This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," February 16, 2008.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Coming up next on the "Journal Editorial Report" — Super Tuesday II. As voters in Ohio and Texas get set to go to the polls, Hillary Clinton prepare for what may be her final showdown with Barack Obama. Can she sustain a loss in either state and survive?
Plus, he's calling on Barack Obama to keep his word and take public funds in a general election match up. But John McCain has some campaign finances problems of his own.
All of that, and a tribute to William F. Buckley, after these headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
It is being billed as Super Tuesday II, next week's showdown between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Texas. Analysts are calling these states Clinton's firewall, must-wins if the northbound Senator is to stay in the race. But if she loses Tuesday, will she bow out gracefully?
I am pleased to be joined by "Wall Street Journal" columnist Peggy Noonan.
PEGGY NOONAN, COLUMNIST: Hi, Paul.
GIGOT: The story of the year, the rise of Barack Obama. I have to admit I didn't believe he could beat Hillary Clinton but he stands on the cusp of doing that.
NOONAN: He does.
GIGOT: How do you explain the phenomenon?
NOONAN: He is a phenomenon. That's the right word to use, I think. I think that there is a lot that goes into the story of Obama, but a big part of it is that he is a surprising individual. Surprising in terms of biography, youth. Who he is. And he seems just by standing there and being on the stage to turn the page on the last 16 years of partisan fighting and arguing in Washington. He seems, in part, a refutation to that. In part a — I don't want to go there, I am a consensus character.
GIGOT: So he fits the political mood. He fits the moment.
NOONAN: Yes, he fits the moment. And I also think he gave Democrats an alternative to Mrs. Clinton when they didn't quite know they wanted one until they got one. And then they said good. So I think that's part of it.
GIGOT: Much has been made about his rhetoric and speech making. And he does have the ability to motivate a crowd. Maybe better than anybody since Ronald Reagan. But you have written his speeches sound better to the ear and to the eye. Better than they read on paper.
NOONAN: Yes. I have done something. I am in the habit of watching his speeches when I can. And I always lean forward and I listen. And I find him to be such a compelling fellow and a persona. But then, let an hour go by and I print out the speech, if I can find it on the Internet. And printing it out and just reading it with him removed from it is a different sort of an experience.
I know that that's always true. Part of rhetoric is presentation and such. But there is — there is — part of this is simply his compel persona. You are interested in him. How he thinks. How he moves. How he puts himself forward. And that's all a little bit more interesting than the dry text itself.
GIGOT: Is it a lack of substance, a real urgent policy message? Is that part of it? McCain called it eloquent but empty rhetoric. Is it part of that?
NOONAN: Yes. Look, on one side, people are saying this is eloquent but empty rhetoric. On the other side, they are saying, oh, no, this is Reaganesque.
GIGOT: You wrote for Reagan. So is it Reaganesque?
NOONAN: I don't think it is either. Reagan came forward and said this is my philosophy and this is my plan and this is how I will approach problem A, B and C.
Obama is not quite that direct in a policy way. Obama seems more to me, right now, to be about there is a better way than the past 16 years. It is consensus. It is getting along. It is getting the best out of each other. It is more a matter of mood. Now this is early in the campaign. We will see where it goes.
GIGOT: How long will it last.
NOONAN: We will see how he sounds in October. We will see if he can maintain his sense of being a bit elevated, a bit above the grubbiness of politics.
GIGOT: What about Mrs. Clinton? Do you think, in looking at her gain and how she conducted it, she seems to have been transcended by Obama, less defeated. Is there anything she could have said or done differently, do you think?
NOONAN: That's so interesting. Look, when you have a campaign that is not on the winning side, there are always things you could have done differently. But you know, sometimes life happens. Obama came along and somehow he got the wind at his back and she did not. Part of the mystery and magic of politics is figuring out why did he get the wind and she didn't.
GIGOT: Bill had it in 1992. Bill Clinton had it in 1992.
NOONAN: Exactly. You could argue Bill Clinton was not the equal to the man he fairly resoundingly defeated. Magic and mystery happen in politics as in life.
