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Mark Halperin chats with MC about honesty and integrity … among other things

I had a nice chat with Mark Halperin this morning — he’s the editor-at-large and senior political analyst for Time magazine.

photo courtesy of HarpersCollins.com

photo courtesy of HarpersCollins.com

He’s coming to Sarasota Monday, October 4 to speak at Forum Truth’s first event of the season, at the Sarasota Hyatt Regency (call 349.8350 for tickets, if there are any left — this guy’s hot — I hear his book, Game Change, is sold out around town.)

His Monday night talk starts at 7:30 pm and is titled “President Obama, the Republicans, the Midterms and Beyond.”

Halperin’s book — I absolutely could not put down despite some of my reservations about the “deep background” of the sources — meaning, sources are frequently not identified in the book. He and his co-author say they did meticulous story verification and say they know most of their sources and trust their reliability, but, I always feel slightly icky when people won’t attach their names to their statements about others. Isn’t that honesty and integrity 101? — a subject I broached with Halperin toward the end of our brief interview.

I asked him for his take on the race between Sink and Scott and he called it “one of the marquee races in the country” and “one the Democrats have a chance in.” Hmmmm. Good news for Dems. He went on to say that whoever wins in this election will become a national figure and a Democratic win here would help take the edge off losses elsewhere in the country. [Did you see the Mason-Dixon poll that came out earlier this week I think, giving Sink a lead of seven points?]

I asked Halperin if he thought Charlie Crist’s transition from Republican to Independent represented a trend that more politicians would be picking up on and his answer was succinct: “No.” He did add that particularly if Crist doesn’t do well in the race, it will discourage other elected officials from pursuing a similar cross-over.

Here’s a question I asked about Americans’ wah-wah-wah “I want it all and I want it right now” mentality and grievances toward Obama since he became president:

MC: “Obama’s presidency is struggling with a huge backlash of disappointment from the people who voted for him and finger-pointing from the people who voted against him. What does it say about the American public that it expects long-term hopes for meaningful change to be realized within the first 18 months of a presidency?”

MH: “I think we live in a speeded-up age and a lot of the activists in both parties demand everything that they want right away.” He mentioned that earlier this week, both Obama and Biden have been calling for patience on the part of liberals and progressives.

Hmmm. Not sure an appeal from the guys being attacked will help much. Maybe if journalists, and media, and politicos, and pundits, and the blogosphere, would call for, and write/talk with more patience instead of hype, that would help the American public rein itself in a bit.

When I asked Halperin to give a grade for Obama’s performance in office to date, he went out on a limb and gave me a whole word instead of just one letter: “Incomplete,” he said.

On Palin, he was a little more forthcoming: “She’s the most powerful figure in the Republican party today.”

He said what will be very interesting to see will be how much Palin is able to help her Republican candidate pals out by the campaign appearances she’ll be making on their behalf in the weeks leading up to the General Election. Halperin said the General Election will reveal the extent to which the Palin Effect [my words, not his] helps overall, and those results, he said, “will be a good test to see how much appeal she has a presidential candidate in 2012.”

I know guys like Halperin don’t vote (not with his job), but I asked if he would vote for Palin the Powerful. He dryly responded, “I don’t vote.”

And his take on the Jon Stewarts, Bill Mahers, and Steve Colberts of the world mucking around on the floor of politics?

“In our age, the more voices the better.” He went on to say that it’s inevitable that comedians would grab some of the spotlight that shines on politics, but added that it’s important that “elected officials and other people in the public square” don’t allow those comedic voices to “dominate” the debates.

Halperin’s book, Game Change, gives some incredible insights into just how compromised – morally and ethically — candidates and elected officials, and the people who surround them, can be. I asked him if the American public would really tolerate and welcome an honest politician who had integrity.

I mean, we say we want honesty, but wouldn’t we crucify a politician who was truly honest? For example, here in Sarasota, few politicians who are pro-choice will say so publicly for fear of losing votes.

But Halperin is more optimistic than I about our human nature — he says honesty and integrity in politicians would be “both tolerated and welcome.”

So, I asked, “Do you know of any honest politicians who have integrity?

“Plenty of them,” he replied.

Pregnant pause. “Okay, do you care to name one?”

“Michael Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg is what, the 10th richest guy in America, right? He BETTER be immune to special interests, and capable of being honest, and operating with integrity, with that kind of financial independence. I just wish Halperin had offered up the name of someone who is honest and has integrity who doesn’t also have about $20 billion in his or her pocket.

Money makes a difference, right? — even in his book, few of Halperin’s sources possessed the kind of personal integrity that would have compelled them to go on record and reveal their names to stand behind their words and gossipy stories about Palin, Obama, Clinton(s), and McCain. It’s because those sources feared backlash, right? They didn’t think they’d be lauded for their “honesty” in telling behind-the-scenes stories, they thought they’d lose jobs or diminish future opportunities, right? So, they kept their mouths open but their faces hidden.

For a good cause? Well, I will say the book is un-put-down-able and gave me a lot of ideas and insights, and also the book delivers a powerful, fascinating, and probably necessary lesson in the most important election of our time, and how American politics “works” in general. But it’s an interesting irony — people telling secrets about others — demanding secrecy for themselves.

I don’t agree with Halperin that the American public actually wants what it says it wants so badly — the truth. I tend to believe Jack Nicholson’s lines from A Few Good Men — “You can’t handle the truth,” is the famous lead-off line everyone remembers. But what followed that is what’s important … . We all want Obama’s hope and change, but I don’t know one of us who has changed his or her lifestyle to support a world of hope and change. We’re all still consuming oil to support luxuries and lying about our political beliefs when expedient. I don’t know personally one person who’s given anything up to help Obama create the change we all said we hoped for. We just scream like babies that he’s not doing enough, good enough, fast enough to put money back in our pockets.

Here’s Jack’s extended quote:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? … You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. … And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.”

We’re supposed to despise Jack’s character in that movie. But he does speak the truth — we use words like honesty, integrity, truth (now truthiness) as punchlines and soundbites, and never really back those words up with actions.

Obviously, Halperin and his co-author Heilemann couldn’t have written Game Change with the probably very few, relatively unimportant people, who might have been willing to put their names in print next to their words. So, a book — an important one — gets published, but what happens to integrity?

Just a question I wished I’d asked.

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Posted on September 30th, 2010Comments RSS Feed
3 Responses to Mark Halperin chats with MC about honesty and integrity … among other things
  1. There are tickets available but going fast so I encourage people to call or go online as soon as possible. Should be a fascinating evening.

    Reply
  2. MC: I had a coffee yesterday with a cub reporter, going through what I call “Journo 101.” A portion was the DC Ground Rules: on the record, on background, on deep background and off the record. Anything written on background or deep background is self-serving. Folks that won’t allow their name to go with their words are scheming for something to improve their lot, and diminish somebody else in their food-chain.

    Such not-for-attribution info is titillating for sure. Bob Woodward’s made a career of it, a career others aspire to. Fast-and-loose are the “facts” when attribution is out-the-window.

    Color me old fashioned. People say stuff and should stand behind their words. I’ve worked overseas, and understand sometimes you cannot ID a source because somebody will gun ’em. And their family. I’ve seen it happen.

    But America? When I read a domestic story with an anonymous source, I discount it. I’d suggest Mr. Halperin take up fiction. s/StanZ

    Reply
  3. Thanks Stan — I think I”m pretty old fashioned too.

    Reply

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