Joe Scarborough Talks to NewsBusters About Being MSNBC's Lone Conservative Host
As the lone conservative host on the nation's most liberal news network, Joe Scarborough is used to taking heat from folks on both sides of the political aisle.
Despite NewsBusters at times being one of his program's critics, the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe spent over an hour with us on the phone Thursday discussing his show, how the media have been covering recent events like the Republican presidential race, and finishing by offering an optimistic vision of America's future that is sorely needed at this dark time in our history (video follows with transcript):
NEWSBUSTERS: Joe Scarborough is the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Prior to that, he was the host of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country. And of course, he was a Congressman representing Florida’s 1st Congressional District from 1995 to 2001, which means he was part of the exciting Republican takeover of Congress as a freshman. Joe began his career as an attorney in Pensacola, Florida, and we are very pleased to have him as our guest this morning. Welcome, Joe.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: It’s great to be with you.
NEWSBUSTERS: Thank you. So Joe, at the extremely young age of 31, having never been elected to public office before, at least that’s what my records show, you ran for Congress in the very conservative district of Pensacola and won with 61 percent of the vote. How did you accomplish this as a political neophyte at such a young age?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I actually started running when I was 29. Started to campaign early. And the inspiration was the 1993 vote on the Clinton tax increase. And we had a guy in our district, a guy named Earl Hutto who represented the district. He was a Democrat. A Republican’s never won this seat. In fact, I was the first Republican to win in the 1st District since 1872. So he was like a lot of Democrats. He spoke conservative in the district, but he cast a couple of votes that caused me real concern including obviously the tax increase of 1993 which I called - and there’s still I debate - but I called it the largest tax increase in U.S. history. Clinton also passed the Brady Bill. Did a lot of other things that a lot of conservatives like myself had concerns with.
So I started running against Earl Hutto, and then on my birthday in 1994, he dropped out of the race. And actually a lot of people thought I’d be excited about it, but that just made things worse because you had a lot of others jumping into the race, and it became much more competitive, and I didn’t have a guy to run against who voted for Clinton’s tax increase.
But I won the primary against a moderate legislator that Newt Gingrich came out and supported because Newt said in 1994 that I was too conservative to get elected in my district. I also had the state party working feverishly against me because they said I was too conservative to get elected in that district.
NEWSBUSTERS: But yet what I read about that district was that it was a conservative district. Is that not true?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it was a conservative district, but it was a conservative district that didn’t vote for Republican congressmen. And so I actually, it was strange, but I actually had the local, state, and national Republican Party all working feverishly against me. And there was also another guy that was running, Dave Weldon, who was running the Space Coast, and he had the same thing happening. The state Party’s trying to sanction us. Newt Gingrich was quoted in Roll Call saying I was too conservative to win. And you had, you actually had Republican PACs working feverishly against me. And, who would have known, I ended up getting 62 percent of the vote and going up to Washington and it was not the first time that Newt Gingrich and the Republican establishment would be proven wrong in Washington. So, I got elected, and ran a very conservative campaign, and got up to Washington and the battle with Gingrich continued through 95, 96, 97 until people like Steve Largent and Mark Sanford and Matt Salmon and myself eventually got him out of town.
NEWSBUSTERS: That is a great story. Wow. Okay. After winning your third reelection, you surprisingly resigned shortly into your fourth term. What happened there, Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, that was 2000. It was the fourth time I’ve been elected, and I was actually just explaining this to somebody yesterday. To put it in proper perspective, usually what happened, we were gone an awful lot from our homes. And usually the time that you caught up with your families was usually the fall when you’d go home in September, campaign, also do district work. In 2000, it didn’t quite work out that way because we had the election but then we had the recount immediately after the election was over. I campaigned I guess for about 38 straight days for George Bush. The morning after the election, they called me up and I was on a plane to Tallahassee and then Palm Beach and then Broward County. And so the year was rougher than usual for the kids.
When I got elected, I wasn’t planning on running at such an early age. And my kids were seven and four when I started in 1994. By 2001, they were fourteen and eleven, or actually thirteen and ten. You know, with the oldest boy especially, we were just having some real challenges, and at family counseling and eventually it just became obvious to everybody that he was either going to have to move up to Washington with me or I was going to have to move home and be with him. So, when we went to a family counselor, basically the conclusion of everybody was that either I get in his life more than 200 nights a year or else very bad things were going to start happening with him. It was what I called the easiest decision and also the toughest decision I ever made, easiest decision because when any child of yours is in trouble, you have no choice but to come home.
My ten year old boy also had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and also, we were struggling to figure out what else was going on with him, and had been taking him around across the southeast to figure it out. We found out later he has Asperger’s after I got home. So there were a lot of challenges, and so I came home and he moved in with me. The older boy moved in with me. It was easy because my sons needed me. But it was difficult because it was my favorite job I ever had. I absolutely loved it. I considered it a remarkable honor.
You know, when you get elected at 31, you don’t realize what a great honor it is, people to put their trust in you and vote for you. And looking back all these years later, I still can’t believe they did that, and it remains professionally the greatest honor of my life. So, it was hard to leave, but I had no choice. So, I gave up Congress for the kids, and it was the right decision. I did all the things that my dad did for me growing up. I became baseball coach and a basketball coach and I was able to take my kids to school and sit down at dinner with them and put them to bed – all the things I had not been able to do 200 nights out of the year for the past seven eight years of their lives. It was great for me, but it was also a real professional challenge because of the time I left. My last day, well actually my first day not in session since early 1995 was on September 11, 2001. That was kind of hard to watch from Pensacola, Florida, instead of from the vantage point of the Armed Services Committee which I’d been a member of for seven years.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, you made the right choice in taking care of your children, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I did. You know, time has proven that. My oldest boy is doing remarkably well. He’s graduating from the University of Alabama, he’s Magna Cum Laude, he’s president of his fraternity, got in the top honorary there, and is just a remarkable young man. So, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right decision to make.
