This Week, June 28, 2009: The Roundtable with Paul Krugman, George Stephanopoulos, Peggy Noonan, Kathleen Parker, and Michael Eric Dyson

Watch this broadcast on Video: Part 1, Green Room (not transcribed)


REPORTER (FOX NEWS): Have you been thinking about a run for the presidency?

GOVERNOR MARK SANFORD (SOUTH CAROLINA): What I've learned in life is you never say never. And a lot of strange doors open or close in life.

CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS): A political mystery in South Carolina. The Republican governor in that state has disappeared.

REPORTER (CNN): The governor is actually hiking the Appalachian Trail.

GOVERNOR MARK SANFORD (SOUTH CAROLINA): God's law, indeed, is there to protect you from yourself and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.

JENNY SANFORD (WIFE OF MARK SANFORD): His career right now is the least of my concerns. My important job right now is, is our children.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): The saga of Mark Sanford. We're going to get into it on "The Roundtable" today. First, let me introduce everyone. George Will is on vacation this week, but we're joined by Peggy Noonan of "The Wall Street Journal," Kathleen Parker of the "The Washington Post," also the Buckley School in Camden, South Carolina, your governor there, Michael Eric Dyson, cultural historian at Georgetown University and, of course, Paul Krugman of "The New York Times," and Princeton. And Peggy, there's so much to talk about with Governor Sanford. But let's simply begin with the performance. He used the word strange. That was one of the strangest press conferences I've ever seen.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Well it was a little rambling.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): To say the least. Yeah. We started out on the Appalachian Trail.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): It was actually there was something touchingly unhandled about it, if you know what I mean.


PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): He came forward. This is a man in the middle of extraordinary stress. And just decided to go forward and tell his story. And it was a riveting thing. I watched it live. And about three minutes in, I could see an admission was coming. And I had no idea what the admission was. So, it was, it was a surprising performance.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): No, it's odd. He started out talking about being in high school and going on the Appalachian Trail. And actually built up the suspense...


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): ... by getting to it. But he did get to the bottom line. Kathleen, he's your governor.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): And I was just wondering, how in character was this performance?

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): I think the performance was a surprise to everyone. What he did by vanishing, was not so surprising because he does have a reputation for kind of taking off and stealing time. And, you know, seeking out solitude which I think is great, one should do that. But in the past, he has always left a number where he could be reached. So what was way out of character was for him just to disappear without any arrangements having been made for people to get in touch. What was also out of character to anyone who knows him the thing he actually did.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): So, that was a surprise?

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): Completely. No one who knows Mark Sanford thought they would ever hear those words come from him. That he had an affair. So, it's shocking on multiple levels. But as to, you know, and his, his news conference was - it was one for the, for the annals. I think we'll be watching that over and over.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): One of the we didn't see - you know, that Kathleen, Paul, says this was shocking. You wrote about this a little on your blog this weekend. Almost suggest that this shouldn't be shocking, given what you say is the record of a lot of Republicans here.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): Look, politicians of both parties stray. The Democrats actually seem to punish their strayers more harshly.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): More recently, that's true.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): Yeah, at least recently, that's been true. And look, there was the most original excuse. The most original reason for staying in office, I've heard yet, which is actually very must a thing of his party. He said, David didn't resign after he had his fling Bathsheba. So, why should I resign as governor? It's really kind of an amazing thing.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): And Michael, what do you think? I mean it's unclear whether or not he is going to survive at this point. It also appears that a lot of the politicians in South Carolina can't decide yet whether they want him to survive or not because he is, after all, a lame duck. Even though he has an awful lot of enemies, they're not quite pushing him over the edge yet.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): Yeah. Well, I suspect it partly has to do with the recognition that there's a hallway of mirrors here when it comes to moralism. I mean there are a lot of secrets being kept in a lot of closets by a lot of people who hold them. So there's a kind of identification with Brother Sanford, Mr Sanford, Governor Sanford, because of the silliness that is in sharp contrast to his usual control. But I think there's a bigger story here, too is that yeah, on both sides of the aisle, people constantly stray. But the recriminations about them are in inverse proportion to their ability to beat people up who fall in public. I mean, Mr Sanford, when he was a Congressman, regaled us with story after story about why Mr Clinton should just simply resign because he was ashamed. And I think now your words come back to bite you in those hind parts.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Is hypocrisy enough to take him down?

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Oh, you know, I never think that when politicians, Democrats and Republicans get in these stories, that the story itself, the sin itself, if you will, undermines what the politician stands for, necessarily. Terry's - Mark Sanford's libertarian/traditional views are right or wrong on their own. I must say, I've been thinking about Clinton a lot. And it seems to me, in the Clinton era, during that famous story, a new devilishness was unleashed. Especially in the media, where a new meanness took style. And I feel like in every of the scandals in the past few months and we've had so many of them, the political sex scandals, the level of meanness of the response, publicly, on cable and in the newspapers, gets meaner each time. It seems to me that we are coming - we are reacting, almost as a nation, but certainly in the media, as kind of puritans without the faith, which is the worst of both worlds...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): But separate that. Perhaps the media...

