MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, after the tragedy and the tributes, what now?
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.
MR. GREGORY: A national conversation under way about political discourse, mental illness, and gun safety. What can Washington do to prevent anything like this from happening again? Joining us this morning to discuss how Tucson might change the debate, the senior senator from New York, Democrat Charles Schumer, and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma.
Then out of the madness of Arizona, is this the moment when civility makes a comeback in politics? Is this the game changer in political attitudes that 9/11 was to our attitudes about security? Our special roundtable examines those questions and more, including the pattern of
political attack and counterattack in the wake of the shootings.
MS. SARAH PALIN: Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.
MR. GREGORY: With us this morning, the Reverend Al Sharpton; chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver; columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks; and columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Some good news from Arizona this morning as doctors at University Medical Center were able to remove Congresswoman Gabby Giffords from a ventilator yesterday, meaning she is now able to breathe on her own. Remarkable progress just one week after the tragedy in Tucson. She remains, however, in critical condition. Doctors were also
able to release one other injured patient, leaving just two other victims, besides the congresswoman, who are still in the hospital.
Joining us here now is a close friend to the congresswoman, Democratic senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand.
Welcome, it's so nice to have you here. What can you tell us about how she's doing?
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Well, she's doing great. And I talked to her husband, Mark, last night, and she is making progress. And if there's anyone in the world that will recover fully from this kind of crime and just unbelievable injury, it's her. She's got courage, she's got drive, she's got spirit. And I really think her courage is inspiring all of us right now.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about her condition. You two, of course, good friends dating back to when she and you came into the Congress. Has she actually been able to speak?
SEN. GILLIBRAND: No. No. It's far too early for that. But she's making progress every day. She's using both sides of her body. She's able to breathe on her own. She's able to open her eyes and to show people she understands what she's hearing and seeing. So she's really--it's an extraordinary amount of progress for a woman who sustained such a horrific injury that she did.
MR. GREGORY: There was an incredible moment during the memorial service this week when the president, who had visited with the congresswoman when you were in the room as well, spoke about a big development when she opened her eyes. This is how he described it.
PRES. OBAMA: A few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues for--from Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.
MR. GREGORY: Describe what that, what that moment was like.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, the moment the president said that? The room...
MR. GREGORY: Being in the room.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, I'll do both. When the president said that, the room erupted because these are her constituents. They love her. They're seeing her recovery as, as a story of, of triumph over terrible, terrible happenings. And so she's really someone who, because of her courage and strength, she can overcome this. Now, being in the room at the time was an extraordinary moment, a moment you really can't imagine. But it literally was the will of her husband drawing her out, saying, "Can you see? Can you see? Can you open your eyes? Can you see me?" And she let him know by giving, giving him a thumbs up that she could see and that she could actually understand what he was saying. And it was an extraordinary moment because it was all about her courage and her strength.
MR. GREGORY: What, what sense do you have being in the room and with her husband, Mark, who's been such a tower of strength through this, that she has a sense of what's happening around her in this outpouring for her?
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well, just when Debbie Wasserman Schultz and I were there with Speaker Pelosi, and we were--I was holding her hand and I would say something, and she would squeeze my hand, it was very clear to us that she understood everything we were saying. And you know, she's--someone--she's a fighter. She's just fighting. She will overcome this, and, and I think we can all take a lesson from her because, you know, Gabby's one of the most nonpartisan people I've ever met. She's someone who truly epitomizes everything the president said in his speech where he's saying, "We as a nation need to be better than we are. We need to live up to the, the image and the, the view of democracy that our children have." That's who Gabby is. And she comes to public service with the goal of just helping people and bringing people together. And so I think she really is someone that we can all look to as she struggles through this because of her drive, because of her courage. We can all
take from her strength and hopefully, as ourselves, be better than we are.
MR. GREGORY: She, she would certainly be a voice in this conversation here as we move forward.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Very much so. And, and she was even before this incident.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: She was somebody who called us all to, you know, have a better discourse, to respect each other's positions. And we have tough issues. There are so many difficult issues right now. We have an economy that's still suffering. Being so close to a 10 percent
unemployment rate doesn't tell the story. I mean, in New York, families are suffering. They really are having a tough time making ends meet. And so we have to, as leaders, as a body of government, come together and do the people's business. That's what the election was about. The election was about a demand by Americans to say, "We need you to put these partisan politics aside. We need you to get the people's business done. We need you to fight for solutions because, you know, we are suffering." Small businesses are still having difficulty growing. We're still having difficulty creating the jobs that are necessary to grow us
out of this tough economy. And so that's what we're called to do. And I just think Gabby's story is one that certainly inspires me and can inspire all of us.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Gillibrand, thank you very much for updating this morning. We really appreciate it. We look forward to having you back.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Thank you.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Joining us now, the chair of the Democratic Policy Committee in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, and Republican senator from Oklahoma, Tom Goburn--Coburn, rather.
Welcome to both of you. Well, Congress gets back to business this week, back to the agenda. But there's going to be a new piece. On the cover of The Week magazine, kind of summed up where this debate may be going, "Locked and loaded: Guns, politics, and the Tucson tragedy."
