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Georgia GOP Speeds Sweeping Elections Bill Into Law; Chicago Suburb Approves Reparations for Black Residents; What Effect Does Vaccine Nationalism Have on the Pandemic; White House Staffers Sidelined and Sacked for Past Pot Smoking; How 70's Hollywood Shaped America And Its Values. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 27, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill and this is CNN.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Georgia is on everyone's mind. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. In the wake of President Biden's win in Georgia and the flip of both of its Senate seats, on Thursday, the state's Republicans passed a sweeping change to its election law. The bill passed both chambers in just a few hours and Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law that night.

Now here's what the bill does among other things. It imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take control over local election boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and it makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water. It proved immediately polarizing. Republican Governor Kemp, quoted, said the bill was, "Another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair."

That's not how the other side sees it. President Biden called it un- American, sick. Stacey Abrams likened it to reinstating Jim Crow. By Thursday evening, a lawsuit challenging the new law had already been filed by a trio of voting right groups. The Georgia bill is the most prominent of many pieces of legislation that Republicans have initiated all across the country.

Per today's "New York Times," "In more than 24 states, Republican-led legislatures are advancing bills in a broad political effort that is the most aggressive attack on the right to vote since the civil rights movement of the 1960s."

Joining me now to discuss is Greg Bluestein, political reporter of "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Greg, nice to have you back. This is a solution in search of a problem, right? In other words, there was not fraud documented in Georgia that would justify this sort of wholesale change.

GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: You're exactly right. There was no systemic fraud whatsoever in Georgia and that was even backed up by top state Republican officials, including the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who repeatedly debunked these conspiracy theories, yet still Governor Kemp talked about a crisis of confidence that all those -- all those false claims, all those lies about election fraud had instilled in many Republican Georgia voters.

SMERCONISH: I thought that your newspaper's lead editorial today made a great observation. I'll put it up on the screen. "All 236 members of the Georgia legislature were elected on the same ballot last November that then President Donald Trump falsely contended was riven with fraud. If the lawmakers who voted for Thursday's changes so fervently believed in this big lie, then, for the sake of ethics, they should have resigned their seats on the first day of the legislative session in protest of a fraudulent election." Makes a great point, right?

BLUESTEIN: Yes. And that is right. We've asked many lawmakers who have brought up the point, you know, their support for these voting restrictions, that same question. Well, what about your election? What about your win? What about your victory? And none of them are willing to have a recount, a re-tabulation, an overhaul of their own election victories.

SMERCONISH: OK. So, my view of this is that it's a solution in search of a problem. Nevertheless, I don't think that some of the component parts are as onerous as they've been presented. Let me ask this question. If I vote in person in Georgia, must I show an ID?


SMERCONISH: OK. So now the new law says if you're going to vote by absentee, you should likewise have to have some form of identification. Karl Rove, writing in "The Wall Street Journal," made this observation. He said, "Democrats are particularly upset with requiring Georgians voting by mail to provide the number from their driver's license, free state provided ID or other generally accepted identification.

If this is racist, then New Jersey, Virginia and California are suppression hotbeds. New Jersey requires a driver's license number on the last four digits of a Social Security card for online voter registration. Virginia requires both a photo ID card and your social security number. California, hardly a red stronghold, also requires ID to register. Where are the bitter denunciations of these state's racist Democratic governors and legislatures?"

Am I right that even a survey by your newspaper found overwhelming support in Georgia for some level of identification when people vote by absentee?

BLUESTEIN: Yes. An AJC poll in January found about three-quarters of Georgia voters supported some sort of new requirements for ID verification. What critics of this say is that essentially about 3 percent of registered voters don't have a license or state ID number on file. They would need to submit additional documentation. That's about 200,000 people who would have to either obtain a free voter ID or return other documentation like a utility bill, passport, military ID. They say this is another obstacle to vote.


Even though there's a broad support of the Georgia electorate overall for this sort of idea, it still creates a new obstacle and takes away and essentially adds another restriction even if it's broadly publicly supported by Georgians.

SMERCONISH: OK. So my take on that would be let's make it real easy for those folks to have some form of identification that would be required, but the notion of there being some level of identification, to me, is not in and of itself out of the box. Here's another one getting a lot of attention. You'll have to explain this to me. What is line warming and what's the change in the law?

