MR. DAVID GREGORY: On this Christmas Sunday, a special conversation about the state of
the country and a look ahead: our own 2012 playbook, the keys to the new year, the presidential
campaign, taxes, the economy and jobs, national security and other hot topics like health care
and immigration, what you should look for in 2012, the major players, potential outcomes, and
the biggest unknowns. With us, NBC special correspondent and author of the book "The Time
of Our Lives" Tom Brokaw; New York Times columnist and author of the book "That Used to
Be Us" Tom Friedman; president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New
Orleans Marc Morial; and columnist for The Washington Post Kathleen Parker.
And in a special Christmas Day reflection, we'll hear from the former archbishop of
Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK: Christmas is a, is a, a season of hope, a season of
expectation, a season of love.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning and merry Christmas. 2011 almost behind us now, so many
key questions as we head into the new year; and, for the next hour, we've assembled a terrific
group to talk about the year ahead and a reflection on where the country has been this year.
Joining me, NBC's Tom Brokaw, Tom Friedman, Kathleen Parker, Marc Morial.
Welcome to all of you and merry Christmas.
MS. KATHLEEN PARKER: Merry Christmas.
MR. MARC MORIAL: Merry Christmas.
MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Merry Christmas.
MR. TOM BROKAW: Thank you very much, merry Christmas to you.
MR. GREGORY: I suspect, Tom Brokaw, that families are getting together on this holiday,
and there's gifts and there's good times; but there's probably a little talk about where things are
in their family and their community and in the country. And, if you look at one key indicator,
it's pretty downcast, the direction of the country, and look at the polling from The Wall Street
Journal/NBC News poll. Nearly seven in 10 Americans think the country is headed on the
wrong track, in the wrong direction. And that economic anxiety seems to make this so much
deeper than other periods of turmoil.
MR. BROKAW: Well, I--because economic confidence and economic security is the
underpinning of well-being in the country. In 1968, which I lived through, there was enormous
turmoil, but everyone could get a job. We still had a manufacturing base in this country. And
even though we had guns and butter going on in Vietnam, there was a lot of money around.
Now you have 20 million homeowners sitting out there either with a home that is worth less
than their mortgage or in peril of becoming that, or it's in utter foreclosure. It represents their
net worth in many instances. And there's a real kind of terror in their lives; moreover, beyond
the homeowner piece of it. I think the rest of the country just feels that they're not included in a
lot of what is going on, that the, the political debate on the Republican side seems to be
confined to a reasonably narrow group of people who are driving that dialogue. The
Democratic side seems to be kind of cordoning itself off from the middle that helped get this
president elected. So I think there is good reason for a lot of anxiety out there.
MR. GREGORY: And a lot of anger, Kathleen Parker. I mean, if we've seen anything sort of
define our politics, it is pure anger on both the right, there's the Tea Party, and on the left, there's
occupy Wall Street.
MS. PARKER: Well, I do--absolutely. And you know, the truth is the Tea Party and the
Occupy Wall Street people are, are really two sides of the same coin. You know, one is against
big government, one is against crony capitalism. And the truth is, the, the successful candidate
will pull those two people, those two groups together and, and help dissipate that anger. I think
the frustration's simply feeling that not only is there nothing happening in the Congress, that
nothing's moving forward, but that they don't really have any way of influencing outcomes. But
the truth is they do. And, you know, the fact is, when you look at the gridlock in Washington
everyone is so mad about, it's really gridlock by design, when you think about it. Because in
2010, the election pushed the Republicans in to take over the House. And that was really a
check on Obama. If you look at it, we have two big political movements in the last two
elections. One in 2008, it was a shift to the left. In 2010, a shift to the right. So 2012 is really a
tie-breaker. And the big question is whether the American people are ready to fire President
Obama. And that's a big one.
MR. GREGORY: One of the questions, though, again driving this idea of how cynical people
are, how negative they feel about the country, is whether the country's in decline, Tom
Friedman, or whether just too divided. You know, is it income inequality or is it, you know,
something bigger going on in the country?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I think, David, if we step back, I think we can explain a lot
of what's going on in the country and, and in the world by the fact that we've actually gone from
a connected world to a really hyperconnected world. And what that's done, actually, if the
world were a single math class, the whole global curve has risen. Because every boss today has
access to more cheap automation, cheap software, cheap robotics, cheap labor, and cheap genius
than ever before. And as a result, average is over. Average is officially over. We've all got to
find our extra, come with something new and extra to the table. So, on the one hand, that's
creating a lot of anxiety, understandably, throughout the population. At the same time, that
hyperconnectivity is giving people the tools to, to organize and protest against it from the right
and the left. And, at the same time, that hyperconnectivity is creating these huge income gaps
because if you do have the talent, if you are really, really above average, if you're J.K. Rowling,
you know, you can now make more money in a totally connected world than ever before. So it's
all wrapped up together in one process.
MR. GREGORY: Marc Morial, I mean, this is Christmas, and what does it represent if, if not
hope? And yet, Tom referenced this, for so many Americans who own a home, their nest egg
was the equity in their home. And for too many Americans, that's gone; and, frankly, it's not
coming back. That really dashes a lot of hope.
MR. MORIAL: You know, the anger that Americans feel, I think, is accelerated by the fact that
the middle class has evaporated, that the recession has created a greater income inequality than
ever before. White Americans lost 16 percent of their net worth in the recession alone.
African-Americans 50 percent of their net work. You've got a disappearing middle class; and
the middle class and upward mobility and the sense that no matter where you were born in this
nation, you could rise to the next level, and that it wasn't by jumping over a giant hill or a giant
wall, has really been, I think, the, the lubricant that has helped to sustain this nation. So, on
Christmas Day, I think Americans are not only looking at the fact that they've lost their homes,
many have lost their jobs; but it's like the woman that I ran into on Friday who said, `I'm a laidoff
teacher. I do have a job, but I'm now a cashier at a grocery store. Can you help me teach? I
want to teach.' So you have many Americans--and the unemployment rate does not tell the
story. So the anxiety that many are experiencing, I think, today, is this sense of will it get
better? Will my condition in my life and my family's condition really improve no matter what
happens in the election of 2012?
