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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Onus Be Gone.

With U.S. military options in Iraq near exhaustion, the president this week tried to shift the onus to Iraqis and called on them to reach benchmarks to stop the carnage.

Benchmarks were the core of his press conference. He used the term 13 times. He sought to distinguish benchmarks from timetables.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) There is a significant difference between benchmarks for a government to achieve and a timetable for withdrawal. That is substantially different, David, from people saying, "We want a time certain to get out of Iraq." MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When the president was challenged that benchmark versus timetable was a semantic and a rhetorical game, just politics two weeks before an election, Mr. Bush stuck by his guns and argued passionately that the primary onus, the burden of responsibility, was on the Iraqis.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) The ultimate victory in Iraq, which is a government that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself, depends upon the Iraqi citizens and the Iraqi government doing the hard work necessary to protect our country. And our job is to help them achieve that objective.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went on national television and said, "No way," in effect, and denounced the president's benchmark-timetable rhetoric.

PRESIDENT AL-MALIKI: (From videotape.) This government represents the will of the people, and no one has the right to impose a timetable on us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Friday, Prime Minister Maliki retreated somewhat from his reprimand of President Bush.

Question: What is the central point Mr. Bush is trying to put across? What's his message? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: "Stay the course" is a failed phrase. It is no longer working for the president. Baker has said -- Jim Baker said we can't simply stay the course or cut and run.

The president is semantically trying to put a new imprint on a policy that has not yet changed, John. He has only three choices, basically. He can either send in more troops and change the equation of power, which he's not going to do. He can stay the course, which is not working, which is a bloody mess. Or he can find some way to move America out. And that is what benchmarks is all about. I think he's laying down a predicate that if they don't do this, that, the other thing, eventually the United States is going to have to turn it over to them and start departing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, Eleanor, does that sound right to you, that what he's trying to do is to tell the American people that we're not giving a blank check to the Iraqis, and tell the Iraqis that too?

MS. CLIFT: Well, he's trying to say to the voters, "Help is on the way," that we don't have to buy into two more years of body bags, that somehow magically after the election there will be a change of course, going so far as to say "Stay the course" was never his policy, as though he's trying to air-brush that out of history.

And, you know, this is semantics. I don't think anybody will believe that this is a bold new policy. It's not going to change anything on the ground in Iraq. It's just an effort to get through the election and have a different talking point for politicians to go back home to their constituents.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's worse here than meets the eye. I think that what's been happening for at least several months is the Bush administration, both our military and diplomatic in country, has been trying to push Iraq as fast as it can to take on more responsibilities. It's been partially successful, partially unsuccessful.

I think recently the president felt obliged -- we've got an election coming up -- to speak up and make it sound like something different. I think just for the same reason, Maliki also had to speak to his domestic politics and be outraged because he's not going to be pushed around by America.

But in point of fact, beneath the surface, this is the process that's been going on, and it's a perfectly valid one. And you can talk about semantics or you can be anti-semantic, but the fact is that there's a huge difference between working hard and leaning on a friend to try to accomplish things and saying, "If you don't accomplish it, we're leaving." And the president has been absolute.

And I met with him with five other columnists in the Oval Office this week, and it was absolutely clear to me that he has no intention of giving up. He is intent on victory. And he's trying as hard as one can to force it as quickly as it'll go. But it's not that easy, because you can see the Iraqi army isn't yet ready to handle a lot of these responsibilities.

So I think the talking we're hearing is both for domestic politics, while the effort is sustained beneath the surface.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence, he's trying to tell the American people there is accountability for what's happening in Iraq. But the problem with the benchmark theory is that, without penalties, it adds up to a blank check. And there are no penalties associated with these benchmarks. Is that your feeling on this?

MR. PAGE: Well, that's the facts. You look at the benchmarks and it certainly is not a timetable, because there's no specificity to it. But Tony's right insofar as Bush sending one message to his people here in the U.S., Maliki trying to send one to his people in Iraq. And it doesn't help Maliki to be perceived as being pressured by President Bush, but it helps President Bush for Americans to see him as putting pressure on.

I think what he's trying to say is that things are going to change. "Just elect my party this midterm election and then things will change afterwards." MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me move this along. So where does the buck stop?

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) I will send more troops to Iraq if General Casey says, "I need more troops in Iraq to achieve victory." And that's the way I've been running this war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So in this part of his news conference, Mr. Bush says that the generals are responsible for asking for enough troops. Earlier in his news conference, as we just saw, he talked about benchmarks and he put that responsibility on Prime Minister Maliki.

