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updated 1/1/2006 11:48:30 AM ET 2006-01-01T16:48:30

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this New Year's Day: What was the biggest story of 2005? What stories should we watch for in 2006? And the New Hampshire primary is only two years away. It's never too early to handicap the 2008 presidential election. Insights and analysis from presidential historian and author of "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," Doris Kearns Goodwin; the managing editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham; Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; and New York Times columnist William Safire. And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, a top White House advisor, John Ehrlichman, begins his new year with questions about the president and a war back in January of 1973.

But first, welcome all. Happy new year.

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Same to you, Tim.

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Same to you.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's look back to 2005, Doris Kearns Goodwin. What was the biggest story?

MS. GOODWIN: Well, clearly Katrina was. I would--maybe it's a mix between Katrina and Iraq. But I think the thing about Katrina that saddened me in some ways is that at first I thought something was going to really emerge from that story, which was poverty and the plight of the people there who had no means to even get out of the city, and it was going to mobilize everybody just as the civil rights movement had mobilized people when we saw what was happening to those marchers in Selma, Alabama. We were going to have a whole new Bush--not a whole new Bush but a whole new push toward caring about the people who are less prosperous, and now it seems that the thing we really took away from it, which was an important thing, was the lack of an emergency response that was adequate to the job.

MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson, Katrina?

MR. ROBINSON: Katrina, absolutely. And it's--you know, people in the Gulf Coast know what a huge disaster this was. If you haven't seen it firsthand, it's hard to realize the scope of it. But we've essentially lost a major American city. I mean, most of New Orleans is not usable now. It's empty. It's dark at night, as if a weapon of mass destruction had been used on the city, and to say nothing of the devastation along the Mississippi coast, which really isn't covered that much at all. And the reconstruction is just going to be enormous and going to take a long time.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire.

MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE: I like to think an angle on a story. Certainly all the editors of AP, they got together and said, "Katrina is it. That was the major story of the year." My angle would be blame. The public immediately set out to blame somebody and the first one they blamed was the president--was not adequately prepared for it. Then we zeroed in on the head of FEMA and made him a real villain. Then about a week later there was nobody new to blame and they went after the governor, who was teary and wimpish and they accented all the things that she did wrong. And then the mayor. He wasn't ready for the thing. So we saw a whole series of blame. Nobody blamed God. Nobody blamed Mother Nature. It was...

MS. GOODWIN: That would be sexist.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. But--and now The Washington Post came out with an interesting story about this villain who ran FEMA had some good warnings beforehand, saying, "Hey, all this idea of putting us into this huge Homeland Security thing, we're going to be stripped of our power." And now, so there's this second wave of coverage of Katrina.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham.

MR. JON MEACHAM: I think Iraq, and I think, somewhat to Bill's point about an angle on it, is the issue of trust and the questions about the prewar intelligence, the questions about the conduct of the war. In an interesting way to me, for this generation coming of political consciousness, they're coming to consciousness when there are many, many questions about the competence of the government in Katrina, the competence of the government in terms of intelligence. But there's not the good part which happened in the '60s. There's not a civil rights movement. There's not a race to the moon, where things are-- show what government can do in a positive way, and I think this has been a difficult year for government as an idea. And I think that the president, who has chosen to project power in this way, to use Richard Haas' phrase, as a "war of choice," he has done so in a way that now has raised a lot of questions about fundamental competence of the government, both abroad and at home, whether it's in Baghdad or in New Orleans.

MR. RUSSERT: It was interesting; I did a program on MEET THE PRESS on the avian flu, the potential pandemic, and one of the viewers sent me an e-mail saying, "You know, we thought there were weapons of mass destruction. We were told there were, there weren't. Katrina, we were totally unprepared for. Please ask these medical experts why we should feel any confidence that we're prepared for an avian flu if it struck the United States." It very much goes to that theme that you're talking about.

MR. MEACHAM: Right. You know, I think I'm right that Gallup noted it right before the assassination of President Kennedy, that trust in government was at an all-time high, and it eroded through the Johnson years, obviously through Watergate, and President Reagan sort of made government the target in some ways. But we're sort of beyond that kind of simple black-and-white argument, it seems to me. People want security. They want competence, and they're willing to--they understand how hard it is, I think. But they really want both competence and security, and I think that, unfortunately, both in Iraq and in New Orleans, it was a difficult year.

MR. RUSSERT: We're going to talk a whole lot more about Iraq and foreign policy, but I wanted to go to another story. The Associated Press said the second-biggest news event of the year was the papal transition, the death of John Paul II, the elevation of Pope Benedict. This was the scene in Rome in April, and the crowd took over the event, chanting for "John Paul the great," and suggesting rather feverishly that he be made a saint. Peggy Noonan, in her book "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father," said something very interesting. She said the coverage of the funeral was "the greatest evangelical event since Gutenberg printed the Bible." What do you think, Doris?

