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AC 360 LATER
John F. Kennedy's Legacy; Are Selfies Hurting Communication?; Rep. Radel Takes Responsibility for Drug Issues
Aired November 20, 2013 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everyone. And welcome to the program. Welcome to "AC360 Later."
Tonight: John F. Kennedy's legacy still being felt 50 years after his death in Dallas, also President George W. Bush's legacy in oil and canvas, and President Clinton's fat-free vegetarian dining, how a president's post-White House persona can differ, often surprisingly, from what you would expect from their time in office.
We are waiting, as well, to hear from the congressman who just pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. We anticipate a press conference actually happening within this hour. We will bring that to you if it happens. And later, one reason why selfie is the word of the moment and the year. Dr. Ruth Westheimer joins us, if that is a clue. Carlos Danger could not make it that.
COOPER: We begin with JFK and President Obama's tribute to him tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a truth that resonated with President Kennedy when he said, I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.
And that unbending belief that the power to make great a nation is found in its people and in their freedom, that was his philosophy. That is his legacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: President Obama talking tonight honoring President Kennedy at an event for America's latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is an award that JFK himself established 50 years ago.
Earlier, the Obamas and Clintons laid a wreath at President Kennedy's grave, their first joint appearance since a campaign tell- all put kind of a strain on their relationship. President Kennedy made an especially deep impression -- that's a young Bill Clinton on the left there. He credits the moment for sparking his interest in public service.
We heard today from a conservative congressman who says the same thing. So many people of all political stripes claim some of the JFK legacy as their own.
Let's talk about that with blogger Andrew Sullivan, founder of The Dish at AndrewSullivan.com, senior political analyst David Gergen, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN commentator Michaela Angela Davis, and in the fifth chair, a legendary reporter, biographer, autobiographer and political commentator Carl Bernstein. He's the child of the Cold War and the New Frontier and has written the definitive biography of Hillary Clinton, "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Andrew, what do you make of the legacy on this 50th anniversary?
ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: Well, what I have always been struck by JFK is how global it was, how people across the planet thought about him, saw him as an emblem of America, of a young, striving, idealistic America.
And to me, the enormous contrast between that amazing image I had of him as a boy. I was told by my parents that my father only cried when his mom died and when JFK was assassinated. Why would a -- I guess because an Irish Catholic, a person called Sullivan in England really identified with that guy.
And then when I grew up and learned about he actually did and actually read the increasingly candid and blistering accounts of his presidency, the discrepancy between that extraordinary image of idealism and the reality of the out-of-control, somewhat dangerous and intemperate president is something I'm still grappling with and trying to put together in my own mind.
COOPER: And, Carl, you were actually working that day when Kennedy was killed.
CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR, "A WOMAN IN CHARGE: THE LIFE OF HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON": I was.
I was kind of an apprentice reporter, what was called a dictation clerk at "The Washington Star," the afternoon paper, and I rushed down when I heard he was shot. As I got to the office, somebody, a reporter came running out and said, he's dead. I said, what do you mean? Walter Cronkite hasn't said he's dead yet on the air. It didn't occur to us -- to me -- that he could die even after he'd been shot.
It turned out that one of our reporters had heard from the CIA before it was released that he was dead. I went upstairs and to the newsroom and I was a very fast typist. I was told to put on a headset and take David Broder's, our political reporter's, dictation from Dallas.
(CROSSTALK) BERNSTEIN: And he dictated: "Two priests walked out of Dallas Memorial Parkland Hospital at 1:54 p.m. today and announced, 'The president is dead.'"
My hands were shaking. And then I was sent up to Capitol Hill to find Speaker McCormack, who was the next in line after Lyndon Johnson to be the president of the United States, the speaker of the House. And I got up there, and he was not to be found. I was told that he had been removed to a secure place.
But the last he had been seen was he had been told to go under his desk, because it wasn't -- hide under his desk. It wasn't known whether it was a conspiracy or not. And then I spent the rest of the weekend reporting. I went to the White House out front, but also to the Capitol Rotunda, where Kennedy lay in state.
COOPER: It is interesting how, 50 years later, that you have conservatives, you have liberals, you have people of all different political stripes who do claim part of his legacy.
BERNSTEIN: The thing about Kennedy is, I think we can tell now he was not a great president. He was a great figure, a truly great figure, an inspirational figure around the world in a way perhaps we haven't seen -- and not just because of his death. Partly, I also covered interviewing people at his inaugural. I was 16. I had just gone to work.
COOPER: Sixteen years old and you're working? That's crazy.
