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Faith and Politics

Aired January 17, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: On the day America honors the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded of the close link between faith and politics.

President George Bush was reelected with strong support from those who say moral issues are their top priority. What's ahead for the president as he looks ahead to a second term, a political agenda that adheres to the religious agenda to the evangelical right or an attempt, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., to reach across boundaries in search of a greater good for all Americans? The Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell debate faith and politics today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Joe Watkins.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Today, as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is worth remembering that values issues were once considered the great strength of the Democratic Party. It was Democrats and liberals who led on civil rights, and they were not afraid to invoke their faith. Dr. King, after all, led a group called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But nowadays, many observers say it is the Republican Party that seems more comfortable invoking God, while Democrats look secular and even anti-religious.

Today, sitting in on the right in the CROSSFIRE, my friend Joe Watkins, himself an ordained Lutheran minister.

Joe, good to see you.

JOE WATKINS, GUEST CO-HOST: Hey, Paul. Good to be back.

BEGALA: Welcome back. And we have as our guests two of the most interesting and I think probably most noteworthy preachers in America, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell. We'll have them both here in just a moment.

But, first, let's begin, as we always do, with the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

WATKINS: A new poll from the Associated Press shows a majority of Americans, six out of 10, to be precise, are hopeful about President Bush's second term. This is encouraging news for the president and the nation ahead of the inauguration this week. While the findings in no way take away from concern about Iraq and other tough issues, they show that Americans trust Mr. Bush to lead the country in the right direction.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled described the president as likable, strong and intelligent. More than half said he's dependable and honest. After a bitterly divided campaign season, it's good to see Americans coming back together.

BEGALA: Well, I would like to see Americans coming together. But our president is now reelected and inaugurated with the lowest approval rating of any president in 50 years.

WATKINS: But 60 percent are hopeful, Paul. That's a good thing.

BEGALA: Well, they're hopeful. Everybody is hopeful.


BEGALA: But, I mean, I'm also pretty doubtful.


BEGALA: The CNN poll just out about an hour ago, 52 percent, a majority of Americans, believe it was a mistake for President Bush to send troops into Iraq. And yet he gives an interview to "The Washington Post" that says his reelection was an affirmation of this mistake.


BEGALA: .. in Iraq.

WATKINS: It's all about injustice. The president is addressing injustice in Iraq, because injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.


BEGALA: And there's no graver injustice than to mislead the American people to send men into a war. And that's what this president did in his last term. I hope he rectifies that injustice in his next term.



BEGALA: Well, speaking of our president, the Bush administration is reportedly pressuring the Social Security Administration to issue political statements in support of President Bush's plan to privatize part of Social Security.

"The New York Times" reports that career public servants in the Social Security Administration are complaining that trust fund dollars, money that should be going to seniors and to the disabled, are being used to promote the president's political agenda. Worse, agency employees say they are being pressured to say things that just are not true.

President Bush wants the career people at Social Security to try to convince you that there is a desperate crisis in Social Security, when the truth is, a few minor adjustments are all that is needed. Still, Mr. Bush needs to create a crisis to justify his plan to borrow $2 trillion, take money out of Social Security, send it to Wall Street and then cut benefits for future retirees. Look, the real crisis isn't with Social Security, Mr. President. It's with your credibility.


WATKINS: Absolutely not. You know what? You know what is interesting about this?

BEGALA: What's that?

WATKINS: If we do nothing, if the president -- the president is all about leadership. And leaders confront problems. If we do nothing, it is going to cost us $10.4 trillion to fix Social Security, $10.4 trillion to fix it.

BEGALA: That's not true. That's not true. That's not true. That's not even close.

WATKINS: And by the year 2018, by the year 2018, there's going to be more money going out than coming into Social Security.


BEGALA: Well, first off, first off, that's not true at all. And the first thing he wants to do is take $2 trillion more out. That's like the fire chief showing up with a blowtorch. If the problem is, we don't got money, he wants to pull more out.

WATKINS: Our country is strong and both major political parties are strong. For that reason, every American has a right to be concerned about what's happening in the campaign for Democratic Party chairman.

Tim Roemer, an anti-abortion Democrat, says he is being held up to a litmus test on the issue. It's well known that Democrats are suffering in elections due to the so-called values gap. Many Americans see the party as out of step with the mainstream. Roemer is asking DNC committee members to consider him based on what he can do for the party, not based on his position on abortion alone.

It's a reasonable request. It will hurt the viability of the Democratic Party and hurt the country if the Democrats continue to base their views so narrowly.


BEGALA: The problem with Mr. Roemer, Congressman Roemer's candidacy, is not that he is pro-life. After all, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, is pro-life. And it didn't stop him from becoming a leader of my party.


