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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2009 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JULY 25-26, 2009

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DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: U.S. Government Health Insurance.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) We will cover preventive care like checkups and mammograms that save lives and money.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama's hopes for health care are clear. What this would mean if it becomes a reality is far from clear. Mr. Obama used the fourth primetime press conference of his presidency for one purpose: To sell his plan for health care reform to the American people.

What does the Obama plan actually mean? According to the president, one, no add-ons to the nation's monumental deficit. PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) I've also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two: No denials of coverage.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical emergency.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three: No bilking.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) (The reason) we want to have the public option is just to help keep the insurance companies honest.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Subsidizing health insurance for over 45 million people currently without insurance, covering everyone, regardless of their health, doing this without increasing the deficit and only raising taxes on the very rich, the millionaires -- Madonna, Bill Gates, Beyonce -- and at the same time, also cutting the growth of spending on health care, is this too good to be true?

MR. LOWRY: Of course it is. John, he has two big problems here. One is that if you look at every poll, health care reform is just not at the top of people's list of concerns now. They care much more about the state of the economy and jobs. So it's pushing something that people don't care about that much right now.

Two, it's too good to be true. He says people aren't going to lose their health insurance if they want to keep it. It's not true. He says he's going to bend the cost curve down. It's not true. He says it's going to be paid for; very likely not true. It's an astonishingly ineffectual, cynical and dishonest performance. The plan is sinking of its own weight, and it deserves to.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, you just heard the Republican talking points. They have determined that, to do their part to try to kill this, as one of their leading stars pointed out --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't forget the Blue Dogs.

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans say this will be Obama's Waterloo; if he loses, he'll be finished politically. But it has -- the Republicans basically are irrelevant, because the Democrats can do this on their own. And this has devolved -- you're right -- into a fight among the Democrats. And it's a reform of the insurance system.

If you think you can't lose your insurance today, you can. Fourteen thousand people every day are losing their insurance. People care about it a lot, contrary to your expectation. And if the Democrats let this opportunity go by when they have good majorities in the House and the Senate and they have a Democratic president, they will pay a huge price.

So I think, in the end, they will come together and pass something, and it will include something of a public option. They may call it a coop or something else. But it's not a government takeover any more than Medicare is a government takeover. There are lots of private plans that coexist with Medicare, just as FedEx and UPS coexist with the post office.

MS. CROWLEY: And --

MS. CLIFT: So this is not a decimation of the private insurance industry, although some may want it to be.

MS. CROWLEY: Of course it is going to lead to a decimation of the private health insurance industry. That's exactly what Obama's intention is; not immediately. But if you have a government option backed by unlimited resources -- i.e., the U.S. government -- at a lower cost than what the private companies are doing, then all of these small businesses and big businesses will then offload all of their insurance responsibilities onto the government, onto the public option, meaning he wants to starve out the private insurance companies. And this plan is so labyrinthine, it is so complex, it is so costly, that if it passes, it's going to turn us all into psychiatric patients because it's all going to make us crazy.

The CBO put out new estimates last week, $1.5 trillion cost over the next 10 years. The more the American people see the cost of this thing -- they see rationing, they see a reduction in care and the quality of care and access to their doctors -- the less they like it. That's why these poll numbers on health care and Obama's overall job approval numbers are sinking faster than a cement shoe in the Hudson.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Clarence; I'll let you right in.

Okay, the president and taxpayer-funded government health insurance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) That's a good example of what we're trying to build for the American people. There's a marketplace of different plans that they can access, depending on what's best for their families. Now, one of the plans that we've talked about is a public option.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sounds reasonable. But is it as enticing as it sounds? The former chief economist for President George W. Bush, Gregory Mankiw, thinks not.

"Consumer choice and honest competition are indeed the foundation of a successful market system. But they are usually achieved without a public provider. We don't need government-run grocery stories or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices," unquote.

What would be the impact of a public option? "If a public option is available, it will probably enjoy taxpayer subsidies. If the government has a dominant role in buying the services of doctors and other health care providers, it can force prices down. Once the government is virtually the only game in town, health care providers will have little choice but to take whatever they can get."

Is the public option a back door to a single-payer government health care system? "Because many Americans are happy with their current health care, moving immediately to a single-payer system is too radical a change to be politically tenable. But for those who see single payer as the ideal, a public option that uses taxpayer funds to tilt the playing field may be an attractive second-best. If the subsidies are big enough, over time more and more consumers will be induced to switch."

