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CNN CROSSFIRE

The Annual CROSSFIRE Book Show

Aired December 27, 2002 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala.
On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

Tonight: book 'em. Three of the year's most controversial authors defend their views and attack some of ours.

She says the way liberals talk about the right is nothing short of slander.

He says the president is ignoring the most important lesson of his daddy's re-election campaign.

And this former judge is ready to make the case against lawyers.

Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. If you're a loyal CROSSFIRE viewer, our crack research team has developed your demographic profile. You're very likely to be intelligent, well informed and politically sophisticated.

Most important, you appreciate high quality programming at affordable prices.

One more thing, you're very likely to be an avid reader.

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN CO-HOST: Not to mention a snappy dresser. Tonight you get the best of both words, our annual CROSSFIRE book program. Authors of three of the most intriguing and possibly profound book of the year will be subjected to some of the toughest questioning any where.

In fact, one of the authors happens to be sitting across from me. A little later, my colleague on the right Bob Novak will join me to try to expose some the remarkable claims Mr. Paul Begala makes in his book.

But we begin with one of the lightning rods of the conservative movement. Columnist Ann Coulter spent much of the year perched atop the best-seller list with her ferocious book "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right." In it, Coulter slashes at a number of media figures: Katie Couric, Peter Jennings and CROSSFIRE's own James Carville.

He joined me for the interview. Miss Coulter joined from us a safe distance, our Los Angeles bureau.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CO-HOST: Ms. Coulter, you got a lot of things to say about a lot of people in the media and liberal media and even some things to say about the conservative media, but you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some of my favorite topics, gossip and sex. Let me put up a quote from you from the "Washington Post".

She, meaning you, Ann Coulter, said yesterday that "National Review" editor -- the "National Review" by the way is one of the most prestigious conservative publications in the country. "National Review" editor Rich Lowry and his deputies are just girly-boys.

So I'd like to ask you about a couple of his deputies and see if -- get your opinion if he's a girly-boy or not. Is Ramish Purnaru (ph) -- is he a girly-boy or not?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "SLANDER": No, he's a friend of mine ...

CARVILLE: No, girly-boy or not a girly-boy ...

COULTER: ... and an excellent writer.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: Wait.

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

COULTER: Was that the end of the question or ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: No I was asking you, Rich Lowry is a girly-boy? Is ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: I was responding to a question about why they had dropped my column, recommending that we take an extra little gander at swarthy men going -- flying commercial aircraft in America after ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

COULTER: ... September 11 and remarking that perhaps they were a bit hysterical in light of the fact that six months later "National Review" came out for racial profiling at airports. I think that is -- and I did accurately describe what was going on, though I have to say a lot of people were hysterical after the war. We -- the nation was under attack, so I don't really blame them. CARVILLE: That's interesting. But I just -- we have established that Lowry, in your opinion, is a girly-boy. Is Mr. Purnaru (ph) a girly-boy?

COULTER: No, but I am pleased that you are illustrating an aspect ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... put together an MTV video, I can put this in it. I wrote a book that has ...

CARVILLE: Right.

COULTER: ... you know, thousands of facts, studies, quotes - 35 pages of footnotes ...

CARVILLE: Right.

COULTER: ... and what you're trying to do is go through and find some quote that will -- that will expose me as a wild bigot so that people can just dismiss the idea of the book ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: No ma'am, I'm not accusing ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... I'm not accusing you of being a bigot ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... I'm accusing you of being a fool. There's a difference.

COULTER: I don't -- I have ...

CARVILLE: I don't know if you're a bigot. I do know you're a fool.

COULTER: Oh, I'm a fool. Well let me ...

CARVILLE: Of course you are.

COULTER: ... retract my book then. This is precisely ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... the problem ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Well I don't care about your book.

COULTER: ... in America. CARVILLE: Right.

COULTER: And I must say I barely mention you -- is the question going on?

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: Sorry, I didn't hear ...

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

CARLSON: Let me address --- hello, let me address one of the ideas in your book. I want to read you a quote you wrote -- a pretty amusing quote. We'll put it up on the screen.

COULTER: Thank you.

CARLSON: Here it is. "George Bush doesn't actually have to be a penis head for some portion of voters to believe absolutely without hesitation that he is a penis head. That's the beauty of controlling all major sources of news dissemination in America. It ensures that liberals will never have to learn how to argue beyond the level of a six--year old".

Now obviously I agree with the last point. I work on CROSSFIRE. I know. But the first point, that there's this conspiracy, this liberal conspiracy ...

