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Is Dick Cheney Too Conservative?

Aired July 26, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Dick Cheney has an image that is palatable, but Jesus warned us to be aware of wolves in sheep clothing.


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Democrats attack George W. Bush's running mate for being conservative. Tonight, what's so wrong with being conservative?


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I supported, and certainly I do have a conservative record, but I'm proud of it.


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, a Bush supporter. And in Chicago, Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow/Push coalition and a Gore supporter.

MATALIN: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Governor George W. Bush and his brand new running mate, Dick Cheney, made their joint campaign debut today in Wyoming, which Cheney represented in the late '70s and early 80s. Their maiden event was at the local high school where Dick Cheney, the football co-captain, met his wife Lynne, the prom queen. Bush dismissed the steady attack assault on his vice-presidential choice as typical attack-politics.

Meanwhile, Vice President Gore campaigned in Chicago at the Rainbow/Push Coalition, where its founder, Reverend Jesse Jackson, according to press account -- quote -- "unleashed a ferocious attack on Cheney" -- end quote. Gore contended the selection highlights the differences between the campaigns and that conservatism will be the loser.

So tonight, is the first campaign of the new century turning out to be an old fashion liberal versus conservative contest? Is conservatism a losing philosophy or a reflection of mainstream America? And just what is 21st century conservatism, anyway -- Bill. BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Nobody better to speak about conservatism than Bob Barr.

Congressman, welcome back.

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Always a pleasure, Bill. Thank you.

PRESS: I think you and I are going a agree on something right off the bat tonight. I want to make you a deal. I will admit that I am too far to the left for most Americans if you will admit that Dick Cheney is too far to the right for most Americans. Deal?

BARR: You're wrong again. Dick Cheney is mainstream America any way you cut, slice, dice it or chop it, Bill.

PRESS: Mainstream America?

BARR: He stands for freedom, free enterprise, responsibility, lower taxes, lower regulations, strong national defense. You tell me where a mainstream America is not on the same wavelength there with Dick Cheney.

PRESS: Well, I'll let someone else tell you where he's not on the mainstream. And we are not talking about the fact he's conservative. I mean, there are a lot of conservatives out there. But Dick Cheney, as his voting record proves, is an extreme conservative. Let me highlight to you.

BARR: Now, don't go that extreme liable. He is mainstream.

PRESS: He has earned it. Let me let John Kerry show you where -- just some of the issues -- show you how extreme this man is. Here's Senator John Kerry.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And I find so many of his votes to represent a different vision for the country than I and many of my colleagues are fighting for. I don't know how you vote against Head Start. I don't know how you vote not to free Nelson Mandela from prison. I don't know how you vote against Superfund and Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water act.


PRESS: Safe Drinking Water Act, against that is mainstream America?

BARR: You know, maybe if Dick Cheney were running against Kerry for a House seat somewhere, these might be a legitimate basis for debate. But Dick Cheney is not running. You can go back, as you well know, Bill, in anybody's voting record. You know, Dick Cheney might have voted against Head Start because he has heard the same thing I've heard from a lot of people. And that is the program is very poorly managed. What he might have voted against was a specific increase in it that wasn't warranted. This is silliness. The is the silly season, where they are going to go back and they are going to nitpick somebody's past voting record. The fact of the matter is, Dick Cheney stands for free enterprises, responsibility, less government regulation, lower taxes, and strong defense. And that is mainstream America. And you can't stand it.

PRESS: We will see more of it.

MATALIN: OK, Reverend Jackson, let's go back to Bill's point about most Americans are in the middle, OK. As the press has said, this attack on Dick Cheney -- and by extension, conservatism -- has been sustained and ferocious. But I'm wondering if it might just be misplaced. According to a poll taken last month by Battleground Poll, when asked: What do you consider yourself, 59 percent of the respondents said very or somewhat conservative, versus 31 percent who said they were somewhat or very liberal.

Only seven percent said they were moderate. People are -- people consider think conservative, and consider Dick Cheney in concert with their views.

JACKSON: Well, these definitions keep changing, whether George Bush chose an oil-mate and a father figure whose record speaks for little. He voted against workers having a pre-notice on plant closings. That cuts across the board. He voted against a woman's right to choose when there is a case of rape an incest. I mean, that will not go away. He voted six times to not impose sanctions on apartheid in South Africa -- voted not to release Nelson Mandela -- voted against Head Start -- these are moral centers. These are not right or left. I mean, these are issues for Appalachia. And these are issues...

