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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Jimmy Carter
Aired April 28, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Jimmy Carter. His controversial Mideast peace efforts draws slams from the Bush administration and Israel -- and a shout-out from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMIAH WRIGHT, BARACK OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: The same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What drives him to go where no former president has ever gone before?
And if he can't broker peace overseas, can he help the Obama and the Clinton campaign forces stop fighting here?
As he made his presidential pick, Jimmy Carter standing up, speaking out.
And then, Barack Obama's former pastor preaches his point of view, but not in church.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: I served six years in the military.
Does that make me patriotic?
How many years did Cheney serve?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Does more talk from Reverend Wright mean more trouble for a divided Democratic Party?
It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We've got a terrific book from the 39th president of the United States, this one "A Remarkable Mother". It's published by Simon & Schuster. And there you see its cover. I'll be talking to the president about his wonderful mother in a little while.
But, of course, some thoughts are -- bear discussion right off the top.
What do you see as the impact of Reverend Wright on this presidential campaign?
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Transient. I don't think it's going to be anything permanent or damaging. I grew up in Plains, Georgia. And we have 600 people and 11 churches. And the largest and most powerful church is the Lebanon Baptist Church, which is an African-American Baptist Church. So I've heard this kind of preaching all my life. And we visited in their church and they'd come and see mine.
So I think that what he's teaching, really, is a liberation theology and his origins and his present, I think, the sermons are still shaped by the depravation of racial discrimination that our country has felt for almost a hundred years after the Civil War.
KING: If that were your church, would you leave it?
CARTER: No, I wouldn't leave it. No, I think not. In fact, I think the church -- with which I'm not familiar -- has a good number of white members. It's a mixed racial church. And he preaches the type of sermon that I think appeals to many people. I think that, also, I've seen a complete sermon of one of those where they took the excerpts. And if you look at the whole sermon and then you see the excerpt, you see that it is quite anomalous compared to the rest of the sermon.
KING: Is race still a big story in this country?
CARTER: I'm afraid so. I think the Republicans have done well in the South based on the race issue, unfortunately. I don't mean they're all racist. I'm not saying that. But ever since Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 -- when my mother, by the way, was a campaign manager for Johnson. she was one of the few white folks for Johnson back in those days.
KING: In the South?
CARTER: In the South and in our county. And he didn't carry, as you remember, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana.
CARTER: But that's when the Republicans found out that the race issue -- in very subtle ways -- was quite attractive in the South. And, unfortunately, that's been the case ever since.
KING: It still plays, then?
CARTER: It still plays to some degree, but to a much lesser degree than before.
KING: Reverend Wright referenced you earlier today at the National Press Club. He was asked about his relationship with Louis Farrakhan and whether he agrees with most racially divisive views.
And here is part of what he said.
CARTER: Oh, really?
I didn't know that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: One of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago, when Lewis said 20 years ago that Zionism -- not Judaism -- was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations Resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, he's saying you're saying the same thing that Louis Farrakhan is saying about Zionism.
CARTER: Of course not. No. I've never been any -- I have never had a breath of thought in my mind as being anti-Semitic. As a matter of fact, the most important single issue in my political life for the last 31 years has been to bring peace to Israel and peace for Israel's neighbors. And that's what I still intend to try to do, in a completely proper way, as long as I'm able.
KING: Are you surprised that he would include you as agreeing with Farrakhan?
CARTER: Oh, I didn't realize that Reverend Wright even knew that I was here. But no, I'm not -- I don't know what -- I don't know the context of it. I'm not (INAUDIBLE).
KING: Do you think he's going to play a part, though?
You say it's transient.
CARTER: I think it is. Yes. I...
KING: You don't think McCain is going to use it against Obama?
CARTER: He might. But I think that's going to be old history by the time the general election comes around. And I also think that the -- that if my mother was alive, she would be quite titillated and excited by the fact that a black man or a white woman might be the next president of the United States. And I think she would also be pulling for both of them to stay in the race as long as they had a chance to win. That's what she would have done. And I think that by the end of the primary season on June the 3rd, the Democratic Party is going to come back together and support a winner.
KING: Are you ready -- there were hints a couple of weeks ago that you were about to endorse...
CARTER: No. KING: ...Senator Obama.
CARTER: No. I made it...
KING: You're not?
CARTER: No. I made a decision quite a while ago that I wouldn't endorse anybody until after the primary season. So I'm not going to do that.
KING: Well, what about that hint a couple of weeks ago when you seemed to -- you certainly praised Obama?