Question: Is Obama forcing private insurers to bring down costs by bludgeoning them, economically speaking, with a government- subsidized program that takes their business away? Clarence.

MR. PAGE: Well, one can only hope, John. I mean, we're talking competition here. First of all, who do we care about, taking care of people or taking care of insurance companies? I'm kind of annoyed by this whole notion. "Oh, you're going to hurt the poor insurance companies."

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it kill private-sector insurance because taxpayer money is unlimited and the government --

MR. PAGE: That's not what Mankiw said.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- will consistently underbid the private insurers?

MR. PAGE: Mankiw was talking about how those companies can't stand competition. I thought competition was good. You're going to have choice and you're going to have competition. That's going to help the public.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The problem is, as he points out there, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac started as private companies. They became public companies and then they were indestructible.

MR. PAGE: That's a subject for a different show, John. I just want to get this in. You know, we're hearing from the supporters of the status quo that we're going to lose coverage; we're going to lose choice. We're losing that now with private insurance.

The private sector has failed to support and serve the public in a satisfactory way, and that's why we're having this whole debate right now. And I think that's why the public is going to vote for some kind of a public option to compete with the private market, whether it's called a coop or something else.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seventy-five percent --

MR. LOWRY: The public option is going to die.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of the American people who have health insurance like their present system. MR. PAGE: That's what I hear. I don't know who those people are, John. I mean, I've heard these polls too. I think that, again, it's how you phrase the question.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't worry that the government is going to be rationing doctors, rationing hospitals --

MR. PAGE: The private sector rations now. The private sector rations now, John.

MS. CLIFT: You have to start --

MR. PAGE: Believe me, I've been out in the workforce over 40 years, and I'm constantly getting cut back and cut back by private insurers. And the companies do shop around, as they should --

MS. CLIFT: You have to start at the point that the current system is unsustainable, so something has to be done.

MR. LOWRY: Look --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why does it have to be radicalized? Why can't we do something that's --

MR. PAGE: This is not radical.

MS. CLIFT: It's not radical.

MR. PAGE: This is not radical. This is a halfway measure. It's choice. You're going to have choice. The public will have it.

MR. LOWRY: John, the House bill --

MS. CLIFT: If you like your insurance, you can keep it.

MR. PAGE: That's right.

MR. LOWRY: That's not true. That is not true.

MR. PAGE: It is true. It is true.

MR. LOWRY: That is not true.

MS. CLIFT: And in today's market --

MR. LOWRY: That's a key dishonesty in this whole debate.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait. Let Rich in.

MS. CLIFT: Let me finish my sentence. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've heard this -- excuse me. Excuse me.

MS. CLIFT: You didn't hear me finish my sentence. In today's market, your employer can cut you off. The insurance company can say you have a pre-existing condition. It is not nirvana today.

MR. LOWRY: Sure. The status quo --

MS. CLIFT: So you are going to get some certainty with this new system.

MR. LOWRY: It does need reform. But what the House bill does --

MR. PAGE: Well, let's hear what kind of reform you want to have.

MR. LOWRY: What the House bill does, according to an independent group that studied it, the Lewin Group, widely respected -- 80 million --

MS. CLIFT: The Lewin Group is funded by private health care providers.

MR. LOWRY: -- 80 million people out of their private insurance into the government plan.

MS. CLIFT: That's not what the Congressional Budget Office --

MR. LOWRY: And Obama cannot admit that because it'll sink the whole thing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we let Monica in, please?

MS. CROWLEY: Thank you. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: It's not true.

MR. PAGE: Those objectives are based on a plan that hasn't been voted on yet.

MS. CROWLEY: Thank you.

On the question of competition, there are thousands of private insurers already on the scene. We have plenty of competition. The last time I read the U.S. Constitution --

MR. PAGE: Not enough, evidently.

MS. CROWLEY: Thousands of insurers. The last time I read the Constitution, the Founding Fathers did not have in mind that the federal government would be selling health insurance. Does that mean that reform is not needed? Of course not. The Republicans do have alternatives that are free market-based. But what this is really about -- this is not about health care. This is about the federal government, led by Barack Obama and the far left, which is why you've got a splintering off of moderate and conservative Democrats who don't like this one bit because of the cost and because of the explosion of big government here, but the far left is driving this because it seeks to take over more and more of your freedom of choice in every --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please.

