updated 7/13/2007 11:13:41 AM ET 2007-07-13T15:13:41

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Gov. Mike Huckabee

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Welcome to the show.  Terrorism and more, specifically, the relative strength and threat posed by al Qaeda has once again stirred America‘s national anxiety.  Between Michael Chertoff‘s gut feeling on Tuesday, a frightening intelligence summary about al Qaeda on Wednesday evening, and President Bush‘s more optimist view today of the war on terror, our sense of vulnerability is back.

NBC News‘ Richard Engel filed a compelling report from the Middle East about his encourage with al Qaeda members.  Richard is going to join us live in just a moment.  But first, here‘s his report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The new al Qaeda starts with simple men like Abu Zal (ph), an unassuming pet shop owner under five feet tall.  But Abu Zal is respected here in the Jordanian city of Zarqa.  He fought in Iraq.  His phone book is full of the numbers of other former fighters.  They make up a grass roots recruiting network. 

“Our main enemy is the United States,” he said.  Abu Zal spreads al Qaeda‘s message.  We were about to met its fighters and leaders.  In a dark, closed room sat Abu Anas (ph), barefoot, with bloodshot eyes, and his latest weapon, a 19-year-old high school dropout named Jaffa (ph), a suicide bomber waiting for a mission anywhere in the world. 

“I was watching TV and seeing my brothers in Palestine and Iraq being killed,” he said, “then I decided to be a fighter.”  After five hours we met the cell‘s leader, Abdullah al-Mahajar (ph), an al Qaeda propaganda chief. 

In hiding, al-Mahajar said al Qaeda has changed since 9/11.  It is no longer centrally commanded but now operates like a franchise. “Bin Laden doesn‘t order people in Iraq or Morocco to do this or that,” he said.  “Any company in the world has directors and middle managers who have their own employees and operations.” 

In neighboring Syria we found al Qaeda is increasingly seen as a necessary evil to fight what some here see as America‘s war on Islam.  Bassam al-Abadi doesn‘t seem like an al Qaeda supporter.  He imports candy. 

But he said: “I think 100 percent al Qaeda defends Muslim rights.” Perhaps ironically the country doing among the most to confront al Qaeda‘s ideology is Saudi Arabia, which produced 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

NBC News had exclusive access to Saudi Arabia‘s new al Qaeda rehabilitation center.  A minimum security resort outside Riyadh.  Here clerics try to deprogram militants, teaching them social skills as they swim, play foosball and video games before being released. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Goal!

ENGEL (on camera):  This halfway house actually was a resort now being rented by the Saudi government.  There are four swimming pools, soccer fields, even room service.  It‘s what the Saudis call the soft approach to dealing with al Qaeda. 

(voice-over):  Khalid Suleiman (ph) fought with Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora and served nearly five years in Guantanamo Bay.  After his release, the Saudi government helped Suleiman find a job, paid for his wedding, and furnish his apartment.  Khalid said al Qaeda used to seek out men like him.  Now angry youths recruit and train themselves. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now you can get that ideology in everywhere.  In Iraq, on the Internet, in Afghanistan, you know.  So I think they are more dangerous now than before. 

ENGEL:  More dangerous, he says, because al Qaeda has transformed itself.  And the Middle East is only now starting to catch up. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARLSON:  Joining us now from Beirut, Lebanon, is NBC News‘ Middle East Bureau chief, Richard Engel. 

Richard, thanks for joining us.  Let me ask you the obvious. 

ENGEL:  My pleasure, Tucker, how are you? 

CARLSON:  I‘m impressed by the report you filed today.  And let me ask you the obvious question, after Danny Pearl, how did you get access to these guys and why didn‘t they harm you? 

ENGEL:  Well, I think the easy answer is they were very proud of what they are doing.  Al Qaeda feels very strong right now.  This was a cell in Jordan, and they want to show to the world that al Qaeda has changed, that they are now these small self-sustaining, self-contained cells that are able to move in and out of Iraq. 

The initial idea, according to the Bush administration, was to gather all of the militants in Iraq, fight them there so they don‘t have to be fought in the U.S.  These militants definitely wanted to say, we‘re no longer in Iraq, we‘re operating openly and this is the new face of al Qaeda. 

CARLSON:  Operating openly in, among other places, Syria and Jordan, neither of which has a fundamentalist government.  Are their governments worried about the presence Islamic radicals like this within their borders?

ENGEL:  Very much so.  Jordan has already had several attacks against it.  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian former leader of the al Qaeda in Iraq movement was behind those attacks, so he carried out attacks both in Iraq and then back at home. 

So many Arab countries are worried about this blowback effect and that is exactly why Saudi Arabia is trying this somewhat experimental program.  After the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, many mujahedeen, or Islamic fighters, returned to countries like Saudi Arabia and carried out attacks. 

They want to make sure that a new generation of fighters doesn‘t come back from Iraq and do the same thing. 

CARLSON:  If you can sum up a couple of basic reasons that the guys you interviewed were drawn to al Qaeda, what would they be? 

