updated 12/27/2006 6:13:24 PM ET 2006-12-27T23:13:24

Guests: Peter Beinart, Ron Christie, Jeff Dufour

PAT BUCHANAN, HOST:  Welcome to the Tuesday edition of this show.

I‘m Pat Buchanan, sitting in for Tucker Carlson, who has gone fishing. 

The fate of Saddam Hussein became crystal clear this morning when an Iraq court of appeals upheld Saddam‘s death sentence for crimes against humanity. 

NBC‘s Richard Engel has this report from Baghdad. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Iraqi officials tell NBC News that an appeals court here in Baghdad has today upheld a death sentence issued in November against Saddam Hussein.  According to Iraqi law, that death sentence to be carried out by hanging must be implemented within 30 days. 

It‘s still not clear how exactly or where he will be executed.  Saddam Hussein had requested to be executed by a firing squad.  And at one stage, Iraqi officials had said they wanted this hanging to take place in public in a soccer stadium, surrounded by tens of thousands of spectators. Now, however, Iraqi officials say that would be too dangerous, that that venue would likely be attacked by insurgents. 

More likely is that Saddam Hussein would be hanged in a jail cell on the U.S. base where he is currently being held on the outskirts of Baghdad.  The execution would be attended by at least one of Saddam‘s lawyers, several members of the Iraqi government, and it would be photographed and filmed, according to Iraqi officials, and then portions of that would be broadcast on Iraqi television.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  Here for our daily give and take on all the news of Washington and the world are Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at “The New Republic,” and former special assistant to President Bush, Ron Christie.   

Let me start with you, Peter.

Look, obviously, if anybody deserves a death sentence, this guy does.  Is there any wisdom in not enforcing the death sentence on Saddam Hussein? 

PETER BEINART, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  It‘s not our choice.  Politically, you could argue it would be better if they didn‘t because the Sunnis will probably react, some of them, at least, very negatively to this and it will inflame sectarian tensions.  But this is way outside of the United States‘ hands.  We couldn‘t stop this even if we wanted to.

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s going to go ahead, there‘s no doubt about it.  The spirit of vengeance, the desire to get even with him all over. 

But you see—you don‘t see any advantage in the—or do you see any possibility the Iraqis themselves wouldn‘t execute this guy? 

BEINART:  No.  I think if you look at the Shia political parties who run Iraq, they hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone.  It‘s their family members, above all, who were executed and brutalized by Saddam.  They definitely want this guy dead. 

BUCHANAN:  Do you want this guy dead, too, Ron?  Do you think it‘s a good thing and the right thing to do?

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  I do.  I mean, we have Iraq no as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.  The Iraqi people have their democratically elected government, they have their constitution, and Saddam Hussein has had his day in court.  And I think he is going to meet the execution that he so rightly deserves.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you say it is a beacon of democracy.  Three of the defense lawyers were assassinated, and one of the witnesses.  You don‘t think that would get overturned in the 9th Circuit? 

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  Well, given that I‘m from the San Francisco area, in the 9th Circuit anything goes.

Look, Pat, I think that the Iraqis have spoken.  He has had his opportunity to be in court.  And as Peter suggested just a second ago, one of the bad things that I think that we can see from this is, is there going to be a sectarian flare-up?  Are you going to have the Sunnis, who are disappointed with what happened to Saddam Hussein, who they love, are they going to take to the streets and promote more sectarian violence? 

BUCHANAN:  You laugh.  I heard you laughing when he called it a beacon of democracy.  Weren‘t you in favor of this war? 

BEINART:  I was.  I was.  And I publicly said that I was wrong.  I said it many, many times, and I said it at great lengths, trying to explain why I was wrong.

Look, the problem with—I just want to...

BUCHANAN:  Was the war misbegotten or was the war mishandled?  Or both?

BEINART:  Both.  I think that there was no—it was reasonable to think in the fall of 2002 that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear weapon.  But it was not reasonable in March, 2003, after the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had undermined the rationale for Saddam‘s nuclear program.  That‘s where I was wrong.

But I just want to make one point. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  When we—Iraq is not a democracy, because Iraq is not a state. 

You can‘t be a democracy if you are not a state. 

The definition of a state is you have a monopoly on legitimate violence.  It‘s ridiculous to call Iraq a democracy because there‘s no functioning state in Iraq. 

BUCHANAN:  Is it—is the Iraq war a success or a failure?

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think it‘s too soon to say.  I think we are not winning right now. 

President Bush said it the other week, that we‘re not winning.  But at the same time, we are not entirely losing. 

I think that we need, in my opinion, to get a clear strategy in Iraq for moving forward so that the United States soldiers can come home.  And Pat, I think the way that we get there is to have the Iraqis assume more of the responsibility.  Until they do, I think the United States is in a tough spot.

BUCHANAN:  All right.

Let me talk about this surge, because they‘re talking about 15,000 to 30,000 American troops in.  McCain is very much in favor of it.  If it fails and—first, do you think it‘s going to happen, Ron, there will be a surge?  And secondly, what are the chances that this will succeed, where four years of effort and a previous surge failed?

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think that given everything that you‘ve heard from the president and some of his military advisers, I think that we will see a surge of boots on the ground in Iraq.  I don‘t know what the ultimate number of that will be.  And will they succeed?  Of course.