MS. GOODWIN: Well, I think there's no question that people realized that in the presence of John Paul II, there was a great man who was able to mystically connect to people of all sorts all around the world. I mean, think of the numbers of places he went, the numbers of people that he probably did bring into the Catholic religion because of the force of his personality. We haven't seen those large personalities in a long time. We had it in Churchill, we had it in Roosevelt, we had it negatively in Hitler and Stalin. But this man, in our generation, was probably the largest personality on the world scene, and he did have an effect on people feeling, because of him, that they wanted to dig into themselves even more and think about religion.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, so many non-Catholics approached me during this week saying, "This is fascinating to me, to watch this kind of coverage," in a very positive way. What is that all about?

MR. SAFIRE: Well, with John Paul, there was a political dimension. He was the man, more than anybody, behind Solidarity, and there was this enormous shift that went on in Eastern Europe when he was selected; all of a sudden, a pope from inside the Iron Curtain. And so those of us who were not Catholic were rooting for him, and sure enough, he came through.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham.

MR. MEACHAM: It was both his personality, but it was also what he was saying. John Paul II preached, whether one agrees or disagrees, or believes or disbelieves, what he called the gospel of life, that we should be pro-life in terms of abortion, but we should also be for economic justice, that we should be anti-Communist and pro-individual rights, that we should be anti-capital punishment. He had an intellectual consistency to him that you do not often see in politics or the public stage, and he bore witness to that. To use George Weigel's wonderful phrase, he was a witness to hope. And again, you can argue with him, disagree with him and we don't have to do what he said, but he was a force, a voice for life and for hope in a world that seems increasingly dark, and I think in that sense he was a truly, truly, historical figure, great historical figure, I should say. And I think it's fascinating to me personally that two of the great figures of the late 20th century were actors, Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, because like great actors, great pastors and great politicians convince people of a reality they cannot see and lead them to it. And I think both President Reagan and John Paul II did that.

MS. GOODWIN: And FDR always wished he'd been an actor.

MR. MEACHAM: That's right.

MR. ROBINSON: But Pope John Paul was not an uncontroversial figure within the Catholic Church. I mean, clearly he was a great historical figure, but he leaves behind a church that faces a number of, you know, vexing and important issues, among them the role of women in the church. I mean, you could go on and on and on. And so when you talk about that amazing week of coverage of the funeral as an evangelical event, A, I wonder if that's reflected in church membership figures. I mean, is there more-- are more people joining the Catholic Church? Are people coming back to the Catholic Church, people who perhaps were disaffected by some of John Paul's more conservative policies? And one has to wonder if a figure such as the new pope, Benedict, who lacks the charisma and the X factor of John Paul II, can really not only hold together but bring forward an institution as diverse and complicated as the Catholic Church these days.

MR. RUSSERT: The interesting thing about John Paul II is whether you agreed with him or not almost seemed irrelevant. People had a sense that he believed in something, and because of that, people respected him for his beliefs. But you're exactly right, Gene Robinson, and Peggy Noonan points out in her book, on his watch the difficulties in the Catholic Church in the United States with sex abuse was a disaster...

MR. ROBINSON: And there...

MR. RUSSERT: ...and something that he had a hard time comprehending and dealing with.

MR. ROBINSON: And there are not only issues in the United States, there are issues in the Third World countries, where the Catholic Church has grown, but there's conflict with either government policies or local customs or the whole liberation theology movement, which he effectively crushed, but it's not extinguished in Latin America. I mean, there's lots going on.

MR. MEACHAM: But he was not essentially--the church is only one player in civil society. It's not as though it's a government unto itself, though it likes to think it is. So he was making a case in the public square. The role of politicians and courts and other entities is to make the countercase and to get to the place where people want to be. And I think his consistent voice is one of the more interesting things; also his life story. I mean, to have done--to have grown up under the Nazi occupation of Poland, to have been archbishop under Communist domination, is something that's truly, truly remarkable.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to President Bush, the war in Iraq and the extraordinary year that he has been dealing with. This was the speech in the Oval Office on December 18th of 2005. Let's watch.

(Videotape, December 18, 2005):

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And we remember the words of the Christmas carol written during the Civil War: "God is not dead, nor does he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, were you surprised that the president invoked the Civil War?

MS. GOODWIN: No, not really, because I think his larger invocation was the idea of right and wrong, courage to do the right, and that God somehow, it seems he suggests, is on the side of the right. I think the contrast was that Abraham Lincoln would say, "We have to figure out what God wants; that's what we don't know. God has his purposes out there, but it's the difficulty of man to know what it is." And he was much more willing to say, as he did in the second inaugural, "Both sides in this war read the same Bible, pray to the same God. Both have invoked his aid against the other. Neither's prayers have been fully answered." So I think it's a complicated thing when you think that God's out there definitely on your side, rather than saying, "We got to figure out what the right thing is in a democratic country together."

