Anthony Weiner: Where are you guys from?
Group: Santa Cruz, California.
Anthony Weiner: Gotcha, Congressman Farr. He’s a good guy, he’s obsessed with elephants though, you know that? Have you seen his website? It’s all about elephants. He’s a very nice guy, and he gave me a lot of advice. I ran for Mayor this past summer and he gave me a lot of advice on some things that I should say and do. I followed all his advice and I lost the election. Alright, what are we going to do here? Want me to just say a few things and then we’ll do some questions? First of all, give some sense. You’re visiting with other members of Congress?
Anthony Weiner: And are you doing this as part of an interest? Were you chosen for this, or are you here by choice? And then I should persuade you why you should like it here, or are you here because you desire to be here, and I can explain to you all these intricate things about what’s going on behind the scenes in the United States capital.
Group: The second one.
Anthony Weiner: I worked on Capital Hill right out of college; I worked for my predecessor Chuck Schumer. I didn’t know who my Congressman was, I actually had to look his name up, I was active in some political science stuff, and I did some student government at college. You guys have heard of Harvard?
Anthony Weiner: I didn’t go there; I just wanted to know if you’ve heard of it. I went to the state university of New York at Plattsburgh, which is kind of the Harvard of Clinton county New York. Up there I did some student government and stuff like that, but decided I want to see Washington. Can I tell a little about our conversation about photographs? I was explaining to Michael on the way here what makes a good photograph for a news letter, and there are certain elements that you have to have. First, there’s got to be some action. So, does this photograph have any action? No. Also, it has to have cute kids, and you guys, I mean you are fine and everything, I’m talking about really cute little kids. Or, if it has a uniform, or an iconic religious figure, like a priest wearing a collar, or a rabbi in my district, or something like that. This has none of them, but it hasn’t stopped Michael from taking about two hundred photographs.
When I came here as an intern, after I got done with my internship I stayed on and worked for Congressman Schumer in the Canon building. I answered letters for him, I eventually did his work on the Budget Committee, I really got a taste of what was exciting about this place, and what I realized, and if you look carefully you’ll see it as well, two things are true that are counterintuitive. One is the place is run by very young people, that the average staffer is in their twenties, that if everyone who was younger then thirty left Capital Hill all at once, the government would clearly come to a complete standstill. That’s not what you think conventionally, you think that “Wow, its people with grey beards, stroking them, thinking the big thoughts of the day,” but there is so much information to process on Capital Hill, there’s so much information now.
We’re in this period where two things are happening simultaneously. One, the issues we’re dealing with are much more complicated than they dealt with at the turn of the century. The amount of information about each issue has doubled and tripled and quadrupled, because technology has made it such that frankly, we’re getting snowed in. Those things have made it so that you need more and more staff to help you with these things. Where have we found them? We have found them in people like you. Frankly, the country, with all of this talk about how apathetic young people are, in fact our government is being run by a generation of young people who are showing a great deal of patriotism and a great deal of interest, and if they weren’t here our government would stop. The other thing that I noticed that was also something that led me to ultimately go into politics, was that while there were five hundred and thirty five elected people who were here, it’s really a handful that wind up carrying a lot of load, that there are people that have a different model for being here that a relatively small number of members wind up doing a lot of the work, depending upon their view of what their mission is.
That means that while you come here, you’re not running the country as one of four hundred and thirty five, if you really hustle you’re running the country as one of a hundred, and then as you get a little more seniority you’re running the country as one of thirty or forty people. My predecessor Chuck Schumer is now the Senator for New York, and he’s the head of the Democratic Senatorial campaign Committees, so he’s active in the party as well, and in just about every issue he’s out there on. Both of those things are things to keep in mind, as you look at the news of the day and you look at the issues we deal with, now that you’re here and you can see a little bit behind the scenes about what is happening, it’s not what at least I was raised thinking Washington was like. That is nourishing, it’s something that is good to see. One final point I’d make, and then I’ll be glad to hear your questions, is that we are in a very strange place in our country that we have an evenly divided country, politically speaking, many issues we are right at that razor’s edge of disagreement on them, and on the issues that we agree upon, like things like Healthcare for example, people agree that we need to improve healthcare. There is a really fractured sense about what it is we do about it. It’s going to get more and more difficult to find common ground on some of these big issues, and as you know from your studies, this is not an accident.
