updated 1/19/2007 10:02:37 AM ET 2007-01-19T15:02:37

Guests: Frank Donatelli, Steve Jarding, Dinesh D‘Souza, Eugene Robinson

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Welcome to the Thursday edition.

A left-wing blog links John McCain with President Bush, and for once it might be right.  Senators tout their non-binding anti-war resolution and are almost certainly wrong.  Two of the stories we‘ll get to in this hour. 

But we begin today with what was briefly described as “the most ethical Congress in history.” Remember that claim?  It was made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi about 20 minutes ago.  Apparently she doesn‘t remember. 

Democrats in Congress are now fighting a Republican proposal to span the spouses of senators from lobbying the Senate.  It turns out that a number of senators, including Democrats Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Republican Elizabeth Dole, are married to lobbyists who have business before the government.  As Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who wants to ban the practice, pointed out recently, this arrangement allows businesses to write a big check straight into the bank account of a sitting senator. 

Literally.  It‘s not hype.  And yet Democrats, the very ones who claim that they are presiding over the most ethical Congress in history, are defending it. 

“No one has been able to produce a problem,” explains Senator Dianne Feinstein.  In other words, no one is currently in jail for doing it.  But no honest person denies the awesome potential for abuse here or the inherent conflict.  It‘s obvious you‘re not supposed to get rich from casting votes in the U.S. Senate. 

If Democrats can‘t agree on that much, they‘re going to have a tough time cleaning up Washington.  That‘s my prediction. 

Well, joining me now to make sense of the day‘s other news, Frank Donatelli, Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, and Democratic strategist Steve Jarding. 

Welcome to you both. 

FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thank you. 

STEVE JARDING, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Really, Frank, interesting.  Defection of almost every Republican, it seems like, on the Hill from the White House.  For six years, they have done the bidding of President Bush.  All of a sudden, they are up in arms in full revolt. 

I want to read you just a couple of quotes that you have no doubt read.  This is Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a conservative.  “I will do everything I can to stop the president‘s Iraq policy.  I think it is dangerously irresponsible.”

Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.  He called the war in Iraq “absurd and possibly criminal.” 

What happened?  Where did the Republicans go? 

DONATELLI:  It‘s what happens when your approval rating is 38 percent...

CARLSON:  Good point. 

DONATELLI:  ... and you have just lost the last election. 

You know, Tucker, this is such an important issue to the United States.  I would say to every senator and House member, whether you‘re Republican or Democrat, you have to vote your conscience.  But I will say to my fellow Republicans that at least the president‘s plan does offer us a way forward. 

It is the last best hope in order to say we were successful in Iraq because we do have major, major interests in that part of the world that‘s going to go far beyond this president.  So my hope would be that they would at least give the president‘s views a chance, but I would say that they should vote their conscience on this. 

CARLSON:  You‘re seeing, Steve, a lot of these guys, Gordon Smith among them, who are Republicans in the Senate up in increasingly blue states, increasingly Democratic states.

JARDING:  Right.

CARLSON:  And their motivation seems obvious.  I mean, I don‘t mean to imply they are not acting out of conscience, but they are also acting for political reasons. 

Are there other factors here? 

JARDING:  Well, I mean, you‘d like to think that any of these guys are acting out of conscience.  And I think Frank‘s right.  I mean, you hope that that‘s where they would go.  I suppose it would beg the question, where was that conscience the last six years when they controlled both houses? 

CARLSON:  That is a good question. 

JARDING:  But at the end of the day, I think—I mean, as painful as this is, this stuff does come down to politics.  Look at what the Democrats are wrestling with.  What are they going to do on this thing?  You have a bunch of different resolutions.  Republicans don‘t know whether they should support the president or not, and so you‘re starting to see these breaks. 

My hope is that both these parties take a look at the Baker-Hamilton commission and say, let‘s genuinely set politics aside, let‘s come up with a proposal with respect to what the president has done.  The dilemma, though, is that the president‘s stuff hasn‘t worked, Tucker. 

I mea, saying, well, this is the last best hope, part of the reason I think these guys are breaking is because they are saying, but we have tried this.  We‘re not sure that we ought to give this guy license to define what the last best hope is. 

CARLSON:  But take—OK.  I think—I mean, of course that‘s a fair point.  It hasn‘t worked.  The president has pledged this is going to work and he has been wrong.  So I think that‘s a—you know, that‘s a fair point. 

However, the alternative is what?  We‘re still waiting. 

Here is the non-binding resolution that Joe Biden, Carl Levin, and Chuck Hagel offered.  Right at the very beginning, they said the whole point of this, the chances of maximizing chance of success in Iraq should be our goal.  It actually says “out goal” but there is still a typo apparently in the resolution. 

Nothing in the rest of the resolution suggests a strategy for victory, though. 

DONATELLI:  There is a disconnect, I think, on what a lot of Democrats are saying with respect.  They say on the one hand that they want to be successful, but the preferred policy to the extent that any of them will enunciate an alternative policy is a phased withdrawal.  And it just doesn‘t seem to me that the two hang together. 

CARLSON:  By the way, you‘re going to have a lot of Republicans voting for this, too. 

DONATELLI:  I think you will, depending on what the language is.  And by the way, I do make a distinction between a non-binding resolution, where I think there is room for discussion, and what I think are unconstitutional clamps on the president‘s ability to be commander in chief.  I think there is differences between the two of them. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  But I respect a position that says I‘m in favor of withdrawal.  But then it seems to me you can‘t then go on and say I‘m for success, because if you‘re going to withdraw prematurely, we can‘t be successful there.  There at best will be chaos in that region that we will step back from. 