BERNSTEIN: It was. It was great.
BERNSTEIN: I'm a lucky guy.
But when he said, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, he meant it. And that was the call of his presidency. It was real. And young people responded.
Remember, we had just come out of the Eisenhower years, a staid, stolid, in retrospect, good president, a really good president, and with a great ethical sense, Ike, for what the country needed.
BERNSTEIN: And yet this was a radical break. Was he a radical? Anything but. He was conservative, Kennedy, in many and many of his instincts. He was conventional as a politician. But he was not conventional in his inspirational way.
And it was impossible -- and Europeans, look what happened when he went to Berlin. People around the world responded to this young, dashing -- and it didn't take Teddy White, the chronicler of Camelot, to create a mythology, because it was there already in terms of what had happened.
COOPER: Do you agree that he wasn't a great president?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree he wasn't a great president.
I do think he was an inspirational president. And his legacy lives on far more than other presidents' do. I was quite struck. Anderson, three years ago, there was a survey asking American people if we could put one more president on Mt. Rushmore, who should it be? You would think looking historically who the most important figure would be, it would be Franklin Roosevelt, by some distance. There are a lot of people who would like to put Ronald Reagan up there.
But number one was John F. Kennedy. This was 50 years later.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The thing I'm struck by about Kennedy is the two great unanswered questions, which are, if he had lived, would he have done what Lyndon Johnson did on civil rights? Would he have had the courage and the strength and the passion to do the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and what would he have done about Vietnam?
Would he have had Johnson's disaster in Vietnam? You can get a lot of answers either way. But, of course, we will never know. And that's why it always seems to me such an incomplete presidency, not just because it was so short, but just because the major issues of the day were not decided.
BERNSTEIN: You know, what Bobby Kennedy did say, though, about Vietnam, that he had no intention of getting out. And he said it pretty unequivocally after his brother's death, which is about as definitive an answer I think as we have.
MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I wanted to really pick up on what Carl was -- there were a couple of words that you said that really kind of speak to what he meant to I think me and my generation, this idea of being modern with a real acute sense of history.
And he will forever be young in our global collective imagination. So this idea of the optimism, of youth, the optics of who he was and the optics of who he was with Jackie Kennedy and how the were so young, but so aware of what iconography can be and that the were presidents in the time of television. And watching her...
COOPER: That first tour of the White House on television.
DAVIS: Yes. Yes.
GERGEN: What's really striking is all of us have in our mind the image of Kennedy, the youthful, vibrant, dynamic man.
DAVIS: Full of life.
GERGEN: And he was only six years younger than Ronald Reagan. And we all think of the huge gap in age.
DAVIS: It's the modern energy of him.
COOPER: That's interesting. I hadn't even...
BERNSTEIN: But he was a lot younger than Reagan when he came into office.
GERGEN: He was, but how we think about -- it's as they're two -- a generation apart, isn't it?
TOOBIN: But I was looking at President Obama today speaking about Ronald Reagan. He's the first president we have had who has no memory of Ronald Reagan -- no memory of John F. Kennedy.
Barack Obama was a baby when Kennedy was assassinated.
COOPER: Michelle Obama was born after Kennedy...
TOOBIN: Right. So that incredible relationship that Democrats in particular have to Kennedy, it's really no more. It's now he's a figure in the history books.
COOPER: You don't believe that, David?
TOOBIN: You don't think so?
GERGEN: If you look at Larry Sabato's new book, which I is quite fascinating about the legacy of -- and the influence that Kennedy has had upon successive presidents since, it turns out that the man who talked about him most, cited him most of finance was Bill Clinton.
TOOBIN: He worshipped him. Yes.
GERGEN: But even more than Lyndon Johnson. He has a continuing resonance.
And I tell you, I think he really resonates with the new generation.
I was born after he was assassinated. My daughter identifies with him. Again, it's this hopefulness and this idea of youth. Even though we have this young-looking president now, I think Kennedy will always be that figure to us.
SULLIVAN: We'd never seen a president like that before.
DAVIS: That's right.
SULLIVAN: He looked so stylish and young and modern.
DAVIS: And his wife -- I think this is another thing that keeps each generation involved in them is also who Jackie was.
And she was so glamorous. And then she was so gangster, too. Like, when she...
DAVIS: No, that was a really bold move to keep on that suit with his brains and his blood on this pink boucle Chanel suit.
COOPER: She said, let them see what...
DAVIS: Let them see what the did to Jack.
COOPER: And that suit is, what, in the National Archives. The Kennedy family has asked the National Archives for another 100 years, it won't be seen.
