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TELEVISION PROGRAM TO “NBC NEWS’ MEET THE PRESS.”
MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, November 30, 2003
GUESTS: MIKE ALLEN, Washington Post
Pool Reporter on Bush’s Trip to Baghdad
DAVID BRODER, Washington Post
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Presidential Historian
KATTY KAY, British Broadcasting Company
DANA PRIEST, Washington Post
WILLIAM SAFIRE, New York Times
ROBIN WRIGHT, Washington Post
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, November 29, 2003 1
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MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. The president makes a surprise Thanksgiving visit. What will this country look like a year from now? The economy: Will it continue to grow? And what will that mean for jobs? And the race for the White House. Can Howard Dean’s momentum be slowed? Can George W. Bush be beaten? With us: insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Katty Kay of the BBC, Dana Priest of The Washington Post, William Safire of The New York Times and Robin Wright of The Washington Post.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute—another surprise presidential trip 37 years ago: LBJ to Vietnam. Four days later Vice President Hubert Humphrey appeared on MEET THE PRESS to deal with the political fallout.
But, first, joining us now is one of the few reporters who traveled from Crawford, Texas, to Iraq with President Bush: Mike Allen of The Washington Post.
Mike Allen, good morning. Bring me back, and our viewers, to Wednesday about 4:40 p.m. A White House aide picks you up in front of a building, says, “Get in my truck,” brings you to a parking lot, where Dan Bartlett, the president’s White House communication director says, “Mike, the president’s going to Baghdad.” What did you think at that very moment?
MR. MIKE ALLEN: Well, the first thing he said to me was, “You need to—only a few aides have talked about this. They’ve talked about it on secure phones. You can’t talk to your family, you can’t talk to your editors.” And what I was thinking was, “I’m supposed to be in Raleigh for Thanksgiving with my nephews in just a couple of hours.” And Dan said, “Well, do you think you can change your plans?” And I said, “Well, you know, in this job, I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve missed dinner.” But he said, “You need to think of a good story because in an hour and a half we’re going to take you out to Air Force One.” So I stopped answering my cell phone and went to Wal-Mart and got a few disposable cameras.
MR. RUSSERT: Reporters are in the business of reporting. How did you wrestle with the whole idea that you couldn’t call your desk, you couldn’t call your family, you couldn’t tell the world about the trip you were about to embark on?
MR. ALLEN: Oh, my job is to observe the president. Part of what I do is chronicle and explain what he does to my readers. In order to do that, I need to be there, so it was important to be there. It was made easier because we had to keep the secret for a very short period of time. I’d already talked to my editors for the last time before Thanksgiving; they weren’t expecting to hear from me. I didn’t have to tell anybody anything that was inaccurate and incomplete. But we really felt in a bubble when we were taken onto Air Force One. It was dark, all the shades were pulled down, and the deputy chief of staff, Joe Higgen, came back, still on the tarmac there in Waco, and said “Take the batteries out of your cell phones, so they can’t be tracked.” The reporters who joined us at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, their phones were confiscated. So we really did have a bag pulled over us.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Rosenstiel, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told your paper, The Washington Post, that, “Reporters are in the business of telling the truth. By going along with this trip and not reporting it ahead of time, the reporters have helped the president politically.” How would you respond to Mr. Rosenstiel?
MR. ALLEN: Well, it was important to us that we be there. And they know what they’re getting with me, which is somebody who’s going to tell the good, the bad. We had to watch, had to say what was going on. I didn’t think there was any possibility that this secret would hold while the president was on the ground. Amazingly, the president was in Baghdad for two hours, and this didn’t come out on television.
They came back, they certainly felt like they had pulled something off. When we got back on the plane, they said, “You can start filing when we get past 10,000 feet.” That’s when they thought that the threat would have passed.
MR. RUSSERT: There was a particularly telling scene, Mike, you reported on when the plane landed in Andrews Air Force base in Washington, coming in from Texas, to switch planes, in effect, to take a new Air Force One to Baghdad. And briefly you saw the president. He noticed the press corps, and he made a gesture with his thumb and his pinkie. Show us what he did and what he was trying to communicate.
MR. ALLEN: We were in the secret hangar where the two twin Air Force Ones—they look identical. You rarely see them together. This hangar—they don’t even let us shoot the outside of it, so it was amazing to be on the inside with the white painted floor. When we were walking toward the plane, we saw the president in jeans and a ball cap going up the stairs. And he looked at the reporters, and he went like this with the phone and went like this, made the cut sign, was shaking his head: “No phones.”
Now, usually the president’s objections to phones is the cell phone ringing. You know how much he hates that. That’s one of the best ways to get the death glare from this president. We knew that he was serious, but we thought that he was kidding. I thought he was joking just a little bit. Later, coming back from Baghdad, the president had us up to his office in Air Force One, and he was not kidding. He thought that this was a very important part of the mission.
