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Capital Gang

Rep. Barney Frank Discusses the Debates

Aired October 7, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington. THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guests is Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

It's great to have you back, Barney.


SHIELDS: At Boston, in the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Governor Bush got personal about the vice president.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He talks about numbers, I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.

I think the thing that discouraged me about the vice president was uttering those famous words, "no controlling legal authority." I felt like that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House.


SHIELDS: Vice President Gore personalized his own answers.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's where World War I started, in the Balkans. My uncle was a victim of poison gas there.

I want to compliment the governor on his response to those fires and floods in Texas. I accompanied James Lee Wit down to Texas when those fires broke out.


SHIELDS: The vice president indicated his displeasure even when he did not have the floor.


BUSH: I've had a record of appointing judges in the state of Texas. That's what a governor gets to do.


BUSH: The man's practicing fuzzy math again. There's differences.



SHIELDS: Al Gore has got asthma, I should point that out.

The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll, based on interviews during the three days after the Boston debate now show a seven-point Bush lead.

Al Hunt, did this debate turn out to be a downer for Vice President Al Gore?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, first, that Gallup tracking poll showing Bush with a seven-point lead is no more credible than the one that showed Gore with an 11-point lead. Eighty percent of the electorate has made up their mind. You don't have those kind of wild swings...

SHIELDS: Eighteen-point swing.

HUNT: It simply doesn't -- it simply doesn't happen.

Gore did have a downer in that election, but Bush -- in that debate, rather, but Bush did not have an upper. A very smart politician said to me the day beforehand, he said, Gore has to prove he's likable, and Bush has to prove he's bright. I think neither passed that test. Bush got lost on some issues. He didn't know the details of his prescription drug plan. The only counter he had to Gore's charges about taxes was those are -- that's fuzzy math.

But Al Gore had to show he's the brightest kid in the class, always raising his hand, reminding the teacher she didn't hand out the homework, hyping some of his -- you know, some of the things he did, lording it over the other kid that I know more. It was very grating.

I think on balance that we had a close election a week ago. We have a very close election tonight.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, a close election, or is there a surge to George Bush?

NOVAK: I think there's a little bit of a drop for Al Gore. I don't know if there's a surge by Bush. Seven points does seem excessive to me, but all the other indications -- plus, just things that I get talking on the phone across the country, I see Bush coming up a bit.

It was a bad debate, Al, for Al Gore. I didn't disagree with anything you said on it. I think the way he looked, he looked like he was big and pasty and pompous, and the sighing and the eye-rolling, I talked to some of the people in Nashville who are in charge of the campaign. They said there was nothing wrong with it. But other Democrats said there's just no reason for that. And I think he will obviously, at the Wake Forest debate, try to improve himself.

But other things, the making up things of going down to Texas with Witt and his jumping on Gore -- I'm sorry, Bush, because he wanted to bring the Russians in at the time that Secretary of State Albright had talked -- had placed six calls to the Russian foreign minister, Ivanov.

I just think -- I don't think he's been a very good candidate.

SHIELDS: Not a very good candidate. Kate O'Beirne, is George Bush a better candidate?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, I think in many respects George Bush is a better -- he's the more likable candidate. And it seems to me with the undecideds, what are they waiting for? There's a great economy, they're sort of happy with the Clinton policy agenda, sort of a quiet issue on the environment, and they resist Al Gore. And I think we saw on Tuesday night why they resist Al Gore.

And I think the kinds of problems we had again on Tuesday, just making things up, it's beginning, I think, to take hold again. It was the case in the spring. It goes to the kind of things Bill Bradley complained about all during the primaries, that Al Gore doesn't tell the truth, and how can we trust him to tell the truth later.

Then he seemed to have rehabilitated himself at the L.A. convention. But now there are more examples of his impulse to deceive. And even though most people, it seems in polls, gave Gore the debate on debating points, that's not how we elect people, and more people had a favorable view of Bush afterwards.

So I think Gore hurt himself, which benefits Bush.

SHIELDS: Barney Frank, unemployment is at 3.9 percent, the lowest in 30 years. Why can't Al Gore close the sale?