CARLSON:  Steve, what do you make of this?  Here is a fact that I‘m not sure I really understand. 

The two—two of the most conservative Republicans running for president, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Senator Chuck Hagel, also a senator who may be running, from Nebraska, have come out among the most stridently against the president.  These guys are not liberals.  They are not moderates like McCain even. 

JARDING:  Right.

CARLSON:  They are ideological conservatives, and they are the loudest opponents.  What is that about? 

JARDING:  Well, I suspect in part—again, I hate to always kind of come back to politics on this stuff, but my guess is, with McCain, McCain is trying to moderate—move from the moderate position to the more conservative position.

CARLSON:  Right.

JARDING:  So his support of the surge, I know he supported that in the past.  But that seems more politically plausible. 

However, if you look at Brownback, arguably one of the most conservative members, Hagel arguably as well very conservative, they may have a little more license with the conservative wing to say, we can maybe break from these guys because we‘ve got the credentials, we‘ve got... 

CARLSON:  Because they‘re unimpeachable on abortion, gay marriage, things like that. 

JARDING:  On so many other issues, exactly.  That they might be able to feel they can move the envelope a little bit.

Again, though, the dilemma, Tucker, if we‘re talking about this, it‘s all in a political context.  None of this should be in a political context.  Going back to what Frank said, I mean, at the end of the day, this should be, what should we do that‘s right?  What‘s right for the troops?  What‘s right for this country?  What‘s right for...

CARLSON:  But wait a second.  I thought the whole argument was a political argument. 

The argument is that the American people are against this war.  And those Democrats, the ascendant Democrats elected in November, are listening to the voice of the people.  That‘s, by definition, a political calculation.  Politics is merely the people‘s will in action, right? 

JARDING:  Well, it is I think at some level, but at a very fundamental level, I don‘t think the American public looks at this as politics.  They just say, let‘s do what‘s right.  We‘ve got kids dying over there, we‘ve got sons and daughters and husbands and wives.  And, you know, you guys, figure this out, take the politics out of it. 

CARLSON:  God, I think—I must say—and I‘m a rabid opponent of this war.  But I think Bush is the only guy right now, with the exception of possibly McCain, who is actually acting out of his beliefs. 

I mean, this isn‘t helping him at all.  He is going to be—he‘s going to be pounded by historians for the next 100 years, and he‘s doing it anyway. 

DONATELLI:  Right.  Well, if you say, as most politicians do, to come back to what I said earlier, Tucker, that we want to be successful in Iraq, I come back to this point.  Only the president‘s policy out there now offers you that opportunity. 

If you‘re going to go into a phased withdrawal like Congressman Murtha and many other Democrats are suggesting...

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  ... then it seems to me you have lost the ability to say we need to be successful there. 

CARLSON:  I think you‘re right.  I just think that Bush has squandered his credibility.  I just wish there was a more credible person who came up... 

JARDING:  I fundamentally disagree with that in this sense—to suggest that Bush is the only one with the policy is to suggest there is only one policy that works.

CARLSON:  Right.

JARDING:  There‘s not.  In the Bush policy, we have tried surges before and they have failed.  The dilemma though, Tucker, there is no easy solution to this thing. 

CARLSON:  Right.

JARDING:  If there was, George Bush...

CARLSON:  Well, look, I‘m not suggesting that the president‘s policy is the only one that would work.  I‘m suggesting it‘s the only one out there.  I want to know what the other strategies for victory are.  And if someone else—you know, if my mailman came up with one, I would be for it. 

JARDING:  And I think that‘s what we‘re in the process of hopefully getting. 

CARLSON:  Right.  I hope to hear one.

Coming up, there is a lot about John McCain that bears no resemblance to President Bush, but a new campaign ad points out that when it comes to foreign policy, the two men essentially are twins.  Bad news for McCain‘s presidential ambitions?  We‘ll tell you. 

Plus, with a world full of people bent on America‘s destruction, a new theory emerges about who is to blame—Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.  Its author joins me next to explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Theories explaining the attacks of 9/11 are like car insurance policies.  Almost everyone has one, their values vary.  Here is a new and interesting one: Liberal Democrats, specifically Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, set the stage for the age of terror that we currently endure. 

Joining me now is Dinesh D‘Souza, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of “The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.”

Dinesh, thanks for coming on. 

DINESH D‘SOUZA, HOOVER INSTITUTION:  It‘s my pleasure.

CARLSON:  So I‘m sure half our audience has already left in disgust, throwing their beer cans at the TV and stalking out their front door.  But for those who are left, how is the cultural left responsible for 9/11? 

D‘SOUZA:  Well, if we look at the roots of radical Islam, radical Islam has been around since the 1920s.  But these guys were in the opposition, on the outside of society. 

CARLSON:  Yes.

D‘SOUZA:  Then in 1979, they captured a major state, Iran. 

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA:  And the Ayatollah Khomeini was the inventor of the slogans of Islamic radicalism—“America is the great Satan,” “Muslims should have jihad and martyrdom against America,” and so on. 

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA:  Now, how did Iran fall into the hands of Khomeini?  There used to be the Shah of Iran, a pro-American ally, but when Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, he said I believe in human rights. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

D‘SOUZA:  Here we‘ve got the Shah, he‘s a dictator, he has a secret police...

