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Hot Stories: ChickenDoves & Petty Party

Beltway Boys

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": I'm Fred Barnes.

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": And I'm Mort Kondracke, and we're "The Beltway Boys."

Well, the first top story of the week is "Chickendoves."

You know, Democrats accuse the Bush people, who - who started the Iraq war but did not serve in combat of being "chickenhawks."

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: Well, the Democrats themselves are now "chickendoves," which is to say they want to - to rail against the Iraq war, but they do not have the gumption, as of yet, to do what they could do constitutionally, and cut off funds - funds for the war.

Now the bad news is here that Senate Democrats next week are going to try micromanage what the president can do by saying that - redefining the mission in - in Iraq, and saying that we can only do defensive activities, training, fight al-Qaida but nobody else, et cetera et cetera. That's - it's not going to work. But nonetheless, that's what they're trying to do, instead of trying to cut off funds for the war. And the good news, if there is any, is that the one attempt to cut off funds for the war, that of John Murtha, is not going anywhere. Nobody's - nobody's following him.

Now another piece of bad news is that the liberal anti-war wing of the Democratic Party is driving its presidential candidates to the left, constantly on the war, and demanding more and more deadlines and cutoffs and - and all that kind of stuff.

Now one person who is resisting this so far, partly at least out of political calculation, I think, is Hillary Clinton. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I take responsibility for my vote. And it was a sincere vote, based on the facts and assurances that we had at the time. Obviously, I would not vote that way again if we knew then what we now know.

But I - I have to say that, if the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or who has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: I mean, it's a kind of a gutsy statement on her part. If you don't like what I'm saying, go vote for somebody else. You know, I have to admire that.

But what she is calculating here is that if she - that it's good for her to stay slightly to the right of the rest of the Democratic field in order to run a general election strategy, if she gets the nomination, on the basis that I'm not some wimpy woman.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: You know?

Now, I think that - that to her credit, she is not as far left as people like Barack Obama and - and John Edwards, who are in favor of deadlines and - and early withdrawals. So that - that's to her credit. I'll have more to say about it in a minute.

BARNES: Look, you're right about Hillary. I think that was - what we just saw was her best single statement on her vote in 2002, authorizing the war. It was strong and clear and - and - and - and you're also right, Mort, that - that her policy in her campaign is, no opponents to my right. And she does not want to be dragged so far to the left, as - as other candidates are, as you mentioned, that it will - if she wins the nomination, it will haunt her in the general election against a Republican.

And certainly what would her haunt her is if, after all this time, she suddenly caved and looked weak and said, `Oh, I made a terrible, how could I have done it,' and so on - so I think she's following, one, the smart policy, and two, the good political policy, in doing exactly that.

But, you know, she remains under this relentless pressure to say, `I made a mistake, I'm sorry; Gee, I wish I hadn't done it,' not only from the party's left, but also from one of her opponents, John Edwards, who goes back to this all the time.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a leader who will be - who will be open and honest with you and with the American people, who will tell the truth. Who will tell the truth when they've made a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Well, you know, one of the doviest of all the candidates, Tom Vilsack, former governor of - of Iowa dropped out this week.

One more thing about - about Hillary Clinton. She won't use the "m" word, "mistake," she won't use the "w" word, "I was wrong." Instead she's saying - and I think this is disingenuous, actually, that she was misled of deceived by - by President Bush, that he misused the authority that she gave him. Look, she voted on a resolution that said - that authorized war. Now she's said, and her last lines of her speech, which I have reread, was, "This is Saddam Hussein's last chance to disarm or be disarmed." And Saddam Hussein did not voluntarily disarm, and it was obvious that - that we were going to go to war.

So to - for her to say that somehow she didn't intend that, I think is disingenuous.

Now, what she could say, although it would - it would probably look weak to some, like you, is, `We were all mistaken. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The whole thing was a mistake. We didn't need to go to war.'

Now I - I happen to agree with that. On the other hand, I don't want to bug out.

BARNES: Well, I don't agree with it at all. I mean, I think this war is just and necessary, and that's true whether there were weapons of destruction there or not. We know he had them at one time, and did something with them, and was going to - and - and Saddam was going to recreate his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We know that, too.

But in any case, I do agree with something you've said about - about John Murtha, and - and his, you know, moves to defund the war by setting these conditions that wouldn't allow troops to be funded, to go over there as reinforcements and so on. Moderate Democrats have rebelled against this. I think the thing is collapsing.

