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Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes differ on the impact and usefulness of talk radio during the immigration debate.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

DB: As we are every week around this time, we are joined by the Beltway Boys, Mort Kondracke, the executive editor of Roll Call, Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard. Together, they co-host the Beltway Boys, which you can see on Fox News Saturdays at 3 in the West, 6 in the East, repeated throughout the weekends. Be sure to catch one showing. Hello, gentlemen, how are you tonight?

FB: Hi, Dean.

MK: Hey.

DB: So Mort, let’s talk a little bit about talk radio. A productive part of our society or a destructive part of our political dialogue?

MK: Boy, I’ve got to say, well, look, everybody’s got a right to say what they want to say, and I mean, you know, the problem with much of talk radio is that it’s out of control. It’s out of self-control, I should say. And the competitive forces impels somebody to try to whip up the rage of the listenership, and make people frantic about something, and it inhibits calm discussion about anything, as witness the immigration debate. Do I think…in the case of the immigration debate, I think what the radio talk show hosts did was terribly destructive toward the solution of what everybody agrees is a huge problem.

DB: When you say talk show hosts, you’re referring to Michael Savage, and us, too?

MK: I’m referring…you know, the truth is that I don’t listen to everybody, so I can’t tell you who…I listen to Rush, I think he’s a destructive force in this case.

DB: Really?

MK: Yeah, of course. I mean, you know…and you know, Rush has beenSean Hannity, I think, has been a destructive force, Laura Ingraham’s been a destructive…I mean, I don’t exactly know where exactly Hugh has been on this issue, but you know, anybody who is declaring…and Lou Dobbs is the worst…anybody who declares that this bill is amnesty is just not helping the society solve a problem.

DB: Listen, Fred, I know you’re dying to get in here and set your misguided fellow Beltway Boy straight.

MK: He’s not. He’s not.

DB: He’s not?

MK: He doesn’t disagree with that.

FB: Now Mort and I agree, we both supported the bill. I think it was a good bill. I’m sorry all the talk radio hosts, or at least a good number of them, were against it. But I think talk radio’s a force for good, given the bias of the mainstream media in America. People need an alternative. And one of them is Fox News, another is talk radio, and they can find more on the internet. But you know, for me, even though I did not agree with most conservative talk radio hosts about the immigration bill, I hate to think where we’d be as a nation, and as a properly informed people, without talk radio.

DB: Yeah, now Mort, to get back to what you were saying, one area I’d fundamentally disagree with you…I fundamentally disagree with you on virtually all areas, but the biggest one is talk radio doesn’t whip up the anger. The anger rises up to talk radio, that it comes from the people.

MK: I don’t think that the American people are fundamentally furious on a permanent basis, and I don’t think that they are inclined to hate the opposition. I mean, what I think the American people want is their problems to be solved, and they want their problems…and the only way that problems are every going to be solved is on a bipartisan basis. But as we witnessed with the immigration bill, people who are polarized, you know, go pick an agreement apart, picking out what they don’t like, amplifying what it is that they don’t like, pretending that it’s going to be the end of the world, and convincing all kinds of people that disaster is about to befall them. And it’s…I think…

DB: But this…

MK: I think that the left wing bloggers are as destructive in most cases to civil discourse in America as lots of, and I’m not talking about all, but lots of radio talk show hosts.

DB: But Fred, you don’t deny that this bill had instant amnesty provision in the 601h/Z visas, which would be granted before any of the border triggers kicked in, and could be renewed indefinitely every four years.

FB: Well, no, I think you’ve merged two things together. One…and I mean, they’re both Z visas. There was the probationary ones that you would get in 24 hours.

DB: Which is walking papers…

FB: And wait a minute, let me finish, and then there are the permanent Z visas which you would get, apply for after the border had been secure, and your probationary visa would expire. Now one of the things, one of the changes that was going to be made in an amendment that never came to a vote by Lindsey Graham was to lift the 24 hour thing, and say you couldn’t get a probationary visa until you were checked out through the criminal and terrorist databases, and so on.

MK: Which I would support, by the way.

FB: That’s why they should have had it in the beginning, and that was a mistake to have that.

DB: Yeah.

FB: And it was one of the reasons why the bill went down. And look, I don’t blame talk radio for this, although you know what…the most interesting thing to me politically about what happened is you remember on June 7th, when Harry Reid took the bill off the Senate floor?

