'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Credentials, Hillary's Final Chance and Fidel Castro's Resignation

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 20, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST OF "HARDBALL": Now, senator, I want you to name some of Barack Obama's legislative accomplishments tonight, if you can.

KIRK WATSON, (D) STATE SENATOR, TEXAS: Well, you know, what I will talk about is more about what he is offering —

MATTHEWS: No, no, what has he accomplished? Sir, you have to give me his accomplishments.

WATSON: Well, I'm not going to be able to name you specific items of legislative accomplishments.

MATTHEWS: Can you name anything he has accomplished as a congressman?

WATSON: I won't be able to do that tonight.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's a problem, isn't it?


BRIT HUME, HOST: The Clinton camp would certainly hope so.

There you see our friend Chris Matthews going after State Senator Kirk Watson of Texas, an Obama supporter, who was not able to tick off legislative achievements.

The fact is, the state senator might not be able to tick off any of his legislative achievements, but it was an interesting moment in the campaign where the Clinton camp has hoped for more scrutiny of the rocketing Obama, and maybe now it will come.

Some thoughts on all this now from Bill Kristol, Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

While we're talking about Obama, let's get back to this question about what his wife said or meant when she said the other day that for the first time in her adult life she felt really proud of her country. Well, she took a crack at explaining that today. Let's listen to what she said.


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SEN. BARACK OBAMA: So let me tell you something: I am proud. I'm proud of this country, and I'm proud of the fact that people are ready to roll up their sleeves and do something phenomenal.


Well, question, before we get to the Obama record, if we do, does that deal with the issue raised by her assertion, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It raises it again. We all know she is proud of the fact that she and her husband are now running a smart campaign and have a chance to be in the White House. Well, that's fine.

The issue was she said she, or she implied, that it was the first time, which meant she hadn't been proud of her country as an adult—the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Kuwait; the list is endless of events, times when Americans were proud of their country—

HUME: Indeed, her husbands election to the Senate.

KRAUTHAMMER: —and by answering by saying "I'm proud now," you still haven't answered it. It is an astonishing statement to say that I'm in my mid 40's and have not had a moment of pride in my country up until now.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": She ought to listen to her husband's speeches. He is also proud about—the yes we can follows—

HUME: But that is now.

KONDRACKE: No, no—a long list of things of civil rights movement, and any number of accomplishments of things that people in the United States did, the women's rights movement, all of which she lived through and has been through the beneficiary of. He talks about it all the time.

HUME: He is proud of it. Does it matter whether she is.

KONDRACKE: I don't think so, frankly.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think it does. I read it to one Democratic strategist who I respect here in town, and he sent an e-mail to David Axelrod, Obama's campaign manager, who is very smart, and said "Apologize. Have Mrs. Obama go out this morning—and don't try to get cute. Don't explain what you really meant. Apologize.

Take it off the table. Get a situation where this cannot be brought up four months from now, because she has sorry I'm sorry. I misspoke. I was proud when the Berlin Wall fell down. I was proud when the firefighters ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center on 9/11 to try to save our fellow Americans."

And today she has compounded the problem. I totally agree with Charles.

And now it's getting a little late to explain what she means. And now it is left out there that her pride in this country is because she and her husband's are running a good political campaign.

KONDRACKE: But the issue that Chris Matthews raised is far more important, it seems to me. We're electing a president, not a first lady.

HUME: Jim Angle's report tonight made the point, and he showed us the pages from the Obama Web site, where these policy prescriptions are there in abundance—

KONDRACKE: That's not the issue. This man has a very thin record. He hasn't been around all that long. So what has he done?

And he is offering to heal the wounds of the United States. He is going to make bipartisan compromises. Where is there evidence that on any major issue of contention that he has reached out across Party lines and tried to fashion a compromise?

HUME: His backers say—

KONDRACKE: Social security, FISA, the Gang of 14—not one, there's not one. I mean, he has cooperated now and again with Tom Coburn on earmarks, and compromised with Richard Lugar as he developed a nuclear retention, get back the nukes policy.

Useful, but, nonetheless, these are not contentious issues. He is talking about healing the breaches in the country. There is zero evidence that he has ever done that.

KRAUTHAMMER: Hillary's attack on him as having an empty record is not working because people are not interested in that. But here problem is he is a conventional—

HUME: People in the Democratic Party are not interested in that.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right, and that's why she's losing. She can't attack him on his weakness, which is, and it will come out in the general election, which is that he is a liberal—all the way down the line, conventional, ordinary, uninteresting in his political stances.