COULTER: Conspiracy is your word, I believe, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well no, but I'm just -- that's what -- that's the implication, that the press is really sort of in a league with its various parts and that they're aligned against the right. That's a conspiracy. Is that what ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: This is why conservatives have to write books. I put things in my own words, which interestingly enough, I find the better words ...

CARLSON: Yes.

COULTER: ... and the point of that is that, as James just demonstrated, we'll be able to use it as a clip for the MTV version of my book. This is how Democrats argue. Instead of engaging ideas, generally you're either an idiot or a fool, as he just called me, or you're crazy ...

CARLSON: Well, wait a second ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... it's either scarily weird or dumb, and so you can never engage in ideas. That is ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Hold on. Slow down ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... beginning of the chapter.

CARLSON: No, Ann, I'm not accusing you of any of those things -- being dumb or ...

COULTER: No, I'm explaining the quote you just ran.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: You asked ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: That is ...

CARLSON: But ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... the chapter.

CARLSON: OK, the bottom line question I have is you're obviously on the right -- so am I, good for you. But, you've done well in spite of that. Doesn't that say something, that if they're -- you know, if the liberals do control the media and I think generally they do. They're -- conservatives can still vanquish them or rise above or whatever. Isn't that -- aren't you a demonstration that that's true?

COULTER: It does say something. What it -- what it says something about, and this is an important point, is the great common sense of the American people, despite the constant browbeating, 24 hours a day, on the major networks on all major newspapers and magazines. The American people really have shown an enormous capacity to withstand the propaganda, especially in those media, which I describe as the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) media where they are allowed to choose.

That is the Internet, radio, and books, where conservatives absolutely dominate the lists, dominate the top Internet sites, dominate talk radio. When Americans are given a choice, they choose conservatives. They're not given a choice on ABC, NBC and CBS.

CARVILLE: Well let's -- first of all, I want to -- no liberal thinks that President Bush is a penis head. We think he's actually an airhead, but there's a difference between the two.

Let's go to your book and let's take a quote out of the book here. Like Catholic schoolgirls engaging in wild promiscuity to prove they aren't fanatics, and we're going to talk about a real liberal here as opposed to some of these pseudo liberals. Robertson (ph), that is Pat Robertson (ph), consistently takes to most pathetically moderate, establishment positions within the Republican Party. Do you think Robertson is a real liberal?

COULTER: That is so preposterous to take that quote and suggest...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... where I wrote it that I was suggesting that he was a liberal. I was saying nothing of the sort. That is not the point...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... is he a pathetic moderate?

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: I'm sorry, I thought you were done with your question.

CARVILLE: No.

COULTER: What's your question?

CARVILLE: I've rephrased my question. You're right, you didn't say I want to be accurate, that Pat Robertson is a pathetic moderate.

COULTER: Are you done with your question now?

CARVILLE: Yes, I'm done.

COULTER: Because you know what? Another way liberals avoid engaging in ideas is to constantly, constantly interrupt conservatives on air, to talk over them, to filibuster them. It's as if liberals are afraid if -- an articulate conservative position ever escapes into the world it will put a religious hex on them.

What are you so afraid of? Let me talk. Let me answer your question. Both of the quotes that you have both just put up really are sort of odd quotes to be using to take them completely out of context ...

CARLSON: Ann ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... hold on. Stop for a sec.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I'm not a liberal. I'm as right wing as you are. Answer the question.

COULTER: I'm not accusing you ... (CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... of being a liberal, but first I will describe the penis head quote. That was in the chapter in which I point out that liberals can be deprived of half their arguments if they could never call another Republican dumb. That is the chapter that is detailed in the number of times Republicans, especially presidential candidates, are called dumb. The point I was making in the middle of that paragraph, that sentence there, was that it's on the order of, you know, a six--year old who has been deprived of all capacity to melt logical counter arguments calling ...

CARVILLE: Well you're right ...

COULTER: ... everything a penis head, calling everything stupid.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... but conservatives ramble and you're rambling right now.

COULTER: And on the ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... ask you the question -- I want to ask you the question -- Robertson, is he a pathetic moderate? Is that your opinion of Pat? Is he defined pathetic moderate ...

COULTER: That is in a chapter on the religious right in which I've tried to figure out what the religious right was, and from reading through, you know, endlessly, it ultimately comes down to either one man, Pat Robertson, or a majority of Americans, as the "New York Times" seems to define the religious right, anyone who wants his taxes cut and believes in it being even higher than the "New York Times."

My point in going through Robertson's position right there, which I follow up with, is to say that if he didn't go on TV and yap about God all the time, yes he would be Jim Jeffords of Vermont, even be ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... concerned moderate Republican. If that's what liberals are frightened of, they scare easily.

