THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: LAWRENCE KUDLOW, TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT, AND PETER BEINART
TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2003
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 17-18, 2003
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Al Qaeda resurfaces.
SAUDI CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: (From videotape; in Arabic.) (McLaughlin reads the translation.) We specifically warn anyone who tries to justify these crimes in the name of religion. The bombings prove once again that terrorists are criminals and murderers with total disregard for any Islamic values or decency. Their fate is damnation on Earth and the fury of Hell in the hereafter.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Saudi Arabia, bloody terrorist attacks left 34 dead, including seven Americans, and over 200 injured -- three suicide bombings, precisely executed, targeted at American compounds, all within Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Question: How do you account for Saudi Arabia's failure to heed pleadings of the American ambassador to step up vigilance at the foreign compounds?
I ask you, Lawrence Kudlow.
MR. KUDLOW: Well, I think the Saudis always play the double game, John. On the one hand, they say how much they want to defeat terrorism and help the United States and the Western countries, and on the other hand, their hands are tied because so much of it stems from Saudi Arabia; so much of it is financed and banked by Saudi Arabia. In fact, intelligence services right now believe that the al Qaedas, including Osama, are in the south part of Saudi Arabia. So, they are not trustworthy. And we warned them, we nailed it, we told them exactly what was going to happen, and they still wouldn't listen. So we're going to have to tighten up all around, including our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think they are in deep denial about their complicity in the rise in terrorism in that part of the world, and they have played this double game where, for the most part, they've exported the terrorist attacks in exchange for keeping their own -- the ruling family safe. But I think what you see now is they're going to have to have to deal with the fact that they are a target, and this attack was as much made against the Saudi ruling family as it was against the Westerners in that compound.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that this so-called double game could be a function of division in the house of Fahd, in the light of succession, which is imminent, and that there is a faction within the house of Fahd that wants to embarrass the existing rulers, and so has made possible what we saw this week?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, that's true --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You follow me?
MR. BLANKLEY: I follow you precisely. It's more than that, though. This is a big event in the Saudi self-perception. They've always denied, to themselves and to the world, that the senior levels of their intelligence and military service had serious fundamentalist terrorist sentiments within it. And I think they believed that right up until the bombing this week. Now they're beginning to recognize that they've got a problem to clean out that element within the senior level, not just, you know, not on the street. And it will be interesting to see how and if they can handle that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Peter?
MR. BEINART: The Saudi government is in all kinds of trouble. Once we have a Shi'a government in Iraq, that's going to put a lot of pressure on that government. I think the U.S. has to have a policy towards Saudi Arabia that the Bush administration promoted towards North Korea -- quarantine. We can't save that government, we can't save that society; we have to stop them from exporting the toxic stuff they have inside.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If Osama bin Laden is a sworn enemy of the Saudi royal family, why would the royal family -- and this is attacking your proposition, Mr. Kudlow -- why would the royal family, and any part of it, wish to coddle Osama bin Laden or his followers?
MR. KUDLOW: Because I think the royal family, so called, is badly split on this point. I think they always have been. That's where the double game essentially comes from.
But I -- Peter, I think sanctions will not do the trick here. I think what will do the trick is U.S. hot pursuit of -- with Special Forces, right now in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. It is reported by a lot of intelligence sources that that is where Osama is, weaving in and out of Yemen and the bottom of Saudi Arabia. I say hot pursuit.
MR. BEINART: Yeah, I think that the answer is -- I'm not talking about sanctions. What I'm talking about is making sure that the -- the biggest problems of Saudi Arabia is not terrorism itself, it's ideological. We have to make sure that Saudi Arabia doesn't become -- that it still become the main --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, well, hold on.
MS. CLIFT: This is a neoconservative dream, and to make Saudi Arabia the next target of American aggression --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: -- even if it's only intellectual aggression.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, hold on. Okay.
MS. CLIFT: But you've got too many oil ties with this administration to pull that off. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida traced the return of the al Qaeda to the Bush Iraq war.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL): (From videotape.) The war on Iraq was a distraction. It took us off the war on terror, which we were on a path to win, but we've now let it slip away from us.
