Transcript: 'The Journal Editorial Report,' August 16, 2008

This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," August 16, 2008.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Gigot.

With just over a week to go before the start of the presidential nominating conventions a new poll shows Barack Obama's lead over John McCain disappearing. According to the Pew Research Center for people and the press, Obama now leads McCain 46 percent to 43 percent among registered voters, and that's down from the eight-point lead the Illinois senator enjoyed in June. Here with some thoughts on what might account for the shift is Democratic pollster, Doug Schoen who joins me from Tucson, Arizona.

Doug Schoen, welcome. Good to have you here.

DOUG SCHOEN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Thank you for having me, Paul.

GIGOT: I'm a little bit puzzled. This should be a Democratic year. The Republican Party is down in the polls. The economy is lousy. And yet, Obama's lead does seem to have disappeared. What is happening?

SCHOEN: I think three things, Paul. First, there remain doubts about Barack Obama. I don't think he's answered the questions the American people have about his leadership abilities. I think there are also questions in a time of crisis, such as the one we're facing now, whether he has the right skill set and experience to lead the country forward. And there are still doubts whether the democratic party can get together and fully unify with the supports of Hillary Clinton. And until the party is put back together, I don't think Barack Obama will be in a position to maximize his appeal.

GIGOT: Are you saying Barack Obama might have made a mistake, then, in allowing Senator Clinton a roll call vote at the convention? Does it maybe make him look weak and not standing up as the new leader of the party?

SCHOEN: I think time will tell. The proof is in the pudding so to speak. We'll have to see how the process plays out. But I think it's fair to say if Barack Obama had a choice, he wouldn’t have a roll call and Hillary Clinton wouldn't get the degree of attention she's going to get at this convention for her candidacy.

GIGOT: Why do you think he went along with it - to avoid a raucous convention or avoid a public disagreement?

SCHOEN: I think he feels he needs the Clintons campaigning for him. I think she's promised and the President Bill Clinton has promised that they'll campaign for Barack Obama. This is a political deal. This is an accommodation. I think he felt this was the best of the choices available to him.

GIGOT: OK. Now let's talk about Obama's strategy. His core strategy theme, if you will, seems to be to link John McCain to George Bush who is unpopular, down in the polls. But John McCain isn't George Bush. And is there something maybe flawed with that strategy, running against somebody who — somebody's record who is not on the ballot?

SCHOEN: Well, I think, Paul, that what Obama has yet to do is to compellingly make the case to the American people that McCain equals Bush. I've told people I think that Obama has done a less good job linking Bush to McCain than McCain has done linking Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. So I don't think the argument for change from Barack Obama has been as compelling as it might be. And I think you're absolutely right. John McCain has made the case that the Straight Talk Express is back and that he's not a third term for George Bush.

GIGOT: I guess my question is what if that whole premise is faulting, that the American public looks at McCain and says he's not Bush. We know it. So stop telling us that he is Bush. He did oppose Bush on how he is prosecuting the war in Iraq. He does disagree with President Bush on things like the environment. Could the whole — that whole premise of the campaign be faulty?

SCHOEN: Well, I don't think it's faulty, Paul. I just don't think it's been particularly well articulated. I think on the economy, if you look at the $490 billion deficit, 5.7 percent unemployment, and McCain's support for the tax cuts, there's an argument that Obama could make and really hasn't made compellingly. The McCain campaign has been somewhat more focused than the Obama campaign. And I don't think the McCain campaign has been effective. I think Barack has been scattered with his message and the Pew poll shows what you suggested.

GIGOT: McCain is trying to make the argument that Obama is somebody who is not experienced enough to be president and not up to the job. Is that McCain's best argument against the senator? And what advice would you give the senator how to respond?

SCHOEN: First, I think that's 50 percent of the argument against Barack Obama. That he's not experienced. Second, I think there's a fiscal argument against Barack Obama that you've made on the editorial page of the "Journal" quite compellingly; frankly, better than McCain has made, that Barack Obama is going to raise taxes, potentially put America into a recession. So far, McCain hasn't really made an argument against Obama's economic policies. But if he's able to do that and link that to experience in a way that I call ‘Barack Obama inexperience America can't afford,’ I think John McCain has a compelling argument and a real chance to win the election.

