The McLaughlin Group
Host: John McLaughlin
Tim Carney, Washington Examiner;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Taped: Friday, August 10, 2012
Broadcast: Weekend of August 11-12, 2012
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Curious and Curiouser.
NASA MISSION CONTROL SPOKESMAN: (From audiotape.) Touchdown confirmed. We're safe on Mars.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An incredible feat. A 2,000-pound robotic rover, the size of an automobile, is lowered by cables from a jet- propelled platform and lands with pinpoint accuracy on the surface of Mars. It is named Curiosity. The touchdown occurred after an edge- of-the-seat, seven-minutes-of-terror plunge towards the Martian surface at 13,000 miles per hour. And that seven-minute descent came after eight months of voyaging from Earth to Mars.
Curiosity lifted off from Cape Canaveral on November 23rd, 2011. It traveled 352 million miles, the distance between planet Earth and planet Mars. Curiosity is now beaming amazing photos back to Earth of the Martian landscape.
DAVID GROTZINGER (NASA lead scientist): (From videotape.) It just looks a lot like what you see out in the Mojave Desert. It's really cool. And so it kind of makes you feel at home. What's going to be interesting is going to be to find out all the ways that it's different.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Curiosity will explore rocks and Martian soil, searching for whether life ever existed on Mars. The rover will dig for none other than the building blocks of life -- carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory team at NASA came up with the idea and then the reality that landed Curiosity. Engineer Adam Steltzner led the NASA team.
ADAM STELTZNER (NASA lead engineer): (From videotape.) Curiosity being on the surface of Mars is something that could only have been done in the USA. The ingenuity, the practicality, all of those things wrapped together are what's necessary to do a huge engineering feat like this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Besides possibly finding evidence of life on Mars, a scientific breakthrough, can this mission yield any technological breakthroughs, as did the Apollo missions to the moon? Tim Carney.
TIM CARNEY: Any time you spend $2.6 billion and do something unprecedented like this, you are going to learn something. They're going to pick up new stuff about how to land on a foreign planet, what parts of Mars might be good for manned space flight to land on.
But just because you're spending a lot of money and learning something from it doesn't mean that the money was money well spent. We got Tang out of the space program too. I love Tang. I grew up drinking Tang. That doesn't mean that this is necessarily something for taxpayers to be spending.
So, yes, there will be things we'll learn technologically. But will they be worth the price tag?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You disapprove of the spending?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it's very cool, very interesting, incredibly impressive. I wish that research universities were spending money on it or somebody who could get something out of it like minerals or let a private industry fund it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
ELEANOR CLIFT: The president's science adviser, immediately after the landing, said if anyone doubted America's supremacy in space or thinks we've lost our edge, think again. This was a spectacular achievement.
To have this -- to attempt this landing, which has never been done anywhere, and to do it half a solar system away, I mean, that is a technological marvel. And who knows what we'll learn. Basic research is what we should be doing.
So I think this is fantastic. And the folks at the Propulsion Laboratory ought to be recognized as American heroes, just as the Olympiads are, as we recognize them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think it's just an astonishing achievement, as Eleanor says. You just can't believe it when you see it. Just think -- 350 million miles this thing traveled, and then they were able to lower it with a cable. I mean, the whole thing is just, you know, out of a movie. So I think it's quite wonderful. I don't think it's going to transform very much, but nevertheless, I hope we can afford $2.6 billion ventures in the future.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They had to figure out how to get this from the bottom of the parachute to the Earth. That was really an amazing thing that they were able to force it to land on the surface.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not only --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, a parachute doesn't go to the Earth.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, they lowered it through some kind of cable. You know, the whole thing was worked up in advance. It's just astonishing.
CLARENCE PAGE: They lowered it with a special retro-rocket assembly --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. PAGE: -- which was able to come down and lower it gently to the ground and then fly off and crash someplace else.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And it all worked.
