FPR Interviews – Jedediah Bila

Before speaking to a group of Fordham students last week, political pundit and author Jedediah Bila sat down with FPR editor Marisa Gomez to talk about her career, the 2016 elections, and women in politics.

Thank you so much for joining me today! It’s an honor to have this opportunity. First off, you seem very, very passionate about politics. It is especially evident in all of your tweets, which are often really funny too!

Thank you.

But, I wanted to know where your passion for politics came from.

My house was very political growing up. Everyone had a different opinion. My dad was more conservative. On different issues everyone stood in a different spot, but my aunt was very liberal. My grandparents were Democrats, so politics was something that frequently came up at the kitchen table a lot. I was exposed to a lot of different opinions very young, and I just learned really young to have an opinion, to really think about policy. I was looking at politicians, I remember, Reagan speeches and reviewing stuff and just having conversations around the dinner table that were heavily political.

From a young age I just loved that. And then in high school I had this amazing teacher. Her name is Ms. Garrity. She was a history teacher, and she was so passionate about history and politics that it just inspired me to have an opinion. I disagreed with her on almost everything, but it was a way for me to say, “You know what, this stuff is really important and it shapes the country.” I felt like it was my job to be informed about it and to try to be passionate about it and share that passion with other people. I always had it. I lost it a little bit in college and went a literary route, but it’s always been in there. If I have an opportunity to bring it out, it comes out and now, obviously in my job, that’s my lifestyle.

You were originally a teacher?

I was.

For how long?

I taught at a few different schools. I taught at a high school on Staten Island for a year and then I taught at a college on Staten Island, Wagner College, where I did my undergrad. I did a visiting lecturing position there for a year, and then I taught at a school called Birch Wathen Lenox on the upper side of Manhattan, where I was an academic dean and an academic advisor. I taught middle school, high school. I think I was there for six years — five, six years — I can’t even remember but around that, and that was a great experience. Teaching is such a hard job. Teachers need to be paid more money because it’s so time consuming and you’re working with kids, and it’s inspiring in so many ways, but it’s really a lot harder than people think it is.

How did you transition from being a teacher to a political reporter?

It’s actually a really funny story. I woke up one day, and I had had a conversation with a friend of my mom’s about voter fraud. He had been involved in a situation where he went to vote and they had him registered as having voted in Staten Island even though he had already moved to Florida. He didn’t vote in Staten Island, and we got into this whole conversation about voter fraud. I said, “You know what, I’m going to write about this.” So I wrote about it, stuck it on a blog post. For a couple of months I stuck some blog posts up, random places like Smart Girl Politics. I don’t even remember the other names of the locations.

Then I picked up Mark Levin’s book. Actually no, I had written an article also for Human Events I had submitted, and they took it. I was like, “Oh this is great.” I had picked up Mark Levin’s book, and I reviewed it, and he found it, and he started reading the review on air. I was like, “Oh my God, this is Mark Levin reading my review.” Somehow, he got to Sean Hannity [talk show host for the Fox News Channel] and said, “Stick this girl on TV.” They called me one day — I was teaching — and they were like, “Do you want to be on The Sean Hannity show?” I said, “Sure.”

That was just a few years ago, four or five years ago. It just blew up from there. I grew up in a performing arts house. My mom ran a performing arts studio out of our house for a while. I thought I wanted to get into acting, so camera work and all of that was familiar to me, but the idea of being political on television was something that I never thought about, ever in my life. I didn’t go to school for it. I went to school for Spanish literature. This was not part of the plan. I thank Sean Hannity. I’m like, Sean Hannity, you launched my career, and he’s like, “No, you launched your career,” and I’m like, “No, you launched my career.”

What would you say is your main focus, your main priority, as a reporter, especially in the political realm?

