Upon Being Honored by Southern California Americans for Democratic
Action at the Eleanor Roosevelt Annual Awards Dinner
Beverly Hilton Hotel
September 29, 1999
(this is the printer
Thank you, Norman, not
only for your kind words about me, but for your contribution to
political discourse with People for the American Way and for your
unique work in film and television, all of which have won you the
President's National Medal of the Arts Award earlier today at the
White House. So thank you for jumping on a plane and whipping back
to Los Angeles to present this award to me.
Lila, I want to thank
you and the Americans for Democratic Action for honoring me.
Of your founders, I've
already been greatly honored with the friendship of Hubert Humphrey
and Arthur Schlessinger, Jr. I've revered the late Walter Reuther
as I do Mr. Galbraith. But the woman, other than my mother, I always
admired most in my childhood, Eleanor Roosevelt, I never got to
meet. Although had I been a little less wary one day in New York
in 1961, it's possible I would have.
My first movie had just
come out, I was walking up Fifth Avenue, a boy from Virginia unused
to being recognized, when out of nowhere there burst a rather frazzled,
hyperactive, overly intense man in his 20s who yanked me by the
arm, and with what seemed to me a crazy glint in his eye, whispered,
"Mrs. Roosevelt wants me to talk to you. I'm going over to
see her now. Come on, you want to see Mrs. Roosevelt......."
I said, "Oh sure,
thank you, thank you, I'd love to see Mrs. Roosevelt but I'm a little
late for a... I have a; uh; a thing."
Now he grabs both of
my sleeves, sweat streaming down his face, and said, "No, no,
Mrs. Roosevelt is a friend of mine. She says you should do my book.
She's a friend of mine."
I said, "Well, I
think that it's very nice that Mrs. Roosevelt is a friend of yours.
Say hello for me. But if you don't mind, would you let go of my
And as I pulled away
from him, he shoved a book in my hands and said, "Read it.
As soon as I got a safe
distance up Fifth Avenue from him, I slowed down and opened the
book. It was called "Brutal Mandate" and sure enough there
was a blurb on the inside cover by Mrs. Roosevelt.
The guy who had stopped
me was the late Al Lowenstein, later to become a Congressman and
the president of your organization and a good friend of mine. You
remember him well, I know, and with great affection. Al had the
ability to lead. He was the person most responsible for beginning
the movement protesting President Johnson's policy in Vietnam. There
was no more effective organizer of dissent than Al.
For those of us who shared
in that activism, there is a lot to be proud of. Insofar as it changed
our policy in Vietnam, it was a success.
What we didn't succeed
in doing, sadly, was to get a fair shake for the domestic policies
of Lyndon Johnson because the country couldn't afford to pay for
those good programs and that bad war at the same time.
The cost of the war in
Vietnam brought into question the cost of food stamps at home.
You could say it was
the cost of that war that causes most present day liberal politicians
to identify themselves as progressives. But my faith in the basic
aspirations of the domestic programs of Lyndon Johnson, and before
him Kennedy, Stevenson, Truman and Roosevelt, just won't permit
me to accept your Eleanor Roosevelt Award as anything other than
an old time, unrepentant, unreconstructed, tax-and-spend, bleeding
heart, die-hard liberal Democrat.
I believe in the value
of social programs, a safety net, regulation, and an active government.
I have no problem professing
this because I love my day job -- making movies. I want to keep
making them. I have the great luxury of not having a career as a
politician and I can still say what I want to say.
As an old friend of mine
once said to me, "The greatest gift God can give a man is to
enjoy the sound of his own voice. And the second greatest gift is
to get somebody to listen to it." And for that tonight I humbly
So my happily calling
myself a liberal and dissenting from the centrist approach of the
current candidates for the Democratic nomination for President requires
no particular bravery. I have so much less to lose.
I have no campaign consultant.
No pollsters. I have no reason to placate the DLC (sometimes called
the Democratic Leisure Class, sometimes the Defense Lobby Corporation)
or the DNC or any source of campaign money that so dominates the
lives of career public servants today. I happen to be married to
the most breathtaking woman on the planet, have three kids and a
fourth on the way, and I can continue what one right wing columnist
suggested: "The improbable pursuit of acting in movies with
leading ladies half my age."
Speaking of improbability,
six weeks ago, several of the grand mentioners of the media began
to mention me as what most people of sound mind would call a "highly
improbable candidate for the Democratic nomination for President."
