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Transcript for Feb. 29th

Guests:  Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Robert Bennett, David Broder, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Novak and William Safire
/ Source: NBC News

Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


NBC News


Sunday, February 29, 2004

GUESTS: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Robert Bennett, David Broder, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Novak and William Safire


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(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, February 29, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Devastating charges.  More than 4,000 Catholic priests sexually abused more than 10,000 children.  The Catholic hierarchy severely chastised:


MR. ROBERT BENNETT:  As a nation, we should hold our heads in shame.  Much blame on, unfortunately, at least as to the church, must be placed on the higher-ups.  There is simply no question about it.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  With us, the research committee chairman of the Bishops National Review Board, Robert Bennett, and the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Bennett and McCarrick on the crisis in the Catholic Church only on MEET THE PRESS.

Then:  10 state primaries on Super Tuesday.  Does John Edwards have any hope of stopping John Kerry?  Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times and William Safire of The New York Times.

But first, there is breaking news in Haiti.  Reports that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has fled the country.  This was the chaotic scene all weeklong in Haiti.  Two thousand U.S. Marines are on standby if needed to restore order.

Let's go live to NBC's Kerry Sanders, who is reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Kerry, what can you tell us?  Has President Aristide, in fact, fled the country?

MR. KERRY SANDERS (NBC News):  Yes, President Aristide resigned at 6:30 this morning and has left the country.  A senior U.S. administration official saying that he left along with--according to Aristide's attorney, with his wife.  Even going further is one of the ministers here in the government who said that when Aristide and his wife left the country, they headed to the Dominican Republic.  If he's in the Dominican Republic right now, the government there is not confirming it.  But Aristide has left here and it's left a real vacuum.

Really, he's been only the president in name in recent days because of the chaos in this country.  His police force has not been exerting any authority. It's been a very lawless country--looting.  Over my shoulder here you can see the fires that are burning.  Those fires started this morning shortly after word leaked out that Aristide resigned and left the country.  A little bit further off in the distance, you can see some U.S. Coast Guard cutters that are there patrolling the waters.  Those Coast Guard cutters had been part of the effort to repatriate the Haitians who have been fleeing this country. Refugees have been trying get away from the violence.

But this morning, President Aristide is gone.  The Supreme Court will gather to discuss about a transition of power in this country.  And according to the Haitian Constitution, it will transfer to the chief justice while they appoint an interim president.  Meantime, there are U.S. Marines who are on alert and could very well find themselves sent to this country as an international peacekeeping effort.  But at this point no decision to send them here has been made.


MR. RUSSERT:  Kerry, the rebels and their leadership are about 25 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, where you are.  Will they allow the chief justice of the Supreme Court to exert his constitutional authority or will they try to take control of the country?

MR. SANDERS:  Well, they have maintained all along that they had one goal, and that was to have Jean- Bertrand Aristide resign and leave the country.  But they are the ones who have the weapons.  They've got a very strong command and control structure.  And it will be interesting now to see whether their demands are perhaps a little bit broader and they'll attempt to exert the type of control you're talking about.  But they have said all along that they only had one goal, and that was for the removal of Jean- Bertrand Aristide.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kerry, how chaotic is it right now for the eight and a half million Haitians who live...

MR. SANDERS:  It is chaotic.  Those who are inside their homes appear to be safe.  But those who are out on the streets are running into people who have guns, that are firing guns.  In recent days, there have been many, many execution-style killings here on the streets, bodies left there in a way to send a message to those who wanted to perhaps oppose one another here.  It's not a safe country.  It is a lawless country.  And even though the president is gone, it's been lawless like this for several days.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kerry Sanders, thank you very much.  Be careful.  And you'll be covering the situation in Haiti for NBC News all day and all weeklong.

And when we come back, the author of this report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Robert Bennett, and the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Robert Bennett, Cardinal McCarrick together coming up on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  Child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Cardinal McCarrick and Bob Bennett, after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

With us now, the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the principal author of the new report analyzing the causes of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, attorney Bob Bennett.

Welcome both.

CARD. THEODORE McCARRICK:  Thank you very much.

MR. BENNETT:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Bennett, in your mind, what is the most important thing in this document?

MR. BENNETT:  I think there are two things, that bishops have to know their priests, and, secondly, that governance has got to be worked on by the bishops because I think many of these problems were failures of appropriate governance.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ten thousand children abused by 4,300 priests.  How could that have happened?

