DATE September 1, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Matthew Brzezinski discusses his new book, "Fortess
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Matthew Brzezinski, has been writing about homeland security for
nearly three years. He's concluded that the Department of Homeland Security
has been crippled by a lack of funding and political support. Brzezinski is
the author of the new book, "Fortress America." He also wrote the cover story
of the current edition of Mother Jones, in which he makes the case that
homeland security has taken second place to the Bush administration's
obsession with Iraq. The Department of Homeland Security is composed of 22
formerly separate federal agencies. It has 186,200 employees and a budget of
about $27 billion. The money goes to screening airline passengers, inspecting
trucks and shipping containers, making arrests and drug seizures, reviewing
intelligence reports, watching over 8,000 federal facilities, ports, power
plants, tunnels and bridges, and more.
The department was billed as the most ambitious government overhaul since the
creation of the Pentagon. But when Brzezinski paid a visit to its
headquarters at the Nebraska Avenue complex of the Washington Naval District,
he could barely even find it. He was expecting to find a colossus. He could
barely find the building at all. He finally found the entrance at the end of
a little alley. I asked him how he interpreted the unimpressive headquarters.
Mr. MATTHEW BRZEZINSKI (Author, "Fortress America"): Well, I mean, I think
it told me that it's a bit of a game of smoke and mirrors, that there's
clearly a reluctance to start this department, that it's sort of a child of
political expediency, where a great many people in Congress wanted it. The
public was, you know, clamoring for the government to be seen as though it was
doing something to protect American people. And I think the White House was
rather reluctant to unleash this sort of a monster, I mean, for perhaps
ideological reasons--they're against, you know, big government, and this is
clearly an example of big government--and also for very practical reasons. If
you create an agency this size, you have to give up oversight to Congress,
whereas if you keep it within the White House as just sort of a policy unit,
which is what it was before, you can do a lot of things very quietly on the
sly and without a great deal of oversight and scrutiny from outside political
So, I mean, it's a bit of this sort of very cynical political game that's
played in Washington that, you know, you can at the same time be the largest
government agency in the United States and at once also, you know, have your
head office which literally looks like--I don't know--the janitorial
department of a junior college. It's frightening.
GROSS: You've reached the conclusion that homeland security is very
inadequately funded. What are some of the areas that you think are most in
need of more money in order to protect us?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: I think that airline security, for instance. We've done a
reasonably good job of making sure that, you know, nobody with box cutters is
going to walk on a plane again. However, while we make a big show of, you
know, patting down little old ladies and even kids, we could be sitting on a
bomb because the behind-the-scenes, which is screening the baggage and things
like that, which are far less visible to the general public, just hasn't
seemed to capture the imagination of the government as much. And we would
roughly need around $3 billion to hire--it's in the neighborhood of 20-odd
thousand baggage screeners and, of course, buy the sort of larger-type EDS
screening machines that could screen all this baggage. And there is no money
for this, and there's very little political will to get a program like this
off that ground. So that's clearly one area.
Screening for weapons of mass destruction at major ports of entry, both land
and sea, purchasing of detection equipment such as anti-radiation screening
materials and things like that, purchasing equipment, particularly radios for
first responders. Right now, first responders can't even talk to each other
because they're not on the same frequencies, and we saw in 9/11, of course,
that that could lead to unnecessary loss of life. And so there's a very large
area there, extremely underfunded, and they're looking at budget cuts, in
In terms of biological and chemical responses, I think we need greater money
to be sunk into detection equipment. The FBI is extremely underfunded as
well. And its counterterrorism operations--in fact, they requested an extra
$12 million to hire some counterterror analysts and were turned down, because
there's just so little money. So it really runs the gamut.
GROSS: In your Mother Jones cover story, you have a chart you put together
where you compare the spending needs of homeland security with the amount of
money that we're spending in Iraq. Do you want to describe what you've done
in this chart? How you've compared the two?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, all told, we're spending--so far, at
least, and the meter's still running--about $150 billion in Iraq. And there
is extremely little money left over in the kitty for us to spend shoring up
our defenses here at home. So we looked at sort of, you know, what would be
needed to properly secure certain areas--everything from trains and subways,
which the estimate is $6 billion, and that's about the equivalent of about 20
days' spending in Iraq--and what we've actually spent, which is about $100
million, which is what we spend in eight hours in Iraq. Things like radiation
portals; we need just under $300 million, which is very, very little money for
a country this size, and we spend that in less than a day in Iraq, and in
fact, we've spent only $43 million, which is about--What?--we go through that
and burn through that in about three hours in Iraq.
