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Will Congress Approve Bush Welfare Plan?; Has Media Gone Soft on President Bush?

Aired February 27, 2002 - 19:30   ET





BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight President Bush's marriage proposal. Should Congress say, I do, to his plan to promote marriage among welfare moms? And the creator of TV's "West Wing" takes on the real president. Has the media gone too soft on Bush since September 11?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In with crossfire, Sandy Rios, president of the Concerned Women for America and Terry O'Neill, from the National Organization for Women. And later, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York and Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth from Arizona.

PRESS: It's CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us.

Shotgun marriages have been around a long time, but now if President Bush has his way, it'll be the federal government holding the shotgun. As part of his welfare reform plan, Bush wants to spend $300 million on premarital counseling, education, and technical assistance, aimed at encouraging single moms on welfare to get married.

but here's the question. As good as marriage is, is it the government's job to be matchmaker or marriage counselor? And do poor people really need government to tell them when to tie the knot? Here again, sitting in on the right as our guest host tonight, the editor of "National Review Online," Jonah Goldberg.


JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: Thanks for having me, Bill.

Ms. O'Neill, thanks for coming. Your organization and your boss, Ms. Gandy, have been quite upset about this proposal and they've have been calling it all sorts of things like an Orwellian intrusion into the private lives of women and so forth.

What confuses me about that is if it's such an Orwellian intrusion, why do you guys champion such things as education for breast feeding, campus tutorials on how to court men -- for men and women, parenting classes? Aren't these equally Orwellian intrusions into women's private lives?

TERRY O'NEILL, NAT'L ORG. FOR WOMEN: Well, let's be clear about what the Bush administration is proposing to do. He wants to divert up to $300 million from an already badly, underfunded poverty program to do this social experimentation on poor families.

The purpose of welfare is to move families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. We know how that's done. It's done through real education, through real, solid job training, literacy skills, job skills and then work support like child care, transportation, housing subsidies. Marriage is simply not the way for women to get out of poverty. It's a decision that is very intimate that they need to make for reasons of their own.

GOLDBERG: Well, my understanding is that one in three families under the poverty line are single parent families. And only one in 20 married families are below the poverty line. And there's a lot of evidence actually says the contrary, that economic development comes from being married.

But here's the fundamental question. So you're essentially not upset that it's social experimentation? You're upset that it's the wrong kind of social experimentation?

O'NEILL: No, I'm upset that they are diverting money from a poverty program for something that is absolutely not shown to reduce poverty. Obviously, if you have more than one wage earner in the household, it's going to be easer for that household to escape poverty. That's true, whether the two wage earners in the home are married or not. This amounts to ideologically-based social experimentation on poor families.

GOLDBERG: Which you have always opposed before.

PRESS: Look, here's what gets me confused, Sandy Rios. I mean, you're with a conservative organization, which is fine. I mean, I thought I knew what conservatives stood for. I thought that conservatives stood for getting government out of our private lives, getting government off our back. And here you are, supporting a program that government's going to tell us. I mean, do you really think poor people need government to tell them when to get married, whom to marry, and why to get married?

SANDY RIOS, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Well, first of all Bill, I guess you misunderstood who conservatives were, because conservatives believe in marriage.

PRESS: You believe in big government?

RIOS: And in this program, nobody is telling anybody to get married. They are trying to set up the devices, where they can encourage marriage, as opposed to discouraging it, which is what government has been doing for a long time. Women on welfare, who have been single, have known that if they got married, they would lose their payments. That is really ludicrous. This is not social experimentation. This is like we know marriage works, so let's go back to marriage.

PRESS: Now that's not -- if I may, just a second. You're ducking the question. The question is, is it government's role to be the matchmaker?

RIOS: Is it governments role?

PRESS: What the hell does government know about whom you should get get married, and why you should get married, and when you should get married?

RIOS: I don't think the government is setting up a matchmaking service, Bill. I missed that part of the bill.

PRESS: They are so.

