Monday, April 20, 2009

Government By The Few

From the Bill Moyers interview with David Simon:

BILL MOYERS: Are you cynical?

DAVID SIMON: I am very cynical about institutions and their willingness to address themselves to reform. For their willingness to do what they're supposed to do in American life. I am not cynical when it comes to individuals and people. And I think the reason THE WIRE is watchable, even tolerable, to viewers is that it has great affection for individuals. It's not misanthropic in any way. It has great affection for those people. Particularly, when they stand upon their hind legs and say, "I will not lie anymore. I am actually going to fight for what I perceive to be some shard of truth."

You know, over time, people are going to look at THE WIRE and think, "This was not quite as cynical as we thought it was. This was actually a little bit more journalistic than that. They were being blunt. But it was less mean than we thought it was." You know? I think in Baltimore, the initial response to seeing some of this on the air was, "These guys are not fair and they're mean. And they're just out to savage us." And it was written with a great-- it's a love letter to Baltimore.

BILL MOYERS: The reason I ask you if you're cynical is not because you wrote that, I'm going to link our viewers at to a powerful, extemporaneous speech. I can tell it was extemporaneous, because it reads like that. It reads as if your words were just taken down. That you made at-- to the students at Loyola College in Baltimore some years ago. And you said to them, "I want you to go and look up the word 'oligarchy.'" Well, I did just that. I took your advice. I looked it up.


BILL MOYERS: It means "Government by the few. Or a government in which a small group exercises control for corrupt and selfish purposes." Is that what you saw in Baltimore?

DAVID SIMON: I was speaking nationally. But I think that yes. We are a country of democratic ideas and impulses, but it is strained through some very oligarchical structures. You know, one of which could be, for example, the United States Senate. You know, you give me the high-- higher house of a bicameral legislature. And you tell me that 40 percent of the people are going to elect 60 percent of the representatives. And I look upon that as being decidedly undemocratic. Or I look at the Electoral College as being decidedly undemocratic. You know, I don't buy into the notion that one-- one man, one vote is not the most fundamental way of doing business. And ultimately, when I look at you know, for example, the drug war. There are places were the majority of people are now aware that the drug war has been a fraud for 30 years. And yet, because of the dynamics that are put in place that are I think, to an extent oligarchical, because money speaks so strongly in politics...

You know, listen, the only reason that alcohol and cigarettes, which do far more damage than heroine and cocaine, are legal is that white people and affluent white people at that, make money off that stuff. You know? Phillip Morris was-- you know, had-- if those guys had black and brown skin and were-- you know, in the Mexican State of Chihuahua, they'd be hunted. Or maybe not anymore. Maybe they'd be in control of the Mexican State of Chihuahua, that's another story.

But I look at that, and I say, you know, "Yes, this is about, you know, money talks." And the idea that what the most people what is best for the most people, and the utilitarian sense of democracy's supposed to be, that that's still applying in American life. I just don't see a lot of evidence for that.

BILL MOYERS: So, is this what you mean when you say THE WIRE is dissent?

DAVID SIMON: Yes. It is dissent. It is saying-

BILL MOYERS: Against what? From what?

DAVID SIMON: It is saying, "We no longer buy these false ideologies. And false motifs you have of American life." And so I look at this and I think to myself, if only you stand up and say "I'm not going to be lied to anymore." That's a victory on some level, that's a beginning of a dynamic. And, listen, I don't think-- can change happen? Yes. But things have to get a lot worse.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the lead I would put on the body of your work. Your journalism, your articles, your essays, your speeches, your books, your television series, it would be this. "David Simon says America's not working for everyday people who have no power. And that's the way the people with power have designed it to work."

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