updated 3/25/2008 11:34:48 AM ET 2008-03-25T15:34:48

Guests: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Ron Brownstein, Harold Ford Jr

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  I‘m David Gregory. 

Tonight, two big numbers: 4,000 Americans dead in Iraq and 800 superdelegates whose votes are likely to decide the Democratic contest.  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, your one-stop shopping for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.  Our goal, to give you information, the nuggets and the analysis to help you make up your mind about the campaign or improve your political debates with friends and family. 

Our foundation, a panel that comes to play.  Tonight, with us for the first time, editor of “The Nation,” Katrina Vanden Heuvel, political director for Atlantic media, Ron Brownstein, and MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate himself Pat Buchanan.  Plus the mystery panelists that we‘ll hear from in a few minutes. 

We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, it‘s “The Headlines.” 

I‘ll start right here tonight with this.  President George W. Bush is as relevant as ever.  Forget the lame duck.  He is commander in chief and troop levels in Iraq.  The future of America‘s involvement in the war is coming back strong as an issue.  Hard facts at home.  4,000 dead, U.S service members.  And this, David Petraeus to testify on Capitol Hill early next month about the surge and what he thinks troop levels should be.  The early read is that he wants to slow the withdrawals to avoid giving up the ground that has been gained on security. 

Pat, your headline on Iraq tonight. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline is the 4,000 dead in Iraq, but the headline coming is going to be General David Petraeus.  This fall will come out against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton‘s plans for a precipitate withdrawal which he believes will take defeat from the jaws of a victory that he has—been the architect of. 

GREGORY:  He‘s going to argue that the surge needs more time, in other words. 

BUCHANAN:  He will argue the surge needs more time and he will be a de facto surrogate for John McCain. 

GREGORY:  We know that Vice President Cheney just today was peppered with questions about why not put more pressure on the Iraqis, tell them, “You only get troops if you make political progress.  If you don‘t those troops begin to come out.”  Do you think Petraeus is in sync with Bush and Cheney on this? 

BUCHANAN:  He is in sync with Bush and Cheney and with McCain more importantly, and a real problem for Barack Obama because there‘s still a few hawks in the Democratic Party who will not come out for Barack‘s plan. 

GREGORY:  This is also the point about the patience of the American people, right, Pat?  We have seen our own polling indicating fully a 40 percent of Americans do not want to pull out right now.  They want to give it more time, if there‘s some reason for success. 

BUCHANAN:  American people want to come home from Iraq.  Most of them think it was a mistake.  They do not want to come home on the skids.  They don‘t want a Saigon ending to this war.  They don‘t want to lose another war. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

Ron, your headline tonight? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA POLICAL DIRECTOR:  I think it‘s the same headline, the 4,000, a grim milestone, the 4,000 of dead in Iraq, and the way it underscores the investment that John McCain has in this war having identified so unreservedly with the idea of staying for as long as it takes to get the job done.  He is, of course, very vulnerable if attitudes begin to harden and concerns grow as violence increased. 

I mean we are still in a situation where 60 percent of Americans, as Pat is suggesting, and Gallup poll just this month continues to say the war is a mistake and they want a timetable for withdrawal rather than staying indefinitely.  If the violence continues to move up as we have seen it do in the last few weeks, this is—I think milestone is a reminder that John McCain still has bet a lot of his campaign on tolerance of the public. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  ...for a message that calls for an indefinite commitment in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  And if he inexorably tied to Bush and Cheney on the war? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, he has freedom.  I mean he went through Iraq without differentiating himself.  He might do so later.  But I think in a broader sense, he is tied to what‘s his overarching commitment to the country, that he is saying, “Elect me and we will stay as long as it takes to get this right.” 

GREGORY:  All right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The question is: will the country be willing to wait, make that commitment, and events will have influence on that, David. 

GREGORY:  Katrina, what have you got tonight? 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION:  Well, of course, the most tragic number today, David, is 4,000.  And we learn the tragic disastrous policy decisions have tragic consequences.  But it‘s also—it‘s the war economy, stupid, because this country is heading into a recession.  There are foreclosure signs on thousands of lawns across this country.  And this war, the staggering financial costs of this war are draining a country that needs our country, that needs to rebuild, that needs to have investment in jobs and in infrastructure. 

GREGORY:  Is this what a Democratic candidate ultimately runs on not just withdrawal but the economic impact? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  They‘re linked, David.  I mean, Barack Obama gave a brilliant speech on race last week but he also gave a less noticed speech in Charleston, West Virginia on linking the costs of war to the crisis of our economy.  And this is the first war in U.S. history that has been funded through borrowing, that is a national security disaster. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And the Bush/McCain war, another 10 years of quagmire. 

This country cannot afford it.  And the majority. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  .of Americans have turned against not only the war but against this idea that we have looted.

GREGORY:  That we can pay for it. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  .our country for this. 

GREGORY:  Understood.  Going to move on. 

Mystery solved here, folks.  MSNBC News analyst, chairman of Democratic Leadership Council and former congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr. joins us for first time. 

