John Fund On 'This American Moment'
NEAL CONAN, host:
And now, This American Moment. Starting last week, when the Democrats gathered in Denver, we have spoken with a different guest every day. Politicians, yes, including a former president, but journalist, writers and thinkers, too. And as we thought about who we'd like to hear from at this extraordinary crossroads, we realized that there was no way we could get that down to just eight people, plus, Hurricane Gustav, cut that down to seven anyway. So we are going to continue this series, not everyday, but one or two days a week between now and Election Day. And we'd like to know who you'd like to hear take a step back to put this election and this campaign season into context. Send us your suggestion by email. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and please put This American Moment in the subject line. On his final day of the Republican Convention in St. Paul, we'll focus on energy and election fraud with Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255 is the phone number. The email address is email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. John Fund joins us now from NPR's headquarters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. It's very good of you to be with us today.
JOHN FUND (Columnist, Wall Street Journal): Pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: And as you look ahead to this election, stepping back, looking at the big picture, what do you think is at stake as you look ahead?
Mr. FUND: Well, I think that after eight years of Republicans in the White House, the Democrats have a very powerful message, which is George Bush didn't work out, John McCain is a continuation of Bush's policies, therefore, don't vote for Bush's third term. The Republican message that's coming through today is, well, you maybe dissatisfied, 80 percent of you, with the direction the country is going in, but we represent change, too. We've nominated Bush's primary opponent in 2000, a maverick, an independent who's broken with his party and he's picked a Republican governor who went after a Republican machine in Alaska and help beat it. So they're both mavericks. They're not your grandfather's or even father's Republicans. And we represent change, too. You will like our change better than Barack Obama's change.
CONAN: As we look at these campaigns, energy is a major component of both candidates' agendas. But they have very different emphasis, at least if we look at their commercials and listen to what they have to say in speeches. But when you get down to practical matters, do you think there's a fundamental difference between the two approaches?
Mr. FUND: Well, yes. We've had Jimmy Carter back in the late 1970s impose things like windfall profits taxes on oil companies. There's been - there were all kinds of conservation measures. There were also enormous federal investments in alternative fuels, most of those didn't pan out. And the Republican approach is some of that - especially in the alternative fuel promotion activity - but it's also to let the marketplace work. In other words, to allow domestic exploration and drilling in a lot of areas that we haven't allowed it and to increase domestic supply. And I think Sarah Palin last night, put it well. That's not a full solution to the problem, but it's better than doing nothing. And I think that's going to be the great debate because Joe Biden put this on the table this week. He even said, I don't even go as far as Barack Obama. I oppose all offshore drilling. That is a clear flashpoint between the parties.
CONAN: And it seems to be a difference between parties that see this, to some degree, as an environmental issue - we have to get away from our addiction to oil all together - and those who see it primarily, at least in part, as a national security issue - we have to get away from our addiction to foreign oil.
Mr. FUND: That is true. A lot of this is a national security debate on one side, and then on the other side, it's a cultural, lifestyle,where're we going to be in the future debate.
CONAN: And that's - that is a fundamental difference between the two parties. Also, I know that you've been writing a lot about election fraud, and this is another thing that both parties agree happens. Of course, they both agree that the other guy does it.
Mr. FUND: Well, I have a new book out this week called "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy." But I want to make a broader point. People asked me at this convention, at the Democratic Convention in Denver, who's going to win in November. My answer is the same, to both groups, I think we're going to go into overtime. Remember Florida in 2000? I think we are heading for a situation where there will be enough close races in enough states that the margin of victory that will decide the presidency is not as large as the margin of litigation. In other words, the number of votes that will trigger law suits, recounts, court interventions, all of the stuff we saw in Florida in 2000. The difference is, there's a lot more lawyers with matches trying to settle electoral fires this year and watching the process and intervening in the process. We may see Florida in two or three or four states.
CONAN: And you could look ahead to Florida again, you could look ahead to Ohio, you could look ahead to places like Iowa. All of these places had very close elections the last time.