This White House says the president likes surprises, which is why the aides are threatened with excommunication if they leak his announcements. And the president likes to show that he’s in charge, and this trip very much did that. He told us that week after week he hounded the pilot, the Secret Service about the details of this. He was very involved. And the president was even in the cockpit when they landed in Baghdad.
MR. RUSSERT: Air Force One streaked through the skies, over 600 miles per hour, made a very abrupt landing in Baghdad. The lights were out, the communications were shut down. When you landed and got off the plane and got in the motorcade heading a very short distance to the event where the president was to be greeted—let me roll the scene, what the soldiers witnessed, and have you talk about it. Here’s the president entering the hall:
Unidentified Man: More senior than us...
(Footage of soldiers cheering)
MR. RUSSERT: Describe...
MR. ALLEN: What you saw there is the president...
MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead, Mike.
MR. ALLEN: Tim, there you saw the president as he peeked around that camouflage netting. He wasn’t even near the stairs when, you saw, the place erupted. The soldiers—they thought they were going to be hearing a relatively dry speech from Ambassador Bremer. On their table they had non-alcoholic malt beverage, sparkling grape juice; maybe not the best event. They’re a little —they were running behind.
They were a little tired. When they saw the president, they jumped up on tables, they jumped up on chairs. They were doing their “Hooah!” They were yelling; just thrilled.
One young man—the time that really hit me emotionally the most was I was talking to a young man; he said he was so excited that for a moment he forgot he was there. And that made me realize how difficult a time this is for these guys, what a difficult time it is for those soldiers, and this was a brief, brief break from that. The president said, “They’ll know I was there. They’ll tell other people.” So he emphasized the morale part of it.
MR. RUSSERT: Mike, as you were about to land or as you were about to take off, were you ever afraid? Did you ever think, “My God, we could get shot down”?
MR. ALLEN: You know, it’s funny, Tim; I didn’t. I probably should have. I talked to my family, I said my prayers; I was sort of focused on the job. I was really more worried about finding a phone line, to tell you the truth. They came into the cabin and fitted us with ballistic jackets, camouflage, and we had a little fashion show in there with the reporters, not all of them very svelte, trying to get these bulletproof vests on. They recommended that I wore it, so I did. I went into the hall and I realized, none of these soldiers had it. I was trying to talk with these soldiers, connect with them. There was no way I was going to wear that. I took it off, and when I came back, it had been taken. Somebody left my laptop, took my bulletproof vest. I figured they needed it more than I did.
MR. RUSSERT: Mike Allen, we thank you very much for your firsthand eyewitness report on a really interesting part of American history; one of the few people who traveled with President Bush all the way from Texas to Baghdad. Thanks very much, Mike.
MR. ALLEN: Happy holidays, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, your reaction. Did the press have any obligation whatsoever to report this trip before it happened?
MR. DAVID BRODER: No. It’s similar, it seems to me, to being briefed on a war plan, and you don’t report it until the security situation has cleared and you don’t put anyone’s life in jeopardy, and you certainly don’t put the life of the president of the United States in jeopardy.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Lockhart, the former press secretary to President Clinton said this: “This is a president who’s been unwilling to provide his presence to the families who have suffered but thinks nothing of flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop.”
The White House is quick to point out that the president has met three different times with families and made four trips to Walter Reed Hospital to see the injured soldiers. But, Bill Safire, to the point of flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop, is that legitimate political criticism?
MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE: All criticism is legitimate, but I think this is ridiculous. Every president in wartime visits the troops. It’s what presidents do and what they should do. Does it redound to his political benefit? Of course. That’s one of the pluses of being president: You have the world’s focus on you.
Actually, the only troubling thing to me that I just learned this morning, was that the president was in the cockpit during the landing. If I were driving Air Force One, the last thing I would want is the president leaning over my shoulder saying, “Make a left, make a right.”
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay, another highly visible public official visited Iraq this weekend. Here’s Senator Hillary Clinton of New York greeting the troops, making the rounds. That was going to be the central news story of the weekend. And along came George W. Bush.
MS. KATTY KAY: Yes. Senator Clinton was slightly overshadowed, actually, in terms of Iraq this weekend. And it was interesting that she came out in full support of the president’s visit. The Democrats have been slightly wondering what they can say about this because it’s very hard for them to make any political gains out of this trip.
I think, though, there’s another side to this visit, and that is the view from Baghdad, which is slightly different from the view here in the U.S. There have been many Iraqis and, indeed, one member of the Governing Council, who’ve said this visit won’t do anything, really, to change the situation in Iraq. He barely visited Iraq, they said. He came into a secure U.S. military base for two and a half hours. He met four handpicked members of the Iraqi Governing Council. He didn’t really meet any ordinary Iraqis at all. And I think the issue about Iraq is going to be resolved on the reality on the ground, and this visit won’t change that.
