Democrats.com Chat with Paul Begala
Author of Buck Up, Suck up, and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room
January 30, 2002
Hosted by Bob Fertik
Moderated by LoyalAmerican, Conestoga11 and Necco27
Transcribed by Conestoga11 and Necco27, with help from LoyalAmerican, Emelbee, Dbaer, and LAWHilton
To discuss this event, click here (registration required).
[bob] Welcome everyone!!! I'm Bob Fertik, co-founder of Democrats.com, logging on from New York City. Thank you all for joining us for our first online chat at Democrats.com with our outstanding guest Paul Begala.
Tonight is a bit of an experiment. If everything works (knock on keyboard) we hope to host online chats with Democratic leaders on a regular basis. We believe this would represent an historic democratization of our Democratic Party. Tonight's event is made possible by YOU – the members of Democrats.com. Let me also take this opportunity to thank our fabulous moderators – LoyalAmerican, Conestoga11, and out newest moderator Necco27. You can get to know our moderators in our forums here at community.democrats.com.
Before we start, let me just explain the technological basics. This is a fully moderated chat, and Paul and I (and the moderators) are the only ones who will be able to post messages. If you type something on your screen, only you will see it - no one else. We collected nearly 100 questions that were submitted in advance, and I will ask Paul as many as we can during this hour. There was some overlap, so I've combined some of the questions and edited them for brevity.
Ok, let's start… Paul Begala, thank you SO much for joining us as our guest here at Democrats.com! We are truly HONORED to have you! You were a fabulous speaker at our New York City even on December 12th, and we're thrilled that you could be with us again tonight.
Let me start with a tough question: Is James Carville telling you what to type tonight?
[paulbegala] I wish! Did you see him with Robin Williams on Leno? It was ADD night on the Tonight Show! James is the only authentic genius I know. We've been working together for 19 years and I still learn from him daily.
[bob] Your new book is called Buck Up, Suck up, and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room. It's featured here on Democrats.com on the right side where folks can order it online. What is the single most important secret in the book?
[paulbegala] Rule One: Don't quit. Don't ever quit. All the greats – from Lincoln to Clinton – had their share of defeat. But what set them apart was their willingness to pick themselves up off the canvas one more time than they were knocked down. If you believe in what you're doing – really truly believe in it – nothing should ever stop you. Clinton learned that from his amazing, wonderful, indomitable mother.
[bob] Paul, you are a fervent believer in "aggressive progressive" politics. Unfortunately, since the Supreme Court appointed George Bush President on 12/12/00, Democrats - even the most progressive ones - have been anything BUT aggressive. Bush lost the popular vote by 540,000, so he has no mandate for his conservative agenda. When will the Democrats stand up for the majority of Americans who oppose Bush's right-wing policies?
[paulbegala] I could not agree more. A generation ago the dominant Democrats were Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Both were attacked for being ruthless. I think we could use some of that toughness today. Too many Democrats are too weak. And it's today's Republicans who are ruthless. Case in point: Someone is trying to murder Tom Daschle. Someone with access to weapons-grade anthrax. Some law enforcement leaks in the paper have hinted at a right-wing American ala Timothy McVeigh. Knowing that, the GOP has embarked on a strategy of demonizing Daschle -- one of the most decent people in the business. Cheney went so far as to embrace an ad which linked Daschle to Saddam Hussein. That's lower than a snake's ass in the Grand Canyon. But did any "major Democrat" call them on it? Did anyone take to the Floor in a speech to excoriate these jerks? Friends, we Democrats had better toughen up, or they're going to keep stealing elections -- and surpluses -- from us for a long time.
[bob] Within the Democratic Party, whose job is it to stand up and speak out on outrages like these?
[paulbegala] It's all of our jobs. I've been screaming as loud as a cable TV b.s. artists can. But all of us oughta ask our representatives in Congress and our Senators and our other officials why they're not defending our Senate Leader when he's under attack. Democrats wimp out because they're cowed by the right-wing corporate media. We've got to make them more scared of what WE'LL do to them if they DON'T speak out.
[bob] It's very difficult for grassroots activists like us to get the attention of the Democrats we elect. What can we do to get their attention?
[paulbegala] Same thing we ought to do with the media: badger the shit out of them. That's what our friends on the Right do. They don't sit back and bitch. They raise hell. So should we. Email 'em. Leave voice mails. Go to their Town Hall Meetings. God forbid, even write them a letter. That's where Democrats.com and other grassroots groups come in. You would be amazed -- truly amazed -- at what 100 voice mails can do to a network president, or a member of Congress, or an anchor a-hole who disses Pres. Clinton.
[bob] You're preaching to the choir here! Democrats.com has called for a Special Prosecutor on Enron. How can we get more Democratic leaders to support this effort?
