December 19, 1997
President Clinton continued his "national dialogue on race" by welcoming conservative leaders and authors to the White House for a discussion. Also this week, he announced his decision to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia past a previously set June deadline. Margaret Warner discusses these and other political events with our regular NewsHour pundits, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
December 18, 1997:
National Security Adviser Samuel Berger discusses the decision to keep troops in Bosnia.
December 18, 1997:
Amb. Richard Butler discusses Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. inspectors.
December 17, 1997:
The fate of alleged Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols rests in the hands of the jury.
December 15, 1997:
President Clinton appoints Bill Lann Lee as acting civil rights chief.
Browse the Shields & Gigot index.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia, the Middle East, law and race relations.
The homepage for United Nations
The U.S. Department of Justice homepage.
MARGARET WARNER: And we get that analysis from Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, what did you make of that meeting this afternoon and the reaction we just heard?
President Clinton's dialogue on race.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: The Presidentís mandate to the group was a one-year examination of race relations in America. Itís impossible to have an examination of race relations in America without the diversity of opinion. They seem to have settled early on a diversity of color but not a diversity of opinion. That was a diversity of opinion. I mean, Ward Connerly speaks. I mean, one out of four--better than one out of four African-Americans voted for his Proposition 209 in California. Three out of four African-Americans favor a constitutional amendment to allow school prayer. So I mean the idea that this--that thereís this monolithic group--I thought it has to help the conversation.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I was stuck by Ward Connerly, who I know, and I have found a pretty shrewd and critical judge of political character. I mean, heís gone up against a lot of politicians in his--in his day, but to have him go into a meeting like that and step back and say I think the president was listening, even granting the presidentís considerable powers of charm, which have been used on some tough characters in the past I think is impressive, and itís a step forward because I have been critical of the fact that this looked more like a monologue, and if heís taking a step forward, heís actually going to invite people in and have a conversation and keep it going, not just a one question thing, which he asked Abby Thernstrom, yes or no, but have a real dialogue, then it is a step forward.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Mark, this marks the beginning of a shift in this?
MARK SHIELDS: In--
MARGARET WARNER: In the way the whole conversation is going to be held, and really it almost looks like the White House is trying to take charge of it now a little bit.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the President--thereís no question--this is--Ward Connerly again--quote him--said this is a president, I think, itís unchallenged, who is more comfortable, more knowledgeable, more deeply steeped in the subject from personal experience, from thinking and reading than any president whoís ever sat in the White House. You know, certainly Lyndon Johnson was the modern Abraham Lincoln on civil rights, but I mean, Bill Clinton has really thought deeply about the subject, and if thatís the case, then I think itís very much a real plus, Margaret, that this is an important--it is--African-Americans will soon be overcome; they will be the second largest minority in the country--Hispanic-Americans will pass them--but the particular peculiar relation in history remains central to the American problem in 1999 and in 2000 and beyond. So, I think it probably does mark the Presidentís getting more deeply involved, at least I hope so.
PAUL GIGOT: You had another example this week, Margaret, of why the President really canít avoid this issue of preferences as part of a whole racial dialogue, and thatís his nominee, Bill Lann Lee to be--to run the civil rights division in the Justice Department. He was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, the Presidentís made an acting nomination, but the reason--and put him into place as an acting figure--the reason, though, that the Republicans rejected him was because he had said he did not want to enforce Proposition 209, which passed in California, so in a way--
MARGARET WARNER: Plus his entire record, which they saw as being pro-affirmative action.
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right.
MARGARET WARNER: Thatís right at the heart of it.
PAUL GIGOT: So this issue is in a way the elephant in the room of the racial dialogue. You canít avoid it; you have to confront it and debate it. And if people disagree, then fine, you disagree, and these are--these disputes will be settled over, of course, an election.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, how do you explain the Republicansí rather restrained response when the President did appoint Bill Lann Lee to this acting post after all the hue and cry about it?
President Clinton's appointment of Bill Lann Lee.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, the Senate Judiciary Committee Orrin Hatch went to great lengths last weekend to--a number of television shows--to signal that it would be a lot more acceptable, a lot less objectionable, if the President conferred acting status upon Bill Lann Lee, which the President did so. But I think, more than anything else, Margaret, weíre facing the political reality, yes, Americans are against racial preferences, but Americans like affirmative action, or at least have supported affirmative action in the past, and what you had in 1996 were the Republicans losing the state of California overwhelmingly, and the Hispanic vote there overwhelmingly but going from a three to one loss to a seven to one loss, losing Arizona for the first time since Harry Truman, losing the state of Florida, all of which had central, beyond the Medicare issue, which people have identified, had central to them the question of the Spanish voting overwhelmingly Democratic because of the rhetoric of Pete Wilson and the rhetoric of Pat Buchanan in the sense that the Republican Party had turned anti-immigrant. And I think thatís something Republicans are sensitive to. They donít want to be seen as the anti-minority party.
