MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, there's a new report from a top U.N. official that looks at living conditions of Native Americans in this country. We'll hear from that official in just a few minutes. But first we turn to domestic politics. The general election is still months away but on Tuesday voters around the country cast ballots that could have a national impact.
In Indiana, a legend is on his way out of the U.S. Senate. In Wisconsin the stage is set for a rematch in the race for governor. We want to talk about all of this and more so we've called upon Joy-Ann Reid. She is the managing editor of the news site thegrio.com and a frequent contributor to MSNBC and the Miami Herald.
Also with us, Janice Crouse. She is a columnist and the director and a senior fellow with the conservative group Concerned Women for America. She's also a former speech writer for President George H. W. Bush. Welcome back to you both, ladies. Thanks for joining us.
JANICE CROUSE: My pleasure.
JOY ANN REID: Nice to be here.
MARTIN: So let's start in Indiana. Dick Lugar has been in the Senate since 1977 and that long tenure is now at an end. He lost the Republican primary yesterday to state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was backed by the Tea Party. I just want to play a short clip from Mr. Lugar's concession speech.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SENATOR DICK LUGAR: We are experiencing deep political divisions in our society right now and these divisions have stalemated progress in critical areas, but these divisions are not insurmountable and I believe that people of good will, regardless of party, can work together for the benefit of our country.
MARTIN: You know, he also issued a written statement that seemed actually a little tougher, where he criticized his then-opponent, now the victor, for what he said seemed to be an antipathy toward working across party lines, and you know, Dick Lugar is a person with not just national stature but international stature.
So Janice, I'll start with you. I wanted to ask, you know, what do you think was the issue here in this race. Was it ideology? Or was it that voters just felt that he'd stayed too long? I mean, there was also the embarrassment of the fact that he wasn't even - his own home county did not feel that he met the eligibility requirement.
CROUSE: I think it's always a little sad when you see a man of his stature. You know, this is a man that I have personal affinity for because I used to live in Indiana and he was very helpful to me when I first came out to D.C. So I have a lot of respect for him, but he's viewed as a RINO. You know, that's kind of the derogatory...
MARTIN: What's a RINO?
CROUSE: A RINO is Republican in name only, and I think we're seeing really strong conservative passion in the elections this year. So I think you're seeing that in this particular election because Richard was able to mobilize people to get them out to vote, whereas Lugar was not.
MARTIN: Joy-Ann, how do you look at this? And is it also worth mentioning that the Democrats are now saying they now count this race as in play when previously they viewed it as a safe seat for Mr. Lugar. So now they're saying they are going to put more attention into this race because they now think it is competitive. So Joy-Ann, what's your take on this?
REID: This does put Indiana back in play. Barack Obama narrowly won the state in 2008 and it had seemed it had trended so far right that it might not be in play this year, but I think actually this, Dick Lugar losing, puts it back in play. And I think the issue here is that Richard Lugar committed the unpardonable sin of working with Barack Obama. I think we can just make it very simple.
In the Tea Party iteration of the Republican Party, which really is now the Republican Party, you're not allowed to even smile at Barack Obama. You need to dislike him and that's really a - that is the way you're permitted into the party. We've reached the point - and I think a lot of parties at some point reach a point where whoever the individual person, it doesn't matter, as long as you're with the tide. And right now the tide is extreme hatred almost, towards the president of the United States.
And Dick Lugar didn't exhibit that. He worked with him and he paid for it.
MARTIN: Janice, Dick Lugar made the point that Mr. Mourdock's rhetoric might be fine for the primary but that's really not the way things actually work in Washington, that's not the way you actually get things done. What he called this extreme partisanship he feels is unhealthy for the country. And it also is just not effective in the long run.
Polls also show that voters say - they say they don't like the bickering. They want the parties to work together and yet it seems that they reward candidates who say that they don't want to, and I just wonder how do you square that up.
CROUSE: Well, I think there's a difference between standing on principle and working together. The Republicans have tried to stand on principle and Mr. Lugar has appeared to the conservatives within the Republican Party to have bent on some of those issues. I think it's overly simplistic to say that it's a matter of working with Barack Obama and hating Barack Obama. I think there are very few people who actually hate Mr. Obama, because he's such a likeable person.
But I think it is fair to say that conservatives do not agree with him on hardly anything in terms of both domestic and international policy. It's a matter of disagreement on some very deep issues in this election and for what America stands for. And the conservatives feel very strongly that Ms. Barack Obama wants to fundamentally transform America, which he said during his election campaign in 2008 and certainly has tried to do that since then.
And many in the conservative branches of the Republican Party feel very strongly that he has done that and they don't like the direction in which he's moving the country.
REID: But, Michel, if I could just jump in for a second.
MARTIN: Go ahead.
REID: See, here's the issue. On the idea of disagreeing with the policies of Barack Obama, so does Dick Lugar. Dick Lugar disagrees with Barack Obama on jut about every domestic policy. Where he's worked with the president have been on things that used to be common to both parties, things that Ronald Reagan stood for, things like the Start Treaty, things like reigning in loose nuclear weapons.
