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The Meaning of Republican Victory By: Bill Kristol
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 04, 2002


It’s good to be back here at the Restoration Weekend, or as I like to continue calling it, Dark Ages Weekend. David’s such a Liberal, he didn’t like the association with the Dark Ages.

But, the true reason this was changed -- David was too polite to say so -- is that I think about two or three weekends in, this was the mid ‘90s, I guess, various politicians who had been invited got nervous about attending a weekend called Dark Ages Weekend because they could see the negative 30-second ads that would be used against them. The Dark Ages included torture. This guy went to a Dark Ages Weekend. So, they made -- David and others made the strategic decision to switch to Restoration Weekend. But, it turned out not to be a killer of one’s career to have been associated with the Dark Ages Weekend since Jay Lefkowitz, who was one the founders of this, an old friend of mine and David’s, is now the President’s top domestic policy advisor in the Whitehouse. So, President Bush doesn’t mind the association with Dark Ages, even if some of the other politicians do.

I wasn’t here last at the meeting a year ago. I had to do something -- I guess that was the Labor Day Weekend. But, it strikes me how much has changed actually over the last year. You all met a year ago about a week before 9/11 and I think the point I’ll make this morning, and I’ll leave plenty of time for discussion and questions, but is that everything changed with 9/11 and this is the first post 9/11 Restoration Weekend.

I also will dispense with the usual jokes since -- actually, I had some jokes that Neil Goldman told me last night. I tried them out on my wife this morning and I decided based on her reaction, that I shouldn’t try them here. But, he’s right here. He’ll tell you them all if you’d like. But, I’ll be brief and you have so many good panelists coming later, I won’t dwell on these points at great length.

I wish I could actually for the weekend, which would be awfully nice and a lot of fun. I have to go back to Washington this afternoon. I did Fred Barnes’ editorial, which he’s writing right now and then he’s going to leave Washington and come here so. Not that he needs much editing. And then I have to go -- actually, go to Israel tomorrow night. So I’ll be thinking of you at the Breakers with your suffering, tough life back here.

9/11 was a very big deal. I really think it was the end of one political era and the beginning of another. I think in our lifetime, when historians look back, they’ll say there was the Cold War era, which most of us grew up in and probably were shaped by. That went, obviously, from the end of World War II from the late ‘40s, all the way through to 1989 or 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

We then had the ‘90s, which I think were distinctive political era, some strengths, some weaknesses. But an era of peace and prosperity. In many ways, not that bad a time for the country. An era dominated by two politicians, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, both extremely impressive politicians in certain ways and very successful politicians in certain ways.

Clinton, the first, you know, the Democrat who got elected President when people the Democrats couldn’t win the presidency any more. The first Democrat to be re-elected since FDR.

Gingrich, took over the House after 40 years in the wilderness and held the House -- and they still hold the House -- but, became unpopular in the country with his own party and is deposed after only four years.

But, that era, the ‘90s, that decade ended on September 11, 2001. And we’re now in a new era. The easiest way to say that or see that is simply to point out that the feature of the ‘90s was that it was a decade of peace and prosperity. And the feature of the coming decade is that it’s a decade of war. And one hopes prosperity, but certainly not the kind of prosperity that we had in the ‘90s. And when you have this kind of change, from peace to war, from boom times to let’s say, challenging times. That’s a huge change.

And what one should expect is that everything else will change. Politics will change. Election results will change. The culture will change. And one reason a lot of us were surprised, that I was surprised, and I’ve said this now for a year that we’re in a new era, that what it means to be in a new era is the rules of the game change. That what it means to be in a new era is that you can’t apply the old rules of politics to the new moment we live in.

And then, of course, like everyone else, I mindlessly applied the old rules to the coming election, to the recent election, and expected that the usual pattern would hold. And the party out of power, out of the Whitehouse, would dwell, that the late break in the polls would be to the out party. That’s usually what happens in an off year election. There’s a little more intensity among the party that doesn’t have the Whitehouse. They want to cast a protest vote against the various things that the President has done that they don’t like. The party in power is a little complacent. They just won the last presidential election. Some of them are a little unhappy with things that have happened. And typically, the out party picks up seats obviously, in an off year election.

I expected that to happen. I didn’t actually believe my own analysis that it was a new era. But, I think that what we learned a week ago, is there really is a new political era. And lots of things that would be surprises by the rules of the old political era are going to happen and we shouldn’t be so surprised by them.

What happened last Tuesday, a week ago Tuesday. A couple of things. It was a big election, I think. Now, I want to be cautious and Lance Tarrance will make this point. I’m sure that Michael Barone will make this point. You know, that off-year elections are off-year elections. And they can be indicators of the future. They don’t change things overnight. And, obviously, the number of seats that changed hands was not that huge. A couple in the Senate, six or seven, maybe eight in the House. A couple of gvernorships went Democratic on that [indiscernible] about 250 legislative seats which is a lot, but, not again, as a percentage. It’s about four or five percent of state legislative seats.

Not a huge shift, but I think a very important one. And it was a big off-year election. One indictor of that is that turnout was up compared to the last off-year election. Everyone expected -- most people expected turnout to be down. People were unhappy. There were all these negative campaigns. There were no real issues. Remember, this was the Seinfeld election people said over and over again on T.V. It was really about nothing. It turns out votes were motivated to vote. Turnout went up from about 37 and a half percent of eligible citizens to about 39 and a half percent, which is a pretty big -- I mean, it’s not huge a number, change, but it’s a pretty big change as these things go for an off-year election, which is an indication that people thought the election was about something and they came out to vote in greater numbers than they did in ’98 and at just about the same numbers as they did in ’94, which was another very big off-year election.

And basically what happened, and this is Michael Barone’s formulation, which I’m happy to steal and he can elaborate on it later, is that the country moved from being a 49/49 country or 50/50 country in terms of the partisan split in 2000. 2000 was the perfect tie election. Just absolutely down -- throughout the whole, at the presidential level, in the Senate, almost in the House, at the state legislative level, the country went from being 50/50 to about 53/47 Republican. If you look at the national House vote, the vote in all the House elections and add it up, it’s about 53 point -- I think 4 percent Republican. Forget minor parties and [indiscernible] about 46 and a half percent Democratic. If you look at the gubernatorial vote, the Senatorial vote, it’s about 52 and a half to 53 percent Republic in the two-party vote.