I responded only that "that seemed extremely unlikely. It's
not that I don't have things to say, but there must be somebody
better than me." Having said nothing publicly since (I've been
on a listening tour of my house for those six weeks), tonight seems
not a moment too soon to speak up.
The present Administration
deserves a lot of sympathy for having to cope with ruthless Republican
Congresses. But in what Paul Wellstone calls the Democratic Wing
of the Democratic Party, when we hear the record of the political
bargains of the past 7 years cosmeticized and spun back to the public
as "progress", we have to object.
After Theodore Roosevelt,
progress in this century has always been made by Democrats -- but
by Democrats who were fighting to the end for what they believed
in, not settling for what they could get. By changing public opinion
polls, not following them. By spending popularity, not hoarding
The big advances -- Social
Security, the welfare safety net, the minimum wage, the Marshall
Plan, Civil Rights, voting rights, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps,
federal aid to education, the war on poverty, Head Start, job training
-- have all been made by Democrats who wouldn't give up the fight.
Surely, the admirable,
honest, centrist Vice President knows that if the objective in the
present Administration has been to honor the historic mission of
his party, it hasn't been really fought for let alone achieved.
But he is a loyal friend. Clearly, there are very few people of
such high character or loyalty as the Vice President. Having a Gore
Administration would give him the opportunity to show that loyalty
to the more than 100 million Americans left behind in the economic
Bill Bradley, a man of
equally high character, also by his voting record a centrist, is
the only announced challenger. But if we imagine his Administration,
what is this insurgency of a centrist against a centrist all about?
If this is about differences in personality, is it justified? If
it's about real differences on issues, we haven't heard them yet.
Or are we left to decipher the slight differences in the middle
of the road voting records of their mutual pasts or continue to
wait and do nothing and hope the contest will be settled on grounds
more substantial than a macarena contest or a game of one-on-one?
Although I think ethanol
subsidies are goofy, and playing around with vouchers is dangerous
for public education, and of course we ought to recognize Cuba;
none of which he thinks -- in the past few weeks Bill Bradley has
made some statements which, while not bursting with specificity,
hint at progressive sentiments and I hope that whatever it is that's
motivating those hints will encourage other Progressives to speak
up and move him more specifically in a liberal direction.
But how can we not have
heard from either Democratic candidate a serious objection to the
hypocrisy of the Democratic party proudly advertising our economic
expansion as a "boom of unparalleled prosperity for the nation"
when 60% of our people are doing no better in 1999 than they were
doing in 1989?
How can we gloat about
prosperity when the poverty level hasn't changed at all?
Or when child poverty
is four times that of Western Europe?
And extreme child poverty
has gone up 26% in the past year?
And in the richest city
in the country, outside the doors of this hotel, one out of three
children lives in poverty, and homicide is still the largest single
cause of death for children under 18?
And according to the
officials of 30 other major cities, "The strong economy has
had very little positive impact on hunger and homelessness"?
And the poorest fifth
of families headed by a single woman lost $577 a year in income
and benefits between '95 and '97?
And there were 56% more
layoffs in '98 than in the year before?
A study of 4 Northwestern
states shows half of the available jobs don't pay a livable wage,
while the pay of the average corporate chief executive officer has
gone from 42 times to 419 times as much as the worker?
The disparity of wealth
between the rich and the poor is higher than ever, and the poorest
fifth of Americans have less than they had in 1977 and the richest
have 43% more?
The richest 2,700,000
Americans have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 100 million?
Do we have a party that
quietly shoves this stuff under the rug and says -- quote -- "most
things are going right for America" -- unquote?
Or is this still the
party that your founder Hubert Humphrey said has as its mission
"to take care of those in the dawn of life and in the shadows
of life and in the twilight of life"? What would Hubert Humphrey
say today? Is there no protest anymore?
Have we come to the point
where the Democratic Party needs to have a Republican President
before it finds its voice again? "A rising tide" isn't
"lifting all boats." If the Democratic Party doesn't raise
its voice about it, who will?
The media loses interest.
In the fall of '88, the New York Times ran 50 stories on the homeless,
5 of them on the front page. In '98, with no fewer homeless, it
ran 10 pieces in the same period, none of them on the front page.
Without hearing liberal Democrats, you won't hear about these unrepresented
people. You'll hear about the unprecedented prosperity of globalization.
Why? Because these unrepresented
people make no campaign contributions. 96% of the people in America
make no campaign contributions. Every penny of financing for the
selection of every candidate for every public office in America
from dog catcher to President is supplied by 4% of the people. They're
mainly rich and they are represented. The $50,000,000.00 raised
so far to select Governor Bush as the Republican nominee has come
from three-one-hundredths of 1% of the people.
