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SMERCONISH

Biden: "Make Sure You Have The Record Player On At Night"; Attacking Biden's Fitness: Fair Game?; O'Rourke: "Hell Yes, We're Going To Take Your Ar-15, Your Ak-47"; Will Anti-Gun Stance Hurt Democratic Candidates?; Should College Athletes Be Paid?; Felicity Huffman Sentenced To 14 Days In Prison; How Rising College Costs Have Hurt Middle-Class Families; How Rising College Costs Have Hurt Middle- Class Families; Two Mental Health Advocates Die By Suicide On The Same Day. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired September 14, 2019 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Tom Tall And The Tom Kats (ph) from 1958. Who'd have thought that 60 years later a record player would be a sound bite in a presidential debate? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The third democratic debate is now in the books.

For the first time, we saw frontrunners Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all together at center stage. While the chattering class, of which I'm a proud member, has already called winners and losers, it's too soon to know whether the debate moved the polling needle. My hunch is that the rankings will remain the same.

To the extent there was anything memorable, it came in the form of a broadside delivered by former HUD Secretary Julian Castro to the former vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN CASTRO, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You said they would have to buy in ...

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your family (ph) would not have to buy in. If you qualify for Medicaid, it should automatically be enforced (ph) ...

CASTRO: Are you -- are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can't believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you're saying they don't have to buy in.

BIDEN: No, no. I said ...

CASTRO: You're forgetting that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I thought it was a cheap shot by a candidate on the fringe of the stage seeking to elevate himself, which leads me to today's survey question at Smerconish.com. Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats? Biden's performance was better than in the first two debates, albeit a bit hurried and certainly not flawless. As far as the rest of the field, Elizabeth Warren was sharp. She's a natural in this setting. It's difficult to see her faltering in any debate. You might not agree with what she says, but you can't quarrel with how she says it.

Bernie was, well, Bernie. He has loyal supporters, but how such unknown quantity can suddenly be ascendant is questionable. And as for the rest, I think they did well enough to hang on, but there were no breakout moments. Beto O'Rourke got attention on guns in a sound bite I'm sure you'll be seeing again when used by Republicans to further a narrative that Democrats threaten Second Amendment rights. As I've said before, the only certainty in this race is that we really don't know what's to come.

As "The Washington Post" pointed out recently, with 417 days to go in 2008, Hillary Clinton led the Democrats by 19.3 points. Of course Barack Obama got that nomination. Rudy Giuliani led the GOP by 4.8 points. It was John McCain who was the GOP nominee then. 2012, at this point, Rick Perry, Rick Perry, led Republicans by 10.5 points. That was Mitt Romney's nomination, but then again, in 2016, Clinton led the Democrats by 21.4 points, Trump led the GOP by 10.5 points.

The next debate will be co-hosted by CNN and "The New York Times" on October 15, maybe October 16 as well near Columbus, Ohio. Hoping to make that stage are my next two guests, Congressman Tim Ryan and former Maryland Congressman John Delaney. Congressman Ryan, let me begin with you relative to Castro and Biden. How was that not ageism?

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I did think that was a little bit inappropriate and I thought he was planning on -- it sounded like he was planning on doing it, but you got to -- you got to keep it focused on the issues. I'm here in New Hampshire right now. The people that I've talked to all the last couple of days, they're interested in themselves. They're interested in their own well-being, their own economic situation, their own issues around healthcare, retirement, bread-and-butter issues.

And so the Democrats need to be talking about that. Give your message, be as energetic as you can, as passionate as you can and then let the people decide and then contrast you with the other candidates. That's the best thing we can do moving forward.

SMERCONISH: OK. Well, I agree with what you've just articulated, but am I right that you yourself said that you think that Joe Biden is declining and you've questioned his energy level?

RYAN: Well, I was -- I was having an off-the-record conversation with somebody and that's much different than public. I love Joe Biden. The people are going to have to decide exactly who they want to be their nominee and I think we've got to focus on the issues. I mean, the problem I had really with the debate is it wasn't really up to the challenges that the country is facing now.

