Is Ukraine the One Issue Congress Can Agree On? (with Rep. Ro Khanna)
Andy begins by talking about the rise in COVID cases around the world and what that could mean for us here in America. Then, listen in as Andy and Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna have a wide-ranging conversation about the war in Ukraine, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and what it takes to build bridges both across the aisle and within one’s own party. Ro explains his views on how far the U.S. should go to defend Ukraine, what it means to be a “progressive capitalist,” and how we can achieve dignity in a digital age.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt.
Follow Representative Khanna @RoKhanna on Twitter.
Joining Lemonada Premium is a great way to support our show and get bonus content. Subscribe today at bit.ly/lemonadapremium.
Support the show by checking out our sponsors!
- Click this link for a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this show and all Lemonada shows: http://lemonadamedia.com/sponsors/
- Throughout the pandemic, CVS Health has been there, bringing quality, affordable health care closer to home—so it’s never out of reach for anyone. Because at CVS Health, healthier happens together. Learn more at cvshealth.com.
Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Read Andy’s whole thread that Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about: https://twitter.com/ASlavitt/status/1503412039389102083
- Check out Rep. Khanna’s new book, Dignity in a Digital Age: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Dignity-in-a-Digital-Age/Ro-Khanna/9781982163341
- Order free at-home COVID-19 tests through the USPS: https://special.usps.com/testkits
- Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Andy Slavitt, Ro Khanna
Andy Slavitt 00:14
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This your host, Andy Slavitt. It’s March 16. Otherwise known in my house as Lana’s as birthday That’s my wife. Tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day. Wow. Wow. Let me start by talking a little bit about COVID. And with an amazing interview, actually one of my favorites, with Ro Khanna, the very enigmatic Bernie Sanders capitalist, Congressman from Silicon Valley, say that three times fast, who also happens to be in the Armed Services Committee. So we’ll cover his recent trip to Europe and his meeting with the Mayor of Kyiv. You’ll want to stay for the whole interview, I believe. But let’s take a trip around the globe and what’s going on with the pandemic it is popping up in the news. What is it you say? Yes, yes, we still have a pandemic. I know, it’s been too long years, but guess we still have a pandemic. I’m sorry to say it. I think the reason be interesting to go around the world is there’s a little bit of a different lesson based upon how we’re seeing COVID in different parts of the world. Start with Asia. What do we see in Asia is rising cases and rising deaths. So what are the conditions that are driving that? Well, in Asia, there is very little COVID prior protection, because they have done a nice job protecting themselves to this point. Omicron, though it has been too contagious. So it’s been taking off. But we’re also seeing vaccine hesitancy, and particularly an inferior type of vaccine in much of Asia, the Sinopharm vaccine is not as good as the mRNA vaccine. And, oddly enough, in Hong Kong, in particular, the vaccination rates among the elderly is very, very low. So we’re seeing an extraordinarily high death rate in Hong Kong, a death rate that we haven’t seen. It’s not quite what it was in New York in early 2020. But it’s close. It’s getting close. So very surprising. But I think the lesson here is that these vaccination hesitancy is really the issue, they bought themselves a lot of time, but they didn’t use that time to get vaccinated. Also, by the way, Apple factory in China closed, so supply chain ripples continue. Let’s look at Europe, Europe, cases are rising again. And deaths and hospitalizations appears still be moderate. So what’s going on differently in Europe than in Asia? The conditions in Europe are that you got this new variant BA2 is now about half of all of the cases in Europe. So it’s growing fast. And the reason it’s growing fastest because it’s more contagious than the original COVID. It’s about 30% more contagious. Asia has pretty good immunity, however. So that’s helping and very good vaccination rates, better than the US. So that would tell you that Europe is going to see a rise in cases, but hopefully nothing more serious and not a lot of increase in hospitalizations. Okay, so what does Asia and Europe tell us about what we’re likely to see here in the good old US of A, what is going to happen here in the US? Well, that’s what Jen Psaki was responding to at the beginning of the show. She clearly wasn’t surprised when my comments were mentioned to her, and she was well prepared.