MR. GREGORY: So we talk about the, the keys to 2012 and the presidential campaign is
going to be a huge factor. Is this conversation happening in the course of the campaign?
MS. PARKER: Absolutely. But I do want to say one thing. You know, the, the, the damage to
the middle class is real. You can't argue with statistics of people who've lost their homes and
the pain they feel from that, the lack of good jobs for people. But there's a new--there's new--
you know, a new report came out recently from Gallup that, that had some very interesting
statistics and that--one of them was that while we talk about income equality and the president
is certainly advancing that narrative, the American people really don't see it that way. The
majority does not feel that income equality is the big problem that it's being advanced as. And
the other thing, the other kind of interesting thing that may influence how the election goes, the
general election, specifically, is that Democrats, more Democrats think that big government is
the problem. Suddenly, they're seeing government as the problem rather than Republicans. So
that's just an interesting thing to watch.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. BROKAW: David, I actually think it's not just anger, it's cynicism, in part because almost
everything that they've been told in the last five years has proved not to be true, and if you go
back farther than that, about how Iraq and Afghanistan would work out and how swiftly it
would work out. And then, when the recession began, "We can work our way out of that." And
they were told officially that it was over in the spring of '09. Oh really? If you go out to
manufacturing areas or you go into a lot of the subdivisions in this country, they don't think it's
over. So they have withdrawn now, and they look at everything, I believe, with a much more
And, in my book, I write about something that I had not heard in the 50 years that I've been a
journalist, and that would be parents and grandparents coming up to me and saying, "I don't
think my children are going to have the lives that I've had." I've just never heard that before
because that goes right to the heart of the American dream. And what I try to do is recalibrate
the answer to that and say it's always been a quantitative answer, will they make more money,
will they have a bigger house, will they have more toys, more cars. We've learned there's a
price for that, and there's a finite capacity, so I--what we're not hearing in this debate, I think, is
a recalibration about more economic justice, for example.
We know that education is going to be the currency of the 21st century. There's been almost no
discussion of that on either side about what we need to do to raise the level of education so
everyone will have the skill set to compete in that hyperconnective world that you describe.
MR. GREGORY: But we're, we're coming upon the election season fast and furious. I know
we've been talking about it for a long time, but the voting actually starts here pretty soon. And
here's a blast from the past: 1998, the headline in The Washington Post, "Gingrich Steps Down
as Speaker In Face of House GOP Rebellion." That was 1998. And the cover of Time magazine
on November 16th, 1998, "The Fall of Newt." And on Newsweek's cover that week, "The
And, Tom Friedman, on the day of the Iowa caucuses, it will be 13 years to the day since it was
Speaker Gingrich's last day in that job. What a comeback. He's going to be somebody to watch
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, he--I think--I'd say a couple of things about it, David. One, there's a
journalism lesson here, which is never be smarter than the story. First rule of journalism, OK?
When the story is speaking to you, shut up and listen. And I think Newt's rise is speaking to us.
And what it says to me is, is that I think there's a lot of Republicans who are starved for a
candidate for their party who would be able to debate Obama head-to-head, they think is as
smart and mellifluous as the president. I think that's a lot of what is driving it from, from
But the other point I want to make, just to wrap up and react to my colleagues here, is that, as,
as bad as things are, what's really sad is that with just a few big political decisions, we could be
on a whole different track, OK? If, you know, President Obama and the Republican leadership
could agree, to me, on just two things--one is a small stimulus bill focused on getting more
young people through vocational school and, and four years or two years of college education,
an infrastructure for our cities, and then for me Simpson-Bowles, a long-term fiscal plan to
resolve our problem--I think you'd see the stock market go up 1,000 points, you'd unlock
enormous amount of investment here. Companies would hire again. I think the country today it
not only is economically down, but it's emotionally depressed. We feel like we're children of
permanently divorcing parents; and, in this environment, a lot of people just are holding back.
MR. BROKAW: David, I--what I...
MR. MORIAL: You know, I think--I really think that one thing that people don't want to
acknowledge is that underlying this there is a divided nation, underlying this there's a real
debate going on about the role of government. There's a debate going on about the American
future. There's a debate going on about our, our role in the world after, in effect, spending
almost $1 trillion in Iraq and losing 4,500 soldiers, and what next? There's a real debate going
on, and we have to acknowledge the fact that the political system which may play out in a
presidential election where people are fighting on base maximization and a narrow set of voters
in the middle doesn't spur the kind of conversation that we need to have about the priorities for
the 21st century. And that's the kind of discussion I hope we'll see. And I hope when that issue
is joined, when the Republicans nominate someone and the president is head-to-head, there'll be
a real debate about the future of the nation.
MR. FRIEDMAN: I might just say one thing, though. I don't think there's a narrow base in the
middle. I think the country is so much less divided than our politics and politicians.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. FRIEDMAN: And I think the biggest unrepresented tea party in this country is basically
the center left and center right.
MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.
MS. PARKER: I agree with you completely.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah. I agree as well.
MS. PARKER: Completely.
MR. BROKAW: And these are the people, by the way, who elected Obama.
MR. MORIAL: Exactly.
MR. BROKAW: And they feel betrayed by him, and they feel abandoned by him.
MR. MORIAL: Well...
MR. BROKAW: You know, I think...
MR. MORIAL: No one--no one group of people elects anyone. What happens in a presidential
election, as in all elections, is who can assemble the best coalition, and it requires a combination
of factors to win. One of the things that's going to be an issue this year that--is the assault on
voting rights, the fact that you've got 34 states that are trying to, in effect, make it more difficult
for people to work, and what effect that's going to have in, in the important states. But I think
that we need to understand that presidential politics today is about coalition building, and who
can basically put together a big coalition enough to get...
