The Magazine

PBS's Televangelist

Bill Moyers preaches on . . . and on.

Feb 25, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 23 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Moyers went on to talk about "true believers" of bin Laden's ilk. Social philosopher Eric Hoffer, he explained, gave this name to "people whose inner rage seeks refuge in a validating rebirth, a religious conversion if you will within a charismatic movement. Once they marched for Hitler, now they march for God."

Then Moyers shifted targets, begging patience as he grappled publicly with his own profundity. "Bear with me just one moment as I try to compose the main thing I want to say," he urged the audience.

America's in trouble. Explained Moyers,

"Not just religious true believers threaten our democracy. It's true believers in the God of the market who would leave us to the ruthless forces of unfettered monopolistic capital where even the laws of the jungle break down. And they're counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. While you're standing at attention with your hand over your heart pledging allegiance to the flag, they're picking your pocket. I know we're not supposed to be raising criticisms right now. This is a national emergency. But what if this emergency lasts a decade? What happens to democracy?"

Big companies--with help from Washington conservatives, including President Bush--are using public vehicles to enhance their private interests, Moyers argued. Worse, he said, they're doing it in the name of those who died on September 11. A "mercenary crowd in Washington" is exploiting the terrorist attacks to enrich themselves. Moyers singled out Rep. Dick Armey, who opposed government-paid health insurance for laid off airline workers, as serving the interests of corporate types who contribute mainly to Republicans. Said Moyers, "Mr. Armey and his band of true believers went along."

Moyers eventually connected "right-wingers" with bin Laden by suggesting that the Bush administration is more interested in protecting its wealthy contributors than in fighting "terrorists' dirty money." The passage deserves to be quoted in full.

"Last year, a year ago this month, the right-wingers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington teamed up with deep pocket bankers, some of whom support the Heritage Foundation, to stop the United States from cracking down on terrorist money havens. I'm not making this up, it's all on the record. Early last year thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the rules on offshore financial centers whose banks have the potential to hide and help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates, and groups like bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. Now not all offshore money is linked to crime or terrorism. Much of it comes from wealthy people who are hiding money to avoid taxation--and right-wingers believe in nothing if not in avoiding taxation. Let firefighters and police and teachers pay out of their middle-income salaries for the war on terrorism. So these right-wingers in Washington and the banking lobbyists went to work to prevent the American government from joining in the crackdown on dirty money. Closing down the havens, they said, would in effect lead to higher taxes on poor folks trying to hide their income. I'm not kidding, it's all on the record. The president of the powerful Heritage Foundation spent an hour with Treasury Secretary O'Neill, Texas bankers pulled their strings at the White House, and, Presto!, the Bush administration pulled out of the global campaign to crack down on dirty money. How about that for patriotism? Better terrorists get their dirty money than tax cheaters be prevented from evading national law. And this from people who wrap themselves in the flag and sing 'America the Beautiful' with tears in their eyes. Bitter? Yes."

MOYERS WAS STILL bitter when I asked him whether his frequent attacks on the Bush administration--in "documentaries" on taxpayer-funded television, in his new show, in his speeches--are more strident even than the attacks Bush's political opponents make on commercial networks.

"What attacks on the president?" he responded, with no apparent irony. After pointing out to me that he criticized the Clinton administration for its campaign finance abuses, he turned the question around. "Are you going to attack me by reporting on this? I mean, I'm asking you seriously, where in this broadcast have I attacked President Bush? Where in the LBJ library speech have I attacked President Bush? You have to be specific."

I started reading his words back to him. "How about that for patriotism? Better terrorists get their dirty money than tax cheaters be prevented from evading national law . . ." Cutting me off, Moyers scoffed. They're facts, he says, not attacks.