And this went [indiscernible]. State legislators, I mentioned, Republicans picked up almost 250 of them. They picked up -- there are still a couple that are in play, but I think eight or nine state legislative chambers. Republicans now have a majority of state legislators for the first time in 50 years and a majority of state legislative chambers as well.

So in that respect, it was a big election, 53/47 doesn’t sound like that much, but it’s a pretty big move given the way American politics works from 50/50.

And the key question -- and I’ll come back to this in a minute -- if it lays the groundwork for another move in 2004, then it’s a very big deal. Now, if it doesn’t, they, of course, it’s just an off-year election and it sort of evaporates. Historians think it’s just a kind of odd anomaly that, you know, we were attacked on 9/11. People like Bush. There’s a little boost for Republicans and then it evaporates.

So the big question, as after an off-year election, is what happens in the next election? I mean, we do have a chance here -- and Bush really has a chance, I think -- to build on this election and really change the deadlock that we’ve had in our politics since 1994 or 1996.

The turnout was up, as I mentioned. If you listen to people on T.V., they’ll say that Republicans turned out to vote at much greater numbers than Democrats, which is true. Bush clearly energized the Republican base in that last week. Incidentally, the election did move in the last week. This probably was going to be a traditional off-year election, ten days before the election.

Then the President took to the stump and it’s very clear from a couple of polls that the ballot moved in the last six or seven days in a Republican direction. It’s clear in state-by-state polling that that was the case. It was a huge victory for Bush personally. If you ask me what one word explains the results last Tuesday, I would say, George W. Bush. Well, I guess that’s not quite one word. That’s kind of a Bush-like formulation. But, I mean, he does deserve a huge amount of the credit and he took a big risk, incidentally.

Bush, in his way, is a cautious politician a lot of the time. On a lot of issues he lays back. He’s not terribly assertive sometimes. But, on some selected issues, he will really go out and take big gambles and big risks and put everything on the line. He’s very focused about what he picks the issues he wants to really -- or he picks the occasions he wants to really take a risk on. And this was one of them where he went out and campaigned in a way that we’ve never really seen before in an off-year election. Put his personal creditability on the line and was able to pull various Republicans across the finish -- cross the finish line. Not everyone, and Bush said publicly after the election, that, you know, elections depend on the candidates, not on him. He wasn’t on the ballot. He’s being a little modest there. But there’s also some truth to that. Campaigns do matter. Candidates do matter. We all know in different states where Republicans lost good opportunities and in other states, where Republicans won uphill races.

Bush apparently said -- I was told by someone who was at his cabinet meeting earlier this week on Wednesday -- that Bush, you know, I said this publicly that this really wasn’t due to me, it was due to the candidates. And everyone thought I was just being modest. But, it’s really true. Bush said, you should have seen some of those candidates out there. I couldn’t drag them across the finish line no matter what.

It’s worth remembering that campaigns matter and that candidates matter.

But one point -- Republican intensity was up. And if you look at Republican leading areas, the vote went up more. I was chatting about Missouri last night. The vote went [indiscernible] a lot compared to 1998, which is a Republic area. The vote in the City of St. Louis even in ‘98. Democratic vote did not go incidentally. Some of us on election night, Michael and I were there at FOX, looked at the percentage of the vote that was African-American, for example, and decided, well, gee, it was lower, clearly that it had been in 2000 or in ’98 and I remember saying on the air, it looked to me like African-African American turnout had gone down, that there wasn’t a, you know, the percentage was clearly down. But I misread it. It hadn’t gone down. Non African-American turnout -- white turnout -- Republican turnout especially, had gone way up. And, in fact, African-American turnout was pretty much where it was in ’98 and 2000.

So [indiscernible] Republican turnout went up. But the other thing that happened is that Bush also won Independents over to vote Republican. It’s not true that it’s been a Democratic disinformation, I would almost say, to say that, well, what Bush did was he energized the Republican base. And that works in an off-year election. But in a presidential election, all these Independents vote and it won’t work. Bush moved Independent voters in swing suburbs over to the Republican side. It’s very clear that that happened.

And so when you have two things going on at once, Republicans turn out disproportionately and Independents move Republican. And the reason they move Republican is because they like Bush, they admire Bush, they trusted his conduct on the war on terror. And when Bush said, look, help me out by sending so and so to the Senate or to the House to help me govern. People thought, okay. I mean, a few people on the margin, two, three, four percent, but that’s all it takes -- thought okay. If Bush says he needs this guy, it’s probably a pretty good idea.

So this was a huge personal victory for the President. It was a victory for him as Commander in Chief in a post 9/11 context. I really think one can’t emphasize that enough.

If you look at Bush’s [indiscernible] speech the last week, it was typically about -- I counted this up in my academic [indiscernible] way -- they typically had about 27 paragraphs if you look at the way it was reprinted in the Nexus. The first seven paragraphs or so, it was the usual introductory stuff about how happy he was to be in whatever stage he was in and all that. The first seven or so paragraphs, the first quarter of the speech was about the economy and domestic policy. The last 20 paragraphs, the last three-quarters of the speech was about security. Homeland security, and especially, national security and the war on terror.

So the President understood, I think, what the ground of his popularity was. I think he also believes that that’s by the far the most important issue as much as he wants to make the tax cuts permanent, as much as he prefers the Republican prescription drug plan to the Democratic plan and even as much as he wants to be able to appoint judge -- moderate and conservative judges to the bench, he does care about those things and having a Republican Congress will matter for those things. He understood that really what he has to do is win the war on terror and that he wanted help in doing that. And that was his message. And I think it worked. He believes it and it worked awfully well.

Homeland security, in particular, an issue that most of us in Washington couldn’t really believe was going to be a big deal out there because it was kind of a complicated esoteric debate about union rules and, you know, organizing this new department. It turned out to have a lot of residence out there. I think it elected [indiscernible] over Cleveland and Georgia in particular. Kind of a nice poetic justice where the Democrats kind of foolishly, really just as [indiscernible] he unions decide to fight this thing and they assumed they wouldn’t pay any price for it. And one of the rare instances, [indiscernible] say poetic justice it seems in politics they actually did pay a price, particularly I think in Georgia where [Champlos] [ph] just hammered Cleveland on this. And Bush went in and said, look, I need to have the ability to organize this department as effectively as possible. I need to fire people who aren’t doing a good job. And that was very effective down there.

