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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: The face of war.

War is the world's worst evil. Its existence is only justified by conditions that are rigorous and ironclad.

After war begins and time passes, humanity grows accustomed to its face. Despite its carnage, chaos and pain, we are lulled by hearing that ratios are down. "Only" 38 U.S. soldiers perished in October. "Only" 565 Iraqi civilians perished.

Meanwhile, Americans grow numb to the ongoing hell. U.S. soldiers dead: 3,864. Coalition forces dead: 4,169. U.S. military wounded, amputeed, severely injured, injured, mentally ill: 85,015. Iraqi civilians dead: Minimum, 38,604; maximum, 83,783. Estimates. Displaced Iraqis: 4 million. Mounting financial cost of the Iraq war: $456 billion, or $1.3 trillion to date when hidden costs are factored in.

Border radioactive security breaches. Radioactive materials were brought across the U.S. northern border and the U.S. southern border in a covert test to identify security vulnerabilities conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the GAO.

Airport security breaches. GAO investigators also cleared parts of bombs through security checkpoints at - get this - 19 U.S. airports.

More surprisingly, even shockingly, the press, the public and the government remain relatively unmoved by the published data. Follow-up attention by the government and the press, relatively sidestepped. The nation has grown inattentive and uncomplaining in the face of war. We've grown accustomed to its face.

Question: 2007 has been the deadliest year of the war for U.S. forces. Why isn't the public protesting this? And does this prove the proposition of this first segment? Are we under anesthesia? Are we numbed by the face of war? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, we have come to accept this level of casualties in the war, which, incidentally, by standards of great American wars, is very, very low. This is about - we have lost about the same number in Iraq as we lost in the Philippine insurrection, which lasted only three years.

Secondly, there is no draft.

Third, the American people have come to see this war as something that probably was a mistake, but they're looking upon it as something of an imperial war. Look, it is bloody. It is awful. But if we pull out, things will get worse. So we have adjusted ourselves to the level of casualties that we are taking right now because we think the alternative - many Americans, even those who didn't like this war, think the alternatives would be worse.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: General Odierno says that the surge is not the problem. The surge (sic/means problem) is the government. The government has failed to respond to the initiatives that have been laid out before it, and the government appears to be corrupt. That means no resolution, really.

MS. CLIFT: Well, there is a reduction in public consciousness about the war on a day-to-day basis. People still don't like the war, but they feel helpless. They see a president that's not going to change his mind and they see a Congress unable to change the dynamics. And I think the support of the war - the Republicans are really selling the notion that the surge has worked because the number of American casualties are down; the violence is down. And it took General Odierno to remind us that the purpose of the surge was to forge this political alliance, and that hasn't happened. And he is saying that the intransigence of the Shi'ite-led government in Iraq is a bigger threat to progress in Iraq than al Qaeda or Iranian influence or the insurgents. And yet the president isn't changing. We've fallen into what some of the experts are calling a strategic drift.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I think you mentioned two parts in that open, John. One was the broader war on terror and one was the specific war in Iraq, which is part of the broader war on terror.

There are two different things. I think with the broader war on terror, certainly we have become inured to the threat. You mentioned the airline security and how it just sort of glazes past us, the news.

I do think that the president early on, post-9/11, told the American people that the broader war against Islamic terrorism would be a long, protracted, decades-long war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: War fatigue. He spoke about that.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes. And that, I think, is what you're getting.

On the specific war in Iraq example, I think that when you have the leading Democratic presidential candidates all saying that if they are elected, they will keep troops in there at least until the end of their first term, which is 2013 -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Except Richardson.

MS. CROWLEY: I said leading Democratic candidates. You have the leading Democrats now saying, "Look, we recognize the realities on the ground. We recognize the realities of the region. We understand that a precipitous withdrawal is not in America's interest." And they are now sort of feeding into this idea that we are going to be there for an extended period of time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you worried about the anesthetization of this war?

