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Transcript for November 7

Guests: Karl Rove, senior advisor to the president; Senator-elect Barak Obama, D-Ill.; Maureen Dowd, columnist, New York Times; William Safire, columnist, New York Times.
/ Source: NBC News

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


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  Sunday, November 7, 2004

GUESTS: Karl Rove, senior advisor to the president; Senator-elect Barak Obama, D-Ill.; Maureen Dowd, columnist, The New York Times; William Safire, columnist, The New York Times


Mr. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  George W. Bush is re-elected president of the United States.  He singles out one man for special praise.


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  I want to thank my superb campaign team, the architect, Karl Rove.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  With us, the president's senior advisor, Karl Rove.  Then the keynoter of the Democratic convention is elected United States senator from Illinois with 70 percent of the vote.  With us Senator-elect Barack Obama. And in our political Roundtable, two New York Times columnists with very different views, William Safire and Maureen Dowd.

But first, the man who oversaw President Bush's successful re-election campaign, Karl Rove.


MR. KARL ROVE:  Good to see you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you the final Electoral College map.  I'll put it on the screen--the red states for George W. Bush, the blue states for John Kerry.  What does that map mean to you?

MR. ROVE:  Well, it means a strong, convincing vote.  The president received over nine million more than he did four years ago.  He is the first president since 1988 to have received a majority of the popular vote.  In fact, he received a higher percentage of the vote than any Democrat candidate for president since 1964.  Just sort of an interesting commentary.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe it's a mandate?

MR. ROVE:  Look, a victory is a--yes, it's a requirement, if you will.  It's a mandate for you to do in office what you said you would do on the campaign trail.  And the president has an old-fashioned notion that campaigns ought to be about describing what it is that you hope to achieve and what the principles are by which actions might be guided.

MR. RUSSERT:  You might imagine Democrats are suggesting otherwise.  E.J. Dionne wrote a column in The Washington Post sharing some of their thoughts if you will.  "A 51-48 percent victory is not a mandate.  Even Democrats have talked about their party's being confined to an `enclave.'  Enclave?  Blue America includes the entire Northeast, all of the West Coast but for Alaska and much of the upper Midwest.  If John Kerry had switched  ...  roughly 70,000 votes in Ohio, we'd be talking about the Republican `enclave.'  ... Two nearly equal sides are engaged today, as they were on Tuesday, in a long- term struggle to make inroads into the other's patch.  ..."

And they refer to this map of the Electoral College which reflects population rather than land and they say that the parties are evenly matched, and that if Bush had lost 70,000 in Ohio, then John Kerry would be president.

MR. ROVE:  Yeah.  Well, if, if, if.  I'm going to go back to the archives and see if E.J. Dionne ever wrote a column after 1992 or 1996 suggesting that Bill Clinton didn't have a mandate because he won the presidential election. Look, this country was a narrowly divided country in 2000;49-49 was what Michael Barone called it.  It's a 49-49 nation.  The country has slid to a 51-48 Republican majority.  We gained seats in the U.S. Senate, now have 55. We gained seats in the U.S. House.  This is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to win re-election while adding to his party's numbers in the House and Senate.  The country is still close, but it has moved in a Republican direction and this election confirmed that.

MR. RUSSERT:  We asked the people leaving the voting booth why they voted for a certain candidate, what was the most important issue, and here is what we found.  Moral values--22 percent said that was the most important issue.  They sided with the president, 80 to 18.  Those who said the economy and jobs--20 percent sided with John Kerry; same number, 80-18.  Terrorism--19 percent of the voters, they sided with George W. Bush, 86-14.  Iraq--15 percent opted for John Kerry; those who thought Iraq was the most important issue.  And health care also overwhelmingly for John Kerry.  When you read or see or hear moral values, what does that mean?

MR. ROVE:  Well, I think it's people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies, what they read in the newspapers, how they see the values of the country, what they see as the future for our country.

I do have a little bit of a different view of those numbers.  First of all, if you take Iraq and terrorism and aggregate them, which I think are sort of different sides of the same coin, 34 percent of the electorate we're concerned with, if you will, the security issue.  If you take taxes and the economy and aggregate them, they're 25 percent of the electorate and then moral values is third.  That's not to denigrate the importance of moral values which have traditionally been about 16 percent of the electorate have been concerned with that as their number one issue in past races.  What essentially happened in this race was people became concerned about three issues--first, the war, then the economy, jobs and taxes, and, third, moral values.  And then everything else dropped off of the plate.  And security grew the most in comparison to past races but values grew second, the second most amount.

MR. RUSSERT:  But what can a president do about the coarseness of a society?

MR. ROVE:  Well...

MR. RUSSERT:  There's nothing he can do legislatively.