ENGEL:  Iraq.  Iraq.  It‘s all about Iraq.  That is the main motivating factor.  It‘s what they see on the Internet, it‘s what they see on the television.  Most of the recruits now are self-recruits.  These are people who watch videos on their cell phones, on the Internet, and they decide to join up with al Qaeda. 

They train themselves at home.  There are jihad manuals openly available on the Internet and it‘s the—Iraq is the big draw.  Also Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that is something that is emotionally very engaging for the—for people—for angry young men here in the Middle East.

But because it‘s so difficult to get into the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of tight Israeli security restrictions, it‘s much easier for them to fight in Iraq.  So that is exactly what they‘re doing.  It is definitely Iraq. 

CARLSON:  Well, how easy is it?  Let‘s say you‘re a young Jordanian inflamed by what you see on satellite television or the Internet and you want to join the resistance in Iraq, how hard is it to do that? 

ENGEL:  Buy a ticket.  Buy a ticket to Baghdad.  It‘s not that difficult. 

CARLSON:  Just fly in and ask around? 

ENGEL:  Most of these people do not—just fly in and ask around. 

It‘s not that difficult.  Anyone from the Arab world who wants to go to Syria because it‘s a pan-Arab state is allowed without a visa to enter Syria. 

Some of the militants we spoke to said that al Qaeda specifically wants people that do not have criminal records, doctors, engineers, people who can move freely about not only in the Arab world, but Europe and the United States. 

Iraq is a target, but all of them kept repeating over and over again that their main objective is Europe, particularly the U.K., and the United States.  Iraq is the training ground but the ultimate objective is well beyond Iraq‘s borders. 

CARLSON:  And finally, Richard, we see poll numbers in this country, you never know how accurate they are.  Tell me your impression.  How much support—popular support does al Qaeda have in places like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies—fundamentally U.S. allies? 

ENGEL:  Most people do not believe in al Qaeda.  They think it‘s a vicious, bloodthirsty terrorist organization, and that‘s across the board.  But what people do have sympathy for is this idea that, well, maybe groups like al Qaeda, even though we hate them, are somewhat necessary as a fringe movement. 

There‘s a general impression, I think about 90 percent of Egyptians according to opinion polls I‘ve read, believe that America‘s foreign policy is fundamentally a war on Islam.  And that impression is widespread across the region. 

So if you take that as a basic premise that people in the Middle East fundamentally believe the Bush administration and the war on terror is a war on Islam, then there‘s unfortunately a fairly substantial group of people who are willing to take the next step, believing that the—there needs to be groups within the Middle East that should fight back against this perceived war against Islam—Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Really a terrific report.  Thanks a lot, Richard.  I appreciate it. 

ENGEL:  My pleasure. 

CARLSON:  Al Qaeda is gaining strength, yet President Bush says our strategy against terror is working.  So which is it? 

And can U.S. intelligence ever get a true read on a terror group that operates in the shadows? 

Plus, the Iraq progress report is out and it doesn‘t look good for the Iraqi government.   In fact, they look lame.  So why is President Bush asking lawmakers to remain optimistic?  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  We have breaking political news, the United States House of Representatives has just voted, the final vote 222-200, to pull U.S. combat troops from Iraq by April.  It was pretty much a party line vote—I‘m sorry, I‘m getting it updated.  It is 223 in favor of pulling U.S. combat troops from Iraq by April.  Pretty much a party line vote.  Four republicans voted with Democrats, 10 Democrats voted with Republicans.

All of this, of course, plays out against the backdrop of the president‘s promise, which we assume he will make good on, to veto any attempt to set a time line for withdrawal.  But still significant news.  A vote in the House of Representatives to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by next spring. 

Joining us now, we welcome Gene Robinson from The Washington Post and MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan. 

A big deal, Gene? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, it‘s an important statement.  But as you pointed out, it is not going to become law.  I mean, they don‘t have the Senate and George Bush is going to veto it in any event—in the event that it got through. 

It‘s certainly a reflection of what‘s becoming the sentiment in this city outside of the precincts of the White House, that it‘s time to set a date certain at least to begin a withdrawal, if not to complete one. 

CARLSON:  It‘s funny, I find myself, as someone who has been just almost furious about the war in Iraq for the past four or five years all of a sudden thinking, whoa, let‘s slow down here for a second, what are the consequences of withdrawal? 

Do you think, Pat, that you‘re going to see a conversation about that at some point? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think the president tried to start it today.  He was very clear.  He said.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  No, but he did say those who think the war is lost or we‘re losing it, and those who don‘t think it is lost, and who believe it would be basically a human rights catastrophe and strategic debacle if the United States withdrew rapidly. 

And frankly, as one who has opposed the war beforehand and thinks it was even mismanaged badly and we shouldn‘t have gone it, I think he‘s dead right on that.  I think people are coming to realize that. 

