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Joe Klein & John Ellis: A Torrent of Stupid

January 31, 2024
Notes
Transcript
MAGA has put Taylor at the top of its enemies list, Greg Abbott is inviting another Jan 6 at the border, and GOP governors have come out for just ignoring the Supreme Court. Plus, the potential tech disruptors in the election will set your hair on fire. Joe Klein and John Ellis join Charlie Sykes.

show notes:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/night-owls/id1724583637
https://josephklein.substack.com/
https://substack.com/@newsitems

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08

    Welcome to the Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. I have been looking forward to this podcast for a very, very long time, two very, very special guests. Joe Klein, longtime journalist, author of seven books, including primary colors, now writes, sanity clause on Substack and co host a new political podcast, night owl, and his partner, John Ellis. The other co host of night owls, Ellis is a veteran journalist as well who’s covered politics at NBC, the Boston Globe, Fox News, other outlets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:38

    He writes two newsletters. On sub stack, news items, and political items. Gentlemen. Welcome to the podcast. Good
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:46

    to be here, Charlie Sykes
  • Speaker 3
    0:00:48

    you very much for having us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:50

    I have a slightly embarrassing story, Joe. I started reading your newsletter, and I was sitting around, I was actually reading, a passage to my wife. And she says, is that the joke, Klein? And I just said, I have to check. You know, but it was the Joe Klein, and and it is actually it’s one of my guilty pleasures.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:11

    I have to say I really the sub stack. I really enjoy your newsletter, you know, every every week.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:15

    So And vice versa, Charlie, you do it every day. And you’ve been having a lot of fun with it recently. I think that you’re moving into the fun period of your career because things are so absurd out there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:29

    There is that to say, but you’re gonna hear the word, you know, hamster wheel of crazy, and they need to get off the hamster wheel of crazy, pretty soon. This is one of the dilemmas. Right? That you can get caught up in doing it every single day. And there’s always more material.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:43

    Of course, you know, you have to feed the beast all the time. On the other hand, I do wonder whether, you know, standing right in front of the fire hose of stupid and crazy is really the best way to cover or understand the times that we live in. Do you understand what I’m saying then? Sometimes it is just so overwhelming that I think a little bit of perspective is helpful, but we’ve never been through times like this before. So I’m not sure what the answer is.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:11

    Well, all you have to do every once in a while is think of things like Gaza, for me or artificial intelligence for for John, it sobers you up right away. I mean, I’ve been obsessed with Israel for my entire career. For thirty years there, I was there every Ron DeSantis hard to get that out of my mind. Although I gotta say, you know, Travis Kelsey and his girlfriend can do that pretty quickly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:38

    Having mentioned that a serious podcast gentleman, would be talking about Gaza, would be talking about Iran, and you’ve been to Iran, Joe. We’d be talking about the crisis on the border of the economy, but, of course, here we are, and we have to talk about this. I have to admit. That even amid the torrent of stupid, watching Maga and Donald Trump lose their minds over Taylor swift. And my newsletter, I highlighted that story in Rolling Stone, where they said that Donald Trump is about to launch a holy war against against Taylor’s sweat.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:12

    I mean, you have to step back. I think if I won’t go, this is really really stupid. A rational politician would go I have, like, more important things to do, but they are obsessed with Taylor Swift. So gentlemen, give me your take on what is happening on the right that right now, the new hotness is spreading conspiracy theories, drawing up an enemies list where Taylor swift is at the top of list. What is going on?
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:37

    Joe. Just you wanna take a crack at this for us?
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:40

    Well, they’re at war against the culture is is is the serious answer, but Next thing, you know, they’ll be going after Disney. Wouldn’t that be wild? Yeah. The next thing. I think you said it in your in your column today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:54

    They keep on picking eighty twenty issues where they’re on the side of the twenty. I mean, we live in a culture that is multiethnic and sophisticated and cosmopolitan. And the movement toward Trump, which is, I think, a white supremacist movement at its at its base, is very uncomfortable with a cosmopolitan of the sort that we now have in this country. Of course, Democrats on the on the other side are uncomfortable with it as well. I mean, they’re uncomfortable with the fact that Bulwark people are actually concerned about crime and immigration and things like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:32

    So I I’m an equal opportunity slagger.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:35

    You you’re giving me too serious an answer here. So I’m gonna try with John here on Taylor Swift is a pop star. She’s dating an NFL player. She shows up to support her boyfriend, and it is absolute hair on fire meltdown. You know, that this is a psi op or that Vivek Ramaswamy is tweeting about it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:59

    Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is tweeting about it. I understand all the things that you’re saying, Joe. It’s just that this obsession and the decision apparently that they’re going to escalate the culture war. They’re gonna dial it up to eleven and go after Taylor Swift. This tells us something about the time we live in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:17

