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Alec Baldwin Discusses the Role of Satire in Media; Analysts Debate The Raising of the National Debt Ceiling; Republicans and Democrats Read Constitution Aloud on House Floor; Hail to the New Chief; New Congress, New Security Plans; Alec Baldwin Gets Political

Aired January 6, 2011 - 20:00   ET


KATHLEEN PARKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Kathleen Parker.

ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Eliot Spitzer. Terrific program tonight. Actor Alec Baldwin tells me what he really thinks about Sarah Palin, FOX News and Jon Stewart.

And then the question of torture. A new Republican intelligence chief weighs in.

But first, today's top story. There's a new gatekeeper at the oval office. President Obama announced the appointment of Bill Daley as his new chief of staff.

Here is what most people don't get. The chief of staff is in many ways the second most powerful person in Washington. You may not have elected him, but he's made many of the key decisions many assume only the president can make.

So exactly who is Bill Daley? Here's how the president introduced him earlier today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job. He served as a member of President Clinton's Cabinet as commerce secretary. He took on several other important duties over the years on behalf of our country.

He's led major corporations. He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy. And, needless to say, Bill also has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works.

You might say it is a genetic trait.


SPITZER: You know, I don't think anybody is going to view Bill Daley as the enemy. I think everybody agrees that Bill Daley is an honorable guy, he's a very smart guy, he's a good manager, he's a grown-up, he's experienced. The problem I have with this is that Bill Daley, ideologically, is simply not what this president ran on. This is --

PARKER: You're stealing my notes here, Eliot.

SPITZER: No. This is -- well, hold on for a second, Kathleen. Listen to what about I'm to say. If these are on your notes, then I would have won the battle.

Bill Daley is more continuity you can believe in. This is no longer change you can believe in. This is no longer a transformational president. This is somebody who has been a senior executive at Morgan Chase.

No longer the concerns of the middle class. No longer carrying the banner that got him elected saying we understand there's been a fundamental maldistribution of the upside of the economy over the last couple of years. This is not going to be good news for the Democratic Party that believes in an ideology of change and resuscitating the middle class.

PARKER: Eliot, I feel your pain. I do. But I think what is most appealing to me about this pick, and I'm talking about Bill Daley, is that Obama did not go for his ideological twin. He actually picked someone who might challenge him.

This is very Lincoln-esque. I would think that you'd find that appealing. That he's going to surround himself with people who don't necessarily agree with everything he thinks and who are not going to reinforce every thought he has, but -- but challenge him and perhaps help him --

SPITZER: No, see, I think --

PARKER: -- see things in a different way.

SPITZER: The problem is nobody knows anymore what Barack Obama thinks. And I think what Barack Obama has done is make himself an empty vessel once again.

Because he was so passive over the last two years, failing to articulate a rationale for what should have been transformation, he ceded the entire political landscape and let the Tea Party -- one of the most vapid, purile groups out there without meaningful ideas -- take over those voices for transformation and now he is embracing their agenda rather than standing up and saying this is what I believe in.

And I think that is why people are gasping saying, wait a minute, Bill Daley is a wonderful guy. Nobody will speak ill of him as a person but ideology matters. Politics is about ideology and either this president knows how to stand up and fight for it or he doesn't.

And if he doesn't, then why will people care about whether it's him or George Bush and frankly people are beginning not to care and that's a problem. PARKER: The terrible irony of all of this is that you are making a case that many Republicans made from the very beginning that Barack Obama did not know what he really stood for.

SPITZER: Well --

PARKER: But enough from us. We have some terrific guests to talk to us about all this.

SPITZER: Joining us in "The Arena" tonight are CNN political contributor James Carville and Thomas Frank, "Harper's" magazine contributor and author of several books including "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

PARKER: Thanks for joining us. So we're all talking about the changes at the White House, particularly the new chief of staff. Why should the American people care about who the president hires as his chief of staff, James? Go to you first.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, you know it's one of the most powerful positions in the United States government. It's not confirmable. So I think it does matter and I also think it's a reflection of the White House strategy of policy which appears to me to be a continuation of the December policy that cooperate with the Republicans and to not be very confrontational.

And I think that president picking Secretary Daley sent that signal. I think it's a manifestation of an ongoing strategy that the White House has adopted.

PARKER: Well, everybody loves him, it seems like. I have found no one on either side of the aisle who's critical of him. And I'm sure Tom Frank would join us here and congratulate the president for picking such a rationale chief of staff, right?

THOMAS FRANK, CONTRIBUTOR, HARPER'S MAGAZINE: You know what, Kathleen, this -- this whole thing, it just -- you remember when I was on your -- I was up there in New York and I was on your show a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about -- the term that I use is the poverty of centrism, right?

The sort of exhaustion of this whole way of understanding politics. And this gives you another, you know, really big clue as to what's the matter with the Democrats. There's just no imagination out there. They seem to just be completely clueless with regards to, you know, how to play the political game. This is their response to the shellacking that they took.

