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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Obama's Media Blitz; Racism or Dissent?; Ties to Terror; California's Prisons; Swine Flu Vaccine

Aired September 18, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Wolf, thank you very much.

And the president's push for health care legislation in jeopardy tonight, the White House unveiling a new secret weapon. First lady Michelle Obama jumping into the health care media blitz -- haven't we seen this before?

And Congressman Joe Wilson saying, enough is enough. He's done with all the "you lie" and racism talk. Are his critics ready?

And it turns out some children have been left behind -- way behind. Only one in four kids in Oklahoma know that George Washington was the first president of the United States. What in the world is going on here?

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Friday, September 18th. Live from New York, Mr. Independent Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. The hard sell -- President Barack Obama set to blanket the television airwaves promoting a massive overhaul of our health care system. It is a change that a majority of Americans have yet to embrace. The media blitz is a highly unusual move for a president, who is now scheduled to appear on five Sunday talk shows and Monday "David Letterman."

The strategy highlighting just how much work the White House believes it could take to move public opinion in its favor. And that may be why Michelle Obama has been brought into the debate -- the first lady flying under the radar on the health care issue until today. Dan Lothian reports now from the White House. Dan, does the White House really think more media exposure is the answer?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly they do. They don't think that it's over exposure. In fact, what the White House likes to point out, in fact Robert Gibbs specifically, will say that there was a time when reporters were asking a lot of questions about when the president was going to get more involved in the health care debate, when he was going to say more. Now the questions are over exposure. They believe that there are a lot of people out there who still need to hear the president's message, not only across the country but up on Capitol Hill and they believe that the president is the best spokesperson for health care reform.

And as you pointed out, not just the president alone but now the first lady has been brought into the mix. Today she was speaking to a group of women here in Washington. And talking to them about health care and how they oftentimes bear the brunt of the burden when it comes to the health care decisions for their families, their children, their spouses, but they are the ones who are often left out when it comes to coverage, insurance coverage for some of the critical tests that they need -- the first lady saying, tying this issue of equality to the need for reform.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: For two years on the campaign trail this was what I heard from women. That they were being crushed, crushed by the current structure of our health care -- crushed, but these stories that we've heard today and all of us, if we're not experiencing it we know someone who is, these are the stories that remind us about what's at stake in this debate. This is really all that matters. This is why we are fighting so hard for health insurance reform. This is it. This is the face of the fight.


LOTHIAN: The first lady remains very popular. In fact the last poll conducted by CNN just last month shows a favorable rating of 67 percent, unfavorable 22 percent, so the White House says that to the extent that she can help out they're happy for it.

DOBBS: Injecting herself into a public policy debate, though, did not serve a previous first lady well. That is of course Hillary Rodham Clinton. What is the concern there in the White House?

LOTHIAN: Well they're not really concerned about that because as Robert Gibbs pointed out there is no real strategy shift here. This is just another chance for the first lady to talk about something that is very close to her heart. She has a background, a legal background but also has been in the medical field and is also as I pointed out not only popular among many Americans but also popular among just women in general. So they feel that she can provide a message to an audience that perhaps others cannot reach and that is as far as they're taking it right now.

DOBBS: All right, Dan, thank you very much -- Dan Lothian from the White House.

CNN's John King talked with President Obama earlier today and asked him about charges of racism, implicit in the criticism of the president's public policies. Here's what President Obama had to say.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government. I think that there are -- there has been a long standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition where when presidents are trying to bring about big changes, I mean the things that were said about FDR, pretty similar to the things that were said about me, that he was a communist, he was a socialist, things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the new deal programs, you know, were pretty vicious as well.


DOBBS: Well, you can see John's full interview with the president this Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION". That's at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Congressman Joe Wilson also saying it's time to close the book. The South Carolina Republican causing chaos when he called the president a liar during a joint session of Congress and now he wants to move on from the controversy. He also admitted he would not do it again if he had a do-over despite his almost cult hero status for some and raising of course millions of dollars. Brianna Keilar has our report.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson is back in his home state, facing constituents and local media, telling them it's time to move on.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I, of course, as a gentleman immediately contacted the White House, apologized. It was accepted numerous times. Let's close the book on last week. Let's look ahead to work together for real health insurance reform.

KEILAR: The Friday evening news conference was Wilson's first public event in his home district since he let out the shout heard round the country.

WILSON: You lie!

KEILAR: Wilson's office encouraged supporters to attend and a small contingent showed up.


