Transcript: Rev. Joseph Lowery, Author Ron Christie on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the Feb. 12, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday."


REV. JOSEPH LOWERY: We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds, for war billions more, but no more for the poor.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: That was Reverend Joseph Lowery with sharp words for President Bush during the funeral service Tuesday for civil rights leader Coretta Scott King.

Was that the proper time to go after the president? We're going to hear from both sides, starting with Reverend Lowery, who led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for 20 years. He joins us today from Baltimore.

And, Reverend, welcome to "FOX News Sunday". Thanks for joining us, sir.

LOWERY: Thank you.

WALLACE: Reverend, here the president came to the funeral to pay tribute to Mrs. King. Was that the right time to criticize his policies?

LOWERY: Well, you know, I'm certain that President Bush is wise enough to know that when he comes to the funeral of a civil rights icon like Mrs. King that he's going to hear about the issues around which she gave her life.

And she was an advocate for peace. She was a strong proponent of racial justice and elimination of poverty. And how do you celebrate her life without mentioning those issues which relate to public policy? Maybe President Bush, the senior, the father, struck the right note when he said he'd never seen anything like that before, the cultural divide in our own time.

Rosa Parks' funeral had more discussion of public policy than did Mrs. King, but, of course, the president wasn't there. Could I read you an excerpt from a funeral in 1963? Four little girls were killed in a church in Birmingham. Three of them were buried at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.

Listen to these words. "These little girls have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right wing Republicans."

WALLACE: And who said that, sir?

LOWERY: The eulogist was Martin Luther King, Junior.

WALLACE: Let's talk, if we can, about the substance of what you had to say in your remarks. President Johnson declared war on poverty back in the '60s. Since then, there have been a number of Democratic presidents, mostly Democratic Congresses. They don't seem to have gotten much done for blacks.

LOWERY: Well, that's part of our history, and I regret that. Listen, make sure you understand, Chris, that I'm neither Democrat nor Republican. I'm Methodist. I have grievances with both parties. One takes us for granted. The other one just takes us.

So I don't absolve the Democrats of their lack of commitment to deal with poverty either. But right now we're witnessing the widening of the gap. There's something wrong when a handful of people have more than they'll ever need while millions of people have less than they always need. The gap is widening. There's something wrong.

WALLACE: Reverend, let me ask you to take a look closer to home, to look inside the civil rights movement. Let's take a look at the state of black America today. Here it is, sir.

Sixty-eight percent of black children are born out of wedlock. One in 10 black males between the ages of 20 and 39 are in prison. Black unemployment is almost 11 percent. That's double the national rate, and that's unchanged from 10 years ago.

Sir, who are the leaders in the black community today, and what are their solutions?

LOWERY: Well, there are many leaders in the black community today. There are more leaders in the black community today than any other time, because there was a time when we depended solely on leaders in the civil rights community. Now we have leaders in Congress, 300 and some black mayors. We have blacks leading business communities.

WALLACE: But, sir, I don't hear a solution coming as to how to deal with these problems that have been around for generations.

LOWERY: Well, there have been many proposals, like full employment, eliminate tax cuts for the rich that cut programs for the poor. Let's have more programs. Let's have more initiative on the part of black people themselves.

There are weapons of mass self-destruction that I have criticized as well which fall upon the black community. But public policy is the issue we're talking about, and public policy today is favoring the rich, not the poor. It's not addressing the needs of the poor.

WALLACE: Reverend, we're about to talk to Ron Christie, who worked for several years in the Bush White House and has just written a book. In the book, he talks about some advice that he gave to Vice President Cheney at one point while he was serving in the White House.

Take a look at it here, sir. "We maintain that these leaders —" he's talking about what he calls so-called leaders, black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. "We maintain that these leaders represented the "shakedown cruise" element of black America. Finding discrimination and trouble behind every corner, these folks were extremely successful in extorting ridiculous sums of money from government and corporations that would oddly find their way into the leaders' pockets rather than the constituencies they claimed to represent."

Reverend, what do you think of Mr. Christie and what he has to say?

LOWERY: Well, I don't know him, and I don't know what he said. I do know that a lot of people are getting money from the government today through faith-based initiatives, and they're not among the people you name.

But what I'm concerned about is public policy. We need a public policy that addresses the needs of the poor, that works toward full employment, that develops more opportunities for training, for job development, job training, for health care. We've got 48 million to 50 million people in this country with no health insurance. That's a weapon of mass destruction.

WALLACE: Reverend Lowery, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for talking with us today.

LOWERY: Thank you.

WALLACE: And we're joined here now by Ron Christie, former adviser to President Bush and author of the book we were just discussing, "Black in the White House".