Democrats helped also. It was partly a Republican victory and a Bush victory, it was also a Democratic defeat. If you look back at the campaign, there are a couple of moments that I think Democrats will say really hurt them. The first is when David Bonior and Jim McDermott went to Baghdad and said in Baghdad that they trusted Saddam Hussein to tell the truth more than they trusted the President of the United States.

I was worried at the time. We, of course, put it on our cover and went to cheerfully, you know, published 19 articles about the bad guy Democrats. But, I was worried at the time that the issue hadn’t really taken off. And I thought Republicans hadn’t done as much to make a big deal of it as they could have.

But, I think I was wrong. And I talked later to Howard Wilson, a very bright Democrat who ran the Democratic congressional committee, who said that when Bonior and McDermott showed up on T.V., I think it was that Sunday, I remember, from Baghdad and there was about 48, 72 hours of huge amount of press about it and they came back and they had another press conference, that the Democratic congressional candidates polls collapsed. That they were really in trouble. That people decided if this is what the Democrats are about, we don’t want to have any part of it.

And Wilson believes, and I think he’s right, that Gebhardt saved the Democrats from a much worse defeat by going the Rose Garden, supporting Bush. The next week, remember, was the Iraq authorization, the authorization for the use of force against Iraq. And Gebhardt went to the Rose Garden and supported the President. And even though he couldn’t actually take a majority of the Democrats in the House with him on the actual vote, from the voter’s point of view, the Democratic leaders were with Bush. It was hard to say that the Democrats weren’t really supporting the war on terror on Iraq. I think Gebhardt saved his party there from a much worse defeat. And, of course, the thanks he’s gotten. No good deed goes unpunished in politics, I would say. The whole party has now turned on Gebhardt and replaced him with Matthew [Palosi] [ph], I think a dubious judgment on their part, but we’ll see.

The second thing that happened I think during the actual campaign, and this I think the -- this certainly election [Colbin] [ph] in Minnesota and probably had an effect beyond was the Wellstone memorial service turned pep rally, which got -- in Minnesota, Senator Wellstone died in a plane crash on Friday, as you will recall. That Sunday night, both Republican and Democratic polls and, I think, the public polls as well, had Mondale, who it was clear, was going to be the Democratic nominee to replace Wellstone, had Mondale up eight or nine points over Coleman. And most of the people assumed, I kind of assumed too, that Mondale would probably win.

The funeral service was Tuesday night. They went to the field -- the pollsters went to the field from both parties Wednesday night and the race was dead even. So, 8 percent of Minnesotans switched overnight when they watched that service. Fifty-five percent of Minnesota voters watched the entire service. It was on every channel -- every network T.V. channel live in Minnesota. It had a huge effect. It allowed Coleman to resume campaigning the next day so they couldn’t very well say that it was inappropriate to campaign after this. And Coleman did well in the debate with Mondale. Mondale stupidly, I think, decided to sound like a real leftwing. Democrat attacked Coleman as some kind of super rightwing, even though Coleman had been a Democrat until 1996, I think, and had supported Clinton for re-election. That didn’t work too well and Coleman beat Mondale.

But there’s some polling that suggests that the Wellstone memorial service had an effect beyond Minnesota actually, and that it got a lot of press coverage and that people really thought it was creepy. I mean, it is creepy incidentally. I think it’s very -- I mean, I’m happy as a Republican that it hurt them -- but, it was a depressing window really into the modern Democratic party because it was such a Stalinist sort of thing. I mean, you know, the attitude really was, well, people come and go. Individuals die, but the party is what’s important. And the cause must go on. And we’ll just use this occasion of an individual’s death and his daughter’s death to, you know, to boost the fortunes of the party, which is literally, I mean, it’s not just -- I don’t use Stalin just metamorphically -- it is literally what Stalinist funeral services were like in the Soviet Union in the ‘30s. You know, the party is what matters most.

And I do think Americans were -- just found this really creepy and really un-American in a very deep way actually. Because if America stands for anything, it’s for the opposite proposition. And I think that was a window that would help explain -- or an event that would explain why the Democrats favorability rating dropped ten points in the last week of the campaign and subsequently as well.

The Democrats don’t seem to [indiscernible] for Republicans as the Democrats don’t seem to learn much from this. They’ve chosen to have the convention in 2004 in Boston, which doesn’t matter that much truthfully. I mean, these conventions can be -- the Democrats very cleverfully put the 1998 convention in Atlanta to show they were reaching out to the South. And, of course, they got clobbered in the South in 1988 and then they put the 1992 convention in New York and Clinton did fine. So, I would over trump at this, but it is striking to me that if any year, you’d think the Democrats might want to have the convention in New York City after what happened on September 11th, to go to Boston is just odd. And I think it opens up a huge opportunity for the Republicans, which is to go to New York. And if you have Bush and Giuliani there in Madison Square Garden and they go visit, of course, Ground Zero and all this. I mean, the firefighters and I mean I just think it’s a huge -- it’s give the Republicans a very easy and legitimate opportunity to highlight the President’s role in post 9/11 and highlight Giuliana and helps Republicans politically.

So the good news for Republicans is Democrats at least as of now, I think, have not learned from much from this election.

One other point about the election, what’s striking if you look at some of the other results, I think, is a certain kind of moral seriousness among the voters. I mean, if Frank Cannon makes this point in the current issue of Weekly Standard, that if you look at some of the referenda and initiatives, if you look at the tone of some of the campaigns, it was very different from the ‘90s, I would say. And the willingness to take national security issues seriously. Certain movement away from a drug legalization. I’m sure there are some Libertarians here who are for that, but that drug legalization or decriminalization had been winning like 17 of 19 initiatives in referenda throughout the ‘90s. It lost everywhere it was on the ballot this time. There’s a certain sense of, you know, let’s not be quite so cavalier about these moral and cultural issues anymore.

So I think it was a very interesting election. But, just come to the point about ’04, it will only end up being a really important election if its results are confirmed and built upon in 2004. So I think the main point about ’02 is that it sets up a possibly very big election in ’04.