    So, John, your take on this?
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:20

    I mean, I agree with Joe. I think, you know, we all know that this an NFL conspiracy that will lead to, to Taylor’s endorsement of Biden at half time. I think there are a couple of things going on. One is the crazy I remember Dick Worth when he was the pollster for, Ronald Reagan. We were looking at up sort of the what the Reagan coalition looked like.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:43

    And he said, and then you have this eight percent that’s just completely insane. And we now have, like, sixteen or twenty percent that’s completely insane. And, of course, the media gives that part of the Trump Coalition all the coverage. So it seems much more crazy than it probably is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:01

    Well, except that Donald Trump himself is leading that coalition, and as Donald Trump himself was obsessed with possibly Taylor Swift is more popular than him. I I know, I think part of this is just the obsession with the culture war is, you know, the people, the all the incentive structure on the right, right, media right now, is to talk about stuff like this, you know, the Ben shapiro’s of the world, you know, the Fox News know that people don’t wanna talk about they don’t wanna talk about necessarily talk about Gaza. They don’t wanna talk about, you know, big issues. They don’t wanna talk about certainly talk about the deficit or what’s happening with the GDP or the rate of inflation now that it’s going down. So you have, you know, Ben Shapiro Trashing Barbie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:40

    Ben Shapiro you know, going after whatever cultural icon. And also, like, I guess there is this sort of obsession that, you know, to say that we’re running against a Democratic party that filled with elite celebrities. It is an eighty twenty issue. The NFL is wildly popular. She is wildly popular.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:00

    The Republican Party has a problem with women, and their solution is apparently, hey, guys. Let’s pick a fight with Taylor Swift.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:08

    I mean, I think that’s one of the key points here. If you look at Trump and suburban women in the in the election day voter poll of twenty twenty, suburban women went for Biden fifty nine forty. So six to four essentially. So you attack Barbie, which is a hugely popular movie amongst women, then you attack Taylor Swift, who is hugely popular among women. And you think to yourself, if the Trump campaign thinks that this is gonna work, then they’re even crazier than than we think they are.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:43

    I think you have to go to what you can’t say in politics these days. And the most important thing you can’t say if you’re a Democrat or a Republican is that things are pretty damn good in this country right now. The economy is is good. We’re safe, you know, and secure and have the most powerful military in the world. We have over the last fifty years assimilated Latinos into our culture.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:11

    Women gay people in the blink of an eye. It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished, but you’re not allowed to say that in politics. It’s no longer morning in in America. That has no credibility. The only thing that has credibility is that as Dick Gephart once said, it’s near midnight in America, and it’s getting darker every minute.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:32

    Speaking of getting darker every minute as we are recording this, we’re waiting on the the judge is ruling, judging Gordon’s ruling in the in the New York fraud case where Donald Trump could be on the hook for, you know, more hundreds of millions of dollars maybe told that he cannot run the Trump organization. This comes a week after he lost the, you know, eighty three million dollar judgment in an in another court case. And we’re finding out from the New York Times this morning that Trump spent fifty million dollars, mainly in donor money, You know, the, you know, the good the grandmas from Kansas City who are writing him check. He’s been fifty million dollars on legal bills. I don’t know about you guys, but if I had fifty million dollars, just about legal bills, I’d hire smarter lawyers.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:16

    Right. Yeah. We’ve all been beating on on Alina Hab, but, seriously, guys, Yeah. Fifty million dollars.
  • Speaker 3
    0:09:23

    You would if you could hire better lawyers, but, a lot of those better lawyers have taken a pass. In large markets, they’re fair lawyers. In large markets, they’re not certain they’ll be paid. So
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:37

    I’ve known Trump for about forty years. I started covering him when he was a developer, and all the other developers thought he was a showboat clown, but there was in the legal community at that point, something called the Trump premium, which was if you signed on to represent Trump, you charged about twenty five percent more than you would at any other candidate knowing that you wouldn’t get paid on the back end. So that’s why it’s kinda hard for him to find first rate legal talent.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:06

    Well, and you and you’ve rolled in a few more things too, is the number one, you don’t get paid. Number two, you might get disbarred. Number three, you might get indicted. So you can understand why I don’t know. Folks is Sullivan and Cromwellers thinking, Hey, we’re gonna pass on that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:20

    Let’s talk about some of the the most recent things you wrote on stack, because I think it’s also important to to to note that Joe, you’ve been a little bit critical of some elements of the democratic party and and have expressed some skepticism about Joe Biden. Let’s talk about the one that you published yesterday. This week, very big moment for Joe Biden may be the most difficult of his presidency And the two big decisions he has to make, one on the southern border, the second against Iran. So we’re going from Taylor Swift down to the big stuff. So let’s talk about what’s going on on the border because I’m, by the way, totally fascinated by the way, because As you know, that Trump’s an idiot Savant when it comes to self promotion, and he has made the border his issue, except this week he’s standing up there saying, yeah, if you wanna blame me for blowing up the whole deal, I’m willing to take it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:07

