The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast;
David Rennie, The Economist;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, April 25, 2014
Broadcast: Weekend of April 26-27, 2014

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Pacific Pivot.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) I've said many times, the United States is and always will be a Pacific nation. And America's security and prosperity is inseparable from the future of this region. And that's why I've made it a priority to renew American leadership in the Asia Pacific. And the cornerstone of our strategy and the foundation of the region's security and economic progress is our historic treaty alliances, including with Japan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama is in Asia on a four-nation tour that brings him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. It's a trip that has long been on hold. The president had to cancel a scheduled Asian trip last year during the government shutdown, and canceled twice in 2010, the BP oil spill and the "Obamacare" debate, causing our traditional Asian allies to feel skeptical about the so- called U.S. pivot to their region.

Asian allies also have felt deflated on the president's focus elsewhere, notably the crises in Syria and Ukraine. So the president is there to reassure. First stop, Japan, where Mr. Obama was treated to a formal state visit by his host. Japan is the U.S.'s fourth- largest trading partner, with $203 billion in goods flowing between the two nations last year, 2013.

But there's an ongoing trade imbalance. U.S. exports $65 billion in goods to Japan, while Japan exports $138 billion to the U.S. In order to level that playing field, President Obama wants to boost the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation free-trade zone that does not include China.

If the TPP were to become reality, it would comprise the biggest trade accord in U.S. history. But there are hurdles. The U.S. wants a bigger foothold in Japan's automobile and agricultural sectors. Only 6 percent of autos sold inside Japan are foreign-made. And there's agriculture. The Japanese government protects Japanese farmers. Also this, the security front. Japan is in a dispute with China over a group of islands in the East China Sea that Japan has named the Senkakus. Both nations claim the islands.

Now, for the first time, a U.S. president, Obama, has sided with Japan. Ahead of his visit, the president told a Japanese newspaper that the islands fall under the U.S.-Japan mutual security treaty and said, quote, "The policy of the United States is clear: The Senkaku islands are administered by Japan. We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," unquote.

Question: What are the main objectives of President Obama's trip to Asia, the Asian pivot? Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN: In a word, security, John. You mentioned the Senkaku islands, where Japan is in a conflict with China. Japan has administered these islands since the late 19th century. China has entered a claim for them. And this could go through a shooting war.

Secondly, if you go to the Philippines and Malaysia, both of those places have islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines are in a conflict with China, and they want the American military support behind them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the Philippines.

MR. BUCHANAN: In the Philippines. South Korea has a treaty with the United States to defend it against North Korea or to fight on its behalf, and they've had real troubles there. And the Japanese and the South Koreans themselves have a conflict over islands, John.

But the point here is the United States has commitments to go to war for South Korea and for Japan and for the Philippines that date back 60 years to the early and mid 1950s. What has happened to America, at the end of the Cold War we made a terrible mistake. We failed to review all these security treaties and war commitments we've got. As Lord Salisbury said, one of the great failings in politics is to remain stuck to the carcasses of dead policies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To deter China's expansionist ambitions, that's one reason, and an important reason, why he went. Do you agree with that and his exposition of that?

ELEANOR CLIFT: I think the administration views China as a friendly economic rival. I don't -- and I think they do see it as a rising power. And they do like the idea of aligning with the other countries in that region as sort of a buffer. But I don't think it's as direct an attempt to contain, as you put it.

I also think the security arrangements are not -- even though they haven't been reviewed, as you put it, I think they probably have. And I think the U.S. is sticking to them. The islands do come under our arrangement, our alliance with Japan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mmm hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MS. CLIFT: And I imagine if China actually invaded -- they're not even inhabited. They're a pile of rocks.


MS. CLIFT: But I think there is -- the U.S. will stick by --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's not get hung up on the islands, so to speak.

MS. CLIFT: Well, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's another reason why he went there, and it's a big reason. And what is it?

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's called --

MS. CLIFT: -- the market of the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the TPP. Do you know what the TPP is?

MS. CLIFT: It's the market of the world.