BLUESTEIN: Yes. So line warming is where, especially in metro Atlanta precincts where there's hours long lines, advocacy groups, civic groups, just non-partisan folks, too, come out and they offer Coca- Cola, they offer water, they offer snacks, they offer pizza. At night, they offer hot chocolate to people who are waiting in line for hours.

In Georgia, I've witnessed basically an evolution as people start to bring lawn chairs as accessories to vote because in some precincts there are five-, six-, seven-, eight-hour lines. Some of them come with snacks and bags full of books and things to do, but others are not prepared for that and so these line warmers basically make sure that they stay in line by offering them food.

SMERCONISH: Is it -- is it true that you can't politic, you can't approach someone and try and curry favor with them for a particular candidate while they're in line?

BLUESTEIN: Yes. Within a certain area around a polling site, there is strict bans on any sort of campaigning, yet ...


BLUESTEIN: ... the critics of this measure feel like it could be a last-minute sort of plea to influence ...

SMERCONISH: Exploitive.

BLUESTEIN: ... voters in the crucial final moments.

SMERCONISH: Understood. OK. Here's my take from 1,000 miles away on that. What a shame that anybody in Georgia or anywhere in this country would have to wait for hours before casting a ballot. Greg, thank you, as always. I read your coverage when I really want to know what's going on in Georgia.

BLUESTEIN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. This comes from the Twitter world, "Is the voter suppression having to show some proper ID, register and figure out where to vote? How dumb does the left really think we are. It takes more to sign up for cable, set a cell phone, get an ID," yada, yada, yada.

Hey, Woodman. He just explained that 200,000 folks in Georgia don't have the type of identification that would allow them to vote by mail, vote absentee I should say more specifically. I know that Georgia has offered to provide that free of charge. Let's make it easier for people to vote and make it easier for people to be identified when they're going through that process. I don't want to preclude anybody nor do I want fraud, but there's a way to get this done.

Still to come, while Americans are getting vaccinated at the average rate of 2.6 million per day, on Friday, Brazil recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, 3,650. So even if herd immunity happens here, will we be safe if new variants of COVID are raging in the rest of the world?

And after decades of discrimination, black residents of Evanston, Illinois poised to become the first in the nation to start receiving reparations. Will other communities follow suit?

Plus, according to Gallup, over 30 million Americans smoke pot. It's legal in some form in 36 states, but still prohibited on the federal level which means many new hires in the Biden administration are in trouble for having partaken. Will the policy have to change? I want to know what you think. Go to my website at and answer this week's survey question. Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?




SMERCONISH: The Chicago suburb of Evanston is poised to become the first community in the nation to begin paying reparations to black residents. The first initiative of the $10 million plan is the Restorative Housing Reparations Program which would distribute up to $25,000 for housing per eligible resident.

So, who's eligible? According to "The New York Times," eligible applicants could be descendants of an Evanston resident who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 or they could have experienced housing discrimination because of city policies after 1969. Will this plan work? Will it provide a model for the rest of the country?

Joining me now to discuss is Ron Daniels, convener of the National African American Reparations Commission. Dr. Daniels is this really a case of reparations? Because in this instance, it's not tied to enslavement.

RON DANIELS, CONVENER, NATIONAL AFRICAN-AMERICAN REPARATIONS COMMISSION: Well, yes, it is a milestone in that it is reparations and we really want to congratulate all of the residents of Evanston, particularly Robin Rue Simmons and all the people who worked with her on this initiative. And it's important to point out from an educational point of view that reparations is not just for enslavement. Enslavement is an incredibly important part of it and our nation needs to learn that, but it's for all of the racially exclusionary policies after emancipation.

For example, the Homestead Act, FHA, the GI Bill, someone like Medgar Evers who went and fought off -- fought in the Second World War and then was shot and gunned down in his driveway in Mississippi and of course redlining and redlining is one of the key issues that many of our cities have faced.


And so in the instance of Evanston, Illinois, this bill is target -- this initiative is targeted because of redlining and when the National African-American Reparations Commission went into Evanston to help -- to help develop and certify this particular model, and it is a model, we actually looked at the records. We look at the records of where houses were moved from one section of the city to another in order to accommodate the creation of a new neighborhood and whatever, records showing ...