MATALIN: And you know what, Reverend, can I just say this, because that was his voting in the late 70s and early 80s. And I think you know this by now: When he and Vice President Gore served together, they shared the exact same -- virtually the same voting record on abortion, on guns. They got the highest rating from both of those right-wing extreme groups.

So that was 20 years ago. We are talking not about Cheney's record 20 years ago, but Bush's proposals for the future. Don't you think that's where this race should be fought out?

JACKSON: Well, it has to be about the future. But in a real sense, it seemed that Powell was eliminated -- Colin Powell -- because his support for affirmative action got him booed at the last convention. And Pataki, he was pro-life. It got knocked out. McCain was for finance reform. It got him knocked out. So we end up with Cheney, who is just an oil-mate and a father figure. His record of extreme right-wing politics is one he's proud of. The question is, does the nation accept his position on Head Start? Does the nation accept his position on prenatal care, Head Start, day care? I think the nation does not accept his positions.

MATALIN: They accept Bush's positions. But, Reverend Jackson, with all due respect, you know Colin Powell was at the top of Governor Bush's list. He was the top of any Republican's list. You know the governor went to him. And that's simply misstatement of fact that Colin Powell was booted off the short list or "A" list.

JACKSON: No, the top of the PR list. The reality is, you don't go from Colin Powell to Dick Cheney. That is a radical leap. Because in some sense, when Bush went to South Carolina and wrapped himself in the flag of Jefferson Davis, and then went to NAACP and wrapped himself in the flag of Abraham Lincoln, it was that kind of ideological gap that created too much gap between George Bush and Colin Powell and other moderate Republicans.

PRESS: Congressman Barr, I want to get one thing straight here: this the idea that Dick Cheney and Al Gore had the same voting record when they were in Congress. When Dick Cheney was in Congress, the American Conservative Union gave him an average -- over the years he was in Congress -- he was there 12 years -- an average of 90.8. That was his score. Do you know what Al Gore's average score was from the ACU?

BARR: I don't know and I don't care. I'm sure it was much lower. But I think you're misquoting Mary. She didn't say they had the same voting record. She said just with regard to two groups.

PRESS: She said the conservative organizations is greater than (CROSSTALK)

BARR: No, she said on pro-life issue and gun control issues.

MATALIN: Thank you.

PRESS: His conservative -- his record from the American Conservative Stiff union was 14.6. The idea that Dick Cheney and Al Gore were the same person in Congress is simply fallacious.

BARR: Oh, listen, they weren't the same. What you have is, you an ultra-liberal in Al Gore and a solid, mainstream conservative in Cheney. Yes, they're very different people now.

PRESS: You're wrong. You're wrong by the way about both. Now, let's get back to this mainstream issue. And I just want to mention a couple of issues. I know you guys, you nominated me yesterday. You want to run away from his record today. Well, guess what, you're not going to run...

BARR: I'm not running away from anything. I'm very proud of it. And I'm sure Dick Cheney is.

PRESS: OK, good, let's be proud of it then. Let's talk about a couple of issues. On guns -- one of your favorite issues, Mr. NRA board member -- Dick Cheney in 1985 was one of 21, only 21 members of Congress to vote against a ban on those cop-killer bullets, those armor-piercing bullets. You tell me that's where mainstream America is?

BARR: What I will tell you this is it's a red herring, Bill Press...

PRESS: Red herring?

BARR: ... because first of all, any bullet is a cop-killer bullet. And what happened back then -- and we deal with this over and over again with the gun control people on the Judiciary Committee -- is they keep coming up with more and more broader definitions of what satisfies their definition of a so-called cop killer bullet. Any bullet is a cop-killer bullet. And what we have to do is to protect our police officers, not engage in these sophistic definitions to outlaw ammunition.

Dick Cheney said it would be wrong to outlaw ammunition.

PRESS: Actually, if you look at the debate, it was the police officers who were asking for the ban. Dick Cheney voted against it. Let me give you another issue on seniors. In 1987, Dick Cheney was one of eight -- eight only -- members of Congress to vote against the Older Americans Act. Newt Gingrich voted for it.

Are you telling me that's in the mainstream, to deny nutrition and assistance to senior citizens?

BARR: There is so much waste in government, Bill Press. We have to deal with this also, constantly. They want to give meals and just throw food, throw money.

PRESS: Meals for seniors is waste?

BARR: Bill, I don't snow what the specific parameters of that were. It could have been some cockamamie, wasteful government program for which there was...

PRESS: Gingrich voted for it.

