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Larry King Live
What Role Should Religion Play in Politics?Aired August 10, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, an Orthodox Jew is the Democrats' vice presidential pick. The GOP presidential nominee has named Jesus Christ as the thinker he most identifies with. Religion, politics, headlines.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani talks to us about it, and then from Washington, Maryland's Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, niece of late President Kennedy -- from Detroit, Dr. Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University -- also, in Washington, presidential historian Michael Beschloss. They are all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: Good evening.
We will begin with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York, who -- by the way, when we do a major show on prostate cancer in a couple of weeks -- it will set the date -- he will lead the panel. And we look forward to that. Going to help a lot of people that night, Rudy, and I thank you very much for it.
MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Larry. Thank you for doing it.
KING: All right, your first choice -- your first thoughts on the Lieberman selection.
GIULIANI: Excellent choice, from two points of view. First of all, from the most important point of view, which is he is qualified to be president of the United States. So I give Vice President Gore a tremendous amount of credit for that, as I do George Bush, who selected Dick Cheney, who is also very well qualified to be president of the United States. So now we can move on to politics. I think politically it was a good choice, also.
GIULIANI: I think that it -- well, I think ultimately the whole religious issue will play out in favor of Vice President Gore, in the sense that it will look like he did something historic, he did something important. I don't think there is any question there will be some people -- you know, we have some prejudiced people in our society. But I think, by and large, when you challenge Americans to overcome their prejudices, they do.
And ultimately, I don't think it's going to have anything to do with the presidential election. It's going to come down to who do you like better, George W. Bush or Al Gore.
KING: But we will, right, never really know if someone would have voted for he the ticket or against the ticket because of the...
GIULIANI: Who knows back in 1960 if it hurt or helped John Kennedy to be Catholic? I don't know. You could go either way on that, right? There were certain number of people who voted against John Kennedy because he was he was a Catholic and they were worried about the Pope taking over and all this stuff. And then there was a certain amount of attraction to John Kennedy because he challenged a prejudice that Americans were embarrassed of.
I think the same thing is going to be true here. I think there will be certain people who can't overcome their prejudices. But I think, by and large, this plays out favorably for Gore. But I think also plays out favorably for America. I think this is a good thing to have done.
KING: Mr. Mayor, how much of your Catholicism do you bring with you to work?
GIULIANI: Who knows? Right, who knows? You don't know. When you make decision, you know, if you are a mayor, a governor, a president, a senator, whatever, you make lots of decisions that overlap between politics and morals. And I don't think you ever know how much your religious upbringing, your religious training, affects the decisions that you make. I'm capable of making decisions that disagree with the Catholic church. I mean, I'm pro-choice.
The Catholic church is pro-life.
GIULIANI: But I was brought up a Catholic. And I'm sure, in subtle ways, it affects a lot of the things that I decide as I'm sure the fact that Senator Lieberman is a religious man will affect him. George W. Bush is a religious man. It's going to affect him.
KING: His niece...
GIULIANI: It has an impact on you. But I think ultimately, in all of these people -- all four that we are talking about here -- are capable of understanding what it means to be a public official in America, which is, your oath of office comes first. And then if your religion should move you in a different direction, then you have to go with your responsibilities to all the people.
KING: His niece will be with us in a little while, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
KING: Were you, as a young Catholic-American proud that John F. Kennedy got the nomination?
GIULIANI: Yes. Sure. Absolutely. KING: Made you feel good, right?
GIULIANI: My family was roughly half Democrat and half Republican, and they all ended up supporting John Kennedy, because he was a Catholic now. And my family was Italian-American, but, you know they saw in that the possibility that maybe, you know, a barrier was torn down. So, in that sense...
KING: Critics -- I'm sorry, there are...
KING: There are critics who say you shouldn't be that way, but maybe they are not understanding pride people feel, especially in minority groups, right?
GIULIANI: Yes, absolutely. Yes, I mean there is -- maybe I feel this more being mayor of New York City, because New York City is an ethnically -- it's an ethnic city. It's a religious city. It's racial in the sense that we have lots of different groups, all different types. But ultimately, I mean, people feel pride in that. And they have a right to. But ultimately, I really do believe that the presidential candidates dominate here.
