March 18, 2003
Bob: I’m very outspoken and I don’t align myself with any party. When I think it’s appropriate, I’ll jab at each one because I think that will keep things on track. Which leads into this interview. I was reading about your intent for the book.
Helen: Yes, we would like to go beyond politics, beyond current events, except when they exemplify some aspects of our intent.
Peter: It seems to me the Great Experiment is a framework within which politics can happen. Politics in the sense of free interaction, the free marketplace of ideas. Obviously we’re here to hear what you think of the Great Experiment.
Bob: Ok, when I look back at people like Ponce de Leon, Magellan, Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci and what they did and why they did it, they were all looking for something. They were not happy where they were at. It may not have been a quality-of-life issue, but they knew there was something out there that they were looking for, and, from those people forward until now, I think we’re all still on this vision quest. How can we make life better? Some people look for challenges and some people look to retire and just relax. There is a different set of priorities and goals for everyone who has a face and a pulse.
When the United States was first stood up, the intent of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was very palatable to anyone and everyone who was here. Now, that has weathered some storms that we have seeded some clouds on. I’ll tell you that slavery, the mishandling of certain problems in the world and some foreign policies have sort of chipped away at the ideal that was built several hundreds of years ago. It has brought us to where we are today.
Peter: What are the biggest ‘chips,’ in your point of view?
Bob: Slavery is definitely a chip in the foundation, a ding in our armor. Another important issue: the way we’re perceived overseas carries a lot of weight back home. The United States is looked at as the leader of the planet, and I won’t say we’re a social experiment, but we’re close to it.
When I look at your intent for the book and try to put my arms around it, “what is this experiment all about?” My family came here in the early 1900′s from Sicily. They were looking for something. They were looking for a quality life, and they had the ability to go from their level, literally in rags, to a very comfortable level, which would nowadays seem like lower to middle class. For them it was a serious jump.
What I try to recognize everyday is “what does it mean to be an American?” We say “I’m an American,” “I’m an African-American,” “I’m an Italian-American,” “I’m a Native American.” I hate that, and the reason I hate that is because, for instance, if you go to South Africa and ask someone what they are, they don’t say they’re a Black South African, or a French South African; they just say they’re a South African. The people who were born in this country, like myself, are Americans. Yes, we have roots and lineage that go back to other countries, but we’re here for a reason. Our forefathers obviously didn’t like where they were at and wanted to make a change. So they rolled the dice and came over here to the United States. So the country was built on the idea and belief that if you didn’t like where you were you could come here and set up a home. That’s what the country is all about and we seem to drift away from that from time to time.
One reason is, for example, that we were attacked by the Japanese, There were a lot of Japanese Americans who were here at the time; they were actually born here. It was very easy for us to demonize them, to categorize them as the enemy and move them into camps. That’s a chink in the armor. Now, tactically, was that a sound thing to do? Did we really possibly avoid some terrorist sort of actions, probably yes.
Helen: Someone was talking about a silver lining on that cloud. Perhaps we actually kept some of those Japanese safe from our own people who may have taken reprisal action against them. It was a bit harsh, but if we look for something good that came of that, that was one possible item.
Bob: That could be true, but as an American, I would prefer to take measures to protect myself and protect my family than to have that happen to me. I don’t need government to make that decision for me. That’s one of the issues that our country continues to have growing pains about.
Some of the issues I see now is how are we going to handle Homeland Security. There is so much paranoia about big government, the claws and the reach of John Ashcroft, because of this Experiment.
Helen: That’s exactly what we’re trying to get at with the book. Sometimes it’s 2 steps forward, 3 back, 5 forward, 1 to the side.
Bob: Yes, that’s normal, it’s part of what we have decided to do as a country. What was written on paper back in the 1700′s I don’t think was locked in concrete; it was the foundation we were to build on, but they really didn’t have any idea of how many rooms we were to put on the house. They didn’t even know about bathrooms at the time, they only had outhouses. So as we change, both technology-wise and in our views of society and man change, this government has to change. Some of the things that make that difficult is the decay in the moral fabric, that makes the United States is a very unique tapestry.
My Grandmother from Naples used to say that morals and scruples never change. People change. What was murder 150 years ago still is murder. That hasn’t changed, but with all the special interest groups, and movements like political correctness; we bend the definitions. We bend these rules right to the point of where we think they will break, but this country seems to be very flexible and there are probably a thousand different reasons why it’s so flexible, and why I think we will survive another 230 years of government. We will change, we will not stay the same. I don’t think the country will look the same in 50 years.
