Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, April 1, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”
Salit: Charlie Rangel, a guest on “Meet the Press,” says that he encouraged Barack Obama to run for president.
Newman: He’s said this before?
Salit: Probably. But he fleshed it out today. He says he encouraged Obama to run for president and told him ‘You’re talented, you’re young, you’re very bright, you have a lot to give and you’ll always regret it if you don’t grab the moment and run.’ And, Rangel is supporting Hillary Clinton in the contest that he encouraged Obama to enter because Hillary’s got more experience and is more qualified to be president. Is this the move of an honest broker? Is this the move of a smart political player? Is it both?
Newman: Charlie thinks, and he’s probably right, that you can’t beat Hillary Clinton. And he can’t afford to come out a loser.
Salit: So he backs Hillary, while being encouraging of Obama.
Newman: I think that’s an honest play. He thinks that’s of help to the African American community. Barack Obama is very popular. He will get a bundle of votes. Hillary is, in his opinion, the winner. But she may not win by much.
Salit: In other words, Obama’s not going to make a fool of himself. So, Charlie can encourage him.
Newman: Right, he’s going to come in a solid second. That’s what Charlie figures. Obama could get 50% of the black vote.
Newman: Now, there still is a question of whether or not Hillary gets 50% plus 1.
Salit: In the general election.
Newman: Yes. In the general election. That’s still a question. But, I don’t think it’s any more of a question for Hillary than it is for Obama.
Salit: Well, I take it that Charlie thinks, given how important the black vote is in the Democratic primary, that even with Obama in the race, Hillary can perform well among black voters. Of course, included in that calculation, is that she has the support of black leaders like himself who’s not just reading things from a distance. He’s a player in the picture that he’s reading.
Newman: All she needs is 50%.
Salit: Of the black vote?
Newman: Yes. In this respect, Obama makes her situation more secure.
Salit: Because Obama, by and large takes the rest. They split the black vote. The black vote doesn’t splinter in the primary.
Newman: Well, there’s some other factors here. There’s John Edwards. But basically, I think it’s split. So, getting half the black vote is not bad for a white woman.
Salit: And, as we discussed in one of our recent conversations, what’s also important to Hillary is how she relates to black voters during the primaries, in terms of keeping that vote energized for the general election.
Newman: Yes. That’s the other side of the coin from whether Obama can get the black community mobilized for the general.
Salit: If he’s not the nominee, you mean.
Newman: And the answer is, I don’t think we know.
Salit: This item didn’t make it on to the shows this morning, but Jesse Jackson endorsed Obama this week. It was reported by the Associated Press, and because he has had a relationship with the Clintons, he was asked what this means for his relationship with the Clintons. And Jackson said, ‘Well basically I’ve had a relationship with them, but I don’t owe them anything,’ and he gave his support to Obama. Interestingly, the press is not following this story.
Newman: I think they’re waiting for Al Sharpton, which is remarkable because Sharpton has worked hard to establish himself as the dominant national black leader. This would have played very differently ten years ago.
Salit: So from the media’s vantage point, the Jackson endorsement is a sideshow to what Sharpton does.
Newman: What Sharpton has accomplished is becoming a player in the Democratic Party. Jackson’s more of a mobilizer than a player, if you take his total record into account.
Salit: Jackson got seven million votes in his second run for the Democratic nomination. Sharpton didn’t get anywhere close to that.
Newman: Jackson is a 60s-style mobilizer. He comes directly out of that tradition. But Sharpton is a smarter guy, in terms of playing internal Democratic Party politics.
Salit: So does the Jackson endorsement of Obama put heat on Sharpton?
Newman: I don’t know. Do you know?
Salit: I know that Sharpton has his event coming up in April, his National Action Network conference, and he’s looking to draw as many of the presidential candidates to that as he can. So, the likelihood of his making a public decision on what he’s going to do prior to that is virtually nil, because he wants to cultivate that role of power broker. He won’t support a candidate prior to that. If you look at Rangel, Jackson and Sharpton and their respective relationships to the Clintons, there are three interesting stories here. Rangel is very charming and kind of delightfully coy about the role that he played in recruiting Hillary to run for the Senate in New York, saying, ‘You know, I wouldn’t be so naïve to think that a conversation I had with her in Chicago is what got her into the game.’ But, nonetheless, he’s played the role of the central African American booster for her and for her career. Jackson has been an antagonist of the Clintons. Jackson, after all, was singled out by Bill Clinton in 1992 with the Sister Souljah incident, where Clinton used the platform of the Rainbow Coalition to attack and criticize Jackson by way of making his statement that he wasn’t going to be one of those white politicians who are dictated to by black “militants.” Sharpton is somewhere in the – I wouldn’t use the word “middle” exactly, because it’s not like a horizontal kind of thing, but he’s been both an antagonist of the Clintons and he’s taken care not to position himself as anti-Clinton. I suppose that’s a function of the political shrewdness that you’re attributing to him.
