THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT, JAMES WARREN
TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 7-8, 2002
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: The Incredible Shrinking War.
The week ahead marks the one-year anniversary of the al Qaeda hijackings and attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. It also marks the one-year anniversary of solemn pledges by President Bush and his government to bring retribution against the terrorist masterminds who were behind the attacks.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) We will do what it takes to find the terrorists, to rout 'em out and to hold 'em accountable. They used to put out there in the old West a "Wanted" poster. It said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive." All I want and America wants, him brought to justice. That's what we want.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In addition to capturing or killing top terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's Mullah Omar, the U.S. also vowed to rout out terrorism wherever it flourishes: notably, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Georgia, the Philippines, Indonesia.
That was then. Here's the scorecard now.
Afghanistan: Occupied, unstable, not at all pacified. President Karzai's vice president and cabinet secretary both assassinated, with Karzai barely escaping assassination himself on Thursday. Also on Thursday, a huge bomb explodes in Kabul, killing 22, wounding dozens of others, with effects felt a mile away.
The Philippines: One U.S. hostage killed, one rescued. Top Muslim radical leader drowned at sea.
Missing in action, but presumed alive: Osama bin Laden and his next in command, Mullah Omar, and the rest of the al Qaeda leadership, excepting two.
Missing military action: Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Indonesia, Georgia. In all, 90 countries declared by the Pentagon over the past year to be harboring Al Qaeda cells, safe houses, training camps, and other terrorist infrastructure.
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) They're in caves. They're in tunnels. They're blended into the community. It's a matter of finding them, interrogating them, stopping them, killing them, if you have to, capturing if you must, and seeing if we can't put so much pressure on these terrorist networks that we're able to defend the American people and our friends and allies across the globe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Where is the U.S. anti-al Qaeda war, with its cells in 90 countries, today?
Is it off the radar screen, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: Well, I don't know what you mean, "off the radar screen," John. The fact is that we don't know exactly how successful we've been in this war against terrorism. Of its nature, we cannot entirely know that. And we don't know whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. We are continuing, I presume, to look for him.
What we do know is that Afghanistan is not today, as it was a year ago, in the hands of the Taliban and giving a haven to the kind of al Qaeda operation that gave us September 11th. They don't have that large field of play. We do know that some over $100 million has been taken away from these networks and frozen. We don't know, however, whether other people, including Saudis, are continuing to finance terrorists. And we do know that regimes that sponsor terrorism are still in business. So this is an unfinished war, and we can't be sure just how unfinished.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you think that we are failing in the anti-al Qaeda war?
MS. CLIFT: I think it's a very unfinished enterprise. It does not bother me that all these other countries are not in the headlines, because I think to characterize this as a war is a mistake from the beginning; it's really more like a police action. And there's law enforcement activities going on appropriately. But what's happened in Afghanistan is, after the military did a good job of ousting the Taliban, then the administration tried to do it on the cheap; they didn't want peacekeepers outside of Kabul, and now we see a very unfinished exercise over there in anarchy. And then they're talking about opening a new front in the war. And I think that's where you see the rest of the world really rebelling. I think at this moment in time, that Saddam Hussein would have an easier time getting a resolution out of the U.N. coming in for a regime change in America than vice versa. There is so much hostility against the president pressing ahead against Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it not truer to say that we have not eliminated, far from it, the Taliban or the al Qaeda, that they have melted into their environment, they are doing what the Viet Cong did; they are swimming with their own people?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think the Vietnamese metaphor may not be apt. Let me suggest one place where we've been quite successful, I think, suppressing al Qaeda, and that's here in the United States. When the president authorized the sweeping up of thousands of Arabs who had been in technical violation of immigration status, most of them were guilty of nothing more than that. But several hundred probably had terrorist relationships. They have been suppressed for this. That's a reason why we're coming up on the first anniversary of the war on terrorism, and there haven't been a second strike in this country. That is a noticeable success that nobody seems to want to talk about.