See, Harold, I was giving you the big buildup here so we could break out here at the end A-block.  You‘re up.  What‘s your headline tonight, Harold?  Welcome. 

HAROLD FOLD, JR., DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL CHAIRMAN:  My prayers go out to all of the soldiers, the familiars who‘ve lost loved ones there.  I would agree with all, 4,000 lost in Iraq is a headline.  However, homeowners, when I say to both the nominees in the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, that homeowners need help now.  No more time to be timid.

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  .when it comes to dealing with our economy.  The reality is that not only are housing prices dropping and we‘ve only created five million jobs in this last seven years having created some 25 million almost from 1992 to 2000, the country is hungry, anxious, not only to hear Democrats talk about these issues but to hear John McCain as well. 

GREGORY:  Harold, are you surprised that they have not been on this every day, day in and day out as kind of topic A? 

FORD:  To fairness to both Senators Obama and Clinton who gave splendid speeches last week, let‘s say one thing about John McCain.  He flew to Iraq to support a policy where two-thirds of the country is against.  He‘s returning home in a few days with no policy for a set of challenges, the three-quarters of the country think that we‘re in.  I hate to mention the recession word but 7 out 10 U.S. economists believe we‘re there and he has no plan for it.  It‘s the economy in many, many way. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Lot coming up.  Hillary Clinton‘s superdelegates, super problems.  She‘s having trouble reeling in those power brokers she so desperately needs.  Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter, just to name a few. 

And later in the show, your play date with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2290 -- 2299.  790-2299 or e-mail us Race08@MSNBC.com

RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Senator John McCain takes on presidential John McCain on a new Web site launched by the Democratic National Committee.  First topic on the table, McCain‘s views on Iraq. 

We‘re coming back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re are back and we‘re “Inside the War Room” now.  The presidential candidates have their war strategies—their war room strategies.  We‘re going to take a look at—closer look at what they are.  Still with us, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Harold Ford Jr, Ron Brownstein and Pat Buchanan. 

And first up tonight, Hillary Clinton could have a problem if Democratic power brokers decided to step in and end her primary fight with Barack Obama.  “New York Times” columnist Maureen Dodd writes this, go to the quote board for you, “If Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi are the dealmakers, it won‘t take Hercule Poirot to figure out who had knives out for Hillary.  Carter, who felt he was no treated with a lot of respect by the Clintons when they were in the White House, favors Obama.  Al Gore blames Bill Clinton‘s trysts with Monica for losing him the White House. 

Nancy Pelosi tangled bitterly with President Clinton over his pursuit of a free-trade agreement with China.  And she has been put off by the abrasive ways of some top Hillary people.  If Hillary‘s fate falls into the hands of Jimmy, Al and Nancy, the Clinton chickens may come home to roost.” 

Ron Brownstein, it‘s a problem.  Who is on the committee to try to resolve this if it comes to that? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, you know, that really is a second or third order magnitude of problem for Hillary Clinton.  First, she‘s got to go through a series of hoops before she can even worry about something like that.  She‘s got to narrow the pledge delegate lead for Barack Obama by winning the preponderance of delegates that are left.  She‘s got to win a state or two that she‘s not expected to win.  That would be kind of a breaking surge state like North Carolina.  Then she‘s got to win a super-majority of the superdelegates that are left.  And maybe then she can worry about whether she has too many burnt bridges with Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi is a lost case.  I mean, she basically is a Barack Obama who—supporter who just doesn‘t seem to want to say so. 

GREGORY:  But Harold, the whole argument from the Clinton campaign, is it ought to be in the superdelegates‘ hands?  They are already getting to that point of view which is that the superdelegates can and will and should decide this. 

FORD:  It‘s a lot of political jockeying at the moment.  Both sides have got to find ways to not only remain relevant but to remain relevant in the conversation about this count.  I agree with Ron.  The—Mrs. Clinton is going to have to win in a state she‘s not expected to win.  And if I could be so bold early, the winner of the North Carolina primary will be the nominee for the Democratic Party. 

GREGORY:  Wow. 

FORD:  It‘s a state that has so much of what the country looks like.  It holds not only potential for Barack because of the natural demographic advantages, the college town. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  .people who are progressive in many ways.  But at the same time, Mrs. Clinton has got to show, as Ron said well, she‘s got to win in a state that she‘s not expected to win. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s talk about political jockeying here.  Is the Clinton campaign actually changing the goalpost, moving those goalposts?  Top Clinton surrogate Evan Bayh and Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania now saying it‘s not pledged delegates but electoral votes that should decide the Democratic nomination. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA:  And as we all recall in 2000, as Democrats, great sorrow.  We do elect presidents based upon the electoral college.  So who carried the states with the most electoral college votes is an important factor to consider. 

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  You don‘t become president by winning the most states.  You become presidents by winning the states with the most electoral votes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Here‘s the argument.  The Clinton camp says so far it has won states with 219 electoral votes while Barack Obama has won states with 202 electoral votes, although there‘s virtually no chance of some of these states going Democratic in the fall. 

