The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Patrick Buchanan, MSNBC; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Tim Carney, Washington Examiner; Mortimer Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, August 19, 2011 Broadcast: Weekend of August 20-21, 2011
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: On the Road Again.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) You've got to send a message to Washington that it's time for the games to stop. It's time to put country first.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama this week took the White House to the U.S. Midwest -- Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We are in danger of not having a recovery that's fast enough to deal with what is a genuine unemployment crisis. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president announced that he would unveil a major plan to create jobs and lower the nation's unemployment rate, which now stands at 9.1 percent. His plan will not be announced until September.
Question: President Obama's Midwest bus tour was deemed official business by the White House. Was that a smart call or a dumb call? Pat Buchanan.
PATRICK BUCHANAN: I think he could have done without the bus tour, John, but he probably would have been better off if he hadn't flown from there up to Martha's Vineyard.
But let me say about the problem he's talking about, the president's in deep trouble and so is the country, John. There is a deficit-debt crisis which appears to call for real austerity on one side. He mentioned the employment crisis, the jobs. That seems to call for a massive stimulus of some kind, tax cuts or spending. And the two contradict each other. And we've had the biggest stimulus package in history with three straight deficits of about $1.5 trillion. We've had the lowest taxes in a long time. And nothing seems to be working for him or for the country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he knows what to do? Do you think his advisers do?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think he knows what to do, and I don't think many other people know exactly what to do either, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this is a good interim for him to go up to Martha's Vineyard --
MR. BUCHANAN: He should --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- take the vacation and find what he thinks and what they think.
MR. BUCHANAN: He's up there with the northeastern cultural elite on Martha's Vineyard, which is the wrong place to be.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, he does have access to communication, so he can get in touch with real Americans every so often. (Laughter.)
Democrats do bus tours, so that's what he did. He didn't have much to say. And I'm glad he's going to ground and all his advisers, because they are going to come back and unveil something in early September. And supposedly there's a battle going on in the White House. Do you go big and bold or do you go more incremental with the hope of picking up some Republican support? I think that the Republicans are not going to go along with anything he does. And so I think it's time for him to confront the Republicans. So I'd be for big and bold and put some things out there that Republicans have historically liked. They like infrastructure. They like payroll tax cuts. So, you know, stick that in there. So if they are the ones that block this, then at least everyone knows where the obstruction is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Were you knocking him for going to Martha's Vineyard?
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much is he paying for that house he rents?
MR. BUCHANAN: Fifty thousand (dollars) a week.
MS. CLIFT: He pays it out of his own money.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MR. BUCHANAN: Fifty thousand (dollars) a week.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifty thousand (dollars) a week?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.
TIM CARNEY: He pays for it himself.
MS. CLIFT: He pays for it out of his own money.
MR. BUCHANAN: You're talking --
MS. CLIFT: It's not taxpayer-funded.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- Mort Zuckerman territory. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So if he wants to spend his money, he can spend his money.
MS. CLIFT: And if we want to start comparing President Reagan --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Listen, you knocked him. I heard your language, Eleanor. I'm not knocking him.
MS. CLIFT: How am I knocking him?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought you kind of -- you kind of burlesked Martha's Vineyard the way you said it.
MR. CARNEY: The problem --
MS. CLIFT: I think Martha's Vineyard was fine. MR. CARNEY: Martha's Vineyard --
MS. CLIFT: I wish I were there, John. (Laughs.)
MR. CARNEY: Martha's Vineyard is perfectly fine. What's not fine is that Obama's keeping trying the same old things.
He thinks he'll throw money at certain industries. Here's green tech. Here's, you know, Web stuff. Here's more stimulus for infrastructure. He throws money at industries and thinks government is going to pull things out. He never has the idea of "Let's get government out of the money and let the market work." He believes -- he's a corporatist, giving money to big business.
MS. CLIFT: It's called investments.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he should have gone to Newport, Rhode Island, I mean, you know, for the ritzy, wealthy class?
MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I actually --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's old wealth there.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I think he should have gone to the distant suburbs of Boston, you know, where you have working-class people, and he could just show that he really cares for those people.
MR. BUCHANAN: Revere Beach?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The problem --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mean, in a sense, the whole thing is all -- it's so manifestly political. I just don't see that this is going to persuade anybody.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is political about going to Martha's Vineyard?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because when you're sitting there with a country --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush went to a ranch.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- with 25 million people who are basically unemployed or underemployed and you're sitting there spending $50,000, don't think you're going to have a chance to identify with the needs of these people. And that's been a part of the problem. It looks like it's an elitist administration because they really haven't been able to connect with what's happening on the street.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's in your face, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's talk to his partner in his administration. Why did Vice President Joe Biden allegedly call tea partiers, quote-unquote, "terrorists," as they claim he did?
