Democratic Debates, McCain Makes It Official NPR political editor Ken Rudin talks about John McCain's official nomination for president, Thursday's Democratic debate, and proposed withdrawal deadlines for Iraq.
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Democratic Debates, McCain Makes It Official

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington sitting in for Neal Conan.

To the surprise of, well, absolutely no one, John McCain made it official earlier today. He joins a crowded group of Republican candidates in the race for president. On the Democratic side, presidential candidates get ready for their first debate in South Carolina. And here in Washington, D.C., the fight over timetables and funding for the war in Iraq has the vice president trading insults with the Democratic leader of the Senate. It seems like a perfect time for a super-sized edition of Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaagh!

ROBERTS: As always, Ken Rudin is here with us in Studio 3A. If you have questions about the race for '08, the fight over the Iraq spending bill, tomorrow's Democratic debates, or the rest of the week's political news, give us a call. The number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and you can also comment on our blog. It's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

A little later, one of Chicago's toughest columnists admits even he cries at the movies. Guys, we have an e-mail challenge for you. Send us your list of movies that make you cry, and don't forget "Old Yeller" or really any movie where the dog dies. Again, that address is talk@npr.org.

But first, our political junkie Ken Rudin is here. He's NPR's political editor. Welcome, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Rebecca.

ROBERTS: Any movies make you cry?

RUDIN: A lot do, actually. I didn't even know that Old Yeller died at the end. You just ruined it for me.

ROBERTS: Yeah, I'm sorry about that.

RUDIN: By the way, don't reveal the end of "Titanic." I haven't seen that yet.

ROBERTS: Well, revealing nothing to anyone, John McCain was in New Hampshire today and made a big announcement: He's officially a candidate for president. In a speech, he stressed the wisdom he brings to the table and his experience.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): My friends, we face formidable challenges. I'm not afraid of them; I'm prepared for them. I'm not the youngest candidate, but I am the most experienced.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do. I know how Congress works and how to make it work for the country and not just the reelection of its members. I know who I am and what I want to do.

(Soundbite of applause)

ROBERTS: So between the time when everyone knew John McCain was running and today when he actually officially announced he was running, he's fallen somewhat, at least in the polls, to the degree that early polls are worth anything at all. Some show him trailing Rudy Giuliani, sometimes Mitt Romney. What are his chances?

RUDIN: Well, it's not been the greatest bunch of months for John McCain. Obviously, the age we already knew about. I mean, he can't do anything about that, but he supports a war that while there may still be considerable support for in the Republican Party, it's not a war that the American people support.

So he has that, and it's interesting that his - the excitement about John McCain in 2000 was the fact that he stood up to then-candidate George W. Bush and the Republican establishment. And the media liked him, and the independents liked him. And it was his opposition to Bush that really clobbered him in 2000, and now it's his closeness to President Bush that's clobbering him now, given the fact that Bush is unpopular, the war is unpopular.

They feel that he has sold out some of his previous positions when he talked about religious conservative leaders being agents of intolerance, and now he's so-called cozied up to the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells of the world. So there's a lot of - the straight-talk express that we saw from John McCain in 2000 is lacking among some of his erstwhile supporters.

ROBERTS: So, if he can't play the maverick, what is his strategy going to be?

RUDIN: Well, as he says, he's experienced. And he is experienced. He's been in Congress, I guess, since 1982, when he was first elected to the Congress, first elected to the Senate in 1986. He has a position. You know, he supports the president on the war. He supports the surge. He has said, he has argued that the war has not been run well, the policy has not run well, but he says the surge and General David Petraeus needs time to make this work.

So he's willing to give the president and the policy a few months. That again is not a nationally popular position. Certainly, if he is the Republican nominee, the Democrats will certainly use the Iraq war as a wedge issue against him.

ROBERTS: But not likely to hurt him in Republican primaries.

RUDIN: Well, I think the Republican electorate, their anger with John McCain is less on the war and about the other apparent things, the transgressions he's done since 2000. His support for campaign-finance legislation, the fact that he stood up to President Bush on torture legislation, the fact that some people just don't trust him; they feel that he's more interested in currying favor with the media than with the Republican rank and file.

