Roundtable: Bush Takes Blame on Faulty Iraq Intelligence

Thursday's topics include: African-American politicians face greater challenges when seeking state office; President Bush says he is responsible for invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence; and the U.S. immigrant population reaches 12 percent. Guests: John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy; Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture and co-founder of the Urban Think Tank; and Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

ED GORDON, host:

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

On today's roundtable, Bush takes the blame, US immigration population reaches 12 percent and Uncle Tom's cabin goes on sale. Joining us from our New York bureau: John McWhorter is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow in public policy; and from Florida today, Eric Deggans, media critic for the St. Petersburg Times; and joining me in the Washington, DC, headquarters today: Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip Hop Culture." She's also co-founder and former president of the Urban Think Tank.

I thank you all for joining us.

Before we go any further, I wanted to get in--Yvonne, let me start with you--to what we just heard from Deval Patrick. Very interesting to see where we are in today's times in terms of whether African-Americans can viably run for statewide office. If you think over the last 30, 40 years, there are only a handful of names that we can throw out: Douglas Wilder, Barack Obama, Carol Moseley Braun, Ed Brooke from Massachusetts, the senator there some years ago. How viable do you believe, as we look at Mr. Patrick, Mr. Mfume, Mr. Steele and others who seek statewide office, is it to believe, unfortunately, we have to ask this question today, that in many states, in most states, I would venture to say, it's still a very long road.

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip Hop Culture"): I think that I wouldn't use the term viable. I think that is very interesting. I think Deval Patrick is someone who should be running for office. And I think that's where we should start framing the dialogue in terms of getting qualified people who have the experience, the knowledge base to go forward. Now certainly there are some challenges. They have to raise money. That's the beginning and ending of any conversation when we start talking about politics. They also have a difficult balancing act of attracting a wide range of voters, be they white in some communities or states, rather, is going to be Latinos without also losing black support. And I think speaking to black voters, when we're looking at black candidates, I think we need to move away from the old paradigm. I think for a lot of us, we are expecting to hear the same rhetoric, we're expecting the same church visits, we're expecting that same type of persona, and these are very different type of candidates. He shied away from talking about new black politics, but in effect he is part of that. And we as a community have to get more comfortable with the Harvard grads, with the people who are coming to the forefront without that old traditional civil rights background.

GORDON: John McWhorter, let me ask you the same thing, and it'll be interesting to hear your take on this based on your new book, which we should note people should tune in tomorrow where you and I have an extensive discussion about it. "Winning the Race" is the title of the book. So pick up, please, if you will, on what you think about blacks being viable candidates for statewide office.

Mr. JOHN McWHORTER (Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow in Public Policy): Well, as far as I'm concerned, what's interesting here is that we see that there may not necessarily be the tough problem of appealing to both white and black voters at the same time because it's getting to the point that issues that should be most of interest to black voters are ones that are going to be of interest to a whole lot of other people, too. So you can talk about white voters, but you can also talk about Latino voters and, in general, immigrant voters who are starting out at the bottom of the ladder. If the middle class is indeed eroding, then a lot more people are slipping into financial situations in which they will have, quote, unquote, "black concerns."

So I think what we're seeing is that somebody who's a viable candidate for governor and is also black American is often someone who we wouldn't necessarily recognize as uniquely black-concerned civil rights crusader. Often, it's somebody who's just a committed generalist, and that's what I think we see in Patrick. And I think we also see that in somebody like Michael Steele, despite the fact that he has the standout trait of being a Republican. These people are new era black people rather than the sorts of people who were most effective and necessary 40, 30 and even 20 years ago.

GORDON: Eric Deggans, here's what doesn't change in that equation, and that's the voter who has to actually cast the vote on the ballot, the idea that there are still a lot of whites in today's society who will not, for the sheer fact that it's a black face, pull that lever.

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (St. Petersburg Times): That may be true, but I think we've seen with politicians like Colin Powell, for example, that it is possible for black politicians...

GORDON: Colin Powell will be quick to tell you, Eric, he is not a politician.

Mr. DEGGANS: ...to bridge that gap. Well, he'll say he's not, but he's a quite effective politician actually. And he may not have run for office...

GORDON: He's not an elected official, let's put it that way. yeah.

Mr. DEGGANS: ...yet, but he's adept at politics and he has wide support amongst Americans. What I would say is that when you look at the Barack Obamas or the Herold Fords, what you see is a black politician that has figured out how to craft a message that speaks beyond black people without making black people feel like they've been left behind. And I think that is the key, to craft a message that white voters or Latino voters that resonates with them but while also presenting a vision that doesn't turn its back on civil rights gains and other things that are important to black constituents as well. And you saw that with Deval Patrick. He has these bonafides. He's worked in the civil rights commission. He's been to Africa and volunteered his time. He has sort of that sense that he is still grounded in things that are important to black people, but he also knows the whiter world and can speak to issues that are of interest beyond black communities. And that's the kind of politician I think we're starting to see emerge, and that's the problem that some black Republicans have--is that they don't necessarily have that trust from the black community.

