Hot Stories for the Week of August 30 - September 3

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Sept. 4, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this nation wants steady, consistent, principled leadership, and that is why, with your help, we will win this election.


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Hot story number one is Bush's to win. I think the presidential race has been transformed from being, say, six weeks ago, Kerry's to lose to Bush's to win. And I think this is a meaningful change.

First you had the swift boat commanders who came along and really raised doubts about Kerry's record in Vietnam, and his argument about that he'd be a great commander in chief. Then, of course, we've just had this convention that I think was about as successful as a convention could get these days, and it's, you know, a bunch of speeches, and we act as drama critics, and we gave fairly high marks to the speakers.

And ... then on Friday, the job numbers came in, where, when you added them all together, it was something not quite 200,000 new jobs, but it did show, the important thing it showed in these August job numbers that this pause in job creation, where they were declining, the jobs created every month, is over, and they're going again. We have economic growth and more jobs being created, and the unemployment rate dropping down to 5.4 percent.

Now, the convention, which was a remarkable convention in, in -- you know, the way they are now. They don't pick the nominee. But it was framed around, I think the most important question for Bush, and he wanted it framed around this, around 9/11, the war on terrorism, and who is best for being commander in chief and who isn't.

Well, it was clear from Rudy Giuliani's (search) speech and John McCain's (search) and even Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) and Vice President Cheney's (search) that Bush is the man, and Bush made the case for himself as well in, listen to this.


BUSH: This election will also determine how America responds to the continuing danger of terrorism. And you know where I stand. I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country. I will never relent in defending America whatever it takes.


BARNES: Whatever it takes. The, I think I know what that means. Then, there was the Zell Miller speech, Zell Miller the Democratic presidential ... the senator, he's not a presidential candidate. But he knows George Bush and he knows John Kerry, and he did the negative side, who shouldn't be commander in chief. And obviously he meant John Kerry.

Listen to Zell Miller in what turned out to be a very controversial speech.


SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA: For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak, and more wobbly than any other national figure.


BARNES: You know, I think it turns out, Mort, that Kerry's theory about the campaign is wrong, that the American people have basically decided Bush shouldn't have a second term, and that he just had to be acceptable. The truth is, I think the bar is higher than that. And he's not quite meeting that standard right now.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Yes. Before we get to the rest of the hot stories and all of that, we should observe that the news is dominated by Hurricane Frances (search), which is roaring in on where? Viro Beach, Florida, where Fred has a house...


KONDRACKE: ... you, your mop is handy, is it? And the windows are taped?

BARNES: I'm worried ...

KONDRACKE: All right, all right.

Well, now, look, I think Kerry did himself no good by the ... at midnight, after Bush gets done with his soaring, poetic acceptance speech, Kerry goes to personal pique in the, in this rally in Springfield, Ohio. Watch this.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified than two tours of duty.


KONDRACKE: Look, one, it's never a good idea for a presidential candidate to go attacking the vice presidential candidate of the other party. Secondly, no one questioned his patriotism. I think Cheney more or less implied but never said that Kerry was unfit for the job of commander in chief.

And, you know, I think that Kerry goes into this, frankly, with a growing stature gap. The polls all indicate that as commander in chief, as a strong leader, and all that. Even before the convention, Kerry was behind.

Now, the, the other hot story is the Bush agenda, and, surprise, surprise, he actually...


KONDRACKE: ... has one. I mean...

BARNES: Mort, I, I assured you there was going to be one all along.

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, the idea here is that the world has changed for workers and families.

It used to be that workers were mainly men, that they held one job for all of their careers, basically, and that the tax system and the health care system and the worker retraining system, the pension system, were all designed for those old days, and people live a completely, lead a completely different life now, that, you know, multiple jobs and that government programs have got to begin helping them to face this new era.

Now, what Bush is trying to do is to empower individuals to tackle this. And Kerry, on the other hand, tends to want expansion of the old kind of programs.


KONDRACKE: So, I mean, I think that there's a real debate to be had here. The question I have is whether Bush has not waited till too late to really educate people about what his ideas are on the domestic front, and whether Kerry would, can't successfully attack him because the ideas are too new to be absorbed before the election.

BARNES: You, you explained it very well. And that, is a legitimate question, whether there's time. But I think Bush has discussed some of these issues, like Social Security reform and health care reform, over the past four years, and, in fact, some of these things he endorsed during the 2000 campaign, that I think that they're going to go over fairly well.

It's clear that Bush is not a small-government conservative. He's a big-government conservative, a lot of spending here, activist government. He's also going to be the reform candidate in this race, and also because of ... all the reforms in this race, he's the change candidate as well. Where does that leave John Kerry? He's a reactionary liberal.

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