This was the way the founding fathers created the Republic, was that we were going do, in the old parable; we were going to measure a lot before we cut. We were going to do a lot of thinking and pondering before there was a national consensus enough to go do things. When people say, “I’m so frustrated with Washington. They don’t get anything done, Healthcare is a mess, there are millions of people who are hungry, or we need to do more on the mission of greenhouse gases,” it’s not so much that we haven’t internalized the idea that these are problems, it’s just that the system hasn’t quite figured out a way to do things quickly when we don’t have a consensus on a solution. That is why, at the end of the day, ideas triumph. Get a good idea, if you figure out a way to cross the divide and to kind of bring on people that might have a different overall world then you, then things wind up getting done.
Hopefully, there’s a chance for us to do it, we’re generally a country that’s animated by emergencies, and by crises much more then the idea of twenty or thirty year planning. Remember, we are incentivised in thinking in a two year time frame. People say, “Why don’t you invest more in education, because in a generation we’re going to—” Whoa. You want to know what I’m going to do so that you’ll elect me in two years. If you really wanted me to think about what I would do in twenty years I would have a twenty year term, and I’d think about what I’m going to be doing when I’m standing for reelection.
So, you’ve got to realize that some of the challenges we face are also structural. We are rewarded for thinking of things in a certain way, which might not be the best way for us to think. What you’re supposed to have is we, the legislature, might think in that short term, but you have the executive branch, the President, who thinks big thoughts. We have a President who is either unwilling to, or doesn’t desire to, or doesn’t have the capacity to, lead us on the big things of the day. The President stood up, with the power of the Presidency, “We’re going to have a conversation in this country about global warming, the effect of greenhouse emissions.” We would, that’s the way the country works, and this media environment, that’s the way it works. We would be spending that day seeing segments on the evening News, they’d come run around to Congressional opponents, and proponents, and advocates, you’d see segments on all your news; you’d have it in all the newspapers, the debate would happen.
If the President stood up and said, “I want to talk to you about the imperatives of immigration,” like he did a couple nights ago, it dominated the news cycle. Let me conclude with this thought, if you get an opportunity, President Roosevelt, when he gave his “For Freedom” speech, where he famously articulated the freedom from want, the freedom to pray, and worship, it was these very uplifting concepts that he had in the speech. But if you read the speech from the beginning, it’s actually quite a pessimistic assessment of how we’re doing in World War II. He realized that as President, one of the things he had to do, and he had us all get maps to lay out in front of our radio for the speech, he realized that one of his imperatives as a leader was to make us all have a common sense of our goals. We might disagree on stuff, but there are certain things that are common to all of us. We are an aspirational, we want things to get better. He led by saying, “You what, I’m going to explain to people the sacrifices they’re all going to make. One of the things that all happened during World War II was my grandparents, your great grandparents, they said “Let’s save metal, and scrap rubber, everyone is going to go around collecting scrap, and history has told us that we didn’t use it, we didn’t make it into guns, or butter, or tanks, or anything like that. What he was doing was giving us all a sense that it’s not just that they’re fighting over there, but we’re all going to participate in trying to deal with the problem that we were facing at the time. We don’t do that anymore.
The President doesn’t lead us in that type of a discussion. He doesn’t explain to us that, “You know what, there are things that we all want to do. It should be more then just the hundred forty-eight thousand American men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that make the sacrifice, it should be all of us, have some things to do to make the country better. I think it would improve the tenor here in Washington, it would improve our national debate, and ultimately there’s no problem that we can’t solve with the ingenuity, the creativity, the energy, and the wealth of our country. While I can do a lot as a legislator representing six hundred thousand people in New York City, if the President doesn’t show that type of leadership then there isn’t much that we can do, which is why I’m hoping that Casey runs for President, so we can finally have that kind of leadership. I’d be glad to take any questions you might have, whether it’s about a specific issue or the general tenor of things. Alright who are you meeting with next? Who have you met with already?
Group: David Ignatius, Congressman Lewis, Melanne Verveer from Vital Voices, John Lewis, Eileen O’Connor.
Anthony Weiner: You guys have pictures taken with John Lewis?
Anthony Weiner: Some day you’re going to tell your grandkids you met him. He is a great man. Not that the others aren’t, I’m just saying John Lewis is iconic, he’s a legendary figure. What are you doing for the rest of the day?
Sadanand Maillard: Well, when we’re done here we’re going to go back and prep for tomorrow, we’ve got three or four interviews a day. Who do we have tomorrow?
Tom Shani: Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, and John Dingell.