CARTER: Well, what I said was that all of my grandchildren and all of their spouses, all of my children and all of their spouses were for Obama. And I also said that my town of Plains went for Obama and the State of Georgia went for Obama, but I wasn't going to make any decision until after the primary.
KING: Are you impressed with him?
CARTER: Yes, very much so. I think he's brought a new level of eloquence and inspiration to a lot of people. I think Hillary has also surprised a lot of people with her tenacity and her capability as a formidable candidate. I think at first she was kind of in the shadow of her husband. I think now she's blossomed forth in a very formidable fashion. And if I were she, I would not withdraw until I was defeated. And if I were Obama, I would go to the end, as well.
KING: Are you surprised, though, how rather vicious the campaign has gotten?
CARTER: Well, I don't think it's been vicious. You know, if you really analyze exactly what they've said, I don't think it's out of the -- out of bounds of propriety. Nowadays, the enormous influx of money is tempting to every candidate, whether they're running for Congress or the governorship or mayor or whatever -- to vilify their opponent and try to destroy the character of their opponent. And I don't think that either Hillary or Obama have gone nearly that far.
KING: In a while, we'll talk about the remarkable mother book, Jimmy Carter's latest.
Next, should President Carter be involved with Middle East peace talks?
Vote now at CNN.com/larryking. We want to know what you think. You vote.
We'll be right back.
KING: The book is "A Remarkable Mother." The guest is the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
We'll talk about his mother in a little while.
Earlier this month, you met with representatives of Hamas. Both the United States and Israel have condemned that organization as terrorist.
First, do you agree with that designation?
CARTER: Well, I think they do some terrorist acts, for which I condemn them. I was in the little town of Sderot, where they launched missiles -- rudimentary rockets -- into the village. And I condemned that and urged them to stop it.
KING: Why did you meet with them?
CARTER: Because there is no way to have a peace agreement in the Holy Land without Hamas being involved in the final agreement. And since they had been a strong impediment to any progress in the past, I thought maybe I could convince them to be more accommodating.
And so I met with the leaders of Hamas, both from Gaza and also the leaders -- the top leaders in Syria. And I had six proposals to make to them. They considered them very carefully. And finally the Hamas leaders in Gaza came to Syria and met with the leaders there in Damascus. And they spent all day Saturday and all Sunday night debating about whether to accept my proposals. And finally they sent me their answers late Sunday night.
KING: Which were?
CARTER: Which were very positive. The first thing I asked them to do was agree to accept Israel's right to exist and live in peace, if there was a peace agreement negotiated between the leaders of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, and the prime minister of Israel, provided it was submitted to the Palestinians later in a pre-vote -- which the Carter Center would be glad to monitor -- and the Palestinians approved it. So that was one thing.
KING: Did they agree with most of what you said?
CARTER: They agreed completely with it. Yes. And they authorized me...
KING: Did they...
CARTER: ...from the top level to make their announcement to the public.
KING: Did they hesitate later?
CARTER: No, they didn't hesitate later. The leader of Hamas is the president, so-called, of the Politburo. And all of those leaders are considered -- are concentrated in Damascus. And so they're the ones that make the decisions.
There were some spokespersons from Hamas who were unidentified -- I don't even know who they were -- that made some statements to Al Jazeera that Hamas would never accept Israel. But I reconfirmed their commitment with their top leadership. There's no doubt about it.
KING: The head of Hamas is a physicist, you told me?
CARTER: Yes, he's a physicist.
KING: Next in charge is a...
CARTER: A cardiologist.
KING: A cardiologist.
CARTER: He's a medical doctor. Yes.
KING: Though, as a former president...
KING: ...if your current president -- your current secretary of state says don't go, why not listen?
CARTER: I did listen.
CARTER: They didn't tell me not to go. Nobody told me not to go. Nobody suggested that I not go at all -- ever.
KING: They didn't?
CARTER: Nobody from the State Department or the White House. Never. And so -- the only thing they did was caution one of our advance people that it might be dangerous in Gaza.
KING: That's all?
CARTER: So we didn't go to Gaza.
Right. That's all.
KING: So they cautioned you not to go to Gaza and you listened and didn't go to Gaza?
CARTER: Yes. We didn't go to Gaza.
KING: But you were never told the other?
CARTER: No. Absolutely not.
KING: Did Israel contact you?
CARTER: No. No.
KING: McCain and Obama have addressed your meeting with Hamas on the campaign trail.
Senator McCain went so far as to issue a challenge to Senator Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He should repudiate President Carter, reprimand him and specifically tell him he should not have that meeting.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's not my place to discuss who or -- who he shouldn't meet with. I know that I have said consistently that I would not meet with Hamas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: Well, you know, I know the pressures that are on those candidates running for president or Congress or governor or anything else in this country. And I don't blame Senator McCain for making what I consider a very foolish statement, telling Obama to tell me what to do. And I think Obama takes the right up attitude by saying it's not his place to tell me what to do, but if he were -- but he would not go and meet with them. I think it's perfectly rational.
