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2008-01-04

After Iowa: A Roundtable Discussion on the Democratic Race with Danny Glover, Wayne Ford and Ellen Chesler

Guests

Wayne Ford, State representative in Iowa representing the city of Des Moines. He was an organizer of the Brown and Black Forum.
Supporting Barack Obama.

Ellen Chesler, She is Distinguished Lecturer at the City University of New York and the author of "Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America." Long-time friend and fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.

Danny Glover, Actor and Activist. Backing John Edwards in the 2008 campaign.

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Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards placed ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton just months after polls showed Clinton enjoying a wide lead. We host a roundtable discussion with supporters of each of the three frontrunners: the actor Danny Glover, who is backing Edwards; Iowa state legislator and Black and Brown Forum co-chair Wayne Ford, an Obama supporter; and Professor Ellen Chesler, a longtime friend and fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As we continue our coverage of the Iowa Caucus, we go now to Des Moines, Iowa, where we are joined by two guests. Wayne Ford is an Iowa state legislator and co-chair of the Black and Brown Forum, which he founded in 1984. Last month, he endorsed Senator Barack Obama. Ellen Chesler is also in Des Moines, where she volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign. She’s a distinguished lecturer and director of the Initiative on Women in Public Policy at the City University of New York. Ellen Chesler is also a longtime friend and fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. And joining us on the phone is Danny Glover, the actor and longtime activist. Glover has endorsed John Edwards for the 2008 race.

AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Wayne Ford, a state representative in Iowa. Your man won last night. Talk about this unprecedented victory, first African American to take the Iowa caucuses.

WAYNE FORD: Well, I’m very excited. I mean, I have been up all night, literally. I have been talking to friends all around the country. To be candid, I’ve been talking to some friends all around the world. I’ve been blogged. I’ve been everything. The excitement here is tremendous.

I believe this sends a clear message to people, you know, around the country who have looked at Iowa and said, “Well, can Iowa really be part of history like this?” When I supported Obama, my whole goal was, I’m not supporting you because you’re just a black; I’m supporting you because of your message, message, message. And when he told me that he will look and attack and work with the urban problems in America, that meant so much to me. I’ve been doing this since 1984, and I’ve seen a lot of presidential candidates come. I’ve seen many went. But we have issues in urban America, and I was not going to endorse anybody until they could look me in my eyes and say, “I will begin working on the urban challenges in America,” and all the other areas, but my situation is to urban issues here in America. He said he would do that, and that’s how he got my support.

I think the country is very excited. I think this is the shot heard around the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Danny Glover, I’d like to ask you, your response to John Edwards’s second-place finish?

AMY GOODMAN: Danny, are you with us? Well, we’ll get Danny on the phone in just one minute, but we’ll turn to Ellen Chesler right now, a fundraiser, a longtime friend of Hillary Clinton. She’s in Des Moines, Iowa. She was the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, for a long time in Iowa. She now took third place. Ellen Chesler, your response?

ELLEN CHESLER: Well, let’s put all of this a little bit in perspective. The big winner last night in Iowa was the Democratic Party, where two-and-a-half times the number of Republicans voted, and almost 60% more Democrats and independents caucused for the Democrats as four years ago. That’s an extraordinary statement that the treacherous reign of Bush and Cheney is over in this country and that Democrats and independents want change.

That said, Barack Obama placed first. He is the neighboring boy. He had a huge bump up in eastern Iowa on the border of Illinois in Springfield, where he served as a legislator. Hillary Clinton placed second. It was a tie for second. They split with 29.5% of the vote each. This is a tiny vote in Iowa. It’s first. It’s important. It sends a message. I think it sends a message to the Clinton campaign about need for greater clarity of message and an emphasis on the core values that Hillary Clinton represents and the extraordinary progressive record that she’s had in Congress as a senator from New York and as a First Lady.

