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Parker Spitzer

Name Your Cut; Sneak Peek at the George Bush Museum; Rubbing Elbows With the Kochs

Aired October 21, 2010 - 20:00   ET


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

ELIOT SPITZER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: And I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program. Tonight we continue with our "Opening Arguments" focusing on "Name Your Cuts," that very special effort that we're going to pursue every night, every day with the politicians who come before us to keep their feet to the fire to say to them, where you are going to cut, with this tsunami sized deficit coming down the pipe, we know we have got to make big cuts. Let's get real. We've got to make hard choices and politicians don't like to talk about it. That's why on this program no more flimflam, no more dancing around the tough issues. We're going to focus on where is the money, what are the tough choices.

Let's look at the screen. We're going to show you where the money is. Like Willie Sutton says, you rob a bank because that's where the money is. here are the programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense and interest on the debt that you can't cut. If politicians talk about cutting in those areas, they are not being honest with you. We'll hold their feet to the fire and get the truth from them.

PARKER: Well, that's a scary proposition, Eliot.

SPITZER: But, it could happen.

PARKER: But, the Tea Party and the Republicans are riding this wave of dissatisfaction. And the problem is, though, nobody's really saying where we're going to cut. It's cut spending, but where, that's the question.

SPITZER: That's right. And you know, Kathleen, the reason we care about this is because it is the future of our country. If we don't begin to make the decisions to invest in our future, then the middle class of this country will be finished. Just this week, in fact, "Time" magazine, that barometer of American culture and what people are thinking, has the cover story about our own Fareed Zakaria, colleague of ours here at CNN, brilliant article that basically says the middle class dream, the American dream, if it isn't dead, it's on life support. Jobs are going overseas, income is going down, the confidence people have that the future is going to be better than it used to be simply isn't there. We've got to turn this around. It's not going to be easy, but we got to make those decisions, right now. PARKER: Whatever we do, there's going to have to be some pain up front.


PARKER: And I don't look forward to that, you don't look forward to that, but there's just no question if we're going to have a country here for our children, our grandchildren, we're going to have to make some sacrifices up front.

SPITZER: You're beginning to sound like a Democrat. You know, I'm beginning to think maybe this interaction here is working, I'm converting you a little bit, pulling you over to this side of the table.

PARKER: Well, here's the deal, I just want answers and solutions and I don't really care if it's a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. I think we can find things that are American ideas and go for those. And I hope that's what we're trying to do on this show.

SPITZER: That's exactly what we're trying to do and we're going to keep doing it and we're going to do it with some great guests tonight. In "The Arena," we're going to talk to two very intelligent people with very different ideas on how to restore the American dream. CNN's own Fareed Zakaria and Grover Norquist, one of the leading conservative thinkers out there.

PARKER: But first, Fareed Zakaria, our own Fareed.

Welcome and thank you for join us. Your wonderful article in "Time." you describe coming to the United States as a young man from India and you had this vision of the American dream based primarily on having watched "Dallas," the TV show. When you first came here, you saw spacious suburban homes, shiny appliances and all that, the American dream. And then now you describe going back to India where that's what you -- you see that there more than here. How do we restore the American dream?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, a part of it I do think is optimism. You know, one of the things I remember about America when I first came here, it was such an optimistic country, even in the midst of a recession, even in the midst of difficult times. And now that's where the world really has turned upside down.

Where you go to India and you feel like there's energy, there's optimism, there's a sense that the country is unlocked. And Americans are just so gloomy and they're so sour and so pessimistic that part of the answer is I think we have to believe we can get something done. We have to believe that we are masters of our destiny. And I really do believe that while there are tremendous challenges out there, bigger than we've ever had before, there are solutions and there are actually pretty doable solutions. There are things we can do that will change this. And I try to outline some of them in the article. But I do think that you've got to believe that, otherwise, despair and pessimism and you start blaming other people, which the game we're in now. We're blaming Mexicans and Chinese and Muslims for our problems.

SPITZER: In the article, one of the themes that jumped out at me was this switch we need to go to through from consumption to investment, from consumption to innovation. How do we do that? Well, what are the policies?

ZAKARIA: First, I think it's really important, this was -- when researching the article I was struck, I was looking at this issue when did we go into this consumption overdrive? That's, it's about the early '80s that we start consuming, consuming, consuming. That is the new driver for economic activity. We're buying houses, we're buying more health care, we're buying all kinds of stuff. The problem is there was no rise in income at that level, at the time. It was all borrowed money. And that we did it and the government did it and that's where we've got to get back to the normal levels.

PARKER: And we were doing that mostly on credit.

ZAKARIA: All on credit. The entire expansion of consumption from 65 percent of GDP to 70 percent, it was all credit.

PARKER: And we are all kind of guilty, aren't we? We're all part of the problem rather than -- we can't really blame the Mexicans for what happened to us. We spent money we didn't have.

ZAKARIA: Well, we keep blaming the Chinese for this undervalued currency. Whether or not they're doing it, we're buying the stuff. You know, it's almost like we're saying, you know, stop me before I buy another Chinese-made appliance or toy.


