Campbell Conversations Every week Grant Reeher, Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, leads a conversation with a notable guest. Guests include people from Central New York; writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals whose work affects the public life of the community, as well as nationally-prominent figures visiting the region to talk about their work.
The Campbell Conversations

Campbell Conversations

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Every week Grant Reeher, Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, leads a conversation with a notable guest. Guests include people from Central New York; writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals whose work affects the public life of the community, as well as nationally-prominent figures visiting the region to talk about their work.

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Melissa DeRosa on the Campbell Conversations

(Mark Lavonier) Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is Melissa DeRosa. Ms. DeRosa served as secretary to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during the COVID pandemic. That office is the highest non-elected position in state government. She left the office when the governor resigned and has now published a memoir titled, "What's Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis". Ms. DeRosa, welcome to the program. Melissa DeRosa: Thank you so much for having me. Great to be here. GR: Well, we appreciate you making the time. So, let me just start with a really basic question about the book. What were you trying to accomplish in the writing of it and the publication of it? MD: You know, I decided I was going to write the book within 24 hours of me being out of office. And it was because I wasn't going to allow the first draft of history to stand. And the first draft of history is written by reporters in real time based on non-primary sources, people who aren't in the room when it comes to politics and government, the people feeding them information have a whole host of different motivations. And I lived it, I was there, I was on the phone with Jared Kushner, I was on the phone with Donald Trump, I was in the Oval Office, I was in the room with Bill de Blasio, I was in the room with the health professionals, I was there when we shut down the state of New York. And so I felt a responsibility both to the public, because this was a once in a lifetime pandemic to really understand what was going on when the cameras weren't rolling during those famous briefings, to my administration, who I felt was really unfairly treated in that last year of the administration and to myself and my family to tell the truth as I lived it and sort of lift the veil and let everybody else in. GR: And I wanted to ask you, you kind of segued into that at the end of your answer, but I wanted to ask you also a more personal question about the writing of it. Was it therapeutic to write this? Was it reliving a trauma, was it a mix of both? What was that like? MD: You know, when I started the writing process after we resigned, I was almost, it was almost like journaling, which for your listeners, you know, who I don't know if they know what that means, but it's almost like a form of you're writing to process a trauma or get through something, relive it for yourself to understand it. And so it was incredibly therapeutic. It was also incredibly re-traumatizing at some points. You know, I would literally sit there and close my eyes and bring myself back to the moment of calling the families of the health care workers who passed away and remembering those moments and what that emotion was. And I would cry while I was writing. And so it was, you know, it was therapeutic, it was cathartic, it was also traumatizing in a lot of ways. GR: Well, I did want to ask you some questions about your experiences during the pandemic that are in your book. But I wanted to ask you a broader question about Governor Andrew Cuomo and his sort of his overall political slant. And I was thinking of this as I was reading the book, when Andrew Cuomo first ran for governor, I remember it, he ran more as a centrist. It was someone who recognized the state's spending issues, the outmigration problem, unfriendly business climate, spoke about all those things. But when he was in office, I think it's fair to say he tacked more to the left. And at one point in the later time of his administration, I think he had some famous phrase about like, I am progressivism in New York, or, but he was very, very strongly saying he was a progressive. I wanted to know how you would characterize the overall policy direction, the overall policy goals of Cuomo's governorship. MD: I think you hit the nail on the head. You know, when he ran for office in 2010 originally, and disclaimer, I was working for President Obama at that time, but obviously I have a unique perspective into all of this. When he was running for office in 2010, the state was in a massive deficit, he inherited I believe it was a $14 billion deficit that he then turned around. And so, you know I remember when he was running and he would say I'm a progressive who's broke. And he was all about trying to retain and attract businesses. You know, he came in and he brought in a bunch of a bipartisan coalition on a tax committee that included people like George Pataki, who was his predecessor and some other big name Republicans. And, you know, he took a whack at the tax code. We did things like, we lowered the estate tax, which traditionally Democrats don't really go near, we lowered corporate taxes, we lowered small business taxes. And then I think as the administration went on and the party shifted left, he did, you know, wrap his arms around and sort of lead the way on a number of really big progressive issues, like the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave. But, you know, I think his progressive bonafides were always there, he's Mario Cuomo's son. You know, he did marriage equality in his first year in office and famously, you know, was able to wrangle the entire Democratic conference, as well as four Republicans to vote for that bill and was really ahead of its time. So socially, I think it's fair to say he was always progressive. I think fiscally he was always very moderate. And then as time went on, I think that he did tack more to the left on certain fiscal issues. GR: Okay. And you alluded to this when you talked about first draft of history that you wanted to counter. But obviously, Andrew Cuomo and his administration, you know, and you have been subject to a lot of criticisms since he stepped down and resigned. Very briefly, because I know you could speak for a very long time on it, but very briefly, why do you think those criticisms are misguided? MD: Well, it depends on the criticism, right? But I do think that particularly in politics of today, where everything has become so weaponized and the selective outrage is so real, you know, where you can see on what you can, and I write this in the book, you can almost draw a straight line from someone's call for resignation, not to their principles, but to their political interests. And Andrew Cuomo had been in power for so long, by the time he resigned, he had been there for nearly 11 years. He had been attorney general for four years, before that, he had served as HUD secretary in the Clinton administration. He ran his father's first campaign when he was 20 years old. And there were a lot of people with pitchforks that wanted him out. And I think that when there's an opening, you know, sometimes people take it. And in that instance, people took it. GR: And so to flip that around, though, what do you think are the legitimate criticisms of his tenure in your view? What were the biggest mistakes that the administration made along the way? MD: You know, and I write about this in the book too sort of at the end where I look back and reflect on everything that happened. You know, when you're a hammer, everything's a nail. And I think that one of the biggest things that, you know, in looking back, we really became so accustomed to fighting all the time, fighting the legislature, fighting the left, fighting Trump, fighting, you know, this one, fighting that one, that we almost lost calibration. And sometimes you catch more flies with honey. And I think that, you know, we had really thrown our weight around. And the governor would say, Governor Cuomo would say it's because the goals that we were after were so worthy and so important and it was about the people and that was first and foremost. Which I do agree in some instances, but it doesn't have to be that way in all instances. And so I think at the end of the day, we had alienated a base of political support that would have been necessary to get through that period. And had we not always looked at everything as a fight, I don't think that necessarily would have been the case in the spring of 2021. GR: As an outside observer, that sounds like a good insight to me. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and we're speaking with former secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa. She's the recent author of, "What's Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis". So let's talk about the COVID pandemic a little bit. And if you, again, it's similar to the question I just asked you, but if you could do the state's response to COVID again, would you make a different decision along the way? I mean, one big one that comes to my mind is a different decision about putting COVID patients into nursing homes, for example. MD: You know, I got asked this question on Bill Maher and I said, you know, people ask me, would you do anything differently? I would do everything differently, I would do everything differently. I mean, this was the definition of building the plane while you're flying it. And I get into this in the book and really try to bring people behind the scenes because even though COVID wasn't that long ago, I think almost as sort of a trauma response, we all have collectively really put it away from our minds and it feels much longer ago than it was. And I think it's really easy to forget what it was that we were going through. But, you know, why was it that they closed travel down from Asia but not from Europe? You know, they closed the back door to the country because COVID existed in China, we knew it existed in China. They didn't close the airports to Asia, and that was why New York and New Jersey in the tristate area got hit so hard out of the gate. But in hindsight, how stupid is that? And I mean, these are the smartest people in the world in government, right? Dr. Fauci was helping to make these calls, they had this whole COVID task force at the federal level. Some of this stuff I blame President Trump for, but some of it I don't. You know, they didn't advise him to shut down travel to Europe. But how is it, given that we live in such a global economy, that we didn't think that, of course, a pandemic somewhere is a pandemic everywhere? And those critical weeks between when we knew that COVID existed in China and leaving the door open to Europe and not thinking that it wasn't already in New York and with a subway system like New York's subway system and the interconnected way in which the tristate area works and lives, that it wasn't everywhere. You know, we wasted so much time that in hindsight, if we had taken steps to shut down earlier and we could have gotten, you know, brought the curve down and, you know, so many decisions were made around trying to keep the hospitals from collapsing which segues into your question on the nursing homes. I mean, people sort of fundamentally misunderstand what happened there, but that was a call that was made at a time when every major, you know, consultant, academic institution was projecting that New York State's hospital system was going to collapse, that we were getting 120, 130, 140,000 beds, even though the entire system collectively only has 40,000 beds. And that decision was made by health professionals based on health guidance given from Washington to try to say if people are in hospitals that no longer need to be there because they're medically stable and believed not to be contagious, as long as certain steps are taken, they can go back to where they were living. And so, you know, when I look back on all of that there's the scientific and medical hindsight of 2020 of the things I would do differently. And then there are the political things that I would have done differently, looking back in 2020. And whether or not that March 25th health guidance, you know, impacted is still a cause for debate. Some people say yes other reports say no. But if I had known it was going to cause that political firestorm and that it was going to create an opportunity to weaponize real pain of nursing home families to get caught up in the middle of those politics, I would have said do anything but that, you know, whatever we have to do to do anything but that, avoid that of course, because you want to avoid controversy. But, you know, again, and that was part of the reason I wrote the book, because so much of this has gotten lost in the politics and so much of it got lost in the moment that I thought it was important to sort of bring people back into the room as we were living it to understand how and why decisions were being made. You know, both chronologically and also the thought that was going into it. GR: And one quick follow up on that. You know, you alluded to this, but one of the big political storms that came out of all this had to do with the reporting of COVID deaths in the nursing homes. MD: Yep. GR: And I think the general impression is that, you know, those were underreported in some way. Explain that, I know that's a complicated one, but if you could explain it briefly. MD: I'll try to do it quickly, and I write about it in the book. When we originally started reporting deaths in March of 2020 it was done for one reason, for simplicity. Anyone, you know, every day, at the end of the day, every hospital in the state reported into state government the number of number of COVID deaths and every nursing home reported in the number of nursing home deaths. And they did it based on their patient population where they were. So the nursing home said, three people in my nursing home died today. The hospital said we had five people in the hospital that died today. And then in the middle of April, end of April of 2020, the press started asking a different question, which was, what if you were a nursing home patient who left the nursing home, went to the hospital and died in the hospital? That person like, how many of those people died? And so then I write in the book, we went back and did this retrospective, we issued up to a dozen surveys to the nursing homes who, by the way, at the time were dealing with COVID and were completely overwhelmed and asked them all these retrospective questions. And then they start reporting in all of these numbers that were clearly wrong. Some nursing homes were reporting deaths going back to December of 2019 before COVID was even here. Some nursing homes were reporting anticipated death dates in the future. Some nursing homes said every single patient that left here, we believe died of COVID, whether we know it or not. And so it was a forensic nightmare, which then and fast forward to August of 2020 we underwent this audit and then ended up releasing the numbers in January. But that was where the controversy came from. And that's another thing we're looking back on it, had we known that that number was going to become a political football, in March of 2020 when we were standing in the war room we would have just said, have nursing homes report the people that leave there and confirm with the hospitals that they died and we can report that subset earlier. But that was another one of those, it almost felt like manufactured controversies, but it took real life pain and sort of weaponized it and it turned into the scandal that spiraled out of control. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with Melissa DeRosa, former Secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo. She recently published a memoir titled, "What's Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis" and we've been discussing her book. So I've got a kind of a retrospective hypothetical political question for you about your boss. In 2020, Andrew Cuomo was arguably at his political peak, and certainly the Biden people didn't want him to be running for president, you talked about that in your book. He ultimately cooperated with them, stayed out of the race. Do you think, looking back on it now, he should have run for president then, that was the moment he should have run for president, 2020? MD: You know, if he had run for president in 2020, I have no doubt in my mind he would have been the Democratic nominee and beaten Biden. But the problem is, Andrew Cuomo was exactly where he needed to be for the state of New York in 2020 and if he were running for president back then in the midst of that pandemic, every decision he made would have been viewed from the onset as a political one. And we only successfully brought down the curve, crushed the curve in New York, beat back COVID because the people of the state of New York I think honestly, watched those press conferences every day he gave them the facts as he knew them, he made an emotional appeal to stay home and everyone sort of fell in line. And not just in New York, but nationwide he stepped into that leadership role. And so I think on the one hand, was that his moment? Yeah, I think politically that was his moment, he would have been the nominee. On the other hand, I think that it was a much higher calling that he be governor of the state of New York during that once in a lifetime pandemic and not be viewed through a political lens, because I think if that had been the case, COVID would have spiraled further out of control here and it would have resulted in many more deaths. GR: So I asked you earlier about things you might, you wish the administration might have done differently. And if I were making a list of those things, this would be on top of mine, so I wanted to get your sense of it. Did the governor make a mistake putting out that book about COVID? MD: Yes. Yes, and you know, it was one of those things that, again, I think had we had the foresight to know that it was going to spiral out of control the way that it did, I wish I would have thrown my body in front of it. And there are some things that as staff, you know, you look back and say, oh, I should have done that differently because I had the ear of the principal. And that was one of those things where I should have thrown my body in front of it because it just turned out to be such a political headache, and to what end? GR: And on that point, I don't mean to be too harsh with you here, but I mean, you're obviously (an) extremely politically intelligent person and you've got a team of people around you that were that way. How did you get that one wrong? Because it seems like the optics to me were just begging... MD: Obvious? Yeah. (laughter) GR: (laughter) MD: No, I mean, and I write about this in the book, it was the end of June of 2020, and we just finished the briefings, the daily briefings which obviously we picked up late. But the 111 day briefings had just finished and we had brought the positivity down below 1% in New York sort of consistently, and it stayed there for three months. And it was like the way Andrew Cuomo's brain works is always like, what's next, what's next, what's next? And it was like the minute we ended those briefings, he sort of was like, we should do this and I'm going to write this book and I'm going to tell the story of what happened and we're going to get it published immediately so that the rest of the country can learn from what we lived through in the first wave, because they're all going to get it in the second wave. And it was really a crash project. You know, it was done over the summer in like a six week time period, and it was published in October. And so, you know, it's interesting to me because some people have tried to, the assembly in their impeachment report said, you know, oh, they were doing this during this critical time, and it was like, well, it was actually during the summer of 2020 when the positivity was below 1% and we were taking sort of a collective breather. And there was no point during that process where his attention was being taken away from COVID. It was like he wrote that book so quickly, a lot of it was done based on voice notes he took in real time. And the, I understood the goal of let's tell the story as it happens to the rest of the country can learn from it. But the, you know, making the money from it in the middle of all of that, you know, obviously was a huge political headache that he, you know, we never should have gone near. And just the timing of it, because I think it would have been different if COVID hadn't come back in the fall and then we were in the middle of a second wave. I think if we just beaten back COVID and that was that, I think it would have been a different proposition. But no, you're right. And I don't know if that was like, COVID brain, I was too tired, I wasn't seeing straight, but no, I mean, I definitely hold myself responsible for not speaking up more on that one. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is Melissa DeRosa. So here's my, I guess my $64,000 question and it may seem like a dumb one, but I am still mystified a little bit by this. Why did the governor decide to resign, given the circumstances? I mean, there are other political figures who have weathered arguably much worse, #MeToo types of accusations. No criminal charges have come from any of these and the criticism that the attorney general's report had some political motivation behind it does seem to have some plausibility to it. Why not just stick it out and force the legislatures' hand? Make them vote? MD: You know, I write about this in the book extensively. It was such an emotional time and this is the other thing that people sort of forget, I mean, there were a couple of factors. Number one, the legislature said they were going to impeach, they had the votes. Say what you will about Andrew Cuomo, he can count votes better than literally anyone I've ever seen in my life. And there's no due process guaranteed in the New York State Constitution. There's no, you know, high crimes and misdemeanors like there is at a federal level. It is purely in New York, a political process, the impeachment process. And I believed, he believed they were going to do it and they had the votes to do it. So it would have just been a kangaroo court. But secondly, you know, when that report came out and Joe Biden came out and called for the governor's resignation based on pure politics, by the way, and I write this in the book and you know, it was Biden who I, it hurt me so much because I respected the president so much. We had a long relationship with him. I worked for him and Obama, the governor went back with his son, the governor went back with him, Mario Cuomo went back with him. He had been accused of sexual assault far worse than any accusation ever leveled at Andrew Cuomo. And he came out and said, I didn't read the report, but I saw the attorney general's press conference and he has to go. And when that firestorm kicked off and when the President of the United States of your own party goes out and says that, it created this avalanche that it was just impossible to stop, and every single member of Congress came out and the governors in the surrounding states came out. And, you know, the legislature and then on top of it, the press storm was so vicious. And you have to remember, this is after two years of dealing with COVID where essentially nobody slept, we were all processing in real time emotional trauma that I think we didn't even realize we were living through at the time of making life and death decisions and the weight of all of that, and the sleepless nights and the stress and, you know, the isolation of being away from our family, the pressures of being in the national spotlight, all of that sort of combined. And then the press was not just going after him, the press was going after me, the press was going after his brother, the press was going after some of our longtime advisers, every day, relentlessly. And I write in the book about one moment, Maureen Dowd wrote a column where she essentially compared me to Hitler's enabler, and she compared a number of our top advisers to Hitler's enabler. Now, when you look back on it, it's like everyone had lost their collective minds. Andrew Cuomo was accused of, you know, everyone throws a number 11 around. What people don't realize in that number 11 is that, it's a kiss on the cheek, a hand on the waist for a photograph. You know, calling someone sweetheart, saying, "ciao bella" when you walk out of the room, you know, these are not allegations of assault. This is not Harvey Weinstein type behavior. But the media frenzy and the political insanity of sort of #MeToo and the politics of the moment met, and I couldn't take it anymore. And I write about in the book when I went to the governor's mansion to tell him like, I couldn't put my family through it anymore. You know, they were watching me be pilloried in the press, it was killing them. It was killing me. It was hurting his children, it was hurting his brother. And so there was this very human moment where I think he understood the only way it was going to stop for the people around him even more than himself, was to step down. And, you know, looking back on that hindsight 20-20, could he have stayed and fought? I mean, I still go back to the answer of the legislature was going to impeach him. And, you know, you look at recent things the legislature has done, and this is a little weedsy for your listenership, but there was a Justice LaSalle that they put up for the Court of Appeals last year and this is a totally different type of scenario, but completely tarred and feathered the guy, completely distorted his judicial record. This was a public servant for years and years, made him out to be anti-woman, anti-labor, because he was basically making legal calls as a judge. They then gave him the hearing, they all announced their votes before they went into the hearing and it was a kangaroo court. And that's what it would have been, but Andrew Cuomo on steroids, and in the midst of it, we were fighting COVID, we were trying to get vaccines in arms were trying to get the economy back up and running and the emotional toll was too great. So that's a long answer, but it's a hard question. GR: But it's an important issue and it's an interesting answer. We got about a minute and a half left. I want to try to squeeze two questions in, if I can. So we're going to go into sort of semi-lightning round here. But at the end of your book, you reflect on the value of government and the good things that government can do for people, especially during a crisis like COVID. I just wanted to hear you say a few words about that, about your view about the proper role of government. MD: You know, look, government, I write that in the book, during COVID, you saw the best and the worst of government. And in that moment in New York State, the government came together. We built field hospitals, we stood up drive through testing sites. We hardened our hospital system, we brought in PPE, we came together and we saved lives. And very rarely can you point to a time in history other than war where you can say we saved lives. And in COVID, I think you saw that great moment. GR: Yeah. And the final question is, I read an account of a public discussion of this book that you did recently in Albany. And according to that report, you indicated, I'll say, in very strong fashion, that you were interested in planning on going back into politics. Just a couple of seconds left. What form might that new activity take? MD: You know, we'll see. But what I've learned in the last, you know, year since everything happened is I'm not done yet. I have more left to give and I shoot from the sidelines. And I'm a big believer that if you're going to do that, you better be prepared to get in the ring. So, we'll see, but stay tuned. GR: Okay, we will. That was Melissa DeRosa. And again, her new book is titled, "What's Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis". Whether you love Andrew Cuomo or you hate Andrew Cuomo, this book is a very interesting read. Ms. DeRosa, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. MD: Thanks so much for having me. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Svetlana Slapšak on the Campbell Conversations

Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations, I'm Grant Reeher. Every once in a while on the program, we do something completely different, and that's what we're doing today. My guest is Svetlana Slapšak. She lives in Slovenia and is a specialist in Balkan studies and a historian and a writer. In 1993, she won the American Pen Freedom of Expression Award and in 2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She's here with me today to discuss a new book that she coauthored with Noah Charney, titled, "The Slavic Myths". Charney was a previous guest on the program discussing his book on women in art. But today, it's, "The Slavic Myths" and Ms. Slapšak, welcome to the program. Svetlana Slapšak: Thank you. GR: It's great to have you. Well, let me just start with a real basic question for our listeners. Who are the Slavs? How would you define the Slavic people? SS: Very shortly, I would define Slavs as a huge, very mixed ethnic group. The biggest group in all Europe and in a part of Asia. And at the same time defined by one family of languages, which is Slavic languages. And that would be the shortest definition. GR: Okay. And some, just to, maybe this is obvious to you, but just so we have a handle on Slavic languages, give us some examples of those languages, what are we talking about? SS: Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin, recently, Macedonian and so on and so on. So there are many, of course, Baltic groups and Mediterranean groups and Balkan groups and so on and so on. It's a very complicated linguistic image, but it's extremely differentiated and very extremely funny to learn about. GR: Okay, well, that gives us a much better idea, thanks. So you've written this book about the myths that are part of the tradition of these peoples. Why are their myths important for us to know beyond simply being stories that are passed down over the generations? And that's important, too, but is there a larger importance of these myths, do you think? SS: Oh, definitely it is. Basically, the Slavic epic tradition and the traditional narratives in the Slavic countries was connected to ancient technique of telling stories in Homer and some others. And in fact, it's in the Balkans where the technique of this epic telling the story was analyzed and in a way discovered. And it was started by two Americans, Milton Parry and Albert Lord. So we have the notion of Singer of Tales, a person who has a treasury of motives and stories, already made stories in his head, and he can produce basically a story on any topic you give him, extempore, immediately. So that's one of the importance of the Slavic epic and oral tradition, basically. And the other thing is that the, let's say, the Slavic myths, some of them are overbearing the rest and this is Russian myths, of course. But the minor Slavic traditions and the narratives and epic traditions are also important. And Balkans among these especially important because it links the Mediterranean myths, the ancient myths, and also the midst of Central Europe and the Nordic myths. And to be different from both of them, it's completely chaotic without real structure and without real hierarchy. And that's what makes it so interesting. GR: Oh, okay. So, well, you may have just given me a hint of the answer to this next question on what you just said. But if we think of the Slavic myths, and I'll ask you to talk about some of the specific ones in a little bit, but right now, if we think about these Slavic myths as a whole, group, are there any general characteristics of these myths? Are there any sort of ways that they are? You said they're chaotic, but are they structured in any way, is there a certain type of moral or story they all point to? SS: Oh, definitely they do. They also mean the tradition between the ancient myths of Europe and the Christianity. And in some ways, this translation or transition, if you want, is so interesting that it really gives new narratives and new meanings to some aspects of Christianity in Europe. GR: Interesting. And so do they have these myths? Do they have any social or political purposes or messages that you could identify? SS: They were built on that in the 19th century by intellectuals of all Slavic countries. So, let's say when you start with Slavic myths, you know that they are a lie, a gross lie (laughter) by intellectuals to promote their own nation. But when you clear up a bit, a lot of dust and a lot of state, let's say marmalade that they were dipped in, you'll find in fact many social nuances. Many ideas about slavery, about injustice, about justice winning at the end and so on and so on. They're deeply social, most of these myths. But of course, this estate, if you want, crust, had to be broken, had to be deconstructed to see what is beneath. GR: And what about any kind of spiritual messages? You mentioned these connect sort of older stories of Christianity and maybe some of the, I heard Nordic in here as well, so, you know, are there any sort of spiritual messages that the Slavic myths are about? SS: Oh, definitely. They went through Christianity, but they didn't accept the whole. And if we want to see the spiritual line that really unites Slavic mythology, it's shamanism. It's the practices of metempsychosis, of living through the lives of other creatures, not only humans, but also animals. So that's a spiritual line that goes even today that is recognizable in some rituals, even today. GR: Okay, and when you said one of the social or political messages you mentioned just as winning out in the end and I, you know, I happened to be reading a second book in addition to yours about Poland right now. And I'm just struck by the tragedies over the centuries that that country and those people have been through. I mean, the one that I was obviously most familiar with was World War Two and then the aftermath of World War Two with the Soviet domination. But, my lord, it just goes back and back and back. And I guess my question is, justice winning out in the end, I think that's going to be a hard sell for some of the people in this area of the world, given all of the tragedy that they have lived through over the centuries. Tell me a little bit more about that. SS: Definitely. There is something that links, if you want, the notion of ancient tragedy and the Slavic myths and in fact, the whole spiritual tradition. And that is the only genre that we certainly know is transferred for antiquity and never stopped. There's no seizure, it's always there. That's a women's lament over dead. From ancient Greece to today in the Balkans and in Greece, it's the same thing. So when you think about this, then you realize, yes, there's a tragedy in history of all these peoples. And when you think about Poland, well, that's a very special case because understanding Poland will make you understand the war between Russia and Ukraine today. GR: Yes, I'm getting some insight into that. You're listening to The Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm speaking with Svetlana Slapšak. She's the author of, "The Slavic Myths". Okay, so what are some of the myths, specific myths that our listeners are going to be most likely to be familiar with? If they were opening your book they'd say, oh, okay, I know this story. What are some of the big ones there? SS: Well, the big ones are certainly the vampire and werewolf. In America, the shortened version of vampire gave them, which all Americans know at least from film history. And it's something that really passed immediately into the popular literature in the West. And the American, Bram Stoker make it made it so, so known, so glorious in the whole world. You find it in comics, you find it in videogames. Everywhere there's a vampire, there's somewhere there's a vampire there, a series of them about vampires. And of course, it's an interesting phenomenon with werewolf because they exchange their roles and their names also because of the taboo of the name they are too powerful. And they're both related to one of the oldest and the strongest, the Balkan myths which is the myth of wolf. Wolf might be in some occasions, also the primary deity of the Balkans. So it's an interesting phenomenon which, well, vampire changes color, too. In the Balkans, he's red when they buried him and in the West, he's white (laughter), he sucked all the blood, he is white. So it's an interesting phenomenon which we follow in popular culture, also in some serious poetry. So that's a person that they would recognize immediately. GR: And you say that the wolf then, a primary deity for the origin of some of these myths. SS: Yeah. GR: I'd like to hear a little bit more about that. As a deity, what is the wolf embodying? Is it about love? Is it about justice? Vengeance? What are the things that the wolf does a deity? SS: Well, in my view, he's sacred because of the extreme structure of the wolf society. That's the thing that really impressed people. The wolf society is a complicated one with hierarchies, with relations, interrelations and so on and so on, so that impressed people. But also his strength, his power and being dangerous. He is revered because he might be good also. He is also a symbol of wisdom, practical wisdom. So he, like, he is something close to the Greek Metis, the practical intelligence, the Odysseus way of thinking, finding tricks to how to get out of trouble and so on and so on. So wolf is extremely multilateral creature and also he is a symbol of masculinity, but a well arranged masculinity which belongs to a certain society which behaves according to the rules and so on. GR: Interesting, interesting. So those are some of the two big ones people are going to obviously be aware of, werewolves and vampires. What are some of the myths that would be unknown or less known to our listeners that you think are especially interesting? SS: Well, there's my favorite who was totally unknown, and that's the Saint Friday if I translate her name. She's Saint Paraskevi in Greek because she's the day before Sabbath, the day of preparation, so that's this saint. But also her earlier roots go directly to Demeter (the) Greek goddess and also to Aphrodite. So she is a wise woman who protects women. Basically, women in activities like cleaning, weaving, finding medical plants, medicinal plants and so on and so on. And she was translated from the pagan myths to the Christian myths. And she functions in a very specific way in the Christian world, in the Balkans. She is the saint who sits right next to Saint Elias, who is also elected as a leading saint of the Olympic space of Christian saints in the Balkans. She's extremely powerful and she, exactly like Demeter, has a daughter. The father is not known and is not important at all, but the daughter is. So the story is about daughter and in Balkan and tradition, her daughter is called Sunday. It's Friday and Sunday, and between them is Saturday, which is the day of dead. So you see the whole link, which comes from very early times, goes through Christianity and comes back into the new world as a kind of pagan belief. And she is one of the saints that you will meet in churches in the Balkans, in Greece, in Bosnia, in Serbia, everywhere, Macedonia, everywhere. She has a special altar and special duties around women. She heals women, but not only that. For instance, there's one rule that might be remembered and useful, and that is if you wash your husband's shirt on Thursday evening, he will be sick on Friday (laughter). GR: (laughter) SS: So she's protecting women from aggressive, from male violence also, she's extremely important. So when you see the walls covered with votive gifts to Petka as she is named in the Slavic Balkan languages you will be surprised, and also Roma and Muslim women have Saint Petka as protectors. So there's one creature that we didn't know about, and it is extremely important. GR: You know those connections are just fascinating. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with Balkan studies specialist Svetlana Slapšak about her new book, "The Slavic Myths". Ms. Slapšak was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Well, tell me how you went about collecting and selecting the myths that go into this book. How did you go about writing this up? SS: Well, I was very scared of the Russian scientists and the Russian achievements in the domain of Slavic myths. They're certainly the most productive group that ever wrote about Slavic myths and some of the most famous names, we're writing, trying to construct the trials and the hierarchy in Slavic myths. That's exactly what I didn't want to do. I wanted to show their lack of hierarchy and their structures which are completely different. So yes, it is a kind of answer to many ruling ideas about Slavic mythology, but it's also about putting into the first plan, smaller Slavic groups of narratives and oral traditions, that was our ideas. And also to think about myths that we could interpret as cultural myths, founding / foundation myths. And that's why we include, for instance, the famous and legendary Czechish ruler Libuše. And some other ideas we brought in showing how much connections there are between the state ideologies and the interpretation of mythology. And also the main idea of the book was to be a popular book. Not a real scientific achievement, but a popular book which would tell the story and give some basic philological, contextual historical background to better understand these things. And we also put a lot of other myths which would not be included into these notes. So it's worth reading the whole book and not only the good stories. And the other thing is also that the idea was to include some aspects of Slavic myths, which are not usually discussed or researched. And there's a huge area which I absolutely adore, and that could not enter into this book. And this is about plants and the use of plants and magic with plants. GR: So when you were doing the research in the writing for this book, you're obviously an expert in the field and you're very aware of it. Did you come across anything, though, that completely surprised you that you just had no idea about and it really struck you? SS: But of course, the thing that struck me was going into detail about the myths which are common to different ethnic groups, not only Slavs at all, like Albanians and Greeks. That I knew about it, but when I gathered the real data and a lot of facts which would not enter the book, of course, that really surprised me. So that's a field of investigation for the Balkan researchers, basically for the Balkan researchers. And it's also a great initiative to make work together people from the West, especially from the West, with the native knowledge bearers from other parts to make these areas more known, more popular, more interesting. Well, also for for cartoons and video games, basically (laughter). They all did it there with, "The Witcher" on Netflix to make this world more known and more amicable and also more bearable. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to The Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is Svetlana Slapšak. She's the author of, "The Slavic Myths". So, when you were finding some of these myths that you weren't aware of previously or even the ones that you were aware of and you looked more deeply into them, is there one particular myth that has stayed with you more than the others, got inside your head, maybe even haunted you? SS: (laughter) Well, I am haunted by one person from the myths, which also was a profession in everyday life. And this is (unintelligible), the name is unpronounceable, but it comes from the Greek word stoicheion, element, and also element of weather. And these guys, which were Albanians, Montenegrins, Serbians and Bosnians, and also some Italians were able to control the winds and the tempests and so on and so on. And they were walking around through their rituals with the human nerves around their feet and stuff like that. This is really a magic creature, but it's also created from life because we know their names and we know their deeds and what they were doing to do their able to fly. One of them would deal with a tempest in Montenegro and then fly to Budapest, stuff like that (laughter). So, it's a creature that really works in your subconscious and appears in your dreams, I can tell you. GR: And that's why it's haunting you, because it's shown up in your dreams? SS: Yeah, absolutely (laughter). GR: So I have to ask you, as I was looking through the book, one of the things that I thought was most memorable about it, in addition to the stories that you are telling, are the visuals in here. The woodblock prints are really splendid. Where did they come from, how did you how did you arrange those? SS: Well, we did not that's Thames & Hudson editor's job. They did it absolutely wonderfully. I was absolutely hypnotized when I was looking at these drawings. They're really, really wonderful. They have this character of wood cutting and at the same time, of course they are not, but they give a hint of primitive traditional, somewhere in time and at the same time, so, so, so impressive. Yeah, that's one of the best solutions for the book I could even dream of. GR: Yeah. They really, really struck me. Well, so, we've got about five minutes left, and I wanted to switch gears unless there is something important about this book that I have not covered with you and then you can tell me what that is. But I wanted to switch gears and I wanted to ask you to tell me a little bit about the work that led to you being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, because that's obviously a big deal. And I wanted to hear more about the activities that you were doing that led people to want to recognize you that way. SS: Oh, thank you for this question. I wanted to intervene, but I didn't dare not to steal time. I was, in effect, in a group of a thousand women proposed for a Nobel Prize. And it was an internet action and women from all over the world voted for women who they thought were fighters for peace. And we came up with a thousand names. That was a Swiss MP who decided to do this action. And she gathered these thousand names and went with them to the Nobel Committee, that's all. So, yes, I'm one of the thousand, that's all (laughter), let's put it into the real frame. But the other thing is, yes, I was activist for peace all of my life and I'm still is, so, I don't think I should be rewarded for that. GR: So tell us a little bit about your peace activism then. We've only got about 3 minutes left or so. But what things have you been involved with over your life that that have had that... SS: I was involved with since the '68, Let's face it, that's a crucial year in Europe, the university year of around Europe. But then, of course, the real thing happened by the end of (the) 80's, the second half of (the) 80's when the nationalisms started to tear down Yugoslavia. And I was in a party which was exclusively for the conservation of Yugoslavia and for peace. We didn't like it of course, that's obvious. But then I went to Slovenia to live with my husband and I was doing many peace activities there. And then, let's say since the beginning of the 90's, there were so many occasions to breed for peace that I don't even remember how many wars and how many atrocities happened in that time, not only the Balkans, starting with Rwanda and Asia and so on and so on. So yes, today is especially tragic time when we think about wars and genocide. GR: Absolutely. So you must have some feelings about the war in Ukraine, I'm guessing. It's not terribly far away from where you are. How have you experienced that? SS: Well, Ukraine is, was very important for me because it's a country, it's a culture that was transferring some of the Western cultural modes to Russia, like the polyphonic music and stuff like that. And Ukraine is really very special in that sense. And when you think about how many artists, literates, actors, musicians came from Ukraine, your heart really hurts, so that's one thing. And the other thing is that when you think about Ukraine as a mixture of very, very many different ethnic groups and its links with Russia, it's really tragic that this culture, which is so important in the heart of the Slavic cultures at all, is something that has been destructed in front of our eyes. And the other thing is that we learn so much being a family and so much about violence against women, the first thing I think when there's war, there's violence, I think about women and children. So it's really something that makes me very sensitive to any kind of violence, animals too. GR: Yeah. Well, you've lived through so much of it, and you have seen so many different violent conflicts as I think about the region of the world that you occupy. Do you have any optimism about how this war in Ukraine will ultimately end up? SS: No, no. There's a disturbing tradition of long term wars in Europe in the past. So I hate to say it, but I'm not optimist at all. Revealing the possibilities of peace and reasonable behaving between the states is something that does not appear as a solution at this moment. So any appealing to rationalities, useless, I'm afraid. GR: Well, we only have a few seconds left. This may be too much of a bit of a stretch, but thinking about those Slavic myths, thinking about the war in Ukraine, is there any sort of connection if the myths could be talking to the people in the conflict now, is there anything you think they would say? SS: That would be great. Yeah, what they would say first of all, it would be, the myths would have a sense of humor. These myths are really the most useful and the most pedagogically applicable today. So the myths with humor, the animals, the wise animal could trick the others, the tricksters generally, are the figures that could help at this moment. GR: Well, I'll keep hoping in that regard. SS: Me too (laughter). GR: I'm glad we were able to end that. That was Svetlana Slapšak and again, her new book is titled, "The Slavic Myths". It's a really beautiful book, I think it's informative and entertaining and I think our listeners would enjoy it. Ms. Slapšak, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. It was really wonderful to meet you. SS: Thank you for inviting me, bye bye. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations and the public interest.

Edward Segal on the Campbell Conversations

Theodore Roosevelt campaigns from the back of a train in 1905.( Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division) Using trains in political campaigns may seem antiquated, but the process is still alive. This week, Grant Reeher talks with Edward Segal, a highly experienced campaign manager and press secretary, and is a student of the political use of trains. Segal is the author of "Whistle-Stop Politics: Campaign Trains and the Reporters Who Covered Them."