BEGALA: The problem is, he voted -- he voted against the Bush -- I mean, against the Clinton economic plan and for the Bush economic plan. I mean, he is just not in step with his party. It's very unlikely he's going to win this race. But it ain't about abortion, Joe. It's about a whole lot of other issues.

WATKINS: It's OK to support the president when he's right. And Democrats were able to...

BEGALA: But Bush wasn't right. The best thing the Democrats have done in the last 20 years was the Clinton economic program. He was on the wrong side of that.


BEGALA: No Democrat who voted against that is going to be chairman of my party.

WATKINS: This economy has come roaring back. Jobs...

BEGALA: Well, we can debate the merits of the economy vs. Clinton's economy, but I think...


BEGALA: My party is not going to put somebody in charge who opposed President Clinton's economic programs. And that's why he's floundering, not because of abortion.

Anyway, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of his hope that what he called other-centered people would build up the world with their love. Well, I received an e-mail today from one of those other- centered people, from my friend Alan Khazei. He's the founder of the service organization City Year. Alan asks that we direct our kids to a Web site called Its aim is simple, yet audacious.

It is to involve every single child in America in raising millions for the victims of the tsunami. Kids are being asked to collect a little spare change from mom and dad, hold bake sales, donate proceeds from baby-sitting, anything to be a little more other- centered, rather than self-centered.

As, sure enough, as I was driving to our studio today in sub- freezing weather, neighborhood kids were holding a bake sale at the local gas station to raise money for tsunami victims., Dr. King would be proud.

WATKINS: Well, no debate here. Absolutely right. Dr. King would be so proud of these young people. It's all about doing something for somebody else. And that's what this effort is all about.

BEGALA: And amen to them. And City Year is a very other- centered program as well.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

BEGALA: Totally bipartisan.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

BEGALA: It gets young people engaged in service. And I'm really proud of them for calling that to my attention.

WATKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely.


BEGALA: Well, speaking of Dr. King, he certainly knew how to integrate faith and politics. And just ahead, we will debate the role religion plays in politics with Reverend Jerry Falwell and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

And then later, you may be a little surprised, but some Republicans say that my former boss, Bill Clinton, might have a role to play in this week's inauguration celebrations.

Stay with us.




BEGALA: Well, it has been widely reported and much discussed that exit polls said that, when Americans voted in November, something called moral values was the No. 1 issue that they voted on. But what exactly does that phrase mean? And does either party have a monopoly on morality?

Joining us today for a debate on faith and politics, the Reverend Jerry Falwell. He's the founder and chancellor of Liberty University. And from Chicago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition. Gentlemen, good to see you again.


WATKINS: Reverend Jackson, yesterday you denounced the war in Iraq by saying that it was against King's legacy. And you called it a quagmire of death and destruction. Of course, every war that has been fought is all is about death and destruction. Wars are just about kind of thing. But every war is not bad, so it would seem.

I mean, for instance, the Civil War is the reason why slavery was abolished. And the Six-Day War in 1967, where the Israelis fended off the Arabs, which allowed them to be a state and to remain strong as a state, seems to have been a good war. Dr. King said injustice anywhere is threatened by -- justice -- injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.

Why are you so against the war in Iraq, given the injustice that took place there with Saddam Hussein?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: You know, I think that our going to Afghanistan to pursue the Taliban who hit us, we knew who they were and we knew they had done it, was the right thing to do.

I don't know why we left a coalition in Afghanistan and left them, the Taliban, growing more heroin. I don't know why we left bin Laden alone and then went unilaterally into Iraq in the name of imminent threat and weapons of mass destruction. And we have found no weapons of mass destruction, no imminent threat, no al Qaeda.

WATKINS: No injustice, though? No injustice, Reverend?

JACKSON: And guess what? We have lost 1,400 American lives, 10,000-plus injured, 100,000 Iraqis killed. We're losing $1 billion a week. That war has no moral or legal legitimacy, that war.

WATKINS: No injustice, though? You...

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, well, let me -- well, first, let me ask you, John Lewis, who, like Reverend Jackson, worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said today that, if Dr. King were here, he would say -- and I'm quoting Congressman Lewis -- "End the war, end the war, and bring our young people home."

Don't you believe that's what Dr. King would say if he were here?



Dr. King and I both are contemporaries. I was also born back in the '30s, he just a little ahead of me in the late '20s. But we both lived through World War II. And war is hell. And, certainly, nobody loves war. But thank God we had a Democratic president who was willing to stand up to Adolf Hitler and the Axis. And thank God we don't speak German today and we did do what was necessary to bring an end to Nazism.

I don't think that Martin Luther King was opposed to that. And I don't think he would have...