DAVID RENNIE: The free-trade agreement that we're trying to reach with -- America is trying to reach with a bunch of Asian countries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

MR. RENNIE: It's a huge --


MR. RENNIE: It's a huge free-trade deal. It's politically going to be very hard. We saw that this week. People always like to talk about deliverables, a horrible word. But what are you going to come away with when you have a big summit?
The Americans would be very keen to have some sort of gesture of real progress from Japan. But despite all the sort of state-visit flummery and the delicious sushi that President Obama was given, actually he got a bit of a cold shoulder when it came to the trade side.

In particular, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said our farmers -- we are still very, very concerned about protecting our farmers. And these are extremely high-cost, extremely kind of boutique farms that are protected from all foreign competition. So that's a real disappointment for the Americans this week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got Crimea going on, or having taken place. And now you have a possible extension of that. Does Obama have to reassure those allies over there that he's not going to do -- he's not going to do anything to encourage any kind of a Crimea arrangement over there, any kind of a move on them? Do you follow me?

MORT ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. Well, I mean, look, Crimea raises a big issue for the United States, which is its credibility. And that has been an issue that has affected American policy ever since the president walked away from his commitments on Syria. So nobody really has any great confidence as to what the United States is going to do in the face of whether it's in Crimea with the Soviet Union, or Russia --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or the Philippines or --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Or the Philippines, or indeed within Asia. So it's a real issue for the United States. And he can go there and say the words, but he doesn't have the credibility to, in effect, deter his opposition.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but we have a treaty -- we have a treaty with Japan. Ukraine is a friendly nation. Crimea is really -- (inaudible) -- to Russia. These are very different situations.


MS. CLIFT: And frankly, if -- you know, if John McCain had been in the White House, we probably would have been in wars in all of these places. I mean, the president --

MR. BUCHANAN: And Georgia to boot.

MS. CLIFT: -- has kept us out of wars.

MR. BUCHANAN: But I think Mort's point is exactly right. I mean, I just -- it was an idiotic thing to issue a red line on the Syrians, then have the American people say you're not going to follow through on it. But there's no doubt American credibility all over the world -- and certainly, John, in Eastern Europe now, the Baltic republics, and also in Poland and Rumania, they are terrified that the Americans are going to do exactly nothing to stop Putin if he moves into eastern and southern Ukraine, all the way --

MR. RENNIE: We can see American forces now in the Baltics, and that's a big deal. He didn't have to send ground forces. He has. And that is a big --

MR. BUCHANAN: Six hundred troops in four countries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear more about the pivot to Asia. OK, why the pivot to Asia? That's what Clyde Prestowitz wants to know, the president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a trade negotiator during the Reagan administration.

In an op-ed in the Financial Times this week, Mr. Prestowitz says it's not Asia that should feel neglected, but the U.S. Quote: "Listening to the Asians, you would never know that the U.S. Seventh Fleet has been stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, and tasked with patrolling the western Pacific for the past 69 years; or that there are 30,000 American troops stationed in South Korea and another 50,000 in Japan.

"America is committed to defend Japan and South Korea if they are attacked but those nations are not committed in any way to defend America if it is attacked. Similarly, in the economic realm, the flow of benefits" -- they have "been heavily in favor of the Asia-Pacific countries. Most of them have based their development on mercantilist export-led growth policies, using protectionism and currency manipulation to generate huge trade surpluses with the U.S.

To what threat do these countries need assurance and support? The obvious answer is China. Consider that China poses no direct threat to the U.S. It is not going to invade America, nor is it going to try to seriously disrupt our economy. Nor is it promoting a dangerous global ideology.

Consider also that the Asian countries calling loudest for a U.S. counterweight are also expanding their trade and their investment with China as fast as they can. So it is not exactly clear what the U.S. gets out of the deal. Instead of answering the Asians' questions about the steadfastness of America's commitment to them, the president should ask them what they are prepared to do for America," unquote.

Is Clyde Prestowitz right that it's not exactly clear what the U.S. gets out of the deal? So should President Obama press Japan and South Korea on what they are prepared to do for America?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, John. Clyde Prestowitz is an economic nationalist. What he is saying is basically Japan's been cleaning our clocks with trade surpluses for decades now. The Chinese have been doing it. The entire -- all the Asians have been doing it. We've been providing them basically, almost free of charge, with their security. Maybe it's time for the greatest power in the world, when it provides security, to get payment for it in some kind.

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Maybe we run trade surpluses and they pay for the defense we're providing.

MS. CLIFT: Japan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.

MS. CLIFT: Japan could be a nuclear power overnight if they got the green light. This is a security arrangement that benefits not only our country and that -- it benefits the whole world. It's a security arrangement that goes back 60 years. And I think it's going to be honored. And you don't toss that over and say, OK, now you're going to fend for yourselves.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor, why don't they pay for their defense if we're providing it? Why don't they pay us?

MS. CLIFT: We didn't like the way they paid for their defense once upon a time, and I'm sure you remember that period. And I think our policies --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think we should --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from --

MS. CLIFT: -- still based on that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Rennie.

MS. CLIFT: And I'm sure you feel the same way about Germany, and parts of Europe as well. But maybe they could pay a little more. But I don't think you --

MR. BUCHANAN: A lot more.

MS. CLIFT: I don't think you undermine the entire --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to pick up any of these pieces?

MR. RENNIE: Yeah. I mean, I used to be based in China as a journalist. This is -- you know, China is an extremely disruptive rising power, potentially. But it's also unbelievably bound into the American economy. Think of all the American companies who manufacture, whose supply chains include a lot of manufacturing in China, but also here. These are all stitched into the kind of global patchwork quilt of globalization, at which America is a master.
America does very well out of globalization in aggregate, whatever Pat Buchanan may think. And the absence of war -- Eleanor is right. The absence of war and America as the preeminent security guarantor -- it's expensive in terms of what we spend on ships and planes, but ultimately it suits America. And it's not something that -- we don't want to see Japan arming to the teeth under a conservative nationalist prime minister picking fights with the Chinese. We have an interest in peace in Asia.

MR. BUCHANAN: So we --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. I want to hear Mort. Isn't it comforting to you that capitalism serves as a restraint -- you understand his reasoning.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I understand his reasoning.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you appreciate that? And would you care to echo that --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. Look, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- considering, you know, what you represent?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think the problem that we have here in the United States is we have a weakened economy, and a weakened economy that we can look forward to for the next three to five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. We do not have the resources we once had to be able to pay for all of this military support around the world. So we have to rebalance those issues with countries like Japan, and indeed with -- certainly with Japan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, that brings us to the TPP.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the TPP going to resolve any of our imbalances that you're talking about economically?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It will certainly help.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Trans-Pacific Partnership.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is a free-trade zone involving a dozen nations, OK. We want to be a part of it so that we can export, because that would help the American economy significantly. And that's one of the issues we have with Japan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know where he's going over there. And do those locations reinforce the idea that the TPP can be revived -- that's not the right word -- juvenated, electrified, meaning he can make something out of it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he will have some influence on it. I just don't know how much, because a lot of those conversations are private. But clearly it would be in the American interest for them to do it. And that's one of the things that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it is --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it is -- wait a minute -- if it is fully functioning, is the yield that he seems to think --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's not going to overwhelm everything, but it is certainly --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- going to be a big step forward in terms of our own balance of trade with --

MR. BUCHANAN: We run a $500 billion trade deficit every single year. All those factories in China used to be here in the United States. As for capitalism preventing wars, 100 years ago the two greatest trading partners in Europe were Germany and Great Britain just before they went to war with each other.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, why don't you and Prestowitz go out and have a drink together and stay there for three or four hours and talk about it?

MR. BUCHANAN: You have -- (inaudible). I don't need to. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't forget, the McLaughlin Group has its own website, and you can watch this program and earlier programs on the Web at any time, from anywhere in the world,

OK, all-points bulletin. On the McLaughlin Group April 20, McLaughlin stated on air that both Canada and the U.S. have literacy rates of -- get this -- 49 percent, a grossly erroneous figure. Both Canada and the U.S. have literacy rates of 99 percent. Chalk the error up to frenetic last-minute note-taking by the host. And thanks to our Canadian viewer, Diane Garrett (sp), for emailing us on this.

Issue Two: Affirmative Inaction.

