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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL:
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC;
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK;
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES;
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC

DATE: FRIDAY, JUNE 18, 2004

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Murder most foul. The same fate that Nick Berg suffered in Iraq has befallen another American, Paul Johnson, in Saudi Arabia. The 49-year-old Lockheed Martin defense contractor was decapitated on Friday. His captors threatened to kill him unless the Saudi government released al Qaeda prisoners. Johnson's kidnappers cited also Abu Ghraib and its Iraqi prisoner abuse as a justification for the murder.

Question: Is America's policy of torture interrogation coming back to haunt U.S. citizens, especially the 35,000 Americans working in Saudi Arabia? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, John, I'm sure the al Qaeda is blaming Abu Ghraib for this, but I don't believe it's true. I think the al Qaeda is targeting the Saudis. They've been doing this before Abu Ghraib. They're doing it after it.

And I think their objective is, as it is in Iraq, to drive all westerners, foreigners, out in the hopes that they can thereby advance the collapse of the Saudi monarchy. And I think they're making a little progress, because thousands of Americans have left Saudi Arabia since these series of attacks started.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But that's been a very lucrative market for American workers. It's not likely that they're all going to depart by any means.

MR. BUCHANAN: But I think the wives and children, an awful lot of them, an awful lot of these oil folks, are departing, John. I mean, you come into one of these projects that's gated and you shoot up a lot of people there, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There were five terrorist cells operating with this degree of organization in Saudi Arabia. Four have been removed. This is the last one. And the leader of this is the only really senior person who could do something like this. Again, it is said. So maybe those American workers won't have to go.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I agree with Pat. We've reduced our presence over there. We've reduced the military presence. Women and children have left. A lot of companies are no longer eager to go in there. But we can't close down the embassy. I mean, that's the problem with terrorism. The impulse is you want to strike back. But, you know, who do you strike back against? And you can't pull out.

And this rival leader, he's not Osama bin Laden; he's not al Qaeda. He's another faction in this world. And we don't know how many more of him there are out there. I mean, I think our policies have really helped create more of this anger and more people willing to carry out anger against the U.S. to these extremes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does Johnson's death tell you about how safe Americans are?

MR. BLANKLEY: Of course Americans aren't safe. I think Pat's largely right. I think the real stress this is putting is on the Saudi administration, the house of Saud. This is an attack at them every bit as much as it is an attack on us, and it stresses them to figure out which way they're going to flop, whether they're going to keep with their half-friendliness with terrorism or try to defend their kingdom. And I don't know which way that goes. But they need to be even more worried now than they were recently.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I just got finished telling you that they've knocked out four of the five cells. Also, why are the Saudis regarded as enemies by al Qaeda? Did it occur to you because they're friends and allies of the United States?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. No. In fact, all -- most Islamists around the world are opposed to the governments that exist in Muslim worlds, whether it's Egypt, whether it's Jordan, whether it's Saudi Arabia, Syria. You pick the country and their primary target for years has been those regimes. That's where the whole Islamist concept -- the jihadists were developed by Egyptian intellectuals in the 1940s, targeting the regimes that they opposed. America is an interloper, and a relatively recent one in that regard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's time for executive action. There should be a travel ban on Americans in Saudi Arabia, travel and work ban. This is a country that is nuts enough to ban travel to Cuba, one of the safest places in the world --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The United States.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes -- an American could possibly go, and allow and, in fact, help funnel people into these ridiculous jobs in Saudi Arabia, not one of which is worth doing, not one of which is worth losing a life over. They have oil to sell. We can buy it. We don't have to send people there to feed their bodies, literally, to the al Qaeda propaganda machine. This is an al Qaeda recruitment tape, this beheading.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's a victory for the terrorists if you tell Americans they can't go over there and they can't work there. That's exactly what --

MR. O'DONNELL: Because we cannot guarantee their safety. We've always done that.

MR. BUCHANAN: But Americans have got to be free to go there. You give them a warning and stuff like that. But you drive all the Americans out of there -- this is exactly what these guys wanted that beheaded that fellow.

MR. BLANKLEY: The State Department did put a warning out sometime ago, a warning about traveling there. But, look, Saudi Arabia can't get its oil out of the ground without German and American and other western petrochemical engineers.

MR. O'DONNELL: Let the Germans do it. They're not angry with the Germans.

MS. CLIFT: But we've all --

MR. BLANKLEY: And the world continues to have a vital interest in Saudi Arabia producing oil.