PARKER: You're describing two separate problems, one in the private sector where we bought houses we couldn't afford and that debt crisis just collapsed on us. In the whole mortgage crisis was a consequence of that. In the public sector, we have an equally severe debt crisis which we have not yet confronted. On pensions we need fundamental pension reform, because we can no longer afford to promise people pensions like we have for the last 30 years. And we need, on health care, to push some of those costs back to consumers with co- pays, a very sensible idea which wasn't really in health care reform.

ZAKARIA: And even more controversial and specific, we need the ration health care. It is not a good word, but here's what I mean by it...

PARKER: You're not running for office, are you?

ZAKARIA: No. We need to ration in the sense that if you are 80 years old and in poor health and you want to get the most expensive hip replacement in the world, you must -- you know, it's absolutely your right to get it if you will pay for it yourself, but if you're asking all of us to pay for that, some board has to determine whether or not this is something that can be afforded by the system because your insurance premiums have sure as hell not paid for it. We've got to start thinking like that. SPITZER: Do you start raising the Social Security retirement age?

ZAKARIA: Well, without question. As you know, I mean, Social Security, saving Social Security is trivial. All you have to do is raise the requirements age and means test it and you're there and the retirement age is absurdly low given it was started at a time when life expectancy was 10 years below it, it is now 10 years above it. That's easy.

SPITZER: What you are saying about health care, to a certain extent is that when we have made the good free to that many consumers and when there is pressure on doctors to do defensive things and consume, because they will only get more money, there's overconsumption and the wrong type of consumption.

ZAKARIA: Right. And I think it is important to get back to the fundamental issue which is we are consuming more as a society, as individuals and as government, than we can afford and we have to free up money because clearly the jobs of the future are all in the knowledge industry and innovation and we need to be able to make massive investments in science and research and development, in new technologies. That is how we created jobs in the '50s and '60s because the Defense Department subsidized the semiconductor industry, because the Defense Department and NASA went out and created what turned out to be the computer science revolution. You know, we need to get back to those massive investments, but we can't afford them right now.

SPITZER: One of the fascinating ideas in your article is a five percent VAT, a sales tax, what they call a value added tax, to be paid across the nation, all of which, the proceeds of which would go directly into funding the innovation you're talking about.

ZAKARIA: We need to get to, in any opinion, we used to spend in the '50s, the glory days, three percent of GDP on research and development. But that's when we had lots of jobs for semiskilled workers. We had a huge manufacturing base. Right now, the only jobs we're going to find are going to be knowledge jobs, you know? So, we need to spend a lot more, it seems to me.

So, in order to fund those kinds of investment, I don't believe in pretending you can have it all. You will have to have a tax. And I think a five percent VAT tax would put us at the bottom of the industrialized world. Every European country has a VAT, the average is 17.5 percent. Northern Europe, which does well, has 20 percent VATs. And by the way, if it tamps down American consumption, that is not the worst thing in the world.

PARKER: Well, you also talked about balancing that with income tax reductions.

ZAKARIA: Yeah, I fundamentally think our tax code is both cumbersome, it is inefficient and it's also immoral because it's 16,000 pages riddled with special exceptions and those are basically -- that is an institutionalized legal corruption where you are allowed to make contributions to politicians in return for their support on very specific, narrow provisions that help their industry, sometimes their company. And we should get rid of all that.

PARKER: Well, the question is why is it considered unpatriotic to look at another country and see what they might have done better than we are doing?

ZAKARIA: This is what businesses do all day. All they do is benchmark, they just sit there and say, "Who is doing this differently and if they're doing it better, why."

PARKER: Fareed, thank you so much. And thank you for being the star of "Name Your Cuts."

SPITZER: The only one with an honest answer.

Up next, another take on how to save the middle class vastly different from Fareed's. This will be interesting. That in 60 seconds.


Do you still feel as enthusiastic as you were on election night in 2008?

D.L. HUGHLEY, COMEDIAN: I think the short answer is no. I think that I'm certainly disappointed by a lot of the animus that the president has faced. I think that, you know, so many times people are questioning your religion, your birth origin and these kind of things, and also, I been underwhelmed at some of the decisions that the president himself has made.



SPITZER: We spoke with Fareed Zakaria about his piece in "Time" magazine, "How to Restore the American Dream." We now have a very different perspective.

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, thank you for being with us. Grover, a central piece of your proposals is to extend the bush tax cuts in perpetuity, which many people, including the Congressional budget office, says would double the federal deficit to about $11 trillion over the next decade.

So, I'm going to ask you the same question we're asking everybody in our new program here called "Name Your Cuts," how do you balance the budget with that enormous tsunami of red ink facing us? What are the specific cuts you would make? What are you doing specifically on Social Security and Medicare? Because the other things you list here, I agree, about Afghanistan, those numbers are not going to be there available in the next year or two. What are you going to do on Medicare and Social Security?

PARKER: Would you raise the retirement age to 70? GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Well, I'm actually more in favor of moving all of our entitlement programs from defined benefit plan, which is what we have at present, what General Motors had for their pension setup, to defined contribution, basically to 401(k)s. The state of Utah has just done this. And I'm big on taking a look at something that just happened somewhere. Utah, this last year, just passed a new law, next July 1st all new hires in the state of Utah, state employees and local government employees, will have your pay plus 10 percent into a 401(k). They're not creating any more unfunded liabilities in Utah now into the future.