DAVIS: It's probably the most important piece of fashion in American history.
COOPER: We got -- Andrew, quickly.
SULLIVAN: I was just going to point out, however, at the time, the Bay of Pigs was the opening act, and then we had the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which this man nearly blew the entire world up.
(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: No, no, no.
SULLIVAN: That definitely set the stage for that.
BERNSTEIN: Khrushchev had something to do with that, too.
But think about the Peace Corps. Think about how the Peace Corps inspired people in America and all over the world. And it was a different America. Kennedy represented a different America, a coming of age for people not of his generation, but the next generation. It was an extraordinary moment. And he wrote it.
COOPER: Going to take a quick break, perhaps a break from such transcendent politics.
That's because we are waiting to go hear U.S. Congressman Trey Radel talk about his coke bust, guilty plea today, and what he plans to do now.
Also up next, George W. Bush and the many different ways of living life after the presidency.
COOPER: Tweet us using #AC360Later.
We got a reminder last night that there's no single proper way of being an ex-president. John Quincy Adams left the White House and became a congressman. William Howard Taft became the 10th chief justice of the United States. Richard Nixon wrote books and tried to rewrite history. George W. Bush these seems almost the opposite. He is not rewriting anything. And he's not really interested in what is being written, apparently.
Last night, Jay Leno asked him about his legacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm also very comfortable with the fact that it's going to take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not, and therefore I'm not too worried about it.
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Right.
BUSH: In other words, I have read some biographies of Washington. And my attitude is if they're still writing biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn't need to worry about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: These days, Mr. Bush is an artist and a painter. His latest work, a portrait of Jay Leno which he presented last night. He's done dogs and landscapes and himself in the shower, not expected, certainly. Every ex-president is different.
Back with the panel to talk about this.
What do you make of George W. Bush as an ex-president?
BERNSTEIN: That he had a failed presidency and there was nowhere to go afterwards but up, but that there's a reason, that if you wanted to live next door to somebody who was the president of the United States, this is the guy you would want to live next door to.
I mean, he's a terrific guy to be around. He just happened -- he said not a consequential president. He's a hugely consequential president, because the horrible things that happened in his presidency, from the war in Iraq, where we should never have been -- and we went to war in the wrong country as a response to 9/11 -- to what happened in terms of our economy. I mean, we went into a depression by the time...
COOPER: David, do you think he was a failed president?
GERGEN: Well, Carl, most people as they get older, they mellow a little bit and they get a little more -- a little less judgment. You get more black and white.
Kennedy could do no wrong and Bush could do no right.
BERNSTEIN: Oh, no, Kennedy did a lot wrong. And Bush was great in Africa, absolutely great, fabulous.
GERGEN: Yes, he was. I agree with that. And he's now spending a lot of time on that.
BERNSTEIN: He is a real humanitarian, as a matter of fact.
GERGEN: Look, I don't think there's any question that when historians look back that George W. Bush is going to be on the lower rungs of historic -- of president. I think that's fair. I think that's a fair thing.
But I do -- I think he deserves some credit a time of hyper- polarization, when everybody is throwing things, that he's kept his mouth shut about his successor.
BERNSTEIN: That's true. GERGEN: I think he's dealt with that with a certain grace that's sort of very characteristic of the Bush family. This is the way they think about public service.
I think he made some serious errors, and I agree with you, misjudgements, and that for which his presidency is always going to be scorned in many ways by historians. But I do think his post- presidency has been -- I actually appreciate the way he's doing it. And he's quietly doing some things.
Carl talks about his work in Africa as president, which President Clinton has said he did far more than he would have done. But he's now going back to Africa. And I appreciate that.
COOPER: I just want to show another clip on the Leno show before I get to Andrew, because I knew what Andrew's...
DAVIS: You want to live next door to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENO: You have taken up some hobbies. You're painting now. You showed me some of your paintings. I was very impressed.
BUSH: I am a painter.
LENO: Yes. Oh, you are a painter now?
BUSH: You may not think I'm a painter. I think I'm a painter.
LENO: No, but is it -- show the next painting. Here we go. Look at that. That's pretty good.
BUSH: That's Bob.
LENO: That's Bob, Bob the cat?
BUSH: Yes, it is. It's a cat that we found on our ranch living in a barn.
LENO: OK. Yes.
BUSH: I took him back to Dallas. The guy hit the home run.
Yes, move in with the president. That's great.
BUSH: Sleeping on our Tempur-Pedic.
LENO: Why Bob? Why is he called Bob?
