Transcript: Axelrod

WILL: He was rude to him and dismissive, contemptuous. Kennedy was shaken, came back and told Scotty Reston he had to find somewhere to be tough, and he picked Vietnam. Now, the danger is that this narrative about him not being tough enough occurs in the midst of, A, the argument about Afghanistan, where to prove you're tough, you might want to escalate, and, B, when he has to make a decision about the public option. One thing he could do is jettison the public option, offend his left and make himself look moderate, but can he offend his left on the public option and escalate in Vietnam -- in Afghanistan?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the question is, how does he show his toughness? It does appear to be, E.J., that most of this on pushing to be tougher is coming from liberal Democrats, particularly in the House?

DIONNE: Well, actually, it's coming from two places. It's also coming from neoconservatives and others who say he needs to be tough on foreign policy. And let's take it there first.

I mean, the notion that -- he speaks softly, but sends in the drones. I mean, if you look at what he's done in foreign policy, he's gone after Al Qaida in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Somalia. He went after those pirates. That wasn't actually an easy decision. We forget about that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Could have gone badly, really badly.

DIONNE: And it takes a lot more toughness to say to your generals, "No," or, "Tell me why you really want to do this," than it does to go along with the generals. So I think on that front, it's wrong.

Yes, on domestic policy, you could say he could get tougher on Wall Street. He let a lot of the attacks on health care go in the summertime, and that hurt him, but I don't think that's about toughness. That was strategy and tactics. LBJ, they say, "Be like LBJ." He had 295 House Democrats, 68 Senate Democrats. He could avoid...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It was very different.

DIONNE: It was a lot easier for him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Peggy, then Paul?

NOONAN: I think it is an old cliche in Washington that a leader, a president must be both feared and revered. I think this president's problems don't have to do with his personality and fearsomeness. I think it has to do with policy issues.

I think the Democrats who are talking about his weakness are not able to see that the president has made some policy judgments that are problematic. I think they -- they just sort of don't see it and the president's weakness has to do with policy judgments. If his political judgment were more respected, I think he'd be in a better position. But it's not that people don't fear him.

KRUGMAN: Two things. First, I think a lot of people are basically just complaining that he's a Democrat. You know, this -- it's -- you know, Will Rogers, more than 70 years ago, said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." I mean, Democratic presidents can't lead the same way Republicans can.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they let the process work its way through.

KRUGMAN: Right. And so there's some of that. Now, this complaint, this is a weird time to be holding this narrative forth, right? I mean, in the spring, when they were going easy on the banks, when they were sort of low-balling the stimulus, that's a time when you could say, "Well, you know, he's not being tough."

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