Will Barclay and Rachel May on the Campbell Conversations

Will Barclay / Rachel May Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. Governor Hochul recently delivered her State of the State speech and then subsequently presented her budget. Now the legislature will consider that budget. As we've done in past years, we're going to hear some reactions from both sides of the aisle in the state legislature. But today, we're doing it a bit differently in that we'll hear first from one representative and then the other. And this was done just for scheduling reasons. My guest for the first half of the program is State Senator Rachel May. Senator May, a Democrat, represents the 48th Senate District and is the chair of the Senate Committee on Small and Medium Cities. She's been on the program many times before. Senator May, welcome back and it's good to see you again. State Senator Rachel May: Thank you, Grant. Always glad to be here. GR: All right. Well, let me just start with the state of the state. The governor seemed in this speech to pull in her wings a little bit in terms of larger proposed initiatives concerning affordable housing, for instance. Was that your sense, too in listening to it? And what is your view of that? RM: Yeah, I felt like she tried to put on an optimistic face, but generally, she was pretty small bore in the state of the state. I think that was true. She did lean into the AI issue and some other things that I think are important. But in general, yeah, it was I was sad. I have been sad in general because I'm working very hard on housing. We hear every day from people who are struggling to find affordable housing in our district, and I hope she will be a partner in that as we move forward. GR: And also, it seemed to my ear that she tacked a bit right on crime and criminal justice. And that's been a big issue in the state in recent years. Was there anything there that you had concerns about or that you liked hearing from her in that regard? RM: Well, I think that was true in her campaign as well. I think she has been seeing herself as presenting kind of a opposition to the legislature on criminal justice, even though I don't think, in fact, the analysis of what we have done is really true. But yeah, she did some of that as well. I guess I'd agree with that. GR: And so you mentioned hearing some of those rhetoric in the campaign. Do you think what we saw then in the State of the State and we'll get into the budget a bit but you know, on housing, criminal justice, was this kind of a reaction to the relatively close shave she got in her election campaign do you think? RM: That could be That could be. I have been a little sad and we've been, I think, pretty good allies of the governor, certainly in the campaign, but also in a lot of our legislation. But she kind of came out swinging at the legislature a little bit, which is, I think, strategically a mistake. We need to work together and I hope we will work together. I certainly want to work together with the governor on a lot of initiatives that I think could really help central New York. GR: Well, I guess in that sense, thinking back a couple decades and maybe even more, it seems like beating up on the legislature is kind of a standard thing that governors in New York state do right? RM: Yeah, I guess I had hoped with Hochul that she was a little more. I mean, she has been collaborative with the legislature on a number of things, but rhetorically, she was a little bit more willing to own that because we can do so much if we work together. GR: So let's let's think about the budget, which is where obviously the big ideas and whatever ideas are being put out there have to manifest themselves in terms of money. She said in her budget address that the state can't keep spending like there's no tomorrow. I think that was her words. And nonetheless, the budget that she proposed does set a new record, I believe. Are we in this budget, do you think, seeing some effort on her part to turn a ship or make a course correction, or are we slowing the acceleration? What's the right metaphor for seeing the big picture here? RM: Well, I think the big picture actually is that all year long we have been hearing that this budget was going to involve major cuts, that we were going to have an $8 billion deficit and then a $4 billion deficit. And all of a sudden there is no deficit when push comes to shove in this budget, which is a good thing because we don't want to have to be cutting back some of the things that we have worked so hard to put in place. So honestly, it's I think, yes, there will be some slowing down because we're not getting the kind of funding that we were getting from the federal government as pandemic relief in particular. But in general, this budget is essentially holding the line. There are a few things where I know that we will be fighting as a legislature to restore some things that she has cut. For my part, the clean water infrastructure cut in half. I mean, it has been it has been generous in the past, and I don't think anybody thought that would go on forever. But from $500 million down to $250 million, when every single municipality I talked to has issues with their water and sewer infrastructure. And this is expensive. And the more we have global warming and flooding and a lot of the pressures that municipalities are seeing on their water systems, we can't retrench, I don't think, in that area. That's one, for example, where I think we're going to be fighting. GR: Do you expect problems with the education funding? Because that, I understand, was something that was at least cut back a lot from the previous couple budgets. RM: So it's not an absolute cut. It's a, my understanding and I haven't had time to really look through the details of it, is trying to shift the way foundation aid is funded. For a very long time, there was a hold harmless provision in foundation aid where school districts that were already overfunded still got increases year after year because I think it was the politically expedient thing to do, but it wasn't the right thing to do because there were other districts that were severely underfunded and the funding should have gone to those districts. And, you know, there are some Long Island districts that are very wealthy, some of the wealthiest in the country, and were continuing to get large increases under foundation aid for a long time. I'm I don't have a problem with trying to redistribute that. The place where I'm most concerned is with our rural districts and we do as Chair of the Commission on Rural Resources, but also as someone who represents a lot of small rural school districts, many of them are seeing cuts as well. And we've been hearing from them. And some of those cuts are because their enrollments are down, but their costs aren't down. They still have to have classroom teachers, even if there are fewer kids in the class, they still have to have all the services that they have. And so I think we will be looking hard at how she has the rethought foundation aid in some of those situations. GR: With that belt-tightening, I guess, is one way to put it, when in the or at least, as you say, sort of strategically rethinking how the aid is distributed. When you say wealthier school districts, is that going to percolate down to some of the wealthier suburbs of Syracuse, do you think, in terms of changing what they were getting? RM: It could, it could. But, you know, as the chair of the committee on our smaller cities, our upstate cities along the thruway corridor perennially rate among the cities in the country with the highest child poverty. Syracuse came in number two in the country this year. And the schools that have to deal with very concentrated poverty, that is extremely costly. They need a lot of staff who are helping kids, who have got learning disabilities, kids who don't speak English, kids who have trauma in their family and neighborhood lives, and or who just aren't getting, you know, dental care or vision care, all of those things. And the costs are very high. And I think it makes sense to invest in making sure that kids everywhere can succeed. So, yes, I think, you know, I will be pushing to make sure that our that those places where poverty has been concentrated get the kind of investments that they deserve. GR: We've only got about 3 minutes left. I want to try to squeeze another question about the budget and then ask you something about the legislative session more generally. There was another piece of the proposed budget that the media really picked up on, which was the proposal to spend two and a half billion dollars to house and feed new migrants here that have been arriving here, including 500 million from the state reserve allocation. So what what are your reactions to that? RM: Well, what are our alternatives? Honestly? I mean, these are people who come to New York who, you know, are going through the asylum process right or, you know, they've followed the rules so far they need a place to live. They need to be able to get to the point where they can get a job, make money, support their families. We also need more people in New York state, we've been complaining about the decline in our population for a long time. So what we find with refugees who come to this region, who have been coming for decades to this region, it takes them a little while to get settled. And then they become entrepreneurs, they become community leaders, They become very hardworking citizens or or, you know, permanent residents. And they contribute a lot to our communities. So I think that upfront investment is necessary. GR: That's interesting, seeing that as an investment. Certainly, I can see what you're talking about in the city of Syracuse, thinking about all the different groups of different kinds of refugees that have been resettled here. Well, let's think about the legislative session. Are there things that you anticipate the legislature pushing, taking the lead on that are contained in the governor's State of the State? RM: I was disappointed that she completely left out our waste reduction efforts, whether it's the bottle bill that I carry that would expand the bottle bill, increase the deposit, include a lot more beverages in the bottle bill, the extended producer responsibility. We're seeing a moment when Seneca Meadows Landfill is trying to expand in spite of a lot of opposition from people who live in the Finger Lakes, but also people who have trucks just plowing through their communities with trash from New York City. We've got to put a lot of effort, more effort than we are putting into reducing waste. And I'm sad that she didn't put that in. On the housing front. I have a lot. She had some proposals, but they all had to do with New York City. And I have a lot of legislation that I am working on and and really hoping to pass that would make it easier to build affordable housing here in central New York and upstate in general. So those are some areas where we're going to be working really hard. GR: Well, we'll have to check back in with you as the session winds down to see how you fared and those things, they sound like important initiatives. That was State Senator Rachel May. Senator May, thanks so much again for taking the time to talk with me. RM: Thank you, Grant. GR: We're continuing our consideration of Governor Hochul's State of the State address, and then her subsequently proposed budget, also looking toward the upcoming legislative session. We'll now hear from Republican Assemblyman and Minority Leader Will Barclay. He represents the 120th Assembly District. Leader Barclay, welcome back to the program. Always good to see you again. Assemblyman Will Barclay: Well, it's good to be on the program. As always, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be interviewed by you. GR: Oh great. Well, thanks for making the time. So let me just sort of follow what I did with Senator May in the top half of the program and we'll work our way through the State of the State and the budget. And let me start with the State of the State. The Governor, it seemed to most folks who heard this seemed to pull in her wings a bit in terms of proposed initiatives and the ambition of them, and particularly concerning affordable housing, for instance. Was that your sense of where the governor was going this time? And what's your view of that? WB: Yeah, I would agree. It was a very staid speech. I don't think there are any kind of revolutionary proposals by the governor. Actually, her State of the State and her budget address were relatively similar. And you may be surprised to hear the script, but I actually was pleased with the message that the governor gave. I think finally a Democrat in Albany has recognized that we had some serious problems, that all New Yorkers were worried about, problems like crime, problems like affordability, problems like outmigration, things that I had been, I've been talking about my conference has been talking about for years. I was pleased the governor has recognized that these are serious problems. I think the question is ultimately, you know, what her solutions are and a recognition of why we got into those problems in the first place. GR: Yeah, I want to come back to a couple of those things. Well, you mentioned crime. One of the things that I noticed others noticed is she did, seemed to tack a bit to the right on crime and criminal justice. Was there anything in particular there that you liked or that you still have concerns about? WB: Well, yes. Again, I like the recognition that crime is a problem. Certainly, the shoplifting, smash and grab, as I guess is called now, has been a problem. She mentioned how crime rates are down, and that's true, and I'm happy that crime rates are down. But overall crime is still up, I think something like 33% since 2019. I don't think it's a mystery of why this is happening. We don't hold criminals accountable, unfortunately, anymore. And that's serious crimes that are down, which, again, is great. And I don't want to deny that that's not good news. Those weren't cashless bail-eligible crimes in the first place. So when I point to the problems that we have with raising age with the bail reform or cashless bail clean slate, you know, these are all the policies we put in place over the last several years. As a result of these policies, we see crime rates have increased. So again, I'm pleased that there's recognition and I'm pleased that she wants to do something about it. And I'll be a willing partner. And I know our conference be a willing partner as long as we're serious about what we're trying to do. And ultimately, I happen to believe that you got to hold criminals accountable. You can't just have a rotating system where people get arrested and put right back on the street. And unfortunately, that's what these, you know, the past policies have caused. And in order to fix that, we're going to pull back on those policies. GR: Now, let's think about the budget. You mentioned they were very similar, State of the State address and the budget. One of the things the governor said is "The state can't keep spending like there's no tomorrow." But at the same time, correct me if I'm wrong, the budget did set another record. So is this, what are we seeing here? I'm trying to find the right metaphor for thinking of how to place this. One is – this is the beginning of a course correction. Another one is– we're just letting up on the accelerator pedal, but we're still giving gas to the car. How would we consider this? WB: I think the cliche that I've been using is 'spending like drunken sailors,' but she didn't go that far. But yeah, again, I'm pleased she's recognized that we can't continue. Over the last five years, we've increased spending in New York state by $60 billion. And I had some staff in Albany look at this. And I think that's numbers. Something like bigger than two-thirds of all the other states' total budget. So clearly that was not a sustainable course. She did lower spending. I think it's now at 4.4%, which is a step in the right direction. With inflation, I think, you know, we're getting to the right numbers. We just can't continue to spend like we have over the last few years. So I'm glad that there's a recognition of that. GR: And as part of her budget proposal, she included two and a half billion dollars to house and feed new migrants and added as part of that a $500 million from the state's fiscal reserves. What are your thoughts about that? WB: Well, it's unfortunate. I don't know, what we have this right to shelter, what we're dealing with, the influx of migrants. You know, she mentioned the numbers that I think they're moving something like 10,000 migrants out of shelters a month. But they're increasing by 13,000 are coming in. So it's clearly a losing battle. And I think it just illustrates that unfortunate New Yorkers have to pay for, you know, the Democrats in Washington, particularly the Biden Administration's failure to secure our borders. I was happy that she said she was going to go to Washington and advocate for federal money, which I do think the federal government should be responsible for these costs. But I also advocate for a more secure border, and I would join her in doing that. And she did try to put some of the blame on the Republicans in Congress and maybe there's some to go there. I do think immigration reform needs a bipartisan solution. But that being said, the administration has control over the southern border and clearly it's not secure because people are coming in by droves. GR: Senator May had a somewhat different take on this and looked at this in terms of something that you mentioned earlier, which is concerns about the state losing population and sort of saw the migrants as well, this is one way we can do something about this and noted how refugees in the city of Syracuse, for example, have added to both the culture and the economy there. And so she views all this money as kind of an investment in the future. Is that is is that a fair way to live? WB: I mean, I find that as I would use tongue in cheek, sometimes I think that Governor Abbott's done more to increase New York's population or fix New York's outmigration population than any Democrat in Albany. So that's funny that she's spinning the idea that somehow this is a positive. I'm a pro-immigration Republican. I do believe in immigration, but I feel very strongly it ought to be legal immigration and not illegal immigration. This is a failure, again, by the federal government. If we need more people, let's have an honest policy debate about letting more people into the country through legal means, not through illegal migration. GR: Well, now part of the budget also has to do with, as it always does, with school funding. And if I understand this correctly, she's proposing a change in school funding to allow the state to not always keep all towns at the same or more level of aid. And so the school districts that were particularly well funded may see less aid, and that's in order to sustain the funding for other schools that are needier. What is your view of the change and the school aid that's in her budget? WB: I have to look at this closer and see, you know, everything in politics is local. So I want to understand how that's going to affect the school districts in my area. Unfortunately, many of them are low-wealth school districts. So they're the ones that are in desperate need of the aid. So I can't speak directly on how that's going to do it, although I again, here I am. I could be complimentary of a Democrat in the governor. I do think she recognizes that we can't continue school aid spending at the rate we've been spending. Something like we increased a six or $7 billion over the last couple of years. We simply just don't have the means to do that. So the idea that she's looking at ways to make our spending more efficient, that is driving the money where it's most needed, I'm open to that. And I do think, unfortunately, we just can't continue to increase spending the way we've been doing. GR: So what is the legislature going to do with all of this and what might it also do on its own? Are there things that you would anticipate this year in the upcoming session that the legislature would be pushing and taking the lead on where the governor didn't really say anything or did not push for things? WB: Well, first of all, I think let's just go back to criminal justice and crime and what she's proposed. I think she's going to have trouble getting any of that through the legislature. Unfortunately, my colleagues don't want to recognize that this is an issue and they don't want to recognize that the fact that some of the proposals, the ones I've mentioned before that they passed are contributing factors to this. So to pull back on any of those or just increase penalties. You know something that we haven't looked at, say for people that have shoplift multiple times, you can aggregate those crimes so they can be charged with more serious penalties. They haven't shown any willingness to even address that. So I think that's going to be very challenging. In order to get that done, she's going to have to spend a lot of political capital. As seen unfortunately in Albany, what happens sometimes money is used as that political capital, so if we can get some sort of reform on crime, maybe she's going to have to spend more at schools. And that's really where we got into some of these predicaments. We never had any kind of real, you know, slowing down on our spending. And this, again, a little bit off on the spending, too, Grant as you kind of indicated, we're still spending a lot of money. We are. It's 200, I think her proposal is $233 billion, which is massive. But I've always said people often ask me, well, where would you cut? And we don't have to necessarily cut anything. Really, we have to slow the rate of growth of our spending. And we just got to get back down to more realistic terms. I mean, the last two years we're at 10% or 8%, and that's well beyond inflation, well beyond our means to be able to spend. So anyways, who knows? That always happens. A governor usually comes in a bit lower than what the legislature and then through negotiations you'll see increase in spending. Maybe there'll be some trade-off on policy. One thing the Assembly Senate majority has been against is putting any policy in the budget, which I can normally agree with, but generally the policy the Governor wants to put in the budget is something that I can support and she can't get it through otherwise stand alone because of the Democratic majorities in both houses. GR: Yeah, the budget does act as kind of Christmas tree or however whatever metaphor we want for a lot of different things. We've we've only got about a couple of minutes left. I want to squeeze in a couple more questions if I can, but is your caucus in particular? I get a sense of the kinds of things that your caucus is going to be pushing back against and wants to make sure that are taken seriously regarding budget crime and so on. But is there anything kind of new initiative that your caucus will be trying to push as an idea to get the legislature to take up? WB: We'll think about it. We'll talk about any new ideas. But usually, you know, I think going back to the three biggest issues that are concerning to New Yorkers is outmigration, affordability and crime. And I think there's things that we can do on affordability that we'll continue to push. You know, some are relatively obvious, like lowering taxes. Well, we've implemented let's take climate change policy in New York that is costing us billions of dollars and the cost benefit of that spending has not been demonstrated by anybody. So we're going to just keep raising those types of issues to show, you know, why are we doing this? Is this a good way to spend our money? And try to point out where we think it's been wasteful and leading to the unaffordability that we have, unfortunately, in New York state. GR: Well, you've left me with just enough time to squeeze in one question about national politics, so I'm going to do that. You and I are talking before the New Hampshire primaries, after the Iowa caucuses for the Republican Party, at least. Where do you see this at this point? Is the Trump tide unstoppable? Does Nikki Haley have a chance? What's your sense of the terrain right now? WB: Well, it certainly looks like Trump's going to win it, although I see the numbers in New Hampshire. He's ahead by, you know, a much smaller margin than he was in Iowa. I think whoever it's going to be the Republican nominee, I think there's rich, fertile ground for victories for, whether it's Nikki Haley or whether it's Trump or anyone else, because the President unfortunately for him this so deeply unpopular, so, you know, I'll support whoever the Republican nominee is and looks like it's going to be Trump at this time. I think probably, you know, I don't think long short of it, it looks like Trump's going to win. You know, maybe if Iowa turned out a little differently, someone could say that maybe another candidate has a chance. But, you know, all the polling you know, whatever showed ultimately that victory margin, I suspect, is going to be the same in New Hampshire. GR: We'll have to leave it there. That was Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay. Leader Barclay, as always, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it. WB: Yeah, thank you. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Noah Charney on the Campbell Conversations

Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations, I'm Grant Reeher. My guest is Noah Charney, he's an art historian who's written widely on art and history, including art crime. He's also a professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and he's here with me today because he has recently published a book titled, "Brushed Aside: The Untold Story of Women in Art". He's also the author of, "The 12-Hour Art Expert: Everything You Need to Know about Art in a Dozen Masterpieces" and, "The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World". Professor Charney, welcome to the program. Noah Charney: Thanks so much for having me. GR: Well, it's great to have you on. Let me just start with a departure point for your book. And one of them is a famous essay by the late feminist art historian Linda Nochlin, titled, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" and your book argues two things about that. First, that there have indeed been a lot of great women artists throughout history, and also that women have had a great influence on the course of art. So I want to unpack those two things a little bit as we talk here today. And first, and maybe this is just an overly obvious question, but why have the contributions of women been overlooked in terms of art history and even overlooked more recently? NC: Well, why women have been largely overlooked, it comes down to the patriarchal narrative of how history has been written. And you can see this in various different fields, and it's no different from others. The story of art is really one that involved, initially, artists who were part of studios who would be in the charge of a master. A master is someone who was licensed to run an artistic studio to produce art, to be commissioned for projects. And they were inevitably men, and they would fill their studio with assistants and apprentices who were also men or boys from age anywhere from 8 to 18. And it was a sort of locker room style atmosphere. And the board of people usually called the Guild of Saint Luke for painters, because Saint Lucas, the patron saint of painters in various towns in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, would have been run all by men. And so when it comes time for a young artist to submit their masterpiece, which is a term we use now for any great work of art, but originally was the work based on which you would be determined to be ready to be a master on your own, then it was men who were given the primary seat. The only women we had historically who created works of art that we know of were ones who had either a partner or a parent who essentially taught them, informally initially, before the age of academies. And that's really the reason why for the first many thousands of years, most artists with only a handful of exceptions have been men. I should say that probably the very first human artists were women. In fact, most of the cave painting hand imprints from tens of thousands of years ago are female hands. GR: That's interesting. So I know that we could talk for the entire program just about you naming these people and explaining them. But briefly, if you could, who are some of the greatest women artists? Throw me out some greatest hits there. NC: Well, there's some examples that are really household names, but almost all of them are contemporary or second half of the 20th century artists. And one of my goals is to highlight people from as many different periods historically, styles and media as I could. So the format I chose was, (the) first half of the book is a history of artistic movements in a very traditional sense in talking about the various "-isms" through history, focusing primarily on European art, but also stepping beyond it. But instead of choosing one of the cliché male artists who are appearing in all of the most famous art history 101 textbooks, I used a female artist as a representative. GR: Okay. NC: So there are going to be many that people likely won't have heard of, but there are many that people will have. For instance, Marina Abramović wrote the afterword for the book and is the representative of conceptual art. Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Camille Claudel, there are lots of them in the second half of the 20th century, really, from the period of Modernism forward and after World War Two in particular, it no longer becomes a surprise or even noteworthy that there's a significant woman artist. But if we look back to historical periods dating back, including thousands of years, then there are a constellation of just a few that we can pick out, often through archival sources. And we don't necessarily have a work that we know is by them. But then later on, when we get particularly to the Renaissance and the early modern period, there are plenty of them who I would qualify as truly great. GR: And so tell me about some of the ways that women have influenced the course of art over time and reveal some things to me about that. NC: So one of the things that we have is a bias towards the top let's say 1% most influential and revolutionary artists in history and those are the ones we tend to study over and over. And we forget that that represents, you know, a few hundred big names if we're really casting a large net. But that's not the vast majority of artists. And so those are the ones that tend to be in our headlights, the ones that we tend to remember and the ones that are written up in history books as being turning points. And there are fewer women on that list than one might like, but they're not entirely absent. So one of the things that I tried to do is look at the way women have influenced the course of art from a variety of different angles, artists being only one of them. There are some very good other books about women artists, but mine also touches on women as influencers in terms of being critics and scholars, patrons, professors, there's a whole wide array. In terms of female artists, we can just look through some small examples that I'll pull out, small in terms of the quantity, but not in terms of the influence. If we look to drip painting or all around painting, which is credited to Jackson Pollock with his, "Galaxy" painting in 1947, it was actually invented by a Ukrainian grandmother who was living in Brooklyn named Janet Sobel, that was her Americanized name. In 1945 she created a drip painting in her apartment called, "Milky Way" and Jackson Pollock actually later admitted that he saw that work and was influenced to try drip painting himself. Now this is an example of someone developing a new technique that no one had seen before, and so she needs to get credit for the invention of it. But we also do have to credit Pollock with the promotion of it. He really became the front man because he was everyone's idea of the macho male artist who can't even sit still long enough to paint something naturalistic but is dancing around the canvas and it made for a great story and he's the one who was on the cover of Life magazine. But we have to give credit where it's due and that's just one example. We also have people, I might mention Properzia de' Rossi who was a very influential sculptor who is described by Giorgio Vasari in his book, "Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects", which was the bestselling book on art history, the first true book on art history back in 1550. He mentions Properzia among a handful of female artists who are featured in a way that some artists that you might think would be, are not at all. People like Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer get no mention at all, whereas we have a chapter on influential female artists. We have others like Artemisia Gentileschi, who perhaps is another household name, one of the relatively few in this book who started painting in a Caravaggio-esque style, if you're familiar with Caravaggio, very dramatic dynamic chiaroscuro, that's the play of light emerging from darkness. And he has a very famous painting of Judith beheading Holofernes with blood splattering everywhere. And there's a version that, if you ask me, is better, of the same theme by Artemisia, inspired by his, but I think she did him one better. And she became a hugely influential female painter in Naples, primarily at the end of her life during the Baroque period. And yet we tend to gloss over these people because we have this patriarchal focus which is unfortunate. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm speaking with Noah Charney. He's a professor of art history at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, and he's the author of, "Brushed Aside: The Untold Story of Women in Art". Well, I noticed that about your book, too, that you get into, I'm going to talk about something you said just a few minutes ago, but women as critics and their influence there and then as patrons and collectors. So tell me a bit about those kinds of influences, either through money or social and cultural influence or through writing. NC: So there are various ways that people can influence art beyond creating it, writing about it. We have people like Gertrude Stein, who is one of the great proponents of Picasso in particular, but she had a world class art collection at her home in Paris, and she was the center of a lively group of artists who would meet regularly and develop ideas, bouncing them off of each other. So that's one perspective we have. Hugely influential scholar Susan Sontag, whose book on photography is probably the most influential book ever written about photography as an artistic medium and how to look at photographs. And then we can go back to periods where a lot of the influential patrons of the arts were, in fact, patronesses, and we can go back in time to Roxelana, who was originally a concubine to the Turkish sultan, but who wound up being hugely influential as a commissioner of works of art. We have people who were in the New York arts scene, founding some of the most important art museums in New York. For example, MoMA was founded largely by three women, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. Among the New York museums, we actually see that most of them were initially founded by society women who were at the forefront of an interest in contemporary art. Whereas the fuddy-duddy conservative men were stuck with the old masters. And I love old masters, but we have to tip our hat to the forward thinking female patrons whose influence and wealth and really their openness to new styles and avant-garde movements helped bring modern art to America. GR: That's interesting. So changing the subject a bit, the female body as a subject for male artists, I guess a critic might say objectified, it's been a staple for centuries, whether that person is clothed or unclothed. And I was wondering whether either women artists or some of the kinds of people that you just talked about, patronesses and art critics, writers, have helped to reinterpret the female as a subject in important ways in art. NC: Absolutely that's the case. So, there are a lot of examples of this, but I actually have a, I'm going to call it, because it sounds exciting, a lost chapter of this book that I didn't have the word count for to include, I sliced it out. I should have like a director's cut version on what women have represented in art, whether they were representing themselves as in a portrait, but very often they were idealized or they were allegorical personifications. For example, Justitia, or Justice, we have this concept because we've seen her on every courthouse in America as a blindfolded woman with a sword in one hand and scales in the other. Women were often included, and we have to be frank about this, as an object of the male gaze and especially nudes often couched as Venuses, but it was, in fact, an excuse to have a naked lady on your wall. And sometimes we have to be a little bit crass like that. But women have also tuned the tides a bit. And one example that I would highlight is Käthe Kollwitz's, "Dead Child" (*Woman with Dead Child) is one of the most moving works of art I've ever seen. It's hard to look at, actually. And it shows this almost beastial sadness of a woman engulfing the body of her dead child. And it's something that you need to see and it's difficult to do so, but it's a level of emotional in-touchiness that I'm not sure a man would be capable of, especially that dynamic between a woman and their child. Another example of one of the most influential artists, both in terms of art and policy was Angelica Kauffman, who is a Swiss female painter and she was a real prodigy. And she also became one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768, one of only two women. And she was making statements about the policy of the Royal Academy, even as a member of it. For a very long time at salons and academies, women were not permitted to paint nude figures, and that prevented them from having access to accurate training for representing the body. And it was considered untoward for them to paint a naked man. And naked women models were often prostitutes before really the 19th century where professional modeling came in, and they simply weren't permitted to do so. And she played little games with this. She painted some murals for the Royal Academy and she joked that the only woman allowed in the nude painting studio was the one that she had painted on the ceiling. And then we also have the female gaze and we need to also be frank that women are allowed to have a sexualized dynamic to their gaze as much as men are. And there's a painting of a woman looking at the front of the famous Belvedere torso, which is a nude, hugely muscular torso that is all that remains of a statue of Hercules. And we can imagine that the woman is enjoying looking at the front of it with the naughty bits and all the muscles, but we only see it from the back. But, so sometimes you can slip in these subversive elements and shift the power towards the female gaze and empower women through creating art by women, understanding women's perspective. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with art history professor Noah Charney. He's the author of a new book titled, "Brushed Aside: The Untold Story of Women in Art" and we've been discussing this book. So before the break, you were talking about how women have influenced the way that female bodies are portrayed or female subjects are portrayed. And I had some other questions related that. Would you say that there's such a thing as, for example, a woman's or a female view of the natural world or of a landscape? NC: That's a very good question, and I'm not sure I thought about it yet in those terms. That's why I love doing interviews like these, because you just get my brain bubbling. GR: (laughter) NC: You know, it's too easy, I think it's too facile to say that women are better in touch with their emotions. And so emotional themes, particularly to do with parenting, are likely to be created differently from a woman's perspective. I want to say that's not the case, but I think it sometimes is and you have paintings by like Berthe Morisot or Mary Cassatt, two female impressionists, and they are particularly renowned for their paintings of women with their babies. And it's a subject matter that men would be less likely to turn to and also less likely to handle in a sensitive way. We also have, you know, landscape paintings are paintings of animals by Rose Bonhur, who was a very influential female French painter who created huge large scale paintings of landscapes with animals in them, including of horses or cattle. So part of it may be a willingness on the part of women to look at subject matter that wasn't considered as, I want to say, cool, for lack of a better term, to paint. Men were more focused on, you know, of course, you have historically religious paintings and mythology or history painting, which is battle scenes and kings and what not, and the quieter, more thoughtful pieces, genre painting would have perhaps appealed less and you have very rarely women doing this. What was considered the most desirable commissions which were history, paintings, religious and mythological, and focusing more on things like domestic scenes, which I think they're better empowered to paint. That might be one example. So I try to avoid the clichés, but I do think that there's nothing wrong with women being able to handle subject matters related to women in a more sensitive way than perhaps more interestingly than men would. GR: You may have just spoken to this, but I was also wondering whether you could say the same things about representations of the social world. And I think that you just alluded to that was talking about what kinds of scenes might be painted. Do you have any brief further thoughts on that aspect, the social world? NC: Sure. Yeah, the social world, a lot of it depends on whether a work was commissioned or whether it was made on spec by the artist out of passion or with the idea to sell it. So historically, nothing was created, sculptures or paintings that were not commissioned because the raw materials were prohibitively expensive. Then when you get to the 19th century in particular, starting in the 18th, but in the 19th, you start to get artists who are creating works with the expectation that they'll find a market for it, but they haven't been specifically commissioned to do so. And you get some social commentary that's quite sensitive. Some of it's sardonic, like Hogarth's, "The Rakes Progress" or Jan Steen paintings of people parting outside a country inn. You get (Henri de) Toulouse-Lautrec painting prostitutes, but with a very sensitive approach, not objectifying them, seeing them as humans. Maybe one that I would mention that I think is incredibly strong and maybe the first great work of what we would call identity art today, at the time it would not have been called as such, is the 1923 self-portrait by Romaine Brooks. It shows her wearing men's clothing, a top hat, a walking stick, a white collared shirt, dressed as if she's a gentleman about to go out on the town. And this may not seem like much today, but back in 1923 that was really making a bold statement and it's showcasing herself and saying, this is who I am, toying with gender roles and sort of confronting the viewer who in almost all cases would be a male viewer with questions about gender identity, sexuality and all these things. So I think hats off to someone who really founded a concept that we only really started to talk about in the last few years. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is Noah Charney. He's the author of, "Brushed Aside: The Untold Story of Women in Art". So maybe I should have started my interview with this, but there's a big obvious question about this project, and you address it head on in a preliminary note at the beginning of your book. And I'm just going to read from your note here. "When I first proposed this book to my longtime editor, I admitted to feeling somewhat sheepish, being a Caucasian middle class male, writing a book about women in art." Well, I'm less sure about how you being white middle class creates an issue for this topic that's probably for another program. But certainly being male raises some questions about this. So how does that question get resolved for you? NC: Well, for me, it was really a question of whether there was a book that hadn't been written yet on this subject that I felt very strongly about. And if it hadn't been written yet, then I might as well be the one to try for it. So when I started to research this, many years ago now, there were almost no books that you could find about women and their influence in the story of art. There were some encyclopedic books about women artists. There are individual monographs about female artists like Frida Kahlo or Georgia O'Keeffe, but there were relatively few books about women in general and their role in the story of art. Since the book came out, or rather about a year before the book came out, there started to be more of them and I like that this is a trend that other people are hopping on. But most of the books that are available now are about female artists, and that's great and very important. My goal is to create something that's sort of a one stop shop to cover all aspects, a 360 degree look about how women have influenced the story of art. And I haven't seen that in any of the books available. There are some very important ones about aspects of it, like, "The Story of Art Without Men" by Kate Hessel is about great female artists. We have Whitney Chadwick's seminal book, which has been published in many editions about, "Women, Art and Society" (book title). But essentially taking those two, putting them together and looking at the other ways that women could influence art beyond picking up a chisel or paintbrush, that's something that I hadn't seen. So I figured, you know, I'd rather do it, even if maybe theoretically it would be better if a woman had taken it up. But you know, what you left out of that quote that my editor said to me is that you don't have to be Egyptian to write about Egyptology. And my goal is, I'm hugely sympathetic, I'm trying to be empowering in the writing and I hope that empowered feeling is what comes across when you finish reading it. GR: We've got about 3 minutes left, and I want to try to squeeze a couple, just two questions in if I can before we have to stop. And the first one is, and this is where I may know enough to be a little dangerous, I don't know, but I've got, I've got one 1,000th of your expertize in art, but it is an interest of mine and I took several art history courses in college. And one of the things that I've always puzzled over is the relationship between art and politics. And I tended to see sort of politics influencing art. And one of my art history professors tended to see it more in terms of art influencing politics. I mean, that's a huge question, but, you know, in a minute or so, do you have any thoughts about that? NC: Well, I mean, whether or not you're dealing with women, art can influence politics, but it's often doing one of two things. If it's institutional, commissioned by, you know, the man, the people who are running the show, whether that's the clergy or aristocracy, then it's promoting whatever their message is and it has a propagandistic aspect. But it is still influential because it's visual, not written. So you don't even have to be literate to be able to be confronted with it and engage with it. And it's a propaganda machine. Then we also have subversive element, where rarely is the artist the first one to come up with a subversive idea but the artwork can pass on that idea in a way that makes people think about it more deeply. So I would say that the artists themselves are rarely the ones leading the charge, but they can often have the enduring relic of the idea whether that's in favor of the powers that be, and that's propaganda, or whether it's something subversive. GR: I love that phrase, the enduring relic of the idea. NC: I should write that down. GR: Yeah, I'm going to too, and I will give you credit for it (laughter). So my last question, we just have a few seconds left, has this book that you've just done led you to consider telling the story of other historically disadvantaged or less seen kinds of artists? NC: It actually has, but it led me to tell the story for, I just started working on one that is historically advantaged but nobody's told the story yet. The next book I'm working on is called, "The Art of Fatherhood", and it's about how fathers have been depicted in various art forms from literature to the Bible to film to paintings and sculptures. And that's the patriarchy, literally, but there's no book about that specifically, so that's the next one I'm turning to. GR: That sounds fascinating. We're going to have to have you back on when that one comes out, looking forward to it. NC: I'd love that. GR: Unfortunately, that's all the time we have, I could speak to you for hours. That was Noah Charney and again, his new book is titled, "Brushed Aside: The Untold Story of Women in Art". Professor Charney, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, really enjoyed this. NC: Thanks so much, Grant. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Karen Keiser on the Campbell Conversations