CARLSON: OK, then speaking of moderates, I mean I think -- I think it's actually fair to call the current president, President Bush, a moderate. I mean it's an insult, but I think it's true.

Are you disappointed in him, in his endorsement in signing the campaign finance bill, the steel tariffs coming out yesterday in favor of settlements for the partners, the gay partners of firemen and cops in New York, et cetera, et cetera. I mean I could go on. He's obviously not as conservative as you are. Do you feel like he's betrayed conservatism? COULTER: Oh, absolutely not. I think he's been a great president. I think he's been a fabulous wartime president, as I describe in the book. OK, he sells out on a few namby-pamby issues, but he has been a magnificent leader and most of all, I would say consider the alternative.

CARLSON: We have to take a quick break but when we come we'll ask Ann Coulter why she compared Katie Couric to Hitler's wife.

Later, two against one: Bob Novak and I grill Paul Begala on his new book. It's a sight you won't want to miss. He cries. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Our guest is self-- appointed lie detector Ann Coulter, the author of "Slander", liberal lies about the American right.

Well, Ann, let's go to the -- to the screen here and put something up or picture or two people here that you talk about in your book.

All right, now you recognize one of the people as Katie Couric. You may not recognize -- oh, there's a woman named Eva Braun who was Adolph Hitler's mistress and then on the last day of their lives got married and then committed suicide together. You might call that the ultimate shotgun wedding.

Ms. Coulter, in your book you say the affable Eva Braun of morning TV authoritatively informed President George Bush 41 that the Republican Convention had relinquished too much time to what some term the radical religious right.

What is it that Katie Couric and Eva Braun have in common?

COULTER: Well, again, I have to recommend the entire book or at least these entire paragraphs to the viewers. I had just quoted Katie Couric blaming the dragging death of James Byrd on Christian conservatives, a quote which is in full in footnotes only partially in the text. You can look at it on page 238, which I think is an astonishing, an absolutely astonishing statement.

So yes, the point I'm making by referring to her as the affable Eva Braun of morning TV right after that, really, I think, rather ugly quote about Christians...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... is to say that she hides behind her girl scout persona in order to systematically promote a left-wing agenda.

CARLSON: But one of the points you make in the book and I agree with it wholeheartedly is that liberals are embarrassingly quick to compare the right to the Nazis. It's appalling and you hear it all the time and here you are doing it. Now Katie Couric, you know may be annoying. Sure, she's a liberal, but Eva Braun, I mean that's over the top and it's self- discrediting, isn't it? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I mean that's not fair to compare to Hitler's wife. I mean if she's, again, if she's annoying or too liberal or whatever, but isn't that a liberal tactic to compare her to Hitler's wife? I mean please.

COULTER: No, I think it is not a liberal tactic at all, though it is a liberal tactic to be -- pretend to be absolutely humorless, Tucker. The quotes I used for liberals comparing conservatives ...

CARLSON: ... you are calling me humorless Ann? Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: No, I'm saying -- I'm merely -- I'm saying what I'm saying. I don't know why I'm always having people say, are you trying to say -- you know what you can do if you want to know what I'm saying is listen to what I'm saying. What I'm saying is what I said ...

CARLSON: I tried that ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... I couldn't understand. Come on Ann.

COULTER: That is a liberal tactic to pretend not to understand irony, hyperbole, sarcasm. The quotes I have of liberals calling Republicans Nazis or comparing Republican policies to the Holocaust of bringing back slavery to throwing women and children off the -- off the -- whatever it is -- they're always being thrown off something -- the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a truck. Those are not said in humor. They are not meant to be funny. They are meant to frighten people.

CARVILLE: So anyway, but if Pat Robertson is a pathetic ...

COULTER: Why do you keep calling the wrong name?

CARVILLE: ... us your idea of who is a good conservative. Who's a good ...

COULTER: Why do you keep calling ...

CARVILLE: ... give us a ...

COULTER: ... him the wrong name? His name is ...

CARVILLE: Pat -- I'm dyslexic. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tell me who a good solid conservative is.

COULTER: Well my book is about liberals. Very few conservatives are mentioned. There are plenty of great conservatives out there and perhaps ...

CARVILLE: Not a girly-boy ...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: What was the question? I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... done with your question.

CARVILLE: Pat Robertson is a pathetic moderate. Rich Lowry is a girly-boy. Who is a real he-man liberal? I mean conservative -- who do you look up to?

COULTER: Is that the question so I can answer now.

CARVILLE: That's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) man. That's all she is.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: Because I'm going to answer, so you don't talk over me now, OK?