I noticed, frankly, the lead editorial in The Washington Post is very close to something I wrote for my magazine saying, wait a minute, folks, if we go marching down the road to Kuwait, you had better realize what‘s going to happen. 

You know, as Henry Kissinger said, you know, sometimes in this world it‘s dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, but to be a friend is fatal, and it would be fatal for every friend we‘ve got in Iraq. 

ROBINSON:  But you know, there is another side to that argument, and the other side is, you withdraw precipitously, things are awful, bloody, terrible in Iraq.  You withdraw a year from now, withdraw slowly, things are bloody, terrible, awful in Iraq, I mean, it‘s quite likely.

So—except the difference is that you have lost more American lives and—you know, so it‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I think that‘s a real argument.  I take that seriously.  I think that‘s a fair thing to say.  But I don‘t hear anybody making that argument. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  . the argument that it is lost.  I mean, General Odom makes that argument very bravely.  He said it was a mistake to go in, this war is lost and we can only increase our losses.  And that‘s at heart that argument. 

And the president said, on the other side there are those say, it‘s not definitive that it‘s lost and it is going to be an hellacious debacle if we pull out of there.  And I think—I mean, that is what has persuaded me.  He says, think about the consequences.  And that‘s what persuades me simply to hold on (ph).

CARLSON:  But, Gene, I think what you just said is a completely legitimate and thoughtful point of view.  It‘s never going to get better, so we might as well cut our losses, that‘s what I think you‘re saying. 

But I don‘t even hear Democrats say that.  I haven‘t heard a single candidate for president on the Democratic side even concede that it would be a bloodbath if we left. 

ROBINSON:  I haven‘t either.  And I mean, I think increasingly those should be—what we‘ve just described here—three opponents of the war, have just described what I think should be the terms of the discussion.  You know, what are the consequences?  Do we get out slowly, do we get out more quickly?

CARLSON:  Right.  When are going to have that though?  I mean, don‘t you think we ought to have that discussion pretty darn soon considering we are moving to withdraw? 

ROBINSON:  Well, maybe we are starting it here.  It is significant, I think, though, that we‘re looking for that sort of discussion.  The discussion the president wanted to start is, we can still win.  We can still have success in Iraq.  And nobody else understands what success in Iraq means, what it is he sees.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Well, a lack of the apocalyptic disaster—look, it seems to me the baseline understanding of Iraq is, it‘s terrible, it could be worse.  And I don‘t think that‘s a bad argument.  Like, yes, it‘s terrible, yes, it‘s a disaster, yes, Bush deserves all the blame for this foolish war.  But you think it‘s bad now?  I mean, that is a real argument. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, what Bush was saying today, he went further, he was saying in fact, I respect those who disagree with me, that‘s fine, but if you set up to your deadlines, in effect, bring it on.  I will veto it.  And if you want to get those troops out, you‘re going to have to break this president.  That is the unstated message.  It went right up to Capitol Hill.  And I don‘t think the guys on the Hill have the nerve to do it. 

CARLSON:  It‘s almost like the Flannery O‘Connor short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” only when she has a gun to her head does she becomes thoughtful and decent.  The sad irony is that Bush all of a sudden is becoming more reasonable and I think open to other points of view just at the moment when everybody stops listening to what he says. 

ROBINSON:  Up to a point.  But there is a point beyond which he will not go.  And you know, I have written several time, I really believe that he intends to—you know, as he understands it, see through this Iraq involvement. 

And he is not going to be deterred.  And “bring it on” is essentially what he‘s saying to Congress and to everybody else.  And he‘s a bit more thoughtful.  He talks about the judgment of history now and how this whole episode will be seen, you know, in the future by historians, but in the meantime, he ain‘t moving. 

CARLSON:  Well, we‘re going to have more on that in just a minute. 

We‘ll continue to discuss the ramifications of news that just broke.  The House of Representatives votes to get U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by next April. 

How is Iraq?  Well, eight out of 18, that‘s the scorecard for progress being made in that country.  Are the U.S. benchmarks even obtainable?  What does it mean for our already overextended military? 

Plus, Tom Tancredo is the lone Republican to show up at the NAACP‘s presidential forum today.  One out of 10 doesn‘t say much, where were the rest of them?  We‘ll tell you.  We‘ll be right back.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve been realistic about the consequences of failure.  I have been realistic about what needs to happen on the ground in order for there to be success, and it has been hard work, and the American people see it as hard work.  And one of the reasons it is hard work is because on our TV screens are these violent killings, perpetuated by people who have done us harm in the past. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That was President Bush today urging and pleading with the country really to stand by his policy in Iraq.  Even the president admitted there‘s “war fatigue” in America.  So much fatigue, in fact, that the House has just moments ago voted to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by next April. 

The president‘s press conference followed the arrival of a major report on 18 benchmarks that were set for the struggling democracy in Iraq.  While the president noted signs of progress, it‘s hard to imagine the country, which increasingly is opposed to the war, will follow his lead. 

Here to assess what Mr. Bush said today, we welcome back MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchan, and The Washington Post‘s own Eugene Robinson. 

