Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol on the Democrat retirements, electoral prospects in Massachusetts, and shock at Obama’s handling of the terror attempt Christmas Day
HH: Joined now by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, Fox News All-Star. Happy New Year to you, Bill.
BK: Happy New Year, Hugh.
HH: Bill, I just had E.J. Dionne on. I always love talking to E.J. at the start of a show, because it gives me a lot to talk about. And E.J. had two positions, one that nothing to worry about all these Democrats leaving, everyone’s going to like health care in six months, and the seniors won’t be unhappy, and number two, yes, Gitmo does in fact lead to terrorism. Your thoughts on both of those points?
BK: I like E.J., too, but he’s wrong on both, and he’s wrong usually in a fairly good-natured way…
BK: …which is to his credit for a liberal. And on number one, in six months, if this thing goes through, seniors are going to be getting their letters from their Medicare Advantage insurers, telling them that they’re being forced to be cut from Medicare Advantage, and/or pay more for this program. I think that is, so it’s going to be bad for people who voted for it, and in addition to all of the other things that are coming down the pike if this thing were to go through. I was just up on the Hill today meeting with leadership staff. I think there’s a chance this thing could be stopped, two ways, obviously. If Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts in less than two weeks, in the Senate seat or the Senate race for Ted Kennedy’s seat, but even in the House, the more people look at it, it doesn’t go up in the polls, the Democratic leadership keeps saying hey, when this thing passes, it’s going to become more popular. It passed the House in early November. It passed the Senate on December 24th. It hasn’t gotten more popular. Why is it going to get more popular when they make some more deals in back rooms, and jam it through one more time, you know? I think the Medicare Advantage, incidentally, I think is the little…people haven’t quite focused on it. The cuts in Medicare Advantage are really damaging. They hit middle income and lower middle income seniors. They’re going to happen in real time next year. They’re not five years out. This is, incidentally, the program for which Florida Senator Bill Nelson made the special deal with protects some Florida seniors from the cuts that every other senior in the country is going to experience. So I think health care remains a huge problem for the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress.
HH: Do you see the cracks in the Democratic wall? There’s a new Rasmussen out of Arkansas today that shows that State Senator Gilbert Baker leads Blanche Lincoln by 12 points. There’s obviously, Ben Nelson has hemorrhaged support in Nebraska. He’s not on the ballot, obviously, in 2010, but he’s got to come back in 2012. Do you see a crack in the Senate when they need their 60 and they come back? Will either of them walk away from certain electoral disaster?
BK: They could, but I think honestly, it’s going to be easier to beat it in the House, just because the House goes first. I think if they get it through the House, it’s hard for any one Senator to block it, where some of these House Democrats, they’re going to lose, I think, Bart Stupak and the pro-life, the really serious pro-life Democrats, which is six or eight, I think, because I don’t think they’ll go with the Stupak language. And then I think they’ve got Blue Dogs, they would then need Blue Dogs to flip. They would need some…Pelosi’s going to need some Democrats who voted against it the first time to say hey, this is a better bill this time, I can vote for it. I don’t think that’s a plausible rationale. I think the cuts in Medicare, as I mentioned, are going to be very damaging. And of course, Massachusetts is happening, and I’ve been in close touch on that race, you’ve been following it, too. There’s a private poll from last night that has the race shrinking, the lead shrinking to six. Rasmussen showed it at nine two days ago. And this is pretty amazing. Among those most likely to vote, you know, the pollsters ask the questions, have you voted the last two or three times, are you very certain you’re going to vote this time, among the really hard core people who are going to vote, Brown has a slight lead, the Republican. Now you know, it’s twelve days from the election, it’s a hugely Democratic state, they’re going to play the Ted Kennedy sympathy card. Still, it’s pretty striking that they’re having, I think they’re going to have so much trouble in Massachusetts. And conservatives are energized. The question is can Brown get the independents? He’s getting a lot of them. Can he get enough of them? I also hear that Brown raised $250,000 dollars online yesterday.
HH: Scott Brown will be on the program in about twenty minutes.
BK: It’s gone totally viral. Well, you can ask him. I believe that number’s correct. I’m not sure it’s public, but someone told it to me. And I think he did well in the debate yesterday with Coakley. I mean, that really…that’s happening in real time. You know, we can look at the Arkansas poll and say well, the election’s in November, come on, when Blanche Lincoln goes home, you know, she’s popular, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t buy that. I think she’s in real trouble. But this is happening in real time in Massachusetts in the race for Ted Kennedy’s seat. And that race is tightening. And it’s not because Scott Brown, I mean, he’s a good guy, but it’s not because he’s the greatest candidate ever, and it’s not because Martha Coakley’s not a good candidate. Martha Coakley won as attorney general with 73% of the vote in 2006. In public polling, she’s ahead by nine points now in Ted Kennedy’s seat. That’s tells you everything you need to know.