I think the great desire in this country is to return to Democratic leadership, years that the Clintons themselves represented, you know, of strong economic growth, greater equality in this country between rich and poor, between black and white, between men and women, a Supreme Court that protects our rights from intrusion of the government, that gets rid of this astonishing prohibition on the rights of prisoners and the rights of people, and also a government that proactively, you know, stands for a strong role in meeting people’s needs here at home and in addressing core problems of poverty and health and human security in the world abroad.

Hillary Clinton goes now into her neighboring state in New Hampshire, a great strength, and into big states where she has great strength. It’s now, I think, a two-person race in the Democratic Party. Iowa has winnowed it down. We had 60% , you know, voting for Clinton and Edwards together. We’ll have to see how those Edwards supporters in the rest of the country, if there are any left — you know, it’s now going to be a two-person race, and we’ll see what happens. I’m confident that Senator Clinton is going to be a strong contender moving forward and that she’s ready to lead, as she said last night.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ellen Chesler, I’d like to ask you, while the Democratic vote was extremely high, as you say, more than two-and-a-half times past votes, the Republican vote was not significantly higher than it’s been in some of the previous elections. And I heard a report from a Pacifica reporter who was in one precinct in western Iowa. She said about 315 people voted there, and about three times the previous votes, but that she found a large number not only of independents, but of Republicans who were registering that day to vote. There have been other reports that some Republicans actually switched specifically to be able to defeat Hillary Clinton by voting for Obama. Is this — have you heard any other reports of this happening in other parts of the state?

ELLEN CHESLER: Well, I think there was some gaming of the system here last night. I heard of some Obama supporters who switched to Edwards to try to push Hillary down within the Democratic Party. You know, this is a strange system out here, where a couple hundred people come into an auditorium or a school lunchroom. They, you know, stand up in a corner, they move around. It’s a little bit of high school politics. It’s very hard to determine how accurate a reflection it is of the larger public.

Again, the big story last night was the big bump up for Democrats. I think you’re right that there were some Republicans who may have been gaming the system. There were also some legitimate Republican women who came in and voted for Hillary Clinton. I met one at the polling place I was in western Des Moines, a sort of, you know, nice, lovely middle-class suburb of Des Moines called Windsor Heights, a Republican woman voting for Obama. Lots of new people entered the system here. This has been largely, you know, a Democratic Party-building exercise.

It’s now much more, I think, understood to be a place where, you know, Iowans can help push their preference in the rest of the country. There was media here from every country of the world last night — you know, the BBC, India, Israel. It’s quite astonishing to be here in this room and see how much attention this gets.

But let’s understand what it was: it was a couple hundred thousand votes, a slice of a sliver, as Gail Collins put it in yesterday’s New York Times. I think important — I think really important to show a state like Iowa supporting a black Democrat and a woman Democrat. A woman has never been elected in this state statewide. Never sent a woman from here to Congress even, very different than the rest of the country, where women have made more gains. So for a woman to get 30% of the vote here is a big deal.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also true, of course —-

ELLEN CHESLER: And obviously for an African American candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also true, of course, that Bill Clinton got in the single digits in 1992, lost Iowa. Let’s bring Danny Glover -—

ELLEN CHESLER: Well, let’s remember, they —- Tom Harkin was the -—

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Danny Glover into the conversation.

ELLEN CHESLER: Tom Harkin was the favorite son then.

DANNY GLOVER: Hello?

ELLEN CHESLER: Clinton didn’t really contest Iowa in ’92.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Danny Glover into the conversation.

DANNY GLOVER: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: He has long been, over the last months, stumping for John Edwards, just came back from going through the state of Iowa and Las Vegas, as well. Danny Glover, talk about your support for John Edwards. He has basically been campaigning in Iowa now for four years.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I’ve supported John Edwards from the time of the — in May at the Black Mayors Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And clearly, I have gone with John Edwards, as we were involved in a campaign around Hotel Workers Rising. He’s talking about the issues of poverty and working peoples. He’s supporting unions, which I’m a big supporter of. And this is what has drawn me to John Edwards.

Certainly, clearly, what we have in this election, that there’s a mandate for change. There’s no doubt about that, when you see that 230,000 people, the highest-ever turnout — 130,000 was the highest previous to that.