Senator Karen Keiser Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations, I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is a senator in Washington State, Karen Keiser. Senator Keiser is currently the president pro tempore of that chamber and chairs the Labor and Commerce Committee. The Democrat represents a suburban district south of Seattle. Prior to serving in the state legislature, Senator Keiser was the communications director for a chapter of the AFL-CIO and also a television journalist. She's with me today because she has recently published a book titled, "Getting Elected is the Easy Part: Working and Winning in the State Legislature". Senator Keiser, welcome to the program. Karen Keiser: Thank you so much. It's very, very nice to be with you. GR: Well, we're glad that you could make the time to be with us. So let me just start with the title, "Getting Elected Is the Easy Part". In my career as a political scientist, I've spent a lot of time watching and speaking with candidates. And to me, at least, it seems like getting elected can be very hard, especially in a purple district. So tell me what message about politics and the legislature that your title is intended to convey. KK: Right. Well, it's a little bit of a joke, but it's also the fact that we spend so much time, energy and money on getting elected and so little time on getting prepared to be a good lawmaker. And to becoming someone who can have what we call, "policy chops" to get stuff done. So you get elected, you come into a legislative body with the wind at your back thinking you're going to change the world overnight. Well, that doesn't happen, right? The next thing that happens is sort of cynicism or discouragement sets in. And a few years later, they sort of wander away. Now, if you're going to spend all that time or money getting elected and you're going to have all those advocates lined up to help you, and then you wander away and do something else after four or five years, that's a total waste of talent and effort. So it was my goal to encourage urge new lawmakers that get elected to know that there's a whole lot of stuff they can do, but they need to know how to work it and how to make it happen. And there's a lot of learning to happen. You don't just learn it overnight. It's kind of slow and steady. GR: Well, your book has lots of great advice. And also, I think to the general reader, a lot of inside insights into how the place works. So let me ask you this though, I was very curious to hear your answer to this. You came in as a former broadcast journalist, and, as I said before, a communications director for an interest group. So you obviously come into this political world with a lot of knowledge and understanding, you've been a close observer of it. So I'm curious, as a candidate, let's take candidate first and then we'll get there as an elected official. But as a candidate running for office, what most surprised you, despite your previous knowledge, talking to these people? KK: Well, I tell you, I never had run for office before. I had put my name on the ballot to become a precinct committee officer. But that was about it. The first election I had and I was in a purple district at that time, and the Republicans were in control of our Washington State House at that time. So my first election was tough and I think I won by less than two points, and it was hard fought. And I'll tell you, the most important thing I learned was talking to real people at their doorstep and hearing what they had to tell you about their neighborhood and what you learned about their neighborhood walking around it was extraordinarily important. It's just an intuition and grounding that you get just by that one on one conversation, it's so important. GR: Yeah, I've had the same impression watching, it's interesting that you say that. And then, so after you're elected and you start to serve, what is the thing about the legislature that most surprised you? Just, you weren't expecting to have to learn? KK: Well, you know, I walked into that legislature with a lot of hubris because, yes, I had been a reporter, I had covered the legislature as a reporter, right? I had been in communications with the AFL-CIO. We reported on legislative issues and gone to committee hearings and so forth. So I thought I knew what I was doing and then I got elected and then I found out I didn't know anything. I needed to learn it from the ground up. And so one of the first things I learned, and I had, I believe it was a gift to be in the minority for the first few years of my career because I didn't get to do much. The Republicans in charge were out for revenge after being out of control for so long. So they didn't let any Democrats get anything done at that time. It was highly partisan right after the Newt Gingrich revolution thing. Anyway, so I was able to sit back, watch, observe and listen. And that's probably the most valuable lessons I've learned is to find out what people were, where they were really coming from, not what they were saying. GR: Hmm. And as far as the way legislatures work, your book really lays that out. What do you think are the most important things about the working of a state legislature that the public doesn't know and or doesn't fully appreciate that you'd want to share with our listeners? KK: Well, it really is like making sausage, that's an apt comparison. You know, it is mushing and mashing and grinding and flavoring, all of the pieces of the meat that you're going to end up with. So it is a slow process. That's one thing people don't really understand between the hearings, the committees, the gatekeepers, getting out of one chamber into a second chamber, getting out of both chambers, getting the governor to find something that he might want to veto because it has something in there that might upset him. All of those pieces have to be strategized and you have to think ahead. You can't just walk in and think, I'm going to have this wonderful hearing and people are going to testify. It's going to be wonderful. And think you've done your job. That's just setting the stage. There's so many steps to go after that. And that's what people learn slowly sometimes because it is a complicated process. And it's intentionally complicated because the vast majorities of bills that are introduced, die. They don't (unintelligible) passed. And it always amuses me that in the first part of a legislative session that the public and the news media always report on bills that are introduced. Like, that's a big damn deal, ha! It's the very first baby step. GR: It's interesting, I had some training in political philosophy. And there's a quote from this German philosopher, Max Weber, that what you are saying reminds me of, and that his definition of politics was the slow boring of hard boards. KK: (laugher) That's so appropriate! It took me 20 years, 20 years virtually, to get our state Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed and into law. It was a very difficult, I actually passed it twice. The first time, then the Great Recession hit so got set aside and we had to start all over again. But it is a very slow, difficult process and if you don't persevere and maintain your intention and your goal, you won't get it done. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm speaking with Washington State Senator Karen Keiser. She's the author of, "Getting Elected Is the Easy Part: Working and Winning in the State Legislature". So is that family leave law that you just mentioned, would you regard that as your biggest accomplishment or success so far as an individual legislator? KK: I'm not sure. It's really been a very popular program, and it was implemented during the pandemic and was incredibly helpful to tens of thousands of families. But getting, I worked very closely with the federal government on getting what was called Obamacare passed and pulling that end as well. I was health co-chair at the time and we worked very closely with the White House and with our congressional delegations to get that done. That was kind of the last time we were able to do that kind of coordination. And that was huge because we reduced our un-insurance rate for health care from 16% to 5%. So that was amazing. But then just two years ago, I was really thrilled to be able to pass overtime pay for farm workers. We have a large agricultural industry in our state. And as you probably know, Grant, way back in the 1930's, the federal government excluded farm workers at the insistence of the southern Senators from the Fair Labor Standards Act. So they didn't get overtime, they didn't get any of the basic safety net labor standards. So it's, we're able at the state level, and we need to learn this lesson in all of our state legislatures to thread needles to get around some of our federal limits. We've done this on minimum wage, for example. We can do it on overtime, ee can do it on non-disclosure contracts as long as it's a contract issue that you're dealing with. It's all kinds of technical things. You can really make real change. GR: Yeah. It's interesting that you brought that last piece of legislation up. Washington State a little bit ahead of New York on that, because New York just went through that decision to include the agricultural laborers and that has been very controversial. And you can imagine the dynamics between the downstate and the upstate where the upstate relies on that. KK: That's right, we have eastern and western, same problem. GR: That's right. Yes, that's right. There's a book I'm going to blank on the name of the author, but the author (David Guterson) also wrote, "Snow Falling on Cedars" about the state of Washington. And makes a lot about that ridge of the Cascades dividing east and west, yeah. KK: It's a beautiful book. GR: Yeah. So, okay, those are the good things, right? So what have been your biggest disappointments or failures? KK: I don't dwell on failures, but I have had my face plants, I'll tell you. One was, this was a really strange thing, I thought hairdressers should get, should be treated as employees, hairstylists should be treated as employees and earn things like unemployment insurance and worker compensation coverage and all of the other things that come with being an employee, health insurance and so forth. But we have a law in our state that allows hairdressers to purchase a chair in a salon, and then they become their own employee, their own independent contractor, if you would. And they have persuaded themselves that that independence is more important. So when we had a hearing on the bill, I had a thousand hairdressers just show up to protest (laughter) and they were stretched out, you know, into the parking lot. It was really something to hear. And of course, the entire hearing was them opposing my bill (laughter). GR: So that one, that one didn't go anywhere, I take it. KK: Oh, lots of bills don't go anywhere, as I said. And I think also one of your jobs is to provoke, to put forward the issue. So you provoke questions and questioning. I put forward a bill a couple of years ago to require that all internships be paid at least the minimum wage. Oh, well, listen, here's an issue. Do you know that we have all of our health professions as requiring people with degrees in nursing or whatever to have clinical hours? That means working on the job. It's a very valuable thing to do, but they don't get paid for it. In fact, they have to pay tuition to do it. The same with teaching, do you know that teachers go through their college, get their degree then they have to do student teaching. They don't get paid for that either. So when I open that box and sort of saw the incredible extent to which we are depending on unpaid labor for our professional training, I was shocked and appalled. But I realized this could not be changed in a year. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with Washington State Senator Karen Keiser. She's the president pro tempore of that body and she chairs the Labor and Commerce Committee there. She's also the author of, "Getting Elected Is the Easy Part: Working and Winning in the State Legislature" and we've been discussing her book. So you alluded to this, I think, a little bit earlier in our conversation, but I want to ask you a direct question about it. Political polarization, that is the, you know, the drawing apart of the two parties and that having a rigid line between them, the lack of cooperation across the aisle, the lack of even conversations across the aisle. It's arguably our deepest political challenge, I think, in recent decades for us as a nation. And for a long time, state and local offices seem to be less affected by that than the national political scene. But that seems to be changing or have changed, really. And I wanted to ask you about your experience about that, political polarization as you've experienced it in Washington State and have you seen it change since you were first elected to the State House back in 1996? KK: Well, as I said Grant, when I was first elected, it was just after the Newt Gingrich Contract on America thing, and there was great animosity and polarization at that time. It was really harsh. And it had, when I when I contributed my work in the House, that the House chamber seems to have a much more rigid approach in terms of partisan alignment, maybe because many more members in the House generally, and you have caucuses that really depend on having discipline and people falling into line. And when I got over to the Senate, there's a real difference in culture between the two chambers. In my experience in the Senate, it is considered a virtue to try and get some bipartisan support. And it is not easy, but it is an effort and it works in the end. Because we have become more of a blue state than we used to be. We used to flip back and forth in our chambers, but I've been in the minority three times and in the majority three times. So you want to have relationships with people across the aisle because you don't know after the next election where you're going to be exactly. So there's that, don't have the hubris to think you're going to be in the majority all your life. And secondly, we've found that when you pass things on a simply partisan basis, it's possible that they will be repealed in the future. And in fact, and you've brought this up in your book, we currently in this political season have, I believe, five initiatives coming forward to repeal several bills that we passed in the last three or four years, including our Climate Commitment Act and it is going to be difficult. In the past, initiatives have been more proactive about things like raising the minimum wage or providing other benefits. This one is on repealing legislative action, which has a suite of initiatives that were bought and paid for by a very, very millionaire deep pocket advocate. And he paid for the signatures and he got the signatures to the ballot. And we're going to have to deal with the issues that he's bringing forward again. GR: Often on those the names of those initiatives are intentionally misleading. KK: Very misleading and very simple. Initiatives are bad law generally, they're very poorly written and often have to be changed. But politicians are very leery of initiatives. GR: So you've got a chapter in your book on compromise without compromising on values. We do hear that phrase a lot from elected officials. So convince me that this isn't only a slogan. Because it might seem that compromising to get something necessarily involves giving up something of what you value in order to get a deal at all. KK: There's several different methods. Okay, fundamentally, I come out of a background where I negotiated union contracts, right? And union contracts are very similar in some ways. You want to come out of it with a win-win for everybody because you want the company to survive and you want your members to be better off. So that's going after something on a win-win basis as opposed to a zero sum basis and that's just a style of negotiating. Now to get there, generally, I find that you need to have some things to give away, which means your original bill has to have some items that you will work, you know you could give away. So always know your bottom line, know where you can give and where you have to walk away. And that's my fundamental approach to negotiating, and it's been pretty successful over time, but I had to learn it by doing. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is Washington State Senator Karen Keiser. What different kinds, if you can name them or describe them, what different kinds of ambitions have you encountered from your colleagues as an elected official? And are there any kinds of ambitions that you think are dangerous to the system? KK: Well, I don't like to categorize people too much. So, I would just say that some people come to a legislative body as a stepping stone in a game plan, and it may be a political game plan or it may be a professional game plan, but it's not viewed as an avocation or as a profession. It's viewed as a stepping stone to some other goal. And people realize after not very long that you're just in their way. So that's one ambition that I've seen. But I will also say the vast majority of legislators on both sides of the aisle are really in it because they care about their communities. They really care to make things better for the people that they represent. I will say some of them have a very narrow view of who they represent and maybe come from a very, very limited perspective. But one of the great things about legislatures are you meet people from all over who have different perspectives. Your jaw drops sometimes, I never will forget being told that requiring lifejackets when a kid is in a boat is an interference of parental rights. I was absolutely stunned at that assertion. That was beyond my comprehension. But that was one of our members and you had to work with her. GR: I have a right to have my child drown (laughter). KK: Yeah, exactly. And so, you do, your eyes wide and your jaw drops to the floor and you can't believe what you're hearing. But you then have to think about that because they're coming from somewhere that you've never been. GR: Right. Yeah, it's interesting. So, now you've got a chapter in your book on balancing work and family life. And you mentioned this earlier, and thank you for the shout out, I wrote a book on state legislators in different states a while back and I found that that challenge was really huge for many of them. Just that's one of the things that surprised me was just how much they struggled with this and is not only the toll that the service that they were in, public service took on their family life in terms of time and commitments and so on, but also on their financial situation, because in most states, state and local legislators aren't paid very much, they're not as heavily professionalized as they are in other states and even in New York here. This is one of the states that's got the highest pay for state legislators in the country. Most of those folks would earn more and other jobs if they were in other jobs with their skill sets and their resume. So it often involves taking a pay cut. So tell me a bit of what you think about this challenge, what you've learned about it, concerns that you have about these kinds of issues. KK: Well, it's a huge barrier I'm sorry to say, to so many people who could be wonderful lawmakers because they cannot afford to take a pay cut. Or most legislatures in our country, state legislatures are part time jobs. And even though they're part time in a session level, they're really not that part time. You work when you're out of session as well and your pay is part time. So it's very difficult for anybody who is not independently wealthy or having a spouse that supports them or having a job that they can keep and go to the legislature. I was so lucky to have an employer who allowed me to take unpaid leave while I was either campaigning or in the legislature or doing legislative work. And by not having to quit my job and take just a legislative salary, I could not have afforded to do that. I had three kids, I was a single mom, I couldn't do that. And most people have to figure that out before they take the plunge. This is very important for them to think about, because you're going to have to pay for daycare when you're campaigning and when you're in the legislature and all that kind of thing. But you don't have any benefits to take care of that except for a part time salary. You need to have a support system that can be dependent on. It doesn't have to be a spouse, it doesn't have to be a parent. It can be friends and other acquaintances that you can count on back home in your district. The other the other piece is not just financial, but it's also mental because you spend so much of your waking hours working on puzzling out problems or working on finding solutions or going to events because you have to make appearances. You know, I haven't had a 4th of July or Labor Day off in 20 years. And so you miss a lot of family time in that and it just has to be accommodated somehow. I used to take, I used to have a rule to basically take a month off in sometime in August or early September and just be. And I think that's a little bit of balance there. But it's a tough job and you have to think ahead to figure out how to do it. It is actually a barrier for people who, like I said, don't have, come from a secure background economically and don't have a secure situation with their family. I ended up getting divorced because I just couldn't balance it all. And I thought, well, I'll be a good mom but I wasn't a very good wife. GR: I've heard I've heard those stories a lot from legislators. Well, we've got only about 2 minutes left or so, but I want to try to squeeze in two more questions, if I can. The first one is, your book was written, and you're open and honest about this, your book was written from your own experiences and perspectives as a liberal or progressive Democratic member of the state legislature. And oftentimes, I think as I'm reading it, it seems like you're kind of speaking to those folks primarily, not exclusively, but primarily so I just wanted to get you, if you could briefly tell me, because I have one final thing I want to ask you, but briefly, what value for a more conservative or moderate reader is going to be found in this book? KK: Well, I think that the making of sausage is universal. What party you depend on or belong to doesn't matter. The process is the process and you're going to have to go through every step of that process, whichever way you go in terms of your political leanings. And I think the human reality is also something that is really beyond partisanship, which is you learn from other people that have different perspectives. And I have to admit, I learned from people who come from the Republican side of the aisle. And I hope that Republicans learn from the people on the Democratic side of the aisle, too. If you close your mind and your ears to learning, you might as well just hang it up. GR: I think what you just said in my own view is one of the biggest problems with political polarization right now is that it does cause that closing of the mind to happen, unfortunately. So just about half a minute left. Final bottom line question for you, is politics still a noble profession? KK: I don't know that it ever was a noble profession, but I do think that it is in danger right now that the public disdain and the sort of honest skepticism about politics is something we've always had in our country. But what I am getting very concerned about is this dark cynicism, which does seem to pervade almost all conversations now. GR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. We didn't have that dark cynicism in our conversation, though, on a note which I'm glad. That was Karen Keiser and again, her new book is titled, "Getting Elected Is the Easy Part: Working and Winning in the State Legislature". Senator Keiser, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, I really enjoyed this. KK: Thank you very much, Grant. GR: You've been listening to the conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Marc Molinaro on the Campbell Conversations

Mark Molinaro Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations, I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is New York Congressman Marc Molinaro. The Republican was elected in November 2022 to represent the 19th District, a large geographic area that spans from Ithaca in the West to the Massachusetts border in the East and includes the city of Binghamton in the Southwest. Congressman Molinaro previously served as Dutchess County Executive and prior to that served in the New York State Assembly. And before all that, he was elected as mayor of the town of Tivoli at the age of 19. Along the way, he's been a Republican candidate for the governor of New York State. And he's appeared previously on this program. Congressman Molinaro, welcome back to the program. It's good to see you again. Marc Molinaro: Glad to be with you again, Grant. And you've covered the obligatory one time calling me Congressman rule. Now it's Marc, just Marc. GR: (laughter) Well, I don't know, I'll try. MM: Please do. GR: (laughter) Okay. Well, we have a lot to discuss and we'll kind of cover the waterfront today. But the last time that you and I spoke, you talked about, you know, you were kind of just getting going, and you talked about your interest in issues surrounding mental health and substance abuse treatment. So I wanted to start by asking you to share with our listeners what kinds of things you've been doing on that, what's been going on those fronts? MM: I'm glad you asked. You know, I probably said something like and still believe, if our health care system in this country is in crisis, our mental health system is on life support. And I think that's fair. And we've seen certainly an increase in the acknowledgment and recognition of mental wellness as a concern and certainly a rise in the challenges people with mental wellness face. And so, you know, this is a, the 19th district of New York, the eleven counties of upstate New York is a really good test case, an example for the challenges we face. Too many people don't have access, ready access to services. And so expanding access to community based mental health services in communities like ours. So you have you know, you have a progressive community like Ithaca and you have a rural county like Chenango. You have student centers like the ones in Cortland and hills and mountains of Delaware County. And I say that in that, no matter where you live in communities like ours, getting the access and support you need if you're living with mental wellness issues is truly a challenge. So first, it's creating the connection. You know, the federal government rolled out 988, it was once referred to as the suicide hotline. I'm grateful that we've remarketed, rebranded. It is a mental health hotline. It's available, 988 available, you'll be connected no matter what challenge you might be faced with a mental health professional. But here's the problem. Unlike 911, when you dial 911, the FCC has a relationship and cell phone providers particularly have agreed to route those 911 calls to your geographic location. So they triangulate based on those cell towers, now we're getting wonky, and you get to your local 911 dispatcher. 988 is different. Even though the FCC had the resources and the dollars to move this forward a year ago, we're still in the stages where the technology reroutes you based on your area code. And so if you're calling and you're a student in Ithaca or Cortland, or you're by the way, somebody has moved from maybe my end of the district to your end of the district, you're routed to the service center that your area code is associated with it. So there may not be a local connection. Good professional people, but not able to say the campus student services center is available to you, the Binghamton Mental Wellness, you know, et cetera, is available to you. And so we're pushing the FCC, I'm leading the charge to push the FCC to move more aggressively to get that to happen. We fought and we're working pretty hard with our friends in Broome County and in Sullivan County. I think I talked about this, in my previous experience as a county executive, 12 years responsible for overseeing a whole host of things, including community based mental health. My home county launched what is now the most comprehensive, community based mental health infrastructure of any county in the country. And it is the model that New York State is trying to get counties like Broome and Cortland and others, Tompkins, to invest in. And so we're trying to direct some federal resources to Broome County to open a veterans mental health service center, service center for veterans. And we're working with Sullivan County to try to launch a stabilization center, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to provide direct access. And that leaves nine more counties that we're working with one after another to try to expand access to those resources. I truly believe that by investing in mental wellness and mental health, you're not only helping the individual, but societally, more, even broadly, you're confronting a lot of other of our challenges from substance use disorder to those who are criminally involved to just general public health. And in many cases, mental health leads to better physical health. And all of those things can be benefited by expanding access. GR: And you've also got, I believe, an initiative to try to change the way people think about those with mental health issues called, "Think Differently". And say a little bit about that. MM: Well, I'll be careful not to correct you, but to correct you, right? GR: Go ahead. MM: So the Think Differently initiative is focused on those with intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities. GR: Okay. MM: It's okay. But there are there are many links. And in fact, I'd offer to you those, and you'll appreciate this, those in particular who are neurodivergent do end up with significant mental wellness concerns that are often undiagnosed. And so creating the stabilization centers like the one we created in my home county, my former home county, Dutchess. I'm living in green, beautiful Catskill, New York. And so in that situation, we trained our professionals to be aware and alert for those living with disabilities and the connection to mental health. But Think Differently is now a nationally recognized initiative meant to change the way in which we think and support those with intellectual developmental disabilities, breaking down barriers and creating opportunities. And let me just mention, you know, where this is a priority for me. If you ask most people to list the top ten things they're concerned about, perhaps services and support for those with disabilities isn't on your list unless you have a family member with a disability and then it's number one, because it is all consuming. Ask a politician what's on the top ten, they may not have it on their list. Some may get to it sooner or later. For me, it's well within our top ten. It's likely a little bit higher than that because this is a population, these are friends and neighbors who need a voice and need a champion. And so we had two successful Think Differently field days. These were an opportunity in the district to connect individuals with disabilities with service providers. I've introduced a number of Think Differently bills, a whole package of bills, everything from ensuring that emergency responders are aware of and have tools to respond to individuals with disabilities in the case of an emergency, to improving ADA compliance by the nation's largest rail provider, Amtrak. And so and everything in between and several of those bills are moving forward. I expect, in fact, one of them to come to the floor as soon as next week and we continue to expand. (The) Down Syndrome Diagnosis Act to be sure that those with young children who are diagnosed with Down syndrome have access to the supports their health insurance might provide, so on and so on. And what I'll tell you is, because you'll appreciate this as much as I do, when you're talking about mental wellness or issues related to those with disabilities, this isn't partisan. Nobody is fighting left or right. It's just is this your priority or not? And I've been blessed to work with tremendous community leaders and service providers around the district and wonderful Republican and Democrat leadership in both Washington and Albany to move these policies forward. GR: Well, I appreciate your correction at the outset. Because of some of my family experiences and experiences that you and I share, I tend to lump all those things into one pot when I'm thinking about them, but it is important to separate them out. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm speaking with first term Congressman Marc Molinaro, who represents New York's 19th congressional district. Well, obviously since we last talked, there's been a lot that's gone on in the House of Representatives, perhaps the biggest thing has to do with the speaker. MM: Yeah. GR: You've got a new speaker, Mike Johnson. What are your early impressions of him as a leader of the House? MM: Yeah, so I worked very hard to express to my colleagues that we have to deliver and we're not going to deliver for the people we serve, I'm not going to get the priorities that upstate New York has to the floor and federal government response if we were going to spend weeks in hallways trying to pick who the next speaker is. And I'll let you know, like most voters, my frustrations got the better of me. And I sort of spoke and said the things that many of my constituents are saying every day, which is, you've got to get the job done, you've got to get back to work. And we care deeply, we voters, we neighbors of upstate New York, care deeply about public safety and immigration and mental health and substance use, natural resource protection, so get back on the floor and get to work. And so I tell people, you know, we should be judged in part for those three weeks. I think it was a mistake certainly to oust the speaker. You had eight Republicans and every Democrat of the House vote to oust the speaker of the House. I just think it's a mistake that should not have occurred and it's something that should never be repeated. Mike Johnson, when I met with him and I'll tell you, I met with him and had a real deep heart to heart conversation before his name finally came to the floor in our conference meetings about making sure members like me and districts like ours are going to be listened to. And that's for me what matters. You know, the person who holds the gavel has some weight. But if that person is going to listen to us upstate New Yorkers who know too often what it's like to be ignored by federal and state government officials, if we're going to have a seat at the table, that's important to me. And sort of symbolically, he asked me to serve on the Escort Committee to help him, introduce him to the House, his very first days as a speaker. And even now, tomorrow we're going be sitting down, I'll be representing members like me and voters like the ones and neighbors like the ones I represent in a very important conversation about a future appropriations to support Israel, the consideration of concerns in Ukraine, border security. And so having a seat at the table is what's important because again, our voters deserve to have their voices heard and he's guaranteeing us an opportunity. GR: Well, that's interesting to hear. And I do want to come back to both Israel and Ukraine a little bit later. But let me ask you another question about Johnson as speaker. You've already kind of alluded to this in different ways, but there have been some concerns expressed about him looking at his background and his career in the House up to the moment where he became speaker. And I think it's fair to say, and you said when you were talking about members like you, you know, you were distinguishing, I think, someone who's more to the middle than where he's been in his past. And just a couple examples here. As an attorney, for example, he argued for the criminalization of homosexuality, and as a House member, he contested the 2020 election results. You know, you're obviously a bit on the more moderate side. Do those kind of things worry you? I mean, it sounds like you feel at this point anyway, pretty reassured that that he's going to be inclusive and how he handles things. MM: Well, he should be judged by his previous actions and how they will or will not apply now as a speaker. So, what you may have done as an individual member and voted as an individual member has to be tempered by the concept that as speaker, which is what he assured us, is that you got to build the coalitions, the consensus necessary move legislation. But of course, he should be judged for those things, as I should be judged for my opposition to some of those things. And so what I tell people is, just as, by the way, what I could have accomplished as a county executive, I have to now be judged on what I can accomplish as a member of Congress, they're different roles and I think he understands that and I'm assured that he understands that. And so that's important, but I want to reassert, you know, I believe that the people I serve, you know, your neighbors and my neighbors, we truly know what it's like to be ignored by big business and employers leaving. We know what it's like to be overlooked by state officials because they're more concerned about the votes downstate. I want to be sure, regardless of who the speaker of the House is, that your voice is heard. And I have received that assurance both verbally and in action. And by the way, again, in a close majority like ours, our votes matter. And so here's an example, the Agriculture Appropriation bill, the budget for agriculture policy in this country had a provision that would have prohibited over the counter mailing of over the counter birth control pills. What does that have to do with agriculture policy? Nothing. And so I objected. And it is not moving forward and it will not move forward without readdressing those issues. And so, you know, I think, again, it's not a reflection on him. It's just this House is run by the people. And the people are you and your voices need to be heard. And he's assured me both by action and word that those voices, my voice is going to be at the table. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with Republican Congressman Marc Molinaro. He was elected in November of 2022 to represent New York's 19th congressional district. One of the things that the new speaker we were talking about, the new speaker before the break, one of the things that he will have to negotiate successfully which is going to be difficult, is the budget. And we're operating currently, the government is operating under another continuing resolution. The provisions of those resolutions are set to expire in January and in February. What do you think the prospects are for a successful negotiation of the budget that's going to be more permanent, that's going to get us out of that cycle of continuing resolutions? MM: Well, let's be clear that we have a marriage of three, the House, the Senate and the president. And I wanted to offer you is everyone sees things just a little bit differently. And so the burden of this is not entirely on one House nor one branch, but all of us to find consensus. And so I will say that I worked aggressively to have a process that would move forward individual appropriations bills, up or down. Agriculture bill, I couldn't support, hasn't moved. Labor bill, which would have too much impact on the most vulnerable in our communities, I couldn't support, isn't moving forward. National defense is, homeland security is. And so what I'd offer to you is that the House has adopted about 90% of the federal budget. Our bills are adopted waiting for the Senate. The Senate I think is about halfway there, 45%, and we are now in the midst of negotiations. What I spoke of earlier in fact tomorrow whenever your listeners hear this, it may have been yesterday by then but nevertheless, I'll be part of negotiation, speaking up for pragmatic members like us and upstate New Yorkers like we are. And so that process is ongoing, we can negotiate forward, but it is important that we respect taxpayers. We cannot continue to borrow way our kids' future, the federal government continue to spend money it doesn't have. But at the same time, we need to balance that against the need to be responsible to taxpayers and constituents, the American people rely on services we provide. And finding that sweet spot, that balance is really what I'm focused on. And I'll tell you, it's how we got the debt ceiling agreement, the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which does, by the way, save $2 trillion in taxpayer money while at the same time being respectful of the fact that you can't just arbitrarily gut the budget without actually focusing on how you deliver services. And so these are the kinds of challenges that we face. But I'm confident we're making some good progress. I think that the continuing resolution, which got bipartisan support in both houses, speaks to the capacity to reach those agreements and the American people demand it. We have a bipartisan government by design or default, we need bipartisan solutions and that's what I'm focused on. GR: And aid for Ukraine and aid for Israel and also thinking about the war in Israel more broadly. But those are both going to be part of the budget agenda. What are your views on aiding Israel and aiding Ukraine and also on the idea of treating and voting on those two things separately versus doing them together? MM: Well, let me offer, generally my perspective is that America needs to continue to assert its leadership in the world and that leadership isn't based merely on strategic interests, but also on the advancement of individual liberty. The concept that everyone should enjoy the same God given rights that we protect or seek to protect here in this country. And that's needs to be balanced against the concern, which I share, that we cannot continue to enter into every conflict without an exit strategy, because there's just no capacity to do that and we don't want to further and put at risk America's servicemen and women when that is unnecessary to do so and so those are the bookends. I think in the case of, so in both cases, we're going to evaluate a Ukraine and an Israel supplemental. That actually is what will likely happen in the next 30 days. And I think that there needs to be oversight, accountability and some degree of certainty as to the mission in Ukraine so that we don't end up in a in a ceaseless battle. But in the same respect America needs to assert itself as a way of showing that to China and other aggressors like Putin and others that we're just not merely going to allow folks to take illegal and warlike actions in this world. So oversight accountability is important. Exit and sort of mission accomplished strategy is important and that's what really I'm going to ask to try to address. As it relates to Israel, we have a fundamental obligation to stand with Israel. And I understand, to a degree, the concerns that everyone has. But no, no one in the world is a more important ally to us than Israel. It's as simple as that, not just in the Middle East, but in the world. And because of that relationship we established in the 1940's, we believe then as we do now, Israel is the embodiment of not only democratic principles, but human principles in the Middle East. And what we saw was a vile terrorist strike against innocent people. And in response to that, Israel has the right and in some case the responsibility to defend itself. And in that defense, sadly, there are going to be lives lost, that shouldn't be should be discounted in any way, we care deeply about this, but this is a moment of war. And Hamas, as terrorists themselves are embedded in every aspect of the Palestinian Authority and I use that lowercase p lowercase a. But within Gaza, Hamas has been emboldened and Israel has a right and responsibility to confront it, just as we would had we been attacked in such a way. And of course, just as we did when we were attacked, in 911. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to The Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is first term Congressman Marc Molinaro. I wanted to stick with the issue of Israel here, and this may be what we'll talk about for the final part of the program. You've alluded to this, but I wanted to dig a little deeper on it. Do you have any concerns though, in Israel's response that they're being overly aggressive or too general in some of their bombing strikes? Because those criticisms have been aired in this country and certainly around the world. MM: I am concerned about the loss of any life. I say that fundamentally, I am concerned about the loss of any life. At the same time, I recognize that Israel was attacked and in response to that attack, because no one of authority has stood up to Hamas in in Gaza. Hamas has used individuals as human shields, they've embedded themselves strategically in communities and in neighborhood where innocent individuals live. And they they've used every tool, every vile tool that they can to act out to extinguish Israel. And as many leaders, Republicans and Democrats of good, solid background will say, if Israel doesn't press for the total elimination of Hamas, Hamas will only be emboldened and likely this will continue. And so I want us to be as sensitive to that as possible. It's why, by the way, we worked very hard to get Israeli or American citizens in Israel out. Our offices worked to get dozens of people out of Israel. And it's why, by the way, if Israel believes that this hostage exchange is in their best interest, then they should continue to press, obviously, for this exchange. But I would offer to you that every hostage that Hamas has taken needs to be returned, they all need to come home. And so the fact that Hamas is harboring women and children as hostages should in its very self, speak to the need for Israel to be strong in its response. And frankly, I think America needs to support that. GR: And as things can change rapidly in this area, I want to remind our listeners, you and I are talking on November 29th and so things may be different by the time they hear this. I wanted to ask you now about this issue, but from the standpoint of here at home, thinking about the United States. Have you been surprised? I mean, it's still the case that a majority of the nation supports Israel. But have you been surprised by the large numbers who have expressed deep concerns and in some cases very strong criticisms over Israel's behavior? Has that surprised you? MM: I'm surprised by the level of by which those, that opposition is fueled by what is blatant anti-Semitism. In moments of war, there are those who support and those who oppose. But in this case, there are those who oppose simply on the grounds that they are engaging in, embracing of or party to anti-Semitism. And they could suggest they're not, but they are. Israel is a democracy that protects its minorities unlike any other nation in the Middle East. It elects its leaders and its leaders represent the people that live there. There is no other Middle Eastern country that protects its minorities as Israel does. That said, the level of anti-Semitism is truly frightening. I mean, it just truly is frightening. But I also will tell you that whether it's through K-12 or college education, we're missing opportunities to remind people of the horrible experience Jews around the world lived through, not only through the Holocaust, but coming into and up to the Holocaust. And there's just far too many of America's children who think, young people who think the Holocaust is was overstated and that somehow Israel is the aggressor. We have to get back to educating people to be critical thinkers, but also to understand that the indiscriminate loss of millions of Jewish lives during the Holocaust led to this country standing shoulder to shoulder with our partners and friends in Israel. And there are just too many American Jews that are frightened. I mean, I talk to them on college campuses, I've met with them in neighborhoods. They're just frightened because of the level of hate and anger and that needs to be confronted. GR: I've got friends who are who are very frightened. And, you know, to your point about education, I've just seen some polling that was interesting. And that's that when you break it down by age, the support for Israel almost flip flops as you get younger and I think it speaks to what you're saying there. We only got about a minute and a half or so left, but I wanted to ask you one other question about this issue. And I'm going to say, I'm going to own the observation here, but then see what you think about it. It does seem to me that there is a segment on the left of this country that very quickly, I mean, in some cases even before Israel made a response, started leveling criticisms of Israel's not only its treatment of Palestinians, but even some of them seemed to suggest that the terrorist attack was somehow deserved or, you know, the country had it coming. And I'll have to say, you know, you hear a lot of these voices at colleges and universities. There was certainly a strong one at Cornell that went way over the line in your district. So, you know, in only about a minute. Does that concern you, and one of the things I'm trying to puzzle out, and you already spoke to it is, is anti-Semitism a cause or is it sort of an effect? Do people start by having this view of Israel and then it kind of bleeds over? I mean, you know, it's really complicated. I'm only giving you a minute, I'm sorry. MM: The shortest answer to all three of those questions is yes, it concerns me. It is both in the cause and the outcome. I mean, and the fact that some will comfortably fall or find their way to anti-Semitic feelings or thoughts should be troubling enough to all of us. In other words, anti-Semitism is not an excuse for accepting something that you think is rightful. And I don't know if I describe that particularly correctly. But to suggest, there are those that either start from anti-Semitic views or end there and neither of them, none of that is acceptable. But again, this is what I think, we have to do better to educate kids and young people about history and critical thought. And I stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel's right to defend itself. GR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. I'm sure we could talk about this for hours, but that was Marc Molinaro. Congressman Molinaro, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me again, I really appreciate it. MM: Anytime. Happy holidays, Merry Christmas. GR: You too, you too. You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Phyllis Chesler on the Campbell Conversations

