Rather than focus on the rightness of building a mosque near Ground Zero, or investigating the potential funding of the construction, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday spent an entire interview with Harold Ford Jr. focusing on how it could damage the Democratic Party.
Stephanopoulos began the segment by asserting, "They really hope this goes away at the White House."
Talking to the former Democratic Congressman, the GMA co-host highlighted Barack Obama's comments on the issue and speculated, "But, is this something that's going to linger through November or go away with- once everyone's back from Labor Day break?" [MP3 audio here.]
Stephanopoulos zeroed in on the political ramifications, wondering, "And, Harold, I know you think that the President did the right thing on this issue, has the right position. But did he do it in the right way?"
Highlighting the mosque and other potential problems for the Democrats, Stephanopoulos closed by quizzing, "Put the campaign hat back on. How do you run as a Democrat in this environment?"
To recap, Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic operative, interviewed a former Democratic Congressman about the impact this issue could have on the Democratic Party.
A transcript of the August 17 segment, which aired at 7:07am EDT, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: They really hope this goes away at the White House. Thank you, John. For more on this, we're joined by former Congressman Harold Ford, now chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and the author of a new book, More Davids Than Goliaths: A Political Education. Excellent title. Thanks for joining us this morning.
HAROLD FORD JR.: Thanks for having me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Harold, I know you think that the President did the right thing on this issue, has the right position. But did he do it in the right way?
FORD: He probably could have spoke more artfully the first day and more clearly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How so?
FORD: I think that- Well, if he believed that there's a right to build, but perhaps it should not build in that location, he probably should have just said that. I think the follow-up has created some confusion. And probably will create some consternation in political circles within the party.
Harry Reid announcing his opposition to building the cultural center- it's interesting. The terms of the debate has been defined by the other side- It's not a mosque, but a cultural center that's going to be built- has now said that he's opposed to building it there.
What looks like could happen, George, is a consensus could build around maybe building it a few blocks away- moving the construction of the cultural center or the location- locating of of the center, a few blocks from where they have planned it now. It might be-
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, there was a rumor yesterday, that that came up. That the leaders of the Senate were thinking about that.
It was first reported in Israeli press, but they came right out and said no way. Would that take the issue off the table for Democrats now?
FORD: Well, it might. If you take Reid at the core of what he's saying. He saying, "I support it, but just not there." So, you might be able to find some agreement around it. I think Mayor Bloomberg will obviously play a lead role in brokering this.
He's been such a staunch- and I think had the right position on this. Not only for New York, and for the country. If you can't build this in Manhattan and New York City, if we can't foster a center, build a center that fosters conversation about tolerance and understanding, here, where else can you do it? What better place to do it?
But, it may be that the politics have gotten so intense, that you may have to consider moving this, just a few blocks away. Perhaps you can find Democrat, Republican, liberal support for this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How big a deal do you think this issue is? I mean, obviously, you saw the President's opponents pounce hard over the weekend, which is part of the reason he seemed to backtrack on Saturday.
You see Reid breaking away from it. But, is this something that's going to linger through November or go away with- once everyone's back from Labor Day break?
FORD: Well, jobs and the economy are foremost in people's minds. This is, in lot of ways, a distraction. Not that it's not an important issue. But it's a distraction in that regard. But, as you and I know in politics, these kind of distractions can define campaigns in the last eight weeks. New York City, we are approaching the anniversary of 9/11.
Obviously, from what I hear, Newt Gingrich and others plan to speak that day at the sight, where the cultural center is planned to be built or plan to be located. It certainly will- Politics will certainly be around this until election day. I think Reid's comments yesterday opened the door for all Senate candidates to be asked about this-
STEPHANOPOULOS: And break with the President most likely.
FORD: Exactly. Reid has given his colleagues and those running for office covert in saying that we sport the right to build. But this may not be the place to build.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Put your old campaign hat back on. You ran for Senate back 2006 and write about it in More Davids Than Goliaths. This is a tough, tough environment for Democrats right now. You've got this job situation, high unemployment. You've got ethics problems.
You've got the former chairman of the Ways and Means committee, Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters facing trial in the House. Now you've got this issue. Put the campaign hat back on. How do you run as a Democrat in this environment?
FORD: I think Democrats, when they return in the fall, and I talk about this in the book, when I ran for leader in 2002, about how the message has got to lead. I think the tax cuts should be extended. Make the middle-class ones permanent. Phase in the top level. I think, two, I think you-
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, break with the President on that?
FORD: Well, the President's given some wiggle room there. He has indicated that he'd like to make these middle-class rates permanent. But, I do- I have some different opinions about some of the other rates, particularly the business rates.
I don't think you out to add more uncertainty to the marketplace now, particularly for any size business. Two, take some of the unused stimulus and apply it to deficit reduction, to apply projects, infrastructure projects that are read to be moved on. And, finally, I think you have got to come out with some of the deficit reductions of that commission right away.
If raising the retirement age is on the table, if there's consensus with Simpson Bowles, you got to be willing to do that for people under 45, including myself
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, get spending- Okay, Harold Ford. Thanks very much.