The Supreme Court this week struck a blow to affirmative action. Affirmative action is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, quote, "in the U.S., an active effort to improve employment or educational opportunities for women and members of minority groups. It was undertaken at the federal level following passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Designed to counteract the effects of past discrimination, it consists of policies and programs that give preferences to minorities and women in job hiring, college admission, government contract awards, and the allocations of other social benefits. The main criteria are race, sex, ethnic origin, religion, disability and age," unquote.

But there have been challenges to affirmative action. Namely, residents of the state of Michigan in 2006, eight years ago, voted to amend their state constitution to include a ban on affirmative action and, quote, "preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin," unquote.

This affirmative-action ban extended to publicly funded colleges in Michigan. And this week, in a 6-2 ruling, with Justice Elena Kagan abstaining, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the main opinion. Quote: "This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it," unquote. In other words, who may resolve it are the voters.

The 58-page dissenting opinion was penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court's first Hispanic-American justice. Quote: "As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away rather than confront the racial inequality that exists in our society," unquote.
By the way, black students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor today represent slightly more than 4.5 percent of the student population.

That is a 33 percent decrease from what the population was in 2006, when voters approved the affirmative-action ban.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision indicate that the U.S. has outgrown the need for affirmative action? I ask you, David Rennie.

MR. RENNIE: I think that -- is there a gigantic problem with helping particularly African-Americans into good colleges? Yes. I think what the court is -- the court was making a technical ruling about this referendum. But I think what they're picking up is that American public opinion is extremely hostile to quotas, extremely hostile to the idea of just bumping people up in their schools.
And I think what they said in Justice Kennedy's ruling, which was right, was there are other ways to do this. There are smarter ways to do this -- targeting low-income schools, targeting inner-city schools. And I think there, that is where the American public --

MS. CLIFT: Well, Michigan now joins seven other states, including California, that have these similar kind of bans. And if you look at the public universities in these states, the number of minorities has fallen. So, no, you can't say that we've passed the need for affirmative action. But it is challenging the other states to try to find other ways.
In Texas, they admit the top 10 percent in all of the high schools to colleges. And that assumes that these high schools are pretty much segregated black, white --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's not exactly right.

MS. CLIFT: I think it is. And I --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, let me tell you --

MS. CLIFT: I get to finish my thought. That way you get a diversity. So there are other ways to achieve this. But I think this is a setback. And I thought Sotomayor's statement, her dissent, which is based on her personal experience --


MS. CLIFT: -- and a legalistic argument, is very persuasive.

MR. BUCHANAN: She is affirmative action --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Listen to the conservative talk shows and see the way they're ripping her apart.

MS. CLIFT: I don't listen to conservative talk shows -- (laughs) -- to preserve my sanity.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean --

MS. CLIFT: I get enough here, John. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean to preserve your tilt.

MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: John, Justice Sotomayor went to Princeton and went to law school on affirmative action. There is -- minorities are doing extremely well in California schools. They say if they had a legitimate contest, 80 percent of Berkeley would be Asian-American students because they do so extraordinarily well.

But this decision, John, all it said was that if you want to do away with affirmative action, you can do away with it by referendum. The voters can decide this issue. But I think -- I'm with Scalia. The Supreme Court has got a test coming up where it's going to hopefully knock in the head all discrimination or preferential treatment based on race so we can get back to the ideal of 1964.

MS. CLIFT: Why don't you get rid of all of the discrimination based on race? We can get back to the segregation we really want. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Is the NFL -- black players are 65 percent of the NFL. They compete very well there. They're overrepresented five to one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, a McLaughlin Group preview. The U.S. Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The House speaker, John Boehner, gives us a hint as to why. Speaker Boehner, when it comes to immigration, what is the attitude of your fellow Republicans, sir?

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): (From videotape.) Here's the attitude. Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard. You should hear them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are discussing immigration next week.
Exit question: With this ruling of the Supreme Court, has it moved America closer to Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a color- blind society, or has it moved us further away from that dream? I ask you, Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think, actually, it has moved us a little bit away. We've got to find better ways of dealing with it, frankly, than this particular solution of, you know, having sort of minimum numbers of blacks or whatever it is, because, as Pat says, if you look at the Asian population, they would get a much larger representation in almost all of these higher schools of education.

So it's a very complicated issue. I have no way -- no easy way to solve this problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the nation feels that the nation has moved beyond the need for affirmative action?