The answer is there are a lot of terrific conservatives out there and I think the "Today Show" might want to look into having more of them on. I could fax lists to you, to all the network TV for lots and lots of terrific, intelligent, articulate conservatives who might -- they might want to consider to replace people like George Stephanopoulos and Dan Rather delivering objective news.

CARVILLE: Let the record show she didn't produce one name. Go ahead, Tucker.

CARLSON: Ann Coulter, thanks so much ...

COULTER: Well there are thousands ...

CARLSON: ... we appreciate it.

COULTER: ... how much time do we have?

CARLSON: Unfortunately, we don't have any. I'd like to hear the list too. Thanks for joining us.

Just ahead on CROSSFIRE, attorney, acnhorman and former judge Catherine Crier throws the book at us and at one of the most aggressive trial lawyers in the country.

Later Paul Begala gets hammered simultaneously by CROSSFIRE hosts on the right. You won't want to miss it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. That old joke, like countless others, expresses everyone's distaste for money-grubbing, court- clogging, fast-talking, sleazy lawyers.

In the CROSSFIRE from New York is attorney, former judge, former CNN colleague and now the very able Court TV anchor Catherine Crier.

CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV: Bob, you enjoyed that intro too much.

NOVAK: She's the author of a new book called "The Case Against Lawyers."

And with us to defend the honor of the legal profession, if there is such a thing, is George Washington University law professor and our frequent guest John Banzhaf.

BEGALA: Catherine Crier, of course, always good to have you back on CNN. I agree with your fundamental part that there a lot of scummy lawyers out there. A whole lot of them defend really scummy corporations that rip us off, kill and maim us with their defective products. But there are some good guys and gals in the business who sue on behalf of consumers.

Let me read you just a partial list of products that you and I can use now that are safe because of lawsuits filed against these dirt bag corporations. We now have safety belts, shatter-proof glass, air bags, non-flammable pajamas. They stopped the Ford Pinto from blowing up and Firestone tires from exploding. They're crawling up your air bags. We got -- the Dalcon shield was banned. Asbestos. Kid cribs are now safe. Surgical ventilators.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm not even going to read them all, Catherine. You should have a little chapter in your book thank God for consumer lawyers, right?

CRIER: Oh my God. The thing that's so funny is people assume we're talking about all lawyers. There are some good lawyers, there are some good lawsuits, there are appropriate rules in certain situations.

But the lawyers now have us so dominated by their ability to manipulate the laws, to selectively enforce the law and have them made for them on Capitol Hill that we are no longer living in a democracy.

I submit to you. There are plenty of things when you look at the fatty food litigation is a brilliant example. Do we want lawyers going to court to decide for the people of America whether we can have our french fries? Of course not.

JOHN BANZHAF, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: I've got to respond to that. But, Paul, the problem is -- if I read Catherine Crier's interviews correctly, she wants to change the system so these suits can no longer be brought. She wants to get rid of what we call a contingency fee, make the loser pay the winner's costs.

Now, I want to ask the audience for a minute. We can get the camera out there. If you or a bread winner were in family were severely injured...

(CROSSTALK) BANZHAF: ... by a car company, could you afford to go out and spend $100,000 to litigate and possibly have to pay two or $300,000 for the other side's legal fees? How would be able to do that? Put up your hand. Let me see how many of you could do that.

(CROSSTALK)

BANZHAF: We have a system that allows people who are injured to go out and sue and they don't have to pay anything if they lose.

I just want to ask you -- give you a taste of what the American people think of this. That list that you...

(UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NOVAK: That was the American Trial Lawyers' list...

BANZHAF: And you speak for the people.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to people. A Harris Poll of this year, prestige of occupations, it's something they do every year. Let's take a look at it. Scientist 51 percent, doctor 50 percent, military officer 47 percent, lawyer 15 percent. And those, I think are mostly relatives.

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: John was throwing out saying we're going to eliminate all of the poor people who can't take on the corporations. Contingency fees were created for that group.

Now the lawyers are partners in virtually every litigation down the pike in the civil courts. They're partners. What do partners want? They want to maximize their profits, they want to push things as far as they can, justice be damned.

And in fact, when they're in major business litigation or mass tort litigation, they're making millions of dollars. Often times their clients come away with a coupon or something for a free drink on American Airlines and they act like they're doing them a favor. This is absolutely absurd.

(CROSSFIRE)

BANZHAF: Quote, "Get rid of those contingency fees, make the losers pay. The lawyers are making a hell of a lot of money. But for every dollar they get the clients get two or $3."

You got pay lawyers big if you want them to go after big tobacco.

CRIER: Why?