HH: Now Bill Kristol, you and I both know Massachusetts politics, and we both sort of walked those streets, and know the affluent Cambridge voter, the elite that’s around, and also the blue collar Democrat that’s in the older suburbs and the older urban areas. How many of them have it in them to do a strategic vote, which is you know, if Scott Brown wins, it’s for a year. It’s not even…I think they have to have the special right away in November, and they can come back with a Kennedy. They can come back with somebody else. How many Democrats are willing to send a message to the White House with a no vote on the Democrat in this race?
BK: I think quite a lot of the working class, middle class Democrats in the suburbs of Boston, out towards Worcester, and to the western and southern parts of the state, would like to send that message to the White House. I think they’d like to send it to the Congressional leadership. I mean, this is a moment to tell the Democrats, the other Democrats in Congress, stop. Stop. I think the Massachusetts voters have a chance to say that on health care, but also on cap and trade, and a bunch of other issues, obviously, the crazy environmental regulations, the EPA reg, and the like. That vote is scheduled, I think, for the day or two after the Massachusetts primary. You know, it’s just there are a lot of issues where I think they can say stop. And also, Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, is pretty unpopular. All the polls show that. Coakley, Martha Coakley is the attorney general in the same administration. So it’s also a chance to send a message that they don’t like their Beacon Hill Democratic administration. So I think you’re right. I don’t think you have to be making a, you’re not making a lifetime commitment to vote Republican, or to become a conservative if you vote for Scott Brown in two weeks in Massachusetts.
HH: Now let’s turn to foreign affairs. Yesterday, the President said an astonishing thing. He said this terrorist came out of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of their reasons for being is the existence of Gitmo. Victor Davis Hanson denounced that logic on this program yesterday, saying that’s like buying Hitler’s propaganda of why he went into Poland. I think it’s an attempt of the President to say it’s really Bush’s fault. No Gitmo, no Detroit attack. But in any event, it’s just nuts, Bill Kristol. It’s crazy.
BK: It’s nuts, and I actually was watching that with some, you know, liberals, moderates, foreign policy types who just cringed when Obama said that. And Tom Jocelyn has a post up on our website. It’s not even true about their excuses. al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula goes on and on about liberating the Middle East from Crusader Zionists, and the usual kind of rhetoric, and they mention Guantanamo in passing. In fact, they’re very pleased, of course, one of their founders, one of their leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was released from Gitmo, so they expressed gratitude that the guy got out of that horrible place, Gitmo. But they don’t, they’re not obsessed about Gitmo. It’s really ludicrous that he said that, and it is, of course, it’s almost worse than Victor said, because it’s not even the centerpiece of their propaganda.
HH: It is worse, yeah. Now what about the idea that this administration, at least the President and some…they don’t really understand what Wahabism is. And I wonder if they’ve actually ever read The Looming Tower, for example.
BK: Well, you made that point. I saw that, and you’re absolutely right. Just incidentally, just on the Obama thing, it’s really so mind boggling. The guy he’s talking about, Abdulmutallab, I mean, he decided to do this, and was recruited to do this, by al-Awlaki, after, obviously, Obama was president, and after Obama committed his administration to closing Gitmo. So how can Gitmo be the cause of these terror attacks? Major Hassan was in touch with al-Awlaki throughout the last year when Obama was president, and he was making a big deal about closing Gitmo. I mean, this is, it’s so…whatever the truth, or not truth, or untruth of the claim that you know, in 2003 or 2004, some of their propaganda about Gitmo might have been successful in recruiting some people, it really can’t be true in 2009.
HH: No. I’m going to try and keep Bill Kristol through the break, America. Stay tuned.
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HH: Bill, the reason I asked you to stick over is right now, it’s sort of heady to be a Republican in anticipation of 2010 with all the retirements, et cetera. But I also talk to Republicans, and they say to me, you know, we’ll figure out a way to screw this up. We’ll either fall for the immigration that they throw out there and sound all nativist, or we’ll get into overconfidence, and the expectations will get away from us. And the reality is you can’t take back the Senate until you get 2012 and 2014 with big Democratic classes and little Republican classes. What do you think about this general expectations fervor underway, and about just the general strategy of the GOP heading into 2010?