NEWSBUSTERS: Yep. Okay, so what’s interesting is that in 2003, you end up with a program called Scarborough Country on MSNBC, and then from there in 2007, when Don Imus was forced off the air due to his indelicate comments about the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team, you became one of the rotating fill-in hosts in that time slot until the show officially became Morning Joe which it is today. So, how do you feel about your current show and being in television and the format? How is that all working for you?
SCARBOROUGH: I love the format. I love the ability of bringing people on and being able to interview them for ten, fifteen minutes. You just can’t do that anywhere else on cable or broadcast TV. I’ve been off this week because I’ve had my sinus surgery because I can’t breathe. At some point I’d like to be able to breathe like every other human being. But I was off today, and I sat and watched, we might as well call him the Iranian minister of propaganda. But I think his official name was Iranian Human Rights Commissioner.
NEWSBUSTERS: He’s Ahmadinejad’s Baghdad Bob.
SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. So he came on to deny everything but the Holocaust, and I don’t know if you saw the segment, but Mike Barnicle actually went after him pretty hard over the claims of having no nuclear program and also refusing to say out right that Israel has a right to exist. But I sat watching that and thought this is an interview you’re not going to see on any other network for fifteen minutes or any other time slot. We’re fortunate because we have a three hour program. I could have never done that with a one hour time slot with Scarborough Country. But we have three hours. It gives us time to breathe. If we don’t get something right at the six o’clock hour, which by the way, your readers may not know this, but the six o’clock hour is the most viewed and the most important hour of the three hours. Certainly not on the west coast where you live. It’s 3 AM.
NEWSBUSTERS: Yeah, I’m missing it.
SCARBOROUGH: But it is the most important hour for the show. But, if we feel that we don’t get something quite right at six, we can adjust at seven and again at eight. It gives us the ability to sit and talk to policymakers and opinion writers for five, ten, fifteen minutes at a time.
NEWSBUSTERS: Yep, well, as you know, you come under a lot of criticism from conservatives for being a RINO – meaning a Republican in Name Only. Do your critics – which of course at times include NewsBusters – have a point, or are all we all wet?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it depends on what you or your readers expect of me. And the analogy that I always give to somebody is that I am paid, and I am paid well by NBC News to play the role of John Madden. They don’t pay me to given an opinion like Rachel Maddow would give an opinion or Bill O’Reilly would give an opinion. I can give my opinion, but they want me looking at the football game and telling everybody what just happened and what’s going to happen and to lay things out.
So if you expect, me, if a reader of NewsBusters or of Media Matters expects me to watch Herman Cain deliver a speech where in the words of Brit Hume talking about Rick Perry where he throws up all over himself, they’re not going to hear me say that. That is the equivalent of a quarterback throwing a 95 yard interception. You know, a pass that’s intercepted for a 95 yard touchdown run at the end of the game. Then I’m going to come out and criticize that the same way that I’m going to criticize Barack Obama for saying in Hawaii yesterday that he wants to be judged by his record over the past three years. Which will allow me if I’d been on the air today, I would have said, “Well, sure, we’ll be glad to judge you on the fact that the Misery Index is at a 28 year high, unemployment remains at 9 percent. You’ve got the worst jobs creation, you’ve got the worst jobs record of any president in modern history.
The economy is worse not than it’s been in 50 years. You took too big to fail and you made it worse. And you took every economic problem that we have and you’ve seemingly made it worse.” What would happen is I would say I do critiques of Barack Obama and Republican candidates over a three hour timeframe, and what happens is you will have conservative bloggers come out and attack me for saying tough things about Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich while you will have sycophants for Barack Obama attack me just as aggressively on the Left for saying what I would say about Barack Obama which is that his economic program has been a disaster. His approach to Wall Street is hypocritical. That he, more than any other politician in U.S. history, is owned by Wall Street at the same he’s trying to cozy up to Occupy Wall Street. I guess my analysis gives critics on both sides all the ammunition they need to attack me.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but let give you the conservative view and then you can respond…
SCARBOROUGH: When you say the conservative view, you’ve got to tell me whose conservative view because I guarantee you when I’m walking through airports in America, or when I’m at baseball games, or when I’m in grocery stores, when I’m away from the clutter of cable TV or the blogosphere, most Republicans that I talk to come up and hug me and say, “Thanks, Joe – keep telling it like it is.” I have a hell of a lot more trouble online than I do when I’m walking outside my door.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, then let me give you the NewsBusters’ view.
SCARBOROUGH: Okay. That’s fair.
NEWSBUSTERS: Alright, so a typical lineup when the program opens in the morning could be you with Mika on your right who’s extremely liberal, correct?
SCARBOROUGH: Mika is liberal in some areas, she’s also conservative in areas that would surprise you on social issues. She’s pro-Life and pro-guns.
NEWSBUSTERS: But you consider her to be liberal.
NEWSBUSTERS: Then on her right might be New York magazine’s John Heilemann who is also extremely liberal. On his right might be the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein who is also extremely liberal. And on his right is Willie Geist who I would put probably center-left. Would you agree?
SCARBOROUGH: I’m sorry, who would you put center-left?
NEWSBUSTERS: Willie Geist.
SCARBOROUGH: No, I wouldn’t agree with that. In fact, I would say that’s wrong.
NEWSBUSTERS: What do you think Willie is?
