This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," June 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Coming up on "The Journal Editorial Report"...
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.
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GIGOT: President Obama's Middle East overture. Is it merely a new face on the old Bush agenda?
Plus, Democrats scramble to push their health care overhaul through this summer. Why the rush?
As Sonia Sotomayor makes the rounds on Capital Hill, we'll take a look on her writings and rulings that could cause her most trouble in her confirmation hearing.
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OBAMA: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
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GIGOT: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
President Obama delivered his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo this week. Touted by some as a beginning of a new era in American Islamic relations, we detected some pretty familiar themes.
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
Bret, at the risk of incurring Dorothy's scorn, I'm going to admit that I kind of liked much of what the president said this week. He talked about weapons rights. He talked about democracy in Egypt, in the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. How different was this speech from the themes that President Bush sounded?
BRET STEPHENS, FORIEGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Old wine in new bottles, Paul. Some of the language could have been lifted out of any number of President Bush's speeches not only about the democracy aspect of it, but respect for minorities, religious toleration, a whole series of themes that had been sounded by President Bush but hadn't quite achieved the effect. If it takes Obama's branding or packaging to put these messages across to the Arab and Muslim world, I think that's a good thing. There were aspects of the speech I didn't like.
GIGOT: We'll talk about those.
And I'm sure Dorothy will too. But one thing about the democracy speech, Dorothy, when the president talked about democracy, he got big applause.
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yes.
GIGOT: That's a good thing.
RABINOWITZ: It's a thing. It's applause. It's hands clapping. What does it mean?
We have — this is a moral equivalency president and this does not changed in the slightest. In the speech, it's meticulous. It's a checking off by rote. You did this, we did that. You did this, we did that.
GIGOT: When you say moral equivalent, you mean, for example, the fact that he compared the West participation in a coup in Iran in the Cold War era with what Iran has been doing for 30 years, killing Americans in Lebanon and Iraq and so on and so forth.
RABINOWITZ: Yes. Kidnapping, killing.
GIGOT: A moral equivalence between the Israeli right to have a state of their own with the Palestinian right to have a state of their own. Is that right? Why does that bother you?
RABINOWITZ: Why shouldn't it bother anyone? Moral equivalent is, by implication, by practice, in all of our years, the comparison of things which bear no relation in dimension to one another.
GIGOT: Why would he try that? You noticed it and other Americans will too, and certainly Israelis noticed it. Why would he invoke that, because he's trying to curry special favor with the Islamic world?
RABINOWITZ: Yes, he is. He is. This is the narcissistic, the extension of the Obama presence in the world. I'm here. I'm the agent of change. I am going to do absolutely everything to show success at the end of these trips by currying favor with you, by saying the exact opposite of the provable truth.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Paul, let me pick up element of the speech and ask where it goes, religious toleration. He was strong on toleration for Islam and other religions.
GIGOT: And told the Muslims, look, you must protect the rights of Christians to practice their religion which are not protected in Saudi Arabia.
HENNINGER: On that point, Paul, two popes, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, have given the same speech. The Vatican has an office that for 25 years has been trying to achieve this before Islam wipes out Christianity in the Middle East. The progress has been slow. The question is, where do you put political muscle behind these sentiments so the Saudis stop supporting Wahhabi Islam and al Qaeda and even the Palestinians who have been used as a cat's paw to direct pressure from these autocracies. That's why they have used those elements.
STEPHENS: This gets at the heart of my basic problem with the speech. First of all, where it was delivered, Cairo the heart of the Arab of the world, when only about a quarter of the world's Muslims are Arab. Then, two, the whole fact that here's an American president speaking to the Islamic world. I'm not sure that Islamic world exists. There's a country called Indonesia. There's a country called Morocco. They have not a great deal in common, except a shared religion. It would be like a Japanese prime minister addressing himself to Christendom.
GIGOT: Fair point. I want to roll the tape what the president said about Iraq.
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OBAMA: Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.
