THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, JAMES CARNEY,
ERIC FELTEN, AND JAMES WARREN
TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2000
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 6-7, 2000
(C) COPYRIGHT 2000, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 620 NATIONAL PRESS BUILDING, WASHINGTON, DC 20045, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
ANNOUNCER: GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From aircraft engines to appliances, GE: We bring good things to life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Social Security goes Wall Street.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX): (From videotape.) Will anybody who's 18 years old see a Social Security system tomorrow?
I believe we need to allow younger workers -- younger workers -- the option of managing of some of your payroll taxes in the private sector, so you can take advantage of the compounding rate of interest, to make sure there's a Social Security system available. (Applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Governor Bush wants to modify Social Security -- the so-called third rail of electoral politics. Touch it and you die.
Brave Bush is touching. Here's how:
Today workers contribute 6.2 percent of their salary to Social Security. The employer matches that. Naturally, all 12.4 percent goes to the worker in future Social Security benefits.
Now Governor Bush wants workers to be able to invest approximately 2 percent of their gross salary in private accounts -- stocks, bonds, mutual funds. That tax-free 2 percent of the worker's total yearly earnings would then be drawn from the dollar amount of accumulated Social Security contributions.
Thus for a worker making $100,000 a year, $12,400, or 12.4 percent, goes to Social Security as things are now. Bush's plan permits the worker to take $2,000, 2 percent of the total salary, to be put in financial instruments as the worker chooses. The remainder, $10,400, goes into traditional Social Security.
What's Bush's rationale? A better return on your investment. Social Security only returns 1 to 2 percent maximum on money that we all pay in, whereas the stock market since 1926 has had an average rate of return of -- get this -- 7.56 percent.
Oddly, despite these statistics, Vice President Gore is worried about Bush's plan.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE (Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Risky ideas that look good in good times don't look so good when times change.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In point of fact, even during the worst years, the 20-year span between 1929 and 1948 that included the stock market crash and the Great Depression, the stock market still posted returns of 3.36 percent.
Question: Has Gore successfully skewered Bush's plan, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: No, I don't think he has, John. And in fact, your excellent presentation up front here -- it really shows that even in the worst 20-year period -- and we're talking about investments over a lifetime, not just investments year -- even over the worst 20-year period, the stock market gained and performed better.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three-point-three-six percent.
MR. BARONE: So given the kind of proposal that most people have made on this, which would limit investments to relatively safe investments -- no Indonesian derivatives and things of that nature -- it would be right.
I think what's happening here, John, is that the third rail of American -- the third rail is moving to the other side of the track. You talk to young voters today. They are more confident that they -- UFOs exist than that they will get the promised Social Security benefits. And I think the real risk now is on those who summon up memories of the New Deal and so forth, and say that Social Security can't be changed at all. That's the risk. Young people think that the current system is a Ponzi scheme and they're on the wrong end of it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jay Carney, welcome back.
Do you think that Bush has been a victim of scare-mongering on the part of Gore?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, and not for the last time in this campaign, John. Al Gore and his aides have made it clear that the campaign they are modeling this year's version is the 1988 campaign that Vice President George Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, which is negative cynical, attack-oriented campaign that succeeded, and that's what they'd like to see again in the year 2000.
On Social Security, John, the Gore Campaign is counting on the idea that the American people, while they are changing a little bit in their attitudes towards what they can tolerate in changes in Social Security, aren't really ready to made a radical change when times are so good. They want to make the case that George Bush simply isn't ready to be president because, "He's got risky schemes out there with your money." I don't know that it's going to work, though.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about that word "risky"? Is that reoccurring a great deal these days, Eric?
MR. FELTEN: Oh, a great deal. Al Gore tries to say "risky scheme" at least 10 times before breakfast every day, and that's going to happen throughout the campaign. And it is a big risk, actually, for Gore that if continues to -- he is so sort of clumsy and bludgeoning with his attacks, that he would be seen as someone who is himself dangerous to Social Security because he is polarizing the issue so dramatically that there would be no hope of a kind of bipartisan effort to reform the system.
