MR. RUSSERT: In the midst of the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, what message do you think it sends to the world when someone like you says that President Bush is dangerous, reckless and arrogant?
SEN. BYRD: I hope that the world will listen. This book constitutes a wake-up call, a wake-up call not only to our own people but to the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what you also say in the book. Back in October of 2002, only 23 senators opposed a resolution authorizing the president to go to war. "In the end, only 22 other members voted to oppose this despicable grant of authority. ...Never in my half century of congressional service had the United States Senate proved unworthy of its great name. What would the framers have thought? In this terrible show of weakness, the Senate left an indelible stain upon its own escutcheon. Having revered the Senate during my service for more than forty years, I was never pained so much."
You say that the 22 senators who joined with you were profiles in courage, and those who didn't vote that way had shown weakness. John Kerry, candidate for president, John Edwards, candidate for vice president, your Democratic Party, voted for the war. Are they weak?
SEN. BYRD: They were misled. I'm confident of that. And I have a feeling that that is why they voted as they did.
MR. RUSSERT: Misled by whom?
SEN. BYRD: Misled by this administration, misled by this president, misled by Mr. Rumsfeld, misled by the CIA. Mostly, though, however...Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: Intentional?
SEN. BYRD: I can't say it was the intention, but it was what caused many senators, I'm sure, to vote as they did. And we have to remember that this was in an atmosphere where to vote against it and to speak out against this administration took courage. And many senators were fearful that they would be called unpatriotic if they did not vote with the administration.
MR. RUSSERT: You seem to suggest that John Kerry and John Edwards lacked courage.
SEN. BYRD: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying they lacked the facts. I didn't have the facts any more than anybody else, but I had studied this administration; I had listened to what Karl Rove had said in Austin, Texas, when he addressed the Republican National Committee in January of 2001 when he indicated that this war, this homeland security subject, all of this, was a horse on which they could ride right through the upcoming election. He indicated that the people trusted the Republicans more to defend this country, and it was his suggestion that the Republican strategy should be to use this in order to win the election. I read about that. And then, as a result of my reading that, every time I saw the president on camera with the backdrop of the military, of the National Guard, I remembered what Karl Rove said. And I think the administration was carrying it right through on his advice.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you another excerpt from your book: "We keep hearing the refrain, `Stay the course.' What is the course? Is it that we continue sending American troops to be used as sitting ducks in an Iraqi shooting gallery? How long are we going to be fed the pap that fighting the terrorists on the streets of Baghdad saves us from fighting terrorists on the streets of New York City or Washington, D.C.?"
What would you do, pull all the American troops out immediately?
SEN. BYRD: No. No, we made a mistake. It was wrong to enter this war. There were two wars going on: one in Afghanistan, which I fully supported. That was a war that was begun by the--those who destructed the world towers. That was an attack on America. I was 100 percent behind the president in his reaction to that war.
But then a second war has come along, in which another country did not attack us, there was not an imminent danger from Iraq. This was Mr. Bush's war. I was against it. It was a mistake, I said at the time. I say now that it is a mistake. I'd never say that we should pull our troops out. I think we should work, having entered into this, to bring about an honorable way to bring our troops home.
MR. RUSSERT: Would that, however, make Iraq a haven for terrorists if we were to abandon it?
SEN. BYRD: It is already a haven for terrorists. It was not before Mr. Bush attacked this country that had not provoked this country by an attack. We attacked Iraq. We've never done that. This was part of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive attack. It was wrong. That's a dangerous doctrine. And I simply say that we have to do what we have to do, and we have to have a plan to bring our men home with honor, but it's very hard because the Bush administration insulted some of our friends and referred to old Europe, and they turned the back of their hands to the U.N. And so we have to go it alone, almost, because we're losing the support that we have over there with other countries.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you another excerpt from the book: "Bush's power has been wielded with arrogance, calculation, and disdain for dissenting views. The Constitution's careful separation of powers has been breached, and its checks and balances circumvented. Behind closed doors, schemes have been hatched, with information denied to the legislative branch and policy makers shielded from informing the people or Congress. In fact, there appears to be little respect for the role of Congress. There is virtually no attempt to build consensus through the hard work of reaching across the aisle to find common ground. Real consultation does not exist."Advertise
You've worked with 11 presidents. Is that any different than with the previous 10 presidents?
SEN. BYRD: It's very different. I have never seen such secrecy. I've not--I have never experienced such a feeling of disdain for the Congress by this administration. And this is what I've been talking about. We saw it--I see it in the Appropriations Committee, where the administration continues to try to seek more power, grasp more power. This administration does not like oversight by the Congress. And it is exceedingly dangerous. I've never seen anything like that in my experience. Nixon...
