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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
The Real Paul Ryan; Pawlenty on Romney's Running Mate; Inside the Ryan Budget; Interview With Spike Lee
Aired August 13, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, Romney's Ryan revolution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to get this country back and November 6th is a date we're going to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: But is everybody on board with a running mate? Newt Gingrich once called the Ryan budget right-wing social engineering. So I'll ask him what he thinks of it now. Plus, always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Tim Pawlenty on the man who beat him in the veep stakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PAWLENTY, NATIONAL ROMNEY CO-CHAIR: I think it's a very exciting and excellent pick. As for me, you can't be disappointed about something you didn't really expect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: And why one Obama loyalist says the Ryan budget plan would be terrible for Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: The more people see his plan, the less they will like it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Plus Spike Lee, who's been on team Obama from day one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPIKE LEE, HOLLYWOOD FILMMAKER: He was the savior. Black Jesus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Does he think Obama's lived up to that expectation?
Spike Lee live on the state of the union, his controversial new movie, and the little matter of Jeremy Lin.
This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
Good evening. Our "Big Story" tonight, campaign square off. Listen to the candidates in their own words on the trail today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a family man. He is an -- he is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney's vision. But the problem is, that vision is one that I fundamentally disagree with.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Paul Ryan and I are going to get America to cut our spending and to finally get us to a balanced budget.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: They're both good men. But they have fundamentally flawed judgment in my view.
RYAN: Our rights, they come from nature and God, not from government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Newt Gingrich is a man who's changed his tune when it comes to Paul Ryan. Ad the former presidential candidate joins me now.
Mr. Speaker, welcome back.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be with you, Piers, always.
MORGAN: I saw you tweeting a picture of you meeting an Indian rhinoceros earlier. It prompted the immediate thought, who do you think has the thickest skin? Who has the thickest skin, you or the rhino?
GINGRICH: Well, I don't know. The rhino and I were doing all right together. We were at the Omaha Zoo which is one of the best zoos in the world. It's an amazing thing to come to Omaha and realize what a great zoo they have. But the rhino and I were talking about what a tough campaign it's going to be and whoever wins is going to have a thick skin.
I think Romney and Ryan are going to do just fine. I think they have thick enough skins.
MORGAN: Well, I was quite struck actually today given this sort of very violent rhetoric that went on in the Republican nominee race and you were in the thick of all that. The tone of the debate today, the tone of the way the two sides talked about each other, was much more conciliatory. Noticeably so. How long is that going to last, do you think? GINGRICH: I don't know, but I thought it was a very good sign. And I agree with Barack Obama. There's a fundamental difference of philosophies. A fundamental difference of principles. And I wish, you know, if the campaign could be waged at that level, it would be so much better for America.
I think that Romney and Ryan are prepared to wage a campaign at that level. I think that's part of what Governor Romney picking Paul Ryan said, was that he wants it to be a big issue. Big choice. Big decisional election. And at least for one day you have Obama and Biden rising to that level.
MORGAN: Well, it is a big choice now. And it's a very clear choice. And the debate is clearly moved away from Mitt Romney targeting Barack Obama to Mitt Romney saying, right, here's my VP running mate, and we have a plan now. Because everybody knows that Paul Ryan is associated with a particular budget and a plan.
I want to play you back -- you won't be surprised I'm going to do this. I'm going to play you back what you told "Meet the Press" about the Ryan budget plan a few months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left was a very good way for a free society to operate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Now, many people would be agreeing with you when you said that, Mr. Speaker. But of course I guess now you have to distance yourself from that, do you, because whichever way you dress up the Ryan --
GINGRICH: No, I don't distance myself --
MORGAN: -- it is a -- it is a radical -- but it is a radical form of social engineering, isn't it?
GINGRICH: But -- well, but the current Ryan plan, which he developed with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, the only bipartisan plan to save Medicare. The current plan met my test. It allows you to stay in Medicare if you want to or allows you to choose a variety of other systems if you prefer. Remember, it only affects people under 55 years of age. So if you hear a Democrat saying that the Ryan plan or the Romney/Ryan plan threatens senior citizens, that's just plain a falsehood.
No one over 55 is touched by this plan. I think in its current form it is a terrific proposal. I'm strongly in favor of it. I endorsed it in September of last year when Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan brought it out. And let me also point out, it is Obama who took $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare. It is Obama who created a 15-person bureaucratic board to end Medicare as we've known it and put bureaucrats between doctors and their patients.
So I think if we want to have a debate on Medicare, Republicans and conservatives ought to lean forward and say let's get it on, this is going to be a great debate because the fact is, it's Obama who's been taking the money away from our senior citizens and it's Ryan and Romney who protect senior citizens and offer reform only for people under 55.
