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Video: Brokaw looks ahead to 2012 election

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    >> is a special correspondent with nbc news and author of "the time of our

    lives: a conversation about america ." tom, good morning to you.

    >> good morning, ann.

    >> first presidential politics what do you make about the allegations against herman cain ?

    >> there's a lot more we need to know , was it a case of he said/she said, there was a deal and it went away, what lisa said at the end is correct, from the campaign point of view for mr. cain, you would think he would want to get all the details out as quickly as possible if he is as innocent as he says he is so he can move on to the much more important matter. sexual harassment is a serious issue but it has degrees, a first, second, third and fourth degree and it's much more of an issue in society now and he needs to address this in a more forthright fashion.

    >> rick perry is also sparking some concerns because of something he said in new hampshire on friday. let's take a look at the videotape.

    >> and this is such a cool state, i mean come on, live free or die ? i mean, you know, you got to love that, right? gold is good. if you've got any in the backyard because you know, if they print any more money over there in washington, the gold's going to be good.

    >> this video was gone viral. was he do you think as his camp is saying just having fun or is the pressure just getting to be too much?

    >> let's be charitable saying he was trying to have fun. he looked more than a tourist than a candidate who knows the state well. new hampshire voters take their mission very seriously. i remember asking one of the new hampshire residents one day what he thought about a particular candidate. he said "i don't know, i've only met him three times" so they really get plugged into all of this. if this is the kickstart to his campaign which he's attempting to do i think he's got a lot of work to do. the point is i think the rest of the country is looking beyond these viral moments on the internet or even the sexual harassment charges so far as what we know about this pem there are 20 million homes in per nil terms of mortgages. people are concerned about education. college graduates are moving back home because they can't find a job and trust their families and don't trust society to take care of them. that's what i get at in the book, we ought to have a dialogue about that.

    >> let's get that. you talk in the book on the broader point, you ask this question which i think a lot of americans are asking, what happened to the america i knew? what is your answer to that question, after reporting on america for more than, what, half a century.

    >> this is the most polarized i have ever seen the political culture in america , people not even talking to each other, during a height of watergate, which was a real constitutional crisis at the end of the day , republicans and democrats in congress and across the country would get together and say how do we move on beyond this? even during vietnam people were talking to each other but now you have so little dialogue because it's exacerbated in part by the internet and everyone wanting to divide and conquer more than they do to unite. politics is always about the most robust debate about the country's future but at the end of the day you'd like to move the ball down the field some. this time we're kicking it at each other more than trying to find common goals.

    >> in the book you talk about how we can rekindle the fundamental values we've historically write to become the next greatest generation . can we begin to do that? can america ever be great again if the left and right are as you just said, even talking. is that where we begin?

    >> there's another body of voters, the independents are the most important group of voters fwhef america , they need to step up. if you want a model and i've been saying this repeatedly, look at the tea party . the tea party got angry, got organized, got to washington, stayed disciplined and they're having an impact on the republican debate out of proportion to their numbers. so if you're unhappy, what you have to do is find like-minded citizens and worry about education and skill set for workers in the new economy and what we're going to do about our political system , about how we can reclaim it, as it were, so that they listen to us and not just to the lobbyists who have the special interests in mind.

    >> given what you know in all the years you have looked at and i would say also loved america , are you optimistic?

    >> i'm always optimistic. look where i am in life. i grew up in south dakota , working class family. i got to new york, i have college educated daughters who are doing well. i have grandchildren now that are the light of my lives. of course i'm optimistic but we've always been best in this country when we're more than the sum of our parts, when we take on the big challenges and acknowledge how tough this is going to be. we're reinventing america at this point and the question that i ask everyone, 100 years from now, when historians look back on this time, it won't be just about obama or rick perry or herman cain or mitt romney or the tea party . it's about all of us. we're all on the dock. did we do our part and that's the dialogue i'm trying to kickstart with this book and i must say people are responsive to that when i talk to them in those terms. the second question everyone asks me, will my children be better off than i have been. that's essentially the american dream . i come here to improve conditions for my family and especially for my children, and if we want to make life better for them and it's not just about having more houses, more cars and more clothes, it's about the quality of life then the grownups in the country have to get involved.