MR. PAGE: Yes, I am. And I think it is a natural development of the repetitive nature of the daily news. In the short term, indeed, there are fewer casualties right now. But we fall into a funny pathology in the press that we are reluctant to announce news that sounds like everything is getting rosy, because we've been burned before. So there's a sense that, gee, as soon as you announce casualties are down, some calamity is going to happen tomorrow and it just wipes it out. So there's a sense right now of kind of a "MIGO" - my eyes glaze over - as far as the daily misery is concerned.

It's not a good-news story at all, and -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's not back with the shipping news, the Iraq story, but it's page six, seven, eight.

MR. PAGE: That's right. And the thing is, it's very hard to cover visually this problem Eleanor is talking about, which is that the turnover is not happening. I mean, the Iraqi officials are not picking up the ball right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the situation in our culture now bad?


MR. PAGE: Well, it's predictable, I think, in terms of us moving into an election year right now.

MR. BUCHANAN: We haven't had a 9/11.

MR. PAGE: A lot of folks think that it's almost over over there.

MR. BUCHANAN: There's been no second 9/11. There's been no second terror attack. We have waited. We've gotten to the orange, red alert again and again and again. And everybody's waiting for it, and nobody knows why it hasn't happened. But it hasn't happened for six years.

MS. CLIFT: The public -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a justification for the perpetuation of the war?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's not -

MS. CLIFT: The public -

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I'm not saying it is. But I say it's one of the reasons why you see a certain measure of lethargy now had gone up and waited -

MS. CLIFT: Well, the public - MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it deception? Is it not misinformation, but it is keeping news off the front page? Is it a calculated move on the part of the administration?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, what's keeping it off the front page is what Clarence says. What Clarence says is keeping it off the front page. The surge does seem to be working, is working. Violence is down. Casualties are down.

MS. CLIFT: Well, because -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's the worst year as far as mortality of American soldiers -

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but it's down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: - since the beginning.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but American fatalities are down recently. And the press has backed off, because the press needs a change in the story to write about, and it doesn't seem like there's enough change.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I think we -

MS. CLIFT: But the public is not inured to the war on terror. They are much more sophisticated than that. They think rooting out toothpaste and hair gel at the airport is not the answer, and they do not see Iraq as central in the war on terror. They're worried now about Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do they feel -

MS. CLIFT: They're worried about Pakistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the public feel trapped?

MS. CLIFT: The public thinks we are in the middle of a civil war and we ought to get out, but they don't see the politicians responding. The mood about the war is still as negative as it was.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the data on this? What's the percentage of the public that wants to get out?

MS. CROWLEY: We also -

MR. BUCHANAN: Two-thirds.

MS. CLIFT: Seventy percent.

MS. CROWLEY: That is still stable -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seventy percent. MS. CROWLEY: - despite the shift in the coverage of the news. But we also need to -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's more than a consensus. What do you do now, wait till the next election?

MS. CROWLEY: Look, we also need to keep in mind the arc of the media coverage of this war. And Clarence and Eleanor are pointing out different things. But we also need to keep in mind that the mainstream media had a political agenda in covering this war from the beginning. So, day in and day out, while things -

MS. CLIFT: What was that?

MS. CROWLEY: - were very grim -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What was that? What was the political agenda?

MS. CROWLEY: When things were very grim in Iraq day in and day out, you heard about it on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

MS. CLIFT: The press cheerleaded the war.

MS. CROWLEY: Wait a minute. When things were going really bad in Iraq, we got pounded with that news every single day. Now that things have improved militarily, it's buried back with, you know, the shipping news; as you said, buried back on page A-22. You're not hearing about the military progress the way you did when you heard the military was failing.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, people anticipated great things out of the Congress. The left did, the antiwar group said. They said, "We've got a Congress in there, and Bush rolled them again and again and again." And they realized, look, this thing is set in stone probably until next November, and everybody's looking to the next election and nobody expects a great change before then.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Time-warp forward fewer than 12 months from now, November 2008. Which issue will exit polls show was the most important voter concern of that presidential election coming up? Will it be Iraq first, will it be the economy, or will it be health care?

MR. BUCHANAN: I would say as of now, John, it will be Iraq, foreign policy, Iran, the war. The economy will be second. Third or second will be immigration.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that something new in American history, that the war would be number one over the pocketbook issue?