MR. ROVE:  Oh, sure he can.  And this president has attempted to do that by putting into place laws that protect the weak and vulnerable, whether it's partial-birth abortion ban or the Laci Peterson law or to pursue a compassionate agenda that allows the great mediating structures of our society, neighborhood and church and community-based organizations to play a fuller role in confronting the despair and poverty that exists in our country. You bet there's a lot.  The global AIDS initiative is part of that.  There are lots of things that a president can do, and this president is committed to doing so.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is the president indebted to evangelical Christians?

MR. ROVE:  The president has an obligation to serve all the people of America.  He has some tremendous supporters.  If you look at the difference in the vote between last time and this time, there are about--and there are overlaps between these groups obviously.  There are about 3.35 million people more people who voted for him who attend church more than once weekly or weekly.  There are also 4.4 million more women who voted for this president than voted for him four years ago; 1.5 million more Latinos; 4.15 million more seniors; 3.4 million more people who live in big cities; 2.3 million people who live in exurbs and smaller cities.  So his victory came from a wide variety of places.  People of faith played a big role in that.  They saw in him a vision and values and ideas that they supported, and he'll pursue those in office.

MR. RUSSERT:  One Democrat said to me, "Are we on the verge of a theocracy, where if you don't agree with the president and evangelical Christians on abortion or on gays, there really is no room for you to practice what you believe in the United States?"

MR. ROVE:  Well, the president made it clear almost every speech when he talked about this and particularly when he took questions on things that--these forums that we had around the country.  He made it clear that one of the great things about America is that we have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please.  It doesn't matter whether you're a Christian, Jew, Muslim.  It doesn't matter whether you're an evangelical or a Catholic or a moderate Jew.  You're entitled to worship--or an agnostic or atheist.  You're entitled in this country to worship as you please or to not worship.  It's one of the great things that defines us as a nation, and it's at the heart of what it is to be in America.

MR. RUSSERT:  Towards the end of the campaign, the president reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage, but said he was open to civil unions.  Would he support federal legislation to honor and respect civil unions with gay couples?

MR. ROVE:  Well, my understanding is is that he was referring to civil relationships defined at a state level.  He clearly believes that states have the right to define such things as the right to visitation in the hospital or inheritance rights or benefit rights.  Those ought to be up to states.  But he does believe very fervently that 5,000 years of human history should not be overthrown by the acts of a few liberal judges or by the acts of a few local elected officials.  Marriage is and should be defined as being between one man and one woman.

MR. RUSSERT:  But no federal law for civil unions?

MR. ROVE:  He believes that the definition of relationships ought to be left up to the states and that proper protections can be put in place for the right to visit in the hospital or the right to inherit or other legal contractual questions like that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the issue of abortion.  As you know, Arlen Specter, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, is on line to be the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  He said some things on Election Night, and this is how they were reported:  "`When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,' Arlen Specter said.  `The president is well aware of what happened when a bunch of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,' referring to Senate Democrats' success over the past four years in blocking the confirmation of many of Bush's conservative judicial picks.  `...And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.'"

What's your reaction to that?

MR. ROVE:  Well, I saw his letter statement where he said he was not applying the litmus test and then he upheld his commitment to the president that if he were to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, there would be quick hearings, a vote within a reasonable period of time, and that the appellate nominees would be brought to the floor for an up or down vote by the entire Senate.  And Senator Specter is a man of his word.  We'll take him at his word.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is the president comfortable with Arlen Specter being chairman of the Judiciary Committee?

MR. ROVE:  That's up to the United States Senate to decide, not the president of the United States.  And just as we wouldn't like them to decide who are the staff assistants of the White House, they certainly do not want us determining who's committee chairman on the Hill.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is the president obligated to his support from the evangelical Christians to nominate people for the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

MR. ROVE:  The president said during the campaign that in virtually every speech that he gave that he would continue to nominate men and women to the bench who are well-qualified and who would strictly interpret the law, who knew the difference between personal agendas and personal views on the one hand and the strict interpretation of the law.  He'll continue to uphold that commitment.  He has sent forward some terrific nominees, men and women of tremendous intellectual and legal abilities.  And they are people who share his philosophy that judges are to be impartial umpires, not activists, not legislators who just happen to be wearing robes, but to be impartial umpires who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Does he think that Roe v. Wade was properly decided?

MR. ROVE:  He's going to pick people for the bench and will strictly interpret the law.  He's not going to have a litmus test.  He's not going to ask judges--potential judges in advance how they would determine cases that might come before them.  He thinks that violates the fundamental principle of what judicial nominations ought to be about.  He believes that he ought to pick people who will impartially apply--interpret and apply the law, not people who have a political agenda or a personal agenda that they want to pursue on the court.

MR. RUSSERT:  Does he think a right of privacy exists under the Constitution?

