Tim Russert, Lord
of the Consensus, then
(12/8/02) and now
On Trent Lott, December 8th of last year ...
MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about the removal of the Bush economic team. But one last point on race. David Broder, Trent Lott, the majority leader of the Senate, was at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond the other day and had this to say: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over [all] these years, either."
John Lewis, a congressman, former civil rights leader, said that Strom Thurmond ran a segregationist campaign in 1948 and that Trent Lott is just dead wrong. Jesse Jackson called NBC News this morning and said Trent Lott is a Confederate and he should resign as majority leader. How big of a problem is this for Trent Lott?
MR. BRODER: It's not the first time that he has had to explain his association with or references to that kind of race-focused rhetoric in the South. He was involved a few years ago speaking to a group that was pretty overtly racist in the South. Race remains, much as we would like it to be otherwise, a very, very important factor in our national life. And it is a decisive factor in Southern politics. Any Southern politician that you talk to can tell you with precision exactly what percentage of the white vote he or she needs to get, because all of them assume that 90 percent or more of the black vote is going to the Democrats. As long as that racial divide continues, any kind of comment like this on Senator Lott's part is going to be--have all kinds of bad resonance.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak?
MR. NOVAK: This was a birthday party, 100th birthday party, for Strom Thurmond. Trent Lott got out there and he winged it. That's one of the dangers of not having a text. He thought it was a social occasion. He's thinking what comes to his mind. He's saying--if you listen to the whole speech, he's making extravagant statements about Strom Thurmond, as he should on his 100th birthday. And he goes over the line. Now, the idea that Trent Lott thinks we should have a segregated America, that we should have had Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright--Remember Fielding Wright, Tim?--his vice presidential candidate, as the people running America in 1949...
MR. SAFIRE: Well, nobody else remembers that.
MR. NOVAK: ...is--it's nonsense. And I think that the idea that Jesse Jackson wants him to resign is ludicrous. I think it was a mistake. I don't think he was at all serious, and I don't even think we should dwell on it. The idea that race is important, I think, is the biggest problem for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans. And in South Carolina, where they had a disaster on November 5th, they were relying on the black vote and there are just not enough blacks to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein?
MR. KLEIN: Well, I don't know. Maybe we should dwell on it a little bit, especially in an atmosphere where any Democrat is immediately saddled--where Max Cleland was saddled with Osama bin Laden in TV ads in Georgia. I think that if a Democrat had made an analogous statement, like if Henry Wallace had been elected in 1948, we would have had a much easier road with the Soviet Union because we would have just given them everything and there wouldn't have been a Cold War. You would have been jumping up and down. And I think that this kind of statement in this country at this time is outrageous, and it should be called that.
MR. NOVAK: I think the problem, Joe, is that he didn't come out with a statement saying, "Boy, oh, boy, I thought this over and we should have had a Thurmond administration." He's at a damn birthday party. I mean, this is the kind of thing that makes people infuriated with the media, is they pick up something that's said at a birthday party and turn it into a case of whether he should be impeached.
MR. KLEIN: Yeah, it's the media's fault.
MR. NOVAK: Yeah, right. I think it is that we're talking about it.
MR. BRODER: Why does the thought cross his mind that he...
MR. NOVAK: David, he's kidding around. He is--I don't know if you watched that speech. They were saying that this was the greatest living American, which Strom Thurmond certainly is not. It's his birthday. He's saying all these things. Boy, if he had been elected, we'd have been better off. Why don't we forget it?
MR. SAFIRE: The thing that comes to mind with me is what we've all said here, that the black vote is monolithic, that it's running 90 and 92 percent Democratic. I think that's bad for black Americans. I think the same thing with Jewish Americans, that vote monolithically Democratic. The whole notion of losing your influence by being taken for granted is a great mistake by any ethnic or racial community.
And on Tom DeLay this morning ...
MR. RUSSERT: It's a very interesting time, generally, in my experience in Washington, intelligence, foreign policy truly became a bipartisan adventure mostly unless something went wrong and then there would be a lot of finger-pointing. More and more it seems to be breaking down along party lines. The most recent example was this Washington Post editorial Friday about something that happened in Texas. State legislators fled the state to avoid a vote on redistricting, went to Oklahoma. Congressman DeLay's office has now acknowledged they called the Department of Justice and the FAA. The Washington Post wrote this editorial: "...somehow the search for the missing [Texas] Democrats came to involve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and state records concerning the search were ordered destroyed... The public deserves convincing evidence that the document destruction was routine, not an effort to cover something up. ...The public is entitled to know how a Cabinet department formed to protect America from terrorists ended up looking for Democrats who didn't want to show up for work."
Senator Biden, what's going on?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, on the overall question of foreign policy, 100 percent of the Democrats supported the Republicans on Afghanistan, 80 percent of the Democrats supported it on Iraq. So I think that's an exaggeration to say there's a split. You look around here, these two guys are more together and we're more together, and we're Democrat-Republican, split. But on this issue of whether or not you'll use domestic tools for--that are in the realm of foreign policy-related for domestic purposes, I don't know enough to comment on that. I mean I just don't know what happened there. I'm just not qualified to comment.
MR. RUSSERT: Anyone?
SEN. HAGEL: I think they all went to Kansas. If they really wanted to get lost, that's where they'd go.
MR. RUSSERT: Whoa.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I shouldn't say this, but they were in Dodge City, Kansas, and we hosted them. We had a barbecue, and it was--because our barbecue is a lot better than Texas barbecue and Oklahoma barbecue, and you can see just exactly what light I think this should be put in.
MR. RUSSERT: There goes the vegetarian vote, Senator Roberts. Senator Roberts, Senator Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. Roberts, Rockefeller, Hagel, Biden. That's a new Washington law firm, I think.
SEN. ROBERTS: That's exactly right.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, two former CIA directors, Admiral Stansfield Turner and William Colby speak out almost 20 years ago about Middle East terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Hard hitting stuff.