If Mr. Bush is not responsible for political strategy -- Maliki is -- and if he's not responsible for the military strategy -- Casey is -- what is Bush's job?

MS. CLIFT: Double-talker in chief. I mean, he is basically speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and he's saying the government in Baghdad is sovereign.

At the same time, American troops are conducting a commando raid that they don't inform Maliki about, because if they did, he would tell the militias, who are the death squads working for him and are basically engaged in a civil war.

The president, in terms of the number of troops, his strategy is keep the troops there until the next guy is sworn in as president so that failing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it trying to move --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- so that failing and leaving Iraq doesn't happen on his watch.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, he can't do it. John, reality --

MS. CLIFT: That's his strategy.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he trying to off load responsibility onto Maliki and onto Casey?

MS. CLIFT: Sure.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can he do that?

MS. CLIFT: No, it's his war.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's not going to work.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why isn't it going to work?

MR. BUCHANAN: Because this is George Bush's war, and that is it. And realities -- despite the words, realities intrude. The political front in Iraq is crumbling. The political front in America is crumbling. And the military front is not going well. It's going worse. He's got a couple of choices. He can either send in more troops and try to win this thing. He can't stay the course; I don't think that'll work. Or he's got to have a new strategy toward exit. That's it. MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get a word in here. I completely agree that every president is the one who's going to be held historically responsible for the war while he's president. You know, Lincoln had to pick his generals. He didn't like some generals. He fired them. But it's not the generals ultimately who are responsible; it's the president.

Now, I think that, to a certain extent, this administration is responding in reverse to Vietnam, where it was micromanaged from the Oval Office and where Lyndon Johnson was telling the generals what to do. So they're sort of taking a more hands-off -- they're saying, "We're leaving it up to the generals."

I've written in columns over a year ago, that's not enough. The president has got to be responsible for the generals he picks --

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. If we're not winning --


MR. BLANKLEY: -- and the strategy of this war. On the other hand, I don't think he's trying to dismiss responsibility. Everything I hear from him, he's fully responsible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about shifting the onus, as he said, to the Iraqis?

MR. BLANKLEY: He's not doing that.


MR. BLANKLEY: Wait, wait. That's not what he said in the press conference.

MS. CLIFT: This is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, well --

MR. BLANKLEY: He simply said what is ultimately true, which is the Iraqis have to win it, but it's our job to get them ready to do it.

MS. CLIFT: This is an intellectually lazy president who relies --

MR. BLANKLEY: That's not true.

MS. CLIFT: It is true -- relies on his gut and his beliefs. And you read the inside accounts --

MR. BLANKLEY: Name-calling doesn't help. MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. BLANKLEY: Name-calling of the president --

MS. CLIFT: It's not name-calling. It's describing the way he manages the war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What he retreats into is "Casey wanted it; Maliki wanted it."

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's the thing, John. But when people ask him, "Look, Casey didn't ask for troops; Maliki didn't handle it. The question is, sir, it's your war. Why did you lose the war?" That's the final --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, more on benchmarks. Let's hear from Rummy.

DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense secretary): (From videotape.) You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to come floating down if some date isn't met. That's not what this is about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Rummy says things straight. The benchmarks are divorced from consequences -- no guillotine. That means there is no accountability; no heads roll. So Iraq still has a blank check from George Bush when it comes to U.S. troops and U.S. funding. True or false?

MR. BUCHANAN: Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.


MR. BLANKLEY: False. Look, everyone has willfully tried to misunderstand what Rumsfeld and the president are saying.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, come, come. He said no guillotine.

MR. BLANKLEY: What they're saying -- and if you listen to the whole Rumsfeld press conference, which was really a wonderful one, he's saying, "Look, we're working with them. We're not going to punish them for getting a C instead of an A. But we are doing everything we can to move them in the direction they need to go."

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me get in, John. What Rumsfeld's saying is there are no automatic triggers. In other words, if they don't reach this benchmark, we're not going to pull a trigger and shoot them and pull out. But we are setting benchmarks for them to achieve. There is a difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are no penalties associated with --

MR. BUCHANAN: There may be. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are no penalties. It's a blank check. Is that true?

MR. PAGE: It doesn't sound any different than the policy they've had in the past.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly.

MR. PAGE: This is still "Stay the course" by another name.

MS. CLIFT: And Rumsfeld came across unhinged in that press conference. He --

MR. BLANKLEY: Who was unhinged?

