The transcript from this week’s MiB podcast with Bruce Bartlett is below.
The audio can be found here Bloomberg, iTunes, Overcast, and Soundcloud. Our earlier podcasts can all be found on iTunes, Soundcloud, Overcast and Bloomberg.
ANNOUNCER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST: This week on the podcast, I have an extra special guest. He is Bruce Bartlett and if you’re not familiar with Bruce, you really should be. He started his career working for Ron Paul and then Jack Kemp. He helped to put together what eventually became the Kemp Roth tax cuts which were passed by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.
Eventually, due to some of the policies of George Bush, he broke with the far right and became an independent voice and a critic of the move of the GOP away from its traditional roots to areas never seen before.
I know I am going to get all sorts of angry e-mails from people mostly because I agree with pretty much everything Bruce says and some of you are going to disagree with everything he says.
You can send me angry e-mails at MIBpodcast@bloomberg.net. I don’t know how else to describe this other than just a tour de force conversation about – from a certain segment of the political firmament which is the conservative Republican never Trumpers and Bruce Bartlett is a perfect example of that.
Previously, we’ve had Mike Murphy who was Jebb Bush’s campaign manager who gave a slightly different perspective and we try and bring all sorts of perspectives on to the show to discuss these things I found it really fascinating and I expect you will too.
So with no further ado, my conversation with Bruce Bartlett.
I have an extra special guest today. His name is Bruce Bartlett and he has a story career in politics in Washington DC. He has held senior policy roles in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration. He started in DC working with Congressman Ron Paul on the Banking Committee. He has also worked with Jack Kemp. He was Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. He has written for various publications including the New York Times, Economics Blog for the Washington Post and other fine publications.
He is the author of multiple best-selling books including, “Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action” and “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.” Most recently he wrote the book, “The Truth Matters: A Citizens Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in its Tracks.”
Bruce Bartlett, welcome to Bloomberg.
BRUCE BARTLETT, AUTHOR: Happy to be here.
RITHOLTZ: So that’s quite the CV, let’s begin by going to your political beginnings. You in 1976 began working for then a known Congressman named Ron Paul out of Texas. What did you do for him and how did you guys ultimately find each other?
BARTLETT: Well, at that time, Texas was a very solidly Democratic state. You know, the old story down there is the Democrats were yellow dog Democrats. They’d vote for a yellow dog if it was running as a Democrat and there were only two other Republicans in the Republican House delegation and one of the Democrats resigned because he got a higher level appointment of some kind.
And so they had to have a special election in April 1976 and I saw a brief story in the Washington Post in which this fellow, Ron Paul whom of course I’d never heard of was elected. A Republican to a Democratic seat and he was quoted in the article saying he was to the right of Barry Goldwater.
RITHOLTZ: Which is hard to imagine.
BARTLETT: Well, at the time that sounded like a good idea to me. I was very conservative at that time, a libertarian and so – and I was just finishing up some working graduate school and was looking around for a real job, so out of the blue, I just sent him a letter and some things I had published and a few days later, I get a call from his secretary and I interviewed with him, and I remember when I entered his office, he had a book case and in the book case was every book published by the Foundation for Economic Education.
RITHOLTZ: Which is still around in a robust website?
BARTLETT: That’s right and —
RITHOLTZ: Fee.org if I am remembering correctly.
BARTLETT: Yes, yes. But at the time, it was the most well-known, well-established free market oriented think tank in the United States and I had already published a couple of articles in its little journal which was called, “The Freeman.” And so I think that’s probably what caught his attention and when I saw all these books, I knew I was in pretty good shape.
RITHOLTZ: So what was it like working with him? He was on the Banking Committee. I don’t think people had any idea of how his politics would evolve to really fully blown libertarianism nor did people understand that he would one day mount a fairly significant run for the Presidency.
BARTLETT: Multiple runs for the president and that his son would become a United States senator. Yes, I mean, at the time, we thought what we were doing was very quixotic and I think we’re just trying to make a point and in order to do so, you know, Ron liked to do things in a very outrageous manner.
For example, one of the things he most enjoyed was being the only no vote against some piece of legislation that passed – would otherwise have passed unanimously and since he was a medical doctor, he got – people would call him Dr. No.
And very much enjoyed that.
RITHOLTZ: How did you move from Ron Paul in Texas to Jack Kemp up in upstate New York?
BARTLETT: Well, the problem was that Ron was elected in a special election in April of 1976 and therefore had to run for election for a full seat that very same year and unfortunately, he was defeated in his first bid for – I guess, he was – his first effort at reelection and so he was defeated and I was looking around for a job and one of the women in the office said that she had heard that Jack Kemp who I really only knew about as a football player.
I remember watching him in the 1965 AFL Championship game when he was playing for the Buffalo Bills and he had been elected to Congress in 1970 and he always said that the reason he was elected was because he threatened to come back and play for the Bills another year if he lost.
RITHOLTZ: That’s very funny. So you leave Ron Paul after he was defeated in what was that? 1978?
RITHOLTZ: Seventy six. And you joined Jack Kemp’s office. Kemp was tapped by Reagan to help push forward a very big set of tax cuts. Tell us what that was about?
BARTLETT: Well that was much later. So I went to work with Kemp and he was very interested in tax policy and he had come under the influence of a guy named Jude Wanniski.
BARTLETT: Who in turn had come under the influence of two economists, one named Robert Mundell who later won the Nobel Prize and Arthur Laffer who was still out there and very active in tax affairs.
One of the things Jack was very interested in was the Kennedy tax cut of the 1960s which he felt had done a lot to invigorate the economy and remember in 1977, inflation was the overwhelmingly large problem and this tended to make it very hard to do any kind of fiscal policy because anything that would increase the deficit was considered per se inflationary.
But what Jack argued really based on Mundell’s theories was that if you enacted some kind of policy that increased the production of goods and services, then this would be anti-inflationary, you see. And so —
RITHOLTZ: Meaning you would have more supply and it should not see runaway prices. The additional supply should actually keep a cap on prices?
BARTLETT: Yes, if you could just hold the line on the money supply and then do something that would raise supply, then you should get a diminishment of inflation. At least that was our theory and our argument and so one day I remember, he just said to me, “Bruce, why don’t we – instead of just talking about the Kennedy tax cut, why don’t we just do it and just reintroduce the same legislation?”
Well, obviously, you couldn’t literally do that because the Kennedy tax cut was already in effect, so we had to find something that replicated in current terms —
RITHOLTZ: Remind us, how – what were the top rates like under Kennedy? What was the actual impact of the cuts that were passed in the early 1960s?