BANZHAF: If you want them to go after the Ford Pinto, if you want them to go after the giants. You take away the contingency fee and make the loser pay, there's nobody in this audience is willing to put up their hand and say, yes,if I were injured, even if my lawyer said I got 75 percent chance of winning, 80 percent chance of winning, how many of you would be willing to risk a couple hundred thousand dollars to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CRIER: John, what you're doing is talking about a handful of cases when in fact the American people are having to pay through the nose because of a lot of frivolous litigation brought with contingency fees or minor litigation that didn't belong in the courts in the first place. And if those contingency fees were removed, in all but the cases of impoverishment, then the attorneys would not bring those.

(CROSSTALK)

BANZHAF: You and you fellow judges have a weapon against this, it's called the Rule 11 Sanction which not only permits you but requires you to sanction people for frivolous lawsuits.

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: As long as judges are elected in most jurisdictions, those judges are being put in office, if you will, by the big trial lawyers of this country and they are not going exercise what you quoted as a federal court rule, which may not always apply in the state courts that are certainly not utilized. Secondarily, secondarily -- let me finish -- the loser -- let me finish -- the loser pays again. It's a situation that if you bring a frivolous lawsuit, the judge that we've put on the bench to make a reasoned decision can assign court costs and attorney's fees to you.

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: Wait a minute. If you have brought an appropriate lawsuit -- let me finish my sentence. Let me finish my sentence. Counselor, for God's sakes, let me finish...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Everybody retreat to their neutral corners. Mr. Novak.

NOVAK: Speaking of frivolous lawsuits, we're going to put up on the screen some of the people you've sued. Let's take a look at it. Hertz, Spiro Agnew...

BEGALA: You won that one.

NOVAK: The Interstate Commerce Commission, dry cleaners, hair salons, male-only clubs, the National Park Service, Representative Barney Frank, Mrs. Simpson's dance (ph) classes, McDonald's, the University of Michigan, the Department of Justice and Victoria's Secret.

BANZHAF: You didn't tell people that we won every damn suit, so they are clearly not frivolous.

CRIER: And there's the problem. There's the problem.

BANZHAF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our lawsuits frivolous for years; two experts said we'd never win a smoker's suit -- we've now won over $250 billion. So these are not frivolous. And that's a problem with Catherine Crier.

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: Bob, just because he won the suit, doesn't mean they're right. In fact, those lawsuits have taken us...

BANZHAF: But they're not frivolous. Frivolous means no way in hell can you win. If you win the suits, they're not frivolous.

CRIER: No, no, that's not right, because you have stretched the law beyond its breaking point. When you go to England and you get that coffee case, what did the judge do? He said, most people realize that when you get a cup of coffee, you want it hot. It is a hot liquid. If you spill it on yourself, it's called being a klutz. The judge in England said that.

BEGALA: Let me ask you, maybe it was in the heat of the moment, everybody's all agitated here, you didn't really mean it when you said just because he won doesn't mean he was right. Because that's suggesting that you trust 12 old white men on a corporate board who have billions at stake in a decision more than -- excuse me, more than 12 disinterested ordinary Americans to rule justice? I have faith in juries. Why don't you?

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: Got to answer that, John. Now, Paul, how many of those cases are in fact dealing with the American people? You think that every tort case is against a big company. What about the little dry cleaner family operation? What about the national park system that we're seeing lawsuits where some drunkard...

BEGALA: I have faith in juries...

(CROSSTALK)

CRIER: ... that in fact the thermal pool -- they fall into thermal pool in Yellowstone -- may well have to close down one of these days because they can't keep it open. Those aren't the big corporations. This is all of America getting hit by these absurd lawsuits.

NOVAK: Do you trust a jury that gives a multi-million dollar verdict to somebody who got shot and gives it -- and makes the people who made the gun pay it because they didn't have a safety lock when there's no law for a safety lock? That's a runaway jury, isn't it?

BANZHAF: Bob, if you understood anything about the law, I think you'd support the decision also.

NOVAK: Thank God I don't understand anything about the law, because (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK) CRIER: John's been making it up along with a lot of lawyers, and unfortunately some judges are falling for it.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Last word, Catherine?

CRIER: I was going to say that unfortunately they have stretched the law and created a lot of case precedents, but just because they've convinced one jury or one judge someplace does not make it right.

BANZHAF: Yeah, but I'm winning all my suits, Catherine. You haven't won any of yours.

CRIER: Oh, I haven't?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Catherine Crier, thank you.