Pat, sound argument? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, the—Hillary Clinton is laying down right now is that she can win this election and Barack Obama cannot win the election.  That‘s why she‘s talking about the votes with the—or the states with all those electoral votes.  But if Barack Obama wins the pledge delegates and Barack Obama wins the popular vote, there is no way any group of superdelegates is going to reach there and take that nomination away from him. 

You got to remember, George McGovern was down 30 or 40 points going into his convention.  And no one could have taken that nomination away from him any more than the Republican is going to take it away from Goldwater even though he was a sure loser. 

So I don‘t think—what Hillary has got to do, I agree, win North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana and maybe have some Reverend Wright break. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  .on her behalf which says that Barack can‘t win it. 

BROWNSTEIN:  David. 

GREGORY:  Hold on.  Real quick. 

Katrina, the argument her is the big states.  Who‘s winning the big states?  Obama‘s had a problem with it. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I don‘t buy that.  I don‘t buy that argument.  I mean

the Clinton campaign has changed the rules of the game a lot.  And this is

the Clinton administration was all for playing by the rules. 

Listen, this is an epic historic election.  The nominees should win, democratically, at moment, that means most pledged delegates, most states, most popular votes. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  After this election we can talk about abolishing the superdelegates, which is we should do, and abolishing the electoral college.  But at the moment we play by the rules and let‘s have a democratic outcome, and not one based on superdelegates. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Ron, real quick. 

BROWNSTEIN:  David, look, there‘s a reasonable argument, which one of these candidates will be a stronger general election opponent of John McCain.  But winning primary states is not a great predictor—win—in the general election.  Somebody has to win it in each party. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  That doesn‘t mean they can compete in the fall.  George Bush in 2000 against John McCain won New York and California and the primary was obliterated in the general election.  John Kerry in 2004 won Texas and Tennessee and Virginia and was never heard from there. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  She has a case but this is not the argument. 

GREGORY:  All right.  And as Clinton and Obama are fighting each other for the Democratic nomination.  The national party is trying to focus on John McCain today.  The DNC launched a new Web feature called the McCain debate taking on—taking aim, rather, McCain‘s comments on Iraq. 

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I believe that Saddam Hussein presents clear and present danger to the United States of America with his continued pursuit of—to acquire weapons of mass destruction. 

I never said that it was a quote, “clear and present danger because of weapons of mass destruction.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Harold Ford, parody, but does it work? 

FORD:  Well, I think it reminds voters pretty—in pretty straightforward ways that John McCain who‘s had his one way on taxes, he flipped.  He‘s had one way on campaign reform, he flipped ever so slightly.  He‘s had one position on the war, he slipped so slightly.  And we learned just today, he had one position on John Kerry serving as his running mate and now he‘s flipped on that. 

Once this race is joined between these two candidates, whether it‘s

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I think John McCain is

going to have a lot of answering to do, not just on the periphery but on

real substantive issues and this will be one of them 

GREGORY:  Pat, real quick before break. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  Straight Talk Express can do U-turns. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  The wheels have come off, Pat.  The wheels have come off. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up, what Barack Obama‘s speech on race showed us about what kind of president he will be if elected. 

Plus, what‘s almost as exciting and speculating on who the next president will be?  Of course, speculating on who‘ll be the vice president?  We‘re going to talk McCain veepstakes when we come back with out “Smart Takes.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  That time for “Smart Takes” now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We have been combing the newspapers, the blogs, watching television, monitoring radio.  Now we‘ve got our “Smart Takes.” 

Still with us tonight, Katrina, Harold, Ron and Pat.  Our first “Smart Take,” as the U.S. grapples with two milestones in Iraq, 4,000 dead and the start of the sixth year of the war, the “New York Times‘” Nicholas Kristof looks at the conflict‘s economic impact. 

Quote, on the quote board, “Most critics of the way, myself included, blew it.  We didn‘t anticipate the improvements in security that are partly the result of last year‘s surge.  The improvement is real but fragile and limited, all for a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second.” 

More, “While casualties in Baghdad are down, we‘re beginning to take losses in Florida and California.  The United States seems to have slipped into recession.  Americans are losing their homes, job and health insurance.  Banks are struggling and the Iraq was appears to have aggravated all these domestic woes.” 

Ron Brownstein, is that the question of whether any of this is worth the bill? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Over time I think that will be an increasing—increasingly focus of the debate on Iraq.  You know the cost of war exceeds the cost of universal health care, for example.  So over time the resources that are devoted will be an issue.  And the sustainability of the surge ultimately is related to the question of whether it is seating the capacity of the Iraqis to defend themselves, because even if we can reduce violence the question will be, can we do it at an acceptable price to this country over time?  Are we willing to pay this indefinitely? 

GREGORY:  Katrina, the argument up until now has been you can‘t deal with the negative consequences if you pull out.  Not necessarily the positive consequences of staying in terms of real political stability. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  There are no positive consequences for staying in.  We have seen the bloodies month since 2005 in this last period.  The occupation is unwinnable.  You do not win this—through military means.  You take the resources, you reinvest in this country, and you help reconstruct Iraq, and by the way, to the leadership of Iraq which we don‘t usually talk about, first of all, they want us to leave.  But second of all, what‘s happened to all the oil resources that seem to be going into militias and speculation? 