MR. PAGE: Our secretary of Defense, Tony.

MS. CLIFT: The secretary of Defense, unhinged from reality.

MR. PAGE: And if you want to defend our secretary of Defense, you go right ahead.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly.

MR. PAGE: If Bush was like Lincoln, he would have fired Rumsfeld a while ago, but he won't do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a blame deflection -- you got that? -- a blame deflection scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero blame deflection whatsoever, none, 10 meaning metaphysically or metaphysical absolute blame deflection from Bush to Maliki and to Casey and company, zero to 10, what do you give him?

MR. BUCHANAN: Zero. This is not going to be the Maliki-Casey war.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not talking about ultimate responsibility in the historical sense as he's talking about it.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's zero.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about practical political blame deflection.

MR. BUCHANAN: No. I mean, in terms of perception, it is zero, John.

MS. CLIFT: Bush gets A for effort. It was a valiant try to offload the blame on everybody else. But the fact is, it's a zero. Nobody's going to remember Maliki's name in the future; and General Casey, probably the same.

MR. BLANKLEY: As I said, I completely reject the premise that Bush is trying to pass it on. I don't hear that at all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the de facto impact.

MR. BLANKLEY: It would be zero, of course. The president is responsible. Everybody understands that. I don't think he's trying to push blame off on others.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that Rumsfeld put the monkey wrench in the machinery with that guillotine remark, because he says in effect that it's unconnected to any consequences whether or not these benchmarks are fulfilled or not? That being the case, what would you give him as far as successful blame deflection?

MR. PAGE: Well, you know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president.

MR. PAGE: -- go out to Ohio and ask the people there what they would give him for blame deflection. I mean, that state has taken a terrible toll in this war. That's my home state, where I was drafted into another war with sorry consequences, Vietnam. And we're seeing the same kind of thing.

Now, they give him a zero. He is the commander in chief. He takes responsibility. And the policy has not changed. For him to go on the air and say, "I never said, 'Stay the course'" -- you know, the battle of power against --

MR. BUCHANAN: But John, what Rumsfeld is saying is there are no automatic consequences.

MR. PAGE: The battle of truth against power is memory against forgetting, you know. And there's still videotape, lots of videotape, of him saying, "Stay the course, stay the course."

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. PAGE: This is a clumsy attempt even at trying to shift accountability.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me suggest another --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, but you are dominating, you know that, this particular segment.

MR. BLANKLEY: Word counts, I'm way behind over the last couple of years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you're tapping into that capital? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Okay, look --

MR. PAGE: Thanks for letting us on your show, Tony.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: You should think of this -- MS. CLIFT: The Pentagon and Tony Blankley.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead, quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: You should think of this as a tutor-student relationship.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not a punishment one. They're trying to get better performance --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, we're being tutored by the president?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, America is the tutor. Iraq is the student. We're trying to get them to perform better.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me tell you -- let me summarize for you. There are consequences --

MS. CLIFT: They call that a puppet government in the real world.


MR. BUCHANAN: There are consequences. There may be consequences, but Rumsfeld is saying they are not automatic. They're not triggered. But there may very well be consequences if those benchmarks are not met.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll give him a four or a five.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's not ruling that out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Rumsfeld, however, didn't help him out.

Issue Two: Barack Shows Ankle.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): (From videotape.) My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats; went to school in a tin roof shack. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two years ago, Barack Obama delivered these words in a keynote address to the Democratic Convention, July '04. Obama was a virtual unknown at the time, and he saw the humorous improbability of the situation.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) Let's face it. My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three months later, Barack Obama was elected U.S. senator from Illinois. Two years later, today, Obama finds himself here.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) I'm not sure anybody is ready to be president before they're president. But it is true that I have thought about it over the last several months.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What impact does the Obama October surprise have on the 2006 election, a week from this Tuesday? Clarence.

MR. PAGE: Well, it woke up a lot of journalists, number one, because this puts excitement into the race. It puts electricity into it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he pulled the black vote in with any more energy into this election?

MR. PAGE: You mean, the '04 -- I'm sorry; this year's election, this midterm?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This year's election. I want to know what impact his announcement has at this particular time and whether --

MR. PAGE: I think there are other factors there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and whether or not it's been orchestrated by forces other than Obama.

