This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," May 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report"...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
The Gitmo debate rages as the current and former administration square off. But are their positions really all that different.
Plus, drink up this weekend. Congress may slap your favorite beer and kid's favorite soda with a brand new tax.
And Charlton Heston vindicated. Have Democrats lost the gun control fight?
"The Journal Editorial Report" begins right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The problem of what to do with Guantanamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility. The problem exists because of the decision to open Guantanamo in the first place.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The administration has found it's easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo, but it's tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interest of justice and America's national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
The current and former administration squared off this week over national security with a question of closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay taking center stage. President's Obama's address at the National Archives Thursday came a day after the Senate voted 90-6 to deny the request for $80 million to shut the prison.
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Jason Riley; and foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.
Dan, the president obviously felt he needed to give the speech. Did he solve his Guantanamo problem?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I don't think he did, Paul. What we're seeing here, it seems to me, the difference between the campaign politics and presidential policy. Obama ran during the campaign, saying he would close Guantanamo. It kind of played, it worked. Now, he's president of the United States. He has to fulfill that promise.
GIGOT: And he announced it right immediately after his inauguration, I'll shut it down in a year. No plan.
HENNINGER: So then you have the Senate vote 90-6 to deny him funds to do it. He's in a box. He goes out there and spends 60 minutes explaining his policy in which he creates five categories of detainees. Essentially, what he's trying to do is solve the problem with talk and talk alone. He tried to talk his way out of this box. I don't think he's succeeded.
JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: He didn't. He didn't. Obama's got a real problem. None of the people screaming loudest about closing the prison want prisoners. The Europeans don't want them. The Democrats don't want them sent to their home state. I guess the Yemenis will take them but only so they can release them later.
GIGOT: Yemeni itself is in an emerging terrorist problem.
GIGOT: Like Saudi Arabia was a decade ago.
RILEY: So as Dan said, he's in a box. He's got to satisfy a campaign promise without endangering the country. And he didn't explain how he's going to do that.
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Actually, what he's managed to do single-handedly is rehabilitate Guantanamo.
Guantanamo's respectability in the eyes of the American public. You had had Jim Webb, formerly applauding the president for wanting...
GIGOT: The Democratic Senator from Virginia.
STEPHENS: From Virginia, formally applauding the president for wanting to close Gitmo for a one-year time line, now saying we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on very security, very safe, very human facilities in Guantanamo. What's the rush in closing it down? And he's absolutely right.
GIGOT: Whatever happened to the Europeans? I remember the moralizing French and Germans and Brits would come over and say this is a stain on the American identity, Guantanamo, you must shut it. Now we try to negotiate. Eric Holder was over there with the Europeans trying to say would you take a few of them? No. The answer is no. But why not?
STEPHENS: What was incredible about that case, he was trying to repatriate some of those — the detainees who are considered the least dangerous. These are Chinese Uighurs, who are aiming to overthrow, not the United States, but the government of China. So, these were people who didn't necessarily threaten the Europeans, didn't threaten the Americans, but the Europeans and Germans specifically were balking because it might upset the relationship, which is important to them, with the Chinese. These are the least dangerous prisoners.
GIGOT: So moralizing about Guantanamo is cheap and easy when George Bush is president, but with the Obama administration says, all right, ante up, take some of them, the Europeans don't want them and the Democratic senators don't want them either.
HENNINGER: But, Paul, I watched the 60-minute speech. I thought it was the most moralistic, holier-than-thou, self-righteous address by a major figure that I have seen in a long time. The sense of arrogance and righteousness that Obama conveyed over the Bush administration, I personally thought was really quite offensive. And I think it probably did rub a lot of people the wrong way. He simply said, I'm not to blame for any of this, but I'm better and more moral than the Bush administration, and that's why we're doing this.
RILEY: And this idea of housing some of these prisoners in U.S. prisons is disturbing. The FBI Director Robert Mueller came out this week and said the problem is that those terrorists could radicalize some of the prisoners. And it turns out that this week, four Muslim men were arrested trying to bomb a synagogue in the Bronx. And three of the four men, all of whom are ex-convicts, three of them were converted to Islam while in prison. So this is a concern.
GIGOT: So sending some of the prisoners to a — potentially to a super max prison.
RILEY: Right, it's not about...
GIGOT: Housing them.
RILEY: It's not about housing them. It's about them radicalizing the prison population while they're there.
GIGOT: What are the realistic options here? It would seem to me that sending them to a supermax prison in the United States is one option. Another one is, what, maybe sending them to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan?
STEPHENS: Yes. Well, that is exactly it, or if you want to build a brand new Gitmo on an island like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. They might want to do that as well. The problem is Bagram is an active theater of war. so the security of that can't be guaranteed in the same way as Guantanamo.
