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The Cafe
Transcript: US: Still #1?
Will whoever wins the US election find themselves with the unenviable task of overseeing the decline of the US?
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2012 14:25

Please read the full transcript for The Cafe episode US: Still #1? below:

Mehdi Hasan:

The United States of America is at a crossroads. American supremacy is being challenged: economically, militarily and politically. And the person many people are blaming is the president who promised them change.

Hello and welcome to The Café. I'm Mehdi Hasan: and this week we're in Washington dc, the seat of American power.

It's been four years since hope officially arrived in the White House in the form of Barack Obama, but his failure to turn the US economy around or significantly cut unemployment has led to disillusionment and even despair. The rise of the right-wing Tea party, and the street protests of the left-wing Occupy movement, are a reminder of how polarised the US has become.

Obama has had his successes. The end of the war in Iraq, and in the words of his vice president Joe Biden, “Thanks to him, Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive”.

But is this enough to secure him re-election for a second term? And whatever the result in November, is the job of the US president now simply to manage American decline?

Let's find out inside The Café - Washington DC.

Joining us in The Café today are Amy Goodman, an award winning journalist and host of the independent radio programme, democracy now. Goodman is critical of the Obama administration, and is worried about the erosion of democracy in the US.

Ford O'Connell is a long-time Republican strategist and activist, who served on john McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. O'Connell believes president Obama has not done enough to create jobs, thinks the bailout of the auto industry has failed, and wants the US to take a much more hawkish stance on Iran.

Karen Finney is a former adviser to both bill and Hillary Clinton and a strong supporter of the Obama administration. She was the democratic national committee's first African American communications director.

Clarence Page is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune and one of America's best known political pundits. Although Page is a supporter of Obama, he believes the president has not done enough to live up to the hope and change message of four years ago.

Wajahat Ali is a Muslim American lawyer and playwright of Pakistani descent. He wrote the first major play about Muslims living in a post 9-11 United States and is also the co-author or a damning report on the Islamophobia industry.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and proud libertarian. He served as an adviser to republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, and as associate deputy attorney general under president Ronald Reagan. He's an outspoken critic of us drone strikes.

Thanks all of you for joining me here in The Café in Washington DC. I want to kick off with a question for all of you, and that is will President Obama win re-election in November? And does he deserve to win re-election? Karen.

Karen Finney:
He should be re-elected I think, because he has ably managed the challenges that this country is facing, and I think we're faced… the challenges that we're facing are not just economic, but they're social and they're cultural, and I think he has very adeptly helped us through that transition and I think this is a really important moment in our country's history.

Mehdi Hasan:
Bruce?

Bruce Fein:
I don't think he should win. I think he's been a disaster at carrying forth the Bush-Cheney global foreign policy of the United States using repetitive drones to commit assassinations, keeping Guantanamo Bay open. Domestically, we now have a national debt over $16 trillion, and for the next four to eight years it looks like a trillion dollar deficit in perpetuity, and nonetheless, I still think he'll win because Romney's even more inept than I think that he is.

Mehdi Hasan:
Wajahat, Bruce isn't a fan. Are you?

Wajahat Ali:
I think he'll squeak by, just because Romney's about as exciting as cardboard. But cardboard with good hair. No offence to cardboard. And I think, look, does he deserve to win? It's a good question. I think we're in a sorry state of affairs where the American public are given only two choices, two viable choices to choose from, and in this particular situation, I think President Obama is a much more attractive choice for the nation than President hopeful Romney. So I think he's going to squeak by. I think most people, most Americans, there is a sense of disgust, apathy, anger towards both republicans and democrats with the realisation that neither of these parties are really taking their best interests to heart.

Mehdi Hasan:
Clarence, you're a veteran of politics in this country. How…

Clarence Page:
Veteran sir, that's a nice way of saying I'm old! I've been around a long time but…

Mehdi Hasan:
I'm saying you're wise, Clarence.

Clarence Page:
Thank you!

Mehdi Hasan:
How close is it going to be?

Clarence Page:
I don't know if he's going to win or not, but I think that he is ahead enough in the states that count, where it's his race to lose, but whether he deserves to win, I think the big issue is the economy. It's fairly well agreed he hasn't had much of a chance to really implement his program or he's spent a couple of years learning the lay of the land, which every new president does, and the question is do you want to go with the guy who's got some experience and let him finish the job, whatever it is he's trying to do, or do you want to go with the one who hasn't even started yet and hasn't been very clear about what he wants to do, and in that sense I think Obama has the edge. But the voters always have a way of fooling this pundit, so let's see.

Mehdi Hasan:
Amy.

Amy Goodman:
I really don't have any idea who's going to win in November. I think if the election were held today, Obama would win, although the amount of money that's being poured into the election, over a billion dollars for the presidential candidates, who knows? I'm more interested in the grass roots movements in this country, this moment, this window of opportunity when candidates have to listen from the local to the national level, what they are saying, ‘cause that's what's going to determine the future. There is a force more powerful than the most powerful person on earth in the White House and that is the power of people. As we saw last year with Occupiers, we saw with the Arab Spring and I think that's what's most interesting to watch right now.

Mehdi Hasan:
And last, but certainly not least. Ford?

Ford O'Connell:
As of now, I think that President Obama is going to win re-election. Americans are really frustrated with the blame game that's going on between President Obama and Romney. Mitt Romney can talk about the future and sort of put forth a bold, clear vision for the future with respect to the economy and jobs, and cutting the federal deficit. He could very well win but it is going to be a very tight election.
Mehdi Hasan:
Does the president deserve to be re-elected, in your view?

Ford O'Connell:
Absolutely not because he is not interested in boosting the American economy. He believes that taxing the wealthy and basically putting in government infrastructure is the way back to prosperity and it's not.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let's talk about Barack Obama, the candidate you're backing. Where did it all go wrong for him? He came in with such hope, so much expectation, and whether you, you know, you may be a supporter or not, but you have to admit this is not where you wanted to be four years in.

