Transcript: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

But, you know, the conservatives, at this point, need arguments. They want -- they want to fight. They want to raise money. They want to rally their base. And I don't see them making a big intellectual argument against any of these candidates, except that they might find some issue to go out there and throw red meat at their party's disgruntled base.

DIONNE: You know, and I think they've got a problem, which is they do need to make a principled argument. They do need to rally their base. The voters they've been losing ground among are middle- of-the-road young, suburban voters. They don't want a hard-right Republican Party.

So it's going to be interesting as to how they frame this. But I think Obama would welcome another fight, which is a fight about empathy.

(LAUGHTER)

I think that, if the Republicans want to cast themselves as opponents of empathy, that would be a very interesting argument.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: George, go right ahead.

WILL: Well, I actually don't think empathy is -- is the test. In fact, I think it can be a judicial defect. We all are familiar with, and are going to hear over and over again, the famous story of Justice Holmes leaving lunch with Learned Hand. Learned Hand says, "Mr. Justice, do justice." Justice Holmes stopped his carriage and said to Learned Hand, "That's not my job, to do justice. My job is to apply the law."

(LAUGHTER)

DIONNE: And if reading the Constitution were like reading a cookbook, we wouldn't have so many 5-4 decisions.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: If I could just speak up for the Oprah wing of the conservative movement...

(LAUGHTER)

... I am, sort of, pro-empathy. I don't think we can have automatons. I don't think there are automatons in the universe. People make decisions based on emotional reactions, even people wearing black robes.

And to me, the Republican Party would be in a lot stronger position if they framed the argument -- say it's on civil rights -- this way. We can either lower the standards for some groups or we can empower people to meet those standards through education, through 8 million policies I've already -- already suggested.

The problem is the Republicans haven't suggested those policies. They haven't talked about ways to get groups up so they can meet all these, say, firefighter standards.

WILL: Let's also remember that the presidents have to be surprised by whomever he appoints. Roosevelt was chagrined by the results of appointing Felix Frankfurter. David Souter, who this person is replacing, was certainly a surprise to the conservatives. Harry Truman when, in the steel seizure case, two of his appointees ruled against him, said, when you appoint a man to the Supreme Court, you lose a friend.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, I wonder if that's...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... if that's no longer true.

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: Because of the thoroughness?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because of the thoroughness of the vetting process.

WILL: Could be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've seen the last four -- the last four appointees, both Democrat and Republican, have performed pretty much according to form.

Let's switch subjects, right now, to the big debate of the past week, President Obama up against former Vice President Dick Cheney.

And it seemed like the parties were really maneuvering for political advantage this week, as well, the president trying to seize back the debate.

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