I‘m an optimist.  I think if the president is going to put troops in harm‘s way and potentially put their lives at risk, we have no other choice than to succeed over there. 

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

BEINART:  The problem is, we already had a surge this summer and the violence got worse. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  If there was a real political compact between the Sunnis and the Shias to share oil wealth, which is the most important thing they could do, and we were sending more troops in to try to enforce that, that might be a different story.  But absent the political compact, our increased number of troops are not going to be able to make much of a difference, I think. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, what—what happens—because it‘s a real possibility—we put in 15,000 or 20,000, and then for a time the violence goes down and the violence starts up again, and they surge, as it were, in Baghdad as well, as they‘ve done?

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  I mean, they matched every increment in American troops, and you have the worst violence going on we‘ve ever had.  You‘ve got another 100 Americans perhaps dead this month, like in October.

What happens if that happens in six months?  What does the president do then? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think the president has said that his objectives for the region are to have an end to the sectarian violence or to remove some of the sectarian flare-ups that we continue to see.  If, in fact, we put more troops on the ground and in six months you have these flare-ups, I think the president again is going to have to go back with his military advisers and say, is this working?

But just to say, Pat, oh, well, we shouldn‘t—we shouldn‘t put these boots on the ground I think is a mistake.

BUCHANAN:  No, I‘m not saying you shouldn‘t put these boots on the ground. 

What I‘m saying is, look, do you have to commit indefinitely?  I mean...

CHRISTIE:  No.  I think that if we commit and say that the United States is going to be in Iraq indefinitely I think is a mistake.  I think as the president has articulated, once we...

BUCHANAN:  But if you don‘t, can‘t they wait you out?  If you say six months...

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... and so they go to earth (ph) for three or four months, and then they really ratchet it up...

CHRISTIE:  That‘s the danger, Pat, of having a timetable of saying that we‘re going to withdraw in six months or a year, and that these folks will, I think, wait us out. 

BEINART:  But this is the irony.  Bush has been against these timetables, but the military folks themselves are saying we can‘t maintain these larger numbers of troops for very long. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

BEINART:  So we‘re going to have—surge suggests it‘s temporary.  And if it is temporary, I think you‘re right.  The real people we will be fighting here are Muqtada‘s Sadr forces.  They have become enemy number one for...

BUCHANAN:  Well, wait a minute.  Let me interrupt you there, because Muqtada al-Sadr is already sort of standing down.  I think he knows what‘s coming is a battle of Baghdad.  He has said his guys are going to go back into the cabinet and the parliament, and maybe we need a truce for a month or a couple of months. 

Doesn‘t he see this coming?  And can he outlast it? 

BEINART:  He can outlast it.  And I want to be even more grim.  We can‘t defeat Muqtada al-Sadr.  He, as horrible and as big a thug as that guy, he‘s the most popular politician in Iraq today.  Fewer—you know, working off of the anti-occupation politics...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  ... that is there amongst the Shia.  If we were to go and try to fight him house to house in Sadr City, where he was king, we would lose. 

BUCHANAN:  Do you think we‘re going to lose the war?

BEINART:  Yes.  I think we have already lost. 

BUCHANAN:  Do you think we‘re going to lose the war?

CHRISTIE:  No.   

BUCHANAN:  When do you think we‘re going to come out?  And how?

CHRISTIE:  I think that the only way that the United States comes out is for us to help the Iraqi government bring stability and end some of the sectarian violence. 

BUCHANAN:  Ron, Ron, Ron, look at—look at the government.  Look at the government.  Is that credible?

CHRISTIE:  Yes, I think it‘s going to be a question of years rather than months.

BUCHANAN:  Look at the government. 

We‘re going to keep 150,000 -- 140,000 guys in there for years?

CHRISTIE:  I think we‘ll have a strong United States presence in that region for several years to come.  I do.

BUCHANAN:  Do you think the American people will support that?

CHRISTIE:  I think the American people will support having...

BUCHANAN:  Twelve percent support a snurge

CHRISTIE:  I think the American people will support having American troops in Iraq if they feel that the objective is clear.  And right now, I think the American people do not think it‘s clear.

BUCHANAN:  Peter, quickly, do you think they will support it?

BEINART:  In the region outside of Iraq to have a few guys around so we can go in and fight terrorists. 

BUCHANAN:  But in Iraq? In Iraq?

BEINART:  In Iraq?  No.  The politics are shifting fast.  If we have this surge, that will last for a few months.  If it doesn‘t work, that will be the end of the game.

BUCHANAN:  And the Democrats will cut off funding?

BEINART:  No.  The Democrats won‘t cut off funding, but the Democrats...

BUCHANAN:  Then how do you stop it? 

BEINART:  I think that the pressure eventually is going to become—well, look, once we do the surge and it doesn‘t work, what then?  I think then you‘re going to have to go to plan two, which is giving more authority over to the Iraqis.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

Coming up, fresh poll numbers from key primary states paint a dicey picture for Hillary Clinton and a rosy scenario for Barack Obama.  The question is, more than a year away from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, does it all mean anything?