KING: How did you let yourself -- partially with the title of the previous book and the rest...
KING: ...get in, for want of a better word, such trouble with the Jewish community in the United States?
Well, when I wrote the book about Palestine, not Israel -- "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid". That's the name of the book, as you know. I was on your program.
It came out in November and in December, I got over 6,000 letters -- 6,100 letters. Seventy-one percent were in favor of the book. And the majority of people who identified themselves as Jewish were also in favor of my writing the book. They said somebody that needs to break the ice and go ahead and get the stalemated peace talks off of dead center.
At that time, when the book came out, for six-and-a-half years, there had been not one single day of peace talks. And there was no debate in this country about the issues that must be addressed.
So that's why I wrote the book. And I don't have any apology to make about the book. It's very fair and it's balanced -- well- balanced.
KING: But now with the Hamas visit, you realize that a lot of Jewish organizations...
CARTER: In this country.
KING: Yes, in this country.
CARTER: Yes. Not in Israel, by the way.
KING: Not in Israel?
CARTER: No, sir. And, as a matter of fact -- and it was published on CNN and also in "The Washington Post." a public opinion poll that was conducted in Israel about a week before I left home. And 64 percent of the Israeli Jews -- they didn't poll the Arabs -- said that they were in favor of full negotiations between Israel and Hamas, because they know the history of it. They know, for instance, that Hamas entered the campaign for the parliament in January of 2006 -- with the full approval, by the way, of the United States and Israel. Hamas won the election. Hamas won the right to lead the government.
KING: Do you know, then, why so many Jews in America are opposed?
CARTER: Because they don't see two sides of the issue and because they don't want to criticize anything that Israel does. And I can certainly understand that motivation.
KING: So you have nothing against Israel?
I want to say (INAUDIBLE)...
CARTER: Absolutely not.
KING: ...go on record here.
CARTER: No. Absolutely not. I think that Israel ought to be more forthcoming. What I think Israel should do -- and I've said it a hundred times -- is to withdraw from Palestinian land and swap land which is Palestinians' for peace...
KING: Well, I think the president...
CARTER: And that's available.
KING: President Bush favors that.
CARTER: He does.
CARTER: Unfortunately, the Israeli government doesn't agree with President Bush, as you know.
KING: What does the president think of Clinton and Obama maybe running on the same ticket?
And we'll talk about his wonderful later mother, the subject of "A Remarkable Mother," when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our special guest tonight is Senator Barack Obama.
OBAMA: I feel good going into the convention. There's so much at stake.
MCCAIN: I am who I am to start with, and that is a conservative.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His policies are wrong for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A little tooting our own horn there.
KING: Former President Jimmy Carter.
Can Obama and Clinton be on the same ticket?
CARTER: I think that would be the most unlikely thing that I can imagine. I don't think that either one of them would add very much to the other's ticket.
KING: You don't?
CARTER: What I would like to see is for them to get somebody like Senator Sam Nunn from Georgia, who is an expert on defense matters and who has a, you know, stable and very proven record.
KING: For either one?
CARTER: For either one, yes.
KING: Do you think you could help in bringing them together before Denver?
I suppose -- I mean you don't want it to go to Denver?
CARTER: No, I don't. And I think the election -- and the primary election is going to be over very shortly after June the 3rd, when the last primary is taking. And I think one of them, then, will be clearly ahead. And I and all the other superdelegates ought to go along with that.
KING: Your mother Lillian died in 1983.
CARTER: Yes, that's true. KING: Why a book now?
CARTER: Because I think the country is kind of looking for its own soul or moral values and so forth. And to me, my mother exemplifies or personifies the essence of what America ought to be.
She was a brave woman, she was innovative, she defied customs. I lived in a completely segregated society in Western Plains. I didn't have any white neighbors. My mother never paid any attention to racial segregation, even when the law of the land was separate but equal and the Supreme Court and the Congress approved it.
She started working with poor people. She was a registered nurse. She was their doctor. She ministered to them and never charged them. And then when she was 70 years old, which just shows she continued that, she was in the Peace Corps in India, still ministering to poor people. She was an "Untouchable" herself, in that she had to handle human fluids and that sort of thing. So she was an "Untouchable." And so that -- she never varied in her commitment to the downtrodden people. She was commitment -- committed to peace, justice, humility, service...
KING: Remarkable is an apt word.