(Begin videotaped segment.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK, I'll explain that right now. He did not call you guys terrorists.
TEA PARTIER: He said we were acting like terrorists, hostage takers.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, no. What he said was that for us to be willing to take the economy to the brink was irresponsible. And it was. Now, the truth of the matter is, considering what's said about me consistently --
TEA PARTIER: That's the second person in your administration to call right-wing people terrorists. Janet Napolitano did it first.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why is President Obama playing dodgeball when he could have hit a home run, using this as a teachable moment about civility? Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I don't think there's a lot of civility right now in American politics, and I don't think that was much of a teachable moment. I thought he did very well in trying to engage with this gentleman and point out that the word terrorist was used apparently in a meeting that the vice president had with Democrats, and Biden sort of nodded and just moved on. And so now they're trying to hang this around his neck.
I think the more appropriate sound bite from this past week was Rick Perry basically --
MR. CARNEY: The problem --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- Rick Perry basically saying Ben Bernanke is treasonous in the way he's responding to economic difficulties.
MR. CARNEY: Why is treason a worse charge to throw at someone than being a terrorist? This is the thing. I don't mind if Joe Biden thinks that I'm a terrorist or the tea party guys are terrorists. He can say it. And if Rick Perry says something that's slightly over the top -- MS. CLIFT: Biden didn't say it. Biden didn't say it.
MR. CARNEY: You have no evidence Biden didn't say it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well --
MR. CARNEY: We have two sources -- Politico cited two sources who were in the meeting who said that he said it, and one guy said he didn't. The fact of the matter is --
MS. CLIFT: Then go right ahead and defend --
MR. CARNEY: -- tough talk happens, but liberals freak out when it comes from the right.
MS. CLIFT: I'm not freaking out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's Politico? What's Politico?
MS. CLIFT: I'm just pointing out a --
MR. CARNEY: Politico. It's a Capitol Hill publication.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well circulated?
MR. CARNEY: On the Hill, yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it highly regarded?
MR. CARNEY: The reporter used two sources.
MR. BUCHANAN: Let me agree with --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kind of a newsletter?
MR. BUCHANAN: Let me agree with Eleanor on something, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Hold on, Pat. Fit it in here. Exit question.
MS. CLIFT: No, let him in. He's agreeing with me.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) Should the Obama re-election campaign dip into its vaunted billion-dollar war chest and fully reimburse the treasury for the cost of his Midwest, quote-unquote, "listening tour" bus trip? Yes or no.
MR. BUCHANAN: No. He's the president of the United States. That's what he chose to do. I think it was a foolish thing to do. But I do agree with Eleanor. In dealing with those people, Barack Obama is fundamentally a gracious individual --
MS. CLIFT: Right. MR. BUCHANAN: -- in confrontations, and he's not a confrontationist.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he pick up the tab --
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- with the Democratic National Committee? Then he couldn't do that because he's taken three weeks out of his presidency to campaign, so he can't do that.
MR. BUCHANAN: Look, he should pay --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's hemmed in with a dilemma.
MR. BUCHANAN: He should pay the $50,000 for that house up there in Martha's Vineyard for --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't you think he is?
MS. CLIFT: Well, he is paying it.
MR. BUCHANAN: I'm sure he is.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think the DNC is picking that up?
MR. BUCHANAN: I doubt it. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: No, no, no, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean the DNC doesn't want him to run for re- election?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no, no, no.
MS. CLIFT: No, John --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's not something they should be paying for, John.
MS. CLIFT: He's not going to lock himself -- MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's his vacation.
MS. CLIFT: He's not going to lock himself -- I think we're going around the horn here. He's not going to lock himself into -- (laughter) -- he's not going to lock himself --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The horn starts there and finishes there. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: He's not going to lock himself up in the Oval Office for the rest -- until the campaign.
MR. CARNEY: The taxpayers --
MS. CLIFT: And thank you, Pat, for agreeing with me.
MR. CARNEY: The taxpayers should not have to pay for that. When Bush had his re-election bus tour, his campaign paid for it. It was in states that didn't even have high unemployment -- Iowa, 6 percent.
MS. CLIFT: It wasn't a re-election bus tour.
MR. CARNEY: If he wanted to talk about jobs, why not Michigan?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he says that, he's admitting that he's taking time out to campaign. It's a political act.
MR. CARNEY: I'd rather him admit it and pay for it --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, therefore --
MR. CARNEY: -- than not admit it and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he's (apparently ?) billing the government. Maybe he's going to repay the government.