MS. CLIFT: Hold on.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just finish the thought. As far as the question of what's happening to al Qaeda abroad, my sense is that we have forced them to transform themselves. They no longer have a base in Afghanistan, and they've gone through some period of some blending in, some changing of their methods, and we're having to respond to their changing organization. And as everybody obviously knows, and as the president said a year ago, this is going to be a long, difficult, mostly hidden war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Haven't we turned the fight over to foreign governments, really?
MR. WARREN: No, in part. I mean, they're trying to help out.
But Tony, you, as a former star prosecutor, I assume --
MR. BLANKLEY: Adequate. (Chuckles.)
MR. WARREN: -- before you went down the cynical path of punditry, should know we arrest 1,200 guys, young Muslims. A year later, we have not charged a single one with any tie to the hijackings. Over in Europe, 150 alleged al Qaeda operatives have been arrested. Only one has been vaguely tied.
MR. BLANKLEY: The point wasn't --
MR. WARREN: The answer to John's question is, a year later, this has been an abysmal failure. We know no more about what happened on September 11 with the conspiracy, we know no more now than we did then. We don't know who conceived it, we don't know who picked the targets, and we don't know who recruited the hijackers.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick point on that because you say we haven't prosecuted any. That's right, because this is not a police action, it's a war. And the fact is we haven't been trying to prosecute them. What we're trying to do is stop them from committing terrorism. We've deported some. We're holding some as long as we can. As you know, because of the barriers between CIA and FBI information, it's difficult to bring some of these people to prosecution. But the fact is that we got these people off the street. Some of them were bad actors, and they haven't been able to act. And there are probably hundreds of --
MS. CLIFT: That's -- that's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do we -- hold on. Hold on!
MR. BLANKLEY: -- probably hundreds of Americans are alive today because we rounded up those people.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do we need to kill, capture or prove dead bin Laden before we get closure on this subject?
MR. BARONE: I don't think we have to. I think it would obviously be greatly desirable if one of those things happened. But, you know, we have seriously disrupted -- we can't be sure to what extent -- the capacity of these terrorists to inflict harm on us. Let us hope that we have done so sufficiently to prevent another terrorist type of attack.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, they may not have the safe havens --
MR. BLANKLEY: To say that you don't have prosecutions or somebody in court, this is not about Court TV, this is about protecting the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Okay --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but this is a nation of laws, and that's how we judge success, is whether we can prosecute people and put them behind bars.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. A sobering report from the home front.
The prestigious National Journal, published in Washington, assessed home front security in 69 key areas, putative improvements since 9/11, from airport security to stockpiles of vaccines, and assigned a letter grade to each. The results: four A minuses, two for the National Guard, one to the Pentagon's Northern Command, one for foreign help in the war on terrorism; 22 B grades, ranging from the Sky Marshal program to banking system cyber-security; 26 C's, including airline cockpit doors, airline passenger screening and visa and consular affairs; 14 D's, for immigration policies, sea cargo, nuclear waste, et cetera.; and one F, failure to make movie theaters safe.
Question: What is the most interesting finding in this National Journal study?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't think it's held down movie-going, so apparently we feel safe even when we shouldn't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is quite an --
MS. CLIFT: Actually, it's the cholesterol in the popcorn that will do you in.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's quite an oversight, isn't it? No one's really focused on that.
MR. WARREN: I'm going to Blockbuster now instead.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, you wanted to make another point?
MS. CLIFT: The point I want to make is I think the National Journal really underscores all the wasted energy, all the misdirected energy, when some fairly obvious holes have not been plugged. We don't have a super elite agency that can put together the analysis from the FBI and the CIA. The Homeland Security Department, which is languishing on Capitol Hill now because the president wants to take away civil service protection from workers, doesn't even deal with the FBI and CIA. And we're not safer in our planes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Quickly.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick point. He's accomplished -- the president has accomplished some very big things. The homeland security is not languishing. There's going to be a final passage vote, my guess, within a month, and it's going to be on the president's desk.
MR. BARONE: The Democrats are holding up homeland security for unions --
MR. BLANKLEY: It won't be -- yeah, I know, it won't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A lot of people are hoping it was languishing. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: Right!
