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Crossfire

Does Jesse Ventura Really Stand Alone?

Aired September 22, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Get ready to rumble. Tonight, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Who does he think should be the next president? Does he want the job someday? And why does he take on CROSSFIRE in his new book?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, in Seattle, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, author of "Do I Stand Alone?: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals."

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The White House made news today. The president directed the first oil release since the Gulf War from the government's oil reserves, a move urged by Al Gore to hold down raging energy prices six weeks off from the election.

With an eye on her election, the president's wife, U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Clinton, dismissed charges that the White House sleep-overs were quid pro quos for campaign contributors after the White House released a list indicating that one of every four overnighters have indeed kicked in to her campaign kitty.

Our guest tonight makes news on almost every day. His latest best seller is a wake up call to America -- "Do I Stand Alone?: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals." He takes on the whole system, with special ferocity reserved for the media, including our own Bill Press, who must have been scared of the former wrestler because he took the night off.

Though the media and political cronies lob an occasional nasty shot his way, the governor enjoys record-high approval ratings from fellow Minnesotans -- the ones who vote. But do voters really have the power in politics today. Does the American political system work as well as it should? Will Election 2000 get us back on track? Answers and words of wisdom from Jesse "The Wonk" Ventura.

Defending the Bill Press position tonight, Democratic strategist and Gore adviser Peter "The Body" Fenn.

PETER FENN, GUEST CO-HOST: All right, that's the first time anybody's said that to me, Mary.

Listen, it's great to have you with us, Governor. I'll tell you, this election for president is just about six weeks away now. And it looks like, right at this moment, that it's going to be one of the closest elections in our history.

And one of the questions I have for you is, if this thing gets so close that an endorsement by you could truly make the difference in this race, would you consider the possibility of an endorsement in this campaign?

GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: Well, I would have to honestly say unless I get a real change of heart, and I made this clear to the vice president when I've spent a few days with him, that I'm a true believer that we have to have a third party movement in this country. And I feel I'd be betraying that movement if I endorsed either a Democrat or a Republican.

But as I told the vice president, I will happily endorse policy. If they come out with something that I agree with, I'll be more than happy to say that I agree with that. But I'm still one of them people that believes we need the rise of a centrist third party in this country.

FENN: It's interesting, Governor, you talk about policy and I read your book thoroughly, and I of course know your issue stands, being a Macalester College graduate from Minnesota. And one of the things that I noticed in that book was if we were to line up -- and we'll maybe put this up on the screen -- if we were to line up where you agree with George Bush, it's -- you're pro-gun, No. 1, you also talk about taxes and tax reform, which he he does, and you have a bit of a concern about less government, of course.

But, you know, if we were to make the list for Al Gore, it's a very long list. You're pro-choice, you're both pro-environment, you're both pro-campaign finance reform, you're both pro-gay rights, you're for increased education funding, HMOs, against private school vouchers. I mean. you agree, it seems to me, with Al Gore a lot more than you agree with George W. Bush. Would you say that's accurate?

VENTURA: Well, I would say this, Peter, that as I've always been on the fiscal side and the money side, I sit more conservative. But on social issues, I'm more liberal. And I think that's what most people in America are -- fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

MATALIN: OK, Governor, you do endorse policies. Let's go to the news of the day, a very important new policy today, as we said at the outset of the show, the first -- only second time in history release from our emergency reserves, the first time being the the Gulf War, at the urging of Al Gore, about which "The Washington Post," who is going to endorse Gore -- they've always endorsed liberals -- had to say, quote, "It's a bad idea, a dramatic gesture that might do the candidate some political good in the short run while setting a precedent that could do the country harm in the long run."

Minnesota is a cold, cold state, Governor -- that's my theory on why everybody's so is smart up there, they can't go outside in winter, they stay in and read -- and you may have some energy, heating problems up there yourself. But do you endorse the solution, that extreme solution of tapping our reserves, to solve that?

VENTURA: Well, certainly it's, as you said, Mary, it's a very important issue to us in Minnesota, because naturally we definitely have to heat our homes and our businesses for probably at least six months out of the year.

Do I endorse it? I would have to tell you that, you know, I'm not privy to all information that the president has. I don't deal in foreign policy on a general, daily bases as they do, so it would have to come down to me just simply having to trust their decision, as I think most Americans and certainly Minnesotans will have to do.