MR. RUSSERT: Robin Wright, to that point, there were lots of suggestions in Iraq that the president’s brief visit and the clandestine nature underscored how less than secure Baghdad and Iraq are six or seven months after the occupation.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHT: Right, exactly, seven months in. And there is enormous challenge to the United States and President Bush—the fact that he could only go for two and a half hours, that it couldn’t be publicized until after he left, underscored how vulnerable the Americans are in terms of security but also in terms of the political situation. And the United States now has seven months to try to formulate some kind of political process that will allow Washington to withdraw—turn over sovereignty to Iraqis. And in turn then begin the withdrawal of it’s own troops.
But the political process is really the critical part of it. And there is—we’re torn at the moment. The United States plan revised just two weeks ago is already in trouble. There is a move by the majority of the Iraqi population to demand direct elections. They want to avoid this complicated procedure of going to caucuses to select people for national assembly who then picks a provisional government. It’s just too complicated for them right now. And so the United States is being squeezed to look for an alternative. And President Bush, the fact that he met with the Governing Council, that he didn’t deal with some of the political realities on the ground, underscores the fact that we are really in a terrible limbo right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, this is not the first time a president has taken a secret mission. Back in April 4, 1865, after Richmond fell in the civil war, there’s your friend Abraham Lincoln in the stovepipe hat accompanied by his son, Tad. I think Mr. Safire was covering that very visit in Richmond.
Also in August of 1941, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Newfoundland, where he went off—the public was told he was on a fishing expedition, and then look at this—he went off to a Casablanca conference in Morocco, again with Churchill. It’s the first time a sitting president had ever gone to Africa, the first time a sitting president had left the country during a war. What can you tell us about those trips?
MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, they’re great trips for historians. I love them. I mean, when Lincoln went with that incredible stovepipe hat on, he was such a target for Confederate snipers. There’s one point where he’s standing on a parapet, to see the troops who were actually fighting in the battlefield below, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who’s a young lieutenant at the time, and he yells out, “Get down, you damned fool, you’re going to be shot.” At that point, a soldier three feet from Lincoln got shot. So finally Lincoln sheepishly laughed and got down off the parapet.
But Roosevelt’s trip to Casablanca is, to me, the most extraordinary. The incredible planning that had to go on for this 17,000 mile trip to Morocco where there were still access agents all over the city of Casablanca. Churchill was coming from England, Roosevelt from the United States. And they were very worried the Germans would find out. And in fact they later discovered that the Germans had uncoded that they were going to have this summit meeting at Casablanca but Hitler interpreted Casablanca as “white house,” literally. And he thought it was in Washington.
And meanwhile, though, Roosevelt’s pretending that he’s going to Hyde Park. And he’s so excited. He and Churchill are like little boys. They love surprise, these presidents. Churchill comes over in a liberator bomber for safety from England and the bomber is unheated but Churchill still insists on his normal bedtime wear, which is a silk vest and nothing else on. So his doctor, who was sitting next to him, wakes up in the middle of the night to see Churchill crawling on his hands and his knees to get something and he sees this big white bottom shining in the moonlight.
So anyway they get there and the idea that they can get together in the middle of all this and have fooled everybody is part of the pleasure I think for public leaders who are constantly constrained in everything they do. Plus important things go on at these summits. And when they go to the troops as Lincoln did—Lincoln went 42 days out of his presidency to visit the troops, 12 visits to the front. And he came back with his spirits renewed. They loved him, even though he looked awkward on the horse with his long grasshopper legs and his stupid hat, trying to hold onto the reins of the horse. They would—”Yea, it’s Lincoln. There’s the old guy himself.” You know? And they were jumping up and down like jack-in-thebox. So I think it’s a great thing to do. It’s morale for both sides.
MR. RUSSERT: Your own son, Joey, is in Baghdad, stationed at the airport. He very well may have been in that room with the president.
MS. GOODWIN: Oh, yeah, we spent hours watching over and over again that C-SPAN film, hoping to catch a glimpse of his head but we didn’t. But that is exactly where his platoon is partly there to protect the airport. So thank God he got out safely. It would have been terrible for us and, well, everybody else.
MR. RUSSERT: Dana Priest, let’s look at exactly what the president said to the troops and to our country and to the world because he used that forum as an opportunity to make a very strong statement. Let’s listen:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins. We will stay until the job is done.
MR. RUSSERT: How will we know when the job is done?
