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Capital Gang

Will Trouble in the Middle East Help Al Gore or George W. Bush?

Aired October 14, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.

AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with the full gang: Margaret Carlson and Kate O'Beirne, and taking the pulse out in Hollywood, Mark Shields and Robert Novak.

President Clinton reacted to the Middle East crisis by convening a summit in Egypt on Monday.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should be under no illusions. The good news is the parties have agreed to meet and the situation appears to be calmer. But the path ahead is difficult. After the terrible events of the past few days, the situation is still quite tense.


HUNT: The presidential candidates gave their views on the Israeli-Palestinian violence at Wake Forest University in their second debate.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to insist that Arafat send out instructions to halt some of the provocative acts of violence that have been going on.



GOV. GEORGE W, BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want everybody to know, should I be the president, Israel's going to be our friend.


HUNT: In debating foreign policy, they differed on when and where the U.S. should intervene militarily.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, OCTOBER 11, 2000) BUSH: We're to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military's meant to fight and win war.



GORE: Just because we cannot be involved everywhere and shouldn't be, doesn't mean that we should shy away from going in anywhere.


HUNT: Kate, can President Clinton save the Mideast peace process?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Al, the events of the last week make it clear there have never been two parties seeking peace through this process. Despite promises made at Oslo, Arafat will always resort to violence as a negotiating tool. Back in July at the summit, Israel made enormous concessions, Arafat didn't even have a counter-offer and I think this week should make clear to everyone, not just the skeptics from the past month, that Arafat doesn't want peace with Israel. He wants no Israel And even Bill Clinton's desperate desire to be a peacemaker can't change that.

Al: Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": I mean, if Clinton could bring peace to the Middle East, Kim Dae-Jung should give up the peace prize and hand it over. The most he'll be able to is quell the violence there, bring some people together temporarily and hope that they get past this. But the agreement he worked out, one that Arafat will never get better than, that's I think, a long time down the road.

HUNT: Pretty gloomy, Bob?

BOB NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Yes, I give President Clinton tremendous credit for at least making this attempt at peace, and I don't usually give him credit. But there's just no chance now.

The Israelis had an opportunity. If they could have given up the rest of the West Bank, I think there could have been peace and mutual toleration of the two, Israeli and Palestinian states, as horrible as what the mob did to those Israeli soldiers. But there's absolutely no talk about over 90 Palestinians who were murdered in these riots. No wonder the Palestinians are outraged.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Al, nobody in the entire press corps has argued more forcefully and relentlessly for an even- handed treatment based on justice and self-determination for all the parties and peoples in the Middle East than our colleague, Bob Novak, and I just want to go on record to acknowledge his giving Bill Clinton credit, of all the presidents I think that probably Bob has covered, working more tirelessly.

I also want to express admiration for President Barak, I mean, who has made such an amazing, amazing effort, I mean, a great leader and I just start to wonder if Tom Friedman wasn't right in "The New York Times" when he wrote that Yasser Arafat is -- sees himself as a victim rather than a leader.

HUNT: Yes, I agree that Arafat is clearly the villain here and I think he's not going to get any better offer, as you said Margaret, than Barak gave him.

But Clinton does deserve enormous credit, which of course raises the specter that it's only going to be a short-term solution, anything he does come up with. One of these other two guys will be in charge of the Middle East in the next couple months. Is it going to have and affect this campaign?

CARLSON: Well, I think trouble in the Middle East should hurt Gore-Clinton, if you want to push them back together again for a moment. But it doesn't, because I think trouble makes people not want to vote for the new guy and stick with the old team because they don't want to take a risk changing horses in mid-stream. So to that extent, I think there might be a slight preference for Gore when there is trouble.

HUNT: Kate, makes people worried about George Bush at the helm?

O'BEIRNE: I don't think it does. I think people view trouble in the Middle East as all but intractable. I don't think they have illusions about the president's ability, given the attitude of the parties over there, to do anything very much, and I do think the public must notice that the most impressive defense and foreign policy team is in exile at the moment.

I mean, George Bush, you know, was at the debate this week with Colin Powell. Dick Cheney is on the ticket. Jean Kirkpatrick is out campaigning for him. General Schwarzkopf is making a lot of appearances. They are a very reassuring team. It might be that people decide if the world's troubled, it's time for the daddy party to get back in.

HUNT: Bob Novak, the daddy party.