And I want to read, Senator Schumer, something that the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said in the wake of the Tucson shootings. I'll put it up on the screen. "Enough is Enough! Tucson Shooter, Arizona New Faces of Weak Gun Laws. The 22-year-old shooter in Tucson was not allowed to enlist in the military, was asked to leave school, was considered `very disturbed' (according to former classmates), but" that does not--"that's not enough to keep someone from legally buying as many guns as they want in America...Arizona is one of only three states that allow residents to carry loaded, hidden guns with background--without background checks. Arizona recently weakened its laws to allow guns in bars. In addition, if Congress had not allowed the "Assault Weapons Ban" to expire in" '04, "the shooter would only have been able to get off 10 rounds without reloading. Instead, he was able
to fire at least 20 rounds from his 30-round clip."
Senator Schumer, must government do more on gun safety in the wake of this tragedy?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Well, I think so. But first let me say that I certainly agree. I want to begin this on the same note that your last interview with Senator Gillibrand ended. We should all be--we believe in discourse in America, and spirited discourse, but we have to keep it civil. And I think that Tom Coburn and I are good examples. We've worked together on legislation that we've disagreed with, the 9/11 bill, which passed. It had to be changed, but it passed. And even on the issue of guns, earlier on, several years ago, we worked together on trying to tighten up the record system so that if you were adjudicated mentally ill, you couldn't buy a gun. So I think we can make progress. And let me say this on guns. There, there are certain things that can be done that are--that don't even require legislation. After Jared Loughner was interviewed by the military, he was rejected from the Army because of excessive drug use. Now, by law, by law that's on the books, he should not have been allowed to buy a gun. But the law doesn't require the military to notify the FBI about that, and in this case they didn't. So I--this morning I'm writing the administration and urging that that be done, That the military notify the FBI when someone is rejected from the military for excessive drug use and that be added to the FBI database.
MR. GREGORY: What about the number of rounds, Senator Coburn, the ammunition clips? There are lawmakers who have already introduced legislation that would limit those the way the assault weapons ban did. Is that where the debate ought to go?
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): I don't think so. You know, I, I think we're missing a bigger, a bigger problem. We have an obviously unstable person who, multiple times in encounters in different levels in our society, people worried about. He was pushed back, rather than somebody intervening and helping this individual. And so what we need to be--make sure that we fix the right problem here, and one of them is mental health, and, and how do we put our hands around people who are so disturbed. If you read all the reports on Jared Loughner, it is almost every encounter he had with people, people were concerned about him.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. COBURN: And yet nobody grabbed hold of this young individual and said, "You need to be helped. You need to be taken under care." And then had he been, he would've been reported and never been able to buy a gun.
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's the question, though. The reporting aspect of this, Senator Schumer, you just talked about it. Even the community college in Tucson, Pima County--Pima Community College, they recognized a mental health problem. They saw it as a problem for their community, and they discharged him from the school. They kicked him out of the school.
But then there isn't a follow-up for the broader community that would then lead a gun store to ask some follow-up questions, to connect the dots.
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. I think there are three areas we can look at, and there's a possibility we could get bipartisan cooperation on these. The first is, as you mentioned, looking at the laws of somebody who is mentally ill, who is clearly disturbed, in terms of them getting a gun.
And as I said, a few years ago a mentally ill person--someone adjudicated mentally ill, that's a little different than in Loughner's case--shot a priest and a parishioner of a parish on Long Island, and we tightened up the law. The--we worked with the NRA, actually, Tom Coburn was involved, and the law's tighter now and better. But probably this is an area we need to explore. Second, the military notifying people who are rejected because of excessive drug abuse. And my belief on the clips, I was the author of the law in the House, Senator Feinstein in the Senate, to limit the clips to 10. I think we--I spoke with Senator Feinstein this week--she's recuperating from surgery, minor surgery--and we're going to look at that again. In the meantime, Senators Lautenberg, Congresswoman McCarthy have introduced a bill in that regard, and I hope that might move.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, I have to say, I detect some caution from you on this, that it might be the right direction, but you don't really expect much traction here. It's not...
SEN. SCHUMER: Well...
MR. GREGORY: ...the normal enthusiasm I would expect from you on this issue.