    So talk to me a little bit about the decisions that Joe Biden has to make on the southern border. Then we’ll get to Iran.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:13

    Trump, I think, is assuming incompetence on the part of the Democrats when it comes to the border. And that’s that’s a pretty safe assumption. Biden has a real opportunity now to reverse things on Trump because of what you just said, but he has to take action. The president has the ability to declare a state of emergency, send troops to the border, announce, you know, a temporary pause in granting refugee status, especially from people, coming from Venezuela, and also he has the opportunity to send a very tough message to Mexico saying, you know, a hundred thousand people died of fentanyl overdoses in our country in the last year. That we have records for, which is twenty twenty two.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:58

    And we’re not gonna allow you to continue to send that stuff over. You know, we’ll help you out. But if you don’t want our we’ll do it alone. So I think that this is a moment that requires dramatic action from Biden. And also, the dramatic action would have the ancillary effect of showing people that he is not just a cadaver.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:19

    Who stumbles across to the Sarah Longwell the White House trying to get to the helicopter every day.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:25

    It is worth pausing on why Donald Trump is is tanking this deal. I mean, the obvious one is that he’d rather have an issue than a solution. I don’t think that’d be a rocket science, but also you point out You know, that Trump has opposed the deal for all the wrong reasons. I mean, he does wanna let Vladimir Putin swallow Ukraine. I mean, he he obviously does wanna use it as a bludgeon against Biden.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:45

    But as you point out, even though Trump has all of this confidence in his ability to sell and demagogue everything. He is continuing to alienate suburban republic and the Democrats who actually might wanna see this fixed. So it’s always he feels like we spent the last eight years saying, well, this is gonna backfire against Trump. Well, this is gonna hurt him. And then somehow, Vengali like using his reptilian instinct, he gets out of it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:12

    So ultimately, how do you think this plays out? Does this work for him or is he right in calculating that if there is chaos and
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:21

    violence at the border, that people will blame the incumbent Democratic president? Well, John has the demographics on this. I mean, I think it’s only a slice of people that he has to alienate in order to lose this election. And they tend to be people who really wanna see the borders situation solved. But I’ll defer to John.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:39

    Okay, John. How does this play?
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:43

    When we think about the twenty twenty four election, we talk about it as a national election and so on and so forth. And what it is actually is six or seven states where were very close the last time, which will be very close this time. And probably as few as two million or three million people in those six or seven states will decide who is the president, who’s elected president in the electoral college. So if we look at that group of people, so called persuadables or swing voters. And we say how will they react to the border issue they have to date insisted that we secure the borders.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:24

    So that’s worked in Trump’s favor. If Eagle Pass turns into, you know, some kind of violent riot or, you know, sort of mini civil war, if you will, between the Texas law enforcement and and federal people, then my view of that is that that that may be an Oklahoma City moment. And I think that Clinton, you know, that was the turning point of the Clinton administration from my point of view. And I think the surreal opportunity Joe wrote really good piece about it, the opportunity for Biden, but the thing that may make it an even greater opportunity for Biden is a you know, that these people who are descending on on Eagle Pass, it turns into a violent riot. And, like, you know, it looks like January six.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:12

    And Everybody says, this chaos has gotta stop.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:17

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  • Speaker 1
    0:17:51

    Is there going to be secession? What if a state basically says we’re going to ignore the federal government or ignore the courts? And now suddenly, this is like bubbling up, and it’s not just a one off. You have governor Abbott there. You have other governor Republican governors who here to be aligning with him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:08

    I mean, how dangerous a moment is this? You actually went there, you know, talking about, well, what what happens if you actually have some kind of exchange of fire between federal agents and, you know, some of these militia groups or or state officials. Is that is that what you’re talking about, John? I mean, act actual bloodshed on the border Americans on Americans?
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:30

    It’s just so volatile. If you’re calling which Abbott is, sort of calling for people to come to Eagle Pass and protect the border from these federal agents against a Supreme Court ruling that says the feds have every right to do what they’re gonna do. You’re attracting a group of people who a are going to be heavily armed, b, look a lot like Proud Boys and so on and so forth. This is the action that they want. And Joe and I were talking about this yesterday.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:03

    It’s weird that it’s not getting much greater coverage because the possibility for it to go completely off the rails. I mean, think about just even if there are a thousand people there that come, you know, militias and crazy right wing people, gun nuts, and so on and so forth. It only takes three or four people, you know, to go off the rails with AK forty sevens and AR fifteens. And suddenly, you’re at Waco again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:30