SPITZER: You know, Tom, I got to jump in here and agree with you 100 percent. It seems to me there's another factor we've got to bring to the table here.

On the same day that Bill Daley comes in, Paul Volcker goes out. Paul Volcker, of course, the esteemed, highly respected former chairman of the Fed, was the only one in the administration who was really pushing for fundamental Wall Street reform. And so he is gone and we bring in a banker, somebody from Morgan Chase, who is now going to be at the center, as James said. Being chief of staff for the president is being arguably the second most powerful person in the United States government.

FRANK: Right. But, you're not -- you're not being fair there. It's a balanced choice because at the same time they brought in Gene Sperling who I believe used to work for Goldman Sachs.

SPITZER: That's right.

FRANK: So you've got -- you know you've got both sides represented there. JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.

SPITZER: Tom, how can you disagree with that?



SPITZER: James, I hear you trying to get in here.

CARVILLE: Well, defend Gene because he did this work with Goldman Sachs. As I recall, it was something about empowering women or something. He -- but Gene can defend himself.

I do think it's kind of funny that Obama comes in as the agent of change and change you can believe in, and the new Republican Congress comes in and they're going to change everything, and sitting down at the table and negotiating, it'll be Bill Daley and John Boehner.


CARVILLE: Somehow --

SPITZER: James, it goes beyond --


CARVILLE: It didn't strike me as real. And I like Bill Daley and I think the president made the choice that reflects the policy that he wants to adapt.

PARKER: James, does this --

CARVILLE: I mean personally he's a great guy.

PARKER: James, does this not have Bill Clinton's fingerprints all over it? Come on. Because, you know, Mr. Daley was his --

CARVILLE: I doubt -- I doubt it. I doubt it. I mean -- no. You know what, my personal knowledge I think -- no. Bill Daley is from Chicago. He and Obama have known each other for a long time.

PARKER: Well, he was also commerce secretary under --


CARVILLE: He was but he has also has a relationship with President Obama. He certainly has a relationship with Rahm. I mean, you know -- and Obama is comfortable with people from Chicago around him. Look at his appointments. Look at people who are close to him.

PARKER: Obviously. As soon as Rahm leaves to go to Chicago, you know, and Bill Daley is the brother of the mayor who Rahm is trying to replace. It's kind of incestuous.


FRANK: It's so -- it's so much worse than that. Can I just say I think Bill Clinton would be way too smart to make a decision like this? This just shows they have no idea. These guys have no idea what is going on out in the country. We are in, you know, it's the flames of populist revolt.

That is what is going on out in America. And their way of getting out ahead of had is to bring in a guy from Wall Street? I mean what are they thinking? Do they think that the Republicans can't pounce on that and can't hammer that -- them for that because he's a centrist? They have no comprehension of what is making people -- driving people crazy.

CARVILLE: Tom, Tom, Tom. The chairman of the banking committee, a Republican from Alabama, said it was their job to serve Washington.

FRANK: I know. I saw that.


CARVILLE: They should be mad at Wall Street.


FRANK: Now you've got two of them. Now you've got two of them.

SPITZER: It seems to me this is a completely -- it's a completely -- it's a misapprehension of where they need to go to negotiate effectively with the Republican Congress.

This is -- as I've said all along about the Obama Cabinet, it's continuity you can believe in from the Bush administration, from the prior administration, to go back to Wall Street and how -- you know, James, you said before that they're going to have to negotiate with the Republican Congress.

Why do you think the Republican Congress is going to negotiate with them?

CARVILLE: Well, Wall Street won.

SPITZER: Say it again.

CARVILLE: I mean I hate to bring the news but they won on financial reform, they won on everything. They always win. You know you made a gallant effort and Tom makes a lot of points. I think that they, you know, basically -- you know Paul Volcker says that modern banking hasn't done a single thing to help a single person other than the ATM machine.

SPITZER: Well, I'm with you.

CARVILLE: But they won.

SPITZER: Tom, who would you have brought in?

CARVILLE: They just -- they won.

FRANK: Who would I have brought in?


FRANK: My god, you've got the wrong person to ask that question.

PARKER: President for a day.

FRANK: I have nothing to do with this sort of inner workings of the Democratic Party or the White House or anything like that. They don't tell me what's going on. They don't tell -- I have no idea about something like that. I'm just an observer like you guys, right? And when I watch something like this, it puts me in mind of the western front during World War I, OK?

I think of these -- the British generals that, you know, planning the Battle of the Somme, or something like that. They're like OK, we'll just have another direct frontal assault with another million men. You know?

They've learned nothing. They've learned nothing. Just wandering into another blood bath. They haven't --

CARVILLE: They keep blowing it.

FRANK: They just haven't -- they haven't understood anything from what's just happened in the country in the last two years.

PARKER: Well, they have understood what's happened, Tom.

CARVILLE: They keep blowing the whistle.

PARKER: I mean come on. The American people just put Republicans in the House and they clearly --

FRANK: This is the poverty of centrism.