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, look, twofold. First, we want to be civil in the debate, so we're making every effort here. Second--and respecting somebody's views who are different than ours. Second, look, let's, let's be honest here, there haven't been the votes in the Congress for gun
control. We've had some victories, the mental illness bill that I mentioned. There was a proposal by Senator Thune that said if you were--had a concealed carry permit in one state, you could use--you could walk into another state. So laws like Arizona, someone could buy one there and come into New York and not even notify the police. That was defeated. But make no mistake about it, the changes are hard.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. SCHUMER: Senator Feinstein tried to bring the assault weapons ban back on the floor and it didn't pass.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
SEN. SCHUMER: So we're looking for things where we can maybe find some common ground and get something done.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Coburn, look, the politics are tough on this. And Senator Schumer reflects it because Democrats know it's a difficult fight. Look at the public attitudes about stricter gun control measures just since 1990, at that point. We have a graph we can show you. Seventy-eight percent favored it, down to 44 percent in 2010. That being the case, even as a supporter of gun rights, as Congresswoman Giffords is, can you not look at, at areas of access to weapons, but also looking at limiting the scope by these magazine clips and say there may be something that's common sense here?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I--again, I would tell you that--let's say you pass that. If, if you have somebody that is a criminal, that wants to get around the law, they're going to get around the law. The problem with gun laws is they limit the ability to defend yourself, one. But number
two is, the people who are going to commit a crime or going to do something crazy aren't going to pay attention to the laws in the first place. And there's numerous examples over the last few years where concealed carry has, in fact, benefited people, especially in, for example, in Colorado Springs, where a individual with a concealed carry stopped somebody who was going to kill multiple people in a church, and, and, and wounded them so that they could not continue to do that. So it's a controversial issue.
The fact is, I'd go back--let's fix the real problem. Here's a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that shouldn't have had access to a gun. Now, what is the--how do we stop that? And, and there's a hole in what we need to do. And I'm willing to work with Senator Schumer and anybody else that wants to make sure people who are mentally ill cannot get and use a gun.
MR. GREGORY: Just one more on this, Senator Schumer. What about the security aspect of that, and self-defense? I mean, there are members of Congress and the House who have said when they go out to similar kinds of constituent meetings, they're going to bring a gun. And it was former member DeLay said this week on "Hardball" on MSNBC he'd be happy with people with concealed weapons, so that anyone who wants to try something would understand that they're going to defend themselves. Is that the appropriate response?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. There is a right to bear arms. It's in the Constitution, and you can't ignore it, just like you can't ignore the others. But like all the other rights, it's not absolute. First Amendment, you can't--we have laws against pornography, you can't
scream "fire" falsely in a crowded theater. And there should be limits on gun laws, as well, that still protect the individual's right to bear arms.
And just one point about your little survey that showed that the support went down. One of the reasons is because of the success of gun control laws. The Brady Law has been a huge success. Gun violence went down, the number of people killed by criminals who have guns has declined. And so to me, it's a vindication that smart, rational gun control laws that protect the right to bear arms but have reasonable limits are the way to go.
MR. GREGORY: I want to talk about a few agenda items for Congress getting back to session. But I do want to ask about political discourse and where this conversation should go. Ron Brownstein writes in his column in the National Journal this week, a column that's entitled
"Apocalypse Always." And here's a point that he makes in conclusion of the piece: "When political arguments are routinely framed as threats to America's fundamental character, the odds rise that the most disturbed among us will be tempted to resist the governing agenda by any means necessary."
Is that the real problem, Senator Coburn? Is a description of political discourse and political disagreement as being apocalyptic, having such huge consequence for the direction of the country?
SEN. COBURN: I, I think that's a false premise totally. Everybody has tried in the media--I, I've pretty well been disgusted with all the media, right and left, after this episode, because what it does is it raises and says that there's a connection. And the president rightly
said, there was no connection to this...
MR. GREGORY: But that, but that's not what the...
SEN. COBURN: ...the political discourse to this event.
MR. GREGORY: That's, that's not the premise here.
SEN. COBURN: No, what he said was...
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Coburn, you, you know as well as I do that there are people--and it is true that it's very often on the right--who describe President Obama as somehow an outsider who's trying to usher in a system that will do two things, that will injure America and deny them of their liberty. Do you condemn that belief...
SEN. COBURN: Again...
MR. GREGORY: ...and try to reject it? I'm not making a sweeping generalization. I'm certainly not tying it to the event. That in and of itself is a strain of thought, is it not?
SEN. COBURN: Well, the--there's no question there's--there's all sorts of strains of thought. The, the, the problem I have with the premise, David, is that we're disconnecting what the real problems are in our country. And we're spending all this time talking about political discourse rather than talking about the real risk to our country, which we need to quit paying attention to what all the media says. We need to start watching, as Chuck Schumer has said, what we say.
MR. GREGORY: OK, but, Senator Coburn, it's fine...
SEN. COBURN: And what we say...
MR. GREGORY: Hey, it's fine to take on the media, and, and a lot of people would support you in that. That's fine. But I asked you a very specific question. Do you reject those who believe that the president wants to injure the country, and that will, that will deny Americans'
liberty? And do you think violent metaphor of any kind is simply over the line in political discourse?
SEN. COBURN: Of course I reject that. But the point is, is we're spending all this time talking about something that it--has nothing to do with the events, and what the real problems are, we're not spending time working on it.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, is that a fair fact? Are--do you agree...
SEN. COBURN: And, and the fact is, is that we're going broke.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Coburn says this is a false premise that I've introduced?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. I think that, you know, violent discourse in political life--right, left or center--is wrong and should be rejected. But I do think we, as elected officials, have an obligation to try and tone that down. And if we tone it down, then maybe the media
will be less vociferous.