I mean, there's a industrial revolution happening in the world and we're missing out. There's a revolution happening with how we educate our kids with trauma-informed care and social and emotional learning. There's a revolution happening with regenerative agriculture and how we can sequester carbon and help farmers actually make money. There's a revolution happening with how we heal our veterans through yoga and meditation and other things. None of that was discussed.

[09:05:00] And I just think that the political discourse today is not up to the challenges that the American people are facing every day or the structural, systemic problems that we have in this country and that's my biggest problem with the entire conversation happening.

SMERCONISH: I'll let go of this subject after one more follow-up. I think I'm hearing you say it's OK to whisper about your questions pertaining to Biden's fitness, but not to say it in public.

RYAN: Well, welcome to politics. I mean, come on.

SMERCONISH: Yes, but I'm trying to understand the parameters.

RYAN: I mean, I'm sure -- I ...

SMERCONISH: I mean, I think it ...

RYAN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: I think it's fair for Julian Castro to say, hey, your answer was inconsistent, but when he says, you know, you're forgetting, you're forgetting. I can't believe two minutes ago, you're forgetting. That's over the line.

RYAN: Well, I think -- well, the whole political conversation today, I think, is, a lot of it, over the line. I mean, again, we're not even talking about the issues. If people have an issue with Joe Biden's age, his energy, his positions, they will evaluate it and I think the best thing other candidates can do is do what I'm doing and that's putting out these transformational ideas that I have, how we can pass them in a bipartisan way and then let -- and do it in an energetic way, do it with your own personality, your own style and then let them contrast that with all of the other candidates that are in the race.

And I think that ultimately is what the American people want. People are going to cross the lines. It's politics. I mean, you get on social media, the entire Twittersphere is over the line. I mean, that's just what's happening today and I hope we can have some level of decorum, but, you know, at the end of the day, it's going to be about ideas and who's working on the ground and that's what I'm focused on.

SMERCONISH: Do you have a shot to make the October debate?

RYAN: Yes. Yes, we have a shot. I mean, I think the low dollar donation piece is going to be really hard. I mean, we have candidates literally paying $50, $60, $70 to get a $1 contribution in order to meet the 135,000 low dollar contributions that you need to get on the stage. I think that's a complete artificial barrier here and when a lot of these Senate candidates have raised money from high-dollar donors, rolled it into their presidential account and then bought, basically, the low-dollar donations and built the low dollar infrastructure out.

So my goal is how do we start moving our numbers on the ground in the early states and that's what we've been doing and I've been in New Hampshire the last two or three days. We're pull -- we probably pulled 15, 20 volunteers out of here the last couple days. We'll be announcing a really big endorsement that we're getting out of New Hampshire here in the next 24 to 48 hours and that's how you're going to win this thing.

I mean, you mentioned in the intro all of the different -- the past and modern history, political history, of what the polling looked like. This thing is just getting started. Bill Clinton didn't even get in the race --

SMERCONISH: It's true.

RYAN: -- till October and we're having these artificial --

SMERCONISH: There's no doubt.

RYAN: -- qualifications. I just think it's breaking up the natural rhythm of a campaign, especially these early states where people want to meet you two or three or four or 10 times before they vote for you. I mean, give us a chance to get that thing rolling a little bit --

SMERCONISH: OK.

RYAN: -- and so we're focused on that.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Ryan, thanks for being here.

RYAN: Thanks, Michael. If anybody wants to help us, TimRyanforAmerica.com. Chip in ...

SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think ...

RYAN: ... chip in for the cause.

SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com. Answer today's survey question. Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats? As I mentioned, another moment garnering a lot of attention from the debate was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: It was clear that the idea was popular in the hall in Houston. It didn't exactly receive the same level of support across the country. I want to bring in presidential candidate former Maryland Congressman John Delaney. Congressman, was that a gift that Beto O'Rourke just gave to Republicans? JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I wouldn't say it's a gift. I do think we have to stay focused on the things we absolutely have to do to reduce the amount of gun violence in this country, which is universal background checks, put limitations on assault weapons like we actually used to have on a bipartisan basis and pass red flag laws. Those are the things that the American people broadly support and the Democratic Party should have a laser-like focus on getting those things done because that will in fact make our country safer and those are things that I know we can get done.