MR. PAGE: Please, now. Please, now. Come on. Come on.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: It is not the far left. It is the Democratic Party operating on the mandate that it got from the voters when they elected Barack Obama.

MS. CROWLEY: So how do you explain --

MS. CLIFT: And this is --

MS. CROWLEY: -- the poll numbers crashing?

MR. PAGE: They are crashing. They are crashing.

Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: Fifty-nine percent popularity is not exactly crashing and going to --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit --

MR. PAGE: Look, look --

MR. LOWRY: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: Let me finish. Excuse me. It's my turn.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: Getting to 50 percent, 49 percent, given all of the bashing people like you have done, he is now getting control back of the debate on this issue.

MR. LOWRY: You know who's done the most bashing? You know who's done the most bashing?

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MR. LOWRY: The director of the CBO.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. This is a battle within the Democratic Party.

MR. LOWRY: Exactly.

MS. CLIFT: The legislative process is going on.

MR. LOWRY: That's what Monica said.

MS. CLIFT: We have not seen the finished product yet. And the Democrats have the numbers, and they are going -- they're not going to blink this time like they did in '94.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Assuming --

(Cross-talk.) MS. CLIFT: I can predict that as well as you can predict failure.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Excuse me. Please relinquish.

The Democratic Congress -- assuming the Democratic Congress passes health care reform, will a single-payer government program eventually not only dominate private health care but eliminate it?

MR. LOWRY: Yes. That's the entire point. Unless this reform is stripped down radically, that's what will happen. And that's what the liberals want.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: There will be 40 (million) to 50 million new customers, and a lot of those customers are customers that the private market doesn't even want. And there's plenty to go around. You can coexist with add-ons. And the government is going to provide a subsidy, a very basic plan, and people will buy extras. The insurance industry will flourish.

MR. LOWRY: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: But I'm with Clarence. Since when is this about protecting the insurance industry?

MR. PAGE: Thank you.

MS. CLIFT: This is protecting people's health care.

MR. PAGE: Those poor, poor insurance companies.

MS. CLIFT: The poor insurance -- they're making a ton of money.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's protecting the insureds. That's what it's about.

MS. CLIFT: No --

(Cross-talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me hear from you.

MR. LOWRY: Do you want your insurer to go out of business, Clarence? Do you want your insurer to go out of business? Do you want to get dropped from your employer's coverage?

MR. PAGE: My coverage has been going down, Rich, and so have a lot of other people. And I'm not in bad shape --

MR. LOWRY: You want to go into the government plan. You're going to sign up for the public plan. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica -- this is an exit question. Let's go.

MS. CROWLEY: (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: I'm going to buy into it. Of course.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Clarence. Hold on. Don't let him bait you that way.

MR. LOWRY: It's government health care.

MS. CROWLEY: Bringing us back to the exit question --

MR. PAGE: How do you like Medicare? Let me ask you that.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, this is exactly where we're heading, to the single-payer system, if, in fact, this gets passed and signed into law by President Obama. Barney Frank a couple of months ago said as much. This is the objective of the liberals. And just as President Obama allowed Nancy Pelosi and the far left in the House to write the economic stimulus, he has allowed the exact same thing to happen here. And that's why I don't think it's going to succeed.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the answer to the question?

MR. PAGE: Well, it's kind of amusing. Rich worries about one side of the public health care, but I'm almost Medicare age anyway, and Medicare is one of the most popular programs we've got.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it's bankrupt. And it's bankrupt.

MR. LOWRY: (Inaudible) -- the Medicare cuts.

MR. PAGE: Well, that's a question of government --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because it's government-run -- because it's government-run.

MR. PAGE: It's not bankrupt. It's not bankrupt.

MS. CROWLEY: It's broke.

MR. LOWRY: It's going bankrupt.

MR. PAGE: And the status quo -- health care costs are doubling right now under the status quo.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly. Quickly.

MR. PAGE: Obama's plan will be a 10 percent increase in order to get to the same thing. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your answer to the question? I think we know --

MR. PAGE: What's the question again?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) The answer to the question is -- the problem is that taxpayer money is behind the government program. Therefore, it's unlimited. The government will underbid the private- sector programs, because it's got a natural tendency to maintain itself in existence. And that will mean the end of private health care over time. And I think it's a bad idea.

