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State of the Union
Interview with Colin Powell
Aired January 23, 2011 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: This week, President Obama delivers his state of the union speech to congress, entering the last half of his term he is all president and all candidate, one of many balancing acts. On the economy, Mr. Obama has to keep the free market stimulated enough to produce jobs and still cut government spending.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink. The next two years, our job now, is putting our economy into overdrive.
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CROWLEY: Overseas he needs to wind down the unpopular war in Afghanistan while maintaining enough stability in the region to keep it from falling back into a terrorist haven.
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OBAMA: Progress comes slowly, and at a very high price in the lives of our men and women in uniform. In many places, the gains we've made are still fragile and reversible.
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CROWLEY: And in the political arena, the president needs to gear up for a tough re-election campaign, shore up his rest lesion base, all the while delivering on promises of a kinder, gentler political arena.
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OBAMA: Only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation.
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CROWLEY: Easier said than done. Two weeks after the Tucson shootings, the only noticeable change in the theater of politics, Republicans and Democrats are promising to sit beside one another for Tuesday night's speech. Is that the best we can do?
Today, former secretary of state and retired General Colin Powell on the way forward. Then, two former presidential aides on the White House balancing act, Democrat Paul Begala and Republican Michael Gerson. And 50 years after landmark speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, what history tells us about today with historian Richard Norton Smith.
I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.
Few people who have labored in and around the field of politics have done it as artfully and diplomatically as Republican Colin Powell who endorsed and worked for President George W. Bush in 2000 and voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
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POWELL: I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the -- on to the world stage, on to the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.
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CROWLEY: Halfway through his term, is President Obama achieving the change promised by Candidate Obama?
Joining me here now in Washington, former Secretary of State, retired General Colin Powell. Thank you so much for joining us.
POWELL: Hi, Candy. Good to be with you.
CROWLEY: Let me just ask you right off the top. Has he been the transformative figure you envisioned?
POWELL: Yes. I think he's got a way to go. I mean, he hasn't achieved all of his purposes, but he's stabilized the economy. The economy is now starting to rebound, more slowly than we would like to see, but it is rebounding. Whether you approve of health care or not, he took on that issue which I think is a major challenge for the American people. What do we do about 40 million Americans who have no health insurance? And so I hope we can fix whatever may be at fault in the bill that was passed, but we need some kind of health reform, and I think he took that on.
I think he has reached out to countries around the world and has developed good relations with countries around the world. And I think he's working very hard on the issue of unemployment which I think is the major problem facing America right now, and I think and I hope that this will be the centerpiece of the State of the Union speech.
CROWLEY: And that goes back to something you said earlier, that you -- at least suggesting he may have taken his eye off the ball, that there were too many things going on and really it was the economy. Do you feel as though that message has gotten through?
POWELL: Well, I hope so. I still feel that way and felt that way when I said it. I think what the American people were expecting was for him to focus on the economy and the unemployment problem almost to the exclusion of everything else initially and he did that, but he also felt he had to go after health care and he did that and he got a bill. But now I think the American people, and it's not so much us so-called experts and commentators about what he ought to say in the State of the Union address, the American people are expecting him to say something about what he's going to do to fix the economy even more than it has been fixed already, keep it moving forward and to get the unemployment rate down. That's what they are looking forward to hearing about.
CROWLEY: One of the things, and you just mentioned it, that the president came into office and just by being a different president people thought internationally, relationships have already improved, just because there's a different person than former president George W. Bush. Do you think that international relations that the U.S. has with other countries is demonstrably better now, and where has it shown up in something tangible?
POWELL: Well, I think it is better. I think the favorability rating of the United States and the administration has gone up. But, you know, we didn't elect Superman, we elected a human being, Barack Obama, who came in with an idea, with energy, and I think with a youthful -- a more youthful approach to things. And I think that has been proven useful as we see more countries helping us out in places like Afghanistan, where we see people who want to work with us on climate change and other issues, where we see the invigoration of the G20 as a new economic forum in which to do things.
So I think, yes, there have been improvements, but at the same time we could not expect everything to improve for the better all at once just because a new personality came on the scene. Every nation in the world ultimately reflects, in its policies its national needs and its own political situation and doesn't just reflect who the American president is.