They can rebuild and reconstruct with some of that.  But the cost, as you know, David, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz is talking about $3 trillion.  We need this money at home especially as we head into this recession and the crisis. 

GREGORY:  All right.  I think. 

FORD:  I think that this is a very tricky thing going back and forth about whether we stay or not.  I think the real issue in terms of our loss has been we have found no alternatives to the commodity that they have over there that has caused us to go to war.  We‘re the first generation of Americans ever to send a group of people that has been duly noted to send a group of soldiers to war and ask their families to subsidize the people trying to kill them at the same time.  The fact we found no alternative energy source over the last seven years is a real tragedy in this war. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Our second “Smart Take.”  John McCain has locked up the Republican nomination.  But who will be his number two?  “U.S. News & World Report” says a new name is being thrown around as a possible McCain running mate. 

Go to the quote board.  “There‘s a new twist in the GOP vice presidential parlor game.  Republican insiders ANDERSON: floating the name of Michael Steele, the African-American former Maryland governor and Senate candidate.  ‘He‘s got it all plus he has more executive experience than Barack Obama,‘ says one advocate.” 

Pat Buchanan, what do you make? 

BUCHANAN:  No.  (INAUDIBLE) Nixon picked the governor of Maryland, as you know who had won, and he didn‘t bring Maryland with him, and neither would Mr. Steele.  Mr. Steele is a good man.  But I don‘t think he‘s vice presidential candidate.  I would like for Portman of Ohio, Pawlenty of Minnesota, or Mitt Romney, although I‘m one of those believers that John McCain is one of those fellows that needs to have somebody he‘s comfortable with and he ain‘t comfortable with Mitt Romney. 

BROWNSTEIN:  You know. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  That‘s seems—Ron Brownstein, what are the qualities you think he‘s looking for? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, John McCain is used to flying solo and he likes to surprise us.  But in this case I think he‘s dealing with a fairly conventional set of requirements.  He needs someone who is more conversant on domestic issues.  He need someone‘s who‘s younger and projects an image of vitality and he needs someone who‘s good with the conservatives that remain leery of him on many issues.  And I think that leads you toward the names that Pat mentioned.  Whether he can sort of surprise us with a pick that reinforces his maverick message that option is always out there.  But I think he can be driven toward a fairly conventional and somewhat defensive pick to mend forces within the party. 

GREGORY:  You got Mark Sanford down in South Carolina, a governor, strong conservative and younger. 

OK.  In our third “Smart Takes” tonight, a new observation about Barack Obama‘s speech on race.  “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter says Obama showed he can teach like a president. 

Go to the quote board, “The hard part is using the bully pulpit to instruct and illuminate and rearrange our mental furniture.  Every great president has been a captivating teacher by talking honestly and intelligently about a subject that most Americans would rather ignore, Obama offered a preview of how he would perform as educator-in-chief.” 

Harold Ford, what did you learn about how Obama might be president based on how he dealt with this issue? 

FORD:  He‘s a thinker, he is serious, he is unafraid to deal with the very tough issues.  I look forward to him not only—look forward to him building on that speech from last week and giving us a sense of how you correct this economy.  How you bail us out of this incredible mortgage challenge that we find ourselves in, that so many middle class families find themselves in, and how is it that we inspire a generation—a new generation of Americans to serve the world on behalf of America‘s interest. 

GREGORY:  But Katrina, won‘t it also—will it also matter how this resolves itself politically as to whether he uses that same approach as the leader if he were to get in the White House? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well, I think what it teaches us, David, is after seven, eight years of a president talking down to Americans, not trusting their intelligence, you have an Obama, a man of courage, of audacity, who is willing to trust Americans to grapple with the complexities, the pain, the beauty of our experience and as a true patriot as he speaks about what toward a perfect union really means in 2008 and forward.  I think he would be an extraordinary leader if the media—and let us not forget the third candidate in all of this, if a media allows someone like Obama to talk to the people, that‘s what excites me that. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  .he‘s not only a candidate, but he has the ability to build a movement around him. 

GREGORY:  I think we‘d take a (INAUDIBLE) right here on MSNBC. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  He has the ability to build a movement around him because he would like to move beyond filters. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  .of a media that too often obstructs the conversations we need to have in this country. 

FORD:  But remember one thing, people elect presidents not movements.  He‘s my friend and he‘s made a great candidate so far.  And I hope he‘s able to continue his growth.  But you have to speak to the needs and aspirations of the American people. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, Harold, I agree, but you know, he gave a great. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me—let me just get in here.  I want to get in here right here and move on to our last “Smart Takes.” 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  All right.  He gave a great speech on the cost of war, as I said earlier, not just on race and I think he can give a great speech on trade. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  He‘ll go to Pittsburgh and speaks to the steel workers and unions. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to move on.  We‘re going to move on. 

“The New Republic” has a new take on the Democratic dream ticket and puts Clinton and Obama together.  Literally on the cover.  The cover accompanies a piece called “Slouching Towards Denver,” the Democratic death march. 