Two things: I aim to give people honesty and truth. I don’t come with talking points. I’ve never worked for a politician. I’m not from inside of DC. I aim to take the pulse of the nation and what I think regular people are feeling and present it on television. I want to be the voice of the people. That’s really important to me, and then I also aim to entertain because I come from an entertainment family. I realize that life is hard and politics is draining, so I want people to be able to laugh at the end of the day. I do a lot of Red Eye [with Tom Shillue]. It’s because we talk about serious things, but we’re also laughing — having fun —  and I think that when people turn their TVs on at night after they’ve gone through a long work day, and they’re exhausted, they don’t mind having a little something funny and entertaining thrown in the mix. I think it’s two-fold. Those are the two things that I hope I’m doing on a daily basis.

Seeing as you used to be a teacher, I’m sure you’re very interested in getting young people involved into politics.

Yes.

What do you think would be the key to that? What do you think are good ways that people should start addressing this issue?

You have to market to young people […] Young people get ignored by Republicans a lot. I feel that they feel ignored. They feel like Republicans don’t do outreach to them, so these candidates have to go to college campuses. They have to engage students. They have to talk about issues that students care about like privacy, especially all that stuff with the NSA.

You guys are plugged into your phones, and Twitter, and Facebook and Instagram, so this notion of government intervention in your private life is very, very important to you. I think the social issues are a little tricky too because the younger generations often times support gay marriage. You have to see where that generation that grew up in this time, with that wave and that movement, where they stand on these issues and present things in a way that they can understand and also be plugged into pop culture so you can make these references to shows they’re watching.

My favorite shows are Dance Moms and Naked and Afraid. I watch these shows that you guys watch so I can relate and I talk about it. That just makes young people feel like you’re in touch with what’s happening with music and the rest of it. I always say don’t hate on pop culture, infiltrate it and become part of it. It’s not easy, but I think if you don’t engage young people you’re done as a party because they are the future of the party.

Absolutely. Moving into the 2016 election …

Oh boy.

You are very vocal about it on Twitter, and I really appreciate that. On Oct. 13, during the Democratic debate, you said that Hillary was “in full on robot mode,” and seeing as Clinton is the front-runner for the Democrats and Trump for the Republicans, it’s not hard to notice the very stark differences between the way that the two present themselves. Do you think there is a way that’s better? Or do you feel that there needs to be a middle ground that neither of the front runners are presenting?

I think there needs to be a middle ground. I think Marco Rubio could potentially provide that middle ground, where he’s balanced and he’s composed and he has a great way of presenting things. I just wish he were a little more natural. He does sound a little rehearsed to me. Hillary sounds like a robot. She has a hard time connecting with people.

I think the key as a politician is to take a page out of Reagan’s playbook and really be unafraid to be yourself, to be funny, to be charming, and you can have all of those great policy ideas, but if you don’t present them in a way that’s engaging, no one’s listening to you. No one’s really going to take anything from what you’ve said.

On that stage, a lot of people just vanished. Ted Cruz is a great guy, but his delivery is not great. He sounds a little bit preachy. I think these guys and girls need a lesson in public relations more than politics. You’re selling a product. Policy is a product, and you have to sell it.

What’s appealing about Donald Trump is that he’s this no nonsense kind of guy. He says whatever he thinks. He doesn’t filter anything. Could that potentially be a problem, ultimately? Yeah. It could because you’re dealing with high profile leaders of other countries. You don’t want him going on Twitter and having a Twitter war with them. But there is something appealing about that. I think there is a fine line. Somewhere between a Marco Rubio and a Donald Trump is probably where the candidate should be in my opinion.

Do you think that either of these candidates, the two front runners, could lead the nation effectively or lead it in the best direction?

I think Hillary would probably be a continuation of what we have now. I don’t think much would really change. Is she an effective leader? I don’t like her policy, so I think it’s just going to be bigger government. It’s going to be more expansion of existing policy that’s not helpful.

Donald Trump — he’s been a successful business man. He certainly brings assets to the table. He’s tough. I do think he would be tough with the people you need to be tough with. I’m a little concerned about his foreign policy experience, but I do trust that he would nominate people around him that would have that expertise. Could he potentially be good leader? Yeah. Am I sure? No, but I would rather have a Donald Trump in the White House than a Hillary Clinton because the policy behind him I think … I think the people he would hire and the people he would rest on would be more in line with policy that would be better for the country. Are they my ideals? No, but I have faith.