Let me give you one example. My colleague Senator Mark Udall called for Democrats and Republicans to sit together at the State of the Union. I called up Tom after he did that, and he graciously agreed, we're going to sit together Wednesday night at the State of the Union, and we hope that many others will follow us. Now, that's symbolic, but maybe it just sets
a tone and everything gets a little bit more civil. We believe in discourse in America. We believe in strenuous discourse. We don't sweep differences under the rug. Tom and I have real differences. But we can do it civilly. I will say, to Tom's credit, we have disagreed on a whole lot of stuff, but he's always been civil, he's always been a gentleman. And that's an example that people should follow--politicians and the media.
MR. GREGORY: So, Senator Coburn, about sitting together, assuming you're on board with that as well, that is symbolic. But then what, what message do you hope that sends? And how do, how do you make this a moment that transcends this particular time when everybody's got
Congresswoman Giffords on the top of their mind?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think the key, David, is people go back to motive. And what we can't question is our president's love for our country, Chuck Schumer's love for our country. And, and where we get in trouble is when we start looking at motives rather than differences of ideology. And, and I think where we've had problems in the Senate, it's been small, but
the fact is, is that always comes about under--when people are questioning their motives. I think the people in the Senate love this country. We have vast differences in how we believe what will be the best course for our country. But I believe the question of motives is
something that ought to be set aside. We don't have the Lincoln-Douglas debate. Some of the problems in our country is, is we talk past each other, not to each other. And Chuck and I have been able to work on multiple bills because we sit down, one on one, and work things out. And what we need to do is have more of that, not less of it.
MR. GREGORY: Can I just ask you both--we just have about a minute left. I just want to get a couple of issues in here and get your comment on them.
SEN. SCHUMER: In one minute.
MR. GREGORY: Well, about a minute. I'm just trying to say a little bit briefer here. As the agenda moves forward, there is healthcare repeal that's on the agenda in the House.
Senator Coburn, Harry Reid has said this is an exercise in futility. You're a doctor. Of course you've paid careful attention to this. If repeal is not possible, what change do you think can reasonably made--be reasonably made to healthcare reform?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think we ought to try to repeal it because we ought to build a basis of that we've gone in the wrong direction to solve the real problems in health care. The real problems in health care is it costs too much. And what we've done is expanded the coverage but haven't worked on the cost. And we haven't allowed any market forces to do it. So I, I, I--even though Senator Reid says it's not going to get a hearing in the Senate or get to the Senate floor, the fact is, is we--we're not through with the debate on health care in this country because I think we've gone--as a practicing physician--we've lessened the impact between doctors and patients with this bill. And the most personal of things in the country is going to be taken over and managed to a degree that should never be, by those that are not involved in the doctor/patient relationship.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, do you...
SEN. COBURN: So my hope is, is that the debate will be good for us.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, do you think there can be an amendment, some kind of change to healthcare reform?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. First, we welcome, in a certain sense, their attempt to repeal it because it gives us a second chance to make a first impression. There are so many good things in the bill: the donut hole; the fact that insurance companies, which just can just say you didn't dot the I or cross the T, kick you off; annual checkups for senior citizens, which save billions. Dr. Coburn knows how important preventive medicine is. And so many other things that didn't get a real airing during the sturm und drang of the debate will now get one. And so--and there are some changes we can work on together. Repealing the 1099 provision, which puts too big a burden on small, on small business. And what Dr. Coburn said, getting rid of--there's still--the bill did a good job, but it can get further in getting rid of the duplication, the inefficiencies in the system. We have the best healthcare system in the world and the most inefficient. And if we can work together on cutting those costs without damaging the good health care that people get, that's an area for bipartisan agreement, I think.
MR. GREGORY: All right, final question here about what Eric Cantor in the House, a Republican leader, called "a leverage moment" for the Republicans on the debt ceiling. It has to be raised. We have to keep borrowing money even though we're so deep in debt.
Republicans, Senator Schumer, want to exact a promise on a certain amount of spending cuts before they vote to raise that ceiling. Do you think that agreement can be reached?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, first, I think using the threat of not renewing the debt ceiling is like playing with fire. If we didn't renew the debt ceiling, our soldiers and veterans wouldn't be paid, Social Security checks wouldn't go out, and worst of all, we might permanently threaten
confidence of the credit markets in the dollar, which could create a recession worse than the one we have now, or even a depression. So that is playing with fire. And I was glad to see that both Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor said they're not going to use that as a threat.
We are going to have to come together on spending. There is no question about it. And we Democrats agree there ought to be spending cuts. In the appropriation that came up last year, late last year, the McCaskill-Sessions proposal, bipartisan, to cut spending considerably
lower than was originally proposed in the budget was supported.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
SEN. SCHUMER: But you can't just do it willy nilly across the board. There are some things that changed since 2008 and need to be funded.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Coburn, does it have to be a specific amount in cuts before you vote to raise the ceiling?