MR. PAGE: But I hate to shoot you down, Tim, though. Tang was not created for the space program, Tang and teflon. I made that error in a column, and I got a lot of letters from people. (Laughs.) They actually appreciated the space program. But the spirit is in the right place.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you didn't even do that in Paris, did you?
MR. PAGE: That's right. That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's another --
MR. PAGE: I want to tell you, they have great Tang in Paris. (Laughs.) But, no, I agree with my colleagues --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you go to Paris for the Tang, you're in trouble. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, the astronaut in chief, Obama. President Barack Obama described the landing of Curiosity as an unprecedented feat that, quote, "will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," unquote.
But the NASA program that launched Curiosity, which clocked in at $2.5 billion, is under the budget knife. Mr. Obama halted the space shuttle program upgrade, but he wants to let stand NASA's overall budget at $17.7 billion next year. But the Mars exploration budget would be cut from $587 million per year to $360 million by 2013.
Question: Will the success of Curiosity spare NASA's Mars budget from cuts? Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: Well, we've given up on the idea of sending a man or a woman to Mars. And I think the fact that we're now doing these things technologically and by computer screens saves a lot of money. And I think the president can hold this up as an example of smart cuts and using government money effectively. I mean, he's kept the NASA program alive, and it's actually flourishing. I think kudos to the president for how he's handled this, and to the people who made this happen.
MR. CARNEY: And at a time when we have these giant budget deficits, when everybody's asking for sacrifice from somebody, it seems that you could ask for bigger sacrifices from the Martian budget.
MR. PAGE: But you know what the problem is, Tim? Private industry will not fund basic research. And this is true across the board, not just the space program, but biotech, et cetera. Private industry just won't do it until they find that there is some kind of a possible profit return. Then they go crazy with it.
MR. CARNEY: No, taking risks and uncertainty is what --
MR. PAGE: But this is a very good reason for the government to --
MS. CLIFT: This could act as a magnet for money from private industry.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Mars landing is getting millions and millions of hits on the Net.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. And the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that is going to be worldwide. And the dividends from that, that will flow into this sector of engineering, will be amazing. I'm not talking about space. I'm talking about applications of what was learned --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. We hope.
MS. CLIFT: Hear, hear.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: In the 1890s --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Am I right on that?
MS. CLIFT: Yes. (Laughs.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: In the 1890s, some scientist, who had a telescope that he could see -- where he could see Mars, saw these lines on the ground that they thought had to be done by some intelligent being. That's where we began to think of Martians. I think we're going to be in that kind of fantasy for a while, because we're not going to spend that kind of money. We just don't have it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: How big a boost will the Mars triumph give America's battered national psyche? Is the boost major, moderate, minor, none at all?
MR. CARNEY: It's minor and fleeting.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Moderate and lasting. (Laughs.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think it's major. I think it's a phenomenal achievement.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. PAGE: I think it's great. All the way at the top of NASA, they thought this was a crazy idea but it might work. And it did work. And, you know, this is what -- this is how you make breakthroughs. You know, people said the same thing about the Wright brothers -- my fellow Dayton natives, by the way. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember Buck Rogers?
MR. PAGE: Yeah, I'm afraid so. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The comic strip.
MR. PAGE: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What was it about?
MR. PAGE: Well, it was about space, about space travel. I mean, that's why I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it was kind of a -- it was kind of a funny strip in many respects. But this is not funny. This is very serious science. And the applications of this science are beyond what we can see now.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They proved to be with the last launch.
MR. PAGE: The gang back there at the control center --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think we can be more proud than we are.
Issue Two: Get a job.
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) With a very careful executive action, he removed the requirement of work from welfare. It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency. We must restore and I will restore work into welfare.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is work out of welfare? That's what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is charging President Barack Obama with doing. The issue arises from the welfare reform act that was signed into law in 1996, 18 years ago.