Helen: That’s the inspiration we’re looking for in this book. Of course we make mistakes, but we correct them. Of course we change and change means we don’t know what we’ll look like but knowing change is in the air means we’re ready for it and not surprised. Studying history and noticing the progressive changes prepares us.
Recently we met someone from Georgetown University who speaks to International Visitors. He said visitors from some countries are amazed at the 50 different state governments and the thousands of different city governments with their individual freedoms, all within the Federal Government. In fact, one visitor said, “this is not a country, you all do something different”. That’s both our strength and our weakness depending on how we use this diversity.
Bob: Let me suggest that some other countries will have to change and are changing. The need to change the way they govern and the way they provide for their people. I’ve heard it said a hundred times that we don’t understand the Middle Eastern culture; or the American culture doesn’t understand the French culture, the Western culture doesn’t understand the Japanese culture. Sure we do! A good percentage of us are from the Middle East, from the East, from France, from Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal… name the country. The problem is that they don’t understand our experiment because they don’t live in it. So instead of us trying to conform, or to be empathetic to them, it should be the other way around!
You ask for an interpretation of how I see this experiment, how I feel about the country and what I contribute… Well, I’m a big believer in “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of All those that deny me that.” That’s why I went into the military. That’s what the military is supposed to be for. I believe there is Good and Evil on the Earth and I believe Good and Evil live in the hearts of men and women, predominantly men that govern. Watch a country and watch how it follows the leader of that country down some pretty heinous paths. We say we’re a democracy and in a democracy the majority rules. Sometimes the majority is not always right so you have to have a ‘left’ to offset the ‘right’. The majority wasn’t right, for instance, in 1938 in Germany. The majority wasn’t right when we enslaved millions of people here in the United States, so we need to have a left and I welcome the left, That’s why I decided in 1993 after coming back from Haiti and seeing the way that country was and the way the people lived, I needed to take a few measures in my life. One of those was to disassociate myself from political parties. I won’t say I wanted to be in the middle because that’s not accurate, I just wanted to be independent.
I’ll tell you one of the things that’s amazing to me, and I work for some very conservative people. When you disassociate yourself from the party, you tend to look at things differently. There is no longer an agenda attached to an idea.
For example, if the Democrats come up with a realistic way of solving the nation’s debt and providing for the homeless, why not do it? Does it really matter if the idea was born on the left side of the house? Absolutely not! However, a two-party system doesn’t work that way. There has to be a quid pro quo, and I think that’s unfortunate. I think our system may change over the next 30 to 40 to 50 years, because we will realize that it has broken down.
Let’s look at the events of 9/11, and what lays on the horizon for us. Well, those could be the catalysts that cause people like myself to grow in numbers and say, “I don’t think we need to go forward like this; we need a change.” There is an independent party right now that is not associated with anyone and it’s a ground-swell of people who say, “OK guys, enough is enough!” I don’t care if you can’t settle the budget. I don’t care why you don’t understand that we need a Department of Homeland Security funded in such and such a way. We are all suffering as American citizens, so let’s get that fixed.
This country was founded by a revolution. We’ve turned the word revolution into a four-letter word and I disagree with that. If Thomas Jefferson were alive now, he would probably be very upset.
Where do people go, when they want to vote their conscience, when they want to vote their beliefs? The’ve only got the Democrats or the Republicans to choose from.
Helen: How do you stay engaged?
Bob: Before I got on TV I’d always had the opportunity to speak to folks. I’m a member of the National Corporate Security Council and we do annual round table discussions and I try to get my two cents in where I can. I’ve also spoken for the American Society for Corporate Security, and although these are not platforms for politics, it’s very easy to go down that road.
I hit a wall of frustration when I got out of the Army and I broke away from that organization, probably because I thought, if I couldn’t effect a change I needed to go somewhere else. I got out of the army in 2000. Between April of 2000 and September of 2001 I was really a lost soul in society; I didn’t fit in anywhere.
Helen: Because of your Army background?
Bob: No, because of my beliefs. I have pretty strong religious beliefs. I don’t want to join the Elks Club; I don’t want to be a member of the ACLU; so where do I go? The problem I have is that when you go out to reach the people who think the same way you do, you don’t know them, you have no way of vetting them. I found some individuals I don’t ever want to be associated with. I fell off the face of politics for a while and became disillusioned with this Experiment.
