“So far, so good,” Jerry Springer says of his day. “I checked the obituaries. I’m not in ’em.” For our Election Issue, we called the 68-year-old who went from Northwestern law-school grad to Cincinnati politician to news anchor to host of a genre-defining daytime talk show (now in its 22nd season) to political pundit. Springer spoke from Atlantic City, where he was hosting the stage version of The Price Is Right.
You recently said that in your lifetime, until now, we’ve never had an election where we’re literally voting on the direction the country takes. But we hear that every four years.
I’m real conscious that that is always said. They’ve been incredibly critical elections in terms of war and peace, but none of those elections really had to do with what kind of country we’re gonna be. We’re either going to be a country where it’s every person for him or herself, or we recognize that the only way our free-enterprise system is gonna survive is if it has a government component to it. Look, we love capitalism. But every business exists to make a profit, so every business tries to cut expenses all the time. The private sector is working hard to hire as few people as possible. Government has to pick up the rest. This business of “government never creates jobs.” What?! Every single penny the government spends employs someone.
As a TV man, what did you make of Obama’s much-talked-about performance in the first debate?
I thought it was horrible, but he knows that. What angered me is that there were substantive answers to what was being thrown at him. The irony of this is if I were purely [about] what’s in my personal, selfish best interest, I’m wealthy, so Romney’s good for me. I just think he’s horrible for the country.
No Republican has won the presidency without Ohio. What do you think as a former Ohioan: Which way will the state go?
Obama wins Ohio. It’s close, but he wins. That’ll be the surprise. If Obama wins Ohio, it’s pretty hard to do the math and see Romney winning.
You wake up November 7 and Romney is President. Your first thought?
Sadness. And the tea party is then in charge of America and it’s back to the ’50s and we have to fight ’cause they’ll cut everything.
Your first thought if it’s Obama?
Thank God. And now we’ll know that all Americans will have health insurance. That was when I threw my shoe at the TV set in the first debate. [Laughs] Romney was saying, I will repeal Obamacare on day one but I will have a law which says that insurance companies cannot deny you coverage with a preexisting condition. Well, that is blatantly dishonest. If you didn’t have mandatory health insurance and you did have a law which says they can’t deny you the coverage, then no one would have health insurance until they got sick. Every insurance company would go broke.
You’ve said you play a character on your show. How is the man different from the character?
I’m like every other human being: You adapt to the role that you’re in at that time. My guess is that you act differently at a ball game than you do when you’re interviewing me. At the moment I’m onstage hosting a show about dysfunctional behavior, obviously it’s gonna be different than talking about what we should do about employment.
You’ve also said you wouldn’t watch the show yourself. Does it seem conflicting to produce something you wouldn’t—
I don’t produce the show, I don’t own the show. I agree to host it. And it’s not a show that I’d watch. That’s not aimed at 68-year-old men. It’s my job. I enjoy doing it. But it’s not my interest.
Yet you’ve described it as a “stupid show,” “trivial,” “chewing gum.” It’s interesting to devote two decades of your life to—
You say devote, but I do three shows on Monday and two on Tuesday. If someone came to you and said, What if you could do this just two days a week and then you can do anything you want in your life, do good things, you really are gonna say no to that?
For how much?
Well, there you go. [Laughs]
You called being the mayor of Cincinnati the best and most important job you’ve ever had, and you’ve been described as a political prodigy early in your career. Do you miss that?
Sure, of course I miss doing that. No one should feel sorry for me. I’ve been so lucky. I have no particular talent, and I’ve got this wonderful, privileged life. I work hard, but a lot of people work hard and don’t get the life I get.
You were born in a London bomb shelter; your relatives were killed in concentration camps. How did that shape you?
It certainly accounts for my liberalism. Mom and Dad made it through, but no one else in the family did. They were all exterminated. That liberalism comes because 6 million people were exterminated simply because of what they were. And that teaches you instinctively, you never judge someone based on what they are. You only judge people based on what they do.