Andy Slavitt 04:51
I gotta tell you, I personally, feel a bit uneasy when they push a question on her. It feels like that whole briefing is about gotcha. Jen, I really like, we had her on the show, by the way, go back and scroll through old episodes, you can listen to her and talk about what it’s like to be on the mic there and be in the hot seat. I just don’t love being the cause of her getting a surprise question, but she did very well. Anyway, what’s going on here in the US is, we have actually pretty high levels of prior infection, immunity 45% of people had Omicron. That’s a good protection, if you’ve recently had Omicron, very unlikely to get BA2. Unfortunately, we just have moderate levels of boosting good levels of vaccine among the elderly and a very high-quality vaccine. So, you know, usually in the past, the US has been just a few weeks behind Europe, in its cases. So we’re probably likely to see, BA2 which is only 10 to 15% of cases, likely climb like it did in Europe, so we could see another wave. But that wave, I think, will hopefully not result in a lot of serious cases. Look, more cases are inevitable. The pandemic really in all seriousness isn’t over. We are going to see more cases, probably in the spring or early summer. I don’t see it infecting those with recent infections. And I think if you haven’t recently infected, but you’ve been vaccinated and boosted, particularly if you’re a higher risk is important to be boosted, then it’s unlikely to result in a hospitalization. But you know, it’s still crummy to get the virus. And of course, there’s populations to whom this is still quite a serious threat. And as I always try to say on this show, even if you feel done with taking precautions around the pandemic, that doesn’t mean that everyone is got the same privilege. So just keep thinking about that. One of the things I would say is, you know, people are I was on CBS News this Morning, CBS this morning, I think it’s called, they were asking me, it’s confusing that we don’t have mask mandates, and we have cases that are going to come back. And just don’t confuse a mask mandate for whether or not you personally, I want to make a decision to wear a mask. Because these n 95 masks, they’re very protective. They’re very individually protective. 95%, 98%, 99% protective. So when a governor tells you, hey, there’s no mandate for everyone wear a mask, doesn’t mean that if cases arise in your community, you can’t and shouldn’t wear a mask. So anyway, by the way, Lemonada Media, which is you may know is a company behind IN THE BUBBLE, has a new series called After 1934 see how I’m subtly transitioning to this topic, it actually explores what happened after the stork ruling of Brown versus Board of Education. 38,000 Black educators lost their jobs, I didn’t know that in the wake of the 1954 ruling. It’s a really moving five-part series. So I encourage you to check it out. It’s called After 1954 wherever you get your podcasts. Alright, let me tell you about this interview with Ro Khanna. It has a couple of parts to it. We’re going to start out by talking about his recent trip to Europe to meet with the Mayor of Kyiv, and what he’s seeing in Europe. We’re going to have a bit of an interesting conversation about how progressives people on the left and people on the right are working together or not working together to look at the issue of Ukraine is this in fact, a temporary moment of unification, very interesting answers he has to those sets of questions. And then we really get into a part that I found absolutely fascinating, which is these two worlds, he lives in these two bubbles, he lives in one, a bubble of I’d say fairly unforgiving, Bernie Sanders supporters who are not big fans of capitalism, and don’t understand capitalism. And then he lives in Silicon Valley surrounds himself by the Facebook’s of the world, the tech companies of the world. And they really don’t get what progressives are all torqued up about. He’s got this new book he was written called Dignity In The Digital Age, making tech work for all of us, where he kind of writes about this, but he’s very interesting on this topic. And I hope if you come for the newsy part of the interview, you will stay for the deep part of the interview because I find myself being very impressed. Look, this guy’s got to watch he may be, in fact, part of the future. So watch him. Okay. Let’s bring in Ro.
Welcome to Ro Khanna, Ro, you just got back from a trip to Europe with Speaker Pelosi. Among other things, you met with the Mayor of Kyiv, you met with Boris Johnson, national security briefings. Can you tell us what you’re observing what’s going on right now over in Europe.
Ro Khanna 10:01
Like everyone watching It’s horrific to see Putin’s brutality to see him targeting civilians, I’d say a couple things. One, after having met the Mayor of Kyiv, he’s a, someone who’s six, seven, a former boxer. All of us left thinking Ukrainians are going to fight that they are committed to their homeland, that this is not going to be easy for Putin. And that seems to have played out. But he was a very impressive, passionate person who could have fled, right? I mean, he could have done what Gandhi did. He chose to go back home and be with his people as it’s Zelenskyy who spoke at Munich, and then by the evening was, was back there. But you get a sense that one of Ukrainian resolve, you also get a sense that this is something Putin has had long planned. I mean, the German Chancellor made a very good point, it’s worth reading that Putin put out a statement exactly what he believes in Ukraine, and he believes it’s part of Russia, and you literally don’t have to speculate, you just have to read what he says. So it’s going to be a bloody long war. And the real question is, what are the off ramps?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what are our interests in the fight in Ukraine, in the strength of NATO, and in responding and counteracting to Putin?
With NATO, it is to make sure that you don’t have a fight that ultimately comes close to the United States, or that affects Europe. Remember, of course, the only time NATO was invoked, actually was after 9/11. And there were a lot of NATO troops in Afghanistan. There were NATO troops with us in Iraq, even though I disagree with Iraq. So NATO, has stood up for us. And it’s certainly in our interest to make sure that you don’t have a war break out in Germany, or France, or Europe and NATO does that, our interest in Ukraine is first from a human rights perspective, the idea that you would allow a bully or a nation to just totally go after another country and invade their territorial sovereignty. If we allow that, then where do we stop? I mean, does it What if China does that to Taiwan? What if Putin keeps going on to the Baltics, we had to take a firm stance, and I think the President has done exactly the correct stance, which is we will put our military in NATO countries and make it clear that that’s a line that would trigger our troops and military involvement. Taiwan, the President has said would trigger a commitment from 1979, to provide for Taiwan’s defense capability. And in Ukraine, we’re not going to get involved in an act of war. But we are going to make this very, very, very painful for Putin economically. Partly, it’s our interest to make that message clear to China and others so that now China’s thinking of invading Taiwan, they will realize that the rest of the world is going to have crushing economic sanctions and may think twice.
