Bill Moyers Journal,  August 15, 2008: Bill Moyers interviews Andrew Bacevich

We modern Americans are marvels of indolence. We’ll slap magnetic “Support our troops” ribbons on our minivans and surrender our freedoms to telephone companies if that’s what it takes to keep from having to protect our freedoms, but let anyone even suggest keeping our tires properly inflated and suddenly that sacred line between abstract consent and literal effort has been crossed and we are downright indignant.

You would think we would be doomed with an attitude like this, and you would be right.

On Friday, the same day I had been thinking that I wanted more and better TV on my computer, I ran across a posting at Lifehacker about Miro, an iTunesy kind of video player that also downloads fresh video content for you as it becomes available. The first thing I downloaded with it was Friday’s installment of Bill Moyers Journal, a favorite PBS interview show.

I have admired Bill Moyers for decades simply because, like perhaps no one else in the business, he seems determined to use the miracle of television to benefit the world. Sure, a bulkier audience prefers shouting matches and competitions between inept singers. Regardless, Moyers instead brings some of the world’s most brilliant minds to the tube for intelligent conversation. His six-hour series with Joseph Campbell changed my life.

Friday’s guest was Andrew Bacevich, who was completely unknown to me. Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University, He is also a conservative,retired U.S. Army colonel who served for 23 years after graduating from West Point and voted for Democrats in 2006, only to be severely dissappointed. His new book is called The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

Okay, so that title’s not quite as catchy as Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Still, Moyers was very impressed by the book, claiming to have highlighted about every third sentence of it, and as the interview got rolling, I grew more and more astonished as well. Bacevich was laying out the whole current American predicament, along with its causes and its implications for the present and future, with stunning clarity and concision. He pieced together a cohesive picture from a wide variety of truths that I have heard echoed elsewhere — everything from our failure in energy policy for over 35 years to lessons about credit cards and consumerism to the national debt, the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Ronald Reagan bait-and-switch, and the total ineffectuality of Congress.

Refreshingly, Bacevich pins the blame for our mess on us, the American people, and our sheer profligacy. Also, he does not expect that either John McCain or Barack Obama can get us to admit our failures, let alone correct them. In fact, he considers our hyperfocusing on the presidential candidates to be symptomatic of our broken politics and of our shift to an imperial presidency which has made the United States “a de facto one-party state.”

Granted, I say this as someone who has yet to view a minute of Deal or No Deal, but this was one of the most profound hours of television I have ever seen. It certainly made the hair on the back of my neck stand up more than Ghost Whisperer ever has.

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