Welcome to you both.  The benchmarks coming out in Iraq, which essentially—it‘s a little more complicated than this, but they essentially say, we have made real progress militarily.  Our Army is pretty good.  The Marine Corps is great.  But the Iraqi government is pathetic.  So politically there has been very little progress. 

Is anybody even paying attention to the military progress that has been made in Anbar, for instance, or is that just—just does not matter? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s being paid attention to here.  And I think it has been written about a good deal.  And as a matter of fact, they are dealing with al Qaeda out there.  But as—you know, Eugene and I were just talking, what the president did here, Tucker, in effect, he has pushed all his chips in the middle of the table and he said, check and call.  What do you got? 

And he is sending that message to the Hill.  They are going to veto those time lines these fellows voted on.  He will veto those.  And we are right back to the situation we were at a couple of months ago where, OK, fellows, you want to stop the war, defund the war.  I don‘t think they will do it.  I think he is going to win in July and I will bet he will win in September. 

CARLSON:  Boy, I bet they will.  But let me say one thing, 50 years from now when the definitive what-went-wrong history of this war is being written, I bet you, and I‘ll be gone by then, but I bet you $20 that the consensus will be our demand or hope that Iraq becomes a democracy was one of the main problems. 

You will notice that the progress has been made by us, and not by them.  The expectation that they were going to somehow spontaneously create a new and better society was absurd. 

ROBINSON:  I think that is right.  I plan to still be around in 50 years.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  So you give me the $20 now.  No, you‘re absolutely right.  It‘s—you know, democracy is very difficult to kind of impose from the outside on what is not really a country.  It never kind of really was organically.  Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell created it in 1921 out of knowing that there were Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis and they really didn‘t get along.  And so they found a monarch to put in charge of it and then so they could get out, basically. 

CARLSON:  So why didn‘t we find one?  See that‘s—that part has always escaped me.

ROBINSON:  Well, good question.  You know, I—the policy before the Bush administration was always kind of based on this vain open hope that we could find some sort of strongman in the Iraqi army who could depose Saddam and then take over and keep the apparatus in check... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Well, I kind of like that idea. 

ROBINSON:  Well, but it never worked because Saddam was pretty good at weeding out potential strongmen. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But the idea—the king of Jordan works.  He‘s not a democrat. 

BUCHANAN:  Tucker, you‘ve hit on the basic problem of the Bush administration.  He‘s on a democracy crusade which is utterly utopian. 

CARLSON:  Liberal.

BUCHANAN:  The Arab world has got 22 countries, almost none of which has ever been democratic.  And the idea that you‘re going to—

19-year-old Marines and Army Rangers are going to go in and build this kind of society is preposterous. 

We tore down the state, the government, the army, everything.  And you would think a democracy is going to rise out of there?  It is a preposterous idea.  And the whole foreign policy of the Bush administration in terms of building democracy around the world and going and fighting for it is utopian and as un-conservative as it can be. 

CARLSON:  Amen, I‘m glad you... 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  There were strong Iraqi institutions below the government.  There‘s clan, there‘s ethnicity, there‘s sect.  And those are—that‘s what has come to the fore—head.  That‘s the problem. 

BUCHANAN:  They are not democratic groups.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But isn‘t that the story of the world?  That‘s how most civilizations organize themselves, along those lines.  I don‘t think it‘s good.  It‘s actually bad most of the time, but it‘s also true.  It‘s the state of man in most of the world.  And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘ve no business wading into other country‘s affairs, do you? 

ROBINSON:  Well, and it‘s not that—you know, a society that‘s organized along those lines is incapable of becoming a democracy.  It has to decide to do so, however, and it has to come up with democratic institutions that are suited to that time and place and those people. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I want to hear the Democrats repudiate the worldview that led to this war.  And none of them has.

BUCHANAN:  They can‘t.  They‘re Wilsonians themselves deep at heart. 

CARLSON:  Well, then we‘re going to do this again and again and again and again. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don‘t know that they will.  Bill Clinton did it more rhetorically than he did going aboard.

CARLSON:  That‘s because he was a coward.  He wouldn‘t act out his own stated beliefs.  But if he had been brave enough to do what he said he believed.

BUCHANAN:  If he‘d been Bush-like. 

CARLSON:  Exactly!  So Bush‘s sin was acting out his stupid beliefs. 

ROBINSON:  There‘s something to be said for advocating democracy rhetorically and not trying to go in... 

CARLSON:  Well, you‘re—no, you‘re right.  There a subtle middle ground, I agree.

ROBINSON:  . and create it where you can.

CARLSON:  You probably shouldn‘t advocate strongmen.  But in effect your policy ought to support them when they‘re pro-American. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure, that‘s Jeane Kirkpatrick, dictators and double standards.  Great point.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  (INAUDIBLE) I can get behind that, Pat.  That‘s very dark, very dark, but true. 

