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Joe Klein from Time Magazine on Barack Obama’s positions.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HH: Joined now by Joe Klein of Time Magazine, knows all, sees all, comments on all from Time Magazine, sometimes at their blog, the Swamp[land], often in his column. Joe, welcome back, good to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JK: Great to be here. The blog is called Swampland. I think the swamp is the Chicago Tribune’s blog.

HH: You got me. You’re absolutely right. Swampland. You’ve got Ana Marie Cox over there. Who else blogs with you?

JK: Karen Tumulty, who is our national political correspondent, Jay Carney, who is the D.C. bureau chief, and some youngsters, Jay Newton-Small and Michael Scherer, who are out on the campaign trail.

HH: That’s good. And you guys get to stay home with your feet up and just opine. I think that’s…

JK: No, I go out on the campaign trail with everybody else, In fact, I was just out a few days ago with Walter Shapiro of Salon, and we were talking about how few of us codgers are still out there. So it’s really kind of pathetic.

HH: Well, you know, the hotels get old after a while, don’t they?

JK: This is, God help me, my ninth one of these, which is only the proof that there are no 12-step programs for political junkees.

HH: I just think that’s punishing, absolutely punishing. Let’s talk about your column last week, Joe, the Patriotism Problem For Barack Obama. And you write that patriotism is sadly a crucial challenge for Obama now. Explain to people what you mean.

JK: Well, I think that there have been a number of incidents over the last three or four months, with his wife talking about how she was proud of America for the first time in her life because of this campaign, her adult life, there was the mini, and I mean very mini controversy about his American flag pin, which he stopped wearing a few years ago, and there is the big question, which is why he stayed in Jeremiah Wright’s Church for 20 years. And it seems to me that, and I think that his campaign agrees with this, that he has to step out and speak more about what America means to him. He started doing it, by the way, on Saturday night at the big dinner in Montana. But you know, he has to talk about the up side, not just the down side. He has to talk about, I mean, his view of patriotism is that the reason why this is such a wonderful country is it keeps on improving itself, which is I think a very legitimate and probably the most profound form of patriotism we have.

HH: Is the Jeremiah Wright story over?

JK: No, not as long as there are Republicans living and breathing on this Earth, is that story over. It’s going to come back in the fall campaign, and I think that in some ways, what we’ve seen about Jeremiah Wright is unfair. It’s like watching five minutes of Randy Moss’ greatest touchdown catches. I’m sure that the sermons, the disgraceful, awful sermons that he delivered weren’t the sort of thing he did every week, although I don’t know. You know, in my experience of black Churches, you hear far more sermons about Exodus than you do about current race relations. But I do believe that people are going to continue to ask him these questions, and he’s going to probably have to continue to answer them, and that they have raised some real doubts.

HH: Do you think that he actually was unaware of these controversial opinions?

JK: No.

HH: You don’t believe him?

JK: No, he hasn’t said he was unaware. He said he was aware. He also said that he wasn’t there…well, he changed his story. At first he said he wasn’t there to hear any of them, and then he said he kind of was. I think it’s a really complicated situation. I mean, how did they get to know each other? Obama was an organizer, a community organizer in the south side of Chicago. He was working with the unemployed steel workers, trying to help them out for a group of Churches. And I’m sure that Jeremiah Wright’s Church, which has a huge social welfare component, all kinds of education programs and things like that, probably helped Obama out a lot. And so he was first attracted to Wright for that, and then this is a guy, Obama, whose father disappeared when he was two years old. And I’m sure that Wright was a kind of father figure. But I mean, by his own account, the Obamas were not every week Church-goers, and I’m sure that in many ways, Wright gave some wonderful, inspirational sermons, and other times, he gave sermons that made Obama want to wince.

HH: Now Joe, I’ve got in front of me one of the Trinity United Church of Christ bulletins. This one’s from June 10th, 2007. And it prints various articles in it, this one by a guy names Ali Baghdadi, which includes the assertion that the Israelis are developing an Arabs-only bomb.

JK: (laughing)

HH: Does Barack Obama…yeah, but it’s in the bulletin.