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire.

MR. SAFIRE: I would completely agree with Doris on that.

MS. GOODWIN: Yea!

MR. SAFIRE: Lincoln--well, let's come back to Iraq. Let me establish my bona fides before I start criticizing the president for anything. I think this is a noble effort that we're in. I think extending democracy is one of the things that this country is dedicated to, and I think we can actually change the course of history by turning things around in the Middle East. And so that's where I stand on--were we lied to or all that stuff, I push aside and I say we're doing the right thing. Now, go ahead, ask about dissent and wiretapping and like that.

MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead.

MR. SAFIRE: OK. I have a thing about wiretapping.

MS. GOODWIN: A personal thing.

MR. SAFIRE: I was writing a speech on welfare reform, and the president looks at it and says, "OK, I'll go with it, but this is not going to get covered. Leak it as far an wide as you can beforehand. Maybe we'll get something in the paper." And so I go back to my office and I get a call from a reporter, and he wants to know about foreign affairs or something, and I said, "Hey, you want a leak? I'll tell you what the president will say tomorrow about welfare reform." And he took it down and wrote a little story about it. But the FBI was illegally tapping his phone at the time, and so they hear a White House speechwriter say, "Hey, you want a leak?" And so they tapped my phone, and for six months, every home phone call I got was tapped. I didn't like that. And when it finally broke--it did me a lot of good at the time, frankly, because then I was on the right side--but it told me how easy it was to just take somebody who is not really suspected of anything for any good reason and listen to every conversation in his home--you know, my wife talking to her doctor, my--everything.

So I have this thing about personal privacy. And I think what's happening now is that the--as a result of that scandal back in the '70s, we got this electronic eavesdropping act stopping it, or requiring the president to go before this court. Now, this court's a rubber-stamp court, let's face it. They give five noes and 20,000 yeses.

MR. RUSSERT: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. But the very fact that the FBI has to do a little paperwork beforehand slows them down and makes them think for a minute. It doesn't slow them down as much as the president has made out to believe, because there's a wrinkle in it saying that if it's a real emergency and you have to get this information, then you can get it and get the approval within 72 hours afterwards. So there's always this struggle in a war between liberty and security. Doris, you go into that in your book, and Lincoln did, indeed, suspend habeas corpus, but there it is in the Constitution, "It shall not be suspended except in invasion or a rebellion," so he had the right to. He didn't have the right, I think, to close the Brooklyn Eagle or see the arrest of the leading dissident, Vanlandingham, and he made some mistakes.

But just as FDR later made a mistake with the eight saboteurs and hanged them all, and just as we made a terrible mistake with the Japanese-Americans in World War II and have apologized for that. During wartime, we have this excess of security and afterwards we apologize. And that's why I offended a lot of my conservative and hard-line friends right after September 11th when they started putting these captured combatants in jail, and said the president can't seize dictatorial power. And a lot of my friends looked at me like I was going batty. But now we see this argument over excessive security, and I'm with the critics on that.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon?

MR. MEACHAM: Well, it often depends on who wins and what purpose it's used for. It's exactly right. We're in a predictable cycle now where war--emergency breaks out, presidents have an almost irresistible urge to grab as much power as they can, for understandable biographical and human reasons. They want to protect the country. Then there will be a reaction after the crisis has passed a bit. You get congressional committees involved, you get the press involved, and then there is a reform that they drive through, the next president drives through the next time.

There can be moments where executive power is a good thing; for instance, the summer of 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt decided to send destroyers to Churchill's Britain. He did it basically by himself, and we remember what he used in the press conference announcing that he was going to send the destroyers without approval of Congress was, he said, "This is the biggest thing that we've done since the Louisiana Purchase," which Jefferson had done without bothering to call Congress. So fighting Hitler, executive power, good; tapping Bill Safire, bad. But I do think that we have to make sure Congress, in a way, is more engaged here. That's--to me, Congress has been missing in action the past four years.

MR. RUSSERT: It has been interesting, the president reportedly calling in The New York Times and The Washington Post, sitting down with them, saying "Please don't print these stories." As you might expect, the MEET THE PRESS archives are filled with these kinds of situations. Fifty-five years ago, Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois was on this program. He turned the tables and was asking the press questions, and this was the situation. Harry Truman had a news conference and the press kept saying, "Well, are you ruling out using the atomic bomb if need be in this war in Korea, in terms of dealing with the Chinese?" And he said, "Everything's on the table," and that created headlines all around the world. And this is the way Paul Douglas crafted his question to the media 55 years ago. Let's watch.