BUSH: Well, when I get -- just so I can remember how to spell it when I got older.
LENO: Oh, I see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERNSTEIN: He's delightful. That's really true, you got to say.
I was just thinking, maybe there's a -- because I think Jimmy Carter has probably the best post-presidency. The man has been a humanitarian.
It's almost as if the ones that have almost destroyed the country feel it necessary to be perfectly decent afterwards. I disagree with you about George Bush. I think the world will long not forget what he did to this country, and staggering really the damage that he did do.
I personally don't think the war crimes that he committed are forgivable. I think there are mistakes, but then there is the approval of torturing human beings against the Geneva Conventions that he authorized that will forever remain a stain on this country.
GERGEN: War crimes he committed? What about using drones? Are those war crimes now with President Obama?
SULLIVAN: Nothing meets the level of torturing human beings on such a widespread scale, which he authorized.
GERGEN: Drones, you think that's not a war crime?
SULLIVAN: I think, if they're done with an attempt to prevent civilian casualties to the extreme, I don't like it, but I think it's a better way to conduct a war on terror than torturing people.
GERGEN: What was the harsh treatment of prisoners like under George W. Bush, if it was not to prevent terrorism? SULLIVAN: It was torture.
SULLIVAN: And it didn't prevent terrorism.
GERGEN: We're killing people now.
SULLIVAN: The droves are legal and constitutional, the way they have been constructed.
The torture was absolutely not legal. And it was against the Geneva Convention. And, worse -- you see there are things -- you can make mistakes, and there are things that stain America forever. And a president that put torture at the center of the American government is on -- that's something that he has never copped to. That is, to my mind, unforgivable.
I will agree with you, however, that when you compare him to Dick Cheney, his conduct after office has been sublime. He has had a great dignity. But the crimes that he committed and the mistakes he made are really overwhelming.
GERGEN: I find it sort of perverse to say that water-boarding someone is worse than hitting them with a drone and killing them.
BERNSTEIN: David, there was a lot more done than water-boarding.
GERGEN: I understand that. I just find it strange.
SULLIVAN: The whole idea of America wasn't tainted by that?
GERGEN: I do think it was tainted. I do think it was wrong.
But I think if you're going to make that kind of argument, at least you could sort of have some sympathy with the argument that if people striking out of the night or with an airplane and hitting civilians, that there's something -- that that's not wrong as well.
SULLIVAN: ... abandon the Geneva Conventions?
SULLIVAN: That's what we absolutely have to adhere to. (CROSSTALK)
TOOBIN: Peter Baker of "The New York Times," who is a very serious, not ideological reporter, just has a long book which I happen to have read called "Days of Fire." It's a complete account of the Bush presidency.
And he doesn't say it, but you read that book and you think, everything he did went wrong. There were no successes, putting aside PEPFAR in Africa, which was a good thing, but frankly a small thing.
You look at the war in Iraq, you look at what happened to the economy, it -- just factually, what happened to this country was terrible.
BERNSTEIN: But he was not equipped to be the president of the United States.
TOOBIN: I don't know about that.
BERNSTEIN: That's what we learned. He was ill-equipped -- he was ill-equipped in terms of having the skills and the conceptual view of the world.
COOPER: What do you think of Bill Clinton as a former president?
BERNSTEIN: I -- remarkable in two ways.
One, what he has accomplished on a global scale in terms of his own Clinton initiative in so many areas, but also we have never had a president -- former president campaigning to make his wife the next president of the United States. It all fits together in a remarkable -- it's a great story.
DAVIS: It is.
BERNSTEIN: It's a great human tale.
DAVIS: And his relationship with the current president and the current first -- even the optics today of seeing them together was something that you have never seen before.
BERNSTEIN: But, also, Clinton...
BERNSTEIN: ... knowing we have to do good in the world and really work.
COOPER: What do you make of him, David? You worked for him as a...
GERGEN: I think he's been excellent as an ex-president. I give him an enormous amount of credit for what he's done with his foundation, the initiatives he's had around the world.
I think he has stirred a lot of people, idealist -- idealist young people to get involved going to Africa and going to some of these other places that are very, very difficult. And I think he's been remarkably disciplined in aid of both Hillary and his daughter. I think he's very moved by his daughter's future, as well as by his wife's future.
TOOBIN: His story seems so unfinished because of Hillary's possible run for the presidency. You just feel like his story will look completely different if she becomes president or if she doesn't. So -- and we don't know.
BERNSTEIN: There's another aspect. Remember, this is someone who was impeached, who had hit the depths, and now is the most popular political figure in our culture.