SCARBOROUGH: I think Willie’s an independent. Yesterday when I was off the air, which, by the way, if NewsBusters wants to know the yoke that I carry every day, just look at yesterday’s show which veered so far left that at the end, Willie Geist was reading Matt Lewis tweets about diversity on the panel. I think Matt said there was a great ideological variety – there was left and far-left on the panel. But Willie is about as independent of a guy as I’ve met in TV.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but when we say independent, and he’s in the middle, but do you think he’s dead in the middle or that he leans a little bit left of center?
SCARBOROUGH: I think he’s dead in the center. I think his time in Tennessee in college moderated his views. Again, I don’t really know. I work with the guy every day, and I can tell you when people start spewing Democratic lines, he rolls his eyes. But when people on the far-right come and spew conservative lines, he rolls his eyes as well. I think he’s like a lot of young voters. I think he’s independent.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, then let’s operate from that premise. So in that point in time what we’ve got is three far-lefties, one independent, and one conservative who at times will take the liberal viewpoint because he thinks that’s the correct one. So at that time, you could conceivably have, and we have this a lot on Morning Joe, and this is what the NewsBusters problem with it would be is that when you take the Left’s position, the show suddenly is five people talking exclusively the Left position, potentially saying something good about a liberal view, something bad about a conservative view, or bashing a Republican. And at that moment, Morning Joe basically looks like any other show on MSNBC in prime time. That’s the criticism, Joe. So you were saying that yesterday without you, the program was far-left and left. But with you, if there is no other conservative on the panel, when you take the liberal view, then it looks just like the show did yesterday. How do you respond?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you’ve set up a panel that may lean left, but at the same time, there are times we have Republicans on that balance out. So, it’s not always laid out the way you put it out there. But that said, my goal is to be on there and to point out from time to time when it’s appropriate blindspots that people in the mainstream media may have. And I think what makes the show fascinating is that they can get on a roll about an issue. A good example a couple of days ago was when Mika went after Newt Gingrich saying that he says things that are hyperbolic against the President and against Democrats. I was able to turn to her and say, “Okay, that’s fine, and you understand that I have a very complicated relationship with the Speaker myself, but you ask why Newt is doing well with the Republican base. It’s the same reason you get excited when somebody on the Left lashes out at the Right.” Again, the more I can point that out, the more that I can point out that the Tea Party’s overarching views are views that most Americans support, as far as less government, and reducing the national debt, and being more responsible fiscally. There are things that I say that you just aren’t going to hear on other network shoes. As far as times when I go liberal, when you say, “Go liberal,” I guess you would have to define times that I went liberal, because I don’t consider myself somebody that veers to the left very often. What would you define as Joe Scarborough going liberal?
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, the point I’m making is that you’re trying to - and I think it’s very admirable, we’ve talked about this before – that you’re trying to be an impartial arbiter of what you see in the political landscape, the economic landscape. But the problem is I don’t think that others on your show are being as impartial or unbiased.
SCARBOROUGH: Okay, so let me explain about yesterday. How I view myself is a referee. I am a conservative referee. But what I want to do is I want to get people. I want to create a dialogue, an intelligent dialogue where people on the Left can talk to people on the Right, where we can have newsmakers on the show, where we can have opinion writers on the show, and instead of dumbing down their comments to get cheers from the far-left or the far-right, that we have a meaningful discussion that actually moves the debate along. Now I will remain an arbiter in the middle until somebody comes on and starts pushing their point of view too far.
Like for instance, and I like her, and I do my best to like everybody that comes on my show, but Katrina Vanden Heuvel who comes on the show. And sometimes Katrina will come on and she will just be putting out straight forward leftwing Nation talking points.
At that point, I stop being a neutral arbiter, and start being a debater because I’m not going to allow somebody to come on the air and say that the Republicans are completely to blame for the national deficit, the Republicans are completely to blame for the jobs crisis, Republicans are the Party of the rich.
Whenever anybody says Republicans are the Party of the rich, I take off my referee’s cap, and I get back in their face and say, “That’s just not the truth. I ran for office and I can tell you most of the rich people in my district wrote big checks to Democrats. Most of the rich people on Wall Street write big checks to Democrats.” And circling back to me not being on the show yesterday, what happens when I’m not on the show yesterday is that the referee is not there who tries to keep people in the center. And so if you have Donny Deutsch whom I love sitting next to Katrina Vanden Heuvel, they’re just going to go on a tear. And Mika does not consider it her role to be arbiter. Her role is mainly to read the news and to provide balance to me. And you also notice from the Left, Noel, if you listen to the criticism that yes, many times I’m the only conservative on that program, but count the words. I dominate the program. So it’s basically, if there are five liberals around the set, what makes the show fascinating is it’s five liberals against one conservative, and just to be blunt, given the authority that I am given on that show by the network and the format and by my co-host Mika, that’s usually a pretty fair fight.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but in the instances when you’re on their side, that’s when the conservative viewer becomes a bit aghast saying, “Why am I watching this? I now have five people who are beating up on let’s say Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin.” That’s when you lose a conservative audience.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, but there’s a big difference there, and I do understand that frustration, and I do because I’ll get emails from my brother or my Mom saying, “Why are you going after our side?”
SCARBOROUGH: Take somebody like a Donny Deutsch may be criticizing Herman Cain because he thinks that Herman Cain or Rick Perry represents everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. That we’re anti-intellectual, that we’re ignorant on foreign policy, that we have difficulty speaking in complete sentences, that we’re just not that smart. And maybe somebody like Donny, again a guy who’s a friend of mine. I’m not knocking Donny, but we all have our prejudices. And somebody on the Left that may be criticizing Herman Cain or Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann may be doing that because it reinforces all of their preexisting stereotypes about what a conservative Republican is. If I’m criticizing Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain, that’s coming from a completely different place. That’s coming from a place of a guy that knows my Party’s not going to win a general election if we have somebody that can’t answer a basic question on Libya. Or if we elect somebody that really doesn’t have the experience to be Commander in Chief and has said some things in the past that will offend voters in swing states that we have to win to win the White House.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but let me play a little bit of conservative devil’s advocate here.