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OBAMA: Kim Strassel, is that going to win the president any fans in the Mideast?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I'm not sure it is. What the president did, that was what you saw, an implicit apology, and you saw it in other areas of the speech too. He said we have closed Gitmo. We have stopped torturing people. And this is the equivalent of what he has been doing here in the United States. I think it is designed, in a certain way, to draw an attention away from the fact that, as Bret said in the beginning of the show, much of what this president has done, in particular on national security, is a continuation of Bush policies. But by talking about these things and sort of suggesting that these are a few issues in which America bears blame and sort of a — in a way, apologizing for them, he seeks to draw attention away from policies that continue, like detention, renditions, wiretapping, et cetera.
GIGOT: Briefly, Bret, on Iran, what message are the mullahs going to away why from the speech?
STEPHENS: The message they're going to take away is that the president isn't serious about doing something and that's going to have serious consequences for our relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two key Arab states that are deeply worried about Iran's bid to...
GIGOT: I hope he was tougher in private than he was in public in this speech. All right, thanks, Bret.
Still ahead, it is going to be a busy summer on Capitol Hill. Democrats are scrambling to push their health care overhaul through, not to mention the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, all this before the August recess. Can they get it done?
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OBAMA: This window between now and the August recess I think is going to be the make or break period. This is the time where we've got to get this done.
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GIGOT: It is only the largest entitlement expansion since LBJ. President Obama and congressional Democrats want to push their health care overhaul through Congress before it breaks for summer. Though specifics of the plan have yet to be revealed, the Senate begins to marking up legislation as soon as next week. Why the rush? And what is likely to be in the bill?
Former New York State Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCoy is a patient advocate and chairman for the Committee to Reduce Infection Death. She joins me now.
Welcome, good to have you back.
BETSY MCCOY, FORMER NY STATE LT. GEN., PATIENT ADVOCATE & CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE TO REDUCE INFECTION DEATH: Thank you.
GIGOT: The Obama administration is making a core argument on health care reform, saying if we insure more people, bring more people under government subsidies, we can save money. Save money, is that possible?
MCCOY: No, it is very important that everyone has coverage. But it will not save money. Once people are insured, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, they will use about 70 percent more health services than they currently do the.
The most problematic area of this effort is this, the president wants to slow the flow of dollars into the health care system. That going to force cuts in hospital budgets, fewer nurses on the floor, less diagnostic equipment available and waits for treatment.
GIGOT: If you talk to the Obama administration people, they say we spend 18 percent, almost one out of every five dollars of this whole economy on health care. They say that is too much because the costs are rising. We've got to get this under control. Are you saying that's not the right direction?
MCCOY: No, Americans spend more on health care than Europeans for example, because they earn more. 90 percent of the difference in spending is due to higher per capital incomes in the United States. And we spend more but we get more. For example, American women have mammograms more frequently. Their breast cancer is detected sooner and treated faster. And they have better survival rates than in most parts of Europe.
GIGOT: Why are costs rising? Because this data I've seen showed it rising by about 2.7 percent a year, faster than overall economy, the overall prices since Medicare began in 1965. Why is that happening?
MCCOY: Mostly because of technology. According to the CBO, again, about two-thirds of the increases in health care costs are due to innovation. If you walk into an electronic store, you will see products that were not there 10 years ago. If you walk into the hospital, it is the same.
GIGOT: Right. And these are things like screenings, MRI's, CAT scans.
MCCOY: One statistic tells you a lot. In 1980, if you had a heart attack and made it to hospital alive, you only had a 60 percent chance of surviving for a year. now your chance is well over 90 percent. Nobody wants 1980s health care at 1980s prices.
GIGOT: Is this trend, this cost-increase trend, is sustainable or are we going — the argument is we are going to chewing up more and more of our economy with health care and that take money from other things that we need.
MCCOY: In fact, health care costs are rising less rapidly than in previous decades. Even though the politicians in Washington from both parties keep using the word "skyrocketing."
GIGOT: So actually, the trend is slowing?
MCCOY: The trend is very much our friend. In 1970, health care spending increasing 10.5 percent a year, in 1980, 13 percent. For last five years, it has been increasing less than 7 percent. In 2007, it reached a new low of 6.1 percent, so we are not in a crisis here.
GIGOT: Now the administration is talking about a couple of things they can do. They say if everybody were as efficient as the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which is renowned as very good medical center, but if we could be as efficient and spend dollars and get the same outcomes, we could spread that across the whole system, we could save hundreds of billions of dollars. Realistic?
MCCOY: Government controls to achieve that kind of efficiency are too blunt an instrument. The Rand Corporation has done research on how other countries have tried to achieve this. They found that never do government controls eliminate inappropriate care. They end up rationing care, mostly based on age. For example, Rand found that cardiac procedures are less frequent in Canada, but generally, because they are eliminated for most people over 65.
GIGOT: If you read between the lines, when people say spend less on health care, they are saying ration care, particularly for our older Americans?
MCCOY: This is why families need to pay attention now. The politicians have promised you can keep your health plan if you like it. That may be true. When you get to the hospital, you will find a lower standard of care. When you limit the flow of dollars, as the president has call for, a 1.5 percent annual cut in health care growth, you will have less to spend on everyone. With 46 million Americans now entering the system as insured, it will mean medical scarcity.
GIGOT: What about prevention, which is another theme people talk about? If we learn to live healthier, just get these tests earlier, we'll be able to spend less because we'll take care of the problem before it becomes a big problem like heart disease.
MCCOY: I'm a patient advocate and I believe in prevention because it saves lives. But 80 percent of precautionary measures do not save money. They actually add to medical costs. Most people who take cholesterol- lowering drugs will never get sick, same with mammograms. So prevention is important...
GIGOT: So that's one case where prevention matters and can reduce, at least postpone the onset of heart disease?
MCCOY: The data are so convincing that prevention adds to medical costs that the only people who ever talk about prevention saving money are politicians.
GIGOT: All right, there's one other thing they're talking about which is a new health policy board, which would be set-up like the federal reserve board is for monetary to policy, you know, seven or eight people who would make decisions on what to cover, what to pay for and so on and so forth. Do you like that?
MCCOY: No, because it removes it from the democratic process. It reminds me of the British NICE Board, which doesn't do very nice things. For example, in 2006, they ruled that elderly people could not get a new drug to prevent the loss of vision from macular degeneration until they lost vision in one eye. Then they could get the drug to save the other eye. Well, that's the kind of rationing that goes on with those boards. And I don't want to see that happening here.
GIGOT: All right, Betsy McCoy, thanks for being here. This is a debate we really want to follow. It's so important. Thank you.
Still ahead, as Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor makes the rounds on Capitol Hill, we'll look at her just released record and the writings and rulings that may raise some eyebrows.
GIGOT: Just nine days after her nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a huge dossier of writings, speeches and unpublished rulings Thursday as she continued making the rounds on Capitol Hill. It's all part of what Democrats hope will be a speedy summer confirmation hearing. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wants the process to begin next months, with a goal of holding a vote before the August recess. Does her past record suggest any hurdles along the way?
Kim, the White House backtracked this week on the judge's famous speech in which she said a white Latina might be — would be a superior judge and make smarter decisions than a white male. Why the backtracking by the White House on this? They said it was a poor choice of words.
STRASSEL: This is what is getting all the attention now, this question of whether or not Judge Sotomayor is interested in pure application of the law or whether or not she is deeply steeped in this question of identity politics? This issue is going to really now get ahead of steam. If you look at this dossier that was sent over to the Senate Judiciary Committee because one thing that jumps out, if you look through all of the dozens of speeches she has given and the dozens of events that she has attended, the vast majority aren't questions of pure application of the law, but much more about Latina issues and Hispanic issues and minority issues and women's issues. This is really what she has built her career around in many ways.
GIGOT: OK, but, Dorothy, as a political matter, that's fine. A question — the question is whether or not this slips into her judging. Is this a problem for her going into the confirmation?
RABINOWITZ: I think it does. I think is the tonal accompaniment. If her sponsor, the president of the United States, had chosen to focus on her achievements, instead of which, he turned the entire introduction of Sonia Sotomayor into an operatic aria to her past, to her overcoming of achievements. So you suddenly had a look at where this identity politics and affirmative action, which we are used to, has now crystallized in to the man now president of the united states, which is the personal story is the entire story, the personal story are — is the achievement. That kind of stepping over, that excess is what is driven home.
