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Can Terrorism Effect Voting Come November; President Bush and NAACP at Odds

Aired July 12, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It happened before in Spain, a national election, a devastating attack. A government falls. Tonight, if a terrorist strike were to happen here, should the November elections be postponed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're preparing for all of these contingencies now.

ZAHN: And what would it mean for American democracy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's very unfortunate that President Bush chose to ignore this convention.

ZAHN: Bad blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one vote he may have gotten from the black community, he's not going to get now.

ZAHN: The president and the NAACP.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been absolute silence.

ZAHN: At odds and at war with each other.


ZAHN: Good evening and thanks so much for joining us tonight. Glad to have us with us.

Tonight, politics, politics, politics. We will cover the politics of terror, the politics of gay marriage and the politics of the vice presidency, and the politics of the African-American vote.

But, first, a developing story tonight, what may be a deal to free a hostage in Iraq. The deputy foreign minister of the Philippines says it will pull its 50-member humanitarian force out of Iraq as soon as possible. And a source in the Philippine Embassy tells CNN that abductors holding a Filipino truck driver have promised to release him on Tuesday. They had been threatening to behead Angelo de la Cruz if the Philippines refused to withdraw from Iraq by July 20. However, a senior administration official says the White House still believes the Filipino forces will remain in Iraq until the originally scheduled pullout date of August 20. The official notes that the claim of the speeded up timetable comes from this deputy foreign minister, not the president of the Philippines.

Joining us from Washington, former defense secretary William Cohen, who is chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group.

Always good to see you, sir.


ZAHN: If this scenario is true and the Philippines pull out more than a month ahead of their previously planned schedule, does that mean terrorists have scored a victory here?

COHEN: Well, I think we have to separate out the substance and the symbolism here.

From the substantive point of view, the pullout of some 50 humanitarian type of personnel is not going to offer -- certainly, the balance, the physical and military balance, in the country right now. The symbolism, however, is quite different. One thing that terrorists like to do, and that is to look for the weakest link or to go to the softest target.

Whenever they run up against a hard target, they look for others. In this particular case, if in fact they take hostages and find that it is rewarded with some sort of a political reaction, then the incentive is there to continue to take political hostages. And I think that is the danger that we have here if in fact the Philippine government goes forward and pulls their troops out early.

ZAHN: Sure. So you're helping us better understand what the incentive of the terrorists should be. What should be the consequences if the Philippines does in fact does this?

COHEN: Well, this is really up to the Philippine government. President Arroyo will make that determination in terms what is in her country's best interests long term, as well as short term.

There should be no consequences flowing to the Philippine government. After all, they are a strong ally of the United States and this should not be seen as something for which they should be chastised or paid any penalty for.


ZAHN: But doesn't it send a signal that they're caving in to some of the other allies?

COHEN: I think it sends just the wrong kind of signal, exactly. But we also have a relationship with the Philippine government. We have other issues involving our helping them to fight terrorism in their country. So this is one issue which would be, I think, unfortunate if it goes forward, but it's not going to alter our relationship with the Philippine government.

ZAHN: What do you think it means tonight that the Bush administration says tonight it is not really buying into this report until the U.S. government hears directly from the president of the Philippines? Does that mean that something is being negotiated behind the scenes, that someone is trying to buy some time here?

COHEN: I think there are probably a lot of phone calls going back and forth across the Pacific right now in terms of trying to persuade the president of the government -- of the Philippine government to not follow through on what is reported to be the fact.

So I think they're looking for time to see if they can't be persuasive on this issue, that this is something bigger and larger than the individual involved, although, clearly, the family of that individual is hoping that the government will, in fact, do whatever is necessary to get that individual out. But in terms of the bigger picture, in terms of the future of other hostage-takers and the consequences, I think it would be a mistake for them to fold.

ZAHN: Well, thank you so much for helping us better understand the very many nuances of the story tonight.

COHEN: A pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: Secretary Cohen, appreciate your time.

Now on to the politics of terror in this country. It's a given you can't have a democracy without voting and that make elections an obvious target of al Qaeda, whose goal is to do political, economic and psychological damage on the United States. So now, almost three years after 9/11, officials in Washington are talking about this scenario, an attack on or just before Election Day.

If the Florida recount caused chaos and weeks of uncertainty, imagine what a terrorist attack could do.

Here is Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through all the suffering, terror, and turmoil on New York on 9/11, something else was supposed to be happening, an election. The city's mayoral primary wound up being postponed. But now the U.S. Election Assistance Commission is asking the Department of Homeland Security what if something like that happened on the presidential Election Day and voting had to be delayed.

