The Journal Editorial Report | December 2, 2005 | PBS
December 2, 2005
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is questioned by Chief Investigative Judge Raid Juhi, not seen, August 23, 2005. (AP/Iraqi Special Tribunial, Pool)
As this is the last broadcast of THE JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT, we want to review some of the key stories and memorable moments in the program. For the past 15 months, we have tried to bring you a coherent, responsible, conservative view of the news. In this segment, we take a look at some of the major issues we've covered to see how things have changed. Or not.
DAN HENNINGER: I believe the president did get a mandate to pursue the war on terror. Did he get a mandate to pursue his strategy in Iraq? Not so clear to me. I think there was a lot of discomfort out there in the country about the way Iraq was prosecuted. And I think that this president is going to have to go in front of the people and explain in much greater detail than he did what he plans to do in Iraq.
PAUL GIGOT: How long, Dan, do you think the president has here to be able to convince the American people that we're on the path to success in Iraq, before we really start to look at erosion of public support?
DAN HENNINGER: I would say a year. I would say that he has got to -- and I think it depends a lot on the president interacting with the American people much more than he has on this subject, informing them, giving them details about the progress. Otherwise, you default to the television images.
GIGOT: Dan, you sure looked prescient in that one. How do you explain the fact that public support for the war has fallen as far and as fast as it has?
HENNINGER: Well, as the last line in that clip said, we defaulted to the television images and we got John Murtha. We ended up with a situation in which all of the bad news coming out of Iraq, which is mainly a story of violence and bombings and death, overwhelmed all of the good news. And you know, there's a real irony in this, I think. It is probably true to say that there is more honest political constructive dialogue going on in Iraq right now among the political parties than is happening in Washington, D.C. Truly.
GIGOT: My reading of history is that the American people will accept casualties in a war, even heavy casualties, as long as they believe that their leaders have a strategy for victory, a strategy of how we're going to get to achieve the goals that they have laid out. How do you explain, Kim, the president's failure to keep that strategy in the forefront of the public mind?
KIM STRASSEL: Dan actually said in a column today that it's one of the great mysteries out there. But he's changing that. This week the speeches that he gave, he finally came out, and I think he is doing what he has needed to do all along, which is to be honest with the American public. He has actually admitted that we have made some mistakes and he has said that this is what we need to fix them. But he has also said we are going to win this, and this is what Americans need to hear. And that hasn't happened over the last year.
ROB POLLOCK: And I think it's been a big mistake that he hasn't been over there for about two years now. Look, great world leaders take ownership of their conflicts. Churchill was chomping at the bit to get over the shores of France after D-Day. Bush has been to Iraq once, and it was to visit the American troops.
GIGOT: Thanksgiving of 2003.
POLLOCK: He needs to go there and force the media to cover the fact that about 80 percent of Iraqis at least think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
STRASSEL: Well I mean, that is the incredible irony here, too. Just as Americans are losing so much faith in this, and the politicians are ducking for cover, Iraqis have more faith than ever before. A recent poll came out that said that two-thirds think they are better off than they were a year ago, and 80 percent or more believe that they are going to be better off a year from now.
GIGOT: I think one explanation for the president's failure is that the good news they got in January with the elections being as successful as they were, and then you had the break out of Syria and Lebanon, you had the movement in the Middle East with Egypt and at least small blossoming of democracy. I think the White House said, "Look, this is moving well. Now we can turn our attention and our political capital to the domestic agenda, Social Security and things." Now I think that turned out to be a mistake, because wars are such big events, and the American public does not want to accept casualties unless they know that we are on the right course.
POLLOCK: Let's not forget the disarming of Libya and the unraveling of the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network and other important side benefits of the war that haven't been properly sold or reported.
GIGOT: Rob, we ran two articles recently, ones by James Q. Wilson, the political scientist, and the other by Joe Lieberman, democratic senator from Connecticut, saying that the war is going better than a lot of the reporting here has said. Are there reasons for optimism, looking ahead to 2006 in Iraq?
POLLOCK: The reason for optimism is, they are going to go have an election in less than two weeks now. This is going to be the election that puts in a permanent four-year government. We are not talking about interim governments any more. We are talking about a government of unquestioned legitimacy that is going to be there, and it is going to have time to do things and make some tough decisions. We have got that coming along. And they are going to take over an Iraq army that has been built up by especially General David Petraeus and now Martin Dempsey, that has some 45 battalions that are able to operate in the lead in combat. There' is really something to work with there.
GIGOT: And the US is now, instead of taking the lead on a lot of these exercises, is embedding American soldiers and officers into every unit, so that they can help and force the Iraqis to take the lead. It's going to be a long road though, isn't it? We are still going to be there in force at the end of next year.
POLLOCK: We are going to be there in force, but I think it is not inconceivable we could be there in significantly less force.
STEVE MOORE: If I were any more of a bull on this economy I'd have horns coming out of my head right now. It's hard to see virtually any negative signals. This is about as good as it gets.