MORGAN: But is it one of the big problems with the Ryan plan in terms of perception, the fact that he's looking after the very wealthy in America. Indisputably. Someone like Mitt Romney would pay hardly any tax under this plan at all. And there is a genuine concern about the lower end of American society. And the reason I say that is you're a Catholic. Paul Ryan is Catholic. And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said to Congress last May 8th, 2012, that they felt the deficit reduction, the fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people.
The proposed cuts programs in the budget reconciliation failed this basic moral test. And that was seen as a clear indication. They were concerned about the ramifications of some of the Paul Ryan plan.
As a Catholic, what is your reaction?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I would encourage everybody who's concerned about Catholic social doctrine to read Paul Ryan's remarkable speech at Georgetown in which he outlines his commitment to precisely the concerns of the church and helping the poor.
I would also remind folks that, you know, if you look at Greece today, recent announcement, 54 percent of young Greeks are unemployed, 24 percent of the whole country is unemployed. If you look at the Obama record, more people in poverty. More children in poverty. When Bill Clinton and I were able to jointly, on a bipartisan basis, reform welfare, apply a work requirement, we had the largest reduction in child poverty in American history, 25 percent reduction of children in poverty because their parents went to work.
Just two weeks ago, President Obama decided he would waive the work requirement which is, by the way, illegal under Section 407. But the whole principle. It doesn't help people to force them into poverty. It doesn't help people to force them on the food stamps. It doesn't help people to make them more dependent.
And I would suggest that what Paul Ryan is trying to do is create a society. And what Mitt Romney wants to do is create a society in which you have a bigger economy, more jobs and a smaller government. And I think legitimately what Barack Obama stands for is a bigger government, higher taxes, more bureaucracy, a smaller economy and fewer jobs.
Now, that's a fundamental philosophical choice about which America we want to create.
MORGAN: But I suppose that the fundamental debate that's going to be had, though, will come down to whether the Republicans consult the American people. That they are really concerned about jobs, about people's livelihoods and all the rest of it. If they're also scratching the backs of their rich and wealthy members, which is clearly, I think, the flaw in the Ryan plan is it -- it just does. I mean if you're very wealthy, you're going to be doing a lot better out of Paul Ryan than you would out of Barack Obama who believes fundamentally the rich should pay more tax.
GINGRICH: You know, I -- I don't want to sound disrespectful but I do wonder sometimes if you guys all get off in a little club and learn a brand new mantra and then all repeat it mindlessly. The fact is, these kind of things were said about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan's tax cut, which was developed by Jack Kemp, who Paul Ryan worked for. Ronald Reagan's tax cuts raised more people to middle class status, took more people out of poverty, created more jobs.
You know, this is the core thing that liberals don't get. If you want to have jobs, you have to encourage job creators. If you discourage job creators, if you engage in class warfare, if you do what Barack Obama has been doing, you have what we currently have. This is the worst recovery in 75 years.
Now nobody in the media seems to want to come to grips with the fact that the Obama economic policy is a disaster for the poor. Look at the unemployment rate for black teenagers. Look at the unemployment rate for Latino teenagers. At what point do we hold the president accountable for a policy which is crippling the poor in America by crushing the economy under big government?
Ryan and Romney represent a different approach. And I think there's this is mantra you guys almost sound like you're an extension of the Obama campaign. The Ryan/Romney plan empowers middle class Americans to get a job. When they get a job, their income goes up. They pay more taxes. They are independent. They're able to live their own lives.
Obama worries about student loans. None of those students are going to get jobs under Obama. Ryan and Romney are worried about getting jobs for those students so they can pay off the Obama loans.
I think this is a fundamentally different model. And I know everybody in the media wants to rush down and narrow it down to one point. So I'm going to rush down and narrow down to one point. How long are we going to tolerate a president who makes the poorest Americans more unemployed? Who pushes more poor Americans on to food stamps? And who eliminates hope for minorities? And that's the Barack Obama record after four years.
MORGAN: Well, I suppose the only point I'd say in return to that, Mr. Speaker, is that apart from the fact that we're way too disorganized to all get together and plan the same message, I think what I would say is, if you believe fundamentally, again, that this is the worst recovery in 75 years, what does that say, though, about the eight years of Republican administration which got America into this financial hole? How would you describe that?
GINGRICH: Wait -- wait a second, Piers. Very simple factual question. Is this the worst recovery in -- in 75 years? The correct answer is yes. Has this recovery --
MORGAN: Was it the worst recession created in 75 years?
GINGRICH: -- under Barack Obama? The correct answer is Yes. No. No, no.