RIOS: I missed that part. That might be actually popular. Government's not doing that. They're just encouraging people to get married. And that's commonsense.

O'NEILL: Well, let me tell what you they're spending taxpayer dollars for, by way of encouraging people to get married. One of the things that they've proposed is that children from households that are married get counseling services, but children from households that are not married don't get those counseling services.

What they're essentially doing is setting up a second-class citizenship system for households that are not married. That's wrong for the children. And it's wrong for a poverty program that is supposed to move people to self-sufficiency.

RIOS: Terry, you know, I understand -- one of the things that you said, -- I understand why you say it, but I think it's a misunderstanding. You talked about $300 million being spent for this and valuable money being diverted.

O'NEILL: Absolutely.

RIOS: But of the matter is, our social service dollars, the millions that we spend, go to service children who are from single parent families. It's the services that cost millions of dollars, that go to make up for the fact that they do not have a strong family. So it's really not true that this is money thrown at something ridiculous. It's actually a savings.

GOLDBERG: Well, let me jump here a second. Your organization was a big champion of going after deadbeat dads and catching them and making them come forward. Why is it OK for the government to track down all over the country these "deadbeat dads," but not it's not OK to maybe encourage these dads not to be deadbeats in the first place?

O'NEILL: Well, encouraging them not to be deadbeats is very different from telling them that they need to marry these women. And let me tell you something. A lot of women who go into the welfare system, go in there because they have been abused in their own homes. Are these men that George W. Bush wants these women to marry?

A lot of women go into the welfare system, because their husbands have abandoned them or because they've been irresponsible. These are the men that the Bush administration wants to force these women to marry? That's silly.

RIOS: No, obviously -- that's certainly that's true, but I don't think they're saying that everybody has to marry. That's not what they're saying. What they are saying, in cases where women get pregnant, and they're not married, if things are, you know, reasonable they should consider marriage. That's a good idea.

PRESS: Well, yes, but again, I just want to say it again, the idea that you need government to tell you that is so ludicrous, it hardly bears repeating. There is something about human nature that says we get together, we love each other, and we get married. And we never needed government to tell us how to do it before.

RIOS: Bill, I hate to tell you, most single men who have been single like until they're 45, and have been through a lot of women, maybe need government to tell them to get married.

PRESS: I don't think they need government. Call me conservative, but I think they do. You talk about these mothers getting pregnant. You know, most of them or half of them are at least, don't want to exaggerate, teenagers.

RIOS: Yes.

PRESS: So is this what you want? You want all these teenagers, you want all these 14, 15-year-olds to get married? Is that what you want? Is that what the government's supposed to do? Is that good?

RIOS: You know, the government is not forcing teenagers to get married, Bill.

PRESS: No, but the idea is if they're a mom, and they're on welfare, and they have a kid, they should get married. Half of them are teenagers. Yes or no? Is it a good idea for high school students to get married? Yes or no?

RIOS: No. Maybe. The other part of this bill is abstinence. Did you forget that part? The whole encouragement this these teenagers do not have...

O'NEILL: Abstinence programs absolutely does not to work.

RIOS: Now that's not true.

O'NEILL: Abstinence programs have been shown not to work.

RIOS: Oh, they have not, Terry.

O'NEILL: But what works is good solid sex education where abstinence is...

RIOS: Project Reality in Chicago...


PRESS: We've done a lot of shows on abstinence.


O'NEILL: But let me just make one point. Something that we would support and that we really invite the Bush administration to do, let's make relationship counseling available across the board as part of ordinary health insurance policies included in Medicaid, but don't set it up for only those families that are interested in marriage. Set it up -- what about the grandmother who's got the two teenage kids at home? She's not going to get...

GOLDBERG: OK, I want to get one last question in here really quick. That sounds like a lovely program, new program for the federal government to get into. The feminist left...

O'NEILL: Well, let's take $300 million for it and instead of this ridiculous...