The story of the last 25 years for Republicans and Conservations politically in a sense, has been that they can do well in individual elections. They’ve had individual breakthrough elections. Reagan in ’80, beating an incumbent Democratic President. Reagan in ’84, getting himself re-elected in a huge margin. Of course, the ’94 congressional election.

But, the other story is from the failure to put two of these together back-to-back so that Reagan’s ’80 victory through no fault of his own, it was followed a recession, and Republicans lost seats in ’82 in the House. The ’84 victory was followed by the loss of the Senate in ‘86. The ’94 victory, which some of us at the time thought really could be a realigning election and was followed by Gingrich’s overreaching and various other mistakes and Clinton’s very effective counter punching and Clinton getting himself re-elected in ’96, which at least stalled Republican momentum.

The question I think now is can the victory of 2002 be followed by a bigger victory in 2004? There’s some pretty good signs. If you look at the House races that were won with less than 55 percent of the vote. That is, people who will now be House incumbents and presumably are vulnerable because they’re actually competitor districts that didn’t do that well this past election. More of them are Democrats than Republicans. So there are more vulnerable Democratic seats in the House despite the Republic majority of the House, there are more -- it seems like there are more vulnerable Democratic seats than there are vulnerable Republican seats. There are more Democrats up for re-election than there are Republicans.

So you could -- I’d say the conditions are there for a very good election in 2004 and a popular president running for re-election. It means that a huge amount demands then on the President. A huge amount depends on how he does as the President, obviously. And the most important thing, obviously, is winning the war. Getting the economy rolling again would be nice.

But, I do think this election showed a certain maturity about the economy among the voters too. They actually had some doubts that government policy can turn things on a dime. And sometimes even that it can make that much difference, it can probably hurt the economy badly. It’s not clear that you could resuscitate it immediately, not after you’ve gone through the kind of bursting of the market bubble we did. And voters did not blame Bush or Republicans particularly for the economy. Now, it’s still not -- if it’s still sputtering along in 2004, that would certainly be another story.

But the President’s going to, I think on that, pretty much stay the course. Make the tax cuts permanent, move some of them up and hope and assume, I think, that the American economy remains strong and that with a little jolt from tax policy, it could move ahead.

I think the President will appoint sensible judges. I think he’ll win the fight on judges because most Americans are not going to believe that Bush judges are a bunch of wild-eyed extremists. And they’re not. They’re quite distinguished appointments actually and I think he would welcome fights on that from the Democratic Congress.

I think on a lot of other issues, the agenda’s already there. Welfare reform, reauthorization, the [indiscernible] based initiative. There are a lot of policy areas where things were tied up at the national Senate at which the President can now move through in Congress.

So I think most of that stuff’s going to happen. I think he’ll do fine. I don’t think it’s going to be wildly dramatic except maybe judges, especially if there’s a Supreme Court vacancy in the summer of 2003, that will be a big fight.

But, the real issue is the war, I think, and maybe this just my biased, but I think it is the most important issue. It is the fundamental way Bush is going to be judged. And do we feel that he -- not that he’s made us perfectly safe [indiscernible] the world perfectly by November 2004, which is going to happen. But, are we on a course towards making ourselves safer and making the world safer and dealing with these problems that were allowed to fester and to grow and which we irresponsibly turned away from for the last ten plus years.

So I think the war is the fundamental challenge for the President. And I’ll say a word about it a minute, but with Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton and others, you don’t need me to go to into great length about it.

Just one more political question, I mean, in terms of the 2004, who’s going to run. Democrats, it looks like -- I guess, the big question is whether Gore runs or not. And I don’t know who wins that nomination really. I can’t believe Gore -- I can’t believe Gore actually wins the nomination, I guess, but I guess it can happen.

The think the [indiscernible] question on the Republican side is does Bush as Cheney to step aside or not. Now, I like Dick Cheney a lot and I think he’s been an extremely good Vice President for Bush. There will be a strong temptation -- and Bush said he wants Cheney on the ticket and Cheney has said he wants to be on the ticket. But, of course, frankly, they would say that now whatever their plans were.

And I wonder whether the President won’t think that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have someone on the ticket who could take over, who could run in 2008 to really extend the policies and the governing that he’s laid the groundwork for. And if that were to happen, it would be a dramatic moment. It’s pretty rare that an incumbent president gets to pick a new vice president, so to speak, in 2004. He could keep Cheney in the administration as a counselor or Secretary of State or anything.

My personal favorite scenario here is that Bush picks Condi Rice as his vice presidential nominee, which I think would shake up American politics a little bit. And she’s awfully good. She’s never run for office. When you saw this in Washington, immediately people scoff at you and say she’s never run for office before. But the truth is, she has much more experience dealing with press pressure in the national media than most people who have run for office and I think she’d be pretty good at it.

It would be very good to announce this, in my view, a few weeks before the Democratic convention so the Democratic party could have a collective heart attack about the fact that the Republicans have a Black woman on the ticket. Then there’d be huge amount of pressure -- I do really think this is true -- there’s be huge pressure within the Democratic party to put a woman on the ticket. I mean, how can they let the Republicans have the first -- they put a woman on the ticket on the 20 years ago. They haven’t done it since. A bunch of white males running for President except for Al Sharp, for whom we should certainly encourage to continue his fine campaign.

But, you know, you could have this huge uproar in the Democratic party for a few weeks before their convention in July or so when they have big pressure to put a woman on the ticket. And, of course, we all know who the most -- by the far most famous Democratic elected -- female Democratic elected official is -- that’s Hillary Clinton, in case you’ve forgotten about her. So then she’d have to decide whether she wants to be the vice presidential nominee or whether she wants to let another woman sort of step ahead of her. That would be a fun fight.

So that’s my personal favorite scenario for 2004. Unfortunately, life never works out quite the way one wants, so I suspect it works -- and the best thing about that is then you can 2008 Condi Rice/Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, which really would be a mind boggling moment in American politics.

Anyway, back to reality for a minute. Let me just say a word about the war and others will discuss this, obviously, in the next two days. I’m essentially just for the sake of intellectual clarity. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t really one war, it’s three related wars, is the way I would put, all of which need to be fought, and won. All of which are challenging. All of which I think the President has done a very good job on. But, there are many, many challenges ahead.