[paulbegala] My own experience makes me SO leery of special prosecutors. Starr went ballistic when I told Russert that he was "corrupt in the Lord Acton sense." But he was. So I'm deeply ambivalent about special prosecutors. Still, Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft have shown they can't be trusted to investigate Enron. If I were Bush I'd bring someone in now -- not with unlimited power or unlimited budget -- but someone with credibility who can get to the bottom of this.
[bob] Dick Cheney refuses to turn over the records of his Energy Task Force. What is he hiding?
[paulbegala] Something. Maybe something big. My vast experience with scandals has taught me that anytime a politician doesn't want to disclose something, there's a very good reason. Or a very bad reason. The notion that's he's standing on constitutional principle is bullshit. Thanks to Ken Starr, "executive privilege" has been so eroded that Clinton couldn't even meet privately with a top aide like Sid Blumenthal. But Cheney wants a privilege that allows corporations to lobby -- and change government policy -- in secret??? Preposterous! We've got to keep the heat on them. Maybe the better strategy is to pressure Republicans. They're the ones who have to run in the Enron election of 2002, and they don't have an 82% approval rating. Once a couple of honest Republicans (and yes, there are some) like Fred Thompson or Chris Shays call for an independent investigation, some Democrats may grow some spine. Don't forget, it took a Republican named Jeffords to be the first to stand up to Junior.
[bob] What about Bush? Shouldn't he have to answer some tough questions from the media about his involvement with Ken Lay, and not get away with his evasive quips? Already a majority of Americans feel he is hiding something - or lying.
[paulbegala] The White House press corps is so cowed by Bush you can hear them moo. First, because the Bushies have intimidated the wimps who are covering them. If you dare write a bad piece on Junior, they cut you off. No one returns your calls, no one speaks to you on the record -- much less gives you a juicy leak of a new government policy. They've done this to Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's White House reporter. And it's had a chilling effect on the rest of the bunch. No one wants to have their access cut off. Beyond the threats, Bush IS charming. He has nicknames for the pets who kiss his ring. He calls Candy Crowley of CNN "Dolce". Frank Bruni of the NY Times is "Pancho". David Gregory of NBC is "Stretch". I have a nickname for the whole White House press corps: "Monica."
[bob] Yowza! Today I thought about creating a "Golden Kneepads" award for the worst media suck-ups. Is that too far out there?
[paulbegala] I like it. But maybe you could call it the "Monica." I'm still amazed at how the media elite feigns shock at Clinton's personal failings, clucking about how tawdry it is, as they wonder what to tell the children. As Calvin Trillen said: "They don't have to worry about what to tell their own children. They're at home with their first wives."
[bob] LoL! I have one more media question, before we return to more serious issues. Barbra Streisand floated the idea of a Democratic cable news channel, and the Washington pundits went nuts. Is she still considering this? Is there anything we could do to promote this idea? If it's too expensive, could we get some resources to create a vibrant Democratic media on the internet, going beyond our shoestring resources here at Democrats.com and our fellow sites?
[paulbegala] I so admire Barbra for suffering the slings and arrows of people who will be dust when her talent is still being celebrated 100 years from now. But I do think our own cable network is too ambitious a place to start. Why don't we raise hell with the media that's already extant? That's what the Right does. Yes, they have Fox, Limbaugh, the WSJ editorial page, the Washington Times, NY Post, etc. But they don't stop there. They badger the legit press endlessly. We should do the same. We should call, email and complain every time they allow a right wing lie to go unchallenged. I say again: You would be amazed at what 100 voice mails can do to a network president. It's called democracy, and so far the Right's beating us at it. They'll always beat us in sleazy campaign contributions and in stealing elections, but there's no excuse for them out-hustling us in fighting back against Corporate Media. So let's all pledge that AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK we will make our voices heard when someone in Corporate Media distorts the truth.
[bob] Sounds good to me! Let's talk about 9-11. Before 9-11 the federal government was spending $30 billion each year on intelligence. Yet the government says it had NO warnings before 9-11. A number of Senate Democrats want to hold hearings on the massive intelligence failures that led to 9-11. But just yesterday, Dick Cheney warned Tom Daschle not to go forward with a serious investigation. Will the Democrats let Cheney intimidate them?
[paulbegala] I certainly hope not. Know why Cheney doesn't want an investigation? Because he doesn't want the American people to know that after Bush came into office he ordered the Naval strike force, which Clinton placed in the Indian Ocean on 24 hour alert so he could hit Osama as soon as he had solid intel, to stand down. He doesn't want the American people to know Bush threatened to veto the Defense Appropriations Bill after Democrats tried to move $600 million out of Star Wars and into anti-terror defense. He doesn't want the American people to know he opposed Clinton's anti-money-laundering efforts, which were designed to stop al Qaeda's money. He doesn't want the American people to know he abandoned Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Or as the two star general Donald Kerrick told the Washington Post, reflecting on his service to both President Clinton and President Bush: Clinton's advisors met nearly weekly on how to stop bin Laden and al Qaeda. "I didn't detect that kind of focus" from the Bushies. So Cheney has strong -- but bad - reasons to oppose an inquiry into 9-11.
