Newsweek's Meacham: "[L]ong time" since Dems have let Americans know they share their values

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the April 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham repeatedly suggested that Democrats are out of step with "American value[s]." Meacham claimed that Democrats "are still struggling to find out how do they signal to the broad American public that they share their values ... whether it's religion or guns or life" and that "Democrats are living in terror of ... look[ing] as though they're being unsupportive of the troops, because ... that's an American value." In fact, recent polling indicates that Americans think that Democrats are more in line with their "values" than Republicans.

Following is Meacham's response to host Tim Russert's assertion that "Democrats seem to have been relatively careful in their response" to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003:

MEACHAM: I think you have Democrats who are still struggling to find out how do they signal to the broad American public that they share their values, that it's a party that understands and believes -- whether it's religion or guns or life -- that they, too, are in tune with the public. And it's -- the Democrats have a long history of being able to do this, but it's been a long time since they have.

Later, Meacham again invoked the idea of "American value[s]" while discussing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) April 19 statement that "the war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything":

MEACHAM: I think we're in this odd moment where everyone wants to support the troops, but move away from the mission. And the Democrats are living in terror of -- and I think that's the reaction to Senator Reid's comments -- is to look as though they're being unsupportive of the troops, because that is a -- to link all these things together -- that's an American value. That's something we should all share.

But as Media Matters for America noted, a March 7-11 poll by The New York Times and CBS News found that 46 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party "comes closer to sharing [their] moral values," while 41 percent favored Republicans. Furthermore, recent polls show more Americans agreeing with Democrats on specific issues such as gun control and the Iraq war:

  • Guns. As Russert noted on Meet the Press, an April 17-19 Associated Press/Ipsos poll found that 55 percent of respondents would be "more ... likely to support a candidate for president who favors stricter gun control laws." The same poll found that 47 percent of respondents favored making "gun laws" "more strict," 11 percent of respondents wanted the laws to be "less strict," and 38 percent wanted laws to "remain as they are." Additionally, according to Gallup: "Fifty-one percent of Americans in a January 2007 poll say gun laws in the country should be more strict, while 14% say less strict, and 32% say they should remain as they are now."
  • Iraq. An April 5-9 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that 48 percent of respondents said that President Bush "should sign a funding authorization [for the war in Iraq] that includes a timetable for withdrawal," while 43 percent said he should veto the bill. Similarly, when asked whether Congress should respond to a veto by either continuing to demand a timetable or passing a bill without one, a narrow plurality of respondents -- 45 percent versus 43 percent -- opted for the former. As Media Matters noted, the Times/Bloomberg poll yielded these results despite skewed wording that benefited the White House position on Iraq. More broadly, an April 9-12 CBS News poll found that 58 percent of respondents believed that Congress should "allow funding for the Iraq war only for a finite period of time," while 29 percent of respondents said Congress should "allow all funding for the war in Iraq without a time limit." Nine percent of respondents "want[ed] all funding for the war blocked no matter what."

Additionally, Meacham asserted that "Democrats are very touchy about" the issue of gun control because the Republican victories in the 1994 midterm election were, "in some quarters, blamed on ... President [Bill] Clinton's anti-crime legislation," which included an assault-weapons ban. Meacham further asserted that "people close to the Gores blame the loss of Tennessee in 2000 ... on the gun issue." While Meacham cited analyses of the 1994 and 2000 elections, he ignored Clinton's re-election in 1996. As Media Matters noted, Clinton campaigned on -- and even ran ads touting -- the ban on assault weapons. Moreover, the ban remained popular right up to the Republican Congress' decision to let it expire in 2004. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted at the time found that 61 percent of Americans were "dissatisfied" with the expiration, while only 12 percent were "satisfied."

From the April 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: One of the reactions in Washington was a discussion of gun control. Subdued discussion, I might add. Here's the poll of the American people by the Associated Press. "Do you support a presidential candidate who favors stricter gun control?" More likely, 55; less likely, 32. Look at this breakdown by party: Democrats 69 to 21, Republicans, less likely, 50 to 34; independents, 50 to 34. And yet, neither party seemed to be very enthusiastic this week, Jon Meacham, about gun control. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, this is an article from Newsday, the Long Island newspaper:

"Rudy Giuliani this week issued statements on gun control and late term abortions that differ sharply from his previous positions, opening him up to flip-flop charges by activists. The gun control switch seems particularly stark. As New York mayor, Giuliani didn't just support tough controls -- he became former President Bill Clinton's go-to Republican to lobby a GOP Congress to back an assault-weapons ban. Later, Giuliani joined a lawsuit against gun makers and called for a" quote " 'uniform law passed by Congress' to regulate handgun ownership."

That's not part of his agenda now.

MEACHAM: No, and I think you saw what the Democrats -- there was a lot of a kind of a deafening silence, in a way, on the gun issue most of the week. You know that in 1994 the Republican blowout was to some extent, and in some quarters, blamed on the crime bill, on President Clinton's anti-crime legislation. I know that people close to the Gores blame the loss of Tennessee in 2000, and therefore the loss of the presidency, on the gun issue. And so I think the Democrats are very touchy about this, and the Republicans are, rather predictably at this point, playing to the base. It's an inevitable conversation that comes up after one of these horrible things. We have a piece in Newsweek this week by [New York City Mayor] Mike Bloomberg [R], who is -- argues, "Let's enforce what's on the books. Let's crack down on illegal guns." And I think you'll see more of that moderate Bloomberg-[California Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger [R] wing of politics taking the lead on this.

RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, in fact, The Washington Post reports this:

"With the Virginia Tech shootings resurrecting calls for handg-- tighter gun controls, the NRA has begun negotiations with senior Democrats over legislation to bolster the national background-check system and potentially block gun purchases by the mentally ill."

[...]

RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, perhaps it was Virginia Tech and other issues that captured the news attention, but this decision by the Supreme Court was significant, and yet again, the Democrats seem to have been relatively careful in their response to it.

MEACHAM: Well, you're right. We had a week where some of the most fundamental questions in our national life, in our politics were changed to some extent. The -- this is the first Roberts court sign that the long-feared liberal -- liberal fears that the court was going to turn right on these issues -- this is the first time that there's actually evidence that they will. Although, as you know, the country is against this procedure, and there's popular -- against that. The people are against it. I think you have Democrats who are still struggling to find out how do they signal to the broad American public that they share their values, that it's a party that understands and believes -- whether it's religion or guns or life -- that they, too, are in tune with the public. And it's -- the Democrats have a long history of being able to do this, but it's been a long time since they have.

[...]

RUSSERT: A Democrat got in some hot water with his fellow party members as well. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats, talked about the war in Iraq and the funding, and this is what he had to say.

REID [video clip]: I believe, myself, that the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows -- that this war is lost.

RUSSERT: Several Democrats called me, Jon Meacham, and said, "We don't want -- we do not want to be debating whether the war is lost or not."

MEACHAM: Right.

RUSSERT: Senator Reid went to the floor and tried to fix it the next day. But what is the significance of that comment, and what's the state of the debate?

MEACHAM: I think we're in this odd moment where everyone wants to support the troops, but move away from the mission. And the Democrats are living in terror of -- and I think that's the reaction to Senator Reid's comments -- is to look as though they're being unsupportive of the troops, because that is a -- to link all these things together -- that's an American value. That's something we should all share. We should be -- in the political culture at the moment, we should be supporting the troops in the field. We should be taking care of them when we come home. That's become a very live political question.

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