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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Racist Slur or Innocent Slip-Up?
Aired January 11, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, GUEST HOST: Tonight, Senator Harry Reid's racial remarks about Barack Obama, calling him "light-skinned with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I've apologized to the president that I could have used a better choice of words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The president forgives him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM TV ONE, "LIVING THE DREAM")
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a good man who's always been on the right side of history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: But will the majority leader keep his job?
Plus, more from an explosive new book -- which GOP insider called Sarah Palin a reckless choice as John McCain's running mate?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Why Elizabeth Edwards ripped off her blouse in a rage.
How Bill Clinton broke down over media coverage of Hillary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm not going to play your games today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: And the so-called conspiracy that led to Barack Obama's candidacy -- blowing the lid off back room politics.
Next on LARRY KING LIVE.
All right, stand by.
I'm Soledad O'Brien sitting in for Larry tonight.
Let's take a look at the excerpt from "Game Changer" that's ignited the political firestorm around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Here's what it says, in part: "Reid believed the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama, a light-skinned African-American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one, as he later put it privately."
Joining us tonight to discuss Reid's comment, his apology and all of the fallout, Jeff Johnson from BET, a news correspondent. He's also the author of "Everything I'm Not Made Me Everything I Am."
James Carville joins us tonight, as well, Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator.
Tara Wall joins us, conservative commentator, contributor to TheDailyCaller.com, a new political news Web site. Tara is also the former deputy editor of "The Washington Times."
And Nancy Giles is here with me. She's a social commentator and actress and contributor to "CBS Sunday Morning."
Nice to have all of you.
NANCY GILES, ACTRESS, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Let's get right to it.
Nancy, since you're here, why don't you begin.
What's your reaction to these words?
GILES: Man, you know, I'm embarrassed for Harry Reid. I -- I guess the first thing I would say was, Harry, how many black people do you know, OK, because there's not one Negro dialect. And this is something that's been sort of the bane of my existence for a long time, because I've never heard anybody call for one single white dialect. I mean, people are people. There are different kinds of ways of talking.
And, you know, it just -- it blows my mind and it's very sad to see what lies just below the surface of someone that one would think, as a Democrat, you know, might be a little more liberal-minded. It's just more proof at how having the first black president is blowing people's minds.
O'BRIEN: Jeff Johnson, is it racist?
JEFF JOHNSON, NEWS CORRESPONDENT, BET: No. I -- I think that it was -- I think that it was in bad taste. But there were a whole lot of black folks that said that. There were Black folks that said that he was a respectable black guy. There were black people that said, is he black enough?
And so I think that this was an accurate statement. He is light- skinned. He was a "safe" black person. He was a break from what we saw normally, from the activism of a Jesse Jackson or the activism of an Al Sharpton running for president. And so he was that safe Negro.
And so I think that, to put it in context...
GILES: I really have a problem with that.
JOHNSON: I mean it -- have a problem or not, we heard black folks -- you and I both know...
GILES: No, I'm not saying that they didn't say it, but I...
GILES: ...I have a problem with that whole concept. I'm sorry, but you go ahead.
JOHNSON: No, no, I...
O'BRIEN: The concept of somebody is safe or somebody is not?
GILES: Yes. Yes.
JOHNSON: You know, I -- I agree. I agree. I think...
GILES: These different levels of authenticity, you know what I mean?
JOHNSON: I think that loving Oprah and hating Condoleezza Rice is a problem. I think that -- that judging somebody's level of blackness is a problem. But Harry Reid was not alone in his assertion, is my point...
O'BRIEN: Is it just...
JOHNSON: ...that there were people...
O'BRIEN: Is it just -- Tara, is it just stupidity?
I mean, really, how often do you hear the word "Negro" being bantered about these days?
TARA WALL, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR, FORMER DEPUTY EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": (INAUDIBLE). I mean, honestly. And not -- and coming from a Senate majority leader, no less. That's one point to make. I mean it's essentially tantamount to saying light-skinned black folks can pass as long as they leave their ghetto dialect at the door, is basically what Harry Reid has said, essentially. And just to be able to, you know, pass it off, you know, black leaders and otherwise who are now passing this off as, oh, well, he's sorry. It's OK because, you know, he's cool with us in the black community.
I mean that doesn't pass. That's a double -- that's what you call a double standard. And, honestly, the standard should apply across the board, whether -- if there's going to be one standard set, which was set back with Trent Lott with Democrats, then that's the standard...
JOHNSON: Yes, but let...
WALL: ...by which should be met...
JOHNSON: ...let's not...
WALL: ...with Harry Reid...
JOHNSON: Let's not try to draw...
WALL: He is the Senate majority leader...
JOHNSON: Let's not try to draw that comparison...
WALL: ...and in this...
WALL: ...day and age, for him to have that underlying attitude that's bubbling over, if you will, as -- as your other guest just said -- I happen to agree, that's just the bubbling out. And it's not the first time he's made dismissive remarks about black Americans.