GIGOT: All right. Doug Schoen, we'll be watching. Thank you for being here.

SCHOEN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

GIGOT: More on the tightening presidential race when we come back, including a look at how the crisis in Georgia is playing out for each of the candidates.


GIGOT: We are back with more on the tightening presidential race. Joining the panel is Dan Henninger, John Fund, and Washington columnist Kim Strassel. Kim, a month ago, most Republicans I talked to were very down on the McCain campaign. Now Obama and McCain are tied in the polls. Does this mean Republicans in Washington don't know anything? Or what is really — which is always possible. And what is — what is working for McCain and not working for Obama?

KIM STRASSEL, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think that there is a couple of things going on that are related. For one, John McCain recently seems to have found his mojo. He's out there and he really is making the distinction between him and Mr. Obama. He's been fortunate that there were a couple of issues that worked in his favor. Energy is one. The crisis in Georgia and Russia has allowed him to demonstrate some of his national security credentials. On the flip side of that, compare/contrast side, one of the problems that Obama is having from the start they decided to make the campaign, or they had, about the man, the message, yes, we can. There has always been a complaint, there was complaints from Hillary Clinton's camp that there was not enough specifics, not enough proposals. One of the issues is whether or not that has allowed John McCain to define Barack Obama rather than Mr. Obama defining himself.

GIGOT: That's one of the interesting things here. The issues that Kim mentioned, three months ago I would have said $4 gasoline would destroy John McCain, he had no chance. Instead he pivoted and made the debate about what future energy supplies are and make it about whether or not you're in favor of drilling. So he's got that contrast with Obama.

DAN HENNINGER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yeah. And, well, people said in the past John McCain gets lucky in politics.

GIGOT: It takes luck to win.

HENNINGER: He got lucky when Russia invaded Georgia. Guess what is back on the table? National security. That's right into his round house. Now we have Russia, Russia says you have to do business with us, because otherwise we won't help you with Iran. Oh, Iran is back on the table? Another national security issue. And these are John McCain's strengths. He's going from strength to strength now.

GIGOT: But John, the Obama campaign on the Georgia question in Russia — Obama hasn't said this himself, but surrogates have said you know what? McCain is too belligerent here. Hinting that he's the candidate who will get us in more wars. We know the Iraq War hasn't been popular. Is that a winning message for Obama to suggest that McCain is perhaps just too much of a hawk?

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: The more foreign policy in the campaign, the more McCain's experience plays well against Obama's experience. Barack Obama also looks at polls that show voters really care about the domestic economy and domestic concerns. Obama is a smart candidate. He knows he lost ground against McCain. I think you're going to see his convention speech full of specifics, basically trying to overcome the objections that people have had to his lack of specificity. I think he would once again seize momentum. I think you'll see Obama take the lead after the Democratic convention.

HENNINGER: Let me quickly pick up a point that you and Doug Schoen were making. Because I think it was very interesting. Schoen kept saying Obama had to run and link McCain to Bush. What he is saying is Obama loaded up his entire campaign as him as the candidate of change. He ran for a year as the candidate of change from George Bush. Now, you've got a candidate in John McCain who is not Bush. He is change. So where does that leave Obama? People say we have two candidates who are going to be changed? What else are you offering us? He hasn't made that clear yet.

GIGOT: He's making — McCain is making the case no matter who you elect it's different from what we had.


GIGOT: The question is what change do you want? That is a harder argument to make than Obama's more general change from the status quo. But if he can make that kind of distinction, he could do what Nicolas Sarkozy did in France, running as member of the same party, as the previous president.

FUND: I think you will see Obama emphasize where they agree, tax cuts, thins like regulations, thing like the general direction of the economy and say the environment, you can't believe any Republican who wants to save the environment.

