BuzzFlash Interviews Paul Begala (Part Two)
Part One of the BuzzFlash Interview with Paul Begala, visit:
March 29, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH FAMED DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST PAUL BEGALA
Paul Begala is famous as a key architect of the Clinton war room strategy. Most recently, he and sidekick James Carville (now dueling partners on CNN's "Crossfire") authored (Click here to purchase) "Buck Up, Suck Up and Come Back When You Foul Up."
BuzzFlash interviewed Begala about the key strategy recommendations in "Buck Up, Suck Up" -- and, of course, about all things political.
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BUZZFLASH: We still haven't found, or the government claims they haven't found, the presumed perpetrator of the anthrax attack. Of course, there have been strong indications that it is someone who is deeply involved in military biological weapons research and that the FBI may be going slow about the whole thing because it's sort of too close to home. This is clearly a domestic terrorist, not a foreign terrorist.
PAUL BEGALA: I think so, according to the press leak.
BUZZFLASH: But in any case, as you said, Senator Daschle was the subject of the most treacherous mailing and his staff was exposed to anthrax. And yet, as you say, the Bush administration gave the thumbs up to ruthlessly -- and if it weren't politics, libelously -- attack him in his home state without any compunction. And I think sometimes the Democrats are just sort of taken aback by this. They don't quite know how to react because it's so distasteful to them. And yet we know negative campaigning works in many cases.
PAUL BEGALA: The reason that they raise all this kind of nonsense -- they impugn our patriotism and such -- is they know they can't win on the merits and on the ideas. Therefore, that is where we should take the argument. Clinton was not a "so is your mother" kind of politician. He didn't stand out and say Henry Hyde cheated on his wife. Guess what? Henry Hyde cheated on his wife. But Clinton never went there. He was smart to never go there.
Where we ought to take it to is not their lives, but the American people's lives. We ought to point out that the Republicans have stolen $2 trillion out of Social Security surplus and given it to Ken Lay and the rest of their cronies. We ought to point out that the economic stimulus bill that Bush wrote had a secret quarter of a billion dollar bailout in it for Enron. And so thank God for Tom Daschle and the Senate for killing it.
We ought to point out that in Bush's prescription drug plan, you don't get any prescription drug help if you're a senior citizen who lives on more than the kingly sum of $17,000 a year. So that in George Bush's America, if you're an old couple, retired, living on $17,000 a year, you're so rich you can't get prescription drug help. But if you're an Enron executive living on $17 million a year, you're so poor that you get a tax cut and a bailout. That's obscene. That's what we ought to be doing. We ought to be on the floor of the Senate and the floor of the House, you know, and the street corners every day, shouting these things out. That's what'll beat 'em.
BUZZFLASH: So that's your recommendation on framing the debate right now.
PAUL BEGALA: Right. Take it to the people, take it to the American people.
BUZZFLASH: Now you have a rule in here, right after framing the debate, in your book with James Carville, Buck Up, Suck Up . . . "Understanding the Difference Between Strategy and Tactics." Can you discuss that a little?
PAUL BEGALA: One of the problems we saw in the last presidential election in our party is that our nominee, while winning the election, which we ought never to forget, often lost sight of the difference between strategy and tactics. So his campaign had these daily, almost, reinventions….All of which allowed Bush, I think unfairly, to characterize Al Gore as a phony. And I think that's what made the election so close that Bush was able to steal it. And I think that's unfortunate.
I believe that if the Gore campaign had kept its eyes on strategy instead of tactics -- not just what do we do to suck up to right-wing Floridians -- okay, we attack Castro and rip Elian Gonzalez away from his daddy. Instead, focus on the big picture -- how do we win the election. And you do that --
BUZZFLASH: And that's the strategy as compared to a tactic?
PAUL BEGALA: Strategy as compared to tactics, yes….In fact, many of Gore's tactics fed into Bush's overall strategy, which was to portray Gore as a liar. You know, if you begin with "they're trying to paint me as phony," the best thing to do, really, is just to be yourself. Be proud of your record, be proud of yourself, and go out there and run on it.
BUZZFLASH: Then Bush's (or Karl Rove's) strategy allowed him to frame the debate.