Phyllis Chesler Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Hi, this is Grant Reeher. Some of you may strongly disagree with some of the views you're about to hear from my guest on this week's program. That in itself doesn't make it any different from other programs, but the topic this week is extremely politically charged and has deep emotions attached to it. For that reason, I want to remind you that these are the views of one guest, and not those of NPR or WRVO. Thank you. Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is a lifelong feminist scholar and writer who is deeply concerned with some of the rhetoric from self-styled feminists that is critical of Israel and its war with Hamas and supportive of Hamas in Palestine. Phyllis Chesler is a psychotherapist and a professor emerita at City University of New York. She's written many books among them, "Women and Madness", "An American Bride in Kabul", and, "The New anti-Semitism". Professor Chesler, welcome to the program. Phyllis Chesler: My pleasure to be with you. GR: Well, thanks for making the time. So let me just start right at the beginning with something very basic. Give me some examples, if you could, of the public expressions that you have been seeing recently and hearing that worry you and concern you. PC: More than 62 days after Hamas launched a pogrom on steroids from Gaza into Israel, the public (audio cuts out) feminism (audio cuts out)... Nobody said this is rape, this is barbarism, we believe this happened. They shot their own footage joyfully. And yet feminist icon after feminist icon, feminist listserv after feminist listserv said nothing. They didn't decry it. When they spoke, most said yes. But the Palestinian civilians are in danger and they see as the rest of the academy and the United Nations, all human rights groups and the media in general, they see Israel as the Nazi apartheid nation state, complete big lie, a lethal lie and they think that Hamas, funded by Iran, which has America in its gunsights, they think that Hamas, a terrorist group, are resistance fighters. And in the streets of our country, they're marching in favor of death, in favor of genocide. They denying what they've seen with their own eyes. So that's one example. GR: Well, I made a, give you perhaps another one you'll want to put on your list, and unfortunately it's from Syracuse University. But I wanted to get your reaction to this, this one caught my eye. This was a statement that was made public from the Department of Women's and Gender Studies. And well, let me read it to you, and I'll just read you the first paragraph. "We..." and this was this was a statement that was made public, and it was also repeated by some faculty in their classes, "We, members of the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University mourn the lives claimed by the violence in Palestine and Israel and denounce the escalating Israeli military attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. This position reflects our longstanding feminist commitments to anti-racist education, emancipatory politics and decolonial praxis. We are in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli settler colonialism and occupation and support Palestinians in Gaza who are being subjected to ongoing Israeli military violence through indiscriminate bombing, collective punishment of civilians, and the prohibition of life sustaining resources such as water, food and electricity. We oppose the act of genocide..." I want to repeat that, "We oppose the act of genocide of a dispossessed people and population who are trapped and what the UN, Israeli and international human rights organizations have long called an open-air prison". Okay, so that seems to be in the same vein then, of the things you're talking about? PC: Oh, absolutely, yes. But alas, or to cover my shame as a feminist, a real one, it's not just feminists. However, they have long been since the 1980's, they are Stalinized and they are Palestinianized and they view America as the Big Satan as Iran does, and Israel as the little Satan. And they really are concerned with the occupation of a country called Palestine, which has never existed in history, more so than with the occupation of women's bodies in Gaza or on the British mandatory West Bank I call Judea and Samaria. They do not care. They will not say, well, Hamas is forcing women to a face veil and wear hijab and marry as children and marry into polygamous unions and they risk being honor killed if they won't marry their first cousin or want to leave a violent marriage. Because for them, what used to be radical feminism or real women's studies, which lasted about a decade I think, maybe 15 years at most, their concern now is with the abolition of prisons on behalf of black men with anti-racism, as long as it doesn't mean Jew hatred, that's not seen as racism. They're concerned with, if there's a colonizer, that means someone's colonized, someone's got to be blamed. And they have, against all evidence based truth, against proof, footage, videos, they've decided that Israel must be the oppressor. And so they repeat these indoctrinated lies, open-air prison, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, what occupation are they talking about? What open air prison? Unless they mean that Hamas, which is true enough, has created their own people, turn them into human shields for the purpose of debt, for good propaganda. But that's not what they mean. So why are they teaching at universities? Who are they? GR: Well, I wanted to focus in on one phrase because it's something that I've been struggling with, and it is this use of the word genocide to describe what Israel is doing right now. And certainly it seems to me that people can have disagreements over whether the response of Israel is proportionate and whether it is careful enough or discriminate enough, I suppose to use the language here of the Women's Studies Department, but I have heard this a number of times, this use of the word genocide to describe it. First of all, by my understanding of what that word is, what Israel is doing cannot be considered genocide, it's not the indiscriminate and complete effort to eradicate a people. They're not rounding up people, civilians by the hundreds of thousands and just killing them and so that concerns me. But the other piece of this that concerns me is, given the history of the Jewish people, given the Holocaust and World War Two, to use that word, seems to me to be at the very best, incredibly insensitive. Now, I guess I'm giving my own opinion here, but I wanted to ask you about this, that's a hell of a loaded question I just asked you, and I apologize for that, but I just wanted to get your sense of the use of that word in this context. PC: It's post-Orwellian. Black is white. It is such a reversal of reality. First, the Palestinian population or the Gazan population has grown while Israel did occupy Gaza and since it left Gaza. So if we're talking genocide, you would imagine the numbers would be down by millions, but that is hardly the case. But I think also, one thing I didn't mention, and the hysteric herd-like overstatement of certain brainwashed words like genocide, genocide is everywhere, Palestine is everything, anything is equal to anything else. There is no objective standard or reality left in the academy. But what the feminists and the, everyone, public intellectuals, human rights activists, they do not want to accuse men of color, especially if they're Muslim, especially if they have been in countries that were once occupied by Britain, for example, or by Turkey before that. They don't want to accuse them of committing any kind of barbaric crimes because that would be a colonialist (audio cuts out) overreach. So the fact their victims are other people of color who are also Muslims for the most part, it seems to be a blind spot. So, are these professors? And I have to say, I'm happy to hear that they're still calling Women's Studies, "Women and Gender", that's very good, because in general, women have been disappeared and it's gender and sexuality studies. And the sexuality studies have been totally taken over by, quote, queer and transgender profiles and these are the courses. I did a survey of the Ivy Leagues a few years ago in terms of gender studies, I couldn't believe what I was reading. Queer people in the Caribbean in the 19th century. And I thought, all right, I'm open minded, but what has this got to do with the violence (audio cuts out) issues that we raised in the second wave, which began with rape, went to sexual harassment, then incest, then woman battering. These are not sexy issues anymore, even though, I mean, rape, what's the slogan at #metoo, believe what a woman says. Never believe a man, always believe a woman. Well, but not if she's Jewish, not if she's in Israel and half of Israelis are not white. They are Jews from Arab and African countries who were forced to flee by the Muslims who hate Jews. And on that subject, I work with Muslims and for Muslims who do not hate Jews and who are pro-Israel, God bless them, as well as Christians. So, and many of them are feminists, so I don't know who these feminists are in women's studies, do you? GR: Well, I'm asking you, you're the expert. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm speaking with the psychotherapist and feminist writer, Phyllis Chesler. So, you mentioned a couple of things I want to get into a bit later about where some of these views might be coming from in terms of the history behind who these groups are. But I did want to ask you something else that's in the news cycle in the last few days. The other day, there was an incident that has gone viral. It was Congresswoman Elise Stefanik's challenge of the presidents of MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. They are all female presidents, as it happens, I believe. And their refusal to state that, in the hearing, their refusal to state that calling for the genocide of Jewish people violates their university's code of conduct and none of them would be willing to do that. They all said it depends on the context and whether it leads to behavior. And Congresswoman Stefanik, I think, was genuinely shocked by this, I don't think it was just political theater. Do you have any reactions to what these presidents were saying? If you've seen this video clip? PC: I've watched it, it's outrageous. I doubt that they would have the same response if students marched and said, shoot all the blacks, kill them now, lynch them, hang them from trees, let's get rid of the Hispanics, or let's build a wall on the southern border of America. That would be seen as inflammatory, incendiary, it would be seen as hate speech and it would be condemned. But Jews, it's cool, it's okay, that's free speech. And for years in the 21st Century, I kept writing about the way in which the concept of academic freedom and free speech are being increasingly used to engage in Jew hatred. And anti-Semitism is now anti-Zionism, they are one and the same. There's only one Jewish state, and that seems to be considered the very worst country on Earth, not Sudan, wait, I'm remembering something. Remember how the feminists and the women activists were so quick to condemn the so-called rape camps in Bosnia? The rapes in Rwanda, the rapes in Africa, in North Africa, done by paramilitary Islamist groups? Certainly I called it a gender cleansing in the Sudan, the public repeated gang rapes of girls and women by the Janjaweed. And on this utter silence, what conclusions can I draw other than the anti-American, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, that's the Stalinization. And in a terrible way, the anti-woman, I mean, rape is rape no matter who was being raped and in Israel, boys and men were raped by these barbarians as well. And I think that the way to handle this, and I wrote a quick piece, is to have an Eichmann like or a Nuremberg like trial in Jerusalem after Israel, only after Israel is militarily victorious. GR: I want to follow up on a couple of things you said, but we have to take a break. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with Phyllis Chesler. She's an emeritus professor at City University of New York and a psychotherapist and feminist writer. We've been discussing her concerns about some of the public rhetoric about the Israeli-Hamas war. So, Professor Chesler, you've mentioned this at a couple of points in the first part of our conversation, I want to draw it out a little more directly. And it has to do with where some of this stuff might be coming from that you're concerned about. And from day one, I've had this theory and you seem to be saying it's a similar version of it, and that is that the criticism among some of the left of Israel seems to me to be criticism of the United States by proxy and in the extreme form, anti-Americanism. And it does seem like something that was already pent up came forward like the day after the attack. And it does seem like, I wanted to get your sense of that, I wonder if that's one of the things that's really driving this. PC: The sight of Jewish blood thrilled and excited the long prepared, globalized intifada activists who've been funded by left wing people like Soros, the Tides Foundation, who have been funded by, to some extent, the Arab oil countries and by, certainly by the Rockefeller Fund Foundation. So this has been long in coming. And you're right, this is anti-Americanism, Israel's taking the hard hit. And America with the academics, the intellectuals and the politicians are not paying attention to the danger to us from Iran. Iran right now is causing the kind of international conflict that the secretary general just said he's got to invoke Article 99 because the conflict is spreading all on Israel, excuse me, Iran is having Hezbollah in Lebanon, rocket after rocket. They're shooting during a so-called cease fire into the north of Israel. And the Houthis in Yemen are attacking American warships in the Red Sea in the Mediterranean, excuse me, the international conflict or if you will, the increasing visibility of World War Three is clear to me. And why the American presidents, why Congress doesn't get this and doesn't act on it instead of funding Iran and appeasing Iran is everything that President Obama started. So I think that there are all these factors at play. And then add to it, the left wing academic curriculum. America once had slavery, the fact that we had a civil war to abolish it matters not, it did exist, original sin can't be cleansed, no awareness that Islam practices slavery to this day and always has, as well as being a colonial power. I mean, once I lived in Afghanistan, which was, believe it or not, a Buddhist country, until Arab Muslims came and took it down and turned it Islamic. So every continent and every religion has committed all kinds of crimes, it's not just America and America might be the best relatively speaking. And so the way of thinking that one culture is really the same as another, one culture can't judge another, everything is kind of equal and everything is relative, but America is to blame. White people are to blame, Israel is to blame. This is Stalinist thinking and there was a huge amount of Russian propaganda that became absorbed in the bloodstream of Westerners. And then add to that Arab League propaganda, then add to that Islamic, basic quintessential Koranic propaganda and you have this brew, this dangerous brew that bubbles up as Jew hatred to start with, soon will be infidel hatred acted on in the West. GR: Now, let me interject here and say now, my thought about the anti-Americanism driving it, it wasn't as deeply rooted as what you just said. I was thinking more in terms of the fact that the United States is Israel's single biggest, or Israel is the single biggest recipient of foreign aid and a lot of that is military aid and the fact that we have stood by Israel over the years. And so I wanted to ask you though, two questions here. One is, some people hearing this, I think, are going to be very concerned about some of the ways that you're talking about this and that it's going to sound to them like you are engaging in a similar kind of thinking that you are criticizing just from the other side. And so I wanted to get your reaction to that and then I'll come back with the other thing. But what how would you respond to that? PC: Well, unfortunately, the anti-Zionist anti-Semites have been fed propaganda, I have not. I have researched and I've read and I've thought and I've consulted with military experts, counterterrorism experts, psychologists, psychiatrists. I'm now thinking about the trauma of people who have been not only held captive but who have been brainwashed as well, I'm talking about the Israeli hostages. And while I can't, let me say this, of course I'm concerned about the death of innocents, and that includes innocents in Gaza. But most of the innocents in Gaza voted Hamas in and now, of course, can't get rid of them, can't get rid of them even though they're being used horribly as human shields and always have been, even though Hamas, clearly we can see even though people are excelling in denying their own eyes, they're choosing their narrative above reality. And I'm not sure how to break that hold. So I don't, I mean, while I could be not expressing at this moment enough sympathy for Gazans who are in a dreadful situation caused by their own leadership, and it could be ended in a moment, all Hamas has to do is return all the hostages safe and sound to Israel, all Egypt has to do is accept these Gazan civilians, let them out. All right, keep them in a camp if you don't want them to become citizens, which, by the way, no Arab country, 57 of them have refused the populations in the areas as we have after every single war in human history. Refugees in flight have been, they've become citizens elsewhere and life moved on. Only in this instance, the Palestinians are being used from the river to the sea to get rid of the single Jewish state. So, this could end in a minute. GR: My understanding also, correct me if I'm wrong, is that the Arab countries have not in the past provided much support or help to Palestine. PC: No support, none. It is, you know I was part of a grassroots team that rescued 400 women from Afghanistan, one of whom I've made my granddaughter from Afghanistan and she's excelling in graduate school here, she's an amazing young woman. And we could not get Arab countries to accept them. And these are Sunni Arabs as they are, not Shia from Iran. And the lack of responsibility for, I mean, the whole this entire disaster could have been solved if Jordan had said, yes, you know, actually, we're the Palestinian state, come home, everyone come home to Jordan. But that never happened because they wanted a fake Hashemite dynasty. So this is not on Israel, this is on the Arab world. It's on Iran, it's on Hamas. GR: Well, we've only got about 3 minutes left or so. But there's another kind of topic I wanted to make sure that I covered with you here and it's a more personal question, if I could. I wanted to know how you have experienced this personally. Obviously, you've got very strong views of your own. And if I could just share one thing very quickly on this or in this context, is I'm a little different from a lot of other academics in that I have friends and acquaintances that span the entire ideological spectrum. And I'm proud of this in the last seven years, I've managed to avoid losing any friends over politics throughout all of this. But, I have lost my first friendship over this issue and I'm struggling with it. So I just want to know, have you have you dealt with this kind of thing since this war has started? PC: Oh, my dear, when I published after many, many purely feminist works, some bestsellers, some very influential in the academic world and beyond, when I published, "The New Anti-Semitism" in 2003 because I absolutely felt I had to speak out, that was the first time that The New York Times didn't review a book of mine. That was the first time that major left liberal venues, wouldn't interview me even to fight with me because I held the left liberal intelligentsia in the West as responsible as the 9/11'ers, as the Islamists and terrorists. And then, funny thing began to happen on the way to the forum. But this was going on before, that's a longer story. Yeah, there are feminists now who have not reached out to me, some of whom I've sent one of my pieces about the rape issue and their silence, asked for something and either no response or very hostile response. These are not close friends though. And a lot of distance kept, a lot of silence, which is profound. So I'm thinking you know, I work with Muslims who are feminists, men and women. I work with Christians who are feminists, men and women. I'm not going to say that feminists have failed entirely because it's not true, not true. I'm a founding member of something called the Clarity Coalition, go look it up, they have a website. So, but the feminists of the second wave, third wave, fourth wave, their silence is reverberating down in history and will never be forgotten. Never. GR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. That was Phyllis Chesler. Professor Chesler, thanks so much again for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciated it. PC: It's my pleasure. Good questions. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

