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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Haley Barbour; New Orleans After Katrina

Aired April 11, 2010 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Good morning from Jackson Square in New Orleans. Top Republicans came to this city to lay the groundwork for the November election. Two years after their near-death experience in the presidential election, the party envisions a comeback of historic proportions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We have a chance in the next three years to fundamentally reset American government and American politics, I think, for the first time since 1932.

CROWLEY (voice-over): They are invigorated by the takeover of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat and fueled by the hottest ticket in politics.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: What's wrong with being the party of no? We will oppose it. Or better said by the good governor of this state, he said, the party of no, no, we are the party of hell, no.

CROWLEY: They came on the weekend of the French Quarter festival, five years after New Orleans's near-death experience, they too envision a comeback of historic proportions, a comeback chronicled in a television series that premieres tonight, produced by the creator of the acclaimed series "The Wire."

JOHN GOODMAN, ACTOR, "CREIGHTON BERNETTE": The levees weren't long, the floodgates failed, the canal walls failed, the pumps failed, all of which were supposedly built to withstand a much greater storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you suggesting criminal liability?

GOODMAN: Absolutely, find the responsible parties and put them on trial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: For Republicans and for New Orleans, great expectations with many hurdles. I'm Candy Crowley and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY (voice-over): This morning, we begin with Governor Haley Barbour, the man who led the Republican Party the last time it captured the House and Senate.

And a close look at the woman who has become the most electrifying Republican. Is she running?

Actor Wendell Pierce and producer David Simon, why a major television series about a disaster?

All from New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: And now, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Haley Barbour of Mississippi. We met him in the patio of a classic French Quarter restaurant, Broussard's.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Governor, a lot of what we heard at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference has been about how good it looks this November. How good does it look this November for Republicans?

BARBOUR: Candy, the political environment for Republicans this first half of April 2010 is better than it was the first half of April 1994 when we won 54 seats in the House, took control of the House, the Senate, and more than 30 governorships, so.

CROWLEY: You're going to take control of the House and Senate?

BARBOUR: We would today. The problem is the election is not today.

CROWLEY: Don't you wish.

BARBOUR: That's why I make the point. Today the environment is better than it was in '94, it developed later, developed in a little bit different way. The people in this country are very agitated. Republicans are energized. And independents are talking like, thinking like, and planning to vote like Republicans.

CROWLEY: The governor is going to stick with us for the next several minutes. We want to take a quick break. We will be back with more on politics with the governor of Mississippi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: We have a retirement on the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens is leaving. How does that fit into the fall campaign? We are already hearing some Republicans say the president better not do that, he better not do that. But this is a very hot issue for Republicans, is it not?

BARBOUR: Well, look, the president is going to appoint a liberal successor to Justice Stevens, who is one of the most liberal members of the Supreme Court. In fact, some feel like he has been the leader of the left wing of the Supreme Court for -- in recent years. And we...

CROWLEY: But the president gets to do that, does he not?

BARBOUR: But everybody here, everybody watching your show understands that the president is going to appoint the most liberal person he can that he thinks he can get confirmed. And that that person will be a liberal. That's just a fact. Do I think it will affect the election? Only to the sense that it reminds the American people of something they already know, that this is far and away the most liberal administration that we have ever had in the White House, and candidly in the Congress.

CROWLEY: And so you see that they can use that? I mean, obviously, it will probably be done by November. But this has always been a big rallying cry, I think, to get people to the polls, particularly Republicans.

BARBOUR: Yes. For both sides.

CROWLEY: And you -- right.

BARBOUR: On both sides. You know, the pro-abortion people have used the Supreme Court to stoke up their supporters. And the conservatives going way back to Earl Warren have made it a cause celebre for trying to energize their people.

The good thing for Republicans right now is we have got plenty of energy. The policies of this administration and this Congress has energized our people.

CROWLEY: What's the smart thing to do for the Senate? Do they push back no matter who this nominee is or does that just make them look more like the party of no that the Democrats are trying to hang on them?

BARBOUR: I am not worried about the party of no as long as we are saying no to what the American people know are bad policies. The American people will reward you for trying to stop something they think is bad.

But in this case, we don't even know who the president is going to nominate. We know it's going to be a liberal, but you can't decide what your reaction or response is going to be until you see who he nominates.