SMERCONISH: I remember catching up with you after Detroit -- in Detroit after the Detroit debates and you expressed to me concern that, you know, the sort of message being communicated by the candidates on that stage was not one that would be helpful in a general election. Is that the way you saw what just went on this week in the debate?

[09:10:02] DELANEY: You know, what I was referring to in Detroit was the fact that we need to put a candidate -- we need to have a nominee who's running on positions and policies that a majority of the American people support, which I think is pretty obvious in many ways. Some of these candidates are running on positions that not even a majority of Democrats support and I just think that makes the general election very, very challenging.

What I didn't see this week on that stage was the leader that we need, that this country needs and I think the Democratic Party needs to be focusing on this concept of leadership because this country desperately needs leadership at this moment in time.

They need a leader who can bring our country together, they need a leader who has a vision of the future because the world is changing very rapidly and someone like myself, who's the only person who's been a leader in the private sector, is the CEO of two publicly traded companies and a leader in Congress, actually has a vision for how the private sector and the public sector work well together.

You know, we don't need game show antics, we don't need people putting forth ideas that literally not even a majority of the American people -- I mean, a majority of Democrats support. We need real leadership, someone with resolve, someone who wants to unify the country, has a vision for our future, understands our role in the world and actually wants to start getting things done that matter to the American people.

SMERCONISH: I'm not sure whether it was the questions that were raised or maybe it was the absence of you and Ryan and Hickenlooper and Bullock, but those divisions within the party were not as attenuated in this week's debate. You get the final word.

DELANEY: Yes. I mean, look at, I think on certain areas we're all very unified. We want to deal with climate change, we want to create a form of universal health care system, we want to invest in communities and in kids through education. The question is how do you do it and do your plans actually make sense, do you have a way of paying for them and can you get them done because the one thing this country cannot afford is more inaction. You know, the cost of doing nothing is not nothing and we've paid a huge price because we've had a broken government. So the question is who's the right leader to restore a sense of common purpose to this nation and actually start getting things done? I think that was missing from the debate stage. I think on many of these issues, Democrats are completely in line with each other. So it becomes a question of who's that leader that we need that can get things done?

SMERCONISH: Congressman, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

DELANEY: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? From Facebook, "Ageism my ass. Biden will not survive Trump." Muriel, look, I have no problem with Julian Castro pointing out you're being inconsistent, Mr. Vice President. A moment ago, you said X and now you're saying Y.

It's using the word, you know, are you forgetting in a dismissive -- in fact, let me just say it this way. What I thought as I watched it on my sofa, he's calling him a doddering, old fool. That's how I took it and I'm not alone. It's OK to point out an inconsistency, but when you are repetitive and four times over, "Are you forgetting, are you forgetting? I can't believe that two minutes ago -- you're forgetting." No, that's a cheap shot.

Up ahead, actress Felicity Huffman sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying to fix her daughter's college test scores is really just an extreme case of how desperate many parents are for their kids to get into college and for middle-class parents, the cost of tuition is leading to massive debt. We'll talk about it.

This is important. It is National Suicide Prevention Week and just this week, two mental health advocates, a megachurch pastor and a college head of counseling, both died by suicide. What can we learn from their stories?

Plus, he led the 1995 UCLA basketball team, the NCAA championship, but when Ed O'Bannon's likeness was used in a video game without his permission or payment, he brought a lawsuit to challenge the system. He's here to discuss a new California law that could finally show college athletes the money which is causing high emotions on both sides of the issue, including from pro athlete Tim Tebow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM TEBOW, ATHLETE: We live in a selfish culture where it's all about us, but we're just adding and piling it on to that, where it changes what's special about college football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Tim ...

TEBOW: We turn it into the NFL where who has the most money, that's where you go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: College sports may still be labeled amateur, but they generate so much revenue, there's a growing movement to let the athletes share the wealth. According to "Forbes Magazine," college football's 25 most valuable teams combined earn an average of $1.5 billion of profit on annual revenue of $2.7 billion.

