Skip to comments.Election Outlook 04 - Fred Barnes and Paul Begala debate
Posted on 09/17/2004 6:40:55 AM PDT by Jeff Blogworthy
Thursday, September 17, 2004
On September 15, 2004 at 7:30 p.m., I had the privilege of attending a debate between Fred Barnes and Paul Begala. The debate, hosted by the University of Tennessee Issues Committee, took place in the University Center Auditorium.
First, let me recount what was not present: I detected no protests, signs or hecklers and only very limited booing. There was no open hostility and everyone seemed to be in a lighthearted mood. The auditorium was abuzz before the speakers walked in, not with earnest political debate, but with idle chatter.
I arrived about 30 minutes early to acquire a decent seat, and it is a good thing I did. Hundreds streamed in to the auditorium, filling it to capacity. The overflow crowd was directed to another room to watch the debate via remote video.
As the MC introduced Paul Begala he was met with relative silence while Fred Barnes was met with enthusiastic applause mixed with cheers. I first thought Begala might be getting a cold reception but that theory was disproved later in the debate when he also received enthusiastic cheering. I think the crowd was briefly caught off guard by the initial introduction. I eventually concluded the crowd was about evenly split between Bush and Kerry, with maybe just a few more Bush supporters.
Fred Barnes won the coin toss, so he spoke first. He started with a few jokes. In a one-liner, he quoted John Kerry as saying, "You can only fool some of the people, some of the time and I'm going to concentrate on those people."
Mr. Barnes said that America is not as polarized as some would have us believe. He said that the bitter arguments between the elites seen on television are not reflective of reality and that, "America is not polarized but evenly divided."
Mr. Barnes gave three reasons that America should reelect President Bush.
First, we are winning the war on terror and Iraq is part of that war. President Bush is in favor of preemption. Saddam Hussein killed one to two million of his own people and his removal was essential. Mr. Barnes continued, saying even those who objected to the war are now helping.
Mr. Barnes said that after 9/11 the world liked us for a while, because we were weak. He stated that the world likes to see America weak, but after we regained our strength, other nations started hating us again. The world does not like the United States because we are strong and assertive. Barnes said, "Being respected is more important than being loved."
Second, President Bush has gotten the economy going again through tax cuts. President Bush inherited the beginnings of a recession and the internet stock bubble, which caused the economy to decline. The President has the economy going in the right direction again, said Mr. Barnes.
Third, President Bush is a strong, decisive leader, who does not hide his Christian faith, but does not impose it either.
Mr. Barnes then stated, in his view, what is wrong with John Kerry. Are Mr. Kerry's image problems the fault of the press? No. Mr. Kerry has gotten the most favorable press coverage of any Presidential candidate since 1988. Mr. Kerry also has very good advisors.
The problem with John Kerry is John Kerry. He cannot make up his mind on national security matters. He has shifting positions on Iraq and when asked what he will do about North Korea, he refuses to answer the questions.
He does have a domestic plan, which consists of higher taxes, bigger government, and socialized health care.
Mr. Kerry stated that the U.S. should reduce its presence in Europe. When President Bush did exactly that, Mr. Kerry criticized him for it.
John Kerry raised the Vietnam issue. He was advised not to bring it up, but he did so anyway, making Vietnam the centerpiece of the convention and his campaign. Mr. Kerry stated that because of his experience in Vietnam, he is qualified to be Commander in Chief.
Mr. Barnes said that service in Vietnam is not the proper criterion for selecting a leader. Two of our greatest war-time presidents, Lincoln and Roosevelt, never saw military action.
"John F. Kerry is indecisive in the extreme," said Mr. Barnes, "He flip-flops."
"President Bush will win for two reasons," said Mr. Barnes.
First, he is five to seven points ahead in the polls. No incumbent president has ever lost with that kind of lead at this stage in the campaign.
Second, President Bush is campaigning very well, "better that I have ever seen him campaign."
Mr. Barnes complemented Paul Begala's ability as a political advisor, saying, "He is very good."
John Kerry is in trouble because he has to defend even the "blue states." Kerry can win two ways, according to Mr. Barnes.
First, Kerry can win if there is a total collapse in Iraq, an occurrence that is not likely.
Second, Bush could hurt himself by blowing the debates.
"Those are the only two hopes left for John Kerry."
Mr. Begala began, "Following Fred Barnes always makes me feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. There is so much fertile territory; it is hard to know where to land first."
"My best friend is James Carville," said Mr. Begala. There was thunderous applause at the mention of Carville's name. Mr. Begala is the godfather of the first child of James Carville and Mary Matlin.
Mr. Begala said that the first rule of political consulting is, "always attack; never defend."