Andy Slavitt 13:15
So I think, you know, one of the points you’re making, that Putin is not afraid to make sure we all understand is his willingness to escalate, and he was bringing kind of his nuclear deterrence, kind of very much into the mainstream dialogue, which at least, you know, I’m 55. I can’t remember that happening even during the Cold War. And, you know, I think we all kind of have that sense of nuclear arms are to be used as a deterrence but never used. But, you know, increasingly, there’s hints that Putin might think about nuclear weapons as tactical weapons, not just, you know, the sort of mushroom cloud, kind of invoking nuclear weapons that we tend to think about when we think about a nuclear war, in the sense from the Armed Services Committee, or other conversations about whether or not Putin would escalate to the use of tactical nuclear weapons or even biological and chemical weapons?
Ro Khanna 14:15
All is just kind of based on public information. And based on public information, and what is Ambassador McFaul and others have written? I would say we have to take his threats very seriously. We have to take Putin literally. He is not engaged in bombastic rhetoric; he tends to say what he means. And I think it is a dangerous situation that he has put nuclear weapons as a menu of options he will consider and if he’s pushed into enough of a corner, I don’t put it past him to use them in some form and against some target. And this is why President Biden, in my view, has been responsible. He has not responded tit for tat. He’s taken actions actually to de-escalate, it hasn’t been machoism, they’re going to go on high alert, we should go on high alert. He understands America has a lot more to lose. Look, Russia is a declining power. It’s a brutal power. But it’s got a 1.6 trillion GDP less than the size of Texas and put in context, my district has $11 trillion of market cap. And it is a country heavily dependent on oil, not on large innovation. So Putin has a lot less to lose. And then the United States and in the free world, and the President recognizes that and I think has been responsible in how he’s handling it.
Yeah, that’s a really interesting and dangerous asymmetry. Right? When you are playing with someone who has less to lose, you know, out of that, what are the policy response options? If Putin were to use tactical nuclear weapons inside of Ukraine, for us for the West?
That’s a very, very difficult question. I mean, obviously, that would have to trigger a military response. And we’d have to look at what that looks like, I am sure the State Department and then Defense Department is drawing up contingency plans for that. But the goal is to make sure that that never happens that you deescalate the situation, so it doesn’t happen. And that’s why there has to be vigorous, vigorous diplomacy with Putin, while we are arming the Ukrainians. I mean, one good possibility is that the Putin’s demands, though irrational, are less now than they were 15 days ago. And as he loses on the battlefield, in terms of things being harder than he thought, and as the Ukrainian resistance proves to be stronger. The question is, will there be a compromise that he recognizes is in his interest, and that’s Zelenskyy recognizes, is the best face saving and life saving measures for Ukraine. To me, that is the best-case scenario, the more the worse. You know, obviously, worst case scenario is a nuclear weapon. But a bad scenario that’s also plausible, is that this just becomes Russia as Afghanistan, the war continues, hundreds of 1000s of people die. It hurts the economy, global economy. There is no Ukraine doesn’t become part of Russia. But it also doesn’t have real sovereignty, and it’s just a humanitarian crisis for years. I think we want to do everything to avoid that situation.
Andy Slavitt 17:39
The sense that I think we’re getting is that Putin has been surprised by the resistance that he’s faced, but also that he is prepared to do what it takes. And that to some extent, it feels as if this has become an existential battle for him. In other words, if he isn’t able to prevail, he’s lost all credibility, and potentially his grip on power. Do you see it that way? Do you see that he is, is either backed into a corner, or put into a position now, where it becomes incredibly tricky to figure out how to deescalate this battle?
Yes, I do. I mean, I think that this is a brutal campaign that Putin is not going to accept as a loss, you’ll continue to have his troops there, he will continue to fight. He’ll continue to try to import Syrian fighters, he’ll continue to bombard civilian populations. I don’t think that they can occupy a country like Ukraine, where the Ukrainian people hate the Russians now especially and are willing to fight but I think that they can certainly stay there for years and make life miserable and destroy a nation. And that is why I think in addition to providing, in addition to providing weapons in addition to crushing sanctions, we need states people in our country who are looking for face saving off ramps for Putin and for Zelenskyy and encouraging some form of a ceasefire and compromise. That’s not weakness. That is an effort to save human lives and to avoid having Ukrainian live sacrifice. Just to deplete Russia. I mean, that to me doesn’t seem like an ideal situation for the world or a moral situation.