CROWLEY: One of the opening day speakers here was former Congressman Newt Gingrich. And I want you to listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The president of the United States, the most radical president in American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Do you agree with that?

BARBOUR: But to the degree, is he talking about the most left wing? Most left-wing policies being pursued? There's no question, that's correct. If the issue is...

CROWLEY: But what in general? I mean, what makes it the radical president?

BARBOUR: Well, the most left wing, it's about spending. I mean, he has proposed a $3.8 trillion budget with a $1.6 trillion deficit. The whole budget in 1997 -- when Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House, the whole budget wasn't $1.6 trillion.

Yet they're proposing $1.3 trillion deficit, $1.4 trillion deficit, $1.6 trillion deficit in the first three years of the Obama administration.

CROWLEY: But, Governor, that's not all of his deficit. A lot of it came from George W. Bush.

BARBOUR: Yes, about $400 billion of it. If you look at what the deficit was for the first fiscal year, about $400 billion was run up during the Clinton administration -- I mean, the Bush administration.

And the other billion -- the other trillion, you know, Candy, it's hard for us normal people to talk about trillions, and we're -- they're spending trillions and trillions and trillions. This health care bill is going to be an enormously expensive proposal. And everybody in America knows it's not going to be budget neutral.

CROWLEY: Now you -- one of things I think that catches people's ear is the word "radical," Is that helpful to the kind of dialogue that should be in politics? And is it helpful to Republicans who still fight the image of being kind of mean old white guys?

BARBOUR: You know, in my life in politics, I've always told people to speak temperately and act boldy. I don't -- radical is not a term that I'd use very often to describe anything. But there is no question, it's a matter of fact, that the policies being pursued by the Obama administration are the farthest left.

It has been a gigantic lurch to the left. And I think that's what Speaker Gingrich was trying to convey. But, you know, the words I would use are the most left wing because that's what the truth is.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about something else, just the -- kind of the tone of politics. Virginia Governor -- new Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell designated April as Confederate Month, something that his two Democratic predecessors had refrained from doing. This caused quite a stir, particularly because the governor did not even mention slavery in this proclamation. Was that a mistake?

BARBOUR: Well, I don't think so. BARBOUR: My state legislature has made a legislatively enacted holiday, Confederate Memorial Day, and done it for years under Republican governors, Democratic governors. And for seven years as governor, I have issued a proclamation because of what the legislature has done. My Democratic predecessors did so as well.

I don't know what you would say about slavery, but anybody that thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing, I think that goes without saying.

CROWLEY: But the sensitivity of it, because we heard from a number of African-American politicians and just people on the street that were interviewed in Virginia going, this is offensive to celebrate something that really was about slavery and have absolutely no mention of it. What do you do in your state?

BARBOUR: Well, maybe they should talk to my Democratic legislature, which has done exactly the same thing in Mississippi for years. And as far as I know, the Democratic legislature -- we have a majority, both houses are Democrats. I'm unaware of them being criticized for it or them having their supporters feel uncomfortable with it.

CROWLEY: You know what I'm trying to get at here is that there is sort of feeling that it's insensitive, but you clearly don't agree.

BARBOUR: To me, it's a sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant, that it's not a -- it's trying to make a big deal out of something doesn't amount to diddly.

CROWLEY: I wanted to ask you about health care reform, which you mentioned a little earlier. Part of this is going to include an expansion of Medicaid. How are you going to pay for that in Mississippi?

BARBOUR: Well, that's the problem. It's going to -- if, in fact, this becomes law and goes into effect in -- out in the four, five years from now when it's supposed to go into effect, it's going to cost the Mississippi state government $150 million to $200 million minimum, and we don't have that money. It is in fact a...

CROWLEY: Would you have to raise taxes?

BARBOUR: It is in fact a tax increase on the people of Mississippi and virtually every other state. States like California in the billions of dollars per year, for us a couple of hundred million dollars a year. And the fact is we don't have the money.

And expanding Medicaid -- we're going to expand it by about 50 percent in my state. We're going to go from about 650,000 people on Medicaid to more than a 1 million people on Medicaid.

Candidly, Candy, if somebody had proposed last year, self- standing, without any other legislation, hey, I got a great idea, let's put about 15 million people on Medicaid, what would the American people have said? That's the craziest idea I ever heard of, Medicaid is always in financial trouble, it is not like government -- it's not like the federal employees health benefit plan, I can tell you that.

