Roundtable: Frist on Stem Cells; Collection Agencies

Monday's topics: Sen. Bill Frist's new stance on stem-cell research; and aggressive collection agencies. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service' ER Shipp, a columnist at the New York Daily News and John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in Public Policy.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, the president plays hardball, and Senator Bill Frist's about-face on stem cell research.

Joining us from our bureau in New York, E.R. Shipp, a columnist at the New York Daily News; also with her, John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy. And George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service joins us today from member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama.

All right, folks, we've been talking about this for quite some time, and that is the embattled nomination of John Bolton to the post of ambassador to the United Nations. It seems as though Democrats were not going to let this controversial figure through. The president will circumvent the Senate by appointing what they call a recess appointment, and that is, during the summer recess for Senate--Congress, rather, the president will, in fact, appoint John Bolton to this post.

George Curry, once again, Republican showing, and this administration showing the want and need to play political hardball.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (National Newspaper Publishers Association): Well I don't think it's fair to just limit to this administration. Every Republican--I mean, every administration has done it. Bill Clinton did the same thing when he had a problem getting an appointee through as assistant US attorney general for civil rights. So this is a game that presidents play when they can't get the person in; they appoint them. But the problem is, they have a time limitation. His term would expire when Congress's term expires, so that's the basic problem with ...(unintelligible).

Ms. E.R. SHIPP (New York Daily News): And that would give...

GORDON: And that would be January of '07 in this case, we should note.

Ms. SHIPP: That gives him a lot of time to do whatever damage that he might do that the Democrats are worried about. This is--frankly, this is Bush's show and if he wants to put his reputation on the line by appointing Bolton, knowing what the criticisms are about him, that he's a bully, he's a bad administrator, whatever, then it's on Bush.

Mr. JOHN McWHORTER (Manhattan Institute): Seems to me that in general, the appointment of that man will help get more Americans killed. I think that the administration underestimates the almost recreational degree to which a lot of foreign countries are hating our nation right now, for reasons good and bad. And with this guy in, who doesn't get along with people and antagonizes people and is just the sort of person who everybody loves to hate, seems to me we'll have less cooperation in the things we need to do in addition to what we're doing in the Middle East right now. He would be a disaster, and I hope he doesn't get in through any subterfuge. Anything above the table, he should go.

GORDON: George, I mentioned the idea of the recess appointment, and you so rightfully suggested that this is not just a Republican tactic, it's a tactic that is there for presidents and has been used from time immemorial. But that being said, it would seem to me that this once again shows the missteps, the continued missteps, of the Democratic Party because they had to know that these appointments were coming up. They had to know that Bush, who has been solidly behind Bolton from the time he nominated him, was going to probably use this as an opportunity to, in fact, get him in. One would have believed, rather than the strong rhetoric we saw, that there might have been some massaging behind closed doors to try to better this situation.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I don't think there's anything they could do. Bush is very loyal to his people. You saw that with the federal judges in terms of waiting them out in appointment. You see the same thing here. Regardless of what people say, I mean, he's single-minded that way, so if he couldn't get it this way, he's going to get it another one. In some weird kind of way, I admire his determination. I don't agree with it often, but I...

Ms. SHIPP: George, you said what?

Mr. CURRY: I said I admire his determination. I don't agree with it often, E.R. You heard me.

GORDON: E.R., that being said, it's interesting to watch this president play the game. George Curry suggests that he is a very loyal person. We knew that from his days in Texas. He stuck with many of those people through thick and thin, that he brought to the table. With that, one has to believe--once again, though, I lay this on the table, that Democrats should know that he is not going to shift with the political winds when it comes to people that he brings to the table. That being said, perhaps if you're really concerned about not making political waves, and perhaps occasionally winning one of these battles, that you would try a different tactic other than stonewalling, which is all that we've seen from Democrats.

Ms. SHIPP: Well, what do they have in their, you know, number of tools that they have? Their tool kit is what I'm trying to say.

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. SHIPP: What do they have?

Mr. McWHORTER: What would they do? Yeah.

Ms. SHIPP: Because they are in the minority, so push comes to shove they're going to lose the fight anyway.

GORDON: So it's just a rock and a hard place the Democrats find themselves in?

Ms. SHIPP: That's true. And so, as I say, I think I'm going to sound like a broken, you know, record at some point. This is yet again an indication to people of why it's so important for them to vote if they think that they don't like the particular politics we have now. It's important for them to vote so that they may get in candidates who might more likely represent the kinds of views they have. This is Bush's show.

GORDON: All right. We'll turn to someone who is breaking ranks with this president; not showing the loyalty that I'm sure President Bush would expect from a majority leader, Bill Frist. Mr. Frist announced last Saturday that he is going to support legislation to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and this, of course, brank--breaks with the president and other religious conservatives that have not, in fact, endorsed this. Many see this as politically expedient for the majority leader to make this announcement as he seeks a possible run for the White House in 2008 and trying to soften the image that has been seen by many as too staunchly conservative.

