The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Barack Obama’s Legacy / Michelle Obama’s Legacy / Conservation vs. Environmentalism

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Clarence Page, The Chicago Tribune
Tom Rogan, National Review/Opportunity Lives

Taped: Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of May 27-29, 2016

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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Barry’s Legacy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a country as wealthy as the United States, every person should have access to high quality health care that they can afford. That’s something I’m proud of, I believe in.

Saving the world economy from a Great Depression -- that was pretty good.

The work that we did to get the possible nuclear weapons that Iran was developing out of Iran, and doing so without going to war is something I'm very proud of.

I think that I have been true to myself during this process. I don't -- sometimes I look back at what I said when I was running for office and what I'm saying today, and they match up.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Asked about his legacy while visiting the United Kingdom, President Obama was confident. Admitting some disappointments, Mr. Obama noted his administration has been successful.

True. Barack Obama entered office in January 9, 2009, seven years ago, full of optimism. But it’s clear that today’s president is less idealistic and a little more gray.


MCLAUGHLIN: Rate Obama’s presidency.

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: John, there are four ratings for presidents, great, near great, average and poor.

I don’t think, even though he did do a good job presiding over a recovery of the United States, economic recovery, it wasn’t robust recovery of Reagan or Clinton. He’s also got his Obamacare, which is an achievement. And I think his Iran agreement is achievement. But both those two are really subject to possible reversal.

I think, though, that in giving him a rating, one of the major achievements is he’s an African-American, and the first African-American president. He won by two margins of plus 50 percent.

On the downside, as a political leader, the Democratic Party under him has been wiped out in 2010 and 2014, been reduced to what it was in the ‘20s.

I don’t think you can call him great and I don’t think you can call him near great. My guess is, his friends are going to call him average, and the Republicans are going to say poor.



ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: He wanted to be a transformative president, in the image of Ronald Reagan. He didn’t agree with Reagan’s policies, but Reagan changed the country. Barack Obama has changed the country. Politically, he’s brought to the fore what’s called the rising American electorate, young people, minorities, single women.

Achievement-wise, he got health care for all, which is something every president since Teddy Roosevelt, over 100 years, tried to get and failed. His remaking of the financial markets, it’s not perfect, but it does lessen the odds that we can fall into a Wall Street-made recession, which is what he inherited when he came in.

The fact that the recovery isn’t robust enough, it was very different kind of recession that he inherited. It was created by greed and derivatives and exploitation of a housing bubble that burst.

So, the circumstances were very different, and I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit for what he did in bringing the country back. And, you know, Barney Frank had a very funny bumper sticker after the financial meltdown. He said, "It would have sucked worst if it weren’t for me." And I think that’s kind of true.

I mean, it’s hard for the president to take full credit for bringing us back from that near depression. But I think I’m ready to give him full credit.

MCLAUGHLIN: Does President Obama have an exaggerated sense of his own accomplishment?


Look, I think the economy that -- we talk a lot about the economy recovery, and to some degree, I think some of the Wall Street reforms were positive. I think a lot of them weren’t. But I also think that in terms, if you’re looking at the economy, the recovery in terms of the historical precedent, it’s one of the slowest in American history, and that says something.

I also think, you know, labor participation rates, that’s a problem, that people are disengaging from the economy. You see a continuing lack of consumer confidence. On the same side, in terms of foreign policy, the Iran deal, I’m very skeptical of that. I think the Iranians are breaching it. They going to do their ballistic missile research and then they will break out, and it’s never coming back, the sanctions, because the Europeans will never allow it, let alone China and Russia.

On the positive note for the president, look, I think it is true that more people are engaged with American politics, in minority communities and young people, they are moving to the left I think in a lot of ways. You know, I think it’s a wake up call for Republicans to try and win them back. But broader participation is a positive thing in a democracy, and he gets credit for that.

And, you know, then, finally, I would just say that in terms of moving the Democratic Party to the left, you see both Bernie and Hillary playing off that, you know, if you talk about the idea of transformation, he has achieved that.

MCLAUGHLIN: What about education, the environment, interracial relations, inequality, debt, space exploration, infrastructure --

ROGAN: You got a notepad?


CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: I don’t need a notepad --


MCLAUGHLIN: -- security, sports, arts, housing, energy, unemployment, the markets, happiness, moral values, trade, taxes versus regulations, job creation versus unemployment, innovation -- I’m almost finished.


MCLAUGHLIN: Criminality index, GDP, international confidence, the dollar, inflation. What about those areas?