MR. BLANKLEY: It won't be a perfect bill. But in fact it's a huge accomplishment to have reorganized -- we'll be modifying it over the years -- but it's a huge accomplishment to have bureaucratically started the process of being able to make us more secure, in the out year. That's a huge accomplishment -- your very quick point.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, getting back to the grading here, the report card, the overall grade that the National Journal gives would be a gentleman's C for the feds and a C-plus for the locals. And the most interesting finding is that the locals -- the National Guard and the people who are on the local scene have done more to effect and improve security than have -- than has the federal government.
MR. BARONE: Well, they've --
MR. WARREN: But it's all been minimal. Leave New York City, the island of Manhattan. Leave Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia. Go out to Peoria and other places around the country. Go to the local police departments. Virtually nothing has been done. No political will has been summoned. And in a time of shrinking revenues, there is simply not the money for the sorts of things that in theory we should be doing.
MR. BARONE: Oh, I think you make a mistake by saying the whole thing is government. National Journal made an interesting point in noting that local efforts have been somewhat more satisfactory than federal efforts.
But they've missed one thing, which is airline passengers, for example, that the public is ready to step in and play its part in an emergency situation, as those American and French passengers and crew members were able to do on the American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. That sort of alertness is going on all the time. We need not only a government in this country to fight terror, we need a citizenry to fight terror, and we've got it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: For year one, since 9/11, give an overall average grade for progress made towards homeland security, Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: Well, I'll stick with the National Journal's C -- satisfactory, but not as good as we should have.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: C.
MS. CLIFT: I think I'll go with a C-minus, because we've also given up a lot in terms of our civil liberties.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: I base it on four things: the roundup of the Arabs; the creation of the homeland security; the fact that we're about to change our defense policy from containment to preemption, a huge 50-year shift in policy; and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you go for that, do you?
MS. CLIFT: I hope not.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- and the fact that he's managed to beat the Army, which always wants to fight big brigades. The new doctrine is going to be smaller operations, more successful.
The fundamentals of our security have been accomplished in this first year. I give him about an A-minus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. WARREN: Brevity being the soul of wit, D.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: C?
MR. WARREN: D.
MR. BARONE: The answer's D.
MR. WARREN: David.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you say that?
MR. WARREN: For the exact reason -- leave this town, leave New York City, go out there, and there is virtually no reflection of this, except going --
MR. BLANKLEY: You're in the weeds. You're in the weeds. Look at the structure they're going on --
MR. WARREN: -- going into, you know, an occasional office building and getting hassled for your I.D.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think there's plenty for the president and his administration to do right here in the fight against al Qaeda before taking on new, monumental conflicts elsewhere?
MR. WARREN: No, because I think in fact that al Qaeda is -- there's less there than meets the eye. I think it is less any real, true structured organization than it is a very odd, loose collection of franchises, maybe a couple of hundred guys -- not that we shouldn't be nervous about them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we saying nothing here about the Arab- Israeli war --
MR. BARONE: No, we're not. We're not, and we shouldn't be saying anything.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and it -- just a moment. Let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish.
MR. BARONE: You have nothing new to tell us and to say about this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me finish. Does the Arab-Israeli war have its impact on terrorism, and should the president not be doing more to be settling that, because if he were to settle that, as Hosni Mubarak said, you'd cut terrorism in half?
MR. WARREN: The answer is yes. And it also plays into the question of what you do, if anything, in Iraq.
MR. BARONE: John, you're --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: John, you're talking about giving in to terrorism, not fighting terrorism, when you're talking about to put pressure on Israel to give the Palestinian terrorists what they want.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's calling for that? No one's calling for that.
MR. BARONE: That's the practical effect of what you're calling for every minute.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't put those words in my mouth, Barone. I didn't say that.
MR. BARONE: That's the practical message.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What I said is this administration is lacking, it is deficient in --
MR. BARONE: George W. Bush has said give the Palestinian people -- give them democracy and give them freedom.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- it is deficient -- just a moment -- it is deficient in its attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We didn't even have that international meeting.
MR. BARONE: I think that's dead wrong.
MS. CLIFT: John's exactly right.
MR. BARONE: Eleanor, I'm for democracy for the Palestinian people, and so is George W. Bush.