NOVAK: Well, I thought that Governor Bush just eliminated the advantage of Vice President Gore on foreign policy in the Wake Forest debate. Whether he was up all night studying, I don't know, but he had it right and was just as impressive or more impressive on foreign policy than Bush was -- I mean than Gore was.

Now the fact of the matter is that both of these candidates are totally in the bag for Israel, at least during the campaign, and whoever is elected is going to have a more even-handed approach, but usually after they're elected they do.

HUNT: Mark, give us a quick -- does it help either one? SHIELDS: I think that, Al, prior to Wednesday night it would have helped Al Gore, no question about it. He was more experienced, more sure-footed and had longer, deeper knowledge. And as of Wednesday night, I think the equation changed. I mean, Al Gore was Prince Valium. He didn't show any leadership, and he showed no sense of command and young George had committed to memory all the principle names, the principle products of all the countries involved.

HUNT: Let me just...

SHIELD: He showed a sense of command and I think in a strange way Dick Cheney, who had been a liability from the convention to the debate,, has become an asset at this time.

HUNT: Let me just quickly say that foreign policy team that's so great, Kate, were the people who sent us to Lebanon in 1982 which George W. Bush said he would have intervened in. 215 marines lost their lives.


HUNT: With that, the gang of five will be back with more about Gore v. Bush, debate number two.


HUNT: Welcome back. In the Wake Forest debate, George W. Bush and Al Gore disagreed about hate crimes legislation, gay rights, gun control, and Governor Bush's record on health care in Texas.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death. A jury found them guilty, and it's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death.



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would pass a hate crimes law.



GORE: If I had thought that there was a controversy at the end of the legislative session where the hate crimes law in Texas was -- failed and that the Byrd family, among others, asked you to support it.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I'm not for gay marriage.



GORE: I think that we should find a way to allow some kind of civic unions.



GORE: I'm not for registration. I am for licensing by states of new handgun purchases.



BUSH: I'm not for photo-licensing.



GORE: Texas ranks 49th out of the 50 states in health care -- in children with health care, 49th for women with health care, and 50th for families with health care.



BUSH: Our rate of uninsured, the percentage of uninsured in Texas has gone down. The percentage of uninsured in America has gone up.


SHIELDS: A CNN/"TIME" poll taken after the debate shows a five- point Bush lead. A separate CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup nightly tracking poll after last night has a four-point Bush margin.

Margaret, did the second campaign give momentum go George Bush?

CARLSON: He's looking for the "big mo," Al, and he got some out of it. You know, part of it is -- did you notice how he leaned back? And people like this about George Bush. He seems so comfortable in his skin, and he has that little bit of a grin that people like.

And he did -- he passed the foreign policy exam, as Bob and Mark said, but he didn't ace it. He made some big mistakes. He said we should call on our European friends in Kosovo. Well, 95 -- 85 percent of the troops there are European. He said get all our troops out of Haiti, we have too many there, there are 34 soldiers. There were things like that.

And if Al Gore were only alive, he would have corrected him on these mistakes.

HUNT: He's not held to the same standard that Al Gore is held to when he makes mistakes, though, is he, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: No, no. There are different kinds of mistakes. I mean, he said that two -- all three of the killers of James Byrd have been sentenced to death. Well, it turns out two had been sentenced to death, one, life imprisonment. But an Al Gore mistake, he would have claimed that he had apprehended the three killers of James Byrd, you know, and personally prosecuted them. It's a different sort of thing, Al.

I thought Al Gore clearly changed his behavior in the second debate. But the absence of a negative, in his case, behavior-wise, personality-wise is not a positive. It's not like he's a really likable, comfortable guy when he's not being attack Al. So I do think that George Bush won on points.

All night, it seemed to me, Al Gore was on defense. He was careful when he talked about guns, thinking of Michigan and Pennsylvania voters, to talk about rights to have guns, which he typically doesn't do.

No, he doesn't believe government-run health care, despite, of course, having spent the early part of the administration pushing for just such a thing.

Energy taxes, no, no, no, he doesn't support energy taxes, although he claims he still supports everything in that book he wrote.

So both on policy and personality, he seemed on the defensive.

HUNT: In all fairness, George Bush tried to dash to the center, too. That's not exactly uncommon in a presidential campaign.

But, Mark, I frankly didn't think either one of them was very impressive.