The overhaul of the welfare system was initiated by Republicans, who then controlled Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, who worked it through with President Bill Clinton. The welfare overhaul required that a certain percentage of people receiving welfare checks from the state must also be, quote-unquote, "engaged in work" or engaged in, quote-unquote, "work activity," like job training or searching for work.
But in July, last month, President Obama signed an executive order that gives states more leeway in defining what constitutes work, like more months of training or schooling. So recipients can continue to draw welfare checks even if not actually working at a job.
Opponents of this dilution, like Mr. Romney, think that this flexibility will be abused.
Romney is not only launching verbal attacks, but also this ad.
ANNOUNCER: (From videotape.) Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They'd just send you your welfare check.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why are Republicans objecting to giving states more leeway with welfare reform work requirements, the work requirements of welfare, when, in the many -- in the past, many GOP governors, including Romney, have supported waivers? Is that clear enough?
MS. CLIFT: That's clear enough -- because they're looking for a wedge issue that can appeal to white working-class men, principally. And this draws on an issue that Republicans campaigned on for years, welfare cheats. Candidate Ronald Reagan first talked about the welfare queen.
I think it's an act of desperation by the Romney campaign. And all the fact checkers out there about these ads -- it's gotten four Pinocchios. It's gotten pants on fire. And to top it all off, as you point out, Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, asked for these same waivers.
We're in a very tough economic climate. You've got two Republican governors, in Nevada and Utah, saying that they need waivers in order to make this program work. And they'll be granted them if they can demonstrate that they will get more people into work. Nobody's trying to gut work privileges or rights or anything like that. I mean, this is the height of --
MR. CARNEY: The New York Times editorial page disagrees. When they were praising Obama's decision, they described what Obama did for Nevada as relieving -- as making it so that people -- getting rid of the work requirements in the welfare reform. So the New York Times editorial page described it that way.
MS. CLIFT: Since when do you quote the New York Times editorial page?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- that editorial.
MR. CARNEY: I'm a New Yorker. I've been reading those editorials for years.
MR. PAGE: They're not dropping the work requirements.
MR. CARNEY: They are giving the states the right --
MR. PAGE: It's the only way they could get the waiver.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The issue is --
MR. PAGE: No, they're entitled to apply for a waiver. They will not be granted a waiver unless their plan shows they're going to move more people from welfare to work than is currently in the program.
MR. CARNEY: HHS doesn't have the legal authority to do that.
MR. PAGE: I can't quote The New York Times, but I don't have to, because, like Eleanor said, all the fact checkers have looked at this. That ad is flatly erroneous when it says all you've got to do is walk in and pick up your check and walk out.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, right.
MR. PAGE: That's just flatly wrong, you know.
MS. CLIFT: They play into the worst stereotypes that people can create.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to speak to this?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I do, because there is a concern about what this administration will do in terms of using executive privileges to redefine what, in a sense, the obligations are to work and the period of time in which you can work. There was --
MR. PAGE: Overruled.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Excuse me a second. There was a precedent, and that is what happened with the children of immigrants, OK, who were here illegally, when Obama waived that through an executive order, even though that was contrary to what he himself said was the law, was the congressional approach to the thing. So it was --
MS. CLIFT: Well, that wasn't an executive order.
MR. PAGE: This basically --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's what they're worried about, the loss of trust.
MR. PAGE: They're worried, because they don't trust Obama.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. That's the issue. I agree with that.
MR. PAGE: If a Republican president did this, everybody would call it a routine bureaucratic move.
MR. CARNEY: Obama can't legally do this. If it goes through the courts, HHS will get struck down.
MR. PAGE: That's to be decided.
MR. CARNEY: The law says you may not waive --
MR. PAGE: That's to be decided. There is one legal opinion from Heritage Foundation I read, but that's just one opinion.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. PAGE: I mean, the fact is, they do have the right to grant waivers in certain circumstances. And this one may --
MR. CARNEY: But not the work requirement.
MR. PAGE: -- very well fit within the parameters.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK.