GROSS: Radiation portals are to check for a dirty bomb?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: To check for weapons of mass destruction, dirty bombs,
nuclear-grade materials that might be smuggled into ports and so on and so
forth, yes. Everything from, you know, firefighters, as we said. That's
really the biggie, $36 billion, which is 120 days' worth of Iraqi occupation.
And we've only allotted $1/2 billion, which we spend in Iraq in less than two
days. So emergency medical training is--we need $1.4 billion, and we've only
allotted--well, we've actually chopped back to nothing, but we've only
allotted $50 million, which we go through in a few hours in Iraq. And it just
seems that, you know, really all the resources are being diverted abroad, and
there's very, very little left over for us to properly secure ourselves here
GROSS: Could you say with any certainty that if we weren't spending that $150
billion on the war in Iraq that we would, instead, be spending that on
homeland security, or would the money still not exist for homeland security,
even if we weren't spending it in Iraq?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: That's a very good question. I do not--I can't tell you
what the administration would ultimately allot. However, given the dire sort
of financial straits of the budget right now, it basically makes it a lot
easier for them to say, `No, we just don't have the money to spend on a lot of
these things.' I think, you know, if we weren't in Iraq, there'd be a lot
more money available, and we'd definitely be much more likely to spend more,
perhaps not as much as everyone would like, but certainly more than we're
spending right now.
GROSS: I'm sure people who support the war in Iraq would say, `Well, the
money for homeland security is perhaps less necessary because we're taking
care of some of the problem by being in Iraq, and in the long run, that will
make homeland security less of a problem because it is helping to win the war
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I'd have to disagree. So far there's been very little
evidence that going into Iraq had anything to do with the war on terror, and
there is, however, a great deal of evidence that by going into Iraq, by
essentially invading an oil-rich Arab country, we have done great harm to our
reputation abroad, particularly in the Muslim world. And we've done a great
service to Osama bin Laden, and public opinion poll after public opinion poll
has shown that America's standing in that part of the world has just
plummeted. And this, of course, means that there's a greater potential pool
of recruits for al-Qaeda out there, and I think there is clear evidence that
more people today want to do us harm than immediately after 9/11 or before
9/11. So we are at a greater danger today than we were before we went into
Iraq, and we've left ourselves--you know, we've left the soft underbelly to
our shield is the one here on the front lines at home.
GROSS: Now another financial comparison you make is that the FBI's entire
2005 budget is less than a third of the value of Halliburton's $17 billion
contracts to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. How do you interpret that?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, I mean--it--this, again, is something that--you know,
how do place a premium or a value on the priorities of the White House? And
clearly, you know, in Washington, one of the ways that different government
agencies establish the pecking order and, you know, determine where they fall
on the totem pole is by how much money they receive. And I think it's rather
tragic that the FBI, which is, you know, one of our front-line agencies in
terms of protecting ourselves, is getting only a fraction of what Halliburton
and all its subsidiaries are getting to, you know, provide Iraqis with
subsidized gas and $30 hamburgers for our own troops and things like that.
And at a time of scarce resources, I'm not sure that that's the wisest
allocation of resources.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Brzezinski, and his new
book is called "Fortress America." It's about homeland security.
The federal government is giving cities money to help them deal with homeland
security. What is the system, what is the equation for dividing up that
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Well, there really isn't one, unfortunately, in terms of one
that makes sense.
GROSS: I said, `cities.' I should have said, `states.'
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: It could cities and states, but it's basically on a
population basis. And this is, you know, one of the great criticisms that's
been leveled against the Department of Homeland Security is that, you know,
here we are--you know, now well into--they've been in business, you know,
since March of last year, so a year and a half they've been operating, and
there's still no list of sort of priorities which might indicate that, `Hey,
New York City and Washington should be higher up on the list of potential
targets than, you know, Des Moines, Iowa, or Juneau, Alaska.' And yet if you
look at it, you know, as things break down, those places are getting more
money from Washington.