O'BRIEN: But isn't (INAUDIBLE)...
WALL: And it's not the first time -- I feel sorry that President Obama has to defend this guy politically, when early on, he made it clear that he wasn't going to, you know, take orders, if you will, from President Barack Obama...
WALL: ...he ruled the Senate.
O'BRIEN: The folks who've been defending Senator Harry Reid have said look at his record -- James Carville...
O'BRIEN: ...look at his record.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's an excuse.
O'BRIEN: Or an answer.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I -- I said that Senator -- I think that when someone -- and I take my cue from John Lewis, who -- who I think is one of like the great Americans -- that when people seek forgiveness for saying inappropriate things, we should grant it. And I think what Trent Lott was on a far, far, far more worse scale than what Senator Reid said. Senator Reid was performing a political analysis, if you will, an analysis that probably went on a lot of different (INAUDIBLE)...
WALL: So it's OK because he's...
CARVILLE: ...however in -- inelegant...
WALL: ...done some stuff for black folks to -- to -- to stereotype black folks...
CARVILLE: No, I didn't...
WALL: ...that's OK?
CARVILLE: Excuse me. No, I didn't say that. And -- and if we're going to have a discussion, I said that I thought that I -- that I agreed with John Lewis, that when people sought forgiveness, that we -- we should grant that forgiveness and that the level of forgiveness that was required for Senator Lott was much higher than that which is required for Senator Reid.
Now, we can say that what he said was inelegant or we can say that it -- it came across a certain way and it showed a certain insensitive -- insensitivity. But the idea that he should resign for this I reject out of hand.
GILES: I do, too. I totally agree with what James Carville is saying, because, in a sense, I mean just one -- just because somebody says something about race and somebody said something else about race, it -- it doesn't even the playing field.
There's -- do you know what I mean?
I mean it's very complicated and it shouldn't be shortcut as, well, Harry Reid said something about Negro. And, well, Trent Lott said, you know, we -- we'd be better off if we lived in the Dixiecrat nation. They're two completely different things.
O'BRIEN: All right. So Senator Harry Reid was speaking to reporters in his home state today.
And I want to play a little bit of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: I've apologized to the president. I've apologized to everyone that -- in the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words.
So I'm -- I'm not going to dwell on this anymore. It's in the book. I've made all the statements that I'm going to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: He's done. He wants to stop talking about it.
GILES: He sure does.
JOHNSON: Well, and...
O'BRIEN: And, Jeff, of course...
JOHNSON: ...and Soledad...
O'BRIEN: ...I'm not exactly surprised about that.
JOHNSON: No. Soledad, I -- I think we should all be done. I think that this is a real opportunity for us to decide, is the country going to have a legitimate conversation about race and not just about Harry Reid?
Because this continues to happen over and over again.
WALL: I happen to agree with that.
GILES: I do, too.
JOHNSON: This bubbles up and there's -- there's this firestorm about someone's small comment, but then the country...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.
JOHNSON: ...continues to do -- I think like Eric Holder said in the very beginning of this administration, be cowardice about the issue of race in this country.
O'BRIEN: But how can you ask for this kind of conversation when everybody pretty much has jumped on Senator Harry Reid for what he has said?
WALL: Well, I...
WALL: I happen to agree. I mean first...
WALL: Well, first of all, we haven't -- we haven't -- as much as we want to dismiss this away and -- and wish it away and all of that, we probably haven't spent enough time dissecting some of this and what has been said and what the intentions were and all of that, the same way, again, the standard has been applied across the board to the other side of the political party. I think, in all fairness...
WALL: ...that hasn't happened.
But I do agree that, you know, all of these racial things come up. They come up during the campaign -- fingers are pointed and all of that. And at the end of the day, I think the question remains, is what is the standard and who sets it?
Who is the arbiter of that?
There isn't one black thought out there or one group of black folks to say, oh, well, it's OK for Harry Reid to say this, but not Trent Lott. That -- you know, we haven't come to that conclusion, that decision or had that discussion. And that should be a next step.
O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we've got to take a short break.
O'BRIEN: The authors of "Game Changer," Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, are going to be Larry's guests tomorrow.
Is there that double standard when it comes to comments about race?
You probably have your own answer. We're going to ask our guests more about that, coming up next.
Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: And welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm Soledad O'Brien sitting in for Larry tonight.
CNN contributor Roland Martin -- we're going to speak with him shortly -- interviewed the president earlier today for a TV One special and he asked Mr. Obama about Senator Reid's remarks.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM TV ONE, "LIVING THE DREAM")
OBAMA: Harry Reid is a friend of mine. He has been a stalwart champion of voting rights, civil rights. He's -- he's spending a lot of his political capital, in the middle of an election, to provide health care to every American. And that's going to have a great impact on African-Americans and Latinos around the country.
