Legacy Watch: George W. Bush's Blitz to Define His Administration

This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", December 20, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," with his presidency in his waning days, George W. Bush goes on an all-out blitz to define his legacy.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Gay activists are on the war path against the Reverend Rick Warren and President-elect Obama.

BARNES: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich girds for a protracted battle to stay in office.

KONDRACKE: Caroline Kennedy gets a frosty reception on her listening tour of upstate New York.

BARNES: That, and Detroit gets a life line, coming up on the "The Beltway Boys" right now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been a wartime president. I've dealt with two economic recessions now. I've had a lot of serious challenges. What matters to me is I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy.


BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

KONDRACKE: And I'm Mort Kondracke and we're "The Beltway Boys."

The hot story of the week is legacy watch. Besides dealing with the auto crisis, which president Bush did this weekend -- we'll get to that -- the president is on a legacy tour. He's, you know, making speeches, giving interviews, going off to Iraq and so on. And the White House is going to actually put out a book next week to its appointee, which will, of course, get into the public, listing all the accomplishments of the administration.

I've got to say that he's got an uphill climb as far as the public is concerned. A recent Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll asked how the president compared to other modern presidents. Only 11 percent said that Bush was an above average president. 24 percent said that he's only an average president. And a whopping 62 percent said that he's below average. And in fact 39 percent said he will be ranked as a poor president.

What I say is the jury is out. I think a lot depends on how the Iraq war turns out, whether Iraq becomes a stable country and also how deep this recession actually proves to be, you know, before it becomes Barack Obama's responsibility. But it certainly got started on Bush's watch.

BARNES: My advice when that book comes out from the White House, do not call it mission accomplished.


BARNES: That would probably bring back an unfavorable memory. But, any case, I agree with you, the jury's out. I think I know what the jury's going to decide. And we're gong to get some revisionism about George W. Bush. There will be more than 11 percent that thinks he's a good president. We have seen revisionism before. We saw it with Harry Truman, who had below poll ratings, who is now regarded as a great president. We've see it with Dwight Eisenhower's was high but people thought he was not really in charge, kind of a nincompoop. We know better about that now.

Because of Iraq and the war on terrorism and some other things, Bush will be looked at in a much more favorable light, particularly because all this anti-Bush madness -- the Bush derangement syndrome that we see among Democrats and liberals -- will fade and vanish over the years. And there will be a more cold-blooded honest look at the Bush presidency.

KONDRACKE: We think that the three biggest achievements of the Bush administration are Iraq and the surge, the War on Terror and the No Child Left Behind law.

On Iraq, I think that we did not have to go to war at this time against Saddam Hussein. Having gone to war under what proved to be wrong pretenses -- I don't think that Bush lied about it or knowingly got us into the war on false pretenses -- but he didn't have to go to war at that time. Once we toppled Saddam Hussein successfully, Bush and Don Rumsfeld almost lost this war. It was only because thankfully Bush reversed course and decided to put in more troops and follow the David Petraeus model instead of the generals that he was listening to beforehand that we have a chance of achieving success. The jury is still out on whether Iraq becomes a successful country.

On the war on terror, we have not been attacked again. That's to Bush's credit. He neglected terrorism as an issue before 9/11. Not a single National security council meeting conducted on the issue of terrorism before 9/11, but it successfully fought it successfully afterwards.

As for the No Child Left Behind, this is a real accomplishment. Test scores have gone up. He's established the issue of accountability and accountability by population groups. Poor kids have to -- are measured according to their achievement as well as just the average of all kids.

BARNES: We agree on the Iraq war, although you've gotten a little squishy about whether we needed to go in. I don't think Bush and Rumsfeld were going to lose it. They were not going to win it until the surge, one of the great presidential decisions of recent memory, maybe of all time. Every -- practically everyone was against it. His own State Department, his own Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the press, the foreign policy establishment of Washington, most of Congress, including Republicans. The only people for it were really the president and his national security staff, a few of them, a handful of people. Me, you.


BARNES: That's about it. It was a brave decision by Bush and it worked.

The War on Terror, I think he's disrupted the whole terrorist establishment, Al Qaeda and bin Laden included, and obviously they can pull off some terrorist attacks on pretty strong targets.

No Child Left Behind, Mort, you're so right. I love the way you explained it, too. It does, it requires testing for the first time and accountability you get from that. When I hear these school board people and principals complain we have to teach to the test. Of course, you have to teach to the test. It's English and math! You ought to teach to the test. There are some significant achievements by Bush and we've just mentioned them.

KONDRACKE: Right. We think that the three biggest failures are the economy, which is in crisis, the hurting of the Republican brand, and the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Look, Bret Baier of FOX had an interview with President Bush this week and asked him will you go down in history as Herbert Hoover? Watch this.


BRET BAIR, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Are you worried about being the Herbert Hoover of the 21st century?

BUSH: No. I will be known as somebody who saw a problem and put the chips on the table to prevent the economy from collapsing. If you think about the decisions that I have made, regarding the economy, it is -- I am a free Market guy. But I'm not going to let this economy crater.


KONDRACKE: Look, I think he should have abandoned free market principles a lot earlier to prevent this meltdown because, if he had, he might have controlled derivatives, regulated derivatives, and he might have forced greater regulation of the housing Market on the Republican watch.

Look, Republicans lost a net of 14 Senate seats and 47 House seats on Bush's watch. That's pretty -- that's pretty bad. No realignment there. And on Pakistan, right now that's the center of the -- of terrorism in the world. Pakistan is a country undergoing destabilization. And what's more, terrorists are able to mount reign in India and that's got all to do with destabilizing the subcontinent as well.

BARNES: Yes. Of course, that's not Bush's fault. Maybe he could have done more in Pakistan, but there are things that presidents can't control. I'm afraid Pakistan is one of them.

Go back to the economy. You're accusing Bush for not doing things that you never thought of at the time. But nobody else did either. Nobody was urging him to crack down. Everybody loved the housing market. All the poor people.

KONDRACKE: I was in favor of regulating derivatives. I was. I thought they were wild and wooly.

BARNES: I don't think you know what that would entail. Mort, there was a realignment. But it was undone by the 2006 and 2008 elections. But it was there. And, besides, I think the Republicans, particularly in Congress, did more to hurt the brand than president Bush did.

All right. Coming up, Rod Blagojevich signals he's not going anywhere. Later on, Barack Obama and Reverend Rick Warren are teaming up once again, much to the dismay of gay activists.


BARNES: Welcome back to the "The Beltway Boys." It's "Up and Down" time.

Up: The big three auto makers. Not they deserve it, but the Bush administration came to the rescue of the auto industry Friday, offering over $17 billion in loans, but with strings attached.

Take a look at how the money will be allocated. $13.4 billion will be available now from the TARP funds. Those are the ones -- the money that's been allocated to handle the financial Market. And $4 billion comes later if there's money left. And the car companies must return that money if they cannot prove their viability by this March.

Here's a look at the conditions and targets for that money. As you can see, there are some for the car companies and the unions. The first two are binding. The other two are merely targets.

Mort, I think that's what the problem is. The things that are targets should be made mandatory, plus some other ones, not just ending the jobs bank. but auto companies have to clear out all this unsustainable debt that they have. And they don't agree to get rid of two-thirds of it. And they were going to get rid of half what they owed the UAW pension union and so on. And these are things that have to be required to do.

The White House thinks that, well, they need to have flexibility in doing these things. Flexibility is exactly what they don't need. There need to be mandatory requirements, conditions for all these things and not just targets. I mean, targets can be not met.

KONDRACKE: Look, what this is all about is George Bush avoiding being Herbert Hoover. He does not want the auto companies to collapse with several million thrown out. He's kicking the can down the road to the Obama administration which is going to be much more union-friendly than it is. So this deadline of March 31st, Bush has no power to impose any of these conditions on the auto companies. It's all left up to Obama and the Democratic Congress which can change the rules, adopt new rules and so on.

And I'll bet you the unions don't like this idea that Bush came up with and I bet you the Democrats let them off the hook.

BARNES: Even though -- I'm afraid you're right.

KONDRACKE: Up: Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich. He is managing to hang on to his job, for now at least. Efforts to have him removed from office were rejected. The Illinois legislature is tied up in knots over his impeachment proceedings.

Here is a defiant Blagojevich.


GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, D-ILL.: I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. And I intend to stay on the job. And I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.


KONDRACKE: You know, if Blagojevich is not willing to leave office, and he clearly isn't, unless the Illinois legislature is going onto impeach him on general principles or the basis of these tapes, which are pretty damning, $50,000 for the Obama Senate seat, taking money away from poor children, sick children, I mean, that's pretty dire. But it's not proved in a court of law. So the Illinois legislature would have to pull him out of there on its own.

What I think is going to happen is that this Obama Senate seat is not going to be filled for months, at the rate things are going. And there's going to be increasing called in Illinois for a special election which a Republican could win.

BARNES: I know that's right. I'm changing sides here. I'm on Blagojevich's side now. Look, the guy, as you pointed out -- there's some charges. There's no overt act. There was no deal made where he was going to get $500,000 for giving the Senate to somebody. There was a lot of talk, corrupt sounding talk. But that's all they have so far.

I question the motives, one of Barack Obama, and all the people associated with him in Illinois and the Illinois legislature. What do they want? They want to avoid exactly what you're talking about. They want to get that lieutenant governor in and -- Patrick Quinn -- so he'll appoint a Senator because all they want to do is avoid that election because they think, particularly your friend Mark Kirk, the Congressman from north shore Chicago, would be a good candidate, might wind. They're desperate to avoid that.