SHIELDS: Well, Al, let me just -- I couldn't agree with you more. But let me just point out on the double standard quickly, when George Bush makes a misstatement, we say it's a misstatement of a good heart. It's a misstatement of a good heart, well-intentioned fellow, just not that well-informed. When Al Gore makes one, we say, well, my god, this guy's encyclopedic, and therefore, there's a dark side. And we immediately bring out the psychological tools to examine him.

I mean, mistakes are mistakes are mistakes, and I think that ought to be the rule, and they ought to be treated the same.

The other thing, Al, is that I couldn't understand why Vice President Gore did not attack that notion of being for big government. Nobody is for big government, but you put toxic waste dump next to anybody's neighborhood school, and they say, "Where the hell is the government?" or you find a trace of botulism in a can of tuna fish, even libertarians like Mr. Novak want to know where the government was.

HUNT: Bob, Bob, you're not pro-botulism, are you?

NOVAK: Not at all. The problem is that we had Al Gore as the candidate instead of Mark Shields. They made a tremendous mistake. If they had only nominated Shields instead.


You see, the thing is that these -- the little soundbites we had on gay rights, on gun control, on health in Texas, on racial profiling, those -- hate crimes -- those are not going to win the election. The problem that I get talking to Democrats is that they say that their candidate doesn't have a message. And the fact is Al Gore when you take away his guns and his bullwhip to beat the candidate to death like he did with Bill Bradley, he's just not any good.

He doesn't have a message and he looks flabby.

HUNT: Well, I agree he's not going win it on a negative message, but the Texas message is not irrelevant. And there is a good life to be had in Texas. The University of Austin is one of the great, great centers in the world, great medical centers in Houston. If you're in the oil business, you get rich. But if you're a poor kid in Texas, it's like a Third World country.

NOVAK: Why is it that so many people are coming into Texas? Why has it become the second-most populous state in the Union? Why is that? Is it possible because they've got a little less government that Mark Shields likes so much?

HUNT: It is...


HUNT: Go ahead, Mark. Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Let's be very blunt about this. George Bush was absolutely wrong when he said the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance has declined. It hasn't. In fact, the percentage of Americans with health insurance has grown nationally, and it has grown in Texas as well. But you're starting in Texas with an incredibly small base. Where it is, 49th in kids' coverage. I don't think that's the kind of place Bob Novak wants his grandchildren growing up.

HUNT: I would agree with you, Mark Shields, the record is abysmal on health care.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Focus on 2000" looks at the key state of Michigan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HUNT: Welcome back. Focus on 2000 looks at the pivotal state of Michigan. This week's "Detroit Free Press" poll shows Governor Bush closing ground but still three percentage points behind Vice President Gore. Both candidates were in Michigan yesterday and today.


BUSH: He's written a book. His votes and his book make his position clear: He's for higher energy taxes, except apparently when it's too close to an election.



GORE: If your top priority, if priority No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 is a massive tax cut, mostly to the wealthy, then you cannot make education priority No. 1.


HUNT: Republican Senator Spencer Abraham has moved 10 points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow, according to the "Free Press" poll.


REP. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI), SENATE CANDIDATE: People are really focusing on this race and realizing that I'm on their side when it comes to lowering the cost of prescription drugs. My opponent is heavily financed by the prescription drug lobby, insurance lobby, oil companies, tobacco companies.



SEN. SPENCER ABRAHAM (R), MICHIGAN: I want a comprehensive solution. I think part of it is providing those seniors who need help the opportunity to have a prescription benefit. But I don't think it should be the kind of plan my opponent supports, which has a $600 premium, which takes eight years to implement.


HUNT: Bob, do the Republicans have the big mo in Michigan?

NOVAK: Yes. I think they may have more big mo than the "Free Press" poll indicated. The private polls for the Republicans indicate that Bush has moved ahead of Gore in Michigan.

I think this opposition to the internal combustion engine by Gore in the book "Earth in the Balance" has hurt him there. But the interesting thing is why is Spence Abraham, who is not Mr. Charisma, 10 points up on what was considered a very good Democratic candidate. I think he has really solved the prescription drug problem, taken the offensive on it, and said that the Gore-Stabenow program is going to cost the seniors more money than his program would.

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Well, I guess Bob Novak's endorsing the approach of a campaign strategy based on the free lunch, Al, and a new entitlement. I watched that show, and I think this is a new entitlement.