DB: Right, yeah.

FB: I thought well, gee, the opposition has peaked, and maybe when we bring it back, the bill back in a few weeks, maybe it will sail through.

DB: Now Glenn Reynolds…

FB: I was wrong. I mean, the opposition just mushroomed in that interim period.

DB: Now Glenn Reynolds, who you guys know as the leading conservative blogger, one of those rabble-rousing law professors, that he suggested a few things in regards to this bill where the process jumped the tracks. For the next time, he suggested number one, make the process open, transparent and timely, with hearings and drafts on the internet, and no last minute bills that no one has read. And two, earn people’s trust, don’t demand it. And treat enforcement like it matters. Don’t you think he’s completely right on that?

FB: I’d say he’s right on one out of three. They did treat enforcement as if it matters. I forgot what the second one was…and look, as it turns out, looking back, they made a mistake by drafting the bill in private with a dozen, or you know, over time, probably 25 or 30 Senators came there. Everybody knew what was going on. It wasn’t a secret. It was just private, rather than open committee hearings. And that raised a lot of objections, and I think looking back, you would say they shouldn’t have done it that way. They should have gone through the normal hearings with testimony, and drafting a bill in a committee.

DB: Now, but to go back to earlier, Mort, to you, what you said about Sean Hannity, George Voinovich was on Sean Hannity’s show, and didn’t know what the bill he was supporting contained, and ultimately voted no on cloture.

MK: Yeah, well, I’m not going to defend George Voinovich. You know, if you’re a Senator, it’s up to you to know what’s in the legislation that you’re voting on. I mean, he can’t justify a no vote, he can’t justify a yes vote if he doesn’t know what’s in the bill.

DB: Yeah, well, and even John McCain at the start of the process, in spite of claiming to know more about it than anyone in the room, even he didn’t know some aspects of the bill.

MK: Yeah, well, you know, John McCain has been through this issue enough that I’m sure that he knew enough about the bill to know what he wanted. Furthermore, the vote on Thursday was a vote to extend debate so that more amendments could have been considered. You know, there were going to be 27 amendments that were going to have to be voted on. Some of them were going to tighten things up, and then the bill was going to have to go to the House, where they were going to start all over again. They weren’t even going to start with the Senate bill. And then it was going to have to go to conference committee. This was a vote to kill the whole thing.

DB: Yeah.

MK: So it wasn’t just a vote on this bill. It wasn’t even a vote on final passage. And you know…how are we ever going to get this problem solved? We are not going to get it solved under the circumstances that now prevail?

DB: Well, I would say we would get it solved by open negotiations with the full Senate involved, and the full participation of the citizenry.

MK: Well, it’s not going to happen. It is not going to happen, because it’s over. These guys are not going to go back and revisit this thing and get their cans kicked by the people that you guys have whipped up. It’s not going to happen.

DB: But why does it have to be comprehensive? Why can’t it be piecemeal?

FB: Let me give you the answer to that, Dean, in one word.

DB: Yeah.

FB: Democrats. They control the Senate, they control the House. Now ideally, I think you would like, and I would be for it as well in the short run, just doing more border enforcement.

DB: Right.

FB: More money, a fence, doing all kinds of things where the American people would know absolutely that our border in the South was secure. But you can’t get a bill that just says that, because Democrats will insist on all these other things. And that’s why they had a compromise bill in the first place, negotiated particularly by Jon Kyl of Arizona, who is no liberal, and I thought he did a good job. I thought the bill, conservatives got more out of the bill than Teddy Kennedy did for liberals. But I realize a lot of people disagreed with that. But the problem here is Democrats.

DB: Yeah, well guys, we’ve got thirty seconds left, so let’s end with something that we can all agree on. Why don’t you guys rate Harry Reid’s management of the Senate thus far in his term. Mort, you go first.

MK: I mean, I agree with David Broder. He’s an embarrassment.

DB: Yeah, excellent. I agree, too. And Fred, do we have a quorum on it?

FB: Yeah, we do, and I think the word that applies is klutz.

DB: Klutz. I think you mean putz.

FB: No, I mean klutz.

MK: (laughing)

DB: (laughing)

FB: Putz applies, too.

DB: All right. I’ll be the Yiddish expert here. Fred Barnes, Mort Kondracke, the Beltway Boys, thank you very much for joining us.

End of interview.

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