PARKER: No, no, no, no. This isn't --

FRANK: The scale of one to seven and they need to choose a guy who's a three or a four, but that's not in at all. It's the people versus the powerful. It is the elite against the people. PARKER: But this is not just a Wall Street victory. This is -- you know, so the fellow is pro business. You have -- you know, but you have people like Howard Dean saying this is a good choice. This is a good guy.

FRANK: Sure -- that could be. But remember, another one of the things on his resume, he was the point man on negotiating, oh my god NAFTA. Look at the Tea Party movement. They hate NAFTA.

Look at the -- the one demographic that the Democratic Party is hemorrhaging, working class voters, what really pisses them off about Democrats? It's NAFTA. Why do they have to keep embracing NAFTA? Why can't they turn their backs on it?

PARKER: All right, James -- James Carville, Thomas Frank, thank you all. Thank you for an animated conversation.

SPITZER: Coming up, a congressman who believes that the president's approach to terrorism makes the country less safe. He's the new chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He's ready to hold the president's feet to the fire.

We'll be right back.


PARKER: Would you support waterboarding? Is that something --

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No. I think waterboarding is off the table. I don't think we ought to even have that as a part of the discussion. I think it distorts what is happening and I -- unfortunately, I think that is what got us so far away from what our good, lawful techniques in the United States used by FBI agents that we ought to allow case officers, CIA case officers overseas to use as well.



SPITZER: President Obama is taking fire from newly empowered Republicans unseemingly every front including national security. Their complaint, he's made the country less safe specifically when it comes to interrogating terrorists.

PARKER: One congressman in particular plans on challenging the president on this issue and has the platform to do it.

Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers is chair of the House Intelligence Committee which overseas the vast intelligence community.

SPITZER: Chairman Rogers joins us tonight from Washington.

Welcome. Thanks for being with us.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me. I appreciate being here. PARKER: Representative Rogers, you've been critical that our interrogators, our debriefers, however you want to put it, are limited to only 19 techniques. So what would 20 look like? I mean what specifically are we talking about ?

ROGERS: Well, and let me give you a great example on this because it's a great question.

The Army Field Manual says you just can't do certain things. And I give you an example. I can't go into a cell of somebody who is a foreign-born terrorist overseas and tell them I'm going to make your life miserable. I'm going to get you to the worst prison in the world and, by the way, all your friends are ratting you out and you're in a lot of trouble. Nothing good is going to happen to you.

That is prohibited in the Army Field Manual. An FBI agent does it every single day in every city in America.

PARKER: What does that mean? You can't even say --

ROGERS: It makes no sense whatsoever.

PARKER: You can't even say mean things? Is that what you're saying?

ROGERS: Well, no. It's psychological intimidation. You can't use it in the Army Field Manual. Why? Because it was designed for enemy combatants in a very old concept of good guys versus bad guys on the battlefield.

It doesn't fit this construct that we have when you are talking about terrorist who have no nation state.

PARKER: So you're not talking waterboarding?

ROGERS: No, gosh no. I'm talking about the simple technique literally of me walking in saying, hey, Kathleen, I got you. I'm going to put you in jail. I have got so much evidence you're going to go to jail tomorrow for 200 years. You'd better start cooperating with me.

You can't do that. You're not allowed to lie to them and misrepresent to them and use psychological techniques under the Army Field Manual.

SPITZER: Congressman --

ROGERS: It's really -- it's contradictory to what we do right here in the United States.

PARKER: Well, do you -- would you support waterboarding? Is that something --

ROGERS: No. I think waterboarding is off the table. I don't think we ought to even have that as a part of the discussion. I think it distorts what is happening and I -- unfortunately, I think that is what got us so far away from what our good, lawful techniques in the United States used by FBI agents that we ought to allow case officers, CIA case officers overseas to use as well.

SPITZER: Congressman, I've got to push you on that example a little bit. I'm not doubting you.


SPITZER: I have not -- I'm not an expert on the Army manual and what it does and does not preclude. But I agree with you certainly that sort of statement to a defendant, somebody who's being interrogated, look, your friends are ratting you out, you're the last one hanging. You'd better cooperate with us. Standard, routine, run-of-the-mill interrogation technique.

ROGERS: I'm sure you've used it.

SPITZER: Well, I don't want to reveal my techniques but let me just say that --

ROGERS: But we do it --

SPITZER: -- it is something certainly is done on a regular way sis.

ROGERS: And you just said yourself, Eliot, and that's why I think this is so important and how I think this thing got distorted and I think cooler heads can prevail.

You said, I don't -- I wouldn't reveal my techniques on how I get bad guys to cooperate. I agree with you 100 percent. But here's what we did. We gave the whole world, including terrorists, our playbook. We said here are the things that we will do to you.

The FBI doesn't do that. The U.S. prosecutors don't do that. They wouldn't do that. I would think it would be bad law enforcement if they did that. But we did it with the Army Field Manual. And my point is, that has consequences.