MR. BUCHANAN: World War II it was number one. (Laughs.) Korea it was number one. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: During the war.

MR. BUCHANAN: During the war. That's why -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Continuously.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's why they threw Truman out.


MS. CLIFT: I think that the public is reconciled to letting the clock run out for this president and that whoever is president next is going to end this war. And so I think the economy, actually, is going to overtake the war in terms of people's immediate voting concerns.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Reconciled or cowed?

MS. CLIFT: Helpless.


MS. CLIFT: Helpless.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MS. CROWLEY: I agree with Pat. National security number one, in all of its forms - Iraq, Iran and so on. Number two issue, illegal immigration.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the mood of the country has become sad? It's become troubled, trapped?

MS. CLIFT: Helpless, right. Trapped, yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: You're defining yourself. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the country is hostile? Do you detect it in any of the culture of the country?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, when you look at the polls about not just President Bush's job approval, which has hovered in the 30 percentile range for a long time now, but also the U.S. Congress down at 11, 15 percent -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the Democrats and the Republicans. MS. CROWLEY: The Democrats and -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The governing class is all down.

MR. PAGE: The Democrats are ahead of the Republicans as far as public approval goes.

MS. CROWLEY: So the Democrats shouldn't be too excited about next year, because there's a real "Throw the bums out" sentiment on all sides.

MR. PAGE: Not quite. I mean, while Congress' approval ratings are low, Democrats still have an edge over there. But there is a sense of resignation in the public, I think, because there are no good options in Iraq.

National security - I think, Monica, you make a very good point, though. It's going to compete with the economy and health care. But I have a feeling health care is going to rise up, and the question of how to pay for it. Which candidate has the best plan and the best plan for paying for it, I think, is going to be a debate that's going to gain a lot more traction as the year goes on.

MR. BUCHANAN: When you get to paying for it, it's going to become a Republican issue. It's a Democratic issue right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Is Barack Back?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL, Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) A party that doesn't just offer change as a slogan, but real, meaningful change, change that America can believe in - that's why I'm in this race. That's why I'm running for the presidency of the United States of America - to offer change that we can believe in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Obama's speech in Iowa last week before an audience of 9,000 Democratic activists is seen as his most powerful yet. Towards the end of his speech, Obama connected directly to black America.

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now," because I believe that there is such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This allusion to black history some see as an effort by Senator Obama to win over African-American voters, who currently poll in favor of Hillary over Obama - Hillary, 46 percent; Obama, 37 percent.

Both Barack and his wife Michelle appear to think that blacks vote as a bloc. MICHELLE OBAMA (wife of Sen. Obama): (From videotape.) I'm completely confident black America will wake up and get it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is there a single black America unified by race, as Barack and Michelle seem to assume? A Pew poll says no. The percentage of African-Americans, over one out of three, 37 percent, say blacks cannot be considered a, quote-unquote, "single race."

(Begin audiotaped segment.)

JUAN WILLIAMS (Washington Post): It's really stunning. Thirty- seven percent of African-Americans say that blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race. Now, young, lower-income black people are more likely to say this than upper-income black people. But what you get is nearly 40 percent of lower-income blacks saying that they have little or no values in common between the poor and middle-class black communities in the United States.

STEVE INSKEEP (National Public Radio): So when large numbers of black Americans say they don't think there's just one race there anymore, they're not really talking about skin color; they're talking about values and economics?

MR. WILLIAMS: Exactly. What we're talking about is things like work ethic and education.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Work ethic and education. Does this poll mean that we need to pay more attention to socioeconomics rather than race as determinants in voting, meaning that poor white people have more in common with poor black people? Clarence.

MR. PAGE: Yes, in a word, that's what this poll is driving at. It shows that, compared to 20 years ago, blacks at all levels are now recognizing that they have more in common with whites at their socioeconomic level than with other blacks culturally and value-wise.

Now, what does this mean politically for Obama? The ironic thing about the Obama campaign, John, is that demographically he's doing better with blacks and whites who have some college education and above, while Hillary is doing better with those who have a little college education or below, black and white. And that's one of the reasons why she's doing better with black folks in South Carolina, for example, very critical, than Obama is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But where were the blacks in New Hampshire and in Iowa?