GORDON: Yvonne, let me ask you this before we move on. What I found most interesting in the conversation with Mr. Patrick was the idea that he said, and you won't always here this from a politician, that he understands why black America checks out of civic life, if you will, and he understands that it has not always reciprocated in kind to black America.

Ms. BYNOE: Yeah, I think that was an interesting and relevant point: that people don't just not vote or not get engaged into the political process because they're not interested; they don't see where there's a benefit to them becoming involved. So I think it was very important that he put that on the table in the forefront. I think it's also important to talk about crafting a message that will resonate with all type of voters. But I think we need to not be naive, that within the black community there are still people who will get out and say that you are not black enough because your bonafides are not the traditional civil rights type of credentials. So although that voice is waning, we have to be cognizant that it still exists...

GORDON: So to a great degree Harvard will trump the idea that he was born on the South Side of Chicago?

Ms. BYNOE: For some people, I think that will be ammunition to say that he's far removed from the South Side of Chicago, he has not been there in decades and that that's not something that he should be touting at this point.

Mr. McWHORTER: Ed, can I quickly interject something?

GORDON: Yeah, please.

Mr. McWHORTER: One quick thing is that if people are disappointed with the Democratic Party and think that they don't pay black American enough attention, then one thing to consider might be to vote for another party and to make the Democratic Party work harder. It's something that happened for a long time until a certain shift around 1960. We're still suffering from the fact that we all tend to vote for the same guy every election.

GORDON: Right.

Mr. DEGGANS: The problem that arises when you vote for a party that doesn't have your interests at heart and passes policies that directly hurt your people. And I think working-class white people are finding that by putting these Republican politicians in power, they've voted against their own economic interests in the quest to win some culture war points.

GORDON: Well, I think what's interesting here...

Mr. McWHORTER: You could also say that what the...

GORDON: ...is what Deval Patrick suggested, and I'll lay this to rest and move on to the next topic, but I think the bulk of the African-American community or at least a great deal of it has checked out what he called the, you know, civic life by virtue of the fact that they don't believe either one of the parties has any real interest in making things better for the bulk of African-Americans in this country.

All right. We're going to move on to President Bush. We spoke of this a bit yesterday on the roundtable, but the president continues to get his message out here as he continues to do more and more sit-down, one-on-one interviews with the press and also speaking across the country. He takes the blame, he says. Bush says, `Put the blame on me for Katrina. Put the blame on me for the lack or misinformation as it relates to the intelligence in leading us to war.' But he still says, Yvonne, that we should be there based on the threat that Saddam Hussein posed.

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think it's certainly good that even at this late date, he is acknowledging that there were some gaffs, but I think that what I'm finding problematic is I've listened to all of these speeches. I'm not still hearing what the exit strategy is. Certainly I can agree that you don't want to broadcast to the world that we're going to, you know, get out of Iraq on such and such a date, but I don't hear any benchmarks. I don't hear anything where he's saying, `Well, these will be under the conditions where we can pull out.' What I am, however, hearing is, you know, some back-room chatter about drawing down troops.

So again it seems like, you know, we continue to get mixed messages from this president. This whole idea of bad intelligence, I'm not sure how bad it was. Certainly some of it was not accurate, but I think he did get other intelligence he decided he did not want to follow. So again it's a very murky situation. We're already in the midst of it, and now for me and I think a lot of other Americans, we want to know how we're going to get out of it.

Mr. McWHORTER: I think we always knew that President Bush was responsible. It's a slightly evasive word. Who else was responsible? Frosty the Snowman? Really the point is that we still have a problem with clarity and candor. It's very strange looking at what was a political speech not very long ago and seeing that the Bush administration still refuses to actually present to the American public a rationale for staying. And that might include an exit plan or it might just include plans for action that would actually lead somewhere if they decided they don't want to exit that would actually make some sense of this instead of stringing together these Teflon buzzwords about freedom and the like. And so we end up thinking, as Ms. Bynoe just said, that there must be something going on behind the scenes that we're not being told. Bush saying that he's responsible rather than that he did something wrong himself is evasive. We're still in a rather Orwellian situation and we're in a war that increasingly seems to have no goal or purpose.

Mr. DEGGANS: Yeah, that's right.

GORDON: Well, I don't know about George Orwell, Eric Deggans, but one of the things that this administration will tell you to answer John's question is the reason for staying is to make sure that you establish the democracy in that country. The vote will, indeed, take place, and we'll know tomorrow how that goes. That is what their stance is going to be.

Ms. BYNOE: But he fails to also acknowledge that the longer we're there, the longer that we are going to be the source for this insurgency. He seems to not want to acknowledge that on any shape, fashion or form, and it's just unrealistic. You cannot agree. You can say certainly that we don't want to pull out and make this area of the world even more unstable, but to continue to deny the fact that the longer that Americans are there...