And the discussion of Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman will take place over next two to three weeks. But when you get into September and October, the presidential candidates so dominate that the vice presidential candidates become footnotes. And the only way they really matter is when they hurt. You know, if you go back to Kennedy race, it ultimately came down to Kennedy and Nixon. Lyndon Johnson may have added Texas, but maybe he didn't. Maybe John Kennedy would have won Texas anyway.
Ultimately, it came down to the two of them, just like I think ultimately, it will be George W. Bush and it will be Al Gore.
KING: What effect, frankly, will it have on the Senate race with Hillary and Lazio?
GIULIANI: It will help for a couple weeks.
KING: For Hillary.
GIULIANI: It's helping right now. I think, you know, Rick Lazio was ahead by seven, eight percent. Now, he's ahead by only two. And a lot of people attribute that bounce to Senator Lieberman being on the ticket. But ultimately, the personalities there really dominate. And New York is notoriously -- notorious for its ticket-splitting. So that is going become a candidacy that has a thought do with, you know, how people react to Hillary Clinton being from outside New York, which some people feel very strongly one way and some, you know, don't care.
KING: If you were still running, would this have been news that you would have treated with -- would you have said: Oh, great?
GIULIANI: Well, that is a great question. You always ask great questions. The answer is, I would have split emotions about it. As an American, I would be happy about it. I would see a barrier overcome. As a candidate, I would say: Gee, I wish he had picked somebody who wouldn't help as much
GIULIANI: I have to be honest about it.
KING: We will be -- he is always is with us -- we will be back...
GIULIANI: I think it was a smart choice.
KING: We will be back with some more moments with his Honor, Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York and then our panel. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1962)
SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens, also, to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters. And the church does not speak for me.
Whatever issue may come before me as president, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interests, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mayor Giuliani, beg our indulgence a moment. Be a reporter. Give us an analysis of this race, taking a step back. What's it going to be like. How close? How do you see it?
GIULIANI: It's going to be very close and it's going to come down, I think, to personalities. There is no major issue. I mean, I think Republicans are going to vote for Governor Bush. Democrats are going to vote -- committed Democrats are going to vote for Al Gore. Then that big in-between is going to voted based on trust and confidence and personality.
And, you know, that's why I think George W. Bush is going to win. But I think it's going to be very close. I think both of them should be prepared for a very close election, a couple of percent either way. There is no defining issue. There is no foreign policy issue. There is no issue emerging from the economy. So I think it -- this one really does come down to personality. And maybe in the wake of a Clinton presidency, that's kind of the way we look at things now, we look at it from the point of view of personality.
KING: Is he one of the great politicians you've ever seen? GIULIANI: He is an enormously talented politician. I don't believe he's as talented a president as he is a politician. And I think foreign policy has been an area of real failure, but people are not all that interested in foreign policy. But I think President Clinton is a superbly talented politician, I've always thought that, and he, in many of the ways that Ronald Reagan did, he changed the focus of American politics. So personality does become more important.
KING: So Americans can understand New York City politics a little better, Hillary will win this city. How much must she win it by?
GIULIANI: Oh gosh, she's got to win it big. I'll give you an example. Our governor, George Pataki, got re-elected governor in a big landslide, and I think he carried, 32 or 33 percent of vote in New York City. So if Rick Lazio were to hold 27 or 28 percent of the vote in New York City, he could maybe win by a percent or two. If he gets over 30 percent, he wins. So she has to virtually wipe him out in New York City.
KING: And how do you see -- go ahead, I'm sorry.
GIULIANI: That's why, you know, I see the suburbs and I see upstate New York as going very heavily for Rick Lazio, as they would have for me, and this is probably something that helped -- this is something that helps her in the suburbs, somewhat. So for a while, I think polls are going to be close, but ultimately, I think this is going to come down two of them.
KING: And the state overall, how is it going to be in the presidential race?
GIULIANI: Well, Al Gore has, you know, has advantage. I mean, it's gone Democratic now -- went for Bill Clinton twice, and it even voted for Governor Dukakis, although it voted for Ronald Reagan twice in the '80s. So I think you have to rate it as, you know, Al Gore is the favorite, but you know, Governor Bush can win in New York if he campaigns here. Ronald Reagan won it twice. And if he does, if he can make it close, and win the state, then Rick Lazio is in a really strong position.
KING: And in good times, as these are, and without great issues, do you expect a low turnout?
GIULIANI: Yes, I don't -- well, there is there is no one big issue that's going to draw people to the polls. Hopefully, interest in the election will pick up, and the turnout will be OK, but right now, there is no big issue, and we're paying more attention to the election than the American public is right now.