MR. BUCHANAN: Look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But then he's back into the same dilemma.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Here is the good news, John. When somebody goes around the horn on this program, you pay for the horn. I think it's entirely reasonable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: And he doesn't overpay either. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he should have picked up the tab and said, "This is kind of a doubtful situation. I'm going to pay for it anyway. But you will see how I handled a lot of questions that were put to me that were very much part of my official life as president of the United States." Issue Two: Is Ron Paul's Revolution Now at Hand?
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL (R-TX): (From videotape.) My views are quite different than the other candidates', so they would just as soon us not get the coverage that the others are getting.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, as it turns out, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas is getting more coverage and more votes for his libertarian views than are the establishment Republicans. Paul finished a close second in last week's Ames, Iowa straw poll. Paul was less than 200 votes shy of beating out the straw poll winner, Iowa native and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. That's a difference of 152 votes out of a total of roughly 17,000 votes cast.
Congressman Paul had already won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll in February, the largest conservative gathering of the year. Paul also won the Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll in April.
Why is Paul gaining traction? He says it's the rise of libertarianism.
REP. PAUL: (From videotape.) Time has come around to the point where the people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years. So I think the time is ripe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Congressman Paul may be right. If you define libertarianism as minimal government in political, social and economic affairs, a recent poll showed that 63 percent, practically a consensus of Americans, believe that the federal government interferes too much with individuals and too much with businesses. The national debt is now more than $14 trillion.
Question: Is Ron Paul right? Are Americans too focused on individual autonomy and too little on the nanny state?
MR. CARNEY: I think Ron Paul's right about a lot of things, and the nanny state as a problem is a big part of it. And it's not just the nanny state, where new regulations are telling us, for instance, we have to buy health insurance, or on the local level, all the nanny- state stuff.
But it's also the government that's way too big, the taxes that are way too high, and the foreign policy that's way too aggressive. And I think those poll numbers showed that a lot of Americans are agreeing with him and that Obama and most of the Republicans are on the wrong side of those questions.
MS. CLIFT: He's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I read your column on him, and I didn't think you particularly like him. You called him a gadfly. MR. CARNEY: And that's a great word. That's a word of praise.
There's these big horses, which is the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and they need a gadfly stinging them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's a gadfly?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, in a way, he is. But, look, I think Ron Paul is a principled, honorable guy, and his time basically, I think, has come for his ideas. Two of them, John -- he is the guy that put the Federal Reserve and monetary policy on the table that Rick Perry is picking up; and secondly, the whole idea of interventionism and American empire, bring the troops home and cut the defense budget.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got an antiwar, anti-interventionist conservative, and he's making hay with it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Rick Perry stole the oxygen out of the room and left kind of Ron Paul out there just hanging there?
MS. CLIFT: Ron Paul is a libertarian, and there's a significant portion of the Republican Party that holds libertarian views. He could not get elected nationally in this country. He ought to run on the libertarian ticket. I agree with some of the things he's brought forward.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Like what?
MS. CLIFT: But he's not going to go --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Like what?
MS. CLIFT: Like his antiwar attitudes. But --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about his immigration policy?
MS. CLIFT: I'm not sure what his immigration policy is, to tell you the truth.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think it's your policy.
MS. CLIFT: OK. Well, he's not my candidate. But he's a welcome addition in the debates. He's a civil debater and he brings some interesting ideas. But he's not going to go the distance. And the media are basically ignoring him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Ron Paul's time come?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think in this sense it has come. I think he has always argued against interventionist government, and we have had three or four years now in which we've had a massive increase in the intervention of the government in our economy and our medical system, et cetera, and it hasn't worked. If it had worked, there may be a different reaction. But the sense is it hasn't worked, and therefore his arguments, in a sense, have much more traction than they've had in a long time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the size of our national debt is an indication of our over-reliance on the central government and less on the principles of -- sound principles, at least, of capitalism?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, not necessarily. I mean, the sound principles of capitalism had a lot of problems. I mean, take the 1930s. The sound principles of capitalism produced a depression. The government's role to intervene in certain parts of the economy in particular has been very constructive.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you, Mort --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The question is, is it appropriate now? And to the degree that it has been done, was it properly done?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a simple answer.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And I don't believe it was.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Washington too big?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think it is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Much too big?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, much too big, whatever you want to call it. Yes, I do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the Founding Fathers envision that, granted, you know, they lived a couple of hundred years ago? But do you think they envisioned anything like Washington being as big as it now is?
