Cenk Uygur is a host of the show The Young Turks and the founder, president, and CEO of its parent company TYT. He is a Democratic Party candidate for President of the United States and the author of Justice Is Coming: How Progressives Are Going to Take Over the Country and America Is Going to Love It.
You could take that populism and turn it negative, which often happens… But populism could also be a wonderful thing where you’re actually appealing to what the voters want instead of what the powerful want.
- Introduction – 0:42
- Cenk’s Presidential Campaign – 2:49
- Progressive Issues – 26:56
- Populism – 40:28
- Polarization – 49:17
I did not intend to interview a presidential candidate. Cenk Uygur is someone I have known about for a long time. He is a host of the show The Young Turks and the founder, president, and CEO of its parent company TYT. You might have seen him on YouTube as a bombastic personality with larger-than-life opinions.
Recently, he wrote a book called Justice Is Coming: How Progressives Are Going to Take Over the Country and America Is Going to Love It. It’s not the usual sophisticated kind of book I typically read. But Cenk is among the most influential voices in the progressive movement, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.
The book reads the way Cenk talks. It’s over the top and even a little crass. But it has some genuine ideas worth discussing. He argues many ideas labeled as progressive have overwhelming support in the United States. However, they get dismissed in the media, because progressivism is viewed as an extreme position.
Cenk has a lot to say. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I sort of agree with him, and sometimes I disagree with him. But I like bringing on different voices. His candidacy caught me off guard, but it provides a vehicle to discuss some of his ideas about democracy. I’m less concerned about whether he’s someone worth voting for than what it means for how he thinks about democracy and governance.
If you like this podcast, please give the show a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you belong to an institution or company who’d like to partner or sponsor the podcast, please reach out. My email is email@example.com. But for now… Here is Cenk Uygur…
Cenk Uygur, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.
Thank you, Justin. I appreciate you having me.
Well, Cenk, when we first set this up, when we decided we’re going to have this conversation, I was really excited to be able to talk to you about your book, Justice is Coming: How Progressives are Going to Take Over the Country and America is Going to Love It. It’s a different kind of book than oftentimes I talk to people about, but I thought it was an opportunity to hear ideas about progressivism from somebody who I think of as very much a thought leader in terms of those ideas. But as I was reading the book, you announced a campaign to run for president. So, why don’t we kick this off by asking you the most obvious question of any political candidate. Why are you running?
Yeah, I did. Didn’t I? I did announce the campaign. That was a bit of a plot twist. So, in all seriousness, Justin, I’m running for president because I think there’s a 90 percent chance as things stand right now that we’re going to lose the country to a fascist. I could prove that with overwhelming numbers and facts and quotes and unlike everyone else, I am not fine with it. So, I am not going to go quietly into that good night. I’m on a mission. Is it to win the presidency? Sure. CenkforAmerica.com. Believe me, people will listen to this podcast and then my guess is by the end that a lot of people will go, ‘Well, that is something I did not expect, but I actually think he might be right. Like if I had a clean vote, I’d probably vote for that guy.’
Now we’ll see if the audience actually thinks that by the end, but that’s a secondary mission to be honest. The first mission is to knock Biden out and I’ll tell you why, because it isn’t about Biden at all. God bless Biden. In fact, I’m going to tell you in a second why he could be a hero. It’s because he’s losing. Unfortunately, some portion of the Democratic base, aided and abetted by mainstream media, has become just as deluded as MAGA. I know people are going to catch feelings when I say that, but Joe Biden is 13 points lower than when he barely won the electoral college. In what version of reality do we think that picking a candidate 13 points in the hole is a good idea when the other side is running a fascist who’s unfortunately popular enough to win.
We need the very best candidate and the Democrats are saying, ‘Well, I think this old Volkswagen buggy might be able to do it. I mean, it’s 13 miles behind as we’re starting a 12-mile race.’ How in the world is Joe Biden… Look, no candidate… I shouldn’t say no candidate, but you’d have to be an extraordinary candidate to make up 13 points. Forget that he’s down 24 points on the economy. The number one issue, 24 points. I’ve literally never seen anyone come back from a 24 point deficit and they think Joe Biden, who’s 80, who 75 percent of the country thinks is too old and should not be running and who doesn’t like campaigning and has never been good at it, is going to make up a 24 point deficit on the economy, a 13 point deficit from where he was when he barely, barely won.
No, you’re not living in reality if you think that. So, my job is to break people out of that trance because I do not want to lose to Trump. We must beat Trump and if you think Trump can’t win, you can’t read a poll. Please, please go talk to a pollster, a scientist, someone involved with data, someone who’s attached to reality. Right now, he is definitely slated to win. The Democrat must win by five in order to win the electoral college and Biden is losing to Trump. So, I’m on a war path on this. So, I’m sorry that I’m going to have to bruise Joe Biden’s ego. But the good news is if he retires now, he walks out the biggest hero.
He beat Trump once. It doesn’t matter how close it was. He beat him. God bless. I’ll take it. He beat Trump once, good steward to the economy, created a ton of jobs and retires in magnanimous fashion. But if he doesn’t, just imagine this for a second, if he loses to Trump, what does history think of Joe Biden? They think he was 80 years old and 75 percent of the country thought he shouldn’t run. He was down 13 points from where he barely won and he risked democracy for his ego. History will despise Joe Biden. Those are stone cold facts.
So, cenkforamerica.com, bidenisgoingtolose.com. Let’s go. This isn’t about me guys. This isn’t about me. He’s got to drop out. Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Josh Shapiro, Pritzker, everyone, get in the race. I’m the only candidate in the history of America that is demanding, begging other candidates to come run against me. Let’s go. We’ve got to win this thing.