MR. GREGORY: But let's--let's make--go back, Tom, make your point, but also reflecting on,
you know, who we're going to look for in this presidential campaign. On the Republican side of
the ledger, you have this Gingrich story that's going to be a big part of the early part of the year.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah. I have this old-fashioned idea, though, that we ought to have some
votes cast before we make these judgments, that we ought to know what happens.
MS. PARKER: Oh come on, Tom. What a party pooper.
MR. BROKAW: I know. What would a columnist do if you--I mean...
MR. GREGORY: Right, right.
MR. BROKAW: But I do think that that--you know, I remember, being out in Iowa when
Howard Dean on the Sunday morning of MEET THE PRESS looked like he was going to win
Iowa, and John Kerry had a head of steam going and blew him out and then went on to New
Hampshire, and Howard Dean was over at that point. I've watched Iowa turn a Pat Roberts at
one point. George Bush 41 beat Ronald Reagan in a state where Ronald Reagan had begun his
broadcasting career. So there can be surprises. Now, we're playing by different rules now. I
was talking to one of Gingrich's guys the other day, he said he doesn't have to have the money
and the organization anymore, Twitter will help get him to where he needs to get to, and so will
the online piece of it. I don't know exactly what's going to happen in Iowa, but I do know that
Newt, at the moment, is helped very much. He's out front on the dialogue. I believe it's in part
because he's very cleverly, in all these debates, attacked us.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROKAW: And this is--there's a big anti-establishment...
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: ...mood out there. They want a--"Whoever's against the establishment, I'm for
him." And he does it very cleverly.
MR. GREGORY: Here...
MS. PARKER: I have to say something here, though. Well, if you want to add...
MR. GREGORY: No, go ahead.
MS. PARKER: No, but--well, the thing about Newt, it's interesting that he has emerged as this,
as this front-runner as a result of the debates because people have watched and seen how he
kind of manages the team, and there--and I think there's a real desire to see him debate, as you--
as somebody said, they want to see him debate President Obama. But, but let's back up and be
realistic about Newt Gingrich. Once people start looking at him carefully, and they see his
relationship with Freddie Mac and the money he took, which he downplayed initially, which is
frankly just not straightforward, if we can say that. But also, you know, he's got--we talk about
the baggage, the baggage is, is significant, I mean, both in his personal life and in his
MR. GREGORY: And his temperament. You know, on, on MEET THE PRESS in May, he
made an observation that's indeed coming home to roost about himself. Watch.
(Videotape, May 15, 2011)
FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): I think it's fair to say that I'm going to have--one of
the tests for--on this campaign trail is going to be whether I have the discipline and the
judgment to be president. I think that's a perfectly fair question.
MR. GREGORY: Some self-awareness there.
MS. PARKER: Right. And he--you know, he's presenting himself as this great intellectual, but
he's kind of--you know, there's some lowbrow kind of lowballing approaches to issues such as--
I mean, he wants to create a constitutional crisis right out of the gate by hauling judges in before
Congress with whom he disagrees. I mean, that's a pretty controversial ...
MR. BROKAW: Well, the other piece of it is, and I don't--and, again, this is the antietablishment
piece of it. I don't know how it's going to play, but you have Tom Coburn, and no
one would question his conservative credentials, or Peter King from New York and others who
served with him in the House who say "No way. We don't want this guy as our president." Does
that help him? It may, in fact. Because, again, these are establishment people...
MS. PARKER: Sure.
MR. BROKAW: ...who are in office who are coming after Gingrich.
MS. PARKER: Every time somebody in Washington says something negative about Newt, it
MR. GREGORY: But, Mark Morial, I had a prominent Republican say to me, "If Newt
Gingrich is the nominee, there is no way this campaign is going to be about Barack Obama."
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. GREGORY: (Unintelligible)
MR. MORIAL: Newt Gingrich has a very, very long record, and if he can pull a magician's
trick in the primaries and say, "I'm not part of the establishment," it's going to be difficult for
him to do it in a general election, if he's the nominee because Newt Gingrich is--has been
around American politics for 25 to 30 years. He's got a legislative record, he's got a record of
speeches and public pronouncements, he's got a personal record. And it will be, in effect, part of
MR. GREGORY: But we should point out, and it goes to Brokaw's point about waiting for the
voting to start, and what's different, Tom, about 2012. It is not winner-take-all in all these
states. A small percentage of the delegates will actually be apportioned after the first four
contests. Mitt Romney understands. He may have some problems with the base. He's got
money, he's got organization, and he can draw this out.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah, the other thing is he can draw this out, and we could get to a brokered
convention. I mean, if this gets downstream in the current mode, there are a lot of old
establishment Republicans who are going to be going to the Statehouse in New Jersey and
saying to Governor Christie, you've got to get in on this. They've got to find somebody else
who can be a player in it. Or, I think, outside of that, you're going to look at a lot of possibilities
of third party candidates jumping into it.
MS. PARKER: Well, that's more--that's most likely...
MR. FRIEDMAN: What's interesting, though, is whether it will be brokered on Twitter or on a
smoke-filled room. That's what is interesting.
MR. BROKAW: Right. Yeah, right.
MR. GREGORY: And that actually gets something on the Democratic side, as we talk about
the president's record on trying to improve the economy. Time magazine's Person of the Year
was "the protester." This is what it looked like on the cover.