And also the fact that here’s John Edwards — for so long, almost the entire year, we have talked about whether we’re going to have a black president or a woman as the president, you know? On the cover of the major magazine outlets, you’ve had the picture of Hillary Clinton and, you know, Obama. You know, so now you’re clearly — there is another force within this.

And as you hear in John Edwards’s speech, hammering the same issues around poverty, healthcare, around the same issues that he has hammered all along, domestic policy. When we look at domestic policy, we look at the issue of New Orleans. We look at the issue out in New Orleans as a template or symptomatic of what is happening in this country in most urban areas. You know, not only do we have that, we have the gentrification of these areas. So there’s major issues that are going to be dealt with.

The question, of course, is now: what does Iowa mean? Most people say it means that it’s a sliver. Does it mean that we know now that the assumption that a black man can be elected may be more viable than the idea that a woman can be elected? I don’t know. I don’t think we know, have enough information at this particular point in time. But we cannot belittle the system itself.

John Edwards was outspent three-to-one by all the other candidates. As Juan mentioned before, that Obama spent $9 million in television ads alone. So there’s a lot to be — a lot of work to do.

And I think it becomes very interesting, because now you have young people coming in, you have people expanding the body politics, which is what this is all about anyway. How do we expand the body politics? How do we get people reengaged in change, really reengaged in change? The question is, what kind of change do we want? What kind of change do we want? Do we have the rhetorical change that we’re always faced with, or do we have perhaps the possibility of substantive change?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Danny, I’d like to ask you, Ellen Chesler just said that she believes now it’s a two-person race in the Democratic primary and that Edwards is not likely to have much support, or she questions whether he’ll have support in other places. And David Brooks, the conservative columnist in the New York Times, wrote today of the result that Obama has “made Hillary Clinton, with her wonkish, pragmatic approach to politics, seem uninspired. He’s made John Edwards, with his angry cries that ‘corporate greed is killing your children’s future,’ seem old-fashioned. Edwards’s political career is probably over.” Your response to this issue of an anti-corporate position being old-fashioned?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I certainly, when we look at what has happened over the last few years — and certainly the present administration is indicative of what has happened over the last few years in terms of just corporate greed — certainly I don’t believe that. I think that when people begin to address the issues of globalization, they look at corporate greed. When they begin to identify what is happening in the community, they look at greed, whether it’s corporate greed, whether it’s the greed that gentrifies the community or the greed that gentrifies a whole nation of people.

I think that it’s important that we look at the real issue, the real issues around poverty in this country. And [inaudible] poverty, those numbers are thirty-seven million, are indicative of the level of poverty and what people face. We look at the issue around the middle class. We look at the issue around the disparity in wages and the increasing gap between wealth in this country. And those are real issues here, you know? I mean, at some point in time, we’re going to have to address that.

And I don’t think — I think that John Edwards says he spent less than anyone else. He’s been — and I believe if it’s a two-person race, then that “two-person” is between Obama and Edwards.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, but when we come back, we want to go back to Wayne Ford. In 2004, you endorsed John Edwards. You switched now to Obama. We want to find out why. We’re talking to Iowa State Representative Wayne Ford. He has endorsed Obama. Ellen Chesler has supported and raised funds for Clinton. And on the phone with us, Danny Glover, who’s stumping around the country for Edwards.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by three people right now: Wayne Ford, state legislator from Iowa, was the founder of the Brown and Black Forum, he has endorsed Obama, the senator from Illinois; Ellen Chesler, longtime fundraiser, supporter, friend of Hillary Clinton, distinguished lecturer at CUNY here in New York, she has endorsed Hillary Clinton; and Danny Glover on the line with us, going around the country supporting John Edwards for the 2008 race.

State legislator Wayne Ford, you endorsed Edwards in 2004. What made you switch? I wanted to get your response to Norman Solomon saying that Edwards would be the most progressive Democrat to top the national ticket in more than half a century, and biggest problems with the media establishment have been tied with his firm stands for economic justice instead of corporate power.