MR. RUSSERT: Nixon had secrecy.
SEN. BYRD: ...had secrecy. And some of his people are in this administration: the vice president, the secretary of defense, former secretary of the Treasury, Mr. O'Neill.
MR. RUSSERT: And this is worse?
SEN. BYRD: Far worse. I've never experienced anything like this. I've never felt as afraid of what-- where we're headed as I feel now.
MR. RUSSERT: Aren't the Democrats also responsible, however, for the gridlock and for the excessive partisanship?
SEN. BYRD: There's no question about it. It isn't the president and this administration alone. Our own Congress lost its backbone when it voted to shift the constitutional power to declare war to this president, to this one man. The framers must have been spinning in their graves because they intended for such a decision to be cast by--not just by one house of Congress but by both houses of Congress. And now we have--we shifted. Congress was weak, and I was ashamed of the Senate for the first time in my 45 years, that it would shift this power and remove itself and take away its voice. It turned over to this one man the decision to use our military forces as he would, when he would, where he would, and there's no sunset provision in that. There was at least a sunset provision in Tonkin Gulf resolution. There's no sunset provision in this power.
I said to myself and to my colleagues, "Look, if we're going to be silly enough and unsensible enough to shift this power to this president, let's at least put a sunset provision in it." I offered an amendment, got 31 votes, including my own. I could hardly believe it. I was ashamed. But not only has the Congress failed, the American people have been unthinking and they've not asked questions. And finally, the press, the media itself, bought into this once the president's drums of war started. I call it his drums and I don't mean his individually alone, but his administration. But in particular, this leader, when he loosed the dogs of war, the press fell in line and the press failed to ask the questions that it should have asked. So there are a lot of people at fault here.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, West Virginia, five electoral votes, went for George W. Bush in 2000 rather than Al Gore. You had advised Al Gore to temper some of his environmental comments so as to not lose West Virginia. On the John Kerry for President Web site, he refers to coal as a dirty energy source, which President Bush alluded to when he was in West Virginia recently. Can John Kerry carry West Virginia if he continues to call coal a dirty energy source?
SEN. BYRD: Look, I'm the son of a coal miner. I married a coal miner's daughter. I know a lot about coal. I know a lot about the Depression. Yes, coal is a dirty energy source. But look what we're trying to do. We're trying to clean it up. I've appropriated moneys over the years for coal research to make it cleaner. So, yes, he can carry West Virginia. He will carry West Virginia if he continues to stand up for the liberties of the people.Advertise
And we've got to remember that, it's the people back home who are to be remembered. And this Constitution, John Kerry believes in this Constitution. I've talked with him. I've told him he should go to West Virginia. He should shake hands with the people. He should be at their level and get a little coal dust on his hands, get some of that dirty dust on his hands and on his face and live in spirit with the working people of this country, the coal miners, and always remember that sovereignty rests, John Kerry, sovereignty rests with the people of this country. And it's this book here--why I wrote "Losing America" was to help save this book, the Constitution.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Robert C. Byrd, we thank you for sharing your views.
SEN. BYRD: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, a debate on homeland security, and our political roundtable with the very latest on George W. Bush vs. John F. Kerry. It is all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Homeland security, Bush-Cheney vs. Kerry-Edwards after this roundtable brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: Homeland Security Committee Chairman Chris Cox, Dr. Stephen Flynn, welcome both to MEET THE PRESS.
DR. STEPHEN FLYNN: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Flynn, your new book, "America the Vulnerable," page two, some very chilling comments. Let me read them to the American people. "From water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids, and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks, and cargo containers; to the cyber backbone that underpins the information age in which we live, the measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and hackers, never mind determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of average citizens as they carry on their daily routine with an unwarranted sense of confidence."
That is very sobering.Advertise
DR. FLYNN: Well, it's very sobering business. Tim, the challenge here, I guess, that I try to address in the book, is that, you know, for two centuries this country has been essentially on a joyride, where we could deal with security as essentially something we did away from our shores. We live on the most peaceful corner of the planet. You know, we have big oceans to the east and west and friendly neighbors to the north and south, never have any enemy boots on our grounds.
And so when we think about national security, it's something we often do on the soil of our allies. We have troops fully deployed on the soil of our adversaries. What was new about 9/11 was that terrorists attacked from within using our own critical infrastructure--in this case domestic airliners--against us, and it was we trying to sort it out afterwards that generated a lot of the costs.
MR. RUSSERT: But it's been three years nearly. Why aren't we better protected?