GIGOT: I want to get to this Cheney square off. Rhetoric aside, and Obama blaming the Bush administration for a lot, OK, but if you look at the substance of what his policies are and what the substance of the policies of the Bush administration have been on national security, anti-terror policies, isn't that much difference.
HENNINGER: There really isn't. That was always the reality at the bottom of this issue. These prisoners, as Obama himself said, are a very difficult issue. They're difficult legally, and they're difficult to put through the court system. And by and large, what he is proposing is something not that different than what Cheney and Bush did. It's not as though they did this offhandedly, they've put a lot of thought and this is how it falls out.
GIGOT: And I think politically, that's what the president was trying to address. He was trying to speak to his left wing and justify why he has to make some of these decisions on state secrecy. Check, that's a Bush policy. On detention of terrorists, unlimited detention of terrorists, well, sometimes we are going to have to do that. There are a whole...
RILEY: Yes, I...
GIGOT: military commissions the most recent. He's endorsed essentially the Bush commissions.
STEPHENS: Yes. So if you agonize a little beforehand, it's OK. It has an appearance of legitimacy.
But otherwise, if you take these decisions squarely — and I think Cheney made an essential point. You can triangulate on politics. You can't really triangulate on national security.
GIGOT: All right, Bret, last word.
Still ahead, drink up this weekend. Congress is hatching a plan to slap your favorite beer with a brand new tax. Are other so-called sin taxes also on task? And if the administration has its way, Americans' love affair with big cars will soon be over. A look at what you could be driving under the administration's new mileage standards, when we come back.
GIGOT: Planning on enjoying a cold beer at your Memorial Day barbecue? Drink up because you may have to fork over more for a case of your favorite brew. Details of the proposed beer tax are described in the Senate Finance Committee document that was used to brief lawmakers in a closed-door meeting this week. Taxes on wine and hard liquor would also go up. And there might be a new tax on soda and other sugary drinks blamed for contributing to obesity. Proceeds from the new taxes would help pay for, you guessed it, government health care.
We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley. And joining the panel is assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.
So, is your Memorial Day weekend going to be ruined with this, James?
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: It's putting a damper on festivities this weekend. And it's not just the beer and the mixed drinks and the soda that face new taxes. A recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, before they put out those options, salt was also suggested, that we need to reduce the salt content of American foods. So I think whether it's the hotdogs, the chips the beer or the soda, it's all, it's all...
GIGOT: Basically, the purpose of this is that the Senators are looking for $1.2 trillion, at a minimum, dollars, to finance the new proposed health care entitlement for the middle class. So to do that, you've got to come up with the money somewhere. So your cats and dogs, anywhere you can, they're looking at every nook and cranny in the tax code.
FREEMAN: That's why you have to be very concerned as you grab a cold one this weekend. Even though they're talking about just a doubling of tax on beer up to about 12.5, 13 cents a can, these proposals only get you single-digit billions of dollars. They need over a hundred billion a year to make this health care plan happen.
GIGOT: I thought nobody who made less than $250,000 a year were going to get their taxes raised.
I seem to have heard that somewhere.
RILEY: The problem with the taxes is that they seldom raise the projected revenue, I mean, because when you raise the cost of something, people change their behavior.
GIGOT: You get less of it.
RILEY: Usually, you get less. People will spend less or stop spending at all when it comes to that particular product. That's the problem. It also gives the government a stake in the sin. So if we're trying to raise revenue, we want people to drink more beer, smoke more cigarettes and so forth.
GIGOT: And just so people understand, just so the entitlement spending, the spending on health care will go up. But if you get less bad behavior because you tax bad behavior, the revenues will go down, so you have a bigger budget deficit in the out years.
HENNINGER: The Senate Finance Committee put out a document attached to these hearings, which I read through. If you read the text, it shows how cockeyed this idea of Obama care is.
They say explicitly that spending is out of control on Medicare and Medicaid, running at maybe twice the rate of the growth in GDP. So we have to do something about that. What they're doing is proposing another new entitlement on top of two that are out of control. And then they're going to raise these cats and dogs taxes to try to pay for it.
GIGOT: James, I want to ask you this about — Adam Smith, good free market capitalist, even he argued you should be able to tax tobacco, rum, and sugar because those aren't really good for you. So, you tax simple behavior. Wouldn't you rather tax that kind of behavior to deter that behavior, than tax income?
FREEMAN: Certainly, enticing consumption as opposed to investment work. All of those other things...
GIGOT: But what about these specific kinds of behavior, these — look, I mean, soda pop does causes obesity in some kids. Do we want to deter that behavior? What's wrong with a government trying to deter that behavior?