GRACIA HILLMAN, ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION: We're not advocating postponement. That is not how we approached the scenario.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want it to happen, but, if it does, I think we want to be prepared.

FOREMAN: The bipartisan commission was created by Congress and appointed by President Bush to restore voter confidence after the controversial last election. But their questions have created a storm.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it's excessive, based on what we know.

FOREMAN: Some Democrats are suspicious that the White House is pulling the strings. A former official from the Clinton administration, Morris Reid, issued a statement, saying: "The idea blatantly smells of unfair political self-protection, that President Bush is desperately trying to keep his job."

(on camera): You're being accused of being shills for the Bush administration, that this is all about protecting George Bush if the election goes against him. What do you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're not.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The commission flatly denies the accusations.

HILLMAN: They don't surprise me because this is a great headline. This is an attention-grabber.

FOREMAN: Hovering over This debate is the specter of Spain. Terrorists there bombed commuter trains in March three days before the election and the prime minister lost what had been a tight contest. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says it could happen here.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.

FOREMAN: The commission, however, says many things could disrupt that process, a hurricane in Florida, an earthquake in California, a massive power outage in almost any city.

(on camera): Still, even the commissioners say delaying a presidential election falls somewhere between very difficult and impossible. No one person in the federal government appears to have the authority to do it. And it would undoubtedly face legal challenges.

(voice-over): So the debate begs another question. If such rancor can erupt over just the idea of a terrorist attack and its aftermath, have the terrorists already upset the democratic process?


ZAHN: That was our Tom Foreman.

Joining us from now Washington, the Republican who sounded the alarm about the lack of a plan to deal with an election disruption, DeForest Soaries, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Good of you to join us, sir. Welcome.


ZAHN: So let's look at everybody's worst-case scenario here. And that is an act of terrorism right before the election. What would happen?

SOARIES: Well, I think an act of terror before the election is really irrelevant. I don't think we can justify acting on something that happens before the election.

Our concern is a contingency plan that was needed on September 11, 2001, in New York, but wasn't in place. My specific concern is that, on the one hand, states have a right to determine when to respond voting. On the other hand, there is no national consensus as to what constitutes a sufficient disaster to do that. And I think what we want going into November 2 is a national consensus.

We want cooperation and coordination. If we learned anything from September 11, it's that federal agencies should communicate better with each other and then we should send the same message to local officials.

ZAHN: But I guess what has been made abundantly clear to us through Tom Foreman's piece and even members of the commission, that cooperation and coordination is not in place.

"Newsweek" is reporting that you and your commission actually expressed concern that there was no federal agency that had the power to postpone an election and you asked for that power to be given to your commission. Is that true?

SOARIES: Well, no, we didn't ask for that power.

What we did was contact Mr. Ridge, Secretary Ridge, in April to begin discussing primarily the plans that are being made by law enforcement to ensure that as we, our commission, give guidance to local election officials, which is our charge, that we would be giving guidance consistent with the kind of plans being made by law enforcement.

The fact is, we know that 193,000 polling places in this country are potential targets. We know that law enforcement has concerns all over the country and we know that local law enforcement officials will be taking their directions from Washington. We have 8,000 local election officials that take their direction from us. We're directing them on provisional ballots, on absentee ballots, on the use of electronic voting machines.

They've begun to call our commission to ask us questions about security. And we just would like to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, which we would begin doing next week. Next week, I'll meet with Secretary Ridge's office. And we'll begin to share information and coordinate the communications that go out throughout the country.

ZAHN: I know we're talking about hypotheticals here, but the one thing I'm not clear on is whether your commission would consider postponing the entire election if there is a single act of terrorism at one of these many polling places or just suspend the results in that one precinct.

SOARIES: Well, the Constitution of our country gives the states tremendous powers over the election process in their respective state. What we'd like to do with congressional leaders and with executive branch leaders and legal scholars is to form a consensus as to what the Constitution definitely says to identify whatever gaps consist.

We should like to ensure that every state has its own legal apparatus to exercise its own power and then communicate that broadly so that the issue is not politicized and no one can accuse anyone of having manipulated either fears or acts of terror for any political advantage.

ZAHN: DeForest Soaries, thank you for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

SOARIES: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up next, the move to make gay marriage unconstitutional.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: In Washington this week, the Senate is wrestling with the politics of gay marriage. The question, should the Constitution be changed to keep men from marrying men, women from marrying women?

