Exclusive - George Packer Extended Interview Pt. 1

  • Aired:  05/16/13
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In this exclusive, unedited interview, "The Unwinding" author George Packer investigates the systemic decline of American government and institutions. (7:11)

>> WELCOME BACK, MY GUEST

TONIGHT A STAFF WRITER FOR

"THE NEW YORKER".

HE IS ALSO A BEST SELLING

AUTHOR WHOSE NEW BOOK IS

CALLED THE UNWINDING, THE

INNER HISTORY OF THE NEW

AMERICA, PLEASE WELCOME BACK

TO THE PROGRAM GEORGE PACKER.

(APPLAUSE)

>> Jon: THANK YOU SO MUCH

FOR JOINING US AGAIN.

I SAY THIS BY GEORGE, YOU'VE

DONE IT AGAIN.

THE UNWINDING, WHAT'S SO

CENTRING, I THINK, ABOUT THE

BOOK NOT JUST THAT THEY ARE

GREAT STORIES BUT THE WAY

THAT YOU TELL THEM, YOU SORT

OF FOLLOW OVER A PERIOD OF

YEARS, A CAST OF CHARACTERS

THAT WE GET TO KNOW.

IT'S A NONFICTION BOOK THAT

READS LIKE A DOCUMENTARY

FILM IN SOME REGARD.

YOU FOLLOW IT WITH AN ALMOST

DOCUMENTARY DRAMATIC

STRUCTURE.

>> I WANTED TO CREATE A

PORTRAIT OF AMERICA WHICH

WAS A KIND OF AMBITIOUS

THING TO DO.

>> OVER THE COURSE OF 30

YEARS, A GENERATION.

OUR ADULT LIFETIME, YOURS

AND MINE.

AND TO DO THAT I FELT I HAD

TO HAVE BOTH A RANGE OF

PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT PARTS

OF THE COUNTRY, FROM CENTERS

OF POWER LIKE WASHINGTON,

WALL STREET, SILICON VALLEY

BUT ALSO PEOPLE FROM THE

FORGOTTEN PLACES LIKE

THERE'S A WOMAN FROM

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO, IN THIS

BOOK, FROM RURAL NORTH

CAROLINA, THE-- AREAS OF

TAMPA ARE IN THE BOOK.

AND THE STORY FOLLOWS THEM

ALL OVER THE COURSE OF THE

DECADE AS INSTITUTIONS START

TO FAIL.

AND GOVERNMENT FAIL, THE

BANK FAIL, ITS MEDIA FAILS

THEM.

UNTIL THEY ARE SORT OF LEFT

ON THEIR OWN TO FIGURE OUT

THEIR OWN WAY THROUGH LIFE.

AND EACH CHARACTER IN THE

BOOK HAS TO SORT OF REINVENT

HIM OR HERSELF IN ORDER TO

KEEP GOING, TO SURVIVE.

>> Jon: I WOULD SAY THE

HUMAN SPIRIT COMES THROUGH

RELATIVELY WELL.

HUMAN INSTITUTIONS DO LESS

WELL IN THE BOOK.

THE QUO ROAD-- COROADING OF

THOSE, AND THE IMPACT THAT

HAS ON PEOPLE'S LIVES.

>> YEAH THERE IS A REAL

CONTRAST BETWEEN THE

INSTITUTIONS THAT WHILE I

WAS GROWING UP, COUNTED ON

WHAT I WAS THINKING ABOUT.

LIKE POLITICAL PARTIES WERE

THESE BORING THINGS THAT

WERE THERE AND PROVIDED SOME

STUFF.

GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, BANKS,

IT WASN'T THIS THING THAT

CREATED HEART ATTACKS AND

CALAMITIES EVERY FIVE OR TEN

YEARS.

AND OVER THE COURSE OF THIS

GENERATION ALL THAT BEGAN TO

CHANGE.

THESE INSTITUTIONS STARTED

TO FALL APART.

AND IT MEANT THAT THE

INDIVIDUAL SORT OF LEFT TO

FIGURE OUT THEIR OWN SUCCESS

AND SURVIVAL ON THEIR OWN.

AND THAT'S WHAT THE

CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK HAVE

TO DO.

>> Jon: IF YOU WROTE THIS

BOOK ABOUT THE GENERATION

PREVIOUS TO OURS, COULD IT

HAVE A SIMILAR, YOU KNOW T

DIDN'T FEEL LIKE A NOSTALGIC

BOOK.

IT DIDN'T FEEL LIKE A, THIS

COUNTRY USED TO BE GREAT.

IT TOOK CARE OF ITS PEOPLE.

I IMAGINE IF YOU FOLLOWED A

SIMILAR GROUP OF PEOPLE OVER

A SIMILAR STRETCH OF TIME

FROM 1930 TOSS 1960 YOU

MIGHT FIND A VERY SIMILAR

STORY.

>> I THINK THE INSTITUTIONS

WERE HEALTHIER IN THAT

PERIOD.

BUT I THINK FOR-- .

>> Jon: FOR CERTAIN

POPULATIONS.

BUT IN OTHER WORDS, THE

INSTITUTIONS WERE

RESTRICTIVE.

>> I WAS GOING SAY FOR

EXAMPLE TAMMY THOMAS A BLACK

PERSON FROM YOUNGSTOWN, ONE

OF THE TWO MANY CHARACTERS

IN THE BOOK FROM 19230 TO

1970 SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN A

NONPERSON IN THIS COUNTRY.

SO IN SOME WAYS THE COUNTRY

OPENED UP AND GRANTED MORE

FREEDOM TO MORE PEOPLE THAN

IT EVER HAS BEFORE.