GIGOT: Assuming she has a bad Tuesday — and we don't know that will be the case. She could win both states. Assuming she has a bad Tuesday, loses one or the other. Pressure will build for her to get out among Democrats who want a nominee. Do you think she is willing to bow out gracefully or will we see hand to hand combat for superdelegates right through August?
NOONAN: I think she has a choice. If she is going to step out, if he has a bad Tuesday and there is a lot of clamor for her to step aside, she will have to decide, go grubby, go graceful. Grubby is breaking people's knee caps. It's taking them to court. It is fighting hand-to-hand battles.
GIGOT: Michigan and Florida delegates.
NOONAN: It is kidnapping people and the money and saying vote for me. That's grubby classic politics. Graceful might be to do her own Obama. Stay above it for a second and say life is long. I can lose this thing now and I will be back. Do it with generosity of spirit. Do it, you know, not with this rancorous, puffy angry feeling but with a certain detached grace. If she could pull that off she would have a big future, I think.
GIGOT: What's your instinct about her choice?
NOONAN: My instinct is it simply to look at her history. Her history has been tough, hard and relentless.
GIGOT: I think I know the answer.
GIGOT: Peggy Noonan, thanks.
When we come back, Hillary Clinton's Alamo. Can she lose Texas on Tuesday and stay in the race? Our panel weighs in after the break.
GIGOT: We are back with more of our look at Super Tuesday II, what may be the final battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, opinionjournal.com columnist John Fund, and Washington columnist Kim Strassel.
Dan, could be Hillary Clinton's Alamo. Hard to believe but it could be. Even Bill Clinton said she has to win both Texas and Ohio. Do you agree with that? Do you think she can do it?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, I agree with that. I think it is hard to believe. That's part of the problem. She shouldn't have had to be this far behind when Texas and Ohio came around. This — to campaign in both Texas and Ohio simultaneously when it really counts — just think about it. It is really hard.
GIGOT: They are two disparate states. Ohio is suffering economically. Texas is prospering. You've got Hispanic population in Texas and the more union organized traditional rust belt state in Ohio.
HENNINGER: Without getting to get too deeply in the tall weeds of Democratic politics, people have to recall, this is not like the Republican winner-take-all primaries. Texas is essentially 31 elections, there are 31 distribute awarded delegates on a proportional basis. For her to figure out how to do that in both states is really hard.
GIGOT: Kim Strassel, if Hillary Clinton wins in Ohio and she loses — let's say she loses narrowly in Texas, why doesn't she have a case to say, look, we split the big day. There is a big contest in April in Pennsylvania, why shouldn't I be allowed to fight on. Why isn't that a plausible argument to make?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: She may well do that. Part of it is going to be on the victory she has in Ohio, if she has it, and how big it is.
Look, the problem for Hillary Clinton at this point — and you talked about this with Peggy, is there will be immense pressure. Weakness on her part — people want this to be over. The Democratic Party, they're petrified of the idea of having a fight over Michigan and Florida. They are petrified of having superdelegates have to decide this and the feeling that's undemocratic. They want it sorted out in the normal primary process.
If she loses one, she will come under pressure. She will be able to say, and she may do, look, you've got to look at all the big states I have won — New York, California, Ohio. And that might be the case she makes but it will be a hard one.
GIGOT: John, let's talk about the superdelegates. We had movement this week, not too much, towards Obama. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, moved to Obama from Hillary's camp. What is going on behind the scenes with the pressure on the superdelegates.
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM COLUMNIST: If Hillary doesn't win big in both Ohio and Texas, I think there will be a wave of superdelegates.
GIGOT: Both states? Both states?
FUND: If she doesn't win big in both state...
GIGOT: Win, but win big? Not narrowly? Come on, if she wins by two or three points, isn't that — a victory is a victory, John.
FUND: Paul? The Democratic establishment and the media are tired of Hillary and want her off the stage. And they will find an excuse to push her off the stage.
The problem is I think Hillary does have a legitimate gripe. I think the media, for example, has I think given Barack Obama a pass. For example, next Monday there is going to be a trial in Chicago. Obama's good friend and top fund raiser Tony Rezko. That has almost got no coverage at all. Obama is an honest politician but he's part of the marinated Chicago machine and I think he has been given a pass on that.
