Guests: Howard Fineman, Mike Allen
TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Hillary Clinton beats Barack Obama in Pennsylvania. Does it change the dynamic of the race on to North Carolina and Indiana on May 6th?
Here to talk about that and a whole lot more, two crusty, seasoned political veterans. Howard Fineman—you read him in “Newsweek” every week—is the author of a new book: “The Thirteen American Arguments:
Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.”
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Thanks, Tim.
RUSSERT: Mike Allen, Politico.com.
How many times do you blog a day?
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: Not enough according to my bosses.
RUSSERT: Let‘s take the advantage of having an author with us.
Tell me about “The Thirteen American Arguments.”
FINEMAN: Well, the gist of it, Tim, is that far from arguing too much, which is the conventional wisdom, I don‘t think we argue enough about the fundamental things, about the things that make us who we are. And I say in the book that we were born to argue, we were bred to argue, and it‘s never going to end, nor should it end, because it‘s the tension of the arguments that keeps the blood flowing in the American body of politics. That‘s the essence of it.
RUSSERT: Now, is this your book, or is this Obama/Clinton?
FINEMAN: This is Obama/Clinton now, but not everything that they‘re arguing about is fundamental. Some things are and some things aren‘t. And the trick, of course, is to accept the trivial, and sometimes even the diverting, with the fundamental, because that‘s who we are as a people.
RUSSERT: Your first chapter couldn‘t be more timely—“Who is a Person?”
An African-American and a woman running for president of the United States. And when that great debate started in our great country, neither of them could have voted.
FINEMAN: I know. It‘s remarkable. And listen, it‘s a fitful history of progress.
We had to fight a civil war over this in which 600,000 people died. We had to have a second civil rights revolution. We had to have the suffragettes. We had to have the continual argument over who is entitled to be viewed as a person within our Constitution and our scheme, because we started with that Declaration of Independence—all men are created equal, born with certain unalienable rights...
FINEMAN: Asterisk. You know, in the Constitution and so on. And yes, when Obama declared his candidacy in Springfield in—as Mike and I remember—on that cold morning, he was standing on the steps of that old statehouse in Springfield where Abraham Lincoln had begun the slavery debate.
So, Obama was saying, in essence, I‘m challenging the last difficult half-mile of the road to full personhood.
RUSSERT: We‘re going to talk a whole lot more about “The Thirteen American Arguments,” but let me talk about the Obama/Clinton argument, Mike Allen.
What‘s the argument now between those two campaigns that they are making to these undecided superdelegates?
ALLEN: They are saying—each is saying, we are the ones that can win in November. If you were going to have buyer‘s remorse Democrats, have it now while there‘s something you can do about it, not in November, when you‘re looking at a third Bush term.
RUSSERT: And how is Obama countering that?
ALLEN: Well, to some degree, he‘s making the same argument. He‘s saying, I can win and you can‘t.
What we‘ve seen—it‘s sort of been a little bit of Groundhog Day election. Not that much has changed in these weeks that have gone by. But this week something really did change, and this time you have Democrats who are sort of in two schools of thought, and they‘re very different than they were before.
One is, you know, for the first time they‘re saying maybe Barack Obama does not have manifest destiny to be president. Maybe he is not the nominee in waiting. Maybe Hillary Clinton isn‘t just on life support.
And the other school of thought, which isn‘t that great for him either, is saying we‘re going to have a flawed, imperfect, wounded nominee who‘s going to have a tough race against John McCain. They‘re starting to realize that, to update Senator McConnell‘s joke, Senator McCain—Senator Obama was not born in a manger.
RUSSERT: Howard, what‘s the argument you‘re hearing between the Obama/Clinton campaigns to the superdelegates?
FINEMAN: Well, I think Mike has it about right. I think each candidate is flawed in terms of who their supporters are. Neither one of them has put together the full Democratic coalition that‘s needed to win in the fall. Obama has done a tremendous job bringing a new generation of voters into the process, and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.
ALLEN: And they did vote, which we didn‘t think they would.
FINEMAN: On that based alone—and they have voted, and they‘ve organized superbly. If you‘ve been to Obama rallies, as we all have, to see the hope in the eyes of those kids is really astonishing.
He has kids. He has new voters. He has a lot of Independents. He has suburbanites. He has a solid African-American vote, more solid than any candidate probably has ever had before.
He‘s got well-educated people. He‘s got the professoriat, if you will. And all of those are important to the Democrats‘ chances. But what he doesn‘t have, and what was shown again in Pennsylvania, is he doesn‘t have core, working class, less-educated white voters.
There‘s no other way to break it down but that. And having grown up in that area in western Pennsylvania, I know precisely the voters that he doesn‘t have.
A lot of them are women. Less education. They don‘t read some of the same stuff that Obama encountered at Columbia, in Harvard Law School, and then hanging out around the University of Chicago.