KING: And you expect the religion factor -- because our panel is going to discuss that in just a minute or so...
GIULIANI: I expect the religion factor.
KING: ... to play down?
GIULIANI: Yes, I think it's going to be real important for about three or four weeks, and then people are going to settle in, and they're going to become comfortable with it, and that is exactly where this has become historic, because this election is going to move on to other things, and we're going to do what we're supposed to do with Americans, we're going to disregard somebody's religion, ethnicity or racial background, and then we're going to say, you know, who do we like better in terms of policy? You know, is it going to be Gore and Lieberman, or is it going to be Bush and Cheney? What do we prefer in terms of, you know, the direction of the United States.
KING: Stay in good health. We'll see you soon.
GIULIANI: Thank you. Thanks for doing that show later on. I appreciate it.
KING: All right. We're going to do a major show with Mayor Giuliani and a panel on prostate cancer.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York.
When we come back, we'll meet an outstanding panel with diverse views on the subject of religion and politics. That's next.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't kid myself. I'm sure there are some anti-Semites out there, but you know, this people, the American people, are so tolerant, they're so open, I'm just convinced that they're going to vote for me or against me, not based on my religion, but based on how they judge me as a person and whether they think I can do this job, and I can't ask any more than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE. We welcome our panel. They'll be with us the rest us of the way. They are Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. the Lt. governor of Maryland, the daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, the niece of the late President John F. Kennedy; in Detroit, Dr. Bob Jones III, the president of Bob Jones University; and also in Washington is Dr. Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, ABC News analyst. He also commentates for the "Newshour with Jim Lehrer."
We'll start with, ladies first. Lt. Governor Townsend, Kathleen, your father was a senator, your uncle was president of the United States. He was the first Catholic elected on the national ticket, the second Catholic nominated. Al Smith was nominated in '28 and defeated. What part did it play, do you think? LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND (D), MARYLAND: Well, it was a very exciting time, obviously. I remember being in elementary school and all the nuns were thrilled that a Catholic was finally nominated.
I think, as you heard earlier, there was enormous worry about the prejudice, what was going go on in West Virginia. It was a very questionable primary. But I think the speech that you displayed earlier, in which President John Kennedy, next to be president, talked to ministers, and said that the Catholic religion, the pope, would not have so much of influence, laid to rest a lot of fears, and really brought out the Catholic vote, and also made Americans proud that such a person could be elected.
KING: And do we now face the same concept or a similar concept with Joseph Lieberman?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: I think there's a slight difference, in that in 1960, there was a fear, there was a question, as to how a Catholic would be received. And obviously, he had to go in front of those ministers and say that he would make policy based on what's best for country. In contrast, when Joe Lieberman was nominated, or asked to serve, there was great joy in the country, people were excited, enthusiastic, saying this is terrific, and so I think that it shows that we've really have come 40 years, that there was immediately embracing,of Joe Lieberman, as a -- in a way that didn't really quite happen when John Kennedy ran 40 years ago.
KING: We're certainly interested in the views of Dr. Bob Jones III, who has been outspoken with regards to faith and the public interest, and Catholicism and the like. What do you make of it, Dr. Jones? Should -- would you be affected? Were you affected by a Catholic on a ballot?
BOB JONES III, PRESIDENT, BOB JONES UNIVERSITY: I would not be affected by a Catholic on a ballot, and particularly since John Kennedy has gone through that barrier as it were. And apparently, the pope did not pull any strings, at least not that we know, that affected our national sovereignty. So that's all behind us.
I think the difference with Senator Lieberman is that he is not at the top of his ticket, so his beliefs will not be that important in daily national life, and I think that his choice was a very astute political choice made by Mr. Gore, who was a partner in the morally deficient administration along with Bill Clinton. And he needed to get all of that monkey off his back, as it were, and present a different face, and he's done that, artfully, skillfully, and Mr. Lieberman is without question a devout man, a good man, an apparently morally good man, and I think all Americans can rejoice, that there is such a man on this ticket, and I think that if he were at the top of the Democratic ticket, it would make the ticket a lot more palatable to people who still don't find it very palatable.
KING: And anti-Semitism would not wreak its ugly head?