Bush on the other hand is sensibly -- instead of saying, "I have a plan; here is every jot and tittle of the plan," they're saying, "Here is broad outline of the plan, but I know that this will have to go through Congress, and the details will get worked out with Congress, once I am president."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some of Bush's surrogates are saying, by implication, that Gore is a liar. Is that a good tactic?
MR. FELTEN: I think that they're really is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Condoleezza Rice, for example, said he changes his mind a lot.
MR. FELTEN: I think it is a good tactic in the sense that Gore is a vicious puncher below the waist. And Bush is going to have some response to that if he doesn't want to have Bradley syndrome. And you know, how he responds in using his surrogates to get the word out that Al Gore has flip-flopped on Social Security, that he is misrepresenting Bush's take on Social Security, he is going to have to respond, and I don't think that's a bad way to do it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James, thanks very much for the e-mail. It was very touching, but I knew it was you.
MR. WARREN: Yeah, the Love Bug. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. Yeah, but I should have also -- you should also in return sent me a pocket calculator so I could have checked your math on that seemingly empirical opening of yours.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What major error? What error do you found?
MR. WARREN: Well, the error I find is that this is not a maximum profit plan. Social Security is meant to sort of be a cushion for all of us. And I think that's one reason Al Gore -- so you don't have to go back to Bush in '88 for that. Just go back to the way he pummeled Bill Bradley.
Al Gore knows that most folks quite viscerally think that, "Yeah, private accounts are a good idea." But given a choice between a guaranteed benefit and having a little bit more say but knowing there is risk they won't have that benefit --
MR. BARONE: The problem is that --
MR. WARREN: -- they will like the old-fashioned --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I want a quick comment from you because you are versed in this subject, Michael. But what he is saying is that he does not think that Bush is going to cure the Social Security problem. But is it not true that, since under the Bush plan that $2,000 in the illustration is taken -- is a draw-down from the full Social Security benefits that accrue to that individual who opts for it -- it's voluntarily -- that, therefore, the total Social Security requirement in the fund is lowered. Do you follow me?
MR. BARONE: It may be lowered, John, but the fact is that we are not going to see -- and none of the plans that have been put up by Republicans or by Democrats, like Pat Moyhihan and Bob Kerrey, change the benefits that people who are now relatively advanced in age, the promised benefits -- they're going to have to have, when they come to a plan, to have a floor --
MR. BARONE: And I think the real problem --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They have to lower the benefits, they have to raise the age, or they have to increase the --
MR. BARONE: Well, when that problem comes up --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But my point is --
MR. BARONE: When that problem comes in, it's about 2015, when, according to the Social Security Commission's projection, FICA taxes -- payroll taxes are not going to cover promised benefits under the current system.
MR. : So, Michael --
MR. BARONE: All Al Gore does --
MR. WARREN: They'll have to raise --
MR. BARONE: -- all Al Gore does for that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to make a --
MR. : Hold it.
MR. BARONE: -- is to increase benefits for some people in widows' categories, which may be a good idea. He provides no way of financing it because Social Security benefits are paid for by current revenues.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wants to ---
MR. BARONE: We will have to either raise taxes or cut benefits.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is his plan. He wants to pay down the national debt. That will save interest. The interest funds that normally go into paying the interest will then be put into the --
MR. WARREN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that?
MR. BARONE: You can't put them on a shelf. Social Security is paid for out of current revenues, and everyone knows this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. BARONE: So you're going to have to go into general --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before we go to you --
MR. BARONE: -- (inaudible) -- in 2015.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before we go to you, I want to point out that a prominent Democrat -- his name is Patrick Moynihan -- who himself developed a Social Security reform plan, had this to say about Bush's Social Security plan.