BARTLETT: Well, you have to remember that when Kennedy took office, all the World War II Korea War tax rates were still in effect because Eisenhower refused to cut them on the grounds that he wanted to balance the budget and – but Kennedy, remember ran on saying he wanted to get the economy moving again.
And so he, at that time, the top tax rate, federal marginal statutory income tax rate was 91 percent.
BARTLETT: And the bottom rate was I believe 20 percent and so he cut those from – he had cut the top rate down to 70 percent and the bottom rate down to 14 percent and that’s where those rates were when I started working for Jack Kemp.
Now, the real problem was remember — inflation and everybody was getting pushed up into higher tax brackets.
RITHOLTZ: Because inflation at the time, tax brackets were not adjusted for inflation. You could just be inflated into a higher bracket?
BARTLETT: That’s right. And so workers were getting cost of living adjustments which just kept them even, but they were actually were soft because they were getting pushed into higher brackets that had been originally put in to place to tax people whose real incomes were very substantially higher than theirs.
And actually, the rich were in somewhat of a better shape because if you were already in a top bracket, you can’t get pushed any higher, but there were some other problems – capital gains was a very serious problem because a lot of the gains that were being realized at that time was pure inflation and so you were being – it was confiscatory taxation. You were paying a tax on zero real gains.
RITHOLTZ: What did Kemp propose doing based on where taxes were in the last 1970s, early 1980s?
BARTLETT: Well, he proposed cutting the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and the bottom rate from 14 percent to 10 percent. And so we just asserted that this is essentially the Kennedy tax cut.
RITHOLTZ: Another 20 points off the top and a third off the bottom.
BARTLETT: Yes, so we argued that everybody was getting a tax rate cut and all the rates in between were cut at about – by the same amount and so we introduced this legislation in the middle of 1977. In the meantime, a senator named Bill Roth from Delaware had contacted Kemp saying he really liked what he was saying and suggested they work together.
And so we asked him if we wanted to co-sponsor this Kennedy tax cut legislation. He was very interested in doing so and that’s how it became the Kemp-Roth bill. But in 1977, there was not much interest in this legislation because Republicans were still very wedded to the balance budget idea and they didn’t want to cut taxes unless they cut spending simultaneously by an equal amount. This was the widespread view in the Republican caucus.
So we were having trouble getting co-sponsors and of course inflation was a serious problem and all that conventional administration economists said, “If you enact the big tax cut now, it will be massively inflationary. We’ll have hyperinflation.” So we had no support really from anybody except these couple of people like Arthur Laffer and —
RITHOLTZ: Speaking of which, 1980 comes along, Ronald Reagan gets elected in pretty much a landslide, not as big a landslide as 1984, but still substantially trounced Jimmy Carter, then what happened? How did we get from that to all of those tax cuts we saw in the 1980s?
BARTLETT: There was something in between happened that’s extremely important which is in 1978, they passed Proposition 13 in California. Now remember that was a huge cut in the property tax rate and the really important part about this is there were no accompanying spending cuts because everybody just said, “There’s plenty of fat in the government. Let them worry about it. It’s not our problem. We just want to pay less taxes.” And when this was enacted, it led everybody in the United States, everybody in Washington certainly to believe, “Oh my god, there’s a tax revolt. We’ve got to do something about this.”
And Kemp’s legislation suddenly became the thing that every Republican wanted to be the sponsor of and as you say, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was running for President, he officially endorsed the Kemp Roth bill and said, “This is my legislation. This is what I will send to Congress if I am elected,” and he did.
And it was signed into law in August of 1981.
RITHOLTZ: And what was the impact of those taxes?
BARTLETT: I think they were grossly exaggerated to this day in terms of their economic impact. You have to remember, the tax cut took effect in the middle of a huge recession and so in that sense, it was very well timed fiscal stimulus, but a lot of other – but of course, the economy continued downward for well over the year after the tax cut effect.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the changes that have taken place in politics over the past 20 or 30 years that led you to really break with your conservative roots and probably nothing epitomizes that more than the book you wrote, how George Bush bankrupted America and betrayed the Reagan legacy, what led to this fairly dramatic pivot from the right to I would say the middle, other people would say the left. What led to this?
BARTLETT: Oh I can tell you very, very specifically even give you the exact date. Now, up until 2003, I was a very conventional Republican conservative. I was very happy in the Republican Party and then on November 22nd, 2003, you may remember we woke up to – and when we read the newspapers, we found out that in the middle of the night, the Republican Congress had passed something called the Medicare Part D program and they literally kept the vote open for three hours while they twisted arms and did all kinds of things to ram this piece of legislation through which was the creation of a new entitlement program for —
RITHOLTZ: With big giveaways to the industry itself as well.
BARTLETT: That’s right. It was a $400 billion cost, not one penny of which was paid for and they explicitly wrote into law that the Medicare program was prohibited from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies in the same way that every single private health insurance plan does, so they have to pay the list price whatever they charged, $10,000.00 a dosage. The Medicare program has to pay it and there’s nothing they can do about it.
RITHOLTZ: Was that a sop to the industry?
BARTLETT: Of course, it was a sop industry —
RITHOLTZ: Or was that an attempt to bankrupt Medicaid?
BARTLETT: No, I don’t think they were consciously trying to bankrupt Medicare. What I think is they were trying to throw billions – hundreds of billions of dollars at their pals in the pharmaceutical industry.
I think that they were – and the Republicans felt that they had to do this because they knew the Democrats would the first chance they got, but the Democrats would make sure that there were provisions in there to control drug prices and they absolutely did not want that to happen, so they had to take the initiative to pass this legislation themselves and I was just horrified because I thought Republicans existed to cut entitlement programs, reduce spending an creating a new entitlement program was just the opposite of what I thought the party existed to do.
RITHOLTZ: So you sat down and wrote a book called, “Impostor,” about George Bush, what was the response and you published a variety of different columns about it while it was in the works. What was the response from your colleagues on the right?
BARTLETT: Well, first of all, I started writing very, very negative columns about George W. Bush and at the time, I was working for a conservative think tank which basically said, “Stop doing this or you’re going to be fired.” So that was what led me to decide to write the book, which I had originally thought I might have to do anonymously.
But anyway, I wrote this book during 2005 and to my surprise, there was interest in the publishing industry about it and it came out in early 2006.
RITHOLTZ: A Reagan adviser with strong right wing conservative credentials writes a book calling George Bush, the president who is bankrupting America and betraying the Reagan legacy, was it any surprise that a conservative think tank said you’re out?
BARTLETT: In retrospect, I was rather naïve about all of these, but see, I thought that I had written a book and if you read it, it reads like an academic book. It’s very, very heavily referenced and not only that, virtually every person in the entire book who is cited or quoted is a good solid conservative because I was in a way distilling what a lot of conservatives were saying and I thought if people simply read the book, they’d be persuaded by it, they’d agree with me.