KEILAR: Wilson got choked up as he left the podium. His office says he was simply moved by the outpouring of support he has gotten over the last week and a half. In this Republican stronghold Congressman Wilson is known simply as "Joe" and while people we talked to thought his outburst was inappropriate they, too, take issue with President Obama's efforts to overhaul the health care system.

BRIGETTE HEMMING, VOTER: There is a time and there's a place for that kind of a statement and that venue was not it. I believe that we're becoming socialist in a sort of a way. We're borrowing money from other people. We're doing these programs. They're really taking away a lot of the choices from individual people.

DANIEL MORALES, VOTER: I'm somewhere between embarrassed and proud of him. I would say thanks for trying to stand up for the truth but maybe next time do it in a little bit more of an effective way that doesn't cast a bad shadow on who you are.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: Congressman Wilson was asked if he had the moment to do over again, would he do it the same way. And he said, Lou, absolutely not. He said, it was the wrong place, the wrong time, and now he feels very much like he's the target of Democrats as well as liberal groups like Lou?

DOBBS: All right, Brianna, thank you very much. Brianna Keilar.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling Iran that the clock is now ticking. Today Secretary Clinton warned Iran it better come clean about its purported nuclear program or face penalties.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There will be accompanying costs for Iran's continued defiance -- more isolation and economic pressure, less possibility of progress for the people of Iran.


DOBBS: The secretary's warning following news of a secret report by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency revealing that Iran now has the capacity to build a nuclear bomb and is building missiles.

Seven former CIA directors want to shut down the criminal investigation of the CIA -- the directors sending a letter to President Obama urging him to reverse his own attorney general. The letter of protest was signed by directors of the CIA who served under both Democrats and Republicans. They say this investigation would put CIA agents in jeopardy and make them risk averse.

They write, "In our judgment, such risk taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against the terrorists who continue to threaten us." Last month Attorney General Eric Holder decided to pursue allegations that terrorism detainees were tortured. The move was seen as highly political and payback to left wing Bush critics.

And the letter takes note of the fact, by the way, that it was career prosecutors who decided in the Bush administration not to investigate and that it is political appointees in this administration who have reversed that decision. It was also a surprising decision since President Obama was already on record against an investigation.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DOBBS: This is breaking news just in to CNN -- a New York man arrested by the FBI on suspicions of terrorism has now admitted to having ties to al Qaeda according to Obama administration officials. Jeanne Meserve has the very latest for us -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Lou, an administration official who is familiar with the matter says Najibullah Zazi has now admitted ties to al Qaeda. He has been in the building behind me for three days talking to the FBI. The official who I spoke with could not give any or would not give any details of exactly what those ties to al Qaeda to -- al Qaeda might be.

He did say that charges are possible. It is also possible that down the road there might be a plea deal. This comes after days and days during which Mr. Zazi and his attorney have denied that he had any ties at all to terrorism. Zazi is, of course, the 24-year-old Afghan national whose trip to New York last weekend triggered searches both in New York and here in Denver.

As I say, he's been talking for three days and today the FBI requested that his father came in, Mohammed Zazi came in and talked to the FBI. WE saw him leave about an hour ago. He did not divulge what the contents of his discussions were, but once again, a significant development here, Najibullah Zazi admitting that he does have ties, indeed, to al Qaeda. Lou?

DOBBS: Najibullah Zazi admitting that he does have ties to al Qaeda. Thank you very much. Appreciate it -- Jeanne Meserve bringing us the latest on that apparent terrorist plot.

Up next, is President Obama's health care media blitz a smart idea? That is the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight. Is this president becoming over exposed?

Also ahead, education outrage -- a new survey in the state of Oklahoma finding that one in four kids could not even give us the name of our first president. We'll have the embarrassing details on what is a national embarrassment.

And California faces a midnight deadline. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has mere hours to decide whether or not he will release thousands of prisoners from over crowded jails or he could join them behind bars. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: California tonight faces a midnight deadline. The California state government is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population by 40,000 inmates to ease over crowding. And if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger does not comply with the court order the governor could be held in contempt of court and he could be thrown into jail himself. Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a midnight deadline to submit a plan to reduce the state's notoriously over crowded prisons by more than 40,000 inmates over the next two years. That's a cut of more than 25 percent. California's prisons house nearly twice as many inmates as they were designed to hold, and last month a three-judge federal panel ruled that serious health problems exist and that violence was almost impossible to prevent. Less than a week later riots erupted at the men's prison in Chino with hundreds of inmates hurt and 55 hospitalized.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It is a terrible symptom of a much larger problem, a much larger illness. The reality is that California's entire prison system is in a state of crisis. It is collapsing under its own weight.

