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Margaret Carlson: 'Anyone Can Grow Up"

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Margaret Carlson's new book, "Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House," is in the Page Turners spotlight.

Time Magazine's first female columnist chronicles her upbringing and experience as the protector of her mentally-challenged older brother. On CNN's "Inside Politics," Carlson talked about how her family experience has informed her analysis of the Washington political scene.

She said she learned at an early age "who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and who was going to pick on the weak." In Washington, she said, "Sometimes its the people with the most power who are abusing it."

Carlson's book also features a collection of her columns, touching on public figures ranging from Bill Clinton to Nicole Simpson.

During her career at TIME, Carlson served as the magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief, after serving as a White House correspondent. In addition to her duties at the magazine, she serves as a panelist on CNN's political programs "Inside Politics" and "The Capital Gang."

Carlson joined TIME in January 1988 from the New Republic, where she was managing editor. Her journalism career has included stints as Washington bureau chief for Esquire magazine, editor of Washington Weekly, and editor of the Legal Times of Washington.

Carlson holds a law degree from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.

The following is an edited transcript of her interview on CNN:

Judy Woodruff: The book is "Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House." The author is Margaret Carlson. This is a book about Washington and politicians, Margaret, but it's also very much a book about you. You grew up as the adored daughter of a hard-working middle-class Catholic family in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you say all that propelled you to Washington to be a journalist. How?

Margaret Carlson: I grew up as my brother's protector and keeper in the neighborhood because he is two years older than I am and was born with severe brain damage.

And inside the house, my parents were in charge, but outside the house, I was in charge. So from a very early age I learned who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and who was going to pick on the weak.

And, you know, I said if you want me on your team, you've gotta chose my brother. And, by the way, don't twist his training wheels so he can't ride his bike. I became also a little bit of a tattletale, which prepares you for journalism. I'd knock on the door and say, "Do you know what Johnny did to my brother?" You know and try to get a little bit of action.

Woodruff: You also said it's not always the people you think who are mean to the people who can't help themselves.

Carlson: Sometimes it was the kid with the fancy Schwinn bike and the best baseball bat who would be the meanest. You come to Washington and you see sometimes its the people with the most power who are abusing it.

Woodruff: What do you think drew you to Washington?

Carlson: My first job was with Ralph Nader. I heard him speak and I said to myself, you know, he is going to go after the big guys who are bullying the weak guys and I like that in a person.

And I went to work for him for $75 a week. Then I went to law school to be a lawyer like Ralph Nader. Eventually I gave up the law because I saw that what Ralph Nader had done to achieve much of what he had achieved was to write books and articles to kind of change the attitude toward General Motors and seatbelts and airbags.

Woodruff: Margaret, in what you've written over the years, you've been very tough on some politicians, on a lot of politicians. Where do you get the guts to be so tough on these people who usually deserve it?

Carlson: Well, you know I've been guardian of my brother for the last 12 years.

Woodruff: And I should say both Democrats and Republicans.

Carlson: Yes, it's an equal opportunity type thing. Well, you know I've been guardian of my brother for the last 12 years and when you're going up against the bureaucracy and you're trying to find a job and when you're trying to get services out of the government, you just become so ferocious for somebody that you care about and you love, that, you know, going against someone like [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay or [ House Ways and Means Chairman] Bill Thomas because he's sticking something in the tax bill that's going to deprive people of their fair share of that tax cut, it just doesn't it just seems like fairness. It doesn't seem as if its an attack on anybody.

Woodruff: Put your complete political hat on. We're looking at right now a complete political contest with nine Democratic candidates running to take on George Bush. What kind of campaign are we in for, do you think?

Carlson: You know, at this point, its a bunch of adolescents who haven't really gotten to the main show yet. They seem to be going at each other in a very childish way.

[Former Vermont Gov.] Howard Dean, who is the press person because he's the new anti-Wash person, has come off kind of badly in the first two big events in that he keeps scrapping with [Massachusetts Sen.] John Kerry in a way that's like, hey, you're taking my baseball bat and ball and don't you dare do that. And he looks a little bit like Al Gore at his worst moments.

I'm not sure Howard Dean, at this point, is someone we want in our living rooms every night. I think his star is fading. John Kerry, who's the leader who looks like the person who might be able to go up against George Bush, having had the Vietnam experience, having all the money, the hair, the teeth, the Kennedy look,the money.

Woodruff: But it's still early.

Carlson: It's very early.

Judy Woodruff is CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She also anchors "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," weekdays at 4 pm ET.

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