MS. DANA PRIEST: And how do we know that they are just a band of thugs and assassins? Both of those are critical questions to figuring out how this is eventually going to work out. The first question: Who are they? As you’ve seen from some of the attacks just today against the Spanish intelligence service, you know, they are planned attacks. They are coordinated to some degree that U.S. intelligence can’t quite figure out yet and don’t actually know to what extent centrally coordinated perhaps by Saddam Hussein or some of his inner circle; in other words, well-coordinated, well-funded,well-armed. That’s going to drive, to some extent, whether the political process will work out. That by itself is difficult to come up with. The Shiite majority, I think, would like elections so that they can win by majority, but will the second tract of instability overtake even the difficult political process that people are trying to put in place right now? And that is a question mark that the president and his people on the ground have yet to be able to actually answer.
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay, it’s not only the Spanish who were attacked but now Japanese and Koreans. When President Bush went to see Prime Minister Blair in London, the British facilities in Turkey were attacked. There’s a real indication that this organized resistance is targeting other countries other than America to send a message that if you support the United States or you stay around in Baghdad, you’re going to pay a price.
MS. KAY: Yes, the American military leaders in Iraq are very pleased to be able to say attacks against Americans have decreased over the last few weeks, but certainly against America’s allies, they’ve increased. In October, there was an audiotape from Osama bin Laden, thought to be from Osama bin Laden, people seemed to think it was genuine, and he warned Italy, Spain, Poland, the Brits, the Australians, America’s allies in that coalition in Iraq, against helping the Americans. And now we’ve had attacks against nearly all of those groups. I think the attacks certainly against the British Consulate in Turkey and against the Spanish intelligence officers—we don’t know exactly who they were by, whether it was al-Qaeda or whether it was jihadists of some broader sort, or whether in the case of the Spanish was Ba’athist separatists, but it does seem that there is an attempt to drive a wedge between America and America’s allies. And although countries—and the Japanese this morning have said, “We are resolute. We will stick by America.” I think there is a certain degree of intimidation. People are beginning to think, “If we side with America, we are making ourselves fair game for terrorist attacks.”
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, back to the president’s words, “We will stay until the job is done.” What’s your best sense of how long that will take? And what do you think Iraq will look like a year from now?
MR. SAFIRE: Look, the very line that you broadcast about the thugs and assassins, that was not the first time he said that. He said that in his speech in London, and, evidently, that line, what we used to call an applause line, will be part of his approach right through next year, that we’re not going to be chased out by thugs and assassins.
Where will we be next year? Well, as Rumsfeld said, nobody knows. You can make guesses. You can come up with exit strategies all you like, but it will depend on the circumstances on the ground. And just as in the politics there where the Governing Council is split among Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis and that’s the kind of arguing and backbiting that you see, David, in the United States Congress. You can’t be sure of these guys. They do take a bit in their teeth, and that’s not all terrible. But where will we be a year from now? We’ll be sitting around this table after the election, saying, “What are we going to do now that the Republicans have entrenched themselves for another four years?”
MR. RUSSERT: Talking about the divisions within the country of Iraq, Leslie Gelb, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times and offered this: “The only viable strategy...may be to...move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south. ...For decades, the United States has worshiped at the altar of a unified yet unnatural Iraqi state. Allowing all three communities within the false state to emerge at least as self-governing regions would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hardheaded, and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup. But such a course is manageable, even necessary, because if would allow us to find Iraq’s future in its denied but natural past.” Robin Wright.
MS. WRIGHT: It’s totally unrealistic. In fact, the irony is that many of the states in the world really have unnatural borders created by European colonial powers or in the Middle East in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman empire. But the interesting thing about Iraq today—and this is a country I’ve been to many times—is that Iraqis—Kurds, Shia and Sunni—really do think of themselves today as Iraqis first and foremost. They do have their own ethnic and religious identities, but less than a century after it was created, it has genuinely taken root. And I think there’s also a recognition that they can’t go it separately because it’s not a country, despite the kind of simple visions about dividing the country up along where the divisions would be. In fact, the oil riches are not neatly divided up. There are part of them in the Sunni-Kurdish area. You can’t neatly divide them between the two. But we also don’t want to see the breakup of Iraq for kind of broader geostrategic reasons. This would have an enormous impact on other countries, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf.
Those are our allies, where stability’s particularly important. To allow Iraq to break up would generate incredible instability throughout the region. But I want to just answer one question about a year from now. The best-case scenario for Iraq probably, considering all the problems we face, is a state where you have a very fragile government in power that does reflect the three different groups. But the key is that they are selected by the Iraqis. We can only withdraw if Iraqis feel that they really had a part. The alternative is the worst-case scenario, and that is real disarray that makes it difficult for us to withdraw troops.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, what are the political realities for the president, as we approach a November election now less than a year? This November was the deadliest since our occupation of Iraq in terms of human life lost by American service people. What are the political realities?
