Roundtable: Black Republicans, Iraq Sensitivity

Topics: Is a black Republican the Democratic Party's worst nightmare? Also, sensitivity workshops for U.S. troops as one response to abuses in Iraq. Guests: economist and author Julianne Malveaux; Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable, black Republicans may be a Democrat's worst nightmare. And our African-American colleges organizing racist classes. We'll talk about these topics and more.

Joining me here in our New York bureau, Robert George. He's an editorial writer for the New York Post, and Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. And from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., economist and author Julianne Malveaux is with us today. She's also president and CEO of Last Word Productions.

All right folks, we just heard from Kenneth Blackwell, and as we noted during that interview, we have a number of African-Americans running for statewide office, including Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania, Michael Steele and Kweisi Mfume in the state of Maryland.

Robert George, let's talk about the idea of whether or not Republicans, black Republicans, can be - may be - a Democrat's worst nightmare in the sense that, here is a candidate who is palatable to a great degree to the African-American community heretofore where a Republican in those states, often, would not be.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): That's exactly right, Ed. In particular, with these candidates you just mentioned, you have individuals that - they cannot be portrayed as Democrats would try to portray black Republicans before - as Uncle Toms that are somehow out of step with the black community.

Steele, Blackwell - both of them have had longstanding social and business roots within the black community, and that allows them to take what is still a Republican message into a community and get votes in saying, you know, I'm part of you, though we may have certain disagreements here, but I have a particular vision and it's something you should listen to.

GORDON: While that's true, Julianne Malveaux, there is still this yin and yang, if you will. You heard it with Kenneth Blackwell. The idea of where he stands on abortion does not necessarily reflect the majority of the African-American community, if polls are to be believed, yet there is this sense of a liking his religious affiliations. There are the questions of ownership and entrepreneurism that he pushes, but the belief in the free market system, which hasn't always been fair to African-Americans.

Dr. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist; Author; President and CEO, Last Word Productions): You know, that was a great interview, Ed, by the way. You got - Blackwell's smooth, and if you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. MALVEAUX: ...dissect that interview, however, you find so many implicit contradictions in all of what he said. I'd love to have you with his opponent, going back and forth.

I mean, this tax reform that he promises - you notice he said confiscatory tax reform. This is a something like California's Prop - I believe it was 109 - back in the day that, basically, restricted the amount of taxes that jurisdictions could impose, which means that all kinds of services which, as you know, poorer people, which happen to be African-American - in Cleveland, a third of the population is poor - poorer people depend on some of these services, so he very slickly throws in there these confiscatory taxes. What he means is, he's going to take your Medicare.

The abortion thing - again, very, very slick. You know, Margaret Sanger was a racist. Well, you know what? Yes, she was, but Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice movement has evolved a long way since the days of Margaret Sanger, so that's just like - I wrote a piece six or seven years ago that he probably used where I called her all kind of racist, because she was. But Du Bois - W.B. Du Bois, eventually, joined with Sanger in 1934 to talk about the fact that women had a right to, basically, control their fertility.

Where, I think, that both a Blackwell, and certainly, a Steele get their foot in the door is that when they talk about entrepreneurship - African-American people are very, very interested in economic development and entrepreneurship -and you, basically, haven't seen a lot coming from the dims on some of those areas and so, that is a wedge. And as you look at Gen X's - you look at, as you know Ed, in Prince George's county...

GORDON: Right.

Unidentified Man: There's a couple of…

Dr. MALVEAUX: ...young black men. You know, you see brothers who are saying, yeah, I want to go with that. But let's be clear here. When you dissect this message, this is a flawed message. And when he talks about black votes - 17 percent of them voting for Bush, you want to know how many votes he suppressed to get that number up to 17 percent.

GORDON: Here's what's interesting, Michael Meyers. In all of this, when you take a look at the backing from the Republican Party for the men that we mentioned - the aforementioned men running for these seats - the person who is complaining about not getting the kind of backing he wants from his party is the Democrat, Kweisi Mfume.

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (President and Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Yeah, so what? I mean, Kweisi Mfume is a candidate of his own choice and own making, and I don't think because...

Dr. MALVEAUX: Okay, but you can't, you can't, you can't...

Mr. MEYERS: ...because - I don't think because - I don't - let...

GORDON: Just be so cavalier about the so what, and you understand the question...

Mr. MEYERS: No, I'm not being cavalier...

GORDON: ...Michael Meyers. The idea of whether or not people are of the belief of we're seeing a difference in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party...

Mr. MEYERS: May I make my point?

GORDON: If you would.