MS. CLIFT: I said three words. I said John's exactly right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.
MR. BARONE: You're apparently against it. I don't know why you're against democracy and liberty for the Palestinians.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back --
MS. CLIFT: Don't put that in my mouth either, Barone.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Smoke on this. I'll give this to you, Barone.
When we come back: Has Bush lost credibility over the summer? Is it true that neither the pundits nor the public are no (sic) longer taking him at his word?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Wag the Dog, Redux
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Saddam Hussein is a serious threat. He is a significant problem.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: (From videotape.) This is not something that we can turn our head away from. And there is no longer an option of not doing anything.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM DELAY (R-TX): (From videotape.) And Saddam will soon have nuclear weapons unless American troops enter Baghdad first.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Weighing a Just War, or Settling an Old Score? Bush's case against Iraq is weak. An attack would be wagging the dog," unquote. That's how The Los Angeles Times' Robert Scheer headlines his column, the derisory reference being to the 1997 Hollywood hit movie "Wag the Dog," about a U.S. president who concocts a phony war to distract the people from his domestic political troubles with an election looming.
"Many people think President Bush is using `wag the dog' strategy to get the American people to rally around him again. But a U.S. attack on Iraq will not accomplish that goal." So editorializes Florida's St. Petersburg Times.
And here's Donald Luskin on CNNfn's "Market Call."
DONALD LUSKIN (CNNfn "Market Call"): (From videotape.) And I hate to be cynical, but I am cynical. I've got to believe it's a `wag the dog' deal, because this is Bush's only issue that can help the Republicans hang onto the House and have any hope for the Senate in November, because the Democrats have found this anti-Republican issue, this whole corporate crooks thing. And all the Republican -- the Democratic candidates all around the country for the Senate and the House are all running on the anti-capitalist, anti-big-business platform. So, what can Bush do except start a war?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, with barely two months to go until the November 5th midterm elections, where Bush's fate as president hangs in the balance, the skeptics think that the Iraq war obsession is a monumental wag-the-dog diversionary war stratagem to draw the curtain over Bush headaches that, if publicized, would likely guarantee loss of the Republican House of Representatives and continued Democratic control of the Senate.
What are these Bush bad-news crises that the Iraq wag-the-dog headlines are hiding?
One, the feeble, neurotic economy. Two, an unpredictable bear market. Three, disgraced CEOs and their fat-cat criminality, stereotypically Republican. Four, a $170 billion deficit this year after a $5.5 trillion surplus projection early last year. Five, White House corporate private meetings and the withholding of records of those meetings and attendees' names. Six, the unraveling of Afghanistan. Seven, the likely unraveling of Pakistan. Eight, Vladimir Putin cutting huge commercial deals with the "axis of evil" -- North Korea, Iraq, Iran.
So, the Bush administration goal: Preoccupy the voters' minds with worries about national security. That's where Republicans have an edge over Democrats in the polls.
If there were no Iraq focus and intense concentration now, what would we have in the news cycle, and where would Bush be in the polls?
MS. CLIFT: Look, without the war, his presidency would be in tatters. I mean, the economy --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tatters!
MS. CLIFT: In tatters. The economy is not doing well. He hasn't delivered on his promise of prescription-drug coverage. The ties with corporate America touch the White House. But in fact, we do have the war. And so you got to deal with that reality. And I'm not willing to say any president will take this country to war solely for political gain. But the timing here --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking Iraq here.
MS. CLIFT: The timing here --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about Iraq.
MS. CLIFT: Yes. The timing here -- where is the sudden sense of urgency coming from? The president lost the sense -- he lost the sense of momentum --
MR. BARONE: There's an obvious answer to that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.
MS. CLIFT: -- over the summer. There is no buildup of troops in the region. This has got to be months to go.
MR. BLANKLEY: That's not true -- hundred thousand -- hundred- thousand in theater already, by the way. But go ahead.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I haven't read that anywhere else, but I'll take it from the secretary of State right here.
MR. BLANKLEY: You heard it first here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you making news here?
MR. BLANKLEY: A hundred-thousand --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've already had 80,000 there.