Andy Slavitt 20:02
So we’re gonna talk in a bit about identity politics. And I think one of the things that fascinates me about you is how you really, I think, defy categorization. In many respects harkening back to decades ago, when we had really people who came to Congress representing the best thinking that they provided told their districts, what they believed in their districts either supported or didn’t support it, and didn’t really choose to sort of identify themselves completely into kind of one category or another. But it’s hard these days. And, you know, these days of increased polarization in the way money works in politics. But I’m wondering if, during this debate in Congress around Ukraine, whether or not you’re finding Republicans, Democrats, progressives, and centrist, center left and far left kind of harmonizing around to some of the things that they believe. I mean, a couple of things that you’ve said, for example, could have come out of Marco Rubio’s mouth, right, which is we want to go up to the line, but not cross it. The public perception would be, hey, there’s a lot of things that real kind of Marco Rubio probably agree on. The reality, though, is that when it comes to certain issues, freedom, democracy, being under attack NATO, the public would like to think that there is more harmony and more agreement. What are you finding with your fellow representatives and senators?
Well, first, I give the President a lot of credit, I thought his State of the Union speech, and Anthony Lincoln’s work in getting NATO, on the same page has helped unify largely the country on the approach to the conflict. And that didn’t. That wasn’t automatic. I think it’s the president and Blinken, who have set the tone for that, so that Senator Rubio and I probably are largely in the same place on what the approach should be. But there is opportunity, often with people like Rubio, others to form common ground, my approach has been I tend not to personalize conflict, I don’t criticize people individually, I will be tough on attacking ideas. But I try to avoid sort of the individual demonization of individuals, I recognize that none of us have a monopoly on the truth and we’re coming from different perspectives and that you ought to engage with that humility when you’re part of a multiracial, multi ethnic democracy.
Andy Slavitt 22:38
So do you feel like there is relative unity on policies towards Ukraine, or at least where there’s disagreement, we’re able to have healthy debates and conversations in the Congress right now?
I don’t think so I with this caveat. Politically, it is easy to continue to bang the drums of saying escalate, escalate, escalate on the side of Ukraine, that is a people are seeing the horrific images, they’re seeing mothers and kids blown up. They’re seeing fathers taking their families to safety and then returning to Ukraine to fight, their heroic stories. And so the instinct is what can we do to fight and you’re never going to get dinged in Congress or as a Senator for calling for more an escalation. I think where it requires statesmanship, and where I think the Biden administration has been prudent is what is the diplomatic solution at the same time, what are the avenues to provide off ramps, something that Adam Smith, the chair of the Armed Services Committee has kept asking, and that is not something necessarily that you’re going to get people in Congress pushing for. But I think it’s so important that we have diplomats of the caliber of Richard Holbrooke or others who are working on a solution there. So I would say, yes, the President has a lot of support. But I don’t think that that’s sufficient to bring the crisis to an end.
Andy Slavitt 24:02
It’s interesting, you were the foreign policy advisor for the Sanders campaign.
I don’t take credit for all his foreign policy and culture, though it was a culture.
I guess what I’m interested in is in the current and look we’ve had, we’ve had Bernie on the show, but in the context of you know, Bernie Sanders has sort of defined a way of thinking and certainly a wing of the Democratic Party that, I’m guessing will outlast him, but he’s sort of been the namesake, certainly on the presidential ticket, when it comes to, you know, advising someone like him on a situation like we’re facing in Ukraine, you know, is there an orthodox position for the progressive left relative to conflict like Ukraine? Is there a vision or a view as to how the US should be behaving in conflict like this?
Bernie Sanders were president. My sense is he would take a lot of the similar actions as President Biden is, he would have called for an oil import ban, he would call for crushing economic sanctions, he would make it clear that we want to be aligned with NATO, he made it clear that Putin’s actions were illegal and should not be committing human rights violations. He called for the Hey, to be investigating the war crimes. I would just say that we’re progressives, I think what add emphasis is a weariness of having our military engaged in conflicts overseas that aren’t a direct threat to our national security, basically, not to say that we would rule it out, but because of a weariness of the 20 year war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq, that took so long and what happened in Libya, and just a sense of humility about what the projection of American military power can achieve in conflicts that our own nation isn’t directly tied to. And here, I think President Biden, like maybe that’s his own instinct. So I don’t want to give credit to the progressive movement. But when you look at his withdrawal from Afghanistan, when you look at his instincts of appropriate restraint, when it comes to this conflict, I think that’s consistent with fair amount of progressive thinking.
