Bill Moyers: “Democracy should be a brake on unbridled greed and power”

The following was taken from an interview on Democracy Now! on June 8 with Bill Moyers. You can find the audio version and the full interview at

Juan Gonzalez: Are you hopeful these days, despite the—what we discussed about the state of the media? We’re obviously seeing these enormous uprisings throughout the Arab world. On Democracy Now!, we’ve covered the—really, the democratic popular renaissance that’s occurred throughout all of Latin America in recent years, that there are parts of the world where things are hopeful. But right here at home, in the United States, things don’t always seem like they’re heading in a good direction.

Bill Moyers: I think this country is in a very precarious state at the moment. I think, as I say, the escalating, accumulating power of organized wealth is snuffing out everything public, whether it’s public broadcasting, public schools, public unions, public parks, public highways. Everything public has been under assault since the late 1970s, the early years of the Reagan administration, because there is a philosophy that’s been extant in America for a long time that anything public is less desirable than private.

And I think we’re at a very critical moment in the equilibrium. No society, no human being, can survive without balance, without equilibrium. Nothing in excess, the ancient Greeks said. And Madison, one of the great founders, one of the great framers of our Constitution, built equilibrium into our system.

We don’t have equilibrium now. The power of money trumps the power of democracy today, and I’m very worried about it. I said to—and if we don’t address this, if we don’t get a handle on what we were talking about—money in politics—and find a way to thwart it, tame it, we’re in —democracy should be a brake on unbridled greed and power, because capitalism, capital, like a fire, can turn from a servant, a good servant, into an evil master. And democracy is the brake on my passions and my appetites and your greed and your wealth. And we have to get that equilibrium back.

I said to a friend of mine on Wall Street, “How do you feel about the market?” He said, “Well, I’m not—I’m optimistic.” And I said, “Why do you, then, look so worried?” And he said, “Because I’m not sure my optimism is justified.” And I feel that way.

So I fall back on the balance we owe in a—in the Italian political scientist, Gramsci, who said that he practices the pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the will. By that, he meant he sees the world as it is, without rose-colored glasses, as I try to do as a journalist. I see what’s there. That will make you pessimistic. But then you have to exercise your will optimistically, believing that each of us singly, and all of us collectively, can be an agent of change.

And I have to get up every morning and imagine a more confident future, and then try to do something that day to help bring it about.

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