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): ... to be puritanical and not even have faith.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Perhaps the media taking it more seriously or taking more glee in Mark Sanford's troubles, but the public may not be. You know, the public may be saying, you know what, we've seen the story before. We don't care.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Well, of course, of course.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): I don't think the public is - I don't hypocrisy is the big issue for Mark Sanford. I think Mark Sanford's weirdness is the big issue. He's just acting rather strangely. And I attribute this - I've taken the romantic view. I think he's just...


KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): He's truly in love. You know, if you read those e-mails. And I think it's appalling that they were posted. But since they were there, we went and read them. Didn't we?


KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): You know, what was so clear, is that this is not a bad man. This is not somebody who is using women and casually discarding them. He's not e-mailing interns and hanging out in bathroom stalls you know? He actually fell head over heels, blindingly crazy in love. And I don't know if you all remember that feeling. I have a vague notion of it.


KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): But I think I remember that you think you're invisible.


KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): No one else can see you. And you don't care.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): But it's the lack of concession of that point.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): The legitimacy of other people's feelings in the same way, when it comes to some of the harsh judgments that are rendered. I think this new devilishness that you spoke of, is true. Perhaps the media itself sees its own mortality flashing before its eyes. Because there are a bunch of secrets in the media as well, we all know. So I think that my problem is, is that, you know, have that same kind of capacity for empathy and compassion, when you're dealing with I don't know, health care, welfare reform? How about taking $700 million in stimulus money. I mean, Sanford, you want us to understand. And I completely do, given my own sin and recognition of my frailty. That I get that...

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): You want to talk about it?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): Not at all. But what I am suggesting is that - what I am suggesting, however, is that feel that same kind of empathy and compassion in other elements of your political body, not just in your heart.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): I agree. I'm just saying that Mark - the thing that people do like about Mark Sanford is he is a true government reformer. And that's why he has so many enemies, and by the way, there is a drip, drip, drip in South Carolina.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Yes, in his own party.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Well, and that's the other big problem. He may end up getting caught up because he did arrange for the business trip to go to Argentina when it wasn't supposed to in the first place.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): That's using taxpayers dollars.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): The other question is what does this all mean for the Republican Party. I want to put up the potential candidates for 2012, on the Republican Party.



GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): We have about three less. We have Governor Sanford. Senator Ensign. No longer being considered, either. And, Paul Krugman, I wonder what you think. What does this mean overall? How much does this hurt the party and its field for 2012?

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): It's a pretty weak field in any case. And so you're talking on a few people who seemed more different. Unfortunately, it turns out they're different in ways that weren't anticipated. You know, there's no compelling figure. It's amazing how little depth there is on the bench. Actually there's basically no bench at all. So I'm not sure that Sanford was really a plausible candidate in the first place except that nobody knew, nobody outside his state knew very much about him. And now, there's one less. And it is a problem. You know, remember, moral values was supposed to be part of the appeal to the party. And while it doesn't seem to bother Republicans too much, if somebody engages in this kind of hypocrisy, it does seem to both voter.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Well, it did bother Republicans. I was struck this week in "The Wall Street Journal" Peggy, by Bob Inglis from South Carolina, a congressman of South Carolina. He said it's time for the party, and this is a quote, "to lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness."



PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): This is very complicated. Self-righteousness, yes. Lose it. I would love it if all Republicans who believe in serious conservative values and ideas would come forward and say, this is what I stand for. By the way, I'm a jackass. Just be modest going in. This is what I stand for. I am imperfect. You are imperfect. That doesn't mean the things we're arguing for and trying to push forward are themselves de-legitimized by what poor losers we are.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): You know, this is fascinating.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): It seems to me - look, I've been thinking about this a lot. European Catholics got it right for a millennia. Their general attitude was not puritan and narrow, as much as it was, you are a sinner. Try to govern well. Go to confession a lot.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): This is exactly - I put this on my blog. That it is a liberal conservative thing. A liberal sees somebody who talks about moral values and then does something like this and says, my god, the hypocrisy. The conservative looks at it and says, well, but at least he stands up for moral values. It's a very, very different point of view.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): You know, it makes perfect sense, though that the person who most wants to be good is also going to be the one who falls the hardest. And you know, we try to kind of try to repair what's wrong in our lives with our public works. And so the Republicans are always gonna look worse when they fall. But they harder they...