JONES: I should hope not. I think that would be utterly abhorrent. I just can't imagine that it would do so. It certainly would not with any Christians that I know. And I think the Christians I have talked to about Senator Lieberman all are just very happy that here is a man who has voted against the death penalty, and for prayer in schools, and for a national missile defense and a lot of other rather Republican things. And it's going to be interesting.
KING: He is for death penalty. You said against. He's for the death penalty.
JONES: For the death penalty, yes.
KING: Michael Beschloss, give us a little -- this obviously is historic. We don't need a historian to tell us there's never a Jew on the ticket. But what's your sense of this? And how will -- is he going to be is he going to be what baseball was with Jackie Robinson?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, might well do, or even Sandy Koufax years ago.
But you know, when I was hearing Kathleen talk about President Kennedy, he had sort of a sense of humor about it. He used to say during the 1960 campaign, if you want to know how many people are in my crowds, count the number of nuns and multiply it by 100, which is sort of funny. And Kennedy originally thought that he wanted to be president, but he thought he couldn't do it without being vice president first. And I thought of this is the other day when I heard about Joe Lieberman.
In 1956, Adlai Stevenson was going to be presidential nominee. John Kennedy wanted to be his vice presidential nominee. He wrote a memo that was given to Stevenson that said, you may think being Catholic would be a risk, the first time a Catholic would be on the national ticket, but here are the number of states where there are a lot of Catholic voters who might vote for Stevenson if I were on the ticket, and wouldn't if I were not. Stevenson was not affected by that. Kennedy was not on the ticket. But that year when Stevenson lost, Kennedy thanked his lucky stars, because he felt that if he had been on that ticket and the ticket lost, people would have blamed the Catholics.
KING: But he did -- Stevenson -- opened the convention up to choose between Kennedy and Kefauver.
BESCHLOSS: He took Kennedy, and Kefauver and another Tennessee senator named Albert Gore Sr.
KING: Right. And the convention chose Kefauver.
BESCHLOSS: It did indeed. Religion was not that much of an issue.
KING: What do you make, Kathleen, about the Lieberman selection?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: I think it's exciting, it's historic. I think it's particularly appropriate that the convention is now going to be held in Los Angeles, where 40 years ago, John Kennedy was nominated. Actually, I was there 40 years ago. It was -- and now we're going back, and to say that this is the Democratic Party, which is diverse, that believes in choosing people based on content of their character and what they can contribute, I think it's excited, the Democrats excited independents about what this election can be about, and it's a window on who Al Gore is and the kind of courageous leadership he shows and will show.
KING: We'll talk more, and we'll include your phone calls with our outstand panel.
This is LARRY KING LIVE. The I-Man, Don Imus, tomorrow night.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. We'll be going to calls in a little while.
In one of the earlier Republican presidential debates, Governor George W. Bush was asked what philosopher or thinker he most identified with. His answer was Jesus Christ.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart and changes your life, and that's what happened to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: All right, Dr. Jones, we know you share that belief. Does it have a place in the political spectrum?
JONES: Well, absolutely. I would hate to think of America if it didn't have a place. This whole nation's history is about the Christian faith. It's what brought our founding fathers to these shores. It's what permeates all the founding documents of this nation. Larry, that is a Christian nation.
You know, if I lived in Japan, I, as an American Christian, would expect a Shinto religious political government. If I lived in Indonesia, I would expect to live under an Islamic government. And, in this country, where all religions are allowed to flourish and have their own freedom, it is a wonderful thing to have a place where plurality of faith can thrive and flourish, and nobody should be afraid when there is an avowed Christian president or when there is an avowedly Jewish vice president. I think that's wonderful, and I think that we are in real trouble if we ever get to the place where it is considered shameful to hide the Christian faith.
KING: But you do believe in the separation of church and state?
JONES: I believe that the state should not mettle in church affairs. I do not believe that the society should be secular and devoid of faith. Our founding fathers didn't believe that. And I think it would be a horrible thing if we ever got so secularist in this country that faith was not wanted in public life. It's part of America that it should be wanted in public life.
KING: Michael Beschloss, what is history? Was God used in a lot of races? Was Christ mentioned in races in 1848?
BESCHLOSS: Christ was not -- and I guess I'd have to differ a little bit with Dr. Jones, because historically, this not a Christian nation. God is certainly mentioned, and perhaps should be in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Every president has rightly mentioned God in his inaugural address. But the idea is freedom of religion and separation of church and state. And if you look at a case like John Kennedy's in 1960, the barrier that he had to overcome was, as he said over and over again, there are two questions for me: No. 1, does the candidate believe in the Constitution? I do. No. 2, does he believe in the separation of church and state? I believe in that, too. And he said, when a candidate has answered himself on those questions, I think the subject's exhausted, he said.
