Hot Stories for the Week of October 20 - 24

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, October 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Mort, the hot story number one this week, is war woes. I'm talking about Iraq, of course. I should say postwar Iraq. And the woes there are exemplified by a memo by Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, in which he talks about the "long, hard slog" that's ahead of us in Iraq, the reconstruction, the place, and make it a thriving democracy.

Now, that's woe number one, this memo, which was leaked to the press. And let me read you a little more of it.

The memo said, "We're having mixed results with al Qaeda. Although we put considerable pressure on them, nonetheless a great many remain at large. It is not possible to change DoD," that's the Department of Defense (search), Mort, "fast enough to successfully fight the war on terror. The cost-benefit ratio is against us. Our cost is billions against the terrorists' millions."

Now, the memo, I thought your reaction to it when it came out, when it was leaked a couple days ago, was right. You know, this shows they're considering real tough issues at the Defense Department, not just -- it's not just happy talk.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Asking hard questions.

BARNES: Exactly. Anyway, the memo was treated as saying, well, Rumsfeld's saying one thing publicly and another thing privately, and it didn't work to his favor. OK.

That's number one. Number two is the donors' conference we just had a couple days ago in, in Madrid, raising money for the reconstruction of Iraq. Thirteen billion was pledged, which is pretty good but not great. I think something like $35 or $36 billion is needed from other countries to go along with the U.S. $20 billion.

And, and number three is this congressional defiance, even by Republicans, on the $87 billion that Bush wants to spend newly in Iraq. Of the $20 billion for reconstruction, even some Republicans want half of that to be a loan, which is a bad idea.

KONDRACKE: Yes, the day after the memo came out, Rumsfeld jokingly said, tried to redefine the word "slog" mean "hit hard," you know...and when he really meant...the, the original meaning was to, like, slog through mud.

BARNES: Right, yes.

KONDRACKE: And, you know, and his message is quite correct. This is going to be long and hard, this post war, but we've got to do it.

I mean, if, if the United States does not succeed in making Iraq into a viable self-governing state, American foreign policy is, is in the dumpster.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: I mean, nobody is going to follow our lead anywhere. And it's about time that members of Congress of both parties start, start realizing this fact or we're going to be in trouble.

Now, and Bush is trying to lead on that score, and he's got some Republicans who are not his, not being very helpful to him.

BARNES: Indeed.

KONDRACKE: An issue, two issues on which I don't think he is providing enough leadership are Iran (search) and North Korea (search). Those places have got to be prevented...from becoming nuclear menaces...or else we're in trouble as well. And I don't think he, I don't think he's getting there at this moment.

BARNES: Right.

Now, the other hot story is, pounding Howard. That's, that's Howard Dean (search), of course.

BARNES: I had guessed.

KONDRACKE: Now, Dean, you know, used to have a fairly comfortable Iowa, but three polls out this week show Gephardt with a small edge, there you can see them.

Our friend Howard -- David Yepsen, who -- of The Des Moines Register, said as follows, "Dean's campaign appears to have plateaued. The California recall took much of the limelight away from him, then Clark's entrance into the race," that's Wes Clark, of course, "pulled the media attention away from Dean and gave antiwar Democrats another champion.

Most important, the economy ranks higher than the Iraq war as the most important issue for Democrats, and that means that the campaign dialogue has shifted from issues that played Dean's early strength and moved toward Gephardt, who has always focused more on jobs."

Well, I talked to David this week, and he said that another major factor involved is Gephardt's attack on Dean's old position...


KONDRACKE: ... of favoring slowing down the rate of growth of Social Security and Medicare (search), two programs which, if they're allowed to go at, at their present rate...are going to eat up the entire federal budget...when, when the baby boom generation retires.


KONDRACKE: Well, now Dean has recanted all that. He's back in the fold with the rest of the, as reform whatever.

And however, he has put out a very good Iowa here. Here it goes.

BARNES: All right.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Seniors today are getting clobbered by prescription drug costs. But instead of fixing the problem, the best my opponents can do is talk about what was said eight years ago.

As governor, I provided prescription drug assistance for seniors and got health care coverage for nearly every child in my state.

For years, the politicians in Washington have talked about health insurance and a prescription drug benefit, and all you got was talk.

But in Vermont, we did it.


BARNES: Yes, the Vermont miracle, like the Massachusetts miracle, it turned out not to be miracle...

Why doesn't Howard Dean just tell the truth? And I think it can be to his advantage. He can say, Look, Medicare and Social Security were headed toward insolvency...and particularly Medicare.

And my suggestion, sure, a lot of Republicans were on board with this, was to slow the growth of Medicare. President Clinton, a Democrat, agreed. We slowed the growth, we put off insolvency many years into the, into the future.

Now, in a normal world, he would be able to say that...

KONDRACKE: Third rail.

BARNES: ...but it's the third rail. These, Social Security and Medicare are only the third rail inside the Democratic primary, because the Democrats have taken the position that you can expand them and so on, but you can't reform them, you can't slow the spending, even though they going to go bankrupt after a certain amount of time.

That's the classic reactionary liberal position.

One other thing. While Dean may have plateaued in Iowa, he has not plateaued in New Hampshire. Look at this new poll by John Zogby, showing him just opening a wide lead over John Kerry, who used to lead in Massachusetts, 40 to 17, Mort, I mean, Dean's somewhat on a roll there.

KONDRACKE: How do you explain that?

BARNES: I explain that because Kerry's doing poorly, and Dean has a position that Democrats like. It's sort of beat Bush.

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