GIGOT: Kim, let me ask a question about McCain and a positive message. He has got some of the contrast. Do you see a general theme, a kind of narrative beyond just McCain's biography that he's laid out, a vision if you will for what he would do with the presidency and the change?

STRASSEL: He is getting closer to that. He still has to sharpen it up. We talked about this before. He has a lot of good proposals, on tax reform, on Social Security. What he hasn't managed to do is tie these together and tell the American people what it is he's going to make different. That gets back to he needs reform. He needs a reform theme. Sarkozy thing. He's got to say I'm within the party but I'm going to fix it from within. He's starting to hit on it more in the speeches but not entirely.

GIGOT: All right, Kim, thanks. Still ahead, Kremlin capers. Just what is Russia up to in Georgia? How should the U.S. respond?



BUSH: To begin to repair damage to the relationship, the United States and other nations and to begin restoring the place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis.


GIGOT: President Bush warning Russian leaders of the potential long- term consequences of their assault on neighboring Georgia. The president dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi late this week and promised air and sea missions to Georgia as part of a major humanitarian effort there. We're back with Dan Henninger and also joining the panel is Bill McGurn and Editorial Features Editor Rob Pollock. All right, Dan. Basic question. Why should the United States people care about what happens in Georgia?

HENNINGER: They should care because Vladimir Putin has undertaken to overthrow the world — not overthrow, but disturb, replace the world order. They have spent the last 60 years since World War II building a system that works. He's asking to us go in there and remove the president of Georgia. Overthrow a democratic government. He's sending tanks.

GIGOT: He wants to overthrow that government. His goal is regime change.

HENNINGER: He wants us to do it for him. He's sent mass tanks to an independent nation and has been abrogating gas contracts, so this is a complete reversion against the order that has been set up and worked well for 60 years.

ROBERT POLLOCK, WALL STREET JOURNAL: And especially the world order that's been established over the last 20 years since the demise of the Soviet Union and the satellites. This is fundamentally a fight to consolidate the gains for freedom that happened after the Cold War.

GIGOT: On our part. Not on Putin's part.

POLLOCK: On the part of freedom. Hopefully the Russians appreciate freedom, too, even if Putin doesn't.

GIGOT: There is the issue of the pipeline that moves through Georgia to Turkey to help give energy supplies to Europe, Bill. What else do you think is..?

WILLIAM MCGURN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think basically he wants to dictate terms to NATO. This is about Russia's ambitions, and rejection of the order that you were talking about. They want to intimidate the neighbors. And they want to still maintain the Soviet Union without the word "Soviet." They opposed the expansion of NATO, the missile defense in Poland, all the...

GIGOT: Historic Russian imperialism is what you're saying. Ukraine is in the sights next.

MCGURN: And I think they see the last seven years — they talk about encirclement before of democracies as a threat to them. Democracies are a threat to their way of governing.

GIGOT: Well, what about the argument that you hear from a lot of Russians and some American Russians that somewhat we provoked them because we tried to expand NATO, because we tried to install missile defenses in Poland, which by the way, they just agreed to do in the wake of Georgia. Poland just accepted those missile defenses. Is there any sense to that Russian argument?

POLLOCK: President Bush addressed that directly in his statement Friday morning when he said the era of spheres of influence is over. All of the apologists for the Kremlin saying we provoked Russia are saying somehow Russia has a right to have a spear of influence over the country on its borders. Imagine if the United States asserted the right to have a sphere of influence over Mexico and Canada.

GIGOT: The Monroe Doctrine?

POLLOCK: The Monroe doctrine is no longer active in the 21st century. Cuba is off the coast and we don't do a damn thing about it.

GIGOT: Did the administration respond forcefully enough, early enough in this?

MCGURN: I think they have. They get criticism but I look at it in the context of seven years and the president has given a speech in every former Soviet dominated country every year. He pushed for the NATO expansion. I mean Sarkozy got praised and Sarkozy was the one that opposed including Ukraine and Georgia and NATO which may have stopped us. I look at in the larger context. Could they respond faster? Maybe.