Now this podcast is going to be a little bit different than some of the others you probably are going to appear on, because I’ve got a pretty broad international audience. I mean, I’ve got about 60 to 70 percent who are going to be from America and they’re going to be really dialed in to American politics in the race, but another 30 to 40% actually come from other countries and they obviously know about Donald Trump. They obviously know about the big picture of American politics, but I’m positive that a lot of people are going to be wondering, why is it that a president who you say has done so many great things is so far down in the polls? Is it simply his age? Is it something else that’s not a connecting to the typical American voter?
Yeah, it’s a great question. There’s a couple of answers to that. First of all, you have to understand that there’s a political world and a nonpolitical world. Within the political world, I include podcasts, media, anyone who’s very interested in politics. Within that world, talking about his age is politically incorrect. It’s ageist. It’s blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah, blah. It’s a bunch of fancy BS about how people are supposed to think. Then there’s the real world. So, I invite you to do this experiment whether you live in America or outside America, but particularly inside America. Find nonpolitical friends, ask them what do you think of Joe Biden?
I will tell you right now I’m a magician. I will plant this thought in their heads and then you’ll be shocked to find out that literally every friend and family member you have says the same exact thing. He’s too old. Am I an actual magician? Of course not! Everybody already thinks that. Literally everyone in the country thinks that. But on TV and in politics, ‘Well that is very impolite to the dear leader. We should just hit the iceberg instead of being impolite to the leader.’ No. Everyone thinks he’s too old and… now I’m going to hurt his ego. I’m sorry, brother, but that’s not the only reason why.
So, Joe Biden has never been a good candidate. You know, he got into politics when he was 29 years old. He had a safe seat in Delaware, which he won because of our flukish situation back a million years ago. But then he was never challenged as an incumbent, coasts throughout. Whenever he runs for president, fifth was where he would max out. The only reason that he won that primary is because the entire establishment panicked. Because Bernie Sanders, won the first three states and they thought anybody, but Bernie. Bernie would actually deliver for the American people and embarrass the rest of us who are sitting here doing nothing but pleasing donors. So, it can’t be Bernie.
So, Obama brought everyone together and said, ‘Shut up. It’s Joe Biden.’ And that’s the only way he won this thing. Well, you don’t get to say that in a general election. Why did he beat Trump? Because 55 percent of the country despises Trump. I don’t want people thinking that Trump is popular, but unfortunately that 45 percent is pretty immovable and they all vote, so we’ve got to out vote them. We need a dynamic person who’s going to make the case against Trump. When’s the last time you ever heard Joe Biden making a case against Republicans? He hates it. He starts every speech with, ‘My Republican friends, I love making deals with them. I have given so many tax cuts to corporations with my beloved friends, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. My friends, I want them to be stronger.’
You think I’m exaggerating? We literally play the speeches. We play speech after speech after speech where he talks about his Republican friends and how he wants the Republican Party to be stronger. The Republican Party is led by a fascist. We could talk about that as well. I do not want them to be stronger. I want them to be infinitely weaker until the party collapses in on itself and then rises up as a new party. I’m looking forward to whatever the new revival is, but this version sucks and must be defeated, and Justin, think about it.
When’s the last time you’ve heard a Democratic presidential candidate telling you how awful the Republican party is, how terrible they are, how vicious they are, how unacceptable they are, how we must defeat them and not make them stronger, but defeat them thoroughly, crush them. No, we’re Democrats. We’re supposed to play patty cakes. Sorry. The time for patty cakes is at an end. We must attack them and defeat them.
So, this is going to be touching on some of the core concepts of the book, which is the idea of progressivism and how America is in your view going to embrace progressivism if it hasn’t already in different ways. But let’s focus here on the core reason for you entering the race, because you were beating the drum for weeks, if not months, that Joe Biden needed to step out of the race and have a broad primary. I’ve heard you describe your candidacy as very much a proxy, as being just simply an option for there to be somebody else out there to be able to vote for other than Biden.
You’ve even said that you’d be happy if other people get into the race so that there’s a broad primary and we can decide who the right candidate is, who is most likely to be able to win the race or represent voters or deliver on issues or whatever it is that Democratic voters decide that they want to really get behind. So, the big picture question here though, is nobody else has done it yet, except for you, which is why you made this leap. Why is it that other candidates aren’t in the race yet?
Look, I’m going to be honest with you and then we’ll let’s see where the chips fall. So, the reality is that 99 percent of politicians are in it for themselves and it’s all theater. People generally know that, unfortunately, Democratic primary voters are the last to that game. Republican voters know the politicians are fake and then ironically they support the most fake politician, Donald Trump. It is the greatest irony, but at least they know that the regular establishment politicians like, not just Nancy Pelosi in their mind, you know they hate Nancy Pelosi, but they also think Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are full of crap and egotistical and serve their donors. Good on them for believing that. Everything else they believe is wrong, but at least that is totally and utterly correct. So, we all need to get there.
Stop listening to cable news telling you that they’re venerable ladies and gentlemen who care about you so much. No, they don’t. They’re egotistical. They only care about themselves. I mean, look at Dianne Feinstein for God’s sake. For God’s sake, let alone Mitch McConnell freezing at the thing, but they can’t let go of power. So, you want to know the real reason why they’re not in the race? They’re worried that they’ll finish embarrassingly low, because he’s a sitting incumbent president. And then that will hurt their career. Well, I’ve got news for you. What’s going to hurt your career when we no longer have a democracy and there is no next election to run for. That’s going to hurt your career a lot, but they’re all self-obsessed. So, I’m done trying to convince them.