DANIELS: ... the complicity of the city in terms of redlining. So no question it is a reparations issue (ph) ...

SMERCONISH: Is the door -- is the door then -- is the door then open, Dr. Daniels, to other groups, victims of similar discrimination, to then come forward and make a claim as well?

DANIELS: Well, I mean, I think when we -- when we talk about reparations in the United States of America, we're talking about the uniqueness of a series of policies beginning with the transatlantic slave trade, enslavement and all of the policies that derive therefrom. Now, there are other groups who have a claim. We're certainly not adverse to that, particularly Native Americans.

They certainly have a claim, but it is the particularity and uniqueness of the historical, cross-generational struggle of African- Americans that reparations is targeted to and you've just talked about one of them in your previous segment and that is the whole question of repeatedly being blocked and blunted from the ability to vote. I mean, there's this blood on the bridge and we are now being traumatized once again.

So, it's also -- reparations is also about healing. It's about our ability to get beyond having to repeatedly ...

SMERCONISH: Understood.

DANIELS: ... overcome the barriers that have been set forward -- set forth, including the right to vote.

SMERCONISH: It's just that the more -- it's just that the more that I've read in on the particulars of Evanston, the more it strikes me as a trial attorney as the resolution of civil litigation or the resolution of a class action where there was none rather than something tied to the original sin of this country.

DANIELS: Yes, but by definition and as you asked me earlier, by definition, reparations is for enslavement, but it is also for redlining, it is for racially exclusionary policies where it was targeted. In this instance in Evanston, there was complicity in the city and targeting black community, the black community and as a result, there was a damage, there was a harm inflicted in terms of the loss of wealth and the trauma of, in fact, losing your community.

And so that's what reparations is about and I appreciate you being a trial attorney, but there is -- there are international standards that govern this and so, you know, the Jews and Nazi Germany, the holocaust that was a specific instance and indeed in this country. This is not the first-time reparations were paid. Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps in 1988.

Finally, there were some -- there were reparations paid to the Japanese community because they were targeted in -- Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps. So, reparations is a specific set of definitions that don't apply to just ordinary public policy. And by the way, obviously ...

SMERCONISH: Dr. Daniels ...

DANIELS: ... there are things that occur today that you want to remedy, but that's ordinary public policy, that's not reparations.

SMERCONISH: It'll be -- it'll be interesting to watch how this plays out in Evanston. Thanks so much for being here with your expertise.

DANIELS: Appreciate being on with you.

SMERCONISH: Checking in again on tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have? From Twitter I think, "I am personally all for reparations, but if you ever wanted to do something that would spark some kind of civil or race war in our country, then start paying out billions in tax dollars to do it. The ignorance on this subject runs deep with most white people I know and talk to."

Catherine, can we put up on the board the survey results that I intended to get to with Dr. Daniels? Twenty percent -- to the point of taxpayer money is being used in such a circumstance, Reuters and Ipsos polled on the issue of support for reparations just last summer, there it is, and found only 20 percent support using taxpayer monies to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States. What they're doing in Evanston is different from that, but it's precedent setting, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Up ahead, a slower roll-out of vaccines in many countries across the globe has led to more lockdowns in Europe and it poses a higher risk of large waves of new cases, like in Brazil where the healthcare system is absolutely outmatched by the surge of patients. Should the United States be sharing more of its vaccination doses with the rest of the world?

And should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service? Several White House staffers under scrutiny for this very issue. Remember that is today's survey question at Go and vote. Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?



JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That isn't about anyone's personal point of view. It's about working through the process, the history and modernizing and taking steps to address the fact that marijuana is legal in a number of states across the country. It is still illegal federally, right?



SMERCONISH: Here in the U.S., we're seeing positive news when it comes to vaccination numbers. The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses reportedly administered in U.S. set a new daily record on Friday, 3.38 million. More than 48 million Americans now fully vaccinated, but in other countries around the globe, they're not so fortunate.

What you're seeing here is in part the result of drug companies that developed and won authorization for vaccines agreeing to sell most of the first doses to the U.S., European countries and a few other wealthy nations or, as the WHO put it in "The Washington Post," "The entire population and the global economy are in crises because of that approach and vaccines nationalism."