DR. FLYNN: I think one of the problems we're finding is that we've set this thing up as if we can deal with it over there, we don't have to deal with the hard problems of our vulnerability here at home. That's one problem. But the other is this is really hard. This critical infrastructure that we've built that underpins our society--these are the networks of transportation, logistics, energy, finance and so forth-- information age that we're in--these are global networks that were driven by market forces with four drivers in mind: How do we make it as efficient as possible? How to make it as reliable as possible? How do we make it as low cost as possible and open as possible? Security was viewed as undermining costs, undermining efficiency, undermining reliability and making the system more closed. For three decades we've been building networks that underpin our power with no security in them.
So now we're trying to retrofit it. You can't do it overnight. But my concern is we're not dealing with it near the level of urgency that the threat requires us, because we're seduced into believing that we can fight this terrorist over there and not deal with the difficult decisions--living with risks, living with some expense--of addressing our vulnerabilities here at home.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Cox, Time magazine has an excerpt of some of Mr. Flynn's book. They have this photograph in tomorrow's Time magazine. That's the Vincent Thomas Bridge near a cargo facility in the Port of Los Angeles. That's an automobile freighter. We have three million containers annually, 18,000 daily, through the Port of Los Angeles. And yet how many of those are protected? How many of those are inspected? How safe are we?
REP. COX: There's no question that--this book, first of all, is a great read; second, that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach--one of the scenarios in chapter two of this book deals with Terminal Island--are vulnerable, as are our other ports, to terrorism; third, that there's an extraordinary amount that still needs to be accomplished. I don't think you're going to find any disagreement between Steve and me on the subject of how much remains to be done. I do think that we need to focus some attention on how much has been accomplished in the three years since September 11, in particular, with respect to port security, where we spent almost no money and no attention prior to September 11.
As Steve points out in his book, as many others have pointed out, including Sandia National Laboratories, which had a contract to study Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, we've got to go up that supply chain. We've got to get to where these containers are loaded overseas. It's too late by the time something comes into one our harbors, one of our ports. And so with the container security initiative, we've gone around the world. Two-thirds of the shipping that comes into those ports comes from 20 megaports around the world, and every single one of those now is participating in the container security initiative, so that we're inspecting the high-risk cargo overseas before it gets to our ports. That's a beginning.
There is an enormous amount of work still to be done, and we're now moving on to the next phase of the container security initiative, which is going to bring in more countries, such as Malaysia, smaller countries but still important, so that we can get our arms around the entire problem. And we've got to move beyond what we're calling high-risk cargo, recognizing that people can hack into the computer manifest, as Steve points out in his book. There are abundant ways for terrorists to beat and defeat our systems.
MR. RUSSERT: To Dr. Flynn's point rather than saying, "It's over there," the problems here, in light of the fact that we have not found weapons of mass destruction, the primary rationale given to the American people for the war in Iraq, would it have not been better to spend the $200 billion we've spent in Iraq back here on securing our cargos, our ports, our cyberspace?
REP. COX: There are weapons of mass destruction abroad, including all of those weapons of mass destruction that the United Nations inventoried that Saddam Hussein had and are not accounted for right now, not the nuclear weapons program that we had flawed intelligence about, but weapons that we know that were stockpiled in Iraq. We've also got radiological loose-nuke problems or low-level radiological devices, again, such as Steve points out in his book. A lot of these problems are going to come to us from overseas. Without...Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: But was there an imminent threat in Iraq?
REP. COX: I don't think there's any question that when you've got a guy who is responsible for having murdered over one million of his own people--we've discovered over 400,000 people in mass graves, some of it with chemical weapons; when you've got the 9-11 Commission documenting the contacts with international terrorists--they, of course, debunked the notion that there was any planning by Saddam Hussein in connection with the attacks on America of 9/11, but they also found that there was plenty of intercourse between Saddam Hussein and global terrorism. I think removing a person who is that hostile to the United States, who was providing safe haven for people like Abu Zarqawi, who, remember, we chased out of Afghanistan--that's where he was. He was under the protection of the Taliban. He was given safe harbor by Saddam Hussein. He got a prosthetic fitted because we blew off his leg while he was trying to get out. Zarqawi is now continuing to lead global terror from Iraq. But when he was in Afghanistan he was focused on the development of chemical and biological weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Flynn, do you believe that the $200 billion spent on the war in Iraq has made it safer if we had spent the $200 billion here at home, in effect, toughening, strengthening, our infrastructure?