Every state could do that. The federal government could do that both with their employee, we do that with postal employees, which are a large chunk of government employees and we could do it with Social Security. I'm not necessarily in favor of raising taxes or -- on Social Security and cutting benefits. Both of those make your investment in Social Security as a taxpayer worse, a worse deal. That...

SPITZER: I just want the make sure I understand this.

NORQUIST: Make them defined contribution.

SPITZER: We're drilling down here to get serious answers.

NORQUIST: I just saved you several trillion dollars. Oh, yeah, but what about more.

PARKER: He is giving you facts, Eliot.

NORQUIST: These are real numbers, here.

PARKER: These are real cuts.

SPITZER: Iran and Afghanistan, many people would agree with you that those would be one-time savings for the next couple of years, but...

NORQUIST: Petraeus said we should stay in occupied Afghanistan for a decade. That's a trillion dollars in one speech. That's a lot of money.

SPITZER: But, the 100 billion on discretionary, be a 20 percent cut in everything across the board. I don't think that's viable. What is viable -- and I'm going to agree with you, what you lay out there would eliminate the Social Security system as we know it, so eliminate a huge liability for the federal government.

NORQUIST: It would replace Social Security with something that you control.

SPITZER: It would privatize it.

NORQUIST: Big improvement. We could even do that, make it voluntary. If somebody is really more comfortable with a government program. SPITZER: You're giving us a meaningful alternative.

PARKER: All right, we've been talking a lot about the American dream here and 47 percent of Americans think it's no longer available to them. To you what's the biggest challenge to the American dream?

NORQUIST: Well, when you look at the explosion of spending in the last four years, that the bailouts, $750 billion, the bailouts of the banks, the bailouts that were shared with other industries, the massive spending implosion and we're only beginning to look at the tip of the spear of what health care's going to cost.

They delayed the implementation of health care which I think was a strategic mistake on the part of the left because we're going to be able to dismantle what they did before it kicks in, but they did it to make it look like it was smaller, because they're looking at, oh, in the next decade it's only 600 billion. In first decade of implementation it's 2.5 trillion and they just pushed it past the window when you're looking at it.

So that explosion scared people. It's the whole Tea Party movement, which I thought I'd never see. I run a taxpayer group and we try and get people concerned about too much government spending. And for all the time I've been involved in politics I'd say they're spending too much. Yes. Well that will lead to tax increases and inflation. Call me when it does. And you couldn't get people excited. You had to wait 1980 until it became inflation and tax increases, '94 tax increases, and then voters cared. For first time in modern American history and maybe ever in American history, overspending as overspending gave you a reaction the last two years.

SPITZER: And here's the interesting (INAUDIBLE). And to your credit, you were putting an agenda on the table. I completely disagree with the notion of privatizing Social Security, because it would have left tens of millions of seniors with no place to go when the stock market crashed last week -- excuse me, last year and would have left them really in desperate, desperate, desperate situations. Having said that, the Tea Party movement and its agenda, if you think that the "Pledge to America" is their definition of an agenda, does none of the things you're talking about in terms of cutting the spending. It is not only vague, but it is somewhat deceptive because it pretends they're dealing merely with things like the National Endowment for the Arts, is going to deal with this chasm of the deficit that we have.

So, how do you think you can get the Tea Party to do something more fundamental which in prior revolutions hasn't happened?

NORQUIST: Over the last three years we took an idea from Governor Rick Perry of Texas, which was they put every check that the government writes online. Starting with what he has for lunch if the taxpayer paid for it, to what he makes, to what his secretary makes, to all expenses and now the whole state's expenditure. We took that to 25 states, not New York, not New Jersey, but 25 states that passed similar laws. And in fact, Utah and Florida have actually passed laws requiring all local governments to be completely transparent, as well. And when you look at that, I talked to one speaker of a house who is a Republican who said, this is a great idea and we are going to do this, shortly after we buy our new furniture. Which tells you exactly what was at stake, that when it's transparent, you don't stay at the Ritz when you go to a hotel. When it's transparent, you buy IKEA not the cool stuff from North Carolina. And the savings that you get -- could you make a list of what you'll save. You know, I'm not sure I could make a list of what they're not going to do, but I do know that they spend more carefully when it's online.

SPITZER: Step one is easy, not raising taxes is easy because you run a deficit.

NORQUIST: Now wait a minute. I put 25 years into that. It wasn't easy at all.

SPITZER: No, but it's politically easy and, in fact, that is what led to these enormous deficits. Taxes have been cut, which is something everybody is for, but spending, as you point out, has gone precipitously up. Your first answer to how we save on the budget was set a commission or...

NORQUIST: No, no, no, no. This is a real live committee.

SPITZER: No, no, no, I understand that, but it was set up another committee in Congress, a Congress that has been noticeably unable to cut spending over the last 40 years.

NORQUIST: Because there was nobody whose job it is to cut spending. This is to create one that would.

SPITZER: Because none of them want to do it. And that's why -- and then when you did mention some of the entitlement programs all you did was say eliminate the fraud, which is something that we need to do, but as a percentage of total spending is going to bring is nowhere near where we need to go. So, your big idea here is essentially, I don't want to put words in your mouth, privatize our Social Security. You agree with that, right? That's what you're doing, you're creating a private alternative.