AND FREEDOM IS THE UPSIDE TO

THIS PAST GENERATION.

WE NOW HAVE MILLIONS OF

CHOICES OF WHAT WE WATCH AND

WHAT WE EAT AND WHAT WE DO.

SECURITY IS WHAT HAS BEEN

LOST.

SO THE MIDDLE CLASS JOBS

THAT WERE THE MAINSTAY OF

YOUNGS TOWN, STEEL MILLS,

HAS COLLAPSED IN THE LATE

70s.

AND TAMMY'S STORY IS ABOUT A

WOMAN TRYING TO SUR VOIF AND

KEEP HER KIDS GOING AND FIND

A JOB THAT WILL LAST, GETS A

JOB IN AN AUTO PARTS

FACTORY.

THINK SHE WILL RETIRE THERE

AT THE LAST MINUTE RIGHT

BEFORE HER RETIREMENT, THE

COMPANY DECLARES A KIND OF

STRATEGIC BANKRUPTCY IN

ORDER TO GET OUT OF ITS

CONTRACTS AND SEND THE JOBS

OVERSEAS WHICH IS A VERY

COMMON STORY.

THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE UP

AGAINST.

SHE THEN BECOMES A COMMUNITY

ORGANIZER IN TIME FOR BARACK

OBAMA'S FIRST RUN FOR

PRESIDENT.

AND IT IS KIND OF AN

INSPIRING STORY.

>> Jon: THE INSTITUTION OF

WASHINGTON IN FINANCE I

THINK COME OFF FOR THE MOST

MOST-- NOT ABUSE BECAUSE

IT'S NOT A-- IN ANY WAY,

IT'S JUST AS THE STORY IS

TOLD, IT'S KIND OF, YOU SEE

ITS ROUGH AS IT BEGINS TO

FORM IN GOVERNMENT AND IN

FINANCE.

>> AND TO TELL THE STORY OF

THOSE INSTITUTIONS, I HAVE

ALSO CREATED THESE PORTRAITS

OF CELEBRITY, FAMOUS PEOPLE

WHICH ARE KIND OF SPREAD

THROUGHOUT THE BOOK AS YOU

FOLLOW THE LESS FAMOUS

CHARACTERS.

WASHINGTON IS REPRESENTED BY

NEWT GINGRICH WHO I THINK

HISTORY WILL SAY DID MORE

THAN MAYBE ANY OTHER PERSON

TO CREATE THE PRETTY MESSED

UP POLITICS.

>> THAT WE KNOW TODAY.

>> Jon: YOU HAVE A GENTLEMAN

JOE CO-- KONOTON WHO WORKS

WITH JOE BIDEN.

>> YES.

>> Jon: AND IS VERY

IDEALISTIC BECAUSE HE HEARS

HIM SPEAK IN 1979 IN

DELAWARE.

THAT DOESN'T END WELL FOR

HIM AND IT CERTAINLY PUTS

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN IN A

VERY DIFFICULT LIGHT.

>> WELL, IT'S A PORTRAIT OF

A WASHINGTON RELATIONSHIP

WHICH IS TO SAY A

TRANSACTION AM YOU DO THIS

FOR ME, I'LL DO THIS FOR

YOU.

AND AS SOON AS SOMEONE

CEASES TO BE USEFUL, THE

RELATIONSHIP KIND OF ENDS.

SO JEFF KONOTON HAS ATTACHED

HIS DREAMS TO JOE BIDEN.

HE THINKS OF HIM LIKE THE

KENNEDIES.

BIDEN IS A LITTLE BIT MORE

INSTRUMENTAL ABOUT THE

RELATIONSHIP.

AND IT ENDS UP BEING SORT OF

AN UNREQUIETED AMBITION OF

KONOTON.

HE THEN BECOMES A LOBBYIST

BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT NOT

ONLY CAN YOU MAKE A LOT MORE

MONEY WILL BEEEING THAN

WORKING GOVERNMENT BUT YOU

CAN ALSO ACTUALLY DO BETTER.

YOU CAN SUCCEED IN A WAY AS

A JUNIOR-- .

>> Jon: YOU COULD AFFECT

MORE CHANGE BUT I THINK THAT

WAS FOR ME-- THERE ARE MANY

HEARTBREAKING ASPECTS TO

THIS AND MANY THAT ARE

INSPIRING.

THAT IS A PRETTY

HEARTBREAKING EPISODE.

>> BECAUSE HE BECOMES A

LOBBYIST, MAKES A TON OF

MONEY IN A VERY SUCCESSFUL

FIRM AND THEN THE FINANCIAL

CRISIS HITS AND ALL THE

CHARACTERS LIVES ARE SORT OF

CONVERGING ON 2008.

AND THAT'S THE BIG UPHEAVAL

AND DRAMA THAT CHANGES

EVERYBODY'S COURSE.

JEFF KONOTON GOES BACK INTO

GOVERNMENT BECAUSE HIS OLD

FRIEND TED KAUFMAN TAKES

BIDEN'S SEAT.

AND THEIR WHOLE AMBITION IS

TO MAKE WALL STREET PAY.

AND THEY TRY.

>> Jon: DONE TELL ME HOW IT

TURNS OUT.

I DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

I BET AT THE DON'T GET AWAY

WITH IT.

STICK AROUND FOR A LITTLE

BIT THOUGH, OKAY.

>> SURE.

>> Jon: IT IS BEAUTIFUL

STORYTELLING.

IT IS LIKE STUD TURKLEY BUT

WITH A KEN BURNS.

THE UNWINDING, ON THE BOOK

SHELVES MAY 21st.

GEORGE PACKER, EVERYBODY.

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