DR. FLYNN: Well, we're a wealthy country, and we're the most powerful country in the world. I think we can afford both an offense and a defense. But my concern is that we have put all our eggs, or way too many of our eggs, into the offense basket. We have spent a total since 9/11, in three years, on our commercial seaports, 361 of them--we've provided grants, a total of $500 million. That probably sounds like a lot to the American people. That's what we spend every four days in Iraq. That's what we all spend buying four F-22 fighters. We still think that we're--almost the pocketbook is wide open for traditional national security, but we're still quibbling, really, on the margins about how we deal with these very vulnerable infrastructures here at home.
Part of the problem is because the private sector owns and operates so much of this material. And the pervasive wisdom is that the market should take care of itself. But this is a very difficult thing for the market to do by itself. It needs standards, and it needs to know they're uniformly enforced, so the good guys aren't at a competitive disadvantage for people who pay footloose and fancy free. That requires a government capacity to set requirements with private sector and partnership and to have the means to provide oversight that we really don't have much capability in right now to deal with.
And one of the big messages I try to make in the book here that I think we're struggling with: We need to come clean with how vulnerable we are with the American people. I mean, it's a bit of the hangover, the Cold War, that we deal with security as something exclusively done by the federal government while we pursue happiness. I think there's something wrong in a paradigm that says, "You shop and travel, Americans. We'll take care of you," when we, the people, are the most likely target, and it's what we own that's most likely to be sabotaged. We need to be invited into this conversation. And I think the way you deal with it is go after the cloak of secrecy. You're not talking about giving road maps, but you come clean. You say, "We have huge sectors that are right now largely unprotected, even for the amateur hackers."
We, as a country, have to decide, "How much risk are we willing to live with it, or how much resources are we willing to invest?" I do think we're being distracted by this belief that somehow we can take care of the problem over there, so we don't have to deal with the hardship here. But I think the Americans are being disenfranchised because they are told that it's being done, but we can't talk about it because we've got to keep it secret. Don't want the bad guys to know.
MR. RUSSERT: We could never afford 100 percent protection. We'd have to close down our freedoms, our liberties, our borders.
DR. FLYNN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: But on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, how well protected are we right now?
DR. FLYNN: Well, if I would put it maybe on a 1-to-10 scale here, where 1 were a bull's-eye and 10 were secure, we were 1 on 9/11. Today we're a 3. That's why I'm sort of saying that we're still failing. I just can't give a passing grade. But I take heart with the--take umbrage with the notion that security is about closing us down and shutting us down. This is a tricky concept, but if you talked about safety 100 years ago to the captains of industry and said, "Look, you have to deal with the fact that a lot of people are being hurt in your factories and that you're spilling stuff into the environment and you have to address these concerns," they said, "You'll shut down the free market if we do anything about it." It's not an either/or. It's about saying there's a risk that people with malicious intent, vs. acts of God or vs. mechanical error--that will attack these systems. And therefore, given that risk, what's of value, what safeguards we have to put in place. And we can layer security in.Advertise
The challenge is like this, Tim. It's like we have a split ranch home and we have--trying to make handicapped accessible, all right? When you try to do that for your elderly parent, it looks ugly, it costs a lot and doesn't work well. But when you build it into the design, when you make the house handicapped-accessible in the design, the aesthetics are good, it works well and the cost isn't that bad. As we build our systems and networks, we're constantly doing this. Building security into them is a way we can go so we don't become a nation of moats and castles.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to an issue that you write about rather forcefully: chemical plants. And on page 118 of your book, you say this: "It is crucial that we dramatically improve security of the chemical industry. Our enemies do not need to smuggle chemical weapons across our borders. ...Chemical facilities and the thousands of tons of chemicals that move each day around the U.S. on trucks, trains, and barges could be targeted by terrorists to devastating effect. All told, there are about 15,000 chemical plants, refineries, and other sites in the U.S. that store large quantities of hazardous materials on their property. ... There are no federal laws that establish minimum security standards at chemical facilities."
Congressman Cox, tomorrow in your committee, Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts is going to move a motion, a resolution, which would, in effect, call for protecting chemical plants and the moving of chemicals around the country. Will you support that legislation?
REP. COX: Well, the White House, as you know, also supports similar legislation. President Bush is very keen on making sure that there are homeland security regulations of chemical plants. In our legislation tomorrow which authorizes the Homeland Security Department, we're going to have a little bit of a jurisdictional problem because the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives has jurisdiction over chemical plant security. So whether we'll be able to get that on germaneness grounds, I'm not sure. The main point, the substantive point, the very solid one--we do need to move forward on this, and I think we will.
MR. RUSSERT: This year?