Karen Finney:
Sure, of course, but I think there are any number of things. Number one I think expectations were too high and I think people got definitely caught up in their own emotion, but I think people really wanted a change. At the same time, republicans in congress from day one said, we are going to obstruct this guy, we're going to make him a one term president. So the other thing I've never, haven't heard from Mitt Romney which I would love to hear, is how does he think he would be any more successful of effective with a congress that is hell bent on making sure you don't accomplish anything?

Mehdi Hasan:
Well, let me ask Amy.

Amy Goodman:
I think what happened on Election Day, in 2008, that moment the world heaved a sigh of relief. For so long, so many people felt they were hitting their head against a brick wall. Now that wall had become a door and the question is, it was open a crack, would it be kicked open or slammed shut? That's not up to that one person in the Oval office.

Mehdi Hasan:
Dare I ask Bruce and Ford? Why is that republicans seem to hate Obama so much, not just oppose him, or criticise him, there seems to be a loathing.

Ford O'Connell:
Hate is a strong word. I think what they don't like is, his policies because I think that they see his policies…

Mehdi Hasan:
Nothing to do with him personally?

You heard of the dust storm

Ford O'Connell:
I don't think so. I really don't think so. I do think that they do not like his policies particularly, how he wants to look at the world, his big government and government promoting everything in a lot of ways that if you look at it from a foreign policy perspective, he has done, advanced the Bush-Cheney, you know, war on terrorism, you know, to a point that a lot of people, I think, you know, found disbelief.

Mehdi Hasan:
Karen?

Karen Finney:
I think some of the people who oppose President Obama is, it is, it has to do with policy, it has to do with very real things. There is a sector of this country who would not be still talking about whether I was born in this country; we wouldn't have federal judges sending emails about his white mother saying to him, you should be lucky you don't bark. If it wasn't true that for some people, there is a…

Ford O'Connell:
There's crazies everywhere.

Karen Finney:
Let me finish. There is a visceral reaction to this man, and this idea that who is this man? In the same way I saw this happen with Bill Clinton, who thinks he can take over the establishment? He gets to tell us what to do? There is an element of that going on in this country and I think part of what we're seeing in this election is this, you know, frame of economic fairness and prosperity, and you know, do we get there on our own, do we get there together, does everybody do their part? I mean, that is what this conversation is about.

Clarence Page:
When you speak about hate, yeah, there is some hate out there. There's hate on the right and hate on the left. Right now, the right is energised, just like four years ago, the left was energised and the right was apathetic. As soon as Obama got elected, a lot of people in this country woke up the next morning and said, “We elected who?”

Karen Finney:
Yeah, yeah, it's like, it's like a…

Clarence Page:
Who's in the White House? And suddenly there was this shock, a culture shock, ‘cause certain people have an idea in their head of what a president ought to look like, and Obama doesn't look like that…

Mehdi Hasan:
So it's a race issue for you?

Clarence Page:
And so… it's not just race, it's also that Obama is a socialist, so we can't trust Obama. It speaks to all those things.

Wajahat Ali:
I don't think it's just policy. I think for many it's policy but for several people in America there's a segment where Barack Hussein Obama, who he is, what he comes from, it represents in America like he was saying, they woke up and they said, “Oh, this is not my America.” They are taking away my America. [INAUDIBLE] right now, is what people don't know, is that there's a record number of hate groups in America, 1200. The rise in the hate groups is through the three major groups. Number one, anti-government groups, white supremacist groups and anti-immigrant groups. The reasons they said is number one, the horrible economic conditions, number two, changing racial dynamics in America that's now a minority-majority country. Number three, the election of Barack Hussein Obama. So unfortunately, the right wing, and especially the republican party, has unfortunately, instead of expelling this toxic element, has brought them in and I think it's proven…

Ford O'Connell:
I, I don't think…

Bruce Fein:
No, no, that's not… I think…

Ford O'Connell:
I don't think this is confined to the republican party.

Bruce Fein:
There, there's a double standard here. Wait… there's a double standard here.

Ford O'Connell:
Bruce.

Bruce Fein:
Let me tell you about the double standard. When the New York Times published the piece that Obama's officials encouraged showing there are assassination plots right in the Oval office, there's no outside review, there's no due process, the people get targeted are not accused of any crime, these are all the things that if it was George W Bush and Cheney…

Mehdi Hasan:
You're talking about Obama's assassinations policy?

Bruce Fein:
Yeah, the, the…

Mehdi Hasan:
The kill list, the kill list.

Bruce Fein:
If that article was written about what Bush and Cheney did, the left would be falling.

Mehdi Hasan:
That's a fair point.

Clarence Page:
That, that is a fair point.

Mehdi Hasan:
But deal with… deal with Wajahat's point. Deal with Wajahat's point about the, the rise of the far right groups, the constant reference to the middle name, the burkas. I mean, those of us who do live in America, we look at the debate and we think, really?

Bruce Fein:
Oh, oh, I agree. Those are despicable and I totally deplore them, but it's on the other side as well. It's a degradation…

Mehdi Hasan:
There, there are bhurkas in the democratic party as well?

Karen Finney:
No, no, no. There are no bhurkas.

Wajahat Ali:
I agree. Look…

Ford O'Connell:
Well, I'm saying…

Wajahat Ali:
I'm saying, well, no, what I'm saying is the republican party and especially the right wing, unfortunately instead of expelling this element, I don't say it defines all of them, instead of expelling this element they've embraced it, alright? But I'll take him at his word, he says he's Christian, I'll take him at his word. 17% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. As a Muslim, I can tell you if he is a Muslim, he's the worst Muslim of all time. Don't worry, the dude eats pork openly, alright? I haven't seen a Muslim celebrate Easter and say Jesus is a saviour, but that's, 17%...

