Hot Stories for the Week of Feb. 28

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", March 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, the first hot story of the week is on the march, and I’m talking about democracy in the Middle East, elections in Iraq, elections in Palestine (search). The latest thing is massive demonstrations in Lebanon (search) to try to get the Syrians out, forcing the public government of Lebanon to collapse.


KONDRACKE: Even Mubarak in Egypt is showing some signs of moving toward democracy. None of this would have happened if the United States had not invaded Iraq, because, of course, there would have been no January 30 election, the famous stained finger election, which is what set this, this wave of, of democracy off.

Now, the, the big question is, will the Syrians really get out of Lebanon as they’ve said that they would do? But, you know, they’ve said that before. Here’s Bush putting pressure on the Syrians. Watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is beginning to speak with one voice. We want that democracy in Lebanon to succeed. And we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power, and that power is Syria. There’s no half-measures involved. When the United States and France and others say withdraw, we mean complete withdrawal, no halfhearted measures.


KONDRACKE: This is not yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the utter defeat of despotism. But the winds are blowing, and the doors are rattling all, all over the Middle East.

BARNES: You know, no, actually, I think it is one of these moments like that moment in 1989 after the Berlin Wall fell, and then we saw the communist regimes collapse all over Eastern Europe. Change can happen in a very rapid way, democratic change, and I think that’s what we’re seeing in the Middle East now.

Other change that’s so amazing to me is, so many, a number of commentators in America and in Europe who have anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war commentators who have now come to concede that maybe Bush did something right.

Let me give you a couple examples of these, Mort.

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl (search), "Less than two years after Saddam Hussein was deposed, the fact is that Arabs are marching for freedom and shouting slogans against tyrants in the streets of Beirut and Cairo, and regimes that have endured for decades are visibly tottering. Those who claim that U.S. intervention," that’s in Iraq, "could never produce such events have reason to reconsider."

Here’s another, Claus Christian Malzahn of Der Spiegel (search), the German magazine, which I know you read, you probably read this one, Mort.

KONDRACKE: Yes, in the original German.

BARNES: Yes. "When the voter turnout in Iraq recently exceeded that of many Western nations, the chorus of critique from Iraq alarmists was, at least or a couple of days, quieted. Just as quiet as the chorus of Germany experts on the night of November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Just a thought for Old Europe to chew on: Bush might be right, just like Reagan was then."

Here’s another, here’s one from England, Mort, Boris Johnson (search) of The London Daily Telegraph writes, "If there is one thing worse than a stridently triumphalist American neocon, it is a stridently triumphalist American neocon who seems to be right."

And finally, Daniel Schorr (search) of National Public Radio, who we all know, and we all know is no fan of Bush, here’s what he says, "During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region. He may have had it right."

KONDRACKE: Now, Fred, did I detect some triumph, triumphalism out of you?


BARNES: Never gloat, never be triumphal. But always take into account some things that are happening. All right.

Hot story number two, the big push, obviously the big push by President Bush on Social Security. You know, Mort, it seems like we’ve been debating this Social Security reform (search) issue now for years, but it’s only been one month since the president’s State of the Union address, when he outlined in general form his idea for reforming Social Security and creating these individual retirement accounts.

It hasn’t been a real good month for him, however. That’s why he really needs. It’s not that reform is dead, it’s not that it’s on life support, but it does need a boost, and that’s why he started this 60-day campaign that he and others in his administration are going to do to try to revive or not revive but really boost the chances of Social Security reform.

Here he is on, I think, his first stop in this 60-day barnstorming tour.


BUSH: I hope that as time goes on and this debate goes forward, that you understand the power of your voice to say to people, We’ve seen enough of this, you know, we’re not going to move because somebody might look good, or we don’t want to do it because my, my political party told me not to do something. Now’s the time to get rid of all that, all that deadlock in Washington, and focus on the problem for the good of the generation to come.


BARNES: He touched very gingerly on what I think is the problem the Democrats have. If you see the polls, they show that people know there’s a problem with Social Security, and they want something done. And Democrats, being reactionaries, they just want to block Bush and not really change it at all.

But there is another motive. And let me express very well by Gerald McIntee, the AFMSME president of a union leader of AFMSME, that’s the, you know, the government workers.

BARNES: Yes. Here’s what he said. "If we are able to stop George Bush in terms of this privatization effort, it probably means the day after it is voted down or withdrawn, that’s the day he becomes a lame duck president for the rest of his time in the White House."

I don’t think that’s true, but Democrats do.

KONDRACKE: Right. Not, now look, presidents at the start of their, of a term, usually get what they, what they want on their big domestic priority if they fight hard enough for it, and Bush is certainly going to fight.

At the moment, however, he is behind the curve. The Democrats and the AARP have been working very hard to raise doubts about this, and, and, and that, their, their side is, is winning. According to the latest FOX News poll, 47 percent of, of people think that personal savings accounts are a bad idea.

Now, what Bush needs is five Democrats to come over in order to break a filibuster on this whole thing. And I know he doesn’t want to do this, but you could see the beginnings of an outline of a deal if, in order to get those Democrats, if they stay solidly. And one item of it is, a personal savings account outside Social Security, outside Social Security, paid for by shifting some of his tax cuts to people so they could invest in theirs, in their private savings accounts as a transition measure because people would look at their private savings accounts, see them growing much faster than their Social Security accounts, and say, Let’s, let’s shift over to that.

Then, in order to solve the solvency problem you have to have a combination of raising the cap on income, in other words, taxes, raising taxes and also cutting benefits. I think he can get that deal.

BARNES: No. Never will they, will Republicans agree to that. You know, Bush could offer that today. And Democrats would buy it, not Republicans.

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