CROWLEY: Well, you mentioned, yes, polls show that people like us better. Does that get us anywhere?
POWELL: Sure. It gets us -- it gets us -- it puts us in a better place to ask things of people and to listen to them. Of course, I think it helps us.
But, you know, we should never reach the conclusion or come to the conclusion that somehow because our favorability ratings went down in recent years, that this reflected a total negative turn away from the United States of America. As I like to say, even as people were criticizing us, every morning at every one of our consular offices and embassies around the world, people were lined up, and they were all saying the same thing when they got to the window, I want to go to America.
We still are that place. We still are that place of inspiration. We're that place of initiative. We're that place that people look to when they want problems solved throughout the world. So America still has a dominant position in the world, and I think that President Obama understands that. He's using the powers of the presidency well to further our agenda but the agenda of the world really. It's really now a worldwide agenda. We all need better economic progress in our countries. Unemployment throughout the world, poverty throughout the world, hunger, disease, climate control, these are no longer just issues that belong to the developed countries, they belong to the whole world.
CROWLEY: Talk to me a little bit about China. We just had the big high-level meetings with the presidents at the White House, but it seems to me that since even before you were secretary of state human rights, trade and fair trade in general and what china is doing to protect its own currency were constantly talked about, and nothing ever happens. What moves China off the dime?
POWELL: You have to remember that China has come a long way in the last 40 years. I've been going there for 38 years. And I have watched their economic miracle take place, which has benefited some roughly 400 million Chinese citizens.
We have to remember there are still 800 million, twice plus the size of our own population, who are in poverty, and China first and foremost is concentrating on bringing those people out of poverty because if they don't do that, it will start to cause them internal problems. So China is not going to respond to every request we make to advance or to re-evaluate their currency or to respond to every issue we have on trade. We have to recognize that.
The summit that was just concluded I thought was very successful. The president made our positions clear. He spoke about human rights, but China has its own policies, and you shouldn't expect Hu Jintao to run back home and suddenly say I've seen the light or I've gotten, quote, religion as one person said and -- and change all their policies. He goes home looking like he preserved his positions as well. Both sides came out of this I think rather well. We'll see some improvement in trade, a lot of American products were purchased by the Chinese while they were here or the deals were announced.
But don't expect China to suddenly turn on a dime and change its internal policies. They are going to remain an authoritarian nation. They believe that's the only way they can run a nation of 1.3 billion people, and they haven't done badly in recent years.
They are an emerging power, and they will use their new found wealth to hip improve their country. They are doing marvelous things with infrastructure and education and, yes, they are also modernizing their military and making some of their neighbors nervous.
So we have to work with China. It's a complex relationship, and it will have its ups and downs, but I think generally over the 40 years that we have been in this relationship with China, the slope has been steady and upward, even with the things that come and go.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a couple of hot spots, primarily Afghanistan. We are six months from when the president says he wants to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from there, from what we see -- and we're not over there and I'm sure you know a great deal about it, it does not look as though there's been so much change that we can begin to bring home troops in June.
CROWLEY: Do you see that date as being a time for a major withdrawal, or do you think there will be a symbolic withdrawal?
POWELL: I can't answer that. And I don't think anyone can. I think the president and his advisers and his commanders, General Petraeus and others, will have to make a judgment in June or July as to...
CROWLEY: Is it heading in that direction, do you think?
POWELL: I really can't answer that. I think that one year of surge has produced rather inconclusive results. There is no question that when you put an American infantry battalion somewhere or a Marine battalion somewhere, it's going to get quieter. And they are going to destroy some of the enemy and some of the enemy is going to slip away and hide and come back later.
So I'm confident we can do that. But unless you back-fill with a functioning government that's non-corrupt, that is competent, and that will give the citizens in that area confidence in their security and confidence in their government, then it will slide backwards.