RITHOLTZ: Isn’t it shocking you could go through this whole process of putting all of these facts on paper and yet, still the same myths and misunderstandings persist. People don’t want to believe that which they don’t want to believe.
BARTLETT: That’s right and it was really my first experience with this whole phenomenon. I am not quite sure what we call it now where —
RITHOLTZ: Confirmation bias, selective perception —
BARTLETT: But —
RITHOLTZ: There’s another quote of yours I have to mention because at this point, I think you’re just trying to get your conservative allies and friends angry. You wrote, “No one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman, a prominent Keynesian economist.” He is the boogeyman for the far right and yet you are saying this guy has been more right than anyone else.
BARTLETT: I don’t remember exactly when I said that, but I do remember saying it and I agree with that.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about your most recent book, “The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts and Lies and Stopping Fake News in its Tracks.” First question is, the truth matters, isn’t that self-evident? Don’t we all believe the truth matters?
BARTLETT: One would think so, but there’s obviously a great deal of evidence to the contrary at least as far as Donald Trump is concerned. I mean, you’ve probably read this recent story where he continues to insist that he owns a Renoir, an original Renoir.
RITHOLTZ: Now, he has actually said that?
BARTLETT: Oh yes.
RITHOLTZ: Because the Chicago Art Institute recently came out and said, the Renoir pictured in Trump’s apartment, the original is here, we have the Providence. We could trace it back from when it was painted to who it was sold to. We know exactly who and where it is. How can Trump really believe that that’s an original?
BARTLETT: He simply continues to assert it just as he asserts so many other things that are simply lies. Now, the reason I wrote the book is because I was horrified by the election results.
RITHOLTZ: You are? Were you surprised by them?
BARTLETT: Yes, I was. On election, I mean, it was quite early in the evening when I saw the handwriting on the wall when I saw that Hillary hadn’t yet been called in states that I was quite certain she was going to win.
RITHOLTZ: Virginia, North Carolina —
BARTLETT: Virginia – I knew that was a very bad sign and I didn’t stay up to watch the final results.
BARTLETT: No, I just couldn’t handle it. And in fact, I refused to read any of the news for about two months after the election. I was just sick to my stomach.
RITHOLTZ: Oh you missed some fascinating things.
BARTLETT: Yes, I imagine I did. But as I got out of my stupor or whatever and began to think about what was going on, the thing that struck me was the problems of the media. Because it seemed to me that the media that had existed throughout most of our lifetimes, you know, when you had three major news broadcasts in the evening, you didn’t have cable. Everybody got a newspaper delivered to their house that were responsible newspapers that had a great deal of power and authority. They wouldn’t have allowed any of these to happen.
And so I felt that the weakness of the media, of certain things that were going on in the nature and the structure of the media were very much to blame for the Trump phenomenon.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s unpack that a little bit because we have a couple of things driving that. You have the overall move to digital which hurt newspaper, classified – everything from Craigslist to Amazon to Google have all taken a big chunk of the traditional media’s revenue stream and so we have seen big cutbacks in newsrooms. We have seen consolidation. We have seen a lot of newspapers closing and that’s before we get to the rise of Facebook and fake news.
BARTLETT: These are all related phenomenon obviously. The media don’t have the economic strength to oppose – I won’t say Trump is popular in the conventional sense, but he’s obviously newsworthy and people paid an inordinate amount of attention whenever there was a story about him, it got lots of clicks.
RITHOLTZ: Somebody said that the media gave him and I am mangling this number, $2 billion, $8 billion worth of free coverage and that’s why he ran a fairly shoestring campaign, not a big budget.
BARTLETT: Now, that’s exactly correct but worse, what they did is they tended inadvertently perhaps to normalize him. They shaved off the rough edges and didn’t make him seem like the total clown that he in fact is and always has been. They felt like, “How can we justify spending so much time covering this clown. We have to elevate him up so that he seems important enough to justify us giving him so much air space, so many column inches of coverage.”
RITHOLTZ: And so, it’s funny you say that because I am a lifelong New Yorker. I am going to oversimplify this, but most New Yorkers know who Donald Trump was before he ran for office and he was kind of looked at as yes, the guy inherited a bunch of money and he’s kind of a goofball, but nobody really took him seriously.
Some people thought he was a drifter. I know other people who talked about him not paying contractors and all the lawsuits and all that sort of stuff, but I think the average New Yorker kind of looked at him and said, “Yes, this guy isn’t a serious candidate.” It was shocking to those of us here that the rest of the country, he found such a robust resonance with.
BARTLETT: Well, I suppose you have to give the devil his due and say that however instinctively he figured this out, he did tap into a very deep strain of political and cultural trends that were really invisible, frankly to even the pollsters.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s focus on the media itself and what you think they’re doing wrong and what do they have to do to fix the problem they have with not being perceived as truthful or reliable?
BARTLETT: Well, I felt when I conceived this book that given the nature of the media environment, people needed to know more about the nuts and bolts of how the news is created, how it is produced, how it is distributed. It’s sort of like if you had a situation perhaps not unlike some place in Cuba where you couldn’t have a car unless you knew how to repair it yourself and maybe even build it from scratch and so as the infrastructure of the media has started to sort of collapse, people are going to have to create their own media for themselves.
RITHOLTZ: They have to curate their own news feed and not just rely on whatever gets forwarded on Facebook.
BARTLETT: That’s right. They can’t rely on just reading a decent daily newspaper every day and feel that they know whatever they needed to know that day. Many of the cable channels are rank propaganda. The Fox News channel is just literally a subsidiary of the Republican National Committee and —
RITHOLTZ: When you say that, I don’t just necessarily disagree, but when I say that to Republican friends, the answer I usually get is, “Well, the entire media landscape is completely liberal.”
BARTLETT: Well, that’s a lie they tell them so as to justify watching a media source that just lies continuously, but I will concede and I say in the book. There was a time when I think the vast bulk of the mainstream media did tilt to the left, perhaps not nearly as much as conservatives thought they did, but there was no question that if you interviewed or talked to the typical New York Times, Washington Post reporter, circa the 1970s, they were clearly to the left of center.
RITHOLTZ: The data shows that reporters tended to be educated, urban and younger that will skew to the left. Their editors tended to be also educated and urban, but higher earning and older that skewed them a little more to the right.
The theory was they would kind of balance each other out. Has the liberal media trope, has that been wildly overstated or is it – is there still truth to it or is it just a little bit of truth and it is exaggerated for effects?