And the interesting test of how right he was, was take a look at eight years later, 1968. There were two candidates for president that spring, Eugene McCarthy and Kathleen's dad, Robert Kennedy, both Catholics. That issue not raised for one moment. So the fascinating thing is going to be not so much the Lieberman candidacy, but the next time you have a Jewish candidate for vice president or president, if it is that much of a nonissue, then we as a society have done our job.
KING: I've got to get a break. I'll have Dr. Jones respond, and we'll get the thoughts of Kathleen as well, and we'll include your phone calls. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You and Hillary have been churchgoers all the time in your public service, and some people think that's just an act.
How would you respond?
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, at least it's a consistent act. (LAUGHTER)
CLINTON: I -- well, I think I have given evidence that I need be in church.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, are we a Christian nation? What part should it play in the political race?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: Well, I wouldn't call us a Christian nation. I would say that we're based on the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition in which we all believe that we're children of God, that there's that sense that we're endowed with certain inalienable rights, as written in the Declaration of Independence.
But that gives us the ability to understand that we share a certain desire for freedom and certain understanding that we are in one fundamental sense brothers and sisters together with a desire for a good family life, and some community spirit.
It does not mean to say a Christian nation really seems to very divisive, particularly at this time in our history, when we're bringing -- when we have a strong Jewish population, when we have, you know, people coming from all over the world, Muslims and Indians. And to say that, I think, seems really divisive, and what I hope Joe Lieberman's elevation is, is to say, come in, one and all, show what we share, show how we respect one another, have compassion for one another, but don't limit us.
KING: Dr. Jones, how would you respond to both those statements by Michael and by Kathleen?
JONES: Well, I think we live quite clearly in a post-Christian era, but we do have a Christian foundation to this nation, at least a God-fearing foundation. And it was believers -- Christians, Puritans -- who left England and other European countries to come here to get away from state interference with their religious practice. And if we ever get to the place where we're afraid to pray in public, to speak of God in public, in our national life, to treat God as though He doesn't exist, then God's going to turn His back on this nation.
We are dependent on the blessings of God, and if we insult God, there's no reason to expect that God will continue to bestow His beneficence upon us.
KING: Michael, it has come up historically: Wasn't Jefferson criticized for not being religious enough? Wasn't Lincoln thought...
BESCHLOSS: He sure was, and Abraham Lincoln.
KING: ... to be agnostic? BESCHLOSS: Sure...
KING: And Eisenhower never joined a church when he was elected.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, interestingly, you know, Thomas Jefferson was a deist, and this was used by people who said, you know, Washington was an Episcopalian, as were presidents Monroe and Madison. Adams was a Unitarian. So if Jefferson was this odd thing, a deist, it must mean that he doesn't believe in God. That was used against him.
And oddly enough, the same thing against Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was groping for answers, was a huge reader of the Bible, but not a member of a formal religious denomination, especially early in his career. That was used by his opponents.
In Lincoln's case, he went through this experience where he had two sons who died, his wife had mental problems. He was going through the Civil War, and that drove him in the direction of religion. And by the time he died in 1865, he was a much more religious man.
In Eisenhower's case, Eisenhower grew up in this very fundamentalist household. His parents were members of this Kansas sect, the River Brethren, quite pacifist. He broke with it, because he went to West Point, wanted to get into the Army. His mother cried, begged him not go into the Army because it was against their religion.
Finally, Eisenhower felt to get through World War II -- this was almost like Lincoln -- you needed some kind of faith. And then when he became president, the day before, he was baptized a Presbyterian because he felt that presidents should be members of some formal denomination.
KING: Kathleen, should the voter -- should faith be considered at all?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: I think when you're voting for somebody, you base it on, you know, who the person is, what their vision is, what they can accomplish, what they will do. And faith might give you some indication of who they are and what they believe, in the same way, you know, what part of the country, what is their family like.
We're interested in our leaders. We're interested in what influences them. And therefore, we're going to look at those questions.
You can't take faith out of their lives, but Larry, in the final analysis, you want to decide on, you know, how they're going to help us be a better country, how we can improve our kids' schools and make our communities safe, create jobs. That's what we're asking. We're asking for results, we're asking for a better country. And that means asking, "What are you going to do?"
