CNN's Lou Dobbs Says it's 'Independents Day'
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Later in the broadcast: The search for help for those struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder. Could a club drug be the answer? And why not to hook up over the holidays? One woman's radical answer to modern dating drama. That is all later.
But first, he is a journalist who has become part of the story. Lou Dobbs was a CNN original. There he helped create broadcast business reporting as we know it. But now, as host and managing editor of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," he's become an outspoken and controversial critic of the so-called establishment elites that he says are selling out the middle class.
He talks about all of this in a new book called "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit." And he is joining us by phone from his home in New Jersey.
Welcome. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. LOU DOBBS (Host and Managing Editor, "Lou Dobbs Tonight"; Author, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit"): Good to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: A previous book, "The War on the Middle Class," laid out a lot of the themes that people also see on your program, that big money and big corporations have too much influence in public policy, on everything from immigration to employment policies, and that as a result, the middle class way of life is being destroyed. So, what do you have to say that's new?
Mr. DOBBS: The book is a direct call, Michel, as you know, for Americans to consider registering as independents and pushing back against the two political parties. The Republicans and Democrats have become nothing more than branding mechanisms and fundraising organizations that are doing nothing to represent the American people.
We've never been in a period in our history quite like this, in which there is such a great divide between those we've elected to Washington, D.C. to serve the common good and the national interest, and the American people who are receiving all but no representation whatsoever.
MARTIN: What's the point of registering as an independent? In some jurisdictions, you don't get to a vote in the primary.
Mr. DOBBS: Right.
MARTIN: In some places, you get to vote in whatever primary you want. But in a lot of places, like the District of Columbia, you don't get to vote in either. So what's the point?
Mr. DOBBS: Right. Well if it's working for you, if you like the government you've got, if you like the fact that the Republicans and Democrats are directing the future of the country and you think everything's going splendidly, then you shouldn't register as an independent. But if you are concerned…
MARTIN: What will you get for - I guess what I'm asking you is what do you do?
Mr. DOBBS: …if you are concerned about the direction of the country, I would urge you to go down, register as an independent, push back against both political parties and say it's time they return to their roots and to their traditions and their heritage.
For example, the Democratic Party, who once represented working men and women in this country, that's no longer the case. They represent corporate America. Republicans have always represented business interests, but now they represent totally business interests, and big business interests.
MARTIN: I'm asking you, once you register as an independent, then what do you do?
Mr. DOBBS: After that?
Mr. DOBBS: Vote for whoever you want to, but don't be part of the establishment system. The fact of the matter is that I would urge everyone to get involved in their communities and start building independent movements, and if necessary, a national independent party.
MARTIN: Are you registered as an independent yourself?
Mr. DOBBS: Of course, I am.
MARTIN: You're obviously very critical of both parties. There are something, what, 17 people running for president? Is there not one person running now who you think has the skills, the temperament, the character to lead this country properly?
Mr. DOBBS: No, ma'am.
MARTIN: Then why don't you run?
Mr. DOBBS: Because I don't think that's my role. I'm an advocacy journalist. I think that's what I do best, and that's where I think I serve the American people the best.
MARTIN: Is none of the people running are - you find acceptable…
Mr. DOBBS: Right.
MARTIN: …and if you're not willing to run, then who is acceptable?
Mr. DOBBS: Well, I think that you're going to see a number of people emerge, you know, across the country over the next few months.
Michel, I'm traveling all over the country right now. And I'm talking to literally thousands of people, and I'm not hearing any great enthusiasm for a single one of these candidates. And I'm talking - including the two frontrunners in each party, whether it's Giuliani and Romney, or whether its Obama and Clinton. You would think - I've covered five presidents, and you would think that there would be just a building bonfire of enthusiasm, but there isn't. And it's - it is the darndest thing I've ever seen.
MARTIN: But, you know, some people would argue differently. And I understand that you're very critical of the role of money in politics. But as if look at somebody…
Mr. DOBBS: Yes, ma'am. I am.
MARTIN: …like Barack Obama, who has raised millions of dollars, much of it in small contributions, who can attract, what, 20,000 people at a rally where they're expecting sort of a fraction of that number, a lot of young people coming out, some people would argue that they are excited about some of these candidates.
Mr. DOBBS: Well, if you want to make that argument, that's fine. I think if you look at what's happening on the evening newscast and you see those numbers - if you see it - if see an audience of 20,000, you're seeing something I haven't seen. I haven't seen anything approaching that.
MARTIN: Now, you've obviously at - I assumed - timed your book to the 2008 presidential election.
Mr. DOBBS: Right.
MARTIN: Most people don't have the luxury that you and I have of sort of focusing on issues sort of day in and day out. So what would you say, if there's one issue that people could focus on in thinking about making their choices this year, what do you think it should be?
Mr. DOBBS: Well, I think the first issue should be, without question, the representation of the middle class and those who aspire to it in Washington, D.C., and the fact that we can't get representation.
I think the second issue should be the failure of public education. Public education in this country has always been the great equalizer in the society. You can talk about any element on our society or our economy that you want to, but without public education, we don't have an equalizer effect in the society, irrespective of the laws we write, irrespective of the economic opportunity. We just simply can't achieve it without public education. We're failing an entire generation of Americans.