John Edwards says he wants to eradicate poverty, so why is he blaming mega-rich hedge fund managers, the same people he once worked for?  Is this the rich blaming the rich?  Or could it be the one good idea ever to emerge from the John Edwards for President campaign? 

Plus, Mike Huckabee is one politician who made headlines by what he lost, about 100 pounds.  And the former governor and presidential candidate says chubby left-wing activist Michael Moore ought to drop some weight too to help us all save money on health care.  Mike Huckabee joins us live in a minute explain.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  Even his enemies are starting to feel sorry for John McCain.  His friends can‘t even talk about it.  It‘s that painful.  But are things really that bad for his campaign or are we in the press just piling on?  Well, objectively the signs are not good.  There are the millions in squandered campaign funds or the sagging poll numbers, both nationally and in important primary states, and now more staffers are jumping ship. 

McCain said today that he is not done.  As he put it to his supporters, quote, challenges are nothing new to me.  McCain is a tough man.  But is this a lost cause?  Joining us once again, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson. 

Gene, the Politico had a pretty interesting tick tock on what has happened in the McCain campaign.  And in it, a McCain loyalist is quoted as saying, at times it feels like someone put a voodoo curse on us.  It‘s almost to that level. 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think it was some sort of voodoo gri-gri (ph) that caused this problem.   

CARLSON:  Nobody sacrificed a chicken, or anything? 

ROBINSON:  I think it was two things.  I mean, the campaign never raised enough money, yet the campaign spent money as if it had all the money in the world.  So it‘s now broke.  It‘s got two million dollars in the bank and probably that much debt. 

CARLSON:  Or more. 

ROBINSON:  And you can‘t run a campaign on no money.  The second thing I think that hit this campaign, even more than the war, was immigration.  I mean, I think McCain was just grievously wounded by the immigration bill.  I don‘t know if he‘ll ever recover. 

CARLSON:  And the conventional understanding, Pat, is that he came out—he aped Bush, right?  He copied Bush‘s position on Iraq.  He was seen with the president.  That‘s what killed him.  What a crock.  This is the Republican primary.  These are right wingers you are trying to appeal to.  I think his problem is conservatives don‘t trust him and never have. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, they don‘t trust him and they don‘t like him.  But I would have said December, or maybe a little longer ago, that McCain was the prohibitive favorite for the nomination.  I thought he would be nominated.  My guess was he would be president.  But look, we used the sinister force defense during Watergate.  Sinister force must have erased those tapes.  We don‘t know what happened.

CARLSON:  Now that we‘re on that subject, what did happen to those tapes, Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  I stepped on something by mistake. 

ROBINSON:  So it was you!

BUCHANAN:  No.  But look, this is really—it‘s sad what is happening to McCain when he goes down so far.  But look, it is their own fault.  They raised 22 million dollars and shot 20 million out of a cannon.  And this guys got 150 staffers in May?  What are we talking about?  They are running like they are running in the general election and things.  And McCain is up front on the war and he had to get way out front on amnesty, denounced everyone that called it amnesty.  He‘s already coming down, and he just sank to single digits in both states. 

What he‘s going to do is—because he dropped two guys, his two top guys in Iowa.  He can‘t go into the Iowa caucuses.  He‘s skipped the straw poll.  He‘s going to put everything, in my judgment, in New Hampshire and hope to really take the kind of victory he did in 2000.  If he doesn‘t, he‘s cooked. 

CARLSON:  The problem is, of course, Mitt Romney is from Massachusetts and he‘s leading as a result of that in New Hampshire.  NAACP had a forum today, gene, to which I think everyone was invited.  Pretty much all the Democrats showed up.  Only one Republican showed up, Tom Tancredo, pretty clever actually, because he came—in my view—to make a pitch on immigration on these grounds: a flood of low-skilled, low-paid immigrants undercut the bargaining power of low wage American workers, many of whom—or some of whom are black. 

ROBINSON:  I think it was a smart move too.  I mean, Tancredo got a standing ovation just for showing up at the NAACP convention, which was smart. 

CARLSON:  Do you think that‘s why he got it or do you think they agreed with his points on immigration?  

ROBINSON:  I think a little of both.  I happen to believe that there should be a search for common ground between African-Americans and Latinos on a range of issues.  Not everyone agrees with me.  In fact, when I write columns disagreeing with Pat on immigration, I hear from people.  And I hear from a decent number of African-Americans who kind of say, well, hold on a minute.  Why do you go so far? 

So I think Tancredo—I think that was actually smart. 

CARLSON:  Well, I think the line of the entire event—and I will say I do not have the transcript yet of this event.  We will get it.  But the “Detroit Free Press” sent a reporter and she described it this way: “John Edwards even extended the need for U.S. leadership to provide primary schooling for up to 100 million children in the developing world, especially Africa. 