GROSS: Let me quote us a couple of statistics that you've given: "Alaska and
North Dakota get twice as much federal anti-terror funding per capita as New
York. Wyoming gets four times more funding per capita than California."
What's the explanation for those figures?
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: There really isn't much of a logical explanation. It's just
that everybody has to--you know, they're divvying up the pot and they're
trying to, you know, be, I guess, democratic about it, that everybody has to
get a slice of this. And, of course, there's the lobbying that comes into
play, where the local congressmen and senators are, like, `Well, we need our
slice of the homeland security pie,' and it's just like military spending,
where the contracts have to be broken up, you know, into all kinds of
different states. But you know, in terms of the logic, it makes very little
sense. The only, say, piece of infrastructure in Alaska that is a danger is,
of course, the pipeline and the oil terminals, and we should protect those,
and in fact, we should force the oil companies to pay for that because after
all, it is their own--this is private property, and they're the ones
ultimately who are ultimately going to pay if the terrorists blow it up. So
there's really no reason to be spending a lot of money, you know, on Juneau,
per se. There's no targets there. And the same thing, you know, in places
like Wyoming and whatnot.
So very little of it makes sense, and it's just the way, you know, the world
works in Washington, and partly because of lobbying.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Matthew Brzezinski. His new book is called
"Fortress America." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matthew Brzezinski. His new
book about homeland security is called "Fortress America." He also wrote this
month's cover story in Mother Jones magazine.
Now in your book, you describe a terrorist plan by two plotters that was
uncovered in Manila back in 1995, and their files were almost a blueprint for
the September 11th attacks. What led the authorities in the Philippines to
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: It's an astonishing story, actually, something that
could make a script for a movie. One evening, in sort of a downtown police
station in Manila, there was sort of a very charismatic, stubborn policewoman
who was the watch commander, and around 11:30 at night or something, they got
a call that there was some smoke coming out of one of the nearby apartment
buildings. And so she dispatched an officer to go check it out, and he came
back and he said, `Well, you know, it's just some Pakistanis playing with
firecrackers.' And he was ready to leave it at that. But being stubborn as
she is, she kind of thought that, `Hmm. That kind of sounds a little
suspicious.' So she actually personally went to check it out.
And to make a long story short, there was a foot chase, shots were fired, and
she arrested one of the co-conspirers of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing
and almost caught the mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, of the 1993 WTC bombing. And
in all the computers and the files that they discovered in this apartment were
blueprints, literally, for a plan that in hindsight looked very much like the
sort of genesis, where they got the idea for 9/11. And even under
interrogation, one of the culprits that she had caught--already in 1995, he
had gone to the United States and trained to be a pilot and had gotten his
pilot's license in North Carolina, I think it is. And he had said, `Well, the
only problem we have right now, we want to crash these planes into buildings,
but we don't know. The problem we have right now is we don't have enough
trained pilots.' And later when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured last
year, one of the key 9/11 planners, admitted under interrogation that, in
fact, he'd gone to Manila and talked to Murad and Ramzi Yousef, who was his
nephew, and this was, in fact, sort of where they got the idea for 9/11.
And the interesting part of that story, of course, is that the FBI and the CIA
were brought in by the Filipino police and military on these interrogations.
They were given the transcripts of these interrogations. They were given
access to the computers and the encrypted files on these computers. And so
they knew as far back as 19, you know, 95 that there was some sort of plan
afoot to train pilots, and at that time, they were saying they were going to
fill up Cessnas with dynamite and crash them into things like CIA headquarters
and then Congress and possibly some, quote, "tall buildings." But their plans
were sort of very loose at that point. But still, the American intelligence
was a apprised of this and knew about it and sort of, you know, filed it and
forgot about it.
