In Politics: Weiner's Fall And Bachmann's Rise
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
As Greece heads into emergency talks to try and figure out a way out of its enormous debt problem, we'll hear why financial issues way over there are relevant all the way over here. That conversation is coming up in just a few minutes.
But first, it's time to check in on this week's most interesting political stories on this side of the ocean: congressman Anthony Weiner's resignation; Michele Bachmann's strong showing as a Republican candidate, running to take the White House from President Obama in 2012; and the bizarre TV ad in California from a group called Turn Right USA that's got left, right and center all scratching their heads.
For this weekly political chat, we've called on, once again, Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Welcome back, thanks for coming.
MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Also with us Michael Fauntroy, the author of the book "Republicans and the Black Vote," and a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Thank you so much for joining us once again.
MICHAEL FAUNTROY: My pleasure.
MARTIN: So let's start with Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman - a rising star; some thought a strong potential candidate for mayor of New York City, something he seemed to be very interested in; a strong progressive voice - as I think everybody knows by now, resigned yesterday. He made a very short speech at the same senior citizen center where he first announced a campaign for city council 20 years ago. Here's a short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
Representative ANTHONY WEINER: I am here today to again apologize for the personal mistakes I have made, and the embarrassment I have caused. I make this apology to my neighbors and my constituents, but I make it particularly to my wife, Huma.
MARTIN: And what you didn't hear there is that there was a lot of background noise. There were some of - senior citizens there, who were there to support him. There were also hecklers there, and it was just a very kind of - and of course, reporters - a very kind of tense scene.
And for those who don't remember all the details, that his undoing were these tweets that he sent to various young women of himself, in various states of undress - which he initially lied about a lot, and then had to come clean at some point. So Michael Fauntroy, what can we learn from this?
FAUNTROY: Well, I think he has begun his campaign for mayor of New York. I think that this is about rehab. He could have sent a statement saying he was going to...
FAUNTROY: ...resign, and he chose to go to a place that means something to him politically. And it turns out what it means sort of cosmically, you know, I - my wife asked me to explain this last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CARY: On behalf of your gender.
FAUNTROY: She said, stand up for your people - and I really can't. I mean, this is a really unfortunate story. It is. But what's really unfortunate about it is that it's so predictable, and it happens so frequently. And men in a position of power, some of whom think that the rules don't apply to them, or some of whom think they won't get caught, just seem to engage in things that are self-destructive. And I wonder if there's something inside him, that leads him to do self destructive things.
MARTIN: Mary Kate, any lessons from this?
CARY: I watched it in all its excruciating glory with my two teenage daughters in the room, unfortunately, which reminded me of years ago, when my dad thought it was a good idea for the whole family to watch "Animal House" together - a similarly excruciating situation for everybody involved. But my reaction was, this is a teachable moment for the kids on the long-term consequences of sexting; on how fast you can lose a good reputation; on, you know, how to leave gracefully.
What he should have done, as we were saying, was some sort of press statement. You know, I wrote in a blog this morning, this is why God gave us written letters of resignation. He should have done a written letter to the speaker and done it the old-fashioned way - two weeks ago.
FAUNTROY: Yeah. Let me just add quickly, though, there is a maxim I think that needs to be applied, and that is: that which will be done eventually should be done immediately. There was no chance, once this began to blow up, that he was going to be able to ride out the storm.
CARY: Yeah, he's got to get...
MARTIN: But here's what I don't understand. Why is David Vitter, Louisiana senator, who acknowledged involvement with prostitutes - which is illegal; I mean, I don't know that whether Anthony - I know what Anthony Weiner did is creepy, I know this.
CARY: Right, right. Creepy is the word.
MARTIN: And - but I don't know that it's illegal. But what David Vitter did, arguably, is illegal. We know that he was involved with a prostitution ring.
MARTIN: And he still has his seat. And so what I guess I'm sort of saying is, who gets to be redeemed and who doesn't - is the question I have.
FAUNTROY: Well, I think everybody gets to be redeemed. They may not be able to be redeemed and keep their job. You know, now with Weiner, part of the problem for him is he had had such a bombastic reputation as an attack dog for the left against Republicans.
FAUNTROY: And so I think for some, there was a glee in going after him. And with regard to Vitter, you're also talking about somebody who's from a fairly isolated state, geographically, from the D.C.-New York sort of media axis. And so he's able to go back to Louisiana and sort of hide out. His wife stands by him, and then he ends up running for re-election and winning.
CARY: Yeah, big difference in the Big Easy.
FAUNTROY: Yeah. I mean, it makes no sense.
CARY: I think part of it, too, is Weiner wasn't known as a guy with a lot of friends. You look at Charlie Rangel - or even going back to Bob Packwood, you know. These were guys who people don't - especially Charlie Rangel, is probably the best example because they're both from New York and so recent in the Internet age.
I think if you have a lot of friends around town, and you're known as a decent person, and people have known you for years, it makes a big difference. And I don't think Weiner had that on his side. I don't think he had a lot of allies...
CARY: ...who were willing to stick up for him when the chips were down.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of somebody who's going to need some allies, let's talk about Michele Bachmann, who - a Tea Party favorite, a strong showing - I think surprising to some - at the first out-of-the-gate Republican...
MARTIN: ...debate, which was held in New Hampshire - Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier in the week.
And if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're catching up on this week's political news with Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report - she's also a former presidential speechwriter - and Michael Fauntroy, author and professor of public policy at George Mason University.
So Michele Bachmann, congresswoman from a conservative district in Minnesota. Here she is at Monday night's Republican presidential candidates' debate. She's talking about unifying the Republican Party.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: We need every one of us on a three-legged stool. We need the peace-through-strength Republicans; we need the fiscal conservatives; we need the social conservatives. We need everybody to come together because we're going to win. Just make no mistake about it. I want to announce tonight, President Obama is a one-term president.