WIAN: With little money available to expand prison facilities the governor and state lawmakers have been struggling to come up with a plan that would comply with the judge's order. Lawmakers last week passed a measure that would reduce the prison population by 16,000 through early release and other sentence reduction measures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe that it is going to be any threat to public safety.

WIAN: The Los Angeles police chief disagrees.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPT.: With recidivism about 70 percent within the first three years, that in all likelihood we're going to be arresting them and we don't usually arrest them on the first crime. They manage to get a number of crimes under their belt before we get them.

WIAN: The plan would also find space for 11,000 inmates in newly constructed buildings and in out of state and private jails. That is still some 13,000 inmates short of the judge's order. In fact, an attorney for the inmate's advocacy group that is suing the state says he expects the governor's plan will fail to meet the judge's order and that could lead to a contempt citation and theoretically jail time for Governor Schwarzenegger.


WIAN: The inmates' attorney would not rule out asking the court to hold the governor and other state officials in contempt if the plan does not satisfy the court order. As we speak, Lou, prison officials here in the state of California and Sacramento are holding a briefing to outline details of that plan and it is very clear that they are not going to comply at least initially with what those judges want the state to do.

It's going to take them, according to the plan they're going to submit to the judge later today, five years to get the population reduction numbers to where the judges want them to be instead of two. They are also going to ask the judges basically for more time. They're going to go back to the state legislature in two weeks and try to work out a way to get the prison population down, so we're going to have to see how the court is going to react to this move by the state, Lou.

DOBBS: Well with the court ordering prisoners released on the public in California, would there be any legal liability, any criminal punishment available, any civil punishment available to the citizens of California if a judge makes this order stand and someone is killed or robbed? Wouldn't he be responsible?

WIAN: Well, it's a three-judge panel and I'm not sure that they would be held responsible, if I understand your question correctly. What they're saying is they're not actually ordering the state to release prisoners. What they're saying is they need to bring the prison population down and the state has ways it can do that.


DOBBS: Well actually I was being a bit ironic. I have to say. Because, I mean, either they're serious about what they're saying or they're just trying to add one more inmate namely the governor to the prison population. It doesn't seem it could be -- is there any other choice here?

WIAN: Well, I don't think that Governor Schwarzenegger is going to do any jail time because he doesn't -- he hasn't come up with what the court wanted. I think this is going to be extended. It's probably going to go to a higher court eventually, but it's very clear that this is going to be a difficult battle. The state is going to be releasing some inmates. It's just a matter of how many.

DOBBS: And when.

WIAN: And when -- absolutely.

DOBBS: Which sounds like it could be as much as five years.


DOBBS: It's sort of like it's another metaphor for California, isn't it?

WIAN: It certainly is. This legislature and this governor, the whole state government has been in gridlock.


DOBBS: This court, the prison system.

WIAN: Absolutely.

DOBBS: Thanks very much, Casey, appreciate it. Casey Wian.


DOBBS: Well more evidence tonight that the nation's young people now lack basic knowledge about civics, about our government, and our political system. A new study finding that only one in four Oklahoma public high school students know the name of the first president of the United States -- one in four. And it's not just Oklahoma. There are serious concerns that students all across America lack even a basic understanding of how our government works -- Ines Ferre with our report.


INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're questions every foreigner becoming a U.S. citizen must know. How many justices are on the Supreme Court? Who was the first president of the United States? A recent survey shows only 23 percent of Oklahoma public high school students correctly answered George Washington. Even fewer knew there are nine Supreme Court justices. Brandon Dutcher (ph) of the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned the telephone survey of 1,000 students.

BRANDON DUTCHER, OKLAHOMA COUNCIL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The citizenship exam has a first try passing rate of 92 percent. Sadly, our high school students only passed at the rate of 2.8 percent. So that was actually kind of a punch in the gut.

FERRE: On a national level, students don't fare well, either. The latest national civics score show that about a quarter of 12th graders have a proficient knowledge of civics. That's remained relatively constant over the last 10 years. The lack of civics literacy extends into college and adulthood. Another national survey shows that fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of the government. Groups that emphasize teaching civics in schools are outraged.

ANNE NEAL, AMER. COUNCIL OF TRUSTEES & ALUMNI: Our nation is premised on informed participation. That is the central aspect of a Democratic Republic.

RICHARD BRAKE, INTERCOLLEGIATE STUDIES INSTITUTE: What's at stake is when you go into that voting booth can you cast an informed vote? Well, you can't cast an informed vote if you have no idea what the institutions that you're voting for stand for.

FERRE: The Oklahoma Department of Education questions the credibility of the recent survey because it was done by phone telling CNN, quote, "we conduct state testing and the questions are much more difficult. The pass rate is 68 to 70 percent in all four of the state's social studies exams."


FERRE: And civic literacy in the U.S. shouldn't be too surprising given that today only 29 states require high school students to take a course in government or civics. That's according to the National Alliance for Civic Education. And Lou, what some of these groups are saying is that if we're going to require new citizens to know this stuff, then the folks that grow up here should also know this.

DOBBS: Yeah, I guess that's one thing, one way to say it. If we're going to require new immigrants into the country, new citizens to know it, I think that's right. Because it seems to me there are only two possible outcomes here. Either we improve the education of our young people, which means we have to improve the education of the teachers teaching them, and require some participation, or we simply bring in more immigrants into this country who absolutely honor the history and the political system that they are joining as citizens and honor that apparently three-fourths of the students in this country don't provide. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Ines Ferre -- that's a terrible story.

Well coming up next, President Obama's weekend media blitz. Will the exposure help? Will the exposure amount to over exposure? That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight. What is this president doing?

And the flu vaccine -- the government says it'll be available in October. Will there be enough for all who need it? Well the White House says they're going to give 10 percent of it away. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: The Centers for Disease Control today confirmed that the flu season has begun early. Children and young adults are the hardest hit and the swine flu is already in every state. The CDC says its goal now is to supply the swine flu vaccine to everyone who wants it but it's not clear whether that will be the case, and President Obama is already promising to give 10 percent of the U.S. supply away to other countries. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama pledges to give away 10 percent of U.S. swine flu vaccine supplies to other countries to help curtail the spread of the global pandemic -- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice commenting on the plan.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: As vaccine supplies emerge, they will be made available to the WHO on a rolling basis to assist countries that will not otherwise have direct access to the vaccine.

PILGRIM: Meanwhile, swine flu outbreaks have been reported in all 50 states, at twice the normal levels already.

DR. DANIEL JERNIGAN, CDC INFLUENZA DIVISION: We don't see that kind of activity this time of year usually. It's a very strange thing for us to see that amount of influenza at this time of year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of movement of the virus I suppose we could say it's gone viral.

PILGRIM: The CDC admits they have no real numbers on vaccine delivery. Vaccines are expected during October through November. They have to wait for more information from the vaccine providers.

DR. JAY BUTLER, CHIEF, CDC VACCINE TASK FORCE: We will know more really day by day. It's a very dynamic process. I would love to be able to give you harder numbers and a more definite answer because that would be very helpful for us for planning purposes. And we will know much more a week from now than we know today.

PILGRIM: The U.S. government has ordered 195 million doses of the vaccine made by a variety of suppliers -- CSL based in Australia, Novartis based in Switzerland and the French company Sanofi, which makes its vaccine here in the United States. The U.S. company MedImmune makes the flu vaccine in a nasal spray. That spray is largely manufactured in the UK and production is finished here.

That nasal spray is the only vaccine with a firm delivery date confirmed by the CDC, 3.4 million doses in the first week of October. But that is not the injectable vaccine and that has not been approved for people over the age of 49, children under 2, or pregnant women.


PILGRIM: Meanwhile, in the U.S. each state priority lists are being drawn up to decide who should get the vaccine first. And some states are already planning on putting aside supplies of the vaccine for pregnant women and other high risk groups such as people with heart and lung conditions, Lou. It'll be up to the states to set up those lists.

DOBBS: Well I'm listening to Ambassador Rice saying as supplies emerge we'll be providing the vaccine to other countries on a rolling basis. Who comes up with this language? It means nothing. It's absurdity. What in the world is going on here?

PILGRIM: It does seem a broad statement given we have no real delivery deadlines...

DOBBS: 3.4 million doses...

PILGRIM: That's just the nasal spray.

DOBBS: ... of an inhalant.

PILGRIM: Yeah, that's not the injectable vaccine.

DOBBS: When do we get the injectable?

PILGRIM: They said sometime in October...

DOBBS: Sometime in October -- how much do we get? What is the CDC saying? See us next Monday. We'll know what we're talking about...

PILGRIM: They don't have hard numbers. They said we'll have it. It'll come on stream. It'll flow...

DOBBS: On a rolling basis as it emerges.


DOBBS: What in the world is going on in this country? The ambassador to the United Nations announcing 10 percent of the supply will be given to other countries before we even know what the world -- will be the availability for our own citizens?