MR. CARNEY: Not even close.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think they envisioned --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the regulatory agencies. MR. BUCHANAN: No, no.
MS. CLIFT: The regulatory agencies --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the White House. I'm also talking about the power of the Congress.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: We have totally different conditions. The government has to address some of them. The question is, how intelligently and competently do they do it? And frankly, it hasn't been done competently.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the government is too big?
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, of course, John. It's enormous. The government is enormous. It's not just the New Deal, but the Great Society.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that identified by the size of the national debt?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's the welfare-warfare state, and both --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Welfare-warfare state.
MR. BUCHANAN: Both are coming down.
MS. CLIFT: In defense of government, Pat wouldn't give up a single of the benefits that he gets, and most people feel the same way.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't agree with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Like what, Social Security?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't agree with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Medicare? Medicaid?
MS. CLIFT: Social Security, Medicare. No, he wouldn't give up any of those things.
MR. CARNEY: Don't you think it's a shame that I'm paying for Pat's Social Security and Medicare?
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. CARNEY: That's part of the problem.
MS. CLIFT: You can handle it. And the Founding Fathers did not envision a country where you had the right to be sick and go bankrupt. And the health care intervention on the part of the government is a positive thing, because the unfettered capitalist system wasn't working. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: "Obamacare" in ICU.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) This was a landmark piece of legislation. The health care bill that we passed was not perfect.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama's $1 trillion health care law may not only be imperfect, but illegal -- illegal because unconstitutional. Why? Because of the individual mandate.
Under this mandate, which means obligatory procedure, a command, individuals are commanded to buy health insurance. If a citizen does not purchase health coverage, that person will have to pay a fine, as high as $700 for individuals and $2,100 per family.
But late last week, a federal appeals court in the 11th circuit, Atlanta, ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Citing U.S. history, the court said this. Quote: "Even in the face of a great depression, a world war, a cold war, recessions, oil shocks, inflation and unemployment, Congress never sought to require the purchase of wheat or war bonds, force a higher savings rate or greater consumption of American goods, or require every American to purchase a more fuel-efficient vehicle," unquote.
The court struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional. The decision was a major win for the 26 state attorneys general who filed against "Obamacare" on the same grounds.
ROBERT ALT (Heritage Foundation): (From videotape.) This is the most significant case that's been brought to date, primarily because it involves more than half the states suing the federal government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Friday ruling was the second decision on "Obamacare" from a federal appellate court. The 1st federal appellate court ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional. That means that a final answer will likely be provided by the Supreme Court next year on the issue of the individual mandate -- next year, during the presidential election run-up.
As for the nation at large, what do Americans think? A majority of Americans, 54 percent, want "Obamacare" repealed. Forty percent want to keep it.
Question -- please pay attention: Can "Obamacare" survive without the individual mandate? Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely not. Without that, the whole thing becomes completely unfeasible. And, in fact, I would say politically, in my judgment, I always thought it was a mistake, because the country wanted the government to focus on getting health care costs under control, not to extend its coverage. So this just adds something to it, because it becomes one of -- the single most unpopular piece of legislation this time -- this amount of time after it was passed. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with the Atlanta circuit that it's unconstitutional?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I read that opinion, and I thought that opinion was persuasive. But I generally tend to follow the dictates of the Supreme Court. So they determine whether it's constitutional.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're going to get to that with the exit question --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the Supreme Court.
MS. CLIFT: I disagree with Mort. I think even if the mandate is ruled unconstitutional, the rest of the bill can stay in place. And candidate Barack Obama actually opposed the mandate, his argument being that with the insurance companies getting all these new customers, that they can afford to have affordable premiums. And people will understand that if they get ill and don't have insurance, that they will then pay a penalty by having to pay these costs. So there'll be kind of a built-in penalty that is mandated. So I think the -- plus the fact states are enacting -- all the machinery for this health care plan is being put in place.
MR. CARNEY: It's a three-legged stool.
MS. CLIFT: You can't take rights away from people that they have.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is it a three-legged --
MR. CARNEY: It's a three-legged stool because the bill mandates that health insurance companies cannot say no to people who apply. It limits the degree to which it can charge higher rates to older people and lower rates to younger people. And so with those two mandates, if you don't force young people into it, then young people won't buy the health insurance. Then the rates will go up even more. So then more young and healthy people will pull out. If you don't -- you have to force young, healthy people into it to make those other --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a two-legged stool? It falls over?
MR. CARNEY: Yeah. If you pull --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you said a three-legged stool.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. It's a three-legged stool, one of them --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a stable stool. MR. CARNEY: -- one of them being the mandate. You pull out the mandate --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, it's a two-legged stool. OK.