A "New York Times" headline echoed the sentiment saying, "Rich countries signed away a chance to vaccinate the world." In it, they write this, "Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far. Under current projections, many of the rest will have to wait years."

And while it may sound fair to make sure that our own needs are covered before helping others, it may actually pose a threat to ourselves. An example, in Britain where the vaccine roll-out has been strong, health officials have tracked a virus variant that emerged in South Africa where vaccine coverage is weak. That variant may be able to lessen the effectiveness of vaccines, meaning even vaccinated people could theoretically get sick.

Joining me now to discuss is Thomas Bollyky, Director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He warned of the impact of vaccine nationalism last summer. We discussed the issue right here on this program. Just today, "The Atlantic" has published his brand new essay, "The U.S. Is Getting Vaccine Diplomacy Wrong." Thomas, why should we be sharing more of our doses before all Americans themselves are fully vaccinated? THOMAS BOLLYKY, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It's understandable that U.S. leaders and the leaders of the other wealthy nations that are using many vaccine doses would want to vaccinate their own populations first, but as you rightly noted a moment ago, it's prolonging the pandemic for the world, potentially giving rise to new dangerous variants of this virus.

It's also a disaster diplomatically because while the U.S. and these other wealthy democracies are largely providing cash, countries like China and Russia are providing doses to the countries at need.

SMERCONISH: We discussed this during the course of the campaign and I remember well -- of course Donald Trump, you know, wore on his sleeve "America first" and I remember wondering at the time what would be the policy of the Biden administration? I also remember we couldn't get them on the record when we tried. Here's the question for you. Is there a discernible difference in the approach from the Trump administration versus the Biden administration on this specific issue, vaccine nationalism?

BOLLYKY: Well, I first want to commend you, Michael. You were on this issue really from the get-go. I remember you saying in that interview that this was the biggest issue, no one was paying attention, so thank you for sticking with it. There is a difference between how the Biden administration has handled this than how the Trump administration has.

First, the U.S. is now supporting the multilateral initiative to distribute vaccines. The U.S. has given $4 billion to that effort and just in the last two weeks, the U.S. has promised to loan Mexico doses of vaccine and that is notable because, first of all, it's the largest pledge we've seen, 2.5 million.

Secondly, it's going to a country in great need. Mexico only trails the U.S. and Brazil as having the most deaths from this pandemic and last, the U.S. is a democracy and loaning these vaccines now in a loan that may not need to be repaid later provides a way of getting doses to countries that need them now.

SMERCONISH: OK, but you would not presumably have written for "The Atlantic" today "The U.S. Is Getting Vaccine Diplomacy Wrong" if we were doing all that you think we should be doing. So, what is it that the Biden administration is not doing?

BOLLYKY: We need to present a compelling alternative to the token donations that are being given by Russia and China and others. We need to ramp up global manufacturing and supplies. We saw domestically that it's not enough just to have money. You need government policy support to scale up manufacturing in a pandemic.

We need a similar sort of effort, a global Operation Warp Speed of sorts, to do that globally and that doesn't keep us from distributing doses domestically. It ramps up supplies which helps the world now and it may help us later if we need those vaccines to address new variants.

SMERCONISH: So, I'm hearing, I think, a three-fold argument from you. One is the moral, that we shouldn't let people suffer while we have largesse. A second is that it could come back to haunt us because there could be a variant that we're not prepared for and the third I think is that China and Russia are filling the vacuum where the United States is not doing all it can do. Is that it?

BOLLYKY: That's it. So certainly, it's a moral issue that we, right now, have -- we've distributed globally 520 million vaccine doses. Just 10 countries are responsible for three out of four of every dose administered.



BOLLYKY: There are still nearly 70 nations with around 900 million people in them that have yet to administer a single dose and we are close to five months into this global vaccine rollout. So that's the moral issue.

The health issue is the one you outlined that it keeps this pandemic going and it may give rise to new dangerous variants of this disease. And the last is, frankly, diplomatically, the U.S. is having its lunch eaten by other countries that are willing to provide very small amounts of doses but still appreciated in countries that are desperate for more supplies. We need to engage on ramping up capacity and supply to providing compelling alternative to nations like China, just simply pursuing their national interests in this crisis.

SMERCONISH: Thomas Bollyky, thanks so much for joining us again on this important issue.