FREEMAN: I think it's unlikely the government is going to make people go on diets or go to the gym or change that much what they enjoy. It's going to make it a lot more expensive. And I think the point of all of these consumption taxes, is they're not replacing income taxes. They're not taxing this instead of other things.
GIGOT: So you get both.
FREEMAN: They're just add-ons.
And I think because of the massive numbers...
HENNINGER: This whole obesity thing is so — it's so preposterous. Sure, people get obese. If you sit down at a sitting and drink half a gallon of Coca-Cola and eat five bags of potato chips, you're going to get fat. And the answer is don't cram so much of this stuff down your throat.
GIGOT: You're talking individual responsibility. As a matter of tax policy, we don't like taxing because it actually discourages entrepreneurial behavior, all right? So if you're going to tax something, wouldn't you rather tax consumption of bad things?
FREEMAN: This is not a sin. Why is this a sin? There are a lot of things in life we buy, we enjoy. It's up to the individual to do them in moderation. Why am I paying? Why should we all pay for enjoying a few beers on a Memorial Day weekend?
HENNINGER: Who gets to define sin?
HENNINGER: Where will they stop?
GIGOT: Well, the government is going to...
RILEY: Right. I would agree with James. Consumption taxes are preferable, but they should be in place of other taxes, not in addition to them.
GIGOT: Well, soon the government might not just be telling you what to eat, it may also be telling you what to drive. President Obama this week announced new fuel economy standards for cars, committing the U.S. to a remarkable average of 39 miles per gallon by 2016. Of course, some cars are already reaching those goals, like the new Honda Insight, touted in commercial as the hybrid for everyone. But will everyone want to drive it? Or other cars like it.
Here is what the British car critic, Jeremy Clarkson, had to say about the Insight in a recent review. "Much has been written about the Insight, Honda's new low-priced hybrid. So far though, we have not been told how it is as a car, as a tool for moving you, your friends and your things from place to place. So here goes. It's terrible, Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It's the first car I've ever considered crashing into a tree on purpose so I don't have to drive it anymore."
Now, that's an endorsement, Dan.
GIGOT: Are Americans going to buy these small fuel-efficient cars?
HENNINGER: They're not going to want to buy them. It's of a piece of what we were just talking about. I'll tell you, Paul, once again, this is the culture wars all over again. The Obama administration's view of the culture is simply different than that of a lot of other Americans. Cars have always been at the center of our culture. Look at movies, like "American Graffiti," the Beach Boys, "Fun, fun, fun until her daddy takes her T-Bird away." This is the part of the life of this country. And suddenly, people are going to wake up and find they have to buy these tiny little hybrid cars? I think they will be shocked.
GIGOT: If you have to drive 200 miles like in the Midwest and the West almost on a regular basis, you don't want to sit in a small car?
RILEY: It's hard to see how Detroit is going to be profitable selling these cars. Either consumers are going to have to be subsidized by the federal government to buy them or...
GIGOT: They're already proposing that. They're already proposing that.
FREEMAN: Well, that's part of the bailout.
GIGOT: $7500 for the new G.M. Volt if that gets off the assembly line.
FREEMAN: And you know, one of the bailouts that is not getting much attention, we're bailing out G.M. and Chrysler. We're also bailing out GMAC so they can offer cheap financing to people to buys cars people don't want.
GIGOT: General Motors Financing.
RILEY: Or the other option, of course, is to make sure the price of gas is expensive enough so people don't want big cars anymore, which means a federal gas tax.
GIGOT: Do you think it's going up? I bet you it's not before the 2012 election.
All right, still ahead, have Democrats lost the gun control debate? A recent vote in Congress didn't get much media attention, but it could signal the end of the gun rights fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLETON HESTON, ACTOR: From my cold dead hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Remember that? Charlton Heston's famous line from his 2001 NRA convention speech. At the time, gun control was a defining issue for the Democratic Party. Now it may be a sign of the times that both houses of Congress voted in recent days to allow loaded guns in national parks. 25 Democrats in the Senate and 105 in the House voted for the provision originally sponsored by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. It's something that would have been unthinkable in the heyday of the gun control fight.
Jason, what has happened politically in the gun control debate?
RILEY: I think the gun control lobby got thrown overboard. This legislation, relatively minor piece of legislation that says people who are already authorized to carry handguns will be able to carry them in national parks.
GIGOT: That's what the law allows.
RILEY: This was attached to a piece of credit card legislation, having nothing to do with guns whatsoever.
It is interesting that these Democrats voted in favor of it. And this issue has been dogging Democrats for a long time. Some people even say that back in 2000 it cost Al Gore his own state of Tennessee and possibly the election. I think, for now, the Republicans have won the fight.