And so I cannot yet tell whether or not the surge is successful. There are some elements that suggest success and some elements where I think there has been back-sliding. So I'm not sure where we're going to be in July. But the president is committed to have a review at that time. And based on the circumstances, have some level of withdrawal. I just don't though what that level will be, and I don't think anyone knows yet.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Pakistan. There was another drone strike, we were told, by Pakistani intelligence. That six militants were killed. At the same time, they had thousands on the streets, particularly in northern Waziristan, with "Death to America" signs because the local populaces are -- killing civilians here.
Have these drone attacks, while they may have helped protect troops in Afghanistan -- U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have they worsened our prospects of getting any semblance of a friendly relationship with the Pakistani people?
POWELL: It's a two-edged weapon, really, if you can call it that. It definitely is taking out some leaders of al Qaeda and leaders of the Taliban. And so it has been very effective there, and is being done in Afghanistan and, of course, in Pakistan. But at the same time it isn't the perfect weapon, and when Pakistani civilians are killed by these strikes or Pakistani civilians are seeing these strikes take place on their territory, a sovereign nation, and America is coming in and using these strikes, it causes a great deal of unrest within the population.
And I think our military commanders and our political leaders, our diplomatic leaders, have to make a balance.
CROWLEY: Is the balance OK as far as you can see, or should we draw back?
POWELL: As I see it right now, the balance is OK. There are a lot of other issues going on in Pakistan that are causing distress, not just predator strikes. The rise of Islamic extremism in Pakistan is disturbing to me. The fact that the government isn't as secure as it ought to be, the fact that the military seems unable to move into these areas and secure them and get rid of the Taliban, so perhaps these strikes wouldn't be necessary.
So it is not just the Predator strikes that are causing the trouble in Pakistan. It's a far more extensive problem than that.
CROWLEY: General Powell, stick with us for another segment. We'll be right back.
POWELL: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: And when we come back, want to cover a lot more, including a little politics, with General Powell.
CROWLEY: We are back with retired four star General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Let me ask you about your reaction to the shootings in Tucson. It became this message about society in some ways, and, you know, some people saw, you know, things about gun control, mental health, the culture just -- you know, that it seems that there are more and more of these things.
Did you see a message about this country in those shootings, or did you just see a random, senseless act of violence?
POWELL: Well, I think, first and foremost, it was a random, senseless act of violence by a deranged individual who should have been caught. Something should have been done about this individual long before he committed this horrible, horrible crime.
And in the process of thinking it through and looking at it, everybody started to speak about civility. That's a good subject for us to talk about because there has crept in our society and our public dialogue a coarseness, a nastiness, an attack of people who don't share the same views as you do. And not just attacking the policies but attacking the individual. He's a communist. He's a socialist. He's un-American. He ought to be thrown out. All sorts of nastiness. And it is not just politicians who are doing this to each other, and, frankly, politics has always been a contact sport in this country.
I mean, they did this back in the 17th and 18th Century, but with all of the cable channels and talk radio and blogs, especially blogs, where people can be anonymous with their nastiness, I think has caused a level of coarseness in our society that we've all got to think about. And politicians should think about it. All leaders in every aspect of American society should think about it. And I think television needs to give this some thought. A lot of this is frankly coming through on television.
CROWLEY: And do you think though that that's a genie that can be put back in the bottle? As you say, there's anonymity on the Web. You can say the foulest, cruelest things...
CROWLEY: ... on the Web and not have your name. And do you think that television -- television seems to march forward sort of with the times, sometimes it leaves the times, and I understand that. I mean, can it be done and can it be done by political leaders talking different to each other?
POWELL: I think you can't put the information revolution back in the bottle. That's out of the question. But at the same time, we can just act more responsibly in the language we use with each other. And we need to start pushing back on some of the more extreme language that we hear on radio or we see on television or we hear from our politicians.
The reason they do it is because we accept it as people. So I think the American people have got to start demanding more of our public officials and of the media that is trying to come into our homes every evening. But, unfortunately, there is a certain attraction to this kind of dialogue.
And the other thing is, with so much information available to us, you can just stay in your little stovepipe of information and only listen to others and talk to others and reflect the views of others who think just like you.
And so we're not broadening our knowledge base too often by all of the information that's available. We're becoming even more stuck in that segment of the knowledge base that reflects our views.