Hillary Clinton is frustrated because Bill Clinton got the media breaks in 1992 and she has gotten none of them in 2008. She is suffering from Clinton hang over and she is frustrated.
GIGOT: Dan, John says Obama is benefiting from the vast right wing media conspiracy. I don't buy that. What do you think?
HENNINGER: I don't think it will help him much in the crucial state of Ohio. Ohio is a pretty politically hard-boiled state. In the past two elections, those people were bombarded with political messages. Then got calls from P. Diddy and George Bush's mother. And they won't be too bowled over by Obamamania. I think she has a strong shot in Ohio.
GIGOT: John, the Clintons are being dogged going hard. Harold Ickes, her operative, is still leaning on superdelegates. What do you think?
FUND: They might sue in Texas to overturn the caucus delegates selected after the people go to the polls in the primary. They have a dual system in Texas.
GIGOT: What will she do if she loses Texas? Do you think she will, in fact, bow out?
FUND: I think there will be a period of time of three or four weeks where she will fight on to Pennsylvania, which is still a good state for her, and she will wait for the inevitable second guessing of the Democratic establishment — do we know as much about Barack Obama as we should. Is he really as strong a candidate as we hope he is? She will wait for the reevaluation.
GIGOT: OK, John.
Still ahead, they say they want to make the role of money in politics more transparent. But are John McCain and Barack Obama both playing campaign finance games? Our panel investigates after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, DEBATE MODERATOR: Why won't you keep your word, in writing, that you made, to abide by push financing of the fall election?
BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tim, if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was Senator Barack Obama dodging a question at this week's debate about whether he will honor his pledge to accept public financing in the general election. Republican John McCain is calling on Obama to abide by that commitment if he is the Democratic nominee.
But McCain is facing scrutiny of his own over a loan he took out to keep his once struggling campaign afloat.
We are back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. Also joining the panel is senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy.
Collin, how slippery was that answer by Barack Obama on campaign finance and those commitments?
COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I mean, there is no question it was very slippery answer. This is a situation where this is one of the central tenets of anyone who believes in campaign finance reform — is this idea that public financing, especially in the general election, is very important.
Barack Obama made a case from the very beginning that he is one of the guys who is pure as the driven snow. He doesn't take PAC money and other things as he campaign has said. And when the rubber hits the road here, he is all of a sudden very squishy about it and tried to put the onus on making a deal with McCain supposedly on some of these shadowy groups, like the 527 groups.
GIGOT: But, Collin, Obama made that pledge when he was — he wasn't sure how much money he would be able to raise in his campaign. Now he's proven to be an astounding campaign fundraiser. So this may give him a political advantage, would it not, against John McCain, if he can raise private money and McCain can't raise as much?
LEVY: Yes. I mean, there is no question that's the case, especially if there is a situation where — if the FEC has to get involved to give them the money, without it, he really won't be able to — McCain won't be able to match up the same way.
I think what Obama is doing here, though, is also a bit of a scare tactic. It is a way to sort of, you know, say to the McCain campaign, we have got in leg up on you and you better be aware of it going in.
GIGOT: Kim, let's talk about John McCain. He also ran afoul of campaign finance laws. What's the nature of his problem?
STRASSEL: The problem is that we have these campaign finance laws in the first place, which John McCain helped create. Now he has this issue, he took out a loan to keep his campaign afloat last year when things were rough. There is a question over whether or not the way he took out that loan now locks him into public financing for the rest of the primary season, which would make him go into a media blackout from now until August, the most important time for him.
He has this whole issue. Now it is wrapped up in the Senate as well. The FEC, the Federal Election Commission, says it needs to vote on it. They don't have enough people to vote on it. The Democrats are holding up nominations. This is a mess right in the middle of an election.
GIGOT: Kim, is Obama playing a role in putting a hold on FEC nominees? If they don't have a quorum, they can't issue a judgment. It's a 3-3, divided between Democrats and Republicans. And they don't have enough people. Is Barack playing a role behind the scenes?