MR. ROVE:  Griswold vs. Connecticut, I'm not sure.  I've never discussed Griswold vs. Connecticut with the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the tax system.  The president wants to reform the Internal Revenue Service.  There have been reports that he would like to replace the progressive income tax with a national sales tax or a flat tax. Is that accurate?

MR. ROVE:  Well, some of those reports were more specific than anybody could have been at this point.  But look, the president believes that we have a system of taxation that is complicated.  He calls it a mess.  It requires an enormous amount of time and energy and effort by individuals and by corporations and by small businesses to comply with it.  And if you are wealthy and can hire enough accountants and attorneys, you can find ways around the code.  It's fundamentally not fair.  It wastes a lot of time and energy and effort to comply with it.  It doesn't encourage savings and investment.  And we need to simply it and make it more fair.

He understands how big a task this is.  He understands that a lot of work needs to be done, first at Treasury and then with Congress.  He knows that we need to draw Democrats and Republicans together on this.  But if we're going to have a strong and dynamic economy in the years ahead, we need to tackle some of the structural challenges that our economy faces and the tax code is one of the biggest.

The litigation environment is another big one.  Our health-care issues is another big structural drag.  All of these need to be dealt with if we're going to keep the American economy the most dynamic and flexible in the world. We've got a lot of competition around the world and it's--competition for American companies is no longer in the next county and the next state. It's on the other side of the globe.  And to be able to compete, we've got to improve our education system, our litigation environment, our tax code, our health system and our trading policies if we're going to be as strong economically in the years ahead.

MR. RUSSERT:  But a flat tax and national sales tax would be on the table?

MR. ROVE:  Well, I'm--the president wants to look at all options, but there are some--there were some reporting early on that he'd settled on one particular method.  That's not accurate.

MR. RUSSERT:  In terms of Social Security reform, there had been a commission headed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan that talked about allowing Americans to take part of moneys that they pay in payroll tax and put it into private accounts. That's when we had a $2 trillion surplus.  In light of a $422 billion deficit, can we, in fact, reform Social Security with private accounts when the transition costs are estimated to be $2 trillion?

MR. ROVE:  Well, first of all, there's one cost that hasn't changed and that is the cost of doing nothing.  The system is going to be fine.  Social Security is fine for those at or near retirement today.  For those receiving their checks today, don't worry.  It's going to be there for you.  For those that are nearing their retirement years, don't worry, it's going to be there for you.  But for your kids--for your boy and my boy, and for their children, for our kids and grandkids, it's a real big question as to whether or not the system's going to be there.

The number that has not changed is the number of the unfunded liabilities that we're going to see about mid-century if we don't do anything.  And that's about $13 trillion and growing.  What we need to do is to deal with this problem before it becomes too large that it swamps our children and our grandchildren, and the president's committed to doing something.  The commission pointed out several avenues.  There are other bills up on the Hill that show other means to get there.  But we need to do something and start doing it now before the costs swamp our children and grandchildren in the years ahead.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president has said one of his biggest regrets is that he was not a uniter but a divider.  He really wanted to change the tone in Washington.

MR. ROVE:  I think it was the latter, that the tone didn't change, not the first one.

MR. RUSSERT:  He had not succeeded in being a uniter...

MR. ROVE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...rather than a divider.  At Thursday's press conference, the president said something and I want to get your reaction to it.  Here it is:

(Videotape, Thursday):

PRES. BUSH:  I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make.

(End of videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  I will reach out to others and explain the decisions I make. Is that consultation, informing people of why you made a decision as opposed to talking to people before you make a decision?

MR. ROVE:  Well, it's part of the process.  Look, I'll tell you.  It's been an interesting experience for those of us who came up from Texas.  I remember well after 9/11 sitting with the president and a leader of the Democratic Party talking about the economic stimulus package.  The president said, "Look, our economy's been hit hard on 9/11.  We need to do something to jump start our economy.  You know, my advisors at the Council of Economic Advisors tell me the number one thing we can do to jump start the economy is A."  And this Democrat leader said, "Well, Mr. President, I can't get the votes for A, but I can get the votes for B."  And the president said--listened to him and several days later laid out his package and included as one of the principle elements of it B.  And that Democrat leader immediately went out and criticized it.  And, you know, I was angry at the time.  I remember the president saying, "Look, that's the way the town works.  Let it go."

And he'll continue to reach out, explain the basis of his decision, listen carefully to people and try and find common ground.  And realize that the legacy of the 1990s, a legacy created by Republicans and Democrats alike in this town, is that there's a fascination with winning the next news cycle, with being able to be invited onto MEET THE PRESS by saying the ugliest thing possible the previous week about your political opponents and not on making progress for the country.  And the only way to--the president understands the only way to deal with that is to ignore it and work through it.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what John Podesta, the former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, said.  "What I heard [President Bush] say is, `If you already agree with me, I'll let you work with me.'"