CARTER: I think it is. I tried to think of a lot of adjectives to describe my mama...
KING: Yes, that fits.
CARTER: And she was truly remarkable.
KING: She was a friend of Muhammad Ali's, right?
CARTER: A very close friend. And, yes. In fact, she would -- she campaigned for me five days a week. That's one reason that I won.
CARTER: We slipped up on all of the other candidates. But she would quit campaigning when Muhammad Ali was fighting a title bout. So one time I remember she went down to New Orleans and watched him win and became champion.
KING: Pancreatic cancer has devastated your family, right?
CARTER: It has.
KING: Who's died, your brother?
CARTER: My father, my brother and both my sisters died of pancreatic cancer. My mother had cancer of the breast. It later moved to her pancreas. So you might say that all of my family died with pancreatic cancer. And there's no other family, by the way, in the world that they've found that ever had four different people die with pancreatic cancer. That would be (INAUDIBLE)...
KING: That's almost a death knell -- you get it, you die, right?
CARTER: If you've got pancreatic cancer, you die. Absolutely.
KING: Because they can't find it early, right?
CARTER: That's true, because it doesn't distort the pancreas. It makes little tiny pimples on the campus of -- on the pancreas and it's not detectable by x-ray and that sort of thing.
KING: Was Lillian an affectionate, loving mother?
CARTER: She really was, when you did as she pleased.
CARTER: And she was a harsh mama if she -- if you disillusioned her or misled her in any way or if you abused someone she thought ought to be protected, she was extremely condemnatory, harsh.
KING: Did she like her daughter-in-law?
CARTER: Rosiland and mama got along quite well. We were in the Navy and I resigned from the Navy and came home. Rosiland was furious at me because I did that, because she didn't want to go back to Plains and be dominated by my mother, who was quite dominant, and her mother, who was very nice but also inclined to be dominant. So Rosiland was furious.
We drove all the way from Schenectady, New York, where I was building a second submarine for Admiral Rickover, to Plains, 700 miles. Rosiland never spoke to me all the way because she was furious.
But when she got home, she found that she was quite able to run her own affairs, her own family, raise her own children, and, you know, hold my mother at arm's length when she needed to be.
KING: Was Lillian a control freak?
CARTER: No, I don't think so. Mama led more by example than she did by domination. Mama would do something and she'd make sure that we knew about it and then she expected us to emulate her good example.
KING: Do you still preach?
CARTER: Do I still?
I don't ever preach. I teach, yes.
KING: Sunday school, right?
CARTER: Yes. I teach Sunday school every -- the bible classes every Sunday that I'm in church. This Sunday, the bible lesson was from Daniel. And I had about, I guess in our little tiny church, about 600 visitors who came there. I think there were 14 foreign countries represented and a lot of different religions. They come to have me teach. KING: A couple of other things.
KING: Do you ever think of stop all the traveling and just -- I mean you just were in Nepal or...
CARTER: Like I just (INAUDIBLE).
KING: What -- yes?
CARTER: Well, this is my 25th book. I like to write. And it gives me a chance to express myself and to share my views about my mother with audiences -- a very large audience, just like on LARRY KING.
And I don't feel that the work of the Carter Center is a sacrifice for me. I think it's a -- it's a gratifying thing, from which I get a lot of pleasure.
This past trip, by the way, to the Mideast, was one of the most enjoyable and completely positive trips that we've ever had. We do some adventurous thing and they bring a lot of gratification.
KING: A thought -- do you think you might sit down with some large synagogue or a major Jewish gathering in the United States to express your views?
CARTER: Sure. In fact, I've asked to do that at the synagogue in Atlanta. But I haven't been -- my offer has not been accepted yet. I would be delighted to do that. As you know, I went to Brandeis College, which is a University...
KING: In Waltham, Massachusetts?
CARTER: Yes. And I spoke there to an overwhelmingly Jewish group. And it was a love fest. I mean it was a wonderful thing. That was in -- at the end of my campaign to sell my book about Palestine. It was a wonderful experience. (INAUDIBLE)
KING: Alan Dershowitz was -- did he appear against you there?
CARTER: He came right after me.
CARTER: Most of the students left, but he still came and he gave some remarks.
KING: It is always an honor seeing you.
CARTER: It's a pleasure for me, Larry.
Good to be with you again.
KING: Thank you.
"A Remarkable Mother." the book is by Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.
CARTER: And it's a good Mother's Day present.
KING: Oh, good idea. It comes up in two weeks.
CARTER: All right.
KING: Reaction to the president's comments, Reverend Wright's controversial comments and all the hot political news of the day is ahead.
Stay right there.