And so when following 9/11, you know, we were told this was really out of the
blue, there was no way to predict this, you know, September 11th and this sort
of attack, that's not entirely true. Their signs went back as far as the
GROSS: You talked to the inspector who went to the site of this little
explosion that led to the discovery of these files and the people behind this
plan. What did she tell you about her frustrations, knowing that the Filipino
authorities had passed all this information on to American authorities back in
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: She put it--hubris, that `they didn't want to listen to us,
that we're just, you know, this is big, great America, and we're just a little
Filipino Third World country and they didn't want to listen to us.' And she
felt, you know, frustration, she felt anger. This was clearly for her--in
terms of her career, this was the highlight of her career. This was--you
know, and breaking up this plot, which at the time also saw, too, the
chemical, the explosion. They were making sort of a nitroglycerin type of
derivative bomb that was undetectable by the screening equipment at the time,
and they had planned on putting it on 11 US airliners to detonate at the same
time over the Pacific so you would have thousands and thousands of people
dead. And so, you know, she had saved all these people's lives.
And you know, clearly she was extraordinarily proud of this. And then she
turned on her television and saw 9/11 and said, `Oh, my God.' This operation
was called Bojinka. `It's Bojinka.' And so there was indignation, there
was frustration, anger. So all her efforts, she felt, were maybe in the end
for naught, and nobody listened to her.
GROSS: You've concluded that the Department of Homeland Security has been
treated like a political football, that it's underfunded, and that, you know,
we're spending proportionately too much on Iraq and not nearly enough on
homeland security. Other people would say, you know--the people who support
the Bush administration's approach would say, `Look, bottom line, there hasn't
been a terrorist attack within the borders of the United States since
September 11th, so they must be doing something right.'
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Not necessarily at all. I mean, I think, of course, they
have made a lot of progress and they have done some things right. There's no
question about that. But just because this is very dangerous and, you know,
this is where efforts wain and we start resting on our laurels, congratulating
ourselves that there hasn't been an attack--well, 9/11 took--really if the
genesis was 1995 and then they sort of seriously in earnest started really
working on it in '98, you know, that took years. Terrorist operations take
years to plan.
GROSS: Well, Matthew Brzezinski, I want to thank you very much for talking
Mr. BRZEZINSKI: Oh, thank you.
GROSS: Matthew Brzezinski is the author of the new book "Fortress America."
He's a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: During the Cold War, Norman Podhoretz decided he was no longer a
liberal and became one of the founders of neoconservatism. This year, he
received a presidential Medal of Freedom. He supports the war in Iraq as
essential to winning the war on terror. Coming up, we talk with him about his
life and his politics. And linguist Geoff Nunberg compares how we describe
Democrats and Republicans.
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Norman Podhoretz gives his views on various political
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Norman Podhoretz used to describe himself as a radical. But by the late '60s,
he had become disillusioned with what he's described as `the anti-American
tone of the left's political anti-war protests.' When Podhoretz had his
political transformation, he became a founding father of neoconservativism.
His friend and fellow neocon, Irving Crystal, defined neoconservative as a
liberal who has been mugged by reality. Podhoretz is now in his mid-70s.
This year he was one of 13 winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He
continues to write for Commentary, the journal that he edited for many years.
His current piece is called World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and
Why We Have to Win. He uses World War III to refer to the Cold War and World
War IV to refer to the war on terror. He believes the war in Iraq is an
essential part of the war on terror. I asked him if his support has been
affected by some of the problematic aspects of the war. For example, we
haven't found weapons of mass destruction. We continue to fight insurgents.
Fallujah and Ramadi are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, and with
the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib, those who hate Americans can now
reinforce that hatred with the image of Americans torturing Muslims. Does he
still think the war was the right thing to do?
Mr. NORMAN PODHORETZ (Former Editor, Commentary): Absolutely. I have no
second thoughts. I think it was the right thing to do. And I think that, on
the whole, the operation has been not a failure or a disaster, as many people
keep saying, I think, mindlessly, but a huge success as measured by historical
GROSS: What are the measures you're using?
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, talking about--I mean, I was in the Army of Occupation
in Germany. I was just an enlisted man and I was there at the tail end. But
I am--but still old enough now to remember the difficulties that faced us in
Germany and Japan after the Second World War. They were not the same kind of
difficulties, but there were many--not only were there many difficulties but
there were articles saying that what we were trying to do there was
impossible. It could not be done. It could not--you could not create or
foster democratic societies, either in Germany or Japan, for this, that and
the other reason, pointing to all the things that were going wrong, and many
things were going wrong.