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah, well, my, yeah…

GORDON: Would you make a good point, though. But, go ahead, Michael.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEYERS: My point is that, you know, Kweisi Mfume thinks well of himself, and the question is whether or not the voters think well of Kweisi Mfume and it doesn't...

GORDON: (Unintelligible)

Mr. MEYERS: ...and it really doesn't matter if he's black or white...

GORDON: But that has nothing to do with my question...

Mr. MEYERS: ...just like it doesn't matter...

GORDON: ...which was the backing of the political party. One would believe if you look at the history, that a Democrat...

Mr. MEYERS: There is...

GORDON: ...would be behind...

Mr. MEYERS: ...look, he's in a primary. There is no backing of a political party.

Dr. MALVEAUX: But, you know what, Michael? Part of…

(Soundbite of overlapping conversation)

GORDON: You don't believe that, though. You don't believe that.

(Soundbite of overlapping conversation)

GORDON: All right, all right, all right, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Mr. MEYERS: Let me make my point. I think that the Democrats are their own worst enemy. I think that Julianne probably has it mostly right with respect to what Ken Blackwell said. I must tell you, I was sitting here astonished with the code words and the platitudes this guy was using. I mean, you know, to equate abortion with genocide. This is just idiocy! To say that intentional killing of babies, as opposed to fetuses - this is a code word. So, he's running on code words. So, I'm not impressed with him. Good thing I'm not an Ohio resident. I don't care whether he's (unintelligible) Democrat or Republican.

Mr. GEORGE: I'm sorry. First of all, surprisingly, Julianne and Michael are both wrong. First of all, in Maryland, Kweisi Mfume was a six-term Congressman down there. He was the head of the congressional black caucus when he was in Congress and...

Mr. MEYERS: And he left the NAACP in scandal.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and he also headed up the NAACP...

Mr. MEYERS: And left it a scandal.

Dr. MALVEAUX: A questionable scandal, Michael.

Mr. GEORGE: The point I'm trying to make here - he is nearly tied with Cardin in the polls, but the fact is...

Mr. MEYERS: No he's not.

Mr. GEORGE: ...all - yes he is...

Dr. MALVEAUX: Yes he is. He is and Cardin has out raised him five to one.

Mr. GEORGE: ...he is and it's 43 - exactly.

Dr. MALVEAUX: Cardin has out raised - Robert, you didn't hear my point because if you did, you wouldn't say I was wrong.

Mr. GEORGE: No, no, no...

Dr. MALVEAUX: So, fasten a seatbelt my brother, and listen because I'm not wrong.

Mr. GEORGE: I'm sorry, Julianne. Julianne, you were correct on Mfume. Where you were wrong, though, however, is on Blackwell. As far as abortion, why is it so wrong to talk about the historical roots of the abortion movement in genocide and killing black people...

Dr. MALVEAUX: Because he hasn't fast-forwarded it.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and...

Dr. MALVEAUX: Margaret Sanger did that in 1920. I mean, how long has it been since 1920?

Mr. GEORGE: ...there is less support for the pro-choice position in the black community than in the white community, and that's a fact.

Dr. MALVEAUX: That may well be a fact, but the fact is that African-American people still do support choice, and the fact is that these folks who talk about pro-life, they're pro-life till the baby gets here and...

GORDON: Okay, let me stop...

Mr. GEORGE: (Unintelligible)

GORDON: Okay, Robert, Robert, Robert, hang on just a second, because my director here is trying to give me some numbers so we can at least inform the public, specifically, of the numbers in Maryland. Go ahead and give those to me. I couldn't hear beyond the screaming today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: Go ahead. What are the numbers so I can give them? Mfume is now leading still - 42 percent to 38 percent in the latest polls.

Mr. GEORGE: But where is against Cardin? Do we know? Against him in the primary?

GORDON: Well, they'll continue to look that up as we move on...

Dr. MALVEAUX: They're just about even.

GORDON: ...as we move on to our next subject...

Dr. MALVEAUX: But, they're just about even.

GORDON: ...because this is getting far too dangerous.

All right, Julianne, just stay with me here, if you will. We're going to take a look at the president, who spoke out yesterday for the first time about this alleged massacre that has been talked about in the headlines over the course of the last few days, and that is the Iraqi situation that is causing real problems for this administration, and let's take a listen:

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I am troubled by the initial news stories. I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, the - you know, law has been broken, there'll be punishment.

GORDON: All right, that's the president saying there will be punishment. We should note that, now, what has happened is the military or the Marines are being given a 30-day ethics class in how to conduct yourself on the ground, Michael Meyers. This is, seemingly, becoming a growing problem for this administration.