KING: Our first panel is assembled.
In Stanford, Connecticut, is Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary for George W. Bush.
In Los Angeles, Amy Holmes, CNN political contributor and a Republican strategist.
Also in Los Angeles, Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University, a best-selling author. His latest book, by the way, is "April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. .s' Death and How It Changed America." He's an ordained Baptist minister and a supporter of Barack Obama.
And our friend Lanny Davis is with us here in New York. He served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton and is a supporter of Hillary Clinton.
Ari, what did you make of the President Carter remarks, especially that he was never asked by the State Department not to go?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, SUPPORTS MCCAIN: Yes. I don't know about that. I don't think that's really the issue. I just don't know where that man's moral compass is set, Larry. Even Barack Obama condemned what Jeremiah Wright said. Jimmy Carter did not. And then Jimmy Carter says what Israel needs to do is give up land for peace, and he doesn't say that that's what Israel did with Gaza and they got missiles in return. I was a Democrat, Larry, and it was because of Jimmy Carter I changed parties and became a Republican. And I would do it again if Jimmy Carter was still president.
KING: Amy Holmes, how do you read what he said tonight?
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think fair minded people on both sides of the political aisle are opposed to Jimmy Carter's free lance diplomacy. We know that he was a real thorn in Bill Clinton's side with this, with George Bush I. I think that it's irresponsible. It muddies the waters. It muddles our efforts no matter which administration is trying to bring peace to that region. KING: Michael?
DYSON: I think Mr. Carter is an extraordinary public moralist. He's a man who is trying to leverage the authority he gained from the presidency for the better good of Americans and I think the global society. I think that Mr. Carter's attempt to somehow broker peace in an era that is fraught with suicidal and homicidal tendencies can only be applauded. After all, he was a man applauded for his peace efforts and I think that we have to talk about not only strategic intervention within the State Department and foreign policy by the government, but also the kind of efforts he makes, which have proved in the past from other figures to be quite fruitful.
LANNY DAVIS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I'm an admirer of Jimmy Carter. I certainly admire his integrity and his sincerity. I think he misses the point. Hamas is a terrorist organization that wants publicly the destruction of the state of Israel. If he shows more outrage I would prefer toward that agenda. But I still respect the man as a highly sincere man.
KING: Barack Obama's former pastor, as we know, is speaking out. Lets look at some of what the Reverend Wright had to say today during Q & A at the National Press Club and we'll get the thoughts of our panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic. How do you feel about America and about being an American?
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH: I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons nor do they know me and they are unfair accusations taken from sound bites and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels. I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ari Fleischer, do you strongly condemn what he had to say? Do you disagree? What do you make of all this?
FLEISCHER: How can you not condemn it. The issue wasn't his patriotism. I don't care what his patriotism. I'm sure he is a patriot, as he sees it. But the issue is his radicalism. The issue is that he has inspired a man who would be our president. That's what I don't understand. Anybody who says that whites are trying to kill blacks by injecting them with AIDS, who calls America the clan of KKK and who these G.D. America, you talk about a moral come pass that's way off. His is the farthest off of anybody I have heard.
For Barack Obama, this is a nightmare. This is the last thing he needs before Indiana votes. KING: Michael Dyson, what do you think of the good reverend?
DYSON: Well, obviously he's a brilliant man. He's a clever rhetorical artist. He's a person who's very creative with his linguistic endeavors. Also, he's a prophetic preacher. You heard President Carter say that he heard preaching like this all the time. What's stunning to me is that most people who plead ignorance about the diversity and complexity of black preaching have no analysis or awareness of this.
I'm not suggesting that the prophetic black tradition is the dominant one within African American religion, but it has been the most influential. It stretches from Henry Holland Garnett (ph) to Martin Luther King Jr., down to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. So I think Reverend Wright is in that tradition.
I think Senator Obama has been very clear. He led him to Jesus, so to speak, as a pastor. His political orientation is quite different and radically dissimilar than Reverend Wright's. This is not Bevis and Butthead. These are two separate individuals who must be accounted for on their own terms.
HOLMES: But Larry, here's the problem: who are we talking about? We're talking about Jeremiah Wright instead of Barack Obama. In these precious days leading up to Indiana, we're not talking about Barack Obama's plans for jobs, ways to revive the economy. And Reverend Wright, I have to ask him; why are you doing this? Do you love attention more than you love Barack Obama? Because the whole day today has been about him and not about his parishioner, who's a Democratic front-runner and possible nominee of the Democratic party.
KING: Lanny, you're a big supporter of Hillary Clinton. Is this right in your lap.