CROWLEY: You've been around politics and public life for some time, and you've seen George W. Bush called any number of names, now you've seen Barack Obama called any number of names.
CROWLEY: When you look at just the political part of it, do you think that there can be real bipartisanship, because as you say politics is hardball, and I don't know how you go about changing that.
POWELL: Politics is hardball. I mean, we can go through our history and see things that are far worse than anything we're seeing now. Thomas Jefferson complained bitterly about how he was treated by the media and the nasty things that were said, but I think you can have this kind of contact politics and also do it in a bipartisan way. You have to do it though out of the glare of light. You have to do it quietly without everybody knowing what you're doing.
Our founding fathers in Philadelphia in 1787 did not let any press in. They never briefed anybody as to what was going on until they were finished with the constitution. It's a little harder now to have that kind of...
POWELL: Somewhat harder, but at the same time you have to find ways to reach across the aisle, as they say, and start to talk with the other side in civil terms. Then you can go out in front of a camera and do something differently, but there has to be a civil conversation.
I think President Obama in recent weeks has been making an effort to do that. And I hope that his effort will be reciprocated by the other side.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you on a domestic spending. You have criticized Republicans for sometimes saying, okay, let's just freeze spending where we are and then we can save money without addressing the revenue side. Does that mean that you think when you look at the domestic agenda, education something you're very involved in, there are going to be some things that you're going to have to invest in and some things that you're going to have to cut.
Where would you with specificity say, look, we don't need a bigger military and we cut there.
POWELL: Yeah. I think we have to look at everything, both domestic and our international accounts. As we draw down from Iraq and as over the next several years as we draw down from Afghanistan, I see no reason why the military shouldn't be looked at.
When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and Mr. Cheney was secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don't think the defense budget can be made, you know, sacrosanct and it can't be touched.
But the real money in the entitlements, it's Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. And unless we do something about those, you can't balance the budget. You can't fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn't do it. And I'm very put off when people just say let's go back and freeze to the level two years ago.
Don't tell me you're going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you're going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.
CROWLEY: We are entering a presidential campaign season. Do you see anyone currently in the Republican field that would prompt you to vote Republican in 2012 and not vote for the re-election of Barack Obama? Anybody interest you in the Republican field? POWELL: I will always vote as I have throughout my life, for the person that I think is best qualified to be president of the United States, and I don't adhere to a single party line. So I'm not committed to Barack Obama. I'm not committed to a Republican candidate. I will see who emerges.
Right now I do not see on the Republican side any one individual who I think is going to emerge at the top of the pile. So it's going to be an interesting 2011 and a very interesting early 2012 as the primaries begin and they separate themselves.
But I am not committed to any candidate until I see all the candidates and finally see who the two candidates are who are going for this position.
CROWLEY: You don't see anybody in the Republican field right now that might tempt you away from your support for President Obama?
POWELL: I have not yet seen anybody in the Republican side who I'm prepared to commit to, but as I say once again, I'm not committed to President Obama either.
CROWLEY: Let me play real quickly for you something the president had to say about you recently when you were over at the White House.
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OBAMA: I just want to again thank General Powell for his good counsel, his friendship, most importantly his service to our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: I know that you talk and have you said that you have talked to people in the administration from time to time when they have come calling. Have you ever talked to the president about any position in his administration?
POWELL: No. I'm not looking for a position, and when he was a candidate and during the transition period, various conversations were held within the staff, but nothing was of interest to me. I've had 40 years of service, and I would rather be someone the president calls on from time to time for personal advice without me expecting anything in return or asking for a position.
CROWLEY: You know, because there's a scenario out there with Secretary Gates leaving, and there's this thought, well, Colin Powell might like to come back because your career ended on the Iraq war and that you would rather rewrite a little bit of that and have another shot at it.
What do you think of that scenario?
POWELL: I've never heard that scenario quite that way, but scenarios, the media loves to come up with various scenarios, but the administration knows that I'm quite content with the work I'm doing now with young people, with education and a variety of other interests that I have, so I'm not anxious to be offered a government job and I'm not interested in a government job.
CROWLEY: But overall if I had to say, you know, first two years of the president's administration, I would say Colin Powell a round of B for him?