All right, coming up, Caroline Kennedy says she wants that New York Senate seat, but upstaters and others say not so fast. We'll tell you why, next.


BARNES: Welcome back to the "The Beltway Boys." We're continuing with the "Ups and Downs" for the week.

Up: The Reverend Rick Warren. President-elect Obama has tapped him to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Gay right groups are hopping mad though due to Warren's work for California's Proposition 8 that banned same sex marriages.

Here's what Warren had to say on that issue. Watch this.


REV. RICK WARREN: I'm opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I'm opposed to older guys marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives. They can't accuse me of homophobia. I just don't believe in the redefinition of marriage.


KONDRACKE: Look, this is Obama's attempt to do what he promised to do during the campaign and that is reach out to people that he doesn't disagree with and include them in his inaugural ceremony.

BARNES: You mean that he does disagree with.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, that he does disagree with. Yes, reach out to everybody and include them. But, look, the gay rights groups have a point in their objections to what Warren is saying. The idea that gay marriage is the equivalent of incest or polygamy or something is ridiculous. What laws do is they draw lines. You can outlaw polygamy and incest without having to throw out the idea of gay marriage, as well.

As Warren himself points out, gays are only 2 percent of the entire population. You're not going to undermine the institution of marriage if you let that 2 percent in. As he points out, divorce is a worse threat to marriage than gays.

BARNES: Well, I certainly agree with him on divorce. But all that other stuff is beside the point. The gay groups are mad he's been picked by Obama because he supported Prop 8, which won heavily because of Hispanic and black votes and not voters out of Rick Warren's mega-church.

Look, he's the most prominent Christian preacher in America now that Billy Graham has retired. That's Rick Warren. He's a conservative. He did a great interview with McCain and Obama during the campaign. Logical choice and great outreach.

And the truth is most people agree with him. Mort, you didn't deal with the fundamental thing he said. He's not for redefining the way marriage has been defined 5,000 years. Most people aren't. Regardless of that other stuff. I think you're going to have to live with that for now.


BARNES: It may change.

Up: Caroline Kennedy. She's made it known she wants that New York Senate seat and launched a carefully choreographed listening to her around the state this week to win support for it, well, here's Kennedy in buffalo on Wednesday.


CAROLINA KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF JOHN F. KENNEDY: First of all, I spent a lifetime and grown up around public policy issues. And public service is something that I'm proud of in my family tradition. So it's something that I've always wanted to do. And I've worked in New York City public schools. I've written books on the Constitution. I've raised my family. And now it's time I think with the problems that we have for me to really step forward and do more.


KONDRACKE: Well, look, we didn't show the going over that she got from the press. She is now in the NFL. This is not Upper West Side or East Side socialite stuff. This is -- she'll get a rough going over from the press, from other politicians and so on.

Now, all she's got to do is satisfy David Paterson that they'll be a good candidate and can raise a lot of money, which she can. But I'll tell you, getting elected in her own right in that job is going to be a tough road.

BARNES: The sooner the better he picks her and names her because I don't think her campaigning is helping at all.

My view is simply this. Look, we have a liberal Democratic governor and he's probably going to pick a liberal Democrat to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Why not Caroline Kennedy? She's got a big name, as smart as the rest of the Senators or most of them anyway. So why not? But she needs it right now.

KONDRACKE: Down: Disgraced Wall Street financer Bernard Madoff. He's accused of conducting a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, leaving investors holding the bag.

BARNES: Convincing -- going to the country clubs that he was a member of and convincing people and his chums and everything to invest and these poor Jewish philanthropies -- it is a bad thing. $50 billion. I mean, no wonder The New York Post had that headline: "The Most Hated Man in New York City."

KONDRACKE: And Chris Cox, who is a very weak Securities and Exchange commissioner, is now looking into his own house to find out why, after repeated warnings, investigators looking at what Madoff was doing, did not find this Ponzi scheme within the SEC itself. The SEC has a lot to answer for.

BARNES: The main reason, criminals are smart. That's why.

Anyway, don't move a muscle. "The Buzz" is coming' up next.


BARNES: What's "The Buzz," Mort?

KONDRACKE: Barack Obama is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln. But my worry is he's creating a house divided against itself. He's got strong liberals and strong moderates who have diametrically opposing views on energy, environment, trade, economics. What Lincoln said, a house divided against itself, cannot stand.

BARNES: There's been another promise by Obama that's going to get him in trouble and that is I'm going to have a transparent administration, White House. He can't have that. It's not going to happen. But he's going to hear about it over and over from the press that's going to say we need to know more. You said the White House is going to be transparent.

KONDRACKE: That's all for the "The Beltway Boys." Join us next week when the boys will be back in town. And a Merry Christmas to all!

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