NEWSBUSTERS: As you are now the lone conservative host on MSNBC…
NEWSBUSTERS: …conservatives around the country, especially our readers, see you as being the lone conservative voice on an extremely liberal network, and as such when that lone conservative voice is moving to the left because, and maybe it’s warranted…
SCARBOROUGH: Wait, but hold on. I think you have a fair point, but before you finish, let me interrupt you.
SCARBOROUGH: Me criticizing Herman Cain is not moving to the left. Me saying that Sarah Palin should not put out a blood libel video on the day that Gabby Giffords gets shot is not me moving to the left. Me saying that Michele Bachmann should not tell voters to be armed and dangerous to stop Cap and Trade is not me moving to the left. That’s me being a conservative telling my side, “Hey guys, let’s play to win, let’s be smart.” Me moving to the left would be me saying, “You know what” – like Newt Gingrich – “You know what, I believe in global warming, and I believe in Cap and Trade.” That would be moving to the left. Or me saying that I’m not a fierce supporter of Second Amendment rights, that would be me moving to the left. Or me saying that I am now pro-choice instead of pro-Life would be me moving to the left. Or me saying that, “You know what, deficits don’t matter” would be me moving to the left. I’m not moving to the left.
If I criticize Republicans for acting in a way that hurts our brand and stops our side from getting elected, that’s me being smart in my opinion, being strategic, worrying about how all these terrible mistakes from the campaign trail hurt the Republican Party. That’s one of my biggest frustrations. And this started back when George W. Bush was president, and I’ve got this long history with conservatives online, conservative bloggers online.
In 2003, I started doing something called Capitol Offense on Scarborough Country, and I started pointing out how Republicans were spending too much money in Congress. In 2004, I wrote a book called “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day,” and in that book I quote Reagan, I quoted Paul Ryan, I quoted the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and I said if this Republican Party doesn’t stop spending money at the rate that it’s spending, we’re going to cripple our economy, we’re going to cause a recession, and the Republicans are going to lose control of Congress. I was right on every count.
But I did it at a time that deeply offended people on the right who thought I was being disloyal to George W. Bush. Was I being disloyal to George W. Bush? Perhaps, but I was being loyal to my conservative roots just like I was being loyal to my conservative roots in 1997 when Steve Largent and Mark Sanford and John Shadegg and a bunch of others, and Tom Coburn ran Newt Gingrich out of town. You can go back and look at my record from 1994 on, and what you’ll find is that I may not be the most loyal Republican on the face of the earth, but I have been loyal to my conservative principles from day one, and that’s offended a lot of people that blog on the right.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, and when I say move to the left, I don’t necessarily mean move ideologically to the left. I mean at that moment when you’re taking a position that is the same as the other four people on the panel that is a liberal position. That’s what I’m talking about.
And at that moment, even though you might think you’re right on that, and maybe you even are right on that, the conservatives that are watching, or let’s say the NewsBusters readers that are watching at that point, they’re feeling like, “Well, my goodness, the lone conservative host on MSNBC is taking the exact same position on this particular issue or this particular candidate as Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell or Ed Schultz, and at that point in time, Morning Joe isn’t all that differentiated from those other programs.
SCARBOROUGH: Or, you named hosts on MSNBC, I could also name you 150 to 200 members of the Republican caucus on Capitol Hill who share my same frustrations with let’s say a Herman Cain who can’t explain what’s going on in Libya despite the fact that it’s been on the front page of the papers for the past six months. Or a Rick Perry who stands and stumbles around and can’t even name the three departments that he would like to abolish. I wanted to abolish four departments when I first went to Washington, D.C., and I guarantee you can wake me up at 3:30 in the morning and I wouldn’t look at it like it was a test. I could tell you the four departments I wanted eliminated. What I am saying on TV may not be what certain people are saying on talk radio that depend on a very conservative audience to listen to them. But what I am saying on TV when I am frustrated with Herman Cain or Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or these Republican candidates’ ability to run a strong campaign that would be able to beat Barack Obama in 2012 is the same thing that most members of Congress I talk to on Capitol Hill are saying. That’s just a matter of fact. What I am saying is not liberal. What I am saying is not me moving left. What I am saying is what most Republican leaders are quietly saying behind closed doors which is, “Come on guys, get your act together. You’re hurting our cause, and you’re helping Barack Obama.”
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, okay, when you were in Congress, you had a 95 percent rating from the ACU, which meant that 95 percent of the time you voted with the conservative position on a bill or an issue.
NEWSBUSTERS: How would you score Morning Joe at this point?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I don’t know what I’d score Morning Joe. I know though as far as my viewpoint on deficits, my views on taxes, my views on social issues, I’d still be at 95 percent. Listen, I guarantee you if I had been sitting on the House floor when I was scoring a 95 percent with the conservative rating, and you had asked me, “What do you think of Rick Perry’s debate performance,” I would have said the same thing Brit Hume said. “The guy kind of threw up all over himself.” If you had asked me when I was scoring a 95 percent with American Conservative Union rating what did I think about Herman Cain, I would say, “The guy’s not equipped to be president of the United States.”
NEWSBUSTERS: But would you have said that on television?