Do you think the idea that the United States ought to pay for elementary schooling in other countries is bound to get traction among Democratic voters?  Put another way, how crazy is that? 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the guy who joined a hedge fund to learn about poverty.  Look, but you take Washington, D.C., predominantly black and Hispanic in the public schools.  Fifty percent of the kids are dropping out before they reach senior year in high school and they‘re graduating with eighth grade abilities in English and math.  We better take care of the American kids in this country before we start talking about buying education for 100 million in foreign countries. 

CARLSON:  Why Gene—Why can‘t any of the candidates—I think your paper had an interesting piece on this the other day—why can‘t any of them say, as Barack Obama did in his book, we ought to pay teachers more when they do a better job.  And if they are really bad, we ought to be able to fire them.  If you‘re totally in hock to the teachers union, you‘re not really serious about education reform, are you?

ROBINSON:  Obama has gone further than any of the other Democratic candidates.

CARLSON:  And good for him.

ROBINSON:  -- and didn‘t quite go all the way, didn‘t quite go as far as he has gone in his book, actually.  Merit pay is anathema to the teachers unions.  

CARLSON:  On what grounds?  I don‘t get that. 

BUCHANAN:  Socialism?

ROBINSON:  Not socialism, Pat.  It‘s the idea that the teachers would be paid differentially based often on circumstances that are not in their control. 

BUCHANAN:  Isn‘t that what they do in the NFL? 

ROBINSON:  It‘s not the NFL. 

BUCHANAN:  Every organization that succeeds takes the people of talent and ability, who start out equally.  The ones that get ahead, they reward them more.  And that is an incentive for everybody.  It‘s why things work.  The things in the country that work, Microsoft, things like that, it‘s people of talent and ability.  And then, once they get there, reward them for it.  If you‘ve got a great teacher who has taken over a school and it‘s really going well, pay them for it. 

ROBINSON:  I‘m not arguing with you.  I‘m explaining why the Democrats can‘t, because the teachers unions are an important Democratic constituency.  And they do not want to offend.  We‘ll see.  Obama has opened the door. 

BUCHANAN:  At whose expense?  When they say they don‘t want to offend the teachers union. 

ROBINSON:  I‘m apostate on this.  I don‘t think a generation of kids can be written off for the sake of teachers unions or any other unions or for the sake of failing public school systems.  Kids should be able to go to schools where they can be educated.  So, if it‘s a chartered; if it‘s a public school; if it‘s a private school, you know, a voucher; let‘s just educate the kids. 

CARLSON:  I couldn‘t agree more.  You see it really in this city and it‘s super depressing.  Here‘s something that Edwards said that‘s not so insane, though it‘s kind of left wing, but I‘m kind of struck by it, this whole controversy about his participation in a hedge fund where he made 470 million dollars—I mean thousand dollars for doing essentially nothing, by his own admission. 

He comes out today and he says that we need to change the tax code, that private equity—the capital gains are taxed 15 percent, but that is, in fact, the income of the manager of these hedge funds.  So in effect you have people running hedge funds getting taxed at 15 percent on income when the average person is taxed at 35.  Right? 

BUCHANAN:  They‘re getting salaries.  They can‘t be.  They must work it some way so that the salary is—

ROBINSON:  They do.  They get millions or in one case a billion dollars, one hedge fund manager got one year, but it was all taxed at capital gains rates. 

CARLSON:  Taxed at that rate.  So here‘s what he said; this is his bumper sticker, which I find hard to disagree with, frankly, “A tax code that lets hedge fund and private equity managers making hundreds of millions a year pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretary, is wrong.” 

I don‘t know.  I think John Edwards is a crack pot on most things. 

I agree with that. 

BUCHANAN:  I agree with that too.  But if it‘s legitimate capital gains is the way they‘re getting it, I don‘t know how you make an exception for people who work in this profession.  If it is capital gains, that‘s got to be taxed higher.  I mean, you‘ve got a 14th amendment problem. 

CARLSON:  What does that mean? 

BUCHANAN:  It means equal protection of the laws.  You can‘t say my capital gains are at 15 percent, but a guy that works for that fund, if he‘s getting capital gains, you can‘t tax him for—

CARLSON:  And I think that‘s a fair point. 

BUCHANAN:  I think you can say that this is actually, in fact, a—that this is, in fact, compensation for—as salary.  You could probably -- 

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  Leaving aside whether or not—and I think that is a fair point, and maybe why it‘s not law now.  But as a rhetorical matter, why not take up this cudgel if you‘re a Democratic candidate?  I mean, this is a give me.  Isn‘t it?

ROBINSON:  Yes, it seems like it to me. 

CARLSON:  But they won‘t, because they take a lot of money from hedge funds.  I bet Hillary Clinton will not say this.  I dare her.  How‘s that.

Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, thank you both very much.  Does Michael Moore have the answer to health care in America?  Fat chance, according to obesity fighting, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who joins us in just a minute. 