Well, the senators began debating the amendment Friday and could vote as soon as Wednesday. Same-sex marriage became an issue this year when the state Supreme Court of Massachusetts cleared the way for it there, while a few other communities around the country began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.


ZAHN (voice-over): The traditional definition of marriage is the legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife. But, in this political season, marriage is driving people apart, at least when the focus is on gay marriage.

President Bush this weekend in his weekly radio address.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution and the law can teach respect or disrespect for that institution.

ZAHN: Currently, it is up to each state to decide whether to legalize gay marriage. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage would, of course, change all that. In this election year, lawmakers are being put on the spot as they balance traditional marriage with gay rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I worry that the American family will not be able to sustain itself against this continued attempt to marginalize the importance of a traditional families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me express to my gay and lesbian friends, I don't mean to disappoint you, but I can't be true to you if I'm false to my basic beliefs.

ZAHN: With those kinds of statements and the weight of the White House behind a constitutional amendment, lobbying groups are coming out swinging. The nation's largest gay political organization started running television ads nationally last week.








UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Constitution of the United States.



ZAHN: During the 2000 presidential campaign, Dick Cheney, at first, took the position that states should decide legal issues about personal relationships and that people should be able to freely enter relationships of their choosing.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.


ZAHN: But, now, he stands by the president and that seems to put him at odds with his wife. The Cheneys are parents of a lesbian daughter.

Lynne Cheney on CNN.

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think that the constitutional amendment discussion will give us an opportunity to look for ways to discuss ways in which we can keep the authority of the states intact.

ZAHN: And that happens to be very close to the position of Senator John Kerry.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I don't think we need a constitutional amendment at the federal level.

ZAHN: So what do voters want? According to one poll earlier this year, 70 percent of voters are against making gay marriage an issue in the presidential campaign. And some argue that this discussion is just a political distraction, turning the nation's focus away from more important issues.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: It's a shame and a sham. When we should be considering measures to strengthen homeland security, Republican partisans are focusing on devising wedge issues for partisan political purposes. Well, that's wrong.


ZAHN: Joining us now, John Fund of "The Wall Street Journal" and in Los Angeles tonight, Matt Miller of the Center For American Progress, author of "The 2 Percent Solution."

Welcome to both of you.

ZAHN: All right, John, right off the bat, the president's critics are out there saying this is all about the president simply throwing red meat to his evangelical base. Is that what this is all about?

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think certainly politics plays a role.

However, remember, the court in Massachusetts decided to enter this five months ago by basically inventing the right to gay marriage out of whole thin cloth. So, I think that this has been forced upon people to consider what is going to happen, because, remember, 86 senators in 1996 voted against gay marriage and President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. That is now being threatened.


ZAHN: Are you telling me that the president was forced into a box on supporting a constitutional amendment or could he have let this go


FUND: If Defense of Marriage Act is constitutionally threatened, as most legal scholars say it is, then the president, understandably, might want to have some kind of reaction to it, because, remember, this was done without consulting the voters. It was done without consulting the electorate. That's why 12 states this fall are going to have gay marriage initiatives on the ballot, because the voters want to be consulted about this.

ZAHN: Matt, did the president have an obligation to do this?


I mean, if Republicans are going to play deeply cynical, divisive politics, which is what their plan is, at least they could get their stories straight. And instead, what we've got is Lynne Cheney and Dick Cheney turning into the James Carville and Mary Matalin of gay marriage.

You had Lynne Cheney, as you saw just on the clip, taking the position her husband always took, which is that this is not a federal issue, this should be left to the states. This is clearly something that's important to them because their own daughter is lesbian and they understand what the issues are. Instead, in a very deeply cynical move, which, if it's not only red meat for the president's evangelical base, it's a truly cynical attempt to try and reach blue- collar workers in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Ohio and a bunch of swing states...


MILLER: Excuse me -- and trying to convince them to say, oh, even though the economy is lagging, even though my economic prospects don't look good, maybe I can be distracted into voting for George Bush. It's that plain.

ZAHN: All right, he's saying it's about turning the page on the administration's part. This is a distraction.

FUND: Matt and I both agree that gay marriage is a mistake for slightly different reasons. But I will have to tell you, this is not just about the conservative base. Four out of 10 Democrats support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. I don't see any problem in debating it. Since it's not going to pass


MILLER: That can't be right, when I saw polls today that said only 55 percent nationally oppose it. That doesn't add up.

