This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRIT HUME, HOST: The panel is going to join us in just a moment to talk about what has become a heated issue in this campaign.
But before we start that, let's take a look at this. This is from John Lewis, the congressman from Georgia who was a prominent member of the civil rights leadership at one time —
"Senator McCain and Governor Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
"There was a Governor of the state of Alabama, George Wallace. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights."
This is what Senator McCain said in response to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Senator Obama refuses or has not jet repudiated those comments.
That's not from some, quote, "party official." That's from one of the most respected people in America.
It's unfair. It's unfair, and it's outrageous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Some thoughts on this controversy now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.
John Lewis has since said that, "Gee, you know, I really wasn't trying to link Senator McCain and Governor Palin to George Wallace." Fred, what about it?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It certainly sounded like he was. He said what they were doing, and the he goes right to George Wallace and what George Wallace did.
The truth is the race card is being played in this campaign. It is being played by people like John Lewis. It was played yesterday by Joe Biden, where Biden said, you know, the charges against Obama are unhealthy. You don't throw race and terrorism into the presidential campaign.
Well, I don't believe McCain or Palin has thrown race into the campaign. But the other way of playing the race card is to accuse somebody of doing that. Barack Obama has repeatedly accused the McCain campaign of making a big deal, reminding people that he's an African-American and so on.
I mean, we have been through this a long time in the campaign. Brit, normally what you do in a campaign with your opponent, you say "Here is what he says, here is what he has done."
Here is Barack Obama. He said he's going to bring us together, he's a moderate. But here is what he has done. He has spent a lot of time or some time working with this guy who is an unrepentant terrorist, Bill Ayers.
And this is what you do in any campaign. The difference in this campaign is that all of a sudden when the McCain campaign does that, they're accused of being racist, that somehow it's a racist attack when — and it's a way to discredit the attack. And you know what? It has worked pretty well with the media, because they buy into this thing.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, race is never going to be far away from a campaign where there is an African-American running for president. I think the big question is to what extent is John McCain himself or his campaign involved in this?
HUME: You mean in trying to —
LIASSON: I mean, there are bloggers and supporters of McCain —
HUME: I understand that, but what about the McCain-Palin campaign, which is what John Lewis was talking about?
LIASSON: I think John Lewis went too far and tried to walk back his remarks.
The Obama campaign issued a statement right after Lewis issued his statement saying that they don't think McCain or Palin are in any way, shape, or form like George Wallace.
McCain himself when he has encountered anything like this in a crowd or town meeting, he has tried to walk it back and talked about how you should be respectful. We don't know whether Sarah Palin actually heard some of the things that were shouted at one of her rallies in Florida.
I do think it is incumbent upon candidates if someone in the crowd shouts something that is racist and they hear it. They should say something about it right then and there if not shortly thereafter.
I think McCain has tried to be really careful here. One of the things he has done, to the great frustration of his campaign, is that he has ruled Reverend Wright off limits.
He might have done that because he feels he already laid down the marker in the primary or because he's afraid of being called a racist, but here are a lot of members of the McCain campaign that think it is a legitimate attack, and they are barred from doing it.
HUME: It does raise an interesting question why it would be racist to bring up Reverend Wright? Reverend Wright is black and Barack Obama is black. Why would that be racist?
LIASSON: I don't think it would.
If you're going to play the guilt by association card, which he is with Ayers, why not Wright who has a longer association and a more intimate one with Obama? But he has ruled that out of bounds.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: When John McCain runs an ad with a white woman, Paris Hilton in it, he is accused of racism. He runs an ad with Franklin Raines, the former head of Fannie Mae in it, who is African-American, and that's racist. And then he runs an ad with William Ayers, who is a white male in it, and that's racist.
If it weren't so comical, these promiscuous accusations of racism, it would be tragic.
The Obama campaign has been playing the race card over and over again. Look, this is a campaign that in the primaries succeeded in painting Bill Clinton as a racist.
Now, Clinton, with all of his flaws, this is a man who throughout his career from Governor of Arkansas to president of the United States and beyond, has been a great and sincere friend of African-Americans who shared and tried to advance their aspirations. So if you can pull off a trick like that on Bill Clinton, you can pull it off on Republicans.
And look what Obama has said. He's the one who raised the Barack Hussein Obama a year or two ago in which he said the Hussein is actually an asset and would be an asset in dealing with Muslims abroad.
He's the one who openly said that the Republicans will say I'm black, they will say he's scary. They will say he's different. They will say he doesn't look like the guy on the dollar bill.
That is Obama preemptively accusing McCain of racism, which is a scurrilous charge. Racism is a serious charge in our country, and a false accusation is doubly serious. As we saw in the Duke lacrosse case, it can destroy lives. Given our history, it ought to be used with great care.
And to accuse preemptively McCain of racism even before there is any evidence of it, and there has not been any evidence of it before or since, is scurrilous.
They say patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Accusations of racism is the last refuge of the liberal scoundrel, and it has been used again and again on the part of the Obama campaign.
BARNES: That's because it works. It's another tactic —
HUME: I guess you have to wonder if that isn't what McCain is afraid of by refusing to bring up Reverend Wright, as Mara suggests.
BARNES: Right, because when they use it, it neutralizes an attack, and then you don't have to answer it.
