Michelle Bernard Looks for the Right McCain
By Bill Steigerwald
MSNBC, which has
tried to position itself as a liberal, albeit less-watched,
counterbalance to the Fox News Channel, hired Michelle Bernard as a
conservative political analyst in January. Bernard, the CEO of the
Independent Women's Forum think tank and a lawyer by training, is a
regular panelist on "Hardball With Chris Matthews." This week she made
nightly appearances on MSNBC's wall-to-wall coverage of the Democratic
Convention in Denver, and she will move on to cover the Republicans
next week in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I talked to Bernard by phone from
Denver on Thursday, just hours before Barack Obama delivered his grand
finale at Invesco Field.
Q: Do you think the Democrats have done a good, mediocre or bad job of selling themselves and their ideas?
A: They got off to a slow start. But my observation since I got out here is that they are building momentum. Sometimes when you think about a political convention you are really looking for a lot of excitement and drama, and I had expected more of that earlier in the week. But it seems to be sort of a slow crescendo and I guess it'll be topped off tonight.
Q: Has anything the Democrats have done or said riled you up in any way?
A: I can't place my finger on who said what that riled me up. But I have been listening to the Democrats’ vision for the future of the country and what kind of an America they want. I don’t think their ultimate vision is different than the vision the Republicans have for the country. More than anything else that has disturbed me personally is how we get there. Speaker after speaker this week has left me with the impression that for the Democrats the great civil rights issue for the 21st century is nationalized health care. That is something I disagree with. I do believe that people need health care, but I don't understand the Democrats' plan on how we get there and how it makes our nation a better nation. We've heard it over and over again and I think that ultimately that's going to be a problem.
I had a discussion with somebody the other day where I was explaining the good things I see about Barack Obama, but my complete and utter distaste for higher taxes and this notion of Robin Hood and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. It’s a message that resonates with Democrats and people here are getting very excited when they hear about it.
But the thing that riles me up is, why is it that people have such disdain for the people who are the engine of the economy and who make it possible for Americans to have jobs, feed their families, send their kids to school and put clothing on their backs? I know that we live in difficult economic times right now, but this disdain for the engine of the country is something that I don't understand. If we had no quote-unquote “rich people,” if we didn't have, for example, Bill Gates and Microsoft, what would happen to the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world that he employs?
Q: Did MSNBC choose you as an analyst because you are a woman, a black woman, a conservative?
A: I would say probably a little bit of all of the above. Given the nature of this political season with Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton being the front-runners, and even before that, I think a lot of the networks realized that the American people wanted to hear more than one voice and one type of viewpoint. I guess I’m a “three-fer” as a black person and as a woman and as a conservative. For all of those reasons, MSNBC was looking for a variety of different voices. I actually feel honored that I am one of the people who has been able to work with them in covering the Democratic and Republican nominating process.
Q: What is the Independent Women's Forum?
A: Plain and simple, the Independent Women's Forum is a think tank. But we are a think tank made up of all women scholars. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational institution, and our mission is to promote the principles of limited government, free markets and personal responsibility.
What's really important to understand about the Independent Women's Forum also is that our mantra is that "All issues are women's issues." Typically when you hear the word "women" in any kind of organization, most people automatically think you are concerned with reproductive rights, sexual harassment in the workplace or employment discrimination, and that those are the only topics that women care about.
Early on, when IWF was started, one of our founders used to say, “It’s a really silly woman who divorces her needs from the needs of men.” IWF is very different from other women’s organizations in the sense that we don’t talk about those other issues. Lots of other people talk about them. You see IWF scholars every day of the week -- you see us on television, you hear us on the radio, you see us in print, we write books, we write policy papers, we write op-eds on health care, national security, terrorism, education policy, Social Security policy -- all the big issues of the day you hear us talking about as women scholars, because women’s voices need to be heard on those issues -- and not just on issue that revolve around child care or sex discrimination in the workplace.
Q: Could Hillary Clinton or her husband work for IWF?
A: Oh, they could work for IWF! I don’t know if they would enjoy working for IWF (laughs), but we would most certainly entertain a job application from either of them. The problem is that they would have to adhere to our mission, and since we really believe that limited government and free markets are really the great social equalizer, I have a feeling that neither one of them will be submitting an application any time soon.
Q: How attached to the Republican Party is the IWF?
A: We’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan group. I would venture to guess that most people would consider most of the people who work at IWF to be more aligned with Republicans simply because we believe in free markets and limited government and that is a traditionally Republican ideal. But we have a lot of people who are Republicans, libertarians, independents. We even have Democrats who are affiliated with our organization. We really feel that one of the greatest things that we could do for our organization is to open up the fold on issues where there is common ground with Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, whatever, and that we work together to make the nation a better place for all Americans.
Q: How do you define your own politics and where did they come from?
A: I think the best way to describe me is as an independent. I am without a party affiliation. I am definitely right of center. I have a very, very deep belief in individualism rather than group thought. I believe in personal responsibility. I believe in free markets. I believe in equality under the law rather than equal outcomes. My preference is equal opportunity. I don't know where they come from, other than this is just the way I was raised. I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States. My parents are American citizens, but they come from Jamaica. I was raised with very American and Jamaican values. In our culture, we have a very strong sense of pride and of family honor and of self-reliance.
Q: What would you most like to hear John McCain say or promise to do next week in Minneapolis?
A: Really what I want to hear from John McCain, after listening to some of the speakers here at the Democratic convention this week, is his vision for the future of the country. And given how much emphasis has been placed at the Democratic convention on women and the women's vote and on the future of African-Americans in our country, I will be very greatly interested in hearing how he addresses those groups.
In the Republican Party there is always a great reticence to look at people in voting blocs or in groups, but that is the reality of the politics of the day. These are two very strong voting blocs and constituencies. I think he has been doing a magnificent job of reaching out to all Americans and I am hoping to see more of the same. I thought that the John McCain that I watched during the Rick Warren interview (at the Saddleback Church forum on CNN) is the John McCain I want to see next week.
The John McCain who spoke before the NAACP is the John McCain that I want to see next week. There have been a few times this summer where I said, "Here's the maverick that we've heard so much about. Here's the man that so many Americans have been attracted to." I am hoping that he will be on track next week and we will see that same man again. I thought he was superb during that Rick Warren interview.
Q: For the last eight years, the Republicans have not exactly stuck up for the principles of limited government and free markets.
A: And I am hoping that he will get back to that. I'd love to hear positive comments about free trade. Unfortunately, the nation -- and even some people in the Republican Party -- are becoming a little bit isolationist. I hope that is not the track John McCain will take us down. I believe in free trade. I want to hear more from him about our responsibilities as a nation with regard to countries like Georgia and the Georgian and Russian conflict that is going on.
And obviously, the economy is the big issue; what are we going to do about it? I've heard John McCain speak about educational reform. I hope that we will hear a lot about that next week, because school choice is the big deal. When we talk about preparing our citizens for the 21st century economy, rather than blaming corporations that do business inside and outside of the country, I think we need to talk about how we prepare our children to be competitive in the 21st century work force. And obviously, anything he can say about cutting spending will be a marvelous thing.
Q: If Obama wins in November, do you think he will do anything or push any policies that would make you happy?
A: Oh, my goodness. I have to think about that. I can tell you right off the top of my head -- and I don’t know how this would translate into policy -- but as an African-American woman with two young children, I can tell you that the one thing I have heard Barack Obama talk about over and over again that I find incredibly appealing is the need for personal responsibility for all Americans but particularly within the African-American community. We don’t hear him talking about increasing the welfare state, we hear him talking about taking care of your children; the fact that you are not a man just because you can have a baby if you don’t take care of your child; getting a good education; turning off the television; fixing your child a meal rather than going to McDonald’s. I don’t know how that translates into policy, but if he is elected and we continue to hear that type of rhetoric and see it transferred into public policy, I would be very pleased.
Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at [email protected]. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.