MS. CLIFT: I'm waiting for the lawsuit and for Justice Roberts to come through again. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama gives his version of Mitt Romney's tax plan for the middle class.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) He'd ask the middle class to pay more in taxes so that he could give another $250,000 tax cut to people making more than $3 million a year. (Chorus of boos.) It's like Robin Hood in reverse. (Laughter.) It's Romney Hood. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A champion of the rich, Mitt Romney. That's how President Obama is trying to paint him. The president says Governor Romney's tax plan includes a new $5 trillion tax cut. Mr. Obama says this is not feasible without raising the deficit and forcing the middle class to ultimately pay more.
Mr. Romney, says Mr. Obama, cannot explain how this won't be the case.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) There was a whole different kind of gymnastics being performed by Mr. Romney than what's been happening in the Olympics.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are President Obama's attacks on Mitt Romney for being out of touch with the middle class hitting home? Clarence Page.
MR. PAGE: This is kind of the flip side of the charge that Obama's a socialist. It's the kind of charge that fits in with a lot of people's preconceived notions about Romney.
And every time he plays to that, it just reinforces it. So I think that's one big reason why, in all these months, he has not been able to get more than a couple of points ahead of Obama at any point, and mostly behind him in the polls. And he doesn't seem to be getting traction.
MS. CLIFT: The president is beginning to open up a small lead. I don't think it's anything to crack open the champagne about, but when you look at Romney's tax plan, he has not revealed any of the details, if you will. He wants to increase defense spending. He wants to lower the top tax rate to 25 percent. He said that top income earners would not pay any less in taxes than they do now.
And he will make up for all of these differences in revenue by spending cuts. But he -- and closing loopholes. But he doesn't say which loopholes, because a lot of those loopholes are very popular, like the home mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction. And so he is treating this just the way he is his tax returns. It's as though if he releases any details, that will be worse than taking the heat for concealing them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Well, let's see whether this makes a difference. Hollywood calling.
Clint Eastwood, movie star and Oscar-winning director, has gone ahead and made Mitt Romney's day. Eastwood is publicly backing candidate Romney because, quote, "I think the country needs a boost," unquote. So said Eastwood at a Romney fundraiser in California last week. Six months ago, Eastwood was featured in a Chrysler ad broadcast during the Super Bowl.
CLINT EASTWOOD (actor): (From videotape.) The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Eastwood says the ad was about job growth and the spirit of America, not an endorsement of President Obama.
Question: Is Oprah's 2008 endorsement of Obama the equivalent of Clint Eastwood's 2012 endorsement of Romney? Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: I love Clint Eastwood, but I just don't think he carries the same kind of constituency with him that Oprah does.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean women. You mean a lot of women.
MR. CARNEY: Oprah had --
MS. CLIFT: Well, even fire-breathing --
MR. CARNEY: -- (inaudible).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's this again?
MS. CLIFT: -- men, I don't think he carries --
MR. CARNEY: Oprah had a dedicated following. People would buy any book --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. CARNEY: -- she told them to buy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. CARNEY: I tried to get her to endorse my book; didn't work. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She has more -- (inaudible) -- than Eastwood.
MR. CARNEY: Yeah, by far.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, sure.
MR. CARNEY: By far. And Obama's got Dirty Harry Reid on his side.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also the female vote; she brings that female vote, which we've said on this program is so critical, and under- analyzed.
MS. CLIFT: Oh, she's an important endorsement. I don't think Clint Eastwood resonates to that extent. I like his movies, though.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not to that extent.
MS. CLIFT: Not to that extent.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: You're absolutely right. She had a really dedicated following, so hers was different. But it doesn't hurt. You know, if I were Romney --
MR. PAGE: But also --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- I'd feel very happy about it.