Pat Buchanan, did you see this? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I didn‘t read “The New Republic” this morning. 

GREGORY:  How they do that? 

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE) a little late.  But I do think that—I know how brutal and bitter it has been but I think right now the Democrat Party is moving in a direction where, if Obama wins, some of Hillary people will go to McCain and if Hillary wins I think some of Obama‘s folks are going to stay home.  They are going to be disappointed, disillusioned.  The best thing for the Democrats still, despite all of this bad blood, the Judas Iscariot stuff and all the rest, is to put these two together. 

GREGORY:  Coming up next, “3 Questions,” Bill Richardson‘s endorsement.  Why does the Clinton campaign feel they were entitled to it?  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  We are back with you in our second week and we‘re back with our panel, editor and publisher of “The Nation,” Katrina Vanden Heuvel, NBC News analyst, chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, former Congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford Jr. with us for the first time tonight—welcome Harold—political director for “Atlantic Media, Ron Brownstein, and MSNBC political analyst and former presidential candidate himself Pat Buchanan. 

Now to the part of the program when we look at three questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Number one today, the economic crisis has taken center stage in the 2008 race.  Which candidate would be able to steer the country out of a recession?  We learned more about Hillary Clinton‘s plan to combat the potential recession in a speech in Pennsylvania today.  She called for an emergency panel to make recommendations about the mortgage and housing crisis.  She also said reputable vendors also need to be protected from lawsuits, a position held by many Republicans. 

Ron, what have we learned by the talk from the candidates about what they would do if they were president during a recession? 

BROWNSTEIN:  First of all, the real gulf is between Clinton and Obama on the one side and McCain on the other.  Both Clinton and Obama are envisioning a much more activist approach by the government, much more spending on a variety of areas, from energy to moving towards the universal health care.  Certainly, in the immediate area of the mortgage crisis, they both are envisioning much more activist responses, although there is a big difference in that Hillary Clinton is for a freeze in adjusting adjustable rate mortgages upwards over the next five years.  Obama is not. 

McCain really has been minimalist on this entire front so far.  It will be an interesting question to see, as he begins to flesh out more of his economic agenda in the weeks ahead, what he is willing to say beyond extending the Bush tax cuts. 

GREGORY:  Pat, what have we learned. 

BUCHANAN:  I think we learned today that Hillary Clinton is moving in a direction of populism, as against the Republicans Paulson, Bush, Bernanke and they would say McCain, who are bailing out Wall Street, our concern for Bears Stearns, JP Morgan Chase, all that.  She‘s saying, in effect, look, while we are looking at Wall Street, let‘s look at these folks on Main Street, the foreclosures, the houses losing their value.  These are folks who are really hurting.  Let‘s direct our attention, our energy, our fire toward the people who are really hurting. 

I think it is good politics.  I‘m not sure about the economics. 

GREGORY:  Harold Ford, you have been in this situation, where you are appealing directly to the voters.  How do you go beyond empathy when you are not in power and you can only deal with the consequences of the sour economy? 

FORD:  There are two parts.  The first three folks talked about it just right.  You have a political component and you have policy component.  I would agree to a large extent with Ron and to some with Pat.  Here is a big difference: as this race joins in the fall, John McCain will have to do a far better job than saying he didn‘t know a lot about and that he is willing to side with the president and his economic team. 

I would not throw Bernanke in with Paulson and Bush.  Bernanke is a non-partisan.  I know Mr. Buchanan meant to do that.  That being said, I think the country‘s interest in a little more activism.  The Democrats will have to be very careful not to push us over the edge with far too many regulations or an over-reaction to the challenge.  But if anyone believes that the choice is between what we are doing now and more activism, and anyone believes that activism won‘t win, I have some property for you down in Tennessee I want to sell as well. 

GREGORY:  Let me jump in.  We are going to get to our second question of the day.  I want to get to all of them.  Is Hillary Clinton‘s campaign too entitled?  Clinton supporter James Carville compares Governor Bill Richardson‘s endorsement of Barack Obama to Judas betraying Jesus, prompting Richardson to say this in response.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not to get into the gutter like that.  You know, that‘s typical of many of the people around Senator Clinton.  They think that they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Katrina, is there that sense of entitlement?  Is it hurting her politics? 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  I think it has hurt her politics from when in New Hampshire she said she had found her own voice, and then suddenly her husband came back in.  I think part of the problem with Hillary Clinton‘s campaign has been the sense that it is a restoration of the Clinton—first Clinton administration.  What‘s sad is that today she gave a good speech.  I think it is good politics and good policy, the economic program she is laying out. 

I don‘t think it goes far enough.  I think there are millions of Americans that have been in a recession for years, who are now worried about losing their homes.  And there is more openness to government activism. 

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan—

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  But I think what‘s happened is that people—people like Carville step on her voice and you lose sight of her message and there is this sense around the campaign of entitlement, when a Mark Penn or a James Carville talk out the way they do. 

GREGORY:  Pat, go.