JK: Oh, sure. Look, my experience with Obama, which is limited to since he became a national figure, but I would sit down with him from time to time over the last three or four years, and talk about issues. He seems to me to be a pretty mainstream Democrat on most things, and in some areas, like his willingness to go up in the face of the teachers’ unions, a pretty independent Democrat.

HH: But what about bulletins like this? Does he have to answer questions about why he stayed in a Church that would print anti-Semitic poison like this?

JK: You know, I think he’s pretty much, he’s pretty much answered them to my satisfaction, but I think probably not to other people’s satisfaction.

HH: How about…

JK: I think that he has a real problem in talking to white, working-class voters. And he’s been trying to address it over the last couple of weeks. I was out with him in Pennsylvania last week, and there was no more of the big, flowery rhetoric that you saw in the past. I mean, his problem is like with the 48 year old guy who’s working two jobs to put his kids through college, comes back from his second job pounding a cash register at a convenience store, turns on the TV and sees this black guy saying we are the ones we’ve been waiting for? What’s he think about that? Huh?

HH: Yeah, I agree. Does he have to go and explain, for example, his friendship with Bill Ayers, Weathermen bomber? He’s pals with Bill Ayres, Bernardine Dohrn, does that matter?

JK: Well, I would like to see more information about that. I don’t know how close he is to them. I knew he served on the board of a charitable foundation in Chicago, the Wood Fund, which is very reputable foundation that gives…

HH: They helped recruit him to run for the state senate, Joe.

JK: Ayres did?

HH: Yeah.

JK: I was unaware of that.

HH: Does that matter?

JK: But I mean, you know, look. All of this…

HH: Does it matter, though? It does matter.

JK: All of this, I think, is problematic for him, clearly, but I think that, I don’t think that any of it is really terminal. I think that he has to speak up for what he believes in, and…

HH: What about the Tony Rezko land deal?

JK: …and people either buy that or they don’t. And I’m sure that there are going to be an awful lot of people, especially Republicans who aren’t going to buy this guy in any case, who aren’t going to buy it.

HH: What about the Tony Rezko land deal?

JK: Oh, I don’t think, I think that the Chicago papers have been very, very assiduous about this. He sat down with both the editorials boards and answered questions to their satisfaction. I think that all politicians, John McCain, everyone, have problematic relationships with campaign contributors, in that people who have enough money to give money to campaigns often do crooked things, or sometimes do.

HH: But Joe, this isn’t money to the campaign. He bought the next door lot for $645,000 dollars.

JK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Obama paid fair market for it. And if the Chicago Tribune, a Republican paper, believes that he’s answered the questions that are inherent in this, you know, I think that’s fine. I would much rather, I would much rather hear him talking about just how exactly he’s going to get us out of Iraq in 16 months, which is something that I don’t believe is possible, but is far more important to our nation’s future, than his relations with some guy in Chicago.

HH: The gay and lesbian community up in arms over his relationship with James Meeks, who is very, in the words that they use, very homophobic. Does that sort of an attack from a traditional Democratic interest group bother you?

JK: No. I mean, really, I’ll tell you, bother me? I mean, the things I’m interested in are the big ones. I’m interested in foreign policy, national security, an alternative energy plan, the economy, those sort of things.

HH: Gay rights don’t matter?

JK: …And on those issues. That’s where I think that this campaign can go. You know, Hugh, we have a big choice this year.

HH: But do gay rights matter, Joe?

JK: No, I mean, I don’t think that they matter nearly as much as this other stuff.

HH: Oh, you’re in trouble on the blogs again, Joe.

JK: I think that gay people have…you know, gay people should be treated equally. But I think that if we have this…more than 80% of the people in this country believe we are moving in the wrong direction. We are in the midst of two wars, an economic crisis, an energy crisis in that we’re dependent on some of the worst regimes in the world, and I think it’s time for us to have a really big election where those are the issues, not gay rights, not who, not the fact that he knows Bill Ayres or whatever. I think that those are the big issues, and I think, you know, I’m pretty optimistic that with as honorable a guy as John McCain on the Republican side, and Obama being pretty honorable as well, that we’re going to have the big discussion that we really need.

