November 26, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Let’s get right to it.

Cliff May, former Republican National Committee communications director, now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Good to have you back, Cliff.

Good morning.


HEMMER: Democratic political consultant Peter Fenn back with us, as well.

Nice to see you, Peter, and good morning.


HEMMER: And, listen, Peter, you’re going to have to go back to January of 1984 to find the numbers we saw yesterday announced right about this time, 24 hours ago. Time to give the credit where the credit is due or not? Direction of the White House?

FENN: Well, I’ll give credit to the American people for spending the money that the tax cut gave them. The problem with it is it’s short-term credit. I think what we’ve got is a real serious long-term problem with a looming $600 billion deficit. And there’s, you know, if you go back to ’84, you also have to go back to 1930 to Herbert Hoover, when we’ve lost jobs. You’ve lost three million jobs and we’ve had a tripling of the number of long-term unemployment jobs lost.

So, you know, I think we’ve got a serious problem here. Everybody hopes the economy comes back. Everything hopes it’ll improve. But I think it’s pretty scary.

HEMMER: So the no thank you note is from you to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

FENN: No, I’m not going to give them a turkey dinner today.

HEMMER: OK. I wanted to pick up on that point about a jobless recovery. Three million still out of work.

Cliff, is that the criticism the White House now has to defend against?

MAY: Probably so, although watch for jobs to increase in the months to come. I don’t want to get technical here, but jobs are a lagging indicator. In other words, if I’m a businessman, I start making better profits, the economy is going better, then I go and hire people. I don’t go and hire people and then cross my fingers that the economy will get better.

I just, in reply to Peter, look, if you’re going to blame the president when the economy goes bad, you’ve got to give him credit when the economy goes good, especially three years…

HEMMER: That’s kind of the old maxim anyway, for any president, right?

MAY: That’s absolutely right. Although Peter is right on this, a good economy is really the result of American workers working hard and entrepreneurship and all that sort of thing. But the government can get in the way. Peter is also right to say when you give the American people more money to spend and invest in their own communities, that’s better than sending the money to Washington, which is good for me and Peter, who live here, but not so good for the rest of the country.

HEMMER: What about it, Peter?

FENN: Well, you know, I think the key thing here is when you’re talking about investing in the economy of this country, you’ve got to invest in education. You’ve got to invest in health care. You’ve got to invest in cleaning up our environment. And this is one of the problems that we see with this president. He has a leave no child behind act, but yet he’s left $6 billion in funding behind. He talks about the clear skies initiative, and yet at the same time he weakens, you know, the Clean Air Act.

So what you’ve got to do, I think, with this is you have to have a balance. The better balance is the balance that the Bill Clinton administration had, which was to really grow the economy, to try to balance that budget, to get Wall Street on board. And I worry right now that we’re not doing that kind of investment. And I worry that the economy in the long run is going to suffer with these $600 billion deficits.

HEMMER: Let me push you on another topic that’s getting a little bit of attention, too. The FBI apparently is canvassing these anti- war rallies, trying to get maybe surveillance videotape. The ACLU is jumping all over the FBI for this activity. However, what we’re hearing, Cliff, from some law enforcement agencies, they’re saying we applaud the FBI and its efforts.

I’m not quite sure where you come down on this, but is the FBI right to do this, to go ahead and spy, essentially, on these gatherings?
MAY: The ACLU, for whatever reasons, I don’t know, whether it’s partisanship or fundraising, are misrepresenting what the FBI is doing. There is no…

HEMMER: How so?

MAY: There is no classified memo, as the ACLU alleges. What there is is a weekly bulletin that the FBI puts out. I have a whole bunch of copies right here. Sometimes it’s on hate crimes against Muslims and one week it’s been on animal rights activists. This bulletin goes out to law enforcement agencies around the country, about 18,000 of them, and gives them advice about what to expect.

In terms of demonstrations, what the FBI says very clearly is most demonstrators are peaceful, let ’em be, but there may be some extremist elements among them, watch out for that.

HEMMER: So then…

MAY: They are not, they are not taking photographs and putting them into files. They are not targeting anybody. All of that is simply not true. All they’re doing is advising local law enforcement about what to expect when you have a demonstration, as we did in Miami.

HEMMER: So, then, Peter, here’s the rub then. If local police are saying it helps them, why is that a bad thing?

FENN: Well, I’ll tell you, those of us with gray hair, Bill, remember the era of the ’60s and ’70s. My first job in Washington was to work on the Senate Intelligence Committee. When they over stepped their bounds, when the FBI was taking pictures of protesters, infiltrating protests, look, these are college kids on their computer demonstrating against this war. We shouldn’t be bothering with them. This isn’t a problem.

We’ve got ports in this country that are porous, that we’ve got to look at the possibility that weapons are coming in, that weapons of mass destruction might be coming in. We have a lot of work to do. We’re wasting our time, our money and our resources going after college kids on their computers.

MAY: No one’s going after college kids.

FENN: Forget it.

MAY: What happened in the past is wrong. It’s not happening now. This is not true.

FENN: Let’s…

HEMMER: We’re out of time.

FENN: I hope it doesn’t.

HEMMER: We’re out of time.

Have a good turkey day.

Enjoy the parade tomorrow here or wherever you are.

MAY: Happy Thanksgiving, Bill.

FENN: Same to you.

HEMMER: Peter Fenn, thanks.

Cliff May, talk again.