Hot Stories for the Week of September 22 - 26

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, September 27, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Mort, the hot story is sweet and sour. And I'm talking about Iraq.

First, the sweet. There are an increasing number of reports, I think, from generally independent people, not the bad news press that has been coming Iraq so much, that is fair…giving very upbeat reports on what's going on there.

Number one, Bernard Kerik (search), the former New York City police chief, is over there helping to train and deploy Iraqis as intelligence officers and as policemen. And he says but something interesting, he said this is happening faster and at speeds to make American federal and state…bureaucracies look like they're standing still. A very positive report from Kerik.

Noah Thelman (search), an NYU professor who has advised the appointed governing council of Iraqis, the 25 members there, says that the political track is moving much faster than anyone is reported, is reporting back at the United States. It's working very well. Eighty percent of Iraqis want to have a secular democracy, and he believes they'll get one.

And a reporter who returned to Baghdad after being away for three months says was amazed by Baghdad, now a bustling city with a lot of commercial traffic, still a security problem, but completely different and better. So that's the sweet.

The sour is, is pretty sour. You know, you'd think that President Bush because of this would be gaining support for his policy in Iraq and so on. But if you look at these polls, they're kind of a kick in the teeth for Bush. The job performance of Bush is down, way down…50 percent, it's the lowest it's been, down from a high of 71 at the height of the Iraq war.

That's not good. And the percentage of people who think now that the war in Iraq was worth it has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since the war began.

Nor does Bush seem to be gaining popular support or congressional support in large numbers for his request for $87 billion for Iraq, for the troops and also for rebuilding there. He'll probably get it, but there's a lot of, there's a lot of complaining about it. Listen to John Kerry.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I believe if we're going to pass any money at all, it ought to come at the expense of President Bush's ill advised, unaffordable tax cut, which is driving this country into deficit.

Secondly, there are some other conditions that I think are critical, and until I know how that comes out in the struggle, I can't tell you exactly where I'm going to vote.


MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Now, look, what Kerry said about, about…raising taxes, especially on rich people to pay for, pay, pay for this, I think, is perfectly rational.

But the idea that he has, has any questions about whether he would vote this money for Iraq is absolutely shocking. In that debate, Joe Lieberman, who you'd expect, and, and surprisingly Howard Dean, said we've got to stay the course. And, you know, that, and that’s the fact of here.

This is not just Bush's war. Congress voted for this. This is America's war.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: And we have got to win that war. And the only way we're going to win that war is with a Marshall Plan.

Now, you can quibble about the, you know, the, the details about, you know, whether this program or that program ought to be paid for. But the fact is that, that we've got to win, or else America's whole foreign policy is shot, and our prestige in the world is ruined.

So, got to stay the course...

KONDRACKE: ... and Bush has got to convince people that, that we, that we do it.

Now, the other, the other hot story is fratricide. You know, it looks as though the Republican…this is in California...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... it looks as though the Republican establishment in California has finally figured it out that they need to get behind one candidate, and, you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in order to prevent the Democrats from get…keeping control of, of the, of the statehouse.

But, you know, McClintock...who is a very effective candidate in the latest debate says he ain't quitting, you know, so you could have fratricide in the Republican race.

Here's Schwarzenegger and McClintock talking.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And I think that it is obviously much better, mathematically speaking, to win when you don't split the vote. And I think that it is very important for him to think about that. And…but I'm not going to be the one that pushes him.

STATE SEN. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I made a promise to people when I entered this race that I would be in it to the finish line. And I keep my promises.


KONDRACKE: Now, you know, conservative voters... in California have a long record of going down in flames, righteously, you know, and ideologically.

The question is, you know, do they know how to act strategically?

BARNES: Yes, it's a good question. I like righteousness, but not in this case, it doesn't make sense. Now, Tom McClintock knows more about what's wrong in Sacramento than any human being who's ever lived. He's been there 20 years. He's an impressive legislator. He needs to be listened to, but he can't win the governorship.

I think, in that debate, that Arnold Schwarzenegger took part in, hour and a half debate, he made a fatal mistake or a near-fatal mistake, and that is getting into, engaging with Arianna Huffington, who's a foolish woman who shouldn't have been in the debate, and who is the one person who reduced the debate to circus level. He should have stayed above that.

And as a result of the debate becoming something of a circus, the conventional wisdom is now that Gray Davis, the governor, who everybody hates, will not be recalled, that he was the gainer there.

So that's not good.

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