GIGOT: Dan, Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan D.A. for whom the judge worked as a young lawyer, he says — he speaks highly of her. He says she is terrific and would not be political in her judging.
HENNINGER: There's a school of thought that she's tough on crime. The "Journal" had an interesting story this week and actually quoted New York defense attorney Michael Bachner (ph), who said she is actually very tough on white collar criminals, but tends to go easy on defendants who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. I guess that is borne out in her cases.
The problem here is her philosophy is a problem for those who disagree with it. The younger generation of legal philosophers and academics, by and large, have been pushing the idea that disadvantaged classes need to have what they call their narrative told and elevated in the judicial system, because the white classes do not fully understand the experiences that cause these people to behave the way they do. Through that process you achieve a greater reconciliation between these classes. That may sound like psycho therapy. It may sound silly. But I'm telling you, that is the judicial philosophy shared by not by Sonia Sotomayor, but lot of people in legal academia today.
GIGOT: Bret, do you think is going to affect her? Do you think this should be the central debate in the confirmation?
STEPHENS: We need to have a serious confirmation hearing. We have to have a conversation about this. We have to have a conversion especially about this case involving New Haven firefighters, who were denied promotions, because they were of a newly disadvantaged class. They were white.
GIGOT: They took a race-neutral test to see if they could get promotions. What happens is no Hispanics or minorities passed the test, so they threw out the results.
STEPHENS: With Sotomayor concurring in that — in that decision to throw out the results. That seems to me a deeply unjust decision. We need to have a conversation about it.
All that being said, I'm in favor of her confirmation on the principle that a president is entitled to his picks of the Supreme Court justice. That is the principle that held up until Robert Bork's hearing in 1987.
GIGOT: All right, I'll let you have the last word. But I think we're going to have a debate about that going forward. Thanks, Bret.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Dan, first to you.
HENNINGER: Well, Dan, good luck to Barack Obama's idea that he doesn't want the government running General Motors or Chrysler. days after he said that, the heads of General Motors and Chrysler were in front of the Senate Commerce Committee who was beating them up for trying to close down auto dealerships. A day later, Barney Frank said he talked to the head of General Motors and talked him out of closing a distribution center in Massachusetts. By the end of the day, Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, put in an amendment to fully compensate dealers for unsold inventory. I can't wait to drive a Barney mobile.
GIGOT: All right.
RABINOWITZ: A hit to Judge Vaughn Walker for passing over the complaints of the ACLU and for throwing out the lawsuit against telecom companies. This is about 33 exemptions from these endless attacks by the ACLU. This warrantless is surveillance.
GIGOT: Yes, they've proven that the ACLU wanted to stop warrantless wiretaps. The judge threw out the lawsuits.
RABINOWITZ: Threw out the lawsuit. Again, they were looking — but in the end, it reminds — the whole thing, which is a triumph - but it reminds you where this started and that was, there was a time when they tried to break down the code system. Secretary of War Simpson announced, gentlemen, do not read each other's mail. That was the beginning of a stream of madness, now unending.
GIGOT: All right, thanks, Dorothy.
STRASSEL: A hit to all those New Jersey voters who this week went to a GOP primary and nominated Chris Christie to challenge Governor Jon Corzine and hopefully set New Jersey back on a path of prosperity. This is what the governor promised to do four years ago, but what have seen in the meantime is spiraling spending and debt and more taxes. So this will depend on just how good he is at a reform agenda, but this is shaping up to be voters possibly saying, like in California, enough is enough.
GIGOT: All right.
STEPHENS: It is the 65th anniversary of Operation Over Lord, the landings at Normandy Beaches, D-Day, where 160,000 men began the liberation of Europe. Canadians, Americans, Brits, free French, even Norwegians did it. It's a wonderful anniversary. We should remember that when Americans go to places like Kabul and Baghdad, they are accomplishing precisely the same purpose.
GIGOT: All right, Bret, thanks.
That's it for this week's edition of the "The Journal Editorial Report."
Thanks to my panel and to all of you.
I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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