BEGALA: He did desperately oppose the war in Vietnam. And I'm a Catholic. And in my faith tradition, there's the concept of a just war.


FALWELL: But they hadn't brought...


BEGALA: But certainly, the holy father, the leader of my church, has said this is an unjust war. And I think if you -- any fair reading of Dr. King's writings about Vietnam would suggest that he would find this war to be unjust as well. There was no threat to America, after all.

FALWELL: Well...

BEGALA: There was a threat from the Nazis. There was no threat from Saddam Hussein.

FALWELL: Right now, millions of men and women vote in Afghanistan and have voted. And come the end of this month, the same will happen in Iraq, in spite of all that is going on to prevent it.


FALWELL: So, I would say that, if we don't care about the human rights, as Joe just said, and the civil rights of Iraqis and Afghanistans, and women period anywhere, then I don't know how we can face ourselves in the morning in the mirror when we call ourselves friends of democracy.


JACKSON: Oh, there are no...


WATKINS: Reverend Jackson, no -- Reverend Jackson, I would like to ask you a question first.

JACKSON: There are no rich people's children in Iraq. No Congress person has lost a child in Iraq. There's no weapons of mass destruction. There was no imminent threat.


WATKINS: Reverend Jackson...

JACKSON: We've invaded and we are killing. And it is morally indefensible.

WATKINS: Reverend Jackson, let's talk a little bit about family values. Bill Cosby has been talking about the importance of personal responsibility for individuals and also for the importance of family.

Now, you and some others have seemed to indicate that there really is not a place in the Democratic Party for moral values and family values. Is that wrong? Do you believe that there's a place for Democrats?

JACKSON: Of course. Of course I believe...


WATKINS: Talk to us about family values.

JACKSON: Of course you have to have family values.

Dr. King was -- graduated high school at 15, college at 19. He believed in personal responsibility. But he also believed, while we live under our faith, we live under the law. People had good values on the back of the bus until the law changed. Good black soldiers could not vote, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) could. Had good values, but had bad laws. Good black Americans could not vote until 1965. And so, if people are faced with...


WATKINS: What about moms and dads? What I'm talking about, though, really, are moms and dads. What do you have to say to African-American men and...


JACKSON: I noticed what you're talking about, but...

WATKINS: And men who father children, but are not husbands and who don't actually serve as real dads to their kids?

JACKSON: Well, people should -- and you think about all those babies that people like Jefferson had, they did not even give them a name. That's not the issue today.

Dr. King's last drive was to fight, pulling together whites from Appalachia, where Jerry Falwell lives, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, to fight for a job on income, health care for every American. Today, we're giving money back to the wealthiest people. The rich and rulers are not investing in wiping out poverty, illiteracy and disease. Those were Dr. King's moral values.



FALWELL: Hey, Jesse, let me talk to you, Jesse. Most people...


FALWELL: Most people, Jesse, do not know that you and I have been longtime friends and that I have preached for you and you have preached for me. And when we are not on television fighting, we are probably drinking coffee together somewhere. Most people don't know that.


FALWELL: We agree on motherhood and one or two other things.


FALWELL: But what I do remember, as a young preacher -- and you were and are a good one -- you preached a great, great pro-life sermon. I have a printed copy of it. You were as strongly pro-life as I and as Paul's holy father is. And somewhere along the way, you let the Democrats somehow decimate your faith.

And today, you are pro-choice. Now, if we are talking civil rights, the last disenfranchised minority in America and the world for that matter are the voiceless, defenseless unborn.

WATKINS: Absolutely.

FALWELL: And I want to call you back to where you started. I would love to fight with you up and down the streets of America for the sake of the unborn.



JACKSON: But, Jerry, people -- I believe that women are intelligent enough to make choices of their own. But, further, Jerry, you seem to fight for the fetus and then abandon them and then abandon the babies.


FALWELL: Jerry, 45 million Americans have no health insurance. The working poor cannot get minimum wage. They cannot afford to send their children to college. Can we not challenge the rich to reinvest and put America back to work? If you love me, then feed my sheep. That's Bible.

FALWELL: Jesse, if...


JACKSON: If you love me, then study war no more.


FALWELL: Now, Jesse, you are the richest person on this program.



BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, I'm sorry to cut you off. But we are going to have to take a break. We are going to be back in just a moment.

When we return, I am going to ask Reverend Falwell about what Americans say is the most urgent moral crisis facing our country. You may be surprised by what it is.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on how American troops are helping Iraq prepare for those elections.

Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, the preelection violence in Iraq has gone to a new level, the abduction of a Catholic archbishop. And U.S. troops are making a series of sweeps aimed at trying to safeguard the election.

Is the Pentagon planning precision airstrikes against Iranian nuclear installations? We'll have a report.