GINGRICH: Ronald Reagan had a deeper recession under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan recovered in three years. The fact is, by Ronald Reagan -- by the time we got to August of 1984, Reagan was running on the slogan, "Leadership that is working." Can you imagine how he'd be laughed off the campaign trail if Barack Obama claimed the current economy was a proof that it's working?
In fact, he tried it a few weeks ago and he had to then say he was taken out of context. This is the failure of Barack Obama. He has had every single month 8 percent or more unemployment. And the only reason it's that low is that the economy has shrunk and people have dropped out of looking for jobs or he'd be at 13 or 14 percent unemployment.
This is a tragic result. And you at least have with Romney and Ryan a plan for the middle class, a plan for jobs, and a plan for economic growth. And that's what this debate's going to be about.
MORGAN: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's good to see you back in such feisty form. I think that rhino has really got you going today so maybe you should spend more time with the -- with the animals. I know you love them.
GINGRICH: Come to the zoo with me sometime, we'll do it again.
MORGAN: I'd love to. Good to speak to you again, thank you very much.
Joining me now with more on our big story, a man who was also on the short list of potential Mitt Romney running mates, Tim Pawlenty.
Governor, welcome back.
PAWLENTY: Piers, good to be with you.
MORGAN: The last time we spoke, you were definitely being seriously considered, I felt, for the job of VP. Are you disappointed? And I guess more importantly, what do you think about the guy who did get the gig? PAWLENTY: I think it's a terrific pick. I think Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan make a tremendous team and they're going to talk about economic growth, getting this country moved back in the right direction. President Obama has failed in that regard. So I think it's a very exciting and excellent pick.
As for me, you can't be disappointed about something you didn't really expect. I was honored to be considered. But as I said all along, I think I can help Governor Romney best in other ways.
MORGAN: Apparently, Paul Ryan has said that he is going to release two years of his tax returns, which is a little bit more than Mitt Romney has done so far. When you are being vetted, I mean -- how many years back do you have to go in the vetting process?
PAWLENTY: Well, Governor Romney has committed to release two years of tax returns. One from the prior year. And preliminarily, he's released a second year, has committed to do that more fully when they're fully available.
And the vetting process, we don't get into the details of it but obviously tax returns, at least some years of it, was part of that process.
MORGAN: Would you think Mitt Romney should just bite the bullet and stick out more returns? I mean unless you've got something to hide, why wouldn't you?
PAWLENTY: I think his position's very reasonable, Piers, for this. See, President Obama's trying to dangle shiny objects in front of the American people, it's because his record is not positive. He doesn't have good results to show. Obamacare's unpopular and misguided. The porky stimulus bill is unpopular, it didn't work. The economy is sputtering and anemic and people are hurting. He's got relentless calls for tax increases.
So other than killing Osama bin Laden, which any president would have done, he doesn't have a positive record to run on. He wants to bring up these shiny objects or distractions. This shouldn't be a debate about 20-year-old tax returns, it should be about Barack Obama's failure as a president to get this economy moving again and his broken promises.
And se don't want to have a debate about 15 or 20-year-old tax returns. That's not the issue.
MORGAN: Obviously by picking Paul Ryan you could argue Mitt Romney's played into Barack Obama's hands, and that many Democrats were hoping to pin Mitt Romney specifically to the Ryan budget plan. If you were a guessing man, what percentage of the Ryan budget plan could you envisage a Romney presidency actually adopting?
PAWLENTY: Well, Governor Romney has said he's going to have his own plan and does have his own plan. He's said nice things about Congressman Ryan's plan. He's spoken favorably about it. He's embraced parts of it. But he's also committed to producing his own plan. And he has one, to reduce taxes on businesses, individuals, small companies. Trying to get federal spending under control by reducing non-security, nondefense spending by 5 percent, and much more.
But I think if you look directionally at the Romney/Ryan plan, it's one that's going to get the budget under control, which is part of -- connected to our economy. It's connected to our security. And President Obama refuses to address it. I mean you've got some of the most pressing issues of our time. Namely, what are we going to do to save Medicare, save Medicaid, save Social Security, and the president of the United States doesn't have a plan.
And by the way, Piers, there's only one candidate in this race who's cut Medicare and signed a bill into law to cut Medicare and that's -- his name is Barack Obama.
MORGAN: Finally, Governor, if Mitt Romney does become president in November, he'll be looking for dynamic leaders in his Cabinet. Are you available? And if so what job would you like?
PAWLENTY: Well, we're not going to be talking about those kinds of things for many months or weeks. It would be premature and inappropriate to be -- discuss such things, Piers. I'm here to help Governor Romney get elected. The focus is on getting him and Congressman Ryan elected.