Ford O'Connell:
And we do see on the left, by the way, let me add one thing. We do on the left, an element of dislike of the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney.

Karen Finney:
But we're talking about the way it's manifested itself publicly, and I think…

Ford O'Connell:
What's more important, how they pull the lever or what we're hearing about it?

Karen Finney:
Well, I think, you know what, what's really important, if you're a person of colour in this country and you see the country becoming more racially charged it's frightening.

Ford O'Connell:
I do not think it's getting more racially charged because we did elect an African American president, but I do think these elements are out there.

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on… just one thing, Amy and then Bruce.

Amy Goodman:
And yet here you have President Obama presiding over more deportations of immigrants than all presidents going way back, certainly well more than President Bush. I mean, in 50 years…

Karen Finney:
But still being accused of not being tough enough.

Amy Goodman:
…you then have this remarkable situation of… and this is with the local New York police, where I come from, working with the Central Intelligence Agency, targeting Muslims, at a level we haven't seem before from New York, to New Jersey, throughout the north east, at Yale University. These undercover agents are going and they are looking at where Muslims pray, they're looking at where Muslims do business, they're following students on weekends outdoors, and documenting how many times they pray. There was one report the New York Police Department had, that said these students are so extreme that they pray four times day. So we were interviewing one of those students who was named in the report and he said this undercover agent was so stupid that they didn't understand we pray five times a day. But this is happening under the Obama administration.

Bruce Fein:
I grew up in the Civil Rights Movement, I despise anything but colour blind approach, and I say this as preface, because there is a racism on the other side too. There are men who say, “I will vote for Barack Obama just because he's black. Period.” And it doesn't make any difference, they just want a black man in there.

Clarence Page:
There's no moral equivalency there. I mean…

Bruce Fein:
I'm not saying there are, it's still bad.

Clarence Page:
Well…

Clarence Page:
Well, yeah, but…

Ford O'Connell:
Racism is racism, period.

Clarence Page:
How about… I mean, you're, you're one of the country's most distinguished legal experts. What about jury selection? The courts have already decided that race is a factor in jury selection and that's valid, so you know, there's a lot of reasons for bringing race into account…

Bruce Fein:
No, but it's unconstitutional.

Clarence Page:
…without being racist.

Bruce Fein:
No, but they're saying it's unconstitutional to race being a factor.

Karen Finney:
Part of what we're talking about and part of what is happening in this country, maybe it's because of the election of Barack Obama, I personally also think it just happens to be we are a majority-minority country. We are changing, the way we live our lives is dramatically different. Our economy is different, and I think we're all trying to adjust to that, but you do have elements, I think, within our political system, we have a very dysfunctional system here in Washington for a lot of reasons, not the least of which, when you have, you know, the republican speaker of the house so terrified and so paralysed by what, 24 or so Tea Partiers, that you have to have the Senate minority leader who is a republican, chastise them publicly to get things done…

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay. Let me, let me ask, let me ask Ford a question. Karen raised a very interesting issue. As an outsider, I look at the American political system and it doesn't look like it works. It looks pretty dysfunctional is the way you… who is to blame for that dysfunctionality?

Bruce Fein:
But why do you say it's dysfunctional? Just because the, just because the congress doesn't agree on…

Ford O'Connell:
Because we are…

Bruce Fein:
Why by that definition…

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you not think the world's… the world's richest economy came close to defaulting on its debts last year? You don't think that… the rest of the world wasn't too impressed with that.

Bruce Fein:
That, that doesn't mean because congress is log jammed.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you think American government, the American system's working fine, in your view?

Bruce Fein:
No, it's not the question isn't whether it's working fine. I think it's too huge, and the American government is working terribly, but not because there's these log jams. I think the whole conception of how you make an economy boom, not military, industrial complexes, not trillion dollar programs, not trillion dollar stimulus's where you give it out…

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay.

Bruce Fein:
… That is the problem. And both sides are guilty.

Karen Finney:
If you go to the Hill and you talk with people, they all sort of agree. Not much is going to happen between now and the election. Not because it shouldn't, not because it's not a good idea… Why? Because it's an election.

Ford O'Connell:
No, because both parties want to know what the make up of the next congress…

Karen Finney:
Of course.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you think, do you think, you think both parties are to blame for this?

Ford O'Connell:
I absolutely do but I will say the reason why nothing's happening is because both parties want to know what the make up of the next congress is, so they can figure out where they have to bargain.

Mehdi Hasan:
We often hear this phrase that the republican party is now the party of no, it just says no to everything. It won't vote for a tax rise, it won't vote for a raising of the debt ceiling. It is basically set its head against doing anything that opposes the democrats and Obama.

Ford O'Connell:
And I think part… I think both parties are doing that. It's not like the democratic party is actually bargaining really on the tax increase either. The House said no tax increase.

Mehdi Hasan:
You don't think… you don't think Obama tried to reach out at all?

Ford O'Connell:
No, I don't. I think both parties are guilty of this and part of the rules is the situation where the republicans control the House, the democrats control the Senate and basically the democrats set a precedent. They want to know what the future's going to look like before they start horse trading.

Wajahat Ali:
TThere's loyalty to party before loyalty to country right now. That seems to be the consensus of Americans and I think, sorry to the republicans, it seems that they have made a dead set effort to stymie anything that the Obama administration wants to do. Whether it's good or bad, it seems to be that we're just going to be no, no, no. Look at the debt ceiling crisis, they just hijacked that.

Ford O'Connell:
I think…

Wajahat Ali:
I think most people, most Americans are like, you know what? We're gonna go for our party politics instead of bettering the nation.

Ford O'Connell:
But the democrats have two thirds of the…

Wajahat Ali:
And they do it too.

