Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled “National Security Decision Making.”
Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
The Republican convention is off and running. Now joining us to talk about it is Larry Wilkerson. Colonel Wilkerson was former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary and was—I don’t know if he still is, but he was a lifelong Republican. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, FMR. Chief of Staff to Colin Powell: Thanks for having me, Paul. And yes, I still am.
Jay: So what do you make of this positioning of Romney? I’ve mentioned this in a few other interviews, but I still haven’t got an answer I’m happy with, which is, in the year 2000, George Bush decides that to pitch this kind of right-wing neoconservative ideology, you have to call it compassionate conservatism. Well, they’ve gone now with Romney’s choice of Ryan and the whole positioning of—that he took in the primaries, that everyone said, oh, he won’t be so right-wing once the election begins; he’ll have to be—come back to the center. Well, he’s not. He’s running from the right, and he’s apparently running almost even or even in the polls. So what do you make of all that?
Wilkerson: I think it all depends on your opponent, and I think that’s what it’s all about here. George W. Bush’s opponent was Al Gore, who was, for lack of a better phrase, a centrist à la Bill Clinton. Barack Obama has been best attacked—whether we want to say it’s accurate or inaccurate, lies or truth, he’s been best attacked for all the things that the right wing stands against, whether it’s the rights for gays and homosexuals in general, or whether it’s socialism and Europeanism and all those things that the Republicans like to throw out without even knowing what they’re talking about. That’s where the president is vulnerable. He’s vulnerable with these right-wing attacks. And so that’s where Romney’s staying.
Jay: So I agree with what you’re saying. What opened the door—and I once did a commentary about a year—two years ago, during the 2010 elections, which was the six reasons how the Democrats allowed the Republicans to rebrand themselves. It’s really the weaknesses of the Obama administration that opened this up. There’s such confusion amongst people now about how to get out of the crisis.
Wilkerson: There is. And when you look at the Obama administration, you look at things like the Patriot Act and the way they’re enforcing it, which is more draconian than the Bush administration, even the first one, and you look at things like the amendments that are coming up or the re-passage of the FISA amendments, the FISA act’s amendments. Those things are—they’re a usurpation of your constitutional rights. And they’re going to go on and on and on. And the Justice Department for President Obama seems to be reveling in pursuing these things.
So if you want to say the American people are in a state of confusion over which way to go, the extreme right or the extreme left or somewhere in the center, I think that’s a fair characterization. I do think we’re going to see a far—I think we’re going to see 50 percent or lower turnout in this election.
Jay: Yeah, I mean, that is the other thing. When polls are taken, they poll registered voters, they don’t poll the whole population, ’cause we know about 40 percent, at least, normally don’t even vote in presidential elections, and as you’re saying, it might even be higher this time that don’t vote.
But there’s a lot of press right now about this fissure in the Republican Party between what they call the corporate side of the Republican Party, which I guess are most publicly represented by the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson types, and the social conservatives. And you have this sort of unholy alliance between the two, because Sheldon Adelson clearly runs casinos, and I don’t know that he believes in many of the social values of the social conservatives he is allied with. But neither side seems to care about that.
Wilkerson: Casinos, Paul, which, like lotteries, are one of the most impactful taxes on the poor ever invented.
Jay: And in terms of moral values, family values, and all the rest, Las Vegas is not the center of those things.
Wilkerson: Yeah, it flies in the face of everything these right-wing Paul Ryan types want to hold up, American values and so forth. Sheldon Adelson is a—he is a caricature of those values.
Jay: But none of it seems to matter that much. What I mean by that is you would think that rational-thinking people who are not like—you know, believe this with sort of religious fervor—and some do—would see through the hypocrisy of this. And as you said at the beginning—and neither of us in all the interviews we have done, none of us could be accused of being defenders of the Obama administration. But this Romney-Ryan ticket boggles the mind, that, for example, apparently Romney can be ahead in Michigan, a place that he would have, according to him, let the auto industry essentially go down the tubes.
Wilkerson: It is a mystery, unless we’re looking at polls being influenced by the fact that advertisement, TV, media, everybody else wants to continue to make money off both these campaigns, and so they have to constantly pitch them as being roughly equal, which I do think plays a factor. We could be looking at 60/40 and we wouldn’t know it because it’d be reported as 51/49. That’s so they can continue to make billions of dollars off these idiots who keep putting this money forward in order to finance these sort of underneath-campaigns. That’s a big part of it, in my view.
Jay: Yeah, I was actually—that was going to be my next question to you is that there’s such a profound economic interest on the part of the television networks, one, to make sure this is a horse race—the more a horse race it is, the more money they make. Number two, there’s supposed balance. Like, I watch CNN’s—as much as I can take; to be honest, I couldn’t watch the whole thing—CNN’s profile of Romney, I think, was on, you know, just last night or the night before. And it’s not a piece of investigative journalism. You can see people making that documentary primarily saying to themselves, oh, we can’t be accused of being biased. So you have to kind of give sort of prettified look at Romney. There was some critique, but it was very minor. But it’s also in their interest to keep this phony balance going rather than just investigate what both parties are saying and doing and coming to some conclusion based on facts.
Wilkerson: That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. I long sometimes for an H. L. Mencken, who would, you know, just wade into it and tell us what he really thinks. There are a few people like that left, people at McClatchy and elsewhere, that still do real journalism. But other than people like you and The Real News and some of the things I see on the internet, there is no real journalism, especially investigative journalism, out there anymore.
Jay: Well, of course, I thank you and appreciate the comment. So just finally, the press is giving a lot of play right now to the sort of division between corporate Republicans and social conservatives. There’s a lot of talk about this guy that was—who’s running for Senate who said real rape—women who are really raped don’t get pregnant, and they’ve asked him not to run, and this is supposedly showing a big divergence between these different camps in the Republican Party. How real was all that?
Wilkerson: I’m told, Paul, that 48 percent—48 percent—I hope this is wrong—48 percent of the Congress believes that God created the world, that evolution had nothing to do with it, and that what God created has happened in the last 10,000 years. You think about that for a minute.
Jay: Forty-eight percent of Congress.
Wilkerson: Half of the legislative branch of the United States government.
Jay: So what conclusion do you draw from that? How do you get—you couldn’t get those numbers in any other advanced industrialized country, not in Europe, not in Canada.
Wilkerson: No way.
Jay: And I don’t think you could find it in most undeveloped countries.
Wilkerson: No way. This is part of the American mystique, it is part of our heritage, to from time to time become, essentially, speared on our own devices. We use religion, we use finance and economics. You ask about the division in the Republican Party. If I were the Koch brothers, if I were some guy making billions of dollars off a hedge fund and paying absolutely no taxes or very little taxes, I’d go after Romney, too; I wouldn’t vote for Obama. Obama at least looks like he might be slightly interested about the vast majority of poor people in this country. He looks as if he might slightly be interested in revenues through taxes. He might slightly be interested in things that impact the majority of people in America. Romney’s interested in the richest people in the country. And so if I were they, I would be out there like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers and others; I’d be funneling that money out there for Romney; I want an idiot in there who believes in predatory capitalism the way I do, so that I can continue to rape the world.
Jay: Thanks for joining us, Larry.
Wilkerson: Thanks for having me, Paul.
Jay: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And join us soon for regular reports from Larry Wilkerson on the state of U.S. politics, on geopolitics. And please join us. And don’t forget there’s a “Donate” button over here somewhere, because if you don’t click on that, we can’t do this.