is sustained really right until the Clinton presidency, I would argue. And it changes the way the city looks, literally changes the way the city looks. I mean, you've got the Pentagon, you've got the CIA, you've got Ft. Meade. You walk into the White House to this day, Brian, and you see people in Navy uniform -- you know, in those kind of glorious summer whites. I've never seen in a soldier in 10 Downing Street in my life. I've seen plenty of soldiers in Moscow, you know, but I mean, the idea that this is a city where national security is pre eminent lasted an awful long time. It's less prevalent now than it was four or five years ago, but it became extremely important. I mean, let me put it this way. It became axiomatic that the president had to be a good commander in chief, right? I mean, this is an issue when President Clinton ran for office in 1992. That's quite modern. I mean, ask yourself this question, you know: Did people say of Calvin Coolidge, "Can he be a commander in chief?" No. I mean, it was -- it was a consequence of the post World War II dispensation, and it was marked by the increase in defense spending associated with the Korean War.
LAMB: You also say that until 1946, America was devoid of an enemy.
MONTEFIORE: And I think that's an extraordinarily important point. You know, you had my country as an enemy for some time in the 1770s and again in the War of 1812, and the United Kingdom remained a rival of the United States. It had Germany as sort of an enemy in 1917 to 1918, and Germany and Japan for a sort of an enemy in World War II -- a very serious enemy. But what the United States had not had until the Cold War was a sustained, deathly rivalry with another power in a way that was going to last for 45 years.
LAMB: Is that different in other countries?
MONTEFIORE: Consider France and Germany. You know, you could make a case that France and Germany were at war, with -- with a few punctuations of peace, between 1870 and 1945. Consider France and Britain between 1714 and 1815 -- I mean, a period when they were at war for 48 out of 100 years, I think. So other countries do have these great rivalries -- Germany and Russia banging up against each other in the borderlands of Eastern Europe. But the United States had got through its history without a great rival. Then it had one. Then the Soviet Union assumed this position of rival and deathly threat. And that, I think, was one of the reasons, and a very important reason, why the period after World War II was a period of such extraordinary social cohesion, because there was an enemy. I mean, it always helps to have an enemy.
LAMB: More statistics. As a matter of fact, you look at the population in the year 2050.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right, right.
LAMB: And you say that there'll be 394 million people in this country...
LAMB: ...in the year 2050. But here's what I want to ask you about.
LAMB: Whites will amount to 53 percent of the population...
LAMB: ...blacks, 16 percent...
LAMB: ...up from about 12 percent.
LAMB: By the way, whites now are at 74 percent.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: Asians, 9 percent.
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: Latinos, 24 percent.
MONTEFIORE: Twenty four percent, right, right.
LAMB: What is that going to mean?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it will mean that the face of the United States will be rather different. It'll have more Hispanic and Asian features. And the important thing here is the increase in the Hispanic and Asian population. The proportion of the black population grows quite slowly. It's the proportion of the Hispanic and Asian population. I don't think, actually, it means an awful lot, because I think that Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans are, first and foremost, Americans. They come from cultures that are no more different now than Poland and Russia and Armenia and Syria were 100 years ago. There's no reason in my mind, either from their aspirations or from the strength of American society, why they should not be assimilated into American society just as Poles and Russians and Armenians and Syrians were 100 years ago.

Will they change America? Sure, they will. You know, you wander around northern Virginia, you see Asian temples. There's a Buddhist temple up in my suburb of Washington, DC. You know, we're all eating salsa now in a way that we never were before. Spanish expressions have become part of our cultural mix. So, I mean, of course, they change America. But I see no reason to assume -- and this is where I'm an optimist -- that this great wave of Hispanic and Asian Americans are going to transform the dynamism and drive of the country.
LAMB: Are you more optimistic about the future of this country than people you meet here?
MONTEFIORE: Generally speaking, yes, I am. Generally speaking, yes, I am. I mean, I think...
LAMB: Do you get into arguments about it?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, I do get into arguments about it. I get into arguments about it with people my age and older.
LAMB: How old are you?
MONTEFIORE: I'm 45. I get into less arguments about it with people who are younger, who can't remember in the way that we can, you know, the period after World War II, and so who are not obsessed in the same way by the memory of that period when the United States was top dog. I mean, it's hard to go to someone like Microsoft in Seattle, right, and see all these kids, you know, running around, changing the world, literally, and think that the United States doesn't have a great future. So, I mean, it's not hard to find optimism. But I think, for people my age and a little older, I do tend to be regarded as an optimist, and sometimes a foolish one.
LAMB: When you go back to Great Britain...
LAMB: ...what sense do they have of the future of the world?
MONTEFIORE: I think all Europeans have gone through a pretty uncomfortable few years in the last two or three years, in which they increasingly see a tremendous cultural and economic dynamism in the United States and Asia, and they wonder where the European equivalent of that is. In some ways, I think that that attitude is slightly less marked in Britain than it is in France and Germany, but it's a worry to them.