POWELL: You know what, I never play that game of a, b, c, or d. I think he is doing a good job right now. I think the ratings suggest that the American people are still with him with respect to the policies that he has tried to implement. I think he's got some tough times ahead, and I think he's had some setbacks, but I have been in four presidential administrations, now I'm watching this one, a fifth one, and every president has ups and downs, every president has a challenge when it goes from campaigning to governing. It takes a while to figure out the difference between campaigning and governing. And now we see at the end of the second year he is definitely focusing on governing, and he has seen what the challenges are in many president of the United States and we'll see how 2011 goes.
CROWLEY: Thank you so much, General Powell. Pleasure.
POWELL: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: What tone does President Obama need to strike in Tuesday's State of the Union speech? We will ask top advisers to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush next.
CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Michael Gerson, former policy adviser and speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and Paul Begala, former counselor to President Clinton and CNN political contributor. Gentlemen, thank you.
This is so exciting. I have a New Hampshire straw poll to show you all. Guess what, 2012 is on its way.
But I thought it was kind of interesting looking at the straw poll, because Mitt Romney, now granted he's from Massachusetts. But he didn't do all that well in New Hampshire last time around, and he's polling -- this is among Republican Party members, 35 percent of the vote for Mitt Romney. Next is Ron Paul at 11 and then Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint.
So I get it. It's too early except that this is New Hampshire. They do pay attention, and this is the Republican activists. What does it mean?
GERSON: Well, there's going to be in this race an establishment candidate, whether it's Romney or not, and there are going to be populist candidates running in a more Tea Party fashion. That contest is going to be fascinating within the Republican Party. I would say that establishment candidates actually have more strength than you would think in these primaries which may be some of this indicates.
But that's the lineup. I'm not sure these are the candidates who are going to represent those two different tendencies. BEGALA: Well, I'll defer to Michael, it's his party. But it used to be that the Republicans were the more predictable party, they seem to always nominate the oldest white guy in line. And no more, I think. I think not this year. I think Michael is right, you'll have the two tracks and, of course, not just as a Democrat, as a pundit, I'm always drawn to Sarah Palin. She has not campaigned in New Hampshire, she hasn't appeared in New Hampshire, an interesting strategy because it is an absolutely critical state, but she has among Republicans nationally, a 68 percent approval rating. She is almost bulletproof, but among independents it's only 33.
CROWLEY: Yeah, but approval rating doesn't necessarily translate into this is the person we want.
GERSON: Yeah. Well, there was news this week that Sarah Palin has a lot of trouble in New Hampshire.
GERSON: She's completely ignored it. They don't like being ignored, very retail politics oriented. She could have a different strategy, or maybe she has no strategy at all, but I do think someone will fill that role, that kind of populist role. Huckabee can, he's in some ways a more serious candidate in my view, and might carry some of these themes but others could emerge.
CROWLEY: Let me talk to you about the president's State of the Union address. Can we -- is there unanimous consent at the table to just accept the statement that the president is tacking center at this point?
BEGALA: Sure, he's certainly tacking. My own view is his problem is not -- not left/right and I think the analysis ought not to be left/right and we tend to use that Washington shorthand. I think his problems are up/down and strong/weak. In other words, a lot of his critics think he's too elitist -- either too professorial or -- he needs to be much more focused on working people, middle class, talking about jobs. It's the most important thing, And he needs to show some strength. He the got shellacked a few months ago, now he's got to stand up and show some strength. And I think those dynamics more than left/right that are going to drive this guy's success.
GERSON: I think it's worth recalling that he's tried to turn this corner before. Last year's State of the Union address was supposed to be jobs, jobs, jobs and outreach to Republicans. That's what he talked about. He so has some advantages this time, some momentum it seems to me. The tax deal which is a model in a certain way of kind of bipartisan cooperation, his tone out of Tucson I think was very good, returning to some of those strengths from 2008 and his staff changes, all the new -- all the old Clinton people. I'm surprised you don't have an office.
BEGALA: Class photo of my old gang.
GERSON: But I think that's a strength. These are people with ties to business. Someone like Daley, the new chief of staff, with ties to Republicans.