WAYNE FORD: Before I answer that question, I would like to go back and discuss some things Ellen said and Danny. I want to talk about the reasons why Obama won more than the reasons why Hillary came in second or Edwards came in third. I think if there’s going to be a message for America, then for the next week, between now and New Hampshire, it’ll be why. The bottom line is, he won because we had a lot of young people between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. That population increased here in Iowa by 5% to 6%. We have many minorities who had never voted before; they voted. So I don’t want to miss that message. We had Republicans.

You know, this is not a process, a high school process, as Ellen was talking about. This is a democratic process. The Iowa Caucus is one of the most purest forms in America of how to elect a president. We’ve been doing this since the ’60s. So I want to make sure that we don’t lose that message as we leave Iowa. Now, the bottom line is, I’ve always told everybody, as the co-founder of the Brown and Black Forum, which is one of the most oldest forums in America — we started our first forum in 1984. In 1984, there was only five forums in America: three in Iowa, two in New Hampshire. That’s for history. Now you’ve got 500. It seems to me now that the country is finally catching up on what Iowa has been doing for a long time. So I don’t want to lose that message.

Back to your question regarding Edwards, I supported Edwards four years ago. Four years ago, I did a lot of things different. My whole goal about who I was going to support this year was about who can deal with Republicans, who can deal with independents, who can deal with change, who can bring new people who never cared about voting into the process. You and I both know, if you look at our numbers on people who participated in the voting process, they’re lower than some third world countries. We’ve got to get new people involved. This election did it. Senator Obama did it. I’m very excited about that. What I did four years ago, that was four years ago. I’m very happy now to put all my support behind Senator Obama.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ellen Chesler, I’d like to ask you, in terms of moving forward to New Hampshire and your candidate, Hillary Clinton, you’re saying that you believe that she will have a much better result there in New Hampshire. Is there anything, in terms of your perspective, that your campaign needs to do to be able to assure that victory?

ELLEN CHESLER: There’s no question that Mrs. Clinton is very popular in New Hampshire. It’s a eastern neighbor of New York. Her record in New York is well known there. I think she has to go out there and clearly get her message out to people, a message that change happens through experience. This is not — her record and Obama’s records are almost identical. There’s not a nanosecond of a difference between where the two of them stand. They’re both progressive Democrats. She has a great deal of endurance and strength —-

AMY GOODMAN: I think one big difference, Ellen Chesler, was that -—

ELLEN CHESLER: — and [inaudible] experience getting things done.

AMY GOODMAN: Ellen Chesler, one question — one big difference — and I think this has certainly been brought out — is that Barack Obama says he was opposed to the war from the beginning, and, of course, Senator Clinton voted for it.

ELLEN CHESLER: But Barack Obama didn’t, with all due respect, didn’t have to vote on the war. He was a state legislator in Illinois. And Mrs. Clinton, as you know — Hillary, you know, has a very principled stance, said that had she known then what she knows now, she wouldn’t have voted that way. And she has a clear and, I think, a very strong position that she would remove our troops from Iraq and bring them home and devote America’s overseas and development money to global warming, healthcare, reducing poverty and [inaudible] around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: But let me ask you something on that issue, Ellen Chesler. It is also true that John Edwards voted for the war, but he very strongly came out and unequivocally said, “I was wrong.” And he keeps repeating that. It has been very difficult — and this is why peace activists around the country —-

ELLEN CHESLER: You know, Amy, she -—

AMY GOODMAN: — have occupied her office, because she has not unequivocally said, “I was wrong.”

ELLEN CHESLER: Right. No, no. And I’m — I think she hasn’t unequivocally said she was wrong, because she doesn’t want a YouTube video in a — she’s going to, in all likelihood, be the Democratic nominee and in a general election campaign didn’t want, you know, the Republicans to have a YouTube video that they could put up and spend millions and millions of dollars advertising against her.

I think what she said is that had she had known then what she knows now, she wouldn’t have voted the way she did. And she has led efforts and worked across party lines to try to get congressional support to bring our troops home responsibly. She’s a great supporter —- a member of the Armed Services Committee. And I think it’s important to support American troops that are there and not to put them in harm’s way.