This is a good man who has always been on the right side of history. For him, to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: CNN's Roland Martin interviewed President Obama today. You've seen just a little of that interview. You're going to hear more of what the president said only to Roland Martin, coming up in just about 60 seconds.
O'BRIEN: CNN's Roland Martin spoke one-on-one with President Obama about Harry Reid's remarks.
He's here to talk to us about that.
We just played a clip a moment ago, Roland, from your interview with President Obama -- just a second ago.
Listen a little more about what he had to say about Senator Reid's remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He's apologized, recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language. But there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say. And he's always been on the right side of the issues. And the fact that we spend days on this instead of talking about the unemployment rate or talking about how we deal with critical issues like energy and health care is an indication of why I think people don't understand what's happening in Washington.
I guarantee you, the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a -- in a quote in a book a couple of years ago than they are about how are we going to move the country forward. And that's where we need to direct our attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: What was the president's tenor like?
Was he frustrated?
Does he feel like he wants this to be done probably as much as Senator Reid wants it to be done?
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he clearly he wanted to address the issue. First of all, I was talking to him for a TV One MLK prime time special. And so we talked about a number of other issues specific to African-Americans.
And so I prefaced the question about Senator Harry Reid with the whole issue of being post-racial.
And he said let me address the Senator Harry Reid issue first.
And so he clearly was -- was irked by it, because even in his response, you -- you heard him say this kind of issue, it goes on for days and days and days. And it really is not a question of -- he even said this later in the interview -- that -- it's not a question that it's always Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative. And so you're not really gaining anything from these conversations, as opposed to the back and forth.
And so I heard Jeff earlier talk about the need to have a conversation. And so the -- the real question for Americans should be, OK, he said it, do we believe this or not, but, also, how do we begin to ask ourselves or talk amongst ourselves and family members and friends about our own stereotypes, our own perceptions, our own views?
How do we feel about an African-American man who is working at a company and people say, oh, he's an angry black man, only because he raises his voice, but the white guy who is yelling and screaming, he's simply a passionate guy in the workplace.
And so all of those type of things people come away with different, again, perceptions and stereotypes that we have to address if we want to confront race. But going back and forth saying who was right and who was wrong, double standard, we learn nothing and we get nothing and achieve nothing.
O'BRIEN: At the same time, President Obama has said, listen, I've forgiven the guy. Not only did I forgive him, he's a friend. I've moved on.
At -- at what point, you know, will everybody else sort of follow that lead -- or will they?
Is -- is it done?
MARTIN: Well, first of all, we all know we only move on until the next racial story comes up, because we haven't learned the previous lesson.
And that is, how do we have real dialogue about this?
And so if I'm sitting out there right now, ask -- America should ask themselves a question.
If you're an African-American with a black sounding name -- that Negro dialect, I suppose -- you have a 50 percent chance -- less chance of getting a call back for a job if you had a mainstream sounding name -- the same qualifications, the same resume, different names.
Why do we do that in America?
And so that should be -- should be the lesson. So I don't -- I'm not necessarily one who believes we should just move on. I believe we should learn from this, see it as a teachable moment, go deep inside ourselves, but don't just -- just jump off to the next thing and never have a true, honest discussion so we can be better about ourselves -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Jeff Johnson, is that a -- is that a kind of conversation that the -- the president is going to have to lead? I mean, at some point, we're both saying let's move on, but hang on, let's sit around and talk more about race and more in depth?
JOHNSON: Well, I, for one, think the president has enough on his plate. And so I don't think -- I don't want him taking anything off of his plate to make race the discussion.
I don't think, however, that he should run from it. And I think that perhaps he can -- he can do an alley-oop to somebody else that can lead that discussion.
So, no, I don't think President Obama should be leading the charge to have a discussion on race. But my fear and concern is that he seems to be trying to avoid a conversation on race as much as so many other people in the country are trying to (INAUDIBLE)...
MARTIN: Soledad, how is this here...
MARTIN: Soledad, how is this here?
We have seen more African-Americans on television today and in the last 48 hours about the Senator Harry Reid story than we've probably seen in the last six months.
MARTIN: So, no, no, no, no, no.
So here's the question for us in media -- do we have African- Americans of the same number who can discuss health care, Afghanistan, Iraq, education?
We're very -- we can quickly find African-Americans to talk about this issue, but what about other issues?
It's a question that we in the media have to ask ourselves. Sunday morning talk shows yesterday, virtually no African-Americans.
MARTIN: Why is that?
GILES: He's right.
MARTIN: See, so, if we want to talk about race, I think we have to also say what are we doing in media, what is happening in business and education, because we are all in this thing together.
O'BRIEN: But Mr. Carville -- James Carville, at some point...
O'BRIEN: And you are a guy who has been through many a scandal... (CROSSTALK)
O'BRIEN: ...as in terms of watching from afar.
O'BRIEN: Not personally speaking.
O'BRIEN: When does this blow over?
Does it blow over?
Does it impact the senator to the point where he cannot lead, even if he does not choose to step down?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, congratulations to Roland for a heck of a get there. That was -- that was great and that was great for CNN.
Look, this is -- this thing we're -- you know, why we're having this discussion, it's probably, to some extent, a good thing we're having this discussion. The man has apologized twice. The president has accepted the apology.
If you -- you look at it, it was a -- it was an -- inartful, I think is the word that President Obama used...
CARVILLE: ...analysis. And -- and, you know, we've got health care, we've got 10 percent unemployment in this country, we've got troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and everywhere else. And we've got a lot of things around the world that wish us poorly. And I -- you know, I -- look, I think that this will stick around for a while and some will remember it and most will move on.
And -- and I think the president -- look, the two people that don't need this right now are the president and Senator Reid. The president has got...
O'BRIEN: That's right.
JOHNSON: ...as we said earlier, a lot on his plate. And Senator Reid has quite -- quite a bit on his plate. And I -- I'm sure that he wished this never happened and that he never would have said it. But, you know, it was said and -- and you can't unring a bell. But, at a point -- and I think that point is really pretty soon -- we're going to move on.
O'BRIEN: Tara Wall, if the president is not offended anymore, if Harry Reid wants to move on, should we all move on?
WALL: You know what, what strikes me, artful?
I mean, artful.
WALL: How about...
WALL: How about...
WALL: Let me...
WALL: Wait. How about to you -- inartful.
How about to use the words of Harry Reid when speaking about Trent Lott, when he talked about his words being repugnant.
Why don't we talk about...
O'BRIEN: Hold it. OK.
WALL: Why don't we talk about this being beyond (INAUDIBLE)...
O'BRIEN: Let me (INAUDIBLE) you there...
MARTIN: This was what the president was talking about.
O'BRIEN: You guys, guess what?
O'BRIEN: I get to ask the questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
O'BRIEN: So let me ask you a question.
Really, do you believe that what Harry Reid said and what Trent Lott said are equivalent?
WALL: I believe that the standard should be met across the board. I think...
O'BRIEN: Yes or no?
WALL: I think they both...
O'BRIEN: Yes or no?
WALL: ...made racially insensitive remarks and there should be an equal standard for both. It's not up to me to decide whether Harry Reid should -- should resign or anything of that. That's up to his -- his Senate colleagues. And I think, at the end of the day, actually, it's up to Nevada voters. If the -- if the Senate doesn't resign him, then they sh -- you know, maybe they shouldn't re-elect him.
But let me -- let me just read for you the words of John Kerry back when the whole Lott situation happened: "I do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements again and again be the leader of the United States Senate."
GILES: Tara, Trent Lott's statements...
WALL: The question is...
GILES: Trent Lott -- Tara...
WALL: ...and those words apply today...
WALL: ...in the same situation. GILES: Tara...
WALL: If we're going to have this wonderful Kumbaya moment...
WALL: ...about talking about race...
GILES: ...Trent Lott's statements...
WALL: ...why does it only apply?
O'BRIEN: We are going to stop here...
WALL: ...when Democrats say...
O'BRIEN: ...because we're out of time.
When come back, let me ask Tara. There are so many people who want to rebut your rebuttal, we're going to just hold on.
On the other side, we'll continue our conversation.
We've got opinions, analysis on both sides.
Larry's blog, we want to hear your opinions, as well. You can go to cnn.com/larryking and let us know what you think.
Ahead, why did Sarah Palin call Senator Biden "Joe" during their debate?
It's not what you think.
Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: The RNC chairman, Michael Steele -- who's African- American, no stranger himself to verbal controversy. He took aim over the Democrats' response to Senator Reid's remarks.
Here's a little bit of what he had to say on "Meet the Press" over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MEET THE PRESS," COURTESY NBC)
MICHAEL TV One, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: There's a big double standard here. And the thing about it that's -- that's interesting is that when Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know, an apology is enough. If -- if that had been Mitch McConnell saying that about an African-American candidate for president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the -- and the DNC would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Jeff Johnson, Trent Lott comparisons all over the place.
Are they fair?
You heard Tara give one a minute ago.
JOHNSON: Well, let's -- let's be clear. I think that this is where we start trying to make race a partisan issue. And I think we need to be able to assess each statement within the context that it is.
I mean I listen to the -- the RNC chairman and I think what's interesting is, I would question if any Republican -- and -- and I'm not a Democrat here. But I question if any Republican who made a racist remark has the legislative record in working with African- Americans and for African-Americans that Harry Reid has.
So while I don't condone the comments, I think that they were inappropriate and I think he should have been held accountable, as somebody that's formerly worked with the NAACP, I know that through the legislative process, Harry Reid has worked to fight for issues that have affected African-Americans -- and not one or two issues, but a plethora of issues.
WALL: And so have a lot of Republicans, actually. And we don't hear a lot about them, but there are. And I...
GILES: You know, Tara, but I've got to interrupt you...
GILES: ...because you didn't let me talk before.
GILES: I think that what Roland said is so much bigger and more important a point, of the fact that at least this is getting -- this gets black people on television talking about issues and maybe this will start changing the media landscape and you won't only see African-Americans talking about so-called African-American issues.
Maybe this will...
WALL: I agree.
GILES: ...and I'm speaking to you right now in my authentic Negro dialect, by the way.
WALL: I actually agree with that, as well. O'BRIEN: Which, by the way, is excellent.
GILES: And I'm at 10 right now. This is the top Negro dialect of mine. And even a basic thing like that, like people understanding that I'm authentically Negro. I'm not putting on airs. I'm not acting white. This is how I talk.
A basic thing like that, like people understanding that black people can be and sound different ways, these are the kinds of conversations that really will start making changes.
And that -- I -- I look at President Obama and I'm blown away at how classy a guy he is, with all the things on his plate, that this comes up time and time again and it somehow is being dumped on him to be this world referee for all things racial in the United States.
These issues are so complicated, Soledad, you know?
O'BRIEN: So there is value in these moments...
O'BRIEN: As unpleasant as they may be.
GILES: There is.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask...
O'BRIEN: ...you a question, James Carville, as our token white man on the panel tonight.
O'BRIEN: You know, when these conversations come up...
O'BRIEN: When these conversations are started, I mean how do people -- do white people say wow, that's a very attractive black woman who was speaking a moment ago in her authentic Negro voice?
Or are these conversations not interesting at all?
CARVILLE: You know, it's just -- just an excellent point is, is -- is, you know, black people are different and white people are different. And some white people react one way, other white people react another way. I think it -- I think that, you know, President Clinton tried to start a dialogue on race. If we're going to have one, we can't sit and filibuster inaccurate comparisons. Anybody that makes a comparison with what Senator Lott said to what Senator Reid said, that's just blatantly inaccurate. And Michael Steele either is -- is being disingenuous or -- or the other real possibility is he's a fool. And there's not a -- there's not a -- well, the -- that's a real possibility. I mean considering everything he said, that's possible.
But I did believe and (INAUDIBLE)...
WALL: And -- and what would make him a fool?
CARVILLE: Well, by...
Because of his remarks?
CARVILLE: By using a -- by using a blatantly derogatory term to describe Native-Americans and then call -- and then attacking Senator Reid for what President Obama called inartful words...
WALL: So what you call...
CARVILLE: ...to describe his political analysis...
WALL: So -- but on -- you would only refer to Senator Reid's comments as inartful and not foolish or stupid in any way...
WALL: ...or repugnant in any way?
GILES: Well, this is what stupid is...
CARVILLE: ...you know, I'm using President Obama's words. I'm using President Obama's words...
WALL: But, see, this is the (INAUDIBLE)...
WALL: ...this is the answer that I had.
CARVILLE: So I have a discussion (INAUDIBLE)...
WALL: This is the issue about...
WALL: ...that if we're going to talk about this -- but, you know...
WALL: ...we can talk about this every day. And I think there are legitimate issues to raise about...
WALL: ...about race. But I think, at the same time, until we are able to condemn, with the same passion that you condemn remarks that you see offensive -- you know, it -- it strikes me that Democrats cannot even bring themselves to admit...
CARVILLE: You know...
WALL: ...how offensive these words...
O'BRIEN: OK. So -- so, Tara...
WALL: ...are to a lot of black people...
O'BRIEN: ...let me
WALL: ...not just me.
WALL: ...but a lot of black Americans...
WALL: ...and Americans in general.
O'BRIEN: Tara, so what's the offensive thing...
CARVILLE: But you can filibuster...
O'BRIEN: What is the offensive thing that Senator Reid said?
What's the -- what is the racist thing that Senator Reid said?
WALL: I think it's very pre-civil rights, 1950s to suggest, again, that light skinned Negroes -- that he's OK as a light skinned Negro, as long as he gets rid of his ghetto dialect is basically -- that's the way I say it.
O'BRIEN: That's not the word that was used. Let's not rewrite it. He said that the electorate --
WALL: No, no, no. That's the way I heard it. And that's the way a lot of people folks heard it, that I've spoken with.
O'BRIEN: What he said was the electorate would be excited about a guy who was light-skinned and a guy who didn't speak with a Negro dialect. That's what he was talking about the electorate. WALL: Who uses Negro in 2010 as a leader of the Senate? And why is he making comparisons?
O'BRIEN: Is that racist, is my question? Is that racist?
WALL: What does light skinned Negro have to do with it?
O'BRIEN: Obviously, conversations about race -- obviously conversations about race can get very testy. That's why we like them. We got to take a short break. When we come back, in just a little bit, we're going to talk to former campaign insiders, Democrats and Republicans, going to join us with their takes on the Sarah Palin/John Edwards shockers in the new book "Game Change." Are there more to come? That's still ahead.
First, though, Mark McGwire's emotional interview about his steroids admission today. Stick around. We have more on that.
O'BRIEN: On the baseball front, former home run king Mark McGwire admitted today what many folks had suspected all along, that he used steroids. Major League Baseball has just released portions of an interview that Bob Costas conducted with the onetime slugger. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MCGWIRE, FMR. BASEBALL PLAYER: It's tough because when you have to tell your son and your family for the first time, you know, something that I hid for a long, long time -- especially my wife, close friends -- it's not pleasurable doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Jose Canseco claims that he introduced Mark McGwire to steroids and helped him inject them. Canseco is Larry's guest on LARRY KING LIVE tomorrow, exclusive.
Nothing, going from one sport to another, back to the political page turner that everybody is talking about. Joining us now is Nancy Pfotenhauer. She is a Republican strategist, who served as senior policy adviser for the 2008 McCain campaign. Kellyanne Conway is with us as well. She's the president of a polling company, also a Republican strategist. Lanny Davis joins us. He is a Democratic strategist. He served as White House counsel to President Bill Clinton. And Tanya Acker is with us as well, political analyst and contributor to the HuffingtonPost.com.
Lanny, let's begin with you, because we've been taking about comparisons, if there are any at all, to Senator Reid and Trent Lott. There are a lot of folks who don't know that you have a part in that story in the Trent Lott scandal. Tell us about that.
LANNY DAVIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, I certainly agree with James that there's in a difference in degree and words used between Senator Trent Lott and what happened with Senator Reid. But there shouldn't be a difference in forgiveness. When Senator Lott called me after former Secretary of HUD and Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp asked me to take his call, he was in the middle of the worst of his crisis, and he asked me would I call Jesse Jackson, so that he could seek Jesse Jackson's advice, but privately, not to try to exploit that phone call, because he knew that I go back with Reverend Jackson for a long time.
I did. Reverend Jackson and he talked, with me being on the phone and listening. The kind of contrition that he showed, the awareness of his background, his insensitivity, his ability to make the kind of remark that he made and not realizing how awful it was. He admitted to Reverend Jackson. And Reverend Jackson said, I forgive you and let us pray.
It was a very moving moment for Senator Lott and Reverend Jackson together. A white man from the deep South recognizing, over all the years, his insensitivity. So forgiveness for Senator Lott was warranted. The fact that his fellow senators turned on him was disgusting, in my opinion. I think Senator Reid is a good man, a great man with a great heart.
We can have political disagreements with Senator Reid, but he's a good man. And nobody but nobody should accuse him of harboring ill will towards African-Americans or anybody, including republicans. He's a decent man and should not resign when he's apologized the way he has.
O'BRIEN: We were talking earlier about the double standard. I'm curious, do you approach Republicans and Democrats differently when you give advice on a race issue?
DAVIS: I try not to. I shouldn't. I think Democrats do apply a double standard. I think they're more partisan when it comes to Republicans making mistakes. The fact is Democrats have more of a cushion, because they've been better on the issues, on civil rights, on affirmative action. That's why African-Americans are willing to give Harry Reid a pass, because his record deserves it.
But that doesn't mean there isn't a double standard here. I don't like the fact Democrats exploited the Senator Lott situation and I don't like the fact that Republicans are now exploiting the Senator Reid situation. This should not be political exploitation. It's a very sad moment for a great man like Senator Reid. We should be sorry. He said, I'm sorry, and we should accept his apology, as I felt we should with Senator Lott, which was a very sincere apology. And certainly Reverend Jackson has no apologies to make about his record on civil rights. He accepted Senator Lott's apology.
O'BRIEN: Tanya, I'm curious to know how you think it will end? Does everybody say, kumbaya, the guy said he's sorry, the president accepted the apology, let's all move on?
TANYA ACKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it very likely won't result in another beer summit. I think we've had enough of those. I'm having a little bit of an issue with this notion of a double- standard. To some extent, yes, we see a double-standard in some cases.
But Harry Reid and Trent Lott are not examples of a double standard. There is a big difference from saying that the country would have been better off in an avowed segregationist were president than this tasteful, inartful -- I can't come up with enough adjectives -- thing that Senator Reid said. The thing that Senator Reid said, it was bad. It is a variation of a thing that, frankly, lots of African- Americans have heard, myself included. Folks who say, you sound a little white, you're very articulate, in that special way that some people say.
Is there a double standard sometimes? Yes. Is the way that Senator Lott was treated -- is his treatment an example of that double standard? Absolutely not.
O'BRIEN: Kellyanne, can he survive this? He's in a tight senate race. He's got a ways to go. What do you think?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He can survive the comment. He probably already was not going to survive the Senate bid. You would be hard-pressed to find a Majority Leader who has been this embattled in the polls just because of his own standing.
I think his comment shows what Nevadans have feared for a while, that he's out of touch and insensitive. I didn't care for Senator Reid's reference last month to people voting against the health care plan. He compared them to slave holders. I thought that was a very unfortunate and incendiary remark. When I read today or last night that he made this other comment a couple of years ago now, or a year and a half ago or so, I immediately thought of that, that somebody who in good conscious and out of principle does not want to saddle this country with 1.8 trillion dollars of debt of a health care bill they probably haven't read, 500 billion dollars in Medicare taxes -- cuts and what not, new taxes and regulations -- and to analogize them to slave he holders -- I thought it was odd analogy. And it also, I thought. was insensitive and incendiary. But he will survive it. I don't think he'll be re-elected.
O'BRIEN: That and so much more in this new book, "Game Change." We're going to talk all about it. There are revelations about Sarah Palin, what they are, what they will mean for her future. We will discuss that straight ahead. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: The portrait painted of Sarah Palin in "Game Change" isn't flattering at all. Last night, on "60 Minutes," co-author John Heilemann spoke about her appearance -- her apparent ignorance of basic international affairs. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HEILEMANN, AUTHOR, "GAME CHANGE": After the convention was over, she still didn't really understand why there was a North Korea and a South Korea. She was still regularly saying that Saddam Hussein had been behind 9/11. And literally the next day her son was about to ship off to Iraq. And when they asked her who her son was going to fight, she couldn't explain that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: This book is a page turner. This is a new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. We're back with our panel. Kellyanne, let's start with you. So much of this book is very damaging to democrats. Is that of great value to Republicans, to underline things and just lay this out there?
CONWAY: I don't think so. I do think they were bipartisan, equal opportunity in their criticism that they lay at the feet of a lot of failed candidates. I think so much of that book -- I would be curious to hear what the authors say -- was based on interviews with consultants, and consultants and handlers of some of the failed candidates who are, in effect --
O'BRIEN: The revenge of the failed campaign?
CONWAY: That's right. They're trying to justify and trying to get back to the trough, I'm sure, in future campaigns. It's what I have referred to for a long time as staff infection. Candidates sometimes lose. Consultants always win. They come back and they feed on the next one.
I thought what was really fascinating to me in this book -- let's face it, picking on Sarah Palin is so 2008. Fascinating to me is the talk about how close Hillary Clinton came to running in 2004, and how strong of an advocate and fund-raiser she was for Senate candidate Barack Obama, and how startled she was with him, and how impressed she was with him, and she tried very hard to work for him and his Senate bid.
O'BRIEN: If she had gotten into the race in 2004, she would not have set up what had happened, which was essentially with John Kerry in, there was this little known guy named Barack Obama, who delivers this amazing speech at the DNC.
CONWAY: It was a fateful non-decision. The stuff about Edwards is just "As The World Turns," every single page.
O'BRIEN: It is true. It is a page turner. You cannot put it down. Is this true? You all have worked in these campaigns. Is it as dramatic, as crazy, as chaotic? Are the candidates as flawed and bizarre, almost, as they appear in this book?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think exaggeration helps sell book copies and so does controversy. Certainly presidential campaigns are chaotic. That's why most people say they will only do one. For some unforeseen reason, I've worked two. I'm here to say right now, I'm swearing never to work a third. They are chaotic and not for the faint-hearted.
These are situations where everybody is under tremendous stress. They're rarely seen at their best moments. One thing everybody can take as the God's honest truth is that there's a lot of profanity in campaigns, as you see in this book. Nobody is wearing a halo there.
People reveal themselves under pressure. And if there's one reason to read books like this, it's to try to draw out what is the essential truth of the individual candidates, what's there. You have -- with Senator McCain, you have a very profound sense of honor. He decided what we could and could not say, even if it was something that might have been, frankly, a very profitable line of political attack. If he decided that it was not in his code of honor, we would not raise it up.
O'BRIEN: The authors talk about absolute brutal fights that he had with his wife in front of staffers, much to their discomfort and dismay. True?
PFOTENHAUER: I certainly didn't witness any. So I couldn't speak to that, whether that's true or not. In fact, if anything, when I saw them, which was usually on the weekends -- he would be through the Virginia office. And I was chained to the studio out in Roslyn. My world revolved around Crystal City at that point. I never saw anything of the kind.
So you really have to go to people who were physically present during those occasions to speak to that. Again, this is an environment that is a -- it's not even accurate to call it a pressure cooker. It would be like a pressure cooker taken to the tenth power. So any stress that was already there was likely to be pushed as far as it could go.
CONWAY: A married couple fighting, boy, that is news, though.
O'BRIEN: A married couple screaming at each other in front of their aides, that actually is a little bit of news, I think it's fair to say.
Sarah Palin, when she was announced around the globe, and certainly around the country, people said, who? Who's going to be McCain's running mate? The walk-through of how that went down is absolutely fascinating. They sort of shred her credibility, her inability to get up to speed on the issues fast enough. Is this going to impact what she does in the future as a candidate, do you think?
CONWAY: The they seems to be, again, the McCain consultants talking to these two authors. And Mark and John are the messengers. This pious, sanctimonious explanation of -- there are a couple misogynist things in there, frankly, of we thought she suffered from postpartum depression, so we had a doctor on call. She just had -- she complained about her makeup and smeared it all over her face and muffed up her hair in the green room, and then said I look fat in this.
I just can't -- come on, Soledad. That's the oldest book trick -- trick in the book. I just -- for me to actually believe that a sitting governor had, quote -- was mentally unstable, a mother of five, it's just something -- it's a bridge too far. I think these guys want to work again. O'BRIEN: There's so much more to talk about. That's just of tip of the iceberg in this. This book "Game Change" an absolute page turner. We've got to take a quick break. We're back in a minute to talk more about this book, more about Sarah Palin and the Katie Couric interview, and what made Hillary Clinton fall apart during the campaign. That's straight ahead.
O'BRIEN: A call from Atlanta, Georgia, tonight. Hey, Atlanta.
CALLER: hey, how are you?
O'BRIEN: Great, what's your question?
CALLER: My question is to the panel, if you had an opportunity to advise Sarah Palin, based on what you know, what's happened in 2008, if she were to run in 2012, how would you advise her? And what suggestions would you make if she decided to run?
DAVIS: How about a democrat answering that?
O'BRIEN: Lanny Davis, why don't you take that?
DAVIS: First of all, shock everyone, I really like Sarah Palin. On a personal level, I like the way she projects. She has energy. I think she is pretty sharp. And the best speech I've seen for a first timer at any convention in my lifetime, maybe other than Barack Obama in '04, but pretty close.
So she impressed me greatly. She lacks substance. She certainly needs to bone up on issues, and she certainly needs to become more credible as a future president. That would be my advice. On a personal level, I think she does just great.
ACKER: Soledad, can I speak to this issue about credibility and decision making? A lot of the allegations that are set forth in this book, they are juicy, and salacious, and I cannot wait to devour them. I've been devouring the segments that I've already read.
O'BRIEN: Most of the political books are really boring, I have to tell you. They're dull, dull, dull, dull, dull and this is interesting for change.
ACKER: It is. I think there's a really important issue here that we should think about, which is that, you know, so much of the decision making that's made by a lot of these candidates and a lot of our political leadership is so short-sided. If it's true what Steve Schmidt said about Sarah Palin not knowing why there's a North and South Korea, the notion of putting her up as our vice president was an irresponsible choice.
In the same way the Edwards campaign and John Edwards' decision to stay in the race, notwithstanding his brewing scandal that even had his staffers worried, was, again, another short-sided, unwise political decision. So it seems that if there's one big picture thought or big picture theme in this book, it's really we need to start thinking about how and why the folks who are making decisions on our behalf do that, and what is motivating them.
O'BRIEN: I'm also curious about the strategists. Seems like sometimes you can't control the people you're advising at all. We're going to talk a little bit more about that. I want to get good dirt on that. The real Elizabeth Edwards, too. Wow, is there a big gap between what her image is and how some say she was behaving during the campaign? We're going to get more of that after the break. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: Page 127 of "Game Change," talking about Elizabeth Edwards; They say, "what the world saw" valiant, determined, heroic. What the Edwards insiders saw: abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending, crazy woman."
Final word from our panel. Tanya, let's begin with you. She probably gets the harshest treatment in this book, I think it's fair to say.
ACKER: Yes, I read some of those excerpts, and I have to say they were certainly surprising. They're really at odds with our public impression of Mrs. Edwards. But, you know, I think Kellyanne made a great point earlier. Some of this -- I like that term she had, staff infection. I don't know if it relates to the folks who --
O'BRIEN: Get it out there.
ACKER: I don't know if that really relates to the folks who were making these allegations about Mrs. Edwards. I think this is one of those parts of the book that is probably more salacious than it is useful. There's nothing we're going to learn about how to make our country better by simply beating up on Elizabeth Edwards.
O'BRIEN: There are no source notes in this book.
It's still in the non-fiction list, not the fiction list. Elizabeth Edwards is portrayed as a shrew. Doing profanity-laced tirades against staff. I looked at her and Hillary Clinton portrayed almost the same way. And it's a little bit of a compliment, frankly. This intolerance for male weakness.
O'BRIEN: I thank our panel. Lanny, we are out of time. Tomorrow, you can come back and talk about that. Larry is going to be back tomorrow with the authors of this become that everybody is talking about, "Game Change." Time for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Have a great night, everybody.