And, Tom Friedman, you've talked about this as being more than a foreign policy story. This,
you know, represents, of course, Tahrir Square and, and the Arab Spring. But there's something
larger that's happening in the economy all over the world that affects President Obama's reelection
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, we're seeing the democratization of so many things. We're seeing the
democratization of information. Everyone's now a broadcaster. We've seeing the
democratization of weaponry. Everyone, you know, can--is becoming super empowered. We're
seeing the democratization of innovation. Tiny groups can now take on big companies. And
most of all, we're seeing the democratization of expectations. Everyone, whether you're in
Tahrir Square or in India or Israel or Wall Street, feels they're entitled to the same rights,
participation, and justice. And when all these people feel this, you've got just enormous energy
now coming from the bottom up, and I think it's going to be a huge leadership challenge for
anyone to, to meet these expectations. It's what I feel about, you know, the Arab Spring
sometimes when I, when I look at what's unfolding there now, David, is that it--I feel like two
things come to mind. It was inevitable and too late. You know, on one end, it feels inevitable.
On the other end, the catching up all of these people have to do, it's going to be enormous. And
leaders who can manage that--those expectations, generate them, and to channel them in the
right direction, it's the leadership challenge of our time.
MR. GREGORY: How as President Obama done in managing expectations on the economy
that, yes, he inherited in crisis, but here he, he goes into a re-election year with it very much in
distress. Marc Morial:
MR. MORIAL: I think that the--first of all, I just want to make the point, I think the president
kept his promises on foreign policy, and I think that the economy's been much more stubborn
and much more difficult. But it has to be said that, in most--in the most recent months, the
president has had, if you will, a small stimulus or a small economic growth proposal called the
American Jobs Act that's basically been filibustered in the Senate with one or two provisions
that have, that have, indeed, been passed. And I think what the election will really be about is
whether people would be better off if, in fact, you return to Bush era economic policies. I think
economic issues are going to be on the table, and I think people will have a choice because,
whether it's Mitt Romney or it's Newt Gingrich or it's anyone, I think that their economic plan is
more of a return to slashing budgets, cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, the types of
things that I think helped to produce the economic debacle that we're suffering through right
MR. GREGORY: It's interesting, because this question about American decline and whether,
Tom Friedman, we'd be talking about another story if we weren't caught up in our politics and
the outgrowth of 9/11. Listen to Mitt Romney from one of the Fox News debates earlier this
month where he talks about the future of the economy, the future of the country. Watch.
(Videotape, December 15, 2011)
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): This economy has every potential to continue to lead
the world. Our president thinks America's in decline. It is if he's president. It's not if I'm
president. This is going to be an American century.
MR. GREGORY: I think that is a, a real wedge in terms of how you argue America's purpose
in this election.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, what I think, David, I think actually the country gets it.
They understand where we are, they understand it's a new world. I think they're looking for
three things from the next president. One is, do you have a plan that's at the scale of the
problem, an honest plan for--they know we have to cut back. Do you have a plan that's at the
scale of the problem? To me, that's Simpson-Bowles or something like it. Second, is it fair?
OK, the wealthy have to pay more. They've had a great two decades, but everyone should pay
something. This is a national project, you know, it's got to be fair. And lastly, is it aspirational?
Is it just about balancing the budget? I've always--I'm not a green eyeshade guy, I'm a Fourth of
July guy. I think the country's a Fourth of July country. They're ready to sacrifice, but to make
the country great again, not just to balance the budget. I think that's--the candidate that gets
there can really win the election. What I fear is we're going to have an election that one side or
the other wins by 50.001 percent of the vote because they're able to smear the other just a little
bit more than, than, than the other guy, and we will not have the mandate to do what we need to
MR. GREGORY: Does Obama have to go big as president?
MR. BROKAW: He does. I don't think there's any question about it. I think part of the
problem that he's had up to this point until recently is that we didn't know which President
Obama was going to show up from week to week, where he was going to go, how he was going
to do it rhetorically in terms of his policy. Now they seem to have settled on a line, and they're
going to pursue it through. I've been thinking about this recently, having spent a lot of time in
the country. I think the country is ready for yes, and not for no. We've been spending a lot of
the last couple of years dealing only in no. "We're not going to go there. We can't do it." I think
the country wants big, bold ideas, and they have to be rooted in the practical constraints of the
MR. GREGORY: But isn't the problem, Kathleen, that the president takes over as president at a
time when there was a real backlash against government, about faith in government, bailing out
the banks and whatnot, and then he asked government to do more. I mean, it fights that idea of
saying yes to more when people are losing faith in the government's ability to carry out some of
these big things.
MS. PARKER: Well, and hence the new figures, the latest figures from Gallup. And it is a real
predicament. I agree with so much of what Tom said. There has to be some big idea, and there
has to be some--I think the American people really desperately want to see our, our elected
officials come together with some plan that works that is to the scale of the problems.
MR. BROKAW: And the other thing is, David, it is not just about government. There's this
whole movement going on across the country, it's public-private. You've got all these
consortiums going on, in Indiana on education and Georgia and in, in Chicago and across the
country. the private sector's coming in and partnering with the, with the public sector in getting
the big jobs that need to be done and reducing the inefficient government agencies that exist out
there, whether they're water districts or what. New York state has 11,000 state agencies. So
many of them could be eliminated and you could be contract players with the private enterprise.
That's a big, bold idea that doesn't advance the big behemoth of government moving in on your
MR. MORIAL: I agree with, with what Tom has said, and that is, at the state and local level,
you see a greater degree of cooperation, you see public-private partnerships, you see efforts to
take matters in to state governors and mayors and county executives' own hands, working with
labor and business. I've seen it in Ohio, I've seen it in--down in Georgia, in DeKalb County,
where we're working on a project.
But the other thing I wanted to make in terms of going big and, and being aspirational, I agree
with it. But part of it is, what is the priority of the nation? I think the people want a president
who's going to squarely look them in the eyes and say, "America cannot be involved in two and
three wars, we can't have every tax loophole and every tax deduction we want, we can't spend
money on every program that can come to mind. But what will the priority be? It's got to be
economic growth, it's got to be educating our kids, it's got to be creating a secure economic
future here at home. The last decade has been a decade where there's been lower taxes for the
wealthy, two wars undertaken, a continuation of spending, bailouts of the banks. You've had all
of these things, some that instantaneously people supported at the time they took place. But the
record shows we did so many things, tried to do so many things, that the future's got to be about
a leader saying what is our priority and what should we do in the 21st century.