And I just want to serve him as best I can as a volunteer. And those issues if they even arise will be further down the road. I don't know what my future holds.
MORGAN: Secretary of state maybe?
PAWLENTY: You just don't quit. And you're good. They trained you well at journalism school and beyond. But --
PAWLENTY: No, I don't know what I'm going to do down the road. I'm happy. I'm a volunteer. I'm a volunteer to help the campaign.
MORGAN: Governor, always good to talk to you, thank you.
PAWLENTY: All right, my man, thanks.
MORGAN: When we come back, a man who takes a very different view of Paul Ryan. His Democratic counterpart on the House Budget Committee, Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: We don't want a -- we don't want a welfare state. We don't want a debt crisis. We don't want to prolong this recession. We don't want to keep this path of household incomes going down $4,000. We want to turn this thing around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Paul Ryan got a (INAUDIBLE) mixed reception today at the Iowa State Fair. Here now with more on our big story is his Democratic counterpart on the House Budget Committee, Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
Congressman, I thank you for joining me.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Piers.
MORGAN: Listening to the Republicans tonight, it's the -- this is like, you know, the political version of a second coming. I mean this guy is going to completely transform the election, Mitt Romney's chances of winning. He may even find a cure for cancer, who knows. But what is the Democrat view of the hyperbole that's now surrounding this guy?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, clearly, Piers, he's energizing the Republican Tea Party base. And I think that's what Mitt Romney brought him on to do. But I think he's going to leave a lot of independent voters and centrist voters totally cold because if you look at the Romney plan and the Ryan plan, the reality is, it does a lot for folks like Mitt Romney, big tax breaks, but at the expense of the rest of the country.
So I don't think this is going to go over very well at the end of the day. I get along personally well with Paul Ryan but we have very deep differences. And I've told him from the start. The more people see his plan, the less they will like it.
MORGAN: I mean, on a positive, I watched him when he was being announced by Mitt Romney, he's a smart guy, he sort of radiates youthful vigor and energy, which is no bad thing when you're up against Barack Obama. And at least he has a plan. I mean I think that's the argument that makes sense to me is that a lot of Republicans and Democrats have been flailing around, trying to find an answer to the economic strife, at least Paul Ryan has a firm plan.
There's now a clear ideological difference for American people to vote on come November, isn't there?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, there is. There's a very clear choice. And I would argue that the president was faced with a very difficult spot when he came into office. The economy was in free fall. He put together a plan that helped turn the corner. We got a long way to go. The president's plan, the second part of it, has actually been sitting in front of the Republican House since last September. We haven't had a single vote on that. We voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times in the Republican House. But you're absolutely right. This does provide a very clear choice. I just believe that when the American people hear the arguments, when they understand the tradeoffs, they're going to come down strongly on the president's side.
MORGAN: What is notable about the Paul Ryan plan is that economists seem pretty split. I've read some very eminent columnists whose opinion I respect who just trash it completely, say there's no detail there, that it can never work. I've read other economists who are very eminent too saying the complete opposite. That actually it could work and it could be the answer.
How does the American voter cut through all this and actually come to a clear verdict on this plan, giving that he's now going to be the VP running mate?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, Piers, I think they should first go and look at the plan and they should also look at the Democratic budget committee analysis of the plan. Look at both sides. The math is really very simple. If you provide these huge tax breaks to people like Mitt Romney and the independent analysis just came out yesterday that showed under the Ryan roadmap tax plan, Mitt Romney's tax rates would be below 1 percent.
So if you don't ask anything of the folks at the very top in terms of reducing the deficit, it's simple math to tell you that everybody else gets whacked. And that is why seniors on Medicare will end up paying a lot more. It will mean deep cuts to education. It will mean deep cuts in our investments and research and infrastructure, things that are important to power our economy.
Those are the tradeoffs. And I don't think the American people want to go back to an economic philosophy of trickle down economics. We tried that in the Bush administration. At the end of the eight years, we had lost private sector jobs. And the only thing that went up, Piers, were the deficits. And now what they're saying is, well, in order to deal with the deficits, we're going to give another round of tax cuts to the very wealthy. And so that's going to hit everybody else even harder if you're going to deal with those over the long term.
MORGAN: But you wouldn't presumably quibble with his basic premise. That the priority ought to be trying to get this ridiculously large deficit rather cleaned down. I mean America's economic future could depend on that. So presumably, you would agree with him that should be a priority. It's just how we get there, right?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, absolutely. Well, priority number one needs to be putting Americans back to work, getting the economy moving again. In fact, if we do that, that's the fastest way to begin to reduce the deficit. But there's no doubt that we have to -- we have to deal with the long-term deficit. We should act right now to do it. The real question is how we do it. And I think that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to have to explain to the American people how you reduce the deficit by asking nothing more for the folks at the very top. MORGAN: Congressman, thank you very much.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
MORGAN: More now on our big story. Lots of attention on Paul Ryan today. But who is Paul Ryan?