    >> an excellent conversation, tom brokaw always great to get it from you. the book is called "the time of

    our lives: a conversation about america ." it

TODAY books
updated 10/31/2011 12:37:27 PM ET 2011-10-31T16:37:27

Veteran journalist Tom Brokaw takes a long, hard look at the state of America in "The Time of Our Lives" to determine how to get the nation back on the right track. Here's an excerpt.

Preface

What happened to the America I thought I knew? Have we simply wandered off course, but only temporarily? Or have we allowed ourselves to be so divided that we’re easy prey for hijackers who could steer us onto a path to a crash landing?

These were not questions I was asking in August 1962, when I was a newlywed and a rookie journalist. America was investing in a new generation of leadership and promise. John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was on the march in the South. Astronauts with the right stuff pointed their aspirations toward the heavens. Women were stepping out from behind their aprons and questioning their assigned roles. Young artists were giving new voice to music, film, and literature.

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I couldn’t wait to be a part of it all.

A half century later it is a much different world, and I am a weathered survivor of the rearranged American landscape, a familiar territory for me in my personal and professional life. Wherever I go I am asked, “What has happened to us? Have we lost our way?”

One often repeated question is the most troubling of all, because it challenges an American belief so fundamental it might as well be carved in stone on a Washington monument: “Will our children and grandchildren have better lives than us?”

Is that essential part of the American Dream disappearing? There are no simple, reassuring answers, and as a citizen, father, and grandfather, I am not immune to the worries that prompt the question. I believe it is time for an American conversation about legacy and destiny.

I am not a sociologist or a psychologist. I am a journalist, an observer, and a synthesizer— a man who has explored a lot of the world and been a witness to recent history. I have seen what enlightened leadership can accomplish, whether it is on a family, community, national, or world level. I’ve also been astonished by our capacity to make the same mistakes in one form or another again and again.

I have made my own share of mistakes, as we all have. They’ve yet to invent a GPS system for the best road to a secure and worthwhile future, but I do have some thoughts, original and inspired by others, for our journey into the heart of a new century. To begin, isn’t it time to reflect on where we have been and how we are going to move forward together, and to do it with more listening and less shouting?

Random House

There is a good deal of debate these days about American exceptionalism— about who believes in it and who may have doubts. I have no doubts. But I also believe that the unique character of America is very much like my definition of patriotism: Love your country but always believe it can be improved.

That was the unspoken way I was raised by a family of patriots and mentors who represented a broad spectrum of political and cultural notions but shared a common belief in the American Dream and a determination to constantly renew America’s promise. Those indelible lessons from family and friends are still with me, and I hope you will find them familiar and worth renewing as they play out across the chapters that follow.

What I know for sure is that many feel America is adrift, and the time to build the future is now. We will be judged not simply by the cacophony of those on the left and right with access to a cable system or a blog but rather by the tangible legacy we leave behind.

This immigrant nation— this destination for those looking for economic opportunity, political freedom, and the realization of dreams— has confronted great trials in the past and prevailed. We can draw on those experiences and find new ways to address the challenges that await us now.

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As I learned in the first decade of this new century, there are daring new ideas being tested in the laboratories of everyday life by bold and unconventional thinkers and doers. You’ll hear their voices and learn their ideas in the pages that follow.

Academics tell us that centuries and decades are imperfect ways to measure the long curve of history. Perhaps, but for me every decade of my life, beginning with the forties, had a bold punctuation mark, so I had more than a little curiosity about what a new century might mean to us. The defining events of the first sixty years of my life were about to recede. What should we all expect next?

What follows are the observations, hopes, memories, and suggestions of a child of the twentieth century who had big dreams fulfilled beyond his boyhood fantasies. I am now a man of the twenty-first century, with some observations on how we might realize the great promise of a future that would benefit us all.