MR. GREGORY: Let me, let me take a break here. We'll come back, talk about more of this
2012 playbook, the other big pillars, national security and other hot button issues in the new
year, what to look for, the biggest unknowns. We'll continue our discussion right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We are back to continue our special discussion here this morning with Tom
Brokaw, Tom Friedman, Marc Morial and Kathleen Parker.
And especially around the time of the holidays, when we're so thankful for our men and women
serving in wars around the world, these scenes are so heartwarming. This is Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma, and our returning heroes coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of our producers
flew, flew into Dallas and called us, saying it was one of the most beautiful things she'd ever
seen to see troops returning to DFW there in Dallas. And as the Iraq War is officially over, U.S.
troops have left, look at this polling information, Tom Friedman, from our NBC News/Wall
Street Poll about accomplishments for the president. Number one, 27 percent say killing Osama
bin Laden, number two, bringing all the troops home from Iraq. Indeed, killing Osama bin
Loden--Laden was voted the top news story of 2011. He has turned out to be a foreign policy
president, has he not?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think, you know, what's interesting about this election is the degree
to which Democrats will legitimately be able to run as a party that has effectively managed
national security, as we sit here today. Who knows what the next year's going to bring. We've
got the Iran question, Afghanistan out there. But I think President Obama, Secretary Clinton,
they've been good stewards of American foreign policy in a very unheroic time. I mean, this is
not the time of big START agreements and, you know, Cold War superpower kind of events.
But I think Obama's been quite effective, and I think national security, as we sit here today,
Christmas, is going to be a plus for him.
MR. GREGORY: But beyond just the politics, Tom Brokaw, the Iraq War may be over, but the
threat is not. I keep thinking to the Tom Ricks book, "The Gamble," in which he talks to
Ambassador Crocker, then ambassador in Iraq, and he said the most notable thing for which
Iraq will be remembered has not yet happened. And sectarian violence, the prospect of more
violence, questions about U.S. responsibility going forward, those are, those are real concerns.
MR. BROKAW: Well, Tom and I have been talking about that a lot. No one knows more
about that part of the world than Tom does. But the fact is that we're going to have to be on
ready alert, that the--just because we came home doesn't mean that we don't have an investment
and interest in that part of the world. Iran is sitting out there, the whole relationship with Israel,
what's going on with the Arab Spring and what that produces in Egypt, what happens in Syria,
finally, how the Saudis react to all of this. They've not been happy with the United States for
the past year because of the way that we dispatched Mubarak, and they said, you know, what are
you--if that's how you treat your friends--they're having a change at the top there. So that has to
be an important part of the debate in the next year, but my guess is that we won't hear very
much about it because people don't find a lot of political capital in talking about that.
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David, just, just to pick up on the one point there, there's a
question that's hung over the Iraq enterprise from day one, and it's been this: Is Iraq the way
Iraq is because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because
Iraq was the way Iraq was? That is it a fractured multisectarian party--country that can only be
held together by an iron fist? First by Saddam and then residually by us. Or is it not? We're
going to get the answer to that question now, OK, because Saddam's fist if gone, ours is gone.
And the big question, not just about Iraq, but all the Arab Springs, is, can they come together
and write social contracts to live together, in a way, tilted forward, and in a democratizing way?
We're going to find out. And a lot of the stability of the world in the next, you know, decade, is
going to depend on the answer to that.
MR. GREGORY: But what are we in for, is my question. And what are we up for as a
country? Kathleen, take this on. One of the interesting pieces in the debate is Ron Paul, who is
an isolationist and does not believe in much foreign policy, it doesn't seem, and certainly not
military intervention. Who said, "Look, we can't go around the world," these are his words.
"We're just flat broke. We can't go on invading additional countries." Whether it's, you know,
our level of responsibility going forward in Iraq or the threat from Iran or even how we may
have to manage the--all the consequences of the Arab Spring. As a country, what are we
prepared to do?
MS. PARKER: Well, Ron Paul will never be president of the United States, for starters.
MR. GREGORY: I think there's a reason he's got a big following out there.
MS. PARKER: Well, he gets a lot of applause for those lines, and I think part of that has to do
with the fact that the American people are exhausted. And for the--you know, we were going to
shock and awe Iraq and be out in three months, and here it is nine years later. And they--
nobody wants to see our, our young men and women going back and fighting anymore wars.
So, clearly, there is a--there is a limit to what Americans are willing to do. But what happens in
the Arab Spring is the big question because, you know, we like for--we cheer the demonstrators,
we cheer the democratic movement, we're all excited, but we're projecting our own values onto
those countries. We have a tendency to do that. But, you know, democracy is more than
voting. It's institutions, it's rule of law.
MR. MORIAL: Well, you know, I think it has to be, has to be said that President Obama has
kept his promises and has faithfully executed the foreign policy portfolio of the United States.
And that's why it may not be a big issue in this election, but the larger question is a question to
look back at Iraq, and this has to be done as a nation, and look at a $1 trillion spent, 4,500 lives,
and a residual expense for healthcare benefits. And I want to thank the troops on Christmas
MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.
MR. MORIAL: ...and the men and women in uniform who really gave in response to the call
for war. But there's a larger question that's got to be litigated, and it's got to be retrospective for
lessons learned. The second thing I'd say about foreign policy is, I think, the Middle East is
crucial; but in a changing world, David, with Asia, with Latin America, with rising economies, I
think the United States also has to look at the world in a very, very different way in the 21st
century because the economic factors and relationships that are going to be necessary for
competitive growth in the future are going to be far beyond simply a hyper focus on the Middle
East. It's not to dismiss the Middle East and its importance, but it's to say that many other areas
of the world are going to be critically important. And I think that we're going to see that played
out after 2012.