Ford O'Connell:
…government. That's what everybody likes to say, that it's 50/50. It's not 50/50. It's only 50/50…

Karen Finney:
But you're… that's so disingenuous because given the way that the government works, it's not working. It's not that we control two thirds of the government and you can just sign a piece of paper and get anything done you want.

Mehdi Hasan:
Amy.

Karen Finney:
You can still obstruct. But the republicans…

Ford O'Connell:
But that is part of the rules we've known these rules…

Mehdi Hasan:
Amy.

Amy Goodman:
Well, this problem is not the debt, it is… it is the death of the middle class. What we are seeing in this country right now it is absolutely terrifying. Mitt Romney would just do it faster but Barack Obama is well on this path. I mean, we are now seeing the latest figures, one in six Americans live in poverty right now, and the numbers are only escalating, and in communities of colour it is far higher. When we hear about unemployment in double digits and communities of colour for young black men, we're talking about 50% of young black men not having jobs. It is a terrifying situation. When we were seeing these crises, it was expected that President Obama would take the country in a different direction. Instead, he's surrounded himself by the same bankers that have robbed this country and deserve to be in jail.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask Karen to respond to that. You worked in the Clinton White House. He led the party to the right and now Obama's leading the party to the right.


Karen Finney:
I don't agree with everything that either one of them has done and the way they're trying to do it necessarily. The problem is people have to… we have to as citizens of this country, raise the stakes on our politicians and hold them accountable. The only way we get change is when there is a political consequence for not doing the things that you said were going to do.

Ford O'Connell:
Let's put this in perspective. Do you know that Americans spend more money each year on bottled water than they're gonna do in this federal election?

Karen Finney:
What has that go to do with…

Ford O'Connell:
I mean, is that… no, but I think there is a… I really think that is an important thing in this…

Mehdi Hasan:
Isn't that maybe we spend a lot of money on bottled water?

Ford O'Connell:
That's probably true too. I'm just saying we need more transparency. There's no question about it, but as long as a political contribution is free speech, guess what, that's the way it is.

Mehdi Hasan:
Explain that to a foreigner. How is money speech? Who wants to make that… how is, how do you, how do you express it? How does it work. Explain to our viewers. Bruce.

Bruce Fein:
The simplest answer is that what's the Supreme Court said and…

Mehdi Hasan:
And you agree?

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you agree with that view?

Bruce Fein:
Well obviously, if you prohibit somebody from spending any money to do something, to promote something, for example, publish a newspaper, you can be a news… you can enter the newspaper industry but you can't spend any money on it.

Mehdi Hasan:
Bruce, only rich people can spend money. What do the poor people do, how do they get their voices out?

Bruce Fein:
They vote in the ballot box…

Ford O'Connell:
They vote.

Bruce Fein:
…and if you had to run a TV show, a broadcast station or the media and say you know what, you can't spend any money…

Amy Goodman:
No-one is saying they can't spend any money but in the United States one of the famous signs during the Occupy movement was ‘I'll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.' Right now, more and more corporations are being treated as people. The Supreme Court decision to look at, that is such a catastrophe for politics in this country is Citizens United from 2010, that has unleashed a level of corporate unsourced money in politics and that's very important. This isn't about each individual spending money; this is corporations whose names we don't know who are pouring money like…

Ford O'Connell:
I think we all agree there needs to be more transparency; there is no question about that.

Karen Finney:
or audiences to understand that the way our systems works is that you have the political parties and the campaigns and they are able to raise a certain amount of money. Each individual who donates up to a certain amount. Then you've got the packs and the super-packs which are able to take larger sums of money. It is less regulated, there is less transparency, and so one person doesn't write a $20million cheque.

Mehdi Hasan:
Well, let me ask, let me ask a question, let me ask a question to link this money subject. Where did the Tea Party come from, because some people say it's a grass roots organisation campaigning for liberty, others say it's a corporate front? Who's right?

Clarence Page:
The Tea Party is the American right-wing under, by a different name. There are some that are fiscal Teas, and there are some that are Tea Evangelists who… they have always been around. Some are libertarians who believe in small government, others are social conservatives who also believe in small government, think that's the Lord's way. They got mad when Obama won, while the left got more complacent.

Amy Goodman:
I think they started off as grass roots and then you have these larger forces like the Koch brothers, so it's now the Tea Party on Koch…

Karen Finney:
Sure one of the ones is funded on the right.

Amy Goodman:
The Koch brothers who are billionaire brothers who have, are now bankrolling this massive movement against any kind of regulation in government and to defeat President Obama.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask one last question before we go to a break, and that is to all of you. Is America more polarised now than it was four years ago? Is it a more divided society?

Ford O'Connell:
Yes. I absolutely think so and I think a lot of that goes to the economy.

Amy Goodman:
Yes, as people who slip into poverty…

Ford O'Connell:
Exactly.

Amy Goodman:
…it becomes a very scary place.

Ford O'Connell:
I agree with that.

Wajahat Ali:
Economically, politically, socially, yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
After the break, we're going to ask, whether Romney wins or Obama wins, is the job of the next American president simply to manage American decline? Join us after the break.

END OF PART 1

Mehdi Hasan:
Welcome back to The Café here in Washington DC. I want to kick off part two by asking you all a question. We often hear American politicians say that this is the greatest country in the world, which from outside perspective, forgive me, doesn't always seem to be the case. But I just want to check with all of you, do you believe America is the greatest country in the world? And if not…

Ford O'Connell:
I absolutely believe it to be the greatest country in the world. Because of the freedoms we have, because this is honestly a place where we can sit and exchange ideas and frankly we pride ourselves on free enterprise when the government isn't over reaching. That said though, we have a tendency to potentially lose this position as the greatest country on earth if we don't make wholesale changes to our economy and if we don't start touting education as our best national security going forward. We're really lagging, you know, in those areas and it could lead to our demise.

