Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bill Richardson Bombs on Meet the Press

I saw New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press Sunday morning (the transcripts of Richardson's appearance are here). Russert's giving all the major candidates on hour's worth of time on the program. Russert's no Larry King, however, and a Meet the Press appearance is obviously not just a chance to get some airtime -- candidates should be prepared for a little go 'round.

In Richardson's case, here's a guy with one of the best set of credentials compared to any candidate in the Democratic field -- a former member to the U.S. House of Representatives, U.N. Ambassador, Bill Clinton's Energy Secretary, and now Governor of New Mexico -- and he just bombed! Russert had him pinned down on so many issues, and Richardson was just like a netted fish flopping helplessly on the deck. It was a disgraceful performance, and I'd say Richardson's appearance in fact disqualifies him as a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Russert uses past quotes and statements from his interviewees to make them defend their positions. On just about every single question Richardson was in the hot seat. Not only was it difficult for him to defend his past actions or statements, but his body language was so pained, it was embarrassing. How would someone like that, for all his presumed qualifications, really stand firm on the tough issues as chief executive? Not good! I hope New Mexico's voters are happy!

Read the transcript, to be sure, but let me give one example here: Apparently, Richardson had a controversy with the family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq. Richardson, in campaign appearances, has cited the family as thanking him for their federal death benefit payment, and he claims the Marine's mom even showed him a copy of the check. Well, it looks like the Marine's mother denies the story, and Richardson tried to squirm his way out of the issue, and wouldn't issue an apology over the incident. Here's the exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a controversy that has arisen from some speech you’ve been giving on the stump, particularly in New Hampshire, regarding a mother from New Mexico. Here’s the headline from the Associated Press: “Mother of fallen Marine says Richardson misrepresented conversation with her.”

“On the campaign trail, presidential hopeful Bill Richardson tells a moving story about a New Mexico Marine killed in Iraq and his mom. But is it true?

“Three years ago, Richardson attended a memorial service for Lance Corporal Aaron Austin, 21, who died in April” of “2004. As he campaigns for the Democratic nomination, the New Mexico governor often recounts an emotional conversation with Austin’s mother, saying she thanked him for the federal death benefits she had received and even showed him the government check.

“In speeches in New Hampshire, Richardson has gotten Austin’s name wrong at least once,” “age wrong at least twice. He also has called Austin the first New Mexico soldier killed in Iraq—instead of the third.

“But that’s not what bothers the Marine’s mother, De’on Miller, of Lovington, New Mexico, who says the conversation about money never took place. ‘I don’t know a person rich or poor that would be told that” her “only living child has been killed, and you’re going to strike up a money conversation? Bill Richardson needs to stop pushing this lie. Aaron’s name had better not be used again in any way. Not mine either. A full written apology is due me for this.’” Will you apologize to her?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Tim, she—we have different recollections. That family is heroic, that young man is heroic. But let me tell you what that—my attending that ceremony caused. It inspired me to go to the New Mexico legislature and propose a $250,000 death benefit—life insurance—for every National Guardsman in New Mexico. It’s now $400,000. It passed. I made it happen. And then 30 other states—I went to the National Governors Association, and we pushed this--30 other states have made this happen. And the federal death benefit has gone up.

Now, I, I fully respect that family. We have different recollections. But that’s where I learned, at that ceremony, that the death benefit for our soldiers was $11,000. And look, Tim, I am not going to—there is nobody that has done more for veterans, any governor, I believe, than I have. No state income tax for enlisted people. I was just in North Korea two months ago, and I brought back—I’ve been working on this for years—the remains of six Americans from the Korean War. All kinds of initiatives, such as this life insurance policy that has been...

MR. RUSSERT: But if it troubles her, out of respect for Mrs. Miller and her son Aaron Austin, will you stop using his name and her name?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Yes, I will. I will do that. But we just have different recollections, Tim, and—but, but that family is honorable. I attended that service. I was really moved. You know, I call as many of the mothers of New Mexico soldiers that’ve been killed. But no one will ever question my commitment to help our veterans. I was in North Korea. I rescued—I helped rescue, helped push forward the release of—many years ago—of, of an American helicopter pilot. So I believe very strongly that we have to stand up for our veterans when they come back, coming back PTSD, they’re not getting the help that they deserve.

MR. RUSSERT: But if Mrs. Miller feels used, you would apologize for it.

GOV. RICHARDSON: Well, Tim, I—that’s where I learned about this death benefit. There was an individual there that saw a piece of paper being given to me. I, I don’t want to get into this. I want this to—I respect that woman. I will not mention it again.

MR. RUSSERT: And you’re sorry?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Well, I’m sorry for the way she feels, but I believe I acted honorably. Look at the result. The result was $400,000 life insurance for New Mexico National Guardsmen that served and then 30 states that covered all their veterans. They followed New Mexico’s lead. They followed my lead. The federal death benefit, which was shameful, $11,000, $12,000 is now significantly higher.

Toward the end there -- where he's saying "I don't want to get into this" -- Richardson was waving his hands dramatically, slumping, flabbergasted, and just looking like he wanted to be done with the questioning. He could have helped himself by just issuing a straightforward apology right then and there (and been the big guy about it). In any case, the whole interview was like that. Good thing for the Democrats that Richardson's so low in the polls (though he makes it easy for GOP candidates to hammer him).

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