SPITZER: I want to come to a different issue. The director of National Intelligence, Mr. Clapper, clearly had sort of a brain freeze the other day. He was unaware of the arrests over in London. I think, you know, that that is perhaps an example of a larger problem, however.

Do you think that that structure with him as director of National Intelligence is working? This was, of course, the primary recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

ROGERS: Sure. And it was put in place under Bush. Here's what I think happened. The intention of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was to be a coordinating body saying, OK, CIA, you need to play well with the FBI. FBI, you need to play well with the National Security Agency, and you're all going to share information where it's appropriate.

That is not a huge operation. But it's an important one. You just have to have the authority to do it. And what happened was, and the exact number is still classified, this -- the DNI is exponentially larger than it was ever intended to be. It has become a huge bureaucratic, I argue, hurdle in the function of the matters of intelligence.

They're not supposed to recruit spies. They're not supposed to do briefing papers. They are supposed to be a coordinating body. And what happens is it assumed this bigger, larger role. Every year they ask for more people, more money. And what happens is, and I think you saw that, the DNI is really supposed to be, I argued, the Maytag repairman of the intelligence committee -- community.

He was supposed to be telling us this is what the overhead architecture should look like in 10 years. This is the mundane -- important, but mundane administrative issues of the intelligence community. That stuff gets lost to this operational sense that they have assumed and I think we've really got to ask some very hard questions if that doesn't become a hurdle instead of the benefit to the intelligence.

SPITZER: Well, are you going to have hearings on this issue with sort of the outcome being that you recommend we get rid of the position, scale it back, put the director of the CIA in charge as the top intelligence official, something that obviously the directors of the CIA have wanted for many years?

ROGERS: Yes. I mean, and it may be a hybrid of that. I still believe that there is a coordinating function that can be incredibly valuable to the intelligence community. To be the mediator, if you will, to some of the disagreements.

And remember, it's huge. Seventeen of them, huge budgets, huge mission scopes, very talented people and sometimes you're going to bump into each other. I'm sure you -- you know, you both have -- kind of have some sense of that and even in the local police department or the FBI and the DEA happens.

You need somebody with some stature to fix that problem. So I think that is absolutely still a viable option. It's how we get there and can you scale it back to do that particular function? That, I think, is the question. But we're going to do it for the hearings, through vetting. We're going to ask really hard questions and -- as we should, and I think Americans expect us to and hopefully at the end of the day we get back to an organization that's actually helpful and not getting in the way.

PARKER: All right. Well, we have tried -- we have tried not to torture you, Representative Mike Rogers.

ROGERS: That wasn't too bad.

PARKER: Thanks so much for being with us.

SPITZER: Thanks.

Coming up, part two of my interview with actor Alec Baldwin. Last night Baldwin told us he is, and I quote, "very interested" in running for office. Tonight we push him further on politics including what he thinks of Sarah Palin. It may surprise you. We'll be right back.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, ACTIVIST AND BLOGGER: I think more and more people just don't believe what they hear on the news, when the government says to you the economic figures are coming out stronger for January.


BALDWIN: There's going to be more jobs, we're going to make a comeback. People do not want -- they do not want to hear that. They would rather hear Jon Stewart make jokes about that.



SPITZER: Alec Baldwin told us last night he is very interested -- those were his words -- in running for political office. He's so passionate about politics, involved in the issues he cares about, that it's easy to forget he's an actor.

I asked him, how can skeptics be sure he's not acting when he talks about a career in politics. Take a look.


BALDWIN: I have to believe that if I put that out there, it's going to work. And if it doesn't work, then either there's a question of I failed in delivering my message or people weren't ready timing wise for whatever I was presenting.

You and I discussed this off camera as well. Too many people now are running for public office to complete some missing part of their own psyche. There's some need they have, some psychological need that they believe can only be fulfilled, Democrat and Republican.


BALDWIN: Who they're doing -- they're running for this office to complete themselves in some ways, an image they have for themselves.

SPITZER: Rather than to?

BALDWIN: Rather than to serve.


SPITZER: I came away believing his sincerity because he is so passionate about the middle class and what's missing in this country right now is somebody to stand up for the middle class.

I asked him about how President Obama has lost the middle class base that carried him in the election and if the president can regain that base by 2012. Here is how Alec sees it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Well, you and I both know that two years is an eternity in American political life and he has the time to do that and there's time to have other legislative victories.

I mean Obama may be a guy who is going to run an offense that's a ground game.


BALDWIN: He's not going to be throwing 40-yard passes down the field. And he may whittle his way down there but the truth of the matter is Americans had eight years of an administration which was a lot of -- you know, kind of Madison Avenue, blue chip, Wall Street, corporate thinking and kind of management of their media strategy.


BALDWIN: And that involved mission accomplished banners and all these other kind of stuff and these kind of make my day and all of these kind of bold statements. There's a way that Bush believed the presidency was a role that he needed to play and he was encouraged and coached to play that role that Obama does not agree with.