We call it the War on Terror, but there is a war on terror, I mean, which is really the war against al Qaeda and other related terror groups. That’s a serious war. I think we’ve done -- it’s been helpful to deprive them of their state sponsor, Afghanistan. But they have other state sponsors and they’ve been able to reconstitute themselves to come degree and people are very alarmed now about the terror threat. And I would say based on my conversations with people in government, who are serious, that they are really alarmed that something very bad could happen over the next few weeks or months. And obviously, we hope it doesn’t. And I think actually Bush and Ashcroft have done more to disrupt this than people realize. And they probably deserve some credit for the fact that surprisingly little has happened in a sense in the year plus since September 11. But, in a way, one hesitates even to say that because you figure that when you say that then tomorrow something horrible will happen.

But, there is a serious war on terror. It’s going to require lots of activity all over the world, lots of activity here at home. But, I think, actually is the easiest of the three wars, in a sense, to win by itself. I mean, a lot of people could get killed in the various terrorists acts, but at the end of the day, we can beat terrorist groups and we can even bludgeon nations that are supporting them and harboring them I think to really cut back on that.

The more serious war, I would say, and the war or the threat that makes the terrorist threat so friendly is dictators developing weapons of mass destruction. And I think the President was absolutely right in the months right after September 11th to expand his understand, in a sense, of the war we’re engaged in from terror, per se, to dictators developing weapons of mass destruction. That’s what, A, it’s the possibility of handing those weapons off to terrorist groups that really is scary and terrifying. And B, these dictators are very worrisome in their own right and one of the great failures of the ‘90s was to basically let this all develop. Kick the can down the road. Hope that these nations will become nicer if we traded a little bit with them or if the Europeans had a lot of dealings with them. It turns to have failed everywhere. It failed with Iraq. It failed with North Korea. We probably made a big mistake being so nice to Pakistan even the ‘90s and in effect, allow -- turning a blink eye to their weapons development programs.

One footnote on this incidentally. When Bush used the phrase "access of evil" in the State of the Union on January 29th, it was much derided and much mocked. But, it turns out, it was actually quite an accurate phrase. I mean, there is genuinely an access among these nations and Pakistan could not have become a nuclear nation without help from North Korea. And North Korea couldn’t have become a help without [indiscernible] without helping Pakistan. And the Saudis paid for the Pakistani program in large measure. And Iraq and Iran traded various components -- not with each other -- but with Pakistan and North Korea. China’s been a bad player in this process too. There really are seven or eight nations which turn out to have colluded and helped each other in developing these weapons, which gives you a sense of the problem we face. And the President’s absolutely right. You can’t after all of them at once, so it makes a lot of sense to perhaps wait a little bit on North Korea while we take care of Iraq and we don’t to deal with all of them militarily [indiscernible]. But, you don’t really want to live in a world in which nations or regimes like those are cheerfully developing weapons of mass destruction, helping each other acquire the necessary components and technology, et cetera.

In one case, I think the President really needs to make a little more than he has, is to tell the American people that as we go into Iraq and as we deal with some of these other threats, what the world would like if we let these dictators get away with this. I mean, what the world would like 10 or 20 years from now if the lesson that has gone out to every dictator, to ever rogue state regime in the world is that you can get away with developing weapons of mass destruction and, indeed you’re safer if you develop them. Because look what happened to the Taliban. They didn’t have anything. We went in and moved them. But if Saddam, if we don’t go into Iraq, if we were not to go into Iraq -- I think we will. But, if we were not to Iraq, the lesson would be that, well, we didn’t go in because we were worried about Saddam using his weapons. And if we don’t do anything in North Korea, and this is pretty explicit, the lesson will be as well, gee, you can’t doing about North Korea because they have already nuclear weapons.

Well, that becomes the lesson of the last 10 or 15 years. I mean, what does every dictator go. What lesson will every other dictator learn? And what lesson will our allies learn, incidentally? You know, the South Koreans, for now, are appeasing North Korea. But, they won’t do that forever. Certainly, Japan, for example, at some point is going to look if they lose confidence in the U.S. security guarantee, if they lose confidence in America’s ability to police the world, if I can use an unfashionable phrase, or at least prevent these kinds of things from happening. Japan’s not going to sit there and decide, well, it’s find for India, Pakistan, North Korea, China to have nuclear weapons. But, we’re only Japan. We’re not going to have them. They’re going to get them. Taiwan’s going to get them and you’re going to have a world -- inside the Middle East for a minute -- but, you’re going to have a world in Asia and East Asia and the Middle East, conceivably elsewhere that’s just extremely scary. I mean, India, Pakistan will just be the tip of the iceberg.

And I think the President can make the case that the only way to avoid that kind of world is the U.S. leadership, including U.S. preventive pre-emptive action. And, if that’s really what’s at stake, that’s really what’s at stake in dealing with dictators -- there you go -- dealing with dictators, developing weapons of mass destruction.

And the third war -- so there’s war on terrorism. There’s war on dictators developing weapons of mass destruction, which is connected since obviously one of the big threats is that the dictators give some of these weapons to terror groups, which means it’s hard to know where they’re coming from and hard to retaliate and hard to deter them. And incidentally, that’s not theoretical question. Where did the anthrax come from? We still don’t know. So people who say, well, that’s ridiculous. Of course, we’ll always know what the source of these biological attacks is. It’s obviously not true. We don’t know. I mean, I myself think there’s much higher likelihood than the FBI apparently does that Iraq was behind the anthrax. Maybe we’ll know one of these days, but we sure don’t know right now.

But, the third war in addition to terror and weapons of mass of destruction is -- Danny Pipe’s going to discuss this later -- but, I’d say is the threat of radical Islam, which, of course, nobody really wants to talk about and the President [indiscernible] correctly doesn’t want to talk about. What makes both, I mean, the part of the world where most of this terror and part of the world where the greatest threat of dictators with weapons of mass destruction is coming from, is the Middle East. And what’s happened in the Middle East is for various complicated historical reasons, we’ve allowed a kind of radical Islam to flourish and to be exported. That is deeply hostile to America, obviously, and is very dangerous to America and we can’t snap our fingers and reverse this process.