CROWLEY: What's the most realistic way? You have joined forces with those who think we are going to go to court on this. We think it's unconstitutional. Is that the way to go at this or is it more, like Senator McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, saying, look, this is about repeal and replace, because so many people have said this lawsuit is going nowhere.

BARBOUR: Well, there are those of us in a number of states that believe the Constitution, when it says it's limited government, that the powers of the federal government are limited by the Constitution.

And there is nothing in the Constitution, including in the commerce clause, that gives the federal government the power to force individual citizens to buy any product, a product called health insurance that has to be designed just like the federal government wants, or any other product.

Suppose, Candy, that we conservatives said everybody in America needs to buy a gun because national security and homeland security would be clearly better if our policy was adopted and that's the policy, you have to buy a gun. Now, what would the liberals say to that?

CROWLEY: I know that you have said that you're not going to criticize Michael Steele. You yourself were in his position during the very advantageous time for Republicans when you -- the last time they won the full House and the Senate. But do you think, looking at the situation around Michael Steele, that he can survive as head of the party?

BARBOUR: I expect him to be head of the party for the rest of his term.

CROWLEY: 'Til -- not one of those let's just keep him through the election and, you know, at the end he really ought to go?

BARBOUR: Well, I mean, his term ends in January of next year. You know, I was chairman of the RNC, I served two two-year terms. There were people critical of me, that's part of it. But no, I expect that Michael Steele will serve out his term.

CROWLEY: One of the things that the chairman said when he was talking on another network was that he thought he was being held to a higher standard because he's black. Do you think that's true? BARBOUR: No. That's like me saying I think I'm held to the higher standard because I'm a fat redneck with an accent like this. The fact of the matter is in that job, people are judged by results and that's just the way it is. It's the way it was for me, it's the way it was for everybody since then.

I do think it's not right for a former chairman to critique his predecessors -- I mean, his successors. I just don't think that's something that I ought to do. I kind of feel the same way President Reagan was about future presidents. He just did not -- he just didn't think it was right for him to critique them or criticize them. CROWLEY: What about Sarah Palin? She electrified this conference, and yet when you look outside of the sort of totality of the country, she really stirs up a lot of negative emotions as well. Do you she's qualified to be president right now? Do you think she has had the background and the experience if she does run, to be qualified for the job?

BARBOUR: Well, because I didn't think President Obama had the background experience to be qualified, so the fact of the matter is, she is legally qualified, and after that it's up to the American people. Just like it was for Senator Obama, now President Obama.

CROWLEY: Have you ever felt this sort of angry kind of country that we now -- you can feel it when you're out there, I think you see it with -- on both the left and the right. Is this reminiscent to you of any period in time that you've sort of lived through as a politician?

BARBOUR: Yes. There is a history in this country of people being vehement sometimes to the point of being terrible, awful, indefensible, stupid, so that has gone on in this country long before Haley Barbour was around and since then.

People today, though, more than any time that I've ever seen in my political career, are scared. They're scared that the policies of this administration and Congress are going to keep their children and grandchildren from having the opportunities they had.

And people are genuinely scared of that. That is no excuse for being uncivil, much less threatening somebody.

CROWLEY: Governor, I can't thank you enough for coming by. It seems a little weird to come to Louisiana to talk to the governor of Mississippi. But we're awfully glad you came. Thank you.

BARBOUR: Hey, it was tough to be in Broussard's without a Bloody Mary, I can tell you that.

CROWLEY: I know. Well, let me see what I can do.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Thank you very much.

BARBOUR: Thank you, Candy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Up next, the Palin factor. In brief, Republicans here are crazy about her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: They are feeling awfully good here in New Orleans going into the 2010 elections, Republicans believe the issues are on their side. And they think the numbers back them up. Since the McCain-Palin defeat, a low point for Republicans, the party has made a slow, steady turnaround to the point where the number of Americans who view the GOP favorably roughly matches the number who view the party unfavorably.

CROWLEY: Even better for the faithful, the percentage of Americans who now believe Republicans would be better at handling the economy than Democrats has gone up 9 points since August. Confidence in the Democrats has gone down 7.