Things always go wrong, not only in war, but in the efforts to reconstruct a
war-torn society. And anyone with a historical sense who measures the
difficulties--the costs, the problems--of the--what I call the battle of
Iraq--would have to say that the price in blood was very low--again, by
historical standards. We lost several hundred troops, including--if you--even
including the post-military--postwar--the occupation period or the
reconstruction period. Sixty-six hundred, 6,600, Americans were killed on a
single day in D-Day, just to supply a bit of perspective here. And I could
give you similar numbers for other wars that we fought.
So I would stipulate--yes, I mean, not only have there been problems, some of
them will continue to be problems. But the question that one always has to
ask is compared to what and measured against what standard, and what the
balance sheet is. So--I mean, I myself not only don't have any second
thoughts. I think that President Bush made the right decision. It was a
decision backed by a majority in Congress. And I think he is being vindicated
and that the policy will be vindicated.
GROSS: In your latest piece in the publication Commentary, you wrote, `The
road we have taken since 9/11 is the only safe course for us to follow. We
Mr. PODHORETZ: Yeah, that's what I was just trying to say.
GROSS: Yeah, I'm going to quote a little more.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Go ahead.
GROSS: "We are only in the early stages of what promises to be a very long
war, and Iraq is only the second front to have opened in that war, the second
scene, so to speak, of the first act of a five-act play." What are the other
acts? What do you think is next in this scenario?
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, I...
GROSS: And does that include the invasion of other countries?
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, perhaps. I don't know. I mean, I'm not actually making
policy in detail. But I can describe the strategy to you that I think is
being followed and that I support. When I say it's a very long war, I have in
mind the analogy with World War III, or the Cold War, which took 40--What was
it?--42 years from the annunciation of the Truman Doctrine to the fall of the
Berlin Wall, which is--pretty much marks the end of it, the American victory
in the Cold War. And I think--and I'm not alone in thinking this, many people
think this--that the war that--into which we were plunged on 9/11 will take a
comparably long time. I don't know exactly how long, but is--it's a long
struggle, and like the Cold War, World War III, it will involve the use of
many different instrumentalities of power, not just military. Just--the same
thing happened in the Cold War. Economic pressures, political pressures,
diplomatic, various--used as appropriate in a given situation and in dealing
with a given despotism that we're trying to reform or, if necessary, get
In Iran, for example, there is a very large insurgency, calls itself the
democratic insurgency, that wants to overthrow the theocracy set up by the
mullahs in Tehran. I hope--I still hope--it's been repressed for the moment,
suppressed and repressed--that it will be possible for that insurgency to make
its own way without direct American intervention. Because I think it's--one
of the next scenes or acts in this five-act play would have to be a change of
regime in Iran. I think the same is true of Syria.
Now again, military action, if we're lucky, won't be necessary, or even
desirable. I mean, we've seen the change in Libya without military action. I
mean, Gadhafi said he was giving up his nuclear program because he was afraid
he might be next on the American hit list. That's good. That's a plus, a
bonus, demonstration effect from Afghanistan and Iraq. But I would say that,
at the end of this war, if you're asking me, you know, what would happen in
the last scene of Act V, we would see the despotisms that currently oppress
and dominate the lives of most of the millions and millions of people in that
region, in the Middle East, would be replaced by regimes that, at best, would
be democratic and, at worst, would be on the road to the building of
GROSS: Before the invasion of Iraq, one argument that was put forward is that
if we invaded Iraq, ousted Saddam Hussein and helped to create a democracy
there, that democracy would spread, and that this would have a powerful and
positive force on peace in the Middle East and that it would benefit security
in Israel, which I know is an important issue for you. So having come this
far, what do you think the impact is so far on security in the Middle East?
Mr. PODHORETZ: What you already see happening throughout that region is a lot
of talk about democratic reform, none of which existed before. It's all over
the place and it's quite extraordinary. It's one of the--it's a clear
consequence of the Bush doctrine in action in that region. Reformers have
been heartened just as dissidents behind the Iron Curtain were heartened by
Ronald Reagan when he talked of the evil empire. That's one effect, one
benevolent, you might say, domino effect. I mentioned Gadhafi before. As for
the Arab war against Israel, well, what's--one of the things that's happened
is that there's an internal rebellion against Yasser Arafat, which has been
squelched for the moment, but something that would have been unthinkable a
couple of years ago, and I think that the Bush doctrine is also responsible
for that. There can only be a settlement, as the president has said.