Ryan Lizza can answer that. He wrote what some are calling the definitive profile of Paul Ryan for "The New Yorker." He's also a CNN contributor and he joins me now.
What do you make of Paul Ryan? I read the piece with fascination. I thought by the end I detected a certain reluctance from you to be over-laudatory towards him. Was I reading the ruins correctly?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think there's some of that. I mean, you know, when you write one of these pieces with someone who -- or about someone who has been so lauded in the press, you know, you want to -- your B.S. detector has to be at a high setting, and, you know, I think there's some criticism of his budget that is well deserved and there's some criticism about the paradoxes in his philosophy that is well deserved.
On the other hand, he's a very likable guy. Someone, you know, I got to know -- you know, a little bit in 2009. And, you know, someone that you can sit around with and chat. And he genuinely believes in the power of explaining his ideas. And in opening himself up to scrutiny in a way that I think a lot of politicians don't.
And, you know, in my book, he gets a lot of credit for that. I'm, you know, frankly mystified that they put him on the ticket. You know, you just spent 25 minutes talking about the details of a very complicated and, frankly, very controversial set of ideas that Mitt Romney has now, you know, whether he likes it or not will define his campaign. And I'm sort of -- I still can't get my head around why Mitt Romney has decided to do that.
MORGAN: I mean, I wondered if the reason that primarily could have been the kicking that he was taking over his record at Bain, which has clearly beginning to work.
MORGAN: And that's why President Obama kept hammering away through the super PACs and so on. I wondered whether that was playing on Romney's mind that he was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people over the economy when it should have been his strong card.
So to actually bring in Paul Ryan, who has a plan and it's a plan that will certainly resonate with the Republican base, was probably not a bad move.
LIZZA: Maybe. I mean, we're not talking about Bain anymore, that's true or not. Really talking so much about his tax returns. But why does -- why would Romney want to replace that conversation with a debate over whether the Republicans or Democrats are going to harm Medicare worse? Republicans have never won a debate over who's going to harm Medicare more. So that's the part that I don't quite get.
On the -- you know, to give Romney some credit, if he's sitting there thinking, OK, I can win this race who do I really want in the White House when I have to deal with that first big set of issues, the fiscal cliff. You know what, I want Paul Ryan. He knows those issues. And he can give me cover with conservatives when I don't want to go as far as they do. So, you know, perhaps it was more about a governing choice than the -- than the election.
But, look, there's nothing in Mitt Romney's background. We've known a lot about this guy. There's nothing in his background that suggests that this set of ideas and this philosophy is sort of in his DNA. You know what I mean, Piers? This isn't who he was as a governor of Massachusetts.
LIZZA: This wasn't even really who he was on the campaign trail last year. Remember, he was pushed into adopting the Ryan plan. So I'm still a little -- I'm surprised by it. But, you know, that's what makes it a great pick.
MORGAN: There's a new CNN -- new CNN poll out on August 7th today. It said, presidential debates on thing that people find most important to their vote now, 57 percent.
MORGAN: The VP choice, 46 percent. And the VP debates, 25 percent. So it may be that although it matters a lot to the media that the American public actually are much more focused on a bigger picture. And it may be this election comes down -- as tight as people think it's going to be. To the presidential debates which are going to be the ultimate reality television. You know, we saw with the Republicans, didn't they, in the -- in the nominee battle.
LIZZA: Yes, absolutely. The debates in the Republican primaries truly mattered. One of your guests tonight, Pawlenty, his campaign collapsed after he made a mistake in one of those debates. I think they will matter.
Arguably in 1980, when the country soured on Jimmy Carter, it was the debates when the public got a look at Reagan, decided he was up to the job, that sort of sealed that race for him. So I think they will matter. But look, I agree with you that Ryan will fade. Nobody's going to vote for -- one way or another on Ryan.
But the Ryan plan is going to be front and center for the rest of the campaign. I don't think Romney can get around that.
MORGAN: Yeah, it's a big roll of the dice. Ryan Lizza, thanks for very much for your time. LIZZA: Thanks, Piers.
MORGAN: Coming up next, somebody who's outspoken. In fact, I've got to introduce this guy. Two words, Spike Lee is in the building.
SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: How you doing?
MORGAN: Welcome, sir.
LEE: You finally got me, huh?