MS. CLIFT: Right. We've all made our deal --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's more likely -- Eleanor, do you think it's more likely to be hit by lightning than it is to be harmed by a terrorist?

MS. CLIFT: Not anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's one in 3,000. Do you know what the odds are of getting harmed by a terrorist? About one in 10 million.

MS. CLIFT: You know, you can go back --

MR. O'DONNELL: What are the odds in Saudi Arabia?

MS. CLIFT: You can go --

MR. O'DONNELL: They're about one in 30,000. That's what they are. That's pretty bad.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. You can go back quite a while and those statistics might hold up. But I think the terrorists are increasing in number, and American targets are too obvious.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think --

MS. CLIFT: But, look, we've all made a deal with the devil. We want the oil and we're probably going to continue to have some sort of a presence there. And the Saudi government is faced with some bad choices because of the bad choices they've made in the past, playing footsie with these kind of groups.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you sound as if you think Dick Clarke was right in his book saying that terrorism has metastasized because of our involvement in Iraq; it has not been reduced.

MS. CLIFT: If I were Osama bin Laden or this new fellow, I'd want George Bush to be re-elected. He's an advertising poster for the jihadists.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit. In the fall of 2003, in a leaked memo, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld noted, "We don't have the metrics to determine whether we're winning or losing the war on terror."

Well, Patrick, factoring in the upsurge in attacks in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, what do your metrics tell you? Are we winning or are we losing the war on terror?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think we're doing a tremendous job in the United States. There hasn't been a major terrorist attack since 9/11. I think clearly the thing has metastasized. I think Iraq has roiled this sea and boiled this sea out of which terrorists come. And so I think in the United States we're winning, and I think it's a close call in the rest of the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Rumsfeld said in that memo, "We don't know if we're killing or capturing more than they're creating." And I think his suspicion is that they're creating more, and I think that's what's happening.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, Rumsfeld is a very shrewd man and he wrote that memo, and he's correct. We're not going to know for years whether we're winning or losing. We have to keep fighting it, but we're not going to know. And anyone who says they know we're winning or losing now are just making it up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is an intuition, partially, and it's also partially --

MR. BLANKLEY: Maybe we should say something based on some data. We have to wait 10 years to find out. (Studio light dims on Mr. Blankley.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you allow that -- you see what happens when you tell those fibs? (Laughter.) Will you allow this, that the State Department's report was factored down through an effort to show that there were fewer terrorist acts in 2003 than in 2002, which caught Colin Powell in a red-faced lie?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. He wasn't doing a red-faced lie. This was incredible incompetence by the bureaucracy, whoever oversaw it, because they included in the same report a list of places that any researcher could check. This was not a lie.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Please. You underestimate the fertile imaginations and execution of the CIA. Do you want to speak to this?

MR. O'DONNELL: The Defense secretary is right. There is no metric for measuring who's winning or losing on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis. I've said from the start of the war on terror, we won't be able to check the score for at least 30 years. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about Clarke's contention?

MR. O'DONNELL: But the spread into Saudi Arabia is unprecedented. And so that is an expansion of it we've never seen before. So if you have to make a guess today, you can guess that things are probably worse, certainly outside of our borders.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think terrorism is worse today because of our invasion of Iraq? Yes or no.

MR. O'DONNELL: There is no evidence of that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no evidence of it?

MR. O'DONNELL: No evidence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, terrorist acts have gone up. I think it's worse.

Issue two: Credible evidence. The 10-member 9/11 commission this week wrapped up nearly 15 months of public hearings, less than six weeks before the release of its final report on the terrorist attack, due July 26th. The final two-day hearing retraced the paths of the four hijacked airliners and released never-before-heard chilling cockpit recordings of two of the hijackers.

HIJACKER (FROM AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 11): Nobody move, please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then there was a bombshell: A staff report that found, quote, "no credible evidence," unquote, that linked Iraq to the 9/11 attack, either the planning of them or the financing of them.

The commission also concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda did not share a, quote, "collaborative relationship." Also, the report debunked the story that the chief 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. "We do not believe that such a meeting occurred."

Altogether and individually, the report's findings undermine one of the two main arguments to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, that Colin Powell referred to as "the sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network."