And Justin, you’re right. I tried to get every progressive on a national level to enter this race. I’ve been doing this for almost a year because I can read numbers. Apparently, I’m the only one in politics that can read numbers. So, now it got worse and worse and worse. So, I stopped with the progressives because they weren’t getting in the race. I tried for Democratic governors. All the governors that I mentioned. For God’s sake, Andy Beshear! He’s the most popular governor in the country. He’s the Democratic governor of Kentucky. You give me Andy Beshear I’ll beat Donald Trump with a stick. Come on! This is a layup. These things are simple.
Why not run a popular candidate instead of an unpopular one? Pritzker’s got a billion dollars in Illinois and is pretty popular. He’s done a pretty decent job. So, why aren’t they getting in the race? Well, it could hurt my chances later when I run in 2056. Brothers and sisters, this isn’t a time to be selfish. This is the time to actually gather up your courage and get in the race so we get a real candidate. It’s lack of courage. It’s self-obsession. By the way, if Biden does drop out, if he is made to understand that his precious, precious, precious ego will actually be more bruised if he loses to Trump and he’ll be written as the villain of this story then maybe he drops out. Then all of a sudden all of those governors will find newfound courage.
Justin, this is just as important as everything I’ve just said. I believe in strong primaries and strong primaries create strong candidates. So, what you’ll see on cable news and The New York Times is from people who think that they’re sophisticated. ‘Well, did you know that in 1972, this happened and the primary hurt the Democratic Party? Did you know that in 1980, when Teddy Kennedy ran against Jimmy Carter?’ Yeah, yeah, brother. I know that. I know. We’ve all studied history. Did you know that in 2016 the Republicans ran the most vicious primary we have ever seen and they won? And in 2020, we had 27 candidates on the Democratic side, one of the most contested primaries in Democratic Party history and they won. Okay, now do you want to know why? It sounds counterintuitive.
Why would a primary where you’re attacking one another help you instead of hurt you? Because cable news and mainstream media has brainwashed everybody into thinking, ‘No primaries. Whoever the powerful thinks should be the leader should be the leader. And don’t you dare raise your head. Hillary Clinton is the official nominee. Anyone who runs against her is evil and hurting the party, hurting the party, hurting the party.’ They all chant at once, right? Same thing now with Joe Biden. No, the reason why strong primaries make the party better is because in modern politics, politics is all about messaging. That is why Joe Biden is disastrously behind. He cannot deliver a message if his life depended on it. He whispers, he mumbles.
Look right now, what we have is Republican debates that the whole country watches and the whole country analyzes. It is seven to eight Republicans who are all saying how can great the Republican party is, how great the conservative message is and they disagree around the edges. On the democratic side, we have nothing. So, for 12 months straight in this primary process, and even longer, the only thing that the country’s going to hear is the Republican message. Some different, slightly different versions of the Republican message over and over and over and over. Crime is bad. Government is bad. This is bad. We’re going to protect you. Border is out of control. Blah, blah, blah. Message over and over and over again.
So, if you don’t have a primary, you never get your message out. Wouldn’t it be amazing if me and Gavin Newsom and Pritzker and Ro Khanna and whoever else were all debating about how great the democratic message is, but how we differ slightly. Is it public option? Is it Medicare for all? It doesn’t make you weaker. It makes you stronger. Last thing about it. Someone who arises out of a 17 person primary is a lot more likely to be a stronger candidate than someone who rises out of no primary. That’s an obvious fact. It’s an obvious fact obscured by the marketing of the powerful to make sure that you do not challenge them.
Do you think it’s possible that the reason why parties do well when they have very large primary contests is that when a party’s in a strong position to be able to win that year’s election, everybody and their brother and sister wants to run for president that year because if you can get through the horse race, you can actually win the race rather than the primary itself actually helping your party. I mean, I almost wonder if primaries are kind of irrelevant because most people aren’t paying attention to a lot of the primary candidates up until it’s time to actually vote. I mean, even then, I’m not sure that a lot of people are paying attention to almost any of the Republican primary candidates right now.
I can’t tell you what Nikki Haley really says. Vivek Ramaswamy comes up every once in a while, but even then, I don’t take him that seriously. And I pay a lot of attention to politics. People who I know that don’t pay as much attention to politics, I don’t even think that they can name any of the candidates, which is part of the reason why Donald Trump is so far ahead of the Republicans. So, I guess I’d push back a little bit in terms of – yes, I would agree that a primary is not going to hurt the Democrats, but at the same time, I don’t know that it necessarily helps either. It might just not have much of an effect. It’s just a vehicle to be able to decide who the candidate is to run for president.
So let me break that down in a couple of ways. Number one, I not only obviously care about politics, I cover politics, and then this is my second time running. So, I’m in the political world, but I’m also in the media world and I’m also in the business world, because I’m the founder and president of, and CEO although right now, because of the campaign I stepped down and there’s an interim CEO of TYT. That’s my media network, Young Turks is the flag ship. So, I understand the value of media because I’m in that business. There are literal dollars and cents attached to the amount of time you get to speak in media.
For example, when you’re going to debate, the first public debate was viewed by 12 million people. If you wanted to run an ad, a 30 second ad to 12 million people costs a certain amount of money. It might cost about a half a million dollars. I don’t know what the number is. It’s a significant amount of money. But remember in that debate, they don’t go for 30 seconds and it’s not an hour. They go for two hours or an hour and a half to two hours depending on the debate. That is a world of money. That is tens of millions of dollars let alone when they take those clips and they talk about them in every other broadcast.