So he's set himself up to make the transition on the economy.
CROWLEY: Certainly there's an effort to bring in more centrists, Daley, and more business people as we saw recently in the new jobs panel.
I want to repeat your words back to you. don't you hate this, from an op-ed column in the Washington Post. This was after the president's speech, State of the Union speech last year, where you said "there was only one theme that united all these various arguments and attitudes. The president's unshakeable self-regard. He admits miscalculations, but he is never wrong. He changes his strategy but not his mind. Do you think that we're going to see any change in the president's mind on anything, or are we looking at a change in strategy?"
GERSON: Well, some of this -- the change would have to be pretty head-snapping. You go from calling CEOs fat cats to your long lost friends. I mean, he's trying to make a pretty significant transition here. And we don't really know if he can do it because he hasn't had to do it before. Someone like Bill Clinton had a record as governor of having to make these kind of shifts and Obama has not proven that yet. But I think, you know, he's in the process. He has some momentum. He has, you know, some serious arguments to make, and I think it's quite possible.
BEGALA: Well, in December he went back on one of his cardinal campaign promises. This was not a minor thing. He supported the hated Bush tax cuts for the rich. He campaigned against it. He crusaded against it and yet he accepted a much bigger shift than Bill Clinton been for welfare reform which he had always been for but just in different fashion.
So that was a, I think frankly, it was a bad deal but irrespective it was an enormous switch.
CROWLEY: And it helped him.
BEGALA: Politically, sure. But it cost the country $858 billion. A little pricey for a five-point boost in the polls.
GERSON: I would only add quickly that a defeat is often an opportunity to reboot.
BEGALA: That's right.
GERSON: There is kind of opportunity in a moment like that to show I listened, I changed. He's changed his team. He's changing his message. And I think those are positive things.
BEGALA: But I would warn him do not replace an over reliance on intellectual elites with an over reliance on corporate elites. And I think that's what I'm seeing here. And that's what worries me. I think he's got to -- he's at his best when he's back in touch with the guy trying to pay off his student loans ten years ago, a guy who is a community organizer. I mean, I see it as up-down.
CROWLEY: Those are the people he's lost polling-wise.
BEGALA: Working class Americans.
CROWLEY: And so what does he do? We're talking about independents, we're talking about working class whites basically. Tonally, it seems to me we're not going to see any big programs here. There's no money for big programs, so this is a speech that we're going to look at for its tone and a speech we'll look at for maybe the balance between deficit reduction and investment in the future as we now call spending.
What does the president do within that message to bring back those indies, to bring back those working class white voters?
GERSON: Well, you know, his basic job here on the economy is to say that we're going to compete with China. We're going to be able to create jobs. We're going to be growth oriented and avoid the fate of Argentina. So we're going cut the deficit. And in this case it's hard to do both at the same time. There are two different messages. It's a real challenge. He has some models out there with his own deficit commission where he can talk about some things, but he has to be credible on the deficit in this speech, which is going to be a real challenge given the record of his first two years.
It's not impossible. There are things you do on Medicaid and things you can do on tax increases, but that I think is going to be an entry level commitment for a lot of people who are concerned about role and size of government, which was the concern of a lot of independents, and debt and deficit. And, you know, can he be credible?
BEGALA: This is the challenge. The elites want to hear a deficit challenge. They are not wrong, we need to reduce the deficit, but middle class Americans want to hear about jobs. And they are not wrong either.
CROWLEY: And creating them which takes stimulus.
BEGALA: He believes -- I think he's right -- but he believes you have to do more to create those jobs. And that's a -- those are two ice floes moving in absolutely different directions and he's having to straddle them. If anybody can do it, it's Barack Obama.
CROWLEY: Let's talk about it -- let's talk about it after Tuesday see how he does. Paul Begala, Michael Gerson, thanks so much.
Up next, why two presidential speeches given almost exactly 50 years ago still have so much relevance for today's politicians.