So that's why it's big news that California's state assembly and Senate both unanimously just passed the Fair Pay to Play Act. It would allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals and profit from their name, their image and their likeness. The NCAA isn't happy with the prospect. Its president, Mark Emmert, has implied that if such a bill passes, California schools could face the prospect of being prohibited from participating in NCAA Championships.

My next guest, Ed O'Bannon, has been fighting for the right for these profits for a decade. Back in 1995, he led UCLA to the NCAA Championship, was named the tournament's most outstanding player, he was drafted by the Nets, but after leaving the sport, he recognized his likeness in a basketball video game called NCAA Basketball 09. Take a look at those images. It was being used without his consent or compensation.

So in 2009, O'Bannon sued the NCAA as well as the video game maker EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company. Ed O'Bannon wrote a book about this battle, "Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA," and joins me now. Ed, did you ever get paid -- can we put that back up on the screen for a minute? I mean, look at -- look at Ed's likeness from the video game versus how he looked in his heyday. Did you ever get paid for that?

ED O'BANNON, FORMER UCLA BASKETBALL STAR, SUED NCAA OVER LIKENESS IN VIDEO GAME: No, I didn't. I did not -- I did not get paid, Michael.

[09:20:03] SMERCONISH: Were you forewarned or did this catch you cold? Like how did you discover, oh my God, they're using me in their video game?

O'BANNON: I was -- in a nutshell, I was at a friend's house and his son had been playing the video game the night -- the night before and then I, you know, just went went to his house and, you know, he told me about the video game and so I wanted to check out. You know, I mean, who wouldn't want to be on a video game? So, you know, he pulled it up, there I was, there was my brother and all of my teammates for the '95 team and I was, you know, ecstatic about it, to be honest with you, initially.

And then he told me about, you know, that he paid X amount of dollars for it and I didn't get a penny and that's when it really kind of hit me and, you know, the rest is history. A week later, two weeks later, Sonny Vaccaro gave me a call just to kind of say hello and, you know, he told me about an idea that he had about suing the NCAA, that sort of thing. I let him know what I just witnessed and he thought that I would be perfect to be the lead plaintiff in this lawsuit. So that's really kind of how it started for me.

SMERCONISH: I assume that you like what California is trying to do. Is it enough? And what of Tim Tebow's worry that college then could become like the NFL and there won't be any difference between the two?

O'BANNON: I don't know -- I'll answer your question in reverse. I don't know that his words really would be true. I think the athletes, college athletes, will be able to profit off of their likeness and just kind of take it from there. I don't know that, you know, they'd be getting paid millions of dollars. That's not what I was asking and that's not what we were asking for, just to control your likeness.

So to answer the California question, I absolutely love it. You know, hopefully when it crosses -- this bill crosses Governor Newsom's desk, he will sign it. I know Senator Skinner has been advocating for it and so, you know, there's a lot of people behind it. California is in a really good position. They are changing the game and, you know, from where we sit, we're extremely excited about it.

SMERCONISH: I got to -- I got to just say from my own perspective that I see a slight difference between a question of should we pay athletes for their collegiate work, athleticism and the issue of here's Ed O'Bannon, everybody knows what he looks like, everybody knows his number, everybody knows his style, we're just going to use that in our game. You got to compensate someone who you're cashing in on their celebrity. That's how I see it.

O'BANNON: Well ...

SMERCONISH: Anyway, good luck to you. Thank you for being here.

O'BANNON: My pleasure. My pleasure, Michael. Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Up ahead, "Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday to prison and a $30,000 fine for resorting to illegal means to get her daughter into college, but for many middle- class parents, they risk falling out of the middle-class just to pay for their kids education. We'll talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday for her participation in the so-called Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. Two weeks in prison, 250 hours of community service, a $30,000 fine and a year of probation. She must report to prison on October 25. This is all for hiring someone to fix wrong answers on her daughter's math SAT so that she wouldn't be blocked from admission to an acting school. Huffman and other wealthy parents, both famous and not, have been gaming the system any way that they can which shows how desperate the parents are for the kids to succeed, but there's actually a more troubling story, how that desire has impacted middle-class families who want the best for their kids. The sheer cost of college itself and how it impacts their lives and that's being tackled in a brand new book called "Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost."