    Oh, jeez.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:31

    The thing that I am obsessing over is We had Ruby Ridge. We had Waco. We had January sixth, and they’re big movies in these crazy right now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:43

    They become legends. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:44

    No. I mean, it’s a huge thing. And so this, if this becomes another ruby ridge, if the clarion call goes out, you know, this is Waco again, then you’ve gotta be there, you know, bring your guns, so on and so forth. Then what would be a border dispute between the feds and the state suddenly becomes something much more crazy. And that would work to Biden’s advantage, I think, enormously.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:10

    Okay. Well, it would be a disaster for the country. I mean, I mean, I mean, so Joe, you’re you’re thought. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:14

    I’m obsessed with a different aspect of this. What we’re talking about just to frame it again is the Texas National Guard at the behest of their governor, Greg Abbott, running razor wire in the Rio Grande. The Supreme Court ruled that the governor of Texas doesn’t have the authority to do that, only the federal government. Now Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, has chosen to ignore the Supreme Court. Now President have done this in the past.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:49

    Joe Biden can federalize the Texas National Guard. Dwight Eisenhower Howard did it with the Arkansas National Guard back during the attempts to desegregate the schools in Little Rock. But what if Biden Act and Texas National Guard refuses to obey orders from the president of the United States. We are getting very close to the bright line of real chaos in this country. And I would think that Biden would have to take the same position as Abraham Lincoln, which is this is one union, and we’re not gonna let you go off the way South Carolina wanted to go off at the beginning of the civil war.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:34

    You are raising my blood pressure, Joe. But I did highlight this one couple of passages from your newsletter. This is not the first time you’ve done this. You wrote, what happens when the Supreme Court rules that Trump doesn’t have the power as his lawyers affirm to send seal team six to assassinate a political opponent and has to fake the charges that, Jack Smith has brought against him. If Greg Abbott can ignore the Supreme Court, why can’t trump?
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:57

    Why can’t he just used to stand trial. What happens then? What I’m saying is this. The rule of law is on very tenuous ground in our country right now, and it is up to Joe Biden to enforce it. Donald Trump, who has tried to destroy the credibility of every government institution that has opposed him, may soon try to destroy the credibility of a Supreme Court that he created.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:18

    And then we get to your point. What does happen if Biden moves to federalize the Texas National Guard. So all of these things are sort of like out there as wild speculation, but it feels like they could become real just very, very, very quickly. And this is the failure of imagination that I think led to January six. Nobody thought that that this would happen nobody thought that he would try to actually overthrow the counting of the vote.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:46

    So you wrote something kind of interesting, John. Do you think that Greg Abbott that he actually is angling for a spot on Trump’s ticket because that would ramp everything up. I mean, imagine if some of this stuff, you know, you start to have kind of a face off, and Donald Trump names Greg Abbott to be his VP nominee. Do you think that’s a possibility, John?
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:06

    I do. Really? When McCain was the nominee, he felt that he had to placate the right and so he nominated Sarah Longwell And so you have this candidate in the center and you go to the right on the Republican side and cover off the base. Here, we don’t know, but we assume that Trump is gonna have to move to the center. And you have this two things going on.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:29

    One Abbott has to calculate that Trump is, you know, one or two big macs away from, the morgue. So being the vice president may be a a very good place to be.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:40

    You’ll definitely check the actuarial tables there. But Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:44

    Yeah. Yes. Indeed. But the second thing is that Abbott is a candidate who, if he continues with this and Eagle Pass becomes Waco, etcetera, that will endear him to the base enormously And Trump has to keep the base pumped up because in order for him to win in those six or seven states that will determine the outcome, He needs each and every one of his base voters in Exserbemens, rural counties to vote. He has to get ninety, ninety five on turnout in those counties.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:19

    I’m debating whether to go here because, you know, getting inside Donald Trump’s mind is not a place I like to spend a lot of time. You know, There are ways that Donald Trump thinks. And if we’re trying to figure out, you know, game out who he would want as vice president, and I think there’s some of the obvious ones he doesn’t want somebody with their own constituency, somebody who is not absolutely loyal, somebody who is not absolutely predictable, but also looks a certain way. So take everything you’re saying about Greg Abbott, who happens to be in a wheelchair. We know how Donald Trump feels about disabled people.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:49

    He could get a, you know, cowboy style. I’m gonna go to the border like a chris governor Christie Nom who could do it who looks
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:59

    a lot better. If he’s being rational, which is one of the largest ifs in human history, Trump would look to bolster his standing with women voters And that’s why your idea of Christy Nom is a good one. Another name I’m hearing is Katie Brit, the senator from, Alabama, who is lower profile, but an attractive candidate, and he likes attractive candidates. And I think Carl Grove was promoting this idea recently. Alabama is not really a swing state though.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:31