Yet, despite the strength of the commission's statements, Vice President Cheney contradicted the commission's denial of a collaborative relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was in power. He had long-established ties with al Qaeda.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why is Cheney so convinced that Iraq and al Qaeda were collaborating? I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, because they were. And there's a long body of evidence -- and let me quote.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear what we just read from the commission, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. The commission is going to be proven to be wrong, and let me tell you why. Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, the Democratic co-chair of the commission, said in USA Today on Friday of this week that he doesn't understand what this media flap is about because they agree with the administration on the perception regarding the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq. There is no question.

This was an artfully written couple of words by staffers to suggest that there wasn't a connection. And moreover, the White House, the president, have never said that Iraq was involved in 9/11. They merely said Iraq was connected with al Qaeda.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's quite Clintonian.

MR. BLANKLEY: And in September, Bush specifically said there is no evidence of it. And there's a wonderful book out by Steve Hayes, "The Connection," that lays out bodies of data that is uncontested. And as recently as this May, Tenet reasserted all of the connections that exist between Iraq and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what the polls say about what Americans think --

MR. BLANKLEY: The public --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- who perpetrated 9/11?

MR. BLANKLEY: The public --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They think Saddam Hussein. Do you think that's an accident? Don't you think they were fed that illusion, if that's what it is?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, you have to judge the administration by the words --

MS. CLIFT: Bush --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. BLANKLEY: And the fact is that this report -- this is the staff report -- it's already been renounced in part by the chairman when he said that he --

MS. CLIFT: Okay, equal time. Equal time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Eleanor, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: Okay. First of all, the high-level contacts led to Saddam Hussein rebuffing al Qaeda, which wanted to set up a training camp in Iraq. So they had to go elsewhere. Secondly, if Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush really believe this, then it's a matter of religious belief, like the virgin birth.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish, please.

MS. CLIFT: Or they have concluded that they have to maintain the myth of this link, because it's what makes Bush a wartime president. Otherwise the emperor has no clothes.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's no myth.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you know what --

MR. BLANKLEY: The facts are unambiguous, and the big lie can't rebut it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have your assertion. Can we please move on, Anthony?

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, John, let me tell you something. I think this undercuts the second -- the first argument, weapons of mass destruction, is gone. The second argument is ties to 9/11. It's undercut. The war in Afghanistan was the first war in the war on terror. Iraq was the first war of the Bush doctrine. I do not believe it is part of the war on terror. And this is at the heart, I think, of our fundamental disagreement.

MR. BLANKLEY: And there's one more fact we have to know, that Putin, who you and I both admire and respect and have talked about on this show for years, Putin announced that the Russians gave America information after September 11th and before the war that Iraq was planning terrorist attacks against the United States. There was a big story on Friday in the Associated Press, on CNN. And that's another --

MS. CLIFT: After the war.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- that hasn't even been asserted for going to war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me move beyond what's becoming an extremely fine point. Do you believe that Bush is well-advised, in terms of his political career, to insist on the tie between Saddam Hussein and -- or that Saddam Hussein is an imminent danger to the United States?

MR. O'DONNELL: Of course he is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Bush is ethically obliged to say what he believes to be true, whether it's good for him politically or not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very noble. I stand up and salute that. But meanwhile, can I ask you this question?

MR. BUCHANAN: Politically, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there not fissures, in the intellectual base particularly, of the Republican Party? Isn't there a division within the party, within Republican ranks, about the advisability and the undertaking of this whole war? And does it not threaten his re-election because some of those Republicans might drift over to Kerry?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, there are fissures. It's between those with weak knees and those with strong knees. It's not intellectual at all. It's below the belt.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, the point is --

MR. BLANKLEY: But they won't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there are real fissures in the party over the Iraq war.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: But, John, look, there is no connection with 9/11. There were contacts, yes. The question is, was there active collaboration between the two? And it's almost semantic.

MS. CLIFT: The contacts led to nothing. And Bush and Cheney seem to think that if they keep saying this, the American people will buy their version of the truth.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You appear sphinx-like. (Laughter.)

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, no. It's because you don't give me a chance. Look, Bush has managed to sell this notion to the country. There's a majority who believe Iraq was involved in 9/11. And they should not politically pull back from it. Ethically, of course they should, because all the evidence -- and by the way, these staff reports of the 9/11 commission, which, if you actually read word for word, are dispassionate and accurate documents; they are really well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Put that in your commonplace (book?).

MR. O'DONNELL: And they are very, very clear and they are actually a better experience than the hearings, which tend to be filled with posturing by the commissioners.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: DO you think that Bush might --

MR. O'DONNELL: They've disposed of this question forever.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, they truly haven't.