Have faith in the American people?

I have faith though they’re not … I don’t have faith in Hillary Clinton, but I have faith in people to elect a Republican that will get the job done.

Do you have any advice for American voters when choosing a candidate this year, and maybe specific advice for Republicans because there are so many candidates? How to weed out and choose the right ones?

I would follow your instinct. I would look at their records, and I would really pay attention to the debate formats. Who has specificity to what they’re saying? One thing about Carly Fiorina that I really like is that she’s very specific. When you’re specific with people they feel confident that you’re someone that can get the job done. Marco Rubio [does too] — he brings a lot of specificity, details. He’s not afraid to say this is how he would handle this. When it comes to foreign policy he has a lot of details. Donald Trump concerns me because he’s very ambiguous, so I’m always left thinking, “Well what does that mean? What would you actually do if you were in office?” He’s very vague.

I would tell them, “Go with who when you sit in your couch and you have these conversations with your family, that you feel that you would really trust when these big decisions come into play.” In terms of the economy, “Who do you really think has their heart and their head in the right place, and why? Have they given you specifics as to what they’re going to do? Don’t just go based on, ‘Their delivery is great.’ Is their delivery great so that they can win — we want a candidate that can win — but what’s behind that delivery? Do you trust the specifics of their policy?”  

Just a last thing. I’ve noticed that you’ve just been such a positive role model on young women. I saw your no makeup picture and your encouragement of young women’s natural beauty.

I appreciate that.

I love that you’re influencing young women to speak out and to take a stand, whatever their stands are, and to know that they are beautiful. I noticed a lot of questions being asked on your Twitter, like “How do you stay so skinny?” Your responses are so genuine, “I just put the clothes on my body and whichever one fit …” I’m sure, coming from an education background, that’s been important for you, but I just want to say thank you for being such a positive role model.

Thank you. That’s important to me because I did some fashion work when I was younger in the modeling industry. I did some work in the acting business, and I know the kinds of pressures that are on young girls and these unrealistic expectations. When they look in magazines — none of that is real. Things get Photoshopped, and people don’t wake up looking … I don’t care what super model you are, you don’t wake up looking like that. The people in Victoria’s Secret — they’re stuffed often times, and it’s just not realistic.

I go out of my way to remind people: I don’t look like this when I wake up. My hair is piled on top of my head. I have to wipe the residue mascara off my face. I try to take workout pictures that don’t have all the glitz and glam just because I want young women to grow up feeling comfortable with themselves. It’s true.

People ask me all the time, “Do you diet?” I don’t do any plastic surgery. I don’t have hair extensions. I don’t do any of that stuff. I eat what I want to eat. I do exercise. I’m very into healthy living, but it’s true. You got to be yourself, and you’re never going to please everybody no matter what you do.

You could be the most gorgeous person by society’s standards. There’s still going to be someone that says you’re too skinny, you’re too fat, you’re too this. You got to just let it roll off you and be comfortable. That’s actually more important to me than any of the politics, making sure that young people know that it’s okay to be you. Just tell everyone else to take a walk.

Do you think in the coming years there will be more women running for office?

I do, and I wish I had a passion for that. Everyone says, “Why don’t you run for office?” I really love the television business, but I love that I get to be kooky and crazy. I’m your crazy personality girl, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I were running for president, but there are days that I sit back and I’m like, I could do this because I know what it takes to the win and I know I’m good with the delivery.

I do think there are a lot of amazing women out there that, once they feel like that door has been opened a little bit, I think it’s going to fly open. Carly Fiorina has been great for that and Hillary Clinton to her credit. She’s a female, and she’s very passionate about what she believes in. We may disagree, but she’s a tough cookie, so people who tend to agree with her can look to her and say, “This is someone I aspire to be like.” That’s okay. She doesn’t agree with me, but plenty of people don’t agree with me.

Well, thank you so much for your time this evening.

You’re welcome! Thank you for having me.

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