MORGAN: It's taken me nearly two years.
MORGAN: Spike Lee's been making movies for over a quarter of a century. His breakthrough, "She's Got a Habit," came out in 1986. His latest film is the powerful and controversial "Red Hook Summer."
Let's just get on with it, Spike. I've waited 18 months for you to come on this show. Don't want too much preamble.
LEE: I'm glad to be here.
MORGAN: We're going to talk about everything, but let's start with "Red Hook Summer," because in many ways -- I've watched it. It's a gripping, powerful film. It's a classic Spike Lee film. You're back in your own stomping ground in New York, in Brooklyn.
Yes. And It's raw and it's visceral and it's warm and it's funny and it's challenging and provocative. In short, it is you. The lead character who plays this pastor who delivers these fantastic sermons, it's basically you, isn't it, when you're a bit older? It's what you want to end up doing.
LEE: I don't think so. Number one, I didn't grow up in the church. I can't deliver any sermons. I let my film-making do the talking.
MORGAN: I suppose what I really mean is it's more metaphoric. Because this guy, he has a lot of views. He doesn't sugarcoat stuff.
MORGAN: Your films --
LEE: That's the tradition of the black preacher, the reverend. Dr. King --
MORGAN: Yeah, but also your movies.
MORGAN: -- I think are similar in the sense that you don't try to sugarcoat stuff. You don't take us to places like the projects in Brooklyn and say, it's all terrible or it's all great. It's both. There's a sort of beauty and a magic to these places.
LEE: Beauty and ugliness.
MORGAN: Right. Tell me about that.
LEE: That's life. There's beautiful stuff. And there's ugly stuff. And that just happens to be my outlook on life. I'll let people do what they do and that's fine. But this is the way I see the world. I'm lucky enough to be making films since 1986 with "She's Got a Habit."
MORGAN: Is America a more beautiful or a more uglier place --
MORGAN: -- than it has been, 20 years ago, in your experience, since you began making movies?
LEE: I think that it's that whole thing, one step forward, one step back. But I never, ever thought I'd see the day in my lifetime when there would be an African-American president. That night, I was there that night in Grant Park, Chicago. If somebody told me I had to walk, I'd have left a month early. To walk from Brooklyn to Chicago to be there for that night. That's one, I had to be there.
MORGAN: Want to play a clip from an interview you did with my CNN colleague, Don Lemon. It's about Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Expectations were I think way too high. What somebody can deliver, knowing how politics works, and knowing that you have to deal with the Congress -- in my opinion, a Congress that's solidified in saying whatever you do, we're blocking it. We're blocking. We're blocking.
And every breath we take, we're going to do what we can that you don't get a second term, bottom line. And if it hurts Americans in the process, tough business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: I thought you hit the nail on the head there. The bottom line about Obama was he could never live up to expectations, because the expectations were so stratospherically high.
LEE: You know, I want to say something, because I do interviews with CNN and you take one word. So Spike Lee says Obama's Jesus. I didn't say that.
MORGAN: What did you say?
LEE: I said people thought he was Jesus. People thought he was the savior. I didn't say he was. MORGAN: I didn't do anything, Spike.
LEE: When they get you on CNN, that thing goes across the bottom of the screen. It said --
MORGAN: I'm looking at a thing that says Spike on Obama. Nothing controversial about that.
LEE: All right, but that's not you.
MORGAN: But I agree with you, there was a kind of messianic atmosphere about him.
LEE: How could that not be? How could that not be.
MORGAN: I agree with you. The problem is it set the bar so high for him.
MORGAN: How do you think -- if you're being critical of Obama, because I know you're a huge supporter of him -- obviously you're going to vote for him again. I assume you're going to vote for him again.
LEE: Yes, very much so.
MORGAN: Where would you be critical? Where do you wish he'd gone further? Where do you think if he gets re-elected he should push harder?
LEE: The bottom line is economics. People need jobs. People need to stop losing their homes, their life savings and that health care thing maybe. You know, you can't go back. But I'm 100 percent in support of him. And I'm going to do what I can to see that he gets a second term.
And I think that historically second terms, you get to do what you want because four years --
MORGAN: You're out.
LEE: You're out.
MORGAN: There's a courage that comes with a second term, because there's a kind of, well, I'm not going to be here, right, so this is my legacy moment.
LEE: Any job, if your neck is on the line, if you don't have that threat of -- you love soccer. You're the coach of a team. You know, there's freedom that comes with knowing that your job is not at stake.