DAVIS: I have made this very personal statement. I wrote a piece in the "Wall Street Journal" and I'm not speaking for Senator Clinton or the campaign when I say that Senator Obama's silence over these many years -- this is not prophetic teaching or preaching. This is hate. This is bigotry to me personally. I'm only speaking for myself. When he says that 9/11, our chickens coming home to roost. The state of Israel is a terrorist nation --
KING: You don't think Barack Obama agrees with that?
DAVIS: Absolutely not. I believe that Senator Obama is a decent and tolerant and honorable man. But to be silent over all those years and not to speak up and say this is unacceptable, and then to put him on his campaign's religious advisory committee, knowing about these sermon in 2008 --
KING: Why do you think he did that?
DAVIS: If he's our nominee, I want to support him enthusiastically. He has not answered that question, why didn't you say, no, this is unacceptable, even from a preacher, to say that 9/11, our chickens coming home to roost. That's not out of context. That's a direct quote.
KING: We'll come right back and pick up where we left off on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: Black preaching is different from European and European American preaching. It is not deficient. It is just different. It is not bombastic. It is not controversial. It's different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ari, what were you going to say? I'm sorry, we had to cut you before the break.
FLEISCHER: I think that somebody else was cutting in.
KING: Michael Dyson?
DYSON: I was going to say, simply, first of all, Reverend Wright was quoting from an Iraqi ambassador. He was not saying this himself. So his whole point in asking the question about -- if people had listened to the entire sermon -- was he was quoting from another source to cite his own political feelings, and to undergird it with facts drawn from another source.
Furthermore, again, let's distinguish between the two. Reverend Jeremiah Wright is out of a prophetic tradition. If you look at the last person who was famous who talked about black people and AIDS, it was Bill Cosby, who said the same thing. We don't dismiss Bill Cosby. I happen not to believe and agree with that. But the point is there are vast numbers of people who believe a certain thing. I'm just saying that prophetic black preaching does carry weight in black churches and Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an exponent.
KING: Also at the press club today, Reverend Wright was questioned about his opinions of the national Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. Here is part of his response.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That's what I think about him. I said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it's like E.F. Hutton speaks; all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ari, John McCain says he does not believe that Obama shares Wright's extremist views, but then he goes ahead and slams those extremist views. Is he trying to have it both ways? FLEISCHER: I think that's right that he doesn't share those views. But that's not the issue. The issue is that he's running to be a symbol for all of us. He is running to be the racial healer, which is something our nation needs. I think he has forfeited the high ground, from which Barack Obama can do that, because he listened to these statements for 20 years and never left the church. That's what troubles me.
It's what he did before he became a politician that tells you what is really -- where he sets his moral compass. That's what I find troubling about it. When he declared his candidacy, he knew what Jeremiah Wright said about 9/11 and the chickens coming home to roost. He didn't have Jeremiah Wright at the public invocation and then he prayed privately with him instead.
He's a typical politician, Barack Obama, and he's gotten an association that's going to dog him all the way through November.
KING: Lenny, are you shocked by this? I know he's an opponent of your candidate.
DAVIS: I have family members that are dedicated to Barack Obama's campaign and many friends. I think very highly of this man and I think he's not ready to be president. I think Senator Clinton has been more specific on economic issues. She's carrying blue collar voters. I'm for Hillary Clinton. I'm not here to denigrate Barack Obama. But I am very personally, speaking for myself, uneasy and need Barack Obama to talk to people like me, who want to be enthusiastic if he is our nominee. I think Hillary is going to be our nominee.
What Ari said is absolutely correct. His silence bothers me. When somebody says Israel is a terrorist nation, which is what Reverend Wright said, and part of that chickens coming home to roost statement, I want to know why he didn't say this is unacceptable, even in the context of a black church.
KING: Amy, it can't be politically beneficial to him, so why do you think he didn't condemn?
HOLMES: I don't understand Reverend Wright's brazenness. I don't understand why he is choosing this time to be speaking out. He could write a book in November or December. This would make a great "60 Minutes" peace or interview with you, Larry, after the election. Today is not the day.
But I think there is also another issue that this raises. Jeremiah Wright said that attacking him was attacking the black church. I don't agree with that. But it raises another specter for Barack Obama, one that he has actually been careful to avoid personally. That is, if you're a defender of Barack Obama, you cannot accuse your critics of racism every time they disagree with you. The best way to turn off an independent or undecided or a skeptical voter is to say, if you have questions, you're operating in bad faith. That is not at all helpful to Barack Obama.