PAUL GIGOT: Well okay, alright then if things are so good why do people feel so lousy, Kim?
KIM STRASSEL: I think there's a lot of stuff that are weighing on people's mind. We've got $60 a barrel oil, which has made all energy costs much higher. People are living under a constant threat and worry of another terrorist attack. There are questions of rising interest rates.
BRET STEPHENS: And what this really comes down to is a choice for the Republican Party. Do they want to be the party that is "of government," which is to say getting re-elected year after year by sending pork back home the way the Democrats did for 40 years? Or do they want to be a party that's in government and that can continue to sell itself as a tax cutting party? It's becoming very hard to do if they can't get the spending under control.
JASON RILEY: That is the point exactly. This spending could lead to higher taxes. Republicans are in control. They could get blamed for those higher taxes.
PAUL GIGOT: And the simple fact is the political math here is that the president, to get something passed, needs five, maybe six, Democrats to get 60 votes in the Senate. Is there any chance of real bipartisanship emerging here?
DAN HENNINGER: The only way this is going to happen is if George Bush goes out into the country and sells this idea and if the country responds. Then Congress will feel it's under some pressure to do something. Absent that, I don't see the Democrats if Bush proposed Hillary Clinton's first health care plan they'd oppose it.
GIGOT: Steve, a year ago Republicans took over the Congress and the White House again. Congress for the first time with big majorities since 1954. I want to read you a list of their very small accomplishments: bankruptcy reform, class action law suit reform, basically a venue change from state to federal courts, Central American free trade agreement, and I know your favorite, the highway bill. Whatever happened to the big Republican reform agenda, and their ability to govern?
STEVE MOORE: It is hard to imagine how euphoric conservatives and Republicans were feeling exactly a year ago versus the gloom today. I think there were a couple of problems. Number one, the Republicans have done a lousy job of selling the fact that their policies have been working, especially the tax cut. I mean, the economy is booming, and just as you said, Dan, that President Bush has done a lousy job of selling the war, he has done an even worse job of celebrating his strong economy.
Second of all, I think they underestimated how hard it would be to reform the biggest entitlement program. I give Bush a lot of credit for going out there and trying to reform the thing, with Social Security, but that fell flat. And then I think finally, and most importantly, the Republicans have now become defined as a big government party. That has, I think, deflated the base of the conservative movement, and it has basically stood in the way of achieving any policy goals.
GIGOT: You know, Dan, our former boss, Bob Bartley, had a concept he liked to refer to, called Occam's Razor, which is that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. I think the Occam's Razor explanation for the Republican failure to govern is Bush's approval rating. Presidents aren't really strong, particularly on domestic issues, in the American constitutional system. The power of the presidency is the power to persuade. When you are at 38 percent approval as president, it unites Democrats, it divides Republicans.
HENNINGER: You can't get to 38 percent if only Democrats are being polled. That is a bipartisan rating. And the eight trillion dollar gorilla in the room is that prescription drug benefit.
GIGOT: That they passed in 2003.
HENNINGER: I mean we were visited by about 40 conservative think tank leaders here in the past week. And that spending problem is the single biggest thing on their mind. And you know what? At the end of this week we have this terrific jobs report -- 215,000 new jobs over the past month. Alan Greenspan went up before Congress and he said, the economy is going very well. Then he started talking about this entitlement outlay, and how in 2030 it is going to consume about 13 percent of gross domestic product. They were talking about the prescription drug benefit. We're talking about this horrible commitment they made that people know about.
STRASSEL: You actually are onto something. Right now, all the Republicans in Congress are looking at the president's approval rating and their own rating, and it has become every man for themselves. They are looking at next year's election. And there's no more unity. And that has had a huge effect on a couple of really big issues. Like, for one, extending the tax cuts that have been so important to actually making this economy going.
GIGOT: This gets to this issue of what are the real -- you were right about the economy, Steve, but this gets to the issue of what are the threats to the continued expansion. Because without that strong economy, boy, what would Bush's approval rating be? Twenty-five?
MOORE: Well, the tax cut has worked.This is my biggest frustration with the administration, and the Republicans. They haven't been out there selling the fact that their policies have worked. Now President Bush, when he ran for president last time around, the one concrete promise he made is, we are going to make these tax cuts permanent. I believe one of the fundamental legislative mistakes the Republicans made was not, as soon as they took office in January of last year, putting that through. Look, we have more jobs, as you said, more economic growth, and more tax revenues coming in. The tax policies have been working.
POLLOCK: Nobody wants to be the skunk in the parlor, but I think if you look at the fundamentals, I see two particularly worrying signs, one of which is the price of gold, the other is asset prices generally, particularly ...
GIGOT: You mean economically?
POLLOCK: Yes, the price of housing. I think that there is some uneasiness out there that the economic expansion could be a function of too much money floating around.
GIGOT: All right, well, good. I hope you are wrong.