MR. BENNETT:  Well, I think as the report shows, it's a very complex nuance problem, but in a nutshell, sometime back, the church took in seminarians and later ordained them as priests, men who were sexually dysfunctional and were psychologically immature.  There was a lack of proper formation of them, helping them to live with the requirements of celibacy and spirituality.  And then finally, when incidents occurred, they were not dealt with appropriately and finally I think there was such lack of communication between the bishops, that they did not realize as a group the epidemic proportions of this crisis.

MR. RUSSERT:  Cardinal McCarrick, let me read from some of the report and then give you a chance to respond:  "While there are many ways to view the current crisis, as a crisis of priestly identify or a crisis of episcopal leadership, the Board believes that the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness.  The actions of priests who sexually abused minors were grievously sinful.  The inaction of those bishops who failed to protect their people from predators was also grievously sinful. Somehow, the `smoke of Satan' was allowed to enter the Church, and as a result, the Church itself has been deeply wounded.  Its ability to speak clearly and credibly on moral issues has been seriously impaired."

Do you disagree with any of that?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, I think basically it is a good summary of what happened in the past.  Basically, it demonstrates that the church is made of saints and sinners and sometimes the sinners find their way into the clergy. And, well, since we're all sinners, we can see how that can happen.  I think the point that the report makes about the lack of seminary supervision, the lack of seminary screening in those days is true.  Perhaps, we didn't know at that time exactly how you had to screen, how you had to test.  Now, we do.  I think it is important to consider that so many of these, the vast majority of these happened by men ordained before we began to do this screening, before we began to look at this, but basically not to excuse.  It is a question of holiness and of sinfulness.  And this is what has happened.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe there's a special place in hell for men who represent Christ on Earth and abuse their flock?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, whether there's a special place in hell or not, there is certainly a special, terrible judgment on someone who would abuse the trust that a priest must have, that a priest does have.  And that's all part of our religion, that the priest is supposed to be father and brother and friend and guide.  And if that is destroyed, and if it's destroyed with young people, with children, it becomes all the more horrible.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me read another section of the report:  "Most fundamentally, some bishops in the United States did not appreciate the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.  Until recently, these bishops all too often treated victims of clerical sexual abuse as adversaries and threats to the well-being of the church, not as injured parishioners in need of healing.  Far too frequently, they treated predator priests as misdirected individuals in need of psychological treatment or a simple change in environment, rather than as criminal offenders to be removed from ministry and reported to civil authorities for possible prosecution and appropriate punishment.  These approaches did not solve any problem but rather served to exacerbate them."

Mr. Bennett, that sounds like a cover-up.

MR. BENNETT:  Well, I think that's a fair statement.  It certainly doesn't apply to all bishops now.  I mean, there were many who were voices in the wilderness.  But, you know, cover-up takes on a lot of different, harsh meanings.  There was such a fear of bringing scandal to the church that I think the irony is is that they planted the seeds long ago for the scandal that we are now facing.  I think too many bishops, certainly not all, acted more like risk-assessment managers of an insurance company.  They listened too often to lawyers who were saying, you know, "Gee, if you meet the victim, if you talk to the victim, if you say you're sorry to the victim, that could hurt you from a liability perspective."

In short, Tim, too many bishops did not act like pastors and shepherds of their flock.  We're very fortunate here in Washington to have a true pastor and shepherd as our leader in Cardinal McCarrick.  But that was a big failing with many, many bishops--not all, but many.

MR. RUSSERT:  The laity across the country has suggested over the last few days that the 10,000 priests be named, so that they know whether or not those priests are in their parishes and counseled or taught their children, or if they left the priesthood, they could now be counselors or coaches in some other capacity.  Should these priests be named publicly?

MR. BENNETT:  I think the answer to that is yes.  Now, if a priest is deceased or if the allegations against the priest are not--have no merit to them, then that--I don't think that should be the case.  But otherwise, I think--look, this is the time for openness and transparency.  But as sure as we are talking about this problem today, there is some diocesan lawyer telling his bishop, "Don't release the names because it will just engender more lawsuits."  And it's my view and the view of the board that bishops are pastors and shepherds of their flock and they will never get this problem behind them unless they make disclosures, such as you ask in your question.

MR. RUSSERT:  Cardinal, will these priests be named?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, obviously--three things about that.  First of all, in Washington, the names are out, because we have always in the last 10 years and more--my predecessor, Cardinal Hickey, who was a great pastor and a great man to do the right thing, always when these things happened, the civil authorities were named--were informed, the media got to know it.  Those names appeared in the press.  So those names are out.