KING: Columbus, Ohio -- we'll include some phone calls -- hello.
CALLER: Yes. Is anyone concerned that with Lieberman being Jewish, will it be a problem for us as a nation showing neutrality in other Jewish nations, in Israel, for example? No one seems to be discussing that issue.
KING: Dr. Jones, are you fearful that we will not take a balanced position in the Middle East?
JONES: No, not at all. Mr. Lieberman is a Jew by religious persuasion and by birth. He is an American by citizenship and by his sworn allegiance to the laws of this land as a U.S. senator. I would have no fear of that whatsoever.
KING: Michael Beschloss, we have not reached the point where an outstanding human being who happens to be an atheist could be elected, have we?
BESCHLOSS: I think...
KING: You would have to espouse a faith, wouldn't you?
BESCHLOSS: I think you would, and if you look at the polls these days, "Would you vote for an atheist?" a huge number of Americans would not. And that has to do with the religious tradition that Kathleen and Dr. Jones have been talking about. The mentions of God in the Declaration and the Constitution, that runs throughout American history.
But you know, the thing about Joe Lieberman is that the fact that he is an Orthodox Jew, I think, means a lot to people in one particular sense. Most Americans had never heard of him before the other day. They didn't know much about him. They're looking for clues that will give you an idea of what his character is like, what his soul is like, and the fact that we know that he's devoutly Orthodox Jewish I think is tremendously reassuring to a lot of voters.
KING: Kathleen, there have been some saying he uses the word God too much. Do you think so? Lieberman.
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: I think it's what he feels comfortable with. It is our insight into who Joe Lieberman is. I think we can also judge him really, very frankly, on what he's done as a United States senator, how he's defended the minimum wage, how he's fought for gun control, how he supports strong Social Security and education.
You know, at he the end of the day, you're going to say this is a person who is compassionate, who tries his best, who is understanding about the need for character in our elected officials. But what has he really done? And that's what you're going to judge him on, and how he does and how he treats people.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with more, with more phone calls. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: I am so full of gratitude at this moment. I ask you to allow me to let the spirit move me as it does, to remember the words from Chronicles, which are to give thanks to God, to give thanks to God and declare his name and make his acts known to the people. (APPLAUSE)
To be glad of spirit. To sing to God and make music to God, and most of all, to give glory and gratitude to God, from whom all blessings truly do flow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, Saturday night we'll be live at the Staples Center with a preconvention show. Judy Woodruff is going to have a preconvention show following this one tonight from Staples. And then all next week, Monday through Thursday, two live shows nightly at 9:00 and midnight Eastern Time. Two live shows nightly.
Now, we know, Dr. Jones, that you're generally regarded in the Republican category, but were you moved to be for Jimmy Carter since he was a born-again, openly espoused Christian?
JONES: Well, it takes more than espousing to be a Christian, to be one. And I found that there was much about Jimmy Carter that seemed antithetical to what I as a Bible-believing Christian think about the Christian life.
I think it's good, Larry, when a candidate like Senator Lieberman speaks of God and quotes Old Testament Scripture. I think it's good when a candidate like George Bush speaks of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. I think the nation can only -- should only rejoice that there is an understanding in these men that there is more to man than just to this world, than just humanity, and just this Earth, that there is a hereafter, that there is a God that we have to deal with, a creator God. And I think that the nation, if it would ever come back to that kind of a place, where it honored the God of the Scriptures as the creator God and the God before whom we all will have to one day bow, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to this country, and that which we have lost could be regained.
KING: Michael, was Jimmy Carter hurt or helped by his born-again concept?
BESCHLOSS: Oh, I think he was helped enormously, because, you know, Larry, remember the historical moment. This was 1976. It was a year and half after Richard Nixon had resigned at the time of Watergate, and Carter realized that people were yearning spiritually for a leader who would needless to say behave a lot better than Richard Nixon did: would not lie, would not break the law, and also, would appeal to their best instincts. He knew that that was his moment.
So in the spring of 1976, when Carter was running for president, he made quite a big thing about his born-again Christian beliefs. That was something that no candidate had ever done before.
KING: Las Vegas, hello. CALLER: Question for Dr. Jones. In President Kennedy's case, people were afraid he would be answerable to the pope. There is no one person that represents the Jews here or in Israel. What do you see as the biggest problem in electing Senator Lieberman?
