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The Author Speaks

Tom Brokaw on 'The Time of Our Lives'

The veteran broadcaster weighs in on Social Security, Medicare, being a grandparent and news today

Q. And in World War II the country was mostly pulling together.

A. There's no question about that. There were a few people who didn't like the idea of going to war, but then they quickly got it after Pearl Harbor. And everybody made sacrifices: People saved their money, everybody was in on it.

We've become much more self-absorbed. Just take the current [economic] debate about who's going to give up what. Some sacrifice is going to have to be made. And people are going to have to step up to it.

Q. What do you think should be done with Social Security and Medicare?

A. We know what the arithmetic is. How do we deal with [the cost] in a way that it doesn't overrun us? We got in trouble in part because we didn't manage the excesses. [Now], it's just as critical that we carefully manage how we reorganize all that. And not just go in there with a broad ax and start cutting things without thinking about the consequences.

Q. What about means testing for the entitlement programs?

A. It's tough, but there are choices we're going to have to make. Medicare began, as I say in the book, to take care of people like my grandmother who was living on Social Security and didn't have any other protection. She was a survivor of the Depression. And she needed some underpinning at the end stage of her life.

Q. Medicare is more ambitious today.

A. Now it's such a massive program that covers so many areas and it's so uneven in its application. You know the numbers about how much a Medicare patient in Oregon or North Dakota costs versus a Medicare patient in Southern California or mid-Florida. It's a big swing. We have to get it more structured.

I do believe there should be more means testing. It doesn't make sense for me personally, given the good fortune I've had in terms of income, that I have the same benefits as my brother who's a retired telephone company crew worker, or my other brother who was a restaurant host and in the real estate business. I should be able to pay some more and have a different menu of choices.

Q. So how could means testing work?

A. There would be a base system to take care of fundamental needs, and if you wanted additional help you would be paying more for it. President George W. Bush, well intentioned, had prescription drug coverage benefits added to Medicare. We're in a trillion-dollar deficit [now]. We just can't keep adding on without people having to pay for it.

Q. And Social Security?

A. I think it's just a no-brainer to raise the retirement age. Look, I'm 71 years old, I'm working, I'm in the prime of my life in many ways. I was with some friends recently whom I went to high school with. They're successful lawyers and physicians and university administrators and businessmen, and all of us are still very active. We were back in our hometown [Yankton, S.D.]. I said, When we were growing up here how many men did you know who were 71 or 72? And we couldn't think of anybody! But here we are in our 70s and still pedaling hard.

Q. Are you ever tempted to stop working? Do you think about that?

A. No. The fact is, I do work hard when I work, but I work on my own terms. I get to pick and choose [what I do]. Next week, I'm going pheasant-hunting in South Dakota. It's an annual ritual for me. And then I'm going to go out on this book tour for a while. I had a great summer: I worked very hard, I edited three documentaries, and yet I spent a lot of time fishing and traveling. So my guess is that I'll keep this checkerboard going as long as I possibly can.

Next: Will the format of evening news change in the future? >>

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