(Videotape, December 24, 1950):

SEN. PAUL DOUGLAS: Now, I'd like to ask this question: Should you pursue these questions to their ultimate limit to try to worm out of a public official state delicate matters which perhaps should not be given to the public eye? If I may use an illustration: Suppose a young man and a young woman are interested in each other, are paying court to each other. If a reporter comes around constantly and asks them the state of their feelings and what their intentions are, it will generally break up a beautiful romance and prevent the event from being consummated. Similarly, this constant prying into issues in the attempt to find out what is going to happen or what is being contemplated, does not that defeat the freedom of action of the government?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Tie the government's hands, Gene, by revealing secrets or asking pesty questions?

MR. ROBINSON: Well, you got a, you know, bunch of journalists here and a historian, so prying is our middle name, you know? It's what we do, but it's an important thing that we do. I mean, you know, what would this country be like without the press trying to find out what the government is doing? It's an essential part of our system. You know, Len Downie, the editor of The Post, has decided not to speak publicly about the reports that he was called in by President Bush to the Oval Office and asked not to print the CIA prison story. The editors and publisher of The New York Times also don't want to speak publicly, I think, about their off-the-record session with the president.

This is certainly not the first time that high authorities have asked The Washington Post or The New York Times not to print stories, and sometimes stories aren't printed. Sometimes decisions are made that lives are at stake, national security is at stake, and information is withheld that the editors in the final analysis believe needs to be withheld. So it's not a question of our finding out everything we can possibly find out and then putting it out there. Anybody who's ever been a foreign correspondent knows who the CIA station chief is in the capital where he or she is based. I mean, you just know. You either know explicitly or you figure it out, but you don't write that. And so there is a balance, I think, already, and it works pretty well.

MS. GOODWIN: You know, it's interesting; Lyndon Johnson told me once that he was spooked by that whole Truman incident where suddenly countries all around the world are saying, "Truman's about to use the atomic bomb or he's considering using it on somebody." And that's what prevented him from having freewheeling, open conversations oftentimes with reporters, because all of his staff would always say to him, "You're so good, you're so colorful," as we know from the tapes. I mean, he was fantastic when he could relax informally. But he was always afraid that he might make that kind of a mistake. Roosevelt had a perfect balance. If somebody started pushing him along, he'd say, "Now you're trying to get me to speculate. I'm not going to speculate, and if you do, you're going to be out on a limb and you'll saw your own limb off." So he was able to relax with the reporters and know that when they asked him these pushing questions, he could just say, "Stop it. I'm not going there."

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, but we are American citizens, and we're journalists but we're American citizens, and we want to protect our country and keep our people safe and not do anything to jeopardize our men and women who are fighting overseas. And it is this balance. You have information. It's a good story, it's a legitimate story. And then someone higher up in the government says, "You're going to jeopardize national security if you go with it." It's a tough balance.

MR. SAFIRE: I remember when Dean Rusk said--and it may have been on MEET THE PRESS--"I'm the secretary of state and I'm on our side." Now, should the press be on a side? And we can say we should be objective and we should criticize, and we should. But at the same time, we shouldn't try to hurt what we consider of overriding importance. And when a group of New York Times editors went in to see President Ford on an off-the-record basis, and he said something about an assassination, all the editors looked at each other--there's a big story there--and said nothing because it was off the record, and we honored that. And because we honored that we were able to get other things. Months or years later, Dan Schorr on CBS said, "This is what happened." And sooner or later, it gets out.

MR. RUSSERT: What was the story?

MR. SAFIRE: I think it had to do with Lumumba...

MS. GOODWIN: I think that's right.

MR. SAFIRE: ...in Africa.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq and to the Office Pool column of William Safire, which runs at the end of the year in The New York Times. Here it is here: "U.S. troops in Iraq at 2006 year's end will number, (a) current `base-line' of 137,000; (b) closer to 100,000; (c) closer to 90,000; (d) 80,000 or below." Jon Meacham.

MR. MEACHAM: I always pick C, Mr. Safire.

MR. RUSSERT: That old gentleman C, Meacham.

MR. MEACHAM: That's right, that's right, that's right. I think the president would like D, and would argue for D, but I suspect C.

MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson.

MR. ROBINSON: I actually suspect B. The president would like D. He would like to get a substantial number of troops out. But I don't think it's going to be possible. I think there will be a drawdown, but not that big.

MR. RUSSERT: Doris.

MS. GOODWIN: My fear is that it's going to be B; my hope is that it's D. But I suspect--I agree with you. I think it's going to be much tougher. We have no idea what's going to happen once these elections really get absorbed by the people and whether or not the sides can refrain themselves from taking after one another, and we're going to have to be there if that's so, according to what Bush wants.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Safire, your answer was?

