Brokaw Praises Obama, Stewart & Colbert, Attacks Reagan for Neglecting 'Mother Earth'

In a special edition of MSNBC's Hardball College Tour former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw went on diatribes against the President's war policy, comparing it to Vietnam, praised "rock star" Barack Obama, castigated "blatantly racist" Republican ads, charged Ronald Reagan neglected, "Mother Earth," and declared of the notoriously liberal Daily Show: "There are more facts and more truths told in the first eight minutes of The Daily Show than most political news conferences in Washington."

NBC's Campbell Brown filled in for host Chris Matthews as she teed up questions to Brokaw at Fordham University. The following are some of the more relevant rants from Brokaw:

First up Brown asked Brokaw to comment on Donald Rumsfeld and the President's Iraq policy allowing Brokaw to make the Vietnam comparison:

Brokaw: "The war has not been going well and Don Rumsfeld now has said that in a memo. 'We've got to change our strategy. Here are some things we have to start thinking about doing.' It is, that's reminiscent, a lot, for me, of Vietnam. I've listened to all the tapes of Vietnam, of Lyndon Johnson talking to Dick Russell, who is the great senator from Georgia and expressing these huge doubts about that wisdom of their policies in Vietnam, while saying to the public, 'things are gonna go well, we're gonna bring that coonskin home and tack, and you know nail it to the wall. We're gonna win this war.' Families continued to send their children off to the war. They were not gonna win the war. They knew it privately and, and kids were dying. I have friends who were in the Pentagon at that time. I was talking to one them just the other day and he said, 'we believed in the domino theory. We thought it was important to make the stand in Vietnam so that the rest of southeast Asia would not fall.' The neocons and Don Rumsfeld among them believed that they could introduce democracy in the Middle East in Iraq and it would have a radiant effect. And it's been pretty clear now for more than a year and a half that wasn't going well."

When the discussion turned to Democratic frontrunners Brown and Brokaw cheered Barack "The Rock Star" Obama but Brokaw feared Obama had a lot to overcome, notably those racist Republicans:

Brown to students: "How many Barack Obama fans to we have here? He's the rock star right now."

Brokaw: "He's a rock star. He's the real deal. And I think especially for this generation, a lot of his appeal has to do with his candor, that he is not playing by the old rules of politics. He's kind of redefining politics and what people want. He's talked about his own troubled past, his personal behavior. He has an ability to bring people together. He talks winningly about hope. Look at his background. He lived in Kansas, in Hawaii, he can go to Africa and be treated like royalty because his father comes from there. The test for him, obviously is and I've been at this a long time, put him on this stage with six other candidates coming after him about everything from Iraq to the economy to how to manage health care and what you're gonna do about stem cell research and what you're gonna do about gun control, what you're gonna do about drugs. And you've got to answer all that. You've got to have some positions. Howard Dean learned the last time that it's always not the best position to be in, in the cross hairs. So we've got a lot to learn about him yet."

Brown: "Let me ask you, though. Republicans are now using his middle name."

Brokaw: "Yeah."

Brown: "Hussein, which a lot of people don't know. I mean-"

Brokaw: "Well, they're teeing him up, because they, they see him as a real threat. I mean, a lot of people say we're not going to elect anybody named Obama in this country at this point. And let's be frank about it. This is a big reach for an African-American man to get elected President of the United States."

Brown: "You do think it's a- "

Brokaw: "Oh sure I do. Race is still a huge defining issue in this country. It's something I've spent most of my journalistic career trying to understand and to examine and to try to get us beyond that in the reporting that I`ve done. But I know at this point there are just a lot of people in their consciousness or their subconsciousness, that are going to have a hard time saying, ‘I'm prepared to vote for a black person.' There's just so much latent racism that is still here. We've made huge strides. There's no question about that. But we've got a ways to go. And he knows that. Look what happened to Harold Ford in Tennessee. That commercial that ran against him was so blatantly racist in my judgment, it was such an effort to try to twin him up with a white woman in some fashion and he lost. He couldn't, he couldn't make that work for him, his, his own rage about it. So, these are tough issues. But the big thing about Obama is that we still have got a lot to learn. He's the real deal. People who are for her, for Hillary, in Illinois, say quietly, ‘he's impressive.'"

Then Brown plugged Brokaw's Discovery Channel special on the environment which allowed Brokaw to riff on the dire problems that faced "Mother Earth," namely conservatives.

Brown: "We just saw a clip of your Discovery special on the environment, an issue that has long been near and dear to your heart, but not one that gets a lot of attention in the political arena."

Brokaw: "It's starting to again. I, you know, in, in the '60s obviously, it started to get a lot of attention. The planet and especially this country, we were letting the policies go crashing off the cliff and then we had Earth Day and environmental awareness and people were getting involved in it. My own strong impression is that the environmental movement got too spread out, there were too many groups that were not coordinating their activities in a way. And then with Ronald Reagan and the, and the conservative takeover of the, of the political arena at the national level, it's not high on their agenda. Although it is coming back very fast now. And I detect a real change in America. I think that this generation and other young people are paying a lot more attention to the environment, not just to global warming, but land use and disappearing water resources and what we're going to do about clean air. Bio-diversity is a huge issue, about wiping out the species. These are critical issues. You cannot live on a dead planet. This is the only one we have. My line is love your mother, Mother Earth."

Before the interview ended Brokaw roundly praised the notoriously liberal Daily Show and Colbert Report:

Brown: "And no cynicism, I think at least from you guys, at least from and the audience. We hear so much about the Jon Stewart, you know, Stephen Colbert young generation."