I think the President, like I saw it was a genuine achievement of the President just to come to this view because it’s really a pretty bold break with American foreign policy that the task really is to change the Middle East over the next 5, 10, 20 years. You can’t let it go the way it’s been going. That the delusions of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the delusions that we can work with these dictators in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. They can keep things under control. Those really were delusions of the ‘90s and of earlier too, bipartisan delusions in some ways.

Now, we can’t just as I say, snap our fingers and transform the Middle East, God knows, and it’s a huge task. But, basically, I think the President looked at the Middle East and thought, can we let it go the way it’s been going. Can we just step aside and say we can’t do anything about it and we can’t stop it from becoming increasingly a hotbed of anti-Americanism and extremism and support for terrorism and support for dictators developing weapons of mass destruction. What does that do to the world over the next 5, 10, 20 years.

And if you decide that you can’t really tolerate that, then you do have to rethink all your policies. And I think the Administration’s gradually rethinking its policy. I would say they haven’t really wanted to rethink Saudi Arabia, that’s a little too hard and maybe they’re right to put that off a bit. But, they’re going to have to gradually -- but, they have rethought policy [indiscernible] Israel, or at least some of the Administration has, the State Department hasn’t, but the Whitehouse seems to have rethought that some.

And I think what’s going to happen over the next few years is a gradual rethinking of policies throughout that area and a real attempt to come to grips with a threat in that area and a real attempt to help those who seem committed to some kind of democracy and [indiscernible] and tolerance in the Middle East especially. And that will require, I think, confrontation with the current Saudi regime at some point.

Anyway, without getting into that in detail, it does give one a sense of how big a task the President has in fighting this three-fold war. War on terror. War against weapons of mass destruction. And a war -- or at least a confrontation with radical Islam all at once. And, you know, this is a really big historic task for, not just for President Bush, but for America. I think it is the fundamental task we now face. We either will have a world that’s safer and friendly and with reduced threats of terror or weapons of mass destruction, or we’ll have the opposite.

One last point. I mean, a lot depends, if you look at history, I think, in these kinds of circumstances, a lot depends on the person at the top. Truman faced a similar challenge in the late ‘40s. Like Bush, he hadn’t been elected to deal with this challenge. If you go back and look at the 2000 campaign, if you look about what you all discussed, I’m sure, last Labor Day and two years ago before the election in 2000, or even last Labor Day before 9/11, I mean, no one was really focused on these issues. If you look at the 2000 campaign, terrorism barely came up.

The USS Cole was attacked in Yemen, I think, October 12, 2000. We put it on the cover actually, the picture of the Cole with the hole in the hulk. I think 17 Americans were killed and we said -- and our cover line was "The U.S. at War." We had a long piece by [Royal Garrett] [ph] trying to explain why this was significant.

But, we did more than most people. But, even we sort of dropped it after a while. But, it didn’t feature in the campaign at all. Bush and Gore discussed it for two days. It disappeared. The Clinton Administration did nothing. The Bush Administration, to be fair, didn’t do much when they came in either. And the lesson that everyone took from the ’98 bombing of the embassies and the 2000 bombing of the Cole was that terror was not going to be punished. I think historians looking back at that will be startled, but that was the mood of the late ‘90s and of 2000.

We are now in a new era. And as I say, and I think Bush really grasps that, as Truman came to grasp the challenge he faced, for which he hadn’t really prepared much and which hadn’t been discussed certainly in the 1944 campaign or even ’45, ’46 as Truman grasped his challenge at the beginning of the Cold War.

A lot depends on the ability, on the character of the person at the top in these circumstances. The rest of the government can help, but it really is up to Bush, I think. And we saw in a way how important he personally is in this recent election. I think that will continue to be the case over the last two years. I wasn’t a big Bush supporter in particularly in the Republican primaries. Obviously, I voted for [indiscernible]. But, I think I was wrong like many other people.

Bush said just before the election, I remember, education was his top priority -- was going to be his top priority as President. And Bush would go around urging Americans to raise education reform. And I remember just a few days before the election, he said, that he felt it was very important that each American parent ask himself or herself the following question. "Is our children learning?" And everyone ridiculed Bush, you know, the way the media like to do.

And so I think that same evening, that was a lunch talk, I think. That same evening, the President said that he, you know, he made some joke about his grammar or his diction. And then said something about how he thought, however, that he had benefited throughout his political career from the fact that his political opponents had often mis-underestimated him. And I think the good news is that I think a lot of us, me included, certainly mis-underestimated George W. Bush, and I think maybe the terrorists and dictators who have decided to take him on have mis-underestimated him as well. Thank you.

David Horowitz: We have a standing mike for questions and we have about ten minutes for questions. If you just raise your hand and Bill will acknowledge you.

Question: {indiscernible]

Bill Kristol: Could you hear the question? Was 9/11 sort of a device of the apparent rise of third parties in the ‘90s? That’s an interesting hypothesis. There’s a way in which the rise of third parties probably was -- it’s easier to vote for Ross Perot if you’re not taking the election entirely seriously. And it’s probably -- with all due respect to Ross Perot, I mean, one of the things that if you ever want to scare yourself about America a little bit is that 19 million Americans voted for a lunatic for President in 1992. Presumably, it was a protest vote and they knew that. But, and I always get a little worried about that, you know. One of five Americans voted for Perot in ’92.

But, throughout the ‘90s, there was a lot of sentiment for third parties. Ventura in ’98. Minnesota was taken at the time to be a very big deal, as you remember. There was talk about a Powell Independent candidacy in ’96. McCain Independent candidacy in 2000. And some polling suggested, at least, for whatever that’s worth, that there could have been support for that. It could be that after 9/11, we have much -- people have gotten more sort of serious. It could also be that we -- the third party stuff was never really going to take off. And you need a distinctive agenda for a third party and just being an attractive personality like Powell or McCain, who sort of could appeal to some people in both parties, just isn’t enough to really sustain anything.

But, we had -- 2000 was a pretty traditional election. Nadar and Buchanan collapsed basically. And, of course, the [indiscernible] Gore and Bush.

And then 2002 was an even more traditional election. I think the Independent -- there were two states had had Independent governors. No one now will have an Independent governor. There are really no Independents. Bernie Sanders is now only an Independent, I guess, in the House. And Jeffers is [indiscernible] only an Independent in the Senate, but really, they’re just Democrats. So I think there are no authentic Independents really in the Senate and the House than any governship and it may be that we’re in for a more traditional two-party politics over the next several years.