MR. SAFIRE: D.

MS. GOODWIN: He's the hopeful one amongst us.

MR. SAFIRE: I'm an optimist about it. I think...

MR. RUSSERT: Below 80,000.

MR. SAFIRE: Eighty thousand or below, and I think that 80,000 figure is something that the administration is really shooting for, would love to see, depending on the situation. And Doris here had a son in combat there and won a Bronze Star in Iraq, and the last time we were on, you were pretty nervous...

MS. GOODWIN: Very much.

MR. SAFIRE: ...but stalwart, as he was. And that's why I think by virtue of showing that we're ready to stay there and that we're not panicking and that we've gone through three elections there this year and will go through more democratic process in this coming year, we know and they know that a big American presence is not helpful for their own democracy, so we're there only to get them trained so they can tamp down, batten down, the insurgency.

MR. RUSSERT: But isn't that number also influenced by the midterm election in '06 in this country?

MR. SAFIRE: Shucks, you're an old cynic.

MR. RUSSERT: Skeptic, skeptic, please.

MR. SAFIRE: Yes, of course it is, no doubt about it. There is a hand in the back of the president saying, you know, "Move this along faster." But I don't think that's going to be, as Joe Biden likes to say, dispositive. I think...

MS. GOODWIN: Is that a word?

MR. SAFIRE: I think what will be the deciding factor here is whether they are ready--how much they are ready to fight their own battle.

MR. ROBINSON: I think another way of putting that question, and Doris kind of touched on it, is what kind of Iraq will there be at that time? Will it be a more unitary Iraq than we have now, that seems to be consolidating some sort of democracy, or will it be an Iraq that's in the process, peacefully or not, of separating into three parts essentially--a Shiite republic or--in the south, a Kurdish state in the north and a chaotic middle dominated by the Sunnis? And I think it's entirely unclear, even after the elections, which it's gonna be, unitary or splitting up.

MR. RUSSERT: Military people I talk to, biggest fear is that there's a strong Shiite militia in the south, a strong Kurdish militia in the north, both of which are stronger than the Iraqi national army.

MR. ROBINSON: And look at the success that the religious parties had in the election, and how the secular parties basically got creamed, especially in the Shiite areas. And I don't think that bodes all that well for, you know, tolerance and unity, but maybe I'm wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon?

MR. MEACHAM: I just think we're in the midst of a vast historical change there, obviously, and one of the things that people in our business have to be careful about is either on a daily or hourly or weekly cycle assigning blame or credit and spinning arrows. We are in the midst of projecting power to change a region. As General Powell once said, when Americans go to fight, all we've ever asked for is the ground in which to bury our dead. The--arguably the most undercovered story of this year was the simple courage of the--not simple, but the courage of the young men and women who have gone to fight for these values. And it is values, it's not territory. It's not oil, despite what cynics say. And I think that ultimately the--we will see what happens in time and in--history tells us. At this point in 1985, at the end of the--beginning of 1986, Ronald Reagan had just met with Gorbachev once. We had not had Darkjovic, we had not had Washington, we had not had Moscow, and so things can happen very, very quickly, and President Reagan, the things for which he is remembered, had really not happened. Only Geneva had happened.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire goes out on the line, as always, in his Office Pool about George W. Bush and history. "As Bush approval rises, historians will begin to" square "his era with that of--equate his era with that of: Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan, Clinton." Safire says Truman. Doris Kearns Goodwin?

MS. GOODWIN: Well, I guess what he means by that--if I may interpret it--is that Truman was unpopular certainly when he left the presidency, but had done a number of courageous things for which historians give him enormous credit: the dropping of the A bomb, the willingness to recognize Israel, desegregation of the Army, the aid to--Marshall Plan, aid to Greece and Turkey. The only disagreement I might have with you is I think part of his popularity decline in those last years had to do with the sense of corruption in his administration, the feeling that he was too loyal to some of the people, and he directly correct their malfeasance quickly enough. So that I think if Bush, too--I've read that he's looking at Truman--I think there's a salutary thing to look there, but he's also got to look at the warning of the people around him now and if they are going to be indicted, where does that loyalty, which is a good quality of his, end and where does he have to stand up for what was wrong if they did some wrong?

MR. SAFIRE: And there was cronyism...

MS. GOODWIN: And there was cronyism, right.

MR. SAFIRE: ...government by crony, and as he was leaving, all the talk was the mess in Washington.

MS. GOODWIN: The mess in Washington. That was the words. That's right.

MR. SAFIRE: And yet we look back, he was a president who was in an unpopular war that had not been declared by Congress, and he was stuck really in that war. Now, we look back and see--we remember the big thing. The big thing was he contained communism, which was a really great threat at the time, and so you--in the course of writing historical review--think what was the big thing, and the big thing was not the deep freezes and the mess and the cronyism. It was the ability to see the big picture in the world, to take a chance, to drag the American people along, and to do what he felt was right.