MR. GREGORY: Well, Tom Friedman, are we as a country going to have to react to chaos, or
are we going to react strategically to threats and opportunities posed by China?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, to Marc's point, I think it's a very good one. And it's ironic,
I think, what--again, if you're writing the book today, you'd say, "How interesting. Barack
Obama has been much better at fulfilling George Bush's national security policy than his own
foreign policy." Now, why do I say that? I think he's, he's really finished the war in Iraq, and
he's prosecuted the war against--on terrorism I think really smartly and effectively. But these
other issues that, that Marc has raised--how do we deal with China? How do we manage Asia?
How do we deal with rising, you know, powers from India to Brazil--those all depend on
domestic strength. You can lecture China all you want, but if you don't have a savings rate and
they're sitting on $3 trillion of your money...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. FRIEDMAN: ...you can lecture the Middle East all you want, but if you're addicted to oil.
See, all of these things now that are--we consider foreign policy in how we manage the world,
what they really depend on is totally different domestic politics, and, and we're not there yet as a
country. Certainly not Obama's fault, you know, entirely.
MR. MORIAL: Now, what Tom is saying, you know, David, is, is that as, as domestic policy
goes, as the strength of our economy goes, so goes our standing in the world.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.
MS. PARKER: Of course.
MR. MORIAL: And I think that that, I think, perhaps is something that should be a discussion
and should be an issue in the presidential election.
MS. PARKER: You know, somebody who keeps...
MR. FRIEDMAN: We are the tent pole that holds up--I say we are the tent pole that holds up
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
MR. FRIEDMAN: We provide all these global comments, and if this tent pole buckles or frays,
your kids won't just grow up in a different America, they'll grow up in a different world entirely.
MR. GREGORY: Well, can I just inject this into, if you look at failures of the president, again,
measured by our polling, it goes to some of these bigger questions on the world stage, as well.
The top response, 24 percent, that he's been unable to improve economic conditions. And look
at two and three, it's leadership, it's too much government spending. These are the kinds--I want
to talk about health care and immigration in a couple of minutes--but these are the kinds of
things get--that get noticed in terms of how America is evaluated.
MS. PARKER: Yeah. Just to comment on what, what both of these gentlemen were saying,
you know, there is one Republican candidate who has been saying these very things, but for
some reason he can't be heard.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Mm-hmm. Right.
MS. PARKER: You know, Huntsman, the only moderate in the group, is at the end of the
debate panel, and his lips are moving and nobody's paying attention to what he's saying. But he
has said over and over, he keeps coming back to this, particularly as it applies to China, he says,
"Look, we can't relate to these people in, in just specific ways, it has to be via values." And
when America is strong at home, meaning take care of our--all of our issues here, then America
MR. BROKAW: I think, David, it really comes out to that so much of the political debate has
been retro, and it's not looking forward. And it's--you know, we're playing off our previous
successes and our previous strengths, but--and we haven't caught up to the idea that it's no
longer the 20th century and the American century. We're out there having to compete every day
now for our place in the global economic marketplace and the new considerations for national
security. I've been saying for the last couple of years, as we have put a military face on America
almost everywhere in the world, including in the Middle East, obviously, in the subcontinent,
especially, the Chinese are making deals all over Africa and all over Central and South
America. And they're going in and making deals with the government, they're making deals
with the tribes, they're extracting natural resources, they're building roads. They have a whole
different template that they're working off from than we are.
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David, one of the points that we make in our book is that
American exceptionalism, it's not like an honorary degree.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. FRIEDMAN: It's not an entitlement like Social Security that every generation gets, it's
your batting average.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. FRIEDMAN: And right now we're batting about .220.
MR. GREGORY: Can I just add to this? I would be remiss, our producer, Chris Donovan,
found this terrific piece of tape that is so on point here that I have to play it. It's about the 1990s
argument and something that then Senator Obama said back in November of 2007. If we have
that, we'll show it.
(Videotape, November 10, 2007)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): I don't want to spend the next year or the next four years
refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s.
MR. GREGORY: Bingo. Tom Brokaw, but isn't that the problem is that we still are fighting
MR. BROKAW: Well, it's a political year. I mean, part of the reason that we're not going to
make a lot of progress this year is that it's all about who gets the White House back. Everyone
knows that that's the great machine that moves the government and defines the culture in this
country. And it's fairly discouraging given all that is going on in the world and the decisions
that we have to make that you can't operate on two different tracks, that you can have the big
vigorous political debate; but, at the same time, have something like what's happened this past
week with Congressman Ryan and, and Senator Wyden saying, "Hey, here's something to look
at when it comes to Medicare." I found that the most disheartening development in the week in,
in many ways. It's not perfect, but it's--kick-starts that debate that is absolutely necessary to the
future of this country in terms of entitlements and who gets them and how much we pay for
them. And it was lost in the cacophony of everything else, and that's the issue, I think.
MR. GREGORY: The, the, the issue, too, has to do with where the, where the government
started, where the year started, the horrible tragic shooting of Gabby Giffords, the
congresswoman from Tucson, Arizona. And President Obama spoke in January at a memorial
service about discourse, about politics, about the prospect of working together, and this is what
(Videotape, January 12, 2011)
PRES. OBAMA: We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public
servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all
Americans and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of
country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so
that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.
MR. GREGORY: And yet our politics throughout the year were so broken, Marc Morial. And
as we look ahead now, one of the things to watch in 2012, the most bitterly divided issue for
this administration, health care. The president prevailed, he got healthcare reform. But, in the
middle of this election year, after all that acrimony, the Supreme Court is going to weigh in on
his signature piece of legislation.