MR. PAGE: Well, I think the thing about Obama is -- I will say that he is already the most effective fundraiser the party has, and his political action committee has raised millions for other candidates. And this is the kind of thing -- you don't take yourself out of contention --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's going to energize --

MR. PAGE: -- when your stock goes up, as long as you say you're in contention, that you're thinking about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's also putting a face on the party when the party has been relatively faceless? It's kind of a vacuum. Now we have a young, energetic, intelligent --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think, John, you're on to something. I do think this. The Democrats are worried that Hillary and Al can't do it. Here's a bright young face. I think it sort of energizes and excites Democrats. "Let's go out and win this one. And when the big one comes, look who we may have."

MS. CLIFT: Well, he also answered a question, and he answered it honestly, as opposed to being coy, like a lot of the other candidates who are running in '08 but won't say it. And this may be a moment that's made for him. But actually, it comes at a time when the African-American vote is rather dispirited. They think their votes don't count. And he gives the party somebody to get excited about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It comes about two and a half weeks before the election. Isn't that --

MS. CLIFT: Well, he was asked the question. Should he have lied?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he also made himself available to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press."

MR. PAGE: He was also selling a book, remember. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He hasn't had any -- he went to Africa. MR. BUCHANAN: He's got a book out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's established his racial credentials.

MS. CLIFT: So maybe he wants to rally the Democratic vote; good for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe the Democrats want to put more definition in their look, and they want this kind of a look stamped right onto the party going into the election.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer your question. In Maryland, the Democrat -- the black vote in Maryland is dispirited because there's a Republican running on the ticket and the Democratic nominee in the primary, Mfume, was defeated. They're worried about low turnout.

So, no, I don't think that Obama is going to advance the black vote in Maryland, which is probably the key place where it might make a difference. Tennessee, you already have Ford on the ticket, so you don't need --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, you mentioned Harold Ford. Here he is, Harold Ford Jr. A second aspiring black leader is at the summit of American politics, Harold Ford Jr., seeking to take Majority Leader Bill Frist's vacated Senate seat in Tennessee. The Democrat Harold Ford Jr. versus Republican Bob Corker race is a statistical dead heat.

The Republican National Committee funded a controversial ad against Congressman Ford, with a bare-shouldered blonde woman with whom Ford was apparently flirting.

(Begin videotape of RNC advertisement.)

WOMAN: Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?

WOMAN: Terrorists need their privacy.

MAN: When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again.

MAN: Ford's right. I do have too many guns.

WOMAN: I met Harold at the Playboy party.

WOMAN: I'd love to pay higher marriage taxes.

MAN: Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy.

MAN: So he took money from porn movie producers. I mean, who hasn't?

ANNOUNCER: The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. WOMAN: Harold, call me.

(End of videotape.)

REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): (From videotape.) I know that they are a little desperate and they're doing things you do when you get desperate in a campaign. These ads are, again, typical and characteristic of the kind of campaigning that Washington Republicans have done over the years when they get desperate and are curious and are wondering how they win a race.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the total of six and a half seconds of that 30-second ad of sexual innuendo in the ad blatant race-baiting, or is it a tempest in a teapot? I ask you.

MR. PAGE: Nothing is a tempest in a teapot in politics, John. If this were on "Saturday Night Live," I'd say yeah, laugh it off. But this is a very tight race in a state in the mid-South, not Deep South. But this raises short hairs on the necks of a lot of different people when you do something like this. And I'm disappointed in Ken Mehlman, who's done a very effective kind of outreach for blacks in the Republican Party, which really sets it back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, you know a lot about this race. And I want to hear from you how the presentation of self by Ford has taken place. Has he, for example, appeared in any way sanctimonious or holier than thou?

MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah, the context of this is Ford's own ad showing him walking through the pews of the church he grew up in. Out on the campaign trail, he gives out business cards with the Ten Commandments on the back. He has scored a lot of points in Tennessee by being a values candidate who's very much on the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. For them to come out with this ad right now --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think that if a candidate is presenting himself in that fashion, then there's time to prick that balloon --

MR. PAGE: Well, that's politics. That's politics.

MS. CLIFT: The country club Republicans, who once defined the Republican Party, have got to be embarrassed about this. You know, the Republicans are saying, "Oh, we just want to point out that he went to a Playboy party and he's not so church-going."

First of all, the two are not mutually exclusive. Second of all, a party that came of age with the southern strategy cannot play innocent on this.

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, cut it out. MS. CLIFT: Race was subliminal and it is now out of the closet --

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- and it's going to hurt Republicans. This is going to create a backlash among --

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no --

MS. CLIFT: No, it's going to create a backlash among --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Let me finish and stop making fun of me. I have every right to say what I think, just as you do. It's going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stop baiting Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It's going to embarrass Barbara Bush, suburban mothers and grandmothers. This is really a very low --

MR. BLANKLEY: I agree with Clarence. I agree with Clarence.