MR. ROBINSON: But given the analogy, if the big threat now is not communism but Islamic fundamentalism, is the president's current policy containing it or inflaming it? Are we making things better or are we making them worse? And, you know, you can suspect one way or the other. We won't know for a while.

MR. RUSSERT: Has he betted his presidency on Iraq?

MR. MEACHAM: Yes, absolutely. On--well, two things. Iraq--he believes that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. That is an incredibly debatable principle, but he has decided that that is his greatest historical legacy, that and the security of the homeland here. And he sees them as inextricably linked, and I think that his historical reputation, which we won't be able to decide...

MR. SAFIRE: Oh, come on. Let's decide it today.

MR. MEACHAM: You know, Michael Beschloss, our great friend, historian Michael Beschloss, says that--he has a--what I call the Beschloss rule. You can't decide on a president until 20 years after he's left office, and you have all the score-settling memoirs and everything has sort of calmed down, and then you can look back in tranquility which does--I'm not being journalistically self-loathing here for those of us who do this, we...

MR. ROBINSON: No, I mean, is Tim going to wheel us all back in 10 years and then...

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what you said then...

MR. ROBINSON: I was right back then.

MR. MEACHAM: Right, right.

MR. RUSSERT: Here's what we can do.

MR. MEACHAM: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: We can look at 2008 presidential race.

MR. ROBINSON: All right.

MR. MEACHAM: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Nobody can stop us.

MR. MEACHAM: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: Here's the Democrats that are being mentioned for 2008 by the great mentioner. We have Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Biden, Delaware, Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Russ Feingold, John Kerry, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, 10--and these 10 Republicans: George Allen of Virginia, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Bill Frist, Tennessee, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, formerly of New York, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice and Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Once again, Mr. Safire gets his little ball out there and looks inside, and this is, he says, "Thinking outside the ballot box: the dark-horse line for the 2008 presidential race will pit: Virginia Democrat Mark Warner against Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney in the battle of centrist capitalists," or the iconoclastic "Senator Russ Feingold v. GOP's non-partisan Mayor Mike Bloomberg to compete for the evangelical vote; (c) the Dems' favorite Republican, Chuck Hagel, against the GOP's favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman; (d) domestic centrists and foreign-policy hardliners Hillary (You're a Grand Old Flag) Clinton against Condi (I am not a lawyer) Rice." Safire picks D, Clinton v. Rice, and then he goes conventional on me and says, "Inside the box: Richardson v. Giuliani, Hillary v. McCain, Warner v. Romney, Biden v. George Allen." He again picks B, Hillary v. McCain. You're stuck on Hillary Clinton.

MR. SAFIRE: She's the greatest fund-raiser the Republicans have ever had.

MS. GOODWIN: Is this desire on your part, or prediction?

MR. SAFIRE: No, it's a prediction.

MS. GOODWIN: I know.

MR. SAFIRE: I think you have to go with it now. Unless she completely alienates the hard left and, Gene, you know more about this than I do.

MR. ROBINSON: Well, I think that may be what she's in the process of doing. I mean, I think she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't. As she moves toward the center to try to make herself viable in a general election, I think she loses support in the Democratic primaries. And in any event, no matter how far she moves to the right, I mean, she could start making appearances with Pat Robertson, and I think there's a substantial portion of the electorate that will never, ever vote for Hillary Clinton. So I--you know, I have a--my crystal ball is very clouded, but I kind of like Mark Warner as a possibility. He was--he has, you know, centrist bona fides. He was a successful governor in Virginia, acclaimed by kind of both sides. He has this kind of non-partisan technocratic air about him, and a lot of people don't know him. I think he can--if he's smart, can kind of paint himself however he wants. So I think he is a real possibility.

MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting, Americans seem to like governors as presidents. If you look back at our history, the last two Democrats, Clinton and Carter, Bush, Reagan. It's quite interesting. Picking up on Bill and Gene's theme, though, Jon and Doris, Russ Feingold is really positioning himself to the left of Hillary Clinton, opposing the Patriot Act, opposing the war, coming out foursquare on the eavesdropping, really trying to position himself in a way where he can say to a lot of liberal groups, "Hey, I am very authentic and real on the issues that matter to you."