FUND: Well, the "Newsweek" poll, the CBS poll of June 1, I can refer you to over and over to those polls. If you ask the question differently, you will get a different answer.

ZAHN: All right, John, come back to what Matt was saying, though, that you've got a disconnect even in the Cheney family. You have Mrs. Cheney over the weekend basically saying this is a good time to review where states rights come in. She's not on the same page as her husband.

(CROSSTALK) FUND: Name the last time a vice president publicly disagreed with his boss in American history. It doesn't happen. Of course Vice President Cheney has to agree with the president.

ZAHN: Did Lynne Cheney have to say that publicly and does that help the president's case?

FUND: I think, frankly, it speaks to her independence and her feistiness and the fact that she's not a robot, which is what we want in our second ladies.

MILLER: But, Paula, you're onto something, because it used to be -- I do think this in a funny way speaks to see a sad decline in message discipline by the GOP.

Remember when George Bush I used to pander relentlessly come election time on abortion to the right-wing base, Barbara, who disagreed with him, would sort of keep it in a kind of discrete, low- key way, not going on CNN.


MILLER: So I do think we're seeing a


MILLER: ... of the Republican mind here in public.

FUND: Matt, did the 86 senators who voted against gay marriage in '96, including almost all Democrats, except for John Kerry, and Bill Clinton, who signed into law, were they pandering?

MILLER: They all voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which is exactly fine today. There is no constitutional threat to it. I don't know what big community of scholars you're talking about who agrees it's under siege.

FUND: I don't believe that opposition to gay marriage is necessarily pandering. Some people have sincere and devout views on this. And I think we should at least not talk about this just in cynical political terms, but also the fact that this is a real public policy issue. Should courts be able to do this without consulting the voters?


MILLER: John, if was this about sincere, devout belief, you wouldn't have a vice president of the United States declare last time the same belief he shared with his wife and then do a total 180-degree flip-flop on it because his president feels like he's in political trouble and is trying to do stuff to get votes. You know that's what it is about. Everybody does.

FUND: Now, let's see. Remind me when Al Gore disagreed with Bill Clinton publicly. This is part of politics. MILLER: That's not relevant. If you you're trying to say you can't defend the vice president's flip-flop, that is one thing. And let's just admit that and concede that. But it's also part a pattern of vice presidential flip-flops. We have Dick Cheney talking publicly about the danger of big budget deficits and talking privately about the fact that they don't matter.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, come Election Day -- you've got 10 seconds apiece -- what does this mean at the polls, this issue?

John Fund?

FUND: I think it drives out evangelical, conservative turnout. I think it depresses turnout among some Democratic base constituencies. It's a net vote gainer because the vast majority of the American people want to be consulted on this.

ZAHN: Net vote gainer.

Matt Miller, you get the last word.

MILLER: No, it's a terrible distraction. And if Bush decides to make this -- if -- if he decides to make this a centerpiece of his campaign, I think it will turn against him because people don't want their politics to be about gay marriage. They want the debate to be about the economy, about the uninsured and all that stuff.

ZAHN: We'll be watching closely from here to see which one of you got it right.

John Fund, Matt Miller, thank you for you time.

When we come back, politics and the polls. The Kerry campaign gets some good news, but so does the president. We'll sort out what the voters are saying.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Senator John Kerry's choice of John Edwards as a running mate apparently has had little effect on the close presidential race. While Senator Kerry did get something of a boost over President Bush, it was not by very much.

A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of likely voters shows Kerry with a four-point lead over Mr. Bush. Now, a similar poll taken just three weeks ago, before Kerry tapped Edwards, showed the president with a one-point advantage. And in Edwards' home state of North Carolina, President Bush still has a hefty lead among likely voters.

A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll released just tonight shows the Bush-Cheney ticket with a 15-point advantage over Kerry/Edwards. Mr. Bush's lead is larger than it was when he won that state in the year 2000.

Joining me now to discuss the latest polls and other political news, in Washington, "CROSSFIRE" hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

Always good to see your team. Welcome.



ZAHN: So, Paul, are Democrats disappointed in these numbers?

BEGALA: No. I can't imagine that they are, at least the ones that I talk to. They're very happy, and here is why.

The head-to-head horse race right now doesn't matter. What matters is the issue set that the election is going to be decided on. President Bush clearly wants it decided on divisive social issues like gay marriage. Kerry now in choosing John Edwards clearly wants it debated on, yes, on the war in Iraq, but a special emphasis now he wants on these middle-class economic issues.