They don‘t trust him. Part of it is race. Not all of it is race. And it‘s something Obama‘s got to overcome.
My view of the Democratic Party is it can‘t escape its destiny. Its destiny is to be the agent of social change in modern America with regard to race and gender. So they have to deal with that problem and move forward because they have no other choice but these two.
RUSSERT: You say race is part of it. Is it cultural, racial? What is it?
Why is it 2-1, Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama?
FINEMAN: Well, here‘s my take on it. I don‘t think race is insuperable. I mean, if you—if you pick through the exit poll results in Pennsylvania, you can get down to a nub of race, I think five, seven percent, maybe, people who basically are saying, I‘m never going to vote for Barack Obama. They don‘t directly say it‘s because he‘s an African-American, but that‘s sort of the implication.
But Barack Obama is about more than that. He‘s from a big city. He‘s from the south side of Chicago. He has an interesting, perhaps exotic, background in the views of some of these people.
He‘s an intellectual. He‘s—he comes off as not only urban, but urbane. And for a lot of people, that raises a whole host of questions that aren‘t directly related to race at all, that sort of raise the notion that he‘s not one of us.
And it‘s a difficult thing to overcome. He‘s got the charm and the empathy to do it. The question is whether he has the time to do it between now and when the choices, as Mike was saying, have to be made.
RUSSERT: Fair enough, Mike?
ALLEN: Well, yes. And you‘ve talked about the question mark over Barack Obama. And even though we‘re born to argue, I can agree with Howard that there‘s yet another question this week. And that is, are—is this unusual group of the urbane voters that he‘s talking about, is that the ceiling?
It‘s an important group. It‘s helped fuel this amazing movement. It‘s the one thing that you can call Obama. But, you know, in the past some stories had said that he was more like RFK. Some stories said he was more like JFK.
This week in “The New Republic” you have a story comparing him to George McGovern, drawing a very precise comparison. And that is saying that, as Howard said, he‘s getting the educated, secular part of the Democratic Party, but not moving to this other group, which is the very definition of the swing voters Democrats absolutely have to get to beat John McCain.
RUSSERT: A quick break.
We‘re talking to Mike Allen of Politico.com, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine and the author of a brand new book, “The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back, the race for the White House. And here contributing to our understanding is Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine. “The Thirteen American Arguments” is his new book, along with Mike Allen, Politico.com.
Let‘s sort of reset the race.
Even after the very decisive victory in Pennsylvania for Senator Clinton, she only picked up, what, 10, 12, 13 delegates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
RUSSERT: So we have Obama ahead among selected delegates by about 150.
He‘s won twice as many states and caucuses, the cumulative popular vote.
If you don‘t count Michigan and Florida, he‘s still ahead by about 500,000.
So, many Democrats, Howard, are saying, Senator Clinton, you‘re not going to catch him on elected delegates. That is what we all decided was the metric that we‘re all going to use. Why are you doing this?
FINEMAN: Well, they keep waiting for the moment where they‘re all going to march en masse to Castle Clinton, like in the “Frankenstein” movie and say, you‘ve got to stop. And now they‘re saying—they were going to say that after Pennsylvania, but she won by 10 points. So now they‘re saying, OK, we‘re going to say it after May 6th, after Indiana and North Carolina. And I think a lot of them are privately hoping and praying that she gets her clock cleaned so they can finally do that.
RUSSERT: Who‘s this—who are the marchers?
FINEMAN: Well, the marchers are unnamed party leaders. It‘s almost an oxymoron in the Democratic Party, as you know, to say party leader. But they‘re people who want to reconcile themselves to the fact that you can‘t take the nomination away from Barack Obama, African-American path breaker in the Democratic Party, who is ahead in the pledged delegates and will remain so, almost certainly; who is ahead in popular votes, and will probably remain so; who‘s made history. You can‘t go to Denver and take it away from him.
So, those people are also looking at the electoral college map, as Mike was saying. There are some states where, if Obama‘s the nominee, the Democrats can expand the playing field. A place like Virginia, to take one good example, and they‘re sort of reconciling themselves to that.
RUSSERT: Mike, the superdelegates, Senator Clinton‘s campaign will say, were born to be deciders, born to look at the big picture, and not be wedded to the elected delegate count. And they should look at the landscape and say, you know what? We‘re not taking this away from Senator Obama, we‘re anointing—we‘re nominating the person we think is most competitive against John McCain.
ALLEN: Yes, well, they are, by very definition, political animals. And that‘s why I agree with Howard that there is no way, it just is not going to happen. If it looks on paper like Senator Obama has the nomination, they are not going to say to him and his huge new level of supporters, congratulations, you won the nomination on paper, but we‘re giving it to Clinton. It simply is not going to happen.
FINEMAN: But the problem is—excuse me—the problem is that he‘s not going to have—even if he wins out, so to speak, he‘s not going to have 2,024 delegates, which is what you need to have. That‘s the problem that they‘ve got.
