TOPICS > Politics

The Democrats

February 19, 1992 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROBIN MACNEIL: And now to the Democrats. New Hampshire voters selected apparently the two most conservative candidates as the first and second place winners yesterday. Paul Tsongas, who calls himself the pro-business candidate, and Bill Clinton, who, among other things, recently chaired the Moderate Democratic Leadership Council. We turn now to some longtime Democrats on what this means to the party’s message. In Washington, are George McGovern, the 1972 nominee for President, and John White, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. With me is Harriet Woods, twice a Senate candidate, now head of the National Women’s Political Caucus. On Capitol Hill is Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, a senior adviser to the National Rainbow Coalition. And in Bal Harbor, Florida, Richard Trumka, the president of the United Mine Workers of America. Harriett Woods, has New Hampshire produced a candidate satisfactory to you?

MS. WOODS: Well, I want to say something. From our viewpoint, caucus, supports women, of course, of both parties, but all of the Democratic candidates are very good on what we would call the women’s agenda. Tsongas, of course, has his neo-liberal perspective, but in terms of social policies, he’s great for women. I think more than that, what is intriguing to me, he represents exactly what we say make women candidates good, the outsider, the problem solver, the new perspective, emphasis on the domestic agenda. Those are things that women are concerned about. That’s what the gender gap has been about since 1980. So we, in a way, have the country swinging to that agenda, and those are women’s concerns. He’s the only one who got a gender gap was Tsongas.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Congresswoman Waters, does, did New Hampshire produce a candidate satisfactory to you?

REP. WATERS: Well, I don’t think that New Hampshire provides us with the kind of voter base that tells us what these candidates can do in other parts of the country. I think they have a long way to go. They all have a lot of potential, but none of them have begun to talk about the issues that concern me and my community and those of us who have worked with Jesse Jackson in the Rainbow Coalition.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Does that disqualify them, that they haven’t done that, or can they remedy that, in your view?

REP. WATERS: Oh, they certainly can remedy that and the sooner they discover that they can’t win without us, the sooner they will remedy it.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Yeah. John White, did New Hampshire produce a candidate you think could lead the Democratic Party to victory?

MR. WHITE: Well, I can certainly support any one of the candidates quite easily from that standpoint. That’s not to say that I don’t recognize the fact that there’s a considerable element in the Democratic Party that would like to see somebody else, but I think as time goes on, we’ll become more accustomed to these new candidates and I can support any of them.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Can you define the element in the Democratic Party that would like somebody else? Can you sort of put a description on it, an ideological or regional description on it?

MR. WHITE: Well, I haven’t seen exactly the breakdown figures from that standpoint, but I am aware, of course, that there has been a tremendous amount of conversation, phone calls, and people trying to search for another candidate. I don’t think it’s practical it’s going to happen, but I think that’s one of the things that our candidates, particularly the two leaders, are going to have to address and that to make sure that from a standpoint of these particular people that need to be reassured that we have presented the very best possible candidate. And I think they will be able to do that. But it’s not done yet.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Not done yet. George McGovern, Is it done yet? Has your party got a candidate who can win in November now?

MR. McGOVERN: Well, I think we all have to recognize that Paul Tsongas has done a remarkable thing. He’s virtually come out of nowhere to win this race. One thing I have observed is that all five of these candidates have gotten better as the campaign has progressed. I think that’s one of the valuable things about a bid for the Presidency that takes you all over the country. They steadily improve. I would add this though, Robin. I was thinking just before this program it’s just 20 years ago that I was in the New Hampshire primary. I got more votes and the higher percentage of the votes than Paul Tsongas did, but I went on from there later in the year to lose 49 states to Richard Nixon. So one primary doesn’t make an election. I think you’re going to see some changes in Paul Tsongas as we move along. We’ve got a lot of important tests. He’s going to continue to grow, but so are these other candidates. This nomination has just barely begun. We’re through the first primary state, but there’s still, most of them are still out there ahead of us.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Richard Trumka, the candidate most closely identified by the press anyway with organized labor was Sen. Harkin, who came fourth in the exercise in New Hampshire. Does New Hampshire produce a candidate you can love?