MR. MEACHAM: Yeah, a sane Howard Dean basically, I think is where he is. I think that's true. I think Republicans like to win. It's odd. Conservatives usually like defeat and sort of having a sense of persecution. Interestingly, Democrats have come to like defeat, I think, and so they will--I think Gene's right. The hard left will get upset with Hillary for positioning herself in a way that she could win. I think--ultimately I think this is probably McCain v. Hillary, and if I were John McCain, I would raise a--start a PAC to make sure Rudy Giuliani gets in the race so that McCain looks like the centrist, the Reagan figure. He needs--I think George Bush Sr. is the model here for Giuliani. Reagan needed a George Bush Sr. so he didn't look like the most conservative guy in the field in 1980, and I think McCain needs somebody, and it would be Giuliani on that side, to make him look like the centrist Reaganist figure.

MR. SAFIRE: But if you want to stop Hillary and you're a Democrat, what's the best way to stop a front-runner like that? With the same campaign they used against Henry Clay. Clay...

MS. GOODWIN: I remember it well.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. You remember. "Clay can't win." That was the big slogan. And what with the visceral distrust of Hillary Clinton by most Republicans, and with the distrust of her now by the hard left, the Howard Dean left, the question then becomes, could she possibly win. She could win the nomination, but she would lose the election. That would be the argument.

MS. GOODWIN: I think the real...

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think? Can she win?

MR. SAFIRE: Let me preface that by saying that I was on a panel with her, and it was kind of uncomfortable because I once called her a congenital liar, and I was able to explain to her that in the transmission to The Times, what I had originally said was that she was a congenial lawyer.

MS. GOODWIN: Are you serious? That's great.

MR. SAFIRE: No, I'm not serious.

MS. GOODWIN: No, I mean, you didn't explain that to her.

MR. SAFIRE: But the--sure, she could win, and certainly she's getting good advice from Bill Clinton, and that is stay in the middle.

MS. GOODWIN: I think the real question for the Republicans is if they want to win, it seems that the country's longing for somebody that's above politics and can bridge both gaps. It's not simply that McCain is a centrist, but that people on both sides feel comfortable with him, unless the hard right prevents him from getting the nomination.

MR. RUSSERT: And if Hillary's the Democratic nominee and McCain's the Republican nominee, who does McCain take as his vice president?

MS. GOODWIN: I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT: How about Condoleezza Rice?

MR. ROBINSON: Condoleezza Rice.

MS. GOODWIN: Oh, oh.

MR. ROBINSON: Condoleezza Rice.

MR. RUSSERT: And if you...

MS. GOODWIN: My God, is that a ticket.

MR. RUSSERT: And if you can tilt African-American voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida just 1 or 2 percent...

MS. GOODWIN: Hispanic voters, yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...who knows?

MS. GOODWIN: Yeah. And women.

MR. RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break. We'll be right back. What books does this panel recommend you read in '06? And also, New Year's resolutions. We got them, right after this.

                (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Our special New Year's Day edition of MEET THE PRESS with Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, Gene Robinson, Bill Safire will continue after this station break.

                (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.

All right, Doris Kearns Goodwin, other than "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," take that off the table because we're all reading it, what book, books should President Bush or our viewers be reading in 2006?

MS. GOODWIN: Well, you know, oddly I just reread Mr. Bush's Sr.'s "All The Best," which is his letters and diaries, and if the junior would read that, it talks about bipartisanship, it talks about shmoozing with the congressmen, being much more open and being willing to just listen to what people are saying. I think he's taken the negative parts of his father about raising no taxes and not using the political capital. There's a lot of positive pieces in that classy father that are in that book.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire?

MR. SAFIRE: When I read a book, I like to get away from politics, and in the world of science there's a wonderful book coming out by Eric Kandel, the Nobel Prize winner, called "In Search of Memory." It's a study of memory as well as his memories of his life, and I'm really looking forward to that.

MR. RUSSERT: Put it down. Gene Robinson.

MR. ROBINSON: I would suggest "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang. It is a truly great biography of Mao Tse-tung, and as China becomes the other truly important country in the world, this is a great survey of this man and how China came to be what it is.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon?

MR. MEACHAM: The third volume of Taylor Branch's magisterial biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being published in a couple of weeks, "At Canaan's Edge," and I think it's a case where the president could learn and we all could learn about the real role that religion can play in public life or witness to change the country for the better.

MR. RUSSERT: And he will be on this program on the Sunday before Martin Luther King's birthday.

New Year's resolutions, Doris Kearns Goodwin. You're a historian, make one.

MS. GOODWIN: Well, I have to prevent myself from wishing harm to Johnny Damon for having become such a traitor and going to the New York Yankees.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you on the screen what Johnny Damon said about never wearing Yankee pinstripes.

MS. GOODWIN: I mean, I used to as a kid--in my first confession I wished various New York Yankee players would break arms and legs and ankles so that the Dodgers could win their first World Series. I find myself...

MR. RUSSERT: What was your penance for that?

MS. GOODWIN: A lot of prayers. I find myself wishing the same thing, so I've got to prevent--my resolution is: Stop, let us all win fairly and squarely, as the priest told me.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire?