The choice of John Edwards then allows Kerry I think to speak more plausibly to middle-class voters and to rural voters, not so much in the South, actually, where the Republicans are so strong, as the poll shows, but in the Midwest, which is where the election is really going to be won. So Democrats feel like it was the right choice and I think they're pretty optimistic about it.

ZAHN: So, Paul, let me get this straight. You're telling me tonight the Democrats aren't worried that John Edwards isn't going to help the campaign in North Carolina?

BEGALA: That is not a must-win state for Democrats. The must- win states, mostly in the industrial Midwest, Democrats believe that that is where John Edwards is going to help, because , while he's not a Midwesterner, he does speak the language of small town America and that's where the election, they believe, will be decided.

ZAHN: Bob, let's move on now to a "Newsweek" poll. And it shows this, that people prefer Edwards over Cheney as vice president by 52 percent to 41 percent, and that former Senator Al D'Amato is out there actually calling for the president to dump Cheney from the ticket. Does that have any resonance out there?

NOVAK: Absolutely none.

Let me tell you a secret. American people do not vote for vice presidents. It just isn't in the Constitution. It doesn't happen. They vote for president. And the vice president comes along as a trailer. Secondly, Al D'Amato has about as much influence in the Republican Party as Paul Begala, maybe even less.


NOVAK: There is no question that Dick Cheney is going to be retained on the ticket.

ZAHN: But does he help, Bob, the president or does he hurt him? You say he comes behind like a trailer to the president.

NOVAK: There is absolutely no impact by these vice presidential candidates. This is a media game. The last time a vice president either hurt or helped -- he helped -- a ticket was Lyndon Johnson, my first campaign I covered back in 1960.

Let me also say, Paula, if I might, that, listening to Paul, you found a total change in the Democratic spin. The Democratic spin a couple of weeks ago, and it was right on this network by Democratic spokesmen, was how Edwards was going to really put a lot of Southern states in play. He's not even putting his own state in play. He is no help in the South.

ZAHN: More now from the "Newsweek" poll. When asked about leadership qualities, 63 percent of voters rate Cheney as having strong leadership qualities, compared to 53 percent who see Edwards as having strong leadership qualities.

Fifty-six percent trust Cheney to deal with an international crisis, compared to 48 percent who trust Edwards. Yet, at the same time, people seem to like Edwards better.

Now, Bob, you're going to tell me tonight, though, that none of this matters, because these guys are trailers pulling behind the presidential candidate?

NOVAK: That's right. But I'll tell you why they like Edwards, because he hugs better. He's a huggy bear and, you know, he hugs. He hugs the candidate, he hugs his wife. He hugs his little kids.

You don't see Dick Cheney hugging anybody. He's not a hugger, but they think he's a better leader for the country.

It doesn't really matter, but the question is if we really -- if both those presidents were taken away and we had a terrible crisis, who would you want making the decision in the Oval Office and I think that, in that contest, Dick Cheney beats John Edwards.

ZAHN: Well, what about that, Paul? Because there's a lot of discussion even on the Bush/Cheney team who are saying that he genuinely looks pretty uncomfortable out there.

And he seems to have a lot of people around him, including security people, and it's not easy for anybody in the public to access him.

BEGALA: I want to defend Dick Cheney. He's very huggy. He hugs Enron. He hugs Exxon. He hugs the Halliburton board of directors.

I mean, there's a lot of people he's very affectionate with. It just doesn't happen to be American people, or ordinary people or average people.

But again, where the vice presidents matter are the issues that they bring to the table. Because Edwards is on the ticket, Kerry...

ZAHN: Wait. But what on that specific issue...

BEGALA: ... Kerry can speak of economic issues.

ZAHN: ... of -- of people seeming to have more faith in Cheney at this point if he was the guy who had to lead the country over John Edwards.

BEGALA: Not much more. John Edwards has been in politics about 15 minutes. Dick Cheney has been our vice president for three years, and he's just barely ahead. I just don't think that that's where they'd want to draw the line.

I'm glad to Bob say with his deep sources in the Republican Party that nothing is going to come of this dump Cheney movement. A few of my friends in the Democratic Party think there might be something to it. I tend to disagree with that view. I don't think there's any kind of conspiracy to dump Cheney.

But maybe that's just wishful thinking, because I want to see him in there because then we can talk about issues like Halliburton and this administration's commitment to big oil rather than a sensible energy policy.

ZAHN: Bob, you get the last word tonight.