SCARBOROUGH: Sure I would have said that on television. I was on television a lot when I was in Congress, and I was on television a lot because I had no problem criticizing Republicans when they weren’t doing well. I would criticize Republicans as well as Democrats.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, well that’s interesting. One of the things that has galled conservatives of course…
SCARBOROUGH: Let me stop really quickly and just tell you that I have long had a challenge to people that had claimed when I was criticizing George Bush for spending too much money, and saying that I had become a RINO, I had long said I would pay, at one point I even went on and said I’d give Bill O’Reilly a thousand dollars if he could name any issue that I had changed on from the time I was being accused of being a RINO to the times back in 1994 or 1995 when I was considered to be a rightwing nut.
The fact of the matter is that my world view is the same. My beliefs are the same. We do face some challenges. I think we’re going, like a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill like Paul Ryan, I think we’re going to have to change the tax code. We’re going to have to undergo some pretty serious tax reform. But for the most part, my world view’s the same.
To tell you the truth, and Noel this is the most frustrating thing for me, I’m pretty much where I was in the 1990s on spending and on fighting wars. It’s the Republican Party that changed. In the 1990s, on the Armed Services Committee, I kept warning against Wilsonian foreign policy. That’s exactly where we are right now. We’ve been in Afghanistan for a decade. You got a lot of Republicans who want to stay another decade. We’re spending $2 billion a week. We’re trying to rebuild Afghanistan. We’re the world’s 911.
I mean, all of the things that we criticized Bill Clinton for doing in the 1990s is what a lot of Republicans are doing right now. So, I’ve stayed the same on foreign policy. Too many Republicans have changed. As far as spending goes, I can tell you, outside of Paul Ryan and a handful of other Republicans, there weren’t a lot of people who remained as consistent on the need for small government as me throughout the Bush era. And yet I get attacked from the Right for attacking George W. Bush for spending too much money. Even now, Newt Gingrich, the guy that a lot of people think is the anti-Romney candidate for the right, Newt Gingrich said that every single conservative member in Congress had a duty to vote for the Medicare drug plan which I was calling in real time an economic nightmare, a $7 trillion albatross that has been hung around our necks.
NEWSBUSTERS: Which is going to get worse as these costs go up.
SCARBOROUGH: Which is going to get worse as these costs go up, so the only thing I would say is for people that get frustrated because I criticize Republicans, look at my record. Look at my words. I’m saying the same thing now that I have said for fifteen years, and good luck finding someone other than Paul Ryan who’s been consistent as me over fifteen years.
You’re not going to find a lot of Republicans that have been as consistent on conservative issues as me. And you can look at the voting record. You can look at the transcripts. You can look at the books I’ve written. You can look at the things I’ve said. They’re all down in transcripts. While a lot of people on the Right completely scraped and bowed to George W. Bush while he took a $5.6 debt and doubled it to $11.7 trillion debt. When he took a $155 billion surplus and turned it into a $1.5 trillion deficit, most Republicans kept their mouths shut and saluted. I even had Rush Limbaugh on my program, and I asked him if he would criticize the president for his big spending ways. He said, “No, I won’t criticize the president. He’s our president.” Well that’s just not the way I operate.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, well let’s go backwards in time a little. I think I’m going to ask you something that nobody ever has.
SCARBOROUGH: Uh oh.
NEWSBUSTERS: Yeah, put on the seatbelt. A lot of the discussion about the GOP candidates has been that they’re not qualified for president. For me I could actually make the case that nobody is qualified because nobody knows everything about everything. So for example, in 1999 there was a bill that came up called the Financial Services Modernization Act. And then in 2000 was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.
In reality, these two bills are indeed what completely deregulated the financial services industry and then subsequently deregulated the commodities markets, in particular financial derivatives such as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations.
So, what’s been interesting to me about the way the financial collapse was covered by the media in the fall of 2008 and subsequent is we seem to have ignored almost completely the two pieces of legislation that ushered in the housing bubble and led to the eventual collapse. So, you actually voted for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. You didn’t vote either way on the Financial Services Modernization Act. I’m not sure why. And by the way, this isn’t a castigation. I want you to understand…
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, sure, sure…
NEWSBUSTERS: I want you to understand that Commodity Futures Modernization passed in the House 377 to 4. Can you imagine?
SCARBOROUGH: Right. Hey, by the way, most bad ideas pass that way.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, here’s my question. Number one, when we talk about qualifications for president or qualifications for Congress, were you or any of the other 377 people who voted for what clearly now we know was a terrible bill, were you qualified to vote to deregulate the financial derivatives markets? Did you actually know much about collateralized debt obligations or credit default swaps?
SCARBOROUGH: No. No, absolutely not. No, you have so many pieces of legislation that come through, and usually what you have to do is you have to depend on your friends that are on the banking committee or your friends with a piece of legislation from the armed services committee where I served or judiciary where I served. If something comes on from let’s say the judiciary committee, and let’s say Steve Largent doesn’t know whether it’s a good bill or not, it’ll come up to me because Steve and I were ideologically in step with each other and say, “Hey, Joe, what’s this bill about?” Then I’ll explain it to him and then he’ll cast a vote there. I think on a bill like this, and I don’t remember the specifics around it because I wasn’t on the banking committee, but, you know, we were believers in deregulating. We were believers in less taxes, less regulations, less spending. And by the lopsided vote, I didn’t know it was that lopsided of a vote.
NEWSBUSTERS: Listen to these numbers, Joe. Now, again, this is Commodity Futures Modernization.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, yeah. Looking at the lopsidedness of that vote, I’m sure most people just thought, “Hey, we’re going to deregulate the banking community, and they ought to be able to have more freedom without the federal government breathing down their back.” And it probably passed that way, by that large of a margin because, of course, Republicans reflexively like myself will, if given an opportunity to vote regulations off the books will do it. And but you also had Clinton Wall Street guys, the Larry Summers of the world, and Treasury Secretary at the time, Rubin.