PILGRIM: Yeah, they can tell you how much they've ordered but they can't tell you how much they're actually going to get and when and...

DOBBS: Or whether it'll work.

PILGRIM: Well, let's hope it works.

DOBBS: Let's hope it -- well I think we can all do that. We pay the CDC to do better than hope.

PILGRIM: No, actually...

DOBBS: You and I do hope. They do the real deal. All right, Kitty, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

President Obama has declared that illegal immigrants will not be covered under his health care plan, but that may not be an issue because the president has another plan. He has a plan for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Amnesty could give millions of illegal immigrants now in this country access to health care coverage and that changes the game. Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama has made it clear illegal immigrants should not receive benefits under the health care proposals, but he's also made clear that he supports creating a path to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens currently in the United States. This is what he told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

OBAMA: Though I do not believe we can extend coverage to those here illegally, if anything this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all.


SYLVESTER: Some Republicans sense a backdoor strategy in the making, that despite language in the health care bills that prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving government subsidized health coverage, in the end representative Lamar Smith says they could still get coverage.

REP LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: He is saying on one hand the health care plan that is being considered now is not going to cover illegal immigrants, but then he is saying well I really want to give all those illegal immigrants amnesty, legalize them, so that they'll be eligible for health care.

SYLVESTER: A White House advisor dismissed Smith's contention saying immigration reform is not a means to get more immigrants into the health care system. But law professor Jan Ting, a former immigration official, who describes himself as an Obama supporter says if millions more might be added to the health care system that should be a factor in the debate.

JAN TING, TEMPLE UNIV LAW SCHOOL: We're struggling to find a way to pay for health care reform without raising taxes and, you know, it's a balancing act and if you weigh in 12 or more million illegal aliens who are going to be legalized, and become eligible for benefits, that tilts the balance.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER (on camera): And if a comprehensive immigration reform bill does pass in Congress, you know, one question is how soon would those receiving amnesty be eligible to sign up for government subsidized health assistance? Under the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, newly legalized immigrants have to wait at least five years before being eligible for programs like Medicare, but groups like the National Council of La Raza, well, they want to eliminate any waiting period for immigrants with this newly acquired legal status -- Lou.

DOBBS: And of course if they get newly legal status and the number is somewhere between 12 million and 20 million illegal immigrants in this country right now, or as the president insists on saying, despite Senator Schumer's admonishment, "undocumented people," that could be as many with bringing in direct family and conservative estimates somewhere between 36 million and 60 million people added to this.

SYLVESTER: And they would be added to this health care benefit and entitled to the health care benefit so you can do the math really quickly to see, you know, how affordable this is going to really be.

DOBBS: And you can almost begin to see why the, some of the ethnocentric interest groups in this country are working so hard to have me removed from this chair at CNN, can't you, as we start dealing with this debate. Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Professor Ting, by the way, an absolute rationalist. Doesn't he understand he has to be a vested interest of some kind here? It's great to hear, it's very refreshing to hear a rationalist, a man putting forward reason and knowledge on the issue. As always do you, Lisa Sylvester, thank you.

Well, to hear my thoughts on the battle over health care, illegal immigration, the president's media blitz, and a lot more join me on the radio Monday through Friday for the Lou Dobbs show 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. each afternoon on WOR-710 Radio in New York city. Go to to get the local listings in your area for the show and to subscribe to my free daily podcast. And please, follow me on on Lou Dobbs News on

Up next, the battle over health care continues. It's heating up. Will the so-called public option, will it further divide the Democrats or will it be resurrected? Has it really died?

And the president's all out weekend media blitz. Will his latest strategy to sell his health care plan finally work? Or will it backfire? That's the subject of our face-off debate tonight. Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: Here again, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOBBS: This weekend the president will wrap up his media blitz, selling health care with appearances on five networks and "David Letterman" Monday, but is the president running the risk of becoming overexposed or is this a brilliant strategy? That is the subject of our "Face-Off" debate and joining me tonight, Howard Kurtz, media critic for the "Washington Post," host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and Joe Conason, columnist for

Thank you both for being here. Let me start, Howie with you, is this -- is he running a serious risk of overexposure and, if you will, some back splash, here?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN RELIABLE SOURCES: Well, the White House officials tell me, Lou, they don't think so. They think the whole overexposure thing is a bogus media story. But, I think the president could be well down the road toward overexposure. He doesn't need to go on five Sunday shows. He can go on one Sunday show and certainly make a lot of news and if he is constantly holding primetime news conferences, giving network interviews, not that we in the networks object to that all that much, giving speeches to Congress and all of that the question is does that dilute the pitch that he's trying to make because it no longer becomes an event that the president is going on "Letterman" or "State of the Union" or "Meet the Press" or "Face the Nation."