It could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of Al Qaeda.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One could go beyond Graham and say that what occurred in Saudi Arabia is payback time by al Qaeda for what we did in Saudi Arabia. If we had not -- excuse me -- what we did in Iraq. If we had not gone into Iraq, then this would not have occurred. What do you think of both the --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I disagree with that. I think Graham makes an argument that a lot of people believe; our government doesn't believe it and I don't believe it. Our government's view is that it's of one piece, the war against terrorism, and fighting it in Iraq, fighting in Afghanistan, tracking down al Qaeda -- all of one thing. And every time we weaken this web of terrorism and support systems, we're advancing. That's the argument the government will stick to.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but just the opposite. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the attack in Saudi Arabia this week was precipitated by our inflicting such enormous damage on Iraq?
MR. BEINART: No. First of all, it was probably in the works before the war on Iraq started. Second of all, the real reason that al Qaeda hates us isn't Saddam Hussein, who they loathe. It's because we have troops in Saudi Arabia. It's because of the war in Iraq we're actually going to remove most of our troops in Saudi Arabia, which will make al Qaeda hate us less.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you think this was long in the planning?
MR. BEINART: Because al Qaeda -- Osama bin Laden needs to show that he's still alive, that he's still relevant, most of all, to the Islamic world. That's why they did this.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I don't think you can go cause and effect between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, other than the fact that there is probably growing anti-Americanism in that area, and I think that's probably part of this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you ever hear of Luis Carrero Blanco?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I want to go back --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was assassinated in Spain, and everybody thought it was --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, let me --
MS. CLIFT: The point that --
MS. CLIFT: To differ with you Tony, the point that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In other words, this could be a totally exterior and unrelated to al Qaeda group. Is that possible?
MS. CLIFT: It's (impossible ?). (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: It's unlikely, it's unlikely. Let me make -- I want to go back to the point earlier, because it's an important one -- the suggestion that we should now see Saudi Arabia as a state, a pariah state. I think we still have a chance of helping them purge the parts of their government and their family that are supporting terrorism. And it's worth the effort for a while, because losing the Saudi -- a friendly Saudi regime is of huge consequence.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Yeah. Now don't go --
MR. BLANKLEY: And let's not rush down the path --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't go wobbly on us now, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: I'm going very steady. I'm going very steady.
Okay. The exit question will be based on this sound bite of Condoleezza Rice, who is the head of the National Security Council.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE (National security adviser): (From videotape.) We have, indeed, very good cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the war on terrorism; very good cooperation in a number of aspects of it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do these comments tell you about the current state of the U.S.-Saudi relationship at the official U.S. level?
MR. KUDLOW: Oh, I think the current state is quite good. I think they're going down the road Tony suggested a moment ago. But I'll only say this: terror masters in Saudi Arabia and Iran and Syria must be treated, John, with enormous strength and toughness. I'm not sure Secretary of State Powell did that in his trip.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think this tells us, what Condoleezza Rice said?
MS. CLIFT: Look. Prince Bandar has Thanksgiving dinner with the Bush family, and they call him "Prince Bandar Bush.". He's the Saudi ambassador. The ties with the royal family are very close. And there is no evidence yet made public that they could have prevented these specific attacks, frankly. So --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly now: What does it tell you? It's pretty clear what it tells you, isn't it?
MR. BLANKLEY: The fact that Ambassador Jordan went out, on instruction from Washington, to express his alarm regarding this has created a tremor through the Saudi government regarding the quality of their relationship with the U.S. government. So although they're keeping a -- you know, the president and Condi -- keeping a pretty good face on it, they're also calculatingly sending out official signals through the ambassador that this is a big event.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does it tell you?
MR. BEINART: I want to agree with Eleanor here. The larger issue is we're limited in how much pressure we can put on the Saudis unless we eventually do something about energy conservation and energy independence in this country. Ultimately that's the link, and we haven't done anything about it.
MR. KUDLOW: The answer to that is Iraqi oil.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What it tells you is that in the mind of the president -- in the mind of the president and this administration, our national self-interest dictates that our relationship with Saudi Arabia remain positive and strong.
When we come back, a 27-year-old fraud shakes up The New York Times. Should the executive editor step down?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: the Blair project.