Now, there's no other Republican who is the logical opposition. Conservatives have problems with Mitt Romney on his varying positions on abortion, stem-cell research. They have tons of problems with Rudy Giuliani. For all his 9/11 magic, Rudy Giuliani still is wrong to many conservatives on abortion, on gay rights, on guns, and things like that.

So there is no logical opposition conservative figure to John McCain, but they still have many problems with him.

ROBERTS: So let's talk about the war in Iraq a little bit more closely. We've been following this difference between Congress and the president. The bills that Congress passes for war funding include various timetables for withdrawal. The president has said he will veto any one of those that include a withdrawal. What's the latest?

RUDIN: Well, the House votes late tonight for its - obviously, there are differences in the House and Senate version. There is a compromise language between the two, the Democrat House and Democratic versions, House and Senate versions. The House will pass it today, the Senate will pass it tomorrow, then it will go to the president and veto it. Basically, it's non-binding language calling for - advising of a pullout. But, as you say, President Bush said any bill that has the language talking about a specific pullout will be vetoed.

The question is what happens after that. It goes back to Congress, and what'll the Democrats do? There are some who say that let's just keep making him veto it. Let's put the Republican Party on the defensive. There are others, more centrist Democrats, who say look, we made our point. We know where the American people stand on this, but we still have to fund the soldiers. We have to fund the troops. And so, perhaps maybe we pass a short-term war-funding measure, maybe two, three months, and then see how the surge works and how Petraeus's strategy works.

ROBERTS: And both sides have accused each other of playing politics on this. You know, the administration has said you knew you were going to veto anything with a timetable, you put it in there anyway just to win political points. You know, the Congress says we're trying to figure out what the people - you know, give the people what they want in terms of withdrawal from the war. It's led to some heated words between Vice President Cheney and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid. Is there going to hit a tipping point here where compromise can't be reached?

RUDIN: Well, it has to because, again, the soldiers have to be funded. But there is the kind of rhetoric that makes a lot of people, like, wish didn't happen. We saw the Republican Party effectively run against Democrats on the war in 2002, 2004, certainly less effectively in 2006. Some of the rhetoric you heard from Vice President Cheney about the Democrats, about the fact that they are waving the white flag of surrender, that their policy means the terrorists win, that is the kind of rhetoric that I think has lost favor with the American public.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Paul in Panama City, Florida. Paul, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, how are you all today?

ROBERTS: Good.

PAUL: You know, I'm in my forties. I'm a conservative evangelical. And I just don't see a candidate out there. I thought Fred Thompson might have been a white horse - riding in on a white horse to be more palatable for us. But, you know, I just don't see a candidate that I can really support. McCain, his age is a big concern, and of course the way he's moved back and forth on some issues. And I'm just wondering if there's a Republican sitting in the wings waiting to swoop in as a savior and I just don't see it. And one more note and I'll go off air. "Field of Dreams" has got to be the movie for guys to cry.

ROBERTS: Thanks for your call, Paul.

RUDIN: Well you know, a lot of times when a party is on the defensive and pessimistic about its chances of succeeding in the next election, they come up with dream candidates. Republicans in the past talked about, oh, if only Colin Powell would run. Democrats said, oh, if only Mario Cuomo would run. Basically the people are just not satisfied with the field out there now. Now, there are candidates who ostensibly would appeal to evangelical conservatives: Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, a very strong religious conservative; Sam Brownback, the Republican senator from Kansas, also very pro-life, very strongly conservative.

But they're not raising the kind of money or the attention that they need to succeed. And therefore if only Fred Thompson would run, if only a Newt Gingrich would run, I suspect that perhaps with the possible exception of Fred Thompson, the field you see now is the field that's going to be there.. And I kind of think that because a sign that the Republican Party's in trouble because they've raised far less money than the Democratic candidates so far -that's unusual for the GOP; usually the most money goes to the Republican Party. And part of this, I think, is just dissatisfaction with the war and the president and pessimism for '08.

ROBERTS: How do you think Mitt Romney plays with Christian conservatives?

