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Hopes for Obama's Second Term

Bill Moyers gets post-election insight from veteran journalist James Fallows.

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BILL MOYERS: There was an interesting little ad that kept running over and over in the weeks leading up to this campaign, about China. Let me play it for you.


NARRATOR: Why do great nations fail? The Ancient Greeks…the Roman Empire…the British Empire…and the United States of America. They all make the same mistakes, turning their back on the principles that made them great. America tried to spend and tax itself out of a great recession. Enormous so-called “stimulus” spending, massive changes to healthcare, government takeovers of private industries and crushing debt. Of course, we owned most of their debt…so now they work for us.


NARRATOR: America can determine our own future, but only if we own it. For American independence, we must cut spending and waste.

BILL MOYERS: Unpack that for me.

JAMES FALLOWS: I actually love that ad. I first saw that ad two years ago when it was run in the 2010 midterms. I did an article at The Atlantic site calling it “The Wonderful Chinese Professor Ad." Here's what I loved about it. Number one, it's evident from minute, second one of that, it's not filmed in China 'cause these people just they're all-- and in fact, it was some junior college in California or someplace. Or maybe in northern Virginia suburbs. They advertise--

BILL MOYERS: What a world.

JAMES FALLOWS: --American, because they just look so healthy and their teeth are not what Chinese people's teeth look like and all the rest. So it was Asian Americans, the audience who didn't really know how that was going to be used, and didn't understand the narrative. But the actor, who is the Chinese actor who was professor. Number two, I thought it was actually a skillful use of the foreign menace in this sense.

The professor is saying, "These empires rise and fall for their own reasons." He didn't say, "We push them over." He was saying, you know, they undid themselves. I disagree with his narrative about how we undid ourselves. I don't think health care would undo us. I don't think foreign debt would undo us. But I thought it was part of good side of the foreign menace tradition in our life of saying we should do better, as opposed to these foreign rats. You know, they're tricking us--

BILL MOYERS: That's what the ads that used to run many years ago against the Chinese menace, you know?

JAMES FALLOWS: Yeah, exactly--

BILL MOYERS: They're coming, their hoards are going to overtake America and appeal to people's fear. This doesn't appeal directly or explicitly to fear.

JAMES FALLOWS: Well, it ends with that of their chuckling. You know, now they work for us. Now, you know, they ask for jobs for us. And so, that final part you could say is sort of China menace bashing. But I thought it actually was a very interesting snapshot of the American psyche. Now, that ad was not about China. It was about America.


JAMES FALLOWS: And how feel we feel that we're-- this is the latest foe that's going to overtake us.

BILL MOYERS: Do the Chinese think America's in decline?

JAMES FALLOWS: Some of them do. Some of them follow the same rhetoric. And that feeling's more about China than about the U.S. So I think that there is--

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