And it was once said that it‘s better to have loved a short man than never to have loved a tall.  Ha.  But not for this bride.  Big man on campus Willie Geist has the details on the world‘s tallest nuptials.  You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Michael Moore is certainly no stranger to controversy.  So is it possible that his extra pounds can be blamed for the problems with America‘s health care system?  Well, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is also an 2008 presidential candidate, implies maybe yes.  He even says his health care costed more when he tipped the scales at more than 100 pounds more than he does now.  Governor Huckabee joins me live from Des Moines, Iowa to discuss it. 

Governor, thanks for coming on. 

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ARKANSAS:  Thank you, Tucker.  Great to visit with you again. 

CARLSON:  So Michael Moore could ease the burden that we all share for America‘s health care if he just dropped a little weight? 

HUCKABEE:  No, I think the real issue is that Michael Moore has tried to make would be better off if we all went to Havana, Cuba to get our health care.  What nonsense.  The other night he actually made the assertion that people like Doctor Sanjay Gupta of one of your rival networks is really to blame for a lot of the problems.  Well, the reality is Dr. Gupta is a wonderful health care professional, a great humanitarian and gets it right, that it‘s about health, not just health care that we‘ve got a real struggle with. 

And Michael Moore‘s film apparently is all about saying that what we need is a government-controlled—let the government pick your doctor.  And, Tucker, frankly, I don‘t think most Americans want the same people picking our doctor that runs the air traffic control system. 

CARLSON:  Yes, I mean, I would like to think they don‘t.  The polls show that is, in fact, exactly what they want, unfortunately.  But let me ask you this; you said something a little more specific than that. 

You said that when you were heavier than you are now, your health care

cost more, implying that—I think it was a pretty direct implication -

a pretty clear implication that Michael Moore should drop a little weight.  How much do you think he weighs, by the way? 

HUCKABEE:  I have no idea, but I know this, that a lot of it is probably overblown in some ego.  I think he looks at himself as a guy who is going to solve all of America‘s problems.  But America‘s problems is (sic) -- a lot of our problems are that we have 80 percent of our health care expenditures based on chronic disease.  We really don‘t have a health care crisis.  We have a health care—health crisis, Tucker. 

That means that most of the illnesses are caused by diseases that are preventable and curable if we live differently.  Now, that‘s not going to solve everything.  And we still have a lot of Americans, over 40 million, uninsured.  But the real challenge and crisis we face is that we spend 17 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on health care.  There‘s no other nation on earth spending more than 10.5 percent of its GDP on health care. 

That‘s a problem that if we were spending 11 percent, we would save 700 billions dollars a year.  That would more than cover everybody. 

CARLSON:  So here‘s what—Mike, I just want to read a response from Michael Moore‘s producer, the producer of “Sicko,” his new movie, who says this about you, since you lost a lot of weight yourself, quote, there‘s nothing worse than a reformed smoker or twinkie eater, for that matter, preaching conversion.  We‘ve all had one of those in the house and can‘t wait for them to just leave.  With 66 percent of the American public overweight, it‘s not the way to win an election.” 

You don‘t want to eliminate fat people, do you? 

HUCKABEE:  No, I think what it‘s a matter of is wanting to see that children live longer than their parents and grandparents.  And because childhood obesity is up 77 percent since 99, today‘s child born in this country is the first child in the history of America that‘s not expected to live as long as his parent or grandparent.  This is a serious health issue.  It‘s a crisis that‘s taking kids out of here.

CARLSON:  And it possibly is a health issue for Michael Moore.  I don‘t know, but it‘s certainly possible.  Since you lost a lot of weight, what would you recommend to Michael Moore?  What do you think he should do?

HUCKABEE:  I‘ll tell you what, I‘ll go watch his movie if he‘ll read my book.  How would that be for a fair exchange.

CARLSON:  If you‘re Michael Moore—and I‘m sure he‘s unhappy about his weight—what would you recommend he does about it? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, what I would recommend is that he just take simple steps.  I would recommend this for everybody.  Take charge of your own health.  Don‘t expect somebody else to say I‘m going to take care of all of your health needs.  I had to realize this was my responsibility.  Tucker, there was no one who was living outside good health habits more so than me, nobody.  I ate everything I wanted.  I didn‘t exercise.  It was my fault. 

I didn‘t blame the government for that.  I didn‘t expect the government to fix it.  We have to realize that if went to live longer, live healthier, and live less expensively, we do have to make some lifestyle changes. 

CARLSON:  Well, I hope he‘s watching.  Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, I sure appreciate it.  Thanks a lot, governor.

HUCKABEE:  Thanks, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Well, everybody knows a book club is no place for a man, so why has Barack Obama suddenly turned into Oprah?  Willie Geist rounds up the girls, brings the chardonay, and heads to the Oprah book club—the Obama book club, when we come back.  You‘re watching MSNBC live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  If you‘re like me, it must happen 10 times a day; you read a news story and you think, what do I make of this?  I‘m not sure.  Now you know.  Willie Geist is here to explain. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you for that introduction, Tucker.  My favorite part of the interview with Governor Huckabee was when you asked him to guess Michael Moore‘s weight.  Like he works at a carnival or something.  This guy‘s running for president.

