Editor’s note: This conversation with former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is part of this week’s GT cover package on the legacy of Charlottesville and McAuliffe’s upcoming Bookshop Santa Cruz event.
STEVE KETTMAN: The timing on publication of this book seems uncanny. Your subtitle is ‘Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism,’ and your main subject is racism. This month, racism has dominated the headlines, with Congress passing a resolution condemning Trump for his racist attack on four Congresswoman, the first time the House of Representatives has rebuked a President in more than 100 years.
TERRY MCAULIFFE: Racism has never gone away. For a very long time, many people felt we had dealt with racism, and it wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t a problem that existed in America today. What happened in Charlottesville ripped the scab off, and people realized that racism is still prevalent, and not nearly enough has been done to deal with the issues behind racism, inequality in schools and housing and access to health care and a racist criminal justice system, and on and on. We don’t need more words. We need more action.
As a former Democratic National Committee chairman, you’ve been around a lot of Democratic debates. What was your take on the first two Democratic debates, held in late June?
I was disappointed in the first two debates. The candidates didn’t talk enough about the issues that affect everyday Americans. I heard no discussion of issues of K-12 funding for education, and no discussion of how to address failing infrastructure, which is crippling cities around the country, and no discussion of workforce development and workforce training and no real discussion on lowering the costs of prescription drugs. Our education system was built for the industrial revolution, and hasn’t transformed for a 21st-century economy. And I heard no discussion of the ballooning budget deficit that’s going to cripple our children’s future.
What about the way racism was addressed? Were you at all surprised at the way California Senator Kamala Harris came at Joe Biden?
Listen, when you’re the front runner, you know everybody is going to come after you. Vice President Biden should have been prepared for that. I thought Bernie Sanders was going to use the debate to go after Biden. But Harris obviously prepared very well and executed in knocking Joe Biden off his game. The goal of the debates is to have a break-out moment, and she clearly had a break-out moment.
Biden set himself up by making that comment early in June about the “civility” of the good old days when he worked with openly Segregationist Senators like James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. Was that tone-deaf of Biden?
There was no reason for him to bring Herman Talmadge and James Eastland into the discussion. They were racists. I understand what Biden was trying to do, he was saying that even with these vile individuals in the Senate, he was able to work with them on legislation to move the country forward, but he could have made that point a different way. Jim Eastland actually said that African Americans were “an inferior race.” He should never, ever be cited in any example except one talking about racists.