RUDIN: Well, he's certainly working very hard to appeal to them. Of course, his Mormon religion is - some of the evangelical community has some concerns about that. But more importantly, I think the concern about Romney is that is he really the way he portrays himself? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate in 1994, he was pro-choice, he was pro stem-cell research, and he certainly moved to the right to appeal to conservative voters for 2008. The question is whether he is genuine enough to get their support.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Matt in Madison, Indiana. Matt, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MATT (Caller): Hey, how you doing?

ROBERTS: Good.

MATT: I had two questions, actually. Both of them are kind of loaded so I'll take the answer off the air. The first one is: In the past we have seen, you know, people waiting to see who's the president going to back for his replacement? You know, who is it going to be? Who is it going to be? Is that going to be beneficial or detrimental to whoever he chooses?

RUDIN: Well, it looks like the president is going to stay out of this one. I mean, there are a lot of people who thought that the most winnable - the best - the strongest Republican candidate was a guy named Bush from Florida, the former governor Jed Bush, the president's younger brother. There were a lot of people in the Bush administration who said they would have loved to have seen that. I think that given the fact that the Bush name is not exactly making very many people excited for 2008, Jed Bush has to stay out of it.

But I would suspect that the president will stay out of the contest. Of course this is the first time since 1928 that you don't have a sitting president or a sitting vice president expressing interest in the presidential race. This is really a wide-open race. But again, there is no - unlike the past, when you've had Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bob Dole and both George Bushes, you don't have an obvious frontrunner. And I think the Republican Party feels uncomfortable not having an obvious frontrunner.

ROBERTS: Matt, I'm going to ask you to hold on through the break to ask your second question. We're talking about the week in politics with our Political Junkie, NPR's Ken Rudin. We'll get more of your calls when we come back from the break. 800-989-8255 is the number. We still have that e-mail challenge going. Send us your picks for movies that make guys cry: talk@npr.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Jon McCain, the Iraq spending bill, Dennis Kucinich, Vice President Cheney; if it's politics, then it must be the Political Junkie. NPR's Ken Rudin is still here with us, and if you want to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Or e-mail talk@npr.org. You can also read what other listeners have to say at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation. Matt from Madison, Indiana is still on the line. And Matt, you had a second question for the Political Junkie.

MATT: Yeah, depending upon who gets the Democratic nomination - let's say it's Barack Obama or let's say it's Hillary - what's the possibility, do you think, of a Barack Obama/Hillary ticket or a Hillary/Barack Obama ticket?

RUDIN: Well, that's a good question. I mean, there are some people who - first of all, Hillary Clinton, many Democrats will tell you, is - as strong as she is, as smart as she is, they feel that she's very polarizing. What if she finds herself with the nomination, because she can't be denied the nomination, but she can't win in November. She may be - she may be faced with the prospect of having to pick Barack Obama to appeal to an African-American electorate, to appeal to younger voters. So it's not out of the question.

I mean, we always think, you know, Kennedy/Johnson is the perfect example in 1960 of two people who never would have run together on the ticket, but probably would not have won had they not run together. So I think it's certainly doable if Hillary Clinton is the nominee.

ROBERTS: Ken, you're actually off to South Carolina tomorrow?

RUDIN: I am. Tomorrow is the first time the Democrats - the Democratic presidential candidates - all eight - will be on the same stage debating. They've been on similar stages before, but they've had forums where they discuss issues. But it's the first time that all eight will be debating the issue. South Carolina - obviously a key primary, January 29, 2008 - it's the only state that John Edwards carried in 2004 in the primaries. It's extremely important for him. But of course half the - maybe 50 percent of the Democratic electorate is African-American. Great opportunity for Barack Obama, and again, Hillary Clinton. A lot of people will be watching to see - if she is supposedly the frontrunner, why is she? And they'll look to see how she does.

ROBERTS: Well, also there will be Aaron Gould Sheinin. He's a political reporter for The State, which is a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. He's on the line from his office in Columbian. Welcome.

Mr. AARON GOULD SHEININ (Political Reporter, "The State"): Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: So in addition to the national audience, what are South Carolina voters looking for? What issues are resonating with them?