PAGE: Well, congratulations. You finished your list before we finish the administration. I’m a little worried about that.

But I should have seen already reaction on rating President Obama falls down along party lines. What a surprise. This has been a pattern that we have seen in public reactions and I expect it to continue.

I think President Obama, if he doesn’t deserve an A rating now will deserve one in hindsight, as we get further away from the current status quo, and get a chance to look back. But the reason why I say that is because, first of all, look, he came into office, with two wars going on and a major recession, which is something that no president’s ever had to come to office with before.

BUCHANAN: He’s got three wars going on, or four --

PAGE: Yes. Well, it depends on how you look at it. I mean, you know, he did get us out of Iraq, but now we’re back in with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless --


PAGE: I’ve only started the list, Pat. I’ve got to get to the rest of it.

BUCHANAN: Let me ask you about economics because a great driving force in this campaign is Donald Trump, what trade deals have done to the American worker, Bernie Sanders, they’ve been left out, they’ve been held back, no increase in real incomes. You’ve got to put that in there in his economic package, his economic success or failure.

PAGE: None of that started with Obama.


PAGE: All of those are --

BUCHANAN: All right. Did he cure them?

PAGE: -- are the results of trends that have been going since the ‘50s, Pat. You look at the divide between rich and poor, who was it -- Charles Murray a couple of years ago, wrote a book in 2012 about this, and they’re coming apart. We’re still coming apart. And I don’t see either party really address the long range --


BUCHANAN: I agree with you, but how does that say he’s a success?

PAGE: But he’s the wrong leader, wrong messenger for those issues.

BUCHANAN: How is he a success --

CLIFT: Nobody is perfect.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.

PAGE: No, he asked me how Obama was a success.

MCLAUGHLIN: No, you’re having --

PAGE: Look at the issues that are popular with young people. He has gained ground on those. He also did establish a health care plan that offers health care for all.

You go right down the line, the big problem I see isn’t that he has an exaggerated view of his own achievement, but he hasn’t sold himself well enough, as well as he should. That’s just the first administration. He doesn’t toot his own horn enough for the achievements that he has made.

CLIFT: Nobody is perfect, but he has moved the chess pieces in the right direction in whole area of policies. In climate change, I think we look at the difference in terms of oil usage when he first came into office, and the rise of solar energy and alternative sources. And I think we can’t let this discussion go by without mentioning that a congress controlled by Republicans willfully gave him zero cooperation. We should have had a massive infrastructure spending which would have helped with a lot of those economic issues you just raised.

BUCHANAN: Let me concede your point. Let me concede your point. There’s no doubt about it. Either there’s been obstruction and the rest of them, but the point is, he hasn’t succeeded. His party has been wiped out. He, personally, politically, has done extremely well. He’s at 50 percent after seven years, very good.

The Democratic Party is back to 1928.

CLIFT: The party has been wiped because of gerrymandered elections and midterm elections, when people don’t show up. And wait until November, Pat. The Democrats are coming back.


ROGAN: I need my second turn.

CLIFT: Thanks to Mr. Trump.

ROGAN: I think when you look at the federal level. But the state level, Democrats have been annihilated. I think that’s why conservatives have that opportunity on economic issues to talk about -- the president coming in with the transformational, the idea of hope and change. Eleanor mentions Congress not dealing with him. There have been some very ridiculous comments from Republicans in Congress. But I would say manifestly, one of the problems is that this president has not in a significant, tangible sense beyond the P.R., beyond the anecdotes on television reached out to Republicans. That’s what you hear on the Hill behind the scenes with Democrats.

PAGE: And the Republicans have been so cooperative in reaching out --


ROGAN: Well, but he’s the president --

PAGE: Nobody believes that, Tom.

ROGAN: But also the entitlement reform. We haven’t had serious entitlement reform and that’s a critical point.

BUCHANAN: How did Reagan work with a Democratic Congress and get all the great things done he got done.


ROGAN: And Gingrich.

BUCHANAN: He had no choice. It was majority Democratic governors.

CLIFT: Also because Tip O’Neill could deliver Democrats. The Republicans -- excuse me, the Republicans cannot deliver their votes. Paul Ryan has been unable to get a budget because the Freedom Caucus won’t give him the votes.


BUCHANAN: These are excuses. Look --

CLIFT: No, they’re reality, Pat. Reality.

