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John Walcott, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief, discusses Obama’s historic win with Paul Jay Pt.2

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to live coverage from The Real News Network. We’re in the McClatchy Washington bureau offices, and now joining us is the head of the Washington bureau, John Walcott. Thanks for joining us again, John.


JAY: So we’ve seen two McCains. They talk about McCain of 2000 and McCain here, and we saw this very graceful McCain giving a concession speech after this angry, temperamental McCain. Which is the real McCain?

WALCOTT: They’re both the real McCain. They’re equal parts of him. And the amazing thing about him is that you can see one, and four seconds later the other one appears.

JAY: Well, we’re somewhat with the same question: what’s the Republican Party now? What will be left of this party? We have whichever McCain it was; we have the Palin evangelical right; we have the neoconservatives; we have the Powells who endorsed Obama. What’s left of the Republican Party? And are we about to see a bit of a civil war here?

WALCOTT: Well, we may be. One of the interesting things tonight is that the Republicans who lost, a number of them were among the more moderate Republicans. So you could easily see the party continue its movement to the right, the rest of it. Senators like Sununu, congressmen like Shays in Connecticut were from the more moderate wing of the party, and they’re gone.

JAY: So what happens to the moderate Republicans? Do they join the Democrats? Or do we start to see some kind of new party on the right of center?

WALCOTT: Well, I think the first question is the one you posed, which is: which is the real Republican Party? John McCain can have two personalities; the Republican Party can’t be two parties. It’s going to have to decide which party it is. Is it the party of Palin—hard right, anti-abortion, [on] social issues socially conservative, stressing those kinds of issues? Or is it a more traditional conservative policy of fiscal conservatism and social tolerance?

JAY: There’s been this split on foreign policy issues between what was called the realists and the neocons and the suggestion the neocons weren’t very realistic—and I suppose the Iraq War might prove that to be true. And you’ve got a section of the party which is somewhat, you could say, religious fundamentalist. Earlier on we had Bruce Fein on, who used to be a Republican, and talk about the split between the rationalist and the irrationalist. Where do the rationalists go if the more organized section of the Republican Party is the more fundamentalist?

WALCOTT: Well, one of the questions is: does President Obama, when he’s president, have any appeal for those people? Do some of them become part of his administration, which I think is possible? That may go a long way toward determining where some of those people go. If they feel more comfortable in a Democratic Party that is centrist, that is fiscally conservative, more so than the last Republican administration—.

JAY: And more so than he will have been campaigning.

WALCOTT: And more so than he will have been campaigning. That’s right.

JAY: So, then, do we see a split in the Republican Party? Do we also potentially somewhere within the four to eight years see a split in the Democratic Party, with this incredible groundswell of support expecting what he was promising—fundamental change—get centrism and not fundamental change?

WALCOTT: I think that’s entirely possible. A lot of Democrats may be upset if they wake up one morning and find that Bob Gates is going to stay as secretary of defense for a year or so as part of the transition. I see other conservative figures appearing in the administration. But the question then for them is: where do they go? They’ve got a Democrat in the White House who’s with them more than he’s against them. And do they really want to fight on one issue out of ten or two issues out of ten and risk whatever solidarity they have? I mean, the tradition of the Democratic Party, of course, is that there isn’t any solidarity. Will Rogers said he’s not a member of any organized political party—he’s a Democrat. And so they have a great tradition of falling apart like that. But a number of them may feel, “Look, for the first time in quite awhile we have a mandate, we have the White House, we have the House of Representatives, and we have a number of seats in the Senate, a lot of seats in the Senate.”

JAY: I mean, it could play out that with such a weakened Republican Party, the really different sections of the Democratic Party can actually fight it out more openly without being worried about the Republicans taking advantage of it.

WALCOTT: Well, it’s true, and they may be able to fight it out more openly and come to some resolution with winners and losers, instead of fighting out continually, to no end, which would probably destroy their chances of getting anything done. Yeah, and, you know, there were a lot of lessons here about what to do and what not to do, and one of the things you don’t want to do is tear your party apart before it gets anything done.

JAY: Well, he’s certainly—Obama—putting himself forward as a unifying figure, and we’ll see if that’s what he is. But he can’t be president to everyone. He says he can, but he can’t.

WALCOTT: No, that’s right. He can’t be a president who’s necessarily popular and in sync with everyone, but I think it is possible to be the president of everyone, to be respected by everyone, whether you agree or disagree with him. Look, it’s a long road back for American politics to that point where people can disagree with their president and still respect him. You probably heard Senator McCain’s rally. He gave what I thought was a very gracious speech, and Senator Obama’s name was greeted with boos and hissing from the crowd. So we have a long way to go back to some level of civil discourse in our politics, and we’ll see if president-elect Obama can lead us there.

JAY: Thank you very much for joining us, John. And thank you very much for joining us from the McClatchy offices in Washington. This is The Real News Network signing off on Presidential Elections 2008.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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John Walcott is the Washington Bureau Chief of McClatchy Newspapers. He has served as the Foreign Editor and National Editor of U.S. News & World Report, as the National Security correspondent at The Wall Street Journal and as a correspondent at Newsweek. He is co-author of the book Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America's War Against Terrorism