LAMB: You write, "Yet most Americans still are not real international animals."
MONTEFIORE: Right, right.
LAMB: This is preceded by a lot of talk about the tourists in this country doubling from outside this country in here between '84 and '95.
LAMB: Why do you think Americans aren't international?
MONTEFIORE: Well, in a sense it's harder for them to be. In one sense it's harder for them to be international animals because they have farther to go, they have farther to travel -- Mexico and Canada aside. This is a country that spans a continent. I mean, there's a lot of the country to see. It's an economy that, at various times, has been relatively self contained. So, I mean, it hasn't been necessary, has it has been for other cultures, to travel outside it.

In other ways, though, I think the United States is becoming a much more international society than it's ever been before. One of the things I talk about in the book, and at the end of the book, is soccer and the World Cup of 1994, when you got people from all over the world coming to the United States to kind of meet their cousins who'd emigrated here, you know -- Moroccans, Egyptians, French, Irish, what have you, Koreans -- coming here, meeting their brothers and sisters and cousins who lived here and celebrating this truly global phenomenon. So, I mean, I think in some ways -- not always the ways that we think of most often -- the United States has become a very international country.
LAMB: I laughed out loud when I read this line in here because you've done enough shows that this sounds just like you:
LAMB: "A foreigner proffering traveler's checks denominated in anything but dollars is greeted at American banks as if he were nuts."
MONTEFIORE: That's right. And how.
LAMB: Why?
MONTEFIORE: To this day. I mean, this is one of the ways in which the United States isn't international, you know. You wander in with a traveler's check that's denominated in Swiss francs or pounds, and the bank teller will kind of hold it up as if it's a dead fish, you know, and kind of. I mean, I remember talking to a businessman in Michigan a few years ago who said that he had gone to his bank in Detroit, one of the biggest banks in Detroit, and he'd asked for a loan to start some business in Italy, right? And the banker said, "Oh, Italy? You know, that's a bit exotic." Now Italy's the fourth biggest economy in the world, you know? I mean, to kind of treat Italy as if it's exotic economically is a bit weird, but there are still plenty of places in the US where that happens.
LAMB: College.
LAMB: Compare America's experience going to college to Great Britain.
MONTEFIORE: Well, Britain's changed. It's in the middle of a very dramatic, very quick change in which -- incredibly quick, actually -- in which college education essentially becomes a mass good, which traditionally, it was not. But I mean, the percentage of people who go to a three or four year college and graduate from it in three or four years is now just about at American levels. But that's a change within the last 10 years, an enormously quick one.
LAMB: And just let me jump in. You say that the American level is 43 percent of the whites that graduate from high school go to college and 29 percent of blacks. Is that getting any better for either group?
MONTEFIORE: The percentage of whites who graduate to college, I think, has been pretty stable. In terms of African Americans going to college, there's been a falloff in black males going to college in the last 10 years, but a very great increase in black women going to college. So you're getting quite a worrying divergence in educational achievement between black men and black women.
LAMB: I interrupted. You were saying...
MONTEFIORE: Well, the United States had this system of mass higher education much earlier than anyone else. I think one of the reasons why the golden years after 1945 were so wonderful, and a kind of true piece of policy engineering that was enormously successful was the GI Bill, which expanded educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of ex servicemen, and really kicked the economy onto a new level of productivity. I mean, take a kid who in 1940 was in a machine shop at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, California, say, and maybe he had the skills to kind of fix a piece of machinery that broke down on the job.

Ten years later, the same kid might have got a degree in aeronautical engineering from -- from, you know, the University of California. Now you don't have to despise the lower level skill of fixing the machinery to realize that with a degree in aeronautical engineering, you know, he's going to be starting up his own business, employing people, and so on and so forth. The GI Bill, which put hundreds of thousands of returning servicemen into universities, I think was a fantastic way in which the economy became more productive.
LAMB: There's more that I want to ask you about. Before we do that, why did you go to Newsweek from The Economist and how long have you been there?
MONTEFIORE: I went to Newsweek almost exactly three years ago, on Labor Day, 1993. And I, broadly speaking, went to Newsweek because I didn't become editor of The Economist. I mean, The Economist had a change of editor, and I was one of the candidates, and I was extremely lucky to have an offer from Newsweek in my back pocket. So when I didn't become editor of The Economist, I thought, you know, "This is probably the moment to switch." So I switched to Newsweek, stayed in Washington, became diplomatic editor of Newsweek writing a column on international affairs. And then for the last year I've been editor of Newsweek International, which is all the international editions of Newsweek, all the editions of Newsweek sold outside the US.
LAMB: What kind of sales are there?
MONTEFIORE: We sell -- it depends how you count them, because we have some foreign language editions. We publish in Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Russian, as well as in English.
LAMB: Weekly?