PAUL BEGALA: Exactly. Bush framed the debate, and he stuck to his strategy from the time that he buried McCain on. He had some tactical mistakes in the primaries too, where he was so sleazy against McCain. But from the time McCain was defeated until election day, Bush had the same strategy. He said I'm going -- I'm not gonna try to be something I'm not. I'm not gonna try to convince people I'm smart, or smarter than Gore. I'm gonna convince people that I'm a decent man who knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin. Against a phony -- a big fat phony. And I think it's unfair. It's untrue. And I think Bush is a much bigger phony than Al Gore could ever be. But there you have it.
And our side played into their strategy with our constant shift in tactics. I mean, all this nonsense about changing clothes, and earth tones, and alpha males, and all that. And they talked endlessly in a team, in the paper, about their strategy, instead of talking about their message. That's an enormous mistake.
BUZZFLASH: Here's a question a BuzzFlash reader might ask: "I read about all the hypocrisy that's going on on the Republican side. I'm reading about how our progressive issues are being chiseled away, and particularly the environment, women's rights, reproductive rights, civil rights, and so forth. And I'm reading this and I'm really becoming angry, but I don't know what to do. How can your book -- yours and Jim Carville's book, Buck Up, Suck Up, and Come Back When you Foul Up -- how can it assist people in effectively trying to counter the trends of the Bush administration?"
PAUL BEGALA: I think the book doesn't tell you what to say, because it's not like my last book on Bush, or James' book, We're Right, They're Wrong, where we lay on the partisan case. This is equally applicable for liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. But for my fellow Democrats, I think it tells you and reminds you of how to do these things, like we've been discussing: how to frame the debate. You know, I don't think we should get up there and say, well, they say Clinton's not a good family man -- let's attack Bush's family. I think that would be disastrous and wrong, because it doesn't really matter. It turns out Clinton's a model parent, and, you know, has raised a model child, which is the most important judgment of anybody in life.
But rather than get into that kind of personal stuff, let's frame the debate on, well, one guy created 23 million new jobs. The other guy, so far, has cost us a couple of million jobs. Who's done a better job for you? I think that kind of knowledge of how to frame the debate is essential.
And then, most importantly for Democrats, know when to kick ass. That you've got to go into a fight, and you got to know how to fight to win. And the Republican Party, the conservatives -- they know that. And they approach this with a ruthlessness that would chill your blood. And I think that we don't have to be ruthless, the Democratic party, but, by God, we ought to stop being toothless.
BUZZFLASH: Let me ask you one more question I can't resist, which was coming to mind as you were speaking, non-related to the book or tactics. But I ask this of a lot of people we interview, because we still find it somewhat baffling, relating to President Clinton. How can you explain the virulent hate that so many people in the right wing have for Clinton? It just seems inexplicable. I mean, it is so bilious. And you think of people like Judge Bork who, at one conservative meeting said, he could have hung Clinton.
PAUL BEGALA: You know what I'm thinking it is? I've thought about this a lot. My latest pet theory is projection -- the psychological theory that says you take things you hate most about yourself, project them onto somebody else and attack them for that. So in other words, I think this is self-hatred projected on an innocent man. That's what I believe.
I believe these people hate themselves. I believe they hate our country. I believe they hate our culture. And they can't deal with that. They can't accept the level of self-loathing that they have, and so they project it onto someone else. I mean, for all of his faults and the troubles in his marriage, Bill Clinton is still married to a girl he met in the library 25 years ago at school. Can we say that about many of our other leaders today in America, including on the right wing? I don't think so. For all of his many faults, he is a man who, until he became the President of the United States of America, never earned more than $35,000 a year because he put service first. He is a man who, despite all of his many flaws and sins, has raised a good kid in as difficult a circumstance as you can possibly imagine. I mean, by any standard of measure, he is a good man. He is a decent man. He is a successful man. And yet they heap this hatred on him. I believe it is because they hate themselves. And for that, I'll continue to pray for them.
BUZZFLASH: It's interesting that David Brock said something similar in "Blinded by the Right."
PAUL BEGALA: I'm reading David's book. It's part of why I think that.
