Hot Stories for the Week of July 26 - 30

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", July 31, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: That is my first pledge to you tonight. As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.


FRED BARNES, HOST: I'm Fred Barnes.

MORT KONDRACKE, HOST: And I'm Mort Kondracke.

Well, the hot story of the week, obviously, is the convention, and is it Kerry's to lose, is the big question mark arising out of this.

The -- if you asked Democrats up there their whole theory of this race is that fundamentally, this election is a referendum on President Bush's incumbency, and they think that the polls show that most people don't want President Bush reelected. They want somebody else.

They want to try a different course, and that therefore, the strategy for the convention was to present John Kerry as an effective commander in chief and as a man with a positive, upbeat, optimistic foreign, domestic policy vision.

Now, Kerry in his acceptance speech went to great lengths, and it was his sort of initial set of remarks about when he got done talking about his family, was about foreign policy and what kind of commander in chief he would make. Watch this.


KERRY: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response. I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security, and I will build a stronger military...


KONDRACKE: Now, I think that the Democrats' evaluation of the race is wrong, that fundamentally voters have not made up their mind yet on, on Bush's fate, and that this is a very, that this is a very close race.

But on the ... I think that nonetheless, that the playing-out of this kind of positive, or trying to seem positive at the convention was a good idea.

On foreign policy, however, I think that Kerry failed on the commander in chief test, because all he said, over and over and over again, was what he wouldn't do in foreign policy, that he wouldn't give a foreign country veto power, that he wouldn't send troops into combat unless there was a plan to win the peace afterwards.

Now, I didn't hear his plan to win the peace in Iraq.


KONDRACKE: I mean, his only plan for Iraq, for North Korea, for Iran and all the rest is to get the French involved. That's fundamentally...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... what it, what it, and he did not explain how you get the French involved, you know. And what I suspect the French will want is a veto over American foreign policy.

BARNES: Mort, you are such an interventionist. You want America to intervene all around the world.


BARNES: I agree with you.


BARNES: I mean, ultimately, the U.S. is a, does have to be the policeman of the world.

But let me say two things about the convention. One, what all the Democrats said, and they all said that John Kerry, because he was a hero in his four months in Vietnam, he was very brave, that means he'll be a great, strong president. That is a non sequitur. If you followed that to its logical conclusion, Sergeant York would have made a great president. And right now, who should we have as president? Rambo. He'd be even greater by their reckoning.

Anyway, every speaker said that same thing. But what didn't they talk about? The forgotten years. Those are the years after Kerry got back from Vietnam until he became a presidential candidate, 35 years. And 20 years in particular they didn't talk about. Those are the years when he was in the Senate voting against all the policies that won the cold war, for instance. And so there's a reason why they don't want to refer to those.

In Kerry's acceptance speech, he spent twice as much time talking about the American flag, and he pointed up to it, you remember that, than he did about his Senate record. Twenty years in the Senate, he talked more about the flag.

Well, any case, this leads to hot story number two, Bush push. The new Bush campaign after the Democratic convention, and it's going to be part positive and part negative. The positive part is, of course, the talk about what his agenda is for a second term, and this ownership society, and you'll own your own health care and your own pension and so on.

And, and it's, you know, he's saving, I'm, I'm told, the big nuggets, so-called, for the Republican convention. But he talked a little bit about this Friday in Springfield, Missouri. This is the positive stuff, Mort.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There be big differences in this campaign. They're going to raise your taxes, we're not. They have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world. They somehow believe the heart and soul of America can be found in Hollywood. The heart and soul of America's found right here in Springfield, Missouri.


BARNES: Well, it wasn't entirely positive, was it? But it ... anyway, the negative stuff is going to be about the forgotten years, about Kerry's record as a senator, and it's aimed at shattering anyone trust that the voters might have in Kerry's ability to be forceful in, in national security.

Now, the Republicans handed out this tape, you know, you and I saw it at the Democratic convention, 11 1/2 minutes of Kerry's wandering positions on Iraq. And, and I frankly thought it was devastating. It's backed up by this article in The New Yorker about, about Kerry's foreign policy, in which a Kerry aide, apparently speaking off the record, says, Why did Kerry vote against the $87 billion to fund the troops in Iraq? Because he was worried about Howard Dean, because Howard Dean was stealing the antiwar issue, and so he had to vote against it.

And in fact, Joe Biden, the senator who's the head of the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said yes, that's actually why Kerry voted against the $87 billion. Well, Mort, that means that Kerry was basing his decision on that most critical of issues on pure political expediency.


BARNES: That's not very good. And then you have the Senate record, which is this dovish record. You know, I mean ... I'm emphasizing it by gesticulating, but a very dovish record. And, and as I said before, all the policies that won the cold war and backing the freedom fighters in Nicaragua, as you did, Kerry was against.

KONDRACKE: OK. Now, and the Bush, if the Democratic theory of the race is that it's a referendum on the incumbent, the Bush theory of the race is that this is fundamentally a choice between two candidates. And so up to now, they've been basically bashing, bashing Kerry in most of their ads, and not doing much to emphasize the positive side.

Now, as you say, we're going to get into what Bush's posit is for positively...


KONDRACKE: ... leading up to the convention. The new slogan is, the new Bush slogan is, We've turned the corner, and we're not turning back. I don't think that's as effective as, Strong and home and respected abroad. The, the Democratic...

BARNES: No, you're right.

KONDRACKE: ... theme, but, but I'll, but I'll wait to see what the policies are that are part of that. And I think the ownership society...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... the idea that, that people should have a stake...


KONDRACKE: ... you know, save for their own futures...

BARNES: You like that?

KONDRACKE: ... and stuff like that -- I think it has potential, but it's going to have to be explained.

Now, on the negative side, one of the, I think the most devastating item on that tape that we saw is a quote from John Kerry on Face the Nation right before the vote on the $87 billion, when he said, quote, "I don't think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That would be irresponsible."

That was on September 14.


KONDRACKE: In the middle of October, what did he do?

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: He voted against the $87 billion. I think that is, that is, that is dynamite and almost fatal.

BARNES: Are we going to see that in a, in a Bush ad?

KONDRACKE: We will see that in a Bush ad.

BARNES: I think so too.

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