HOWELL RAINES (New York Times executive editor): (From videotape.) We're going to do whatever it takes to improve this. I mean, the buck stops with me as executive editor, and I'm determined that this won't happen again.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: New York Times editor Howell Raines is taking full responsibility -- but will not resign -- over the case of a 27- year-old fraudulent reporter named Jayson Blair, who, despite numerous warning signals, rose from intern to full staff reporter in under five years, and brought about the worst credibility crisis in the paper's 152-year history.
Blair's fraud was laid out by The Times in a remarkable 7,200- word confessional in last Sunday's edition that ran four pages. Seventy-three Blair stories were examined by The Times, and 36, one- half, of those stories were falsified or plagiarized. Another 600 of Blair's stories have yet to be studied.
Question: How grave is this matter? Tony Blankley?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it depends. I don't think -- Howell Raines has an audience of one, it's always said, the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. But Arthur Sulzberger has an audience too, which is the family members who own the voting stock in The New York Times Company. As long as he has their confidence, everything's going to be okay for him because the two of them go together. Raines is not doing anything as far as his approach to the management of the newsroom that his publisher doesn't want.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does The Times management have a double standard in dealing with Jayson Blair? Peter?
MR. BEINART: No. The Times management made a huge, huge mistake, but most of the people who want to take Howell Raines down wanted to take him down before they had ever heard of Blair. The truth is it's like the Bennett story. Liberals used gambling, which they didn't really care about, to bring down Bennett because they hated him because of his politics. People have been trying to take down Howell Raines because of his politics for almost a year now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did shoddy reporting, we agree on that, Jayson Blair.
MR. BEINART: Of course.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And yet he kept getting national stories.
MR. BEINART: A terrible mistake.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, either the Times slipped badly, or Jayson Blair got special treatment.
MR. BEINART: Both may have happened. But the truth is, the people who are calling for Howell Raines' head, I don't remember them calling for the heads of any other editors --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's --
MR. BEINART: This has happened to almost every major newspaper.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear how Howell Raines explains his lenient treatment of Blair.
Quote: "I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities. Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes."
So said Times executive editor Howell Raines at an emergency town hall meeting for the Times staff on Wednesday.
What do you think of this Southern white liberal's angst?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, it's classic liberal guilt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: But look, the more important thing is that it's not going to be conservatives or neo-cons attacking Raines that's going to hurt him --
MR. BEINART: Yes it is!
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no, no, no. No, it's not. It's New York Times reporters and editors, who are themselves liberals. And if they revolt enough, he could be in danger.
MS. CLIFT: There's nothing wrong --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: There's nothing wrong with a little liberal guilt. I wish the rest of the society would feel it occasionally. Maybe he did get an extra pass or two early on, but 50 errors? This was a management meltdown, and they ignored opportunity after opportunity to correct this guy, to fire this guy, to do something --
MR. KUDLOW: That's right. Eleanor is on the money here.
MS. CLIFT: And then they conclude and they say: Don't blame us. No heads are going to roll.
And this is the paper that wants accountability in corporate America and the White House, appropriately so.
MR. KUDLOW: Whatever -- whatever --
MR. BEINART: I agree with you 300 percent. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Larry?
MR. KUDLOW: I think Eleanor's on the money here. And whatever the motive, whatever the motive, the breakdown in management, the breakdown in professionalism is enormous.
Look, John, from my own experience, there are some tremendous reporters on the New York Times. And I deal with the business and financial reporters all the time; people like Floyd Norris, people like Curt Ikenwall (sp), people like John Furbruner (sp) -- these guys are terrific. There are also a lot of good national affairs reporters.
But it is this kind of professional breakdown that has betrayed them. And it's hard for, I think, objective people to see how you're going to get a big shift in the top editorial management while Mr. Raines stays on. It's very hard to envision that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit. On a credibility damage scale, from zero to 10, how badly has Blair damaged Times' credibility? Ten being high, of course -- metaphysical damage.
MR. KUDLOW: Oh, I think this one's eight to nine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eight to nine.
MS. CLIFT: I give it a seven.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seven.
