The main host of Current TV’s The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur is one of the leading progressive voices in the media today. In addition to hosting his show, Uygur is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post blog. A naturalized citizen of the U.S., Uygur was born in Istanbul, Turkey. He graduated from Columbia Law School and went on to work as an attorney before moving into the political commentary scene. Known for his blunt liberal commentary and his criticism of President Obama, Uygur does not shy away from giving the reader the harsh reality of American politics. The Eye talked with him about our conservative Congress, Fox’s control of the media, and why he’s still not afraid to criticize Obama.
I find it interesting that you are critical of Obama, though on The Young Turks' page, he’s listed as one of your favorite politicians. Do you still have faith in him to turn things around?
Yeah, I’ve got to change that profile. [Laughs] That was from a while back and when I had some faith in him. I think the only way that Mr. Obama is going to do the right thing is if it’s already in motion, and he doesn’t want to get left behind. He’ll turn around and say: “Of course, I was in favor of that too! Yeah, that’s what I meant!” He would see that the ship is sailing, and he’s about to get left out, and that’s when he joins the party and says, “Yeah, I’m a progressive, that’s right.”
What is your reason for being so critical of Obama? Do you want him to improve? Are you worried that being so critical is dividing the party?
I would love for President Obama to improve, of course. So there are a couple different political factors at play here. One is that all politicians, especially President Obama, respond to political pressure. Now, the only political pressure they get in Washington is from the right. Unfortunately, a lot of Democrats and progressives think that the best way to support the president or to get progressive priorities accomplished is to be a cheerleader for the president. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of politics. If you blindly support the president, he’ll go further and further right because he’ll feel no pressure on his left plank. The only thing he has to do is appease the people on the right. That’s fundamentally mistaken as a matter of electoral politics, because the country is so overwhelmingly progressive when it comes to an issue-by-issue basis. Now, given what the president thinks, you have to pressure him from the left if you want him to do anything right. The second part is that Washington has shifted so far right on the spectrum and since Obama tries to find the center of any room, the center of Washington is massively farther right then the rest of the country. I’m trying to push that center back to where it needs to be, the real center of the country, which is far to the left of President Obama.
How do you reconcile that Washington is so far right when you believe that Americans are more liberal then they believe themselves to be? How can Congress be so conservative while America is so liberal?
There is an easy answer to that. It’s because Washington is run by money. What has happened over the last several years—decades—is that the Supreme Court, through a series of decisions, has allowed for unlimited amount of money on our politicians. Two things: One is campaign contributions. The other is offers of employment for the staffers or themselves after they retire. I do this all the time on the show—I tell people what is going to happen before it happens. For example, Washington loves Evan Bayh, the retired Democratic senator from Indiana. They think: “Here’s a guy that has formed bipartisan consensus. He’s a moderate. What a lovely person.” That’s nonsense. The truth is that Washington finds consensus on issues where the rich are going to get richer. For example, they find consensus by spending an insane amount of money on defense contractors because both the Democrats and the Republicans get paid by defense contractors. Now, when you look at a poll, the American people say one of the things that they want is investment. But we don’t live in a representative democracy anymore, so the people in Washington don’t give a damn what the American people think. They care what their contributors think. As I predicted, as soon as he got out of office, Bayh went and became a high-paid lobbyist consultant. Judd Gregg from New Hampshire and Ben Nelson did the exact same thing. They don’t retire to their farms anymore—they retire to K Street, where they make a killing based on not having listened to the American people and listening to their donors.
You often group Fox News with the mainstream media. I find this ironic because whenever I watch Fox News, they criticize the mainstream media. Is there some sort of irony to grouping Fox News with the group they seem to hate the most?
[Laughs] Well, I guess there is irony, but it’s understandable. Let me tell you why. When Fox News started out, they were not part of the mainstream media, to be fair to them. Fox News has done a brilliant job of co-opting the media that now the mainstream media does whatever Fox News tells them to do. Fox News isn’t a real news organization. If they want press on a story, they’ll just cover it 24/7 until CNN makes the mistake of thinking it’s a relevant story. And then MSNBC will make a mistake of covering the story because both CNN and Fox News are covering it. Once you have all three cable stations covering the story, then everybody in the country starts covering the story. That is how Fox News brilliantly co-opted the rest of the media to do exactly what they want.