REP. COX: I certainly hope so, although you have to recognize that Congress has very few legislative days yet, and we can't get any legislation through the Senate because of bipartisan gridlock. We expect that when we pass our homeland security authorization act in the House of Representatives that there will be no counterpart on the Senate side. Part of that is because, of course, the Senate doesn't even have a homeland security committee. And we are hoping, with the impetus of a strong recommendation from the 9-11 Commission, that Congress has to clean up its act and Congress has to get focused on its own oversight, both on the intelligence side and the homeland security side, that we will have permanent homeland security committees in both the House and in the Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: Critics who've been watching your committee say that the chemical industry has a huge influence on your committee, that they've given $6.5 million in soft money between 2000 and 2002, and that's why nothing's being done. Also, Dr. Flynn writes in his book about Congress: "In the House of Representatives, the work of the Select Committee [on Homeland Security] is complicated by the fact that it has fifty members, most of whom are powerful chairmen of standing committees. ...[The] members seem more intent on ensuring that the new committee does not encroach on their turf, rather than working toward the special committee's mandate. The result is that DHS officials end up practically living on Capitol Hill, responding to legislative inquiries ..."
Why can't Congress set aside these turf fights and jurisdictional elbowing and focus on chemical plants and their security immediately?
REP. COX: This turf problem is near and dear to my heart and I want to address it. But I want to go back first to the little bullet you had about the chemical industry. The chemical industry supports, as far as I know, the Markey legislation, the Corzine legislation, what the White House is proposing. The chemical industry is in support of regulations so that there are standards across the board so that we can protect plants. So to whomever they're donating goes either credit or demerit for that support.
MR. RUSSERT: But then nothing will happen tomorrow because of jurisdictional infighting.
REP. COX: But the jurisdiction problem is a much more serious one. When Congress reformed the executive branch it did not take the next step immediately and reform itself. I give enormous credit to the speaker of the House, Denny Hastert. We met with the president--I'm, as you know, on the House leadership, we met with the president very shortly after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and both the president and the speaker said they wanted to have single authorization and appropriation for this new department. We created the third-largest Cabinet right off of the bat. But we don't have one authorizing committee for it. We do now have one source of appropriations, of funding. Again, that was leadership in the House. The Senate followed suit. We've got to do the next thing, otherwise you're going to have the secretary of Homeland Security and all of these different important functions within that department coming up to Capitol Hill and reporting literally to every single committee and subcommittee in the Senate and almost as bad in the House.Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the chemical industry wants regulations?
DR. FLYNN: Well, I think it's when you get down to the nitty-gritty that they want some standards but they're very interested in there being very minimal oversight. There are fears for costs. The chemical industry's under tremendous pressure in the international marketplace to basically stay alive, and they're very fearful that security will cost a lot.
But, Tim, I'm sure the audience listening to this at home is wondering, we're a nation at war. We had Tom Ridge stand up in front of the American people just 10 days ago and say "The terrorists are here. They're planning attacks potentially before the next election," and it sounds like business like usual in Washington. This is something we need to confront. There are men dying overseas and women dying overseas for the war on terrorism but we're not taking near the same effort here at home.
In the final--I am an optimist about this. This is not--there's scary stuff in this book, but I believe what we haven't done is draw on the strength of our society. We're a great society. We had a great generation. In your book you talked about your father's generation, how everybody chipped in. We can deal with this problem. I draw inspiration from the words of a president who dealt with the greatest crisis of the nation, when he said this, that "Dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with uncertainly and we must rise with the occasion. As the case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." That was Abraham Lincoln in December, 1862 in a letter to Congress. We must act anew, we must think anew about this vital threat.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, why not tomorrow say, "Never mind this process and this infighting. Let's today protect our chemical plants and pass regulations which will help make America safer"?
REP. COX: Well, as Rodney King said, "Why can't we all just get along?" It's a wonderful sentiment. We've got to, however, move legislation through the process. I think what we're focusing attention on here is that reform of Congress and the way Congress is organized is as vitally important as was reform and overhaul of the executive branch.
But to return to a point we opened with, we have accomplished an extraordinary amount in a very short period of time. It took me 10 years to privatize the national helium reserve, which I did with Barney Frank and Bernie Sanders, the only Socialist member of Congress. We had bipartisan support. It took a decade. Look at what we've accomplished in just three years since September 11 in standing up the Department of Homeland Security, in 60 percent increase in what the FBI is doing, likewise with the Coast Guard and port security. We're spending more than 1,000 percent increased dollars on first responder grants for homeland security. We've got counterterrorism support for countries around the world. We've got the first international maritime regulations in history with countries all over the world now subscribing and beginning to implement these changes. None of this would have been possible if we weren't thinking anew. I think the president's leadership on this has been decisive and strong, eliminating al-Qaeda, taking care of terrorist havens, having an offense as well as a defense. All of these are important pieces and yet we have miles to go.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's hope it all works. Congressman Chris Cox, Dr. Stephen Flynn, thank you very much.