    You know, the thing about it is we always use these euphemisms. So and so is an attractive candidate, you know? She’s a pretty woman. She is good looking. And understand that how Donald Trump’s minds work.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:40

    Sex pig Charlie Sykes,
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:43

    exactly because he is. And so and so for example, I mean, I think that you cannot have a reasonable conversation about, say, Elise Defonic who is doing everything possible. I mean, that woman is so thirsty. I mean, she has made it clear. She’s gonna say hostages.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:57

    She’s gonna defend poisoning the blood. She will do and say everything. She’s got almost the perfect resume. Then the question is, When Donald Trump looks at her, does he think she’s from central casting? Or does he think, yeah, not really?
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:11

    And, again, under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t, you know, we shouldn’t even be talking about this, but this is Donald Trump. And Donald Trump has a certain perspective about all of this. And and also, I I just think that Donald Trump is going to be obsessed with knowing that what Mike Pence did and that he can’t fire the vice president and that he can’t have anyone with any vestiges of independence or character left that might defy him at any point. Also, and as I’ve said this before on the podcast, the moment he becomes president, He becomes at least technically, and again, technically, a lame duck. So, therefore, the vice president becomes an alternative center of power.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:51

    I don’t think that Donald Trump wants anyone strong or unpredictable. It’s gonna be a very interesting choice. I really don’t know. If you had to bet today, what would you say?
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:00

    Well, you know, the the basic fact, and I I keep saying this is that America as a country has misplaced the difference between reality and reality TV. And Donald Trump lives in the world of reality TV.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:16

    Right. Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:17

    And for him, ratings are in some ways truer than polls because they’re actually counting households that are watching him. You know, by the way, when you were you were talking about getting inside of Donald Trump’s mind, it’s a pretty boring place because it’s just me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. Right? I mean, Right. He doesn’t think about how this might play among people who may or may not vote for him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:44

    He just thinks about what’s gonna aggrandize himself. And, I think that what he’ll do is pick a vice president who will bring him ratings.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:53

    John? Katie Britt. I think is a good senator from Alabama. I think is a attractive choice. To some degree, the decision will not be made by I don’t think.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:04

    I think it will be made by what you might call the Movement. And so that puts people like Avid and Stefanic in play.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:14

    And let’s go back to your piece, Joe, about the two big decisions to provide. Number one on the border, number two on on Iran. You’ve been to Iran twice. You love the place. You know, it’s got a massive history.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:25

    It’s a culture that I think most Americans do not understand. But right now, Joe Biden is under tremendous pressure to bomb Iran, take some military action against Iran. So tell me about the difficult choice that Joe Biden has to make right now this week? Well, the the the difficult choice is whether to bomb Iran, and I would say having been there and having, as you said, not only studied the place, but I really love the place. You know, Ayatollah Komenu made this decision that is kind of incomprehensible given how extreme he was, and that was to allow the women of Iran to be educated.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:05

    To become doctors and lawyers and academics. And the women of Iran have led the movement against the government of Iran. And by the way, the government of of Iran is a military dictatorship with the fig leaf of religious leadership. It’s the revolutionary guard corps. They run the joint.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:25

    They control thirty percent of the economy last I checked. So Iran has a very active anti government movement within its borders, but there is one thing that all Iranians, even those most opposed to the government don’t like. And that is Western interference. They are hypersensitive about the fact that they come from a great civilization starting with the British, and then we interfered with their internal politics because we wanted to pump their oil. We overthrew their government in nineteen fifty three.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:02

    And I think that it would be a big mistake for an American president to think that just because the Iranian government is so unpopular within Iran that we could get away with attacking Iran.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:14

    What are the options? I mean, you’re you were talking about, you know, reigning some serious hell on the on the Houthis and Yemen, you know, killing a leader or two of the Iranian National Guard maybe blow up a ship. You know, I have naval asset, but you think that do not hit the homeland.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:29

    Right. And there’s another big factor here, and it’s this. They lost nearly a million casualties in the war against Iraq in the nineteen eighties. And you walk the streets of Tehran and you see beggar is shaking uncontrollably with signs around their necks which say chemical victim of the war. Remember, there was poison gas used in that war.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:52

    The Iranians have very recent memories of Tehran being rocketed. And so they’re very cautious in their response. I expected a bigger response from Iran after Trump took out General Soleimani, who was the leader of the IRGC. But they’re very cautious in that regard.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:09

    Okay. They’re cautious, but now they’ve crossed the line, their proxies are killing Americans. That’s not cautious.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:16