MR. ROVE:  Well, John Podesta's is the head of one of the 527 groups--active in one of the 527 groups, you know.  I'm sorry he feels that way.  The president has spent considerable time this week calling new Democrat members of the Congress, reaching out to Democrat leaders to be clear that the election is over.  It's time to put America at the front of all of our agendas and to find ways to work together on common ground.

MR. RUSSERT:  You have said that you--your ultimate goal is a permanent Republican majority.  What does that mean?

MR. ROVE:  Well, first of all, there are no permanent majorities in American politics.  They last for about 20 or 30 or 40 or, in the case of the Roosevelt coalition, 50 or 60 years and then they disappear.  But would I like to see the Republican Party be the dominant party for whatever time history gives it the chance to be?  You bet.  I believe in the principles of the Republican Party.  I believe in limited government and the right of the individual to make choices and in a strong national defense and in freedom and liberty as being the right of every person on the face of the Earth.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to ask to you react to some comments made by a friend of yours, Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform and a key White House ally.  According to USA Today, "...noted the defeat of Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle as particularly sweet.  Daschle's political demise will prompt a half dozen other Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states to think twice before defying the president, Norquist says:  `When Achilles died, the Greeks were in trouble.'"

MR. ROVE:  My Greek mythology is not strong enough to--look Senator Daschle served the country well and ably and his state well and ably.  The people of the state determined that they were going to make a change.  It requires the Democrats to make a change in their leadership.  But, look, there's a lot of able Democrats in this town.  If they want to make a partisan battle of it, they will.  But Grover sometimes overstates the case.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, try this one.  This is another Grover Norquist.  "Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problems socializing with the Republicans.  Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate."

Neuter the Democrats?

MR. ROVE:  I don't think so.  Look, the Democrats--the Senate is a 55-45.  It takes 60 votes to get things done.  The House, the Republicans have a good majority, but nonetheless there's a necessity and a need and a desire to work across party lines.

MR. RUSSERT:  The last time you were on in January of '01 after the president had been elected, we had this exchange.  Let me show it to you:

(Videotape, January 21, 2001):

MR. RUSSERT:  You're heading over to the national cathedral for a prayer service with our new president.  What are you gonna pray for?

MR. ROVE:  Wisdom and patience.  Humility.  That's important, I think, for people who come here to realize that we are here for only a time and we have an obligation of service and we need to keep things in perspective.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Wisdom, patience, and humility, the watchwords for the second term?

MR. ROVE:  Yes.  Those that the Gods destroy they first make prideful.  So, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  So go slow?

MR. ROVE:  Go slow.  Keep in mind that there is a requirement.  The American people were told certain things by this president during the campaign and he wants to fulfill those pledges.  But it's a complex system we live in to think the actions that we take have consequences beyond the years in which we serve, and we all have an obligation to do what is best for our country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is the president thinking about sitting down with the leaders of France and Germany and Russia, those who oppose the war in a kind of mini-summit to sort of look at Iraq?

MR. ROVE:  Well, the president has already reached out to many of the leaders that you've talked about and he has a good cordial relationship with all of them.  And the president understands that there are a lot of passionate emotions in the election and that a lot of things were sort of put on hold on the international scene until the election was settled and now is the time to find common ground and work together.

MR. RUSSERT:  Karl Rove, we thank you for your views.  Congratulations on the re-election campaign.

MR. ROVE:  Thank you, sir.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, what now for the Democrats?  We'll ask Barack Obama, U.S. senator- elect from the state of Illinois.  He's coming up right here next on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  The newly elected senator from Illinois Barack Obama.  Then Bill Safire and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times are next after this station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  Senator-elect Barack Obama, welcome and congratulations on your election to the U.S. Senate.

SEN.-ELECT BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL):  Thank you very much, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator-elect, why do you think John Kerry lost the race for the White House?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, he was running against a very popular wartime president.  And I think that that would have been a difficult circumstance for any candidate to run in, and I think that your previous guest, Karl Rove, had a lot to do with it.  They've got one of the best political teams that we've ever seen in America, and I think that they deserve enormous credit for their win.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Democratic Leadership Council, which has been a voice for more centrist views, if you will, in the Democratic Party issued the following statement:  "What happened?  ...we have to face facts.  We got our clocks cleaned up and down the ballot.  ... We didn't effectively make the case for firing the incumbents and replacing them with Democrats. ... The dynamics of this campaign have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Democrats suffer from three persistent `trust gaps' in our message.  The first...was on national security. ... [Kerry] could not overcome the party's reputation for being weaker.  ... The second...was a `reform gap.' ... We never conveyed a positive agenda for reform.  The third...was...values and culture.  ... The problem is that many millions of voters simply do not believe that Democrats take their cultural fears and resentments seriously, and that Republicans do."