KING: Ari and Amy, thanks. They'll be leaving us. Michael and Lanny will remain. We'll be joined by Flavia Colgan and Carol Simpson, both of whom are involved in the campaigns. And we'll go into the Democratic primary questions as we approach next Tuesday. Clinton versus Obama, supporters from both camps. We'll keep the debate heated up when we come back.
KING: Michael Eric Dyson and Lanny Davis remain with us. We're joined now in Washington by Flavia Colgan, columnist and editorial board member of the "Philadelphia Daily News," has a degree in religion from Harvard, is a supporter of Barack Obama, but is not a surrogate in the campaign. And in Boston, Carole Simpson, our old friend, former ABC anchor, now a leader in residence at Emerson College, is a supporter of Hillary Clinton.
Let's have the panel take another look at Reverend Wright's remarks. Here's part of his explanation of why he's speaking out against the criticism of his sermons. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition. And why am I speaking out now? In our community, we have something called playing the dozens. If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition and my daddy and his religious tradition and my grandma, you got another thing coming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Flavia, you've got a degree in religion from Harvard; why is he doing this?
FLAVIA COLGAN, "PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS": The first thing I want to say, because it hasn't been mentioned, is I really would love everyone at home after this program's over to sit down at their kitchen table, open up their latest health care bill, look at the receipt from the grocery store, and if those thing haven't gone down, if they haven't gotten an extra job interview this week, I really got to say that I don't think this is a top priority, with all due respect, to what's going on in lives of Americans.
When I drive home tonight, if the gas prices have gone down from us talking about Jeremiah Wright, maybe I'll feel it's more important.
In terms of from a religious stand point, I have to say, look, I don't think there's anyone or very few people that are going to come on here and say that some of the things that Jeremiah Wright said are at all productive to the greatest country in the world, which is America, help at all with the healing that must take place in this country, or are hopeful in a way that I think we have made a tremendous amount of progress.
What I will say is that the Bible very clearly says that you should reject the sin and not the sinner. And the fact of the matter is that it's not fair to look at the totality of a man's life, of 30 years of being in the community, in terms of social justice, of reaching out to those who have no voices, of saying many sermons and living the gospel, and because they have said things that I believe are despicable, that I believe are inappropriate, and that I believe do not help doesn't mean that we should sit here and say, everything that he's done is not true.
And it also doesn't mean that we should evaluate a presidential candidate based on which church he went to. I simply don't want it. Lanny, obviously doesn't want to talk about broader issues.
KING: Let me get Carole Simpson's thoughts. Carol?
CAROLE SIMPSON, EMERSON COLLEGE: Today I was trying to figure out why in the world is Jeremiah Wright coming out and speaking right before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries? And I think it's a lot simpler than a lot of people have been talking about all day. I think that Jeremiah Wright was hurt by Barack Obama. And I think he is -- he talked about playing the dozens. It's like, I'm getting you back. Baptist preachers have very huge egos and I think Mike Dyson will agree with me, who is an ordained Baptist preacher, that they have very big egos. And I think his feelings were hurt and I can imagine in the Hillary camp, they're going, he's back. And Obama is thinking, I thought I put him to rest in Philadelphia a long time ago.
KING: Michael, do you agree?
DYSON: I am a Baptist preacher -- he's not a Baptist preacher, so I guess my ego is even bigger. I do have a PHD in religion. In my book, I actually talk about Barack Obama and this prophetic tradition. I think that, again, look, when we talk about a prophetic tradition, we're talking about speaking truth to power. Now, it also comes through a guy like Martin Luther King Jr., who said some very stern things. The sermon that Dr. King was going to deliver the Sunday after he was murdered was entitled "Why America May Go to Hell."
So the reality is that the black prophetic church has always been this serious focused on its obligations to bear witness to those who are suffering and vulnerable. I will say this, I think it's very important to acknowledge that Jeremiah Wright said look, it's not about me, it's about the black church. And if you're dissing the black church, and you're marginalizing that tradition, I have to speak on behalf of that. There are many brilliant exponents of the black prophetic church that we need to hear from. I think we need to broaden our understanding but ultimately --
COLGAN: It was about him. It's his big ego that caused him to come out and hurt Obama.
DAVIS: Flavia, first of all, take a breath before you accuse me of not wanting to talk about broader issues. It's Senator Barack Obama that has specifically and repeatedly declined to have a Lincoln- Douglass style debate head on, without a moderator, with Senator Clinton, so we can talk about the issues that you so rightly and correctly say we need to be discussing. (CROSS TALK)
DAVIS: I didn't interrupt you when you took at a shot at me, so let me finish. Secondly, the broader issues that we say we should be talking about, which I agree with -- the AP poll today shows that Senator Clinton is nine points ahead of Senator Obama. Senator Obama is not ahead of Senator McCain nationally or in the state of Massachusetts, because blue collar voters, because senior citizens and now independents, according to the AP, are voting for Hillary Clinton over Senator McCain, but not the same way with Senator Obama. He's got a serious problem connecting with the average voter. That's what we should be talking about.
KING: Hold on, we'll pick right up on this. We'll be back with more right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: This is an attack on the black church. It's not about Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill, Chelsea. This is about the black church.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And we'll show you one more excerpt -- getting tired of this -- from Reverend Wright at the National Press Club. In this one, he defines his relationship with Senator Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: As I said to Barack Obama, my member, I'm a pastor. He's a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor. I'm his pastor. I said to Barack Obama, last year, if get elected, November 5th, I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Flavia, how do you deal with something like that?
COLGAN: First of all, getting back to Lanny's point about how it's affecting the election -- I'm, first of all, not upset that Barack Obama wants to talk directly to voters and not through a TV screen. But if Lanny wants to quote polls, which is not my business to be in politics, I will say this: there's a Rasmussen poll out that shows that McCain is beating Obama by 12 points with whites and beating Hillary Clinton by 11 points. Last time I checked those numbers are close.
However, if you look at what's going on in the black community, if this election is perceived to have been stolen by the first legitimate black candidate -- no one thought the election was stolen from Jesse Jackson -- all that needs to happen is a decrease in turnout of about eight percent or nine percent, and Hillary Clinton has lost, at the least, Ohio and Michigan.
Lanny, look at the Michigan results: the senator was running against nobody, uncommitted, and I lived in Detroit. In every area of Detroit, they came out and voted for nobody against Hillary Clinton. And she is not running a 50-state strategy. We need to get to 270 electoral votes and Obama putting more -- hold on Larry, I'm taking my manners cue from you -- he can win Colorado and Wisconsin.
DAVIS: You have the ability to ask and answer questions and to take cheap shots. Let me take one back at you. You have no clue other than to speak many, many words. We're talking about issues and you have anger towards Hillary Clinton. I'm sorry for that. I have no anger towards Barack Obama. The debates are not looking at the television. They're looking at each other. The American people want them to debate. They have only done it three times before.
COLGAN: Lanny, I travel the country and talk to regular people. And I'm not a political operative. That's what's different about us.
KING: Hold it. I want to give Carole Simpson to get another word in.
SIMPSON: Thank you very much. What I want to say is how much things have changed. When this race started, Obama had all of the attention, rock star, Obama girl, everything, everybody was flocking to him. And now look at where we are. And I was asked on this program, should Hillary drop out and I said absolutely not. Anything could happen. And look at what has happened. We have a confluence now of race and religion, two hot political potatoes, and Obama stuck right in the middle of it.
DYSON: Larry, can I say this? I think it's very important to say that Barack Obama himself has been brilliant in transcending these divisions, these bitter precincts of prejudice, and looking towards an America that he can unite. Even though he loves his pastor and distances himself from what he says that he finds offense, he calls on the American people to move beyond his paralyzing prejudices to unite as Americans. I think that's what we have to focus on.
KING: We have about a minute. Flavia, do you fear that Obama may become this year's Dukakis?
COLGAN: Look, the proof in the pudding is in the eating of it. And I certainly respect the viewpoints of the American voter. So far they have obviously chosen Barack Obama, in terms of delegates. And throughout the country, he's running a 50-state strategy. But I will respect whatever decision they make. I think that it's patronizing to the American public to think that we haven't made -- and this is where I disagree with Reverend Wright -- that we haven't made enough progress as a nation that someone like Barack Obama will not become president simply because of the color of their skin. I do not believe that.
SIMPSON: Oh, you better believe it.
COLGAN: I'm sorry. You can have your opinion. SIMPSON: You better believe it.
COLGAN: I do not believe, based on my experience, that that is the case. I think it's unfortunate that this Jeremiah Wright thing -- and I think as a pastor, he should show more humility. And I agree with Carol that it's completely about his ego to come out at this time in a way that he knows will affect Barack Obama. I think that's unfortunate, because Lanny and I should come back on and talk about issues.
KING: I'm going to recommend to the powers that be that we bring this panel back for a full hour, so we can really hear things coherently. As we wind things up, visit our website, CNN.com/LarryKing. You can download our latest podcast, which is Laura and Jenna Bush. We've also got a special Jimmy Carter quick vote. As always, you can email upcoming guests. Tomorrow night, Joy Behar. Wednesday night, Michael Moore.
By the way, Sidney Poitier on Friday. It's all at CNN.com/LarryKing. Now we turn things over to my man Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." You straighten this out.