GERGEN: It's an interesting thing.
And I think one of the questions about President Obama -- both President Reagan and President Clinton got in real trouble in their second terms. They both came back from it. Can Obama come back the same way?
A major Democrat told me the other day, he's worried about that, because he thinks both Clinton and Reagan were extremely likable. A lot of people liked them around the country. And he's worried that President Obama doesn't enjoy that...
COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.
Carl Bernstein, great to have you on the program.
Reporters gathering tonight in Cape Coral on Florida's West Coast. U.S. Congressman Trey Radel is expected to speak in the wake of his guilty plea on a cocaine charge. We will bring that to you, talk about it when it happens.
We will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Welcome back, everybody.
It's a sign of the times. Oxford Dictionaries has chosen the word of the year for 2013. The world is -- if you haven't heard this already -- selfie, which of course describes the somewhat odious phenomenon of taking a picture of yourself like that and posting it online.
Yes. So what?
COOPER: Selfie beat out other candidates. I didn't know that they were going to put that up.
COOPER: ... talking about this.
Selfie beat out other contenders, including twerk, because...
DAVIS: That was mine.
COOPER: That was Michaela Angela Davis' favorite.
Because Oxford says the popularity of the word selfie skyrocketed 17,000 percent in the last year. A selfie can be benign. It can also be rather suggestive, to say the least. One Mr. Anthony Weiner comes to mind -- Oh, really do we need to see that again? -- just as one example.
Back with our panel, Andrew Sullivan, David Gergen, Jeffrey Toobin, Michaela Angela Davis.
And I'm so thrilled. Joining us in the fifth chair, the one and only Dr. Ruth Westheimer, sex therapist and author. Her life is the subject of a one-woman show. It's currently running off-Broadway. It's called "Becoming Dr. Ruth." It stars actress Debra Jo Rupp. We'll talk to Dr. Ruth about that later in the show.
It's so great to have you here.
DR. RUTH WESTHEIMER, SEX THERAPIST/AUTHOR: Thank you. And I want to tell you something, by the way.
WESTHEIMER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I have nothing against you and me hugging and you and me holding hands. But please, make sure that everybody knows, nothing below the neck.
COOPER: No selfies below the neck? WESTHEIMER: Absolutely.
WESTHEIMER: I'm really worried about that.
COOPER: You are? Why? Because you think it...
WESTHEIMER: It's not necessary. It's -- I'm old-fashioned and a square. You know I talk about those things.
COOPER: You're not a square.
TOOBIN: Who would call you that?
WESTHEIMER: I call myself a square. But please make sure selfie from whatever word you want to use, it's fine to show a picture above the neck.
WESTHEIMER: Dr. Ruth says so.
DAVIS: OK. There you go.
WESTHEIMER: Interesting, Michaela, the way -- I mean, you look at some of the selfies that are out there. I mean, everybody takes them now. It is the ubiquitousness of it is kind of striking.
DAVIS: Yes, and it's interesting. Because in culture we've already seen self-portraits. It's an extension of self-portraits. And we've always been fascinated with ourselves. But now these smartphones give -- you know, you don't have to be Cindy Sherman of lilacs (ph) in Paris to take a picture of yourself. But it kind of escalates this idea of "Look at me. Here I am. Look what I'm doing." It's...
COOPER: The amount of self-obsession with it is sort of...
DAVIS: It is like the crack for the egomaniac. You get to do endless pictures of yourself.
COOPER: You're the star of your own movie. Documenting...
DAVIS: That's right.
WESTHEIMER: Look. What we see these days is young people with their texting, they're holding hands.
COOPER: I thought you were going to say something else.
WESTHEIMER: They're holding hands. They walk down the street, and they don't even talk to each other. We are going to have a big problem of -- about people not being able to have a conversation anymore. COOPER: I totally agree with you on this. And the example I have is, if I'm at a bar, somebody will ask to take a picture with me. And, like, if it's late at night I'll sometimes say, "You know what?" Normally, I'm like, "Fine, let's do it." And then just late at night I'm like, "You know what? How about if we just have a real conversation, because if we do that, we're going to -- I'm going to end up doing this a lot." They have no interest in actually having a human conversation.
DAVIS: They just let you go?
COOPER: There's this look of disappointment. They're just like "Oh, no. Forget it." And they walk off.
Listen, we've got to -- I want to go to breaking news. Congressman Trey Radel pleaded guilty earlier today to cocaine possession. He's talking to reporters in Ft. Myers, Florida. Let's listen in.