NORQUIST: I just walked through with you over several trillions of dollars of real cuts that aren't in there, too, by the way.

SPITZER: No, no, they're not, but that's OK.

PARKER: You get credit for actually naming specific cuts. You got to give him that, Eliot.

SPITZER: No. I give you credit for some of the numbers. The privatizing Social Security, which is an idea that has been soundly rejected by the American public for very good reasons.

NORQUIST: Actually no, it's still polls at 58 percent. What people reject is what Bush tried to do in 2005, cut benefits and raise taxes.

SPITZER: President Bush made it the centerpiece of his State of the Union Address, several years back. It was rejected then. And after the cataclysm and the deceptions of Wall Street, fundamental Ponzi scheme perpetrated on the American public the way they invest in the stock market, it will never happen. So I think, I give you credit, it's an idea that intellectually is there, I disagree with it.

NORQUIST: You may have missed this, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac brought us this collapse. Those were the two things the Democrats refused to fix.

SPITZER: No, no, I agree with you that they were...


NORQUIST: This was criminal negligence on the part of Barney Frank and Dodd.

SPITZER: They were huge participants, but there were multiple parties involved. I think everybody was...

NORQUIST: No Fannie Mae, no Freddie Mac, we wouldn't have the collapse.

SPITZER: No, that's not quite the case. Fannie and Freddie contributed in a very significant way as did...

NORQUIST: With trillions. You keep -- I give you trillions and you tell me that's not a big enough number.

SPITZER: This was multiple links in the chain. And that's why if you want to say just Fannie and Freddie, you're wrong. If you want to say they're part of it along with the mortgage banks and the brokers and the people who actually were taking out mortgages improperly, then you have the full picture.

NORQUIST: And Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton's laws which forced your bank to lend to people who can't afford to, so that everybody got screwed by the misdirection of capital.

SPITZER: Like I said, multiple parties.


SPITZER: So we agree on that.

PARKER: Grover Norquist, thank you so much. We will be right back.


SPITZER: I heard you say before you're really frustrated by the Tea Party and the fact ha the Tea Party seems to be driving the politics of the moment. What's the best response to it? How do you respond to it?

HUGHLEY: Well, I think it's arsine to call them all racist. I don't think they are. I do find that their fascination with middle aged, semi-attractive white women who shop at Lenscrafters is amazing.




SPITZER: D.l. Hughley is a comedian and actor and a familiar face here on CNN. D.L. has been following this year's campaign season quite closely. Let's hear what he has to say.

How you doing there, D.L.?

HUGHLEY: I'm exceptional. How are you guys doing?

PARKER: Good. Good. Good.

SPITZER: Doing great.

PARKER: All right, we're going to start with a clip from your 2008 CNN program taped on election night, November 4. You were in Harlem speaking to a crowd on 125th Street.


HUGHLEY: I'm not going to take up too much of your time, but I want to say that we should be proud of ourselves and we should be proud of this country for doing something we never thought it would do, ladies and gentlemen. Anybody out here, the young children out here, you ain't got to be a comedian or a rapper or a basketball player or a baseball player, you can educate yourself to be the most powerful man in the world.



SPITZER: And let me ask you, you still feeling as enthusiastic and excited as you were on election night in 2008?

HUGHLEY: I think the short answer is no. I'm more disappointed in myself because I'm a naturally cynic man and to actually believe that things might be different is probably -- I'm more disappointed in myself than I am actually in the country. I think that ultimately this is what change looks like. And to believe that any time we've gone through any significant change in this country there's always been this kind of animus and upheaval. I just hoped that we could have avoided it this time and history has shown me right that we can't.

SPITZER: Are we getting the change that you counted on, that you hoped we would get?

HUGHLEY: No. I think that politics, as you know, is kind of a bare knuckles fight. And I don't think he has fought the way that -- I can speak for myself, that I believed and hoped that he would, but I also think that he's faced some questions that no president has ever had to answer.

And you know, the Tea Party -- if you took the gripe that the Tea Party has with the country and the gripes that a lot of black people have with the country, they'd be virtually the same. I think that all of us believe the government hasn't been responsive, that they've kind of marched off on their own kind of accord. I just find it ironic that they waited until we had a black plan in office before they got this so upset that they actually wanted their country back, which is ironic to me.

PARKER: Well, there's no question that President Obama has faced unique challenges.


PARKER: Let's switch to California for just a minute. You've got some big races out there this year. How does it look from where you're sitting?

HUGHLEY: Well, I think it's close like it always is. Meg Whitman spent $150 million when you can actually buy Sacramento for 145 million, so it's a...

PARKER: Well, what about Prop 19? I want to hear your thoughts on Proposition 19.

HUGHLEY: The legalization of marijuana?


HUGHLEY: The legalization of -- I was actually just campaigning for that. Or...

PARKER: So you're in favor of legal weed?

HUGHLEY: You know. I'm absolutely in favor of legalizing marijuana. And not just because I dig it so much. We can't afford to keep this many people in jail. We can't afford to keep locking up the court's time where people are either smoking marijuana or dealing it. It's just a silly notion to believe that it is more harmful than anything that we -- listen, they have MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I think we should have Weed Smokers Against Drunk Drivers. Because they do more harm than anybody else.