Mr. SHEININ: I think a lot of the issues here are not going to be wholly unsimilar to the issues that are resonating around the country. Healthcare is going to be a dominant factor for any election in South Carolina. We have about 800,000 people in this state without health insurance. About 100,000 of them are children, and that's out of a population of about 4,000,000. So they all - it's very important that the candidates come around with some sort of plan for solving the healthcare crisis. There's a big push lately in the state on the environment, on global warming and climate change they're going to have to offer up some plans for.

And on the Democratic side, at least the electorate in South Carolina, there's a lot of people want to know what's going to happen with the war in Iraq and what the candidates can do to end that conflict.

ROBERTS: And eight candidates is a big debate.

Mr. SHEININ: It really is. It's going to be really unwieldy. And from what I understand from NBC, the format is going to be essentially, you know, each candidate gets the same question and gets a minute to answer, and there will be a chance for a 30-second rebuttal. But with eight candidates it's going to - you know, it's really going to go fast. And it might be difficult to get -bore down into a lot of substance.

ROBERTS: So what do you think a candidate has to do to stand out?

Mr. SHEININ: Well, that's a good point because apparently there's not opening and closing statements, so the second-tier candidates are going to have to really fight and work to make themselves known and give voters or viewers a reason to support them and help trying to elevate them to that first tier. And so you've got to expect that in a minute it's going to be difficult for Chris Dodd, for instance, to explain his global warming plan - his energy plan in a minute. It might be easier for Chris Dodd in a minute to take on one of the other candidates. Not to say that that's what Senator Dodd is going to do, but for an example.

So I'm not sure that it's going to be really easy for any of the lower-tier candidates to make points.

RUDIN: Aaron, is there somebody - is there somebody the stake's bigger for one candidate more than the other candidates? Is there somebody who's really going to be in the hot spot tomorrow night?

Mr. SHEININ: Well, I think there's a couple, really. John Edwards, as you know, is a native South Carolinian, and he represented North Carolina in the election - in the Senate for a number of years. And one, as you said, the South Carolina primary in 2004. So he has to probably repeat that performance here. But so there's a lot of pressure on him to maintain that, even though recent polls - most of the polls all show him either in second or third place in South Carolina. But I would think that there's a Joe Biden or a Bill Richardson who has not - who have the resume and have the people on the ground in South Carolina working for them but haven't had the payoff in the polls.

I think it's most important for one of them to try and make a score tomorrow night, make points and find a way to try and elevate themselves at least into shouting distance of third place, which right now none of them - nobody outside of Clinton, Obama or Edwards are pulling above, you know, three or four percent. So they've got to try and do something to get up there.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Jay in Sacramento. Jay, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. Jay, are you still on the line? We've lost him. Let's hear from John in Tucson. John, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JOHN (Caller): Hello.

ROBERTS: Hi John, you're on the air.

JOHN: Hi. This is about John McCain. I live in Tucson, Arizona. I come from an old Navy family that goes back to the time of the Spanish-American War. And my daughter has just returned from Iraq. She was - she still is a serving Marine. I guess what I have to ask is that, you know, they pretty much derailed Kerry's candidateship with brining up this bogus issue of the swift boats in Vietnam. What do you think is likely to happen to McCain if they bring up the issue of the U.S.S. Liberty and his father's stance on that and then his later on, you know, based on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War?

RUDIN: Are you talking about the U.S.S. Liberty that was attacked by the Israelis in '67?

ROBERTS: I'm afraid he's not there.

RUDIN: Yeah, I don't think that that's an issue. But I'd be interested, actually, in what Aaron has to say because South Carolina has a history of - and the Republican primary, at least - of supporting strong conservatives, strong military, pro-military candidates. Does John McCain represent what George W. Bush represented in 2000?

Mr. SHEININ: That's a really interesting question. It is the question that's going to define the Republican primary in South Carolina. Senator McCain has done a lot to try and bring together a coalition of people in this state, many of whom were staunch Bush supporters in 2000. He has a great number of the Bush 2000 finance team working for him now, not that obviously recent campaign finance filings have proven that that finance team didn't exactly do gangbusters for him this year. But he's tried to become that candidate - the establishment candidate.