Andy Slavitt 26:30
Got it. Let’s talk a little bit about your story. You got a really interesting background. You’ve worked for law firms like Wilson Sonsini and Melvin Myers, which for those who don’t know them are really top tier, top flight, white shoe law firms. And in case it wasn’t sincere, and he kind of the firm in Silicon Valley. So it’s hard to say, well, this guy’s doesn’t believe in innovation and capitalism. You know, on the other hand, as we just said, you’re part of Bernie Sanders campaign, and make no bones about your views around progressive values. Maybe start a little bit by how you got into politics in kind of what prompted you to do public service and where you think your values situate you in terms of what you want for our country?
That’s a deep question, I was influenced that significantly by my grandfather […] he spent four years in jail during India’s Independence moment, Gandhi’s independence moment, was part of the freedom fighters with Gandhi and […] and part of India’s first parliament and his even though I was nine years old, when he passed away his story was so legendary that that inspired me in his fight against colonialism is fight for justice. And my parents came as immigrants to this country. I was born in Philadelphia and our bicentenary and grew up there in a middle-class family got to go to good public schools got to have a lot of encouragement from Little League coaches, teachers, and but that lurking influence was always there. And then I had teachers who encouraged me to write letters to the editor and wrote an early letter if the editor about the first Gulf War, but the real foray into politics was my opposition to the war in Iraq, I ran a primary campaign that I was very, very passionate about, against the war in Iraq and against the parts of the Patriot Act at the time. You know, when every time I’d go through a metal detector, I’d be stripped searched almost because of being South Asian male, post 9/11. And I knew people who were South Asian, we’re being told, go back to where you came from. And I thought the Patriot Act was over intrusive. I thought that the war in Iraq was a blunder, I lost badly 71% to 19%. But I’m very proud of that campaign. And that caught the interest of Speaker Pelosi, just to come full circle. There are a lot of other things I care about. But like one of the things that intrigued me about Bernie Sanders is he was on a hardball interview once and he was talking about the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in Congo. And for those not familiar Belgian colonialism in the Congo is probably one of the cruelest forms of colonialism. And I thought, Okay, here’s someone who really understands human rights and how people outside the United States may look at forms of colonialism.
Did you identify yourself with the left as a progressive, you represent Silicon Valley. How do you how do you see yourself in in in the context of one I think you’re both a product of in how you grew up your influences your grandfather, and some of the voices around you, as you represent, I think a very, very interesting district, singularly at this very compelling time in our nation’s history. And you’ve written about this, and I want to get into that but before we do, I want to hear your perspective.
Ro Khanna 30:00
That’s an extraordinary district, it’s the district that has Apple, Google, Intel, Yahoo, Cisco, LinkedIn, the fountain of innovation for the world, entrepreneurship for the world. $11 trillion of market cap in my district and surrounding areas, probably the most wealth generated in one place, anytime in human history, an Asian American Majority district, the only one in the continental United States. And one that took a chance on me here at the age of 40, a son of immigrants is elected to represent arguably the most consequential economic district in the world. And that’s partly what makes me hopeful about the American experiment, not saying that my story is everyone’s story, and other people face much worse, oppression and odds. But I have this story of remarkable opportunity in a remarkable place. And it gives me a pride and represent a place with so much innovation, entrepreneurship, freedom to do big things. And I think of people who we both know, some of the people like John Doerr, or Jim Fisher, who are saying, Look, how do we invest in fusion? How do we invest in the electric grid? How do we invest in technology and medicine that will cure disease? And I think, wow, you know, technology can do great things on climate on medicine, for human communication, and that, and it’s not something that we should shy away from. And it’s not something that government can do. I mean, does anyone on its own. I mean, if anyone believes that the United States Congress could be the board of directors, for Apple computers, there’s a real problem. So there’s a value to markets, right, then the more valuable market is the ability to define the collective will to be an entrepreneur, you still have the rigors of the, the marketplace and customers. So you can’t be, you know, totally an artist and an innovator, you still have some market discipline, you can’t be a lone genius you need but you can have a niche of people, you don’t need the collective of an entire society. And there’s a value in that. But there are excesses to that. And what I don’t believe in is just unfettered markets that don’t value place that don’t value community that don’t give everyone a fair shot. All this myths of Silicon Valley, self-made people, yeah, they’re self-made, they didn’t inherit millions of dollars. But I’ll tell you what most of them had, if you look at their backgrounds, they had a computer at the age of two or three, they had health care, they went to either a very, very good public school or a private school, they had parents usually in the upper middle-class lawyers, or doctors or engineers, so they had the freedom to take risk. And I guess what I want is the basic chances I had healthcare, education, free public college for everyone to be able to participate in markets, and which is why I argue that actually, the policies that Sanders is offering on Medicare, for all are free public college or private policies that are fostering economic growth in a digital age. And Gary Becker, former Nobel Laureate in Chicago, unfortunately, passed away but not as a very conservative person has this great paper that in the technology age, the biggest investments we can make are in human capital. That sort of explains my view as a progressive capitalist.