Anthony Weiner: Very interesting, those are three interesting cats. I mean Kucinich, I like him, he’s one fry short of a happy meal, but he is someone that keeps us on our toes. Barbara Lee, she is great, and John Dingell is an institution. John Dingell, when he was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, they used to have, I don’t know if they still have in the Committee, they have this giant picture of the earth photographed from the moon. Once someone asked chairman Dingell, “What is that a picture of?” He said, “That’s the jurisdiction of my committee.” It was the Energy and Commerce Committee, if you think about it energy and commerce, there’s not much you can’t find a way to get into that category. He made great use of it too; he’s also an interesting example of something else. Here he is one of the most senior members of the house, all of us turn to him for advice and council, but he’s also a reflection of something else. He represents Detroit, or represents the suburbs of Detroit, represents Michigan. And so, as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he would fight tooth and nail to prevent any expansion of energy efficiency standards for automobiles. He’s doing exactly what he is supposed to do; he’s standing up for his constituents, which manufacture automobiles. That’s not an example of the system not working, although I think he’s wrong and I voted against it, that’s an example of the system working exactly the way it’s supposed to work. That’s why sometimes people say, “Lobbyist this, and lobbyist that,” but at the end of the day, he’s a powerful guy in a position of power who’s standing up for his constituents. That is an important thing for people to understand, that democracy guarantees that you get your say, it doesn’t guarantee that you get your way. That’s pretty good; write that down, I might that use that for the future.
John-Nuri Vissell: In 1991, as the youngest member of the New York City Council, I read you were growing a huge reputation as a legislator and a rising star. How did you achieve all this at such a young age?
Anthony Weiner: I wrote a lot good press releases, apparently. No, I tell you a lot of it was a function of when I came here to work in Washington, after four years here I went and worked for my predecessor in his community office, and working in a local politician’s local office is the single best apprenticeship for a servant. Because, you get to actually deal with the actual issues that people are actually calling about and caring about. I learned the district very, very well, and I also, as part of my job, I would go represent him in the community when he was in Washington. I got a chance to meet many of the community activists, and go to a lot of the community meetings.
What I was kind of doing was I argued to my neighbors, when I ran for city council, I said I’m going to continue kind of doing the same things I’ve been doing for you for the last four years working for Schumer. I’m going to work on your community issue, I don’t have to learn a thing, you know I know all the community events that are going on, the community challenges, because I’m there in the community. A strange thing happened, again you may get this sense from talking to other members of Congress, the idea that I was youthful, and I didn’t have the same life experiences that my opponents do. I was concerned, you know what, and my constituents may see this as a reason not to vote for me. It was the opposite, you’re going to see that idea that you need to communicate is that you have a connection with the people you represent. Not that you agree with them all the time, you have a connection with them.
If people have a sense that you are already part of a political organization, or you’re already part of something that has taken a little edge of you, or sucked a little wind out of your sails, the fact that you are young and you’re untainted turned out to be a huge advantage for me. I ran, I didn’t much support institutionally, but I worked harder then everyone else. When I started running for council, I was 6-3 and 240 pounds. This is all that’s left of me; I knocked on every single door in the district. Any other questions?
Edison Dudoit: Hi, my name is Eddy. During your first term in Congress, what was the most surprising thing you encountered?
Anthony Weiner: It’s a good question. The one thing I was surprised at was an issue thing that I never quite understood, with the level to which I understand now. That’s the different meaning that guns have in different parts of our country. I come from an urban area where guns are viewed as a tool of crime, and where weak gun laws are the reason, frankly, some of my neighbors are victims of crime and are killed. You realized if you get here that there’s a whole cultural level, a whole cultural discussion that guns connote, that I didn’t fully expect, and I was surprised to learn. I learned a great deal, you know the gun rack and the pickup truck is not something you see in Brooklyn.
You understand from talking to people that the debate is an entirely different thing in their ears then it is in yours. I also realized the level to which, and was surprised the level to which, we have become a very suburban country. I grew up in cities my whole life; I grew up in New York City my whole life. I look to my left, look to my right, I’m used to the idea of a city going up, I’m used to people banging of each other like molecules, I’m used to an urban lifestyle. I realize that the reason, it hit me very hard, very quickly, that more and more Americans were more mobile, that more and more of the country, because of the advent of air conditioning, was being populated. The national trend away from cities meant huge disempowerment for me and my brothers and sisters who represent urban areas.