MORGAN: We're going to come and talk more soccer later, because you're an Arsenal fan like me. You're the first American arsenal fan I've ever had on the show, one of the many firsts tonight. '
When e come back, I want to talk to you about race in America, because you touched on this a lot in the movie. I want to know whether you think America -- I asked this of a lot of people. Your view will be fascinating. Is America more or less racist, do you think, since Barack Obama became president?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dego Wopp, garlic bread pizza slinging, spaghetti (inaudible) --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gold chain wearing, fried chicken and biscuit eating monkey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You Goido, bean eating, 15 in a car, 30 in an apartment, pointy shoes, red wearing, Menudo -- (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sucker.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold up. Time-out! Time-out! Ya'll take a chill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do the Right Thing." He's back with me now. Samuel L. Jackson, he's such a cool guy. You see his Tweeting in the Olympics?. It was the stuff of legend.
MORGAN: Did you like the Olympics?
LEE: Say it again.
MORGAN: Did you like the Olympics?
LEE: Oh, yeah. You don't see I'm wearing my jacket?
MORGAN: I do. America did well, beat China.
LEE: This what you wore when you win a medal.
MORGAN: But it was mainly about Britain.
LEE: You guys did great.
MORGAN: Wasn't bad, was it?
LEE: You guys did great.
MORGAN: Tell me this, America --
LEE: Yes. MORGAN: -- elected its first black president, a moment you talked about movingly as one of those great moments you'll never forget. But has it made America more or less racist?
LEE: I like to say, first of all, African-Americans alone did not elect President Obama. It was a coalition, black, white, brown, yellow, gay, straight. Everybody came together. And it was such a great moment in America. I think some people got tricked into thinking that when he put his -- when Barack put his hand on Abraham Lincoln's bible, that automatically, magically, presto, chango, abracadabra, racism would evaporate, and we'd be in the post-racial area.
I still don't understand what that word is. So it's still a great movement. I like to say this, because I hope you understand that I don't think about race 24/7, 365. I know I have a reputation. But that's not the case. If you look at my films I've done since 1986, everything I've done is not about race relations in this country. I do care about other things, not to negate that.
But I'm always being put -- not ganging on it, but I'm always being put in this position that I have to speak on race and I'm speaking on behalf of 45 million African-Americans, which is not the case for both of those.
MORGAN: Let's switch to another issue then, guns.
LEE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll talk about that.
MORGAN: There was another shooting today.
MORGAN: It was down in Texas I think. And three people were killed, including I think at least one policeman. A random killing again. Somebody disaffected, possibly unstable. We don't know yet. But this follows two really appalling massacres, the Sikh temple and Aurora, Aurora being the worst single gun massacre of its that America's ever seen. There's just this terrible conspiracy of silence that goes on afterward, it seems to me. A few people pop up.
LEE: How many people die of gunshots in England every year?
MORGAN: This is the point I make. It averages about 30-odd.
LEE: In Brooklyn, we might get 30 depending how much -- how hot the weather is.
MORGAN: Right, so what should America be doing? Because doing nothing can't be the answer.
LEE: Well, I think that, you know, I'm really in full accord with Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, not as far as the stop and frisk. But we have one of the toughest gun laws in New York City but the guns come from Florida. They come from Virginia. They come from Georgia. And it's like buying a toothbrush. I mean, there's no checks and balances. The guy from Aurora, how can you buy that much ammunition on the Internet and that's not a red flag?
MORGAN: There were never red flags. The Gabby Giffords guy was clearly mentally sick. No red flags. The Aurora guy dressed up as the Joker and buys all this stuff. The common theme of those two, the Sikh temple guy, they're always buying guns legally. All this stuff is just easy to access.
My point is make it incredibly hard.
LEE: Well --
MORGAN: Countries that do that don't get as many gun murders or anything like it.
LEE: So, what do you do about NRA?
MORGAN: Well what do you do about NRA, which holds this incredible power?
LEE: They got the -- the Vulcan death grip. I mean, like, you talked about it. There's a silence about the power that they have. And they're running things. They're setting the agenda.
MORGAN: Should -- should Barack Obama, rather than just talk in this kind of slightly rhetoric way, as he does about guns, should he now push?
LEE: I think they both should. I think anybody's running for president has to address this crazy loss of life. I mean, we are dead. Here's the thing though, people playing these video games and they think like, all right, 20,000 points for shooting in the head. Like it's -- when you get shot in the head, you're dead. There's no coming back.
And something has to be done. I don't have the answer. I'm just -- and I live in New York City. And this summer there's been a great spike of -- I'm not trying to be funny. No pun intended, but the shootings. The Harlem/Brooklyn Tournament, historical, every summer, where the best basketball players come to Harlem in the world, a shootout there? Little four-year-old girls get shot in the head? Stray bullets.