CARLSON:  Which are bad.  Right—yes.

D‘SOUZA:  We should pull the Persian rug out from under him.  So, in trying to get rid of the bad guy, we got the worst guy, and we‘re still paying for it.  So that was the first seed of 9/11, because the Khomeini revolution, in a sense, put radical Islam—gave it a beachhead from which it can then export jihad.  We wouldn‘t have Hezbollah if it wasn‘t for it, and I don‘t think we would have bin Laden. 

CARLSON:  Well, I agree—I mean, I agree with you as far as that goes.  I think Carter was partially responsible for the rise of Khomeini, and his acolytes have never acknowledged that, he‘s never apologized for it, and he ought to.

But here is what I don‘t buy, the second part of your thesis, which is American weakness and examples of it.  Our retreat from Somalia, for instance—I assume you believe our retreat in ‘83 from Beirut would be another—showed the Islamists that we are beatable, OK?  And I buy that.  But it doesn‘t explain why they hate us in the first place. 

D‘SOUZA:  That‘s true.  And I‘m not saying—I do explain that in the book, “The Enemy at Home.”

CARLSON:  OK.

D‘SOUZA:  But here I‘m getting at something a little different. 

After the Cold War, many of the Islamic radicals went back to their own countries.  Bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia.  Al-Zawahiri went back to Egypt.  They were fighting to overthrow what they call the near enemy, their own governments to establish an Islamic holy state. 

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA:  But then they made a very important tactical shift in which they said, let us change tactics and go from fighting the near enemy to fighting the far enemy, America. 

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA:  And my question is, why did they change?  Well, bin Laden says—he says, I changed my mind because it hit me that maybe the far enemy is weaker, more vulnerable, more cowardly than the near enemy. 

And so if you look at all the things that happened in the ‘90s, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers attack...

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA: ... the attack on the embassies, on the Cole, every time Clinton did little or nothing, bin Laden was confirmed in his hypothesis that the far enemy could be attacked with impunity. 

CARLSON:  But then isn‘t Bush—I actually buy that, but isn‘t Bush then the ultimate sort of failure as a steward of American policy because here he is starting and waging a war that is going to be very, very difficult to win, unlikely that we will win it, and the net result of this war is almost certainly to show how weak America is, thereby inciting more attacks? 

D‘SOUZA:  Well, I agree, a loss in Iraq will be catastrophic, because the Islamic radicals who now control one major state, Iran...

CARLSON:  Right.

D‘SOUZA:  ... would now get a second one.  And then we can be fairly sure that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are next. 

But, at least to his credit, Bush is trying to win the war.  You have a cultural left in this country, I think, that is, at least by its words and actions, trying to make sure that Bush loses it. 

CARLSON:  I agree with that.  But one thing I actually think the left is on to, they say that America—you quoted bin Laden to make your point.  Let me quote bin Laden. 

Bin Laden says again and again in his writings and his statements, American foreign policy is what has incited me to murder.  I am mad about America‘s support for Israel.  I think we ought to support Israel, I‘m not attacking Israel in any way.  I‘m a fan.

However, it‘s kind of undeniable that our foreign policy choices have made millions around the world hate us.  I mean, shouldn‘t we just admit that?

D‘SOUZA:  I think that—I think there is a part of that.  And I discussed this at some length.  But here is the point. 

Right now if you‘re a Muslim in the Middle East, you have two choices. 

You can choose between Islamic tyranny, which is Iran...

CARLSON:  Right?

D‘SOUZA:  ... or secular tyranny, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

D‘SOUZA:  I think in Iraq, America is trying to put a third choice on the table, Islamic democracy.  And so this would give the Muslims a better alternative. 

Will it work?  I don‘t know.  It‘s a—history says no, because this hasn‘t been that kind of democracy there. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

D‘SOUZA:  So we‘re trying something very difficult, but if it works it could be the beginning of an historical transformation, no less significant than the transformation of the old Soviet Union.  So I think it should be given every effort to succeed. 

CARLSON:  More significant. 

Dinesh D‘Souza is author of “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11.”

I bet they‘re egging your car. 

Thanks for joining us. 

D‘SOUZA:  A Pleasure.

CARLSON:  Coming up, John McCain is the default to answer questions about Republican presidential front-runners, but does the senator with the renegade reputation walk too closely in step with our unpopular incumbent to succeed him?  A complicated sentence, but you get the point. 

We‘ll talk about it in a minute.

Plus, remember the evil kids in high school who ganged up on the misfits and the burnouts and the audio visual club members?  Well, those jerks are still around.  They have a TV show now.  It‘s the biggest show there is.  The unusual cruelty of “American Idol” finally crosses the line. 

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  John McCain has done more than just embrace George Bush‘s failed policy in Iraq.  It‘s actually his idea to escalate the war there.  It‘s John McCain‘s idea to send tens of thousands more soldiers to Iraq and to keep them there with no timeline for bringing them home. 

The McCain plan to escalate, going from bad to worse. 

With 3.2 million members, MoveOn.org political action is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  You just watched a new campaign ad from the left-wing group MoveOn.org.  The ad is running in New Hampshire and Iowa.  And its central point, that John McCain is more like President Bush than the average American probably realizes, may, in fact, be true for the first time. 

Joining us once again for more, Frank Donatelli, Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, and Steve Jarding, Democratic strategist. 

Welcome to you both. 

Steve, I have to say, I don‘t like MoveOn.org and I do sort of like McCain, but it‘s hard to argue with this ad. 