MR. TRUMKA: Well, first of all, Robin, I don’t think that New Hampshire’s produced a candidate, I think it’s been very important for a couple of reasons. One, it says that the American workers and the American voter understands that the country is in deep trouble, that it is going in the wrong direction, that politics as usual is not going to make it, that sloganeering isn’t going to do it, that making excuses and blaming Congress or blaming somebody else is not enough, but George Bush is not the leader to bring us out of the mess that we’re in. What the American population, the voter, wants is to see policies discussed that will bring us out, rejuvenate the economy, give us more jobs, protect jobs, talk about health care, talk about stricter enforcements of trade laws so that we do unto others as they do unto you. And I think New Hampshire’s only started that debate. And the bright spot about New Hampshire is that I think this election the American electorate is going to demand from all of the candidates that they talk about programs and how they’re going to do that, not just a slogan, not just a 30 second snippet, but put some meat on the bone and show us how you’re going to do it.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Let’s look at the two Democratic winners in New Hampshire in a little more detail here, Mr. Trumka, what is wrong with Tsongas as a candidate? I mean, why wouldn’t he be the leader to take the Democratic victory through to November and defeat George Bush?

MR. TRUMKA: Well, I think any one of the Democratic candidates would be an improvement for the country, I think they’ve all started talking about the right policies. I think they all are in the right direction. Tsongas I think hasn’t talked enough about working people and about what he’d do to help them. He’s talked about being pro-business, and I think that’s a good thing for him to say. But he hasn’t talked about how he’s pro-American, pro-worker, pro-middle class, what he would do, for instance, to bring tax fairness to the middle class, to working class people, what he would do to bring, to make education, college education more affordable to workers, and bring more money to secondary schools, how he would do that. I think he’s talked a lot about programs, but I don’t think he’s talked about it from a worker’s perspective.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Does that disqualify him, the fact that he hasn’t talked about those things in your eyes, does that mean he’s just not a viable candidate for you and you’re going to look for somebody else?

MR. TRUMKA: Well, I don’t think it means he’s not a viable candidate. I think he is a viable candidate. The person who articulates the issues I think more closely to how we would articulate them and the solutions that we’d like to see has been a couple of the other candidates. And I’m not just going to speak from my own personal point of view, but I’ll try to talk from labor’s point of view. I think there are two other candidates that speak more closely to that.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Yeah, Harriet Woods, with that sort of attitude from organized labor at the moment, those kinds of reservations, what do you think Paul Tsongas’ weaknesses are? I mean, is he the man, in your eyes, who could take the party through?

MS. WOODS: Well, I think the issue always has been, one, his electability, and I think –

ROBIN MACNEIL: Does that still bother you? Is that still a big issue in your mind?

MS. WOODS: I think he’s not been tested enough and I think that’s true. I think that’s what you’re hearing from everyone. We have a handful of very credible candidates who have not yet really gone enough primaries or enough tests to see who the voters are going to select. In terms of Tsgongas, I think he has gotten a very simple, direct message through that people have grasped. Now, is he going to spell out the details as they relate to different constituencies? You know, there is a moving to the right apparently, the backlash politics that Buchanan has created that creates an opening, but the Democrats can’t abandon –

ROBIN MACNEIL: A bad day for liberals in New Hampshire in other words.

MS. WOODS: Well, but the Democrats can’t abandon their traditional base either and of course, I speak from the gender gap, 54 percent or more of the registered voters are women and they vote disproportionately larger than men too. They’re going to be looking for someone who talks the bread and butter issues and jobs but also the things that are going on in their lives, so he has not yet really addressed those issues and I think that’s important.

ROBIN MACNEIL: So that’s three of you who think that Tsongas may be a good candidate, he just hasn’t addressed all the issues you want to bear, John White, what about you on that ground, do you — is it just a question of Tsongas not addressing the issues, or how do you feel about the electability question?

MR. WHITE: Well, I have a little different approach to this. If our candidates had been able to win on being right on the issues that most of the Democratic Party, Jimmy Carter would have been reelected, Walter Mondale would have been elected rather easily, and so would have Dukakis, I think most people who are voting for President, it’s the most serious vote they cast. Issues are important. Ideas are important. But basically it’s a matter of trust, a matter of feeling about that person that you’re going to turn your country over to and the livelihood of your children and this, that, and another, and very often -specific issues take a secondary role to that. And I think these candidates, young, have to make, Tsongas is the leader, the challenge is to make America and the Democrats and the Independents and hopefully a few Republicans that this is a man that we can trust America with.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Do you think he can do that? Do you think he’s got the stuff as a person to do that?