GOLDBERG: Let me ask you a very serious problem with feminists, which is that the feminist left, for a long time, has been seen as basically, simply anti-marriage. You know, there's the book in 1972, which came out, which is called "The Future of Marriage." And it basically said that women had to be mentally ill if they get married. Don't you think that no matter what -- you taking these kinds of positions cultivates that perception that now, the feminist left are simply just anti-marriage?

O'NEILL: There's just absolutely no substance to the notion that the National Organization for Women has ever been anti-marriage.

RIOS: Then why are you...

O'NEILL: What we are in favor of, let me tell you, because the best way to protect marriage is for the government to stay out of it. Marriage is an intimate, personal decision like religion, like the decision (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PRESS: Exactly.

GOLDBERG: The Catholic Church doesn't let anyone get married unless they have counseling for years.


RIOS: Were you this concerned about it when the laws discouraged marriage, which they do now? Were you that against government involvement?

PRESS: Let me just tell you something. I repeat I am for getting government out of our bedrooms. I don't care what you call me.

RIOS: You're conservative now.

PRESS: And it is social engineering to do it, but I guess Republicans are now for it. Thank you so much. Thank you, Terry, for coming in.

RIOS: I didn't say I was a Republican, Bill. I said I was conservative.

PRESS: Conservatives then.

And now, on to another hot topic. Since September 11, is George Bush really getting an across the board wet kiss from the media? That's what the creator of "WEST WING" claims. And Congressman Charlie Rangel and J.D. Hayworth are here, ready to do battle.


GOLDBERG: And welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Sitting in on the right, I'm Jonah Goldberg.

Next we're going to turn to a recent article in "The New Yorker" magazine, in which Aaron Sorkin, the creator of NBC's White House drama, "The West Wing," says some interesting things about the president and the media.

Mr. Sorkin, who insists that he's supporting the president "100 percent," also tells "The New Yorker" that the press is simply serving as a cheerleader for the president he considers a bubble head. Does he have a point?

We're asking Congressman Charles Rangel of New York and Congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona.


PRESS: Congressman J.D. Hayworth, you know, I'm so happy tonight. I've been waiting since September 11 for somebody to tell the truth. And finally, Aaron Sorkin had enough guts to tell the truth. Here's one thing that just sums it up. He told "The New Yorker," since September 11, he says, "Here's what the situation is in the country. The media is waving pom-poms and the entire country is being polite."

Now right or wrong, you've got to admit that's right on? That's what's gone on.

REP J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: Well, it certainly is in character for Aaron Sorkin. I mean, they ought to rename the show -- forget "West Wing." We ought to call it "The Left Wing." It's so predictable. And that's OK. Look, we expect that from Hollywood. We understand the pure propaganda. It's entertainment. It's fiction. He can go on with his leftist pipe dream.

PRESS: But you got to admit the press has muzzled itself. Let me give you an example. There are two columnists, that were fired from the newspapers for writing a critical article about George W. Bush. Can you tell me one reporter who has ever been fired for writing anything critical about Bill Clinton?

HAYWORTH: Well, you know, I don't keep score of the newsrooms. Goodness knows...

PRESS: Did you ever hear of one?

HAYWORTH: ...they're a mightily politically charged environment. I will tell you this. If you think that conservatives, in general, and this president in particular get a fair shake or even cheerleading...

PRESS: Free ride.

HAYWORTH: are part of fantasyland. I know it's tough for you to see even the first attempt at even-handed approach. I know it's a shock, Bill, to see that for your sensibilities, but the fact is, finally now, folks have been somewhat even-handed with the commander in chief, who even before September 11, was going a great job and has reaffirmed his place in American history and as our chief executive.

PRESS: They have been silent. Shame, shame.