BOLLYKY: Thank you so much for having me.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via social media. This comes, I think, from Twitter. What do we have?

Smerconish, of course we should help the rest of the world with COVID- 19 vaccination. If we don't it's a ticking time bomb that will explode on us without warning.

Well, David Conte, as you just heard my guest explained that's not what we're doing so that would need to change.

Up ahead, in 1974 the year President Nixon shook the country by resigning, Hollywood was shaking up the culture. Ron Brownstein is here to discuss how Los Angeles in the '70s changed America.

And despite the fact that pot is in some form legal in over three dozen states and the District of Columbia, several White House staffers asked to resign or were suspended or are working remotely after background checks reveal past marijuana use. Is that fair?

I want to know what you think. Go to my Web site at, answer this week's survey question. "Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?" It did for these folks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have people in your life who consistently use marijuana? Have you used it yourself?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I have a handful of times a long time ago.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was -- that was the point.




HARRIS: And I inhale. I did inhale. Listen, I think that it gives a lot of people joy and we need more joy in the world.




SMERCONISH: Should smoking marijuana preclude a person from government service? The answer to that question plagues many, especially younger people who aspire to work for the federal government.

Several White House staffers were either asked to resign, got suspended, or are working remotely after their background checks revealed past marijuana use, exposing inconsistencies in the administration's employment suitability policies. Despite the fact that recreational and medical marijuana use is legal in 36 states and D.C. it's still illegal on the federal level, which is why the White House press secretary said last Friday in a tweet and again on Wednesday in a press briefing that they updated policies to ensure past marijuana use wouldn't disqualify staff.

Even with the cannabis clemency applied five people ended up losing their jobs. Additional security factors were in play in many of the cases involving staffers who are no longer employed. Including for some hard drug use, a White House official told CNN. A source close to the matter also told CNN that the marijuana policy was not made clear to staffers before filling out their questionnaires.

In a letter sent to the president on Thursday, 30 House Democrats called on President Biden to, "Clarify his employment suitability policies, removing past cannabis use as a potential disqualifier, and apply these policies with consistency and fairness." President Biden has taken office in a time when the nation's attitude toward legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana is drastically changing.

Last year, Gallup survey showed the highest level of support for legalization among Americans to date at 68 percent. And 12 percent of U.S. adults said they smoke marijuana according to a Gallup 2019 poll that is over 30.6 million people. With the tides turning, is this security clearance policy overkill?

Joining me now, is someone who knows the security clearance process intimately, former CIA intelligence officer Andrew Bakaj. He's currently a founding and managing partner at the Compass Rose Legal Group, a law firm that specializes in security clearance, federal employment and national security law.

Andrew, how many individuals are we talking about who work for the federal government in some capacity and need a clearance where this could be an issue?

ANDREW BAKAJ, FORMER CIA OFFICER AND FEDERAL INVESTIGATOR: Well, thank you for having me on. It impacts anybody who works within the Department of Defense, anybody within the intelligence community in particular and anybody who requires a security clearance or access -- any kind of access to classified information so it -- it impacts thousands of people both government employees, federal contractors, members of the military.

SMERCONISH: I want to -- I want to differentiate the White House, whether it's the Biden White House or any other White House, from those in national security. So, let me first ask about the White House. Who sets policy on this issue for any particular White House?

BAKAJ: Well, that will be up to the executive office of the president, presumably the president of the United States to implement those policies with respect to the White House. But the president also implements those policies and procedures when it comes to access to classified information and what allows you to be suitable for access to classified information to include drug policies. Whether it's before federal employment or during federal employment.

SMERCONISH: Yes. My point is the White House doesn't necessarily have the same policy as, say, the national security community.

BAKAJ: That's true. And those policies can change if they want it to. But presumably, they would want to maintain consistency with what everybody else is required to do within the federal government so (INAUDIBLE) treat their own staff differently.


SMERCONISH: If I were seeking employment in the White House and I came to you as my counsel and said, oh, no, they are asking me on a form to acknowledge whether I've smoked pot currently or in the past, what would your counsel be?

BAKAJ: Well, first of all, I would advise that they answer the form truthfully because if you lie on a security clearance form, on the SF 86, and that comes out, then you can be permanently disqualified from obtaining a security clearance. Because nothing comes closer in time to your truthfulness, to your candor, to reliability or judgment than at the moment that you're applying for a clearance, when you're filling out that form.