I think one point that Bob makes is a valid one, though.  Some are dead, and I think we sort of feel that they're not going to be any danger in the future. And they don't have a chance to defend themselves.  So the ones who have passed away, I don't think we do name.  But basically, I think in this diocese we've done that.  Now, I can't...

MR. RUSSERT:  Should it be done nationally?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, it's hard for me to say because I don't know the circumstances in every diocese.  I think, for us in Washington, it was important to do, but some bishops may have other considerations that are very valid, and because of that, they may feel that the allegations may be suspect or something like that, and therefore they don't want to do it.  I leave it at that.  We've done it here, but I'm loath to say that throughout the whole United States every situation is like mine.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about bishops who simply reassign predators or tried to cover it up?  Now, we know there has been 4,000 priests, 10,000 children, only one bishop has resigned.  Should more bishops resign?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, let me go back and say three things.  Number one, very often, as Bob indicated, bishops took the word of the psychological community, bishops took the word of psychiatrists, of the therapeutic institutions.  And the therapeutic institutions said to a bishop--this is not in the last 10 years, but many years ago--said, "This man is OK.  You can put him back."  The bishop says, "Well, OK, if he's OK, I'll put him back."  And that was a terrible mistake.  We didn't know it because we took that word.  And then often the--in later times, when bishops have had this kind of a situation, they haven't known what to do.  Now, we know what to do.  Now, we have made it so clear.

I said to you a couple years ago that I was not happy with the one strike and you're out.  But our people wanted that.  And we had to listen.  The Catholic community of the United States said, "No, this has to be what you do."  And we've done it.  So that now--from now on, this is what we do.  And I think as we look to the future, the church in the United States has done an extraordinarily difficult, painful work, but we've done it.  And, please, God, children are going to be safe from now on.

MR. BENNETT:  Tim, could I mention one thing the cardinal just said.  This report, as you noted, is very critical.  But the bishops did get together, did create the board, and did do the study.  Child sexual abuse is a national health problem outside the church.  Most of it we believe occurs in the family setting.  It is a national crisis.  And I hope through programs like yours people will do what the church had the courage to do:  study the problem and reveal the results.

MR. RUSSERT:  Based on your study, however, do you believe that other Catholic bishops should resign?

MR. BENNETT:  You know, our board did not take an individual bishop with that view in mind.  But I think the answer to the question is yes, that there are bishops who totally failed as pastors and as shepherds of their flocks.

MR. RUSSERT:  The laity is organizing and speaking out.  This is the Voice of the Faithful, a group that started in Boston.  It has now spread around the country.  A full-page ad in today's New York Times:  "Our trust has been violated but not our faith."  And, Cardinal McCarrick, what they ask for is for the pope, John Paul II, to meet with the delegations of victims and survivors of sexual abuse to begin the reconciliation.  Would that be a good idea?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, I think--of the--let me talk about meeting.  This is an interesting group that was started in Boston because they felt the pain of what they had gone through.  Throughout the United States, we have archdiocesan pastoral councils.  Every parish has a pastoral council.  We're talking to our lay people constantly.  And the victims are talking to our lay people constantly.  To see the Holy Father--the Holy Father knows what's happened. The Holy Father spoke to the cardinals two years ago and made that very strong statement.  There is no place in the Catholic priesthood for any priest who would harm a child.  Now, that--he knows where we're talking to.

MR. RUSSERT:  But symbolically for him to meet victims would send a message that the Vatican gets it.

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, it's certainly an idea.  Of course, the Holy Father has so many problems from all over the world that he handles.  Would it be good for him to do this?  Well, I'm sure if the Holy Father were--had the opportunity, he would love to do something like this.  He would want to.  You see him with children, and how much he loves children, how much this has upset him, how much this has hurt him, that his own brothers in the priesthood were not doing what he would want us all to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  The concern amongst the laity, the Voice of the Faithful and others, is that whether or not the Vatican really does recognize the seriousness of this.  Joseph Cardinal Ratziger, the "prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, said"--in 2002 that the--"media coverage of U.S. clerical sex abuse"--"distorted and was an `intentional' effort to"--distort--"the church.  `In the United States, there's constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type.  ...The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or the statistical objectivity of the facts.'"

We now learn that Cardinal Ratzinger was wrong, dead wrong, that it was at least four times that.  And then this report on Monday from the Vatican.  "A draft report released by scientists commissioned by the Vatican harshly criticized as potentially dangerous the U.S. Catholic Church's policy of removing priests from the ministry for committing one act of child abuse.  The report...recommend"--"the so-called zero-tolerance policy be reconsidered."