Now we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising for their party. They don’t view it as advertising for their party, but every single clip has a conservative message in it. Some version of the conservative message in it. So, you could say, ‘Hey, that didn’t make a dent in me as a voter.’ And, okay, I hear you, but would any party in their right mind, would any brand in their right mind, would anyone in their right mind give up hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising? If you do, you’re saying free advertising is useless. Media is useless. No one is ever influenced by media or anything else, which is just empirically not true. People are influenced by media, even if you don’t know it, you’re influenced by it.
But more importantly, other people are influenced by it. They’re not spending 17 billion every election cycle for their health. They’re spending that money, because it works and it gives them votes. So, turning that down is empirically a bad idea. So that’s point 1. Point 2 Justin is no, you are paying a lot of attention to the Republic primary. You’re paying attention to the guy who deserves the attention, the one with the lead, the massive lead. So yeah, maybe you’re not paying a lot of attention to Nikki Haley. Maybe you saw Ramaswamy out of the corner of your eye. But you pay a lot of attention to Donald Trump. He’s in that primary. And what does he do? He bashes the other guys 24/7.
So, Donald Trump, in my opinion, is a bona fide moron. I think that he would be lucky to get past 70 in IQ. I think he’s preposterously stupid. Having said that he has one quality that helps him in this field. He loves the spotlight. You think like, ‘Oh, what an annoying narcissist.’ Yeah. Okay. I hear you. But in politics, running towards the cameras, running towards the spotlight and go Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump works. It’s free advertising. So, as he’s getting his message out, ‘I’m the only one who could protect you. There’d be no wars if it weren’t for me.’ You think that’s absurd. I don’t believe that, but don’t project your level of intelligence, your level of knowledge, know how, et cetera, on every voter. I’m sorry, but it’s a wide spectrum.
Here, here’s a perfect example, Justin. Trump actually did a decent job on jobs in the first three years, pre-COVID, to be fair to him. He created 6. 4 million jobs. By the way, I don’t know if you have any conservative listeners. But if you’re a conservative and you were listening to this, you see how many times, even though I hate Donald Trump, I’m telling you all the terrible things about him, that I’m fair. I’m fair to the conservative voters. They’re actually against corruption. I’m fair to Trump. 6. 4 million jobs is not that bad. Biden in the same three-year period created 14 million jobs, more than twice as many. It’s an incredible record on jobs when you look at it that way.
I’m running against Joe Biden. I want to knock Joe Biden out of the race, but I’m honest and I will refuse to lie. He did a great job with jobs, 14 million jobs. You know, how many points Joe Biden is down to Donald Trump on the issue of jobs in the latest poll – 19 points. How bad are you at campaigning that you’re down 19 points in a category where you did twice as good as the other guy? Why? One, because Joe Biden (mumbles in imitation). I’m not kidding. And you’re like, well, what did you say? I don’t know. What did he say? Okay. And Trump comes out and goes, ‘I’m the best with jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, Trump, Trump, Trump jobs,’ and it gets imprinted. It gets imprinted.
You don’t like the way the world works. I’m sorry. I love you brothers and sisters. I don’t really like it either. But that is a reality. That’s why he’s got a 19-point lead on jobs. You tell me why he has a 19 point lead on jobs. He didn’t earn it. Biden earned it, but he didn’t get it because politics is all about messaging. That’s why. Look for me CenkforAmerica.com is my website, my campaign website, but you don’t know how to spell Cenk. It’s tough, right? You know, what’s going to stick into your head. My campaign website also has the URL, Bidensgoingtolose.com. And if I say Bidensgoingtolose.com four or five, 10 times on the show, which I’m going to, the one thing you’re going to remember in the show is Bidensgoingtolose.com. That’s messaging.
So, that’s why in these primaries Trump is getting that message out. Biden isn’t. That’s why primaries matter. That’s why primaries, contested primaries, are fantastic. One super last thing on that, Justin. If Christie and Haley and all those guys were not running against Trump, Trump would not be in the news as much. He’d be in the news for the court cases, et cetera, which is already plenty. But every time he says something about Chris Christie, every time he says something about Ramaswamy, it makes the news, which then puts Trump in the news more and more and more and hurting that free media machine. Hillary Clinton outraised him by more than two to one in 2016.
So, every analyst is like, she’s going to win. I said on ABC’s This Week with Stephanopoulos, I was the only one to predict the Trump victory because I know media. Trump was getting more than twice as much free media and free media is better than paid media. So, I knew he was going to swamp her on that and he did.
So, let’s talk about some of the issues because your book is fascinating the way that you try to make the case or you do make the case that progressive issues are actually extremely popular in the United States and you raise up a number of different issues. Why don’t you just talk about some of those? What are some of the issues that you think are popular that are going to resonate not just with voters in this campaign, but resonate with voters beyond 2024 that you think are going to allow progressives up and down the ballot to be able to win in future elections?
So, obviously when I wrote the book, I had no idea that I was going to run for president. I would have thought that was absurd. I know that some of you might share those feelings. So, I’m not unaware like the other politicians. But I started writing the book four years ago. One of the very first things I wrote, obviously, was chapter one, “Why progressives are so popular and why Americans are progressive.” Even if they don’t know it, a lot of the Republican voters on economic, not social, but on economic issues are also progressive. They just don’t know. Now, Justin, I’m taking those ideas and I’m applying them to this late presidential run. Why? Because they’re really popular. My message to the voters is elect me, I’ll do popular things.