HAYWORTH: Dream on, Bill.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I want to step in here real quick. And so, I read "The New Yorker" article. And I got to admit, I found it a little odd. You know, Mr. Sorkin claims that he's supporting the president 100 percent. And then, he goes on to claim that the president is a bubble head, an amateur, not that bright and so forth. Is that really what liberal Democrats consider supporting the president a 100 percent? Is that how they define 100 percent?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I don't think it serves the country well to be critical of the president, especially in time of war. And indeed, I think we're fortunate to have a president that has been able to bring together so many friends and allies against terrorism, that struck us.

But I don't think it serves us well either for the president to take this popularity and the bipartisan support that he's got from the Congress and the nation, to give speeches and to rattle sabers to imply that he knows where the evil axis is and that we're prepared to take on other countries.

You know, we still have a constitutional government. It still is the Congress that makes these decisions of war and peace. And we still need allies to get by. And so, I do think that the press has been carried away with the commander in chief, which we can laud.

And make no mistakes about it, we don't call it fiscally irresponsible if we're talking about homeland security, if we're talking about national security. But we can't let this administration go by and do these things, and just cut taxes, and say everyone must sacrifice except the corporate world and the rich, and then wake up and find out we don't have a Social Security system, a Medicare system.

GOLDBERG: I was waiting for you to get to tax cuts for the rich. And I knew you'd get it in there, but otherwise...

RANGEL: I didn't get it in there. Bush got it in there.

GOLDBERG: But let me get a little back on topic, before we start talking about Enron all of a sudden.

RANGEL: That's a good point. We don't talk about that at all.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I haven't heard a word about Enron.

RANGEL: Not from the White House. They can't find the papers.

GOLDBERG: Is it at all possible that perhaps Mr. Sorkin has it backwards and that the bubble head jokes and Bush's stupid jokes were inappropriate prior to September 11? And that maybe it took a war for Democrats and the liberal media to realize that they were inappropriate?

RANGEL: I have nothing to do with that television program or "Saturday Night Live" or the things that the president had said or wish he had not said. All I know is...

GOLDBERG: You did not have relations with that television show?

RANGEL: During types of war, I don't care who it is, he's the commander in chief. And he deserves the respect of the American people and the United States Congress. but not at the sacrifice of the security of the American people and domestic programs.

PRESS: I think that's the point, Congressman Hayworth, we've got -- all Americans are behind the president and salute his leadership on the war on Afghanistan, but it's everything else that people seem to be afraid to criticize.

Let me give you an example. Thank you, Jonah, Enron. I mean, look, he had this dinky real estate deal in Arkansas, some 20 years old. And the media, including "The New York Times" front page and "The Washington Post," they didn't treat Whitewater as some business scandal. From the beginning, it was a White House Oval Office scandal. Why isn't Enron a White House Oval Office scandal? You know it is. Why doesn't the media portray it as such?

HAYWORTH: Bill, this is another good shot. I mean, you've really tried. Now this is what, the second time we've talked about this on this program?

PRESS: Let's get real.

HAYWORTH: And it just doesn't work because the American people get it. It's a business scandal. Now, "Time" magazine" co-owned a Time/CNN in wishful thinking. You want a cover story about media bias? There's the long shot of the White House. And almost in wishful thinking on the cover, Enron, how sticky will it get?

And the fact is, not sticky because it's a business scandal. And this administration stepped forward to say it's wrong. They're not getting involved. End of story. Nice try.

PRESS: But just a quick cover up. The first time reporters asked George Bush about Ken Lay, he says Kenny who? I mean, he said, "Yes, I think I met him in 1994." The fact is now all the love letters have come out, all the Christmas cards between these two guys. They've known each other since 1978. If Bill Clinton told a lie like that in the White House, you would've hounded him out of the White House.

HAYWORTH: Are you auditioning?

PRESS: Why doesn't George Bush gets equal time?

HAYWORTH: Bill, I think it's becoming clear to me. You're auditioning for a new part on "The Left Wing," because you're not giving us the accurate transcript of what the president said.

PRESS: Oh, yes I did.

HAYWORTH: But that's OK, hyperbole...


GOLDBERG: Enough about Enron.