It said the "public opinion had put the church under pressure to move with `destructive severity.'"

"`Although until now, the phenomenon of abuse was not always taken seriously enough, at present there is a tendency to overreact and rob accused priests of even legitimate support.'"

Will the Catholic bishops say to the Vatican, "Excuse us, we believe zero tolerance, one strike and you are out, and leave us alone"?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Tim, the Vatican has already approved the norms and the charter which we voted on.  That's a very strict interpretation.  It's a very strict rule for us.  We're required to do that now.  The Holy See knows that and the Holy See has accepted that.  So that where we are now is where we should be.  It's a tough road, but we have to make sure that our people know that we're serious.  We have to know--we have to make sure that our people know that we're turning the page with them.

MR. RUSSERT:  If credible allegations are made about a priest now in 2004, you will be--you will report it to...

CARD. McCARRICK:  Immediately.

MR. RUSSERT:  The authorities?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Immediately.

MR. RUSSERT:  Remove from ministry?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Immediately.  Yeah.

MR. BENNETT:  Tim, following up on something you asked the cardinal.  And I don't know what the future will bring.  But Ann Burke, the chairman of our board, and Bill Burley, the head of communications, and I went to the Vatican and met with several of the hierarchy, including a two-hour meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger.  And he is quite concerned, and he was very responsive to us.  I hope that continues in the future.

Secondly, zero tolerance, Tim, is a very difficult issue because do you treat the penetration of a child the same way you treat something else?  And, you know, you do have to have individualized justice in situations.  The problem is that the bishops have so lost credibility throughout this crisis that the public and the laity just don't trust them to exercise their discretion carefully or correctly.  And I do think that we have to be sure we understand what we mean by zero tolerance and over the next few years to see that it's a concept that is applied fairly and with equal justice to all of those as to whom it's applied to.

MR. RUSSERT:  Nearly 20 years ago, a young priest, a canon lawyer named Thomas Doyle, wrote a report, a warning to the bishops in effect, which said, "We have a crisis upon us with sexual abuse, and if we don't do something about it, we're going to pay probably a billion dollars in terms of outpayments and settlements."  He was eerily prescient and largely ignored.

He now has responded to this report with this statement:  "The hardest questions provoked by these studies are the very questions that the church's governmental structure and clerical elite refuse to face.  These are the questions that will not go away no matter how much effort the papacy and the bishops fight to keep them hidden.

"These questions cut to the heart of the matter and they are about two fundamental issues:  the governmental structure of the Catholic Church and the obsession of its incumbents with their power and the relevance and authenticity of mandatory celibacy.  Until these questions are honestly faced, these studies and any others that may follow remain far from complete."

Cardinal, will the church now be more open, more receptive to input from the laity?  And, two, will the church rethink celibacy and allow married priests to serve or perhaps even women or married women to serve as priests?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Well, that's a multi-sided question.  Let me begin by saying I'm not sure I agree with everything that Father Doyle says, obviously. In fact, I am sure that I agree that the church has not-- is not this totally monolithic structure that he portrays it to be.  It seems to me that since the Second Vatican Council, we have so many structures in the church.  We have archdiocesan pastoral councils.  I mentioned before we have pastoral councils in every parish in the world.  Archdiocesan finance councils that we involve the laypeople.  The National Review Board, which was so important in our coming to a solution to this, a resolution of this problem.  We immediately turned to laypeople, so that I don't think that what he is portraying is true in the church today.  So that's number one.

MR. RUSSERT:  Celibacy?

CARD. McCARRICK:  Celibacy--you know, I think--Mr. Bennett will be able to say to you, as he says in the report, celibacy is not the issue.  Celibacy has to be lived properly.  Celibacy has to be accepted generously.  Celibacy has to be formed in the seminary in a man's heart, in a man's personality.  But when celibacy is lived properly, is lived generously, is lived spiritually, with--in the presence of the Lord, it is a great and beautiful gift.  And to knock it out because of 4 percent of your priests over 53 or 54 years would seem to me to be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

MR. BENNETT:  Well, I think celibacy has to be studied for different reasons because I agree with the cardinal that it's a great gift of some but it is an albatross to other.  It causes--some men are not prepared for it.  It's loneliness, alcoholism, the crossing of boundaries.  But I don't think it's fair to say that celibacy is a cause of this crisis.  I concluded that if a man is going to breach his commitment to celibacy, if he's homosexually oriented, he's going to find an adult mate.  If he's heterosexually oriented, he's going to find the appropriate mate.  But I do think it's something that has to be looked at, focused upon and studied.  I mean, celibacy is no more a cause of this problem and doing away with it than you would say because of divorce you do away with marriage.  But it's something that you have to work on, you have to train priests to honor.

