Actor James Denton on John Edwards
This interview was shot on location in Manchester, during the primary in New Hampshire.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: So, James, you’ve left Los Angeles. Of course, there’s a writer’s strike, so it’s a little easier to get away.
JAMES DENTON, ACTOR: Out of work.
JAY: But you’re here pounding the streets for Senator Edwards. Why?
DENTON: You know, that’s a really interesting question, especially for a guy like me who’s a card-carrying NRA member, a redneck from Tennessee. ‘Cause he is the most progressive of the Democratic candidates. But, you know, like so many people, I’ve voted Republican a lot of my life, but I am an independent. I started looking through all these candidates—I knew there were going to be so many, so wide open this year—and studying as much as I could about them. And what really appealed to me about John, without getting on too much of a soap box, was his independence. He’s a tough guy. He’s a fighter. He’s refused to take any lobbyist money, any PAC money, which should appeal to you guys, being very independent of monetary influences.
JAY: But there is some critique of him from some of the other camps that he’s taken money from some of the hedge-fund investors. Is that an issue? Do you know anything about it?
DENTON: All I know about it is that he took that job when he got out of the poverty center to learn more about it. It wasn’t about the hedge fund as much the investment company. And what I understand, when he found out that they technically were involved in some of the loans that had become problematic for home owners, obviously, and America, that he not only created a plan to help repay it and make it back, but he also removed himself from it. You know, I talked to him about it. My understanding is he wasn’t aware of that part of the business, that it was more of a consultation type role. But he also has gotten criticism taking money from trial lawyers, and there’s need for tort reform and all those things. So I know there are places that anybody can find argument, and I completely understand it. To me, there was a difference in taking money from a group of lawyers who were your peers—they’re not a lobby, because, you know, lobbyists are paid to be lobbyists, and there is a definition, and by definition there is a difference. And there was a big difference in trial lawyers supporting him and the defense industry or the pharmaceutical industry, or the healthcare industry. So for me, I found a difference there. Not everyone does.
JAY: What were the issues that you were most concerned about that brought you to him?
DENTON: Universal healthcare. And, you know, my dad was a dentist, a very poor dentist, oddly, enough, in rural Tennessee, who hated the idea of socialized medicine. So, I mean, I grew up on the other side of that. But we’re in a place in our country where it’s crippling the economy, people who went bankrupt. I have two very good friends who had health care coverage, both of which filed bankruptcy over one was called a pre-existing condition and one they just refused to treat. We’re in a place where the system’s not working. And as reluctant as I’ve been, I feel like it’s time we have to make that change. And I know John Edwards had the most clear plan the earliest. Obama and Clinton both came out with one later, one of which is very similar.
JAY: Kucinich is proposing a more Canadian style, single-payer, government-run health care plan. And I live much of my time in Canada. And what John McCain said simply isn’t true: Canadians on the whole are pretty happy with their health care system.
JAY: Very. In fact, there’s been lots of polling. “Would you like a better health care system or a tax cut?” And people will always pick a better health care system over tax cuts. Why hasn’t Edwards gone for a more single-payer—Why does he still want to keep private insurance companies in the mix?
DENTON: Well, he’s pretty close to it. I think he’s much closer, obviously, than the other two front- runners ahead of him. Nobody can rival Kucinich’s plan, if that’s what you’re after. You know, I don’t know enough about the technicalities of the business other than sort of the specifics of John’s plan. And I agree with you, it’s a tough issue, because I’ve always heard that myth that, well, the Canadian system’s a mess, so you don’t want to do that either. But what we do certainly isn’t working. I mean, for people to have to go to an emergency room and beg for coverage—. And my friend, who is a very middle-income person, had a heart condition that was determined pre-existing, and her bills got up over a million dollars, and they filed bankruptcy. And she had one of the major health care companies. She had coverage. You know. So I actually very much like Kucinich’s plan. But I think John’s certainly is going far enough in that direction that it will be a huge help, and it guarantees insuring everyone. It’s just in a different way.