SEN. COBURN: I think, for me, it does. I've had conversations with the president. Look, the debt ceiling, we had warnings last week from the rating agencies that we're going to get a downgrade in our bonds. A debt ceiling non-increase is nothing compared to what's going to happen to us if we don't address the real issues facing our country. A CBS poll out this morning, 77 percent of the people in this country believe we need to cut the spending significantly. Only 9 percent say we need to raise taxes. The fact is, is I believe the president and the bipartisan majority in both Houses know that we can come together before the debt ceiling and reach an agreement that says, "Here's where we're going to be, and here's what we must do to send a signal to the international financial community." If, in fact, we don't raise the debt ceiling, that won't be near the catastrophe that if, in fact, the, the, the bond
vigilantes come after the U.S. government bonds in the next two to three years.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
SEN. COBURN: We will have such bigger pain than not raising the debt limit.
MR. GREGORY: I will leave, make that the last word. Senators, thank you both very much.
And coming up...
SEN. COBURN: Good to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: ...more of the state of political discourse in this country. Might we see a return to civility in Arizona as Congress gets back to business on several highly divisive debates? This morning on our roundtable: the Reverend Al Sharpton; chairman of the Special Olympics,
Tim Shriver; from The New York Times, David Brooks; and from The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, could the events in Arizona change our attitudes about security and civility in politics. Our special roundtable weighs in, right after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: And joining me now, our roundtable: chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver; columnist with The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan; for The New York Times, columnist David Brooks; and president of the National Action Network, the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Welcome to all of you.
Well, where do we go from here? After Arizona, David Brooks, the conversation is still a national conversation, but there is the question of where it goes. I had the gun control conversation with the two senators, and there's--I, I detected a--quite a bit of caution about
whether this is really the debate that moves forward.
MR. DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I'm not sure that's where the progress is going to be made. Listen, you never underestimate the power of a great speech. We had the sturm und drang, we had the fighting earlier in the week. Obama brought the country together. But as the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous know, you've got to fake it before you can make it. Behavior is what leads to change in attitudes. So we've got to change our behavior. And how do you do that? Basically, we need the president to put forth an agenda that you can work on together.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROOKS: And I think there are a lot of things in that agenda that's possible. If he did a big tax reform thing, Republicans and Democrats could have a conversation. A way to change the budget so we invest more in productive things and less on unproductive things. That starts a conversation. And then if you get the people actually talking together, then I think it could lead to something. But you do need to change the agenda, not just the words.
MR. GREGORY: Peggy Noonan, leadership moments often occur in big addresses like this.
MS. PEGGY NOONAN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: You writing for, for President Reagan during the Challenger disaster. And here was a portion of what the president talked about in terms of how we talk to one another when we fiercely disagree. Let's show a portion of that.
PRES. OBAMA: At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that, that heals, not in a way that wounds.
MR. GREGORY: And it is interesting because what we were doing in the immediate aftermath of this was some people were engaging in exactly that, conversation that was wounding and was not healing.
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: What did the president accomplish?
MS. NOONAN: Well, at that exact moment, he took the air out of the finger pointing and blame gaming, and "This happened because you said this," and "You set a tone of that." He took that air out of all that. He made it, in a way, yesterday's story. That was a good thing. At the
same time, as a president, as a political leader of a great nation, you cannot often enough remind people that, especially in the technologically wired world we have, it all gets too hot out there.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. NOONAN: You've got to cool it. You've got to calm down. We have huge disagreements in this country. If we stick to the facts and show respect, the right side probably will win. Cool it. It was a great message.
MR. GREGORY: Reverend Al, there, there's also the conversation about mental illness that has to be part of where we go from here, bringing it out of the shadows in a way where there can be some follow-up, where there can be a broader sense of community. I use the example of the community college seemingly doing the right thing for that community and getting rid of Jared Loughner after he'd done a number of things to be both mentally unstable and violent on campus and talk about violence. But where do we go beyond that to get to a place where he can't then just walk into a gun store and not have questions asked of him?
REV. AL SHARPTON: I think that's where we're going to have to start dealing with the sober reality of how we govern. Yes, I think the president made a great speech. I think he more than rose to the occasion. But the devil is going to be in the details. How do we build a governing way--mechanism to where what the community college detected is translated to those in the federal and state criminal justice system to really watch this guy or deny him a gun license? I also think what was said by David is that, now what are the policies we can unite around? I'd like to see the country come together on education. I mean, last time I was here, Newt Gingrich and I were here on education. So I don't want to just see people sit together at the State of the Union. That's great symbolism. I want them to, while they're sitting together, say, "We can do this together. We can bring education reform about in this
country because there's still a huge gap. We can deal with tax reform." So if we just sit together and say kumbayah for one moment and then walk out and have the same kind of never coming together on policy. And I don't minimize there are huge differences.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REV. SHARPTON: But there's got to be common ground that we seek, and I hope that's what we use this moment for.