MR. WHITE: Well, that’s the biggest challenge of the game. If you can do that, you can win. If you can’t do that, I don’t care where you are on the issues, you’re not going to win.

ROBIN MACNEIL: How do you feel about that, Congresswoman Waters, that it’s not just saying the right things on the issues, well, you heard what Mr. White just said, but it’s just being a man the country can trust?

REP. WATERS: I think there’s a lot to that. I think the American people feel as if the Republicans have let them down, they tricked them. The Republicans waved the red, white, and blue flag in the Chambers of Commerce around this country, talked about love of country while they literally sold out America. They allowed for tax credits. They didn’t tie them to reinvestment in plant and equipment. The trickle down really has done the American people in, starting with Reagan right on through Bush, and they feel betrayed. They are looking for someone they can trust, someone who’s honest, even if they don’t agree with them, someone who talks about what he or she believes in, and helps them to understand that they can trust them.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Or have the Democrats in Tsongas found that man yet, do you think?

REP. WATERS: Well, let me tell you. I think that he’s made a good showing. I think the people believe that he is honest, that what he’s saying he means, and that’s a very important first step. The real debate has not started yet. We have a long way to go. This is a big country and a lot of primaries ahead of us. And I think they all still must be put to the test but they kind of like what they see in him because at least they think he’s telling the truth.

ROBIN MACNEIL: George McGovern, how do you feel about Tsongas on those?

MR. McGOVERN: Well, I agree with what has been said about Paul Tsongas’s character. He is a man that tells the truth as he sees it. He’s a person of strong character. I think what we haven’t yet seen is a compelling vision for the future of the country. This is what is missing in George Bush, we listened to that State of the Union message. I didn’t see much of what he calls the vision thing, He used that phrase rather derisively when lie first used it, but I do think that one of the tests of a successful Presidential contender and of a successful President is to have some guiding vision as to the kind of a country he wants to see America become. To me, the issue that hasn’t really been addressed effectively by either the Republicans or the Democrats so far is the question of what America’s going to do in the post cold war period. For almost a half century, the battle against the Soviet Union and the cold war has been the guiding and organizing principle of American life. Now, that’s over. The Soviet Union is gone. And I think we need to ask ourselves how in this post cold war period are we going to repair our country, how will we make up the enormous deficits here at home in our cities, in the infrastructure, in health care, the terrific cost that we’ve had to pay out for this cold war that has resulted in all the neglect of our own society, those questions have to be addressed, and we have to define our new role in the world. It’s not a question of isolationism. It’s a question of what we’re going to do In the post cold war period at home and abroad.

MR. MACNEIL: We’ve gone round on Clinton’s — I’m sorry, on Tsongas’ credits and liabilities. Mr. McGovern, what about Clinton? I mean, does he answer more what you’re talking about, or are his pluses and minuses no better than Tsongas’?

MR. McGOVERN: I think probably Bill Clinton has thought more about the kind of a Presidency he would like to have than any of the others. He’s been a governor now for a good many years. I guess he’s the senior governor in the country in terms of longevity in office. He worked for me back in ’71 and ’72, I know for a fact he’s had his eye on the Presidency that long ago. He’s like Woodrow Wilson. He has long-term plans. So I think probably he has thought about more of the problems that face the country. He’s not confined simply to adjustments in the capital gains tax and in the investment tax credit. He doesn’t have the kind of economic blueprint perhaps that Tsongas has, but he does think about education and health care and about the environment and about families and about the relations between the races, between the young and the old. I think he probably at this stage of the campaign does have a broader sweep than Sen. Tsongas. These things can change though. I think all of these candidates are growing and with the passage of time we may see a different picture of all of them.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Richard Trumka, does Clinton look more attractive to organized labor than Tsongas?

MR. TRUMKA: I would say on average, yes, he does, that there are a number of the unions that out and out support Gov. Clinton over Sen. Tsongas. I think that’s true. I think if you look at it, he has done the second best job to this point in the campaign of articulating his message. Tsongas has been the best at articulating his message. Clinton has been I think the second best at articulating his message. And I think that does have some support within labor.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Clinton was regarded, John White, as “the” electable Democrat by many people going in and he was almost anointed by the press, almost given the nomination a few weeks ago. Does he still look so electable and so viable a candidate?