SPITZER: I heard you say before you're really frustrated by the Tea Party and the fact that the Tea Party seems to be driving the politics of the moment. What's the best response to it? How do you respond to them?

HUGHLEY: Well, I think it's arsine to call them all racist. I don't think they are. I do find that their fascination with middle aged semi-attractive white women who shop at Lenscrafters is amazing to me.

(LAUGHTER) PARKER: All right, well, let's talk about Juan Williams, you know, the political analyst who was fired by NPR yesterday for making some comments on Fox News about Muslims.


PARKER: You've spoken out before about people who have been fired for their remarks. How do you feel about this?

HUGHLEY: He was fired for saying something by NPR. Bill O'Reilly got on "The View" and basically said, "They killed us on 9/11." He castigated 1.5 billion people. It is not - you know, behind the mosque, and then he went on to say that 70 percent of Americans believe that this mosque shouldn't be built.

I would venture to say that 70 percent, over 70 percent -- 80 percent of Americans believe Iraq attacked us, you know, after 9/11. A large percentage of Americans would probably, if you polled at the time, believe slavery is OK. The world believed, at one point, in the upper percent of it, that it was flat. So, liberals to me, of which I count myself, are the least tolerant and the least, you know -- they're the least easy to deal with. He said what he said. Obviously a lot of people feel that way. And to pretend like they don't not only is shirks our responsibility as media, their responsibility as media, but it also just cuts off the conversation before it has a chance to grow. People are entitled to feel how they feel.

SPITZER: D.L., a fascinating and powerful statement. Before we go, let's take a look at another clip from your 2008 show.



HUGHLEY: You're my brother.


HUGHLEY: Will you wear my button?

Palin/Hughley 2012. Palin/Hughley 2012. Act like you mean it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Palin/Hughley 2012.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Palin/Hughley 2012.


SPITZER: All right, you know, D.L., seems to be a lot of excitement behind that Palin/Hughley ticket. First question, how much did you pay those guys to stand there and carry those posters with you?

HUGHLEY: Actually, I didn't. But I just promised to deliver up a whole bunch of Daniel Boone hats.

SPITZER: There you go, I can see why they'd fall for that one. So, have you heard from Governor Palin recently? Is she reaching out to you saying this is the ticket that's going to win?

HUGHLEY: No, I have not. I just read an interesting poll. Women don't like her, minorities don't like her, old white men do, so I think Bill O'Reilly and her will probably...

SPITZER: I'm not going near that one. Thank you. As always, entertaining to have you talking with us. Thanks so much. We'll be right back.

HUGHLEY: Thank you.


SPITZER: Welcome to "Our Political Party," a chance for our guests to speak their minds in a whole range of topics. Let's see who's on the guest list. Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. Julia Reed writes for "Newsweek" and is the author of "The House on First Street" about her life in New Orleans.

PARKER: And Errol Louis is a columnist at the "New York Daily News" and a good friend of our show. Welcome, everybody.

This Saturday in Dallas, a new exhibit opens of the George W. Bush memorabilia, and included in that is Saddam Hussein's pistol and the bullhorn that President Bush used at Ground Zero. What memorabilia would you like to see in the museum?

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": First of all, President Bush has a museum? Has anyone told Dick Cheney that? All right. This is silly, but I want to see that pretzel that he inhaled in 2002 and passed out when he was watching the Super Bowl or something. That's what I want to see.

PARKER: And he fell -- I forgot about that.

SPITZER: That was upstairs in the residence, right?

LIZZA: It's either at the Smithsonian or this museum. Yes. Yes. There are a lot of conspiracies.

SPITZER: And pretzels like that, they survive.

LIZZA: Well, yes.

SPITZER: That won't be a pretty thing to look at.

LIZZA: That's true. That's true. That is true.

SPITZER: The concept is good. In actuality, I don't know.

PARKER: The presidential petrified pretzel. OK, Julia. JULIA REED, "NEWSWEEK": Now I want to see a perishable item, too, actually.

SPITZER: This whole museum may be perishable.

REED: Oh, God. This is sort of sentimental. But I mean, the first time I ever interviewed Bush before he became president, when he was still, when he was about to run and he was still governor of Texas and he was smoking a cigar during our interview on the grounds of the -- and his biggest concern in those days, which, you know, they got a little bit bigger, was please don't write that I'm smoking a cigar. So, I mean, but it was such an innocent time. He was in a festive little mood. Condi Rice had just given him a tutorial before I got there. You know, no, Dick Cheney hadn't been appointed vice president yet.

SPITZER: Appointed president.

REED: He -- if 9/11 hadn't happened, there was no Iraq, there was no Afghanistan. There was sort of, you know --

PARKER: Julia, did you write it then? You're telling it on national television now.

REED: I didn't write it then. But I mean --

PARKER: You still have a role in the museum on presidential cigars, right?

REED: Yes.

SPITZER: I'd love to see the notes from Condi Rice's briefing to him.

REED: That was actually -- that was when, you know, he was like I said during the tutorials. And his body language with her was so relaxed. I mean, he just finished a run and they were having a salad out there on his wrought iron table and stuff. And she had on this really tight short mini skirt. And they were kind of sprawled out. At least they have a good rapport.

