An Interview With Bernard Goldberg About His New Book, Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right.
On Thursday of last week, I caught up with Bernard Goldberg and interviewed him via phone about his new book, Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right: How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
John Hawkins: Now, Bernard, you still consider yourself to be to the left-of-center, don’t you? Would it be fair to call you a Truman/Kennedy Democrat?
Bernard Goldberg: No, I think the fair way to put it is to say that once upon a time, I certainly was a liberal. I think I still consider myself, to some degree, to be an old fashioned liberal, in that I believe people ought to have a right to speak their views, whether they’re on the right or the left. (Also), like Kennedy, I believe in a strong defense, and things like that.
But, over the years, I noticed that liberals were moving further and further to the left. The Democratic Party was moving further and further to the left. The base of the party was getting angrier and angrier. As a result, over the years, I have moved to the right. Now, I say I’ve moved, but I’m not sure if I’ve moved to the right or if liberals have moved so far to the left that I just wound up on the right. But, I am on the right now and the “wimps to the right of me” does not refer to conservatives. I like being on the “dark side” as my liberal friends put it. It’s Republicans who don’t have the guts to stand up for their conservative values who are the wimps to the right of me.
John Hawkins: Well, let me ask you this: what has happened to the Democratic Party? How is it that they’ve gotten so far away from what people like you believe in, in so many areas?
Bernard Goldberg: That’s a very good question. I think it started — I don’t want to do a history thing here — but I think it started with McGovern. That’s when the party became elitist. That’s when the delegation to the National Democratic convention, for instance, the Iowa delegation, didn’t have any farmers. But, they had more than a few people who had graduate degrees. I’m not against a lot of education…but I think that’s when the party started to become too elitist for my taste.
Then, we’ll just bring it up to the current day and skip over all the middle stuff… I think with the election of George Bush in the year 2000… that’s when liberals said he stole the election, and they’ve never really gotten over it. That’s when liberals who used to be the upbeat ones, the optimistic ones, started getting angrier and angrier. That’s when they started losing people like me.
My story resonates with millions and millions and millions of other Americans who started up on the left, and wound up on the right because they didn’t feel comfortable in the Democratic Party anymore. It became a party of grievances. You know, in the beginning, I was for civil rights… I still am. But, being for civil rights at some point wasn’t good enough, now I have to be for racial preferences. I have to be for a system that decides who gets into college, who gets government jobs and gets government contracts largely based on the color of their skin. What’s liberal about that? That’s not liberal. That’s the opposite of what Martin Luther King talked about, judging people based on the content of the character, not the color of their skin.
I was for women’s rights, but then that wasn’t enough, and I had to be for the right of a woman to be firefighter, if she wanted to be, even if she wasn’t strong enough to carry a man out of a burning building. I don’t think a woman has an inalienable right to be a firefighter.
Free speech, that’s what liberals were really about. Look at any college campus today where there’s a demonstration against somebody speaking, where they shout down somebody speaking because they don’t like what that person is saying, and inevitably, the people doing the shouting down will be liberal students.
I said, “You know what, that’s not for me anymore.”John Hawkins:What do you think about the sort of rhetoric used on the left, particularly on the left side of the blogosphere? You know, Bush is Hitler, they’re playing up conspiracy theories, that sort of thing?
Bernard Goldberg: It’s very, very damaging because once somebody says, “Bush is Hitler,” that isn’t the beginning of a conversation, that ends the conversation. (There’s a) chapter in the book, which is kind of funny, (where) Alec Baldwin is… (compared by his wife) to Saddam Hussein. And Alec Baldwin said, “I’m not Saddam Hussein, I don’t kill people, I don’t do what Saddam Hussein does,” and I make the point in the book that Alec Baldwin is right. He has every right to say, “I’m not Saddam Hussein.” Then I said, “Alec, now go out and show that same outrage with your Hollywood friends who call George Bush Adolph Hitler.” Because that kind of Rosie O’Donnell rhetoric, where radical Christians are as bad as radical Muslims… the sort of rhetoric where Joy Behar on The View compares Donald Rumsfeld to Hitler, that kind of stuff, turns decent people off.
I think the next election is the Democrats to win. I mean with Iraq hanging around the Republicans’ neck, the Democrats should be the favorite. But, if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, if they continue moving further and further to the left, they have a chance of losing this next election, because regular people out there in middle America, they don’t like that kind of stuff. They could be against the war, they could dislike George Bush — hey, I have problems with George Bush, but he’s not Osama Bin Laden, he’s not Hitler. Not only is he not as bad as the really bad guys in this world, he’s not one millionth as bad as the people who are really bad guys in this world.
Yet, you go to dinner with your liberal friends, and you get the impression that they believe that George Bush is the biggest menace on the planet. There’s a name for it. It’s Bush Derangement Syndrome. It’s where otherwise normal liberals, the kinds of people you go to lunch with, you talk to, you kind of like: when you say the name George Bush in their presence, they go off the rails. They start foaming at the mouth. This kind of Bush Derangement Syndrome leads them to call him Hitler and compare him to Nazis and Fascists and, as I said, it doesn’t engender conversation, it ends conversation.
John Hawkins: Now, you say Republicans have lost their nerve — and I certainly agree with that, but the $24,000 question is why? Why do you think that so many members of the party of Reagan have lost their nerve especially when there are so many columnists, bloggers, saying, just as you are, that they’re no longer standing on principle and that’s a big problem?