Plus, why are some Midwestern cops having to learn Spanish to get their badges?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  The other challengers, at least I‘m on the radar screen.  And I feel very good about the money we‘ve been able to raise so far and feel very good about the progress we are making in the early states. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  On the radar screen.  That was Senator Joe Biden. 

For better or worse, Iowa voters matter more than almost all others when it comes to the presidential nominating process.  And a new poll by TV station KCCI in Des Moines shows that Senator John Edwards and Barack Obama are running well ahead a year from the caucuses, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is running far behind in fourth place.  In New Hampshire, another critical state, Mrs. Clinton is still the choice, but her lead over Obama has dwindled to almost nothing. 

Here to assess whatever meaning these numbers have on the day after Christmas 2006 are Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at “The New Republic,” and Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush.

Ron, let me start this up with you because we‘ll get to the Democrats here in a second. 

My view, my take on it is, this is bad news for Hillary Clinton.  I‘ve

never seen a frontrunner for the nomination, even a not terribly strong

one, at 10 percent in Iowa at this point

CHRISTIE:  I agree with you.  At this stage of the game a lot of this is name recognition. 

One of the things I wonder is whether or not the American people have had Clinton fatigue.  You‘ve either had a Clinton or a Bush on the ticket now when you get to 2008 for almost two decades.  I wonder if people know who she is, people know what she stands for, her name ID is off the chart...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

CHRISTIE:  Given that she‘s in fourth in Iowa, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  And this isn‘t among the American people.  This is among Democrats. 

CHRISTIE:  Right.  Right.  I think it portends very badly for her. 

John Edwards, on the other hand, is one who has been laying the groundwork.  He‘s been courting labor.  And Obama, while he might be the flavor of the month, and people really don‘t know what he stands for, this is bad for Senator Clinton because, as you point out, this is among Iowa Democrats, and they‘ve already put her in fourth place. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, Peter, let me say, I think it‘s a three-person race.  I think it‘s Hillary, who‘s obviously going to have the money, the legs, if you will, to go the distance, even if she loses Iowa.  If he gets in, Barack Obama, I mean, he‘s, as they say, eating up all the oxygen.

But I think the third man in the race, I agree.  I think it‘s John Edwards.  He has done an outstanding job in Iowa.  He‘s got this sort of—you know, the two Americas idea, but now it‘s going to be one America—he‘s going to bring us all together.  And there‘s not enough room for anybody else there, I don‘t think, once you get three in there. 

What is your take?  I find this 10 percent startling. 

BEINART:  Yes.  I think it‘s a couple of things.

First of all, we have to remember, the Iraq war blocks out the sun for Democrats in particular.  This is a political environment not so different than, say, 1969 or 1972 for Democrats.  It is going to be extremely difficult having supported the Iraq war and not said flatly, as John Edwards as, I was wrong to go into a room of Democrats and get people passionate and excited about your candidacy when you were on the opposite side of the issue about which they care most.

BUCHANAN:  But hasn‘t she already taken the Kerry-Edwards position, which, “If only I had known then what I know now, I would not have voted for the war”? 

BEINART:  She—but she‘s in danger of falling into the John Kerry trap.  John Edwards has been much more forthright and said just flat, “I was wrong,” which is what people want to hear. 

The other problem is that a lot of Democrats fear that she can‘t win. 

They‘re concerned...

BUCHANAN:  Let me interrupt you there.  Do—should she really say, “I was wrong”?  Here‘s the most important vote of her life.  She got us into a war in which 3,000 people are dead, in which it looks like we‘re going to lose, and she‘s going to say, hey, I made a mistake? 

BEINART:  Well, Robert Kennedy said he was wrong about Vietnam.  I think for most Democrats...

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think Robert Kennedy could have beaten Nixon if he got

the nomination, and he could not have gotten the nomination from Humphrey -

Ron. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  I was there, Peter.  I know you were in a crib—I know you were in a crib somewhere.  I was there. 

CHRISTIE:  I agree with you (INAUDIBLE) the same genre. 

Look, I agree with you.  I think if Senator Clinton goes and says, “I made a big mistake,” similar to what John Edwards did, I think she‘s going to get into the John Kerry flip-flop.  You know, were you for it, before you were against it?

Senator Clinton, again, a lot of people know who she is and a lot of people know what she stands for.  And a lot of people simply just don‘t like her.  I think that‘s what it boils down to.

BUCHANAN:  But I mean—but look, let me say this.  You know, again, I go back to Robert Dole.  I ran against Dole.

Dole started off above 50 percent.  In Iowa he was 35, 40 percent or above.  And I‘ve never seen a candidate who‘s a frontrunner like Hillary Rodham Clinton at 10 percent in Iowa.  That‘s an anti-Clinton vote. 

BEINART:  It‘s also—Iowa is a bad state for Hillary.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  It‘s an almost all White state, where her strongest base will be

certainly if Obama‘s (INAUDIBLE) African-Americans and Latinos.  It‘s a left-leaning state, particularly on national security, and it‘s a state with a powerful labor movement which is—it trends left on—but that‘s why the Clinton people wanted Michigan to be up there.  They thought Michigan was a  better state for them. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.

CHRISTIE:  But again—but again...

BUCHANAN:  What about—all right.  Let me go on.