SEN. PATRICK MOYNIHAN (D-NY): (From videotape.) And now comes a dramatic possibility to let working people end their days with some wealth, maybe a lot, but some wealth. You'd be amazed what 2 percent compounded over 40 years does, what Keynes called the magic of compound interest. I sometimes think it means in 50 years time everybody around here will be Republican, but I can't do anything about that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The market has returned about 20 percent on investment during the past couple of years. But if you do compound, according to Senator Moynihan, at $1,000, at the age of -- if you put it away and you compound it, it takes 59 years if you take $1,000 out, which would be 2 percent of $50,000 salary, in 59 years you'd be a millionaire. So just on the basis of a 7.56 compounding, which is low for the market, since it's recently be 20 percent.
MR. BARONE: Yeah, you can't count on that 20 percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, you can't count on any of this.
MR. BARONE: But you can count on 5.5 percent over a period from 1926 to '94, which does not include the bull market of the late '90s, and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. So you can certainly count on that, and a minimum, during the depression years, of (3.3 ?) percent the market had, as opposed to 1.2 percent for Social Security.
MR. WARREN: If I can interrupt the McLaughlin-Barone C-Span-like economic symposium here -- (laughter), I just want to say that I think what you also obviously ultimately have to do is raise the retirement age, tax benefits, and end the limits on contributions. No reason poor, little old me should be paying the same amount as either you or Bill Gates.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The right church, the wrong pew.
We've got to get out.
MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) -- bipartisan proposal, in fact, with a provision like that.
MR. CARNEY: Winning Bob Kerrey and Pat Moynihan's support is a sign that George W. Bush is trying to win the ideas battle with Al Gore. He's trying to win elite opinion to prove that he's not, you know, unsophisticated, that he has the wherewithal mentally to be president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that he has the testosterone.
MR. CARNEY: And that he has -- he's taking a chance here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right!
MR. CARNEY: And he's taking a chance that the old arguments on Social Security are --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He touched the third rail!
MR. CARNEY: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that leads to my question. I want two letter grades for you. One, the merits of the plan, A through F; and two, the politics of it, the political merits of it. Is it dangerous? And assign a level of political danger. Well, that's not fair either. From a political point of view, is it a good idea?
MR. BARONE: I'd say a B on the merits, pending the more details which he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the political?
MR. BARONE: Politically I think it's a B, but there's still some treacherous ground to traverse here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Indeed there is.
MR. CARNEY: I'd give it a B also on the merits. I think it's a C, maybe a D politically.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe a D?
MR. CARNEY: Because Gore, sadly in some ways, but because Gore can be so effective on the attack.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. FELTEN: I'd give it, actually, an A on the merits, a B on politics. "A" on the merits because the biggest thing about Social Security is that the trust fund is phony. It's not actually there. And at least the one thing this plan would do is that 2 percent that people invest is money that is actually put aside and protected from being spent away in the age of surplus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.
MR. WARREN: The grade inflation affecting American higher education goes on here. A C-plus, and an F politically because Gore will be able to devilishly exploit this, demagogue it, talk about risk, and people will get nervous.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "A" on substance, and I think it's probably a C-plus to a C, it's risky on political merits.
Okay, McLaughlin.com. Last week we asked what factor is most responsible for Governor Bush's recent momentum in the polls. Get this. Clinton fatigue, 42 percent; Bush campaigning, 29 percent. Gore Elian posturing, 17 percent. Bush's Elian avoidance, 7 percent. Reno fatigue, 5 percent.
When we come back, is it time for the Feds to take over in Miami?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Miami goes bananas.
("Yes, We Have No Bananas" being played over video of Miami protesters and other scenes in Miami.)
Who has the bananas? Miami City Hall, that's who. Angry Miamians have been venting their disgust with their "banana republic" city by flying a banana flag over city hall and dumping the yellow fruit on its steps.
People are sick and tired of the antics of Miami's officials in the aftermath of the wreckage from "Hurricane Elian." The city's government is virtually flying apart, and struggling to stay on top of the mess many believe he largely created himself is Miami City Cuban American Mayor Joe Carollo.