REP. TREY RADEL (R), FLORIDA: I'm sorry. I have no excuse for what I've done. And I'm not going to sit here and try and make any excuses for what I've done. I have let down our country. I've let down our constituents. I've let down my family, including my wife. And even though he doesn't know it, I've let down my 2-year-old son.
I'm here tonight to take responsibility for what I did, to be held accountable for the bad decisions that I made in my life, and to own up to my actions. I have been getting the help they need. And I will continue to get the help that I need and the support system that I need for years to come.
I'm doing so because I want to be a better man. I want to be a better man for you. I want to be a better man for southwest Florida. And most importantly, I want to be a better man for my family. My dad, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my wife and my little guy.
I will be taking a leave of absence. During that time, I'm going to donate my salary to a charity.
I believe in faith. I believe in forgiveness and redemption. And I hope, if there's anything positive that can come out of this -- and I know there will be positive that comes out of this -- it's that I hope that I can be a role model for millions of others that are struggling with this disease.
I would ask for your prayers. And I don't ask for prayers for me. I ask for your prayers for my family. That's what's most important. It's what I'm focused on. My recovery, my health, and my family.
On a very personal note, I feel like I've grown up, really, in the public eye here in southwest Florida. From my time of working as a reporter, building up a business, hosting a radio show, and following the terrible and tragic death of my mother. I remember it like yesterday. There was a group of people that came up to me. And they were giving me their condolences. The said, "Trey, we are so sorry to hear about the passing of your mother and the terrible situation around it. But you've been with us for so long, we want you to know that we're here for you. You are Southwest Florida's adopted son."
And that is something that has stuck with me after all of these years. And I hope, like family, Southwest Florida can forgive me for this. I've let them down. But I do believe in faith, forgiveness and redemption. And I hope to come out of this a stronger man, a better man for all of you.
Thank you so much for being here, because it is important that I share a message of responsibility. With that said, I am always open to talking with you and taking questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, why did you -- why did you...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... expect to gain the trust of Southwest Florida again and assure them you are going to go to work for them 100 percent?
RADEL: That's what I'm doing here tonight. I'm owning up to my actions. I am taking responsibility. And I'm living it very publicly. I'm being held accountable for the decisions that I made in my life. And I am -- I have found treatment, and I'm working on treatment. And like anything in life, I have to rebuild that trust. And I fully understand that. And I will do that.
I have to rebuild the trust with Southwest Florida, with the constituents, with this home that I love so much. It means so much to me. And I also need to do it for my family. For my wife.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about her? We have to ask. We haven't seen your wife.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why hasn't she been with you in court or with you tonight? I know that this is hard for her. But where is she? Why not?
RADEL: My wife is at home with my son tonight. And I will tell you that there's nothing more than I want right now to go home and hug my wife and my little guy. And I'm going to be doing that very soon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
RADEL: Yes. I have. So with respect to my wife, she has been incredible. My wife is my rock. And she has been so supportive through this. And I came to her, and I told her what had happened.
And she said, "I married you to be with you and stick with you in good times and in bad." And she has been incredible.
I do have trust to rebuild, and I have to mend her heart, which I've broken. And I've broken a lot of hearts. And I need to regain that trust and rebuild our relationship. But she has stuck with me and will continue to stick with me. And I'm just so proud to have my wife. She is my rock through all of this.
RADEL: With regards to treatment, I will be going into treatment. And I'm going to start with intensive in-patient treatment. That's what's next for me. I have already begun the process.
Look, sometimes in life you need a wake-up call. This is my wake up call. I've been struggling with this, but I have had my wake up call. I've been struggling with this, but I've had my wake-up call, and I now know what I need. I need to take responsibility, own up to the decisions that I've made, and move forward. And I'm doing just that. I'm getting the help I need.
And from there, I will work on rebuilding the trust that I have with Southwest Florida. And I hate the word "constituents." What this is about is my friends, my family and my neighbors and each and every one of you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were on the floor voting. You were on the floor voting.
RADEL: Once again with resignation, I'm taking a leave of absence. I'm taking a leave of absence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who will represent us in the time of your absence?
RADEL: Sure. I will be taking a leave of absence. In all offices, this team that I have in Washington and here in Southwest Florida will be working every single day, like they have been for this past year for you. They're working hard. They're here to serve the people. And they will continue to do so.
I will take a leave of absence, taking the responsibility that I need to own up to what I need to do, and get well and come out of this as a better man. I'm struggling with this disease, but I can overcome it. And I know that I can be a role model for millions of people struggling with this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you wanted to speak to the press, why didn't you speak to us sooner?
