Politics and Work: A Q&A with Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson

Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson don’t always see eye to eye on politics, but they agree that big changes are afoot.

By Dori Meinert Jun 1, 2016
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Liberal Paul Begala and conservative Tucker Carlson may be political polar opposites, but the former CNN “Crossfire” co-hosts will share the stage—and their insights into this year’s wild presidential campaign—at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition, to be held June 19-22 in Washington, D.C.

Begala is a CNN commentator and international political analyst who played a critical role in the elections of President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. He served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House. In 2012, he was inducted into the American Association of Political Consultants Hall of Fame. He also teaches government at Georgetown University.

Carlson is a co-host on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” and is editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a political news and opinion website that he launched in 2010. Previously, he hosted several nightly programs on MSNBC as well as a weekly public affairs program on PBS.

HR Magazine asked Begala and Carlson to assess the nation’s mood and share predictions on several key workplace issues. One thing they agree on: Politicians can learn a thing or two from HR.

What are the top workplace issues that will define the political landscaPaul Begala.pe this year?

Begala: The most important one is income. Middle-class workers are stuck and poor people are doing even worse, so that causes frustration and anger. I think that’s what’s driving our politics.

There’s also a lot of discussion on the Democratic side about paid family leave and about improving access to child care and making it more affordable. In many places, it’s more expensive than a state university education. The cost really makes it difficult for working parents.

On the Republican side, there’s much talk about ending political correctness. If that means protecting free speech, I’m all for it. But if it means giving license to the kinds of attacks we’ve seen in this presidential election—against Mexicans, Muslims and disabled people—I don’t think there will be support for that.

Carlson: It’s a populist year. There’s a revolt against existing structures, authority and those in charge. The spirit is in the air. Those impulses are defining the election season.

I don’t know if that means that employees are going to start talking back to their bosses more or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Basically, this is the 1960s again—a period of total change, where people are casting off old assumptions and trying on new ones.

Probably every HR department in America is terrified because people feel that standards are changing, but they’re not really sure what the new norms are. But just because we’re in a change moment doesn’t mean everything should be modified.

Which political party will do more to improve the economy and business climate? Why?

Begala: You don’t need opinion for that. You have facts. Democrats have done a better job. It’s not even close. If you don’t believe me, I recommend a book by Larry Bartels called Unequal Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2008). Bartels is a scholar at Princeton—not a Democrat, by the way. He analyzed the entire postwar era, and on every important economic statistic—from creating jobs and increasing income to reducing poverty or the deficit—the Democrats consistently come out ahead.

The Republican theory is that if we cut taxes and make it easier for businesses to pollute or discriminate, the economy will improve. We tried that for many years, and it helped give us the worst economy in oTucker Carlson.ur lifetime.

Carlson: There is a lot of pent-up hostility on both sides for business, and much of it stems from the 2008 bank bailouts, which were never publicly debated. So no matter who is elected, we’re going to have a tougher business climate. And we may be on the downside of an economic cycle, which will compound the frustration. I don’t know of anyone who is looking at this political and economic environment and saying, “2017 will be a better year to do business than this one.”

What one skill could HR learn from politicians to do their jobs better?

Begala: A great politician adapts. Mike Tyson, the boxer, famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” In other words, you better be able to adjust to change quickly.

Carlson: To listen, including to what is not being said. Sometimes individuals don’t speak clearly about what they want or they don’t really know; they feel it, but they can’t articulate it. Successful politicians know what others want, what motivates them and what they fear. And anyone who deals with others for a living—and HR professionals are the perfect example—needs to have that skill more than any other.

What could politicians learn from HR?

Begala: How to lead and manage people. Individuals are complicated and dynamic and hard to understand. Many political pundits get this wrong. They talk blithely about evangelicals or LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] voters. The truth is people are a lot of things. A person may be a teacher and a Presbyterian who has an LGBTQ sister.

Carlson: How to be consistent without being arbitrary. The rules have to apply to everybody and HR has to be fair, above all. As long as employees feel you’re being evenhanded, they’ll accept a lot.

What’s fueling voter anger?

Begala: People are working harder and making less, while the cost of housing, education and other essentials is going through the roof. It makes them angry.

And we are still feeling the effects of the crash of 2008-09. Economists tell us that a financially driven economic recession, rather than a typical business-cycle recession, usually takes 10 years to dig out of. We’re in year eight now. Boy, that’s a long time for someone to be stuck. And the truth is, if you only have a high school education, you haven’t gotten a pay raise in 30 years. I think the collapse of the middle class is a crisis, and both parties better put on their thinking caps and come up with good ideas to fix it.

Carlson: People feel that the democratic system is not very democratic—that a small group makes all the important decisions without consulting voters. There’s some truth in that.

U.S. CEOs make 300 times more than the average worker. Men make more than women. How much traction do pay equity issues have?

Begala: An enormous amount. Even Donald Trump, a billionaire, has at times complained about how much money hedge fund operators make and how little tax they pay. There is a pervasive sense—and it’s not only on the left—that the deck is stacked against you. Richard Nixon had an economist named Herb Stein who came up with Stein’s Law: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Ultimately, the disparities have to end. We have to find a way to expand the winner’s circle.

Carlson: They haven’t been moved to the front burner. Women in the White House still make less than men. In fact, women in Hillary Clinton’s office make less than men. Why is that? It’s because women take time off to have kids. If you factor that out, the pay gap still exists, but it’s much smaller—like 92 cents per dollar. There’s a lot of demagoguery involved in this.

What kind of performance review would you give Congress?

Begala: Americans give their representatives a performance review every two years. While they complain endlessly, they re-elect their congressman reliably. I’m not sure why. HR professionals wouldn’t keep an employee on the job if the person had nothing but unsatisfactory reviews. Shakespeare said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” The American voters could elect a new Congress tomorrow if they wanted to. My view is, quit complaining and start voting.

Carlson: I think Congress’ approval rating is the lowest ever measured. I’m fairly sure that certain venereal diseases outperform Congress. But the interesting thing is, as in the federal government, in Congress nobody ever gets fired. If you’re a federal employee, you’re more likely to die in your job than to be fired from it. That’s the way that Congress works. We’re all very upset with Congress, but everyone keeps voting for the same people.

Depending on who gets elected to the White House, what changes do you predict in the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?

Begala: It’s likely to be tinkered with, but it won’t be repealed. Congressional Republicans have voted 70 times to retract it and failed. If the GOP is in the White House, I suppose they’d have a president willing to repeal it. But then what are you going to do? What if you have a pre-existing condition and now you’re getting therapy? Then, all of a sudden, you’re going to be denied that treatment? That’s a death sentence. The Republicans haven’t explained to us what they will replace it with. They’ve been railing against Medicare, which Ronald Reagan called socialized medicine, for 60 years and yet we still have it.

Carlson: The law is great if you don’t make much money. However, if you’re a middle-class person, you’re apt to have seen your premiums go up dramatically. I personally believe the ACA is unworkable in the long term.

So what’s the solution? Obviously, it’s expanding Medicare—changing the eligibility requirements for Medicare and Medicaid so individuals who make more money will be eligible for Medicaid and younger people will be eligible for Medicare. That may not happen in the next Congress, but it’s going to happen. Another word for it is single-payer. That’s the future. I’m totally opposed to it, but that’s where we’re headed.

Who will be the next president of the United States?

Begala: The better bet is Hillary Clinton, but history is against her. It’s almost impossible for a political party to win three terms in a row. Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush did it, but they’re the only ones in my lifetime. Plus—I looked it up—we’ve never elected a woman before. Politics can be especially unwelcoming for women. Yet the Republicans seem hellbent on handing it to her by pandering to the most extreme and hateful elements of their party. Frankly, it’s likely to be a very close election—a toss-up. Of course, I’m hopelessly biased because Hillary Clinton has been my friend for 25 years and I worked for her husband for many years.

Carlson: I really don’t know. I honestly don’t believe Hillary Clinton will be elected. I have never seen a weaker campaign than hers. What is Hillary’s campaign about? “I’m a woman”? Are you kidding? I live with four women. I have three daughters and a wife, and all of them are like, “Stop patronizing me. That’s absurd.” On the other hand, Trump is leading the single craziest campaign that’s ever been run by anyone, for anything. So I don’t know. One cancels out the other.

Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor at HR Magazine.

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