MR. BLANKLEY: On a daily use of the paper basis, about a three. On a general image basis, about an eight. I mean, you're still going to go to the New York Times and assume you're getting pretty accurate stuff.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Peter Beinart?
MR. BEINART: I'll say a four. The truth is, these guys would have said eight or nine even before Blair because they're really upset that they think Raines was crusading on the war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a nine. One can no longer trust the details of the Times. But we all agree that this is a recoverable situation, do we not?
MS. CLIFT: Yes.
MR. BEINART: But I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How long will it take then? Give me a one-word answer. Quickly.
MR. KUDLOW: It could happen --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A year? Six months?
MR. KUDLOW: No, John. It could happen instantly with a top management change. That's the issue.
MS. CLIFT: No --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How long will it take?
MS. CLIFT: It's one of the best newspapers in the country and the world, and I think it recovers -- you know, image-wise, it's going to take a while. The mainstream media is really against the rise of the right-wing press, and, you know, this further damages the image.
MR. BLANKLEY: It becomes part of the story of the New York Times, like Janet Cooke and the Washington Post. That never goes away. But the credibility of the paper exists this -- today.
MR. BEINART: You just don't have the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You went through something like this at your magazine, did you not?
MR. BEINART: We did. Very traumatic.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that young man, who falsified, is now writing a book.
MR. BEINART: He is, much to his discredit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you learn anything from that that applies to the Times situation?
MR. BEINART: I learned that there are sociopaths, pathological liars out there. You have to get good at spotting them. But they're tough because they're often very smart and very devious.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I can't improve on that.
Issue three: Jack and Mimi. Her name is Marion -- "Mimi" -- Fahnestock, nee Beardsley, a 60-year-old grandmother of four, a respected administrator of the Presbyterian church, and, it was revealed this week, the consort of President John F. Kennedy.
Mimi arrived at the White House as a prep school senior to interview First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, an alumna of the exclusive Miss Porter's School Mimi attended. The interview fell through, but Mimi caught the eye of JFK. A year later, she was awarded a prestigious White House internship, though she could not type. Her affair with JFK lasted 17 months.
Mimi would cavort with the president at pool parties and accompany him on official overseas visits. He would also arrange for Mimi to be flown on Air Force jets to rendezvous with him in cities he was visiting. Mimi was once spotted hiding on the the floor of JFK's limousine in the Bahamas, where the president had gone to meet with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. And JFK nearly fired Mimi's boss after the intern called him in Germany complaining about having been left behind two days after the president delivered his famous speech at the Berlin Wall.
Mimi's affair with the president continued after she became engaged to Anthony Fahnestock. They were later divorced, and he died in 1993.
Here are Mrs. Fahnestock's culled words from this week. "I was 19 years old, a very naive, very innocent young girl. Remember, it was my first job. I kept it a secret. I didn't have a story to tell. It was 1962-63. It's all true. I think the world knows what he was like. The gift for me is that this allowed me to tell my two married daughters a secret that I've been holding for 41 years. It's a huge relief."
This account is based on wire and newspaper reports. The story was broken by the New York Daily News.
Question: Mimi Fahnestock, who works in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, says that she was happy she was outed. This is because she can now share with her own grown daughters this piece of personal and presidential history. Why is there no sense of shame or scandal surrounding this event?
I ask you, Peter Beinart.
MR. BEINART: Because it happened 41 years ago. And most importantly, she was able to go through her life with some modicum of privacy, and that seems to me the good part of this story, is that she was able to live a decent life without being hounded. Unfortunately today, no one could ever be in that position.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the Internet part of this problem, Peter?
MR. BEINART: Yeah, no question, but more generally, a culture of the press which says you can look into people's private lives.
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to speak to this?
MS. CLIFT: If that had been revealed 41 years ago, it would have been seen as something probably pretty sordid. But now, given the distance of time, it looks kind of sweet. And the fact that she's kept it a secret all these years -- I actually said to my husband last night, if he wants to confess to an affair with Marilyn Monroe, I'm ready to hear it, and it will raise his status in my eyes.
MR. KUDLOW: John.
MS. CLIFT: I mean, we just look at this differently in --
MR. KUDLOW: Oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute.
MS. CLIFT: And the fact that she hasn't written a book and she's not trying to exploit it, I mean, there's something nice about it.