Joe Biden, chairman of foreign relations, is he going to do as well as Richard Lugar, chairman of foreign relations?  I mean, Lugar got out there, and he‘s—you know, he‘s very erudite and he understands foreign policy, but, you know, in New Hampshire, they say, what is your position on guns?  You know?

CHRISTIE:  I think Biden hit it right where he said he‘s on the radar screen.  I think he‘s a blip on the radar screen, and I think that‘s where he‘s going to stay on the radar screen. 

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s coming in under the radar.  Don‘t you?

BEINART:  He‘s a little more exciting than Richard Lugar, to be fair.  Actually, Biden is a pretty—a pretty impressive guy, but he‘s not right for this moment... 

BUCHANAN:  All right, let me—here‘s—let me tell you—look, now, there are two ways you can beat a frontrunner, or two frontrunners like Obama and Hillary.  One is you get a cutting issue like McGovern had or Goldwater had, the great conservative movement, or you‘ve got a charismatic personality like Jack Kennedy. 

BEINART:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  I mean, he comes along—he didn‘t have any credentials like Humphrey, but he‘s charismatic, and the family, it‘s exciting. 

Which of the two does Biden have? 

BEINART:  No, Biden has neither.  This is not the right year. 

BUCHANAN:  But is there anybody has either of those?  I think Edwards has got a good position and he‘s sort of charismatic, indifferent and stuff. 

Is there anybody else? 

CHRISTIE:  Look, Edwards...

BEINART:  Not in the Democratic Party. 

BUCHANAN:  No?

BEINART:  Because the Democratic Party, the charisma is clearly Biden, and even to some degree Edwards have it.  The cutting issue on which you would try to go against the field would probably be on trade, but Edwards has taken that position.  Edwards is probably going to run to Hillary‘s left, more your line on trade. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  And so the policies are sewn up.

BUCHANAN:  I think that‘s a—I think that‘s a good issue that Edwards has got, because the Democratic Party is right there. 

BEINART:  That‘s right.

CHRISTIE:  But Peter‘s point is well taken.  Look, if these guys continue to go to the left, I wonder when the general election comes around if they‘ve gone so far to the left, will, in fact, the Democrats be able to field a candidate who can competitively run against a Republican? 

BUCHANAN:  See, that‘s the point of people saying Hillary has got to say, “I was wrong.”  If you say “I was wrong,” it might help you in the primaries.  You get out in the general election and you‘re running against McCain or somebody—I mean, she got it wrong, the biggest, most important decision that she ever—most important vote that she ever made in her life?

BEINART:  Well, that‘s where it‘s more difficult for her.  Hillary‘s whole strategy—because the Republicans have so relentlessly gone after her as someone who believes nothing, who‘s just a political—that‘s what they do against all the Democrats.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BEINART:  That‘s what they said about  Gore.  That‘s what they said about Kerry.  Hillary has run against that...

BUCHANAN:  They didn‘t say it about Kucinich, did they?

(LAUGHTER)

BEINART:  They didn‘t know who Kucinich was.  Hillary has tried to go against that by being very consistent.  That‘s why...

BUCHANAN:  She‘s consistent.  All right.

Ever since he tried to take (ph) over the Cleveland municipal power company.

BEINART:  Exactly.  He agrees with you about a lot, though, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  OK.

Coming up, “The New York Times” reports that the new Congress will bring forth a new immigration bill.  But will a bipartisan compromise do anything to stem the tide, the flood tide of illegal immigration?

And Joe Biden prepares to announce his presidency.  And we did that.  OK.

We‘ll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  As Congress prepares a new immigration bill, today‘s “USA Today” carries a piece about police departments being encouraged and, in some cases, required to have their officers proficient in the Spanish language.  In Des Moines, Iowa, cops must learn Spanish before getting their badges. 

Where is the country going?

To hash it out, we‘re joined again by Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at “The New Republic,” and Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush and that ubiquitous Republican strategist.

CHRISTIE:  I do what I can.  Thanks.

BUCHANAN:  How many times have you seen on TV, look at all these Republican strategists.  I say, what campaigns did these guys strategize in? 

BEINART:  Exactly.  What are they really up to?

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Well, let‘s go to this immigration issue, because this is something.  “The New York Times” had a big story today on it, a brand new immigration bill. 

Basically, it is a—it is the so-called amnesty bill without having to go back to Mexico, Ron.

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  And Kennedy is in favor of it and McCain is signing on to it.  Now, if there‘s anything, it seems to me, in the last campaign, where Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer voted themselves for 700 miles of security fences, as well as Jim Moran...

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... it is the country wants the borders secured, first and foremost, and doesn‘t want amnesty.  Is McCain overloading the circuits? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think McCain could be putting himself in a very difficult position for getting the nomination in 2008.  There are a lot of people, as you accurately say, in the base of the Republican Party who say we are not doing enough to secure our borders, we are not looking at this as the homeland security issue, crisis that it is, I think.  And why in the world would you be in favor of a piece of legislation that would allow people who have entered this country illegally to gain advantage to become a legal citizen of the United States? 

I think that is something that would really irritate the base.  And McCain has put himself open and put himself in a position now where people are going to take shots at him from the right.

BUCHANAN:  He is going to have to go against the Republican hard-liners in the Senate...