RUSSERT: He‘s still going to need a handful...
FINEMAN: At least. At least.
RUSSERT: ... of the undecided superdelegates.
FINEMAN: At least.
ALLEN: And that‘s why you have—and I think a lot of the superdelegates in a big debate is, how many? But they have some of these superdelegates in their pocket.
There‘s a number of these superdelegates that we‘ve talked to that are very Obama-friendly, leaning Obama. I think there are probably some that have committed that they‘re waiting to roll out when they need a little boost, as they‘ve done after a few losses. Each of the campaigns has a whole whip system that takes care of these superdelegates.
But the new wrinkle in the Clinton argument is—we talked about them being political animals. Every one of them has one thing in common, and it‘s they want a winner in November and they want someone that is not going to hurt them to talk about, to defend, to campaign with. And so that‘s why electability in November becomes a powerful argument for Senator Clinton.
RUSSERT: In terms of making the case of electability, Howard, they‘ve been pushing this popular vote notion. More Democrats went to the polls and voted for me, Hillary, than voted for Barack Obama. Including, therefore, Florida and Michigan, where his name wasn‘t on the ballot, even though back in November she told National Public Radio—Senator Clinton did—
Michigan doesn‘t count.
Now they‘re counting it.
FINEMAN: Well, memory is selective in politics, Tim, as you know. I think it‘s a stretch to count Michigan, for sure. Michigan should not be counted under the current rules and understanding.
Florida, there‘s half an argument you could make, except that the Democratic National Committee said Florida doesn‘t count. So even though both names were on the ballot, it‘s a little bit of a stretch. And every side is making every argument they can.
Interestingly, when you do a poll of Democrats across the country, they think that popular vote is much more important that delegate count. Most average Democrats don‘t know anything about delegate counts. They just know about popular votes. So Hillary is trying to rely on that as a way to pressure the superdelegates.
I think that after Pennsylvania, and the big win there, she should have been able to free up a few more superdelegates that she did. It would have helped her cause if not only the money came in, which it is, but if she rolled out a few superdelegates. I think if she had any superdelegates to roll out, that was the time, because Obama has very carefully and shrewdly -- I‘m sure Mike would agree—since Super Tuesday, they‘re just dropping one stone in the pond.
ALLEN: Just about every Friday.
ALLEN: You can put it on the calendar.
FINEMAN: Just before Mike is writing his latest blog entry.
FINEMAN: And I think it‘s up to about 85 delegates they‘ve rolled out, whereas Hillary has only rolled out about 12 since that time. And it‘s very noticeable.
RUSSERT: This popular vote is interesting. There was a pro-Obama blogger who said, you know, if you really want to have the discussion about popular vote, then you should have said that was the point, that was the metric we were going to use to measure this, because people would have avoided New Hampshire and Iowa. They would have gone to California much earlier and much more vigorously.
They would have not had caucuses. States would have had primaries, because that brings out more voters.
So, how can you suddenly in April of ‘08 say, popular vote, that‘s what we meant all the time?
ALLEN: No, that‘s exactly right, and that‘s why this is not going to be won on a technical argument. I think, Tim, you‘ll agree one of the basic rules of relationships, if you‘re explaining, you‘re losing. And if they have to explain it like this, they are not going to get those superdelegates.
It has to be clear for some reason that Senator Obama would get his clock cleaned by John McCain. And we‘re not there.
RUSSERT: How do you make that clear?
ALLEN: Well, there has been a wind sheer in his press this week. Suddenly this week, you see stories about how Hillary can win, how Obama‘s not ready for prime time, how he‘s irritable. The Obama response has been—you guys have heard a million times Senator McCain talk about a steady strain (ph), right? And that got him to the nomination. That‘s the approach that the ObamaNation, as they call themselves, take.
They say that they do not fall for what they call the idiocy of the moment, and that‘s directed at our coverage. And...
FINEMAN: This is opposed to the urgency of now, right?
RUSSERT: We‘re going to take a quick break.
RUSSERT: And we are back with Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine, Mike Allen of Politico.com. “The Thirteen American Arguments” is Howard‘s new book, and one of them, “The Role of Faith.” How appropriate again for this election.
We have Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the pastor for Barack Obama in Chicago;
John McCain‘s endorsement by Reverend Hagee, which is very, very controversial, because some of the things that Hagee has said about the Catholic Church and so forth.
The role of faith in our politics has been interwoven for 200 years.
FINEMAN: From the beginning of the country. The great paradox that we face is that we are not a nation with an official religion. That‘s one reason we fought the revolution. There‘s no religious test for office.
We are the first post-medieval society, is what I say in the book, where authority didn‘t come from the top down—from the church, from a king, and so forth. We are on our own. But paradoxically, and maybe because of that, we are the most prayerful people on Earth.