What do you think of that analysis?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, I think that there's some important insights there. I absolutely think that when we talk about family, faith, community, I think it's important for Democrats to be able to connect with folks where they live. And I think that the Republicans have been more successful in some cases than we have in talking about values and morality with respect to our agenda and our program and our broader world view.  I think that certainly with respect to national security, that as Karl Rove mentioned, they were interested in collapsing the issue of the war on terror with Iraq, and they did so successfully.  And I think that we were less successful in making clear that we were as unified and as focused on the war on terror as anyone, but that the war in Iraq was a misguided strategy, at least in terms of how it was implemented.

And I think that what is always true when you run against an incumbent president is, is that you end up talking more about that president's record than your vision for the future, and I think that the Democrats do have to present a proactive agenda and vision for the country and not simply run against something if they're going to be successful.

MR. RUSSERT:  When I asked Karl Rove about the meaning of moral values, he talked about the coarsening of our culture.  Is it possible for Democrats to speak to that feeling within the American people, particularly with the close relationship Democrats have with the Hollywood community?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, you know, I think I spoke about it in Illinois, and, you know, one of the reasons that I got 70 percent of the vote and that, in fact, I shared a million voters with George Bush is that from a Democratic perspective, I think I was able to talk to people about values in ways that people-- in ways that resonated with folks.

Look, the Democrats are as concerned about raising our kids and making sure that the values of empathy and hard work and discipline and self-respect are instilled in our children, and I've got a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and I'm not afraid to talk about how I want to provide them with the sort of cultural framework that's going to allow them to be successful, happy people.

And I think that Democrats can, in fact, and have successfully talked about it.  I think that sometimes the Democrats have to run upstream or swim upstream because we've got the Republicans making it out as if we don't care about these things, and we should be able to engage and be willing to engage in the discussion about morality and values.  Of course, part of our message has to be that moral values includes the immorality of 45 million uninsured or the immorality of working people who are having trouble raising a family despite working full-time.  That has to be part of the moral equation.  And if we are able to frame things in that fashion, then I think we can be successful.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you and our viewers a portion of your keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in July, where you talked about the red states, the Republican states, and the blue states, Democratic states.  Let's listen.

(Videotape, Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2004):

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.  We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What was your purpose in those words?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, I think what I wanted to indicate is something that at least I found in Illinois and I think this is true across the country.  The American people are a non-ideological people.  They very much are looking for common-sense, practical solutions to the problems that they face.  Oftentimes they've got contradictory senses of various issues and policy positions and I don't think that either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party necessarily capture their deepest dreams when those parties are described in caricature or in policy terms.  And part of the reason I think I've been successful in Illinois and I think that the Democrats can be successful nationally in the future is if we are able to capture some of the complexity of people's lives right now.

I do think that when you go into red states, they're--so-called red states--I think they're troubled with certain excesses with respect to the Patriot Act, but they're also concerned with making sure we're secure against terrorism.  I think that people are concerned about the breakdown of the family but they also don't want to see discrimination against gays and lesbians who they work with and they want to be able to make sure that gays can visit each other in hospitals and be able to inherit property.  So I think that to the extent that we focus on problems where we can build a moral and a political consensus, then I think that we move the country forward and when we are divided and our politics is focused on dividing, then I think we're less successful, not just from the perspective of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party but from the perspective of the nation as a whole.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Mr. Obama, is it possible to find common ground on issues like abortion?  If the president sends to the Senate a candidate for the Supreme Court, who every indication would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, or if the Democrats want to have national legislation which would sanction civil unions for gays and the president opposed it, or the president wants private accounts for Social Security or replace the IRS with a flat tax or a sales tax, can you find common ground on those kinds of issues where there are deeply held political and sometimes moral views?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, look, I think some are more difficult than others. There's no doubt that on the issue of abortion, oftentimes it's very difficult to split the difference, although we can agree on the notion that none of us are pro-abortion and all of us would like to see a reduction in unwanted pregnancies, for example, and we could focus on those issues.  I think that when it comes to Social Security, all of us want to make sure that our senior citizens can retire with dignity and respect.  And everybody has to be open-minded in thinking how do we firm up a system that, in fact, is going to be in difficulty in the coming years.  So I absolutely think that it's possible for us to find common ground.