Mr. CURRY: I disagree with that. That's--I think he's committed political suicide, Although I think he's had the right position. The problem with the Republican Party, it is so rigid when it comes--certainly, when it comes to evangelicals and the far right and they're captive of the party. And they've already said that, if he runs, they're not going to support him.

Ms. SHIPP: Yeah, I don't see what the benefit is for him in terms of a presidential race. But you have to admire the fact that he--honor the fact that he is a scientist; he's a physician. So he's using his brain and not just emotional reliance upon superstition and, you know, all this--all those people who question whether evolution exists or whatever. He is saying, and he did say, it's not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science. And it's not even so clear to what extent he differs with the president, because he's being very cautious in asking for easing the limitations on how many stem cell lines you can use. But he still wants to make sure there's ethics and respect for the stem cells, etc.

Mr. McWHORTER: What he's doing can actually be...

GORDON: John McWhorter, let me ask you this while you pick up your point, and that is we heard from E.R. and George who suggested that it was political suicide. But there will be some who will suggest that, if he can keep just a small portion of that fringe right that will be out there, that he may be able to soften his image and win over some of those people who in the middle may not totally agree with the ideological base, but have, in fact, had relatives, loved ones, perhaps themselves--this has become a very emotional political issue--he may be able to win them over in that respect.

Mr. McWHORTER: Sure, but what's interesting is that neither we, nor he, can know how the tension will play out between how Mr. and Mrs. America feel, which is clearly more with him, and how important parts of the party base will feel and help get votes for him out. Because we have to remember that however Mr. and Mrs. America feel about stem cells, Mr. and Mrs. America usually don't vote. And so it's a matter of him having the machine behind him. He can't know whether or not it'll be suicide at all, which means that I think it's actually a rather admirable thing that somebody within this particular administration would actually have the guts to be the clear-thinking scientist that he is and say something that might so deeply offend people who could determine his future.

Ms. SHIPP: And it also shows...

Mr. CURRY: Of course, the problem will be trying to win a nomination, though, John. I mean, I don't think with that position he's holding now that he could win. I think that's where the Republican Party is. He cannot win Republican nomination.

Mr. McWHORTER: I would agree with you.

Mr. CURRY: And they could never...

Ms. SHIPP: But we don't even know that he's running yet. I mean, we're sort of jumping ahead of the game. We're putting him...

Mr. CURRY: Oh, you know he's running, E.R.

Ms. SHIPP: ...up there as one of those candidates.

Mr. CURRY: You know he's running.

Ms. SHIPP: But let me say this. One thing to keep in mind here is that it's not a bad thing to have an open mind and to be willing to think and change your mind even in a public position when you have more facts. And he said he realized that, given the restrictions in 2001 that President Bush signed into law, that factors have changed since. And so, what they had hoped to be able to do with the stem cell lines--I guess they're called--that were in existence then, they're not able to do because they have fewer available to them. So it's a complicated...

GORDON: George...

Ms. SHIPP: ...kind of thing. But he's basically saying the facts have changed, so he's willing to change.

Mr. CURRY: I don't think it's that complicated.

GORDON: This does to a degree, though, speak to how the public, I think, and certainly the be--media looks at politicians today. I think most have characterized this not necessarily as a politician with an open mind, but one who's testing the political winds. Does that speak to the cynicism we see in terms of the view of politics today?

Mr. CURRY: Well, a lot of people say you ca--how can you tell when a politician's lying? And the answer is: when he moves his lips. I guess that's cynicism.

Mr. McWHORTER: That is cynical.

Mr. CURRY: But, I mean, I think the difference here, though, is that he is a physician and so he's not just coming at it strictly as a politician. I think that factors into this.

GORDON: John, let me ask you as relates to the president and the side of the fence he sits on--this issue. Embryonic stem cell research, if you belive the polls, is something that is gaining popularity amongst the American people in terms of the want to further this. When you see the president ofttimes sticking with something that polls at least suggest that the American public may be counter to, i.e. this, the war, his Social Security stance, does this speak to a leader who understand the idea that maybe the masses don't know the best road to tow? Or is this someone who stubbornly sticks by his ideas and will not be moved?

Mr. McWHORTER: Well, the way I see it is that there are people who are reflective and take in new information and fascinated by the gray zones, and then there are people who kind of go from the gut, follow their conscience. And there are good things about those people, because they can make unpopular decisions that can have good results long-term. In some ways, I find myself reluctantly admiring the president and the people underneath him for that.

But then in other cases, it's quite clear that no matter what most of the country thinks--there's a certain thing that he thinks or refuses to think very hard about. And there you go. We've had presidents who were teetotalers. We've had presidents who were all sorts of things that most people were not, and that's certainly what we've got here.

