FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya.
James Dobson is one of the most powerful evangelical Christian conservatives in America. Now he's accused presidential nominee Barack Obama of dragging the Bible through the gutter. And Republican nominee John McCain offers a 300 million dollar prize to any person who invents a more efficient car battery. Here to give us the political update, Robert Traynham, D.C. bureau chief for the Comcast cable network CN8, and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, she is an author and nationally syndicated columnist. Hey folks.
Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (D.C. Bureau Chief, CN8): Hi Farai.
Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Strategist): Good day with you guys, how you doing?
CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. I'm doing great! Well, let's focus in on the Dobson-Obama flap. Dobson is a bestselling author and evangelical conservative, he runs a powerful group called "Focus on the Family," and he is stirring up some controversy over a speech that Barack Obama gave back in June of 2006. In the speech, Obama mentions Dobson. Let's take a listen.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee): And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would it be James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?
CHIDEYA: And in his radio program yesterday, Dobson took aim at Obama's interpretation of the Bible.
Dr. JAMES DOBSON (Evangelical Christian Leader, Chairman, Focus on the Family): I think he is deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.
CHIDEYA: Robert, why don't you flesh this out a little bit more for us, in terms of what Dobson is really criticizing Senator Obama for.
Mr. TRAYNHAM: Dr. Dobson, as you know, Farai, is literally the leader of millions of evangelical and ideologue conservatives around the country. He basically is saying that Senator Obama is an ultra-liberal individual who believes certain things and thus, in the process, will read the Bible and interpret those things based on his own world view. Senator Obama has said on more than one occasion that he believes very strongly in an activist government. He feels very strongly that there is a role of government as it relates to helping everyday, working individuals, whether they be living from paycheck to paycheck, learning English for the first time, and so forth.
Reverend Dobson specifically is saying that Senator Obama is confusing the Old Testament and applying it to the New, based on his own world view. Now, you can make the argument that Mr. Dobson is being a little personal here, however, there are a lot of movement in ideologue conservatives out there that are very concerned about Senator Obama's, again, interpretation of the Bible. And it is unfortunate, because a lot of it is twisted in their own personal world view thinking, but also too there is a lot of whispering campaigns out there, about his name, about whether or not he is a Muslim, and so forth. And of course, we know that Senator Obama is a Christian, we know that he is a bona fide American. We know all of these things, but again, there is a lot of misinformation out there, so what Dr. Dobson does is he stirs the pot.
CHIDEYA: Donna, let's put this in context. Dobson has said earlier that he couldn't vote for Senator McCain because McCain wasn't conservative enough either. So some other conservatives called out Dobson for being destructive to the Republican Party. So what do you think he really wants?
Ms BRAZILE: First of all, Dr. Dobson is without a candidate and someone to enthusiastically get behind in this presidential election season. I think these attacks are just politically driven by an individual who would rather attack a candidate who spent Father's Day in a church, speaking to a congregation and to a nation about some of the country's most pressing problems, including the lack of fathers in many black households, as well as others. Dr. Dobson, it took him two years - and one would have to question his timing - to attack Senator Obama's words, which I thought, at the time, when he was speaking about renewal, he was talking about how some people have used the Bible, the Bible to hold people back, to oppress people, to tell people that they had no place in society, and that their so-called lifestyle was sinful.
I applaud Senator Obama for not only speaking out about his faith, but how our faith should guide our lives. And I understand that Dr. Dobson may not be onboard with Senator Obama's view of the future, and what our government must do to help the least of these. But to attack and denigrate Senator Obama for speaking out on such a important and timely issue as he did back in 2006, perhaps he should read more of Senator Obama's speeches.
CHIDEYA: Robert, when you look at the evangelical Christian voting block, they have had a lot of success in the past few years, or the past few elections. Certainly President Bush courted them heavily, and there was, you know, the creation of this whole set of faith-based initiatives. Do you think that evangelical Christians are going to have a real significant role in this election?
Mr. TRAYNHAM: You know, it really depends on Senator McCain's ability to be able to communicate and to talk their talk. You know, it is interesting because back in 2004, Farai, as you remember, President Bush did a very good job of courting the evangelical vote by talking about issues that were important to them, whether it be same-sex marriage, or the banning of same-sex marriage, whether it be prayer in schools, whether it be the ability to be able to wear your personal religious garb in a workforce, whether it be being pro-life and obviously stem cell research.
Senator McCain, interesting enough, although he is right on those issues, according to a lot of social conservatives and religious ideologues, doesn't speak about his strong concern about banning gay marriage, he doesn't speak personally about stem cell research and so forth. And it is interesting, because a lot of these movement conservatives out there need to hear that, they need to be reassured that he, in fact, is on their side. So what Senator McCain has done, he's said, you know what, I'm not the right person to be able to talk about these issues, although I'm on your side on these issues. I'm going to have surrogates, whether it be Lindsey Graham, whether be Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, a lot of folks that are movement conservatives in my campaign to be able to speak to these issues that are important to you.