SPITZER: Reject. Completely rejects.

BALDWIN: Completely rejects. He's a guy that wants to -- he wants to show rather than say. And sometimes American people would rather you say than show --


BALDWIN: To medicate them. I mean give this sort of --

SPITZER: The problem we have is that even though -- I've been harshly critical of President Obama in some cases, and a bunch of -- but certainly we share his ideological framework and where he wants us to go but within the two years of his presidency we have lost the American public and the American public is now once again embracing George Bush's world view of tax cuts and benefits to the wealthy.

BALDWIN: But let's -- let's just finish with two things, because there's two things that I wanted to get to with you, and that is, number one is when you talk about our shared ideological view, for me, it also -- it comes down to there's very few cases where someone is elected, and I've shared this with you before privately.

There's very few cases where someone is elected who they share your ideological view to such a degree that you become elated when that person is elected.


BALDWIN: I've told people privately that when you were elected and you won your race, I mean I was practically weeping, I was so happy. I thought here's a man with a great mind who's courageous, he's smart, he's all these things. And he's going to become the governor of the state of New York. People were very, very excited.

SPITZER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: And so -- no, no, my pleasure. And so my point is that the ideological view that I think -- and you correct me if I'm wrong -- that I share with you, is that how can we get the government to do the most good for the greatest number of people?


BALDWIN: Right now money interests, they talk all the time about wasteful government spending, unless that spending is on them and benefits them.

SPITZER: Right. That's right.

BALDWIN: I mean the level of hypocrisy from the Republican Party -- to me hypocrisy is what defines the Republican Party. There are Republicans I would have -- I'm someone who I've recognize the warts and the flaws of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has a lot of flaws. And maybe one of our problems is we're a little too quick to recognize those flaws and admit to them.

SPITZER: Right. Right.

BALDWIN: But I -- there are Republicans I would have followed if it weren't for this blazing inconsistency and hypocrisy about what the role of government should be in people's lives. They know that the government is the only force in the country that's in power to stick its hand in your pocket and take your money in the form of taxes, and once they do that, they don't hesitate to spend it on what they want to spend it on.


BALDWIN: And the second thing I want to get to, though, that's very important to me is, and I'd like to keep this in groups of threes because I think people have a tough time remembering -- we talked about pneumonics before.

SPITZER: Yes. Yes.

BALDWIN: And remembering anything beyond groups of three. If you were president, what would be the three things you'd do first right now? What would you do?

SPITZER: Oh boy, this is -- I haven't been asked questions like that. I thought I was supposed to ask -- I'll tell you exactly what I would do. I'd get out of Afghanistan and take that money and put it into education. And I'd put it into an energy project that we could transform our economy. The same sorts of foundation pieces we've been talking about. BALDWIN: That's amazing. That's exactly what I would do.

SPITZER: Really? Maybe we do think alike.


BALDWIN: That is precisely what I would do.

SPITZER: Look, to come to another performance of yours that has probably a broader audience, "Saturday Night Live," "SNL." You created that to a great extent as a franchise, you made it the marquee Saturday night event.

But the fascinating thing to me about it is the role that irony and sarcasm and humor now play with respect to news. Jon Stewart is the most trusted voice in the delivery of news. I think we have some numbers we can put up on the screen. In a way "SNL" was part of that. How do you explain the intersection between, comedy, irony, and news delivery?

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: When you talk about whatever contribution I've had, that really comes in the latter part of the show. The first half of the show was all the really kind of iconic stars of the show that created the show, Chevy Chase and those people. I'm part of a group of people perhaps where they brought on hosts who have hosted multiple times and tried to keep that ball in the air, which I've enjoyed doing.

But, you know, you and I have discussed this before, which is that satire, at the root of satire is something important, something that really, really matters. I always prefer the show when it does discuss or go after something that really matters. What makes Tina so funny when she does Palin is Palin was the vice presidential nominee of a major party in this country.

SPITZER: I think your observation is so critical. Irony and sarcasm depend upon the importance of what underlies it. And in a way "SNL" skits were always making important points, and that has now morphed into a moment Jon Stewart and his show is the single most important news delivery organism for the younger generation. What does that say about our politics?

BALDWIN: Stewart is the opposite side of the coin of FOX News. He is the progressive version of entertainment as news. Now, his is more of a strictly comedy branding, whereas with FOX News the comedy is an unintentional comedy.

SPITZER: You and I may view it as comedy, but some see it as serious news, unfortunately.

BALDWIN: Exactly. But I think nonetheless, that's more agitprop than opinion making. But I think the two of them are different sides of the same coin.

People don't -- there are three groups of people. There is an enormous group of people still who were watching Brian Williams, for example, on the NBC News. Brian has a good audience. He has about, I think, hovering around 10 million people watching. He has a great audience. That's a great primetime news organization. So there are people watching network news, people who are watching FOX News who need a little more predigested --

SPITZER: Ideological.

BALDWIN: Ideologically predigested for them. And then there are people who watch Stewart who, they want more satire.

SPITZER: What does this say to you about our politics? Does it worry you that news itself has become a reflection of one's ideological perspective?

BALDWIN: I think people when they watch the news, because the news is a digest. Someone else is choosing what is news and how those very items will be presented. I think more and more people just don't believe what they hear on the news. When the government says to you the economic figures are coming out stronger for January. There's going to be more jobs. We're going to make a comeback. People do not want to hear that. They would rather hear Jon Stewart make jokes about that.

SPITZER: The cynicism that you are describing, the skepticism, the hesitancy to believe certainly official sources of information, and I think Jon Stewart preys upon that to great effect says something about the relationship between our citizenry and our government these days, which is where we are beginning to distrust even a government under Barack Obama. Has he begun to reclaim the integrity of government in your mind?

BALDWIN: I think the fact that people have a tougher time parodying Obama in that kind of a cynical class in that Jon Stewart class because they have a tougher time -- the first thing you noticed when Bush was gone was how much all the comic talent on television was bemoaning the fact. They were miserable. I'm going to miss this guy so much because there was a lot of meat for them to skewer.

But I think that Obama is someone who -- what he's doing -- and I'm often engaged in conversations, as I'm sure you are, no doubt, about analyzing Obama and what he's doing. And for me Obama is someone who I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt more.

I think he's torn some pages out of Clinton's playbook. He knows if you don't throw some meat to the Wall Street community every now and then, you are going to be in varying degrees of pain.

SPITZER: I want to come back to that more in a second. Before we leave George W. Bush, because you were very critical and you are a powerful voice on a whole range of issues that we'll get to. But you had said of the Bush presidency that it was a low point in the moral framework -- the moral experience of being an American.

Why? What was it that so bothered you? Was it a particular policy?

BALDWIN: The war. SPITZER: By which you mean Iraq?

BALDWIN: The war in Iraq was very, very troublesome to me because when you got into a run, which in no particular order of importance, begins with, you know, false reports of yellow cake and then outing Valerie Plame and going to any lengths to light this fuse over there and to kick this hornet's nest over there, knowing that once we did that, it wasn't a quick out, that we were going to have to stay there. I have some very particular opinions as to why that administration did that, but that's another conversation.

SPITZER: It was not only the predisposition, the failure to challenge the premise, but it meant two things. One, we ignored where terrorism actually was, which was at that point in Afghanistan and simultaneously back then, and secondarily in my view, the enormous cost of this. I know you have spoken a fair bit about the cost of the Iraq war both in terms of human and dollar costs.

BALDWIN: Listen, the American people have a very unfortunate set of circumstances which is that the metaphysical bill for what's happened in the Middle East will come due eventually. And the American people, I think, instinctively know that. You can't go over there and turn an entire country of innocent people into an ashtray and just completely blow up an entire country, their cultural heritage, kill innocent women and children in order to settle a score with one guy who was a former ally of yours. Nothing has been gained.

It was very critical to point out, by the way, because when you and I have these conversations we must always be careful about not offending fighting service men and women over there.

SPITZER: Of course.

BALDWIN: This is absent that fact there was nothing to be gained. The United States should have gone into Afghanistan, and I think that the people we're looking for are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

SPITZER: Alec, always wonderful to talk with you. Keep up the acting. Get into politics. Thanks for being here.


SPITZER: You can see more of my interview with Alec Baldwin on our website at

Up next, an economic catastrophe is quickly approaching, and our elected officials in Washington have the power to prevent it, but will they? That story and a lot more coming up.


NICK GILLESPIE, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REASON.COM: I agree with John Boehner on virtually nothing, but I think he's right that we need to have a conversation long before the debt ceiling gets hit in March or whenever it's going to be hit, and then every year after that. It's a chronic problem. (END VIDEO CLIP)


SPITZER: Catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades, that's the phrase used by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in a letter he sent to Congress. What he's describing is the fallout if the U.S. hits the maximum on its debt ceiling without raising it, which could happen as early as March 31st.

KATHLEEN PARKER, CNN ANCHOR: But the new House speaker John Boehner is pushing back and today at a news conference. He warned that Washington needs to change its spending ways before raising the ceiling. Listen to what he said.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: If the house is going to move an increase in the debt limit, I think we have a responsibility to cut spending and to make changes in the process by which we spend the American people's money. I think it would be irresponsible to try to deal with a debt limit without taking corrective action so that we're not facing this each and every year.


PARKER: This sets the stage for a congressional showdown and it's going to get ugly. Here to talk about this mess is the editor of and a friend of the show, Nick Gillespie. Welcome, Nick.

GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me.

PARKER: We won't mention the mustache. We have a debt ceiling for a reason, to keep us from misbehaving and spending more money than we have. Is this political posturing? Are they really going to not extend it?

