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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 19-20, 2009

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DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Shelving the Shield.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) The best way to responsibly advance our security and the security of our allies is to deploy a missile defense system that best responds to the threats that we face.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Commander-in-Chief Obama announced this week that he was overhauling plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. The ground-based interceptors were to have been put in Poland, with a related radar site in the Czech Republic. Moscow had previously denounced this Bush-era missile defense layout. President Obama promised to put in its place a stronger and swifter defense system to protect U.S. allies from any threat from Iran. U.S. officials say that the move is non-ideological. They deny that dropping the Bush scheme is a quid pro quo in return for Russia's support for tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran.

As for the new U.S. plan for missile defense in Europe, it includes seaborne interceptors, airborne sensors, and a greater emphasis on the threat of Iranian short-range missiles.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reinforced the commander in chief.

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gates says that the new approach will be more effective than the previous Bush defense system, which Gates says he himself had approved. Privately, diplomats are saying that if the U.S. had pushed ahead with the Bush system, it would have jeopardized President Obama's attempt to reset relations with Moscow.

Question: What was the real reason why the Bush missile shield was abandoned by Obama? Was it technology or was it statecraft?

MR. BUCHANAN: Statecraft, John. This has really sent the Russians up the wall when Bush made the decision to put the missiles in and put the radars in the Czech Republic. But I think it's a very wise decision on the president's part. The Iranians don't have an ICBM. They don't have an atomic bomb. They haven't weaponized an atomic bomb. They are no threat to Poland or Eastern Europe or the United States. If they are a threat, they're a threat to Israel and their Arab Sunni neighbors.

Therefore, the decision makes sense in that Gates is providing a defense against their Shahab II missile, 1,200-mile missile, which can hit Israel, can hit other places in the Middle East. I think it's a wise decision, a gutsy decision.

He's going to get hammered by conservatives, who were very much behind this Bush thing. But all the Bush thing did was really, you know, raise the alarms, not only the Russian government. The Russian people are outraged the Americans are putting missiles in Europe. Now, there's paranoia there, but I think Obama did a wise and correct thing to address it, to take this down, and to set this new other system up. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's doing it to accommodate intermediate- range missiles, which is what Iran has, and they don't have the long- range, which --

MR. BUCHANAN: You can deal with Scuds and these 800-mile missiles and 1,200-mile missiles. They don't have an ICBM, a long- range missile.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that naive view, Eleanor? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Here's where the left meets with the rational right. This is a smart decision. It's one that he telegraphed during the campaign. He is replacing a fantasy system, a system which has not demonstrated that it can work, which is catching these long-range missiles, and a very expensive fantasy adventure, with a proven technology that can be done from ships and that can counter the threat that currently exists.

And I think when you've got the secretary of Defense, who is a holdover from the Bush administration, you've got the Joint Chiefs backing this, you've got people like Senator Webb, Virginia Senator Webb, who's a former Republican Navy secretary. You're still going to get the push-back from the right, from the neocons, because ideologically they had a lot invested in this. It goes back to Star Wars. It's been heavily romanced. But the facts support the president's position.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Gates is also a good soldier.

MS. CLIFT: Gates is a very smart individual who gets extraordinarily high marks from Republicans and Democrats.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica, give us the real answer, will you?

MS. CROWLEY: The real answer is that during the presidential transition, Vice President Biden said that the new, young, untested Democratic president was going to be tested by our adversaries. Vladimir Putin didn't wait very long to test this young Democratic president, and Obama buckled. Just as the Soviets tested John Kennedy and we got Soviet missiles in Cuba, just as they tested Jimmy Carter and we had Soviet troops marching through Afghanistan, this will embolden the Russians.

Look, Obama did this negotiation. The Russians look at this as a zero-sum game. They don't look at it like the West or as Obama looks at it, which is a win-win kind of diplomacy. The Russians look at it as a zero-sum game. The United States capitulated on this without getting anything in return of note -- no Russian help in squeezing Iran on their nuclear program, no sovereignty guarantee for the state of Georgia, and no restrictions on arms sales or nuclear transfers to Venezuela. So without getting anything concrete in return, this was a giveaway to the Russians, throwing our steadfast, loyal allies like Poland and the Czech Republic, that have given a lot of troops and a lot of commitment --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And who are enraged.

MS. CROWLEY: -- to NATO and to Iraq and Afghanistan in particular and are really upset about this. He threw all of this away for nothing --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think --

MS. CROWLEY: -- and allowed the Russians to know that now they can roll this guy on just about anything.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think it's --

MS. CROWLEY: So watch for them to get a lot more aggressive.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think it's dispositive? Namely, it puts the Russians in a good frame of mind to cut a deal, and there probably was pre-wiring going on, wasn't there?