STRASSEL: He was the first Democrat to put a hold on Hans von Spakovsky, who is Bush nominee. The Democrats are digging in, don't want him on the FEC. They feel he is not nice enough to campaign finance rules. So there is a stalemate. As long that stalemate exists, you don't get a quorum on the FEC. Then they can't vote on McCain and can't vote to give him money in a general election.
GIGOT: Dan, there is an interesting issue here of John McCain, the righteous reformer, caught on these rules, as Kim pointed out, that he has done so much to promote. With a righteous edge, I might add, claiming others who accept these — this money are corrupt.
HENNINGER: It is an incredible spectacle. You stand back and you think, when it started John McCain would drive the money-changers from the temples of politics. And look at this. He has turned it into a system of his chiselers.
GIGOT: Collin, how do you see this working out?
LEVY: Well, it is going to be interesting because both of them have claimed this mantle of reformers. And as far as the McCain thing goes, he is in a situation where he has the appearance of having surrounded himself with a lot of lawyers. That just goes right against his sort of straight talk express when he has this barricade, you know, of lawyers around him. That will be something the Obama campaign is probably going to try to make a point of.
GIGOT: Maybe the real lesson here is campaign finance reform makes liars of everyone in politics. We would be better off without them all.
LEVY: True enough.
GIGOT: All right, we have to take one more break. When we come back, remembering William F. Buckley Jr.
GIGOT: Finally tonight, remembering William F. Buckley Jr. The conservative icon and "National Review" magazine founder died this week at the age of 82.
Dan, Buckley was responsible for the start of my own career. I was painting houses in New Hampshire after college and one day the phone rang down the hall in the closet, because this was a college building and we didn't have cell phones at the time. And it was William F. Buckley Jr offering me a job. I took for the princely sum of 200 bucks a week. I loved working there and loved the whole environment he created.
HENNINGER: That's the point, Paul. Think about it. Here you are. I mean Buckley started the "National Review" in the mid-50s when conservatism was really kind of an attitude toward the world rooted in various conservative philosophers. What Buckley did was he forced conservatism to get it hands dirty. He pulled it to kind of the living soil of American politics, the real world. He said to his compatriots, you guys aren't just thinkers, you are doers. You're players. I think it's because of that transformation that, to this day, conservatism remains an active force in American politics.
GIGOT: John, what are your thoughts about Buckley?
FUND: He inspired me to become a writer. Think about this, Paul. He inspired three generations of conservative journalists. And he also, I think, helped create the fusionism that knit together the conservative movement that Dan talked about. But in the end, Buckley was a little ambivalent about where conservatism was going. He told Joe Ragel (ph), one of our writers, that conservatism had gone slothful, that it wasn't as interested in ideas. I think Buckley's departure should be a wake-up call for the conservative movement. It's time to go back to first principles and it's time to update the movement for the current conditions and to remain rigorous.
GIGOT: One of the things came about Buckley that I admired, was he believed — he believed in civility. He said he believed in a thoughtful conservatism and he debated certainly with force Democrats and liberals. But he did so with wit and style and not with some of the angry tones you now hear on the Internet and cable TV.
STRASSEL: You know, Sam Tanenhaus has been doing a biography and he had things to write about Buckley this week. He pointed out that when he met with him a couple things struck him. One was that Buckley, when he was in private, liked to talk about other things other than politics, music and art and these things. He never also heard Buckley say a rude thing about anyone.
This was a man who liked spirited debate. Who liked intellectual challenges and thoughts, but did not take it personally. I think that's something a lot of Americans have become frustrated with. It gets to the heart of the anger we have over partisanship. And it is something that, you know, conservatives can learn something from to go back and approach it more as a challenge, an intellectual one.
GIGOT: The other thing is people today, from this vantage point — it is very difficult to remember what it was like in the 50s and 60s when there weren't a lot of conservative ideas in circulation. And Buckley made it cool to be a conservative. He was a public figure. He was a dashing figure. He was on the "Tonight Show," and on "Laugh-In," for Pete's sake.
FUND: He was a showman intellectual in the best sense of the word.
He will be missed.
Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching.
I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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