Question: [indiscernible]

Bob Kristol: Yeah, the question was [indiscernible] something contributed to the sort of, I guess, to the image of the Democrats of the Torricelli withdraw. I don’t know, it might have. Certainly, people like me were upset about it. I don’t know that there’s much evidence that the rest of the country -- well, first of all. Of course, the New Jersey, [indiscernible] number one. So people like us were upset. I guess the citizens of that fine state. Rich [Shumbler] [ph] can defend his state. New Jersey seemed to think it was just fine to have Ladenburg come back and serve them again after they pulled Torricelli was going to lose, I found myself in one of these typical situations.

I had agreed months before -- months ago -- to speak the Sunday night before the election at my cousins’ synagogue in northern New Jersey. I had to in New York anyway for the FOX News coverage. And so I just, you know, drove up to 40 minutes [indiscernible] to New Jersey to speak. And it was perfectly pleasant. It was obviously in favor of my cousin. When I got there, I discovered -- and I was planning to make some jokes about the Torricelli withdraw and how it was really great that they got a fresh face in Frank Ladenburg. And when I got there, I discovered that it was Frank Ladenburg synagogue. And they were all really good friends of his and, you know. Sort of cramped my style, I would say.

I don’t know if that really made that much of a difference nationally or not. I think there’s much less evidence that voters in other states were thinking much about New Jersey. Whereas, the Wellstone thing so weird, well, it was much closer to election day, of course, but it was so weird the funeral service, but I think people really were a little startled by it.

And again, remember it wasn’t just Wellstone. The photos that went out on T.V. and the newspapers were of Mondale, who’s a national figure obviously, and then of Clinton. Right. I think the photo of that service was Mondale and Clinton yucking it up. Or to be fair to Mondale, Clinton yucking it up and sort of clapping Mondale on the back at what was supposed to be a solemn memorial service for Senator Wellstone. So I think that had more national effect.

Clinton seems not to have helped the Democrats, I would say, in 2002. Most states he went into, they didn’t do very well, which is interesting. Which, again, I think is part of a post 9/11 thing. There’s a certain way in which you just -- people, whatever tolerance there was for Clinton before and whatever even loyalty there was to him among Democrats, that seems to have -- it looks different, I’d say, post 9/11. You know, the whole notion that this was such a wonderful administration with peace and prosperity. There was some of that, but it was also an administration on who’s watch a huge amount of stuff happened that they don’t have to pay a price for. It was taken seriously. Whether it was Saddam developing weapons or Osama launching terror attacks and Bush -- we’re now paying the price for a decade of neglect. I think that really [indiscernible] people’s notion of what the Clinton Administration was about has really changed post 9/11.

Question: [indiscernible]

Bill Kristol: Yeah, I don’t. [indiscernible] I think the same things most people have and there is this bizarre coincidence, if it is a coincidence, of -- and now I can’t remember exactly what -- Terry Nichols, is it a sister-in-law in the Philippines being in the same rooming house as one of the al Qaeda operatives who was involved in that plot to blow up all those jets from the Philippines. I mean, on the one hand, one -- I don’t know. I am [indiscernible] having been a government, a lot of things are just accident and a lot of bad people around the world are -- and a lot of crazy people like McVey are just, want to kill people and [indiscernible] connected.

On the other hand, [indiscernible] probably has is that the CIA and the FBI have been so invested over the last decade in denying any connection between anyone and anyone basically for various complicated institutional bureaucratic reasons, that you then -- you can’t really trust them when they say there’s no connection. I don’t mean to sound like [indiscernible] too much of a conspiratorial as most people in the CIA and the FBI are doing their job as well as they can.

But institutionally, they have a huge stake in [indiscernible] connections. That, of course, went to flip to the other extreme and start sort of assuming that everything’s connected to everything. And that’s, of course, not true either. So it’s very hard to judge, I think, from outside. And I would say talking to people in government that they find it very hard to judge exactly what the connections are as well. There is no question that Iraq has been a state sponsor of terror. It’s been on the Clinton state department sponsor of terror list. And they clearly have connections with al Qaeda. Whether they had connections on 9/11 or whether they had connections -- or al Qaeda had connections with Oklahoma City is a tougher call I would say.

Question: [indiscernible].

Bill Kristol: I’ll tell Dick Cheney that you’re on board.

Question: [indiscernible]

Bill Kristol: That’s okay. It’s a tactical question and I don’t have a strong view on this. I could -- Carl [Weld] [ph] will figure this one out. He’s got at these tactical considerations it turns out.

Question: [indiscernible]

Bill Kristol: That’s a very interesting question. You know, Rudy Giuliani on September 10, 2001, looked like he had very little political future. He seemed to have ruined his -- not ruined, but he had damaged his standing as really a genuinely successful mayor of New York even because of his personal life and people still tired of him and hadn’t been pulled out of the race, obviously, against Mrs. Clinton. And then everything changed. It’s a very good lessons about how much things can change overnight.

I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. The question is, he has to run -- he’d have to run for something -- I don’t think he can go right to a national ticket. He can go into the Cabinet, I suppose. He’d be a pretty good homeland security director, for example, if Bush -- but I don’t know if he’d want to do that. That would be worth exploring for the President. Because my own view is, I’m still worried about the homeland security side of things. If you ask me what the greatest vulnerability of the Bush Administration is, it’s that I think -- even though they’ve done a pretty -- [indiscernible] pretty good job, I think, and they’re trying to disrupt things. You don’t really look at that whole complex, all of us who flew down here and went through the wonderful transportation -- security administration searches at the airport. Well, it doesn’t really have a sense that they’re quite as serious about the homeland security stuff as they should be. And with all due respect to Tom Ridge, I’m not sure he’s the person to really shake that bureaucracy up and someone like Rudy doing that would really be, I think, a service to the country and interesting point. But, I’m not sure he’d do it. Maybe the Administration would have their doubts.

I guess the other things Rudy could do are to run -- he could run for another office between here and national office. He could certainly run in 2006 for governor of New York, for example. And if he won that and proved that he was electorally strong statewide, not just in New York City, that would be a very strong position for him to run for. And or he could run against Hillary Clinton in 2006 for senator. That would be a pretty interesting race. But, I just don’t know.

But, I am struck. I guess, I’ve talked to people from around the country a little bit about this. Giuliani really is a superstar, obviously, in a way that’s -- and it seems to have stuck longer than one might have expected. I mean, generally speaking, my take on 9/11 -- I had a conversation with Bill Bennett the afternoon of 9/11. We were both at our offices in our Washington. We had come early, so we had come before the plane had hit the Pentagon -- well, before the planes had hit the World Trade Center or had hit the Pentagon. So we were all just sitting around the office and just watching T.V. like everyone else basically. In our case, we were just a few blocks from the Whitehouse and about two or three Whitehouse employees [indiscernible] speech writing, had been at the Weekly Standard. And when they evacuated the Whitehouse, they came to the closest place they could come to that had phones and computers, which was our office. So we had the, a little chunk of the Whitehouse speech writing office at the Weekly Standard. But, otherwise, we were just watching. We were leaving them alone. And so we were just watching T.V. like everyone else.

But in any case, I talked to Bill that afternoon and Bennett’s so smart about this kind of stuff. And I remember this conversation well and I saw to him. This is obviously a very big deal. But, I said, is it really, really a big deal. I mean, will it fade the way so many things do. You know, most things in life, most things in politics. They’re really big the day they happen and they’re still pretty big a week or two later, and then a month later, they begin to fade and six months later, it’s just another historical event.

And Bill said, that’s true of 999 out of 1,000 events in political life and in one’s personal life, too. Everything seems a crisis and then, of course, six months later you can’t quite remember why you were so upset about everything.

But, there are so rare events in the nation’s political life or in an individual’s personal life that get even bigger over time where you look back and you realize this was really a turning point. You look back and you realize that it had more significance than even you thought on the day that it happened. And you thought then that it had quite a lot of significance. And Bill said, 9/11 will be that kind of event. It will be bigger a year from now than it is even on this day.

And I think that’s really true. And I think that’s connected to the fact that Giuliani’s star hasn’t faded as much as one might have expected in a sense, you know, one has the sense that people still think that what he did in those days and weeks after 9/11 was a deeply significant to have done.

So, normally one would say Giuliani’s out of sync with the Republican party and all kinds of issues and he’s had this checkered personal life and he’s unlikely to be viable at a national level. But, I’m less likely to say that just because 9/11 was such a big moment. And he’s identified with it really more -- apart from the President, I guess -- more than anyone else. One or two more. Yes, sir.

Question: I was just thinking that this morning I see [indiscernible]. It seems as though the Republicans the commentators have really the Clinton Administration [indiscernible]. If you go back and analyze the foreign policy failure over that term [indiscernible] 50 to 70,000 terrorists have trained in Afghanistan [indiscernible] without telling us. The North Korean. I mean, all of these are terrible policy failures. And yet, they kind of get brushed aside. And Clinton goes about his merry way. At some point in time, we need to hold him responsible for what happened. We’re not doing it.

Bill Kristol: Yeah, I mean, I agree and we should do more of that and I think there’s some more of that happening and some books that are written and articles. I mean, I would say the only thing that one can say that politically, I think, one reason that Clinton is not being held as responsible as he should be for the failures on his watch is, to be fair about this and to be bipartisan, it’s not as if that many Republicans were necessarily criticizing him at the time or calling for more to be done.

Now, that doesn’t excuse Clinton. He was the President. The Republicans are just sitting around the House and Senate. They didn’t know what Clinton knew. And some Republicans were critical of Clinton [indiscernible]. We were on Iraq. And we called for war against Saddam and at the end of ’97 and early ’98, when he did get the inspectors out, certainly on North Korea, a lot of Republicans, including some [indiscernible] Administration now. McCain, I remember were very critical of the ’94 deal with North Korea. And there was a sense that he was being weak in responding to Osama.

On the other hand, there was a certain strain of Republicans [indiscernible] that was a little bit isolationist, a little bit, you know, we don’t need to get involved in all these places. And I think that hurt the Republican ability to frame a real clear alternative to Clinton. And to be fair, it’s not as if Bush spent a lot of the 2000 campaign saying [indiscernible] people like me criticized him incidentally at the time for this. He didn’t say we need a huge increase in our defense budget. In fact, he was for a smaller increase than Gore. He didn’t say that, you know, terrorism is one of my top priorities as a president. He didn’t even say Saddam it necessarily going to be my top priority or North Korea.

And Bush’s instincts were pretty good always on this. He was tough Iraq. He instinctly knew the North Korea deal was bad. [indiscernible] 9/11, he let Powell talk him out of confronting North Korea. And pre 9/11, the Bush Administration policy on Iraq was to go to [indiscernible], which is actually retreat sort of from even from Clinton’s policy.

So, Bush’s instincts personally seem to be have been pretty good. I think the Republican establishment was not willing to take on the Clinton legacy. It’s not, I mean, there’s no point in being critical of this. Who knew, you know, and 9/11 changed everything. And I do think it is appropriate to hold Clinton responsible. He was President. But, I think one reason there’s been a little bit of hesitancy amongst Republicans who were in elected office at the time is they have statements that could be thrown back at them too. They were exactly calling, as I say, for more aggressive U.S. foreign abroad -- a lot of them.

But, Clinton is responsible. And historians, well, I don’t think you can cover up something of this magnitude. I mean, historians will hold him responsible and the whole notion -- when he left office, it seemed like he would leave with a great personal cloud over him ranging from impeachment and the corruption of the law in that case to the final departing, you know, pardons. But, it did look as if he would leave with this legacy of peace and prosperity. And I do think one of the startling things that’s happened in the last two years is the prosperity looks less solidly grounded than it did in January of 2001 and the peace really looks as if it was purchased at a very big price. And I think that’s -- and I think that implicitly, I would say that’s helping Bush. And I think, incidentally -- you didn’t suggest this, but I think Bush is very smart not to make this point himself. I mean, Bush doesn’t need to engage in partisan incrimination. That’s one reason he’s been effective, I think, is that he seems to be above a lot of that. He’s just doing his job. Let other people, like David Horowitz, engage in partisan incriminations. And I think he’s going -- and don’t worry, he’s going to, so it’s a very [indiscernible] division of labor, I think, on the conservative side.

Well, thank you very much.




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