MR. PAGE: I mean, let's say Clint Eastwood appeals to the same demographic that Romney is already strong in, which is working-class white males in particular; I mean, not just them. I'm a Clint Eastwood fan too.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: My understanding is that --
MR. PAGE: But I was rather surprised, though, that --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: To my experience, Clint Eastwood also has an appeal to women. I just thought I'd mention that.
(Laughter.) It's possible.
MR. PAGE: One or two. (Laughs.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Just think about that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand that celebrity endorsements
have a very low yield in turning out votes.
MR. PAGE: I'm sure your endorsement --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that.
MR. PAGE: -- carries a lot of weight, John. Don't be modest.
MR. CARNEY: That's why Oprah --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All celebrity endorsements. The exception to this is Oprah.
MR. CARNEY: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Well, right. Let's see if Clint Eastwood actually campaigns with Romney. I suspect he will not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why?
MS. CLIFT: I don't think he'll campaign with him. Let's see. If he does, maybe that could make --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you recall --
MS. CLIFT: -- more of a difference.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- there was another gentleman who had a Hollywood event, a dinner, and he gave the proceeds of that dinner to Barack Obama's campaign? Who was that?
MS. CLIFT: Lots of Hollywood figures.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: David Geffen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: David Geffen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: David Geffen.
Who else did that?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He had --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about a Hollywood actor.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don't know who was --
MR. CARNEY: George Clooney is who you're talking about.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: George Clooney did that. He threw the family --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, recently.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the dinner at his party, and he gave the --
MR. CARNEY: No, he held --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- proceeds --
MR. CARNEY: What happens is you can give up to $30,000, about $31,000 to the Obama victory fund.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You gave about $20,000.
MR. CARNEY: And that was what each head, each person, was paying at these dinners.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MR. CARNEY: Obama throws a ton of these in places like New York and Philly, but lots out in Hollywood.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In his home, through the dinner, and the Hollywood community that he engaged sufficiently to go to the dinner, paid for their place at the table --
MR. CARNEY: Thirty thousand dollars.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and he sent the proceeds, about $20,000, to him. What do we think of that?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no, no.
MR. CARNEY: It's $30,000 a head.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Peanuts.
MR. PAGE: Hollywood is very important to the Obama campaign.
MS. CLIFT: I think that's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Obama go out to that dinner? I think he did, didn't he?
MR. PAGE: Hollywood is replacing --
MS. CLIFT: I think that's a more honorable way of raising money than getting $20 million checks written by Sheldon Adelson.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It wasn't $31,000. It was $31,000 a person.
MR. CARNEY: A person.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It came to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sheldon Adelson. Now, that's a familiar name. He's a friend of Newt Gingrich?
MR. PAGE: Yeah.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was a supporter of Newt Gingrich, and he's now a supporter of the Republican candidate, whoever
he is. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. He's a pal of yours?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I know him. He's not a pal of mine. He's much older than I am, and much wealthier.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he's not more monied than you are.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, of course he is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He is?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're going to --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I've got another target to go at.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got to stick with these ideals.
Exit question: Which presidential candidate won the week, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Tim Carney.
MR. CARNEY: I think that Obama probably won the week, in part because of what you're talking about, that Mars is a popular thing, U.S. success in Olympics. All these things reflect onto Obama, deserved or not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I agree with Tim Carney. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think Obama, barely. I mean, it was more or less of a tie, as far as I'm concerned. But I think Obama was slightly ahead.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah.
MR. PAGE: Yeah, Obama finished up the week ahead in the polls, evidently, and that's a good week for him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll -- actually, it was a draw. (Laughter.)
MR. PAGE: OK. If you say so, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Guns Galore.
Six people were killed after a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. This horror occurred less than three weeks after a similar shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58. These shootings have led many people to rearm themselves.
DICK RUTAN (gun shop owner): (From videotape.) I think people are concerned that they can't even go to a movie without possibly being in fear of their life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gun sales jumped in Colorado, with a 41 percent increase in background check. Heavy sales in gun purchases are due to what many think will be a clamp-down by authorities on gun purchases.