According to Mr. Begala, the current Bush campaign against Mr. Kerry proves that "they will say anything."
Mr. Begala said that the Democratic Convention was largely positive (which makes him sick, he joked.) Then came the Republican Convention, which was largely negative. He stated the Republicans were more effective in following the rule - always attack; never defend.
He stated that the Presidential race can be measured by asking, "How's he doing?" Do you think the country is going in the right direction?
Mr. Begala said that, during the Republican Convention, John McCain did an admirable job of trying to defend the indefensible (the war in Iraq).
He stated that the "right direction" poll is the strongest indicator of the President's chances for reelection.
In 1992 the poll indicated 14% believed the country was going in the right direction. In 1996 it was 55% and today it is 39% for President Bush, Begala said. When only 39% of the country believes we are going in the right direction, John Kerry has a good chance of winning.
Mr. Begala then listed several bad things that have happened in Iraq. He pointed out that the U.S. body count has topped 1000 and talked of the recent bombing at a police station, killing approximately 50 people.
Mr. Begala claimed that every time something bad happens in Iraq, the Iraqis blame the United States. He said that America liberated Iraq "against his better judgment."
Mr. Begala stated that Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net job loss.
On jobs, Mr Begala said the United States is on the wrong track in subsidizing companies to send jobs overseas.
On energy policy, he stated that we are becoming more and more dependent on Middle East sources of oil and that President Bush's policies are driving further dependence on foreign oil. "John Kerry is for reducing that dependency," said Mr. Begala.
"If you want change, vote for john Kerry; If you want to go down the same road, vote for George Bush."
Question and Answer Time
UT college students posed the following questions.
Q - Why is the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) never mentioned by the media?
Barnes: I'll take that since I know more about it - it's located in my office. There are many conspiracy theorists out there and you seem to be one of them, or maybe not - I don't know. Do you know what the Project for the New American Century is? It is three guys who like to write papers. They have no influence; they are not players; no one gets marching orders from them.
Begala: There are many conspiracy theories like "we went to war for oil" or to help Haliburton. I don't subscribe to that stuff. I think Bush led us to war over some misguided belief that we could change things in Iraq. I don't go for the conspiracies.
Q - Do you think the mainstream media is liberally biased and why?
Barnes: Of course. Most reporters are liberals and it's getting worse. I do think the American people are aware of it; they can decide what to believe. It is not overwhelming.
Begala: Yes, but that is somewhat misleading. You will find that polls taken of journalists indicate that they are liberal on social issues like abortion and homosexual marriage but not economically. Many journalists are fiscally conservative, but you will be hard-pressed to find a pro-life journalist. I disagree with that wimpy, weak book by Bernard Goldberg.
Barnes: There is another difference. Liberals are typically dovish, not hawkish concerning national defense. There are many differences between conservatives and liberals besides just social issues.
Begala: There are alternative media sources now. In spite of many journalists being liberal, when it comes to reporting the news they "play it straight."
Barnes: This is a good time to talk of "playing it straight" considering this scandal with CBS (loud cheering drowns out rest of statement.)
Q - The Democrats seem to be in disarray. What do Democrats need to do to regain focus?
Begala: Hell, man - they need to fight! Democrats knew how to fight when Bill Clinton was a candidate (cheering.)
Q - Do you trust electronic voting machines?
Begala: No. We have to win by so many votes so they can't steal it from us (cheering.)
Barnes: I have my doubts. The software can be programmed to say, give every sixth vote to a specific candidate. I am a little suspicious. I hit the button and I don't know what happens after that..
Q - Has the Bush education plan been successful?
Barnes: Yes. Education spending is up. Kerry wants to weaken "No Child Left behind."
Begala: I think Bush's heart is in the right place, but he promised a certain level of funding and he didn't keep that promise. We need more money injected.
Barnes: I'll tell you this much: there is no correlation between educational spending and educational achievement - none whatsoever. I am not aware that the President reneged on a promise. All kinds of money gets appropriated in bills, which is never spent - it happens all the time.
Begala: But President Bush promised that level of funding to get Democrats on board.
Q - What is wrong with the Kerry campaign? Who is running it?
Begala: Beth Cahill and Bob Shrum. They need to fight - always attack; never defend.
Barnes: Mr. Kerry has not answered a single question about his Vietnam service. He is not willing to answer questions and it is hurting him.
Q - We have heard that John Kerry will do things differently but not how. How will he do things differently and will he go in a different direction than he has in 19 years in the senate?
Begala: First, fire George Bush and his entire team of incompetents. John Kerry has a well planned domestic agenda. He has a conservative health care plan that has been praised by Newt Gingrich. I will not outline his entire plan but go to the campaign website and you will find plenty of information.