NEWSBUSTERS: 181 Democrats in the House voted for it.
SCARBOROUGH: Right, so you had the White House pushing this hard. I’m sure you had Republican leadership pushing this hard. And so it passed.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, so we’ve set the table for potentially the more important question on this issue, and that is that we now are suffering with 9 percent unemployment, conceivably significantly higher. We may have unemployment that’s going to last for decades for people that may never find jobs. We’ve got a movement right now that’s pointing their fingers at Wall Street and blaming them. We had in the fall of 2008 as everything was collapsing we had media blaming George W. Bush for this collapse, but in reality, Joe, the pieces of legislation that directly led to the collapse were signed by Bill Clinton in November of 1999 and December of 2000.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you’re leaving out what I think is the most important part of it, and this is for some reason this causes great consternation among the Left, but if you haven’t read Gretchen Morgenson’s book, she’s a great writer for the New York Times, you need to, explaining how the bigger problem was Freddie and Fannie.
NEWSBUSTERS: It was. It was, but Freddie and Fannie don’t…
SCARBOROUGH: But let me circle back really quickly, because I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m just saying you’re leaving out what I think is equally or even more damaging to the economy in the long run. That is when the Clinton administration started aggressively pushing for Fannie and Freddie in 1999 to lower their standards. And by lowering their standards, and by the way, the New York Times in real time had people predicting this was going to lead to a bubble. I always love quoting Ron Paul who on September 10, 2003, in a banking committee, predicted chapter and verse what was going to happen.
NEWSBUSTERS: By the way, Joe, you’ll find it interesting. I said four people voted against Commodity Futures Modernization. Ron Paul was one of the four.
SCARBOROUGH: That doesn’t surprise me at all because Ron Paul was on the banking committee, and so I actually should have talked to Ron that day. But Ron on September 10, 2003, actually gave a remarkable speech I would hope all of your listeners and readers will read up on where he said what’s going to happen is, we’re going to cause a bubble to occur in the mortgage market, and because it’s going to affect all, it’ll be like a virus spreading around the entire economy. So when the bubble bursts, the consequences are going to be absolutely catastrophic. And Ron Paul was right. Of course, he was saying that at the same time that others were attacking any Republicans that were against this as being racists for not wanting people of color to have the same opportunities that others had.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but let me throw a hypothetical at you.
NEWSBUSTERS: Alright, here’s the hypothetical. Bill Clinton was a Republican. George W. Bush was a Democrat. Bill Clinton in roughly the last year of his administration puts tremendous amount of pressure on Fannie and Freddie to lower their requirements.
NEWSBUSTERS: Then signs a bill that completely deregulates the financial services industry eliminating the last vestiges of Glass Steagall.
NEWSBUSTERS: Then signs a bill that deregulates financial derivatives. Now once again, he’s a Republican.
NEWSBUSTERS: Then eight years later, the entire economy collapses as a direct result of that. Do you think the media would have been doing tremendous amount of reporting in the fall of 2008 on exactly this issue pinning it on the Republican president that created the entire collapse rather than blaming it on the Democrat George W. Bush, and how might that have impacted the 2008 elections if they had reported this?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I think most conservatives are going to believe that Democratic presidents are going to get an easier run of it in the national media. And I suspect that would have been the case. But, let me just say if the economy had collapsed in 2008 under a Democratic president, then a Democrat would have had a difficult time winning the election in 2008. We’re talking about a lot of different theories here.
You go to the ballot box with the economy that you’re given, and if the economy is doing well a year from now, Barack Obama will win, and if it stays how it is right now, Barack Obama will lose. So, I don’t know that press coverage would have swayed an election in 2008 if a Democrat would have been an incumbent instead of a Republican. I’m just not sure.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, but let me give you an historical comparison. During the Depression, when Hoover puts forth Smoot-Hartley, which ends up worsening the Depression, and FDR comes in and the Depression continues to get worse, he was actually able to continue to blame the problem all on Hoover and ended up getting reelected in ’36. But in 2008, my suggestion is that if Clinton had been a Republican, and Bush had been a Democrat, when the economy collapsed, the press would have been going nuts over these two bills, these two pieces of deregulation that the Republican president signed, and they would have totally blamed the entire economic collapse on the previous president’s policies.
SCARBOROUGH: Perhaps, but you’re ignoring the eight years that intervened between the time that the Clinton bills passed and the 2008 election was held. The reason why George W. Bush and the Republicans didn’t do more to reverse the policies of Bill Clinton in 1999 is because everybody had a political incentive to grow that bubble. It was great for the economy.
NEWSBUSTERS: I agree.
SCARBOROUGH: It helped Republicans get reelected. It helped Democrats get reelected. We Republicans since 1994 had been talking about the opportunity society. We wanted to figure out a way to get people in public housing to actually own their housing. It was also good for people like Barney Frank to go back to his district and say that he was expanding the American dream to people who couldn’t afford to be a part of it before. Everybody was in on the deal. It was under the Bush administration that banks were allowed to leverage out their money at a forty to one clip. So, I think in this case, you have Republicans and Democrats who all were incentivized to expand that bubble as quickly as possible. If your point is, and I think it’s a good point if it’s your point, if your point is that there should have been more media attention to what Bill Clinton did in 1998 and 1999 and 2000 with Larry Summers and Rubin helping to pass legislation that led to the bubble, and that led to the problems at Fannie and Freddie, I think that’s a very valid point.