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): And they cannot achieve perfection. Although they think they're arguing for some good thing.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): But I think it's because - but I think it's the harsh judgmentalism. It's not the fact that the concession of the fact that you're going to mess up is true. We all know that coming in the door. But the Republicans, or more broadly, the conservatives, tend to think that they've got some kind of copyright or lock on appropriate behavior, that the liberals or the leftists are the ones who are going to hell in a hand basket. And god forbid, when we mess up, at least we're headed in the right direction. But when the liberals mess up, not only are they messing up, but they're messing up on the way to hell. So I think that ultimately...

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): I think we've heard the last of it. I don't think you're going to hear any Republicans speaking loudly about moral values for a while.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): I with Kathleen on this. I think you're going to see this debate shift. And I'm going to also going to shift the debate right now. Thank you for that segue to the debate we had at the top of the show, on the President's agenda this week. We saw him pushing quite hard. And Paul, I want to come to you first here. What you saw from David Axelrod is, you know, clearly, we're going to keep trying to go on all fronts. But health care is the top priority. And a real discipline, and we saw the same discipline from the President this week. They simply are not going to draw any kinds of lines in the sand. They have seemed to internalize this idea. What we need more than anything else on health care is something we can sign into law. Don't care too much about the details.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): But the details do matter, which of course is what I've been writing. That if you have a health care reform that's so badly constructed that it's going to fail, then you end up doing a great deal of damage. So they do have to hold out for a certain basic minimum. And they, you know, they are...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Does that mean a public option?

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): You know, it probably does. But one would have to look at what's in there. But there's a reason for the public option, which is that we are not sure. The big issue is going to be cost control. And you want to try everything you can to control costs. And the public option is something that might do a lot. It might not. But it's one of those things that looks plausible. And you don't want to miss any opportunity because there are so many things that can go wrong. I'm really struck when Grassley talks. You know, he talks about free-markets, he talks about competition. There isn't any competition in lots of this market. Iowa, 71% of health insurance in Iowa is supplied by just one insurance company, Wellmark. So we're talking about, you know, actually giving people more choice, more competition. Why shouldn't that be a central plank of the reform?

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Oh, my goodness. Well, you know how I feel, from my column this week. I think things have become a little bit scattered. Paul, if you just limit this conversation to taxes alone, you have some sense that people, normal humans in America, might be getting a little bit nervous about health care and energy care and all of this stuff. America has a huge deficit. We've never seen anything like it before. Spending is very big. A Warren Buffett, who people tend to trust on economic matters said look, this energy thing the House just passed is a big tax. Health care, the Congressional Budget Office says is probably $1.8 trillion over the next ten years. Without getting into the weeds, you got to assume it's going to cost money. You got California going under. We got New York, with I think a $20 billion deficit. They're going to be raising taxes. Income tax is going to be going up. At a certain point, you got to realize people are going to say, whoa. This is no good. You got stop this.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Even if it's only $1 trillion which is probably what the health care would be.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): Well, but, you know, I think about - well especially with the energy bill, right, they're trying to, you know, get the 2005 standards. If we can get like 18%, 17%, by ten years. And then, 83% of these emission standards by say, the mid-century. But I think, look, in about ten years, the tax is $175 per citizen. Maybe $40, if you get a rebate if you're poor. The point is you're paying a tax however on the preservation - I hate to sound cosmic here, but on the preservation of the environment. I'm sure that Chancellor Merkel and Al Gore are toasting each other this morning because this doesn't go nearly far enough. I disagree with Warren Buffett. I mean I agree with him that it's about a tax...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): You think it's a tax, but you're saying it's a tax worth paying and...

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): And it's not that big.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): And let's not lie about it. It is a tax It's worth paying. It's the environment. It's about these carbon dioxide emissions that we've been trying to deal with for years and years and years. And I think the celebration is you couldn't even imagine this George Bush even last year, that this conversation could even happen.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): Can I say something? I wish Warren Buffett would actually study this issue as carefully as he studies the companies he's invests in. Because the fact is, if you do this thing carefully, it turns out, and, you know, the Congressional budget says it, EPA says it, everybody whose looking at a serious studies say, this is not a large tax. That, you know, we're talking about giving a market incentive for people to take greenhouse gas emissions into account. And markets are a great thing. It's a funny thing on this debate, the people who believe that markets can solve problems believe that confronted with a small incentive to do less greenhouse gas emissions, the whole economy will fall apart.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): Yeah, well, it's certainly not my habit to argue with economists or Warren Buffett. But I agree with Peggy. I think people are very wary of so much happening so quickly. You know, Obama is moving faster than a speeding bullet and everybody's head's spinning.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): He thinks this is his moment.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): It is his moment. And he is in a hurry because he wants to get as much in place as he possibly can before people wake up and say wait a minute.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): He may be overplaying his hand. And if he is, it will be unlucky for the Democrats in 2010. Although, I happen to think the luckiest thing, long-term, that could happen to Obama, is he gets a Republican Congress. And he'll be saved, like Clinton was in 1994.


PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): That would be a good thing for Obama. And he's a lucky guy so he may get lucky. But they better watch out for overplaying their hand.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): I think you're exactly right.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): I think - but look, the sharp kind of - there's two things. First of all, the sharp contrast between a lethargic, inactive - it seems to me un-aggressive in the appropriate sense, White House, is in sharp contrast to what Obama is doing now. He gets an A-plus for that. But number two, I joked before an NAACP audience this week is that, look, a black man in the White House thinks, look,, they might change the rules in midstream, I got to get everything I can get done right now to make sure that thing don't fall to the side. But I don't think that with his ambition he lacks the ability to put people in place or at least to organize his bully pulpit to inspire people to take more responsibility. And I think that's what's going on.

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): But he's got to be very careful because he's said some things that are not precisely true. And this is gonna trip him up. I mean when the details do come out. When, for example, he says you don't - you're not gonna have to change your health plan. If you like it, you can keep it. Well that's kind of true but not really completely true. Because if your employer decides to go with a different plan, to go with the public plan, then you don't get to keep your health plan.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): But that's always true. That's always been true. I mean...

KATHLEEN PARKER (WASHINGTON POST): But those little things will get in his way unless he's more forthcoming.

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): When did the truth ever catch up with his predecessor?



MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): Well, it was a very, very long run, right?

PAUL KRUGMAN (NEW YORK TIMES): But look, the, the - let's just be concrete here. Did the passage of Waxman/Markey, the climate bill, did that actually make the passage of health care less likely. It made it more likely. It made a sense of momentum. He's getting stuff done. It is in fact building. These, these different initiatives are unusually reinforcing.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): Winning begets winning. I do want to, before we leave here, we have a couple of minutes left. And the week really was dominated as much by anything else, by the loss of three people everyone felt like they knew. First of all, Ed McMahon, at the beginning of the week.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): 20 years on Johnny Carson's couch. He was in our living room, every, single night. Someone else who came in our living rooms, Farrah Fawcett with "Charlie's Angels" in the 1970s. And as a teenager in the 1970s I was one of the 10 million who had that poster. I think every teenage boy my age had it in their, in their house. And finally, of course, that was overshadowed by Michael Jackson. We first saw him first became a star as a little boy. Only 9 years old. A superstar, in 1983 with "Thriller" the best-selling album of all-time. And that moonwalk, that he did on the 25th anniversary of MTV. Everyone remembered it. And then 20 years really of pain, drug abuse, charges of child abuse, and he also really seemed to transform in front of our eyes. And Michael, I want to come to you first on this because I got to tell you, personally, I was struggling, as we watched all this, whether we're all paying just way too much attention to all this. And I know an awful lot of people who feel the other way. Try to put it in context.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (AUTHOR): Well, I think, that obviously, Farrah Fawcett, and you and I and millions of other guys, and I suspect women, certainly saw her as an icon. But it's not just that poster, it was also "The Burning Bed." Right? Just the burning bed and what that meant to - Ed McMahon, look, you can be a second banana. But you can make that a first-rate career. Michael Jackson, I think, look, represents - I don't know, a film - the real-life version of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Born as a shriveled old man, he dies as a youth. Michael Jackson as a 9-year-old prodigy. We have to go back to people like, I don't know, Mozart composing at 4 and 5. Michael Jackson knew at the age of 6 that he liked William. Who's William hart? The lead singer of the Delphonics. What 8-year-old kid knows who William Hart is? That's the kind of genius he possessed. And he seen as a miniature adult wrapped in this, you know, chocolate cherubic face afro halo. And there he was, representing for the world. One year - he was signed the year Martin Luther King Jr was murdered. The next year, he and his brothers formed the Jackson 5 to take the post-soul civil rights generation forward. And I think that in that sense, the tragedy is though, is that later on in his life with all these accusations, the whitening of his skin, and the Europeanization of his image, lost what he was on the inside. And that was a metaphor for black people in large.

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): Well, interesting. There's so much to say there. Look, it struck me that we're making a big deal of these deaths this week, in part because that kind of fame is something of the past. We'll never see people as famous as they were again. Why? Our culture. It was more unified 40 and 30 years ago. And someone who was famous and broke through, we all knew who they were. When Michael danced at the Motown - at the 25th anniversary thing for Barry Gordy, I was at home watching it live. I was about 30. My cousin who was 10 was watching. My parents who were in their 50s, were watching. That was a unified culture, watching certain people. We've lost those days.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): We have lost them. I wish we could...

PEGGY NOONAN (WALL STREET JOURNAL): We miss them. In part what we celebrate is missing them when they leave us.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): I know this is going to continue - I want you guys to continue this - I want you guys to continue this in the green room. It's a fascinating discussion. We don't have time for this right now. And when we come back, "The Sunday Funnies."

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Originally broadcast, 6.28.09