BUCHANAN:  I‘ll tell you, I think James Carville went too far in really savaging Richardson the way he did.  I think Richardson probably feels he probably should not have used the gutter line, and going after the Clintons and the people around them, in the sense of—I think both campaigns were hurt here.  And I think that the Democratic party is seriously being hurt. 

When John McCain with bad economic news, bad more news, bad news everywhere—John McCain is right up there tied or beating both of them. 

GREGORY:  Ron, go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN:  When Pat Buchanan is offering more sensible advice to the Democratic party than James Carville and General McPeak, for example, it is a measure of where this thing is going. 

I want to respond real quick to Congressman Ford and Katrina.  It is not—I don‘t think it is entirely black and white that a more activist approach necessarily carries the day in November, in this sense: what I think McCain is likely to do is what George Bush did in 2000.  Rather than argue program by program with Al Gore, Bush in the final months of that campaign basically said, look, he means bigger government; I trust the people. 

I think what you will see McCain do is bundle together all of the Democratic promises, put a price tag on it, and say look, do you want to head in this direction towards more government, more spending, more regulation, more taxes.  Democrats are going to have to be able to fight that argument, because I don‘t think it is going to be a simple, unequivocal slam dunk for them on these programs.  They poll well individually.  Cumulatively, they could be more vulnerable. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Ron, I agree.  But when you are throwing a 30 billion lifeline to Bear Stearns to Wall Street, Main Street has to stand up and wonder, hey, what is this all about, the free market and no regulation?  We need some help on Main Street at a time when you are looking at possibly two million homes foreclosed. 

BUCHANAN:  The American people aren‘t going to be looking forward to tax cuts—tax hikes from Obama in November.  I think he‘s going to have to drop that.  I agree with Ron.  Some of these programs are too expensive.  Taxes in a time of recession, nobody recommends that. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Targeted tax cuts, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  Targeted me. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Targeted tax cuts for those making 250,000.

BUCHANAN:  How does that help the economy to raise taxes on people who are making 250,000 dollars a year and raising Social Security taxes?  

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  It is not raising, it is repealing. 

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  Let me wedge in here.  I want to get one more question out.  That‘s, next week, John McCain will launch a service for America tout to reintroduce himself to voters.  His tour includes stops in battleground states where McCain once lived and will focus on his personal biography and how it shaped his beliefs and his policy positions.  Is it possible to reintroduce a man who has run for president twice and is one of the country‘s most well known senators?  Harold, a reintroduction possible now?

FORD:  Look, every candidate—each candidate will try it.  If Barack or Hillary is the nominee, they will do the same.  John McCain will have to answer the question that Katrina and Pat are trying—were trying to answer just now.  Any candidate who believes you can raise taxes and win the presidency won‘t win.  I would agree with Pat there. 

But I would say this: if you don‘t have a serious and sensible plan to help home owners in this country, if we don‘t have a serious and sensible plan to expand health care in a reasonable way, you won‘t win.  John McCain at this point does not have that.  It does not matter how many times he reintroduces himself if he does not come up or develop a sensible, smart plan around those issues. 

(CROSS TALK) 

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s an open question, isn‘t it David?  John McCain right now does very well in polling on all measures of personal character, leadership, trustworthiness, all of that.  The issue terrain seems very tilted towards Democrats on almost every issue now.  And the question is: as it goes forward, how much does McCain have to be able to neutralize that issue ground in order to reap the advantage of what voters now see are stronger personal characteristics?  That balance is something we will be discussing for the next eight months. 

GREGORY:  Let me just say, Pat, one of the things that‘s interesting about this is that as poor shape as the Republican party may be in, if you look at the polls, it is John McCain‘s individual political brand that‘s still thriving.  That‘s a benefit to him. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure, he‘s perceived as a non-Republican by a lot of people.  Quite frankly, going into this election, that‘s a good thing.  He will have a real problem on a couple of issues.  One of them, the key one is Ohio and Michigan.  He went out to Michigan and said the jobs aren‘t coming back.  Then he goes and endorses NAFTA and says this is a great deal, when 80 percent of the people in Ohio are anti-NAFTA. 

He is going to have to refine a number of these positions, quite frankly, or issue play I think he will lose it. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  I think Pat is absolutely right.  But I don‘t know how he refines it.  The Republican party is wed to a trade policy that hurts those—

(CROSS TALK)

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Two points, please.  How does a John McCain, who has pledged to keep America in Iraq for at least ten, he‘s talked 100, years—how do you pay for that quagmire in lives and money?  Secondly, in terms of integrity, “The Nation” reported last month that John McCain is taking money from the Swift Boating Veterans, who have defined what smearing and defaming is in this country. 

BUCHANAN:  That American people don‘t care about that. 

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  Quick response and then we‘ll go to the break. 

BUCHANAN:  McCain will say, we‘re coming out of Iraq, but we‘re coming out victorious. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Oh, Pat, come on.  You don‘t write that way in your own magazine.  You know that. 