Those two issues, to me, are critical. And then you begin to get into, you know, other issues in terms of free trade, the bankrupting of the country, the war in Iraq, national health care, investing in infrastructure. All of these are critically important issues, but those are the two issues of that are to fulcrum against which our destiny really will swing.
MARTIN: How do you put - I understand you're putting - you have a very interesting chapter on education, which I would hope, if we have time, we'd like to talk a little bit more about.
Mr. DOBBS: Sure.
MARTIN: But you put those issues above the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think some people would argue that those really - that is the issue of our time, it's the issue for this generation that affects so much of our future.
Mr. DOBBS: The war in Iraq?
Mr. DOBBS: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: But I guess what I'm saying is you put money in politics and you put education above the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the sort of the predominant issue. So I was just wondering why that is.
Mr. DOBBS: Well, they - how did people think we got into Iraq and Afghanistan? How do they think that we've permitted this war to last for longer than World War II? It is the absolute dominance of corporate America and special interests in Washington, D.C. spending over $2 billion a year to crowd out any representation of the American people.
And the idea that we can be separated by wedge issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun control, the list goes on, and deflect and distract the working people in this country and their families from the reality, which is money is driving this economy, money is driving this government and crowding out humanity, the people and the American citizens.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us. I speaking - I'm sorry.
If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. He has a new book, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit."
You know what I - your book says:
(Reading) "I believe my viewers watch my show in order to become better informed about what's going on in this country. Every night we present the facts and state what we think about them. My colleagues and I don't pander to our audience, nor do we tell it what it should think."
And that goes those to your point that you're not here to run for office, that you say you're here to present the facts. But I going to play a clip. This is you, from one of your broadcasts, talking about a plan to let Mexican trucks enter the U.S. more easily. Here it is.
(Soundbite of TV Show, "Lou Dobbs Tonight")
Mr. DOBBS: New efforts tonight to fight a plan by some corporate business leaders and their political allies that could erode the United States' sovereignty. The organizers are fighting a proposed North American Union that could leave our nation vulnerable on many fronts.
MARTIN: But aren't you telling people what to think by the way you're framing the question? And if you're going to frame the facts in such a way, don't you have a responsibility to offer a solution as well?
Mr. DOBBS: Oh, I'm offering a number of solutions, whether it's public education, whether it's public infrastructure, whether it is border security, whether it's port security. I'm offering solutions, and we have hundreds of people in this country offering solutions. But they're not being listened to because these elites in business and politics don't want you to know why those borders remain wide open more than six years after September 11th. They don't want you to know that 95 percent of the cargo entering this country isn't inspected by the United States government for either dirty bombs or lead in toys. I mean, this - any person who thinks independently understands that this is a dysfunctional government that is not serving the interests of the nation, not serving the interests of the people.
MARTIN: I also want to play another clip, and this is your former colleague, Bernard Shaw.
(Soundbite of previous Tell Me More show)
Mr. BERNARD SHAW (Journalist; Former News Anchor, CNN): Well, here I go walking the plank of controversy. The tack that my favorite network has taken raises my blood pressure. I don't like it, Lou and I, we're both fellow Marines and we're friends. I don't like it at all. As a journalist, you, the listener, you, the reader or the viewer, need not be concerned about Bernard Shaw's personal opinions. My personal opinions ought not mean a damn, if I'm doing my job correctly. Consumers of news are not being served well or properly.
MARTIN: That was, of course, your former colleague, Bernard Shaw, on this program, and you heard that how much he respects you, but he also is concerned. He feels that viewers can't really trust your reporting when you've so clearly taken a point of view. What would you say to that?
Mr. DOBBS: Well, as you say, Bernie and I are - I mean, we're not like friends. I mean, we're great friends and have worked together for 30 years. He's just a super guy. But we have a very large difference of opinion on this.
In an ideal world, where one can be objective, I would probably ascribe to Bernie's view. But this is far from a perfect world, and the reality is now that objectivity is purchased for the price of neutrality on a host of issues. And I simply cannot sit there and be neutral about what is happening to almost half of the young black people in this country who are dropping out of high school. Half - just about half of all the Hispanic kids dropping out of high school. We have created dropout factories instead of preserving the great equalizer of our society: public education and the excellence of that education. I can't be neutral about the fact that we're - that these faith-based columnists and politicians that we've sent to Washington are pushing free trade that's costing of middle-class jobs.
MARTIN: We're almost out of time, Mr. Dobbs. I just have to ask you if the two parties nominate candidates whom you find unacceptable, who are not speaking of the issues in a way you feel they should, is there any way in which you would consider entering the race?
Mr. DOBBS: Not at this time. I just can't imagine.
MARTIN: Oh, well, thank you for speaking. I hope maybe you'll come back and talk to us more about education. It's an important topic, and thanks.
Mr. DOBBS: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Lou Dobbs is host and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." He's author of "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit." Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. DOBBS: Great to be with you, Michel. Thank you.
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