JARDING:  Well, it‘s hard to argue.  You could certainly argue with the timing of the ad more than the placing of the ad, I suppose. 

I think there is a counterargument that says this ad might actually help McCain.  I don‘t know if that is their intent.  But if McCain is reaching out to the far right of that party and his credentials aren‘t quite where he wants them to be—and we have seen him do that, the whole reaching out to Jerry Falwell...

CARLSON:  Right.

JARDING:  ... and some of the things that he‘s done, that this might remind people that he is closer to Bush than maybe some hard core Republicans thought.  So I don‘t know necessarily if that‘s what they hoped for, but that might actually be the message. 

I think the idea that he is close to Bush on the surge and wants more troops, he has been very up front about that.  I think it‘s very risky for him, by the way.  A whole other issue.  But the reason these guys went after him on that particular attack with Bush, I find a little questionable both in Iowa and New Hampshire because it might actually help him. 

CARLSON:  It‘s interesting, Frank, how all of a sudden the left, which has really kind of loved McCain all these years—one of the reasons Republicans don‘t trust him is because the left likes him—they have got the long knives out. 

Sidney Blumenthal, who used to work for Clinton, probably the oiliest

person in Washington, D.C., one of the biggest creeps in the city, writes -

has got this new piece in salon.com attacking McCain for having a bad temper, as if we didn‘t know that.  These attacks—I mean, I sort of agree with what Steve said—do they help him with the right when he‘s attacked by the left?

DONATELLI:  Oh, I think absolutely they do.  Leave aside the accusations in this ad, I think this is a hit-and-run group, these MoveOn people that have had a lot of credibility problems in the past. 

McCain has been there from the beginning.  He has said—I think he would say if he were here that he doesn‘t always agree with the Bush policy. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  He has been arguing way back in ‘03, when the invasion began, that we needed more troops there, so it‘s not fair to say that he had a copy or he endorses a copy of the Bush policy.  He does happen to agree with what the president is proposing now. 

The other thing, Tucker, is that up until just a few months ago, every Democrat that I‘m aware of was praising John McCain.  Senator Kerry probably praised Senator McCain more often than he did any Democrat in the ‘04 campaign. 

CARLSON:  Well, Kerry tried to get him to be his running mate.  Kerry asked him twice to run as his vice president. 

DONATELLI:  Well, and up until a few months ago, they agreed with what Bush is proposing now, for more troops.  Now that Bush is proposing it, they have gone back in the opposite direction. 

CARLSON:  It would be pretty—don‘t you—Steve, do you think—I mean, stepping—I know you‘re an active consultant, but stepping back as far as you can, McCain with united Republican support behind him, formidable candidate? 

JARDING:  Yes, very much so.  I think so.  And the question I think about McCain is whether the base of the Republican Party will embrace him. 

CARLSON:  Right.  But if they do, that‘s a problem for Democrats.

JARDING:  If they do, I think he is a very formidable candidate, no question about it.  Perhaps most the formidable in the Republican pool. 

DONATELLI:  And there is no traditional Reagan conservative in the race right now.  There are a number of candidates who would like to be that guy, but there really isn‘t anyone right now. 

CARLSON:  You don‘t think Chuck Hagel is? 

DONATELLI:  No, I don‘t. 

CARLSON:  No, I‘m being serious.  Everyone...

DONATELLI:  You are being serious? 

CARLSON:  ‘m being dead serious.  I think Chuck Hagel on—you know, he thinks that the war in Iraq hurts American authority and power.  OK?  So that‘s a complicated argument.  Leaving that aside, he seems Reagan-like to me. 

DONATELLI:  No, he‘s a fine man.  I‘m not saying that. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  And he does vote conservative.  But you have Senator Brownback in the race. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  You have former Governor Gilmore.  You have the governor, the Republican governor of Arkansas—former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. 

I mean, they are all conservative, but I don‘t know that you could say that they have the political skills and the ability to pull together the old Reagan coalition.  That‘s all I‘m saying. 

So, with those groups split, McCain has an opportunity to get a lot of those people.  And talking to his people, they have been successful in getting a lot of those people.  He has a real possibility, I think, for the first time, much more than in 2000 to unite the party. 

CARLSON:  Well, Democrats clearly feel that way, Steve, because, you know, Rudy Giuliani, who is running in the latest Gallup poll ahead of John McCain, and who, if anything, has been even more bellicose in his support of President Bush—“When 9/11 happened, I think God Bush was president” - - they‘re not attacking him.

JARDING:  Right.

CARLSON:  So they think McCain‘s going to get the nomination.

JARDING:  Yes.  I don‘t think they fear Giuliani.  I don‘t think Giuliani has a shot in that Republican primary.  I don‘t think his past, for the most part. social programs will allow him to get there. 

No, I do think Democrats legitimately look at McCain and say, if he can rally the wing.  The difference for me, however, though, I don‘t think just by cherry-picking some of the advisers to Bush, or maybe going further on a position that you don‘t have a history on will necessarily—that the base will say, OK, we‘re going to forgive all the past indiscretions.  All the reasons we thought we didn‘t like you are now water under the bridge and we‘re with you. 

He‘s got a real issue.  But as Frank said, I think the bigger dilemma in that Republican primary is they don‘t have a true conservative that is the heir apparent. 

CARLSON:  Right.  I agree.

JARDING:  I mean, they have got true conservatives, but not the—you know, it‘s not—I often thought George Allen might have been that person, but he‘s gone.  And there just isn‘t anybody there. 