The urban agenda was gradually disappearing from the national debate. That surprised me, I guess I knew it kinds of intellectually that that was going on, but how it impacted policy was something that I didn’t realize. It’s changing now, people are moving back to the cities, and you’re going to realize something else, which I learned when I got hear, we are followers. This notion that we’re leading the country, not really the case. In fact what we’re doing is trying to catch up to every trend, to figure out the way that we legislate about it. That was a little bit surprising to me. Guns and the level to which we have become less and less an urban country were the two things that surprised me the most.
Mark Hansen: Aside from your predecessor, did you have mentors in your rise in politics?
Anthony Weiner: I really didn’t. If you listen the description, right out of college I went to work Schumer as an intern, worked for Schumer, got elected to City Council, and then got elected to Congress taking Schumer’s seat. Chuck kids me that when I came to work for him as an intern I had blonde hair and a little nose, and I had morphed into this more “semiticalectible?” He was a very profound influence on me, because I kind of watch and learned from him. I didn’t have a political club that I went to, and things like that, so that close association not only held me in good stead because I learned a lot from him, but also my association with a popular guy. I only won election to the city council by a couple hundred votes, only got elected to Congress by a couple hundred votes, so you could say that having him as an influence is an important reason why I’m here. I spent a lot of time, particularly when leading up to my run for mayor, reading biographies, of former mayor’s and things like that, and there were some people here who were pretty impressive. Your Congressman is a very impressive guy, a lot of members of the California Congressional Delegation are very impressive, and here are some real giants around here. You’re going to see two of them, Lewis and Dingell are two figures that will be written about in the history books.
Casey Lightner: Hi, I’m Casey. In representing Brooklyn and Queens, which both have diverse populations with people of differing opinions, are there times when you find it hard not being able to represent everyone’s views, and how do you deal with it?
Anthony Weiner: Well, this is philosophical question. Am I the representative of them and their views, or am I the philosopher king? Here’s the way I parse it. On issues that everyone knows and understands, I listen to them pretty carefully. A lot of issues here in Washington are much more complicated and nuanced, and I have a lot more information than my constituents do. I give myself more free reign to disregard the views of my constituents and do what I think is the right thing. I grew up with these people, these are my neighbors, and these are people who I care about very deeply. I understand how they think, but I get things wrong from time to time. People say, “Well, members of Congress always get reelected, how does that happen? So many of them do, there must be something wrong with the system!” Well, in fact a good Congressman kind of develops a sense for what his constituents want and what they aspire to. I very rarely have a situation like that.
My mail was overwhelmingly running against the Iraq war, I voted for it. My constituents, by and large, opposed the patriot act and I voted for it. From time to time I try to lead them, from time to time, I’ll take an issue that they disagree on, and I’ll try to push back on, try to bring them around. I very rarely have a sense that I’m out of step with something my constituents say. Usually, I’m fairly comfortable that the judgments I’m making are their judgments. I got to tell you something else, I read every piece of mail I get, every email I get, every phone call I like to know about, I got to dozens of meetings in the Community all week. If we get done tonight by seven o’clock I’m going to be on a shuttle home to do meetings in my district tonight. So, as much as I may be petty confidant I have a sense of my constituents, it doesn’t stop me from doing everything I can to hear what they have to say.
Nina Castanon: Marc Dunkleman spoke very highly about your compassion for the under-dog…he did I promise –
Anthony Weiner: You met with Marc Dunkleman? You left him off the list. You’re getting Weiner overkill here! In what context did you meet with him? I want to be debriefed on his remarks first.
Nina Castanon: He also said that you were cooler then him.
Anthony Weiner: That’s sweet, but have you seen his hair? My God! By the way Marc is an Ivy League guy, smart as a whip, intuitive on stuff, he could, in any walk of life, be an enormous success. And he’s working here! This notion that young people are like abandoning politics, and everything else, we’re really very lucky that there are people like him all over Capital Hill. Fire away, he says my sense for what?
Anthony Weiner: Your sense of compassion towards the underdog, and I was wondering how is the government working to stop the spread of large corporations trying to build monopolies, and promote small businesses? Furthermore, what can we, as private citizens, do to help?