It's worked to a degree. He's still very popular in South Carolina. And I would tend to think that South Carolina will kind of be a firewall for Senator McCain in 2008. He's still generally in the lead in most of the polls down here while he's sliding nationally. So you know, it's a difficult fit because part of what made him so popular in 2000 obviously was that renegade nature of you never know exactly what's going to come out of his mouth. But of course while he was here just the other day, where he made the now-infamous, you know, this bomb, bomb, bomb Iran joke.

So he's still - he's still a very strong candidate in South Carolina. But you're absolutely right about the nature of the discourse on that side of the campaign. It's fast and furious already. Mitt Romney's political director in South Carolina, a guy named Terry Sullivan, you know, his quote to a magazine the other day was that it's kind of like a knife fight in South Carolina. So it's above board, but it's nasty.

ROBERTS: Well, watch your back then.

Mr. SHEININ: I don't think it was so much my back as it is maybe the other candidates. But thank you very much.

ROBERTS: Aaron Gould Sheinin is the political reporter for "The State", a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. He joined us from his office there. Thanks, Aaron.

Mr. SHEININ: Thank ya'll.

ROBERTS: We have e-mail, Ken, from Ed in Durham, North Carolina, who says, how soon before the Democratic presidential candidates go negative? Do you expect the sniping to begin in earnest at the upcoming first debate or do you expect them to hold off until X months before the actual election? Also, is it possible for a candidate, for example, John Edwards, to eschew negative campaigning - good word, Ed - or it's just political reality that personality-destroying negativity will intrude at some point?

RUDIN: Well, I think given the fact that this is the first opportunity for many voters to see the Democrats for the first time, I don't think you'll see outward negativity in a debate. But there are always behind the scene - behind the scene things that go on. For example, there is a whole bunch of reports coming out of Chicago about Barack Obama's relationship with a slum lord that he's had relationships with in the past. And some people are hinting that may have come from another campaign to try to knock Obama off his stride. But on the stage itself I think coming out negatively from the start would be a big mistake, and I don't expect to see it.

ROBERTS: Getting back to the political battle over the war in Iraq for a second, things got a little personal last week. Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Democrats for taking on what he called the far left anti-war platform of the days of Democratic Senator George McGovern. For his part, McGovern fired back in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times saying Cheney twisted his views beyond recognition. Senator George McGovern is on the line with us from his hotel here in Washington, D.C. Senator, welcome.

Senator GEORGE MCGOVERN (Former Democratic Presidential Candidate): Well, it's a pleasure to be your guest.

ROBERTS: So do you see any parallels between your '72 anti-Vietnam War campaign and the current Democratic candidates?

Sen. MCGOVERN: Absolutely, because in both cases we were fighting a war against a little country that wasn't the slightest threat to us. As soon as we got our troops out of Vietnam after all those years of slaughter and death, the Vietnamese became our friends and have been ever since.

In Iraq, Cheney and Bush and others have painted Iraq as a hotbed of terrorism. It wasn't that until we put our Army in there five years ago. There was no terrorism problem. There was no insurgency. There was no civil war. All those things have erupted in the five years since Bush ordered the American Army in there.

We've now smashed their country from one end to another. It's not surprising that there's an insurgency against our troops, that they're fighting among each other, and that the country has become a hotbed of terrorism, which it was not until we occupied it.

RUDIN: Senator, there's obviously tremendous differences between Vietnam and Iraq. But going back to your '72 campaign, since then the Democratic Party has been fairly or unfairly listed - described as a party soft on the military, soft on defense. Do you see parallels to that, to what went on with the Democrats in '72 to the Democrats of today?

Sen. MCGOVERN: Well, you know, there's a certain element of the Republican Party that always runs on fear - fear of communism, fear of terrorism. And they build those things up to the point where they're on everybody's mind. And if you don't agree with everything the high command orders, you're said to be soft on security, soft on the enemy.

I think the softheaded people are those that get us into ill-advised wars like the one in Vietnam so many years ago and now this one in Iraq. The softheaded people, the ones that haven't really thought things through, are the architects of foolish wars of that kind.

ROBERTS: Senator George McGovern is a former Democratic senator from South Dakota. He was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. Thanks so much for joining us.

Sen. McGOVERN: It's my pleasure.