PARKER: That chemistry is everything.

REED: Yes.

Didn't work out so well, but anyway --

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": When I go to the museum, I'll be looking for some hanging chads. I'm sure there's enough of them out there. You know, you can sort of show people how an election was lost, won or stolen. Take your pick based on stuff that was kind of pushed through and kind of not pushed through. And after all, we didn't get really ever get a chance to sort of count them, so you can actually have the visitors do the count with the Supreme Court.

SPITZER: That's a great one. Where are those ballots right now? LOUIS: I assume --

LIZZA: They're at the Smithsonian. I have one on my book case.

SPITZER: Are they real?

LIZZA: Yes, I covered the recount.

SPITZER: And you literally got one.

LIZZA: Sample ballots to all the reporters so you would understand what these ballots are.


The original ones, I don't know.

SPITZER: Somebody someday could go back in there and actually do a count.

LIZZA: Well, the newspapers did do that.

SPITZER: Yes, that was -- oh, my goodness. Let's not go back.

LIZZA: They sold those machines. You can buy them on eBay now, and you know.

I'm guessing the way that the George W. Bush library deals with the recount is sort of how the Nixon library deals with Watergate. You know, there will be something on it, but it's not going to be --


LOUIS: Something euphemistic --

LIZZA: It's not going to be front and center. It's not going to be the place to go to get the full story.

SPITZER: It was amazing how quickly the issue of legitimacy dropped off in our political conversation. Nobody raised it once he was in there. The president --

REED: Well, that would have been too dangerous.


REED: I mean, I don't think anybody pro or con, you know, on either side wants to have that conversation dangling.

SPITZER: And this may be how Al Gore deserves a lot of respect for that. He put a stop to all that conversation.

REED: I think you're right.

LIZZA: Yes, but you know, but I think there was a period after the election where there were still quite a few folks who were not viewing him as legitimate. I'll never forget the first conversation I had -- I was covering the White House at the time. After 9/11, the first thing conversation I had with a Bush adviser was, first thing out of his mouth was, one thing 9/11 does is it puts to rest this legitimacy question. It was almost like this is the death --


PARKER: Yes, but there were several news organizations went back into Florida and did recounts of some of the disputed areas. They didn't do the whole state, obviously, but in every case it came out that Bush had won those places, those areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We forget that.

LIZZA: Are you sure of that? That's a longer conversation, but those results were more complicated than that.

SPITZER: All right.


REED: Americans don't want that hanging out there. You're in Washington, but out there like regular America, there was --

LIZZA: You mean, Washington is not America?

SPITZER: There you go. OK.

All right. Look, ours isn't the only political party around. The Koch brothers, the billionaire businessmen behind a whole lot of conservative organizations are throwing a party to talk about, quote, "the most severe threats facing our free society." Some people would put them on that list. Anyway, if you were invited, what would you say is the biggest threat? Julia?

REED: The incredible debt that we've gotten ourselves in. I mean, you know, if we don't get a handle on this soon, I mean, I can't imagine what's going to happen to us. I mean, we've got to do all --

SPITZER: That's our kids' problem. Come on.

REED: I know. I mean, that's what we've been saying. I think the American people have finally grasped how incredibly dangerous this is and what a threat it is. But I'm not sure we have the leadership to deal with it yet.

PARKER: Yes. Well, unfortunately, people are sitting around their kitchen tables now not out of choice.

REED: Yes. They're impatient. But the question is, I mean, we don't have the leadership to deal with it yet. The question is if we do, will people actually be willing to take the hits? You know, are they going to be like in France, whoa, I got to work until I'm 62?

SPITZER: Errol? LOUIS: I would, in fact, say that it is the anonymous corporate money that's flowing into elections through innocent sounding shell groups started by people like the Koch brothers. And I wouldn't bring this up until after dessert not only because I wouldn't want to ruin the party, but because it would probably be the last you heard of me at that party. But I think it's an incredibly serious thing that you've got thousands and thousands of ads that are running and nobody knows where it's coming from. And I think the game was really exposed just earlier this week when we finally saw the corporate anonymous funders who somehow paid for an ad telling people not to vote. I mean, that's as bad as it gets.


LOUIS: And if you multiply that by 100 times, which is entirely possible at this point, I think you start to see a real serious threat to the basic operations of democracy.

REED: Were you as threatened by George Soros as you are by the Koch brothers?

LOUIS: Well, you know, George Soros is a -- well, first of all, you can find out where he's given money to. He writes a letter saying I'm giving money here. He doesn't start little groups that have some sort of fictitious name to it. I mean, it's a big, big difference.

SPITZER: But the issue of anonymity is not one side of the other. It's just a theoretical problem. And I'm with Errol, anonymity is the problem. I'm not bothered so much by the amount of political conversation. In fact, more the better. It's the anonymity that does --

REED: And I'm not bothered by the amount of money. That's when we were talking about Stewart Mott before the cameras started rolling. He gave a million dollars in '72, and then he gave the government a million dollars.

SPITZER: The government, right.

REED: And then Clingstone (ph) gave Nixon a million dollars. I mean, there's plenty of money to go around both sides. I'd rather just know that this guy give a million dollars than funnel it through these things.