Brokaw: "Well but that's a good thing. The Jon, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert get you back involved. You pay more attention to politics because of what you see with them. It's, you know, Jon always says-"

[applause]

Brokaw: "As you know, I'm a big fan. I've been on the show, both shows a lot, and I think anything that can you do to bring people into the discussion of it, and there's so many essential truths that you see on Jon Stewart and on Stephen, that it`s useful to society to have a broader point of view. There are, there are more facts and more truths told in the first eight minutes of The Daily Show than most political news conferences in Washington."

The following are more complete transcripts of conversations that occured on the October 4th edition of Hardball:

Campbell Brown: "To what extent are President Bush's hands tied, though, in foreign policy or, you know, on the domestic front, as well because his credibility took a hit? There are a lot of people in this audience and a lot of people who felt like the administration wasn't fully honest, certainly in the lead-up to the war and hasn't been about many of these issues. The Rumsfeld memo, being another example, they felt, of different things being said publicly than privately."

Tom Brokaw: "Well, his presidency's at stake. And he, he has to know that. I know his people around him know that. They've got a couple of years. This is a big indictment of him, the, the off-term election when you had both the House and the Senate go the way that it did. His disapproval rating has not moved much at all. The goodwill that he had based on his personality is dwindling as well. No one wants a president to be an utter failure. It`s not in the best interest of any of us. And he certainly doesn't want his presidency to be an utter failure. He bet his presidency on, on Iraq. It was a big, bold move. They thought that they could pull it off. There were a lot of skeptics. The military victory I always thought would happen as swiftly as it did. I did have concerns, having spent a lot of time over there before the war, about what would happen in a year or two years out. The tribal lines have always been very, very clearly drawn there. Even when Saddam was in power, he spent an awful lot of his power suppressing, for example, the Shia because he didn't want them to share power with the Sunnis. And the Kurds are sitting up in the north wondering, ‘When do we get our share of all that oil revenue?' So it's a complex situation."

...

Brown: "And I want to continue a little bit with Iraq because tomorrow as you know, the Senate confirmation hearings begin for Bob Gates, the President`s choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld. First, talk about whether you think his confirmation is assured, but also what the change in personnel means in terms of the change in policy, the fact that he is coming from the circle that surrounded the President's father and their views, especially with regard to Iraq."

Brokaw: "Well, I think, I think he will be confirmed. I think they'll rough him up a little bit. I think they'll put him through the, through the Rumsfeld filter to see if, if he's gonna behave in the same way that Don Rumsfeld did. Rumsfeld is a brilliant, long-serving American public servant who seems to have lost his way in the last several years. He was in the minds of a lot of people that had to deal with him, pretty mono-focused on his point of view. He didn't want to hear other points of view, and he was confident to the point of arrogance that he could see this through on his terms."

Brown: "Were you surprised the President waited until after the midterm election?"

Brokaw: "Well, I think a lot of Republicans were not just surprised, but they were very unhappy. There were a lot of close races out there that might have gone to the Republicans if the President had announced in September that Don Rumsfeld was leaving. And so to have it happen the day after the election, they felt like they had been flim-flammed in some fashion. And for the President to say the week before ‘he'll be here through the end of my term,' we knew that Dick Cheney would be because he's been elected for it. But it kind of surprised me because I thought that there were other ways that you could answer that question. 'Don Rumsfeld will be here as long as he wants to be or whatever.' But there were lots of signs from the Republican Party that Rumsfeld had become a big liability out there politically. And you don't make these judgments just based on the politics of the moment. The war has not been going well and Don Rumsfeld now has said that in a memo. 'We've got to change our strategy. Here are some things we have to start thinking about doing.' It is, that's reminiscent, a lot, for me, of Vietnam. I've listened to all the tapes of Vietnam, of Lyndon Johnson talking to Dick Russell, who is the great senator from Georgia and expressing these huge doubts about that wisdom of their policies in Vietnam, while saying to the public, ‘things are gonna go well, we're gonna bring that coonskin home and tack, and you know nail it to the wall. We're gonna win this war.' Families continued to send their children off to the war. They were not gonna win the war. They knew it privately and, and kids were dying. I have friends who were in the Pentagon at that time. I was talking to one them just the other day and he said, ‘we believed in the domino theory. We thought it was important to make the stand in Vietnam so that the rest of southeast Asia would not fall.' The neocons and Don Rumsfeld among them believed that they could introduce democracy in the Middle East in Iraq and it would have a radiant effect. And it`s been pretty clear now for more than a year and a half that wasn't going well."

Brown: "We have a minute left before I have to take another break. But I want to get your take on media coverage, but also first NBC`s decision to-"

Brokaw: "Call it a civil war?"

Brown: "-to call this a civil war."

Brokaw: "Well, we had discussions at NBC about that. I don`t think this is a war by nomenclature, by the way. I think you can call it a civil war, you can call it anarchy. You can call it whatever you want. There`s too much death and destruction going on and too much chaos. My personal preference would have been, and we`ve had this discussion since then, to have had Matt come on, on Monday morning and say, ‘Is this a civil war? This is a big issue. Because it takes us to a whole other place in the political discussion. We're going to spend the next 48 hours here at NBC on Today, Nightly News, MSNBC, Hardball taking you through what are [sic] the definition of a civil war and what is the, what are the objective realities on the ground that tell us whether it's a civil war or not.' My guess is at the end of 48 hours, we would have said, ‘You've been watching us. I'm sure you probably agree with us it`s a civil war.' I think that the audience wants to be brought into this dialogue and debate, and I think they deserve to be. It's no longer just a matter of we talk, you listen. I think that would have been a helpful dialogue. Now I don`t have any problem with the declaration it's a civil war, because I've thought it was a civil war for at least six months now. We have that kind of sectarian violence that`s been going on in the name of trying to get political power. That's, that's a civil war."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.