Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Studs Terkel: 60s Were The Greatest


AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from Chicago, the hometown of our special guest today for the hour: broadcaster, author, social historian, American legend, Studs Terkel. Born in 1912 in New York City, Studs Terkel moved with his family to Chicago at the age of ten, where he spent most of his life. Over the years he has worked as an activist, a civil servant, a labor organizer, a radio DJ and a television actor. But he is best known as a Chicago radio personality, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

For forty-five years, Studs Terkel spent an hour each weekday on his nationally syndicated radio show interviewing the famous and the not-so-famous. With his unique style, he created portraits of everyday life in America. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the George Polk Career Award and the presidential National Humanities Medal.

Today, at the age of ninety-five, Studs Terkel is still speaking out. Two weeks ago, Studs wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing the Bush administration's warrantless spy program and congressional efforts to immunize the large telecom companies that took part. And he has just come out with his long-awaited memoir. It's called Touch and Go.

Studs Terkel joins me for the hour here from Chicago. Welcome to Democracy now!, Studs.

STUDS TERKEL: Thank you, Amy. It's great to be with you. When you speak to me as legendary, there's a joke to the whole thing. I am very inept with mechanical things. I'm of another millennium, the books of the nineteenth century. From the Depression on -- the Depression, the war, the Cold War -- the greatest generation being the '60s and not World War II. It was in the '60s, there was the Civil Rights Movement, flourished, at least for a time, and [inaudible]; the rise, resurgence of feminism; the gays and lesbians coming out as free people. So that's the generation, I think the greatest.

The important thing about that article was: they are un-American. We never called people with tapped phones with the opinion of the government on their side. People disagree with them. Thomas Paine, the most eloquent visionary of the American Revolution, speak of this country in which a commoner can look at a king and say "Bugger off!" And I was telling them to bugger off. I've known this before, because my phone was tapped in the days when the keyword was "Commie."

"Commie" today, the word is "liberal." Our language is being perverted, as well as our thoughts. "Say, I'm not a liberal," says John Kerry, who was on -- he was a guest on our program with [inaudible] officers against the Vietnam War. He was wonderful! He has denied he's a liberal. A liberal means what? The right to speak your opinion and to defend even those who disagree with you. We've made that -- what's the next word? -- "terrorist." We misuse the word, going to the center. What does moving to the center mean? It means moving to the right. You never hear anybody moving to the left called going to the center. You see, that's how we've gone, to pervert our language.

But the big thing that bothers me -- I'm glad if I wrote that piece, but the big thing that bothers me is our own lack of background. "Not our fault." Do we know about the twentieth century? Do you know about the Depression, how it came about and how it was stemmed by the New Deal by government?

We just heard that Greenspan retired. Greenspan, a Federal Reserve man and wise man, his idol was Ayn Rand. It even embarrasses me to say this. Ayn Rand's biographer, whom I got to interview for perverse reasons -- I have an imp of the perverse in me -- and she said, "Oh, I believe every man on the top deserves to be there who has the guts. And if you're there with your hat in your hand, you deserve to be down there." And she used the word "collective others." So this is the guy we're honoring as he's disappearing.

I remember his opposite number, when I was working on the Great Depression book -- that was the Great Depression, and the crash took place October 1929. And a guy like Greenspan -- only didn't read Ayn Rand -- he said, "I didn't know what to do. We didn't know what to do. Things went down, stocks went down." The World War I guys were tear-gassed, went to Washington for the bonus, and they pleaded with the government -- they, members of the new religion we have: the free market. I thought of my alma mater, University of Chicago. Most of the free marketers have won the Nobel Prize, didn't know what to do. Variety, the trade paper, said, "Wall Street lays an egg."
So, finally, the government came through with agencies to help those who have, as well as the have-nots. And so, their kids, of their granddaddies, who were saved by a benign federal government, are saying, "Too much government," as Molly Ivins -- we miss so badly -- used to do it in kidding him. So we have an insult to our intelligence.

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