Television journalist Bill Moyers, speaking Friday at the LBJ Library, exhorted Americans to save democracy after the Sept. 11 attacks by working for humility amid growing religious pluralism and said they should join the loyal opposition if greedy politicians try to keep doing their corporate-financed business as usual.
"Religion may well replace race as the most predominant issue facing the 21st century," he said. "We're entering a new religious landscape in this country. In pluralistic America, what faith requires is humility. Your neighbor's faith in democracy (not his religion) is paramount."
He said he was bitter at "Texas bankers pull(ing) their strings at the White House" and what he called the rush of energy companies, airlines and other big corporations to get tax breaks while "firefighters and teachers pay out of their middle-class salaries for the war on terrorism."
Moyers was frequently interrupted by applause from a standing-room-only audience estimated at 2,000. They came out in a misting rain to hear his hourlong speech in the library's seventh annual Harry Middleton Lectureship series. Hundreds who couldn't get in watched the speech on closed-circuit television in a nearby lecture hall.
He was introduced by LBJ Foundation President Larry Temple as one "who has made an indelible mark on the cultural history of our time." Temple said Moyers' impact explained "why this hall is packed tonight, with people being turned away."
Moyers, a Texas native, one-time Baptist seminarian, University of Texas journalism graduate and aide to President Johnson, said he promised retired library director Harry Middleton that he would speak on the subject of faith. Moyers said he wrote the speech as required before Sept. 11 but after that world-changing day decided he had to substantially redo it.
"Things even sound different now," he said. "Our gross national psyche has changed, too."
He said his son-in-law had an office within two blocks of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and though the son-in-law was spared the fate of thousands of people in the towers, "our daughter tells us she often lies awake at night wondering when it will happen again."
Such was the aim of the terrorists, Moyers said, "to possess our psyche . . . to turn each private imagination to an Afghanistan."
He said he read the capsule obituaries of the dead published for months after the attacks in The New York Times, finding one woman he had interviewed years before. He recited some of the names: of immigrants, waiters, janitors.
"Everywhere America's cheeks were stained with tears," he said, even as corporations "seized this moment" to push through legislation to reduce their taxes.
"Whose side are these people on, anyway?" he asked, to applause. "Not just religious believers threaten our democracy" but "unfettered capitalism. . . . They're picking your pocket."
The challenge for America is what to do with "the very fact of survival," he said. "Survival must take shape in how it builds for the future."
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