Well, on 9/11 when the Pentagon was attacked and my old office was destroyed and I didn’t know if half my friends were alive, my sister-in-law just left her place of work in the North Tower of the Trade Center and didn’t know if her friends were alive, and the plane crashed in Somerset, Pennsylvania, where my wife’s family is from; it hit home. It hit home really hard. I had a 5 month old baby at the time that I brought into this world of complete chaos. Well, that’s when I decided to become re-engaged; which led me to getting on TV.
Now I am being given the opportunity to voice my opinion on a number of different platforms; on TV, on radio, when I choose to write; and the message that I’m trying to send is, “don’t be afraid of being different; don’t join a party just to join a party; there are other ways to get things done.” If we can find a middle ground where people like myself can get things done politically with some power, that would be great. I’m not a financier, I don’t know philanthropists who would fund such a project, but I’m sure they are out there. I admire Ross Perot. I voted for him because he was different. Plus I know Ross Perot and I can tell you he’s heavily involved in things that go on behind the scenes. It never gets advertised because he doesn’t want it advertised. So, where do I go in the meantime? Well, if I put out my opinion in as many places as I can and influence as many people to think the way I do, and if that forms some sort of organization, that’s great.
Helen: Tell us some more about the practical engagement.
Peter: It sounds like you’re making a distinction between making a difference and engaging in public discourse.
Helen: Yes, we also wrote an article, an open letter to the college girl who was turning her back on the flag before her basketball games. We suggested she make a difference, rather than make a statement.
Bob: Right, you can throw your hands up in disgust or your can throw your hands into the problem and try to help fix the problem. At this point in my life, I think I’m getting ready to throw my hands into the problem. I did break away to find myself, but now I realize I’m not one of the sheep, I’m more of a shepard. I’ve had people tell me I should consider politics. OK, but what do I call myself? Where do I fit in? Even if I did get elected to a position, how much power would I really have? Well, let’s see; we’ve got left and right; we’ve got Democrat and Republican; where do I fit in? If I were a Senator, I would love to stand up and just say we have to stop doing what we’re doing; we have to make decisions based on the betterment of the nation and of the people, not the betterment of our parties.
Peter: You had mentioned earlier that we shouldn’t be afraid to be different; in other words be an individual. This country was founded by individuals They were so successful in creating an environment for individuals to achieve success that we tend to forget there is still a herd of sheep around and the few individuals left are being mistaken for in wolves. When you say “let us know what you think,” you might be addressing their unconscious fear of standing there naked and alone expressing their opinion and their tendency is to shrink away from that. I would suggest this is the majority of the people.
Bob: I would, too.
Peter: How awkward is it for someone to speak to a group of people they don’t know?
Helen: We’ve talked about change taking so long; that’s one of the weaknesses, what are some of the strengths of the system?
Bob: What we’re doing here right now, what the “tractor man” is doing. We have the right to shoot him because of what he’s doing, but here is one angry tobacco farmer who can shut down the nation’s capital because we value life. Amen! How great is that? Go try that in Baghdad or Somalia. Some people may call it a weakness, but I think it’s incredible. I embrace it.
The other thing that’s impressive about the two-party system is that when it’s time to get behind the President, they will. They’ll get in line and support the troops. So even through it seems that we operate in a Byzantine fashion, that’s good. We have the ability to re-correct ourselves. The ship goes off course once in a while, but we always come back on course. When things are going well, we just drift, but when there is an issue, an emergency, we get right again. Our government is a direct reflection, in some cases, of our society, and in other cases it can be oppressive to it.
Everyone has a different goal in life. If I were going to summarize this I would say the Experiment is a success, there’s room for improvement and growth and if I had to give it a grade, I’d give it a B+. Let’s fix those areas that have to be fixed, but for the most part I think it’s gone extremely well. In fact, I think it’s gone better than the Founding Fathers imagined. Having said that, God forbid we have an incident here in the United States that I fear we might well have. If we don’t secure our country and make it safe against terrorist attacks, the Experiment is in grave danger.
I think a good question to ask oneself is ,”What is worth dying for?” We’ve become so politically correct, so paranoid about how we’re perceived, it’s becoming difficult for us to do things that, before, people would have just gone off and done, with none of this discussion. For instance, we lost 18 or 19 serviceman in Somalia and what did we do? We pulled out. In WWII, we lost that many in 2 seconds. I think it was hundreds of guys we lost in a training exercise prior to the Normandy invasion… hundreds!