MS. CROWLEY: I'll tell you that despite the ostensible reason for this missile defense system in Eastern Europe to protect against Iranian missiles, there were actually two bigger reasons for the system to go into place. One was an extra layer of defense for the Eastern Seaboard, because we have this kind of missile defense system in California and Alaska, but it really left the Eastern Seaboard -- New York, Boston, Washington -- very vulnerable to a missile attack.

MS. CLIFT: Oh --

MR. PAGE: Do you think Iran's going to attack the East Coast?

(Cross talk.)

MS. CROWLEY: Excuse me.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me turn to General Page here.

MS. CLIFT: That's enough. (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: Well, here's where we see the right and left part again. (Laughter.) As Pat predicted, there is a neocon reaction here.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. PAGE: But I think that -- I trust Secretary Gates to understand the strategic value of these new missiles.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And a truth sayer.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, he is an independent enough voice. He's respected by both sides, for good reason. The other thing about missiles, Monica, is you can move them back. You know, if we don't get what we want from Russia later on, we've still got that kind of portability and leverage. But at present now, it doesn't really make sense to have this kind of a provocative set-up unless we really need it, especially when we do need Russia on our side as far as dealing with Iran.

MS. CROWLEY: There was never --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You see that the new missiles are going to be placed in about half a dozen different sites around Europe.

MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that tell you, Pat?

MR. PAGE: Those are for the smaller missiles, yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, the truth is, Iran is not a threat to anybody right now. If it is a threat, it would be a threat to Israel. It doesn't have an atomic bomb. It doesn't have an ICBM. Tell me why these idiots would fire a missile at an American base and get themselves blown to kingdom come? This Iranian thing is pumped up and pumped up and pumped up. They do have a problem with the nuclear program --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I have a question for Monica, and the question is, is Israel on board on this?

MS. CROWLEY: I have not heard a reaction, but --

MR. BUCHANAN: I'll bet they are, because --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: They have more protection. They get protection this way. The threat they face is from the short- and medium-range missiles.

MS. CROWLEY: Look --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about that? How about that?

MS. CLIFT: I imagine they are on board.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, but they were going to face this Iranian threat as they do in any event. Look, this idea that somehow this missile shield was provocative to Russia -- they were going to put 10 interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic, and that was going to counteract 4,100 Russian missiles and warheads? Give me a break.

MR. PAGE: It's the placement that counts. It's the placement that counts, not the numbers. MR. BUCHANAN: We were defending Poland from Iran? What are you talking about?

MS. CROWLEY: All this romanticizing that Russia really isn't a threat -- I mean, you guys are out to lunch on that.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Nobody is romanticizing Russia.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, if you don't think --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.

MS. CLIFT: I do sympathize with the Eastern European countries, who have plenty of reason to worry about the Russians. And you've got to do some hand-holding in getting them to understand this deal as well. But the truth is that the U.S. missiles were very controversial among the publics in both Poland and Czechoslovakia. And they're not going to rise up and demand this.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: There must be some reason out there, there must be some observable reality, that indicates to the president that the Russian-U.S. relationship, which was pretty bad before he took office, that it can be reset. Now, what's the indication that Russia is available to be wooed?

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got a problem here, and Monica does have this point. We are very close to a Black Sea war between Russia and Georgia for this reason. The Georgians have blockaded Abkhazia, which broke away and is independent and recognized by Russia after the August war.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And very happy.

MR. BUCHANAN: And very happy. But the Georgians have blockaded them. They're stopping ships. And the Russians this past week negotiated a treaty with Abkhazia. And if the Georgians try to maintain that blockade, the Russian coast guard will take them on, and the American --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do we fit into that puzzle?

MR. BUCHANAN: We'd better tell Saakashvili, "Don't start blockading Abkhazia. We know you don't like it, but don't do it."

MS. CLIFT: The president's --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, he marches to his own drummer.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right. Then tell him deal with the Russians to his own drummer. MS. CLIFT: The president --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But hasn't he learned the Russian lesson by South Ossetia?

MR. BUCHANAN: He wants to be very tough and he wants to drag us into his arguments.

MS. CLIFT: But the president's got to be tough also that no meddling in Ukraine, which is kind of next on the Russian checklist.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's the next one. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: So he doesn't want to give them reasons to think he's weak. And you're going to hear all the criticism. I mean, John McCain was out of the box very quickly, you know, basically saying this weakens our posture.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that --

MS. CLIFT: And the Republicans have a vested interest in portraying President Obama as weak, which is a narrative line that does not serve the country well.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about the Trans-Caucacus. We're talking about Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. And I was in Georgia about a year and a half ago. And you commonly hear that John McCain spends a lot of time in Georgia, so he knows the scene over there.