Mr. FUND: In 2000, if there had been enough lawyers, we would have had recounts in Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon, and other states. So, I think we all, whether we're Democrats or Republicans, should figure out a way to try to minimize the chaos at the polls, to try to make sure that as many people as being registered this fall in all of these voter drives get on the rolls. Because they're going to be - if a lot of people show up on Election Day that they're not registered to vote, and they have to cast provisional ballots, that could be what decides the election. I want to say lawyers are fine, they have there place in society, but it's really dangerous if we let them decide the elections in conjunction with the courts rather that the voters.
CONAN: Yet, there are just enormous suspicions on both sides because here, you're talking about people who are on the payrolls of both political parties and they - Democrats say look, we've had suspicions about Republicans manipulating the vote in various ways including those machines that we have great suspicions about them, no paper trails. And we now have Republicans who say look, we have suspicions that Democrats who are registering a lot of people who don't deserve to be registered.
Mr. FUND: Well, I think that the concern about election machines is valid and I think that they - we have to pay a lot attention to that. One thing we should pay attention to is there's one group out there called Acorn. It's a community-organizing group that's been about 35 years old. They, unfortunately, have a long history of registering people who aren't eligible to vote, and they have a long history of just basically laughing at the election laws. They have had people indicted in several states, from Washington State to Missouri to Ohio to Wisconsin.
And one of the things that's interesting is Barack Obama, when he was a committee organizer in Chicago, was not only a trainer and an organizer for this group, but he was their lawyer for three years. So, when the Obama people say we want every vote to count, I take that at face value. But some of their allies like Acorn, have a tradition and a history of manipulating the election process and trying to sneak people in who shouldn't be voting. And that's of concern on both parties because we have two civil rights here, Neal. The civil right to make sure people aren't blocked from voting - we had a civil rights battle in the '60s about that, we abolished poll taxes, we made sure we weren't intimidating people. We have to preserve and extend those games. But there's another civil right. You lose your right to vote if your vote is canceled out by someone who shouldn't be voting, someone who's voting twice, or someone who doesn't even exist as happens in Chicago and many other places. So, there are two civil rights at play here. We have to try to preserve both of them and pay attention to both of them this election.
CONAN: Is there any chance, any prospect that the parties could work together on this?
Mr. FUND: Trevor Potter, who's John McCain's legal counsel, was at a recent event, a legal event and talked to Bob Bauer, who was Barack Obama's legal counsel, about having bi-partisan teams and inviting reporters along to beembedded with these teams as they go around to precincts and try to figure out what problems there are and trying to resolve them in an amicable fashion. This has been a very polarizing election. Bob Bauer's response, I understand, to that was, you know, we're not going to be caught the trap of bipartisanship, we frankly don't think your offer is valid or sincere. Therefore, you know, we're not really talking about that.
So, both parties are completely polarized, both parties have great suspicions. And the fear is, the voters are going to be the ones to be hurt by this because if we go to overtime, I don't think it's going to do our democracy any good and if we don't know who the president who's been elected is for several weeks, that could lead to all kinds of instability.
CONAN: And whoever it is, their legitimacy might well be challenged by a considerable portion of the electorate.
Mr. FUND: That has happened in the past, as you know.
CONAN: Yes, indeed. John Fund is with us from NPR headquarters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. He's columnist with the Wall Street Journal. And we're talking about This American Moment on Talk of the Nation from NPR News. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. From your point of view, step back a moment. What's at stake for you in this election? Now let's go to Vanessa. Vanessa, with us from Cincinnati in Ohio.
VANESSA (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
VANESSA: I think this is a very solid moment for the country because - I'm for Obama, I think that he can - he represents a solution for all the problems that we are having in this country, like energy independence and economy, health care and all the rest. I think that contrary to McCain, Obama is - during the convention, proposed a lot of solutions. So far, at the convention - Republican Convention, I didn't even hear anything about solutions.
CONAN: To be fair, Senator McCain's not had a chance to speak yet. So, he'll get that opportunity this evening.
