Turning Point?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," December 16, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush says the latest election in Iraq is a milestone for the Iraqi people and it may also be a milestone for him.

After four major speeches on Iraq in the run-up to the vote, the president's job approval rating now sits at 42 percent. That is up from last month when it fell to a record low of 36 percent.

We are joined now by David Frum, a former speechwriter for the president.

Hello, David, can you hear me?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Hi, John. I can hear you. Merry Christmas.

GIBSON: Merry Christmas and happy everything else, David.

So, listen, the president is back on track, at least talking about the war.

This has been the advice of many people, including you and yours truly for a long time. What took them so long?

FRUM: Well, I think they were getting advice that said the way to sustain support is to give people a lot of perception of success, never to admit that there are any problems. So long as you sustain the idea of success, then the people will be with you. And when that bumped into reality and challenges and difficulties, there was a kind of dissonance.

The president, over the past four days, I think has been just terrific and has been saying we face real problems but we also have a really important mission, it is succeeding. But we're aware of the difficulties, we're not blind.

When the president reconnects with reality, the American people reconnect with him.

GIBSON: David, the world has seen the Iraqi people go out and vote. I mean, we don't know how this is all going to turn out, but it was a successful election in the sense, not much violence and people voted. The critics tend to shut up for five minutes because they don't want to appear to be criticizing something that went well. So what happens now for the next few days?

FRUM: You've already seen what the critics are going to do, which is the leak of this story about the National Security Agency eavesdropping on Americans. Those stories do not come, as your viewers know, because some reporter went through the archives. Those stories are packaged and handed to a journalist, and they're handed by people in the Senate who have access to secret information. And they're usually torqued up and distorted along the way to make them more exciting. This story is not as big a deal as it was represented Friday.

GIBSON: What do you think that it many means that The New York Times sat on it for a year?

FRUM: It means they were waiting for a perfect moment, and this was the perfect moment. One of the things that I keep thinking about is, we were supposed to believe that the release of the name of a mid-level former undercover agent, maybe, was the hugest national security matter in the history of the United States — not since Aaron Burr was there such a betrayal of the secrets of the United States. And now, the CIA every day — what do you want? You want to know where we keep the bad guys in eastern Europe? That's on the front page of the newspaper. You want to know about our program for finding terrorists when they enter American territory? That's on the front page of the newspaper. There is no secret too big to be given away when it hurts the president.

GIBSON: David, the president acknowledged that there were probably 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed since the war began. He acknowledged that a lot of the pre-war intel was wrong. How does this help him, how does it hurt him?

FRUM: I think that it never hurts you to acknowledge reality, and to give the American people, to trust the maturity of the American people that they understand war is a tough business. At the same time, as you show you have a coherent plan, you're making progress, you have a clear understanding of the enemy, you know what you're doing and that there's good reason to believe that this is all going to work. I don't think that the American people expect happy talk. They reelected Lincoln, after all. They don't expect happy talk, but they do expect progress and they want to know that their president sees what they can see. They watch TV.

GIBSON: David Frum, former speechwriter for the president. David, it is always good to see you. Thanks for coming on.

FRUM: John, thank you.

GIBSON: All right. See you later.

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