MR. WHITE: Well, he’s had a rough time the last two or three weeks, but the truth of the matter is last night was a good night for Bill Clinton. He took some punches that normally will take a guy out of business in a Presidential campaign, but he’s still on his feet. He goes into an area of the country where he’s better organized, he has more money. My guess is the next two or three weeks will be pretty good for Bill. Back to this Presidential thing though and the feel. Bill Clinton is a more polished campaigner than any of the others. With that come high positives, but also it brings high negatives. So the one thing that he really has to do to be elected President is convince the American people, one, that they can trust him, and, two, that he will take care of this economic situation that is really tearing this country apart.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Do you think that Bill Clinton has convinced the American people they can trust him?

MS. WOODS: I think he’s restoring that trust and he’s doing it — he needs to do it on the basis of his message. He is a problem solver. He’s the other kind of outsider out of Washington, that is, that he’s dealing with those bread and butter, market basket issues that people are concerned about, and has some evidence that be has been successful, that he knows how to tackle the kinds of things that are concerning people.

MR. MACNEIL: Has he, in your eyes, been so wounded by all the questions raised about him, personal questions, that he is now going to carry vulnerabilities right through, and that that would make you feel uneasy about supporting him?

MS. WOODS: Well, I think what the surveys are showing is that there are still some people who aren’t quite sure about trust and character, and I think that’s what the next primaries are going to be all about, whether he can make that connection with them so that they will look at him and say, you know, we understand what you’ve been through, we think you may be the better for it, and we do think that you have those qualities that can throw a rope to all of us, we’re treading water, and know we will sink unless someone gets our economy going,

ROBIN MACNEIL: Yeah. Congresswoman Waters, what do you think about Bill Clinton as he comes out of New Hampshire?

REP. WATERS: Well, I think that he performed very, very well. He has been baptized by fire and be came through it. He did very well and I think perhaps he can continue to do well, however, I have to measure all of these candidates up against someone that I’ve worked with for eight years who is articulate, charismatic, very bright, one of the best organizers I’ve ever seen in life who won over support from labor, broke into white enclaves in this country in ways that people said he couldn’t de, and when I measure them up against Jesse Jackson. It’s not easy for me. It’s not easy for me.

MR. MACNEIL: In other words, you just don’t see anybody of the caliber of Jesse Jackson in the race?

REP. WATERS: Well, not at this point I don’t. None of them know America as well as Jesse. None of them have traveled this country as well. None of them are as charismatic. None of them know the issues as well. Unfortunately, in America, they tell Jesse Jackson he can’t do it. But those people who are presenting themselves to an American public now really do not measure up to the abilities of Jesse Jackson at this time.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Richard Trumka, at your convention in Bal Harbor, House Speaker Foley and Majority Leader Mitchell were making statements urging more Democrats to get into the race. Let me just ask you bluntly. Do you want somebody else to get in now? Do you want one of those big names, the Gephardt, the Cuomo, whoever, to get in?

MR. TRUMKA: Well, I think all the people that you’ve talked about make excellent candidates and I think they’d make excellent Presidents. I think it’s probably at the point where they may be too late to get in and I think it may be a moot question about whether we’d like them or not. And they have to make that decision. No one can make it for them.

ROBIN MACNEIL. Do you think it is too late really in a practical sense? I mean, your labor movement represents one of the big organizing and funding support bases for any Democratic candidate. Do you seriously think it’s too late for anyone to get in now?

MR. TRUMKA: As a practical matter, they couldn’t get delegate slates together right now that would give them enough delegates to get the nomination going into the convention. If somebody were to get in before tomorrow, they probably could get enough delegates to, if they were very, very successful, they could get enough delegates to stop anyone, any one of the candidates from going in with the 21/44 necessary to get a nomination on the first ballot.

ROBIN MACNEIL: And then force a fight at the convention, in other words?

MR. TRUMKA: That could very well happen. Now, the question is, given this late time and not having an organization put together, could they get in now and still do as good as they would have to do to even force that issue? And I think that’s a question that is probably not one easy to answer. And I don’t think you’ll find many candidates right now willing to gamble on that.

ROBIN MACNEIL: John White, you’ve heard these rumblings and people have obviously spoken to you about it. Is it too late — first of all, would you like to see somebody else get in, if they could, and is it too late?

