JIM LEHRER: Joining us now, as I said, is Karen Hughes, longtime Bush communications adviser, now a strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Karen Hughes, welcome.
KAREN HUGHES: Thank you, it's nice to be here.
JIM LEHRER: There's some news that just came over the wires. John Kerry issued a statement a while ago. Let me read you the toughest part of what he said: "For the past week they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief."
KAREN HUGHES: Well, let me stop you right there because that's absolutely untrue.
Everyone in this campaign from the president on down has repeatedly said that we respect Sen. Kerry's service. No one in our campaign has ever said anything other than that, and to the contrary, Sen. Kerry is the one who has had his own surrogates and advisers questioning the president's service in the National Guard. We have always said and repeatedly said we respect Sen. Kerry's service. Now let me you go ahead. I just wanted to stop you there because it isn't true.
JIM LEHRER: Well, he says, here's my answer: "I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq."
KAREN HUGHES: Well, again, I think that's very unfortunate, because, a, it's not true and I think the American people who have been watching this campaign know that the president has said, in fact the president just said earlier this week that Sen. Kerry had actually served more heroically than he had because Sen. Kerry had been in combat and the president had not and I think it takes a pretty big person to say that and that's what the president said.
And I think it's unfortunate that Sen. Kerry after saying I think it was just a few months ago that someone's service in Vietnam or lack of service there should not be an issue has once again flip-flopped and is now trying to bring this up. I think he must be trying to divert attention on the eve of a big convention speech.
I noticed your wise analysts David and Mark both said a presidential campaign is about the future. That's exactly what the president is going to say tonight. He will say a presidential contest is a race for the future and he's going to outline his vision for a transformational presidency really, and as David noted, he needs to talk about domestic policy and he has a view of domestic policy in a transformational way, the same way he does foreign policy; he'll be talking about that too.
JIM LEHRER: Is he going to talk about John Kerry?
KAREN HUGHES: He will discuss Sen. Kerry in a few occasions, not very often. Most of his speech is very forward looking, about what to expect in a new Bush term. He begins his speech with domestic policy. About half the speech is domestic policy; about half is foreign policy, and at the end of each section he will offer a contrast because there is a clear contrast.
There's a big difference in philosophy between George Bush's philosophy and Sen. Kerry's philosophy. Sen. Kerry believes in big government solutions. President Bush, as he'll outline tonight, believes in empowering individuals to make choices and he believes government has a role, and it's to create the kind of environment where people have the skills and the conditions in which they can achieve their dreams.
JIM LEHRER: What was the process that led to this speech? You were involved in it. Give us a feel for it.
KAREN HUGHES: Well, our chief speech writer, Mike Gorsin, usually starts with a meeting with the president because we need to talk with him about what he wants to say and what he wants to accomplish for the next four years and then Mike Gorsin, our chief speech writer, went away for a couple of weeks and drafted and he brings it back, and we all take a look and digest and discuss and, you know, don't like certain parts and do like certain parts and rework.
And the president usually around that time he's on the phone a lot and he's calling all of us, work on this section or look at that section. Or this doesn't say what I want it to say and so then gradually you begin to synthesize and in the end you really start editing, start reducing it, and trying to cut the length and sharpen it and to make sure it really communicates what the president wants to communicate.
JIM LEHRER: How long has this process taken?
KAREN HUGHES: We started I think about the end of July. Now, obviously, the policy process is an ongoing process for a president to always developing a policy, but the speech writing process started, I would say the first week of July, the second or third week of July.
DAVID BROOKS: It feels, as you describe it, more like a state of the union speech. You know, when you were in the first time, you had months and months where you laid out in the very beginning of the campaign a whole series of serious policy speeches and then you get to the politics --
KAREN HUGHES: Right.
DAVID BROOKS: -- but it looks like you sort of truncated that and you have got one speech tonight which combines the two. Did it feel like a state of the union speech?
KAREN HUGHES: A little bit in some of the domestic sections because he has got a lot he wants to talk about. He has got a lot he still wants to accomplish.
But the construct of the speech I think is bigger than the usual list of things he wants to do because what he -- the point he makes is that the way that America lives and works is changing dramatically.
In our parents' generation, many of our fathers went to work in one place and stayed in that job for their entire careers. The company then often offered retirement and health care benefits, and the moms stayed home and took care of the children. Well, that's not the way our society is anymore, but that's the way a lot of our systems were set up. Our tax code, our health care system; our pension system were all designed for that era in which we no longer live. And so he's going to talk about the need to transform the programs of government to make health care, for example, more portable. So someone like me who moves around from job to job, or is in this political crazy world -- I've never vested in a single retirement plan at any place I've ever worked, unlike the workers of the previous generation.
So he's going to talk about making government more responsive and meeting the needs and empowering citizens to have their own health care plans and be able to take it with them, to have the skills, to be able throughout their lifetime engage in a lifetime of learning that gives them new skills and new training to help them compete for the higher paying new jobs of the future.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I'm happy for your sake, Karen, that we have Social Security, I mean, because, you know, if you're moving around as much as you are --
KAREN HUGHES: I hope it's there, although I'm getting to be one of those older workers --
MARK SHIELDS: We'll find out tonight.