Mr. Christie, welcome. Thanks for coming in on this wintry day.


WALLACE: Do you stand by your remarks about the, quote, "shakedown cruise" element of black leadership?

CHRISTIE: What I stand by, Chris, is that there are so many people in society today who are in a position of responsibility and a position of leadership to make a meaningful difference in the lives of not only African-Americans, and all Americans.

What I mention in my book is I felt that there are people who are looking at perhaps their own self-interest, looking at their own air time on the airwaves, rather than looking at the public policy matters that would make the most difference to young African-Americans in this country.

So I don't step away from that comment at all.

WALLACE: Were you offended by what Reverend Lowery said about President Bush at the funeral? I mean, he is — we were just discussing it — a lion of the civil rights movement. Mrs. King and her husband were protestors their whole life. Wouldn't it, in a sense, have been wrong not for him to bring up the issues that he's concerned about?

CHRISTIE: Well, Chris, he was a lion in the civil rights era, and he is an eloquent man, and he is a man who's going to go down in history as an important figure.

Where I take exception is that he was in a celebration of the life of Coretta Scott King, a remarkable woman who had remarkable accomplishments. Unfortunately, Reverend Lowery's comments have seemingly overshadowed that celebration.

Look, Martin Luther King — when he died 38 years ago, the president of the United States did not go to his funeral. He did not lie in a position of honor in Atlanta. Thirty-eight years later, Coretta Scott King passes away. There are four presidents — the current president of the United States, three others — a dozen members of the Senate.

But unfortunately, Chris, you and I are sitting here talking about whether these were political comments. I think that he has his right to express his opinion. I support that right. It was just an inappropriate venue for him to have done so.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about substance. In 2004, 11 percent of blacks voted for President Bush. According to a recent poll, only 2 percent — the numbers have been to some degree disputed, but 2 percent of blacks said that they are members of the Republican Party.

Clearly, the vast majority of blacks don't think this president and this party have much to offer them.

CHRISTIE: And I would counter that. I mean, that's specifically why I wrote the book called "Black in the White House", to give a different characterization of Bush administration and these pro-growth policies.

If you look at the substance and you look at the issues, the president came in and he said that he wanted to fight the self-bigotry of low expectations. Our children are just being moved from grade to grade. That's why we had the No Child Left Behind Act.

They're remarkable results. If you look at fourth grade and eighth grade accomplishments for reading and for mathematics, the gap has narrowed to its lowest point between black and white children.

That is the way, Chris, I think that we're going to make significant inroads, not talking about the politics of race, but the president's actions are speaking louder than his words, that he's putting policies that are making a difference not only in the lives of black children, but for all Americans.

WALLACE: But let's look at the president's actions. If you look at his new budget and legislation that was just passed that he signed, passed by the Republican Congress, they favor cutting the rate of growth in programs like Medicare, Medicaid, college scholarships, while making permanent tax cuts that favor the rich. Those are the actions that a lot of blacks would point to.

CHRISTIE: Well, and I would counter to that. If you look at the top 1 percent, the top 1 percent of Americans pay 37 percent of the taxes. The top 5 percent pay 56 percent of the tax revenue that comes in this country.

If you look at what the president has done in his budget consistently, he makes sure to make funding priorities for education, funding priorities for people who want to have another opportunity to take their child to a different school, funding priorities to win and fight and wage the war on terrorism.

Chris, I think rather than just looking at rhetorical comments of Bush is favoring the rich, I think if we look at his specific plans and his specific programs, they favor all Americans, but those who need the safety net provided by the federal government the most.

WALLACE: But, again, people like Reverend Lowery and a lot of others would say you look at his budget, and he is cutting the rate of growth, admittedly, but he's cutting spending for programs like Medicare and Medicaid that very much are part of the social safety — let me just ask it from a different point of view: Hurricane Katrina.


WALLACE: When the president spoke in September from New Orleans after the storm, he promised bold action — his phrase — to confront the poverty from racial discrimination. Five months later. Question: What bold action?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think the president's bold action — he has actually led by example. He's gone down to Louisiana. He's gone down to the Gulf Coast to make sure that the money and the support that needs to be provided by FEMA and those who are coming in the aftermath of this terrible disaster — that these needs are being addressed.

But, Chris, let's not forget the state and local first responders are the ones who had the primary responsibility for Hurricane Katrina. It's easy to look back in a retrospect fashion and say that it's President Bush's fault.

His bold action, I believe, is making sure that the money, the resources, and the food and those other supplies that are necessary to get people back on their feet are going to the Gulf Coast region.

WALLACE: Mr. Christie, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us today and joining this debate.

CHRISTIE: My pleasure, Chris.