You know, the president called me this week.  He was extraordinarily gracious in congratulating me.  We both agreed that our wives are sharper than we are, which was nice.  And my sense is, is that if we can disagree without being disagreeable and if we're not involved in the sort of slash-and-burn politics that I think has become the custom in Washington, but we seek out common ground on the enormous challenges that we face ahead, whether it's the global economy that Karl Rove just mentioned and how we make sure that the middle class is, in fact, sustainable in this global competition or we're talking about how we provide the education that our children need so that they can succeed, those are issues where we all share, I think, success and one of the things I told the president was that we all have a stake in seeing him have a successful presidency.  I don't think that the Democrats succeed by rooting against the president in office but we have to be honest where we disagree with him and he's got to make his case where he's presenting issues that we're skeptical about.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think part of your role as a Democrat, the party in opposition, is to on some issues go to the mattresses and fight and resist the president, and perhaps in 2006 the mid-term elections, reverse the fortunes of the party and regain a majority in the Senate?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Well, I don't think the Democrats should think in narrow tactical terms about mid-term elections.  What I do think is let's take the example of tax policy.  I very much believe in reforming the tax system. We've got an extraordinarily complex tax system that's full of loopholes that are exploited by special interests.  I'd like to see those loopholes closed. Now, if the president comes to me and says let's reform the tax system and his agenda is one that would result in a move towards a more regressive tax system in which the middle class and the working class bear a greater burden than they do currently, then I will absolutely resist that.  That from my perspective is not reform.  That's a shift or a continuation of a shift onto the backs of the middle class that I don't think is appropriate.

If, on the other hand, he's interested in closing loopholes, simplifying the tax system, reducing the process in which ordinary working families can apply for a child's credit or an earned income tax credit so that they can support their families more effectively, if they're interested in closing loopholes that incentivize companies to move overseas as opposed to investing in jobs here at home, then I think that I absolutely want to work with him.

I don't expect he's going to agree with me on everything and I think that he certainly has the prerogative as the president to frame the agenda in the way that he thinks is appropriate but I do think that the Democrats have to judge each and every one of these issues on the merits based on our long-standing concerns for providing opportunity for all people.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, you know there's been enormous speculation about your political future.  Will you serve your full six-year term as U.S. senator from Illinois?

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Absolutely.  You know, a little--some of this hype's been a little overblown.  It's flattering, but I have to remind people that I haven't been sworn in yet.  I don't know where the rest rooms are in the Senate.  I'm going to have to figure out how to work the phones, answer constituent mail.  I expect to be in the Senate for quite some time, and hopefully I'll build up my seniority from my current position, which I believe is 99th out of 100.

MR. RUSSERT:  Barack Obama, we thank you for sharing your views.

SEN.-ELECT OBAMA:  Thank you so much.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back with two Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists from The New York Times whose words pack a punch.  William Safire and Maureen Dowd together on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Dowd and Safire together again.


MR. RUSSERT:  The New York Times murderer's row when it comes to columnists.

Maureen Dowd, let me show you and our viewers what you wrote on Thursday about this election.  "The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance, and religious rule.  He doesn't want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagrees to heel.  W. ran a Jihad in America."

That's pretty strong.

MS. MAUREEN DOWD:  Well, I'm not going to take anything away from Karl Rove. I think he ran a brilliant campaign.  And I think Kerry and Shrum ran a lousy campaign.  But basically, they re-ran the '88 campaign.  The '88 campaign was making it seem as though the opponent was vaguely foreign.  Remember when Loretta Lynn said, "Oh, Dukakis.  That's a big--what kind of name is that?" And it was about mining and tolerance.  And Lee Atwater acted as though Willie Horton might move in next to you.  He might become your next-door neighbor. And that's what they did with gays.  A man and his male wife might move in next to you.  I mean, it was the same campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  But do you think that the president ran a Jihad?

MS. DOWD:  Yeah, I think that if you look at the quotes from evangelicals today they're talking about how we're on the eve of destruction and God gave us a reprieve.  You know, we got Satan, you know, away from the White House by defeating Kerry.  I mean, it's very--I think the evangelicals think they're in a holy war now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Safire?

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, what makes a column sing is a fierceness and a passion, and my colleague over here has got it.  I mean, I take a few zaps at people, too, from time to time, but, no, the Republicans do not look on the Democrats as the evil empire.  And the campaign, I would disagree with my colleague, Maureen, who I call Mo and who gave me this tie for Christmas last year.  I would disagree completely that the Democrats ran a bad campaign.  They ran a fine campaign.  They had a very difficult time of figuring out where they stood on Iraq because they had to be against the conduct of the war and say the war was a mistake and yet say we're not going to cut and run.  So they had a basic anomaly facing them.  But Bob Shrum who you referred to there, I've been fighting him for 30, 35 years in various campaigns.  He's a super-duper speechwriter.  Wrote that great speech for Kennedy and...

MR. RUSSERT:  At the '60 convention.

MR. SAFIRE:  Right.

MS. DOWD:  But none for Kerry.