MR. BUCHANAN: The answer is yes. As a matter of fact, even Sandra Day O'Connor said we should do affirmative action maybe for 25 years more. But I think the vast majority of Americans believe, look, get rid of all racial preferences, all discrimination. As Justice Roberts said, the real way to end discrimination by race is to end discrimination by race.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Lawyered Up.

When it comes to attorneys, Congress is lawyered up. More than half of those serving in the U.S. Senate are lawyers, as are more than a third of the members of the House. And that's not counting congressional staff. No other profession has so dominated American politics since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. More than half of its signatories, our Founding Fathers, were attorneys.
Some foreign observers, like the vaunted Alexis de Tocqueville -- also wrote "Democracy in America" -- see this as a natural outcome for a country whose Constitution has a trifurcated separation of powers, and a further separation of powers between the federal and state governments.

The political tug of war thus created leads naturally to litigiousness and adjudication. Others are dubious. Quote: "A legalistic approach to politics is no longer serving America well. Politicians of both parties are too eager to denounce the other side's conduct as not just wrong, but as illegitimate. What room does that leave for compromise?" unquote. So says Lexington, who is with us today, in The Economist magazine.

We've uncovered you. Your nom de plume is not saving you. You're Lexington.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You say here the dangers of taking a legalistic approach to America's budget wars. Lawyers beware lawyers.

What points are you making in here that lead you to conclude that we should sack them all?

MR. RENNIE: I think the problem we're having -- there really is a dramatically larger number of lawyers. If you look at, say, the House of Commons, it's like one in 12 is a lawyer.

The problem is a lot of the disputes that America is facing are essentially political arguments.

How big should government be? How much redistribution do you want? But there's something unique about a Congress full of lawyers, that instead of saying you're right or you're wrong, it's let's impeach the president. This is unlawful. This is an illegitimate use of powers. That's a very lawyer's way of approaching this.

It's very striking. I used to cover politics in Europe. Protesters in Europe, they hold up banners saying that the prime minister should resign. Protesters in this country very often say impeach the president. You have that very legalistic approach. And the problem with that is you're sort of not allowing your opponents to argue the politics of it. You then get this kind of very deadlocked sort of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean instead of seeking compromise, it's all or nothing at all.

MR. RENNIE: Yeah, because if they're unlawful, then there's no room for compromise. There's no room for discussing the politics.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We have a different system --

MS. CLIFT: The impeachment mania goes back -- the impeachment --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Mort -- (inaudible).

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We don't have a parliamentary system, where, in a sense, you can get a government to resign. You have a system here where you are elected for a particular period of time, four years. And you just don't have a government that resigns. You have to impeach them if you want to get them out of office. That's our system. It's very different than it is in the European system.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that?

MR. RENNIE: Designed by -- look, you're right. Clearly it's not a parliamentary system. And I think the sheer fact that you have these gigantic numbers of lawyers, really half the Senate, a third of the House, does make them very keen to make legalistic --

MR. BUCHANAN: But John --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean by legalistic?

MR. RENNIE: Well, it's always saying, you know, Congress is -- you know, when you're having essentially political disputes about shutting down the government, you end up with members of Congress saying, you know, the president is overstepping his legal --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You worked for Richard Nixon. Did Richard Nixon ever complain about an excess of lawyers in the government?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, but he wasn't -- they did try to impeach him.

MS. CLIFT: He's a lawyer himself.

MR. BUCHANAN: But the problem is not the lawyers. The problem is deep and irreconcilable ideological conflict and divided power in government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, quickly; five seconds.

MS. CLIFT: The problem is not the number of lawyers. It's the fact that they're all bought off by business interests --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, my goodness.

MS. CLIFT: -- the lobbies.


MS. CLIFT: Too many lawyers among the lobbyists.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- concisely stated. But I'm not saying well stated. Are you?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm not saying well stated, no.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Globalism is dead. Putin killed it in Crimea. The new 21st century rules of order are disorder.

MR. BUCHANAN: Too much.

MS. CLIFT: Wrong -- way too simplistic.

MR. RENNIE: NATO's still there.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no. That's wrong. That's way off mark --
the mark.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: More right than wrong.


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