MR. O'DONNELL: Iraq was not involved. But the Bush presidency depends now on the perception that Iraq was involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: DO you think Bush --

MR. O'DONNELL: So that's why Cheney will not ever stop talking about that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Bush obliged to stick to his guns and exhibit a display of conviction in order to try to calm the waters? Is that what he must do?

MR. O'DONNELL: That's all he can do in his attempt to get 51 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, 833; U.S. military medical evacuations, 22,900; Iraqi civilians dead, 16,700.

Exit. Would the military manpower and time and money that has been spent on Iraq have been better spent in Afghanistan, Patrick, routing the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden? That word is routing. Or was it a better idea to make Iraq the central front in the war on terror?

MR. BUCHANAN: I still believe we should not have gone to war, John. But the final returns on Iraq and its impact in the war on terror, I think, are not yet in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Iraq was a costly diversion from the real enemy. And the fact that al Qaeda is metastasizing with other groups of like mind into Saudi Arabia and other places critical to the U.S. national interest --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MS. CLIFT: -- proves that we should have stuck with the original mission.

MR. BLANKLEY: Both were and are necessary. I think we probably should have used and may still want to use more troops in both.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, there was no strategic justification for going to Iraq before Afghanistan was in any real sense finished. And so, of course, they should have stayed there to do that job. The whole question of whether we should have gone to Iraq now, if you have to make a preliminary judgment, looks like a bad decision, certainly, by anybody who is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you believe it is.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, based on what we know now. I mean, I think -- unfortunately, I think there was a big rush to judgment about it being a bad decision before we actually had the evidence that it was a bad decision.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was a bad decision. And if we had stuck to Afghanistan, we'd have Osama bin Laden in hand now instead of Saddam Hussein.

Issue three: White House agape.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (from videotape.) Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. It took hard work and drive and determination and optimism. I mean, after all, you've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: (from videotape.) Mr. President, thank you again for having us. It was an honor to join you for the third time in a few days. In the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A welcome interlude of nonpartisanship; Presidents Bush and Clinton honoring each other this week at the White House, where William Jefferson Clinton's official portrait was unveiled. Even members of the John Kerry brain trust were moved by the Gemutlichkeit, led by campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill: "This was an historic moment. It was a nonpartisan moment. I thought the president and Mrs. Bush were extremely gracious to the Clintons."

The Kerry campaign will doubtless remain focused on the spotlighted Clinton as he media-blitzes his new 900-page memoir. Unlike Albert Gore in the 2000 presidential race, John Kerry seems committed to the political strategy of embracing Bill Clinton.

Is that where the smart politics is -- embrace Clinton?

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think there's any smart politics in embracing Clinton.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't?

MR. O'DONNELL: No. This is the presidency that slept while al Qaeda was making its way into the country to plan the 9/11 attack, before you even get to all these scandal issues associated with Clinton. He's not going to be helpful in any way to Kerry. Kerry should just run his own campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When they see Clinton, they see the prospect of a Democratic return to power.

MR. O'DONNELL: The Democratic -- (inaudible) -- the voters you already have like Bill Clinton. Everybody else doesn't want to hear about him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MS. CLIFT: I totally disagree. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he could -- by being on the scene, could he estrange -- is this the down side? -- any wavering Republicans --

MR. O'DONNELL: The swing voter doesn't like Bill Clinton.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- wavering Republicans, and they see Clinton and they see the way Bush --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They see the way Bush treated him and it makes them want to retch.

MS. CLIFT: First of all --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They wonder whether Bush has any principles.

MR. BUCHANAN: He rallies the Democratic base and the Republican base even more, John. He can't help in Ohio and Pennsylvania. What he can do is rally the African-American vote, help Democratic senators and congressmen in the blue states.

MS. CLIFT: Right. It is only June, and he can make a better case for Kerry than Kerry can. And what he was accused of that makes you or some people retch actually looks pretty trivial compared to the eight years of peace and prosperity. And I don't think attempts to blame terrorism on Clinton is going to work. He's an asset for the party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course he is. And he would bring unity to the party. Kerry can't afford other breakaways. He's already got Nader. Bring Clinton in.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He warms that electorate.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He think it's only the extremists. That's not true.

MR. BLANKLEY: Lawrence and Pat are right. The biggest danger the Republicans have right now is a base that is not sufficiently energized. The Democratic base is already pumping. If you bring Clinton out, it'll pump a little bit more, but you're already going to get the turnout. But it could very well kick up Republican votes.