JAY: Dennis seems to be caught in this thing, “I agree with Dennis, but I voted for someone else.” We hear that from everybody.
DENTON: Yeah, it’s true. I don’t agree on Dennis on everything. I won’t say that. I do like him very much. I also like Senator Obama very much. But I do think Kucinich has a lot of those people—and it’s unfortunate—who don’t vote for him, because they think he’s unelectable. Edwards happens to be—I thought and still do believe—to be the most electable. He can win the states that the Democrats forfeited in ’04, just gave up, you know, Ohios, Tennessees, Michigans, Arizona, New Mexico, all those states that are there to be had that won’t vote for Hillary or Obama. So electability’s a big thing for me too. And it’s not even a race and sex thing. That’s really a non-starter. It’s really an electability issue that I don’t think John really has. But, you know, it’s a tough battle. They’re $200 million candidates, and we’re not one of them, so it’s been a real battle.
JAY: What other solutions has he proposed that attract you?
DENTON: He has this program called “the New Energy Economy Fund,” where it funds research and pursuit of renewable energies—biofuels particularly, you know, biodiesel, solar. He’s the only candidate that doesn’t support any more funding or any more pursuit of nuclear energy or coal-based. Of course, we’re stuck with coal-based fuels, but no more pursuing different ways to do it, go in another direction. Both of the two Democratic front-runners do. Obviously Kucinich didn’t. So in that respect he’s much more progressive than the two people ahead of him.
JAY: I find him rather ambiguous and sometimes trying to be a little hawkish to prove something on foreign policy issues.
DENTON: Wow. I don’t hear the hawkish part at all. In fact, the big complaints are that he wants to leave Iraq way too soon and that he’s too soft. So, you know, obviously, then you’re going to hear both sides. I just did an interview about how John Edwards wants us to lose the war, you know, and so do Senator Obama and Hillary.
JAY: On this issue of taking the nuclear option off the table on Iran, Edwards wouldn’t take it off the table. Biden did. I mean, Biden said it’s ridiculous to have this kind of rhetoric. And Biden’s a pretty experienced foreign policy guy. But Edwards stuck with Obama and Clinton with this sort of position of positioning, oh, no, I won’t take it off the table.
DENTON: Well, I think those guys, you know, are reluctant to ever take anything off the table, ’cause once you’ve done it, it’s like, “Read my lips.” You know, and so once you’ve taken it off the table, then you’ve made a promise. But I understand your position, and I think it probably more than anything was a reluctance to make a promise about something that was that hypothetical, although I do respect Biden for it. I’m a big fan of his too.
JAY: When you say you grew up with Republican roots, when did the tree start growing in a different direction here?
DENTON: You know, I moved to Chicago, was there for about six or seven years, and then went to LA. And all my friends gave me a hard time about getting all-liberal when I went to LA. But I think what happens, you get exposed to different sides of topics, you know, you get exposed to different people, different kinds of people. You start to understand the battle that the gay and lesbian people fight in America because there are a lot in the acting community, which I didn’t run into in rural Tennessee. And so you become a little more sympathetic of that cause. We’re lucky that we make really good money for what we do in L.A., and you become a little more willing, a little more charitable, I think, and willing to pay a little more tax to help other people out. It’s a little different battle than I was finding in Tennessee. So I think it’s all those things combined. And it’s not an implication that people in the south are closed-minded; it’s just a different experience for me, and a way to say, you know what? We’re really making money now and it’s time, let’s spread it around. And part of that for my wife and me was, you know what? Maybe I’m wrong on, you know, let’s don’t pay any tax. Maybe it’s time to take care of other people. And that as much as anything was sort of what brought me not even to the middle, but all the way to Edwards, which is almost to Kucinich. Edwards keeps saying it’s time for Americans to be patriotic about something besides war, and I think it’s a great point. It’s time that people realized it’s a little bit of sacrifice. We can make a lot of changes. And that appealed to me too.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.