And ultimately the proof in the pudding will be, as you said, in the long run what the final results will be on this. But I don't mean to try to look like I'm skirting the question, but I really don't think I'm qualified to really give an educated answer on it. I have to trust the decision made by the president.

MATALIN: How about a gut answer, Governor, because your career has been catapulted by your good gut. If the reserve was set out for extreme cases, wars or serious disruption of oil, then do you think that six weeks out from an election, the release to hold down costs in the vice president's key voting area doesn't smack of a little bit of politics?

VENTURA: Well, it may smack of some politics, Mary, but when I get home to Minnesota tomorrow, the temperature's already going to be down to 40 degrees. So that means we will be already starting to heat our homes in Minnesota. And if this looks like the disaster or the crisis situation that it's being made out to be financially, then it may not be a bad idea.

Certainly you would question the timing of it, but again, it's getting cold in Minnesota already. And when you talk about people that maybe financially aren't as secure, and that if the price of home heating oil were to double it could put them under severe strain, well, a crisis could be also, as we well know in Minnesota, staying warm in the winter. That's a crisis if you're cold.

FENN: Governor, let's go to your book a little bit here. You have a line in there where you're talking about pornography, and you're talking now, I think, a little bit, too, about Hollywood, very concerned about pushing Hollywood too hard. But you do say, "I think it's perfectly reasonable to limit the outlets of pornographic speech and images. It shouldn't be anywhere where it could be made available to children."

That's in your book, later on. But in -- earlier on in your book you talk in a rather light-hearted fashion about being president of the United States and about having one of your favorite artists, Warren Zevon, there who has a song, and I tell you, I can't -- I can't give you the words, but we'll put them up on the screen here with a little bleep, bleep up. But anyway, is that bit of contradiction? Are you concerned? Have you stuck your foot in it again, Governor, with this line. Are you going to get all kinds of calls from the Christian Coalition on this one?

VENTURA: Well, if I do, it won't matter to me anyway. But the point is Warren Zevon is an artist. I'm not going to question the songs that he writes, and actually that song you're referring to is really a song about aging and growing old. He just uses a few explicit terms, or maybe you want to call them street terms or -- to describe it. But you know, Mr. Zevon is a very talented singer/songwriter.

You know, he wrote "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" for Linda Ronstadt, and I'm not going to question his artistic end of it. You know, when I made the statement, you know, having fun that I'd have Warren come and sing at the White House if I were the president, that's true. because -- but let's remember something. I've been to those dinners at the White House, at the MGA, and there's no children there. It's all adults, and rest assured that what Mr. Zevon wrote has been heard by us adults many, many times before.

FENN: Well, if it's talking about you and I getting old, Governor, I guess it'll be OK, then.

VENTURA: Well, listen to the song. You'll find it's pretty good. It's an acoustic guitar number.

MATALIN: Governor, let's go back to the presidential race and pit it off of your book, which is, once again, home-grown Jessie "The Wonk" Ventura. It's great wit, it's great populism, it's real populism. And in there you say that you don't buy George Bush's -- let me use your exact words -- Bush's "people president."

Let me tell you again, using "The Washington Post," who's going to endorse the vice president, has had to say about Gore's populism. Quote: "In lashing out against big oil, big pharmaceutical firms and big health-maintenance organizations, Mr. Gore is playing the demagogue and he himself must know it."

Do you buy the vice president's version of his running as the people's president?

VENTURA: Well, they're both going to try to do that, Mary. You know that as well as I do. You know, when you get into a race for the highest office in the land, believe me, both candidates are going to say everything they feel they need to say to try to win this election. And, you know, I believe the American people are smart enough they understand that also. It's a case of, you know, when you get down to this level of politics, it is a chess game. It is move and countermove, And they are going to continue to do that, absolutely.

MATALIN: Can I ask you about the first lady quickly before we go to break?

VENTURA: Sure. MATALIN: And the other news of the day was the -- she is now -- it is now her campaign that is providing the popcorn for Lincoln Bedroom overnights. But no one seems to care about an issue that cranks your chain, and that is campaign finance reform. Any comment on the White House release of the -- the first lady sleepovers?