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... who are not enough to stop it.

CHRISTIE:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  And the Republicans and many of the newly-elected Democrats in the House, who maybe enough, frankly, to stop it. 

I can‘t understand why—Peter, why the Democratic Party would want to move on an issue this volatile which is going to paint them as pro-amnesty, which is clearly going to be damaging to them.  And I think it‘s going to help the Republican conservatives and the others say the Democratic Party is a liberal party on amnesty, it‘s going to do away with the security fence we got last year.  It doesn‘t believe in controlling the borders, it doesn‘t believe in national security. 

BEINART:  The problem is, Pat, you guys lost in 2006.  You guys had a really strong showing with your most anti-immigration candidates.  There were guys down in Arizona, Hayworth and the Minuteman guy.  Then the politics would be on your side.

I frankly thought you were going to do real well.  You got—you got knocked out.  You did really badly.  And that‘s why now you see more momentum on the Bush-Kennedy position.

BUCHANAN:  Three anti-illegal immigration proposals won in landslides in Arizona.

BEINART:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Sure, J.D. Hayworth lost, and so did the fellow Randy Graft (ph) down there in that district.  But of Tom Tancredo‘s caucus, six percent lost, 11 percent of all Republicans in the House lost, and 25 percent of pro-amnesty Republicans went down the tubes. 

BEINART:  But the declining Hispanic support for the Republican Party is also considered by many Republicans, I think rightly, a grave long-term threat.  Look, if the Republican Party—if Hispanics are socialized—let me just say, if Hispanics are socialed into the Democratic Party like Italians were socialized into the Democratic Party with Franklin Roosevelt, the Republican Party will be the minority party in America for decades. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Let me tell you, the Republicans lost about seven or eight points among Hispanics.

BEINART:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  They lost seven or eight points among white voters, who are about 10 times as numerous.  It is the loss of the Reagan Democrats that is killing the GOP.

BEINART:  No...

CHRISTIE:  But that‘s exactly right.  And I would take this a step further.

Look, you can look at what happened in the House and Senate and view that, I think, as a repudiation of the Iraq strategy, but the base of the Republican Party, I believe, is looking at immigration and then lack of seriousness of Washington to secure the borders. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.

Coming up, John Edwards, as we mentioned, is expected to announce his run for the presidency this coming week.  Is Edwards the dark horse who could go the distance?

And the misfire that made headlines.  Vice President Cheney‘s shot heard around the world, it makes the list of the top political stories of the year.

We‘ll bring you all the rest after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

BUCHANAN:  From an unpopular war in Iraq to a Democratic sweep of the House and the Senate in November, to a large dose of corruption on Capitol Hill, it‘s been a horrible year for George W. Bush and the G.O.P.  NBC News Chief White House correspondent David Gregory has a look back. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Absolutely, we are winning. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

In 2006, the Iraq war endures, the dominant theme in American politics.  In January, while the president urged the country to stay the course—

BUSH:  We‘re on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory.

GREGORY:  -- the president‘s top political adviser links Democratic dissent with weakness. 

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF:  Republicans have a post 9/11 view of the world, and Democrats a pre 9/11 view of the world. 

GREGORY:  The American people are increasingly anxious, even angry about Iraq sliding towards civil war.  Hundreds are killed in February, when insurgents target Samarrah‘s Golden Mosque, one of the holiest to Shiite Islam.  The president becomes more defensive about the mission. 

BUSH:  If I didn‘t believe we could succeed, I wouldn‘t be there.  I wouldn‘t put those kids three. 

GREGORY:  But in the world of politics beyond Iraq, one of the top events of the year was a shot heard round the world, when the vice president shot his friend, lawyer Harry Whitington, during a hunting trip.  Cheney irked the White House by keeping the shooting a secret from the press for nearly a day, but finally broke his silence. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was not Harry‘s fault.  You can‘t blame anybody else.  I‘m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. 

GREGORY:  But it was the war driving public opinion. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  What you saw was just a gradual erosion from a weak position the president held at the beginning of the year, got much weaker as the year went on.   

GREGORY:  Optimism for a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops fades. 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  What are we finding driving these numbers these days? 

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. 

GREGORY:  There is good news.  An important milestone in the war effort. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. 

GREGORY:  Still, from Spring into Summer, the drum beat builds to bring troops home and fire Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  You are presiding over a failed policy. 

BUSH:  I‘m the decider and I decide what is best, and what is best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense. 

GREGORY:  The campaign season builds toward a referendum on the president‘s war in Iraq. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  I think it was a mistake for us to go in. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We made a strategic error in going into Iraq. 

GREGORY:  The rhetoric become ratcheted up. 

BUSH:  The party of F.D.R. and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run. 

GREGORY:  But it‘s Republicans who are reeling. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My opponent supports George Bush‘s war.  I couldn‘t disagree more. 

GREGORY:  In the middle of the fight, the political world witnesses the new power of YouTube, when Senator George Allen creates the self-defeating Macaca moment. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  The fellow here, over here, with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is.

HARWOOD:  Iraq was the dominant issue but corruptions was the second issue that helped seal the fate of Republicans in the election. 