    That’s right. And the fact is that at this point, you’re gonna have to respond. I just wouldn’t bomb Iran. I’m gonna switch back
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:24

    to some of just the politics, the horse race because things that also made my hair tingle listening to your podcast, John, in a recent episode, all of the potential disruptors in the general election, you know, what we might be facing. And and one of my themes and one of my obsessions is that we lack imagination of how bad it can be in the future. You know? We keep focusing on other things. Well, just give me your sense.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:50

    I mean, how worried are you about things like deep fake audio, deep fake video, playing a significant role in the twenty twenty four election. How worried should we be about that?
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:04

    I I think we should be very worried about it. I think there are three things. There’s deepfake audio, which you can have Obama supposedly talking to somebody about how Biden is really too old to serve. And there’s no way that you can tell the difference between, you know, the real Obama and the audio fake. Obama, then you have fake video, deep fake video, which is not as advanced or as persuasive, if you will, as deep fake audio.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:34

    And then finally, you have hackers who can get into voter registration roles. They can interfere with the workings of the polling places themselves. You know, they can shut down the electricity in the city of philadelphia and the city of Detroit on election day. There is a capability out there in China, in Russia, and Iran, that can wreak enormous havoc on our election. I mean, if you think about the city of Philadelphia, how well protected is the city of Philadelphia against the most sophisticated hackers in the world from China.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:12

    It’s a no contest that Chinese hackers will win.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:14

    Oh, boy.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:15

    So if these forces out there and really it’s China and Russia that the leading ones, if they decide to shut off the electricity in the city of Detroit philadelphia, etcetera. Remember, they only have to focus on six states.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:30

    This all raises the question. How do you know what true and false, which has been obviously a a chronic problem, but it’s about to get so much worse. So for example, as you point out, you can have these AI generated audio. There could be AI generated videos as well. It works both ways.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:45

    Number one, you can put out false quotes, false images, but also if there are tapes showing Donald Trump, you know, trying to coerce an election official in Georgia, for example, into stealing some folks Now the easy defenses well, that’s not me. That’s not my voice. That’s AI. Don’t believe the evidence of your eyes. It used to be that if you actually had a videotape of something that would be decisive, now not so clear, to your point about the hacking.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:13

    So let’s imagine, selection day. And the lights go out in Philadelphia. Okay? If people come out and say, this is Chinese hacking, they are trying to engage election interference. That is either true or it is a bizarre conspiracy theory.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:30

    How and when will we know? I mean, the pollution of the debate could go on for a long time. So let’s see this happens. You may not know for a very long time, right, that this in fact happened. And by then, the election will be over.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:45

    So, I mean, the implications of something like that are just so huge. You know? Honestly, you could imagine, you know, the first person that says it was the Chinese begin to say, well, you’re the Tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. And only like a month later, when you find out it’s true, and Donald Trump’s already back in the White House, what do you do about Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:04

    The thing that people don’t seem to understand or don’t pay attention to, maybe, is the testing of all this is ongoing. The Chinese are, you know, looking at critical infrastructure and figuring out how to hack it. They’re looking at you know, Microsoft’s anti hacking software and trying to get into it and see if they can manipulate it. And they were successful in doing so. The ability of the Chinese or the Russians to to actually execute turning off of power in major cities and you know, getting into voter registration roles.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:39

    That’s not like crazy. That’s very possible. And so then, as you point out, then we’re in a post fact world because there are no facts. Right? Why was the city of Philadelphia shut that well?
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:54

    Confident, you know, city management blah blah blah blah blah or the Chinese Active, but there’s no, you know, there’s no arbiter of the truth. And that If you put on top of that, the likelihood, let’s just say, the likelihood that Joe Biden wins those six states Trump is not gonna concede. So we have the twenty twenty thing all over again. But this time, with a lot more factors in play. I mean, you could do five recounts or nine recounts in Arizona.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:24

    You get the same result. Okay. Arizona Biden won. But this time if Phoenix is is shut down and you don’t have to shut down, you know, the electricity or the voting pools to you can shut down the water. You know, you can shut down the gas stations.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:42

    I literally did not think that I could be more alarmed about this. I really, really didn’t think. I really thought I was dialed up pretty much to the max. And then, John, I listened to you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:53

    But wait a second. Wait a second. Wait a second. When we talk about this stuff, we have to consider Who are the bad guys rooting? Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:04

    We know that the Russians would love to have a Trump presidency. Yeah. But would the Iranians wanna Trump presidency when we were on the brink of war with Iran, the state department and the treasury department are still negotiating the nuclear deal with the Iranians. Do do the Iranians want Donald Trump as president? Do the Chinese want Donald Trump as president?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:26

    Well, yeah, they’ve, you know, they gave him an awful lot of money last time around staying in his hotels, but Do they want Donald Trump? Do the Chinese want Donald Trump to be president?
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:37