MR. MORIAL: Well, they're going to be a big player this year because they've taken,
obviously, the Affordable Health Care Act and its constitutionality, the constitutionality of the
ability of states to regulate immigration. They've taken a Texas reapportionment case, which
certainly is going to affect the balance of power in the Congress. So one big player in 2012 will
absolutely be the United States Supreme Court. But I think the American people and people
who watch the court don't think that the court is insulated from politics. And one cannot predict
if the court, for some reason, were to strike down the Affordable Health Care Act, there'll be a
reaction and there'll be a counterreaction politically. It will have an effect on the outcome of the
election. The same holds true for the immigration cases and the reapportionment cases. So
maybe the interesting sort of unplayed hand in this election will be what the Supreme Court
MS. PARKER: Well, and it looks like the Supreme Court probably will, 5-to-4, shoot down the
individual mandate as unconstitutional.
MR. BROKAW: I can't believe you're--Kathleen, that you're putting yourself way out there in
MS. PARKER: I'm putting myself way out there. I think that's what we're probably going to
see and it is going to have a huge effect on, on the election. Now, whether the rest of it stands
is, is another issue that has to be determined, the severability question.
MR. GREGORY: And from a policy point of view, what is at stake here if the individual
mandate were to go away, it really does affect broader access to health care.
MR. FRIEDMAN: It's the engine of the whole plan.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. FRIEDMAN: So I, I don't see what you have left.
MS. PARKER: Yeah. Well, it does--then you'd go back to before.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, yeah.
MR. MORIAL: The Supreme Court...
MR. BROKAW: You, you do see the administration, however, beginning to trim its sails a
little bit, sending off to the states this past week more decision making that they can make about
how they want to set up the marketplace for insurers. They did the same thing with education,
for example, the Race to the Top. States, you've got more choice going on here, so you see
them moving in that direction.
MR. MORIAL: But you know what's so striking about this individual mandate and the
Affordable Health Care Act is, if for some reason it doesn't exist, it just is another pile on to the
problems of the eroding middle class and the working class--no access to health care, loss of
jobs and wages and income, loss of homes. And so there's an underlying issue here. And I've
always said that those that oppose the president's Affordable Health Care Act had a
responsibility to offer an alternative proposal. This individual mandate was the Republican plan
of the early 1990s. I remember it because the first time I ran for office it was the plan being
promoted by those that were much more conservative. So, I don't think that you can
disassociate this case from the signal it may potentially send one way or another to struggling
middle and working class Americans who've seen their conditions really erode.
MR. GREGORY: Maybe the...
MR. BROKAW: I think the big problem with health care from the beginning has been it was
far too complex, that people...
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: ...really couldn't understand all the different provisions of it. The mandate
thing that they got.
MS. PARKER: Have you read it?
MR. BROKAW: Yeah. No.
MS. PARKER: Nobody can understand it. No.
MR. BROKAW: I mean, even people who have read it and, and healthcare experts are
confused about how it plays out, what the impact is on the best healthcare systems in the, in the
country. At the same time, there's been no one on the other side who has said, look, 17 1/2
percent of GDP is way too much to be spending on health care. Here's our plan for getting it
back down to 12, 13 percent. There has been, as you say, there's been no plan to come along,
concurrently, and say...
MS. PARKER: Well, the Republicans...
MR. GREGORY: But is the president going to communicate this, Tom, as his story, that he
was able to bring greater, you know, financial security through delivering healthcare acts as to
so many Americans, no longer will preconditions be an issue to forcing denial of coverage?
Can he tell that story in the course of the campaign?
MR. FRIEDMAN: I don't know if he can tell that story anymore. I mean, I, I, I really, really
worry about him. I'm sure he will tell a story and there'll be lots of parts to it. But does he have
a narrative about where we are today in the world, connecting it up in what we want and need,
speaking frankly to people and honestly? I go back to where we started this conversation.
We're in a different time. The advantages America had coming out of World War II, a world of
walls, we stood astride the world, and we kind of got through a long period by having--creating
a housing bubble. Those days are over. You want the American dream now, David, it takes
homework times two. I wish it wasn't that way but it is. And we ought to start the conversation
MR. MORIAL: But I think the, the important thing about an election is an election is about a
choice. So it's not just going to be President Obama, it's going to be President Obama and a
countervailing vision, a countervailing set of ideas, a countervailing set of proposals.
MR. FRIEDMAN: I hope he gives us a big choice. I really hope he gives us a big choice.
MR. MORIAL: The second thing, the second thing that we should never forget is that one of
the things that stymied the president's ability, particularly in 2010, is that control of the House
shifted. Where is the responsibility and where is the record of the majority of the House in
terms of what they've been able to pass and what they've been able to put forward? We can't
leave the Congress in control of the Congress out of this equation. The president is the
president. The president is not the emperor. The president is not the overseer and what--and
rule--and can rule by decree. So I think it's important in this political conversation, you can't
look at the president and what he's been able to do or not do without assigning some
responsibility to absolute obstacles from some of the members of Congress.
MR. FRIEDMAN: But where is the president who said I'm here to change the polls and not
read the polls?
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MS. PARKER: Right. And I would also add to that, you know, he--his narrative thus far has
been, "Look, I inherited a terrible mess, I've done the best I could; but, look, they've blocked me
at every step." You know, and to a lot of independents and moderates, that sounds a little bit
like, "Look, things are bad, but I could have done a much worse job." And, you know, and also,
I think, this, this narrative of the class warfare, you know, the--that the rich are getting richer
and the poor are getting poorer, it pits Americans against each other, and it is, frankly, un-
American. I don't think it's going to work for him.
MR. MORIAL: But the problem with it, Kathleen, is it's true. If the facts are the facts, I mean,
separate what you call it, what slogans you use. The fact of the matter is we've had a growing
economic divide. And the top 10 percent have really seen their fortunes increase dramatically
in the last 15 years to make up that part.
MS. PARKER: But you have to appeal to people's better angels. And the, the same Gallup
report I keep quoting said that, you know, 82 percent of Americans care most--think that the
prevailing message needs to be hope and opportunity.