MR. WHITE: The truth of the matter is I think it would help, help the current candidates if someone else got in. I think Tsongas last night and Billy Clinton to some degree addressed that issue and says come on in, the water’s fine.

ROBIN MACNEIL: What kind of person getting in now would help then and why would they help them?

MR. WHITE: I think for us to win against an incumbent bruised and banged up though this incumbent may beg there’s lots of power in an incumbent Presidency. We’re going to have to be able to assure not only Democrats, but assure independents and everyone else that we’re offering the very best that the Democratic Party has to offer.

ROBIN MACNEIL: You’re saying you’re not doing that now.

MR. WHITE: No, I’m not saying that. But the only way we can prove it is to be able to say to some of these other people if you want to got in, we welcome you, come on in and if you can beat us fine. If you can’t beat us, then it’s best for the party that you be in this position.

ROBIN MACNEIL: But you don’t think –

MR. WHITE: I don’t — frankly, put it down — and I bear part of the blame for this, Senator, and every party chairman since the McGovern-Fraiser rules, because I think we have gotten so far into the process of selecting a nominee that we’re really beginning to forget the product, fast track, early filing deadlines precludes lots of possibly good candidates that could come in at a later date. I know that’s a moot question at this particular point, but I think it’s self-defeating what we have done in many ways in the party and we’d really better take another look at this process.

ROBIN MACNEIL: George McGovern, we can’t argue the efficacy of the reforms in the Democratic Party nominating process that bear your name, but do you think it’s time, that it is a right time for, should somebody else get in? Is it too late? Who would get in? Who should get in?

MR. McGOVERN: Well, let me just say, Robin, a couple of weeks ago I personally called Gov. Cuomo and urged him to get in. I thought he would add something in terms of defining the issues even if he didn’t go all the way to the nomination. I agree with Maxine Waters that we’ve forgotten an important part of the Democratic constituency thus far. I hope we can correct this as the campaign moves along, but Democrats can’t get such an obsession with the middle class that they forget about the people under us. Most Americans think they’re in the middle class but there’s about a fourth to a third of us that aren’t, that are below that level, and I’m talking about poor people that have been discussed very little in this campaign.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Well, is that corrected by the current Democratic candidates changing their rhetoric, or is it only corrected by somebody else getting in?

MR. McGOVERN: Well, I think it would help on both counts. I think that we do have candidates in the race that have genuine compassion for the poor but somehow, and I include my friend, Bill Clinton. In this category, they’ve politically become fearful of close identification with the poor. Somehow that’s regarded as too liberal or too bleeding heart or too advanced in order to be successful in election. But we can’t forget about these poor people that we see on the streets. It’s getting so you can’t walk down the streets in Washington without being stopped every 50 feet by somebody without a home, without food, without a job.

ROBIN MACNEIL: George McGovern –

MR. McGOVERN: And I don’t think we ought to be afraid of being compassionate about those people.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Just let me give the others a chance to say do you think somebody else should get in now?

MS. WOODS: I think there’s a level of frustration in the people saying that they still aren’t sure. I mean, New Hampshire has them intrigued with these Democratic candidates, but I think they would welcome the courageous involvement of some of the other leaders.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Of who, of Gephardt?

MS. WOODS: Gephardt would be a very good example. I think of someone that they would feel was a front-running type of candidate and he could compete with the others and they would have a sense of selecting among them.

ROBIN MACNEIL: And Maxine Waters, finally, what do you think? Do you think somebody else should get in?

REP. WATERS: Well, let me just take this opportunity to urge Jesse Jackson, wherever he is, to jump in. He’s a proven vote getter. We’re talking about people coming in who are so-called “leaders” who have never run in this country. We’re talking about someone who increases the debate in ways that includes people who have been left out of this debate. We’re talking about someone who knows this country and knows the problems of working people and if you polled organized labor today, they would tell you that Jesse Jackson is the only one who understands what is going on, the exportation of their jobs.

ROBIN MACNEIL: We have to –

REP. WATERS: Third world countries.

ROBIN MACNEIL: I’m sorry to interrupt you, Congresswoman,


ROBIN MACNEIL: But we do have to leave it there.

REP. WATERS: All right. But I’d ask Jesse just to come on in.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Okay, Thank you all very much for joining us.