MR. PAGE: He has for years.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is that?

MR. PAGE: You saw during the campaign, though, his reaction was too quick.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On balance, was Commander-in- Chief Obama's missile defense decision smart?

MR. BUCHANAN: It was a wise decision, but Monica does have this point. The Russians have other fish to fry in Ukraine and Georgia, and I don't think he's bought himself anything great by doing this. He did the right thing, but I think the Russians are going to be a problem.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he lose?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I think --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has he lost anything?

MR. BUCHANAN: He did the right thing with the Russian people. And, frankly, Eleanor's right. Look, the Czechs and the Poles initially didn't want this thing in there.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that there must be some deal out there that we don't know about?

MS. CLIFT: Well, there was an exchange of letters, I believe, before Obama took office, basically suggesting that if this administration didn't go ahead with those missiles, that perhaps Russia could be more helpful restraining Iran, and that -- from developing nuclear weapons. That is the larger issue here.

I don't think it's a quid pro quo. I wish it were. I don't think you can trust the Russians to that extent. But I think we have removed something that was unnecessarily provocative. And you can't automatically now say, you know, the Russians are not going to work with us. A lot of these things are in their best interest as well. MS. CROWLEY: We never --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's happening next week?

MS. CROWLEY: You know what's happening. President Obama is meeting with the Russian president, Medvedev.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where?

MS. CROWLEY: In New York at the meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then they go to where? Isn't he in on the G-20?

MS. CROWLEY: And then there's the G-20 meeting.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So they're going to go from New York on Tuesday.

MS. CROWLEY: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Wednesday they're going to go to Pittsburgh.

MS. CROWLEY: This --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're going to be there for, what, Thursday and Friday?

MS. CROWLEY: Right, through the end of the week.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Pittsburgh.

MS. CROWLEY: And this was meant to --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's going to be buddy-buddy with --

MS. CROWLEY: -- grease the skids for that meeting. But, look, my problem is --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you don't think it's going to work.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I think that the Russians respond to strength.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's a trap laid by the Russians.

MS. CROWLEY: I think that the Russians respond to strength. Look, just the mere holding out of a fantasy idea, as Eleanor put it, of Star Wars was one of the primary reasons of bankrupting the Soviet Union and allowing the West to win the Cold War. I also think that this Bush idea of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe was part of a global defense architecture so that our allies would feel protected by the United States and would feel that they wouldn't have to go create their own arsenals --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now we've sold out.

MS. CROWLEY: -- and their own deterrence. And now you're going to start seeing all of this developing -- Europe and Eastern Europe, and in the Middle East --

MS. CLIFT: For all --

MS. CROWLEY: -- an arms race begin.

MS. CLIFT: For all you deficit-concerned people, though, you couldn't continue to pour all that money into the system that doesn't work and not address the threat that really exists. So the money has to go somewhere. Better it goes to address the problem that Europe is facing right now.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: General Page, you know that against this background we had a rather irenic address in Warsaw by Putin --

MR. PAGE: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- within the past couple of weeks. And it wasn't perfect, but it moved in the direction of integration to the world community. And he apologized to Poland, did he not?

MR. BUCHANAN: The 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, September 1, where the Russians came in.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: One bad thing --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he apologized for the relationship --

MR. BUCHANAN: We announced the missile deal --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- between the then-Soviets and the Germans.

MR. BUCHANAN: But we announced the missile deal on the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland, John, which was probably bad timing.

MR. PAGE: Right.

MS. CROWLEY: Not good.

MS. CLIFT: Bad timing. (Laughs.) MS. CROWLEY: But indicative.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to answer the question?

MR. PAGE: Which is? (Laughter.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it a smart move?

MR. PAGE: Putin sending a signal? Oh, was Obama's move smart?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Smart.

MR. PAGE: Okay, I will say --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were advising Obama --

MR. PAGE: I will say yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- would you say, "Yes, do it now; prepare for Pittsburgh"?

MR. PAGE: I would say yes in the short term, here definitely; prepare for the talks. Also show that we're acting in good faith. Now see how Putin is going to respond.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The whole thing has been wired.

Issue Two: Carter Race-Baiting?

REP. JOE WILSON (R-SC): (From videotape.) You lie!

Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst at President Obama in the House of Representatives put a national focus on civility in politics. That debate on civility in politics then morphed into racism in politics. Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter did the morphing.

FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: (From videotape.) I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: On the next day, President Carter stated his broad conclusion on racism in America with brutal clarity.

FORMER PRESIDENT CARTER: (From videotape.) There is a feeling among many people in this country that an African-American ought not to be president.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republicans responded to Carter with outrage. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele had this to say to the former president.

MICHAEL STEELE (Republican National Committee chairman): (From videotape.) To make it as short and sweet and simple as possible, you're just dead wrong. And the reality of it is this is about policy, differences in how we approach solving some of these issues that we're confronting on health care and the economy.

And the fact that there are citizens around the country -- I don't care what color they are -- that are outraged or confused or concerned or however they come to this debate, you know, that has nothing to do with the color of the president's skin. I am, like a lot of Americans, concerned and disagree with the president's policies and approaches, from the stimulus spending to this health-care strategy. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who won this argument, Carter or Steele? Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: Well, I think it's an unfortunate circular argument, because I don't think either one of them really hit the point. Jimmy Carter's speaking from his generation, which I appreciate. I'm old enough to remember Jim Crow, and we have made progress.

But when he said that he thought racism was the overwhelming feeling behind opposition to Obama, I think that was going too far. I mean, you're going to find traces of it on the right, just as you're going to find anti-globalist radicals on the left. But I think, no, there are so many other reasons for opposition to Obama, legitimate or otherwise, whether you agree with him or not, that racism is just a part of that.

Larger, I think, is the old populist clash in this country against the elites. In a way, it's kind of oddly a sign of progress that we have a black man who's powerful enough to be rallied against by anti-elitists.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I think during the Bush years we heard from the left that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. And now, in the age of Obama, they want to say that dissent is the lowest form of racism.

I think it's despicable. I think it's toxic to our national conversation that anybody who has a legitimate opposition to what President Obama is doing, as Clarence points out, is painted as a racist.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to quote Cornell --

MS. CROWLEY: It's really the lowest of the low.

MS. CLIFT: I'm going to quote Cornell Belcher, who happens to be African-American and who's polled for candidate Obama and President Obama. And what he basically says is that people with the most retrograde attitudes on race tend to gravitate to the far right of the Republican Party.

And so Jimmy Carter is mistaken when he says many people, but some people. And a lot of these really negative racial sentiments have been expressed, and we've seen them on television. And I have not heard from moderate Republicans repudiating them.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well -- MS. CLIFT: Wait a second. President Reagan used to tell a joke about a guy who went to see a psychiatrist because his brother thought he was a chicken. And the psychiatrist said, "How long has this been going on?" He said, "Ten years." And he said, "Well, why haven't you sought help earlier?" And he said, "Because we need the eggs." (Laughter.) The Republicans need those votes.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John --

MS. CLIFT: And that's what it's about.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, look --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The panthers in that crowd are not on the right. Let me tell you, this is a statement of malevolence, stupidity and moral arrogance. How does he know what's in Joe Wilson's heart?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is on Carter's part.

MR. BUCHANAN: Carter. How does he know what's in Joe Wilson's heart when he --

MR. PAGE: Maybe it's -- (inaudible).

MR. BUCHANAN: How does he know what's in the heart of those people?

MS. CLIFT: Southern strategy. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: You talked. How does he know what's in the heart of those people up there protesting, who supported Obama? He was at 75 percent. He falls to 50. Did they suddenly discover that he was black? That's preposterous.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also there were circumstances there that are mitigating, especially in the context of where the heat is and the --

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, Obama handled it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He had just finished three appearances, I believe, in succession before audiences, big amphitheater kind of audiences.

MR. BUCHANAN: Obama handled it beautifully. This guy was gauche and Obama says, "I accept the apology. This isn't about race."

Carter's going to drag this thing in and put it out there. It's all about Jimmy.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Rush for Health Reform. PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Are you fired up? (Cheers, applause.) Ready to go?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama is campaigning for health care, and he's in a hurry.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We are going to get it done this year. (Cheers, applause.) We are going to get it done this year.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president wants to sign a health-care bill now. Why the rush? The president cites the cost of health insurance, both for those who have it and for those who don't. Health costs are rising dramatically each year, and the number of Americans without insurance is going up too.

Then there's also the political component. True, Democrats have big majorities in both the House and the Senate. But the personal political capital Mr. Obama won in the election last year is ebbing by the day. In 2010, right around the corner, is another election year for Congress. All 435 members of the House must face the voters. And at least 36 Senate seats, more than one-third of the 100 members of the Senate, are up for grabs. Also, off-year campaign season frequently means the death knell for the big-ticket items. And one of those big tickets is the president's $1 trillion health-care overhaul.