NOVAK: Yes, I would say that if -- if they're going to run this campaign on Halliburton, they've got the wrong issue. The issues are Iraq and the economy. And Halliburton is the kind of issue that the big Democratic talkers in Washington talk about but the ordinary people don't care about.

ZAHN: We'll see what plays out in the weeks to come and months to come. Gentlemen, thanks so much. Paul, Bob, always good to see you. Appreciate it.

BEGALA: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: And coming up next, the rift between the White House and the nation's oldest civil rights group.


ZAHN: President Bush is not speaking at this week's NAACP convention, and now the civil rights group is fighting to get him out of the White House.

During a speech yesterday, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said many African-Americans are, quote, "ready to turn anger into action to work for regime change here at home."

It is the White House that said a scheduling conflict kept the president from attending the convention. But on Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan spoke about the president's frosty relationship with the group.

He said, quote, "The current leadership of the NAACP has certainly made some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years. But the president is going to reach out to everyone in the African-American community and ask for their vote, based on his record and his vision for the country."

Our Joe Johns has a look at the bad blood between the president and the NAACP.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the fourth year the president has declined the group's invitation.

KWAME MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT: If the president's new mantle and measurement for dialogue is to only talk and to only meet with those individuals or organizations that agree with him, then we are getting closer to the previous regime in Baghdad than we are to a democracy here in America.

JOHNS: The president and the NAACP leadership have had a long and rocky relationship, a relationship described by Mr. Bush as "basically nonexistent," adding, "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."

The last time he addressed the group in July of 2000, then candidate Bush acknowledged that.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I recognize the history of the Republican Party and the NAACP has not been one of regular partnership, so while some in my party have avoided the NAACP, and while some in the NAACP have avoided my party, I'm proud to be here.

JOHNS: So what happened after that speech to make things worse? An ad for the NAACP from October of 2000 that called on Bush to support hate crime legislation while invoking the name of murder victim James Berg, who was dragged to his death in Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.

JOHNS: All things considered, some of the president supporters, like conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams, argue he's doing the right thing by staying away from the convention.

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: They've insulted the president. There is no room for discussion. And the president has made a principled decision not to show up.

JOHNS: Former Republican congressman J.C. Watts believes an appearance by the president probably would not accomplish much.

J.C. WATTS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: You wouldn't think that it would be received very well. He's going to deal with them in ways that some aren't going to like. JOHNS: Polls show the president and the Republican Party still haven't had a lot of success in attracting large numbers of black voters. In a recent CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, black voters were asked their choice of president. It wasn't even close.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Blacks are one of the most loyal groups of Democratic voters in the country, and they have been for at least four decades.

JOHNS: And Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was quick to capitalize on the latest controversy.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My friends, I will be a president who meets with the leadership of the Civil Rights Congress, who meets with the NAACP.


ZAHN: And Joe Johns joins us now from Washington.

Joe, welcome. Is this split -- could you ever reconcile this split?

JOHNS: Well, look. In the year 2000, Paula, George W. Bush got between eight and nine percent of the African-American vote. The administration says it is hoping to improve on that number.

Now, on the other hand, what went wrong?

Well, it's historical for one thing. It's been tough for Republican presidential candidates to get African-American votes for a long time. At least since Barry Goldwater, who started out supporting states' rights and then changed his mind. The Reagan years were rocky, too.

And now you fast-forward to this administration. Bush versus Gore didn't help the current president, plus during his term, there have been issues with affirmative action, plus jobs and the economy, the war in Iraq. All of those things seen as disproportionately affecting the African-American community.

So there are a lot of things going on there. Of course, the administration would like to try to rectify some of it by election day. We'll see, Paula.

ZAHN: Do they get to this eight to 10 percent by not showing up at the NAACP convention?

JOHNS: Well, certainly, it's hard to see what they gain by not showing up. On the other hand, you know, this is a president who likes to make decisions, and one of the things he doesn't like to do is find himself uncomfortable in front of a hostile crowd.

It's clear the people here in this organization have been polite with him before. Nonetheless, it was the president, apparently his calculation and those with him at the White House who said, "We're just not going to get that much out of this."

On the other hand, they do approach a lot of other issues, issues like school choice, for example, the gay marriage ban. That's something elsewhere a lot of African-Americans sort of come under the tent. And they're hoping through issues like that, they can reach out to the African-American community, Paula.

ZAHN: Joe Johns, we're going to leave it there. Thanks so much.

And joining us now to further discuss the president's relationship with the NAACP in the African-American community is San Francisco journalist Farai Chideya. She is the host of a radio show and is the author of three books, including, "Trust: Reaching the 100 Million Missing Voters."

