'The Journal Editorial Report,' September 6, 2008
This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," August 30, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Coming up next on the "Journal Editorial Report," with the conventions behind us, the fall campaign officially begins. We'll take a look at where the race is going and the issues that could decide it.
And the Sarah Palin pick, one week later. What have we learned about John McCain's running mate? What does it say about his vision for the Republican Party?
Plus, a closer look at the media backlash against her. What's behind that?
And are Republicans playing the gender card?
The "Journal Editorial Report" begins right now.
Welcome to the Journal Editorial Report. I'm Paul Gigot.
Well, John McCain's speech Thursday night in St. Paul marked the official end of the convention season and the beginning of the fall campaign.
Here with a look at the issues and strategy that will frame the eight weeks ahead, Wall Street columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, Washington columnist Kim Strassel and opinion journal.com columnist John Fund.
Dan, you and I were out in St. Paul. What did we learn about John McCain's strategy for the campaign?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: I think those of us who watched the speech learned a couple of things. There are two big themes. I think they're really pretty good themes. The first one is reform, government reform. I think the country is in the mood for an historic period of reform. The other big theme was country before individual. This, McCain told us, was the lesson he learned in that prison camp.
These are both idea ideas but the morning after his speech, the American people woke up to learn the jobless rate was 6.1 percent. There is a lot of economic anxiety in the country. I think the challenge — I am not sure McCain did it in that speech — is to connect the two terrific grand themes to the details of the anxiety that people feel about their lives right now. He hasn't quite done that.
GIGOT: Dorothy, character, experience, biography — that's a big part of the theme McCain is going to run on. Is that a strength of his?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Absolutely. You saw that last night. I trembled as I watched him begin that long narrative about his prison camp. I thought oh, no, not again. We move forward and somehow, quite magically, they'd woven this narrative in the past as to where we have to go now as when he said, so, this is what we have to do.
This is what I learned. My country saved me. The inference is very clear. He would do this with the country.
GIGOT: Kim, Independents and Reagan Democrats were really a big part of the appeal last night. Did he do enough to separate himself from George Bush and appeal to those crossover votes? There aren't enough Republicans by themselves to elect John McCain.
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think he did. He paid dues to President Bush, but he talked a lot about stuff that Independents want to hear. The reform thing is a big one. They want to better government. They want to actually hear that someone is going to fix this corruption in Washington. He also talked about he had this plan for retraining people who were out of jobs. Some of the stuff, you could tell — there was a bit of a quiet, a hush in the actual stadium — that the conservative base weren't as pleased by these ideas. But he did make a pitch to that.
And having Sarah Palin as his running mate, who appeals to the conservative base, if frees him up a little bit more to talk about these things and to focus more on the audience.
GIGOT: John, he didn't even mention President Bush by name. He just had passing reference at the top saying, I want to thank the president for what he did after 9/11. He directly criticized the Republican Party, saying we're going to change it. They failed on spending. They failed on corruption. We are going to change that. It didn't go over that well in the hall, although it got some polite applause. Is that the kind of message that is going to echo across the country?
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: It was a form of confessional. I think John McCain looked at how it worked for Nicolas Sarkozy in France last year. He was running as the head of a deeply unpopular party with an incumbent president whose popularity was below Bushes and he was able to seize the reform mantle. But part of that is saying, look, we made mistakes. We are not going to pretended we didn't. But we are going to move forward from that.
What I found most interesting was the things that weren't mentioned. He talked a lot about the tax cuts and economic recovery. But did you notice the dog that didn't bark? There was not a single mention of global warming and his cap and trade plan.
GIGOT: John, I am not so sure he did talk enough about taxes. He did say that Obama would raise them and he would cut them. But he didn't take on Obama's argument that 95 percent of American people are going to get a tax cut. I thought that was an oversight that he's going to have to take on in the debates. You agree?
FUND: I think the speech was long enough and it had all of these narrative elements stitched together from his life. I don't think there was enough room for a State of the Union type of discussion of taxation and those other things. I think they realize that was going to come at another time, such as the debates.