[bob] These are serious charges! A book was recently published in France called "bin Laden: the Forbidden Truth," which alleges the Bush administration spent most of last year negotiating with the Taliban to KEEP them in power, as long as they would agree to hand over bin Laden and let Unocal build a pipeline to Pakistan. Paula Zahn even mentioned this book with Richard Butler on CNN after it appeared in the New Yorker. Will this explosive book ever be discussed in Washington?
[paulbegala] This is the first I've heard of it. But if you want documentation on the things I've noted, check out http://www.americanprospect.com/webfeatures/2002/01/page-a-01-23.html. It's a nice summary of info first published in the Washington Post and other papers. Can't wait to read Forbidden Truth. Is it available in English?
[bob] Actually, we're talking to the publisher about doing a translation. The book was published by Vivendi, the big French media conglomerate, so it's no fringe effort. We did our own translation of an interview with one of the authors, Guillaume Dasquie. If it's true, then the myth of an "attack out of the blue" on 9-11 is the biggest scandal in history.
[paulbegala] Still, we ought not lose sight of the simple moral fact that al Qaeda and bin Laden are responsible for those attacks. I was at the Pentagon when that plane crashed. I lost a colleague and friend from Georgetown who was flying with her husband and 3-year-old and 8-year-old girls. Whatever policy failings may or may not be attributable to Bush and company should in no way distract us from the moral clarity that compels us to seek justice against bin Laden. No one should ever blame any American for this.
[bob] Agreed - but the story may prove to be far more complicated than we have been led to believe. Let's talk about the upcoming elections: How long will Bush's polls stay up? I recall that at the start of 1991, Poppy Bush was also up in the 90's. But 18 months later he only got 37% of the vote. As we learn more about Enron, as the deficit grows, as health care becomes increasingly unaffordable, will the Republicans tank?
[paulbegala] Junior is gonna fall faster than Enron stock. Yes, there's broad consensus he's doing the right thing on the war side for the good of the nation. But on domestic issues, Bush hasn't been willing to do that. He's more interested in rewarding his contributors with special favors in his energy plan, or multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts, or drilling in the wilderness of mining in the national parks, or logging in the national forests. That's why they're so afraid of Enron. Because it exposes them for the whores they are. They brag that Enron got no help as it was going broke. And yet the record is full of examples of Enron getting special favors from Bush for years before that. So we must ask: why all of a sudden was Enron cut off? Could it be because it was broke??? Kind of like that hooker at the Port of Houston. When the sailor ran out of money, she fell out of love. Book this: Junior is gonna join Poppy in the Hall of Failed Presidents, Democrats are going to win both chambers of the Congress, and we might actually one day have a Supreme Court that applies laws instead of the country club bylaws.
[bob] Do you care to predict which Republican Senators will exit stage right in November?
[paulbegala] I'm still celebrating the retirement of Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, and Phil (Enron) Gramm. Some of the finest minds of the 12th Century. I think we'll pick up the open seat in South Carolina. Sanders is a very impressive man and Lindsey Graham of impeachment fame is overrated. I think Bob Smith is toast. Jeanne Shaheen will kick his prodigious butt. We'll probably gain a net of three or more seats. Then watch Bush squirm.
[bob] We can't wait!! Paul, the hour has gone by in a flash. We can't thank you enough for visiting with us. Do you have a few minutes to take questions from the wonderful patient folks who have been watching us type our fingers blue?
[paulbegala] Bob, it was a ball. I'm happy to take questions for a little longer. But let me make this plea: we need a progressive Democratic voice pressuring the media. So once more I implore everyone here to keep the Corporate Media honest: write, email, call. Fill their voicemail boxes. Let them know that we insist on fair press coverage. Punish them every time they repeat Bush spin like "Enron is a corporate scandal, not a political scandal". Network with your friends. Let's learn from the success of our friends on the Right, then use their tactics to beat them!
[dbaer] Paul, what's you opinion of a national boycott of major republican contributors in order to leverage a liberal agenda? www.boycott-republicans.com
[paulbegala] Re: boycotts: they're hard to maintain, but I do try to Buy American and support enlightened co's like Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's.
[nickscrusade] Paul: too many people with disabilities are dying because their state doesn't provide them with adequate home care under Medicaid. Do you believe a currently pending bill such as MiCASSA (S. 1298) could move through Congress anytime soon? Nickscrusade.com
[paulbegala] Nick, not familiar with the particular bill, but home care saves lives and saves money. Keep the faith!
