The Financial Times’ Edward Luce has lunch with CNN’s Lou Dobbs…
I ask him what caused him to switch from being the affable and relatively unopinionated presenter of CNN’s Moneyline in the late 1990s to becoming the angry man of TV. Dobbs answers me between sips of lobster bisque, while I pick my way through organic beet salad. He traces his journey carefully: ”Certainly 9/11 was a fundamental change for all of us,” he says. ”Like most people who live and work in New York, I had friends who died. It was a very personal experience.” But what really jolted him out of his complacency, he says, was the revelation (a few weeks before the terrorist attacks) of gross fraud at Enron. Other corporate scandals followed as the hangover from the late 1990s dotcom-driven boom set in.
As is his wont, Dobbs strays into overstatement. ”I don’t think most Americans realise [Enron] was the greatest corruption in our history. There is a great deal that corporate America has to answer for… corporate America has lost its conscience.”
It is a rallying cry that has found echo across the US. In the mid-term congressional elections last November, large numbers of victorious Democratic party candidates campaigned on something resembling a Lou Dobbs platform - lacerating multinational companies for outsourcing US jobs to China and blaming free trade for middle America’s woes. They have been dubbed ”Lou Dobbs Democrats”.
”If you talk to CEOs today, they don’t know how in hell they are going to get a return out of China - and, if they do, how they are going to repatriate the capital,” Dobbs says. ”They talk about productivity and efficiency, but in fact these are code words for cheap labour. The effect is to put our middle class, which is the foundation of this country, in direct competition with the cheapest labour in the world. It is a perspective I can’t comprehend.”