Amy Goodman:
You know, for many this is the greatest country on earth. It provides so much opportunity but for others it is a place where you don't have access to healthcare, to education. We have the largest per capita prison population. We have thousands of people on death row. It is a very frightening place.

Clarence Page:
Well, I think that we are the greatest country in the world because I'm a good American. But you know what, we used to be better and it depends on how you look at it. We ranked something like 17th or 7th in literacy among the industrialised countries, we rank way down on healthcare, we rank down on college opportunity. When I was a young man I could work in the steel mill in my hometown, get enough money during the summer to pay tuition in the winter and get the great education I got at Ohio University. Tuition, there was ten times what it was when I went to school. The steel mill's gone, the industrial belt is devastated right now and on upward mobility we are way behind a bunch of other industrial countries right now, and we're slipping. And that's why, you know, we got the greatest potential in the world, we always have. We are a country of opportunity, so when opportunity is shrinking in America that upsets me greatly for the sake of my own kid and other Americans.

Mehdi Hasan:
Wajahat, you were great, but you're not so great any more.

Wajahat Ali:
We used… we used to be better, we still could be better. We need to get better, but the American dream seems to be exactly that now for many people, especially my generation, a dream that will never be realised, not be realised and the dream has not exploded, it's evaporated, it's collapsed on itself. And it's specifically when it comes to 18 to 24 year olds, we are looking at 54% employment, the lowest ever, right? The lowest ever. We're looking at, I think, 50 million Americans, 8 million of which are kids without health insurance. The disparity between rich and poor is at its highest ever. Poverty's increasing, yet we have time and budget to incarcerate two million people, right? And at the same time we have this immigration problem, which instead of treating you with humanity and compassion, it's always treated with national security parameters, 12 to 13 undocumented individuals in this country. And so we have potential, it's unrealised and unless we start caring about people instead of corporations and lobbyists and bi-partisan, oh, partisan bickering, right, I think we're going to go on a really, really slippery slope. I mean, it's really frightening now.

Bruce Fein:
With all due respect, I think the question is adolescent, you know, like boasting, we're number one or something at a football game. That's not what the country is about. If we ask what really makes the country great is what John Quincy Adams said in his July 4th 1821 address. The glory of a republic is liberty. The rule of law. The making of free opportunity irrespective of one's heritage, gender, background or anything else, that is what the country is about. That's where we've totally lost our way and John Quincy Adams said at that time, he was secretary of state and later became president, that we reject as a country that our glory is forced, it's domination, it's going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. And now that's basically what the country is about. All those rulers out there who are outside the United States, that's how they see us. A thousand military bases abroad, anything moves we get in there, we intervene, we tell you what you ought to do and you ought to respect us. It is an arrogance that in some respects reflects, well, we're number one. That is precisely the kind of juvenile attitude that, well, everyone else who's not an echo of us is somehow inferior that causes other countries to resent us.

Mehdi Hasan:
Karen.

Karen Finney:
We are the greatest country, but I think we have to re-imagine what the American dream is and I think part of the, the period that we're in is a period of transition from what the American dream was, and what it will, what it should be, and what it can be and I think as a country we have to be open enough to re-imagine what that is. I think, I worry when I hear people talk about certain things coming back or going back to how it was. I mean, there are certainly things in the way that it was, women couldn't vote, blacks couldn't vote. I don't want to go back there. But I do want to see a thriving middle class because that has been the hallmark of this country. I think though, unfortunately for people like me, I think we're in a period where it's going to be messy and ugly and we have these problems for a while.

Mehdi Hasan:
You say it's the greatest country right now. You believe you're living in the greatest country in the world right now?
Karen Finney:
And I think it makes it because…

Mehdi Hasan:
How do you respond to kind of, Amy gave some of those statistics, Clarence gave some statistics, you know… you're not number one in most of… you're number one in all the bad things, obesity, you know, number of people in prison, etc. You're not number one in infrastructure or mathematics or scientific… you're not number one in those areas, healthcare, life expectancy…

Karen Finney:
But I think what makes America a great country is that we have the tools in this country to be better.

Bruce Fein:
Why don't other countries have that? That's such an arrogant statement…

Karen Finney:
You know what…

Bruce Fein:
You know in Great Britain…

Karen Finney:
You know what…

Bruce Fein:
…they don't have the tools to do that?

Karen Finney:
I'm…

Mehdi Hasan:
We do, we do.

Karen Finney:
They may, but I… from my perspective, living in this country, and I look at President Obama and I'll tell you, I've been to Europe, where there was a conversation after President Obama was elected about is a Barack Obama possible in France, in Germany, in all these other places. I look at Barack Obama's story, it is a purely American story to me, not just because he's African American but because he was raised by a single mother.

Mehdi Hasan:
Although those same Europeans now look at America and think, look at all those burkas and look at all those people who think…

Karen Finney:
Sure.

Mehdi Hasan:
…look Obama is a Muslim, secret Muslim and…

Karen Finney:
Absolutely, but at the same time, again I look at his story and I think that that is a story of this country that makes it a great country.

Ford O'Connell:
I think one of the problems we're having right now, in terms of getting back to that point of opportunity, is the fact that America right now is not adapting to globalization, and I think that that's hurting us all around, and I think going back, saying, hey, we want to go back to the policies of Bill Clinton or FDR. That's not going to cut it, okay? There is a whole global economy, talking about people coming across the border, well guess what? The money's going across the border, everything is now inter-connected and…

Mehdi Hasan:
Well, let me, let me…

Ford O'Connell:
…and I think that right now all the policy prescriptions being put out there are not taking into account the global economy. They're all harking back to this point. I mean, the point is the idea…

Mehdi Hasan:
Clarence, let me ask you this question. Is the job of the next president, whether it's Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, simply to manage American decline?