MS. CLIFT: The timing here is extremely, extremely suspicious.
MR. BARONE: We have a large number of troops and very much more equipment there than we had at the time of the Gulf War, in 1990.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let's not get into --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give you a picture on this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Keep it on the main point.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, let me make a point.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where would he be if it weren't for Iraq?
MR. BLANKLEY: Where would Churchill have been in '40 if it wasn't for Hitler? But there was a Hitler, and there is a Saddam, and if it's true that the president is unleashing all the horrors that may result from a war with Iraq, then he's a traitor, and someone ought to say that. I don't believe that for a second, and none --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let me say --
MR. BLANKLEY: Of the people you've quoted --
MR. BARONE: John --
MS. CLIFT: Oh, that's so -- (inaudible).
MR. BARONE: John, you had your say in that long intro.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just answer this question, Barone, will you? Focus your egghead on this: Is Iraq a war strategy or an electoral strategy, or is it both?
MR. BARONE: I think it's a war strategy. I think that -- why didn't we go in after Iraq, which Bush identified as a major problem and, in fact, President Clinton and the Democrats and Republicans in Congress did so back in February '98? The same sort of thing. Many of these Democrats who are talking a little hazy now in '98 said that we should take any and all action appropriate to this thing. Why didn't we go in in the winter? Because we had too much going on in Afghanistan. Why didn't we go in in the spring? Because we didn't have enough precision weapons. Why didn't we go in in the summer? Because it's too hot. Now it's about to be fall, and I think that we're headed in that direction.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Yeah. There's no question. This is a war strategy, as far as the president is concerned. And he made that very clear in October of the year 2000, when he was campaigning for president. You remember that?
MR. BARONE: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this is a war strategy. Is it also an electoral strategy?
MR. WARREN: No, but I want to thank Michael for the meteorological analysis of Baghdad. But no, I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it an electoral strategy?
MR. WARREN: No. I don't think he is out to bomb Saddam Hussein so he can keep the job with Dennis Hastert as speaker of the House. That said, I think it is a muddled war strategy. And even if you stipulate that Saddam is a murderous SOB, that he has illegally boosted his chemical and weapons stockpiles, and even if he has made war on his neighbors and told the United Nations to go screw, at this point, the Bush administration has yet to make a convincing case. Can it do it starting next week at the U.N.? Perhaps.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that there is enough on his plate right now and our plate without taking on Iraq?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, no -- no I don't --
MR. BARONE: Iraq is going to go nuclear.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment.
MS. CLIFT: Iraq is --
MR. BARONE: Iraq is going to have --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear this.
MR. BARONE: -- nuclear weapons.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, okay.
MR. BARONE: I think that -- that this would be more important.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he's going to give the nuclear weapons to a terrorist force like al Qaeda.
MR. BARONE: He's going to get nuclear weapons; we can't have this happen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, look, well, why don't you read -- why don't you read Brent -- why don't you read Brent Scowcroft on that?
MR. BARONE: I read Brent Scowcroft. I thought it very -- the argument that says that we should wait until Saddam gets nuclear weapons and then take him out doesn't make very good sense to me.
MS. CLIFT: No. You know, containment -- containment worked for half a century.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Tony quickly. Tony's going to be shut out here. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I don't think so.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, it doesn't matter how much else he's got on the plate. You can have a full plate, but if you got a guy with a machine gun at the dinner table, you got to deal with that first.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but there are different ways to deal than military ways.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question, one-word answer: Is there a sound case for imminent military action against Iraq now? Michael.
MR. BARONE: Absolutely.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. BLANKLEY: As Kissinger says --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One word!
MR. BLANKLEY: Kissinger thinks so, and I agree with him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. And Kissinger said --
MR. BLANKLEY: He said preemptive war.
MR. BARONE: Misquoted!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the end of that article, he said quite clearly -- (inaudible.)
MR. BARONE: Misquoted in the New York Times on August (17th ?)
MR. BLANKLEY: The New York Times -- (inaudible.)
MR. WARREN: As we congregate here, no. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Will Congress pass a war authorization before it leaves town? Michael.