Now, celibacy is a more legitimately discussed issue in a different context. We learned as part of our study that there were many more instances of priests having adult relationships in violation of their commitment to celibacy which did not involve children.  There I think celibacy is much more directly related to a behavior situation than the molestation of children.

CARD. McCARRICK:  If I may just piggyback on that.  What Bob is saying I think is so true.  Celibacy has to be accepted generously and it has to be accepted by those who are screened psychologically and who indicate after that screening that they truly are able to live a celibate life.  This has been the problem in the past.  Celibacy itself is not the problem.  The acceptance of celibacy by people who aren't able to handle it, that's where the problem is.

MR. BENNETT:  One bishop told us when they were talking about celibacy and sex as it relates to celibacy, they talked in Latin and everything else was in English, which says a lot I think.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, Cardinal, what would you say to young Catholic parents with children who are afraid to allow their children to be in the company of a priest?

CARD. McCARRICK:  I would say to them that the church has now given them the right to be confident in their priest, that the church has now through the suffering of the last few years has now seen the need to do what it probably should have done years ago, make sure that the training of priests was done properly.  Make sure that the formation was done properly.  Make sure that only those who can handle the priesthood are going to be part of it.  The church, I believe, has now done that.

And I say to them, to our young families, love your priests.  Know that they are there for you.  Know that they have given their lives for only the cause of taking care of the people of God.  And realize that the church continues to do all the great things that it's done before.  We continue to feed the hungry.  We continue to take care of the poor.  We continue to educate hundreds of thousands of people.  We continue to call our people to holiness even while this is going on.  Let them be proud of the church and let them be confident that it's not going to hurt them.

MR. RUSSERT:  We thank you for joining us with your views, Cardinal McCarrick, Bob Bennett, and we'll be covering this story I'm sure for some time to come.

MR. BENNETT:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, Tuesday is Super Tuesday.  Can John Edwards stop the momentum of John Kerry?  And what issues will emerge between President George W. Bush and the eventually Democratic nominee?  Our political Roundtable:  Broder, Novak, Safire and Goodwin, is next.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome, all.

Super Tuesday's upon us.  Let's look at the very latest polls.  In California, it is John Kerry, 56, John Edwards 24.  In Georgia, 48 to 38, Kerry ahead. And in Maryland, 46 to 34 percent, Kerry ahead.  And in New York, 54 to 21. And we have Ohio:  47 to 26.  These are the states that will be picking delegates on Tuesday, 1,151 at stake:  California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

And, David Broder, you just came back.  Let me bring out my little board. There it is, the 2004 edition of the Big Russ board:  Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.  Do you agree or disagree?  This is the state.

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Well, I think it's the state for November, and it's also a state where, if John Edwards should surprise Kerry on Tuesday, then I think he has a plausible case to carry on the campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that John Edwards has to win Georgia, Ohio, anywhere else?

MR. BRODER:  It doesn't matter what I believe, but I think the Democratic Party has come to the conclusion that--unless he wins two or three of these significant states, that it's time to wrap it up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Novak?

MR. ROBERT NOVAK:  They want him to wrap it up inside the party. Arithmetically, I think it's impossible for him to be nominated.  They have proportional representation of the Democratic Party.  I think John Kerry has really clinched this nomination a long time ago, so it's a question of how long the agony is prolonged.  Even in Georgia, the Southern state, the poll you used, Tim, shows a 10 percent gap.  There are other polls that show a 20 percentage point gap.  So I think this thing is really all over.  And the question now comes to whether John Edwards has a future as a vice-presidental candidate.

MR. RUSSERT:  But John Edwards will say, picking up at David Broder's point, you know, "If I win Georgia and I win Ohio and I win Maryland, why not stay in?"  Because this is where he had--a week from Tuesday primaries in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

MR. NOVAK:  To figure out the...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...all states made for John Edwards.  And then a week later, a one-on-one in Illinois with John Kerry--he would need to win 65, 70 percent of the delegates, but he'll say, "Give me a shot."

MR. NOVAK:  He can't do it.  It's an arithmetic impossibility.  The only question is is whether Kerry wins it quickly or not so quickly.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to George W. Bush and his attempt to be involved in the Democratic primary.  This was the president on Monday.