GREGORY:  Up next, it is your turn to play with the panel and they are feisty tonight.  If you are wondering just when the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal will rear its ugly head in the presidential campaign.  Plus, one viewer‘s theory on why Hillary Clinton is still in the race, even though she is trailing in the delegates and popular votes.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Time now for your play date with the panel.  We turn it over to you as we answer your questions and comments, give you a shot to play with the panel.  Still with us, Katrina Vanden-Heuvel, Harold Ford Jr., Ron Brownstein and Pat Buchanan.  Welcome back, everybody. 

First up, an e-mail from Christina in Georgia, asks “if the L-word is off limits to the quote board, David and panel, I just wanted to know why is the Monica Lewinsky scandal off-limits?  Do you believe this will be off-limits during the general campaign for the White House?” 

Pat Buchanan, I have wondered whether Hillary Clinton has to make a speech in her—about the role of her husband in the White House, their marriage, all of these issues a lot of people may be wonder being. 

BUCHANAN:  I think she will have to talk to the issue of her husband in the White House, but I think she‘ll have to do it after she wins the nomination, which it does not look like she is going to do right now. 

GREGORY:  Does it seem in-politic, Ron, for any of this to come up, the Lewinsky scandal, on the campaign trail? 

BROWNSTEIN:  I actually think in the backdrop it has been a clear asset for her.  As I have talked to women around the country at different events and Democratic events, they see her response to that as evidence that she can handle a very difficult situation.  I have had several people bring that up to me unprompted.  In a way, it sort of underscores her message that look, this someone who has been through some tough times and been through some crises and knows how to handle it. 

I don‘t see it coming up more directly than that, no. 

GREGORY:  Katrina, it is a sign that she has been tested politically, tested to something very significant personally. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  It would have been interesting—Hillary Clinton gave a speech on Iraq last week.  It would be interesting for her to give a speech on gender, because I think it has been an interesting election between the discussions of race and gender, sexism in the media.  That would be one way of entering the discussion. 

Otherwise I don‘t see it.  Obviously, when the Eliot Spitzer scandal hit New York, all of this was back on TV.  But for the moment, I think it brings sympathy to her, in a sense that she‘s a tough character.  And it may not be that national security lift that she has been working, but she is a tough character and survivor. 

GREGORY:  Moving on.  Donnie in Oklahoma has buyer‘s remorse and is wondering where to make the return.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   I at one time supported Barack Obama.  I will no longer be voting for him.  What I would like to know is if we know who are super delegates are, and how do we get to them to let them know that what was a few months ago going to be a vote for him has changed? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I have to tell you, Harold Ford, remarkable, you can see “The New Yorker” cartoon, are you a super delegate?  It‘s a way to vet anybody you meet.  Big question, though, about buyer‘s remorse.  Do you think if the Reverend Wright issue had hit Barack Obama earlier on in this campaign it would have had a bigger impact? 

FORD:  I don‘t know.  When you run for president things happen.  When you run for political office, public office, you have to answer questions that you don‘t have to—you don‘t expect having to answer.  Let me say this about super delegates: they are probably more accountable than the delegates.  I would say to those on the show and those watching, you know probably five to 10 or 50 to 100 super delegates, because they are congressmen, senators and governors. 

This crazy, absurd notion that they are not accountable to the public is ridiculous.  They are actually on the ballot, many of them this year.  If not this year, they will be in two years.  I say to the caller, your Congressman who may be a Democrat, your governor who is a Democrat in Oklahoma, senators across this country that are Democrats, they are super delegates.  Weigh in with them now. 

BUCHANAN:  This caller represents a problem for Barack Obama not in the primaries but in the general election.  I think that there are an awful lot of people—For example, I don‘t think in Iowa, if this had been out there, this Reverend Wright, I don‘t think he would have won that enormous victory that he won in Iowa.  I think people have left—I don‘t know how many, but some people have left him for good.  I think a good test to that will be the Pennsylvania primary. 

GREGORY:  It is interesting, Ron Brownstein, if race had become more central to the Obama campaign earlier, whether that would have been a disadvantage. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, I think it is clear that if—these controversial videos had come out earlier, this language, it certainly would have been a problem for Barack Obama.  And whether—the degree to which he can overcome it as a general election candidate we will have to see.  There is a lot that—as Congressman Ford said, there is a lot going on in every presidential campaign.  There are a lot of cross currents.  There are a lot of people who are going to be—if it‘s Obama and McCain—who are going to be pulled in different directions, different voter groups.  This will be one of many factors. 

I‘m dubious that any single fact is going to be decisive in an election where as much is at stake, and has engaged the public as much as this, and we may see a turnout as large as 130 million or more in the fall of 2008.

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  I think what has been interesting to watch is the turnout.  You are already looking at voting—voter registration patterns in Pennsylvania that are record breaking.  And I think you will see even more enthusiasm in these next states.  And for those who say it‘s bad that this goes on, I disagree.  I think we need to pay attention to how McCain has gone AWOL on key --  

BUCHANAN:  Because the issues are working against the Republicans, they will make Barack Obama the issue this fall.  Rely upon it. 

(CROSS TALK)

FORD:  Iraq and jobs will be big issues, Pat Buchanan, as well. 

Regardless of who that nominee is, the Republicans will have to answer. 