Clarence Page:
Well, you know, this is why Romney's talking about standing straight or walking tall. Americans want to hear an optimistic message, we're an optimistic people. We want to do more than just manage decline, we want to grow, we want to have…

Mehdi Hasan:
But can you?

Clarence Page:
…the greatest…

Mehdi Hasan:
Fine whether you want it, can it be done?

Clarence Page:
We have our ups and downs, you know? And this is a very simple statement but it's true.

Mehdi Hasan:
Amy and then Bruce.

Clarence Page:
Look at today's technology, computers, automobiles, etc, etc. Look at Obama himself, you know? We look at the great breakthroughs, every so often we really do walk tall because we are ahead and we can be ahead again.

Amy Goodman:
As long as Americans are just looking to one person, we're going to go nowhere. It's all about people making a difference.

Bruce Fein:
I think this, this idea that the only earmark of greatness is economic strength, I think is totally misconceived. I go back, greatness, liberty, due process, the rule of law, making certain that the… that those who are born with handicaps have fair opportunity. That's what makes the country great whether or not the GNP is high or low, and this reminds me of Calvin Coolidge, who is not noted as a famous American president, said the business of America is business. No, that's not what the country was created on. As John Quincy Adams, the business of America is liberty and a fair opportunity…

Mehdi Hasan:
And you're a pessimist when it comes to liberty. You don't think things are going to get better on that front?

Bruce Fein:
If things are… deteriorating, they're getting worse every single day.

Mehdi Hasan:
Karen, let me say, Karen, two republicans are here, and they're saying liberty's got worse in the last four years, and civil liberties have been more abused under your president.

Karen Finney:
But what I love about that, the irony of that, is that it's the republicans who want to tell me what to do with my body, who want to deny me the access to…

Ford O'Connell:
That is such a odd point to comment,

Karen Finney:
…birth control. No, no, no. It is absolutely the right point. If we're going to talk about liberty then let's be consistent and let's say if gay people want to marry, who cares? Then we should say, if I want to… if my doctor and I want to make a decision about taking birth control or not taking birth control…

Ford O'Connell:
Who's stopping you? Who's stopping you?

Karen Finney:
Well, the republicans certainly don't think that we should.

Ford O'Connell:
Nobody's stopping you. You're making an issue that's not an issue.

Bruce Fein:
Well, I certainly agree with that, if you want to have the same sex marriage in the States, that's no…

Karen Finney:
You're being disingenuous…

Ford O'Connell:
I'm not being disingenuous.

Karen Finney:
How many have times have we… how many times…

Bruce Fein:
No, it's not… you're totally ignored the fact that wait a second, you have authorised, under Mr Obama, a big brother police state, the surveillance drones are multiplying…

Karen Finney:
You know what… you're… that maybe your issue but for me, I'm talking about, yeah, I know you don't actually have to care about birth control or what happens to your body or the ability to have an abortion…

Ford O'Connell:
But nobody's stopping you!

Karen Finney:
But I do.

Karen Finney:
And you should respect that.

Mehdi Hasan:
Karen, Karen…

Mehdi Hasan:
Just deal with Bruce's point. Bruce says we're living under… Americans are living under a big brother police state. That's under Barack Obama. You said at the start that people put too much hope, and there was too much expectation, but I seem to remember him in 2008 saying he would end all of these things. He would end Guantanamo…

Mehdi Hasan:
…civil liberties, and yet he's now a president who sits down with, I believe, a kill list, every Tuesday morning and decides which people he's going to kill, with no due process, no overview. How do you justify that?

Karen Finney:
The truth is, whether or not you agree with this, from the point that that I've seen the majority of Americans say that unless Americans get outraged and do something about it in another direction, they would give up some of their personal liberty and freedom if they believe it keeps them safer. Whether or not you agree with that is not my point. My point is…

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you agree with it?

Karen Finney:
I don't know, because I don't think it's a black and white… I don't think it's a simple issue.

Ford O'Connell:
Let me say one thing about the Obama…

Karen Finney:
I don't think it's a straightforward issue. I don't think it's a straightforward issue…

Wajahat Ali:
People would rather feel safe than be free, great quotation by HL Mencken, and those freedoms come at the expense of usually minorities. Marginalised communities, especially right now when we're talking about President Obama's record with civil liberties, has been shameful. I mean, there was kind of a mandate that President Obama would come in and set back these civil liberties abuses that we experienced under President Bush, but what we've seen, is extended, it's increased, and of course people want to feel safe, but those… that feeling of safety comes at the expense of freedoms of many minorities in this country. African Americans know about this…

Karen Finney:
And I… I agree with that.

Wajahat Ali:
Mexican immigrants know about this, gays and lesbians…

Mehdi Hasan:
Ford, you were a… you were a supporter of President Bush…

Ford O'Connell:
Yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
So you must be a supporter of what President Obama's doing, this continuation of Bush?

Ford O'Connell:
Beyond comprehension. I think one thing that the Obama presidency has missed, is when they were in the cheap seats, on the outside, governing this country looked easy, and then they recognised how hard it really is, and where you have to make those trade-offs, and I think that that's really what's hindered him, is the idea of it was a lot better than actually, you know, the execution of it.

Clarence Page:
Everybody here is right on the rational level, by letter of law and the constitution, so why is there not a great American uprising of anger over this? This is what intrigues me. I think emotionally, Americans are a bit confused right now over the nature of privacy. While we're complaining about government intruding on our privacy, private people, the corporations, their individual Facebook and Twitter users or whatever, are intruding… I mean, people, young people especially…

Amy Goodman:
No, I think…

Clarence Page:
…have a whole different view…

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on, Amy.

Clarence Page:
…on privacy and as far as the drones go, I happen to a Vietnam era veteran drafted, and when I look at the cost benefit analysis about going after, say, Bin Laden or some other terrorist in Pakistan or Yemen or Afghanistan or Sudan, I am sending in ground troops versus one drone on a video game kind of machine…

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on, let him talk.