– – – –

HH: Joe, when we went to break, you just gave a sort of, the Manhattan-Beltway media elite view of what are the big issues.

JK: (laughing)

HH: But a lot of folks out here in middle America, big issues come in different sizes.

JK: They don’t think that the war is a big issue? I don’t know, Hugh. I’ve been spending an awful lot of time out in middle America. Have you?

HH: Joe, you’ve got to live here. You’ve got to be from Ohio, Joe, to understand middle America like me. But for example, in his 1995…

JK: Are you in Ohio now? Or are you living out on the West Coast?

HH: I’ll be there this weekend with my brother, taking the pulse of middle America again. I’m actually living in California. But Joe, I go his 1995 questionnaire.

JK: Hugh, California? My God, that’s practically seditious.

HH: Not Bakersfield.

JK: Un-American.

HH: Not Bakersfield. In any event, he wants to ban all handguns, the possession and manufacture of all handguns. That matters to a lot of Americans. Now will the media discuss that? Or will you guys assist in the cover-up of just how to the left Barack Obama is?

JK: Oh, no, I think that that’s going to…I think that his position on the Court case in Washington D.C, the Supreme Court case about whether people have the right to privately hold and own handguns, I think that that’s going to be a significant story.

HH: How about his affirmative action, because he’s litigated on behalf of quotas for a long time. Will that matter in the fall?

JK: I don’t know that he’s litigated on behalf of quotas.

HH: Oh, yes he has.

JK: I think that you know, as I said, I think that affirmative action, by the way, you know, I think that affirmative action is on its way very much out. And it’s going to happen in this next Court, and there isn’t going to be very much we can do about it. But once again, we are involved in two wars, we have an economic crisis, and I think people in Ohio, and I spent a lot of time in Ohio during that primary, they were talking about all their mortgages being foreclosed there, and I think that that’s an issue.

HH: Joe, do you know anyone who’s…

JK: And I think that the, you know, the decline in the value of the U.S. currency is an important issue.

HH: But Joe Klein, do you personally know anyone who’s lost their home?

JK: Do I know anyone who’s lost their home? No, I don’t. Do you?

HH: No. I believe that most journalists who talk about this crisis affecting America are doing so from 30,000 feet, and really haven’t got a clue as to what’s going on.

JK: I have talked to people who…I have talked to people who have lost their homes, people who show up at political events.

HH: It’s 5.1% unemployment.

JK: But they’re not people I know. They’re people I interview.

HH: But it’s 5.1% unemployment. It’s a mild recession. I don’t know what the economic crisis is, except again, featherbedding for Democrats. I’m worried that the attempt to turn this into a crisis is really going to accelerate it actually having bad consequences for people, Joe.

JK: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see how this effects the economy. I mean, you know, there is a tendency, you know, among Democrats, among liberals…

HH: Journalists…

JK: …to proclaim eight out of the last two recessions. But I do believe that in this case, there has been, there’s a real feeling of anxiety out there in the country. Gas prices going up, tuitions going up, health care premiums are going up, and when you put all those things together, whether you have a recession or not, you have, you know, a feeling of real concern out there. The question is how much can government address that? I’m not sure how much government can address it, but I do know that this administration hasn’t been trying.

HH: When Barack Obama says we should raise the capital gains tax by 50-66%, that’s…every economist I know thinks that’s insane, Joe. Doesn’t that give away the fact he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about on the economy?

JK: No, there are a lot of economists I know who don’t think it’s insane. I think economists are kind of split according to party on that one.

HH: On the capital gains tax?

JK: And I think he’s also calling on, he also has some taxes that he wants to lower.

HH: Send me the name of an economist…

JK: …although none for the wealthy.

HH: Send me the name of an economist who thinks that capital gains should go up. I mean, maybe death taxes…

JK: I’ll check it out for you, okay?

HH: Now let me talk to you about Iraq. He wants to cut and run, correct?

JK: I think James Galbraith down at the University of Texas. I mean, he’s a liberal economist, but he believes that taxes should go up.