Andy Slavitt 33:23
So it all fits, it all makes sense. And actually, it’s consistent with what a lot of us I think, also probably think, and I’m sure a lot of people listening are nodding their heads, we’ve got a feel sometimes so that you’re living in two different world. When you talk to people, or see people who see one side of the virtue of either the safety net, and government involvement, or they see the virtue of markets and capitalism and innovation, but they don’t have an appreciation for the other. I imagine if you’re with people in the Progressive Caucus, they might be not able to see what you see in Silicon Valley. And likewise, when you’re talking to, you know, venture capital, private equity, or Silicon Valley innovators in that bubble, you really are in kind of two different bubbles there just to pick the theme of the show for a second. What does the left not understand about innovation in capitalism and markets? What do they get wrong?
Ro Khanna 34:16
I think they get wrong, that everything is based just on greed or just on profit maximization and chasing money and chase for exploitation. I think a lot of the entrepreneurs and innovators want to make a difference and impact in the world and have ideas that they want to see come to fruition and they want to have a major impact for good on society. And that their complaints often are well, we have some idea that is contrary to conventional wisdom, and we need the space to do that. So that is something this is why I do believe in markets and entrepreneurship and innovation, and I don’t have a problem with someone going and making billions of dollars I mean, there are people on the left who say, you know, alcohol billionaires, there’s almost this view that to get to that success level, you must have been inherently exploitive, and I don’t believe that I mean, but I do believe that there is got to be more balance in society I am for a higher tax on billionaires I am for people who have done extraordinarily well making sure that they are neutral and allow workplace democracy and people being able to unionize. I am for the fact that if you have an Amazon warehouse, you know, and you’re making 15 bucks, 70 bucks, think about that. Think about it from a workers perspective, you won the lottery, you’re working for one of the richest companies invented in the world. And you’re still not as good as the middle-class job you had in a closed auto plan or industrial plant, where your parent or grandparent was making 30 bucks. Now you’re making 15 bucks, and your boss is an algorithm, which is probably the only worse thing than being a human boss. And then you say, they should be contentious, because they can get cheap stuff. And the consumer prices have fallen. Now they want to have dignity, they want to have pride they want to participate. And so I guess my , my view of this is that the left’s critique on the excesses of our imbalance of our society, is correct. And that if we don’t find ways to provide economic empowerment in a modern economy to those left out, we’re gonna just continue to have polarization.
Andy Slavitt 36:34
Yeah, so that’s really the opposite question as well, which is, when you talk to people in Silicon Valley, you know they’re smart, they’re life’s winners, they’ve done incredibly well. Many of them don’t know that they would just happen to be in the right place at the right time. But you can’t take anything away from the accomplishment from the environment, etc. What do you think they miss? What do you think they don’t see when it comes to, you know, policies which provide, and I’ll use a word that I think you use quite happily, the dignity of this country? What is Silicon Valley, Elon Musk? And even those who aren’t as outspoken as Elon Musk, what are they missing?
The anger, the resentment, the sense that globalization and digitization are working for a few but making life considerably worse for many communities. And they would say, Well, now it’s reducing consumer prices, we can all communicate. But for many people, they feel their communities have shrunk, their church attendance has dwindled, their kids having to buy one-way tickets out, the racial wealth gap is growing. They’re struggling to just get health care and education. They’ve got debt, and they’re saying, this isn’t working for us. And in Silicon Valley, you’re saying, but we’re at the peak of innovation, technology, and we’re connecting the world and we’re doing these amazing things. And you know, the young people in my district polling shows they’re so optimistic about the future, and yet there is an anger. And, you know, Trump, I think, exploited that anger. And he said, the people to blame are in Mexico and China. I’m fairly certainly not targeting immigrants and a lack of complexity and what he’s told about the story on a on a global scale, but he tapped into a resentment and an anger. And the question for us is, how do we acknowledge that respect that, not judge that emit, that there was a 40 years of neglect of place and people have been left out? And what are we going to do to remedy that? What are we going to do to fix that and speak to that, but I think sometimes it’s just the populace, the actual anger that folks miss in Silicon Valley.
You’ve written the book that we talked about in the introduction, called Dignity In a Digital Age. I think it’s subtitled making tech work for all of us. When you see that title, so yeah, that’d be great. That’d be great. Now, what is this guy talking about? Tech is gonna take my job, or the people who are in charge in Silicon Valley are sort of a cabal of people who just are out of touch and they’re just increasingly out of touch with the rest of us. So to help me stick the message, and then how do you land the message with the people that really need to pay attention to it?