C.W. Goodyear on the Campbell Conversations

C.W. Goodyear(Mark Lavonier / https://www.cwgoodyearbooks.com/) Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. You know the name James Garfield, probably, but how much else do you know about him and why might he be relevant to thinking about today's politics? My guest today is a historian who has written a new definitive biography of Garfield. C.W. Goodyear's new book is titled, "President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier". Charlie, welcome to the program. CW Goodyear: I agree and thank you for having me on. It's a pleasure. GR: It's great to have you on. So, as I mentioned just a second ago, for a lot of our listeners, I think Garfield probably occupies this murky middle between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century. So, to start us off, just give us a very, very brief thumbnail sketch of Garfield's background, you know, the highlights of his career and then when and how he becomes president. CWG: Sure. His career is, he was described, James Garfield, and I'm surprised by the way, you mentioned in the introduction that readers would probably have heard of him, many probably would not have. But James Garfield was even before his election to the presidency, he was our 20th president, he was already being described by his contemporaries as one of the most impressive, accomplished and influential Americans in the history of our nation. Rutherford Hayes categorized Garfield as being above Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln in terms of statesmen who would started so low but accomplished so much in all of our history. And so I'll give you a quick rundown. Garfield was born in a log cabin in rural Ohio. He was actually the last president to be born in a log cabin. Raised by a single mother, never really knew his dad, but by his late twenties, he was a state senator, college president and a very prominent abolitionist preacher all at the same time. And then you fast forward another year and change, and he is actually the youngest general at that time in the Union Army. And then you fast forward another year and change, and he is, by his categorization, the youngest congressman in the nation. And then you have a 17 year House career that follows which is almost a record breaker by the standards of that time in American history. And that House career, by the way, ends with him being elected to the presidency. He was the only American to ever be a congressman, a senator elect and a president elect all at the same time. He was also simultaneously a practicing Supreme Court attorney while he was in Congress. He was a prolific writer, he wrote these great columns for The Atlantic and the North American Review. He founded the first federal Department of Education as a congressman. And then on top of that, he authored an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. GR: Wow! CWG: So, yeah, it was an incredible, incredible career and a very long one. You know, his persistence on the national level was insane. And then he was assassinated. He was the second president to be assassinated. And I, you know, I think it's generally understood now that by virtue of being assassinated, a remarkable career was remembered for how it ended rather than its full breadth. GR: Yeah, I want to get into some of that a little bit later. So, well, now that you've just given that answer, this question sounds a bit dumb, but I'm going to ask it anyway. So why did you decide to write this full on biography of him now? CWG: Yeah, no that is a good question. I was working at the time as a ghostwriter in D.C., this is about five years ago. And I was very interested, just as a researcher and a writer in finding a period of our history where there was division overrunning our nation, economically, socially, politically, racially. And I wanted to find that period of our history and I wanted to find somebody who was on a national level leading in a way that was trying to overcome those divisions. So I was drawn to reconstruction in the Gilded Age. And throughout those eras, the post-Civil War and then the post post-Civil War, I found the same name appearing in all of these important national events and it was James Garfield. But his career would be distilled, this long career would be distilled into a single sentence very often in these histories. It would be, James Garfield, future president would be assassinated, you know, within his first year in office. But then, and this goes back to my prior answer, the more I dug up about him, the less fair that seemed as a record. And so I got sucked in. And, you know, by gosh, the subject just unfolded and it became, the book became far longer than a lot of us would appreciate but it was just a real blast. When you find a good subject as you know, it just possesses you. So it became a very fun odyssey from then on. GR: Well, you mentioned this when you were talking about his career, but my understanding is that he became, for the standards of the day, and it's in your title, a radical by that standard then in his thinking about the Civil War and the treatment of those who were slaves and would become former slaves after the war. How did that radicalness of his thinking develop and what exactly were some of the basic contours of those beliefs? CWG: Yeah, so from the very outset of the Civil War, Garfield was a radical Republican. So he was from a wing of the Republican Party that was militantly progressive on these issues of race and equality in American society. They were too, for lack of a better term, the radical Republicans were to the left of Lincoln and where Lincoln was slow to implement the abolition of slavery and slow to warm up to the ideas of civil and political equality, radicals were there right from the very beginning. And they believed wholeheartedly that the Civil War was not really a war about sovereignty, it was not really about preserving the union. In fact, it was really about addressing the root cause of this division in society, which was inequality of race. And so Garfield was a member of that faction from the very beginning. He had this firebrand progressivism that he intertwined with patriotic history. He blended progressive ideology in the civic religion of America very, very passionately. The origins of that have much to do with where he was from, northeast Ohio, the Western Reserve. And that was a militantly progressive region of the nation on these issues. It's been estimated by one historian that the Western Reserve had a higher concentration of stops on the Underground Railroad as any other part of the nation. And the social and political history of that is very, there's also a religious aspect to that as well. Garfield's brand of Christianity, the Disciples of Christ in that region, believes wholeheartedly in, you know, implementing equality of race. But when he got into Congress halfway through the Civil War, he was described as wild a radical as ever set foot in the halls of the Capitol. That's how they described the young firebrand James Garfield, "that radical James Garfield". GR: One famous presidential historian has claimed that for most presidents, there's a moment in their lives, often it can be an early political victory, sometimes it's a loss that informs the way they approach their careers and particularly when they become president. Was there a moment like that for Garfield? It sounds like he had so many accomplishments that maybe he didn't have that, I don't know. CWG: He did. I'll tell you what, it was not the loss of an election because Garfield never lost an election. He had a perfect political record, which just adds to his resume. But there was something that really did define his style of national politics from a certain, you know, as the subtitle of my book indicates, "...From Radical to Unifier", Garfield became distinctive and it actually was the reason he was elected to the presidency in the end anyway. He became distinctive as being this remarkably conciliatory, pragmatic, ideologically flexible legislator in an increasingly partisan era. Other Republicans as varied as Ulysses Grant to Frederick Douglass to all these other reformist Republicans, they all said the same thing about James Garfield. They all said he lacked moral backbone because he was seen as being so friendly, so kind, so open minded that he was really almost useless in a pitched partisan battle. Now, when did that emerge, when did this firebrand young radical in the post-Civil War Congress change his mind? The impeachment of Andrew Johnson. There's this great line, because Garfield, you know, he, having been one of these firebrands and who believed militantly in the need for a thorough reconstruction, when he saw the impeachment of Andrew Johnson continuing on and he anticipated the political cost the radicals would pay for pursuing a pretty weak impeachment agenda, he started to back off those principles and he had this great line. He had a few great lines, and I'll spare you the details from this period. But one of them, and he's you know, he's sitting there in the trials and he writes, "I'm trying to do two things, which, if I'm to judge by the theatrics around me, are going to be very hard to accomplish. I'm trying to be a radical and not a fool." So you see him starting to change his tune on politics in America being not about necessarily what's ideologically right, but about but perfecting the art of the possible. And that's where that change happens. GR: Of course, that has no relevance to anything today. CWG: (laughter) GR: I'm Grant Reeher. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations, and my guest is C.W. Goodyear and we're discussing his new biography of James Garfield titled, "James (President) Garfield: From Radical to Unifier". So he was also known as a political reformer of the spoils system. So tell us a little bit about that. CWG: Yeah, he was. So, it's really interesting because the term civil service reform, you say that to a modern audience and you think it's designed to put them to sleep. But in fact, civil service reform was the blazing grassroots political movement of the second half of the 19th century. And what it involved, the Federal Bureaucracy, our civil service system on the federal level, it was not professionalized. In fact, most wings of the federal government from clerks in local courts to local sheriffs to local tax collectors and even post office workers, these were not professional civil servants, they were political appointees. So you had political control by local congressmen of federal jobs. And that was a recipe for corruption and machine politics on a grand industrializing scale. And you saw civil servants legally and then not legally taking public money for private use, rigging elections, paying bribes to senators and congressmen in exchange for jobs. And so this idea of reforming our federal government to make federal jobs awarded, not based on politics, but just competitive examination. That was a massive movement and a very important one and a very frustrating one and Garfield was part of that. He was though, I'll say this, he was not a militant reformer during his life. He became critical to the passage of civil service reform, but during his life, he tried to, like with many issues, he tried to split between these very polarizing factions. He believed that there needed to be some standard of competitive depoliticization and professionalization of the federal government. But he also awarded cushy federal jobs to close friends of his. And whenever these clean government activists would get too up in arms and they would give him grief, Garfield would chide them for being too militant. He was somebody who believed in working with the corrupt bosses of his party rather than entirely antagonizing them. So in that shows you his type of politics in general on a very small scale, but a very important issue that he became critically connected to by virtue of how his life ended. GR: So, I've intimated this a couple of times now, once in kind of a sarcastic way, but do you think that Garfield's relevance for today as a political figure, is it this quality of having these very deep passions, but also being a unifier, being someone that could listen to everyone and try to find compromise if that's what we want to call it, or middle ground? Is that what we take from him today, you think? CWG: Yeah, I think his life, because I've you know, you get asked this a lot on the book tour. I think his life is a long, in part, a long, long, protracted meditation on political pragmatism. Because he is somebody who makes this shift, who changes with the political tides of the country and who becomes, as he gets older and more experienced, he becomes somebody who embodies, in both good ways and bad, what it looks like to be a pragmatic powerbroker in Washington, fighting against partisan forces who are not entirely, you know, morally clean in many cases. He, as I've described it, I didn't put this in the book, I didn't put this line in the book, which I kind of regret, but he's a great case study of what it looks like when a pathologically reasonable person is in power in Washington. Somebody who defines the desired outcome of a political or impasse or a crisis, a constitutional crisis based on how do we give everybody at the table something to walk away with and how do we keep the gears of our government turning? How do we keep the basic processes rolling on? A very patient, man, and that's not a clean story either, by the way, he is a very grey figure politically. But also, his life is a very good reminder, because he dealt, the crisis he saw in his career from Congress through the White House, it's that Mark Twain line: History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure rhymes a lot. So he's also a reminder, and I'll end this answer on this, he is a reminder that a lot of the things that we're going through today that we call unprecedented are never entirely so, not in the history of our nation. GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with C.W. Goodyear. He's a historian who's published a new biography of James Garfield titled, "President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier". So you mentioned at the beginning he was shot early in his presidential career. How and why was he shot? CWG: Oh, yes, okay. Well, so he was, the important background is that Garfield was catapulted to the White House half unwillingly. He was nominated spontaneously from the floor of the nominating convention for the Republican Party in 1880 because all the different factions of the Republican Party, their candidates, their declared candidates who were gunning for the presidency couldn't get a majority support. So the Republican Party was so factionalized that it needed this dark horse candidate to come out of nowhere and take the leadership post. And that might sound familiar to a lot of listeners right now. But Garfield's immediate problem, immediate, and it carried through the campaign and into his presidency, was how do you balance these factions? And there was a faction called The Stalwarts who were supreme practitioners of the spoils system. They loved manipulating and profiting those federal jobs, the civil service jobs. The Stalwarts wanted a big chunk of the federal government to control themselves. Garfield did not, and despite what he said in the campaign, he did not end up giving them as much as they expected when he became president and it led to this massive falling out. And after that fallout ended, Garfield ended up winning that fight with the Stalwarts. A mentally ill man who wanted one of these jobs and who identified as a Stalwart, came up with this kooky idea that if he shot Garfield, the new president who was a Stalwart, Chester Arthur, would be so grateful that President Arthur would give the assassin whatever job in the federal system the Stalwart assassin wanted. So it was this mix of toxic political climate, this corrupting federal patronage system, and then good old fashioned timeless mental illness. Which combined to result in Garfield being shot in downtown D.C. He was stopped for weeks by this assassin and then finally killed as he was about to get on board a train or shot as he was about to get on board a train. GR: Wow, yeah. And ironic, really, as I think about it, that you take Abraham Lincoln, who was a martyr to the Civil War, I mean, shot because of that by John Wilkes Booth. And then Garfield, who had stronger views, ends up being shot by someone who's concerned about the spoils system. And that's this crazy idea, it's an interesting comparison about that. CWG: In those two snapshots they show you how much the country had changed in those times and the issues that they regarded. You know, it shows you where the priorities of the country are shifting towards. It's from, you know, the winning of the civil war and civil rights, that was Booth's motivation to corrupting, you know, federal power. GR: And you know, I saw a documentary several years ago about Garfield's assassination. I think it was a documentary, as I recall, and it focused on his medical care after the shooting. And the argument in the documentary was that the medical care was what basically killed him. I mean, if he'd have gotten good, if his doctor hadn't made all the mistakes about infection that that he made, he would have survived the shooting. Is that correct? And tell us about the aftermath. CWG: Yes. Yes, that's generally correct. I will say a lot of these doctors did not know any better. The idea of germ theory, because Garfield, for listeners who might not know, he didn't die of the shooting per se, he actually died of the infection that developed in his body afterward. American physicians were slow converts to the idea of germ theory. They still believe that infections were caused, not by outside microorganisms, but by internal fluidic balances and that pus was actually a sign of healthy healing. So with that topsy-turvy medical knowledge, that is not a foundation for good infection care. So you did have this, he, Garfield died just awful, you know, the details are in this book. One, you know, I've gotten a lot of good reviews, but one of the ones that had a little bit of reservations was like it was a little bit too grisly when you get into how Garfield died. GR: (laughter) CWG: But, you know, what are you going to do? But you know, when he's shot, when he's shot in the station in D.C., the doctors on the scene, they flip him over and they immediately start burrowing into his back with unwashed fingers. They didn't believe in washing their hands. And so you have about 80 days it takes for him to, that infection to run its course. And he has great resilience throughout it. He has ups and he has downs and the country is hooked on news of how he's doing. But ultimately and tragically and it's this long, protracted drama for not just the president, but the whole nation. GR: So you kind of go a little Cormac McCarthy there in the end of your book it sounds like. CWG: Ah, that's interesting. You're the first person to say that. GR: (laughter) CWG: I disavow any comparisons. I just don't want to bring Cormac McCarthy to my level. That would be unfair to him. GR: (laughter) If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher, and my guest is C.W. Goodyear, and we've been discussing his new biography of President James Garfield. It's titled, "President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier". So you have the Pendleton Act, which comes after this, right? CWG: Yes. GR: Did his assassination lead to changes in government in the same way that, you know, Johnson was able to draw on Kennedy's assassination to push through civil rights legislation? CWG: Yeah, absolutely. That's a really interesting comparison. So we mentioned earlier how Garfield, in life, was kind of a, he was a half-hearted reformer, not half-hearted, but a moderate one. When he died, he was immediately canonized as this martyr to the spoils system. That was the phrase that a lot of the commentators used at the time, because his assassination was seen as a product of this corrupt way federal jobs are awarded between political factions. And, you know, this assassin's mental illness was seen as also a product of that. So he became in death an invaluable symbol to the civil service reform movement. And the Pendleton Civil Service Act, which you mentioned right there, that was signed into law by President Arthur's administration and it was a direct result of Garfield's death. And what it did was it introduced the idea of merit into the awarding of public jobs, or sorry, federal jobs for the first time. It introduced competitive examinations for Americans trying to get these federal civil service jobs. It freed federal civil servants from being forced to contribute to political campaigns in exchange for jobs and it excused them from being forced to actually participate in campaigns themselves. So they were, walls began to go up between, you know, wings of the federal government and political activity. That's all incredibly valuable in terms of the yields that's paid and is still paying to our government. Civil service reform historians have said that Garfield's death accelerated the cause by about 30 years and actually a less charitable historian has written that Garfield dead was more useful than Garfield alive to the civil service reformers. GR: Ouch. CWG: That might not be totally fair but the great surprise was that Chester Arthur was supporting of civil service reform after. Because Arthur was a Stalwart, he was a corrupt boss. His story is very interesting, but I won't go down that rabbit hole quite yet. GR: (laughter) So you've kind of alluded to this a couple of times, but I've read in my limited reading about Garfield outside of your book, that many presidential historians think that Garfield could have become one of our great presidents, like the way that he was regarded in his life as you already pointed out. But that that promise was cut short by his assassination. So do you concur with that view, that there was a potential real greatness to be in the top tier of presidents? CWG: So I'm going to stick a big old asterisks into this, and I'm going to say it's always incredibly hard to tell what could have been. GR: Right. CWG: And also with Garfield's legacy, the reaction to his death, the public reaction to his death was not unlike the way our nation also reacted to the Kennedy assassination. Like, the death just radically transformed the way people viewed the life. It's like setting off, as I've said, it's like setting off a firework at the end of a Broadway play. No one remembers the play, they remember the firework that went off at the end. And so the views of him, his legacy and what he could have done, I think it's always been tended to be viewed through rose colored glasses. He was widely regarded as somebody during his life who was actually not well suited for executive tendencies because he was this vacillator. He was somebody who was seen as being very easy to swing one way or another. But whether that would have led to progress or not on a lot of these key issues, I'm not entirely sure. The potential was certainly there. In his inaugural address, it just reads as a prophetic document in many ways. It's the first inaugural address that calls for universal public education in America, because education was such a transformative force in his life, in his public life, he believed in it. And so there's always going to be this worry about what would have been. But as I mentioned in the answer to your previous question, you know, reformers believe that his death was actually, he actually accomplished much more in death on that issue than he would have in life. And, you know, you can't help but wonder, he was probably going to be an incrementalist president. Whether that is the recipe for greatness or not, I don't know. But I bet he would have been somebody who had made slow progress on all these issues he still believed in. GR: Interesting. Well, we've got a couple of minutes left. I want to try to squeeze at least two questions and if I can and the first one is more about your process of writing this and what you learned from it. Do you think there was one thing about American politics or our political history that you discovered while you were working on this book that you didn't already know before or weren't as fully appreciative of? Was there kind of an a-ha moment for you in any of this? CWG: Yes, because the a-ha moments, there's actually a few of them, but they all regarded the exact same thing, which is in the structures of our federal system and its founding documents, in the way our legal precedent has developed over time, the recipe has held true throughout the years, since before Garfield's life, but in Garfield's life, it was especially, especially clear. You only discover loopholes when you walk through them as a nation. And one of the incidences that really brought that to light was the disputed aftermath of the election of 1876, which was the first time where in the aftermath of a presidential election, the losing side claimed fraud and threatened civil war if their candidate was not inaugurated. That was the president before Garfield, Hayes, who ended up taking the White House. But when you read the writings of these congressmen who are on the verge of, it seems an armed insurrection that's going to take Washington, inaugurate the presidential candidate by force, you know, they're saying, the questions they're asking themselves and they're debating in the Capitol is, does the vice president, you know, the president of the Senate have the right to count the votes? What exactly does that mean? Do congressmen have the right to interrupt the certification of results? And you're thinking, hmm, well, you know, so when you're you discover that not only is there precedent but, you know, in this day and age when we read the Constitution and we think creatively about what exactly it means, we've always had that problem throughout our times. And Garfield was right there front center for, you know, that election resolution and then other crises throughout that time. GR: Fascinating. Just a few seconds left. One last question. Who or what are you working on now? CWG: I'd like to write a biography about Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. I think he would be very interesting. And so I'm talking to his aides and I'm at his legislative center getting that stuff together. It's going to be a long, long work. But that's the next target. GR: Oh, I hope you do that. We'll have you back on if you do that. That was C.W. Goodyear and again, his new book is titled, "President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier". If you're looking for something a little bit different for holiday reading or for gifting, I highly recommend this book and I think you could tell from our conversation there's a lot of really interesting material in there that speaks to issues of today. Charlie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really enjoyed this conversation. CWG: Oh, my pleasure. I really enjoyed it, too. Thank you so much, Grant. GR: You've been listening to the campus conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Billy Barlow and Paul Stewart on the Campbell Conversations

