MY REDEFINITION IS THIS
AUGUST 26, 1996
Under President Clinton, the Democratic party has become more pragmatic and centrist. Two Congressmen, a liberal Representative, Charles Rangel (D-NY) and a moderate Senator, Joseph Lieberman (D-NY), discuss the new, redefined Democratic party.
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MARGARET WARNER: I'm here with Congressman Charles Rangel of New York and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who's also chairman of the Centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Welcome, gentlemen. Congressman, how do you feel about this new Democratic Party that we see being redefined before our eyes?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, New York: I think the party is adjusting to the shifting feelings that people have in the country, and a lot of the things that I'm disappointed in I'm going to have to work around that and still try to move forward. Why this country would believe as we try to expand trade and improve the quality of life all of the people in the hemisphere that we now have to say English only, why we have to treat so harshly our legal immigrants, why we have to scapegoat, why we have to really believe that the jails and the death penalties and mandatory sentences are the answers to the social problems we face with drug abuse and unwanted kids I don't know, but I'm here to say that I'm not going to shift. I still believe that opportunity and hope and jobs are the answer. And you can call it liberal, you can call it conservative but nothing has changed, whether you came here as an immigrant, or whether you're locked in as hostage in the inner city. You give them hope, and we can get out of anything.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think your party has lost sight of that?
REP. RANGEL: No, of course not. As long as there is some type of a safety net, the whole concept of the President signing the welfare bill and calling it reform, I'm reminded as to what he called it earlier when he said you can put wings on a pig but you can't call it an eagle. All we've done is take the responsibility for our children, our poor children, and turn it over to the governors under the explanation the problem is closer to them, let them find a creative solution. That doesn't--it bothers me that we should move this national safety net. But what's worse is that we haven't provided the resources to say that if you mandate it go to work that there's day care and that there's going to be a job.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator, you helped--you and other centrists in the DLC pushed for a lot of these changes. How do you respond to the disappointment, as Congressman Rangel described it, that he and other liberals in the party feel?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, Connecticut: Well, what I would say to Charlie is that the kinds of goals that he talked about are still the goals of the Democratic Party, opportunity more than anything else, the great role the Democratic Party played in this century is the political instrument of upward mobility for people coming to this country, for people at the bottom wanting to make their way up. But what were saying is that a lot of the old ways are not working any more and we've got to try new things. I mean, if Franklin Roosevelt were alive today, he'd be a new Democrat because he stood for change.
MARGARET WARNER: George Stephanopolous, as you know, a top adviser to the President, said, "We had to kill the caricature of liberalism to save its essentials." Is that what you're saying? Is that what you think the President's been doing?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I never heard it described that way, but I, but I do think that there may be something to it. The important point is to keep our eye on our goals here and to understand that what we're talking about is better methods to achieve those goals. But there also is a change of a point of view, and the President said this may be in its way the most lasting one-liner of his administration, the era of big government is over, the era when people could turn the government as we began to encourage them to do, and say we're going to take care of all your problems. It's not going to happen. We can't afford it. We can't tax people. We don't want to tax people to make that happen, but on the other side, the kind of message that the Gingrich Republicans were sending, which was essentially that the era of government is over, you've got a problem, forget about it, take care of it yourself, we reject that as well. We're looking for a smaller government that better reflects the public values of this country and whose highest aim is to empower people and help them take care of their own problems. So I think we're--we've got common ideals here. We're just going to go at it in a more efficient and modern way.
MARGARET WARNER: So where do you think, Congressman, that leaves the Democratic Party's sort of traditional role of fighting for economic justice? Is it possible to do it in a way and with the priorities that the Senator's talking about and the President's talking about?
REP. RANGEL: I don't really see what the Senator said that really differs. We both agree that we're doing a lousy job under an existing rule. I don't really think it's reform to say I quit, you governors do it. To have no standard, no national standard, that's why Roosevelt got involved in the same place. You shouldn't die in one county or one state because they don't provide the resources in other states, but in the event that the majority of the people say leave it to the governors because local problems may have different types of solutions, I say, well, provide the resources; unless you're about to say, and this is the problem, the Gingriches are saying, get out of this business altogether, the Democrats are saying, hey, let's try to see whether we can do it more efficient. Now, when Democrats start saying that the best way to do it is turn it over to the states, then that's not a new Democrat, that's--that is reflecting a feel in this country in my opinion--and that's why our great Democratic Party is diverse--is that I've got mine, Jack, and I'm pulling up this ladder, and you get yours. The greatest thing about the immigrants that came to this country was not that we gave them a hand-out; we gave them opportunity and hope. But with all of our low-skilled jobs going to developing countries, with our school system now under severe attack financially, our kids are coming out into these streets without dreams, without hopes. When that turns into unwanted families and drugs and crimes and violence, billions of dollars we pour into the jail system.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we have to end, let me turn to the politics of this. What drove this change above all in your party?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I think what drove the change was a feeling within the party that we were going nowhere, that we had essentially become an elitist party that no longer reflected the views and hopes and aspirations of a lot of people in this country that we had to change to be viable, and then what happened was that one of the great political leaders of our century, Bill Clinton, hard to say that he's a contemporary, but believe me, we'll look back and it came along, and this is a change agent. He didn't get involved in government to protect the status quo. He got involved in government to help make life better for more people in new ways.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think also that at the prospect of victory as a great unifier, I just ran into a senior White House official in the hall who said, if we were losing, we'd be killing each other in here, is there something to that?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Oh, no question. Look at everybody--you know, victory has a thousand parents. Maybe we should change the old Kennedy phrase and say a rising political candidate--
MARGARET WARNER: Brings everyone together.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: --brings everybody on the same boat. So that's where we are now.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that why we're not going to see probably many protests here among the delegates, even though they are far more liberal, they are far closer to your view than they are to the President's?
REP. RANGEL: I don't know why the press keeps pushing on this question. They say you think it's immoral, you think it's wrong, you're angry with the President, and you're not raising this to him. I say, hey, I left New York; I had an argument with my wife; I'm not leaving here. I still support her. So I don't see the story, and I hope we get a Democratic Congress to give the President the political strength he needs, and I hope the spiritual advisors, those who are Jewish and Christian who talk about taking care of the poor and the sick, I didn't get a calling. I hope they give the President the moral support he needs.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, guys. I'm getting a call that we have to end it here. Thank you.