MR. BUCHANAN: There was the Willie Horton ad that helped Barbara Bush be first lady.

MS. CLIFT: If you want to defend it, go right ahead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait a minute.

What is Clarence saying?

MR. BLANKLEY: He said that this ad was in part a response to the specific things that Ford had been doing, claiming he was very religious and a values guy.

MS. CLIFT: He is.

MR. BLANKLEY: And he also had implied that he hadn't gone to the Playboy party. They got the woman who he talked to at the Playboy party. So in the context of the specific claims that he made, this ad was a rebuttal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know what votes have been lost to Ford by this ad? Is he going to lose any blacks? Is he going to lose any whites?

MR. BUCHANAN: I'll tell you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is going to be their --

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, here's what he -- this has hurt Ford badly for this reason. I don't think it's the least bit --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a tempest in a teapot?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, but it's important for this reason. This is not a racist ad. If this were done about Bill Clinton, we'd all be laughing. And we are overdoing the concern about the fact that he's black.

MR. PAGE: If it was a black woman, we'd be laughing too, wouldn't we?

MR. BUCHANAN: It has undercut the image of him as really a wonderful church-going guy. It suggests he's a playboy. But more than that, Ford stopped his campaign. It turns him around. He's answering this ad. It stopped his momentum. And I think Corker is going to win this race in part because of the brouhaha over this ad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How old is Ford? MS. CLIFT: Thirty-six years old, and he's a single attractive man who's allowed to date women.

MR. BUCHANAN: And he goes to the Playboy party.

MS. CLIFT: Race-mixing is still an issue in areas in this country. And you know that, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, there's a lot of liberals who get ultra- upset every time they see something.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, do you think Ford is going to lose? You think Ford's going to lose?

MS. CLIFT: I think it's an uphill -- it's uphill for Ford. He may lose, but it won't be because of this. I think this helps him, actually.

MR. BLANKLEY: He's been slipping a little bit away from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what's the answer?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't know yet. It's not Election Day.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's he going to do?

MR. PAGE: Well, it's too close to call, which does not look good normally for a black candidate running statewide. You need to have about a 5 percent cushion at least. Just ask Doug Wilder. You know, Carol Moseley Braun was a notable exception there. But he needs to have about five more percentage points in the polls before I'd say he's safe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On this particular gender-related question, do you think time is on Ford's side in the remaining 10 days, or is time on --

MR. BUCHANAN: Corker's.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Corker's?

MR. PAGE: Let me say this.


MR. PAGE: We're in the last week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's below the belt, so to speak.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, no. John --

MR. PAGE: We're in the last week. Watch for more of this lowdown campaigning. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, that's not what I'm asking.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me answer this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm asking you whether he can get over this in the time --

MS. CLIFT: I'll answer it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would it actually serve his political interests?

MS. CLIFT: It's good for --

MR. PAGE: It can turn to his advantage.

MS. CLIFT: It's good for Ford because he is looking into the camera and saying that he believes in Jesus Christ and religion and lots of good things, and he could never have gotten away with a straight ad like that if it hadn't been for this ad.

MR. BUCHANAN: Do you really think this discussion is helping Harold Ford? And this is going out to millions of people. And this same discussion of that ad is everywhere, every day on cable.


MR. BUCHANAN: Ford ought to be talking about Iraq, not about this nonsense. So it hurts him. It's a massive distraction for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, people may say it's --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's going to hurt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- too close to the bone.

Issue Three: You're Not It.

BOY: (From videotape.) Horrible. I really think it's bad that they banned tag. That's all I can say.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tag, the quintessential childhood game, is getting the bag. Four school districts -- Cheyenne, Spokane, Charleston, Attleboro, and maybe more -- have banned children from playing tag at recess. The tag ban is to keep kids from getting physically and emotionally hurt, thus warding off potential lawsuits.

What the tag ban really does, however, is cause the, quote- unquote, "sissification of kids." So snipes one columnist.

Question: Is the tag ban the sissification of kids, or is it the ossification of the American educational establishment? Clarence. MR. PAGE: I say ossification, because all the girls always beat me at tag, so it couldn't be sissified. But I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Were you depressed by that?

MR. PAGE: Not at all. I think we ought to pass a constitutional amendment holding schools harmless for letting kids play tag. It is quintessential.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.