    I would say this about that. John Bolton in his book said that Trump said in the meeting, look, we’re never gonna be able to defend Taiwan. It’s seven thousand miles away. We’d run out of ammo in seven days. So the idea that we’re gonna come rescue of Taiwan is crazy.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:55

    I think if I were in the Chinese leadership, I might say that guy would be better than this guy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:01

    Well, it’s big risk, but, from the point of view of Putin and G, it might be, you know, the reward might justify the risk. But okay. So, deep breath here because this is scary stuff, really scary stuff.
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:14

    Let me just say one thing about this, which is that the FBI and Homeland Security are taking it they have engaged the best of our private companies, Google, and Microsoft, and stuff. And so that it it’s not like our government doesn’t understand what’s, you know, the risk here, which is a positive thing. The NSA director and FBI Ray testified for Congress, and they were even more alarmist than I than I’ve been. So Oh
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:43

    my god. Oh my god. Okay. So now we’ve done the easy questions. I have some harder questions for you gentlemen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:50

    So how long have you been covering politics? What was your first National Convention, Joe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:56

    Let’s just get the baseline here. My first national convention was nineteen seventy six on both sides.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:03

    Okay. But you’ve been covering politics since when?
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:06

    Oh, since the turn of the place to see an era.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:11

    Yeah. Yeah. That’s kinda where I’m Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:14

    No. I started covering politics in, Peabody, Massachusetts, and I was covering the City Council there and also the zoning board. And as I have recently said to John, the zoning board controlled canine control in the city of Peabody. And one of the candidates I remember saying, we were at a crossroads in the history of canine control in the city of Peabody. And I gotta say every Every election that I’ve covered since then, someone has said that we’re at the crossroads of something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:46

    And the wonderful thing about America is that We haven’t been. We’re, you know, except now, this is the first election where I believe we really are at at a crossroads. If K and
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:59

    I had control too, John. Okay. So your first, election?
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:02

    Nineteen eighty. I was working for the MDC.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:05

    See, you guys are kids. My first convention was I was a page the nineteen sixty eight convention in Chicago. Charlie, you’re holding your age well.
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:13

    Yeah. Really well. There’s a portrait over here that’s just
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:17

    I guess what I wanted to ask you though is what has surprised you the most about the transformation of politics? From, say, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties. You know, there were times in the seventies and in the eighties, you know, boy, things are really, really hot. Things are really, really divisive. And then here we are now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:36

    So maybe this is just something to think about. I think what surprises me the most is the totalizing effect of politics and the blending of culture and politics. And also the shocking realization that people actually don’t really care whether something is true or not. The people pick a tribe and then everything else’s details and what they are willing to swallow is amazing to me. So who wants to start here?
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:06

    What has surprised you the most in these these three, four decades? When I started out, there were three networks and three flavors of ice cream.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:16

    I remember this. Change in American life during, my lifetime has been that this is the golden age of marketing. And marketing is fundamentally un American. The basic American idea is that the things that we have in common are more important than the things that divide us. The basic principle of marketing is that the things that divide us are the things that you sell to.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:40

    And when you add in the technological advances, the fact that you have now have a thousand TV channels on cable and cable is now being supplanted by streaming, and there are even more choices. You used the word tribal before, but this has been a post industrial retrialization of society. I mean, my dad was a member of the ESPN tribe. My daughter was a member of the MTV tribe. I am sadly a member of the CSPAN tribe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:10

    I think that that there is very little that we do altogether as a society anymore. Yeah. And I think that that’s been the biggest change.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:18

    Yeah, John. You wanna weigh in?
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:21

    I mean, I think television is a huge part of the breakdown of politics. The thing that surprised me the most is that we continue our political process continues to spend billions of dollars every cycle telling the voters that this candidate or that candidate is a criminal is totally corrupt. Is so on and so forth. So if you have, as Joe points out in the golden age of marketing, if you have four or five billion dollars being spent every two years, telling people that the system is broken, it’s corrupt, etcetera. You you’re gonna end up with a political system that is in fact broken and I think that’s a big part.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:03

    The other obvious one is we had politics sort of organized around the cold war the cold war ends and the post cold war period that we are still living in has sort of disoriented our politics.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:20

    There’s been a big change on our side of the, equation too, the journalism side of the equation. And it started with Watergate when journalists for the first time were able to make a fortune being journalists, but the basic default position of journalism should be skepticism. And that has changed over time, and it is now cynicism. And I think that the safest story for a young political reporter to write is one that is a negative story about a politician. So back in two thousand, when I first thought of this, I conducted a thought experiment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:00