Its author, Caitlin Zaloom, joins me now. She's a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU. Actually, you call yourself an economic anthropologist. You studied this for seven years with a -- with a team of folks and in your book, which I've read, you speak of the moral traps that many of us fall into. What are they?

CAITLIN ZALOOM, AUTHOR, "INDEBTED: HOW FAMILIES MAKE COLLEGE WORK AT ANY COST": Yes. So families face a series of moral traps when it comes to college. College is one of the most important goals that middle- class families have and so they take it very, very seriously.

So on the one hand, they are being told over and over again that they should save for college, that they should -- that they should pay only the lowest cost possible and that they should, at the same time, of course, secure the retirements of parents at the same time that they should be doing whatever they can to support children in the goal of educating themselves and making themselves into the people that they want to be.

SMERCONISH: And many middle-class families are now falling out of the middle-class so that they can afford the tuition that they've secured for the education that they've secured for their kids.

ZALOOM: The high cost of college puts an enormous pressure on the families that have to contribute to young adults going to college.

[09:30:00]

So families do whatever they can. They pull money out of their retirement funds. They draw down whatever savings they can. They take on second jobs.

They draw in grandparents. And grandparents can possibly have funds to contribute too. All of that means that the family will not be better off in the long run. And we've seen the effects of that.

SMERCONISH: Caitlin, you speak of the tectonic shift in terms who or what is responsible for affording tuition. What do we need to do? Do we need to reverse that burden?

ZALOOM: I believe we do need to reverse that burden. I think that we have a very solid model from our history about investing in our public colleges and universities that make them as strong as they can possibly be in order to educate our young adults. And I think that that has been something we have forgotten, state legislatures have been hacking away at public university budgets for decades. And I think that we need to reinvest in our historical commitments.

SMERCONISH: In other words, the burden needs to shift, you argue, from middle class families to the state, to the government?

ZALOOM: Yes. That's exactly what we've had and --

SMERCONISH: And final question, why -- why focus on the middle class, for those who have not yet read "Indebted"?

ZALOOM: I focus on the middle class because that is a group that historically has been understood to have the easiest time sending their kids to college outside of the very wealthy. So, the middle class people who are supposed to be able to do just that, open up opportunities for their kids without experiencing too much of a burden but that is not what we have today.

SMERCONISH: The book is called "Indebted." Thank you for being here.

ZALOOM: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind you to answer the survey question today at Smerconish.com. I'm told there's tremendous social media buzz about it. I'm not surprised.

"Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats?"

SMERCONISH: Still to come, after a rash of student suicides, University of Pennsylvania focused on improving mental health resources for students and hired a new head of counseling and psychology services. This week, he died by suicide.

Since 1999, suicide rates have jumped 41 percent. The topic of suicide even came up during this emotional moment during a Bernie Sanders event just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, they're saying that I didn't re-sign or do something or something --

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you going to pay off --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't, I can't. I'm going to kill myself.

SANDERS: Stop it. You're not going to kill yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't deal with this.

I have Huntington's disease. Do you know how hard that is? You probably don't, do you?

I can't drive. I can barely take care of myself.

SANDERS: All right. Let's talk later at the end of the meeting, OK? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

SANDERS: OK. OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:36:46]

SMERCONISH: This week during National Suicide Prevention Week, two people devoted to helping others combat suicide thoughts died by suicide themselves.

On Monday, megachurch pastor Jarrid Wilson killed himself after spending years devoted to mental health advocacy. In 2016, Wilson founded the "Anthem of Hope" which focuses on helping people navigate mental health illness and combat suicidal thoughts.

He had been open about his own struggles with depression. He tweeted that on Monday, the same day that he passed he was, "Officiating a funeral for a Jesus-loving woman who took her own life today." Adding, "Your prayers are greatly appreciated for the family."

Also on Monday, Gregory Eells took his own life. He was the executive director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Pennsylvania, a job that he had taken in March, after spending 15 years doing similar work at Cornell.