STRASSEL: Paul, I...
GIGOT: Go ahead, Kim.
STRASSEL: Actually, I do think this was a missed opportunity to give a narrative about how Americans came to this place. He mentioned the fact that people are unsettled, that the economy is not great. What he didn't do is explain why the situation is what it is. Obama is talking about this a fault of Bush tax policy, which McCain supports.
GIGOT: That's right.
STRASSEL: So you need to talk about inflation, the dollar, spending. You need to talk about a lot of the things that caused America to get where it is this moment.
GIGOT: Dan, if this election is settled on character, experience and foreign policy, I think McCain will win. Obama doesn't want to fight on those grounds. Obama is going to take it on this campaign right directly to McCain on the issue of the economy. All he has to say is the Republicans were in charge. Try our policies for a change. I think the problem with what was missing in that speech from McCain is that sense of I understand how we got here, the mistakes we made economically, and then a path out.
HENNINGER: Yes. That's exactly why Obama and the Decorates will not stop talking about George Bush and Dick Cheney. They are trying to make this in the campaign, the Cheney-Bush presidency connected to the economic anxiety people feel in the country right now. It's just locked like that and McCain has to bust that?
GIGOT: OK, Dorothy, we have to go. We'll be back.
When we come back, the Palin pick, one week later. After a show- stopping performance at the Republican National Convention, can John McCain's V.P. choice help him remake the Republican Party?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's how I look at the choice Americans face in this election. In politics there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: With her show-stopping performance Wednesday at the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin calmed the nerves of many in the Republican Party and reenergized conservatives. But where does the McCain- Palin ticket go from here? And can they escape the Democratic mantra of a third Bush tour?
We are back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel and John Fund. Also joining the panel, the Wall Street Journal's taste editor, Naomi Schaefer-Riley.
John, the conventional wisdom on vice presidential picks is they probably don't matter unless they hurt a presidential candidate. Could this be a case where Sarah Palin helps a nominee?
FUND: First of all, enormous attention. She basically got the same number of viewers as Barack Obama did, which is unprecedented. Secondly, I met several women at the convention, also spoke with them over the phone, who are genuinely energized this. I met two supporters of Hillary Clinton who came to the convention, saw Sarah Palin and they are voting for John McCain.
GIGOT: Wait a minute, John. Wait a minute, John. Do you really believe she is going to appeal to Hillary Clinton voters? A lot of them are to the left on abortion rights, for example. A lot of them favor a much more activist government than Sarah Palin and John McCain do. Are those the voters she is going to draw?
FUND: There are two groups she can go after among female voters. Hillary got 18 million votes, Paul. If Sarah Palin can move one percent of that, that is still significant in a close race. There are millions of women who didn't vote in either party's primary, but are caught up in the historical nature of her candidacy. And they're not particularly ideological. They are approachable on many levels.
GIGOT: Naomi, are you buying that?
NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, TASTE EDITOR: I am not sure that the Hillary voters are going to be Sarah Palin's real support. But I do think that she is a really excited social conservative. It's funny how I think a lot of people have written off culture wars in this election. You had Obama saying we can all agree on abortion, at least some things. We can all agree on gay marriage. It turns out there are still a lot of people who disagree on these issues and they are rallying behind Sarah Palin.
GIGOT: Kim, what does this pick say about John McCain's vision for the Republican Party? He says he wants to change it. How?
STRASSEL: We were talking about how much he hit on reform. This is what has allowed him to really embrace that theme. People have always thought of John McCain as a maverick, as a little bit independent. What Sarah Palin allows him to do is laser in on what is wrong with the Republican Party, what fiscal conservatives are unhappy with the earmarks and the spending. She can talk about the bridge to nowhere. She can talk about the vetoes she has done in the Alaska legislature of overspending. This allows them to talk about the things that have to do with forming the Republican Party, in particular, not just some of the things John McCain has disagreed with in the party in the past. That's what is energizing people. It's about a future vision for the party.