DR. FLYNN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Next up, George W. Bush vs. John F. Kerry. Then our MEET THE PRESS Minute: kids campaigning for their dads. All that coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. E.J. Dionne, John Harwood, welcome both.
John Harwood, you interviewed John Kerry Thursday afternoon. This is what The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday: "Derided by the bush team as a flip-flopping legislator, [Sen. Kerry] made the same charge about shifts in the president's position following the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, among other setbacks. `I don't trust this administration's definition of where they're going or what they're going to do. They've already shifted everything. They shifted the reason for the war. They're capable of shifting anything.'"
Is this campaign going to be one about who's the biggest flip-flopper?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: Well, it's going to be a very, very negative campaign in the fall. John Kerry is trying to turn back that critique that the Bush administration and the Bush-Cheney campaign launched fairly effectively this spring saying that John Kerry is somebody who takes all sides on issues. And what John Kerry is trying to do, now that he is about to receive the attention of the American people, is make them understand that he is a Democrat from Massachusetts who is a strong leader. I asked him in this interview, "What do you want to be the one takeaway message from your convention about you?" and he said, "That I'm a strong leader." That's what we're going to hear about for several weeks now.
MR. RUSSERT: E.J. Dionne, in your book "Stand Up and Fight Back" and in your column on Friday, you wrote this: "The late Lee Atwater"--who was the chairman of the Republican Party--"pulled the first George Bush from a 17-point deficit to a clear victory in the '88 election." Former President Bush beat Dukakis by some 7 points. "Atwater was brilliant at finding killer issues that buried political opponents. [Some] Bush attacks are right out of the Atwater playbook. Bush has developed a nice, light formula for pushing his `flip-flop' charge against Kerry. `If you disagree with John Kerry on most any issue,' Bush told a crowd in Wisconsin, `you may just have caught him on the wrong day.' Atwater would warn the Democrats to watch their backs on this one."
MR. E.J. DIONNE: Well, right now I think if there's a drift in this election it's toward Kerry, and the reason I say that is because when an incumbent president is at below 40 percent approval at this stage, and in a majority of the polls the president is running a little behind Kerry, that's a very bad sign for the incumbent.
MR. RUSSERT: Some polls he's mid-40 percent.
MR. DIONNE: Right. But anything below 50 percent--I'm sorry--means the incumbent is in trouble. So that I thought about Atwater and tried to figure out how would Atwater shake this race up, and it seems to me that the biggest asset the Bush people think they have is the fact the president was president on 9/11, and so they want to keep voters from getting to Kerry. I've done a lot of traveling in the last month, and have run into a lot of Bush voters who really don't want to vote for him again, would like to have an alternative. The Bush people want to build a wall between those voters and John Kerry and say, "You may not like Bush, but you can't get to Kerry," and I think that's at the heart of their strategy now, and it's why Kerry is gonna counterattack. You will not be able to count the number of times you hear the word "strength" at the Democratic National Convention this coming week.
MR. RUSSERT: And we heard the word "values" all week long from both campaigns: George Bush saying, "This state is going to vote for me, the South is going to vote for me because I have your values, and the senator from Massachusetts does not." John Kerry counters, saying, "What are values? Guaranteeing people work and health care and so forth." What do you make of it, John?
MR. HARWOOD: Values debate is fascinating. It was a big asset for George W. Bush in 2000 against Al Gore when you had a country at peace and with relative prosperity. Not clear that values are going to play as decisive a role now when you've got big issues on the table, on the economy and Iraq. But for George W. Bush, he's trying to establish that gut-level connection he has with voters. He and John Kerry may have both gone to prep school, but John Kerry looks like the guy who fit right in. George W. Bush is the guy who maybe didn't quite belong there. That's an asset for him; that's a good thing with swing voters.
John Kerry, on the other hand--look at him on values. He has--first of all, look at some of the things he's not saying. You don't hear him talking about the assault weapons ban, which is going to expire in a few weeks. Guns is an issue that was toxic for Al Gore in 2000 because a lot of swing voters thought the Democratic ticket was going to take their guns away. They're not talking about that. I was with John Kerry in West Virginia. He talked a lot about values, and he made that link, health care as a value. He's not all that fluid in that kind of language, talking about it overtly. But he is very fluent in the language of war service, and that's something that connects him to a lot of these downscale swing voters, whose sons and daughters are over in Iraq right now.Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: E.J., how did values become a conservative issue?
