ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, and welcome. I’m Gwen Ifill. I’m joined around the table by Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Michael Duffy of TIME magazine, and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times.
Let’s start by talking about something else that derailed a few candidates this week, the Black Lives Matter movement. It happened at Netroots Nation when protesters interrupted both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley over the arrest and death of a – in Texas of a black woman, Sandra Bland, in police custody.
SEN. SANDERS: The issue is –
PROTESTERS: Black lives!
SEN. SANDERS: The issue is that it is –
PROTESTERS: Sandra Bland! Sandra Bland! Sandra Bland!
SEN. SANDERS: Shall I continue or leave?
MODERATOR: Yeah, hold on one second. Hold on! Hold on!
PROTESTERS: Black lives!
SEN. SANDERS: Listen, I know you have – black lives of course matter, and I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity.
PROTESTER: What are you doing right now?
SEN. SANDERS: But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK.
FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEY (D): (From video.) Every life matters – (applause) – and that is why this issue is so important. Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter. (Boos.)
MS. IFILL: Days later Hillary Clinton, who skipped Netroots – probably wisely – handled it a little better.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) It’s heartbreaking to read about another death of a young woman, Sandra Bland, in Texas, another young African-American life cut short. And that’s why I think it is essential that we all stand up and say loudly and clearly yes, black lives matter.
MS. IFILL: It helps when you have a couple days to think it through, write it down and don’t have people yelling at you –
MR. MARTIN: Read it, yeah.
MS. IFILL: – while you read your statement. Are things as raucous as they seem on the left, Jonathan?
MR. MARTIN: There’s definitely energy that’s sort of coursing through the political polls on both sides. I do think it’s different, though, because I think on the right it is a real complication for Jeb Bush because of the immigration issue. That is so central on the right, and I think it’s more complicated on the left because of – Hillary Clinton does not have quite the same Democratic primary challenge as Jeb Bush does on the right.
But what is similar in both, I think, is the sort of insistent, uncompromising demand for action and solutions on both sides, and a feeling that the political establishment, center-left and center-right, isn’t getting the job done.
MS. IFILL: It’s really interesting, also, because you look at what happened in this particular case and you realize that both O’Malley and Sanders thought they had an opportunity to go before a friendly liberal group and make their case. You know, Sanders marched in the March on Washington. You know, he endorsed Jesse Jackson for president. And yet he walks into this mess. And the same thing is happening on the right, which they’re walking into a buzz saw on the right. Is this different, or is this just what happens on the far ends of both party, on the extremes?
MR. BALZ: Well, it’s – I think it’s heightened this year. And I think that what happened to both O’Malley and Sanders is that they went to Netroots thinking that they could take their message of economic populism and that they would find a receptive audience, and there’s some reason to believe that. And yet there’s this other aspect that’s bubbling up that we’ve – you know, we’ve seen repeated episodes of racial issues in policing in black communities. And I think they were just – they were just not attuned to that. They were tone-deaf about that part of what’s going on within the Democratic Party, but more broadly just within the country. And so when it popped up they didn’t know how to react. And Hillary Clinton, obviously, had the advantage of the time to be able to say it in precise words.
MS. IFILL: Well, she had been heckled in 2007 so she knew not to go back. But one of the things I’m also curious about is whether disruption is now the new coin of the realm on both sides, just for its own sake, to speak to people who just feel completely alienated from the process.
MR. DUFFY: I kind of hope so. I think it makes it more interesting. I think it reminds us of how big these parties are. But I also think that, you know, particularly in the Democratic Party – whatever is going on on the Republican side – this is the most important story of the year, and it’s a little surprising that the candidates weren’t thinking about this in advance. And I think it’s probably wrong to think that it’s over. I think this will continue to be a drumbeat –
MR. BALZ: Yeah, totally agree with that.
MR. DUFFY: – for the Democratic Party right through. And unless they get their arms around that issue – criminal justice, how cops treat African-Americans, issues of justice generally – it will be – there will be disruptions for them right through the end, just as the Republican Party is fractured.
MS. IFILL: And I have to say it doesn’t usually come up in presidential campaigns. This issue is not brand new, but usually to the extent you talk about crime of criminal violence or minority communities, you’re talking about violence or guns or gun-control legislation.
MR. DUFFY: It’s a reminder that – how the party continues to take the African-American vote for granted, and that was reflected in the events this week.
MR. MARTIN: The promise of President Obama has not just sort of created new energy in the Democratic coalition, it has spawned a(n) enhanced level of expectation as to what can be done in America to bring racial justice to the country. And I think because of his presidency, his winning twice, there is sort of this new energy, almost in the same way that the success of Kennedy and Johnson, as one historian put it to me, spawned not just the sort of new Baby Boom Democrats, but they spawned more radical folks – white liberals against the war, SDS; Black Panthers – because there was this sort of enhanced expectation, this great moment of change, and people sort of worked beyond the political system to demand even more change. And I think we’re seeing something similar now in this era.
MS. IFILL: And you ignore that at your own peril, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, it seems to me.
MR. BALZ: Well, every candidate wants to talk about what they have chosen to make their campaign about, and what we’re seeing this year is that you don’t always get that opportunity. And we’re in an environment in which it is much easier to kind of puncture through that if you’re an average citizen or if you’re a group with a real message, that you can – you can be heard in ways that you might not have been able to be heard in the past.
MS. IFILL: Fascinating.
OK, we promised our regular viewers that we would tell a little story here, Michael, from your magazine piece which I found amusing. You sat down, of course, with George W. Bush and with Bill Clinton, and you talked about their new relationship, you talked about their relationships with their brothers and his – one brother, one wife. And Bill Clinton told you a really interesting story about the first of three times he asked Hillary to marry him and what she said about the prospect of running for office one day.
MR. DUFFY: He said the first time he asked her he said, you know, I’m going to ask you to marry you – I’d like you to marry me, but you shouldn’t – which was a strong first, I thought, opening big. (Laughter.) And he said, what you should do is go back to Chicago or New York and run for office because you’re the best-organized, best – most thoughtful, you know, best pol I’ve ever seen. And she looked, turned back at him and said, no, I couldn’t do that, no one would ever vote for me. I’m too aggressive. That’s not going to happen. But she still turned him down on option one.
We ran that story by Hillary a few days later and she goes, it’s absolutely true, and it was at that point in our relationship where Bill was looking at me through rose-colored glasses. (Laughter.) Which I hope he was, you know? It was the first time he asked.
MR. MARTIN: You would hope so, right?
MR. DUFFY: You would hope so.
He asked two more times and they involved – finally, she said yes after he bought a house. So anyone who needs pointers, just don’t say marry me but I think you shouldn’t; instead, buy a house and it might work out.
MS. IFILL: And also 30 or 40 years later maybe you’ll think about running for office after all.
MR. MARTIN: Plant the seed.
MR. DUFFY: It was his idea.
MS. IFILL: (Laughs.) Well, thank you, everybody. Still is, probably.
Thank you. And we’ll see you the next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.