Anthony Weiner: One of the things that animates me, that gets me up every morning and gets me going is the idea that, and this is something I never quite understood from my Republican brothers and sisters, the powerful, the big business interest, the well-to-do, they’ve got plenty of advocates. They’ve got lawyers, and lobbyists, and advertising campaigns. It is the rest of us that people in this line of work should be thinking about everyday. My constituents, that guy who sits at his breakfast table every morning and looks across at his daughter, and wonders what kind of school she’s going to, and get’s into the subway and get’s to work. He see’s sitting next to him a part-time worker that they hired because they’re saving money on health insurance, which should be the lens that we look at our country through. I don’t think that big corporations are what are wrong with the country; they’re ultimately what are right with the country. What’s right with the country is that we’re a capitalist country that creates enormous wealth, creates enormous opportunity for employment and everything else. We can’t confuse that good outcome with having the best interests of our country always in mind, that’s not their job. There job is to make value for their stockholders, and create wealth. That’s a good thing we want them to keep doing. It should be our job to make sure they don’t pollute our job to make sure they don’t conspire, our job to make sure they don’t abuse their workers, our job to make sure they don’t save on healthcare by forcing people into public assistance. That’s what I think legislature should do, I don’t think they need more advocates; they’ve got plenty of advocates. They’re doing great things, I fundamentally believe in a libertarian sense about how we shouldn’t wade into things where there aren’t problems, and it’s frequently a challenge. Where do you get involved? That’s kind of what animates me, that I think, and that’s why I’m a Democrat, that I think that we’re always fundamentally thinking about how we help individual Americans make their life better, not how we help protect those who already have. Why aren’t you meeting with Republicans?
Group: Putnam, Robert Zoellick in the State Department.
Sadanand Maillard: We tried to get to get into see Shays, but we didn’t.
Anthony Weiner: Yeah, but you’re meeting the wrong kind of Republicans. You got to look in the eyes of the real guys, these crazy, not in touch with the mother ship, one fry short of a happy meal, zealous…I don’t want you to get the idea that Me, Barbara Lee, and Dennis Kucinich represent this country, right now, we kind of don’t. The guys that want to build a giant fence and put cops at the border.
Sadanand Maillard: We met Sensenbrenner one year, my dad was a Republican.
Anthony Weiner: I like Sensenbrenner.
Sadanand Maillard: A moderate, there are not too many moderates.
Anthony Weiner: Sensenbrenner is not really moderate anymore, now that he took over as chairman of the committee. But he has respect for the institution; a lot of people who have gotten elected recently are just such animists for government. They come here, and that’s why all these corruption scandals begin, because they generally don’t believe in this process of debate, and discussion, and compromise. They believe in just kind of whatever is efficient, get it done as quickly as you can. Anyway, I’m sorry.
Edison Dudoit: Who would you suggest we meet, for our next trip?
Anthony Weiner: You’re on the seventh floor of Longworth, so these are the real back benchers up here. These guys have nothing else to do, anyways. I’d literally knock on a door and say, “Do you mind?” I don’t know, you could probably get one of these guys up here. They’re not bad people, but they just have a sense of their own thing that is jus wildly exaggerated, they’re just not that brilliant, but they just think they’ve got all the information they need, they’ve learned everything they need, and they’re ready to go. At least this isn’t being recorded. Any other questions?
Kristin Van’t-Rood: This is kind of going back to the question Casey asked about whether you represent your district, or you vote for how you feel on it. Martha Nussbaum, a classicist, said, “If you go into a situation with some fixed, abstract, principles and you think of the situation just as a scene for plugging in the principles, very often you are not going to see the new challenges. Are there people you work with there are not open to change?
Anthony Weiner: There are. Sometimes it’s difficult; I’ll give you an example from this morning. I’m on the Judiciary Committee, and I spend a lot of time on the Judiciary Committee, fighting to tighten our gun laws. We in New York City are the victim of enormous number of guns that are sold by gun shops out of New York state, that don’t do enough to check people’s identification, to check and make sure they’re allowed to have weapons. These guns wind up on the streets of New York, and people are killed. We had a three year old girl who was killed the other day by an illegal gun. This is my eighth year in Congress, and I’ve gotten seven F’s in a row.
Today in the transportation Committee, one of my colleagues offers this bill, where in response to what happened in Hurricane Katrina, where he said that people who have lawful weapons, that have guns lawfully, that authorities in a state of emergency were going around and seizing their guns. He wanted to have a law banning that, saying that people could keep their own guns. All of my colleagues jumped up and said “No, no, no, we’re not doing that.” I was reading this bill, and I’m like, “You know, I don’t believe in an overly-empowered federal government. I don’t believe in the idea you just declare a state of emergency and you start taking people’s things. I don’t believe in a government that listens to my phone conversations when there is no good reason. I don’t believe in an over reaching federal government, it’s one of the reasons I’m a Democrat, one of the reasons I’m a Civil Libertarian. So, I voted in favor of it. I had the wrath of God on my head; I had every gun group in America saying, “Where did we lose you, where did we lose you?” I think that sometimes we do exactly what was suggested in that quotation, that we kind of develop this sense, walking in the door, which makes it more difficult for us to see.