MORGAN: It's crazy.
LEE: It's insane.
MORGAN: It has to change.
LEE: It's absolutely insane.
MORGAN: Take another break, you mentioned basketball. Let's talk about the positives of basketball, the Knicks. I've been courtside with you. You came up and shook my hand. It was like being blessed by the Pope. The most famous basketball fan in the world.
LEE: The Pope of the Garden.
MORGAN: Back with super Knicks fan Spike Lee. You are the world's most famous basketball fan.
LEE: No, that's Jack Nicholson and Woody Allen.
MORGAN: No, I think you may edge it.
LEE: No, I can't. Jacks' my man. So is Woody Allen. They've been in the game longer. They had season tickets when I was sitting in the blue, which is the roof at Madison Square Garden.
MORGAN: You worked your way down very successfully, Spike. And I mean that as a positive.
LEE: I take it that way, because when I was growing up a kid in Brooklyn, I never thought I'd be able to sit courtside. I was just happy to be there.
MORGAN: How did you feel, when you heard Jeremy Lin was off? I went to see Lin-mania. I think it broke it up actually. The one game I went to see, they lost. But it was -- you were very gracious. I didn't understand it. To me, he became this instant New York legend.
LEE: Hocus-pocus is gone.
MORGAN: And then gone, how do you feel about it?
LEE: I'm over it now, but I -- it came out of nowhere. The Knicks said they're going to sign -- match the Houston offer. Then the Rockets did some third year shenanigans which made it -- for me, Jeremy Lin must have known that the Knicks could not match the third year.
MORGAN: It's extraordinary, it seemed to me.
LEE: I mean Houston? You want to play for the Houston Rockets or the Knicks? Houston? I don't --
I just hope he's happy.
MORGAN: How are you going to feel when he comes to the Garden in a Houston shirt?
LEE: Well, he's got to have to come down the lane. I think he'll will be right there, and say, how are you doing, Jeremy? Hey, I'm not -- no blood, no foul, right?
MORGAN: You just finished doing the Mike Tyson Show, which I saw a fledgling version of it in Vegas.
LEE: Yes. MORGAN: He's such a charismatic, fascinating man.
LEE: We did 12 performances. Last night was the last night. Every night, Mike Tyson got a standing ovation. And he's one of the most amazing human beings I've ever seen. You talk about his highs, his lows, his triumphs.
MORGAN: He's had a real life transformation, I feel, with him.
LEE: Yes, he's three years sober. But the thing about this is that how many people do you know can say I'm great, I'm great, I'm great, I'm great. Don't you think I'm great? Then you ask about what's this other thing like?
MORGAN: He's completely different.
LEE: He's completely honest about the good stuff and the bad stuff.
MORGAN: I have to be honest, we've run out of time. "Red Hook Summer" is a fantastic movie, powerful, raw. It's very Spike Lee. Thanks for coming on.
LEE: My man.
MORGAN: Up the gunners, say it.
LEE: Up the gunners.
MORGAN: Thank you. Coming up, Only in America, why I really, really don't want to fly the friendly, happy skies.
MORGAN: For tonight's Only in America, a story that may perhaps give a whole new meaning to the phrase "flying the friendly skies," which is my idea of the ultimate traveling nightmare. Listen to what one reader of the website Gawker claims is a recording of a flight attendant on a recent American Airlines flight from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome. Welcome. You're welcome. Let me ask you a question. I have a question. We're going to take a little short quiz here. How many people are doing really well today? Can we have some thumbs up all those that are doing well? Yay! Happy, happy, happy Saturday. Happy Saturday to you.
Happy, happy, happy Saturday. Happy Saturday to you. We all have gifts on the inside of us, we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: It goes on in a similar vein. You get the point. Happy, happy, happy Saturday. My only question is this: what on Earth has it got to do with her what kind of Saturday I have? Now I fly a lot, maybe 40 flights this year alone all over America and internationally. I've become increasingly bemused by the way that air stewards and stewardesses have decided it's incumbent on them to entertain us all in mid-air.
I've listened to lame jokes, sometimes whole laborious comedy routines. I have to endure sing-songs, often of the happy birthday, Mr. Pilot, variety, and then even recently a demand to applaud a pilot -- yes, applaud him after he just landed me in Washington, D.C., at midnight, rather than my intended destination of New York. What am I going to be applauding him for, incompetence?
What ever happened to go old fashioned service with a smile? CNN couldn't independently verify this tape, but I can quite believe it, because that's the way this whole mid-air farce has been heading for several years. And the irony of this supposedly inspirational rally cry to be happy is that if I'd been on that plane and heard that, I would have been utterly miserable.
That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.