That said, going to the issue of marijuana use, I would have to ask them a number of questions. You know, when was their last use? If it was more than a year ago, I would feel better. If it was a onetime use, I would feel better. If this is within the past year, I would say it's probably not going to work out. If it's heavy use over a period of time, there is going to be some mitigation that's going to have to be involved.

So, there may be a situation where, you know, if somebody used marijuana, say, 15, 20 years ago and it was just a handful of times, we can mitigate those concerns because it's about mitigating the concern. But if it was heavy usage or more recent or within the past year then that can impact the ability to get through the process. So, my recommendation --


SMERCONISH: If I wanted to work in national --


SMERCONISH: If I wanted to work in national security and I have to fill out the SF 86, I note that -- put it up on the screen if we have it. That it says, "The following questions pertain to the illegal use of drugs or controlled substances or drugs controlled" -- yada, yada, yada -- "in accordance with Federal laws." And then it asks me in the last seven years have I used drugs illegally. I could be in Washington, D.C. appropriate under D.C. law but because this asks me under federal law, I would have to say I have done something that was illegal.

BAKAJ: Well, you have violated federal law. And the issue that carries -- what drives the train here is the federal law. Did you violate federal law? And the answer would be yes.

So, anybody who is filling out the SF 86 has to read those questions carefully. Because if you misstate something, then I have to make the argument if I have to -- if you hire me to appeal or revocation to say not only did -- yes, they may have used marijuana but they didn't lie here that this was an oversight. So, you have to read the forms carefully and provide truthful answers.


SMERCONISH: It just seems fundamentally -- it just seems fundamentally unfair if I were a chemo patient taking -- you know, smoking pot for medicinal purposes, somewhere in the country, right? With a prescription and legally, I would still have to say on this form I've done something illegal. True or false? I'm limited on time.

BAKAJ: Yes. And so that goes to mitigation. So you may have a concern about smoking weed previously but if it had something to do with -- for medicinal reasons and there's evidence to support why we can perhaps mitigate the issue and get you through the process.

The one thing that I want to flag is I've had clients recently who have had their clearances suspended, pending revocation for using CBD oil. Hemp-derived CBD oil which is illegal (ph) -- SMERCONISH: Oh, my God.

BAKAJ: -- under federal law.

SMERCONISH: That is ridiculous.


BAKAJ: I'm sorry.

SMERCONISH: Sorry. I interrupted you simply to say that's ridiculous. Andrew, thank you. We'll have you back and continue this. It's a really important conversation.

BAKAJ: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: I'm using CBD oil and I've had my application to serve in the federal government flagged? You must be joking.

What came in from Facebook? Let's take a peek.

Actually, it should be required to work for the government, especially Congress. Chill every -- right. It should -- right. Syd says it should be -- is that Syd Barrett? It should be required for everyone who's working in the government.

I want to remind you to answer this week's survey question at Here it is. I'll be curious to see which way this goes. "Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?"

Still to come, on TV, the 1960s cultural revolution it came slowly. "Green Acres" "The Beverly Hillbillies" -- I love those shows -- they still rule. But as Ron Brownstein shows in his new book by 1974 it was "M.A.S.H." and "All in the Family" helping to reshape how Americans thought as did movies and music all emanating from Los Angeles. He's here to explain.



SMERCONISH: Politics and Hollywood have both shaped America and its values, sometimes in tandem, oftentimes at odds. A terrific new book by Ron Brownstein identifies 1974 as a pivotal year for our cultural and political life. Los Angeles, it was the epicenter for this change.

The national political landscape was being torn up by President Nixon's resignation after the Watergate scandal, while simultaneously a revolution emanating from Hollywood was reshaping the country in other ways. Pop culture provided a bridge, giving the 1960s a permanent place in our consciousness.

There were TV shows on air like "All in the Family" depicting the older generation losing its power. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" which was sympathetic to women's rights. Who can forget "M.A.S.H." which helped give license to mistrust of the military and authority? Anti- hero movies like "Chinatown," "Godfather II" were box office smashes in 1974.