Mr. MEYERS: This reminds me of the senior law partner who said to his law (unintelligible), how many of you took ethics in law school? and nobody raised their hand. And he said, I can tell you all you need to know about ethics in just this message. That is, if it's a choice between you going to jail and your client going to jail, make sure it's your client.

This is a change of a subject. This is an allegation of a rampage against civilians including women and children, and that means there have - if the allegations are true - there have been crimes committed. And this probably has been a cover-up.

The issue here is prosecution, prosecution, prosecution, of those who committed - if that's true - those who committed the rampage, who killed the innocent people, and the people who covered it up. And I'm talking from top to bottom, and anything other than that is a change of the subject.

GORDON: Julianne Malveaux, are you bothered by the idea that what we're hearing now is a - from this administration, a want to reconfirm the idea of what these military troops should be doing on the ground? One would think, if these allegations are true, you don't need to understand the lifestyle of those there not to shoot someone in the head.

Dr. MALVEAUX: You know, if we're going to have ethics, let's start at the White House. Let's go to Rumsfeld, let's go to Cheney. There's where the ethics need to come from. Ed, this is, you know, Michael is so right about the issue of prosecution. There has to be prosecution here. And at the same time, I think we have to look at the way we're dealing with our soldiers.

If you read any of the sympathetic media, it makes no excuse, and there should be no excuse. But let's talk about people who don't have helmets. Let's talk about people who don't have body armor. Let's talk about people who've had their tour of duty extended two or three times without, you know, their acquiescence. Let's talk about people whose wives or children are on public assistance because they don't make enough money. And then when you do that, you combine that, the stress, certainly - while not excusable under any circumstances - is understandable. We have treated our troops horribly.

I am absolutely opposed to this war, but even more than that, I am opposed to the way that we've callously treated these troops. And so, if we want to do ethics, let Mr. Bush sign up for the first class.

GORDON: But Robert George, isn't, doesn't this say something that General George Casey has been dispatched so quickly to give "core value," quote, training to these troops immediately? Doesn't this say something implicitly?

Mr. GEORGE: It says that it's bull, frankly. I mean, I have, I agree with Michael, and I actually partly agree with Julianne here. Look, the fact is this happened back in November, and their sending out the military version of a sensitivity expert now? I mean, this is - I don't necessarily believe, as, I have to take a look until the whole investigation unfolds, I'm not going to say that there's a cover-up going on and so forth.

However, I do find it a little bit disturbing, and unfortunately, this is something that we've seen - and a number of other conservatives have also pointed this out as well - this is yet another one of these kind of situations where the people surrounding the president felt that he didn't need to know about it until four months afterwards. I mean, he just heard about this like about, you know, just a few weeks ago.

The fact is, he is the commander in chief, and you don't, obviously, bother him with the little minutia, but if there's an alleged massacre of civilians that is going on, he needs to know about that when it's happening and what steps are being taken. And all the little sensitivity training or ethics counseling is not going to do anything unless there is an assessment of what's going on from the top down.

GORDON: Michael?

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. I agree. I agree. There has to be accountability. And ethics is just a subject matter that you ought to know about. I think that the military ought to know what is right and what is wrong. They knew that before they got into the military.

Dr. MALVEAUX: Well, there it is. (Unintelligible).

Mr. MEYERS: You don't go around taking the lives of innocent people. You just don't it. You don't seek revenge. You don't impose revenge. This is unlawful, this is improper, it's unethical, and it's immoral.

Mr. GEORGE: There's a military code of conduct which oversees this.

GORDON: All right. Let me...

Dr. MALVEAUX: But you know, you cannot run around, I mean, this whole notion of having these kumbaya classes on the ground in Iraq is almost laughable.

Mr. MEYERS: Exactly.

Dr. MALVEAUX: I mean, you have people who've graduated from the military academies. You have people who are four and five star generals over there. Why do they need, you know, some, you know, sit-down, feel-good, let's think about ethics? I would assume that our military has been trained in this, and I would assume that if this has happened and there is cover-up, there's also this thing called breaking point. We have to look at the way these troops are being treated and the dollars that we're cutting out of this. But if we're going to do it, we have to do it. We're over there now. We've got 135,000 people there. We've lost 2,500 lives. I mean, we are being totally myopic. This man has no exit plan.

Mr. GEORGE: This - this cannot be like...

Dr. MALVEAUX: He shows up and says, well, gee, I'm sorry. Maybe I made a few mistakes in my tone. No, man, you made a mistake when you went over there.