BK: Look, I think it’s good to be cautious, and good to realize that the President and his team are going to fight back, and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are going to fight back. And you know, they’ll, some things will go their way, and there’ll be Republican mistakes in primaries and all kinds of things that might disrupt the momentum. I think it’s going to be a pretty good year for Republicans, and a lot of what seems to be, a lot of the judgments about the Obama administration, I don’t really think the Obama administration’s going to be able to turn around, partly because they don’t seem inclined to turn it around. That’s I guess what strikes me the most. I think it’s bad for the country, incidentally, but good for the Republican Party, that President Obama seems just obstinate about something like closing Guantanamo, which at this point, is crazy, basically. I mean, fine, he wanted to try it, he thought it was a good thing to do, he made a good faith effort, he can go to the world and say I made a good faith effort, but at this point, we can’t send these people back to Yemen, we can’t bring them to the U.S. and give them Constitutional rights. What’s his choice? And I don’t he’s going to succeed in closing it, so just give up. Same with health care. You know, he had an idea for a big bill, he made an effort, it’s a big mess, scale back, and then he can put a lot of pressure on Republicans to pass some medium size reform, some of which probably you and I wouldn’t like that much, but anyway, it would be hard to vote against, I think. Instead, he’s just very determined on the big government agenda, on the Guantanamo agenda, on the environmental agenda. You highlighted I think yesterday or today on the blog the anti-energy, the anti-drilling agenda.
HH: Yup, yup.
BK: I mean, I just think he’s surprisingly stubborn, and honestly, I don’t think Republicans have to do much except say we’re against this, we wouldn’t do this.
HH: If he acted in that way, he would be Bill Clinton for the new millennium. But if he’s really an Alinskyite, I mean, if he’s really a hard core ideologue, he doesn’t have it in him. Is he really, Bill Kristol, a hard core ideologue?
BK: He’s more so than I expected, and I think he’s more personally, I don’t know what the right word is, vain or stubborn or just unwilling to accept reality than I expected. I think I mentioned this in an editorial a couple of weeks ago. My father, you know, once said a neoconservative is a liberal who is mugged by reality. A young colleague of his, Mike Scully, you might have known him a little, he died young, made a joke later on when there were these neoliberals around who kind of accepted the criticisms of liberalism but then didn’t want to actually become at all conservative, and said a neoliberal is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, but refuses to press charges.
HH: Ha, I hadn’t read that.
BK: And I think that’s a really brilliant formulation, which is people can sort of see reality, but then they just won’t accept its lessons. And it may, you know, Obama’s a smart man, I assume he sees some of these realties out there. He sees that Iran, you know, be nice to the Iranian regime doesn’t make them either slow down the nuclear program, or behave better at home. He sees the American public’s reaction to a lot of what he’s trying to do here, and yet he somehow is unwilling to adjust, or unable to adjust.
HH: This Peter Baker story coming out in the New York Times Sunday magazine about which many people have been talking the last few days, the reality of the terror threat the 72 hours before the inauguration. I thought, and President Bush thought this, and he told a lot of us who talked to him in the last few weeks of his administration, he expected President Obama to be almost matured in place as a result of the realities of what they read every morning. I don’t think that’s happened, otherwise you wouldn’t Mirandize Mutallab when he gets off the plane, would you?
BK: I totally agree. That’s the most revealing thing that’s happened. I mean, they didn’t even think about…you can make a complicated case, I wouldn’t agree with it, but the Washington Post made a case for why you should treat him as a criminal suspect rather than as an enemy combatant. They didn’t even think about it. It’s pretty clear. Just look at the chronology. They…the plane landed, they seized the guy, they seized a guy here in the U.S., let’s read him his rights, and arraign him before a judge, and just go right ahead with that criminal prosecution. They didn’t think for a second, wait a second, he came from Yemen, he’s been in Yemen four months, at least let’s wait until we find out how long he’s been in Yemen. Gee, there’s a new, big al Qaeda operation in Yemen. We know that. We were trying to kill al-Awlaki three weeks earlier with predator strikes.
BK: Not even a minute of thinking gee, this guy might have active operational intelligence about the head of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, and he might know who else has been trained there. I mean really, when you think about it, at least not thinking hard about what might we be able to get from this guy if he doesn’t get Mirandized, it’s really shocking. It’s much more shocking than thinking about it and coming to a cost/benefit analysis that you do decide to go with the criminal justice side of it.
HH: The inner appeasement comes out. Bill Kristol, always a pleasure from the www.weeklystandard.com. Thank you.
End of interview.