PAUL GIGOT: I think immigration was the most important issue in that Hispanic movement if you look at the exit polls, much more than, for example, the issue of affirmative action or racial preferences. But Iím not so sure that was the reason for the Republican--mute response. My idea--my impression is that, in fact, Orrin Hatch didnít come up with the suggestion on acting. That was suggested to him by Trent Lott, who got it in turn from some Democrats, who said, look, we donít want to have a really big showdown here; what we want is--would break down the Senate comedy and would end up fighting up over this--so letís both compromise on the status of acting and the Republicans said, okay, we wonít get mad; weíll get even; and if youíre going to flaunt our advise & consent powers, as you have, Mr. President, what weíre going to do is think about next year how we can respond. And I think the man who may suffer in this is Bill Lann Lee because while heís going to be in the job, he is not going to have all the powers of a normal civil rights division chief. And heís going to be one very scrutinized political appointment.
MARGARET WARNER: So you donít think there was a political component, as Markís describing it, that they would really alienate a lot of Asian-American voters who have many, many--do vote Republican?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that some Republicans were worried about that, but there is a response Republicans can make on that, which is what group at the University of California, what racial group in America, has suffered most from racial preferences? Itís Asian Americans of high achievement, who do well in school and well on test scores and canít get into the best schools. In the last year Asians were in the Boalt Law School in Berkeley at UCLA when racial preferences were stopped being used because of the change in California law. Their application--their admissions went up 16 and 17 percent. So thatís--so Bill Lann Lee, because of his belief in racial preferences, has damaged the education--educational opportunity of some Asian Americans. Thatís a very powerful response that Republicans can make.
MARGARET WARNER: Letís turn, Mark, to another announcement that the President made this week, which was, he wants to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia beyond the scheduled deadline. And, again, the Republicans--well, Iíll let you characterize the response. What are the politics of this announcement and the way the Republicans treated it?
Presidentt Clinton's decision to keep troops in Bosnia.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it isnít simply Republicans. I think the Congress in general--but the Republicans were not to divide along predictable party lines, and thereís sort of a recognition that Congress is going to criticize, going to complain. Theyíre going to distance themselves from the President. Theyíre not going to endorse it. But theyíre going to stop it. And Bill Clinton, itís on his shoulders, as it has been from the beginning. If things go well in Bosnia for 23 months, the bloodshed, the mayhem, and the massacre have stopped with American presence, Americans being the lynchpin there, and at the same time, if something goes wrong, if Congress wants it understood that itís on his watch, it was his idea to begin with, just one minor point on this, Margaret. Itís interesting--this lack of surefootedness in a lot of members of Congress, and itís been an historic sea change and during the Vietnam War two out of three members of Congress had served in the military. This is the first time in American history right now where the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader, none of them has been in uniform, so thereís a division and a gulf between the elites of the country making these decisions and the people who were there. I would love to see people wearing lapel ribbons in support of our troops in Bosnia. We have them for every other cause at every other awards ceremony in the world. It might not be a bad thing to say we are standing with these young men and women.
PAUL GIGOT: There have been some pretty good commanders in chief, though, who havenít been in the military. I think FDR was--he was a pretty surefooted commander in chief. Markís right, that Republicans are divided on this, but the President made a very good case for continuing the Bosnia policy. I think thereís no question that weíve invested $7 billion so far; the job isnít finished. Letís stay. Iíve never seen a Congress yet that wanted to cut off troops in the field. Thatís not a position where any Democratic or Republican Congressman wants to be. The big Republican gripe, though, is that why didnít the President tell us this back in 1995--you know, the Paul Harvey--presidents--thereís always the rest of the story, and we wanted to say theyíd be out by October of 1996 because it was before the election, but most people knew that they were going to be there for a long time, so theyíre going to exact a pound of flesh for the President not telling the truth then, but in the end, theyíre going to go along with the policy.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, the President also had an incredibly long press conference this week, Mark. Was it a political plus for him?
President Clinton's press conference.
MARK SHIELDS: I thought it worked for him, Margaret. He went in with the charge against him that he had lost interest, he had lost enthusiasm, he had lost energy, and anybody who watched that, I mean, it was a marathon, he was encyclopedic, he was knowledgeable. Whatever you say, he gives a great oral examination.
PAUL GIGOT: Heís proved you can beat the press corps by outlasting them. No, I was surprised. He--it seemed to me the most impressive thing about that press conference was how testy he was about his legacy. Itís clear in the second term heís thinking about his achievements and how theyíre viewed, and anyone who said--that suggested that maybe he didnít have an agenda anymore, or these were modest achievements--he went right after them.
MARGARET WARNER: Plenty to show Ďem.
MARK SHIELDS: They keep knocking Bill Clinton for not having big ideas. Iíd like to know who has the big ideas. Whoís keeping them? I mean, I havenít heard Ďem. The only big idea I hear from my conservative friends--not Paul of course--is cut taxes, cut taxes on the wealthy.
PAUL GIGOT: Tax reform and reform Social Security, how about those for two big ideas?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. More big ideas next week. Thank you both very much.