Is America in Dire Straits?

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 10, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: With Americans getting hammered by gas prices and a shaky economy, some believe the nation is in dire trouble.


DAVID LETTERMAN: Even I am perceiving now that things are horrible in ways they shouldn't be horrible. Now we're not going to impeach the guy. What — could we get our money back?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: I come here today with a request for the class of '08: We need you to fix the country.


O'REILLY: Fix the country. The question is: Are things as bad as those men said they are? With us now, John Avlon, the author of the book "Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics," and from Washington, Jane Fleming-Kleeb, executive director of Youth Voter PAC, which helps the Democratic Party.

Fix the country. I don't think the country needs to be fixed, Jane. I don't think Brian Williams knows what he's talking about. I think we have very big problems, and particularly this oil thing. Very disturbing. But fundamentally, I think America is by far the most prosperous nation on earth. And I'll point to the fact that 15 million illegal aliens want to break in here, and we got to put up a wall to stop people from coming here. What say you?

JANE FLEMING-KLEEB, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I totally agree with you on the energy. There's no denying that we've got to both combat the consumer as well as make sure that we're having alternative fuel, so we're not relying on the foreign oil. That we all agree with.

But we do need big changes. And that's not saying that America is in dire straits. But when I, a mom of two, go to the grocery store every three days, I used to spend $60 on groceries. Now I'm spending $100. I'm spending almost $70…

O'REILLY: You got to go to Costco, Jane.

FLEMING-KLEEB: Well, I go to Wal-Mart.

O'REILLY: You got to go to Costco. Look…


O'REILLY: .I've tracked this, because I'm feeling exactly the way David Letterman is feeling that there's stuff wrong. So I made some calls. And if you go to the premium department, grocery stores, but the discount stores like Wal-Mart and Costco and these stores, you can still pretty much get what you could get.

FLEMING-KLEEB: Bill, I go to Wal-Mart.

O'REILLY: But you've got to be a very aggressive shopper.

FLEMING-KLEEB: Bill, I go to Wal-Mart. I live in a small town. There's one grocery store and Wal-Mart. So I go to Wal-Mart. I'm not buying anything extravagant. I have two little girls. I'm feeding myself and my husband. We're spending $100 every three days. Not to mention gas. Gas is now $4 a gallon.

Now these are the kind of the practical everyday things, but there are bigger problems. Like our trade deficit with China. It has increased. Like the Pentagon losing $8 billion. We have big problems in our government and we need big changes.


FLEMING-KLEEB: Not little changes. Big changes.

O'REILLY: What do you think, John?

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR: Look, of course we face challenges as a nation. That's nothing new. But there's nothing less American than the idea of inevitable decline. Look, we're a tough country. We're a strong country. We're a country that went through the Civil War. We went through the Great Depression, World War II. This generation went through 9/11. We are strong, and we can meet any challenge. We need to confront it directly. Can't get in denial mode about things. But we need to confront our problems with optimism and a sense of determination, not this kind of liberal hammering you see too often.

O'REILLY: Come on, come on. When people are really feeling it, and they are with the oil prices, and they look at our politicians, the Bush administration, the Clinton administration before that, and then you go back to Bush the elder and Ronald Reagan and Carter, they did absolutely nothing to get us off oil. Nothing. And so people have a right to be teed off. Letterman has a right to be teed off. I don't think he's correct in his view of the country.

AVLON: Right.

O'REILLY: But I understand why they're teed off.

AVLON: For 30 years, politicians have been talking about energy independence. And we haven't gotten anywhere. And you're right. The American people have a right to expect more from the next president.

O'REILLY: Right.

AVLON: And to step up and demand changes. But again, we've got to solve our problems from optimism and determination, not pessimism and worrying whether or not we're up to the challenge.

O'REILLY: How did things get so out of control? Why is President Bush's approval rating at 30 percent? Can you put your finger on one thing? How did it get so dire in a year?

AVLON: I think it's more than a year. I think the groundwork has been laid for a while. I think they made a political decision early on. He campaigned as a centrist. He governed as a conservative. He unified his party at the expense of uniting the nation, and therefore hasn't had the goodwill to draw upon. And the moderate majority of Americans and independents turned upon him way before this last year.

O'REILLY: It looks like a perfect storm, Jane, to me. You've got oil prices just coming out of nowhere, driven up by greedy speculators. And you know, you've got politicians who, on both sides of the aisle, I'm sure you would admit that, did not do their job, did not look out for us. Everybody knew that this could happen at any time. And now it's hitting Bush in the middle of the head.

Do I feel sorry for him? A little bit. I don't think David Letterman and Williams take into account we haven't been attacked since 9/11. I think that's an extraordinary achievement. I think that's his best achievement. You'll never hear that from the left. You'll never hear that from the Democratic Party. But why do you think it all went bad so quickly?

FLEMING-KLEEB: Well, I think there's a couple things. One, there is a tremendous health care crisis facing our nation. We still have 47 million uninsured; that continues to go up every year. And so, I'm not saying that America is in dire straits and we don't have the optimism or the technology or the smarts to fix it. But we do need people in Congress and in the White House. We need some changes, because the current…

O'REILLY: Yes, but the Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate now for two years.


O'REILLY: And they've done bupkus. They haven't done anything.


O'REILLY: Their approval rating is lower than Bush's. So…

FLEMING-KLEEB: Well, Bill, on the alternative…

O'REILLY: I don't have confidence in any of these people, Jane.

FLEMING-KLEEB: But on the alternative energy, Congress did — the Democratic Congress did pass some better fuel efficiency rates, as well as more investments in alternative energy. Bush, however, vetoed the farm bill, which had a lot of money in there for alternative energy. It took the Democratic Congress to override that veto.

O'REILLY: Well, I think they got to get together on this. I mean, I think…


O'REILLY: ...Republicans are viewed as obstructionist in this oil thing, that they're going to lose everything. And it's going to be…

FLEMING-KLEEB: And they blocked the bill again for the second time today, the Republicans did.

O'REILLY: I pointed that out, Jane.

AVLON: This is not a time for politics as usual. This is time to get big as a country to address big problems. And I think what's good is both candidates running for president are both candidates that represent change. They're both reformers.

O'REILLY: No, that's what they say.

AVLON: No, but you know what?

O'REILLY: That's what they say.

AVLON: Well, of course, because they read the American people correctly.

O'REILLY: Right.

AVLON: I think there's credibility behind it. They're both independent. They're both kind of mavericks in their party.

O'REILLY: All right.

AVLON: And this is not a time for politics as usual.

O'REILLY: We'll see. John, Jane, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

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