HUME: Some Republican elder statesmen are trying to get to the bottom of the ACORN voter fraud mess. We'll talk about that after a break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We also believe that Senator Obama has a special responsibility to rein in ACORN. And we call upon him to do that.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As an elected official, I have had interactions with them. But they are not advising our campaign. We have the best voter registration and turnout and volunteer operation in politics right now, and we don't need ACORN's help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Well, ACORN sure is trying to help, and there was that little matter of several hundred thousand dollars paid to an ACORN offshoot paid by the Obama campaign.
But they insist that that was now for voter registration purposes. That was merely for getting out the already-registered vote and trying to identify supporters and get them to the polls.
That piece of the news conference you saw from former Senator Danforth — he was joined by former Senator Warren Ruddman — both of those men are considered to be among the less partisan Republicans you can find around.
And yet their efforts to get the Obama campaign into a conference about how to deal with the ACORN voter registration scandals that have ensued so far, with everybody including Mickey Mouse being registered to vote apparently under ACORN's us auspices, earned a stern letter from Obama campaign Manager David Plouffe, in which he said that this was just a further effort by Republicans to suppress the vote.
OK, folks — Charles, what do you think of this?
KRAUTHAMMER: I liked the explanation that the ACORN money was not given to register but only to get out the vote. I could see how that could be an arduous job if you have to round up the Dallas cowboys an Mickey Mouse and put them on a bus to the voting booth.
ACORN is not only a specialist in voter fraud, it is also a fairly radical grassroots organization which has been involved in a lot of left-wing causes.
And it fits in a pattern of Obama's associations. You have got ACORN. You got William Ayers. You got Jeremiah Wright. The central tenet of his church is an opposition to "middle classness," as he calls it, a ridiculing and an attempt to steer African-Americans away from the values of the middle class.
You have got Obama campaigning on the values of the middle class. So you have the valid question of who is this guy, what does he believe? Was he just cynical in the old days in which he had associations with ACORN and Ayers and Wright, or is there something about him and his ideology and identity which he hasn't answered?
And I think that's why ACORN is important. It is not only a fraud issue. It is an issue of association and values and core beliefs.
LIASSON: First of all, I think to lump ACORN and William Ayers together is really a stretch. William Ayers was involved in criminal acts. Now, ACORN may have been involved in some of these fraudulent voter registrations, but that —
KRAUTHAMMER: Let me clarify. I'm talking about Ayers as giving a lot of money to radical education that Obama was on the board and which he assisted and gave the money to.
I'm not talking about terrorism. I'm talking about radical education.
LIASSON: The thing about ACORN — first of all, they are involved in this massive voter registration, and there are hundreds of thousands, it sounds like, fraudulent registration things which they say they flag and to be screened by the appropriate elections officials in these states.
We don't know how many of them actually end up on the rolls where someone casts a vote. I don't even know how you could cast a vote as Mickey Mouse or as somebody from the Dallas cowboys unless you had identification.
KRAUTHAMMER: You dress up.
BARNES: That would be hard!
LIASSON: Look, this is kind of a perennial tug of war that we get, with Democrats saying there is voter suppression by Republican groups, and Republicans saying there is voter fraud by these registration organizations.
And hopefully no race in any of these states is going to be close enough that it will hinge on either of those charges.
BARNES: Mara, you are mighty tolerant of ACORN.
Here they are, they are a national conspiracy. It is not that this is popped up in one state. It is in states all over the country. In Indiana, in one county, they handed in 5,000 registration cards and the board of registrars, who I think is a Democrat, stopped after looking at first 2,000 because they were all fraudulent.
And here's how it works. Look, you register somebody in some name, and then you can easily get a phony I.D. or a bill, or there are all kinds of things flying around, and then you can go in and vote in that name. And you can vote in other names, and so on.
But it is amazing to hear for two things. One, the federal government and the Obama campaign have either given money directly to ACORN or to an ACORN affiliate, as the Obama campaign did.
And now we hear David Plouffe using the same argument that the ACORN people. You are complaining because you just want to suppress the election vote. You want to keep the vote down. You are trying to keep people from voting.
That's nonsense! I mean, this is a national conspiracy to fraudulently register people.
And, Brit, you said that Rudman and Danforth with moderate, not very partisan Republicans, which is true, but in so many other cases, it is actually Democrats who are ones who have blown the whistle on ACORN.
This is not a new thing. This pattern has been going on for a number of years, and it is incumbent, I think, upon the Obama campaign, since Obama has had connections with them in the past, to repudiate them.
KRAUTHAMMER: Look, Obama has skirted all of these issues. We heard him a little earlier in which he says it is all a distraction. If there is stuff in his past he doesn't want to discuss, it is a distraction.
And he gets away with it because there is no one in the mainstream press who pushes him on this. And I think he will get away with it. If you don't have to answer a question on it, you won't bring it up on your own, and it will pass.
Perhaps after he's president, if that happens, we will learn about this a little bit more, but it will be too late.
HUME: There is an enduring question about this man, this man who seems so soothing and so much like the rest of us. He is a very appealing guy. I suppose there is some nagging question which is basically a "Who is this guy?" question.
BARNES: Yes. He says this, but here's what he did. And they aren't quite the same thing, particularly in the case of ACORN.
KRAUTHAMMER: Another explanation is that in his early days he was a newcomer and an outsider, and to make his way in politics he was cynical with his associations. That is the most benign explanation.
HUME: That's it for the panel.
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