And so Mr. Obama says the time is now. Republicans opposed to the plan say, "Slow down, Mr. President. You're driving us nuts."

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): (From videotape.

) We need to debate this for the next several months. To put an artificial deadline on passing a bill of this magnitude is crazy.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why are the Democrats moving this so fast? Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: If you call 100 years moving it fast, I disagree. As the president pointed out, every president since Teddy Roosevelt has tried to get this legislation. And Congressman John Dingell is a living testament to how long this fight has gone on. His father held his seat before him, worked with FDR and Truman, and introduced health-care legislation then that his son introduces every year, and John Dingell has held his seat since 1955.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forty-eight years.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. And he's now 83 and gets around on crutches. And so I think we've taken enough time to study the issue. And in Washington, calling for delay is a recipe. It's a standard operation procedure to kill legislation.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The problem is that whatever is enacted by Congress is de facto irrevocable. You cannot take this kind of a supply chain away from the American people. You couldn't do it with Medicare. You couldn't do it with Medicaid or Social Security. Am I right or wrong?

MS. CROWLEY: New entitlements.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Therefore, we ought to get it absolutely right and they should take their time.

MS. CROWLEY: You are right, because once an entitlement is given away, it is impossible to take it back. We're talking about nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy. The reason they're doing it so fast is because they realize their window of opportunity is shutting pretty fast here. When you look at these polls, 52-53 percent of the American people are now against Obamacare. The more time that transpires, the more the public is aligned against it.

MR. PAGE: Even though they don't know what it is. They're against it and don't know what it is. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they're learning through the computer.

MS. CROWLEY: The opposition is on the Democratic side.

MR. PAGE: All that we have seen is stuff get taken away from it. You talk about receding. We should be debating single payer. That's the real debate. But we couldn't get that far. They put out the public option as a compromise, and now that's disappearing. You know, I mean, this is all moving in such a direction that it's being whittled down.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's wrong --

MR. PAGE: There's plenty to add on in later years down the road.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's wrong with incrementalism and taking it a piece at a time?

MR. PAGE: Well, Eleanor's right, John. This debate has been going on for 100 years, especially since Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson in particular. We should be debating expanding Medicare to everybody. That should be the real argument.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The real hurdle is the public option. And it's pretty clear that the Congress is not going to go with the public option.

MR. PAGE: The Senate doesn't have enough votes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But what's wrong with an incremental approach after that that would stretch into next year and help the Democrats, because it would then be seen as enlightened legislation and guarantee a lot of Senate seats and retention of the House --

MR. PAGE: What's incremental to some is foot-dragging to others. You don't do enough that it makes a difference. You don't --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, but they all have their own individual independence, like portability or --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me get into this. The real thing that's behind this is Rahm's rule, which says you never let a great crisis go to waste. Obama came in, a transformational president. "I'm going to get this thing done. I'm going to get it all the way through." If they don't get it done big this year, it'll be another number of years.

And, John, what he's got is he's got 60 votes now in the Senate when they get the Democrat. He's got a 70-vote margin. And the Democrats all believe they've got to get this done. There's a real incentive of the entire party -- Obama, the Blue Dogs and the progressives. MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think he's going to get something through.

(Cross talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you, first of all, believe in the political logic that's being advanced by Obama and by Rahm's brother?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think this country, looking at $9 trillion in deficits, can't afford it. I think we're headed right down the tubes.

MS. CLIFT: The worst outcome --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can't you see the advantage of incrementalism --

MR. BUCHANAN: I certainly can.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and taking piece by piece and stretching it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I certainly can. But they've got the votes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, a forced prediction. If you had to quantify the reduction in black-white racism in the United States over the last 20 years, what would you say it is?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the idea of white racism has gone down very, very dramatically. There is black racism in the black community. There's a real hostility, and it's manifested in crime.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Greatly reduced.

MR. BUCHANAN: Greatly reduced in both communities, but it's there.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: So you're saying blacks are racist and whites aren't? I can't buy into that.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I'm saying they're in both communities.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The racist issue, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: We've made enormous strides among people. Politicians still exploit it.

MS. CROWLEY: As a matter of legal discrimination, it doesn't exist. Does it exist in terms of judgments? Yes, to some extent.

MR. PAGE: As racism has receded, suspicion of racism has filled the gaps. So it's about the same. (Laughs.) DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's about the same?

MR. PAGE: The perspectives, folks' perspectives.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the reduction has been great.

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