FRANK: Well, I think it's because the people who are undecided are in fact unduly influenced by the kind of theater criticism of it all. I think it's interesting that when people were asked the night of the debate, having watched it, but then they read the commentators, and what they read was theater criticism. There wasn't much about public policy.

You know, Gore can improve some of it, although some things -- Bob said he looked too big. I do not think he can shrink between now and the next debate. I don't know what he can do about that. He can stop sighing, but his size will probably remain a constant. Crouching maybe would be it. The problem is, we have gotten away from public policy. And I -- clearly, I think what's interesting is the Democratic side this year does appear to be more popular on most of the issues. I was struck by the extent by which Bush and Cheney have tried to give the appearance of indecision on abortion, when we know that, for instance, they're going to try very hard to diminish its availability legally. But I think it is a fact.

It may very well be the very prosperity works somewhat against Gore. That is, crime is down some, the economy is in better shape, and, therefore, these issues are less important to people. So we did get into who sighed and who had too much makeup and who was too big,

SHIELDS: I have to say that the theater criticism is a valid one. I mean, I can remember Ronald Reagan being described as the triumph of the embalmer's act, and immediately being the person who made the comment being beset upon, how could you possibly talk about his appearance and this and that. And...

HUNT: No, but, Mark, I thought the media was left wing and all they did was criticize Bush. That's what we used to hear, didn't we?

SHIELDS: That's right. That was until this week. You're absolutely right.

HUNT: Yes.

SHIELDS: But, Bob, I have to say that when you say that Al Gore is bragging about going with James Lee Wit, it's a little bit of a reach. I didn't know that among the undecided voters that James Lee Witt had a recognition factor above 3 percent. People said, oh, that does it, Margaret. If he was down there with James Lee Witt, I'm with him.

NOVAK: Let me say something about criticism of George W. Bush, because I, unlike some people here, I try to be even handed. And...

FRANK: If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. You've got a lot of work to do.

NOVAK: I still think that there is a terrific Republican issue in trying to reduce the size of government and give people back their tax cut. I know the American people think they're overtaxed, and I know they think it's fair to give everybody his cut back in the proportion to which he's taxed. But I don't think George Bush has made that point, and he didn't make it Tuesday night, and I think he has two more chances to make it.

SHIELDS: Quickly, once around, democracy has triumphed in the former Yugoslavia. Predictions from the right, from those on the right that U.S. intervention in Kosovo would drive Milosevic -- put him permanently in power, is it going to have any political impact upon this election?

O'BEIRNE: That actually wasn't a consensus opinion on the right. But I can't imagine... SHIELDS: No, but (OFF-MIKE)

O'BEIRNE: I can't imagine it's going to help either Bush or Gore that much.

FRANK: I agree with what I heard you say, Mark, that it's the absence of a potential negative for the Democrats. It ought to, in a rational world, help Clinton and Gore, but I don't think, in fact, it will.

NOVAK: Absolutely zero. I mean, the only people who really care about Milosevic are the people -- the kind of people who are on programs like this. And the Serbians have been bloody minded for 400 years, and they'll continue to be.

HUNT: I agree with Barney. It should help Gore, but it won't. But I hope people remember Tom DeLay and some of the others who praised Milosevic at the expense of Clinton in April 1999.

SHIELDS: Last word -- Al Hunt.

Barney Frank and THE GANG will be back with a less contention debate between the running mates. Let's hope so here, too.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

At historic Center College in Danville, Kentucky, the only vice presidential debate between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney was polite but contained pointed differences.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not right, and it's not good for our military to run them down essentially in the midst of a partisan political debate.

RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's irresponsible to suggest that we should not have this debate in a presidential campaign, that we should somehow ignore what is a major, major concern.

LIEBERMAN: I'm against drilling in the Arctic refuge. This is one of the most, beautiful pristine places the good Lord has created on Earth.

CHENEY: We think we can do it, given today's technology, in a way that will not damage the environment.


SHIELDS: Kate, what impact did this debate have, if any, on the 2000 election?