CARLSON:  Yes.

JARDING:  And so you see McCain and Romney and these guys trying to move in that position to become... 

CARLSON:  No, it‘s troubling.  And it says a lot about the state of the party. 

Coming up, would you put the fate of your foreign policy and your place in history in this man‘s hands?  If you answered, “Why would I do that?” you are not alone.  President Bush‘s partner on the ground in Iraq snaps at the hand that feeds him. 

Details in a moment. 

Plus, picking on defenseless innocents is simply wrong, of course.  It also gets Titanic, historic, Super Bowl-level ratings on television.  The mean spirit of “American Idol,” what it says about the shallow and the bazillions who love it.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  And now the mess in Iraq and how we might make it better.  Not that we actually have answers, but the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met the press yesterday and expressed his belief that Iraqis could keep their own peace if the U.S. would just give him enough weaponry, some decent training, in just a few months.  Is he right or is this a case of Charlie McCarthy telling Edgar Bergen what their act ought to be? 

With more analysis, here again Frank Donatelli, Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, and Steve Jarding, the famed Democratic strategist. 

Now here is this battle of words between the White House and Maliki all of a sudden.  He is mad at Condi Rice for attacking him.  Just for the record, here is what Condi Rice actually said to Senator Biden the other day, quote, I have met Prime Minister Maliki.  I was with him in Amman.  I saw his resolve.  I think he knows his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time, not just in terms of the American people but in terms of the Iraqi people. 

Here‘s what he said.  He said, Rice‘s words give a morale boost for the terrorists and push them toward making an extra effort, making them believe they have defeated America.  Lighten up. 

DONATELLI:  Your point is the prime minister overreacted. 

CARLSON:  Overreacted and is this guy an appropriate vessel for our hopes? 

DONATELLI:  Well, he‘s what‘s there.  That‘s the guy we have to work with.  I would just say, Tucker, both presidents have political imperatives.  Obviously, President Bush, the time has come, the Congress has said and the people have said you have got to put a little more pressure on the Iraqi government to move in the right direction.  That‘s what Secretary Rice is trying to do, albeit in a very genteel manner. 

The Iraqi prime minister has got his own imperatives.  He‘s got a coalition that he has to manage.  He has to show that he‘s tough and that his government is a sovereign government and that he calls the shots and that the Americans don‘t call the shots.  I think we‘re going to see more of this as we head forward.  I would just urge that this not necessarily be divisive, this not necessarily mean that the policy cannot work, just because you have this, sort of, war of words. 

CARLSON:  It just seems, Steve, like a whole lot of unnecessary pretending.  I mean, rather than go through this whole song and dance about democracy and the will of the Iraqi people, shouldn‘t we just be honest?  Our foreign policy exists to forward our interest and to protect our country.  We have a lot of interests in Iraq, not excluding oil even.  Why not just get rid of this Maliki guy, throw in an obedient puppet and do what we need to do? 

JARDING:  Well, it‘s difficult.  I mean, the dilemma, Tucker, is—I mean, it goes back to the fundamental.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  What are you laughing about?  I like that. 

JARDING:  No, I mean, it goes back to the fundamental issue.  Here is an individual we‘re supposed to be working with.  We have a terrible situation over there.  We‘re trying to make it better.  We can‘t help but snipe at one another.  I mean, with all due respect, you‘re saying lighten up.  It sounded like the United States government, through Condi Rice, was saying, come on, this guy, he‘s out of here.  We don‘t support this guy. 

And so he comes back and takes a shot at Bush, and says, well, I think there is somebody in trouble and it‘s not me, and it‘s the last elections Mr. President.  And you go, wait a minute guys, aren‘t we supposed to be working together?  If that‘s what we have to work with, god help us, because it sure doesn‘t sound like we support that. 

CARLSON:  But here‘s the part I disagree with, the preposition, with, work with, as if he‘s a partner.  It ought to be work for, him for us. 

JARDING:  Well, but that‘s the dilemma Tucker.  I mean you can‘t—

That‘s one of the arguments for why we got in trouble in the first place.  Here we are, we decide, as the United States, we‘re going to go into Iraq and say, here‘s what we‘re doing here guys.  By the way, we took your Saddam out.  We‘re going to kill a bunch of people.  But you are going to love us after that.  I mean, that, to me, is a false premise.

CARLSON:  The root assumption is the same in both cases.  We know what‘s best.  And if we don‘t think we know what‘s best, we have no business going beyond our own borders in the first place.  But we do know what‘s best.  We know better than the Iraqi people.  Why not just admit that and act upon it, rather than continue playing this sick charade? 

DONATELLI:  Because you have to play.  Diplomacy is a charade. 

CARLSON:  I know, that‘s why I wouldn‘t be good at it. 

DONATELLI:  Whether you‘re dealing with Iraq, which is a sovereign government—we have disagreements with our closest allies.  We don‘t agree with Tony Blair all the time.  We never agree with the French.  There are governments around the world that we have working relationships with.  Hamid Karzai‘s government in Afghanistan, which even Democrats are saying is a more successful situation, we have disagreements with them all the time. 

So yes, is part of diplomacy looking the other way?  It is, but that‘s the nature. 

CARLSON:  I just have no faith that his root desire isn‘t to create an Iran-backed theocracy.  Tell me, Steve, about your beloved Democrats taking over the House and the Senate, really transforming the culture of Washington overnight, from one of corruption and venality, into something much better and higher.  The most successful Congress in history, I think, is the phrase I would use.  Given that.