GREGORY:  For many, the Mark Foley page scandal highlights the incompetence, even corruption of Republican rule. 

The election is a clean sweep for the Democrats, and a statement about Iraq. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA:  And nowhere did the American people make it more clear that we need a new direction than in the war in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  The first casualty of the vote, Secretary Rumsfeld. 

BUSH:  Sometimes it‘s necessary to have a fresh perspective and Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective. 

GREGORY:  The year ends with dire warnings about the future of Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.

GREGORY:  And questions about what the president will do next. 

BUSH:  I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete. 

GREGORY (on camera):  Another question, what will Americans do next politically?  This year ends with campaign 2008 already underway, Clinton, Obama, McCain, Romney, Giuliani, early favorites in the battle for the White House at a time when the country is looking for the way out of war. 

David Gregory, NBC News, New York

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  Looking back and looking ahead, here again is our panel, Peter Beinart, editor at large at “The New Republic,” and Ron Christie, former special assistant to President Bush. 

Ron, let me ask you, clearly, the big political story is the wipe out of the Republicans, the defeat frankly.  It‘s a defeat for President Bush, a defeat for his war policy, a defeat for the Republican party.  Do you think it is anything more than that?  Is there a tide moving?  Is it like, say, 1968, where the tide was moving away from New Deal, Great Society Democrats toward the Republican party? 

CHRISTIE:  No, I think you are right.  I think it is a defeat for President Bush and his Iraq policy.  Of that there‘s no question, and I also think it‘s a defeat for the Republican party, who came in in 1994, with the Contract With America, and said that these were the articulated goals, the conservative principles of why you should bring us to power.  And I think the Republicans in Congress forgot why they were there and I think that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  It seems to me that they started spending a lot more money.  They started moving away from the base and the people back home said, it‘s time for you to come home and start being Republicans again. 

BUCHANAN:  What do you think?  Is it a mandate for the Democrats, or simply a repudiation of the Republican party‘s performance?

BEINART:  I think the Republican coalition is unraveling because the glue in the Republican coalition has been national security.  That was the glue that held it together under Ronald Reagan, and when the Cold War ended, you saw the Republican party fracture in the early 1990s.  I think that‘s what is happening again.  It was post 9/11 national security that kept down scale Republicans, who may not have approved of the pro-business wing of the Republican party‘s policies, in line.  As the war in Iraq started to go south, they have started to defect.  They are now the key swing group in American politics.  Democrats won them in 2006.  If they win them again, they will be on their way to building a political majority. 

BUCHANAN:  The Reagan Democrats are going home to the Democratic party.  We talked earlier—I mean, Nixon got 67 percent of the white vote, which was about 95 percent of the vote.  Reagan got 64 and then Bush gets 57, 58.  Now it‘s down to 51.  It looks like the Reagan Democrats are going home to the Democratic party? 

BEINART:  For now.  I think the Reagan Democrats—

BUCHANAN:  Let me just say, I think Peter has got this point.  Inside the Republican conservative coalition, there‘s a really division over foreign policy.  It‘s even deeper now as it is for the a division over social issues.   A lot of Republicans are defecting there.  Geographically, the party is completely wiped out, virtually, in New England.  I think we have one congressman left, barely.  And so it seems to be falling back into, if you will, sort of a confederate citadel, because they are losing in the mountains and the west.  It‘s pealing off.   

CHRISTIE:  I think there‘s no question about that.  And again, I think this is a repudiation of the Iraqi policy.  I mean, for goodness sakes, Chris Shays from Connecticut is the only remaining Republican elected in the New England area.  But to go back to what you said. 

BUCHANAN:  The Iraq policy, in the sense that we are losing the war and not winning the war or we shouldn‘t have gone to war? 

CHRISTIE:  I think there are a lot of people in the northeast part of the United States, and around the country, who say, why are we in Iraq?  What are the articulated objectives?  And they took their frustration out on their elected officials, who, in turn, were taking the ire, I think, that was headed to George Bush, President Bush. 

BUCHANAN:  What is the mandate of the Democrats other than minimum wage increase?

BEINART:  More broadly, The Democratic party‘s challenge is going to be to try to rebuild the welfare state the Democrats think has been atrophying since the 1970s.  Democrats see, and I think many Republicans agree, I rising tide of economic insecurity, even for middle class Americans, who on paper might look OK. 

BUCHANAN:  What exactly do you do there?  You have to raise taxes if you want more money, or you‘ve got to do more deficit spending.  There wasn‘t a mandate for either of those.

BEINART:  Well, I think, there is a strong mandate for Democrats to move on health care.  I think you are going to see Democrats returning to take another shot, sooner or later, at universal health care, yes. 

BUCHANAN:  How much is that going to cost?

BEINART:  It is going to cost a lot of money, but, you know what, Americans walled rather pay the money far that than for a lot of other -- 

BUCHANAN:  In taxes? 

BEINART:  In taxes, yes, the polling shows that. 

BUCHANAN:  The polling shows a lot of things until the thing is right on the table.  I mean, probably showed Bush‘s Social Security program look fine on paper. 

BEINART:  With all due respect, I think you are wrong and I think health care, after Iraq fades, -- Health care is the single biggest issue crippling the Republican party.  If Republicans cannot speak intelligently about solving people‘s health care concerns in the United States, they will be at a permanent disadvantage in American politics.  It is huge issue. 