What do you think -- Joe.

JOE CONASON, SALON: Well, this is an example of you can never satisfy the press. I mean, here they are, all these shows asked the president to go on and he said yes to all of them and the result is that every one of the press is criticizing him. I mean, Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, had a very funny line about this today, he said I'm looking at these questions of is he overexposed in between the interview requests from your news organizations.

So, I mean, look, the White House, I think what they said to Howie is probably right. From their point of view, every time the president goes on and talks about the plan, he helps himself, as he certainly did when he went before the joint session. So, they must think it can't be too much of a good thing.

DOBBS: Well, let's look, if we may, and just put this out, please, so everybody can see this. He is, as of Sunday, eight months in office as president of the United States. In this time he has given 88 speeches that doesn't include fund raising events, joint availability with other world leaders, nor does it include bill signings or remarks for special events at the White House. These are 88 speeches. Sixteen town halls, seven press conferences, two joint sessions of Congress, and one of them uninterrupted.

I mean, this is -- this is an amazing amount of activity for any president, Joe. And the result is most Americans in the most recent polling still opposed to his health care proposals.

CONASON: Well, I've seen different polls that say different things about that, Lou. You know, right after his speech there were plenty of polls that showed the majority supporting.

DOBBS: No, no, he did, without question. He had a 24-48-hour bounce, no question.

CONASON: Over the period he has been president there have been people who supported various aspects of the plan. There have been majorities for the plan.

DOBBS: My point being not to quibble with you.


DOBBS: But, my point is that with all of this exposure, eight months in office, seven month with the Congress working on health care, with all of this he has lost ground on the issue of health care.

CONASON: But Lou, I don't think that's surprising. I think as people have to grapple with the complex issue like this you're going to lose some people. There has been, you know, this is not in isolation, Lou, there has been a concerted and sometimes vicious campaign against the plan that has been effective.

DOBBS: Right.

CONASON: And that's inevitable that's going to have an impact.

KURTZ: Joe, Barack Obama is a very effective communicator on television. I think you and I can agree on that, but he's not making news every time he goes out there. For example last Sunday he sat down with "60 Minutes'" Steve Kroft, and produced very little news. He talked about health care, because it was the third time he had been on "60 Minutes." Usually that's a big event for a president.

Lou, another danger of doing so many shows, CNN and NBC have already released one sound bite from the interviews conducted today and they're not about health care, they're not about Afghanistan, they're about Obama being asked about whether his critics are motivated in part by racism. That's exactly what the White House and the president do not want to talk about, but of course, journalists can ask anything they want once they sit down with the president.

CONASON: Well, I think we'll see when we see the totality of the interviews whether they have the effect he wants or not. He's pretty skillful and I think he's probably tried to deflect those kinds of questions and focus on health care.

Look, the health care package needs a lot of explain and the complaint about Obama, especially during the last few months, no matter how many appearances he's made over the last, since he's been president, but recently the complaint in the press especially has been he wasn't doing enough to sell the plan. Now, we're going to say he's doing too much to sell the plan. I think from the point of view from the White House they have to assess that message from where it's coming which is people who always are looking for something to criticize about any president and that's our job. DOBBS: Is it your sense, Howie, as Joe is, I believe, positing here, that the White House is calibrating its strategy based on what the press is complaining about or praising?

KURTZ: No. I mean, I think the White House has decided that the salesman-in-chief is the most effective tool they had and look, the fact that every single news organization is clamoring for an interview with President Obama and clamoring for an interview with Michelle Obama, by the way, who hasn't been out there as much, and who now is starting to speak out on health care, doesn't mean it makes sense for Obama to be constantly blitzing all of these programs and the ratings have been going down.

If you look at the four primetime news conferences. The fourth one he was about 50 percent of the first one. I'm not saying he shouldn't be out there. The question is how much is too much? From the White House perspective, do we need all Obama, all the time?

CONASON: I would also say that one of the issues here is what is the purpose of this? And one purpose that I'm sure is in the mind of the White House and his advisors is how do we stoke up the intensity on the side of proponents of health care in order to oppose the intensity on the other side? And I think the more the president appears, the more likely he is to be able to push the buttons of the people who want to support it.

KURTZ: So, why isn't he doing FOX News on Sunday -- Joe.

CONASON: Well, I don't think his supporters are watching FOX News. That proves my theory.