Ever since the U.S. government's April 22nd Elian seizure, Carollo has been on the warpath. First, he tried to arrange the firing of Police Chief William O'Brien because O'Brien did not give Carollo a heads-up on Elian's transferral. O'Brien quit on his own, calling Carollo, quote, unquote, "divisive and destructive."
Next, Carollo sacked the man who refused to sack O'Brien, City Manager Donald Warshaw, ordering him out by Sunday. Well, Warshaw is not going quietly into that good night. He got a judge to issue a restraining order against his removal.
DONALD WARSHAW (Miami City manager): (From videotape.) You know, I'll be damned if I'm going to let anybody, as I walk out the door, make me feel that I've done anything wrong. I love this city. I love this town. I ain't going anywhere. (Applause, cheers.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: City Manager Warshaw is also saying that Mayor Carollo tried to get him to use Miami's police department to tail the mayor's political enemies.
For his part, Mayor Carollo says that his attempt to get rid of Warshaw has nothing to do with Elian. Of course, no one believes that. The Miami Herald calls Carollo's action, quote, unquote, "a railroading" of Warshaw. So now Mayor Carollo has launched an investigation into Warshaw, charging Warshaw with extortion and misusing city funds.
MAYOR JOE CAROLLO (R-City of Miami): (From videotape.) I will not allow a man under the cloud of corruption, a divisive, destructive extortionist, to be the city manager of Miami.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Last but not least, Warshaw, still in power, appointed a new police chief, Cuban American Raul Martinez, a move that further enrages Carollo, who wants his own man for the job.
Amid the chaos the legal counsel for the state's financial oversight board raises an important question: "We need to know who's flying the plane." Responds one city commissioner, an Anglo, "No one's in charge."
Just in: Carollo now accuses Warshaw of the banana attack, and the three Cuban Americans of the five-member City Commission voted to support Carollo in his firing of Warshaw. But Warshaw's still in because of the judge's stay order. The three said that their fellow Cuban Americans forced them to so vote.
Question: Under civil rights laws, the U.S. Justice Department has broad powers to appoint a federal independent review board to monitor and, if needed, to take over the governance of municipalities. Is it time for Reno to move on Carollo, James Warren?
MR. WARREN: Not quite yet, though there's lots of examples there of money laundering, kickback schemes. Carollo's in there precisely because of the voter fraud of his predecessor. No, I think it's a little bit early, though the Justice Department has wide latitude to do something like this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have thoughts on this, Eric -- on this whole matter?
MR. FELTEN: Yeah, I think on the banana thing in particular, I think this whole Elian debacle has so inflamed the racial divide in Miami, and the white Miamians who have participated -- which is by no means all -- but those particular ones who have participated in the banana-throwing incident ought to be ashamed, because there's just no way to describe but racist and bigoted this notion of describing Hispanic leadership of the city as a "banana republic." And it really shouldn't happen.
MR. CARNEY: I agree with Eric that corruption and chicanery and general bad behavior in city government knows no ethnic bounds, but this is -- this did arise because of the ethnic divides that surrounded the Elian case in Miami, and because of Carollo's really poor behavior throughout the standoff between federal officials and Elian's family in Miami.
I think, however, that if Reno were to move in, she would deprive all of us of a lot of entertainment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who sided with Carollo when --
MR. BARONE: Entertainment? When we're talking about Janet Reno, we're talking about somebody who on a warrant of dubious legality, obtained outside of normal channels, used storm-trooper tactics to execute what was not ever ordered by any court. I think that that's -- I think that giving her control would make Carollo's administration look like calmness and quiet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you praise Police Chief O'Brien for keeping Carollo in the dark?
MR. BARONE: No, I don't think there was a warrant to do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't you think that --
MR. BARONE: I think that the illegality here that was involved was on the Justice Department side.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that there would have been far more violence and far more aggression and even with the Alpha 66 operatives in that crowd, that there would have been really tragedy if Carollo had known?