CHRISTIE:  Peter, this is one issue that, if the Democrats come in and they start raising taxes, then I think they are going to be right back in the minority as soon as they came into the majority.  The American people, when you look at what Pat‘s talking about, the Reagan Democrats, if the Democrats go in and they start tax and spending, and rebuilding the big government welfare state that we had before, I think that the Reagan Democrats are going to come home to the Republicans once again, and the Democrats will be in the minority.  The last thing that we need to do to cripple the economy is to raise taxes. 

BEINART:  Regan Democrats are not where they were.  American public in the 1980s felt government was too large.  Today, most Americans think government is too small, not doing enough to help them. 

BUCHANAN:  Too small? 

BEINART:  That‘s what most think.  There‘s been a sea change—

BUCHANAN:  Run a poll saying government is too small? 

(CROSS TALK)

BEINART:  If you ask people, do you want government to be doing more, Americans are much more likely to say yes than they were when Ronald Reagan came to power. 

CHRISTIE:  They want the government to do more, but they want it to do it smaller and smarter.  The last thing they need to do is rebuild government. 

BUCHANAN:  We have a (INAUDIBLE).  We have about 37 winners and losers each year in all sorts of categories.  I thought a big loser was George W.  Bush.  Who should have been, in each of your judgment, really, beside you, on the cover of “Time Magazine?”  Who should have been on the cover as the most influential individual for good or ill in the world in 2006?  Who do you think?

CHRISTIE:  Actually, I think Barack Obama.  Barack Obama has turned the political dynamics of the United States on its head.  You have an African-American senator, who‘s only been in office for two years, who‘s being discussed as a viable candidate for the presidency of United States. 

BUCHANAN:  But what has he done?  What did he do?

CHRISTIE:  Look, I don‘t think he‘s done much in two years in office, but I think it‘s an amazing—

BUCHANAN:  He‘s man of the year then?

CHRISTIE:  I think it‘s an amazing accomplishment that you can have an African-American who is regarded seriously to be a presidential candidate,.  Whether I agree with his politics or not, I think that‘s a remarkable accomplishment.  

BUCHANAN:  Peter, who do you think?

BEINART:  If you‘re looking at influence, not good or ill, I would put

four people on the cover, and they have something in common, Vladimir

Putin, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Moqtada al-Sadr.  These are the

people whose power has grown the most, and they will be the axis of a new -

the end of the American order, an increasing anti-American, oil-funded, global network around the world, that‘s going to confront America. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think that‘s a good choice.  I mean, I picked Ahmadinejad as the man of the year, and best politician was Vladimir Putin.  He‘s at 81 percent approval, which is more than twice Bush and Blair combined. 

BEINART:  In Russia, you get killed if you tell a pollster you‘re again Vladmir Putin. 

BUCHANAN:  A little poisoning, perhaps.  Still to come—I think he‘s innocent of that charge—still to come, why were the halls of Congress echoing with talk of Tupac Shakur, is his name, pennies and child models?

And James Brown died yesterday.  We‘ll have you singing along to the great hits of the Godfather of Soul when we take a look back at his legendary life. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  It would not be Tucker‘s show without the daily dose of Washington gossip.  Here with today‘s scoop is Jeff Dufour, the man behind the “Washington Examiner‘s” Yays and Nays column.  Jeff, what do you have for us? 

JEFF DUFOUR, “THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER”:  Well, what we did this week is we took a look at what --. 

BUCHANAN:  Who is we? 

DUFOUR:  My colleague and I. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.

DUFOUR:  We took a look at the bills that might be on their last gasp as this Congress expires.  What quirky and unusual bills we might not be seeing much more of.  And exhibit a is Cynthia Mckinney, the congresswoman who made a name by hitting a capital cop with here cellphone earlier this year.  She had a bill that would have reopened the investigation, or the records, I should say, into the death of Tupac Shakur, the rapper, who was killed 10 years ago.  She also would have—

BUCHANAN:  Does she have an idea of who might have done that? 

DUFOUR:  No, she wants to establish a repository at the National Archives for Mr. Shakur‘s life and times.  She also wanted to establish articles of impeachment against the president, and she also wanted to reopen an investigation into Nixon‘s COINTELPRO, and connect that with the Patriot Act.   

BUCHANAN:  I think the statute‘s run out on that claim.   

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  The whole thing was L.B.J.‘s idea.

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Nixon said you could always say, I can‘t recall. 

DUFOUR:  The penny also looks like it‘s safe.  Tim Kolbe, who‘s retiring from Arizona, he‘s made it a minor—yes, a minor obsession of his to do away with the penny, and round up all cash transactions to the next five cents.  It looks like that is dead. 

BUCHANAN:  Well that‘s not bad news at all. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I do.  They ought to keep it, even though it‘s more and more irrelevant, no doubt about it.  I get the stuff, I guess you do, at Starbucks.  You take it and drop into little cups for the lady, however much us it.  You just dump it in there, because they will stop you at the airport with the junk.  Anything else?

DUFOUR:  We have also have got the Draft Obama folks are following him to Hawaii.  This is the DraftObama.org, a group that first—cut their first ad and they ran in D.C.