O'BEIRNE: Well, those who tuned in saw two political veterans with a real grasp on the issues have a cordial exchange. And those who didn't have heard about it. It's hard to see how either a good opinion of either Joe Lieberman or Dick Cheney is going to affect what you do at the top of the ticket, but it could have, this past, this exchange of views, could have an impact indirectly, because I think there's going to be a lot of pressure.

The press so swooned over this good-natured, substantive exchange, there will be a lot of pressure on Gore and Bush next week when they meet in the same kind of setting, sitting at a table, to try to have the same kind of an evening, which I think will be harder for Al Gore. I think the good natured part of that will be harder for Al Gore.

But other than that, Dick Cheney helped himself with Republicans, who were beginning to wonder, given the bad reviews from the campaign trail and saw on full display the kind of qualities that got him on the ticket. But beyond that, no direct influence, I don't think.

SHIELDS: Barney, the most lopsided vice presidential debate was 1988, Lloyd Bentsen over Dan Quayle. And...

FRANK: Yes, I don't think it will have any political effect. People don't vote that much on vice president. But also, the problem was, yes, there were a couple of issue differences. But I must tell you, I was distressed at the new cult of niceness. I mean, maybe it's personal, but if being nice is the new criteria for getting ahead in politics, I'm going to have to switch professions. So maybe I shouldn't have taken it personally.

But what's happening is the obligation of elected officials and candidates to present their differences to the electorate is getting swallowed up in this niceness thing. And I think it's particularly bizarre, frankly, that the cheerleaders for this are the media...

O'BEIRNE: Right.

FRANK: ... the most bloody minded people in the history of the world, the people who live by making fights with people and running the negative all of a sudden have become Emily Post and let's all get along and losing the democracy.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, political reporters once were fight promoters. Now are they, you know, Albert Schweitzer?

NOVAK: Yes, that was pretty -- I agree with Barney. The first time I've agreed in a long time. Very -- you have to think about it now, but it was very nauseating.

You know, the last -- I mean, not you, but the debate, the niceness was nauseating. But The last vice presidential candidate who really affected an election was Lyndon Johnson. And a lot of people say, gee, Joe Lieberman is really -- he's a different kind of person. He's going to mean a lot to this ticket.

The way he came over, though he's a very amiable. nice person, is just another liberal Democrat. Since he's -- all the things that made him very attractive to non-Democrats he's abandoned. And I thought that Dick Cheney, who had a very good reputation in this town until he was named to the ticket, kind of rehabilitated himself as a very sound, very smart guy. But what he didn't do, what he was supposed to do talking to the Bush advisers and the Bush surrogates, was take after Gore. And Cheney helped himself, but I don't think he helped Bush.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, a number of Republican officeholders I talked to after the vice presidential debate thought Dick Cheney had done very well, but they could not name a single state where Dick Cheney would help George Bush in this election.

HUNT: No, I think that's right. I think the debate was high minded, it was serious and it was irrelevant to the outcome. You know, I agree with what everybody has said here. These are two smart guys. And I would agree that Joe Lieberman does parrot the Gore line, and Dick Cheney parrots the Bush line. I mean, that's what vice presidents -- that's what vice presidents do, as opposed to his voting record back in the early '80s.

And, Mark, your point, though, is right. The single, most memorable moment in the 21 debates we've had since 1976 was Lloyd Bentsen devastating Dan Quayle. It had no effect, whatsoever. I think that those people who are going to vote for Gore aren't going to change because of Dick Cheney and vice-versa. And the undecideds didn't watch it. Viewership is just down.

FRANK: I think the -- let me just dissent on one point. I think the Quayle thing did have an effect, but not until '92. I think that began a process, or it accelerated a process, of the denigration of Quayle, which I think ultimately did hurt George Bush by '92. It didn't in '88, but I think by '92, the cumulative criticism of Quayle took a toll.

NOVAK: Let me disagree with Al on one point. I think -- I don't think that Cheney, although I think he was very good. He was the old Cheney -- I don't think he did echo Bush enough. I didn't think he was mentioning Bush enough other than...