Issue Two: Afghanistan Agony.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting, that there was an interest in the Taliban exerting control.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right on both counts, Mr. President. The fighting is tough, and the Taliban are winning. With a mountainous terrain that favors guerrilla warfare, and the summer heat reaching 120 degrees, NATO coalition forces have been unable to put down Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

The number of Taliban attacks is now at its highest since the war began in 2001, and July is now shaping up to be the deadliest month on record.

Thirty-five U.S. soldiers have already died this month, surpassing the last year's monthly high of 28. Seven hundred and fifty U.S. soldiers have been killed since 2001, and 1,000 deaths are now expected by the end of this year.

Is the war winnable? "It is unlikely that we will be able to defeat the Taliban. The ingredients of successful counterinsurgency campaigns in places like Malaya -- control of the borders, large numbers of troops in relation to the population, strong support from the majority ethnic groups, a long-term commitment and a credible local government -- are lacking in Afghanistan."

But what should the allied forces do? "The best Afghan policy would be to reduce the number of foreign troops from the current level of 90,000 to far fewer; perhaps 20,000. In that case, two distinct objectives would remain for the international community: Development and counterterrorism."

So says Rory Stewart, writing in "The London Review of Books." But the president of the United States will not be deterred.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waver.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this nation-building? Is President Barack Obama committing to nation-building in Afghanistan? Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, it is. And this is the much-derided approach when it was undertaken by President Bush in Iraq, where President Obama, who was then a senator and a candidate, really had some significant issues with it. But here he is, trying to do the exact same thing in Afghanistan.

The problem here is that we've got about 66,000 U.S. troops either on the ground in Afghanistan or on the way, and our allies really have not stepped up. One of President Obama's big objectives here in Afghanistan was to try to get our NATO allies to commit more troops. Great Britain now is under enormous pressure to reduce the number they have there, 9,000 troops. They have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties, especially over the last month or two. So the British government is under pressure. Obama has also indicated to his Defense secretary that he would like to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan above and beyond what's already been committed by the end of the year.

MS. CLIFT: Well, this is feeling a lot --

MS. CROWLEY: The problem is -- hang on.

MS. CLIFT: The problem is it's feeling a lot like Iraq.

MS. CROWLEY: Excuse me. Let me just finish.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. Let her finish.

MS. CROWLEY: The problem is that while we're talking about tactics here with boots on the ground, there really isn't a strategy. There's no exit strategy that's been delineated. There's no strategy here for what we're setting out to accomplish, beyond trying to win hearts and minds or defeat the Taliban.

And in terms of trying to get the Afghan army and police force up, which was a great struggle in Iraq to try to protect themselves from al Qaeda forces or get them out of the country, this is a very difficult proposition.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It is feeling a lot like Iraq when you hear each day about American servicemen dying. And I think Barack Obama has taken an enormous gamble by raising the stakes in Afghanistan, but I don't really see that he had any other choice. And he was not opposed to fighting an insurgency in Iraq, and this is how you fight an insurgency. You call it nation-building. And the new general there, McChrystal, is calling it a holistic strategy.

Basically they're not fighting the Taliban. They're protecting the people. But what that means is they've escalated the fighting in Afghanistan. The Taliban is coming across the border into Pakistan, and Pakistan is now pushing back because they feel that the Taliban is now urbanizing its fight in that country. So it's a scary strategy, but I would disagree with you that they don't have a strategy. There's a very clear strategy in place, and that is fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan with the hope of containing the problems --

MR. LOWRY: But the fact is, Barack Obama did oppose fighting a counterinsurgency in Iraq. That was what the surge was about. It was not just more manpower. It was a different strategy. Now the strategy is being applied in Afghanistan. And as we saw with the surge in Iraq, when you initially go in to clear these areas of the enemy, you're going to take casualties. It's extremely painful. And if you recall the Iraq debate, everyone on the left and everyone who was in favor of losing the war said, "Oh, my gosh, the surge is never going to work" because casualties went up. Well, casualties are going up in Afghanistan now, and this is a real --

MS. CLIFT: So is this about vindicating President Bush --

MR. LOWRY: No, this is a real --

MS. CLIFT: -- or is it about judging what's going on now?

MR. LOWRY: This is a real gut-check moment for Barack Obama, because it is inevitable that casualties go up, and he has to see this moment through. And fortunately he doesn't have so much of the left in the defeatist mode they were in the Iraq war.