GIGOT: One of the things I thought was smart, Dan, was that the campaign let Sarah Palin — the McCain campaign — play a traditional vice presidential role of attacking Barack Obama and making the case against him. Quite in contrast to 20 years ago, what the George H.W. Bush campaign did to Dan Quail, which was, at the first sign of trouble, the first sign of criticism, put him in a box, put him in the trunk of a car, you know, barely let him speak, give him a generic flat speech. They let Palin be Palin. They let her speak in her own authentic voice and go on the attack.
HENNINGER: I think Sarah Palin is the GOP's Barack Obama. We live in a media age where people crave new things. Obama was just this shooting star. Sarah Palin is having the same effect. So the Republicans need to take advantage of that. What she showed the other night is she does have the political skills to go out there and do something more than show she is merely a media star. She is bigger than that.
GIGOT: John Fund, the vetting of Sarah Palin isn't over, particularly by the media. Where do you think they are going to now look at her? Where are the Democrats going to attack?
FUND: I think the problems raised by her family situation fell flat. It looked as if they were being piled on in an unfair way. I think they are going to look at her record. There are 30 lawyers on the ground in Anchorage as we speak pawing through everything about her.
GIGOT: Only 30, John?
FUND: Well, the next wave is coming on the next plane.
FUND: So I think you're going to the Wasilla, Alaska, budgetary hearings dissected intensely.
GIGOT: All right, John, thanks.
Still ahead, a closer look at the media backlash against Sarah Palin. What's behind that? And are Republicans playing the gender card?
GIGOT: Only a week ago, many Americans had never heard of Sarah Palin. Now she is the woman at the center of a media firestorm. We are back with a look at what's behind the backlash.
All right, suddenly, Kim, we are hearing Republicans saying it's sexist to criticize Sarah Palin as a working mother who has a big-time job outside the home. That's an argument we usually here from Democrats. Why are we suddenly hearing it from Republicans?
STRASSEL: I think there is a double standard going on in the media at the moment. If the media were out there just asking the questions you would ask of any candidate, is she experienced enough, does she have what it takes for the job, fine, I don't think anyone would be complaining about that. You are seeing questions that are extra, additional, that only seem to be leveled at her because she is a woman. For instance, can she do her job and also be a good mother of five children? You would not hear that question asked of a male politician.
GIGOT: All right.
You agree with that, Dorothy?
RABINOWITZ: I absolutely do. There are two terms I would like in this race to be disposed of. One is the word "maverick" and the other is "card," gender card or race card.
GIGOT: Sorry for falling into clashing into cliches here.
RABINOWITZ: It's a real thing, Paul, because there is such a thing as racism. So when you play the race card, it's the false racism charge. There is a thing called anti-feminist, anti-woman views.
GIGOT: But this kind of identity politics, shouting sexism at the first kind of criticism like that, that is something Republicans typically have criticized. Is it fair now to do the same thing?
STRASSEL: No, I don't think it's particularly fair four Republicans to claim it's just sexism because I do think conservatives long believed there are differences between men and women. If they want to claim that, then that's fine. A lot of social conservatives have said that. What is disingenuous is when the left says we are going to question whether she can be a good mother and worker at the same time. That's when you have to say this is a little bit hypocritical.
GIGOT: All right, Kim.
HENNINGER: Can I boil Sarah Palin's problem down to one single issue in a word? Abortion. If Sarah Palin were pro choice, she would instantly be called a moderate. This wouldn't be happening. On the left and in the media, Roe v. Wade has been raised to mystical proportions. I don't think the country feels that strongly about this single issue.
GIGOT: You say they wouldn't be asking the same questions about the media? The Democrats wouldn't be as critical?
HENNINGER: The level of the attack wouldn't have been as much as it was if she were pro choice.
GIGOT: Go ahead, Kim.