We have a wonderful, colorful marketplace of faiths, a free market of faiths. And the trick for any politician to catch the spirit of our country is to show their sensitivity to, if not devotion to, their sensitivity to faith without seeming to be intolerant of other people‘s faiths. That‘s the line you have to walk.
And the problem with somebody like Jeremiah Wright, however much good the Trinity United Church of Christ has done on the south side of Chicago, you play those videos of him and he can sound intolerant. It‘s not a message of tolerance.
And therefore, it runs counter to everything Obama is claiming to stand for in the campaign, and it‘s that contrast that has caused problems for Obama. And I think will pose problems down the road.
RUSSERT: It is interesting. Stories about Wright had been in print for some time. It was that video, Mike Allen, that captured the attention of the media, but also the public.
ALLEN: It‘s true. And to some degree, we were caught napping on the Wright story, because everybody knew about this crazy pastor. People knew about the problems.
Every time Wright would give a speech somewhere, the RNC would try and get us to link to a story about whatever latest crazy thing he had said. But the videos made the difference.
And Tim, you‘re talking about faith being interwoven. Faith is very much a proxy for how we feel about these candidates.
I knew a lot of people, including Evangelicals, home-schoolers, who liked the idea of Obama, who said we should probably give him a chance. Obamacans are very real—or were very real. But as soon as they had these questions about Reverend Wright, they said, no, we‘re not going to take a chance. And that was why those comments from San Francisco, including one that was taken as being disparaging of people‘s faith, was so damaging, because the very people who were antagonized by Wright and then maybe were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after the race speech said we‘re not—we don‘t trust him on this issue.
RUSSERT: By San Francisco, you mean his comments about small-town America being bitter and clinging to faith and religion during hard times.
ALLEN: That absolutely miraculously made Senator Clinton a champion of bible-thumping gun-toters. Who would have thought?
FINEMAN: Nothing proves the adage more than that, that politics is a game of comparison. It really is. Nothing is decided in the abstract. It‘s always compared with something else or somebody else.
RUSSERT: Because when you think of pedigree, I mean Senator Clinton went to Wellesley and to Yale Law School.
RUSSERT: I mean, they‘re both extremely well-educated, Ivy League-educated. It‘s not as if they both went to some state school.
FINEMAN: Well, the difference is—the difference is, leaving aside the roots questions, is that Hillary has been marinated, so to speak, in all of the different cultures that make up American politics, all of the arguments, all of the arguments I describe here. She knows all the sides of all the arguments because she knows where people come from, literally.
She spent a lot of time in Arkansas with Bill Clinton from 1974 to 1992. That‘s almost 20 years of this girl from the west side of Chicago who went to Wellesley and Yale, trying to figure out who Arkansans were to help her husband get elected.
It‘s not an accident that the last three Democratic presidents have been essentially small-town southerners—Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. That doesn‘t mean that‘s all of who they are, but the fact that they were from there—and in Clinton‘s case, the fact that he ran for office so many times there—helped them go up to Pennsylvania even if they had different accents and connect with those people in what I call deer hunter country. And that‘s something that Obama intellectually knows he has to do, doesn‘t necessarily have the background to do it.
RUSSERT: But it is interesting. He was raised by a white mom from Kansas, grandparents from Kansas, spent time in Hawaii, then over in Indonesia. I mean, the fact is has had an interesting life which has been diverse.
RUSSERT: And yet, he seems reluctant sometimes to engage audiences. He can go to a big hall, give an extraordinary speech, but on the stump there‘s a marked difference between what Hillary Clinton does—jobs, jobs, jobs! And Barack Obama almost intellectually trying to bring them to an argument.
FINEMAN: Well, he‘s a classy guy and a little shy sometimes, and he feels that he‘s not necessarily on secure ground because he doesn‘t know it that well. I mean, I give him tremendous leeway for not really knowing the country from the ground up.
How could he? It takes years and years to figure this out. You know, it‘s not—it‘s a big, diverse country. It‘s hard.
ALLEN: And let‘s face it, to this point in the campaign they‘ve come to him.
ALLEN: And now having to go out and try and reach one of the slices that is not storming your halls, that‘s not lining up, forcing the TV stations to cover your events with their traffic helicopters, as they literally do, and that‘s why they‘re having to test some new muscles here.
RUSSERT: Well, thank God for the American political system.
FINEMAN: Yes sir.
RUSSERT: We‘ll be right back.
Howard Fineman, his new book, “The Thirteen American Arguments.” Mike Allen, Politico.com.
A lot more after this.
RUSSERT: The race for the White House, and what a race it is.
We‘re joined by Mike Allen, Politico.com; Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine. And Howard has a new book: “The Thirteen American Arguments:
Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.”
Interesting chapter—“What Can We Know and Say?”
I was thinking of Bill Clinton...
RUSSERT: ... who as a campaigner in ‘92 and ‘96 was, even by his harshest critics, perceived as someone who had great antenna and didn‘t make many missteps politically. He could read an audience, be very adept and facile at the language.