(Videotape, Monday):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  The other party's nomination battle is still playing out.  The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions:  for tax cuts and against them, for NAFTA and against NAFTA, for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act, in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it.  And that's just one senator from Massachusetts.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Safire, as a former presidential wordsmith, what did you think of that?

MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE:  That was a nice shot.  It was amusing, and it built up. You notice the way the tension rose?  And it had a nice snapper.  So he's got good speechwriters.  And he delivers them well.  It's nice to have him back in the race.  It's been a Democratic race all along.  And I disagree with my friend Novak here.  From the point of view of the Democrats, it would be a good idea to keep that Kerry-Edwards competition going for another month, and keep the tension up, and keep the press coverage, free publicity, up all the time, 'cause both of these guys are popping it at Bush.

So, I think, remembering that polls and primaries are notoriously inaccurate, I think, just watching the last debate in California, that Edwards has given up, that he's not playing to win anymore.  He had the opportunity to engage, and decided to do a light engagement.  And when you see that, you can see the handwriting on the wall.  He's running for vice president.

MR. RUSSERT:  There is another debate today.  We'll see how he performs in that.  But is what he did say on Tuesday about George Bush's comments about the Democratic nomination.  Here's John Edwards:

(Videotape, February 24, 2004):

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC):  And, by the way, today I've got a message for somebody in Washington.  And that message is this:  not so fast, George Bush. You don't get to decide who our nominee is.  And you don't get to decide what this election is about.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Butt out.  Does that work, Doris?

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:  Well, he is a natural politician, I think, Edwards. But I think the locomotive is out of the station for Kerry.  And I think it got out after Iowa.  Once he had that win and then he brought it to New Hampshire, the Democrats are so hungry for a victory that I think it would be impossible to be stopped right now.  And I think Edwards probably will eventually, whether this week or next week, gracefully go, knowing that he's made a great contribution, and created a star power for himself.  But I think that what's not going to work for George Bush this time is that "senator from Massachusetts" stuff.

As long as Kerry, if he is the nominee, can be proud--Why not be proud of being from Massachusetts?  Three Johns were president--John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Kennedy.  We were the only state that they used to condemn us for that voted for McGovern.  I think I would have rather had McGovern than an almost impeachable Nixon there.  So I think there's a lot of pride of civil liberties, of civil rights, the abolitionists started there, cradle of liberty was there, the Red Sox, the Patriots.  Just be proud of being from Massachusetts.

MR. NOVAK:  Stand up for Massachusetts.

MR. RUSSERT:  But some refer to it as "the People's Republic of Massachusetts," Doris.  No, but John Kerry was number one in terms of liberal voting record, number one in vote--number-one liberal voting record, Senate, according to the National Journal.  Will that stick?  Will that resonate?

MS. GOODWIN:  I think it depends on how he attacks it himself.  If you defend yourself and you're somehow sure and proud of what it means to be a liberal, if you say, "Yes, if being a liberal means Social Security like FDR, if being a liberal means civil rights like Lyndon Johnson, if being a liberal means Medicare, I'm for it."  If he runs away from it, as Dukakis seemed to try to, then it's a problem.  But if he doesn't, I think it's fine.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah, Novak, is a $500 billion deficit conservative?


MR. NOVAK:  Well, I don't worry about it.  I have to quote Ronald Reagan.  "I don't worry about budget deficits.  They're big enough to take care of themselves," you know?  But, look, as a matter of fact, nobody wants to be called a liberal, Doris.  Maybe you do, but no politician does.  The Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal organization, who does a rating service, almost every year they have John Kerry with 95 percent liberal rating.  He is a liberal.  But when you call him a liberal, he says, "Don't label me.  I don't want to be labeled."

Conservatives--George Bush likes to be called a conservative.  I don't know how conservative he really is on a lot of things.  But he likes to be called conservative.  But that is the problem.  So it's a matter of deception.  You have to deceive the people to say, "Gee, I am not a liberal.  Even though by all measurements and standards I'm in the far left wing of the Democratic Party."

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder?

MR. BRODER:  The president's strategists, I have to say, are even smarter than my friend Novak.  Where the president went after is where Kerry is really vulnerable.  It's not that he's a liberal.  It's that he wants to trim.  He wants to be on both sides of so many questions.  And he insists that questions are complex.  And the great advantage that this president has is that he simplifies choices, and is willing to make choices.  And that's where he can usefully draw political contrast with Senator Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the places he tried to do that was on a constitutional amendment to ban same- sex marriage.  The president went to the nation and said, "This is what we need."  Let me show you the response from Republicans in Congress.  Here's John McCain.  "The Constitution should"--only--"be as a last resort amended.  ...we should find out whether the Defense of Marriage Act works or not.  ...  Let me give you a little `straight talk,' it's not going to pass by two-thirds vote in both houses.  It's not going to do that."

Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "said he would prefer to leave the issue to the states--even if that meant leaving states the option of allowing gay marriages--as long as opposing states were not required to acknowledge"--these--"unions."

Tom DeLay, leader in the House for the Republicans, "This is so important we're not going to take a knee-jerk reaction to this."  "Constitutional amendment--I believe"--"is the ultimate remedy left for the Congress.  ...  We are looking at other ways of doing it."

And David Dreier, who's chairman of the House Rules Committee, Republican, "I believe that this should go through the courts ...  We're at a point where it's not necessary, from my perspective."

Bill Safire, the Republicans of George Bush's own party do not seem to be embracing his call for a constitutional amendment that stopped gay marriage. Why?

MR. SAFIRE:  Because there's so many ways of approaching this.  This wedge issue was not caused by the Republicans.  The wedge came in from Massachusetts and California.  And that thrust gay marriage into the political arena.  And the reaction of the president is to say we need a constitutional amendment. Everybody knows that a constitutional amendment is very hard to get.

MR. RUSSERT:  Two-thirds of both houses of Congress...

MR. SAFIRE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and three-fourths of the states must ratify.

MR. SAFIRE:  The great likelihood is against it.  But essentially both Kerry and Edwards and the president are all saying "We're against gay marriage," and the president has been the one to say, "OK, I'm willing to do something about it."  Everybody else, including a lot of Republicans and libertarians like me, say, "Let it play out in the states."  So it plays out in the states, and one state says, "You can't do it here," and the other state, "You can do it here," and then it goes to court on the subject of does a law in one state get applied in all the other states?  And then it goes to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court then decides.  Only then do you try to overrule the Supreme Court with a constitutional amendment.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris, in the history of our country, constitutional amendments have been very, very infrequent.  Do you believe the president was doing this because it was now necessary or because the politics were necessary?

MS. GOODWIN:  Oh, I think clearly he wanted to be on the side of his conservative base and that this was an important thing for a lot of those people.  But when you look at the history of the country, what it tells you is that the framers, those good old guys, deliberately made it a difficult process because they wanted to have an organic law that had stability and tradition.  It needed change if faults were discovered over time through experience.  And what were most of those faults that were discovered?  The fact that women didn't have the right to vote, that blacks didn't have the right to vote, that we were allowing slavery in the States.  All of the amendments mostly have expanded rights for people.

If this amendment were to go through, it would restrict rights for people. And that's a really tough thing to imagine history doing.  I say let the process work itself out.  As we watch more and more gay people getting married, is it really going to make me, who's been married for 28 years, feel that my marriage is less to see these happy people who've had relationships for 40 years, as some of them have, getting married?  If we take time, some of this popular passion I think will change, and to put an amendment in place bends history in the wrong direction right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rob Novak.

MR. NOVAK:  Tim, there are some decisions, political decisions, that are difficult for presidents to make.  This was a not a difficult decision.  This was a must decision by the president.  There is difficulty with this conservative base.  And they are not happy with him on a lot of grounds. They're not happy with him on this tremendous federal spending.  They're not happy with him on the--just the tone of the presidency.  Would they vote for John Kerry?  Of course not.  But they can sit home as many stayed at home in the year 2000.

Now, the question of whether it's going to pass or not this year, of course we know it's not going to pass Congress this year.  But we can look down the road to the Sandra Day O'Connor deciding vote, if she's still around when this gets to the Supreme Court, and a 5-to-4 decision in favor of gay marriage, and then there will be demands for a constitutional amendment because all the polls indicate that at this point before the liberal news media changes minds, that there's 2:1 opposition to gay marriage among American people.  They are repelled by it.  They are repelled by what's going on in San Francisco.  So I think it is a politically necessary move by the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's Bob Novak with his own column, his own cable show.  But it's the liberal media.  David Broder, we have issues like the economy, like the tax cut, like Iraq, the war on terror.  Both campaigns have said this is a big issue race coming up.  We have about 16 to 17 states that are truly in play.  The other ones we know how they're going to vote because of the demographic makeup of them.  And in those 16 swing states, there are only about 10 to 12 percent of the voters who are undecided.  Will an issue like same-sex marriage be an important issue to those undecided voters in those swing states, or will they focus on Iraq, the economy, tax cuts?