Clarence Page:
…what we have reduced murder to now, I can see why there's not a great debate…

Bruce Fein:
I think Clarence has got it totally misconceived in trying to suggest that the use of predator drones is sort of a good trade off. I've got Mr Iwaki 16 year old, US citizen who is vaporised

Bruce Fein:
…was totally vaporised and we are killing people without any idea about whether they're guilty or not.

Clarence Page:
What would you do?

Bruce Fein:
What?

Clarence Page:
What's your alternative?

Bruce Fein:
The alternative is not to be there at all. To build defences where we are defending the United States. No.

Clarence Page:
Come on. You want to send… in the posse, right, send in ground troops to go get them.

Bruce Fein:
No, I'm not..I'm against sending in ground troops there at all. No way!

Clarence Page:
Let him off.

Ford O'Connell:
That, that is…

Bruce Fein:
We have defences here, we have…

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on, what you say is… hold, hold on. It's an out there view, it's an out there view in America. The rest of the world is pretty much outraged over drone attacks.

Ford O'Connell:
Yeah I see that, but what I want to say is that I agree with you. There is a certain trade off out there. What really chaffs a lot of people really is the fact that this president, the one thing that he really campaigned on, was getting rid of drone, getting rid of drone…

Karen Finney:
No he didn't…

Ford O'Connell:
No actually he did.

Karen Finney:
He was actually getting out of Iraq and he started…

Ford O'Connell:
He, he… did he not… did he not criticise the previous administration…

Karen Finney:
Yeah, but that… that was not a central target he..

Ford O'Connell:
All he did was ramp it up and I'm just…

Clarence Page:
He said there's smart wars and stupid wars, didn't he?

Ford O'Connell:
Yes, but we all know that and we know that's the fact that how this works. I'm not arguing that, what I'm trying to say is one of the top things that he used against the previous administration is what they were doing in this realm. And all he's done is increase it significantly.

Amy Goodman:
The American people, and it's a very terrifying thing, the idea that we will now engage in drone wars around the world, the idea that people, if they don't lose members of their family, who will even be paying attention to us, do you know who it is who is killed? President Obama has made the decision in places like Pakistan that all young males are considered militants unless proven innocent later.

Bruce Fein:
After the fact…

Amy Goodman:
After the fact, after they're killed. It is, it's a major problem and if we are going to use this as a model, what happens when someone sends a drone over our country. This is happening every other day in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, but I also want to talk about the militarization of the police here at home. We have a law in the United States that says we don't think it's healthy for soldiers to be marching through the streets of the United States. The way the authorities have gotten around this, is they have militarized the police. Since 9-11 billions of dollars have been forwarded to local police departments. They have drones, they have tanks and the… where they have deployed this mainly is against peaceful protestors. For example, the Occupy movement.

Bruce Fein:
It's easy to frighten people. It's easy to make them want to yield liberty, by magnifying danger a million fold, it was what Herman Goering, the Nazis sought to the Reichstag in 1934, easy to do. It is the duty, the imperative duty of leaders like Obama and others, I'm not excusing Bush or Cheney, to try to dissipate that ease of magnifying the danger, so that liberty is sacrificed at the drop of a hat and we have a police state, and that is exactly what Barack Obama has not done, and it was what he suggested he would do when he was elected.

Mehdi Hasan:
Wajahat, briefly.

Wajahat Ali:
Now we're talking about the deliberate exploitation of fear, I mean specifically, recently we saw Michelle Bachmann and her cohorts for elected officials, just casually say, oh yeah, without any evidence or facts, ‘cause facts are not her strong suit, that the government of the United States of America has been infiltrated by radical Islam and specifically she mentioned Huma Abedin, who is an aide of secretary Clinton, respected across both aisles and it's lead to death threats against her. I wish more leaders, especially from both sides, but especially again, I know it's not most republicans but the republican party has been infiltrated by this radical right Islamophobia…

Bruce Fein:
John McCain did stand.

Wajahat Ali:
John McCain, and John McCain did, I agree with you.

Wajahat Ali:
John McCain did, Bainer did, this was really impressive.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask, let me…

Wajahat Ali:
It's frightening, because they're using fear to divide Americans.

Karen Finney:
Michelle Bachmann didn't just casually say that. She wrote a 16 page letter to the State Department and asked for an investigation into how it is that someone like Huma could be… so it was a witch hunt but it was an abuse of her power and her authority and I was glad to see John McCain and others come forward because that kind of intolerance, part of the reason that we were able to get to that point is because we didn't stop it sooner. And we let it feed itself much sooner and I think since 9/11 we've been on a very treacherous path and I agree with both of what you are saying in terms of… if we're going to look at liberties and freedom we have to re-think the whole thing in this country, and its not just about what we do abroad but what we're doing right here at home.

Mehdi Hasan:
I want to ask Ford a question. You made… you joined with Bruce very eloquently saying earlier about how Obama has gone beyond Bush and Cheney.

Mehdi Hasan:
Well, let… let's throw it forward. Mitt Romney wins in November. Is he going to turn the clock back? Are we going to get the… are Americans going to get these civil liberties back that Obama's taken away in your view?

Ford O'Connell:
I don't think that the drones abroad are going to be ceasing any time soon.

Bruce Fein:
See this is, this is…

Ford O'Connell:
No, I… that is a fair point.

Bruce Fein:
This is why, this is why this election is like Iran, Iraq war. Both sides should lose. Precisely for that reason.

Mehdi Hasan:
And you say that as a republican?

Bruce Fein:
Well, the republic actually…

Ford O'Connell:
Let me, let me…

Bruce Fein:
Mitt Romney and Obama both… they are destroying…

Ford O'Connell:
But we are talking about domestic freedom.

Bruce Fein:
…the glory of the United States, which historically has been liberty, rule of law, fair chance for everybody. They don't believe that.