LIZZA: The deficit, as important a problem as that is and as important a problem as it is to have transparency in our fundraising system, in the unlikely event that I went to this party, I think I would just reject the premise. Neither of these are great threats to our freedom. And they're always used this kind of rhetoric that it's this -- our freedom is being threatened.

I frankly don't see our freedom is really being threatened in this country. We have tremendous problems like the deficit, like the (INAUDIBLE) but I don't see -- these guys use this overheated rhetoric that Obama is threatening our freedom. Whose freedom is being threatened?

LOUIS: What I talk about, what Julia talk about is this problem of the slowly boiling pot. Right? I mean, you put the frog in the slowly boiling pot and it gets a little hotter and a little hotter. And by the time you've reached a fatal --

LIZZA: Are you this threatened by having too much money or anonymous money in an election?

LOUIS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

LIZZA: Whose?

LOUIS: Absolutely. Well, I mean, if freedom is stolen in only one congressional district, that's a problem, you know. And I think that could happen in this election cycle less than two weeks from today.

SPITZER: I will say something which is again a bit off. I think at some levels we are more free now than we've ever been. The technology that is out there, the ability to speak through without the big media companies from one person to the next e-mail, g-mail, all this twitting and whatever. I don't do it.


We are freer than we've ever been. Other than the fact that that technology also is invasive. So I think that is where freedom is at the fulcrum rather than -- deficit is a big problem at a different level.

REED: We're talking about freedom being threatened, that's one thing. I'm just talking about, you know, what I think might, you know, threaten society in general but not --

LIZZA: I think that's distinction between what these guys talk about.

PARKER: All right, freedom lovers, we to take a quick break. But we want to hear from you. Check out our blog at and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


PARKER: It's time again for "Fun with Politics" although this is no joke. General Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has just published his memoir. And he reveals that at one point during the Clinton years, the codes required to launch our nuclear arsenal went missing for months.

SPITZER: You've got to be kidding. You're telling me that somebody dropped the football. You know, that's what they call the briefcase with all those codes in it. They just lost it?

PARKER: Yes. The football and, well, the codes are written on a card that they call the biscuit. The officer responsible for those codes discovered they were missing the morning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Well, that's incredible, isn't it?

SPITZER: Yes, but let's be fair to other former, favorite former president, Mr. Clinton. You know what? Somebody else did the same thing indeed. There's a story that's been around for years that Jimmy Carter left the biscuit in a suit that was sent out to the dry cleaners.

PARKER: Jimmy Carter, he sent his suits to the cleaners around the corner?

SPITZER: But you know what? Even Gerry Ford, an all-American football player, he fumbled the biscuit himself.

PARKER: Even --

SPITZER: Even Gerry Ford.

PARKER: Even Gerry Ford.

SPITZER: Left it on Air Force One on a trip to Paris.

PARKER: Well, if you're trying to reassure me, Eliot, it's not working. And all I can hope is that Mr. Obama is listening.

SPITZER: Please, Mr. President, don't drop the ball, the biscuit --

PARKER: Or the ball.

SPITZER: -- the dog or whatever you're holding there. Don't drop it.

PARKER: Don't drop it. We'll be right back.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, IN AMERICA: What's happening now in the economy is that African-Americans don't have the wealth that is the padding that helps you through a tough time. You might be middle income, but you're not middle class because you lack the wealth. So you lose your job, you're done. You now drop down into a lower class.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: I'm Joe Johns. Back to "PARKER SPITZER" in a moment. First, the latest.

The Pentagon has narrowed the number of people who can discharge a service member under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered that only the heads of each service can approve dismissals.

More recalls for Toyota. Nearly three quarters of a million Avalons, Highlanders and several Lexus models for leaking brakes. Frightening moments on the Washington metro after one man fell on to the track, another man raced up the platform to try to stop the approaching train. Meanwhile, a bystander on the opposite platform tried to encourage him into the crawl space. When that didn't work, the bystander leaped on to the tracks, stepped across two third rails and helped the man to safety.

And a program note. Nearly 50 years after the civil rights act outlawed segregation, how much has really changed in the way Americans view race? Answers, through the eyes of children "360" "Black or White: Kids on Race," 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

That's the latest. Now back to "PARKER SPITZER."


PARKER: We've all heard those depressing numbers on unemployment, 9.6 percent, and a grim outlook. But if you're an African American, the rate is worse -- 15.9 percent. And the forecast even more bleak.

Our own Soledad O'Brien has been looking into those startling numbers, the financial hardships that follow and how faith is playing a role in rebuilding. Her special "Almighty Debt" is coming up right after the show tonight. And she joins us now.

Welcome, Soledad.


PARKER: One of the central characters in this special is a New Jersey pastor named Buster Soaries. He says that debt and the African-American community is actually a bigger problem than racism. That's a pretty amazing statement.

O'BRIEN: Very controversial, isn't it? I think he's sort of over the top intentionally. He's trying to get the attention of his parishioners. He's trying to make the point that debt is like slavery. Debt is like bondage. And he says debt is a bigger problem than racism because, in his view, racism is something external, something that is sort of done unto you. You don't have that much control over it. But when it comes to debt, which the opposite of which is wealth, building wealth, you actually can control that.