And the world of politics meets the world of fashion. What will the first lady be wearing for the inauguration? All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. We look forward to your report, as always, at the top of the hour.

Here on CROSSFIRE, we are debating faith and politics with two of the best in the business, Reverend Jerry Falwell of Liberty University, and, in Chicago by satellite, Reverend Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Reverend Falwell, you mentioned abortion earlier. And no doubt that that's a problem in the eyes of many Americans. The Zogby polling firm asked people, though, what was the most urgent moral crisis in America? Here is what they said; 33 percent said greed and materialism is No. 1; 31 percent said poverty and economic injustice. Abortion is down to 16 percent and gay marriage, 12. It sounds to me like Reverend Jackson is a lot closer to the American public than you, sir.


FALWELL: I'm not saying that abortion is the only issue, but it certainly is a front-burner fundamental issue. The right to life, I think there's probably... BEGALA: But why don't Christian conservative ministers preach against materialism and greed and poverty and injustice, the way Dr. King did?

FALWELL: Oh, I think they do. I think they do. I know we do.

And we have a home for unwed mothers. We have a home for alcoholics and drug addicts. We support a hospice for AIDS victims. We -- and evangelical church all over the nation give hundreds of millions of dollars. But that's not our main thing. Our main thing is preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified and winning people to salvation through Christ. That's our -- we're the light of the world, as well as the salt of the earth.

But -- and, Jesse -- I have had Jesse in my pulpit. So he and I -- and we are friends. But on this issue, he's let the Democrats just sidetrack him and get him away from the main thing. He's -- I really -- I believe he's sincere, but I think he's sincerely wrong. I think we need to help the poor. I think we need to work very hard to -- in this country, God knows, the tsunami reaction response, who could criticize this country?


JACKSON: Paul Begala.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

WATKINS: Begala.

FALWELL: Begala.


JACKSON: You know, the reality is most women choose to have their children. But there are those who are obsessed with the fetus, but then won't feed the children once they get here.

What about the abandoned children? What about the homeless education?


JACKSON: What about those who don't have adequate education?


JACKSON: Why not -- Jesus said, I have been anointed to preach the Gospel, to preach good news to the poor. We never hear you guys talk about the poor who are malnourished.


WATKINS: Oh, absolutely. We talk about the poor all the time. There are more African-Americans that own homes under George Bush than at any other time in American history. (APPLAUSE)

JACKSON: But why did you bring the issue of blacks? Most poor people are not black, sir. Most poor people are white.

WATKINS: You're right. That's absolutely right.

JACKSON: So what is your point?


WATKINS: The idea is to give everybody a chance, to bring everybody up. That's what this is about. That's what this president is talking about with regards to the economy, with regards to the free market economy.

JACKSON: The fact is, that's not true.


JACKSON: We have a net loss of jobs in every state. And there are more poor people and more uninsured poor people.


JACKSON: I repeat, there's been a net loss of jobs in every state, a reduction in the middle-class and more working poor people. You ought to do your homework, friend.

WATKINS: I have. I have, indeed.


BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, we've got ten seconds. Going to give you the last 10 seconds. Yes, sir.


FALWELL: Ten seconds.

Jesse, Jesse, you have got a voice. You have got a platform. You need to get off the hobbyhorse of just taking care of the poor. You need to get them alive first and do both at the same time.

And God bless you. Come see me.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.

JACKSON: I will say to you that you're obsessed with the fetus. Let's try to save the children.


BEGALA: Reverend Jerry Falwell here in our studios, Reverend Jesse Jackson in Chicago, thank you both very much for an interesting, fun, enlightening debate. It was a lot of fun for me. Thank you. Well, one Republican governor coming to town for our president's inaugural has a foolproof idea of how to create a little bit buzz. He's floating a way to include former President Bill Clinton in this year's inaugural festivities. We'll explain his plan right after this.



BEGALA: Well, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is bringing his rock 'n' roll band called Capitol Offense into the nation's capital to perform during inaugural festivities for his pal, George W. Bush.

The bass-playing governor says the group was founded in the basement of the governor's mansion in Little Rock nine years ago. That's the same governor's mansion where my old boss Bill Clinton used to practice his saxophone. And so, Governor Huckabee said that his band lacks a saxophone player. And he told a reporter maybe he should invite President Clinton to sit in some time.

Now, Joe, that would really create a stir at the inaugural, to have Bill Clinton up there.

WATKINS: Well, it would indeed. Well, he's a great sax man, Bill Clinton is.

BEGALA: Pretty good.


BEGALA: But good for Governor Huckabee. I can't wait to see his band. I doubt I'll be invited to the party, though.

WATKINS: Well, you never know. You never know.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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