CROWLEY: It was President Lincoln at Gettysburg who said "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here." Lincoln was right about most speeches. Few stick in history, but he was wrong about his Gettysburg address and two others delivered 50 years ago this month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: President Kennedy's inaugural speech was intended as a muscular message to the world from a young, untested president. But over time, much of it has washed away, save a single line, a call to the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: As Kennedy's presidency began, Dwight Eisenhower's ended. A five-star general and World War II hero, Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation about both the imperative and the peril of building up the U.S. military.
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FORMER PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military- industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
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CROWLEY: A look at the impact of two speeches 50 years later with presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, author and presidential historian Richard Norton Smith.
Thank you for joining us. These two speeches, from President Kennedy and Dwight David Eisenhower, days apart -- apply them to today, to -- in particular, the Eisenhower speech is so interesting as it applies to the Republican Party today.
SMITH: Well, that's the great irony, because, of those two speeches, there's no doubt that the Kennedy inaugural is the more familiar. It's still quoted. It's probably the inaugural address against which all others are -- are measured. It has the greatest sound bite, we just heard, probably in modern presidential history. And yet it is the Eisenhower message, particularly his warning about squandering our grandchildren's inheritance. Ike was the most orthodox economist. He had spent eight years producing three balanced budgets. And part of his complaint about the military-industrial complex was the people who fought him the most as he was trying to balance the budget were his old colleagues at the Pentagon.
And so the challenge that he issued, at a time when, by the way, the federal budget, the entire budget, was a fraction of what we're spending today to service the debt.
I mean, Eisenhower would be aghast. But he would be aghast, most of all, I think, at his fellow conservatives, who, over the last generation, became almost decoupled from their traditional concern with fiscal responsibility. I think that's one of the unintended consequences of the Reagan revolution.
CROWLEY: Well, yes, because you had -- I mean, when Ronald Reagan came to office, it was about building up the military.
SMITH: Building up the military and balancing the budget. But he decided very quickly...
CROWLEY: He only did one of those.
SMITH: ... that he -- yes -- and he wanted to cut taxes; he wanted to balance the budget; and he wanted a military buildup. But if he could have two out of three, he was willing, he thought temporarily, to sacrifice the balanced budget.
CROWLEY: And aren't Republicans -- in some ways, when you read the entirety of Ike's speech, what you came away with really was a question for modern-day Republicans. Because what he warned was there's not going to be money left for other things if we spend -- we have to watch it. We can't overspend in the military because what we're going to do is take away from other programs. SMITH: Well, and remember, Eisenhower's generation knew all about sacrificing for the common good. These are people who had been through the great depression. They had been through World War II. They were at the height of the Cold War.
He understood what it was to go without because you were mindful of what your children and grandchildren and future generations -- he thought deficit spending and inflation and all the economic consequences arising posed as great a threat to American freedom in the long haul as Russian missiles.
CROWLEY: One of the things you can do, if you combined these two speeches, is you almost get a snapshot of what President Obama may be facing even as he starts to put together his state of the nation address. I mean, you're talking about the need to stay strong...
CROWLEY: ... and the need to focus on what the nation really needs in terms of domestic programs.
SMITH: To stay strong and to be perceived as strong. I mean, one of the connections -- remember, a lot of people make parallels between Barack Obama and JFK, not least of all members of the Kennedy family.
And one of the things about that Kennedy inaugural address was it was as much about reassuring his country. He was the youngest elected president in history, following this general of extraordinary stature. He had to convince his countrymen and he had to country the men in Moscow that he would protect American interests every bit as much as this legendary figure who was going out of office.
So there's always the perception element in what a president has to say, but there is also the reality of addressing a deficit that right now is on the agenda. It has not been in recent years. If nothing else, I think you can say probably the Tea Party, like Ross Perot a generation ago, has succeeded in forcing both parties to at least acknowledge that there is a problem and that it will have to be dealt with.
CROWLEY: If you had to pick one thing in our remaining moments to tell me what makes a speech stick in history -- is it the speaker; is it the words, or is it the times?
SMITH: Oh, it's a combination. It's -- but above all, it's the times and the -- and the personality. Why do we remember Winston Churchill? "We shall fight them on the beaches." It's because of the heightened emotion of a nation that was literally hanging by a thread.