MR. PAGE: Well, casualties are going up, because we are engaging the enemy now. For years we weren't engaging because all those troops were over in Iraq. We didn't have enough troops in Afghanistan. We may not have enough now. But we've got to -- for one thing, Karzai's government, you know, doesn't have much authority outside the capital city. We've got to deal in these rural areas, in these mountainous areas, where local tribal chiefs have more authority.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's -- (inaudible).

MR. PAGE: It's been hard to hold those areas.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. PAGE: Right, hard to hold them. You know, you take them by day. Overnight they go back.

MR. LOWRY: The point is clearing and holding.

MR. PAGE: We've got to get Pakistan engaged as well.

MR. LOWRY: We've cleared these areas occasionally. We've never held them. That's what we're doing now.

MS. CLIFT: If we're going to revisit Iraq, how many years and how many casualties did it get before President Bush realized it was actually an insurgency?

MR. LOWRY: Yeah, it took him too long. It took him too long.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Gates Affair.

This is how Harvard professor, author, TV documentarian, prodigiously awarded Henry Louis Gates typically appears in public. But that was a far cry from how he appeared last week, handcuffed just outside of his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gates arrived at his house late last Thursday after a trip to China. Finding the door jammed, Gates and his driver attempted to push the door open. That led a neighbor to report a break-in. The responding police officer, Sergeant James Crowley, arrived and asked Gates to step outside of his house. Gates replied, "Why, because I am a black man in America?"

Professor Gates says that he, Gates, presented his Harvard ID and then grew angry when the sergeant refused to give the sergeant's name and badge number to Gates. Sergeant Crowley says that he, Crowley, offered the information. Gates says he never got it. Crowley says Gates remained angry, and that led to Gates' arrest. Charge: Disorderly conduct. The charges were later dropped. Dr. Gates subsequently commented on the episode.

HENRY LOUIS GATES (Harvard University): (From videotape.) What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable all people of color are and all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policeman. And this man clearly was a rogue policeman.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Professor Gates added that if Sergeant Crowley, quote, "sincerely apologized," he, Gates, would be "willing to forgive him," unquote.

Sergeant Crowley said he had no reason to apologize.

SGT. JOSEPH CROWLEY (Cambridge, Massachusetts police department): (From audiotape.

) That apology will never come. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The event triggered this response on Wednesday night from a self-described friend of Gates.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) What I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama also offered this assessment of the Cambridge police.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sergeant Crowley voiced disappointment at President Obama's comments on the incident.

SGT. CROWLEY: (From audiotape.) I think it's disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue. He himself said at the beginning of that press conference he didn't know all the facts. He certainly doesn't, based on those comments.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Professor Gates is being defended by Obama at the same time he's proposing a documentary on the criminal justice system. How will that impact Gates? Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: A bigger audience, obviously. (Laughter.) I'm sure he didn't do this for publicity. You know, I've known Skip Gates, as we like to call him, for years. I was shocked that he would be arrested. Anybody that knows him knows he's 58 years old, walks with a cane; not a menacing figure.

Now we've got these two dueling accounts of what happened. Now, there were witnesses. But it looks to me like a classic case of an officer who had a choice when he's got someone who was upset. Skip Gates had just gotten back from Chicago; probably jet-lagged and short-tempered, and maybe he didn't stop shouting at the officer. The officer and the other police officers were the fuel of his anger. Had they left, I think things would have calmed down.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying that --

MR. PAGE: But it's hard for them to leave when they're being yelled at by a guy who they're accusing of disorderly conduct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: One of the impacts of this event is it's driven other news off the front page; for example, the president's probable loss by Congress of his package on medications and --

MS. CLIFT: Well, he hasn't lost it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I don't think he's going to get the votes.

MS. CLIFT: They're just not going to vote before the August recess, so let's not --

MR. PAGE: Which we kind of thought might happen anyway.

MS. CLIFT: Let's not get too worked up over that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We thought that might happen anyway.

MR. PAGE: Yeah; only a (lull ?) of a week, I mean, for Pete's sake. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's driven other news off the front page, like the economy. Do you think it's possible that this was wired?

MR. PAGE: No, because the economy and health care ain't going away. If anything, he upset his own --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It all sprung from one word -- "stupidly."

MR. PAGE: Yeah, he upset his own agenda. And I think, you know, he was -- here's a guy who --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he not know that this would happen?

MR. PAGE: Here's a guy --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And did he calculate the return on driving other bad news off page one --

MR. PAGE: No. You know, usually --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and accepting this?

MR. PAGE: Usually we're very --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are drowning in this story. MR. PAGE: I'd love to answer your question, John, if you'd stop asking it. (Laughter.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to impress upon you the value of having wired this whole story.

MS. CROWLEY: Listen, I see what you're trying to get at, but I don't think president Obama is that stupid, because the backlash against President Obama for putting his nose in an issue where he should not has been tremendous. Look, as president, he is the nation's chief law enforcement officer. He should not have taken a position where he is prejudging an ongoing investigation and a case -- and weighing in against the police officers before he had all of the facts.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's more important, this flap or the fact that he's losing with the Congress on his major health care --

MS. CROWLEY: The health care issue is huge.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: On a strategic importance scale, zero to 10, with Russia and China rating 10 and Liechtenstein rating zero, rate the strategic importance of Afghanistan.

MR. LOWRY: I'd put it at about a seven, John, because its fate is intimately connected to the fate of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to put it at a nine. This is the war we should have fought instead of getting diverted into Iraq.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MS. CROWLEY: I'd put it at an eight, with al Qaeda and the Taliban and Pakistan.

MR. PAGE: I'll say seven. It's a key, critical part of the world, and we don't need to lose it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a two.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. Bye-bye.



END.

ot of other people. And I'm not in bad shape --

MR. LOWRY: You want to go into the government plan. You're going to sign up for the public plan. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica -- this is an exit question. Let's go.

MS. CROWLEY: (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: I'm going to buy into it. Of course.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Clarence. Hold on. Don't let him bait you that way.

MR. LOWRY: It's government health care.

MS. CROWLEY: Bringing us back to the exit question --

MR. PAGE: How do you like Medicare? Let me ask you that.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, this is exactly where we're heading, to the single-payer system, if, in fact, this gets passed and signed into law by President Obama. Barney Frank a couple of months ago said as much. This is the objective of the liberals. And just as President Obama allowed Nancy Pelosi and the far left in the House to write the economic stimulus, he has allowed the exact same thing to happen here. And that's why I don't think it's going to succeed.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the answer to the question?

MR. PAGE: Well, it's kind of amusing. Rich worries about one side of the public health care, but I'm almost Medicare age anyway, and Medicare is one of the most popular programs we've got.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it's bankrupt. And it's bankrupt.

MR. LOWRY: (Inaudible) -- the Medicare cuts.

MR. PAGE: Well, that's a question of government --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because it's government-run -- because it's government-run.

MR. PAGE: It's not bankrupt. It's not bankrupt.

MS. CROWLEY: It's broke.

MR. LOWRY: It's going bankrupt.

MR. PAGE: And the status quo -- health care costs are doubling right now under the status quo.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly. Quickly.

MR. PAGE: Obama's plan will be a 10 percent increase in order to get to the same thing. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your answer to the question? I think we know --

MR. PAGE: What's the question again?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) The answer to the question is -- the problem is that taxpayer money is behind the government program. Therefore, it's unlimited. The government will underbid the private- sector programs, because it's got a natural tendency to maintain itself in existence. And that will mean the end of private health care over time. And I think it's a bad idea.

Issue Two: Afghanistan Agony.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting, that there was an interest in the Taliban exerting control.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right on both counts, Mr. President. The fighting is tough, and the Taliban are winning. With a mountainous terrain that favors guerrilla warfare, and the summer heat reaching 120 degrees, NATO coalition forces have been unable to put down Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

The number of Taliban attacks is now at its highest since the war began in 2001, and July is now shaping up to be the deadliest month on record.

Thirty-five U.S. soldiers have already died this month, surpassing the last year's monthly high of 28. Seven hundred and fifty U.S. soldiers have been killed since 2001, and 1,000 deaths are now expected by the end of this year.

Is the war winnable? "It is unlikely that we will be able to defeat the Taliban. The ingredients of successful counterinsurgency campaigns in places like Malaya -- control of the borders, large numbers of troops in relation to the population, strong support from the majority ethnic groups, a long-term commitment and a credible local government -- are lacking in Afghanistan."

But what should the allied forces do? "The best Afghan policy would be to reduce the number of foreign troops from the current level of 90,000 to far fewer; perhaps 20,000. In that case, two distinct objectives would remain for the international community: Development and counterterrorism."

So says Rory Stewart, writing in "The London Review of Books." But the president of the United States will not be deterred.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al Qaeda, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waver.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this nation-building? Is President Barack Obama committing to nation-building in Afghanistan? Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, it is. And this is the much-derided approach when it was undertaken by President Bush in Iraq, where President Obama, who was then a senator and a candidate, really had some significant issues with it. But here he is, trying to do the exact same thing in Afghanistan.

The problem here is that we've got about 66,000 U.S. troops either on the ground in Afghanistan or on the way, and our allies really have not stepped up. One of President Obama's big objectives here in Afghanistan was to try to get our NATO allies to commit more troops. Great Britain now is under enormous pressure to reduce the number they have there, 9,000 troops. They have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties, especially over the last month or two. So the British government is under pressure. Obama has also indicated to his Defense secretary that he would like to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan above and beyond what's already been committed by the end of the year.

MS. CLIFT: Well, this is feeling a lot --

MS. CROWLEY: The problem is -- hang on.

MS. CLIFT: The problem is it's feeling a lot like Iraq.

MS. CROWLEY: Excuse me. Let me just finish.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. Let her finish.

MS. CROWLEY: The problem is that while we're talking about tactics here with boots on the ground, there really isn't a strategy. There's no exit strategy that's been delineated. There's no strategy here for what we're setting out to accomplish, beyond trying to win hearts and minds or defeat the Taliban.

And in terms of trying to get the Afghan army and police force up, which was a great struggle in Iraq to try to protect themselves from al Qaeda forces or get them out of the country, this is a very difficult proposition.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It is feeling a lot like Iraq when you hear each day about American servicemen dying. And I think Barack Obama has taken an enormous gamble by raising the stakes in Afghanistan, but I don't really see that he had any other choice. And he was not opposed to fighting an insurgency in Iraq, and this is how you fight an insurgency. You call it nation-building. And the new general there, McChrystal, is calling it a holistic strategy.

Basically they're not fighting the Taliban. They're protecting the people. But what that means is they've escalated the fighting in Afghanistan. The Taliban is coming across the border into Pakistan, and Pakistan is now pushing back because they feel that the Taliban is now urbanizing its fight in that country. So it's a scary strategy, but I would disagree with you that they don't have a strategy. There's a very clear strategy in place, and that is fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan with the hope of containing the problems --

MR. LOWRY: But the fact is, Barack Obama did oppose fighting a counterinsurgency in Iraq. That was what the surge was about. It was not just more manpower. It was a different strategy. Now the strategy is being applied in Afghanistan. And as we saw with the surge in Iraq, when you initially go in to clear these areas of the enemy, you're going to take casualties. It's extremely painful. And if you recall the Iraq debate, everyone on the left and everyone who was in favor of losing the war said, "Oh, my gosh, the surge is never going to work" because casualties went up. Well, casualties are going up in Afghanistan now, and this is a real --

MS. CLIFT: So is this about vindicating President Bush --

MR. LOWRY: No, this is a real --

MS. CLIFT: -- or is it about judging what's going on now?

MR. LOWRY: This is a real gut-check moment for Barack Obama, because it is inevitable that casualties go up, and he has to see this moment through. And fortunately he doesn't have so much of the left in the defeatist mode they were in the Iraq war.

MR. PAGE: Well, casualties are going up, because we are engaging the enemy now. For years we weren't engaging because all those troops were over in Iraq. We didn't have enough troops in Afghanistan. We may not have enough now. But we've got to -- for one thing, Karzai's government, you know, doesn't have much authority outside the capital city. We've got to deal in these rural areas, in these mountainous areas, where local tribal chiefs have more authority.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's -- (inaudible).

MR. PAGE: It's been hard to hold those areas.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. PAGE: Right, hard to hold them. You know, you take them by day. Overnight they go back.

MR. LOWRY: The point is clearing and holding.

MR. PAGE: We've got to get Pakistan engaged as well.

MR. LOWRY: We've cleared these areas occasionally. We've never held them. That's what we're doing now.

MS. CLIFT: If we're going to revisit Iraq, how many years and how many casualties did it get before President Bush realized it was actually an insurgency?

MR. LOWRY: Yeah, it took him too long. It took him too long.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Gates Affair.

This is how Harvard professor, author, TV documentarian, prodigiously awarded Henry Louis Gates typically appears in public. But that was a far cry from how he appeared last week, handcuffed just outside of his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gates arrived at his house late last Thursday after a trip to China. Finding the door jammed, Gates and his driver attempted to push the door open. That led a neighbor to report a break-in. The responding police officer, Sergeant James Crowley, arrived and asked Gates to step outside of his house. Gates replied, "Why, because I am a black man in America?"

Professor Gates says that he, Gates, presented his Harvard ID and then grew angry when the sergeant refused to give the sergeant's name and badge number to Gates. Sergeant Crowley says that he, Crowley, offered the information. Gates says he never got it. Crowley says Gates remained angry, and that led to Gates' arrest. Charge: Disorderly conduct. The charges were later dropped. Dr. Gates subsequently commented on the episode.

HENRY LOUIS GATES (Harvard University): (From videotape.) What it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable all people of color are and all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policeman. And this man clearly was a rogue policeman.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Professor Gates added that if Sergeant Crowley, quote, "sincerely apologized," he, Gates, would be "willing to forgive him," unquote.

Sergeant Crowley said he had no reason to apologize.

SGT. JOSEPH CROWLEY (Cambridge, Massachusetts police department): (From audiotape.

) That apology will never come. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The event triggered this response on Wednesday night from a self-described friend of Gates.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) What I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama also offered this assessment of the Cambridge police.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sergeant Crowley voiced disappointment at President Obama's comments on the incident.

SGT. CROWLEY: (From audiotape.) I think it's disappointing that he waded into what should be a local issue. He himself said at the beginning of that press conference he didn't know all the facts. He certainly doesn't, based on those comments.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Professor Gates is being defended by Obama at the same time he's proposing a documentary on the criminal justice system. How will that impact Gates? Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: A bigger audience, obviously. (Laughter.) I'm sure he didn't do this for publicity. You know, I've known Skip Gates, as we like to call him, for years. I was shocked that he would be arrested. Anybody that knows him knows he's 58 years old, walks with a cane; not a menacing figure.

Now we've got these two dueling accounts of what happened. Now, there were witnesses. But it looks to me like a classic case of an officer who had a choice when he's got someone who was upset. Skip Gates had just gotten back from Chicago; probably jet-lagged and short-tempered, and maybe he didn't stop shouting at the officer. The officer and the other police officers were the fuel of his anger. Had they left, I think things would have calmed down.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying that --

MR. PAGE: But it's hard for them to leave when they're being yelled at by a guy who they're accusing of disorderly conduct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: One of the impacts of this event is it's driven other news off the front page; for example, the president's probable loss by Congress of his package on medications and --

MS. CLIFT: Well, he hasn't lost it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I don't think he's going to get the votes.

MS. CLIFT: They're just not going to vote before the August recess, so let's not --

MR. PAGE: Which we kind of thought might happen anyway.

MS. CLIFT: Let's not get too worked up over that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We thought that might happen anyway.

MR. PAGE: Yeah; only a (lull ?) of a week, I mean, for Pete's sake. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's driven other news off the front page, like the economy. Do you think it's possible that this was wired?

MR. PAGE: No, because the economy and health care ain't going away. If anything, he upset his own --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It all sprung from one word -- "stupidly."

MR. PAGE: Yeah, he upset his own agenda. And I think, you know, he was -- here's a guy who --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he not know that this would happen?

MR. PAGE: Here's a guy --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And did he calculate the return on driving other bad news off page one --

MR. PAGE: No. You know, usually --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and accepting this?

MR. PAGE: Usually we're very --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are drowning in this story. MR. PAGE: I'd love to answer your question, John, if you'd stop asking it. (Laughter.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to impress upon you the value of having wired this whole story.

MS. CROWLEY: Listen, I see what you're trying to get at, but I don't think president Obama is that stupid, because the backlash against President Obama for putting his nose in an issue where he should not has been tremendous. Look, as president, he is the nation's chief law enforcement officer. He should not have taken a position where he is prejudging an ongoing investigation and a case -- and weighing in against the police officers before he had all of the facts.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's more important, this flap or the fact that he's losing with the Congress on his major health care --

MS. CROWLEY: The health care issue is huge.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: On a strategic importance scale, zero to 10, with Russia and China rating 10 and Liechtenstein rating zero, rate the strategic importance of Afghanistan.

MR. LOWRY: I'd put it at about a seven, John, because its fate is intimately connected to the fate of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to put it at a nine. This is the war we should have fought instead of getting diverted into Iraq.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MS. CROWLEY: I'd put it at an eight, with al Qaeda and the Taliban and Pakistan.

MR. PAGE: I'll say seven. It's a key, critical part of the world, and we don't need to lose it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a two.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. Bye-bye.



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