Some of the issues are a no brainer. So, for instance, you bring up paid parental leave. I mean, any of the listeners from Europe are going to be shocked that that’s not something that the United States already has. And it makes sense because to be honest, if you’re on the right, you’d be in favor of it because you’d say, ‘Hey, I support families.’ If you’re on the left, you’re in favor of it, not just because people on the left also support families, but because they want to be able to protect women and be able to encourage women to be able to have successful careers and so forth and so on. I mean, there’s a lot of different issues that once you see the poll numbers, you’re like, okay. I can buy that even if I don’t do the research. It just kind of makes sense.
So, let’s take that one just because that one’s perfect. Paid family leave polls at 84%. It polls at 74 percent among Republicans. I went on a conservative podcast, Patrick Bet-David podcast, and they asked their audience after I made the case for paid family leave and 75 percent of them, three quarters of a right-wing audience that got deeply defended when I started talking about Trump. So, they’re not my fans. They’re the opposite and they were at that point offended by me and still three quarters of them said, ‘Yeah, of course, I want paid family leave.’ Why? It’s 12 weeks off for moms after they deliver. Jesus. I mean, Estonia has 82 weeks off – 82 weeks. I think in Sweden, the mom gets 52 weeks off, the dad gets 52 weeks off.
Now, okay, I think that’s too much. But really in America, 85 percent of our workers, they have to go back to work the next day. I mean, again, to your point, Justin, if you live outside of America, forget Europe, literally all of the developed world and a lot of the undeveloped world has at least 12 weeks off. They’re like, ‘Are you serious? America’s so barbaric that you send moms back onto the assembly line and the coal mines a day after they deliver. That’s insane.’ Now you think, well, I mean, they’re not really going back the next day. So, they have to use all their sick leave that they have for actually being sick. Then they have to go unpaid and by the way, a lot of them have no sick leave at all. So now they’re bleeding out money because they had a kid.
If you’re a conservative, number one, and you don’t want to give mom’s 12 weeks off, you’re crazy. Of course, you should give mom’s 12 weeks off. Number two, if you bleed out all their financing while they’re taking a week to recover to get back to work and understand $400 knocks out 40 percent of the country. A $400 problem and 40 percent of the country cannot recover. It bankrupts them and it is a stunning fact, but it’s true. If you didn’t live it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It does happen. So that’s it. They’re financially devastated. You don’t want that if you’re a conservative, because what are moms going to think? Well, then I don’t want kids. Conservatives want more kids, right?
You’re nuts if you don’t give them 12 weeks off. So, the whole country agrees. Well, then Justin, we’ll get to the next one. Well, wait a minute. How come nobody’s done it? If something’s polling at 84%, how come Joe Biden didn’t do it? How come Donald Trump didn’t do it? How come Clinton, Obama, Bush, none of them did this enormously popular thing. This thing is so popular and obvious that the rest of the world thinks we’re barbarian Visigoths for not doing it because of corporate donors. They’re all controlled by their donors. Every rational person, especially ones that are outside of politics, knows that donors don’t give you millions of dollars for their health or for the general welfare. They do it to bribe you.
So, if it costs corporations an extra nickel, they will tell all of their bribed politicians, ‘We’re not doing paid family. What do you think? We live in a democracy? No, you’ll make up any excuse you like, filibuster, parliamentarian, you had a cold, the dog ate your homework, the Russians, make up any excuse, I don’t care. I don’t care if it sits at 97%.’ If corporate donors disagree with it, you will not do it. By the way, you think 97 percent is an exaggeration. Universal background checks on guns holds at 97%. Gun owners want it. NRA members want it. Everybody wants universal background checks and we don’t have it. Why? Gun manufacturers give money to the NRA. NRA gives money to the Republican politicians.
It used to be bipartisan, but now it’s not anymore. The Democrats are better on that issue, but the Republicans block every single bill for universal background checks, even though their position holds at 3%, because the money controls everything. Now I can go down the list. Higher wages, higher minimum wage, leads to higher wages overall. They say, ‘Oh no, that would affect our beloved bottom line. No way. We don’t want employees getting more money.’ You know what? Another name for employees is American citizens. The overwhelming majority of us are employees. They don’t want you getting more money because they want the money for themselves. That polls at 65 percent. It doesn’t get done.
Public option – It’s not Medicare for all. Medicare for all is awesome and we should go in that direction and that also polls great. But the public option, everybody wants. It polls at 68 percent. It’s just an option. Nothing. Ending gerrymandering polls at 90%. Nothing. So, what am I going to do? I’m going to do things that are popular. If all the other politicians go, ‘No, I want the unpopular position,’ have at it hoss. Take all the crappy corporate positions that are super unpopular and leave all the popular positions to me. CenkforAmerica.com. I mean, this is the most obvious way to run in American history. But they’re so wedded to corruption, they can’t see straight.
So, you’re making a case that democracy involves supporting positions that people believe in, especially when there’s large numbers of people that believe in those positions. I mean, it’s not a bizarre position to take. A lot of people would agree with you. When public opinion diverges from your personal beliefs, what are you going to do when you’re in office? Are you going to side with public opinion, especially if it’s overwhelming or would you go with what you personally believe in is the right thing to do?
First of all, as a candidate, what I’m saying is I’m going to do the popular stuff first. We want to fight on the stuff where we’re divided on great. We’ll get to it, but let me pass all the things you want first. Let me bring everything in my path to make sure that I get you the things that you want. Then when we get further down the list, we’re on item number 11… Can you imagine it’s 10 incredibly popular bills and we’re at item 11? Now finally I disagree with the American people. So, is that possible? Of course, it’s possible. In fact, this happened to me in my career many times. So, I’ll give you two prominent examples. Young Turks was one of only two national shows that were opposed to the Iraq War.
