From Politics To Michael Jackson

Scott Simon speaks with NPR News Analyst Juan Williams about the death of Michael Jackson, and what South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's affair means to the reputation of the GOP.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us now. Hello, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And boy, what a week for news. Most recently, of course, the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. And we're going to get you also to talk about Michael Jackson in a moment.

But in politics you had, well, Senator Ensign's sex scandal, Governor Sanford's disappearance, along what turned out to be not the Appalachian Trail but in Argentina. Now, with respect for the pain this causes families, what are some of the political implications of, say, for example, Governor Sanford's episode?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it really speaks to the - well, he resigned, of course, as head of the Republican Governors Association. But overall it's the impact on the party's base, which is an evangelical, conservative, older, mostly white Southern base. And they, of course, revel in the idea of being people of family values, and this is deflating for them.

Michael Steele, the Republican Party chair, said this week it's one more disappointment in terms of their leadership for the Republican Party. And I think he's talking about that Republican base.

SIMON: So even though - and we can list them: John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Governor McGreevey, the mayor of Detroit - even though Democratic politicians obviously have had their scandals too, Republicans are especially vulnerable on this issue?

WILLIAMS: I think the hypocrisy charge stands large here. Because if you even look at Governor Sanford, when he was in the Congress he was someone who was so harsh in his assessment of Bill Clinton as a sinner and voted to have Clinton impeached. Now we see Sanford just yesterday at a cabinet meeting in Columbia, South Carolina - the state capital - giving no indication that he is going to resign as a result of, you know, an absolute adulterous affair.

SIMON: The House narrowly passed an energy bill last night over strong Republican opposition. A victory for President Obama, but will the narrowness of the margin embolden Republicans to fight harder in the Senate when it gets before them?

WILLIAMS: I think it's going to be a tougher fight in the Senate because there you will need 60 votes to get past the filibuster. Here you had a 219-212 margin and literally they were bringing people who were, you know, in drug rehab and the like back to the Congress to vote.

You're not going to have that kind of ability in the Senate. And the argument, of course, is pretty strong coming from the Republicans that it's going to increase taxes. Now, there's some debate about that, CBO saying it's going to really amount to about $175 per person, EPA, but part of the Obama administration saying it's more like $100 per person across the country.

And in the Obama White House, even today in terms of the president's weekly address saying this is about jobs and the future and jobs that would come from clean energy - solar, wind power and the like, while the Republican base - and I think lots of people from the industrial Midwest in particular - saying, no, this is going to cost us jobs and it's a tax increase.

So the argument is pretty strong. But this is a moment, Scott, to take some sense of where we are. This is the first time that Congress has done anything in history about global warming.

SIMON: Speaking as the chronicler of American life that you are, what does Michael Jackson represent?

WILLIAMS: You know, well, first of all, I think, Scott, for me and for you, he really is the soundtrack of our lives. I mean, he's - it's unbelievable how many songs bring back how many memories with Michael Jackson. And we saw Michael Jackson grow up.

And part of that, for me, is that he was the original crossover black star. I mean, to the point where, of course, he starts to disfigure himself, I think, to look more white.

SIMON: Starts to really cross over, yeah.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. But, you know, you think of things like "Ebony and Ivory" or "We Are the World," and it really is, there's an ethos to Michael Jackson that suggests he doesn't want to be limited. And remember when MTV would not play his videos and he responds by insisting, oh no, they have to play my videos. And he was quite the deal maker. And then, of course, has "Thriller" and then everything goes out the door.

And people, I think, who would've been resistant - especially parents - to the idea of their children listening to black music and the kind of hip-shaking moves that had to be in the person of a white performer - Elvis Presley in a previous generation - were now acceptable from Michael Jackson.

And then, of course, Michael Jackson also was sort of androgynous. He crossed over in terms of his sexual identity. Clearly - I think he represents that crossover ethic.

SIMON: Real transcendent figure. NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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