STRASSEL: That's absolutely true. What has happened is essentially abortion has become the key to women's freedom and women's liberation. The idea is you must have abortion on demand, you must be in favor of it, otherwise women will be stuck at home, barefoot and pregnant. That's just not true.
RABINOWITZ: It's hard for me to image Sarah Palin called a moderate under any circumstances, if you simply look at her. But there's another issue here and I think we ought to raise it fairly quickly, and that is the heartbeat away from the presidency, which is a very dark little shadow that make a marriage. People are concerned that a man of 72, who has had two serious cancer operations, may be putting this person forward for political reasons. That is up for the campaign to dispose of.
GIGOT: It's also up to her to perform through the rest of the campaign.
RABINOWTIZ: And she has.
GIGOT: All right, thanks, Dorothy.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.
Item one, a miss to the latest craze in alternative energy — Dan?
HENNINGER: Let's start with the assumption that we are all into renewable fuels now. The Democrats were for it in Denver and the Republicans were in St. Paul.
GIGOT: You may be, Henninger. I'm not.
HENNINGER: All right, well. Now, I've been reading about a new market for something called baby windmills — a baby windmill. You put it on top of your house and it goes like this.
The Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, is talking about putting windmills on skyscrapers. I think, at the outset of this process, let's set down one rule of thumb. Have all of the fun you want with baby windmills and things like that, but it cannot be subsidized. If it's subsidized with public money, it's a toy, not a solution.
GIGOT: Good luck with that, Dan.
Next, an unlikely hit to a UCLA professor — Naomi?
SCHAEFER RILEY: Yes, Paul, last week, Tim Groseclose resigned from the UCLA undergraduate admissions committee. He claims they are using race in admissions.
You may remember that during the '90s, California passed a ballot initiative that said, in their public universities, we cannot use race as a factor. Some students are getting around this by saying in their essays, as a black person, as a Hispanic person," even though, they didn't check off the box, the admissions committee is tipped off to their race. So Mr. Groseclose says they have been using this and he's resigned. He asked for the records to show these essays with the names crossed off to see if he was right. And UCLA has refused to give them to him, claiming confidentiality.
And he is, actually in principal, in favor of race-based admissions, but he doesn't think USCLA should be doing it illegally. For a man standing on principle, thank you.
GIGOT: All right, thanks.
Finally, a hit to the newly announced publisher of a controversial book —Dorothy?
RABINOWITZ: Yes, and a rare hit. It's a publisher who has undertaken to publish a book that, amazingly enough, was pulled back by the largest publisher, once largest in America, Random House. This is one of those stories, like many out-break stories, you forget them. Then there are some that linger in your mind. This was one, every time you heard it, seemed a deeper and harder attack on everything you thought was going on in the world's letters. Random House...
GIGOT: What was the name of the book?
RABINOWITZ: It was called "Jewel of Medina." It was about one of Mohammed's wife, his third wife. There was some kind of a phone call to Random House and suddenly they pulled the book back from the shelves on August 12th. Then issued one of their statements saying they remain dedicated to free discourse. If this is free discourse, let's hear about it.
GIGOT: And now the new publisher is?
RABINOWITZ: And now the new publisher is a German publisher.
GIGOT: All right, Dorothy, let me ask you something about what you said earlier about Sarah Palin. You said there is this undercurrent of unease about her qualifications, showing she's up to the job.
GIGOT: If you were McCain campaign, after her speech performance was perfect, acceptable, even stellar. What do you do now?
RABINOWITZ: It's easier than you think. I think you have to go for broke. Let her talk about the thing no one has heard her talk about, foreign policy. The women can get up to speed, if she lacks speed. She is got to simply delve into these issues so there's no large back screen there.
GIGOT: Not just for the debate, but would you subject her to interviews? You'd put her out there, let her talk to everybody, let her talk to you?
RABINOWITZ: For all. Absolutely. I think she could do it. What happened on the marvelous speech? She blew away many of the dark cobwebs. Now we need the proof.
GIGOT: All right, thanks, Dorothy.
And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@FOXnews.com .
That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching.
I am Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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