That's why less than
half of the people vote. They feel they have nothing to do with
the process of selecting the candidates, and they're right.
The candidates who are
elected for public service aren't financed by public money. They're
selected by private money. From people who usually want some kind
of return on their investment.
The primary cancer in
this sick system, the big money in politics, has so metastasized
into every area of government that we can't afford any longer to
ignore that the life of the patient -- American Democracy -- is
in mortal danger of dying on the table.
Getting the money to
win makes decent politicians do indecent things. But in fact, billion
dollar subsidies and tax breaks, the pork barrel and corporate welfare,
are only the smaller tumors. There are bigger ones.
Our taxpayers are bailing
out thieves in Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and other countries and
at the same time bailing out major American financial houses who
refuse to face the consequences of their bad investments overseas.
Our government is reacting to this crisis by crisis when we should
be helping to construct a new set of international ground rules
to curb speculation and financial abuse. But our major financial
houses want the freedom to move their money anywhere they please
and to be as free of rules and risk as they can.
The genius of America
is the successful harnessing of the dynamic creativity of the private
sector for the public good. No sensible person wants to dampen that.
But our government is
susceptible to a corporate economic globalization that is not free
trade but corporate managed trade. And the global economy is not
working yet for most people. But Pat Buchanan is wrong. We can't
build a wall or turn our back on it. We have to work with it.
The problem in this new
economy is the undue influence these institutions and corporations
have over government actions. They set the rules. Others aren't
invited to the table. What we are in danger of experiencing is a
slow motion coup d'etat of big money's interests over the public
interest. So the global rules, written into trade agreements like
NAFTA and enforced by institutions like the World Trade Organization,
protect things like patents and intellectual property rights but
not labor rights, profits but not people, investments but not the
environment. We know the results -- growth, increasing trade, some
development, some people making lots of money.
But 475 billionaires
have as much wealth as half the people on earth. We have the sweatshop
again. Child labor. Slave labor. Destruction of forests, fish, water
and air. And so far we haven't heard a word of requirements on labor
and environment and product safety in the agreement being negotiated
over Chinese admission to the World Trade Organization.
Of course our stocks
have gone up. But we're making the world safe for globalization
rather than making globalization safe for the world.
If we don't act to do
something about this and make the world economy work for everybody,
we're going to see a reaction that will make Pat Buchanan look like
a choir boy. Which I'm told he once was.
Why aren't the Democratic
candidates addressing this? They offer their devotion to globalization
as if these markets were made by God rather than investors.
Why? Could it possibly
be the leading candidates in both parties are, by definition, those
who have raised the most money from these same sources? We don't
need a third party. We need a second party.
And what has happened
to the labor movement? What would Walter Reuther say today? Is there
no protest anymore?
We have another tumor:
Health care is a basic
And it's the responsibility
of the federal government to guarantee that human right for everybody.
The only two governments in the developed world that don't guarantee
it are the government of South Africa and the government of the
I think the best way
ever proposed for accomplishing health care in this country was
the Health Security Act S3 -- drawn up by Walter Reuther and Ted
Kennedy, among others. It was a single payer system that gave everyone
access to care and had quality standards for the practice of medicine.
And because it had only one payer, it made it cost less. That bill
was buried over and over again in the 70's by the insurance industry,
the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry.
They spent whatever it took to keep it from coming out of Committee.
Although the same group
had opposed Medicare in the past, old people study the issues and
get out and vote. So Medicare passed. Poor people, minorities and
children don't vote. So the big money was able to kill the Health
Security Act and every other proposal ever made to guarantee this
basic human right.
Now does anybody in either
party advocate the repeal of Medicare? Of course not. It's a single
payer system. It costs the government much much less to do the same
thing as the insurance companies do. And it works.
A little while ago we
heard the Vice President make some incremental proposals regarding
child health care that were good. And yesterday, Bill Bradley offered
a thoughtful plan for universal health care that the insurance industry
should be very happy with.
But the next President
of the United States should call a special session of Congress and,
no matter how much the insurance and pharmaceutical industries spend
to make him unpopular, do everything he can to not let that Congress
go home until every American has health care.
Does anyone doubt the
role of campaign contributors in keeping the defense budget as high
as it is? Or trying to privatize Social Security? Or stifling gun
control? Or hampering environmental protection?