PARKER: A lot of African-American churches teach the gospel of prosperity.

O'BRIEN: If God loves you, you'll get even more money.

PARKER: You'll get rich.

O'BRIEN: Bentley in the driveway if you're, you know -- it means God loves you even more.

PARKER: And so Soaries obviously doesn't do this. He takes this rather tough love approach and is trying to encourage his congregants to take personal responsibility for some of the debt.

O'BRIEN: Very much, absolutely. And I think he's completely against the prosperity gospel. Absolutely. And I think he also is really saying, listen, if you can control your debt, you can build your wealth. And the issue with what's happening now in the economy is that African-Americans don't have the wealth that is the padding that helps you through a tough time. You might be middle income, but you're not middle class because you lack the wealth. So you lose your job, you're done. You now drop down into a lower class.

PARKER: All right. One of the characters is a fellow by the name of Carl Fields. He's been out of work for 20 months. And it's not so much the unemployment but all he does is fill out applications, applications.

O'BRIEN: Hundreds, yes.

PARKER: Now, is that a normal period of unemployment or is he in a particularly dire circumstance?

O'BRIEN: He's in dire circumstances, and those dire circumstances are not that unusual. Carl Fields was a vice president at an insurance brokerage firm, has been out of work for 20 months.

Blacks make up 14 percent of the population. Twenty percent of African-Americans though have been unemployed for more than a year. So that's a number that's slightly off. So Carl Fields is in dire shape and he is rapidly falling out of the middle class, down into the lower class.

PARKER: And we have a clip with Carl. Let's take a look at that.


O'BRIEN: Insurance broker.


O'BRIEN: Client manager, commercial segment, commercial lines account manager, from all of these.

FIELDS: From all of these.

O'BRIEN: How many would you guess this is?

FIELDS: I know I've put in over 300 job applications.

O'BRIEN: Of this stack, how many people have called you up and said, yes, we want to meet you?

FIELDS: I've had three telephonic interviews.


PARKER: OK. So "Almighty Debt" talks about disparity between black debt and white debt.

O'BRIEN: Right.

PARKER: And blacks apparently have a harder or in a tougher situation.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. It is really about wealth. The bigger problem is black wealth versus white wealth.

PARKER: So, all right. Well, so how -- is there any hope for leveling that playing field?

O'BRIEN: You know, I think this brings us back to Pastor Soaries because his theory is sort of, if you're going to have any hope for leveling the playing field, churches and others have to get involved. And he's basically taking what is a civil rights agenda. He used to march and gather the people together and fight racism and let's actually turn that toward conquering debt in the black community. Because if we can lower that debt, we can build black wealth. And that will be the thing that frankly will prop up the churches, right, because people tithe and give to their church but also prop up the community as well.

PARKER: One of the characters in your special actually gives tithes to the church first.


PARKER: Can you talk about that a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, that stunned me. You know, I'm Catholic so we don't do tithing, so the whole system is not that familiar to me. But I said, you know, tell me how you pay your bills. What's the order? And she said, you know, well, first we tithe 10 percent. And I thought, you know at a time when you literally cannot pay your bills, why do you tithe?

And she said, you know, it's not about tithing to the church, it's about tithing to God. God gives us 100 percent, we can give back 10. The theory is that -- you know, and Pastor Soaries would say, listen, we don't track who gives what, when and we still don't take people's W-2 forms although there are churches that do that. You know, the idea is that the church in order to help others in bad situations do need people to continue giving their tithes.

PARKER: Well, if you're going to build equity somewhere, it may as well be with God, right?

O'BRIEN: Click to vote. Good to bet with God, I guess.

PARKER: "Almighty Debt" airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. right after our show. Soledad, thank you so much for coming by.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

PARKER: Great to see you. O'BRIEN: I appreciate it. Likewise, thank you.


SPITZER: The Tea Party movement has had a clear message for the 2010 midterm election campaign -- cut spending, taxes and the deficit.

PARKER: However, the Republican candidates and party leaders who have embraced that message have offered few specifics about how they would tackle the nation's $1.29 trillion deficit.

SPITZER: We're challenging our guests to identify cuts they would make in the federal budget. Again, specific answers are scarce.

PARKER: We also ask you to tell us what cuts you would have us make. And you've been very specific. So let's look at a couple of our e-mails.

SPITZER: Alex wrote in and said, quote, "Cut the defense budge in something close to half. We can start by getting out of all the countries we shouldn't be in, Iraq and Afghanistan and close all of our military bases not on American soil, Germany, Korea, et cetera.

PARKER: Ian wrote, "Let's cut marijuana prohibition. We could tax it legally and gain income from that, free all the people unjustifiably locked up, and not have to blow millions on prisons and enforcement anymore. Make it happen, people."

SPITZER: Keep the cuts coming. Go to our Web site, Name your cuts, the cuts you would like to make.

PARKER: And while you're there, you can vote on our poll asking what your first priority would be in tackling the deficit. So far, let the Bush era tax cuts expire for the wealthy is in the lead.

SPITZER: Thanks so much for being with us. Good night from New York.

PARKER: Up next, "Almighty Debt," a "Black in America" special airs right now.