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, it's true.  Kerry could have made a couple of better speeches but he did rather well in debate.  It was a case of two well-run campaigns.  And the Republican campaign, I think, was a little better.

MR. RUSSERT:  What happens now when the president confronts governing in a second term, and there are vacancies on the Supreme Court?  What obligations will he have to religious evangelical Christians in terms of Supreme Court nominees and their positions on abortion and gay rights and so forth?

MR. SAFIRE:  The wonderful thing about Bush is what you see is what you get. And he has said this is the kind of judge I'll appoint.  He very carefully did not go for the litmus test which Kerry did.  There's no turning back on Roe v. Wade.  There's something called stare decisis or decisus in Latin that they believe in very vigorously at the Supreme Court.  You don't overturn a previous court's decisions lightly and I think most Americans are somewhere in the middle on abortion and there's not going to be a revolution here at all.

Same-sex marriage, that had a lot to do with the campaign.  You know, I think the social, political event of the past year was Janet Jackson's exposure of her right breast on television during the Super Bowl.  Why?  It wasn't what she did.  It was the reaction which was fantastic.  I mean, the NFL went up through the roof.  The television network started crying bitterly.  Bloggers exploded.  The FCC started looking into it.  And that was the case of, "Hey, you're going too far.  You know, this is not what we should be doing."  And that sense of, "Hey, you're going too far too fast" affects not just evangelicals but a lot of Americans.  And that permeated this campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think there's a concern of a revolution in the Supreme Court with President Bush's potential appointees regarding abortion and other issues?

MS. DOWD:  Well, I do think that this president unlike his father is his base.  I mean, he's not pandering to the religious right.  He has the religious right.  And I think they've got the government set up now the way they want it.  It's like a no-bid government.  They have one party in control. They have one network.  They like FOX.  They have, you know, everything unilaterally in the country the way it is overseas.

MR. RUSSERT:  You wrote today, "They don't call to our better angels.  They summon our nasty devils."

MS. DOWD:  Yeah, I don't believe all this healing talk.  I think they ran a brilliant and ruthless campaign based on division, and I think that's, you know, how they're going to run the country.

MR. SAFIRE:  I believe the healing talk.  I don't think there's an evil empire over this.

MS. DOWD:  But you believe in privacy issues.

MR. SAFIRE:  You bet.  Right.  I'm a libertarian.

MS. DOWD:  I mean, you must be scared of what you're hearing now.

MR. SAFIRE:  No, I'm not, because I know that after a bitter campaign, a tough campaign, it's over.  I mean, this campaign has lasted forever.  This has been almost two years of campaigning.  Enough already.  Now, the president said, you know, "We're going to do these things in foreign affairs and we're going to do these things in domestic affairs.  Let's get started."  And I think he'll get started fairly fast.  And you'll see some real progress.

MR. RUSSERT:  In fact, you wrote a column on Thursday, Bill Safire, making these observations.  "...there's a rhythm to politics--a time to divide and a time to unite.  ... Danger comes from the temptation to bull ahead that awaits lopsided government.  Bush has relegitimated White House power backed up by a more rightist House of Representatives, now bolstered by a Senate with a 50-to-45 Republican majority ...[and] a Supreme Court already tilted slightly rightward will soon be ready for an infusion of new justices.  This imbalance will ultimately trigger Rayburn's law:  `When you get too big a majority,' said Speaker Sam Rayburn, a Democrat, after FDR's 1936 landslide, `you're immediately in trouble.'"

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, first, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to pronounce relegitimated.  But, of course, we've got a big majority now.  The 55-45 in the Senate is substantial.  It's not enough to overcome a filibuster, but you'll be able to pick up a few Democratic votes in the filibuster.  It means that Hagel and McCain and Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter...

MR. RUSSERT:  Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee.

MR. SAFIRE:  ...right--are important but they don't hold the whip hand that they did last time out.  Now, you're in the majority.  You run the Congress, you run the White House, and you tilt in the Supreme Court 5-to-4.  That's a lot.  And you've got to be worried about that.  And there will be splits in the party, and there will be those in the party who said, "Hey, look, the evangelicals really delivered for you."  But there will be others in the party who say, "Look, we did very well with Hispanics, you know, and they're not all this way."  And so you can just feel that after a year or so, there will be divisions in the party.  That's American politics, both parties.  And, frankly, that's a good thing because you don't want lopsided government.  You don't want one side running roughshod over the other.

MR. RUSSERT:  And second terms, Ronald Reagan.  We had Iran Contra; Richard Nixon, Watergate; Bill Clinton, impeachment.  Second terms can be very...

MR. SAFIRE:  Yeah.  George Washington had a tough second term.

MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd.