HUNT: Other than gay rights, what else did he not echo? I mean, where else?

NOVAK: I don't think he defended the tax cut adequately, I don't think he did the thing -- I don't think he came after Gore enough. I think he was helping Bush -- as I said, it helped it Cheney but not Bush.

O'BEIRNE: By not defending the tax cut, Robert, he was echoing Bush unfortunately, because he hasn't done a very good job himself.

But, you know...

SHIELDS: Very good point, Kate. I just have to say, to sum it up, I thought the best analysis was given by the historian Richard Norton Smith, who said the undecided voters are trying to decide whether they can have Al Gore in their living room the next four years or George W. Bush in the Oval Office. And the jury's still out on both.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, our focus on 2000 looks at the nation's best, most reliable bellwether state.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Focus on 2000: The great bellwether state of Missouri has gone with the winner in every single presidential election in the 20th century except 1956. This year, the Show-Me State has some of the tightest races in the nation. In addition to the Gore-Bush contest, most attention is on a bitter U.S. Senate race between the Republican incumbent John Ashcroft and Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan.


ANNOUNCER: Is John Ashcroft telling the truth? "The Post- Dispatch" says no, and calls Ashcroft's TV ads misleading and unsubstantiated.



ANNOUNCER: Mel Carnahan's not telling the truth, using drug- company money to attack John Ashcroft. The press calls it unfair and misleading.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what is the bellwether state telling us now?

NOVAK: Well, it shows that the epidemic of niceness is not spreading to Missouri, certainly, because Ashcroft and Carnahan really detest each other, and they also disagree on everything, not just the tax issues but abortion, social issues and the whole works.

But what it really is, is this country is divided very evenly, and Missouri is divided. It usually does reflect the rest of the country, and all those races are very close. The thing that might tip the balance for the Republicans is the president today vetoed a bill which will have the effect of increasing the flow of the Missouri River to protect three endangered species, Al: the piping plover, the least tern and the pallid sturgeon. I think they're all friends of yours.

HUNT: Are they fuzzy, Bob?

NOVAK: And that may hurt with sportsman, with barge operators, with all kinds -- and also with what else?

O'BEIRNE: Farmers.

NOVAK: Farmers, that's what I was thinking of, farmers. And it might just tip the state. HUNT: And real men.

SHIELDS: What Democrats are endangered species in Missouri?

FRANK: Maybe the pallid sturgeon ought to see Al Gore's makeup man. I think what strikes me is -- and I haven't followed this as closely as some others -- but it does seem to me, yes, the country is divided, but I'm struck. And I just want to go back, because I think Ashcroft sits on this, there's been a certain kind of moderation there. I think the conservatives have decided this is not their year ideologically.

I agree with Kate that when Cheney backed away from some of these positions, he was echoing Bush. I mean, it was very clear on abortion. I think both Bush and Cheney clearly soft pedaled a position on abortion, and I think you're seeing that in general, that there has been a sense on the part of the conservatives -- Bob, you said, well, people want a smaller government. But George Bush is for a smaller government in general, but he's for a bigger government in every particular. He's for a prescription drug program, he's for more money for federal education, he's for increases in other areas.

And I think this is the dilemma that the conservatives have, and I think you're seeing that. And Ashcroft is not running as the pure, very conservative guy. He was originally going to run that way for president, now he's not running that way for Senate.

SHIELDS: That's a legitimate point. John Ashcroft was going to be the leader and probably the most formidable candidate on the right, conservative, social, right of the Republican Party, and then he decided not to run for president, to seek re-election. But you'd never recognize him in this fall.

O'BEIRNE: Well, he's using some of those issues. Mel Carnahan, the governor, has gotten in trouble for vetoing a ban on partial-birth abortions that passed his legislature overwhelmingly. So clearly Ashcroft's a pro-life candidate, which helps in Missouri. And he is going after Carnahan for raising taxes, when he promised he wouldn't without the public's consent. But that's the way the tax issue is playing.