We’ve been around forever. We’re the oldest online internet show ever. We’re the longest running daily show on the internet. At the time, Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Young Turks were the only national shows that said, ‘No, do not go into Iraq. Terrible idea.’ At the time, 70 percent of Americans wanted to attack Iraq. You want to know why? Because 70 percent of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein had personally attacked us on 9/11. The mainstream media did a horrific job. I mean, a historically bad job in getting the accurate information to people. But I knew the accurate information, because this is my job. I knew Iraq had not attacked us. I knew 15 hijackers were Saudis. I knew that Saddam Hussein was fighting Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was trying to topple his regime in Iraq.
It made no sense that Saddam Hussein would help Al Qaeda to attack us. I knew for a fact that wasn’t true, let alone weapons of mass destruction. So, I took the quote unquote unpopular position because it was the correct position. Then on gay marriage in 2004, Republicans are running on it. They put it as ballot measures all across the country. At that point, it had not crossed 50 percent yet in popularity. So, that’s why the Republicans are putting it as ballot measures to try to help George Bush with that election. I’m in favor of gay marriage because it’s a matter of morality, decency, humanity, et cetera. So, will I do that from time to time? Definitely. And then I’ll be honest with the voters. I’ll say to them, guys, this is my position. If you don’t like it, vote me out. That’s how it works.
If you say, ‘Hey, you know what? I love that you passed paid family leave and now I have higher wages and I’m actually delivering for my family and I feel economic dignity. Oh my God. I’ve got an option for healthcare where they’re not going to abandon me if I have a preexisting condition, et cetera, et cetera and it’s not an out of control price. You’ve done all of these amazing things. The mass shootings have gone down a little bit. But I hate gay people and you don’t, so I’m going to vote for the other guy. That’s called democracy. We shouldn’t be afraid of democracy. State your positions and let the people decide.
That also gets into a complicated part about reading polls and thinking about public opinion and representing voters, because you’re not just thinking about what voters believe at the exact moment as a representative. Oftentimes you’re trying to think what are voters going to think two years away, four years away, six years away, eight years away, not just in terms of the right decision, but in terms of what’s going to best reflect them. Because eight years from now, a lot of politicians expect still to be in office. If they’re able to say I voted against the Iraq war when it was unpopular, that’s what I stand for today. When public opinion shifts, the winds change, they’re standing there and they’re able to essentially gain the political fortunes, if you will.
So, I mean, in some ways, the two examples that you brought up are fair examples in the moment. But at the same time, a lot of savvy politicians would have taken those same positions and some savvy politicians did take those positions. I mean, a lot of politicians didn’t, but a lot of politicians did and took a lot of heat for them at the time.
So, Justin, this might be our first point of disagreement. I don’t think so. Look at the record. John Kerry voted for the Iraq war. Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war. They all took the popular position at the time, because they were scared. Look, people get mad at me when I use loaded language like cowards. But they all knew that Saddam, maybe 70 percent of the country thought Saddam had attacked us, but Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and all the rest of them knew that Saddam had not attacked us. They knew that war was insane. They did it anyway because they’re like, ‘Oh my God, Bush is going to use it against us. No, we have to be war mongers like the Republicans.’
How’d that turn out for you? How did that turn out for you, corporate Democrats? You spineless… All right, I’ll leave out the adjectives. So, there’s only one politician I can think of. I mean, of course, Bernie Sanders voted his conscious, so God bless. There are others that voted against Iraq, right? But there’s only one politician that I can think of that voted based on courage, not thinking that it will be popular later. Maybe even Bernie thought, ‘Well, I’m so right, it’ll be popular later.’ It’s possible that he thought that. Barbara Lee voted against the Afghanistan war. I would not have even voted against the Afghanistan war. I certainly didn’t want to keep them there for 20 years. That was insane. But in the beginning, I probably would have voted for that war, to be honest.
But Barbara Lee, even though it was intensely unpopular said no, this is a bad idea. See now that’s a profile in courage. By the way, she’s running for the Senate in California. You should take that into account. I haven’t made up my mind between Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, but I give Barbara Lee all the credit in the world for that vote. That’s a courageous vote. But generally speaking, politicians, Justin, don’t think that far ahead. They just see right in front of their nose. Like, I have never seen too many politicians with foresight in my life.
So, you describe yourself as a populist in the book and you describe yourself as taking some popular positions. In a lot of academic literature, populism is kind of a bad word right now. I mean, we’re thinking about populists being like Victor Orbán on the right. Think of Hugo Chávez on the left. For you what does it mean to be a populist?
So, I think that mainstream media takes a lot of words and perverts and makes them into things that are not attached to reality. For example, we talked about paid family leave earlier. Joe Manchin will kill paid family leave even though it polls at 84%. And The New York Times will say that Joe Manchin is a moderate. Wait a minute. You just took the word moderate and made it the opposite of what it actually means. That position does not pull well in the country. It doesn’t pull well in West Virginia. It is actually a radical corporatist position, but they take corporatist positions and they call them moderate or centrist. Then they say, by the way, we’re objective.