What do you think?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's possible, John. I think it's possible. And I think that, you know, the further distance we have from that day and that photograph of the federal law enforcement with the gun and Elian, the more reasonable the action looks, given how effective it was in uniting the son with the father.
MR. BARONE: Well, the storm troopers were effective, too, in Nazi Germany.
MR. CARNEY: Oh! That's so irresponsible.
MR. BARONE: Back in 1965, I think, or '63, Nick Katzenbach, the then-deputy attorney general, went himself personally to the school house door; there was a crowd of people. George Wallace was as big a demagogue as we'd ever seen, as the governor then of Alabama. It went through peacefully.
These tactics were not necessary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On a zaniness scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero zaniness, as sober as a Supreme Court session; 10 meaning metaphysical zaniness, the Marx Brothers spend a day at City Hall, rate Joe Carollo's zaniness.
MR. BARONE: John, I think we're getting into --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You won't handle that?
MR. BARONE: -- we're getting into bigoted ground here --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bigoted? Rubbish!
MR. BARONE: -- (inaudible) -- against Cuban Americans.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're bigoted for saying that.
MR. CARNEY: I'd give him a seven.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You give him a seven?
MR. FELTEN: I don't think it's zany, I think this is politics.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's politics?
MR. FELTEN: It's politics.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just simple mud slinging? Just "the organization of hatred" as Henry James said.
MR. FELTEN: No, it's political --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say?
MR. WARREN: Despite your cheap shot at the Supreme Court, it's a little bit closer to Groucho than the ever-silent --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to give him a 10?
MR. WARREN: -- ever-silent Clarence Thomas.
And, Michael, I think you're still over the top with these references to Nazi Germany.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'd give it a 10. It's an easy 10.
Issue three: "MAD" no longer.
SEN. JESSE HELMS (R-NC): (From videotape.) Well I, for one, have a message for President Clinton: Not on my watch, Mr. President. Not on my watch. It's not going to happen. Let's be clear to avoid any misunderstandings down the line. Any modified AMB Treaty negotiated by this administration will be DOA -- Dead on Arrival -- at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denouncing President Clinton's proposed amendments to the 1972 U.S. treaty with Russia, then the Soviet Union. That Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ABM, forbids either country from building a national defensive shield to stop incoming missiles.
President Clinton wants the Russians to join us in amending the treaty. The alteration will permit the U.S. to put up Clinton's missile defense system, some 100 defensive anti-missile interceptors positioned in Alaska and/or North Dakota, a system that theoretically would shield the U.S. against a small-scale nuclear missile strike from rogue states like North Korea or Iran.
In exchange for this ABM amendment, Russia and the U.S. would dramatically lower the number of their strategic nuclear offensive warheads, a feature meant to entice the Russians, who can ill afford to maintain their vast nuclear arsenal.
The Russians are not taking the bait. Vladimir Putin, Russian president, bluntly states that if the United States persists in building this Alaska-North Dakota limited missile defense system, Putin will end all arms control. As Putin sees it, the new Clinton system nullifies the deterrence value of Mutual Assured Destruction -- the MAD doctrine. Here's how.
If the proposed new U.S. system were to become a reality, the U.S. could stage a first strike and at the same time have in place a shield to hide behind from a counter-strike launched by the Russians. Bye-bye MAD. Very destabilizing. So why doesn't Russia put up its own missile shield? No money.
We've got to get out in 30.
Question: Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile shield was an idea that Democrats, liberals, loved to scorn and hate.
Now, lo and behold, we have a Clinton missile defense shield. Was Clinton lobotomized? How do you explain this? And why the urgency, I ask you?
MR. CARNEY: Because Clinton, as a New Democrat, always tries to have it somewhere in between, but you can't be half pregnant when it comes to missile defense.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean --
MR. CARNEY: It either works or it doesn't, and we shouldn't do it halfway.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean a small shield is not better than no shield?
MR. CARNEY: Not if it doesn't work.
MR. BARONE: John, we will --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get back to the subject at a future conversation.