RADEL: Sure. I knew that I -- in keeping with everything that I've done, I believe it accountability, and I believe in transparency. That's what I'm doing here tonight. And I knew that this day would come. I knew it would come. I had to be accountable and responsible and open with my wife and all of my family. I'm here tonight being open and accountable with the people of southwest Florida, and quite frankly, the country. With the delay that was just a matter of counsel.
COOPER: Congressman who has pleaded guilty to cocaine possession saying he's going to take a leave of absence, donate his salary while he's awake and -- Trey Radel -- seek intensive -- some form of intensive therapy.
Andrew Sullivan, what do you make of it?
SULLIVAN: I thought it started well, and then it became a little maudlin. But I think we all have to forgive people. And I agree. I think that addictions are a terrible thing. And I think if someone owns up to it and seeks forgiveness for it, my faith tells me we should -- we should grant it.
COOPER: OK. We've got to take a quick break. We'll have more from Dr. Ruth, Michaela Angela Davis, David Gergen, Jeff Toobin, Andrew Sullivan. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to breaking news. Trey Radel, the Republican congressman from Southwest Florida, saying he is going to take a leave of absence after pleading guilty to cocaine possession, donate his salary and seek intensive treatment for his drug problem.
Back with the panel, including Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
What do you make of -- of this public admission?
WESTHEIMER: I never -- I never talk about politicians. Because somebody will talk about sex like I do from morning to night has to stay away from politicians.
On the other hand, I do know that Americans are a generous people, and when somebody admits to something, then hopefully, they are going to forgive.
COOPER: You obviously don't want a situation where everybody who has, you know, erred in their personal life, who has, you know, done drugs or whatever, is barred from any kind of service or any kind of life. Or job.
TOOBIN: That's true. But also, it's not like he suddenly decided to get treatment. He got arrested, convicted -- and he got -- and he pleaded guilty for a crime.
Here's a fun fact about your United States Congress. You can be convicted of anything, and you're not evicted. They have to go through this whole process with the -- with the ethics committee.
COOPER: Even if you're evicted you get your pension, and you're paid a lot of money for the rest of your life.
WESTHEIMER: I worry more about the family here. For the family, it's really a big problem when this happens.
GERGEN: Look, I'm more with Jeffrey on this. I think we were spared tonight. He didn't say he was going to go run for mayor of Toronto. You know, it has that kind of quality.
I think that's one of the reasons we're talking about this. We've had a spate of these things now.
And I have a lot more respect for him. I think he ought to recover. I think in redemption -- I believe in all that. But I'd have a lot more respect for him if he said, "You know what? The people of Florida -- of Southwest Florida deserve a full-time congressman. I'm stepping down. I will run a year from now after I've had a chance to recover. But in the meantime, I'm stepping down and resigning."
COOPER: It's also always interesting how a lot of these politicians always think that they are so indispensable that only they -- it's like the mayor of Toronto, that only he can run this city, so that the voters should put up with all the drama and all the stuff that's going on with him.
GERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, I think that -- I think political figures, you know, politics is held in such low regard now that there's going to be some people willing to stand up and say, "You know what? I think more highly of this profession. And if I really let you down, I'm willing to step aside."
WESTHEIMER: To our young people we have to say that, to serve in a certain position, is a responsibility to lead a life that can be scrutinized.
GERGEN: Yes. I don't think people are perfect. I think people are quite human. And -- you know, I think people ought to be forgiven and all the rest. I just think at certain times you sort of disqualify yourself from getting taxpayer money.
SULLIVAN: Would you say -- we talked about President Clinton. The man has a very checkered past and present in the White House. But you were saying he was a really pretty good president, in my view. And you couldn't get any higher than that.
So I think my issue is, let's accept our humanity. Let's accept that we're flawed. Don't make politics this place where only the inhumanly perfect can possibly operate.
TOOBIN: Is there any risk that the inhumanly perfect are going to get involved in politics? I don't see that as being a big risk, based on prior experience.
SULLIVAN: Well, no, I think there is a sense that people have to be squeaky clean. And we talk about selfies. You know...
GERGEN: There's a difference between being squeaky clean and being a cocaine addict. There's a difference. DAVIS: I wish he had said that. I wish he had said, "I am an addict. I am getting treatment." And not -- and not spend too much time on his wife. Keep the focus on him. Say, "I'm getting better. I'm going to get help. And on the other side, I'll see whether I am fit to serve."
COOPER: I want to make the most of the opportunity that Dr. Ruth presents by having her here. I feel like we haven't talked about sex enough with you.