In October, Democrats had an edge on voters' choice for Congress. Gone now because of a significant shift in independents. Six months ago, independent voters were evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Today, the indys lean heavily toward the Republicans, 53-35.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: There were plenty of potential 2012ers who showed up at this New Orleans Republican meeting, from Pence to Perry, Gingrich to Barbour, but there was only one belle of the ball, albeit one with really sharp elbows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The governor, Sarah Palin.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): There is something about Sarah that keeps conservatives on their feet and her name in the headlines. Maybe it is that cheery defiance.

PALIN: When they say, yes, we can, we stand up and we say, oh, no, you don't.

CROWLEY: Even perhaps especially when it comes to the president, who recently dismissed Palin's credentials to criticize his nuclear weapons policy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

PALIN: Now, the president, with all of the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PALIN: ... and as a part-time senator, and as a full-time candidate, all that experience, still no accomplishment to date with North Korea and Iran.

CROWLEY: In the hallways outside the main ballroom, we cornered Republican players about the hottest ticket in the party. LIZ CHENEY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think they are looking for somebody who can say, you know, yes, I will stand up and fight against these bad policies, and who is committed to putting the right policies into place.

GINGRICH: Whether that translates later into something bigger or whether she is just a very significant person for the rest of her life, she is a real player, nobody should underestimate her.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Americans are tired of milquetoast. They don't want somebody in the mush middle.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: She has had more impact as an unelected person than anybody I have seen in my 30 years in politics.

CROWLEY: Palin's detractors call her vapid, naive, inexperienced. She responds with that in-your-face defiance, especially when the media is involved.

PALIN: Democracy depends on you. And that is why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?

CROWLEY: Supporters dismiss the criticism as a failure to understand.

GINGRICH: Look, some made the comment that she is an authentic product of Wasilla, Alaska, that she's a frontier person more than a suburban person. And I think that if you are, you know, a San Francisco liberal, she just drives you crazy, because she is clearly a total feminist, I mean, in the true sense of feminism.

She is her own person. She does her own thing. She does it her way. It's just she does it in a way that if you are part of the liberal elite, it is everything that you have tried to leave.

MATALIN: Real people understand that if someone with as many kids as she has and has such a normal life -- that she had, can step into the arena, can get engaged, she gives them a road map. It is about something bigger than her. This is not some -- I think the press tends to think of it as some cult following. It is not.

It is a -- she can do it, I can do it, it's an inspiration thing. This really, really transcends her. But she is the road map. She is the mom who did it.

J.C. WATTS (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: There is a "me too," you know, when she is talking, when she has, you know, presented herself. I think what she did in Alaska, I think there is kind of a "me too" about her that people, good, bad, or indifferent, they like it. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: That "me too" has turned Sarah Palin into a brand and a woman making big bucks. Where from here? More from her colleagues when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Sarah Palin burst on to the national scene as the hockey mom turned governor turned vice presidential candidate. In less than two years, the public perception of her has changed dramatically. When she brought the Republican faithful to their feet, Palin's favorability outpaced her unfavorability by 30 points.

A month later, after Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" parodies and a fumbled interview with CBS's Katie Couric, doubt seeped in. Her favorables slipped to 46 percent. Her negatives surpassed the positives.

By July, 2009, after resigning the governorship, people's impression of Palin eroded down to 40 percent. After hitting the trail to sell her book by March, 2010, while throngs of conservatives hung on her every word, the general public was less enthused.

CROWLEY: Her favorability/unfavorability numbers had nearly flipped, from Palin's 2008 high-water mark. Just 37 percent of Americans see Sarah Palin favorably.

Love her or hate her, a couple of figures only add to her mystique, 12 and 2.2 million. That's the number of weeks "Going Rogue" was on the New York Times best-seller list and the number of copies sold.

More of her fellow Republicans on Palin in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Not many people bet that Sarah Palin would fade away after the election. And she didn't.

PALIN: Let's empower states to find the best solutions.

(APPLAUSE)

They need flexibility. That's what they need. They need respect for the 10th amendment, too. But they need the flexibility to see what works best. And shoot, look at Texas. I said "Shoot." I'm sorry. I...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: She's a politician who crossed into the celebrity zone, making gobs of money creating her own public space with maximum exposure and minimal risk. She has a lucrative and safe role as a Fox News commentator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Because, in America, anything is possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: She has put her brand on real American stories, tales of trial and triumph.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Kudos to you and thank you so much for your good efforts. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Thumbs down from the Eastern media; the New York times said her performance was "as cheery and bland as any news anchors in the mainstream media she deplores."

