On Two NPR Interviews, Ted Kennedy Attacks Bush's "Politics of Fear"

National Public Radio offers a natural book-buying audience for ultraliberal Sen. Ted Kennedy as he sells his new tome, titled "America Back On Track." On yesterday's nationally syndicated "Diane Rehm Show," NPR reporter Andrea Seabrook sat in for Rehm. The show should have been called "The Senate Floor," since Kennedy's answers routinely went beyond two minutes and started sounding like floor speeches, as Seabrook deferentially waited for Kennedy to come up for air.

For example, Seabrook's second question was simple: "How did America get off track?" Kennedy offered a windy two-minute attack/answer about George Bush and Karl Rove's "politics of fear," as well as darkness, division, and personal destruction, just to round it out:

I think quite frankly it was the politics of negativism, and the politics of personal destruction, of political leaders, the politics of division, really more of the politics of darkness. Look where we are, even now, in the United States Senate, with the central challenges that we’re having on energy and the cost, we have the record profits now that have just come out today, the 34 percent increase in profits at Exxon in the last two years, where people, hard-working people trying to make a go of it to jobs that they need are just constantly being pinched at the gas station. And now what is the agenda for the United States Senate after we do this supplemental? We’re going to do a constitutional amendment on flag-burning. Flag-burning? That’s a problem? It is for working families, that are concerned about gas prices, that are concerned about the prescription drug problem, that are concerned about the cost of tuition for their kids looking to go to college next fall, are concerned about our jobs, concerned about the collapse of our pension system, flag-burning. And we’re also going to have a constitutional amendment prohibiting the, uh, marriage, gay marriage. We’re going to have the debates on that. We’re going to write into the Constitution for the first time in the history of our country, we’re going to limit rights and liberties for the first time in the history of our country. Those are the overriding, arching issues? Do we think those are being offered because they are the central challenges our families are working on, or because we believe in the politics of division and darkness, and we’re trying to divide our nation rather than bringing it together. That is really what we’ve seen in the, in the recent times. And we’ve seen it also strongly at the national level by this administration with the politics, the national politics of fear, for national security….

Then Seabrook broke in to ask for seven seconds if politicking in an election was unusual. The first half-hour of the show went largely like this. These are the lengths of Kennedy's answers: 2:37, 2:00, 1:36, :58, 2:28, 1:39, 2:40, :54, 1:25 and 1:40 (the last two interrupted by about four words from Seabrook). You get the idea. Most of the first half-hour's questions were softballs about how the Democrats could do better. At 25 minutes in, Seabrook finally pressed a tougher question on him, about his opposition to wind energy off his beloved Massachusetts coast. Actually, she asked two questions about that, and he explained himself for 2:20 and 2:00.

Seabrook's oddest (and most questionable) question was in telling a man once regarded as one of Washington's most aggressive womanizers she was thinking about him in the shower. She read the seven platform planks in the book:

“Now, I have to tell you, I was thinking this morning in the shower about this (Kennedy laughs), and trying to map out how I was going to do this, and I said, I can close my eyes and lay out the top three priorities of the Republicans in Congress and in the White House. Why seven? And why does it seem that Democrats have a harder time distilling their message down into some key points that America can grasp on to and then be inspired by?”

Last Thursday, Kennedy was also interview on the nationally distributed show "Fresh Air," where he was also greeted by a substitute host. Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, was sitting in for Terry Gross. Kennedy again attacked how Republicans "wrapped their political rhetoric and their political campaigning around this culture of fear and the dangers of terrorism...I think that that fear is basically exploited, I think, in a very negative way and I think basically a harmful way in terms of our country."

To his credit, Davies started out with a question from the right:

Your book deals with a whole lot of areas, from health care to tax policy to labor relations. And I think, you know, if your book were the platform of a political candidate--you mentioned you will be running for re-election--your opponent would probably go through here and add up all the cost of all the additional initiatives, and there are many: increasing unemployment compensation, increasing spending on early childhood education, college funding, federal job training. Someone would look at this and say this is an unrealistic classic liberal tax and spend, throw money at the problem approach to government. Can America afford it?

Kennedy had a typically long answer about how spending billions of your tax dollars now (the G.I. bill, or preventive health care) will save money later. Davies did turn back to the natural liberal NPR audience by lauding Kennedy's talent at passing liberal bills and defeating conservative initiatives:

You know, Joe Klein referred you in his new book as "Ground Zero for the party's liberal establishment." And I think there's an image of you among some as a sort of a predictable voice of the Democratic left willing to make an inspired speech without really getting anything done. But, you know, to serious students of the Capitol, I think, in some respects, quite the opposite is true. I think those who know the Senate well know that you've really immersed yourself in the details, the nitty-gritty of legislation and really learned to master the procedures and personal relationships of the Senate and have a long list of accomplishments, not just bills passed but also conservative initiatives thwarted, I mean, including the Republican Contract for America in the mid-90s when the Democrats were in the minority in the Senate. And I was wondering if you could talk just a little bit about your education in the ways of the Senate. I mean, was there a time in your career when you felt you understood how this place worked? Was there a mentor that helped you get there?

The two NPR shows might be helping with the book sales. As of today, its Amazon rank is 457.


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