VANESSA: Yeah. But during the Democratic Convention, even the other speakers were telling about the Obama program, all the things that he's planning to do. Instead, the McCain convention, I just hear - of course, he's a hero of war and all the things that - they say that he did a lot of things, he accomplished a lot of things, but they don't specifically what.
CONAN: Vanessa, do you fear that - you say Obama presents the opportunity to solve all of these problems. That's an awfully high bar. Aren't you likely to be disappointed even if he is elected?
VANESSA: I'm glad if he tries.
CONAN: All right, Vanessa.
Ms. VANESSA: Because - yeah.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
Ms. VANESSA: You're welcome.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can get Tom on the air. Tom is with us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.
TOM (Caller): I'm very hopeful about this election. But when I hear things like Mr. Fund, again, with Republican talking points here. He says that he uses his opportunity to discuss this vote fraud fraud, because the biggest fraud about vote fraud is that most of what's claimed to happen doesn't. And he uses it as an attack point against Obama, another guilt-by-association because he was a lawyer for Acorn, which he says was indicted in a number of states. And I guess I'd asked them the question, has Acorn ever been found to actually have violated any campaign law? Not somebody charged them with it. You know, this is the kind of slur against a group and then - oh, and then let's tie it to Obama because he was their lawyer in one state. The fact that Obama may have represented Acorn in Illinois, and they may have been indicted - he didn't say convicted - of some claims of vote fraud in other states...
TOM: That's just - that's the kind of slur and the kind of, you know, slimy politics…
Mr. FUND: May I…
CONAN: Tom, let's give him a chance to response please.
Mr. FUND: Excuse me. I said that many employees of Acorn have been vote indicted, convicted or plead guilty in states. I also said that Mr. Obama was not only the lawyer for Acorn, but he was a chief trainer and organizer for Acorn. I also said that Acorn has been consistently implicated in a variety of election scandals around the country, and if you want to know exactly what kind of fraud we can look at, look at Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Police Department, which is a law enforcement agency, issued a report earlier this year. On the 2000…
TOM: What does it have to do with Obama?
Mr. FUND: May I finish my point?
TOM: What does this have to do with Obama. He was…
Mr. FUND: My point is - my point is many allies of both parties in this country engage in suspect tactics. I don't think enough attention has been given to Acorn, which has very suspect record in state after state and has had many of its employees convicted and plead guilty to election charges, and I think we have to look at that. I think we want a clean and fair election. I think we want to make sure people on both sides play by the rules. And that way, we can have confidence in the legitimacy of the election.
CONAN: But just to satisfy Tom's point, do you believe that Senator Obama, when he worked for Acorn, was involved in voter fraud of any sort?
Mr. FUND: I never said that, nor would I. I would simply say Acorn - the political arm of Acorn has endorsed Mr. Obama, he has spoken at their conventions as recently as a couple of years ago, he is full of praise with Acorn, he has never criticized Acorn's record on election violations, just as he has almost never criticized the Daily Machine in Chicago for all of the corruption and the suspect election activities- the Daily Machine of Chicago, which is the premier of example of voter fraud that is often touted in jokes and anecdotes in this country. I'm simply saying Mr. Obama has looked the other way when it comes to corruption too often. If you don't believe me, go to the Better Government Association in Chicago and talk to their executive director, Jay Stewart.
CONAN: We just have a few seconds left. Do you believe Senator McCain has spoken out against Republican corruption and voter fraud?
Mr. FUND: Intimidation at the polls, blocking people from voting, sending out mailings to people that target them on the basis of race, has been part of Republican activities. Not recently that I've discovered in the research for my book "Stealing Elections." But it has to be condemned, and it has been condemned. I condemned it. I'm just simply saying we have to pay attention to both sides and not view this as strictly black and white. There's a lot of people who want to pursue political power using suspect means. We have to watch out for all of them.
CONAN: John Fund, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. FUND: Thank you.
CONAN: John Fund, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. His new book came out yesterday, "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy," with us today from NPR's election headquarters at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.