CRIER: You bet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BEGALA: Just ahead, a check of the hour's top news stories in the CNN "News Alert." And then, the perceptive, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), dare I say brilliant new book that ought to be required reading at the White House and no doubt will be as soon as it comes out in a comic book version. Bob Novak and Tucker Carlson are going to try to gang up on me and my book, "It's Still the Economy, Stupid." And since liberal ideas are scientifically proven to be twice as strong as conservative ideas, such matchup seems about fair. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS ALERT)

CARLSON: As you have no doubt noticed, since he does it virtually every night, Paul Begala never misses an opportunity to promote his new book. No shame there. This is television, after all. But a little balance wouldn't hurt.

Bob Novak and I will return in a moment. Two against once to deconstruct the world according to Paul Begala. Will he survive it? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University here in downtown Washington, D.C. Tonight we're departing from CROSSFIRE's normal, scrupulously fair and balanced approach to debating the issues with one host on the left and one on the right and for good reason.

Paul Begala, our beloved Paul Begala, has writted a new book. It's called "It's Still The Economy, Stupid." And my collegue Bob Novak and I feel it's time we both confronted him about its absurd claims and shameless attacks on the Bush administration.

Ladies and gentleman, the author of "It's Still The Economy, Stupid," CROSSFIRE's own Paul Begala.

BEGALA: Excellent. Well thank you for that lovely, gracious introduction.

CARLSON: Paul, thank you for joining us.

BEGALA: Yes, sir, thank you.

CARLSON: I actually read your book, got so mad I yelled at the dog by the end. I agreed with your acknowledgments, they were fantastic. Actually it was very clever, your book. And it makes the bottomline argument it seems to me is that Bush has wrecked the economy.

BEGALA: He's done all he can. There are externalities that affected it. We were in trouble when he came into office. It's true Clinton didn't repeal the business cycle. It is true 9/11 did us grievous damage. But when you see a drowning man you don't throw him an anvil.

And that's what Bush did. His economic policy took a bad situation made it much, much worse.

CARLSON: But you say it's much, much worse. I just want to finish my thought here and have you respond to it.

Average people don't seem to agree with you. A lot of polling on this. I want to hit you with two of them. The first poll, CNN/"TIME" poll, asked people about your financial situation. Seventy--seven percent of Americans say their financial situation is good.

Next poll, What do you think the effect of the Bush White House is going to be on the economy for next year? Sixty--five percent of Americans think next year's going to be even better than it is this year.

So your premise is wrong, isn't it?

BEGALA: No, people are always hopeful at the Christmas season. But we just had a poll --- two polls came out this week -- two polls came out this week. Both of them said overwhelmingly that people would rather have the government invest in things that make us safer and smarter and stronger than give another big tax cut to the rich. They didn't ask it the way I would have with that loaded language. They asked it very neutral.

Both "The Los Angeles Times" poll and "The Washington Post"/ABC poll asked people about economic issues. All of them come down on my side. Why didn't the party win the recent election? Because they didn't campaign on my book. They didn't campaign on Democratic economic issues. They ran around saying, Oh, I'm for Bush's tax cut, too.

No wonder they lost.

NOVAK: Paul, I know it's bad form to ask authors how they write their book. But as I read your book, I found so much deja vu of stuff I had heard on the campaign trail this year. Did you run around campaign boiler rooms and pick up the unused parts of their speeches and paste them together? Was that the way you put the book together?

BEGALA: No, no, no. I've written a lot of speeches for a lot of politicians.

NOVAK: And they sound like it in this book.

BEGALA: What's unusual about this book and, I think, as a scholar yourself you would appreciate it, is it's meticulously footnoted. There are 622 footnotes. You don't find that in most of the right wing diatribes. You may not agree with what it says but it's carefully researched and carefully footnoted.

NOVAK: Here's a thing that offends some people. It offends me, to tell you the truth.

BEGALA: I hate to offend you, Bob.

NOVAK: You call the president stupid.

BEGALA: Oh, no, no, no.

NOVAK: That's what the reference to. You call him during the whole time -- you call him Junior.

BEGALA: He is. He's not senior. He's junior. You got to distinguish him from his father.

NOVAK: He's not a junior. He's not George W.H. Bush -- George Jr. And you don't -- And you treat him with such disrespect. Do you think that's funny, or...

BEGALA: I think politicians should be laughed at. I actually know Bush a little bit and I think he's a good guy.

NOVAK: Why should they be laughed at?

BEGALA: Well, maybe you lack a sense of humor, Bob. We can treat that, you know, these days.

The title comes, of course, from a very famous sign that my pal Carville put up in the war room, It's the economy stupid. And my point is, "It is Still The Economy Stupid."