MR. KUDLOW: Can we assume, though, from what we know of this account -- perhaps more is coming -- but can we assume that President Kennedy at least had the good graces not to do this in the Oval Office, quite unlike another president I can think of recently?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think retroactively that the Republican Party was too puritanical in prosecuting Bill Clinton, and that it was out of step with the country. Look at what we see right here.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, the Republicans criticized him for his purgery and his obstruction of justice.
But to go back to the Kennedy case. She is obviously an innocent. She was 19 years old, fresh out of school in a different age, when 19 was still an innocent age -- very often, not always. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. BEINART: (Inaudible.)
MR. BLANKLEY: And she was hit on by the president of the United States. So, I -- any reasonable person has to give her an honorable pass. But the president was exploitive, and that conduct was bad then and it's bad now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Looking at this through a political lens -- there are politics here. For example, does this disclosure have redemptive value for the Clintons' legacy?
What would you say to that, Peter?
MR. BEINART: My suspicion is you're not going to find a Tony or a Larry saying that they all of a sudden think Bill Clinton was unfairly, you know, prosecuted by the Republicans --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it has a curious redemptive value on the legacy. Is that right? So if you're Terry McAuliffe, you're pretty -- you're glad about this, is that right?
MR. BEINART: No. It doesn't change anything one bit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you dominantly glad? I'll ask you, if you were Terry McAuliffe, would you feel glad or sad? Or what about Bill Clinton himself? Is he glad or sad?
MR. BLANKLEY: Obviously -- I'm sure in Clinton's and in McAuliffe's eyes, this is good news. It puts Clinton in the same category --
MR. BEINART: No, no, no, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --
MR. BLANKLEY: I want to finish a thought. But because you compare the style and the manner, and the charm and elegance of the two women in question, and Clinton still comes out --
MS. CLIFT: No, because Hillary --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, is Hillary glad or sad, dominantly?
MR. KUDLOW: She's sad.
MS. CLIFT: I don't know what Hillary thinks. But pursuing Clinton's private life --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sad or glad?
MR. KUDLOW: Sad, because --
MS. CLIFT: -- pursuing Clinton's private life to the extent they did was wrong, but Clinton was foolish to be as reckless as he was, knowing that the press was watching, and Ken Starr.
MR. KUDLOW: And hooking on to that last thought, any of this that surfaces makes Clinton look bad, because it reminds people of something they'd rather not be reminded of.
With respect to John F. Kennedy, this thing happened so long ago, I doubt seriously whether it has any impact on his historical legacy or not, because the general story of his own womanizing has always been out there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is a net plus or a net minus for the Democrats?
MR. KUDLOW: Oh, I think it's a net minus right today --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. KUDLOW: -- because it reminds --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. KUDLOW: -- reminds the country of the peccadillos of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you've got to bring a more advanced degree of subtlety than that to it.
MR. KUDLOW: I think any --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it cleanses Clinton, it's a plus.
MR. KUDLOW: It doesn't cleanse --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a net --
MR. BLANKLEY: It's a zero! It's a zero! (Laughter.)
MR. KUDLOW: It doesn't cleanse.
MS. CLIFT: If anything, it's a plus, because it reminds us that there's something rather eternal about the way human beings act, even though we don't always approve.
MR. BEINART: The Democratic Party has so many bigger problems than this, on almost every score. I can't even imagine where this falls.
MR. KUDLOW: Yeah, Peter's got a -- he's right about that. But anything that reminds Americans of what Clinton did with Monica in the Oval Office is a bad thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Mimi has been able to transform right before our eyes, to morph a scandal into a trophy?
MR. BEINART: I think she comes out looking like a very honorable, decent woman.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Extremely. Not mobbed up at all, like Judith Exner? (Laughter.)
MR. BEINART: No, and I think, you know, look, any 19-year-old is going to be in a very vulnerable position, and I really don't think it matters.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think this requires more thought.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Is this country facing deflation? Yes or no?
MR. KUDLOW: No lingering deflation. The Fed must ease soon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MS. CLIFT: Money flows from the dollar to the euro, even the dreaded French! (Chuckles.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MR. BLANKLEY: There's a distinct possibility, but soon to -- too soon to tell.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a timid yes.