STEPHENS: Yes, but — well, this actually is a Democratic win because this reflects the new strategy among Democrats to recruit in traditionally red states candidates who are pro gun. This is a kind of neuralgic issue. This is a cultural issue. And it's an issue that the Democratic Party, Rahm Emanuel in particular, has widely chosen not to fight. So if you look...
GIGOT: Rahm Emanuel being a former Congressman of Illinois who helped to plot the 2006 Democratic take over of Congress, now is Barack Obama's chief of staff.
STEPHENS: And that's why you have these red states Democrats, people like Kagan in North Carolina and Nelson in Nebraska and John Tester from Montana, all of them Democratic senators, all voting for Coburn's amendment.
GIGOT: There was another vote in the House earlier this year on a bill on Washington, D.C., voting rights where another Republican, John Ensign, attached a similar piece of gun control legislation that allowed guns in Washington, D.C. And that has tied up that bill because the House Democrats don't want it to go forward with that legislation. Bret's point is, you know, the White House and Democratic leaders are basically just surrendered on this issue. Is that right?
HENNINGER: By and large, that's right. Because something powerful is going on here. And let's pitch it forward a little bit. The Republicans themselves are trying it get a piece of this phenomenon. The National Rifle Association just held its convention in Phoenix, something like 50,000 people were there. Also there was Mitt Romney, John McCain and Michael Steele, head of the National Republican Committee. They're trying to figure out what is inside this phenomenon that the Republicans can pull away. They think it is something like the individual against the state, second — Second Amendment rights.
GIGOT: Yes, but if Bret is right, they're just basically trying to refight 20-year-old debates because that's not going to happen anymore because the Democrats aren't going to take the bait and aren't going to...
HENNINGER: The NRA — even though they've won on that, the NRA, the argument there is they think that the Obama regulation is going to impose nit-picking regulations on gun owners outside of these court decisions. And they had reason to believe that the Obama administration will do that. And I think that is the sort of mind set that the Republicans are going to try to get a piece of and push back in the other direction.
GIGOT: Jason, what — how do you explain the ways that the National Rifle Association has been able to prevail, because it did have the media on its side. That's for sure.
It didn't have — was it money? Was it just tenacity? How do you explain the...
RILEY: I think gun ownership resonates with the American people. Gun ownership has for a long time, sort of like cars that we were speaking about.
GIGOT: Yes, but not every — not every lobby wins those debates, particularly when you don't have the media on your side.
RILEY: That's true. That's true. But this is an issue where — there's a sort of common sense to it. And Americans have common sense. And they realize that this anti-gun lobby is trying to keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens, and doing less to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. And they fundamentally reject that.
GIGOT: Very quickly, Bret.
STEPHENS: Well, there's also a social phenomenon. There's less crime in American than there was say, 20, 30 years ago. And a lot of the gun control theories came about during an era of high crime where the Democrats said we've got to get guns out of people's hands. That's gone. The issue goes away.
GIGOT: And I sure wish the business lobby was as effective as the gun lobby.
All right, we have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Dan, first to you.
HENNINGER: Google CEO Eric Schmidt told graduates at Penn and Carnegie Mellon this week that they should turn off computers, turn off their cell phones and look at the people around who are near and dear to you. He also told them that nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he takes his first step, which is hard to do at 22 years old. But be that as it may, his point about cells phones and P.C.s, I think, is well taken. The web has been wonderful in many ways, but I think we have to think a little bit about what it's been doing to us. And if even the CEO of Google says it's turning us into zombies, we ought to think about that.
RILEY: This is a big miss for the World Health Organization, which has decided that it doesn't want DDT used to phase out malaria in the third world. Malaria kills about a million people every year, mostly African children. It's spread by mosquito bites. And the most effective way to combat the disease is by spraying DDT. That's how we got rid of it in this country and Europe and many other places around the globe. It's a shame that the World Health Organization has decided with environmentalists over African children.
STEPHENS: A big hit to the FBI, to the city of New York, the police department for foiling the terrorist attack against the synagogue in the Bronx, as well as a hit on a military plane up the Hudson River. They deserve a lot of credit and we should congratulate them.
GIGOT: All right.
FREEMAN: Big hit to the voters of California this week for voting down new tax-and-spending initiatives. And let's hope the voters of America tell Washington no bailout for California.
GIGOT: All right. It was 2-1 on almost all of these initiatives. But now we are going to bailout California, the federal government, right, James.
FREEMAN: No we're not. I just predicted it.
We are not going to bail them out.
GIGOT: Are you sure?
FREEMAN: Voters have had enough with bailouts. They're going to say no to Washington.
GIGOT: Oh, boy, I sure hope you're right. But, you know what, I'm not sure you are.
All right. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching.
I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you here next week.
Content and Programming Copyright 2009 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC, 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 CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation .