Blame Game: Which Party Is Really Soft on Terror?

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on August 19, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": "Hot Story" number one, Mort: "Fear Factor." I'm talking about the fear of another serious terrorist attack by Islamic militants. And it is the issue. It's the hot new issue as we approach the November 7 midterm election. That's less than 90 days away. So it's already starting to heat up.

And, Mort, I'm afraid it has trumped all your favorite issues. You know, stem-cell research, immigration, same-sex marriage, all those ones you like to talk about. And it what looks like — and I think you'll agree on this — increasingly, a Democratic year in the election, this is the one issue, terror — national security, terror, all wrapped into one — it is the one issue that makes Democrats tremble with fear, that it could prevent them from winning the House or the Senate or both, or having a strong election year.

Remember, it was the issue of terrorism that killed the Democrats in 2002, hurt them badly in 2004. I'm not sure that Bush couldn't have won without this feeling in the country that he was very strong in thwarting terrorism. But they are determined, Democrats are determined to fight back now.

Listen, for instance, that voice of moderation, Democratic national chairman Howard Dean. Listen to him.


HOWARD DEAN , DNC CHAIRMAN: We are bogged down, spending half a trillion dollars in Iraq, which could be used to do the things that the Democratic Party has — and the 9/11 Commission recommended, which is to make our airports and our — our nuclear-power plants and our train stations safe here at home.


BARNES: And it wasn't just Howard Dean, it was a lot of other Democrats, and particularly after that federal judge in Detroit struck down the National Security Agency's electronic eavesdropping without a warrant on Al Qaeda or suspected terrorist who are talking to somebody in the United States or outside the United States… I mean, they acted triumphant that this judge had struck down that entire NSA program.

Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin senator, said, "The administration went too far with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Today's" — that was what? Thursday — "Today's federal court decision is an important step toward checking the president's power grab."

And then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the ruling is — quote — "the latest example of how the Bush administration has jeopardized our efforts in the war on terror." That doesn't make any sense, but believe me, that's what Harry Reid said.

Now, when you take those quotes and other things that the Democrats have said, I think they show two things that really demonstrate why Democrats continue to be weak on the issue of fighting terrorism.

One is, they want to fight the last war. That stuff about protecting cargo and shipments and nuclear facilities, all that's not a problem. I mean, what's a problem now is what we saw in that thwarted terror attack. I mean, the terrorists have gone way beyond trying to get on airplanes and fly them into buildings. They've — you know — they've done that. They gone beyond it. Now they were trying to mix — to take on chemicals that they could mix on the plane to blow up the plane. That's what we have to deal with their bomb-making and their efforts to plant bombs places. And I don't think Democrats understand that.

Here's what they clearly don't understand, Mort, and that is the seriousness of the threat by Islamic terrorists. If they believed it was really serious, they wouldn't spend most of their time attacking NSA eavesdropping, attacking the program where the wire transfers of money among terrorists was tracked down. They wouldn't spend so much time attacking Guantanamo, the prison. They wouldn't have tried to roll back some of the Patriot Act.

So I think they still have a problem: they're weak on terror.

KONDRACKE: Well, I agree with you that there is no more important issue at all than the — it's the issue of the 21st century. It's civilization against Islamic radicalism. And there's no question
About it: the Islamic radicals are trying to work on developing nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction of all kinds.

But I'm not sure that when the Democrats are saying that we need to harden the homeland that they're necessarily fighting the last war. That could be the next war. And I think it need to be done.

But look, politically, this country ought to be unified about fighting the war on terrorism as it was after 9/11, and that we were after Pearl Harbor. And if we were unified, we would have NSA spying, and we would all agree. And the Democrats, in addition to what some of the Democrats — Reid, for example, and others — Patrick Leahy — said, Oh well, let's tap these terrorists. Well, OK, let's get the legislation passed now to do it. That's part of what unity is all about.

But there is stuff that we need to do. We need to protect airplanes against bombs in the cargo. We need to protect some sites like, you know, rail transportation. You've got chlorine gas coming through Washington, D.C., all the time. All it would take is one bomb and you could kill hundreds of thousands of people, you know?

In addition to which, we absolutely need to win the war in Iraq, which is the basic issue of the election. We cannot bug out of the war — out of Iraq — or else the Islamic radicals win.

BARNES: By the way, I don't think congressional legislation is needed, because that judge's decision striking down the NSA eavesdropping program is going to be overturned. I mean, it's a wildcard. Every other — five other courts have appeal have ruled exactly the opposite, that wiretaps were not needed.

KONDRACKE: Let's not wait for the Supreme Court with that program what it did with Guantanamo.

BARNES: OK, look, here's the point about this polarization: we are stuck with it. There is nothing George Bush can do that are going to do get Democrats on his side on this issue, and there's nothing they can do that's going to get George Bush.

So given that, let's have a debate. This is the most important issue in the world, I agree with you. Let's have a debate among Republicans and Democrats — they disagree. Let's have a vigorous debate. It will be a lot better than some stale yip-yap all fall long about health care.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, I'm not advocating. And — you know, my appeal to you for unity notwithstanding — I realize it's a vain hope. But so, let's look at the way things stand.

A CBS poll this week showed that the Republicans still have an 8-point lead over Democrats on the question of who do you trust in the war on terror, but that's down from 30 points in previous polls. And a new poll — Pew poll shows that 69 percent are either "very" or "somewhat" concerned that the Republican majority could get us involved in more wars, while 57 percent are "very" or "somewhat" concerned that the Democratic majority would be weak on efforts in terror. Which means more people more people are concerned about the Democrats — the Republicans being too aggressive than they are about the Democrats being too weak.

And finally, in the Pew poll, 55 percent say that the Iraq war is not going well, which is up 11 points since the beginning of the year, which I think colors everything. It is the fact that most people think that we are losing this war in Iraq that I think is pretty serious threat for the Republicans.

BARNES: No more polls?

KONDRACKE: No more polls.

BARNES: All right.

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