BUCHANAN: Tip O’Neill did nothing to help Reagan get those tax cuts or Reagan to get his MX missile, or Reagan to get aide to the Contras. Nothing.

CLIFT: I recall -- I recall boll weevil Democrats who gave a lot --

BUCHANAN: They were excellent.



PAGE: That’s right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: who deserves the most credit for saving the world economy from a Second Great Depression, Barack Obama or Ben Bernanke?

BUCHANAN: I think they both do. I think that -- a lot of the things they did in 2008 and 2009, some of which Republican Party opposed, I think they basically rescued the American economy. I think the United States to a great degree rescued the world economy.

But again, he’s got eight straight years and not once has he gotten up to 3 percent growth. So, it is not a robust recovery.

PAGE: Barney Frank was right -- it would have sucked the worst.

CLIFT: Right, right. With unemployment going from 10 percent to 5 percent, with jobs being created for, I think, 71 months in a row, you can’t call that a failure. You can’t call that a failure.

PAGE: Some people – their lives are improving faster than others. And it goes right along the lines of the high school diploma, those homes that do have something more than a high school diploma doing better than others.

BUCHANAN: American test scores have plummeted --

PAGE: That’s why Donald Trump is doing well as he is.

BUCHANAN: American test scores have plummeted under Barack Obama across the board.

PAGE: The school system, some systems are doing better than they were before. But that’s a real broad topic, and schools are local. You know, this is really not a federal program.

ROGAN: They share credit for that and yet, it’s positive. But there are major structural problems with the economy, and the deficit which the CBO says will go up in 2017 and the debt is a critical concern for my generation.

BUCHANAN: Double the national debt. He’s double the national debt.

PAGE: So, they say, but if you’re not a deficit hawk, it doesn’t bother you as much as the current unemployment at this point.


PAGE: And neighborhoods with high unemployment.

CLIFT: The deficit is falling faster in the last several years in any time since after the War World II. So, you know, numbers, numbers, numbers don’t lie.

BUCHANAN: The deficit was at Mount Everest and it has fallen somewhat.

ROGAN: But it’s going to spiral again because we haven’t reformed entitlements. This is math.

PAGE: But that was one of those recovery age that you recover a moment ago which was getting money into the economy. That’s what Obama’s economic surge did.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who deserves the most credit?

PAGE: You’re asking me that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Bernanke or --

PAGE: No, Pat’s right. They both do -- I mean, a problem as complicated as the economy, anything you do in a positive sense is going to help. I think people who want to dismantle the Fed, they don’t really understand --


ROGAN: What do you think?

CLIFT: Bernanke was the president’s appointment. So, in the end, this goes on the positive ledger of the president, however much you want to dilute the credit.

ROGAN: What does the doctor think?

MCLAUGHLIN: I think the Federal Reserve and the secretary of the Treasury prevented the Great Recession.

PAGE: Let’s hear from Alexander Hamilton.

CLIFT: So, the president was kind of irrelevant. He’s just a figurehead.

MCLAUGHLIN: You heard my answer.

CLIFT: I disagree with it, OK?


MCLAUGHLIN: I have no doubt that you did.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Legacy of a Lady.


OBAMA: First and foremost, she’s the best mother I know, and my daughters are amazing because of her parenting. I am labor, she’s management, an emphasis on girls’ education and making sure that our policies are aligned with the basic wisdom that countries that do not educate their girls and treat women well will fall behind.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama spoke fondly of his wife, Michelle Obama, the first lady, Mr. Obama says, has been a remarkable leader, on efforts to reduce childhood obesity and promote female rights around the world.

In THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP November 6th, 2015 episode, we discussed Mrs. Obama’s willingness to advocate on the global stage, including in nations governed by Islamic law. These efforts and their attached controversies have won Mrs. Obama the respect of many.

Still, not everyone will recall Mrs. Obama’s time as first lady with fondness. Namely, some conservatives lament what they described as Mrs. Obama’s nanny statism.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is hers a good record? I ask you, Eleanor.

CLIFT: Yes, an unequivocal yes, and I also want to point out, in the last segment, when I gave President Obama credit for pointing Ben Bernanke, that was actually President Bush’s appointment. So, we can spread the credit around for saving the country, even further.


CLIFT: Michelle Obama has gone through eight years without a whiff of scandal, with maintaining high approval ratings. She’s an inspirational figure and her husband is exactly right when he talked about her parenting, and especially in terms of parenting of girls and how she has extended that around the world and in this country.

She holds days where she has college signing days, treating academics as though they were the latest sports phenomenon. And her attitudes about obesity and eating helpful food and having an organic garden on the grounds of the White House, it’s all positive and it’s not trivial. These are major issues that affect public health.

ROGAN: She has stood up -- especially think about women’s rights, and also nutrition issues, as much as some conservatives don’t like that because they say it’s nanny statism. I tend to think conservatives should be worried about having to pay for a subsidized health care system with obesity.

And so, we should be in favor that. I also think if you look at how the first lady has conducted herself, with her two daughters, you know, under a lot of pressure, I have to say. And, you know, the threats for example, that the first lady get in terms of unpleasant people, that is not an easy thing to go through. And so, I think she has acquitted herself and through, you know, her position as the first lady, the United States, very positively.

And, you know, at the policy level, I disagree with her, but as a first lady -- good.

PAGE: I’m reminded of Pat’s old boss, Richard Nixon, who said, you know, here’s -- he complimented his wife, Pat, who also ran, as he put it.

You know, this is what happens with first ladies until now, maybe with first men now with this year’s election. But the fact that she’s been a very effective role model really I think, that was more important than nanny statism.

The fact is that she has been a role model who believe me, people from the community she came from are very proud, I think. Across the country, people can look with pride upon her as a representative of American values, and for showing how outside of government programs, individual people organizing just kids and adults in their own communities can do a lot.

BUCHANAN: I agree. I think that the president and the first lady and their daughters have been almost exemplar in the way they have behaved, with dignity in the White House, and the president at the White House correspondents’ dinner, he’s got a sense of humor about things. And the first lady, I think -- I mean, I obviously don’t agree with a lot of the causes, as much as she does, but she has the perfect right to that and I think they’ve handled themselves with dignity.

ROGAN: Secret Service love her.

BUCHANAN: The one exemption I would say -- I think there’s been some pretty big, expensive vacations using Air Force planes that seem to me a little extravagant. But other than that, I think being the president set a good example in his personal life. It’s all there is to it.

CLIFT: Well, those vacations have been to countries that we need to maintain relations with.

BUCHANAN: We’d all like to go to.

CLIFT: Well, I think you’d have to come out with some hard figures comparing it to other presidents to make the case that they’ve overspent.

They have handled themselves with enormous grace in every area.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: is it your felt intuition that Michelle Obama will take a cue from Hillary Clinton and launch her own political career post-presidency? Yes or no?

BUCHANAN: My sense is she wants to get out of politics.


BUCHANAN: She wants to get out of here.

CLIFT: I don’t think she has any appetite for partisan politics. But they’re going to stay in Washington until their younger daughter finishes high school. So, when you say get out of here, it’s not getting out Washington, at least not right away.

ROGAN: I think policy advocacy on things like women and girls’ rights, but not politics.

PAGE: Yes, I agree. I think that she and her husband both have a great platform to act post-White House, on a number of domestic issues and international issues as well. And throughout the Third World, she’s already got a presence and can be very valuable. I think she’ll do that with kids growing up, they’re becoming empty nesters now.

So, but I doubt that she’s going to run for office.


MCLAUGHLIN: That’s very perceptive on your part.

PAGE: Thank you.

MCLAUGHLIN: However, that doesn’t trade on what I thought would be your strong suit.

PAGE: Uh-hmm.

MCLAUGHLIN: She could start. The answer is yes. She should stay in the political arena, and she could start by running for mayor of Chicago.

PAGE: I think Valerie Jarrett is more likely to do that than Mrs. Obama.


MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you’re already appraising it.

PAGE: I’m sorry?

MCLAUGHLIN: You’re already appraising it. You’re not even giving her a chance.

PAGE: No. I’ve given her -- I mean, my opinion is grounded in fact, shall we say.

CLIFT: Right.


PAGE: I’ve known these folks for over 20 years.

MCLAUGHLIN: We know your type, Clarence.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Conservation Conservatives.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Global warming divides American opinion, but today, many environmental scientists lament partisan battles over the causes of and best responses to global warming. They say that such battles distract public attention from other environmental concerns. And with government research grant stretched and the economy on uncertain ground, private investors are in less supply and in more demand. Making matters worse today, some conservatives believe environmentalists are liberal first and scientists second. A new approach is needed.

Writing for "Opportunity Lives", Tom Rogan called for new conservative thinking on environmentalism. Quote, "In return for a regulatory reform that focuses on malicious abusers and not legitimate businesses, we should support the hiring of more criminal investigators to punish environmental criminality. We should also act globally, including via treaty, to protect endangered marine wildlife", end quote.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Rogan right?


PAGE: Ask Tom Rogan.

ROGAN: Thank you very much for putting the piece up there. I appreciate it.

The point I was making is that on energy issues and we’ve had these debates, I’m very sympathetic to the idea of fracking, I think it creates for opportunities for employment, social mobility, lowering energy costs.

But at the same time --


ROGAN: Fracking as an example. But Republicans have been too focused on opposing those regulatory areas from Democrats in a positive sense, but not articulating ideas beyond global warming that we could behind that would help the environment. And so, for one example, whether we see at an industrial level, very bad polluting for example, or dumping, that is something that the federal government should prioritize cracking down on, and not the small business owner, the small farmer.

And the second point, in terms if you look at for example, shark finning around the world, what the Chinese are doing, I think there’s a call for momentum there because of the damage that it does to the marine environment, the conservatives to get behind an effort to say this is not something that should be happening, and this is something where we can come together.

MCLAUGHLIN: Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: John, you know, we started the EPA under Richard Milhous Nixon and the Council for Environmental Quality. And in those days, when you had buses pouring out smoke right in our face, you had soot right there in Pittsburgh, you went down the street, it got -- smog over L.A., medical waste showing in the beaches I used to go to -- we were all united on this.

PAGE: The Cuyahoga River catching on fire.

BUCHANAN: Yes, rivers catching on fire. The Potomac River polluted. I remember the headline when I was a kid.

We all agree, look, this is a mess and we’ve got to clean it up. We may have disagreed on how fast and which ones go first. But then you get into this issue of global warming and environmentalism, if you will, as an ideology and a virtual political religion.

CLIFT: Right.

BUCHANAN: And this is where you run into the traditionalist conservatives say, wait a minute, we don’t believe your case is proven, and then they say, we’re going to shut you up!


CLIFT: It’s not an ideology and it’s not a religion. It’s a clash with the business interests that are supporting fossil fuels, and it’s an economy and actually a worldwide economy that’s moving away from fossil fuels to alternative ways of keeping us warm and air-conditioning and doing everything else. And so, this is business interests, and while I applaud the fact that you have caught on the fact that your generation cares about these issues, and these issues have taken on new dimensions since the old says of soot and the medical devices on the beach.

So, I think there’s political opportunity for everybody here and I don’t think you can -- your article argues that you should return regulation to the states. That never works because the business interests overwhelm the environmental interests in the states as well, which is why the federal government has to step in in the first place in every issue.

MCLAUGHLIN: What explains the decline of environmentalism?

CLIFT: It’s not declined at all. It’s on the rise.

PAGE: Well, one thing I’ve seen though is there was a time when conservative -- conservatives believe in conservation.

CLIFT: Right.

PAGE: When it became environmentalism, it seemed like it became more ideological or something. We started seeing more of an ideological divide. But I’m very happy that you are reviving the notion that conservatives do believe in conservation.

ROGAN: I’m just saying that if there are disagreements of global warming, there are other areas of possible compromise

MCLAUGHLIN: The question I asked was, what explains the decline of environmentalism?

BUCHANAN: It’s become an ideology.


BUCHANAN: That’s the reason. It’s perceived as that, as a cause of the left and they want more -- they want a transfer of wealth to government and transfer it from governments to international institutions. We’re not going along.

CLIFT: That’s dressing the issue off in a pretty package. It’s basically a clash with business interests. Some people are making money.


BUCHANAN: I’m not at IBM.

MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?

BUCHANAN: John, I think the British will elect not to depart from the European Union. The race has been sort of divided a bit. I think Barack Obama going over there and arguing against Brexit may have helped turn the tide in favor of staying in the E.U.

CLIFT: Legislation to change marijuana from a class one drug, which is right up there along with heroin, will pass and reclassify marijuana so that federal law is no longer in conflict with state law, where marijuana is increasingly legal and saleable in various states.

ROGAN: The government of Iraq will increasingly face very visible pressure from the Iranians in the coming weeks.

PAGE: Conditional prediction: if Hillary Clinton wins, Judge Garland will be confirmed in the lame duck session.

MCLAUGHLIN: I predict Saudi Arabia’s vision, 2030 plan to wean its economy off dependence on oil will be like the millennial goals. Laudable intentions but the results will fall far short of the vision.

Enjoy Memorial Day weekend. Bye-bye!