KING: I don't think he sees any, right, Dr. Jones?
JONES: I don't see any at all, and the bottom line is we will ultimately elect, if we do elect him, President Gore and not Lieberman. And I don't see any problem at all with having Lieberman on his ticket.
KING: And fairness, both Vice President Gore and Dick Cheney are very religious people, as well. I think we have four people running, who all have espoused their religion.
Is -- does that make it a wash, Kathleen?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: Well, again, I think -- I'm glad everybody is espousing their religion, but you know, as John Kennedy said in his inaugural address, on this Earth, God's work must truly be our own. And in the final analysis, we're going to judge ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish and how we treat one another.
I thought it was compelling, for instance, in the early '60s, when John Kennedy came out on the civil rights issue and said it is a moral question. So I think our religion will inform us. But we're really going to judge, how do you treat, how did you stand on the civil rights revolution? How are you standing today? How are you making sure that all children have the opportunity to learn and give them the tools to do so?
You can, as we've heard earlier, espouse great ideas and say that you're close to God, but you're going to be judged ultimately on what you do.
KING: And Dr. Jones, you don't believe that, right?
JONES: No. I do believe that we as voters have to judge a person by what they do and not by what they say.
KING: But you don't believe judgment is eventually based on deeds.
KING: It's based on belief, right? If you believe in Christ, you will go to heaven. If you don't, you will not.
JONES: That's correct. That's correct.
KING: That's what I meant.
JONES: Not -- not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us.
KING: By the way, Michael, why is religion so "heatly" debated in campaigns? I mean, why does it even, in a sense, come up?
BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, one reason, Larry, is that the whole thrust of a campaign and one of the things that you're trying to do is find out what this guy's character is like and how he'll behave when he's in office. So if you know something about his religious beliefs and how serious he is, that's a pretty good indication of what you can expect.
But you know, at the same time, a lot of what we later learn about presidents' religious beliefs are so different from what we hear at the time. Warren Harding was thought to be this great God-fearing man when he was president in the early '20s, was the author of one of the biggest scandals in history.
And you know, Lyndon Johnson, we have not known this, certainly didn't know it in realtime, he was so beaten down by the pressures of the Vietnam War that Lady Bird Johnson has told me he very seriously considered becoming a Catholic, and she thinks that had he lived beyond 1973, he might very well have converted.
And one other thing that I think tells us a lot: Ronald Reagan turns out to have been a much more committed Christian than I think we even knew in 1980. And that had a lot to do with the fact that he was so desperately motivated to try to end the Cold War during his presidency.
KING: We'll be back with more and some more phone calls as well. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: Because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured, perhaps deliberately in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 2)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, when I went to Bob Jones, I followed a long tradition of both Republican and Democrat candidates that went to lay out their vision. Ronald Reagan went to Bob Jones, my dad went to Bob Jones, Bob Dole, the Democrat governor from South Carolina the week before.
I talked about bringing people together so America can achieve its greatness. I talked about lifting the spirit and the soul of this country. I regret I did not speak out against that school's anti- Catholic bias. I missed an opportunity. I make no excuses. I make no excuses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dr. Jones, how did you react when you saw him make that statement?
JONES: I felt very sorry for him, because I think he missed a great opportunity to be strong and to be less political than that statement obviously was. He was pandering to his critics. He did nothing wrong. He did nothing wrong by coming to Bob Jones University, a viable, strong academic institution of great academic repute of 73 years of existence.
He came to speak to the student body. Nobody -- no candidate is expected to endorse everything that a college believes. If he did, he couldn't go to any college. And this whole thing that McCain expected of him, the media then started expecting of him, was so ridiculous and so politically warped, because at the same time he was doing that, Mr. Gore was going to Jewish synagogues, where the men got to come inside and the women had to sit outside in the rain and the cold and nobody ever accused him of sexism or any of that.
KING: It did lead you, though, on this program that day to change the policy of interracial dating at the school.
JONES: No. It did not lead to us that. As I mentioned on the program -- which you so very graciously hosted and allowed me to be on -- was that we had been talking about this since May of 1999. The board and I discussed this on two occasions for nine months before any of this happened. It gave us the opportunity -- your program gave us the opportunity to announce publicly what we wanted to do.