It's a combination -- a pre-existing, if you will, emotional climate, and then once in a while someone comes along like Lincoln at Gettysburg. Great presidents don't speak to us. They speak for us. And great presidential speeches are remembered because they gave voice to something evocative of the era that might not have been said otherwise.
CROWLEY: Richard Norton Smith, good advice for someone who might be writing a State of the Union Address right about now. Thanks so much for joining us.
SMITH: You bet, my pleasure.
CROWLEY: Appreciate it.
Up next, a check on today's top stories, and then, viewers share their personal stories in response to last week's show on mental health.
CROWLEY: Now time for a check on today's top stories. Six people were killed and at least 30 others wounded after car bombs exploded in five different neighborhoods in Baghdad. The attacks occurred over a three-hour period earlier this morning. Officials say the bombings appear to have the hallmarks of al Qaeda in Iraq. Egypt's government is claiming that the Palestinian Islamic Army is responsible for a New Year's Day bombing that killed 23 people. A Christian church in the country's capital of Alexandria was the target of the attack, which left another 97 people injured. The Palestinian Islamic Army has links to al Qaeda.
The Chinese foreign minister said today that President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States was fruitful, but that increased trust and communication is needed. The four-day trip included negotiations on global trade, climate change, and human rights.
On "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger thinks the Chinese government will budge on one of the contentious issues with the United States, the value of China's currency.
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HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe they now understand a way it might be done with some mutual concessions over a period, say, of a year. I think I would be disappointed if that did not happen.
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CROWLEY: More of Fareed's interview with Henry Kissinger and also former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski at the top of the hour on "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS."
But up next, on STATE OF THE UNION, some very personal responses to last week's special on mental health.
CROWLEY: After last Sunday's show on mental health, we were flooded with responses from viewers who love someone with a mental illness. Many expressed sympathy for the parents of Jared Lee Loughner. Nearly all told agonizing stories of watching a loved one spiral downward into their disease, and the anger and frustration of trying to find long-term solutions.
We asked some of our viewers to read what they had written. Some wanted to remain anonymous.
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STEPHANIE PHILLIPS, ERIE, PA: I'm told repeatedly that schizophrenia is the worst disease to have, the suffering on the patient and the stress on the family is exacerbated by the inability to get treatment or help in any way. Everyone drops the ball, from insurance companies to the medical profession to schools to law enforcement, leaving parents with no avenue to help their child. You end up fighting these organizations for an inch when your child needs a mile.
He's a brilliant kid. He's creative. He's handsome. And, you know, his life is a waste at this point because there's no help for him.
NITA BROWN, LONE TREE, CO: My brother Gary is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He and our family have been all of the ups and downs associated with this ravaging and unrelenting biological illness. Gary is now stable and lives independently because he is receiving effective treatment that includes medication. Treatment does work but it isn't always easy to access. Most people don't know where to go for help and many people don't have resources, and that is another part of this tragedy.
KELLY LUND, BURNSVILLE, MN: My family tried to attain assistance from our brother Gerald, who suffered from schizophrenia. When sheriff's promised us transport to the hospital waiting his arrival, Gerald was instead locked away in the county jail for eight months without meds or treatment, then incarcerated in another state facility for an additional seven months, followed by a sudden discharge to our family's care with no medication, no prescriptions, no money, and without a treatment plan.
Our family scrambled to do our best to secure effective treatment for our brother, but it wasn't enough to adequately address his illness. Six months later, Gerald ended his life of 58 years with a single gunshot to his own head. Surprisingly, nearly every person I had spoken with had a story of a relative or a friend who has also died the same way. ANONYMOUS: My brother has been schizophrenic for 34 years. And he has been in and out of hospitals too many times to keep track, and in trouble with the police. It's frustrating to try to get help for him and I'm up against laws and a mental health system that seems to only fail him. I wonder quite frequently what is more insane, the mental health system or those with schizophrenia?
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CROWLEY: We thank all of you who shared your stories with us over this past week. On our Web site, we have links to places recommended by our experts where you can turn for help on mental health issues, go to cnn.com/sotu.
Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION, I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Up next, for our viewers here in the United States, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS."