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What Was John Edwards Really Saying About Black Men?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 28, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Former Senator John Edwards turned some heads yesterday when he made the follow comments in an online forum sponsored by MTV and MySpace.com:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): We start with the president of the United States saying to America we cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem and the idea that we're just going to keep incarcerating, keep incarcerating, pretty soon we're not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They're all going to be in prison or dead, one of the two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLMES: And what was the senator talking about? Joining us now is FOX News contributor Michael Steele and Democratic strategist Michael Brown.

Michael Brown, do you take any issue with the way John Edwards made that statement?

MICHAEL BROWN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, actually, and excuse my voice. I have a little laryngitis.

COLMES: I can relate.

BROWN: First of all, Senator Edwards is frankly talking about what's really happening in America. When you talk about the social problems and challenges that the African-American community, in particular African-American males have in other society relative to job training programs, education, and other issues where the playing field is not level, what he's talking about is accurate.

Now, clearly, if people want to talk about the generality of him saying all, clearly not all will be in jail. Clearly not all will be dead. But his point was there's a problem that this administration has not cared about and done enough to do anything about.

COLMES: Michael Steele, what he said, Michael Steele, was — and I think this really rounds out the statement — what we have to do is have a fair educational system. And now we have one system for the inner-city, another for suburban neighborhoods. And what he's basically saying is you've got to go to the root of the problem and solve it educationally so you don't just throw people in jail and you actually can get to the root of the issue. Do you have a problem with it?

MICHAEL STEELE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, FMR. MARYLAND LT. GOVERNOR: I don't have a problem with that, and I'll get to Edwards' comments in a moment. I agree with my friend, Michael Brown, on his opening point.

And — but the root of the problem is not education. The root of the problem is the disintegration of the black family. The root of the problem starts at home, because what happens at home gets carried into the educational system. And teachers day in and day out are having to deal with that, and they're not educating. They're doing a lot of other things that are very important. But the key thing for students in a classroom is to learn.

So, you know, when you're talking about the plight of the African-American male, you've got to look at recidivism rates. You've got to look at drug addiction. You've got to look at abuse. You've got to look at a whole host of factors that emanate out of the community, that emanate out of the home.

So when John Edwards gets up and starts talking about the black male all going to jail or all dying, I think it's a misrepresentation of what's really going on right now in the community, because, certainly, you look at Michael Brown and Michael Steele, we are, you know, the truth to the lie that this is our outcome. Our outcome is based on what happens in the family.

COLMES: I think you make a good point, Michael Steele, that it has to begin at home. But in terms of what John Edwards was talking about, in terms of what the government can do, is work toward a better public education system so there's less disparity between what you have in the inner city and in suburban areas, and that, as a potential presidential candidate, is what he was addressing.

STEELE: Well, but that's less — I mean, again, I don't need the government to kind of work that out for me. That is a community activity. That's where church and that's where civic associations and that's where the community has played a role.

The government wasn't there in the 1920s and the '30s and '40s for my family when my parents were growing up. The government wasn't a part of that. That was a community thing. It wasn't until we get to this big society mentality that government is now going to help raise our kids, educate our kids, and provide for them, that we have lost our way and you get the results that you have today.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: By the way, Michael Brown, Michael Steele, welcome both of you back to the program. Even what Alan's saying on education, I agree with all of that, but that was not said.

By the way, Michael Brown, even though we disagree politically, I sympathize with you. I lose my voice four times a year. A Z-Pak, go to your doctor, a shot of prednisone to lower the inflammation in the vocal chords, you'll be back talking in the morning.

COLMES: Are we doing a medical show now, Hannity?

HANNITY: Now, this is Hannity M.D. That's what works for me anyway. Hope you feel better.

BROWN: Thank you.

HANNITY: You know, first of all, this is what John Edwards said. I mean, it's — I'm listening to both of you and Alan, Michael Brown, and you're interpreting his remarks. But what he said is pretty soon we're not going to have a young African-American male population, they're all going to be in prison or dead, one of the two. Is he saying that they're criminals, African-American men, that they're criminals, that they're investing in crime and all? That's — if it was a Republican that said that, I believe you'd interpret it that way.

BROWN: No, I would actually say the exact same thing if anyone said it. Clearly, I'm sure if you want back and talked about a poor choice of words, saying "all," clearly not "all", because he has African-Americans at work on his staff. So it's clearly not all. I think the point though, Sean, is that what we — Lieutenant Governor Steele and I have been talking about, and Alan have been talking about, is let's stop talking about necessarily the problems. We all know about what the problems are. The question is, how do we start dealing with the solutions?

HANNITY: I want to get to that, but this is too important.

BROWN: And government — And government does have a role in helping us solve those problems.

HANNITY: I agree. I think you break the unholy alliance with teachers' unions and the Democratic Party, and you really fix the educational system, which is failing our children, you go a long way to solving your crime problem, your drug problem, your government dependency problem.

But I still, Michael Steele, have a problem with the double standard that exists here today, because I really believe in my heart that, if a Republican had said, "They're all going to be in prison or dead," playing into false stereotypes...

STEELE: There you go, Sean. That's it, right there. You hit the word. And what Edwards did was what a lot of folks in his position often do, is they over-generalize and they stereotype to make a point. And the reality of it is, basically, you know, he's saying that, you know, all African-American men right now are in one of two positions in life. They're either going to go down a pathway where they're going to wind up in a jail or they're going to go down a pathway and they're going to wind up in a graveyard. And the reality is much different from that. When you look at the U.S. census on the performance of African-American men, in particular, we're four times more likely to be outside the jail than in the jail.

HANNITY: But how many more African-American men are in college? It's four-to-one, according to the statistics I saw today, or five-to-one?

But, Michael Brown, my only point is, you know something? I — that may surprise you. John Edwards, if he would apologize, say he misspoke, say he used broad, sweeping generalizations, you know, clearly identify what he meant rather than have you interpret it, I think it would go a long way. I think a Republican would have to do that. And I think there's a big double standard in the way conservatives are treated in the media and the way liberals like John Edwards are treated.

BROWN: Well, the bottom line is, you know, Senator Edwards will have to make a decision on what he does, but his heart is in the right place. Very few white politicians would stand up and say what he said. It took a lot of courage.

COLMES: And you edited it out when he talked about the education system. Thank you.

STEELE: I don't know so much about courage, but I know a lot of people wouldn't say what he said, that's for sure.

COLMES: Thank you both, Michael Steele and Michael Brown. Feel better.

BROWN: I'm not sure about that, Lieutenant Governor.

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