MR. BRODER:  No.  Social issues are important.  But I'm a little skeptical at this point that if this simply is a statement from the president that he would favor under theoretical conditions in a constitutional amendment that that by itself puts it into play.  I think what's likely to happen between now and November is that this issue will be relegated to the states and to the courts and that the major issues and the major decisions that voters will make will relate to the things that you just ticked off:  economy, war, national security.

MR. RUSSERT:  Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about Social Security.  And what he said is that we now have 40 million people on Social Security.  In the next 15 years, we're going to have 80 million people.  We're going to double it.

Doris, your friend Franklin Roosevelt was genius.  When he started Social Security, he set the eligibility age at 65.  Life expectancy was 62.  So if you made it, you were on for a few months and that was it.


MR. RUSSERT:  Now, life expectancy is 77, 78.  People are on those programs 15 years.  This is how The Washington Post editorial page greeted the response to Mr. Greenspan:  "For all the front-page headlines, there wasn't anything particularly surprising in Federal Reserve Chairman"--"Greenspan's warning that the government can't afford the Social Security benefits it has promised and that benefits will need to be curtailed.  ...Sadly, there also wasn't anything surprising in the reaction of the presidential candidates, both President Bush and his Democratic rivals, to Mr. Greenspan's statements:  All of them scurried as far as possible from any hint of endorsing a change in benefits, however reasonable.  It's a measure of the irresponsibility of both political parties regarding the entitlements debate that a proposal for rather minor adjustments in Social Security would be treated like such a--well, like such a dangerous third rail."

Bill Safire, what Greenspan said was the formula used to give cost of living increases to recipients is overstated.  It's higher than inflation.  And we should fix it to be accurate, that if it was understated, we'd fix it.  And this is something the late great Pat Moynihan pushed and pushed for.  It would save hundreds of billions of dollars to no avail, and yet, both parties said to Greenspan, "No, no, no, we're not going to touch Social Security."  Is Social Security off the table as a political issue this fall?

MR. SAFIRE:  As a political issue this fall, yes.  In reality, no.  Greenspan dancing along that third rail that you talked about, you remember he was the one who talked about irrational exuberance back when we were all irrationally exuberant before the bubble burst.  And he's right about this.  You jigger that cost of living inflation thing a little tiny bit and you save hundreds of billions.  But more important, the big change was the one you alluded to, the change in longevity and life expectancy.  There's no reason in the world you can't say to somebody younger than 50, "Your retirement is not going to be at 66 or 67.  It's going to be at 70.  Plan for it."  That would change everything.

MR. RUSSERT:  Everyone who's on the current system gets their full benefits.

MR. SAFIRE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Everyone 55 and older would get their full benefits.


MR. RUSSERT:  But 55 and younger, get ready.  In order to absorb doubling the number of people, we're going to have to change the system.  Mr. Novak, happy birthday, just celebrated his 73rd birthday, a proud recipient of Social Security.

MR. NOVAK:  Not a proud one.  I think it is outrageous that my wife and I receive Social Security payments.  It should be--see, this is a Ponzi scheme. It is--you've been gushing, and all the Roosevelt lovers gushed over FDR's thing, but it is not an insurance plan.  It should be put on a need basis. There should be personal accounts.  The Moynihan reform should be put into effect.  The whole thing should be changed, and what Greenspan was saying was very modest.  But the idea that the richest people in the country receive Social Security payments on what is not an insurance plan is an outrage.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will it be an issue?

MR. SAFIRE:  Look who's coming out for Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT:  An issue this fall?

MR. BRODER:  Not much of one.  And we've just heard why Novak is never going to be president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris Kearns Goodwin, how do we get the politicians to wrestle with this issue?  They asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks.  He said, "That's where the money is."

MS. GOODWIN:  That's...

MR. RUSSERT:  If you're serious about balancing the budget, half the budget goes to Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget, soon to be two-thirds.

MS. GOODWIN:  Oh, in my idealistic phase, one would hope that a politician who straight-talked could get the people to say, "This has to be dealt with." And it will, but it won't be dealt with until the person is elected president, then they set up a commission and they're going to have to deal with this.

MR. RUSSERT:  Nixon went to China.  Republican, conservative, take on hard-line Communist?

MS. GOODWIN:  I mean, if Bush were...

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it going to take a liberal Democrat to deal with it?


MR. RUSSERT:  Ah, I knew it.  Doris Kearns Goodwin, William Safire, Bob Novak, David Broder.  We'll be right back.


MR. RUSSERT:  Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.