Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist who serves as a political contributor for CNN, appearing frequently on CNN’s The Situation Room as well as other programs on all CNN networks.
Begala was formerly co-host of Crossfire, CNN’s political debate program. Begala first entered the national political scene after the consulting firm he and fellow Democratic strategist James Carville started, Carville & Begala, helped President Bill Clinton get elected in 1992. Serving in the Clinton administration as counselor to the president, he was a close adviser to Clinton and helped define and defend the administration’s agenda, serving as a principal public spokesman.
After leaving the Clinton administration, Begala joined Georgetown University as a research professor of government and public policy. In 2007, he served as Carl E. Sanders Political Leadership Scholar at the University of Georgia School of Law. He is currently an affiliated professor of public policy at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute. Begala is not a paid political consultant for any politicians or candidates for office.
1. What’s your favorite political movie?
DAVE. It’s a modern-day Frank Capra story. An average guy winds up as President, stands against corruption, then walks away into obscurity after finding the one honest person in professional politics who can take over. Kevin Kline and Sagourney Weaver are great, and Frank Langella plays a perfectly villainous White House Chief of Staff.
2. What role do you feel art plays in politics?
Artists are free to speak the truth to power in a way politicians are not. But they prod us, challenge us – “Bullworth”-style – to be braver. Politics itself is often show business for ugly people. Ronald Reagan once said he didn’t know how anyone could do the job of President if he weren’t an actor. John Paul II – one of the greatest Popes in history – was an actor before he was called to a life of faith. At their best, political leaders are larger than life characters – as are actors. They portray us as we wish we were. And the truly great talents, like Reagan and Clinton in politics, DeNiro and Streep in acting, have a deep sense of authenticity.
3. Who was the first political candidate you were excited to vote for and why?
Ted Kennedy when he ran for President in the 1980 primaries. He was a hero to me then, when I was still a teenager, and as I’ve gotten to know him and work with him over the years he’s even more of a hero. No one would have blamed him if he’d retreated into his vast wealth and his large and loving family after his brothers were murdered. But he stood strong, spoke out for those with no voice, and became the greatest senator of the past 100 years.
4. What factors are important to you in choosing a president?
Empathy. Intellectual curiosity. The ability to synthesize lots of different facts about lots of interconnected things. Self-confidence infused with skepticism of absolutes. American exceptionalism.
5. What issues would you like to see politicians focus more on?
Energy independence and poverty.
6. Which issues would you like to see politicians focus less on?
Divisive social issues – personal matters are ill-suited for political debate.
7. Which candidate’s initiatives do you feel better address environmental concerns?
Is that a trick question? John McCain has stacked his campaign with lobbyists for every big oil company and polluter around. He has a lifetime rating from the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters of 24. That means he votes anti-environment three-fourths of the time. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has earned the endorsement of the League. He had a 100 percent pro-environment voting record in the Illinois Senate (according to the Illinois Environmental Council). He supports bold action to reverse global warming, create green jobs, support renewable energy and protect our air, land and water for my kids and their kids.
8. Do you have any recommended links, books or movies so people can learn more about the issues you care about?
Well, now that you mention it… I wrote (with a team of a dozen gifted researchers) a book about John McCain’s record. It’s called Third Term: Why George W. Bush Loves John McCain. It goes through all the issues – the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy, the environment, health care, ethics reform – and come to the conclusion that McCain would do little more than continue the disastrous policies of George W. Bush — who may well go down in history as the worst President ever. I am also a huge fan of the Center for American Progress [www.americanprogress.org], which is the premier progressive think tank. I read Media Matters for America’s [mediamatters.org] website every day – they keep the press honest. And I am a daily reader of Huffington Post [www.huffingtonpost.com] and Talking Points Memo [www.talkingpointsmemo.com].
Extra Credit: Fill in the blank. _________ for change.
FIGHT BACK for a change.