MR. DIONNE: Well, you know, conservatives used this issue very effectively starting in the '70s, where they were really trying to split off groups from the Democratic Party, especially blue-collar whites, whose social views and moral views are moderate to conservative but whose economic interests had long been tied to the New Deal. And I think you're seeing that happen again. One of the most significant stories is the newspapers today is a New York Times headline: "Hourly pay in U.S. not keeping up pace with price rises." Kerry and Edwards want to appeal to those blue-collar voters on the basis of their interests.
The other thing is I think Democrats and liberals became--almost ceded the word "morality" to conservatives and Republicans. And so you're at a point in our society where somebody says "morality," you figure they're going to talk about sex, whereas morality has always been about our obligations to the community, our obligations to work harder, our obligations to the poor. And I think it's vital for Democrats and liberals to broaden this discussion, not run away from values but to say values are about a lot of different aspects of our lives.
MR. RUSSERT: You see that debate within the Catholic Church, where some Catholics focusing on the issue of abortion; others are saying, "Let's also include the death penalty, the war in Iraq, taking care of the poor" and so forth.
MR. DIONNE: Right. Exactly right. I mean, and, of course, you have some Catholics who are-- seamless garment people, as the term goes, who take the whole group of issues together. And those voters, Catholic...
MR. RUSSERT: The late Cardinal Bernardin, "The seamless web of life."
MR. DIONNE: Yes. And I think those voters are precisely the kind of voters whom both parties are going after in starting this debate about values. And it's a question of not only which they choose to emphasize but how they pull them together. If you don't talk about morality in American politics, you're going to lose, I think.
MR. RUSSERT: The New York Times had a front-page piece: rumors about Vice president Cheney being dropped from the ticket, being replaced by John McCain or Colin Powell. That seems to have subsided rather dramatically on Friday when we saw these pictures coming out of Lansing, Michigan, one John McCain endorsing wholeheartedly and campaigning with Dick Cheney. Let's listen:
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): In short, my friends, Vice President Cheney is not just another pretty face.
MR. RUSSERT: John Harwood, reference there, perhaps, to John Edwards as well?
MR. HARWOOD: Oh, you bet. But, you know, this is a story that was really annoying to the White House. It's a lot of fun for people in the press to speculate about what might happen on the ticket. I talked to one White House official last week, asked about the rumors about Cheney. He said, "This is the last time I'm answering this question. It's not going to happen."
You look at the dynamics of the race. Dick Cheney is a drag in certain respects. He's not popular. His numbers are very bad among swing voters, among Independent voters. But among the Republican voters, Tim, in our NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Dick Cheney's positives were 72; his negative was 8. Conservatives like this guy. And Bush would have problems not just with his conservative base if he dumped Cheney, but look at the overall asset that George Bush brings. He is a strong leader who takes a position and sticks with it. If he threw Dick Cheney over the side, he'd have big problems.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, John Kerry said as much on the "Don Imus" radio show: "It would be the biggest flip flop in American history." The five Bush supporters I spoke to all said the same thing: Cheney's an asset. He's a strong advocate and defender of the Bush administration. He's an anchor to the conservative base. He helps the president govern. And, also, if you look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain addressing prime time the Republican Convention, suddenly to say Dick Cheney is no longer wanted would create great havoc for this president.
MR. DIONNE: Well, this president and his advisers, I think, know that they have a big problem in the middle of the electorate, among Independents and moderate Republicans, which is why they've choreographed the Republican convention that way. And the line they have to walk is to keep the conservatives happy but make some gestures toward the moderates. I thought that McCain's speech was-- the subtext was, "Please don't put me on this ticket. I'm glad to have Dick Cheney there." But John is right, if you dump Cheney, it would look like a form of weakness. And Cheney does Bush a favor, in fact, because I think some of Cheney's unpopularity--it's not just Halliburton. It's that he took a stronger position on all these national security issues than the president did. So he's absorbing critique that, if Cheney disappeared, as Rich Lowry of the National Review said, would all turn to Bush, which is why I think he's going to keep Cheney.
MR. RUSSERT: But the subtext in all these--John McCain also said that Dick Cheney was the deputy commander in chief. Teresa Heinz, John Kerry's wife, said that John Edwards was beautiful and her husband was smart. It's so fascinating listening very carefully to the fine print of this campaign.