MR. PAGE: What do you mean, the blacks in New Hampshire - all five of them?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) MR. PAGE: You know, you're talking -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is he moving towards? I mean, he's apparently not thinking about those primaries.

MR. PAGE: No disparagement -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he think he has those locked up?

MR. BUCHANAN: South Carolina.

MR. PAGE: No disparagement, by the way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he planning a sequel to that? Does he need the black vote?

MR. PAGE: He needs to win South Carolina. He needs to do well in South Carolina. If he doesn't beat Hillary in Iowa or New Hampshire, we'll understand. If he doesn't beat her in South Carolina, he's really hurting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he too upper-crust? Is he too white?

MR. PAGE: Well, you know, this is - (laughs) -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he too unblack?

MR. PAGE: Let me say this. Interesting dialogue has been spurred by the Obama candidacy and by this poll, because is race physical characteristics, the traditional idea, or are we talking about values and experience?


MR. PAGE: And experience-wise -

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look at -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: However, he's multicultural. He's lived in Indonesia. He was born in Hawaii.

MR. PAGE: He's got great crossover appeal, you know.

MR. BUCHANAN: Hey, John -

MR. PAGE: But the fact is that I think we are now looking at race in a different way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Michelle right?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will black America -

MR. PAGE: You mean, about Iowa?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: - go to him?

MR. PAGE: Oh. Well, we know that the upper-income, better- educated are more likely to gravitate toward him. But you can't count on that. It hasn't happened yet.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that was a very - I had a real problem with Michelle Obama. She was saying, in effect, "Black folks better get out there and vote for Obama because he's the black guy in the race."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, come on. I've heard you say that about Catholics -

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, look -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: - voting for Kennedy.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, black folks vote 90 to 10 in every presidential race against the Republican candidate, whereas working- class white folks have been moving conservative on cultural, social, moral issues in the Republican Party for all those years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm missing the point. What's your point about blacks?

MR. BUCHANAN: My point about black folks is that when you get into a presidential election, Democrat versus Republican, 90 percent are going Democratic.

MS. CLIFT: First of all -

MR. PAGE: By the way, this has been happening since the Buchanan strategy was adopted by the Bush administration. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Since Barry Goldwater. Since Barry Goldwater.

MS. CLIFT: First of all, Hillary Clinton is the wife of Bill Clinton, who Toni Morrison said was the first black president. And they have a lot of loyalty within the black community. The black community is extremely loyal to the Democratic Party and to the Clintons. So I think Obama is still somewhat unknown, and he's a more cerebral candidate. He's running more of a generational campaign - "Let's leave the '60s behind and turn the page." But he's going to get his share of the African-American vote.

MS. CROWLEY: To Eleanor's point about the Clintons and having a lot of loyalty and support coming from especially top black politicians, first and foremost, U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel. So they know where their bread is buttered, and the Clintons have promised them a lot. And they are all going for - I think that Michelle Obama's point, though, which we haven't talked about, was she was trying to encourage members of the African-American community -


MS. CROWLEY: - to think out of the box. But what she was really saying is, "Look, members of the black community in America still lack confidence that a black man can actually be the nominee of a major party. Stop thinking that way. This man can. And let's show the world that we can do it."

MR. BUCHANAN: But, you know, if a white candidate said, "Look, you've got to vote for white folks here," and stuff like that, "You've got to wake up," then people would go wild.

MS. CLIFT: Pat, you're going to have to -

MR. BUCHANAN: I know, but a lot of people are offended -

MS. CLIFT: You're going to have to work awfully hard -

MR. BUCHANAN: - watching Michelle -

MS. CLIFT: You're going to have to work awfully hard to turn that into a racist comment. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're one of the 51 percent of Republicans, clearly, who does not believe in evolution. You're one of them.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, we're creationists. That's correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're creationist, right.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And so, too, in politics, you don't believe in evolution. You don't believe in the evolution of what's taking place in his culture - (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: Our culture.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Black American culture.

MS. CLIFT: Our culture.

MR. BUCHANAN: But in the Democratic Party, John -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In other words, is Michelle right?