I want a quick answer, yes or no. Will we go ahead and violate the ABM Treaty in order to -- if it is a violation -- in order to put a small missile shield in, for Clinton?
MR. BARONE: We will have abrogated the treaty, which we're entitled to do under its own terms.
MR. CARNEY: We'll do it, one way or the other.
MR. FELTON: Clinton won't get it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He won't get it?
MR. FELTON: No.
MR. WARREN: No. Enormous cost for a dubious benefit. We won't get --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer: We will plow forward. We'll be right back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will permanent normal trade relations, P -- what?
MR. : NTR.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: NTR, be passed by this Congress, yes or no?
MR. BARONE: Yes, with the Levin Commission (sic).
MR. CARNEY: No.
MR. FELTON: Yes.
MR. WARREN: With China, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes? The answer is yes.
®FC¯END REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Gentlemanly Cs. Both Al Gore and George Bush are making education a campaign issue, but now their own educations are in the spotlight. For the past five months, Governor Bush has combatted liberals in the press and late-night smarty-pants comics making fun of Bush as a lightweight, largely because his Yale transcript revealed a lot of "gentlemanly Cs". But now we come to find Al Gore, who has enjoyed a wonk image from the liberal press, he got even poorer grades at Harvard. In his sophomore year, Gore got one B-minus, two C-pluses, two Cs, one C-minus and a D.
Moreover, in his free time, Gore was just as carefree as the purported frat boy, Bush. Gore spent his days shooting pool, watching television, occasionally smoking marijuana, anything but studying. All of this carries on, of course, the great tradition of American stalwarts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a C student at Harvard, John F. Kennedy graduated from Harvard with 78.3 overall average, and George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Harry Truman never even graduated from college.
Question: Is the revelation of bad grades worse for Gore than it is for Bush? I ask you, Eric Felten.
MR. FELTEN: I don't think it's that bad for Gore, in the sense that, you know, Gore's allies can still say, "Well, you know, Bush isn't that smart," but that Gore, on other hand, he has a reason for having had bad grades, which is was, you know, smoking a lot of pot at the time, and now that he's not doing that, you know, his native intelligence comes through.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But don't you understand Bush is now ridiculed or has been ridiculed for not being an intellectual? Actually, Bush is playing off that pretty well, almost like George Wallace's making -- he doesn't make fun of pointy-headed people, but there's something a little bit disdainful of --
MR. BARONE: (Off mike) -- pointy-headed --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- disdainful of intellectuals. Just -- he calls them "philosophers," whereas don't you think Gore is a pseudo-intellectual to a lot of people? Do you believe that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he thinks -- I mean, he's definitely presented the image of an intellectual, somebody who thinks great thoughts about complicated subjects, like global warming and arms control, the Internet.
But I think that it may actually, to the extent it has any effect whatsoever, John, which I doubt -- it probably helps Gore, because it softens his image. He's not such a loser geek --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it make any difference that neither candidate is a rocket scientist as far as the presidency is concerned?
MR. WARREN: No, I'm envious. Look where my A-minuses got me: I'm with you guys here today. But the fact is, this is not going to result in the loss of Michigan or Indiana or Ohio because people are upset that Al Gore was smoking marijuana and cramming at the last minute for his tests --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I have a question for you. The question is, Ronald Reagan was knocked for not being an intellectual. Woodrow Wilson was an intellectual, but he was not a particularly effective president. Is that all true?
MR. BARONE: I would agree with that, John. I think that there's not necessarily a one-on-one correlation. Theodore Roosevelt was a great student and a great president. The fact is, the Democrats have lost the talking point here. The talking point was Gore, a genius; Bush, a moron. Turns out they both had lousy grades in college. They were also both capable people who have been working hard and easily meet the minimal standards for the office.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are they more academically talented than their grades suggest?
MR. BARONE: I think they're more intellectually talented at this age, partly because they've kept those intellectual muscles working. They work hard.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is it fair to say that with the lackluster grades that both men show is that they are both products of privilege, meaning --
MR. FELTEN: That's a good point.