This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 27, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if Al Qaedais forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way which secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have news for Senator Obama: Al Qaedais in Iraq. And that's why we're fighting in Iraq, and that's why we're succeeding in Iraq.
OBAMA: I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, the audience loved that, but did Obama really get the best of it? We will talk about that in a moment with our panel.
But let me introduce them first — Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
William F. Buckley dead today at 82. Charles, what about William F. Buckley and his contributions?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He was a man of prodigious energy and intellect and curiosity. How can you not like a man who once sailed into the middle of the Atlantic in international waters so he could try marijuana, a man who ran for the Mayorship of New York and promised if he won the first thing he would do is demand a recount?
This is a man who he had a great physicality, a love of intellectual combat, but who devoted his life to — his mission was to defend the best of western civilization, and he did it at a time when his fellow intellectuals almost universally had been seduced by a great and fashionable and remarkably stupid idea like socialism and communism.
And he athwart that — he once said "standing athwart history," and, almost single-handedly, he prevailed.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He was the intellectual father of modern conservatism, and I think that his passing comes at a pretty important moment for conservatives and Republicans. There is all this intellectual ferment right now, trying to figure out which direction the Republican Party should go.
And I think they need some new William F. Buckleys.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I'm sorry, he was sui generis. There's not going to be another one.
My father was a charter subscriber of "National Review," and so I started reading it as a teenager. And you know, it created this new conservatism. It was witty and funny.
And he was very mischievous as well, Buckley was. When I was about 15 or 16, my dad took me to hear him speak. I had never seen anything like it before. I mean, he was witty, he was funny, he was satirical. He was very histrionic.
And I loved him. He was great. And I thought, gee, I'd love to grow up and be William F. Buckley, Jr.
Now, I didn't harbor that illusion — I realized it wasn't going to happen.
HUME: One other thing about the guy on a personal level, he was incomparably nice.
BARNES: He was a gracious man.
HUME: He was one of the nicest me I ever met.
Let's move on now to this discussion of Obama-McCain. That was a lively exchange, each playing off the other at long distance, a preview, perhaps, of what we will see in the general election.
But who got the best of it? Certainly Obama had the best applause.
BARNES: He did, but that was the Obama crowd. He got a lot of applause.
Here's why I don't think what Obama did today will work in the general election, for two reasons. One, he can't fall back and say I was against the war in the beginning. That's not relevant now to what's going on in Iraq. You have to deal with what's going on now, and the improvements, and security, and so on, and reconciliation. So he's going to have to deal with that.
And, secondly, he doesn't seem to understand what has worked in Iraq. What has worked is not when you hear about Al Qaeda someplace, sending out the troops to deal with them. What's worked there is counterinsurgency, where you go in and take over a neighborhood, and you stay over and take over a whole city like Baghdad, and you stay there.
These are not just ad hoc missions, which is what he is talking about. What he is talking about is what famously did not work in Iraq.
LIASSON: What's happening right now is there are two completely debates going on. The debate inside the Democratic primary is about who was against the war first.
HUME: But this exchange was free of that today.
LIASSON: Yes, but here's the thing: last night, against Senator Clinton, Obama said, look, once we've driven into the ditch, there is only so many ways we can get out. The question is, who made the initial decision?
That is actually not going to be the debate anymore. The debate is going to be now what are the options? There are many of them.
He is actually wrong that there are only a few. There are many of them. McCain has a different one. And for Obama to say, look, I would be willing to go back in if Al Qaeda has a base, well, that's exactly what the surge is doing now.
And I just think the debate will get much more complicated for whoever is the Democratic nominee.
KRAUTHAMMER: Whenever Obama is challenged on the success of the surge, he retreats into the past. He says "I was against it at the beginning." He doesn't give an answer because he opposed the surge, and it's working.
But he has a political advantage in that in that about 2/3's of Americans think the war was a mistake. But you can't ride it all the way.
What McCain ought to do is say that Obama, in all his rips on the war, ends up saying, I'm a man of the future, and McCain is tied to the policies of the past.
In fact, it is the exact opposite. On Iraq, Obama is the man of the past. If you ask him about Iraq, he retreats into his speech in 2002. And the question is what's going to happen in 2009? If you follow his retreat and surrender policy, you're going to have a loss of our advantage, a collapse of our allies, and a real Al Qaeda base.
If you turn it into a debate about the future, he loses on this.