But it wasn't this. We didn't yield to this. In fact, when Mr. Bush came there, there was no thought -- and when the criticism ensued, there was no thought of announcing this policy change. But the program gave us a chance to do what we had talked about trying to find the right occasion to do for the nine months previous to that.
KING: Michael, historically, will that turn out to be mistake or too soon to tell?
BESCHLOSS: A mistake for Bush to have regretted having gone to Bob Jones?
BESCHLOSS: I think he really had to do it because, with all due respect to Dr. Jones, I mean, if you appear at place like that without having criticized that, that does send a little bit of a message. It's almost like the mid-1980s when Ronald Reagan went to Bitburg in Germany not knowing when he accepted an invitation to be there from the German chancellor that there was a cemetery he was going to that had SS graves, the graves of people who had killed
KING: Well, is Dr. Jones correct then, though, if you speak in an Orthodox synagogue, you might criticize the separation of men and women?
BESCHLOSS: I think that is probably not comparable to a place with attitudes and statements on Catholics that disturb an awful lot of Americans.
KING: I have got to get a break. And we will come back with our remaining moments. And Kathleen will get into this. We'll get another call in too right after this.
KING: Get a couple more calls in: Anaheim, California, hello.
CALLER: Yes, I wanted to ask the panel how they feel about vouchers being used at religious schools.
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: Well, I don't think it is a good idea. I think what we need do in our country is to have a strong public education, having high standards and giving kids the great teachers, great principals and the ability to achieve there. It is our public schools that bring people together. And I think it is a great way to have a real education, and have everybody be able to have that education. You don't want in this country that...
KING: Does Senator Lieberman share that...
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: Senator Lieberman had a different view. He wanted to explore vouchers, I think, in Washington, D.C. But, as he said yesterday, or the day before, Al Gore is at the top of the ticket and he is going to take that position.
KING: Glouster, Ohio, hello.
CALLER: I would like to know what someone on the panel thinks about what role the wives will play in the election -- and about Lieberman's wife and Gore, you know, and what they...
KING: Michael, what role do wives play in elections, generally?
BESCHLOSS: Well, usually a big, because, you know, we are looking at these people. We're trying to make a judgment about them. I don't know about you, Larry, but I certainly get a lot of insight into people when I see who they have married. So, my guess is that if you look at that ceremony the other day with Tipper Gore and Hadassah Lieberman, I think they were both very compelling and very helpful to their husbands.
KING: Dr. Jones, do you think this is going to be a very close race and do you think religion is going play a big part it? . JONES: Yes, I think it will play a big part. I am not politically astute enough to know whether it's going to be a close race. I do think that it is going to play a huge part and should play a huge part, because, as we have learned, from the negative example of Bill Clinton, character is essential to the good performance of a president or any other leader. You can't separate a man's character from his performance.
And I'm very interested in character. And therefore, I'm very interested in religion, because a man's character is the outcropping of his religious beliefs.
KING: Kathleen, what are your thoughts, same question?
KENNEDY TOWNSEND: I think it is going to be a close election, but I think what we have seen is we have had a great economy over the last eight years. We have had the best peacetime expansion ever in history. We've got lowest crime in a generation, 60-year lows in teen pregnancy. Bill Clinton and Al Gore have given us a wonderful eight years in American politics, bringing people together. And I know that Al Gore now and Joe Lieberman will continue this great prosperity and sense what this country can accomplish.
KING: Michael, we have 30 seconds. How do you see this race: close?
BESCHLOSS: I think it probably will be close. And what I hope will not be a factor is Joe Lieberman's religion. One thing I'm a little bit worried about is you look at cases where there have been black candidates who ran, such as Doug Wilder running for governor in Virginia, his numbers were much higher than they turned out to be on election day. I hope there is not a hidden undertow of people who might vote against Lieberman for religion, but are afraid to tell pollsters.
KING: Thank you all very much for an illuminating discussion. We thank Rudy Giuliani for being with us earlier.
Judy Woodruff is at the Staples Center. She is coming up right behind us with a preview of the convention. Tomorrow night the I-Man, Don Imus, will be with us. And Saturday night, we will be live at the convention center with Terry McAuliffe, the general chairman of the convention and Ed Rendell, the co-chairman of Democratic Party.
And all next week, two live shows nightly at 9:00 and midnight Eastern times from the Staples Center, home of the Democratic Convention,
Thanks for joining us. From Los Angeles, I'm Larry King. For our guests and our crew, good night.
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