I’ll tell you something else; it makes us not as good politicians, either, because we walk into traps. We were always saying as Democrats, “We don’t want to take away lawful guns, from people who have them lawfully.” Well, this is a chance to say you don’t want to take away lawful guns. I think that that does happen a lot, it happens to the detriment of a great many people, because if conservatives were intellectually conservative, they wouldn’t be trying to take away women’s reproductive rights, because they would say, “You know what, as a conservative, I believe that government shouldn’t encroach in certain places.” If conservatives believe, for example, in the rights of states, they wouldn’t say, “Let’s take away people’s rights to sue, for certain things, or limit the amount that they can get to protect their business friends. Sometimes we have intellectually consistent people that I really admire for it, and sometimes I have people who I wish would be more consistent. But in answer to your general question, I think that we would all do well to walk into these situations with a certain level of awareness of the other person’s position, and a certain willingness to not react instinctively to some of these issues that may require a little more sophisticated look.
Andrea Schmitt: Hi, I’m Ande. It’s really nice to meet you.
Anthony Weiner: My pleasure.
Andrea Schmitt: Derek Walcott, a poet, said that it takes all your life to write the way that you speak without faking it. I was wondering if you have a similar problem with that when writing speeches.
Anthony Weiner: I don’t write speeches. During the campaign, where I was performing at a much larger stage, the first speech I wrote down, and I was terrible. I just stopped, I don’ write speeches I just speak from a handful of notes and it generally holds me in good stead. It’s much more important to me to have a sense, and I know this from watching other people, that the more important thing is to have a sense that they believe in what they are saying, and that they are actually listening to the debate. Usually what I like to do is I have a couple of thematic things that I like to say, with a couple of factual things to back them up, and usually that’s enough. A lot of the speeches on my website, that’s the way they were written, but I didn’t give them, for the most part, in that way.
Alyssa Debenedetti: My name is Alyssa. We heard also from your chief of staff, Marc Dunkleman, that you’re an avid fan of hip-hop. A common theme in our recent interviews is the language with which my generation has been leaning towards. As a fan of rap, which has a habit of adding to this degradation of language, how you feel we can change our current language patterns.
Anthony Weiner: Look, I think that the written word and the spoken word has been degraded over the course of time, it’s the source of some puzzlement to me why that’s happened. We aren’t reading as much as we used to, we aren’t focusing as much on language as we used to in the school room, I don’t why, there’s something. I watched “Good Night and Good Luck,” last night, and you listen to the weird stylized way they spoke in the fifties, and the forties, and you realize that that wouldn’t be considered at all stylized, it’s degraded a lot since the 20’s. Then you go even further back, and you look at the Victorian era way of speaking, which was even more stilted, I don’t know if it’s gotten better or worse, and I don’t know what it’s a product of. I think more then anything it’s probably a product of the fact that our country has gotten even more multi-cultural then it was at the turn of the century, when our grandparents and parents came. I’m not terribly, terribly concerned about it, I think hip-hop recently has been carrying an awful lot on it’s shoulders, it’s getting an awful lot of blame for an awful lot of things, that at the end of the day it’s probably what we’re seeing is that we are still figuring out as a people how to deal with this environment, where you have so much input, in such kind of a weird and inefficient way. We’re deluged with different symbols, and sounds, and images, and I bet you our kids are going to have a much better way of organizing all that information so that we figure out a way to deal it all, in the long form spoken word, in the long form written word, and maybe things will be better then. You see it even on the floor of Congress, people butchering the language pretty badly. It’s not just something that is going on in the world at large, some of he most sophisticated people you see bollixing up the English language. I don’t think it has anything to do with Grand Pooh-Bah, or anything like that.
Daniel Nanas: Do you think there is some transference of the religious evangelism of this administration onto cause of spreading democracy?