    I was working for the New Yorker, and so I did a positive story about George w Bush. I did a positive story about John McCain, which wasn’t hard because everybody was doing positive. St I did a positive story about Bill Bradley’s health care plan. I neglected Gore, but in each case, I was accused of being in the tank to that because I had written a positive story about them. You know, you’re not allowed to write positive things, and I gotta tell you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:29

    I mean, my mentor was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And so I came to this party with a positive view of politicians. But if you can’t write positive things about them, you’re sending a a very, very stilted message to the public.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:46

    No. The cynicism is corrosive in a in a good way sometimes. But in large enough doses, you become cynical about all of the institutions. And I think that we are seeing this, this cynical lack of faith in all the institutions. And I guess that goes to one of the other things that I think is came as the biggest, shock to me, particularly, like, being, you know, part of that Watergate generation where you basically saw the system holding you know, this is how the system is supposed to work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:13

    I mean, you had the crimes. People did the right thing. The institutions held everybody accountable with the exception of the of the Nixon Pardon. Fast forward to the last eight years and you realize how fragile it all is, how in fact America is not immune from history. We’ve seen other republic style how much of it is based on the honor system.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:31

    And I have to also say, and then I really do struggle with this because The idea of American exceptionalism was very big for me a couple of decades ago. And now I think that you’ll look around and go, you know, perhaps we’re not as exceptional as we thought. That that’s all being tested. There’s a lot of disillusionment here. And just one one small note on journalism, my first really great job was as a reporter for the Milwaukee journal in Milwaukee.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:59

    Walk into that newsroom, and there are three hundred people there, this huge bustling operation, And to watch what’s happened to America’s journalism infrastructure is genuinely shocking. You when you go around the country, the news deserts in America, or the ghost newsrooms were places that used to have three hundred, four hundred, five hundred people now have thirty, and the way that’s changing our culture as well. And that’s gonna have a long term impact. And nobody has figured out what to do about that. Nobody.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:29

    We’re seeing the best of times for journalism and the worst of times, but this hollowing out of local journalism, you know, as extraordinary implications. And I think it contributes to the the fact that all politics is now national. People don’t know necessarily what’s going on in Madison, Wisconsin, but they damn will sure know what’s going on in Washington, DC, and I’m not sure that’s always healthy.
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:49

    I think that in unless it’s a statewide race, the three most pop a couple of years ago, the three most popular governors in in the United States. We’re Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan, and, I’m forgetting the name of the Vermont governor. They were all Republicans in heavily Democratic state. So all politics is not quite yet national, but we’re certainly going there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:14

    The other point I’d make and this brings us right around to where we started is, you know, we think things are so terrible here. The biggest issue that we’re facing as a country in twenty twenty four, apparently, is immigration, which indicates the exact opposite. All of these people from all over the world wanna come here. So maybe things aren’t so terrible in the United States, and maybe it’s about time that our political class and our journalists start pointing out the fact that things aren’t so terrible in the United States.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:46

    I mean, there’s one other thing, which is we are in the golden age. Of science and technology and the potential of that science and technology to do just magnificent things to reduce the cost of health care by half to enable, you know, people who can’t hear or speak, give them voice, and give them the ability to hear things. I it’s just absolutely amazing what’s going on in that sphere. And, you know, If you read the press, you would think that Facebook was a criminal conspiracy and that Google was, you know, the mafia. It’s just like, It’s just bizarre.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:26

    I mean
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:28

    Joe, one one last question. So Any more novels? This would also seem to be the golden era for the political novel because only fiction can capture what we’re going through. So
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:39

    I I’m trying to stay away from publishing because, I’ve been told that I’m male, stale, and pale. And, what you have now in publishing are baby boomer editors who are about to retire and their twenty seven year old maoist assistants. And so you know, there there is a novel that I’ve written about Tammy Hall in the eighteen nineties, and I’d love to be able to get it published.
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:06

    I mean, the problem with writing a novel about politics is that you can’t possibly compete with watches on television every night.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:14

    This is right. This is problem because I all Will Saletan watch the news. And I think, you know, the story runners are really, you know, like outdoing themselves on on the plot. I’m talking about the actual reality. That if you actually wrote this in a novel, your twenty seven year old maoist editor would say this is just not realistic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:30

    And plus we don’t need any more books by, you know, old white guys, but then gentlemen, thank you so much. Joe Klein is the legendary journalist author of seven books, including the novel primary colors. He now writes sanity clause on Substack, co host, the new political podcast night owls with John Ellis, who is also a veteran journalist to work at NBC News, Boston Globe, Fox News, and he writes two letters on Substack news items and political items you should subscribe to all of them. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:00

    Thank you, Charlie.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:01

    Thank you for having us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:03

    And thank you all for listening to today’s Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. We will be back tomorrow, and we will do this all over again. At. The Bullbrook podcast is produced by Katie Cooper.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:16

    And engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
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