BARTLETT: Well, what I think happened is that beginning, I am not sure precisely when, but let’s say the mid-1900s or so. I think the mainstream media tried to tilt itself more towards the center that is they moved to the right from where they were, but they moved to the center and I think they are by and large, they stayed there.
Now, what happened with Fox is I think they originally started more or less in the center. I think they were pretty center —
RITHOLTZ: Center right, but not wildly extreme.
BARTLETT: But they were to the right of their competitors. So they weren’t really to the objective right. They were right relative, but what happened is when the rest of the media moved to the center, they then moved very far to the right and I think especially 9/11 had a great deal to do with that.
RITHOLTZ: That’s when they went full on off the rails and became – so this is a good time to ask, what is the Overton window? You discuss this in the book and it’s fascinating.
BARTLETT: Well, we’re basically talking about it right now is the window is what you can see out, an ordinary window. You can see, let’s say a parade going by, but you can only see that little section of what might be a long parade that is right in front of your window. You can’t see what’s the left, you can’t see what’s the right, but if the window itself moves to the right, you may think you’re still seeing the same part of the parade, but you’re not. You’re now seeing the right part of the parade and so your perspective is distorted.
And we were just talking about this. The mainstream media moved to the right and ended up in the center and the Fox and the right wing media moved much further to the right, but because the mainstream media is relatively still on the left, this allows those on the right to claim falsely that the media is left wing and this justifies their being very, very right wing which they claim what we’re simply offsetting what they are doing, but in fact, what they’re doing is lying, doing propaganda and distortion.
Whereas the mainstream media is still stuck trying to tell the truth.
RITHOLTZ: Bruce, you don’t mince words. Can you stick around a little bit? I have a lot more questions for you.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan policy adviser on taxes and economics. If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure and check out the podcast extras where we keep the tape running and continue to talk about all things policy, media, and tax based. Be sure and check out my daily column, you can find that on bloombergview.com. Follow me on Twitter @Ritholtz. We love your comments, feedback and suggestions.
Write to us at MIBpodcast@bloomberg.net. I am Barry Ritholtz. You’re listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
Welcome to the podcast. Thank you, Bruce for doing this. I have been looking forward to having this conversation because I know you don’t mince words. You say it as you see it and you have been on both sides of the political spectrum. I know no one better situated to observe the current political media whatever situation than you. There’s few people who have done these sorts of things that you have done.
BARTLETT: Well, I’ll tell you. When I first broke with the GOP over the Medicare Part D legislation, I thought I didn’t really break with the GOP. What I did was I broke with the —
RITHOLTZ: Elected Republicans who were not honoring the conservative —
BARTLETT: I was breaking with Bush more than anything else and I thought I was helping my party. I still considered myself to be a Republican and what I was afraid of is that Bush’s incompetence and screw-ups were just teeing the ball up for the Democrats to win in 2008.
And what I thought, you remember my book came out in 2006 is I thought if we had a debate about why Bush was a failure, maybe we could nominate somebody who would have a chance of winning in 2008 and everybody thought I was being a traitor for even raising doubts about the possibility that the next Republican wouldn’t just win in a heartbeat and I didn’t know anything about Obama. He wasn’t even on my radar screen.
I just knew that from long history that two terms of one party, you know, you tend to get the next one and I thought that was a very, very small chance, but I thought, you know purging Bushism was part of what needed to be done and this is what everybody got upset about me.
I think it was the old – the little kid saying, the emperor is not wearing any clothes phenomenon is you’re just not allowed to say certain things in the Republican Party and we’ve seen this now just the last few days with Senators Corker and Flake where they’re just being savaged by their own party for saying – simply for saying out loud what they have said, we’ve been talking about this behind closed doors with other members of the Republicans in the Senate for months and months and we can’t take it anymore. We’re going public.
And everybody is just shocked and upset.
RITHOLTZ: They were afraid they were going to get primaried from the right.
BARTLETT: And they will. You have this absolute lunatic named Steve Bannon whom I actually know slightly. I was in a movie that he directed called “Generation Zero.” You can go to IMDb.com and find that the entire movie is available on YouTube —
RITHOLTZ: I know a few other people who had comments on that movie.
BARTLETT: A lot of people were in that movie and – were you?
BARTLETT: Okay, well, I actually got to go to a party at the Breitbart Mansion on Capitol Hill and I met Steve Bannon and I don’t remember too much about the nature of our conversation, but at least, I did meet him long before. This was 10 years ago or so.
RITHOLTZ: Right, after the financial crisis.
BARTLETT: That’s right. That’s right. Around 2009 or 2010, thereabout. But I think it was before the big Republican victory in the elections that year, so they were still sort of in the outstanding, but now of course, they’re very much on the inside.
RITHOLTZ: So here’s the issue that – I don’t know even know if this is pushback to you, but people always seem to be surprised when I say I was a Jacob Javits Republican. I have a libertarian streak. I don’t think that government should sell people who could get elected, what they can smoke and consume, whether or not they can have an abortion and all of those sorts of things are very paternalistic overreach from government so I tended to affiliate and believe more with the libertarian Republican side and Jacob Javits was the traditional moderate northeastern Republican.
And what’s astonishing is the party from that era – 1960, 1970s, even early 1980s, the modern Republican Party does not remotely resemble that previous Republican Party, so when people were pushing back at you saying, “Hey, this is not what we stand for,” really the party was moving elsewhere and you weren’t keeping up. Is that a fair assessment? You believed the Party so much as it left the part of the political spectrum where you were residing.
BARTLETT: Well, the deep historical trend that explains what you are talking about is of course, what goes by the Southern strategy that is you had for a hundred years or more after the Civil War, a weird situation in which you had very conservative, politically, culturally, economically and so on a group of people in the south who for purely historical reasons associated with the liberal party and there were too many of them to be pushed out so they had to be accommodated.
RITHOLTZ: Meaning, Republicans or whoever was in the deep south didn’t feel comfortable voting for the party of Lincoln because of the vestiges of the —
BARTLETT: What was simply a waste of time, you couldn’t win and the one group of people who you could have gotten support from were of course African-Americans who were widely – you know, had their votes suppressed. So there was simply – you simply couldn’t win, and so if you wanted a career in politics, you had no choice but to be a Democrat.
RITHOLTZ: And now, let’s talk about the modern era, you go from Bushism to eight years of Obama. I argued in 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis, it didn’t matter who the Republicans put up, they were going to lose because the financial crisis was, hey, first 9/11 and now this happened on your watch. We’re tapping out, we’re done.
I get that sense whether that was subconscious or verbalized that’s what the middle was thinking and you could arguably say that 9/11 was something that could either, couldn’t have been stopped or we just didn’t understand how significant the threat was, but the financial crisis, hey, it’s coming in the last year of 2008. It’s very hard to pass the buck on that, even though there were forces that were 10, 20, 30 years in the making that led to it.
So I thought the Republicans were destined to lose in 2008. I didn’t feel that either Party was a sure fire victor in 2016. What do we take away from the election in 2016?
BARTLETT: Well, lots of people had dissected that election and will continue to do so and it’s pretty clear that Hillary Clinton had deep, deep flaws as a candidate and everybody knew that, but she —
RITHOLTZ: But so did he, so did Donald Trump. Neither of them were good candidates.
BARTLETT: Of course. No, I agree, but I thought Hillary was going to win but then again, I always assumed that she was doing competent polling in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and knew what her situation was and could put resources into these places rather than just pretend thinking, “Oh, they’re in the bag. I don’t need to waste my time there. I am going to have a big rally the night before the election in Philadelphia, you know, with my pals Beyonce and Jay-Z or whoever.”
RITHOLTZ: You know, Pennsylvania for sure was an issue. Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina – there was a big article recently that some of the voter suppression rules in Wisconsin may have thrown that state, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt with one state but the rest, there’s no other way to say it. She blew it.
BARTLETT: But look, if she had won, she would have won by the skin of her teeth and you can imagine what the Republicans would be doing to savage her. I mean, she would have already been impeached by now, so I come around —
RITHOLTZ: Sure. Do we think she would have been impeached already?
BARTLETT: Quite possibly. Well, they just started a new investigation of Hillary’s involvement in some uranium sale you know.
RITHOLTZ: Nothing about Nasser (ph), but we’re still talking about Benghazi and —
BARTLETT: That’s right. I mean, Republicans, you can always save them as they never learn and they never forget and so they will be dredging up these things for the rest of our lives.
RITHOLTZ: Which raises a question because I don’t think, you know, I never want to draw false equivalencies. Twenty eighteen hypothetically, the Congress is retaken by the Democrats, are we going to see impeachment proceedings against President Trump?
BARTLETT: Quite possibly. It depends. I think the Democrats have a better chance of retaking the House than the Senate. I think it’s going to be tough in the Senate.
RITHOLTZ: Senate is a real long shot. House is probably, 50/50 or better.
BARTLETT: Yes, it’s within striking distance, but the point that I was getting at is even if they win, they’re not going to have an overwhelming majority. It’s not going to be like 1974 where you know, a huge Democratic majority comes in and so I think that, you know, they will have their hands full just trying to stop some of the Trump initiatives that more than likely, we’ll still be – I think we’ll still be talking about tax reform in 2018. I don’t believe that they have the competence or the wherewithal to pass anything, certainly not this year and I don’t think next year either.
RITHOLTZ: So let me ask you another question and I have shared this with some of my Democratic friends, Trump makes a lot of noise and maybe he bothers you on Twitter and maybe he is a little bit of an embarrassment internationally, but he is not competent. He’s never run a real organization. He’s never run a large business. He certainly has never run a state or a city. He is going to get nothing done and he is just going to piss everybody off.
On the other hand, if you wish him gone, well, say what you will about Vice President Pence. He was a fairly competent governor of a fairly substantial size state and he knows how to do politics. Pence will get a lot more legislation through than Trump ever could, so be careful what you wish for, if Trump is gone, now you’re dealing with a competent even further right individual. What are your thoughts on that?
BARTLETT: Well, I think Pence is nominally more competent, but that’s damning with the faintest possible (inaudible).
BARTLETT: But he is such a religious fanatic. I think it would be like having Jeff Sessions really as president and I wouldn’t underestimate Trump’s ability to get things done because he has absolutely no consistency, I mean, he is willing to just flip 180 degrees from what he said yesterday and what he really cares about is the art of the deal.
RITHOLTZ: He wants something in the wind column, he doesn’t care what it is.
BARTLETT: That’s precisely right.
RITHOLTZ: So that sort of flexibility should have led him to get some sort of repeal and replace, why couldn’t he get that done?
BARTLETT: Well that issue was still open as you know. There are people in the Congress working on an Obamacare fix that he has on various days, said he supports or opposes and I think there’s still something that at end of the day could get across the finish line there and he’ll stand up there and pretend he never said anything negative about any of this stuff. That’s his strength. Of course, it’s a weakness as well, but let’s not underestimate the strength part.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s call it an intellectual flexibility.
BARTLETT: Well, that’s one way of putting it.
RITHOLTZ: So we were talking before about the media moving, the mainstream media moving from somewhat left of center to center and that just – your description in The Truth Matters reminded me of Steven Colbert who when he was doing the Colbert Report, one of his first things to go viral was reality has a well-known liberal bias. Is there any truth to that or —
BARTLETT: Well, I think that’s absolutely true. I think part of the problem with those on the right is many of them are very religious and they are very accustomed to taking things on faith.
RITHOLTZ: It could be ideology, it could be belief system. It could be faith —
BARTLETT: And I think it’s very easy for them to just kind of gloss over the fact that the facts don’t fit their world view and to create an alternative universe in which they do when —
RITHOLTZ: Cognitive dissidence at large.
BARTLETT: That’s one way of putting it.
RITHOLTZ: So how do they rationalize when the Pope comes out and says, “Hey, climate change is real and we were given the earth and you therefore should be working to protect it, not spoiling it.” How do the conservatives rationalize? Well, he’s just the Pope.
BARTLETT: Well, as far as I can see, even Catholics are pretty much – I should say Republican Catholics pretty much ignore what the Pope said. I mean, look at the fact that we – our ambassador to the Vatican is a woman who is an admitted adulterer, okay.
RITHOLTZ: Callista Gingrich.
BARTLETT: That’s right. It’s well-known —
RITHOLTZ: Six- year affair?
BARTLETT: Yes, they had – it’s well known that she had an affair while he was still married and he of course, he’s been married three times. I doubt that he had his marriage as annulled —
RITHOLTZ: By the church (inaudible) legitimately.
BARTLETT: By the church. And these are paragons of Catholicism —
RITHOLTZ: Now, isn’t that Trump just kind of tweaking Pope because the Pope has said not nice things about him?
BARTLETT: Perhaps. I think he mostly just doesn’t care. You know, Newt called him up and said, “My wife is a big Catholic. She really wants to be Ambassador to the Vatican.”
RITHOLTZ: Wait, he said, “My wife is a big Catholic.” Hold that whole adultery thing aside.
BARTLETT: Well, I am just hypothesizing how this came about. Newt asked for a favor and Trump said, “Sure, why not? You want to be Ambassador? You want to be – I don’t care.” Because he clearly has shown absolutely no interest in the highest level appointments in his administration. I mean, it’s quite clear that the Secretary of State hates him, and I don’t know – who knows what Kelly is going through – what’s going through Kelly’s mind these days when he’s forced to stand up there and tell rank lies about what this woman – this Congresswoman said in an event they had videotape of and he won’t say, “Okay, I am sorry, I made a mistake. I misremembered.”
He just stands up there and says, “I stand by the lie that I said the other day and I am not changing it.”
RITHOLTZ: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? That’s —
BARTLETT: It’s one of those jokes.
RITHOLTZ: You know, someone had said that nobody comes out of the Bush administration with a reputation intact, which really wasn’t true because there were a handful of people on the economic side, Greg Mankiw was back at Harvard teaching and Richard Clarida is at PIMCO and just two off the top of my head, although certainly some people suffered some reputational damage and the old cons and a bunch of other people involved in the Iraq war.
I get the sense that this administration is just a reputation devouring machine. Is anybody going to come out of this administration reputation intact?
BARTLETT: One reason I think that you haven’t seen more people leave is because there’s no place for them to go.
RITHOLTZ: They’re stuck.
BARTLETT: They’re stuck. I mean, to literally have a paycheck coming in, they have to stay there and maybe hope for the best.
RITHOLTZ: Aren’t most of – many of them, wealthy and are billionaires?
BARTLETT: Well, if you’re talking about the Cabinet, sure. Guys like Steve Mnuchin and Rex Tillerson —
RITHOLTZ: Oliver Ross and go down the list —
BARTLETT: — fabulously wealthy, but I mean, the people who do the real work, you know, the assistant secretaries and people of that sort, the White House staff, they’re just paid whatever they get paid, $50,000.00 or $100,000.00 a year, and now, many of them now have to hire private lawyers because they were involved in the campaign and you saw the other day, Trump was offering to pay some of their legal expenses and I think some of these people are really, really hurting.
RITHOLTZ: That’s interesting. My pet theory about why so many political appointed positions are unfilled is Trump didn’t expect to win, didn’t want to win. Everybody else has a list of here are the 3,000 people we’re going to bring with us. He was scrambling on November 10th to, “All right, who are we going to name Secretary of State? Who are we going to…” It seemed like they were wholly unprepared for the requirements of office because they —
BARTLETT: But it’s even worse than that because they apparently did absolutely nothing between Election Day and January 20th. He was just as unprepared the day he took the oath of office as he was the day he won the election.
RITHOLTZ: Did not hit the ground running.
BARTLETT: Not exactly. No.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk a little bit about some of the other items in The Truth Matters and I also want to talk about Reaganomics, supply side economics in action. There’s a line that you said and I am going to say two things and they’re a little contradictory. But I think they are somewhat consistent. First, you go to Washington Post column headlines, I helped to create the GOP tax myth. Trump is wrong. Tax cuts don’t equal growth.
So the first question is, what are the benefits of tax cuts and/or fiscal stimulus?
BARTLETT: Well, I think you have to look at it from at least from the theory of what the Republicans say happens when you cut taxes. They believe basically in the (Ann Randy) and Great Man Theory that the wealthy carry the rest of us on their backs and their incentives count for everything.
The average guy contributes nothing. It’s the wealthy who do everything.
RITHOLTZ: Are you overstating that or do you think that’s —
BARTLETT: No, I think that this is what they believe in their heart of hearts. And so that’s why they’re obsessed with the top rate of taxation. And why they’re obsessed with getting it down no matter what. The problem is, they also want to be able to say that tax cuts benefit the average person.
The problem is you can’t help the average person with Federal income tax cuts because they basically don’t pay any. They pay a lot of payroll taxes, but they pay – families with incomes below the median are paying virtually nothing in terms of income.
RITHOLTZ: Median being around $53,000.00 or so a year.
BARTLETT: Yes, something like that. I think in the aggregate, no family with an income above $40,000.00 pays any Federal – below $40,000.00 pays any Federal income taxes at all. So they have to make up some way of claiming that these people will benefit and that’s why they’ve come up with this crockpot theory that wages will rise by at least $4,000.00 and maybe as much as $9,000.00 if you pass this big cut in the corporate income tax rate.
RITHOLTZ: There’s no credible think tank economist, anybody who has looked at the numbers, it’s just wholly fabricated out of whole plot —
BARTLETT: It’s just complete nonsense.
RITHOLTZ: So let me throw another quote at you —
BARTLETT: Can I just say one more thing about this.
BARTLETT: If you go- it’s very easy to go to BLS.gov and look up the data for wages, real wages, start in 1986 and look at what happened to real median wages and you’ll see that after the 1986 Act which lowered the top personal income tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent, which is much lower, and they lowered the corporate tax rate from 46 percent to 34 percent. I mean, this is like the best tax reform imaginable and what happened to wages is they fell, for 10 solid years after the 1986 Act. It was only after the 1993 tax increase that wages started to rise again.
RITHOLTZ: So you don’t believe, is it safe to say that – well, let me restate that. Another quote of yours, “Supply side economics was appropriate for the 1970s and 1890s. Supply side arguments do not fit contemporary conditions.” So explain what is so different today versus 25 and 30 years ago that makes supply side arguments just not work here?
BARTLETT: Well, look, we – in the early 80s, in the late 1970s, early 1980s, the biggest problem was we had too much demand, not enough supply and the proof of that is we had inflation. That is per se evidence of that being the case. We always used to say inflation is too much money chasing too few goods.
So you could argue that we did need to do things to help encourage the creation, the production of more goods and services and that’s what the supply side theory was about.
Today, we have a persistent problem of deflation and the proof of that is the current level of interest rates which are ridiculously low 10 years into an economic expansion. It’s absurd. Now, this is per se evidence, I think that we have a lack of aggregate demand. We have the reverse problem. So we don’t need a supply side solution. We need a demand side solution.
And my own preferred solution would be something that Trump allegedly is in favor which is a big infrastructure program. That would be the medicine the economy needs.
RITHOLTZ: Which raises the obvious point, why you would think that is the easiest thing for any president to get through, this support on the left, this support on the right. Everybody gets a little gravy to spread around their own district because it’s going to be a national spend, whether it’s highways or rails or electrical grid or ports or fill in the blank, there’s a ton of infrastructure needed. Why wasn’t that the first thing that was done? Why wasn’t something passed?
You would think that’s a no-brainer. If you want to truck up a victory and you could even tie it to a little bit of overseas profit repatriation which people both hate, especially some people hate a special one-time tax cut, but not as much as they hate all of these billions of dollars overseas. Why could not have been done first and been passed and here’s the win, you know, truck this up for your win column?
BARTLETT: I don’t know for sure, but what I think happened is Trump was simply misled by Congressional Republicans. They lied to him.
BARTLETT: Well, one of the things they lied to – I mean, Trump is on record as saying he thought an Obamacare repeal bill was going to be on his desk the first time he walked in to the Oval Office after taking the oath of office because remember —
RITHOLTZ: Day One.
BARTLETT: — the Congress was going to – had been in session for three weeks before he took the oath of office and so —
RITHOLTZ: But he also said, “I have a plan right here and it’s going to cover everybody and be cheaper.”
BARTLETT: But I think he did think that Republicans in Congress had been working since 2009 on a replacement for Obamacare because that’s what they’ve been saying.
RITHOLTZ: Right. So nobody had done anything?
BARTLETT: He thought there was a bill that somebody had written and was ready to go.
RITHOLTZ: Wait. So the whole time, we’ve had what? Fifty three votes to repeal Obamacare, nobody on the Republican Party ever actually drafted a – here’s a legitimate repeal and replace bill.
BARTLETT: No, there was nothing. There was absolutely nothing —
RITHOLTZ: That’s astonishing.
BARTLETT: Because you see, the Republican plan was simply to abolish Obamacare. They never intended to replace it with anything.
RITHOLTZ: Once you give 30 million or 40 million people health insurance, you can’t just yank that away. Suddenly, you have created a giant health crisis by doing that.
BARTLETT: Well, they didn’t see that way. I don’t know why. I don’t really understand how they think about these things anymore, but it’s clear that that’s what they were trying to do. And Trump, the problem was, Trump believed them and remember, he screwed everything up by saying, “No, no. We’re not going to just repeal Obamacare. We’re going to have repeal and replace.”
So it was really Trump who upset the apple cart by insisting that there be a replacement. He didn’t have one, but he assumed —
RITHOLTZ: But that’s rational. If you think about it. You know, once you give somebody an entitlement, it’s all but impossible to remove it. So the thought process was for whatever reasons we don’t like Romneycare which eventually became Obamacare, but that traces its roots to the Heritage Foundation and a fairly right wing, free market roots. The idea of replacing it with something sounded great on the campaign trail.
Nobody had done any of the heavy lifting, I am still astonished by this.
BARTLETT: Apparently, there’s no staff people who could have picked up the phone and called Paul Ryan and said, “Could you please send us over HR 2363 or whatever it is your legislation is so that we can take a look at it for your Obamacare.” There was nothing. There was nothing there.
And I think this was true of so many other things. I think he thought that the Republicans had a fully developed tax reform plan and all he had to do was endorse it. There was nothing there. There was nothing.
RITHOLTZ: What have these guys been doing for eight years other than opposing Obama?
BARTLETT: That’s it. That’s it. That’s all they did. I mean, I find —
RITHOLTZ: You’ve argued that the Republicans are better as the out of party rager, out of power ragers and actually having to run government.
BARTLETT: Yes, that’s quite clear, but I am not going to let the Democrats entirely off the hook here.
RITHOLTZ: They don’t deserve to be left off the hook.
BARTLETT: Why couldn’t they have drafted an infrastructure plan? Why couldn’t they – you know, a couple of weeks ago, we had a big debate in the Senate and the House about we’re going to put $1.5 trillion of increase in the national debt in to the budget to accommodate the revenue loss from the tax plan that passed. Why didn’t some Democrat offer as a substitute a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan? You see that, they don’t have the sense to do that.
RITHOLTZ: You’re absolutely right on that because given the lack of staff and the lack of anyone willing to roll up their sleeves in the Trump administration and do the heavy lifting, why haven’t Schumer and company said, “Hey, you wanted tax profit repatriation and an infrastructure bill, here.” You don’t even have to put our names on it. Slap your name on it and work with this.
BARTLETT: I think the problem is the Democrats have internalized the basic Republican view of the world, okay. They argue within parameters that are established by the Republicans. So Republicans come out and say, “We’re going to have a tax cut.” The Democrat reaction instinctively is to say, “Well, we don’t want to cut it for the rich. We need to tilt this more towards the middle class, but we still agree with the principle that we need a huge tax cut. We just want it reoriented towards our constituents.”
RITHOLTZ: So they’re anchored on whatever the Republicans say.
BARTLETT: Right, so they don’t seem to have the guts or the intelligence to say, “We don’t need a goddamn tax cut. What we need is all of these other stuff. We’ve got problems with climate change. We have one hurricane after another. We need to be building seawalls across, you know, the entire southern part of the United States.” Look at Puerto Rico.
RITHOLTZ: Or Florida or Texas or —
BARTLETT: Why Democrats are afraid to talk about the $75 million that Donald Trump has spent so far just golfing?
RITHOLTZ: Well, you know, if it was Obama, the Republicans would be screaming about it.
BARTLETT: Of course – they did. They did scream about it. It’s very easy to find Trump’s tweets about it.
RITHOLTZ: So there are two things I have to remind you, Bruce and these are very, very important. One is, the United States is the most heavily taxed country in the world and second, climate change is a Chinese hoax. We know both of those from some of the tweets from the President, so why should we worry about either of those things?
BARTLETT: Well, because the truth matters and those are lies. Thank you for the —
RITHOLTZ: Nicely put. So before I get to my favorite questions, there’s one last question I have to ask you on the issue of The Truth Matters. So you followed a fairly standard DC career arc. You worked in Congress and then you worked in the White House, and then you left to write some books and worked with some think tanks. You were at both CATO and the National Center for Policy Analysis.
BARTLETT: I was also at the Heritage Foundation.
RITHOLTZ: At the Heritage Foundation, but – and I used to read a lot of these white papers that came out of the think tanks decades ago, but my understanding of these think tanks are they are no longer objective pursuers of the truth starting from a certain fundamental ideological perspective. Now, it’s what – they’re just shills for hire. What sort of stuff can we crank out to pursue what this industry wants or that association wants. Have think tanks lost their ability to objectively think?
BARTLETT: Pretty much. I mean, if you’re talking about Washington think tanks, I think —
RITHOLTZ: For the most part, yes.
BARTLETT: — that’s true. There may be still some affiliated with universities and such that are worth paying attention to, but in a way, the internet made the think tank as it was originally created superfluous. Because what think tanks did is they – they were the intermediaries between the policy people and the academics who theoretically were the sources of original deep thinking and so the idea at least, when I was at Heritage Foundation in the 1980s is, “Okay, you know, we’ll talk to Milton Friedman. He’ll give us his ideas.
You write them up in a way that a policy maker can understand. We’ll pump this stuff out on to Capitol Hill,” because it’s the pre-internet era, he had to have a printed documentation that was written in a short way, easily understandable and that was what our jobs was. To be the middleman.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Let’s get to some of our favorite questions. These are what I ask all of our guests. Let’s start with your background. Tell us the most important thing that people don’t know about your background.