HH: No, capital gains, though.

JK: I mean capital gains.

HH: All right. I’ll look for that. That would surprise me. But Barack Obama wants to cut and run from Iraq, correct?

JK: No. I think that he wants to have a staged withdrawal. I don’t think his position on Iraq is tenable, but I don’t think any of the three of them have tenable positions on Iraq.

HH: What is his position on Iraq?

JK: His position on Iraq is that you can pull out a brigade a month every month for sixteen months. I don’t think that that’s reasonable. I think that’s wrong. I think that his advisor, Samantha Power, who said that it was a best case scenario, was telling the truth. We don’t know how quickly or how easily we’ll be able to get out of Iraq.

HH: So do you think he’s just saying that to appease the left, that he doesn’t mean it?

JK: I think that both he and Hillary Clinton are both saying that in order to appeal to Democrats.

HH: And do you think they mean it?

JK: I think it’s a big mistake. I think their policy on trade also wrong and a big mistake.

HH: But what I’m getting at is do you…

JK: But I also think John McCain is wrong when he says that we’re winning, number one, or number two, that if we leave, al Qaeda in Iraq will take over the country. I mean, they’re a tiny Shiite group, yeah, a tiny Sunni group, and it’s a Shiite country.

HH: Okay, we’ve only got a couple minutes left. Do you know, Bobby Rush, the Congressman in Chicago he ran against in 2000?

JK: Yeah, former Black Panther, right?

HH: Yeah, he’s very, very liberal, right?

JK: Yeah, I guess most inner-city black Congressmen would qualify as old-fashioned liberals.

HH: And so when…I mean, he’s way to the left, though. He’s a radical. When Obama declares that there isn’t any ideological difference between he and Bobby Rush, shouldn’t we believe him?

JK: Maybe that was true back when he ran against Bobby Rush. But I think that what we should look at is what he’s saying now, what he favors now, what he will say in the debates, and what we can, what we in the press get out of him when we try and hold his feet to the fire.

HH: But has the press been doing that, Joe? I think he’s gotten the biggest free pass I’ve every seen. This guy is as left in American politics as anyone who’s ever sought national office, and he’s getting a free pass from Time and Newsweek and the New York Times.

JK: Hugh, I’m sure you were saying the same thing about John Kerry…

HH: He got the free pass…he had the biggest free pass until now.

JK: …four years ago. Al Gore, Ozone man? I mean, you know, Republican talk show hosts said that about Bill Clinton, and he was very clearly a moderate.

HH: He was true until Kerry came along.

JK: I think that what we have here is a very unknown quantity. You are absolutely right about that. And he needs to be vetted. That’s why I am glad that this campaign has gone on as long as it has, and I hope it continues for a while, because we still need to know more about Obama.

HH: Have you sat down with him yet and gone through, detail by detail, why he wants to confiscate guns, why he wants to raise taxes dramatically…

JK: I went through with him, detail by…I did a cover story about him, oh, in the fall of 2006 when his book came out, and I went through a number of programs, a number of areas like health insurance and the environment, and things like that.

HH: Did you ask him about guns?

JK: …where he was, you know, that he was touting his audacity. And I didn’t think it was very audacious.

HH: But did you ask him about guns?

JK: No, I didn’t ask him about guns.

HH: You see, I think that the big media, you guys on the big feet media, you don’t ever ask him about the issues that matter to ordinary Americans. You talk to him about, you know…

JK: Do you think, I mean…

HH: Global warming…

JK: The fact that you would tout guns as a big issue at a moment when we are involved in two wars, it seems to me that you’re kind of off on the periphery here, Hugh.

HH: You don’t think guns is a big issue?

JK: I mean, I know, but I mean…first of all, I think the Democratic Party has moved very much to the center on guns and gun control. And I think that he’s probably been dragged along with that tide. But I do think that it is far more important to talk about the stuff we were talking about before.

HH: Joe, I couldn’t agree with you more, but I do think you’ve got to cover the waterfront. Joe Klein from Time, thanks, my friend.

End of interview.

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