But I will tell you what I have noticed as we’ve moved away from September 15, 2008, those actions in 98, 99, and 2000 are now becoming ingrained as part of the historical record to explain the beginning of an era that led to the collapse in 2008 of our housing market.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, I would counter that by saying that Bill Clinton is revered as being one of our great presidents. Right now he’s treated like an idol. But the reality is I could make the case that the signature pieces of legislation that he should be remembered for – not balancing the budget, not the strong economy, not low unemployment, and not Monica Lewinsky – is that he actually did deregulate the financial services arena.
But you brought up another interesting point though, you raised an interesting point. It was indeed that bubble that Democrats and Republicans in the previous decade all glommed on to because the economy needed that to grow. But isn’t that to a large extent being ignored as we now blame Wall Street for all of our problems. You and I seem to agree that it was that excess that created the good economy in the previous decade. So we shouldn’t be castigating that which made us good now because it has appeared to have made us bad.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, my concern goes back to what happened in the 1990s as well as what happened under Bush, and I wrote in 2004 in my book where I was criticizing George W. Bush for spending too much money that actually our 90s recovery was based on a tech bubble…
NEWSBUSTERS: Of course it was.
SCARBOROUGH: …and that when that tech bubble exploded in 2000…
SCARBOROUGH: …it caused economic consequences. And so if you go through the Clinton era, and you go through the Bush era, I would say economically, we are in terrible shape and not just since 2008. We’ve been riding bubbles over the past 15 years. We’ve been spending too much money. We’ve been fighting too many wars. We’ve been engaged in Keynesian economics on crack since the mid-1990s.
And despite that fact, we haven’t been able to grow our economy in a meaningful way. We have to do more than just re-inflate a bubble that’s going to burst again. We’ve got to grow the economy. The main point in “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day” was that I was nervous because we passed two tax cuts which were Keynesian, even though the Left doesn’t think tax cuts are Keynesian, we passed two tax cuts, we’re fighting two wars, we increased spending domestically at record levels, we increased spending on foreign policy at record levels, we were running record deficits, we were running record national debts, and our economy still wasn’t picking up.
NEWSBUSTERS: Well, there’s a bigger problem here, and you’ve touched on it. And I’m fascinated that you agree with me on the bubble problem we have. To me the bubble problem we have is at least the past two economic recoveries were caused almost exclusively by bubbles, and you could make the case that even the 80s recovery to a certain extent was based on an asset inflation. So the question therefore is can our economy grow without a bubble, and if so, how?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, it has to grow without a bubble.
SCARBOROUGH: You’ve got to go back, if you want to know how far back this has gone, America’s real economic problems, you have to go back to 1973 which is the last year that the adjusted income for male workers in America went up.
So since that time, the average wage for male workers has been in decline. 1978 the world changes again when China decides to globalize. And of course India is globalizing. America is not the country that it was in the 1950s when we dominated the world stage economically because we had destroyed all of our competitors in World War II. We destroyed their factories.
But because of the Marshall Plan we built Germany, we built Japan, we built Western Europe back up, and so things began getting more competitive in the 60s, and by the 70s, the United States was not the dominant economic power that it had been.
But how do we revive the economy? We revive the economy by creating incentives, and I believe we create incentives in our tax code that will stop rewarding people for creating exotic financial instruments, the types of which you were talking about that were created by the Clinton bills from 99, but instead tax incentives to grow small businesses, to grow up our manufacturing base, to help us steal jobs from Europe which we can do.
I always talk about Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is now building all of Mercedes SUVs, and did such a great job building Mercedes SUVs that Mercedes is now having them build their entire C class. And there are protests in Germany about the exporting of jobs to America, but the jobs keep coming to Alabama because Mercedes says that that Alabama plant is their most productive plant, and their most profitable plant. We have Volkswagen coming over to the United States now. Airbus.
There’s no reason why the United States of America can’t become a great manufacturing base again. And at some point, this China explosion is going to slow down and is going to stop. China will not keep growing at 10, 11, 12, 15 percent for the next decade or so. So, there are going to be a lot of advantages out there, but I will tell you this: we are not going to be able to continue growing our economy on the backs of one bubble after another. I agree with you completely. I think we have been profiting off of economic bubbles and it’s time for us to get back to what I would say as a football coach: get back to the basics of blocking and tackling. That’s how you win.
NEWSBUSTERS: So, would you call yourself optimistic at this point, Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: Oh my gosh, I’m extraordinarily optimistic.
NEWSBUSTERS: About America’s future and our economy?
SCARBOROUGH: Oh yeah, on America’s future. We are more productive than ever before. We live in a century that is going to be dominated by the most technologically advanced countries on the globe. And when you start looking across the world, I hear people whining about China on the rise and worried about Mexico and worried about India. The fact of the matter is even the Chinese admit that the United States of America has eight out of the top ten universities on the planet.
We do, in fields that are going to dominate. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer technology, we are going to dominate. But, we just can’t dominate in high technology. We also have to put a real focus on our manufacturing base.
And we’re going to have to start getting aggressive and dragging jobs from Europe and across the globe where we can do a better job building cars, building planes, building tractors than anybody else. So, yeah, I am, I think I stand alone in being very optimistic. I’m always asked that question, why are you so optimistic?
I ask, what country, if we looked at countries like NFL teams look at football players, what country are you going to draft first before the United States of America in an age that’s going to be dominated by technology? China? No, seriously, I’m not talking down to China. Everybody is so obsessed by the fact that China’s growing at 10, 15 percent. Guess what? They have billions of people in poverty, so, yes, they’re going to grow for a while, but we heard the same thing about Japan in 1989.
