After serving in several public offices in Nevada, including governor and U.S. senator, Democrat Richard Bryan retired to private life. Last week, he appeared in Reno on a UNR Journalism School program with Republican political consultant Sig Rogich. A longer version of this interview is posted on our Newsview blog.
Somebody told me the other day that, aside from the reasons you stated at the time, that one of the reasons you stepped down was because you had just gotten fed up with what politics had become. Is there anything to that?
That’s not exactly accurate. I mean, it was less fun serving because it had become increasingly partisan and polarized. That part of it is true. I mean, you know, you run for office as I had over the years with—hey, look, I’d like to accomplish something, I’d like to work with people to compromise and see what we can do. And that seemed to be less a part of the political arena as the years went on. I think it’s even worse now … so yes. I mean the idea of spending all night, not all night but into the evening, you know, over something that didn’t amount to anything because there was some partisan bickering and squabbling, I have less and less patience for that. So, yes, that is certainly part of it.
Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate says that he thinks one of the reasons that people are less interested in politics than they once were is this sort of libertarian right that really doesn’t believe in government at all. … Can you talk about that?
Yes, I think there is a segment that believe government is the enemy, that is of the view that the best government is less government, little government, and virtually no government. And there is that philosophy that does prevail in many quarters, and I think that has contributed to the cynicism. The other thing, I think, is there’s so much inaccurate information out there. I do think the media has an obligation when factually there’s errors. I mean, clearly there are philosophical differences, and Sig and I had them tonight and some of that, I think, was fairly apparent. But, I mean, when there are outright factual errors that are just propagated—I remember getting a call one day that President Clinton is taking a whole bunch of his political cronies and throwing veterans off the plane to go to the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Totally false! Just untrue. I mean, criticize Clinton for his lack of military services and his evasiveness, you know, and all that sort of thing. But there is a failure on the part of the media, done, I think, under the guise, “We need to be fair and present both sides.” So even the most inaccurate [report] is not corrected by something that, say, well—“There is no evidence in the record to support” that A said this, or that B said that or that this occurred. Not, you know, the interpretation so much. But I see that happen so often. And so there are people out there, good people, that are just willfully misinformed—something that they’ve heard that is absolutely erroneous. And I think that’s added to that cynicism that you see out there, Dennis.
You said once that was one of the problems you dealt with in government was there was this sort of folklore—stories that aren’t true, but you spent all your time trying …
Yes, it is, is. I mean—Ronald Reagan and the welfare queen and the Cadillac. Those are impossible stories. Are there abuses in the welfare system? You bet there are. And we should—but some of these things take a life of their own. I mean, I hear almost every day, something—I just can’t believe that that’s true. But people just have so much misinformation out there. And obviously the media can’t correct everything, but the media bears certain responsibility for not saying, “Look, that is in error.”