CHIDEYA: Donna, let me move on to something else. I want to talk, since you are such an expert on Democratic politics. Yesterday a spokesperson for Bill Clinton said that he is committed to helping Barack Obama become the next president, but he, President Clinton, has not officially endorsed Obama yet. So why is that? And what does it really mean to support but not endorse?
Ms BRAZILE: Look, I think that former President Clinton will endorse Senator Obama at the right time. First of all, Senator Hillary Clinton is driving the politics now in the Clinton family. And I think her enthusiastic support for Senator Obama, her willingness to campaign this week with Senator Obama in Unity, New Hampshire, her desire to work along with Senator Obama to relief her debt, so that she is freed up to go and campaign in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states, I think that speaks volume.
Now, we all now that Bill Clinton is a net plus for Democrats, there is every reason to believe that he will be out there on the campaign trail, but I'm sure that Bill Clinton, like many other Americans who have been on the campaign trail, is just trying to get his own house in order, get his foundation back up and running. Look, he put his life on hold for, you know, well over eight months to help his wife campaign, and nonstop. And he will come on board, he will back Senator Obama. But today belongs to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama stepping up to the plate, holding joint fundraisers and beginning to carry out their responsibility to unify the party and bring about a change in a new direction this fall.
Mr. TRAYNHAM: Look, Farai, let's cut to the chase. Endorsements really don't matter a lot. We've seen over and over and over again when celebrities and former presidents, and so forth come out, endorse, and it really doesn't move any numbers. However, President Bill Clinton, or former President Bill Clinton is still a rock star in Democratic circles. So when he rolls up his sleeves and says you know what, I'm going to go into the Appalachia, I'm going to go into North Carolina, I'm going to into those white Southern towns where Senator Obama needs to make inroads that will make a difference. And I think it's very telling that president Bill Clinton, someone who has been very vocal throughout this campaign trail, has decided to speak through a spokesperson as to whether or not - whether when he's going to endorse Senator Obama. I think that's the real question.
Ms. BRAZILE: Well, you know, Robert, since you want to cut to the chase, let me cut to the chase as well. Senator Clinton is running the show. She is the one, right now, that is determining what politics she wants out there and who she wants out there speaking. She wants to make this unity moment possible. She is the one who captured 18 million voters and she was the one on the ballot. So I think it's important to understand that Hillary Clinton is calling the shots right now. I have every degree of respect for Bill Clinton, he will be out there campaigning for Democrats, as he has been out there for the last 20-plus years of his life. But right now it's Hillary Clinton's moment,
Mr. TRAYNHAM: You know, Donna, you have a very good point. Senator Clinton did obviously - was on the ballot. She is the one who ran in all those states, but I find it very interesting, you're right, she is running the show to a certain degree. But interesting enough, she could not keep her husband quiet when it came to certain controversial remarks over the last six or seven months. That's just a simple fact.
Ms. BRAZILE: Well, maybe that's the reason why she's keeping him quiet right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BRAZILE; So that she can go out there and campaign for Barack Obama and show the country that the party is unified. Bill Clinton, look, anyone who knows Bill Clinton knows that he loves to campaign. He loves to interact with people and he has perhaps one of the best minds when it comes to politics. The reason why this race was close is because Hillary Clinton had the strategic assets of Bill Clinton at her side to help her navigate the political terrain. And I'm sure at the right moment the right time, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will shock the world when they appear on stage together. Who knows, Robert, it could be any day now, but right now it's about Hillary Clinton, and I'm glad that Hillary Clinton is taking the stage on her own.
CHIDEYA: All right, guys we have very, and I mean very little time. Speed round. Senator McCain said on Monday he's going to give 300 million dollars to anybody who comes up with an improved, more efficient car battery in the age of high gasoline. Good idea. Where's the money coming from, Donna?
Ms. BRAZILE: It's another one of those meaningless gimmicks, designed to get politicians through the next election but offering no real relief to struggling families. I understand that we need new innovation, new alternative fuel sources, but another gimmick, that's not what we need right now.
Mr. TRAYNHAM: Very quickly, Farai. Americans are tired of talk. They want action and when you put money behind something the American ingenuity spirit will say, you know what, let me try, you know. Let's just try, and try something different outside the box. I think that's what Senator McCain was trying to push for.
CHIDEYA: Alright guys.
Ms. BRAZILE: This is borrowed money, honey. We need to preserve our treasury but this is more borrowed money from others, Robert, we need real solutions, not more happy talk.
Mr. TRAYNHAM: Donna, give me your purse, give me your purse, Donna.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BRAZILE: I want your wallet. And when you give me your wallet, I'll call you my boo.
CHIDEYA: Oh you guys, I just love it. Donna, Robert, thanks so much.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist, author and nationally syndicated columnist. She spoke with us from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. And Robert Traynham is the D.C. Bureau Chief for the Comcast Cable Network CN8. He was right here with us in Studio B at NPR West.