If I wanted to make it about Bush, I would say "It's Still The Economy and He's Still Stupid." But I do not actually believe that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But what if it's still the stupid analysis of the economy, and that is what the "Austin American Statesman" essentially said of your book in a review.

I just want to read you one part which I think gets right to the core problem with the book, "Begala assumes that Clinton economic policies will work in any time and place. He ignores the critical fact that the economic boom didn't ignite until two years after Clinton got his deficit reducing budget through Congress. It took technological advances, private sector advances to spur amazingly productivity increases and allow the Federal Reserve to repeatedly lower interest rates."

So the bottom line here is, ordinary Americans innovating and working hard are responsible for the boom under the Clinton administration.

BEGALA: Duh. Duh. But...

CARLSON: Then why do you give Clinton credit for it?

BEGALA: Let me finish the answer. Duh.

But were they stupid under Bush? Were they stupid under Reagan? Were they lazy under Bush? No. Clinton -- government policies matter. And Clinton removed this god-awful Reagan/Bush deficit, paid it down and then invested in things like education to make people smarter. And that's what triggered the boom.

He liberalized capital markets, right? He allowed -- pulled the government out of borrowing all that money to pay off the debt. Allowed entrepreneurs then to borrow money so they could apply their genius and expertise.

To believe your theory, you have to believe people were stupid when Reagan and Bush were president. They were not.

CARLSON: We don't have time, unfortunately, to deconstruct every misleading thing that you have just said. But let's just take one.

BEGALA: It's all factual.

CARLSON: You just said that President Clinton invested in education, thereby making people smarter, thereby spurring the economy on to greater growth.

Are you saying that in the space of eight years, Bill Clinton was responsible for educating people who then left school, entered the workplace, innovated, created new products, and then spurred the economy? That's ludicrous.

BEGALA: Some. Things like working skills matter, Tucker. Job skills matter. When you give people education and training, it has an enormous, enormous effect. Yes, it does.

So yes, more people got education than ever before. More people got job training. More people got retraining.

CARLSON: So Clinton created the Internet, is what you're saying. BEGALA: That's silly, Tucker. Actually the government did and I'm glad that the government did. But no, it was investing in people, and reducing the deficit, reversing the entire Reagan/Bush economic team...

NOVAK: I feel constrained to give the viewers a taste...

BEGALA: Please do.

NOVAK: ... of the Begala theory. We're going to turn to page 44. Put it up on the screen.

BEGALA: It's a great page.

NOVAK: "If you want to save Social Security without cutting benefits, without raising payroll takes, without funding Social Security and the deficits, without gambling Granny's retirement on Kenny-Boy Lay's latest Wall Street scheme, there's really only one option: repeal the as yet unrealized portions of the Bush tax cut."

Are you -- are you really -- no serious person could say that, that the problems of the Social Security system going bust 30 years from now are going to be solved by not giving the American -- the successful American people the tax cut they've been promised?

BEGALA: Let me tell you who says it. A guy named Peter Orzack (ph), a top Treasury official in the Clinton administration, studied this for the Center On Budget and Policy Projects.

This is what he found. Over 75 years, the shortfall in Social Security is enormous: $3.7 trillion. You know what the Bush tax cut is? Over $8 trillion.

So you could solve the entire Social Security deficit and still have $5 trillion left over to do better things to make our country stronger.

NOVAK: That's sheer nonsense.

BEGALA: That's absolutely true.

NOVAK: Let me use a poll.

CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked on September 20, Should we allow workers to put Social Security taxes into stocks and bonds? This is the thing that all the Democratic demagogues or the demagogic Democrats have been screaming about.

Let's look at what the result was. Favor that, 52 percent. Oppose it, only 43 percent. What do you make of that?

BEGALA: Well you know what they don't tell them? They don't tell them that in every one of the proposals in Bush's commission, benefits would be cut. Guaranteed benefits are cut in every Bush proposal. And they don't tell us it costs between 1 and $2 trillion to do it. And where is the money going to come from? Do we have a spare trillion dollars to move from one system to another?

CARLSON: Paul, let me ask you this. This a little bit off topic but it gets to something I wanted to ask you for a long time. You say in the book, as...

BEGALA: I'm married.

CARLSON: Well, that's an after show discussion.

BEGALA: Sorry.

CARLSON: You've said many times on this show, you've said Clinton -- rather President Bush wants to poison America's children by putting arsenic in the water.

You make the point that the president, when he came in, suspended a rule that the Clinton administration put lowering the amount of arsenic allowable in water.

Here's my question. That rule was put in by the Clinton administration literally in the last week of power. So if it was such a great idea, the environmental lobby had been pushing for it for 10 years, why did he wait until the last week?