There is not a more just cause for the military right now than the prosecution of the war on terror and I think it’s just being approached in a very tippy toe fashion. I don’t understand why. Isn’t it worth it anymore? Is it not worth the risk? Is it not worth dying for? That’s why I think there should be some kind of compulsory service to our country; be it the border patrol; law enforcement, the military; I don’t care. We should learn to serve our country.
Helen: We approach it from the point of view that you have to take responsibility for your life. Maybe you don’t have to go into the military; not that there is anything wrong with that idea, but take responsibility for your life. We’ll use a simple example of the snowfall in DC when we had to shovel ourselves out. Many of our neighbors were complaining that the government wasn’t doing enough for them. This was a perfect example of waiting for someone else to do something for us and, in a very real way, giving over your life to someone else. We advocate being engaged, and it can even be done on a simple, local level. When you become engaged in your life and, therefore, your nation, you realize the difficulty in keeping it together.
Peter: For this book, we’re hoping to motivate people to become more engaged so that if your idea of video-voting happens, they will be able to do it as informed individuals. We can’t make people learn, but we sure can try to motivate them. The question within the Great Experiment is, “what is America for in?” and I believe the answer is, “a place for individuals to fulfill themselves.” If so, then the question becomes, “what is human life for in?” It’s much easier to be ‘against’ threats to your life and liberty than it is to be ‘for’ something that might be larger than that.
Bob: I too have a problem with complacency and I have a problem with having to take care of people who don’t want to be responsible for themselves. Those who flat-out refuse to take care of themselves, that is.
Peter: You must resent it when the government decides to take care of those people.
Bob: Yes. Well… If they’re not capable of looking after themselves, I’m all for taking care of them. But if they simply refuse to take care of themselves, then I refuse, too.
I remember a movie from a few years back. The story was that to become a citizen of the United States and be able to vote and enjoy the liberties available in this country, a person had to serve the country in some form of statesmanship, at the state or federal level. It should be a “rite of passage” to become a citizen of the United States of America, which means you learn the language, you learn the history of the country and you take an active part in the community. And if you don’t do that, then you shouldn’t get the privileges and rights of being a U.S. citizen. People should have to earn that right, not be handed it. Why is it an inconvenience now? Thousands of people had to sacrifice and suffer to insure these rights; there is nothing wrong with this generation doing its part too. Again, what is worth living for in, is worth dying for in.
Instead of asking people to be their very best, we’re trying to take away the risk of life. I remember a story recently where a daycare center banned the game of hide and seek because losing hurt one kid’s feelings.
Helen: It seems moral relativism is trying to do away with competition.
Peter: Competition brings up uncomfortable feelings. But what is the ultimate comfort? Death.
Bob: We just don’t know how blessed we are. For instance, I spent a lot of time in Africa and I was surprised to see how the Africans treated our black soldiers. The Africans complained to our soldiers that they had the nerve to call themselves African Americans when they have so much. A few suggested they trade places and when they come back here they wouldn’t call themselves African Americans, they’d call themselves Americans. They don’t understand how someone can gripe so much about the opportunities we have in America. I think the whole race issue is very difficult for us to deal with. I will never dismiss our period of slavery and say that was 100 or 200 years ago, because I remember some very inappropriate remarks, even in the 19070′s, made at the expense of some of my black friends.
(phone call interruption)
Bob: Where did the individuals go?
Helen: Individuals by their nature don’t group together and march around protesting things. It’s not their nature.
Peter: I think it’s a cliché, but I believe that a democratic society gets the government it deserves. Government is truly a reflection of the people, rather than society being a reflection of government.
Bob: Because of our experiment, terrorism is never going away and our country will never be completely secure. It’s impossible within a democracy. Democracy breeds insurgencies.
Helen: However, there’s one fact we all have to face in any nation. If you have good, you’re going to have bad. It’s the dual world we live in. We just have to get used to that fact.
Bob: Absolutely! The strong will then survive and the weak will fall by the wayside. The strong in the country move this great machine with such speed that the weak or the sheep couldn’t even comprehend. However, they get to enjoy the benefits of the movement. However, if we look at the larger picture, we need all levels; otherwise it’s a dysfunctional society. We need leaders and we need followers, we need people willing to work and lead also those just learning who will work for $5 an hour. There is a need for all levels.
I don’t think there is any great doom and gloom for our society except another terrorist attack.
Helen: We have to realize that life is filled with problems we have to deal with, and a nation shares those problems. It’s just life.
Bob: You’re right, that’s life. We have to realize we’re all going to die. As I said earlier, I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of those who get in the way of it.