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Republican Convention: John Podesta

John Podesta
Center for American Progress President
Tuesday, August 31, 2004; 4:45 PM

The 2004 Republican National Convention kicked off on Monday with speeches from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.). On Tuesday

John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and former chief of staff under President Clinton, took your questions and comments Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 4:45 p.m. ET on the Republican National Convention, politics and the election.


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On Tuesday Podesta is participating in a one day program examining the role of faith in the 2004 Presidential Election sponsored by the Wesley Theological Seminary.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Thanks for taking questions, Mr. Podesta.

What is your take on the failure of dissenting republicans unable to make any changes to a unfriendly platform in regards to gay rights, abortion, and other controversial issues? Is the Republican ticket so willing to write off those voters? Is the Republican "Big Tent" a farce unless it's a revival tent?

Thanks!

John Podesta: I think what you see one display going on going on during the few hours they have primetime TV and a different orientation during the platform. I think the platform itself is a radically conservative document and the fact that they constructed it virtually in secret and are certainly not highlighting it shows that they want to play to their base but don't want most Americans to know what this party represents.

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Washington, D.C.: How significant do you think it is that most regular churchgoers vote Republican? Have Democrats abandoned American religious voters?

John Podesta: I think that 856 percent of the American public profess that they believe in God and is a religious country. If you look at the data from the pew survey that most Americans believe that how you live your life is a reflection of you religious values not whether you attend services every week. I think what happened is that the media has begun to treat people who are religious as though they are conservative and that is not true today or ever in our country. If you look back historically progressive religious leaders have been the fire behind social change in America from the Civil Rights movement to better labor standards and economic justice. I think it is important that those voices be heard again and that Democratic candidates respond to that history and that movement.

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Dumfries, Va.: John Kerry appears to be having a tough time making the Swift Boat controversy go away. How are the Democrats to counter this and regain the high ground?

John Podesta: I think that if you look at this entire episode the people who served with John Kerry on his boat as well as all the navy documents that it shows that Kerry is telling the truth and these charges are scurrilous and false. While the campaign was somewhat slow to respond to the charge - I think partially because Kerry was amazed people were even making such charges - I think they have set the record straight. The people behind these ads are very close to the Bush family and Karl Rove. I think what is important now is to learn a lesson from this experience and when a charge is leveled to push back immediately. I think if the Bush campaign wants to debates Sen. Kerry's service record with that of President Bush during the Vietnam era that is a debate Sen. Kerry will win. But Sen. Kerry also has to get back to the key issues facing the country - the economy, healthcare and how we will make this country more respected again. .

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Elgin, Ill.: Mr. Podesta: I was at Knox College with you between 1968 and 1970, back when you were the designated campus radical. I think my interest in politics may have really begun with knowing you (we went into Galesburg (Illinois) to annoy Everret Dirksen one evening). So the relevant question is what or how you feel about this election's rather sordid climate of Vietnam-era revisionism? And as a think-tanker, have you any insights into how we can fullfill Senator McCain's desire to get beyond all this? (since the Cold War, which Vietnam was part of, has been over for awhile.)

John Podesta: I think that it is surprising that we are talking about events of 1968 rather than events of 2002, 2003 and 2004 and where this county is going. I share Sen. McCain's view that it is time that America put that behind us and move America forward. It is somewhat unfortunate that we spent the last three weeks talking about these so called Swift Boat charges which newspapers across the country knocked down. Going forward I think there are legitimate differences between the two candidates and parties about how to build a safer and more secure world.

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John Podesta: That is a debate we ought to have.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can you comment on whether the Democratic Party is less friendly to religious voters than it used to be? Much of the rhetoric I hear nowadays in the rank and file of the Democratic Party (which I did not hear 20 year ago) is hostile to the idea of letting religious convictions influence policy positions, as if it were possible for a religious person to separate them without doing violence to one or the other.

John Podesta: I personally strongly disagree with that perspective but I also don't think it represents the Democratic Party. I think if you listened to Sen. Kerry at the Democratic Convention he spoke eloquently to the fact that his religious beliefs formed the core of his values and his values are what motivated him to public life and to make the public policy choices that he made. There is clearly a space for a religious perspective in the public policy dialogue we have today but I would like to hear in the public dialogue more voices from the progressive religious community.

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Virginia: Any thoughts on the Catholic Church calling out Kerry for his abortion views?

John Podesta: I think that the Catholic Church is on fair ground when it tries to put his position on the abortion question to the American people. Where I part company with some of the tactics that have been employed by certain catholic bishops is on the denial of communion to those catholic elected officials who are trying in good conscience to balance their faith with their elected office. I think a vast majority of Catholics disagree with that judgment. Communion should not be used as a political weapon.

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washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately that must be the last question. Thanks to all who joined the discussion.

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