CARLSON:  He know.  Anyone who has lost a lot of weight, like 100 pounds or something, is very good, I‘ve noticed, including those carnival people, at guessing what other people weigh, because they think about it a lot.  I bet he knows exactly what Michael Moore weighs.  And one of our producers just looked it up on Wikipedia, between 300 and 305.   

GEIST:  Really, that‘s pretty specific.  Well, if Governor Huckabee is not elected president, he can go work at a carnival.  He‘s got that going for him.  Tucker, on the pageant scandal scale, the recent Miss New Jersey inappropriate photos broo-ha-ha rates a four out of 10.  Remember, the last Miss USA was dancing on tables in New York City night clubs, doing drugs and making out with other girls.  That‘s like a 9.5. 

The new Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo, was blackmailed with photographs that were supposed to be scandalous.  She revealed them this morning on “The Today Show.”  Prepare to be disappointed.  Here is one of Polumbo doing absolutely nothing while her boyfriend acts like a jackass.  The next one shows her sticking her legs in the air while fully clothed as two friends look on.  Bored yet?  It gets worse. 

This photograph shows that Miss Polumbo is clearly not Miss New Jersey material.  What kind of ambassador for the Garden State would dare to put two pumpkins on her chest?  And then you have her taking a completely legal drink with her friends.  The rest are even less sensational, if you can imagine it. 

Now the board of the Miss New Jersey panel reviewed the photograph and made a ruling late this afternoon on Amy Polumbo‘s status.  So does she get to keep the crown? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The directors are in unanimous agreement.  They have decided that based upon the materials they have on hand and have reviewed and because of Amy‘s forthrightness and the matter in which she revealed the photos on TV, Amy Polumbo should continue her reign as Miss New Jersey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  All is well.  Tears flowed.  The few people assembled there in the crowd --  

CARLSON:  I was about to say, there are like eight people in the room. 

GEIST:  I know.  But it was a big deal.  And I come from the Garden State, as you know, Tucker.  So I‘m proud that the integrity has been restored to the Miss New Jersey pageant. 

CARLSON:  Can you imagine what the real Miss New Jersey pageant must really be like? 

GEIST:  I lived with the Miss New Jersey pageant.  I can tell you exactly what it‘s—

CARLSON:  Miss waste management. 

GEIST:  Easy. You know, those are ugly stereotypes, Tucker.  I resent that.  It‘s a wonderful state with miles of coastline.  It‘s terrific. 

Luckily, Amy Polumbo now can get on with the business of being Miss New Jersey.  Let‘s move right along for the rest of the ladies.  I‘m so sorry.  It‘s official, the world‘s tallest man is off the market.  Seven foot nine inch Bau Zi Shun (ph) tied the not in a traditional Mongolian wedding ceremony today.  We brought you the rehearsal the other day. 

Some 2,000 people showed up at the Ghengis Khan holiday resort—yes, that‘s the real name—to see Bau marry a woman is almost two and a half feet shorter than she is.  Because of Bau‘s celebrity, the wedding was sponsored by 15 different companies.  Everything from the liquor to the gowns was paid for. 

And good for him, Tucker.  Take advantage of that height.  Make it work for you.  Congratulations to the tallest man in the world. 

CARLSON:  The Ghengis Khan Resort.  I think I‘m going to have to swing by.  You know what I mean? Maui is out.  Genghis Khan Resort in. 

GEIST:  It‘s a little rough.  It‘s a little rough.  All right now, Tucker, we have to talk about something here.  I thought we men had an understanding.  In fact, I didn‘t even know it had to be said out loud.  We don‘t join book clubs and we sure as hell don‘t organize them, for crying out loud. 

Senator Barack Obama has violated the trust of men everywhere by doing just that.  His campaign kicked off an Obama Book Club in New Hampshire this week.  It‘s called “From Doubt to Hope, Discover Barack in His Own Words.”  Eighty five people showed up at the first meeting on Tuesday night.  So, what‘s this weeks book you ask?  Well, “Dreams From My Father.”  Yes, Barack Obama‘s own memoir was the first book. 

It turns out all the books in the club are about Obama.  I‘m not kidding.  The meetings include conference calls with influential figures in Senator Obama‘s life.  I don‘t know where to begin.  Not only are you a man starting a book club; you are starting a self-serving book club. 

CARLSON:  You know, Willie, I would laugh too.  But when Oprah launched her magazine, I was in the magazine business.  And some one told me, you know what, every month they are going to have a picture of Oprah.  I said that is so—that is crazy.  That will never work.  And now it out sells “Newsweek” practically, right?  So this will work.  That‘s my gut.  

GEIST:  It makes you wonder what he won‘t compromise of himself. 

Are we going to have many petty (ph) parties next?

CARLSON:  Does he carry a man purse? 

GEIST:  It‘s scary. 

CARLSON:  Thanks, Willie.  For more on Willie Geist, check out Zeit Geist at Tucker.MSNBC.com.  That does it for us.  See you tomorrow.

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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