KURTZ: Then he's only talking to his supporters.

DOBBS: The balkanization of -- oh, that's a great point. The balkanization of media, here.

CONASON: There is the balkanization of media, but I don't know that he's only talking to his supporters when he goes on main stream media. I think he has a reason to stay off of FOX News based on the way they treat him.

DOBBS: All right. Gentlemen, I thank you for being here. We're going to see Howie is definitively in the camp of overexposure, here. Joe, you're definitively in the camp of, well, any exposure is good exposure, I suppose.

CONASON: I think that's what they think.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Joe. Thank you, Howie. We appreciate it.

Up next First Lady Michelle Obama joining the White House push on health care and she's playing, are you ready, the gender card. Will her comments help shape this debate and in the favor of our president? Former politician turned talk show host, Mike Huckabee, says the president is steering America in the wrong directions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, : We've become the land of czars, clunker cars, and Hollywood stars.


DOBBS: I notice that rhymes. We'll have more on what Huckabee said, next. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Joining me now are the editor of, James Taranto, a columnist for the "New York Daily News," CNN Contributor, Errol Louis, and syndicated columnist, professor of journalism at Lehman College, also CNN contributor Miguel Perez.

Good to have you all with us. Well, let's pick up with the latest development in health care. Senator Max Baucus has proposed a proposal on health care that will cut a half trillion dollars from Medicare, will result in almost $400 billion in new taxes. How excited are you -- Miguel?

MIGUEL PEREZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, nobody seems to like it, that's the problem. And so it's sort of like a middle ground that nobody wants to come to.

DOBBS: Except for President Obama, who embraced it ahead of time.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. It becomes his default position. The Max Baucus, as far as I can tell, was tasked with coming up with something that could pass the Senate. That he did. In theory it could pass the Senate, ugly dog that it is.

DOBBS: In whose dream? Jay Rockefeller comes out, one of the leading Democrats, absolutely not. The majority leader of the Senate, not in his state, says he. And we haven't even gotten to the Republicans -- Errol.

LOUIS: And of course the House members pronounced it dead on arrival. But...

DOBBS: Reaching across the capitol to do so.

LOUIS: I guess the process is about as bipartisan as we're going to see happen here.

DOBBS: Bipartisan in this case was a gang of six, three Republicans, none of the Republicans, three among a hundred senators, they wouldn't get near them. What is that about? What happened to bipartisanship? We were told it was alive and well on Capitol Hill.

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: What happened was there was a massive popular revolt over the summer and the Republicans are smart enough to stay away from this thing and I think a lot of the Democrats are, too. And perhaps -- here is something that puzzles me about the Baucus bill, maybe you can explain. One of the central provisions is this idea of a mandate where everyone has to buy insurance or pay a fine. We've been hearing...

DOBBS: Right. 900 as individuals, $3800 as family.

TARANTO: Right, we've been hearing the insurance companies are greedy and cruel. Nancy Pelosi called them immoral. So, the answer to this is to have a law and force everyone to buy their products. Is that madness?

DOBBS: Who was it who made the comparison suggesting this was a little like asking the homeless, forcing them to buy a mansion or pay a fine? It's about at that level.

TARANTO: Or like fighting the tobacco companies by forcing every American to smoke two packs a day. It's crazy.

DOBBS: Well, and here we are, with this going forward, where is the path forward, here? Because it has been rejected by Democrats in the Senate. It has been rejected by Democrats in the House who have yet to even deal, begin to deal with the issues.

PEREZ: The only way that this passes, I think is budget, reconciliation, simple majority which is very controversial, and I don't know if the Democrats have the guts to do it.

DOBBS: Generally considered a sure path to losing the 2010 election.

LOUIS: Which may not be salvageable in any event.

DOBBS: How did this come to be? The Republicans only 30 days ago were a group of the dumbest people in politics on the planet. And today the Democrats are making them look reasonably intelligent. What is going on?

LOUIS: I think the Democrats are going to lose seats next year. That's just the way things happen when you've got a party in power. The question is do they lose 20 seats which seats, which might be survivable? Do they lose 50 seats, which is a big problem. I mean, that's the middle terrain that they're going to be fighting over.

TARANTO: Lou, the answer is the two parties are competing to be the second dumbest party in American politics.

DOBBS: Well put. On that, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with our panel. We'll decide, well, definitively, maybe there's a tie here for the second dumbest party in politics. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Undoings, I guess, is the category of this next question. And let's begin with you, Miguel, ACORN defunded in the Senate, seven Democrats voting for, in support of ACORN. In the house, defunded by an overwhelming vote again, 75 Democrats supporting ACORN. How in the world can anybody be supporting ACORN in this...