MARTIN: In this you hear John King, the moderator from CNN, trying to say OK, your time is up; your time is up.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: But - so Mary Kate, tell us a little about what you think the appeal is. I mean, she's made some new steps already and just - and she kind of offered her own response to the State of the Union...
MARTIN: ...which a lot of people - some people in the Republican Party thought, what was that about?
MARTIN: I mean, and she didn't acquit herself particularly well.
CARY: She was looking in the wrong camera, remember? Yeah.
MARTIN: She's looking at the wrong camera. She's misspoken about - completely misunderstanding American history, which I think, you know, some people like Michael would, I think...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CARY: Yeah, the professor...
MARTIN: ...particularly not appreciate.
FAUNTROY: Well, sadly, she's not the only one that does that.
CARY: That's true.
MARTIN: But tell me what you think her appeal is, Mary Kate.
CARY: I find her very intriguing, as I think a lot of women do. There's a lot of eye-rolling among sort of mainstream Republican women about Sarah Palin, and there doesn't seem to be about Michele Bachmann. People didn't come up to me on the street for years.
MARTIN: How come?
CARY: I think it's because she's the one they wanted Palin to be. She's just as charismatic. She's just as good, a prolific fundraiser, but she's got this history of slip-ups, so she's always got a surprise. You want to watch her and see what's going to come out of her mouth next.
None of her slip-ups seem to be deal breakers. And most of them seem to be 10-second, soundbite-type stuff. The other thing people are fascinated by is foster mother of 23 kids. And that, I think, says volumes about somebody. They're all teenage girls who she helps get through high school. These are not babies that she's raised from birth. She takes them when they're in most need of - trouble and...
MARTIN: You're right; helping is something that gets a lot of people's respect.
CARY: That says volumes.
MARTIN: That gets a lot of respect, not just across - I think not just Republicans, but I think a lot of...
CARY: No, it says a lot.
MARTIN: ...people look at that and say...
CARY: And there's never been a complaint.
FAUNTROY: And not only that, as that story gets to be told more often, the people's view of her will improve because I don't think a lot of people know that part of her.
FAUNTROY: And I think once that gets out, I think she'll benefit.
FAUNTROY: But you know, there's another part to this. From my perspective, this appears to be an unimpressive field that is crying out for a spark. And in some ways, she can be to Mitt Romney what Barack Obama was to Hillary Clinton during the nomination fight - that is, somebody who is not from a stereotypical background. She can come in and make some noise, and make some arguments.
And while she does have these problems with slip-ups and, you know, not knowing sort of basic American history, in some respects, I think for most rank and file Republican voters, that's not going to be a big issue.
CARY: Not really a deal breaker yet.
MARTIN: Not a deal breaker yet. There's one - the Daily Beast wrote a piece this week about what it called Bachmann's quote, unrivaled extremism. And that's going to be an interesting sort of question, whether - she is obviously known as a very strong evangelical Christian.
MARTIN: The question is, does that translate into a political extremism that the mainstream will find unacceptable? I think that's going to be the interesting thing to watch.
CARY: Right, right.
MARTIN: Speaking of which, though, this is one thing - we've got to spend five seconds for this. Political ad in California that might be - that is just shocking to many people. It targets Janice Hahn, a Democrat who's running for Congress in a special election. I'll just play a little bit of the ad, just so you get the flavor of it. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Rapping) Give me your cash, (beep).
JANICE HAHN: It does take a different kind of person to be able to speak the language.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Rapping) (beep) Give me your cash 'cause we back in again.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Congress has enough gangsters.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Rapping) Ugh.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Janice Hahn. Bad for L.A., bad for America. Let's keep her out of Congress, homies.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
MARTIN: It includes a stripper pole, a white actor pretending to be a stripper, two black men slapping her as if she - it's just beyond - I can't even discuss.
CARY: It is beyond.
MARTIN: I can't even talk about it. It was created by a PAC, a political action campaign, called Right Turn USA. And of course, her opponent has disavowed this as well. The question is, is this like a new frontier here, where people will just say anything?
FAUNTROY: Well, this ad has left me speechless - and very few things that have ever occurred in the history of my life have left me speechless.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FAUNTROY: It's racist. It's sexist. The actors, quote-unquote, who participated in the ad, I think need to be famous and need to be asked, you know, what it's feel to sell out, you know? I just don't understand it. And for Janice Hahn's opponent to disavow it is fine. But this is an example of how your friends can often cause you trouble.
MARTIN: Mary Kate, what do you think this means, though? I mean, is this the kind of thing where people feel that because this is allegedly a post-racial society, that they can say anything racial or that there is no bottom line anymore? I don't know. What is this?
CARY: Yeah. I think it's all-publicity-is-good kind of attitude. And I think this is one more consequence of these outside groups that are out of control with the campaigns. I mean, this guy's disavowing it. But what's he supposed to do? I mean, if you assume he's not associated with it - giving him the benefit of a doubt.
FAUNTROY: And to your point, Right Turn USA - and I can't believe I just said their name - they're going to make some money off of this.
CARY: It's crazy.
FAUNTROY: They're going to connect with people who like that kind of crap and will raise money as a result.
CARY: This makes good people not want to go in politics - is the problem.
MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. Michael Fauntroy is a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and author of the book "Republicans and the Black Vote." They were both here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios. Boy, do I hate to end on that ad, that scurrilous ad.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: But time is the one thing that they're not making any more of. Thank you both so much for joining us.
CARY: Thanks for having me.
FAUNTROY: My pleasure.
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