This has been different in 2008.
FINEMAN: Boy, he‘s—the antennas are bent and dented, and he‘s stepping in every puddle he can find. I think he has turned into the one who absorbs all of the emotions and displays all the emotions that Hillary cannot. So he is a sort of emotional barometer of what might be happening behind the scenes, while Hillary, the ultimate professional, keeps that smile plastered on her face in good times and bad.
And I think he‘s not used to the role he‘s playing. I think he‘s enormously resentful of the media. I think all of his pent-up anger at the media going back 15 years is coming out on the campaign trail.
I don‘t think he‘s doing her any good. I think the example and memory of his presidency, which to Democrats is very bright, should have been allowed to speak for itself. And he should have gone off and done his world missions, and maybe worked behind the scenes calling superdelegates, and try to maintain sort of a lordly heir of the authority of a former president.
Instead, he‘s turned himself into a suspender-snapping precinct captain who gets angry at the press every day. I don‘t think it‘s helping her.
ALLEN: And what we‘ve seen is that the frustration that they have behind the scenes—it‘s the Michael Dukakis line from “Saturday Night Live”—
“I can‘t believe I‘m losing to this guy.” And that is absolutely how Senator Clinton feels—now that things are better, that they have at least a reprieve.
I was over at Clinton headquarters. A lot more chipper. Their conference calls—as you know, there‘s no campaign in the history of the world that likes conference calls as much as they do. They even have one at the end of the day that they call a kibitz call.
Now there‘s humor on there and it‘s not gallows humor. They feel differently, and I think we‘ll see that reflected in President Clinton.
RUSSERT: They will say about Bill Clinton that he has been valuable in going into a state early and getting a feel for the state. Go to do four or five different markets.
They sent him to Montana. They‘ll send him to Puerto Rico. Sent him early to North Carolina. And then he can report back to the candidate saying, this is what I‘m picking up, this is what I‘m hearing.
ALLEN: And Chelsea‘s been doing that.
RUSSERT: And Chelsea, too.
It works as long as he‘s not being recorded, because if you‘re being recorded, you get into these situations where he‘ll say something about Obama playing a race card against him, deny saying it, and then igniting a controversy.
FINEMAN: Well, I saw him in Iowa. And I thought on his own, sort of out of the spotlight, if you will, paradoxically he was better.
I mean, I saw him at a big rally near Waterloo, Iowa, I think it was, and it was just him. There was no big media around. I think I was the only national reporter who was there.
He was wonderful. But sort of the spotlight was off.
The problem he‘s got is when it‘s the last white heat days in and around voting. I mean, his bad comments have come right before or right after the vote.
You know, the South Carolina one about, oh, Jesse Jackson won here. So what? And the stuff in Pennsylvania. When he‘s on his own, when things are calm, he‘s great.
RUSSERT: When he brought up Bosnia, sniper fire, after it had more or less subsided, it was interesting to hear him say that Senator Clinton had called him and said, enough, knock it off and, I hear you honey.
So it is kind of ironic that Senator Clinton could not be in this position without William Jefferson Clinton and his presidency, as Howard said, being used as a benchmark to look at a potential future presidency, and yet he has created some difficulties for her on the campaign stump.
ALLEN: Yes. And he went through that great period when he was on his best behavior. At one point he was asked about Bosnia and he said, “I agree with Hillary.” And if he would just stick to that as his talking point, he would do—he would do better.
But he was part of what got her campaign started. It was his sort of “you‘re with us or you‘re against us” argument that built strength at the beginning, but also built resentment, as you guys know, that now they‘re paying for.
RUSSERT: “What Can We Know and Say?”
Howard, I‘m reading that chapter, also thinking about this debate that—
Senator Obama was asked about in the ABC debate about William Ayers, the Weatherman, and what his relationship with him was. And then him countering saying, well, President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentence of two other Weathermen.
Now Tom Hayden has written an article saying, wait a minute, Hillary Clinton was active in the legal representation of Bobby Seale, the Black Panther. And she interned at a law firm in San Francisco that had actually self-acknowledged communists as part of it.
Is that part of our debate and discussion here in 2008?
FINEMAN: Well, I think so, especially after 9/11, especially with the additional security measures and surveillance that President Bush and the Congress have either collectively or separately ordered.
I talk about what I refer to as the velocity of information, by which I mean our system works best when everybody knows everything about everything. Now, of course that‘s impossible, especially when we have security concerns. And if people advocate violence, that comes to the limits of speech.
I think there‘s a debate to come in the fall, whoever the Democratic nominee is, about the limits of intrusion on the privacy of Americans. That‘s one of the things I talk about in the book. It‘s not happening now, but it will happen, and you can be sure that John McCain will portray whoever the Democratic nominee is as somebody who favors speech over security. And McCain is going to be making the security argument.