MONTEFIORE: Weekly. Yeah. We have seven editions, three in English, and then four foreign language editions. And we have a combined circulation, if you count in all our joint ventures in foreign languages, of a little over 1.1 million a week outside the US.
LAMB: Compared with -- what? -- 500,000 for The Economist?
MONTEFIORE: Outside the United Kingdom, The Economist sells about 500,000, yeah.
LAMB: Was it a disappointment when you didn't get that editorship of The Economist?
MONTEFIORE: Sure. Absolutely.
LAMB: Explain to someone who's never read The Economist before.
MONTEFIORE: Well, The Economist is a great publication and a great institution and a wonderful magazine, as is Newsweek. But a relatively small number of us had been associated with a very fast increase in The Economist's circulation worldwide, and in its reputation worldwide. And we formed a very tightly knit, I think, very collegial and happy team which, obviously, couldn't be sustained forever, because sooner or later the editor would leave and rivalries would break out. But the chance of leading that team of collegial, good journalists was very appealing and I was very sorry I didn't get it.
LAMB: There are a couple of other things in here that -- and I don't think I can find it, but you'll remember it. You said basically, somewhere in here, that government lies, lies, lies. I think that's...
MONTEFIORE: "Lied, lied, lied."
LAMB: "Lied, lied, lied," yeah.
MONTEFIORE: "Lied, lied, lied."
LAMB: In what regard?
MONTEFIORE: Well, this is a passage where I look at the period between 1963 and 1974. I mean, I think we forget...
LAMB: '63 to '74.
MONTEFIORE: '63 to '74. Let's just go through it. Let's just go through the political history of that period. One president gets shot. His successor gets forced from office because of an unpopular foreign war.
LAMB: Lyndon Johnson.
MONTEFIORE: Lyndon Johnson. His successor, Richard Nixon, is only the president who's forced to resign while in office. Nixon is elected in 1972 on a ticket with Spiro Agnew. At that precise moment, each of them could have been indicted as conspirators to separate felonies, right? Martin Luther King is shot dead. Malcolm X is shot dead. Bobby Kennedy is shot dead. George Wallace is crippled. This is just the bare bones, right? I mean, we're not dwelling on college students marching in support of an enemy power, chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh"; one winter, 1970 1971, when there were 250 bombs associated with the radical left going off; a Supreme Court justice who retires in disgrace, I mean, you know, and then finally Watergate.

It was a pretty awful 11 years, and it isn't surprising to me that, at the end of that period -- and in Watergate, the government "lied, lied, lied" all the time. People should have lost faith in American institutions. It doesn't surprise me whatsoever that people should have sensed -- should have had the sense that something rather precious had dribbled away. I remember once going to the museum they have in the Dallas Book Depository, above the plaza where President Kennedy was shot in 1963, and I suppose I was -- well, I think I was there during the 1992 election. I think that's why I was there. So this was nearly 30 years ago, right? And people were wandering around there sobbing; I mean, red eyed and crying...
LAMB: Six floors up.
MONTEFIORE: Yeah. So, I mean, I think we forget how awful those years were, and we forget that there was a reason for people thinking that American institutions had collapsed.
LAMB: By the way, did you know when you wrote this book -- of course, you didn't know; maybe you did -- "My thanks go to Joe Klein, whose idea the move..."
MONTEFIORE: "To Newsweek was ..."
LAMB: "...to Newsweek was," that Joe Klein had written "Primary Colors"? Did you know that?
MONTEFIORE: I did not. I did not know that. I was not one of the handful of people who knew that.
LAMB: And are you still close to Joe Klein?
MONTEFIORE: I am absolutely still close to Joe Klein. He's a very good friend of mine, yeah.
LAMB: Do you have another book in mind?
MONTEFIORE: I've got a number of things that I'm playing around with right now. Some of them are rather lighter. I'd like to write a book on soccer in the United States, I mean, kind of an essay on the United States, seen through soccer, which is a great passion of mine. And I've got a couple of bigger projects that I'm toying around with. I'd quite like to do a history of sex in the United States from 1945 to now, which is...
LAMB: You touch on in the book.
MONTEFIORE: Well, which I touch on in the book, but couldn't kind of really develop a kind of social history of sex from 1945 to now. And I'd like to do a book on the Rockies. I mean, I'd like to do a book on the Rocky Mountain West, which is the area that's booming in the United States now. There's a tremendous literature on the South -- you know what I mean, Brian? -- and very good books on California, and on cities like Chicago. There isn't a really good book that describes the mountain West, and what's happened there in the last 10 years, from high tech industries to the militia in Montana and the like. And I'm very tempted by that at the moment.
LAMB: Well, your agent, Ray Segalen, and your editor, Alice Mayhew, will be glad to hear all of that, I suppose.
MONTEFIORE: Let's hope.
LAMB: Here's the book. Our guest has been Michael Elliott, and the title is "The Day Before Yesterday," and we thank you for joining us.
MONTEFIORE: It was great, Brian. Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.