KAREN HUGHES: -- the president talks about.
MARK SHIELDS: We'll find out tonight if it's going to be here. (Laughter)
KAREN HUGHES: It's absolutely going to be here.
MARK SHIELDS: I just wanted to ask you. I mean, Sen. Kerry obviously is coming back with a blistering counterattack, and the speech last night by Zell Miller -- and we were told by Karl Rove that every speech had been vetted, every word had been approved -- was a speech that made Pat Buchanan's 1992 speech in Houston sound like Mr. Rogers.
KAREN HUGHES: It was a very passionate speech.
MARK SHIELDS: But it was also an attack --
KAREN HUGHES: But now in Sen. Miller's defense, he's accustomed to speaking at the Democratic convention --
MARK SHIELDS: Okay.
KAREN HUGHES: -- and this is the Republican convention.
MARK SHIELDS: But quite frankly, he did list a number of defense systems that John Kerry and defense programs John Kerry voted against. It turns out that two-thirds of which Secretary Cheney had recommended their elimination, and so I -- I asked you, I mean, isn't this really questioning -- I mean, doesn't John Kerry have a point, that they are questioning whether in fact he really was committed to defending America?
KAREN HUGHES: Well, I think they questioned a series of his votes and he does have a record. He didn't talk much about that record during his convention. He didn't go through -- you know, we heard a lot about his service in Vietnam. We didn't hear much about his 20 years in the United States Senate at his convention and I think he does have a voting record and it's -- it's there for people to examine and to look at.
Now in Sen. Miller's case, he happens to know both of the candidates in this race. He got to know President Bush when he was the governor of Texas. He served with John Kerry in the United States Senate, and I think as we saw last night he feels very passionately that it's important for his grandchildren and the future of the country that President Bush be re-elected.
MARK SHIELDS: But you don't think it's deceptive to say that a program, Dick Cheney, as secretary of defense, recommended the elimination of, that John Kerry voted for, that John Kerry's patriotism, judgment, and commitment to U.S. defense is questioned because he supported the same position that the secretary of defense had advocated?
KAREN HUGHES: Well, Mark, again, I think you're making a big leap into saying what he's questioning. What the vice president said was that he believes that at a time when we need intelligence reform, for example, when we need someone who is a strong booster of intelligence, Sen. Kerry -- there's no question -- had the consistent record of voting to gut our nation's intelligence services. He's voted that way repeatedly. He's missed a number of the meetings of the Intelligence Committee. It's an important issue in this election.
You know, what you're going to hear tonight is not about all that. What you're going to hear tonight is President Bush outlining an optimistic agenda. He's going to talk about what he wants to accomplish and where he wants to lead the country in a new term.
DAVID BROOKS: Is he transforming the party in a sense because, you know, the Republicans used to say government is the problem; President Bush has said government is a tool and can give people tools.
KAREN HUGHES: Exactly.
DAVID BROOKS: I think that's a much more positive agenda but is that renunciating some of the stuff that happened when Ronald Reagan was president?
KAREN HUGHES: Well, you know -- well, it was one of the things he talked about in the 2000 campaign when he said he was a compassionate conservative and I remember some conservatives in the party used to say, what does that mean?
And I would say, well, it means this is not the grinchy old let's abolish the Department of Education or shut down the government conservative of the past. This is someone who believes that there is a role for government -- that government -- its role is not to dictate people's lives but to offer people the opportunity, the skills, the training, the education they need to take advantage of opportunities before them. Tonight he'll say, and I think this really sums up his philosophy, and I've worked for him now for ten years -- he'll say all of these policies involve not a program but a path. They offer to help people get on a path to greater independence, to greater security, to more control over their own lives.
JIM LEHRER: I know you've got to go. Just one final thing, summary question: John McCain repeated on this program the other night that what he had said earlier, that this campaign was shaping up to be one of the most bitter, most unsavory campaigns in recent history. Do you think he's right?
KAREN HUGHES: Well, I hope that's not the case. You know, I think every time in the heat of the contest every -- I've been recently reading a book about Lincoln, and the 1864 election which was, you know, pretty rough.
JIM LEHRER: Pretty rough.
KAREN HUGHES: And the president was making the contrast that the pamphleteering of those days, if you walked into a bookstore now, you see the modern day equivalent when you see all those books with all those titles criticizing the president. I hope that's not the case.
And I think what the president is saying here tonight is for the next 60-plus days he wants to leave here and talk about his agenda for America and the future and that, you know, I think, again, that's an unfortunate attack.
I hope Sen. Kerry is not trying to play the victim because again it's not accurate to say that -- we have bent over backwards to say we honor his service. I come from a military family, honor his service and the president has said the same thing repeatedly.
JIM LEHRER: Karen Hughes, thank you very much.
KAREN HUGHES: Thank you so much. Good to see you.