Are we worse off today economically.  We may be less safe today. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s why they will make Barack Obama the issue. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Theresa in Kentucky think the Clintons have a

lot in common with children.  She writes this, go to the quote board,

“anyone believing that Bill Clinton didn‘t know exactly how his remarks

about two patriotic people would be perceived as delusional, his remarks,

coupled with Hillary Clinton‘s statement that McCain would be a better

commander in chief than Senator Obama, made the Clintons look like petulant

children on a playground, as in, ‘if I can‘t have it, you can‘t either.‘”

Katrina?

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  I think this race is getting dirty.  I think we need to stick to the issues.  For Hillary Clinton to suggest that Barack Obama is an unfit to be commander in chief was a low in this election.  I don‘t know about the patriotism piece of it.  I think patriotism is so—has been used as wedge issue in this country these past years by this administration.  I stay away from that. 

But the unfit to be commander in chief is not issue politics that we deserve, Democratic party, country, people. 

GREGORY:  All right.  You can play with our panel every week night here on MSNBC.  E-mail us at RACE08@MSNBC.com.  The phone number, 212-790-2299. 

Up next, our panel predictions.  Katrina carves out a cushy job for Bill Richardson.  You‘re watching MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Time for Panel Predicts.  Pat, you are up first.  What do you see?

BUCHANAN:  First, let‘s hear this tape from Barack Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This guy had built one of the finest churches in Chicago.  It is not some crack-pot church. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  That phrase, ‘it is not some crack-pot church,‘ I‘m afraid is going to be twinned with the golden oldies of Reverend Wright in attack ads ad infinitum and ad nauseum in all the swing states this year. 

GREGORY:  You think it has still yet to make a serious impact and be felt. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it has not made its full impact yet the way it is going to. 

GREGORY:  Ron? 

BROWNSTEIN:  A group of almost two dozen Democratic House and Senate challengers, including some of their prime challengers on the House, are going to be doubling down on Iraq later this week, issuing a statement on Wednesday that goes beyond Clinton and Obama, in not only calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but the withdrawal of all troops, no residual troops in Iraq, underscoring the lines they are going to be trying to draw for the general election in 2008. 

GREGORY:  Ron, how does that square with the fact they have the ‘06 model, the ‘06 mid-term election, and the fact that Democrats were really not able to push Bush very far on funding or time tables? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right, they didn‘t have enough votes.  Of course, they might have a different president, but certainly this is going to be a sign that—we saw the whole party move after ‘06.  You remember, in the ‘06 election, they were very cautious about going after funding.  And by ‘07, the Democrats had extraordinary unity.  They did not have enough votes to change the policy, but they did commit the party to a sharp changing course.  Obama and Clinton have followed on that train and here you see some challengers going even further. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Katrina, prediction, please. 

VANDEN-HEUVEL:  Pick up on Ron.  You will see a more Democratic Congress, so you‘re going to see some real change.  But prediction, meet Vice President Richardson.  You have a former very prominent Clintonite.  I‘m usually skeptical of political endorsements, but I think his switch changed the narrative from Reverend Wright to Obama‘s dominant message of inclusion and tolerance.  You have a governor who is—Hispanic governor of a crucial swing states, foreign policy experience, executive experience as a governor.  I think it is a historic ticket. 

GREGORY:  Do you see that, Ron? 

BROWNSTEIN:  We talked—sure, it‘s in the realm of possibility.  You know, Barack Obama has different ways he could go.  He needs someone with national security experience to kind of balance the questions if he‘s the nominee.  That would be something very attractive.  Yes, I would put Bill Richardson on the list. 

GREGORY:  All right, Harold Ford—Congressman, what do you see tonight?

FORD:  I think when John McCain returns from Iraq, we are going to see another flip-flop.  He left Iraq in support of George Bush‘s support of war.  He will come back making the case that had Bush followed his directions earlier, and put more troops on the ground earlier, we would be in a different situation in Iraq. 

You will see a flip-flop on the economy.  His support for George Bush will change, and say we need to be more aggressive.  I think the independent John McCain will emerge when he comes back from Iraq. 

GREGORY:  You think he needs that now if he is not going to be coupled for the entire general election campaign with Bush? 

FORD:  Dennis Hastert‘s Republican seat in Illinois was lost to a neophyte Democrat by several points.  Republicans face real problems.  John McCain is no moron.  To attract and to gain traction with that middle of the road voter, that independent voter, he has do something dramatic.  This might be it. 

GREGORY:  Pat, take about ten seconds to respond. 

BUCHANAN:  I think McCain will move away from Bush dramatically on the war.  I think he is going to make the war and the Democrats as the party of defeat and retreat.  His stance on the war, because he believes in it—this guy wants to be a war president. 

FORD:  But it won‘t be George Bush‘s war.  He will try to make—

BUCHANAN:  He will stay with the denunciations of Rumsfeld, but he will not turn his back on this war. 

GREGORY:  Thank you for a great panel.  We are out of time.  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Thanks for watching, everybody.  We will see you back here tomorrow night.  “HARDBALL” now.

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

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