MR. PAGE: Is there a black American culture? I mean, this is the thing. You know, are we talking about experiences or other things? For one thing, black Americans have been moving in a socially conservative direction in everything but politics. We still vote like Swedish Social Democrats.

MR. BUCHANAN: On trade and immigration, they are conservative.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the Pew poll. That's what I'm talking about, the 37 percent.

MR. PAGE: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's unheard of.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John -

MR. PAGE: There's a growing recognition of realities, and that is that we do have a group of people who've been left behind by the '60s.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is good news. This is good news if socioeconomics is going to be more of a controlling force.

MR. PAGE: Well, it's not good news to have an isolated group, 24 percent of black Americans still in poverty and many of them still isolated culturally and economically and geographically. That's not good news.

MR. BUCHANAN: Trade, immigration and values are the way Republicans can get African-American votes, through the churches, through trade, lost jobs, through immigration and borders.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got further to go with Obama. He was at the Democratic debate this week. Was he stopped from pulling off an upset by getting tangled in the same question that Hillary was derailed by in the last debate? Watch.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

WOLF BLITZER (CNN): Do you support or oppose driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?

SEN. OBAMA: I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't - (laughter) - no, no, no, no. Look, I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen. MR. BLITZER: This is the kind of question that is sort of available for a yes or no answer.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will Obama take Iowa away from Hillary? Quick.


MS. CLIFT: Maybe.


MR. PAGE: He might. (Laughter.) Okay, yes. How about that? You heard it here first.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

Issue Three: Unnatural Selection, Unlike Darwin.

What I'm referring to is we have, in the last debate, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich, Obama and Richardson. The only contestants, contenders, that people talk about, however, are Clinton and who we talked about today, who was Obama. But Dodd did a good job, Senator Dodd from Connecticut. He had his hair cut. He had a nice shirt and tie. It took 10 years off his life.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's a talented guy. Listen to this.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT, Democratic presidential candidate.) (From videotape.) (Speaks in Spanish.) I was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How come Dodd and even Biden, also Biden, how come no one talks about them? Is that unfair for the press to do, to isolate the winner? The winner, I think the press concludes, as I said on this program, is Hillary. What's the answer to that?

MR. PAGE: That's how it works, though. The press tends to follow the polls. And when you're only single digits and low single digits in the polls, that speaks volumes. I mean, you know, look, Joe Biden is an expert in foreign affairs there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we did that with Harry Truman, remember?

MR. PAGE: Well, that was a long time ago. I happen to work for the paper that declared Dewey the victor there, John, which the rest of the world just didn't understand. But polling has gotten a lot better since those days. (Laughs.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is fundamentally unfair and also unprofessional on the part of the press to pick the candidate and ignore the others?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, the other candidates are serious contenders in this race. But we focus on those who are polling -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, they're not in the polls?

MS. CROWLEY: They're polling the strongest, Hillary and Obama, which explains the stampede of attention. But they also have the most money, and that all lends to the perception that they are the front- runners. Therefore, of course they're going to get the most attention.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, they have the most support. That's all there is to it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Because of the Pentagon resistance, because of Gates's resistance, because of Pakistan, George W. Bush will not launch air strikes on Iran.

MS. CLIFT: Thanks to the federal courts, SUVs will lose their gas-guzzling privileges. Sorry, Pat. (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: The French people are fed up with the unions in France. They will continue to stand by Sarkozy as he battles the unions. And the unions this time will lose.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: National strike over there.

MS. CROWLEY: The unions are going to lose.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we schedule a national strike here on the Iraq war?

MR. PAGE: It's already started. It's the Writers Guild.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that unthinkable? This country is so passive, isn't it?

MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: How can you take such delight in unions losing?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, quickly.

MR. PAGE: Well, we have the Writers Guild. Okay, the veterans' bill is held up right now as the Democrats and the White House are kind of seeing who's going to blink first. Democrats will blink, but after they have compromised.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that long-serving Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, who is seeking re-election, will be -

MR. BUCHANAN: Defeated.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: - defeated.

MS. CLIFT: Defeated. (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: Probably defeated.

MR. PAGE: Defeated.


Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.