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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, December 23, 2004; 1:00 PM

Who is likely to become the chairman of the DNC? How will President Bush govern during his second term? How diverse is the Bush administration?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal takes your questions on his latest columns and other political news.

Terry Neal (post.com)

This week's Talking Points columns:
Diversity and the Bush Cabinet (Dec. 23)
GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut (Dec. 21)

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.


Terry Neal: Thanks for joining me today for my regular weekly chat. I will be off next week on vacation, so this will be my final chat of 2004.
I look forward to taking your questions. So let's do it!



Washington, D.C.: Why should Diversity place highest priority over professionalism and work experience?

Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Diversity and the Bush Cabinet (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 23)

Terry Neal: It should not. And I never suggest that it should. I think diversity should be just one of many goals an organizational structure has. To me, making diversity a priority merely means making a pro-active effort to find talented, qualified minorities and women.
I believe the reason it is necessary to make a pro-active effort is because the customs and ingrained behavior patters of our culture is to make assumptions about competence based on things such as skin color and gender.
I do not support giving anyone a job/promotion/whatever just based on race or gender though. That's wrong and I think offensive to the sensibilities of all rational people.


Washington, D.C.: Interesting article from the L.A. Times concerning Democrats possibly changing there positions on abortion. Can the Democrats really be serious -- or is this some trail ballon? Pro-choice is one of the main Democratic policies -- is it not?

Terry Neal: I haven't had a chance to read that article, but I know a little about this chatter that's going on within the party. It's really amazing to me. You know, the Republicans were in the political wilderness for a long time, and rather than try to figure out what they believed in, the focused their efforts on redefining what they believed in in a way that was more appealing to voters and how to take advantage of the mass media to carry their message.
When Clinton was elected in 1992, he redefined what a Democrat was without abdicating all of the party's principles. Similarly, in 2000, George Bush figured out a way to repackage the GOP as moderate and tolerant, without selling out the party's principles.
Yet today, Democrats are busy debating what they believe in, thinking if they change their positions they'll get more votes. It seems to me that they might be thinking, first of all--as the Republicans did after two straight presidential defeats in the 1990s--how to field a compelling and competitive candidate for the top of the ticket.


Portland, Ore.: Mr. Neal:
Terrific "Talking Points" column this week. The "pornographication" of American culture is one of the least understood, or least talked about, phenomenon of the day. The same day your column came out, I was reading James Webb's new book, "Born Fighting," on the Scots-Irish in America, which Webb traces as the basis for today's "red state" mentality. Webb argues that, despite a media that treats them as whiners, that the Scots-Irish are an aggrieved group since most of the poor in America are white, after all, but that liberals have defined issues like poverty around race rather than class. Webb agrees with Tucker Carlson that the red staters have little common cause with either the GOP or Dem "hybrid royalty" that want to run the country. The difference, he says, is that the GOP pays lip service to respecting the social/cultural values of red staters, while liberal Dems are aggressively hostile to Scots-Irish/Southern redneck/red state culture without defining economic issues in terms attractive to red staters. Do you think Webb's analysis has merit, and how can Dems demonstrate that they are (if they are) concerned about the vulgarization of American life? Should Kerry have "Sister-Souljahed" Whoopie Goldberg, for example?

Terry Neal: Very interesting question. First of all, without having read Webb's book, his thesis, as you describe it, sounds pretty solid.
The elites of the country are well represented in both parties. But it's only the Democratic elite (i.e. Hollywood)that gets blamed for the vulgarization of the culture. In fact, it is the GOP corporate elite that resides mainly along the coast (but also in metropolises such as Chicago and Detroit) that ultimately is profiting off of much of the vulgar material that so concerns the red state activists (even as people in their states consume equal amounts of it).
I think DLC chairman Al From had it right in my column: Democrats can probably never hope to win a majority of the values crowd. But they can peel off some of those voters by doing a better job of defining its priorities in terms of values and morality and not shrinking from the values debate. Clinton did this in his elections by talking about big things, such as the value of work and the need to reform welfare, and the small things, by talking about things like the V chip and school uniforms. Clinton, obviously, did not win a majority of values voters, but he won about a dozen states in 1996 that are now red, and Democrats picked up seats in Congress in the 1998 midterm elections despite the Lewinsky imbroglio.


Ellicott City, Md.: Terry --

Your article about Blue Movies in Red States was great. Either the lefties in those states are buying more than they do elsewhere or these "morals" that so many speak of are shared throughout the country and are not those professed by the talking right wing talking heads.

Just one question, who was willing to give out that data? Seems something that many would not want known.

washingtonpost.com: GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut (Post, Dec. 21)

Terry Neal: I got my information from many different sources. First, all of the campaign contribution stuff is public record and can be found on the links I provided in my column. I also did not attempt to reinvent the wheel: Some of the stuff about the links between corporations and porn has been reported (and of course I gave credit where it was due). Some of the information about industry profits came from cable trade publication sources and that sort of thing.
I think what was different about what I did was how I put it all together.


Nicholasville, Ky.: I read your recent column on GOP contributors selling amoral material in "red states", and was singularily unimpressed with your logic or thought process. You may not be aware of this, but there are liberals living in states that vote predominantly GOP and conservtives who live in states that vote predominantly Democrat. Just because porn is bought and sold in "red state" does not mean that consevrtives are hypocrites. You sir, have no idea who is purchasing the material you say conservatives should find offensive.

You analysis is almost as shallow as the analysis that followed the election that looked at divorce rates in red and blue states. The rate is supposedly lower in blue states and therefore red states are actually more amoral than blue states. This analysis fails because it doesn't take into account the number of cohabitation relationships in blue states that end without the need for divorce papers.