JARDING:  Let‘s go on to something else. 

CARLSON:  Why can‘t Democrats agree that it‘s wrong to have your spouse lobby the body you serve in? 

JARDING:  Well, I hope they do and I think it‘s the right thing.  Listen, I have some empathy for somebody that says maybe we should grandfather people in.  I understand that.  But at the end of the day, if you‘re going to have ethics reform, reform it. 

Don‘t let your spouse, don‘t let your family—the idea frankly even that a member—we‘re going to move it from one to two years before a member could lobby.  We ought to not let them lobby at all, or move it to five years, or something that takes them out of the position where a lobbying entity can have at them. 

I think the Democrats need to put more teeth in it.  I hope they come around to this.  Again, I understand there are people on both sides of the aisle, if I‘m married and my spouse has a job, do we get that spouse fired now.  Maybe a grandfather clause of some sort, but let‘s stop it. 

CARLSON:  Yes, because, you know, if you‘re married, you can‘t even—they have anti-nepotism rules that don‘t allow you to marry someone who works with you at the “Washington Post.”  I would hate to think that newspaper journalists have higher ethical standards than members of the United States Senate.  I mean, that, trust me, having been one, that would be bad news. 

DONATELLI:  Well look, I want to confess to everyone here, I make my living as a lobbyist.  I know some of the individuals that have been targeted here, and they are very good people. 

CARLSON:  I believe that. 

JARDING:  I do agree with what Senator Reid has said, if there is a problem, let‘s deal with it.  I think the problem is that when one party tries to out ethics the other party, that it has short-term political gain.  The Democrats have a lot of short-term political gain this year by attacking the culture of corruption and so forth and so on. 

When you try to go too far, like in my judgment they try to do by banning all gifts, it‘s just a matter of time before somebody comes along and bites you.  You know, William Jefferson, the guy with the cash in his refrigerator.

CARLSON:  It was only 90 grand.  Let‘s not overstate it now, Frank. 

DONATELLI:  I‘m just saying, the point is that when one party gets in their ethical mode, it‘s going to come back to bite them at some point, and this has.  I think we ought to have what we had in the early 1990‘s, when Gingrich and then Dick Gephardt negotiated some sort of a cease-fire on these things.  If there was a problem, the ethics committee would jointly try to investigate it without one party claiming they were more ethical than the other. 

CARLSON:  I know Al Franklin personally pretty well, Steve.  I know for a fact that his wife is not a lobbyist, which is good news for him, because I think he is going to run for the Senate, for a Norm Coleman‘s seat in Minnesota.  Can he win? 

JARDING:  Yes, he can win.  Listen, I have talked to him, actually, about his race.  I think he is going to do it.  I think he is a very serious individual.  As strange as that sounds, you listen to him, he is very articulate.  He studies the issues.  He is a student of this business.  I like mavericks.  I have worked for mavericks.  I think they are good for the system.  He clearly has that capacity. 

CARLSON:  Is he a—He always—and I like—I had dinner with him recently.  I don‘t dislike him personally, but he always struck me as the most slavish, butt boy to the Democratic party.  I mean, do you think he would actually break from his party on issues? 

JARDING:  No, I think he would come with an agenda and again, I‘m a bit biased.  I have worked for guys like Bob Carrier, Jim Webb. 

CARLSON:  Well they are mavericks. 

JARDING:  They are mavericks, and not unlike a Jim Webb, I think Al Franken would come in and say why are we doing this silly stuff, whether we‘re Democrats or Republicans?  I think he could be a very strong breath of fresh air.  I‘d love to see him run.

CARLSON:  Good for him.  What do you think?

DONATELLI:  Well, he has to survive Rush Limbaugh‘s new book, “Al Franken Is a Big Fat Idiot.”  He has got to read that.  It‘s a blue state.  I guess he has a shot.  Norm Coleman is a well-liked politician.  He was mayor of St. Paul.  He has really done a lot to deliver for Minnesota.  Republicans are having their convention in Minnesota.  They are going to take that race seriously. 

JARDING:  He has been with Bush 97 percent of the time, Coleman has, and I think that‘s going to be an issue. 

CARLSON:  By 1998, Norm Coleman, this is just a prediction, he will be endorsing Hugo Chavez, by that point.  He will be so left wing that Al Franken is going to run to the right of him.  That‘s just my—you heard it here first. 

DONATELLI:  I don‘t think so. 

CARLSON:  I hope not true.  Thank you both very much, I appreciate it. 

JARDING:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Coming up, in the name of having some idea about what‘s going on in this country I love, and I do love it, I joined 30 million of my countrymen to watch “American Idol” last night.  The bottom line, we‘re in more trouble than I previously thought.  An analysis of cruelty as commodity right after the break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Thank you, Nicholas.  What the bloody hell was that?  One of the worst I‘ve ever heard. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  So that would be a no? 

COWELL:  It was almost non-human. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  “American Idol” is more than just a popular television show, it‘s an American pop culture phenomenon, one of the most successful enterprises in the history of American business.  So good for Fox TV, but last night‘s episode was not a talent show.  Instead, it consisted almost entirely of the three-person panel, cool kids all, mocking and humiliating a procession of funny looking people who can‘t sing.  The in-crowd tooling on the losers. 