Anthony Weiner: Yeah, but that’s not bad. It’s a good thing. We have to discern a difference between religiosity, being a religious country, being a religious people, that’s a good thing. It’s something that animates us in our walk of life, or we’re from. That’s by and large a good, I mean there’s some teachings that are less desirous then others making their way into public policy, but if we all started by observing the ten commandments around here we’d a much better Congress. The problem becomes that a sense of religious zeal starts to trump your sense that people have different opinions, and people have different views, and people come at things from a different perspective. I gave speech during the campaign about how we, as democrats, we’re the party of faith. We’re the ones that want to feed people who are hungry and want to make sure they can live out their aspirations, which can observe their religious freedoms. We’re that party we’re the party of faith. If hey animates the President, or animates our Congress to want to export democracy overseas, that’s a good thing. We should want people to be able to live out their aspirations, and be free to choose their own religious path. I think that ultimately democracies lead you in that way. I think that we have to be careful that we don’t mistake what the problem is. The problem that many of us find with this White House, is that their sense of their religion gives them a sense that they don’ care what other people say, because they have this divine sense of what’s right. That’s what is troubling. I disagree with President Bush on just about everything, but I can tell you this. He’s right when he says that other countries having democracies is a good thing. He’s right when he says that should be one of ways that we discern our foreign policy. In the 70’s, we were propping up dictators and our only discernment was, “Is he good to us?” So we had dictators propped up with our help, oppressing people, hurting people, all over the globe. The one thing we’re doing in Iraq, and if it really is going to be part of our foreign policy going forward, we should see that people are able to choose their own destiny. If he get’s that sense because he’s a religious man, it’s a good.
Daniel Nanas: So, is spreading democracy as important as perfect it here at home?
Anthony Weiner: I think that is a false choice. While China and India are having economic growth in the double digits and we’re concerned that our economic growth is only four or five percent, you know real incomes in sub-Saharan Africa have dropped in the last ten years. Those people are getting poorer, and remarkable as that is, the poorest people on earth are getting poorer. I don’t believe that if people had some control over their government, that if they had over their destiny, that they wouldn’t be better off. I can be upset that they stole the election in Florida, and still say I want to export democracy to parts of Latin America that sill don’t have it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think that’s what our ideal should be, now. How we do it, and whether we do it with boots on the ground or whether we do it by other methods. I think it’s a false choice, I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can have a better country, and have a better country overseas.
Jonji Barber: I’m Jonji. In our interview with Marc Dunkleman, he told me about a bill that you were working with another Republican Congressman, the one with the things eating trees.
Anthony Weiner: The beetles!
Jonji Barber: And how the support of the Republican aided you in strengthening the bill.
Anthony Weiner: This is the beetle the insect, not the other guys.
Jonji Barber: Whenever I turn on the news or watch the news, I only see the hostility and the trouble between the parties. I was wondering if you see this competition as bettering or taking away from our democracy. As a young democrat, are you working with young Republicans to insure a healthy, coexisting future?
Anthony Weiner: Its two things. First of all, it’s your fault. Not you personally. We reward conflict, in this country, we like it. We like sports, we like a nice, tense debate; this is what we look for. We like the idea, TV stations are rewarded for it, politicians are rewarded for it, and we’re in a period of time when people are looking for this more and more and more. That’s basically the foundation of a democratic republic, which you need to have the conflict of ideas. It’s the conflict of how the judicial system works, it’s a conflict of ideas, and it’s the foundation of how the Socratic Method works. The problem is that if that becomes the end, rather then the means to a compromise, then we’re on the wrong track. That, I fear, is where we’ve gotten too much. Now, the fight is what is almost the outcome.
I spend more time, probably, and then I should going on these cable shows, where they put up split screen. I’m pretty good at that just because I talk fast, and I fight dirty, so they love me on these shows. The producers, when they’re doing these shows, they make it very clear to you that they want you to have an oppositional view, the last thing they want to here you say is, “My learned friend is right about that.” They want volume, and they want you to go at it. If you want to get on one of these shows, just call up and say, “I’m prepared to rip this guy’s lungs out,” and they’ll put you on. It has had a corrosive effect on our debate in the country, and hopefully we’re going to start to regulate it ourselves as citizens. Part of what is happening is this onslaught of information; we haven’t quite figured out how to process it. What we want and what we don’t want, what we need and what we don’t need, so everyone is going in that same direction of having people yelling at each other in the context of this debate.
There’s this old New Yorker cartoon, it’s behind the scenes, after the circus is done. It’s got three easy chairs, one has the lion tamer, and the two lions are there reading newspapers, you know, and they’re all sitting back, waiting to go on state. They’re going to pretend to be ferocious, and he’s going to pretend to tame them. There’s a little of that here, too. We all basically get along well, we yell at each other then we go have a cup of coffee in the Greenroom and joke about it a little big.