I think if this election in Michigan, the Senate election, I think Spence Abraham has to be considered the favorite. But if it is a referendum on prescription drugs, I think that Debbie Stabenow has more than a fighting chance.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Well, what Spence Abraham did -- and he was, of course, one of the incumbents they are most worried about -- he went out first on prescription drugs, which no Republican had done. He attacked her plan before she'd even mentioned it. By the time she came out to defend her plan it wound up being sort of a wash, although I think his attack on the plan is legit. I mean, it's no time to add an expensive universal entitlement onto this program facing bankruptcy.

But she's finding out how tough it is to run against a well- financed incumbent.

HUNT: Margaret, the well-financed is...


CARLSON: Yes, and I...

HUNT: He spent millions...


CARLSON: And it is the key thing. I mean, he's an issue kleptomaniac because he stole the issue from her.


But he's got all the money. He's spending more than any other incumbent. They're pouring the money in there. And so he got to go up with his ad and steal the issue from her, so that when polls are taken, people identify her plan as belonging to him. But one thing that's been identified is that this issue is a winning issue, whoever can grab on to it.

O'BEIRNE: She has a lot of extra help.


O'BEIRNE: All these independent groups -- the Sierra Club and the Democratic committees and the labor unions -- are all out for her.

HUNT: How about the job security plan -- that came in for him and spend $2 million on behalf of Spence Abraham? I think they're...

O'BEIRNE: The ads there are...


HUNT: Let me just say I think we all can agree to this. We have to get out, Bob. And I think that race, Spence Abraham is still under 50, it tilts to him, it's going to be close. And I'll make this prediction: Whichever presidential candidate carries Michigan is going to be the next president of the United States.

And with that...

NOVAK: Can I say one more thing?

HUNT: Bob, as much we'd love to have you say one more thing we have to go, because we're going to come back with "The Outrage of the Week."


HUNT: Now for "The Outrage of the Week." Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the self-styled radio talk morals cop, took out a full page ad in "Variety" apologizing to gays for calling them, quote, "deviant" -- end quite -- and quote, a "biological error" -- period, end quite.

It would be nice to think that Dr Laura's apology is genuine except consider the context: She launched a TV show, which has bombed, and she's desperately trying to revive it. Let's listen to her carefully in the weeks ahead to see if Dr. Laura really wants to atone for her hateful comments -- Margaret.

CARLSON: Al, "The New York Times" this week reported on Thomas Wesson's third bid for city council in Dallas County, Texas. After two unsuccessful attempts, Wesson decided to give himself an ethnic makeover. His full name is Thomas Edwin Wesson. But on November 7th, ballots there will instead read "Tomas Eduardo Wesson."


His Democratic opponent accused "Tomas" of using the altered spelling to take advantage of the large Hispanic vote in the district.

Que pasa, Senor Wesson? Muy estupido!

HUNT: We'll see what Roberto Novak thinks about that -- Kate.

O'BEIRNE: One of the final concessions President Clinton is demanding before Congress adjourns is amnesty for up to 2 million illegal immigrants. In 1986, a generous amnesty for those who entered the U.S. illegally was sold as a one-time initiative. Additional amnesty now for those who slip past the Border Patrol is an invitation to ignore our laws and unfair to those who wait patiently to immigrate.

Why invite newcomers who are Clinton-like in their disrespect for the law?

HUNT: Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Al, the Bush campaign Web site includes a friendly tax- cut calculator, which enables those Americans the Bush campaign calls, quote, "working families," unquote, to figure out their dollar gains under the proposed Bush tax cut. But get this: According to the Bush tax cut calculator, the Bush tax cuts apparently stop at incomes of $100,000 a year.

Don't they want us to know that by every serious estimates the overwhelming majority of those tax cuts goes to those earning well over $100,000 a year, such as my colleague.

NOVAK: And Mark...


President Clinton's dubious intervention in the global oil markets for releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve now looks all the more dubious: 10 million barrels have been loaned to three tiny companies including Lance Stroud Enterprises. Stroud has one employee, himself, lives with his mother in Harlem, calls Jesse Jackson his mentor, and has no cash. What's going on? Who's behind Lance Stroud and how did he get this windfall?

HUNT: Bob and Mark, we look forward to you all being back next week. And Bob, I'm going to get a special calculator for you.

This is Al Hunt saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG.



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