RUSSERT: It is interesting how much things have changed, Mike Allen. When Bill Clinton was president in 1993, there were 50 pages on the World Wide Web. There‘s now over five billion.
Everything is on the record, as Barack Obama found out at a San Francisco fundraiser. When the pope came to the United States a short while back, he walked from St. Patrick‘s Cathedral, a church filled with nuns and priests. And what do they pull out? Cell phone cameras. Priests and nuns videotaping and photographing the pope.
It‘s nonstop. Everything we do now is on the record.
ALLEN: Well, and Senator Obama has benefited from that until now. His is the first of viral candidacy. And those huge record-breaking crowds that they get in places like Bangor, Maine, are largely because—if Oprah‘s not there—are largely because of the Internet organizing, which they outsmarted the Clinton campaign from the very beginning.
In a number of these caucuses, if you went into Google and you typed “caucus location,” you got an ad for Barack Obama, because they thought of it and Hillary Clinton didn‘t. But now he‘s paying for it in the way that you‘re talking about, in that it‘s so easy to propagate this information.
And Howard‘s magazine, “Newsweek,” was the first to report that the Obama campaign is beefing up its rapid response to deal specifically with the Ayers story, the Weatherman story, which Senator McCain has made it clear that he‘s going to push hard. And Senator Clinton has picked on that scab in the last debate as well.
RUSSERT: It was interesting. I had read Carl Bernstein‘s book about Hillary Clinton but had forgotten the whole relationship with Bobby Seale until I read it in Tom Hayden‘s column.
And Obama‘s people chose not to bring that up in response, or didn‘t know? Or do—or the other part of that, Howard, is do we want to be involved in a debate in 2008 about William Ayers and Bobby Seale?
FINEMAN: No, but we‘re inevitably going to be caught up in a debate, as I said, about the relationship between freedom and security. And it‘s always going to be oversimplified.
One of the difficulties we have in dealing with the system we‘ve created is to make sure that we‘re talking about the real things with real facts, because you can‘t have an argument without facts. And it will be oversimplified.
McCain will say the Democrats just don‘t get it on security. They just don‘t get it, they don‘t understand that we need surveillance, that we need the phone companies doing this and that and so forth. And the Democrats, being the party of civil rights, will make the counter-argument, and we‘ll see what the voters will say.
ALLEN: And separately, this information is so much less important about Senator Clinton. Rightly or wrongly, we know who she is, or we think we know who she is. But with Senator Obama, people just aren‘t sure. And that‘s why this information is very powerful.
I think we‘re going to have to decide, is Senator Obama as attractive as the idea of Senator Obama? And that‘s what‘s being litigated right now in front of our eyes.
FINEMAN: And the other thing is that he wrote a book about himself 10 years ago. So he got his first view of himself written by himself. And now that‘s being deconstructed. It‘s taken a long time, but now it is, and it will be better for—he‘ll be the better for it if he ends up the Democratic nominee, having gone through this.
I know they don‘t think that now. Some of the wiser heads, like Tom Daschle, I think do, who are around Obama. He‘s got to go through this if he‘s going to get to the White House.
ALLEN: Right. If he wins, he will prove he doesn‘t have a glass jaw, he‘s not a paper tiger.
RUSSERT: Dr. Fineman. This may hurt, but it‘s good for you.
We‘ll be right back.
RUSSERT: And we are back, the race for the White House. And Howard Fineman‘s new book, “The Thirteen American Arguments.”
One of them, “War and Diplomacy.” Again, how appropriate.
You say that John McCain is Wilsonian—Woodrow Wilson. And that Obama and Clinton “much more realistic” in their foreign policy.
I was taken by Hillary Clinton‘s response in the ABC debate where she said she wanted to have the umbrella of deterrence beyond Israel, to include Arab countries. And I‘ve been wondering aloud for a few weeks, does that mean the United States would defend Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt? And then she gave another interview where she said that if Iran launched nuclear weapons, that we would “obliterate” Iran.
What‘s your sense of war and diplomacy vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton based on those comments?
FINEMAN: Well, if I were writing the book right this minute, I wouldn‘t put Hillary in the realist camp after those comments. It‘s not been all that much remarked on, but the fact that she essentially proposed a Mideast NATO that would include all those countries in the region was a huge step.
I don‘t think anybody took it that seriously, because it seemed so obviously a political move on her part. But I do think that the essential argument in American history over foreign policy is, do we need to change the world to survive in it?
What‘s the best approach? Do we need to change it? Do we need to make the world safe for democracy? That‘s why I invoke Woodrow Wilson, or George W. Bush, who many people regard as Woodrow Wilson on steroids. Or, do we follow the Kissinger model, that sort of Metternich model of the old days, of balancing forces around the world, a subtle understanding of the world as it is?