Those are the areas where Lugar has worked with Barack Obama, even when Obama was a senator. That was their affinity. It was on foreign policy issues that used to be sort of common to both parties. But now just doing that was too much, and I think that Dick Lugar is by no means a liberal Republican. Dick Lugar, I think by any normal standard, or the previous standard of the Republican Party, is a conservative.
It's just that now there aren't as many people like the person that my fellow guest worked for, George Herbert Walker Bush. He could not win a Republican primary right now and he was president of the United States as a Republican.
MARTIN: We're looking at election results with two of our regular contributors, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America and Joy-Ann Reid of thegrio.com. OK, so let's take a look at Wisconsin. Another Republican backed by the Tea Party, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, was elected in 2010, but now he's facing a recall in June.
Inflamed a lot of anger around his cuts to public worker benefits and curtailing bargaining rights for some. So now he's facing, again, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who Walker defeated back in 2010. So Joy-Ann, I'll go to you first on this. A lot of people are saying that this race has national implications. Why are they saying that?
REID: Scott Walker was emblematic of the kind of Republican who won in 2010, very unrelenting in their drive to de-fund unions and sort of defang the only really strong organized opposition to the right, which is the union movement. That's the only place there's a lot of money. And their goal really was to, you know, really take the teeth out of the union movement so that there really wouldn't be any strong organized opposition to what they want to do.
And that includes getting rid of collective bargaining for public sector unions. It includes slashing funding for things like education, slashing tax rates for the very wealthy, all things that Scott Walker did. But here's - this race is one of the reasons why I do believe the best thing that President Obama and the Democrats have going for them in 2012 is 2010.
Because voters actually experienced in several of these states Republican governance, and they don't like it. They experienced austerity, which we've seen what it's done to governments in Europe - it's taken them down. But it's really put states like Michigan, states like Wisconsin, states like Ohio, back in play for Democrats because the experience of these governors has been negative for their constituents, at least for a majority of them.
MARTIN: Janice, how do you read this race?
CROUSE: I read this race as showing the enthusiasm and the passion of the conservatives, as I said earlier. I think we are going to see a resurgence of 2010 in the 2012 elections because the public is very motivated for change. They are very motivated to see conservative values back in the public square and respected. Cooperation is a two-way street and I think most of the public is looking at that and saying, you know, we've got to have a White House that works with the Hill.
MARTIN: Finally, before we go, let's talk about North Carolina for a minute. When you talk about this whole question of where the public is on some of these key issues, voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage was already outlawed there, but this adds that to the state constitution, and also outlaws civil unions. And it was the last Southern state without such a constitutional amendment. So Janice, how do you read that?
CROUSE: You know, this was not a close election. It was 61 to 39 percent in North Carolina. So this is the 31st state that has voted this way. So you have overwhelming public support, both Democrat and Republican, support for pro-marriage positions. And any state where we have seen the pro-gay marriage position win, it has been a matter of legislative action and judicial fiat. So we have not seen the public coming along with this far-left agenda that has been so popular in the media and so popular with the left politicians.
So it's such a determined effort to see America back on track with patriotism, back on track with respecting traditional values, respecting traditional marriage.
MARTIN: Joy Ann, how do you read the vote down there? And it is also important to mention - we talked about this earlier in the week - that Vice President Joe Biden said this week that he's comfortable with same-sex marriage, same with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But the president has stopped short of that, and his spokesman continues to say his views are evolving on this issue.
Also worth mentioning that the polls show that the public itself has shown an increasing comfort with the idea of same-sex relationships, at least in terms of civil unions. So, Joy Ann, how do you read what happened in North Carolina and what the implications are more broadly for our national conversation?
REID: Right, Michel. Well, I think that this is an example, for me, of - going back to what Janice said about, well, you know, cooperation being a two-way street. What conservatives have tried to put forward as their agenda, which they're seeking cooperation from Democrats on, are things like limiting access to abortion, limiting birth control, controlling who people marry. These are not things that are sort of in the realm of normal compromise.
Now, when you put forward a question to most voters, even in California, which - as liberal as California is - and say, do you want to define marriage as between a man and a woman? That passes every time, because you do have a lot of people who are politically liberal, but who are - and while people are increasingly comfortable with same-sex unions, if you say civil unions, I think that would pass overwhelmingly if you said that, or domestic partnerships.
But when you put the word marriage out there, you do tend to split even people who are otherwise socially liberal. So that's why these amendments are normally successful.
Now, that said, I don't think that's a signal that the country wants conservative, Christian values to rule the United States. Every time you poll it, people are pretty moderate.
MARTIN: Well, clearly, a lot to talk about here. Janice, I gave you the first word. Joy Ann, I'm going to give you the last word today. Hopefully, you'll come back and talk to us again about these important issues.
Joy Ann Reid is the managing editor of the news site TheGrio.com. She's a frequent contributor to MSNBC, and she was with us from our studios in New York. Janice Crouse is the director and a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America. That's a conservative group. She's a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, and she was nice enough to join us here in Washington, D.C.
Ladies, I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
CROUSE: My pleasure.
REID: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.