GIGOT: In that same larger context, Bill, hasn't president Bush misjudged the character and ambitions of Vladimir Putin? I mean forget about the line early, looking into a soul. I'm talking about even in the last couple of years. We invited him on a personal visit to Kennebunkport and gave him a blessing of the American people saying he matters. What have we gotten out of it from Putin?

MCGURN: I think that is the question. But I don't think the original thing is forgotten. I — that's how people see it. People hear the president looked in his soul. That's the president's management of public affairs. He also thought you are nice in public, embrace in public, let them save face. I think the policy has been tough outside the public sphere. The expansion, the missiles, Kosovo, the speeches, clearly Putin thinks it's been aggressive we're encircling him.

GIGOT: Briefly, Rob, what can U.S. and Europe do now to make sure that Russia sees consequences from this?

POLLOCK: I think the immediate objective is accomplished. The advance of Russian tanks on the capital has been stopped. That's what matters. And you see the nations of Europe, the former Soviet satellites are coming together in defense of Georgia. Russia overreached. I think they're going to be humiliated here at the end of this.

GIGOT: Does Georgia really have a chance to get into NATO?

POLLOCK: I think absolutely it does. You'll see enormous — not just the Poland has accepted missile defense but Ukraine said Russia needs permission to use the Black Sea port. That's an amazing development.

GIGOT: I hope you're right, Rob. OK. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our hits and misses of the week.


GIGOT: Winners and loser, hits and misses. It's our way of paying attention to the best and worst of the week. Item one, those free tickets to Barack Obama's Democratic convention speech in Denver may come with some strings attached. John?

FUND: Paul, I was in Denver and people are very excited. There are going to be 75,000 seats available to see Barack Obama address the democratic nomination. But there is a catch. A lot of people got the calls today who entered the lotteries for seats saying you can get the tickets but it will take six hours of volunteer labor for the Barack Obama campaign to get them.

GIGOT: Working for the campaign. Not just charity work.

FUND: Yes. Now the Barack Obama campaign says it's all a misunderstanding. But the calls were made and people are furious. And this reminds me of the old Daley machine in Chicago that Barack Obama is a part of. They used to ask voters to volunteer and this is the old politics a lot more than the new politics Barack Obama promised.

GIGOT: All right, John. Next, two big hits from this week's Olympic Games. Rob, you first.

POLLOCK: Well, it's been a great swimming meet in particular for the Americans. Of course, Michael Phelps has been getting all the attention for his record-setting performance in a number of ways, and he deserves it. But the most exciting moment of the games was actually the 4-by-100 freestyle relay in which Phelps participated, but was made particularly exciting by the fact that the French relay team, which was very good and had the world record sprint run and Alain Bernard boasted that we will smash the Americans. It looked like that was going to happen with Bernard going into the anchor leg with a significant lead. But the American anchor swimmer Jason Lezak swam the fastest relay split by anyone ever, besting his own best time by 1.3 seconds. Sort of an out of body swim he called it. Now, some people accuse the French in diplomacy of being all talk. Maybe they're all talk in sports, too, Paul.

GIGOT: We French-Americans resent that. Kim, your Olympic hit isn't for a U.S. team?

STRASSEL: How is this for a poignant Olympic moment. The Georgian Olympic team was going to go back home as Russia invaded their country. Instead, President Saakashvili asked them to stay and offer some inspiration for the Georgian people. Two members of the team took it in particular to heart, and they're not even Georgian. Turns out that under Olympic rules, each country can send only two beach volleyball teams. These two Brazilian women hadn't qualified for Brazil, so they were asked if they'd represent Georgia. They did. They got passports, they went to the games, and who did they end up meeting out on the sand? Russia. And not only did they play Russia, they beat them to a roaring crowd. So that was exciting.

GIGOT: All right, thank you, Kim. And remember if you have your own hit or miss, send it to us at or log on to That's it if for week's edition. Thank you to my panel and all of you. I'll Paul Gigot and hope to see you right here next week.

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