BARR: Well, that doesn't mean anything -- for which, maybe the very next vote was one in favor of a much better program for seniors. You don't know that. You're just reading what somebody tells you.

MATALIN: Reverend, we can spend the rest of the show nitpicking Congressional records 20 years ago or we can cite some facts. No one is running away from Cheney's record, so much as disputing the Democratic distortion of it. Let me give you some facts, OK, not a distortion of a 20-year-old record. Since Clinton has come to town, Republicans have picked up a dozen governorships, almost a dozen Senate seats, almost four-dozen Congressional seats. There have been 478 Democrats switching to the Republican Party, including a Southern California congressman today.

Marty Martinez switched to the Republican Party, saying that you guys, Democrats, are hypocrites. If conservatism is so repugnant, why are more Americans than ever than ever voting for Republicans?

JACKSON: All I really know is that, eight years ago, we were in the nation's greatest debt and deficit. And now we are in the nation's greatest economic surplus, with the most jobs and the most economic growth. When Gore runs on the record of deficit for surplus...

BARR: Of the Republican Congress.

JACKSON: ... and more Americans work. When he runs on the record of budget priorities, of investment, inclusion, and growth, that's a winner for all Americans.

PRESS: OK. We are going to take a break right there -- right, left, and center, the debate continues. Where are Americans heading? We will pick up that question when we come back on CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I remember when liberal was a dirty word. But now, with all the flap over Dick Cheney, is conservative becoming a dirty word? But what's it mean to be a conservative today? And where are most Americans, left, right or center? We cover the political spectrum, from left to right tonight with Congressman Bob Barr, Republican from Georgia, who is supporting George W. Bush, and with Reverend Jesse Jackson joining us from Chicago, former Democratic candidate for president and supporter of Vice President Al Gore -- Mary.

MATALIN: OK, Reverend, we've been talking about, again, an ancient voting record here. That was conservatism as it existed then in an era of deficits. And what Dick Cheney said last night on "LARRY KING LIVE" was, his votes represented fiscal conservatism. Let me read you a couple of quotes -- just a couple -- just a couple of quotes that are reflective of George W. Bush's -- he's the guy who is running for president -- his thinking in 20 -- which reflects 21st- century conservatism.

He has derided his sitting conservatives as having a destructive mindset when they take an approach, he says, that "has no higher goal, no nobler purpose than: Leave us alone" He has said that "economic growth is not the solution to every problem, that a rising tide lifts many boats, but not all." And he had derided Republicans for confusing the need for a limited government with a disdain for government himself. Can't we debate George W. Bush's 21st-century conservatism here? Or are we going to have just an ancient, irrelevant debate?

JACKSON: We can, but America is a liberal idea. I mean, give me your tired, your huddled masses who yearn to breath free. Bring them to my teaming shores, and I'll make of the rejected cornerstones. That's a liberal idea. So, when Gore takes the idea of universal health care, choosing prenatal care, Head Start, and day care on the front side over (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wealth on the back side, that's moral center.

As he moves towards universal health care -- there are 50 million Americans that have no health insurance; 1500 die a day from cancer. A coal miner dies from black lung disease every day. To address the needs with a surplus is the moral center. It's not political, right or left, it is the moral center. MATALIN: OK. Whatever the label will be, but let's look at results in Texas. Look at Bush's record. This is also the moral center. Who cares what you call it? Here's what happened in education, which every kid, every day, under the current public school system is falling backward. In Texas, under accountability and responsibility, minority kids in particular are advancing at rates faster than anywhere else in the country, That's 21st-century compassionate conservatism.

JACKSON: In his budget priorities, it is debt elimination and tax relief, not investment, inclusion, and growth. And the reason I'm glad that Gore is going to do some campaigning in Appalachia -- "a," to help de-racialize the debate, but "b", most poor Americans are not on welfare. They work every day. They work in hospitals. And they clean beds, then can't sleep in them when they get sick. Most poor Americans are not on welfare. They work every day. So when Gore fights for the working poor and Cheney is against giving workers pre- notice that their plant is going to close, that's quite a gap.

And I am proud to be part of a gap that would say: Give the American workers first priority. I mean, who can be against that?

PRESS: Congressman Barr, I want to bring up to today too. And I was really curious about why George W. Bush would pick Dick Cheney as vice president. And I think I discovered why today in the statement by a leading Republican.

BARR: I can tell you.

PRESS: A leading Republican, let him speak for himself, please.


ALAN KEYES (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would simply want to say that my main concern has been to make sure that no one was placed on the ticket who would be committed to the pro-abortion cause and would therefore represent an abandonment of the party's principles in that practical way. Obviously, that criterion has been satisfied. And that's my only concern.