The White House says President Obama supports a renewal of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. It's a topic President Obama addressed at the National Urban League convention following the Aurora shooting.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) I, like most Americans, believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three hundred million guns are currently in the hands of Americans, a rate of nearly one gun per person. This is the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world.
Question: Americans own 300 million firearms. Murder rates are down over the last 40 years, since the 1970s.
Why have the murder rates not escalated if access to guns makes murder more, what, likely?
MR. PAGE: Yeah, but there's no connection between murder rates and gun ownership. I think one sobering fact; look at Canada. They have very high gun ownership in Canada, a very low homicide rate. And so there's something else going on here besides just, you know, the presence of guns. It has a lot to do with the culture, behavior, et cetera, et cetera.
MR. CARNEY: I just want to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you are against any kind of gun control --
MR. PAGE: That's a different question, John. No, there's a whole lot of gun-control measures we ought to be passing, common-sense measures.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you satisfied --
MR. PAGE: And we can't even have a debate in the country right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want more gun control?
MR. PAGE: There are so many obvious things; you know, one-gun-a- month laws, putting a 10-round limit on magazines. You can go right down the list that a whole lot -- that the majority of Americans agree with, but we can't even have an honest debate in Washington because both Democrats and Republicans are afraid to even talk about.
MR. CARNEY: But part of the problem is the insistence by people that guns cause murder, and even though, as you were saying, the statistics do not bear it out.
MR. PAGE: That's right.
MR. CARNEY: We've had studies from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academies of Science, some Harvard Journal studies. You're not finding a correlation. So Clarence is pointing out other sorts of gun control around the edge might make a difference.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got to account for the fact that we stand alone with the number of guns that are in the possession of the public in this country.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the murder rate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not true of any other country in the world.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the murder rate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there are regulations on buying guns in other countries of the world, and I think it's pretty uniform; all the countries.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The murder rate here is also extraordinary.
MR. CARNEY: But an international --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The murder rate is extraordinary.
MS. CLIFT: There's no reason why individuals should have assault weapons with magazines that can contain --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: A hundred rounds.
MS. CLIFT: -- up to 100 rounds. And if you look at gun ownership, it's not like one household, one gun. A lot of people are building up small arsenals, encouraged in part by the NRA, which is suggesting that because President Obama hasn't done anything to take away their guns in his first term, if he gets reelected, he'll be coming after their guns. And that's driving up gun purchases.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me read you what was sent in by a viewer. From Jared Loughner in Arizona to James Holmes in Colorado and now this latest shooting, a common factor seems to be mental instability. Should we be talking less about guns and more about our laws and society in how we handle mental illness?
MR. PAGE: How about more about both, because mental illness is a problem. We do need to deal with that, because there's no way to predict what maniac is going to go and shoot up a theater or something else.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Tim.
MR. CARNEY: By the end of September, neither Pennsylvania nor North Carolina will be battleground states. North Carolina will be safely in Romney's camp and Pennsylvania will be safely in Obama's camp. Ohio might even move into the Romney camp too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: In keeping with the Clint Eastwood theme, Senator Harry Reid, aka Dirty Harry, will not back down from his comments about Mitt Romney's tax returns. And Mitt Romney could live to regret the fact that he has become the poster child for the top 1 percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.) A very tender story. I mean, it's tender as far as the speaker is concerned. He hasn't backed down at all?
MS. CLIFT: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was quite ignominious, if you're talking about the same statement.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Boy, I'll say it was.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Ban Ki-moon is going to run into a firestorm for agreeing to attend a conference in Tehran, when everybody in the world is really focusing on the illegality and, shall we say, attacks from Tehran -- from Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. PAGE: Mitt Romney's been so focused on the economy that some folks in his camp are concerned that we won't find out what he believes on other issues, like foreign policy and defense, until we get to the debates.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The tea party will reconstitute and remobilize itself.