BUCHANAN:  They‘re pro-Obama?

DUFOUR:  Pro-Obama, they want him to run.  They ran their first ad.

BUCHANAN:  That Macaca guy is not following him over there, is he? 

DUFOUR:  No.  They ran their first ad in D.C. and New Hampshire and then they found out that Obama was vacationing in Hawaii, as he does every year, and so they surprised him with an ad in three Honolulu stations on Christmas day. 

BUCHANAN:  What did the ad say? 

DUFOUR:  It took snippets of a speech that he gave earlier this year. 

It said are you ready to believe again, I think is the tag-line. 

BUCHANAN:  So it‘s very positive stuff?

DUFOUR:  And his sister, who also lives out there, has said that he‘s going to make up his mind—

BUCHANAN:  He grew up there, didn‘t he?

(CROSS TALK)

DUFOUR:  Yes, and his sister, who lives out there, told the Associated Press that he‘s going to make up his mind while he‘s out there, and then make an announcement one way or the other when he gets back to town in January. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, I thought that watching him and knowing what he has to go through, and he‘s got to be talking that over, and he‘s never been vetted.  I thought it was 50/50.  I am beginning to think the guy is definitely going.  Do you? 

BEINART:  The atmosphere seemed that way.  I mean, I was completely taken by surprise by this.  I didn‘t think that he was really going to run.  I thought he seemed to me more cautious than that, but I think now he feels like, and these polls keep on showing it, showing that Hillary is weaker than people thought, and I think he sees that he could end up as the front runner by early next year. 

CHRISTIE:  I think he is right.  I think the Obama Mania has taken Barack Obama, or Senator Obama, from a position of sitting on the fence and thinking, am I going to do this, to I think he thinks his time is now, and I think he thinks his moment is now.  I think he‘s going to make a run. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s carrying him along, I think he‘s gotten himself so far out there now, that if he crawls back in from that limb, I mean, he becomes a laughing stock.  I remember when Governor Cuomo—

Remember it‘s a 20 -- right before, everybody waiting up in New Hampshire, the plane‘s on the runway, gassed up, and he doesn‘t show up. 

(CROSS TALK)  

BUCHANAN:  I think he has almost got to go. 

DUFOUR:  His moment is now. 

BUCHANAN:  His moment is now, I think that‘s exactly right.

DUFOUR:  If he misses his chance, he may not have another. 

BUCHANAN:  And Tupac, is there any doubt about how he died? 

DUFOUR:  It had no co-sponsors, so I don‘t think we‘re going to see it again. 

CHRISTIE:  I mean, here is a woman who did not use her position of

power seriously.  For goodness sakes, Tupac Shakur, articles of impeachment

-- 

BUCHANAN:  And she‘s a woman like Miss U.S.A., who got a second chance. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, she got her second chance and she blew it again. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, she came back and she blew it a second time. 

CHRISTIE:  She blew it again.

BEINART:  To be fair, I don‘t think we know who shot Tupac.  You may know, because I know you follow gangster rap. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  OK, thank you very much, appreciate it Jeff.  Coming up folks, the entertainment world lost a legend yesterday.  We‘ll take a look at musical pioneer James Brown‘s remarkable life. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, ACTIVIST:  And every Christmas, we will feed people in the name of James Brown, because he cared about people.  I never had a father at home growing up, but I had James Brown. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  He was called the Godfather of Soul and the hardest working man in show business.  James Brown lived up to both titles.  The 73-year-old died of congestive heart failure at an Atlanta hospital on Christmas day.  NBC‘s Ron Mott has a look at this incredible life. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES BROWN, SINGER:  Oh, I feel good.

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  His sound was powerful and edgy, musically and lyrically. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As a child, it gave you some type of emotional uplift. 

MOTT:  His hit songs numerous and instantly recognizable.  But what gave James Brown iconic status was his mastery of showmanship, from fancy feet a-flutter, to the microphone tango, to the voice without peer, often needing translation.  Yet his influence was clear, right down to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

SHARPTON:  We have lost more than an artist.  We have lost a way of life.

MOTT:  The Godfather of Soul also left his mark on funk, disco, rap, even gospel music in the “Blues Brothers” film.  And although he had several publicized run-ins with the law, friends say his heart remained pure, turning out just last Friday for his annual Christmas toy drive. 

CHARLES BOBBIT, MANAGER:  Mr. Brown was number one.  That‘s how I consider him and his many fans around the world, I think, would tell you the same thing also. 

MOTT:  A lingering cough led Brown to a hospital over the weekend.  He wanted to be healthy for a New Year‘s eve show in New York. 

BOBBIT:  Then he closed his eyes, and he was dead. 

MOTT:  The hardest working man in show business -- 

BROWN:  Love you, god bless you, and thank you very much. 

MOTT:  Now at rest. 

Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  He had a hard beginning and a hard life, but a very, very long run.  His songs and his music go all the way back to the 1950‘s, and the beginning of the Rock ‘N‘ Roll era, and came up through decade after decade, where he came back again and again and again.  He is indeed a legend in his own time, and that does it for us, folks.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, the “HARDBALL” college tour with Chris Matthews and John Edwards.    

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