Ups and Downs for the Week of December 8 - 12

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, December 13, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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DOWN: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: She cast the deciding vote that limits the First Amendment (search) in political elections. The majority opinion, in a nutshell, limiting free speech in campaigns, including a ban on soft money and issue ads, is a reasonable tradeoff to ameliorate what they, the Supreme Court, sees as the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Now, I think Sandra Dan O'Connor (search) has now come full circle, from an Arizona conservative nominated to the court in 1981 by Ronald Reagan, to someone who reflects elite essentially liberal opinion in Washington. She's pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, and now pro-suppression of political speech.

Look, I don't man the ban on soft money, because we see soft money popping up on the outside of the political parties anyway. There'll be plenty of soft money. But issue ads, but banning issue ads late in primary and general election campaigns, I mean, that is political speech which is what the First Amendment was specifically created to protect.

And now Sandra Day O'Connor's the swing vote in suppressing exactly that speech.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, you know, on that ...

BARNES: Terrible.

KONDRACKE: ... on, on that part of the decision, I agree with you. I mean, everybody ... ought to be able to say anything ... as expensively as they want to, right up to an election, and they shouldn't be limited.


KONDRACKE: That is a First Amendment issue. On the other hand, the main, the other part of the decision was about soft money. And look, corporations have been forbidden to give money to politicians since 1907. And unions since 1947. They got away with it big-time, half-billion dollars' worth, in 2000 through the soft money loophole ...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... and now, and now that's been closed. And that's good, because what soft money did was to buy influence and that was corrupting.

UP: Russian President Vladimir Putin

KONDRACKE: Last Sunday's parliamentary elections greatly solidified Putin's power. He now has a legislative supermajority in the Duma, meaning that he has leverage to make constitutional changes and stay in power, maybe forever.

I mean, you know, who did he get a call from, Putin?


KONDRACKE: He got a call from George Bush, saying, 'Congratulations on your victory.' The fact of the matter is that this was a dirty election. Putin controls nationwide television, refused to allow the opposition parties to get much advertising, had an entire monopoly on billboards in the country. He's throwing his opponents in jail. He's committing mass murder in Chechnya.

And this is the guy, when George Bush first met him, looked into his soul and saw a fellow Christian. You know, I think that the Christian he saw was not Francis of Assisi but maybe Francisco Franco.

BARNES: You know, what you're complaining about is limiting political speech in Russia, which, I mean, our Supreme Court, I'm sure, agrees with Putin that that's fine to do. That shows you how bad ...

KONDRACKE: You're making an extreme

BARNES: No, I am, but it shows you how bad that case is.

Now, Mort, if, if President Bush had not called Putin afterwards, you would be on this show today saying, Why did President Bush snub President Putin and not call him and congratulate him? I don't think he can win with you. Either way, he's going to get in trouble. I'm moving on.

DOWN: Taiwan

President Bush issues a blunt warning this week, you better think twice about any moves asserting your independence from China. Taiwan is planning a, a March referendum on removing Chinese missiles pointed toward the island, which the White House sees as a precursor to a vote on independence. Here's Bush on Tuesday, Mort.


BUSH: We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo, and the comments, and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose.


KONDRACKE: Here's Mort going after Bush again. You know ... because he's coddling dictators again.


KONDRACKE: I mean, Bush goes around making speeches about how, how democracy is God's gift to mankind ... and he's, and he's right in that respect. But it doesn't apply to Taiwan. Taiwan, all they want to do is have a vote, basically appealing to China to point their missiles in another direction and not at Taiwan. And Bush is siding with China in saying that that's somehow provocative.

I mean, this shouldn't be happening.

BARNES: Yes, you know, Mort, you're absolutely right on this one, no question about it. I mean, look, nobody expects President Bush to needlessly provoke China by declaring his support for Taiwanese independence. But he doesn't have to announce that he opposes it. I mean, that's gratuitous. It's unnecessary. It's appeasement.

Now, look, Taiwan is a friend of the United States. It has become on its own an independent, democratic country. And President Bush ought to proclaim that loudly and say, We will never let a cruel, corrupt dictatorship like China swallow up this democratic country.

KONDRACKE: And the worst part of it is that in return for kowtowing to China ... Bush got nothing.

BARNES: Squat.

DOWN:  ABC Newsman Ted Koppel

KONDRACKE: He moderated the last Democratic presidential debate of the year, and much to the candidates' annoyance, he focused his questions almost entirely on process. Take a look.


TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS: So I would like all of you up here, including you, Governor Dean, to raise your hand if you believe that Governor Dean can beat George W. Bush.

You're not doing terribly well with money, you're doing even worse in the polls. When do you pull out?

I get a little bit of a sense of sour grapes here, that if anyone else on this stage had gotten Al Gore's endorsement, he would have been happy to have it. What do you think?


BARNES: Look ... obviously the candidates were not pleased by that line of questioning and all those process questions by Ted Koppel. The media didn't like it. Practically everyone in politics didn't like it. But here's what Ted Koppel achieved, and I defend him.

All those, the endless number of Democratic presidential debates have been boring, they've been deadly. And, and he enlivened one. This one was much more interesting. The candidates didn't rise to the occasion. I thought Ted Koppel did rise to the occasion. More power to him.

KONDRACKE: Yes, but, you know that little bite there that we saw of the ... raising of the hands ... that's going to be played again by the Republicans ... before it's over.

BARNES: Of course, of course.

KONDRACKE: My beef with ... Koppel is on a completely different issue.


KONDRACKE: I mean, Nightline has become the single most negative show on television about, about Iraq. I mean, Ted Koppel covered the Vietnam War, and he seems to think that this is a quagmire, and he should have nailed the candidates on what they would do to prevent this from, from becoming a quagmire, if they know.


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