And in Philadelphia tonight, nationally syndicated columnist Mychal Massie. He is a national advisory council member for Project 21, a leadership network of conservative African-Americans.

Welcome both.



ZAHN: ... there are a lot of people out there watching this controversy, saying this is really all about a disgruntled organization which does not represent all African-Americans. Is there any truth to that?

FARAI CHIDEYA, AUTHOR, "TRUST": Well, I think there's truth to the fact that the NAACP doesn't represent all African-Americans, but what does, black people are not, you know, mindless zombies. I mean, I don't think that any group represents any one race or ethnicity.

But, to me, this is really about personalization. I think there's been a lot of sloppy journalism where people said the NAACP has personally attacked Bush. I think that the thing is after Bush decided not to come for the fourth time, people did say some very salty things.

But if you look what happened in the past three years, the NAACP was critiquing policies, not a person. And yet, Bush said "the names they've called me." What names was he called? He's taking things very personally and putting things in a context they don't belong in.

ZAHN: What about that, Mychal? Is the Bush administration too thin-skinned about the NAACP criticism?

MASSIE: Well, Paula, I'm not going to debate that issue, because, first of all, it has no basis. Second of all, it's scurrilous. And thirdly...

CHIDEYA: It has a complete basis.

MASSIE: ... it seems like it would be like -- Excuse me, please. I gave you the courtesy of speaking. Please give me the same.

ZAHN: But what about the charge that this is -- it has become too personalized?

MASSIE: It's -- it's not about being personalized. The president is the president of all -- is the president of all the people, not just a group of people with an over-inflated opinion of themselves.

The president not attending this convention is nothing more than that, simply not attending the convention. His governance of America will still benefit and, indeed, does benefit all Americans, including the NAACP, whether they view themselves as part of America or not.

ZAHN: What about that, Farai?

CHIDEYA: Well, I just think that this debate is going off on a very typical tangent when you have issues framed around black conservatives. Black conservatives only represent roughly 10 percent of the African-American community.

But what I will say is that there's a growth opportunity that Republicans are not taking. Younger African-Americans are more than twice as likely not to be politically affiliated with the Democrats as older African-Americans.

So, yes, the NAACP may not be hitting the target audience that Republicans want to recruit. But they're shooting themselves in the foot, because a lot of younger and more apathetic African-Americans who weren't going to go to the polls may just get mad and go and vote against Bush. So I don't see how this benefits...

ZAHN: Are you worried about that, Michael? You're going to answer briefly, and I'll give you more time on the other side.

MASSIE: Excuse me. I -- I would submit that there are, according to the NAACP, a significant number of apathetic black Americans that they are trying to get to the polls. So again, I find that assertion scurrilous on its face.

But to suggest that -- that the administration is, in some way, not reaching out to America. Blacks, today, especially the young blacks, especially professional blacks, are embracing capitalism. And by embracing capitalism, they are embracing America.

And we need to understand that the issues that confront the communities today are not color sensitive. They are the issues that confront each and every American that we have.

ZAHN: All right. You two, we've got to leave it there for a moment, but if you wouldn't mind sticking around, Farai Chideya, Mychal Massie, we'll be right back and dig a little bit deeper into all of this, straight out of the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: And we're back. Joining me once again to discuss the friction between the president and the NAACP, in San Francisco, radio host and author Farai Chideya, in Philadelphia, columnist Mychal Massie of Project 21, a network of African-American conservatives.

Welcome back.

CHIDEYA: Thank you.

ZAHN: I want to call your attention to one of our polls now. President Bush's job approval rating among African-Americans is the lowest it has been since he's been in office, down 20 points since July 2001, down 33 points from its high in July 2002.

Mychal, what has happened to the president?

MASSIE: Well, I think that polls are not unlike certain body parts. We all have them.

The problem with this is when you have a group of people that is constantly bombarded with the idea that they are do something based purely on color or circumstance, when that is not seen as being done, then it becomes problematic and, depending on how that question is asked in the poll, this is what we see.

ZAHN: All right. But do you believe, Mychal, that African- Americans in general -- I know you hate generalities, but I think we need to address this -- have benefited from Bush economic policies?

MASSIE: Well, how could -- how could blacks -- how could Americans, as a whole -- and, Paula, we need to understand that blacks are not a subgroup or a group apart from. Blacks are part of America.

ZAHN: So have the economic policies been good for America?

