While my experience at the 2008 GOP Convention in Minneapolis was about republicans, I did meet and interview some liberal democrats. One person I had the genuine pleasure of meeting and interviewing was Donna Brazile.
Donna Brazile was the first black woman to head a major Presidential campaign. She was the campaign manager of Al Gore in 2000.
As pleasant as she was, we are both partisans. For this reason I delayed publishing my interview with her until after the 2008 election. I did not wish to say anything positive about anybody on the left during the heated campaign season. Now that the election is over, in the spirit of unity, Ms. Brazile and I have both taken steps towards unity. She wrote a very poignant column herself yesterday showing compassion towards the losing side of this election. She understands the pain of losing an election, and her words are very sincere.
One of the reasons I am so glad to have met Ms. Brazile is that it allowed me to walk away with a positive feeling towards somebody that I had previously held a very negative opinion towards. The 2000 recount was a frenzied time in American history, and I had only hostile words towards Ms. Brazile at that time. To this day I confess that my attitude towards her former boss Al Gore is not a warm one.
Yet Ms. Brazile and I have both grown over the years. In an article entitled, “The Green Room,” she spoke of how she got to know political opponents while sitting in the famed waiting room with them. She developed a positive attitude towards former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. She found out he was not the caricature that television portrayed him as.
At the convention, the Louisiana raised Ms. Brazile told one interviewer that Republican Mississippi Senator Trent Lott came through for her during Hurricane Katrina.
“Trent Lott saved my family. I needed three things from him personally, and he came through for me. He made sure that the ice that we desperately needed was delivered. He got us ice, insulin and water. The food came as well. He put politics aside and made sure my family was ok. I will always thank him for that. We were not republicans or democrats during Katrina. We truly were all Americans, and he came through for me.”
Yet the moment when I truly developed a liking for Ms. Brazile came during the 2008 campaign. She went on the Colbert Report and had one of the most hysterical interview sessions in recent memory. In an appearance that was as funny as it was salacious, she and Stephen Colbert implied that they were going to have a sexual rendezvous after the show. They would meet in a Kansas City hotel room and get to know each other. She and Stephen Colbert both began singing the song “Kansas City” to each other.
“Kansas City here I come…crazy littler women there, and I’m going to, get me one.”
When I spoke with Ms. Brazile, I was upfront with her about my political leanings. A person can be partisan and still be fair. She was generous with her time, but I kept it brief anyway.
The interview took place before the financial crisis and the election, so her words have an almost prophetic quality to them.
1) What are the most important issues of 2008?
DB: “The economy is most important. It is off track. Yet in any election, one has to always be prepared for unforeseen events.”
2) Despite your being in a very partisan position as Al Gore’s campaign manager, you have said very positive things towards the other side. What do you do to reduce the acrimony between republicans and democrats?
DB: “People are human beings. Bob Novak of all people was one persn who truly made me feel comfortable. If you are nice to me, than I am nice to you. I live by my mother’s advice, which is that the Golden Rule is the way to go.”
3) Who are your 3 favorite political heroes?
DB: “Barbara Jordan is one. Her 1976 speech in New York inspired me to get into politics. Shirley Chisholm is another one. She was a dynamic speaker, and the first black woman to run for President. Lastly, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. I know he is controversial, and not a popular figure with many, but he hired me in 1984. He gave me my first job in politics.”
4) How would you like to be remembered 100 years from now? What would you want people to say about Donna Brazile the person?
DB: “That I inspired a new generation in the same way the previous generation inspired me. I believe that our democracy itself is very inspiring.”
5) Can America finally crack the glass ceiling and elect a bald President in the modern era?
DB: “It has been a long march to equality. We have cracked the door, and opened the window. Tonight, the nomination of John McCain is another milestone. So whether black, women, or bald, yes we can.”
6) Is there anything can be done with regards to Stephen Colbert? Is there any hope?
DB: “There is a place in America for diversity of views and opinions. I may cook my gumbo differently from you, but that does not make mine better. I may just use different ingredients. Politics has gotten so spicy, and we need to cool it down some. We may find that your recipe for gumbo is just as good.”
I thanked her very much for her time, and let her know three things.
“Ms. Brazile, I would like to let you know that since you are from Louisiana and I am from New York, I can assure you that your gumbo tastes significantly better than mine. Also, my girlfriend is a liberal democrat and an Obama supporter, so I agree with you about reaching out. We can never tell who we will appreciate until we give them a chance.”
She was pleasant and friendly, and she laughed at my last pair of questions. She knew exactly what my reference was regarding Stephen Colbert, and like a true Southern woman, she handled it with gentility and grace. Yet it was the last thing I said to her that truly made the experience special.
“Ms. Brazile, I just wanted you to know that in 2000, I did not like you very much. I said some harsh things about you. The reason I did not like you was because I did not know you. If I convey anything to my readers at all, it will be how likable you are in person. I am glad my perception has completely changed.”
She was genuinely a delight to meet. She is 100% right when she points out that while we can disagree about politics, we have to come together and heal as a nation. We cannot let politics become personal.
She is most likely beaming with pride at the 2008 Presidential race. While I am sure she still wishes 2000 had turned out differently, she does not live in the past. Neither should we. If we are truly to move forward, we have to stop fighting that election.
While It was a joy to speak with her, I have to reiterate that the one fundamental disagreement I have with her will not be bridged.
Her gumbo is far superior to mine, and I am relieved that she never challenged the Bush campaign to a gumbo cookoff.