[sheewolf] Hi Paul, loooooved your new book...my question is: Out of all 12 rules laid out in your book which one or number of them do you see both the Bush admin AND Bush, himself, either breaking or not having applied or applied well?
[paulbegala] Of all the rules in the book, Bush is blowing it by staying in "Lie and Deny" mode on Enron. He needs to disclose all of his administration's contacts with Enron as president, and all of his administration's contacts with Enron as governor. Why doesn't he? Because he can't. He'd have to admit he was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kenny Boy for years.
[sheewolf] regarding the "TelePrompTer" anecdote in the book about Clinton's State of the Union address, where Clinton realized that the TelePrompTers had the wrong speech loaded just as he was about to speak live to the American people and Congress, Clinton riffed seamlessly and addressed the nation without a blink of the eye until the TelePrompTer had the right speech loaded: Did you or any of the administration ever consider, wonder, etc. [if this had happened to Bush...]
[paulbegala] I was watching Junior last night and smiling at the notion of what he'd do if the PromTer broke. He's no Clinton, that's for sure.
[MattBaggins] Mr. Begala, as a Gulf War Vet, I am tired of the Republicans trying to act as if they are the party of the military. Can you recommend good resources to debunk their claims that Democrats are somehow anti-military?
[Grinch] How can they be the party of the military when the Resident is a deserter and the rest are chickenhawks?
[paulbegala] Look to the Democrats on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. They love their country and honor our military, and would rather invest in manpower and pay and benefits than in Star Wars.
[arlene] Paul, as a senior citizen, I worry about Medicare and Social Security because the Republicans are raiding them. Should I worry?
[paulbegala] Arlene: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Junior wants to "modernize" Medicare, by which he means to privatize it. He also wants to privatize Social Security--so folks can invest it with swindlers like Kenny-Boy. The only way to secure your retirement is to vote Democratic.
[EditWest] Paul, how can we get info like the French book through to DNC and Congress? We web Dems do a lot of research!
[paulbegala] EditWest, send the research to the Democratic National Committee's research department and to the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
[MattBaggins] I guess I really mean to say that we need you to debunk the "Democrats are anti-military" myth. You have national access that I don't have. I would really like to see some of the liberal pundits take some swings on that issue.
[paulbegala] Good point. My cousin served in the Marine Corps as a sniper in Desert Storm. He's a Democrat, and no one asked him his party affiliation when he was risking his life for our country. But we Dems have to be more unabashed in our patriotism. The flag stands for freedom and liberty--all the things Mullah Omar and Jerry Falwell hate.
[LAWHilton] How can we pressure the media to get more liberals on talk shows? They can't take swings if they aren't allowed to come up to bat.
[paulbegala] Pressure the media the same way the right does. Call, write, email. Don't just talk to each other. Call, write, email the media heavyweights.
[LoyalAmerican] Does James Carville drink chickory in his coffee?
[paulbegala] Yeah. Carville likes Community Club--the New Orleans coffee with chickory. How'd you know?
[NicksCrusade] Thank you so much for taking my question at the beginning, Paul. Please check out my site http://NicksCrusade.com. My Crusade is going great! Although unable to move or breathe on my own, I sustained a campaign and got a bill introduced in the Alabama State Senate, January 8th, to fix the problem of the age 21 cut-off!
[paulbegala] Nick, you're from Alabama? You've got a great governor, in Siegelman. Call him.
[EditWest] Paul, what web sites do pundits check?
[paulbegala] Pundits love the Hotline, which is expensive, but good. The ABC political unit's Political Note is free each day and quite good--but too pro-Bush. If they get 100 emails a day, I bet they'd tone down the Bush suck-ups. And, yes, I love Mediawhores, Daily Howler, and others.
[Conestoga11] Paul, do you think Joe Average really believes pundits like O'Reilly, and now Keyes, who have shows that claim they are nonpartisan? Limbaugh at least admits what he is. Can a grassroots effort force the networks to call those shows what they really are, if they insist on airing them?
[paulbegala] Conestoga, yes I do believe a grassroots campaign can expose the right-wing bias by pressuring network executives to balance their programming.
[DemYankee] Paul, how effective are online petitions? Just curious.
[paulbegala] I don't believe in petitions--they don't seem authentic. Original, self-written emails are far more powerful. So, if a grassroots movement put out the word that, say, Keyes said some untrue thing about Clinton (hypothetically), it can have a serious effect on his corporate bosses and sponsors.
[EditWest] The DNC needs to harness the power of web activism.
[paulbegala] EditWest, you are so right about the DNC's need to harness technology. Our new chairman, Terry McAuliffe, knows this and is working on it. In the meantime, let's organize thru Democrats.com.
[paulbegala] I've got to finish the dishes. My wife put the kids to bed while we were chatting, so I owe her. Thank y'all SO much for all you're doing. And let's turn up the heat on Corporate Media and the Enron Republicans.