MS. CLIFT: It's only June. In October Clinton can make a big difference in West Virginia, New Hampshire, two states --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Florida.

MS. CLIFT: Florida. There are a couple of places where he can really make a difference. And Al Gore's problem was that he had this tortured psychological relationship with Clinton. Kerry doesn't suffer from that. He's not obsessed with him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I can't see you --

MR. O'DONNELL: Introduce me to a voter who's not already with Kerry who likes Clinton. There's a lot of Clinton hatred out there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry doesn't have enough psychic profile in the United States. You bring Clinton in and they think back to the hey day, the Democratic hey day, and it brings them out --

MR. BUCHANAN: We sure do, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and it enthuses them and it gives body and enhancement and blood and muscle to the campaign.

MR. O'DONNELL: And it energizes those Republicans who are swaying from Bush.

MS. CLIFT: Rush Limbaugh is on his third divorce.

MR. BUCHANAN: It'll rattle every cage on the right, John. It'll rattle every cage on the right.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Clinton campaign hard for Kerry, yes or no? Quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: Everywhere in July and August; selectively in October. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: No, not much.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not much?

MR. O'DONNELL: For him, not with him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is yes -- big. Happy Father's Day. Bye bye.

(PBS segment.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: No big deal.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) We are four and a half months from Election Day. In other words, there's a long time before the election.

I'm just going to do my job.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So says President Bush, when asked if he can take the lead in his tight race with John Kerry. He may think that the election is a long time away, but an exceptional number of voters are already itching to vote. One thousand adults were asked how much thought they'd given to the presidential election. Sixty-seven percent answered, "A lot," 4 percent, "Some," 26 percent, "A little." Compare that to the first week of June four years ago -- Bush versus Gore. Forty-four percent said they had given a lot of thought to the contest, 23 percent less than where we are today. Even in November 1996, 58 percent had given a lot of thought to the election, 9 percent less than today.

Question: What does this extraordinary level of interest in the four and a half months away from election tell you about who's going to win, if anything?

MR. O'DONNELL: I'm not sure it tells you much, but it -- four years ago, remember, the campaign was about "my prescription drug benefit is better than your prescription drug benefit" for Medicare beneficiaries. So it was a campaign that was targeted at about 12 percent of the population. So naturally people didn't care.

Since then, we've had 9/11, and we're in a war. So of course there's much more concern and attention paid to a presidential election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's also the economy. The macroeconomy is pulsating. It's alive. It's doing very well. But this is not translating on the level of the common man in many of these states, battleground states; you know that. You're from California, right? What are you hearing?

MR. O'DONNELL: (Chuckling.) In California, which is locked up for Kerry, you don't hear much of anything about this. But it's a war-driven awareness and concentration on the election.

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible) -- on Rodeo Drive.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it's polarized -- it's an utterly polarized country, and the polarizing figure happens to be George W. Bush. And I think it's very close to a 50-50 country. And the war and Bush -- some people want him out. Others are going to desperately go out and try to keep him in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he blew $70 million -- George W. Bush -- on those ads against Kerry, when now these polls are practically identical between the two of them? That advertising did nothing, did it not?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's very hard to discern. I mean, in the Pew poll --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you can do it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I'm just going to do it right now. (Laughter.) In the Pew poll, Kerry's negatives went up nationally from about 27 to 28 percent in February to 40-some percent now. Now, whether the advertising had an effect on it or not, it's hard to say. I suspect the advertising from both sides is being somewhat helpful, but there's so much news, real news coming that I think that's trumping any kind of paid advertising on either side.

MS. CLIFT: Well, Bush's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, Pat says that the reason is that the president is dividing the public.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's polarizing it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's polarizing it.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. Well, Bush's negatives are going up just because of all the bad news that's happening, but the race is going to be decided in the battleground states, and two-thirds of the voters in the battleground states know somebody who has lost a job. And the Democrats are -- polling shows that if you ask voters in these critical states whether they think the economy is getting better, they say, you know, the experts don't know anything, you come talk to us, our lives haven't changed. And so the perception of the economy in the critical areas has not improved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we collectively conclude that this indication of high voter interest at this point in the campaign is not a plus for Bush and it is a minor plus for Kerry? Do we all agree on that?

MR. : Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all do?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all do?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you?

MR. BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The reluctant dragon. Look at the reluctant dragon here. (Laughter.)

All right, four to one.


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