PRESS: So George Bush went so far to the right that he got Alan Keyes to drop out of the race and endorse him. Was it worth it? Is that the mainstream?

BARR: The mainstream of America is against abortion, Bill, and that is precisely where Dick Cheney is. I mean, you're lead in for this, you talk about this flap. This is just a flap in your mind and the mind of liberals. There is no flap out there. Dick Cheney is a solid, mainstream American who believes in those conservative values of free enterprise, self-reliance, responsibility -- those are the sorts of things -- tax relief.

JACKSON: We all believe in that, but if a woman is impregnated because she is raped or incest, Cheney is against that, too. Does a woman have any rights at all?

BARR: No, no, no, he said he is very comfortable with George W. Bush's position. You ought to listen, Reverend, that is what he said last night. That is what he said today. And he said he is very comfortable with that.

JACKSON: He's comfortable. He would never face rape or incest. This man would be one heartbeat away from being the presidency, and he seems to have radical disregard for the rights of workers and women and basic civil rights for all Americans.

BARR: Well, I don't know what the rights of workers have to do with right to life. I mean, thank goodness we have somebody that will stand up and say that the unborn of this country have right to life. That is a mainstream position. Your position that you believe in abortion is not mainstream.

JACKSON: Rights of workers is through the mainstream -- the right to livable wage -- the right to organize, the right to job security, the right to be noticed when a plant is going close on you. So whether you are in Appalachia or Mud Creek, Kentucky or West Virginia or Mississippi, how can you be against workers having protection against international tyranny?

BARR: Well, this will be a long campaign. It will be focused primarily on four people -- unfortunately, not you or I, or Bill, or Mary, with all due respect. Dick Cheney and George W. Bush will be traveling the length and breadth of America. They will be visiting those communities. They will be talking about creating jobs, lowering taxes, freeing up the engine of free enterprise, building up our national defense. Those are mainstream issues.

JACKSON: These two oil-mates will need a job around November 10.

MATALIN: Jesse, can I just ask you one final question? Secretary Cheney, when he was confirmed, was voted on favorably by Gore, by Nunn, Mitchell, by (UNINTELLIGIBLE), all these Democratic leaders. They all cited respect for the ability...

PRESS: For defense secretary.

MATALIN: For secretary of defense, who oversees the lives of millions of Americans: their education, their health care, ensures that they're not discriminated against. If they thought he was so wonderful and respected him so much then, what's the big hoorah today, other than just pure attack-politics?

JACKSON: Well, there's this contrast between his image -- perception and reality. And while they accepted his appointment by the president, now that he's about to be a heartbeat away from America's president, does America stand by his position on workers and their right of plant-closing notification? Do women accept the idea that if they are raped, or victim of incest, they cannot have the right to chooses? Why would he vote against Nelson Mandela's freedom? I mean... MATALIN: He had -- Reverend, as you know last night, you probably didn't get to watch him, because you're in the middle of running your conference -- he said he has the highest regard for Mandela.

Thank you so much, Reverend, we know how busy you are at the conference.

JACKSON: Well, he wanted Mandela in jail. (CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Out of time. Out of time, Jesse, thanks for joining us.

As always, Congressman, it's a pleasure.

Bill Cross -- Bill Cross and I will be right back on our PRESSFIRE final comments.


MATALIN: Don't miss Friday's show, when CROSSFIRE comes to you live from the Republican Convention site in Philadelphia. Our guests are former RNC chairman Haley Barbour and current DNC chairman Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia.

PRESS: Can't wait. Good show.

MATALIN: Two great guys. And I can't wait to stop this track that we are on, distorting Cheney's record and attacking him. I'm just telling you calmly, it's a bad strategy for the campaign. It's going to backfire. What Al Gore needs to do is talk about what he's for, not what Dick Cheney's 20-year-old record was.

PRESS: What -- it does matter what Dick Cheney is for. And I repeat what I said yesterday, when one person -- you or anybody else -- shows me one vote that was wrong, then I will stop citing them. But let me tell you something. You know what's really going on here? I think George Bush recognized at one time that Dick Armey and those guys had taken the party too far to the right. He called himself the compassionate conservatism.

Now, he's gone as far to the right as they are by picking Dick Cheney.

MATALIN: Nice try.

PRESS: No, he had a chance to prove himself. He didn't.

MATALIN: This is not going anywhere.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the proud right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us tomorrow night for more CROSSFIRE.



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