HUME: He seems to think, too, as a lot of Democrats do, that the fact that Al Qaeda was present in Iraq and chose to make a big stand there, and is now in the midst of receiving what may end up being a terrible defeat, that that's a bad thing.
BARNES: It's a two-for for us. First we knock off Saddam Hussein, and now Al Qaeda, which Usama bin Laden and others in the leadership of Al Qaeda, say Iraq is the central front in their war. You knock them off there, and we're close to it, it's a real achievement.
LIASSON: And his applause line — for him to say Al Qaeda wouldn't have been there if they hadn't caused this war. Even if that is true, it doesn't matter. They're there now, and Obama is going to have come up with a plan to deal with them.
HUME: And there was some elements of it there, but not, obviously, in the strength they came to be there.
Next up, the Democratic debate in Ohio — was Senator Clinton whining? And what about Obama? Back to that subject with the panel in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I'll be happy to field them. But I do find it curious, and if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow.
I just find it curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Well, the question arises, if she's happy to answer it, and she doesn't mind, then what's she talking about?
It was an interesting debate last night. Let's get some thoughts on it. Mara, what do you think happened?
LIASSON: What she was talking about was the fact that the Clinton campaign is very frustrated and really bitter about what they believe is the press' fawning coverage of Barack Obama.
HUME: Yes. I'm even hearing complaints from Clinton people about liberal bias in the media, liberal bias in favor of Barack Obama.
LIASSON: And there was this skit where they showed people fawning all over Obama, and that's what she was complaining about.
The problem is you could hear the faint undercurrent of boos under there. In the last two debates, when she has tried a zinger like that, a pre-planned zinger, it hasn't worked. It has fall with a thud.
And I think, in general, complaining about tactics is not as effective as —
HUME: She's not complaining about the tactics of Obama. She is complaining about the tactics of the —
LIASSON: Yes, she was complaining the tactics of the news media and the tactics of Obama.
I think it was a really good debate — a lot of substance. They were both very strong. She had a much harder task last night. She tried everything she could to poke a hole in his balloon, and he parried her at every turn, and even knew how to beat a graceful retreat when she pushed him on the Farrakhan question about —
HUME: When she said "You should do more than denounce him. You should also reject him." And he said "OK."
LIASSON: And he said "Fine. No problem. I'll do it."
BARNES: She didn't make any headway. Somebody ought to tell her not to do these scripted jokes. She just can't do it. She's not Ronald Reagan or anybody who could really tell them. She can't.
Sarcasm doesn't work. I don't know why she keeps going back to that. And the notion that — I mean, she is at a disadvantage, trailing, because there really aren't any meaningful differences between them on any issues. Whether you are for universal health care you're for something close to it, like Obama, who cares? It's basically the same thing.
And so, given that, that she can't make any serious substantive criticism of him, she's at a great disadvantage, because he's more likable and he's more appealing, and he wins the debates as a result.
KRAUTHAMMER: I agree. I thought last night he cleaned her clock.
These debates are one on manner and presentation. The man is cool and calm and collected and elegant in his responses. And even on the Farrakhan incident, which is the one place where he made a mistake and he knew it — he was asked —
HUME: Talk about that real quick.
KRAUTHAMMER: He was asked to reject his support, and he didn't say "yes,: which you should. He said "No, I denounce anti-Semitism." That's not hard to do. But how about him?
And Hillary picked up on that, and said "I was endorsed by a Party in New York that was anti-Semitic, and I rejected that."
And then he very cleverly — it was incredibly nimble — he then presented the difference between them as a semantic one. He said if you believe that the word "denounce" is weaker than the word "reject," I will concede that point, and I'll reject and denounce.
A brilliant, absolutely brilliant maneuver. You watch that, and simply as an observer, you've got to say this guy is a pro.
HUME: So by the time it was over, he was back across the English Channel, and no one was the wiser.
LIASSON: It might be possible that those kinds of things will be a real weakness for him later. But she hasn't been able to raise that in the minds of Democratic voters.
HUME: Isn't part of the problem that where he was weakest, as was shown, perhaps, in the exchange with McCain, is from the right? But she can't hit him from the right.
LIASSON: Yes. She could, but she has chosen not to. And, as a matter of fact, she has positioned herself all along to be a candidate who could move to the center in the general election. But she has never tried to —
HUME: Can he?
LIASSON: I don't know if he can, but the fact is she has never tried to use that against him in the primary to make her case that he's not strong enough against McCain. That's the only way I think she could make it.
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