"Give it five minutes and it will evaporate right in front of your eyes," said Time magazine.

The normal Fox News audience has reported to have doubled in the time slot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Thank you all for joining us tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: She also plans to host eight specials an "Sarah Palin's Alaska" for Discovery's TLC channel, scripted, safe.

So, too, her appearance here in New Orleans before adoring party activists, anxious to get her autograph and feed off her electricity.

Does Palin need the party as much as the party needs Palin? Is she out to make money or out to make change? Does she want to live as a private citizen or run for president?

What next for Sarah?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What she's been doing, her role has been, and she has been very impactful at it, asserting those base principles that are at the heart of constitutional conservatism. She knows how to say them in ways that people understand them and can repeat them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): I know there are people out there who politically attack her because they're afraid of her. They're afraid that she is a powerful force. And so the easiest and the best way to get rid of someone you're afraid of is to go destroy them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: How can you be a player if you're -- let's say she just says, look, no, I'm not interested in 2012. Then what's her role?

GINGRICH: Well, I mean, some people manage by ideas, by energy, by drive, by charisma. You know, Teddy Kennedy lost the presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter in 1980. And yet Teddy was, for 30 years, one of the dominant figures in the Democratic Party.

And I think that she has the potential to fill a niche for a very long time, particularly in an age of cable television and talk radio, when you can build your particular market and your audience and they can love you and come to your meetings and do things with you.

And she's done -- the last couple of months, I think she has been very impressive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Do you think she'll run in 2012?

(UNKNOWN): It's my guess. It's everybody's guess. I honestly don't -- personal opinion, way too early. But if you're asking me today to make a decision, you know, two and a half years down the road, which is virtually impossible to do, but if you are twisting my arm to say, give me a yes or no answer, I say no.

And the reason I don't think she will -- I think -- I think she has, and this is just my personal opinion, I think she has positioned herself to be a kingmaker, probably not the king.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: She'd be a worthy opponent in 2012, you think?

GINGRICH: Well, I mean, if my choice was Sarah Palin or Barack Obama, I would rather have Sarah Palin.

CROWLEY: Well, what if your choice was Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin?

GINGRICH: Oh, I can't comment. That would be silly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: OK, then, just for giggles, we report to you the results of the straw pole of 1,800 activists here at the this conference. The presidential preference winner is the man who wasn't there, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Romney, and just behind Romney by one vote, Congressman Ron Paul, both triumphs of organization over celebrity.

As for a Palin-Gingrich showdown, it was Palin coming in third overall, with Gingrich nine votes behind.

And we didn't want to leave the Sarah Palin subject without sharing some of last night's "Saturday Night Live," where Tina Fey reprised her role as the former Alaska governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TINA FEY, COMEDIAN: It just seemed like the next logical step was to launch my own network. If you like fun, you're just going to love our afternoon block of game shows.

At 2 p.m., it's "Tea Party Wheel of Fortune."

(LAUGHTER)

And at 2:30, catch me in "Are you Smarter Than a Half-Term Governor?"

(LAUGHTER)

I think you'll be surprised by the answer. I know I was.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Up next, our discussion with an actor and the creator of a powerful new HBO series about post-Katrina life here in New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Five years ago, President Bush stood here in Jackson Square and promised that the nation would help rebuild New Orleans. He used the symbolism of a jazz funeral.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The funeral procession parades slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band breaks into a joyful second line, symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death. Tonight, the Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge. Yet we will live to see the second line.

CROWLEY (voice-over): A year later, the city remained devastated. Now approaching the fifth anniversary of Katrina, parts of the brutalized Ninth Ward are a long way away from rebuilt.

Tonight, the television premier of "Treme" begins with the second line, the HBO series looks at the resilience of New Orleans largely through its musicians who refuse to give up on a city they believe has a unique culture and tradition.

A number of the actors are New Orleans natives. The series captures the pain of starting again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't stay here, daddy. I hate this. Why do we even...