Barnes: What will John Kerry do in Iraq? No one knows. Iraq was a threat and had deep ties to terrorists. Muammar Qaddaffi of Libya gave up his nuclear program because of what we did in Iraq (cheering.)
Begala: I was all for the war in Afghanistan; we had al-Qaeda trapped in the mountains and then we pulled back and let Bin Laden escape. The war in Iraq took us from the real fight against al-Qaeda.
Q - Because Bush is so identified with Patriotism, must Kerry tear patriotism to shreds to win?
Begala: John Kerry is not unpatriotic, he just has different ideas.
Barnes: Republicans are often accused of calling Democrats unpatriotic, but let's look at the facts. John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, and Teresa Kerry have all called George Bush unpatriotic. That kind of rhetoric shouldn't be thrown around.
Q - What will congress be like after the election?
Barnes: The Republicans will retain Control of the house. There is a slim chance that the Democrats could gain control of the Senate.
Begala: I am a little more bullish than Fred that Democrats can capture the Senate.
Q - CBS slandered the President 60 days before an election. It has been said that the cover-up is worse than the crime. What can be done to protect Americans from big networks like CBS?
Begala: Repeal the First Amendment and lock them up! (Joking). You protect Democracy with more Democracy. The President keeps talking about stopping the 527 organizations and John Kerry tried to sue television stations to stop the Swift Boat Veterans. I am against both of those things. I am against limiting the First Amendment. We need more free speech, not less.
Barnes: I agree with that. It is a good thing we have the blogosphere. There is a blog called "Little Green Footballs" that did a great job analyzing the fraudulent memos and proved they were typed in MS Word using the default settings.
Democracy has expanded in the media so they were immediately held accountable.
Q - Are we going to have a future with more government and socialism or limited government and more freedom?
Begala: George bush has been terrible for fans of limited government. His administration has done more to trample individual rights with the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and the horrible Medicaid Drug Program... There are no small government conservatives left in the Republican Party.
Barnes: Well, there are some but they are unhappy.
Q - How does John Kerry propose to create 10 million new jobs by raising taxes?
Barnes: About outsourcing; there are more jobs outsourced from overseas to the U.S. than vice versa. We outsource jobs to India - they answer the telephone - not exactly a high-tech job. We outsource answering services to India because the speak English over there. All the high-tech jobs are coming here. We keep the high tech jobs and outsource the low-tech jobs overseas. We are not losing jobs via outsourcing.
Begala: Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich and started the largest economic boom in history.
Q - George W. Bush favors abstinence programs. Do abstinence programs work to prevent the spread of AIDS overseas?
Begala: I would not bang on President Bush for his overseas AIDS policy. This is an area where I think the President has done a good job.
Barnes: One of the most successful aids programs is in Uganda and it is abstinence based.
Q - George Bush wants to have caps on damage awards for medical malpractice lawsuits. Doesn't that hurt our democracy and what can be done to correct the problem?
Barnes: I am for a cap, however the medical profession is not doing enough to police itself.
Begala: I agree. The medical profession needs to do more to weed out bad doctors.
Q - Why are Democrats playing on people's fears by talking down the economy even though things are really doing well and talking about how horribly things are going in Iraq when in reality Iraq is going pretty well also?
Begala: If you really believe that stuff, you are fooling yourself. Why did President Bush spend seven minutes reading to schoolchildren when he learned his nation was under attack? (The single occurrence of sustained booing ensued. The crowd saw this remark as a cheap shot.)
Q - This question is for Fred Barnes. Sir, you have talked a great deal about the liberation of the people of Iraq and I applaud you for that - I really do - but why are you silent concerning the liberation of the Chechen people?
Barnes: There are some issues that I really don't know very much about and that is one of them. I am sorry but I will have to plead ignorance; if you would like to send me some information about what you are talking about I will be happy to take a look at it.
The building needed to close so the debate concluded at At 9:15 p.m.
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Begala...snippy as always
Begala can appear civil at times, but his nastyness eventually comes through. Typical Democrap operative.
Hardly a ringing endorsement. Besides Bush's approval in Gallup is 52%.
HLEP- Barnes thinks "There is a slight chance RATS will control the Senate." what are we missing? IL yes, OK maybe but NC, GA and SC are sure fire in the gop. How does the gop lose four net seats?
Thank you. Good debate. There should be more of that kind of debate on TV.
You're welcome. Does anybody know what Begala is referring to when he says Gingrich "praised" the Kerry Health care plan?
The only scenario in which the Dems would take back the Senate would be if they pick up Colorado and Alaska (as well as Illinois) and hold one or two of their open Southern seats. Unlikely.
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