GORDON: George, your thought on that?

Mr. CURRY: Well, John and I are agreeing too much this morning. I'm worried about that, you know.

Mr. McWHORTER: I guess I didn't get enough sleep.

Mr. CURRY: I don't know what to say. And when y--I mean, John and I agreeing. Gee, I, you know--it's going to be interesting. It's really going to be interesting because this stem cell research just--it just provides so much potential in terms of how it can expand a qual--our quality of life and I--so I'm sure that Frist didn't make this--didn't take this as a light decision. There's enormous potential there, but we've got to be willing to explore it.

Ms. SHIPP: And there--but it raises questions for those who are anti-abortion and who see the embryo as the beginning of life, I suppose. It raises questions again about the whole abortion issue.

Mr. McWHORTER: The whole politicization of abortion, though, is something that the right wing has kind of forced on us over the past few decades. If you went back 50, 60, 70 years, the notion that abortion would be a major political issue would seem rather peculiar, and so maybe we can gradually get to the point where that isn't something that matters in the voting booth as much as it has since the 1970s.

GORDON: All right. Let's turn our attention to an organization that has been steeped in tradition and one that has held close to the hearts of many who look back fondly at the days of the civil rights movement. And that, of course, is the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And one of the things that's interesting here is they are opening their convention--it opened actually on Saturday. And as they go through the five days--a year ago, what is most interesting about the convention is that it was actually broken up, quite frankly, by turmoil and close to violence. Police were called in. The internal squabbling and struggling that has happened in this organization over the last few years and, until last year, really had been under the radar screen, is tantamount to almost a coup if you will. George Curry, when you see this venerable organization going through this, what's your thought?

Mr. CURRY: First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, Charles is still the president. I--classmates, schoolmates, we go back to childhood, played football together in Tuscaloosa, Alamaba. So he's a friend of mine and a person I know very well.

Mr. McWHORTER: So we got to blame you.

Mr. CURRY: And so--no, let me finish. No, he's still my friend. He's always been my friend.

But last night, they had a session. He spoke last night at 16th Street Baptist Church, of course, where the four girls were bombed in 1963. And it was fiery. Martin Luther King III came. Joe Lowery was supposed to come later on. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth who led the whole movement here in Birmingham was going to be there. So I think you see the family coming back together.

Now the difference is--is this. Here and even in that it--church last night, and I had really strong feelings because I was 16 years old when this happened. Whereas you had the Bull Conner and the system--the symbols of racism before, you've got a black mayor, a chief of le--police is a black female, the county commissioner ch--is a black wer--a person on the city council, black. So you've got all these black faces. And one thing that--still said last night was that he would go after black officials with the same energy that Dr. King went after the Bull Conner. So that was an interesting point he made last night.

But this organization's not back yet. Nobody should think that for one second. But the turmoil that was there before is gone and at least all the old heads are coming back to at least give this another try.

Mr. McWHORTER: Old heads...

GORDON: E.R. Shipp, let me ask you this, though. When George says `old heads,' isn't part of the problem with organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is that they have not found, quite frankly, a way to become--I'm not going to say relevant--but more relevant in a day where things have indeed changed? And many of these guys who are holding onto these positions because that's, quite frankly, what they have to hold on to, have found it hard to give up the limelight or position or title?

Ms. SHIPP: Yeah, it's more--it's less limelight in most cases actually. But I think that the SCLC did wonderful work in its day, but its day has gone. And I was kidding with John saying that maybe the NAACP, which now is trying to turn itself around, should have a banquet, a retirement banquet for the SCLC, thank them for their work and send them home with a plaque. Because I don't really see any need for the SCLC and it's actually almost humorous that it's trying to position itself as an international mediator when...

GORDON: John, literally...

Ms. SHIPP: ...they were having to be pulled apart themselves.

GORDON: John, literally, with about...

Mr. CURRY: But the key with the SCLC and the NAA--and all of it, is not at the national level. It's what they do at the local level, and I think there is a need and continues to be a need for that...

Mr. McWHORTER: I think all of us...

GORDON: ...with about 20 seconds.

Mr. McWHORTER: We should always think about, though, if any of us were running an organization, when would we know that it was time to shut it down.

Ms. SHIPP: We'd let you know.

Mr. McWHORTER: It's a human issue. It has to be done from the outside. But I agree with Shipp on the SCLC and the NAACP.

GORDON: All right. Well, we'll...

Mr. CURRY: And I disagree with both.

GORDON:...discuss this as we have looked at these organizations, quite frankly, over the last couple of months and their relevancy. We'll continue to do so. E.R. Shipp, John McWhorter, George Curry, thank you so much.

Ms. SHIPP: Thank you.

Mr. McWHORTER: Thank you.

Ms. SHIPP: All right.

GORDON: Coming up, the role of race in Detroit's mayoral primary, and a deejay spins his turntables for a world audience.

You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.