CROWLEY: Clarke Peters plays Albert Lambreaux, whose grown children are begging him to give up on New Orleans. His son asks, "so you think you're staying?" "No," says Lambreaux, "I know I am."

The series focuses on some of the poorer sections of the city. In full disclosure, HBO is another division of CNN's parent company, Time Warner.

Shooting is still continuing for later episodes. So we caught up with "Treme" creator David Simon and actor Wendell Pierce in the French Quarter.

(on camera): I wanted to start out with something that I read, a quote from you. "Either we have something to say or we don't." What do you have to say with "Treme"? SIMON: "Treme" is about culture. The last show, "The Wire," was about how power and money wrap themselves in an American city. This is really about what we're capable of as an urban people, because that's what we are. Americans are decidedly an urban people. We're only going to get more urban as the century goes on.

And we're very ambivalent about that. There is a lot of negative -- maybe I'm part of that with "The Wire," but that was not my intent. But there is a lot of negative connotations associated with city living. But I actually think that's really the question for the next century, is how we're going to live together, compacted as we are in the cities, multiculturally, you know.

This is -- New Orleans is the triumph of the Creole, of -- we're the mutts. We are the beautifully miscegenated people who are Americans. And, you know, New Orleans is a triumph in that sense.

CROWLEY: If you are not from New Orleans, and much of the country has moved on, rightly or wrongly, from Katrina, what is in this that brings you to this series?

PIERCE: Well, as David was saying, the culture of New Orleans is something that is a part of our daily lives, more than any other place that I've ever been. And I live here in New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles.

And, you know, when we ask about our day, if I call home, it's like, how was your day? The response is, well, it was pretty good, we had red beans for lunch, you know, and we're going to have some baked chicken and we'll do some shrimp Creole for dinner.

And so we talk about our cuisine and then say a little later on I'm going to go here to John Boutte at -- on Frenchmen Street, yes, so it's going to be a good day. So we -- it's on the front-burner of our lives. It's very impactful.

And I think, you know, when you understand that culture is the intersection between people and how they deal with life, that that's the place where we, you know, reflect on our past, hope for our future, you know, then you understand its importance, what thoughts are to an individual, that's what culture should be for, community as a whole.

And I think we in New Orleans understand that. And America can learn a lesson from us.

CROWLEY: You know, David, there is a scene in the movie where the British reporter is talking about, why should we care about New Orleans?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should the American tax-payer foot the bill to fix New Orleans? It's going to cost billions.

GOODMAN: Well, since when don't nations rebuild their great cities?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the sake of argument, let's say New Orleans was once a great city...

GOODMAN: Are you saying that New Orleans is not a great city, a city that lives in the imagination of the world?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suppose if you're a fan of the music, which has rather seen its day, let's be honest, or the food, a provincial cuisine which many would say is typically American, too fat, too rich. And, yes, of course, New Orleans has its advocates, but what about the rest of the country?

GOODMAN: Provincial, passe, hate the food, hate the music, hate the city. What the (expletive deleted) are you doing down here? You (expletive deleted) limey vulture mother-(expletive deleted)!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Yes. John Goodman, who confronts the reporter in that scene, he was speaking for a lot of New Orleanians who feel very much left behind, and have felt this from the moment of what was not a natural disaster, what was the single most -- the largest engineering failure in American history.

The hurricane missed New Orleans, the flooding did not. And since that moment, the federal response to it has been so meager and so grudging. And there have been so many comments from around the country about, you know, why rebuild New Orleans? It's below sea level, isn't it? Why?

You know, great societies rebuild their great cities. And one of -- you know, the response has left New Orleanians looking at the rest of the country in a different light. Culture is what has brought the town back. Not government, not leadership, not any economic impulse. Culture.

You know, one crayfish etouffee at a time, one St. Joseph's Night of Mardi Gras Indians at a time, one second line at a time, that's what brought New Orleans back. PIERCE: The second line tradition comes out of Social Aid and Pleasure Club. We understand the pleasure. We all know how to dance and party, drink and have a good time. That social aid part is very important. That was the beginning of activism in this country, the beginning of the civil rights movement.

You know, denied, as people of color, to buy burial plots or get insurance, we put together social aid and pleasure clubs where you contributed to them. So if your momma took ill, Candy, we got you. When your daddy dies, we're going to send him off real nice. We're going to have a second line.