Well, I tried through facts we’ll see whether facts get through the emotional Anger, but the reality is there going to be 25 million digital jobs. And that’s just the projections by 2025. And these are not the jobs that are stereotypical. This is not saying, Let’s make coal miners into coders, let’s make factory workers into computer scientists, these are jobs in manufacturing and retail in healthcare, but that they require some digital proficiency. You know, one of the things that you know, because you know, the valley so well, is that there’s an increasing move that saying these jobs are actually low code, no code, meaning that the jobs require actually less technology proficiency, they can just require some six months or nine months of training. And this makes sense, right? If, when my dad, he knows everything about fixing a car, and he had to, and I know very little about fixing a car, and I don’t need to because technology is advanced to that point. And the same thing is happening, actually, I think in the digital world, Paul Krugman writes about this with power loans, there used to be a huge premium to power loans, and then everyone figured out how to use them. And that premium fell, you’re seeing that now, I think, with the democratization of technology, it’s easier to use these platforms to have your job in manufacturing, and retail and healthcare. And if we can decentralize those jobs, if they don’t all, aggregate in a few cities we’re not going to replicate Silicon Valley. That’s an absurd idea that has failed. But maybe we can have the middle-class jobs more connected in rural American black and brown America instruct to see more prosperity in places left out and that to me seems a very realistic vision.
Andy Slavitt 41:38
I know how to open the hood in my car. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging. When you talk to a guy like Joe Manchin, right, who represents a very different geography. You know, he’s the source of frustration for a lot of Democrats, a lot of people on the left, because there’s a progressive set of issues, such as basic response to climate change, a safety net for low-income people with kids, kind of a set of issues that I think I’m guessing that you and I and others listening to the show would find there’s a lot of good stuff in there. Yet, you know, today, West Virginia, and Silicon Valley probably couldn’t be more different in so many regards. I know, you know, Joe, and I have a good relationship with Joe, how do you connect to each other’s realities, because I think as much as anything now, the reality of living in a coal town in West Virginia, and the reality of living in Palo Alto, California, are quite a bit apart.
Ro Khanna 42:40
We listen to each other and respect each other and don’t question each other’s motives while disagreeing where there is difference. I don’t say, oh, everything Manchin does is because of his financial interests, or who’s funding him, I actually try to listen to where he’s coming from. And he has this huge view that people want the dignity of work, and they want to be self-sufficient. And this is an ethos that he’s representing. And he doesn’t call me a far left socialist, or ascribe some motive to me and listen to what I’m saying. And I say, look, we need to give people these basic opportunities. And that’s why he’s for example, kinder preschool for every three- and four-year-old in America, and he’s for actually climate investment. We have disagreements, I would go further and tax methane, he doesn’t want to. But the point is, he’s for a lot of innovation. So my approach is finding the Venn diagram, find where you meet, and let’s pass something we could pass 400 to 500 billion a climate investment, which will be transformative because it has a global impact, where only 15% of the world’s emissions big but 15%, but the technology innovation would have the impact around the world. So let’s pass that even if it’s not far enough, and reducing our own emissions, let’s pass preschool for every American, and let’s pass Medicaid expansion. We could get that done tomorrow. What happens is he comes out with a framework and then he gets 15 senators and 30 members of Congress wanting to add to it. And I understand that, there are other things I want, obviously, and then he backs away, but we just have to get this done, and especially on climate, especially on climate for those hearing this, I really want to emphasize that the 22 election, I’m going to be candid, it’s a toss-up and we don’t know what’s going to happen. And if we don’t prevail for some reason, you’re not going to have climate in 22′ to 24′. And then you have another election and elections. Anyone who’s run for anything knows it’s always unpredictable, you’ll be foolish to think it’s a predictable outcome. So we have this small window to act on climate and if we don’t, who knows when we will ever get that chance again, it would be malpractice for the Democratic Party not to get that through. And that’s why I’ve said Let mansion write the compromise and let’s vote for it and let’s get it passed.
Andy Slavitt 45:00
Is there a path? Do you think?
I bet. But I think the path is to start with where Manchin is, I think he’s at the 500 billion, to make sure there are no poison pills in there that there’s nothing that’s, you know, offends basic progressive values. I don’t think there will be take two, three areas, have him draft the outline, have the president, maybe within a few progressives, meet with him, come up with a deal that the President is comfortable with and then have the President say you got to vote for this. And, okay, I’ve had enough meetings with people like Ro Khanna and others, an unprecedent. And this is what we’re gonna vote for.
And what do you think the odds are?
30%-40%. But we got to, you know, every day that goes by a little bit less, you know?