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. BYNOE: ...in this Islamic country, that we're not stirring up the fervor of these insurgents, I don't think that that particularly is realistic or truthful.

GORDON: Eric.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, what I was...

Mr. McWHORTER: It appears that he doesn't want to pull out because he doesn't want to be embarrassed, and that's a rather small reason.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, what I would say is I'm amazed that two years into this war now he has finally admitted that the central rationale for it was probably wrong. And we haven't seen a level of outrage over that yet. You know, he gets us into this war on faulty intelligence. It takes him two years to admit that that's the case, even though there's been continuous reporting and continuous opposition from people, you know, complaining about it. He finally admits it, and as John said, now we're left with, `Why did we go here? Why are we still here? And what is it going to take for us to get out?' And, you know, what's disturbing me the most about all of this is that this strategy seems to be working. It--you know, incrementally, his approval ratings are inching up a little bit from sort of, you know, sub-basement levels to basement levels, and some people seem to be distracted by this trauma offensive that he's mounted and they're not asking the serious questions which is, `OK. If the intelligence was faulty, why was it faulty? And if it was faulty and there weren't weapons of mass destruction, then why the heck are we there now?' I'm just sort of amazed by it all, and I just hope that the American people find the will to keep asking these pointed questions and not let these guys get off the hook.'

GORDON: Let me do this very--go ahead.

Mr. DEGGANS: Sure.

GORDON: I'm sorry, Eric.

Mr. DEGGANS: Sure. No. As much as they try to shine us on with some of these Teflon words as John said, I just hope we don't fall for it totally.

GORDON: I just want to make sure that we get this with about a minute each for you guys. The Center for Immigration Studies released a report that suggests now that more than 12 percent of the US population is foreign born. We are seeing this immigration boom hit record highs, John McWhorter. What does this mean, if anything? And we should note that many of these are illegal immigrants as well. What does this mean as we look to the continuing of what has been deemed from media the browning of America?

Mr. McWHORTER: Well, it's going to keep going. And having that large or relatively that large a proportion of immigrants is hardly new. At the turn of the century, there were people that said when you went into Lower Manhattan that you could barely hear English. That's still the case. Those people at that time knew it, and that was true in many parts of the country. As far as the illegal immigrants we have here, the plan to give them kind of guest passes may seem kind of dicey, but it's probably a good idea because we've seen in study after study that people who are illegal and living below the radar screen with bad health care have a way of spawning young people who join gangs and do bad things and especially because there are so many Latino immigrants in California, that's a problem given the kind of atmosphere that was encouraged by civil rights heroes such as Stanley "Tookie" Williams, etc.

It seems to me that what we need is to accept that we're going to have a lot of immigrants and to make life as good as possible for them because, yes, we're going to have more and more. And for people who are against it, many of them are people who might be happy to know that most Latino immigrants are going to be deeply Catholic or Christian people, and so that's something that they would see as a good thing. Basically...

GORDON: All right.

Mr. McWHORTER: ...it's not going to change.

GORDON: Eric, let me ask you very quickly, juxtapose that number to the number of African-Americans in this country which ranges about the same. There will be an interesting dynamic as these two groups try to funnel their way up the top.

Mr. DEGGANS: Most definitely. I do think that the rising number of immigrants is forcing us to face a sort of central hypocrisy in our relationships to immigrant, especially legal immigration which is that we need illegal immigrants but we can't admit that we need them. There are industries in this country that are dependent on that cheap source of labor, but as a democracy, we cannot admit that there are huge sectors of our economy that are dependent on exploiting people who are here illegally and then figuring out a way to extend the sort of legal status to those people and give...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. DEGGANS: ...them legal wages. We would have to institutionalize paying a sector of our work force much less...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. DEGGANS: ...than the minimum wage in order to make some of these industries work.

GORDON: Which is...

Mr. DEGGANS: So...

GORDON: ...which is being looked at. Very quickly for me, Yvonne, you get the last minute.

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I think that certainly it's impractical to start talking about sending back, you know, millions of people who are here illegally. But I'm really concerned about the dialogue that I've been hearing by some of these Latino organizations about there's no such thing as illegal immigrants or that there's no such thing as borders, and that's simply not the case. I think that we need to more strongly enforce the immigration laws that are on the books while we are also being practical and looking to see, going forward, what do we need to do. Amnesty has not worked in the past. People have not taken advantage of it, they're not becoming part of the culture of the fabric of America.

GORDON: No.

Ms. BYNOE: So it's not just about granting citizenship, it's about acclimating people in some reasonable way to become part of America.

GORDON: All right, Yvonne, Eric, and John, thank you very much. And again, a programming note. Join me tomorrow when John McWhorter talks about his new book on the program--I get him all by myself tomorrow. So if you like to hear what some consider controversial thought from John McWhorter, join us tomorrow. Appreciate it today.

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

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org 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.