So, now I have privileged my own bias as the only true perspective you’re allowed to have. In that Alice in Wonderland World that mainstream media has set up, you’ll take a word like socialists and you’ll turn it into something deeply evil. ‘Oh, Bernie’s going to execute people at Central Park, socialists, Castro and Chávez, et cetera.’ Well, Finland’s also socialist in a lot of ways. Taiwan, for example, is described as socialist and are perfectly lovely countries with perfectly lovely mixed economies. In fact, Northern Europe is considered socialist in mass and are literally the top 10 happiest countries in the world. So, it seems to work relatively well, which leads me back to populist. Populist just means appealing to the average voter in whichever country.
Now you could take that populism and turn it negative, which often happens. It does. That’s not incorrect. All the way from Mussolini to Hugo Chávez and Maduro, et cetera. Yes, it happens. But populism could also be a wonderful thing where you’re actually appealing to what the voters want instead of what the powerful want. That is why mainstream media that serves the powerful takes the word populist and it says it’s only bad. You’re not allowed to interpret it in a positive direction. Anything that the people want, ‘Ew, you look terrible. You don’t give the people what they want in a democracy. You give corporate donors what they want in a democracy.’ So, that’s how they do mass brainwashing.
Look, if you get offended by that, please don’t because as I explained in the book, when I was growing up, I was brainwashed by mainstream media. I believed all of those things. It’s normal. Human beings are very open to influence. That’s why messaging works. That’s why our discussion about the primaries and media earlier is so relevant. When I was a kid, they told me Ronald Reagan was the Gipper. He was an incredible cowboy and he led this shining city on a hill. Dukakis is weak. Mondale is pathetic. And if you grew up watching that and you’re 10 years old, 12 years old, 14 years old, what are you supposed to think?
You’re being actively brainwashed by the media telling you all these things and what has the media told me my whole life and told all of you guys your whole life. Populism is so bad, terrible. It’s not true. In this country, the polling indicates the establishment is despised. Over 90 percent hate the politicians. Over 90 percent hate the media. You could be super uncomfortable with that fact and that could really bother you. Maybe you’re among the people who love politicians. Maybe you’re among the people who love media. You go, well, I like Jake Tapper on CNN. I trust him. And Jake does good work from time to time. In fact, I gave him a compliment the other day. I thought he did a pretty good job on the Israel-Hamas-Gaza situation.
But guys. overall, they’re trying to get you to believe that the status quo is great. Why are they trying to get you to believe that? Because right now the powerful are at the very top of this system. If you disturb the status quo, they might not be at the top anymore. So, if you’re among the powerful and if you’re a multibillion-dollar media corporation, I got news for you, you’re at the top. You do not want to disturb the status quo. So, you say anything that is popular is a dirty word, populist. ‘Don’t go in that direction. Jake might actually get you paid family leave and that would cost us a couple of million bucks at ABC and CNN. We can’t have that.’ It’s not conspiratorial. They don’t write memos about it. It’s the invisible hand of the market as I explained in the book.
So, do you find yourself having more affinity with populists, particularly populist voters on the right, than you do with moderates or at least so called – we’ll put it in scare quotes for the moment – moderates that associate with Democrats?
So, it depends on which moderates we’re talking about. So, those scare quotes are very appropriate. If you’re talking about what the media calls moderates, those are the corporate politicians that tell you 16 percent is the popular position. Don’t touch their beloved donors. Then yes, I agree with some portion of populism on the right or left more than I agree with that pro-corporate position. But the devil is in the details, because we really need to break out, is it social issues, economic issues? What issues are we talking about?
Well, let, let’s get away from issues. I mean, do you feel more comfortable with those kinds of voters than you do with the other types of voters. Do you feel more comfortable with that kind of language or with those types of people?
That was a tricky one too. It’s a great question, Justin. So, if I’m being honest, most of my friends are what I would call moderate Democrats or what the normal person would call moderate Democrats. So, even when I supported Bernie over Hillary, they were super uncomfortable. And why does The New York Times do what they do? Understand the mechanics of how business works and markets work. If we’re being honest, who reads The New York Times? And if you read The New York Times out there, I love you brothers and sisters. I read it too, but the top 10 percent read The New York Times.
So, The New York Times serves its audience as everyone does. Their audience is not a populist audience. Their audience is the top 10 percent and they have that worldview. Part of that worldview is we’ve got some social issues around the edges. They don’t think it consciously. They think it subconsciously. I know because I live it and my family and friends are in that category. So, am I comfortable, super comfortable with moderate Democrats? Yeah, of course I am because they’re my family and friends. At the same time, if you give me a random politician or even a staffer in Washington, that’s in that category that works for Chris Coons, a conservative Democrat…. We’ll call him a moderate Democrat. I mean, all these labels are hilarious, but anyways.
A stafer for Chris Coons versus a populist right-winger and I don’t know either one – Who am I going to have a better time with? Definitely the populist right-winger. Because the populist right winger and I are going to disagree on things as fundamental as my identity. I’m born Muslim. My background is Muslim. My family is Muslim. And the minute I tell them that, and I’ve done this in the past, and it’s hilarious. I tell them – this is the way to do it – I say, I’m atheist now. They go, ‘Ah.’ And I go, ‘Well, I used to be Muslim.’ They’re like, ‘Well, that’s a lot better then.’ Every time. So now, if you’re in the left-wing circles, you can get deeply offended at that. You can cry over that. You can look for a safe space.
I’m not that guy. I get it. They grew up being brainwashed into hating Muslims. I’m going to bring them out of that, not by calling them bigots, racists, blah blah blah, and sometimes I do, depending on the situation. But mainly, by telling them, ‘Hey listen brother, I like the Steelers. I like subs. You like Jersey Mike Subs? Who do you like? You don’t like the Steelers? You like the Raiders? Ha ha. How’s that working out for you?’ You have a real conversation with them and they go, ‘Oh, this guy’s not Muslim. This guy’s human. Yes, this guy’s my neighbor.’
But once you get past those social issues with the rightwing, which is problematic, and I get why some people do not want to engage in that. When you talk about regular stuff, you’d be shocked at how much they agree with you because they’re real people. I’d much rather talk to a real person than some phony in Washington.
Yeah, and I think that that’s really a big thing that comes out of the book. That you see an enormous difference between the American people and people that are engaged heavily in politics, particularly as a career. So, we’ll lump politicians in there, lump in the media, lump in all those different groups that are traditionally called, I guess, the elites. You see a big difference between those different groups. And it raises the question that if there’s so much agreement among general people, why is it that America is so polarized? Is it really because of issues or is it because of something else?
Okay. By the way, someone suggested that my run is for PR for the book, which is hilarious because I forgot to say the name of the book for 53 minutes as we’ve been on the air here. The book is called Justice is Coming and you can buy it at tyt.com/justice. Now, in terms of why are we split just to answer that question, it’s in the book and I explain because they play good cop, bad cop with us. The Democrats are the good cops, Republicans are the bad cops. MSNBC is a good cop. Fox News is the bad cop. Both media and politics. So, what do they want you to do? They want you to fight over whether trans girls can participate in high school female sports. An issue that affects 16 people in the country.
I love those brothers and sisters and I want to protect them, but we’re fighting over an issue so microscopic you couldn’t find it… If you were just doing an odyssey, knowing nothing about American media and politics, if you walked into the country and you said to an objective analyst, find me the top 1000 issues that Americans care about. Trans women in high school sports would not make the list of the top 1000, the top 2000 and everybody knows that. Yet we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time talking about it. Why? Because they want to divide you. If you’re busy fighting each other over that issue, you will not be busy realizing that you all want higher wages and better healthcare and paid family leave and you want the massacres of your children to stop from these mass shootings.
They do not want you to think about that. That is why every time there’s a mass shooting, they go, ‘Don’t ever don’t make it political. Don’t make it political.’ I’ll give you a story from when I was a host on MSNBC. I covered the Egyptian revolution back then. I’m on live on the air. President Obama gives a speech and in a classic Obama fashion, please don’t have your feelings hurt, but he says both things. He says, Mubarak is a strong and important ally and we really support President Mubarak and this revolution is amazing energy, wonderful, we love democracy. Your revolution is great. Because Obama was a master politician, he always gave you whatever you wanted to hear. Whatever you agreed with, you would take away. Whatever you disagreed with, you would think he didn’t really say that.
So, I come out of that break after he’s done giving his press conference and I say, ‘I’m going to keep it real with you guys and tell you what president Obama just said in a second. But first I’m going to go to one of the 28 generals we have on set who’s probably going to gain from this war as a defense contractor.’ But anyway, I didn’t say that part and I should have, but I go to one of the generals. Meanwhile, the producer is in my IFB and says right away to me, don’t Cenk. Don’t keep it real. So, me, I never listen. That’s why I’m not on MSNBC anymore.
After the general’s done, I said, ‘Look, he said both things. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Which side are you on? Are you on Mubarak’s side or the revolution? Because it’s a revolution against Mubarak. You can’t be on both sides. So, then we had long meetings afterwards. I said, ‘What’s the issue? We’re in the news analysis business.’ They said, ‘The issue, Cenk, is that it’s disrespectful to the president. You have to wait a certain amount of time for you to disagree with him.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, right out of the gate, insane. That’s not what news does. So, apparently you guys are not doing news. B really, you waited a respectful amount of time before you criticized Dick Cheney or George Bush? I don’t remember that. So, this is a new standard invented for the Democrats. Let’s keep it real.
‘Three, and this is the most important part, when do I get to talk about it? Is it an hour later? Is it a day later? Is it two days later? Is it a week later? Is it a month later? Oh, it’s until it’s out of the news cycle and then we’re not allowed to talk about it anymore. I got it.’ So, that’s why after the mass shootings, they say, ‘Don’t make it political. We’ll talk about it later.’ Do we ever come back and talk about it? No. Do we ever pass legislation like universal background checks polling at 97%? No. Okay.
So, the idea is, and the media doesn’t know it’s doing this, it’s doing it because of the invisible hand of the market. It’s driving division. Every day it drives division. Good cop, bad cop, good cop, bad cop. Meanwhile, you never get the policies that you want and you’re constantly at each other’s throats.
Well, Cenk, thank you so much for joining me today. To mention the book one more time. It’s Justice is Coming: How Progressives are Going to Take Over the Country and America is Going to Love It. It’s an interesting book. It’s different than a lot of the books that I bring on and that I kind of engage with, but I definitely think it delivers what you would describe and I think most people would describe as the progressive position. So, thank you so much for talking to me and best of luck on the campaign.
Thank you. I appreciate it, Justin. The interview was supposed to be about the book. Thank you for bringing it back to that because I scheduled it earlier. But these days, of course, Bidenisgoingtolose.com. So go to Bidenisgoingtolose.com. Let’s get other candidates in the race. We cannot be complacent against fascism. We must defeat it. Donald Trump used literal Nazi propaganda about poisoning the blood of our nation. That is not an accident. He’s telling us this is what I’m going to do. Do not let him get away with it. Bidenisgoingtolose.com. If I get to 25 points, every candidate in the world is going to get in this race. So, let’s go make this happen and let’s beat Trump and let’s make sure we protect our democracy.
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