Do you remember the book “The Japan That Could Say No?” We were told in 1989 that we were going to be Japan’s grainery (?) by the middle of the 21st century. We were told in 1989 that the Japanese had a complete monopoly on super-computers and on computer chips so much so that we weren’t even going to be able to fly our nuclear missiles, control our nuclear missiles unless Japan allowed us the technology.
Of course, three years later, Intel came onto the scene and absolutely crushed the Japanese and they’ve been in the lost decade ever since. I’ve been hearing my entire life that America’s in decline. I heard it from my seventh grade social studies teacher that we were going the way of the Roman Empire. That was in the middle of Watergate and Vietnam. I heard it again in 79 during the Iranian hostage crisis that America’s greatest days were behind it. That changed overnight when Ronald Reagan got elected. We heard it by the end of the 80s that Japan was going to pass us by. That lasted for about a year and a half. And now it’s China.
And who’s it going to be after China, because the China bubble is going to burst at some point. They’re investing trillions of dollars in infrastructure, and yet they don’t have a consumer class to support all the money that they’re spending. So after China busts, then we will hear of another country that’s going to take our place as a top economy on the globe. I just don’t buy it.
NEWSBUSTERS: So Joe, like me, you’re not one of these parents who believes that his children are going to do less well financially than he did?
SCARBOROUGH: No, not at all.
NEWSBUSTERS: I agree.
SCARBOROUGH: You know what, we’re always in an irreversible decline until we’re not. And I suspect that things are going to be a little bit tougher because we’re deleveraging from a government that has spent way too much money over the past 25 years, and it may be painful for a few years. But the good news is that if we get our financial house in order, we’re going to be so far ahead of Greece and Italy and Spain and England and the EU and yes I will say again, and China that the United States is going to be seen as the island of stability internationally.
NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, then from a media perspective, how much do you think the media is responsible for this sense of gloom and doom out there, and if you agree that they are somewhat responsible, why do you think they’re doing it?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I think there’s a sense of gloom and doom out there because we’ve got 9 percent unemployment. Real unemployment is around 15 percent. I think there are a lot of people in the middle class that are worse off now than they’ve ever been. The Misery Index is higher than it’s ever been. I think things are very, very bad out there.
You asked me a question about long term. I think America’s prospects for the long term are very positive. I think short term we’re going through a very rough stretch right now, and we’re going through a very rough stretch right now for a very simple reason: it’s because you have a federal government that is run by people who don’t know how to create jobs, that believe that you create jobs from the federal government instead of from small businesses.
I’ve talked to one CEO after another that’s gone into the White House and when they come out they all say the same thing, and I say this on my show all the time by the way NewsBusters readers. They come out of the White House and they say the same thing: nobody in there knows how to create a job in the private sector.
The president will call in CEOs and bankers and will say, “Hey, you guys need to hire people.” And they’ll just stare back at him and say, “Are you serious? That’s not our job. Our job is to make a profit, and when we need workers, we hire people.” But there is right now great unrest among CEOs and small business owners who right now are keeping, what, a trillion, two trillion dollars on the sidelines.
SCARBOROUGH: I really do believe, and I know this sounds overly simplistic, but so much of our economy is driven by psychology. I really do believe if you have the right leaders in the White House and running Congress who have a positive attitude about small businesses and profits and understand what type of legislation needs to be passed to create jobs and economic growth and hope and opportunity, I really do believe the economy will take off.
NEWSBUSTERS: Wow. Well, let me ask you one last question and let you go. Joe, it seems like you and I could probably speak for hours about how we can improve the economy, and I look forward to doing that in the future. One last question: how do you feel the media have reported the Occupy Wall Street movement, and in particular by comparison to how they covered the Tea Party?
SCARBOROUGH: That’s really hard for me to say. We haven’t reported on Occupy Wall Street all that much, and we’ve been criticized for it. But I think a lot of that grows out of my skepticism that most of the people in the Occupy Wall Street crowd aren’t going to vote Democratic 99 percent of the time anyway. I don’t think you had swing voters in that movement, whereas with the Tea Party, the first time I saw Tea Partiers on TV in a protest in the August townhall meetings in 2009, somebody said, “Who are they?” I said, they’re the Perot people.
NEWSBUSTERS: The Perot people. Of course, that’s right.
SCARBOROUGH: They’re the United We Stand people that got me elected.
SCARBOROUGH: I told you before that the Republican Party, the officials of the Republican Party didn’t like me. They thought I was too conservative to win the 1st Congressional District of Florida, but it didn’t really matter because I had all the United We Stand people for me and enough of the Republicans behind me. So, the Tea Party mattered politically, not just because I agreed with them, but the Tea Party mattered because these are the people that elected George W. Bush.
But these are also the people that elected Bill Clinton the first time, that elected, you know, a guy that they thought was a southern, moderate Democrat. They elected Ronald Reagan twice. They’re swing voters that go back and forth, which is why the Tea Party was such an important movement. That’s how you elect people like Scott Brown in Massachusetts in a special election, when you get swing voters moving back and forth. So, that’s my personal view. I can’t really speak for the other networks.
NEWSBUSTERS: Gotcha. Well, Joe, it’s been a real pleasure. It’s fairly clear you and I could probably talk for hours if you didn’t have anything else to do…
SCARBOROUGH: Well, let’s plan on doing it again soon, I really enjoyed it.
NEWSBUSTERS: I did as well, and folks, for our NewsBusters readers, you should be very, very thankful that Joe was willing to give us an hour of his time today to tell us what his views are on his program, and really his tremendously optimistic message concerning the future of American. Actually, for me, Joe, that’s the real takeaway. I really appreciate your time.
SCARBOROUGH: We’re going to win. America always wins. Only a fool would bet against us.
NEWSBUSTERS: Thanks, Joe.