Since 2013, 14 Penn students died by suicide leading the school to focus on improving its mental health services and Eells was part of that push. He'd been an outspoken advocate of mental health, even given a Ted Talk on resilience in 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY EELLS, MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE WHO DIED BY SUICIDE: "If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces." I would like to think it's actually when your heart is broken is probably more accurate. Because all of us will face times when our heart is broken and resilience is about what we do with that. Can we make art with those pieces?

I also like this other quote describing a character in "The Thrill of the Grass." "She had fouled off the curves that life had thrown at her."

I think this one is a great way to think about resilience. And my work with Cornell students I think is really helpful because I see a lot of students that want to be perfect. And I think resilience is about shifting that mind frame to move away from that perfection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: These two deaths are just another stark reminder that no one is immune from this issue. According to researchers at Ohio State University who evaluated national suicide data from 1999 to 2016, suicide rates for individuals 25 to 64 jumped 41 percent in that time period.

With me now is someone who knows all too well the tragedy of which I speak, Peggy Wehmeyer, is a former correspondent for ABC's World News Tonight. She lost her husband to suicide in 2008, and just wrote this poignant essay "What Lies in Suicide's Wake" for "The New York Times."

Peggy, your essay shares a story of not wanting to tell a dinner companion about the background of your husband's passing. It really spoke of the perception of stigma that still applies.

PEGGY WEHMEYER, LOST HER HUSBAND TO SUICIDE: Yes, do you want me to tell you that story?

SMERCONISH: Briefly, sure.

WEHMEYER: Yes. Whenever I went out, I mean, for a long time after my husband died by suicide, I kind of stayed holed up in my house and with my close friends because it's like there's like there's an S on your head for suicide.

And I -- for example at this dinner party, a woman said to me, "Oh, are you divorced?" And I said, "No, no, actually, I'm widowed." And she said -- because I thought widowed is better than divorced and I could just put her off. And then she goes, "Oh, did he have cancer?" And I immediately said, "Yes, he did," because I knew what she would think if I said suicide.

[09:40:02]

So, she went on to say, "What kind of cancer?" And I went on to say, "Pancreatic cancer." And I felt more and more shame, not only shame that my husband died from suicide but shame that I was lying about it.

And then she asked, "How long from his diagnosis until he died?" And I got up and left the table. But it seems everywhere I went, people are very curious about suicide. And they look at you suspect like, "Couldn't you have done something? Couldn't you have fixed it? What was wrong with your marriage that your husband" -- it was kind of like the Kate and Andy Spade story. But, yes, that was the dinner conversation I wrote about.

SMERCONISH: I don't doubt that you felt that sense of shame. But I wonder if shame isn't a fiction in so far as the issue is so widespread. We're all a degree away of separation from someone. And if we would just come to terms with that and have more dialogue in that regard, we could lessen those burdens.

WEHMEYER: I think you're right, Michael, but I think it's more difficult when you're a spouse or a parent. I've gotten a lot of email and contacts from people who are spouses or parents because we feel we're responsible to keep these people we love tethered to life. And we don't understand that with mental illness, sometimes, it predates you. You don't -- you really can't fix it any more than you can cure pancreatic cancer. So, I think the shame is about what if, why didn't I, could I have done this or that. Suicide is very different than other kinds of deaths for the survivors. And the shame kind of -- is like a sticky film that stays with you, not just your loved one who had shame which might have driven them to their death.

SMERCONISH: Give advice to friends and family of someone who's gone through this as to how they should act? Because I know that many say stupid things, not deliberately. What advice would you give everyone else?

WEHMEYER: The people who haven't gone through it and are talking to someone who have I would say --

SMERCONISH: Yes.

WEHMEYER: -- don't ask a lot of questions. I know you're curious. It's like rubber necking along the side of the road.

It's amazing to me the questions people ask. I mean, some people even ask, "How did he do it?" That's kind of insensitive -- kind of insensitive, and more about you, not about caring for the other person.

So, the way you care about a friend who has lost someone that way is to just be present to them. Stay out of their space if you're not a close friend. Come in close, if you are.

Just be present and caring and let the person talk when they want to talk, and about what they want to talk about. It's better to be quiet and present and caring. And follow the lead of the person who is grieving.

SMERCONISH: The essay was tremendous. I posted it on my Web site. I hope that people will Google it and read it. And I appreciate so much you're coming on to discuss it.