Does anyone doubt that
campaign contributions help buy subsidies for nuclear, coal and
oil while solar and wind energy go pretty much unattended or that
campaign contributions set ridiculously underpriced fees for private
grazing, mining and lumbering on public lands, or cause the 70 to
80 billion dollar digital spectrum to be given away to the broadcasters
for nothing in the telecommunications bill that both Democratic
Broadcasters are not
only among the biggest campaign contributors, they have the power
to decide the candidates you see and for how long you see them.
It's a rare man in public
office who's got the guts to go up against the broadcasters. (And
it's a rare man in Hollywood who's got the guts to go up against
A democracy becomes a
plutocracy under these conditions. A state in which the wealthy
As Mr. Madison wrote
in the Federalist Papers:
Quote -- "Who are
to be the elected leaders of the Federal representatives? Not the
rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant,
nor the haughty heirs of distinguished names more than the humble
sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be
the great body of the people of the United States." unquote.
If the complete campaign
costs, including primaries, of the last two cycles of all federal
campaigns in '96 and '98 are combined, it comes to $3,600,000,000.00
for the four years.
With complete public
financing, that would cost the public about $3.50 per person per
year. What a small price for the people to pay for knowing their
elected representatives don't owe anything to anybody but the public
and will spend their tax dollars honestly.
It's estimated that $1,000
per taxpayer per year is spent on corporate welfare and pork barrel
legislation. Three and a half bucks is not a lot to help to get
rid of it.
Almost all former members
of the Senate and the House are in favor of public financing of
federal campaigns. But this is in sharp contrast to the immediate
interests of the incumbents.
Incumbents can raise
more money. They have something to sell in that system. And they
have learned how to deal in that system so they don't want a change
in that system. In the last election, 98% of House and Senate incumbents
were re-elected. Senate incumbents raised more than twice as much
as their challengers and House incumbents raised nearly five times
Neither Democratic candidate
has advocated complete public financing, including the primaries,
of all federal campaigns. Bill Bradley would not include the primaries.
What's the point without the primaries? But the public will never
have Democracy until it's willing to pay the bill for it. Aren't
we willing to spend three and a half dollars a year to get our government
We're told by the Republican
Senator Mitch McConnell that the public is bored by this subject.
In fact, if the public ever focuses on what's really happening,
nothing will agitate them more.
Let me quote you something
from a letter by another Republican; Abraham Lincoln:
"The money power
preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it
in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy. More insolent
than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. I see in the near
future, a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble
for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned.
An era of corruption will follow and the money power of the country
will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices
of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and
the republic is destroyed." End of quote.
If somehow I could reach
back in time and bring them into the present, and Al Lowenstein
could take me over to meet Eleanor Roosevelt today, we could say
to her, "Mrs. Roosevelt, the party's drifting. It's enslaved
by big money. It's lost its purpose. You stand for the principles
that will return it to its mission. The people trust your spirit.
Please run for President."
I think by now, if she'd
experienced the past 20 years, she might say, "Well, I was
beginning to think you'd never ask."
But sadly, only the spirit
of Mrs. Roosevelt is alive today. Hubert Humphrey is gone. Walter
Reuther is gone. So is Al Lowenstein.
But their spirit is here.
And I can see some hope
for that spirit in Al Gore and Bill Bradley.
But if an unexpected
person showed that he or she had that spirit and the ability to
lead, and said to me there was no liberal running for President,
no Wellstone, no Jackson, no Kennedy, no Mario Cuomo, and that serious
people of good judgment were talking to that person about running,
if I didn't think they were nuts, it would make no difference to
me whether that person had become well-known as a basketball player,
or a businessman, an actor, a wrestler, a grocery clerk or a drum
I'd say to that person:
"Look, Drum Majorette,
there's no harm in thinking about it, however unlikely it might
be. But whatever you do, go ahead and speak up. Speak up for the
people nobody speaks for.
And if you speak up well,
maybe you'll influence some people and the party and the candidates
that are running. And who knows what else?
And remember, Drum Majorette,
don't delude yourself into thinking it's got an awful lot to do
with you. It doesn't. It's the time you're living in. And a temporary
vacuum that allows you the privilege of being heard.
And one more thing, Drum
When those plutocrats
start with you; when you start hearing those moneyed honeyed voices
of ridicule and reaction;
Let them call you coy.
Let them call you flirtatious.
But keep talking. Keep
You've got to keep the
Thank you, A.D.A., for
keeping the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Keep the spirit.
Posted Originally on
the Website of the Southern
California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action