MASSIE: The economic policies have most certainly been good for Americans. They've been good for you. They've been good for me. I submit they've been good for the young lady on the West Coast. They've been good for Sheila Jackson Lee, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They've been good for friends of mine that work, even here in Philadelphia. So yes, they've been good.

ZAHN: Farai?

MASSIE: And I -- I take that to be an invalid question.

CHIDEYA: I'm sorry...

ZAHN: I can't answer that question for you. I don't know if they've been good for you, and I don't know if you feel how that they have been for the African-American community at large.

CHIDEYA: Well, I think that, you know, first of all, for people who are in their 20s and 30s, this has been a tough time. Structural readjustment in, you know, the economy. And it's not just about black people. But people today are suffering under the burden of uncertain work futures, moving into a service-oriented economy. The jobs that are being created are low wage and without benefits.

And there was a recent study that showed that 50 percent of African-American men in New York City, where you are, have no stable employment. I don't see...

MASSIE: Well, there's a reason for that.

CHIDEYA: Could I please finish? I think that...

MASSIE: Yes, but there's a reason for that.

CHIDEYA: I think that one thing that's really interesting is that you keep bringing up the rhetoric of racial privilege. Now, there's a columnist here in the Bay Area called Byron Williams, and he says that there's socialism in America today for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

You mentioned capitalism before. I don't think that black people don't like capitalism, but when you see people getting no bid contracts like Halliburton...

MASSIE: That all sounds -- that all sounds -- that all sounds very good.

CHIDEYA: That socialism -- socialism of the worst sort for African-Americans. Name one who benefits.

ZAHN: All right. All right. Michael, we'll give you the last word here. Can't understand both of you when you cross lines.

MASSIE: That all sounds -- that all sounds very good, but capitalism benefits us all. And I would agree there is socialism, but it's coming from the elite liberal end.

But I would say is there's a reason that in New York the -- we have such a high and disproportionate number of black males unemployed, is because, as Bill Cosby said, they're unemployable based on bad decisions, not based on what the country or the current administration has done for them or to them.

ZAHN: All right. That is another debate altogether. Maybe we'll bring you two back on that subject some night.

MASSIE: Be glad to. Thank you.

ZAHN: Fair Chideya...

CHIDEYA: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... Mychal Massie, thank you for both of your perspectives. Appreciate it.

Still ahead tonight, the medium is the message, lots and lots of them. E-mail gone wild, right out of this.


ZAHN: Well, neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail will stop the e-mail. These days, with all the portable e-mail devices available, even a power outage can't stop a message from reaching its target. Is it just too much?

Here's Bruce Burkhart.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another morning, another four zillion e-mail messages.

When e-mail came on the scene, its promise, like so many other technological innovations, was that it was would save time. I think it's a broken promise.

Sure, some of them are spam, but most of them are another form of spam. Little messages from colleagues who, at one time, would have simply poked their head into your office or cubicle and said what they needed to say.

How much time does it take to, if not respond, at least look at all of the messages, just to make sure you're not missing something important? You usually aren't.

It was bad enough when we were just dealing with a computer. But, now, now, there's another weapon of mass mailings, the Blackberry.


BURKHARDT (on camera): How many times have you been in conversation with somebody and they started doing this?

Huh? Yes, right. Hold on.

(voice-over) It seems we're communicating more and maybe enjoying it less. But what kind of communicating is it? Writing? Or talking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Research has shown that actual analyses of the language of e-mail do document that it does have many speech-like features that we, in fact, in the past tended to associate with -- with conversation.

BURKHARDT: So even though we seem to be writing, typing letters on a keyboard, it's more like talking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The use of slang and lots of run-on sentences with dot, dot, dot in between them, almost like a stream of consciousness, instead of carefully formed, syntactically beautiful sentences with periods at the end of them.

BURKHARDT: If e-mail has given rise to a new form of communication, it may also be the final blow for another form: letter writing. The letter was a favorite subject of the Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer. Good thing he's not painting today. If he were, he probably be LOL, e-mail-ese for laughing out loud.

(on camera) So in this instant messaging age, that old adage about thinking before you speak, who has time to think when you're communicating? I mean, if you -- excuse me.

What was I saying? Never mind.


ZAHN: Bruce, never think before you speak. Our own Bruce Burkhardt from Atlanta. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us tonight. Thanks so much for being with us.

Tomorrow, athletes on steroids. The problem is spreading beyond pro sports to college and now even high school. The doping of athletes tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Indicted former Enron chairman Ken Lay is his guest. Again, thanks for joining us tonight. Have a great night.


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