WEHMEYER: Thank you so much, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Peggy.

Coming up, how well do you know the constitution?

And I want to remind you to answer the survey question at Smerconish.com where, by the way, you will find Peggy's essay.

"Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats?"

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:47:18]

SMERCONISH: I'll bet we can all use a civics lesson. And for many public school children, help will arrive Tuesday.

See if you can answer these four questions. First, the House of Representatives has how many voting members? Second, what do we call the first 10 amendments to the constitution? How many justices are on the Supreme Court of the United States? And fourth, on what day was the declaration of independence adopted?

You should know these answers. 435 members of the House. First 10 amendments are called The Bill of Rights. Nine Supreme Court justices always remember a switch in time that saved nine. Declaration of independence, July 4, 1776.

All right for extra credit, what year was the constitution written? That answer is 1787.

Each of these is a question on the naturalization test which must be passed, along with a rudimentary English exam in order for someone to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. If you were born here, you got a pass.

Show of hands at home, how many had all five correct? Aha. All the more reason that this Tuesday public schools across the nation will recognize Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The day commemorates the September 17 signing of the constitution.

Since 2004 educational institutions that receive federal funds are required to educate their students on the U.S. constitution on this day. The suggestions from the U.S. Department of Education range from visit the constitution in person. To make a quill pen. To create your own Bill of Rights. But the most straight forward one is try reading the constitution.

Also on Tuesday, the National Constitution Center, our friend Jeffrey Rosen and others, will launch a new interactive constitution in the presence of Justice Neil Gorsuch. It will feature classroom exchanges with paired classrooms in states across the country for discussions about the constitution moderated by federal judges and master teachers.

The College Board has already signed up A.P. classrooms for more than 30 states. The goal is to get to 50 states by Tuesday. Look, one day is not enough but it's a step in the right direction.

Consider this, in the 2016 election, despite intense interest in Trump v. Clinton, 41.9 percent of eligible voters, over 100 million people, did not cast a ballot.

I keep my copy of the constitution handy at all times. Given to me by Ron Paul, no less.

Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments.

[09:50:01]

And we'll give you the final results of the survey question. Last shot to go vote at Smerconish.com.

"Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats?"

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SMERCONISH: Hey, Lanny Davis just texted me and he said, "You got 4/5 right. The Constitution was adopted July 2nd, signed on the 4th. You owe me." I owe you a beer, Lanny. Thank you for that.

Time to see how you responded to the survey question at Smerconish.com.

"Is Joe Biden's fitness for office fair game for Democrats?"

Survey says 56 percent say yes with more than 7,000 cast. And the numbers are already high. Boy, I must say I'm surprised about that.

You heard my thoughts on this. I'm not going to be repetitive. I thought it was a cheap shot by Julian Castro.

Here's some of the social media reaction this week. What are you thinking?

"Just because it's a cheap shot does not make it irrelevant."

Well, Jamal, to your point, I think it will seep into the consciousness, like the record player, like a lot of other issues. It will be out there and people will draw on it. And even if they don't think that they're drawing on it.

What else came in?

[09:55:00]

"Smerconish, every candidate's fitness for office should be fair game, but Castro's attack was nasty and unnecessary. Trump does not need this kind of help from Democrats."

I think that's right. You know what? Amy Klobuchar was asked about it I think on CNN as a matter of fact post debate in the spin room. And she said, look, I just didn't think it was cool. I thought it was distasteful.

Everybody is free to draw their own conclusion. You can watch and come to a conclusion of your own. But to sit there and say, are you forgetting, are you forgetting, are you forgetting, like scolding an elder. No. Klobuchar was right.

One more if I have got time for it. Lanny Davis, huh?

"Please have more about tuition killing the middle class. The top candidates are only giving financial aid to low income families."

Yes. MBD, the whole premise of the book "Indebted" that made an impact on me is that this is such a burden, financial and emotional to the middle class, really up ending our lives just worrying about college tuition.

Please make sure that you join me for my "American Life in Columns" tour next in Sunnyvale, California on September 30. The October 1 show is sold out.

Thanks for watching. We'll see you next week.

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