Mr. GEORGE: And this cannot be like Abu Ghraib, where (unintelligible).

GORDON: But, hang on Robert, just a second. I'll let you get to that point, but let me speak to Julianne's point. Before, though, the president was chastised for not being able to say I made a mistake in certain areas. And now he's saying it, and you want what from him?

Dr. MALVEAUX: Blood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. MALVEAUX: I'm just kidding. Maybe not. Actually, Ed, you know, the point is that the mistakes made...

Mr. MEYERS: She's getting a phone call.

Dr. MALVEAUX: ...were such a tepid - you know, I was mistaken in my tone. I shouldn't have said, you know, these extreme things. Well, no, I would accept the notion that we've made a mistake getting over there, now let's figure out how we can be whole and get out of there. He's not going to say that. So he's just going to talk about his tone. That's superficial. Just like you burn up a man's clothes...

GORDON: Well, but he can't afford to say that, can he Robert George?

Dr. MALVEAUX: ...sorry about the fire.

GORDON: I don't think any president would say I made a mistake. We're going to get out of there.

Mr. MEYERS: LBJ should've said it.

GORDON: No, but he didn't.

Mr. MEYERS: I know.

GORDON: The point is...

Mr. GEORGE: The fact...

Mr. MEYERS: And look what happened to him.

Mr. GEORGE: ...you know, look, the fact is, and I have...

GORDON: He had another term to go, though.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and as a...

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah, but he stood down.

Mr. GEORGE: ...as a conservative...

GORDON: This one doesn't have anything to lose, though.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and as a conservative I've been very, very critical of this administration. But, once you're over there you cannot just immediately, like, turn around and just boogey out of there. Because, oops, looks like we made a mistake.

I think, obviously, you can make a number of points and say that it was a mistake going over there. Now we have to figure out what is the best way of, in a sense, assessing the situation, giving enough control over the Iraqis, and then...

Mr. MEYERS: Except he doesn't believe that. He doesn't believe it was a mistake about going over there.

Mr. GEORGE: ...and then pulling it out. But that's, but he's not going to be doing that. But I did want to say...

Mr. MEYERS: Neither does his party.

Mr. GEORGE: ...to the other point, the scandal of this Haditha alleged massacre, this cannot be just like Abu Ghraib, where all the responsibility falls on the guys down there. If there's a chain of command situation, some officers are going to have to, some of that (unintelligible)...

GORDON: Well, that's the biggest concern, the idea that, as Michael said, this did not happen yesterday.

Mr. MEYERS: Right.

GORDON: And if in fact we are to believe that these events occurred, there was clearly squelching of the story reports, and as Julianne talked about...

Mr. MEYERS: Oh, yeah, they...

GORDON: ...moving it up the chain, if you will.

Mr. MEYERS: Clearly, and...

Dr. MALVEAUX: You know...

Mr. MEYERS: ...it smells like a cover-up. It smells like people are hiding things. And you need a special prosecutor here.

Dr. MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

Mr. MEYERS: You need somebody to go in there and clean house, top and bottom. You need accountability. I hate to be so hard-hearted, Julianne, but I'm going to be consistent.

Dr. MALVEAUX: Well, you're always hard-hearted Michael, but this time I got your back. (Unintelligible).

Mr. MEYERS: All right!

Dr. MALVEAUX: This would be NEWS & NOTES history. I got your back. But you know...

GORDON: But to call for a special prosecutor before the investigation is finished?

Mr. MEYERS: No, I want a special prosecutor here now.

Dr. MALVEAUX: But the issue, but the issue, Ed, is to raise the question what did Cheney know and when...

Mr. MEYERS: When did he know it?

Dr. MALVEAUX: What did Rumsfeld know and when? Who held this back from Mr. Bush?

Mr. MEYERS: And what took so long for this to come out?

Dr. MALVEAUX: This is November. You're talking, really, six months. This is absurd. I mean, the people who, you know, most of the people who are in our military are honorable people. They are all being tarnished by things like his and by Abu Ghraib. It is incumbent on us to cover them by saying the people who did this were the exception and not the rule.

Mr. MEYERS: Right. Amen.

GORDON: All right, guys. You know, we only got to two subjects today, and I hope the listeners are as tired as I am, because this was a battle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: Robert, Michael, Julianne, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it.

Next up on NEWS & NOTES, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams recaps the latest news from Washington, and the inspiring story of a man who went from being homeless on the streets of San Francisco to a titan on Wall Street.

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