MR. BRODER: I think public opinion at this point still responds to the kind of muscular statement that the president made: “We’re not going to let a bunch of bums run us out of there.” That gets a good, strong public response. But over time the eroding confidence on two levels: one, the casualty reports; and, two, the sense of continuing disorder, that we’re not really in charge of the situation, not in control—that, to me, implies that at some point fairly soon, as we move toward this election, the president’s going to have to demonstrate that there is actual progress on the ground in Iraq. And one measure of that will be the ability to begin withdrawing American forces. Another will be the creation of an Iraqi form of government. Absent either of those two things, I think Iraq becomes a serious political liability for him.
MR. RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, you studied President Johnson close up. You saw someone who was so consumed by Vietnam. I’m not comparing Iraq to Vietnam but simply looking at a commander in chief, who has the strongest military in the world at his disposal. And yet when you pick up a paper or turn on the television or the radio, you hear, “Three more Americans killed,” “Four more Americans killed.” What does that do to a president in terms of trying to will things, make things right and yet trying to also accept that some things are beyond his control?
MS. GOODWIN: Oh, it’s got to be heartbreaking for a president. I mean, you realize that everything else seems to be in their control. They walk in a room, “Hail To The Chief” is played. They go on a diet, cottage cheese is brought into the room; they go off the diet, the cakes come back. And yet here they have the most powerful force ever in human history, and here’s a small country in the middle of Middle East and they can’t control what’s going on over there. So it’s probably that sense of power that cannot be used, plus the personal sense of responsibility every time you hear someone die. I mean, President Johnson couldn’t sleep until he heard those reports at night that the bombers had gotten safely to what they were supposed to be doing. So I think it’s something none of us could ever imagine. I can’t even conceive what it was like for Lincoln to have to know that 600,000 people had died under his watch. And when he’d go out to visit those troops, it was wonderful to see the troops and spirits, but he also saw the wounded carriages coming by with dead and mangled bodies. So I think it’s something that none of us can even imagine, and it’s something to give a certain sense of empathy toward.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s an interesting discussion going on within the White House, the policy arm vs. the political arm. This was David Sanger’s report on Friday in The New York Times: “After spending months trying to recast President Bush as a man devoted to building international coalitions rather than the gunslinging cowboy of European political cartoons, Mr. Bush’s foreign policy team was stunned by the Republican National Committee’s new advertising campaign. The spot hailed the president as a man who pre-empts first and asks questions later. The advertisement...portrays Mr. Bush in precisely the terms many White House aides have been trying to live down. For months, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, have been orchestrating speeches in which Mr. Bush affirms his faith in a strong United Nations and emphasizes how he’s working with Asian and European nations to put diplomatic pressure on North Korea and Iran to disarm.”
And the ad that they are referring to is this one, paid for by the Republican National Committee, which says, “Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others. Call Congress now. Tell them to support the president’s policy of preemptive self-defense.”
Katty Kay, is there a schizophrenia between the political and policy wings of the White House?
MS. KAY: I think there are certainly two faces here. There is Bush appealing to an isolationist sense in America: “We can go this alone. Pre-emption, a doctrine which really causes fear around the world—but pre-emption is a doctrine that we should support.” And then there is, as you say, this international face. But I’m not sure that this is particularly new. American presidents have often been seen around the world as responding to a domestic audience with a more isolationist tune and responding to a international audience with more of a commitment to alliances and to allies and friend-building. Churchill thought he had Roosevelt wrapped around his finger. He clearly didn’t. He was abandoned in the end. I think that we have often felt that American presidents, in the end, will do what is in America’s best interest. It’s only normal. This is the interest that they’re protecting. At the moment, the White House
feels, or the national security team feels, that they would like the United Nations to legitimize an exit strategy from Iraq, to legitimize any future government in Iraq, and so when he goes abroad, he touts the United Nations as a useful ally. It’s not something that plays particularly well in America and so it’s not going be used in domestic adverts here.
MR. RUSSERT: Dana Priest, how much of a concerted effort has there been within Condoleezza Rice’s office and Colin Powell’s office to present the president as someone reaching out to the international community? And then contrast that with the stark reality of the ads paid for by the Republican National Committee.
MS. PRIEST: Well, I think there’s been a great effort. And you saw, just over the last few weeks, a determination to change the way the United Nations participates on the ground in Iraq, which, I have to say—going back to politics, which is something I don’t cover, but the facts on the ground are going to, in a large part, determine, I think, how he can legitimately sell this before the election. And it’s the international help on the ground that I think will help make the political solutions work out better. So he’ll have to do both things. He will have to have international support if he wants to succeed in Iraq. To what extent he can still say this is unilateral or his Republican operatives can say that, and still get away with it, is yet to be seen.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, do the political guys sometimes get a little bit too far out in front of the policy guys?
MR. SAFIRE: I think—and we’re talking about an ad, and an ad has to be simple, even simplistic, and have an emotional appeal. And when this ad says, “You’re with us or against us” and, more important, that “We have to go after the terrorists where they are”—and some people would rather have us go to the U.N., where you get nothing happening. The fault I would find with the ad is the use of the word “preemptive.” How many people react to the word “preemptive”? It has to be explained. And so I would get away from that. But I would not, if I were writing the Republican Committee ads, sit down with Condoleezza Rice and say, “Does this exactly reflect this morning’s meeting with the president?”
MR. RUSSERT: It doesn’t have that nuance, that policy nuance.
MR. SAFIRE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about domestic politics. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, surging towards the Democratic nomination, he hopes. Can George W. Bush be beaten? A lot more coming up; our special Thanksgiving conversation here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our Thanksgiving table conversation continues after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, former governor, governor for 12 years up there, campaigning very hard, ahead in New Hampshire, tied for first in the Iowa caucuses. Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton’s former
chief of staff, gave an interview to The Washington Times yesterday and said this, “There clearly are concerns about Dean’s ability to appeal to the entire country, particularly on national security issues. ...There is concern about how does [Dean’s antiwar campaign] play out a year from now? How can you compete with President Bush on”—the—”national security front?” There’s—”some concern about whether Dean can rise to the occasion on this issue.”
And, David Broder, the article goes on to talk about Dean’s opposition to the Bush tax cuts, his support of imposing new regulations on businesses, new trade protection rules, and favoring civil unions for gay couples. How concerned are traditional Democrats that Howard Dean may not be the kind of candidate they want in a general election?
MR. BRODER: None have any fingernails left. There is a lot of concern, particularly among the elected officials. Dean is not a particularly collegial Democrat, so he doesn’t have a lot of natural allies among the Democratic governors. He’s a stranger to most of the members of Congress, though he’s tried to begin to build some relationships there. All they know about him, basically, are the positions that he’s taken and those positions make a good many Democrats very nervous.
MR. RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Republicans in New Hampshire have put signs in front of their houses which say “Dean-McGovern,” trying to suggest a linkage, if you will, between George McGovern in 1972 and Howard Dean now. What is your historical sense of this? How easy is it to brand or tar a candidate with positions in the extreme which would make it practically impossible for him to compete in the general election?
MS. GOODWIN: Well, I think it depends on whether the candidate can come back and attack. And in this case, in Dean’s sense, you’ve got a momentum going because there’s a movement out there. It’s not just Dean as a person whose positions are making hay while people watch him on television. He’s created some intense following. The question is: Can the Democrats use that intensity and really get their base to come out? But that means that I think what Dean has to do not so much shy away from what he’s said, but he’s got to show more optimism and more a sense—he’s not just an anti-war candidate. Suppose the Democrats argue what we had a choice of, after September 11, was whether or not to go after the terrorists in a different way. They can’t say, “We shouldn’t have gone after the terrorists” or else they will look like McGovern. They’ve got to say, “We could have gone after them by really going after al-Qaeda, not going into Iraq,” used our treasured resources of energy, focus, soldiers’ lives, perhaps to stir up the home front at home. Suppose they had vastly expanded the public health system, suppose they had taught a lot of people Arabic, suppose they had actually put more fire and policemen on. Suppose they had recruited more soldiers so we had more people to go elsewhere in the world. There were alternatives. You still have to argue you’re fighting the war on terrorism, ‘cause you can’t be just an anti-war candidate, but they’ve got to somehow be able to say, if Dean is the person, “This is what I would have done positively and the country would have been better off if we had done these things.”
MR. RUSSERT: William Safire, in 1972, George McGovern, the son of a minister, a decorated war pilot in World War II, was branded as the candidate of acid, amnesty, and abortion. How difficult is it for a candidate to avoid that kind of harsh branding?
MR. SAFIRE: First of all, that was pretty good alliteration, wasn’t it?
MS. GOODWIN: Did you do it?
MR. SAFIRE: I wouldn’t say yes or no, but first of all, Dean-McGovern is an effective bumper sticker, if you’re over 50. A lot of people don’t even, you know, remember McGovern in 1972. So I remember I used to wear a button that said, “Agnew and Eagleton: Nobody’s Perfect,” but that was long ago. Now, the thing about Dean—and I was talking to somebody who really knew New Hampshire, an editor up there, and he said, “New Hampshire is a state where you meet 10 or 15 people at a time and you persuade them. It’s not a media state. It’s not a large rally state.” Dean is best at rallies. He is not very good in 10 or 15 people. So I said, “Well, who is good with 10 or 15 people?” And he said John Edwards. He’s making a very good impression a dozen at a time. So if there were a dark horse, somebody coming from way back in the polls, I would keep my eye on Edwards.