VENTURA: Well, I'll tell you what: If letting someone merely sleep over at your house for a campaign contribution, I would be more worried about other things than that. You know, certainly the president naturally -- and the first lady -- you know they are going to have people that contribute sleep over. They are going to entertain them.

The bigger picture that I think we need to look at, Mary, is the fact that, when they are out campaigning seven days a week, I'm very disturbed that I'll you bet six out of those seven days are spent on raising money rather than talking issues and saying what they are about. Every day, they are raising money. It is becoming obscene, the amount of money spent to get elected.

MATALIN: Jesse Ventura, evoking thoughts seven days a week. We'll be back with more of the governor, more on his book. And the meantime, you can weigh in, vote, on this question: Should Jessie Ventura run for president?

We want you to know what you think. He may, too. Cast your vote at cnn.com/CROSSFIRE. And we'll show the results later in the show.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FENN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

I'm Peter Fenn, sitting in for Bill Press.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is our guest. And we're talking to him about his new -- his second book, "Do I Stand Alone?: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals."

Two books in two years. Does this guy ever sleep, Mary?

MATALIN: All right, Governor, here is where you don't stand alone. I am four-square behind you. A big portion of the book takes on the media: its irresponsibility, its lack of accountability. It creates stories. It follows scandal. And when you particularly pointed out that our own Bill Press, when someone was defending you, wouldn't let your defenders speak.

I feel your pain on that point, in particular. But what do you think of the -- what appears to be the candidates' response to try -- trying to break through that media filter by going on late night TV, and in the last two weeks, going on the queen of daytime TV, and getting more coverage for going on "Oprah Winfrey" than anything they have been able to do in the last -- since the general election has started? Does that bode ill or well for the future of politics?

VENTURA: Well, I don't know. I think it's a case of the candidates out there trying to, you know, get across to people that they are real people in a more calm setting, and not necessarily, you know, in the hard-core political, you know -- like CROSSFIRE, you now, where they're going to sit and field those, you know, all-political questions.

This is obviously a case where they want to show that they are real people and what their private lives are like. Interesting thing that goes right along those lines in Minnesota: You know, the president asked me to step forward on opening trade to China, I went out to Washington, testified in front of the Ways and Means Committee, which this would literally affect every Minnesotan in some way, shape or form, if not everyone in America.

Four major TV stations in Minnesota: Only one sent a reporter out to Washington to cover that. Yet a couple months later, I went out and did a cameo appearance on the soap opera, "Young and the Restless," they all sent media crews out there. We had to bring them in, in three shifts. So there is your point on what are they covering, meat and potatoes, or are they covering fluff?

MATALIN: I could not agree with you more, Governor. Have suffered through it since many campaigns. And I'm just asking about how -- what is the solution? Your solution that you propose in the book is a market-oriented one that we be more responsible news consumers. And I'm a junkie. And I have two kids, so I have to get up in the middle of the night to surf the Web to get my unfiltered news.

Is that a realistic solution for a busy and stressed-out population?

VENTURA: Well, I think it is a case of the population has to react in some way. And they have to let the media know: Look, if we want to be entertained, we will watch sitcoms. We'll watch sports on the weekend. But when it comes time to the news, you know, don't sit and tell us that you are not there for rating points and money when you are trying to, you know, make -- convince us that somehow you are there to educate us, to make us aware of the issues, when it all is -- it all comes down in the end to money and rating points.

FENN: Now, Governor, let me ask you something, with all due respect here: You have said that the more exposure you get to politics, you know, the less appealing it looks to you. Well, I'll tell you, it sure looks like you are having a heck of a good time here. And it sure also looks to me like when it comes to the dream ticket, as you have referred to it, when you talk about John McCain in your book, I mean I think you are spending most of your nights dreaming about this ticket.

You have had a good relationship with him. Do you see, in the future, a possible run for president of the United States with McCain, either as vice president, or maybe you at the top of that ticket? VENTURA: Well, no, I don't see it, because, you know I met with Senator McCain when he was attempting to get the Republican nomination. And I told him point blank: "They are never going make you their man. They are never going to put you at the top of the ticket. You need to quit the party, run as a complete independent, and then could you quite possibly..."