But she is running in a Democratic primary and is unable to use any of that real hard material—

HUME: Because she is as liberal as he is and the Party is, too.

But, Bill, is there anything in his record, does he show anything to offer to people across the aisle that can get them to join him or work together on issues?

KRISTOL: No, but it's good rhetoric, which is not nothing.

I do think that Hillary Clinton and Obama will debate tomorrow night. There are two debates. These are really her last chances to change the momentum, which is pretty disastrous for her.

Does she have the courage or is she willing to go after him on this core point. Because whatever else you can say about Bill or Hillary Clinton, I do not believe either one of them would have said what Mrs. Obama said.

He was President of the United States for eight years. There are things that they did in the White House that they're proud of. And they never said when they were running in 1992 that they weren't proud of the Berlin Wall coming down.

HUME: But isn't there a strain of sentiment among Democrats, not that they're not proud of their country, but that a lot of the time they're ashamed of their country?

KRISTOL: Yes, but she needs to take that on. If she can't make Obama pay a price for the "There's nothing in my adult lifetime that I'm proud of my country" about statement, I think she will lose the presidency.

HUME: When we return with our panel, Fidel Castro steps down in Cuba. What will change down there, if anything? Find out next.



PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy.


HUME: The president was in Africa, but, obviously, there talking about Cuba, where Fidel Castro stepped down, although he remains a leading official of the communist party down there, which is not exactly a minor factor in life in Cuba.

Back with our panel to discuss this. Bill, what do you think happens now? Is there any reason to believe that anything much will change down there based on the fact that Castro steps aside and is obviously ailing?

KRISTOL: Probably not, but dictators have some trouble with transitions, even when it's within a family.

And I think it is an interesting moment, and I don't think it would be a bad idea if the Bush administration tried to put some pressure on the situation down there by offering the end of the embargo and normal relations in return for fully free and fair election, releasing political prisoners from jail, allowing international observers in and carefully monitor it over several months.

That might put a little more pressure from below on the Castro regime.

KONDRACKE: I think this would be another great question for a Democratic presidential debate. Barack Obama was in favor of lifting the embargo about four years ago—

HUME: Before this.

KONDRACKE: —before all this happened, he was in favor of lifting the embargo.

Now he has a position that is more nuanced and says that in return for a democratic movement, that we would lift the embargo. So, which is it?

And, similarly, Bill Clinton was on the move towards lifting the embargo with Castro before he left office. And what does Hillary Clinton think about that? Those are all excellent questions.

I think Bill is right. We should, as a country, be making an offer of the lifting of the embargo in return for freeing political prisoners—

HUME: Hasn't that offer been out there for a long time?

KONDRACKE: Now it is time to reinstitute it, because Raul has taken over.

KRAUTHAMMER: We can reissue it. It will be rejected because communists lose elections. It happened once. The Nicaraguan communists held an election and they lost. That is not going to happen again.

What you might want to tinker with is something that might actually work—a lifting of a part of the embargo, in return for, let's say, one thing: the end of jamming of all outside broadcasts.

You expose Cuba to a radio and television out of Miami, the advertising alone will destroy any support that the regime has. You know—

HUME: What do you mean by that?

KRAUTHAMMER: If you look at Eastern Europe, we had a debate, openness to the west, is it going to help the Soviets control Eastern Europe and keep them under control, or is it going to make people want a revolution in change? Ultimately—I was against Helsinki, but, in the end, it actually helped.

HUME: Because people saw what was available and what life was like in the west?

KRAUTHAMMER: People went outside, and that exposure is what you want. If you can even get a limited exposure in Cuba of everything that's actually happening in the United States, especially among the young people, and they look around and look at the horrible controls and drab life around them, I think it creates pressure that will ultimately be irresistible.

Elections are not going to happen, but you could start with something like undo the jamming.

KRISTOL: I think that a good idea to put these two points together. Hillary could propose that and then point out that one of the things that we in America did that we could be proud of, she could point out to Senator Obama, is helping produce free and fair elections in Central and Eastern Europe and helping democracy flourish there, and we should do that in Cuba.

So she could combine an answer with a shot at Senator Obama.

I'm doing my best to help Hillary Clinton here. She's really on the ropes, she's really in trouble.

HUME: We will identify you next time you come on as "Bill Kristol, Democratic strategist."

Content and Programming Copyright 2008 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.