It was a New Year’s Eve unlike any other in my lifetime, and possibly yours.

On December 31, 1999, I stood on the top-floor terrace of the Renaissance Hotel, high above Times Square in New York City, looking down on the revelers jammed onto every square millimeter of sidewalk, curb, gutter, and street— an estimated two million who were giddily anticipating the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. We were part of a vast global gathering witnessing the turn of the clock from the momentous events of the twentieth century—what had been called the American century— to the unknown events of a new calendar. There was a rolling wave of euphoria about the moment and apprehension about the unknown as the clock struck midnight around the world.

I was fifty-nine years old, a long way from my heartland roots, immersed in journalism, successful in my marriage and professional life, and a relatively new grandfather. I had reported on most of the major events of the previous four decades, from the triumphs, tragedies, and turmoil of the sixties in America through the resignation of a U.S. president, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of China as a political and economic force, wars in the Middle East and Central America, the birth of twenty-four-hour cable news, the still-evolving and transformative effect of cyberspace, and, at the time, a cheerful celebration of prosperity in ever more layers of American life.

While I tried to offer our audience some perspective on what this new, twenty-first century might bring, it was, in retrospect, a modest effort.

My friend and competitor Peter Jennings was across the way, anchoring an impressive and much more ambitious ABC News production on the turn of the century, as he demonstrated one of the marvels of our new age: communication by satellite and via Internet, which allowed him to instantly call up colleagues in China, Australia, Africa, and elsewhere, and bring the global party to his glassy studio in midtown Manhattan.

The airwaves that night were filled with commentators in every language on every medium, grasping for the phrase that might put two thousand years in perspective and prepare their audience for the next two thousand.

The biggest concern at the time was Y2K, shorthand for the year 2000. Would all the computers that formed the central nervous system of the world’s financial markets, transportation systems, and communication networks— and were vital to commerce, medicine, law enforcement, and even entertainment— recognize the changeover from years beginning with “19” to “20”?

They did, and the dancing in the streets continued uninterrupted.

Video: Tom Brokaw urges America to ‘give back’ (on this page)

A few exceptionally prescient flags were raised. Writing in The New York Times, Louis Uchitelle warned about the likely possibility of a big downturn in an economy so dependent on a booming stock market. He cited the “wealth effect,” when a rising market encourages consumers to spend more and borrow more. “A market sell-off,” he wrote, “would throw the effect into reverse. The spenders would pull way back. Companies would, too, in response. Job growth would halt; the unemployment rate would rise and incomes would fall. But debt would not.”

Eight years later that warning became reality as the sharpest, longest downturn in the American economy since the Great Depression knocked over our house of cards and spread around the world. It was nothing less than a Great Recession, a deeply painful time and a cautionary tale, the lessons of which should be attached to every birth certificate and all new citizenship papers for the next century.

That 1999 New York Times analysis laid out with commonsense clarity the inherent structural weaknesses of America’s spending and debt binge. It was one of the few exceptions to the otherwise conventional wisdom dispensed during the millennium festivities. But on such an occasion, who noticed?

I admit that I didn’t. Nor could I fully grasp the personal effect of moving past middle age and becoming a grandparent. My wife, Meredith, is now known as Nan, and I am Grandpa Tom, or sometimes just Tom. Beyond the nomenclature, grand-parenthood brought with it wonders and worries about the world my descendants will inherit. Will their future be defined more by constraints than by expansion? No one that New Year’s Eve foresaw the attacks of 9/11 on America or their monumental consequences, including the two longest wars in our history.

What to make of all this? Of the time gone by, of the America that my parents’ generation and my generation knew, and of America’s present and future— its promise for our children and grandchildren? My ideas about the times my family lived through and the lessons we can take from them were still unformed that night, when the chime of history’s clock signaled that the twenty-first century had begun.

Excerpted from "The Time of Our lives" by Tom Brokaw Copyright © 2011 by Tom Brokaw Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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