MR. GREGORY: Tim, Tim Shriver, I want--I'm conflating a couple of issues here, the mental illness discussion, but also this leadership piece because it matters in terms of not making this simply pabulum about working together and kumbayah, but something real. You were quoted by Tom Friedman in a column during the oil crisis in a way that was telling and, I think, applicable here. And we'll put that on the screen. You said, "Obama is not just our super-disaster-coordinator. `He is our leader,' noted Tim Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics. `And being a leader means telling the rest of us what's our job, what do we need to do to make this a transformative moment.'" And that's what struck me about this speech. Through the prism of this, this wonderful girl, Christina Green, and the idea that what she expects us to be is what we have to now be. Making the political system get to a place where it's not now, that he can actually call people out. Is there something that--real about that?
MR. TIM SHRIVER: Well, I think, I think what everybody's saying is right. I think the policy issues are really serious and profound, and there are great details there to be found. But I think Peggy's making this point that there was a moment of change there where, where the
dialogue changes from being acrimony and name calling to something larger, to the call for unity, to frankly, what got the president elected.
There are so many Americans who are disengaged from the public policy world that no change in public policy will engage them. But they're asking to be called to a larger purpose. They're asking to be called to play a larger role in their future. They're asking, they're begging--50
percent of our young people report being chronically disengaged from school; not attached to any institution, not attached to any group, not attached to any purpose larger than themselves. This, this horrible young man was one of them. We shouldn't, however, identify him as the only problem. The problem is that the country is hungry to be challenged, to be engaged. What the president did was open the door for that challenge to be heard and open the doors of our hearts, frankly, to be responsive to that challenge when he, when he inspires us to, to do so.
MR. GREGORY: You know, I want to--John McCain, Peggy, has an op-ed out this morning that's really interesting in terms of setting this tone. On, on one hand he defends Sarah Palin, who he thought was unjustly attacked, somehow connected to this without any evidence, which was true in the early days out of all this. But I want to put the rest of what he, he wrote, a portion of it, as he's trying to have this conversation as well. "I disagree with many of the president's policies," he writes, "but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America...And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support him. Our
political discourse," he writes, "should be more civil than it" is currently," and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times...from committing rhetorical excesses
that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate." That's an important point.
MS. NOONAN: Hear, hear. It's important, and that, too, can't be, be said often enough. People need to be reminded. We live in a world where somebody on a comment thread on the Internet says, "That guy's a son of a gun." Somebody answers, "He's worse than a son of a gun. He's a murderer." And somebody else answers, "He's worse than a murderer. He's
a mass murderer." We're all living in a culture now where everybody's hepping up everybody else in a way. So you can't say that enough. Could I add something about the angle, vulgar word of, of mental illness. I happen to think the American people in general are not worried at night about the low level of civil discourse and political discourse in the United States. They're worried about the Jared Loughners. They are seeing their culture produce more of these, as Timothy says, aimless young people, sick young people. Nobody feels free to move towards them and say, "We've got to subdue you," because of our beautiful love of freedom and our fear of being sued and our fear of working inadequately.
MR. GREGORY: What--right. And, David, you brought that up this week. One of the questions in your columns is we--how do we address the idea that some people need involuntary treatment. We have to be...
MS. NOONAN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: And Arizona has the ability to do that. Anybody can call up and say this person needs a mental health examination. Where are you on that piece of it?
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. First, there are alienated kids who are here...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: ...and then there are mentally ill kids who are here. And we, for about 30, 40 years, have that--have had a bipartisan, really initiated by Ronald Reagan, among others, policy of saying, "People are in charge of their own lives. We're going to get you out of
institutions. You're in charge of your own life." The problem is, there are a number of people who don't have the facility to understand their own lives and make those decisions. And we've sent them out on the streets where a lot of them are homeless. We've sent a lot of them to
jail where a lot of them are victims of violence or committing violence. And so they're just floating out there. And so what we have to do is rein back that policy and say, "People who are mentally ill are not violent by and large." People who are receiving treatment are not
violent. It's a small minority, and we have to be able to have authorities that we're going to trust that are going to put community safety over some individual freedom and say, "We are going to commit you."
MS. NOONAN: Oh.
MR. BROOKS: "We're going to make you take your meds even if you don't want to."
MS. NOONAN: Whoa, I'm getting in here.
MR. BROOKS: Now that's going to raise some hackles.
MS. NOONAN: Could I say quickly, go--sorry, very quickly. Part of the theory behind the policy you speak of was in the psychiatric community and the professional care community. There were suddenly in the '70s and '80s this theory that those we call insane are not really insane, they are the sanest critiquers of an incoherent society around us. It was crazy. It did a lot of harm. It allows people to be on the street who shouldn't be.
REV. SHARPTON: Can I...
MS. NOONAN: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
MR. SHRIVER: The problem with...
MR. GREGORY: Tim and then the Reverend. Go ahead.
MR. SHRIVER: Deinstitutionalization was the right thing to do. What it depends on and what it counts on is community support. It does not just count on community security. Obviously, security is, is critical, particularly for this very small number of people who have the risk of
enormous violence. But what we don't have is the community supports that were designed to accompany the institutionalization for people with illness, for people with disability. They still feel alone. They still feel that they don't belong. In general, they don't feel supported by their communities. People look at them and walk the other way. They cross the street. We're not educating kids to understand them. We're not educating kids--even asking kids in their own schools to reach out and form friendships, to reach across the aisle to someone with a disability or with an illness and be a buddy, be a mentor, understand differences. So we have really done the right thing on deinstitutionalization and done exactly the wrong thing on building the kinds of community supports that are necessary.