MR. HARWOOD: Oh, yeah, and there's a lot of--I mean, part of the Bush campaign's critique of John Edwards during the primaries was that he was too pretty; referred to him as the Breck girl of the campaign. But John Edwards is a very effective spokesman for John Kerry right now, especially on this values question, Tim. He's going out and, in essence, offering testimony that John Kerry understands your problems. And John Edwards is a guy, even though he's a multimillionaire trial lawyer now, the son of a millworker--he can credibly say to a lot of voters in those rural areas, in those blue-collar neighborhoods--say, "I've walked in your shoes. I understand your problems, and so does John Kerry."
MR. RUSSERT: And using John Edwards in campaign commercials, articulating a position on behalf of John Kerry--and exactly right, in terms of the South, the key is not John Edwards in the South. The key is John Edwards in the Midwest, in those rural small towns.
MR. DIONNE: Well, in fact, large parts of southern Ohio are, in character, very much part of the South. It's a sort of Southern culture. And so I think Edwards appeals there. And, you know, to go back to the values question, it is very much--Edwards' whole "two Americas" speech was a value peach. It said, "Do we want an America that's broadly equal, where everybody has an equal shot, or is going to be an America for the privileged or for the rest?" That goes right at those voters. Lee Atwater, whom we talked about earlier, said that if Democrats can shift campaigns from pure values and social issues to class issues, they can trump the kind of campaigns he used to run. So I think both sides are studying from the late Lee Atwater right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Hundred and seven days to go till Election Day. What do you expect to see play over the next week or so, going into Boston, the convention?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, there's going to be a big run-up to the convention--the portrayal of John Kerry. We're going to see his military buddies from the Navy. We're going to see his children try to-- Democrats are going to try to humanize John Kerry. They think they can take a lead, not a 15-point lead like the Bush-Cheney campaign has been saying to spin expectations ahead of time, but a solid lead coming out of this convention. And in a race that is as stable as this one, any lead matters a lot. John Kerry's probably a couple points right now; if he can get 6, 7 points ahead after this convention, George Bush is going to have a hard time coming back.Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be watching. John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, E.J. Dionne--his new book, "Stand Up and Fight Back"--thank you much.
And we'll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute from 28 years ago, a presidential son on the campaign trail for his dad, Gerald Ford.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. We've met John Kerry's daughters and stepsons and John Edwards' young ones. And Jenna and Barbara Bush have emerged very publicly and for the first time hit the campaign trail with their dad. In 1976, President Ford's son, 24-year-old Jack, was described as a "hidden asset." Young Jack Ford appeared here on MEET THE PRESS 28 years ago:
(Videotape, October 31, 1976, MEET THE PRESS):
MR. BILL MONROE (NBC News): And our guest today on MEET THE PRESS is Jack Ford, son of the president and Mrs. Ford and currently one of the most active political campaigners for his father. Now 24 years old, Mr. Ford is a graduate of Utah State University, where he majored in forestry.
You said recently that the campaign has brought you and your father closer together and that you've had talks about various issues and that he has learned to "trust some of my insights, some of my judgments." The implication is that you've perhaps influenced him a bit on a few issues. Could you give us an example or two?
MR. JACK FORD (Son of President Gerald Ford): Well, I think in terms of the campaign, my perception since I've had an opportunity to travel a great deal more, I can get in a much more relaxed situation where I can actually talk to people in a person-to-person relationship much more effectively than, obviously, a major candidate can. There's been an advantage in that sense. And this is where I think he trusts my intuition as to what these people are saying and what kind of conviction. That's why I said two weeks ago I can feel the pulse of the campaign moving our way, and I think they found it as they started getting out and campaigning more.
Specifically on issues, I don't know where I've ever had a specific opportunity to influence him. I relish the opportunity to have at least an opportunity to go out and get my 2 cents in. And this is all I think you can ask for the president of the United States. It's not that you're going to sway him this way or that way, but as long as you have that opportunity to present your point of view so that all sides of the coin are represented, that's a great advantage in itself.
MR. HAL BRUNO (Newsweek): What about this life in the goldfish bowl? What should be the role that a first family has to play? And where do you draw the line, where should it be drawn, between what's public and what's private?
MR. FORD: That's a good question. I've not found the balance. I think that certainly there's a great deal of frustrations. Probably here in Washington they're exaggerated more so than any other place in the country. But I think that probably the most important role a family can spend is in terms of offering support to the president.Advertise
MR. RUSSERT: Jack Ford is now 52 years old and lives near San Diego, California, where he's president of a technology company.
And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week, live from the site of the Democratic convention in Boston, Massachusetts.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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