McCain is very much in the Wilson/Bush camp. I think Obama, by nature, is a diplomat, very much in the judicious—judicial mold. Hillary is bouncing in between. Part of it is because she‘s from New York, part of it is because she‘s a strong supporter of Israel as a result, and part of it is her nature.
Don‘t forget her health care plan, which was, OK, here‘s how we‘re going to change everything. All 1,700 pages. So, she thinks more in that kind of way.
RUSSERT: Mike, when I heard Senator Clinton say that, I must say I was surprised the next day it just didn‘t resonate in a huge way. I fully expected Barack Obama to go to those towns in Pennsylvania, to those ethnic white voters, and say, do you want your son and daughter going to defend Saudi Arabia?
ALLEN: Yes, he might have said she should have waited until 4:00 a.m. to make that decision.
ALLEN: But it‘s part of her, in addition to the factors that Howard mentions, this is part of her trying to say that she‘s ready, that she‘s not talking diplomacy as a second language, that she‘s not in Diplomacy 101. That she‘s in 301. That she‘s not afraid to be aggressive.
Now, I think with that word, which she did not say by accident, which was not said on a (INAUDIBLE), she was sitting in a studio, rested, said it the day of the Pennsylvania primary. So it was clearly to send a message to the voters that she picked that she was going to be tough, that she‘s not the sort of Democrat that they might have been suspicious of.
RUSSERT: What would have happened, as two great journalists, if John McCain or Ronald Reagan had said “obliterate Iran”? Would we have covered it differently?
FINEMAN: Sure. Well, first of all, if they were—if Ronald Reagan were sitting in the White House and said that, obviously it would be a colossal threat and huge story. But even on the campaign trail, yes.
I think it‘s because it was regarded by people like Mike and me as a naked political ploy. So we didn‘t take it as seriously as we would a 20-page article in “Foreign Affairs” magazine or an interview with you on “MEET THE PRESS.” It‘s not quite the same thing.
It was in the heat of the battle in Pennsylvania to show she was tough and to try to out-tough Obama. A lot of this is just pure toughness. And the Clinton people think that Obama is not tough enough, and they keep trying to push him on that. And so Hillary is threatening to obliterate everything she can find, partly—I‘m being only half joking here—to show how tough she is, how she‘s ready to be commander in chief, how she can take on John McCain, how she can even stand up to John McCain on the obliteration leader (ph).
RUSSERT: You know, it is interesting, Howard‘s point, Mike, where Barack Obama will say, I can go toe-to-toe with John McCain on foreign policy. I was against the war and he was for it. And Senator Clinton neutralized on that because she voted for the war.
I will negotiate with our enemies the way John Kennedy suggested. And Senator McCain won‘t. I‘ll take the troops out, and Senator McCain will keep them in there for 50 or 100 years, variations on that theme.
Senator Clinton seems to suggest that that debate won‘t work with Obama and McCain, and it has to be tough versus tough.
ALLEN: Well, and I think that she is thinking about where the American people are that focus on security that Howard‘s talking about. Very possible between now and the election there can be some event that puts security even more in the spotlight.
And so I think she‘s thinking, OK, we‘re not going to lose to John McCain by seeming too tough, that that‘s not something that we want to cede to him. So it‘s a little bit the Rove argument of going at someone‘s throat.
FINEMAN: Well, they think they‘re going to get the—the Democrats think they‘re going to get the anti-war vote regardless, OK? To oversimplify somewhat. They‘ve got to meet in the middle ground, in the deer hunter country of Pennsylvania. That‘s where it‘s going to be decided, and that‘s the tact that Hillary‘s taking.
RUSSERT: Were you surprised by her criticism of MoveOn.org?
FINEMAN: Not really. I think they‘ve been really tough on her. And I think sometimes she gets personal and uses it personally. And I‘m sure her husband‘s been fulminating behind the scenes on that point, and that doesn‘t surprise me at all.
ALLEN: An organization that was founded to support her family.
RUSSERT: During impeachment.
FINEMAN: That‘s why it‘s called MoveOn. Let‘s move on from impeachment to something else. And it‘s now taken on a whole—a whole different meaning.
But I think they feel they‘ll have that constituency regardless against McCain. And that‘s not their big concern.
RUSSERT: Another quick break.
A lot more, Howard Fineman, Mike Allen, right after this.
RUSSERT: And we‘re back with Mike Allen, Politico.com, Howard Fineman from “Newsweek” magazine, and his new book, “The Thirteen American Arguments.”
You talk about the environment here and have a wonderful line—“Will the next president ride a hybrid to the inauguration?”
The fact is, John McCain and/or Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are pretty similar in terms of global warming, climate change. Whether or not in terms of energy independence and how quickly will approach that issue, may be the subject of the debate.
FINEMAN: Yes, that one you‘re going to have to read the details and read the fine print, because on the surface, unlike security, where it will all be about creating balloonish characters of each other, here it‘s the fine print.