It was entertaining, but very, very cruel.  Here to tell us what it means, one of the “Washington Post‘s” most versatile columnist, Eugene Robinson, famous not simply for his insightful political reporting, but also for his long-time coverage of “American Idol.”  Gene, thanks for coming on. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be here, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I mean, I‘m kind of for meanness --  I mean, I‘m not always out there, you know, decrying meanness in American society, but it was pretty mean, didn‘t you think? 

ROBINSON:  You know, it‘s a lot meaner than that other show, “Dancing With the Stars.”

CARLSON:  You‘re right, actually. 

ROBINSON:  You know, that meanness, I think, is part of “American Idol‘s” evil genius, I really do.  I think it began as an intentional thing.  They got a lot meaner a couple of seasons ago than they had been before.  I think the reason was really to keep the audience young, I mean, you know, because that‘s what advertisers will pay for.  They will pay a premium for young viewers.  And, you know, at this point they probably don‘t care that much, but at that point they did. 

And, you know, young people see that sort of stuff and they think it‘s funny.  Older people tend to be grossed out and weirded out and don‘t want to watch it anymore.  I think that was intentional.  It just kind of became part of the show.  The first episodes are mean. 

CARLSON:  They certainly are.  Here‘s the problem I have, though.  I mean, on the one hand you could argue, you know, these are people who have really a surfeit of self-esteem, these people who think they are great singers, and someone needs to tell them they are not. 

I agree with that.  But you get the impression when you watch that the producers go out of the way to pick out, you know, the fattest, the weirdest, the stutterer with the wandering eye, and then get them up on stage just to mock them. 

It‘s like they search these people out.  Do you think that‘s what‘s going on? 

ROBINSON:  Absolutely they do.  If you notice, I understand this was an inaugural episode for you of “American Idol.”

CARLSON:  Yes, it was.  That‘s part of it.

ROBINSON:  Let me emphasize, I watch this show professionally.  I ran the style section of the Post for six years.  It was my job to watch “American Idol” and watch it very closely.  But, yes, the opening episodes are kind of a freak show.  You‘re not going to see the good singers. 

They kind of hide them from you, or the better singers, let us say, because, you know, we don‘t have any Aretha Franklins coming up through “American Idol,” but you don‘t see the better singers until they really get down to the final 12. 

So this is just kind of the way the show starts and builds. 

CARLSON:  Well, for those of us who haven‘t covered it for the “ Washington Post” and didn‘t catch last night‘s show, here is just a clip, to give you some sense of what we‘re talking about.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING) 

COWELL:  No.  I‘m not being rude. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, no, I understand. 

COWELL:  That was—for me sitting here.

RANDY JACKSON, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Mom, you can come over. 

COWELL:  . appalling. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK, all right. 

ABDUL:  As a mother, can you stand listening to that? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think she is, you know, very nervous. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am, yes.  I‘m nervous. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  A couple of questions that I think you could answer.  I don‘t know the answers to them.  First, are these real contestants?  I mean. are these real people or are they actors doing this on a lark? 

ROBINSON:  These are real people who know how to act on TV, who get a sense of how they—how to draw attention to yourself on TV, who see this sort of thing as their opportunity to, you know, get their proverbial 15 minutes.  They actually don‘t get 15 minutes, they get about five. 

But their five minutes of fame, by being weird, in an entertaining way on “American Idol.”  So that whole mother-daughter thing.  I mean, they didn‘t come thinking that this was actually good singing.  They came obviously to be weird and to get on for being weird. 

CARLSON:  There was a guy last night called Nick Zitsman—real name, apparently, poor guy—from Utah, who did look wounded.  I mean, he was an appalling singer.  There is no doubt about it.  But he actually looked crushed to hear that.  Do you think he really was or is that acting too? 

ROBINSON:  That guy, I think, probably was crushed.  You know, it is a shame that his friends didn‘t warn him off what looked like a fairly sincere attempt to sing.  You know, it was pretty appalling, the noise he produced.  So he put himself in that position.  He‘s an adult.  I‘m sure he signed some sort of release.  But was that cruel?  Yes, that was pretty cruel. 

CARLSON:  Yes but, I have to admit, here I am doing this high-handed segment, they are being so mean.  But then I watched the video of the guy and I can‘t help chuckling at him.  I guess I become one of the nasty cool kids, too.  I‘m becoming what I hate just watching this.  Is that the dynamic, all over America this is happening? 

ROBINSON:  You have drunk the Cool Aid.  Resistance is futile.  Just go with it.  You know, if that‘s—if you‘re hooked after that, wait until they actually get into the competition and you adopt a favorite singer and the singer gets dissed by one of the judges, and you feel that personally.  You take it personally for a whole week.  As I said, this show has evil genius, you know.  I‘m not saying it‘s a good thing, but it‘s powerful. 

CARLSON:  As a viewer, someone who has gone through an entire season of the show, do you notice an effect on your I.Q.?  Does it affect your relationship with loved ones?  I mean, what price do you pay as a viewer? 

ROBINSON:  You know, I‘m not sure.  Certainly, you give up time.  You give up hours of your life that you‘ll never get back on something that clearly means nothing.  On the other hand, your relationships with your family, for example, that‘s how I got into the show.

I first—the first season, my son, who was off at the University of Chicago, happened to be home.  I hadn‘t heard anything about the show, and, you know, when Idol came on, he rushed to the couch and said I‘ve got to watch this show. 

That‘s how I found out about it.  We all watched it together as a family and argued about our favorites. 

CARLSON:  A bonding moment in the Robinson household. 

ROBINSON:  It brings people together. 