MR. RUSSERT: In all these kinds of races, the Republicans try to select favorites. Karl Rove was cited at a Fourth of July parade saying, “Go, Dean, go.” I remember the Jimmy Carter people in 1980 saying, “We want Ronald Reagan,” ‘cause he’s so easily defeated. Dana, how much is politics at play in the formulation of the president’s foreign policy? Are they thinking about Howard Dean and casting him as extreme? What’s going on?
MS. PRIEST: Well, I think he’s their dream candidate, but I don’t think that’s a surprise. And, yes, that’s a potent bumper sticker. However, is it inconceivable that Dean couldn’t do some obvious things to mitigate that, like choose a vice president with a lot more experience, get a Cabinet around him of people with a lot of experience, and, as you’ve said before, move the debate over Iraq to what’s the best way to fight terrorism. And there, I think, he’s got a lot of evidence to work with. He’s got the U.S. Intelligence reports that do not link al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in a way that the president and his Cabinet have linked them and, in fact, have become part of the great debate over pre-war intelligence, over exaggeration of intelligence. And that’s where he can both say, “I’m going to be tough on terrorism, but this has been a diversion.” So I do think there are some solutions. Still, whether he can carry off the charisma that Bush obviously has with a lot of voters and, as we were saying before, Dean may not have, is another question.
MR. RUSSERT: There seems to be an emerging Democratic view as to how to defeat George Bush, Robin Wright. That is saying the effort in Iraq has to be more international; that the president didn’t handle the postwar scenario in Iraq as well as he could, he underestimated the resistance; and that there should be a whole element of reform brought to the national government, that cronies should not be profiteering from the war and that fund-raisers should not be rewarded with bonanza contracts and on and on and on. All the candidates now talking about it. How does that play out over the next year when we’re also trying to fight a war on terrorism and manage a situation in Iraq?
MS. WRIGHT: Well, Hillary Clinton actually was going to use that as her rallying cry when she was in Baghdad and, of course, was pre-empted by George Bush, which shifted the focus from was it a good trip or not rather than what the Democrats are now trying to emphasize. Look, the next year really will depend for the Democrats as much as what happens on the ground. Howard Dean may end up having a great deal of attraction a year from now because the situation is so dire, and Americans want someone who is a stark alternative to George Bush. It will be less what kind of rhetoric any of them come up with than the realities they have to face.
MR. RUSSERT: To your point, Howard Dean has said, “Why is it that this governor from Vermont figured out the war in Iraq, and Senators Kerry and Lieberman and Edwards and Congressman Gephardt all voted for it?”
MS. WRIGHT: Well, Howard Dean didn’t have to vote, and it’d be very interesting if he had where he would have stood. The reality was they were faced with certain intelligence that indicated that Saddam Hussein really did have all this weaponry and actually might use it. In that case, the Democrats can make a good case, as could anyone who voted for the resolution; that faced with that alternative, who couldn’t?
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay, a friend of mine who is a supporter of George Bush said he was in Europe and that he just could not believe the animosity towards the president there. Another said that it’s like opening a blast furnace, just the feelings toward the president. Is it that case? Why is it? And do people in Great Britain, across Europe, know any of the other Democratic candidates?
MS. KAY: I think actually people do know the other Democratic candidates. We are fascinated in the American election. We’re particularly fascinated this time around, I think, because so many Brits are opposed to George Bush and don’t want him to be re-elected, and so they’re looking at all the alternatives. I think that, you know, somebody like Wes Clark is playing very well in Britain. People would like to see him win the nomination. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but that’s what they’re hoping for. Yes, there is a lot of animosity towards President Bush in Britain. Sometimes I’m concerned that that animosity towards the administration slipped into a more general anti-Americanism. It’s almost as if it’s really not cool to like America at the moment. It’s become an intellectually lazy trend thing that you can’t like anything about America. But at its root is President Bush. They are frightened by policies like the doctrine of pre-emptive action. They don’t like it. But there’s also a style thing. There’s a sense that he is a unilateralist who has this sort of swagger, who doesn’t really appreciate his allies, who hasn’t made much effort to bring allies on board. And the animosity is palpable, as was shown during his visit.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, one of the things that brings success in American politics is co-opting the other guy’s issue. This week was Medicare, prescription drugs. And the president gave a speech on Tuesday in which he was unabashed in saying what his general election message is going to be. Let’s watch:
PRES. BUSH: Year after year the problems in Medicare system were studied and debated, and yet nothing was done. As a matter of fact, they used to call Medicare “Mediscare” for people in the political process. Some said Medicare reform could never be done. For the sake of our seniors, we’ve gotten something done.