MR. BROOKS: And I hear you say that. But would you say with Loughner, at some point somebody's going to have to say, "I'm sorry, you're going to have to take the--we're going to make you take that."
REV. SHARPTON: But who is that somebody?
MR. BROOKS: Right.
REV. SHARPTON: See, I think before we dismiss the political discourse debate, the problem is that when we get to how we execute, it's going to take leadership.
MR. BROOKS: Mm-hmm.
REV. SHARPTON: And if the leadership of the country is so acrimonious and so busy with a poisonous debate themselves, we will never be able to get to dealing with those that are mentally ill or those that are isolated. Because the problem is that the leadership is so busy taking shots at each other.
MR. GREGORY: And, Reverend, I want to...
REV. SHARPTON: That's why we need to have this discussion about political discourse and mental illness.
MR. GREGORY: I want to follow up with that, because it was interesting, if--there was, there was backlash this week about Sarah Palin and what she said, talking about blaming the media for a "blood libel," she said, for somehow connecting her to all this. And again, no evidence to
connect her or her rhetoric to all of this. Nevertheless, the conversation, you heard it from Senator McCain, is going on. Look at this headline from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It's about Tim Pawlenty running for the presidency--not officially, but on his way. And this was
the headline: "Pawlenty's civil manner right for the times? His mild tone contrasts with rancorous debate in the wake of the Arizona shootings." So my question, as you look at that headline, is this a game changer of sorts for our political attitudes as we move toward a major
presidential election year?
REV. SHARPTON: I hope it is. I hope it's a game changer in the sense that we take out all of the acrimony and irresponsible rhetoric on both sides. And, and many of us have gone over the line.
MR. BROOKS: Mm-hmm.
REV. SHARPTON: And I hope we now judge people based on their substance and their being able to give leadership in the areas that we're talking about. And I think that it had gotten way off track up until this moment. I think the president's speech could put us in that direction. But if we don't solve that, we can come up with all of the great things in the world we want to do about the, the people like Jared.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REV. SHARPTON: We won't get them done if we're taking shots at each other.
MR. GREGORY: Comment.
MR. BROOKS: I'm, I'm a little more pessimistic. What's the root of civility? It's sinfulness. I, I don't want to get into the reverend's business here, but...
REV. SHARPTON: It's all right. It's Sunday morning. It's Sunday morning.
MR. BROOKS: But it's an awareness of how sinned you are, how ignorant you are, how weak you are. And because of those shortcomings, you need the conversation, you need other people to correct you. And we've had a culture which has downplayed sin, and therefore people think, "I--my way's the right way, and 100 percent of what I want, that's what we
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: And, and so that's a--kind of a deep problem to get over.
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me, let me get a break in here.
MS. NOONAN: It's a lack of humility.
MR. GREGORY: That lack of humility. Let me just get a break in here, we'll come back, talk more about this. Also reflect on the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., his birthday, of course, tomorrow. More from our roundtable right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with more from our roundtable. There's a couple of big moments to, to reflect on. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy's inaugural address talking about service to the country, something that we've been talking about in the course of this political discourse; and, of course, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his birthday tomorrow. He was on this program--if--as we sometimes do a MEET THE PRESS Minute, this is a MEET THE PRESS moment--back in 1967, talking about the disparity between African-Americans and whites. Listen to this.
(Videotape, August 13, 1967)
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: It's all right to say to people, "Lift yourself by your own bootstraps." But it's a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And the fact is that millions of Negroes have been left bootless as a result
of poverty, as a result of illiteracy caused by inadequate education and a real lack of educational opportunities, and as a result of centuries of neglect and hurt.
MR. GREGORY: We've talked about areas where the two parties can work together. Reverend Sharpton, you've been thinking about this, education, the achievement gap. If Reverend King, Dr. King, were with us today, this is the area you think he'd be committed to.
REV. SHARPTON: I think Dr. King would be very concerned, from my studies of Dr. King and knowing his wife and son well, because the achievement gap based on race in this country is almost as bad as it was in '54 when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision made, the year I was born. We've not made the institutional shift toward equality, whether it's in education, whether it's even in economics, as Dr. King in that moment in '67 talked about. The, the wealth gap and the gap in terms of employment is still a problem. So we are trying to make steps. Tomorrow Secretary of Education Duncan and I are going to be with Randi Weingarten dealing with this because it's not about just beating up on
MR. GREGORY: Head of the teacher's union.
REV. SHARPTON: It's not about that. It's about trying to find common ground. It's not about beating up on union workers. Dr. King died in Memphis going down there for the AFSCME union. Now AFSCME is under attack. We're blaming the deficits on unions rather than the fact that all of us did not put the kinds of safeguards I think we should on the economy to where some got away with huge amounts of money, and the poor remain poor, and the middle class started sliding to the, to the poor. Dr. King dealt with that as his last issue. And I think these are the kinds of things that if we're going to celebrate Dr. King, we should deal with what Dr.