MR. SAFIRE: I resolve never to retire, because your brain vegetates if you do. And, two, to remain an optimist. And it kind of embarrasses some people, and cynicism is a wonderful big wave now, but I think we're coming into a good year, and I'm optimistic about it.

MR. RUSSERT: My dad just turned 82 years old, and his glass is two-thirds full. I mean, the most optimistic man you ever want to meet.

MS. GOODWIN: He's the best.

MR. RUSSERT: What a country. I say what a country. Either it's a hot dog, a cup of coffee or listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner." Optimism is the secret to life, no doubt about it.

MS. GOODWIN: He gave that gift to you, kiddo.

MR. SAFIRE: I'm with him.

MR. RUSSERT: Gene?

MR. ROBINSON: I think mine is not to forget the Gulf Coast, actually. I mean, I'm planning to go back down there in a couple weeks, and it's kind of out of sight, out of mind, but that was such a tragedy down there, and I think as we get preoccupied with Iraq and with politics and all of that, we really can't forget these people and can't forget what they need because they need everything.

MR. RUSSERT: The editor of The Times-Picayune is just begging for help in those editorials. It's just breathtaking, just the passion and the anger that he's writing.

MR. ROBINSON: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Saying, "Please, don't--do not forget us."

MR. ROBINSON: City's gone.

MS. GOODWIN: It is.

MR. ROBINSON: City's gone.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham?

MR. MEACHAM: I think in the media we should be breaking the news and not being the news so much. I think that we have in a way been to much of a player on the stage as ourselves this year, and I think we...

MR. RUSSERT: How do you avoid that?

MR. MEACHAM: I think you just work like hell to get it right and to understand the biographical and human forces on the other guy, on the institutions you're covering. Know that the other institutions are as fallible as yours and with a measure of charity and dignity and respect you write and cover other institutions as you would want to be covered.

MR. SAFIRE: And respect your sources.

MR. RUSSERT: And be clear to them what the new rules are.

MR. MEACHAM: And ultimately keep your word. It's funny. You know, it's simple pieces of advice. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what it was to say. You don't have to search...

MR. RUSSERT: You only have to tell it once.

MR. MEACHAM: Yeah. You don't have to search the hard drive.

MR. RUSSERT: There isn't any other story.

MR. MEACHAM: There's no Google search involved to remember. It's just tell the truth and you'll be all right.

MR. RUSSERT: Amen, Brother Jon. Gene Robinson, Bill Safire, Doris Kearns Goodwin, thank you.

We'll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute. John Ehrlichman from 33 years ago this very week.

                (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Thirty-three years ago this New Year's week, the top adviser to President Nixon, appeared on MEET THE PRESS and defended the president's right to conduct the nation's policy in foreign affairs in a time of war.

(Videotape, January 7, 1973):

MR. BILL MONROE (NBC News): Mr. Ehrlichman, almost everything is tied in these days to the outcome of the Vietnam War, including a great many domestic matters, and you're one of the few people in daily contact with the president who knows a great deal about his thinking on all of these major issues. Well, why did the president initiate the carpet bombing near Hanoi and Hai Fung without any consultation with congressional leaders and without any speech of explanation to the American people?

Mr. JOHN D. EHRLICHMAN (Ass't To The President): Mr. Monroe, I--it seems to be a favorite device of the press to ask me questions about foreign affairs when my particular bailiwick is the domestic side, and I try and tell people that I have a side deal with Henry Kissinger. That he won't ever comment on the highway program if I don't comment on Vietnam. I try and follow that agreement. But I think this business about consultation also applies on the domestic side, but perhaps in a different setting. The president is the commander in chief and he is also by the Constitution vested with the sole capacity to conduct the nation's foreign affairs. He's engaged in a difficult negotiation. Your colleague, Crosby Noyes, this morning in the Washington Star I think has a very perceptive column which he indicates that every president in recent history has been in a situation where he simply could not introduce consultation in the sense in which your question puts it. President Truman at the time of the Korean conflict, time of the dropping of the bomb and so on, simply not appropriate for a president to do a thing by committee, and I think that President Nixon at this time finds himself in that situation.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: A different war and a different president, but some stark similarities to the debate over the war in Iraq and the war on terror today.

A footnote on John Ehrlichman. He is, of course, most well known for his role in the Watergate scandal. Just three months after this appearance on MEET THE PRESS, he was forced to resign from the Nixon White House and later convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and perjury. He served 18 months in prison. He died in 1999 at the age of 73.

And we'll be right back.

                (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And don't forget, you can now watch the entire hour of MEET THE PRESS whenever and wherever you want. Our MEET THE PRESS Webcast posted each Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com.

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. Happy holidays, happy Hanukkah, happy new year.

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