GILLESPIE: No. It will be lifted at some point, but it's also, I think, absolutely accurate -- I agree with John Boehner on virtually nothing, but I think he's right, that we need to have a conversation long before the debt ceiling gets hit in March or whenever it's going to be hit and then every year after that. It's a chronic problem.

SPITZER: Nick, you and I agree that what we're going through right now is a charade. Let's put up on the screen a chart that shows what the debt ceiling is, $14.3 trillion. Our current debt is about $13.9 trillion, close to $14 trillion. We only have a margin of about $300 billion.

We are spending money in excess of what's coming in at $100 billion a month. So in three months we'll hit that debt ceiling. Here is the point we have to make. Even if the Republican Party passed all of the spending cuts they're talking about, that would after yesterday only be $50 billion for the whole year. So we're going to break through this regardless of the rhetoric from John Boehner.

PARKER: It's a start, right? You have to have the conversation, as you say.

GILLESPIE: I think so. And one of the things that over the past decade, and one of the reasons we have so much debt is because of John Boehner specifically. He pushed no child left behind, the TARP bailout, he pushed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This guy is responsible for this, and he lobbied for busting the debt limit earlier in the decade.

We have a problem where the government has been spending 20 percent of GDP for 50 years, taking in about 18 percent of GDP for 50 years. That has to come into focus somehow. It has to come into connection, and if it doesn't, we're in trouble.

PARKER: So, Nick, Nick, John Boehner's profligate spending notwithstanding and his pledge to America, which you have declared a joke --

GILLESPIE: It's a joke, yes.

PARKER: They're obviously holding out on this debt ceiling thing as leverage. What should they leverage for?

GILLESPIE: This is -- what the Republicans should hold out for is a restriction on a bunch of whatever kind of loose change is laying around in Obama's pet projects.

What the Democrats should be looking at, and this is something that the Republicans want to, they need to say, OK, what are you going to do about defense spending? We're spending -- defense spending is about $700 billion a year. It's going to go up to $900 billion over the next couple of years, and then it's supposed to taper down.

What part of that can we live without? And the fact is that we can live without a lot of it, federal -- defense spending under Bush and Obama from 2000 until now went up 71 percent. Are we 71 percent better off? Are we 71 percent more efficient in Afghanistan? No. That needs to be cut.

Medicare went up 76 percent, Social Security 38 percent. We need to start putting in serious proposals now to reduce that spending, not immediately because that would be very disruptive both to capital markets as well as the individuals lives, but over the next decade. We have to say how are we go to bring spending down to 19 percent from 25 percent of the economy?

PARKER: Over that ten-year period with incremental cuts and various --

GILLESPIE: It would work out to $130 billion a year.

PARKER: Which would get us to a balanced budget when?


PARKER: Without raising taxes? GILLESPIE: That's right. That's assuming the current tax structure including fixes to the alternative minimum tax, the current Bush tax rates being extended into the future indefinitely.

The things that are killing us are runaway defense spending and kind of various other types of things, including foreign subsidies. Entitlements that were set up for people who have survived the Great Depression, we're in a very different world now. People are living longer, living richer. And we need to make the kind of small, gradual changes in the trajectories so that in 10 years, 15 years --


SPITZER: Or legalize drugs and then we can all just relax.

GILLESPIE: What we need now is leadership from Obama and from the Republicans as well as the Democrats because, you know, they're still in power in the Senate. And we need to have a kind of barracks style military base closing where we say, look, we have a certain amount of money that we can afford to spend. We can predict that we'll be around this amount of money.

How do we rank this -- how do you prioritize what we spend on? And do we spend on education? Do we spend on -- do we keep repaving roads or digging up sidewalks? Do we pull out of Afghanistan? Do we pull out of Europe for god's sake and South Korea?

SPITZER: A Reagan defense department official laid out $1 trillion in savings out of the Defense Department. This is somebody from the Reagan defense department.

GILLESPIE: That is too small.

SPITZER: The point is it can be done and your concept of the base closing method was the concept underlying this debt commission if 14 votes had been there for it and both Houses had pledged to bring it to the floor. Of course nobody wanted that down in D.C., wanted that to happen.

GILLESPIE: And I think the idea of that, it was a good idea. Obama punted on that. You think he should have been stage managing that where there was no question he was going to get that majority and force Congress to at least say yes or no on a plan.

SPITZER: We will continue this as the months go forward and we see this deficit continue.

GILLESPIE: If not now, then a couple more months.

SPITZER: Nick Gillespie, a great conversation. Thank you so much for being here.

PARKER: Coming up, the constitution took center stage in Congress today, and until it was upstaged by one of those folks who doesn't believe the president was born here. Drama on the Hill with TV star Janine Turner of all people when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Today the House of Representatives read aloud the U.S. constitution, an amended version of it, that is. It was going along according to plan when Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, began to read the, quote, "natural born citizen" clause. That's the part that stipulates the president must be a natural born citizen of the United States. A woman in the gallery chose that moment to interrupt. Take a look.