Bernard Goldberg: Because I think when they took over power in Washington, when they won not only the White House, but both Houses of Congress, I think they started acting like regular politicians and I mean that in the worst sense.
The Republicans told us they were the party of small government, that they were the ones who were fiscally responsible. They were the grown-ups. Then, they started spending our money as if they were Imelda Marcos in a shoe store. They sold out their principles because they thought they could bribe us. They thought they could spend and spend and spend on different pork projects and that they could get away with it. I think they only did that because they took over power and lost their way.
With immigration, I think a reasonable Republican position could be, “We are more than willing to talk about paths to citizenship, guest worker programs, and anything else, after we secure the border. Not after we talk about securing the border, not after we make another promise that we’ll secure the border, which never seems to actually happen in real life, but when we secure the border, then we’ll talk about these other things.” But, you have the President of the United States and Republicans in Congress wanting to get this bill through, this one that may be dead or may not dead…
John Hawkins: It’s not dead.
Bernard Goldberg: …Because they don’t want to be accused of being anti-Hispanic.
I will give you another example. There are going to be measures to ban Affirmative Action on ballots in at least 5 states next year. There was one on the Michigan ballot last year. The voters in Michigan voted overwhelmingly to ban racial preferences, but the Republican candidates for governor and for senator came out against the ban. In other words, they were saying, “Let’s continue to have these racial preferences.” The voters rejected (Affirmative Action), but the Republicans came out in favor of Affirmative Action and racial preferences. That’s not a conservative position. The Republican candidates lost. Next year, when this is on the ballot in at least 5 states, Democrats will come out against the bans because at least they honestly believe that racial preferences and Affirmative Action are good things… Republicans don’t believe that these are good things. These are not conservative principles, but they will also come out against the bans in many states because they’re afraid they’ll be called bigots if they don’t. What Republicans should say is that, “We are against racial discrimination. We will use the full force of government to try to wipe it out… but, we will not be in favor of any program that makes decisions about who gets into college and who gets jobs largely based on the color of their skin.” But, they won’t do that, because they’ll be called racists if they do.
So, they’ve sold out their principles on spending, on immigration, on Affirmative Action, on a whole bunch of things like that. They didn’t even defend the renomination of (Peter Pace). They wimp out on one issue after another and let me tell you something, conservatives have noticed. I’ll tell you something else: there is a percentage of people who traditionally vote Republican, who are really Libertarian more than Republican. They’re the small government people. They’ve been reliably Republican. I don’t think they’re going to be reliably Republican any more. I think they’re going to say, “You’ve sold out.” Now, I don’t think they’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’ll grant you that, but they may sit out the election, they may throw their votes away on some candidate who doesn’t stand a chance of winning, and therefore help the Democrats. But, I think the Republicans have offended and alienated many people who have been loyal to them for a very long time.
John Hawkins: You’re right about that, Bernie. Last question, it’s a little off topic, but I thought since I have you and it falls into your area of expertise, I’d toss it out there. Over at CBS, Katie Couric is bombing out and CBS is blaming sexism for her implosion. What do you think about her failure?
Bernard Goldberg: I love when you blame your customers for your failure. I mean, they’re blaming the American people for being sexist because they supposedly don’t want to watch a woman.
First of all, I’m not sure that’s true. They may want to watch another woman, but not that woman.
But, even if it were true, CBS Entertainment (regularly) does focus groups on their prime time shows and they decide what to run based on whom it’s going to appeal to. So, if they had a show that they thought would appeal just to women, but would get big numbers, they would do it. If they had a show that they thought would appeal to men in big numbers, like pro football, they run it. Well, if it turned out — and I’m underlining “if” because I am not all convinced this is true — but if it turned out that the American people didn’t want to get their hard news from a woman in the evening…that’s the customer’s choice.
Personally, I don’t think that’s the reason. I think Dan Rather was on to something when he said (a few days ago) that they’re dumbing down the news and tarting it up. If you make the news soft and “featurey” and the viewer (thinks)… they’re getting a bunch of fluff, then they’re not going to watch. They’re not going to watch if a man is anchoring it or a woman is anchoring it. So, I don’t buy the premise, but I do think it’s kind of funny when someone in business blames his customers because they don’t like the product and that’s what they did in this case.
John Hawkins: Think they should go ahead and dump Katie and get another anchor? She’s obviously not working out.
Bernard Goldberg: I don’t care what they do, to be perfectly honest, and it’s important that you understand John, how I mean that. I don’t care, they can do anything they want, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s their problem.
They spent 15 million dollars on this woman and it’s not working out. But, it has been my experience that broadcast executives rarely admit their mistakes. So, I’m guessing Katie is going to be there for quite a while. Because if she’s not, that will be an admission that they screwed up, and they never admit that. They will fire other reporters before they admit it, they will fire behind-the-scenes producers, they will make a lot of people pay for their mistake before they ever say, “We made a mistake.” …That’s why I think Katie is going to be there for the long haul. I could be dead wrong about that, I want to make that clear, but that’s my gut feeling.
John Hawkins: Bernard, I really appreciate your time…
Bernard Goldberg: Hey, John, thanks a lot, my friend.