A year that also saw the filming of "Shampoo" set during the 1968 election which transmitted permissive attitudes about sex and drugs. "Nashville" which was coincidentally filming the very night that Nixon stepped down and exposed the dark underbelly of the American dream. While Southern California musicians like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash were gathering in Laurel Canyon and singing about such changes in their lyrics.

That's all part of Ron's new book. It's called "Rock Me On The Water: 1974 The Year That Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics." Ron joins me now. You know him as a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic."

Hey, who knew about Ron Brownstein? We thought you were like the political guy, the number cruncher. What makes you such a cultural maven?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, kept secret. Well, thank you, Michael. An excellent summary of the -- of some of the main points of the book.

You know, I've always been fascinated by the interplay between culture and politics, how they -- how they play off of each other, how they phase, how they intersect and how they both kind of respond to or backlash against changes in the way we live. And this story, as you point out, about Los Angeles in the early 1970s, really fascinated me on two levels.

On the first level, it is just an unbelievable constellation of talent. I mean, it must have been a lot of fun to be there, because we are talking about Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne and the Eagles in music. Norman Lear and Carroll O'Connor, James L. Brooks and Mary Tyler Moore, Larry Gelbart, Alan Alda. Not to mention Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, and two generations of directors simultaneously, the great directors born in the '20s and '30s like Robert Altman and Bob Rafelson, Alan Pakula. And the first real contributions from what would be known as the movie brats. The great directors born in the '40s Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg.

So at one level this is just an incredible confluence of talent that I think is comparable to the literary world in Paris in the '20s or the modern art world in New York the '50s, but at a deeper level. As you note, this was the moment when the '60s critique of American life was cemented into popular culture, never to be removed.

When you hear people on the right say we can win elections, but we've lost the culture, I would argue this was the moment when it happened. Because if you look at movies and television in the 1960s, they did not send messages of suspicion of authority or changing relations between men and women. They mostly avoided what was happening. But all of that changed in the late '60s and especially the early '70s in L.A. under the pressure of the growing baby -- growing buying power of the baby boomer.

SMERCONISH: I would say the book provided me two things. One, I love the stories. I mean, you show me L.A. through the eyes of Warren Beatty in 1974, which is not a bad way to experience the city I imagine.

BROWNSTEIN: Literally from the penthouse.

SMERCONISH: But also, to appreciate the way that the '60s really crystallized in 1974 Los Angeles. May I also say it's a love letter from a queen's bred writer and political analyst. Go figure.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, exactly. You know, I tried to do two things in this book. I tried to give people a feeling of what it was like to be there at that moment, because it was, as Linda Ronstadt said, kind of like a prism through which American culture was focused in those years.

And there were lots of times when I was writing the book in the last few years, very tumultuous, difficult years for America. You know, I kind of wish I could kind of walk through the "Hot Tub Time Machine" and wake up in 1974 and be part of it.

L.A. was a very different place then. It wasn't the big cosmopolitan metropolis. It was a small city. And you had all of these people working and living together, you know, literally blocks from each other. I mean, "All in the Family" and "Chinatown" and "Late for the Sky" and "Heart Like A Wheel." All of this was being created at the same time in the same place.

And I would argue, as I said, under the pressure of the same kind of dynamic, which was the baby boom was -- that the growing force of the baby boomers changing culture even as Nixon was winning two elections by mobilizing the voters most uneasy about the changes that they were bringing to the culture. And that is, to me, a reminder that culture can be ahead of politics in predicting what the country will become.

I would argue that is a very similar situation we're in now. If you look at the pop culture that rivets the Millennials and Generation Z, which in 2024 will be the largest generations in the electorate for the first time, I think that is a better predictor of how we're going to be living in 10 years than Trump's success at mobilizing a backlash among the voters who are most uneasy about those changes.

SMERCONISH: Ron, the book is great. I'm rediscovering Jackson Browne all because of you. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Michael. Thanks for the careful read.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question at


Can't wait to see this. "Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?"


SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at "Should past marijuana use disqualify you from government service?"

Survey says -- wow, 96 percent of 23,000 and change have the correct answer.


No, it should -- right. Think about it. I'm going to have a Scotch tonight. I may have two Scotches tonight. And I can wake up and serve in the NSA. But if I get high tonight in a state where it's legal, I'm precluded from government service? That's malarkey. See you next week.