REP. FRANK PALLONE, (D) NEW JERSEY: "No person except a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this constitution shall be eligible to be in the office of president. Neither shall" --


REP. MIKE SIMPSON, (R) IDAHO: The chair would remind persons in the gallery -- the chair would remind all persons in the gallery that they are here as guests of the house.


SPITZER: That was Representative Mike Simpson, Republican from Idaho, who banged the gavel. The woman who shouted, and I quote, "Except Obama!" was escorted out and the reading continued. But it begs the question, was today's reading a civics lesson or political theater?

PARKER: Joining us now from Ft. Worth, Texas, to help answer that question is Janine Turner. You know her as the star of "Northern Exposure" and "Friday Night Lights." But she is also a Tea Party activist and co-founder of Constituting America. Its mission is to promote understanding and respect for the constitution.

Janine, welcome back to the show.

JANINE TURNER, TV STAR TURNED CONSTITUTIONAL ADVOCATE: Hi. Great to see you all again. Hey, I have a question. Did you hear the thunder today?

PARKER: No. Where are you?

TURNER: It was our founding fathers clapping from heaven that the constitution was read on the House floor.

PARKER: I'm sure they were thrilled. How do you think they felt about that woman yelling about Obama's birthers?

SPITZER: It makes me wonder if there was no thunder here in New York. What are they telling us?

TURNER: No, it was a universal thunder, American thunder.

(LAUGHTER) In regard to the woman speaking out, here is what I have to say about that. First of all, I thought Americans have a right, you know, freedom of speech. And when the presiding officer banged his gavel and said we have rules -- I thought the whole -- just the to watch the House at work was spectacular.

But, also, this isn't about the president. This is about an over 200- year-old document, the United States constitution. So whether someone said something about Obama today was inconsequential. This was about the United States constitution that has lived for over 200 years and that we are once again bringing this to the cultural forefront of Americans' minds.

PARKER: But, Janine, we all love the constitution and what you've done is wonderful and trying to, you know, renew interest and all. But isn't this really kind of a political stunt? Come on.

TURNER: No, I really don't think so. I think it's a beautiful -- look, the constitution has left the American conscience, and it's time to bring it back.

And it was a symbolic sort of representation that the voice of America was heard. In 2010 there were some tribulations and I think triumphs. The American people gathered together to say, look, we are not happy with the direction of this, the way the country is going, and we want it brought back to the fundamental principles.

And that showed in how the Congress had this overturned and the fact that they read the constitution just shows that they are bringing us back to America's principles and they listened to the genius of the people.

PARKER: Janine, the Republicans now want every piece of legislation to explicitly state that it's constitutionally supportable. How does that work to you? What does that mean to you?

TURNER: Well, I think it's a pause. It's a patriot's pause to really stop to think about, all right, is this bill constitutional? And I'd much rather have that than someone just disregarding the constitution or not acknowledging the constitution and just throwing something in the hopper and having it voted upon when it has no bearing and no relevancy to the foundation of principles of our country.

PARKER: So what laws do we currently have, in your mind, that do not pass constitutional muster?

TURNER: Well, I think, you know, generally any law that has given the government such a broad scope over the states and the American people, all these government, these federal mandates upon the states, all of them, are out of bounds of the constitution, most of them. And health care is one of them, of course, all up for interpretation.

As long as there is that interpretation, as long as people are looking at the document and then debating it, that's better than having no awareness of it at all. Do I look like an Italian?


SPITZER: Janine --

TURNER: I just use my hands.

PARKER: Janine, we have to stop here for just a minute and take a quick break. Don't move. We'll be right back.


SPITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with TV star and constitutional activist Janine Turner. Janine, does it bother you that even before the Congress was sworn in the Republican leadership said, oops, we didn't meet it. We're only going to cut $50 billion? Do you see back sliding on the single most important pledge that the Tea Party was making?

TURNER: I think there are a lot of people in Congress from both sides of the aisle that are going to go, oops, I didn't really mean it. Come on. Let's pass the bill. Let's pass the bill and then find out what's in it. I mean, oops, we didn't know that was in the health care bill. Oops. I mean, I think that happens on both sides of the aisle.

SPITZER: But it doesn't worry you that even before they were able to start, they said we only want to cut half of what we said we would cut?

TURNER: You know, look, I'm glad those Tea Partiers are there. I'm glad that the voice of the American people has been heard and I have all -- actually, today I feel happy that at least Americans are standing up.

You think I'm not answering your question. Just start cutting the deficit. That's all I care about. Start cutting it. Whether politicians say things or don't say things, to me it's just a great day. Look, look, the transition of speaker to speaker from president to president that our document is still at work, that it was read today on the House floor I just think is beautiful.

PARKER: Janine Turner, we thank you for being with us and the founding fathers thank you.

TURNER: Oh, yay, yay.

SPITZER: And we'll listen for that thunder.

PARKER: And thank you for being with us. Please join us tomorrow night.

SPITZER: Good night from New York. A special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.