BUZZFLASH: David had gone down to Arkansas with a woman who was, I believe, an investigator from one of the committees against Clinton. And she said what she hated about Hillary was what she hated about herself.
PAUL BEGALA: He's talking about my neighbor, by the way, who is actually a perfectly wonderful woman, but now works for John Ashcroft in the Justice Department. She's a human being, and she's a good person. And it's so lamentable to see someone -- actually, I go to church with her -- to see someone who I think is, on a personal level, a perfectly good person, screaming out "I am Hillary," as David says she does in his book. I think that's tragic. It's heartbreaking. And so at some level, you're right. These people deserve our pity and our prayers. But the notion that they have this nearly unchecked power in America today, that ought to be quite frightening to people.
BUZZFLASH: Well, it is, considering that they almost impeached a president of the United States who was doing a tremendous job, and running a booming economy and a country at peace. He was a successful leader internationally, and yet they ravaged him for what would seem like no sane reason.
PAUL BEGALA: I think that's right. It was no sane reason. It was not about sex. I think I was wrong at the time when I said it was all about sex. It was all about power. I think if it was about sex, it would have removed all of their own leaders as well. If it was about lying under oath, we would impeach George W. Bush. I mean, I'm sure you're well aware that he lied under oath in a lawsuit.
BUZZFLASH: You're talking about Funeralgate?
PAUL BEGALA: Right. To me, that was a clear case of perjury. He swore under oath that he had never discussed an investigation of a funeral home company -- a really scummy funeral home company -- with either the funeral home company or its lobbyist for his state agency that regulates the industry. As the lawsuit went on, the funeral home company's CEO, the lobbyist for the funeral home company, and the Bush appointee to the state agency all testified under oath that Bush was lying -- that, in fact, he talked to all of them about it. Tom Delay lied under oath in a civil lawsuit in Houston.
BUZZFLASH: Relating to a business partnership.
PAUL BEGALA: Related to pest control.
BUZZFLASH: Pest control.
PAUL BEGALA: And that is well documented. So if it was about the sex, then there would be no Republicans or Democrats, since everybody's a sinner. So it wasn't that. If it was about lying under oath -- we actually know that Clinton certainly was deceptive, as most people would be about their sex lives -- but, in fact, he did not lie. But, it's absolutely clear that Bush committed perjury in a civil lawsuit, and that DeLay did as well. So we know what it's really about. It's really about power.
BUZZFLASH: One final question. Entrapment Counsel Robert Ray just issued a report, in essence, absolving the Clintons on the Whitewater issue. At the same time he was finishing the report, he was planning a run for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey against Senator Toricelli. Ray clearly violated the intent of Justice Department guidelines, perhaps even broke the law, by commencing a run for office while serving as the so-called "Independent Counsel."
What is your reaction to that?
PAUL BEGALA: It's just like the perfect ending. The whole Clinton investigation was conceived in politics. It was born in politics. It lived in politics. And now it died in politics.
From beginning to end, it was all politics. And your readers should know, by the way, that the eight-year, nearly $80 million investigation has yielded no indictments on the Lewinsky matter. No indictments on Whitewater. No indictments on the travel office. No indictments on the FBI files. No indictments on the Vince Foster suicide. No indictments all up and down the line.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the most investigated couple in American history -- now the most thoroughly exonerated couple in American history.
By the way, let me also take up for my colleagues in the Clinton administration. It turns out we were the most ethical administration in history. Do you know how many Reagan administration officials were convicted -- not just indicted, but convicted -- of crimes while, for conduct while they were in office? Thirty. Do you know how many Clinton administration officials were? One. The Chief of Staff of the Secretary of Agriculture, in a case that I think involves football tickets. One person, whose name I don't even remember. After eight years and seven independent counsels, dozens of Congressional committees, scores of right-wing lawsuits, tens of thousands of investigative journalist pieces -- one person. And that, the Chief of Staff of the Secretary of Agriculture. So I think Bill Clinton defenders and Clinton lovers ought to be proud that, in fact, we did have the most ethical administration.
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"Buck Up, Suck Up and Come Back When You Foul Up" by Paul Begala and James Carville, is available as a BuzzFlash Premium.
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