BARTLETT: Well, these days, it would probably be that I was a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation for two years or that my boss in the White House was a guy named Gary Bauer who is one of the epitomes of evangelical Christianity.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us about some of your early mentors. Who do you think was most influential in shaping your views and career?
BARTLETT: Jack Kemp was unquestionably the person who influenced my thinking. I remember when I used to work for him, I would sometimes think I was wrong and – or he was wrong and I was right and eventually, I realized he was right and I was wrong and I’ve discovered that about a lot of other people.
There was an economist named Herb Stein that I argue with all the time and the last, probably the last time forever that I was at the American Enterprise Institute, I confessed that in every instance in which Herb, I thought Herb was wrong and I was right. It was the other way around and you know, so I have been – and you pointed out in my comment about Paul Krugman, so I am trying to make amends.
RITHOLTZ: Tell us what other politicians influenced your thinking about both partisan politics and policy?
BARTLETT: Well, if you’re talking today, I am still educating myself. I spend an enormous amount of time reading the literature especially – I have learned that I have to study things like Psychology and Sociology and Political Science to try to understand why things are so screwy and the academics are only just barely scratching the surface, but I do believe the psychologist will eventually be the ones who tell us —
RITHOLTZ: That seems to be taking place on economics and investing for sure. Tell us about some of your favorite books.
BARTLETT: Oh, I hate to say this, but I don’t actually read very many books because I read all day long in the internet. I am just kind of a junkie about this sort of stuff. One of the things I talk about that I am sure that you’re familiar with is an RSS reader which I depend on absolutely to keep me up to date on all the stuff that is being published all around the internet and it aggregates and brings these specific items from specific websites to me directly. So I don’t have to – I never go to homepages anymore. I just read what comes to me in my RSS reader.
And I do this all day long. I get thousands and thousands of items that I have to scroll through and so the last thing I want to do is read for pleasure. And secondarily, when I write things, I like to be able to link to them. I think links are underutilized by readers and —
RITHOLTZ: And you reference that in the book as well that when you’re writing, you have to not only source specific details, but source your sources via a link.
BARTLETT: Well, that’s right. I think that a lot of writers or lackadaisical about using links which may explain why readers are lackadaisical. I’ll give you an example. I used to write for a publication and one day, I was writing something where I quoted Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State and I quoted her and I provided a link that went to the Department of State website where you could find the text of the speech that she gave and where —
RITHOLTZ: Which is a pretty reasonable thing to do.
BARTLETT: Right, well, later, I needed to find that quote again, and so I went to my article, clicked on the link. It did not take me to the State Department. It took me to some random article on that – at that publication’s website that happened to mention Hillary Clinton in passing. It was not documentation for the statement that I made. It had nothing whatsoever to do —
RITHOLTZ: Who changed that?
BARTLETT: The editor. But whoever checks your own links after they are published you see. I don’t know how much of this sort of thing goes on and it’s not the writer’s fault and so anyway, I think there is a lot of blame to go around here, but I do think that quite often, I will come across some story that sounds quite interesting. I will click on the link and it turns out it’s a secondary source and I have to click three or four more times to find the original source.
I think writers should do more to try to give credit to the original source that broke a story or is the primary source.
RITHOLTZ: Makes a lot of sense. So we’ve seen huge changes in politics and policies, what do you think is the single biggest shift that is affecting the state of modern politics?
BARTLETT: I think it’s that the Overton window which we discussed earlier —
RITHOLTZ: The perspective change.
BARTLETT: — has moved very sharply to the right, so that what used to be considered the center is now the left wing so to speak of policy debate and all of the debate takes place between the center and the far, far right and the right is very clever about continuously pushing to the right so that positions outright racism, neo-Nazism, people going around carrying flags with Nazi —
RITHOLTZ: The swastika.
BARTLETT: …swastika on them is not treated as outrageous or beyond the pale. It’s, “Oh, that’s what the right is doing today.”
RITHOLTZ: On all sides.
BARTLETT: This is —
RITHOLTZ: — find people on all sides. It’s crazy that – see, I don’t see that as a right left thing. There is a spectrum of right left and as you described, beyond the pale. That sort of stuff is beyond the pale and what’s disappointing is —
BARTLETT: But it’s not treated as beyond the pale.
RITHOLTZ: — that’s what’s so disappointing —
BARTLETT: — it’s reported as if this is normal behavior.
RITHOLTZ: I don’t understand why there aren’t more rational conservatives and by the way, you can look at national review screams about this. You could look at American conservatives screaming about this, but you don’t quite hear the same sort of pushback from as you mentioned, Fox and other places, certainly not to the same degree as NRO has just been all over this.
BARTLETT: Well, the façade is cracking. I mean, I think the Corker – Flake business is potentially far reaching in its impact because finally, there are people articulating views that perhaps you and I may have but they have credibility because they are elected officials in the Republican Party. Corker is still Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is in a position to actually do something.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s get to our final question, final two questions. If some millennial or recent college grad came to you and said, “I am interested in a career in either politics or policy,” what sort of advice would you give them?
BARTLETT: Well, just as a pure career element, I think the health-ish area is going to be a huge continuing growth area. The baby boomers are getting older. Gerontology, care for my generation. I think this is the way the wealth will be transferred from our generation to the younger generation. They basically are going to have to take care of us in our old age and that’s fine.
RITHOLTZ: And then our final question, what is it that you know about politics today you wish you knew 30 years ago when you were first getting started?
BARTLETT: Well, you know that’s a continuing problem. I wish I had understood tribal loyalty and the extent to which people on the right have – are not motivated by ideas. It’s just guts and it’s all about the tribe and if you are a Republican and you’re saying something and I am a Republican, I have to support you. I have to agree with you. I am not allowed to independently evaluate what you said because I might discover you’re wrong and if I discover you’re wrong that creates a crisis for me.
So it’s better if I just don’t even think about it. I just lock step, say, “Yes, hail Hitler.” You know.
RITHOLTZ: Us versus them. We have been speaking with Bruce Bartlett, author of “The Truth Matters,” and former Ronald Reagan and first George Bush administration policy adviser. If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure and look up an inch or down an inch on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Sound Cloud, Bloomberg.com – wherever fine podcasts are sold and you can see any of our previous 160 or so such conversations.
We love your comments, feedback and suggestions, write to us at MIBpodcast@bloomberg.net. I would be remiss if I did not thank our crack team here who helps put together the podcast each week, Medina Parwana is my producer and audio engineer, Taylor Riggs is my booker. Michael Batnick is our head of research. I am Barry Ritholtz. You’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.