And I believe John McCain could have won the presidency this election. Do I see it down the line? No, because the senator looked me right in the eye said: "I am a Republican. And I will always remain a Republican."

Well, Jesse Ventura is a third-party man, and he will always remain a third-party man.

FENN: But, Governor, the third party right now, is in a shambles. This Reform Party is...

VENTURA: Not in Minnesota.

FENN: Well, I don't think you're going to elect any members of Congress from the Independent Party out there. You may -- you may -- you have some candidates in the state legislature, I understand, but look, here's the problem that you have...

VENTURA: Wait and see.

FENN: Well, we'll see, too. But here's the problem you have. Look, you look at American history the last 100 years, George Wallace got 46 electoral votes in 1968, and that was a top. You know -- as you know, Ross Perot may have gotten 19 percent of the vote of, but he didn't get any electoral votes. You know, if you want to be a national figure, if you want to run for national office in this country, don't you have to run as a member of the Democratic or Republican Parties? And, of course, you're closer to the Democratic Party, as Mary and I know, right, Mary.

MATALIN: No, I don't agree with that.

VENTURA: No, and I don't agree with that either. I'm a centrist. I'm right in the middle. Do you have to? No, I don't believe that you would have to. I believe very strongly that if you get the right combination of independent candidates, you could still win this election.

Let's look at what's going on right now. You're getting less than 50 percent of the people are turning out to vote. And what way is the trend going? It's heading down, less and less. We only offer two choices, right? That's only one better than Russia, you know?

MATALIN: Governor...

VENTURA: Now wait, let me finish.

MATALIN: All right. VENTURA: Now take a look at the country of Israel. They run at least four candidates from four parties, and they're getting over a 90 percent voter turnout.

MATALIN: Well, Governor, the reason I don't agree that you're more one way or the other -- and if you were, I would say that on the issues that are most important to Republicans, fiscal conservatism, you've always been there.

And the evidence that I think you would lean our way is that you're being challenged by the biggest liberal I know after Hillary Rodham Clinton, that's Wellstone. Why he's challenging you based on your wrestling bona fides, but he's recently said that you've spent a career at provoking and intimidating your opponents, and he is looking at running against you in 2002. Do you have any comment on that race or your future in Minnesota, if not nationally?

VENTURA: Well, first of all, you know, I'll decide -- I've changed -- you know, when I wrote the book, I said it was in the middle of a rough legislative session. And I said, in light of everything going on, I was leaning towards not running. Well I've changed my mind a little bit now, and I think I have the right to do so. I'm starting now to lean the other way, that I may well run again in 2002.

If Senator Wellstone wants to be the opponent, good, more power to him. It's just like when I ran in Minnesota '98. There was a large group of candidates at the beginning, it got thinned out, and they asked me then, who would you prefer to run against? I said, give me the two big boys, Norm Coleman and Skip Humphrey. If you're going to beat somebody, beat the best, Mary.

MATALIN: Well, and that is a race we're all going to look forward to. This is a book you all have to read, "Do I Stand Alone?"

Governor, great book, thanks for joining us, great show as always.

Peter and I will be right back with a vote on whether or not Governor Ventura should run for president.

Stay with us for our closing comments and those results.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: The results are in. Earlier, you went online and told us whether or not Jesse Ventura should run for president. Guess what you said? Sixty-two percent of you said yes, 38 percent of you said no.

Peter, I like the man even when I disagree with him.

FENN: Those are pretty good numbers. Well here he is. He's still with us. This was the present my father gave me for my birthday. I thought it would make a nice prop.

MATALIN: And all of the money for his various franchises go to charity.

FENN: Except this book, he takes a little money out of, but this goes to charity.

MATALIN: And this is a great book. And he's -- you know, I love that folksy wisdom. I just wish he would speak the truth about Al Gore and say he's a phony, not a pollster.

FENN: He clearly agrees with Al Gore a lot more than George W. Bush, George "Waffle" Bush..

MATALIN: On the key issues, fiscal conservatism, lower taxes, limited government, right here.

FENN: Middle-class families, middle-class families.

MATALIN: Right here. You're a fellow Minnesotan, too.

FENN: OK, from the left, sitting in for Bill Press, I'm Peter Fenn.

Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Have an enjoyable weekend, and join us next week for more CROSSFIRE.

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