The truth is, I think there’s no difference between Obama’s position on how to end the war in Iraq and Hillary’s position, and Democrats now have a choice between the two. The choice -—

ELLEN CHESLER: Well, let me put the question to Danny Glover. Do you think John Edwards has the same position as Obama, as Clinton, on war?

DANNY GLOVER: I don’t think he does. You know, I think he — you hit it right here. He said that he certainly had made a mistake. I think he was very clear about that, you know, but I think that perhaps we could have another way in which we look at foreign policy with John Edwards.

But I think I want to get back to the point of this whole idea of the expanded body politics. I don’t think that’s attributed to any one individual. I don’t think it’s attributed more to Obama than it is to Hillary or it is to Edwards. The people out here are looking for change. The question is, what kind of change are we talking about? [inaudible] check into the question of, how was that change defined? How was that change clarified? And that is what is important. Is it a change that is both based upon — centered around this idea of hope, which I had — basically, I had problems distinguishing between Huckabee’s idea of this new America and Obama’s. Are they talking about the real issues that face this country? So that’s the question that —-

They all brought people to the table and brought people out. There was more money spent in Iowa than ever. There was more money spent in advertising than ever. There were more people have come out. If we have those kind of results around the country, then we’ll talk about the participatory democracy that I think that this is -— that we should be talking about. Whether they — who brings it to the table, the question becomes now — we begin to look at the individuals in reference to the issue and how they frame the issue and how they talk about the issue and what their record stands on the issue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Danny, I’d like to ask you about that issue that you mentioned, that both Huckabee in the Republican primary and Obama in the Democratic primary are raising this theme of unity and hope, rather than some of the substantive issues that have been debated in a lot of these debates up until now. The whole question of — I heard William Bennett on one of the talk shows last night say that what a lot of Republicans like about Obama is that he doesn’t play the race card, that he’s a likeable candidate and one who inspires. The whole issue of how race is playing out in this particular race with Obama as the first African American candidate who has had such a large following?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I think if we look back on — in terms of what is this coalition built on? Is the coalition sustainable? And how is this coalition built? If you look at the Rainbow Coalition which Jesse had put together and the movement in ’84, perhaps premature in some sense, but it was based upon bringing together people from all communities, based on bringing people who were part of the left, people who were part of the working-class community, and based upon all these particular groups who came together out of frustration, out of frustration at what had been happening before that. So there’s a clear — and in that sense, it was the Reagan administration. So there’s a clear place where they are — there’s discussion of the issues will be paradigm — paramount, excuse me — paramount in this particular race.

And yes, the issue of race is always there. The fact that in this particular — in this country, when you talk about America, there is no escape from the awareness of color. There’s no escape out from the awareness of color. The question is, it also becomes that — which is almost a contradiction in itself when you have a black man running with the condition of black people in this particular country, where half the prison population is black, where the disparity between those who work and those who are unemployed or underemployed always leans heavily toward black, where the situation where — that’s happening in the educational system, and it affects black people — it’s very interesting, in some sense. And we need to look at this, that here’s a black man that’s had so much white support, in this sense, when clearly, clearly, if you look at all the indicators, in terms of healthcare, if you look at poverty, if you look at education, if you look at the incarceration rate, death row rate, all those lean toward situations that are unfavorable for black people.

Now, it was very interesting, in a situation where we have more public — more black elected officials than we’ve ever had in the history of that in this country, so there’s some real clear, interesting dynamics that we have to look at, in terms of how we frame this. I’m sure King would have talked about, yes, a poor — when King left here — Dr. King left here in fact in ’68, he talked about a poor people’s march and poor people organizing to deal with the systemic change. Are the changes we’re going to fight for systemic change and real progressive changes, or are they kind of cosmetic changes? Those are real questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Danny Glover, very much for being with us, actor, a longtime activist, has endorsed John Edwards. Ellen Chesler has endorsed Hillary Clinton. And state legislator Wayne Ford has endorsed the winner of the Iowa caucuses, and that is Senator Obama.

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