MR. BARONE: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I think going to the U.N. may slow that down. It could be in a lame-duck session after the Congress.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. There will be at least 85 votes in the Senate; at least 400 in the House.
MR. WARREN: With many spineless Democrats, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?! I think no, and I agree with Eleanor.
A blessed Rosh Hashanah.
(End regular segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: A Day at the Races.
Andrew Cuomo, former Clinton HUD secretary and son of Mario, dropped out of New York's governor's race on Tuesday. With one week to go before next Tuesday's primary, Cuomo trailed Democrat rival Carl McCall, the state comptroller, by over 20 points in the polls. Here's how Cuomo explained his collapse: he had too many good ideas.
ANDREW CUOMO (gubernatorial candidate, New York): (From videotape.) You can sometimes have too many good ideas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Despite this albatross of "too many good ideas," Cuomo also refused to play dirty.
MR. CUOMO: (From videotape.) And my advisers said, to catch up, this is how you do it, you run negative TV ads talking about your opponent and what your opponent has done or hasn't done, and you can use that to lift yourself up. That is something I don't want to do, and I will not do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that awesome high note, Cuomo bowed out. On hand at the farewell was the "Great Healer," in his new role as Democratic boss of New York.
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) I know that in many ways, this is a sad day. I have probably run for office more times than anybody in this room. I used to have to run every two years. I suffered two searing defeats in my life. But I can tell you that today is a day you should be very, very proud of Andrew -- your husband, son and brother. He has been great today.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carl McCall now faces incumbent Republican Governor George Pataki in November.
Question: What was the real reason Cuomo bowed out?
I ask you, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think this is a fascinating moment in American politics because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but what's the real reason?
MR. BLANKLEY: -- because I believe a little bit of what he said.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the fact that he was down 30 points had anything to do with it?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. No. Let me tell you what I think. I did an editorial on it earlier in the week in the Washington Times.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, is that where you are the editor of the editorial page?
MR. BLANKLEY: That's right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How are you doing over there?
MR. BLANKLEY: We're having a lot of fun.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I heard they really like you.
MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that because of your jolly personality --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- or because you're easy on the editing or what?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I'm tough on the editing. But I think we're having a lot of fun. We're producing some good editorials.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Great. All right please continue to make your point.
MR. BLANKLEY: What's happened is that I think that Cuomo was afraid of running hard against a black man because he would alienate the black electorate for future elections. We haven't seen this before. Most elections end in harsh, negative campaigning. There's nothing odd about that. Why he wouldn't do that in this last week is, I think, because of the experience that happened in New York with Green when he ran tough against Ferrer and that antagonized the --
MS. CLIFT: No. He --
MR. BLANKLEY: For the liberal whites running in a multi-ethnic electorate, I think they now have to think past the election to the consequences.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, he's on to something. Can you give us another aspect of it? What was Clinton's role in this political theater?
MR. WARREN: I don't know if in such limited time, because I and Cuomo obviously share the problem of just "too many good ideas."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) It's an albatross!
MR. WARREN: I suffer from an overabundance.
He is arrogant, he's abrasive. He ran an awful campaign. His initial claim of a lead was quite the mirage. He couldn't even show up at the State Democratic Party Convention because he didn't even have the support.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think -- don't you think that the former president was a stand-in for Hillary, and now Hillary has got all the black votes?
MR. BARONE: No, I think that was part -- that was part of it. What Tony said was part of it. I think Hillary -- the accommodation of Hillary Rodham Clinton was important. She was under pressure from black leaders to support Carl McCall --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. BARONE: -- and she wanted to do it, but she didn't know how to do it with Cuomo in the race.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, take 10.
MS. CLIFT: No, I think Cuomo got a nudge from President Clinton on behalf of his wife.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got five, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: They didn't need that acrimony. And Cuomo bowing out gracefully, despite the clip you show, may preserve him as the front- runner four years from now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you taking bets on that, Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: Don't bet on that. Bet on Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general, to be the Democratic nominee in 2006, and probably win, as George Pataki will go to the private sector.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean because he's cleaning up corporate greed, right?