MR. BUCHANAN: Right. But I don't think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pay attention to this question. With the likelihood of politicalization and even political intimidation, should the justices, the Supreme Court, take up the individual mandate next year, or should they defer until after the presidential election?
MR. BUCHANAN: They should take it up in the normal course of work.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The decision may come down during the year.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's so, John. They should not be influenced by politics, OK? The individual mandate, if it goes, I think parts of "Obamacare" survive. If the Republicans win, the first thing they'll do is repeal it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional, can you imagine where that would leave Obama's campaign?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, they can't take that into consideration. Where will it leave Mitt Romney's campaign? Because he's got an individual --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I agree. The Supreme Court has to take it up under the normal course --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.
MS. CLIFT: -- of events, which would be next spring.
MR. CARNEY: What Pat said.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're almost out of time.
MR. CARNEY: What Pat said.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You agree with Pat?
MR. CARNEY: Yeah.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with Pat --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree with Pat. MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- not Eleanor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Cell Censorship.
PROTESTER: (From videotape.
) When they're going to start, you know, clamping down on the people's free speech and people's voice, then that's when I get offended and realize I need to come out and show my support for American free speech, which is the most important.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: San Francisco has a subway system called BART, B-A-R-T, Bay Area Rapid Transit. BART shut down its cell-phone service for three hours in four of its stations last week. The reason for the deprivation was to defeat planned protests. The planned protests were to be in response to a July shooting by a BART police officer of a homeless man who was wielding a four-inch knife. BART shut down the cell phones, they said, to protect the BART customers' constitutional right to safety.
LINTON JOHNSON (BART spokesman): (From videotape.) What we did is we took a very narrow time frame, three hours, and four stations where they said, prior to that protest, that they were going to try to disrupt and create a huge safety problem. And we stopped service for mobile-phone users.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Technology activists disagree forcefully. They compare BART's cell-phone shutdown to the digital censorship conducted in countries like Egypt. Quote: "BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who ordered the shutdown of cell-phone service in the Tahrir Square in response to peaceful democratic protests this year," unquote. So says the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for freedom in the digital realm.
Question: What grounds did BART officials have to fear a disruptive protest that might have endangered public safety? Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, they had a previous experience in which there was an interference; I mean, there was a real public-safety issue. And I think this is what they were trying to prevent. It's like saying you can't put up street blockades in order to prevent problems. I think this is not something that we like, but I think it's something that they did in a reasoned and considered way.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They shut down the utilization of cell phones for a period of time. MR. ZUCKERMAN: In that area.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In that area. They did not seize any cell phones.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They shut down the availability.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Whose property is it?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: What do you mean by that?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who owns the property, BART?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Public transportation owns these --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Now, if they own the property, why should they be accountable for shutting down the cell usage of somebody else on their property?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, you know, the argument is this is a public body, OK, and therefore they have certain obligations as a public body. But they have another obligation as a public body besides making it available to whatever the inspiration might be, shall we say, to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that is to prevent a protest by --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Security. To protect the security of the people there. That's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because the protesters might descend there and --
MR. CARNEY: But there's a huge difference between a public body -- BART is a public, multi-jurisdictional -- it's a government entity, basically. If Pat Buchanan wants to block cell-phone access in Pat Buchanan's house, that's private property. Government should not be doing this. The first -- free speech, free communication, those things we should be pretty hard core about.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think there are no limits on freedom of speech? What about yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, movie theater?
MR. CARNEY: And to protect public safety, to the degree that that's necessary, you can do these restrictions.
MR. BUCHANAN: I disagree. MR. CARNEY: This was not necessary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: None of these rights is without some limit, correct?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, I don't -- exactly. This is their property and their towers, and they've got the ability to do it. I think they've got a perfect right to do that to prevent a massive disruption of the trains they're running.
MS. CLIFT: But there was no indication that the protests were going to be anything other than peaceful. The earlier one apparently disrupted service. They claim that the facilities are for paying customers. OK, if people just stormed the station, they would have every right to prevent them.
MR. BUCHANAN: But that's be too (early ?).
MS. CLIFT: No. Storming them before they get to the station if they're not paying? If they're not paying?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Muammar Qadhafi, the leader of Libya, will be gone by Columbus Day, which is October the 10th, not the 12th, I believe, Monday.
MR. BUCHANAN: He'll be gone before the 12th.
MS. CLIFT: I agree with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do.
MS. CLIFT: He'll be gone.
MR. CARNEY: Still no. He'll still be there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Still there?
MR. CARNEY: Yeah.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he's gone.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he's gone.