MR. MORIAL: Yeah.
MS. PARKER: They don't want the negative, they want the positive.
MR. BROKAW: I, I think most Americans want to get into that top 10 percent, by the way...
MS. PARKER: Of course.
MR. BROKAW: ...and that's why it's doesn't play. The other thing is I just offered two history
lessons for this Christmas. One is I've been reading a book about the Christmas of 1941, which
is right after Pearl Harbor and what was going on at the White House. Winston Churchill had
come here, and you talk about problems, you talk about a challenge? The world was at war.
Hitler had eaten up most of Europe at that point. The Japanese were amok in the Pacific. We
didn't have a military that was prepared, really, for the consequences of that. Then I've been
reading about the campaign of 1948. Harry Truman, who had inherited the presidency from
FDR, and a lot of people were against him, and the vitriol in that campaign against the
incumbent president who had not earned his place, they all felt. We had Henry Wallace and
Strom Thurmond who were out there threatening to run or planning to run as third party
candidates. We got through it. Those were much more difficult days, in many ways, than what
we're facing now because people came with big, bold ideas about how they were going to deal
with it. And...
MR. FRIEDMAN: But it was a much less competitive world.
MR. BROKAW: It's--yeah, yeah.
MR. FRIEDMAN: And that's the thing. We, we, we, we--it's true, Tom, that we so dominated
the world then in a way that we don't anymore.
MR. BROKAW: No, I agree with that, Tom. I'm just talking about...
MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah? OK.
MR. BROKAW: I'm talking about the culture of politics at that time.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Oh, I appreciate that, yeah.
MR. BROKAW: And...
MR. GREGORY: But, but the question for both of you is then what moves that? I mean, even
with that reality that we don't dominate the world the way we used to in the United States, what
changes politics? What gives it a wake-up call to get on to the right track?
MR. BROKAW: Well, I think big, bold ideas, and I think not being afraid to say to the public,
to the American public, "This is going to be hard. It's not going to be easy."
MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: "And, and, and just, by the way, here's what we're facing, you all know that.
And it's not yesterday in this country, it's tomorrow. It's not this morning of Ronald Reagan's
time, it's tomorrow morning that we have to worry about."
MR. FRIEDMAN: Surprise us.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MS. PARKER: Right, mm-hmm.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Wake up one morning, pick up the paper and say, "Wow."
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. FRIEDMAN: "Barack Obama, he just took such a political risk. You know, if he took
that risk, I'd like to take a risk, too, and get behind him."
MR. BROKAW: Yeah. And by the way they're doing...
MS. PARKER: Well, the thing nobody...
MR. BROKAW: They're doing it out in the country in their smaller ways. You know, they're
changing their business plans, and, and they're going at education in a different fashion. And
they're willing to upset convention in a lot of different parts of the American economy in a
parochial way. And they feel completely walled off from what's going on in the national
MR. GREGORY: Final, final point?
MS. PARKER: Well, I was going to say the thing that nobody will say, at least if they're
running for office, is that the, the hard lesson here is that our revenue problems have to be
solved by raising taxes, probably on everyone, and our spending problems have to be solved by
cutting. And nobody will say what is absolutely true, we all have to do--you know, it's going to
be painful for everybody.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to have to take another quick break. We'll be right back. In our
remaining moments, including some Christmas reflections from the former archbishop of
Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, after this.
MR. GREGORY: And we are back. In our remaining moments here this Christmas morning
we want to bring you an excerpt from our Press Pass conversation, which you can find on our
website this week, with a man very familiar to our viewers over the years, the former
archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
MR. GREGORY: Families are gathering on--for Christmas for the holidays, and it's such a
great blessing for everyone to be together. But, as we think about the country, everywhere, in
every community across the country, people are really hurting.
CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK: There's no question about it. You travel any part of
the country and you see so many families that are broken, families that have lost their, their
breadwinner, families that are becoming more poor than they were before. We always had that
great American dream that your children were going to be do better than you would. There was
always a progression upward. Now there--a lot of our families who say, "No, I mean, I'm
worried about my daughters and sons and what's going to happen to them because they are not
going to have the opportunities that, that I've had." That, of course, is very depressing for, for
people; and, in a world like that, you don't need depressing things.
MR. GREGORY: As all of us work at our relationship with God, I always wonder how
difficult it is for people who are going through real trials in their lives to rely upon that
relationship. If it's--maybe it's automatically a source of strength, but aren't there times when
working your faith becomes a real challenge?
CARDINAL McCARRICK: Oh, absolutely for everybody, for everybody. For, for clergymen,
as, as well as for, as well as for lay people. But I think that, well, Christmas is maybe the
answer to all of that. Christmas is a, is a, a season of hope, a season of expectation, a season of
love. And there are people who, who will be celebrating Christmas in, in less than the perfect
circumstances. They won't have enough to eat, there'll be unemployment in the family, there'll
be--the heat in the house may not be as good as it should be, the--there won't be a turkey or a
ham or whatever on the table. But that's why Christmas comes. I think Christmas comes to
remind us that there is a God and that this is a God who loves us. I think the--you--if you, you
touch the whole basis of the, the Abrahamic family, the family of Abraham, Christians,
Muslims, Jewish people; and, in that there's--there is a God who loves, a God who is, as our
Muslim brothers say, "A God who is loving and compassionate."
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
CARDINAL McCARRICK: Loving and compassionate and merciful. And the, the, the lesson
of the old, of the Hebrew scripture, what we call the Old Testament, is equal. This is a God
who made us, who loves us, and who promises us that he'll never leave us. And, and, of course,
we Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ this day, we believe that, that that is the answer
to God's promises that he will always be with us, he sent us his son.
MR. GREGORY: And it is in that spirit that we wish you and your family a very merry
Christmas and a joyous and peaceful new year.
We'll be back next week, New Year's Day, live from Des Moines, Iowa, just two days before the
caucuses. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.