The problem is the show; the conflict is becoming the end in and of itself. We’re rewarding people for being good at that. People that get elected, the people that get on these shows are pretty good at that. What I would be, until consumers of information start saying, “You know what, I’d much rather have the MacNeil/Lehrer report, the News Hour model, where you spend twenty minutes talking about an issue. One person talks, then another person talks, then other person actually responds to that person, and somebody responds to that person, and until that starts to happen you’re going to keep having these shouting shows.
In conclusion, three or four weeks ago there was this debate on immigration on Meet the Press, with two of my colleagues. It was Gutierrez, Luis Gutierrez, from Chicago, IL, and JD Hayworth from Scottsdale, Arizona. Hayworth advocating building a fence and being against legalization, while Gutierrez advocating his proposal to have a path to earn legalization. Gutierrez spoke for maybe two minutes, and Hayworth just went on and on and on, getting increasingly hot, just banging, and Gutierrez creamed him. He seemed reasonable, he knew that in the context of what they were talking about these were issues that many Americans don’t have this kind of assuredness about their position, and they’re torn on it too. He sounded reasonable, and JD Hayworth got all hot under the collar and yelled too much, and didn’t realize he wasn’t on Fox News at the moment, and it wasn’t just feeding red meat. What’s going to happen is, as we all get more comfortable, remember what I said to you earlier, we’re not the leaders, and we’re kind of following.
We’re learning in this technological era what ways to make debate, what works, what appeals and what doesn’t. God willing, in twenty years, when we’re sitting here, we’re going to have a different type of debate coming over these big TV’s and on our laptops, and on our Ipods. It’s going to be a different tenor, because we, as consumers of information, are going to start rewarding politicians who deal with things in a different way. We’re going to start rewarding, as younger voters; we’re going to start rewarding people who take the time to make an appeal to younger voters, who take the time to talk through issues with them. Later on people are going to say, “You know what? It pays for me to have this conversation with younger voters, because there are going to be more of them voting and because they are going to start internalizing the idea that they are important, etc. etc.
I think we’re in a period that technology has completely overwhelmed the process, which we know we have more information, and it’s coming at us in droves from all different ways. We don’t quite know how to handle it; the media doesn’t know what to do, so it’s kind of like feeding the Christian’s to the lion’s time. It’s going to take a little while to get this word out, but I can tell you this. Our country is too strong; it is too brilliantly a divine system that we can’t weather this. We will, thing’s will level out, we’ll solve the big problems, we won’t do it terribly efficiently, there will be times when you will be pulling your hair out watching TV, but at the end of the day, to paraphrase Clinton badly, “These are American problems, we’re American people, and there’s nothing that we can’t figure out.” It’s just going to take us a little time, and fortunately we have people like you who are coming up through the ranks, that, when we completely screw things up, you’ll mop up our mess when you get there. Thank you very much for taking the time. While you’re here in time, drop your name wherever you go. I’m a big wheel around here, just say, “Weiner said it was alright,” and see if that get’s you anywhere.
Sadanand Maillard: What’s your word of advice for these guys on your way out the door?
Anthony Weiner: I gave you some pretty profound stuff at the end there, but generally speaking don’t believe the short hand slogans for what is wrong with the country. It’s very easy to say, “The parties are all the same,” they’re not, we’re wildly different. People are apathetic, and they’re not. I represent New York City; I saw twenty one, twenty two, twenty three year old running into the South Tower of the World Trade Center to their death. Those were young people. People who are fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan are young people; people who run this place are young people. The mythology of the apathy of youth is baloney. Don’t buy the idea that all the important issues get ignored, while the baloney one’s get followed, there are other ways to determine what is going on in the world then what they are focusing on in MSNBC.
There are a lot of very important things that people are trying to sort out, and they are doing it. In the end of the day, there are many, many ways too change the country in the context of a representative democracy. One of them, and it’s only one of them, is to run for office. I would encourage you do it, we are becoming a playing field that is having a lot more people coming on to the field recently whose qualifications are defined by the large amounts of money they have in their pockets. If we have people start to come out to the field because of their enthusiasm, and because of their ideas, and because of there sense that things should change. That’s the way our country changes, and remember one final thing. We are a young country, we’ve only been doing this a couple of generations, and we’re still sorting this stuff out. Every year with technology the advances that we are making are exponential form the time before, and we will just about have it right at the time you guys start paying taxes, and it will be great. Thank you very much.