PEREZ: Don't look at me. I'm not doing it. You know, frankly, Lou, it's gotten to the point now where a real investigation is necessary to really figure out whether these people really deserve money. They're conducting their own internal investigation. What good. Yeah, the ultimate joke.

DOBBS: Oh by the way, we should add, they were also conducting sensitivity training amongst all of their employees as if that could be the...

PEREZ: But you know my concern, Lou, is the people who are serviced by these agencies. Because there are a lot of people who need these services and if...

DOBBS: That's why god invented a government. Government should...

PEREZ: Who's going to take care of these people?

DOBBS: How about the government? This is the government's role. It's not a nongovernment function.

LOUIS: Well, Lou, they've never done it. I mean, this is the problem; you have 40 years of looking back, does the government do voter registration drives? No, it does not. Does the government...

DOBBS: No, wait, wait, now, wait I thought we were talking about housing and those other aspects of ACORN. If you move into the voter registration issues, why in god's name isn't that the function of the political parties and the political movements of this country?

LOUIS: A very good question.

DOBBS: Why in the heck should they be receiving federal tax money, state tax money, city tax money? I mean, this is crazy.

LOUIS: Well, I'll tell you what, between the social services and some of those things like voter registration, the people who voted to strip them of their funding, I think, have some questions that they need to answer, like who's going to do this stuff. Did they value it at all?

DOBBS: How in the world did taxpayer money ever end up in the pockets of partisan nonprofits?

TARANTO: Well, not only partisan, but this is a group that has been caught on video at least five times, offering advice on how to evade the authorities while enslaving girls as prostitutes. I mean, this is beyond -- this is beyond corruption. This is beyond partisanship. This is absolute depravity.

DOBBS: And if you will, go to to take a look at each of those videos. It's revolting, but it's also absolutely important for you to see what is happening, here. Gentleman, as always, appreciate for being here. Appreciate it, James. Thank you, Errol. Thank you, Miguel.

Up next, "Heroes," our weekly solute to the men and women who serve this nation in uniform.


DOBBS: And now "Heroes," our tribute each week to the men and women who serve this country in uniform. Tonight we honor Army Specialist Luke Murphy, a young soldier who showed extraordinary courage serving in Afghanistan. Philippa Holland has the story.


PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Luke Murphy married his high school sweetheart at 19. Two days later, he left for basic training.

SPEC LUKE MURPHY, U.S. ARMY: I got married young and I was going to have a child, so I need a steady job.

HOLLAND: He found that in the Army infantry. After basic training, Murphy was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. A short two months later, he deployed to Afghanistan.

MURPHY: I did want to deploy, but I actually wanted a little more time to train with the guys I deployed with. It was just, hit the ground running.

HOLLAND: Having grown up in Colorado, Murphy felt comfortable in the mountains of Afghanistan.

MURPHY: I was on my own outpost with my small platoon and we ran it and daily it was fill sandbags and fortify our outpost, pull out the guard. You know, we always had to have eyes on, because we were just in the middle of the mountains.

HOLLAND: Early morning on may 1st, 2009, after a two-day reconnaissance mission and on little sleep, Murphy was sent as part of a quick reaction force to support a nearby outpost that was under a major attack. Exposed to small arms and sniper fire, Murphy spent hours putting out fires, trying to protect ammunition stockpiles.

MURPHY: It was just small arms, with the bullets exploding and shooting everywhere, that was our main priority, to get those put out before they hit something bigger, like a mortar or something like that.

HOLLAND: Still under enemy fire, Murphy also assisted other soldiers, rescuing a Latvian medic who was buried in the rubble from the attack. For his bravery and devotion to duty, Murphy was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with Valor. For now, he's home with his wife and 16-month-old son. As for the future?

MURPHY: I'm staying in the infantry men's world. I don't think any other jobs appeal to me as much. It's action packed, adventurous, living with your head in the mud and working so much you just don't think you can make it. It's more of a struggle. It's more pressure. I don't know, I kind of like the challenge.

HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.


DOBBS: Specialist Murphy, he's now heading to Ft. Dix with his unit, but hopes to eventually be stationed back home at Ft. Carson in Colorado. We'd like to thank Specialist Murphy, all of our brave men and women in uniform who serve this nation so well.

We thank you for being with us tonight. And for all of you, we wish you a very pleasant weekend and join us here Monday. Thanks for watching. Good night from New York. Next, Campbell Brown.