MR. BLANKLEY: It's a stuttering yes.
MR. BEINART: It's a danger, particularly because the Bush stimulus plan is no stimulus plan at all.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Is that a yes?
MR. BEINART: It's a possible yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a yes, but it may be a shallow deflation. Bye-bye!
END OF REGULAR SEGMENT PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: A House Divided.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): (From videotape.) There are 53 members of the legislature that are acting like children, taking their ball and going home.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The 53 children in this case are not children at all. They are the Democrats of the Texas House of Representatives. This week 53 of the 62 of the Lone Star Democratic state reps packed their bags and Texas two-stepped stealthily across the border into Oklahoma.
What made these lawmakers into lawbreakers? Answer: redistricting. Republicans dominate both houses of the Texas State Legislature. These Republicans want to redistrict the federal House of Representatives in Washington by converting five to seven of the Democratic seats in the U.S. Congress into Republican seats by reconfiguring the geography and so the political demographics of those five to seven U.S. Congress districts.
The 53 Democrats in the Texas state legislature took action to deny a quorum in their state house, so as to deny a vote, and left town, fleeing Austin, shutting down the Texas Capitol; whereupon Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, dispatched a posse of state troopers and Texas Rangers to round up the Democrats and bring them back to Austin.
It was too late. The Democratic outriders crossed the Oklahoma border, where Texas lawmen had no jurisdiction over the runaways, who were then waiting out the end-of-session deadline.
Question: On Friday the self-exiled Democrats returned to Texas after a successful four-day standoff that killed the congressional redistricting bill. Will these 53 Democrats get away with it, Peter?
MR. BEINART: I certainly hope so. Thank goodness for these guys. I love them.
There's been a pattern in this country where you redistrict every 10 years. Now the Bush administration is trying to change that, so that when they get power in a state -- they're doing it in Colorado, too -- it is absolutely toxic and repulsive. And they're -- I'm so glad the Democrats wouldn't stand for it in Texas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Talk about toxic and repulsive You don't think this is underhanded -- disappearing for a vote like this? First we have Enron in Texas. Now we have this. Is Texas getting a black eye?
MR. BEINART: I'll tell you what's toxic and repulsive. What's toxic and repulsive is the idea that every time you grab control of a state legislature, you undo the redistricting that they already did, because you can rejigger things. It wouldn't have made it passed in court, thank goodness, but I'm glad the Democrats stood up against it.
MR. KUDLOW: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear about DeLay -- wait a minute! I want to hear about DeLay.
MS. CLIFT: Oh, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: DeLay has excused himself from the field. Is that disingenuous? Did DeLay have a hand in this? Did Karl Rove have a hand in this?
MS. CLIFT: Well, DeLay has flown to Texas and appeared before -- you know, before the Republicans and in the legislature, urging them on with this redistricting plan. And Karl Rove has also gotten involved in a Colorado redistricting plan.
MR. BLANKLEY: Congressional --
MS. CLIFT: But what's important here is they're trying to remake the politics. And the vaunted bipartisanship that Bush bragged about when he was running for president as existing in Texas no longer exists now the Republicans are in power, just like it doesn't exist in Washington.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony? Go ahead, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Congressional leaders of both parties traditionally engage with their state legislatures and their governors for redistricting. This is the oldest game in -- I've done it in the past, when I was in California. And --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't tell us more than we need to know, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: And so there's nothing new about this.
MR. BEINART: (Inaudible.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Now -- no, no, just let me finish. Now, there's also nothing new about Texas legislators skedaddling out. There's a long-time tradition there. I don't think they're going to pay at the polls. But the place where they'll be tested is in the polls.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we do it the way they do it in Iowa and Arizona, get a nonpartisan commission to do the redistricting right after the election. Do you support that in your --
MR. BEINART: Tom DeLay would never stand for it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you support it in your magazine?
MR. BEINART: Absolutely. I -- we -- I support it, absolutely. I've written about it. No question.
MR. KUDLOW: But the politics in Texas have completely changed, because the Republicans hold 29 state elected offices and the senators and the governor, for heaven's sake.