That's the understanding of where the culture comes from and how culture plays an impactful part of everyday life that no one knows about and no one talks about in America. And I say once again, New Orleans is going to teach a great lesson.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about politics and drama. And which of those, when you began to formulate this, is the dominant feature as far as you're concerned?

SIMON: Well, you begin with character and you begin with a place and you begin with an idea of a story to tell. But everything is strange with politics, you know? Life is politics. And ultimately, you know, the trick to doing television, at least the way we want to do it, is not to decide that we want to get a franchise up and keep it on the air because there is money in that, but to actually have something to say.

This is -- this piece is making an argument for the city, and that's sort of in distinct opposition to one particular political party that is actually here in New Orleans, and I guess that's why you're here.

I sat just at home and watched the Republican Convention during the last election. And all of that talk about small town values and the real Americans, you know, I live in Baltimore, and I'm concerned with big city values because 80 -- more than 80 percent of the country lives in a metro area.

That Jeffersonian ideal of the small town and the agrarian soul of the country, it's gone. It was gone by the end of the 19th Century. And it's never coming back. And what we're going to figure out as Americans is that we either figure out how to live together in cities, compacted, all of us very different, from different cultures and race and persuasions, or we ain't going to make it.

And that's really the argument that New Orleans has been making for most of its life.

PIERCE: And then also, is there a monopoly on those values? Those values aren't just in the hinterlands. Those values are in these neighborhoods...

SIMON: Absolutely.

PIERCE: ... that surround this city.

You know, when I came back home two years ago, we looked around and said, OK, nobody is coming. If we don't do it ourselves, it won't happen.

SIMON: There is a lot going wrong here. And yet people are resistant to the idea of giving up on this city. And the city is their life in a lot of ways. And there are more people here who feel that way about their city than any other place in America. It's sort of remarkable that the individual commitment to the urban life of this place, and it argues for something better.

It deserves something better.

PIERCE: Right. That in spite of the struggle there is hope, and it hasn't killed the spirit. And you know, we understand that that's going to give way to joy and success and renewal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Wendell Pierce and David Simon.

CROWLEY: Coming up, a quick check of today's headlines, then Pierce on the powerful role that music plays here in New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Republican activists flocked here to New Orleans from across the country with visions of victory dancing in their heads. The last thing they wanted was anything or anyone to ruin that vibe. Still, there were questions about party Chairman Michael Steele. In the wake of an embarrassing scandal centered on RNC funds in a Hollywood sex-themed nightclub, there's some doubt that he's the right man to lead the party into November's midterms. Steele was the last speaker at this conference, making headlines, admitting what everyone knows -- perfect he's not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RNC CHAIRMAN MICHAEL STEELE: I'm the first here to admit I've made mistakes, and it's been incumbent on me to take responsibility, shoulder that burden, make the necessary changes, and move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Let's check in now with Richard Lui in Atlanta for a look at today's other top stories.

RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Candy. First off for you, the body of Polish President Lech Kaczynski has returned to Poland. That plane carrying his body from Russia arrived in Warsaw a short while ago. Kaczynski, his wife, and several senior military and civilian leaders were among the 97 people killed in a plane crash in western Russia yesterday. Thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the coffin as it made its way to the presidential palace. There's been a 6.8 magnitude earthquake near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. It was centered about 60 miles southwest of Kirakira -- that's a provincial capital. There are no immediate reports of damage and experts do not expect a tsunami there. The Solomon Islands are located along the so-called ring of fire, an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones around the Pacific rim.

And then finally for you, astronauts working on the International Space Station this morning overcame some technical difficulties as they conducted their second spacewalk in three days, both needing some extra elbow grease to loosen tight bolts as they installed a new ammonia tank for the station's environmental systems. More from Candy Crowley and "State of the Union" from New Orleans after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: For our domestic viewers, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" is next, but first, our "American Dispatch." New Orleans is a city best known for its culture, cuisine and music. So this week, that's where we end.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

CROWLEY (voice-over): We really like Wendell Pierce's description of the role of music in New Orleans.

PIERCE: The whole music aesthetic here is tied into the whole blues aesthetic and blues idiom, which is in spite of struggle, there will be triumph. Although I may not have no shoes, I'm still going to walk the town. That's not only a blues aesthetic, that's an American aesthetic. And you couldn't get more American than New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)