King was. Don't take Kingism out of Dr. King Day.
MR. GREGORY: It's interesting, a survey coming out tomorrow, the top 25 African-American leaders of all time. And it finds that actually President Obama, in this survey that will be released, is a close second to Dr. King Jr.
And, David Brooks, certainly education then becomes a big piece of what the president's trying to accomplish here. In divided government, does he face more of a challenge than he might have expected even last year in terms of getting No Child Left Behind extended?
MR. BROOKS: I don't think so. It is an issue where, A, this is the best performance on this issue of any issues; B, it's sort of bipartisan. But I think we face a just more difficult problem. With Dr. King, a lot of it was access, getting people access to education. Now it's giving them
the tools to get through, get through these schools and colleges. And that means early childhood education, it means education reform, giving people the mental and psychological tools to know how to deal with the teacher. And that's just a tougher deal. But I do think it's the one area--I, I--somebody in education sent me an e-mail said, "I've never been so optimistic about education reform in this country. I've never been so pessimistic about government in this country." And that's about where I am these days.
MR. GREGORY: What about that ranking? It's interesting in terms of in the African-American community, President Obama's ranking?
REV. SHARPTON: Well, this was African-American scholars and intellectuals. I'm waiting to see the results of other surveys. But I think Dr. King definitely was the figure that changed access. We wouldn't have had a President Obama had we not had access. But I think
we're in a, a different age now. Because those of us that are engaged in civil rights now, unlike those in the past, have to deal with how you hold a government accountable with a black of head of state, black head of the Justice Department. And President Obama, it is unfair to ask him to be Martin Luther King. He's not an activist. And Dr. King didn't run
a government. So the blessing of the progress we've made is we have different rolls now. And the best thing that they can do is do their role. The best thing that President Obama could do for civil rights is be the best president in the world, not for blacks, for everybody, because it shows we can perform. But I think when we put everyone in as one dimensional thing, that is bias, because it's acting as if we can only do one thing. I think that we can do many things. And that's what King fought for us to have the right to do. Now we must do it and show
MR. GREGORY: We're going to take another quick break here. We'll come back with some final thoughts on the road ahead after Arizona, as we conclude our conversation with the roundtable, right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back, our last couple of minutes.
Tim Shriver, you wanted to connect this kind of final thought about after Arizona to what you heard the Reverend Al say about Dr. King.
MR. SHRIVER: Well, I think, Dr. King, I think one of the great lessons we have in Dr. King is not just what he fought for, because we still live in the legacy of what he fought for and the extraordinary achievements in civil rights, but how he did it. He was accused of being an extremist. I think we have to remember that he accepted that label when he said, "I want be an extremist for love. I want to be an extremist for justice." He was able to fight with enormous passion, not with a muted voice, but with an enormous, powerful voice, but do so in a way that was completely nonviolent and completely open to the voice of the divine, if you will, in others. I think we can listen to that and remind our kids of that when we think of the achievement gap, when we think of the underperformance of kids. Remind them that they too can be extremists for love. Teach them the social and emotional skills, teach them how to
understand themselves, be self aware, how to connect, connect with others, how to solve problems nonviolently so that they, too, can have the tools to be kind of extremists in building a better country.
MR. GREGORY: Peggy.
MS. NOONAN: I think Dr. King's manner as a leader, his lovely gravity and seriousness, and his adherence to talking about big things, not small things and petty things, was an unknown and almost unnoticed contribution to his age. Let me say quickly on education, I would be optimistic about it, too, because the biggest thing that has happened in the past year in
education is the extraordinary success of two documentaries, "Waiting for `Superman'" and the, "The Lottery." The reaction to those films made leaders on both parties and leaders on the right and left come together in agreement that we can move forward on the schools if we do specific things. I think Obama should use it as his Nixon to China.
MR. GREGORY: And, and State of the Union, Arizona, education, these are big themes.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. And there's something we can all do. My--I'm for a quota system. If you talk to a liberal, talk to a conservative. If you read a liberal, read a conservative. If you find yourself getting out of whack, correct it.
MR. GREGORY: Reverend.
REV. SHARPTON: I think that we must use Dr. King's methods of nonviolence, yes. But also remember, he had concrete goals. He used those methods to get specific civil rights bills, specific voting rights acts. So I think we can't just operate 40,000 feet in the air. We have
to think high...
MR. GREGORY: Good point.
REV. SHARPTON: ...and then come to concrete resolutions--education, protecting of the unemployed. We've got to be concrete. Otherwise Dr. King would have just been a dreamer. He was more than that. He changed reality.
MR. GREGORY: And we'll make that the last word. Thank you all very much. We will leave it there.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: That is all for today. We'll be back next week with an exclusive interview with the new majority leader in the House, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia on the agenda ahead. That's next week right here. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.