I think that you should try a more careful analysis of topics before offering them for public consumption. Otherwise, you may be thought of as the "Jayson Blair" of the Washington Post. The pet project of a managing editor who gives you a job because of his feeling the pangs of guilt for the crimes of the past.

What do you think?

Terry Neal: Hmmm...OK. Well, you are entitled to your opinion. I think it's interesting that you compare me to Jayson Blair (someone who blatantly lied in news stories) just because you disagree with my line of thought. I wonder why that is? Well, actually, I don't have to think very hard about why that is...
Look, to answer your question, I never used the word "hypocrites" in the column. Nor did I attempt to address the question of who was viewing what. My point was to address some of the simplistic reporting and assumptions about the differences between the blue and red states and make the point that the states actually are not all of that different.
If that so offends you, so be it.


Chino, Calif.: What ever could have prompted Bernard Kerik to accept that nomination from Bush, knowing what he did about his past behavior? And, knowing the high cost if that behavior were exposed?

Terry Neal: It really does boggle the mind. Kerik had to know that some of these thing would eventually be discovered during the FBI background check. But only he knows what he was thinking. I think the bigger question is why the White House made the announcement before this guy was fully vetted.


Oakton, Va.: Why does it appear, in the "mainstream media," that Democrats with an abhorrent corporate history, such as Terry McAuliffe's, get a pass, while Republicans rightfully get skewered, including their almost exclusive association with Enron, whose coporate problems gained their momentum during the Clinton years when Ken Lay and friends were White House visitors?

Terry Neal: I don't think Democrats get a pass. Most corporate money, with the exception of entertainment and law, goes to the GOP. While Clinton made some major inroads into the corporate America, that disparity remains. But you are correct that Democrats do have their share of big-money corporate backers. It's not a black and white, clear cut issue. There are shades of gray.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I think it is too early to judge what the 2004 election meant for the Democratic party. After all, no Democrat ever got more votes than Kerry did. He simply ran into an enormous increase in Republican turnout.

I think the only conclusion I am willing to draw right now is that the electorate felt more comfortable having Bush in charge while the country is at war, both to finish what he started and because he is more oriented to stick and fight than Kerry is.

Regarding abortion rights, I believe that Roe v. Wade must be overturned, and I say that as a Democrat. Simply, this should be a state issue. As long as Roe remains on the books, left v. right will always start with "Right To Life". Democrats cannot be seen as the "Right To Kill Your Unborn Baby" party. The fact that citizens of a state cannot go to the ballot box and exert influence over this issue is simply wrong, and as long as Democrats keep harping about pro-abortion Supreme Court nominees, the part remains in a very ugly position.

washingtonpost.com: Talking Points: Election Reflections (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 4)

Terry Neal: Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Certainly no war time president has ever a re-election bid, so it would have been difficult to beat Bush on those grounds alone. And yes, I also think the GOP had a superior ground game. But I also think there was something else going on. And I believe Kerry made some key mistakes, which I outlined in my Election Reflections column after the election.
As for the abortion thing, I'm not sure I agree on that as a strategy for winning (as opposed to whatever my personal opinion on the subject may be). I think Americans are split right down the middle on that subject. Depending on how the question is asked, Americans are either slightly anti-abortion or pro-abortion rights.


Nitro, W. Va.: Thanks for taking our questions:

Do the Democrats truly have a compelling and acceptable candidate? It seems to me that Democrats are stuck in an endless tug-of-war between the moderate DLC types who appear as light-weight Republicans and the conservative John Breaux and Zell Miller types who act as if they are Republicans. Why vote for Democrats who differ only in the extent of their resemblance to the GOP?

Terry Neal: You're welcome. It's my pleasure.
Here's what I think. The Republicans have a deeper bench than the Democrats do right now. Ideology aside, they have a greater number of appealing candidates who could run for president than the Democrats do. But that does mean the Dems are doomed.
Most people had no clue who Bill Clinton was in 1991. And if they had heard of him, they just knew him as the guy who gave the long speech at the 1998 convention. By the late 1990s, people knew George H.W. Bush had a son who was the governor of Texas, but few thought he'd be the next president.
So there is plenty of time for a compelling candidate(s) to arise over the next four years.


Charlotte, N.C.: Hi Terry,

Loved your article yesterday on Red States / Blue States. My questions are how much importance to you see in the fight over who will be the head of the DNC and the possible changing of the Party's stand on Abortion?

Coming from West Virginia and a blue collar background, I know many of my friends and acquaintances in West Virginia have stopped voting for the Democratic Presidential candidate because of the Party's stands on "Moral Value" hot button issues and a perceived weakness on national defense. Most of these people are dead set against Republican economic programs, but just can't get past the Moral Value issues

Terry Neal: Thank you, Charlotte, N.C.
I think for the very reasons you mention, it's tremendously important who the Dems pick to lead them. Ordinarily, I don't think the party chair is all that important, as long as they can walk, chew gum, raise money and spit platitides at the same time.
But the Dems are desperately in need of a national face as well as someone who can bridge the internal divides. I can't ever recall being too interested in what either party was going to do in this regard, but I'm closely watching this one.


New York, N.Y.: Terry - I love your answer to that last questioner who was so off!! Thank you for that and Merry Christmas

Terry Neal: Thanks!
And Merry Christmas to you, too.


Terry Neal: In fact, Merry Christmas and if you don't celebrate Christmas, happy holidays, to all of you!
Signing off.



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