Ford O'Connell:
And that is… those are domestic rule law. That's the one thing that is...

Bruce Fein:
In the international rule law…

Ford O'Connell:
And I hope, and I do hope that we turn this into less of a police state. We've gone too far in the police state.

Mehdi Hasan:
Is Romney going to do that as well?

Ford O'Connell:
I hope he does. I don't know if he's going to do it.

Bruce Fein:
He's not said a word that suggests that.

Amy Goodman:
You know, this country is suffering…

Ford O'Connell:
I just said, I don't know if he's going to do that.

Amy Goodman:
This country is suffering not from the bi-partisan divide, but from the bi-partisan consensus…

Bruce Fein:
Yeah, exactly right.

Amy Goodman:
…because the democrats joined with the republicans in authorising the war in Iraq and they joined with the republicans in…

Bruce Fein:
In the AA detention without any kind of trial…

Amy Goodman:
And all of these various issues, from drone strikes to… that is the problem.

Mehdi Hasan:
Well, let me ask…

Amy Goodman:
Is that there isn't… as there is in other parts of the world more parties.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask a question that a lot of people around the world… let me ask a question a lot of people around the world are wondering. I'll ask Karen first. A lot of people are wondering what is going to happen with Iran? That's a huge worry. That's going to be the next war. Geoffrey Goldberg, the journalist, wrote an article recently approvingly saying that actually Obama is more likely to take military action against Iran than Mitt Romney, and in his view that's a good thing. I'm wondering whether you agree with him?

Karen Finney:
I look at Iran as sort of one of the three or four sort of outliers in this election that something could happen and that could change the outcome of the election, because I think we don't know what can happen. I think it is… I think certainly on the democratic side people are hoping nothing happens until we get to the election because I don't think anybody wants to have to deal with it…

Ford O'Connell:
Politicising already.

Karen Finney:
No, look, I think, I think because look… at the end of the day, depending upon what they do, it's going to be a choice between a lot of very horrible options that I don't think anybody wants to have to take. That's my honest take.

Ford O'Connell:
I think neither side wants to see Iran getting nuclear weapons and I think that that's the bottom line.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask one last question to you all before we wrap up today. Ten years from now, 15 years from now, two or three presidents from now, will America still be the top dog in the world? Ford?

Ford O'Connell:
I think so. The question though is what we're going to do in the next 10 to 15 years to make that happen. We really need some wholesale changes in this country whilst still trying to maintain our individual freedoms as much as possible, and I think one of the ways we have to do it is touting education going forward as national security for the US.

Mehdi Hasan:
Amy?

Amy Goodman:
I think the most important question to ask is how well organised are people going to be to demand what they want? The elections have been kidnapped by the large monied interests in the United States. So who becomes the president of the United States, there is really not an enormous amount of difference. I'm not saying what's in their heart but what they're actually able to carry out. What really matters in our country, in the United States, and in countries around the world, is what people decide to demand at the very bottom level. I think we're going to see a huge change because people are going to start to flex their muscle out of necessity.

Mehdi Hasan:
Clarence?

Clarence Page:
I like to think that America will follow England, France, Spain, in becoming comfortable with former empires, but right now, the militant industrial complex you referred to earlier is much too strong, there's much too much money. And productivity, jobs etc, in having a bloated military and it's way more than we need and saying, well, the world needs us to protect them. Why? Again, a unilateral decision. Now, we need to work more on sharing power and I hope that's going to happen.

Mehdi Hasan:
Wajahat.

Wajahat Ali:
I'd rather us have, instead of being a top dog, a healthy, safe secure dog, that's loyal to its masters which are the people and American values, and I think if we pursue the top dog status by keeping in line with these policies we'll achieve like a pyrrhic victory, we'll be a wounded dog with a negative I think being the quality of life for Americans, and also deteriorating relations with our neighbours abroad.

Bruce Fein:
Well, again I think it's not a sensible question to ask whether we'll still be number one. In my judgment, you go down ten years, we will be worse on the earmarks of what I consider greatness. Liberty, rule of law, fair opportunity, getting the government out of the business of using authority to favour one part of the community against another. We clearly, in my judgment, are on an arc that's downward, and I, in some sense I disagree with Amy. The analysis, I think, of the wrong is correct, but leadership matters. I don't believe by spontaneous combustion you end up with great enlightened civilizations in society and what this is, to me, a cause of maybe not despair, but disappointment, is I see no leadership on the forefront that's going to inspire the grass roots, if you will, to do these things that are very important and in that sense, Obama's election and his first term, is the greatest despair to me, ‘cause this guy has brains. He is intelligent, he's thoughtful, it's not like George W who was sort of sub-literate to be a little bit unkind, and despite that, whenever it came to a moral judgment he flinched. He didn't take the leadership role and try to change the values of the United States. He did what you said. Unless there's a march outside the White House fence, why should I care? That's not leadership.

Mehdi Hasan:
Karen.

Karen Finney:
I so disagree with that. I think I'm less interested in whether or not we're top dog and more interested in sort of where we are and have we… will we in ten years have navigated what I see as a massive shift and transformation of this country, both culturally, socially, ethnically, our economy, and have we marshalled the tools to do that. And I think I kind of go back to where we started, in terms of, you know, yes, I said that I think that a lot was put on President Obama, some fair, some not fair, but I think the reality is, are we going to do the work? And yes, we need leadership but I also think, you know, we need leadership not just in the White House and not just in government. We need it in the private sector, we need it in our non-governmental organisations, and I think the question is are we going to be able to do that, and where do we end up in the next ten years?

Mehdi Hasan:
We're going to have to leave it there on a big, a big question there to leave it there on. Thank you all for joining me here in The Café. This debate will continue online. Thanks for watching us here in Washington DC. | @aljazeeracafe | @mehdirhasan

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