If there is a Palestinian state that renounces terrorism and that has pledged
to the building of democratic institutions, that would then make it possible
to live, coexist in peace with Israel. That does not yet exist. It never has
existed before. And until it exists, there will be no hope for an end to that
particular war. But I would like to remind you, and it's a long story, there
have been something like 23 wars in the region since the founding of Israel in
which Israel had no part whatsoever, and several million people have been
killed in those wars. So the idea that peace in the Middle East is the same
thing as a resolution of the conflict between the Arab world and Israel, the
war of the Arab world against Israel, is ridiculous, which doesn't mean that
it's not important that that peace be brought to--and security to Israel. Of
course it's important.
GROSS: My guest is Norman Podhoretz, one of the founders of
neoconservativism. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Norman Podhoretz, one of the founders of
Now I know that you see the war in Iraq as being a very important part on the
war on terrorism which you describe as World War IV. But, you know, critics
of the war are arguing that we're not stopping terrorism, we're creating more
terrorists because what we're doing there is going so poorly and is angering
so many people in that part of the world that it's becoming this incredible
recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. What's your response
Mr. PODHORETZ: My response to that is that it's a preposterous argument.
Al-Qaeda attacked us before we were in Iraq or--after a period when we were
being in fact very nice to the regimes in that region. We are not creating
al-Qaeda terrorists. We're killing a lot of al-Qaeda terrorists. And we're
crippling their operation, again, not just militarily but with use of economic
power and political power. So I just think it's a silly argument that--and
that it doesn't hold any water.
GROSS: In terms of homeland security and actually protecting us against
terrorists here in the United States, we're spending a fraction on homeland
security that we're spending on actually fighting the war in Iraq. I don't
know if you've seen it, but there's an article in Mother Jones by...
Mr. PODHORETZ: No, I haven't seen it.
GROSS: ...Matthew Brzezinski, who has a new piece on--a new book on homeland
security, and this article is on homeland security. And he argues that, you
know, we're spending so little on homeland security compared to what we're
spending on the war in Iraq and that it's leaving us vulnerable and unable to
fund what we need in protecting our transportation systems, protecting our
chemical plants, our nuclear plants, our coasts and so on. He also has a
chart in this and on one column is the spending that we need for protection
and in another column is marked `Iraq spending equivalent.' In other words,
to how many days of spending in Iraq would it take to fund what we need. So
in the spending needed, the amount of money for basic security upgrades for
subway and commuter trains in large cities is estimated at $6 billion. We
don't have that money. We're only getting $100 million from the Bush
administration. But that $6 billion is only 20 days of spending in the war in
Iraq. Does that seem lopsided to you? Do you think that the spending on the
war in Iraq is taking away from the money that we need to defend ourselves at
Mr. PODHORETZ: No, I think the whole argument is silly. Look, I would have
bet everything I own three years ago that we would have been attacked by now
and in a major way, and I thank God that we haven't been, and, of course, we
could be tomorrow. But somebody is doing something right. I would--I have no
idea, nor do I think he does, how much money we really need to spend. We need
to spend as much as we need to spend in order to remain secure, and so far we
have got through a period when almost everybody in the world would have
expected we would be attacked. We have not been attacked. So, I repeat,
someone is doing something right.
GROSS: You know, I've wondered about this. You support the Bush
administration. And an important part of his base comes from the Christian
right. And many of the people on the Christian right believe that
Christianity is the only true religion. And that at the end of days, which
many people on the Christian right believe is imminent, that millions of
people will be--that millions of born-again Christians will be instantly
raised into heaven. But that--but--wait.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, as--OK.
GROSS: But that everyone who is not a Christian believer will be left on
Mr. PODHORETZ: Yeah.
GROSS: ...to face seven years of tribulation--wars, plagues and other
catastrophes--until the final battles between Jesus, who will have come again,
and the Antichrist, and that any Jews who have not converted to Christianity
will never be saved.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Yeah. Well, that--first of all, that's one segment of the
so-called religious right and by no means the central one. But I don't even
want to get into their theology. As my friend and fellow founding neocon
father, Irving Crystal, once said, `Well, if--when the Second Coming
materializes or happens, we'll find out whether this is true or not, and in
the meantime, to the extent that these people are our friends and allies, we
should accept them as such.' And that's how I feel about most of the people I
know who are identified with--who are conservative Christians.
GROSS: It doesn't bother you that for some of them your religion is a false
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, sure, it bothers me, but I have to say that if you press
me, I mean, you know, I don't think Christianity is the true religion. Does
it bother them? I suppose it does. But we've learned how to--we've learned
how to live with these differences in our society. It's taken hundreds of
years, but we have finally reached a point where we understand how to coexist
and tolerate one another's religious and theological beliefs.
GROSS: On this week of the Republican convention, I'm wondering that when you
watch conventions now, on television...
Mr. PODHORETZ: I don't.
GROSS: You don't?
Mr. PODHORETZ: No, I didn't watch the Democratic convention, but I'll
probably watch some of this. I don't know. I mean, I watched Kerry's speech,
but that's all.
GROSS: Well, you're so involved in American political thought. Why are you
not paying much attention to the conventions?
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, for the same reason that the networks aren't paying much
attention to them. They're not what they used to be and they don't--they're
just big shows. They're--nothing of great significance happens at them, which
was not true in the past. I mean, in the past there was a lot of suspense.
There were platform fights that really meant something; there were--there was
a question of who would be chosen vice presidential candidate, you know, that
kind of thing, which delegations would be seated. Nothing like that happens;
the whole thing is now predetermined. And the only question is whether the
candidate makes a really effective speech. I think that's about all that's
GROSS: The literature about the neoconservative movement makes it seem that
when you had your conversion from liberal or radical to conservative that it
meant parting ways with a lot of your liberal or radical friends.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Sure.
GROSS: And I'm wondering many years beyond that transformation, do you have
friends who are liberal?
Mr. PODHORETZ: No. I mean, I do--you know, I have acquaintances who are
liberal and with whom I have civil relations if I happen to run into them at
dinner parties, but I have almost no friends any longer who are liberal, and I
suspect that this is true of most people on both sides of the divide. I've
never seen--well, I mean, since the '60s, the polarization has become more and
more intense and there are fewer and fewer friendships that can be sustained
across the divide between left and right in this country. It's a great shame,
but it's a reality.
I wrote a book called "Ex-Friends" all about this, about my own experience and
tried to explain why it was so difficult for people who take political ideas
really seriously to maintain friendships with people who have other points of
view. I mean, what religious differences used to be and aren't anymore, I
mean, in our world, not in the Muslim world, political differences have
become. They've acquired a religious intensity and are tinged with a kind of
intolerance that used to characterize religious differences and that
characterize religious differences far less now than they characterize
GROSS: But in some places, it's a combination of the two that the political
differences are also religiously based.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Yeah. Well, it depends again, I mean, which places you're
looking at. To me, the stridency of the so-called liberal community--it's not
liberal at all in any traditional sense--the stridency and intolerance and
bigotry that I find marking the liberal community reminds me of the bad old
days of religious intolerance of a century or two ago, and I don't find
anything like that degree of bigotry, really, among religious people. I do
find it among some conservatives, yeah, but not among most religious people I
happen to know.
GROSS: Do you think that James Carville and Mary Matalin should be giving us
all lessons in how to get along?
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, I've often said nobody knows what goes on inside someone
else's marriage, and that marriage is a great mystery to me. And how they get
along, I really don't know. I mean, it would be very nice if we could all get
along, but in the real world, it doesn't seem to work that way.
GROSS: Well, Norman Podhoretz, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. PODHORETZ: Well, thank you.
GROSS: Norman Podhoretz has an article in the current edition of Commentary
called World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win.
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg compares how we describe Democrats and
This is FRESH AIR.
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Commentary: Differences in the language used to describe Democrats
TERRY GROSS, host:
The Republicans are featuring a lot of moderate speakers at their convention
this week. When the Democrats did the same thing last month, the speakers
were described more often as centrists. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg talks
about the curious differences in the language we use to describe the two
By their uniforms, you shall know them. The New York Times' Damien Cave
begins an article on the Republican convention by saying, `They're finally
here, the Republican delegates in their rep ties.' Daniel Peres, the editor
of Details magazine, explains why he's leaving the city for the duration: `I
don't want to see a lot of bad Men's Wearhouse suits and a lot of badly parted
hair walking around my neighborhood.' New York Magazine offers tips to women
conventioneers on where to buy coordinated skirt suits and high-end hair
spray. And The Weekly Standard's Mark Labash worries that, `In New York,
Republicans will stand out like Good Humor men in their summer-weight khaki
Unfair or not, those dress stereotypes have a long history. The phrase
`white-shoe Republicans' goes back to the Reagan years, or you think of the
"Checkers" speech that Richard Nixon gave during the 1952 campaign when he
famously referred to his wife Pat's respectable Republican cloth coat. What's
curious is that people don't pigeonhole the Democrats that way. Liberals,
yes, with their Volvos, lattes and Birkenstocks, but the Democratic Party in
general gets a sartorial pass.
The picture of a Republican uniform reflects a wider perception of the party's
uniformity, not just in appearance but in ideology. It's a difference that
shows up in the words we use to describe the parties. When the Republicans
wanted to put a compassionate face on their party for the convention, they
decided to feature speakers like Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George
Pataki and Michael Bloomberg. That pretty much mirrors the strategy the
Democrats adopted at their convention when they tried to appeal to swing
voters with speakers like Senator John Breaux of Louisiana and Barack Obama of
Illinois. The difference is that the Republican speakers tended to be called
moderates, whereas the Democrats are called centrists.
In fact, when politicians are described as centrists, the odds are around 4:1
they're Democrats. When they're described as moderates, the odds are 4:1
they're Republicans. That's part of a general pattern. People tend to place
Democrats relative to the broad political spectrum and Republicans relative to
their party. In press stories, for example, the phrase `mainstream
Republican' is three times more common than `mainstream Democrat' is.
Those discrepancies are a fairly recent development. The phrase `moderate
Republican' didn't become common until the 1964 election. At the time, it
implied a contrast with the extremist label that Democrats were trying to pin
on Barry Goldwater and his supporters, but the phrase persisted, even after
conservative Republicanism became respectable in the Reagan era. When Tom
DeLay jokes about how many moderates the Republican Party has, he obviously
isn't contrasting moderates with radicals or extremists. Nowadays, being a
moderate Republican is usually a matter of what position you take on social
issues or sometimes just a matter of tone. Moderate Republicans are like
other Republicans, only less intense about it.
The triumph of `moderate Republican' owes a lot to the near disappearance of
the phrase `liberal Republican,' which is about 80 percent less common in the
press than it was in Goldwater's day. That's partly a result of the party's
general drift to the right, but the fact is that a lot of the speakers who
were featured at the convention would probably have been described as liberal
Republicans in the 1960s. Since then, though, the polarization of political
life has been turning the L-word into an absolute rather than a relative term.
Nowadays, Republicans like Pataki and Bloomberg wouldn't own up to being a
liberal anything, no more than they'd acknowledge Nelson Rockefeller or John
Lindsay as their spiritual ancestors.
Ever since the Reagan years, though, we've been describing the two parties
according to different sets of coordinates. We define Republicans relative to
the party constellation. We define Democrats according to their distance from
the political horizons. That reflects the view of Republicans as having a
dominant ideology which defines the party's center and periphery. We have a
word `Republicanism' after all, but there's no word `Democratism.' For that
matter, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to be described as true
believers or the party faithful. That language suggests that the Republicans
are a movement, whereas the Democrats are a confluence of currents with no
discernable mainstream. As Will Rogers once said, `I belong to no organized
party. I'm a Democrat.'
This isn't to say that people don't perceive the Democrats as standing for
anything nowadays. Compassionate conservatism or no, words like `caring' and
`fairness' are still more likely to come up in connection with Democrats, but
that's a question of common attitudes and values rather than of a political
program. Despite all the efforts of the right to make `Democrat' synonymous
with `liberal,' people don't associate the party with a dominant philosophical
system. Those differences are natural enough given the Republicans' fabled
party discipline and the Democrats' equally fabled fractiousness compounded by
all those years out of power, but the perception of the Republicans'
overriding ideological unity may make it hard for them to persuade undecided
voters that people like Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are the real embodiments
of the party's soul, not with all those qualifying adjectives slung around
their necks and certainly not in those fabulous suits.
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and the author of "Going Nucular:
Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.