Other than that, it's a lot of these local issues. It's a bitterness between these two. They're doing a lot of name calling. And then local issues, you know, the use of methamphetamines in the state of Missouri, and I hear the same thing Bob hears, that the provision about the Missouri River, some issue like that, not a global issue on health care or something, could really hurt Democratic candidates out there.

NOVAK: The least turn could be the last turn.

FRANK: But I did think it was interesting that Carnahan -- that Ashcroft, for instance, said with regard to Bob Jones that no one should be critical for him for accepting an honorary degree there, because he didn't know what kind of school it was.

NOVAK: Ashcroft said that.

FRANK: Ashcroft.

HUNT: You know, Mark, if we're up to the wee hours on November 8th, it will be because of two states, Michigan and Michigan. And I think in Missouri, you know, you have three races that are all as tight as you can be. The base for both parties are coming home. The blacks are going to deliver for the Democrats, the out-state...

NOVAK: The governor's race.

HUNT: The governor's race, too.

O'BEIRNE: Very few undecideds.

HUNT: The out-state Christian conservatives will deliver for the Republicans, and I think the key will be those St. Louis suburban counties, those social and economic moderates. Which way do they go?

And more than the fuzzy sturgeon, Bob, I'll tell you what makes me...

NOVAK: Pallid sturgeon.

HUNT: I'm sorry, I thought it was -- was that fuzzy? I think a sleeper issue, there are several initiatives on the ballot out there, and will they bring out a few more voters, which in a tight election can matter.


NOVAK: You know, Carnahan is against the administration.

FRANK: Oh, everybody is. That's a state in a state.

SHIELDS: That is a state in a state.

And the St. Louis Cardinals could be playing in the World Series this year. That could be...

HUNT: No one will pay any attention until it's over.

SHIELDS: That could shake the whole thing up.

Barney Frank, thanks for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: Let it be noted, this is the 12th anniversary of THE CAPITAL GANG. Twelve years with Bob Novak sitting next to me.

Now for the "Outrage of the Week" -- that isn't it.

In the televised debates and on the campaign stump, both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are quick to wrap themselves in the popular embrace of John McCain. But following the tire blowouts and SUV rollovers attributed to Ford and to Firestone, Senator McCain won unanimous committee backing for his bill to require that automakers notify U.S. authorities when their products are recalled in overseas markets. Now Senate Republicans, cowardly lions that they are, hide behind anonymity to prevent the Congress from voting to hold Firestone and Ford's feet to the fire.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: William Bundy died yesterday at age 83. He was a gentleman, a patriot, and a member of a family devoted to public service. But as Lyndon Johnson's assistant secretary of defense, he and his colleagues made a fatal mistake in the Vietnam War. When we would meet to discuss the war, I would ask why more was not done to build public support. Bill Bundy told me the Johnson administration did not want to provoke war fever for offensive action. The consequences of that decision would doom Vietnam to communist tyranny.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: If you were elated when Republicans claimed they wanted to reduce Washington's power, you'd better sober up. Congress has approved a mandate on states to reduce their standards for drunk driving. Thirty states will have to lower the blood-alcohol level they've set, despite evidence that chronic offenders are responsible for 80 percent of drunk driving fatalities. If you ponder over a drink why your GOP Congress matters, stay off the road.


HUNT: Mark, the Presidential Debate Commission excluded Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan from the debates. They also wouldn't even let Mr. Nader into the hall. The independent presidential candidate was given a legitimate ticket by a student supporter for a remote area in the auditorium. But acting like thugs, officials threatened to have him arrested if he didn't leave the premises. Presumably, Mr. Nader's presence might have offended some of the commission's fat-cat contributors in their prominent sets.

SHIELDS: You know, Bob, our 12th anniversary. Your thoughts?

NOVAK: Well, I didn't think we would all get along so well all these years. But it's been a lot of fun. And this is the best campaign we've had, so I look forward to the next four weeks.

SHIELDS: Terrific.

HUNT: I look forward to every week with Bob.

SHIELDS: That's Al -- Al Hunt couldn't pass a polygraph test.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on a major, big-time football upset in Florida -- not involving Dick Cheney. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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