WESTHEIMER: See I'm holding his hand? And I'm waiting to talk about sex?
TOOBIN: Can I tell you something? Don't get your hopes up.
COOPER: This is about as good as it gets. Yes. I'll take your hand, but that's about it.
WESTHEIMER: I'm 85 and I still am talking. I was two days ago at Yale doing a talk. And I could see the room was filled with students. So I still have it.
WESTHEIMER: I still have that.
COOPER: Let me ask you. Has -- has their attitudes -- have their attitudes about sex changed a lot? Have you heard or seen attitudes about sex change lot in the time that you have been in the public life talking about this?
WESTHEIMER: When I started the radio program in '82, you -- I don't know if you were born yet.
COOPER: Yes, I was. And I used to watch you on Letterman back in the early ages.
WESTHEIMER: And you heard me say certain things.
WESTHEIMER: About (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other things. But I want to tell you what has changed. What has changed is the questions really have not changed. The vocabulary has changed. Nobody says, "She's with child." They say, "She's pregnant." They speak much more openly about erection and orgasm.
COOPER: Do you think it's changed for the good? That the people are more comfortable?
WESTHEIMER: Absolutely. Absolutely. So that part has changed. But what's has changed, the women have heard people like me -- I'm not the only one -- say that a woman has to take the responsibility for her sexual satisfaction. Even the best lover, I don't know one of you, even the best lover can't just guess what she needs.
COOPER: You can look at Andrew for this one.
WESTHEIMER: So that has changed because there are less women who don't have orgasms. It's late at night. We can talk about this. I can talk about this.
So there have been things that have changed. The other thing that we need in this country, we have had Masters and Johnson. We have had Kinsey. We have had Helen Singer Kaplan. We now need a really serious research study in terms of how to teach sex education. So we need more data, and it has to be -- we don't have that right now. But we do need it. Now, to ask me about the play...
COOPER: I do. I do want to ask you about the play.
WESTHEIMER: I'm running out of time.
COOPER: So what about this play? So you're not in this play. This is about you.
WESTHEIMER: I could never do that play. Debra Jo Rupp who was the mother on "That Seventies Show"...
WESTHEIMER: ... plays Dr. Ruth.
WESTHEIMER: She -- I -- When I came to this country, the said, "You have to take speech lessons to lose your accent." I made one dollar an hour. I was a single mother. Who had money or time for speech lessons?
She had to take a speech coach to learn my accent. She does it very well.
Now here's what happens. I've seen it 25 times. I'm sitting in the back. I get tremendous pleasure even of the sad part when I came out of Nazi Germany. I was a sniper in the -- in the Haganah. I was greatly wounded. Things that I usually don't talk about when I talk about orgasms and erections.
COOPER: I didn't realize you were a sniper.
WESTHEIMER: Oh. You and I -- I have to tell you. I can put five bullets in the -- right center.
WESTHEIMER: I knew how to throw hand grenades.
WESTHEIMER: I never killed anybody but I was badly wounded. And she plays that very well.
So I'm sitting in the theater, West Side Theater. It's called near Broadway. Not off-Broadway.
COOPER: Near Broadway, OK.
WESTHEIMER: Off Broadway is falling off a table (ph).
COOPER: Where's the theater? What theater is it?
WESTHEIMER: West Side Theater.
COOPER: And the show is called?
WESTHEIMER: And the show is "Becoming Dr. Ruth."
COOPER: "Becoming Dr. Ruth."
WESTHEIMER: And I'm sitting in the back so that she doesn't make contact -- eye contact with me. So that she doesn't get confused. And I have to pinch myself. Because sometimes I want to talk. And I have to say, well, that's time to shut up. It's not you.
COOPER: We've got to -- we've got to take a break.
TOOBIN: I have to pinch myself because you are so great.
COOPER: We'll be right back.
So great to have you here. Will you come back?
COOPER: That's Andrew Sullivan and Dr. Ruth there. That's another great selfie. I just posted a selfie of Dr. Ruth and I on Instagram. Take a look at my account.
"Becoming Dr. Ruth" is her show. I'm going to go see it. I think everybody -- It's been extended.
COOPER: Mazeltov. It's great.
WESTHEIMER: Any of you, I promise you I'll be there.
COOPER: Oh, cool.
WESTHEIMER: And I sit in the back and we'll do a talk right afterwards.
COOPER: Sounds great.
I want to thank our panel and especially Dr. Ruth. Thank you so much for being with us.
That does it for us. Thanks for watching. We'll see you tomorrow.