Program transcript: Grant Reeher: Welcome to Campbell Conversations, I'm Grant Reeher. My guests today are two people who have been central to some turnarounds in economic development and housing and the city of Oswego in recent years. And they're here with me to discuss those efforts and the lessons that come out of them. Paul Stewart is the founder of the Oswego Renaissance Association, which he also directs and is also a psychology professor at SUNY Oswego. Billy Barlow is the mayor of Oswego and is currently finishing up his second four year term. He's also Vice President of Public Affairs and System Development at Oswego Health. Mayor Barlow, Professor Stewart, welcome to the program. Paul Stewart: Thank you. Billy Barlow: Thank you. GR: We're glad to have both of you. And, Paul, I'll start with you as the founding director of this organization. I think our listeners are pretty familiar with the standard narrative of Rust Belt City decline, which obviously has hit Syracuse and Utica and Rochester and Oswego, too. But is there anything specific or unique to the case of Oswego, or Oswego's history that led you to want to form the Oswego Renaissance Association back in 2013? PS: Well, there's nothing specific about Oswego, per se, that led me to form the association. We have in common, what you described, that sort of slow motion decline over 40 years. Well, what led me to form the association was I didn't think that decline was acceptable nor did many of my colleagues and friends. And so in that respect, we knew something had to change back in the 2012-2013 time frame. GR: Okay. And was there something about that time that sort of pushed you over to say I'm going to do something actually organizational about this to try to help turn this around? PS: Well, sure. I mean, almost everybody knows during that time the city had been in a decline phase and had become particularly acute in the late twenty-aughts, you know, and I think in 2008, myself, my partner bought a house in Franklin Square and we were investing our lives into it but all around us things seemed to be degrading and we started to ask, can we continue to do this if the whole neighborhood is going to go down? And so that kind of became a personal question and then led to larger questions about the whole city. GR: Okay, and I want to get in a little bit later into actually how the association works. But Mayor, I wanted to turn to you just on this background on Oswego. So, is there anything you'd want to add to what Paul said about specific to Oswego or things that our listeners should know and understanding the context for this effort that we're about to discuss? BB: Well, I think what's important to realize if you're, especially if you're an elected official, but for anybody who cares about their community, is I think it's easy to, when you think about economic development, it's easy to think about cutting a ribbon or new construction, a new building, old downtown building being rehabbed. But at the end of the day, the biggest economic asset a community has, the biggest economic driver is the quality of neighborhoods. And that was something that the Oswego Renaissance Association and Paul pointed out and in as we'll get into in a little while, it's proven to be correct over these last ten to fifteen years. So when you restore old neighborhoods you instill confidence in homeowners and potential buyers. That behavior is contagious and it spreads throughout the community as I'm sure Paul will detail in a little while and how that strategy actually works. So, you know, new buildings, cutting ribbons, it's nice, but at the end of the day, neighborhoods is really what drives the local economy. GR: Okay, well, let's get some better sense then of how this organization works. So, Paul, I'm going to start calling it the ORA because Oswego Renaissance Association, it sounds great. It's a little bit of a mouthful. So from now on, ORA. How does the ORA work and where does your funding come from? PS: Well, the ORA gets funded by the Richard S. Shineman Foundation and multiple local businesses and sponsors. And we have been involved in this strategy for the last decade now, it's our 10th year. Where we focus on what are so-called middle neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods that are not your best neighborhoods by any stretch, but they're also not the most blighted neighborhoods. They're in-between. And the rationale is that in those neighborhoods, you still have an opportunity to leverage its potential. And the cost of restoring that neighborhood pales in comparison to what it would cost if we wait till it tipped, right? So we work from these middle markets outward. So, while that traditional experience for people is looking at creeping blight headed their way, loss of owner occupancy, degraded public streets sort of slowly making their way to their neighborhood, we turn that upside down and we start investing with neighbors in those middle neighborhoods so you have a spiraling improvements in the fiscal and social capital. That neighborhood beautification, that neighborhood, it starts to actually spread outward. It's contagious in the opposite direction. And so geographically, we have a unique approach that's not typically the approach most people think of when they do community development. And the other thing I think that's critical is that the majority of resources we leverage comes from the neighbors themselves. You know, we offer, they're relatively small amounts of money. We'll say, look, we will grant you dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 out of our pocket per house to every neighbor on a block to make exterior improvements as long as it's visible on the street. But the rule is you have to recruit at least five households on your block to form a cluster. And typically because the grants are competitive, you'll have ten or fifteen houses apply. And the really interesting thing is that what we're leveraging, as Mayor Barlow said, is actually long term confidence. When neighbors start to realize that not only are they investing but their neighbors are also investing. They see a real potential for that and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as it snowballs. GR: That is interesting. And you also get I imagine, neighbor and peer pressure sort of working for you in a good way. PS: Right. GR: Because you're looking at each other. Okay, interesting. And so you have this money, it comes from donors and a foundation, and it's like a matching system then, matching dollar system, okay, for these kind of exterior improvements. PS: Yeah. GR: So, Mayor Barlow, describe the impact that you think ORA has had on the city and the area. How have you experienced this? BB: It's hard to really, it's hard to even talk about without underselling it. As Paul mentioned earlier, I actually was born and raised in Oswego. I went to school out at Arizona State and went out there in 2008. I returned in 2013. Nothing good happened in Oswego between 2008 and 2013. And the first positive thing that put Oswego back on the right track was Paul creating the Oswego Renaissance Association. And starting in one small area in the city and slowly growing outward into different areas of the city. It was really the first spark that put Oswego back on the right course and then city government, as often happens, was a few years behind but ultimately began to assist the ORA in their mission. And I'll say, in 2013 you could have driven around the city and you would have been hard pressed to find a neighborhood that anyone would have wanted to live in. Now 2023, you can drive around and it's hard to find an area where you wouldn't want to live. It really has taken off from just one condensed area into the entire neighborhood. I mean we, I often joke with the Code Enforcement Department at City Hall if I see them City Hall I'll say, do you have any work to do? And you know, sometimes they say, you know, everyone is compliant and you know, we're just finishing up paperwork and it's true. You know, you're hard pressed to find a few properties now that really detract from neighboring properties. So it's smart strategy that's paid off and the city continues to reap benefits from it. GR: Yeah, I have to say, just as an outsider perspective, and I've been doing this program that you know, the station is based in Oswego there, in a building at SUNY Oswego. And I've been driving back and forth in this time period that we've been talking about. And I remember, you know, in 2009-2010 going up there and thinking, wow, you know, in a bad way, wow. And then just the last time I was up, I think, to do an election night coverage, you know, I had the same impression. So, yeah, it's noticeable. I'm Grant Reeher, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guests are Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow and SUNY Oswego Professor Paul Stewart and we're discussing the Oswego Renaissance Association. So I want to put this question to both of you and maybe Mayor Barlow, start with you on this one. And it is kind of a more general sense of this context and I want to bring it out to the whole area of central New York. And this is something I just mentioned, things I've noticed since 2010, but this is something that has struck me as an outsider coming in 30 plus years ago now and then now living in central New York. And I've spoken on this program about it a few times to people like the writer Sean Kirst, for example, we've talked about this. But it seems to me there there's a kind of a pessimism or a fatalism, maybe even sometimes people call it an inferiority complex about this area that comes through. In addition to the real affection and real loyalty that people feel. It's like a sense that things are never going to quite work out or something else is going to leave or, you know, and is that, you're in Oswego, Mayor Barlow, am I tapping some part of the psyche here when I say that? BB: I think you're absolutely right. We're kind of pessimistic or negative by nature. But I will say it's somewhat turned around the last five to eight years, you know, and a lot of that is because people are now seeing results. I think, in Oswego particularly but I think it's probably more common than not. The public hears ideas, they hear concepts, they see renderings, the government conducts these studies and analysis and talks about what could be. Rarely does it ever actually happen in front of your eyes in the real world. And, you know, we've had a great run this last decade or so where, and I'm not just talking about city government, but whether it's SUNY Oswego, the ORA, city government, we've said things and then we followed it up with reality. Then I think the public has come to expect that now when city government shows our rendering of something that's actually going to happen versus sitting on a shelf, and it's something people talk about what could have been years from now. So you're right, there's definitely a pessimism or a doubt. But, you know, Oswego has shown what confidence and positivity can do, I think they trust their government now and there's a lot of partners working together to move our area in the right direction. And it's certainly refreshing and it's a change from what we've been accustomed to in the last 30 or so years. GR: And Paul, sort of a similar question, is that something you have felt and do you feel like ORA, you know, is that part of the satisfaction that you get is participating in something that may be changing that? PS: Absolutely. I mean, first of all, I understand that the sort of, the pessimism you're talking about, I think to some extent, you know, there's kind of a, I don't know if I would use the word cultural trauma but, you know, regional trauma, when you go through just decades of decline, that is an understandable ethos, if you will. But I think what's been missing is, we are too used to waiting for the state or some outside force to make the change for us. And one of my favorite sort of things to tell people is, no, nothing is coming to save your town, nobody is coming to save your town. If you want to save your town, you have to do it. And what I think is very special about what's happening in Oswego at multiple levels is we have found ways to leverage the spirit and the resources, the time and the energy and the money of the residents here and essentially crowdsource revitalization. And once people see those efforts begin to pay off, it becomes easier and easier to build on that momentum. GR: Yeah. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm talking with SUNY Oswego professor Paul Stewart, the founding director of the Oswego Renaissance Association, and Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow and we've been discussing the work of that association. So we were talking about turnaround both in Oswego and I think we're feeling it generally throughout the area. And obviously, if we're talking about this most recently, we have to talk about Micron, and there was some pessimism and skepticism when we were tossing around some of the numbers that were associated with Micron. But I think people are beginning to believe now. So, Mayor Barlow, speaking of this potentially huge development for Syracuse, I was curious from your perspective, further north up in Oswego, how do you think it's going to affect things up in Oswego? Will it have a ripple effect that far out? What's your sense of this? BB: Well, first, I often tell my constituents who are maybe pessimistic or doubtful of what may or may not happen with Micron, if even a quarter of what they're talking about happens that is still larger than anything we've seen in this area recently. So, there's a lot of reason to be optimistic and looking forward to what Micron brings to the community. As far as what Oswego stands to gain, I think obviously we're not in a position being, you know, probably a half hour or so away from the plant. We're not in a position to benefit as much as communities that are closer. But we are in a great position to see some benefits. And luckily, we've had this great round of economic development and victories here in the last eight years or so. If Micron employees and their families are looking for an affordable waterfront community with great neighborhoods, great community assessed assets, nice parks, a quaint downtown and a tourism type feel to the community, particularly in the summertime, Oswego is the place to be. And for a lot of these folks who may move from other areas into Central New York for Micron, a 30 minute commute to work, if they're from a metropolitan area, it's like cutting their commute by 50%. So we're in a great position and luckily we've had a successful eight years or ten years or more to be the community we are now. So I think we will see some Micron employees up to live in Oswego and a lot of that is credit to the Oswego Renaissance Association because when people look where to live and raise their family, they look at education, they look at access to health care, and they look at the quality of neighborhoods and we're excelling in most of those areas. So I think we're in a good position. GR: And so Paul, there's something that you've mentioned a couple of times now. You mentioned the phrase social capital, you mentioned the idea that, you know, no one's coming to save the town, you have to be the one to save the town. PS: That's right. GR: And there's a puzzle that I've always had as a political scientist about effective leadership that this particular case speaks directly to. And that's the relative roles and the relative importance and even sort of the order in which they occur of grassroots activity and kind of, leadership from, I don't know if I like the phrase bottom up, but, you know, the base level out maybe is a better way to say it, as the driver. And then individual leadership, like the kind of leadership that you, Paul Stewart, the impact that you have made or the impact that Mayor Barlow has made and the confidence that the city has and the confidence that people have in the government. I don't know if you have thought about this in your experience with the ORA, but do you have any insights on sort of what comes first or how they're related that could give me some insight on that? PS: I've thought about that, I think quite a bit. I mean, my friend Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns has a phrase I really like. When we talk about the difference between top down strategies and bottom up strategies, the ORA is decidedly bottom up. And let me clarify, a lot of times strategies from the top, like a program that's been developed for your community, or some new, even sometimes new money that comes in some it's very orderly and structured and plan, but it's also dumb oftentimes. It's called orderly, but dumb, in that it doesn't necessarily take into account local conditions. And a lot of times what is being done for a community is occurring hundreds of miles away in terms of the decision phase. In contrast, when you're working at the grassroots level, like in the DNA of a community, you're on the ground there. We call it chaotic but smart. The people that live in the community kind of know what their neighborhoods require because they're living in it every day. And so we can make much more, I think, directed decisions about what individual blocks need because we're in them and living in them. And when you empower blocks to lead and neighborhoods to lead, you get, they will pursue their interests in the way that that makes the most sense for them, that's very powerful. And in terms of social leadership, social capital leadership, you know, you hit on another important point, which is that for a community to work well, to succeed, it's sort of like a football team. You're not going to execute your plays if you don't know each other, you don't have a camaraderie there and you don't trust each other, right? So one of the things that we do is in these small granting programs that we're involved in, it requires that neighbors work as groups. And in the process, they get to understand each other. They know what their shared values are and most of them realize we want our neighborhood to be a better place five years from now where we want to raise our kids, et cetera, et cetera. And then letting them lead. It's very much, I think, on point for where those neighborhoods need to go. GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and my guests are Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow and SUNY Oswego Professor Paul Stewart. So, Paul, I want to get the mayor in on this one and before I do, I want to push you just a little bit on what you said. And so a thought experiment here. Let's say Paul Stewart gets a job in Chicago instead of Oswego, what happens? I mean, so, it does need, I mean, you sketched out and you were very generous and spreading out the credit, but doesn't it need a spark and weren't you that spark? I mean, this is the thing, the puzzle that I struggle with. PS: Is that for me or the mayor here? (laughter) GR: That's for you, I'm putting Paul Stewart on the spot here. (laughter) PS: Well, no, it's critical. You never want success of any movement to depend on a single individual, because if they get hit by a bus tomorrow, you know, that's a problem. So what you want to be able to do is build the leadership of the residents you have so that what you eventually do is, you make it normative that blocks, of course, people paint their houses every seven to ten years. Of course, everyone mows their lawn. Of course, people want to live here and maintain their homes because it's now become healthy and normal to do that. So in many ways, we are changing a culture that outlives any one individual, right? The second thing I want to emphasize, and I know that the mayor would agree with this, is people think that the ORA is about like me and this organization, it's not. It's an application of a philosophy that says, if you as a community want to thrive if you want to grow, you have to invest in yourself and build on your assets rather than being focused solely on what's broken and what's wrong. You have to identify what is it that we're good at, how can we get better at those things? That's a philosophy that's not an individual. And one of the things that I think among many that I have in common with the mayor here is, is he has the same approach. He wasn't coming to office to say, oh, well, here's all the problems I'm going to fix. He pursued a vision that built on our strengths. So I just want to emphasize that, part of this is changing a culture to be focused on building on what's working rather than trying to fix what's not. GR: And Mayor, we've got about 3 minutes or so left, but I know you want to get in on this, so go ahead. What are your thoughts on this puzzle of leadership and Paul and you and Oswego here? BB: Well, first I I want to make something extremely clear, is that I view the ORA as the lead in neighborhood restoration and our mentality and strategy at city hall is not to try to be the leader, let ORA lead and our job is to assist as much as possible. And that assistance goes beyond anything financial or just Paul and I getting along personally, it actually means focus at the ORA, what they call target zones. And the city government not only assists in terms of code enforcement, you know, we strategically deploy code enforcement to work in those target zones and certainly around the perimeter of those targeted zones to assist and supplement their investment with strong code enforcement. But also, look, when we decide which roads to pave, where to replace sidewalks, where to make sure the streetlights are in working fashion. We try to work and concentrate investment, city investment in the ORA target zones. And we do that because it's easy. If you take a picture in let's just say in February, ORA comes in, investment, they get homeowners all on the same page to beautify their homes in the neighborhood and then take a pitch for October. And the neighborhood went from a C-plus to an A-minus. That's easy to show. And that progress is contagious versus letting ORA do their thing and city government does their thing. The second component to that is, Paul and I can have the same opinion and take the same action on any given topic without even talking to each other. And that's what a true partnership looks like. You know, I can, we go to make a decision in the city. I can think in the back of my head, would Paul Stewart and the ORA agree with this and is this in line with their strategy? And Paul can be very aggressive because he's so passionate. And I often tell department heads, when Paul Stewart asks for something, assume I'm asking for it, right? GR: Wow. BB: Because you know it's coming from the right place, it's not to benefit Paul personally. Why would Paul care about something at Breitbeck Park? He's asking for a reason because there's a strategy and a method behind the madness. And, you know, my job is to empower him, embrace the ORA as much as possible, and let them lead. And we assist as much as we can because the strategy is right. GR: And Paul we only have a second or two, so it's got to be a couple of sentences. PS: So, I want to follow up with that. What we talk to our neighbors about is, if you lead and you show that you're going to invest, it encourages the city to double down on your investments, that's part of what Billy just said. GR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. It sounds like in Oswego, smart chaos is working and it's nice to have a good story to tell. That was Billy Barlow and Paul Stewart. Mayor Barlow, Professor Stewart, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. PS: Thank you. BB: Thank you. GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.