It was important this week that Howard - that Walter Jones of North Carolina, probably the leading anti-war Republican in the House, sent Murtha a letter saying, `Look, I'm not going to go along with this.' I'm - I mean, we're not going to - anything, any - when I talked to him, you know, he said any gimmick or any maneuver that would defund the troops, I - he - he's not going to along with.

And I think what this means is, the Murtha scheme is dead. It's just simply dead. It was a bad idea in the first place, and it's dead now.

All right. Coming up, did the Clinton campaign overact to the dustup with David Geffen? Stick around; "Hot Story" number two is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."

"Hot Story" number two: "Petty Party." Not "pity party." "Petty Party." P-E-T-T-Y. I'm obviously - obviously talking about the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the pettiness of this feud between the two of them over what David Geffen, the Hollywood producer, said. Now Geffen's a backer of Obama for president. But he really trashed the Clintons to Maureen Dowd, "The New York Times" columnist. You know, saying they were liars and they are - and Bill Clinton's reckless and so on, all these charges.

Now, since Geffen does back Obama, the Clinton crowd - the Clinton campaign has acted as if Obama himself were - were responsible for these remarks, this attack by David Geffen. And - and - and I think the - I think this is entirely calculated on the part of the Clinton campaign, because they want to knock Obama off his pedestal. And, you know, that he - that he's not the guy who is participating or - or calling for the - the politics of hope. You know, he's down there in the politics of slash and burn.

Listen to what - or I'll - I'll read what Howard Wolfson, the very good press secretary for the Hillary campaign, said in his first statement that he came out. He says, "While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband. If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce those remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign, and return his money."

Well, you know, Geffen is not the national.

KONDRACKE: Finance chairman.

BARNES: .finance chair.

KONDRACKE: Right.

BARNES: And - and I'll - and - and Obama - you know, he separated himself from those remarks eventually.

But the truth is, and you - but you should have heard Howard Wolfson on TV after, going back and back and back, `Oh, for he's hope, he's for goodness in politics, he's above the fray and so on, but look what he's really doing here or tolerating here.' He just went over and over and over it again.

And you know what, Mort? This calculated attempt by the Clinton forces to bring down Obama from this high (AUDIO GAP).

KONDRACKE: I - I don't agree with you.

Look, after the dust settled - began to settle a little bit, the two candidates tried to distance themselves somewhat from the dogfight. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I want to run a very positive campaign, and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Somebody who had - had donated to me, said some unflattering things about the Clintons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. "New York Times" and.

OBAMA: Those - those aren't opinions that I share, or expressed. And, you know, I - I think this is the kind of, you know, politics of distraction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Yes.

Now, I - I disagree with you. I think that Hillary came out worse than - than Obama did in this case. One, Geffen's charges got a lot of traction in the - in the country. You know, everybody sort of understands that that's out there, that the Clintons lie, that Hillary's polarizing and can't get elected. That Bill is reckless. I mean, that's all - that's in the past.

But to have it elevated in our consciousness with this big fight I think was a mistake that.

BARNES: I hadn't forgotten it.

KONDRACKE: Well, I know. But - but I think it was a mistake for her to overreact to this charge by Geffen, who as you point out, was not the campaign finance chair.

This sort of reminds me of the way the White House reacted when Joe Wilson wrote that op-ed piece in the - in - in "The New York Times" on the - you remember, on the - the uranium supplies from - from Niger. They went crazy.

Well, she - her campaign went crazy here. And it - and it was just completely unnecessary. And I think it's another part of the, `I'm not wimpy woman stuff.' You - anybody hits me, I'm going to clobber them back.

And when it comes to poking holes in his sort of virtuous visage, Obama's, I don't think it worked. I mean, he didn't do that much. His press aide, Robert Gibbs, said - made some nasty crack about Geffen having, you know, slept in the Lincoln Bedroom and stuff like that. But that's as far as Obama really went in - in slash and - in slash and burn.

I think that the - the one thing that this shows about the Obama campaign is that it's not really well-organized. You know, he does not have his message coming out of the mouths of all the people who support him. And that he needs to do.

BARNES: Look, he's an amazing, appealing guy. But I think the Clintons were right to seize the first opportunity that came along to try to bring him down a peg or two. And I - I think they succeeded.

KONDRACKE: I don't agree.

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