CARLSON:  That‘s amazing.  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.” 

Thanks a lot Gene.  That was excellent. 

ROBINSON:  Good to be here. 

CARLSON:  John Kerry makes a major announcement.  No, not that, thank goodness.  He says he‘s tying his fortunes to New England‘s Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  We‘ll explain what he means by that when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  I don‘t mean to be sappy now, or anything, but joining us now a man who really is our American Idol, Willie Geist from headquarters. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks Tucker.  That means nothing to me.  I really appreciate it.  I really, really appreciate it.  Since you mentioned “American Idol,” I want to pick up on what you were just talking about. 

First of all, I think if you were actually outraged by “American Idol,  you should probably get more outrage in your life.  But as long as we‘re talking about it, I said something yesterday on the show.  I said some of these people are obviously a little emotionally unstable.  And people got mad. 

We got a bunch of e-mails about it.  But I think it was born out if you watched last night.  There was something wrong with a lot of these people.  That‘s not OK.  That‘s not their fault.  But I‘m not sure Fox should be trotting them out for our entertainment. 

CARLSON:  I‘m not being mean or anything.  I am being mean, but I‘m speaking the truth.  It was like a side show in parts.  I felt sorry for the people on display and I hope they are getting paid well. 

GEIST:  Well,  I don‘t think they‘re getting paid well at all, but I just want people to know, if you really, actually watch the show, I think you will see what we‘re talking about.  Now, I‘m not going to get all high-minded about “American Idol,” but the fact is they are parading these people out for their own benefit.  It‘s kind of sad, actually. 

CARLSON:  They need a freak union.  I agree.

GEIST:  Thanks, you‘re a sweetheart.  Well Tucker, I think most of our viewers would be surprised to know that some of the most powerful politicians in this country live together in Washington like 20-year-old fraternity brothers. 

The “New York Times” ran a great story today about the two bedroom row house shared by Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and Congressman George Miller of California and Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.  Yeas, that‘s four men, two bedrooms.  You are seeing them right here lounging in the living room after a long day of running the country. 

Congressman Miller owns the place and has been taking roommates since 1982, when Senator Chuck Schumer moved in.  You‘re looking right there at Schumer‘s unmade living room bed, which, by the way, is a point of contention at their house meetings.  The four men share an upstairs bathroom, that‘s right, and the renters pay Miller 750 a month in rent, 750 bucks a month. 

Tucker, the first question is where is the reality show?  This has been going on since 1977, and there is no reality show? 

CARLSON:  That‘s one of the many questions.  You know when you go to Days Inn and they wash the sheet, but not the comforter cover, the bedspread.  And you take it and you put it on the floor.  That is Chuck Schumer‘s only quilt.  I mean, it‘s terrifying.  It‘s everything I thought it would be, honestly. 

GEIST:  It‘s not enough for the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.  And the other question about Schumer is, he moved in there in 1982, and he‘s still living in the living room.  You would think after this long, he would get one of the bedrooms upstairs, right? 

The guy who owns the place gets one, fair enough.  But Dick Durbin moved in 10 years after Schumer and he got a bedroom.  He would only move in if he got a bedroom.  So Schumer is living in the living room with Congressman Delahunt.  The two of them live, sleep in the living room together.  I don‘t think people were aware of this.

CARLSON:  Yes, I suspect the “New York Times” didn‘t tell the whole story today. 

GEIST:  Really, what do you suspect, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  I have no idea.  Why would Chuck Schumer live on like a foldout bed, with a used Days Inn comforter?  I don‘t understand. 

GEIST:  No, it doesn‘t make sense.  And they have a big screen TV.  They sit around and watch football and eat takeout.  If you haven‘t read it, it‘s really funny. 

CARLSON:  At least we know they are not stealing money from the government. 

GEIST:  That‘s exactly right, 750 a month, they‘re not doing that. 

Well, also Tucker, I don‘t have to tell you that Sunday, a huge day in the NFL.  You‘ve go the Saints-Bears in the NFC championship game.  And then the Patriots‘ Tom Brady goes head to head with the Colts‘ Peyton Manning for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. 

You know what big games like this mean?  Time for some lame bets between politicians.  Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said today he would send Indiana Senator Evan Bayh a vat of clam chowder, Boston Clam Chowder, if the Patriots lose to the Colts in Indianapolis. 

Kerry taunted Bayh, saying, quote, the only thing I love more than watching the Patriots play, is watching them beat the Colts, ouch, vicious.  Senator Bayh replied by saying he would send Kerry a bunch of caramel corn if the Colts somehow lost to the Patriots on Sunday.  Who knew caramel corn was the state corn, or whatever, of Indiana.  I had no idea. 

CARLSON:  It‘s not much of a matchup.  I like Evan Bayh better than I like John Kerry, but I will match your Boston Clam Chowder to my caramel corn. 

GEIST:  It‘s corn with chocolate drizzled on.  It‘s not good enough, and these symbolic politician bets are so lame.  If Kerry really believed in this, he would say you know what?  If the Colts beat the Patriots, you got my seat on the Foreign Relations Committee.  And what‘s more, I won‘t run for president.  How do you like that?  That‘s how much I believe in Tom Brady. 

CARLSON:  No I agree, put your life where your heart is. 

GEIST:  That‘s exactly right. 

CARLSON:  Willie Geist from headquarters. 

GEIST:  All right Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Thanks Willie.  That does it for us tonight.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  See you tomorrow.  Have a great night. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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