PRESS: No, no, no, never enough about Enron.

GOLDBERG: Exactly, I know that's your philosophy. Look, Bill cited two columnists out of probably 2,000 who lost their jobs because they were critical of the president. And Bill likes to claim, as if somehow that means that they were fired because they were critical of the president. When in fact, the reality is they were fired because they were really irresponsible in what they wrote. Isn't the reality that plenty of people have been able to criticize the president?

"The New York Times" op-ed page is full of criticism of the president. The fact is that has to be a little more temperate and reasonable during a time of war?

RANGEL: Well, this is a very, very unusual so-called war. We can't define the enemy. He has no face. We don't have the bridges. We don't have the shores. And we just don't know, Jonah, how long this thing is going to go on. And it's time for America and the Congress to say, hey, give us a little more information. What direction is the war going? How do we judge whether we're being successful or not?

Don't have idiots talking about the Pentagon is going to put out misinformation. How would we know when they stop or when they start? I mean, because the whole television, not the printed word, is just an ongoing series, not of "THE WEST WING," but of the war in Afghanistan. People are being bombed senseless in mountains. We don't know what's going on, but it's really frightening that we somehow can't talk about the eight million people that are without jobs.

GOLDBERG: You're talking about it right here. I mean, where is the censorship?

RANGEL: Oh, my God. Let me tell you they should be in this country. You know, it won't be the first time that we fought a war and we were concerned about the people. We got eight million people with broken dreams, unemployment, no health insurance. We've got people who've lost their homes. There should be some outrage about this.

HAYWORTH: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and still be working on this with us.

RANGEL: No, no, it should be in the stimulus package.


HAYWORTH: ...Tom Daschle does. Come out, smile, say something nice, then try to undercut the president in a cheap political stunt. It's OK, we understand.

RANGEL: He's not just the president. It's you Republicans, too, you know. He's the nice guy, but you're the guys that won't give out unemployment compensation.


PRESS: Hey, guys, excuse me. I hate to run, but it's Wednesday night and "West Wing" is on pretty soon. I've got to run.

HAYWORTH: We're going get you that part, Bill.

PRESS: I'm ready for it, J.D. Hayworth, thank for coming tonight. Charley Rangel, great to have you back on CROSSFIRE.

And when we come back, watch this, Charlie, politicians including Charlie Rangel, not only debate, sometimes they sing in public, badly, so badly they deserve our CROSSFIRE Grammy Award, coming up.


PRESS: OK, as all of you music fans know, tonight's Grammy night in Los Angeles. But for us, it's also Grammy night on the Potomac, when we present our special CROSSFIRE Grammys to politicians who insist on singing outside the shower. First up, Attorney General John Ashcroft warbling a gospel song he wrote himself.

PRESS: For John Ashcroft, who does have a fine baritone voice, our misplaced zealot award. Surely, he was meant to be a preacher, and not attorney general.

GOLDBERG: Well, Bill, my first pick is Jim Jeffords of the now defunct group, the Singing Senators. The senator for the Vermont berry industry was the clear winner of the Yoko Ono special achievement award for breaking up the band and spoiling the party.

PRESS: OK, John Ashcroft is one of those. And now, just to prove that Republicans have no monopoly on song, let's look at the next group. Here they are, welcoming Bill Clinton to Harlem. Let's hear them.

All right, that's Charlie Rangel, Chuck Schumer and Bill Clinton, our soul brothers award. They've got the soul. All they need are the sunglasses and better voices.

GOLDBERG: My next pick goes the United States Congress. In the grand tradition of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Crusty the Clown and side show Bob, and Tito, and Latoya Jackson, Republicans and Democrats drop their partisan differences in order to belt out that old crowd pleaser, "God Bless America," earning them the award for best new group.

PRESS: God bless America. And from the left, good-night for CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow night. I'm Bill Press.

GOLDBERG: And from the right, I'm Jonah Goldberg. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


Soft on President Bush?>



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