BEGALA: It was actually the result of a 10--ear study that Bush senior had begun. These things take an enormous amount of time. You don't want to rush them in. It was a 10--year program.

Finally, in the book I say Bush does not want to poison children, but he took that bad policy because he's bought off campaign contributors.

NOVAK: Paul! I don't have to be polite to you. We're out of time. Thank you. Thank you Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON: Bob, it was nice to see you.

NOVAK: I appreciate it.

CARLSON: When we come back, viewer reviewers. Some of our viewers have actually read Paul Begala's book and they confront him. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back. Time now for "Fireback," where everyone's a critic. Apparently you've been reading and you know how to write as well.

Bob Howard begins from Ann Arbor, Michigan: "If I have to watch Ann Coulter complain one more time about media bias, I'm going to lose it. Has she ever heard of talk radio or counted the number of times she gets on air? Or do those things not count?" Very good point, Bob. Ann may not be a very large woman, but she's a big gasbag and I'm tired of her complaining about the media.

CARLSON: That's awfully charitable of you.

BEGALA: She needs to get a life.

CARLSON: That's the holiday spirit.

BEGALA: Oh, she needs to get a life.

CARLSON: Greg Fricke Sr., not Greg Fricke Jr. of New York writes: "After listening to Mr. Begala's comments, I can only resort to an old Biblical phrase -- not since Samson has the jawbone of an ass wrought such destruction."

Your book just slays people, Paul.

BEGALA: The donkey, of course, being the proud symbol of my party. I thank Mr. Fricke Sr. for that lovely comment.

Dan Youngblut of Redmond, Washington writes: "I'm 14, and purchased your book "It's still the Economy, Stupid." I've only read the first chapter, and I'm hooked. If you can entertain a teenager with a book about the economy, you must be an awesome writer, dude." Way to go, Dan. Good for you. One day I hope to be chairman of Old Guys for Dan Youngblut for President. Youngblut bandwagon.

CARLSON: You're an easy sell.

Herb Diamond of Boynton Beach, Florida writes: "Paul, your book, "It's Still the Economy, Stupid," is a slow read. Not because it isn't written well, because it causes my blood to boil and I must pause after every paragraph to allow my blood pressure to cool down." Wow.

BEGALA: I don't want to cause any health problems, of course.

CARLSON: You're going to get sued by Herb's descendants here.

BEGALA: No, I don't want to cause Herb any health problems, because Bush is trashing Medicare and he's not for universal health care. So Herb is going to have a lot more problems. I probably drove his pressure up 10 more points tonight. Poor Herb.

CARLSON: Unbelievable.

BEGALA: Yes, sir. What's your question or comment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is J.R. Lopez (ph), I'm from Modesto, California. And my question is, do you think that former President Bill Clinton is a help or a hindrance to the Democratic Party today?

BEGALA: Boy, I wish they'd repeal the 22nd Amendment. It was put in there to keep us from having any more FDRs. If he could have run against Bush, even I think Bush's people, even Bush himself would say, he would have defeated Bush. I mean, Gore defeated Bush, and Clinton would have just trounced him. So I wish he was still able to be our president.

CARLSON: So only the Constitution stands between Bill Clinton and his aim.

BEGALA: No, one very silly (UNINTELLIGIBLE) amendment.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Kathy Bockman (ph) from Chevy Chase, Maryland. How long can this war smoke screen hide our failing economy?

BEGALA: Well, not very. I do think our president is serious about Iraq. I happen to disagree with him, but I think he's going about it for the right reasons. I think his policy is wrong. But he's not very serious about trying to save the economy. You make a very good point, and it's why we've got hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their unemployment benefits. He's done nothing about it. He better get in gear on the economy, if he wants to get reelected.

CARLSON: But I'm willing to see more Democrats put forward the Capricorn I theory, you know, that the moon landing was done in a studio in Hollywood and that the war on Iraq is merely a cover for domestic concerns. Because I don't think it will go over well at the ballot box. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, gentlemen. I'm Chris Spinosa (ph) from Washington, D.C. First James Traficant, then Trent Lott. Seems like the men with bad hair are being chased from positions of power in this town. Who's next? We're worried for you, Tucker.

CARLSON: And I'm glad you're able to sniff out bias in the least obvious places.

BEGALA: That is a good point. Well, you know, between the four of us, we probably don't have the most attractive hair. Tucker and I...

CARLSON: That's why they hired us. A little affirmative action program here at CNN for people with hair problems.

BEGALA: That's right. Corporate Cueball will pick up his debate of the hair debate soon.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE. "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins after the CNN news cut-in. We'll be right back.

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