MR. RUSSERT: “We got something done.” How big of a plus will a prescription drug plan be for this president?
MR. BRODER: Well, it’s cool politically to have passed a bill that the seniors will say expands Medicare and to have done it basically with Republican votes and Republican leadership. That’s enormous because Medicare, as Bill Safire can tell you having been in those campaigns, was the Democratic bedrock issue against Republicans. When everything else failed, they went back to talking about how, “The Republicans had fought Medicare, and we Democrats brought you Medicare.” Now, the Republic ans bring what, on paper, is at least the biggest expansion ever in the Medicare program. It doesn’t happen until 2006. And when people look at the details, it may not look like quite a good deal to them as they had hoped. But it is still an enormous political plus, shifts the counter from one column to the other column.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet there are headlines in Republican outlets like The Washington Times: “Spending escalates under GOP watch.” The Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, all expressing grave concern about deficits. Bill Safire, in 1965, it was projected that Medicare in 1990 would cost $9 billion. The true cost was $67 billion. How are we going to pay for prescription drugs and all the other spending that is going on now in Washington? And what happened to the Republican Party as deficit hawks?
MR. SAFIRE: Well, I don’t want to derogate drunken sailors, but we’re spending money much more than conservatives like to. On David’s point of the startling stealing of the other party’s clothes, that has a fascinating parallel with Bill Clinton in 1996. He was running for re-election, and he came up with welfare reform: “Get them off the welfare rolls and onto the work roll.” And it worked. He co-opted the middle.
And that’s exactly what George Bush and Karl Rove had in mind here. And all the arm-twisting and the excessive use of political force and all the huge expenditures—you’re talking about for prescription drugs over the next 20 years. Your son, who will be running MEET THE PRESS probably 20, 25 years from now...
MR. RUSSERT: Probably sooner.
MR. SAFIRE: ...will be holding up a thing saying, “Back in ’03 they were saying, you know, only $400 million, and yet it’s $47 trillion.” There is a concern that conservatives have that in winning this battle, in co-opting the middle, Republicans have gone a little too far from their ideology.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet if conservatives are the ones who care most deeply about deficits, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and they have a Republican conservative in the White House, are they willing to give him a pass? They’re never going to vote for a Democrat. So let the good times roll. “We’ll have the tax cuts, we’ll have to pay for the war, but there won’t be any pulling back on domestic spending either because we have prescription drugs. And we can go from trillions of dollars surplus to trillions of dollars of deficits. But if the American people aren’t going to punish anyone politically, what’s the downside”?
MS. GOODWIN: Plus, they’ve got nowhere else to go, and Bush has given the conservatives a lot. I mean, his administration generally has been far more conservative than one would have thought when he first came in and ran much more as a moderate than he actually has become. And I think deficit spending is something that’s the future. As you say, it’s your kid to be worried about. I mean, I don’t know where Perot is, or a potential Perot. Remember we used to care about the deficit; that lady in the attic who we were hiding away. It was a huge issue. And then the public attention is gone. We’re not talking about it. We’re talking about other things. And it’s sort of something—”Oh, we’ll worry about it 10 years from now.” But it’s still an issue, as it was then.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you all. This has been a great intellectual feast on Thanksgiving Day. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bill Safire, Robin Wright, Katty Kay, David Broder, Dana Priest, thank you. We’ll be right back. Our MEET THE PRESS Minute: Hubert Humphrey discussing LBJ’s surprise trip to Vietnam. Humphrey was right here on MEET THE PRESS 37 years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
October 26, 1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson flies from the Philippines to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, to greet American GIs. Four days later, his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, appeared on MEET THE PRESS:
(Videotape, October 30, 1966):
MR. EDWIN NEWMAN (NBC News): Our guest today on MEET THE PRESS is the vice president of the United States, Hubert H. Humphrey.
MR. LAWRENCE SPIVAK (NBC News): Now, Mr. Vice President, as you know, it’s being said that the results of President Johnson’s trip to Southeast Asia would be largely political in this election year. What do you think the trip will accomplish?
VICE PRESIDENT HUBERT HUMPHREY: Well, Mr. Spivak, I do not believe that the president’s journey to Manila and into Southeast Asia was in any way politically motivated nor do I think it will have any appreciable effect upon the election results. I know that the American people are gravely concerned over the developments in Southeast Asia, particularly the war in Vietnam. I have a feeling that the attitude of the American public will be one of support for the president’s efforts. The president undoubtedly will make many comments about his visit to Asia, all of which will be very helpful in a better understanding of Asia. But I don’t believe that you can chalk it up as a strong political matter. It surely will help the president himself in understanding the problems that we face in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: For the record, in the midterm elections of 1966, the Democrats lost 47 seats in the House and four in the U.S. Senate. And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. We’re done talking. Now it’s time to eat.
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