MS. DOWD:  Well, you look at the paper today and it's--you know, again, our appointment at Samarra, our kids are dying over there every day, and Bush is going to have to figure out what to do about that.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think happens to the Cabinet?  Colin Powell, Donald...

MS. DOWD:  Well, Condi Rice, you know, never did her job as national security adviser.  She was Bush's workout partner and foreign policy governess, and now, they're talking about putting her in charge of defense.  So a lot of people who didn't do their jobs are going to get better jobs, and someone was saying that the Senate is so conservative now, even Paul Wolfowitz could get confirmed.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think?

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, first, I think Don Rumsfeld is going to stay.  And I think there was a subliminal ad--remember those pack of wolves that came at you? The subliminal point there is that Paul Wolfowitz is staying and may be national security adviser.

MS. DOWD:  Why hasn't he been fired?

MR. SAFIRE:  Because he's a brilliant man and he has a good idea of where the country and the world should go.  Now...

MR. RUSSERT:  And you were shaking your head when Maureen was making her comments about Dr. Rice.

MR. SAFIRE:  Yeah.  I think her future will probably be at the head of the State Department.  But I don't think Colin Powell is going to leave so quickly, what with what's going on in the Middle East and all.  It could be that we're not going to get a sudden revolution in the Cabinet.  It'll be a steady thing.  One thing you can count on Bush is he's fairly well-organized, and he'll move fairly steadily.  We'll get some new faces.  I would hope there's a place for Tom Daschle on some commission, a bipartisan commission on...

MR. RUSSERT:  So George Bush will reach out magnanimously to the defeated minority leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle?

MR. SAFIRE:  And whether he decides to accept some idea like that, great. And John Breaux is a natural for Social Security or something like that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Democratic senator from Louisiana.

Maureen Dowd, what should the Democratic strategy be?  Should they be the party in opposition who resists the president on the Supreme Court nominations, resists Social Security reform, resists tax reform and say, "We'll see you at the mid-term elections in 2006"?

MS. DOWD:  Well, I hope they can snap out of this dominant-submissive thing that we saw in the campaign, where they were so easily able to goad Kerry into all these ridiculous mistakes and I hope they can get some gumption.  But I think, you know, they're going to have to think carefully.  I know Hillary Clinton's plan was that if Bush had two terms and yanked the country far to the right that that would set up the mood for her to be less polarizing, but in a way I think it's the reverse.  I mean, she got one Southern man but can she get a lot more?  I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT:  When you look at that electoral...

MR. SAFIRE:  Here we are talking about a Hillary vs. McCain race already and we just--we haven't even started this administration.

MS. DOWD:  But that's what Tim and I love.

MR. RUSSERT:  But when you look at that red map and the blue map, that red sweep across the country, can Hillary Clinton win a state like Florida or Ohio or Iowa, states necessary in order to be elected president?

MS. DOWD:  I think even the Hollywood money people are saying they've got to get the party back from the Clinton wing.  They can't, you know, keep nominating these Northeast liberals.  They have to look for people who can win.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet she was someone who supported the war, supported money for the troops, is now on the Armed Services Committee, actually articulating a fairly hawkish foreign policy.

MS. DOWD:  I think she's a very clever politician but she would be too easy to stereotype the way John Kerry was.

MR. RUSSERT:  So what posture should Democrats take?  What--should they resist the president, fight the president, cooperate with the president?  What do you do with a party in opposition?

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, I would disagree with Mo on Hillary.  I'm giving her another look.  I originally called her a congenital liar and tried to get out of it by saying what I said was she's a congenial lawyer.  But she certainly is developing as a good senator and will be a good candidate.  And yeah, Tim, I think she can compete in Illinois, which is her hometown.  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, that's a blue state.  What about Florida, Ohio...

MR. SAFIRE:  Ohio she could--well, it depends on what she does and how she relates to this new administration.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, here's what the Democrats are saying, that states like New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada were all Bush states, red states, but with changing demographics, increasing Hispanic population, they could tilt Democratic in 2008.

MR. SAFIRE:  Sure.  And I remember how I felt, just the way you feel, in 1960, when I was working for Nixon against Kennedy, and I was devastated.  It was a tight election.  It was very close, much closer than this one.  But people come back.  The pendulum swings.  It's a great country this way, and I'm pretty optimistic about it.

MS. DOWD:  The Democrats are going to have to get someone much more appealing and articulate.  They're going to have to go out and look for better candidates.


MS. DOWD:  Well, they're going to have to develop them like your previous guest.  I mean, they're going to have to look for people like that.

MR. SAFIRE:  Yeah, he was impressive.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's to be the last word.  Bill Safire, Maureen Dowd, to be continued.  Keep on writing, packing it with a punch, from The New York Times, Murderers' Row.  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.  MEET THE PRESS, 57 years old today, the longest-running television program in the history of the world.  See you next week.