Newman: Yes. He’s also playing his cards – and always has – differently than Jackson.
Salit: The Capitol Hill confrontation over the firing of the U.S. Attorneys seems to be coming to more of a head; the call for Gonzales’ resignation or firing is getting more “mainstream.”
Newman: I think he has to resign. I don’t see how he doesn’t. Even if there was no perjury, there were too many mistakes.
Salit: Too many mistakes in the handling of the firings and when it started to become public, how he handled the response?
Newman: He had a relatively simple task. And it seems like Gonzales has turned it into a major debacle for no particular reason. Now, maybe there are underlying things that we don’t know about. But, it looks like it’s a botched job. And the major botcher – say what you want, he’s a nice guy, he’s the first Hispanic Attorney General, and all that’s true, maybe – but Gonzales just botched the job.
Salit: If you botch the job, you get fired.
Newman: You don’t go to jail, necessarily. But you get fired.
Salit: Another, perhaps more significant confrontation between Congress and the White House is the vote to impose an exit deadline for Iraq of March 2008, which passed very narrowly, but nonetheless passed both the House and the Senate.
Newman: And whatever gets sent up to the White House is going to get vetoed.
Salit: Right. On “The McLaughlin Group” Pat Buchanan says that Bush is going to win this one, because Bush is going to veto it, and then he’s going to say Let’s get serious, we need a no-pork version of this bill that gets me the 100 billion that I need to finance the war, so pass the damn thing and get it up to me. And that will happen, because ultimately there’s not a sufficient constituency for de-funding the war now.
Newman: Well, there is within the American public, but there isn’t in the Congress.
Salit: True. So Buchanan calls that a win for Bush and then Eleanor Clift says ‘Yes, and then Bush owns the war more than ever before.’
Newman: Impossible. How could he own it more than ever before? This is his war.
Salit: There’s been a little movement on the Middle East peace process. The Saudis recently convened an Arab summit in Riyadh. And the Israelis are inviting Arab leaders to Israel for a dialogue.
Newman: The prospects for peace still don’t look good right now, it seems to me.
Salit: Because the U.S. presence in Iraq makes the situation more inflamed rather than less inflamed?
Newman: The U.S. has made a lot of enemies. And nobody in the world right now, it seems to me, is interested in being forgiving.
Newman: There’s no forgiveness in the world today. No more. Everyone is playing hardball, including Washington. Will that ever change? Probably. Will it change before the U.S. presidential election? I don’t think so. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing, because the American people will have a role in deciding the next steps. But they’re not going to get there until ’08.
Salit: You said there’s no forgiveness. Everybody’s playing hardball. Do you think that’s also true of ordinary people, ordinary Iraqis and Iranians and Americans and Brits?
Newman: That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer. On the one hand, in the long haul, if there’s going to be any movement forward on these questions, there’s got to be some degree of forgiveness. On the other hand, it’s not clear where it’s going to come from. People are pretty pissed off – about things that happened a long time ago and about things that happened yesterday.
Salit: What’s going to lead to any degree of forgiveness at all?
Newman: Well, there could be a new figure who comes in who plays the international situation altogether differently. Maybe Bill Clinton becomes Secretary of State and is able to say to people, We messed up, but we’re still your richest ally. It could be said to a lot of players in the Middle East.
Salit: That’s got to count for something.
Newman: Bill would pose this question: Can we put together some kind of deal which serves you and serves the rest of the Middle East? Can we apologize for being overly aggressive and say we’re not going to make that mistake again? And you can probably believe it because the team that made the mistake has gone to hell, politically speaking. That is, if they have gone to hell. We’re not even considering a scenario here that has the Republicans winning.
Newman: Which is not out of the question, because after all, the Republican candidate hasn’t yet had their full shot at disassociating from Bush. But I don’t think it’s likely. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I don’t think it’s likely.
Salit: The Democrats believe they will win it in 2008.
Newman: They will, if they play it smart. So, I think those who are being relatively honest, probably figure that Hillary’s got a better chance at unraveling the international bind than Obama does. But you don’t know. There are endless other factors.
Salit: Thanks, Fred.