ROBERTS: Ken Rudin, we have an e-mail from Zach in Chicago who says President Bush is virtually the only person in Washington still voicing support of Attorney Alberto Gonzales - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Why? Is it just an expression of his loyalty to his old Texas friend? I'm having trouble understanding what sort of political advantage Bush hopes to gain by supporting a man who has lost much of his credibility.

RUDIN: I think that's a very good question. It's a question that many Republicans are asking as well. We've seen more and more Republicans saying that this is an embarrassment to the administration, that the attorney general did not acquit himself well testifying last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And the president has shown that he's a very loyal person. He stuck with Harriet Miers longer than he should have for Supreme Court. He stuck with Donald Rumsfeld far longer than many people thought he would.

But clearly, given all the contradictions and misstatements that have come out of the Justice Department in the wake of the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys, a lot of Republicans saying this is really hurting the party. The president, who has a reputation for knowing and understanding politics, given that Karl Rove's role in everything, why isn't he doing something about it?

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We've been sort of keeping one eye on the wires to see if it's possible that Gonzales will resign this week. What are the prospects for that, do you think?

RUDIN: None. Only because he is - right today he is up on Capitol Hill meeting with folks who have opposed him in the past. He's meeting today with Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Democrat of Arkansas, who is pretty much a pretty strong critic of Gonzales's testimony, and Gonzales is trying to make friends and try to smooth out waters.

And, again, I've said this before, I still don't think he's long for this job, but I guess perhaps maybe he doesn't want to look like it's a firing. Maybe he'll decide on his own, quote, "decide on his own" that his service is no longer needed. But I'm surprised he's here as long as he has been.

ROBERTS: Were you at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night?

RUDIN: I was. I was. Well, actually, the most interesting thing I thought about this. Forget about - we can talk about Rich Little in a second. But President Bush started off by saying that I do not want - because of the tragedy at Virginia Tech - I am not going to make any jokes tonight. And yet three days later he said that he was very impressed with Alberto Gonzales's testimony. To me…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Hard to know if he's serious. We do actually have a clip of one of Rich Little's jokes. He was the host of the dinner last week. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of correspondents dinner)

Mr. RICH LITTLE (Impersonator): You know somebody asked me the other day. They said, Mr. President, do you think the war on poverty is over? And I said yes. Yes, it was. And the poor lost.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LITTLE: They did. You know, they should have quit when they were ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: That's Rich Little channeling Ronald Reagan at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

RUDIN: Speaking of quitting when you were ahead, I mean he not only did he do Ronald Reagan jokes, impersonations - he did Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Johnny Carson, three of my favorite presidents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: The question is, it was the same jokes we heard 30 years ago. I mean we bitched and moaned and complained that Steven Colbert last year was too critical of the president, too irreverential(ph), too mean. But I mean Rich Little, there was nothing topical - except that one joke about Ezra Taft Benson. I thought that was a big - this was so - there were so many people just, you know, saying what were we thinking when we invited Rich Little.

ROBERTS: So do you think people have just sort of lost their sense of humor in general? Was it going to be hard to be funny in that crowd even if you were better than Rich Little?

RUDIN: Well, there's a lot to poke fun of and not have to be mean about it. I think the criticism that many people said about Stephen Colbert was that he was funny but mean and personal about it. You could do it without being mean. But Rich Little did - I mean, whatever he said was really 30 years old.

There was nothing about the current situation, no Alberto Gonzales jokes. There's plenty of opportunities to make fun of what's going on now. But I mean to talk about, you know, Quemoy and Matsu, and people say - well, he didn't do that. But there were so many old things that he referred to that we just sat there and saying what were we thinking.

ROBERTS: Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, our resident Political Junkie. You can read his Political Junkie column and listen to his podcast, It's All Politics, at our Web site, npr.org. Hey, Ken, what movies make you cry?

RUDIN: Well, now that I have to pay $10 to get into movie, every movie makes me cry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Fair enough. When we come back from a short break, movies that make men cry, whether it's their pocketbook or the emotion of it. We'll hear from Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass and our own movie buff, Murray Horwitz. And guys, tell us what movies make you tear up. "Rudy"? "Old Yeller"? Give us a call 800-989-talk or e-mail, talk@npr.org.

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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