Yes, everybody is green now. Everybody is green. I love that my friends at “TIME” magazine used the green ink on the cover. That was smart. And NBC is all about being green.
Everybody is green. But the devil is in the details.
Do you want 50 or 100 new coal-fired power plants or not? That sounds really mundane, even boring, but nothing could be more important. If we‘re not going to be using gasoline, we‘re going to have electric cars. If you have electric cars, you‘ve got to have more power plants.
How do we do it? Who pays the cost of it? That‘s what the argument is going to be about. Who pays—the corporations, the consumers? Eventually we‘re all going to pay. How is that—how is that split up?
RUSSERT: And this debate we‘re having now about the use of ethanol, which has created higher food prices for people not only here and around the world, but it‘s important that we have this argument.
Mike Allen, John McCain, one of his closest advisers tell me, you know, we‘re going in this with our eyes wide open. We now know that this closeness of the race is something we‘re taking full advantage of, and we deeply appreciate it. Thank you, Democrats.
But come post-Labor Day, every day in that race is going to be the economy is bad, time for a change. The war is now in its fifth year, time for a change. Eight years of George Bush, time for a change.
And if we have to keep deflecting that, it‘s going to be a tough race. That‘s why we have to shift it to say, Barack Obama, he‘s not ready, or Hillary Clinton, you know all about her.
ALLEN: Right. Senator McCain is trying to get more comfortable talking about the economy, but it‘s never going to be his best subject. And they are grateful for this time.
They had a momentary heart failure on Tuesday when the networks made it sound like Barack Obama could be upsetting. And—because they‘re just not ready for the general election.
But Democrats who had been—Republicans are feeling much better. Now, instead of saying, how can we win? They‘re saying, how we can lose? Feeling much less like he‘s Dole.
One Democrat said to me the other day, “Republicans, in spite of themselves, might just have nominated the one Republican who, because of the times, can‘t lose.”
There was a Jay Leno bumper sticker a few months ago. He was proposing a new slogan for the Democratic Party. It said, “Even we can‘t mess this one up.” And now Democrats are worried, is that true?
RUSSERT: It is interesting. Another Republican said to me, you know, “We stumbled into this, but we may have the best nominee.” Because on the issue of the environment, he can neutralize that with his interest in global climate change.
Immigration, there was hope amongst the Democrats that they could pick off New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, because of the changing demographics. They‘re certainly not going to win in Arizona, and McCain puts those other states certainly—makes them very contestable.
And now we look up, Howard, generic question, who are you for, Democrat or Republican? Democrat by 12 points. These set of issues were with the Democrats.
Then you take the poll, McCain/Clinton, McCain/Obama, Massachusetts, New York, the race is tight.
FINEMAN: I think it‘s astonishing given the fact that the overall right direction and wrong track number, that famous polling question, has never been more gloomy really since the days of Watergate. Three-quarters of the American people basically think the country‘s going in the wrong direction. That would seem to make it a slam-dunk for the Democrats, but as you point out, when you put the figures in there, the actual people, the numbers are different.
I think that will change if the Democrats can bring themselves together, if -- and this for them has to be hoping against hope—they can stage a drama of reconciliation and unity in Denver. If they can do that, all those numbers will change overnight. A lot of people are holding back because they‘re not sure change is really possible because the Democrats are in such a fix right now.
RUSSERT: But Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, believes that reconciliation must begin in June with the superdelegates coming forward and saying who they‘re for, because if they wait for August, they can‘t possibly do that in just two months.
ALLEN: Right. And the Clinton campaign, which wants to drag this out as long as possible, has said that it will be known before the end of June. That after those last contests on June 3rd, they‘re quickly going to come together.
And this drama of reconciliation, one way that that may occur is we‘ve been -- we‘ve been thinking about who would Obama choose as a VP, someone whose first name is “General” probably. But now what you‘re hearing that in addition to that, it will be one of Senator Clinton‘s generals. Or he—she is likely to choose an African-American or a prominent supporter of his to help bring his crew along.
RUSSERT: Brother Howard, Mother‘s Day is coming. Father‘s Day is coming. Take 20 seconds. “The Thirteen American Arguments,” why should mom and dad get a copy of this book?
FINEMAN: Because it will calm them down, get them engaged, and give them hope. Because nobody has ever put together a country like this, and we should be very thankful and get involved.
RUSSERT: There‘s nothing like a good, robust discussion at the kitchen table. Nothing better.
FINEMAN: It‘s the best. That‘s what I grew up on, Tim. And that‘s why I wrote this book.
RUSSERT: Politics and religion—bring it on.
FINEMAN: That‘s right.
RUSSERT: Howard Fineman. The book, “Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country.”
Thank you very much.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Tim.
RUSSERT: Mike Allen, Politico.com.
You can find you 24/7.
FINEMAN: And thanks, Mike, for holding on why I sold my book. I appreciate it.
ALLEN: Have a great week.
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