You know in some ways Ro as we wrap up, I can’t help but I talk to you about thinking about Ted Kennedy and aspects of his service. For those of you listening, you remember, Kennedy, who was thought very much as one of the most credible liberal icons in the Senate, was also one of the people that Republicans could work with, in part, I think, because he so genuinely represented his values and could take votes with him that when he stood up and said, yes, this is an acceptable compromise. Republicans knew that he could deliver Democratic votes, and Democrats knew that he was sticking to his values. Now, I’m sure there’s elements of everybody that you’d find more or less of a compliment being compared to, but this case, I truly think what we need are bridge builders, and bridge builders based on principle, not that based upon, you know, compromising your values, but based on finding, as you say, the Venn Diagram, and working out from there, so that a guy like Joe Manchin, says yes, I’ve got Ro Khanna supporting what I’m saying carries a lot of credibility. And I guess my question for you is, can you play that role? Do you view that role as one that can be played and in my telling, at least that makes you one of the most instrumental people in getting sensible legislation passed?
Ro Khanna 47:12
I have great admiration for Ted Kennedy, let me just say the first axiom of democratic politics is never compare yourself to a Kennedy. The corollary to that movie, never compare yourself to that to an Obama. So those are sort of hallowed sacred figures. But as a role model, as someone who got things done, and didn’t compromise his ideals. I think that Kennedy is an extraordinary person to study is someone he was a fierce champion for single payer. I mean, this is actually Medicare for all, people forget this. But Jimmy Carter ran in 76′ on a single pair, of course, they asked him, how’s he going to pay for it? He gave the best answer, which I don’t understand why our candidates didn’t, he’s going to appoint a commission, we’ll figure it out. And at that time, the press was fine with that. But he ran for that, because the AFL CIO and 76 wanted him to be for that because of Kennedy and Kennedy had the original Medicare for All bill, and yet, he was someone who worked with Orrin Hatch, he was someone who worked across the aisle, he was someone who was instrumental in the Affordable Care Act, compromise, and advance. So he’s a great person to study, I think, before members of Congress and to be that bridge builder, which I still believe is possible. But maybe we end with this note, which is, I think something else that the Kennedys represented, certainly Ted Kennedy and also his brothers. And that was an aspirational vision of America. One of the problems I think, when you hear Democrats today, and you just look at the speeches is how much people are upset about everything that’s wrong about this country. But that’s not what we wanted leaders, we want leaders who are going to say, what are we going to do to make sure America’s greatest days as a multiracial, multi ethnic democracy are ahead, we’re going to do something extraordinary, we actually will be the generation largely that will see the first multiracial, multi ethnic democracy. And I look at my colleagues and I see these new voices emerging. And I see this hope in the Valley for technology. And I think that the Kennedys tap that aspirational message, Obama tapped that we ought to be clear eyed about our challenges, but there ought to be a roadmap and vision for the future. The President, I thought in his recent State of the Union got that at the end. And I just wish we had more of that hope and belief in America.
Well, in the future, I think we’re gonna have politicians saying, never compare yourself to Ro Khanna.
Hopefully a good in a good way. Not a bad way. That’ll be my home.
I think if you keep blazing your path, based upon the facts and what you truly believe, and this I think sense that You don’t judge people on their motivations, or what you perceive to be their motivations, but you really listen to them. There’s hope for our politics. It’s hard to be massively optimistic about our politics these days. But you know, when I talk to you, actually, not just when I talk to you, but when I talk to you about issues, and you pepper me with questions, and try to understand the issue. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me hope. Because I want you to try to understand and reach your own judgment. And listen to people and talk to people and bring it to your own values. And, you know, I think the optimism that I’ll have on our nation, about our nation is, you know, can we still do that? Or will things like money and politics and other things get in the way, so keep on going.
Ro Khanna 50:49
Let me return the compliment, because people don’t know how familiar they are on your podcast, but I admire your service and what you did with the Affordable Care Act, and Medicare’s Innovation Center has improved the lives for millions of people. And so that shows that government could still matter, government can still make a difference. And I still believe, I still am honored every day I stepped into the Capitol, I still believe we have an incredible democracy. I still believe there’s so many people willing to answer the call to service. And I think in the long run, as the President says, you don’t want to bet against America.
Well, you just got yourself invited back on this podcast anytime you want. So great talking to you, Ro. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to us.
I really enjoyed it.
Alright, thanks to Ro for that interview. Thanks for listening. Let me tell you about the upcoming next episodes, Joneigh Khaldun who was the Chief Health Officer or some equivalent title in the state of Michigan is going to be on the show. About a year and a half ago, we had the governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer on and Gretchen both on the air and off the air just could not say enough good things about Janae. And you’re going to see why this is a pretty incredible person. We’re going to talk about so many of the lessons that we’ve seen during COVID around the inequities that are in our health care system. That’s going to be great. Then, Bill Hanage will return with his delightful British accent and his arsenal flag to talk about what’s happening around the globe with COVID. Right now, what that may mean for us. He’s great. So that’s coming up. Have a great rest of the week. Thanks for tuning in.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev and Veronica Rodriguez. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are the executive producers of the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, please tell your friends and please stay safe, share some joy and we will definitely get through this together.