Week In Politics: Economy, Michael Steele
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
More politics now. Our regular team of Dionne and Brooks have the day off. Joining us are Democratic strategist and commentator Karen Finney, and conservative political analyst Michelle Barnard. Welcome to both of you.
Ms. KAREN FINNEY (Democratic Strategist and Commentator): Thank you.
Ms. MICHELLE BARNARD (Conservative Political Analyst): Thanks, good to be here.
SIEGEL: And since we just heard about Michael Steele, let's stick with that story for a moment. Karen Finney, you've written that if the Democrats win in November, Republicans can blame Mr. Steele. Why?
Ms. FINNEY: Well, it does seem that Mr. Steele - it's not just about his gaffes, it's actually about some of the things that he's been doing and not doing. Obviously, the lack of real party-building activity, I think, has been a real detriment. And you've already seen the RGA and the NRSC, and other Republican committees...
SIEGEL: The Governors Association and the Senate Campaign -
Ms. FINNEY: Yes. The governors and senatorial and congressional committee use the fact that Steele has had pretty lackluster fundraising as a way to help their own fundraising. And American Crossroads, in fact, which also has been called the shadow RNC, has been using that pitch as well.
SIEGEL: Michelle Barnard, should Michael Steele stay or go?
Ms. BARNARD: Well, you know what? It's so hard to say because the bottom line is, he's not going anywhere. He doesn't have anywhere to go. I don't think that he is in a position financially to leave the RNC. I think he's going to hang in there, and he's going to wait until the elections that come up in January and see, you know - and see what happens. For all intents and purposes, you know, the RNC is stuck with him, for the time being.
I think part of the problem that Michael Steele has had is, you know, Obama was elected, the country was so excited to have an African-American president. And I think somebody in the Republican Party said, wow, we've got a black president, we should have a black RNC chair. And they didn't, you know - I mean, thank God they didn't pick somebody even less qualified than Michael Steele. But he's got some really serious problems within the party. And there are a lot of people in the party that for a variety of reasons, have lost big confidence.
Ms. FINNEY: But let's remember that when Michael Steele became chairman at the RNC, it was after about six rounds of voting. And if I'm not mistaken, it was at the point where we got to him - it was between himself and another person who was a white conservative who - let's just say folks felt didn't quite send the right message for where the Republican Party was trying to go.
And I think part of the reason they're stuck with Michael Steele, frankly, is there is a lot of concern that there's disarray within the party. And getting rid of your party chairman leading into the fall elections - that's not exactly a way to reassure voters that everything's under control.
Ms. BARNARD: Well, you know, I mean, you won't get any disagreement from me in the sense that the Republican Party has a major problem. It is fractured. It has been very fractured for a very long time. But bottom line is, if Michael Steele leaves, if Michael Steele is forced out of the Republican Party, we're going to hear major cries of racism in a party that has a problem with African-American and Hispanics as well as with, you know, with a certain income level of whites that are just incredibly dissatisfied with the way the country's going.
Ms. FINNEY: I absolutely agree.
SIEGEL: And you're speaking as a conservative African-American yourself.
Ms. BARNARD: Absolutely.
Ms. FINNEY: As a liberal African-American, I completely agree.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: We have some consensus here.
Ms. FINNEY: There you go.
SIEGEL: Let's move on to the economy. This week, President Obama talked about his export initiative as a way to create jobs. Karen Finney, should we hear what he's not saying - which is, a big federal jobs bill might also create jobs, but he can't get one?
Ms. FINNEY: Well, sure. And I think you are hearing plenty of that. But I think it was important for the president to get out there and tout what he's been doing on exports, reminding people that under Bush, our trade deficit was double. And now, he's making some inroads with a 17 percent increase. This also, though, fits into the strategy that you're seeing from the White House this week, of trying to appear to be more pro-business.
During that same announcement, he also announced a trade council. He announced Ivan Seidenberg and some other - sort of big CEOs. And then even in the last couple of days, while he's been on the road touting jobs, he's also - again -trying to tout things within the stimulus bill that may have helped businesses to help the economy.
SIEGEL: Michelle Barnard, let me ask you about the Republicans and the economy. Is it a decent message on the economy, to oppose an extension of unemployment insurance?
Ms. BARNARD: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: That's your long answer.
Ms. BARNARD: That's my long answer. I will tell you, as someone who is an independent, registered independent - so that Republicans don't feel like I'm beating up on Republicans - saying no and becoming the party of no has really been a very bad strategy for the Republican Party. Vetoing unemployment benefits is a bad strategy for the Republican Party. I do think that one of the things Republicans are doing well - and that frankly, the Obama administration needs to do better - is to talk about the importance that corporations play.
And not to say that, you know, all corporations are great. But the sense that corporations are being beaten upon, and people don't realize that they are the engine of the economy, has not been good. And I think that's something that the Republicans have had a very positive message about. I think one of the things that we're seeing - you know, you've seen it from opinion writer after opinion writer as well as people on Wall Street, saying the same thing - there is a feeling that this administration is not pro-business. And for that reason, a lot of businesses are not putting money back into the economy because they don't know what's coming down the pike.
SIEGEL: What about that, Karen? It's said that business is sitting on $1.8 trillion nowadays, hesitant about investing.
Ms. FINNEY: Well, actually, when you talk to business leaders, they are reluctant because they feel uncertain about the economy. Obviously, they would say that the financial regulatory reform has contributed to some of that uncertainty. Hopefully, that'll ease up next week, when the bill is signed.
I think part of the problem, though, is, you know, people don't trust the big corporations. They see corporations doing well, sitting on this money, and they feel like, well, they've had to make some sacrifices, where are the sacrifices from businesses?
SIEGEL: It's also been a year of Wall Street, and also Toyota and BP.
Ms. FINNEY: Well, I mean, you know, all of those are problematic. You get absolutely no disagreement from me whatsoever. But this is also a matter of psychology. Businesses are scared of regulation. They're scared of taxes. They're scared of a lame duck Congress. And they're feeling like we've got to do something - which is sit on our cash.
SIEGEL: Michelle Barnard, CEO of the Independent Women's Forum. And Karen Finney, political consultant, formerly of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to both of you.
Ms. FINNEY: Thank you.
Ms. BARNARD: Thank you.